So, here we are: it's now officially 2012, Star Wars: The Old Republic has now officially launched, and early reports suggest that EA's last-ditch attempt at a blockbuster MMO is off to a solid start. Of course, whether 1 million registered players is enough to justify the unspecified but obviously vast amount of money invested in its creation is open to question, and we don't expect a definitive answer in the near future.
Right now, the only thing that can be definitively said about The Old Republic is that the critics seem to be enjoying the experience, though not quite in the way they expected. After several years of slow-burning hype around what Bioware's RPG experience could bring to the stagnating MMO formula, it seems that The Old Republic is far more traditional than many had hoped.
The character classes, combat gameplay and mission design will be familiar to anyone with first-hand experience of World of Warcraft, and Bioware has included all of the game-types and play-styles expected of a modern MMO. The execution is solid throughout, if unremarkable in places, though the specific areas The Old Republic excels and falls short varies from critic to critic.
The point is that this is a huge game even by MMO standards. The Old Republic's dozens of constituent parts offer enough variety to satisfy and frustrate gamers of all tastes, but no more or less than in WoW or other, less successful competitors. Ultimately, The Old Republic's unique strengths lie with the pedigree of its developer and the strength of its license, and in these areas a consensus opinion is easier to define.
The Guardian's Mike Anderiesz is full of praise for how well The Old Republic captures the look, feel and general atmosphere of Star Wars, therefore satisfying a significant number of its early subscribers.
Being the centre of the universe in a personalized, branching narrative weaves a strong sense of meaning and purpose into everything you do in the gameJosh Augustine, PC Gamer
"If it's Star Wars that brought you here (and that surely accounts for a hefty chunk of SWTOR's initial audience) then you'll be mightily pleased with your destination," he writes in his 4 star review. "Bioware is clearly committed to ensuring that this is Star Wars in cyberspace - from the glossy production values to the enormous cast of characters, cultures and technologies to the pretentious but excellently delivered dialogue."
"The graphics are occasionally stunning - with long draw distances rendering outdoor and space locations particularly effective and, so far, relatively lag and glitch free - an achievement in itself for most MMOs."
Key to this is the widely discussed solo storyline, in which Bioware brings its skill with single-player RPGs to bear on the MMO. The story quests are bracketed by fully animated and voiced cut-scenes, complete with a conversation wheel and branching dialogue. The sheer volume of content across the eight storylines - one for each character class - is so great that the quality of the cut-scenes and dialogue is variable, but given that The Old Republic is the only MMO to approach its narrative in this way, even the lows are at least unique.
PC Gamer's Josh Augustine, who awards the game 93 per cent, highlights a pair of subtle knock-on effects of introducing the Bioware story formula. First, the persistence of the world takes away the option of reloading old saves, so in The Old Republic you're forced to live with your mistakes and the consequences of poor choices.
"It's an unexpected tool that Bioware uses to leverage player emotion and create some of the most engaging, moving story moments I've ever played in an RPG - moments that are light-years beyond what we've seen in MMOs so far."
The other unexpected facet of The Old Republic's more developed story is the focus of the quests. Instead of quests starting and resolving purely based on the problems and desires of NPCs, here there is a greater sense that your character is driving the experience forward.
"You have a story in The Old Republic and all of your adventures revolve around it: you go places because you have business to take care of there. It may seem like a modest difference, but being the centre of the universe in a personalized, branching narrative weaves a strong sense of meaning and purpose into everything you do in the game."
Augustine also praises Bioware for making sure that it's simple and satisfying to play with friends - particularly the "mind-blowing" holo-call function, which lets you drop into your group's conversations from anywhere on a given planet, allowing you to explore different parts of the map while constantly remaining connected.