Star Wars: The Old Republic Preview
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Dec 20, 11
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Roundtable With BioWare Co-Founder Dr. Greg Zeschuk
Many gamers have been eagerly anticipating BioWare's MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic and now it has finally arrived. While it is too early for us to provide a review, we were able to spend some time last Friday on a conference call with BioWare co-founder Dr. Greg Zeschuk as he fielded questions about The Old Republic (TOR).
At the start of the call, the first question was how much influence did Blizzard's World of Warcraft have on the development process of TOR. Dr. Zeschuk said that, naturally, they paid attention to the way WoW had taken so many game conventions that had previously been present in MMO's and tied them into one cohesive package. However, at the same time, BioWare had a very strong vision for what they wanted to do with TOR and wanted to keep the gameplay accessible, while still changing things up.
Droid vs droid.
The following topic was about romance options with companions in the game. As with other BioWare games, you will have companions that will join you along your journey and it is possible to strike up a romantic relationship with them. Currently, this will be limited to one character at a time but perhaps in the future this will change. Also, there are a couple of romantic options per class and as of yet, there are no same sex relationships, but they may be patched later (sorry Vader!). What's more, you can increase your companion's affection for you by giving them gifts and based on how you reply in conversation with NPCs.
The next few questions dealt with gameplay and what sort of player BioWare was trying to target with TOR. The answer was that the group has tried to create a game that will appeal to all styles of gamers, not just the hard core MMO player. Star Wars: The Old Republic is being called a story driven MMO. With all quests being present in fully spoken, cut-scene style format it is quite easy for a player who enjoyed the past BioWare RPGs to feel at home in a massively multiplayer world. On the flip side, the veteran MMO players will not be left wanting. If you love grouping to tackle tougher quests (called Heroics for two to four players) and 'dungeons', (instances called 'Flashpoints' for smaller groups and Operations for raid style content) should scratch that itch.
The flashpoints are replayable at higher levels offering more challenges and better loot. More operations and flashpoints are promised as the game evolves and expands. While grouping with other real-life players may be a new concept for some, it is possible to play through the 'critical story path' of your character class without ever grouping, but to do so would be cheating yourself out of the fun of experiencing group dynamics when everything 'clicks' (Right, and who would want to cheat themselves? - Vader). You CAN solo if you like, but the flexibility they have tried to build into the game means you don't have to.
With 8 main character classes, each with a unique story to experience TOR is a really big game, although BioWare games have been about being 'big', they try to focus on quality. To that end the writers and developers have poured lots of time and effort into the story and played the game to death to make sure it was right. The fact that the group chose to come back to the Star Wars universe after all their experience with Sword and Sorcery games should speak volumes. BioWare views Star Wars: The Old Republic as the evolution of the Knights of the Old Republic series - Knights of the Old Republic 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, if you will. The team simply adores Star Wars, they thought there was no better universe to set their MMOG in and reconnect with a product they all love.
Still, there was another Star Wars MMOG with a storied past. When asked about Sony's now closed Star Wars Galaxies and if it's checkered past had any effect on the development of TOR, Dr. Zeschuk explained that they did not take it as a direct reference. Instead, one of the main goals with TOR was driving the primary heroic or villainous story element. The Star Wars universe is enormous, hence the focus is on your story, as opposed to other games where you are one of thousands of the same class type with a different outfit. You own and advance your own story in this vast world.
What a nice family photo.
I'm ready! Where the hell are the bad guys?
This response resonated with me as from my time playing the Beta and the few days in the released game so far I have felt TOR is the first of its kind: a hybrid of an MMO and a single player game. It will be interesting to see how well this works as we progress through to the end game content (a serious feature all good MMOs must have in order to keep players logging in and paying those monthly subscription fees).
Wrapping up the call, the final question was asked was there were any plans for a console version in the future for Star Wars: The Old Republic. With a laugh Dr. Zeschuk answered with the old adage 'Never say Never' but also emphasized that they are focused on getting the current PC version done right and giving great customer service to the players. They want to ensure they make an experience people love and want to play for a really long time. There are all kinds of great possibilities, albeit their current goal is to make this game great. The other stuff can wait.
Thanks were exchanged all around and we all went our separate ways. I was very grateful that Dr. Zeschuk took the time to field questions directly from us and that he was so open with his answers. This sort of conversation with a primary player on a title is usually not even an option, so this call was a real treat. It's clear that BioWare is trying to do something new in the MMO market. If they are able to accomplish their goals of giving players an engaging single-player experience merged with the traditional MMO features remains to be seen. So far it's been an interesting experience but I need to spend a bit more time with Star Wars: The Old Republic before I can say for sure. Our review should be available before too long...
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