Sadly, my skepticism increases.
Two pieces of news in row coming from BioWare that, for me personally, are less than thrilling; first was the revelation that space combat would essentially be an instanced, tunnel-based ‘macro-game’, and then the recent (and quiet) release of details on another Companion – the droid T7-01.
Before getting into the details of my growing dread, let me say this: I’m very much in favor of the Companion System. Though I’m guessing it’s not identical to the single-player implementations of the past, companions have worked really well in other BioWare games, such as Mass Effect 1 and 2. Personal and inter-personal interactions make for great stories, and it definitely increases a sense of depth to a game. As weird as it might sound, companions do a lot for enhancing a player’s character; developing “relationships” with NPC characters does so much for our investment in a game because, just as in the Real World, many aspects of our selves are defined through our interactions with others.
However, I am not in favor of BioWare’s approach to space combat, and I want to touch on this first. Though I haven’t read the PC Gamer article yet, the concept as a whole seems extraordinarily flawed to me. Sure, I’ve enjoyed every Star Fox game I’ve played (the comparison to these games is the best analogy I’ve seen yet). But that was Star Fox, and we’re talking about STAR WARS. Death Stars and the Millenium Falcon. X-Wings, Y-Wings, A-Wings. Tie Fighters. Dogfighting. With LASERS.
When I read about this, it was truly the first time I was disappointed by news about TOR. I would rather BioWare simply said, “Yes, we recognize space combat as a critical aspect of the Star Wars experience, but we cannot implement it in a manner and to a degree which will make our customers, and ourselves, happy”, and just left it out. I don’t expect a fully functioning flight sim of the caliber of TIE Fighter or the X-Wing games; but I sure did enjoy Freelancer a whole lot, and that is one of the strongest examples of free-form, open space flight toned down for a mouse and keyboard. Hell, I’d even be willing to pay extra for it (take note, BioWare, I’m trying to hand you money).
The space combat information was a letdown, albeit a somewhat minor one. It did, however, plant the first seeds of doubt in my mind; is BioWare missing a large piece of the puzzle with their approach to MMOs?
My enthusiasm took a serious hit when I read the following (emphasis added):
“BioWare has not revealed where your Jedi knight will meet T7-O1, just like every other companion mentioned for this game, but rest assured, he’s waiting for you somewhere in that galaxy far, far away.”
This got me thinking: so I’m guaranteed to meet T7-01? Just like every other Jedi Knight? And only Jedi Knights? When I gather for battle, how many T7-01’s am I going to encounter, in addition to mine? And will they all be named T7-01? Granted, the above wasn’t written by BioWare, but I think we can be secure in the overall accuracy, considering the source. So let me see if I’ve got this straight…
Me: I can get my own droid?
BioWare: You meet him at level 5.
Me: Oh. Okay…
BioWare: Just like every other Jedi Knight.
BioWare: But only if you’re a Jedi Knight.
Me: …wait. What? Really?
Me: Huh. Can I rename it, at least?
Me: Aww… <expletive censored>!
So much for customization, and a personalized experience. I get my own droid, just like the 10,000 other Jedi Knights. Class-restricted Companions just doesn’t sit right, and based on a Companion’s role in the player’s story, I’m betting it’s going to be pretty hands-off in terms of changes players can make to those NPCs. Granted, BioWare hasn’t released the full details of how the system will work, but so far I’m not particularly optimistic.
I get it; BioWare’s focusing on the story. They’re pushing that facet of the game pretty hard. They want to be the first to inject real story into the MMO genre. They’re going to deliver a personal story to each player. Every class will have it’s own, unique story. Story story story. I’m getting the distinct impression that in their quest of the almighty story, BioWare has blinded themselves to the nature of MMOs, and why we play them; it seems they’re building an online single-player RPG, not an MMO. I like story in my MMOs, but I play them nearly as much for the emergent parts – the unscripted, impromptu, real fun that comes from adventuring in a virtual world with other human players. I want options, an open field, and the ability to choose what’s best for my character based on my own flawed logic (or the logic of a stranger who’s better at math and willing to share on the Internet). I don’t need to be a unique and beautiful snowflake (just like the thousands of other snowflakes), but I certainly don’t want to be locked into anything; customization is the name of the game. They’re called virtual worlds for a reason.
The Old Republic has definitely been knocked down a few levels in my list of anticipated games. Being set in the Star Wars universe will carry the game a long, long way. For me, being set in the Old Republic will carry it even further. But it can’t carry it past blatantly poor design decisions.
I’m still looking forward to it. I’m just beginning to feel like they shouldn’t be calling it an MMO. I have few doubts that it will be a fun game, and have no doubts that it will introduce some new ideas and mechanics to the genre. But my expectations for TOR have begun to shift; if I approach this as a single-player experience with some multiplayer elements, somewhere between your traditional MMO and Guild Wars, I think I’m going to be far less disappointed.