If there’s one thing that I’ve been seeing crop up time and again in discussions about Star Wars: The Old Republic, it’s that people don’t get what all the fuss is about. “It’s just got voice acting in it, what’s the big deal?” And it’s kind of BioWare’s fault, because for some reason most of their recent presentations have essentially just been hammering home that the game will have voice acting and all of the usual MMO staples. You would hope that they’d have something in there about the solo endgame that may or may not exist, but that’s a different discussion.
So let’s just establish this for a point of future reference – the voice acting, while neat, is not why people are excited. The battle mechanics, while polished and responsive, are not why people are excited. It’s the possibility of choice that gets us interested.
I’m not sure why the focus of late has been on all the mechanics of the game and the stuff that keeps it running under the hood, because it seems like Toyota selling the Prius on the fact that it has a motor that generates power to turn wheels. Yes, a lot of the mechanical features hadn’t been discussed prior to E3 and other assorted events, but to call back to the earlier analogy, we just sort of assume for the most part that you’ll sell us a car that works something like a car. There’s no need to reiterate that it will, in fact, be a car. But the whole promise of choice in a game, that’s something interesting.
See, the whole sandbox pseudo-archetype has always gotten away with player choice through a complete absence of any force driving the player. SWTOR promises to take the freedom to do what you want and place it squarely in the middle of the narrative, something that’s typical for most of the company’s entries. You get a quest to kill ten rats, but you might find out that there’s another predator in the area far more dangerous than the rats and have to kill those instead. Or you might kill the rats and let someone else take the credit out of the decency of your heart. Maybe you decline to kill the rats altogether, maybe the rats turn out to be far worse than you were told, maybe it turns out that the person who gave you the quest expected the rats to kill you instead. The goal, as stated repeatedly by the designers, is that two characters of the same race, faction, and class can go through the same areas and do the same quests and yet still have totally different experiences.
That is different. That’s something totally to one side of the whole experience of MMOs as they exist now. It’s the sort of thing that’s long been the domain of dedicated roleplayers, and it’s being brought into the core assumptions of the game. And for some reason all of the previews of the game have lately glossed over that fact in favor of elements that we all knew would be present just by the very nature of the game’s structure.
Will it work? It remains to be seen. But to claim that it’s just adding voice acting is like claiming that all RIFT added to the genre are a multiclassing system. Yes, it’s there, but it’s skipping over far more interesting elements.