Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Beta Weekend

A few months ago, in a galaxy not so far away...

I posted a letter to George Lucas regarding the latest set of changes to the Star Wars films for the Blu-Ray release. I had thought that this was the final blow for me as a lifelong Star Wars fan. I felt like I was divorcing Star Wars and it could never ever be as good as it had been at the start. Then last weekend something unexpected happened. I had my faith restored in Star Wars and by all things, a MMO.

I had a good run with several MMO's six years ago. I played City of Heroes with a great band of people and loved every minute (Our old Blog is still here). I moved to World of Warcraft and whilst it was great. I also found it to be like having a second job. I dabbled in The Matrix On-line, as did everyone else who played it. Then I started dating and it seem like a good time to get out of the soul crushing gold grind that was WOW.

Since that time I have never even considered playing an MMO. I looked at some free to play ones and revisited City of Heroes recently and none of them have grabbed me as a game I wanted to spend time playing.

Then I got a key to participate in the weekend beta test of Star Wars: The Old Republic. I was sceptical that I would enjoy this and also whether my modest PC would even run the game. The 20GB game client that required to be downloaded did not do much for me to change this  initial doubt.

Then at 4pm on Saturday afternoon, the play button on my client came active and I logged into a Galaxy far, far away. After the incredible introduction movie, a movie that was better than the prequel trilogy put together. I was presented with the server selection screen. Not normally an interesting point of any game, but I did think these server names are pretty cool. I selected to start on the PvE server, Flames of the Crucible and was immediately asked to choose my allegiance. I chose Sith Empire and was then treated to another amazing Introduction movie. After sitting through two of these movies now, I think Bioware should direct and write the next Star Wars films.

Finally, I was faced with the character selection screen. Two Sith classes, Bounty Hunter and Imperial agent are avaliable. Then after choosing race and gender, you are presented with customisation options. The customisation is limited compared to recent games, but the you are easily able to create a unique look for your character. I created a female Cyborg, Sith Warrior.

The game starts with your arrival on your training world. These worlds differ dependant your class chosen. This is where things take a swerve from previous MMO's. You launch in a cut scene and a storyline for your character. This means that although an MMO, it is playing like a single player RPG. Even using the conversation wheel from previous Bioware efforts. This to me is perfect decision for the game. I spent countless hours in Warcraft on my own not really having any kind of purpose or connection with the game world. Now as a parent of two kids, my time on-line could be less frequent and sporadic. So it is nice to find a game that will not punish me for playing in a team or group.

Bioware have taken an interesting turn with The Old Republic. Knowing that the game will generate interest from both the MMO playing community and fans of Knights of The Old Republic. They have merged the story driven elements and conversation elements of a more traditional Single player RPG with the vast open spaces, social interaction and levelling of a MMO. It works really well, so well it sucks you in. Engaging in a storyline for your avatar makes you care more about the world you are in. The three evenings of play that I was able to squeeze in consisted of sitting down at around 9pm and then it was 2am already. Each storyline for each of the classes are pure Star Wars. Notable in this is the Smuggler class is full of Han Solo style quips and one liners. Equally the Bounty Hunter class has a story full of treachery, deceit and revenge. The Jedi and Sith paths are exactly what you would expect. Very good monk, bad monk affairs. Bioware have managed to fit into this as well the Light Side / Dark Side morality system, so that your action have a consequence on your abilities and persona.

The main quest part of the game plays like a most MMO's. Alot of the quests that were avaliable to me during the training areas were your typical ones of get artifact A and bring it back to me at point B. Also, secondary quests of defeat 20 of xx enemy. Enemies are varied and each type has several versions. I spent most of the weekend trying to level up my Jedi Knight and saw myself fighting Flesh Raiders, Huge sabertooth cats, Robot sentries and the odd Sith. The combat is glorious to watch. Lightsaber combat has all of the flips and tricks you would expect from a Force powered Jedi. Surprisingly though the smuggler and Bounty Hunters have an ability which is basically a cover system. It is very useful and makes for some exciting blaster battles. Bounty Hunter could actually become my class of choice.

The weekend ended with a struggle to get my Jedi Knight up to the point where he was able to craft his own lightsaber. This opened all of crafting abilities to me and then I was sent to the Alliance fleet to travel elsewhere and that is when I realised. After a weekend of play, I had only taken my first step into a larger world.

Since the beta ended I have justified the cost of the Monthly Subscription and Pre-ordered a copy. The last thing I expected to do at the beginning of the weekend. I didn't also expected to be sat here counting down the hours until I get back into the galaxy I love so much.

Thank you Bioware for restoring my faith in Star Wars.

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