A fabulous single-player experience in a massively multiplayer online game
STAR WARS: The Old Republic (TOR) comes with a buffet of a story for an MMO, but you only get to fill your plate once. From decisions as significant as choosing your character’s class specialization to events as trivial as responding to key dialog options, everything you do has a lasting and permanent effect on your gameplay. We like the feast: BioWare’s masterful use of instanced environments creates more captivating gameplay for the solo quester than most any other MMO.
But this is BioWare’s first foray into the massively multiplayer world, and it shows. TOR is more a role-playing game you play alongside 999,999 friends than a true MMO. BioWare either poorly integrates or completely misses the mark on many of the elements that define an MMO. On the upside, the beautiful blend of voice acting and dialogue options in each of TOR’s many quests should earn the game a celebratory parade through the Yavin 4 throne room. And while the scripted quests (occasionally punctuated by John Williams’s familiar score) are immersive, they make the rest of the game’s environments seem stale by comparison. TOR’s non-instanced “generic” areas just aren’t very player-interactive. The Nar Shadda casino, a cold and lifeless location that cries out for mini-games and interactivity, is just one example. And don’t get us started on TOR’s cantina music.
Whoever designed TOR’s sprawling landscapes (and transportation flowcharts) deserves to be Force choked. Traveling feels like marathon training until you gain the Sprint power at level 15, or player vehicles at level 25. Even then, you can probably alt-tab out and watch the full Battle of Hoth while you auto-run your journey between planets, space, and your ship to fulfill various missions.
TOR isn’t designed so you can amass armies of friends to take out a faction leader, nor is it even really geared for generic player-versus-player prior to level 50. It’s telling that even on a PvP server, it took us until level 27 (out of 50) to encounter our first enemy player in the wild. TOR’s instanced PvP matches are simple and fun—yes, even Huttball—but BioWare’s decision to have power-boosted lowbies play alongside top-level characters is baffling.
TOR’s general combat is challenging and interactive. It includes targetable combustibles that can deal significant damage to nearby enemies, and pop-up bonus objectives that give players more of a reason to fight. That said, the boss fights of TOR’s group instances, or Flashpoints, aren’t very impressive through mid-game: The strategies are simple and the tanking and spanking is prevalent.
Keep an eye out for clickables (or killables) during normal quests, and you could earn some tasty experience from self-updating bonus objectives!
And then there are the omissions: TOR’s space combat system is more Rebel Assault than TIE Fighter, and it’s pathetic to see no Flashpoint matchmaking system beyond shouting “LFG” in general chat. There’s no true guild support beyond just having one, no in-game achievements for the boastful, and absolutely no UI customization or add-on support to speak of. The game’s Legacy features—beyond granting a player access to a last name around level 30 or so—are even labeled within the game with a big fat “coming soon.” Come on.
But no MMO can go from Padawan to Jedi Master (or Darth) in a single launch window: If BioWare can complement the game’s excellent single-player experience with more of the MMO genre’s successful staples (including a stronger implementation of the features we enjoyed in, say, Star Wars: Galaxies), then The Old Republic could very well be the “prequel” that beats out some of the MMO landscape’s big original titles. How many times do you get to say that about anything Star Wars?
Star Wars: The Old Republic
Wonderful single-player instancing; immersive scripting and voice-overs; strategic general combat.
Feels incomplete; missing modern MMO features; tough transportation flow; overly simple group co-op.