If you had told me a year ago that I’d be starting out 2012 by enjoying an MMO, I would’ve thought you were insane. At first, I was genuinely surprised at how much I liked Star Wars: The Old Republic, but when you start to break apart the game’s various mechanics, it does begin to make sense. The Old Republic’s greatest strength? It doesn’t feel like an MMO.
The most striking thing about The Old Republic is that it features a very heavy focus on story. Each of the eight character classes has a unique storyline in the game. The Republic trooper’s squad defects to the Empire and he has to hunt down his traitorous former comrades. The Jedi consular battles against a Dark Side plague that has been infecting Jedi masters. The Imperial agent experiences the distinct differences between the Empire and the Sith. The game almost feels like eight separate Knights of the Old Republic games.
To support this heavy story focus, every quest in the game has a fully voiced intro and conclusion. Every quest. Even the smaller, general ones that every class can do. This one element makes a huge difference in making the game feel less like monotony. I’ve yet to hit a point where I’ll speed through dialog just to accept the quest; if I did that, it’d pretty much just be like World of Warcraft.
Thankfully, the quests that follow the dialog aren’t monotonous either. Very rarely will a quest objective be “kill x number of things.” Actually, killing a certain number of something is usually a bonus objective tied to each quest and is totally optional. Knowing that you’re not required to kill 30 space cats or whatever helps a lot in making the questing stay fresh longer.
Mass Effect-style conversations are in place as well. You can make good or bad choices, which will alter minor things and get you access to various special items. The really interesting thing about the conversations is that you can do them with groups of other players as well. When in a group, you’ll see all of the group’s characters talking and the game will essentially roll the dice to see who gets to talk. It’s really successful in making the multiplayer element mix well with the heavy story focus.
The Old Republic also features some really small yet smart tweaks to the general MMO gameplay mechanics that we all know. For example, auto attack is out of the game entirely. One of the things that bored me so much about MMO combat in the past was that on weaker enemies, you would tend to just let the auto attack play out over and over. It was boring to both watch and play. Combat in The Old Republic feels faster and more involved because of the lack of auto attacks. You’re encouraged to be constantly on your toes and use your skills as much as possible. It doesn’t hurt that the combat animations are really cool and it makes the fighting that much more fun to experience. Enemies in the game also are a lot more aggressive earlier on and will use special skills more often than in other MMOs.
The combat tweaks work well, however small they may be. Also altered were some minor things with regard to transportation. Rather than binding yourself to a single location that you can travel fast to (the hearthstone mechanic in WoW), you bind yourself to each new location you find. Then, when you use your fast travel item, you can travel to any location you’ve already found on your current planet – it’s your choice. Again, it’s another small change that makes a world of difference when actually playing the game.
Crafting has been tweaked as well. Every player gets several companions (similar to other BioWare games) who will help them in combat or help them with crafting. You can send your companions off to collect crafting materials for you or even to actually craft items with the materials you’ve got. This design just puts crafting on the backburner so you can keep playing and doing quests while your crafting skills increase in the background. It’s super nice to not have to stand around in a city watching your character twirl his hands around while making the same item over and over.
Really, The Old Republic just doesn’t feel like an MMO. It feels like a Star Wars RPG made by BioWare with a big focus on multiplayer content. For the most part, this is why the game is so good. There are some downsides, though. For example, the game is heavily instanced. A lot of the areas in the game are wide and open, appearing to be set up for a large number of players, yet because there are so many different planets (and two or three instances of each planet), the locales can sometimes seem kind of empty. I’m curious if the capital planets of the two factions will start filling up more once people start hitting the max level.
Other than the instancing and spread of planets causing areas to seem a bit deserted at times, the only other problem I’ve really had with the game is difficulty getting groups together. At first, I thought that the problem was because no players are creating tank or healer-type characters. After a bit more time with the game, I think the problem is really that there’s just not an easy way to find group members. There’s no sort of automated grouping system in place, so most of the time you just end up spamming chat channels to find other players. You can flag yourself as looking for a group, but in my experience no one ever really uses it. The spread of planets could also be hurting the game here. With everyone spread out across the universe, it’s just difficult to find the best place to search for other players. This could easily be fixed with a universe-wide “looking for group” chat channel.
My complaints here are such minor issues that they shouldn’t hold you back from checking out The Old Republic. The game really is outstanding. Whether you’re a BioWare fan, a Star Wars fan, or an MMO addict, there’s going to be something in the game that really impresses you. The main question now is whether or not subscription numbers will stay up and the game will keep expanding and providing new content. Right now, though, it’s a great game and I do recommend it.