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Great Expectations

Michael Bitton Posted:
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Star Wars Galaxies launched just over seven years ago on June 26, 2003, and was fraught with controversy right up until [what some believe was] the final nail in the coffin was hammered in with the launch of the New Game Experience on November 15, 2005. While the game has seen many updates and persists to this day (I’d even argue it’s actually in pretty decent shape) most gamers completely gave up on it with the NGE and moved on to greener pastures, hopeful that someday they’d see a new MMO based on the Star Wars IP become a reality.

Fast forward three years later and Star Wars fans and RPG aficionados alike were delighted to find out that the worst-kept secret in the industry, the fact that RPG powerhouse Bioware was developing an MMO based in the Star Wars universe, was indeed true. On October 21, 2008, Star Wars: The Old Republic was announced, and the hype train left the station immediately.

Since then, speculation and excitement over the game has run rampant for many different reasons. MMO gamers are always looking forward to the next “big thing”, and so adding Star Wars, EA, Bioware, and a reportedly 100M+ dollar budget together all make for a pretty solid contender to that aspiration. Of course, there are also the aforementioned Star Wars Galaxies vets who are looking for their next Star Wars MMO fix, and let’s not forget Bioware diehards who may or may not have any MMO experience, but look forward to Bioware’s new games, and for good reason.

That brings us to this week’s topic: expectations. There are many different camps of gamers who are very much looking forward to this game, but our expectations sometimes differ quite a bit. This difference could not be illustrated any better than the hoopla that has followed the recent announcement of space combat in Star Wars: The Old Republic, which has been a divisive issue in the community to say the least. Clear through the smoke and the real truth to be found here is something many of us have known for some time: no matter what Bioware does there are going to be many people disappointed or let down by the final result for all manner of reasons.

I, like many of you, have been following the game excitedly since the rumors began to surface, but I must confess (if it’s not obvious to you by now) that I am in the Star Wars Galaxies vet camp, and so my expectations may very well differ from your own in a number of areas. I do have to clarify though, that while I am an ex-SWG vet, there is a difference between someone like myself in the press and some of the SWG vets clamoring for a new ultimate sandbox experience. Whatever your feelings about this genre of games, or gaming in general, when you work on this side of the curtain you learn a lot of things about how “the business” works. While I’d love to see a game as ambitious as Star Wars Galaxies appear again, I made my peace with the fact that wouldn’t happen many moons ago, so don’t get me twisted for someone who wouldn’t be happy with Star Wars: The Old Republic if it turned out to be anything less than a total sandbox experience, which believe it or not is something some gamers still expect of it.

With that said, I’m still a bit of an idealist and I strongly appreciate developers that can reconcile the reality of developing a AAA MMO in 2010 in a post-World of Warcraft world with the ability to dare to dream. This is the crux of why I am personally disappointed with the extent of space combat in Star Wars: The Old Republic, as well as a number of other things.

With Gamescom now underway, Bioware has quickly followed up on their announcement of space combat by revealing a new Star Wars: The Old Republic trailer featuring space combat gameplay. I didn’t want to spend too much time discussing space combat this week, as it has been the subject of two articles thus far, but I simply can’t ignore this and it ties strongly into why I decided to discuss expectations this week in the first place. First, let me say outright that the video looked great, the action is heavy, the graphics were slick and if you’re a huge Star Wars nerd, there are many minute details in the short trailer for one to appreciate. Bioware’s attention to detail is in full force here, and it all looks like good fun.

So, why am I still disappointed then? Well, because I never doubted that a Star Wars rail-shooter could be fun. I’ve read through tons of feedback, some from right here at MMORPG.com, our competitors, the official Star Wars: The Old Republic forums, and of course I’ve also discussed it with both friends in and out of the industry. In the few hours that the video has been available, I’ve realized that there is a pretty large disconnect between the differing camps of fans and their expectations. There are many fans wondering why many of their fellow gamers are still sour about this when it obviously looks so good, and I’ve even had friends tell me they are pretty happy with it because “they loved StarFox”. I loved StarFox too, you know. However, that doesn’t mean I want Rebel Assault with contemporary graphics to comprise the entirety of space combat in a Star Wars MMO. Keep in mind, it also doesn’t mean I require something as in-depth as Jump to Lightspeed or X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, either. In fact, speaking of expectations, I personally had absolutely no expectations for space combat at launch. I fully expected space to be absent, something I was completely fine with, as it would leave open the possibility of a more robust space expansion down the line.

If the video released yesterday was advertising a non-MMO Star Wars rail-shooter, I’d be first in line. Heck, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures features a similar on-rails space combat component as a mini-game, and I’d give that a whirl too (this looks better, for sure). But that’s really the point, however good it looks and however fun it may end up being, it is still ultimately a mini-game. We shouldn’t just be thankful that Bioware gave us this much (I’ve seen a lot of people saying this), simply because we could have received no space combat at all at launch. Instead, we should be urging them to aim higher. The common defense seems to be that Star Wars: The Old Republic is already so ambitious that those of us who expected what essentially amounts to two games in one at launch are a bit ridiculous. If any of you reading this were expecting just that, I’d be inclined to agree, however I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of us itching for something with a bit more meat were not expecting a robust space offering at launch. I'd wager that most of us were simply looking forward to the possibility of something with a bit more freedom and depth post-launch, which looks incredibly unlikely given recent developments.

For me, I’m disappointed with how space combat has turned out, but there are still many things to look forward to with Star Wars: The Old Republic. There is still the possibility of a Star Wars MMO that successfully combines a storyline that is compelling enough to stand on its own in a single-player RPG with the persistence and cooperative elements of an MMO, potentially great PvP, and more.

Closing things out this week, I’d like to leave you all with a few questions about your own expectations. What are your expectations for Star Wars: The Old Republic? Do you really feel they are realistic? And how has the information revealed on the game up to this point affected those expectations? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB