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Chiben avatar 2:51 PM on 06.29.2010  (server time)
The Challenges The Old Republic Must Face

Editor's Note:
Hey readers,

I'm sorry. I haven't been fully dedicated to this relationship. Between finals, graduating from college, finding a full-time job and moving out to the west coast, I've had too much on my mind to blog. However, I've come to realize that I can't keep on letting life get in the way of blogging. So I'm back, and I'm going to try to write at least once a week, no matter how busy I am. We'll see how long this dedication lasts. Since it's been a while, I apologize if I no write good. Be niceplz. Oh, and I know the banner doesn't make any sense. It's temporary until I find the time to make a new one.

Now on to the main event.

I want Star Wars: The Old Republic to do well. Like many others, Star Wars has been one of my favorite IPs ever since I watched A New Hope. I also loved Knights of the Old Republic and classify myself as a BioWare fanboy. The day I heard there was a Star Wars MMO coming out from my favorite developer, I almost creamed my pants. As details slowly tricked out of BioWare, I realized that BioWare faces some very difficult, if not impossible challenges in making SWTOR a great game.

First, let's get this out of the way. SWTOR faces an obstacle in the universe itself. Star Wars appeals to a majority of people because they want to be a Jedi. People occasionaly have a fantasy that involves being Boba Fett or Han Solo, but for the majority of fans it's all about being a Jedi. This is treading old ground, so I won't speak much to it, but it's going to ruin some of the allure of the universe when you first log in and everyone has decided that the first class they're going to be is a Jedi Knight or a Sith Warrior. The need for different roles in group play will eventually help balance out the percentage of players playing each class, but it'll always skew heavily towards the force users of the universe. Be honest - no one will want to be a soldier as their first class (who fantasized about being a Stormtrooper when they were a kid?)

The second obstacle SWTOR faces is the ability to merge a story-driven single player experience with a gear-grinding multiplayer one. BioWare is known for creating cinematic, character-driven video games. They're trying to implement that in the MMO genre. I'm skeptical that anyone can pull off an MMO where players care about the plot. Players will inevitably have to repeat quests with friends and other group members. This means those who have already finished the quest will have to sit around and listen to the same dialog while other players experience it for the first time. This creates a hazard for a repetitive, boring experience. It also hurts the certain sense of immersion often required in a plot-driven game.

I remember when I first got my hands on Diablo II. I had started playing it a little later than my friends, and as I played online, I wanted to follow the plot of the game and the back stories of the quests given to me. Unfortunately I never got that chance. I always felt the pressure to just hit the accept button and start the quest, since people who had already played the game were waiting on me.

I can't stay a while and listen! I'm in a fucking hurry!

As time passed, I even eventually switched to the other side of the equation, becoming impatient when people wanted to watch the cut scenes in between the acts of Diablo. I was sitting in town for two minutes waiting for a friend of mine to finish watching what were admittedly awesome cut scenes. As I started to view Diablo as a more gear-driven game, I got annoyed with people who wanted to play the game for the same reason I initially wanted to play it: the story.

Now, with Diablo II there was a workaround. I could have just played single player and taken my time. SWTOR is an MMO, and that requires you to play online with other players. Those other players' motivation for playing may not necessarily be story driven, and BioWare has stated that some quests will need you to team up with other players. It'll be impossible to get the full story experience playing by yourself in SWTOR.

While the gear hunters get annoyed at the story players, the story players will get frustrated with each other. As the JRPG genre starts to falter, the RPG category has increasingly become all about player choice. In a multiplayer setting, not everyone will be able to make those choices. This means one person will have a blast making the moral and ethical choices while everyone else gets bored just standing there. Having a dialogue event in an MMO wouldn't work even if BioWare were to let people rotate making the choices. In fact, I believe players may even become more dissatisfied in that scenario, since the scene isn't really personal to the player. Eventually, someone will have to make the decision as to whether to kill the captain of the ship or let him live. Either way, somebody isn't going to be happy with the result.

Now, I know the above point of having choices should in theory, counteract my earlier point about people getting bored going through the dialogue multiple times. However, SWTOR is probably going to follow the dialogue tree format that every RPG uses. This means that 95 percent of conversation will be the same, and five percent will be different, severely hampering the ability to keep the story-driven player who has already experienced the quest multiple times constantly engaged with the dialogue. The player may be interested when characters say something different than the first time they played it, but will quickly fall back into boredom as it falls back to the same conversation that the player has already heard before. Anyone who has played a BioWare game through and then immediately replayed it again understands what I'm talking about. I abused the "X to skip" button in my second/third play through of Mass Effect - something that probably won't be possible in SWTOR.

Finally, I worry that BioWare may be overselling SWTOR with the quality of their trailers. Combat in an MMO has never been an exciting experience. Based off what I've seen in SWTOR, the animations are definitely much more fluid, dynamic and exciting than anything World of Warcraft has done, but there's something lost in combat when it falls to pressing 1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,2,1,1,1,1,1,4,5,1,1,1,1,1...I know it's a dumb thing to complain about (The trailer being too good? What a horrendous complaint), but I feel like players are going to go in expecting some level of experience at least slightly close to the trailer. Those players are going to walk away from the game in a couple of hours with a feeling of disappointment. Even some MMO players, who know the experience in the genre may end up feeling disappointed on a subconscious level since they went in with wishful thinking that they could at least minimally experience the epic Star Wars moments displayed in the two amazing trailers that BioWare has put out.

Not exactly the same level of epic, at least not to me.

To those of you who have read this all the way through and are about to rage at me in the comments section, I hope you're right. I hope I get comments on this post in about a year from now saying "Ha! You were completely off-base you naysayer douchebag." Nothing would make me happier than to be able to eat these words when the game releases.

I just don't see how BioWare can reconcile a great single player story-driven experience with a great MMO one.

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