You can disagree with me if you like, but I feel confident saying this: The Old Republic's story and presentation will forever change the way we experience questing in our MMOs. It's going to make VoiceOver the standard for the genre and it's going to make characters in each game mean more than just static NPCs with exclamations over their heads. It's going to make story and adventure feel more inclusive and immersive than it ever has, and it's going to be the norm for a AAA game in time.
I have played BioWare's first MMORPG several times at trade shows now, and each time I do coming back to my other games feels a bit different... A bit lesser. I've seen oodles of videos and heard plenty of firsthand accounts. Questing to save a world when the world's characters and heroes are represented only through text feels empty once you've done even the simplest of quests in SWTOR.
There are simple cinematic experiences in most MMOs now. Rift, one of the most recent big releases in the industry, does a fairly good job of portraying story with little more than narration bubbles and quest text. But I can't help feeling that this has now become archaic as a practice. Will all games go for high quality voice and motion capture beyond The Old Republic? No, certainly not. Not every game will be able to afford it as it's not exactly a cheap endeavor.
Still, look at the other big games next year or later even. The Secret World has flat out announced they'll have fully voiced quests with lots of cinematics throughout their game. Guild Wars 2 has most of their content voiced. TERA has a large focus on cinematic content and voiceovers, and even WildStar is aiming for a great deal of voice work in their game. The presence of BioWare in the industry has been felt if merely as a driving force for more production value in the narrative side of MMORPGs. If World of Warcraft evolved the quest by making it the driving aspect behind leveling your character, The Old Republic is evolving it further by making the quest actually feel important and meaty in terms of your actions with the world.
Is everyone and their mother still doing the same exact quests? Yes. Is everyone still 'the hero' in a world filled to the brim with heroes? Yes. This won't be escaped in a theme-park MMO. But what TOR is doing is improving the presentation to the point where disbelief can be suspended a bit more than usual. Even with a group in a Flashpoint, you're likely to feel part of something unique and special... At least the first time you run through the place (when someone fixes the problem of repetitive content, then we can write a new article).
There will still be 'Kill this' and 'deliver that' mechanics behind it all. Have no doubts there. But the way in which we'll be told to go and do these tasks will undoubtedly make doing them more interesting than ever before. It isn't just "Please help me by killing ten slavers.". It's "Please help me defeat these bastards, as you watched them kill my son." In TOR's quests you're brought closer to the narrative than ever before, and more than anything else the game does, this is what impresses me most each time I see it.
If there is nothing else BioWare's take on MMOs does for the industry, it will be this. Story is what they have always done best. I haven't played enough to know how the rest of the game's features stack up, but I have seen enough to know that I will be getting the game on day one if only to experience the tale. It's bound to be epic in scope, for each of the game's classes to boot, and I'll get to share it with my guild no doubt. What happens after the story is over? Well, we don't know yet. But I'm okay with putting down some cash on TOR to experience the best story in Star Wars since the Original Trilogy.