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   The past 11 or so years of World of Warcraft has effectively shut down any new hopeful MMO’s chance of success. The amount of polish that went into that particular game has ensured that no other game in the genre can compete with Blizzard’s MMO masterpiece. Even as subscriber numbers are dwindling, the amount of monthly subscribers is still at a number most other games can only dream of. Over the years, many games have tried and failed to match WoW’s profitability, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t others worth checking out. Let’s take a look at a game that, despite it’s less than great launch, has managed to persevere and even thrive. The game I want to talk about today is Star Wars: The Old Republic.

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I was one of the people that bought into the hype when the game got announced back in the holiday season of 2011. The promise of an MMO experience like WoW, but with a more heavy focus on narrative, piqued my interest so much that I actually went to the midnight release of the game to pick up my physical copy. My very first character was, of course, a Jedi Knight. Armed with my lightsaber and a couple of friends, we jumped into the proverbial fray. It soon became apparent that even though the promised Bioware style of narrative was most definitely there, with 200,000 lines of spoken dialogue—which got them a Guinness book of records acknowledgement—I didn’t respond well to the skinner box that is the modern hotkey gameplay style that was made popular by Everquest and perfected by Warcraft.

The game’s heavy grinding soon made my enthusiasm grind to a premature halt, and the game became a somewhat sad ornament on one of my shelves. I loved walking around on the planets I saw in the films when I was a kid, and I was impressed by the overall writing of the class stories, but after about 60 hours the game got so bogged down by fetch and kill quests that I just couldn’t be bothered anymore. It goes without saying that a WoW veteran such as myself is more than used to the daily grind, but the difference there was that I had been playing WoW for years at that point. As such, I was much more invested in WoW than I was in The Old Republic. And, judging by how quickly the game started to bleed subscribers, it seemed like I wasn’t the only one with that opinion

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So the game launched with critical acclaim and public indifference. By July of 2012, a mere 7 months after the game was released in North America and Europe, less than 1 million people were still active players, and The Old Republic was teetering on the brink of being cancelled. In what seemed a desperate bid for survival, EA and Bioware announced that the game would adopt the free to play format in December of 2012, a little over a year after the game saw the light of day.

The new model put pretty severe restrictions on free to play players who were new to the game, while returning ex-subscribers got the slightly less restrictive “preferred” status. The option to subscribe was still there, and the people who chose to keep their subscription active received some conveniences—like quicker cooldowns for fast travel stuff and faster leveling—as well as a monthly pack of Cartel Coins. Cartel Coins are the game’s real money cash shop that allows players to buy outfits and unique in-game items. The one thing that was unrestricted to every player on every tier were the fantastic class stories. 

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Surprisingly enough, the game managed to drag itself back up from the edge of irrelevance and is now sitting at a respectable 1 million active players as of August 2014, with EA saying that the game needs around 500k active subs in order to stay profitable. Since the game went free to play, it has seen the release of several expansion packs that added new content to the game. The newest of these, titled Knights of the Fallen Empire, brings with it a slew of quality of life changes in addition to a continuation of the game’s story.

It is now possible to complete the base portion of the game, dubbed the “origin story,” by just doing the class-specific missions, removing the need for a long grind almost entirely. No longer will you be stuck going to and from a base to turn in a log full of quests only to discover that 10 more fetch quests await you. Datacrons, collectible items that give your character a permanent stat increase, now give all your characters a bonus so you don’t have to look for them with every character you have created. The game’s typical Bioware companion system has also been reworked, with every companion now able to have all 3 roles—healing, tanking, and damage—available to them, giving you the option of never having to group with other players while out in the world doing quests. You can now also solo some flashpoints—Star Wars: The Old Republic’s version of a dungeon in other MMOs—with the game giving you a droid to help you fight the bosses. 

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The way the expansion is structured feels a lot like Guild Wars 2‘s living story system. New chapters will be released on a monthly basis in 2016 and are only available for solo play. I have not yet reached level 60, so I can’t yet speak for its quality, but several outlets on the web seem positive and this makes me look forward to the point where I can sink my teeth into it. The game promises a return to the heavy narrative focus on the base game, something that was sorely lacking in previous expansions, with a heavy emphasis on player choice—or rather the illusion of player choice since you’ll always be choosing choices the game presents to you. The expansion launched with 11 chapters available at release, with the others coming in 2016. Once I’ve played through all of them, I will be sure to tell you my thoughts on it. Until then I will be enjoying playing my light side Sith Inquisitor while I dismantle the Empire from within.

All the changes made to the leveling experience and the shift to a more single player kind of game feels like the right choice for The Old Republic. The game never really felt like a multiplayer game to me, and it’s good to see that Bioware is slowly starting to warm up to the idea that singleplayer is just what this game needs to keep on keeping on. The community has responded well to these changes, with EA’s quarterly report proudly boasting a whopping one third subscription increaseStar Wars: The Old Republic , by rights, should not be enjoying the success and stability it has right now, but I’m glad that it is. I’ll see you once the review for the expansion is finished!


Chris Anderson

Staff Writer

I've been playing games since I was just barely able to walk, and I never really stopped playing them. When I'm not fulfilling my duties as senior staff writer and tech reviewer, I'm either working on music, producing one of two podcasts or doing freelance work.

  • Hyrules

    The game clearly was meant to be what was it’s rumored origins were. Knights Of The Old Republic 3. The writing and even the quest design is pretty decent to actually fun and engaging when you’re focusing on just the class quests. It’s the monumental and tiring trudge of filler from class quest to class quest that ruins the experience. And eventually that carrot is dangled so far away I couldn’t put up with it anymore. I tapped out around level 35 prior to it going F2P and the changes that came with the most recent expansion.

    I might give it another shot, especially since it’s F2P.

  • I re-subbed to this myself, as did my wife. We ended up having to call their support line to get an old authenticator removed, and their support guy was super nice and we chatted for about 10 minutes about the influx of returning and new players they’ve been hit with, the details of how the preferred and subscriber access works, and the evolution of the game. Even back in the newbie zone, you can feel that the game is much better although I can’t explain in specifics why because it does seem to be the same content – I’m just not irritated by it like it used to be.

    They give you a free lvl 60 character if you resub, plus you get the Revan and current expansion, and a bucket full of cartel coins. It’s well worth at least a single month, after which you’re “preferred” for life then. I ran around with my 60 for about 20 minutes and felt like a trust fund kid who’d bought a WOW account on eBay, with not a clue how to play the character — so I rolled a newb to ease back into it before I go looking at the expanded content.

  • BenMS

    I bought into the hype before the start and became a sub. However, it was really noticable it was made by an company which had never made an MMO before as well as hadn’t enough people in the studio who had made an MMO before. It was cookiecutter while it severely lacked some critical support systems.

    Those days it still is relative cookiecutter, but it has severely improved most things – and it has become worth subbing to compared to the early days.

    One big if here though – the restrictions for pure F2P players (so not the Preferred players who are either ex-subs or have bought Cartel Coins) are downright insane still even while it has been relaxed a bit since its inception as an F2P-MMO. If you want to play an single-player MMO, it’s doable. If you want to go full-MMO and do raids, warzones etc and be somewhat competitive also for them, you’re severely limited and you’re better off subbing in the end since the costs for entry for more then just a few per week is insane.

  • Pesty

    Off-topic question here but what does the end-game look like these days? Are the raids much the same, and is class balance different at all?

    I played at release as well (2011-2012) and it was enjoyable until my guild drifted apart because we’d cleared everything.

  • Erthwjim

    is now sitting at a respectable 1 million active players as of August 2014

    Is this the right date?

    Also I played at release too, stopped subscription shortly before f2p I think. Played it a few hours a couple days ago, but was mostly checking mail and seeing where my characters were as far as levels and location. Will have to try some more when I get a chance

  • Sergey McSanchez

    “It is now possible to complete the base portion of the game, dubbed the ‘origin story,’ by just doing the class-specific missions…”

    Not true if you’re F2P. Not even remotely.

    Free players gain levels at half the pace that subs do. If you want to keep your character at the minimum level required for your story quests, you have to do every single one of those annoying fetch quests. You can pretty much forget about using space missions or flashpoints to boost your XP too, because you’re limited to 3 per week. It’s one of the most frustrating F2P systems out there.

  • Kingnoname

    End game content is weird this expansion because it’s not all out yet. Class balance is better but PvP can get really annoying because everyone has quite a large burst. So if you are only looking for end game content I’d wait for the whole expansion to come out before trying again.

  • Pesty

    Hmm, does all the burst just make pvp a tag match now?

    I played as an Inquisitor tank at release and I remember being nigh unkillable in pvp. I was constantly getting 1st or 2nd in total dmg dealt because I’d be able to dive into just about every scrap.

  • Kingnoname

    Not really it’s just super punishing, kinda like DOTA.

    Dodge tanks haven’t gotten a major rework recently but I haven’t noticed them dominating. An issue with them is a lot of their damage mitigation is random chance rather than flat reduction. But I assume they are basically the same.