By MajorMitch 1 Comments
The first MMORPG I ever played was Final Fantasy XI. I hated it. It took too long to do anything meaningful, everything felt repetitive and grindy, and combat was unsatisfying. In short, too slow, too repetitive and too boring. A year later, World of Warcraft was released to highly positive critical acclaim. It was to be the MMO that changed everything, that fixed all the tedious issues that plagued previous MMOs like Final Fantasy XI. I jumped on board, thinking this would be my chance to appreciate a large, persistent world inhabited by millions of players. I certainly lasted longer in Azeroth than I did in Vana’diel, but the end result was the same; too slow, too repetitive and too boring. A year after that, Guild Wars was released under the guise of being the “MMO for people who don’t like MMOs”. Despite being a somewhat lame marketing phrase, I felt like I understood their intention, and gave the game a shot. Care to guess the result? After three failed attempts I came to the conclusion that MMOs just might not be for me, and decided to hang up my MMO hat; presumably for good.
I give the short history lesson to give some perspective, but this article isn’t about Final Fantasy XI, World of Warcraft or Guild Wars. It’s about Star Wars: The Old Republic. Against my better judgement, I have played a MMO for the first time since 2005. Why the change of heart? First, I like BioWare, and Knights of the Old Republic was a hell of a game. Secondly, TOR was touted as a story driven MMO, and one that you could solo up to the level cap (something important to me). Finally, enough time had passed that I was willing to test the waters once more to see if things were different. I heard that in the six years since I last touched a MMO, the genre had sped up considerably, and that TOR would follow this trend. All the pieces seemed in place to test my mantra of “If I don’t like WoW then I won’t like any MMO”, and perhaps replace it with “If I’m going to like any MMO, it will be TOR”.
The initial prognosis was surprisingly positive; right out of the gate I was impressed by a number of things about TOR. For starters, I really liked the visual style. It was kind of like WoW in space, and I happen to like both WoW’s visual style, and space. I also really liked the audio. Both the musical score and the surprisingly omnipresent voice acting were top notch. In fact, I was pretty blown away by TOR’s overall production. When EA throws around figures about how much they spent on this game, I believe them; it looks and sounds much better than I thought a MMO could. Furthermore, the initial hours of gameplay set up a solid pacing, one that felt much crisper and more streamlined than my previous MMO outings (remember, that was a while ago, I’m sure even WoW has changed drastically since then). Quests rolled nicely from one to the next, interesting abilities were acquired at a reasonably snappy pace, and fun story segments were sprinkled in between just frequently enough to feel like things were always moving forward. In fact, to my surprise, it was the story stuff that I found most satisfying. BioWare’s patented writing and dialogue were on full display, and it was all of the same quality you would expect from their single player adventures.
One episode in particular stands out that describes the kinds of interactions TOR’s story allows for that I previously thought impossible in a MMO. Two friends and I were running a flashpoint (the game’s instanced dungeons), and towards the end we found the man we were looking for. Our superior wanted him alive for questioning, but it also gave us the option to kill him. I, wanting all the dark side points I could gather, wanted to kill him, while my friends both wanted to take him alive. I won the roll, killing the poor guy in cold blood. When we returned for our reward, our boss said it was “a pity” that we couldn’t have returned with our target alive. One of my friends agreed out loud: “Yeah, it is a pity” (I could feel his eyes glaring at me through the internet). We all got a good laugh out of it, and those kinds of interactions are something you can only get by interacting with players in a large world. It’s a nice alternative, and something I think could be really good for MMOs going forward.
My problem, though, is that those moments were few and far between. Everything that I just described as liking about TOR remained true for the entire time that I played it, but the game’s inherent MMO structure only diluted those ideas as I continued to play. Quests got longer, and new abilities and story segments became sparser; basically, as the game went on I started giving more to it and getting less back. It was on track to become that endless MMO grind, which is not how I like to play games. I thrive off of seeing new ideas, acquiring as many different experiences as I can, and most importantly, obtaining a sense of closure. That idea of closure in particular is really important to me, and MMOs don’t provide any whatsoever. More than being too slow, too repetitive and too boring, I think a lack of closure is the primary reason why the genre has failed to grab me. Without it, I feel like I’m wandering aimlessly as much as anything, going down a deep rabbit hole where I end up losing a lot of time and money for reasons I can’t explain. That gets hard to stomach after a while.
Plenty of people love MMOs, and more power to them. I’ve learned (again) that I'm not one of those people. I do think that Star Wars: The Old Republic is a very well made MMORPG though; it does a lot of interesting things that I haven’t seen in MMOs before while also nailing most of the basics. I enjoyed a good amount of the time I spent with it, and I imagine (but don't really know) that people who like MMOs would like it even more, and for longer. As for me, my aversion to the genre's underlying structure wins out in the end, and I’m going back into MMO hibernation once more as a result. Who knows if I’ll come out again.