Flash in the pan
Ah, yes. Socialising. This is, after all, a multiplayer game. One of the best features in TOR are the Flashpoints, which are the equivalent of World of Warcraft's instanced dungeons. These story-led missions last upwards of an hour and can only be completed in groups.
What's cool about Flashpoints is that during conversations, each player chooses their response, and the game 'rolls' who gets to answer. It brings a multiplayer element to BioWare's established conversation system, and it works really well - although it can get a bit confusing when you have multiple characters of the same class, as they all have the same voice.
The earliest Flashpoint you'll encounter is The Black Talon. It's designed for two people, but you can play it with four. It sees you and your buddies trapped on a starship that's being attacked by invading enemies (which side they're on depends on whether you're Sith or Republic). You travel through the stricken vessel, fighting enemy soldiers, defeating bosses, scoring high-level loot and completing side-quests.
It ends with a battle against either a Jedi or a Sith Lord, which will be your character's first encounter with a powerful enemy from the other side. It's a tough battle that requires smart teamwork, and a good spread of roles - someone healing, someone attacking from afar, someone up close 'tanking'. The fantastic score, which uses pieces from the films including the epic 'Duel of the Fates', only adds to the excitement.
Flashpoints have their own self-contained story, and elite enemies will always drop quality loot. If you don't have any friends playing the game, or aren't in a guild, it's worth seeking out other players to help you with these - they're a big part of why The Old Republic is so much fun. Luckily, there are always people in the general chat channel looking for groups.
So, as you'll already be aware, this is not the definitive review of The Old Republic. Not just because we've only played for around 30 hours, and have barely scratched the surface of what the game has to offer, but because MMOs are constantly evolving. With patches and future content, the game will be unrecognisable by the end of 2012. Think about the leap from vanilla WOW to Cataclysm and you'll get the idea.
End game content is also important for an MMO, and we're hours away from experiencing any of that - and we haven't even tested our mettle in a PVP arena yet. So we won't be scoring TOR yet. After the Christmas break, and hopefully after we've dinged our character to level 50 (the cap), we'll come back and give the game a score.
But until then, if you still want an answer to the question "Should I try The Old Republic?", we'd have to say yes - if only for a month. It's a game worth experiencing, not only as an MMO, but as the spiritual successor to Knights of the Old Republic. If you want a quality, story-led RPG set in the Star Wars universe, this offers that, but with the bonus of a persistent world full of real players.
As for that final score, well, you'll have to wait until January.