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Hyperspace Beacon: Forced species


The Hyperspace Beacon is a weekly guide and discussion by Larry Everett about the yet-to-be-released game Star Wars: The Old Republic.

This week I was excited about the new species introduced to Star Wars: The Old Republic, and the lore-lover in me is still extremely elated despite what some of the commenters said on the announcement article. However, I've had time to think about a few things, and the seed of internal conflict sowed itself in my fanboy psyche. It did not break me, but I do question some of the decisions BioWare has made regarding species-to-class choices.

I do not like to draw attention to negative posts because I believe arguments can be made without berating other people and defiling the English language. But one of the posts in the recent space-combat-on-rails article reflected some of the fans' sentiment towards the game when the poster said this about BioWare's developers: "They have their formula and every new game is just fresh paint." Although I don't think it is exactly that simple, there is a bit of truth in that statement. But that does not, by any means, destine this game for failure (right, Final Fantasy?). BioWare does have a formula, but when it sticks to this formula, it usually produces something very successful.

BioWare's mantra is "story." The company has chanted this from the first day SWTOR was announced, yet for me something still seems a bit amiss. Upon examining past BioWare games, I am not quite sure the reasons for tying species to a specific class actually make sense -- at least not for the reasons the company offers. Perhaps when you follow me through the rest of this article you can help me resolve this inner conflict.

What does it mean?
Although I love the idea that NPCs will react to you differently depending on your species/backstory as they did in other BioWare games, I am torn. On the one hand, it is completely immersing and just wicked-cool when you hear an announcement about you over the PA that is directly related to the background you chose. But what is not cool is when someone else has the exact same backstory as you. I'm sorry, but I want to be a unique snowflake. At the same time, I understand there is no way for BioWare writers to allow for all the snowflakes without being extremely generic. And you will miss out on all that great flavor in the game.

As I examine this more deeply, it doesn't exactly make forming an opinion any easier. In fact, it makes it harder. I would examine Knights of the Old Republic, but everyone's background is pretty much the same, and KOTOR II was not made by BioWare. So, that leaves us with examining a game like Mass Effect. Each backstory allows for one unique quest for the player, a minor bonus to Renegade and/or Paragon stats, and different reactions from the environment in the form of NPC dialogue or the like. However, the overall gameplay does not change. In fact, as far as the story of the game is concerned, the player's background does not affect the outcome of Mass Effect at all.

The roleplayer side of me screams, "Options! Options! I want more options!" But at the same time, I have seen the stupidest combinations when given more options. Need I remind you of the pink, cybernetic, Nightsister Wookiee? I don't want that, but I would like to make my inquisitor a Chiss, and not have to settle on Human or Zabrak. I also know that limiting species or races to specific classes is not a new thing in MMOs. No matter how much I wanted it to be so, my Dwarf from Lord of the Rings Online could not be a burglar. Hell, he couldn't even be female. I don't believe that game was a total failure because of that.

Non-conclusion conclusion
Before I non-conclude here, let me recognize that there is stirring discontent regarding BioWare's choices in player species. Why can't we be anything but a reskinned human? I find this complaint a bit humorous. It's not that I don't want to play anything but the Human-ish species, but rather that there is rarely a complaint when an Elf is just a Human with pointy ears, or a Drow is a blue Elf, or a halfling is just a short Human with bare feet. Yet, when a Mirialan is a green Human with tattoos and a Miraluka is a Human without eyes, everyone is up in arms. It's not because the Star Wars universe has more species or races than a fantasy genre. EverQuest and Dungeons and Dragons Online are crammed full of species who aren't anything like humans. So I am not exactly sure where this complain stems from. Is it because Star Wars Galaxies allowed you to be Ithorian?

The most interesting thing about this whole article is that I still do not have a reasonable conclusion to my problem. To be quite frank, I do not think I will ever come to one, even after the game is released, but the exercise has been therapeutic. Perhaps you have some real conclusions you can draw from this; maybe you can help me. Where do you come down on the issue?

[Editor's Note: Some information in this post was NDA-breaking and was consequently removed. It's Massively's policy to not break the NDA on any game's beta. Once we confirmed that it was leaked, unofficial information that broke NDA, it was removed. ]

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