Star Wars: The Old Republic

The first step in that direction is to dispose of the trivial busy-work quests that aren’t worthy of a hero’s time. “I’m busy saving the world, I’m not going to talk to you about your dog. I’m not going to find your lost keys. I’m going to do big, bold, heroic stuff,” Ericson proclaims. “One of the things I’ll always do when people are pitching things is to just hold it up against one of the Star Wars characters. If someone’s pitching something the Sith are going to do, whether it’s a side-activity or a plot, or whatever, I send it back to them and say, ‘And then Darth Vader does… ’ and I put a big blank. And if you giggle when you put it in there, that’s a failure. That doesn’t go in our game.”

Another hallmark of BioWare’s RPGs that will make the jump to its first MMO is companion characters - NPCs that join the player’s party and not only fight alongside him, but also interact with him socially and react to his choices. “They’re not pets, and they never have been,” points out Ohlen. “You can romance them, make friends with them, be betrayed by them, and they can even decide to leave your party if they don’t like what you’re doing.” All players will have access to a broad spectrum of companions to choose from, and Ohlen promises there’s a good explanation for two players having duplicate companions that in no way involves cloning. Having persistent characters around you who treat you like a part of the universe to balance out guys going AFK or talking about their homework is an ingenious way of building immersion.

We don’t yet know everything there is to know about The Old Republic - not while questions like “Will there be player-owned spaceships,” “Will there be a space game,” “What kind of crafting system do heroes use,” and “Can I get my own Hunter-Killer droid army” still linger. But BioWare appears keenly aware of what features it’ll need to succeed in today’s saturated MMO market, where a game must distinguish itself from literally dozens of other contenders - not to mention the 11-million-player gorilla, World of Warcraft. But if anyone has a shot, it’s BioWare. In the same way Apple, a company that had never made a cell phone before, has revolutionized the mobile communications landscape with the iPhone by using its strengths in interface design, BioWare has the potential to turn the MMO world upside down with best-in-class expertise in character-driven RPG storytelling. That, combined with the Star Wars universe, means The Old Republic has all the ingredients of a game-changer in the making.

“If [we’ve] done it right, it has a chance to be a truly gigantic, monolithic project,” says Zeschuk. “The potential success of making the great Star Wars MMO - the online experience where you somehow capture the magic of the world of Star Wars… it’s incredible.”

Nov 20, 2008