I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t post about The Old Republic. So for anyone who’s been waiting for it, here it is.
I wish I knew what it was about Star Wars; the stories, the visuals, the characters, the music. I don’t know what it is that runs through me as soon as I see that legendary phrase appear on the screen.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
The blank, black canvas replaced by those glowing yellow words, receding into the distance amidst a John Williams created fanfare. It grabs me, every time. It hooks onto a part of me and my childhood, every time.
The more interaction I can get with the media, the more it pulls at me. That’s why I love the various video games that have come out for Star Wars over the years (yes, even the bad ones). Each one of those either let me adventure as one of my heroes, or allowed me to create one and join in on the epic space opera.
I wish I could explain what it is. Is it reliving my childhood? Is it a wish for adventure? Is it a reliving of something I’ve just “bought into”? I’ll be the first to admit that I give Lucasfilm way more leeway than they likely should be getting from me, or anyone for that matter. I don’t know why, but they’ve got me. Hook, Line, and Sinker. I am their target audience, and they should just hook up a vacuum cleaner to my wallet, simply to cut out the middle man.
It’s been about two weeks since I was finally able to get a taste of that delicious interactive narcotic that is Star Wars, The Old Republic. For those who have been living under a rock for the past 3 years, or simply trying to ignore me, SWTOR is set about 3,700 years before the Original Trilogy of Films. It is the descendant of Bioware’s previous jaunts into the Old Republic era, Knights of the Old Republic, and Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords. It takes place in a time where the Sith Empire has returned, beat up the Republic, settled for an armistice, and now appears to be on the brink of ignoring that peace treaty.
You play a Jedi, or a Republic Trooper, or a Smuggler, or a Sith, or an Imperial Agent, or a Bounty Hunter. There are 8 unique storylines, one for every class. More so than every other MMO I’ve played, you almost want to be an “Alt-a-holic” and make at least one of every character to play through it just to do the storylines. I can already tell the Jedi Knight’s storyline is going to be epic. Like “Luke Skywalker across all three films” epic, with his own finale scene against the Emperor (…am I still taking about Luke, or the Jedi in TOR?).
Anyway, on Friday the 11th, I logged in to play. Apparently, every Weekend Test that had come before was assigned a “Squadron Number” by Bioware. I’m not really sure why they stopped the practice with this test, but they did. So the community named themselves, and dubbed those testing that particular weekend as “Squadron 11-11-11”. So with the rest of my “wingmen”, I logged into the game, went to the character creation screen, and made myself a Jedi Knight named Vyktor Khoth.
And then the screen went dark. And the phrase appeared. And the fanfare started. And once again, I bought into it all.
Gameplay in TOR is about what you’d expect from a modern day MMO. Move with the WADS keys or the mouse, look around by holding down the right mouse button. Strafe left and right. You’ve got your radar, and your tool bars filled with various powers and abilities, consumables and attacks. It’s still in Beta, and I’m hoping they’ve fixed some things, like the fact that the “Follow” command wasn’t working. Anyone who’s played City of Heroes for any length of time knows the easiest way to get to melee combat range with a mob is to “Follow” the damn thing.
Combat was smooth. REAL smooth. Bioware has gone nuts, making it so your character reacts and responds to various attacks. If something with a vibrosword runs up to you and swings, your character model with drop into a guard and try to parry the thing. A series of attacks between you and the opponent reveal a beautiful dance of strikes, parries, and counter-attacks.
Powers are fun and balanced. You feel like a hero, being able to take on multiple opponents at a time, but is still challenging. Companions are a huge bonus in this game; after level 8 you get to have one of 5 companions follow you around, helping you our in areas you're deficient. You can play and level a healer or a tank easily (or easier) in this game becuase your companion could be a tank, protecting you from harm, or a Damage machine, pumping out lightsaber attacks or blaster fire to help take out your opponets.
Meh, I could go on about the Tech stuff for a while...but I won't.
What gets me about TOR is that the storyline is compelling, and it matters. In previous MMOs, you talk to quest givers, get the plot dump on why you're going off the kill Lord High MucketyMuck, or gather 15 reagents for the Potion of Awesome Stabbing, but that's it. In TOR, you engage in dialouge; fully voiced from both the NPC's perspective and the PC's perspective. During every interaction you generally have 3-8 chances to choose your response, and your response matters. Your choice could earn you progress along the Dark or Light side paths, improve or worsen your relationship with the NPC (or your own companions).
It helps with the immersion. The ability to "buy in" to the Star Wars experience. You really get a sense that your choices matter, and that the story is truely influenced by what you do and say, even if it's only an illusion. I'm sure that if I roll-up a bunch of Jedi Knights over the time I'm playing this game, I'll be able to see that my choices in my main quest dialouge don't really matter all that much with how the story unfolds. But that's well in the future, this is now when the game's all shinney and new and full of awe.
I mentioned the whole squadron-thing the Beta Testers have had. This coming weekend represents the last Beta Test Weekend for The Old Republic. After Monday the 28th, it's on to polish, refine, and set up for the big Early Start weekend, beginning on December 15th. I've got whatever time I can squeeze in from Friday the 25th until sometime late on Monday the 28th to absorb all the excitement, and play experience, until the official launch on December 15th.
It's crazy; it feels like Bioware put visual narcotics in their game. I can't get enough of it. I've always considered my biggest Sin was Gluttony, and no, not because I'm an over-weight nerd (although that's a related factor). I want to overload my senses, I want to take in so much I'm full, and then I want to take in more. I want my cravings satisfied, and it seems like they never can be.
That is certainly the case with The Old Republic.
I'm not going to quit my job to play all the day until my money runs out. I'm not going to neglect my responsibilities as an adult, nor my RPGs, my hobbies, and especially not my fiancee. What I am going to do is try to take in all I can of The Old Republic, when I can, and as often as possible.
I'll be doing that this weekend, getting in all the TOR I can. If you're playing this weekend, or any time after the 15th, drop me a line. I'll let you know what server I'm on.
And as my buddy likes to say, "See you with a name over your head".