World of Warcraft Vs The Old Republic
Disclaimer: This article is entirely opinion based and does not necessarily reflect market statistics. These are all just observations I have made based on my time with each game.
There is a good chance that you’ve heard of World of Warcraft, whether you play video games or not. This Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing game (MMORPG, or MMO for short) has become such an enormous cultural phenomenon that it has escaped the confines of its platform (PC games) and made appearances in television shows and movies (South Park, How I Met Your Mother, and Zombieland are the ones I know off the top of my head) and even inspired the web show ‘the Guild’. Something this famous is bound to draw imitators; games like it that seek to steal a chunk of the millions of dollars the game rakes in each month. These games are labeled as ‘wow killers’. I know that Warhammer Online was once considered a wow killer as was the Conan MMO. In recent years World of Warcraft has leveled out in terms of its player base (hovering at 10 million) but so far no other online multiplayer game has come close to taking it out of the competition (or even giving it a challenge). Guild Wars made a valiant effort, but in my opinion, it was never really in the running. It’s a great game but it appeals to the gamers that can’t play world of warcraft, namely because they can’t afford the monthly fee. Guild Wars was one of the first free to play MMOs, therefore it wasn’t exactly shooting for the same market.
So then the question arises; which game will inevitably sweep aside the aging juggernaut? The most obvious answer would be Blizzards next MMO. The company behind World of Warcraft has indicated that it is already hard at work on a new massively multiplayer online game, that will likely be a force to reckon with when it is released. However, with free-to-play becoming the standard for new online games, the entire market is changing rapidly. While Star Wars: The Old Republic was not intended for this model, it provides arguably the most polished, free alternative to world of warcraft. But is it as good?
Questing and Story
Back when Blizzard first started making World of Warcraft, there was a lot of question about how the product would turn out. The company had a strong track record of producing great games, but could they create a full blown MMO? As it turns out the company listened to the fans of these types of games and sought to eliminate a lot of the MMO pitfalls.
Questing was pushed to the forefront as the primary way to gain experience, which differed from the more tedious grind of killing the same monsters over and over again. The system worked and resulted in a much smoother experience, one that anyone could pick up and understand without ever having played an MMO before it. This was reinforced by the warcraft lore that was established in the three games prior. While I find its history to be rich and engaging, the age of the game is showing through its text-based quest delivery system. Every once and a while you will find some spoken dialogue, but I do find that it's harder to immerse yourself into a story where the personality of a character is reduced to grunts and a few repeated phrases. It isn't necessarily a mistake on their part (that was the standard of the time) but it does show WoW's age.
Bioware, like Blizzard, is a strong game developer with a great track record. Not only did they create the highly praised Baldur’s Gate series on the PC, but they also developed one of the highest rated games ever: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. With a passion for creating great games, like Blizzard, Bioware knows what makes a game fun and they know the platform they’re working on. This may be their first attempt at an MMO, but their usual polish is evident all over The Old Republic. For me this is most evident in the questing and the story lines. Never before have I felt like I have actual influence in this world. By using special class-only story areas and companions, it has allowed Bioware to create a more detailed story that is entirely voice acted. Often times I forget that I'm playing an MMO altogether. This might be seen as a negative for some people, but for those looking for a great story and a fun leveling experience, The Old Republic really excels.
A New Setting
It’s no secret that the MMOs dominating the market are fantasy based. It started with Everquest and has continued with WoW. It just doesn’t seem like any other genre can appeal to online gamers. And yet people play Halo and Unreal tournament all the time. So why can’t one of our MMOs be set in a science fiction universe? To me it seems like this market is ripe for the picking. Gamers are looking for something new. The Old Republic works not only because it is a science fiction setting, but because it is an effective bridge between the genres. I’ve always said that Star Wars is a blend of Fantasy and Science Fiction. You’ve got magic (the force), swords (lightsabers), and wizards (jedi/sith). George Lucas was a genius for meshing both together. But for Bioware, this provides the perfect opportunity to ease gamers into the science fiction genre. It won’t be a culture shock and therefore the game won’t be as intimidating or unfamiliar.
They also have an advantage by using the old republic timeline. Most fans are already familiar with the Skywalker storyline and the events that surround it. But, by using the setting of the wildly popular "Knights of the Old Republic" it gives them a fresh start and more wiggle room to tell unique stories.
It's worth noting here that Blizzard made a smart decision by using an exaggerated art style for WoW. Even after a decade it still looks good, despite outdated software. It also makes it one of the more easily identifiable fantasy MMOs. Bioware attempted to use a similar art style, by making characters and distant landscapes look slightly more cartoonish. However, I feel that it leaves the game in an odd in-between state where it's not sure if it wants to be realistic or not. It remains to be seen how it ages, but as of right now both games are still crisp and colorful.
Other Bioware Games
A New Kind of MMO
The Old Republic takes a step forward for MMOs in two ways. The first is Voice Acting. As I mentioned above it's more engaging than endless scrolls of text. Many new MMOs have also given voice acting a shot, but never on a scale like this. Considering the size of these games, voice acting is usually an unnecessary expense. There is just too much dialogue in the game to record all of it. Not only did Bioware pull it off, but the acting is actually really good. Every once and a while you can pinpoint actors that were re-used, but for the most part you don't think about it, and the quality frequently makes you forget that you're being sent off on another generic kill x mission. However, I feel that the most significant use of voice acting, and the most appreciated, is the voice given to your character. Every dialogue choice you make is voiced back to the npc. Some might think this forces your character to be a certain way, but I personally feel that it gives infinitely more personality to the class and racial choices.
Branching off of personal voice is the added bonus of making light and dark choices as you complete quests. This isn't really a new concept, and its influence on the overall story is small, but I find that it is yet another way to customize your experience. You could be a sith that is nice or a jedi that is kind of a jerk, and you're awarded points based on those decisions, which later leads to abilities and specialized gear. It's something that is largely unique to The Old Republic and it's one of my favorite features.
World of Warcraft has gotten better in recent years with its storytelling. While the spoken dialogue is still limited, Wrath of the Lich King introduced cinematic events that use the in-game character models. Then, Cataclysm introduced phased quests and zones, wherein the world around you changed based on what tier of a quest you are on. Personally, I enjoy these events because it makes your character actually feel like the hero he is supposed to be, but it does open up some logistical issues when the friend you want to play with isn't on the same phase as you.
The second way that Bioware is pushing MMOs forward is its space missions. Every MMO has mini games in some fashion, but space missions offer a method of play that is completely different than the on-foot missions. While these missions are still fairly primitive, compared to the quality of the rest of the game, they do provide a great deal of potential. Star Wars is as popular for its lightsaber battles as it is for its space battles, and each successive patch adds more missions that will, hopefully, pave the way for a fully operational space world to explore.
Not to be outdone, with its Mists of Pandaria expansion, Blizzard introduced pet battles to WoW. At first, I thought of it as a silly concept, since pet battles had little to no influence on your main character. What was the point of sinking so much time into them? But, like with the space missions in the Old Republic, they provide a game-within-a-game experience. They aren't meant to heavily influence your character, but rather provide an entirely different option to enjoy their product.
Both The Old Republic and World of Warcraft are updating frequently. Whether it's new patches or expansions on the horizon, they will continue to expand and evolve. It may seem like, over the course of this article, I've been disproportionally favorable to the Old Republic over World of Warcraft. But, if it seems that way, it's because I tend to prefer story and questing over end game content. If you personally prefer dungeons and pvp at the level cap, then there is no question World of Warcraft has a considerable amount of content to keep you busy. But I do hope that, since its switch to free-to-play, the Old Republic continues to grow stronger. It may never dethrone WoW, but the developers put a considerable amount of effort into the game and its only real fault is that it was measured against WoW before it had a chance to stand on its own.