My First 20 Levels With The Old Republic

Since quitting RIFT early last year, I swore off MMOs (again). Why would I want to spend my time endlessly grinding and doing the same content over and over when there are tons of new experiences out there? Plus, paying monthly? FORGET IT. Like a fool though, when Star Wars: The Old Republic went into its head start and I heard tons of people yapping about how cool it was, I buckled and joined up. This time, it’s going to be different… right?

Along with word of mouth, the name BioWare was my primary impetus and that whole Star Wars thing. Aside from stumbling with Dragon Age II, they’ve had a nearly flawless track record and even though it seems BioWare is just becoming a brand within Electronic Arts, I put that foreboding feeling aside and jumped in.

Generally, when playing RPGs, I go for a good aligned, warrior-type-dude. But this time I chose the empire with a ranged bounty hunter. Like many others who grew up loving Star Wars, Boba Fett always intrigued me. Who is he? Where did he come from? Dude, a jetpack! While they do try to put the classes into the standard MMO archetypes, there’s a bit of crossover with the bounty hunter. Not only can they deal ranged damage quickly, but they have the option to provide heals when you get deeper into your build. It’s a neat option if things get heavy.

It didn’t take long for TOR to sink its hooks into my back. I constantly heard that the game was like any other established MMO, except now you’ve got an emphasis on story and dialog. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much of difference that made, at least early on. I kind of expected to play my initial month and be done, but ended up purchasing an additional 60-day point card at around level 13 thanks mostly to the story and the nice level of polish.

Mass Effect’s influence can be seen throughout the entire dialog system, and for a huge ME fan like myself, it was immediately awesome. With my bounty hunter, I became quickly invested in killing another bounty hunter, Tarro Blood, because he had a hand in murdering my only friends. That bastard needs to pay and I was going to make him pay… eventually. This dialog system has translated reasonably well to the MMO, although during group conversations there’s a literal dice roll as to who’s chosen option is spoken.

To put a bit more weight onto the talky bits, it will also affect your character’s light-side/dark-side tendency but here’s a major problem with the game. The tendency is set on a pendulum style meter. If you’ve been hoping for the dark-side, and make a light-side decision, the pendulum goes back the other way a bit, negating some of the points you’ve already earned.

There’s absolutely no reason to go middle road. You need to be a saint, a dick, or you’ll be grinding for these points later. Certain gear is only available to people with specific levels of alignment. Basically, despite what you may want in regards to the story progressing a certain way, you’ve gotta min/max because it’s an MMO.

This is a huge issue with TOR. When you’re touting story above all else, and the player is forced to go a certain path to make sure they aren’t screwed later, then the story isn’t as important as the developers want you to think it is. This comes up also with repeatable, daily ‘heroic’ missions and ‘flashpoints’ that force the same dialog bits on you each time you play them. Sure you can mash the spacebar so you don’t need to listen to them talk again, but why are these repeatable? Oh yeah, because it’s an MMO.

BioWare has pushed aside their defining characteristic just to cater to the standard trappings of MMOs. This alone makes TOR not special at all. Instead of falling back on what’s normal for the genre, they should have found another way. They have failed with their primary goal of making the story matter. While this isn’t a complete game breaker, it eschews it’s own identity falling back simply on the fact that it’s Star Wars.

About Jim Hunter

Jim Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Splitkick and host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He has three kids and is constantly cranky, but also highly awesome.
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