Good Cop, Bad Cop – SWTOR
What better game to start this crazy new semi-regular column with than the most controversial one we’ve seen in ages here on the site? Star Wars: The Old Republic has people talking. Many love it, and many don’t, but everyone has seemingly tried it at some point or another. One thing’s for sure though when it comes to SWTOR: no one seems to be able to agree on what’s good and what’s lacking in BioWare’s first MMORPG. Let’s give you two opposing views then, shall we? Adam Tingle is in love with the newest addition to Star Wars’ canon, while Suzie Ford finds it lacking in several ways. Here today, the two battle it out over a number of topics, and we’ll let you decide who won in this debate.
STORY, VOICEOVER, CINEMATICS
In prior MMOs, effectively the player-character is a murderer. Yeah, I'm going there. You accept quests with little regard for morality - "Kill those boars." Sure thing! "Mutilate a small tribe of gnolls." You got it brother! "Destroy this person, because I said he's evil." Why question your word!? Are you starting to understand, Mrs. Bad Cop?
In BioWare's latest effort, we are part of the story and the narrative. Like a fine single player experience, we are central, and our decisions matter. If we wish to be a good upstanding hero, then the choice is ours to take the quest in that direction - alternatively if we are "roleplaying" a baby drowning psychopath then that option is also catered for. Who said that videogames aren't a good outlet?
Star Wars: The Old Republic hasn't reinvented the wheel but it has made it sturdier. We now know and care about what we are doing. Mindless quests are now a thing of the past, something to be ejected with the rest of the trash. Sure it isn't the leap forward that we might have needed, but it is a good step towards what might be. Gone are the days of the boring scroll of text, and the mute quest-giver, now we get interesting cut-scenes, engrossing voice acting, and a graphical setting that makes us wonder "why in the heck doesn't the rest of the game look like that?" You may see a rehash of the past, instead I see the future. And it looks gloriously voice-acted.
First off, who says I'm the bad cop? Maybe you are and I'm the voice of all good and virtuous reason! You may call me Mrs. Light Side, buster.
I find that the voiced quest system is highly overrated. It’s great for the mainline quests but it loses its luster very quickly when you have some schlump from who knows where asking you “The Promising Jedi/Sith” to run out and effectively perform yet another FedEx quest, one of hundreds SWTOR includes. The pretty wrapping paper simply doesn’t make up for yet another tedious iteration of the same old-same old system. But it’s not the FedEx-ing I mind so much. After all, those are pretty much a given in any MMO and in all single player RPGs. I expect that. But every single quest, even the most mundane, did not have to be voiced, in my opinion. I find myself using the spacebar way more than I suspect BioWare would want. I wonder if they get metrics on how quickly folks jet through quest cinematics?
In addition, what’s with those choices? I mean, in the conversation “wheel”, you’re given an option like “Sure, I’d love to go out and mutilate the gnolls” but it comes out as some highfalutin message like “My honor demands that I forsooth destroy yon marauding hordes in order to bring glory to the (Empire/Republic).” SAY WHAT?
There is no question that the cinematic fully-voiced quest system is a proud feature that fans will point to as the one that has stretched the MMO genre and, at least to some extent, I agree. While I find it intriguing in small doses, I can get the exact same thing in any single player RPG out there which won’t cost me $15.00 a month to play. And, honestly, it gets really old, really fast.
BUT IT'S STAR WARS! ISN’T THAT ENOUGH?
Let it be known that Star Wars is always enough. Whether it is a lunchbox, a t-shirt, or a PEZ dispenser, slap on a picture of a double-thumbs Wookiee and it is instantly awesome: do you know why? Because it’s f***king Star Wars.
The universe, the lore, the complex struggle between moralities, it all makes for the perfect MMORPG experience. And it also has lightsabers. Oh sure, you might be a girl and didn't spend the majority of your time from the ages of 5-25 with a stick yelling "SHWWOMMM" but that doesn't matter; Star Wars is cool, and definitely endears any game that uses its bountiful license.
In 1977 Lucas created Star Wars, and he saw that it was good. In 2012, Adam Tingle reveres the bearded one as a god among men, despite the prequels.
The fact that it’s Star Wars shouldn’t automatically determine SWTOR’s success. Yes, the Star Wars movie series is awesome, at least through Return of the Jedi. But the series lost a lot of appeal when they released those other three. I won’t even deign to name them. All I really need to say is Jar Jar Binks and you get the point.
Star Wars is a great IP and one that’s been well represented in tons of decent video games, even a couple of great ones. It’s fun to see my character running around with a light saber but after the first couple of hours, it’s just another big sword with flashy effects exactly like every other MMO out there. Some of the things we are working over in this article spell out why, to me anyway, this game doesn’t always feel like Star Wars. Sometimes we do need to be careful what we wish for as ably demonstrated by our own Coyote Sharptongue the other week.
Lack of Innovation or Innovation in Small Steps?
How many times can we side-step the fact that the genre has innovated very little since its inception. In Meridian 59 you swung a sword to kill things. In EverQuest you pressed "A" and then killed things. In World of Warcraft, you right-clicked, then jabbed "1" on your keyboard, and... killed things.
This is a genre based primarily on one thing: levelling up. You doll the experience up, give it a nice shade of lipstick, add in a sparkler or two to take the attention of slightly "simpler" people, but it is still the same old experience: create a character, skill to the max level, have a crisis about what you are doing with your life, and repeat.
Bioware have made their MMO slightly less pointless in that it has a narrative. You play through it as you would do a normal RPG, gaining an intriguing story, and an enjoyable adventure. You may say it is a small step for innovation, but nobody has done anything remotely groundbreaking for the last decade.
Bioware never trumpeted SWTOR as the next great leap forward in MMO gaming in the history of mankind. Perhaps it was a function of the fanboy patrol that brought that idea into the mix. Either way, it’s pretty clear that SWTOR really isn’t all that innovative outside of the cinematic quest system (see above), something that a lot of people initially loved but have grown tired of over the intervening month or so since the game’s release.
I don’t fault Bioware in the least for not being more ‘innovative’ with SWTOR. They never said it would be, but that the game would bring small incremental improvements to the MMO genre as a whole. I suspect that the legions of fans expected it to be groundbreaking because it’s Star Wars dang it and it’s a futuristic MMO that should contain futuristic next-gen innovation. Sorry to disappoint you, Padawans, but that simply didn’t happen on the scale some expected.
Still, in total, the MMO industry has had the proverbial gauntlet thrown down with the new things it did bring to the table. The voice over cinematic questing is awe-inspiring in small doses and something that I think we’ll see a lot more of in the future.