The Punditry Dark Side

Lewis B has some great impressions of the upcoming Stars Wars MMO over at Tap Repeatedly. I wouldn’t call them bad impressions per se; I would call them disappointed impressions. He gives praise where praise is due, mostly the script and voice acting. The art style is enjoyable, and then there’s everything else. For the sake of this post let’s just say it’s basically the gameplay millions have experienced in World of Warcraft, Rift, Lord of the Rings Online et al.

While I particularly trust Lewis B impressions, as subjective as many may be, this is approximately the feedback I have seen on this upcoming game for awhile. There are neat shiny bits apart from BioWare’s trademarked storytelling like the cover system or the use of personal mooks to do all the player’s crafting for sure. Yet it’s still a vanilla ice cream regardless of the sprinkles.

Unlike Rift, which in my opinion clearly tried to push the MMO genre with it’s dynamic events, the hundred-million dollar costing Bioware MMO doesn’t seem to push anything. With all the problems involved in stand-and-deliver combat, the holy trinity, kill stealing, boring quest design, etc. of vanilla MMOs, tacking on a shared single-player branching story feels flat. At least Rift tried to get people playing together in unique ways.

I wish no ill will to BioWare or it’s future MMO players at all. It’s just tiring to me, a simple pundit, that this was a huge, monumental chance to change something, anything, in the MMO genre, and it is nearly as formulaic as milk, cream, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla becoming flavored ice crystals. Vanilla ice cream is, after all, the most eaten ice cream flavor.

I find myself not even wanting to prognosticate on it’s success or failure. One half of me thinks it’s going to sell like freakin’ hot cakes, possibly make back it’s money, and then fall flat. BioWare won’t be able to sustain a fraction of the same support after 3-6 months. The other half of me thinks it’s going to do fine all around. I’ve heard through the industry grapevine that if it doesn’t do well the fallout is going to the genre shaking.

Any reader here knows my zealotry for Guild Wars 2, which is an MMO that appears to have listened to the mass of MMO blogs and pundits and said to themselves “we can do better.” I just wish BioWare had taken that challenge on any level. I don’t see how they do, and it is tiring to want to think or talk about their game more than anything else.

EA/BioWare makes me feel wrong. Wrong in analysis. Wrong in vision. Wrong and tired. I mean my first assumption is idiots don’t make $100+ million dollar decisions, and I’m just a simple pundit. It’s hard evidence to fight against when I want to say “bad choices were made.” I haven’t made an MMO or a hundred million dollar decision.

This is also possibly why even though Guild Wars 2 is much riskier because it seriously pushes the MMO genre, many pundits are excited about it. ArenaNet makes us feel right. All those issues we’ve screamed about for years are being dealt with. It’s like they are listening to us on some level. It validates.

I think that this will all be non sequitur once people get the game. The energy will return because we like to share experiences. I am looking forward to low tide to being over.

–Ravious

72 thoughts on “The Punditry Dark Side”

  1. I was really excited to play SWTOR. I’ve been sick of Wow for several years and have been waiting for something new. I finally got some time in SWTOR and was really let down. More of the same. For the first time in a long time, I will not be buying and playing the next big MMO to come out. I wish it well and I hope that the people that do like it have a really great time playing it.

  2. Great article Ravious and thank you for the shout out. What I would be curious of is how much money GW2 has cost. I asked Colin this recently and he diplomatically just stated they were well looked after. Personally, I suspect around $50 million. The size of ArenaNet, the cost of iteration and it’s development time must surely amount to that?

    I’m a big fan of GW2 and truely believe it will have as profound impact on the industry as World of Warcraft did when it launched.

  3. The simplicity of this all rests on the fact that Bioware believed they could make a game, like WoW, and put it in Star Wars world…and it would sell.

    They would be right. On initial box sales…

    Longevity is where the game looks like it could falter

    Of course, this is after everyone runs the 200+ hour campaigns…or 30 hour campaign, as most new MMO players will make it..(“I cant click through this fast enough” A.D.D)

    Time will tell what we as an MMO audience really want though.

    1. Imagine KOTOR, minus the pause button, plus multiplayer and that’s SWTOR.

      That fourth pillar (story) is amazing but the other three are rehashes of years-old poor designs that even Blizzard is trying to get away from. The kicker is that Story is the most easily consumed and un-replenishable pillars of the 4 and after a while, even if you dress up the guy talking, it’s still kill 10 boars.

      Ignoring what SWG did with user generated content is such a massive misstep. All the social tools that have existed to bring people together are missing here and it’s so sad to see.

      Initial sales = great
      Longevity = when you’re done with the new (story), you leave. 2 months tops

      1. Good point with that pillar being the most un-replenishable, especially with voice acting and branching consequences.

        Going to be interesting to see how many/if there are artificial gaming barriers (kill 10 rats, reach level 50) are in place to slow down fourth pillar consumption.

  4. I’ll preface this by saying I have SWTOR preordered.

    I can’t agree with you that it will fall flat, because given the IP it is bound to have a steady audience. I think it will level out around the area LOTRO and City of Heroes are now.

    I think some people at Bioware believe they are expanding the genre by focusing on story. We can’t disagree that storytelling in MMO’s has been of consistently high-quality, and I trust Bioware to at least deliver on that. But story isn’t really what the industry needs, especially if it is tacked on to another game where it’s description can be prefaced with “It’s like WoW, but…”. Sure, I find myself drawn to theme park MMO’s lately, but I truely believe we need more EVE’s and Glitch’s in the industry. FPS players can pick from a wide variety of styles in how they wanna shoot dudes, why can’t we?

    That being said, I plan to ride SWTOR out. It’s an IP I like, and I’ve never actually played a game at launch before. I’m not looking for innovation in this purchase.

    1. Level out, sure. After a very quick downward angle… my main point in that one “future” was that the dev team would cut way down. Obviously, your “future” too is SWTOR doing “fine.” ;)

  5. I said it over at Tap, but ill repeat it here: its a real shame, the SW universe is so rich and virbrant but, story aside, this game just sounds so dull.

  6. *nods head*

    Exactly my thoughts…and I am a big Star Wars fan. WoW in a Star Wars setting might have sounded like a good idea 4 or 5 years ago. Now we expect much, much more. Considering the timeline for creating a MMO, they started at the right time, they just didn’t adapt to changing requirements.

    I have high hopes for TOR, unfortunately I expect to be disappointed….darn it!

  7. I think it’s somewhat unrealistic to expect Bioware to push the envelope on their first MMO. If I’m remembering my history correctly, they were working on this long before being given Mythic and possibly before being bought by EA. Arena.net can push the boundaries with GW2 because it’s not their first attempt.

    Let’s not forget that Lucasarts has some influence on this as well, and I’m sure they didn’t want to attach a license to another Star Wars Galaxies.

    Bottom line: I’m hoping for polished, but radically new was never in the cards.

    1. While that’s all a nice thought ArenaNet did push the boundaries of gaming quite a bit in their first game. When GW1 came out there was nothing like that in the industry (like their skill/profession system). And ArenaNet did great with their first attempt. Granted they were able to expand that vision for the second game but they still pushed boundaries with the first.

      Plus, while TOR is Bioware’s first MMO it is hardly their first ever game. Also, the a lot of the people they hired to make the game have worked on MMOs before.

      1. What’s interesting is that while GW broke a lot of new ground, nobody really followed, even GW2. In some respects GW2’s design is significantly more conservative than GW’s. Of course a lot of that is probably driven by the change in business model.

        1. True, the design of a MMO is most defnitely guided by its business model, but what change are you refering to here?

          1. Returning to old-fashioned level grind because you won’t sell a lot of XP boost potions in the cash shop if people hit the level cap just after finishing the tutorial zone (and going along with that abandoning GW’s other great innovation of making loot pretty much irrelevant mechanically, since that’s a lot harder to pull off over 80 levels worth of loot, naturally).

            1. I will be amazed and astounded if ArenaNet includes XP boosts in its cash shop. Mainly because I don’t see any level grind that would make it worthwhile. What would you grind levels for? To gain access to more content? Go do the content now; the game automatically kicks you up or down to the appropriate level. To unlock new abilities? Your abilities unlock automatically as you play, regardless of level. (At least your weapon skills do. Word is still out on other skills.) Levels matter, but not nearly as much as they do in other MMOs. They’re loose guidelines for veterans and training wheels for newbies who just immigrated from WoW.

              Also, whatever your feelings about grinding for gear, irrelevant loot doesn’t lend itself to exciting level design. Just imagine: We’ll put a road here, with bandit mobs that drop trash. And over here is a hidden cave with a chest inside, where players can find trash. And if a player peeks around this hill, they’ll find a ledge that leads to a hidden glen. And if they look under the waterfall in that glen, they’ll find a tunnel to a secret cave haunted by a tormented ogre spirit! And if they lay that ogre spirit in that secret cave to rest, players are rewarded with slightly more expensive trash!

              If something is irrelevant mechanically, isn’t it better to just remove the mechanics and make it purely cosmetic? ArenaNet didn’t intend for loot to be irrelevant — it was a side effect of the attribute system, specifically the fact that attributes were class-specific. My Mesmer equips a Rod of Ugly because it gives him +1 Domination, and I am sad. I am sad because +1 Domination does not actually matter enough to excite me, but it’s still statistically better than the irrelevant +1 Water Magic my Wand of Gorgeous gives me, so I feel bad if I don’t equip the Rod. If +1 Domination mattered more I could equip the Rod and feel more powerful. If item stats were gone completely I’d still get pwned , but at least I wouldn’t feel bad grabbing the Wand and I could look good getting pwned. It’s like tea: hot tea is good, iced tea is good, room-temperature tea makes you wish you had water instead.

              Players like rewards, and players such as yours truly like rewards that actually affect gameplay. For me, playing a game means making choices, and well designed loot creates relevant choices. Do I equip the sword that slows my enemies’ retreat or the sword that steals their life to heal me? Do I want the Troll’s Armor first so I can withstand the banshee’s wail, or do I need the Banshee’s Wand so I can kite the troll?

              Don’t get me wrong: I still want good game play, not raiding for better loot to raid for better loot. I still want to enjoy sliding down each and every rainbow… but I’ll enjoy it more when I find a pot of gold at the end.

            2. Conversely, I would be very happy with a MMO whose loot changes absolutely nothing except appearance.

              I guess I’m kind of nuts this way, but I would prefer it if success in the game was determined by my skill as a player… not how long I’ve worked the gear grind.

              I know, I know… completely unrealistic of me to expect a MMO game to challenge me as a player instead of simply test my math and spreadsheet skills… but hey, I’m a dreamer.

              Obviously, I feel even more strongly about this when it comes to PVP. If the outcome of a PVP fight can be determined using a comparison fomula calculation of the combatant’s equipment… then it’s not actually a fight.

              Player skill should always be more important than Character equipment.

            3. furthermore, even with max lvl being 80, it is super easy to reach, the level curve barely changes, there wouldn’t be much need to buy xp potions, although highly unlikely.

      2. Msenge’s comment raises a good point about experience: given Bioware’s success with Mass Effect, I can’t understand why they didn’t use that experience to build SWTOR a more engaging combat system.

        For me, at least, that’s the real issue. All the other stuff I’m at least flexible on (though the linear quest treadmill model would probably stop me from ever finishing the story), but SWTOR’s creaky old combat system is the deal killer. It just has no place in a game where so much emphasis is placed on blaster combat and hyperkinetic Jedi/Sith lasersword dancing.

        But then again, I just don’t know how many players care about engaging combat. I mean, for all I know the percentage of MMO players who want challenging action-oriented combat is similar to the percentage of FPS players who want hardcore mechanics as found in Quake 3 or Red Orchestra. That is, perhaps we’re a vanishing minority?

        Let’s just say I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it turned out that 95% of MMO players prefer to just stand and press 1-2-3-1-2-3-5 until things die – just as long as the numbers that pop up are big, and they occasionally ding a level or get a shiny new item.

  8. An interesting read – I found myself nodding and going “mmhmm” and…generally being quite pleased with the direction of the game, happy Bioware hadn’t made the combat Street Fighter With Lightsabers, and generally glad I pre-ordered (compared to GW2, which I’ll look at again six months after release to see if the game has enough merit otherwise to make it worth putting up with the combat system).

    Tastes, as they say, vary.

  9. “I’ve heard through the industry grapevine that if it doesn’t do well the fallout is going to be genre shaking.”

    Hopefully.

    I’ll not shed a tear when the AAA WoW/LotRO/Rift/SW genre dies. What real benefit has come from all of that?

    1. Heh, my thought exactly. I have no ill will towards SWTOR, but if it means the death of the blockbuster MMORPG philosophy, then I will sacrifice as many chickens as necessary to curse this thing to hell and back.

      1. Roosters… you need roosters.
        (I’m just saying… if you’re gonna do a thing, do it right.)

        1. Point taken! No wonder my shoddy ritual sacrifices have failed to show much effect, of late…

  10. There is one major difference between SWTOR combat and WoW combat. SWTOR has no auto attack. While that may not sound like much, it means that you have to participate in the combat. In playing the WoW low level trial, I got bored because I spent so much time letting auto-attack kill things while I waited for skill cooldowns. I felt like I was watching and not playing. SWTOR combat is a bit more immersive, even with the lack of mobility.

    WoW is still by far the biggest thing out there. If SWTOR makes some decent endgame raids and delivers a good endgame content update a few months in, I think they can grab a substantial chunk of the WoW subscribers (1+ million would not surprise me) and do quite well for themselves. The endgame raids are what is going to determine if SWTOR becomes a second string MMO like LotRO or a serious top tier MMO competitor.

    1. Does it have an auto-attack ala GW2, which is just skill 1 always in the skill queue, or does it really have no auto-attack?

      I definitely foresee a success level at least to what Rift has done… but given the dev price tags between the two, is that enough for SWTOR?

      1. Last I heard, no auto-attack at all; closest it comes is a skill on a fast enough refresh it’s always available for use, but still has to be triggered manually every time.

        1. The thing is, I don’t think Autoattack means that much. Yeah, in WoW you could theoretically right click /AFK, but I don’t think that’s how people play. WoW feels so good precisely because the A/V feedback to button presses is amazing – and I think that’s what the masses like, the feeling that they’re being active (successfully! With minimal chance for failure) and being rewarded with positive feedback (be that SFX, XP, gold, or loot). Most people don’t care if they’re actually good or understand their class, because the game does a great job of telling them how great they’re doing regardless.

          Now, if I’m right in this, whether the autoattack is there or not in SWTOR doesn’t really matter. I.e. in WoW I right click and then hit 1-2-3, mob dies. In SWTOR I can skip the right click, but instead I hit 1-2-1-3-1, mob dies. Even in GW2, in many scenarios you can seemingly get away with hitting 1-2-3-1-1-1-5 and have success – you’re just rewarded more for moving past that level via cross-profession combos and some less forgiving mechanics (such as skills firing off even if you’re out of range).

          Where GW2 really improves things is in the danger enemies present. Izzy was talking about this in a recent interview, and pointed out that because of the downed state, dodging, self healing, and the respawn system, they’re free to make encounters much more lethal – increasing the tension and stakes in combat. Where in WoW mobs can’t really have one-shot attacks (outside certain raids) because it would simply be frustrating, in GW2 you can let enemies wipe players out instantly – this power is balanced by escape and recovery tools on the player’s end.

          *

          Sorry I’m sort of getting off topic. My short point is just that whether autoattack is there or not isn’t going to change the feel of SWTOR’s combat all that much, because essentially you’re still just standing in one place and pressing hotkeys in a low threat/math-based scenario. It certainly won’t impact combat as much as the cover system, for example.

          1. Allods Online lacked an autoattack, and it felt surprisingly different. Maybe not *bad* exactly, but different. It certainly got more repetitive sooner.

        2. Every class has a pet though and I am pretty sure they do more damage than auto attack does in any game.

    2. I think we’ve seen enough stats to show that endgame raids are not what keeps games afloat. Blizzard has stated multiple times that only 5% of their pop consumes it, even at the easiest difficulty. They continue to do it because it’s a) easy and b) 5% of 11 million is a lot.

      Community keeps games afloat. That being said, content post-leveling curve is what keeps people around.

      TOR has: crafting, exploration, story (finite until some UGC), companions, dungeons, raids, pvp and space combat.

      Each of those needs to be polished and content rich in order for the game to succeed.

    3. 1 million subscribers would have to subscribe for about a year and a half each before a $300M game starts turning a profit. Recent western MMOs haven’t really done that kind of business. They need REALLY big numbers.

  11. There’s no way EA would sink a hundred million into an MMO and allow the developers to take any risks at all with design, (See: every big budget EA shooter ever made) so bog-standard MMO mechanics with Bioware story and voice acting is pretty much what I expected.

    1. But I think you are putting the cart before the horse. The MMO, especially BioWare’s first, did not have to cost 100+ million. Design came first.

      1. I’m not so sure. I don’t have any inside details, but EA had undoubtedly been hunting for a big budget MMO title for a while (to try and replicate some of WoW’s cash flow)when they purchased Bioware in 2007, and design on SW:TOR doesn’t seem (from what I’ve read) to have started much before then.

  12. SWTOR seems all wrong to me, trinity gameplay seems forced on the setting. I also agree that the 4th pillar is only a strength for so long, plus can it be enjoyed given the strong tendency in gaming communities towards min-maxing/rushing past story? (How long before you have party chat like ‘just chose first option FFS! Gogogo!’)

    Ravious, I too have big hopes for GW2 but I’m starting to worry that even there the public event system may not be robust enough to resist min-maxing the fun out of it…

  13. Great article as always, Ravious. Many good points made, especially about how the 4th pillar is the most easily exhausted (and the hardest to replenish).

    This is true in so many ways. It’s horribly time consuming to make, it’s not very interesting to replay (especially given the fact that much of it will be repeated across all classes in a given faction), and many players will simply skip it given the option.

    *

    I have a feeling SWTOR will do well, but not well enough given its monstrous budget. But I don’t know, perhaps it will be just good enough to capture a large portion of WoW’s player base, due to their exhaustion with that game.

    I can just as easily imagine SWTOR sinking rapidly to RIFT levels as I can imagine it slowly gaining traction and taking 4 or 5 million stable players from WoW. The latter would of course require entire social groups to transfer over, which in turn would require a massive shrugging off of inertia and thousands of hours of sunk time in Azeroth. But it seems the WoW fatigue is great enough that this is, perhaps for the first time, imaginable.

    I’m curious how many WoW players are just hanging on, waiting for GW2’s promise of freedom from monthly fees (or Diablo 3), however. Also, I’m not sure how exciting Star Wars is in China and Korea. If those markets continue to prefer fantasy over SF, it might hurt SWTOR and help GW2. It’s also hard to predict how the PC cafe culture will effect the acceptance of GW2 and SWTOR…

    It will be an interesting few months, that’s for certain.

  14. I still say the MMO fourth pillar needs to be enabling players to tell stories, not sit back and watch movies. These are *games*, the whole point of which is interaction. And we get sooper speshul cutscenes? Meh.

      1. *chuckle*

        Indeed. Mind you, I’d have been perfectly happy with a big ol’ cinematic KOTOR 3. That’s just single player territory, methinketh.

  15. Three things.

    First, having played TOR, it cannot be underestimated how much of a difference story can make. If you allow it to. If you go into this game for the gameplay then it’s likely to be disappointing. But then you don’t play BioWare games for the gameplay, you play them for the story. And if you allow yourself to be swept along by the story then it WILL make all the difference I believe.

    Second, the BEST thing that can happen to TOR right now is people thinking it will suck. There has been a constant pressure of hype for so long, people have such high expectations for it, that no matter how good the game might be it can’t do anything but disappoint. But you don’t have to believe that this will be the greatest thing ever. As long as you’re still willing to at least give it a shot (and I see little reason why people wouldn’t at least be willing to try it) then let the game convince you whether it’s good or not instead of hype and online theorizing.

    And third, I fully agree that the real question right now is towards SWTOR’s longevity, how quickly BioWare can keep us interested with more stories. And BioWare doesn’t have a good track record with this so I’m not hopeful. But then, this doesn’t have to be the next MMO for you to live in. For the players I think it’s just fine to play it for a few months and then move on to something else (like Guild Wars 2). Play it as long as you’re enjoying yourself playing it and stop when you’re not. That is alright. Really. In that sense I think that SWTOR will deliver just fine. When the stories stop being entertaining and the gameplay becomes tiresome I’ll just go and play something else.

    Of course I play all my MMOs pretty much like that last point; playing them as long as I enjoy playing them. I don’t see them as an ‘investment’, but just as a nice way to entertain myself. I’m happy to pay the monthly fee as long as they fulfill that purpose, and when they stop doing so I’ll move on without hard feelings. I don’t expect anything more.

    Maybe that’s just me though.

    1. “If you go into this game for the gameplay then it’s likely to be disappointing.”

      Seriously?

      This is how we are setting the bar now…?

      1. I tend to agree. Just go read a gd book or watch a movie then, or hell even do interactive fiction… any one of those things is likely to provide a story a dozen times better than artificially gated, Chinese water drip of a story coming from an MMO.

        1. Book and movies (both of which I also enjoy) don’t offer interactivity. And even interactive fiction has its limitations (mainly being all text). Beyond that I do see BioWare’s games more as sort of a next stage of interactive fiction. Rarely do I find the gameplay in BioWare’s games even close to compelling (Mass Effect’s gameplay was a bore, for example). But it is their interactive storytelling that makes their games compelling. It’s a kind of experience that you won’t get anywhere else, not in books or movies or interactive fiction or in games whose only selling points are gameplay and graphics.

          And don’t understand me wrong. Gameplay is definitely important. If BioWare’s gameplay was BAD then their games would be too regardless of how good their interactive storytelling is. It’s not bad though, it’s often quite competent. It just doesn’t stand out in any way. And that is good enough to support the kind of interactive storytelling BioWare tends to sell.

          How well that stands up in TOR remains to be seen. But I do feel that if people are too focused on requiring the gameplay to be exceptional and seem uninterested in what the interactive story can add to the experience then they’re likely to be disappointed, yes.

          To me interactive storytelling is part of gameplay and not separate from it and it seems too many people ignore it as “not really part of the game”.

          1. Nicely put. No, TOR isn’t setting out to reinvent and reimagine MMO combat. Criticizing it for not doing so is a bit like criticizing EVE for its lack of 24-ship instanced PvE raid content – valid on its face, but utterly missing the point.

            1. What is the point? To have a mindless push-X and occasionally have a dialogue wheel type gameplay?

              This is just pandering to the lowest common denominator of gameplay. Let’s just eat at McD’s and shop at K-Mart for our clothes too because it’s food and clothes. Must be good enough.

              If you want McD’s and K-Mart clothes, then rock on. If you just accept McD’s and K-mart clothes as good enough, that is utterly missing the point.

            2. That contrail waaaaaay up there in the sky? That’s the point, sailing over your head at Mach 3. To continue your analogy, you’re criticizing McDonald’s for not selling blue jeans.

            3. We shop at places like K-Mart all the time, because to my wife and I, clothes really are just clothes. And cars are a way to get people and things from point A to point B, so we’d never buy a new car where a used one will do. Different people value different things.

              Also, not everything needs to have every feature. A minivan doesn’t need to hug curves like a sports car. And sometimes a game, even a good game, isn’t actually about game play so much as it is the experience. I refer you to the award-winning flash game Small Worlds by David Shute as an example.

              There are also compelling reasons for getting your story from a game instead of a movie screen. When I go to see an Indiana Jones movie, the story is about Indiana Jones. When I play a BioWare game, the story is about me. The main character makes the same decisions and thinks the same thoughts I would, from how he feels about personal liberty versus societal justice to which girl he woos. A character who acts and thinks exactly like me is, naturally, very compelling to me — not just because I get to see how the story turns out, but because I get to find out more about who I am (or at least who I THINK I am). That kind of introspection can only come through interactivity.

              However, with or without a great story it’s hard to justify Star Wars: The Old Republic as an MMO. The point of an MMO is to play with other people. Preferably lots of other people. If the best this game can do to justify the internet connection and monthly fee is rehash the same player interaction we had six years ago, well… would you buy a car with a full home theater system, but no power steering or anti-lock brakes?

            4. “When I play a BioWare game, the story is about me. The main character makes the same decisions and thinks the same thoughts I would”

              But its not about you though. I was really excited for DAO until they said you had to be a grey warden.

              Thats taking all that supposed player choice and tossing it out the window, and forcing everyone down the same predetermined path.

              The same thing with Mass Effect and forcing you into being (a) a human, (b) a particular character in Shepard, and (c.) a spectere, especially (d) the first human spectre because you’re just super special.

              That’s incredibly annoying and insulting.

            5. Imagine being given the opportunity to choose between a standard charcoal car– the one that everyone seems to be producing since EVERYONE simple loves charcoal cars–that you have to pay off through multiple annual fees, or a shiny new sports car imported from a new Italian company, bought for the same price as the standard charcoal car without having to pay any additional annual fees. I think that if I had to pay just as much for either car, that I would buy the one that gives me more quality for my cash. To do otherwise would be simply stupid, or stubborn.

          2. I’m not quite as negative about it as Ravious, but I do question what exactly Bioware’s interactive storytelling brings to the table, here – especially seeing how divorced it is from the gameplay in most ways.

            I understand there’s a level of choice here, and you’re given the ability to craft a unique personality to a degree – seeing as a character is really defined by the choices they make, and those choices have an impact on the story. But you don’t have any ability to craft your character’s goals, or to develop a plot of your own choice – and your protagonist is almost always being pushed through the story by larger forces, rather than having any agency or responsibility for what they want or what they do.

            This sort of basic, plot driven storytelling would be scoffed at in any other medium, but in a Bioware game it’s seen as amazing. Why is this? Is the characterization just that great? Are the twists really good? Lots of suspense and unresolved mysteries? Or are the stories in other games just so bad that Bioware looks great by comparison? I’m genuinely curious, though I might not seem it.

            I mean, sure, you’re given weighty choices that change what happens – save the engineering crew, or flush them out the airlock? – but what sort of storytelling is that, really? It doesn’t change the fact that you’ve probably murdered thousands of people in order to get to that point. nor is that hard choice a result of your own character’s goals or actions – it’s just another “dramatic setpiece” thrown in your path by the predetermined plot whisking you through the game.

            *

            To me, for interactive storytelling to be exciting it should be linked intimately to the gameplay in some way – they must be two parts of the same whole. Look at the stories that come out of EvE online, for example. You are given game mechanics, and then you make choices about your goals and how you’re going to use those mechanics to achieve them. Along the way you run into setbacks (often a result of your own goals and mistakes), make moral choices (do I live a lawful life? Steal from this guy’s mining setup? Pirate?) with real gameplay consequences, and create a communal story that is driven by and in turn redefines the rules of the game.

            *

            I do want to reiterate that I am honestly curious what people who really like Bioware games see in them. I have a friend who simply loves every Bioware RPG, and he goes on endlessly about how amazing the characters are in particular. But I still can’t understand the appeal. I’m pretty certain they’re just not for me, but I am curious to hear some other opinions on why they work so well, and what aspect of the storytelling people are excited for in SWTOR.

            1. Wow! Finally, someone that feels about the same as Bioware as I do. I rolled my eyes at all the great reviews for mass effect, and its only contnued through DAO and ME2.

              Bioware’s been reskinning Kotor and selling it as Jade Empire, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect for almost a decade. I can’t stand their games. Kotor was cool enough, even though Carth was incredibly annoying. it was new, but Bioware has done virtually nothing to expand upon the formula. Their problem is they are using the story as a substitute for gameplay. Bioware style companions and story PLUS gameplay could be really great, but they’ve never even approached that. Instead, the companions and the conversations are a big part of the “gameplay” (and companions actually ruin and prevent interesting gameplay options) and I dont consider picking dialog choice A instead of B to be compelling by any means.

        2. The whole “get your stupid story out of my game!” or “stories are better left to other forms of entertainment” arguments overlook the fact that this is a medium in which stories are told. People love stories. It’s a crying shame that some MMO players have treated them as blights upon their games, but that’s also due in part to piss-poor handling of storytelling by devs in the past.

          The “artificially gated” storytelling mechanism isn’t new to SWTOR, as it’s been a valuable and effective reward in past games to keep players playing. We wanted to see the next intermission cutscene in Pac-Man, we wanted to solve the puzzles in Space Quest to continue with the tale, and we wanted to overcome challenges in every RPG to date so that we could find out the next twist and turn of the story.

          The dismissive attitude towards storytelling in MMOs is why I’m cheering SWTOR (and, for that matter, GW2 and The Secret World) on. I want them to ignore the jaded “go read a book for story” crowd and show that this genre can be as effective, if not more so, at telling involving, gripping tales. We need to recall the greatness of storytelling from pen-and-paper RPGs, not get further away from it.

          1. See my post above this one – I’d be very interested to hear what you’re excited for in SWTOR’s storytelling.

            I do heartily agree that we should think back to the grand old days of storytelling in P&P RPGs! But to me, that means giving lots of content creation tools and non-combat mechanics to the players – not creating ever-more-complicated branching plots and voice acted cutscenes as in SWTOR…

            Anyway, I hope you can find some time to respond to my above question. Cheers!

          2. Games *as a medium* are great with stories, yes. MMOs by their nature don’t work nearly so well. At least, not if the stories cast each player as the Savior Of The Universe and have them killing The Big Bad eighteen times to get that one sweet drop. The structure of an MMO, with so many player inputs, just doesn’t work with dev-inspired stories that matter. Little stories, sure, and maybe that’s what we’ll get… but the whole “everyone can kill Arthas, just take turns or find an instance” storytelling is silly. It might make a great single player game, but MMOs are different.

            1. This in a nutshell.

              MMOs have amazing stories. EVE bank heists? 0.0 wars? UO city fights or the Orc clans? Hyperion in Darkfall? etc etc.

              You know what’s a really shitty story? How your guild killed Onyxia.

              SW:TOR is Onyxia, but now with a voiceover!

              Again, that’s awesome for an sRPG. It’s horrible for an MMO.

            2. But that’s not a shitty story. It will take a long time before I forget how my first raid guild killed Onyxia in Vanilla and how we all paraded around Stormwind, RP-style, in formation afterwards. I don’t see why that’s less interesting than some stupid PvP fight in EVE that //I wasn’t in//.

  16. I think emphasis on removing auto attack is arguing over semantics. I personally have absolutely no problem with auto attacks- you absolutely need one skill you can use regularly. But how Bioware market this change is enough to make your eyes roll in discomfort.

    Irrespective of how they sex it up, you still repeatedly use skill one so why not allow users to set it as such, just like GW2? The problem with it arrives in the fact that because the combat is so static and requires no movement to combat your enemy, hitting 1 repeatedly is not only dull but entirely uninvolving.

    At least during the early stages of GW2 you can unlock 5 skills in 30 minutes, all of which can be used whilst mobile against enemies that aren’t rooted to the spot.

    SWTORs wider problem isn’t the removal of auto attack it’s its entire combat mechanic. I still stand by they should have copied AOC combat. With lightsabers? Oh god amazing!

    1. Well said! I do love a good semantic argument, perhaps a bit too much…

      It is comforting to hear that GW2 feels good in this regard – at least on paper, I had some of the same concerns for it, given the fact that a lot of people in videos seem to do just fine standing in one place hitting 1-1-1-1-1-1-3-1-1…

      1. That’s a legitimate concern, and one that I share. I am comforted somewhat by the fact that those are *demos* that have been tuned way down to allow for completely sight-unseen play of the game without the players getting constantly curb stomped.

        Have to go on a little bit of faith here, but we have been told repeatedly that standing in one place spamming the same skill repeatedly in the *actual* game after it is released will be an excellent way to become familiar with the “downed” mechanic in the game. I tend to believe them when the DEVs tell me that… I don’t know, maybe it’s the mischevious glint in their eyes when they say it.

  17. A lot of people, on these here blogs, seem to say that Blizzard, with Catacylsm, managed to utterly screw up the vanilla parts of WoW, most notably the whole leveling game by making it all go too fast and too trivial.

    That might mean there may currently be a quite a lot vanilla people who like vanilla, in the market for a new vanilla game were the vanilla experience is solid and well done in a way that they no longer think WoW’s is.

    …And damnit, I wasn’t going to get ToR because I know I don’t actually enjoy Bioware’s story-driven style of game, but all this chatter about how it isn’t innovating in any way, is suddenly spiking up my interest something fierce. Meanwhile the little interest I had in GW2 plummets even further as everyone holds it out as the great hope for existing, innovative gameplay :)

    It looks like MMOs have trained me to translate ‘exciting, innovative gamplay’ as ‘buggy, unplayable mess, with no content, and features I will hate’ and ‘boring, same old, same old’ as ‘at least good enough, with enough things to do, to be worth playing for a while and then come back to from time to time’.

    Ah, the perils of anti-hype :)

  18. Once again I am really glad I don’t have this on pre-order. Hopefully it will morph into something larger than small upgrades and some shiny doodads piled on top of regular MMO conventions.

    Until then, I will be staying away.

  19. Just back from holiday and going through many, many blogs so I don’t have time for a detailed comment but I just wanted to say what a good piece I thought that was, Ravious.

    I don’t plan on playing SW:ToR but I know my gameplay will be affected by it for years to come regardless. I just want to get it over with now.

  20. the biggest reason that I was looking forward to SWTOR, was because I wanted to roll a badass yodaninja, then I found out that they weren’t going to implement the yoda race(he is not a whill, not according to lucas anyway) and then I find out that it is static combat, and my eyes are like (=)_(=) and my mind is_____________, and then I removed SWTOR from my bookmarks ~~
    no offence, but everything that SWTOR had potential to do, never happened, that saddens me, yes the story THE STORY, but if I want a good story rpg then I’ll play some singleplayer game

    two games in 2012 that I’m looking forward to GW2 and AoW, and archeage, but not sure if that will be released in 012 or 013

  21. bioware tells you that the story is the main innovation of the game but it really is some meaningless words to accept the quest only… you cant call it ‘story-driven’… in total the story makes no sense. you could say that it lacks proper story…

  22. I find it really tough to buy into the argument that the high quality of story telling is an advancement in the genre. Would having A-list Hollywood voices like Sean Connery have changed game play in WoW?

    I’m sure we could have all come up with a short list of game mechanics from various games that set the high mark for the genre. Combat, crafting, social, UI, environmental factors, realm dynamics. This game hits none but storytelling.

    I’m in the beta and can tell you that I’m trolling boards instead of playing the game because no amount of feedback will change what 100 million built. Meh.

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