Friday, April 20, 2012

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Tatooine and Alderaan

In between everything else thats going on, me and Z are still ploughing our way through Star Wars: The Old Republic, albeit at a less frantic pace than before. As you approach the mid-to-late levels of any MMO, and SWTOR is no exception, it's always felt like an awkward stage, and where I've fallen out of quite a few over the years. The problem is simple enough, really - the "newness" of the mechanics, gimmicks and general world-building has faded, to be replaced with familiarity, and (expected) great opening up of "the endgame" has yet to emerge. For a story-driven game like SWTOR aspires to be, it at least has something to hang on to, to try and ease you past those bumps. But SWTOR has another trick up it's sleeve too; it can send you to some of the really famous locations available to it from it's license. 

I was waiting for a mission to pick up Power Converters but it never arrived! 
After completing the "paired" mission worlds of Nar Shadda and Taris I guess it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that that we got offered another pair of worlds to do next. Suddenly the core structure of all this came to me; you're not supposed to play this to completion, although you can, but rather Bioware are making sure there is enough content around that you're obliged to go exp hunting, and can safely skip stuff if you want. So whilst you'll need to complete the class series on all the worlds, you can safely blow off say, Tatooine's "core planet series" and just do that without losing the continuity of the main game. The same goes for the 2- and 4-man sub areas, and the bonus series, all of which suddenly felt a lot more optional. 

Tatooine in particular makes this feel pretty exposed - in the earlier worlds my class quest and planet quests seemed to overlap very organically, but here they kept getting out of step and we seemed to spend a fair bit of time backtracking to areas we'd already been to. This can get annoying, but the Tatooine has one big thing going for it that negates that - speeders. Yes, we've reached the stage where we are grown up enough to be allowed mounts, and having bought something that looks like a pimped-out Lawnmower, I was soon zipping across the desert wastes. Tatooine, unusually for any sort of MMO zone, feels like a desert - big chunks of it are mostly empty and quests and mobs are clustered around settlements like you've expect. Well, 'duh', you say, but consider the "wasteland" zones in World of Warcraft, which can still have population densities of major cities, and you'll understand how distinctive this makes Tatooine feel. 

More importantly, Tatooine feels right, it looks right. This is a familiar landscape, after all, and the iconography of the world is well established in both films and games, and it doesn't disappoint here. The main plot is pretty good too, bringing back Czerka and a stack of other lore from the Knights of the Old Republic games, and just as we were starting to get tired of the scenery it all wrapped up nicely and we were off to the next world. 

Alderaan. Another famous name but a world that, for obvious reasons, we don't see a lot of, so really I didn't have a lot of preconception of what the world would be like. Sadly, Alderaan is where, for me, the mid-game blues really started to bite. It's not to say it's bad, there is little to the world that is distinctive - sure the main plot is to do with Empire-Republic shenanigans, and there is a fair amount of background on how war and politics has divided Alderaans ruling houses, but...thinking back on it there really isn't a lot to say about it. 

It was OK, I guess. 

Thankfully, after completing the class quest lines for the two worlds we reach the end of "Act 1". Everything comes together and the class quest reaches a big finale, assaulting an Imperial warship and striking down the Sith behind the plots uncovered so far. This, at least, was SWTOR doing what it always promised to do - telling a good fun story within an MMO context, which remains personal to you and your companion characters. As an extra bonus, having tagged along with me, I was then able to go on Z's End of Act mission and watch her defeat her villain from her plot. The game in story mode is really where it shines, and after slightly struggling through Alderaan it was a nice way to round off that arc. 

I'm left wondering how long we'll play SWTOR though; through to the end of the story, almost certainly, but after that I'm not sure its distinctive enough as a game to keep me engaged, with other MMOs comming down the pipeline. We shall see, I guess.