Thursday, June 16, 2011

Of Jedi and Gamers

I’m not sure I can really consider myself a ‘gamer’.  I play video games a lot, that’s not in question.  In fact, I probably play them too much.  The part that makes me question my gamer-ness is my unwillingness to try new games.  I get stuck.  I played Total Annihilation (Gamespot’s Game of the year 1997) as my game of choice until I started playing World of Warcraft in 2005.  I got stuck on WoW for much longer than I’d like to admit and then Supreme Commander came along and I’ve been playing that ever since I found it.  I play other games, sure (Company of Heroes Online and C&C Red Alert 2 etc etc), but not for long, and I even when I do, my heart is always soon back on one of my old standbys.  Because of this, I’m not often tempted by new releases.  A game generally needs to be out for a while before I’ll hear about it and try it. That’s why it seems so strange that I’m excited about the new Star Wars themed MMO from BioWare. 

When I think about it a bit more, though, my interest in Star Wars: The Old Republic (“TOR”) makes a lot of sense.  For starters, I find MMOs to be a very compelling format - their gameplay mechanics are challenging and in addition to the basic gameplay elements they allow long-term interaction with other real people, often all over the world.  This makes them into a combination video game and chat client for a lot of people - in fact after giving up World of Warcraft, I missed interaction with friends much more than the game itself.

In addition to the standard gameplay elements that MMOs often feature, TOR will be introducing a few of its own twists that I find quite intriguing.  BioWare is releasing information in drips and drabs leading up to the release (“Second Half of 2011” ...whatever that means ), some of which looks pretty neat.  Here are some of the highlights from my point of view:

Companions -- From what I can tell, companions are a jack-of-all-trades solution to many of the boring parts of MMOs.  They are independent to some extent and can be sent on errands by players to do menial tasks like building in-game items or collecting materials.  They can also be sent to vendors to sell various things.  These tasks can even occur when the player is offline.  The intent is to level the playing field and allow people who can’t put in hours a day to stay competitive with the more intensive player.

Space combat --The interviews I’ve read describe it as a "tunnel shooter" which means you can only minimally control your ship.  It’s as if your ship is on a rail and you can just aim the guns.  The jury is still out for me on this one--it might be a fun sort of mini-game, but it seems like a bit of a boondoggle.  I’ll need to see how it plays out.

Classes -- I’m still trying to wrap my head around the classes.  Each faction (Sith Empire and Galactic Republic) has 4 classes, each of which looks interesting.  The strange part to me is that there are no healers, or rather no class whose sole role is to heal.  Every other MMO that I’m aware of has healers.  WoW has priests, druids, shaman and paladins.  Everquest had clerics, druids and shaman.  Even EVE Online has logistics ships.  All of these are specifically tailored to healing.  In TOR, there doesn’t appear to be a single full-healing class.  Companions are apparently able to heal, and several other writeups I've read indicate that most classes have some healing ability, but none of their descriptions make them sound like primary healers.  This seems very strange to me, since it means that any group fights against bosses will be primarily a damage race.  Do more damage percentage-wise than the boss can do and you win.  I’m hoping that isn’t the case, but from what I’ve read it seems like it is.

Voiced Conversations -- When I first heard this, my response was, “who would want to sit through a bunch of pre-recorded conversations?  I could barely bring myself to read the full quest text in World of Warcraft!!”  After watching some of the demo videos, I’m a lot more optimistic about this one.  Again, I’m really looking forward to seeing this one in person.

I’m definitely going to give SWTOR a few months worth of time.  I look forward to seeing how it all turns out and whether BioWare can generate a critical mass of subscribers.  Should be interesting!