Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) is an odd game; it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a single-player RPG or an MMO, so it became an amalgamation of both, combining both the best and worst of their respective worlds. That being said, with stories as strong and well-written as they are and complex MMO mechanics that you don’t have to touch if you’re only interested in the story, even the most die-hard players who stay away from multiplayer games will find Star Wars: The Old Republic well worth it.
Beginner Friendly, Somewhat Free-to-Play Friendly
It’s always intimidating to get into an MMO past the game’s launch; a myriad of activities, mechanics, and expansion after expansion ensure newcomers are completely lost usually. An aversion to the subscription model that MMOs have is often a big deterrent as well, as well as the lack of a decent free-to-play (F2P) MMO with an active player base in 2021.
Much like bridging a single-player RPG and an MMO, SWTOR bridges the subscription model of polished MMOs like Final Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft with a F2P option that doesn’t limit players if they only wish to see the story, which is the game’s main selling point. The game features a stunning eight fully voiced stories for each of the eight classes, each with its own characters, companions, quests, and playstyles.
For those intimidated by the MMO aspect, there’s not a whole lot to learn if you’re only interested in the story. It’s fairly intuitive and never overwhelms with information, and is as deep as you want it to be.
A little Frustrating
The experience as a complete newcomer and F2P player for the majority of my hours has been good with asterisks. While many other MMOs opt for a ‘pay to win’ experience, SWTOR goes for the ‘pay to not be frustrated’ experience.
The game has three classes of players; the F2P player who hasn’t spent a single dime, the Preferred player who has spent some money in the past or was previously subscribed, and the Subscribed player. F2P and Preferred players have a myriad of limitations, with F2P having some particularly egregious ones. Preferred players have it a bit better, and Subscribers still have some limitations but not a whole lot.
A lot of quality of life (QoL) things are locked, either behind a subscription or premium currency. For example, players, even subscribed ones, cannot check their mail inside their strongholds, the game’s version of houses and apartments. You also cannot check your mail on your ship; you have to land somewhere and check a mail inbox to view your mail. To unlock the ‘privilege’ of checking your mail in your own house or ship, you have to pay using premium currency.
F2P players are also shafted a bit by not having access to the cargo hold, one of the main forms of storage. They do get access to the legacy storage, but accessing that requires traveling to your stronghold, whereas there are usually areas to access your cargo hold storage on every planet.
While some may view the limitations in place as the ‘payment’ for a F2P or Preferred player to play this game for free, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s inherently designed to frustrate the player unless they pony up. Thankfully though, it usually doesn’t extend outside of QoL stuff. There are no limited hours, reduced experience points, or locking you out of story quests here.
Note that although SWTOR states that F2P and Preferred players gain ‘less’ experience points, what it really means is that Subscribers gain 20% more experience. F2P and Preferred players gain experience at the normal rate.
While you are locked out of the max level, which is limited to level 60 from the max of 75 as a F2P, that’s all you’ll need if you’re only interested in the stories and expansions, two of which have been made free. Rise of the Hutt Cartel and Shadow of Revan are both free to all players. For the rest of the expansions, you would have to pay for a subscription for one month to unlock them permanently for your account, even if you unsubscribe, which is very generous.
If you’re interested in late-game raids, PVP, or guilds, you unfortunately have to spend money. F2P and Preferred players are unable to equip the highest tier gear, purple and gold. To equip them, you’d have to buy a consumable that allows you to equip the gear. Subscribed players don’t have that limitation. Thankfully, you won’t run into purple or gold gear if you’re only interested in the stories and expansions, and having the best gear possible also isn’t required to do any story content, which has been made very easy to blast through.
With all that being said, it’s important to note that nothing ever truly impedes progress on doing the stories or expansions. At worst, it’s incredibly frustrating, but you’re never locked out of story content, and for those willing to spare $15 for one month of subscription, which is very worth it, a lot of grievances are avoided, even after the subscription ends. Personally, while I found the restrictions in place frustrating and tedious, it never stopped me from enjoying the phenomenal stories told in the game and having an overall positive experience.
Some of Star Wars’ Best Writing
Maybe We Are The Baddies
SWTOR is also still, in 2021, the only Star Wars media to allow you to see things from the view of the Empire rather than always following The Resistance or The Republic.
While games like Knights of The Old Republic (KOTOR) allow you to ally yourself with the Empire or Sith, nothing ever allowed players to fully immerse themselves into the Empire and their inner-workings, and that alone is worth giving Star Wars: The Old Republic a shot in 2021 if you’re a fan of the series. The stories on the Empire, especially the Imperial Agent, a spy thriller set on the grand stage of Star Wars, are among the best stories told in the franchise and completely unique.
The classic BioWare that we know and love from the original KOTOR or the Mass Effect trilogy is still here in full force, despite being an MMO. Dialogue wheels, unprovoked verbal abuse in dialogue, decisions that influence the greater galaxy, fans of the company will feel right at home, and will find Star Wars: The Old Republic well worth it in spite of some of the F2P restrictions and grievances in place.
In addition, many of the stories and one of the major expansions to the game touch on the original KOTOR and the exploits of Darth Revan, so while we may never see a KOTOR 3, SWTOR serves as a faithful, respectful, and well written follow up, especially with the Shadow of Revan DLC.
Not a Fan of Star Wars?
For those not fully on board with the setting, whether due to a lack of familiarity with the series or movies or simply a disdain for the setting, there’s still something here. The setting is in the old republic, which takes place thousands of years before the movies; no Skywalkers, Kenobi, or Palpatine here. The complete blank slate allows the game to explore things the movies never get a chance to, as well as easing in series newcomers by putting most people on an even playing field. While having played KOTOR will definitely help players get into SWTOR, knowledge of KOTOR isn’t necessary to enjoy the game’s amazing stories.
The game’s extensive codex, which frequently gets updated and never overwhelms with information, explains a lot of the universe and helps you get to know the locations you visit and the characters you come across.
Many of the stories on the Empire side also defy Star Wars convention without spoiling too much. Someone with passing knowledge in the franchise or someone who outright disliked the movies can still find a story here to enjoy.
Aged like fine wine
SWTOR has aged surprisingly well, with some landscapes on planets like Nar Shaddaa or Coruscant still looking gorgeous today. The game’s art style is to thank for this, and even character models still hold up decently well. Textures can look a bit blurry, but given that this game is a decade old, that’s hardly something to pick at.
On the animation side, though, things aren’t too great. While it has its moments and MMOs have never been really known for having great animation, SWTOR still looks particularly static and even janky at times, with the melee stances looking a little off. It isn’t all bad, as classes like Jedi Knight have some fun animations, but overall it’s not something to write home about.
The game lives up to what you would expect from a Star Wars soundtrack, with many original beautiful pieces, renditions of familiar themes, and even recycling the great John Williams’ work at times. The soundtrack fits the game perfectly and lives up to what John Williams has composed in the past.
Sound effects are also on point; everything sounds how it should, from the sound of iconic heavy blasters to lightsabers swishing, the sound design is phenomenal.
The voice acting also can’t be understated, especially given that the entire game is voice acted, including your character. Playing both a female Imperial Agent and a female Jedi Knight, the voice acting for both player characters and each of the companions and NPCs have done an exceptional performance. The female Imperial Agent is especially good, delivering her lines with the right amount of sass and bark while maintaining the haughty British accent that the Empire seems to love.
Being able to walk around the vast galaxies of Star Wars while listening to immaculately composed tracks befitting each of the planet’s unique characteristics makes Star Wars: The Old Republic worth a try for any fan of the franchise.
Don’t expect Darth Maul vs. Obi-Wan
The combat is unfortunately pretty generic MMO fare, with numerous hotkeys and quick bars clogging up your screen, going through rotations. Combat is what you’d expect from an MMO from the early 2010s. It’s all fairly generic, though the game does feature a lot of variety from the eight classes.
The Imperial Agent Sniper utilizes a cover mechanic to stay rooted in one spot and take out foes with devastating accuracy and damage with a rifle, all the while having a wide array of tools to get enemies off of their back. The Jedi Knight Defense, on the other hand, gets up close and personal, taunting enemies and slashing away with their lightsaber. The Sith Inquisitor Sorcerer zaps their enemies with various forms of lightning and has some healing to keep companions and members alive. Although generic, there is enough variety here for you to not get bored.
Companions also play a key role; if you’ve played a BioWare game, you know what to expect. You can talk to them, bond with them, flirt and sleep with some of them, and they occasionally chime into conversations with their wit and wisdom. You can also set your companion to perform any role you wish; if you were playing as a Sniper, for example, you can set your companion to be a Tank. If you were playing as the Jedi Knight, you can set your companion to be DPS. This ensures that no matter what you play, you’ll never be at a disadvantage.
The game is overall very accommodating to solo players only wishing to see the story.
As mentioned prior, the main stories and side quests are generally very easy and don’t require any sort of min-maxing to do, even as a F2P. There’s also little to no grinding, as the game hands out free experience boosts like it’s candy. For those wishing for something to sink their teeth into, the late game hosts a plethora of activities and mechanics to lose yourself in but are never necessary to learn or even touch if you only want a Star Wars story.
Free-to-play, eight fully voiced stories that are among the series’ best, and serviceable gameplay helps Star Wars: The Old Republic be more than worth a try in 2021. While a lot of QoL things are hidden behind premium currency or a subscription, it still doesn’t detract from the overall experience and can be permanently remedied with a one-time subscription.
Whether you’re looking for an expansive MMO to grind endlessly at, itching for more Star Wars stories and lore, or simply looking for a way to pass the time, there’s something here for everyone.
Do you think Star Wars: The Old Republic is still worth it in 2021? Let me know in the comments below.