Thursday, June 9, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG - Bioware at E3 2011, Almost Ready for Launch!

We're closing in on the end of E3 week here, and even a fairly ho-hum show has some gems, even if the best parts aren't surprise announcements. Bioware is closing in on a launch for their long awaited take on the MMORPG genre with Star Wars: The Old Republic. This is all sorts of exciting for me. I love Bioware RPGs, even the ones that disappoint me do so because I want more. My first-ever MMO was Star Wars Galaxies, though I didn't do much in it besides crafting and building structures. I also have a great deal of affection for how Bioware in particular handles the Star Wars setting, and I'm ready to see them make the leap from single-player experience to MMORPG.

A Star Wars MMO, and not a Gungan to be seen. Meesa glad to hear that.

Gaming in the Star Wars Universe is tough even for a developer writing for the single player game. If your game is set in the time of the films, there are all sorts of obstacles. Large-scale epic stories that this setting does best don't lend themselves well to a time period where we all know who is responsible for all of the major events. Add to that the fact that many people want to play a Jedi, but hate the prequels, and there just aren't very many Jedi around during the Rebellion Era. Stories are told in the background of established events, and they are mostly meaningless, or the fact that no mention of this plot worked its way into the films strains plausibility.

Add in the challenges of a persistent multiplayer world, and the challenges are nearly insurmountable. Bioware addressed this problem years ago when they developed Knights of the Old Republic. A gripping story, plenty of Jedi, room to play without disturbing canon, the distant past of the Star Wars Universe is ripe for development. Any character or element that is created new that doesn't have a specific place in canon? No problem, that bit was lost in the shadows of the distant past, the way details often are. Bioware gave their typical treatment to the setting too, with party members with their own attitudes, motivations and stories, and if you treat them right, you get to explore those tales with sidequests of a personal nature to your companions. Tabletop RPG geeks also loved that the combat system was based on the D&D-inspired D20 system.

If the lighting-fast block and parry of lightsaber combat actually is modeled correctly while still
feeling like MMO-style combat, it should be really, really cool.

How can the key elements of this setting be brought into the very different gameplay style of the MMORPG, without losing what makes Bioware games special? The developers have talked about this at length, focusing on a story told for each individual player that is just as important as the group experience. Bioware RPGs focus on individual actions having consequences, and those consequences having a direct impact on the gameplay experience. In Star Wars: The Old Republic, the first choice to be made is whether to play as Sith or Republic, which will also affect choice of classes (more on this in a bit) and starting areas. Though individual characters have the freedom to make “good” or “evil” choices, the morality of the Sith Empire isn't subjective, the developers have said that it won't be a “good guys from a certain perspective” thing, Sith are evil.

In both solo questing and group “dungeons” the impact of individual decision making is built in, with dialogue options (while talking with fully voice-acted NPCs, a first for an MMO) and “choice points” built into missions and quests. It's pretty obvious how this works for a single player quest, but the multiplayer missions and how they've made that work is the turning point that has made me decide to put down World of Warcraft, if only for a little while, when this finally releases. Rather than having a party leader make all the decisions, or making them up to party vote or some such nonsense, the narrative in individual missions provides key points, one for each player, to make a decision that will affect the rest of the mission, with consequences for all. If this can be pulled off without creating too much conflict or arguing with other team members after the fact, it is brilliant.

So, what can you play in Star Wars: The Old Republic? So far, for sure we've seen human, Twi'lek (like the dancing girl in Jabba's Palace) and Zabrak (think Darth Maul) as races in promos, and as I mentioned before, your classes are based on your faction. Both factions have four classes at launch, which doesn't seem like very many as compared to many other games, but the customization of powers and abilities as characters level supposedly will make this a non-issue. (We'll see.) For the Republic, the available classes are Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular, Trooper and Smuggler. For the Sith, there are Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor, Imperial Agent and Bounty Hunter. To my way of thinking, that looks like two flavors of Jedi for each, one dull sounding class (Trooper and Agent... really?) and one non-Jedi but still awesome class for each side.

Of course, not everyone will have a lightsaber. With the existence of the Smuggler,
though, expect this guy to be rare on launch day.

I have a lot of hope for this game, though I don't think it is a “WoW Killer,” if such a thing is even possible anymore. I want to see the focus on storytelling change the landscape of a style of gaming where story is secondary currently, players groan as they skip quest text and suffer through cinema scenes so they can kill something else and take its stuff. I really hope that Bioware can tell a story compelling enough to make gamers demand that kind of narrative out of their MMORPG experience. One thing I do know for certain if that I'll be giving it a shot at release. I'll be doing the bidding of those who pay the best for a talented Bounty Hunter... the Sith of Korriban.

One last bit of site-related news, I'm now on Tumblr at, posting small updates on topics I've covered here or stories too short for a full article, tidbits about myself, links to these articles and reblogs of interesting tidbits I find around the web that are relevant to my interests. Check me out there, and I encourage tumblr users to reblog anything you find on my tumblr if you like it!  I'm also @DocStout on Twitter, and of course, I have the Facebook link at the side of this very page. Slowly moving into Web2.0 as though I were an actual young person!
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Biff Tanner said...

O yeah this is gonna be sweet

BigMike said...

Totaly going for trooper.. I will get all the trooper loot with no one fighting me for it ;)

Jay said...

how come bounty hunters are always on the sith i.e. evil side? :|

Alpha said...

Jedis...Jedis everywhere...

Jack said...

looks sick!

The Angry Lurker said...

Great potential.

A Beer for the Shower said...

I can't believe I used to think Mario 64 was impressively complex.

Dave said...

Star Wars: The Old Republic looks great. Cant wait to try it out.

Zombie Ad said...

That's it, my social life is over!

Buy WoW Accounts said...

I'm loving the lightsaber! I wish I could create a character somewhat like Queen Amidala, and wondrin' what powers or weapon shall it carry. :P

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