Over break I’ve had a little bit of time to play and think about the new release of Star Wars: The Old Republic. As a fan of trying different MMOs in general this one has stood out for me and I’d love to hear what others’ experience has been.
The narrative and perception of player choice (within the narrative) is a huge component that makes this game play experience different from other MMOs. I think it has affected my pace of play (intentionally slowing it down rather than pushing through) and acceptance of perceived depth of my character. Perhaps it is due to my existing sentimental investment in Star Wars or the draw of a new game and play space but I think it may be due to a couple slight changes in game mechanics.
First, there aren’t NPC chat bubbles. Anecdotally, I’ve seen a few complaints in general chat about this design decision but never anyone applauding the decision. I rather like it. The act of only listening to a conversation as attributed to the NPC’s rather than providing chat bubbles to read and/or click through concretizes the NPCs existence in the world. The NPCs don’t display any more agency than NPCs in other MMOs (WoW, LOTRO, Warhammer) but this small change in design makes them appear a little more real.
Second, the narration and architecture of choice is constructed in such a way that it appears my decisions have consequences (and not just in an algorithmic sense) to the storyline. I haven’t played any alternative characters to explore how much the actual storyline alters (aside from Light and Dark choices) but on some level, because the story is so engaging, I really don’t care. One reason may be because the choices listed on-screen are written slightly different than the script of my character’s response (as opposed to the on-screen text being a verbatim display of what my character says). This slight design approach forces me to listen to my character because I’m uncertain exactly what her/his response will be. Listening to my character’s interpretation of my response choice is a moment where I experience my character as someone other than myself.
I have to admit I haven’t had the time to investigate and read SWTOR game reviews and there may be all sorts of opportunity to examine this in a bunch of different theoretical frameworks but I’m curious to know if others, engaged in digital humanities, have similar play experience (Star Wars or otherwise!).
Thanks for reading :)