[These impressions are written from the perspective of a level 41 character (out of a possible level 50), with experience in Warzones, World PVP, Questing and Flashpoints - basically everything but Operations. A full scored review will not follow until we have explored and experienced the entire game. All screenshots are in-game.]
The Old Republic has a lot to live up to. After all the hype and all the budgeting, a game that is now known as “the most expensive MMO ever made” is going up against a number of market leading MMOs, including the up and coming Guild Wars 2.
So is this “story driven MMO” worth $15 a month, or does it take the “Massive” out of MMO? Read on to find out.
Without hesitation, I have to state that TOR gets it’s hooks in you pretty deep pretty quickly. Almost every class has an incredibly intriguing setup, to the point where each intro could easily be the next Knights of the Old Republic game in their own right.
The Republic Trooper will find his transport ship shot down in the middle of a warzone, right at the beginning of the game; the slave-born Imperial Inquisitor will find himself vying for an apprenticeship against overwhelming odds – whatever your personal style is, there’s something here for everyone. Accompanying these gripping stories is a major selling point: full voice acting.
When I say “full”, I really mean “full” – even meaningless quests from lowly officers and beggars are voiced by a diverse array of individuals, and the acting itself is top shelf material (drawing from industry greats such as David Hayter and Nolan North as player characters).
The starting/early areas such as Hutta and Coruscant are sure to delight, and it’ll feel like you’re blazing through planets at 88 miles per hour. By the time you next check the clock, and realize you’re a human being again, you’ll be somewhere around level 15.
However, after that initial honeymoon, the big budget sheen starts to become just that; a sheen After you progress past the few first planets, the game starts to become more and more like a typical MMO. Quests will start to blend together into kill/fetch variations, and the worlds will become more barren/typical fare.
Initially, you were blazing through planets at what felt like a breakneck pace – now, you’re spending 4-5 levels per planet – and those levels are much harder to earn (incurring some grinding). Of course, you have the option to grind through Space Missions or PVP in addition to PVE content, but both of those aren’t exactly the most exciting options after doing them for the 50th time.
Space Missions will invoke some memories back of old on-rails Star Wars action; but keep in mind the key word here is “some”. These missions are completely guided, and feature your own personal ship, armed with missiles, lasers, and a few special abilities/weapons. At first, these missions were pretty enjoyable, and enough of them kept springing up to the point where the time spent playing them was worth the experience obtained.
Eventually, I realized that none of these missions are varied – they’re the same exact thing every time, down to the last enemy starship appearance. It had gotten to the point where I had memorized every nuance of enemy patterns and the ship’s heading and course – unless it was absolutely necessary, I avoided these missions after level 30. Hopefully, Bioware can patch in an AI system for these missions to keep things varied a bit.
Warzones are also similarly boring after repeated play. At the current moment, there are only 3 missions: Huttball (basketball/soccer), a Hoth-centric Capture the Point/Domination, and a Bombing Run variant set in a hangar. In my opinion, Huttball is a lost cause, as most players ignore the ball in favor of killing each other in the middle.
The Bombing Run is also not the most exciting gametype, as it’s incredibly easy to defend a door (any damage will stop an attacker from arming a bomb), and you need to bomb/hack 5 entry points to win the match. So, that leaves Hoth as the only fun PVP map, and even then, you have a 1/3 chance of getting it when you queue up. Because of this lack of ability to choose your gametype, I hardly play PVP anymore.
At level 41 (you get your “fast” mount at 40), I’ve only encountered World PVP a grand total of ten times, even on a High[ly] populated server – if you’re looking for a heavy world PVP game style like Aion or Dark Age of Camelot, I’d look elsewhere.
Diversions aside, at level 30, the game completes it’s transformation into a run-of-the-mill MMO. You’ll trek across planets slowly with your 90% speed increase mount you get at level 25, find flight paths, do typical quests, and hearth/take those flight paths to turn those quests in. Although you could find solace in Flashpoint based instance distractions, you’re going to want to do the bulk of your leveling through questing or PVP, and your mileage may vary on either account. Stories continue past level 30 (into a second Act), but they’re not nearly as exciting as the first half, mainly because of all the grinding involved at later levels, and how sparse the actual story content is.
For the most part, I solo quested all the way to 41 – I only stopped a few times to do “heroic” missions (quests suggesting 2-4 players). The reason I only stopped a few times wasn’t out of boredom, however, as the XP rewards are pretty decent for heroics; but availability.
Simply put, in my experience, you have to spam general chat or keep your eye on general for heroic advertisements. At any given time, there are only around 30-50 people on my current planet, making it hard to find groups often, and showing a disadvantage of the fragmented “planet” system, and not one cohesive world, a la most MMOs. Another issue is if you’re in the hub section (The Fleet), getting someone to come to your planet and help with a quest is more of a pain than running over to your friend’s real life house across town.
You have to enter at least 4-5 different load screens before you can exit the Fleet, get to your ship, select the planet, leave the airlock, enter the planet, and get to the actual quest. Most MMOs have it figured out by now (ie portals in WoW’s hub worlds) – unfortunately for TOR, it further fragments the game.
However, despite my issues with it, I’d personally recommend that everyone give The Old Republic a chance. I truly think it’s as close as we’re going to get to KOTOR 3, and I’d go so far as to say that each individual story (all eight!) rivals the epic scale of KOTOR 1. At the very least, you’re going to want to pay the ~$50 to take the plunge for your trial month, and then decide from there; because end-game wise, there really isn’t a whole lot to get your feet wet with.
At the current moment, there are two Operations (raids), three total Warzones, and a level 50 PVP planet (Ilum). That’s about it. On my server (and many others), Guilds have already cleared out all of the Operation’s Hard Modes for days, and are hungry for more.
The true test of survival for TOR will be if they can pump out new Operations and Warzones at a faster rate than they bleed subscribers. From what I’ve seen on a personal level, a lot of people are already going back to World of Warcraft, or are planning to play Guild Wars 2 if TOR doesn’t get more updates.
Personally, I don’t think I’m going to do much with my main after I become 50, but that won’t stop me from making at least two to three more characters and experiencing their stories. As long as the prospect of a mostly solo journey doesn’t bum you out, I’d suggest doing the same.