A short time ago in a beta close at hand…
I am an MMO enthusiast. When I was 19, I was an MMO junkie hooked on EverQuest for a summer. Since my introduction to them, I’ve dedicated a small but not inconsequential amount of my life to rollicking around immersive, colorful, enormous worlds with a trusty sword/railgun/laser strapped to my back/hull. Not surprisingly, my longest single affair with such a game was in World of WarCraft, where Tori and I rolled a pair of warriors (mine for tanking, hers for cutting a swath of bloodshed and destruction across the land with an arsenal of ever-more-gargantuan weapons).
Although she and I quit WoW for good back in February, I remain a very enthusiastic fan of the genre (I still have an active EVE Online account). What was my reaction, then, when I learned that EA/BioWare offered me a beta invite for Star Wars: The Old Republic? I’ve been a fan of Star Wars since I developed the fine motor skills to coordinate swooshing sounds with swinging imaginary lightsabers at things, I love MMOs, and high production values can make for some very pretty things. However, contrary to expectations (except for those who read my AT gripe), I did not need to change my underthings or even contain a squee of glee. Instead, I smirked, accepted the invite, and began the colossal download. Creating a generic Sith warrior toon, I embarked on my journey into the Star Wars universe.
And quit about 90 minutes later. My reasons?
1. Ennui. For all its flashing lights, crisp sound, and smooth animation, the game still failed to hold my interest. Granted, I went into it not expecting much, but I was still hoping for a few hours of entertainment. What I found instead was a linear series of soft-boiled MMO standby quests (go fetch the ancient weapon from the dangerous tomb of a long-dead hero) interrupted by Bioware-brand (TM) cutscenes filled with Bioware-brand (TM) robots. Stapling dialogue wheels and good-cop/bad-cop points to an ordinary MMO doesn’t give you an epic, sweeping game any more than stapling feathers to my pet snake gave me one of those winged snake creatures from Kid Icarus. The much-touted story of The Old Republic, fourth pillar though it may be, was too thinly-spread and not engaging enough to disguise the mid-2000’s MMO lurking beneath. I played World of WarCraft for four years; I’m done with rigid class barriers, courier missions, and levels. I quit that game for a reason, and TOR will not sell me on that stale model by wrapping it in a Hutt’s fleshy folds. And lest you think I’m setting my standards for excitement too high, let me remind you that I play EVE.
2. Star Wars lore. Granted, this one isn’t EA/Bioware’s fault, but it’s still something that bothered me about the game. TOR is set hundreds (or is it thousands?) of years before Darth Vader began his galaxy-spanning, bitch-choking tour of duty. Yet, in all those years, there were apparently no notable advances in technology. People are still using blasters/lightsabers, the functional level of droids has remained static, and even the goddamn space superiority fighters sound exactly the same. How am I to believe that, in roughly the same amount of time that it took Europe to go from wearing animal skins to showing us the Higgs-Boson, the denizens of that far away galaxy have only managed to update some of their starship models? Yes, I’m sure there are unheralded advances the size of the Executor hiding in the EU stuff, but it isn’t apparent. Were I a casual observer, I would never be able to tell that centuries are supposed to separate the game from the movies. Ordinarily, this sort of thing would only be a minor irritation and the butt of many jokes, but when a company has such a gaudy reputation for telling amazing stories in their games, I expect amazing internal consistency and a logical progression of society. With TOR, one gets the feeling that the Star Wars galaxy simply warbled into being at the very pinnacle of its technological achievement.
So there it is, my one-two punch at $100,000,000 worth of development, planning, execution, and delivery. I suppose I am being shallow, hypocritical, and judgmental. Even now, I can sense fanboys squirming in their chairs, just aching for the chance to Force-choke the life out of me. They are selecting the bottom option of their dialogue wheels, ready to give me a vague description of a piece of their minds.