This is not the Star Wars game you’re looking for.

Draw me like one of your twi'lek dancing girls.

I'm the king of the galaxy!

So as I mentioned yesterday, Star Wars: The Old Republic is available for free all weekend up to level 15, so I decided to try it out – and I really wasn’t all that impressed.

Rough approximation of the state of my old computer.

When TOR originally came out last December, I was both incredibly glad to hear it had finally launched and really disappointed that we only had one computer that could run it in our house.  My fiancée and I originally met playing World of Warcraft over six years ago, and we’d both been looking forward to something new we could play together because we’d both pretty much grown tired of WoW.  I wasn’t about to commit buying one copy of TOR and leaving one of us holding the bag, so I just put the idea on the back burner for sometime in the future.

Lo and behold, the free weekend rolls around, and I asked a friend of mine if she still played.  “Nope,” she told me, which wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement considering she was all gung-ho about it back in January.  I still figured that I had a little free time on Thursday and Friday before leaving for the Easter/Passover weekend, so I decided to give it a try, as it’s not gonna cost me anything but time.  Meanwhile, now I want those last six or seven hours of my weekend back – I could have spent them doing something more fun, like sleeping.  Or masturbating furiously.

Another LucasArts masterpiece.

No bugs in this game, nope!

Truth be told, TOR isn’t a fantastically awful game.  The thing is, it’s not all that great, either; the best description I can give it is uneven.  The amount of resources spent in getting the art direction right must have been phenomenal, because from a graphical standpoint it feels like you’ve stepped into the game world very authentically, due to asethetic and stylistic choices that were designed to not only call back to the first two Knights of the Old Republic games but also to the CG-animated Clone Wars series.  Much like KoTOR 1 and 2, the traditional BioWare RPG experience is intact, as talking to NPCs isn’t just a static quest pane with an Accept button but fully voiced and animated cut scenes that allow your character to interact with the game’s other characters (and begin your path down the Light or Dark Side, based on your choices).

This is revolutionary in an MMO, and BioWare definitely deserves praise for pulling this off in a way that really works towards immersing yourself in your own character’s personal story.  Through true character interaction of the level you’d expect in a single-player RPG and clever use of phased and instanced content that prevents you from having to compete with 800 other Jedi Guardians or Republic Troopers, BioWare has definitely delivered what most people thought just wasn’t possible: a tailored, personal storytelling experience in a MMORPG.

GUYS THIS IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT, OUR CHARACTERS HAVE "SITH" IN FRONT OF THEIR NAME

Another very suspiciously similar class comparison.

The problem with the rest of the game is that the time and energy spent in crafting these storytelling mechanics was not matched by the resources spent in the actual gameplay mechanics.  Combat feels laggy and unresponsive in comparison to WoW, and many of the classes and abilities seem like pale imitations of their Warcraft analogues: an excellent example of this is the Jedi Guardian, which corresponds almost exactly to the Warrior class from WoW, down to how the resource that powers the abilities for that class works.  There are some subtle differences, but the resemblance is uncanny to the point where I found myself setting up my action bar in the same way I did when I was playing WoW, and considering how I played a Warrior from launch to just a few months ago, this makes me more than qualified to make a determination like that.

However, where combat in WoW can be fluid and streamlined, not to mention fast-paced, combat in TOR feels clumsy and slow to the point where it was tedious.  This isn’t to say that you can’t zone out in WoW due to tedium, and anyone who faced doing a mindless daily quest grind just so they can earn a chance at some stupid polar bear you can ride around on or something, but you could fall into a sort of Zen like state there because of how intuitive combat was.

clickclickclickclickclick

The last time "click click click click click" was fun.

Combat in TOR tries its best, it really does.  The developers tried to get away from the whole Auto-Attack rut common with other MMOs, making your character’s default attack triggered on right click or keystroke, but instead of giving the game the kind of immediacy that you get with an isometric RPG like Diablo, it turns the experience into a spam-fest we’re you’re constantly pounding a key or right clicking.  The bad thing is that every time you swing or fire your weapon, you trigger a global cooldown on the majority of your other abilities, which slows down gameplay for someone who’s used to just right-clicking once to begin combat.  Hell, in WoW one of the first things I used to do is to take my Attack icon off my hotbar, just to make room for my primary skill, but with the way ToR is set up, it’s just ungainly and irritating.

Man I'm getting sick and tired of you riding my ass.

Early alpha footage of The Old Republic

There are some good things that TOR does with combat.  Most of the time, you’ll be confronted with groups of enemies – anywhere from two to four – in order to provide the player with the illusion of power.  There’s more than just one type of enemy in the game, unlike WoW which had just standard and Elite enemies to fight, and this wider range of difficulty gives developers a larger palette to play with when it comes to the main goal of the game: killing shit and picking up loot. It’s just that the process of killing shit is so tedious that moving from group to group in an endless cycle of boredom, just to get to the excellent storytelling portions of the game, is the kind of carrot-and-stick approach that I just don’t have the patience for any more.

It’s a shame – if you could take WoW‘s proven combat mechanics and combine them with the way the narrative unfolds in TOR, you’d really have the perfect MMO.  But the way The Old Republic exists now, I am certainly not interested in playing more of the game, even though I really did enjoy the storytelling – and I sure as Hell ain’t paying $15 a month for the privilege of grinding my way to endgame.  Not again, anyway.

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9 thoughts on “This is not the Star Wars game you’re looking for.

  1. Yeah, I LOVED the personal storyline. I LOVED the Light and the Dark side options. And I REALLY loved the sense of power you got when you took down these clusters. I really, really thought that was a game I was going to stick to.

    …but it turned out not to be, which is sort of disappointing. I agree about the laggy combat mechanics and the tedium in places, though I often figured that just might be me complaining it’s not easy enough. And I had a really hard time getting into the world from an RP prospective as well.

    There were soooo many interesting things to see, and I also liked the ship combat yet.

    ….man,I just couldnt’ stick with it. Which makes me sad.

    Oh well. Guild Wars 2 ahead!

  2. I was super excited but like all MMOS it’s WOW codpeace starts stinking halfway through and I get sick and don’t want to “grind” anymore. Especially as the smuggler; after I got my ship *spoiler* the plot line was so thin I just got tired and quit.

    I hear a lot of the plotlines are this way.

    Jesus, not even Star Wars can stop Wowcraft, and they’re gonna add PANDAS!

    Hilarious article!

  3. biggest thing I agree with is the “After you get your ship, the plot goes to crap” opinion.

    OMG that is exactly the truth for all the classes I played.

    IMHO there are games that have beaten WOW, just not in the subs per month category.

    EVE online for example.

    But there is a kind of perceptual problem at play here.

    MMO’s IMHO were invented as a way to create virtual worlds, as in virtual reality worlds. Somewhere along the way, the big corporations got involved and twisted the idea away from a virtual world, to an accessible, and addictive time sink oriented game.

    They knew, more than any other gaming genre, that if they used Pavlovian psychology to reward players for repetitive activity, they could hook people into playing a mediocre game and paying 15/mo subscriptions till they puke.

    What is interesting is the proof of this lies in the simple fact that attempts to substitute one version of the drug, for another, always fail. People who start their MMO lives in games other than WOW, are almost always unimpressed with wow for long, and those who start with WOW always seem to find other games less fun.

    While at the same time, always finding their own games boring in time.

    WOW Wins the war not because it’s the most FUN MMO. But because it’s the most accessible and has a vice grip on the testicles of the gaming community.

    New players of MMO’s rarely start with a game like EVE, DDO, or LOTRO. They almost ALWAYS start with WOW. After being suckered into that time sink hell for sometimes years at a time, they wake up one day and say – Did I really find this fun?

    The truth is, psychological addiction is a huge element of what makes WOW a success. There is always a carrot on a stick until you hit the level cap and have done all the raids, or collected all your class item sets. Then you either quit, or reroll.

    A game like EVE however is far less devious, but for this reason, it is also more of a niche game (beyond just it’s subject matter). There is no carrot on a stick, and what makes the game fun is unashamedly subjective, and is a derivative not of the game worlds content, but the player bases activities.

    In WOW, your experience is like an amusement park. Each zone is like a part of the theme park, The instances the primary attractions, everything leading up to it is filler designed to give you some carrot on the stick purpose. All this is deceptively marketed as story/content, when in reality it is little more than filler designed to keep you grinding.

    People who play EVE end up feeling lost because the game is just the opposite, it doesn’t hold your hand, and if you don’t put yourself out there and seek out adventure, you won’t likely find it. To really experience the best parts of EVE you have to have a willingness to participate in PVP on some level, and have at least a little mischeivous streak that encourages you to not just take risks, but also seek conflict on some level.

    Playing it safe in Eve isn’t hard to do, and it’s also extremely boring. this is because there is no level grind, there is no story chain, there is of course character progress, but I can tell you that a two day old newb can have the power to change the course of entire regions of space just by being a good real life negotiator and networker.

    You don’t need to be that good at things to enjoy EVE, but you do have to be willing to work with people, or against them. Flyng solo is a tough way to really get moving in EVE, but it doesn’t hurt. Playing with friends helps a LOT, especially at first.

    So what is interesting is, EVE is a lot of the things that WOW haters should like, but by the time they try EVE, they already have it in their head that MMO’s should be like WOW. When they find the game is nothing like WOW… They find themselves not adapting well.

    To put it another way – Almost every review of SWTOR is – Good but too much like WOW. But when they play a game like EVE that is good but nothing like WOW, they complain it’s not enough like WOW.

    I have been an avid MMO gamer since the first EQ sucked me in over 10 years ago. I have tried most of trhe major ones, and a few of the lesser known ones. And the only one that I have stayed subscribed to is EVE. I’m one of the oldest characters in that game, I have tried most of the games different features, and I still love it.

    Because there is no story to get bored of. No I don’t play it constantly like I used to… all things grow stale. But I think of it like Legend of Zelda for NES, Just because i don’t play it every day doesn’t mean it’s not my favorite game of all time.

    OK Enough about wow. I could write a book on what I think is wrong and right with MMO’s. Maybe sometime I will, but my Carpal Tunnel is flaring up tonight. And I just wrote enough text to bore the average reader.

    TTFN

    • There are other MMOs that have been out there for a long time that don’t use the same structure as WoW, much like EVE.

      One that stands out to me simultaneously as one of the best and worst examples would be Second Life, which started out (and is still) largely free, though there is a pay gate for premium extras.

      A sandbox MMO of epic proportions, SL is pretty much a 3D chat room that lets you have nearly free rein in a persistent world where players can run around in custom avatars exploring the creations of others who “bought” virtual real estate, build structures on it, and create content through animation and scripting. It’s freeform MMO at its finest, but it’s also notorious for having the worst of seamy underbellies, complete with 3D-animated working genitalia for your avatars and filled with furries, BDSM freaks, and shitting dick nipples everywhere if you go into the wrong neighborhood.

      • And *ahem* where does one get this second life game? I really want to see shitting dick nipples… for purely academic purposes of course.

        Yeah I heard of second life. I think it inspired the book “Ready Player One” minus the dick nipples.

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