Some of this attention is a result of the flexibility of the characters. While my Sith Juggernaut is, mechanically speaking, a tank-oriented character, he can choose what kind of tank to be at any moment. Is he interested in finishing the fight as quickly as possible? He has a range of abilities that are good at that. Does he just want to draw agro and debuff nearby enemies? He has a whole other set of abilities for that. Or maybe he just needs to stay alive long enough for his allies to take out the enemies. Well, he's got abilities for that. In fact, each class can choose a couple of different strategies for most combat encounters and, when you add in the different types of companion characters, you can pick just about any class and find a play style that suits both you and the encounter in question.
The only thing I truly don't like about The Old Republic is the space combat. It's objectionable on two main grounds. First, it lacks the story-telling and consequence of the ground content. There are no personalities in space and no meaningful decisions to be made, at least narratively speaking. Given all that the team has accomplished with the story on the ground, it's a massive letdown to find yourself stripped of all those innovations in space. While it may work as an action oriented diversion, it feels like it's part of an entirely different game.
Even worse, there's virtually no mechanical choice, either. Each space sequence is essentially an on-rails shooter where your flight path is pre-determined and your only real choice is whether to shoot the thing right in front of you, or to shoot the thing slightly beside it. I definitely appreciated the fantastic visuals and set pieces of the space battles. You're either flying through crowded asteroid fields, strafing massive enemy capital ships, or escorting tediously slow VIP shuttles in these missions, all of which feels iconic and important on the surface, but you never really lose the feeling that you're playing someone else's idea of the mission and not your own. And when you fly away from the last objective you need to accomplish and end up getting killed before the game gives you another chance to accomplish the objective, well, that's just unfair.
While the space battles are the only serious shortcoming for The Old Republic, the game does have a number of other faults that are likely to frustrate gamers from time to time. For the most part, these are consequences of the game's intense focus on telling a compelling story for each of the eight classes. First, a player's allegiance to the Light or Dark Side of the Force has no bearing on their factional affiliation, which seems out of character for the franchise. Whenever a character in Star Wars turns toward the Light or Dark side, it usually follows that they have to shift political sides as well. Also out of character for the franchise is the tremendous restriction on the types of races players can be. If your Star Wars fantasy isn't to be a human, or a human with funny makeup or a head tentacle, you're pretty much out of luck here. The progress through the game is also much more linear than you're likely to find in other MMOs. Where you go next in The Old Republic is almost always decided for you.
But like I said, all of these problems are relatively unavoidable given what BioWare hoped to achieve with the story. You can't have real choice without letting the bad guys opt to be good every once in a while, and you can't have Wookiees and Ithorians messing up the fully-voiced cutscenes. You also can't give players a focused story without taking some of the larger choices away. If you're willing to accept the costs of BioWare's innovations, the game delivers one of the most refreshing and attractive advancements the MMO genre has seen in years.
Bottom Line: BioWare lived up to its promises to make story really matter in an MMO context with The Old Republic. Here, your characters are so much more than just avatars with stats.
Recommendation: Buy it if you like at least two of the following: Star Wars, BioWare, or MMOs.
If Steve Butts could actually choke people with his mind, he probably would.
This review is based on the PC version of the game.
Game: The Old Republic
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)