One of my favorite features of MMO creation is the fact that there are no real rules regarding gameplay style. Granted, in the early days of MMO design, a creator had to consider the heavy latency of dial-up connections, so most games were designed to be turn-based. However, now there really is no limit to gameplay style, so there are no rules regarding what makes a game an MMO besides its having a persistent online world. There are no rules that say a game must have similar gameplay to other games that came before, even a prequel. Guild Wars 2 is a great example of this, yet people, inevitably, are going to attempt to compare Guild Wars and its sequel -- sometimes to the point of being unfair about it.
Current Star Wars fans cannot help but compare SWTOR to Star Wars Galaxies. Follow me after the break as I make an attempt to debunk this stigma.
As some of you may already be aware, I play Star Wars Galaxies, and I am a huge fan of the game. I admit that my primary love for the game is really for the genre, but there is definitely merit in the game itself. In fact, if there wasn't merit in the game, there probably would not have been as many complaints when BioWare announced how SWTOR's space combat was going to be handled or about how much of a themepark the ground game is going be. So, let's talk about those two parts of the game.
If you have kept up with with the SWTOR news from this site, you will have read the infamous words from Daniel Erickson: "Two things happened when you went to space. One: You took off to space when you wanted to go somewhere. You took off into hyperspace -- BAM! -- and got there. Two: You wanted to go to a battle or you were trying to go somewhere and someone stopped you. Uh oh! Giant exciting combat! ... That is why we did space combat the way we did." I love BioWare, but I will admit I was disappointed when it was announced how the designers were handling space combat.
But my disappointment was nothing compared to the heat generated on the official forum. A common phrase among people who hate how space was implemented is "This is Star Wars" -- meaning the game just couldn't fit in the genre without having explorable space. I seem to recall another Star Wars-related MMO that was released without space or even spaceships. In fact, wasn't it over a year before the space expansion was released? Now there were great space games, like TIE Fighter and X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, but the vast majority of Star Wars games don't even include space at all.
The "guided tour" issue is one I have a really hard time understanding. OK, that's not completely accurate. I understand the complaint; I just don't understand why it's a complaint. I remember that when Star Wars Galaxies was released, there were complaints about there not being anything to do but PvP once a player used up all his skill points. There was no content to the game. I believe the idea was for the players to generate their own content, either through roleplay, PvP, or crafting. It was fun at the time, but players quickly ran out of interest and started grinding a new profession.
Pen-and-paper roleplayers had an even tougher time because SOE -- at the time -- didn't give us the tools to create our own content. Pex and the events team were a great asset, but even their resources were limited. While waiting in line to play the SWTOR demo at PAX, I spoke briefly to Daniel Erickson about the "guided tour" complaint. Although I don't have his exact quote, he mentioned that if he showed up to a Dungeons & Dragons PnP game and there was no DM, he would leave. I agree -- if I showed up to a party and there was no host nor events prepared for me, then I don't think I would stick around for very long. The design of BioWare's game allows the team to act as the DM, and then the choose-your-own-adventure dialogue system allows the player to make decision the way he wants.
I hate to be blunt, but there really isn't a subtle way to say it. If you are looking for game that mirrors SWG, SWG is still a wonderful game, and you should play it. The instances are a lot of fun. The storyteller props make roleplay adventures incredible. And there is no MMO that has the space game that Galaxies has. However, this does not make SWTOR less of a game. If you love BioWare games and have always wanted to play one with your friends, you are going to love SWTOR. SWTOR, I believe, will be the pinnacle of the game style BioWare has created.
Agree or disagree with me in the comments below; I want to read them. Also, don't miss the interviews with the Star Wars Galaxies staff this week. And, as always, stay tuned for the further adventures of Star Wars: The Old Republic.
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!