Star Wars: The Old Republic (or SWTOR) represented an ambitious effort on Bioware's part. The famed developer, best known for plot and dialogue-heavy titles such as Dragon Age and Mass Effect, promised that gamers would experience a massively multiplayer game with unparalleled scope, with a prominent focus on plot and character development. Given the rather stagnant nature of story-telling present in the online gaming landscape, it was uncertain whether or not Bioware would be capable of living up to their word. After years in development and with fan expectations reaching a staggering height, SWTOR was finally released in December of 2011. But did it live up to expectations, or did it fade into MMO obscurity?
While perhaps not living up to every hope, SWTOR, nonetheless, represents a functional shift in story-telling possibilities within an online title. The Star Wars universe makes for a fantastic setting, appealing to a large demographic of both casual fans and dedicated enthusiasts. Bioware does an admirable job in staying true to the franchise while introducing plenty of original content and characters. But perhaps the greatest accomplishment in SWTOR is the fact that you actually care about the story and characters introduced.
Most MMOs feature sub-par plots that act as a means of acquainting the player with various game mechanics. Functional gameplay systems have always trumped compelling plotlines in MMOs, and SWTOR bravely breaks the mold. Characters and actions have depth and lasting consequence. The dialogue system implemented in-game is comparable to that of, say, Mass Effect's, allowing for similar branching conversations and choices. This obviously works if playing solo, but in group settings, it's adapted to allow for functionality with a simple tweak; each player selects a response, and the game rolls numbers for each player. The player with the highest number rolled is given 'priority' in that their response is chosen.
Being an MMO, comparisons to World of Warcraft are inevitable. There's no denying that some quests and aspects of gameplay draw inspiration from the MMO kingpin, yet SWTOR features a more robust, action-oriented combat style that suits the title beautifully. Wielding a lightsaber in combat would feel nowhere near as immersive if the bulk of combat was relegated to an auto-combat system or queued. While combat is undoubtedly a point in the game's favor, other areas - namely crafting, which isn't exactly intuitive - aren't executed with quite the same finesse. Crafting and user interface are two examples of designs within the title that just aren't as seamless as they could be. Regardless, the bulk of content is extremely well-implemented, and updates since launch have already set to work on fixing what isn't.
SWTOR had impossibly high expectations, and has managed to succeed in toppling a number of them. It represents an admirable shift in focus for MMORPGs at no cost to functionality or playability. It's a truly entertaining title, and a treat for fans. Prepare to live out your fantasy in a galaxy far, far away.