The Old Republic Going F2P

BioWare announced recently that Star Wars: The Old Republic will be going free to play this Fall. Those playing for free will be able to experience everything that the game has to offer with very few limitations, while subscribers will enjoy additional content and a special currency used for redeeming premium items. Here’s a blurb from the official TOS site regarding the upcoming change. Continue reading

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Star Wars – The Old Republic (Review)

I’m not a big Star Wars fan and I haven’t really enjoyed any Star Wars video game that I have played in the past. With that said, The Old Republic is without a doubt the most well designed MMORPG ever made and I’m enjoying my time with it so far.

After spending a good amount of time with the game, the overall detail and quality of the finished product is blindingly apparent to me. This isn’t another Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, Aion, or even Rift. The Old Republic is a very noticeable step above them all in terms of how well made the game is. The surprising thing, however, is that The Old Republic is clearly better than World of Warcraft in terms of quality as well. Even if it doesn’t beat WoW in sales (though it could with Star Wars’ huge fanbase), it should still be regarded as the superior product.

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So what makes this the best MMORPG out there? Maybe the fact that it plays like a suprising infusion of Mass Effect and World of Warcraft. You could honestly sit back and play this MMORPG as a single player RPG strictly because the narrative and story telling are both so exceptional. There is actually a main quest in this game, one that is centered around the exploits of your character. To enforce this, there are phased areas throughout the world where only your character will be visible. The entrances of these phased areas are marked with green holographic barrier-like walls that you can walk through. Upon passing through one, you will be phased out of the persistent world containing hundreds of other players and will exist solely on your own (there is no loading to accomplish this). What purpose do these areas serve? Well, phased areas mosly contain important quest NPCs that you’ve been directed to kill among other things. This is a huge improvement over other MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft because, in The Old Republic, a phased area belongs to you and you alone, so any quest NPC you have to kill in a phased area wil be killed by you – not other players. I’m sure many people have terrifying memories of having to fight over quest mobs in World of Warcraft, such as the infamous Hogger in Elwynn Forest. This is no longer an issue.

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Interactions with NPCs are fully voiced and play out as they would in Dragon Age or Mass Effect, meaning there are moral responses for you to choose from when replying to NPCs. It’s a nice option to have which adds some much needed personality to our MMORPG characters for once. Because of this, my Jedi Knight is shaping up to be a very sympathetic guy who always wants to do the right thing for people. A lot of the moral choices I’m choosing are increasing my alignment and pushing me to the light side. Light side, you ask? Yes, there’s the light side and the dark side. Depending on how you play your character and how they respond to NPCs, their personality will develop and will inch towards either the light or dark side. Assist villagers and side with them on ethical issues and you will be pushed in the direction of the light side, but if you run around and choose the intimidating and rude dialogue options (which are quite likely to end up in the death of others around you) then expect to have your character slowly turn towards the dark side.

This all sounds a lot like a single player RPG, doesn’t it? That’s the best part, it’s not. At all. Instances (flashpoints) and raids (operations) are still around as well and are intensely story driven. When you’re not in phased areas for questing reasons, you’ll see plenty of other players running around completing their own quests, killing enemy mobs, and interacting with NPCs. The Old Republic contains everything that other MMORPGs do but beefs the experience up with the character development and narrative we’ve come to expect from single player RPGs. This really is a new level for RPGs. Yes the core gameplay is roughly the same, but the extra layer of single player RPG-esque goodness that Bioware has thrown into the formula has drastically improved how The Old Republic plays as an MMORPG.

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As far as character structure goes, all of the usuals are in such as individual gear slots, the ability to pick up trade skills (which rely on your companions to create items rather than yourself), mounts to increase your overall speed, and quite a bit more.

Another exceedingly strong point has to be the game’s presentation. The sound effects are all superb, making the act of slicing apart bandits and syndicate criminals with a lightsabre more satisfying than it has ever been! The game’s voice actors are also very talented as well, but would you expect any game that features the revered Jennifer Hale to have bad voicing? I don’t think so. There’s also the graphics which aren’t going to make any systems work overtime to render anything, but the game still looks a lot better than any other MMO out there. Any lush and forested planet is proof enough of that.

I would have liked to spend more time writing this out, but this is an MMO and, in 2012, we all know what they’re about. Big time sinks that are all about leveling, questing, and raiding. The Old Republic just does everything a little better than the competition and, in the end, that is what matters the most.

Final Score

9.2/10

Pros:
+ Beautiful cities, beautiful planets, beautiful everything.
+ General MMORPG formulas are executed better than they are in any competing MMOs.
+ Top of the line voice work all across the board.

Cons:
– Game can be very burdening if you have never played an MMO before.
– PvP could have been more developed.
– Singleplayer aspect may drive some away from cooperating with fellow players.

What is Star Wars: The Old Republic?

What is Star Wars: The Old Republic? It is a new MMORPG by Canadian developer Bioware, makers of Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and other popular series. The Old Republic is a spiritual sequel to their “Knights of the Old Republic” RPGs in the sense that it is set around the same time in Star Wars lore which means that The Old Republic takes place about 1000 years before the film saga.

The Old Republic borrows heavily from recent Bioware games. You can tell that they use the same 3D modelling crew, and general gameplay is similar (you an have conversations with NPCs and such). Of course there are tons of MMO mainstays since this an MMORPG, but you can tell by playing that this is a Bioware game. The good thing about this? Mass appeal. If you like Bioware, MMORPGs, RPGs in general, or Star Wars, then you’ll find something to like here.

Here are a few of what I feel are some of the stronger points of this game.

Choose Your Side: Do you want to be a good guy? Side with the Republic and be a Jedi Consular, Jedi Knight, Smuggler, or Trooper. Or perhaps you feel like being evil? Join the Sith Empire and become a Bounty Hunter, Imperial Agent, Sith Inquisitor, or Sith Warrior.

Companions: Imagine having a Dragon Age/Mass Effect party member with you at all times who is FULLY customizable and actually helpful! Smuggler characters even get a wookiee companion to mirror Han Solo and Chewbacca!

Developed Class System: All classes have their very own central story lines that are unique to them, so each class has different quests and objectives. Also, dual-class comes into play at level 10 which allows you to take on a secondary class role that enhances your abilities.

Flashpoints: Heavy story driven dungeons that allow four players to play through a scenario together and earn large amounts of experience and social points.

Friendly Atmosphere: Being a Star Wars fan is not required to enjoy this thorough and well designed MMORPG as it eases you into the Star Wars world and makes sure that there are dialoague options available for those who are unfamiliar with Star Wars terms such as Padawan or Sith.

Fully Voiced Experience: Every quest has fully voiced cutscenes. NPCs chatter all around you. The world of The Old Republic is brimming with life. Gone are long walls of text telling you to go kill ten boars (rinse and repeat)! Picking up quests is now a fun activity.

Gear Modding: There are tons of gear modification items that you can find which can be attached to armor and weapons which boost their stats. Go wild with combinations!

Large Worlds: While level 1-10 planets may not be too big (think regular sized WoW zones), planets beyond level 10 get significantly larger and have lots to see. Get ready to start checking your map often!

Lightsaber Modding: THey are fully customizable. Don’t like the glow colour you’ve got? Simple, buy a new colour crystal and go from boring yellow to rockin’ blue and start killing Sith in style.

Space Battles: Don’t feel like questing on a planet? Hop into your starship and head into space to do battle against other ships!

Speeder & Starship: You get your OWN FREAKING STARSHIP. That’s right, your own ship. Pilot it anywhere you want! Revisit past planets or journey to ones that you have no business whatsoever being on! You also get a speeder to allow you to zip around larger planets faster than you would by foot.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic Video Impressions

I decided to pass on writing another article regarding my impressions with this game to instead bring you my thoughts in video form. In the following videos I basically just show a few basic things, make comparisons to World of Warcraft, and struggle to locate a turn in point for a quest.

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Impressions (Part 1)

I’m not a big Star Wars fan and I haven’t really enjoyed any Star Wars video game that I have played in the past. With that said, The Old Republic is without a doubt the most well designed MMORPG ever made and I’m enjoying my time with it so far.

Despite the fact that I have only spent about four hours with the game, the overall detail and quality of the finished product is blindingly apparent to me. This isn’t another Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, Aion, or even Rift. The Old Republic is a very noticeable step above them all in terms of how well made the game is. The surprising thing, however, is that The Old Republic is clearly better than World of Warcraft in terms of quality as well. Even if it doesn’t beat WoW (though it could with Star Wars’ huge fanbase), it should still be regarded as the superior product.

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So what makes this the best MMORPG out there? Maybe the fact that it plays like a suprising infusion of Mass Effect and World of Warcraft. You could honestly sit back and play this MMORPG as a single player RPG strictly because the narrative and story telling are both so exceptional. There is actually a main quest in this game, one that is centered around the exploits of your character. To enforce this, there are phased areas throughout the world where only your character will be visible. The entrances of these phased areas are marked with green holographic barrier-like walls that you can walk through. Upon passing through one, you will be phased out of the persistent world containing hundreds of other players and will exist solely on your own (there is no loading to accomplish this). What purpose do these areas serve? Well, phased areas mosly contain important quest NPCs that you’ve been directed to kill among other things. This is a huge improvement over other MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft because, in The Old Republic, a phased area belongs to you and you alone, so any quest NPC you have to kill in a phased area wil be killed by you – not other players. I’m sure many people have terrifying memories of having to fight over quest mobs in World of Warcraft, such as the infamous Hogger in Elwynn Forest. This is no longer an issue.

Interactions with NPCs are fully voiced and play out as they would in Dragon Age or Mass Effect, meaning there are moral responses for you to choose from when replying to NPCs. It’s a nice option to have which adds some much needed personality to our MMORPG characters for once. Because of this, my Jedi Knight is shaping up to be a very sympathetic guy who always wants to do the right thing for people. A lot of the moral choices I’m choosing are increasing my alignment and pushing me to the light side. Light side, you ask? Yes, there’s the light side and the dark side. Depending on how you play your character and how they respond to NPCs, their personality will develop and will inch towards either the light or dark side. Assist villagers and side with them on ethical issues and you will be pushed in the direction of the light side, but if you run around and choose the intimidating and rude dialogue options (which are quite likely to end up in the death of others around you) then expect to have your character slowly turn towards the dark side.

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This all sounds a lot like a single player RPG, doesn’t it? That’s the best part, it’s not. At all. Instances (flashpoints) and raids (operations) are still around, but I’m not at a high enough level to experience either yet. There are also group quests which I’m also yet to experience despite being level 7. When you’re not in phased areas for questing reasons, you’ll see plenty of other players running around completing their own quests, killing enemy mobs, and interacting with NPCs. The Old Republic contains everything that other MMORPGs do but beefs the experience up with the character development and narrative we’ve come to expect from single player RPGs. This really is a new level for RPGs. Yes the core gameplay is roughly the same, but the extra layer of single player RPG-esque goodness that Bioware has thrown into the formula has drastically improved how The Old Republic plays as an MMORPG.

I haven’t explored many classes yet and have only played Republic-side. I have a level 2 trooper who I made for a YouTube video (find it down below) and my level 7 Jedi Knight who is most certainly going to be my main. I didn’t play enough of the trooper to come to any conclusions at all (again, level 2), but from what I’ve seen of the Jedi Knight so far has impressed it. They appear to be a very speedy melee DPS class with a lot of options for closing the distance between the player and mobs as well as potentially decent crowd control potential.

I haven’t talked about much besides how The Old Republic has been infused with single player RPG elements and that’s because I simply haven’t played the game enough to comment on other things. I can say, however, that this game has all of the MMORPG mainstays such as quest hubs, travel points, AI companions, skill trainers, and more. This is an MMORPG with a lot of extra added oomph. I’ll write some more tomorrow or Friday but, so far, colour me impressed. This is a superb MMORPG!

Dragon Age 2 (Review)

I was a little slow getting this review out of the gate after two very difficult and work intensive weeks but here it is, my thoughts on Dragon Age 2.

When I first found out that Dragon Age 2 revamped the Dark Spawn to look like bizarre carnival attractions and made the entire game be set in one single city, it’s probably not difficult to understand why I had reservations about the game. After learning that the combat was made to be more action-oriented for console players, I became increasingly apprehensive and, honestly, I didn’t think that I would ever lay down the cash for Dragon Age 2.

But I did.

I don’t know what prompted me to buy Dragon Age 2 despite my fears, but it doesn’t matter any longer. I’ve played Dragon Age 2 extensively and I can safely say that my fears, while originally justified, have been washed away by what has become my favourite Bioware game that I’ve ever played.

I frequently see a lot of people bashing Dragon Age 2 on larger internet forums due to the many changes that Bioware introduced with the sequel to what was undoubtedly 2009’s best RPG by a landslide. Yes it is true that Bioware did cripple or completely remove a few gameplay elements from the first game, but for every disappointing change there is a positive one to counter it. I am hoping that my review will make it clear why Dragon Age 2 is a fantastic game that surpasses the first game, despite having several flaws that it’s predecessor did not have.

The Dark Spawn return, but are no longer the central antagonist.

Dragon Age 2’s story is pretty interesting to say the least. It begins in Ferelden as Hawke and his/her (gender is selectable) family are fleeing from Lothering after the Dark Spawn attack. For those who played the first game but cannot remember Lothering, it was the town where you could recruit Leliana and Sten. Anyway, the group quickly meets a very familiar witch from the first game who rescues Hawke and company from a horde of Dark Spawn. They are then escorted to a port town where they travel to a city called Kirkwall in the Free Marches, a location that is directly north of Ferelden on the continent of Thedas.

Kirkwall is where pretty much the entire game takes place. A few quests will take the player outside of the city, but you never leave Kirkwall for very long. Anyway, once in Kirkwall, the story really kicks off and is basically just Hawke’s life story as he/she rises to fame in Kirkwall while accidentally getting involved in a few major events that occur in the city. It really is a rags to riches sort of story, and it carries a lot of weight as it is a very personal story. Dragon Age Origins was about the entirety of Ferelden suffering from the Blight and the Grey Wardens who are tasked to stop it. Origins had a very standard and fairly cliche fantasy story behind it that could have been ripped straight out of Lord of the Rings. Dragon Age 2 doesn’t focus on being as epic or grandeur and is, as I said, a personal story. It is Hawke’s story.

As a whole, I enjoyed the story in Dragon Age 2 far more than in Origins. Since the story is all about Hawke and his/her life in Kirkwall, you get to know and understand the person you are playing much more than you did in Origins. It helps that Hawke is fully voiced as well, so we no longer control a silent protagonist. These two factors (personal story and voiced hero) enable the story to flow more naturally and feels more engaging as you are pretty much always at the thick of everything that occurs around you.

While Dragon Age 2 certainly has the better story, it is impossible to deny that the cast of characters in the sequel can’t hold a torch to the band of misfits that players acquired in Origins. In Origins we got to laugh at interactions between the cold Morrigan and light hearted Alistair, get a kick out of Shale and Sten who were both unintentionally hilarious characters, and even be entranced by Leliana’s tales and words of wisdom. Dragon Age 2 has absolutely none of this and beyond perhaps two characters, Dragon Age 2’s roster is about as forgettable as Wynne in Origins.

The Qunari have received a very well deserved makeover.

While some of the characters have a lot of personality, there just isn’t enough conversation or interaction with them for any of them to shine much. The only two characters that I felt were very enjoyable were Merrill and Varric. Merrill is an Elven mage that briefly appeared in Origins and Varric is a Dwarf who essentially narrates the story of Dragon Age 2. I find these two enjoyable because Merrill is sort of a clumsy girl who seems to have a lot of self-confidence issues and is never really sure of herself. Merrill frequently apologizes for “babbling” and always seems to look upon a lot of scenarios with a sort of child-like innocence that I found really adorable. Varric is a huge contrast to Merrill. He is a cocky little Dwarf who loves opportunities that could benefit him financially. He’s sort of like the joker of Dragon Age 2 as he utilizes a style of very dry and witty humour that defines his personality greatly. Despite being a little sarcastic most of the time, Varric is exceptionally intelligent and sharp. I find that pairing Merrill with Varric in my party often results in very amusing conversations between the two. It may not compare to Alistair and Morrigan slamming each other with witty insults, but it’s still a blast to see Varric sarcastically poking fun at Merrill’s child-like ignorance of the world around her. He seems to refer to her as “Daisy” just about every time they talk, and she doesn’t even seem to care or notice as she just continues rambling on and misinterpreting situations in cute and funny ways. For sure these two are the best written characters in the game.

Other characters cannot hold a torch to Merrill and Varric. Aveline, a tank character who is essential in your party if you are not a warrior yourself, has a cliche personality that is about as boring as watching paint dry. Anders returns from Dragon Age Awakening, though with a new voice actor and a butchered personality that no longer provokes amused chuckles from me. There are a few other characters to choose from (all optional as far as I am aware), and they too are about as interesting as Wynne from Origins. So, while Dragon Age 2 certainly has a better crafted story, the characters aren’t quite as good as they were in Origins with only Merrill and Varric really standing out.

Animations and spell effects have been improved drastically from Origins.

The gameplay can be a little tedious since the entire game is set in Kirkwall. There sheer amount of quests available to pick up in the city is pretty overwhelming at times and, unfortunately, most of them aren’t very exciting to do. You will find yourself experiencing deja vu very often as you may venture to locations to complete quests in that you had just visited only half an hour ago. The coastal cliffs and mountain outside of Kirkwall are visited very frequently and due to the barren nature of their landscapes, they get boring very fast. Major quests in Kirkwall are a little better however. While most quests aren’t much more than simple “go to X location and kill someone” it is worth noting that a lot of the dialogue that happens during the better quests is pretty enjoyable. There is one storyline fight in particular that I really enjoyed. To prevent there from being any spoilers but to clue in those who have played the game, I am referring to the quest that puts you up against a very certain murderer. While the story quests are very well written and are exceptionally engaging, the optional quests are pretty much just there to inflate your total play time and aren’t particularly entertaining.

Regarding the battle system, it is true that it has become more action-oriented. This doesn’t necessarily mean that battles play out differently than they did in the first game in terms of mechanics, it’s just that the fighting happens at a faster speed than in Origins. Battles that used to take two or three minutes in the previous game may now take only thirty seconds to one minute. The flow is faster and the battle animations are definitely superior, but the actual mechanics are hardly different at all from Origins and players will be clicking their action bar at the bottom almost constantly. Anyone who has bought into the “Dragon Age 2 is dumbed down to appeal to Call of Duty fans” nonsense should relax, because it is not the case. The fighting is the same as it was in Origins, it is just faster. Does that make it better? Well, that’s up to the player to decide. It’s all a matter of personal taste.

I only have one gripe about the combat in Dragon Age 2 and that is the fact that, most of the time, you never know how many enemies you’ll be squaring off against. You may see three or four enemies on your screen before the fight begins, but after engaging them it is not uncommon to have two or three more jump down from above and to be flanked by several more enemies. It is confusing to say the least, especially since the enemies that flank you usually come from wherever you just came from so, logically, that path should have been safe. It is a strange occurrence that can make some fights a little annoying, but it is really only a minor complaint and shouldn’t pose a problem to anyone who knows what they are doing in combat.

The most notable thing that was dumbed down in Dragon Age 2 is the ability to customize and interact with your companions. You can no longer click on them to initiate conversations, as they will just spout one liners like the companions did in Dragon Age Awakening. It is also impossible to change the gear that your companions wear. You can still manually choose their amulets, belts and rings, though it is no longer possible to equip pieces of armor on them. All characters can equip weapons of your choosing (except Varric, who has a storyline weapon) as long as it fits their class. Merrill, a mage, can only use staves while Aveline, a warrior, uses shields and swords. You can “upgrade” companion armor in a way, but it requires choosing various storyline options in the conversation trees. For instance, I noticed that after one of my characters romanced Merrill and convinced her to move into Hawke’s home, she lost her original dull armor and adopted a very fancy looking suit of what looked to be chain mail.

The Deep Roads return, along with the Fade, but both are now fairly enjoyable. (Gasp!)

I should mention the conversation trees after bringing them up in the previous paragraph. Dragon Age 2 adopts a sort of Mass Effect approach to conversations. When engaging an NPC, players will no longer have a few moral choices to choose from like in the original Dragon Age, but will now have a round wheel that has a few choices that represent very certain personalities. There are three standard choices which are compassionate, joking, and aggressive. Sometimes there will be a few other choices, but they don’t pertain to the three personalities mentioned and just serve as a way to get more information out of the NPCs. It’s not a bad system and it works well since you always know what sort of attitude Hawke will take based on what you choose, but the choices are often worded in ways that do not accurately reflect the words that Hawke will use. For instance, a selectable choice may simple say “I am Hawke.” Upon choosing it Hawke will say, “I am the Champion of Kirkwall, haven’t you heard of me?” Notice that Hawke does not say who he/she even is, so there can be a bit of confusion. With the joking/sarcastic options, sometimes Hawke won’t even say anything even remotely similar to the choice you are presented with. It’s a little peculiar and it can be annoying at times since the words on the screen and what Hawke actually says can, in some cases, be completely different.

So what is my verdict? Dragon Age 2 beats the original in storyline and general flow, but Origins has about four enjoyable companion characters to Dragon Age 2’s lowly two. The conversations were better structured in Origins, but Dragon Age 2 is better written and having your character actually speak adds volumes to the game’s presentation that the previous game sorely lacked. So, in conclusion, both games are very fantastic, but the overall presentation of Dragon Age 2 is better. I forgot to mention that Dragon Age 2 has slightly better visuals (keyword is slightly) and much better loading screens, so that also helps to give this sequel a greater presentation than its older sibling.

If you were a fan of the original Dragon Age, I honestly do not see how you could flat out dislike this game. I certainly do recommend it to any fan of Origins. There have been a few changes and Dragon Age 2 does take a few steps in the wrong direction, but considering how little development time Bioware was given by Electronic Arts to pump this game out, it is evident that the development team put a very admirable amount of time and work into Dragon Age 2 and all of their hard work has translated to a very enjoyable game. Even though we still have Skyrim due out in November, I am already close to pinning this game as the RPG to beat for all of 2011. Check it out!

Final Score

9.3/10