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The Digital Continuum: Can story supplant grind?

Kyle Horner

Star Wars offers a setting with incredible chances at strong storytelling and it's for this reason I've been watching closely for any hints at the story elements in Star Wars: The Old Republic. This recent developer blog on the driving forces behind the Sith Inquisitor's tale really dug its claws into my mind.

Before now, I'd always assumed most choice elements within the story of any given class would be mostly binary. That was the easiest solution for BioWare, who has created quite the challenge for themselves with the premise of a full singleplayer storyline experience for each class within the game.

You see, before, I'd only really given thought to the difficulties of eight separate classes each having a couple possible plots. Now that presumption has changed, because in that developer diary on the Sith Inquisitor, writer Rebecca Harwick delivers a provocative revelation: you've got three choices.

Rebecca says it best here: "The Sith Inquisitor is about the individual at odds with the community, and whether to ultimately embrace that community, transform it, or act in defiance of it." Now, for me, that brings up a lot of questions. The biggest and most prominent of all these inquiries floating through my frontal lobe is how all the little in-between stories connect the beginning to the end. That leads into other questions about how it all starts and how it all ends.

We know how it starts -- if you don't, definitely read the developer blog by Rebecca. We also know the why behind the how, or in other words the Sith Inquisitor's motive. The big question arrives beyond the tutorial and starting area where "The Journey" takes over and Star Wars: The Old Republic is truly tested.

For me, an MMO isn't about any one feature. It's not about end-game or how in-depth the PvP experience goes. It's kind of like a car in that those pieces can -- and usually are -- immensely important, but ultimately it's about how enjoyable the ride feels. You can tell me a car's really pretty to look at but ultimately that doesn't make or break it for me. Story is more than looks, though. If I were to say what element of this metaphorical car story represents in MMOs, it'd have to be the ever-sought after fuel replacement.

In this genre, a game with actual worthwhile and meaningful story is going to kill. When I think on my myriad of past MMO experiences I always like to consider where the journey was at its best and where it began to fall apart. Generally, a journey begins strong and tapers off somewhere. It'll usually go one of two ways for me -- I muscle through the unsavory levels and get to the good stuff or I give up.

Sadly, when I think back to every MMO experience in my past I cannot think of a single game where I never felt like I was "Sticking in there!" at least once in a while. That just seems to be part and parcel of the whole deal, right? Well, maybe not.

Let's get back to the journey in SWTOR. If you like the Star Wars universe (and let's be honest, a lot of us love it) then you're probably going to be smitten with the game well past the tutorial and far into the end-game zones. That's only normal for the most hardcore of fans but countless other people require more, even if they consider themselves a fan. That's where the interactive story is really going to assist the game. Plus, it's all voiced, so hopefully people won't be tempted to skip everything. It's also got choice, so you'll at least want to know what's happening. Really, as long as there's plenty of quality story in SWTOR, the game could nullify the sense of grind and pull far more players through the entirety of its level than is typically seen in the industry. I really hope they share metrics on that, but I doubt it.

Whether or not story rises to define this game is for the future. Right now, lots of its pieces are looking pretty good. The depth of this game's story continues to surprise me, too. So long as BioWare doesn't just toss us some meaningful story between every few levels I sense great things in SWTOR's future. Great things indeed.

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