- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2012

With the combined might of three of the most influential companies in the video game galaxy — Electronic Arts, LucasArts and Bioware — a massive multiplayer online role-playing extravaganza finally has arrived to entrance disciples of George Lucas‘ sacred mythology.

Star Wars: The Old Republic ($59.95 plus $14.99 a month after 30 days, rated T for teen) is alive on PCs and ready to consume a player’s time as he enters a monumental conflict between the Galactic Republic and supremely evil Sith Empire. OK, start the John Williams’ fanfare and push the prologue scroll already.

What’s the story? Thousands of years before the rise of Darth Vader, the Sith Empire tightens its grip on galaxy. The Galactic Republic and its Jedi defenders lie weakened and vulnerable after the Empire’s military campaigns.

With a fragile peace negotiated, the Republic rebuilds while the Empire works to ensure its superiority in the next war. It’s time to prepare for an inevitable conflict of good versus evil of epic proportions.

Play the role: Within a story bigger than any one life (60 novels worth of writing, to be precise), action can be segmented into forty separate characters (eight tied to five servers) that a player can build from the nose ring on down to follow their own path of good, evil or a bit of both.

So here is four quick glimpses into the lives of my avatars to offer a taste of the variety and depth of stories.

* As the male Zabrak Sith warrior Zadzooks: I am on Korriban and am undergoing deadly trials in hoping to master the Dark Side. Among my tasks, I must seek out traitorous acolytes using a scanner and summarily execute them, interrogate three prisoners and help researcher Ephran Zell activate the ancient Sith device known as the “Red Engine” that contains the late Tulak Hord’s greatest secrets. That was about six hours of work and I don’t feel as if I have played through even a tiny bit of the adventure.

* As the male cyborg Republic Sergeant Zadboy: I am on Ord Mantell and out to stop an explosive device with the power to incinerate thousands of my fellow troopers. Quickly armed with explosive rounds, rifle and blaster, I’ll find myself questioning loyalties as I deliver stolen medicine to natives of the planet rather than my superiors and recover a necklace from a scavenger camp that could help or uncover an Imperial spy.

* As the female Rattikian bounty hunter Zadursia: I am on the planet Hutta as I try to convince Nem’ro the Hutt to sponsor me in the Great Hunt by killing rival bounty hunters. In my spare time I will pick up some credits from Var’soonta for convincing the Black Death to stop hunting Enocii, purify polluted waters at the Old Muckworks (or do I destroy the processors and stop the creature mutations?) and hang out with the Twilek bounty hunter trainer Zinny to upgrade my arsenal.

* As the male pureblood Sith Inquisitor Zadicus: A slave on Korriban, I must prove my worth to Dark Sith Lord Zash and Overseer Harkon as I carve out a swath of death and deceit with help from Force lightning and light saber. I may need to help the captured Jedi Quarian Dorjis escape (to let him return to the Republic with false information), test the blood purity of Sith overseers and find a holocron filled with dark secrets in the tomb of Marka Ragnos (a Dark Lord who lived during the first Sith Empire).

Get to the action: As a player travels to famed locales such as Coruscant, Hoth, Tattooine and the Valley of the Dark Lords on Korriban (too cool for the geeks), he uses a keyboard (and optional mouse) to converse with and observe characters (from Gamorrean security officers and Jawas to Rodian thugs, Ugnaughts and dozens of droid types); solve mysteries; help, save and double-cross multiple friends; and takes part in plenty of combat.

Combat is based on using dozens of powers tethered to bars of numerical keys and unlocked with help from trainers, progressing in the game and visiting merchants to spend credits. Dozens of choices eventually are available, ranging from a Kamino poison dart rifle to tornadic light saber attacks.

As in the deeper role-playing games, warriors can access maps, track missions, read a mythology codex and upgrade all parts of their armament and clothing to help tackle jobs with odd minutia available (I love my bantha-hide footwear) to use or sell to merchants.

As players increase their experience levels (get above 10 for the fun to really start), opportunities arise, including picking up computer-controlled companions, and owning a starship such as a Fury-Class Imperial Interceptor.

Story Continues →