As the opening crawl of each film reminds us, the spacefaring Star Wars tales we know and love don’t occur in the far-flung future but, rather, in the distant past. It’s appropriate, then, that Star Wars: The Old Republic does not represent the future of online role-playing games but a refinement of what has preceded it. Instead of opening a wormhole into an unknown dimension, BioWare has remained in the local galaxy, taking proven game mechanics and heightening them with the branching narrative and overall structure that have characterized the developer’s output for many a year now. The result is an enjoyable massively multiplayer online game with knockout production values. The Old Republic’s foundation is somewhat ordinary; what makes it great are the fine details that gild its edges.
Many of those details should be familiar to anyone that’s played a BioWare game in recent years, such as Mass Effect or Dragon Age II. However, The Old Republic owes less to past BioWare successes (including the related single-player role-playing game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic) than it does to the MMOGs that have come before. In fact, the license and a few other elements aside, the first hours of the game might have you thinking: “I’ve already played this game.” You select from a number of humanoid races, none of which seems particularly unusual, given the breadth of unusual creatures to be found in Star Wars lore. You then choose a faction (Sith Empire or Galactic Republic) and one of eight classes (and after the starting area, an advanced class).
The familiarity continues as you make your way through your class’s opening area. You take some missions and kill some creatures using the game’s straightforward hotkey combat system, all while a bunch of other people do the same thing. Where Star Wars: The Old Republic tries to stand out in this early stage is with its fully voiced character interactions. Other MMOGs have featured plenty of voice acting (EverQuest II, for example), but not to this extent. In The Old Republic, your interactions play out much as they do in BioWare’s single-player games: in oft-lengthy cutscenes in which you respond to others using a dialogue wheel. The three options for even the most minor of conversations are of the usual “kind,” “neutral,” and “mean” classifications.