Star Wars: The Old Republic review; Episode 2: One month later

star wars the old republic reviewGreetings from a galaxy far, far away! It’s been about a month since we last got together to talk about Star Wars: The Old Republic. Or, more accurately, it’s been a month since I raved about BioWare‘s work on this highly story-driven massively multiplayer online game. The thing about MMOs is that they’re so community-driven and content update-driven that it’s not fair to either the player or the developer to assess the overall quality of the game immediately after release and call it a day.

Skyrim is a huge game, but a relatively unchanging one until DLC is released. A single review can suffice. The Old Republic, like any other MMO, is a constantly changing world that lives and dies by how many people are playing it, and how frequently. You can only measure that over a long period of time. So over the past month I’ve taken on the back-breaking task of pouring 100+ hours of time into my Star Wars: The Old Republic character so I could come back to you today and share some additional insights.

Okay, that was a filthy lie. Nothing about that 100+ hours of gaming was back-breaking. For one, I have very good posture. More importantly, however, The Old Republic continues to prove a month after its release that it has the legs to keep up the same pace that earned it our tentative 9 out of 10 score the first time around. If the score is what you’re here for, then you can rest easy: 9 out of 10 is what it was and 9 out of 10 is what it continues to be. We even have a fancy graphic to prove it.

Welcome To The Late Game

The early experience in The Old Republic — say your first 20 or so character levels — is all about coming to grips with the layout of this new MMO universe and forging ahead in the single-player campaign to see your chosen character class’s Act One, and gain access to the necessary tools you’ll need to properly enjoy the later portions of the game. Completing the first story act, which happens at around level 30, unlocks your account’s Legacy, which for now is just a last name and a family or friend connection between all of the characters in a single player’s account. In the next content update, BioWare will be fleshing out the Legacy system with perks designed to help your future characters speed through early sections of the game. More on that below.

Star-Wars-The-Old-Republic-screenshot

A key fact that quickly becomes clear as you enter into the latter portions of The Old Republic is how easy it is to link up with other people and participate in cooperative Heroic and Flashpoint missions (and, eventually, endgame Operations). That chat feed is always right there in the corner of your screen, with scrolling text constantly alerting you to players who are LFG — “Looking For Group” — for one mission or another in whichever zone you’re currently running through.

Linking up with these people is as easy as saying so in General chat and accepting a party invite. It’s a minimally intrusive process that doesn’t require any special hardware like headsets or the like. You have your avatars meet up near the mission point, use text chat in the party to communicate any basic needs, strategies or suggestions and, ultimately, part ways with little more than a “thank you” or “good game” once the co-op mission is over and you’ve reaped your experience rewards. It’s simple and non-threatening to the point that even a relative MMO noob like myself can quickly come to rely on these co-op missions as a main source of XP.

The leveling up process slows down considerably as you rise into the higher character levels, but the resource-gathering and crafting options offered by Crew Skills helps you forget about that by offering more immediate rewards. As you come to understand these systems, you find that you’re constantly sending one or more of your Companions off on missions to raise the associated Crew Skill level, with the ultimate goal being to get yourself to a point where you can craft some of the game’s most useful customizable gear. These more immediate dangling carrots help occupy the grind to the next character level, so much so that it rarely DOES feel like a grind.

Then there are features like PvP, which you can access early but which really shines brightest in the endgame. Not to mention Operations, which are like super-sized versions of the game’s story-driven four-player Flashpoints, for eight or 16 players. Multiple difficulty settings are also available for endgame players, allowing them to run back through Flashpoints that they out-leveled long ago. It’s a tremendous amount of content, as you would expect from an MMO, but it benefits from the same high production values that characterizes the earlier parts of the game. In short, The Old Republic doesn’t get leaner as you play; the story, the rewards, the challenging content– all of it just keeps on coming.

Fixes And Future Plans

There’s another important element to be judged in this follow-up review: BioWare’s continued commitment to fine-tuning the experience as more players jump in and existing ones reach the endgame. The studio’s commitment to keeping players informed of the goings-on behind the scenes has been nothing less than commendable. The game’s official website is home to a constant stream of updates concerning new content, bug/exploit fixes and the like. A few potentially problematic issues have arisen in the month since SW:TOR arrived, and on every occasion BioWare was quick to act, issuing a fix of some kind within days.

This week saw the first actual content update to the game, adding a new endgame Flashpoint and significantly expanding one of the two Operations that TOR launched with. BioWare has already promised another, even bigger update for March, one that will introduce the aforementioned changes to the Legacy system as well as adding new content for PvP, guilds and endgame play. If there’s any complaint to be made, it’s that none of the new or forthcoming changes really impact players before they’ve reached the endgame. That is to be expected, however; TOR shipped with a TON of content, and most of that is geared toward giving players a fun experience as they climb from level one to level 50.

star wars the old republic review episode 2 one month later rise of rakghouls screenshots

A few minor annoyances mar what is otherwise an outstanding use of the Star Wars license. As quick as BioWare has been to issue bug fixes, TOR is still a huge game and making everything work perfectly is going to be a never-ending uphill climb. I still encounter one or two major problems when I play that really ought to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Any time I visit the Imperial Fleet, my chosen faction’s hub, the normally great 60-100FPS that I see has a tendency to drop below 20FPS. Sometimes I even find myself looking at a slideshow. There are also frequent issues with what I can only assume to be lag; things like my avatar getting stuck firing an endless stream of blaster bolts when a battle concludes or my speeder bike not appearing beneath me as I ride it. These issues occur frequently enough that I can’t ignore them; they rarely ruin the game entirely, but I’ve definitely had to quit to the desktop more than once because the lag was too much of an issue.

Fortunately, one thing that HAS been fixed is the server load troubles. Shortly after TOR launched, players frequently found themselves sitting in queues with wait times ranging from five minutes to more than an hour just to get into a server and play the game. I haven’t had to wait in a single queue since that first week, however. The server list generally lists all servers as having a “heavy” load (which could explain the lag), but now the only waiting I’m doing is for load screens.

For any minor issues that persist, the unfolding game continues to be strong and full of fresh content to explore even after hour 100, and BioWare continues to show great commitment to serving the needs of its subscribers. If you were on the fence before, now is as good a time as any to hop off of that thing and see for yourself. In the month since it was first released, Star Wars: The Old Republic has only changed for the better.

 (This game was reviewed on a PC on a copy provided by EA)

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