On December 20th BioWare’s Massive Multiplayer Online Game Star Wars: The Old Republic celebrated its five-year anniversary. This article will look at how the game has evolved over those five years, the good and the bad aspects of the game, and the current expansions that continue both The Old Republic saga and expand the Star Wars story. As a “Founder”, one of the first subscribers, and beta tester I have seen how it went from the base game, with only the three main story chapters to a fully immersive MMO with many new story expansions. Even after five years, there are still many players in-game consisting of long time players, new players, subscribers, and those playing the free to play option. The game has its faults but looking at it as a whole it is a great game with many different ways to keep players coming back. Five years in and I can still spend hours playing Star Wars: The Old Republic.
The Old Republic Lore
Five years ago BioWare launched Star Wars: The Old Republic. It is a story based MMO and RPG that is a continuation of the events from the Knights of the Old Republic series. The Knights of the Old Republic games are to this day two of the best Star Wars games ever made. Even though Knights of the Old Republic II was unfinished it was still a great story and continued the story of Revan and his followers, the Sith, and the events following the end of the Jedi civil war. The Revan story itself is, in my opinion, one of the best Star Wars stories.
Revan was a Jedi knight at the beginning of the Mandalorian Wars. During the war, he defied the Jedi Council who opposed the Jedi from joining the war and with other knights, including Malak, fought with Republic forces to defeat the Mandalorians. The end of the war came at Malachor V when Revan ordered one of his generals, Meetra Surik, the exile in KOTOR II, to activate the Mass Shadow Generator. This devastated nearby Mandalorian, Republic, and Jedi forces as they were crushed by the planet’s gravity. Following this event, Mandalore the Ultimate surrendered and ended the conflict. Revan and Malak left Republic space for the unknown regions to discover the real cause of the war.
They discovered the Sith Empire and found the Sith Emperor. The Sith Emperor, Lord Vitiate, was a Dark Lord of the Sith who gained immortality from a dark ritual thousands of years before that wiped out all life on his home planet of Nathema. Since then his ultimate goal was to recreate the same ritual on the entire galaxy, giving him unlimited power. To achieve this Vitiate formed a new Sith Empire. From Dromund Kaas, home to the Dark Consul, the Sith Emperor began to prepare the galaxy for the ritual. This, however, required a war to weaken the republic and extend the Sith Empire. When the Mandalorians failed in destroying the Republic he recruited the two Jedi that wandered into the Empire. Malak and Revan came back to the Republic as Dark Lords of the Sith leading a massive fleet created by the Star Forge, a relic from the Rakata and Infinite Empire.
Revan formed his own Sith Empire and waged war against the Republic and Jedi. The Jedi captured Revan and eventually redeemed him. A redeemed Revan destroyed Malak but not after he devastated the Jedi order and attacked Republic worlds. After Malak’s defeat, Revan left again for unknown space. The Sith returned 300 years later and waged war against the republic, known as the Great Galactic War. At a time when the Republic was losing the war, the Empire offered up a chance for peace. While negotiations for peace were taking place on Alderaan the Sith attacked Coruscant. Following the Battle of Coruscant, the Republic and Sith signed the treaty of Coruscant that brought an end to the war but also gave new territory to the Sith Empire. The galaxy was divided into the Republic and the Sith Empire and the events afterward became known as the Galactic Cold War. This is where The Old Republic story begins.
The Game and Player’s Choice
In the game, the stories of each class deal with the events of the Cold War and therefore player’s fight against the opposite faction, either as Imperial or Republic. However, during the game some of the planets are neutral and both Imperial and Republic players exist in the same maps treading lightly in order to not cause and all out war on the planet. There are also Republic or Imperial controlled worlds that the opposite faction is fighting over. An example is Quesh that had a toxic atmosphere with chemicals that could be used to create adrenals. The Sith found out and wanted to take Quesh from the Republic with the help from the Hutts. Other planets like Taris are visited at different times by Republic or Imperial players. When Imperial characters visit Taris it had been conquered by the Empire and occurs later in the game than Republic players. Republic players find a Republic controlled world. It is a positive side to the game where players can experience completely different events and planet stories depending on faction.
I have only gotten through two class stories so far, the Sith Warrior and Imperial Agent. Currently, I am making my way through the Smuggler story. In my opinion, the Imperials are more fun and interesting to play but I am finding some positive things about the Smuggler story and playing the Republic. The Smuggler is out for credits and riches but as I am light side he always plays the hero. My Sith Warrior was out to gain power and crush his enemies, which some were Jedi and others were Sith. By far the Imperial Agent is the best class story. You have subterfuge, conspiracies, mind control, playing a double agent, and stopping terrorists and third-party rogue agents. The best part of the Agent’s story is the many different ways it can unfold depending on choices the player makes. It’s a rich story but unfortunately, I had the unimpressed ending. I took the going rogue agent choice and it just ended but I still have my awesome ship and the new expansions have kept my Agent’s story alive.
Non-force characters are more fun to play in my opinion because you have to rely on your weapons, smarts, wit, and abilities to beat their enemies. Force users have the force and a lightsaber, though I die more with my Sith Warrior than my Agent and Smuggler. It’s a DPS versus tank thing and both my ranged characters can take cover and kill multiple enemies from a distance. While the Sith Warrior attacks close range dealing damage with force abilities and lightsaber strikes.
Players can choose from eight classes or four from each faction. On the Republic side, we have the Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular, Smuggler, and Trooper. Imperial players can choose from the Imperial Agent, Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor, and Bounty Hunter. There are also different species players can choose from including, Human, Cyborg – more like a human with cybernetic implants, Chiss, Miraluka, Cathar, Twil’ek, Zabrak, Sith Pureblood, Mirialan, Rattataki, and the recently added Togruta. Originally players could only start out with species designated for their class. Humans, Cyborgs, and Zabarak were the only species that all classes could choose. For example, Miraluka were Jedi only, Chiss were kept for Agents and Bounty Hunters, and Mirialans for Jedi and Smugglers.
When game update 1.2 was launched a new system called Legacy was added. These allowed players to create legacies on a server with a Legacy name. One of the advantages with the legacy is being able to unlock species for every class. That is when I first created my dark side Miraluka Sith Warrior because it is not cannon and a Miraluka Sith was an interesting idea. Currently, my light side Chiss Imperial Agent Sniper is the only character I have at level 70. With the amount of time I have spent on character development and gameplay getting legendary status will probably never happen. Players can get legendary status if the complete all class stories. Another advantage to legacy is characters get heroic abilities from classes that reach level 50. My Smuggler and Agent can use force choke during a heroic moment.
Characters have a class but players also must choose an advanced class. The Imperial Agent gets Operative and Sniper, the Sith Warrior chooses between Juggernaut and Marauder, and Smuggler has Scoundrel and Gunslinger. Advanced classes provide characters with distinct gameplay styles and abilities, weapons, and sometimes armor. For instance, a Marauder wields double lightsabers and wears medium armor while a Juggernaut is a heavy armor class with a single lightsaber built for high damage. Now with the new game 5.0 update, all classes begin with an advanced class. It is much different than before when players had to pass their starter planets and reach level 10 before receiving an advanced class on their faction’s fleet. Advanced classes are designed on how the player wants to play a character. For instance, I prefer mid to long-range combat with either an arsenal of explosives or shooting damage to take out enemies. Therefore I went with an Engineering Sniper and a Sharpshooter Gunslinger. It’s nice now to just start off with your advanced class and helps to get through your starter planets.
Gameplay from Beta to Present
When first starting this game five years ago I was excited about it. Most of the hype was more on my part from following the development of the game and continuing the saga from Knights of the Old Republic II. The Beta test was fun and got players learning the gameplay, but it had bugs. I reported my share of bugs and needed fixes to the gameplay. The launch was smooth but there are some bugs that still persist like the clipping issues and those moments where in a dialogue other players appear or animations are not synced.
Beyond the bugs, gameplay was actually good from the start. I needed to learn my abilities and combat techniques but once I figured out the system and gameplay it was on to the story and the MMO aspects of the game.
How does it play as an MMO? Depends on where you are in the game. Playing up the first three chapters and main planets will give players the immersive MMO feel. At level 70 it starts to lose its MMO luster. We get uprisings and can play old heroics and dailies but the base game had these heroics and dailies on story planets. Dailies and weeklies are missions that are replayable and heroics are side missions with mostly strong, elite and champion level enemies. I do like the new uprisings in the galactic command and in addition to the general solo and group missions players can also do PvP in warzones and the galactic starfighter.
After the class story, new expansions brought new missions, flashpoints and operations, and heroics and dailies. There are some on Zakuul and Odessen but nothing like the little side-quests and other missions found on the story worlds. In Knights of the Fallen Empire after Chapter IX players do have the option of going on contract missions. This was a good way of getting new recruits for the alliance, rewards, and expanded the story further.
The thing with replaying planets with a new class, even knowing all the side quests; a new character brings new dialogue choices and a different way to approach the missions. As far as the base game and main storyline go the gameplay is still very much an MMO, and with a guild, I have so much more opportunities just to have fun. However, there is a big difference from launch till now and that is how players play. I will always do all the side-quests, heroics, some dailies, and getting a group and doing the flashpoints and operations. Not only does this help level up a character but you get better gear and rewards. Before the newest chapters, the game has both group and class phases that can be done with groups. Some missions in Fallen Empire allow this but in Eternal Throne, it became single instance.
In update 4.0 BioWare did make leveling up easier in order for new players to get to level 60 faster. Players still have to go through their story chapters, which takes time depending on level and planet. I have found it very easy to level up but I also take time and do all the side-quests and many heroics. There is also another advantage to leveling, being in a guild. I get rewarded with XP for being in a guild and doing guild events. However, the game becomes less challenging the higher your level compared to the planet’s level. For instance, my Smuggler is now on Taris, a level 16-20 planet. I began my mission at level 21 and have only finished Ord Mantell and Coruscant. Every time I enter combat my level decreases to compensate. Actually, the worst was being level 70 at chapter XI in Knights of the Fallen Empire. Until Knights of the Eternal Throne, my Agent hadn’t died since Manaan in the prelude to Shadow of Revan.
At least the two new expansions allow for two new modes, story, and veteran. Veteran is for players that want a challenge along with the story. Flashpoints and operations are still difficult and require a group, along with world bosses. The best thing is all my companions can be healers. Agents and Smugglers have very poor resilience without a healer.
Overall the gameplay is pretty good and I like having a variety of abilities to choose from with each class having their own unique style. However, ultimately it is the player that chooses their game style. As a character levels up, players choose which class skill they require. When the game was first launched we had class trees where players received points to put toward a specific tree. It changed for the Shadow of Revan launch to the disciplines system. The developers claim it creates a more balanced system, and the game does feel a bit more balanced. What is nice is that the skills are chosen based off of the player’s discipline path. The discipline path is automatically upgraded but players can choose utilities in four categories; skillful, masterful, heroic, and legendary. It’s a good way of creating your own combat proficiency.
Some boss fights feel unbalanced though it is up to players to figure out how to beat them with their class abilities. Every enemy is going to be either ranged or tank, have force abilities, use heavy weapons, or use explosives. Groups help with some of the more challenging fights. When groups are impossible then players need to know how to use their tank or ranged character to take on difficult enemies. For example, the last boss fight in the Knights of the Eternal Throne expansion I found was the most challenging. During the final boss fight, I had a disadvantage being DPS, the boss was better suited for a tank. I had to die over and over again just to learn the right timing, how to use my environment and the boss’s skills to my advantage. It worked eventually and I made it to the end credits. As with other MMOs, this game requires not only skill but leveling up to your unique game style, especially when going solo, and in a group every player needs to know their roles and strengths and other player’s roles in order to balance the fight.