Out With The Old, In With The Naboo
The second MMO to be based on George Lucas fertile sci-fi universe, BioWares Old Republic is an instantly familiar experience, the design sharing more than a passing similarity with Blizzards masterful World of Warcraft. Old Republic stringently adopts the fundamentals of its wizard and warlock counterpart, the main quests being standard MMO fare fetch quests, assassination missions and general exploration coupled with the customary early grind before unlocking the more captivating aspects. Yet, BioWares epic comes with a neat twist on tradition, introducing elements from the studios solid history in role-playing games.
Whether players align with the Empire or the Republic, embark on adventures in space as a Han Solo-style Smuggler, force-wielding Jedi or Sith, a Boba Fett-like Bounty Hunter or a lowly Trooper, each of the eight classes has its own unique story-driven narrative. BioWare shuffles dominant story arcs through player conversations, companions thatll accompany you along the way and the odd twist thrown in as a consequence to choices made several hours and star systems earlier. Suffice to say, fans of Mass Effect or Dragon Age will feel right at home.
Unfortunately, while a record-breaking amount of dialogue has been recorded for the game, the characters simply fail to emote moments of drama are easily spoilt by flat delivery, but rarely at the detriment of the compelling narrative. Most off-putting of all, youll have to invest over ten hours into the epic before it really begin to unfold, but when it does it unveils a universe teeming with possibilities. Several distractions are considerately placed, encouraging further exploration: space combat proves a welcome palate-cleanser (while offering plenty of XP to boot), while player-versus-player encounters and Flashpoints (ostensibly dungeons) kindle the community flames.
At this stage PVP modes need some future refinement (with no level banding, more experienced players dominate as theres a wide variety of skill) and the light side/dark side morality system is a little heavy-handed (youre encouraged to stick with one or the other), nevertheless its an astonishing accomplishment for a debut MMO. As it diligently balances classic genre staples with BioWares trademark theatrics, it lacks the whimsical charm of the ubiquitous World of Warcraft, but given time for some fine-tuning it may just usurp the throne yet.