This weekend marks my first true interaction with The Old Republic. While I vaguely followed the games development and had many friends who bought into it day one, I stayed on the sidelines. It did not bother me how much the game resembled World of Warcraft. It did not bother me that it was a Star Wars game (a universe I am ultimately not a huge fan of). And despite my falling out of love with Bioware over their biggest hits (Dragon Age: Origins and the Mass Effect series … yes, I am one of those people), the fact that it was their game didn’t bother me. The thing that bothered me about The Old Republic was its unwavering, unceasing dedication to story and voice acting.
I am an old school MMO fan. I prefer sandboxes to theme parks and making my own way to cutscenes directing my path. The Old Republic and I were destined to be mortal enemies. However, after a few hours with it this weekend, I want to relax the hate I have felt for it just a little bit. Overall, I still don’t like it, but I think the story elements do work, to an extent, and do make the game fun and memorable. It isn’t the world’s best MMO and I will never relent on that, but I do think it could be a good game if I played it a little longer.
I began my journey in The Old Republic as a Sith Warrior. From what I had read about the game, the Sith Warrior seemed like a good choice for a style of MMO gaming that I enjoy: tanking. It also seemed a little more interesting than being yet another Jedi. Though, honestly, most of the Star Wars writing I have experienced has Jedis and Siths acting so stereotypically that I had planned to be lulled into stupor with either choice. I just wanted to swing a lightsaber.
Gameplay-wise, the game was spot on World of Warcraft derivation. Hardly a revolution or evolution, the game employs a basic resource system combined with a heavy amount of cooldown-based abilities. It was okay. It hardly felt new and as I have been pretty burnt out World of Warcraft, that same burn out crept up again in TOR immediately. On the positive side, the Sith Warrior’s abilities looked great, sounded great, and felt incredibly responsive. Unlike the charge abilities in Guild Wars 2, the Sith always charged immediately when I pressed the button (even mid-air) and it always landed where I needed to be. The number 2 ability I started with also looked good, as it employed an animation that made me look like I was swinging with all the anger possible in the universe. Though I am not sure how swinging a laser beam harder makes it hurt more …
Graphically the game looked fine. It was all fairly clean and crisp, and nothing to complain about. Korriban is an ugly shit hole, but that’s by choice and not lack of artistic merit. And though I was quickly able to perceive the walls and boundaries that made the starting area feel very cramped (which isn’t a TOR-specific complaint, most new MMOs do it), they did a good job of making the scenery look open enough that it didn’t bother me. It is a definite improvement from sticking every starting zone into a mountainous valley like WoW does.
Now for the meat of The Old Republic experience: the story. All in all, it wasn’t terrible. I liked a lot of the choices I was given as a Sith Warrior, even if I felt like the entire beginning story felt really forced, generic, and boring. A key issue I have with any MMO story that is magnified a million times over in TOR is that everything the world tells my character is to reinforce the idea that they are special, unique, a once in a generation individual. This is a typical theme in most RPG games, but in a single-player game, you don’t come out of a cutscene to a see ten other ‘special, unique, a once in a generation’ individuals.
The Sith Warrior’s approach to this theme was particularly horrible. From what I gather, someone at the Sith Academy has a plot to keep the Sith ‘pureblooded’ (which I assume is a parallel to the Harry Potter universe). You, as the far too talented for someone with so little training Sith Warrior, are central to that plot despite just having met. It really seems like a forced way to get the story rolling, and I couldn’t help thinking that the system of trials the Sith Academy typically employs, the ones my character was cheating his way through, would have been more fun if I had done them the ‘right’ way. Again, I don’t understand the obsession in a multiplayer experience with making each player feel legendary. Sure, let them feel powerful, but don’t tell them it is destiny.
As I said though, I did like the choices I was given. They were all pretty interesting and definitely made the game feel broader in scope than your typical MMO storyline. If The Old Republic were a single player game, I might still be playing it. I presume the Sith Warrior story eventually gets interesting, at least. And, if not, there are many other characters to play through. In a world where I was still a huge Bioware game, I would definitely buy The Old Republic to give a once-through. Even in such a world, I still wouldn’t expect that the rest of the game could keep me there any longer.
I do have two major complaints about the dedication to story and voice acting. First, why do the sidequests need to have elaborate cutscenes and full voice acting? I understand it, appreciate it, and even enjoy it for the main questlines, but Joe Soldier on the front line doesn’t need to give me a long speech on why he needs a random monster eliminated. Many of these cutscenes don’t even employ speech choices, so it seems even more unnecessary. Having less than major quests treated as such helps the game. It provides a clear dividing line between throwaway quests you do only for advancement and those quests that the game so desperately wants to be core to the experience.
Second, I really hate the green and red walls. I realize they are to differentiate between your personal story instance and that of other’s, but to me it just reminds me that I am playing yet another game rather than delving into a new world. Would it have been so terrible to not have the colored fog walls? To not announce to me that in a mile I am going to walk through a door to a cutscene? It isn’t game breaking, but it was a real tap dance on the face of my immersion. The wall, combined with the super forced “you are unique” storyline, made my MMO experience of the game rather poor.
In the end, I don’t hate The Old Republic. I have to respect Bioware for trying so hard to advance one element of MMOs they felt lacking so passionately, despite not advancing anything else. I can definitely see why Star Wars fans and Bioware fans like this game, and probably should play this game. At the end of the day though, I am not going to play it, but I am glad I tried it, even briefly.