The Old Republic – first impressionsFebruary 26th, 2013 | Posted by in Blog
Whoa, this blog is quickly turning into a gaming publication. Which is odd in itself as it’s a hobby I fit in at the end of the day, around all my other pastimes. (Not that I don’t like it – I actually think it’s pretty much the most diverse art form out there. Think about it. Which other mediums have such a degree of voice acting, concept art, computer programming, direction, music, 3D mapping, texture design etc etc…)
Anyway – a few weeks ago, I posted a blog before I started playing Star Wars: The Old Republic (TOR), saying how I loved the original series and how I wasn’t sure how this one would live up to expectations, seeing as it’s set in an online open world and all. As someone who is entirely new to the massively-multiplayer-online-role-playing-game (MMORPG) environment, I was very apprehensive about the challenges I’d face.
That was a couple of weeks ago and I still haven’t decided if I actually like the game yet. I’m playing a little bit each day, and witnessing positive and negative aspects. Admittedly, there’s more of the positive now but my first impressions of the game were pretty damn poor.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I loved the character design phase – MUCH more extensive than previously anticipated. I’m playing as a neutral human Jedi. The first cutscenes built up plenty of excitement and tension, but expectations were sadly not met when the game properly opened.
Tython. Oh dearie me. Fair enough, there’s a lot to live up to in the first level. KOTOR 1 opened with the battle of the Endar Spire, in which you’re awakened to find your ship under attack from Sith battle troopers. KOTOR II opened with a rather spooky prologue where you control an astromech droid trying to repair an immensely damaged ship, surrounded by the dead or nearly dying. It’s followed by the equally eerie Paragus levels, which I’ve already raved about in a previous blog post.
So why exactly, for TOR, are we dumped on a bland planet and expected to meander about slaying the occasional baddy? Where’s the pressure? Where’s the impending threat of an approaching fleet with intentions to crush all life from you and your allies? Where, in short, is the atmosphere?
The other lamentable missing link is a lack of any interesting or unique characters. Master Orgus, who takes you under his wing, is a forgettable bore without any noticeable character traits besides a slightly grizzled appearance. Satele Shan carries none of the stuck-up poshness of her ancestor’s that proved so annoying in the first game. Only Kira, your first human companion makes any effort to go against the grain. But even she appears vague and uninteresting when compared to Kreia, Jolee and Mission of the previous games.
Part of the lack of characterisation comes from the new dialogue system. Previously, you could speak to your companions whenever you liked, unlocking new chances to get them to open up down the lines. One could engage in full-length philosophical chats with Kreia, or have violent discussions with HK-47 that led to some of the best quotes ever in a video game. (“Definition: ‘Love’ is making a shot to the knees of a target 120 kilometres away using an Aratech sniper rifle with a tri-light scope.”)
Gamers have just three options when it comes to holding a conversation in TOR – a light, a dark and a neutral sided option. There’s no deep analysis when it comes to discussing your companions’ backstory. While it’s undoubtedly smooth – and your character actually speaks the dialogue which is an improvement on the last games – it’s horribly simplistic.
Those hoping for exciting extended quests similar to those seen in KOTOR 1 and 2 will be disappointed with TOR. It’s pretty clear most of the money has gone into the enormous ‘hub’ areas, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve been pretty negative about the game so far, but these are amazing. They’re extensive, enormous and highly explore-able. In fact, with TOR’s emphasis on finding hidden objects and quests based around these areas, it often feels more like Tomb Raider or Uncharted. Quite frankly, the hubs in TOR make similar locations in the previous games look cramped. Because of the volume of miniquests and the fact you can pretty much choose when to do them, the gameplay is MUCH less linear than anything I’ve played before. This definitely gets a massive thumbs-up – with the exception of the opening.
As I hinted before, though, this is where much of the gameplay takes place. Whereupon you would spend hours exploring the Vulkar base, more time is spent fighting your way to a similar quest on Coruscant. The equivalent of a quest area in TOR consists of around ten small-ish rooms, only half of which have anything in.
So that side of gameplay is kind of mixed. Great hubs. Poor quests. It’s something I’m hoping picks up later on. Now for some actual positives.
Combat is genuinely fun and engaging. I’m loving the progression of powers, even if it does seem like one has to spend loads of points on the same singular powers before unlocking the next in the sequence.
Plot expansion, what little I have experienced, seems good, if a little too political for my tastes. Codex entries are highly involving and well-written, and the game is genuinely challenging which is a change from many modern entries in the current market.
Despite the fact I’ve spent the majority of this blog post criticising the Hell out of it, I’m enjoying TOR. It’s not a patch on KOTOR 1 or 2, but the nature of an MMORPG is that, if they don’t get it right first time, they can go on expanding it in the future.
Hopefully, they’ll read the above before doing so!