Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Where I play The Old Republic

So in my last entry I described my attempts at buying this game and the brick walls I ran into just trying to download it.  Suffice to say, I finally managed to get it to work.  After a four hour installation, where it downloaded 25GBs worth of files and patches from the internet, I was ready to play.

Let me preface this by making two disclaimers.  First, I was a HUGE fan of the original Knights of the Old Republic (hereafter called Kotor), which is the main reason why I've been chomping at the bit to play this. The original Kotor is, in my opinion, one of the best RPGs ever made.  Wonderful design, wonderful characters, great moral-choice system, and a roundhouse kick of a twist that I never saw coming.  It's the first game I ever played that upon finishing it, I instantly began again with a new character.  It's the game that inspired me to get into game design.  It's the gold standard, as far as I'm concerned, of how to blend story and gameplay and has yet to be topped.
Oh, you.

Second disclaimer, I know nothing about MMOs aside from what I've gleaned from popular culture and watching The Guild.  I've heard terms like "aggro" and "flashpoints" and "instances" but have no idea what they really mean.  So I was going into this a total MMO newb, knowing nothing except that I liked the franchise.  So this "review" such as it is, is for people like me who don't care about MMOs but really want Kotor 3.

So let's dive in.  The first thing I do is create my character.  I do this very weird thing when creating characters these days.  Whenever a game lets me customize my avatar's features, I will often choose the female option and make her look as much like my wife as I can.  So here's my lovely Sith Inquisitor, Janet:

I am either the best husband ever or the worst.

(Sith Janet also joins the ranks of Janet Shepherd, Janet Hawke, Janet the Grey Warden, Janet the New Vegas Courier, and Janet the leader of the Third Row Saints.  I'm sure there's a psychological reason why I do this, but I'm not equipped to figure it out.  It doesn't bother my wife (she is actually flattered), so I keep doing it.)

Anyway, the Sith Inquisitor campaign starts on Korriban, which made me happy because Korriban was my favorite area of the original game.  Korriban is the birthplace of the Sith Empire, and the Sith have recaptured it after a bloody battle.  The Empire needs raw recruits, so they offer slaves the chance to earn their freedom by training at the new Sith Academy on Korriban. I, or rather my character avatar, am one of those former slaves.

Right away, things look good.  I walk out of my shuttle and into the academy, where I am greeting by my new instructor who is not impressed with me at all.  I am presented with several dialog options during this conversation, where I am given the usual opportunities for role playing.  I can bow my head and say "Yes master" and take the abuse, I can lash out at the instructor and threaten to kill him when his back is turned, or I can relish my new position to kill for the Empire.  It's all very Star Wars, and a nice way to introduce the game.  Either way, I am given my first task: to enter a tomb and speak to a hermit who has sequestered himself in there.  He's going to give me some kind of test.

So I wander off into the valley where the tombs are.  Let's see what kind of trouble I can get into...

Eat lightning!

K'lor'slugs.  Lots of them.  They fall quickly to my force lightening strikes and trainee lightsaber thing.  I make my way towards the tomb, slaughtering K'lor'slugs as I go, feeling pretty badass.  I realize I've gone the wrong way and turn around, only to come across my first difference between this and the original single-player game.

All the K'lor'slugs I killed have are now back again.  There's not even a dead sluggy body as a reminder of my victories.  I suppose I should have expected that (the other players need something to kill as well), but it's hard to retain that that sense of accomplishment when I clear an area of foes, only to have them pop back into existence again. But no matter.  Off into the tomb I go...

More K'lor'slugs, but bigger!

I'm beginning to see a pattern here.  Lots of small and easy enemies to kill to get you used to the mechanics, with the occasional bigger and slightly harder one to make you feel more powerful.  As I make my way into the tomb, I find a message on a datapad.  It says that there are looters in the tomb and to dispose of them as you see fit.

Hm.  In thinking about it, all the quests on Korriban involve going into tombs and looting what's inside.  What makes those looters any different from me?


So yeah.  I won't take you through the game step-by-step, but the rest of Korriban is pretty much like this.  Get a task from your instructor, which usually involves going into a tomb, and bring back some ancient artifact.  There's a bit of intrigue involving your instructor and his master, which is all wonderfully told.  All the lovely original Kotor conversation/character goodness is definitely present; the only problem is that you have to work so much harder to get there.  There's a lot more emphasis on combat, for good or ill.

The game really picked up when I got my first companion character. Much like the original Kotor, you can have companion characters that fight alongside you.  Not only that, you can have conversations with them and influence their approval of you by what you say or do. 

My companion character is a hulking creature named Khem Val. He was the proud servant of a Sith Lord who existed a thousand years ago.  I found him trapped in a tomb vault on Korriban, where he was waiting for his long-dead master to return to him.  In freeing him, he became bound to me and began to fight alongside me.  We made a good team, as he was a close-quarters fighter and I preferred blasting my enemies from a distance with lightning.  He's also completely insane - his approval of me goes up everytime I do something particularly evil or bloodthirsty.

Just a Sith Apprentice and her pet psycho

This was what I was looking for.  My favorite part of Bioware games (and the original Kotor especially) was having party members I could talk to. And Khem Val is a pretty interesting character.  He hasn't said much so far, but he does pipe in during conversations and offer to eat my enemies for me, which I definitely appreciate.

There is a side-effect of having a companion character, and one that I can't help but think is odd.  This is a multi-player game, so often you will see other guys running around and doing their thing.

Like this guy, Margol. On the same quest as me, I assume.

I've never been what you'd call a very social gamer, but it was an interesting experience seeing other players running around the landscape.  Sometimes I'd be throwing lightning on a higher-level monster and getting nowhere, only to see another player leap in and come to my rescue.  I'd often pay the favor forward - zapping away on a monster that another player is fighting.  I don't talk to the players and they don't talk to me, but it's kind of cool in an esoteric way.

But there's one REALLY weird side-effect of having other players around.  That companion character of mine, that ancient monster who slumbered in a tomb for a thousand years only to wake up and join forces with me... ain't so unique after all:

What? I didn't tell you about my 962 twin brothers?

You want to feel special and cool because you've got this awesome character to pal around with, but then you see dozens of other players are running around with identical clones of him. It's one of those MMO-isms, I guess, but it does ruin the immersion just a tad.

So that pretty sums up my three days of playing this game.  Is it Kotor 3? No. But is it fun? Yeah, I'd say so.  I'm enjoying playing it.  The ratio of combat to character interaction is higher than I'd like, but it's not ridiculously so.  There's a ton of content on offer, and lots of ways to play through the game.  When I get tired of the Sith path I will probably try the Jedi path, just to see what it's like.  So for what it's worth, consider it a recommendation from me.



  1. I am completely new to MMOs as well as you and I have exactly the same problems with this game. Originally I was really into singleplaying, but I decided to try anything else with this Star Wars product. I can´t say I am disappointed but honestly, when some guy on battlefield tells you that he didn´t see a Jedi for a really long time and you are sure you saw just three of other players pass thru him..In this moment is the game experience ruined.

  2. Yeah, it's that weird disconnect between story and gameplay. Like the Sith Lord who gave me a task and I betrayed him horribly, but instead of coming after me he's just remains where I left him, and barely reacts to my presence. You'd think he'd attack me or something, being Sith and all. I know he has to stay there because other players need to talk to him, but it requires a level of disbelief-suspension that I've never used before.

  3. It is so exciting to see how gameplay influences the game experience. The feeling doesn´t depend on 3D graphics(your Blackwell games are proof of that). Fun is based on credibility of the world a characters and that is the reason why I love singleplayer games so much. Basicly the game is built only for you, not for thousands of identical jedis who play the same story as you.

  4. I don't mind seeing all the other players around, as it's supposed to be a world populated by lots of Jedis, Siths, etc. But the one thing I really miss is having my choices matter. Or at least, the choices having any epic impact. In the MMO, they only have minor effects on whatever quest you're on (e.g., kill the ship's captain for being a traitor, and the lieutenant takes command so you speak with her. Let him live, and you continue to speak to the captain for the rest of the mission), or how your companions feel about you, but nothing earth-shattering. At least, not yet. I've only just left the tutorial area, so I imagine there's much more to be found.

  5. It's interesting to read a "new to MMO" player's point of view on this game, especially compared to the other KOTOR titles. Unfortunately, SWTOR is light on some of the factors that made KOTOR so appealing, but as you say, Dave, I believe it successfully melds the world of MMOs with KOTOR to create an enjoyable experience. There actually are some gameplay differences with your choices that I've encountered... for example: when you let that captain live that you speak of (in Black Talon), you actually fight a boss (or rather, a group of bosses) that you don't encounter if you kill him. Sadly, from what I've heard this isn't the case regularly throughout the rest of the game, making me believe BioWare had to cut some corners. Maybe future patches will bring more "choice matters" stuff!

  6. I loved KOTOR and enjoyed KOTOR 2... I'm just not sure about this one. I also have no interest in MMOs, so it would only be the single-player campaign that I would want to play (although since my GPU seems to be bust, I wouldn't be able to anyway at the moment!).

    Will see if you post any more about the game after you've been playing it for longer...

  7. It's getting more interesting the more I play, actually. Now that I'm off the tutorial planet and into the meat of the game, there's a lot of interesting story-based quests. The cult of Ravenites (who worship the player character from the first game!) is especially cool. But like I said, the story stuff is definitely there and it's good, but the game makes you work a heck of a lot more to get there.

  8. I was watching an interview with one of the writers from SWTOR the other day and he mentioned something that I found interesting. Each class had a different writer for their story quests, so all the quests would feel connected and in the same style. He also said that their goal was to make each class feel like a different story genre. So the Smuggler is an action/adventure comedy, the Imperial Agent is a LeCarre-style espionage plot, etc. Since then, it's been fun to play each of the classes and try to figure out which genre I'm in.