Review: “Star Wars: The Old Republic”

Gameplay (entirely subjective – how much fun did I have?  Would I play this again?):  5.0

Visuals (graphics quality, atmosphere, realism):  7.0

Audio (includes sountrack, effects, etc.): 7.0

Storyline (writing, pure and simple):  5.0

Delivery (packaging, contents, what you get): 3.0

Technical (Did it install?  Did I have to answer a zillion questions?  Did it break my machine?  Time from opening box to play?):  7.0

Overall:  6.67

Executive Summary:  save your money for Guild Wars 2.  This is 2012, and these dumb pricks spent half a billion dollars to produce a 2008 WoW clone with Star-Warsiness in it.  Your money can be better spent elsewhere.

Okay, it’s “Star Warsy”, it’s a space MMO, lots of shootey-shootey, and the first time you run a character through its storyline, you’re going to have fun.  That’ll take you about three to six weeks.

It’s pretty at first.  Until you realize that this is 2012 and graphics can achieve MUCH more than what you see.  Then you go looking at the graphics options to crank up the detail because you have a reasonable video card, and you realize this is as good as it’s going to get.  Apparently in beta it had really, really good graphics, but they were removed in order to reduce the size of the game’s footprint from 45GB to 12GB.

That leads me to another point:  packaging.  I bought this as a digital download.  I am also a software developer and manager of same.  I can say with authority that if this had been structured right, it could have been playable at about 4GB downloaded.  Instead it forced me to pull down all 12-13 before I could play.  Probably not a big deal for folks on a 50 megabit connection – but I’m on wireless, 4 megabit.  That download took me all day.  Frustrating.

Back to graphics:  hint to you, Bioware.  You’re running an online game.  Any system capable of running it is capable of running a threaded program.  You might have considered leaving the 45GB footprint as part of your online available files, and downloading them over a throttled connection on a background thread so that the graphics experience would improve gradually as a person played the game.  45GB is shit to me.  I have two terabytes inside my computer, and a swappable ESATA drive that gives me an unlimited supply of more.  Footprint is not a factor.  With a quick question, you could offer someone “Would you like to background-download additional graphics files of size XXGB?  (You have YYGB available on C:\ and ZZGB available on D:\)”

You’ve been at this game thing for over a decade.  That kind of novice thinking says a lot about your management.

Back to the game.

It’s fun at first.  Until you get tired of missions/quests that say “Kill 10 of this” or “Retrieve 25 of that, and you have to kill those to loot them.”  Which will probably happen in about a day.

The mobs change shape, which is a plus.  There are different ones on different worlds (a few get re-used, that’s true).  This is a HUGE step above WoW, where every world had a wild boar (some had spikes!), every world had a big rock elemental, every world had a flying bat, and that sort of bullshit.  But in the end, they’re all mobs.  They are ranged, they are melee, whatever.

As I mentioned before, you’ll enjoy the trip from level 1 to level 50 the first time.  (Further characters will strain your patience, though, because although the story line will be different, you have to visit the same places, see the same crap, and do many of the same grind missions to advance that you did with your first character.)  Once you get to 50 though, the same question will come up that did for me:

“Is that it?”

With the exception of some team events (of which there are about twelve – three of 8- or 16-person strength, and about eight or nine 4-person), sorry, yes.

Have you played an MMO before?  Was it WoW?  Did you leave WoW because you were tired of it and wanted something new?  Don’t do SWTOR.  Why not?  Because this game  IS WoW.  Just in space.  With Jawas.  The roles are the same, many of the classes are similar, and even the powers are blatant thefts from WoW.

Shooting things with a blaster is fun.  Taking a lightsaber to a bad guy (or a good guy) is fun.  Until you realize “Hey, this is some kind of future where I have small arms that should probably pack more power in them than is contained in the electrical grid of a small 20th-century city.  WHY DIDN’T THAT ANIMAL I JUST SHOT/SLICED SIMPLY DIE?” I understand for the sake of game balance and game play they have to make things not so realistic.  But they even break Star Wars styles – in the films, a lightsaber chews through droids like they were made of paper.  Blasters blast things.  In the game, it’s an ablative damage cycle, just like every other game.  Attack X does damage Y, which deducts hit points from Mob Z.  It’s a race to see whether Mob or you gets to zero first.

Is it too much to ask that in 2012, someone will have come up with an MMO that treats things differently?  For instance, degrading performance?  If I’m close to dead, I’m either going to go berzerk in a final blast of effort, or I’m too wounded to put up much of a fight.  How about something reflecting a different equation than just “subtract from hit points”?  Why am I waving a magic lightsaber around and I’m not able to cut through trees, walls, fenceposts, at will?  And how about giving me limited ammunition or charge?  At least force me to change the D-cells in my flashlight or something.

Companion characters – NPCs you pick up along your storyline that come along with you when you don’t have any live people who want to join you.  These are pretty cool, nice ideas, and each one has a slightly different attitude.  They actually help if you (like I do) play at off hours and have a hard time finding people to group with, or if you simply prefer (like I sometimes do) to do things solo.  I don’t actually have anything bad to say about this idea, I think it’s a good one.

Crafting skills – these are ultimately pointless in the small universe you play in, because everyone learns one, everyone skills it up, and then EVERYONE SELLS THE SAME STUFF.  It becomes a commodity-seller’s market.  Since gear never wears out and you never lose any to in-game destruction (as occurs in Eve, for example), once someone buys somthing, it’s bought.  The only real economy here is in consumables like health packs or stims, and there’s no distinction aside from price on who you buy it from.  As well, there’s no localized market – everyone goes to one central hub of eight (yes, you read that right, only eight) terminals to buy and sell.  This is one of the shittier aspects of the game.

PvP:  I’m not much of a PvPer, and have enjoyed a few of the PvP fields I was on, but apparently these are as limited as the PvE endgame content – there are only a very few fields, and it uses a “valor” system of awards that was old when this game first went into development.  Hard-core PvP players I’ve spoken to have little to speak of in favor of this game.

The recent addition of a “Legacy” system (which gives you an excuse to find a relation between all of your various characters), while neat, sends a very clear message:  “Hey, we here at BioWare/EA can’t really think of anything new content-wise, so here’s this great system we spent a great deal of time on that will help you gear up your twinks.”

It’s also got a major strike against it:  it’s an Electronic Arts company.  BioWare put out some good titles back in the day, but not any more.  EA is where good game companies go to die.  And BioWare appears to be no exception to that rule, if Dragon Age 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic are any indication.

I could go on, but in short:  it had a lot of promise, and lived up to almost none of it.  Like most other games in the Star Wars franchise, this turned out to be the usual Beauty Contest Winner:  pretty to look at, but once you get to know it, ultimately disappointing.


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