MMO players are well-known for many idiosyncrasies, and one of their more famous traits is in pronouncing DOOM (always spelled with all caps) in any upcoming title for reasons that are clearly apparent to them but perhaps not to most sane folks.
It’s no secret that Star Wars: The Old Republic is one of the most anticipated MMOs in years, and we’re only going to see the fervor increase as the due date approaches. But with great hype comes great grumpiness, as Uncle Ben once told me, and we’re already seeing the early notes of the DOOM song being warmed up on stage. It’s a great song, and chances are you know the beat – “Yeah this game looks to be pretty popularrrr… but this one thing is going to siiiiiiink it! DOOM!” It gives people something to fixate on and give them cause to be generally pessimistic toward the game.
Lately I’ve been hearing/reading one of three commonly repeated DOOM beats in relation to TOR, all of which I find a tad premature since our actual knowledge of the game is fairly limited as of now. I’m going to tackle these three debated factors, but I want to make it clear: I’m not taking the opposite stance and saying any of these are wrong. They may be proven right in the long run. I’m merely playing devil’s advocate because it’s simply too soon to know the truth behind any of these, and it’s kind of dumb to be pounding the DOOM tune out when the gaps between what we know could fit a Death Star. Or Two.
1. The “Single Player MMO” Hypothesis
By far, this is the one I’m hearing the most: “TOR is a single-player RPG masquerading as a MMO”, usually followed by a wistful “Why didn’t they just make a single-player KOTOR 3 instead?” It irks me because it’s been repeated enough to make it almost sound like a fact, instead of the baseless speculation of what BioWare’s shown us vs. not.
Most MMO companies, when starting to talk up their upcoming title, jump out of the gate with their unique selling point. Their big strength that sets them apart from the pack. For WAR, it was RvR; for Champions, it was mix-and-match powers; for WoW, it was the accessibility to the casual crowd; for DDO, it was the GM narration and unique dungeons; and so on. They don’t spend a lot of time talking about what they share in common with everyone else, because that’s a ho-hum mark against them in the PR department. So in this case, BioWare leapt out with their “fourth pillar” of storytelling, which was aimed at each player’s individual experience. They spent so much time talking about this that the perception grew that we’ll all just be going through these stories by our lonesome, never grouping, just waving to other players as we pass like ships in the night.
Yet BioWare isn’t stupid nor ignorant of what makes a MMO a MMO. They haven’t gone into a lot of detail, but they have indicated that there’s a lot of “massively multiplaying” going on — parties of multiple player characters, characters sharing a non-instanced part of the world, PvP, the economy and so on. Now, you may personally wish they had made KOTOR 3, but I’m all for this grand effort, because my character won’t “end” with the last part of my story, but have potential to continue in future chapters.
2. The “Too Much Talk/Story” Complaint
BioWare’s next big selling point was to announce that they are doing something that no other MMO has ever done before — fully voice every character, including your own — and to show off a couple examples of the cinematic dialogue you’ll be experiencing in their stories. For some of us, the response is a properly awed “oh wow COOL” as we consider the logistics behind voicing all of this, in multiple genders and in multiple languages. But no gift is too good as to be rejected by others, who see this as a potential black mark on the game. “Too talky! Me just want action! I don’t read quest text now, why am I going to listen to them jabber later?”
To be fair, this is a personal preference issue, which will be resolved when people see whether or not what BioWare does works for them. You may hate voiceovers in games. You may wish to skip it all, and to eschew the story. I’m sure BioWare will let you do that, somehow, but my feeling is that they’re making the game they want to make with the features that allow them to tell great stories like they’ve been doing for years. If you don’t like it, nobody’s forcing you to partake. But I’ve always loved being rewarded with conversations and cut scenes and scripted events when I’ve put in the effort to progress through a story, and this looks so much up my alley that I can’t applaud it loudly enough. Sure, maybe it will be TOO much chatter. Maybe I will hate the slower pace of storytelling. But from what I’ve liked about BioWare’s single-player titles, I doubt it.
3. The “You’ll Ruin My Conversation” Scenario
This is more of a smaller nitpick that’s coupled with a lack of clear understanding how these things will work. After all, nobody’s really done multiplayer conversations with NPCs in MMOs before, and from what we’ve seen, the game rolls a dice or something when you’re in a party to see which player is allowed to respond to the NPCs. The reasonable follow-through to that feature is that folks are worried that their party mates might make a wrong choice for their quest, or mess things up, or take the conversation in a direction that’s undesirable.
And, yes, it is reasonable to worry about this, but not to assume that it will be pure DOOM and BioWare isn’t aware of the potential problems with it. Hold on to that concern, if you have it, but keep it in check until we hear more about it, and see how it plays out.
Update: On a recent Darth Hater podcast, they reported that BioWare’s said that if it is your quest, you can allow or forbid your friends from controlling the conversation, so that you can direct it the way you want.
To summarize: all three of these topics are not proven fact, nor should be treated as such. They indeed might be, but we need to be a lot closer to the game’s launch to be able to judge this for ourselves, and until that point, keep speculation and assumption in separate rooms.