During the first Fan Site Summit Bioware organized for members of the Fan Sites that write about their upcoming MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic, we had a chance to sit down for 2 days and play the game. These are impressions from our hands on experience and they are divided into the following segments:
You should also check out Swtorcrafter’s Bounty Hunter and General Gameplay Impressions for another view of the hands on experience.
In this article I will talk about the famous Story component BioWare has been focusing on as a main pillar of this MMORPG. If you know Bioware you know their strongest asset is great story. That is why I wanted to fight “The Man” and try and break that aspect of the game. I am an ex World of Warcraft player. Your story does not concern me. Give me quests and point me to where I can shoot stuff. There will be some spoilers in this article, but I will try and spare you as much as I can and warn you upfront when spoiler is incoming.
I immediately found out that there’s going to be a problem with my approach. With my Imperial Agent I started the game talking to the Watcher. He looked a bit like Captain Pickard (meaning he was bold) and I had a British accent. What does this man want with me? Why does he talk so much? Apparently there’s this Hutt Crime Lord called Nem’ro on the planet and he needs to be persuaded to serve the Empire’s cause no matter what. No, no, killing of Nem’ro is NOT allowed. I was to see a local contact and get introduced to the big Hutt under a fake identity. So what is this problem I had you ask? The problem was, I couldn’t make myself press that skip dialogue key (space key). The characters were believable and they put me right in action anyways. They gave context to my actions and my quests and they did it in such a highly produced and professional matter I was almost believing that I am in some kind of interactive movie. Well played Bioware, how do I break your story now that you got me captivated?
Luckily there were some quests near by that felt like side quests that did not impact my character in such a profound way, or so I thought. They were just additional things I could do on my way to gaining Nem’ro’s favor and yes, they had story as well. The only quests that didn’t have story at all were those that I found along the way once I entered a certain area. Those were usually quests that want you to kill 10 animals that populate that area.
This gives a glimpse at how Bioware organized its quests and story. You have your main questline that follows your class and this is the best work they are doing and most captivating stories and quests you will have. This story provides you with quests that are not standard for the MMO genre like sweeping your room for bugs. All of these happen in designated story instances that are restricted to you and possibly your group members that are not of the same class as you. Only one Imperial Agent per story instance please, thank you.
Than you have these little storylines along the way that take you to new places or complement your class’ storyline. These are what Bioware refers to as planet quests.
Remember, I was trying to skip as much dialogue as I could, but still each quest hub was distinctively a different experience and had a special feel about it. This was accomplished by voiceovers and great writing that accompanied even the “lesser” quests and I was starting to think that there is something to all this Story emphasis Bioware has been so persistent about.
There were two points in my hands on experience where I truly comprehended what this all meant. So, I am an undercover agent, pretending to be some famous mercenary called the Blade. On my way to talk to the Hutt, while entering one of the rooms in the Hutt’s palace, all of a sudden a cutscene starts. These “scripted” encounters happening when you don’t expect them (and that you did not initiate by clicking on an NPC, but that happen on some trigger event – like entering a special room) are a standard mechanic in single player RPGs. Trying to remember when I last experienced something like that in an MMO evades me. It was always – approach that NPC – right click – click accept – move on. This interruption and the quest that resolved itself right there was a welcome reminder that this is a true RPG in heart. The second moment came completely unexpectedly and remains the highest point of my hands on experience and probably one of my favorite gaming moments of all time (for someone that has been playing games for 25 years this is no small feat).
Some time around the beginning I got some quest from a mother that wants me to find her “deadbeat” husband that took their kid and is not letting her enroll the kid to the Sith academy on Korriban.
No spoilers version
I found the father and his kid and the end of my dialogue left me with evil and good options. Remember, I am playing for fun, not caring about story, skipping through dialogue. I was 100% sure that the “evil” option will have just as much consequence on me as will the “good” option. This is a side quest after all, why would they care enough to make the “evil” option distinctively different. So, I went dark side.
At that moment terrible orchestral music started playing. Almost my whole screen was covered in blood red color with dark side points being assigned for my action. My insides were tearing. How could I have done this? What kind of animal am I to do such thing just for ambition of one woman? I was mad! I was mad at Bioware writers for making such big thing out of this stupid side quest. Why didn’t you warn me in some way that it is this horrible to be evil.
I completely forgot that what I just transpired happened to a collection of pixels on the screen. They conveyed their story element so masterfully that I was completely emotionally invested in that one moment of my character’s story. I finally knew. This is what good storytelling introduces to the game. Consequences of your character’s actions, and therefore your actions are made completely real with great storytelling. My Imperial Agent will always be the one that did this terrible evil thing and this left a profound emotional memory in me. Never has any other MMO done this before, and if I may say, never has any other game made me feel so much within seconds. Not even Bioware’s previous games have managed to do so. You know why? Because this is the one game where Bioware’s writers have given their best. If storytelling was good in previous games and had its high points, in this game they are giving it their best and everything went up a notch. This is my friends, in fact, the best Bioware game ever made.
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