Star Wars: The Old Republic is a game that's simply too big for its britches. Few games ever undergo the same level of scrutiny and create the same level of fervor as BioWare's MMO juggernaut. The sheer scope of the game is mind-boggling, and with rumors circulating of development costs in the hundreds of millions, there's potentially a lot riding on its success. The game has spent a long time in development, but it's finally in Beta, with a solid release date now set for December 20, 2011. Over the past few days I've had an opportunity to explore the early stages of The Old Republic. While RPGamer's impressions usually try to cover the entirety of our experience in any given area of the game at once, The Old Republic had a unique effect on me. As the game progressed, my impression of it changed. While I initially felt the game was far too derivative of World of Warcraft, as the story progressed and new things became available, it managed to set itself apart. As such, what follows is a chronological account of my time in the game, from the very beginning of the game up until the end of the prologue, which I completed at level fourteen, and how my impressions changed over time.
Please be warned before continuing: This impression contains major spoilers for the smuggler class, and possibly a handful of sidequest spoilers for the planets Ord Mantell and Coruscant that apply to all Republic classes.
The first step in any MMO is creating your character, and within a few minutes of loading up the game, I'd made myself a cyborg smuggler, Captain Robomega, ready to head out into the galaxy and earn my fortune. However, I quickly learned that I was apparently already hard at work, and my ship was in the process of running a blockade surrounding the battle-scarred planet of Ord Mantell, currently engaged in a vicious civil war between the Republic-friendly government and a rebellious and violent Separatist movement.
"As the game progressed, my impression of it changed."
After touching down on the planet's surface, I got my first taste of the game's story-heavy design. My contact on Ord Mantell, a man named Skavak, and his employee Corso Riggs, approached me as I disembarked, informing me that as a result of the activities on the surface, my ship was under lockdown, and before doing anything else, we had to free it. As this conversation progressed, I was able to see BioWare's usual dialogue options in place, but they were far simpler than any BioWare title I'd ever played before. Rather than a myriad of options and investigation choices to direct the conversation and gather intelligence, I was limited to just three, which really only seemed to affect the tone of my response rather than drive the direction of the conversation. Needless to say, it was a bit disappointing.
As I left the starport and moved out onto the planet's surface, I picked up a few sidequests from local military and got my first taste of combat. My first thought was simply, "Wow, this is a lot like World of Warcraft." Of course, I'd heard reports of this in the past, but experiencing it first-hand really made it apparent. Come to think of it, the interface and many core gameplay elements were very similar, if not almost identical, to the 2004 MMO I'd sunk several thousand hours into over the past seven years. While this made me feel right at home with the controls, it was a bit worrisome; World of Warcraft already has a massive fanbase. Did we really need another one?
Of course, not everything was the same. The flow of combat was quite different, even if the mechanics were similar. As a smuggler, I was equipped with a blaster and medium armor, so fighting from a distance was my primary strategy. I also quickly discovered that I could take cover behind walls, debris, and other objects in order to reduce the incoming damage I was receiving. One thing that caught me off guard at first, but quickly became second nature, was that battles in The Old Republic were rarely against a single foe. Indeed, most of the time I was engaging three or four enemies at once, making combat more hectic, but simultaneously more enjoyable. Even at level one I had a generous amount of health, and the cover system ensured that I was never outmatched. I also had a powerful attack that could only be used while taking cover, creating an interesting stance dynamic I hadn't initially anticipated.
After disabling the lockdown and completing the sidequests I'd been assigned, I went back to my ship to unload my cargo and was itching to get the hell off this bloody planet. Unfortunately, one of my new-found friends had other plans.