Game Rant's Curt Hutson reviews Star Wars: The Old Republic
Star Wars: The Old Republic is an captivating and fun experience that still manages to set the bar for standards in narrative.
Like most products from the storytellers at BioWare, character development and an extensive script are primary focuses of The Old Republic. At its heart, the game is predominantly story driven, a strength that will have players continually revisiting the title. The inclusion of multiple unique story lines for each character class just adds to the richness and variety of the overall narrative and will have players creating several characters just to experience their stories.
Including so many individual sagas in one game makes The Old Republic essentially Knights Of The Old Republic 3-9 - at least in terms of the amount of content. Each character has a story arc that is about the length of a Knights game and then some - not to mention future updates and virtually limitless online play. Sporting a cast of thousands of voice actors, the game is fully voiced, and everything from the cut scenes to strolls through the galaxy will immerse players in the game's world and characters.
Cutscenes are one of the most unique features of The Old Republic and help tell the story in a way that no other MMO can currently match. Utilizing the standard BioWare game dialogue wheel, players are given important choices that shape how the story will play out -- couple this with consistently talented voice acting and you have the ingredients for a completely immersive experience that will be a tough act to follow for future MMOs.
Within the choices sprinkled throughout the game, players will be leaning toward either the light side or the dark side. These choices not only effect the story, but also the rewards, equipment and even the player's appearance. Certain items can only be equipped if players are at a certain level within a given side, limiting what they are allowed to use and making choices hold that much more weight.
That said, the graphics aren't up to par with today’s technological capabilities and expected standards. They aren't terrible, per se, or ill-designed, but they're still pretty basic. Textures and facial features sometimes look flat and many times the landscapes, especially when riddled with foliage and other accents, appear recycled. Few times will a player stop to smell the digital roses, but the general atmosphere for each planet is on the money. Players will feel the seediness of a lawless city or the savagery of an unexplored world due to a superior attention to detail. Unfortunately, with other online games testing the limits of the player's hardware and touting full next-gen graphics, The Old Republic at first glance won't look like a jump to light speed visually.
Combat in The Old Republic is made-up of standard hot-key pressing madness - but is refreshingly fast paced and visually inspired. There are short cool downs and a plethora of skills to unleash on foes, each generally looking pretty cool when they're preformed. There is also a good amount of strategy required for each class and the enemies are varied, constantly keeping players on their toes. Match this with brilliant sound effects and an epic Star Wars soundtrack and gamers have a recipe for some of the best action ever seen in an MMO.
The companion system allows players to accumulate and maintain a crew of addition controllable characters. Inviting members along on the journey enriches the experience in every possible way. Aside from the strategic benefits of having more firepower in battle, spending time with crew members allows players to build a relationship with them. Companions will chime in with their opinions, comment on their surroundings and are affected by the decisions the player makes.
The result is a feeling that these characters aren’t merely set pieces but real thinking individuals. Companions also work as the crafting system in The Old Republic, training in a limited set of player-designated skills and then crafting or taking missions as directed. Companions can even sell junk items that may accumulate, leaving players open to continue their adventure without hassle.
The four-man dungeons, or "Flashpoints," are where companions just won’t be enough - and grouping with other players is a necessity. Here, skills are tested and cooperation and communication with teammates is crucial to navigate the trials. Choices are spread to all players when cut scenes are activated in a group, asking different players to choose a response or action that the others must then go along with. This mechanic adds a sense of variety and believability to the situation. Players looking for truly epic encounters will want to take on raid dungeons called "Operations."
PvP is one of The Old Republic’s weakest elements due to its (current) lack of variety - as there are only three maps (not to mention there's no option for the player to choose which one they prefer). Couple this with the absence of matchmaking and players will often find themselves pitted against high-level characters very early on. Despite its current problems, PvP can still be an enjoyable reprieve from the main game for players open to an enjoyable but flawed ride - not to mention, it's still a good way to earn experience.
Space combat is another feature included outside of The Old Republic campaign and while it's a fun distraction, there's nothing here that will truly keep players engaged. The feature is nothing more than a simple shooting mini-game that can drain a lot of credits through needless ship upgrades.
Despite its shaky launch BioWare is looking ahead, striving to offer players a lot more content in The Old Republic. The developer has already implemented their first big update and have given players a few glimpses into what's in store for the near future. One exciting new feature is the "Legacy" system - which allows players to create a unique surname for their characters. When characters are created under the same Legacy tree, players can enjoy relationships between those characters and unlock additional perks and skills.
Anyone thinking of skipping this trip to a galaxy far, far away are missing an opportunity for a narrative experience that will change the standards for story in MMO's. Aside from the banal graphics and unnecessary minigames, The Old Republic's real merit comes from its wonderfully rich and exciting combat, challenging dungeons and gorgeous soundtrack.
If you're looking for a radically different MMO concept, look somewhere else, but if you're looking for an intriguing evolution of the MMO experience, pack your bags, board the nearest space shuttle and immerse yourself in the Star Wars universe like never before.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is out now for the PC.
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