martes, 14 de febrero de 2012

Darth Maul: You're doing it wrong. Star Wars: The Old Republic (TOR)

Star Wars: The Old Republic
Credit: EA/Bioware
Note: It's near-impossible to review an MMO, mostly because individual experience with a game can be so very, very different. To give you an idea of where I'm coming from in my review, I wanted to give you a bit of background on my characters and my play style. I played dozens of hours across multiple characters on both the Empire and Republic sides, but found myself sticking to one main character, a bounty hunter on the Empire side. I felt more comfortable with the ranged DPS play style and found myself mostly playing the game solo, though I did party together in quick groups to complete quests and Flashpoints (instances).
Star Wars: The Old Republic (TOR) is the cure to MMO fatigue. It's got a great and unique story presentation, solid action combat and deep systems that pay tribute to the DNA of successful MMOs without becoming mired in tradition.

BioWare chose to adopt a DNA close to World of Warcraft. It makes sense; you're trying to steal away players from the most successful MMO on the planet, so you're going to try to make things feel familiar and comfortable. I appreciated the key bindings and other nods to WoW because I was able to ease into the game quickly and without much pain. That said, particularly early on, it felt like I had just swapped The Horde and The Alliance for The Empire and The Alliance and that I was just doing the same things as I had done in WoW for years. That is, however, unfair. It's not true, and even though there are a lot of similarities, TORis its own game. It has its own unique properties and it adheres to familiar territory to make you feel at ease before it veers off into new territory. 

Darth Maul: You're doing it wrong.
BioWare has improved over the quest structure solidified by Blizzard. Instead of going to kill ten enemies, returning to turn the mission in and get a new mission to return to the same area to kill a boss, TOR gives you the mission to kill the boss and provides optional missions where you kill random enemies or accomplish other smaller tasks along the way. It might seem like a small or insignificant change, but it speeds up the game and makes you feel like you're doing more and important things than basic errands. It would be nice to get a bit more variety in future patches - quests are typically of the kill and collect variety and it can wear thin at moments.

I've always been a solo MMO player, which is a bit contrary to the genre, but it just suits my play schedule better. If someone's online, we'll quest and level together, but I'm more than content to just level and experience a story on my own. TOR allows you to play completely solo, or, if you crave that party environment, you can find and group with players to blow through quests.
BioWare has really kicked story presentation up a notch with TOR. The approach of using fully-voiced dialogue and the fact that each class has their own unique storyline that develops and carries over multiple acts in the game really sets it apart from the MMO field. The fact that I had a specific story, with specific characters is what hooked me early on. You'll share some quests with every other player in the game, but the depth of class-specific missions made me feel like I was playing a game all of my own.

This isn't the MMO you're looking for.
Full voice acting goes a long way to making the TOR feel more modern, and it really demonstrates how this is the next generation of MMOs. Unfortunately, among the actors, there are a few dud performances, and those actors show up time and time again in multiple roles. Once you key in on a voice you can't stand, you'll seem to notice it everywhere and it will drive you nuts.

Technically speaking, aging PCs will probably feel a frame rate pinch with this game. My multiple-year old system did well enough on the starter, low-population planets, but as soon as I hit the core worlds and large-player areas, my system had a near meltdown. This revelation that I wasn't exactly equipped to review this game led me to invest a fair amount of cash and build an all-new core i7 system to handle every graphic setting at max. When you do that, this game is pretty damn stunning. If your system is struggling to keep up with modern games and you can't make a few easy upgrades, you might want to sit this one out until you have something that can handle it.

Combat in TOR is fun and exciting. As my main bounty hunter, I found that I had a plethora of abilities and combat options to handle foes. You don't rinse and repeat the same tactics over and over again (or at least I didn't) and, as you progress levels and add new abilities to your repertoire, you'll change how you approach combat. The system is deep and evolved over and over as I played for review. I have big hopes for the combat going forward as BioWare continues to add to it and balance and tweak. Whether you're into ranged, melee or support roles, you'll be happy with how TOR handles everything.

You'll see plenty of BoboFeTt327s flying around.
The only thing you probably won't care for is the ship combat. Grabbing a ship and hitting space turns TOR into a shooting gallery game, akin to something like Panzer Dragoon, and that's not a good thing. It's boring, bland and doesn't add much to the game. I know they needed some type of space combat in the game, but this is a poor showing.

TOR has enough content to keep you busy for a while if you're a casual MMO player (casual being 10 or so hours a week). If you're going to put in 30 or more hours a week in the level and instance game, you're probably going to run dry on content soon, but BioWare is already planning and releasing new high level content to keep things running smoothly. If you run out of things to do, you could always take another character class through their unique story. If you take all the character classes into account, there's plenty to do and experience in TOR.

I thought I was done with MMOs when WoW burned me out; my subscription was canceled and I wasn't eager to play another WoW clone anytime soon. While TOR shares plenty of its DNA with WoW, it streamlines some of its rougher points, improves upon them and takes a few bold steps. TOR has me energized about the future of MMOs and, when my free press time ends, I'm going to be ponying up the cash to continue my subscription. That's the highest compliment I can pay.

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