The conversation system in Star Wars: The Old Republic is always going to be a big talking point. Do you see what I did there?! Never mind. It’s clearly a much better way to immerse the player in the game world than walls of text which, no matter how well written, are always going to be a distraction from the game world proper. I’ve read on numerous blogs now how (brown cow) players have found themselves identifying with their character to the point of wanting to find out more about the story, and having trouble when choosing between the light or dark side options because they want to be true to the character their experience has created. Indeed, m’colleague mentioned in passing how other characters of the same class are slightly jarring because they also speak with ‘your character’s voice’.
I think those of us who are familiar with recent BioWare RPGs –such as Dragon Age and Mass Effect– don’t find the system to be anything out of the ordinary, where those players whose domain of experience extends primarily to MMOs will most likely find it to be a revelation. BioWare really have succeeded in taking their single player RPGs and extending them into the MMO space. I prefer to look at it that way: they haven’t made an MMO, they have taken the existing House of KOTOR and built a considerable MMO annex onto it, such that really you still live primarily in the House of KOTOR, but you can now have your friends over to stay, if you so want. I’m not sure how large the intersection is between the sets ‘People who play BioWare RPGs’ and ‘People who play MMOs’, undoubtedly it’s considerable in size, and yet there are still all those members of the two sets who remain outside this intersection, players who are now being encouraged towards it by SWTOR, much to BioWare’s profit, no doubt.
As much as I admire the conversation system, I do still find it a little ponderous in a world where you’re essentially being asked to kill ten womprats most of the time. I expect the idea is to give more meaning to killing those womprats by delivering grand exposition on the nature of womprats, and how they have ruined the life of Generic NPC 149. And that’s the problem in a nutshell for me. Outside of the class story, which is primarily a solo affair –very much ensconced in the comfortable living room of the House of KOTOR– even if you can bring friends along, all of these NPCs are still transitory. I know that when I speak to Henrietta Generic-damsel and get a whole great exposition about her life to this point, it’s all meaningless in the grand scheme of my adventures: I will do the quest, she will hand me a reward that I will probably sell to a vendor, and then I will never see that woman again unless I roll a new character. So why do I need to know about her at all? In all honesty I find it hard to care about her embarrassing knicker-elastic accident back in ’87, during a second year at university while she was dating Kevin from Lightsaber Comp. 101. Thus I quickly find myself returning to the standard MMO routine of wishing they’d just get on with it so that I could, in turn, get on with playing the game. Alas, once this mindset starts to take a hold, every conversation seems to be painfully padded out with unnecessary content, and every sentence seems to be spoken in an interminably slow manner…
“ter. I…… would…… like…… it…… if…… you……”
“be…… my…… friend.”
“Oka– do what?!”
“For…… if…… we…… were…… friends…… I…… could…… give…… you…… a…… qu…………………………….”
“Fine, let’s be friends.”
“Excellent! Boun…… ”
“Oh come *on*, hurry it up! Don’t you know I’m on paid time with my game subscription and all this exposition is slowing me down?!”
It’s dangerous to let that mindset take a hold of you however, because much like the quest text of other MMOs, it becomes far too easy to engage the ‘skip to the end’ device, which in the case of SWTOR is the Spacebar of Extreme Exposition Expedition (and not the Escape key, it turns out). Conversations go much quicker when you employ the SoEEE, but unlike skipping the quest text in other MMOs, while voice acting adds greatly to the immersion levels of the game, skipping over it does detract from the immersion levels in equal measure.
“La-but fn-it ha-bot?”
“Sure, I’ll look into a problem for you”
“The governor of the planet is going to meet with the Dark Sith lord of Dark Darkness, and you think that this might be a Bad Thing? And you want me to intercept him and go in his place, and I should use this disguise kit to fool the Sith into thinking I’m the governor?”
“Ye-zbt ha-yit bu-bit!”
“Oh stop fussing, I’m always discrete.”
“Fu-ou hm-ba rs-ole”
“Well there’s no need to be rude!”
“That’s more like it; I’ll be back with your information in a bit.”
“I… uh, love you too? Sorry, that one didn’t make much sense; hang on, let me read the subtitles.”
And thus you’re so intent on skipping the voice acting that you end up reading all the quest text in order to find out how to answer a question appropriately…
Blarmed clever those BioWare folks. Blarmed clever.