Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO Log Part One: Light and Dark Running Smuggler

While the rest of Kotaku dedicated themselves to squeezing every ounce of gaming out of the world we live in last week, I spent the latter half on vacation, and by "on vacation" I mean playing Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I have a knack for scheduling my holiday time to coincide with the launch of major massively multiplayer online games. When LEGO Universe came out I was not only on vacation, I was deathly ill as well, which made for a wonderful first week experience. This time around I only spent my first three days in this new Star Wars galaxy in the grips of a horrific, gut-twisting stomach bug.

So I might have been feeling a little mean when I created my first character. Fahey, a Smuggler by trade, is a large, beefy man with a handlebar moustache. He's Sons of Anarchy meets Son of Anakin, only several thousand years in the past when everything was exactly the same, just slightly different.

What sort of trouble did I smuggle out of Star Wars: The Old Republic this week?

Star Wars: The Old Republic isn't quite built like your average MMO game. Instead of generic characters playing through generic adventures, each of the game's eight classes has their own specific storyline to follow. For instance, my Smuggler begins the game by having his prized ship stolen by a less scrupulous Smuggler than he, launching him on a galaxy-spanning journey of self-discovery and revenge.

It also means I can't really go too deep into the experience without completely spoiling the story for you. Yes, BioWare has introduced the spoiler into the MMO market. Thanks, guys.

What I can tell you is that by implementing a strict set of rules for dealing with decisive situation, I quickly developed Fahey into his own man, despite having the same companions and story as every other Smuggler in the game.

I can also tell you that with few exceptions my first 20 hours in the game have been quite enjoyable. I've traveled from the war-torn backwater or Ord Mantell to the glimmering spires and dirty back alleys of the Republic capital of Coruscant; from the wild, overgrown planet of Tarsis to Nar Shadaa, the back alley of the universe. I've met some very interesting characters, chatted up beautiful women, sometimes managing not to shoot them dead afterwards. I've even managed to waste a little time just cruising about in the game's self-driven taxis, seeing the sights and trying to take my mind off the fact that nothing in this universe changes on a technological level for some 10,000 years.

You know what? For the sake of providing a concise and easy-to-swallow accounting of what I loved and hated during my time with The Old Republic thus far, I thought I'd modify something we used to use on Kotaku a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Light Side

Ground Combat: Despite the fact that my Smuggler has to dive for cover before the start of every battle to be effective, I'm really enjoying the ground combat of The Old Republic. Or perhaps it's because of that fact. It certainly feels Star Wars-y, leaping behind a barrel and coming up blasters firing. Let's face it, the series wasn't written by a master of warfare. BioWare understands the flow of battle a bit better at least, and nothing's quite as satisfying as tossing an explosive charge at an enemy and then detonating it with a well-clicked barrage of blaster fire. It's silly, but it's Star Wars all the same.

Choice: Light Side or Dark Side of the Force isn't a choice limited to the faction you choose in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Both sides possess the potential for great light and great darkness, and that plays out in the choices you make while playing through the game's many missions. There are just as many ruthless evil bastards in BioWare's Star Republic as there are in the Empire, and I just happen to be one of them. I can't wait to play a goody-two-shoe Sith Warrior.

Companions: Another idea I felt didn't fit with MMO sensibilities, BioWare proved my instincts wrong with their innovative companion system. Much more than just an AI partner that follows you around like a lost puppy, these characters each have their own story you slowly unravel through the course of the game. You grow to enjoy their company, oftentimes more than the actual humans you come across. Plus you get to dress them up and call them names when they disagree with you, which is always a plus.

Crafting: Speaking of companions, The Old Republic's crafting skill system is one of the greatest of any MMO I've played, mainly due to the fact that you aren't actually doing the crafting. Your stable of companion characters can be tasked with creating a new item at any given time, disappearing from your side to pursue whatever silly errand you choose to send them on. Even gathering professions have a set of missions you can send your peons on, freeing you up to explore these fantastical science fiction worlds at your leisure.

Dark Side

Group Missions: I'm not talking about teaming up with a few compatriots to take down a particular world boss or random mission here; rather I speak of Flashpoints, the special group story missions that give each player a chance to weigh in via the BioWare's signature dialog system. How it works is an NPC will issue a question, you answer it, and then wait forever for your colleagues to do the same. Random dice are rolled, and the party member with the highest roll gets to answer the query. It seems like a great idea, but in practice it's slow, sloppy, and downright annoying, especially when there's one member of the group that hasn't done the mission before and insists on watching the entire scene play out before answering.

Space Combat: You've already seen what I think of space combat in The Old Republic. It's a glorified mini-game, and it's not really all that glorified. At least its relatively easy experience for those willing to take the time to upgrade their ship parts and sick about the screen a lot.

Travel: The problem with having a game that spans some 15 or so planets at launch is finding an efficient way for players to travel between those planets. BioWare's solution is not particularly elegant. Public transportation is available on each planet to make things a bit easier, but between planets you have to make your way to your character's special starship dock, watch a long loading screen to get into the ship, run to the controls to warp to a new planet, run back to the ship exit, and then load into the new planet. It's a rather tedious process and one of the main reasons I spend so much time playing the space combat mini-game.

Bugs: Many portions of The Old Republic could use a little fixing up, and I'm not talking aesthetically. Portions of Coruscant, for instance, warped in and out of view as I tried to traverse them, while on Tarsis a brutal memory leak bug left me unable to complete the bonus set of missions on the planet's surface. The game will often semi-lock, my character rubber banding until I close the program and reboot. Tree textures will shimmer while in mission conversations, drawing attention away from whatever it was the NPC was telling you at the time. It's BioWare's first MMO, so I'm leaning towards cutting them a little slack, but some of these issues definitely should have been addressed before launch.

Well that certainly felt good. Glad to get all of that off my chest. Mind you these are just my opinions after the first week of playing and are subject to change.

You can look forward to any changes as well as my take on some of the game's other characters and PVP combat in next week's installment of the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO Log.

Kotaku's MMO reviews are a multi-part process. Rather than deliver day one reviews based on beta gameplay, we play the game for four weeks before issuing our final verdict. Once a week we deliver a log detailing when and how we played the game. We believe this gives readers a frame of reference for the final review. Since MMO titles support many different types of play, readers can compare our experiences to theirs to determine what the review means to them.