Let it be known that the character creation tool in The Old Republic seems … well, lacking, for want of a better term. There aren’t as many customization options, but the real letdown here is the lack of different types of alien races. There is a choice between multiple different types of humanoid-looking-aliens, but nothing that really differs from the core model. I’m not saying you should be able to create a force-weilding Hutt, but something that is Yoda’s race would be a welcome addition. A creative person can have fun in this tool though, as you can create a pretty unique-looking humanoid for your experience through the galaxy.
Once the player picks their race and class, customizes their character and picks a name, they are immediately launched into a cinematic. When I first fired it up, I was expecting a WoW-like cinematic, followed by a camera sweep across the newbie zone up to where my character was standing, where I needed to walk over to a quest-giver to begin my adventure. Well, I was half-right. This is where the game begins to show you what will differentiate it from others within its genre. There is a generic opening cinematic based on the chosen faction (Republic or Empire), and after that there is a game engine-based scene that plays out based on what character class was selected.
The superb voice acting, engaging dialog options, and hallmark swelling Star Wars music create an immediately engaging experience. As a player, I was instantly in this world, with this character, flying in on what can only be described as a precursor to the Millenium Falcon. The ship design may seem like a small detail, but seems to be one of BioWare’s great triumphs with this game, as it strikes an incredibly fragile balance between nostalgia and plaigarism. And the ship is the core focus of the early parts of this game.
The opening narrative focuses around your character, two other characters named Corso and Skavak, and your ship. Without giving away any spoilers, the game does an excellent job of conveying the Smuggler’s relationship with his ship and the character trait that drives all of his actions. The Smuggler wants to be free, to fly around the galaxy and pick up work where he wants or needs it, and not be constrained by the limits of either faction’s leaders. There is an obstacle in the early game that prevents him from doing this, and it becomes this character’s obsession to overcome this obstacle to get back to the life he loves. Does that sound like an MMO storyline to you?
The gameplay and combat are similar to many MMO games that are currently on the market. The player has an action bar, hit points, a type of skill points/mana system, a mini-map, quest givers and objectives. Pretty cookie-cutter stuff from a skelatal standpoint. Where this differs, however, is within the content of the quests that are given. It’s not rare that you’ll get a quest that revolves around kill count, but it certainly is more rare than in most other MMO games. The objectives of a quest often focus on a story-driven mechanic. Within many of these quests is a clever mechanic – side objectives. While the player is on-mission, they will naturally kill an enemy within the zone the quest is taking place. When this happens, a side objective may pop up in the quest log, urging the player to kill 15 of these enemies. It’s not required to progress the story or complete the quest, but gives a nice experience point bonus to those that complete it. MMO traditionalists will love this mechanic, and those more atuned to a BioWare single-player story can ignore it altogether. When trying to satisfy everyone, often times you will satisfy no one. BioWare found a way to satisfy both ends of the spectrum with this mechanic.
The graphical style of Star Wars: The Old Republic takes after that of World of Warcraft: it is a clean, stylized look that can’t be faulted for what it is trying to do. There aren’t great risks taken graphically here, but for a universe as diverse as that of Star Wars, taking risks with graphics could have resulted in disaster. The game looks how it is expected to look, and key places are immediately recognizeable. The one major gripe with the graphical style, which is really a gripe with Star Wars in general, is that there is really only one style of terrain for each area or planet. BioWare did what they could to vary it up, adding occasional foliage changes, water features, or mountains, but ice planet Hoth is ice planet Hoth, from one end to the other. Every type of planet is represented in this game, though, so in the end it is a complete package. Just don’t expect to see that complete package in the starter area.
The social and mechanical aspects of the game are fairly standard for an MMO. There are guilds, chat channels, auction houses, and class trainers. As of launch there are server queues and bugs within the game. This having been the first MMO launch I’ve ever participated in, I can’t stack up the release of this game against any others, but the issues that are being experienced seem fairly industry-standard as BioWare and EA attempt to balance long-term need against short-term demand for server capacity, and fix glitches that were not caught during beta testing.