Bioware's new MMORPG, Star Wars: The Old Republic, is setting out with some lofty goals. Right off the bat, the game's info page proudly declares that The Old Republic is a story-driven MMO. It also promises dynamic combat, incredible challenges, and a personal saga. It has also generated a staggering amount of hype, with fans eagerly awaiting its launch.
The game is set in the days of the Old Republic, during the cold war that followed the Great Galactic War and the Treaty of Coruscant. Those who have played Knights of the Old Republic or Knights of the Old Republic II will be familiar with the period. Star Wars: The Old Republic takes place after the events of those games, but still three thousand years or so before the events of the Star Wars movies. The next several years were, according to canon, a time of strife and tension, and largely undocumented, making them perfect for a game like this one.
Our other impression does a fantastic job showcasing the story in The Old Republic. For contrast, I made a few different characters: a Jedi, a couple of Sith, and a bounty hunter, and played through the first act for each of them. They were all well written, with believable and interesting stories, and I was impressed at the variety of choices each character had in each of the situations. The dialogue reminded me of Mass Effect, and even this early into the game I had made a few choices that felt like they had a greater impact on the rest of my character's story, outside of just the mission I was on at the time.
On the subject of my character's story, The Old Republic has a mechanic that I have not ran into in any other MMO: phased instances gated by class. For example, there are areas that involved the Sith Warrior class-specific missions and story line, and only Sith Warriors, or someone partied with a Sith Warrior, could enter them. Further, they only allowed one Sith Warrior in each instance; if two Sith Warriors entered the same class story area, they would get phased into seperate instances. This mechanic does a significant amount to help retain immersion; when my warrior went to visit her Overseer, she was the only Sith Warrior talking to him and did not have to wade through a sea of other characters to report to her mentor. However, if my friend was playing a Sith Inquisitor, I could follow them and watch their story as it unfolds. The story is pervasive and driving, and I feel like I have a part in it. Overall, despite the fact that I might rub shoulders with fellow Sith Warriors Darth DarthSephiroth and six Clouds on the Imperial Fleet, I still feel very much that I, and my character, are at the focus of the larger overarching story.
Another nice feature that seems new to the MMO genre is the companion system. Other MMOs have adventuring fellows, companions, and mercenaries, but in The Old Republic the concept is remodeled and redone. At one point, each character gains access to a space ship of their own, and they can accumulate a collection of companions to help them on their adventure. Each companion is a unique NPC, with their own preferences, goals, and attitude. The crew will also do all that pesky gathering and crafting for the player. You can simply open your Crew Skills window to get them on the com, and tell them to go find resources, make things, or sell your junk items, and the companion will take care of it while you keep up the important business of building your legacy.
The game interface is relatively standard; veteran MMO players will be able to hop right in and ignore most of the tooltips, but they should be very helpful to new players. There is no real tutorial, but when a new tip pops up it is glowing and noticable (but out of the way of the action if you choose to ignore it). The general chat channels also seemed to be nearly void of questions about the interface, indicating few problems overall.
Combat is similar to games like EverQuest, World of Warcraft, and Final Fantasy XIV. Players gain skills and abilities as they level, which are placed on action bars and triggered in combat. There is no auto attack, but I don't miss having it - no matter which class I've played, the combat has been fast paced and fun, with a nice variety of powers.
The very first time I logged into The Old Republic's game launcher, I was greeted by the sound of french horns and a familiar theme that gave me a shiver. When the game uses music, it delivers pieces that fall in the same vein. There has not yet been anything that made me say "I need to own this soundtrack!", but where used the music has been pleasant and appropriate. One thing that has really blown me away though is the voice acting. The Old Republic doesn't just have voice acting for cutscenes and important missions, every single line from every NPC I have interacted with has been voiced.
Although Star Wars: The Old Republic isn't as visually impressive as, say, Final Fantasy XIII or some of the higher-end PC games, it looks fantastic for an MMO. I played the game for a while on my laptop on the low graphics settings, and still achieved decent performance and the graphics were OK; when I played the game on my desktop and turned all the graphics settings up, performance was flawless and it looked great.
Overall, Star Wars: The Old Republic looks like a solid, fantastic game. It is already a few days into the pre-launch early game access, and the game has been amazingly stable and bug free. There is plenty of content, a heavy emphasis on story, and enough unique mechanics that The Old Republic truly feels like a one of a kind MMO.