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.