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Verdict on the Fourth Pillar

By Michael Bitton on March 28, 2012 | Columns | Comments

Verdict on the Fourth Pillar

When BioWare announced Star Wars: The Old Republic, they asserted that MMOs have been lacking in one particular area, what they referred to as the “fourth pillar” of story.  BioWare knew a thing or about crafting great stories and they endeavored to rectify this ‘problem’ by creating a fully voiced MMO with individual storylines for each class.  For whatever reason, many MMO diehards either rejected this notion outright or viewed it with a healthy dose of skepticism, but whatever your feelings were, the fact of the matter is this was one fairly interesting experiment to observe.

Did it make the difference BioWare intended?

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I think so! I have a couple of friends who are already spacebar-ing through conversations and there are tons of groups that specifically look for others to spacebar through conversations in Flashpoints. But me? I feel like I can’t go back to the old quest box form of questing. Sure, a seasoned MMO player can see through some of the quests BioWare put together for SW:TOR. Many sidequests ultimately amount to some dude narrating what would normally be in a quest box. Even so, this form of delivering the narrative, whether it’s a simple straightforward fetch quest or part of a large story arc, has really hooked me.

Heck, I still go through all the conversations on the starter worlds when I roll up a new character. I like to look for little bits where dialogue changes based on the type of character I am playing and how I respond. It’s also pretty interesting when you throw group members into the mix. Most of the time, the quest dialogue proceeds normally, but there are times when the game surprises you and involves your group more than addressing whoever won the conversation dice roll. They’re nice, little touches, and I’d rather have the potential for these occurrences than absentmindedly clicking ‘Accept’ in a bunch of text boxes. I recently spent time with TERA during their latest closed beta weekend and I got certain things out of the game that I’m just not getting in The Old Republic, but nothing reinforced my feeling that I’m going to have a hard time going back than playing another MMO for a couple of days.

This is probably the first time since The Matrix Online where I actually cared at all where an MMO developer takes the game’s story. For example, I enjoyed the Kaon Under Siege Flashpoint and felt genuinely curious to find out where the story would go in the second part. I’m also really curious to see where BioWare will take our class stories in future updates or expansions. While the stories aren’t as deep as say, Dragon Age or Mass Effect, I do want to see what adventures await my apprentice and I going forward and I really can’t say I’ve felt anything like that for an MMO before. 

I’m not trying to make the case that the fully voiced story absolves the game of any of its perceived flaws, but I do think BioWare was on the money in identifying story as an important area of deficiency in the MMO genre.  I hope to (and expect) upcoming MMOs to put a stronger emphasis on story than we’ve ever seen before. This is the impact I feel Star Wars: The Old Republic will ultimately make on the genre.

Hint: BioWare, my body is ready for a Mass Effect (or Dragon Age!) MMO.

What I want to know this week is this: Nevermind your feelings for the overall game, did the story bits surprise you and get its hooks into you? Or did you find them more of a nuisance than anything else?

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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