Monday, 9 April 2012

May the Force be with you

In the world of the MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) gamer, we are spoiled for choice these days. We have the steadfast giant - World of Warcraft (WoW) whose near 8 year reign as Supreme Overlord of the MMO genre is only now being contested. Aion the Tower of Eternity was an interesting addition to the mix a few years back; a formerly South Korean MMO that was adapted by NCSoft to the Western market. Star Trek Online is another in the mix, and is now free. That's right - free to buy and free to play - the developer now makes their money off purchaseable downloadable content (DLC). Rift was an interesting addition, although it did nothing for me and hence did not receive a place on my shelf. And now we come to what I am currently playing - Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Star Wars: The Old Republic (TOR) sits on the top of my shelving unit in a place of pride. The approximately 50cm cube collectors edition box stands proud, presiding over the living room. Unfortunately, it shares the limelight with my housemates own collectors edition box. Developed by BioWare, a developer subsidiary of Electronic Arts, this MMO brings story back to a genre that was supposed to be based on it in the first place. You see, MMO is actually short for something - MMORPG - Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. In games like WoW and Aion you don't really role play. Sure Blizzard Activision, developers of WoW, have done done their best to add it into a game that originally had very little - almost like it was trying to combat the story based mechanics of TOR, but it all seemed a bit feeble and had the tell tale signs of 'too little, too late'. WoW was never really story based, sure it had the lore, it had the back story, if you could be bothered reading 5 paragraphs worth of quest text for every quest. But, it never had the immersive qualities of single player RPG's like Knight of the Old Republic, Mass Effect and Dragon Age (yes I am harping on BioWare being the RPG gods). TOR has these qualities, and it is one of the two decided edges that the franchise has versus WoW.

TOR, not only being immersive in it being story based, it is also Star Wars, and lets be frank - it's STAR WARS! Anyway, you get pulled into your characters story and their struggle.
*Please note that this is where plot details and story lines will come out to play*
The key is to find a character who you can relate to and who's voice suits your image of that character. The enigmatic, manipulative and cruel Sith Inquisitor, or the cunning and dirty Imperial Agent? Or... how about the steadfast, loyal and mildly preachy Jedi Consular, or or or(!) the dirty, quick, credit oriented but still deep down good Smuggler? Or to throw in a twist - a loyal and good, but hiding a dark secret romance with his padawan Jedi Knight?

BioWare has giving people an ability to change the direction of their characters story, obviously within the realms of the set parameters, but unlike ever before. Having completed my rather evil Sith Assassin's story (a specialisation of the Sith Inquisitor) I am left feeling fulfilled. My body count was sufficiently bloodthirsty, and my experiences wide. A friend who still plays WoW asked me what i had accomplished in TOR. My answer was this:
I have assassinated several Darth's, killed a Dark Council Member, trapped my former master into the body of my guardian (who now has an interesting case of multiple personality disorder), married a pirate captain called Andronikas, obtained 2 apprentices (yes, 2), ascended to the Dark Council as Darth Nox, waged war versus the Republic and forever changed the course of a war that was dormant when my training as an acolyte began, but is now in full swing.

My sniper (Imperial agent specialistation) has also had some interesting experiences - turning weapons of mass destruction against the Empire for her own good - to secure power for Darth Jadus and become his right hand assassin and operative. A side effect of which was that I got brainwashed with a code word. A code word the Republic Special Information Service obtained and used to make me go against the Empire and my friends. A story of lies, cheating, romance, intrigue and frankly, one attractive woman in a bikini short of a James Bond film.

Once you find a story that resonates with you, a story that draws you in and a character you grow fond of - you can't help but keep playing. TOR is to the gaming world what a good book is to my mother - 'just one more page', or in TOR's case 'just one more mission, what happens next?'.

Indeed BioWare - for players who have finished Chapter III of their story and reached the level 50 interlude that is the current "Endgame" - what happens next?

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