This past weekend, I was firmly entrenched behind cover, shooting people with a sniper rifle that fired red lasers at my enemies.
No, I was not playing GI JOE: The Rise of Cobra: The Video Game. Instead, I was playing an Imperial Agent for Star Wars: The Old Republic’s final beta.
There were a variety of ways I could go about talking about the game, but then I realized there’s only one way I can really dissect my feelings regarding my time here on the beta. I want to talk about SWTOR in reference to another well-made game that is, at this point in time, technically superior to this game in many ways, but still feels less fun to me on a personal level that I can now explain after having played SWTOR’s beta.
I have always believed that stories are important, and I play video games to experience stories I would not be able to enjoy in my life otherwise. I began playing video games as a soloist, with RPGs as my main staple, and they’re still the type of games I generally like playing even if I rarely finish a story. I like to play video games by myself, but I hate the feeling of being alone.
Star Wars: The Old Republic addresses all those issues for me in a way that Rift, for all its impressive technical feats. never could.
I played Rift with one of the most solo-friendly builds around in an attempt to experience a world, but the world, for all its intriguing lore, felt empty on a sense of scale that I could not accept. Cities were not grand, the game world was a lone continent, and I knew in the back of my head that the quests I was doing were still variations of things I had done so many times before.
In comparison, SWTOR’s stories allow me unparalleled access into a universe that has a strong lore component and is loved by many. I visited parts of planets, earned my own starship, and felt the scale was much grander than that of Rift’s world.
SWTOR also has features that allow the story component to emphasize the paradox of playing alone without being alone. In Rift, the system allowed people to group together without necessarily interacting, so long as the rift gets sealed or the quest gets completed and everyone gets their loot. In SWTOR, I can group with people and share a story with them through the quest we’re on or the instance we’re in, and we can even discuss how we want to proceed in a moral decision as a group if we chose to do so as roleplayers (or we could just let the RNG decide through our rolls). At the same time, there’s no penalty for not grouping other than missing out on easily outleveled content that provides another story among the many high-quality cutscenes and voiced content that’s already a part of the game.
As someone who tries to spread the word about respecting individual differences, I feel like I’ve been remiss in doing so. I know that, whether I did it in public or not, I mentally dismissed this game as a “WoW clone with voiceovers.” or “Rift in Space with Cutscenes.” I’m happy to be proven wrong.
I will admit that SWTOR is still not perfect, and I will state for the record that I think it implements some things that I think WoW did as well in the past, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The thing is, if you take a page from a solid game like WoW or Rift and you add a feeling of purpose and a strong reason to pursue the actions you want to pursue, then you’re role playing all the same, and in this case, it makes me feel the dual nature of being a kid who loves RPGs and the 28-year old adult who likes company: SWTOR makes me feel happy to play and have purpose, and it makes me even more happy that I have like minded individuals to share the joy of the same stories with.
To end, perhaps something even more controversial needs to be said.
When I played SWTOR, I felt like I was playing a Single-Player RPG with Social MMO elements. Some people would take that as a justification that SWTOR is not an MMORPG. My take on it is simple: As long as the game has the RPG and the MMO in it, and the way it’s prepared is just right for an individual’s tastes, then it shouldn’t matter if it’s an MMORPG or something more akin to a Single Player RPG with MMO elements. They offer the same thing :fun. That said, I definitely had fun playing the SWTOR beta, and I look forward to trying out the Republic Trooper at launch.