Star Wars: The Old Republic

BioWare’s long-awaited and much-anticipated Star Wars MMO is finally here and rolling down the tracks like an unstoppable train.

After picking a side (Jedi/Republic or Sith/Imperials), you can choose from two Force-based classes, a warrior/tank, and one class that’s more analogous to a rogue. The Imperial classes are: Bounty Hunter, Sith Warrior, Imperial Agent, and Sith Inquisitor. The Republic has Troopers, Smugglers, Jedi Knights, and Jedi Consulars. Each class has a unique origin story, and they’re all rich and entertaining.

Most of the game is what we've come to expect from modern MMOs, containing all the usual ingredients: tanks, damage dealers, healers, quests, instances, group play, crafting, auction houses, banks, and mounts.

Aside from the futuristic, tech-centric, and lightsaber-themed look of the game, BioWare attempted to innovate in several different ways, with moderate success. SWTOR sets itself apart through a few distinct systems. First, the game has space missions, where you can fly an upgradable ship while shooting your way to successfully completing the mission objectives, as well as bonus objectives. Despite being on rails, it’s a fun and welcome addition to online gameplay The missions are repeatable daily, and they yield experience and credits. They provide a great way to augment level grinding with something different from more traditional MMO questing.

The second big difference is the crew member system. Most MMOs have one or two classes that can control a pet and use it to supplement combat. In SWTOR, everybody gets a ship, and with that ship comes a crew. Throughout the course of the game, you accumulate a team of crewmembers, each of which has a different combat specialty. You can use any one of them at a time; some heal, some tank, some fight from range, and some wade into the fray with a lightsaber. The leveling experience is balanced around using a companion, but they can also fill in for actual players in group quests and instances.

Next is the crafting system. In most games, this is a grind that involves tediously harvesting raw materials or making something by hand. In SWTOR, your crew can operate the various professions on their own, which lets you send them off to do short, timed mini-quests. Your crewmember either comes back successful, with harvested/crafted goods, experience, and a skill point, or they come back empty-handed and your pocket is lighter of credits. Yes, all crew missions cost credits. I found this type of crafting system to be a welcome change, despite enjoying more typical crafting systems.

Lastly, one notable difference to this game was that all dialog from both NPCs and players is voiced. Characters of each race, class, and gender get their own voice actors. Whatever decision you make, there is a voiced response. This makes the game more immersive, and it’s truly amazing when you realize the scope of that single endeavor. Some players may not appreciate spending that much time talking their way through quests, but the dialog is skip-able for the impatient players. For this reviewer, it was welcomed with open arms.

BioWare made their mark on the world with earlier titles: the Dragon Age series, Baldur's Gate, Mass Effect, and NeverWinter Nights. Given the estimated cost of $150-200 million to produce this game, it was clear they knew that possessing a Star Wars title would be a make-or-break opportunity. They poured their hearts, souls, and money into creating what can only be described as a truly monumental feat in gaming history. With over one million subscribers in the first three days, SWTOR enters the record books as the fastest growing game in history (beating even World of Warcraft), not to mention setting a Guinness World Record for having the most voice actors in a game (900+). Whether or not BioWare can maintain this momentum is another question entirely!

The game does have drawbacks. Aspects of the PvP system are imbalanced or poorly designed; they’ve struggled to figure out how to incentivize world PvP, and they’ve made abilities that allow other players to move your character much too common, which can be frustrating. It’s also a fairly buggy game in general. No one expects a game to be perfect when it comes out, but BioWare has their work cut out for them. Even WoW has continued to grow, evolve, and become more refined over its seven-year history. The grumbles from the playerbase are legitimate, and like anything in game development, fixes will take time. How long will the players wait? Myself and most of my friends have already quit, but my decision was motivated more by time and level of interest than gameplay.

Normally I would give this game 3 out of 5 stars, because it's not my genre (and therefore my personal fun factor is lower). However, given the scope, this is a great game for the right player.

4 out of 5 stars.

***Special note from the reviewer's editor: "Hutball was wonderful idea, with horrific implementation".