Unless you’re fairly new to the world of MMORPGs (as, honestly, I was up to a few months ago), you’ve probably heard that Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) is introducing a free-to-play option in the fall, likely some time in October. Given that I’ve become disappointed with the way Star Trek Online (STO) was handling some of their revenue-generating enterprises — let’s be honest, those servers do cost money, so even free-to-play games have to cover the bills somehow — I decided to give SWTOR a try, and I’m very glad I did.
First, a quick word about the SWTOR free-to-play option. In order to encourage people to subscribe, they’re placing some limits on free players, including restrictions on character choices, on-planet transportation options, and mission choices. Since SWTOR is true to the Star Wars idea that space travel should be quick and easy, and most of the action should happen planetside, on-planet transportation limitations, while not debilitating to a free player, will make it harder to accomplish their missions. However, the free option gives a good opportunity for players to decide if they enjoy the game enough to subscribe to it.
As you might expect, when you start in SWTOR, you begin by creating a character. I won’t go into too much detail here, but you get to pick whether you’ll be fighting for the Republic or the Empire — SWTOR is set quite a while before the Star Wars movies, so the Republic and the Empire coexist in a situation similar to the Cold War between the US and USSR — and what class you’ll be playing. There are two classes that use the Force on each side, and two that don’t. At level ten each of the eight classes splits into two advanced classes, making a total of sixteen possible classes — just the thing to keep someone like me experimenting for days or longer.
Once you’ve set up your character, Star Wars fans will be quite comfortable with the way the story is introduced, with the familiar Star Wars theme and visuals. The tutorial or “Prologue” section is good at teaching the mechanics of playing the game while getting your character through the first few levels and setting the background of the story you’ll be playing through. Each class has its own class missions, but there are a number of shared side missions as well. One of the nice features of SWTOR is the way the missions are handled. Each class has a storyline that their missions follow, but there are frequent side missions to help characters get experience and equipment. When your class mission takes you into a new area of the planet you’re on, side missions in that area are also activated so your character can talk to the various NPCs (easily identified with an icon on the map and also floating above their heads) and get these missions. Also included are a number of missions that are deliberately set up to require more than one character, encouraging players to join together into groups to achieve a common goal. Since Star Wars as a franchise tends to make space travel mostly a way to get from one planetary adventure to another, SWTOR follows that to a large extent as well, though there are the occasional space combat missions. Characters don’t even get their own ship until about level sixteen (in my own experience; some skilled players might get theirs earlier).
All in all, SWTOR has kindled a new appreciation for the Star Wars franchise, and I’m looking forward to many enjoyable hours exploring all the different class stories within the game. I might even find I like playing a Sith, but then again, I might not; I usually find evil characters difficult to play, which brings me to my final point about SWTOR: if you want to play a Sith that follows the Light Side of the Force, you can, just as you can play a Jedi that uses the Dark Side, making the game that much more varied and interesting.