[SWTOR] Dialogues on Rat Tails

Everybody knows about the fourth pillar that will exalt Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR) over all other vanilla MMO brethren: story. Except many MMOs have already had story available. They were told through many various mechanisms including good ol’ quest text, in-game actions, and even cut scenes. Plenty of MMOs even had branching effects caused by the player decisions. Most were silly in hindsight. (Did you really want to poach that innocent forest animal for the dwarf when you needed to befriend the hostile elves?)

BioWare’s games are about story, and their MMO, gosh darnit, was going to have story amplified to 11. Are these wings of words and wax enough to raise SWTOR above the crowd?

I am one of those weird kids that reads all the quest text. Even if I know that yet another hungry refugee is just going to tell me his favorite meal is boar steak, I read it. So for my admittedly short time in SWTOR, I did not skip a single dialogue piece. I enjoyed the simple quest vignettes. The dialogue wrapped up fairly simple quest mechanics, such as kill ten bad guys or collect ten things laying on the ground.

One quest that I really enjoyed involved going to an overrun settlement to retrieve a family heirloom. On the way a Republic agent stopped me to tell me that he believed the heirloom was actually a means to communicate with the Sith Empire. He believed the nice lady that asked me to retrieve her family’s prized possession was an Empire spy. The mechanics of the quest were disturbingly simple, but the story told throughout the quest made it worthwhile.

The shiny rubbed off quite quickly though. At the beginning of one quest, to disarm some bombs or kill some bad guys or something, I was dutifully talking to the ever present NPC trying to figure out where to go, and I realized that the risk of sitting through each exposition could leave me with a negative outlook on the whole shebang. If in say Lord of the Rings Online I read a paragraph or two quest starter on why I need to kill the orcs in the area, the amount of time spent is about the same amount it takes an NPC in SWTOR to say one line.

My mind was shutting down on this quest’s opening dialogue, and I wondered if after twenty hours of listening to “dialogues on rat tails” as different or snappy as they could be written, I would be ready to start skipping all that development time, money, and love. I had in a moment seen through sparkle.

Don’t get me wrong. The writing and lines were excellent. I was definitely pleased with all the lines I had seen. I just worried if they could keep it up through all the quests, or rather if I could have. The main issue I have is that the dialogue wheel is so far removed from actual gameplay. They are true cut scenes, to the game’s core. Sometimes you don’t want to be trapped, and just need to jump around a bit while they tell me the Evil Plan ™.

I do feel that this is the heart of SWTOR. It’s a rock solid vanilla MMO plus this, and when I theoretically eventually start playing the game, I am definitely sure that this will be the make or break feature that keeps me playing… or not. Again, I’d really like to hear from anybody that’s been beyond to level 20. Are you still listening?


28 thoughts on “[SWTOR] Dialogues on Rat Tails”

  1. I only got to lvl 19 on my highest level beta char, but I quite enjoyed the quest conversations. I tried playing with and without them; you can skip the speeches by pressing the space bar. I found that when I skipped the quest conversations, the game started to feel more like a basic DikuMUD, and when I got involved in the conversations, I enjoyed the game a lot more.

  2. I played Sith Inquisitor to level 43 before wipe #2 and found the storyline very engaging. I did not find the Republic Trooper to be nearly as engaging. I do think repeating the same side quests with multiple classes gets a bit tedious and slow, but that is as much from travel time as story cutscenes. Without the cut-scenes, the game (at least PvE) is pretty mediocre.

  3. I suspect it’s a game for people who like reading the story and that it will be rather bland to people who come from other DIKUs and skip the quest text.

    1. Considering the #1 mod in 2004 for WoW was something to help people skip the lore, one has to ask exactly which ‘mass market’ SW is aiming for here.

      1. SWTOR targets:
        1- Star War’s fans;
        2- BioWare’s fans;
        3- KOTOR’s fans;
        4- MMO’s players that like story.

        IMHO, SWTOR have a HUGE target public. And I noted that the replayability is “strong at this one”: it is a game done for who like to play alts. The replayability can mantain the players occupied for long time and if we think that the story make the player use more time for get to max level, I think this game will need a long time for burn out.

        So, IMHO SWTOR will expand the public of MMO, because a lot of no MMO gamers will play it. Something similar to what happened to WoW…


        Syncaine, it is not a sandbox or a PvP MMO, sadly. Too it is not a good sandbox, skill based, as SWG was before the devs destroyed it. But we need be honest to what the game sells to the public and what the market wants.
        It will not be the “dream” sandbox PvP game, but I fear that will be a niche that never will have more than 100 k players, as Darkfall have. How SWTOR is now, from what I saw at beta, a well polished game with strong points at the story and with a strong “Star Wars feel”, it will have a huge player base, something above 1 million. How much above 1 million we will just see later, but from now I guess there are almost 3 million pre-orders (almost 1 million physical orders at North America + maybe equal numbers at Europe + equal or more numbers from digital copies).

        Be warned, I feel a disturbance at the Force that say me that other big contender is coming to the market at 20th…

  4. I didn’t play anywhere near as far as you – level 10 on a Consular, level 5 on a Trooper and a couple of others – but there were two things that intrigued me about these scenes. The first was the light/dark side choices and the second was that some conversational choices had an impact – albeit negligble – on your companions affection towards you.

    Granted these choices have little impact in the long term – especially if you’re a min/maxer or just eager to level quickly – but at least one early quest in the Trooper story had a choice of turn in NPC (and the initiating quest had an interesting couple of dialogue choices which I won’t spoil bit I will say made me feel a little bad) and an early quest in the Bounty Hunter line had you making a choice to perform a morally questionable action. That’s a feature that (as I put forward on this very blog a fair few yaers ago) is something that is highly likely to keep me interested during the levelling process.

  5. I think this is going to end up being a huge “Your metrically-adjusted kilometrage will vary” thing. For me, the more I played, the more invested I became in my character and the world, and the more attention I paid, but I’m sure some people will be speed-smacking the space bar before they’ve hit level 2.

    I was pleased to see that a lot of the side/world quests adjust based on race/gender/class – not just getting different options on the wheel, but actually presenting appropriate dialogue in the rest of the conversation that go a little past the usual “I have been looking for a powerful $CLASSNAME to help me with a project”.

  6. I’ve been a voracious reader since I was a child. On the first run through I’m also someone that always reads all the quest (and flavor) text in each MMO I play. I even re-read it on most replays, and I replay content a lot.

    I quite like voice over, but only in short clips for atmosphere. At normal reading speed I probably read quest text five or six times faster than actors voice it. Maybe more. Reading also gives me much greater color, flavor and texture than almost all voice artists offer.

    If SW:ToR offers the full written text AND the voice-over, that’s fine. I would hear a few voice overs at the beginning and then switch them off and read the text. If the choice is listening/watching or missing out on the detail of the story entirely, then that would be a real problem.

  7. Half-and-half – you can switch on subtitles (they’re on automatically for non-English/alien/droid bloop dialogue) and switch off the sound, but I’m not sure if there’s a way to skip directly to the next bit of dialogue once you’ve read it or if you’re stuck waiting for the “shot” to change.

    As a voracious reader myself, I actually found the subtitles a mild irritant, since I’d read them and then be waiting for 10 or 15 seconds for the next line(s) to appear. I shall have to experiment next week.

  8. I only played for about five hours on the big beta weekend, but that was long enough for me to be bored of the voiceovers. Frankly, I didn’t think the voicework was that good, and I would rather have read words on the screen than listen to it. The actual storyline, no complaints, I can’t say I found it any great leap above the competition, but it was solid.

    Had an amusing argument with a guy on another forum, he asked why I was playing an MMO_RPG_ if I wasn’t interested in story. Why did he not think I was interested in story? Because I didn’t agree that the fully voiced quests were better than “quest text that you just skip and hit OK so you can get on with the game”. I had to shake me head and say “if you skip the quest text, YOU’RE the one here who isn’t interested in story!” I’ve never skipped any text in any MMO unless I had done it multiple times before.

  9. I’m in agreement with the last few posts – I like having lots to read, but don’t much fancy sitting around watching characters emote politely with their hands while endless dialog streams from their wooden faces.

    I enjoy watching people talk in a movie because the artistry of acting, framing, lighting, cinematography, and editing make the experience about so much more than the conversation taking place. The same is not true here by a long shot.

    And yes, I have the same complaint about Guildwars 2, which seems to have a similarly static “story” layer pasted on top of the game itself.


    For me, any game that wants to “tell” me a story needs to find some way to echo that story, and amplify its tone and content through the gameplay. That is, I need to be actively playing the story using the main mechanics of the game, or they need to be wrapped up together in some integral or novel way (see Bastion, Portal).

    In the context of SWTOR, if I’m a Jedi, I should have mechanics to avoid killing and combat – stealth, a “force persuade” minigame, whatever. Further, being an ascetic monk, I should not be playing the whole wealth-gathering game at all, and if I do, that should be odd and part of my story.

    The point is, an MMO with its one-size-fits-all (and fighting is the only way) gameplay is singularly ill suited to telling the sorts of stories SWTOR wants to tell. Making me completely uninterested in hearing what it has to say on the most fundamental level. If it was Star Wars – Bounty Hunters and Smugglers, then maybe it might work, but still…

  10. Great post. As I played sparingly in the beta, I wondered the same thing. Would this get old? Would I start to tune out the NPC dialogue? I didn’t, for my time in the beta… and I’m glad to hear from folks that played much more than I did, that they didn’t tire of it either. Thanks Ravious for questioning something that’s been on a lot of people’s minds, and thanks to everyone for their responses.

  11. I’m not entirely sure how your concern with SWTOR is any different than any other Bioware game. Or, hell, any modern game of any genre. Did you space out in KOTOR? GTA: SA? Mass Effect? Dragon Age?

    Maybe if the argument was that there are more filler quests in SWTOR… but even then, I dunno. As someone for whom the entire point of the purchase is said expositions (combined with playing in them), I find it difficult to wrap my head around these concerns. It feels like complaining about all the shooting bits of Deus Ex (and apparently nodding off during the non-shooting bits).

  12. I was positively surprised by the “story” angle which Bioware had advertised a lot but on which I was not sold until the beta.

    I would just like to add that the companion’s affection adds a lot to paying attention to choices in the higher level. As a mini game, I would try to choose the choice which my companion would like (and this you cannot see in advance like light/dark), and it’s not as easy as it sounds!

    At the end of the beta, I was skipping dialogs a bit more but it was mainly because I knew beta was ending and that I was in a hurry to finish some quests before trying instances and space combat. I’m expecting to listen to the dialogs in full at release (except when it’s alien language…)

    1. Yeh i too was surprised with how much i enjoyed the story aspect.
      If you play this like a traditionally mmo where you are just trying to burn your way through to the end game i can say you wont have an enjoyable time and will burn out quickly. Its far better to just play at a leisurely pace.

      I really don’t think they needed to make a cut scene for every aspect of all the side quests though, just key points would have easily been sufficient

  13. Of even greater concern to me is the impact the “fully voice cutscene” requirement will have on the release rate for new content….

  14. I was only in one Beta but played with 3 other friends together to about lvl 15…we had a ton of fun with the quest dialog and choices and wound up making bets on who’d win the dialog roll, or commenting on how corny it was. I realized that I wasn’t there for the game, but there to be with my friends(they are RL friends too) and that is what made it even more fun. I am not a sci fi lover, but this may turn me to the darkside!! (I play Rift, Lotro, and now SwToR, and I write fanfic so the storyline is actually really important to me.)

  15. I played each class for a few hours each. I enjoyed the quest you mentioned in regards to the heirloom. I liked that I caught myself stopping and actually thinking about what I wanted to do. I have always enjoyed lore, in both WoW and in Star Wars. I enjoy reading but in Warcraft and other text based MMO quest I found myself usually just accepting and following my quest tracker. SWTOR has a lot more change to keep me focused on the lore and the story. As far as the dialog I had caption on so and I could read the dialog a lot quicker than listen to it and started hitting spacebar though some of them.

    So in the end while I love the branching stories I am not sure how long it will be before I just start hurrying through quest. I really, really will try not to get into that habit because if I do I think that I will find SWTOR will just turn into another average MMO. Bioware is putting a LOT on the fourth pillar. I hope it pays out because in the end it is going to be the story that makes or breaks SWTOR in the long run.

    Of course in the end I will be happy if SWTOR keeps me involved until GW2 comes out. Because if SWTOR doesn’t hold me and then in turn Guild Wars 2 ends up being all talk I honestly think I will leave MMO gaming. Of course I could always go back to WoW but after years and years of WoW and with Pandas coming I don’t think I could do it.

  16. If Bioware had used the great system DC Universe Online has in place for voice-over and story progression I may not have canceled my SWTOR pre-order.

    SWTOR’s dialogue felt boring, contrived and mediocre after my first playthrough. Conversely I still love listening to the fantastic one-liners of Joker, Lex Luthor and Calculator despite being on my nth playthrough in DCUO. Combine the superior dialogue with the ability to control your character for the vast majority of voice-over time and you have a winning combination.

  17. I love reading. I usually spend my Christmas vacation reading dozens of books (while staying with my family). The best purchase I did in recent memory was buying a Kindle.

    And yet in most MMOs I find myself skipping the quest text. The stories presented by them are uninteresting, the format unengaging. The games themselves seem to discourage you from reading by putting it in a small window off the corner and being perfectly functional just following the quest tracker. I don’t always skip the quest texts, but I have to push myself to read them. In most MMOs it feels more like story gets in the way and is just tacked on.

    SWTOR is different. I play SWTOR for the story and the gameplay is secondary. There the story is put front-and-center and is impossible to avoid. There you have to expend extra effort to avoid it. In SWTOR the stories pull me in, engage me, involve me even by asking me to make dialog choices. I can laugh at the sometimes funny situations, chuckle at picking dark side options, feel good and honorable at picking the light side options, feel for NPCs when things go wrong, etc. It feels like I’ve become part of the story instead of just reading about it.

    I’ve been in general beta for about two months and didn’t play beyond level 20 because I put severe restrictions on myself regarding what I allowed myself to play (mostly to avoid spoiling the story). I tried to play as little as I could, and failed. In the end I played a Bounty Hunter to level 20 (avoiding most side quests), the two Sith classes to level 16, and all Republic classes to level 10 (the Consular three times at that). And yet I haven’t become tired of the dialog, don’t skip them, and can’t wait for more.

    Sure, when you do the same side-quest for the third time there is the lure of the spacebar, but that’s more out of impatience to see more new stories than out of being tired with the old ones. And there’s the sense that making different choices will get you slightly different responses. If I can rein in my impatience, and I’m sure that I can considering that there’s no hurry anymore when out of beta, it will be fine. I’ve never felt compelled to join the rat race to maximum level and happily take my own pace.

    I’ve thus unabashedly called SWTOR the best MMO I’ve ever played. The gameplay is no worse than in any other MMO in my view (which isn’t really saying much for any of them) and the way the quests are presented is a hell of a lot more engaging.

    But that, of course, is just my view.

    1. One of the things I was quite pleasantly surprised by was that not only did different choices get you different responses (which I expected), different race/class/gender combinations got you different choices, and sometimes other changes to the way the cut-scene played out, which helped keep them fresh.

  18. I skipped quest dialog in WoW, but not so much LotRO or defiant-side Rift. That is likely because the dialog in WoW usually has nothing to do with lore or any “story” your character is taking part in. Or maybe these other MMO’s do a better job of making it just seem that way than WoW did.

    As for me? When I would replay a generic quest on a different toon in SWTOR, I would purposely pick different options. I just wanted to see what the differences would be. And there is the other difference between SWTOR and the other 2 MMO’s I mentioned above – there are no options for quest completion. In SWTOR, there were different methods of completion of a quest that were typically offered through the cut scenes so I never got bored with these.

  19. The true dichotomy of the system appears when you’ve exhausted the story component yet need to repeat them. Two spots this happens, daily quests which nearly everyone will do and flashpoints, which most people will do. The former is a solo affair, so the pace is your own. After 10 times on the same dialogue, you don’t think twice about skipping.

    In flashpoints though, the speed of the story is a group affair. Seen it 10 times and want to skip? Go ahead but you’ll have to wait and stare at your screen until everyone has finished that portion in order to continue. Sometimes you’ll wait a few minutes.

    Any item that is a pleasure to consume yet has a) a finite variance and b) an infinite amount, inevitably loses it’s attraction. If you love apple pie and I gave you apple pie 5 times a day, eventually you’d stop liking apple pie. ‘Cept Homer and his dougnuts, ‘natch.

  20. It was probably around 20ish for me that I did my first dialogue skip. But that’s something that can come in and out with the quality of the particular story. I may not need to hear Darth Borington drone at me about how powerful he’ll be once I collect the six different computer codes for him. But the folowing story where I’m establishing a cult following may pull me right back in.

    And some of the light side / dark side choices definitely add to the story. Not as much as they would in a single-player game (Bioware just doesn’t have that Blizzard level phase technology), but enough. When I had the choice between saving a guy and killing him, and then his father turns on me instead of helping me, and then the next guy in the chain is incredibly obsequious to avoid the same fate, I found the story very compelling.

    One learned behavior that I found works against enjoyment though is the “collect all the quests” -> “do all the quests” approach. When you skip the stories it’s efficient use of time. However, when you care about the stories it doesn’t help the narrative to mix objectives and lose the flow.

  21. I stopped listening before lvl 20. My problem was more with the locked cut-scenes than the voice-over though. Ultimately, I attribute most of my loss of interest to the IP, not to Bioware. The Old Republic setting just doesn’t work for me.
    This is not the Star Wars I was looking for.

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