There are plenty of mornings after a great night out at the bar where I struggle to place together a loose cluster of hazy memories. I know it was a good time. The headache, dry mouth and bank account are all testaments to my triumphs. Leveling in an MMO can be quite similar.
In my first 21 levels of Star Wars: The Old Republic, the game has given me a starship, three companions and a plethora of stamps on my intergalactic passport. There is one constant wherever I travel to. Whether I’m strolling through a space station or planet side, there is always booze available.
There are cantinas everywhere. Restaurants and bars are the places that I call home. Seeing those species of all types in a galaxy far, far away drink as much as I do is very comforting. Which reminds me, I used to drink a lot while playing games like The Old Republic. I would log in, pour a glass of bourbon or open a strong beer, crank up my iTunes and lose myself in whatever task was set before me. This was usually reserved for leveling or grinding a profession; both of which require some sort of outside stimulation to make them palatable.
So what is so different about Star Wars? Well, most importantly, I never need to turn the in-game music off or reach for a stiff drink. Here’s why:
Maybe it’s because the game provides me with everything I need. The music is familiar and comforting, changing effortlessly based on what I’m doing. The questing is engaging. I’m tired of hearing that the cutscenes are slowing down people’s leveling pace. It’s a role-playing game. BioWare promised a story-driven experience different from any other before it. Just let it happen. The voice acting is some of the best out there and there’s plenty of it. Get yourself out of the mindset that the best course of action is to race to level 50, at least your first time through.
I want to remember my leveling experience in this game. I can actually tell you what the story is so far and what part I’m playing in it. Other games tell you that you’re the epic adventurer the world is waiting for, but you soon realize there are thousands of others just like you. The Old Republic takes the time to finally make the game about you and not just an abstract epic world around you that will continue to go on unchanged despite your best efforts.
Blizzard took a small step in the right direction with areas of the open world that changed in phases based on the player’s progression in a quest line. This was only a small fix to a much larger issue and created a new problem by separating players from each other when they were on different stages of the same quest. Sure, I had a sense that my actions were finally affecting something, but I was still removed from big picture.
Let’s talk about crafting and gathering. I can’t thank BioWare enough for companions. They don’t just add layers to the story and create a larger sense of ownership in the game; no, they also make your life a hell of a lot easier. Automating professions in previous MMOs required add-ons or bots, the latter of which could get your account permanently banned. The Old Republic allows you to send companions off to do your dirty work while you continue to quest, queue up for PvP matches, run instances or space battles; or alt-tab and write articles.
You still have the option to run around and gather materials the old fashioned way, if you so desire. You also have the option to skip through cutscenes or, after level 10, avoid questing all together. Aren’t options great?
I’m not saying I’ll never catch a buzz while playing The Old Republic. There’s plenty of reminders interlaced throughout the game. I just don’t feel the need to anymore. My past borderline alcoholism aside, all I can say is this: cheers to you BioWare. Keep up the good work.