Why I Play: Star Wars: The Old Republic

Troopers get all the cool.  They have Jennifer Hale.  What can you do?
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was one of the best games of all time that I very nearly didn't play. But I'm glad I did because it changed the entire way I look at games.

I don't need to extoll the virtues of that game, as people have been doing so pretty much since its release. BioWare had certainly released games in a similar vein before, but KOTOR was the one that finally compelled me to try something. My gaming world would be a far darker place without the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series.

So what does this have to do with Star Wars: The Old Republic? I never would have tried any of that and never would have become a fan of BioWare were it not for KOTOR. And both Star Wars: The Old Republic and its antecedent had to overcome a very big impediment: my profound antipathy toward the Star Wars franchise.

What other setting lets you fight against lizard men with swords and war robots?  Mass Effect doesn't count, they don't have swords.I realize that it's become a big thing among certain circles of former fans to loudly proclaim how much they dislike the franchise after the prequels and the like, but I don't fall under that aegis. Even as a kid I was never really fond of the movies, and as the franchise has exploded into myopic detail about every minor background character I've liked it less and less. For me to play a game with "Star Wars" in front of the title requires something special.

All that having been said, it was about the same time that BioWare first released video previews of SWTOR that I knew I would be purchasing and playing the game. That was before I started working at Massively, so it had nothing to do with professional obligations. It had to do with the fact that I liked the first glance at what the developers were making.

BioWare, to my mind, proved with KOTOR that it could find the best parts of the Star Wars milieu and distill it into an excellent setting, one that clearly was beholden to the films without being shackled to them. It gave us a galaxy that was huge and epic, where adventures seemed to be lurking around every corner. Sure, it wasn't a setting of moral subtleties, but it wasn't meant to be. It fleshed out an initially two-dimensional setting into something with depth.

SWTOR continues that trend. Yeah, there's not much in the way of gray in the universe, at least not without stringently following a neutral path, but that's kind of the point. It's high adventure with laser swords and spaceships. And it does give you a moral framework for developing your character, something that I'm immensely happy for.

You can argue that you choose how you perform a quest only within a small framework of choices, but there is a choice there. No, you can't go completely off the rails, but you aren't shoved into the usual mentality by which you have to do every quest and each quest has to be done in a specific way. My character can object to things she finds morally objectionable, even if she still winds up having to play along.

Yeah, it can cause some issues in roleplaying, since obviously you can't be the one person who did all of these things in the ongoing storyline. That's fine. You still get a chance and a reason to think about who your character is outside of roleplaying events. Working within the framework of the game is something you've always had to do when roleplaying. And the fact that the game encourages this, that you're really driven to think about what your character would do in a given situation, is something special. It's unique.

You look a lot more evil today.  Are you evil?Mechanically, the game really reminds me of World of Warcraft. Usually, people bring that up as an insult; I see it as a refinement and improvement of what the older game occasionally tried at. The core mechanics are very similar, but the way that they're implemented is cleaner, and the overall level of strategy is higher. My ability usage isn't a rotation; it's a set of priorities based on cooldowns and situational awareness. No matter what, I have to evaluate my situation and decide what I'm doing next based on everything around me. That's without even getting into the sheer difference between classes. I play several different melee characters who all play completely differently rather than gear for the same stats and using the same basic rotation.

It's not bracingly original, but it is remarkably well-balanced and fun. There are some high-end balance issues, but that's going to be the case with any game. I've said what I think about balance before; that hasn't really changed.

Oh, and I can't forget space combat. It's really just a gear-based rail shooter, which is fine for me because I love rail shooters to begin with. Dropping into a space mission for some quick action is a blast, and I love the fact that the option exists. Heck, it's not even awful experience if you do the missions on-level.

Really, that's the core of what I like about the game: It's an adventure, a game in which you log into a shared adventure with other people. Sometimes you're adventuring with others, and sometimes you're adventuring by yourself, but no matter why you're in the game, it's a chance for you to go explore and struggle and eventually triumph. There are gentle bits of guidance, but they're more like items at a buffet table that I can take or leave as I wish, with the added benefit that whatever I choose is going to be something worth eating.

It's a big open adventure with laser swords. It's exactly what I wanted and exactly what I got. That's why I play.

There's an MMO born every day, and every game is someone's favorite. Why I Play is a column in which the Massively staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it's the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.

This article was originally published on Massively.