Friday 22 July 2011

Why I should stick my neck out for you is far beyond my capacity!

“Luke: Well, more wealth than you can imagine!
Han Solo: I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit.”

Deliberately inflammatory rhetoric aside, I do find myself somewhat aligned with the less than popular opinion that I’d rather wait for a while after Star Wars: The Old Republic’s release, before dropping out of hyperspace and diving flame-licked into the atmosphere of the virtual world that it represents.

The reasons are many and minor, but their cumulative effect is that of grains of sand, piled one upon the other until they dam rivers and ground ships; doubt upon uncertainty upon cynicism, until the flow of enthusiasm is strangled to a trickle. The enthusiasm is there, pooled, churning and thundering raw, a bear trapped in a collapsed tent, without focus or reason, and in danger of harming itself, or anyone who tries to guide it in the right direction; wisdom says that it’s best left alone to sort itself out, as it will inevitably do. Therefore I’ve avoided ordering a copy of the game straight away, and will watch from the sidelines as the vanguard of players takes to that infamous galactic stage far far away.

The pricing option has been debated elsewhere, and I imagine even the monocles of EVE players were in danger of popping out at the initial reveal of the collector’s edition price. Consider, though, that if you’d been in the right place at the right time, you could have gathered a couple of those ejected eyeglasses and bought yourself a TOR collector’s edition. If we call it ten Sparkle Ponies instead of $200, it would be a cynical marketing sleight of hand, but it certainly doesn’t seem quite so offensive when you balance the content of SW:TOR against ten translucent steeds, let alone the additional sundries that come with the Collector’s Edition. So it seems to have been aimed at the right level, too steep for some and a compulsory purchase for others, but for me it simply helped to reinforce my decision to wait until after release.

SW:TOR seems to all intents and purposes a traditional single player Bioware RPG but with the option to bring friends along. The voice acting will give a pace to questing that I believe will cause more friction in groups, especially PuGs, than we are already witness to. As such, the game appears to encourage a single player approach. Companion NPCs only seem to advance this theory. What I want to know, and what I can’t know until the game is released, is whether this bucking bronco of game design will throw most MMO riders, or whether the ropes, chaps and gloves of TOR’s various ancillary game systems will give players enough purchase to keep riding. I certainly can’t justify a monthly subscription for a single player RPG, even a Bioware one… especially a Bioware one, seeing as Dragon Age and Mass Effect cater perfectly well to that requirement.

In addition, I’ve come to equate, perhaps unfairly, the charge to get ahead during the early access of a game with that overarching madness in MMO society for rushing through content, getting afore the hoi polloi, and to pound out character levels as if in time with the sonorous rhythm of hammers in a village smithy. In some quarters there’s almost a January Sales mentality to it, where the crowds seems to beat at each other, striving not for bargains, but the boredom and bitter disillusion of end-game. Unfortunately I don’t look back with fondness on the many MMO head-starts of which I’ve partaken. I still remember World of Warcraft’s early days as being a time of server instability, incredible lag, and massively oversubscribed resources. I couldn’t get into Warhammer Online for days. I was in at the start of City of Heroes, and although it had a smooth release as far as the warped and battered platters of my memory can recall, I also don’t remember anything outstanding that occurred in those early days that made the unavoidable overcrowding worthwhile. I honestly can’t remember an MMO where getting in from the very beginning has made any difference to my experience; indeed, I became properly invested in LotRO only years after its release –and only then I suspect because I found a good group of friends to play with– and yet it is an MMO for which I will always have the fondest memories and no regrets, despite not being there from the very beginning.

There are other grains of concern I have for TOR, subjective ones such as the graphics, which don’t appeal to me to the point that I still harbour a secret hope that Bioware will surprise us all by dropping the faux Clone Wars style, and revealing that the game actually looks more like something birthed from the union of Force Unleashed and Mass Effect. Group issues again come to the fore with the game-play: videos of players standing statically around a boss mob and going through the Usual MMO Combat Routine[TM], do not entirely inspire a new hope. Rail-based starship combat didn’t take off in Clone Wars Adventures, so let’s do it again in this game! The list goes on. The grains of sand form a bank. The wash of enthusiasm is arrested.

So I’m not ordering Star Wars: The Old Republic, although I don’t think the price is the real issue here. It’s a personal thing: partly because, for better or worse, I’m over that stage of MMO fandom where I need to be involved in an MMO from the start; partly because there are other contenders which I feel offer me a better chance at finding my MMO mojo once again; and partly because I’m not convinced that SW:TOR is a game for which I want to pay a monthly subscription, something which other contenders –and a large part of the MMO market– have already moved away from.

Deep down I still hope that The Force is strong with this one, and if it is then I’ll probably visit that galaxy far far away, but for the time being… I still have a bad feeling about this.

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