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?