Star Wars: The Old Republic Beta First Impressions
Whenever we have a new MMO on the horizon, everyone piles there hopes and dreams on what ultimately becomes a letdown next to industry leader World of Warcraft. It is pretty much expected that any game on the horizon is going to pale in comparison, until one day some mythical developer from some mythical land releases the next big thing.
Will Star Wars the Old Republic push the MMO genre forward? No, probably not, but with very few successful MMOs on the market, if anyone can step in and hold their ground, it will be Bioware (with some help from the Force).
The Old Republic starts with the same mold as World of Warcraft, a two faction quest-driven game. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you feel about Warcraft, but in a world where WoW is getting repetitive, a lot of people were hoping for something different. Of course, this means that the Old Republic has everything you’d expect from your standard WoW-era MMO ranging from auction houses to mailboxes to battlegrounds to dungeon crawls and, of course, one-click crafting. If you are looking for a different type of game, then Old Republic is going to disappoint. However, an MMO must have all of these things to be taken seriously, so it is worth noting they are there, but bring nothing new to the table.
The User Interface is smooth, if not customizable enough, and the graphics are sharp but Anti-Aliasing is noticeably missing. An achievement system and looking-for-grouping system both are mysteriously absent and the chat system needs a lot of work. It is rather unfortunate that my friends need to call my cellphone to tell me that they are sending me whispers in game. With the focus shifting to voice-over dialogue, the game sorely needs voice chat.
Beta test weekends began Friday evening with some light queues. I selected a server without a wait, and spent a few minutes randomizing my appearance. I swear I selected male, but I think the game picked a female character for me anyways. I blame Justin Biebers. Anyhow, the opening cinematics were amazing, and I found myself wanting to watch the original films all over again. I picked a Bounty Hunter for the Empire, which means my adventures would start on the planet Hutta, or so I thought. The game proceeded to crash twice during the opening dialogue sequence. Great start!
And thus continued my entire day. The game would run well for a while, with solid framerates and latency on my i5 with a GTX470, and then all of the sudden, the game would disconnect to the server selection menu. Luckily one doesn’t need to re-login when this happens, but there is a lot of load time involved when this happens, and a lot of time, death. This wasn’t the only bug either. I experienced the “stuck in place” bug numerous times, where all of the sudden, my character would be running in place while the rest of the world continued around him. This too often led to death.
Perhaps the most frustrating bug of them all is when the game map goes blank. This bug typically rears its ugly head right after one of the other two previously mentioned bugs, forcing you to re-log a second time to get everything running right. While the game systems are complete, the bugs show a lack of polish and testing. It’s the little things, like stray audio clips, being unable to loot, or your UI not loading all your custom settings that will really turn people off from the game. Likewise, it will be a great feat to get them all under wraps by launch. Good luck, Bioware!
All of this wasn’t bad on the first day, afterall, we are in beta and all of that. However, on the second day, with 30 minute login queues… the multiple disconnects and re-logs became highly frustrating! Despite the various amounts of waiting, I managed to progress up to level 15 to steal my own space ship. Space combat is really fun, and continues with Bioware’s melding of single-player gameplay mechanics in an online game. The big win of the day, however, is the out-of-combat run speed boost. There is so much running in this game, you too will be happy when you finally acquire it.
Once it’s all said and done, this game’s strengths are in the dialogue cinematics and voice overs. If you’ve played Dragon’s Age or Mass Effect, then you are well aware of Bioware’s storytelling capabilities, complete with dialogue wheel. The Old Republic is the first MMO I’ve ever played with the dialogue wheel, which typically allows you to choose between being a good guy, a bad guy, or just a plain old smartass. What you choose affects your reputation with your companions.
Much like in Bioware’s other aforementioned roleplaying games, players can recruit computer controlled party members that follow you around and assist in combat. When you are in groups with real players, a random dice is rolled to determine who gets to speak at each dialogue choice, which can make for an awkward story encounter. While it works, it can be rather painful guessing which reply your companions will appreciate while still maintaining your loyalty to the dark or light sides. Numerous times I would select a dark side dialogue choice, only to have my companion become royally ticked with me.
So we’ve established that the Old Republic has all of the WoW-like MMO features that you would expect coupled with the RPG talents of Bioware set in the Star Wars universe. The game is more like the single-player RPGs while you are leveling up, while endgame will presumably play more like the current set of MMOGs where you need to team up to progress. The PvP is pretty bland, with Warzone battlegrounds, and an outdoor PvP zone for high-level players.
If you’ve made it this far, then you may think that I do not like the game, and that is untrue. I, like millions of others, was just hoping for more than another baby step forward in the genre. All the same, the strength and magic of the Old Republic is in Bioware’s ability to tell a good Star Wars story. If you enjoy the story, RPG games in general, the Star Wars universe, and don’t mind paying a monthly subscription, then you will easily enjoy hundreds of hours of single-player linear gameplay. But, if you are looking for the next game to replace that 7 years you’ve spent in Azeroth, well keep looking.