I’ve been a Bioware fanboy since I first played Neverwinter Nights back in 2002. I’ve played nearly every game they’ve published and loved almost all of them. The Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) franchise is what really put the company on the console map and made Bioware a household name for gamers. Mass Effect proved their ability again so that by the time Dragon Age: Origins release, their credibility for success was as high as legendary companies like Bethesda and Blizzard. A gaming company with proven success combined with the rich and exciting Star Wars universe had all the parts required to be a great MMORPG.
I want to preface the body of this review by making a very emphatic statement: Star Wars: The Old Republic (TOR) had the best leveling process of any MMORPG I have ever played. While the grind from level 1 to max level is usually the most daunting task, full of trudging through zone after zone of grinding meaningless quests, I never once felt like I was wasting my time in TOR. Bioware made clear that they wished to add storytelling and meaningful character progression to the MMORPG formula, and they surpassed expectations. I felt more attached to my Jedi Sage by the time he was max level than I did to my Blood Elf Mage whom I played for over 3 years. The voice acting added another level of depth to the quests and made everything feel more meaningful, and even the most mundane of TOR quests felt like an adventure that couldn’t be missed. Unfortunately, I stopped playing almost immediately after reaching the max level.
The state of the MMORPG right now is such that everyone knows what the endgame is. Everyone knows that the best part is the final level, with massive groups working together to take down gigantic bosses, or tightly-knit teams clashing for PvP dominance. It’s a constant struggle for new MMORPGs to compete with the amount of endgame content that established titles have. As much momentum as TOR generated with its fantastic leveling process, it quickly hit a roadblock when it came to endgame content. Only a few guilds were large enough to have a competitive presence in end-game content, and what content that was there was not enough to keep players invested or entertained for an extended period. While time has helped with this problem, a large enough portion of the players base chose not to keep their subscriptions going, and TOR adopted a hybrid free-to-play model nearly a year after its release.
Lack of endgame incentive was something that many players expected, but it became an even more depressing reality as the greatness of TOR was experienced. The voice acting was top notch and the game had a very endearing visual style. Similar to World of Warcraft, the game featured visuals that were cartoony enough to be operational on lesser computers, but still good enough not to be considered childish. The various worlds showed a wide range of contrasting visual themes that proved just how great TOR could really be. Players traversed the coarse sands of Tatooine and the frozen landscape of Hoth, but could still be awestruck by the beauty of Alderaan. Not only did each of these planets receive ample amount of time for exploration, but the story that guided players through their journeys ensured that leveling was always coherent and very little time was spent wandering around wondering where to quest next.
While it’s almost impossible not to compare an MMORPG to World of Warcraft, it’s still important to judge a game on its own merit. Were it not for the lack of endgame content to keep players interested, I believe that it would’ve been a worthy successor to the MMORPG throne. Now, despite not having as many subscribers, I’m not entirely convinced it isn’t the better game. The questing and grinding remains infinitely more enjoyable than any other MMORPG experience I’ve ever had, and the game has had enough time to build upon the foundation that was set during release. Perhaps the best news for gamers is that TOR can be played for free. While the free-to-play accounts suffer from a number of penalties, including reduced experience gains and limits on how much money they can carry, it’s still an enjoyable experience. If you’ve never tried TOR, or even if you tried it on release and haven’t picked it up since, I highly recommend revisiting it. With additions such as new flashpoints and PvP space ship battles, you may be surprised by what you see.