What do you get when you join two of the most popular subcultures of nerd history together? Well, you get Doctor Who Hentai, but those are not the two popular subcultures that I happen to be talking about today. (Waffle post about that coming soon…?)
No, the two very addictive and highly volatile IPs I refer to are Star Wars and World of Warcraft. Bioware have been really putting their resources on the line with the creation of their new MMO, and although many of it’s long-waiting fans are claiming it will be a WoW-Killer, the Blizzard-born king is a very well-ingrained and highly supported MMO that has fought off more than it’s fair share of usurpers. (We’re looking at you, Aion.)
So will the dark empire of World of Warcraft have it’s Deathstar busted by a good Bioware torpedo in it’s rear exhaust?
Your journey starts here, Padawan.
Let me first start off by showing my connection to both sides. I am an avid fan of the Warcraft series, been a player of WoW for many years now (and will be for at least as long as my Annual pass lasts) and I am also a huge Star Wars fan. I like to think I prove that by wishing the prequel films would burn in a fire, and the KotOR games should be lauded as the best games released on the original Xbox.
Needless to say, the industry looks to World of Warcraft to set the bar for the MMORPG. It is a very tall order to meet – what with near limitless funds, a massive support team and a fleet of programmers -any contenders in today’s market will need something that not only works well, but has an appeal to a wide demographic.
Frankly Star Wars is probably the best bet if you are trying to get a wide audience. Currently WoW has around 12 million players worldwide, where as Star Wars has approximately 9 million fans in the US alone. When you account that a large percentage of those fans are going to be inclined to enjoy video games as well, then you have a very wide market appeal. Then of course you can add all the tabletop role-playing crowd into the mix to get a good foundation in place before you start on the game.
Now… to the meat.
As a few of my buddies in the beta tests had gone the path of the Dark Side, I chose to create a Sith Inquisitor. In fairness, the classes and races are not exactly filled with diversity. You have the choice of Light or Dark to start off with, then your class and then your race. Of the available classes, the dark side has the following; Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor, Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent.
In more simple terms, Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine (or Darth Maul, depending on your advanced class – more on these later), Boba Fett, and some greasy Imperial Weasel.
I was not overwhelmed by the choices available, and given that there are no racial powers (aside from non-combat social dances or meditations) the choice is pretty much wholly aesthetic. I wanted to try a ranged DPS class, so I went with the Emperor Palpatine.
Now normally, I would not find that so bad, but the aesthetics should at least have some fairly decent variables in it. In this, the customization of your character is a touch more in depth than WoW, but not to the scale of Skyrim or the like. At first I was a little disappointed as most changes are not apparent in an over-the-shoulder MMO, but the social interactions made me see why they would concentrate on allowing leeway in the character’s face above all other things.
One aspect I did like however was to change the characters body type. In female characters this is less apparent as it just makes the female more curvy or a touch more stocky. In males you can go from a frail, child-like form to that of some space-fatty trying to enter a the film industry as a Jabba the Hutt body-double. In fact many of the NPC’s are as varied as the players themselves. Bioware has done a very good job of including most demographics in the game but that is about the extent of it. To those of you used to multiple races of various forms… well, you may not be so impressed.
I went with a frail, grey-skinned Rattataki with piercings, tattoos and an attitude problem for my character. If anything I was hoping that someone would freak out to see a bald little weed like my character fry someone to death with force lightning.
The classes likewise have diversity issues, the aesthetics and names may be different between the light and dark side, but the functionality sees very little difference. Although the interwebs is a-swim with rumors of extra classes and races and such, the early access game is not letting any secrets go.
So here I am, a Sith Inquisitor with nothing else to do but to start off the game. Immediately I am greeted with the standard, orchestra backed screen of scrolling text, giving me a prologue of my characters story. In the space of only a few chords of music, I found a sense of security and familiarity in such a sight – the text panning upwards, then the stars shifting to show a space scene of my arrival. It was cinematic; beautifully rendered and hooking right from the start. I felt a part of the Star Wars universe immediately and I was about to start my story. Each class has it’s own intro like this, so nothing seems canned either.
In true sith style, you start off as a worm. A nobody. It was nice how the story kicked off and gave you a reason for being there as well as immediate motivation. Also you are introduced into the Bioware’s way of missions in the way of social interaction. For those of you unfamiliar with Mass Effect or Dragon Age, there are three options you can say in response to NPC questioning. Generally, they fall into the categories of Positive, Neutral and Negative respectively. So when Toby asks;
“Why haven’t you played Skyrim yet? What kind of limp-dicked idiot are you?” (I’m pretty sure I am paraphrasing his Sith persona here, but… run with it.)
Your replies would look something like this;
Good - “I’m getting it soon! Thanks for reminding me!”
Neutral – “I just haven’t felt like it, yet. Jesus Toby.”
Bad - “Don’t make me increase my unarmed skill on you, meatbubble.”
Sometimes this will result in either in the acquisition of light-side point or dark-side points. As a Sith, I found myself sure that I would be dark sided all the way, but as the storyline progresses, I found that Bioware have once again pulled that old trick on me and carefully worded the conversation to make me want to be the hero of the story.
This alone made the Star Wars MMO stand out for me. All interactions are voice acted, and even 16 levels into the game, I have only come across one noticeably reused voice on a very minor NPC. The budget used on the voice actors was incredibly well spent, and some familiar voices are very apparent.
Each class has a continuing storyline that branches all the way up to the end of the game. Although there is mission / quest continuity in other MMO’s, this one has to have taken the biscuit when talking about broad scope. Each planet you visit or storyline you branch to takes you further in your characters personal, game-spanning quest. Thankfully this questing system is not so exclusive that others cannot party with you over the long term, but in fact there are mechanics for multiple people in a party to engage in dialogue and make decisions. For those of you unfamiliar with the Need or Greed system, the choice on who runs the dialogue is made by random rolls generated by the game. Each player selects their response and whoever wins the roll is the one to speak.
An early-game, instanced dungeon (or flashpoint as they call it in SWtoR) involves your group having to Grand Theft: Nerf Herder a ship from a captain and use it to chase down a republic cruiser so you can kill or capture a defector. The choice can be made to spare or kill the captain of the ship which can lead to some interesting knock-on effects down the line, but ultimately these choices make the flashpoint seem deep and vital, especially when you have to suffer the consequences of another players actions.
Remember what I said about reasons for concentrating on the players face as a point of customization? That’s because you see a lot of it, and knowing that now, I have a much deeper respect for the work put into it.
I won’t lie; Star Wars: The Old Republic is pretty much WoW without auto attacks, at least as far as gameplay goes. The GUI is very similar, the training system, the mail system… even the pets are reminiscent of days playing World of Warcraft. The game even has the equivalent of flight points and PvP areas as well as a party and raid system.
But saying that, I can’t say that is a bad thing. WoW has spent years and years perfecting their interface and the better part of a decade to get the game as friendly to players as possible – probably using drug dealers and sex addicts as inspiration. Where as many games have tried to introduce their own quirky GUI or some other mechanic to set them apart, Bioware has simply shrugged it’s shoulders and said;
“Why fix it if it isn’t broken… oh, and raking in millions a month?”
Star Wars wouldn’t be complete without space battles, and this is something that Bioware has taken on only semi-seriously. The space battle sequences play out like a rail shooter, with enemy ships appearing out of hyperspace in a cinematic explosions and flurries of turbo-laser fire. However it feels as if it is more for show than anything else; like a holding pattern of graphical fun over any really serious gameplay. Granted, space battle missions are only optional (at least as far as I have seen), but it does give you a sense that you are in the Star Wars world, and that is key when trying to play in a game where the main focus is story.
Advanced classes are not a revolutionary addition to the game, (a la Lineage) but they are introduced a touch faster than other MMO’s. You only have to get to level 10 before you really settle on what kind of role you wish to assume. In many ways, I like it. You get to know the basics of your class in your starting area, and then once you have a groove going, you can choose to go with something a bit more specialized to your needs. Naturally I wanted to be a human microwave, so I continued to go with a Sorcerer; specializing in ranged DPS.
Trust me, there is nothing more fun than simply coating a battlefield in lighting.
Pretty much all Bioware games have party-based combat mechanics, with NPC’s taking the roles needed to keep the whole team alive. Early in the game, the Sith (still just an inquisitor at this time) comes across a hardy, force eating monster called Khem Val. Being a somewhat squishy, ranged DPS, having Khem Val take aggro off of you is a good addition for solo play and makes your survivability much higher. He also threatens to eat your Sith Master and calls her a lying witch, which only increases my affection of the big lug really.
Then there’s the introduction of area looting mechanics. I have not seen many games with one click to loot all fallen corpses nearby, but I like it. Of course you can turn this function off if you are in a particularly loot-anal group, but for the most part is is very handy.
Speaking of loot, you also have a way of customizing high-level items with upgrades. Should you find a piece of equipment that you like (like a Borat-esque, one-piece string bathing suit), you can actually just keep swapping out the upgrades for better ones and keep the item as a whole. Aesthetically, nothing changes, but you are able to increase the items functionality and stay on top of the game. You can keep looking fashionably hairy on the beach, but that tiny little collection of string will deflect blaster bolts like the thickest plasteel or your money back.
It’s the small details that make this game stand aside, without being so different from WoW that long-established players of the MMO genre will feel out of place with it or have to learn an entirely new system. When you have been mournfully addicted to an electronic form of crack, you don’t want to start dabbling in heroin – you need Space Crack. (Patent Pending.)
Then of course there is the music. Oh, the sweet music.
When you hear the sounds of the Star Wars battle themes, what do you want to do? Hit some bastard with a lightsaber, that’s what. Thankfully, a fully licensed Star Wars game has all the orchestral backing it needs, all the way down to funky cantina music and epic battle soundtrack. The space fight sequences likewise have epic scores to blast by, making them very immersing and fun, albeit simplistic.
There are other small items that set the game aside, but to go into each one is not what I would consider a good use of my time or your eyes. Frankly, the gameplay has some nice features and some great story. The delivery makes the game smooth and although there are some bugs in the early stages of release, Bioware are well known for their excellent storytelling and immersing settings. That should be good enough for anyone who isn’t an over-demanding, spoilt bastard.
In the end, you have a very good game that is just as good as World of Warcraft with Bioware’s excellent story telling and writing. Although it isn’t trying to be so innovative that it becomes unintuitive, the fact that it is the same old grind and takes up so much time is not going to dethrone WoW just yet.
If you love Star Wars and MMO’s then you are going to love this game. If you love the prequel films and think that this game is crap because it doesn’t have the Jar-Jar race of Gungans in it, then I hope you burn to death in a fire sparked by your own retarded brain. Frankly there isn’t enough time in the world to play both WoW and Star Wars to it’s fullest and so some people are going to be left with a hard decision.
Star Wars may not have dethroned the King, but rivaling it for followers? Well, that is an achievement all of it’s own.Have a game you want to review and fancy yourself as a bit of a writer? Find out how to become a guest blogger. Or you could make a suggestion by following us on those new-fangled social media-thingers Facebook and Twitter.