Star Wars: The Old Republic PC Game | PCGamesN

Star Wars: The Old Republic subscribers are about to get player housing

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Star Wars: The Old Republic subscribers are about to get player housing

BioWare’s first MMO will never be the game Galaxies fans want it to be. And that’s fine - Star Wars: The Old Republic is quite good in its own right. But it can learn lessons from its predecessor, and ensure players are inhabiting its world rather than just passing through.

That’s what next week’s Galactic Strongholds expansion is all about: habitation. Or as BioWare put it, "customizable bastions of personal luxury".

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Obsidian are still "really interested" in doing a Knights of the Old Republic 3

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Obsidian are still "really interested" in doing a Knights of the Old Republic 3

You simply must take another look at Star Wars: The Old Republic. There are at least a couple of worthy Knights of the Old Republic sequels buried in BioWare’s MMO - and one, the Imperial Agent plotline, is the most compelling story ever told about a glorified janitor. 

But we get it: it’s entirely reasonable to be put off by fast-resetting quests, conspicuous mounts and noisy allchat. That’s why whenever Obsidian talk about the possibility of an honest-to-god, single player KOTOR 3, we stop and listen.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic preps for largest story expansion since Rise of the Hutt Cartel

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Star Wars: The Old Republic preps for largest story expansion since Rise of the Hutt Cartel

In retrospect, overarching MMO plotlines can sound like supervillain whack-a-mole. The Galactic Republic and Sith Empire might be at war, but together they’ve bopped the Hutt Cartel’s invasion of Makeb on the head, and given the Dread Masters of Oricon a good malleting.

For now, though, Star Wars: The Old Republic’s next major storyline is swathed in mystery, preceded by two new flashpoints that make up its prelude. It might be time to take another look at Star Wars: The Old Republic.

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Take another look at Star Wars: The Old Republic. It's quite good.

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Take another look at Star Wars: The Old Republic. It's quite good.

Whatever it was that draws millions to Star Wars, many were unconvinced that The Old Republic had it. The feeling of adventure, heroism, mysticism and drama just wasn’t quite right. In the old days, SWTOR just didn’t feel “Star Wars-y" enough for core fans. It’s not an opinion I ever held, but I am an extremely patient person and SWTOR, in the early days, was tailored to a player like me. But I struggled to argue with the naysayers on a critical point, it was a poor MMO.

Over two years have passed since Star Wars: The Old Republic launched.  And it has changed almost beyond recognition.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic made $165m in 2013, according to SuperData report

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Star Wars: The Old Republic made $165m in 2013, according to SuperData report

Despite Guild Wars 2, Wildstar, and its own efforts to split its playerbase into have-mounts and have-mount-nots, Star Wars: The Old Republic remains one of the best PC MMOs around. 

That’s reflected in the findings of SuperData Research, who report that SWTOR made $165m last year. They say BioWare’s first MMO accounts for 8% of the market for MMOs with subscription options.

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MMOs are stagnating and need to stop relying on Pavlovian trickery

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MMOs are stagnating and need to stop relying on Pavlovian trickery

The modern MMO is a curious dichotomy. It’s a risky genre in flux: subscriptions are out, free-to-play with microtransactions is in, and the threat of declining player retention looms over the games like a giant blade waiting to fall. Yet MMOs struggle to do anything new. They go through the same song and dance, aping design and features from games covered in cobwebs. 

It’s a genre that should be so broad that few MMOs look alike, but barring a few exceptions like PlanetSide 2 and EVE Online, they all share so much DNA they could be the product of rutting cousins. When you fire up a new MMO, the sense of “been there, done that" is so pervasive that it begs the question: “why are we doing this again?"

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Star Wars: The Old Republic celebrates May the Fourth by showering players with free droids and bonus XP

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Star Wars: The Old Republic celebrates May the Fourth by showering players with free droids and bonus XP

With Sunday being May 4th, Star Wars Day, BioWare’s no longer canon Star Wars: The Old Republic is planning a celebratory weekend. The jedi won’t be participating, of course, because fun probably leads to the dark side like every other damn thing. Bloody jedi. 

BioWare’s celebrating with an XP bonus weekend and a free mini-pet for all players. 

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Star Wars: The Old Republic's Galactic Stronghold expansion delayed until August

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Star Wars: The Old Republic's Galactic Stronghold expansion delayed until August

Star Wars: The Old Republic’s housing expansion has been delayed. As anyone who has ever watched Grand Designs can tell you, it always takes longer than you think it will to build a house. And BioWare is building a few. 

“We have been listening to what you, our players, were hoping to see from the Galactic Strongholds expansion," said senior producer Bruce Maclean. “When playing early builds of Galactic Strongholds it became that clear that our June Early Access date was simply not enough. For this to truly feel like an expansion, it needs to include the full set of features, including those originally coming later in the year.“

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EA’s plan for Star Wars: CEO wants Arkham-style "deep, immersive storylines", not film tie-ins

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EA’s plan for Star Wars: CEO wants Arkham-style "deep, immersive storylines", not film tie-ins

Andrew Wilson likes Arkham Asylum! And we thought he was only into sports games and the Democracy 3 clone that is high-level management.

The EA CEO would like to replicate Warner Bros. and Rocksteady’s success with the Arkham series, if possible: greenlighting games which stand apart from the films but thread themselves nicely into the extended universe.

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Pyramid scheme: The Old Republic's PvP Huttball to get a vertical makeover on April 8

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Pyramid scheme: The Old Republic's PvP Huttball to get a vertical makeover on April 8

One of those things that must have made KOTOR seem such a prime candidate for MMOification - besides its cooldown-based combat system and setting in bloody Star Wars - was its proclivity for minigames. 

In 2003, a player might have interrupted their journey of extraordinary self-discovery to play a few rounds of pazaak and watch the pod-racing, before decamping to the Ebon Hawke for a spot of turret target practice. 

These are precisely the sort of embedded distractions MMO players like to get involved in. In SWTOR, that’s manifested as something called Huttball: “the most brutal game in the galaxy", funded by its slimiest residents. To date it’s had a single PvP warzone to its name - but BioWare Austin have built a new one in portrait, on the atmospherically poisonous adopted homeworld of the Hutt: Quesh.

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SWTOR: Galactic Starfighter now available to everyone along with a gargantuan patch

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SWTOR: Galactic Starfighter now available to everyone along with a gargantuan patch

Star Wars: The Old Republic’s latest expansion, Galactic Starfighter, has now been made available all players. Previously, premium players were the only ones getting to flit around space and engage in some starfighter PvP.

Galactic Starfighter lets players customise their own ship, engaging in PvE and PvP battles. Along with the doors being opened to everyone, a recent update adds a slew of new features from the Bomber role to a team deathmatch mode.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic's 2014: two new expansions and a storyline to span "the whole year"

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Star Wars: The Old Republic's 2014: two new expansions and a storyline to span "the whole year"

SWTOR’s 2013 wasn’t anything at all like its 2012: last year its live team witnessed the game’s playerbase shift from subscription-only to primarily free-to-play; instigated the release of its first proper expansion; and oversaw mammoth construction of an all-new PvP dogfighting mode to banish the memory of on-rails space combat.

In 2014, BioWare Austin hope, there will be no paradigm shifts. Free-to-play will continue to draw in thousands every day, and there’ll be another two expansions - one about the size of a Hutt Cartel, the other as big as a Galactic Starfighter.

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A new hope: The Old Republic subscriptions "decline" as free-to-play "continues to grow"

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A new hope: The Old Republic subscriptions "decline" as free-to-play "continues to grow"

I don’t know what it’s like to be a subscriber of an MMO that suddenly goes free-to-play, but it must be pretty galling. Every month, I imagine, it becomes tougher to convince yourself that whatever in-game privileges you might have add up to another $10 your peers aren’t paying.

It must be somewhat easier in The Old Republic, where despite change for the better, free players are still visibly second-class citizens. Even so, as free-to-play numbers climb, subscriber rates are plummeting in the opposite direction.

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The Old Republic Galactic Starfighter expansion brings the dogfight to (some) non-subscribers

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The Old Republic Galactic Starfighter expansion brings the dogfight to (some) non-subscribers

Since early December, interstellar jousting has been the preserve of SWTOR nobility - its remaining pocket of subscribers, sheltered under an upturned boat in an otherwise free-to-play sea. But BioWare could hold back the tide no longer, and have made the new Galactic Starfighter expansion available to the riff-raff, the rabble, and the Rattataki, effective immediately. So long as they’ve bought something from the in-game shop.

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BioWare's Old Republic studio hammering away at "several" unannounced projects

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BioWare's Old Republic studio hammering away at "several" unannounced projects

BioWare Austin was born to make The Old Republic. That’s not a comment on the studio’s suitability to build Star Wars MMOs, but a literal fact: its staff were brought together in 2006 explicitly to make that game, and since its release five years later they’ve done nothing else but run its operations, reconfigure its systems for free-to-play, and develop its expansions.

Or so we thought. A couple of new job listings ask for hires with experience in both MMO and action games to help out on some of “several unannounced projects".

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EA implicate shrinking interest in MMOs in The Old Republic's free-to-play fate

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EA implicate shrinking interest in MMOs in The Old Republic's free-to-play fate

Imagine you’re a shit-hot PI looking into the mysterious disappearance of The Old Republic’s prospects. There’s a few places you’d be tempted to start: its publisher’s investment in comprehensive voice acting it would take years to recoup; a broadly conservative game design in an era of Eve and Guild Wars 2; and reliance on a subscription model already starting to look dated in 2011.

But here’s EA’s femme fatale tugging at your ear, pointing to something else - the declining fortunes of MMOs in general.

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Watch a minute and a half's footage of Star Wars: The Old Republic's dogfighting mode

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Watch a minute and a half's footage of Star Wars: The Old Republic's dogfighting mode

BioWare have changed. In Baldur’s Gate II, dog fighting meant handing over 10 gold pieces to a sprite-man named Surly in an iffy pub, and getting 20 back if you were lucky. And lots of barking in the interim.

The Old Republic’s dogfighting, built by an Austin studio that didn’t exist in Baldur’s Gate’s day, is all high production pew-pew and free-flight weaving. It’s like nothing else the developers have ever assembled.

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