I’m pretty sure my friends hate me right now.
That was the inevitable conclusion I reached after five hours in The Old Republic. To say I went in expecting the worst is an understatement; I set my bar nice and low to avoid disappointment. And yet, after five hours, I still walked away from my first agreed day frustrated, annoyed and perplexed at how friends who had mocked World of Warcraft, Rift, Aion, Age of Conan and many other MMOs were actually really enjoying this game.
The assurances that the character creation had been limited in the beta to ‘ensure stability’ quickly disappeared into the vast void of empty promises and lies that so typifies the release of a new MMO or MMO expansion. I prefer, unlike some, to stick with male characters where possible; I’ve only ever had two exceptions. One, in World of Warcraft; a Blood Elf rogue called Dagger, in my drive to have levelled a rogue of every race. I refused categorically to play a Blood Elf male. And secondly, Rift – I started out as a male called Arukai, but ended up on a female toon called Amaia as I helped my friends level and get to grips with what I felt would be our last great MMO adventure together.
I was more correct on that last assumption than I ever thought possible.
So, after the disappointment that the male character models were all pretty terrible (Body 2 is just passable but has a chest that would make Andrej Pejic look positively butch), I resigned myself once more to playing a female character – settling on Body 2 as it had just the right build for a Sith Warrior intending to go for a DPS build. And I called it, as I usually do for a female character, Amaia – meaning, literally, “The End”. I figured it was more apt for a Human Sith Warrior than it had ever been.
And from what I saw, it seems three-quarters of players were playing female characters. Clearly, in a Galaxy far, far away, rampant lesbianism is commonplace.
As my friends breezed on having gained access the day before me, I was left to my own relatively bewildered devices – a quick run-down of the quests beforehand on an ill-fated male character the only glimmer of teamwork I had experienced in my brief five hours. And I took my first unaided steps into Star Wars, and Korriban – the place I would call home for the first five or six hours of my playtime, playing a female character with the animated grace and poise of Mr Humphries from Are You Being Served?, resisting the urge to yell “I’M FREE!” at the top of my voice to get into the kind of character my Sith Warrior was hinting at me.
Korriban is, I admit, an interesting landscape for an MMO ripe with promise and potential. It’s a blend of desert landscape, peppered with some lush oasis areas and tombs of Sith warriors and inquisitors long since past. Very Egyptian, now I know where Stargate SG-1 got most of its ideas. But from the off, things felt somewhat disjointed. I had been pulled into the Sith Academy early; for some insidious plot that is barely explained or even mentioned again. The training offered a condensed few hours of training whereas the slightly miffed “Nemesis” had trained for many months and studied the literature and philosophy required of a true Sith Apprentice.
In all honesty, he has a point!
Nevertheless, I begin my fast-track training. Very quickly I am asked to think like a Sith – this is where I first knew things were going wrong, and almost wanted to apologise to my downtrodden nemesis for my insolence. Three prisoners; their fates in my hands. I had no real idea what I was doing to be honest; it seemed the options were often muddled. The first choice, a trained assassin who had been caught trying to kill a Sith Lord; kill her, exonerate her or encourage her to work for the Sith. I chose the third option; oddly, a light side choice. Secondly, a disgraced Sith General, who wanted to die by combat. I wasn’t sure about fighting so I opted for the quick kill option. Thirdly, the most awkward one; a man accused of spying and holding forged documents for Jedi infiltrators. And yet, no evidence linking him to the crime. Killing him seemed unduly harsh, and yet freeing him seemed very un-Sith-like. So I thought; I can’t make a decision, so I’ll chose the leave him to someone else option.
The ridicule I got from my superior for the latter choice was embarrassing and annoying.
Nevertheless, I soldiered on, doing a couple of side quests and venturing into another tomb to beat up a big bad beasty. On returning, I realised the game really didn’t want you to enjoy your actions; the big bad beasty was in fact a source of Dark Force, and his death caused a great disruption in said Force. Now the superior’s superior wanted to see me.
And boy, was he pissed.
Although, to be fair, he had very valid points. My character had not studied the philosophical teachings of the Sith; nor had earned the respect and command that one in my position should have obtained by will and work. I was weak of mind, of spirit. I had no clue why I was there; only that I was there, having done as I was told, and being lambasted at every turn for the choices I was making.
Turns out being a Sith when you have a bit of a conscience is very, very hard.
So, bigger superior asks me to kill little superior; and he was a toughy. I had to leave and come back later as my character, level 6, was clearly not quite ready for the big bad named level 7 that I was facing. After a bit of work – and a bit of expenditure – I came back and nailed him. Part of me wanted to just chop off his hand and send him on his way, but then I remembered Sith’s are evil. They enjoy this whole murder thing. And so I killed him. Seemed like the logical thing to do – the Sith way.
A couple more side quests, and my next mission was to go and obtain some shards from a series of ruins and tombs – yes, more tombs – and bring them back. I regretted not calling my character Lara for the amount of sodding tombs that seemed to be within convenient walking distance. All it needed was some annoying person talking into my ear constantly. HI VAL! XD
But, at level 8, I was slowly being frustrated by what I was being asked to do and how I was being constrained to do it. Groups of enemies masking bigger, nastier enemies despite the tempting offer of bonus experience for clearing the lesser ones. Dialogue that was infuriating, annoying and generally chipping away at my usually quite-steady temper. A general chat that managed to triumph in victory over Barrens chat in inane, pointless dialogue and a combination of Knee jokes, Chuck Norris likes and Mankrik’s Wife gags.
I had played for five hours, but I was exhausted, frustrated and my normally cool facade was quickly evaporating into an ethereal void of no return; it had felt like I’d been grinding for twice that. My friends were cheerfully teamed up and doing instances, and I was behind them, trying to catch up but slipping further behind with no clue what I was doing or why I should even care.
And before I could point this out to my friends, who had promised be they would make it fun, that I wasn’t having it and that I’d rather be playing Darkfall than this game, I decided the point you’re about to point out to your friends they had ridiculed, lambasted and hated games for committing far less crimes than this was the right time to log out, calm down and have a nice mug of Chamomile Tea. I’m so not cut out for Sith, am I?
I had promised them I would at least see one month of this game through. After just a few hours, it dawned on me how much of a challenge this task would be, and that I may have to smile through gritted teeth for them. I had come away tired, drained and annoyed, and this is the first time in any MMO I’ve ever played where I can say that; the giddy excitement of my previous endeavours with them into the world of MMOs was notable by its absence. I just wasn’t enjoying it in the way others were.
From the textures, the models, the combat mechanics (which are okay but hardly anything above what I’ve already experienced in the past) to the quests, layouts and general pacing; something was missing. Had I already made my mind up that I wasn’t going to enjoy this game, or was I really not enjoying myself? Should I tell them sooner rather than later I may not end up with them at the endgame, and that this may be one of the few MMOs we’ve played together that we don’t all end up at the endgame with? Should I ask the community for advice and inspiration, to help fill me with some background knowledge as to what being a Sith means, and to explain why passion must inherently mean evil deeds? Or accept that no matter how hard I try, Star Wars will never become a part of my soul in the same way that Tabula Rasa did – a game that had flaws, but bags of charm and a community that gave a damn.
These are things I need to contemplate and reflect on before I log back in, but as a relative newcomer to the Star Wars franchise (I am not steeped in it like the majority of players) I feel no inherent attachment to it, nor does the game seem to offer that attachment as a reward for levelling yet. I am still noticably detached from the whole experience, not one with it, and this may be a class issue or it may simply be I’ve found an MMO that really disagrees with me.
Whatever comes next, this is going to be a long month – I can only hope it gets better from hereon in, because if it doesn’t… I’m pretty sure this may be the catalyst to see ten years of friendships come to a bitter, bloody end.
And all over a Star Wars MMO.
It seems so unbelievably petty, but I am under no illusions how passionately the fans believe in their franchise – and that I am treading on eggshells.
Please get better, The Old Republic… please, please get better…