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1-Up: I've Got a Bad Feeling About This

Feature; Feb. 21, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Edward Kaczynski
Subtypes: Column

I am terrified of The Old Republic.

I haven’t played a Star Wars game that I’ve really loved since the original Dark Forces. For those not in the know, there was an original Dark Forces. Kyle Katarn wasn’t always a Jedi; you didn’t use force powers or lightsabers; and Jedi Knight II should have been called Dark Forces III.

1-Up

Yes, this still irks me a bit. No, I’m not crazy. Well, maybe a little...

Knights of the Old Republic was good. Not great. Certainly not earth-shattering. Most of what drove it was the game play, and that’s because they used the D20 system to move it forward. The story wasn’t bad, by any means, but compared to Bioware’s other titles, it felt rushed and a bit contrived. “Oh my god, you’re Darth Revan!” Yeah, woo, what a twist. The only way it would have been better is if you found out you’re Darth Revan’s kid. But let’s be honest – that’s a bit far-fetched, isn’t it?

Obsidian’s failure of a follow-up, Knights of the Old Republic II, managed to be so bad and so poorly conceived that it wrecked the franchise for me. It’s one thing to duplicate a story arc template, but when the twist to KOTOR 2 is the exact same twist as KOTOR, it’s time to fire your development team, writing team, and yourself for hiring them. This was, of course, before I realized that Obsidian knew nothing about game development or general human decency.

The point, of course, is that Star Wars as a game franchise is, at best, a hit or miss venture – with far more miss than hit.

Sony Online Entertainment hit with Star Wars Galaxies. Please understand, I’m talking about its initial release – pre-new game enhancements. The problem was (and usually is) the MMO player-base, who (upon the discovery that this game was, in fact, not Everquest) promptly cancelled their subscriptions after the first month and drove the game into relative obscurity in the MMO market.

I’m not going to be the hipster douchebag and harp on about how SWG was the greatest game you never played – mostly, in fact, because it wasn’t. Like most games, it had its problems. The fact, however, is that it had one of the richest and most interesting job systems conceived of in an MMO – specifically because your job was actually your job.

Allow me to explain.

If you were a dancer, you had to dance to get better at dancing. If you were a musician, you had to play music in order to get better at being a musician. If you were a bounty hunter, you had to train your weapon skills and hunt bounties in order to get better at bounty hunting. If you were a trader or a smuggler or a soldier, you had to trade or smuggle or fight to get better at it.

This seems like a really simple concept, but most MMOs ignore this, in favor of the “Kill monsters to gain loot and experience” route. This isn’t a bad route to take, mind you; it’s just boiler plate, and when you want to do something different, you have to consider the fact that this is the route World of Warcraft took, and WoW eats games. Which is what happened to SWG once WoW hit the market and took its stranglehold. The new game enhancements tried to steal some of the WoW market by simplifying SWG and, in turn, failing to do so and completely pissing off the entire fan base.

So, the announcement of The Old Republic and all the currently available information on it has me understandably apprehensive. Bioware has an extremely solid history of game design, but it doesn’t look like too much is changing from the WoW model. Sith and Republic are analogous to Horde and Alliance, and each side has classes that mirror the others (Jedi Knight to Sith Warrior, Smuggler to Imperial Agent, etc).

Bioware claims it's taking the current three-pillar MMO design (exploration, progression, and combat) and adding a fourth pillar which hasn’t really been handled before: story. That’s all well and good, and what little I’ve seen on how they’re handling the story aspect of the game seems impressive, but the fact is it still feels like “one step forward, two steps backward.” I haven’t seen anything which makes me think the core of the game play is much more than World of Warcraft with a Star Wars skin slapped over it. Nowhere have I seen a gameplay video or a breakdown from Bioware letting me know that smugglers will actually smuggle, that bounty hunters will actually hunt and collect bounties. 

You can put lipstick on a pig, but in the end, it’s still a pig.

Am I saying it’s going to be bad? That The Old Republic is going to be a cultural and financial disaster? Absolutely not. In fact, it might not just be good, it could transcend into the realm of great. It certainly has enough development time put into it that it should be a polished and pristine title. It could even give WoW a run for its money. In the long run of hit-and-miss Star Wars titles, The Old Republic is looking to land closer to the hit category. After all, Bioware certainly has enough credit that it can afford to be a bit risky, to do something new and exciting.

My only beef is that it's not.

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