When the RPG masters at BioWare team up with George Lucas' beloved science fiction franchise amazing things happen, but is the developer's first foray into the MMO market worth your massively multiplayer money?
A Star Wars: The Old Republic review isn't built in a day. With changes and tweaks being made constantly up to launch day and beyond and so much of the experience relying on the growing game community, day one reviews based on beta experience aren't really able to provide a comprehensive look at a massively multiplayer online game. Even after 20 hours playing in the game's early launch I would hesitate in delivering a definitive recommendation or condemnation of BioWare's latest and greatest. Instead I'll be following our established MMO reviewing formula: Four weekly impressions-filled gameplay journals followed by a final verdict based on those experiences.
While you'll have to wait until tomorrow for the first of those journals, I can at least give you my off-the-cuff suggestion based on what I've seen so far. Normally we try to gather three early opinions, two from those that have played the game and one from someone without much experience. We're only doing two this time around, with Owen Good (my MMO apprentice) as the non-player and me as the player, though at nearly two dozen hours I've barely scratched the surface.
This is exactly the sort of situation that requires a Gut Check.
Michael Fahey, a dark and evil MMO player whose two children may be the only hope for a doomed galaxy: I've had many doubts over the development cycle that BioWare, a company known for its single-player role-playing games, had what it takes to create a proper massively multiplayer online RPG. The developer's focus on emotionally engaging stories just didn't seem to mesh with the idea of a large online world populated by thousands of players.
After playing Star Wars: The Old Republic in both beta and now more than 20 hours of early access, I'm still not convinced BioWare can craft a massively multiplayer experience that can stand the test of time. The portions of the game that focus on multiple players getting together in crafted player-versus-environment and player-versus-player scenarios don't feel nearly as polished and balanced as those of other games in the genre. There are some excellent ideas here that I will get into with my weekly journals, but I'm not sure they can carry the weight of a monthly subscription yet.
So how come the big graphic up top is all green? Because Star Wars: The Old Republic is at its core eight different single-player BioWare Star Wars stories rolled up into one. Each of the eight classes in the game has its own story that sees players travelling to the far corners of the galaxy in pursuit of their own personal adventure. My Smuggler, for instance, has developed an intense rivalry with a rival operator. I hate this bastard, and can't wait to see how he gets his final comeuppance at the end of the storyline. Consider me emotionally engaged.
To bottom line it, for $59.99 you get eight different single-player BioWare Star Wars games that just happen to have other people wandering about in them. You've got a month to play through them all and figure out if the massively multiplayer aspects of The Old Republic are worth subscribing to. Yes.
Owen Good, who turned to the MMO side and became Darth Fahey's apprentice this year: In practical terms, buying this game is a pretty simple "no" for me right now—I'm a Mac user. I'd be lying, however, if I not only thought about buying a copy of Windows 7 for use in Boot Camp, but also moved up my purchase of a new computer to yesterday in the vague hope I could find a way to play The Old Republic on it. That would make this game effectively cost some $1,500, and though that's prohibitively expensive, there's still a powerful gut feeling in me that The Old Republic is something worth joining. I do not have the budget for it now, but it's a lead-pipe cinch I'll be playing the game, somehow, in the next three or four months. Considering what I'll have to overcome to do that, it makes it a Yes.
Gut Check is an off-the-cuff impression of what we think of a game: what we'd tell a friend; how we'd respond on Twitter or Facebook or over a beer if someone asked us "Would you buy this game?" Our lead writer, who has played a lot of the game, decides. Other writers chime in for additional points of view.