Disclaimer: The opinions and viewpoints expressed by the various authors (including me) do not necessarily reflect the opinions and viewpoints of Neoseeker.
Now anyone who knows me at all would peg me as a Star Wars fan. I'm not as diehard as some folks, and I probably spend more time raging against the series than I do singing its praises. Still, I'd say I love Star Wars more than your average guy or girl, especially when Mandalorians are involved, and I certainly loved Knights of the Old Republic -- Obsidian's sequel even more. So imagine my glee when I learned that EA and LucasArts planned to put out a new Star Wars MMORPG based on the KOTOR franchise.
Okay, not going to lie; I was actually pretty upset. I may have played my share of MMOs, but massively multiplayer online games are definitely not my preferred genre for a number of reasons. In the case of The Old Republic, I feared the MMO format would ruin a series I loved. How could I be so convinced? Well, MMOs aren't exactly known for stellar narratives (much less the delivery of said narrative) or engaging characters. By design, they're not narrative-rich games. No, this is a genre designed to drain your wallet and consume every bit of free time and destroy your IRL social life. I've seen it happen to others, and I've fallen into this trap many times before.
Nevertheless, I would play EA's Star Wars: The Old Republic, because that's part of the job description. Now I mentioned I really dig Mandalorians, so naturally, I ended up rolling Bounty Hunter. Okay, so a guildmate was the one who convinced me to go BH, since I originally wanted to be a Trooper but the small guild I'm a part of went ahead and aligned with the Empire (gross). But hey, turns out Bounty Hunters are kind of like watered down Mandos (bucket helmets included), so that's kinda cool.
As the levels rolled by, I found myself coming to enjoy SWTOR, namely for the storytelling elements. From the beginning, BioWare Austin named "Story" as one of the primary pillars in SWTOR's design, and it really shows. Companions made the campaign surprisingly soloable, and the 1-50 grind was quite tolerable even to someone who absolutely despises grinding of any kind. The implementation of BioWare's trademark dialogue wheel and decision-based story progression were welcome additions that really put the "RPG" in MMORPG. This was, without a doubt, unlike any massively multiplayer online game I'd ever played, and it seemed clear to me that the folks behind this game probably liked Star Wars too. They even slapped two suns on Tatooine.
But I'm not as active as I used to be, and it's only been, what, four months since I started playing? Granted, my guild's not all that active anymore either, but that certainly isn't stopping me from moving on and having my own fun.
At the end of the day, there's still the "MMO" part of MMORPG I had to contend with. As much as I enjoyed the Bounty Hunter story and (spoilers) shooting that goddamn Jedi scumbag in the face for murdering all my buddies, BioWare was bound by the limitations of the genre, which essentially prevents them from taking any class storyline more in depth than they already have. I admire the devs and writers for somehow cramming in BioWare narrative tools into this setting, but ultimately, your decisions in TOR do little more than influence dialogue -- with few exceptions. Now I appreciate that, as a Light Side character on my main, I got the "better" ending for the BH story, but this is based only on a single decision toward the end of the story, not how you played the whole game. Generally speaking, Light and Dark options don't impact the narrative in any significant way, and players really don't have the same feeling of power and control they are given in some of BioWare's single-player RPGs.
Similarly, Companion interaction can only go so far in an MMO. While BioWare Austin certainly pushed the standards a bit by letting us gain influence with NPCs and even marry some (however limited the options may be), there isn't as much depth here as many hoped. For instance, only your first NPC ever gives you missions to participate in, while the rest just go off and do their own thing, and you're only able to talk with them about their side activities. This was pretty disappointing, especially if you weren't fond of your class' first Companion and favored a later addition. The Bounty Hunter's first Companion, a cyborg girl named "Mako," is rather two dimensional, but she was the only one who offered any Companion quests. By contrast, Blizz and Torian, the Jawa and Mandalorian Companion, were infinitely more interesting, yet all you could do was talk to them about their problems. Any time they went away to do some soul-searching, the player is treated to a black screen. No, not very engaging at all.
Companions you marry don't offer any extra dialogue options either, and all you get is the occasional bit of mail from your virtual spouse with a random unique gift item. Talk about romantic.
Then there's the content, or a lack of it. Many TOR players can agree that the various class stories really make the game special, but what the game has in quality, it lacks in quantity. In most MMOs, the carrot on the stick is all that yummy endgame content, all the raids and instances and sweet, sweet gear -- or whatever tickles your fancy. Old Republic didn't have a whole lot in terms of level 50 content prepared, and as more players found themselves hitting the level cap, BioWare Austin's inexperience really began to show. We had reached that carrot, but it was such a... tiny little vegetable. As much as we wanted to savor our prize, it was gone in just a few bites.
Following the December launch, there was only one completed raid -- Karagga's Palace would be expanded later -- and Warzones were criticized for having no level brackets, and Huttball was the only PvP mode to support inter-faction play. This led many to wonder if perhaps The Old Republic had been rushed toward an early release. Well, this and all the bugs that went without fixing for a good month or more. Need I even mention the then-incomplete Legacy system?
When BioWare announced the 1.2 update, the community dared to be excited. "Finally," we thought, "the game TOR should have been from the start." A new instance would continue the Left 4 Dead-inspired Kaon series, and a new raid promised new content for those of us who had KP on farm status. PvPers would finally get their ranking system and more inter-faction options, and everyone would finally get to see what this Legacy business was all about. Would active subscribers be rewarded for their loyalty? All the teasing suggested as much.
Mini-pets, interchangeable epic armorings, my goodness! Yet when TOR 1.2 finally arrived, more disappointment followed. Now I'm not gonna sit here and say everyone was underwhelmed, but I've read enough complaints to know I'm not alone on this. While some of the new content was certainly nice to have, many features ended up being taken out and delayed until the 1.3 update -- whenever that happens. The main problem, however, lies in the Legacy system and the ridiculous fees players ended up having to pay for perks they've already unlocked.
For those not in the know, there's this secondary XP system for a character's Legacy level, which levels at a slower pace than the primary XP bar but continues on after you've hit 50. Every few levels, you unlock Legacy perks, and as of TOR 1.2 these encompass Convenience and Ship upgrades, plus a few Valor (PvP) skills. There's just one catch: every single perk has an additional fee. Hey, if you happen to be rolling in credits and have nothing to buy, 1.2 solves all your problems. If you want a repair droid for your ship, just hit Legacy level 7 and toss in one million credits. Fancy a neutral auction house for your ship too? That'll be Legacy level 25 and five million creds, please. Convenience perks like lowering the cooldown on fast travel skills start at 100K and go up from there, while the much talked-about "Rocket Boost" skill costs two million, plus another 2.5 million for the upgrades. I say "much talked-about" because Googling the skill brings up plenty of player complaints for it.
1.2 did introduce world events and some pretty neat features that would've been really great to have in the core game. Being able to unify and color coordinate your outfit? Talk about every MMO player's dream come true, though I wish it wasn't restricted to the color of your chestpiece. Opening up orbital stations and space ports to mounts (speeders) is another addition that, frankly, makes TOR a much better game. Small blessings, right? Despite its shortcomings, 1.2 really feels like the game we should've seen at launch, and I wouldn't have minded if that meant a delay.
There are some things I really loved about The Old Republic that I know I won't find in any other MMO. The full voice-acting, for one, is something we haven't seen before, though Zenimax has promised to do the same for Elder Scrolls Online. Regardless, I see a lot of things that make me shake my head and mutter, "Such a shame." Because I do like BioWare's MMO, but I can't claim to love it like I'd hoped, like I loved KOTOR. Despite its colorful ensemble, TOR doesn't have a Bastila, an Atton, or a Sion, and the way it handled Revan broke my little fangirl heart.
I want to see The Old Republic succeed and thrive, to watch BioWare put up a good fight in the face of competition like Diablo III and Guild Wars 2. It's gonna be tough though, and right now, even with its 1.3 million active subscribers, TOR's future looks discouragingly rocky. Next year's content already in the works, and it'd be a damn shame if we never got to see any of that.