Review of ‘The Old Republic’: An Amazing Game produced in an Amazing Time

I had said that I was going to reward myself for all the hard work I did in 2012 and celebrate the first quarter release of my new book Tail of the Dragon.  Typically authors in my position might take a cruise to the Mediterranean, or schedule a few weeks in Hawaii to celebrate the conclusion and release of their novels but I had stated that I was going to do something different, I was going to invest in a video game that my wife and I had been eager to play for all of the last year, but didn’t have time–or to be honest–the machines to properly play them on.  Instead of an external vacation, we were planning to go on an internal one by playing the very involved MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic, which is the latest creation of Bioware, LucasArts, and Electronic Arts with a production budget of over $200 million dollars.  The Old Republic MMO is the very latest of its kind following along the tradition of World of Warcraft, and the popular, Guild Wars.  MMO’s are very involved, all-encompassing, and can be very complicated.  There are a lot of computer calculations that are made per second with people from all over the world playing at the same time as you are, so they require computer systems that can operate at peak performance all the time, and that required me to make a major computer upgrade just to play for myself.  However, for my wife to play with me, it would require two supercharged computer systems, so after the fourth quarter sales closed on my Tail of the Dragon and with the help of my son-in-law, we built two specially designed, eight core processor, 75 Watt power-driven monsters for a few thousand dollars just to play The Old Republic which is very graphics intensive, and at times stunning to behold, especially if you love Star Wars like we do, enjoying the story lore with great reverence.

For kids who have grown up with MMOs–who have been over 13 years old since Play Station 2 came out, I think they are missing the wonder of these modern games.  I have read some of their reviews of Star Wars: The Old Republic before making my purchases, and I think they have the attention span of a nat.  Their expectations in the field of gaming are unreasonably high, which of course can never be satisfied completely by anybody.  Because of my schedule being as intense as it had been for many years, the only type of video gaming I had time for were X-Box 360 classics like Red Dead Redemption, Dragon Age, also from BioWare, and an old X-Box game that my wife and I loved to play together called Gladius, which was an RPG co-op–an early design that has obviously carried over into Old Republic.  My family, meaning my kids, my wife, and my extended nephews played Star Wars: Galaxies a lot, and World of Warcraft, but I never had the time to play with them, and found it irritating that most of the MMO’s did not have a way for players to co-op in story mode in the way that Gladius had, so I stayed away and my wife never invested much time because of it.  This problem has been fixed in Star Wars: The Old Republic, which allows two separate players to do just about everything together, with two totally different storylines—and the way that BioWare pulled this off now that my wife and I have played it for over a week both day and night is nothing short of a technical miracle.  For the kids who want the kind of story content available in The Old Republic, to go on forever, they are deeply unrealistic.  There is no video game on the market today that is as deeply story driven as The Old Republic, and everything is absolutely epic in scope.  For people like me who grew up watching the original Star Wars movies in a movie theater when they were first released, and had to wait almost an entire decade for the ability to watch those movies at home on a LaserDisk—well before VHS video tape or DVD’s, the work that has went into The Old Republic is a small miracle.

My wife is playing as a Jedi Counselor and I am playing as a Jedi Knight, and The Old Republic allows us to both play our stories in a co-op mode that is just stunning in its conception.  If all married couples could find something like Old Republic to do together, I think the divorce rate in America would drop off the chart putting many lawyers out of business—because the game is simply wonderful in its co-op play.  For instance, my wife and I got up at 5:30 AM on Saturday December 30th after playing the game intensely for 5 consecutive days, and we logged into the game on our two monster computers, each of them being cooled down by 5 internal fans just to keep the video card temperature down.  We logged off the game at midnight that same day and went to bed but were up again 5 hours later to follow the same routine on Sunday and Monday.  The story content is very intense, and every couple of hours of play there is a major climax in the action similar to most movies, where there is a plot driven introduction, a series of problems that must be overcome, then a resolution to conclude that portion of the story.   In one instance on the capital planet of Coruscant—which is absolutely stunningly rendered in the game—I had convinced a member of the Senate who I had caught doing a lot of double-dealing between the criminal underworld, and the people’s business of the Senate, to resign.  She offered me a lot of money to keep her name clean, which of course I didn’t take—just like in real life—and forced her to come clean with her resignation.  The Senator in question was not a bad person, or evil in any way.  She was doing what she felt she needed to do politically, but she had crossed the line and lost her way, and it was my job to make sure she stayed clean.  In the world of Star Wars that is the job of a Jedi Knight—a defender of the Republic from not just countless hoards of bad guys, but from the corruption that is indicative in politics.  Jedi are a great plot device that fills a need that is indicative in all democratic republics, such as what The United States is facing with unbridled corruption within politics.  Jedi are the stabilizing spiritual force that keeps everyone honest and reminds me of the kind of philosophical leader that Plato had in mind in his book The Republic.  The Old Republic as a video game excels at giving players those types of moral dilemmas every few hours of game play and so far, my wife and I have over 70 hours each invested, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of the sheer amount of content that is available.

The servers we are playing on were all full much of the time we have been on the game, so it looks like Electronic Arts strategy of offering a free-to-play option worked.  Lots of people are flocking to the game, and on the worlds especially like Coruscant, there were many people running around just like any major city.  They were everywhere, even in the most far-flung corners of that particular planet.  But my wife and I are subscribers and proud to be.  I saw that Amazon.com was offering The Old Republic for $14 dollars which will allow people to play under a preferred status.  BioWare is offering the game for a free download off the web site.  But I personally think they should sell the game for over $200 each, because it’s worth it.   The game is that good.  It simply dwarfs similar games that are console driven.  The computer programming alone to make planets like Coruscant or the space port of The Republic Fleet look so great is mind-blowing.   In fact, when my wife and I arrived at the Republic Fleet Space Port we were slammed in the face by the sheer size and scope of the place, the countless video advertisements, the street vendors, the sights, the sounds, it reminded me a lot of a real life Las Vegas where you can’t help but look out the window at the scope of creativity put forth by the human mind in the rows and rows of theme driven hotels and resorts.  Star Wars: The Old Republic is loaded with these kinds of bewildering scenes leaving many hours of discovery open to any diligent gamer.

The Old Republic is simply an amazing game that exceeds all my expectations and then some.  I was a tremendous fan of the previous two X-Box games called Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Republic II but The Old Republic MMO is in my opinion the best game I have ever played.  It’s also been the nicest vacation I’ve ever been on, and I’ve been on a lot of good ones.  My wife and I have been having so much fun that we forgot to eat but two complete meals during the entire previous weekend.  We were so wrapped up in what we were doing that we didn’t want to go into the kitchen to get food.  Instead we ordered Chinese and took 10 minutes to go and pick it up.   Once when our shoulders were getting stiff from sitting in the same position for about 15 straight hours we sat in the hot tub for an hour to loosen up, then we went back at it for another 5 hours before going to bed.  I don’t know of any place that a couple can go and have that much fun and be clean as a whistle, and still be deeply satisfying physically, emotionally, and intellectually.  The Old Republic has all the intellectual stimulation of a great novel, all the visual dazzle of a blockbuster motion picture, but all the strategic satisfaction of the most intense simulation games.   In fact, at times it reminds me of a favorite game my wife and I used to play when we were first married called Star Wars: Assault on Hoth, which was a board game of sorts that was a role-playing adventure similar to Dungeons and Dragons.  This was well before computer games were anywhere close to where they are now, in fact LucasArts biggest title back then was a game I played all the time on an Atari 7200 called Ball Blazer.  That should put things in the proper time frame.  She and I would play Assault on Hoth three or four times a week popping a bowl of popcorn and going to war together on the paper landscape.  Many years later we would introduce our children to similar war simulation games such as Wiz Kids wonderful Pirates series (CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW MUCH WE ARE INTO THAT).  So we are used to playing these kinds of intense strategy games as a family, and The Old Republic is simply every bit as good as I’m saying it is.  It is the pinnacle of the gaming genre to date.  There is nothing like it, and it may be a long time before something close to it comes again.  The production values that went into the game are unusually over-the-top and not likely to be seen again.  The cost to produce as much content as BioWare did with The Old Republic is just prohibitive.  That is an economic reality that few who play games understand.

I anticipate that my wife and I will stay on this vacation well into the summer, so if my readers here wonder why I seem more reclusive than normal, and difficult to contact, or to pull commitments out of, blame it on The Old Republic.  I haven’t turned on a television in over a week, and have only casually scanned news reports, so the benefit of the vacation has been effective in this case.  There are few things that could divert my mind as effectively as something so intellectually stimulating as The Old Republic.  It is a miracle of the modern age and I cherish every moment I get to play it.  It is worth the thousands of dollars I spent just to play the game and then some.  It is a lifetime experience that my wife and I will never forget.

As for those who wonder why I’m on this type of vacation and would choose to put my energy into this kind of fictional endeavor as opposed to something more, “real,” well, all I can say is that you’d have to read the great novel Atlas Shrugged to get the full idea of why I’m on this particular journey with my wife and not out there in the world building hotels, playing politics, or starting new forms of revenue.  In many ways, The Old Republic is my own form of Galt’s Gulch.  What I earn there stays with me forever—even if it’s just a memory.   It’s my memory, and one that I can share with my wife.  And to me, nothing else matters. 

Elections have consequences…….but they don’t force people to participate in a fools game, and that is what modern politics offers.  Atlas Shrugged was right all along.  The Old Republic is my personal Gulch and I’m thankful to have it.

Rich Hoffman

www.tailofthedragonbook.com