BioWare has been a company known for its role-playing fare for nearly two decades now. There are precious few developers more revered for their ability to craft a rich and compelling game-world that players love to visit time and time again. From the Baldur's Gate series on, BioWare has become so well known for their role-playing experiences that in recent times players have been wondering when they're going to do something different than their usual epic tales in the choose your own adventure vein.
With the exception of their first foray into handheld gaming (Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood), BioWare has made nothing but single-player console and PC role-playing experiences since 2000. The critically acclaimed MDK2 was the last time the Canadian powerhouse delved into a different genre. Surely they've combined several types of gameplay in some of their offerings. The recently released Mass Effect 2 is more a third-person shooter with role-playing trappings than its prequel was, playing very much like Gears of War with its heavy reliance on cover mechanics.
I suppose you could say that BioWare has become the master of the western-style RPG. And like any respectable creative group of people, when you find yourself at the top of one field, you start to have aspirations on conquering another. Now most folks might start off with something that seems in the need of an industry leader. Not BioWare. They're gunning for the big daddy and planning to tackle the MMORPG world with the Star Wars IP in tow. But aside from being so well-known and established across the world, is Star Wars really the way to go with creating a successful persistent online experience?
I have no doubt that The Old Republic will be a massive success in terms of sales, and if past experiences are any indication, BioWare's attention to detail and commitment to creating a relatively polished product will do well to keep the retention numbers high. But we who have been playing these games so long know the perils of screwing with the mythic legacy of George Lucas' brainchild. If you screw things up, the fans will let you know and they will do so very loudly.
Now I know that nothing short of a cataclysmic event is going to stop Star Wars: The Old Republic seeing the light of day. But the gamer in me wonders what BioWare's first foray into the MMORPG space would be like if they chose one of their own intellectual properties instead. And if the title didn't give it away already, I am of course referring to Mass Effect and its already broadly painted universe to draw from. Not only would a Mass Effect MMO please me because I could really delve into the dozens of alien races BioWare has created, but judging by the first two games' enticing blend of shooting mechanics and traditional RPG conversation, I suspect than an MMO set in the same vein could be something quite evolutionary for the genre.
Not to be too damning, as I no doubt will be buying The Old Republic on release, but I fear that it may be a little too "samey" for my liking when compared to current MMORPG standards of combat. Without having played it myself, the videos make the action look very familiar and I'm of the mind that I'd like to see such a fundamental aspect of the genre mutate and grow in new directions. The duck and cover shooting mechanics of Mass Effect would make for a novel combat experience in the MMO world. The Old Republic could easily adopt a similar form of combat if BioWare was in the mood to break the mold, but the action alone is not why I would personally like to see a Mass Effect MMO.
With just two games, and I'm about to speak blasphemy here, BioWare has crafted a universe that I feel more connected to and a part of than I ever have with the entire Star Wars mythos. I love Lucas' creation, but part of me feels as though it's become too familiar territory, while there is still so much to be explored and told in BioWare's own space opera. It also helps that BioWare is completely in control of the Mass Effect canon, while they have to work closely with and adhere to rules from LucasArts when it comes to Star Wars.
Count me in among the millions who are looking forward to Star Wars: The Old Republic. Don't mistake me for someone just aching to stir the pot and create an argument on the forums. I truly am eager to delve into BioWare's version of such a treasured universe. I'm also sure that there are plenty of things left to learn about and be surprised by in The Old Republic. We are, after all, at least a year away from logging into the live servers. But there's a little part of me that wishes they would instead be aiming for a 2011 release of Mass Effect: Universe which would allow me to pilot my own SSV Normandy from mass relay to mass relay, hunting down Geth and badmouthing the Krogans. Yep, I'm all for the genophage people... call me a Salarian apologist. And who knows, if all goes well with The Old Republic, maybe I'll get my wish a little further down the road.