Impressions of the The Old Republic Beta
The Old Republic is one of the most hyped games of the year, and after spending a weekend with the beta, I had the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about for myself. Because I’ve always been one to eat from the buffet table rather than commit to ordering a single meal, I created a half dozen characters, but sank most of my time into a Sith Marauder that I quested up to level 12.
My background: I’ve tried a couple dozen MMOs over the past decade, but my interest in any particular game tends to die once I hit the mid-level grind. I’m partial to sci-fi settings, since fantasy is overdone, and I’m a fan of the original Star Wars trilogy — the prequels grievously wounded my interest in the franchise.
The Old Republic takes place thousands of years before Darth Vader, in a period more akin to the prequel movies than the classics. “Stormtroopers” are good guys*, the Galactic Empire is still the Galactic Republic, and practitioners of the Force are so common that anyone who can’t telekinetically lift a stone seems like a buck-toothed yokel.
(*They’re not actually stormtroopers, but the Galactic Republic troopers are the spiritual ancestors of the stormtroopers.)
While I’m not a fan of this older setting, it lends itself better to an MMO framework than the classic Star Wars setting, which would have seen such interesting class options as “dumbass clone stormtrooper,” “Ewok muppet,” and “no, we can’t have half a million Jedi running around; it goes against canon.” Fortunately, Bioware knows we love classic Star Wars and has injected TOR with old-school SW flavor in the form of Han Solo-like smugglers, Bobba Fett-style bounty hunters, and Vader-esque Sith warriors. They also didn’t skimp on the cool concepts introduced in the prequels, like dual-bladed lightsabers and Force-powered combat maneuvers.
At its most basic, the game’s premise is as follows: the Jedi Order believed the Sith were extinct; they were wrong. Way wrong. In fact, the Sith were the complete opposite of extinct — their numbers became so huge that they staged a full-scale invasion that currently has the Galactic Republic (good guys) and the Sith Empire (jerks with an unhealthy obsession with the color red)
evenly matched in ongoing hostilities.
Apparently, during the entirety of the time the Sith were rebuilding their empire, no one on the Jedi Council ever felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if a million Sith were gearing up to kick some major ass. You can hand wave this plot hole away by saying that the Sith used the Force to hide their presence, but it’s the Star Wars equivalent of “a wizard did it.”
That said, it’s not too hard a pill to swallow, given that Star Wars has never truly been science fiction, but science fantasy. Midi-chlorians notwithstanding, the Force is basically magic, morality is black and white (or red and blue/green, as it were), and all that sword fighting speaks for itself. Star Wars manages to capture the correct ratio of Science Fiction to Fantasy to cater to a wide audience, strategically avoiding the “hard sci-fi” that — much to my chagrin — alienates most demographics.