SWTOR: This IS the game you’re looking for
“Chrysophase, you towering paragon of intellectual fecundity and hirsute masculinity,” those of you suffering from severe cranial trauma might say. “Don’t you know Star Wars: The Old Republic was released for public consumption way back in December of 2011? Why are you bothering to review this now? It’s practically a fossil by game industry standards.”
“Well, my surprisingly articulate friends,” I say to you, preparing to heave the second brick, “In an age when the average attention span is no longer than it takes to read a caption on a humorous picture of an exploited cat, SWTOR is indeed dated. But other MMORPGs far older are still alive and kicking. World of Warcraft: Kung Fu Panda edition is raking in players hand over fist, and it was first launched in the days before known history, when ancient gamers were reduced to sitting at their tower PCs and logging onto the internet using a hardline. Imagine the depravity of paying for one’s own internet. Dinosaurs roamed the earth. People were smart and phones were dumb, rather than vice versa, back in the halcyon days of 2004. And now that SWTOR is offering free trials and is implementing a real-cash for game tokens system, examining the light side, dark side, and long-term viability of the game may be in order.”
Just to recap, Star Wars: The Old Republic was developed by Bioware, of recent Mass Effect and Dragon Age fame. Their start began in 2003, when they released the precursor to SWTOR, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, a single-player XBox release featuring strong roleplaying elements, fully-scripted conversations, multiple customizable character classes, and a sort of choose-your-own-adventure feel thanks to multiple endings and a moral alignment system. Your choices throughout the game influenced the ending, earned you allies and enemies, and brought you closer to either the light side or dark side. If you’ve played any installments of the Mass Effect or Dragon Age franchises, you know full well that Bioware hasn’t deviated much from that formula since.
Produced by Lucasarts and EA, SWTOR’s fulcrum is Bioware, who seem to be caught somewhere between Heaven and Hell. If we were to look at it from a moral alignment standpoint, Bioware’s decisions in the production and administration of SWTOR puts them somewhere in neutral territory. At least to start.
The in-game story takes place roughly three-hundred years after the completion of the storyline from Knights of the Old Republic and several thousand years prior to the events of the first Star Wars film. At this time, the Jedi-led Galactic Republic has established an uneasy truce with the Sith Empire. You play as one of four classes: called Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular, Smuggler, and Trooper in the Republic; and Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor, Imperial Agent, and Bounty Hunter in the Empire. Each class opens up a unique storyline in which you find yourself roped into serving the Republic or Imperial cause, taking you from a little level 1 ne’er do well to a level 50 powerhouse.
Seeing as it would take years to level all available characters to 50, in order to provide a fair and honest review of the game’s key points I was lucky enough to receive the aid of Zarex, a level 50 Imperial Sith Inquisitor badass from the respected and feared guild A Wretched Hive. He kindly took me through the ins and outs of SWTOR so that I may provide both the perspective of a complete and total noob as well as that of an old hand at this.
Because every pro seems to have a con caveat attached to it, thanks to EA wanting one thing and Lucasarts wanting another, let’s look at SWTOR in true Star Wars fashion, shall we?
Light Side: The opening cinematics and pervasive symphonic mayhem that hallmarks Lucasart’s productions grabs you by the throat the instant you start. If Episodes I through III were anything as engaging, I might own copies.
Dark Side: You’ll be spending your first day away from the computer. The client download takes about five minutes, but patching will rip eight hours out of your life. This game will eat up about 30 gigs of your hard drive without remorse. And if you’re not running a top-of-the-line machine, the achingly beautiful cut scenes and gameplay will pass you by. It’s a sad reminder that only those with income to burn can afford staying out of the debtor’s jail that is “Low Graphic Settings.”
Light Side: Once you get past the opening movie, it’s time to make a character. Starting players have access to one of five species, and can unlock five more with sufficient in-game achievements. Alternately, the newly implemented “Legacy” system allows you to pay real cash to unlock species which are not normally aligned with the Imperial or Republic faction of your choosing. Thus you can choose a Twi’lek with headtails flying to play an Imperial agent, for example, when Twi’leks are normally a Republic race. There are also tons of options for customizing your character’s eyes, facial features, hair, and skin color.
Dark Side: Regardless of what species you choose, they all have the same base statistics, meaning one species does not make a better Bounty Hunter compared to another, for example. For those more interested in cosmetics than performance, this is no great loss, but who doesn’t want to have an edge over the competition? To add insult to injury, there are only five body types you can choose from. Because of that, you end up being able to guess a character’s class from a distance. Trooper and Bounty Hunters are invariably hulking brutes. Imperial Agents and Smugglers are short, emaciated little twists of flesh. And Jedi and Sith tend to be willowy, slender things that look like they can be blown over by a light breeze. Every. Time.
Light Side: The combat system is wildly different depending on which class you choose. Each is capable of soloing all the way to cap level without incident. Each must choose an advanced class at level 10, allowing you to choose what role you play in groups. Each advanced class can then allocate points into three possible talent trees. These points can be reset at will to allow you to optimize for solo play, and then when you join a guild or cap level, you can easily respec to best complement your group.