There haven’t been a lot of MMOs that I’ve really, truly looked forward to in quite some time. Star Wars: The Old Republic represents an interesting conflux of ideas, especially for an MMO. While most games in the genre tend to focus loosely on a story, BioWare, for their part, chose to put the story – especially your own personal class story – front and center. So from that aspect, this is a unique take on an MMORPG, and certainly a general fan of the genre itself would want to take a look at.
Within genre fans, however, there are various subsets, and it’s unlikely Star Wars: The Old Republic will appeal to them all, especially those who want more of a sandbox to play in instead of a themepark experience.
Fair warning, there are a ton of other MMOs on the market, and it is a legitimate practice to compare them, considering the fact that they’re part of the same genre and use similar ideas for basic game mechanics. If you get offended when I compare SWTOR to World of Warcraft or any other “standard” MMO on the market, the door is to your right.
Make no mistake – I love BioWare games. I’ve been a fan of the entire Mass Effect franchise, and I loved what they did with Dragon Age: Origins, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and others. This is a BioWare game through and through and it shows in just about all aspects. It may be built around standard MMO building blocks, but this is not really your typical MMO experience.
I actually did play the Republic side and quite enjoyed it more so than any other MMOs recently, however the vast majority of the things I talk about below are general game mechanics and hold true (as far as I know) on both Republic and Empire sides.
Questing and Storytelling
The basis of an MMO of this type is the questing. It’s likely the first thing players are exposed to and it also takes up the majority of “the journey” to the level cap – that’s a lot of time that requires the game keep the player occupied and interested.
The very first thing you’ll notice about the questing in SWTOR is its emphasis on story – and this is a striking difference from most other MMOs on the market, including the top dogs. Everything that is in BioWare’s RPGs you’ll find here – fully voiced dialog for all quests, cut scene animations and cinematic flair, dialog choices, moral choices, various quest outcomes and, of course, great storytelling.
Let me re-emphasize this – all quests are fully voiced, and the voice acting is actually pretty darn good. Of course, you will always find some bad apple NPCs in a huge game like this, but generally speaking, this is all done beautifully. Even in the biggest budget single-player RPGs every single quest is not voice acted, so that is a huge plus to this entire experience. Like I said, the questing itself – the mechanics of picking up the quest, completing the quest objective and returning to the NPC is basically the same. However, with the extra element of storytelling flair, BioWare has effectively re-created the way we go about questing in MMOs, without actually changing the basic formula.
Because of that, questing feels new, fresh and fun, unlike the stale, repetitive quest completion and light storytelling of most MMO questing these days. Don’t even get me started on the tedium that is the idea of “daily quests”, either. While I’m not saying SWTOR will never implement similar ideas, the core of the game’s questing is completely story-driven. You won’t find another MMO out there this hellbent on putting that front and center.
Each class has its own heroic story and questline to back that up. These quests are generally more indicative of a movie or telelvision show, in that they have you doing a variety of things such as breaking in to enemy bases, corrupting data, confronting bad guys, chasing down criminals and what not. Typically the story quests are devoid of mindless “kill X amount of foozles” type of nonsense; those are reserved for the incidental quests picked up along the way.
However, just because the core mechanics of a quest might not be different from your Average Joe MMO, always keep in mind that it’s wrapped in the sugary coating of an entirely voiced, cinematic experience. Also, as far as quest mechanics go, just about every main quest objective has a series of bonus objectives that can be completed before turning the main quest in, for even more experience overall. These bonus quests are usually where the bulk of the “kill X amount of this bad guy” come in, however it isn’t as tedious as you might think.
One of my biggest pet peeves of other MMOs is they’ll send you on three quests in one area, which would look like this:
- Kill X amount of bad guy Y.
- Find X amount of Y object.
- Kill named mob Z for good measure.
The problem with this is that, you’re usually barely into the area when you finish the “Kill X amount of bad guy Y” quest, so the rest of the time you’re completing the other objectives, the other kills pretty much don’t mean anything – it’s just a few extra experience points and some random loot.
The Old Republic kind of kicks that around and makes all the other kills you complete while going after main quest objectives worth something. Here’s a typical quest layout for most non-story quests I’ve encounter in the first 20 levels so far:
- Main Objective: Access the enemy computer to corrupt some data so they can’t do bad things.
- Bonus Objective 1: Kill 10 of these bad dudes when they look at you funny.
- Bonus Objective 2: Kill 40 of these bad dudes because they smell like sweaty socks.
- Bonus Objective 3: Kill the bad dudes’ lieutenants because they don’t promote bathing every day.
- Bonus Objective 4: Kill the boss dude because he was born.
Note that all four of those objectives have to be completed in sequence, but they’re designed to be completed on the way to and from the main quest objective, so very few, if any, of your mob kills will go unrewarded. Those bonus objectives are optional, of course, however you do get a chunk of extra experience for each one, plus it adds more depth to the questing experience as a whole.