Our second BioWare game of the ‘Must-See’ list thus far (our first was Mass Effect 3) sees the fantasy/sci-fi aficionados tackle the ever-popular Star Wars universe once again. For the one person out there that doesn’t know, The Old Republic is a massively-multiplayer online game which sees you ally with either the light or dark sides (the Old Republic or the Sith Empire). It’s set 3500 years before Darth Vader (that’s 300 years after KOTOR) and is based around a war between the two sides, featuring the “most powerful Sith Empire in history.”
The side you choose will determine your starting area, your story and the locations and people who will consider you friend or foe – your story is further defined by your choice of character class, each type having their own unique arcs.
In very BioWare fashion, the presentation is cinematic in its approach and precise in its execution. Long dialogue scenes are made bearable thanks to the inclusion of fully-fledged cut-scenes and voiced characters. Character models are crisp and detailed and the quality of the writing is well beyond what we’ve come to expect from a genre that sees the inclusion of the word ‘thus’ as imaginative.
However, if you’ve read our then you’ll know that we weren’t all that impressed with the game’s other elements. The mission structure in particular showed no real signs of offering anything new or improved over the usual ‘go here and collect that’ and ‘kill ‘x’ number of these’ scenarios we’ve seen countless times before. Rather than combining cinematic presentation with MMO gameplay structure, BioWare seem to have only managed to include them in the same game. Rather than feeling ‘combined’ or ‘cohesive’ they merely exist in the space, and rather awkwardly at that.
However, our hands-on experience sits at odds with that of the bulk of players… at least according to BIoWare co-founder Ray Muzyka:
“The reaction that we’ve had,” said Muzyka, “and a lot of people playing it have had – we’ve done a lot of consumer testing and there’s a lot more to go – but the common reaction we get from our fans when we play it, or the testers, ourselves, and our teams, is that frankly once you’ve tried it, you just can’t go back. You don’t want to try other MMOs anymore. I think that’s what imbuing the game with a sense of heroic purpose and identity achieves.
“We’ve got the best-of-breed features from other MMOs, progression, exploration, customisation, combat, and you know trying to use the conventions that make sense to players for accessibility wherever possible… We’ve layered on an amazing Star Wars story… Once you’ve tried it, there’s no looking back. You really want to keep playing that new approach to MMOs, I think, is really refreshing.”
In all fairness we have only played a small section so we’re not in a position to comment on the quality of the game as a whole. What is for sure though is that The Old Republic remains a ‘Must-See’ title at this year’s show – it’s Star Wars, it’s BioWare and it’s supposedly the MMO that going to end the WoW domination.