Monday, January 02, 2012

Res Publica

I was recently delighted/infuriated to receive "Star Wars: The Old Republic" as a gift. SW:TOR is the latest MMORPG to attempt to take on World of Warcraft (WoW), the undisputed champion of the genre for nearly a decade. I've been having a blast, and will probably write a more in-depth post at some point, but I wanted to share a few initial thoughts while they're fresh.

First, the vitals. I'm playing on Lord Ieldis, a West Coast RP-PvE server. When picking a server, I was a bit surprised to see that, at the moment, there seem to be nearly twice as many East Coast servers as West Coast. Now that I've thought about it some more, though, people from both CT and ET will probably play on East Coast, while PT and MT will play West Coast. There are (probably) way more people in Central Time than on Mountain Time, so I guess that makes sense.

I picked a roleplaying (RP) server mostly because I figured the game would be more fun if other humans acted more like NPCs and less like over-caffeinated twelve-year-olds. Thus far, people don't seem to be taking the RP designation too seriously; the General Chat channel was filled with discussions about quests and game rules, until I muted it about three minutes in. Finally, I knew I wanted to do a Player-versus-Environment (PvE) rather than Player-versus-Player (PvP). I'm usually much more interested in quests than in combat; I'm unlikely to ever feel like "picking on" other players; and, in any case, even PvE servers have zones where you can engage in PvP, so I wouldn't be giving up that experience, just making it more controllable.

My character is Seberin, a male cyborg Imperial Agent (and, as of last night, an Operative). I'm always drawn towards rogue-type characters in RPGs, so Imperial Agent and Smuggler made the most sense. My brother is planning on playing on the Sith side, so I went with the class that's on the proper side of the conflict.

As with other MMOs, I've been a tad disappointed so far in the Agent. In the best single-playing RPGs, rogues let you play in an entirely different way: sneaking around to avoid combat, charming your way through situations, and so on. However, in MMOs, everything seems to come down to fighting; the Agent does it with a bit more style (firing from cover, shivving enemies who get too close), but it's still about picking what type of damage you want to deal, not finding entirely new ways to accomplish your goals. I do wish that at least a few missions would let you complete them in non-lethal ways, but whatever. Now that I'm playing as an Operative, who does have actual Stealth capability, maybe that will become more feasible.

I was really happy, and surprised, to see that your choice of faction (Old Republic or Sith Empire) is independent of your force alignment (Light or Dark). That lets me role-play as the kind of character I want to play: a devious, duplicitous, greedy rogue who still has a soft spot for innocents and despises hierarchical organizations. At the moment I've collected close to a thousand Light Side points, and just around a hundred Dark Side. So far this doesn't have any impact, but from what I understand, it will eventually affect the types of items I can use, and maybe even my titles and appearance.

At first I'd felt a little bummed that we had a Light Side and Dark Side at all. It echoes the boring, reductive morality found in so many non-Bioware RPGs; I do love games like Fallout and Bioshock, but their "moral" systems are so laughably contrived ("Press X to destroy this box of kittens!") that it's impossible to immerse yourself in the choice. It really ends up not being about choice at all; you'll just pick one alignment, then always follow that choice, not because it fits the story or your personality but because it leads to the biggest in-game bonuses. Once I got farther into the game, though, I was happy to see that, while the Light Side and Dark Side do function as one-dimensional moral choices, the game ALSO layers on a relationship-based moral system strongly evocative of Dragon Age, which has by far my favorite moral system of any RPGs. In this system, your companions will react to decisions you make. They aren't driven by simple black-and-white, good-and-evil choices. My current companion, Kaliyo, is a mercenary; she likes it when I taunt people, or when I make unexpected decisions, or when I betray my employers. It's totally possible to finish a conversation and be rewarded with both Light Side points, as well as positive affection from her. The more I think about it, the happier I am with this system. After all, you couldn't have Star Wars without the Light Side and the Dark Side; they're integral to the canon. Within the game's universe, those things exist, and they're presented well. At the same time, the game makes room for characters like Han Solo, who aren't "good" but live by their own code.

I think that's it for now. I started playing Tuesday night, and hit level 11 on Saturday night, so in the early part of the game I'm gaining perhaps around 1 level per hour, though I expect that will slow down significantly as I continue to advance. I'm playing solo at the moment, but now that I'm off my starting world, I will probably have more opportunities to meet up with other classes and possibly do some party-based missions. So far, my favorite part of this experience has been the vast scope of the game world, and the Bioware-quality dialog. If they can manage to improve the mission variety, then I can see myself staying hooked for a long time.


  1. Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. I'm in now- same server, Sith Warrior. My only regret is that I have not yet had a chance to use the ole Chokie Roberts.