Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Your Twenty-first Assignment: MM-No?

Keeper, this is Targeter.  On site.  Enemy presence is noticeably higher than predicted by Intelligence.  Requesting backup.

Lock and load, fellow agents.  Star Wars: The Old Republic is being billed as a massively online multiplayer role-playing game, but is it truly an MMO?  Does the heart and soul of the game center around the community it builds?  I'm thinking it isn't.

I commented today on a blog I read occasionally called Killing 'Em Slowly, a WoW Warlock blog (as a former Elemental Shaman, reading a 'lock blog should be heresy).  In it, Fulguralis posited that it felt like eight single player games rolled into one; granted, he's very excited for the game, along with what seems like most of the western hemisphere, but he is rightly concerned about the MMO part.  Let's examine this more closely.



By all definitions, an MMO is a social game where players work towards a similar goal, be it defeating a great evil, gathering resources, exploring the world, or accumulating wealth.  Sometimes, these goals converge with other players and groups are formed.  These groups become the core focus of the game going forward; raid groups, pvp teams, and auction house cartels are all popular collaborations.  All of these things will be available in TOR as well, but are they the endpoint?  Or are they just a vehicle for MMO genre staples that 'need to be in the game?'

I'm starting to think that TOR is really designed to be a single-player game first, multiplayer game second.  Much of the game emphasizes the single player; the story is all based around your own choices, companions' arcs revolve around you, and every NPC needs you to complete their task.  And for 50 levels, for the most part, the action revolves around you.  This is the common among other MMOs, but for TOR it's heightened because of the narrative.  By including voice-over and story-driven, TOR solidifies itself as a player-first, community-second gaming experience.  Now, that's not to say that the community features in the game are second-rate; that is by far not the case.  The auction house performs well, the pvp is actually quite fun with a unique Star Wars flair, the group quests are enjoyable (and properly tuned so that you really *do* need a group), and the flashpoints are, hands down, the most engaging 'dungeons' I've ever done.

None of this ever disengages the player from believing the whole plot arc of the game is based solely around him- or herself.  But is it such a bad thing?

Take for example Warcraft.  Just this past Tuesday, they released the much anticipated patch 4.3.  In it, players are tasked with finally taking down Deathwing and saving the world ... but do they really?  Watch this; does this cinematic involve the player at all?  Other than the barest mention of the 10 or 25-man team that just brought Deathwing down, there's no mention of the player at all.  Instead, central lore figures step up and take the spotlight, including Thrall who gets the 'killing blow' against the Destroyer himself.  How does that make the player feel epic?  How is he a hero if a bunch of NPCs do all the talking and continually save the day?

This brings around to the beginning.  The heart and soul of The Old Republic is sitting in that chair you're in.  It's you.  You make the choices, you decide how things play out.  Your input is the most valuable of all.  Bioware may have taken away the conventions of most MMOs, but in taking out some of the MMO and introducing some more solo, not only do they make you more invested in what happens, it also eliminates the 'hero moment' being stolen from you by lore characters designed to steal your glory and make the central focus of the story about them.

I wholeheartedly approve of Bioware's direction.

Fly safe, shoot straight.  For the glory of the Empire!

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