"Star Wars: The Old Republic" marks BioWare's long-awaited return to the "Star Wars" universe since it released "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II" for home consoles back in 2004. The original Knights of the Old Republic set the standard for the modern Western role-playing game with its dialogue choices and morality meter, focused and character-driven storytelling and squad-based combat.
"The Old Republic" brings these staples of any good BioWare game and throws them into the culture of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG). The result is something that feels markedly different than anything other MMORPGs have to offer, while never straying too far from the established formula.
Like other MMORPGs, you'll find yourself taking on fetch or kill quests, teaming up with other players of various character classes and working your way towards that level cap while learning new abilities along the way.
The game starts you off much like any other MMORPG. You chose from four different character classes and opt to fight for either the Republic or the Sith Empire. The character classes are initially predictable for a Star Wars MMORPG but offer vastly different play styles and unique stories to explore.
You may even find yourself disappointed in the somewhat limited racial options, given the breadth of the "Star Wars" lore. You won't be able to create that Rodian bounty hunter you were thinking of or run around as a Mon Calamari spamming, "It's a trap!" on the chat channel.
Once you begin the game proper, you'll be greeted with a familiar MMORPG interface along with the expected quest givers, enemy forces and plenty of loot. What you probably weren't expecting was the astonishing level of polish afforded to every aspect of the game.
Unlike other MMORPGs, you're actually given reasonable context for your actions through fully voiced cut scenes and the ability to make the story your own through quest changing player choices and dialogue options.
This story presentation gives the game a sense of gravity and forward momentum that replaces the generally empty, meandering feeling present in most other MMORPGs. What's most interesting - and perhaps the greatest example of what BioWare brings to the table - are "The Old Republic"'s flashpoints (their version of instances).
Not only do these flashpoints offer a nice spike in difficulty for groups of players, they're also very heavy on role-playing. Here, conversations are a whole new animal as you and your teammates enter dialogue together. Each player rolls invisible dice for a turn to speak and guide the direction of the conversation. What results is a naturally flowing conversation that showcases the varying personalities of each player.
The real question here is whether "The Old Republic" is worth your time in a market populated by heavy-hitting mainstays of the genre and free-to-play titles that offer similar experiences.
The fact is that "The Old Republic" doesn't redefine the MMORPG. What it does do is shed some light on what may come next in terms of story presentation and character depth for the genre. It's also a very solid experience that holds up in comparison to any of its massively multiplayer brethren.
Perhaps most important to its success, however, is its mass appeal. Yes, it's an MMORPG - and a very good one at that - but it's also a BioWare game, full of the depth and polish that is to be expected. If you've played Mass Effect then you have an idea of just what this game developer is capable of. Then there's the fact that it's a "Star Wars" game - a massively multiplayer "Star Wars" game - complete with the opening title scroll, bounty hunters, blaster and lightsabers. For most, this is just too much to pass up.
"Star Wars: The Old Republic" is available now for PC. It is rated T for Teen by the ESRB.