[Gaming] A look at The Old Republic

This weekend, I (like just about anyone who signed on but wasn’t accepted earlier) got a chance to try out The Old Republic in a stress test. Ever since I heard about this game, I told people I wouldn’t buy it if I didn’t first have a chance to try it out, however, I couldn’t help but secretly be a bit excited about it.  So now that I had this chance at was essentially a free trial, I took it with both hands and gripped it tight until my claws tore into its flesh and blood ran  down my arm into my sleeves.
Once I got past the insane (five minutes! Teh horrorz!) queue times, I did what every sensible person should do in my situation: I made a twi’lek. A smuggler by the name of Lynneiah, because if anything, I’m original as fuck when it comes to naming my RPG characters (guess what my Nord in Skyrim is called). However, I did get to choose the patterns on my brain-tails. Make of that what you will.
My journey took me from level one to level thirteen,  and from a planet whose name I forgot that was facing a separatist rebellion (Star Wars people are about as original with their names for factions as I am with RPG characters) to the planet-wide city (seriously, where DOES all the poop go?) of Coruscant. At that point the quest for my main story-line was too high level to solo, and I couldn’t be bothered with the sidequests, so I went back to Jorrvaskr to get piss-drunk on mead. Or at least my twi’lek’s namesake did.

Anyway, I do believe I have played enough to have a sufficient first-impressions of this game, and I’d like to share some points because I like ranting about video games about as much as I like playing the damn things.

-Dialogue choices? Voice acting? In my MMO?

More likely than you might think. Then again, this IS a BioWare game, and they seem to have grasped one basic truth: Quest texts are fucking boring. In TOR, people talk to you by actually talking to you. And you get to choose how you reply to them from a wheel with usually three options anyone who has played Mass Effect will be familiar with. Every line of dialogue is voice acted. Even better, every line is voice acted really well. And I was able to make some quips that genuinely made me giggle. However, while every line of NPC dialogue was unique, the player character sometimes used the same lines again. For example, if I had a penny for every time my character said ‘make me an offer and I’ll think about it’ in my 13 levels of playing alone I’d have… about seven pennies. I understand that coming up with new ways of saying basically the same thing indefinitely is tricky, though, so I’m not really sure how this can be fixed.

-Black and White morality, the bane of my existence.

I’m not sure if I haven’t said it before on this blog, though I would be surprised if I didn’t, but I believe the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are bullshit. “Every coin has a flipside, and now that you’re focusing on that flipside, don’t forget about the other flipside” is a phrase I’m trying to make more catchy (suggestions?), but basically sums up my life’s philosophy. Nothing is so bad it has no redeemable factors; likewise, nothing is so good it doesn’t have any drawbacks. If anyone tells you otherwise, they’re either naive or bullshitting you. This is true in real life, and I’d like the same to be true in fiction.
But this is BioWare, right? The guys who brought us Dragon Age, a setting with so many shades of grey you wonder if there are any other colours at all? Yes, but this is also Star Wars. And Star Wars has a clearly defined Light and Dark Side. And while it’s being presented as morally grey (there’s a lot of shit in the Republic, while some Imperials are actually honest people), and it is possible to play a morally grey character, you get punished for doing so. Why? Morality meters.
I fucking hate morality meters.
At many points in the game, you get to make a moral decision, and based on that decision, you either get Light Side or Dark Side points. These points move you up and down a morality meter showing you how Light or how Dark you are, essentially beating the concept of ‘shades of grey’ by quantifying good and evil, and having opposite-aligned actions cancel each other out like 1/1 and -1/-1 counters, essentially forcing you to pick one side and sticking to it if you want to reap the rewards of being ‘maxed out’ in good or evil. Now, to be fair, I haven’t seen any of these rewards yet, so I have no idea how desirable they are, but my main point is that morality meters stifle roleplay.
Yeah, I roleplay my character, okay? They may all have the same name, but they all have a background, a personality and a set of morals and ideals that doesn’t necessarily fit with what the game decides is ‘good’ or ‘evil’.
Anyway, I lost my train of thought here, but bottom line: morality meters are bad, and BioWare should only ever use Dragon Age’s morality system, because that’s the only one that made any sense.

-Why the fuck is this game an MMO?

What I mean is, why is this game not essentially a single-player game with multiplayer capabilities? You know, optional multiplayer capabilities? I can see myself playing this game with a group of friends, and enjoy my time. However,  I do not see myself enjoying having people steal my kills all the time, or clog up around an NPC I really need to talk to.
Or fucking take off all the clothes of their NPC companions and think they’re hilarious for having them run around naked.
Point is, the internet is filled with morons, and I don’t want to spend more time with morons than I absolutely have to. What I propose is how Guild Wars (the first Guild Wars, that is) did things: have a few public areas, towns and such, lump all players together there, where they can interact with each other through means other than whispers, and group up, and have the rest of the world instanced, so players who want to quest on their own can quest on their own. And I really see no reason why this isn’t the case. None.

-Isn’t shooting people supposed to be fun?

Maybe it’s because I ignored most side-quests and focused almost entirely on the main story-line, and because of that, my level became progressively lower compared to that of my enemies, but my fights became more and more tedious and less enjoyable as time went on. This is a bad thing, by the way.
However, part of the problem, I feel, is also that they copied WoW too much while at the same time being different from WoW. For instance, they took away auto-attacks, but they kept the action-bar-and-cooldown-based combat style. And I’m completely fed up with both. Why not make it, say, a third person shooter? With lightsabers! Or another system that makes the player’s skill just as important as their character’s level compared to that of the enemy they’re fighting. Something that doesn’t make me groan whenever I can’t run around a group of enemies and avoid them altogether.
This action-bar-and-cooldown-based system works in Dragon Age because the game is sufficiently challenging, AND you get to control four characters at once. And even then I’d gladly admit combat was DA’s main weak point.
On a somewhat related note:

-Have enemies level up with you

Here’s an idea (that I completely stole from The Elder Scrolls): have all enemies be exactly the same level as you. You level up? So do they. The game already gives several mobs several types of ‘eliteness’, making them harder than their compatriots of equal level. This is a good mechanic to make certain quests more challenging. You don’t need to lock a certain area, and thus all quests related to that area, to a certain power level, making it inaccessible to lower-level characters, but absurdly easy for higher-level characters. I think that’s an outdated concept, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it join the dodo. Preferably before the panda bear does so, so chop chop.
Of course, part of why I’m complaining about this is because my main quest line (which was the most interesting one by far) was artificially blocked off to me by having the next step require me to be five levels higher, frustrating me enough that I plain didn’t feel like playing the game anymore.
And I have to wonder, why shouldn’t I be allowed to follow just the main quest line? I found its plot almost forcing my character to only focus on it to the point that getting sidetracked by other business would seem illogical.
I will admit this one pretty much requires the previously mentioned ‘make everything instanced’ idea, but I don’t see that as a bad thing.

-While you’re at it, steal Skyrim’s level-up system as well.

Because WoW’s is shit, and stealing that is stupid.
Even Blizzard has (finally) realized their talent tree is an outdated concept where people find what is objectively the best build within days of any major update (and picking anything but that build makes you a poor player), and I don’t see how it would be any different having the (exact) same tree system in TOR.

Anyway, I have to admit I was growing really fond of my Twi’lek smuggler, and I’m still not sure if I want to pay for the final product, plus a monthly subscription fee to continue playing with her (or rather, start over). I enjoyed my time spent with the game, but I honestly don’t see it keeping me entertained for long enough. I also feel that there is too much opportunities to innovate BioWare just passed on and instead copied WoW. The story is, from what I’ve seen of it anyway, excellent, and dialogues are really fun, however it seems that that’s the game’s only selling point. To me, anyway. And I’m not sure whether that’s enough or not to warrant paying a monthly subscription. Mind you, there’s A LOT of story (eight times KotOR’s worth, I’ve been told).
I think I spent, in total, maybe eight or so hours on the game, and then I just turned it off because I wanted to do something else. And now, more than a full day after I stopped playing, I still want to do something else. However, I also want to know what happens next to my smuggler. I could watch a Let’s Play when they come out, but that wouldn’t be *my* smuggler.

Fuck you, BioWare. Fuck you.

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