Star Wars: The Old Republic has been the collective wet dream of Force wielding nerdlings since they first completed Knights of the Old Republic, many, many moons ago. Before you even ask yourself, “Hey wasn’t there a Knights of the Old Republic 2?” just perform a Jedi mind trick on your own skull in order to wipe clean all memories of that abomination. Eight years later, the RPG masters over at BioWare are once again ready to return to the land that Lucas built, and this time you will have the company of a million or more of your closest padawans. Who says nerds have no friends?
Just as the Sith or, depending on the class you chose, Jedi start getting on your nerves, Prima is here to the rescue with their officially licensed Star Wars: The Old Republic – Explorer’s Guide. At risk of sounding overly cynical, please take note that at no point is the publication referred to as a strategy guide. This is only worth mentioning because, quite frankly, if you are looking to this single work to be the definitive, end-all, be-all, for The Old Republic, you obviously understand nothing about massively multiplayer online games. But more on that later. All that is really worth knowing upfront is that the book is greatly lacking in the “strategy” department.
By virtue of an MMO being on online game, everything within the actual game world is in flux… constantly. Frequent bug fixes, balance updates and even content additions can greatly modify both the look and feel of any and all facets of the game. Feel like your weapon is suddenly weaker than you last remember it? Chances are that you have fallen victim of a nerfed sidearm. But don’t worry, within a couple of days a new patch will be released, turning the world on its collective head, all over again.
With a inconsistent world like this, it would seem nigh impossible to compose the perfect book to cover all aspects of The Old Republic’s universe. Instead, the Explorer’s Guide is designed as more of an atlas to each world in the game’s initial release, with a brief amount of strategy mixed in for good measure. Is it enough to satiate the hardcore MMO min-maxer? Not a snowball’s chance in hell. Fortunately, that is what the internet is for.
First off, the book opens up with a grand total of twelve pages describing the title’s eight classes, along with a list of the top five ways to survive as one of these characters. Also, just so players don’t feel slighted, there is a list of three of each classes’ strengths and weaknesses. This sums up the entirety of the strategy guidance contained between the covers… SERIOUSLY! For those keeping track at home, that means that a grand total of twelve of the three hundred and fifty one pages were dedicated to teaching. Simply put, even if the balance of the combat and/or item system was constantly shifting, it is certainly worth spending more than 3% of the publication on. this is shameful and borderline negligent.
If this Explorer’s Guide was in fact meant to be an atlas, this is greatly evidenced by the next two hundred and ninety two pages, which consist of nothing more than planet descriptions and maps of every single area in the initial release. Furthering the overall lack of direction provided, each planet’s description is vague enough that it could have been scrapped directly from within the game itself. Sure, they may point out a few key points of interest, but nothing other than a general, “You might want to visit here and do stuff.” Heck, that previous example is probably more specific than most sections in the text.
Once you get past the snooze-worthy planet breakdowns, the maps prove to be the one semi-helpful component of the book. Each map shows what kinds of enemies will be encountered, roughly how many will be in each group, and an estimate what level each enemy should be. The problem is, some of the maps are too crowded and busy to actually be able to comprehend what is going on. When maps are so zoomed out that the enemy markers cover more of the image than a kid with chicken pox, you might have a problem on your hands. While this is not always the case, it happens frequently enough to warrant noting. Criticisms aside, the maps can still be somewhat helpful if attempting to locate a quest or two that could be sneaking under the radar.
The final twenty-nine pages (index excluded) is a section dedicated to concept art from the game. As a fan of the lore and universe, it is hard to deny the appeal of this area, but is seems to provide a very clear glimpse into the actual formation of this book. In order to have enough access for the very tight lipped folks at BioWare and LucasArts to turn over this kind of content, the authors and editors must have had very tight ties to the developer. In many cases, this work seems to suffer from lack of freedom to express themselves. This might explain the virtually non-existent guide content. Is the concept art awesome to look at and fawn over? You bet! But really, this cements the book’s purpose as more of a collector’s item than any kind of productive aid.
The overall lack of text and strategy in the Star Wars: The Old Republic – Explorer’s Guide could absolutely be a by-product of the game’s universe always being in flux. That said, there are many other ways that this could have been approached, that would be far more helpful to gamers. Heck, for all we know, those maps could have been deprecated by the time the game left Beta. For this reason it is pretty much impossible to recommend this guide without it weighing heavily on the conscience. If you are really looking for actual in depth analysis for The Old Republic, remember that everyone’s favorite physician, Dr. Google, always has your back.
“This is not the guide you are looking for…”