MMORPGs are, sadly, kind of like plants. When I was a kid, I remember getting a handful of seeds as part of a school project that I had to plant and grow. I remember rushing to school, eager to see how my seeds had magically transformed in an ancient oak. When I arrived, I was entirely disappointed. There were weren’t any gnarled roots exploding from my little flower pot like I had imagined, just a tiny little bud in the dirt, barely the size of a teardrop.
So why am I telling you about the moment I decided I’d rather play Harvest Moon than grow real plants? Because too often we treat MMORPGs in the exact same way; we expect them to launch as these beautifully realized worlds bearing the fruit of in-depth and rewarding progression, and, more often than not, they rarely meet that expectation. I’m not saying the system isn’t flawed, and I like to believe I’ve made it pretty clear the high standard I hold the genre to, but sometimes checking your expectations at the door can be a good thing.
Such as it was with Star Wars: The Old Republic. When word of it first spread around the MMORPG-centric communities, there was a palpable sense of skepticism surrounding the game. Was this really going to be the follow up to Bioware’s adored Knights of the Old Republic or just a cheap cash in?
When the game released, it was easy to see it as the latter. In all honesty, The Old Republic felt like a slap-dash combination of a variety of features crafted to appeal to various audiences that, as a whole, failed to do anything of the sort. That isn’t to say there wasn’t good there, but The Old Republic wasn’t the valiant return to Star Wars many had hoped.
So here we are, years later, and maybe you tuned into EA’s E3 press conference and witnessed the glory of The Old Republic‘s trailer for the upcoming expansion. So, has Star Wars grown from its disappointing little bud into a awe inspiring tree? Not quite. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t born some pretty tasty fruit.
The World Building Is First Rate
Star Wars is one of those franchises that I love and hate in equal measure. I love everything about its potential, and much of the foundation that the world is built upon, but I largely hate the direction that Star Wars has headed ever since—chiefly becoming a world that heavily gears itself towards younger demographics.
But when I started to see past the bland character design (which looks inspired by the TV series The Clone Wars in the worst way possible) I started to see the true depth of the world that I was playing in. If you’re one of the many who harbors a deep love of Knights of the Old Republic, it bears saying that The Old Republic contains much of what made those games so unique to begin with.
The world is vibrant and detailed, and the static nature of the older KOTOR games translates surprisingly well into an MMORPG. The Old Republic might draw too heavily from design choices popularized by World of Warcraft, but I found it easy to forget when I was playing a game that, on so many levels, felt like Knights of the Old Republic. The characters you’ll encounter, and the side quests you’ll undertake all feel truly inspired.
Questing Isn’t Just a Bore
If you’re sick of the ho-hum questing that has plagued MMORPGs since some quest giver first uttered the cursed words “bring me some boar liver”, you’ll be happy to hear that The Old Republic largely does away with all of that nonsense. Though the actual objectives of your quests will likely see you stabbing boars in a jungle and ruing the day you took up your lightsaber in service of the Empire, Bioware mixes up the formula by actually making you care about why you need the livers. Each quest is wrapped up in a mini-story involving characters that often have branching choices that you can make.
While the actual quest can still leave a lot to be desired, the dialogue interactions sandwiching that exhausted approach really make all the difference—especially when you’re playing as the dark side. What’s so great about this emphasis is how it alters the way you approach questing. I no longer saw each icon over a character’s head just another way to get a fraction of the distance closer to my next level, but rather as a new story to encounter and characters to meet.
The Story Is All About You
MMORPGs have always existed on the promise that this is your adventure. But in actuality, few games have ever truly delivered an experience equatable with their promise. Sure, you can level to become extremely powerful and join epic battles against gods for a chance at wielding some legendary weapon, but the fact is, everyone else is just like you.
Star Wars doesn’t exactly rectify this problem as much as it sidesteps it. Sure, you’re going to be levelling alongside everyone else, fighting epic monsters for a chance a legendary loot, but you’ll also be engaging in a story that feels wholly your own. The fact that you can make decisions almost every step of the way makes The Old Republic come alive in ways few MMORPGs can manage. Even better, with elements like the Legacy System allowing you to coordinate and build startlingly complex family and relationship trees, each character you make really becomes a small pawn in your greater story arc. It’s really cool.
The Old Republic isn’t perfect in this department—not by any means. But the attachment to telling a fulfilling story means that you feel closer to your character than few other MMORPGs have ever managed. You might be running around and seeing characters who look just like you, but you’ll know that this is likely not true—how could they ever have experienced the same game that you did when you had so much control over how that experience played out?
Epic Expansion Inbound
The best time to play any MMORPG is right before and leading up to the launch of a brand new expansion pack. New content on a large scale has a magical way of revitalizing a game and bringing everyone back together for another strong push through all of the new areas and zones. This October, The Old Republic will be doing just that.
While Knights of the Fallen Empire might raise some big questions with its emphasis on a single-player story and lack of endgame content, there is no denying that this will likely be one of the most explosive expansions Star Wars has ever seen. If anything, I’m excited to try it just because it feels like such a bold departure from the expansion formula.
But even if you aren’t excited, getting back into Star Wars sooner rather than later is a great idea. Players will be returning in droves to get up to speed before the new expansion launches, and Bioware has released a massive 12x boost to experience earned from class quests. That means you no longer have to trouble yourself with the lame sidequests and can focus on gorging on the main story with as many characters as you can manage.
The Big Caveat
I wish I could just fire off these five reasons why you should play The Old Republic and just be done with it, but I need to make sure one thing is perfectly clear first. While The Old Republic might brand itself as a free-to-play MMORPG, the truth is that, unless you’re extremely patient and persistent, playing as a free player is really painful.
You won’t have access to the 12x experience boost (which is seriously mandatory), but even worse, a whole host of systems will be locked off from use unless you cough up some dough. You’ll only have access to two hotbars for example, which becomes hellish when you start unlocking a wide variety of skills to use. That said, Star Wars is worth the subscription fee—even if just for a month or two so you can experience the story.
The Old Republic might not be the Knights of the Old Republic sequel that we all hoped it would, but time has shown that this Star Wars game is more than capable of carving out a space for itself in the genre. Though it rests heavily on the foundation that World of Warcraft built, Star Wars manages to pull of some truly unique things that all help to make this galaxy far, far away well worth travelling to.
With a new expansion on the horizon and the 12x experience boost to take you the distance, there has never been a better time to check out what Star Wars: The Old Republic is all about. The world and writing are so good that, even if you decide not to make this the game you play for the next three years, jumping in to experience what is has to offer is absolutely recommended.Related: Column, Expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, Star Wars The Old Republic, Top List