Have you heard Bioware tell us that SWTOR will have story?

Have you heard Bioware tell us that SWTOR will have story? If you haven't, you're not listening! But what does that really mean? I suspect we all have our own impressions but if you want to better understand Bioware's impression of how to marry up "story and gameplay", then I suggest you get yourself a copy of Dragon Age 2.

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Playing DA2 has given me some insight into how I think SWTOR will handle the whole story, dialog and choice aspect of the game. Quite honestly, I am a little scared, but in a good way (I think). Read on to find out why!

Good authors always tell us to "show" not tell. That paradigm happens to work well in a video game, with a twist. The player gets to do the "telling" and the developer gets to do the "showing". There are obvious limitations and constraints, but I like the analogy. I got to thinking about all this a little more critically through my 20 or so hours in to DA2. There is a catch, though, and a striking difference between how things will work in SWTOR. Choices matter, and they will matter more in SWTOR, since once that choice is made it's permanent, unlike in DA2 where a bad choice can be "undone" through the save and load functionality. Here's a concrete example. (**Spoiler warning, if you haven't played DA2 and don't want to know what happens in this one part, skip the next two paragraphs**)

After agreeing to help some Templars ferret out those nasty blood mages from the inside of a cave, Bioware hits me over the head with some difficult choices. Should I kill those nasty blood mages? Killing mages of any sort will upset my sister, but will probably make my "captain of the guard" companion quite happy. Or, should I tell them I will let them go, and kill the Templars who await them outside the cave? The Templars sure won't be happy, but the mages, they will probably like me a bit more. Or, do I lie to the mages, help them escape, while really planning to use the help of the Templars to kill them when they get outside? I am not even sure that was an option, but unless I play the options through all of those iterations, I won't really know. In SWTOR, you will only get one chance to get that choice right, and that is both scary, and fun!

I decided to help the mages escape the oppressive Templars in this case, and when I got outside the cave, I was presented with some more choices. You will see from the picture, that one such choice was to answer the Templar Captain saying "I am your best friend". The first time I played the scene, I didn't make that choice, and ended up in a nasty fight against the Templars. Not what I had planned. Reload! When I made the choice the new way, the Templars we're sent off towards the coast to look for the escaping Blood Mage leader due to a clever lie by my character. The leader of the mages came out, gave me a very nice Staff, and then took her gang of runaways in the opposite direction from where I had sent the Templars. Both the Templars and Mages we're very happy with me, and told me they would look for ways to help me in future. Had I been playing SWTOR, I would have killed the Templars and perhaps made an enemy of the entire Kirkwall Templars in the process.

All that said, you can now see that the inability to save and reload when you make choices you don't like will be a stark, missing ingredient for those who are use to playing story driven, choice driven RPG's. I am not saying that is a bad thing; on the contrary, as much as it scares the heck out of me, I like the increased risk profile. This also explains a good reason to have light side and dark side point "missions" as part of the crafting system. Those might help to fix unintentional mistakes.

On the other hand, I believe that this will make "meta gaming" a more integral part of your SWTOR game play experience, especially when it comes to choices that have serious and lasting consequences. Imagine your Level 48 Imperial Agent makes a choice that causes you to lose your favourite companion? There is no way to undo that. As such, I believe that there will be a large component of the playing population that will scour the internet well in advance to make sure they know all of the decisions "not to make". Early adopters will need to be wary! It's even possible that Bioware, knowing this potential pitfall exists, will implement a game mechanic that will somehow allow you to win back the trust of the companion that left your employ, but that is 100% speculation on my part.

Lastly, I want to take a moment to describe the actual choice system in DA2. Unlike other games, we are not necessarily limited to the 3 main choices (Good, Funny, Evil). In fact, as far as I can tell, there are seventeen possible "types" of responsesemployedby Bioware in DA2. Hit the link at the bottom if you are interested in the complete list. While I don't think that we will get this many choices in SWTOR, I do wonder if perhaps this is something that has yet to be released. Some of the more clever options include charming, flirt, exhort, or even options that only show up based on previous decisions. I feel that this would be a really cool way for Bioware to allow more flexibility in roleplaying without necessarily changing the substantive outcome that follows the decision.

We have heard time and again that SWTOR will contain ground breaking changes to the MMO space. Bioware has talked about story in that light since this game was first revealed. Feedback from the Testers, as revealed by Bioware, talks about how much people enjoy this aspect of the game, and some people have noted that they don't believe they will ever be able to go back to older styles. That's a good thing. I would like to suggest to everyone, however, that there will be aspects of choice that require discerning thoughts, or perhaps even some "meta game" knowledge to avoid mistakes that might upset your plans for your character. I am looking forward to it!!

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Posted in Computer Games Post Date 04/26/2017






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