Aztec Gaming: BioWare’s new MMO, ‘Old Republic,’ a force

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by Cody Franklin

Photo by Cody Franklin

As soon as the player’s Imperial bounty hunter steps off the transport in Hutta, it is clear “Star Wars: The Old Republic” is going to be fun. Just moments into the game, players already become embroiled in a planet-wide gang war and a brewing rebellion. Oh, and gamers get paid to kill everyone they encounter. Damn it feels good to be a bounty hunter.

Combat in “SWTOR” is quite good compared to other massively multiplayer online (MMO) games. Slashing enemies with lightsabers, shooting electricity from characters’ hands and blowing enemies up with rockets all feels much more intense than combat in other MMOs, especially when coupled with a myriad of stuns and knockbacks. Being able to take on large groups of enemies thanks to the huge arsenal of abilities makes gameplay feel heroic, unlike other MMOs where players struggle with simple one-on-one battles.

Player vs. environment game-play is where “SWTOR” really shines. Every class has a unique and epic personal storyline full of rich storytelling on par with everything else BioWare has created. It almost feels like gamers are getting eight different “Mass Effect” or “Dragon Age” storylines in one game, reason enough to purchase the game. Likewise, nearly all shared quests have well-crafted storylines, which often encompass entire planets. For example, when not hunting down targets for the bounty hunter story quests, players can take some time off to help turn the tide in Alderaan’s civil war or to kill convicts escaped from a millennia-old alien prison. Players also gain numerous different “companions,” non-player characters whom players can pick to accompany them on their adventures or send to do crafting and gathering. Companions also take part in the cutscenes, making the conversations feel very different depending on the companion you bring with you.

Dungeons offer great stories and varied game-play. In one dungeon inside a giant droid factory, players meet (and fight) a familiar face from BioWare’s “Knights of the Old Republic.” In another, players complete a marathon of killing and puzzle-solving to gain the favor of the Colicoid species. In yet another, players assault an enemy starship and slaughter almost the entire crew in search of a traitorous general.

As for player vs. player combat, “SWTOR” has much to offer. Three very different warzones are open for instance-based PvP, including the exciting Huttball, which is similar to football, only with massive amounts of killing and a treacherous obstacle course to navigate. Upon reaching the level cap, players can also duke it out on Ilum, a planet-sized open PvP zone. However, with wildly unbalanced server populations, it often leads to a horrendously one-sided affair.

If questing on foot gets tiring, gamers can hop in their personal starship and take part in numerous space battles, an exciting mini-game that rewards players with credits and a myriad of loot. The space combat, while meant to be an aside to the main game, has turned out to be many players’ favorite portion.

Graphically, “SWTOR” is gorgeous. With locales ranging from the seedy cities of Nar Shaddaa to the tropical oases scattered about the frozen tundra of Belsavis, players will come across some of the most gorgeous landscapes to grace any MMO. However, those with a keen eye will notice a distinct difference in texture quality between cutscenes and normal game-play, something that has irked many fans.

The one area that “SWTOR” currently suffers in is user interface and systems. Players cannot mod their user interface or even resize it, though that is coming in a future patch. The games auction house, called the “Global Trade Network,” suffers from an excruciatingly poorly-designed interface, coupled with often mislabeled items. While BioWare has done players a favor by centrally locating all dungeons, the lack of a group-finding system like the one in “World of Warcraft” can make it tedious and tiresome to put together a group of players in order to conquer a dungeon. Many crafting professions have almost no purpose at end-game, as drops and vendor gear post-level 50 are worlds better than nearly anything that can be created. In essence, it feels as though BioWare forgot about the “massively multiplayer” part in its MMORPG.

Overall, “SWTOR” is a great experience, especially for fans of BioWare’s single-player games. While there are areas to complain about, BioWare has been incredibly open with the community about addressing many of these issues. It may not be the “WoW killer” that many were hoping it would be, but those looking for sci-fi settings, space adventures, rich storylines and visceral combat should do themselves a favor and give “SWTOR” a look.