On paper, the concept of a Star Wars MMO practically writes its own cheques. A fantastical, well-recognised universe; a massive install base of fans who’ve grown up beating siblings with cardboard tubes as they reenact the films’ iconic battles; and the paragon of good versus evil personified in interesting and appealing characters, from the mystical Jedi monks to their despotic antithesis – the Sith. What could go wrong? Star Wars: Galaxies. That’s what.
It’s unlikely BioWare will make the same mistakes SOE did with their attempt to entice Star Wars fans into a persistent online world, however. At least, based on the fact the studio’s previous Star Wars outing (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic) was pretty awesome, we hope not. Star Wars: The Old Republic has the pedigree – and the budget, the cost of the project rumoured to be north of $300 million – to be a massive success for a company that have long been interested in entering the MMO arena and compete with the big boys such as Blizzard.
The RPG mavens have decided to stay in the nebulous period of pre-Luke, Vader and Jar-Jar, the unfettered era long before the fall of the Jedi and the restrictive “rule of two” for the Sith obviously offering a more grandiose and opportune setting. After all, it would pretty much suck if you wanted to be a Sith Lord and had to wait in line for the two guys who managed to get in there first to stop playing or assassinate one another. Setting the story 3,500 years before A New Hope – and three hundred years after Knights of the Old Republic – also means BioWare have plenty of opportunity to add their own spice to the extensive Star Wars space-pot.
With twelve full-time writers working on the project for over two years, the plot and background of the universe is described as being more comprehensive than all of BioWare’s titles combined. The story focuses on a fragile period of edgy peace between the Jedi Order and a resurgent Sith Empire. Having emerged from out of nowhere to surprise attack the unprepared Jedi, the Sith ultimately sack Coruscant, raze the Jedi Temple, and, after a Great Galactic War that lasts twenty-eight years, eventually get the upper-hand on their light-side of the Force followers and strong-arm the Jedi into a disadvantageous pact known as the Treaty of Coruscant.
The Old Republic kicks off a little after the signing of this contentious treaty, both sides pushing the other, skirmishes constantly flaring up and the possibility of the galaxy descending into the utter chaos of all-out war once again a real possibility. Using this sweeping saga as a back-drop, players will get to fashion their own story. Each of the eight fully-formed classes, which include the Bounty Hunter, Sith Warrior, Imperial Agent, and Sith Inquisitor for the villains, and the Trooper, Smuggler, Jedi Knight and Jedi Consular for the Galactic Republic, all have their own individual story arc, tailored specifically for the player.
With an emphasis on full character immersion, a cinematic experience and the presence of space combat described as a “tunnel shooter,” Star Wars: The Old Republic could be the game Star Wars fans have been patiently awaiting all these years. Yes, it’s PC only for now, though Electronic Arts executive Frank Gibeau has confirmed that the publisher are definitely looking into bringing TOR to consoles. Here’s hoping some other console MMOs such as Final Fantasy XIV and DC Universe Online attract big numbers next year, convincing BioWare that console owners, too, are strong in the Force.