Star Wars: The Old Republic Pre-review

Star Wars: The Old Republic is the first MMO that could legitimately take the top spot away from the long-running champ of MMO?s, World of Warcraft. Now I know that might sound like a bold claim, especially considering how early it is into the release of SWTOR, but there?s a certain feeling this game evokes that plenty of other MMO?s have failed to capture for me.

My MMO experience chart goes like this: Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies, World of Warcraft, Everquest 2, City of Heroes, Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings, Warhammer, DC Universe, Final Fantasy XI, and now Star Wars: The Old Republic. The original Everquest was certainly my gateway drug into MMO?s, like I?m sure it was for most players. But World of Warcraft was the game that refined that experience into something a little more fun, and a little fairer to the player.

I?ve picked up a number of other MMO?s on that list (along with a few absentees), but despite varying degrees of quality, none of them have ever managed to capture my original sense of awe and addiction that World of Warcraft created in its early days. But having played a couple weeks of SWTOR, I can safely say that I?m addicted to an MMO all over again.

Now this isn?t a full review of the game, I haven?t even touched anything past the third major planet yet, and my highest toon isn?t above level 18. But I thought it would be a good idea to give you, the reader, a little feedback on how much I?m enjoying the game at the moment, and what makes this stand out as an exceptional MMO experience.

My time has mostly been spent with a Trooper character for the Republic side; I?ve leveled him to 18 and picked Vanguard as my advance class. I?ve also dabbled a bit with Jedi Consular, Imperial Agent and Sith Warrior. The divisions between the classes is extremely well defined, and while you can certainly boil them down to base MMO classes like Mage, Tank, Healer and so on, they all tend to perform differently from one another. One of the more interesting mechanics exclusive to Smugglers and Imperial Agents is the cover ability, which allows you character to slide behind objects and actually changes your hotkeys and opens up abilities you can get by just running around and attacking.

The Sith Warriors and Jedi Knights are melee classes, and have a number of offensive and defensive abilities that make them able to quickly take out standard mobs without much trouble. They also just look cool doing it, with plenty of animation work poured into the characters that just make them fun to watch on screen. Seriously, jumping into a crowd and slamming your weapon into the ground, and then watching a flurry of lightsaber strikes hasn?t got old for me yet.

The Trooper and Bounty Hunter classes are mostly ranged attacks, and they trade your typical fire and ice mage spells for blaster rifles and cannons. It still feels like an MMO, but gives the game a third person shooter look that takes some getting used to. I love the variety of weapons for both classes though, like the Trooper ability to toss a stick grenade on an enemy that causes knockdown effects on nearby enemies when it explodes.

Besides class variety, another thing SWTOR has going for it is the individual class stories. Bioware is no stranger to crafting a strong video game tale, but I?ve never seen an MMO so devoted to its narrative as this one. WoW certainly tries, and I know plenty of people that are obsessed with the lore in WoW, but SWTOR?s fully voiced questing certainly lends a bit more gravitas to the world than a bunch of text boxes. And the voice acting is extremely well done, with some notable similarities to voices found in other Bioware titles like Mass Effect.

Also, the class specific storylines don?t drop off after the opening planet, but stick around throughout the entire game as your central plot. I fully expected the game to homogenize the plotline after I stepped off the first planet and headed to Coruscant, but was happy to find that wasn?t the case.

Another aspect I?m fond is the companion system, which pretty much guarantees you?ll never quest alone. You?ll earn your first companion at around level 10, and the character you earn is also class specific. Think of you companion as you would any pet style character in any other MMO. They?re AI controlled but come with a set of abilities you can trigger yourself if you want to be a little more hands on. But Bioware elevates the companions? role past that of just a pet. They?ll actively participate in dialogue at times, and they have an affinity meter that gets affected by the decisions that you make. You can also send them out in individual quests, which tie back into the scavenging and crafting system of SWTOR. You?ll eventually gain a number of companions, and can opt to switch between them at any time. They?re labeled as your crew in-game, and certainly start to feel that way after a while.

So that?s about where I am with the game at the moment, and if you couldn?t tell already, I kind of love it. I?ve still got a long way to go, but from everything I?ve seen so far I can?t imagine the quality of the game will drop off severely from here. Still, I?d like to sample a few more instances and planets before dropping final judgment, but as it stands, I think it?s definitely a game worth checking out.