The Old Republic Will Change the Industry
Disclaimer: The Devil's Advocate is a place where the MMO-Loving world can go to hear the unpopular opinion. Please note that this article does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of MMORPG.com, columnist Drew Wood, or any of the game companies that may be discussed. The Devil's Advocate is an opportunity for the oft-shunned and little discussed “Other Side of the Story” to be heard, promoting open discussion on a heavily contested subject.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is shaping up to be nothing more than a money grab. An extended version of BioWare's Old Republic series, The Old Republic looks to offer thin MMO Offerings at most and is limited in a genre that demands more. The Old Republic spits in the face of traditional MMO gaming while not offering anything new, or innovative, to the genre.
On the contrary. While it's true that BioWare is stepping (ever so slightly) outside of the normative behavior in creating an MMO, it's also true that The Old Republic will still call back to many of the elements that make an MMO an MMO in the first place. Perhaps most notably, the world of the Old Republic will be massive, with many players interacting on any given server from different parts of their own region so that I, a player from Canada, can pop onto a server and play with my guild who are spread out, for the sake of argument, along the Western Seaboard of the United States. Massive. Multiplayer. Online. Should you take this argument at face value, I would already be done. So falling effortlessly into the very definition of an “MMO” isn't quite enough to satisfy some that Star Wars: The Old Republic is sufficient enough to be considered a real MMORPG? I understand and I suppose that since the definition of an MMO has changed significantly and frequently over the last twelve years. So what else does SW:TOR Have to offer the hardcore MMO player? Let's take a look.
Crafting: Crafting is said to be alive and well in the SW:TOR universe, though, not perhaps in the 'traditional' MMO fashion, to some. Crafting falls into the realm, in SW:TOR, of the “crew skill”, a built in method for the player to engage themselves in the benefits that come with the crafting subculture in MMOs, without actually having to get your hands dirty. Crafting falls alongside what are called “Mission” Skills and “Gathering” Skills, other trees you can choose from while improving your crew that help to build your own resources (those of your avatar directly as well as their crew), send your crew on missions whilst you are unavailable to lead them, and for them to craft, naturally. This seems to be designed for a streamlining of the entire MMO experience, which some (particularly hardcore) crafting players may not necessarily appreciate. Crafting is however very much alive and well within the game. Housing: Ultimately, your spaceship serves as “player housing” within the Star Wars: The Old Republic universe. And no, the ships will not be customizable at launch. Perhaps this is a downfall, but right out of the gate if your main concern is going to be creating a house from which you can operate a “home”, Star Wars: The Old Republic might not exactly be up your alley. I'm fairly confident in saying a very small percentage of the population would be interested in playing a Star Wars MMO in the Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen style of owning and operating a moisture farm on Tattooine. That being said, I'm sure there are some Berus and Owens out there who disagree with this statement. Fact: While well respected amongst the industry, hardcore players such as yourself make up a small population and, therefore (and here's the sad truth of it) a small percentage of the income rolling in.
So those are two examples that I've decided to pull out of my back pocket to exemplify how Star Wars: The Old Republic is taking traditional MMO elements of gameplay and twisting them slightly on their heads. “But Drew,” you say, “your title is that the silly Star Wars game will give the industry a shot in the arm. The heck you say!” My opinion behind this is fairly straight forward and stems directly out of the game's developer: BioWare. BioWare is famous for some of the most in-depth, character driven storytelling ever in the video game industry. Speaking from an entirely personal standpoint, games like the Mass Effect or Dragon Age series', or, if you want to step back a few years, Neverwinter Nights and the Baldur's Gate series, have been some of the most brilliantly crafted narratives in video games in recent memory, only punctuated enthusiastically by being able to include the original KOTOR and KOTOR II to that very list. Even taking away the “personal” feelings towards the storytelling in these games, I steer your attention to Metacritic. Mass Effect 2 (for the XBox 360) snags a 96, Dragon Age: Origins (PC version) scores a 91 and even 8-year-old Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (on original XBox) walks away with a 94. Regardless of one’s own feelings towards Metacritic, we simply cannot argue with results like that.
While adding such a complicated narrative to an MMO is a daunting prospect, BioWare seems capable not only in the eyes of their fans but in their own eyes, backed up by their own statements of delivering the story-driven content in such a way that makes it accessible and necessary in delivering a replayable MMO. Many people seem to be of the understanding that The Old Republic will, more than anything, deliver nothing more than a Knights of the Old Republic sequel with more multiplayer elements. As we've discovered over the last few months, this simply is not the case and the story-driven, theme-park MMORPG such as The Old Republic, will continue to persevere through the coming months and years as one of the foremost formats for the genre, in large part due to the BioWare winning formula.