Aaron: One of SWTOR’s claims to fame is that it has the most spoken dialogue of any video game, ever. And initially, when it was learned that all the dialogue was going to be delivered by an actor rather than a stream of text, I didn’t think BioWare would be able to follow through. But they did and it does something that plain text in a video game can’t do: hold my attention. I felt obligated to listen the every scrap of dialogue rather than skipping through it to start running to the next mission point on my map.
Besides that, there are plenty of Star Wars sound effects and music that firmly place the player in the universe. Blasters have that distinctive ping to them, and the all-important snap-hiss and waaaah, waaaah of the light sabers. As good as SWTOR sounds, I really do like the visuals. Even with the details scaled all the way back, the detail and textures really drop the player into the universe, and flesh it out far better than the planetary adventuring of the other Star Wars MMO, Galaxies, which always looked like a flat cardboard cut out. When the settings are cranked all the way up it looks much better, which only heightens the need to watch each piece of dialogue interaction.
“Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things.”
Axel: With respect to the wizened Jedi Master, like hell we don't. SWTOR has an absolute embarrassment of riches in terms of content, with the showpieces unquestionably being the epic storylines for each character class, and there's plenty of excitement to be had as you undertake the adventures that carry you from humble beginnings, be it Jedi Padawan, freshly minted Imperial field agent, Sith apprentice, or screwed over smuggler, to a hero of the Republic or a champion of the Empire. Each character class' storyline starts, after you've designed a toon to your satisfaction, with the classic Star Wars intro crawl that sets up the basic premise of your character's place in the galaxy. What happens next is an epic three storyline arc taking you across seventeen worlds as you fight for honor, power, revenge, justice, and sometimes just for the sheer thrill of the fight.In terms of quests, BioWare hasn't done anything that is radical or surprising in the basic shape of quests, but rather how they present the quests. While very little will probably get rid of the convention of characters standing around with small indicators over their heads to point the way, SWTOR doesn't simply give you a quest but tells you a story, one where your actions bear on the outcome. The full voice acting transforms what other MMOs convey in a small block of text into a cast of thousands, taking the player into the world far better than just a single panel ever could. Ordinarily, even interactive cutscenes much like what BioWare normally uses for their conversation systems tend to take the player out of the game if they're not handled properly. For the most part, BioWare does their usual top notch work at keeping the player in the moment, that it's not simply watching toons talk, but an interaction between the player and another character. Those interactions can make even the simplest FedEx quest or body count quest feel organic and refreshing, even if we've done them before. I particularly like that BioWare added in bonus objectives. They're completely optional, and often revolve around killing a certain amount of enemies within the immediate vicinity of the main quest objective, but it's nice to find out all the other ways to earn bonus XP, and nice to be able to set yourself a personal little challenge about not killing everything between you and the objective. I will say that the occasional repeated phrase as part of your character's response to an NPC can get irksome, and probably does more to break the suspension of disbelief because it sounds too much like a recycled line and not necessarily a personal habit of speech. Those moments are few and far between, however.Of course, too much questing can get a little dull. To help cleanse the mental palate, BioWare added in a rail-shooter space combat section. As daily quests, these are welcome bits of twitch gameplay that don't leave us worrying overly much about gear and DPS and boss ability cooldowns. Nope, just dirt simple “slide and shoot” gameplay that wouldn't be out of place in a video arcade even ten years ago. Much like the regular quests, each space mission has bonus objectives, worth XP and credits if you can complete them. Some of them are pretty easy to stumble across and complete. Others take a bit of work. Successful completion of missions brings fleet commendations which can be used to upgrade weapons and gadgets on your ship, allowing you to fight through tougher missions. Right now, there isn't any option for PvP ship-to-ship combat, but that could be an interesting new addition in the future.That may be the greatest compliment and the best reason to play SWTOR. There is a sense in this MMO, more than any other I have played, of ideas yet to come, angles yet to be approached, boundless potential yet to be realized. There have already been murmurs about the possibility of bringing swoop races and pazaak games from the original KOTOR into this game, and that's not even the tip of the iceberg. As long as BioWare can keep cranking out quality content and new worlds for us to explore, as well as expanding the potential activities for players to engage in, there's no telling where this game will stop. I'd like to see it go on for a long time, obviously, and I think if they're as smart as they have demonstrated they are, things are only going to get better
Closing Thoughts Mr. Nash: So, will SWTOR have lasting appeal? Will it be able to topple WoW as the king of the MMO mountain? That's hard to say. It does have the advantage of the Star Wars license, and it does put it to good use. However, I'm not convinced the MMO elements currently present will bring in huge numbers of people. It will be difficult to pull in large numbers of WoW players at this point because a lot of people there are playing just because it's their thing, or have friends there still. I think a lot of the people that were going to transition to SWTOR likely already have. Bioware's effort is solid, and there are some refinements to the genre, but for those that have been playing similar stuff for years, unless they really like the Star Wars license, it's hard to see them picking this game up. I've been simply treating SWTOR as a quasi single-player experience, and have no real desire to partake in the MMO-ish elements of the game simply because they do feel to samey to what I've seen in other games in the genre. Yes they are refined, but no, it isn't enough to hold my attention. The quests are interesting but once I'm done with them I'll be done with the game as well.
For those who have never played an MMO, though, and have watched stuff like WoW from the sidelines with some curiosity, SWTOR may be a decent point to jump in. It'll offer a fresh, new experience, coupled with it being Star Wars. Sometimes it's nice to get in on the ground floor when a new game comes out, especially when it's your first time hopping into the genre. SWTOR feels like it does a good job for those uninitiated in MMORPGs as opposed to something like WoW which is a seven year old game now with a community firmly set in its ways, so why not try something totally new if it's going to be your first MMO? In that regard, SWTOR could do well for itself.
Aaron: The biggest question I have: Will it go free-to-play? And maybe that’s a cynical take but when you have World of WarCraft fee-to-play to Level 20 among the host of other free MMOs out there -- micro-transactions be damned! -- it just seems a logical curve for the game to take. How long will it take for EA to make back the money it took to fund and market the game? With a great number of copies sold since launch -- more than two million according to reports -- it seems like it’s on track to make some money, especially with the monthly subscription fee. And how will EA and BioWare ensure a steady flow of content if all of the dialogue is spoken? That’s a lot of voice acting to pay for.
As much as I like the setting, that’s not enough to hold my attention, especially with a recurring fee where playing feels more like an obligation rather than something I want to do. And even if it was free, I don’t think it would be enough to keep me playing.
Axel: If you were to try to describe the original Knights of The Old Republic, the best one-line encapsulation would be, “the best Star Wars movie George Lucas never made or got the chance to screw up.” It breathed new life into a setting that many considered to be horribly damaged by Lucas' “New Trilogy.” Taking us back four thousand years before the events of A New Hope, BioWare turned their considerable talents at storytelling and world creation to give us an engrossing and exciting new chapter in the Star Wars universe. They took the familiar elements of Star Wars and made them feel new all over again while fleshing out previously minor flavor details into rich and captivating new content. After the release of The Sith Lords by Obsidian, there were serious doubts that there would be an “Old Republic” trilogy of games to properly match the two movie trilogies.
Flash forward several years. BioWare announces that they're breaking into the MMO space and they're taking us back to the Old Republic, naturally putting fans to salivating and obsessing. Could it be as groundbreaking and as engaging as the original KOTOR? Could it possibly be better? When BioWare flat out tells you that they're looking to make their inaugural MMO serve as KOTOR 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10, there's going to be a hellaciously high bar to even meet, much less exceed in terms of fan expectations. Yet the good thing about an MMO is that it's constantly evolving, constantly improving, and if the expectations aren't met immediately, there's always the promise that they will be met eventually. From what I've seen up to this point, there is a lot of room and plenty of ways for those expectations to be met. There are some who will decry that the level cap is too low, the shared quest lines for each faction too repetitive and dull, the space combat too linear, the faction imbalance in population too great, and the differentiation in the classes too little. To which I would reply that the storyline quests for each class are engaging and encouraging high replay value, the amount of detail sunk into every planet is as much of a draw as the gameplay, the amount and quality of the voice acting gives the game an edge no other MMO can really beat, and the potential for new additions is virtually limitless.