In fact, this post references two competing MMOs, Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO, and Black Prophecy.
First, let me write my one and only major post about the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO. I won't be playing, and I won't be subscribing to this game. I wasn't even invited to the beta, but I've seen enough from videos posted on-line, opinions of friends and colleagues, and blog posts from people that I trust that were invited to the beta. From my perspective, there are three major problems with this game that are not only bad choices by the developers, but are actively genre-breaking for me:
- the cartoonish graphics;
- the "you are the chosen one" hero's journey meta;
- the complete lack of space content at launch.
I am an old school Star Wars fan. Star Wars for me starts the moment the pretty, clean, white Tantive IV starts getting messed up by Stormtrooper explosions and gunfire. From there, it's a straight narrative through-line from Tantive IV, to the dingy workshop Luke Skywalker works in on Tatooine, to the dirty smoky cantina in Mos Eisley, to the narrow maintenance cooridors and smuggling bays of the Millenium Falcon, into the cell blocks and trash compactors of the Death Star, to the slap-dash make-do hangars of Yavin 4.
When you're on the ground, Star Wars isn't supposed to be pretty. Somewhere along the way, George Lucas forgot that real people live and work in real places, and most of the time, those places are none too clean. The second trilogy occasionally remembers this (Sebulba's shop, some of Coruscant), but most of the time, forgets it. And by the time the Clone Wars animated series rolled around, this wasn't even a consideration. But I hold firmly to this position: in Star Wars, space is pretty, but on the ground, things are gritty and real. That's what makes Star Wars accessible to me, even in a galaxy far, far away.
SWTOR ignores or forgets this entirely, too concerned with chasing WoW subscribers that are used to these cartoonish graphics. Those graphics work for WoW's genre, but decidedly do not work for me in Star Wars. Strike one.
One of the things that bugged me about the Conan MMO was the meta that every single player in that game was the chosen one, a world-historical figure destined to trod down the jeweled thrones of the world beneath his sandaled feet. It's a meta that simply doesn't work in an MMO, where there are tens of thousands (if not millions) of other chosen ones. EVE gets this one right in its opening video, making it clear that you're an immortal demi-god... but big deal, the universe is swarming with immortal demi-gods, and most of them want to kill you. Good luck! Conan got it wrong, and the SWTOR MMO seems to be getting it even more wrong, and in exactly the same way.
One of the most clever underlying concepts in Star Wars is that the heroes of the piece are, with one notable exception, regular joes with special skills but not necessarily special backgrounds or destinies. Though Luke Skywalker starts on the hero's journey, by the middle of The Empire Strikes Back, he's abandoned that path and as a result, the comforting predictable arc of the tale is cast adrift (one of the reasons why Empire is far and away the best SW movie, incidentally). At the end of the day, while everyone playing a Star Wars MMO might want to play a Jedi, who they really want to be is Han Solo or Leia Organa, the regular guy or girl(1) who still manages to kick ass and in the end, gets the girl or the guy, depending. ;-) SWTOR misses this point. Strike two.
Finally, let's not forget what drew most of us to Star Wars in the first place. Think of "Star Wars" as a concept, and chances are pretty damn good that the first image that popped into your head was your favorite SW space ship, whichever one that happens to be for you. For me, it was the X-Wing fighter, as I've written about before. But whichever your favorite SW ship, I'm sure that you have one. The previous SWTOR games get this, but the MMO does not. And I'm sure this wasn't a conscious choice so much as trying to limit the scope of the game at launch. I can hope that later releases of the SWTOR MMO will fix this problem, but for the time being, a tunnel shooter does not a compelling space experience make. Strike three, you're outta here, SWTOR MMO, at least for me.
I have nothing against those that are going to play this game, but I am not one of them.
Note that I didn't mention the theme park aspects of the game. This is deal-breaking for a lot of people, but not necessarily for me. I have nothing inherently against theme park MMOs. I think they're intrinsicly limited and self-defeating of their own replayability, but hell, that describes nearly every single-player game ever, and lots of people -- including me -- love those. It just means that such a game has a lifespan. Even WoW has such a lifespan, and with all their recent subscriber troubles, you can see that it may finally be reaching its end. Blizzard will try riding this wave a little closer to the beach (note to self: explain this analogy sometime), but sooner or later, there will need to be a Blizzard WoW replacement.
Second, in a similar vein, I will be giving up Black Prophecy, at least for the foreseeable future. There's nothing at all wrong with BP: I've enjoyed playing it very much. As I said when I started playing, it has a real Descent: Freespace feel to it that works beautifully. But I'm finding the concept to be inherently too limiting to be a long-term playable MMO. It has much in common with Global Agenda and World of Tanks in its instant-on PvP aspects, but it also has too much in common with its spiritual predecessor, Crimson Skies.
Like GA or WoT, once you complete the introductory missions, you can get a PvP fight pretty much whenever you want it. That's a good thing. However, like Crimson Skies, there's currently no skill or item matching: every PvP fight eventually degenerates into a free-for-all where the guy with the highest level and the best toys wins. And it looks like BP will eventually be going with a micro-transactions system to address this inherent imbalance, something that -- should it happen -- will put me off the game for good.
It's a shame, because I really think there's a place for a true flight simulator MMO. Something really close to Strike Commander or Privateer, two old-school flight sims, would probably be the best model. In such a model, the theme park elements would come from missions assigned against static targets by NPCs. But when you were looking for some PvP, you could go looking for that. Such a model would even have room for a mix of PvP and PvE: missions assigned to two different squadrons, one slated to destroy a target, the other slated to prevent its destruction.
Guess I'm still looking for "EVE with aim", though. ;-)
(1) Yeah, I know she's supposed to be a princess, but... c'mon. ;-)