Game Review

Star Wars: The Old Republic Review

From the moment you first log in, Star Wars: The Old Republic puts you in the mindset of a star-hopping badass. The opening cinematic, where the Sith appear out of nowhere and reclaim Korriban, introduces you to the conflict between the Empire and the Republic. Then you choose which faction you're going to play for, and another cinematic sets the tone of your alignment. For Empire players, the focus is on power, control, and anger. The Republic cinematic portrays a need to take back what's lost through planning and tenacity. The cinematics are spectacularly compelling and make me wish Blur, the creators, were contracted to do a feature-length film. <br/><br/>Then you're kicked back to a menu screen to create your character. The creator is quite flexible, with a wide range of customization options unique to each race, but you're limited only to strictly humanoid races and a few rather similar body sizes (males at least get a "fat" option &#x2013; female characters don't even get that). For a universe with a vast number of established intelligent races of all shapes and sizes, this feels limited. You can't, for example, play as a Jawa or a droid. In the grand scheme of things, it's a minor annoyance though. <br/><br/> <object id="vid_44365ce07ba7f7a90d9d72a83852a795" class="ign-videoplayer" width="468" height="263" data="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"><param name="movie" value="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf"/><param name="" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><param name="bgcolor" value="#000000"/><param name="flashvars" value="url=http://www.ign.com/videos/2012/01/06/star-wars-the-old-republic-video-review"/><param name="wmode" value="opaque"/></object> <div style="width:468px"><a target="_blank" href="http://www.ign.com/videos/2012/01/06/star-wars-the-old-republic-video-review"><center>Star Wars: The Old Republic Video Review</center></a></div><br/><br/>The classic scrolling yellow text of the films begins immediately after you've created your character, accompanied by the Star Wars theme. There is, in my mind, no better way BioWare could have kicked off your adventure. The text briefly explains who you are and in what context you're entering the galaxy. It's unique to each class and, along with the cinematic that follows, sets you on your way to making a name for yourself. This is where inexperienced players will hit a figurative force-field. <br/><br/><!-- Start IGN Guide promo --><LINK REL="stylesheet" HREF="http://guidesmedia.ign.com/guides/uni/IGNE_style.css" TYPE="text/css"><DIV CLASS="IGNE_promo_box"><a target="_blank" HREF="http://www.ign.com/wikis/star-wars-the-old-republic" CLASS="IGNE_promo_header" omni_link="IGNE_promo_guide_header">The Old Republic Wiki Guide</A><a target="_blank" HREF="http://www.ign.com/wikis/star-wars-the-old-republic/Starter_Guide" CLASS="IGNE_promo_link" omni_link="IGNE_promo_guide_link">Starter Guide</A><a target="_blank" HREF="http://www.ign.com/wikis/star-wars-the-old-republic/Datacron_Locations" CLASS="IGNE_promo_link" omni_link="IGNE_promo_guide_link">Datacron Locations</A><a target="_blank" HREF="http://www.ign.com/wikis/star-wars-the-old-republic/Classes" CLASS="IGNE_promo_link" omni_link="IGNE_promo_guide_link">Classes & Skill Builder</A><a target="_blank" HREF="http://www.ign.com/wikis/star-wars-the-old-republic/Easter_Eggs" CLASS="IGNE_promo_link" omni_link="IGNE_promo_guide_link">Easter Eggs</A><a target="_blank" HREF="http://www.ign.com/wikis/star-wars-the-old-republic/Quests" CLASS="IGNE_promo_link" omni_link="IGNE_promo_guide_link">Quests Guide</A><img src="http://pcmedia.ign.com/pc/image/article/121/1214623/star-wars-the-old-republic-20111212052533351-000.jpg" /><br/><b>The greatest skill build of all time.</b><br/><br/><img src="http://pcmedia.ign.com/pc/image/article/105/1056133/star-wars-the-old-republic-20091217115350387.jpg" /><br/><br/><br/></A><a target="_blank" HREF="http://cheats.ign.com/sendcheats.html" TARGET="_new" CLASS="IGNE_promo_submit" omni_link="IGNE_promo_guide_submit">Send us your tips &raquo;</A><a target="_blank" HREF="http://twitter.com/?status=@IGNguides%20%23igncheats%20" TARGET="_new" CLASS="IGNE_promo_submittweet" omni_link="IGNE_promo_guide_submittweet">Tweet us your tips &raquo;</A></DIV><!-- End IGN Guide promo -->The Old Republic has no structured tutorial. Rather, there's a tip system that offers help about an aspect of gameplay whenever the context calls for it. In any other MMO, that would probably suffice, but the moment you set foot in The Old Republic you are faced with quest-givers, future quest-givers with grey quest icons, class-specific story areas that you can't enter, vendors, dialogue trees, half a dozen abilities and hostile NPCs who will attack on sight. That's a whole lot to take in within the span of about five minutes, and while many of the systems that The Old Republic uses are familiar to MMO players, I can't help but think how overwhelmed I was by my first MMO, and just how much more The Old Republic throws at the you from the get-go.<br/><br/>But BioWare gives you an incentive to get over that initial hump by giving you a sense of purpose and the opportunity to breathe personality into your character. In the amount of time it takes to get through the first dialogue bit, you may be tempted to proudly announce to anyone nearby that you're "the most evil Sith ever," or "a Bounty Hunter with a heart of gold and an eye for credits." From there, BioWare gives you hundreds more opportunities to reinforce your identity (or flip-flop entirely). This makes learning the complex game systems feel like more of a side-effect of role-playing your character than a requirement to move forward.<br/><br/>The complex game systems won't seem so complex if you've played an MMO in the last decade. Combat is based around selecting a target and using an ability to attack it. The Old Republic sets itself apart from many MMOs by removing the auto-attack that initiates when your character is set to beat up a target. Instead, each class has a basic attack that has to be activated manually whenever you want to use it. It requires no class resource, and in the case of the Jedi Knight and the Sith Warrior it actually helps build the resource, somewhat similar to Rage for the warrior class in World of Warcraft. <br/><br/><img src="http://pcmedia.ign.com/pc/image/article/105/1056133/star-wars-the-old-republic-20091217115349715.jpg" /><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>I'm not a huge fan of the system. While it does away with the passive gameplay of the auto-attack, it introduces the problem of forcing you to fill every gap between cooldowns with a basic attack, and to constantly pepper it into every attack rotation. The attack doesn't do anything unique &#x2013; even the Knight and Warrior get other abilities that add just as much resource &#x2013; and the damage scales with gear at the same rate as other abilities, except abilities get significant bonus damage and usually a secondary function. For some classes the basic attack might trigger another ability, but invariably there are other abilities that act as triggers as well. So the sole purpose of the basic attack is to add a slight amount of damage to gaps in an attack rotation, or to give you something to do while you wait for your class resource to regenerate. It doesn't make for more fun gameplay in the long run and just means you'll be pushing a single key a whole lot.<br/><br/>While it can get a little annoying having to babysit a single button that doesn't add any true depth, the rest of the skill set makes up for it. The nature of the Advanced Class system means that two very different style of character will share many of the same skills, but by virtue of the skills they don't share, they function in wildly different ways. The best example of this is the Sith Sorcerer, a ranged damage dealer/healer versus the Sith Assassin, a melee damage dealer/tank capable of going into stealth. They both split from the Inquisitor, so they both have Overload, which knocks nearby enemies back. As a Sorcerer the skill is a powerful means of getting some distance on an attacker, while an Assassin can use it from stealth to completely disorient an enemy player or get them way out of position. <br/><br/>While these abilities certainly do their job against an AI-controlled enemy, against a player in one of The Old Republic's Warzones is where they really shine. This is true especially of Huttball, a deranged version of American football mixed with rugby, with acid pools and plumes of fire scattered across a multi-level arena, is the most original and compelling PvP map I've seen. It's the only map that currently allows two teams of the same faction to fight against each other, so for servers with population imbalances it's also the most frequently played of the three Warzones and according to in-game chat and forums, people are getting sick of it. I'm not one of those people. Huttball's emphasis on teamwork, communication, planning and clever use of the environment set it apart from Voidstar and Alderaan's emphasis on straightforward combat. <br/><br/> <object id="vid_88d22c4df7668bf2f5f99bd48b7fe7ba" class="ign-videoplayer" width="468" height="263" data="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"><param name="movie" value="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf"/><param name="" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><param name="bgcolor" value="#000000"/><param name="flashvars" value="url=http://www.ign.com/videos/2011/12/27/star-wars-the-old-republic-space-combat-impressions"/><param name="wmode" value="opaque"/></object> <div style="width:468px"><a target="_blank" href="http://www.ign.com/videos/2011/12/27/star-wars-the-old-republic-space-combat-impressions"><center>A look at the space missions.</center></a></div><br/><br/>Regardless of the Warzone, The Old Republic has a brilliant method of making every class role viable. In traditional PvP, tanky characters &#x2013; usually a central part of PvE group combat encounters &#x2013; become little more than a free, albeit slow, kill for damage-dealing classes, or a flag-carrier in capture-the-flag modes. It's the only role in PvP that has traditionally struggled to find its niche. In The Old Republic, besides being excellent Huttball-carriers, tanks are able to redirect an ally's damage to them and reduce the damage an enemy deals to everyone but the tank himself. This can make a massive difference to the lifespan of squishier characters and makes tanks an important part of a solid team's makeup. <br/><br/>The Old Republic takes note of the reduced and redirected damage in the background, along with the amount of damage each player deals and heals, the number of kills they are involved in, and how often they are involved in attacking and defending objectives, and allocates Badges to players whenever they reach a certain threshold throughout the match. Badges are turned into one of the game's many currencies at the end of the match, rewarding those who contributed to a battle. In my experience, the system rewards performance well, and I've only seen one person standing idle in dozens and dozens of matches, which to me reflects that the Badge system is effective at encouraging players to participate instead of trying to rack up the meager default rewards.<br/><br/><img src="http://pcmedia.ign.com/pc/image/article/105/1056133/star-wars-the-old-republic-20091217115349402.jpg" /><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>Class roles in PvE group encounters are much more simplistic, and the encounters themselves &#x2013; at least prior to the level cap &#x2013; fairly standard. The more interesting ones take place primarily in Flashpoints, which are instanced and heavily scripted. The first Flashpoint for each faction is a particularly excellent showcase of BioWare's signature branching storylines. Later Flashpoints don't emphasize story as strongly and play more akin to instances in other games, which makes repeated runs less exciting.<br/><br/>That's not a big deal, though, because you'll get plenty of storytelling through questing. The quality of the story is very good &#x2013; you get opportunities to threaten, extort, maim and murder, or be totally nice and live and let live. Light and dark side options spring up regularly, and occasionally foregoing the obvious light or dark side choice early on in a conversation will reveal an extra opportunity. Force-alignment is mostly cosmetic (you can get equal or better gear through different avenues) but can influence what your companions, AI-controlled allies who aid you in battle, think of you. <br/><br/><pagebreak><br/><br/>Companions are essentially pets from other MMOs, but with more abilities. They also each have a full set of gear slots, so they can be customized almost as much as you can. They grow to love or hate you (mostly love, though) based on your choices in conversation. As their affection grows, you unlock quests which give you some insights into their character. I like that the system exists, but its execution is pretty lackluster from what I've seen. I courted one of my companions up to the maximum amount of affection and completed her chain of quests, and was rewarded with a few awkward kissing sequences and an a couple items in the mail.<br/><br/>But at least the vocal performances were good. In fact, the voice-acting throughout The Old Republic is consistently strong, a true feat considering just how much of it there is. Each quest giver exudes personality in just a few sentences, and the tasks they dole out to you usually make sense in the context of the setting. You want me to disable mines along that road? Of course you do! It's a battlefield! <br/><br/> <object id="vid_cb79cbb89e5bbbb83b9d111b11c5fd9e" class="ign-videoplayer" width="468" height="263" data="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"><param name="movie" value="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf"/><param name="" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><param name="bgcolor" value="#000000"/><param name="flashvars" value="url=http://www.ign.com/videos/2011/12/22/star-wars-the-old-republic-pvp-warzone-impressions"/><param name="wmode" value="opaque"/></object> <div style="width:468px"><a target="_blank" href="http://www.ign.com/videos/2011/12/22/star-wars-the-old-republic-pvp-warzone-impressions"><center>The three PvP Warzones.</center></a></div><br/><br/>The quests themselves don't really deviate from the kill-and-collect affair that MMOs have come to be known (and often maligned) for, they're just wrapped up in a much more appealing skin. Collecting mines with interesting context is still just collecting mines. Most quests have several phases and it's not always necessary to return to the quest-giver between phases. Instead, the next part of the quest will just open up, often pushing you deeper into enemy territory, giving you the sense that this is a complex, multi-tiered military operation and not just something some guys wants you to do. A lot of quests end with an encounter with a strong enemy, which makes the whole process feel like a mini dungeon run. <br/><br/>Whether you're questing, running Flashpoints or PvPing, like other MMOs in this vein, the ultimate goal is to acquire better gear. Gear floods towards you at an almost constant rate. Quests usually give you several item choices, and PvP throws commendations at you like crazy. Each questing planet also supplies you with commendations, which can be traded in for a totally sweet tattoo. Just kidding! They'll give you more gear. Certain item types can have their stats completely modified, which means if you are particularly fond of the look of an item you can feasibly hold onto it indefinitely. Because companions have their own set of gear slots, you'll also have plenty of places to put all the items you get. If you love chasing better gear (and who doesn't?) then The Old Republic will leave you satisfied. <br/><br/><img src="http://pcmedia.ign.com/pc/image/article/105/1056133/star-wars-the-old-republic-20091217115350761.jpg" /><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>The visual appearance of the gear &#x2013; arguably the most important reason to even get it in the first place &#x2013; is very loyal to the Star Wars source material. Bounty Hunter gear harkens back to all sorts of famous characters without ever copying them exactly, and Inquisitor and Warrior gear is appropriately dark and ominous. Jedi have robes. They're brown!<br/><br/>Most of The Old Republic's settings share the same loyalty. Nar Shaddaa is a sleazy Las Vegas in space, Taris, a ruined, war-torn and now overgrown world. Tattooine is appropriately sandy and dome-filled, and Hoth is as frozen-over as you'd expect it to be. Actually, there are a lot of snowy planets. They should consider sending some of that ice to Tattooine. While the layout of some of these planets makes getting around tiresome at times, often broken-up and unreachable by any means but a taxi, it's never so bad that you'd rather abandon your task and grind a level out somewhere else. The stand-out planet for me was Voss, not because of aesthetics or layout, but because it contained a few of the most interesting quests in the entire game. That, and the Voss race is just very cool.<br/><br/> <object id="vid_a6d3759e8eec90be03d76a2f64808020" class="ign-videoplayer" width="468" height="263" data="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"><param name="movie" value="http://media.ign.com/ev/prod/embed.swf"/><param name="" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><param name="bgcolor" value="#000000"/><param name="flashvars" value="url=http://www.ign.com/videos/2011/12/16/star-wars-the-old-republic-crafting-and-companion-impressions"/><param name="wmode" value="opaque"/></object> <div style="width:468px"><a target="_blank" href="http://www.ign.com/videos/2011/12/16/star-wars-the-old-republic-crafting-and-companion-impressions"><center>Impressions of the crafting system.</center></a></div><br/><br/>Some games suffer from a lack of content at launch. The Old Republic is not one of those games. If anything, there is too much content, with most planets containing entire bonus-sets of quests for players who want to stay there a little while longer. Between questing, PvP and ship combat (which is disappointingly simplistic once you get over the nice visuals) there will never be a time prior to the level cap of 50 when you have nothing to do. And even once you hit the level cap, hard modes of old Flashpoints open up, as do Operations (Flashpoints for larger groups). There's also the planet of Ilum, a hybrid PvP/PvE location that supplies some nice rewards. <br/><br/>Unfortunately, quite a lot of the latter-half of the leveling curve is plagued with bugs. Most are cosmetic &#x2013; weird cinematics, attack animations lingering endlessly &#x2013; but every now and then you'll hit a nasty one, like instantly dying after using a transport or getting stuck and becoming unable to move (even after using the unstuck command) indefinitely. Patches have become more frequent than they were initially, but there are still a lot of issues floating around weeks after opening up public access. <br/><br/>There are several aspects I haven't mentioned here, and others that I didn't go into great detail for, that I have in the <a target="_blank"="http://pc.ign.com/articles/121/1216025p1.html">Star Wars: The Old Republic Review Journal</a>. If you want more detail about any aspect of the game, or just want to kill some time between Warzones,<a target="_blank"="http://pc.ign.com/articles/121/1216025p1.html"> please check it out</a>.<br/><br/>&#169;2012-01-06, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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