When people talk about a Star Wars MMO, a myriad of feelings erupt onto message boards. We too often look at past mistakes and assume that once an IP goes bad, it can only be corrected with a near perfect replacement. The gaming community is, like the sea, a cruel mistress; she can reward companies with a bounty of fish, or punish transgressors with a wave of wrathful scorn. A poor launch, a bad patch, straying too far from a beloved IP; these things and more can destroy a game's reputation once the bad press snowball gets rolling. One IP that has seen many ups and downs over the years is the beloved Star Wars Universe. Hopeful fans of the original MMO incarnation Star Wars Galaxies began foaming at the mouth when they heard that a new company was developing their own take on the IP. One thing I would like to impress upon these hopefuls is this; this game is an entirely different beast.
Bioware and Lucas Arts are companies with laundry lists of solid triple A titles, The Old Republic is Bioware's first venture into the MMO sphere and a bold one at that. Trying to appease both fans of their old games as well as Star Wars fanatics is no easy task however. Bioware seeks to intertwine their own versions of game play and storytelling into a goulash of force-wielding madness that both hardcore and non hardcore gamers can fall in love with. Early on, players debated whether or not the game was going to be a sandbox, a theme park, or a linear rail style MMO. It turns out that we are getting an amalgamation of all three; linear yet branched story lines, theme park styled quests, and what is described as "a sandbox feeling" game world. Lead Writer Daniel Erickson was quoted at this years Game Developers Conference saying, "One of the real things we wanted to show at GDC this year is that our worlds are huge, actually. They are giant, you can explore. They are massive. You can just wander off one direction and go forever." This, as a lover of exploration in games, was music to my ears. I for once was worried that this was going to be another Aion style rail game that just shuffled you along the story line, seeing all of this amazing scenery, but being unable to explore it due to being blocked in by boundaries.
The game totes a solid eight class system with four classes per faction:
The Republic gets the Mace Windu-esque Jedi Knight, the Obi-Wan Kenobi-ish Jedi Consular, the scruffy lookin' Smuggler, and the weapons heavy Trooper. The Sith get the Darth Vader type Sith Warrior, the Emperor Palpatine inspired Sith Inquisitor, the Boba Fett styled Bounty Hunter, and the ever dangerous Imperial Agent. One thing that struck me was that they are designing the classes to be able to act as their own healers at times. All classes get an out of combat healing ability, this can be as simple as using a medipack. Some classes do have obvious straight healer abilities, but it seems like players will be able to play it fast and loose when it comes to healing. Bioware also has plans to implement a companion system to assist players in the ever prevalent issue of finding people to play with. According to Darthhater.com, companions will be able to tank, DPS, and heal. This is not a private party however, if grouped with friends, companions will also interact during dialogue scenes the same as you would talk with others. This makes your companions an entertaining part of your game world, not just a heavily armed Helen Keller at your side.
Let's now talk about the eight hundred pound purple elephant in the room, the combat. From what I have seen in the recently released combat documentary, combat looks more like a visceral, fast paced experience. This is refreshing to see being that most times in RPG style games, we have to deal with horribly drab combat systems. We have all seen combat that requires no more skill than to stand still and hit a three story tall monster with the same few skills over and over. This becomes a bit dull after seeing it done to death in countless MMOs. Bioware seems to really be taking its time making sure that the classes are as balanced as possible, and that the combat flows naturally. One big concept that Associate Producer Tim Temmerman from Lucas Arts wanted to convey in the video was that they were designing the combat of The Old Republic around what they felt was the essence of the Star Wars movies. This quote seems to shine through when watching the combat video. Witnessing force-wielders flying toward each other, sabers drawn, and seeing Bounty Hunters firing off a wrist mounted rocket, I have to admit I was grinning ear to ear. PvP is in the game; however there are plans for PvE servers come launch. PvP consists of fierce faction based conflict, however according to a Q & A session at Comic Con, players might be able to play as a neutral character; this, however, is pure speculation at this point and may not make it into the game come launch. They have not made an official statement on if the factions can speak to each other or not, however they have made it clear that opposing faction members will be unable to group with each other.
We've covered PvP, let's now cross into the realm of PvE. The companies have both stated that raiding will be in the game for endgame players, however they have been quoted as saying "We're looking at classic [endgame] systems, but we're also doing something brand new that hasn't been done in an MMO before." This could all be buzzword hype that we are hearing, however Bioware and Lucas Arts have a knack for having a few tricks up their sleeves. The Old Republic, as we all know by now, is a fully voiced title that promises to have hours upon hours of dialogue for your ears to enjoy. One thing that I am thankful for, as I'm sure anyone else is that plans to make multiple characters, is the ability to simply read the text instead of hearing, or simply to skip it all together. Flashpoints or dungeons as they are better known, are going to be prevalent in the game world as a place for players to enjoy dungeon crawls with a new twist. Choices in Flashpoints can change the course of the instance. For example, if you kill a certain NPC, situation 'A' happens. If you do not kill the NPC, situation 'B' happens. Finally a system that will deliver us from the same one trick pony of repeat dungeon crawl grinds; at least for a while anyway.
Finally, I'd like to talk about some of the other systems that rarely receive much love in modern, flash in the pan MMOs. There are plans for crafting to be useful in the game, that's right you heard me my babies, crafting will be relevant in The Old Republic. Hallelujah, finally we few die-hard craftsmen may actually see some love! Granted they have not released any formal information as of yet in regards to this system, but we are promised by Lead Combat Designer Damion Schubert, that "We've spent quite a bit of time discussing how to ensure that crafters, true dedicated crafters, can make a name for themselves and be important in their community." A guild system is planned for the game, however being that it is so early in the game's development, no information in regards to it is currently available. Not much has been said yet in regards to character customization, however it has been said that players will be able to create non-humans. That might be something to hold onto as I myself love a good character creation system in a video game. If this game can deliver the goods in this area, I will be one happy moisture farmer.
I'd like to end this week's article as I always do, with a question for you the fans. What game play features and systems are you most looking forward to in this newest Star Wars MMO? What things do you hope they will get right and what would you remove or include to the game if given the choice? I'll be back each week to talk about the game and prove that Han shot first. May the force be with you all, and if not, then may a thermal detonator be with you instead.