MMOs have come a long way since the days of paying $12.00/hr to play Island of Kesmai on Compuserve. Games like World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online are wildly different from MMO-like games such as The Division or Destiny. Some MMOs have kept up and others have gone on to greener pastures but how has Star Wars: The Old Republic fare in the nearly 9 years since it’s December 2011 release? Would it be feasible for a new player like myself to jump in and not feel behind the curve? How has SWTOR and the mechanics of the MMO aged? Would it feel dated or has new content kept things feeling fresh?
It was a time of unknown Jedi and Sith. There was no Yoda, the Skywalkers didn’t know how to use a lightsaber, Obi Wan wasn’t our only hope. 3,600 years before the events of the Skywalker Saga began, there were two warring factions trying to take control of the galaxy. The Empire, controlled by the Sith and the Republic supported by the Jedi fought on some of the most recognizable worlds in the galaxy. Tatooine, Alderaan, and Hoth among others each had their own stories to tell interwoven into an epic that would forever shape how we see both MMOs and Star Wars. Star Wars: The Old Republic isn’t canon to the story as Disney/LucasFilm are creating it but it is nonetheless a riveting, immersive, edge of the seat story that will resonate and provide enjoyment for a long time to come.
This Is The MMO You Are Looking For
Star Wars: The Old Republic was released December 20, 2011 by EA and BioWare.Bringing the storytelling of the old Knights of the Old Republic games to an MMO setting was definitely one of the major draws of the MMO, as well as the obvious nostalgia trip involved with joining up with the Jedi - or the Sith should that be your calling.
With 4 different classes in both dark and light force alignments to choose from, each having two sub-classes, character creation was an interesting process. Choosing which species to play as and which class to explore made for an almost endless amount of possibilities. At the onset, there are 12 playable species but using Cartel Coins which can be purchased with actual money can unlock three more. There are only a few class restrictions that seem more related to respecting the source material than merely an arbitrary decision. Sith Purebloods for instance, cannot play as any alignment other than Empire and any class other than Sith.
Unfortunately for SWTOR and character creation enthusiasts, there really isn’t anything unique to set it apart from other MMOs. For the most part character creation is fairly straightforward. You can choose body type, scarring, hairstyle and color, as well as a host of other features that are pretty standard in character creation. It seriously begs the question of whether more could be done to personalize the characters in the creation phase even if it had been patched in later. While it started out great, the core of character creation really fell flat once I got into the details.
As someone with a bit of MMO experience, it was nice that SWTOR didn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Most everything felt familiar and understood as a normal mechanic of your bog-standard MMO gameplay: combat relied on skills I learned from a trainer, and the experience relies on mostly tab targeting and chaining those skills and auto-attacks, as seen with many MMOs of its time. Being more familiar with older MMOs, this was a comfortable way to play and made the game easy to understand. I personally prefer this style of combat when I’m playing an MMO anyway versus the more real-time action heavy MMO combat like seen in Black Desert Online and more.
Mounts made traversing long distances a bit easier and Star Wars: The Old Republic has a bevy of swift travel options at Transport Services, making travel even quicker and completely safe. There are, of course, a few exceptions. The first is that swift travel isn’t always optional. I really do enjoy when I’ve got the time to go exploring and while SWTOR has plenty of map to explore, it would benefit explorers so much to be able to explore the entirety of maps without visiting Transport Services. Obviously, in places like Coruscant and Nar Shaddaa where the different locations are not traversable on foot or by mount, a transport is necessary to get to the next location. On the other hand, a place like Tatooine which is all just a vast desert, forces you to use a transport to avoid dying in an “exhaustion zone.”
The other major exception is that SWTOR has a refreshing take on the grouping experience, especially for an older MMO. Instead of having parts of the game that are impossible to complete without a group or at the very least a partner, I was able to accomplish the entire campaign as a solo player.
While I’ve played MMOs before, SWTOR is one that I’ll be able to come back to time and time again because I don’t have to rely on the availability and competency of other players. While others may see this is a distinct disadvantage for SWTOR and MMOs in general, I truly believe that players having the choice of how they play is key to an enjoyable experience. We don’t all have to play the same way. In this way SWTOR, in my opinion, was ahead of it’s time simply because it recognized even 9 years ago that I want to play a game in this genre without the requirement to team up with others yet giving me the option if I so choose.
One of the more disappointing aspects of SWTOR were boss fights. While SWTOR had a Champion designation for enemies stronger than an Elite, in every boss fight, the enemy was either an Elite or even in some cases, only designated “strong.” Because of the companion system that allows you to always have someone healing you during battle, Elite battles in almost every instance, were not challenging...just long. Battles with Champions, on the other hand, had a very real penchant for failure even with a companion. I literally begged the game for boss fights to be Champions just to add that bit of challenge to the battle. The ease with which I went through the campaign was frankly, at times, boring. The levels shifted to allow for progression no matter how much higher level I was compared to my enemies but perhaps it still shifted a bit too high. The few times that I tried the game with other players, it only got easier. There must be some way, besides turning off companions which would undoubtedly make the game much too difficult, to increase the difficulty to a level that makes every battle have real risk.
The Choice Is Strong With This One
Despite the disappointing difficulty, I play games for the stories they tell. If a story sucks me in, I can forgive a lot of flaws. SWTOR is a great example of a story being so good, that it covers a multitude of sins. I played my first time through as a Jedi Knight and was immediately in the action starting as a padawan to a great teacher. I couldn’t believe how much I found myself caring about the outcome of different story arcs in the game. Much of this had to do with the ingenious use of choices in SWTOR.
Choices matter perhaps more than I’ve ever experienced in a video game. This may not be new to someone who is used to BioWare games that rely on choices but for me, I don’t play many games that ask me to decide the fate of characters as in the case of Lord Praven who I was able to turn to the light side of the force and team up with again at the end of the game instead of killing him which was also an option. Moreover, every choice in SWTOR is not just a choice of action but a choice of alignment. Yes, there are times when the choice is clearly light or dark like killing or taking a bribe but every choice, even the attitude a conversation takes on influences the alignment and not just of your own personal character but the choices everyone is making decide which side of the force rules the day.
The companions in SWTOR each have their own alignment and will respond differently to the choices being made. This added such an immersive element to be able to feel like I was truly shaping the game as I experienced it.
As good as the story in SWTOR is, it wasn’t without fault. The story had real tendencies to jump the shark. In the relatively short campaign, I went from being a padawan to being a Jedi Master and the only jedi capable of being able to face the final boss. In this time, I also turned a pureblood Sith and not once but on two different occasions, teamed up with a Sith. One of those Sith became a companion and traveled with me. At times the story was simply unbelievable for someone who’s been consuming Star Wars since early childhood.
The only other major problem I had with the story is something that is common to MMOs and bugs me every time I encounter it. Of course, I’m referring to the wild goose chase. Story arc missions often have you go talk to somebody, followed by go mess some with some equipment, followed by talking to someone again, followed by a story sequence that has lots of fighting and a boss fight. When the boss fight is over, you repeat the same process over and over again until the final story element comes to light. Then you go to the next world and start the process all over again. It’s a common theme with only a few minor changes between the MMOs that I’ve played. Instead of this formulaic wild goose chase that every story sends me on though, I’d much more prefer there to be writing of greater substance even if it meant shorter arcs.
Age Matters Not. Play You Must.
In most cases, games don’t age well. SWTOR like many other MMOs is an exception to this as it has aged well in some ways and not so much in others. The game mechanics in SWTOR are an area where the game hasn’t kept up with newer MMOs. Whether or not that’s a problem really depends on your own personal preferences, though. Star Wars: The Old Republic relies on skill tabs that remind me of WoW or LOTRO instead of the more popular mechanics used in MMOs today. Yes, the actual gameplay can feel dated but it doesn’t detract from the enjoyability of the game.
For SWTOR, content is everything. Regularly adding new content to the game in the form of expansions keeps people interested in coming back. Throughout the years, SWTOR has seen the release of 7 different expansions as early as 2014’s Galactic Starfighter and as recently as 2019’s Onslaught. For existing players, this was a smart but also critical decision to keep them online playing. For me, as a new player it was even more rewarding because the content is vast. There will not be a shortage of SWTOR content for a long time to come. For me, a limited amount of content would mean that the game only has a limited amount of time that I’m able to fully enjoy it. SWTOR because of all the classes and alignments has so much replayability before even getting into the expansions. Each world has its own set of story arcs and will even shift your level to allow you to get the most out of playing there no matter how far along you are when you visit.
SWTOR really aged well in how it looks. I don’t mean that it’s a graphical masterpiece but my computer (Intel Core i7 9750h, NVIDIA GeForce GTX1650, 16GB RAM) shows how beautiful the worlds are on medium graphics. Of course, there are exceptions to this. The one place it hasn’t aged well is that it isn’t well optimized for the higher graphic settings. Because of its age, SWTOR is really hard on the computer the more I ask of it. That said, SWTOR is still a really beautiful game. I can’t recommend enough that you visit the beauty of places like Alderaan and Belsavis, the grittiness of Nar Shaddaa, or the elegance of Coruscant. Tatooine really made me feel like I was in a barren desert. Hoth didn’t simply appear frozen, it convinced me that everything was frozen.
There were a few glitches like the example pictured above where a character in a cut scene was completely missing save that of her weapon but it was so few and far between that it didn’t take away from the overall experience. In fact, SWTOR was so enjoyable, that despite the issues I encountered, I’m not planning to put SWTOR down anytime soon. It has truly become a new staple in my gaming diet because of how impressed I was with nearly every facet of the game
Here’s the final word: If you enjoy MMOs and Star Wars then Star Wars: The Old Republic may be a great game for you. You may have to suspend your disbelief as the story progresses and you may lose sight of an entire character from time to time. However, the vast and rich world of Star Wars is paid serious homage even in 2020 as you journey to another time, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.