The release of BioWare's upcoming MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic may not be less than a year away, but that doesn't mean we can't get an idea of what we're in for. If one thing has made the past previews of the game stand out from its competition, it's the dedication to a cinematic and immersive presentation. The Old Republic looks to be just as much an RPG on the level of Mass Effect or Dragon Age as an MMO, and according to the game's Lead Cinematic Designer Paul Marino, that difference will help set TOR apart from the crowd.
For those who may think that The Old Republic is just a Star Wars version of World of Warcraft, the truth is that BioWare is trying something very different with their own MMO. While Blizzard has introduced a major plot twist into WoW with Cataclysm, The Old Republic may as well be seen as a single player narrative, that just happens to have millions of people playing it.
The story trailers have emphasized that players will be playing a role in a centuries-old conflict between the Sith and Republic, and the developers feel that the inclusion of the dialogue system from Mass Effect is just one more way for players to be pulled into the game. BioWare's goal is to get players to invest emotionally in the story, with designer Paul Marino emphasizing just how different the presentation of TOR will make the game feel to those already familiar with the genre:
The inclusion of Cinematic Design is what sets The Old Republic apart from other MMO games. Rather than being led by a disjointed, text-driven narrative, the Player is part of a dynamic plot in The Old Republic. In conversations, we can show those subtle moments where characters interact with and affect one another; where choices matter. Do we kill the Sith acolyte? Do we spare him? Will he show up later in our character’s path to be dealt with? Or will he fight alongside us, supporting us in the most crucial of times? These choices are gameplay, presented in cinematic form. Sure, they could be made through the use of simple point-and-click, text-only interface, but the reward of our choices would be passed over and the player would never fully experience the impact of those decisions.
Marino's job as cinematic designer is to direct the game's cutscenes, allowing the game's writing and characters to shine. To see how well the developers have injected some humor and atmosphere into run-of-the-mill quests, have a look at these two videos, recently released on The Old Republic's blog:
Marino's words will make perfect sense to those familiar with the Mass Effect series, as the videos prove that BioWare is trying to bring the cinematic look and feel of both the cutscenes and player choice into their new MMO. It's no surprise that the team believes they did a lot of things right in Mass Effect 2, but they apparently also trust that the same mechanics will keep TOR fresh for over a decade.
The developers have given fans a look at how many Star Wars character classes they will have to choose from, be it Trooper or Smuggler. But if any doubts remain that TOR may in fact be the big brother to Mass Effect, take a look at the recently leaked character creation system in action. Be warned, it may make the wait until release nearly impossible to bear:
[Video taken down by YouTube for copyright infringement]
It would seem that no matter how the game fares against the other MMO juggernauts, this may be the closest game to a Mass Effect MMO that we will have for quite a while. It remains to be seen how successful a massively-multiplayer game that focuses on single player narratives may be, but it's clear that BioWare is putting in the amount of work required to give them the best chance. The devil is in the details, and it seems that's something the development team is well aware of.
Whether you like your MMOs text-based and "disjointed" or slick and cinematic, The Old Republic will definitely be bringing some new toys to the genre. Die-hard online gamers may scoff at the game's appeal to the masses, but a game that takes the best parts of Mass Effect's role-playing into an online world could not only change the way people think of MMOs, but pave the way for future projects.
The last few times BioWare has tried something new, it's worked out fairly well, so we'll have to give them the benefit of the doubt until Star Wars: The Old Republic hits the PC sometime in the fiscal year of 2011.