Impressions of the The Old Republic Beta
TOR features nine races and eight classes, each with two “advanced classes” you must choose from once you hit level 10. As you level up, you purchase new abilities from trainers, and once you select your advanced class, you gain access to three skill trees to sink points into.
While there are distinct combat roles like in any MMO — tank, DPS, support — no class is restricted to one role. For instance, the Sith Warrior branches into either the Sith Marauder or Sith Juggernaut advanced classes, which are melee DPS and melee tank, respectively.
Before level 10, you’ll gain your first companion character, and every class has a unique sidekick: the Jedi Knight gets a droid, the Sith Warrior gets a Twi’lek slave, and the smuggler gets a — surprise, surprise — wookiee.
Bioware has left its fingerprints all over TOR in the form of the game’s story and narrative structure. If you’ve played Dragon Age or Mass Effect, you’ll find TOR’s conversations with NPCs familiar, with full voice acting and morality options. Your companions have their own personalities, and you can curry or lose favor with them depending on which conversation options you select.
TOR breaks new ground in the MMO genre with a story told through custcenes and conversations that are fully voice-acted. I hate myself for it, but in most MMOs, I often skip overly long write-ups — spending thirty seconds reading a wall of text breaks immersion for me, and the writing is generally of poor quality.
However, I’ve never been tempted to skip any conversations or cutscenes during my time in TOR. I may feel differently on subsequent playthroughs, which raises a concern expressed so eloquently by an infuriated party member that was foaming at the mouth, trying to get the rest of us to skip a conversation. There will be people who will want to skip conversations, and people who won’t — and when they come together to form a party, hostility will ensue, a kind of hostility that will be detrimental to the fostering of a community.
TOR plays it safe by sticking to core gameplay that is your standard MMO fare — why mess with a recipe that has over ten million subscribers hooked? While the familiarity will be welcome by many seasoned MMO players, those looking for something completely original may be disappointed. Combat is what you’d expect: you spend more time staring at the cooldowns on your hotbar than at the battle itself.
Your standard “kill # of monster Y” quests show their ugly face, though generally in the form of bonus objectives to more interesting quests — which TOR doesn’t skimp on. The most memorable quest I completed involved interrogating three prisoners and, in turn, deciding their fate. Most quests do involve combat, but I didn’t come across any that felt repetitive or dull enough to abandon.
Companion characters add a great functionality to the game by serving as helper monkeys that sell your junk loot for you, craft items, gather resources, and even go on mini-missions. While I normally find MMO crafting systems cumbersome, I was rather enchanted by this one, which allows you to shift a lot of the footwork onto your companion if you so choose.
TOR isn’t revolutionary, but it does evolve some aspects of the MMO genre, such as by being fully voiced. While it doesn’t take as many innovative strides in terms of gameplay, like Rift did with its dynamic combat event system, it does have the most immersive story of any MMO I’ve played.
Whether that immersion is restricted to the early game or continues on to alleviate the mid-level grind is something I’m willing to give TOR a chance to prove; the beta has sold me on picking up the full version this December.