Bounty hunting for fun and profit – well, mostly profit
There are few things that get a geek’s blood pumping more than the Star Wars main theme. The thunderous brass of John Williams’ score, accompanied by that iconic opening scroll, heralds the arrival of a new and exciting adventure – or, in the case of the prequels, it makes the fact that you’ll have to see Jar Jar Binks over the next two hours a little more tolerable.
There are no gungans in The Old Republic, at least as far as I know, but if there were, the bounty hunter I played in beta would have shot them on sight, contracts be damned. And the cool thing is, I think the game would give me that choice. All the derisive talk of TOR being “a single-player RPG masquerading as an MMO” isn’t that far from the truth, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In a single-player RPG, your choices may or may not affect the game world, depending on how robust the system is, but the crucial fact is that you do make choices. That’s an element that’s been almost entirely absent from MMORPGs. If a quest giver hands you a quest to kill 10 rats, the only way to complete the quest is to kill those 10 rats. In a single-player game, maybe you’d find out the rats are intelligent and have the option to communicate with them and tell them to run away, then return to your quest giver and lie to him about your faux-murderous deeds.
TOR gives you those kinds of options, and they’re a welcome addition to the MMO landscape. In one mission, I was contracted by an irate mother to retrieve a child who’d been abducted by his father. Upon finding them, the father begged me to let him escape and offered me a reward. I refused and shot the poor sap dead, right in front of his son, whom Mommy Dearest wanted to ship off to Korriban to become a Sith lord. (You better believe that got me some Dark Side points.) In other missions, I took payoffs and double-crossed my original contacts, all to fatten my wallet (and my XP bar). The only downside I can see is how people will min/max their conversation options to gain Light/Dark Side points or curry favor with companions rather than do what they “want” to do from a character or gameplay perspective.
It may not sound like much, and it doesn’t have any lasting effect on the game world – the man I killed was only present for the cut scene in which I bumped him off – but extra touches like this not only make what would otherwise be mundane gameplay more enjoyable, it gives me hope (a new hope?) for the future of MMOs. Granted, very few studios will have the resources of BioWare and Electronic Arts to craft such an expansive storytelling experience as The Old Republic, but as techniques are refined and technology improves, I think we’ll see more games utilize this kind of branching approach to quests. For now, the experience is just plain fun – and that’s enough.
The big question facing BioWare/EA is whether MMO players will “slow down” enough to feast upon the virtual buffet placed before them or whether they’ll just scarf down what they need to get by as fast as they can while rushing on to the next table. My progress felt slow, inhibited as it was by the cut scenes. That’s fine for me, since I’m typically a slow leveler. But I think I’m an exception in that case, and I’m sure we’ll see level 50 Jedi and Sith prancing around within a week of the game’s launch, wondering why the endgame is “so weak,” regardless of whether it is or not. Even in my limited time at low levels, I found other players in my groups wanting to speed through conversations or simply not waiting for me to get to the right place to initiate them.
On another note, my brief time in PvP warzones was a wash. I’m not sure if it was my inexperience on the maps or a lack of feedback from the game alerting me what to do, but the easiest path for me was to simply fall back on the tried-and-true bounty hunter tactic of “shoot everything and sort it out later.” I even carried the huttball for a few seconds, without realizing it, before I was sent to the sidelines (i.e., killed). My biggest beef with the game as a whole? The graphics engine seems almost primitive by today’s standards. Character models and effects are OK, but landscapes and objects look shockingly mediocre in this day of DirectX 11 and GTX 500+ video cards. (But it still looks better than World of Warcraft.)
I can’t tell anyone how to play the game, but my one piece of advice is to realize that the endgame will still be there, waiting for you whenever you get to max level. BioWare and EA did their best to smooth over that advancement curve with plenty of glitz, so enjoy the ride.