Star Wars: The Old Republic — GameFront Impressions (Part I)
Bioware’s storytelling is often the subject of discussion. Whether you like it or not, I can tell you that in The Old Republic, Bioware has made me do something I never do: speculate on the ongoing story of a MMO. I find myself strangely engaged in story so far, and I am enjoying that aspect of the game immensely.
Story quests that require you to access specific portions of the world take place in ‘Story Areas,’ instanced zones that restrict any other members of your class from entering with you. However, other classes in your group are free to enter and assist you with the quest. This is a really neat feature that allows you to get some help on your class quests without competing for drops or pickups, and it promotes groups to stay together and help each other. The fact that entering these areas entails no load times is just a really nice bonus.
There are a bunch of side quests to complete as well. Yes, some of them are the ‘kill 10 of X’ variety, but many of those are bonus quests that you get automatically when you kill the first one. Once you kill the number the quests asks for, you get the XP without having to make a trip to turn the quest in. It’s a smooth, elegant system that allows Bioware to include these quests without players feeling like that’s all they are doing.
I’ll confess; at best, I skim through the blocks of expository text that pass as a story in most MMOs. Generally, I skip them altogether. But The Old Republic is the first MMO in which I haven’t even been tempted to ignore the story. Through the use of fully-voiced conversations, TOR makes plot an integral part of its experience, rather than a separate layer that can be ignored.
Quests have context, and while not every quest is ultimately important to your personal story arc, side-quests are interwoven with main quests such that they do not feel like chores to complete, but like added layers of depth that flesh out the gameworld.
TOR’s storytelling passes one crucial test: when I’m questing, I know what I’m doing, and why. This is hardly the case in other MMO’s, and even singleplayer RPG’s don’t always manage to provide this information.
What’s more, the quests generally center around believable human dilemmas. BioWare’s take on Star Wars has always centered around everyday folks caught in the gears of a sci-fi dystopia, and the subject matter in TOR manages to be consistently mature — in its real sense, not in the sense of having lots of tits and blood. By giving players a good sense of what’s a stake, and who the characters are, the developers make it easy for them to actually care about the dialogue choices they’re making.
The voice acting, as well, lives up to the company’s usual standard — the bounty hunter alone has provided plenty of satisfying threats and greedy double crosses. The fact that there are fully 16 voice acting performances of that scale and quality is certainly impressive. One wonders which one will take on the legendary status afforded to Jennifer Hale (that’s FemShep to you, peon).