If there’s an online role-playing game that can challenge “World of Warcraft” at this point, it’s probably “Star Wars: The Old Republic.”
Blizzard Entertainment’s seven-year-old juggernaut has more than 10 million subscribers, three expansions and years of player loyalty built up—many would-be challengers have faded away or adopted a free-to-play structure supported by small purchases of currency or items by their players, rather than the once-standard monthly fee “World of Warcraft” still charges its users. “Star Wars: The Old Republic” has a long game of catch-up to play, though it doesn’t need as many players as “WOW” has to prosper.
Developed by Bioware, makers of the “Mass Effect” and “Dragon Age” series as well as the excellent 2003 role-playing game “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic,” this game picks up the story a few hundred years after “Knights,” with a devastating conflict between the Republic and a resurgent Sith Empire having settled into an uneasy cold war, with each side maneuvering for influence and preparing for the day when the fighting begins again in earnest.
Into this situation steps the player, and it’s up to you whose side you’ll join and what role you’ll play. As a member of the Republic, you can play as the combat-focused Jedi Knight, the Force power-oriented Jedi Consular, the ranged powerhouse Trooper or the sneaky Smuggler. The Empire has a lineup of classes that fulfill comparable roles — Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor, Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent. Each character class can become more specialized down the line, with two advanced classes available to choose from — the Bounty Hunter can become a heavily armored Powertech, for example, and the Smuggler can become a fast-shooting Gunslinger.
Whichever class you choose, you’ll be immediately thrust into a story line unique to that class — the Agent, for example, must secure the alliance of a powerful Hutt crimelord who can offer resources to the Sith by undermining his chief rival and establishing a contact within his organization.
Unlike most online RPGs, “The Old Republic” lets you make crucial choices the same as any other Bioware RPG. You’re not locked into an evil role as a Sith player or into a good one as a Republic player.
You might double-cross the person (or alien) who originally assigned you a job, perhaps because a better offer comes along or because the initial task wasn’t what it appeared to be. You’ll frequently be offered good and evil choices, and taking one or the other increases your affinity for the Light Side and the Dark Side.
There are many missions both major and minor to undertake, but the ones unique to a particular class are restricted to players in whose story line they’re part of, with other players allowed to participate only if they’re members of the same group. This means a fair number of areas will be blocked as you journey and come across places meant for other classes, or for yours, but not yet.
You can bring other players along on missions (and some are recommended for multiple players). You’ll also gain computer-controlled companions to help out in combat, item creation and harvesting.
If you’re interested in fighting other players, you can choose a player-vs.- player server which allows for combat with anyone from an opposing faction, or simply head to one of the game’s Warzones for some formalized combat using several game types, with goodies such as money, experience and loot as a reward.