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Star Wars: The Old Republic

Old Republic Review: After 100 hours, we're finally ready to give BioWare's epic MMO a review score...

Last month we gave you our initial impressions of The Old Republic after 30 hours of play. Now, 82 hours later, we think we're ready to give it a review score.

We won't say it's the 'definitive' verdict - in a year the game could be so transformed by patches and updates that it's unrecognisable - but for now, this is what we think about BioWare's ambitious online RPG.

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One of the most compelling things about The Old Republic is, unarguably, the setting. Nauseating prequels aside, people still love Star Wars and want to be a part of that universe. That's one thing it offers straight out of the box - the chance to feel like a classic Star Wars character.

Each class (with the exception of the Imperial Agent, which is basically 'James Bond in space') represents an archetype from the films: you can be a wise-cracking smuggler with a Wookiee companion, a noble Jedi learning the ways of the Force, a merciless bounty hunter stalking criminals across the galaxy, or an evil Sith Lord.

The other draw is the fusion of typical MMO gameplay and single-player elements. At its core Old Republic is like any other online role-player, but the addition of story elements - interactive dialogue, branching paths - gives it some extra weight.

We found ourselves skipping most of the text-only 'dialogue' in World of Warcraft by about level 40, but here we're totally glued to the story even as we approach the level cap (currently 50). Admittedly, not all of the dialogue and story is top quality - Alderaan is especially tedious, recalling the dull 'space politics' of the dreaded prequels - but it eclipses anything else in the genre.

Sure, you might only be killing [insert arbitrary value] number of [insert enemy] for [insert NPC], but book-ending every mission with a plot, some of which offer multiple outcomes, gives you a rare feeling of motivation lacking in other MMOs. The way that even the most incidental characters have full voice acting really brings the narrative to life, albeit in a superficial way.

Each planet has its own problems and internal conflicts, and you find yourself in the middle of it all, either representing the Republic or the Empire. As a Sith, for example, you could help the local Imperial army quell a slave revolt, or squash an uprising.

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Cleverly, though, there's no clear-cut 'good' and 'evil' in this vision of the Star Wars universe. It's possible to be a Sith who veers on the light side of the Force, or a Jedi with questionable morals.

Light and dark points are awarded for actions you perform and dialogue choices you select in cut-scenes, and you can be as kind-hearted or as wilfully evil as you desire. Another example of the game's effective marriage of single-player and MMO gameplay.

People power

The story elements are rich enough that you could theoretically play the entire game on your own and still enjoy it, but you'd be missing out on a lot. We can't speak for other servers, but on Nightmare Lands (where we reside), the community is overwhelmingly friendly and helpful.

If you're ever struggling with a boss, a quick plea for help in general chat will have someone rushing to your aid - often going out of their way. It helps to be part of a guild too, as you can easily form teams and share discoveries with other members.

Regular missions can always be completed by yourself, but there are two types geared specifically towards groups: Flashpoints and Heroics. Heroics are like normal quests, but with much tougher mobs and mini-bosses.

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