E3 2011: Star Wars: The Old Republic second look – you really should be bananas about this game

When we walked in for our second demo of Star Wars: The Old Republic, we were repeatedly told that the game was a genre changing MMO unlike anything that had been done before. However, when we sat down to actually play the game we discovered that it’s actually not that different at all. Old Republic feels a whole lot like World of Warcraft, and we actually think that’s a good thing – especially when you add in Star Wars’ skin and a greater emphasis on storytelling.

Some people will bemoan the game’s reliance on ideas that WoW developed, but the gaming industry has always been iterative. Developers have always piggybacked on each other’s ideas while improving them. It’s essential for the industry to grow. After all, if there was no Outrun, there’d be no Burnout Paradise. If there was no Doom, there’d be no Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Any number of examples can be cited of great games that were first spawned from “stolen” ideas.

Our demo opened in the middle of the Tatooine desert as we accepted missions from our Sith commander. We were to go off in search of a lost officer who had been seeking spirit guides of the Sand People. Our Sith Marauder played similarly to a rogue in World of Warcraft, and was already at a very high level with a ton of unique skills to try. Certain strikes were used to build up Action Points to be used in casting more powerful skills. In other words, we force choked dozens of Sand People to death. Is it any wonder why we enjoyed this game?

The storyline of the quest chain wasn’t altogether remarkable, but we noticed something peculiar happening as we played: we were actually paying attention to the storyline. Ninety-nine times out of one hundred, MMO players skip over the flavor text of a quest, hit “accept”, and then look at the quest goals in the quest log. However, Old Republic’s fully voice-acted quests make the narrative actually somewhat interesting. By involving the player in the dialogue and speaking the text to them, Bioware may finally have created an MMO that players can become narratively involved in. And given the promised size of the campaigns (each of the eight classes has its own 100-hour career), that’s a very big plus.

The dialogue system is quite a bit of fun too. The classic Mass Effect style of selecting your dialogue choice is used in several different ways: during regular chats with NPCs, during critical story moments, and even during dungeons and instances. The latter part is the most fun part. During an instance when you encounter a boss character, you’ll sometimes talk with them first. The players on your squad then roll to see who gets to do the talking for that section. Each conversation will include multiple chances for each character to choose what their party will say. So, you could achieve a goal diplomatically or your loudmouth buddy could get you into worse trouble before you can shut him up, just like in real life. This could add a dynamic sense of personality to dungeon parties, with the events changing according to how each person chooses to respond.

The implementation of choice into the gameplay could have amazing consequences. Each character is said to change according to the decisions they make. For example, on video we saw a Jedi given the choice of executing a defeated Sith or sparing his life. If you spare him, you may encounter him again later, for better or worse. If Bioware is able to make such choices meaningful and impactful, they could be the first MMO to make it worth a player’s time to replay the same class. In a game like WoW, a rogue is a rogue. Any level-capped character is the same as every other of that type so long as they’re wearing the same gear. But when personal narratives get involved, it will be very interesting to see if players are willing to replay the entire leveling experience over again.

It wasn’t just the dialogue that got us excited, though. The game’s instances seem to pull a page right out of WoW’s playbook, which is a very good thing. We also got to see a sneak preview of the game’s end-game raids, which are called. We know next to nothing, but we got to see some footage of the Operations in action and practically wet our Star Wars-branded undies. There’s nothing quite like watching 20+ Jedi Knights storming a keep and then doing battle with a ten story tall mech. We can’t wait to see more of Old Republic’s end game material.

So Star Wars: The Old Republic might not be the genre-altering experience that some are touting, but it has some very exciting tricks up its sleeve nonetheless. From what we’ve seen, its approach to storytelling could be just what the MMO-genre needs. Plus, its foundations are based on the rock solid bedrock of World of Warcraft’s fundamentals. SWTOR has been in development for so long, the buzz has died down a bit. Don’t be fooled – this game is looking more and more like the best Star Wars game ever created, and a legit contender for WoW’s crown.

Jun 16, 2011

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