Star Wars: The Old Republic Preview
BioWare is no stranger to making great RPGs, with an impressive catalog of games including the unmissable Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire and Mass Effect – to name a handful. Few developers can boast an incredible ability to craft stories that capture the hearts of their audience and build the game play to support them, but BioWare is definitely one of them. So when one of the biggest RPG developers announced its plans to make an MMO based on one of the most iconic sagas in history, many jaws dropped, mine included. However, before we talk about the game itself, we have to look at the history of the world in which it exists.
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BioWare's first foray into the Star Wars universe came in the form of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, a beautiful RPG set in the Star Wars universe before the events that take place in the films – 4,000 years before, to be precise – which won several awards, including Xbox Game of the Year, among others. You start the game as a recruit on board a Republic ship, the Endar Spire, which is under attack by the Sith. After escaping with fellow soldier and legendary hero Carth Onasi to the planet Taris, events unfold which lead you and your party across the galaxy in search of maps to a device known as the Star Forge. I won't spoil the rest of the story, but the game features an incredible plot twist which leaves you gasping in surprise.
Knights of the Old Republic was a masterpiece, and was followed up by the less-successful sequel, set not long after the events of the first game. Many felt the game was rushed, and to some extent it was. But it still told an interesting – yet somewhat patchy – story as you once more trek across the galaxy, this time as an exiled Jedi Knight in search of the tattered remnants of the Jedi Order. The first game was always going to be a tough act to follow, and although the sequel wasn't nearly as immersive, it still delivered a great game.
However, there was a problem. A third game couldn't be made, not at least without a great series of plot gaps and inconsistencies. Every Star Wars fanboy and fangirl out there loved the idea of playing in a Star Wars-themed MMO. Sadly, they were all disappointed by Galaxies which failed to really take off, marred by glitches and lag issues in spite of several expansions and patch releases. Things look different this time with Star Wars The Old Republic. It may be another Star Wars MMO, but this one is in much safer hands. And from what we've seen so far, it looks like it could be good.
Yes, I said could. Honestly, I'm skeptical at this point – as a lot of people are. Sure, the story lines in the first two games were stunning and immersive, gripping the player from start to finish, and graphically, this game looks as good as the others. But how will these stories translate into an MMO setting, in which every player involved in the quest gets to choose a different response to shape their own world? How will that affect how other players interact with one another? And what about some quest lines where there's only supposed to be one person involved, and you're completing it with a friend? Won't that take away from the grand scheme of things if you're playing with someone who's already completed that quest? Some people believe this is the case, and while I'd love for it to work out perfectly, I have my doubts.
There are eight classes – four for the Empire and four for the Republic. The classes do mix together to an extent in their storylines, and the ability for players to choose different outcomes means that not all players will experience the same plot. Where one player may decide to save a life, you may not be so merciful, and that will lead to a completely different plotline for both; however, even this seems limited as there are only so many options to choose from. It will be especially interesting to see how the mixing of story lines and different experiences translate into how players interact with one another in instances or raids, if at all. Most MMOs all follow the same linear path when it comes to storylines, so whether it will work or even impact the end-game content remains to be seen. A lot of hype and focus is being put on the story-telling aspect of the game that, if BioWare gets it right, we could see a revolution in the MMO genre.
Storylines aside, I'm also concerned for the combat in the game. It looks nice, sure, but so far, abilities look relatively limited, and you don't seem to get the big packs of mobs in an open world we're accustomed to seeing in other games. If anything, current footage makes the game seem like a less open world and more linear than other MMOs. Despite the amount of choice you seem to have in The Old Republic in regard to classes, the combat seems ... Linear? Simple? Static? Call me crazy, but it looks downright boring. In an MMO setting, the combat should be fast-paced and hectic. From the footage I've seen, players seem to use a special ability every now and then and then simply stand there, spamming a normal attack. I guess it's too early to judge the combat, so we'll keep our fingers crossed that it picks up. (I've heard PVP, in particular, is a very slow, lengthy process.)
It's difficult for me not to be biased on this. On the one hand, I love Star Wars. On the other hand, I played WoW for a long time, so I know what people expect out of an MMO, and my worry is BioWare won't deliver. Take gear, for example: Will we have whole outfits and equipment as in the original games, or will we see something similar to WoW – i.e., chest, shoulder, leg pieces, etc.? What will stats be like? Will the gear even look that good? Sure, the outfits we've seen so far look somewhat interesting, but there's little variation. A player really wants to feel unique in his or her gear of choice – he or she doesn't want to look like everyone else. Yet, so far, there seems to be little variation in gear – or weapons, for that matter. Our saving grace, then, is that BioWare hasn't really gone into weapon/gear specifics, so we may yet be surprised. Customization in the Knights of the Old Republic games was somewhat extensive, especially in the second game as you could craft items and weapon/armor enhancements, so we may see that feature making a welcome return in The Old Republic.
Whether or not this turns out to be great remains to be seen. I was considering getting into Galaxies before it disappeared into the Outer Rim, and knowing how successful the Knights of the old Republic games were, I'm expecting great things from this as, I'm sure, many other people are. Yet it's still too early to tell. After all, we know BioWare can make a great story, so the real test lays in making dynamic and enjoyable combat and a balanced class system as that's what most current MMOs lack. We've seen many MMOs appear boasting incredible game play, but they often end up disappointing. Maybe it's the fact we're all comparing current MMOs to WoW, or maybe they simply aren't that well made. If BioWare can really nail those features, then we could be looking at the next great MMO of our time. But they'll have a tough time ahead of them making every player's experience as unique as possible without sacrificing game play and end-game content. As for class balances, we'll have to wait and see. Hopefully we won't see a bunch of Sith and Jedi running around, though, to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised. After all, your run-of-the-mill soldier or smuggler is no match for a Jedi or Sith...