Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wier Reviews: Star Wars the Old Republic

A long time ago........

Wait wait wait! STOP IT NOW! We're not doing this!

In an MMO far far away......

Please cliche!

Star Wars: The Old Republic Review Episode XIII

The Galactic Empire (EA) having released an unspeakable evil upon the Republic of Bioware had all but ruined the creative minds and talents of the once proud video game company. Under the stewardship of the Dark Lord Profit they were forced to produce a terrible sequel to a promising franchise called Dragon Age.

The release of Dragon Age II was especially heart breaking to a young Sith by the name of Wier. Wier felt a tremor in the Force as Bioware's new MMO came closer and closer to release. His fear of what was to come grew to anger for what had been done and his anger gave him strength enough to purchase Star Wars: The Old Republic.

As he sat at his computer and began to play, the young Sith began to feel a presence that he had not felt in a long time...A new hope for Bioware...

Needless to say I was deeply concerned when I heard that three forces were aligning to create a MMO, Lucas, Bioware and EA. Of those three things I could only see one possible entity that could possibly make it work and well it looks like they got control of at least 70% of the production. So let us take a look at Star Wars and some of the more major parts of it so that I can deliver to you, my three readers, my opinion on this new kid on the block.

Story: I want to start on a high note because I believe that story telling was an area that was sorely lacking on one of the last EA & Bioware projects Dragon Age II. This is an area where Bioware finally showed their true colors as excellent story tellers. From the moment I landed on Korriban with my Sith Warrior (Yes I played a sith warrior, because honestly why would you play a star wars game and not swing a light saber about?) I became immersed in my own personal story line.

This was both a good and a bad thing. It was good because it made me want to see what would become of my character in the end so I was driven to play to the level cap so I could experience that story. The bad part about this was the background noise of all the other random standard stories that were there for the sake of leveling up through an area and making the process longer. Often the area stories devolved into a) droid killing, b) rebel killing, c) artifact hunting or d) monster killing, or e) all of the above. Often I found myself completely disinterested in the overall secret war campaign being waged between the Republic and the Empire and far more concerned with gaining enough experience so I could advance my story. At least I felt motivated to play through this game which is a vast improvement over a lot of other recent mmo releases.

Companions: Since a good chunk of the leveling experience was based upon your own story that game involved companions that followed you about as faithful pets and servants to continue your path to galactic conquest. Each companion I ran into was interesting and felt like a key component to the main story line of my character. Well minus Pierce who I assume was meant to be the secondary love interest for a female character. Through questing and dialogue you gained reputation with your companion, saying and doing certain things would cause them to like or hate you more. For example, if you had the slave girl Vette and you murdered a bunch of slaves she would not be happy about that. Despite the interesting dynamic that adds to conversation and decision making it is all easily over ridden by a gift giving system that can cure all ills. Much like the orignal Dragon Age you can simply buy the love of the people around you. However, as long as I am somewhere near the topic of dialogue I wanted to touch on something I simply hate about Bioware games...

THE DIALOGUE WHEEL: I could live a thousand life times and never ever be more annoyed by something than the dialogue wheel. I hated it in Mass Effect, I hated it in Dragon Age II, I hate it now. Something about a vague representation of what you will say is completely annoying to me when you often get something that is a completely different tone than you thought it would be. Sometimes you will say something like "I agree" and then say "We'll slaughter them all BUAHAHAHA". I guess I don't understand what is so difficult about typing out the line you will deliver rather than typing out the short version of it, well not even the short version, sometimes what is typed is longer than what is being said which just delivers a whole bag of question marks to my brain. I guess the objective here was to veil the fact that a lot of the lines you say are recycled through out the game. But honestly I rather see that I am repeating the same line than have a different vague representation of the same thing fourteen times. The dialogue also incorporates the obligatory dichotomy system that every Bioware game needs these days.

Light Side vs Dark Side: As you dialogue in the game and make your decisions you are given light side and dark side decisions to make. Dark side typically involves killing puppies and light side typically involves not killing those puppies. Saving puppies isn't something a light side person would do because we all know Jedi are actually just stoic a-moral Buddhists with no discernible emotion. Light side and Dark side have some game play and minor story influences but they are negligible at best. You will be restricted to some gear being either side and you will change up some scenes and fights based upon the decisions you make. Granted this does very little to impact the end game of your character but still there are nice little touches here and there which make the decisions feel like they have some bearing on outcomes. Also Dark side makes your character's face become increasingly more polluted with black veins while Light side offers no cosmetic changes. With all that aside I did enjoy the fact that I could be a "Light side" Sith.

Gameplay: All and all the game has the standard MMO control scheme and interface. You have action bars and key bindings galore to execute your various combos and special attacks. The only problem with it is that there seem to be way too many abilities. Each class has somewhere around 2-3 full bars worth of attacks and utility powers that will litter your screen. Some things are useful in some situations and others are not. I often found myself switching some abilities back and forth of my main bindings and into other random areas of my bars. This wouldn't be too terrible if EA had allowed people to customize the interface in some way, shape, or form. Alas mods are not allowed so you're left with the clunky mess that they give you.

The combat flows pretty well despite the 10,000 buttons that you have to press and kills are rather rewarding. It is rather satisfying to force choke someone to death and watch them squirm about helplessly in the air. Well, it was at least satisfying when channeled abilities worked. Often I would run into a terrible glitch where the animation would go off and I would see a cast bar for an attack but my character was not actually executing the ability at all. This would be ok if some of the fights in the game did not require you to be on top of your cool downs.

Yes, some of the fights for your main character quest line are rather difficult and require you to at least have a decent grasp on how to play your character. You can not simply smash 1 to win a fight. To an extent this is a good thing since it will force people to be a little better at the game than a total noob.

Ship Battles: I just wanted to briefly touch on this since it is a pretty fun distraction in the game. In between worlds there are plenty of opportunities for you to outfit and take your ship in space battles. This mini-game is essentially a rail shooter with objectives. You either have to destroy certain targets, protect a target or a little mixture of both. The game-play and feel of this combat is simply fun. I enjoyed it quite a bit as a way to wind down from the quest'a'thon that a MMO becomes.

Flashpoints (Dungeons) & Heroic Quests: I found the group experience in this MMO to be rather lacking. Finding groups for dungeons or for the heroic quests was a difficult task akin to the early days of World of Warcraft which were painful to endure. If you managed to find a group for a dungeon you would be there for awhile especially if you began to encounter any of the myriad game breaking bugs that happened all over the place. Some bosses tend to become immune to damage due to wonky circumstances or mystically one shot you with no explanation as to how. I wont knock the game for this mainly because it's a new game and bugs are just par for the course for everyone these days and can eventually be fixed. However, as a start up this made dungeons a very unwelcoming experience.

Heroic quests in the game were world quests that required the effort of more than one person to complete. Finding someone who was on the quest you were on involved looking in general chat for someone to join you. This is a tedious task admits the trolling and Apple/WoW/sunshine/baby seal bashing that goes on in general chat. Often I found it easier to simply drop these quests and move on since not doing them had little to no adverse effects on your ability to level through an area. So, in my opinion they were throw away quests not worth the time or effort.

Conclusions: I found Star Wars the Old Republic to be an enjoyable distraction, but ultimately I felt that it should have been a single player game. The single player aspects of the game seem much finer tuned than anything else in the game which I think is a result of the Bioware pedigree which typically turns out a very solid solo RPG experience. Though I did do flash points and some heroic quests with friends I found myself enjoying that experience less than following my own path. I simply can not envision myself paying monthly for a game that I feel like I have beaten by finishing my character story. As a MMO Star Wars requires a lot of improvements, as a RPG they knocked it out of the park with an intellectual property that I have never really cared for. This game made me actually like the Star Wars universe which says a lot.


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