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Just in case you were on the fence about Star Wars; The Old Republic.

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This is the same post I put up on my main blog at LJ, but I thought people might like to see it here. And, no, +google doesn't handle hyperlinks very well, but I'm not invested enough in it to learn yet another editing syntax.

As I'm sure none of you remember, I've been playing in the <a href="">Star Wars; The Old Republic</a> beta test since late June. They lifted the Non-disclosure agreement today so I can tell you what I think.

First: what SWtOR is not. It is not a revolution in gaming. This is still a Massively-Multiplayer On-line Game whose mechanics will remind you of other MMOs you may have heard of, like World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online. You will still start with a computer-modeled humanoid at level 1, in what looks like a hand-me-down bathrobe and take innumerable quests to kill 10 jawas from a Non-Player Character; all to advance your character to level 50 so you can wear an outfit that looks like there is an oversupply of shiny bits in the galaxy. If you're like me, you will also spend uncountable hours clicking on bits on the ground so you can get the materials to craft something that makes it look like the entire universe has an oversupply of shiny bits. At the level of fundamental process, it is nothing new.

But saying SWtOR is just like any other MMO is like saying that playing solitaire for a couple of hours is the same as meeting your friends for a movie because both activities are in the category of entertainment.

The first, and most obvious difference is that you talk to everybody. In every other MMO I've played, most of the interaction is through text. You walk up, click on the NPC, and a box-o-text pops up describing the quest they want to send you on. In SWtOR, walking up and clicking on the NPC starts a scene, familiar to players of other Bioware titles, that looks much like a little movie, with changes in camera angle, and every character fully voiced. Although, mechanically, this is the same - talk to NPC, go kill/fetch/deliver stuff, talk to NPC, get reward - the combination of Bioware's consistently adequate writing with the voices draws you into the story in a way I've never experienced with a game that uses text boxes. I have yet to hit the spacebar to skip a conversation.

The second thing that has drawn me in is Bioware's ability to capture the feel of Star Wars. I've wanted to be a Jedi since fifth grade and they manage to deliver this experience rather well. The story component is rather well-done, which is what Bioware has emphasized, but they do a good job of weaving it into the whole game. I'm still disappointed that, due to the nature of the the beta, that I've not been able to follow one of the character stories all the way through.

The third big difference from other MMOs I've played is the incorporation of Companion Characters. Like a number of other Bioware titles, you have NPCs that follow you as you go through the story. In SWtOR, you can only have one with you at a time, but they all have stories that you can explore with them. The only design flaw is that, since they help you in combat, your choice of CC can be limited to the ones that make you the most effective in a fight. I recently got an interesting new companion, but found that they were much less effective in a fight and had to go back to the one I'd been adventuring with before. But you can still advance their story back on the ship, so it's not a complete disaster.

The final thing that has been different for me between SWtOR and other games is that, although I'm doing the same <i>Kill 6 Rats</i> quests, the combination of voice acting and setting somehow prevents it from feeling like a grind. Part of this is that the outright <i>Kill 6 Rats</i> quests are not actually awarded by an NPC, but pop up as you're doing other things. Another difference that contributes to the easy adventure feeling is the very skillful way Bioware has staged the quests. Other MMOs, especially Lord of the Rings Online, have you running back and forth or between NPCs - frequently just to deliver a message or advance the quest a wee bit - but Bioware has done an exceptional job of having a series of quests naturally lead you to the next series without lots of running back and forth. Also, Bioware has wisely eschewed the achievement/deed grind that World of Warcraft and LotRO have taken to heart. They have also deliberately kept the penalty you suffer for being defeated rather mild, at least at first, so you can screw up a bit and not have a ten minute walk ahead of you.

So, if y'all have any questions or want to drop a bombshell on me and say you actually want to play, speak up. There is <a href="">a list of main voice actors</a>, who have been identified, for those that might be interested. Anthony Daniels voices the protocol droid that comes with your ship, too, which didn't make that list for some reason.

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EA has evidently decided that the best thing to do with people who use the word e-peen on their forums is to ban them from every playing any EA game again ever.

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And the MMO I'm most excited about in the next year or so.

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While I'm pimping games, here is the sequel to the best 4X game in something like a decade. I expect the sequel to top it, too.

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Granted, this is pretty much an ad for some Dragon Age DLC, but - Felicia Day as an elf - so I don't mind being a shill.

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Although they had less of a string section yesterday, they do seem to still be in the habit of ending a set with this song. I also managed to hear Emmylou Harris doing Red Dirt Girl on the way out of Golden Gate Park, so the day was pretty much perfect.

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One last artist for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, although he's playing on Friday, so I won't be able to go.

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Hardly Strictly Bluegrass will be coming to Golden Gate Park in a week and a half. Free music. How can you beat that?
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