Star Wars: The Old Republic preview its good to hear your voice

Will it bring balance to the force?

So there’s good news and there’s bad news: the bad news is that The Old Republic isn’t drastically different than the other MMORPGs you’ve played in the past ten years. You still talk to NPCs that wander around a small area, you’re still assigned arbitrary assignments that involve traveling to nearby locations, and you’re still going to be killing ten of these and collecting four of these. Sorry. That’s just the impression we got when playing through the first few hours of the game. If you think The Old Republic is going to change any of the genre staples you’re going to be extremely disappointed.

It’s still an MMO, just dressed up differently. The basic agro mechanics are the same (sadly), and instead of tapping the number two and hitting an enemy with an axe, you’re hitting the number two and hitting an enemy with a lightsaber. The animations are a little better, but it’s still typical whack-a-mole combat in the end.

Above: Eyes? Who needs eyes when you have the force?

But before you go leaping into a sarlacc pit, you should know that there’s good news, too. Sure, you’re going to be sent out into the jungle to kill ten Flesh Raiders, but you’re going to care about doing it. You’ll slash them apart, gritting your teeth as they fall to the ground. You’re going to actually know why you’re sent out to save the squadron of Padawans, and when you see them in the distance you’re going to feel genuinely relieved. You’re going to be connected to the plot and immersed into the world(s) of The Old Republic, and brought into an MMO’s story in ways you never thought possible.

It’s not that the missions are actually different; it’s just that they’re presented differently. Through interactive cutscenes with full voice acting, characters actually explain the story’s details in a way that makes you feel important. Other MMOs do this with text, but hearing it actually said makes more of a difference than we ever would have expected.

Above: The developers walk through Tatooine and kill not just the men, but the women, and the children.

It’s not uncommon for an MMO to feature some voicework, or interesting missions meant to pull the player in, but usually they end fairly early in the game. As soon as we stop hearing the characters’ voices there’s a disconnect – no matter how much we want to feel involved in the world, being greeted with walls of text is counterintuitive. Reading too much makes us feel like we’re wasting time, so we end up skipping the text and ignoring any semblance of plot.

In The Old Republic, the same care that goes into the first few levels of a typical MMO goes into every mission we encountered, from the early, plot-specific missions to the random missions picked up by strangers standing on the side of the road. We found ourselves not just not skipping the dialog, but enjoying it, and searching it out.

Hearing actors explain the context of the mission makes it more important to us, and being given the occasional branching dialog options (that can reward players with positive or negative morality) had us feel as though we were honestly, truly involved, as we do in singleplayer RPGs like Knights of the Old Republic.

Above: Different dialog choices actually have different outcomes.

If you would have asked us a few years ago if we thought it was possible for an MMO to actually have a story, and a good one, we likely would have laughed. We would have pointed out how hard it would have been to get voice actors for an MMO, and how crazy it would be to attempt to blend story into the persistent, multiplayer world. Yet here we are. Now to see if it continues through the rest of the game...

Oct 20, 2011

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