How about that? The story really DOES make a big difference in Star Wars: The Old Republic.
One of the things that Bioware was pushing all through the development of TOR was the idea of a new pillar for MMOs: story. And that’s gotten a lot of attention, both positive and negative. (And in one case, plagiarism, as one studio ripped a press release and released it as their own with only some of the names changed.) Still, there’s story in most MMOs, to be honest. Nothing sprawling, perhaps, but they are there, whether it’s the quests to stop the Defias in Westfall in World of Warcraft to stopping an alien invasion in Champion Online. The idea of using MMOs to make a character a part of a story is not as new as it sounds.
With that in mind: the story really is a big deal in TOR.
Back in Star Wars Galaxies, as the NGE was being forced down our throats, the “good” folks at SOE kept saying how they wanted players to feel like Luke Skywalker and not Uncle Owen. (The fallacy behind that statement has been dealt with elsewhere and done to death.) The problem here is they failed. You still didn’t feel like an epic character. Sure, you got to get through the initial tutorial with Han Solo, but things just went downhill from there. Once you got off the starting station, you got stuffed onto Tatooine and sent out to hunt vermin. It just didn’t live up to the promise.
In TOR, the feeling that SOE wanted to bring out in SWG is actually there. Right from the start, you are a smuggler looking to make a quick credit, and deal with an individual who earns your hate VERY early. You are a trooper of the Republic who is a member of the elite Havoc Squad. You are a Sith Inquisitor, a slave destined for something greater as you head into your trials. You are a bounty hunter, looking to earn your fame by participating in the Great Hunt. And all of this is set in the background of a cold war between the Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire.
What makes this feel like you mean something? The story.
Granted, it’s not all epics here. Your “class quest” is the red meat, but you get the lighter fare too. A bunch of missions can be found everywhere, all with one thing in common: they need you to do something. Often, they will require a choice which impacts what happens next. While finding a lost kid may be pretty standard fare, and while some missions may not feel appropriate to a class, it’s undeniable that your character’s actions matter-not just to the mission giver, but frequently to your character as well (in the form of Dark Side/Light Side points).
This is probably nothing new to folks familiar with Bioware’s other offerings. However-and this may cause a bit of a shock-I have never played “Knights of the Old Republic”, nor have I ever played the Mass Effect games (although I’ve certainly read all about both). It’s the kind of thing that makes me look at my never-used KotR CDs, and think about picking up the ME games. (Then I remember that I don’t have any free time anymore.)
The voice-acting is probably what seals the deal. A lot of gamers seem to just glance at the mission texts in other games, and just pay attention to the goals. “Blah, blah, blah, kill 10 Hellions, blah, blah, blah, eat five tribbles, blah, blah, blah, deliver package to Darth Vader.” The voiceover work, though, encourages you to listen to what is at stake for each character. Even if you only listen to it once before skipping it with other characters, it makes an impact. And the fact that you can respond to these characters, making conversation with them-well, that’s just more layers of icing.
So far, I’m operating at the midgame, with characters in the level 25 range; there’s a lot of story to go. My Agent still reminds me that he’s an elite spy with every conversation, and my Smuggler still makes me laugh even in dangerous situations. I’ve barely scratched the surface of other classes, but I want to see their stories, too. Looks like Bioware was right, at least in my case-the story matters.