Lost in Space: Adventures in the Old Republic

After a long deliberation process and probably a bit too much internal (and external) debate, I finally decided to take the plunge and get Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I’ve never been an MMO man myself, not because I have anything against the genre in particular, but more due to the fact that I have an addictive personality when it comes to games, and I was a bit afraid that in a few months I could be one of the news stories you see about the guy who died after playing World of Warcraft for 36 hours straight.

But I’m a bit more grown up now than I used to be, and I believed I could keep my compulsions in check. And I have, so far, and am ready to report my findings on my first stretch of playtime with the highest budgeted video game of all time.

I’ve got two characters right now, so that I may balance both the light and dark side of the force, and also experience different play styles between ranged and melee. Thus, I have a level 14 male Jedi Knight, and a level 11 female bounty hunter.

I don’t look nearly this cool.

Much of my criticism of this game might actually be issues with the MMO genre as a whole. As this is my first real experience with it, when I say something like, “This game is an endless series of fetch quests,” you might say, “well, that’s an MMO.” But that said, if SWTOR is truly trying to make a mark in the genre, doesn’t it need to break out of the typical MMO mold?

Bioware’s big push to make the game stand out over others in the genre was that they had finally created a new pillar in an MMO, story. Each and every quest you get for any of the characters is fully voiced, with both your character and the NPC having a few minute long conversation about whatever item you need to go find, or what baddie needs to be killed. It’s the most voicework that’s ever been done for a video game, and as top notch dialogue is Bioware’s signature (see Mass Effect), what could go wrong?

It’s a great effort to include story in an MMO, but in practice, it doesn’t work as the fundamentals of the game remain the same. It’s nice that you came up with a back story as to WHY exactly I need to find four power converters or kill ten vine cats, but there is literally no side-quest dialogue that’s interesting enough to care about or worth sitting around listening to. I tried to get into it, I really did. I let every conversation play out for about the first ten hours or so, but these NPC characters are just so one-note, and the quests so menial and pointless, it’s almost impossible not to end up pressing spacebar to skip your way through every side-quest conversation, thus negating all those hundreds of hours of voicework that the game is so proud of.

But *why* am I killing ten spider legged derp monsters?

The main quest isn’t much better. The only reason it’s worth listening to is because at least the characters you’re interacting with you’ll see again, and the overarching plot can be vaguely interesting. But for side-quests, this isn’t Mass Effect. These aren’t going to be recurring characters, and even if they were, I wouldn’t even recognize them if they came back, as you do about five side-quests for people every half hour. And the main plot? Again, it’s usually just go somewhere, flip some switches, kill some enemies, and return, just like every single side-quest, with no real distinction of depth or difficultly.

The game also has a strange moral choice system that attempts to shoehorn in more plot and character development. You would think your initial choice of choosing to be a member of the “good guys” (the Republic) or the “bad guys” (the Empire) would indicate which type of character you’re going to play, but with the additional choice system you can be a dick-ish Jedi or a Sith with a heart of gold if you really want to. But annoyingly, to make any real use out of the system you have to commit hard one way or the other, as certain items require different levels of “dark side” or “light side” to use. Therefore, my Jedi, who gains light side points for helping people and dark side points for flirting with girls, is stuck in neutral, and will never reap any benefit from his choices.

Fetch quests and binary moral choices wouldn’t be so bad if the path to them was at least interesting or challenging. But it’s not, it never is. You trudge through a landscape of pockets of enemies sitting out in the open, jam on a few number keys, and they die, then you move onto the next group. So far, I’ve enjoyed combat with my bounty hunter quite a bit more, as there are only so many fancy ways you can swing a lightsaber (or two of them). Meanwhile, shooting rockets, blasters and flamethrows is far more interesting, despite my complete lack of force powers. But that said, at least in the first 15 hours or so, there’s no real strategy to combat. Between my follower and myself, I can kill any enemy with a random selection of skills, and my bounty hunter has yet to even die once (unlike my Jedi, who has quite a bit more difficulty targeting people when they’re not all lined up twenty feet away from him).

Blastering appears to be the way to go.

The worst part of this however is how freaking fast enemies respawn. I know that this is an “MMO thing,” as if someone else was rampaging through an area before you, they’d leave no enemies for you to kill, but it gets to the point where it’s a bit ridiculous. You can enter a building, kill everything, and by the time you get your treasure and turn around to leave, every single bad guy has respawned. I’ve even had it where I was playing with my equipment in a room for about a minute, and a freaking sub-boss respawned right on top of me as I was doing so.