Socializing in The Old Republic

by Jessica "Allahweh" Brown, February 8 2012

When BioWare publically announced that they would be making a new installment into the "Old Republic" series of single-player RPGs, fans were very excited. Yet, when it was announced that this new entry would be an MMORPG fan reactions were a bit mixed. Part of what made the "Knights of the Old Republic" games as successful as they were was how deeply-involved they were. The games could easily draw the player into the worlds they presented and create one of the deepest single-player RPG experiences out there, but how does such an experience translate into an online game?

Reading various forums in the past few years would show that many users believed that the game would be nothing more than "Knights of the Old Republic III." In fact, BioWare once equated the game to something similar, though they said there was more than just one story in the game. While a third KOTOR game was certainly something most would welcome, the general fear was that it wouldn’t quite work in an MMO environment. If the game was going to be heavily cinematic and story-driven – especially on a single-player level – the general fear was that players would be paying monthly fees for a solo experience. Now that the game has been released for about a month, today’s piece will examine these fears and discuss the realities of the situation.

swtor social

It would be a lie to say that there isn’t a single-player focus to The Old Republic. Much of the style and presentation of the single-player titles is present in this one. Each character class has its own unique storyline that will guide the player from the beginning of the game all the way through the current level cap. These quests are what guide the Padawans through becoming Jedi Masters, the Sith Acolytes through becoming power Sith Lords, and the troopers through becoming senior officers. Yet, these quests are more than just simple tools for rank progressions – they represent a large cinematic storyline that creates a grand adventure for the player to embark on.

It is worth noting here that these story quests are not the only quest types in the game. While exploring the various planets and locations in the game, players will pick up other "normal quests" (more along the lines of the quests seen in other MMORPGs), "bonus quests" (special goals to gain additional experience during other quests), and "heroic quests." The difficulty of these quests will vary, but they are designed generally with more than one player in mind. This is especially true of the heroic quests which have a generally much higher difficulty and garner rare equipment and other nice items as quest rewards. In addition to all of these, the game also contains special missions called "flash points" which might be equated to raids in other games. These have a much higher level of difficulty than even the heroic quests do, feature many "elite" enemies, have very nice rewards, and present a fun, multiplayer story experience.

Even for those quests that can be completed alone, the game generally encourages players to socialize with each other. The game creates instanced environments for story quests, heroic quests, and flash points in order to encourage players to party with others. This, of course, prevents people from just following random groups through quests and in turn encourages them to put together teams of friends in order to get through the tougher missions. And, while the story quests are instanced in such a way as to require both possessing the quest and being of a certain class, if the player parties with a friend then that party can accompany them into the story instance (unless they are the same exact class) with the exception of being able to respond to choices in the storyline.

swtor social

All of the game’s quests present users with various choices during the quest dialogue. These choices can affect the outcome of a quest, garner favor with companion NPCs, or determine whether you gain light or dark-side points. In a party, each participating player has the option to respond to the quest dialogue. The game then rolls a virtual die for the players and the player with the highest roll has their dialogue represented in the story. Yet, while this will have the effect of possibly pushing the quest in a direction the other players don’t want, they won’t gain alignment points that were unwanted. Instead, the game awards players for the answers they actually chose, regardless of the new direction of the quest created by the winning roll. Additionally, for participating in quests as a group, players will earn social points that can garner special titles and be used to buy certain things from social vendors found in cantinas throughout the game.

While all of this works to encourage players to play with other people, there is a catch. All of the quests, including heroics and flash points, have static difficulty levels. While the difficulty is usually a few levels above the level you will get the quest at, players who are adamantly opposed to questing with others can simply wait a few levels, come back, and solo the quest (especially with the help of a companion NPC). This has the effect of allowing people to complete quests they otherwise might not have been able to without a party, but is somewhat counter-intuitive to the original intention of these more difficult quests.

Despite that, there is the simple fact that questing with friends in The Old Republic is simply a fun experience. It is quite humorous to see what other characters will select as their responses to choices during the quest progression and this interesting dynamic creates an experience that few, if any, multiplayer games replicate. For those that light to role-play their characters and get deep into their mindsets, it is far easier to do so when you consider that your characters are almost "alive" in their interactions with others even in a simple quest experience.

swtor social

And yet, like most MMORPGs, there is far more to do in the game than just quest. It is fun to meet up with other players at the fleet or in various cantinas and simply talk about things in the game’s universe (be that through in-character role-playing or just simple conversation). It is also entertaining and informative to speak with people over general chat, perhaps to get advice about things in the game or to ask for help with harder challenges.

Like most MMORPGs, the game does offer players the ability to participate in PvP combat, which varies from duels (or just open PvP on the PvP servers) to organized matches in warzones. Some fans dislike PvP in the game, mainly however due to the extreme performance issues that warzones seem to create, but many applaud the overall variety of the matches. Beyond the titles, experience, and other rewards for participation, players will meet new friends and make new enemies during gameplay. The very setup of the matches lends itself to cooperation and strategy, and while the game has no built-in VOIP setup, there is often the need to quickly correspond with teammates via the in-game chat or perhaps an external program like TeamSpeak. World PvP may leave a bit to be desired, but like warzones, sets up the need for cooperation.

Even though there is a strong cinematic and single-player experience in Star Wars: The Old Republic, the general structure of the game presented by BioWare simply "works." Even if someone wants to simply complete most of the quests on their own, they will be in a world that seems alive with real people (as opposed to NPCs in a solo experience). The worlds created by BioWare seem alive and dynamic and in the end the game really does capture the look, feel, and flavor of the Star Wars universe.