The Old Republic is “The Next Big Thing” in MMO gaming. Reportedly a project that is costing over one hundred million dollars for the developer and publisher, BioWare’s first foray into the MMORPG world is an expensive venture that undoubtedly has a lot riding on it. Last week we gave you five reasons that all these expectations and hopes are worth clinging to, but this week we go in the opposite direction and offer you five reasons you might not want to get so worked up over a Star Wars MMORPG. Hype is an easy thing to cave into, and we’re not trying to deflate anyone’s enthusiasm for one of the genre’s exciting prospects. We’re just trying to keep a level head and remember that not everything always comes out peachy. Take a look at this week’s list and be sure to offer your thoughts in the comments below!
5.) BioWare’s First MMORPG
Despite the fact that BioWare has become synonymous with some of gaming’s best single-player offerings, there’s no denying that the development of an MMORPG is an entirely different beast. Like Blizzard before them, this will be BioWare’s first foray into the MMORPG. And while it obviously has worked out well enough for Blizzard, there’s no telling if the same thing will happen for BioWare or if instead this will be seen as one of the most expensive failures in gaming history. I’m sure the folks working tirelessly to get their baby ready for a 2011 release know what’s riding on this game, and I’m sure management has gone out of their way to make sure they bring in people with an MMO past, but all the good intentions in the world don’t equal a good game. We’ve seen more than a few failures come down the pipe, and the Star Wars IP has been down this road before to not-so-extravagant results. This brings us to reason number four, actually…
4.) Star Wars is Serious Business
To find someone who knows just how hard Star Wars fans are to please, you need to look no further than the creator of the phenomenon himself. George Lucas has received a whole heaping truckload of fan backlash in recent years due to the reception of his prequel trilogy of films. No matter how you put it, they simply didn’t live up to the hype created by over twenty years of waiting. And anytime you take a beloved IP and venture forth to create something new for the masses with it, you’re playing with fire. Ask the guys and gals of SOE how fun it is to create and maintain a Star Wars MMORPG. I’m sure they’ll have plenty of rainbow-fresh tales of happiness and sunshine to share. BioWare is dealing with one of Nerdom’s most prized intellectual properties. No matter the success and critical reception of their Knights of the Old Republic game, it doesn’t mean they have a license to do anything they want with reckless abandon here. The Star Wars IP is holy ground to a lot of people, and you can bet that those folks are watching vigilantly to make sure BioWare doesn’t desecrate their object of affection.
3.) Voice Acting = Too Much?
In last week’s list, I mentioned how two items on the plus side of things would also be represented on the negative side. The first of these is the extensive use of voice acting being employed by BioWare. One of the developer’s key points in making the game is to add a healthy dose of story and cinematic flare to the MMORPG, which they feel the genre is sorely lacking. My worry is that while they may be onto something, I’m not sure everyone agrees. Even in their single-player offerings I’ve found myself skipping the voiceover work since I can read the subtitles faster than I can listen to them, and if the VO work in Star Wars really is in every quest I expect I’ll find myself pressing spacebar to skip the VO more often than not. I mean how interesting can voice work really make a quest to go kill ten sand people?
In Funcom’s Age of Conan, the voice work in the starting area of Tortage is a nice experience, but would it have carried on through the rest of a game where I’m expected to listen to NPCs talk for hundreds of hours I expect I would have quickly resorted to skipping the sound and catching up in text later. In games like World of Warcraft I feel I can safely say that the majority of players skip the quest text and read it only if they find they need to. And I’m not quite certain that simply making said text spoken is enough to make people care when they must do hundreds of quests to progress in the game.
2.) Companion Characters
Companion Characters are a staple of BioWare games, dating back to the good ol’ days of Baldur’s Gate. No other developer shows such deft skills in making players care about the game’s characters. But in a genre where the player’s own character is supposed to matter the most are these companions going to wind up as extraneous, or worse detrimental, to the point of MMO gaming? The benefits of having characters in the game which can help flesh out story are obvious, but what about the actual gameplay? Will companion characters prove to be little more than pets to help classes solo, or will they be a way in which many players avoid interacting with others in what’s supposed to be a cooperative (at times) experience.
I have some faith that BioWare is working very hard on tuning these characters to make sure they don’t completely wipe away the need to group, and as a person who does enjoy to solo quite a bit, I’m also excited about the prospect companions bring that method of play. I just hope the game doesn’t then result in a world filled with people who all have NPCs following them about but avoid real interaction with other players. It’d be akin to a real world filled with people who only hung out with their stuffed animals, and avoided human interaction to the extreme. And while I realize this sounds a bit alarmist given how forthcoming BioWare has been in saying that companions won’t make the game a solo-fest where one has to even worry about /waving to anyone else, I still think it’s worth mentioning.
Lastly, on the topic of companion characters: I don’t see how BioWare is going to get around the fact that everyone is going to wind up with the same characters at their disposal. Unless I’m missing some information, won’t that make them little more than fancy Pokémon? I know they want to use them to help anchor the story into the game even more, but I can’t help but feel like they’d be more interesting if they were customizable like say the Nemesis of Champions Online. Let the player tie their companions into their own story.
1.) Will It Just Be WoW with Lightsabers?
It’s still too early to tell, but my personal biggest fear is that BioWare’s first foray into MMORPGs will be little more than WoW with lightsabers and a much tighter focus on narrative. There are worse things to shoot for, I suspect. And I know many fans of Star Wars might have already written off The Old Republic because at first glance it certainly seems than BioWare is aping a lot of what has made WoW such a behemoth. Personally, it’s not that the game might end up playing like most every traditional MMORPG when it comes to combat. While I’d love to see a Star Wars MMO that had the freedom of something like “The Force Unleashed”, I know that’s just not going to happen because it can’t… yet.
No, what I worry about is that when I get into the game, no matter how much fun I have at first with the stories, the companions, the classes, and all of that… I’ll still wind up at the level cap after a few months wondering just what the hell I’m supposed to do now that I’ve gone this far. Do I go raiding the Sarlac Pit? Do I grind Rebel Emblems to get my next piece of epic gear? There hasn’t been much talk of just how BioWare’s approaching the end-game of The Old Republic, and that has me wondering if they even really know where they’re taking it themselves. Or worse, that they know and it’s just like I’ve described above. Time will tell I suppose, and in the end, all we can really hope is that there’s some fun to be had come 2011, and that there’s little to no talk of midi-chlorians.