I’ve played my fair share of Star Wars games over the years. I can remember playing one on my trusty Nintendo Entertainment System which was just your basic platformer but was still enough to keep me captivated way back then (I was 6 at the time). More recently I indulged in the Jedi Knight Academy series of games which, to their credit, were actually quite fun and had a half decent story about them. I did not however get into Star Wars Galaxies, having heard how atrocious it was. Star Wars: The Old Republic however caught my attention from the get go mostly because BioWare was going to be the one developing it. I’ve always enjoyed their RPGs so it follows that their MMORPGs should be no different. Thus I pre-ordered my collector’s edition from Amazon months ago and I’ve been playing it ever since.
SW:TOR puts you 300 years after the events that occurred in the single player game Knights of the Old Republic which is still some 3,500 years prior to the events that take place in the original Star Wars movies. The Sith have returned in full force, retaking their old home of Korriban and re-establishing their Sith order. You then get to decide which faction to play for, The Republic or The Empire, and your choice will drastically change the story that unfolds before you. For reference I was a Jedi Knight base class and choose the Guardian specialization, putting me as a tank/dps. Your choice of advanced class doesn’t appear to influence the story however, just the archetype role you’ll fill.
Character customization is definitely a step above what I’m normally used to seeing in a MMORPG but is still somewhat lower than what you usually find in traditional RPGs. Most of the choices are from pre-set options so whilst it’s unlikely that you’ll find 2 characters that are completely identical there’s a very good chance you’ll notice someone running around with your face at one point, leading to some rather awkward moments. Still there’s enough variation in both your base character model as well as armour types to ensure that you won’t feel like you’re playing in a clone army.
On first impression the graphics of SW:TOR are nothing to write home about, especially when compared to the stunning visuals of some recent RPGs. Still much like World of Warcraft the stylization that has been used throughout the game means that it doesn’t detract from the experience. Of course, as with any MMORPG, graphics usually have to be stepped down in order to cope with the potential for huge numbers of players to be on screen at any one time. Indeed I’ve experienced some slowdown in the more populated areas (<30 people) but for the most part the graphics are the right balance of pretty and performance.
All that being said however some of the environments that are set up within SW:TOR did trigger my sense of awe. The screenshot above was just the first such example of where I stopped in my tracks and just took in the world for a while. It really did make me feel like I was part of something much greater than myself, something where the scale was far beyond just what was being presented to me at the time. However it would all be just simple eye candy if it weren’t for the story that underpins your entire reason for existing in this vast universe.
Now for most traditional MMORPGs the idea of an over-arching story line usually only goes as far as one particular level bracket. I can remember this quite clearly from my time with World of Warcraft where each area would have its own unique story but the connections between them were either tenuous or non-existent. SW:TOR on the other hand has a series of class quests that are in essence the driver for you to go from one planet to another. They’re far from a simple advancement device though as there are many times when you’ll be whisked away from the known planets on your map to other locations, sometimes for hours at a time.
Indeed SW:TOR could very easily be played as a single player RPG for those who’d like another fix of Star Wars goodness but were turned off by the MMORPG title. Sure there’s no escaping the fact that there’s countless “Kill X enemies” or “Gather Y of Z item” kinds of mission in there but should you not be too concerned with levelling as fast as you can they can be, for the most part, skipped entirely. A good chunk of the missions have some kind of unique mechanic or are broken up by enough cut scenes to make them feel a lot less grindy than their counterparts in other MMORPGs. Indeed there were times when I was playing simply because the story was driving me to, not the urge to get to max level and start gearing my character. I can honestly say I’ve never had that in a MMORPG before.
Levelling is actually quite enjoyable and doesn’t feel like a barrier to the real meat of SW:TOR. Unlike most MMORPGs where getting max level takes months of herculean effort you can easily reach max level in around 3 to 4 days played if you put your mind to it. My trip to max level was decidedly more leisurely but even I was able to knock out a max level character in under a month of play. This again reinforces the idea that SW:TOR would in fact make a great single player game that you could play through and be done with afterwards. That is, of course, how they’ll hook you in but I’ll be damned if it isn’t true.
The space missions also serve as a nice break from the usual tedium of questing. They’re something of a point and click adventure with the camera running along a set path with you being free to move around inside it. Initially they’re a walk in the park, especially for experienced gamers, but as you progress there will be ones that will challenge you. Like most things though you’ll eventually overcome the challenge and you’ll have to wait until you pass a certain level before you get another challenging one, but they’re still refreshing if you’ve been questing endlessly for a couple hours.
Your space ship also functions as a melting pot for you and your companions as well as being your transport between questing areas. I think this is probably why the questing in SW:TOR felt so fluid as each planet has a specific level bracket and could be travelled to with very little hassle. It also meant there weren’t any strange transition areas like there are in other MMORPGs when the designers tried to meld say a vast desert with a dense jungle (think Desolace to Feralas in WoW). It’s also quite nice to have the external camp to interact with your companions as their story lines (and potential romances) are quite interesting in themselves.
The experience however is not exactly trouble free. Shown above are two common glitches that I would routinely encounter, the one on the left moreseo than the right. There are quite a few graphical glitches that crop up from time to time but thankfully none of them too severe and are usually temporary. The second one shown above is a more extreme (but hilarious) example of the camera angles for cut scenes going all whacky and sometimes glitching out you or your NPCs armour. Mostly it would be my cape being stuck in my torso, but there’s also been people missing, voice overs not playing and characters not moving their mouths when talking.
There’s also some issues with lag, but not the ones you’d think. Even though BioWare didn’t release SW:TOR in Australia because of lag concerns I routinely get sub 200ms pings to the server, better even than I got in World of Warcraft (before I started using a tunnel, though). However there were still a few occasions when the server and my client would get out of sync, sending my character into a flurry of stepping forward only to be slingshot back. This would continue for up to 30 seconds at a time making for some rather frustrating moments.
PVP is something of a mixed bag at the moment thanks to the end game version of it still being a work in progress. You can participate in PVP from level 10 and currently everyone is thrown into the same bracket together. Everyone’s stats are boosted up to the highest level participant however so you can be somewhat competitive even when you’re just starting out. There are 3 different scenarios (capture and hold, timed race to the end and, in essence, football) so there’s not a whole lot of variety and it does start to feel repetitive after an hour or so. Still you’ll receive credits, experience and tokens towards PVP gear for participating so it’s well worth doing them, even if PVP doesn’t interest you at all.
The end game PVP appears to be an attempt to copy the ideas that Warhammer: Age of Reckoning brought to the table with Realm vs Realm PVP. There’s one world called Illum that’s basically up for grabs for either side should they want to have it. You can capture it by holding objectives although it’s not entirely clear what you get for doing so. This would be great except that currently open world PVP doesn’t award valor (PVP rank points) and there doesn’t appear to be any kind of bonus for holding Illum. Thus the end game PVP is reduced to people sitting at the objectives long enough to complete their dailies and then leaving, usually not even attempting to engage each other. I won’t complain about the free loot but it does feel somewhat pointless as there’s no reason to be there than for the dailies.
Compared to other recent MMORPG launches Star Wars: The Old Republic really stands out as one where the developers did their homework and worked hard to deliver an experience that was on par with those that were currently on offer. Sure its not as complete or as polished as others are now but for a first release it’s actually quite phenomenal, easily beating the initial release experience I’ve had with nearly all other MMORPGs. There’s still a lot of things where they could improve but overall the current game is more than enough to cement their position as a solid contender and I can see myself continuing to play it for a good couple months after this review.
The question many people ask is though, will this take the crown as MMORPG king away from World of Warcraft? I don’t think it will, but not because of any fault with the game itself. All the other WoW killers out there were fundamentally flawed at launch, usually lacking content or sufficient polish. World of Warcraft is the opiate for the MMORPG masses and the only ones capable of taking it down are Blizzard themselves and indeed it looks like they will with Diablo III and the mysterious Project Titan. SW:TOR however is a strong contender to be second place to them, and not just the distant second that many have been before it.
Star Wars: The Old Republic managed to re-ignite that same sense of passion, wonder and fulfilment that I first felt all those years ago when I made my first tenuous steps into the world of MMORPGs. It really is a wonderful feeling going through a new world for the first time, especially one that’s as rich as SW:TOR. I can’t see myself getting as addicted as I did back in my MMORPG heydays but that’s probably just me getting older more than it is the game being any less addictive. For Star Wars fans, MMORPGers and RPG fans alike SW:TOR is definitely worth checking out, even if you ignore that whole online part.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is available right on exclusively on PC for $62 which includes 1 month of game time. Game was played entirely on PC with around 5 days (120 hours) of total play time and reaching the level cap, 50.
Like many gamers of my age I’m a big fan of the Deus Ex series, but my experience with it is somewhat backwards to the norm. You see I missed the release of the original Deus Ex, due to me not being involved in the games community very much at the time, but instead my first experience with Deus Ex came from its sequel Invisible War. Now while the sequel was recieved well critically it didn’t fair so well with the rest of the community. Personally I loved it, giving it 2 solid play throughs tackling it a different way each time. I was so hooked by the story that I went ahead and played through the original, clocking up a good 50 hours on it and finally understood what everyone was talking about. I knew a third had been in the works for a while but I hadn’t heard much about it until the start of this year when I first heard about Human Revolution and I pre-ordered my copy as soon as I was able.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a prequel to the original game, set 25 years prior to it in the year 2027. You play as Adam Jensen, the head of the security for an augmentation company called Sarif Industries. The initial mission sets the scene as you’re walked slowly through the scientist’s labs, show casing all the technology they’ve been able to create in order to enhance the human race. Megan Reed, one of the lead scientists and former love interest, tells you about her latest discovery that could allow artificially controlled evolution. Not long after the building is attacked by an unknown group of assailants and with Jensen mortally wounded he is forced to be augmented extensively to save his life. The game then revolves around finding out who was responsible for the attacks and what their motives are.
The Deus Ex series has been known to push the limits of the technology of the time and Human Revolution is no exception. The entire game is just simply gorgeous with the colour palate that gives the whole world a kind of neon-noir feeling about it. It’s a very cyberpunk setting with technology infiltrating every corner of the world and yet still it feels like some post-apocalyptic world, especially when you take a detour off the beaten track and see that not everywhere is as rosy as it could be.
The initial impression I felt when playing Human Revolution is just how much it felt like the original Deus Ex. Invisible War was definitely not in the same league as either which I feel can be blamed wholly on its heavy ties to the consoles which it was designed for. The others have a certain feel about them, something in the way the game is played that triggered the same feelings for both of them. I’m probably not doing a great job of describing just what that feeling is, but I know a lot of others are experiencing the same thing.
One feeling that I can easily describe is the engrossing cinematic feeling that Human Revolution manages to capture. From the levels in game to the in game clips to the full motion videos everything has an extremely high quality production feel about it. Take for instance the city of Hengsha pictured below, this scene literally sent shivers down my spine at not just how amazing it looked but the sheer concept as well. My inner cyberpunk fan that had laid dormant all those years since finishing Neuromancer back in college was woken up, and boy was he delighted with what he saw.
The game play in Human Revolution is very fluid and nuanced enough that everyone’s initial play through will have some unique aspects to it. I played the majority of the game as a non-lethal stealth operative, favouring the old fashioned air duct escapades that the original Deus Ex was so famous for and taking down my enemies swiftly and silently. However there were several points I find myself bristling with weapons and ammunition so I would instead take the easy way out and blast my way through to the end. Both ways were equally challenging and rewarding when completed and I never once felt shoe horned into a certain way of playing.
Like its predecessors Human Revolution makes heavy use of dialogue between characters in order to move the plot forward. Whilst not all interactions are as deep as they are in say Mass Effect there are several key times when you’ll be deep in conversation with other characters which can alter the course of the game dramatically. In fact if I’m entirely honest the first couple hours of Human Revolution failed to grab me like its predecessors did, right up until the first conversation I had with one of my former colleagues at the police station. The level of emotion in that conversation hooked me immediately and I revelled in the fact that I could talk my way through a situation (for the record I never got the social aug).
The hacking mini-game is an interesting one and is definitely a step up from the old days of progress bar watching or other simple mini-games. Now whilst you will be able to complete the game without spending a single point in hacking (all the story blocking terminals are level 1) it would seem like a good chunk of the game would be unavailable to you. Also apart from the stealth hacking aug, the ability to control turrets/robots and levelling up the terminals you can hack all the other augs seem rather pointless in comparison. The number of attempts left seems rather pointless as well since any long time player will be quick saving like a madman and will simply reload if they can’t hack a specific terminal in the given number of tries. Still it was an interesting distraction, especially when you came up against the terminals littered with rewards.
Combat in Human Revolution is an interesting beast as with the seemingly endless number of options available to you each combat encounter can be tackled in numerous ways. For starters there’s the easy way out by simply finding the nearest vent and high tailing it out of there. Depending on what augs you have this will sometimes be your only option as some enemies are darned near impossible to go toe to toe with and their pathing never quite leads them to a place where you can silently take them down without being spotted by one of their friends.
There’s also a heavy distinction between lethal and non-lethal take downs which and Human Revolution is heavily biased (as in, double the XP) towards taking them down via non-lethal means. At the start this seems like a strange distinction to make since it’s just as easy to take them out either way but as the game progresses the skill required to take down someone non-lethally starts to increase quite dramatically, especially if you’re trying to stay undetected. Still there are times when taking down an enemy lethally is quite difficult and the less than half XP reward feels a little cheap. There might have been lethal kill bonuses and I just never saw them thanks to my “sniper in the trees” style of play however.
It seems that Eidos Montreal has a good sense of humour about them too with the game not always being completely serious. Hacking into computers leads to find little gems like people playing office pranks on each other, 419 scams and good old fashioned spam for various pharmaceuticals. The radio show that plays in the background in various locations is also quite a lark with my favourite line being “that would be like getting the pope to ride a float in the gay pride parade”. There are also some quintessential bits of geek humour in there like this monitor bridge in Frank Pritchard’s room (which begs the question, who still has CRTs in 2027?).
For the most part game play is smooth and bug free, but there are some notable exceptions to this case. I found myself at one point stuck at the other end of a very long hallway with a guard standing at the other end who was refusing to patrol anywhere. Try as I might to find another way around him I couldn’t find one and was thus either doomed to alert him (and possibly trigger an alarm) or find a more creative solution. Thinking I’d be able to skirt around this by some clever line of sighting I picked up a nearby container and walked it up to him. That didn’t work initially but I found that if I instead pushed the crate to him rather than picking it up he didn’t twig that this giant container was screeching its way over to him. In fact he only reacted when I pushed the container into him, but quickly reloading I was able to skirt around the side and promptly take him out.
There are also some combinations of mods/weapons and/or decisions in the game that can make certain encounters completely trivial or damned near impossible. This is not a bug per say, more an aspect of the Human Revolution’s openness. Just like hacking might make your life easier in some aspects the game developers had to put in an out for those who didn’t want to hack everything in sight, so technically the points spent in hacking are a waste from that point of view (negating the massive amount of XP that’s available doing it). There’s also many parts of the game that are only available to those with certain augs (jump height, breaking through walls, etc.) which isn’t a bad thing either, just that Human Revolution really demands multiple play throughs, even if you think you’ve done the majority of it already.
Like all Deus Ex stories the plot of Human Revolution is a deeply engrossing narrative that is the main driver for playing the game, rather than being an aside to the action. Whilst not all the voice actors are as good as the main plot characters are (all Hengsha natives that speak English are bordering on being racist stereotypes) the interactions between Jensen and everyone else feels genuine and there’s all his emotions come across extremely well. It’s extremely satisfying to be deep in conversation with some of the characters and you can see their expression change as you talk to them. Whilst its not on the level of L.A. Noire it’s still enough to know if you’re going down the right path, usually unlocking something valuable at the other end of the conversation.
The ending is a strange beast which Yahtzee Crowshaw summing it up perfectly. Don’t get me wrong the essence of Deus Ex is that you can have a real impact on the world with the choices that you make throughout the game. However, whilst there is a choice as to how Human Revolution wraps that is completely under your control, the choice seems rather arbitrary as the ending is just another version of the same thing. It’s entirely possible that a future sequel will use your choice in this game to influence events (or even possibly the upcoming Missing Link DLC) but that hasn’t been announced anywhere so the ending, whilst a decent way to wrap up the story of Human Revolution, is somewhat confusing in its execution.
However all these quibbles pale in comparison to the magnificence that is Deus Ex Human Revolution. It’s so awesome to see a community that was so burned by the sequel coming back to the sequel with a vengeance and I’m happy that I can count myself amongst them. Still even for people who haven’t played any of the other games in the Deus Ex series Human Revolution still has a lot to offer in the ways of a freeform FPS RPG with gorgeous graphics and a gripping storyline. I really can’t recommend this game enough.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox360 right now for $89.99, $98 and $98 respectively. Game was played on the PC with the difficulty set to “Give Me Deus Ex” (hardest) with around 22 hours of total game time and 67% of the total achievements unlocked.