This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Christing McBollockwaffles, do I hate reviewing MMORPGs. Especially when I only have a week! It's like having to write the Lonely Planet guide to Belgium when all you did was eat a waffle and fall asleep in a gutter in Bruges. So yes, once again this review of an MMO will be more of a "first impressions" video. I'd love to discuss how the Republic trooper campaign and combat mechanics compare to the Sith babysitter campaign and combat mechanics, but it took me most of the time I had available just to get through one character's fucking prologue section. You'd almost think a game that operates on a subscription service is deliberately trying to drag its runtime out, like Dennis Hopper set it to explode if it ever drops below slow walking pace.
Have you guessed already that I'm talking about The Old Republic, BioWare's big, fancy, Star Wars-branded hat it's throwing into the MMORPG ring to get mauled by World of Warcraft like they always are? It could be considered a follow up to BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic single-player RPGs (they had to shorten the title so as not to alienate all the people role-playing lollipop ladies and dentists and whatever).
After a couple of cinematics depicting dull, ridiculously over-choreographed lightsaber fighting (since Star wars is still forced to carry the attitude of the prequel movies around with it like a child dragging his stillborn Siamese twin), we find ourselves in the world of the Old Republic. Apparently it's set centuries before Star Wars the movies, not that it seems to matter, because every period in the Star Wars canon seems pretty interchangeable. Spaceships fly around, glowy sword fights sound like you're being whacked over the head with a florescent lighting rig, the good guys are clean-living humanoids with American accents, and the bad guys all draw squiggles on their faces with permanent marker.
The class you inevitably pick will reflect your favorite Star Wars character, and, by extension, perhaps your personality: Are you a Jedi like Luke Skywalker, a noble, disciplined peacekeeper with a collective penis extension issue; a smuggler like Han Solo, a free-spirited chancer with a heart of gold and his eyes on the prize; or a trooper like... um... 3rd bloke from the left? I opted for smuggler, it brings back pleasant memories of an airplane ride I once took with three condoms fulls of pre-cut Acapulco gold.
This, it turned out, is a primarily long-range class, whose job is to hide behind things going pew-pew-pew with a blaster and, in curious defiance to how blasters usually behave in Star Wars, not missing ninety percent of the time. Most of my other special skills involved preventing enemies from getting close enough to attack, such as concession grenades, leg shots, and crafty knees to the bollocks (which for some reason still works on robots - perhaps they're all wearing Tanooki suits). You might think that this arsenal would give me a fairly bloated advantage when fighting melee-only enemies, but to balance that out the game gave me a standard BioWare NPC support companion whose job seemed to be harpooning enemies from a distance and pulling them really close. making it more convenient for them to slice him into deli meat. This is a guy armed with a gun, I'll remind you. Maybe he doesn't have a lot of faith in his aiming ability; maybe he was one of those kids who played Duck Hunt with the light gun pressed right up against the TV.
Since the smuggler is the only Republic class who doesn't work for any larger authority, a reason has to be contrived for him to be in all the same places as the classes that do, so a dastardly scoundrel steals the Totally Not The Millenium Falcon and makes his getaway through a walking tour of his favorite war zones.
Now - spoiler alert - Old Republic is a MMORPG, so of course you're going to be spending a lot of time collecting seven diseased buttocks from the Blood Nubbin Drink Spikers, who all stand around in random positions in a single square acre of terrain. But the game does make the effort to keep things interesting by dressing up every mission with the BioWare mandatory Mass Effect-style conversations, where everyone gestures like they're in a dubbed-over German soap opera about something completely unrelated.
This could be one of the most directed leveling experiences I've seen in an MMO. The story proceeds very linearly and you are only ever given missions for the current environment or the very next one as a none too subtle passive-aggressive gesture of direction. I actually kind of like it. The emphasis on single-player storytelling seems tailor-made for people like me playing MMOs. You know, the friendless, forever alone types. But that may be to the detriment of the whole multiplayer aspect of the Massively Multiplayer Online Rage Producing Gobbledygook. The buzz seems to be that the PvP is unbalanced, but you know how it is: cows go "moo," dogs go "woof," MMO players go "the PvP is unbalanced." What I really don't get is how the group conversations work in the four man instances. You all pick the conversation option you want, then it seems like everyone gets assigned a random number and the one with the highest number gets to say their line.
I don't know how this works when you're given the moral choice conversation options that change your Light Side/Dark Side stats. It seems like if you wanted Dark Side but the guy who wins picked Light Side, then you get to eat shit and have one Light Side point dangling awkwardly off your Dark Side report card like an arid bogey forever. Which reminds me: sheep go "baa," cats go "meow," Yahtzee goes "moral choice systems are bullshit." This is the kind where you can only get the best bonuses if you stick to one side or the other, so they might as well have just locked your alignment in during character creation when you went for the dastardly mustache.
Every time I play a MMORPG, I have a moment of self-realization at some point when I say "What the fuck am I doing?" and go back to being a productive member of society. In some games it comes earlier than others, but to Old Republic 's credit, it did take a while. It was right after my character got the Schmellenium Schmalcon back and the game universe opened up. My heart leaped when the space battles were introduced, but they're basically just pseudo-rail shooters in the Novastorm or Microcosm style and aren't much more than a gimmick.
What really made me lose interest was that, in emphasizing the story, the game unwittingly sealed its downfall. Because once my smuggler had reclaimed the Thousand-Year Albatross, he suddenly didn't have a story anymore. Some hideously contrived development about a pirate treasure was yanked from a butt hole lubricated with desperate sweat, but all I could think was "Why the hell would I want a treasure? I've got twenty-five grand in the bank gathering dust because the stores don't sell anything worth shit and I peel all my equipment off dead tosspots. At least provide a beautiful princess for me to put my cocksure leg over. I spent a lot of cold lonely nights in the captain's bunk with my right hand and some racy holograms thinking 'so this is why they called him Han Solo.'"
Strong is he with the force: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Do you think the people who manufacture red light saber crystals get along with the guys who make the green ones
I'm so force sensitive I clean my swimming pool with midichlorine