Tag Archive: Star Wars: The Old Republic


By Art Schmidt

Boy, hunting bounties through the galaxy is thirsty work.  But it’s satisfying, like a hot shower on a winter day.  Of course, you have to keep returning to the bitter, cold world, but hey, at least your hair looks nice.  Am I right?

Being a Bounty Hunter in Star Wars: The Old Republic has been a blast.  Since the game launched just over three months ago, I’ve been planet-hopping fairly nearly non-stop, and the game does not disappoint.  There have been two major updates (i.e. New Content) in these first few months, with the promise of regular content adds continuing.  Each class in the game has its own storyline, and in my case I’ve played several.  I think the Bounty Hunter is the class I’ve had the most fun with so far.

Why, you ask?  Well, let me see if I can explain…

Of all the cantinas, in all the settlements, on all the planets in the galaxy, all I could find was this dive.

From the time I first arrived on Hutta, I knew this was the kind of life I had always wanted.  No more punching keyboards and time-clocks for me!  No more PTA meetings, no more neighborhood barbeques, no more meals that weren’t deep fried or baked in marinara, no more fresh breath.  I was going to dedicate every waking hour that I could to being the best bounty hunter I could be.

 

This loser was planning to skip out on the Hutts. But the Hutts don’t like skipping. It doesn’t agree with their BMIs.

After running errands for the Hutts and taking out a few small-time bullies, I got my first real assignment.  Some guy was trying to escape the planet and his gambling debts to the Hutts, and they were none too happy with him.  So I settled the score on their behalf.  Once I had established myself as a world-class bounty hunter (in one corner of Hutta, at least), I was on my way to joining the Great Hunt, the annual galaxy-wide competition among elite bounty hunters.  It’s winner-take-all, and by take all I mean you have to kill not only the folks on the bounty list, but also your competition.  Talk about full contact!

I take all my holo-calls in miniature. It reminds me I’m better than everyone else.

Once I had established my credentials (and pocketed a bunch of credits), I finally got my ticket punched for the Great Hunt.  Hike-two Hutt sponsored me in the Great Hunt, and I was accepted into the contest, but not before my trainers were killed by a cheating Mandalorian slimeball who wanted to win the Great Hunt himself.  All that was left of my team was the techie Mako.  She was the least experienced of the team (besides me), but she was easy on the eyes and handy with kolto, so I let her tag along.

Imp shuttles are cheap and available to anyone. Just like my loyalty.

I hopped aboard a shuttle for the Imperial fleet Space Port where I was hoping to learn a few new tricks and make a reputation for myself.  Also, I didn’t have my own spaceship yet, and all of the cheapest shuttles connected through Fleet, so I really didn’t have a choice.  Mako complained about having to ride in my lap on account of I could only afford one seat, but I’m saving up for a shiny new blaster I’ve had my eye on.

Dromund Kaas had a sun once, but the Emperor thought it was spying on him and banished it.

The Great Hunt is run out from Dromund Kaas, the Imperial home world.  It’s rainy and gloomy most of the time, like the Imps who run the place.  But they’ve got plenty of credits to spend, and they don’t shy away from hiring the right kind of hammer to nail down their problems.  I like hammers.  I had to bag three high-level bounties on Dromund Kaas to get past the first round.

I framed this one and sent it home to mom. Now she won’t return my holo-calls.

But I was feeling pretty good about my chances.  I felt so good, in fact, that I pulled the ears off a gundark.  The bounties were spread all over the planet, and without my own personal speeder it was difficult getting around.  Luckily Mako is good at navigating, and I’m good at shooting things, so we make a good team.

 

Mako says I never take her anywhere nice. Look how my blaster fire reflects off that waterfall! That’s romantic, baby!

Halfway through the last bounty, Mako did start complaining that she hated Dromund Kaas and she wanted to leave.  Leave?  This planet wasn’t paradise, but the credits were rolling in, and my reputation was almost tangible.  And it so happens there were plenty of Republic spies around for me to keep in business.  She just doesn’t appreciate me.

Well, with my bounties bagged and my credits in hand, it was time to swipe one of my targets’ starships and blow this Popsicle stand.  Hey, he wasn’t using it anymore…

I’m pretty sure I can download the flight manual for this ship off the holonet...

Next target was a sneaky smuggler as famous for ditching Republic customs officials as he was for double-crossing the Imps.  Apparently he double-crossed the wrong Sith Lord and landed himself on my target list.  His mistake.

The Imps have a ray shield covering their entire base on Balmorra. Rumor is it’s to keep the civilians in.

The trail led me to Balmorra, a dusty rock-strewn backwater engulfed in a civil war where the Imps were trying to help the rebels overthrow their government.  And guess who was helping the government?  You guessed it, the Republic.  Man, these guys should just go to war already.  On second thought, that might mean less creds for me.  Scratch that thought.

Republic Cruisers look much smaller up in space...

While I was hunting down my prize, some Sith wannabe offered me a pile of credits to infiltrate the nearby Republic ship yards and steal the plans for a prototype starfighter, while rigging the goody-goodies prototype craft with explosives.  I didn’t care for the way she kept breathing through that big mask on her face, but hey, credits are credits.  Besides, she used my three favorite words in the same sentence: explosives, steal, and credits.  Even Mako agreed it would be easy money.

I think that ship’s name was Apollo, or something...

It was.

While doing the Imps dirty work for them and reaping a large pile of credits, we were able to sniff out the bounty we had on Balmorra, and take out our competition along the way.  Once his head was claimed, we took a shuttle back to the spaceport and prepared to get our next assignment in the Great Hunt.

Imperial shuttle craft. They’re boxy, but safe.

On the way back to Dromund Kaas, we encountered some Republic patrol craft, but they were no match for my D-5 Mantis.  I call her Trixie, but only when Mako isn’t in the room.  Mako’s the jealous type, and unfortunately I’ve got a lot to be jealous of.  What can I say?  Everyone has their cross to bear…

Hey, watch out for that astero- Oops, never mind.

Trixie and I made short work of those pesky Talon fighters.  Talon, yeah right.  I de-clawed them one after the other.

Next stop was Nar Shaddaa, and believe me, never will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.  Well, actually I hear there is one, but I haven’t seen it.  Plus, Nar Shaddaa has two things that other place doesn’t: neon and air conditioning.  I’m thinking of buying a timeshare here.

It’s like Sin City, only on the whole planet, so there’s nowhere to wash your hands.

Again, the Imps needed some expert assistance in blowing some stuff up.  I think it was a Republic-something, but I could be wrong.  The credits, however, were so right.  Plus, we bounced in and out of so many cantinas I got to finish my World Adrenal Tour.  I got a free T-shirt!

All your secret Republic base are belong to us!

I didn’t stay on Nar Shaddaa long, though.  I couldn’t bear the thought of blowing up too much of it, and every time I walked into a Cantina or a massage parlor credits kept leaping out of my pocket.  Once the bottom line starts to drop, it’s time to hunt somewhere else!  Also, Mako kept nagging me, something about my eyes always crossing, so we finished up there pretty quickly, claimed our bounty, and moved on to Tatooine.

Darth Anus here wanted me to polish his boots, so I told him to stand in a pile of bantha poo-doo. I didn’t know lightsabers could be thrown with such accuracy!

Tatooine.  What a dump.  A hot, sweaty, sandy pit that I couldn’t believe anyone lived in.  I mean, what kind of people are going to come from this place?  Certainly no one who will ever be of any importance.  Our prey here was a slippery double-dealing merchant and scoundrel who went by many names.  I called him Reward Worthington.  He was certainly difficult to catch up to!  He gave Mako and me the slip not once but twice before we finally cornered him as he was about to jump onto his ship.

When we found him, he begged for his life, but in a cool, hip kind of way.  He had proven to be rather resourceful, so I let him join my crew under an assumed name and took some of his DNA to prove I’d bagged him for the bounty.  No one was the wiser, and I got a clever new crewman.  I’ll have to remember to keep him away from the hyperdrive controls.  And my personal safe.

I had to purchase Mako a new wardrobe so she didn’t melt in the heat. I spared every expense.

One other upside to Tatooine, besides the new crewman: Mako was able to get a good tan.  With my profits from the bounties and other work I did on that sandpile, I was able to purchase a shiny new green speeder.  I think it’s called Ubrikkian Striker.  I’m going to call mine Slave 1/2.  Don’t ask me why, I just like the name.

I left everything on Tatooine just as I found it: in the dust!

Claiming that last bounty made me the winner of the Great Hunt!  There was much fanfare!  There were many credits!  There was crying and weeping!  I’m glad my mother wasn’t there to see me.

So the first hundred days in The Old Republic has been a blast.  Let’s see if the next couple hundred can stay just as interesting…

By Art Schmidt

For my top five list of stories I’d like to see turned into motion pictures, I have tried to be somewhat realistic.  Some of my favorite stories, whether novels or games or comic books, I have left off as just being beyond realization.  The wish of their being turned into a movie is, in itself, a fantasy, due to various factors.

For instance, since I was a teenager, I’ve been dying for someone to make a movie from Grand Poobah Dungeon Master Gary Gygax’s original storyline thread from the first D&D modules: “The Village of Hommlet” modules (T1-T4), the Slaver series (modules A1-A4), the “Against the Giants” series (modules G1-G3), and the “Drow of the Underdark” series (modules D1-D3 & module Q1 “Queen of the Demonweb Pits”).  Of course, this would be for the die-hard gaming geeks almost exclusively, and at twelve modules (adventures) it would be difficult to pack into a motion picture trilogy or quintology (!), even if anyone would be so crazy as to provide the funding for it.

I’m stoked for a movie adaptation of Ernest Cline’s recent novel, Ready Player One, but I’m not including it because it’s already in pre-production at Warner Bros.  No need to wish for that which is likely to already happen.  Then there’s the Wheel of Time series, which isn’t quite over.  The final book, currently titled A Memory of Light, is scheduled to be published in January of 2013.  And as the fifteen-volume series will clock in at an estimated 11,000 pages, it could never conceivably be condensed down to make any real sense in a few motion pictures.

Trivia:  A series of three books is called a trilogy.  A series of five books is called a quintology.  A series of seven books is called a heptalogy.  What is a series of fourteen books called?

Answer:  Too damned long!

Note:  No offense to Robert Jordan, may he rest in peace, the series is great, but it could have probably ended after eight or ten novels.  I really enjoyed the first ten Wheel of Time books!  And all of your Conan novels were great, too!

So, too, would I love to hear of a big screen adaptation of some of R.A. Salvatore’s  Drizzt Do’urden novels, especially the Icewind Dale Trilogy, but alas, it is not to be.  I could name some Star Wars and Conan novels that I’d like to see adapted, but those subjects have already been masterfully done on the big screen, so there is no use wasting our time.

Same goes for the less well-known but equally awesome Deathgate Cycle heptalogy from the great fantasy team of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.  Too many books in the series (few of which really stand entirely on their own), and likely too hardcore (i.e. small) of a fan base.  Anyhow, the powers that be (being in power, as they are), would most likely take a run at Dragonlance (ho-hum) before considering Deathgate.  Too bad.

In the “slightly unrealistic” column, however, I have included the Elric of Melnibone saga in my list, despite the main character being an anti-hero and thus a difficult win for a motion picture, even with the hard-core fantasy crowd.  Strangely enough, this may be the one wish that I am granted (read more in my Elric entry, below).

A lot of fantasy, I know.  I’m a fantasy kind of guy.  There are a lot of good horror, sci-fi, and other fiction out there crying to be made into films, but really, we get a lot of good stuff from those genres already.  But there is a dearth of good fantasy films out there, and they come along so rarely; The Fellowship of the Ring came out over ten years ago, after all.

Man, I’m getting old.  Somebody please make a couple of these before I croak.

Other honorable mentions.  I’d love to see something done with Gaiman’s Sandman series, but probably too difficult and definitely niche.  Same goes for Marvel 1601, one of my favorite graphic novels (also Gaiman).  But niche.  The books of Michael Crichton have been done (and done, and done) as they are so interesting and have such strong plotlines, but my favorite novel of his is one of his non-fiction works, Travels.  He chronicles some of his real-life travels had some great insights into his own life from them.  But again, probably too tight of an audience for something like that.

Neuromancer would totally rock, but the conventional wisdom is that cyberpunk is way over.  I’m no good at conventional wisdom, though.  Maybe it’s so over that it’s ready to be hip again?  Disco and bell bottoms keep coming back, after all.  On second thought, maybe not.

Anyway, on with the real list.

#5 – The Gaean Trilogy (Titan, Wizard and Demon) from John Varley

A mix of fantasy and sci-fi, this is the first thing I thought of when I saw Avatar.  And I wasn’t alone.  Space farers explore a foreign planet where magic seems to happen in nature, strange creatures abound, and some of them are intelligent/sentient.  Then humans come along and really muck it all up.  That’s the Gaean Trilogy’s premise (not the plot) in a nutshell.

Of course, there is much more to it than that.  There are far more significant differences between these novels and the movie Avatar than there are broad similarities.  The combination of sci-fi and fantasy is what would make this appealing, and the titanides and eventual revelation of the Gaea intelligence (and what follows) would make for a great movie.

#4 – Fallout: New Vegas (video game)

My favorite game in recent years (besides Star Wars: The Old Republic, which I’m itching to play even now while writing this), FNV was a great game because of the amazing, engrossing storyline.

In a nutshell:

In the late twenty-first century, America and China fight a prolonged war over resources that ends with a nuclear exchange.  The nuclear warheads and subsequent fallout kills most everyone except a chosen few who retreat to underground ‘vaults’ to ride out the Earth’s recovery from global fallout (hence the title of the series).  Life as we know it ends.

Some two hundred years later, people begin to emerge from the vaults, and find some still living humans, along with irradiated creatures, mutants, and all sorts of crazy stuff living in the burnt-out shells of our former civilization.  Las Vegas was spared from direct nuclear attack by the defenses of wealthy industrialist and casino owner, as was the nearby Hoover Dam.  People died, but the core of the Strip survived (what irony).

A lone traveler enters the area, gets shot in the head and buried, but survives and is nursed back to health, although with amnesia from the wound.  He sets about trying to learn about himself and his assailants, and in the process discovers that Las Vegas (dubbed “New Vegas” by the current residents) is being contested over by a growing civilization from California (the New California Republic, or NCR), an army of brutal slave-owning tribals calling themselves Caesar’s Legion, and the wealthy citizen who kept Vegas from annihilation (or is it him?) who runs New Vegas with an army of killer robots and calls himself Mr. House.

The story is compelling, and locations are fantastic, the inhabitants are diverse and interesting, and there are stories aplenty for the traveler to encounter and deal with on his way to the game’s climactic battle between these competing forces over who will control Hoover Dam, the one source of electricity and life-giving water amidst a world of death and dust.

A great movie that would make.  We’ve seen shades of this with The Book of Eli (a great movie, but more of a morality tale than a straight-forward action/adventure flick) and The Road (a great example of how really good books can be terrible movies), but nothing like the tale spun in New Vegas.

#3 – The Elric of Melnibone novels by Michael Moorcock

An island of anemic sorcerer kings who rule the world.  A savage world of monsters and heroes who strive daily to survive.  Magic that allows people to cross into other dimensions and sail through space to other planets.  Stormbringer.  What an absolutely epic fantasy movie that would make!

Of course, the main problem is that Elric is an anti-hero.  In fact, Elric is the very embodiment of the modern-day anti-hero.  He’s not a nice guy.  He’s not even rough-around-the-edges-but-basically-moral-in-an-immoral-world (like Conan) kind of guy.  He’s a self-important, selfish, power-hungry elitist.  At times, he’s a murder, though he does begin to show some humanity and regret after a while.  But he has a goal, and purpose, and oh, the adventures he has, the places he goes, and the things he sees!  All fantastic, and all while wielding what can easily be called the most powerful magical sword in all of fantasy (save perhaps for Shieldbreaker from Fred Saberhagen’s Swords novels, but I digress…)

I would absolutely love to sit in a theatre and watch the albino sorcerer-king travel the planes swinging the Black Sword of legend.  Ever since I saw Conan the Barbarian, I have longed for someone to make movies out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Elric saga.  One down, one to go.

Apparently, I am a little late to the party on this one.  Director/Producer brothers Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) and Paul Weitz (American Pie, Little Fokkers) were reportedly in “pre-production” on a movie trilogy based on Moorcock’s dark, brooding novels about my second-favorite anti-hero (see #1, below, for my fave), but that project has been side-tracked and is lately talked about by the brothers in wistful terms of ‘someday’.

Here’s hoping that “someday” actually comes.

Side Note: I’m not 100% certain, but I believe “Pre-Production” is a fancy Hollywood term for people emailing and texting back and forth about great ideas for a movie, then meeting in coffee shops and chatting about how great it would be to make said movie, before moving on to work on real movies that are actually being made.

#2 – Justice League / The Dark Knight Returns

DC Comics is sitting on a goldmine, but they have had some trouble translating the shiny stuff in their mine into coin of the realm.  The Batman movies of late being the obvious exception, DC Comics has not enjoyed the great success of Marvel in translating their characters to the big screen.  Superman was ground-breaking back in the seventies, and the first couple of Batman movies of the late eighties / early nineties paved the way for what was to come.  And then there is Batman Begins, The Dark Knight (of course), and this summer’s Dark Knight Rises.

But taking the long view, that’s maybe six or seven hit movies over a thirty year span.  Not horrible, but not that great.  But compare that with Marvel’s run in just the last twelve years, and you can pick twice that number of successful movies based on their characters.  The X-Men movies (at least two of them), the Spiderman trilogy (again, at least two), The Fantastic Four, X-Men: First Class, and the movies leading up to and including this summer’s The Avengers (Ang Lee’s Hulk and Iron Man 2 notwithstanding).

I’m not bashing DC here, don’t get me wrong.  Their characters are iconic, to say the least.  And maybe they don’t value movies as much as Marvel does, which is fine.  There is certainly more money to be made in movies, but money isn’t everything; no movie is better than a bad movie, when the protection of a brand is essential to the company’s success.

But DC has such a wealth of great story that it’s hard to fathom that there hasn’t been more translation from the inked page to the lighted screen.  Just imagine this movie trilogy, my friends…

The Justice League – A movie centering on the core of the League, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow and the Flash (possibly also Hawkman and/or the Martian Manhunter, depending on the ability to introduce the movie-going public at large to these characters), coming together to form the group to thwart Prometheus along the lines of Justice League: A Cry for Justice, except using the central characters rather than a competing alliance / ideology, with internal group conflict as to how to deal with the situation as would be natural.  Prometheus is murdering foreign superheroes, then planning to destroy cities of the League’s superheroes (maybe limit it to three key cities, rather than the sprawling destruction in the mag).  After being defeated he negotiates his escape, proving he’s not bluffing by detonating one bomb as in the book.  In this adaptation, Superman is the negotiator and Batman (along with Green Arrow) wanting to make him pay no matter what.  End with the Green Arrow scene (no spoiler here), with the barest hint that Batman helped him (but didn’t necessarily know what he was going to do).

The Justice League: Legion of Doom – The League battles the formation of the Legion of Doom.  The Legion is forming along the lines of the backstory from the Justice series in 2005-2006, with Brainiac (and Lex Luthor) fooling even his fellow baddies and planning to get the League to wipe out his ‘competitors’ of evil.  But unlike in Justice, their motivations are to take over the American government (as depicted in Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again).  The League wins the apparent victory against the facade, but Brainiac and Lex succeed behind the scenes with their real master plan.  At the very end, the League is disgraced and talks of disbanding.  Superman is called away on an emergency he won’t discuss… (Lex has Kandor and is going to blackmail him, but don’t reveal that until the last movie in the trilogy).

The Justice League Returns – The movie everyone wants, Superman vs. Batman, pull out all of the stops.  This movie would basically blend The Dark Knight Returns with a little bit of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, blending the emancipation of Batman’s fellow Leaguers a-la DKSA into the main storyline of DKR (yes, it might be sacrilegious, but this is Hollywood we’re talking about)The Justice League disbanded after their failure in The Legion of Doom, and Brainiac and Lex have taken over America and put a computer President in place.  With Kandor held hostage, they have forced Superman to help capture or banish the other League members (similar to the backstory of DKSA and DKR both: “Diana returned to her people; Hal left for the stars…”  Leave Shazam out, he makes things too complicated).  This bit could be the prologue to the movie itself (before credits).  Batman is the bitter retiree in DKR and follows that storyline back from retirement to defeat the Mutants gang and/or the return of Two-Face, then sets about freeing his fellow Leaguers (DKSA), which leads to the confrontation with Superman as the puppet of the Braniac/Lex regime (weak not from the DKR nuclear missile but from the faux ‘catastrophes’ that Brainiac/Lex cook up for him in DKSA; the asteroid, the volcano in Hawaii, etc.) along with Batman’s fellow Leaguers (similar to Green Arrow in DKR, but with Hal Jordan and Barry Allen also assisting as in DKSA).  No Kara, though, and no Dick Grayson craziness, and take out all of the future media “super babes” hype and whatnots.

Ok, I’m done geeking out.  And I realize that the fanboys would cry FOUL (and worse) and this kind of hacked together plot from what may be their favorite series(es).  Me?  I’m not a purist, I just like good story.  Perhaps that’s why I seem to be one of the small minority who absolutely loved both the Watchmen comics and the spectacular movie equally.

Hollywood can ‘just’ make DKR and I’d be ecstatic.

I know there was (is?) a JL movie in the works, announced as being in “pre-production” (oh, boy) last year by Warner Bros., but couldn’t find anything recent on the subject.  Anyone have any fairly recent scoop on where that one is at?  Still in pre-production?  Man, those guys drink a lot of coffee.

#1 – The Chronicles of Amber novels from Roger Zelazny

This would make a great movie trilogy, no question.  The great thing about this story and why it would translate to the big screen is the beginning: the hero is a seemingly normal human being on planet Earth in the current day.  He awakes in a mental institution, not knowing how he got there, but it’s apparent he’s being kept sedated and held against his will.  He escapes but has amnesia (I know, it’s a tired plot device, but here it absolutely works).  He finds out he has a sister, goes to her home to investigate, and finds some things that are… weird.  He confronts her, and then meets more family.  And things get a bit weirder.

As his journey progresses, the audience learns things as the protagonist does; bit at a time, little by little, slowly building up this incredible picture of the hero as a long-lost prince of a magical kingdom in another dimension.  Sound like a book for young adults?  Hang on to your britches, cause it’s anything but.  Don’t let the terms “long-lost prince” and “magical kingdom” fool you.  This is hardcore fantasy at its absolute finest.

Once the hero, Corwin, loses his amnesia, he finds that he is a talented swordsman, a gifted military leader, and a cunning strategist.  He’s also an able sorcerer and in line for his absent father’s throne.  However, his family is currently vying against each other in cabals and alliances for the crown, and there are as many of them as there are books in the Wheel of Time series.

It has the fantasy swordplay of Conan (the original), the magical flair of The Matrix (if you haven’t read the books, it’s hard to explain that reference, but believe me, it’s apropos), the political in-fighting of A Game of Thrones, the gritty war drama of Braveheart and Platoon (again, the reference works, trust me) and the narrative genius of the multiple Hugo and Nebula award-winning author, Zelazny.

Yeah, it’s that good.  At least to me.  That’s why it makes the top of my list of stories I’d love to see made into movies.

Come back tomorrow, and Jason McClain will give us his take on adaptations and being true to the source material.

Review by Art Schmidt

Ever since I was a kid I’ve always wanted a lightsaber for Christmas.  Even more than a Red Rider BB gun, I wanted a glowing blue sword made of light, even though had that wish been granted, I would have most likely cut my own arm off with it.  Every kid who grew up a fan of Star Wars did; there could not be a finer gift in all the whole galaxy.  And this Christmas, my wife got me one!

No, it’s wasn’t one of those long glass ones that light up with a fluorescent bulb, though they do look cool. And it wasn’t one of the extendable costume light sabers that kids like to play with, I’ve had one of those for years.  That is, my son has one and I occasionally quality test it for him. 🙂

For Christmas in 2011 I got a real lightsaber.  And better yet, I get to cut down Sith with it!

On December 20th, Bioware Studios, renowned for award-winning video games such as Mass Effect, Dragon Age, fantasy classics Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate, and the 2003 Game of the Year Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR for short), has boldly warped into the MMORPG (Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, ‘MMO’ for short) market.  Star Wars: The Old Republic is here, and it’s massive.  Massive in size, massive in population (passing one million subscribers in less than one week) and massively awesome.

Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR for short) is set during just after the time period of the previous single-player KOTOR video game, which itself is some four thousand years before the birth of Anakin, Luke and Leia.  The Old Republic is a sweeping era of war between the Republic and the Sith Empire, and Jedi Knights battle against Sith Lords all across the galaxy.

[WARNING: Newb Training Ahead; L33Ts can skip] For those who do not know, MMOs are a type of game that is played over the Internet, on servers hosted by the software company.  In these games, players can group together with other players from across the world to go on adventures together.  World of Warcraft is by far the most popular and well-known of these games, boasting ten million active subscribers world-wide and the only MMO to purchase television ad time (featuring William Shatner and other famous folks, no less!)  A subscription, by the way, costs real money; you purchase the game itself and then pay a fee, normally between $12 and $15 per month, to continue to play on the hosted servers.

As some may recall, the Star Wars brand was brought to MMOs in 2003 by Sony Online Entertainment, in form of Star Wars Galaxies.  This game was set in the time period in between Episodes 4 and 6, while Luke was training to be a Jedi and the Emperor and Darth Vader were cruising around the galaxy smashing the Rebellion and working on the second Death Star.  And while this has been a fruitful time period for Star Wars novels and other media types to draw engaging stories from, it failed to satisfy gamers to any appreciable degree.  The game mechanics were tired (even then) and the potential to wield a lightsaber, while present, was slim and involved long, difficult quests and massive amounts of time.  And, once a player achieved Jedi status, the added difficulty of not being able to die made it all the more rare, and unfortunately, drove away players en mass.

[Newb Note] In most MMOs, your character will die but is able to be revived or resuscitated in a nearby safe area, losing you experience and incurring other penalties but allowing you to continue playing the game with little more than a bruised ego.  In Star Wars Galaxies, anyone who reached Jedi status and then died was turned into a ‘blue glowie’ like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda from Episodes 5 and 6, powerless and not a lot of fun for $15/mo.  SOE eventually made it easier to become a Jedi, at which time people who had gone through the struggle were angry and felt cheated.  The MMO continued to survive but it never really thrived.

Ironically, the Galaxies MMO has limped along until just this month, when a much-publicized ‘galaxy-ending’ event took place to coincide with Sony shutting down the game for good.  That occurred on December 15th, and The Old Republic was released a mere five days later.

The Old Republic enables the player to pick up a lightsaber from the onset, or at least a training saber, if you pick one of the force-wielding classes.  There are currently eight classes in The Old Republic, four Republic classes (good guys) and four Empire classes (bad guys).  The Republic and Empire factions each have two force-wielding classes and two others.  The Republic features Jedi Knights, Jedi Consulars, Republic Troopers (think clone troopers from The Clone Wars, except that they aren’t clones), and smugglers.  The Empire classes consist of Sith Warriors, Sith Inquisitors, Imperial Agents, and Bounty Hunters.  Each class also has two specialization ‘branch’ options at 10th level, providing for a diverse playing experience no matter what side you choose.

Oh, did I mention the experience?  Get ready to experience a total loss of association with real-time once you buckle in for this ride.  The folks at Bioware have always excelled at creating games where you become totally immersed in your character, and you feel the game as much as play it.  KOTOR was a ground-breaking title in its day, bringing the real feel of being a Jedi Knight (or Sith) and exploring the galaxy in ways no one had previously been able to deliver.  Companion characters who reacted to your actions and words, a storyline that revolved around the player directly and changed depending on their actions, a star ship to pilot and explore the galaxy as you wanted, and customizable lightsabers were all part of that experience.

And they’ve brought it all into The Old Republic.  Using a clever combination of instanced areas and cut scenes, and the first MMO world to be completely done in real actors’ voices (rather than endless boxes of text), Bioware has delivered an experience that did not exist until now.  Previous games have taken you to famous Star Wars locations like Tatooine, Nar Shaddaa, Coruscant, and Endor, but not like this.  These places come to life in The Old Republic like in no other game.  Want to explore Hoth?  Piloting your starship there and walking out of the Republic base is enough to give the hard-core Star Wars fan goosebumps.

Fly to Tatooine and you can explore Anchorhead and the endless desert surrounding it, encountering Jawas, Banthas, and of course the Sand People.

And each character class has its own storyline, specific to the class.  You start out in one of four planets depending on your class, and work your way through your own personal Star Wars story until around 10th level you travel to a larger world to continue your quest.  Along the way, you meet companions who you can choose to bring with you on your adventure, earn your lightsaber (for force wielders), purchase personal vehicles such as speeders to make planetary travel a bit easier, and gain access to your own personal starship around 16th level for planet-hopping.  Each class has its own starship, and while you can’t bring other players into your starship, you can communicate from them, store gear in them, house your companions (and put them to work exploring and crafting items on their own) and also engage in starship combat missions for extra experience points and mission rewards.

The space fighting missions are simple combat missions where you fly a pre-determined course (or ‘rail’ as many people refer to it as) and take out targets along the way.  They are a fun diversion and a good way to kill time waiting for your companions to log in or travel to your planet.  They are optional and can be completely ignored, but I think they are a blast.

From within your starship you can access the galaxy map, selecting a sector and planet to travel to. Missions on each planet are conveniently displayed beneath the planet they are on, to help you plot a beneficial course. From there you blast into light speed and are on your way!

The game shipped with eighteen planets in the known galaxy that can be explored, and the developers have promised more content to be announced in the very near future.  Of course, as the game ages and more players achieve the upper levels, higher-level content will be in constant demand.

The game is not perfect by any means; players can level perhaps too quickly, there are glitches on every planet, and numerous reports abound about crashing clients and server wait times.  However, for a MMO launch that is not even two weeks old, The Old Republic has done remarkably well, and the amount of glitches is amazingly small given the size and complexity of the game.

Having played Everquest (and EQ2), Dark Age of Camelot, and of course World of Warcraft at their launches, I can say that this is by far the smoothest launch of a game of this type to date.  Bioware did a huge amount of beta testing and is managing what they call a controlled release in order to manage server populations and wait queues.  Not sure if that is anything ground-breaking, but the force seems to be strong with this game, holding the lag monster at bay on my three year-old gaming rig during all of my fifty-odd hours of logged game play.

The most striking thing about the game, in addition to the amazing storylines worked into what is otherwise at its core essentially World of Warcraft in space (and I actually mean that as sort of a compliment, honest!), is the voice work done in the game.  Every single encounter you have, every quest you accept, every vendor you speak with, every character sitting at their own table in the back of the Red Sun cantina in Coruscant, it is all spoken word.  People who haven’t played MMOs cannot appreciate the time, effort, and immersive effect that has on the game play experience.  It’s the next best thing to being in one of the movies yourself.

On the downside, though, is the ease with which you can advance.  I literally have only had one of my five characters die in the first five levels of the game.  And I’ve advanced three characters to sixteenth and higher levels in the last ten days.  Reports in-game and on the SWTOR forums of characters who are already 50th level (and did not participate in beta) abound.  So, while this keeps the story flowing, and avoids the usual MMO grind that Star Wars Galaxies was notorious for, it may not be challenging enough to keep people subscribing for long periods of time, which is what it takes for an online game like this to flourish.

In short, The Old Republic is well worth the price tag on the box, even if you don’t get into MMOs and monthly subscription fees.  You can literally play one or perhaps even two characters all the way to 50th level with the free 30 days you get with the game, and experience the rich storyline, wonderfully detailed locations, cinematic cut scenes, and pure enjoyment of star-hopping around the galaxy.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have tracked a rogue Jedi named Fain to the smuggler’s moon, and I have to stop him.  If you feel up to it, meet me at Deucalon spaceport on Nar Shaddaa.  I could use a hand!

And may for Force be with you!