One of the most-hyped MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) ever made, Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic didn’t live up to its hype, with disappointing sales and subscriptions. The company’s since turned to the free-to-play model, making TOR the first Bioware RPG that won’t cost you a dime to play.
Having said that, Bioware does its darndest to … not so much encourage you to spend money in its cash shop, but practically twist your arm and drag you to the storefront. So is The Old Republic still worth playing for free? Here’s a look at a complete newb’s experiences, in late February.
TOR’s downloader is a disaster, which at no time will tell you accurately how much longer you have to wait. And since it has to pull 25 GB or so, expect to leave it running for a couple of days if you don’t have the best high-speed connection. Even after all that, the launcher simply failed to start for me at one point. Looking through the forums told me I need to redownload it, which fortunately didn’t take as long.
The interface is pretty typical for a World of Warcraft style MMORPG, which means that if you’re coming to TOR from Bioware’s earlier RPGs you’ll need to prepare for information overload. It’s less like Knights of the Old Republic than it is Neverwinter Nights, and is (if anything) even more complex. If you’ve played other MMOs you’ll adjust fairly quickly, though — as a rule of thumb, if you don’t understand why you can’t use a piece of gear, it’s because you need to buy something from the cash shop to unlock it.
Story and gameplay
The interface isn’t the only thing that screams “stereotypical MMO” about The Old Republic. Everything about the storylines feels like they were padded out as much as possible. Your character will constantly be interrupted from her main storyline by fetch quests and kill quests with excuse plots. It feels less like Bioware tried to make a true Bioware RPG as an MMO, and more like it tried to slavishly follow a formula.
The same goes for the gameplay, which uses the standard MMO quickbars and floating interface windows. The Mass Effect style conversations seem original at first, but pretty soon you realize most of your choices don’t make any difference, and the ones that do tend to be just straightforward dark side or light side alignment shifts, or influence gains with companions.
What’d they get right?
One perk is that you get to have an NPC companion accompany you. They get in the way of your clicking sometimes, but you can dismiss them, or even send them back to town to sell off your vendor trash (although it seems like it would’ve been better to just not give you any to begin with).
Another is the Legacy system, which seems like it mostly gives you incentive to replay the game on different classes. It’s basically a set of perks you can get for reaching the maximum level, which apply to all of your characters.
Is The Old Republic worth playing for free?
It’s worth trying several different classes to see if one of them appeals to you. I was turned off by the Jedi Consular’s storyline, but loved having my Sith Inquisitor snark at how dysfunctional Imperial society was. It’s also worth noting that the female Republic Trooper is voiced by the same actress as “femshep” from Mass Effect.
Give it a try … if you can stand the download time.