So here I am, once again reviewing an MMO after saying I wasn't ever going to review anything. so spiteful am I of this fact that I am reviewing a game someone else already reviewed, even.
It's hard to know where to start with Star Wars: The Old Republic. I mean, does it count as the last disappointment of 2011, or the first disappointment of 2012? The Old Republic is a strange and perplexing beast; it feels like it is taking a lot of cues from World of Warcraft (for obvious reasons), but the cues are all from WoW as it existed when SWTOR started development rather than as it exists now. As strange as it is to say such a thing, SWTOR is probably best described as a massively expensive triple-A MMORPG done on the cheap. Like an Olympic stadium where all of the manual labour is done by Polish construction workers. My problems with this game are so wide as to encompass almost every aspect of the game, and for the reason I'm going to write them out in categories like some kind of primary school book report:
Combat and Classes
My biggest problem with the combat in this game is just how standard for an MMO it is. Having played DC Universe Online and other pseudo-MMOs like Monster Hunter lately I feel like I have been spoilt and expected something a little more engaging. It feels like SWTOR's idea of engaging gameplay is to take WoW's combat and remove the auto attack, but leave everything else as is. Over the course of levelling your character you gain the usual array of too many situational abilities to hotkey, as well as the 3 or 4 abilities you will always use in your rotation, and make often boring talent tree decisions to buff your moves to ever so slightly less uninspiring levels.
Class roles are the standard WoW popularised Holy Trinity of MMOs; Tank, Healer, DPS - with DPS roles are, of course, further subclasses into the DPS Trinity of Melee, Ranged and Stand Behind. I feel like a lot of the pre-release coverage was also grossly misleading in the sheer variety of classes of class/role combinations, especially with the four classes per faction aspect, but ultimately it boils down to 4 classes with sub classes that often share traits with other classes entirely. Sith Warrior/Jedi Knight and Sith Inquisitor/Jedi Consular differ only in the visual effects of their spells and abilities, and while the same is true of Smuggler/Agent and Bounty Hunter/Trooper - they at least change the primary weapons up for a little bit more of an aesthetic change.
There are arguments on both sides as to if dropping dedicated support classes is a good or a bad thing in MMOs, but I personally tend to enjoy them - they generally add much needed variety. Three roles in a game designed around 4 person parties is just sort of silly, ultimately.
The quests in Star Wars the Old Republic somehow manage to be the most interesting and most disappointing aspect of the game, at the same time. Fully voiced, dialogue tree filled quests are an interesting turn for an MMO, but unfortunately its hard to make "Kill 10 whomp rats" interesting. Class story quests at least tend to have a little bit of variation in them, but ultimately 95% of the quests you come across are one of a handful of variations; use/pick up X amount of Y from a visible object on the ground, kill X amount of Y to pick up Z from their corpses, kill X amount of Y to kill them all.
Again this relates to what I said earlier, SWTOR feels like it was built around WoW as it existed when SWTOR started development. There are no "fun" quests, like herding a bunch of enraged Banthas or dropping bombs on tusken raiders from an air speeder, it's all just kill or fetch with a little bit of dialogue at the start and the end. As far as the dialogue goes, even that starts to get mundane, generic quest conversations start to reuse responses after a while, which just feels lazy, and more often than not your responses consist of :
1) Enthusiastic agreement to partake in quest
2) Indifference towards quest which results in your character accepting it for no real reason
Incidental quest givers very rarely give your character proper motivation to assist them unless you're a Bounty Hunter or a Smuggler, in which case you can always justify it with the credits, otherwise an Agent or a Trooper can sometimes justify it with patriotic duty. It feels ridiculous to say it, but this is an MMORPG that has launched with too much content. There are too many useless, unimportant sidequests. In a game that BioWare proclaimed story was the most important thing, presumably they would want us to complete EVERYTHING, right? But attempting to clear every single quest quickly results in players grossly outleveling the content they are provided with. By the time I hit the third or fourth planet I was finding quest rewards to be pointless, as they were always 4-5 levels lower than me and my current gear.
The issue of mundane story content is further impacted by Flashpoints, SWTOR's trademarkable name for instances or dungeons. The first Flashpoint for each faction is a story filled quest with moral decisions and interesting conversations, it sets a hopeful standard for the rest of the game to live by, but then nothing else is like that ever again. Given that these particular Flashpoints were shown at game shows and trade events it feels like their only purpose was to mislead people into thinking there would be more to this mystical "Fourth Pillar of MMOs" that is the story than there actually is.
Companions are an interesting addition to SWTOR, and while it isn't the first MMO to essentially have combat pets, it is probably the first one to attempt to add depth to this degree. Unfortunately, like every other point I have covered so far, Companions result in a love/hate relationship. They are quintessential to the Bioware RPG at this point, and SWTOR makes no exceptions in the rag-tag group of personality disorders department. The big difference between SWTOR and KOTOR or Mass Effect however is how little content of any real significance there is for your companions. They have incidental dialogue which they repeat when they enter certain areas of the world, and every now and then they might comment on something you have said in a class quest, but mostly they're just another stat to grind as you level up their affection in an attempt to romance them or find a character developing conversation/quest to unlock. Unless you're into characters of the same gender, then you're shit out of luck. Unlike previous Bioware games, you can't even have pointless repeating incidental conversations with your crew either, if you haven't got a quest to talk to them they are not interested in the slightest.
Your companions can be equipped with weapons and armour in much the same way you can, with few exceptions, but ultimately there seems to be little reason to use them outside of soloing or if your party loses a member and you're to lazy to replace them. Because companion characters take up a party slot, and parties are limited to 4 players, you cannot use them if you have the audacity to want to play a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game with friends. It reached the point where I was obsessively tinkering with the gear and physical appearance of my crew for no real reason, because 99% of the time I was rolling with a full party of four, and unfortunately you can't form a raid to allow a part of four players and four companions, because doing so disables your ability to summon them. One of the shared companions, your ship's droid, flat out seems unfinished. While I understand that they admit to being largely non-combat in a dialogue tree choice when you first meet them, their primary stat is listed as boosting ranged attack damage, they have a ranged attack primary weapon slot but no proficiency to allow them to equip even the most basic blaster and, perhaps even more maddeningly, they appear in cutscenes with a blaster pistol on their hip but nowhere else. I understand that in this particular instance there is a fear of unbalancing the game, and I generally frown upon the internet's attempts at backseat game development, but allowing me to equip a blaster on my droid is not going to drastically break the game without giving the droid skills with which to increase their damage output. It would simply allow my droid to stand out of the way to heal me - instead of running towards the closest enemy and attempting to punch it to death and aggroing several more in the process.
All in all, it feels like I'm being way more negative than S.A.Renegade here even. There are no redeeming factors to most of my complaints, if anything its the opposite; shows promise but fails to apply itself - spectacularly in most cases. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the game, but I think that is largely down to the fact that I played it with friends (Hi, Shepton). Having stepped away from it, and tried some solo content, all I can see is a deeply flawed game. Star Wars: The Old Republic, as a modern MMORPG, is incredibly barebones. It has all of the basic mechanics and story telling in place, but it badly needs to be fleshed out. I've said it several times through out this review, but I can't help but equate the game to World of Warcraft at release, where as it really needs to be comparable to World of warcraft in its current state. Honestly, it lacks some things even compared to launch WoW. The universe isn't as entertaining, and while I'm sure people could argue that it is a positive thing, there are no hidden or amusing easter eggs or pop culture references floating around. Non-combat pets are few and far between, likewise player mounts are relatively unimpressive; and though the game comes close to adding whimsy with cosmetic armour sets - they are incredibly restrictive in that they are all classified as "Light" armour, meaning that only one of the four classes can viably wear them without being gimped. I will admit however that some of the processes involved in crafting more obscurely coloured saber crystals are interesting, purely in their ridiculously elaborate nature.
Ultimately I'm not sure I can say I hate, or even particularly dislike SWTOR, I just find it so wholly inadequate as to not care about it. I'm not saying it doesn't show promise, a year down the line it could be legitimately good, but as it stands there's just so little to it.
Final Verdict: F
Final Playtime: Too Long