You see, up until that point, I had seen myself as an honorable man. Of course there was chaos and atrocity all around, but this was war, and war can be harsh. But I had a code of honor, and the knowledge that although many judge our Empire harshly, I fought for stability and order.
But the dark side… it was so seductive. It beckoned with the siren lure of shortcuts and the red haze of murder and power. I was strong, though, and could resist, and was even developing a reputation as an honorable Sith, odd though such a combination could be.
It changed when I finally met the nemesis of my master. Although through a hololink, it carried enough weight of what I, my people were fighting against – the sneering superiority of a caste that assumed it knew all the answers, the mocking calm of someone who assumed that only he had the path of honor and justice.
He was on a path I could no longer follow. That I had to prove wrong. That I had to destroy utterly. That I *could*.
I cut down his defenseless minions without a second thought, and my saber turned red, and I leapt into the abyss willingly.
Why yes, I am talking about an MMO. And what’s more, describing the point in an MMO where I made a decision to change my character’s progression, counter-intutively from a character building perspective, solely because of events in the game’s story.
During Bioware’s development of SWTOR, they often talked up storytelling as the missing link of MMO gaming, the “fourth pillar” of what makes a compelling game. Now we have an emphatic example of this development philosophy. It may well not be for everyone – even in a game such as World of Warcraft, people rapidly “click through the quest text” to continue with the game. That’s not an option here – you are part of an interactive movie, where the setup for even the most bog-standard kill 10 womprats quest (which are present in full force) is fully voiced and animated. You could conceivably spacebar your way through every conversation cutting short every cut scene, but at this point you are missing, well, the game.
So, yes. SWTOR tells a good story. This is a Bioware game, so this is pretty much a given. How much of a GAME is it?
Well, if you go into SWTOR expecting Star Wars Galaxies II, you are going to be very disappointed. SWTOR comes down very heavily (in fact with a Sith downward saber stab) on the side of game vs. world. There are some nods towards a deeper MMO community (such as social unlocks based on how often you group with others, and a fairly brilliantly handled pre-game guild launch that automatically load balanced guilds amongst servers) but SWTOR is a game. And many similarities to World of Warcraft are wholly intentional – to the point where popular WoW addons-to-game-systems such as gearscore are already baked in. Remember Wowhead? Welcome to Torhead.
If you’re really, really tired of World of Warcraft (and after seven years, a few million people are) then that alone may cause you to recoil. But if you see the World of Warcraft-centric game systems as a grammar used to build SWTOR’s language, it becomes clearer why those choices were made. In fact, in my week or so of play, some of my more “doh” induced boners were in areas where SWTOR veered away from World of Warcraft’s interface. Did you know that when you buy skills from trainers in SWTOR, the skills for your advanced class (another, rare divergence from World of Warcraft) are in a separate tab from the skills for your base class? For seven levels I didn’t!
If I have one criticism of SWTOR at this early point, it’s that for the initial 25 levels it seems to be, for the most part, a single player game played in parallel with many other people. This was fairly obnoxious when, for example, others would ninja-grab world quest objectives. There are instances (called “Flashpoints”), daily quests intended for groups, the aforementioned social rewards for doing them, and of course PvP (including battlegrounds). But up to this point they haven’t really been part of my focus.
You see, I’ve turned to the dark side. And I have a lot of red murder to catch up on.