by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
As I mentioned earlier, my interest in BioWare’s promise to deliver an MMO with a great story was one of the major reasons that I finally gave in to the genre. Now, after spending more time then I’d care to admit with the game, I can say that BioWare didn’t just create a great story, they birthed eight great stories. Each of the eight base classes in SWTOR has a completely different story to play through, and each one is great. I was taken back by the experience and was thoroughly impressed when various plot twists and turns actually forced me to sit back from the computer and think before making a choice. I’m also happy to report that the side quests include some compelling stories of their own that actually had me interested in what happens next instead of just earning your reward, although interestingly I found that the side quests were better the further you went into the game. However, while overall I am impressed with the journey SWTOR has taken me on, there are a few too many generic “collect X amounts of Y” and “Kill X enemy” missions. Sometimes they’re masked in interesting stories, but sometimes, perhaps a bit too often, they aren’t. These moments really pulled me out of the world and prevent the game from completely succeeding in re-defining MMO storytelling.
In addition to these standard missions, players can also enter a number of Flashpoints, which are The Old Republic’s version of dungeons. These areas, which unlock as you gain levels, are large (normally about an hour, give or take) missions designed for two or more people which present some of the strongest enemies and best loot in the game. On one hand I found that the plots supporting these missions range from decent to poor, but I enjoyed the actual gameplay here more than anywhere else. Most of the missions are designed well to be challenging without being too frustrating, and require communication and teamwork to beat. The bosses are also good on the whole, ending these Flashpoints on a high note.
Beyond the normal clashing of factions, there are also a number of PvP Warzones, of which there are currently three. Voidstar is an attack-and-defend map where teams must take turns attacking and defending the datacore of a large ship. Alderaan is a conquest-esque game mode in which teams battle for the control of three turrets to take out a large enemy ship. Huttball rounds out the group, delivering an off-the-wall crazy future sport in which teams must navigate a deadly arena to get a ball into the enemy goal. MMO purists may not like the ridiculous Hutball as it certainly feels out of place in terms of the game’s story, but I personally found it to be my favorite of the three. Overall there’s a lot of fun to be had in these Warzones, and I hope more quality zones are added in the future.
These Walls Can Speak
Some of the best moments in the various Flashpoints and missions are due largely to the fact that every character that you interact with is fully voiced. I don’t know how the folks over at BioWare found the time to write and record what must be dozens, if not hundreds of hours of dialogue (or eight games’ worth), but they did. The benefits of this are twofold. For one, it adds emotional weight and meaning to what you do. It’s one thing to see a text box with a few sentences explaining why you should let a man and his son go free, but it’s another thing entirely to hear the pain in the father’s voice so that you can tell he really means what he’s saying. The full voice acting also, and perhaps obviously, makes the entire world seem a lot more real. Mostly every character is different, with their own slight variation on an accent or manner of speech. The bottom line is SWTOR is not only voiced, but it’s voiced extremely well, and after playing it I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to invest myself in a non-voiced MMO from this point on.
This brings us to another great thing SWTOR has going for it: choice. There are some standard binary choices not new to MMOs, such as choosing to kill someone or let them live, but there are also a great deal of choices when interacting with NPCs throughout your journey. As opposed to simply clicking ‘ok’ to move through a conversation, you’re presented with a Mass Effect-style speech wheel letting you chose not only what you want to say, but also with what attitude you’d like to say it. Not only does this make conversations much more interesting to engage in, but it also makes your character seem that much more real and organic. For example, take my Bounty Hunter. In a game where I’m given slim to no choice in how to interact with people, all bounty hunters would probably seem the same: ruthless killers doing anything for credits. But, since I have control, my Bounty Hunter is much more. Sure he works on the shady side of the law, but he always treats those who respect him with the same kind of respect. He may do just about anything for credits, but he also understands that sometimes there’s something more important. These are all subtle things, but they’re things that make my character mine and someone that I could never invent without choice.
Choice, especially in conversation, takes and interesting turn when it comes to grouping with other players. Being an MMO, players are naturally going to be playing with others for a good portion of the game. So, how can there be a conversation wheel leading to different outcomes when three or four people are all speaking with the same person? The obvious answer would be to let one person speak for everyone, but this isn’t the case. Instead everyone picks their answer and the game randomly selects someone to speak for the group. At first I found this incredibly annoying. People would constantly choose to snap back at someone when I wanted to be respectful, accept a quest when I wanted to reject it, or something else along those lines. But, as time went on, I realised that the system was actually genius. It’s great, because when I thought about it, it’s the closest group interaction system I’ve seen in a game yet to mirroring real life. When I’m with my friends and we’re talking to someone, we all don’t always agree, and when we don’t agree, it’s not always the same person who gets their way. Even though I may not always like what someone else is saying, it does build their personality and I can see them as a unique person with a style and values instead of just another digital stick figure clicking ‘ok’ to move forward.
An engaging and detailed world, excellent voice acting, each class has a compelling story
A few too many generic side missions, space combat is underwhelming