MMORPGs are an utterly unique genre of videogame. Not in their actual mechanics, which are the logical combination of single player RPGs and multiplayer aspects, but in their Siren-like appeal to publishers. Many big franchises have gotten into the business, and all have been dashed upon the rocks of Blizzard’s titanic World of WarCraft – Lord of the Rings Online, Final Fantasy XI and Warhammer Online, to name but a few. Now, a new challenger has appeared, bearing perhaps the biggest license of them all – Star Wars. Is it destined to fail as well? I don’t think so – let me tell you why.
The game, called The Old Republic (and shortened to SWTOR or just TOR), takes place 3500 years before the events of the Star Wars film franchise. It’s been developed by Bioware, a legendary maker of excellent single player RPGs, including Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights and Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR). The KOTOR franchise takes place 300 years before SWTOR, so there’s both room for creative freedom and an epic backstory to draw upon. It works in the other direction too, and it’s quite easy to see foreshadowing of the film trilogies here too.
This uniquely rich universe is perhaps the best reason why The Old Republic could succeed – if you’re a fan of the films, and so many are, then there are things here that you will be overjoyed at discovering: Building your own lightsaber and then using to defeat a massive beast. Flying space combat missions against massive early Star Destroyers and the whine of proto TIE fighters. Laying down covering fire as a massively armoured Republic commando.
The breadth of the experiences are also quite powerful, with options to play on both sides of the Republic-Empire divide and in four distinct classes for each faction. These later divide into two potential subclasses, classic Bioware progression that differentiates your experience substantially. The game feels full, too, with interesting missions and full voiceovers providing an excellent singleplayer experience.
This singleplayer experience will be key to The Old Republic’s success, I feel. Where in World of WarCraft the singleplayer is viewed as a necessary obstacle (just look at how levelling has been sped up continually since release), a kind of super extended tutorial to prepare you for the end game, here it feels like the main attraction. There are two other points that serve this singleplayer focus: interesting companions and conversation trees, both adapted from KOTOR and other Bioware franchises.
Companions are perhaps the more obvious option, having shaped the storylines of both KOTOR and later Bioware projects like original IP series Mass Effect. While here you only receive one companion instead of three or five, they still serve to shore up your weaknesses and allow you to overspecialise your character. Where a healing-centric character would normally have a hard time with the singleplayer, here you’re given a strong tank companion upon whom you can use your healing talents. If you’re playing as a tough tank yourself, then the companion choice is a healer; if you’re playing as a hard-hitting but fragile DPS (damage per second) character then you’ll receive a support companion. It’s a clever move, and gets better as you receive companions of different archetypes as you progress through the story. This gives you even more tactical freedom.
Conversation trees are another old school mechanic that work brilliantly in SWTOR. These give you a much more active role in the game’s story, as you’re free to shape quests (and their long term outcomes) as you see fit. You can play as an evil Jedi or a good Sith, and the choices you make seem to have real impact down the line, particularly quests that are specific to your class. Your actions can sometimes have unexpected consequences, and without the ability to load that makes each decision even more important.
Ultimately, I believe that Star Wars: The Old Republic stands a better chance of competing against World of WarCraft than other MMO that’s come before. Legitimising the single player experience by setting the game in a rich universe and adding likeable companions and dialogue trees gives The Old Republic has a chance to attract and keep a different kind of player. I’m only level 29 out of 50, but already I’ve found enough here to like that I’m convinced I’ll take my Jedi to level 50… and probably try several other classes as well, on both sides of the Empire-Republic divide. If you’re like me, then you should definitely check out The Old Republic.
This article was written by William Judd, a freelance copywriter and tech journalist. William writes for MobileFun.co.uk, the UK’s leading online retailer of ringtones, including a classic phone ringtone and the Formula 1 ringtone.