Star Wars: The Old Republic: 17 hours with the Agent

I'm in charge here

The group dialog system was one of the most worrying aspects of TOR for me—how could it be a serious roleplaying game if other players were able to choose your dialog responses? Thankfully, I found a “solo conversation” mode which lets you enter conversation modes alone, even while grouped, which lets control freaks like me always get the final word in our own story.

And there's a lot to talk about in TOR. After I left Hutta (I used a combination of assassination and evidence-planting to convince the Hutt boss that the rival gang on his planet was backed by the Republic, so that he'd reach out to the Empire for an alliance), I traveled to Dromund Kaas, a jungle planet with a bustling Imperial city built around a massive Sith temple.

More importantly, Kaas City housed a Imperial Intelligence headquarters, where I could meet my comrades in the secret police—who I could flirt with, incite or speak respectfully to—and be briefed in-person by my commander. Without spoiling the story, I can tell you that it takes a very interesting twist that involves rival Sith Lords, terrorist cells plotting to destroy the city and a cult of Revanites who worship the long-dead player character from earlier Knights of the Old Republic games—essentially, you.

It wouldn't be a BioWare RPG without some good ol' fashioned, off-screen sex. I needed to convince a woman at the local cantina to give up the location of her father's secret laboratory. I could've used force or bribery, but I went with flirting. A few minutes later and she and I were headed off-screen with that special look in our eyes and a promise for coordinates.

Side pursuit

While rummaging around Kaas City, I stumbled across all of the crew skill trainers and picked up a couple for my team. For gathering, I grabbed Archaeology and was surprised to find that, in addition to being able to mine crystal nodes around the world now, I had access to three rotating missions that I could send my companion on.

I happily sent my sourpuss companion Kaliyo to explore all of the galaxy's historically-interesting sites that the missions brought to my attention, such as a dead sarlacc that'd been dredged up to the surface. Each mission made my partner unavailable for a set amount of time (early on, it was just five minutes), and rewarded crafting materials—usually about the same amount of crystals I would mine from one node.

But Archaeology is only one of the 14 skills I found trainers for (you can only train three at a time). Two other highlights: Underworld Traders get access to a variety of illegal spices (no, not space cinnamon—they're drugs) that boost your combat skills temporarily, and Treasure Hunters' quests can haul in “Prototype or Artifact quality” items—potentially the most powerful weapons in the game.

My (former) lack of faith

Like many gamers, my hype meter was off the charts when TOR was announced, but it'd consistently dwindled down since then. But now that I've gotten to wade into the massive Star Wars universe that BioWare's building, and played around with how we'll be able to interact with it in a multiplayer environment, I'm thrilled. My enthusiasm for TOR is completely renewed.

Companions are the key to enhancing TOR's roleplaying experience, providing a constant audience that responds to your choices in a genre that too often makes it easy to feel ignored. Combined with the genuinely engaging storytelling, the RPG side of TOR reminds me a lot of Dragon Age: Origins. The quest design feels reminiscent of World of Warcraft's Burning Crusade expansion: only as clever as it needs to be and not messing around with often-clumsy vehicles or possession mechanics. And the game's PvP system feels like a refined and upgraded version of Warhammer Online's.

Those are big-name games that pretty much dominated their respective fields: roleplaying, questing and PvP. I'm starting to believe that BioWare can pull off this massive undertaking—the most hyped and biggest-budget MMO of all time—and if they do, just about everyone will have a compelling reason to play it.

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