SWTOR: The Dark Knight of MMOs

You might want to consider this the first part in a trilogy of SWTOR related posts likely to be published here as there’s certainly a lot to say about BioWare’s first attempt at an MMO. Fingers crossed this will be more a case of A New Hope, rather than The Phantom Menace.

So what am I actually saying here? Am I seriously comparing SWTOR to Christopher Nolan’s incredibly successful and critically acclaimed take on the Batman franchise? Well, sort of, but not exactly. What I’m saying can actually be summed up quite nicely by Nolan’s description of the Dark Knight as “not the hero Gotham needs, but the hero Gotham deserves”.

SWTOR, and many of its flaws could be blamed on a multitude of things (strengths too, and I’ll get to that later) not the least of which being that it is very much a product crafted with an existing audience in mind (Star Wars fans, MMO fans, BioWare fans, and unholy entities that exhibit elements of all three). Except that when the design team reached the ‘MMO fans’ it seems that a typo misinformed them that MMO = WoW.

“But we have lightsabers! They don’t have lightsabers in WoW… well…”

SWTOR is not the most original MMO ever made. It has some very interesting and exciting additions, but all of this is overshadowed by a desperate need of the game to be taken seriously as a WoW, I mean… as an MMO. Sorry, I seem to be confusing those two as well now. The problem is that either the designers are seriously at fault here and an error has been made, or more likely this game is what the masses actually want.

Confused? I don’t blame you. I barely understand the concept myself. I know that repetitive unimaginative and uninventive games like the Call of Duty series sell, but I don’t know why. I don’t know why they keep getting made, but they do, and every time a new instalment in the “shoot baddies” genre is released, it is met with raucous applause. Surely what we really need is constant and creative originality, after all that’s how things evolve and improve… but that’s hard to find, and even harder to turn into a commercial success (outside of the indie genre).

Pet battles in SWTOR or a chilling vision of our future tauntaun overlords?

So let’s examine the ways in which SWTOR conforms to this view. SWTOR at its core is identical to WoW in gameplay terms. You can try really hard to deny that fact, and point towards the genuinely innovative and fun additions such as conversations, interactive dungeons (flashpoints) and social armour, all interesting design choices that make the game unique, but ultimately your goals remain firmly in WoW’s court. You level, you kill things/pick up things for XP via quests, you then get to the endgame and engage in either Warzones (battlegrounds) or Operations (raids).

When you’re not PvPing or PvEing you’re likely to be either leveling an alt, or farming dailies for gold and tokens, a description that could very easily be used to describe a typical WoW player’s experience. What TOR does well however is encouraging players to level alts as the unique class stories make for hours of entertainment, but at no point does this alter the contents of the mixing pot. Strip away the BioWare touch and you really do have World of Warcraft in space.

Not quite Deathwing, but at least his lines are better written.

So what does that have to do with my incredibly convoluted and ludicrous assertion that SWTOR is the Dark Knight of MMOs? Well, given that there has already been a somewhat successful Star Wars MMO in the shape of SOE’s Star Wars: Galaxies, which was also one of the earliest mainstream MMOs, you would think that SWTOR might look to its spiritual predecessor and take more from it than it does. The amount of freedom that Galaxies offered in terms of gameplay when compared to SWTOR is astonishing given that it is an older game. As it is you’d be hard-pressed to find even a passing nod to it in BioWare’s game.

Thus, SWTOR joins the long list of WoW clones that while individually enjoyable, never really attract numbers large enough to become financially viable in the long run. They may break even, and they may even turn a profit, but unlike Blizzard’s market leading game, they are birthed with expiration dates… and that could be attributed to a lot of things, not the least being financial security (a game that you know will sell is better than a game that might, from an investor’s point of view), and of course the target audience.

A demonstration of how easy it is to make a crappy venn diagram about just about anything. I’m calling this one the “Fan Diagram”.

You could argue that there’s also an element of laziness in the creation of these games, but I’m not convinced. There’s something cold and clinical at work here that reeks of the cynicism that has long been hovering over the gaming industry. Don’t get me wrong here, SWTOR was a very expensive to make game. It is also a very fun and entertaining game to play…

But it’s not the MMO that we need right now. It’s the MMO we deserve.


About A. R. Whitehead

I'm an aspiring author, with a degree in English and Creative Writing. I love books, comics, games and film. My favourite genres are Science Fiction and Fantasy.
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