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Publisher: Electronic Arts
System requirements: Windows XP SP3/Vista/Win 7, 2 GHz Core2Duo/Athlon 64 X2 4000+ or better CPU, 1.5 GB RAM (XP)/2 GB RAM (Vista/Win 7), 256 MB Nvidia 7800/ATI X1800 or better graphics card with Shader 3.0 support, Internet connection
ESRB rating: Teen
Release date: Available now
When it comes to MMOs, it’s absolutely vital to do your homework, doubly so if the game is based on a beloved franchise. With the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic, Star Wars MMOs have entered their ninth consecutive year, even as servers for Star Wars Galaxies were closed down last December. If you’re a fan of Star Wars or BioWare, then you’ve been bombarded with hype for months regarding this game. It’s not just a question of whether SWTOR can replace SWG, or whether BioWare can lend its roleplaying touch to a genre renowned for grind. The question plaguing anyone who cares is whether it’s worth the subscription. In an answer that will no doubt lead to accusations of favoritism and bias, I have to say yes. BioWare has created something special with SWTOR. Why it’s so special will take some explaining, but believe me when I say I haven’t lost my mind.
To begin with, SWTOR is heavily invested in its stories. It’s not a game designed for sandbox-style play, nor is it designed to give you miles and miles of wilderness to explore. The major “zones” of the game are its planets, and while they can be sizable when it comes to open-world PVP, they aren’t Skyrim on a multiplayer server. Instead, you spend much more time in conversation with NPCs and other players than in any other MMO on the market, to say nothing of a good number of single-player RPGs. You’ve no doubt heard about the voice acting (all dialogue is voiced), but that’s practically window dressing compared to the prevalence of roleplaying in the game.
Solo content is heavily story-driven, but roleplaying is also an integral part of group content. Even solo missions (quests) become chances for group roleplaying if you’re in a group and turning in/starting a mission. Furthermore, in every Flashpoint (group instance) I’ve run so far, there have been breaks in the constant tedium of pulling mobs to have moments of roleplaying. Each player in the group makes choices regarding how to proceed in the adventure, with appropriate reactions from any companions present and appropriate alignment shifts. It’s not just bosses babbling at you before a fight. I’ve been given the choice to kill non-combatants, save the lives of POWs, and even make the Flashpoint longer because I didn’t feel like overloading a power relay. Because all players in the group have input in these narrative elements, you participate along with everyone else. And as if this wasn’t enough, each of the eight character classes has its own rather lengthy story that is suitably epic.
On top of this is the alignment system. This being Star Wars, there are only two major alignments: Light and Dark. This applies to all characters, not just Force-sensitive ones. Many missions have one or more decisions tied to Light and Dark choices. I was initially skeptical that these decisions would be anything more than “commit sadistic act for profit or be supremely altruistic,” but it turns out that the writers have taken the time to craft some complicated moral quandaries. Even more interesting is that neither the Republic nor the Sith Empire are clichéd good guys and bad guys. My Light-side Sith Sorcerer was consistently praised by Sith military and diplomatic leadership for making Light-side choices because they often advanced the agenda of the Empire. By the same token, the Republic has some really ugly secrets that make even the most psychotic Sith gawk in amazement. I’m happy that SWTOR avoids treating alignment as merely Stupid Good and Stupid Evil, which makes interaction with your morally ambiguous companions that much richer.
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