Star Wars: The Old Republic – Early Free-to-Play Impressions

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December 17, 2012 by Devin

I am a huge fan of free-to-play games. They allow me to stay topical without taking money out of my food budget. I am also a fan of Star Wars and think that Knights of the Old Republic, made by Bioware, is one of the best Star Wars games that I have ever played.

So when I heard that The Old Republic (hereafter referred to as SWTOR), the MMO sequel to Knights of the Old Republic, I was pretty happy (partly because I called it). And then I heard that the entire storyline was available for free players, which made me even more excited.

Now that I’m on break, I finally have enough time to really get into the game and figure out what it is all about. I had played the game earlier during some free weekends, but this was the first time I could take my time with the game. I had heard many different things about the game, both good and bad, and about the free to play transition, mostly bad, that I wanted to try it out and see for myself. Here are some early impressions.

Character Creation

One of the coolest aspects about SWTOR is the storyline. The character creation system is pretty good, offering a wide array of options even if those options are all presented with sliders for some odd reason, but the coolest part about the system is the role-playing aspect.

Beneath those two red robotic eyes lies two bright green eyes that just want to paint.

Like other Bioware games, SWTOR gives the player plenty of options for playing the game. The player can be a good person, helping everyone he or she meets, or the player can be an evil treacherous person, taking whenever possible and only looking out for him or herself. The player can also walk the line between good and evil, though this seems less encouraged. Bioware smartly chose to not make morality tied to allegiance, so the player can be a Sith Bounty Hunter with a heart of gold or a arrogant and self-absorbed Jedi.

I love this aspect of the game, just as I love it in other Bioware games, though I do wonder if it is an odd fit for an MMO. MMOs, by their nature, are about a huge world with other people in it all acting out of their own motivations, and this type of morality and focus on the player’s character seems better suited for a single-player RPG. Obviously, the player cannot change the world in any significant manner, and I am not even sure if the player can truly switch allegiances if the player’s morality runs against their allegiance.* Still, I am interested in seeing how this plays out.

I also like how Bioware made story dependent on class instead of race. The Star Wars universe has always been blended, so it would not make sense for a starting area of just Twi’leks or just humans. Tying story to class feels like a natural fit, making the storyline seem personal. The player’s character is doing what they do because of their job, not because of random circumstance.

All of this adds up to a fairly compelling storyline. That is, when the storyline actually matters.

Early Planets

I’ve played two planets: Hutta, the starting planet for Bounty Hunters and Imperial Agents, and Dromund Kaas, the Sith captial. My character is an agent of the empire. He has two cybernetic eyes because I figure he was a painter before an accident that left him with robotic eyes that happen to give him an edge when assassinating people.

Hutta, as a starting planet, felt great. Starting areas in MMOs need to do two things: get the player acquainted with the game mechanics and give the player a taste of what is to come. Ideally, it should do both of these as quickly as possible so the player will not become bored before he or she reaches the next area. Hutta does both of these things well. It is not long into the game before I was sniping enemies from cover, interacting with allies and enemies, and making choices based on my sense of morality.

The storyline also got off to an interesting start. The opening was not action-packed at all, but rather it told a subtle tale. My character walked into a docking area, took note of his surroundings, and slowly slid away as to not draw attention to himself. Later, he went undercover as a space pirate, even going so far as to change his accent. This storyline does not feel like anything I have seen in other Star Wars games and makes me really appreciate why Bioware decided to go with an MMO, where they could tell lots of different stories, instead of just another single player RPG, where they would no doubt focus on Jedi.

Bioware smartly played up the spy angle for many of the Agent's missions.

However, Dromund Kaas has not proven to be as interesting. Operating on the Sith homeworld feels a lot safer than on Hutta, and there storyline lost a sense of propulsion. I feel like I am doing things just because. It does not help that the quests simply are not as interesting anymore. One quest literally just had me running around the city making cryptic exchanges with people. I kept expecting there to be some payoff, but there never was. Dealing with the Sith was just not as fun as dealing with gangsters and slavers.

However, one aspect of the game that did intrigue me was the relationship between the Imperial Agents and the Sith. The Sith seem to have an overbearing relationship with the Imperials and act as if they are better just because, which obviously leads to some resentment from the Imperials. Again, this was a side of Star Wars that I had never really seen or explored much before, and I am glad that I am able to hear.

Overall, I am enjoying my time with SWTOR. The storyline is interesting, if a little too spaced out at this point, and I wonder how my character will develop as time goes on. I have not felt the free-to-play squeeze yet, though I do wonder if I will start to soon. I am not sure how far I will go with this game, but right now, I want to keep playing.

*Don’t spoil this for me if you know.

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