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Star Wars: The Old Republic Column: Things SWTOR Isn't

By Jon Wood on October 21, 2010

I’ve been reading a lot of forums recently around a little MMO that some of you may or may not have heard of coming out of a Texas-based satellite of an Edmonton-based company, based on an equally obscure sci-fi license made up by some guy on a ranch.

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Ok, I’m being deliberately obnoxious about the fact that I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic. That MMO that’s rumored to be the most expensive of all time... you know the one. I was deliberately insufferable in my opening paragraph because, and this may come as a surprise to you, I was vaguely annoyed by what I saw.

Upon reading almost any thread that even whispers the name of this game, I come across a lot of people who are at best confused about the kind of game that this is going to be and at worst continually trolling based on what they know are foundational design decisions that aren’t going to be changed at this point. Can you imagine the cost of this thing getting even higher?

To the folks that fit into the latter category, I don’t know what to tell you. You’re not going to like this game. It’s not what you want it to be, and many of you (not all by a long shot), should you for some reason purchase this game, will find fault after fault with it and have difficulty seeing the bright sides even when they exist. The best thing you all can do is turn your backs on it now, at least until after launch. Complaining about the broad strokes of the game’s fundamental design isn’t going to turn BioWare back now.

For the rest of you, or for anyone who didn’t storm off at the end of that last paragraph to blast me mightily on the forums, I want to lay out, in pretty specific terms what Star Wars: The Old Republic isn’t going to be:

A Sandbox

I know that a lot of you out there, especially a lot of you who were fans of the original Star Wars Galaxies, really, really want this to be an old school sandbox MMO. But honestly, if you look at who is making this game and the specific IP that they’ve tied to it, that just wasn’t a realistic expectation from the start.

BioWare is a company that has made a very good reputation for itself as a producer of quality, story based RPGs. To expect a major departure from a basic formula that has supported and grown the company into one of the bigger brands in gaming is just silly.

I mean, if CCP (the makers of sandbox game EVE Online) announced they were making SW: TOR and that it would be a theme-park inspired game rather than a sandbox, I’d be picking my jaw up off the floor in surprise along with everyone else. But seriously, expecting BioWare to crank out a vast sandbox is a lot like ordering a grilled cheese at McDonald’s. Sure, they can make it, but it’s nothing special and it sure ain’t what made them famous.

Then you’ve got to consider the game’s pedigree in the form of the Knights of the Old Republic series which is: you guessed it, a story based RPG model.

A Genre “Game Changer”

I know that a lot of folks out there would really like to be able to point at Star Wars: The Old Republic as “The Game That Changed MMOs” with its innovative gameplay and major shift in direction. Here’s the problem. It won’t be.

By all accounts and looking at everything that we know now, it seems like Bioware is trying to attain major success in the same way that Blizzard did with World of Warcraft. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, the designers have looked at the broad strokes of what has worked in the MMO world over the last six years (since WoW) and have incorporated it into the game’s design. We assume they’ll be doing this with care and polish (though it’s impossible to say for sure at this point).

I’m not saying that this strategy is a good or a bad thing, but unless we get some kind of fancy whiz-bang new announcement about a system we haven’t heard of yet, I think you should expect “more of the same” in a shiny new coating.

A Deep Space Exploration Game

I honestly can’t believe how many people are still pissed that there isn’t going to be any space exploration in TOR. I’m sorry guys, I like a good exploration MMO as much as the next guy, but I’m going to have to agree with the guys at Bioware who say that the exploration of empty space just isn’t what the Star Wars IP is all about. I mean, I’m not the biggest Star Wars guy, but I seem to recall most of the travel in Star Wars happening somewhere between getting into the ship and having a chat and the iconic sideways wipe that put the characters on whatever planet it was they were traveling to.

That said, when they did do space, they did it spectacularly in the movies and I’m not sure that a “tube shooter” is really the best way to convey the proper “feel” of the space in Star Wars either. Personally, I think they should have left it out entirely until they had proper time to develop a system somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.

A Dismal Failure

If you’re saying this already, I’m sorry, but you’re only guessing. People who do this professionally don’t actually know what the outcome is going to be at this point and calling it this early, no matter how qualified you think you are or how many times you post it on different forums just smacks of trolldom. You honestly don’t know and there may even be a slight chance that you’re spouting it as fact because deep down you’re hoping that your early proclamation will somehow influence the end result. Stop it. It’s way, way, way too early to say this with any credibility.

A Blockbuster Success

Hey you, smirking coyly at your monitor after reading that last section, sweating with the sheer anticipation of pre-ordering your collector’s edition of what you’re sure is going to be the biggest MMO in history. Stop smirking. Stop. You’re just as bad as the others. You can’t possibly know that this is going to be “thebestgameeverOMG”. Stop acting like you know best and anyone who thinks differently is just a hater who can’t accept the truth. Your message of awesomeness is no more credible than anyone else’s DOOM predictions. So next time you’re bashing a “hater” about how silly he looks for disagreeing and how dumb his arguments are, consider perhaps that to an outside observer yours may not be any less short of derision-worthy.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t have their opinions about whether or not they like the game. That’s fine and awesome. No matter which way your particular pendulum is swinging, your opinion isn’t fact. It’s that simple. (For the record my opinion is, as always, fact.)

A WoW Killer

Seriously? Are people still throwing this term around? Anyone saying this about any game these days should be treated the same way that anyone who says Macbeth in a theatre is treated. They should be made to go immediately outside, turn around three times, curse and spit to ward off the demons of the plague that they have just brought upon the game in question.

No game has ever successfully lived up to this title, though many have been given it, and many of those have been deemed by the community at large to be failures.

And not only that, it’s also just a dumb thing to say. That’s just not how this industry works, and honestly it never will be. No matter how successful TOR might be, and it MAY grow to WoW levels, we don’t know, it will not kill WoW.

Original Star Wars Galaxies: Reborn

I think I covered this at the top of the article, but I really did want to point out that just because it’s a Star Wars title, doesn’t mean that TOR has an obligation to be the second coming of a game that, admittedly, many people seem to have cared a great deal about. The original Star Wars Galaxies was born of a time when the sandbox was still in competition for the title of best design structure to use in order to make money in making an MMO. Those days, at least for now and whether or not we like it are over.

Holding this game up to a seven year old standard that is shinier in retrospect than it may have been in reality isn’t helping anyone.

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Ok, you’ve probably heard enough of my rant, but I hope that my message has been clear: Star Wars: The Old Republic is, whether you love it, hate it, or really couldn’t care less, its own game and as such will appeal to some and completely turn off others. Which side of that equation the scales will tip to at this point is impossible even for the most experienced MMO players and insiders to accurately predict, so let’s keep in mind the things that Star Wars: The Old Republic isn’t before we rip each other’s heads off over a still-in-development game.

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Jon Wood
Jon Wood has been with MMORPG.com since the summer of 2005. In that time, he has served as new Manager, Community Manager and Managing Editor. Before coming to MMORPG.com, Jon spent time as a writer and quest designer for WISH.
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