Posted on Friday, March 15th, 2013 at 8:30 AM by Chris Smith
Ever since it was first announced, I was hooked on Star Wars: The Old Republic. It very rarely happens, but every once in a while a game comes along that manages to snare me entirely with just its premise. For me, SW:TOR is a combination of irresistible elements. First of all, it’s Star Wars; while my opinions on the films may not be in tune with the popular view, the idea of Jedi, Sith, the Republic and the Empire, the Force and all the associated technology has never stopped being enthralling. Secondly, it’s the sequel to two of my favourite PC RPGs: namely, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords.
There have been any number of Star Wars games released in the past few decades, but almost all of them have had some relation to the plot of the films. Having not seen the original trilogy when it was at its prime, I can’t say I care much for the whiny Luke Skywalker, the bipolar Han Solo or the entitled Leia Organa. Whether this is down to cinematography or poor writing, I can’t say, but as disappointing as the relatively new Episodes I and II were, they managed to connect with me in a way that IV, V and VI never could. Yet the fact remained that everything I watched in the new trilogies was pre-determined: no matter how much I wanted Anakin to stop being such a gullible douche and kill Palpatine instead of hacking off Windu’s arm, I knew that it was inevitable.
When Knights of the Old Republic came along, it was the breath of fresh air I had craved for many years. These games were set in the distant past of the Star Wars universe, thousands of years before Anakin was immaculately conceived. This meant that the creators, BioWare – RPG legends already – had unparalleled freedom in creating their take on Star Wars. Finally, there was something new (albeit ironically much older) to get excited about. You were free to play the part of a new hero or villain, depending on your choices, in a galaxy where the powers of the Jedi and the Sith are undiminished.
Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that these two games were excellent. They brought a quality story to a franchise that desperately needed it, whether fans were willing to admit it or not. The games were very well received, but despite the second game leaving plenty of room for a third instalment, none seemed to be forthcoming. It wasn’t until late 2008 that we first heard about BioWare’s plans to make a Star Wars MMO set in The Old Republic universe: from then on, it was an ever-increasing tide of excitement, looking forward to what it would become.
From the get-go, BioWare were keen to tout their devotion to the “4th pillar” of storytelling. There was going to be no compromise in the quality that we had come to expect from their games; the story was not going to suffer just because they’d opted to create an MMO. What soon became evident is that they were doing a great deal to cater to a very specific category of players; a category which I belong to: the MMO solo-player. For many (indeed, perhaps the vast majority), MMOs are a way of playing a game with tens or even hundreds of other people, amongst an online community of thousands more. For those people, connecting with others is an integral part of what the game is about, and a great deal of the game’s features are tailored towards this aspect. For SW:TOR, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had taken a different route.
The single most important gameplay feature for me was that I could play through the entire game without ever having to acknowledge the existence of other players. I didn’t need to group up or rely on skills that other classes had which I didn’t; the core game of SW:TOR can be comfortably played solo. Of course, there are bonuses and benefits that come with being social, plus extra areas (dungeons and raids, or “flashpoints” and “operations”) that can’t be done on your own, but these are optional. Just like KotOR and KotOR II before it, SW:TOR can be treated as a single player game… and that’s exactly what I do.
This represents the third irresistible feature that had me from hello. It was KotOR III in all but name, with the developers going as far as to say that they were “really doing KotOR 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12+” in terms of story content. Everything we had accomplished in the first two games was being remembered and incorporated into the lore behind this new MMO. I was ready to pay just about anything to get my hands on this game, but it wasn’t until late 2011 that we finally had the chance to experience everything BioWare had promised. It was to be the biggest MMO launch since WoW. According to some, it was the long awaited “WoW-killer”, which would siphon off subscribers from Blizzard’s ageing, yet stubbornly invincible title. In hindsight, it was probably none of these things, and over the course of a year it began the slow march towards Free-to-Play. But for me, SW:TOR has lived up to every expectation.
I still pay the subscription fee, despite it being entirely optional at this point. It allows me to continue to experience everything the game has available, because I am far from done with it. I want to show BioWare that there are still people around who appreciate what they accomplished, despite the critics and naysayers. They made an excellent game, albeit not a “better” MMO than WoW: from my perspective, this isn’t a failure. I have a nice, quiet world to explore, with new content on the horizon in the form of the first digital expansion pack, “Rise of the Hutt Cartel”. I have at least six more storylines to experience, new classes to play… over a year after its release, I’m still finding new ways to enjoy my time with SW:TOR.
Guild Wars 2 remains my favourite MMO, because it achieves in every respect what its name implies. But SW:TOR will always be unique: to me, it’s an MSO – a Massively Single-Player Online RPG. No other game allows me to be my own Jedi Knight, almost completely unbound by the restrictions put in place by pre-determined narrative. No other game would allow my Light Side Sith Sorcerer to exist, nor my comically overweight, moustachioed villain, “Darth Deathdark” to grace the Empire with his presence. Like Star Wars: Galaxies before it, SW:TOR caters to a very unique section of gamers: one I’m glad to say I’m a part of. Lightsabers, man. LIGHTSABERS.
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