Lobo and his loyal crew.

Yep, it’s a new post.

Nope, it’s not anything remotely figure-related!

Ash and I have been playing a lot of Star Wars: The Old Republic lately on the Republic side of Juyo. Both of us have leveled at a character to 50 (the maximum level). So since I’m in a rantful mood, I figure I’m going to write a tl;dr post that’s probably completely irrelevant to the interests of most of you! I suppose this is kind of a review (though admittedly my last “real” MMO was Burning Crusade in WoW), but also kind of an update post — now you know what Ash and I have been wasting our time with instead of blogging about figures!

WTF is The Old Republic?

TOR is Bioware’s big entry into the MMO market. Backed by Electronic Arts, this Star Wars game is rumoured to have cost anywhere from $80 million to $300 million to produce. The game is heavily story driven and features fully voice-acted dialogue, boasting over 200,000 lines. Though the gameplay is very similar to World of Warcraft (as people often call it “WoW in space”, one might say it’s the bastard child of a traditional MMO and a single-player RPG. What do I mean by that? Well, read on~

The Setting

The story of TOR takes place 300 years after the events of Knights of the Old Republic (a game both Ash and Ohnoraptors has bugged me to play) and 3,500 years prior to the events of the Star Wars films. The Sith Empire has returned, and after an initial wave of open aggression, the two opposing factions are in a state of a barely concealed cold war. Neither sides are committing acts of open aggression in the form of all-out war, but there are plenty of under-the-table dealings and skirmishes on various worlds in the galaxy in a bid to tip the balance of power.

Ashlotte = big bald man. Chag = little bald man. He may have the height advantage, but I have DEPTH PERCEPTION.

Each faction has 4 mirrored classes: the Jedi Knight/Sith Warrior, the Jedi Consular/Sith Inquisitor, the Smuggler/Imperial Agent, and the Trooper/Bounty Hunter. Each of these classes has two separate advance classes, and each of these advanced classes have three different skill trees, so there’s plenty of variety to be had. I play a Gunslinger, a long-range damage class that stems out of the Smuggler, while Ash plays a Vanguard, a ranged tank class that’s a variant of the Trooper.

When Ash brought the game to my attention, I was immediately dubious of the premise. As the vast majority of MMOs are set in fantasy settings, I wasn’t sure if the swords & magic model of MMOs would be appropriate for the lightsaber-swinging world of Star Wars. So does it work? Well, kinda.

The Old Republic takes full advantage of the vastness of the Star Wars setting. From the Toxic swamp world of Quesh, to the sleazy metropolis of Nar Shaddaa, to the frozen expanses of Hoth, the world of TOR feels truly vast. Personally, I have never been a big Star Wars fan as I was too young/illiterated when I watched the original trilogy, but even without picking up all the allusions and throwbacks to the movies and KOTOR, the planets of the galaxy far, far away were satisfying to explore.

Good ol' Tatooine -- it's every bit as dry and vast as you'd imagine.

However, as we have been introduced to the Star Wars universe through the films, there are a number of contradictions that ultimately break the immersion of the experience. The issue of lightsaber lethality is especially glaring: because of the needs of game balance, lightsabers are no longer these awe-inspiring weapons that can cut through steel like a hot knife through butter. When you see people swinging them through enemies repeatedly, they feel a lot less like hyper-lethal weapons and more like big shiny glowsticks.

Am I the only one who thinks Hutts are cute? Look at dem stubby arms...dawwww.

Asides from the lightsabers, there’s also the issue of shoehorning of MMO mechanics into the Star Wars universe. Most MMOs need special abilities outside of the swinging of swords and axes (i.e. magic). In the case of TOR, these abilities translate to force and tech powers. For the non-force using glasses, these abilities boil down the miniature droids and other gadgets that the player calls out of #hammerspace. The commando class calls down miniature droids and heals the target with a scan of some sort and throwing around globs of healing agents. The mercenary bounty hunters heals people by scanning them and shooting people in the face with hypodermic needles. As a gunslinger, I have some gadget that farts out a electromagnetic pulse that bounces enemies away from me. Not only have we never seen this sort of technology in any of the Star Wars movies, they also seem a little out of place in the universe as a whole.

The Jedi gets their own version of Force choke called "Force Stasis". I think I'll stick with Force choke.

The force users have a easier time since their abilities are more closely related to magic, but even for them there’s a lot of shoehorning — what the hell is “dark healing” anyhow? Also, the Jedi consulars have an ability that is meant to mirror the Sith sorcerer’s force lightning which throws a torrents of pebbles at the enemy…ooo, scary!

Anyhow, the point is that TOR had to bend a few lines in order to make the Star Wars universe into an MMO, and I really can’t fault them too much for that. It’s Star Wars, but it’s not quite the Star Wars you know and love.

The Road to Fifty

"First one to make fun of my hat gets the business end of my blasters!"

The journey of Captain Lobo Vore began when a backstabbing douchebag stole my spaceship, which was loaded with a shipment of blasters due to be delivered to a particularly ill-tempered gangster called Rogan the Butcher. Thus began the endeavour to take back my ride while fighting off hitmen from both the dirty thief I’m pursuing and the less-than-pleased gangster. Of course, the story ultimately becomes intermingled with the fate of the galactic republic, and before I knew it, I was committing heists, having affairs with senators and taking down Imperial fleet admirals.

I wonder what my wookie is doing in my vision quest. Good thing blasters still work on vision-beasts.

Asides from the overarching class quest, each planet the player visits has its own main quest line, as well as a slew of side quests. The main quests vary in quality, but they tend to be more complex and creative. I especially enjoyed going through the vision rituals of the Voss natives and storming the Sith-occupied Parliament of Corellia, mowing down Sith lords left and right. Other quests, such as the diplomatic mission involving particularly cryptic protocol droids drove Ash and me bonkers.

The side quests are more or less standard MMO fare, i.e. doing chores for strangers that usually involves mild genocide. On the plus side, all the quests are fully voiced with multiple conversation options (and sometimes even alternate completion routes). The voiced dialogue gives context to why I’m killing 10 space boars for these people, which is a nice touch. Still. while this feature is a good thing, after going through 30 or so levels, my interest in the more obviously menial task descriptions started to falter, especially when playing in the wee morning or late at night.

Thankfully, there are more than enough quests to do in the game that one could simply skip the less interesting ones without worrying about having to resort to hours upon hours of mob-grinding.

Some of your companions have romance options. I ended up choosing the muscle-bound mercenary with teeth sticking out of her head. Deciding to choose her over the other decidedly more vanilla option wasn't easy, but Baldy's personality reminds me a lot of Saber Alter, and Saber Alter is the hotness.

Throughout your journey you will welcome 5 companions to your crew (plus a ship droid!). These companions can either fight alongside you or be sent off on missions to gather resources and craft items. As you complete quests with them and give them gifts, they will gain affection points (which improves their gathering/crafting proficiency) and unlock additional dialogue and quests that unveils more of their backstories. I don’t know how it is for other classes, but between a chivalrous adventurer, a noble slave, a streetwise informant, a vengeful mercenary, and a bumbling Jedi dropout, there is plenty of incentive for me to get to know my crew.

This is the bounty hunter alt that I'm probably never going to level. Ugh, I should've rolled a female character to begin with instead of...

The conversation system of TOR is very much similar to that of the Mass Effect series, albeit more linear. In any given scenario there’s usually a nice guy response, a neutral response, and a dick response. The fact that my character has a voice made it easy to roleplay; asides from the obvious trash side quests, I like listening to my character talk, and I like trolling NPCs with my mean-spirited and sarcastic quips. But in the end, as hard as I try to be a total greedy dick, I still soften up and do the right thing (most of the time, anyways). Above all else, I think ease with which one can meaningfully interact with both the game world and other players is TOR‘s greatest strength.

...THIS. What was I SMOKING?

The choices you make affect the affection ratings of your companions based on their personalities, as well as you morality score during the occasional marked choices. Sometimes I feel like I’m power-gaming my decisions to raise my morality/affection scores, but the very fact that this bothers me shows how strong the characterization in this game is.

You have to wonder why these hover bikes don't have seats installed.

Overall, I had a lot of fun leveling up in SWTOR. The first 20 levels was a whirlwind tour with Ashlotte, and after that I mostly leveled solo (though I did have some help from Ash and Ohnoraptors for some group quests), which was also very satisfying. Sure, I was not plowing through everything like before, but the added challenge gave some juicy tension to the combat.

End game

After you reach level 50, the current end game of SWTOR boils down two two things: flashpoints/ops (dungeons/raids), and PVP. There’s a bunch of repeatable daily quests that yields commendation tokens which can be traded for some decent gear, but that’s not really worth mentioning.

Flashpoints

Cowering from afar while Ash takes the heat -- that's how I roll.

The dungeons in this game are 4-man encounters. Like the rest of the game, they are laced with dialogue and moral choices. The boss fights more often than not have a unique trick to them that you have to figure out to succeed as opposed to the standard tank & spank. Some of these conditions are pretty unforgiving to newcomers and don’t seem to be appropriate for these entry-level encounters, especially for pick-up groups. There was one boss in a renegade droid compound that virtually one-shots anyone standing outside of his melee range, and immediately dying to a unforeseen attack right off the bat without knowing the reason for is pretty frustrating. But as frustrating as some of these encounters may be, figuring out the tricks to these bosses and succeeding for the first time is a very gratifying experience.

It'd be cool if there were more bosses like this. Ganging up on fat people isn't very heroic.

One complaint I have about these flashpoint encounters is that more often than not, your party will be beating on some standard humanoid enemy, and half the time the enemy is a fat dude with a big gun. Now, this is mostly a limitations of the setting, but it really isn’t as exciting as, say, killing a dragon/ogre/anything that looks large/intimidating/exotic. I wish there were more fights like Imperial boarding party on Mandolarian Raiders — that fight pitted the player’s party against an opposing 4-member NPC party. It was brutally difficult before the patch, but not even 6 wipes could discourage our party from overcoming the obstacle. The upcoming patch is introducing a flashpoint full of SPACE ZOMBIES, which sounds like it would yield adventure of the spicier variety.

A raid in a pit of lava? Gee, I sure have not seen this before!

Tanking lightning bolts. With my face.

Thankfully, the 8-16 member Operations seem to offer more exciting enemies. I was pretty impressed with Eternity Vault, and I’m particularly excited about the upcoming patch that’ll pit players against a Hutt in a giant robot walker.

PVP

The shining star in the end game for me right now is undoubtedly PVP. And by PVP I mean the warzones, as open-world hasn’t been properly implemented yet. There are 3 warzones in the game at the moment:

Civil War is your standard control point mode that’s in the same vein as WoW’s Arathi Basin. Voidstar reminds me of Call of Duty’d Demolition mode in which the attacking team must plant a bomb in one of two locations (Ash and Hamstercorp tell me that it’s a clone of WoW’s Strand of the Ancients).

Ashlotte loves balls.

The most interesting of the trio is undoubtedly Huttball, which is American football…with lightsabers and guns. And fire traps and acid pits. Yeah.

The good thing about being a ranged class is that I don't have to be apart of the clusterfuck I'm shooting into.

While overwhelming at first, I’ve come to love Huttball. This is largely thanks to Ash and Ohnoraptors, who make an unstoppable team as ball carrier and healer. I try to do my job to mow down pursuers on their tail, but oftentimes I lose track of of them simply because of their mercilessly efficient pace. Though we haven’t been PVPing together for too long, the name <Voidstar Velociraptors> is already becoming known on the server. Personally, I can’t wait for the eventual implementation of group ranked PVP, because it’s been a blast thus far.

Ninety-Nine Problems

Believe it or not, this is what top-end gear looks like for Jedi Guardian and Sentinels. Thank God for customizable gear.

As with many MMO titles, the post-launch period has been fraught with problems. In the case of TOR, the game has picked up a lot of negative attention. The short explanation would be that the game is simply not finished. The game is not optimized very well, and people are reporting poor frame rates in Warzones and capital fleets. As a direct consequence to this, Bioware has removed high-resolution textures from the launch version of the game and have been getting a lot of flak for it. Predictably, a lot of people are up in arms about this withdrawal of graphics fidelity — some are even filing false advertising lawsuits. While I’ve never been a graphics whore, the difference between medium and high setting textures is quite significant, and I really hope this PR disaster gets resolved soon.

There's space combat in this game, which is pretty much a Star Fox clone complete with barrel rolls. It's not terribly deep, but it's a fun distraction.

What bothers me more are some of the other issues that directly impedes one’s progress in the game. A number of the hard mode flashpoints are currently bugged, meaning that if you’re unlucky, your group’s evening would suddenly become a big waste of time when the final boss decides to spaz out. The Legacy system, a feature that encourages people to make more characters, will not be implemented for another 2-3 months. Similarly, updates to the currently barebones guild system will also have to wait. There is currently a myriad of small bugs and annoyances in the game: the UI sometimes breaks, companions randomly die on elevators, taunts not working, etc, etc. Mind you, Bioware has been releasing patches left and right to make people happy, but the fact is that the game feels obviously rushed to fit the holidays release window. Considering the amount of resources and manpower that went into this game, I think it’s real pity that the game is slipping up during the vital early stages of the game, because people will unsubscribe when these small thing end up snowballing.

Conclusion

Don't mind me -- just looking awesome on my dope-ass 1.5 million cred ride.

So after everything’s said and done, would I recommend SWTOR? The short answer is “yes”, and the long answer is “yes, but take your time leveling your character”, because it’s going to take some time before Bioware fully fleshes out the end game experience (unless you love PVP).

Most of the flight path transports in this game are speeder bikes and taxis, but there are the occasional exceptions.

I don’t think this game is going to be the “WoW-killer”, but I do think it will end the virtual hegemony that WoW has enjoyed for so long. While the game mechanics may seem familiar, the overall essence of the game is very much original as it successfully transplants the feel of a single-player game into the MMO genre. Admittedly, the game is rough around the edges, but I am enjoying the game and look forward to future updates, as potential of this game is as vast as the galaxy it’s set in.

The PVP rewards in this game come in the shape of randomized prize bags. I just so happen to have fiendish luck and assembled my full set at least twice as fast as Ash. BEHOLD, ALL DEM PURPZ

What’s Good

  • Immersive storytelling through fully-voiced dialogue and conversation options
  • Varied and interesting companion characters
  • PVP is a blast
  • A game world that feels vast

What’s bad

  • Game is rushed. (post-launch bugs, glitches, texture nerf, etc.)
  • Immersion-breaking issues (lighsaber lethality, out-of-place technology)
  • Borderline bullshit flashpoint encounters