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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.