by Mark Pajor (follow on Twitter @mpajor)
For over a decade now, BioWare has been one of the leading RPG developers in the industry. Games like Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect have each been reported to sell millions of copies. Since Bioware is bringing their hallmark feature of deep, interactive story to the MMO world in Star Wars: The Old Republic, it’s no wonder that the company’s own fans are one of the major populations TOR wants to pull in. The question remains, though: Can a subscription-based, massively multiplayer game draw much attention from BioWare’s singleplayer fans?
Fans of Dragon Age, KotOR, and Earlier Games:
At their very core, most of BioWare’s games have a very similar combat system: “Classic RPG combat,” in which you click a key or press a button for an ability, and you watch your character do that action (dodging, aiming, etc. are either impossible or not twitch-based). Good news for fans of those games: the majority of popular MMOs, including TOR, also have classic RPG combat. For KotOR fans specifically, the choreographed Lightsaber combat should be very familiar. There will be definite differences in the way companions work, in comparison to other Bioware games – the fact that you can only have one with you at a time, for instance – but the presence of a Bioware companion should be very familiar territory for fans of these games.
Beyond the combat, the narrative structure is really responsible for drawing in and retaining these fans. KotOR and Dragon Age players will feel at home with the full voiceover, though the player voiceover may throw some people off if they haven’t played Mass Effect or Dragon Age II. While the voiced main character is seen as superior by the majority, it isn’t universally loved. Still, the voice acting, for the most part, and dialogue choices promise to be some of the leading features to attract these players.
Of course, despite all of these similarities, one must wonder if the subscription will prevent people from trying the game at all – but we’ll get to that at the end of the article. For now, we’ll take a look at the fans of another of BioWare’s franchises.
Fans of the Mass Effect games:
While the dialogue system is nearly identical to Mass Effect’s in SWTOR, the combat may be too different for Mass Effect fans to give it a chance. The difference between shooter combat and class RPG combat is quite blatant, and while games like Mass Effect move closer and closer to heavy-action combat where you control the character’s every move, SWTOR’s combat is bound to feel quite strange.
Mass Effect’s main draw, of course, has always been the writing and narrative delivery, combined with a strong sense of interactivity. On that front, Star Wars: The Old Republic is perfect for Mass Effect fans. From the Science Fiction to the romance subplots, much of what people love about the Mass Effect series is given a Star Wars-take in SWTOR. All of these elements should do a fantastic job of keeping BioWare fans involved once they’ve started the game, but it won’t mean much if they don’t buy the game in the first place.
Pay to Play, or Pay to Pay to Play?
Subscription gaming might not be anything new to fans of other MMOs, but people who haven’t ventured outside the singleplayer world have an understandable aversion to it. When they buy Mass Effect, they pay once and they can play it whenever they want. When they buy TOR, many feel that they’re paying for the ability to pay more money every month. The distaste for a monthly payment is likely to keep many of these players away.
Down the line, there’s little doubt that EA and BioWare will give out free trials, much as their competitors do. Slipping these into the cases of other Bioware games, like Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age III, might give some of those players the push to try the game. With the game’s focus on story and character development, a strong start could make the trial players very interested in where their story goes. Until then, though, the monthly subscription is likely to keep those potential players away from SWTOR.
Perhaps BioWare and EA will implement an alternative payment option – in ADDITION to the regular subscription – that is free to play with heavy, heavy microtransactions. But that’s a topic for another article.