Preview: Star Wars: The Old Republic

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Whitney de Valroger Managing Editor

I have never been much of a computer gamer.  I feel more at home playing console games.  My favorites (the Mega Man’s, the Castlevania’s) all started on home consoles.  And the control you feel with a controller is far more satisfying than any keyboard and mouse.  The two gaming mediums are just different camps where a person feels more comfortable in.  But this weekend I did the unthinkable; I played a computer game for hours on end.  And the strange thing is I relished almost every minute of it.

Over the holiday weekend, I was selected to beta test the new Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Beta testing allows developers to test their game and, with the help of feedback from players, work out any bugs before the release date.  While MMOs are not new (I’m looking at you, Warcraft), this is the first foray into the genre by both veteran developer BioWare and yours truly.

BioWare is responsible for critically acclaimed series such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age.  The developer is known to incorporate a complex system of decision making options and The Old Republic is no exception.  Choosing whether or not you want to save a girl from torture in lieu of a bribe is just one example of the many choices offered to you while in play.  Obviously some choices are morally questionable, but it is always a blast to see your how your decisions affect the characters around you.

The Old Republic starts with the player siding with either the Republic or Sith; think good vs. evil.  This will open the available classes one can choose from.  Anyone familiar with the formula will feel right at home. Pick a class, race, sex, customize, and presto!  You have your playable character. 

You progress through the story by completing missions.  These earn you experience point, new weapons, etc.  More experience will allow you to move up in rank and unlock new areas, access to more powers, and more customization.  You move with the keyboard, select targets with the mouse, and attack with number keys.  Sounds familiar?  “This is pretty much World of Warcraft, but Star Wars,” exclaimed fellow student tester Samantha Roswurm.

I was never into playing WOW; a few years ago I played for 20 minutes and realized it was not for me.  So why did I spend 5 straight hours playing this game?  Maybe it’s because it has the much beloved Star Wars backdrop, maybe I just wanted to play a new game, I will never know for sure.

What I do know is that I’m fearful.  Fearful that when the full game does get released on December 20, 2011, I will be a slave to this fictional Star Wars cyber-world.  I never thought I would be so enamored in the expansive world The Old Republic offered.  I have been playing video games since I can remember and while I have played certain games for hours on end, never have I vegged out like this.

The addictiveness of always wanting to do one more quest to raise a level, to acquire one more powerful weapon, to see what happens next in the story, is very debilitating.  And from what I understand, there is no real end to games like these.  With inevitable expansions, the questing can go on for as long as you pay the online fees.

The beta game testing trial ended midnight on Monday.  My blaster wielding Trooper class human will have to wait for me in cyberspace until the game releases.  In a way I am relieved the trial ended.  I know that if it did not, I would still be playing right now.  Where will you be on December 20?  I will be in front of this very screen, except instead of typing up an article, I will be blasting away enemies of the Republic!  Anyone else play the beta?  Tell us your thoughts online at www.mcadvocate.com.