[Editor’s Note: Joel Murphy has started his Groundhog Day partying a day early, so today we bring you a special guest column by Samantha Jackson.]
In a crafted publicity stunt, Canadian game developer Bioware “declared war” against American game developer Blizzard, claiming that the new Bioware MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic, would topple Blizzard’s industry-dominating juggernaut, World of Warcraft.
Despite the fact that Blizzard is an over-the-hill runway model living in denial of reports of declining interest, they will not be wrenched from their throne by Bioware (“The Booty Call When Bethesda’s On The Rag”). Nobody from the old school of MMORPG development (Sony/Everquest, Runescape) can offer a comparative experience and nothing new (Sony/DC Universe, Bioware) can match their content volume and formulated player-character development.
In ways, Bioware makes a valiant effort – there are a lot of positive things to say about SWTOR:
- The voice acting is superb and culled from a geek’s wet dream. For example, the male bounty hunter player character is voiced by Steve Blum, voice of anime bounty hunter Spike Spiegel of Cowboy Bebop. The male Jedi Knight is David Hayter, familiar as Snake from the Metal Gear Solid series.
- The game rewards are epic; from early levels, you will travel in a vehicle roughly the size of your first real-life apartment. Your cloak and your dagger are gleaned from legendary sources (and don’t need “legendary” in the title).
- The map and transportation systems are the best I’ve ever seen in a video game. You will never feel that you are tediously wandering and will rarely have to wait for a cool-down if you want to quick-travel home.
- The money system is balanced. In the beginning of the game, you receive money hand over fist. As you advance in level, you are expected to prioritize your spending.
- The storytelling is rife with canon. Often, in games with good stories, the stories stand alone and “hint” at the source material, slowly leaking references like Easter Eggs. Most quests in this game relive pre-existing storylines and solve long-standing riddles.
- Space combat is great fun, highly rewarding and reminiscent of StarFox. You can advance several levels in the game just by performing the daily space missions.
- The characters are well-rounded in their performance abilities and an assortment of companions (pets) allows you to craft a party suited to your gaming style. From the early points in the game, you can customize your weapons and armor. Companions have varied abilities, allowing you to favor a defensive class, a damage class or a healing class.
- The game is beautiful. The worlds are sprawling, unique and filled to capacity with things to see and do. There is very little of the “copy-pasted dirt” that we’ve seen in other MMOs. If you need to kill something, it’s right behind you, and then, you’ll move on to a new town. It never gets boring.
My favorite element is that the quests are extraordinarily well-written:
Immediately after starting a campaign (Republic and Empire alike), I wanted to fight for my causes. Whether I wanted to avenge a highly-likable character, or whether I wanted to hunt down the bastard who wronged me, I felt driven with actual purpose to continue the game. It wasn’t about levels or gear; I wanted the levels and gear for the story.
The drama is more intense than a season finale of Grey’s Anatomy, and it never lets up. I’ve dabbled in all eight classes, and every class makes you feel like revenge, redemption or fortune is just around the corner. Also, though the main stories are compelling, the side-quests are equally interesting. You’ll discover that an officer’s wife is treasonous and decide their fate. You’ll hunt down two Jedis who fled the Academy to realize their love. You’ll interact with a score of wholly believable characters fighting, for good or evil, with great conviction. The player is always made to feel like a critical component in an epic tale.
That said, the game is not without epic flaws:
- There is no high resolution. The best you’ll get is “medium,” a sort of mid-grade Morrowind-esque look. Your armor doesn’t move well and you are frequently impaled on your sword. The world backdrops look great, though.
- Bugs. I’ve never seen bugs like this game has bugs. You can crawl through an entire dungeon, only to discover the boss is “missing.” You can fall through the floor, or be ejected into space. “Dancing” renders you invincible. Quests simply “don’t work,” which is to say your quest objective doesn’t exist, or characters refuse to accept turn-ins. When that quest is your “class quest line,” and a bug prevents you from advancing in the game, it can be very frustrating. And if you start the game and can’t move, you’ll have to “turn off shadows” in the preferences menu.
- No party roles. There is no such thing as a classic class. You can’t be a tank, because tanks can’t “taunt,” and therefore cannot hold the attention of enemies and prevent them from crushing other characters. You can’t be a healer, because no class in the game can heal well enough, fast enough, to keep multiple players alive. You can’t be a damage class, because most “damage classes” wear light armor and you will be punched in the cloth until you die. Everybody is a jack of all trades, and master of none.
- Kill-and-fetch. It is absolutely necessary to complete almost every quest in the game. If you focus solely on your class quests, you will quickly find yourself outmanned. As much as you would like to follow the Sith or Jedi path, you will have to go out and kill (10) (Octopi) or you will be mercilessly smited.
- Your quest-givers are given to whimsy. At level 31, you may not be offered a level 32 quest, but you may be offered a level 40 quest. Also, although the automatic “quest tracker” is nice, there is no indicator as to the level of difficulty. You find out when you get there and the enemy drops a building on you.
- Space Combat. Trying to discern a turret from a generator as it flies by in the distance in sub-par graphics is just impossible.
- Speeches. You could make a sandwich in the time it takes to hear the story of a sidequest. Then, the quest-giver will send you to meet his wife, Olga, who will tell you the recipe to the bread she was baking when you interrupted her work. The dog will bark and she’ll have to start all over again. The entire Advent Children film didn’t have as much dialogue as you’ll hear in your first level of play. But skipping text is like playing Russian Roulette, because NPCs are notorious for spazzing out and shooting you in the face – usually during quest turn-ins.
- Humans and more Humans. There aren’t “race options” as much as there are “costume options.” Humans with red skin, humans with horns, humans with masks.
But my biggest complaint is the Companion mechanic: They are ill-matched, grossly frustrating and the romances are a blasphemy against humanity.
My suspicion that George Lucas is a virgin (as he adopted all three of his children) have been all but confirmed by this video game.
Good game dialogue can be identified by a simple test: If you remove the game elements from conversation, you could imagine people having this conversation in real life. Bioware is hilariously bad at this, but Lucas gives us the impression that his social experiences have been limited to sock puppetry.
Other than to frustrate the audience with what The Undersexed And Maladjusted view as a realistic relationship dynamic, I can’t fathom why the designers paired each character with a hostile and incompatible figure, then assigned said figure the directive to bitch and whine for the entire goddamned game. “I hate this.” “I hate you.” “Can I get some ice cream?” “My feet are tired.” “All my friends at school will make fun of me if I’m friends with a Sith.”
I can’t stand them and there is no escape. Like the 35-year-old child living with his parents (the apparent demographic), they hate them but need them to survive. If you don’t defy your chosen nature, your companions’ performance will suffer (and they will essentially steal money from you and sabotage your creative efforts). The game compels you to be Darth Fauntleroy or Jedi Master Lucifer. Even then, there is limited success. And they won’t shut up.
The first companion of the Sith Warrior is Vette.
Like Yvette, but forget about the “why.”
Lucas, who also thought you would wet yourself with delight over Gungans, thinks you want to fuck Twi’leks.
Not the Zeltron, the pink-skinned giant-breasted humans that sweat ecstasy …
No, not you, you kinky freak.
Lucas knows what you want – You want the flat-chested thing with dicks growing out of its head (link NSFW).
I would say that, since Vette wears a shock collar, you could just shock the shit out of her and rape her to death, but nine years ago, we discovered that attaching electrodes to the body of the person you are penetrating is like sticking your dick in a warming toaster and jumping into the bathtub.
Vette hates everything dark and mean, so pairing her with the Sith Warrior leaves you with a dynamic of Anne Frank and Adolf Hitler on a picnic. It’s fun for an hour, but the novelty wears off quick … especially when Adolf relies on Anne to heal him in battle and she decides she’d rather watch him die.
I was delighted when I obtained my next companion, Malavai Quinn. A cardboard evil General, his personality coincides with the murder and mayhem I want to spread.
I apologize if I’m about to spoil something for you, but I’d want to know before I invested a great deal of time, energy and money into him. You get him at Level 20. At Level 45, you learn his friendship was a ruse and he attempts to kill you.
I was so angry when I discovered this that I stopped playing the game for a week.
I’m reading on the forums that this should be expected, because we are “dark side.” We should expect manipulation and betrayal from our people.
While plausible, this idea makes me feel like I’m not the target audience for this game, because I don’t want to get screwed by the people I train and clothe. I don’t like feeling I’ve been robbed, and telling me it’s a plot mechanic coinciding with the choice I made smells of “you got raped because of the clothes you wore.” It’s an after-the-fact transfer of blame when a bad call was brought to light, not a reasonable explanation.
I don’t expect that you’ll play Jedi, because the servers lean heavily toward the Empire, but the light side is no better. My Smuggler’s companion wants to watch the world burn and would be perfectly matched with my Sith Warrior. He is particularly ill-suited for the Smuggler, who are capable of massive AOE damage, because his first attack is a rope mechanism that jerks the enemy to his location … and out of my blast radius.
Seconds later, when he whines for assistance, it’s tempting to let the fool die.
There are several kinds of players who would enjoy this game:
- Obviously, Star Wars fans. If you enjoyed playing Knights of the Old Republic, you’ll probably enjoy this game.
- If you enjoyed “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, you’ll probably like this game. The writing style is similar.
- If you enjoyed older, more complex MMOs, like the younger incarnation of Everquest, you’ll like the updated, but similar, feel of this game.
- If you enjoy console RPGs, particularly the 120-hour J-pop variety, you will probably enjoy this game.
- Bioware fans looking to exploring MMORPG gaming.
- Lonely people. The game pedestals you as the most amazing person in the world.
There are several kinds of players who will hate this game:
- WoW players. While it was a cheap ploy to antagonize a warlike demographic and pit it against their own cult, that’s not why Warcraft players won’t like this game. Warcraft is streamlined and specialized; this game is clumsy in its class development and vague in its execution.
- Alpha players. This game is going to break on you on an hourly basis, and no amount of power, technology or money will change that.
- Power Raiders. Between the broken dungeons, the lack of dungeon classes and the absence of raiders refusing to play the game for those two reasons, this game may frustrate you.
- Players who prefer achievement over story. In this game, the former is more a consequence of the latter.
- Powerlevelers and Twinks. Due to the organic style of development, rushing your character will leave you a weak shell with a senseless junkpile of uncoordinated abilities.
Overall, it’s a good game. It’s a new and different contribution to a genre polluted with countless imitations. It’s a fun story experience and worth a test. It’s ground-breaking in the MMORPG environment, but not ground-breaking for a Bioware game, meaning that familiar Bioware mechanics have merely been translated to a new format. If Bioware would patch the game-breaking bugs, the game would be much more enjoyable. I enjoy playing it; it’s not my favorite MMORPG, but it’s far from my least favorite.
I give it a 7/10.
It would be a 9/10 if they repaired the bugs and amended the companions.