Having been a long-time Star Wars fan, and a long-time, high-end World of Warcraft player, I was almost immediately interested whenever I heard about a Star Wars MMO coming out. Then I heard that Bioware was at the helm for this new game, and my heart lept. Could this be a good Star Wars game equivalent to Knights of the Old Republic? I was intrigued, so I signed up for the Beta Test, much later than most Star Wars fanboys did. I had no hope of getting in…until one day I got an email asking me to participate, and I knew that this game was an insta-buy for me.

If you have ever played any sort of RPG, especially one made by Bioware, you will be familiar with some mechanics in SW:TOR. While this game is a little different than console RPGs in that it is a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game, I was VERY surprised how much the game played like a regular RPG. First off, all of the “quests” or “missions” you pick up that gain you experience and money are all tied into a central storyline or a story arc in some way. This was staggering for an old WoW player. Gone are the quests where you go kill 10 wolves for no good reason. Secondly, ALL of the quest givers have voiced-over introductory dialog that gives you your quests. It’s enough to make you stop and think, “Holy crap. That’s gotta be DAYS of recorded dialog and audio”. On top of that, in most dialog sequences, you have choices of how to respond to these NPCs, and there are options to follow a “Light Side” or “Dark Side” path, reminiscent of Knights of the Old Republic, or Fable. Depending on which dialog options you choose, your character will become aligned with either side of the force, restricting or enabling different items to be used and different lightsaber or blaster bolt color crystals to be used. This effect is mainly aesthetic, but it really allows for character development in an MMO.

Bottom left shows the social "rolling" system and Light/Dark Side Choices (Click for bigger images)

Gabe from Penny Arcade said it best today:

 I’m just amazed at the quality of the class specific story-lines. The mission objectives and dialog choices really help you develop a character and not just an avatar. I mentioned this when I talked about the Beta a while ago and to me it really is the defining difference between SW:TOR and other MMO’s. While playing last night with Scott he explained that his bounty hunter was all about completing her contracts and getting credits. She didn’t let her feelings get in the way of the job. He was thinking about this before his character was even level 10. I’d be very surprised if he had any idea what sort of “person” his Troll Shaman was in WOW. – Gabe, Penny Arcade

So as you go off questing, you get beat on by enemies, but instead of having to buy food/water to restore your health/resource, each class has a built-in recovery ability that recharges you out of combat, reducing downtime. To further make the game more enjoyable, companions have been introduced into the game. Each character recruits companions that compliment their class, and can take damage for you (tank) deal damage for you, or heal you depending on what your class is already good at. These companions can be summoned at any point, and can also be sent on quests to sell low-quality (grey) items to a vendor for you, or sent out to level your professions. Gone are the hours of flying around Icecrown looking for Lichbane and Frozen Lotus. There are three types of professions that you and your “crew” can have. A crafting profession, a gathering profession, and a mission skill. My Jedi Shadow is a Synthweaver (a crafter of armor for Force-sensitive characters), an archaeologist (gathers power crystals and color crystals used Force-sensitive creations), and an Underworld Trader (go on missions for rare cloths, metals, etc.). Send your companion away on these missions, which cost you credits, and they will come back after a few minutes, 8 being the most I’ve seen, and most times they are successful. Sometimes they are not, but different crew members are better at different things, and multiple crew members can be sent out on different missions at one time. This allows you to focus on your questing and storyline while sending out companions you don’t need to have tank for heal for you to do the grindy-stuff that everyone in WoW hates.

Crew Skills are shown in the left side window, available missions to send crew members on is on the right.

The biggest thing that shocked me about SW:TOR is the storyline. If for no OTHER reason, you should pick up the game to play the storylines. Yes, plural. While this game already has some maximum-level operations (raids) for groups of 8 or 16 people, the storylines are enough to keep me busy for a very long time. SW:TOR has 8 unique storylines, one for each class. This main storyline follows your character from level 1 to level 50, and gives him or her the drive to progress from world to world to pursue it. The Jedi Consular, the base class that you start playing and specialize to become either a Jedi Shadow or a Jedi Sage at level 10 has the same storyline for both advanced classes. This allows the game to offer 32 “unique” feeling classes between the Sith Empire and the Galactic Republic to go hand in hand with the 8 storylines. The Sith Inquisitor is the Empire’s equivalent to the Jedi Consular, but their abilities work slightly differently. Instead of telekinesis, they use Dark Side Lightning. These abilities do roughly the same damage, just different flavor between the two classes. The first person to hit 50 (max level, for now) in our guild said that he spent about 3 days of play time (36 hours) getting to level 50. If you wanted to experience all 8 storylines in the game, that’s 288 hours of gameplay. Now, some quests will overlap, but a significant portion of the story is specific to your class.

A group member too far away from the NPC, so they are Holoconferencing in. SW:TOR's graphics are relatively modern and are visually pleasing. It doesn't look "cartoonish" like WoW does.

Finally, I was very impressed with the grouping mechanics that were created for SW:TOR. I have had the opportunity to run the low-level operation “The Esseles” a few times as well as some of the heroic (harder) group quests with some pick up players. If you cannot or do not want to build a maximum group, players are allowed to bring a companion with them to assist. That means that a 2-person group could potentially complete a 4-person quest if they fulfill the right roles. I haven’t tried this, but this is part of the intention from what I have heard. This helps to alleviate some of the headaches that were caused by trying to form and balance a 5-man group with 1 tank, 1 healer, and 3 dps. Almost all of these quests have some sort of dialog option in them, and instead of each player talking to the NPC individually, all players talk as a group. All players get to pick their dialog option and then the game rolls to see who wins. In cases where Light Side or Dark Side points are gained, you always get the points you answered with, regardless of who wins the rolls and how the quest progresses. In the first Operation, The Esseles, this occurs several times, in my first group, all other players chose the Dark Side option and got Dark Side points, but I chose the Light Side option (and didn’t win the social roll) and I still got my Light Side points. It’s a fun minigame, and a cool way of interacting with a quest giver. If a party member is not there but you want to begin a conversation, they can “Holoconference” in, where they can see and talk in the conversation via hologram even though they aren’t there. The Esseles is a story-based operation where you are protecting a diplomat in transit when you get attacked by the Sith (I can’t speak to the Sith version of this, yet). You fight off the Sith and retake your ship, each section of the operation has a dialog-based briefing that segways into the next section of the operation. Very intuitive and really grabs your and pulls you into the game.

Weapons and some armor can be upgraded through the use of "mods". These are stat bonuses, but also control the color of your lightsaber or blaster bolts. Pre-ordering gave me a "Pittsburgh" color crystal! You can also see inventory expansion techniques. Your inventory doesn't hold quest items or your currency either.

It’s true that ever since I was little, I loved watching a tv-recorded version of Star Wars, which later became known as Star Wars: A New Hope. I remembering rooting for the guys with the green lasers (the Imperials) because I liked the color green better than red. From there, many games with my little brother, Nolan, included us pretending to be Jedi with our plastic lightsabers while growing up, pretending to have epic space battles with disk shooters, and going to see the special edition releases in the theaters with our parents. I loved everything Star Wars, and then when I started to get into gaming, I realized that while there were a few good Star Wars games on the market, most of them were mediocre at best. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was my most recent excursion into Star Wars games, and while fun (and very challenging if you turned the difficulty up), the storyline was kind of weak, and it lacked the polish that games that truly qualify as “great” have. I held out hope, and the 6-hour wait at PAX East last year that I talked about made me raise an eyebrow in question.

You see, I had also been a long-time World of Warcraft player, involved in high-end raiding guilds that went on to be in the top 300 in the US. While that’s not very high to a lot of other players, we were pretty proud of it, and we accomplished and saw things that only about 1% of the 10 million player community got to see/do. The downside is that MMOs can take up a lot of time, which is one reason why my co-author hates them. The second being that you need to pay a monthly subscription to play them. Having entered the adult world with my own house and my own chores, and my own career, I found myself with only a fraction of the amount of time that I had to play games at night, I quit WoW, even after I had found a 3 day, 3 hour raid schedule (absurdly low for the bosses they were killing). Eventually I succumbed to my dynamic schedule and the need to farm outside of raids. SW:TOR I feel may be different, and if not, I have plenty of 1 – player content I can play through if I so choose.

4/5 Star Warses

While I may only be level 17 so far, I highly recommend this game to any RPG-lover, MMO-player, or Star Wars fan out there. Give it a try…no. Do or Do Not – There is no try. This game has fixed a lot of issues that WoW had built deep into the game that made many of us hate it. However, it is a new game and is lacking the experience of the Blizzard team. I have seen servers that have a 2-hour wait time to get past the queue, there are no dual-specs in the game yet, there is no mount or pet tab in the game, and there are a few minor bugs that are being worked out. For these reasons, this game gets a 4/5, however it is an outstanding game and I highly recommend that everyone gives it a try.

 

I will leave you a video of the Eternity Vault (one of the first major operations) trailer. It shows the group dialog options, and the first boss of The Eternity Vault as well as some gameplay. Enjoy:

 

PS – Space Combat: