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When people think of Star Wars, they think of George Lucas’ 1977 epic saga which spanned six movies, many other things like Lightsabers and the force. They also have become accustomed to places like Coruscant, Alderaan, and met iconic characters like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. Even though familiar places are still around, none of the characters that are synonymous with the movies are present considering the timeline that this takes place. The timeline for SWTOR is roughly about 300 years after the events of SW:KOTOR & SW:KOTOR II and about 3500 years before the movies giving BioWare much room to expand on the storytelling aspect of the early Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire which you have the choice of being part of either faction. If you’re not familiar with those games, it’s rather alright as SWTOR fills in those question marks with story, dialogue, and codec entries which ironically give you XP. Despite that, I still recommend playing both KOTORs as someone telling you a story compared to experiencing it yourself is much more rewarding. As soon as you boot up the game, the opening cinematic easily draws you in, capturing that Star Wars essence that people recognize and further expanding it with “Duel of the Fates” from the first Star Wars prequel. Throughout the game, BioWare uses to an abundance of scores and tracks from the Star Wars movies as well as some original scores not present in them makes SWTOR sound like an epic story. But does it play like one?
Despite BioWare’s first MMO, they undoubtly don’t attempt to reinvent the MMO wheel as you can see with the character selection screen, but rather improve upon it and give it their own unique look that would be synonymous with the Star Wars universe. Instead of focusing on just a single storyline and tying everything to it, BioWare has created specific storylines for each of the eight classes (Four for each faction) and tied in a good amount of sub-quests and other tasks which give you the sense of purpose that you’re actually doing something meaningful for your faction. And the fun part of all this is that as with the KOTOR series, you still are able to make Light Side and Dark Side decisions which enhances the feel of giving the player the option of deciding on how they want to play a character and what kind of morals and perspectives he or she will have when confronted with those multiple choice questions throughout the game.
For the first character that I went with, I decided to go with the Jedi Knight class. Now unlike most MMOs that just have multiple classes and just the fixed roles that come with them, SWTOR actually tells you what your class branches off to when you reach a certain level, what skills come with that decision making and what kind of role they play when you party with others. So with that said, I went Jedi Guardian as they are designed to take a Tanking role in any kind of engagement but at the same time depending on what talents and skills you’ve selected, they can do some DPS as well. As the first few minutes elapsed with the creation of my new character, I end up on the planet Tython, the location of the relocated Jedi Temple as the last one was pretty much destroyed on Coruscant. However, as with beta and in the release version, BioWare did away from the typical auto attack concept which in turn made it so that you are constantly clicking buttons which gives the player a much more action based game. I was surprised and shocked at first, but it actually grew on me. Ironically, the graphics aren’t mind blowing but at the same time, it definitely feels designed so that if you have been playing World of Warcraft or you own a PC that isn’t capable of cooking breakfast for you, that you can and will enjoy playing this game. As I continue to play, I noticed a few things that BioWare has included on top of the usual stat descriptions that you would find about your character. Besides the typical PvP XP tracker, they include something called Social. What’s really neat about it is as you party with others or guildmates, most of the quests and special instances called flashpoints have dialogue options. That comes into play as players choose a dialogue option just like they would and a random number goes up. If you end up having the highest number, you get to see your character interact and more or less say some witty and funny things. Even though someone else might get it instead, you both get social points, but not as much as the person who got it. The benefit of those points in total is that just like leveling up, leveling your Social actually unlocks and enables you to use certain modable gear that’s highlighted in orange, just like in the previous KOTOR games. And yes, they do have a “Slave Leia” kind of outfit.
Aside from doing the typical grinding, gathering, and kill this and that kind of quests, there are plenty of things to do. Despite the current level cap of 50, there are PvP Battlegrounds that one can partake into as early as level 10, and as with WoW, they do give you commendations which in turn can give you better gear and other fun goodies. Of course if PvP isn’t your cup of tea, there are Flashpoints all over the different places that are available for your faction. They aren’t instances for large groups but rather groups of two to four scattered around and are also a good opportunity to score some flashpoint exclusive gear as well as build up your social points. And aside from that, there is space combat. Now this isn’t PvP nor CO-OP, but rather gives your character the opportunity to blow things up in space. Of course as with most things, they too give you commendations as well as credits and XP. You get your own personal ship as early as level 15 or 16 at which from that point you can participate in those missions. As you progress with your character, your ship also has upgrade points which in turn make your mission a lot easier and faster to complete as well as take the damage that the opposition gives as they do get progressively harder as you level up. Ironically, even though space combat is more on a rail system than a free flying instance, it has a “Rebel Assault” flair about it, which brings back memories of early PC gaming.
In summary, SWTOR makes a strong entrance in a world where the MMO world is dominated by the likes of World of Warcraft and facing strong opposition from games like Guild Wars 2 which are also in the same category. Considering it had been in development since roughly 2008, it’s been a long anticipated game that has Star Wars fans shaking with chills down their spine. And considering the fact that such a reputable developer like BioWare is involved with this project, it’s really hard to not give this game a try.