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Hyperspace Beacon: Rule of one


I hate doing this. I really do. But sometimes one little phrase stands out way too much. One tiny thing a developer says can create an oh-@#$% moment. "Your ship's cargo hold is, indeed, your bank." That small phrase uttered by Lead Combat Designer Damion Schubert on the official Star Wars: The Old Republic forum was one of the phrases that made me do a bit of a double take. The concept of SWTOR changed for me. I began to question -- again -- whether this is truly a multiplayer game.

We know the developers at BioWare have stated that they hope to put the RP back into the MMORPG; however, are they taking out the MMO? We know now that your bank is on your ship. Although they can be utilized from just about anywhere, Crew Skills are centered around your ship. There will be PvP and Flashpoint queuing, which can be done from your ship. Your companions are on your ship. What isn't on your ship? Trainers? Leveling quests? Many developers have said you don't have to group for your leveling quests, implying that they can be completed solo from beginning to end.

It appears to me that perhaps there is something that I am missing. What part of the game is going to require -- or at very least, encourage -- me to actually play with other people? Force leap through the cut and let's discuss this further.

The best way to express my concern is to tackle the components of an MMO and discuss how our favorite yet-to-be-released game may fall short. Although I have these concerns for SWTOR, I do not in any way believe this game is going to fail, nor do I want to discourage anyone from trying or buying the game when it releases. What I have seen of the game is pretty incredible, which brings up another point. I have played the game (at PAX last year), yet these things still give me pause. And the final precursory note I'd like to make is that game is not finished, nor has BioWare told us everything that will be in the game. The game may yet, and probably will, surprise me.

The primary feature that makes a game an MMORPG is obviously multiple players playing the game at the same time. I do not think The Old Republic falls short in that regard. There are definitely going to be many players accessing the same servers at the same time, building their little Jedi and Sith avatars, running around, swinging their glowbats, trying to be the next Obi-Wan Kenobi or Darth Vader. But how often will these people actually interact with each other?

We know there is going to be a tightly controlled and incredible storyline for your character that -- in a general sense -- will be the same story played through by everyone else of your class. Sure, you may be a bit more Dark Side than your Jedi brothers and sisters, but just as every Commander Shepard attacked the Collector's home base at the end of Mass Effect 2, so will every Jedi Consular share the same story arc. On top of that, there is no reason for Little Miss Forcy Pants to ever interact directly with another player. The complete class storyline can be done solo. So with all these other space wizards sages roaming the galaxy, what is your motivation to go on some blue milk run with them?

And what about Flashpoints? We know those are clearly multiplayer. You're right, you caught me there; those are definitely multiplayer. I guess my argument is done. There are PvP battlegrounds arenas Warzones, too. Yup, caught me there, too. But how many of those groups will require actual interaction? Let me bring up one of the recent examples from DC Universe Online (another great game -- if you haven't tried it, you should). The Alerts (instances, flashpoints) and PvP Arenas in that game are processed via a queuing system, much like SWTOR's Warzones will be. Of course, there may be subtle differences, but the principle is the same. It only takes one trip to an Arena or Alert in DCUO to realize how little actual interaction happens during one of these instances. I have video of my character doing one of these alerts while never saying a single word to two of the four players in the Area 51 Alert. Where is the multiplayer aspect if the need to communicate has been cut out? If this only existed in DCUO, it would not be cause for concern, but game after game seems to be eliminating the need to actively communicate in the name of catering to the solo-player.

The second major part of the "MMO" is the persistent world. There have been certain games that have classified themselves as MMOs yet truly aren't because there is no real persistent world. I'm looking at you, Vindictus, All Points Bulletin, and Global Agenda (pre-Sandstorm). I hate to tell everyone, but a lobby where you queue to different PvE or PvP instances does not make the game an MMO, even if you have crafting and trade, otherwise Diablo would be an MMO.

Are you starting to see why the your-ship's-cargo-hold-is-your-bank statement is beginning to concern me? If you have no reason to leave your ship, the game, which had a persistent world while you were leveling, becomes a lobby with instances for the endgame. Crew Skills make the need for gathering raw materials off-ship pointless. A queuing system for Warzones and Flashpoints can be accessed from the pilot's chair. Crafting has already been confirmed to be something that your companions -- who are on your ship -- undertake. The bank is on your ship, now, too. What isn't there? I just hope there are some really attractive Twi'lek dancers in the cantina to help draw people out of their virtual caves. What do you think? Is my argument compelling enough? Or is there something I'm missing?

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 Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!

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