Star Wars: The Old Republic - A First Look
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away...
Honestly, did you think we would start this first look at the new Star Wars MMO in any other way? Star Wars: The Old Republic, or SWTOR, is probably one of the most anticipated game releases of 2011 and certainly the most anticipated massively multiplayer online role playing game release in some years. First announced at the end of 2008, SWTOR has been developed by BioWare and of course is based in the Star Wars universe. Set some several hundred years after the events of the Knights of the Old Republic games and over 3000 years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, SWOTR sees a time of uneasy peace between the Sith Empire and the Galactic Republic.
Of course SWTOR isn't the first MMO based on the Star Wars universe. Star Wars Galaxies claims that title and was the first MMO that this writer really got into, way back before Blizzard released World of WarCraft. Star Wars Galaxies was developed by Sony Online Entertainment and for a time was very popular. It has carried on much longer than was expected however with the imminent release of SWTOR, SOE and LucasArts announced that Galaxies will finally close its servers on the 15th of December, just days before SWTOR goes live.
So now that SWTOR is finally here and will be the only MMO on the park for Star Wars fans what does it actually have in store for us? Here at HardwareHeaven we have been playing the beta and are going to share our thoughts on how the game plays and what sets it apart from other MMOs currently available.
But first, before we get into our thoughts, some basic game info...
Factions, Races & Classes
As we mentioned in our introduction SWTOR is set in a time of tenuous peace between the Sith Empire and the Galactic Republic. These are the two factions available in SWTOR however just because we decide to play a Sith character doesn't necessarily mean that we have picked the bad side as SWTOR makes it clear that the individual player can choose his or her own path in the journey between light and dark.
Of course the Sith Empire allows us to play a Sith, whereas the Galactic Republic will give us access to the Jedi. After all, wielding a lightsaber will be something that a lot of players will be looking for in SWTOR. Then drilling down from there there are a number of races available to play in SWTOR including Chiss, Human, Cyborg, Miraluka, Mirialan, Rattatki, Sith Pureblood, Twi'lek and Zabrak. Hard core Star Wars fans will know those races however even causal fans will be able to recognise some of the races from the films.
Each faction has four classes and each class can pick a specialisation at level ten. The Sith Empire has the Bounty Hunter, the Imperial Agent, the Sith Warrior and the Sith Inquisitor. In the Galactic Republic we can play as a Smuggler, a Trooper and Jedi Knight or a Jedi Consular.
All the classic MMO roles are covered in the available classes, from tanks to melee or ranged dps and healers. Each class has its own starting story and planet, which should take our character through the first 10 levels and introduce us to how our chosen class plays before sending us out to the wider SWTOR universe. Finally, the initial level cap for SWTOR is 50.
SWTOR offers us the classic MMO push button to carry out action style of play. Skills and abilities are assigned to keys to allow us to access them during play. The additional skills and abilities are learned as we level our character, gaining experience through a traditional questing system. At level ten we get to choose our class specialisation. Pick this carefully as at present once we make this choice there is no way to undo it.
Although questing in SWTOR is traditional in its style, its implementation is very new. Almost all quests taken in SWTOR include a fully voiced acted cut scene, including multiple response choices in classic BioWare style. This is very different from other MMOs which simply offer a pick up and go style of questing. With SWTOR we have to think about our responses, as ultimately they will impact the path our character will take, either toward the light or dark side.
It is very impressive that such a vast number of quests are also fully voice acted, especially given the conversation choices we can make. BioWare have gone to great lengths to provide a questing experience that we've never seen before in a major MMO.
Combat in SWTOR is tight and fast paced. Although we have the traditional click button to perform action style of play BioWare have thrown some new elements into combat, such of the cover system. Cover is used by the Republic Smuggler and its Empire equivalent the Imperial Agent. Cover is a skill that has this ranged DPS class looking for a place to hide, while blasting his enemies from afar. If no strategically placed boxes can be found then the class is able to spawn shield in front of them. Gaining cover allows the class access to more types of blaster shots.
Aside from solo questing, SWTOR also offers group play. In fact once we get through our starting zone and leave our first planet we are offered the chance to go to the next planet via a group quest. We can ignore this of course, and take the shuttle straight there however it's nice to see BioWare encouraging group play from such an early point in the levelling curve.
A big part of SWTOR is the companion system. Companions, or our crew, are characters that we gain as we level. They will help us in combat, or we can send them on missions to gain experience in crew skills. Crew skills fall into three main categories - Gathering, Crafting and Mission. In each category there are a number of options to choose from. One of the best things about crew skill missions is that they work while we are offline. So before logging off we can send one of our crew on a mission, that might take 5hours, then when next online we would find that they have completed the mission.
During the test phase of the game we levelled up into double figures and found that there was plenty to do at the early stages and hope that BioWare will be aware that most of the time an MMO player spends which his character is at level cap, so they have put a similar amount of effort into end game that we have seen for the earlier levels.
Being a new MMO SWTOR offers an excellent graphics engine. The character customisation is fairly in depth, with several body types to pick from before we get down to the usual facial configuration options including placement and style of eyes, nose and mouth along with hair style and colour.
The character models look great, and certainly feel very in tune with the Star Wars universe. The combat animation on them is good and our actions feel very connected with the onscreen action.
The planetary environments are very detailed and varied in their display. Planets like the world of Coruscant that we are so used to from the prequels, are brought to life in SWTOR and as we are running around we can look over the edge and see the depth of the planet, the height of the buildings and the unlimited number of vehicles flying past us in regimented formation.
SWTOR is full of voice acting, far more than we have seen in other MMOs. As we talked about in the gameplay section most of the quests that we undertake have full voice acting with multiple conversation paths. All the voice acting that we heard during the beta testing weekends was done to a very high standard.
Aside from the voice acting SWTOR also features the classic sounds we have all come to associate with the Star Wars universe. From classic spaceship sounds to the swoosh of the lightsabre, to the annoying beep of droids all the sounds we would expect to hear in a Star Wars game are found in SWTOR. The in game music is also very familiar, from the instantly recognisable Star Wars theme music at the start to the zone music which fits in very nicely with environments.
BioWare have certainly pulled a few new tricks with SWTOR. While at its heart it offers a classic MMO experience, new features like the fully voice acted questing and character choice development will certainly make SWTOR stand out from the crowd.
The companion system is an interesting feature and the ability to develop our crew while we are offline is a very welcome option.
We are very keen to play this game more, and to get to grips with some of the later levels and group play to see if BioWare is able to keep up the excellent start that we experienced with the starting zones and initial gameplay. So far though looking like a solid 90% Release.
Checkout our hands-on look at the new Star Wars: The Old Republic Gaming Peripherals by Razer