I am the first to admit that I have never played any Bioware games. My preference is MMO games, so while I never played Knights of the Old Republic, I have played many space MMO like Space and Beyond, Eve, Star Trek Online and the precursor Star Wars MMO, Star Wars Galaxies.
So now we have a new MMO set in Star Wars universe: Star Wars: The Old Republic
Star Wars Galaxies was very innovative, with no level (skill based) system, a vibrant and extensive player created economy, the ability to create in world player character cities and player starships and ground vehicles. The game was flawed by lack of content and botched combat system upgrades that alienated the player base.
Star Wars The Old Republic is very much a traditional MMO, with players of World Of Warcraft or Everquest II feeling at home with the levels and mechanics. However, the production quality and storytelling in SWTOR is by far the best I have seen in a long time.
Firstly, the narrative storytelling is very compelling. The story is about your player character, starting from the traditional “scrolling in space” intro after character generation. All conversations are voice acted, and decision making will not only affect the story, it also affects how your pets (called companions in-game) feel about you. Decisions also have a game element, as you can gain Dark Side or Light Side force points (which are used to unlock abilities).
Secondly, the “10 kill rats” syndrome is well handled. When you receive your quests, you are given the key objective or person. For example, a quest could be “Go to the cave and find information about a Jedi device”. Along the way there may be mobs to kill, and you can elect to compete bonus side quests where you get XP for killing X amount of critters or people. These side quests are optional, and do not need to be completed to meet the objectives of the main quest.
So far I have started 2 Republic characters, a Jedi Councillor and a Smuggler. At character generation, there is 8 classes, 4 Republican (Jedi Knight, Jedi Counculor, Smuggler and Soldier) and 4 Sith Empire (Bounty Hunter, Imperial Agent, Sith Inquisitor and Sith Warrior). At level 10 each class has two sub classes, and with the upcoming legacy system upgrade, you could play a Empire character in Republic mode and visa-star versa (once you qualify).
So far, both story lines have been enjoyable, with a good mix of combat and storytelling. I found with my Jedi that not only was I making “Light Side” decisions, I had to also consider how Qyzen Fess, a Trandoshan hunter and companion, will react as well. And there was times I was tempted to try and to flirt with a NPC (however, I chose not to as it is not Jedi-y and will leave that to my smuggler).
The Australasian servers have good number of players on at any time, however there is only a choice of 3 (one each of Role Playing, Player v Environment and Player v Player). There is a plethora of US and European servers available, which may be better if you are in a trans national guild.
Star Wars the Old Republic is not revolutionary, but it is the best refinement of a traditional Role Playing Game MMO I have yet seen. You can play for free for a weekend (A weekend pass can be found here). Subscriptions start from $14.95 a month, however, a copy of the game is required (a digital download is available on EA’s Origin service, or from EB, JB Hi-Fi and GAME).