Star Wars: The Old Republic Vs. World of Warcraft

Legend has it that in the world of MMO (massively-multiplayer online) titles, a great game will one day challenge World of Warcraft for absolute dominance over the genre. That a game will rise up from a powerful rival house and de-throne Blizzard Entertainment from the top of the subscription-paying gamer heap. Well friends, that day has finally come. The great WoW Killer doth arriveth!

I’m talking of course about EA/ Bioware’s monumental undertaking Star Wars: The Old Republic, a massively-multiplayer online game that isn’t pulling any punches as they seek to obliterate the myriad of gaming records held by the current MMO King, World of Warcraft. I know what you’re thinking… “but Matt, we’ve heard the phrase “WoW killer” so many times in the past. What Makes Star Wars different? In this article, we’ll put these two electronic entertainment behemoths side-by-side to illustrate exactly why Star Wars: The Old Republic (herein referred to by its gaming acronym, “TOR”) will be the undisputed champion of the MMO universe in the next year or two.

A little background for you: I started playing World of Warcraft during the release period of their first exansion pack, The Burning Crusade, back in 2007, staying with it through the summer of 2011. In November, I was invited to beta test TOR and I purchased the game on pre-order shortly thereafter, which should foreshadow how this article will turn out. I started playing TOR on December 15th, in their pre-release “early access” period, so I’ve had a few days now to get my character up to level 20, explore guild functionality with some friends from WoW, and build up a working understanding of the game, enough so that I can write an article about it. Of course, with any MMO, you can only review a sliver of the game without being “level-capped” (meaning you’ve reached the maximum level of the game, at which point MMO titles open up a whole new world for you), so please consider this during my review.

Player Base
In order for an MMO to really be called a “massively-multiplayer online game,” it needs one key ingredient: a massive number of players online at the same time together. On this front, World of Warcraft obviously has the edge, with their estimated 10 million players world-wide, compared to the estimated 1.5 million TOR players out there. Of course, you probably shouldn’t forget that WoW was released way back in 2004, and has had three expansion pack releases and millions (cumulatively) of hours of TV commercials since then. TOR just dropped weeks ago.

Wait a tick! TOR has 1.5 million subscribers on its first day live? Surely that means nothing. How many millions of players did WoW have when it launched? Clearly it’s the bigger game, right? Well… no. When WoW launched back in 2004, it had… wait for it… 200,000 players. Yep. No seventh digit. So you might say TOR didn’t come out swinging… they came out shooting. If they steadily release expansion packs, patch the game with new features, and keep up advertising efforts, it’s quite possible that TOR might triumph over WoW not in five or six years, but in one or two. My 20-minute wait today to get into my server in the game is a real testament to that potential.

If you’re one of the millions of people who’ve played WoW, then TOR is going to seem pretty familiar to you. Bioware took WoW’s winning formula of simple, stat-based gameplay mechanics and improved on it from there. The controls in TOR are nearly identical to WoW, right down to typing /1 to talk in general chat, pressing “X” to have your character take a seat, or pressing “Z” to whip out your lightsaber for no apparent reason (your parents must be so proud!).

Combat is mostly identical to WoW as well. You have a bar full of skills that are assigned to number keys, and you can press numbers or click on the bar to launch attacks, heal your friends, or break free from traps. But combat in TOR feels far more polished than it does in WoW, and far more exciting, too. The music roars in with a flurry of exciting combat sounds that get your blood pumping in ways WoW never could. It’s actually exciting to fight bad guys in TOR, whereas in WoW, combat always felt slow and cumbersome, at least to an avid first-person shooter fan like yours truly.

Another avenue where TOR deserves exceptionally high marks: grinding isn’t forced down your throat like it is in WoW. I always hated the WoW quests where you have to bring some jerk eight murloc eyes. The math should be pretty simple… four murlocs, four eyes. And yet you’ll end up killing 50 of the buggers to get the eight eyes you need. A heroic warrior should be able to say to himself “hey, I should probably try to not stab their eyes out!” In TOR, grinding comes up as bonus quests that you can do, or not do, as you see fit, and rather than requiring you to loot special items from those characters, you’ll instead need to kill a set amount of them. There are occasional quests where you’ll need to find a small number of items from baddies, but thus far, I’ve never had to kill more than two things to find what I was after.

In WoW, you get a quest by walking up to a quest-giver, reading a bunch of text from them, and then heading off to complete your assignment. In TOR, however, Bioware took a remarkably different course… you actually engage in a proper conversation, with video and full audio-dialogue to boot, and enter a real discussion with the quest-giver. Periodically throughout the conversation, you’ll be presented with options (usually three) that let you pick what you’ll say next. Some of these options will bring you closer to the light side of the force, while others will lure you toward the dark side, and those decisions will affect your end-game play, dishing up new item options that are only available to players who’ve gone light or dark.

Each class has their own unique story chain to follow after, and what’s more, the player is given the freedom to customize that story chain to their liking, making each and every player story truly unique to the gamer experiencing it. Yet again, WoW doesn’t hold a candle to TOR.

In this department, there’s simply no contest… TOR wins by a landslide. WoW isn’t even in the same galaxy as TOR graphically, slight pun intended. If you stand two naked characters, one from each game, side-by-side, you’ll see that the TOR character is finely-detailed, right down to their fingers and toes. Meanwhile, the WoW character is a bulky, boxy behemoth, with bricks for feet and knobby logs for hands. WoW’s cartoony appeal was simple and charming, but TOR’s graphics are tight, smooth, clean, sharp, and surprisingly modern, given that this is an MMO title, which are nefarious for poorer graphics compared to other modern games. Particle effects in WoW were always quite impressive, especially during and after the Wrath of the Lich King expansion pack period, but when you see lightsabers spinning, laser shots zipping all over the map, and the myriad of special effects associated with character abilities, WoW’s graphics will suddenly seem eerily reminiscent of Pong. There’s simply no comparison… TOR is far prettier than WoW.

Everyone has been wondering when the fabled WoW Killer would show its face. Well friends, here it is. TOR has all of the makings of a truly legendary PC game, and more than enough potential to dethrone the all-mighty WoW as the unrivaled King of the MMO space. Simply put, TOR is WoW, only better. cleaner, more engaging, more captivating, prettier to look at… more enjoyable. It’s everything WoW tried to be, but failed to deliver. Everything you wanted WoW to be, but never got. It’s an MMO for everyone, not just MMO fans. Brace yourself, reader. TOR is about to turn the gaming world on its head.

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