I am going to be talking about Star Wars: The Old Republic. However, I don’t want to fill this post with SWTOR screenshots, so everything you see here is from Guild Wars 2.
I was pretty hard on Star Wars: The Old Republic. But never have I felt less charitable than I do now, after my first day with Guild Wars 2. We can argue all you like about what went wrong with SWTOR. Did EA interfere too much? Did BioWare overreach? Was a grand vision marred by executive meddling? Did a few developers suddenly find themselves with more money and freedom than they had resources and ability?
We can argue, but it’s all speculation. The only thing I know for sure is that the SWTOR team had some system of revolving-door contractors working on the thing. That’s idiotic and self-defeating. It does smack of EA’s bungling, heavy-handed management that doesn’t seem to understand how to make creative products. But In the end, I just don’t care. We can try to peek in the windows of EA / BioWare and guess at what went wrong, but what’s important is that it did go wrong. It went spectacularly wrong, and I seriously doubt the company is capable of making course correction. I would be delighted to be proven wrong on this point.
SWTOR aimed for the low-hanging fruit of WoW-cloning, and still managed to fumble spectacularly. They failed on gameplay. They failed artistically. They even failed at story, which was the one thing they were specifically trying to do right.
I managed to write three entries of a SWTOR Let’s Play before I realized that I no longer cared. I wanted to point out how lazy and unworthy the story is compared to the standard set by KOTOR. (No need to jump in here and launch an argument along the lines of KOTOR being not all that great. The point is: Some people loved it, and SWTOR fell far short of that standard.) I wanted to deconstruct the Jedi Knight storyline, and how the writer can’t seem to remember what people are doing or why from one mission to the next. But somewhere around the end of the tutorial I realized I was getting bogged down simply cataloging the brokenness. Suddenly I realized I didn’t want to log into the game again, and so the series died.
(It doesn’t help that I wasn’t finding a lot of fertile ground for jokes. You need to love or hate something to make jokes about it. (Even better: Both.) Apathy is lousy fuel for comedy.)
After a few hours with Guild Wars 2, I realize I’m very angry at EA / BioWare. I’m mad that they spent so much money. I’m mad that the end product looks so bland and soulless. I’m mad that they killed off Star Wars Galaxies. I’m mad that the internal development environment (and I have this on good authority from someone who worked there) was so dysfunctional. I’m mad that the Star Wars license was used with such carelessness. I’m mad at the lack of ambition. But most of all I’m mad because, if a few people had been doing their jobs, we could have gotten something really special for all that time and money.
Even if you loved SWTOR (and I’m happy if you did) I can’t think about how much better you would have loved it if there had been some sort of creative spark behind the thing beyond, “Let’s make a WoW clone using a Star Wars license and make piles of cash!”
Guild Wars 2 is a visual feast. It is a lovingly crafted masterwork of polygonal artistry. It doesn’t aim for the dead-end of photo-realism, but neither does it chase after the attractive but overused cartoon style of WoW. The world of Guild Wars 2 is charming, whimsical, colorful, and diverse. Those aren’t backdrops you’re seeing in these screenshots. The stuff on the horizon is all part of the playable gameworld. The various regions each have their own tone and style. (I’ve only explored two of the five starting areas. Humans and Norn are wonderful. Chris tells me the Char area is a bit bleh.)
The gameplay is fun and mobile. You know how in WoW, it’s often a grind to kill those ten boars, and you’re just counting the dead pigs until you can move on? In Guild Wars 2, I blew over an hour taking part in a back-and-forth battle between the NPC townspeople and the bandits. The bandits would mount an assault on the water pipes, and it was kind of like a game of Team Fortress 2 payload where you have to stop the guy with the bomb from reaching the water pipes. Then the game would end and you’d defend the workers as they repair the pipes. Then you might mount an assault on the windmill where the bandits were hiding out. The battle swung back and forth, and anyone could come and go as they pleased. Each round awarded XP and the guys dropped lots of loot, so there was always something in it for me. I played because it was fun, not because it was a checkmark on my to-do list required to get to the next area of do-to lists.
While SWTOR has a bunch of human-shaped races with different flavors of bumpy forehead, Guild Wars 2 has a world with some significant physiological diversity. Play as an eight-foot monstrous Char. Or as an adorable three-foot Asura. Or as… okay, the other races are basically Humans and “Stop Calling Us Elves!” But still. There’s a lot of visual diversity and cultural flavor in these choices.
Guild Wars 2 is not perfect and I’ll probably gripe about it a bit once it officially launches. But even if I’ve completely misjudged it and the whole thing fails, as least they failed trying.
There’s no monthly fee. You can jump right to the end-game PvP gameplay from the outset without needing to grind out 80 levels first.
The streets aren’t clogged with highlevel mounts. (No mounts.) You can teleport around almost at will without the game pissing away a bunch of time riding the gryphon, or the speeder bike, or the steed, or whatever names people give to their in-game bus. The game lets you level your character in the starting area you enjoy most, not where the designers say you have to.
You don’t have to kill ten boars to get to the guy who will give you a quest to kill ten boars. If you kill ten things while you’re near his property, it counts, and he mails you the reward. There’s exploration based gameplay and XP, encouraging and rewarding players who love to run around ,see the sights, and try to figure out how to get on top of that one thing because wouldn’t it be cool if you could? (And yes, you can!)
Remember how I said I wasn’t going to put in any SWTOR screenshots? I lied. Let me give you one from the big cinematic intro for the SWTOR Smuggler storyline:
Ah well. What do you expect for a lousy $200 million American dollars?
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