Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Your Thirty-eighth Assignment: Cold and Dead

This place feels empty, cypher.

I know, Kaliyo.  Like no one's lived here in a long time.

No, like no one's ever lived here.

Guns out, Kaliyo.  Let's stay alert.

Lock and load, agents!  Usually, I gush and gush about how great TOR is.  And let's face it, I may be a complete fanboy but BioWare has done some fantastic things with this MMO.  They introduced companions, they introduced a different style of crafting, they brought personal story into an MMO, they were the first fully voiced MMO, they have made operations and flashpoints feel like real stories and not just loot pinatas, and the list goes on and on.  But for all that, they still need to do a little work and I'm not talking about squashing bugs.

Their world is dead.

Oh, what a teaser of a page jump!

I don't mean dead in the way most people mean it.  No crying from the mountaintops that server populations are dropping (they aren't) or subs are being canceled by the truck load (they aren't).  I don't mean that TOR is crashing and burning (1.7 million reasons that it isn't).  What I mean is that the world(s) of TOR are just devoid of soul.

'But Targeter', you scream vehemently at your screen, 'there are tons of NPCs milling about, doing tasks, patrols, and other various and sundry chores!'  Yes, that's true.  But click on one.  What do they say?  Can you even click on them?  Do they hold conversations?  Do they look at you?  Do you get the sense at all that they are in any way, shape, or form a living, breathing (albeit digital) person in the TOR universe?

Immersion for MMO players is more than just being able to sit in chairs.  We have to believe that the world we inhabit could survive without us.  We can be heroes, but the universe will go on.  Maybe that's my primary gripe right now (and it's a small one at that) ... the world feels like it is utterly frozen in time.  And maybe that's my main problem with the 'living worlds' aspect of TOR.  They just don't seem to exist.

Once I sat down and thought about it, I discovered that TOR doesn't really move from day to day.  There are no weeks in TOR, no months.  Each world is presented as a frozen moment in time in which your character can perform his heroics.  It's a snap-shot of a world while you're there; after you leave, there's no sense that the planet will continue on just fine and dandy.  It only matters because you are there.  After you leave, the planet might as well wither and die.  There's no sense of the place being lived-in.  There aren't that many interactive NPCs.  You can't sit down.  There is no day-night progression.  The NPCs can't be clicked.  They don't speak to you, don't recognize you.  I'm a damn agent, you simpleton!  See my sniper rifle?

This is what the World of Warcraft nailed pretty well, and LOTRO to an even greater extent; the worlds they created teemed with life.  When you clicked on NPCs they said something.  It may have been a generic little canned line like, "Lok'tar, friend." but it mattered.  Day led to night in a natural progression and it made sense.  The world existed and we just played in it.  In TOR, we play and the world seems to only exist for us and us alone.  There's no sense of permanence.  After I leave Quesh, there's no inkling that the world will persist after I've gone; it's as if the entire planet only existed for me.  I guess that's the problem with a game like SWTOR.  It's taken too many queues from the stellar 2003 RPG Knights of the Old Republic - static world with lifeless NPCs who only serve as a backdrop.

Here's to hoping they liven up the world a bit in future expansions.

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

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