Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Star Wars: The Old Republic


My son has started a Bounty Hunter game, and I'm about to ditch my aged (to the point where I've forgotten most of what I've done) bounty hunter game (after coming within a hair's breadth of finishing the second planet, Dromund Kaas.)  I've watched about six hours now--in small chunks at a time--of a Smuggler play-through.  Although the recorder/player did include some flashpoints (Hammer Station, for instance) and space battles, it's a mostly heavily edited playthrough--much of the running around and fighting of respawning stock bad-guys and whatnot is not shown; it focuses much more on the dialogue, the quests, and the boss fights.  Although I'm itching to play the game a bit myself, I'm not at all blind to many of its faults.  The article linked right there, unfortunately, mentions one of the biggest ones--the free-to-play option is almost spitefully punitive compared to the subscriber option; to the point that it's occasionally frustrating to even bother with.  That said; it's still Star Wars, and it's still a reasonably fun game, or at least my past experience with it was fun.  But it's disappointing to see that it didn't live up to its potential.  The biggest problem, which is mentioned almost off-hand in the "re-review" above is that it wants to be an RPG, not an MMO, and it would be decent if it focused on being one, instead of tacking on MMO and pay-to-play options out the wazoo.

Here's my (not necessarily exhaustive) list of things that it should have done better, or not done at all:

  • Options for character creation are extremely limited.  I still remember playing the demo with all of the race options.  Cutting it back to basically human, cyborg and zabrak feels like a slap in the face.  If it were an off-line RPG, a "super-RPG" if you will (it's really almost like 8 RPGs in one; one for each character class, which each have a story of equivalent size and magnitude to the earlier Knights of the Old Republic game) with all of the options available up front, I'd be a lot happier with the result.
  • Along those lines, I'm not quite sure what in the world they were thinking with offering four body types and only making one of them (maybe two if you're generous) an attractive one to pick.  Who wants to be the scrawny little runt, or Tubby the Jedi Knight?  It's great to offer options, but if realistically you don't have good options, then what's the point?  All of the fat people in the Old Republic galaxy is a really odd choice.  I suspect weird SJW "inclusiveness" being a factor there; the designers wanted to allow fat people to feel heroic, or something equally banal and inane.  For male characters, the big beefy option isn't terrible, but I can't really see ever picking anything other than option 2 for body type.  Ever.
  • Among the MMO specific (and necessary) items that's really kind of bloody annoying is the fact that enemies respawn fairly quickly so that they can be there available for the next guy to come along.  Occasionally this isn't a bad thing; you can count on respawning bad guys to be a source of potentially unlimited (albeit tedious) XP, for instance, and when you don't feel like fighting them, you can hang back and ride on the coat tails of someone else who just cleared the area for you, I suppose.  Mostly, though--I'd just kind of prefer that I could kill the enemies and then they stay dead so I can count on the area being cleared again when I pass through a second time.
  • Another one is the multi-player missions, flashpoints, and the like.  Now, I like the idea of side quests, but I'm supremely annoyed, honestly, about having to recruit someone else to go along with me, and then hope that that works out.  What I'd rather do is be able to bring along two companions (as in Knights) and have the difficulty geared so that they could be won in single-player with two companions along.  I find all of the endless "run around killing tons of bad guys so you can fetch something" quests very tedious after a while, and it's nice that they're optional (to a point) but they could easily be less tedious if we could just do them in solo player mode offline.
  • Speaking of which, I know that the personal side-quests are part and parcel of the genre and they give players something to do without having to always be focused on the main task and all, but this actively dilutes from the Star Wars feel, frankly.  Not only that, many of the side treks are silly and petty.  From relatively early on in the smuggler story, for instance, you've got that poor nautolan guy on Coruscant who's looking for his girl friend or wife or whatever, who left him to go join a dancing troupe.  The whole thing is just awkward and embarrassing.  I can't believe anyone thought that was a good idea to write.  The brother and sister guys on Taris who are yelling at a soldier because their farm was under attack by rakghouls, and yet the soldier explaining to them over and over again that the area wasn't cleared for settlement yet, came across as extremely whiny and entitled.  We're supposed to sympathize with these guys?  I was more inclined to let them rot.  On the plus side, it is a great object lesson on some of the details of r/K-selection theory.  The writers clearly literally can't understand a scenario in which resources are too limited to allow everyone to have everything that they want.  There's actually a lot of whiny, entitled dialogue.  It's really tedious listening to the sob story of every stupid schmuck in the galaxy.  Most of whom, quite literally, are extremely stupid.
  • That said, another non-Star Wars feeling detail--the Republic aren't really the good guys.  I'm not quite sure what they were going for, but constantly showing Republic officials as either inept or corrupt (often both at once) might be realistic when it comes to real federalized government bureaucracies, but it sure doesn't feel very much like Star Wars.  It'd be a lot better if the Republic weren't portrayed as a bunch of flawed and therefore angsty do-gooders, but were instead a very light government presence who was more about ensuring freedom rather than providing a bunch of other odd and unexpected services to a gaggle of whiny, demanding, spoiled brats who claim citizenship.  The Rebellion in the original Star Wars saga wasn't a big bureaucracy, it was a flat meritocracy of can-do independent types; not unlike the settlers of the Old West or the patriots of the American revolution (which no doubt was done to some degree on purpose.)  BioWare has lost track of what Star Wars means, and that's a bad thing.  Then again, BioWare is a bit notorious for becoming a sink of SJW political correctness, so in retrospect, maybe that shouldn't be too surprising.  Sigh.  And for that matter, George Lucas himself these days sounds an awful lot like an SJW, so I think that's a battle that's been lost, for whatever it's worth.  It's not like ownership by Disney is likely to return it to anything else.
Ultimately, nothing compares to the open-ness of an actual face-to-face pen and paper RPG, such as my Star Wars m20 system, or the Edge of the Empire game by Fantasy Flight (or d20 Star Wars by Wizards of the Coast, or d6 Star Wars by West End Games, or whatever other home-brew you've come up with using GURPS, or Unisystem, or Savage Worlds or whatever in the world you use.)

Of course, this doesn't compare with the sensory experience of Star Wars, which--in spite of George Lucas' dissatisfaction with it in later years--was a huge part of the draw from the very beginning; the special effects of the Star Destroyer filling the screen for the better part of thirty seconds, the screaming of the TIE fighters overhead, the snapping and crackling of the lightsabers as they clash, the surprisingly emotive sound effects of characters like R2-D2 or Chewbacca; no matter how much one tries to describe them (and I've read a lot of Star Wars novels where writers have tried) it's an unsatisfying substitute.

I hope, still, to get the Star Wars gaming experience that I really want someday, but I don't necessarily expect it.  My expectations are rather finicky, and unlikely to be met by anyone.

EDIT: And as I go through more of the Smuggler storyline details on Youtube, I'm amazed and amused (although not in a good way) that the "Smuggler" character has a moral objection to the smuggling operation of Tyrodall.  Just idiotic.  The smuggler who dislikes smuggling.  That particular plot hole, while not monumental (it's really just kind of a side-quest type thing) is worse than any in the movies.  Then again, maybe it was the choices that the player made that you don't necessarily have to make... although you do if you want to get light side points.  Ridiculous.

EDIT 2: I should give credit where credit is due, however, to the brilliant visual design and soundtrack for the game, as well as the setting set-up, at least.  Absolutely no complaints there.  I've been listening to the soundtrack for quite a long time, actually.  The original 17 tracks are available on a CD that is... well, mostly unavailable nowadays, although I snagged a copy when they were still on sale at a reasonable price on Amazon.  And then, BioWare released most of the rest of the tracks as free mp3s which are still available on their website.  The best stuff borrows themes and cues from the original score of the movies, of course, but there's good stuff all around.  I find many of the the various cantina songs to be remarkably and surprisingly charming.  "Average Brown Wookie" is probably my favorite of these (in part because of the name) and "Run Kessel Run" has the most iconic musical references to the Cantina Band song of the first movie.

Here's a youtube playlist of the entire 45 track collection.  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC06B7C9CF80A3731 which includes the original soundtrack plus all of the extras.  Get yourself a good youtube to mp3 converter if you can't find the original CD anymore, and you could be listening to the entire Old Republic music during your own Star Wars RPG sessions.

EDIT 3: I should point out that the game itself uses not only its own original music, but also re-uses a lot of music from Knights of the Old Republic, which is also a BioWare game.  If you really want your own gaming session to sound like you're playing Old Republic then you probably need to find that soundtrack somewhere too... if you're really particular.  In my experience, the KotOR soundtrack isn't really all that memorable, or even listenable except as innocuous background music, but that's OK.  One might ask, why not go straight to the source; the movie soundtracks are readily enough available, and are... well, are the original?  My answer there is that individual tracks in the movies tend to change mood and tone quite a bit, often in ways that might be jarring during a game session.  Also, the music is so familiar to fans of the movies (at least to me) that I can often picture in my mind exactly what's happening at any point in the movie just by hearing the music.  This is, needless to say, a bit distracting.  The Old Republic music, on the other hand, avoids this by sounding like Star Wars without sounding like a specific Star Wars moment from the motion picture soundtracks.  To give one example: the opening cues of the track "Deception, the Sith Warrior" uses the musical cues of the Emperor from Return of the Jedi, but gives them a powerful, fast-tempo march feel that, in effect, makes it sound like "The Imperial March"; otherwise known as Vader's Theme.  This concept of taking one musical cue but making it sound like it belongs in a totally different Star Wars song gives the track resonance; it certainly sounds like it belongs with Star Wars; just not from any particular movie exactly.

EDIT 4: The absolutely crazy apologetics for rakghouls and nexu is just bizarre, not to mention the "space PETA" group that you have to deal with to get Drooga the Hutt interested in dealing with you again.  The "morality" of the game is becoming a major hindrance for my enjoyment, quite frankly.  That said; I think the storylines have elements that are worth raiding for my own potential games, mostly by completely ignoring the completely imbecilic side quests and focusing on the main stuff to use as raw building blocks with which to construct the framework of a game for me to run on my own.

EDIT 5: And now with both Alderaan and Cademimu, we're getting tons of appeasement as the "good" choice.  Neville Chamberlain would be proud of this narrative.

1 comment:

Joshua Dyal said...

Although this is a review of BioWare's more recent Dragon Age: Inquisition it's an accurate indicator of what's wrong with the company overall anymore. Keep in mind that the writer of this review is gay: http://www.breitbart.com/london/2014/12/15/review-dragon-age-inquisition/