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Star Wars the Old Republic

I’ve been playing this a fair bit in the last few days and I thought I’d share my impressions of it.

World of Warcraft much?

The truth of the matter is that there really isn’t that much about Star Wars the Old Republic to distinguish it from World of Warcraft. Clearly the aim has been to actually make the games as similar, from a view of mechanics and controls, as they could.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. WoW has been around for more than half a decade and is still going strong, so copying something that successful can’t be all bad. It also means that SWOTR clearly has in mind WoW players as it’s target demographic.

It’s therefore fantastically easy to get into the game if you’re a seasoned WoW player. While there’s some tweaking in the class categories, SWOTR clearly lists each class by its role: Tank, Healer, DPS.
The mix can seem a bit odd though. I started out with a Jedi Consular and specialised into Shadow. Depending on talents (and the talent tree mechanics are intimiatly familiar with how WoW works) this means I’m either a rogue (DPS) or a tank. If I’d taken the alternate specialisation, I’d have been a healer.

Party size is 4, not 5 though.

The WoW similarities don’t end with the talent tree. The layout of the UI is very similar, the keyboard mappings are almost identical. Want to clear the UI and take a screenshot? ‘Alt-z’, ‘Prt Scrn’; same as WoW. Even flourishing and/or sheathing your weapon is the same key, ‘z’. There was no problem at all slipping from WoW into SWOTR. Chances are if I want to do something, I just do it the way I did it in WoW and it works.

So what is different? You get companions in the world. So even if you play it as single player you’ll still have a second party member. I have four companions at the moment; only one of whom is allowed to be in party at any time. The others I can send on missions of their own. This is how the crafting system works, and it’s one I much prefer over the WoW mechanic. If I want to make stuff, or find resources, I send my idle crew members off to do it, while I continue adventuring. I even have the option of sending my current companion off to sell al the grey items in my inventory so.

Your companions have their own quests, although they’ve been pretty uninspiring so far, and you can gain their affection by making choices in conversations they approve of, and as their affection grows as do their skills.

You get your own spaceship to fly around in and go from zone to zone (or rather planet to planet) and you even get to do space missions. These are very arcade like and very easy for anyone with the slighest experience at those types of games, but make a great diversion and are good fun in their own right.
The next big difference is the story and the universe. It’s Star Wars, and more specifically Knights of the Old Republic. If you know those games you’ll know this world. It’s set 300 years later, but there are many nods to the existing lore. One of the early planets you go to is Taris, the world that was destroyed in KOTOR and you run around the wreck of the Endar Spire, the ship that was blown apart around you as the first action in KOTOR. You get to find out what happened to the under city dwellers and their quest for their paradise.
Most of the worlds known from Star Wars are there, and many from the KOTOR universe as well. You’ll encounter the names of old characters, worlds and events. Lots of familiar worlds, sometimes surprisingly, yet still realistically, different in ways that are plausible given the 2000 year difference between SWTOR and the films. Alderaan is locked in a downright nasty civil war that could easily explain why it became pacifist.

And that brings me to what SWOTR does best; Story. Fully voiced quest givers, not reams of text. Paying attention to what’s said is actually important. While the quests do tend to the usual kill or go-fetch style, they do require you to make choices and those choices have consequences. Perhaps not on the world as a whole, but certainly on your relationship to the world. Do you take the easy route and kill the engine room crew to save the ship, or take the harder route and try to save everyone. Do you take the expedient route and kill the traitor, or take him prisoner, or even offer him the chance at redemption. What you do affects how stories move on (albeit not as significantly as a single player game might) and they affect your alignment with the force. Dark or Light. Some decisions really are quite evil and reflect the universe accuratly. The self-deprecating humour and irreverence of WoW are missing; but that’d hardly have fit in the SWTOR universe.

Now I arrive at what I see as the flaw with SWOTR. It’s a single player game running on MMORPG servers. The world is huge, the graphics great (albeit with some annoying glitches), mechanics are good and easy to get to grips with and the story is invovled and, if not always compelling, it’s certainly entertaining.
There’s no real need for this game to be an online RPG. For the money they could have made a couple of single-player games and done them extremely well; could have done so much more, since they’d not needed to preserve the world for the next player. Instead it’s an online game that for the most part I’m playing as a single player game. So what happens when the story runs out?

It’s not likely to happen soon. I’m approaching the middle of level 30 and there’s no sign of my class story running dry at the moment, and there are 3 other classes and stories for me to try out and then another 4 on the Empire’s side. I suspect though replay value will possibly be more frustrating than the first play, since there’s so much that will simply have to be repeated.

The game will be fun for quite some time yet, but I suspect endgame will be the big hurdle. Unless bioware/ea come out with frequent and regular story updates I can see myself giving up on this game fairly quickly.

I’m driven by story, but what’s new, by finding out what happens next. It’s why I love each new WoW patch, but then grow a bit jaded with it and withdraw from it once I’ve seen the new stuff. If I wanted to keep doing the same things over and over, I’d get a job on an assembly line.

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