Star Wars: The Old Republic - What We Know So Far

After the "big reveal" at the San Francisco LucasArts office, we were given the chance for Q&A with BioWare and LucasArts on details for the KOTOR MMO. Which was kind of silly, since they largely refused to answer any of the questions with anything besides "We can't talk about that yet."

So here's what we don't know:
—The level cap
—The release date
—The type or total number of classes (so far, only Jedi and Sith have been officially announced)
—If or what kind of vehicles and spaceships users will be able to own/access/build
—If or which races will be faction-specific
—What kind of business models the MMO will employ (subscription, micro transactions, etc.)

As for what we do know, you'll have to hit the jump to find out.

1) The lightsabers in the screenshots will shrink - but not by much.

Art Director Jeff Dobson says that Old Republic will not have a totally realistic art style; but neither will it be too cartoon-y. The idea here, he says, is that they want a distinct look for the MMO that sets it apart from all others - one that will run on as many machines as possible without sacrificing the quality of the graphics.

2) They really, really, really mean it when they say that there is story in this game and it is what sets Old Republic apart from every MMO out there.

I'm skeptical about this - how many times have we heard it before? Argue Guild Wars, Tabula Rasa, or Age of Conan until you're blue in the face; it didn't do it for me as far as "story" went and BioWare doesn't think it did it at all.

The difference in Old Republic that I can see so far is we're hearing it from BioWare, a heavy-hitter in the story department. According to Lead Writer Daniel Erickson, there will be no "Darth Vader saves someone's cat" quests or "go collect 18 rat butts," and other stuff you associate with the paper-thin plots in other MMOs that tout their "stories."

The stories in Old Republic are set by class. Each class will have its own unique story that can play out in tons of different ways (they don't want any two people to have the exact same experience, although they weren't entirely confident that this would be 100% true). The idea is that you could roll a Jedi, play the whole way through and then go back and play a Sith and never see the same content/cutscene/choices.

Everything will be epic all of the time, says Erickson. The K'lor slug you see below - you fight that thing at level one on the path of the Sith. Things don't get any smaller, in scope, size or difficulty than that. Erickson says that all of the choices your character makes are on the grand scale of saving the galaxy. You can't just go into a cantina and poke some guy to give you some task so you can earn money. You're supposed to be asking yourself: I'm out saving/destroying the galaxy; do I really have time for this?

Also, your companion character will matter in a big way. You can collect more than one, but you can only keep one with you at a time. This character will grow based on the choices you make - you might even form a romance with them (or maybe kill them...?). They'll react to your choices, either encouraging a behaviour or freaking out when you do something bad like force-choking someone. They'll also have companion-specific quests that you can play out to strengthen (or destroy) your bond to your companion.

Oh, and we will see stuff in Old Republic that ties up loose KOTOR ends from the game - if we look for it. BioWare doesn't want to rub these plot points in the face of MMO gamers and Star Wars fans who never got around to playing it. And maybe we'll see some influences from the comics and stuff...? I'd totally dig having a Nomi Sunrider NPC...

3) You don't pick good or evil right off the bat

I was so happy to hear this - they were having a hard time explaining it. But somewhere between Erickson and Designers Jake Neri, Gordon Walton, Rich Vogel and James Ohlen's Q&A, it was made clear that you choose a faction from the get-go (Sith or Republic). Your good or evil status evolves through the choices you make, which is true to the KOTOR standard.

Mind you, choosing Sith means something in this galaxy. The timeline is set only 300 years after the events in KOTOR, so it's still very upsetting and somewhat "bad" to be a Sith. However, Old Republic is out to challenge what "Sith" means. The story goes that after KOTOR, two Jedi got exiled into deep space, ran into the Sith, shit hit the fan, and then they were sent back to the Republic as Sith emissaries. The Sith then kicked the shit out of the Republic, abruptly backed off and said "Give us these random worlds for no specific reason, and we'll call it even." And the Republic says "Deal," so now we've got these two factions sitting uneasily in a divided galaxy.

Erickson went on some huge tangent about the evolution of the Sith from a real race (like with a different skin colour and stuff) breeding with humans and influencing the philosophy of the Jedi such that a new thinking arose. This new thinking took on the name of the race (Sith), and then apparently shit hit the fan (that happens a lot in the galaxy far, far away), so "Sith" started to mean "evil."

This made me squee inside because I'm a fangirl who's read all the fanfiction Expanded Universe books and the best thing I took away from them was Vergere's challenge to Luke Skywalker that there is no Dark or Light Side. There was also something in those books about Sith not defaulting to evil. I think this point got totally ret-conned in the last Legacy book...

4) There will be crafting, there will probably be guilds, there will definitely be PvP and there won't be a whole lot of instancing

The bottom line is that BioWare knows what makes an MMO good - they've played World of Warcraft, they've at least heard of Warhammer (y'know, being a new EA partner and all). They want to put the stuff in there that will attract MMO gamers.

But they also want to keep KOTOR fans interested and maintain the integrity of the "epic-ness" of the game. So that means that they won't necessarily rely on instancing (not everyone can blow up the Death Star, I guess), and the crafting won't be some mundane thing where you find some thread and some crystals and viola - you have shoes!

Of course they won't say what the crafting will be, how the guilds will work or what PvP will play like (yet). I asked about moisture farming and they said no. But in that trailer, we saw a Jedi putting together a lightsaber, and Ohlen did come out and say you wouldn't end the game with the lightsaber you started with, so...

5) Star Wars: Galaxies is not getting shut down

As for what will happen to it, no one seemed ready to say. Clearly, BioWare used it as a learning experience for crafting the KOTOR MMO - which means I might get to play a Sith Twi'lek stripper if I play my cards right. But I have to ask myself if LucasArts really needs (or wants) to run two Star Wars MMOs at once.

If I had to guess, I think LucasArts will wait and see how well Old Republic does. If it sells like hotcakes the cost of maintaining Galaxies is too high, logically, they'd phase it out and concentrate all their resources on Old Republic content.

6) "You can't ruin Star Wars."

This is what Daniel Erickson declared at the end of the night after "adult refreshments" were served. I had to think real hard about it (and consider the question of whether or not Jar Jar Binks counts as "ruining" or "irritating"); but then I saw what Erickson was getting at.

Star Wars is a franchise that has survived everything from Jar Jar to the Christmas Special which shall not be seen again on network television. There are toys, toothpastes, Lego sets, and yet another animated series running on Cartoon Network. How can an MMO - made by BioWare, no less - possibly make anything worse? If anything, we can have reasonable hope that Old Republic will make Star Wars better - because the BioWare folks understand the meaning of canon (even if I can't spell the word consistently :p), and have done their homework.

So, love MMOs or hate them, love KOTOR, or hate it, LucasArts is going balls-out on this. And it'll be interesting to see what happens.

P.S. Another revel ation of Erickson: Modesto, CA = Tatooine; Tatooine = the cradle of galactic civilization, ergo Modest = the cradle of civilization...? I don't think he had it all quite worked out, but he had a point about Tatooine and Modesto sharing some similarities. Namely being boring, says Erickson.


Comments

    Well here we go again another story driven MMO what these developers dont seem to grasp is 95% notice i didnt say 100% of MMO players could care less about the story. Most click through every chat bubble as fast as they can until they get to the accept button, then go to a wiki or similar site for a walk through of the quest. MMO players = Get to top level gather uber items defeat end game content and get a sense of satisfaction.

    Dont get me wrong Bioware has a stellar reputation and will no doubt be succesful but drop the this is a story driven MMO different from all the rest moniker. Make it fun, make it balanced, make it have end game content that works.

    If I had 100 buck for every developer i spoke to at E3's in the past that told me our MMO is different because it is story driven I probably could have financed my own by now :)

    BTW I try or play almost every MMO that launches from dogs like Horizons to popular bore fests like WoW. I always go back to EQ2 because it has CONTENT. Also currentley playing SWG so hoping for good things from the new Bioware venture, if they are half as good as BG series they have a winner.

    Thing is, those MMOs are end-game gear-based grind fests because they don't have a "personal story" for each and every character, bar some half-assed destiny quest series from Age of Conan.

    Any Age of Conan player will tell you that they LOVED the destiny quests, but the rest was just a grind.

    SWTOR won't have your typical grind quests/errand boy missions but will be more like KOTOR in the sense that you are following a story, a destiny for your character specifically, and each choice you make will alter your fate.

    You won't need to do 50 quests where you have to kill 10 unnamed creatures each, but instead you may be sent to a droid factory to disable and destroy it because it's been spitting out droids to attack a frigate building plant owned by the Republic 1 mile away. By doing this deed, you are rewarded with your own ship that you can pilot to Typhon to advance your Jedi teachings, etc etc. On the other hand, you may wish to cherish the droids and instead take out the ship factory, meaning you can instead gain a powerful assassin or utility droid companion that has knowledge of the whereabouts of an even better and faster assault frigate, of course this means sacrificing some support from the Republic, however. You'll most likely level up for each major choice/twist/turn you take in your story, making each level actually mean something and not an actual grind.

    Honestly, this game looks like it'll be KOTOR, except with about 10 times more content per alignment+class combination that is ever-increasing and you can play with human players instead of NPC companions. The cost is your individual effect on the galaxy as a whole, but all your choices will affect you and your companions.

    @whiplazh: Bioware's thinking is that people aren't into Story in MMO's because it hasn't been emphasized or incorporated as a pillar of that type of content. They categorize traditional MMO's as having three basic pillars:

    1) Exploration.
    2) Combat.
    3) Customization/Character progression.

    This three pillar description is comparable to the definition you give in regard to the traditional/typical MMO experience. I.e. "Get to top level gather uber items defeat end game content and get a sense of satisfaction".

    Bioware is looking to move beyond the traditional MMO, but not apart from it. What sets Bioware apart from other MMO developer's is that they come to the MMO space with a really excellent track record of incorporating compelling stories into their games.

    If anyone should be able to move beyond the traditional MMO and incorporate a compelling Story into the MMO, Bioware is at the top of my list --provided-- that they establish the other three pillars.

    Bioware is a very heavy hitter when it comes to story. That said, developing for the MMO space is somewhat new for them and they may find it more difficult to establish the three pillars than they expect. In my ideal world, Bioware and ArenaNet would be working together toward a no subscription MMO incorporating four pillars.

    No doubt about it, Bioware has taken on a very, very ambitious project. I am hoping that they succeed and lay down this four pillar MMO. That would be an MMO I would love to play! I love Story!

    If they do succeed, I think that there are some interesting opportunities to combine "New Media" type productions with the MMO space. I examine this possibility on my blog, Prime Time For Change.

    Thanks for the post, AJ Glasser.

    If they can make this game what Galaxies was originally then they have succeeded.

    To reply to the previous poster's comments, however hard it was to read without punctuation, yes.

    There are MMO players that don't care about storyline, and you can pull out statistics on age ranges that affect this, etc. However, there are a large number of WoW players (I've played two characters to level 70) that have expressed the, "Do I really have to do another 10 creature kill quest at level 65, just like I did at level 20?" Then it's just a level grinding experience.

    It can get monotonous and boring.

    The quests in the KOTR MMO promise to be more involved and less two dimensional. Although the developers weren't specific, they definitely want to get away from the "grinding."

    I think this is the type of storytelling that the developers have been discussing in other Q&As, setting them apart from other MMOs, i.e. the NPCs storylines won't revolve around retrieving "X" creature skins for the majority of your level progressions.

    The Hammerfist Clan will rock SWTOR.

    Thank you, that is all.

    My name is Tonk, and I approved this message.
    www.hammerfistclan.com

    i for one am very siked to see what they come up with. The great thing about SWg, was that it let you live your own life. the best thing about this game is that it will let you be a true star wars hero(allegedly). i just hope that Bioware smartens up and allows you to be independent in our servers and give us the tools to govern ourselves like SWG did, but build on it and make it more exciting.

    I for one have played every star wars game that there is from Kotor to SWG both fields of console and MMO.I agree with Mr. Tim Todd.I think Bio-Ware is on the right track with story. I belive Mr. Mapex said it best "You won't need to do 50 quest for killing 10 creatures" when it comes to leveling. Your character will develope threw story and choices just as kotor consoles did before. "Grinding really does get old". There are going to be alot of power hungry players who want all the good's as fast as they can get, if just for the satisfaction of having it "I'm one of them" LOL. But if this platform is based on the Kotor legacy which it seems that way. Then you will have attanded that mantel of "DARK LORD" or "JEDI MASTER" by just completeing the story for the game. If you want a little edge on the competition perhaps there will be an altenate mission of sorts to add in the lust of power or peace whichever you prefer.I think its also good that they are not includeing instances on KOTOR. Because on SWG that's kinda all ppl are looking for is a good instance run to get your next token or jewelery or rare loot drop but you need a group of ppl to even do it. I also like the fact of tradition and kotor is capitializing on this, your actions carrying consquence with your party either threw gain or lossing experience with them. You still get to entangle the fate of your companions with yours. I just wonder how this will all play out on a MMO world. Stats, buffs, capped items, if there even included!

    but we still do not know wat the subscribtion fee is going to be so i hope they shed some light on that soon

    Wow did i just hear someone say they are playing SWG still??? Yikes that game is a disaster after all the combat screw ups. I loved that game for about a year and a half got very involved and then it got totally destroyed and dismantled. Hopefully they wont take anything from the current SWG and use it in this. Minus maybe some of the graphics and cool dancers and such. Cant get over that...Really? still playing SWG...hmm went back a year after i quit and just kind of laughed at how much they dumbed that game down into oblivion. Still miss the old school days of gathering and hunting rancors on dathomir. Loved it!!!!! Long live the Krayt Dragon hunter!!! Apollas!!!

    Bioware is doing the right thing here. The last thing they need to do is make another cookie cutter MMO. The genre has way too many games like that. What the genre needs is a fresh, innovative game that moves the genre forward. Everything that I've read about SWKOTR so far makes me think that this is exactly the game to do just that.

    I like that they're making a story driven game and I think they're going about that in the right way. They're not forcing a specific, predetermined story on anyone. They're making this sort of like those choose your own adventure books. You get to choose your own path and your actions have consequences. How can someone not enjoy being able to complete a quest the way that they want to complete it as opposed to one specific way that was predetermined by the developers?

    How many MMO's has everyone played where nothing you did ever mattered? You can kill a million kobalds or orcs or ogres or whatever, and they still just keep respawning in the same spot. You can raid the same instance a million times and nothing about the world ever changes.

    I want a game that has meaning to it. I want to know that what I do, the decisions I make, have an impact on the world. SWTOR looks like it will do just that, give players meaning. There are already too many MMO's that have the same stupid "kill x number of y enemies" quests from level one to the level cap. I'm glad to see that someone like BioWare realizes how stupid stuff like that is and is going to exclude that from their game.

    Obviously this game is still a ways away from being released but I think that the more that we find out about the game, the more people are going to want to play it. Like I said before, it looks like a fresh, new, innovative MMO that is at the very least trying to move the genre forward.

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