BioWare and LucasArts unveil Star Wars: The Old Republic

It could be something truly special, to see how the writers bring in new twists and turns that keep players thinking and evaluating.

I can’t say too many people were surprised by the recent announcement that BioWare and LucasArts were teaming up to create a Star Wars-themed MMORPG — especially given BioWare’s experience from the acclaimed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, not to mention Electronic Arts’ CEO John Riccitiello’s comments earlier in the year.

But here it is, Star Wars: The Old Republic. Set over 3,000 years before the events of the Star Wars movies — or 300 years after the events of Knights Of The Old Republic — the game allows players to become Jedi, Sith, and other classes (nerf herder, perhaps?) and go on adventures at a time of great galactic strife and unrest, as Jedi and Sith struggle for dominance.

I’ll admit, I’ve never really been tempted to play an MMORPG. Aside from thinking about the technology required to develop one, they do little to excite me. And the primary reason for that is the lack of a truly unifying storyline for the player. Some might see that as a strength, as that allows an MMORPG to be a total “sandbox” experience. But for someone like me who wants, above all else, a truly engaging, immersive, and even affecting experience, a compelling core narrative is absolutely necessary.

What I find refreshing is that, in all of the press releases and whatnot that I’ve read concerning the game, the emphasis has been on the game’s story, and not the whiz-bang graphics and other neat bells and whistles (though I’m sure plenty of that will come out as development continues). But given that this is an MMORPG, there are significant challenges present, from a narrative standpoint. Challenges that I’m sure could frustrate even the most skilled writer.

For example, how do you achieve any sense of closure or completion to what is, by its very nature, an open, never-ending experience? Or how do you handle character arcs when so much of the character development is out of your writerly control — again, due to the nature of the game. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how the game’s writers walk that line between authorial control and intent, and player freedom and choice.

And speaking of choice… since this is BioWare, morality and the consequences of the players’ choices will play a role in the game. According to Daniel Erickson, the game’s lead writer:

Player choice has factored heavily in past BioWare RPGs, and will to an even greater extent in The Old Republic. “Imagine you’re 60 hours in, you’re playing light side, and you come up to this huge choice,” Erickson posed. “You know exactly what you want to do, and you look for the save button … and you realize there is no save button.”

“You think, I’m going to make this choice, and it’s going to be my choice forever. I’m never going to know what would have happened if I’d have gone down the other route.’ It makes these choices stronger than they’ve ever been in any BioWare game.”

It’s this “moral” element that has always elevated BioWare’s games in my eyes; they’re much more than just button-mashing, hack n’ slash adventures. Rather, they’re full-blown epics replete with choice and consequence (as I’ve posited earlier). And on a scale as, well, massive as Star Wars: The Old Republic… well, it could be something truly special, to see how the writers bring in new twists and turns, elements that keep the players thinking and evaluating.

Plus, I bet it’s just going to be wicked cool for even the most nominal of Star Wars geeks.