Publisher: Electronic Arts
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7, 2.0 GHz Core2Duo/Athlon 64 X2 4000+ or better CPU, 1.5 GB RAM (XP)/2 GB (Vista/Win 7), 256 MB Nvidia 7800/ATI X1800 or better graphics card with Shader 3.0 support, broadband Internet connection
ESRB rating: Teen
Release date: December 20, 2011
Written by: Michael Smith
There really is no honor among thieves, even in a galaxy far, far away. Minutes after the smuggler arrived at her destination with a load of weapons stashed in her ship, someone at the spaceport hopped in and took off with it when the now-furious captain was off trying to collect her fee. The war between the Sith Empire and the Republic was heating up, so it wasn’t easy for her to finish her run, and there was no way that she was going to let some light-fingered bantha jockey deprive her of her hard-earned commission.
So begins the smuggler’s journey in perhaps the most highly anticipated MMO in gaming history, Star Wars: The Old Republic. Smuggling is one of four career paths you can take in the game, which takes place millennia before the events of the film series. I recently spent between 25 and 30 hours in the public beta, and what I found should bring a smile to the face of even the most jaded Star Wars fan.
You start off with some of the highest-quality cinematics to be found in gaming today, followed by a character-creation system that has you choosing an affiliation (Sith or Republic), class (Jedi, Consular, Smuggler or Trooper), species (choice of five, some of which you likely won’t recognize unless you’re a serious Star Wars geek), gender and physical attributes. Once that’s done, the game begins the way it should begin — with the classic Star Wars title text crawl setting up the story, backed by John Williams’ iconic score (although most of the game features music from other composers, 12 in all).
Developer BioWare has put more emphasis on the RPG in MMORPG than in other games, grafting the Mass Effect character conversation system onto the classic World of Warcraft template. Your orientation to the light or dark side of the Force is determined by how you conduct yourself, both in combat and in conversation. It also affects how you’re perceived by NPCs, especially the companion who joins you in your adventure once you level your character to nine or so; you have to decide whether you want to be feared or revered by those around you. BioWare has also assembled perhaps the biggest voice cast in gaming history, led by the usual suspects (Nolan North, Jennifer Hale, etc.) You can converse with practically anyone in the game, even if they don’t speak English (apparently everyone in the galaxy understands every language without the use of an automated translation system).
TOR is primarily a single-player game, at least up through the first act of the campaign. My companion was considerably better armed than I was, which made the tougher missions less frustrating; many times I found myself sitting back and letting him do most of the fighting. But there are separate instances called Flashpoints that require grouping with other players. I only found a few of them in the early going, but they become more plentiful farther along in the game. A secondary specialty becomes available at level 10; my smuggler gained the ability to dual-wield weapons and deploy a personal shield, attributes that kept me alive as the missions became harder to complete. Tech-wise, TOR is very stable and virtually lag-free, even with almost 100 servers running at full capacity around the world. This is hopeful news, considering that MMOs are notorious for rocky launches. The graphics are excellent, but not without a few bugs (corpses suspended in mid-air, etc.), and I got a respectable 40 FPS with very little stuttering, even with high settings enabled.
Star Wars: Galaxies shut down its servers recently, but hopefully those who’ve spent their time and energies with Galaxies for the last few years will give The Old Republic a try. It looks good, it runs smoothly, and it tries to make the MMO experience a bit more personal than others in the genre. Anticipation has been building for this game for a long time; on December 20 we’ll find out if it lives up to the hype.