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It’s kind of silly to review an MMO, but I have put quite some time into Star Wars: The Old Republic, and I’d like to talk about it. For the record, I played in the two big beta weekends and have a level 35 bounty hunter on the live servers, which means I’ve completed the first act.

Probably the most important question in regard to SWTOR is what kind of game it actually turned out to be. The marketing positioned it as both the next big Bioware RPG and the next big MMORPG, leaving many confused what to expect. Would it be KOTOR 3? World of Warcraft with lightsabers? Star Wars: Galaxies with quality? If I had to define SWTOR with an equation, I’d write it: World of Warcraft + Bioware storytelling + A sprinkling of Star Wars atmosphere.

A lot of the way this game plays came from WoW. The combat is the same hotkey-based style that it used, although I’d say it generally feels more lively here than it did in Azeroth. Quests are basically the same too, you talk to quest givers, run out to kill/collect things, return, rinse and repeat. Talent trees are lengthy and probably daunting to new players, what with all the jargon and math. But on a base level, this is World of Warcraft in space.

What makes this game better than WoW, at least so far, is Bioware. I leveled two characters to 85 before I quit Cataclysm and I could only tell you the most simple outline of World of Warcraft‘s story. Because, except for cinematics and in-quest dialogue, I never paid attention to the content of quests. I could tell you everything that happened to my bounty hunter in SWTOR. The amount of voice acting in this game is unparalleled and it really pays off. Even though I’m doing basically the same things, it feels so much more meaningful when you have to hear people plead their case and can even yell back at them. The overarching class story is a great motivator too, much more than simply wanting to reach the level cap. And when I’m done with that, even the instances and PVP content has story content for me to enjoy. The conversation wheel is Bioware’s trademark, and it truly enhances this game.

But is this game Star Wars enough? This franchise means a lot to a lot of different people. Some people just like the original trilogy, some people like all the movies, some idiot kids only associate Star Wars with that cartoon. This game has to appeal to all of them. What SWTOR reminds me most of is KOTOR, in terms of atmosphere. It’s that classic fantasy storytelling set in space. Blasters sound like blasters, lightsabers do what they do, the Empire is basically run by Nazis and the Jedis are super strict drones. Every Star Wars trope is in here, even space combat is shoehorned in as a pretty, simple minigame. But, being set thousands of years before the movies, you won’t see any familiar characters, save from KOTOR holdovers. It makes sense for lore, it’s probably the only way a game like this could have ever been done, but it is weird being in a world of facsimiles of Star Wars characters.

My bounty hunter started on Hutta, the planet of Huts, looking to make a name for himself in the Great Hunt, essentials the Olympics for hired guns. I met a Hut just like Jabba, made an enemy like Boba Fett, took orders from a guy like Emperor Palpatine and even killed a guy like Qui-Gon Jinn (he tried to mind trick me, I was not having any of that). It was Star Wars and yet it wasn’t, it was a new story set in a new place with new people.

Of course, the reality of MMOs means that not everything can be as epic as the movies. I’ve spent a lot of time killing off random enemies of Imperial officers and delivering materials for anyone willing to pay. The minutiae of questing can slow your momentum and distract you from your story goals, especially if you’re on one of the less interesting planets. But I’d say most of the story is compelling enough to keep me playing and thinking about it when I’m not.

Story isn’t even the only great new feature this game brings to MMOs; let’s talk about the crew. In SWTOR, you are allowed to have a companion with you at all times. So, for example, my character always has Mako, the healer, with him. Having a permanent party member is huge, it means I basically have no downtime and I can even send her off to vendor useless items. It makes soloing content more fun and the way companions interact with the story makes them even more interesting. Every companion has a distinct personality and they will gain affection if they agree with your decisions. So, even though I’m Empire, my bounty hunter is a light side character because that’s what Mako likes, and I want her to like me. It’s very Bioware, but also pretty cool for an MMO.

Professions in World of Warcraft are supposed to be a way to make upgrades and money – what they really are is a boring grind. SWTOR totally alleviates that by making professions into “crew skills.” Essentially, at any time you can send your companion off on missions to level up your professions. They can craft gear and gather materials for you. It’s very handy. My character’s crew skills let him make armor and gather materials for that armor. While I’m out questing, I send my characters to get mats for me and make new armor when it’s available. They even keep working while I’m logged off. It’s a great system and makes something I never really enjoyed in WOW into a fantastic feature.

Everyone’s biggest complaint about SWTOR right now is the queues. I play on a fairly popular server, and I have had queues to log on lasting upwards of an hour, which is definitely not acceptable. But the game has only been out for a week, it’ll get better. In fact, over the past few days I haven’t really had a queuing problem, maybe they’ve already fixed it. Or maybe I’m just playing at the right times. Either way, it’s something to be aware of, but probably not something to keep you from playing the game.

Personally, I find the game’s Auction House UI really slow and lacking – that’s probably my chief complaint. It’s a pain to search, compare prices and sell a lot of stuff right now. The rest of the game’s UI is pretty good, and Bioware has said UI customization and mods are on the horizon.

Right now, at launch, I think SWTOR is a great game. I just hope the endgame is good and the game can continue to evolve like WOW has. It’s the best of the World of Warcraft tied to a story by my favorite gaming storytellers set in my favorite fictional universe. It’s sort of my dream game, which is another reason I’m glad I don’t have to review it. I’ve been waiting to visit the Old Republic for a long time, and now that I’m there, I won’t be leaving any time soon.