Star Wars: The Old Republic (2011) by BioWare

Back in 2000, I heard of a new Star Wars MMORPG that would come out sometime in the new future. I knew immediately that I would play the game, soon to be called Star Wars Galaxies. I was accepted into Beta 3 and played from that time until I quit at the end of 2005 following the New Game Enhancements “upgrade.” Sometime around 2005 or a little after, there were rumors of a new Star Wars MMO.  This was to eventually become Star Wars: The Old Republic by Bioware, announced in 2008. I was not ready for a new MMO but nevertheless I signed up for the news. I’ve been following it rather loosely ever since.

I managed to get into the beta stress test last weekend and played two different characters. First off, the game intro movie was awesome. It was very well done and I have to say it gave me some of the same chills as the original movies did. There is also an additional movie depending on whether or not you pick the Sith Empire or Galactic Republic. Here is a mashup of all 3 videos.

My first character was a Sith Empire Bounty Hunter. I only played through level 13, with most of the story revolving around gaining sponsorship to a galactic bounty hunter contest. The game story is very interactive. Each conversation you have with characters has 2-3 options. Usually they are either light side, dark side, or neutral. Overall, I decided I wanted to be evil, so I took most of the dark side options. I found it funny that in most of my missions, I was given the opportunity to double cross my original employer in order to make more money. After a few of these conversations, I decided to take more money, no matter what. Bounty Hunters work for the highest bidder, right? Anyway, after a few missions you get a companion which helps out with minor combat and heals. As for difficulty, I think I only “died” 2 times in about 8 hours of play. Both times I was able to be revived without much trouble by a mobile med bot.
I kind of wanted to level up my Bounty Hunter a bit more, but I was told that Coruscant was so awesome, I should see it for myself if at all possible. I managed to get there with just a few hours to spare before the servers were shut down. For my run as a Galactic Republic Jedi Knight, I wanted to be as good as possible. Some of the choices seemed very cheesy and I cringed at some of the dialogue. One in particular was ratting out two Padawans that were in love. What would Anakin think? I skipped over much of the story scenes, but it amounted to uncovering a Jedi that was responsible for attacks on the Jedi training academy. It was kind of fun to work against the clock. Most of the bosses are geared to be hard enough that you have to take side missions or kill random spawns for XP to be at an equal level. In my haste, I was almost 2 full levels below where I should have been to have a fair chance at defeating the boss solo. It took me 3 tries, but I eventually won. I spent about 20 minutes exploring Coruscant and was not disappointed. I spent about 20 minutes walking around and taking taxis in hovercars from point to point.

There is a lot of running around early on, but there are two things available to make things a little bit easier. There are taxis between major points on the map that usually cost between 10 or 20 credits. Also, there are bind points where you can transport back to once every 30 minutes. I spent most of my time just running from mission to mission and killing everything in my path to gain XP.

For those familiar with WoW or the SWG NGE, the combat system should be familiar. Each special move has its own cooldown. For Bounty Hunter, there is a “heat” bar that when full, you can’t perform any more special moves. I never really found a point where I had to use the “vent heat” ability to cool off my guns. For Jedi Knight, there is a focus bar, which operates the opposite of the BH heat bar. It appears that you get focus points for regular saber swipes, then you can use those points to perform special moves. In any case, most of the combat involves staring at toolbars and mashing buttons to make the best use of the differing timers for each special move. I found myself staring more at the bottom of my screen than my character. That is a bit disconcerting for me since I have been playing primarily FPS games for the past few years.

The graphics were very good, however I was not expecting this game to fully utilize my video card. Battlefield 3 uses 100% all the time. Depending on what is on the screen, SWTOR does that as well, but not nearly as often. I have the EVGA Precision tool up on my second screen, so that is how I tracked usage.

Voice Acting
The voice acting is generally well done. The BH sidekick sounded a little annoying at times, but other than that, everyone else seemed to sound normal.

User Interface
Overall, the interface was pretty good. One feature that I did like was to be able to fade out the large world map so that you can still see your character to move around. Depending on what missions are active, little icons at the edge of the mini-map show where to go. If I hover over the icon, it displays what mission it is for. One thing that I did not see was a way to enable overhead map rotation to be relevant to the way you are facing. That is one feature that I really missed from SWG.

Overall, the game seems to be good, almost too good to resist. I must resist though, because I don’t know that I have time in my life right now to devote to another MMO. I think that having played one before, and learned from my mistakes, that I could exercise restraint. One thing that I enjoyed was catching up with some pals from SWG on a voice server. I did this over the summer with the 45 day SWG trial as well. I think if anything, a sense of community is what would have caused me to renew back then. Luckily SOE did me a favor (I think) by announcing the cancellation of SWG as of December 15th. Star Wars: The Old Republic goes live on December 20th. How convenient is that? For now, I’ll just watch and wait. I have a feeling that SWTOR won’t be going away any time soon.

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