Star Wars: The Old Republic “Final” Review – Part (3/3)
Character: Bounty Hunter Mercenary, Level 31
MMO’s Played: WOW, EVE Online
If you’re looking for something more challenging than simple solo combat, The Old Republic offers plenty of options. Two- and four-man Heroic areas and world bosses will be all too familiar to veterans of other MMO’s, but the game also boasts the Flashpoint system, which will not.
Flashpoints are self-contained, story-driven encounters, all accessible directly from each faction’s main fleet. This means you’ll spend much less time waiting around for everyone to arrive at the instance – one of BioWare’s many simple, sensible solutions to timeless MMO problems.
The revelant quests and exposition are doled out via holo by high-ranking members of the game’s two factions. Flashpoint stories tend to deal directly with simmering conflict between Republic and Empire, putting players at the center of the hottest incidents in an otherwise cold war. This has the effect of making the content feel both important and also strangely detached from the stories players encounter in the single-player campaign.
Flashpoint gameplay is more scripted and dynamic than the rest of the game, and the increased focus on encounter design provides a satisfying sense of drama. In addition to the loot, the possibility of Dark- and Light-side points from morality-driven story choices establishes solid replay value. Crafting enthusiasts will enjoy occasionally being able to open shortcuts by passing a skill check. Though the combat is generally on par with what players will experience solo, tough, Champion-class enemies and the occasional inventive boss fight are a welcome challenge.
In order to perfect the system, BioWare should focus its efforts on providing these unexpected, creative challenges, further differentiating Flashpoints from the rest of the PvE content. Combined with the engrossing stories the company is known for, they will help TOR continue to redefine grouping and raid content.
Warzones represent TOR’s instanced PVP content, providing an inexhaustible source of bragging rights, frustation, and envy. Though the title shipped with three playable Warzones, one, Huttball, is by far the most interesting.
Combining classic MMO combat with a bit of American Gladiators and a hefty helping of rugby, Huttball presents players with a simple task: retrieve a ball and carry it across the opposing team’s goal-line to score. To do so, they must evade fire jets, acid pits, and the attentions of their heavily armed opponents.
In practice, Huttball proves to be the very best kind of PVP competition. The strategic and tactical depth seems practically endless, and the nature of the game will reward creative play, not just the best gear. Different playstyles will also find ways to thrive, whether on defense, on offense, or somewhere in between. To succeed, players will have to be aware of their surroundings, their abilities, and their teammates’ behavior, and the team that works together best will invariably win.
TOR’s two other Warzones, Voidstar and Alderaan, conform more closely to PVP archetypes (assault/defend and capture/hold, respectively). Gameplay in these venues isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it’s still good fun – the plethora of rewards doled out after each round certain doesn’t hurt.
More than anything, MMO PVP is a matter of knowing not only your class, but your opponent’s class as well. Given the game’s relatively young state, it seems like people are still learning to take advantage of synergies, deploy counters, and even identify enemies – it can be hard to tell a Jedi Consular from a Jedi Guardian when he’s sprinting toward you, lightsaber raised. As the playerbase becomes more expert, the true nature of the game’s PVP will be established. I, for one, look forward to Huttball’s first Twi’lek Tim Tebow.
BioWare didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they did put a rubber tire on it. The game’s developers clearly studied rival MMO’s carefully, identifying what worked and what didn’t, learning from the successes and failures of other games. They then proceeded to make specific, targeted improvements.
Little things like the no-nonsense out-of-combat recovery ability, the complete-as-you-go bonus quests, and the companion-driven crafting are incremental but satisfying tweaks to time-tested MMO gameplay. Other changes are more sweeping, and none are more important than the game’s defining feature: the story.
Before TOR came out, many critics, myself included, were skeptical. The game seemed too similar to its predecessors, and the idea of an MMO with a engrossing narrative seemed like a contradiction in terms.
It wasn’t until I experienced TOR’s masterful story for myself that I realized how wrong I had been all along. The game’s eight epic tales really make you care about your character, and give a purpose to progression and levelling that other games lack entirely. BioWare’s expert storytellers reward the creation of alternate characters with fascinating new content, rather than the same old fetch quests. More than anything, The Old Republic’s stories act as a constant reminder that you are what every player wants to be: a galactic hero in Star Wars’ inimitable, beloved style.