A New Hope for Gaming Excitement from Star Wars: The Old Republic

When it comes to MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) games I’m serially monogamous. I immerse myself in a game, and play it almost exclusively, until I have figured out how to master it. I’ll keep playing the game as long as it excites my sense of mystery and adventure and I’ll hang with it until something significantly better comes along. And while I will always love World of Warcraft® (which I’ve been playing since its release) there’s a new game in town – Star Wars: The Old Republic® – which has me seriously interested.

Since early 2011 there had been a building buzz in my guild chat in Azeroth about SW:TOR. My guild mates all wanted to get into Bioware’s beta-testing of the game and a couple of us got that opportunity early last summer. The game’s potential was clear to me the instant I first logged on. The graphics were just stellar! Even on my relatively old CRT monitor they looked great. And I was pleasantly surprised to see that the graphics were improved further for the initial public release in December. (I can’t wait to see how they will look on the new monitor – probably a Viewsonic V3D245 or comparable Samsung – that I plan to purchase in the next few weeks.)

The sound experience was also something new. I had created a blaster-wielding Sith Bounty Hunter as my first toon. As I began to explore the starting region of Hutta, and drew fire from enemy NPCs (Non-Player Characters), I was stunned when I realized that I was able to tell precisely which direction the fire was coming from based ONLY upon its sound! VERY useful for combat (i.e., knowing which way to run without having to pause and think about it).

Overall, the user-interface and mechanics of game play will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played World of Warcraft (yet comfortable and easily learned for anyone who hasn’t). The interface is clean and doesn’t get in the way of play. The chat and social features are straightforward and offer an extended “vocabulary” of emote commands. Opposing factions communicate in the same language (but can’t exchange mail or trade items directly). Players can loot an entire group of fallen enemies with one click. And so on. But it feels to me like SW:TOR is a game that has fixed many of the minor annoyances that have persistently aggravated me about my current game mistress.

For example: When I loot an item it is immediately clear whether that item will ever have any future value or should just be sold to a vendor for credits. No time wasted thinking about it. Also, my inventory space can be increased without having to constantly buy, or quest for, bags which are expensive to purchase but which can only be sold at a serious loss. And my inventory space is not limited to holding only certain types of items. No mining bags, herb bags, etc..

Overall it seems that the in-game economy is less critical to leveling and game play than in many games. What that translates to is that I’m able to focus more on play and less on doing mind-numbingly repetitive daily quests for the sole purpose of accumulating the funds to buy gear so that I can do higher-level mind-numbingly repetitive quests.

Regarding in-game combat I was pleased to discover that companions are quite useful (after you reach a level at which you can obtain them). They are particularly helpful in combat if you have geared them properly and (I love this feature) you can send them off to sell all your “gray” items without having to suspend your quest and visit a vendor! That means I’ll always have room for the rare item that just happens to drop when my inventory is full.

Some character classes can also use terrain objects for cover and can assume various helpful (for combat) positions or stances. And my only gripe about the game so far has been that the re-spawn rate in some areas is too high. It is disconcerting to have cleared an area of enemies, pause for only a very short time, and then have them instantly re-spawn all around you while you’re studying the map or just trying to figure out your next move. But this is a minor issue which I’m confident will be fine-tuned as the game evolves.

The really new and outstanding feature of SW:TOR is that every quest-giver is interactive! You don’t just mouse-click on them and read the details of the quests they have to offer. The quest-giver speaks to you and explains the quest in an interactive cinematic which offers you a variety of ways to respond. How you respond is, of course, up to you but your choice ultimately has “ethical” consequences based on the number of “light” or “dark” points you accumulate. (Which, in my case, and with apologies to Glinda and L. Frank Baum, begs the question; “Are you a good Sith? Or a bad Sith?”)

Overall SW:TOR is, so far, a great game! The underlying science-fiction-based world is a “reality” which most of us have experienced through the Star Wars films so its comfortable and familiar yet exciting. If SW:TOR lives up to its initial promise as it evolves, keeps established (and well-loved) areas interesting by adding new quests and adventures (instead of ONLY adding new geography), and doesn’t dumb itself down too much just to boost profits from the eight-year-old crowd, it will continue to be enjoyable for a long time!

The best thing I can say, however, is that the net impact of playing SW:TOR is that it makes you feel like you’re taking part in an interactive Star Wars movie. It’s thoroughly immersive, a lot of fun, and highly recommended! Move along Han Solo!

More from Rick Amandan on Yahoo!:

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