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MMORPG | Setting:Sci-Fi | Status:Final  (rel 12/20/11)  | Pub:LucasArts
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Maintaining that "BioWare" Experience

By Michael Bitton on December 28, 2011 | Columns | Comments

Maintaining that "BioWare" Experience

After several long years in development, along with tons of hype and excitement, Star Wars: The Old Republic finally launched last week. But before BioWare could clink their celebratory champagne glasses, players were already either at level cap or fast approaching it over the course of the Early Game Access period. Of course, this is the nature of the MMO genre; players will always consume content faster than developers can produce it. It’s a losing game. Despite this, BioWare’s Dallas Dickinson reassured me that the developer would push out content for the game in a timely manner, including fully voiced-over content with cinematics, the kind of stuff that really sets Star Wars: The Old Republic apart.

Looking ahead to next month, BioWare’s James Ohlen recently teased some specifics as far as what players can expect in the game’s first major update. While we didn’t learn the entirety of what is in the works, we did learn that a new Flashpoint and an expanded Operation were in the cards. The as yet unnamed Flashpoint will concern a serious plague that could have vast repercussions across the galaxy if left uncontained.  We also know that the Flashpoint will take place in entirely new territory with some “epic battles” in store. As for the operation, we’re looking at an expansion to the Karagga’s Palace op that promises to more than triple its current size. Awesome!

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Still, I find myself a bit concerned. I want to be optimistic about where BioWare takes The Old Republic in live game updates (not including expansions), but there are a few telltale signs of the developer pursuing a more “realistic” path that I can’t seem to shake. I’ve had two major concerns about post-launch content so far. One, that BioWare would have to pull back on fully voiced and cinematic content for practical reasons, though supposedly they’ve got that part under control. And two, that BioWare would pursue more universal and simpler methods (relatively speaking!) to create content in order to meet a live service timetable.

I’ve played several games with two (or more) very distinct factions, and the notion of creating unique content for both sides has never worked out. The most blatant example of this being City of Villains, which very quickly fell to the wayside when it came to creating villain specific content. BioWare has basically promised gamers two fully unique experiences when playing through the Empire and Republic sides and even this was compromised on a bit before the game even went live.

It’s true that the quest content on both sides is unique, though some might argue you’re still traversing the same worlds at mostly the same points of progression.  What about Flashpoints, though? These were also supposed to be unique to each side, and the originally announced Flashpoints do live up to this claim. However, before launch, BioWare added a whole slew of additional Flashpoints to the game and these Flashpoints weren’t faction-specific, nor were they cinematic experiences resembling The Esseles or the Black Talon. There are far more of these universal Flashpoints than there are unique ones already. While many of them are still quite enjoyable experiences, they don’t necessarily stack up to the way Flashpoints such as The Esseles and Black Talon set themselves apart from the typical MMO dungeon experience.

So, what am I getting at? Well, next month we are getting one new Flashpoint, not two. It would then seem quite obvious that this new Flashpoint is faction agnostic, leading me to speculate that it is also probably more akin to Hammer Station in cinematic quality than say, the Black Talon, and this is supported by  the way the current crop of faction-agnostic Flashpoints appear in the game. All of this makes sense realistically, but that doesn’t make it less disappointing to think about. For me, BioWare really raised the standard with their quest content and impressive early Flashpoints, so much so that I scoff at the rare mission terminals and universal Flashpoints (though I admit Athiss is quite fun!). At this point, I’m basically concerned that BioWare may have given us a mostly “BioWare experience” for launch, but may be resigning themselves to a more typical “MMO experience” post-launch.  True, I am making some significant assumptions here, but I can’t help but feel that the writing is on the wall already. For some of you, this probably doesn’t even matter. A non-cinematic new dungeon run with phat lewt may be just what the doctor ordered, but I would personally really like to see BioWare pushing to continue that true BioWare experience, despite how unrealistic it seems to me.

Do any of you feel this same sense of concern? Or have I just been burned one too many times by previous MMOs? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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.
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