Whatever else we have to say about Star Wars: The Old Republic, it has been an astonishingly successful launch. One million players have already racked up over 60 million hours, and while the game isn’t entirely free from technical issues, it hasn’t been paralysed by the kind of problems that have afflicted practically every other would-be World of Warcraft in the last six years. In fact, it’s one of the smoothest and most polished Massive Multiplayer Online games we’ve ever played.
The actual game experience, however, is a little more open to question. At this point in time – nearly seven years after WoW hit European shores – there’s a sense that we’re all looking for an MMO to take the genre to the next level; an MMO that can surprise us with new styles of gameplay and an experience we haven’t had before.
On this level, The Old Republic could be seen as a failure. It’s an oddly conservative MMO, playing straight by the rulebook established by the likes of EverQuest then refined by WoW, and feeling perhaps a bit too similar to Blizzard’s monolithic enterprise. It remains a game where you wander landscapes populated by mobs of enemies who do nothing but wait until you hit aggro range, and who you then mop up in a flurry of targeting clicks and hotkey presses to activate the attacks, heals and perks in your action bar. It’s a game of heavy-duty levelling, looting, inventory management and perk deployment, where the majority of quests still follow the fetch and deliver or follow the trail templates set down by WoW and its antecedents.
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Nor does it look like the next-generation. The art design is impressive and the graphics are an improvement on WoW’s, but visually The Old Republic is a little underwhelming when set against console games of even five years ago; something we might forgive if the game ran and looked better on low-end hardware. Basically, if you’re already bored to tears with the established MMOs, then it’s doubtful that The Old Republic will re-ignite your passion for the genre.
Yet, on another level The Old Republic is a triumph. Bioware promised to bring us the sort of richer narrative and choice-focused gameplay that has always been a company hallmark to the MMO, and it’s done it. While it’s easy to dismiss the elaborate cut-scenes, the symphonic score and the fully-voiced dialogue as window dressing, they do make a difference. More than any other MMO we’ve played, The Old Republic makes you feel at the centre of your own personal story.