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Last week I purchased Star Wars: The Old Republic.  This was something that I had intended to avoid, but considering that I wasn’t going to get my son into Eve Online anytime soon (if ever), I figured we should try something that we could both get into.  That being said, I had heard all manner of reviews of this game, ranging from it being awesome to it being a crappy WoW copy.  But I, having been a big fan of BioWare games, tended to think that many of the negative reviews didn’t have as much justification as the positive ones do.  I also played Star Wars Galaxies back in its heyday, when the game was cutting edge and challenging.. and I played it even a month after NGE went live.  Sadly, the NGE release doomed the game and this month it was finally shut down.

For those who haven’t played Star Wars: The Old Republic yet, I will flat out say that it is a good game that honors the other popular BioWare titles:  Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II, and the Mass Effect Series.  It also gives a wave to the older LucasArts games X-Wing and Tie Fighter, but only barely.  The game plays considerably like KOTOR and brings you along in your own story.  That being said, it does follow the typical leveling up system with selectable combat attributes (much like Mass Effect) that you can improve rather than the usual overall attributes.  Crafting is a bit of an afterthought as the loot you make (that I have seen thus far) is really just vendor trash.  Combat is pretty decent, though I wouldn’t say it is as good as Tabula Rasa, and you get a few buddies along the way that follow you around to help you in combat. 

I do see the dark hand of Lucas in the game.  Part of me feels that SW:TOR was somewhat manipulated to prove to the world that NGE wasn’t a mistake (despite the fact that it was such a colossal failure).  This seems especially true because all the “bad” guys seem to have armor that looks strikingly similar to stormtrooper armor (the only difference is that it is black instead of white), and whenever they are talking about the Sith they call it the “Empire” and refer often to the Emperor.

So let’s break it down:

Spaceflight:  Okay, Eve Players, you know this is the big one.. the one everyone wants to talk about.  This category is all about flying those spaceships, be it transporting, or fighting.

  • Eve Online: 9 – Eve Online is a really solid spaceship game but it does lack a lot of “feel” when flying your ship.  Even flying fast frigates isn’t quite a fun as most space sim games.  Still, the graphics, the actual gameplay, the overall game mechanics, and the seperate effort necessary to be good at flying individual ships, makes Eve a very good and solid space combat game. 
  • SW:TOR: 4 – SW:TOR really fails in this category.  Each class gets a ship and that is your ship.  Maybe they have plans to expand this, which would be a brilliant idea.. but.. you get only one ship.. forever.  Plus, flying it in missions.. well, you don’t fly it outside of missions.  Even in missions where you go is controlled like a ride on a themepark.  Not saying it isn’t fun.. but certainly not what one should expect from an MMO.
  • SWG(Pre-NGE): 9 – SWG’s ship combat was more arcade like, which is great because you really felt like you were flying.. but, really bad if you had a poor internet connection.  It was fun and you could fly anywhere and there were specific PVP zones.  You could customize your ship and even could have quite a variety of ships to choose from.

Sandboxiness:  This category is for the ability for you to do what you want, side with who you want, to be your own man..

  • Eve Online: 10 – Eve Online, to me, is the gold standard for Sandbox play while still achieving long term playability.  You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, and suffer the appropriate penalties, depending on who and where you are.  Though the system has flaws, it isn’t without some semblence of logic and reason.
  • SW:TOR: 2 – Star Wars: The Old Republic has little sandboxiness.  Next to zero outside of your original character selection.  You can train your crew to do various tasks, but that is about it.
  • SWG(Pre-NGE): 9 – Pre-NGE SWG was very much a sandbox in that every character has exactly x number of skillpoints they could use to improve their skill levels, and those skill levels could only be trained after they got experience do tasks specific to that skill.  This was cool because it doesn’t make sense that shooting your gun makes you a better dancer or better craftsman.  The downside was that you couldn’t do crafting AND combat.. you had to choose one or the other.

  Politics:  This category goes into the ability for players to get wrapped up into their game world just on its own merits, not because of lore.

  • Eve Online: 10 – Eve Online is LEGENDARY for having politics in game and out, crossing various cultural differences and well as territorial matters.  There is no better game in this.  There is actually a news website that chronicles what happened in the past 24 hours!  There are hundreds of blogs!  There is serious RMT issues!
  • SW:TOR: 1 – SW:TOR, well, SW:TOR doesn’t have anything to be political about.  The rules are the rules and there isn’t any drama worth anything.
  • SWG (Pre-NGE): 7 – While not nearly as political as Eve Online, it did have internal conflicts because both sides fought over territory and over cities.  Having your home in the wrong place could make things difficult.

    Direction and Instruction:  This category discusses both how players are introduced into the game and taught how to play the game.

  • Eve Online: 6 – Eve Online is kind of at a loss on this because much of the game is cerebral and involves a considerable amount of metagaming.  While CCP has made considerable improvements to the tutorial, there is really no wait to teach the “Beware!  Dragons Be Here!” mentality that much of the game requires.  The learning cliff still exists.
  • SW:TOR: 10 – SW:TOR has this category down pat because, well, because it never really let goes of your hand.  You can really get into the story, especially if you are a big Star Wars fan and pretty much all relevant mission NPCs are nicely closeby their designated locations.
  • SWG (Pre-NGE): 8 – SWG (Pre-NGE) helped you get the basics, but the overall game play was pretty sound so it didn’t take much time getting yourself up and running.

  Time to Play:  This category is about the ease of just going onto the game for an hour or so to play.

  • Eve Online: 4 – There really isn’t anything in Eve Online that doesn’t take a lot of time to do.  Sure, you could do missions and a few other minor things.. but pretty much everything else requires that you spend at least half a day in game to accomplish anything of significance.  And if you are into null-sec.. yeah, that is even worse.
  • SW:TOR: 10 – BioWare did a really good job of mixing missions and breaks so that there are places where you can just stop, go grab a pop or go for a bio, without dying horribly along the way.  In addition, none of the missions I have encountered so far took hours to complete.  Most of the time I was pulled in because I was curious where the story would lead.
  • SWG (Pre-NGE): 9 – Star Wars Galaxies was a little of both.  Dungeons tended to be pretty well patrolled by NPCs so once you were in.. you were all in and few offered locations to just hide to take a break.  Still, it was pretty rare that you had a dungeon location that would take over an hour to explore and loot.  Outside in the rest of the world, many NPC roaming locati0ns were pretty well defined and always had plenty of room between various mobs.

    Crafting:  This category is all about building the things you need and want.

  • Eve Online: 8 – Just about everything in game is crafting and thus the economy is largely player driven.  The downside to Eve’s crafting system is that there is no individuality.  A Tech 2 Autocannon built by a lousy crafter is just as good as a Tech 2 autocannon built by a perfect crafter.
  • SW:TOR: 2 – Crafting appears to be little more than vendor food, though they have done a good job trying to keep it relevant.. we’ll have to see once the market gets fully seeded with all manner of gaming trash.
  • SWG (Pre-NGE): 10 – To me, nothing beats the crafting mechanic set up by Star Wars Galaxies.  It allowed for custom weapons as well as name recognition.  When I was a bounty hunter, I had inroads to the best builders in the game, which in turn, allowed me to have the best weapons and armor (Krayt armor.. well, then it was normal clothes after the CU change) in the game.  It was a point of pride that I could show off who made my armor and weapons… and it gave them good business too.

Loots:  This category is on the relevence of all things dropped in the game.

  • Eve Online: 10 – Eve uses a “Meta” system that is actually pretty good overall, if you don’t look real closely at some specifics.  Meta 0 items are the base module, which can be built.  Meta 1 thru 4 items, in general, get progressively better attributes but are progressively less likely to drop.  Meta 5 (or Tech 2) have as good or better attributes than Meta 4s and can be built, but have higher fitting requirements.  Meta 6+ are very rare drops and quite expensive.
  • SW:TOR: 4 – The game is still young, but dropped loot appears to be better than crafted loot, and some dropped loot can have enhancements added also.
  • SWG (Pre-NGE) – 10 – SWG was purposely designed that dropped loot was rarely as good as crafted weapons, though so of the loot could be used to make better crafting guns and swords.

Personalization:  This category is one on decoration and individuality

  • Eve Online: 2 – Incarna allowed you to have a space barbie.. but that was as far as it went.  They didn’t even have very many clothing options when it was released.
  • SW:TOR: 1 – You can change clothes.. but you only do that because you want better stats.
  • SWG (Pre-NGE): 10 – Yes, you can change clothes, decorate your house, customize your ship, have your own luxury liner and decorate the inside for parties..

In Conclusion

SW:TOR is a great, great game.  It is fun to play, and especially if you are Star Wars fan, you should buy it and play it for a while.  It is a blast! 

That being said, it almost isn’t an MMO.  You could just as easily made it a stand alone game and had just as much fun.  You can STILL play it as a stand alone game and have as much fun.. because aside from some group and heroic missions there isn’t much of a call to say Hi to anyone.. for any reason.  Every smuggler is good and has the same ship and missions.  Every Sith also has the same ship, same companion, same everything.  BioWare is going to have to do something within six months to keep interest in the game, and hopefully it will be something on the lines making it more like Star Wars Galaxies.  My tip to Bioware:  Don’t listen to LucaArts.  They lost their ability to make, or even understand, a good game long ago (why do you think they had you make this MMO?) listen to why Star Wars Galaxies Pre-NGE is still beloved despite all the problems and bugs the game had and they were many.