From the very opening cinematic of Star Wars: Old Republic, which introduces you to the conflict between the Empire and the Republic after the sudden unexpected reemergence of the Sith, this game embodies all of the grandeur and imagination that made many of us fall in Star Wars a long, long time ago. Keep reading for our full review of the game.
For Empire players, the focus is on power, control, and anger. The Republic cinematic portrays a need to take back what's lost through planning and tenacity. The cinematics are spectacularly compelling and make me wish Blur, the creators, were contracted to do a feature-length film.
Then after you've chosen your faction, another cinematic sets the tone of your mission in a very Find-Your-Fate style that is as engaging as it is entertaining. Next, you're kicked back to a menu screen to create your character. The creator is quite flexible, with a wide range of customization options unique to each race, but you're limited to strictly humanoid races and a few rather similar body sizes (males at least get a "fat" option - female characters don't even get that). For a universe with a vast number of established intelligent races of all shapes and sizes, this feels limited. You can't, for example, play as a Jawa or a droid. In the grand scheme of things, though, it's a minor annoyance.
After choosing whether to join the Empire or Republic, you can pick your race from a disappointingly similar-looking line-up of lifeless humanoid action figures. Each faction offers four classes (loosely mirrored): you can be various flavors of Force-wielding Jedi and Sith, a Boba Fett-inspired Bounty Hunter, a Han Solo-style Smuggler, a military Trooper or an Imperial Agent.
Each of the eight has its own story arc, a dominant thread of missions leading all the way to the level 50 cap (which would take over 100 hours if you were rushing). If you've played Dragon Age or Mass Effect you'll be familiar with how it plays out: lots of talking-head exposition and political intrigue; relationship management with a few companion characters, including romance; a slow-burning tale that delivers big twists later on, some of them influenced by your choices.
The missions are sufficiently well crafted and linked to draw you in, and adding the pull of actual plot development to your leveling and exploration in an MMO does make an appreciable difference to your involvement -- even if it does mostly happen in an instanced bubble that locks all but invited friends out.
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