The Old Republic: A Little Backstory
Star Wars: The Old Republic is based on the most revered science-fiction franchise to ever influence pop culture, and Bioware is probably the most esteemed RPG developer on the planet. You might already be assuming that Star Wars: The Old Republic, (LucasArts’ latest, and Bioware's first MMO), will be an instant hit when it’s released on December 20th, 2011.
Then again, the LucasArts/Sony Interactive combo sounded unbeatable back in 2003 when Star Wars: Galaxies was released. That game will be shut down five days before The Old Republic is opened up to the players. The lesson here is that great intellectual property and a solid developer do not guarantee success.
With this in mind, we spent some time with Star Wars: The Old Republic in order to see if it justifies such enormous expectations. Will this be the MMO that takes the genre to another level? Is it good enough to challenge the heretofore untouchable World Of Warcraft? The answer is a resounding maybe, with a ton of caveats.
Let’s start with the game universe. Bioware released the original Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic single-player RPG in 2003. That game is set some 4000 years prior to the movie timeline we all know and love. This brilliant setting gave developers the flexibility to create their own Jedi/Sith lore, free to deviate from the continuity imposed by Lucas' movies. There was plenty of force to go around in the old republic days, so it’s only natural that there are copious amounts of both Jedi and Sith. Of course, there were also a lot of smugglers, imperial agents, troopers, and bounty hunters, so, in this game, players can choose from any of eight different professions.
Although it's set in the past, the art direction is obviously rooted in Star Wars. It's easy to distinguish the ancient equivalent of an R2 unit or TIE fighter. The visual style goes more for cartoon than realism, similar to the original Knights Of The Old Republic.
Let’s start with what the game does right. Missions and progression are crafted in true Bioware style. All dialogue is spoken. Responses affect not only your character’s attributes, but also how your NPC associates feel about you. Character abilities are fantastic. Your avatar is swept up in important matters that can affect the fate of the universe. I think it’s safe to say that Star Wars: The Old Republic offers some of the finest single-player experiences seen from an MMO. Yes, that’s plural. There are eight professions (four per faction) that have their own, unique storylines.
That's not to say the same story is told from eight different perspectives. Rather, the dialogue, locations, and progression are usually unique depending on the profession you’re playing. It’s an impressive undertaking with a mountain of content, and Bioware should be commended for the effort it put into extending this game's playability.
The game worlds give you the impression that some locations are colossal, although a lot of that might be smoke and mirrors. On Coruscant, for example, flying taxis take you between areas, suggesting a sprawling cityscape. However, the playable zones are a tiny fraction of that space. It's perhaps more important that the game feels huge, befitting a galaxy-wide Star Wars experience.
So, what’s wrong with the game? My biggest pet peeve is colossal levels with empty space between mission points. You’re going to spend a fair chunk of time simply getting from one spot to another, and while the world looks great, it’s not particularly interesting to travel through. If that’s the worst thing to say about the game, you might think it's darned near perfect. However, I don’t think it lives up to the expectation built up around it. We can't substantiate any claim that it'll turn the MMO world upside-down or draw away World Of Warcraft players in significant numbers.
Nevertheless, we know there will still be countless gamers interested in the title, and we're sure you'd like to see how this one runs on your hardware configuration. That's the purpose of this exercise, after all.