Last week I pondered the possibility that many fans following Star Wars: The Old Republic were feeling the fatigue start to set in. After all, it’s been years since the game was announced and the hype has been at practically a fever pitch throughout. I too have been feeling the fatigue a bit, and I’d begun re-prioritizing the game behind other releases that I know are coming quite soon in the absence of a solid release date for The Old Republic. It’s funny how things can change in the short span of a week.
Sure, BioWare previously said that the game would be launching Holiday 2011 and so there were only so many months left in the year, but with rumors that the launch could be pushed further out, the uncertainty in such a narrow window almost began to feel worse than knowing the game was years out two years ago. BioWare’s Stephen Reid caught wind of last week’s column and Tweeted me joking that I needed to “learn patience.” Pfft! Patience! I told him I’d prefer to learn how to design a time machine, but it looks like that may not be so necessary after all.
Bill, Garrett, and I have had a bit of a bet as to when The Old Republic would be coming out, and I had originally predicted that the game would launch as soon as this month or early-mid October, mainly due to BioWare’s pushing back of Mass Effect 3 into early next year. Bill thought we’d see the game in November, and Garrett speculated on December (the 4th in particular). These speculations were all made months ago and in a bit of a surprise announcement this weekend at the Eurogamer Expo it looks like Garrett was closest. At the show, BioWare announced that Star Wars: The Old Republic would officially launch on December 20, 2011.
Let me get this out of the way before we continue any further: WOOT!
OK then. I’m actually really happy about the date, but I can’t help but find it somewhat bittersweet. Why am I happy it’s coming out later than I predicted? Well, with the glut of games I mentioned were coming out this Fall in last week’s column I now don’t have to worry about The Old Republic pulling my attention away from games like Skyrim, Arkham City, Battlefield 3, etc., as these will all have released by at least a month or more before The Old Republic hits shelves.
Now, the date is bittersweet due to the symbolism that can be inferred (especially if you love to wear tinfoil hats!) in the shutdown of Star Wars Galaxies and the almost immediate launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic. I don’t buy into some of the conspiracy theories that Star Wars Galaxies is being shut down simply because The Old Republic is launching. I do generally take them at their word that this has more to do with the fact the license is up and of caourse the fact the game isn’t really doing too great anyways. Why renew it at this point? In any case, one can’t help but see such close dates as having greater meaning, all conspiracy theories aside. If you factor in the Early Access program, it’s quite plausible that SWG will shut-down on the 15th followed immediately by the beginning of Early Access for The Old Republic on the 16th. A metaphorical passing of the torch, if you will.
Star Wars Galaxies was one of the most influential MMORPGs in the genre and was also one of the most unique, if not the most unique, sandbox experiences ever attempted. When Galaxies shuts down on December 15 it will essentially mark the end of an era and just days later we’ll begin anew with a Star Wars MMO that promises to be just as significant for the genre, for better or worse. It doesn’t matter what you feel about Star Wars: The Old Republic; the game’s success or failure will make a lasting impact on how the genre looks years from now. Like Galaxies’ ambitious sandbox gameplay, The Old Republic is ambitious in its own way, testing the theory of story as a major focus in an MMO while also epitomizing the full-stop blockbuster AAA MMO that no one but Blizzard has had the cash to put together previously (but just about every developer dreamed of doing).
Many games have tried to compete with the 800lb gorilla, but Star Wars: The Old Republic is the only one so far with the serious capability to really give it a go. However, the genre has been changing over the course of The Old Republic’s development, leaning towards smaller-budget, free-to-play games. As a big budget subscription based MMO with the reputation of BioWare and the appeal of Star Wars IP behind it, the viability of this sort of MMO concept surviving rests squarely on The Old Republic’s shoulders. If The Old Republic fails, I don’t think we’ll be seeing another game like it in a long, long time.