A lot has changed since the days of Everquest, Asheron’s Call, and Ultima Online. The MMORPG market today is far larger, and yet, I would argue, far more homogenous than ever. World of Warcraft has certainly expanded the appeal for MMO’s, however its stranglehold on the MMO userbase has been unhealthy for the market, with almost every new IP struggling to survive. For most players, a large player population is the first sign of a healthy MMO. Some players are certainly satisfied with their niche titles, which appeal to player numbering in thousands, not millions. World of Warcraft, however, has proved that mainstream appeal for MMOs is possible.
Even if you don’t want to play WoW, the decision of which online timesink to play these days is largely dependent on which game is least likely to be on life support a year after launch. Many of the other MMOs have been released as “WoW killers”, featuring new IPs, new gameplay modes, etc, some of which have found great niche success, but never to the levels that WoW has enjoyed these past 5 years. I am referring of course to games like Guild Wars (no subscription), Warhammer: Age of Reckoning (PVP centric), and others. I tried several of these titles, yet most lacked much of a competitive advantage to WoW…simply no one can compete with the established userbase and widely recognizeable IP that Blizzard has….no one, except Star Wars: The Old Republic.
If you’ve watched any footage of The Old Republic in action, then you know it’s pretty clear that Bioware took many cues from WoW’s art style, core gameplay, and user interface. This aside, the areas that TOR differs most from WoW is the extensive backstory of the Star Wars universe and impactful character decisions that BioWare is famous for. The Warcraft backstory is strong, but it simply doesn’t have the scope of the Star Wars universe. Though many enjoy the simple, no-nonsense quest mechanics of World of Warcraft, most of your decisions in that game lack much long term impact. It is in these two areas that BioWare’s upcoming game shines, and ultimately where WoW falls short.
For me, the concept of applying the rich backstory of Star Wars to a massively multiplayer online game is a no-brainer, though let’s not forget it has been tried before. I doubt anyone was more excited than I when Star Wars Galaxies was announced, yet after actually playing the game, I quickly became one of its harshest critics. Bioware, the studio behind the popular Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age, certainly has an impressive track record. If anyone can pull off a great Star Wars game, its them.
Even so, TOR will be Bioware’s first attempt at an MMO, and its still too early to tell how well the game and classes play, or how the much-touted storyline will hold up. I am confident, however, that the simple combination of an award winning developer like BioWare and a universally recognizeable brand name like Star Wars is a recipe for success to rival that of WoW. Furthermore, I think Star Wars: The Old Republic will further expand the MMORPG market, attracting both players new to the genre and WoW refugees looking for something new (like me).
What do you, the reader have to say about Star Wars: The Old Republic? Share in the comments below!