A Subjective Review of my Objective Review of Star Wars: The Old Republic

What is bias?

Wikipedia solidifies it as “an inclination to present or hold a partial perspective at the expense of (possibly equally valid) alternatives.”

To be unbiased is to practice absolute impartiality, practice being emphasized. When people review movies or spout their political beliefs, even if they claim impartiality, how could they prove that objectivism? One way is to quote precedent, either repeating similar examples from the past or declaring an opinion as unbiased because it sets itself apart from the consensus—but that to can be interpreted as bias. How can an opinion be impartial if it mentions another source even in passing?

And then there’s conformity. If someone loves something, he or she is expected to praise that love regardless of its shortcomings. That’s bias. When someone admits an issue despite that adoration, it’s bravery. So do we salute those people who claim a bias and speak against the conformity, or would we rather simply accuse those of conformity of bias. Being objective is a rather odd belief to encourage, a development in human society that found success and circulation in only the last few centuries, and then is seldom seen outside of scientific circles. Find me an objective politician.

The judgement of subjectivity or objectivity is made by the readers/listeners and not by the one expressing the opinion. The one claiming to be unbiased has to declare it in order to repudiate expected criticisms, such as is the case in reading a number of reviews involving the new massive online game, Star Wars: The Old Republic (referred to many circles as simply TOR).

Never before had I read so many reviews stressing objectivity, as if the reviewers suddenly had an obligation, like they had never been unbiased until that moment. I still discovered gross violations of objectivity, all based on past experiences with MMOs. Wouldn’t a true unbiased review be by someone with no MMO experience? Or rather would someone’s past experience take precedent? Very often these reviews which claim impartiality do so because of the inevitable comparisons being made to World of Warcraft (WOW). I have read reviews of TOR which attacked the game for various shortcomings which World of Warcraft only addressed in the last few years. I know of people who refuse to even look at TOR because of their blind loyalty to Blizzard.

Approaching the release of TOR, I was skeptical. Why? Because I don’t like MMOs. I admit I’m biased. I don’t care for them, never have. I lost two friends to Everquest and a dozen more to World of Warcraft. People avoided me because of my avoidance of WOW. I never understood the jargon or the in-jokes or the need to obsessively push a character to be the best it could be…until the next patch…or the next add-on. I know I’m subjective, and have my reasons to back that up. I need games to have an end, and the constant grinding required to get a miniscule improvement to your character is too much of a hassle. I also have issues with the cruelties of PvP. And then there are the raids where you repeat the same battles every day, gaining nothing save for the slim chance that an enemy may drop something useful for you, only to see that item fall to someone higher in the queue, forcing you to play further until you rise up the rank. At the end, all you have is a leveled character with no satisfaction that you were special or made a difference in the overall setting.

And World of Warcraft’s setting is pitiful. I admit I’m biased. I’ve always been a science fiction guy, and when I inject fantasy into a setting I create, I need it to take itself seriously and not be some half-comical tongue-and-cheek world which changes gears from melodrama to slapstick without warning. Blizzard may make great games but their writers all need to be fired.

I’m not saying that the setting of TOR is without fault. I prefer the dirtier, cannibalized setting of the second trilogy. I admit I’m biased. I thought Empire was the best movie, and the advancement of special effects simply didn’t overcome George Lucas’ hemorrhaging talent. And the look and feel of TOR does greatly mimic that of the new trilogy.

So then why would someone like me play a game like TOR? For one, I was promised considerable single player content and my friends endorsed a RP server over the maligned PvP—which is itself a tame child compared the nightmare conveyed by those playing Ultima Online. Plus I had faith that Bioware would make the experience fulfilling. I admit I’m biased. I like Bioware; Mass Effect 2 was one the best games I ever played, probably the best ever with a couple others tied a horse-lip behind.

I had no experience with MMOs before, save for a brief moment playing EVE Online—where I exited the opening space station after having made my character and immediately turned around to see a half-dozen identical ships leaving behind me at the same time (not a unique snowflake). I had never played WOW. I had watched it played often. I had missed Guild Wars and blinked when my friends played and passed Warhammer Online. I was going into TOR with no assumptions of what to expect. I had no base to compare. I couldn’t criticize the game on its action-to-compliance response time or its graphical hitches. I could only review what I saw and grade the game on its own strengths and weaknesses.

I created my trooper after ten minutes of Mass Effect-styled fine-tuning and walked into my first unique zone where I met the members of my unit. These were my comrades, mine, superiors and underlings with names that no one else would know. They gave me missions where I would talk to people with no one else around…at least that was the illusion. There were dozens of fellow troopers talking to the same people with the same friends, but we never mixed our identical storylines. For all I knew, these were other troopers with different names, different origins, and different missions.

When I see a piece of gear, I can preview it on my character. I can see how that piece of gear interacts in comparison to the gear it replaces. When I sell something, I could instantly buy it back, and I can sell gear at any vendor. I can hop speeders between distant locations. Once a day, I can warp to an area with every vendor in the entire universe clumped in one spot. I gain companions which I can talk to, that talk back to me, that offer opinions, interject criticisms, and even accept romance if I (and they) are so inclined. I can send them off to run errands while I concentrate on combat and role playing. They can scavenge and build items. They can earn money and help me run a virtual business, and I can have them do all of this even while I’m not even playing the game. I log back in after a good night’s sleep and they have things for me. If I find orange gear that looks good, I never have to sell it; I just replace all the components within it, giving my character a constant look through level progression. I never have to wander a landscape killing random creatures. My character always has a place to go, someone to talk to, a mission to complete or people to save. Each of the seventeen worlds I visit has their own unique segment of a personal story for me to encounter as well as a grand story everyone can partake in. By the time I depart each world, I’ve left a permanent impression (or scar) on the people or landscape. And when I’m done for the day, I can enter rest areas and gain bonuses to XP when I return, meaning even when I don’t play, I’m still playing.

Having no experience with MMOs, I had no idea that so much of TOR was the result of fifteen years of trial and error from inferior games. My best friend in TOR and in life keeps reminding me that I take a lot for granted—elements that a few other games didn’t implement until years after their release. You had to sit there in a spot and build stuff by hand, which could take hours away from combat. You had to hunt around for vendors and run for minutes on foot because of lack of transport. And when another player killed you, he could take all your stuff, forcing your character into hours if not days of tedious grinding to earn that money back. My friends praise the fact that in TOR you never have to grind. I never did, and I’m landing on the last planet in the game already at the level cap. You don’t even need to socialize. You can do most of the game by yourself, though rewards are plenty for teaming up.

I love the fact that you can journey with friends and see what they look like as they interact with you in a conversation. My friend is not a two-inch tall green-skinned Jedi toon; he really is an uncomfortably attractive space nun with her own voice and personality.

My character got laid. She was an NPC—a fellow trooper I accompanied on several missions. She called me from another planet asking that I return to Coruscant. I never considered that this galactic whore probably slept with a hundred troopers that week (those that flirted; you have the option not to). We had a great evening and didn’t talk again for twenty levels, months I assumed by game time. We never established the details of our relationship or even if there was one. Afterward, I met this great ex-Imperial defector and asked her to join my time. She was a healer and proved a vital counterpart to my DPS talents. Spending so much time together, affection started to show and a relationship began to blossom. Well, wouldn’t you know it, my old flame from Coruscant got herself kidnapped and sent to a penal asteroid. I fully expected my current girlfriend to inquire about the details, where I would have to respond like, “Look, honey. It was before Taris; we hadn’t met yet. I should have said something. Here’s the thing: her and I never broke up—I-I mean we never established what we had and I hadn’t seen her for months. I know-I know, I owe her an explanation as well.”

Well, it turned out that the asteroid was a trap set up by a certain big time villain. I ended up being forced to decide between my ex-girlfriend and 300 prisoners locked up at that same facility. I made a decision and now have to deal with the repercussions.

That was Wednesday.

On Tuesday, I slapped a sith warrior so hard with the back of my gun, I sent her falling down a massive elevator shaft. I cheered a moment before realizing I’d sent all her high-end gear falling as well. The day before that I was picked up by a friend for a mission dealing with a rogue fallen Jedi he’d been tracking for days. I commented on how much nicer his ship was over mine. The jedi always get nice things. My friend had played WOW since the first day, leveling a character for half a decade, and was an authority on the missteps that online games make. He confirmed that I wouldn’t have liked WOW in the early days, since it had none of the elements I love and take for granted in TOR. I’ll never need to play WOW. I have TOR. I admit I’m biased; TOR does most everything right. I didn’t know that most the gameplay mechanics were carried over from previous games. I didn’t know that some games have larger worlds or more robust economies. Any MMOs I play in the future will have to deal with my TOR bias. I became subjective to TOR because of TOR. Everything people complain as old hat is refreshing to me.

After a decade of avoidance, I am playing a MMO, and I love it.

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Chris Dias

Chris Tavares Dias is the literary equivalent of that crusty burnt cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot. Some people claim he looks like Mathew Perry. He would like that to be true. It's not. In 2010, Chris co-wrote and created Amethyst Foundations, a 4th Edition setting based on the previous version under 3.5. It has received critical acclaim for integrating science fiction into classical fantasy. In August of this year, Chris was last seen staring at a dead raven that had fallen beside his car. Two months later, his watch and notepad were found in the stomach of a basking shark that had washed ashore off the coast of Florida.

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