A 240 hour fully-voiced Bioware story in the vein of KOTOR, with a WoW-style MMORPG added on. Score: 93/100
Lasting Value: 9/10
Time played: 10-20 hours per week, for two years (starting as a public beta tester).
The vision behind The Old Republic - to take the spirit of Knights of the Old Republic as an RPG, add distinct and voiced storylines for every playable class, and complement it with endgame MMO mechanics in the style of World of Warcraft, is exceptionally ambitious. But TOR manages what it sets out to accomplish in spades.
SWTOR's storyline is the defining feature of this MMO. Every class has 30 hours of voiced, cinematic dialogue delivered in Bioware's trademark option wheels that give players a compelling reason to complete MMO-style quests. Although some of these stories are notably better than others (with the Imperial Agent's story arc my personal choice for Bioware's best writing to date), the quality of the voice acting remains remarkably consistent and helps to immerse players in the world in a way that no other MMO I've played before has. This greatly encourages role-play, even on non-RP servers. Even better, the entire storyline can be completed without paying for the game.
SWTOR is largely derivative of the traditional strategy MMO-RPG, although there are some notable innovations. PVP content includes a game of "huttball", in which players compete in a team-deathmatch, soccer, and tug-of-war hybrid unlike anything I've seen before or since. It's highly polarizing, but for my part, it's fun. Other maps follow a Battlefield-style capture-point system, though more recent additions continue to add new forms of PVP, including a refreshing spin on capture the flag. PVE content follows the expected format for dungeons and raids, with raid boss mechanics that stress group coordination and timing much more than item levels. Heroic missions while questing call for spontaneous groups of 2-4 players of any class, offering more compelling side-arcs and better loot than normal quests. Mini-games are highly polished, including 6 hours of optional on-rails space battles with mission objectives, with heroic on-rails missions that unlock once the level cap has been reached. Overall, I was highly impressed with what was on offer: a deep traditional combat system. For new players, the level of character customization through talents, modifiable armor sets that allow you to swap out stats with other pieces of gear, and a crafting system that rewards reverse-engineering products with a chance to learn schematics for better versions may be intimidating. For experienced MMORPG fans, the traditional depth should be welcome at a time when competitors are increasingly leaning towards simplifying character optimization. Companion characters - which follow you in the overworld when solo or in instances without the max level of players, do a good job of simulating the roles expected in end-game (tank/heals/dps) and allowing the player to take on more challenging bosses that require multiple roles during solo play. These also double as crafting aids, which can increase your crafting scores over time for a small in-game credit fee (saving players the hassle of running around to level professions).
TOR has higher graphical requirements than most competitors, and I did experience instances of slow-down from time to time. Game-crashing bugs, although commonplace during the game's beta and first few months, have by now been completely ironed out. It's been a 9 months since I've experienced any on my near-minimum rig. Special effects are impressive and character models are highly detailed, however some instances are clearly older and boxier in design, calling the graphical complaints of the KOTOR series to mind. The sound in this game, however, is stunning. Original scores rival John Williams' own when at their best, from the peaceful chimes of Alderaan to the jazzy tracks of the Cantinas. Creating original Star Wars music is a feat that has often been failed in past videogames, but for once I feel that this has been done adequately. Score here reflects a 7 for graphics, and a 10 for sound.
Lasting Value: 9/10
TOR includes a legacy system that grants an account benefits for having multiple characters, and allows characters to cast the class-buffs of any classes they have completed the first 2/3s of the storyline for automatically. With this incentive to roll new classes after finishing the story, in addition to a now fully-developed endgame gear-drive, recurring events, and expanded non-class-specific story arcs that open at end game, TOR will last as long as you want it to. Even after completing the 240 hours of voiced story content for each class, the MMO components remain to offer more to do in terms of multiplayer. MMORPG fans may feel that they have completed a character when they reach the current end of their story arc, which is highly unusual for the genre. Some players may choose to end on the story's conclusion rather than engage in the MMO side of the game, particularly if they have completed all 8 voiced storylines (4 classes, 2 factions). Although expansions continue the story, the first expansion has not offered distinct storylines for each class. For this reason, I've awarded a 9 to reflect the story's reachable end.
I've thoroughly enjoyed The Old Republic, which has held my interest longer than any other MMO I've tried to date (DDO/GW/WOW/GW2). The community on my server is friendly, leveling alts is genuinely enjoyable due to the mass-effect style stories tailored to that character class, and the combat system doesn't attempt to fix what isn't broken. I've enjoyed the game both as a subscriber and as a preferred ftp player during a rough financial spot, and recommend it wholeheartedly if you haven't tried it already. If you're looking for more of Bioware's writing in the Star Wars universe, or for a traditional MMORPG, look no further than TOR.