Going into games with little to no expectations makes for some…surprising moments. Most of the time I know what kind of experience I’m in for but there are times when I haven’t looked into the game beyond a cinematic trailer or two before I consider myself sold on playing it. Such is the case with Jedi: Fallen Order as I’m something of a Star Wars and Respawn Entertainment fan so I figured it was a done deal that I’d enjoy whatever happened when the two were combined. Imagine my surprise when I find myself in the middle of a Star Wars soulslike experience, far from the traditional RPG or third person shooter style games that this IP has been known for. Coming into this game somewhat late in the piece means I missed most of the extreme jank that plagued early reviews but still, as an overall experience, I think Fallen Order could do with some more work in a few key areas.
Five years after the execution of Order 66 and the beginning of the Great Jedi Purge, former Jedi Padawan Cal Kestis is in hiding from the newly risen Galactic Empire. On the planet Bracca, where he works as a scrapper salvaging ships from the Clone Wars. After he uses the force to save one of his friends from certain doom he becomes a target for the Inquisitors, an elite squadron of force users trained by Darth Vader himself. Luckily Cal is able to escape with the help of a former Jedi Knight named Cere Junda and her partner pilot Greez Dritus. Cere then tells you of her plan to rebuild the Jedi order using a holocron that contains the names of numerous force sensitive children scattered throughout the universe.
Fallen Order’s visuals excel in the wide open spaces that it puts you in, the wide vistas in the background providing some great screenshot bait. Up close however it’s clear that the visuals have been tuned a little bit more towards the performance end, wanting to ensure that the framerate remains more consistent during heavy action sequences. Part of that could also be due to my older rig not being capable of rendering more detail as I know that the PlayStation 4 version has a “performance” graphics setting which is recommended for non-pro users which looks quite similar to the results I’m seeing here. Even with all of that taken into consideration Fallen Order is still a fine looking game.
Fallen Order doesn’t make too many changes to the souslike core game loop, staying pretty true to the original formula. You have bonfires (meditation points), estus flask (stims), maps that twist and turn on themselves to reveal shortcuts that will make repeated trips through them quicker and a progression system that punishes death in the usual way. Fallen Order is a little more generous with its various mechanics however, making it one of the more tame soulslike experiences I’ve played to date. The only real changes to the formula are the much more contained levels with each world being its own distinct area to explore and the combat tending towards Bloodborne a little more than a traditional souls game. If you’ve been shying away from this genre for a while now I’d say that Fallen Order would be a good place to start, especially if you’re a fan of the IP it comes from.
Following the Bloodborne style for combat means that the game’s pace is a lot faster than your traditional souls game, being a little more hack ‘n’ slash rather than a strategic stamina management battle. Parrying is very much the name of the game here as you’ll have a much easier time if you’re able to hit the required timings rather than trying to dodge your way through everything. That’s partly due to the parry timing being somewhat generous and the dodging feeling a little buggy as it rarely works as you’d expect it to. Indeed the whole integration of the physics engine with the combat mechanics doesn’t feel 100%, even after the patches that took out the most egregious errors that plagued the game’s release.
That, coupled with the game’s rather basic approach to increasing the challenge for you (mostly by just throwing more enemies at you and/or the time between save points) makes for a combat experience that’s a little below par. To be sure there’s some great fights in there and I quite enjoyed a lot of the boss battles as they really did capture that same feeling I got when facing down bosses in other souls games. However much of the later challenge was really just frustration, forcing me to replay through sections over and over again just because I encountered something that I couldn’t have planned for. There was a lot of scope for Respawn to make every world have its own unique set of challenges with different enemies and mechanics but, in the end, they opted for most of them to be basically the same with only slight variations in the trash mobs. That could have been done a lot better.
Progression comes pretty steadily as you gain XP by defeating enemies, finding collectibles and unlocking secrets. Early on you’re likely going to unlock all of the skills available before you get the next tier unlocked and, even towards the end of the game, you’re likely going to be wondering what you really want to spend your points on. For the most part though the skills and upgrades are minor improvements and there’s no one build that’s going to be a lot better than others. To be sure there’s a few skills which will likely make some encounters a little easier than others but you won’t be able to say, build around a particular boss in order to cheese them.
Exploration feels somewhat rewarding however looking for all the crates isn’t something you’re going to need to do. Pretty much all the items contained in them are just cosmetics with no impact to your character’s stats at all. There are upgrades to your health and force scattered around the place but they barely feel worth seeking out as the talent tree does a good enough job of bolstering those up for you.
Whilst I never had any issues with the game freezing or crashing there was still a good helping of physics and hitbox related issues during my playthrough. I couldn’t tell you how many times I jumped at a rope, tried to wall run or jump onto a small rail only to have Cal fall to his death. That only got more frustrating during the more challenging platforming sections as I’d often fail at the last point, requiring me to replay the whole section again. This physics and hitbox jankiness pervades throughout all of the game’s various elements making for a rather annoying and inconsistent experience at times. It’s certainly no where near as bad now as some of the early videos show but there’s still a lot of room for improvement here.
Fallen Order’s story goes through peaks and troughs; sometimes reeling you in with some heartfelt moments whilst at others falling utterly flat. Usually this comes down to bad pacing however Fallen Order does manage to get that right, delivering story items at a consistent rate to keep you engaged enough. I think it partly comes down to a lot of false crescendos as the story appears to be leading to a pivotal point only to shoot off in a completely arbitrary direction, making you feel like you really haven’t gotten as far as you think. The one thing I will credit them for is not relying heavily on main Star Wars characters to drive everything, a sin many Star Wars games commit all too frequently.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a competent soulslike experience that suffers from some fundamental technical issues that make it a good, but not great experience. There are glimmers of excellence all over the place, from the expansive visual set pieces to the steady pace of progression and some key story moments that really hit home. But those are buried under the janky physics and hitbox issues that pervade the rest of the experience making things like combat, exploration and solving puzzles a frustrating experience. This is something that will, hopefully, get better over time but as it stands today, even after a couple patches, Jedi: Fallen Order is a game that’s probably best picked up when it’s on sale a few months from now.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $89.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 17 hours play time and 46% of the achievements unlocked.
I really shouldn’t be making a habit of posting these 2 months after the previous year has finished…
Despite my best efforts to really, truly, get back into the 1 game per week rhythm I still managed to only play 43 games last year (1 up from last year). My list of games I didn’t get around to is about as long as it was the years previous although, to be honest, most of them were missed deliberately. Unlike like the last few years I really don’t have a problem with crowning this year’s winner, even with 4 titles vying for the top spot. However it wasn’t always so as I went back and forth over which title should take the crown for a good part of last year. In retrospect now, and by looking at the scores it’s quite clear that there’s only one title it could be.
For reference here’s the list of every game I played last year in chronological order:
It is my not-so-guilty pleasure to assign last year’s worst game to none other than Space Hulk: Deathwing, my second game for last year. I went into that game with no real expectations; I simply hoped for another semi-decent Warhammer 40K game. What I got instead was a slow moving borefest that made the ultimate 40K fantasy, the one of being a Space Marine, a tiresome affair. I’m definitely not alone in thinking this either with 43% of owners simply not playing it and, for those who do, half of them have played less than 2 hours. Coming in at a very close second was STRAFE which proved that nostalgia can only take you so far, especially with “old school” 3D graphics. Thankfully both these titles have been overshadowed by the numerous better games I played last year and there’s a couple that fit into the honourable mention category.
This is likely going to land me in some very hot water but Star Wars Battlefront 2, yes that one, gets a mention as since it’s released I’ve poured some 100+ hours into the multiplayer. A small chunk of that came during the review and I was almost set to put it down until the holiday period came along. It was then that the Christmas Noobs flooded the servers, providing an incredible hunting ground for those like me who had unlocked some decent star cards. That then grew into a love for the base game and I’ve since unlocked all heros and topped the servers dozens of times over. To be sure the issues around microtransactions and progression tied to loot boxes still exist however, now that I’ve basically got everything I need, it’s a non-issue for me. Funnily enough had I shelled out cash to get to this point earlier I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. Still it remains one of my guilty pleasures, much like Call of Duty used to be.
I also want to mention Pyre as it’s a rare example of a company taking a massive risk when it comes to changing what they do. Whilst I didn’t score it as highly as Transistor it did stick in my mind as one of last year’s more unique experiences. For Supergiant games it signals something of a turning point, one which frees them from the shackles they so lovingly crafted for themselves. Their future is incredibly bright and I can not wait to see what comes from them next.
But enough beating around the bush, my Game of the Year for 2017 is:
Zelda: Breath of the Wild was destined for great things right from the beginning. A new Zelda game on a new Nintendo console is basically guaranteed to be a hit but the changes to the core Zelda formula could have swung either way. Thankfully what we got was an absolutely amazing game, one that managed to grow the franchise beyond the constraints that came from the decades of titles that preceded it. The fact that even after some 30+ hours the game could still surprise me says a lot about the game as there aren’t many that can remain new and fresh for that long. There are some small chinks in its near-perfect armour however, namely the weapon durability system which made some of the game’s more interesting and unique finds less useful and enjoyable than they could have been. Even that small flaw melts away in the face of the grander experience that the game puts forward. Honestly whilst my Nintendo Switch may sit not 3 feet away from me, still unused since I played Zelda last, I still consider it money well spent simply for the purpose of playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Coming in at a very close second was Horizon: Zero Dawn. Given that I played it immediately after Zelda it could have easily have been overshadowed but it managed to shine extremely brightly. For a long time after I finished it I was tossing up which of them was the better of the two games. On a raw score perspective Zelda wins, so you’d think that would seal it, but Horizon is a completely new IP and doing something new like that (and doing well at it) could be argued is the greater achievement. In the end Horizon had a few more black marks against in terms of overall experience but make no mistake, it’s still one of last year’s top tier games.
In third place is Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, which continued the series’ trademark classic shooter experience in a modern context. It also gets extra points for presenting the most captivating story experience in the series to date. Some of the mistakes of the past still haunt it but, at least for this old reviewer, it proved itself to be the best game in the series to date.
If my list of games to review is anything to go by 2018 is shaping up to be quite the year. Many of the developers who I’ve previously given Game of the Year to are releasing new titles this year and I’m eager to see how they all stack up.
I can’t remember a time when I was told by so many disparate people to not play a game. To be clear I don’t think the controversy surrounding Battlefront 2 is unjustified as the trend towards including what amounts to gambling in nearly every AAA title feels like a massive step backwards for the industry. More it’s the fact that the game itself looked fun, even with the microtransactions and loot boxes taken into consideration. So I went against everyone’s advice and bought a copy of the game thinking that, at the very least, it’d be worth it just to play another campaign in the Star Wars universe. Whilst that didn’t turn out to be the highlight I was hoping it to be the multi-player has been surprisingly fun, if marred somewhat by the loot box bogeyman.
The campaign centres on Iden Versio a member of the elite Inferno Squad, an Imperial Special Forces Commando unit, formed after the destruction of the first Death Star. She was on Endor when the second Death Star was destroyed by the rebels, splintering the Galactic Empire. The Emperor’s death triggered a secret contingency plan to ensure that the Empire retained control of the galaxy: dubbed Operation Cinder. Iden is then sent on a set of unusual missions to prepare for it when it becomes clear that the mission will be far more sinister than anyone planned for.
Battlefront II, like its predecessor, makes use of the Frostbite 3 engine which once again provides for some absolutely stunning visuals. Of particular note is the lighting which is simply without peer in any game I’ve played this year. Beyond that it’s impressive the amount of stuff they’ve managed to cram into every level and set piece, both in the campaign and the multiplayer. Those pretties do come at a cost however and whilst my near 3 year old machine was able to run everything on high @ 1080p I’m sure anything beyond that would’ve turned the whole affair into a slide show.
The core game remains largely the same, retaining the star card system and reworking the hero/more powerful classes to use a “battlepoint” system that allows you to buy them once you’ve accumulated enough of them through attacking other players, achieving objectives or, funnily enough, straight up dying enough times. Progression is, unfortunately, inexorably tied to the loot crates which drop star cards and crafting materials you’ll need to level up your class of choice. You can buy these crates with in-game currency you earn through playing however so you don’t have to spend money to get there but I’ll be damned if a bunch of people didn’t do exactly that. The same game modes make a return as well with the trademark 40 on 40 battles being the go-to favourite of many players. An “Arcade Mode” was introduced to get you used to the various non-standard classes, something which can be rather painful to do in the multi itself. All in all it’s pretty much the same game as Battlefront was with the progression mechanics all mixed up in a microtransaction hell.
Combat feels the same as it did in its predecessor, meaning that aiming down sights does nothing and the third person camera gives you the spatial awareness you’ll need if you want to be at all effective. Yet again it took me a little while to get used to it, my FPS tendencies that had been bedded in by Call of Duty and Destiny 2 needing to be shaken off before I felt like everything had clicked. Of course the power level between me and my foes was immediately apparent; fights that felt like they should have been even turning out to be anything but and I couldn’t go 2 steps without a sniper removing most, if not all, of my health. As I learnt the maps and started to progress a little this started to happen less often but it’s unfortunately obvious that those who’ve opened their wallets have a distinct advantage.
You see how you level a class in Battlefront II isn’t through playing them, no you level them by crafting star cards for them. Each of the cards you craft (or receive through loot boxes) adds to your “card level” for that particular class. Each of the cards has 4 power levels, each of which provides more benefits than the last. You can’t, however, craft the best card right from the get go. No instead you must craft a bunch of lesser cards (most of which you’ll likely never use) before you can unlock the next tier of upgrades. This means your best bet is to focus on a single class and craft a build that you feel most comfortable playing for a long time. After then you can start fleshing out the other classes like the upgraded troops, vehicles and hero characters. If this is sounding like a lot of work it most certainly is. I’m about 6 hours into the multi and my assault class is card level 10 with a few others around the 2 or 3 level. This hasn’t stopped me from being somewhat effective (I do about average it seems) but its hard to deny that a disproportionate number of those at the top are ones who’ve splashed a bit of cash around.
Worse still this also has a limiting effect on how you can play as the “upgraded” classes, vehicles and hero classes can feel woefully underpowered when you go from your preferred, card levelled class to them. Even if you do manage to get enough battle points to spawn one of them it’s quite likely that someone has already done the same, locking you out of playing one of them. Of course you could spend some credits to unlock another hero class (ranging in price from 5,000 to 15,000 credits) but, yet again, that’s an advantage that someone who’s shelled out cash is going to have over you. It’s possible that these issues are somewhat magnified due to my relative tardiness in getting around to playing Battlefront II but, honestly, systems like this that reward you with just flat out better gear incentivize all the wrong things in titles like this.
It’s a right shame as the game is actually playable this time around and, honestly, quite fun. Whilst there are still issues with matchmaking, like a lack of team reshuffling between matches and the lack of a leavers penalty, there’s at least a relatively healthy community on PC now. No longer do I have wait ages for a spot in the single galactic war match, hoping that I end up on the winning team so I can farm some easy credits for an hour or two. Nope instead there’s always multiple games cranking and, on average, there’s a 50/50 chance of finding yourself on the winning side. It even got to the point where I figured I should finish the campaign, just for good measure, but honestly felt that I’d much rather enjoy playing a few multi games rather than going back to it.
The reason for that is, whilst parts of the campaign have their moments, it just falls somewhat flat from a story perspective. It’s a highly predictable one for starters, following the typical “bad guy realising they’re the bad guy” trope which makes it hard to really connect with anyone in it. Like most multiplayer focused games it’s also mostly an extended showcase for the levels you’ll be playing later, loosely stitched together with fragments of a story so there’s a reason for you to visit all of them. I didn’t finish it in the end but, honestly, I had most of the story played out in my head already (and a quick trip to the wiki shows that I was pretty close to the mark). All in all, whilst it’s commendable that EA DICE listened on this one particular thing they could have at least put just a tiny bit more effort into it.
Star Wars Battlefront II is a great game that got itself mixed up in the wrong crowd. When it comes down to it the flagship game mode, Galactic War, is a bunch of fun, capturing that feeling of being part of something much larger than yourself when you’re playing it. However the whole progression system being heavily tilted towards getting you to shell out for loot boxes means that the overall experience suffers greatly as a result. EA DICE may be making steps towards fixing it but we all know what the end game is here: placate us long enough so that the idea of paying for loot boxes becomes palatable again. Honestly it’s a right shame as beneath all of this is a great game that begs to be played, one I know a lot of people would enjoy.
Star Wars Battlefront II is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with approximately 7 hours of total play time.
It’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan, as this writer is. Whilst the IP has never really been left alone it’s seen new life breathed into it with the latest movie and the hubbub that has surrounded it. Released just before the movies the revived Star Wars Battlefront game had promised to bring the big screen action to your home PC or console, putting you on the ground in some of the key battles that defined the franchise. However the controversy surrounding the game’s release has been strong with many long time fans (and the game’s original incarnation) simply straight up boycotting the game. I’ve finally managed to get some time with the title and, in all honesty, I can’t disagree with many of the issues that have been raised, some of which are made even worse by some horrendous design choices.
Battlefront takes place on the various iconic sets that defined the Star Wars triologies. You’ll be down on the ground during the battle of Hoth, fending off imperial AT-AT walkers from the base’s power supplies. Next you’ll find yourself on the forest moon of endor, dodging and weaving through the trees to do battle with the opposing force. There’s even numerous maps on the new desert planet of Jakku where the ruins of an imperial fleet play host to numerous skirmishes and large 40 v 40 battles. There are a few single player challenges for you to try your hand at but they mostly function as a way to introduce you to some of the mechanics and to give you credits to spend on in-game unlocks. Suffice to say in terms of settings EA got a lot right, focusing on the things that fans of both the franchise and the original game wanted to see.
Battlefront stands out as the pinnacle of graphics in 2015 with the expansive environments filled with incredible amounts of detail having no rival. This should come as no surprise given its pedigree with the developer, DICE, being responsible for previous graphical marvels in the Battlefield franchise. This no doubt helps with the larger than life feeling that the game strives to create as no environment feels more alive than the ones that DICE created for this version of Battlefront. Of course if you’re wanting to see this game at its peak you’ll need to pay admission price, something which even my recently upgraded rig struggled to achieve at some points.
Mechanically Battlefront is your typical multi-player shooter set in the Star Wars universe and many of the mechanics take their inspiration from it. There’s a variety of weapons at your disposal, the choice of which largely determine by your play style. The star card system, which allows you to pick 3 different power ups, allows you to customize your character further. The unlock system feels like the original Black Ops online mode with credits being awarded at the end of each match which you can spend to unlock gear (most of which requires a certain rank to attain). There are handful of different game modes most of which will be instantly familiar with a number of them that make use of Battlefront’s more unique mechanics like the hero powerups. Suffice to say Battlefront has all the trappings of a decent multiplayer only shooter however that’s only half the battle and, unfortunately, it’s that other half which it loses hard.
The FPS combat mechanics are a little odd, tending more towards the current console shooter trends more than its PC roots would have you believe. There’s a 3rd person mode which strangely imposes no penalties (which means you should be using it, no question) and the ADS system doesn’t provide an accuracy bonus. As someone who’s played far too many hours of Call of Duty recently this took a little getting used to but it’s serviceable once you get settled. Battlefront, like the Battlefield games before it, is one that rewards players with more powerful weapons and powerups the longer you play. This means that you’ll often come up against opponents that have far better gear than you. Whilst skill can overcome that gap in most situations it does mean for latecomers like myself you feel at a significant disadvantage for a decent period of time. This is somewhat made up for by the relatively fast levelling system, however that’d only work if the matchmaking of Battlefront wasn’t so horribly broken.
Among the various questionable choices made (I won’t touch the DLC debacle, that’s already been done to death) Battlefront’s matchmaking does away with dedicated servers in favour of its own matchmaking service. On PC though this system simply doesn’t work 90% of the time, failing to find games or putting you in an empty lobby which never gets past half full. It’s not limited to the big game modes either as every time I’ve opened up Battlefront I’ve tried every single mode at least once to see if I can find a game. Should Battlefront have the option to queue for a full game (like its Battlefield predecessors did) this wouldn’t be an issue but alas there isn’t one. Worst still is the fact that the teams aren’t balanced or randomized after every game, meaning that should one team completely destroy the other that will likely continue indefinitely. Sure you can try and leave and rejoin, but you’ll likely get stuck trying to find another game for 30+ minutes again.
It’s a real shame because it’s these kinds of frustrations that up and kill most of my motivation to play Battlefront. The game itself is a great bit of fun, even if it’s not balanced well like other shooters are, but when it’s locked behind so much waiting I find myself drifting back to my old haunts. Sure some of these problems are due to the relatively small PC player base (some 10% of the XboxOne or PlayStation4) but even 10,000 players should be enough to ensure near instant queues for games. Unfortunately it seems like a solution to this problem won’t be forthcoming any time soon and will likely be hidden behind the dreaded season pass paywall.
Battlefront has all the makings of a great Star Wars game, one that faithfully pays homage to the original IP, but unfortunately falls short of attaining it. The graphics are simply marvellous, easily the best of any game that was released in 2015. The game play, whilst feeling a little unpolished when compared to other similar titles, does have a certain charm to it even when you’re facing off against foes who are far beyond your own level. The matchmaking brings the whole show down, ensuring that half your play time will be spent waiting for a game which will inevitably end up being an unbalanced horror show, either in or your favour or against. Whilst I’ll likely return for a bash every so often I can’t see myself forking over the extra cash for the privilege of doing so, at least not until EA and DICE get off their collective asses to fix it.
Star Wars Battlefront is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59 on all platforms. Game was played on the PC with approximately 8 hours of total play time.
Before we get started let me just put this here:
LARGE PLOT SPOILERS BELOW FOR THE NEW STAR WARS MOVIE
There, now that’s out of the way let’s get onto the meat of this post.
I, like all Star Wars fans, had been very much looking forward to the latest movie. Whilst I have my reservations about some aspects of it (which I’ll reserve for a conversation over a couple beers as to avoid a flamewar on here) I still thoroughly enjoyed it. However like most sci-fi movies The Force Awakens plays fast and loose with science. Following the rules of our universe when it suits the plot and sweeping them under the rug when it doesn’t. There are some grievances that I’m willing to let slide in this respect, this is fiction after all, however there’s at least one egregarious scene in which physics is completely thrown out the window when it really didn’t need to be.
My grievance lies with Starkiller base, the bigger and badder version of the Death Star which now encompasses an entire planet rather than just a small artificial moon. Whether such a device is something that could be built is something I’m willing to gloss over however the fact that it’s powered by drawing off mass from its neighbouring star brings with it a few niggling questions. It’s ultimate destruction, which then brings about the resurrection of its parent star, is also not something that would happen and not something I’d be willing to write off with space magic.
We get to see Starkiller base fire once and then begin preparations for firing again. Assuming that it didn’t travel to a new star in the interim (I don’t remember that being indicated as such) then it would’ve consumed half of its parent star’s mass to fire that single shot. That would’ve caused all sorts of grief for everything in orbit around it, not to mention the fact that that mass is now present on Starkiller base itself. Any asteroid or other debris near by should have rocketed down to the surface with incredible speed, laying waste to the surface. I’m willing to give a pass for a “gravity pump” or something else on the inside parts but being able to negate half the mass of a star over the entire planet is pure fantasy rather than a stretch of fiction.
However the final destruction of Starkiller base is the most egregious flaunt of the laws of physics. Putting aside all the mass contained within the star issue for a moment when it was all released the result would not be a new sun just like the old one. Whilst the mass was likely not compressed past its Schwarzschild radius (I’m assuming it’s a Sun like star) it would still be far too compressed to simply balloon back out. Instead it would likely become a white dwarf, that is if the explosion wasn’t violent enough to simply disperse the star’s material across its solar system. Since the system that Starkiller base resides in was never named I’m hazarding a guess it’s not relevant to the future plot so the returning sun just seems like a little bit of laziness more than anything else.
Of course I’m not advocating for 100% scientific accuracy in all films (indeed I don’t think there’s one good sci-fi epic that does) however a few nods here or there wouldn’t go astray. There are certain times where scientific accuracy would harm the plot and in that case I’m fine to relinquish it to induldge in the fantasy. Other times however it would do no harm and provide an interesting talking point as sometimes the physical reality can be far more interesting than the fantasy.
I am, like many of my ilk, a long time fan of Star Wars. I have many fond memories of watching it with my family as a kid, not completely understanding all the themes but just revelling in the story. When I heard that George Lucas was going to be making another three I was incredibly excited as I just couldn’t get enough of the Star Wars universe. It’s at this point that my course deviates somewhat from the norm as whilst I don’t believe the prequels were better than the originals I failed to see them being as bad as everyone made them out to be. There were some pretty glaring flaws to be sure but I never really found myself being bored by them which is my yardstick for differentiating good movies from bad.
However I do share the concerns of many with the fact that George Lucas just can’t seem to leave well enough alone as with every new release of Star Wars he seems to make tweaks to them that change the story fundamentally. I probably don’t have to tell you that Han shot first (and if you’re going to disagree with me than we’ll have some words, harsh words) but that’s only the most well known of Lucas’ transgressions against his most devoted community. A quick Google search will bring you this incredibly detailed breakdown of all the changes in the re-released versions, some small some that change the characters and plot in fundamental ways. Needless to say us long time fans have a love/hate relationship with him and this is probably why recent news has caused such a stir.
Yesterday Disney announced that they have signed an agreement to acquire all of LucasFilm, including the intellectual property rights to the Star Wars franchise, for a cool $4.05 billion. The collective nerd sphere screamed out in panic, fearing that this was just the latest front in a long running assault against their most beloved movie franchise. If anyone has a reputation for plundering something for all its worth (more so than George Lucas) it’s Disney and many of them fear that the Star Wars universe will be turned into another Disney Princess, with movie after movie being churned out in order to maximise their multi-billion dollar investment in the company.
Now whilst I can’t allay all your fears in that department (it’s a real possibility) there’s one thing here that I feel a lot of people are missing. Of all the movies in the franchise the most critically acclaimed are the ones that weren’t directed by George Lucas (Episodes 5 and 6, if you’re wondering). The rest were all directed by the man himself and many put the blame squarely on his direction for the reaction that the prequels received. With the transfer of all the rights to Disney it’s very likely that he won’t be heavily involved in the process of creating Star Wars 7, much less end up the one directing it. Of course there’s no guarantee the director they put in charge of it will be any better but the track record is pretty clear in showing that a non George Lucas directed film usually ends up being more well received.
Disney, for what its worth, can make a pretty darn good movie and have shown they can run a franchise pretty damn well. You might disagree on principle but it’s hard to ignore the fact that they’ve been behind quite a few big name movies of recent times like The Avengers and other long running franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean and Toy Story. “We can’t trust them with the Star Wars franchise though!” I hear you saying but who then, apart from Disney, would fit the bill for you? Because realistically you’d find similar fault with any other company that had the means with which to acquire LucasFilm in its entirety and honestly I think Disney makes a great fit for them. It’s no guarantee that we’ll see a return to the glory days of the original trilogy but you’ve got to admit that the chances are better now than they were before.
Maybe I’m just being optimistic here but as someone who’s managed to enjoy the Star Wars universe in many different ways (seriously, The Old Republic was an amazing game) I can’t help but feel that a new head at the helm might be the kick in the pants required to get it going again. Sure Disney will milk this for all its worth but that’s no different to what has been happening for the past 3 decades anyway. At the very least I’d withhold judgement until we start to see some of the previews of what a Disneyed Star Wars looks like before we start jumping to conclusions, especially ones that fail to take into account the fact that the fans’ biggest complaint may have just been taken care of.
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.