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Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC) artwork

Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC) review


"The Old Republic is fun, tells some interesting stories, and offers players a vast amount of things to do. But the game still suffers from the same things that hold back all MMOs despite the class storylines and voice acting."



The Iowa class of battleships were the pinnacle of capital ship design: They had power, speed, and plenty of protection, and they proved their worth time and again over their operational history (reactivated and decommissioned several times, the Iowas were mothballed for good in 1990s). Yet as advanced as they were, they were still battleships, with all the flaws inherent in that design.

Star Wars: The Old Republic reminds me of those battlewagons. With plotlines, voiced narratives, and space combat, The Old Republic might be one of the best MMOs out there. It captures a great deal of what makes Star Wars magical. It caters to solo players. But it still suffers from the same flaws that hold back all MMOs, and no amount of story can fix this.

Star Wars: The Old Republic asset

Who would want to harm innocent Jawas? Why, this Chiss Bounty Hunter would!


One of The Old Republic’s main draws is its attempt to be the first narrative-driven MMO (though its Star Wars setting is actually the top attraction for most players). This mostly succeeds; each character class (four for the Republic side, and four for the Sith faction) has its own storyline, which weaves in and out of your adventures during the conflict between the Republic and the Sith Empire. This is where The Old Republic shines. As with a good single-player RPG, the stories told are interesting and don’t make you feel like you’re pushing through a series of mindless quests. While I didn’t have a chance to play through all of the stories for this review, I did push my way through several. While each class’s story fits into the larger tale of “Republic vs. Sith,” each plotline stands on its own; you don’t feel like you’re playing recycled content, even with the two Jedi/Sith classes.

What’s even better is that your companion can also fit into these stories. Take the slicer Mako, a Sith character, who becomes the companion for Bounty Hunters. Mako joins you on your class quest, and as the story progresses, I found myself actually caring about this companion. You want to curry their affection and help them realize their own goals. You don’t find this in any other MMO out there.

The class storylines aren’t the only place where you find narrative in The Old Republic. A number of quests have small storylines, such as the mystery (and danger) buried in an abandoned Czerka Corporation research facility underneath the sands of Tatooine. In another, you decided whether or not a savage who thinks he has the Force – and has taken a hostage – should be brought to the Jedi Council. My favorite deals with a Republic general gone rogue on Balmorra, leading resistance forces that oppose a treaty signed by the Republic and Sith. You end up storming an arms factory, fighting Jedi (in this case, it was my first Jedi, and I felt quite satisfied when my Bounty Hunter took her down). You then decide whether the general lives or dies. And, if you play your cards right, you dance on the Dark Side with a Lady of the Sith. These smaller stories usually entail a handful of quests, and like your story quest, they provide a needed respite from the typical “grind” of MMO quests by tapping into the lore of the Star Wars universe.

Star Wars: The Old Republic asset

Like most MMOs (and RPGs), Star Wars: The Old Republic uses a skill-tree system. When you reach level 10, you may add a specialty class that determines your skills.


The MMO trappings do sometimes mess up the narrative that BioWare’s trying to establish. While most of the quests you receive aren’t of the “Kill X” variety, these do appear as bonus objectives. It seems weird for a Jedi to want to go out and kill native fauna, creatures that are just looking for a meal and aren’t evil. Other quest givers describe how urgent it is for you to accomplish the mission goals, but you could go hours, days – heck, even leave the planet – before taking on this “urgent matter.” And in some areas, you can just wait for foes to respawn to accomplish goals such as “destroy 10 turrets.” In another quest area, you seek the secret group of a Dark Side cult--and discover this secret camp has a taxi for fast travel to-and-from! If you’re paying attention to the narrative, this is supposed to be a “secret” base, not one with an intergalactic shuttle service. These are all examples of MMO nonsense that detracts from the storylines.

Combat also suffers from The Old Republic’s status as an MMO. Like other MMOs, combat is focused on a set of skills that recharge at different rates (generally, weaker skills recharge quicker than stronger ones). Fighting other foes, even Jedi, feels pretty mechanical, though it is better when you’re fighting with a group of people. While the mechanics don’t change, it’s a lot of fun to team up with others and slaughter your target (especially those hard-to-kill foes that are sometimes beyond a single player’s capabilities), with each player using their character’s abilities to help the others. Grouping with others is easy (at this point in MMO development, it had better be!), and most of the people I’ve found on the servers I play on are nice folk.

Combat is at its worst when you play a Jedi or Sith with a lightsaber. So many of the foes you meet shouldn’t be able to take one (or multiple!) hits with a lightsaber and remain alive (let alone intact!), but because this is a video game, your foes can take blow after blow. Until game designers can make a lightsaber feel like a freakin’ lightsaber, Jedi and Sith characters will suffer from ridiculous combat that nerfs their characters in the names of “balance” and “challenge.”

Star Wars: The Old Republic asset

Taxis help you get around the galaxy. They also let you appreciate the work that’s gone into the scenery--check out this shot of the skyline of the Sith Empire’s capital.


The Old Republic does offer a nice spin on combat with its space missions. You can’t control the trajectory of your craft (these are on-rails sorties). Most missions have you destroy a number of enemy fighters, take out weapons emplacements on capital ships and bases, or escort shuttles. These are fun not just because they provide a break from surface exploration and combat, but because they tap into one of the finest aspects of Star Wars: space opera. You can also upgrade your ships, and while I dig space combat, it’s not as fun as blasting ships in Star Trek Online or EVE Online.

Player-vs.-player combat isn’t all that much different than what you’d find in other MMOs. As of press time, the game has three modes in Warzone PVP. The one that stands out is Huttball, in which you seek to score goals against the other team. You take a “ball” from the middle and do your best to get across the opposing team’s goal before they blast you to bits. You can pass the ball, too. Huttball is a lot of fun when you get a group of players who want to work together to beat the other team; when your teammates don’t communicate or do much to help you (either because they want to pad their own PVP kill stats or are just clueless), it’s a miserable way to spend 15 minutes of game time. Warzone PVP is pretty balanced--levels scale, so a level 15 Sith Inquisitor can hold his own against level 50 Smugglers and Jedi. It’ll be interesting to see if BioWare adds more Warzones in future updates. As it stands, Warzone PVP is fun as long as you’re playing with people who take it as seriously as you do.

PVP outside of the Warzones, based on my experience, isn’t as much fun. If you’re flagged for PVP, you can throw down with similarly flagged players. In playing on two PVP servers, however, I was only attacked once by PVP players – a group ambushed me in the Junland Wastes on Tatooine, killing me rather quickly. At least based on the servers I play on, PVP seems tepid at best.

Star Wars: The Old Republic asset

Look familiar? BioWare uses a conversation wheel to display your options when you’re interacting with the game’s characters.


The other thing The Old Republic doesn’t satisfactorily nail is roleplaying. Like in other BioWare games, most of the choices you make as a player focus on “good” or “bad” (in this case, Light Side or Dark Side). These decisions tend to miss gray areas that you might expect to exist for characters such as Bounty Hunters and Smugglers (or any character that’s involved in a conflict, for that matter), and they don’t offer that many role-playing choices.

BioWare has also restricted the role-playing opportunities with its cast of races. Most of the player races are human or near-human. The most exotic are the Twi’lek (those blue/red/orange guys with head tails) and the Zabrak (think Darth Maul without so many tattoos); the rest are boring riffs on humanity. Part of the wonder inherent in Star Wars are its aliens--remember how great a hold the cantina scene in A New Hopehas on Star Wars fans. Playing a Chiss (essentially a blue human) or a cyborg just isn’t as fun as playing a Rodian, a Mon Calamari, a Wookiee, or a Gand, and excluding more alien races just misses the point of Star Wars. You also don’t come across enough alien races; in all my travels, I’ve seen just one Ithorian, a race that was plentiful in the Knights of the Old Republic games.

I also play on two role-playing servers, but the vast majority of players don’t seem to get what “role-playing” means. They either don’t communicate or they fail to do so in character. I don’t know how to address this problem, other than to avoid players who don’t get into the spirit.

Star Wars: The Old Republic asset

Space combat is on rails, but it’s fun--especially when you find your small ship blasting fighters while evading the turrets of Republic capital ships.


Another weakness is the conflict between the Republic and the Sith. After a while, it really feels more like a fight between the Rebels and the Empire, especially since the non-Jedi members of the Sith Legions are “Imperials” and even dress in uniforms that resemble the garb made famous by the likes of Grand Moff Tarkin. At times, because of the number of fetch quests, you don’t feel like you’re in the Star Wars universe--the setting could be that of any MMO. Again, this could be something addressed in future updates, content that makes The Old Republic’s universe feel more like that of the galaxy “far, far away.”

But most of these flaws have more to do with The Old Republic’s genre than the game itself. The general experience here is a lot of fun, and it offers a dizzying amount of content for players. While it suffers from the repetitiveness and sometimes soulless play common to the MMO genre, The Old Republic’s story elements add up to the most engaging of the major MMOs on the market, one that’s accommodating of both solo players and group players.

Rating: 7/10

jason_wilson's avatar
Freelance review by Jason Wilson (January 17, 2012)

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zippdementia posted January 17, 2012:

Thanks for reviewing this game. I was really curious about it. I wonder if I'd heard wrong or if you missed something, though, because I'd heard there was this whole thing groups could do in conversations, involving other players actually butting in on your conversation choices. I was curious, if that exists, as to how it panned out.

Some constructive criticism. I think the first of this review is the strongest because you've established a clear argument... in this case, that the MMO genre holds the title back from being everything it could be. You kind've stop making that argument around half way through the review though and just go off on a bunch of random criticisms which left me confused at the end when you say the game is pretty good. I guess more mention of the positives would make me feel like I had a clearer idea of how you arrived at your final conclusion. Because your review is pretty negative!

Maybe you could fill me in on some of the gaps here, because I am really curious as to what's really fun about the game; fun enough to save it from all of your complaints.
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holdthephone posted January 18, 2012:

You know, I love this game, but I also love the Star Wars universe so there's that. Enjoyed the review =]

Still, after putting some time into it, and other recent MMOs of years past, I'm starting to appreciate what WoW accomplished more and more. The incredible atmosphere and layout of that game's world and how well its quest structure flowed -- it's hard not to admire in retrospect when going over new games that have taken influence from it.

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WilltheGreat posted January 18, 2012:

Those last three images don't match the alt text.

Anyway, good review. Pretty much sums up my thoughts on ToR as well. Hopefully ToR is the last great theme-park MMOs and, once it and WoW go under for good, the genre can finally move on to something else.

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