10 Ways Bioware Can Improve Star Wars: The Old Republic
Getting better and better
There was a lot of buzz back in 2008 when Bioware announced it would be making a new Star Wars MMO. The developer had created the hugely successful Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which continues to be a fan favorite, and gamers had been clamoring for a sequel for years. On top of that, many MMO-playing Star Wars fans had been hoping for something new since Star Wars Galaxies shut down its servers in December 2011.
When Bioware's new MMO launched in 2011, it tried to strike a balance between the two beloved titles, and many felt it fell short at the start. However, with every successive update and expansion, the game has gotten steadily better in terms of story and gameplay. The recent 4.0 update was well-received by players, and it looks like the controversial MMO has nowhere to go but up. Here's a few (well, 10) more things we'd like to see in future updates.
10. Graphical improvements and better frame rate
Environments are well-designed, but suffer from pretty frequent pop up and missing texture issues
A quick scan around the internet will show a lot of fans seeking ways to improve the game's performance and graphics, and bemoaning the now-outdated engine. Many of Bioware's flagship titles, such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age, have been known for impressive graphics and world design, but The Old Republic is somewhat...lacking, especially when it comes to character animation, frame rate, and draw distance.
Solution: MMOs are tricky, because they're played for several years if they're successful. While huge graphical overhauls are likely out of the question, optimization tweaks to boost performance, and some new textures here or there could make a big difference to a game that's going on 5 years old.
9. Make walking around interesting
The game has tons of wide, empty spaces with almost nothing of interest or interaction in them
With the 4.0 update, all taxi routes are unlocked as soon as you land on a new planet, basically allowing you to teleport to wherever your next mission is. While many players will be grateful to not have to spend time walking over to their next objective in order to unlock taxi stands, there's a certain rushed feeling of skipping over things, and living in a loading screen rather than interacting with the world. Towns and places with a lot of people wind up feeling lifeless and boring, with NPCs either standing around waiting to talk to you, or fighting.
Solution: Bioware games are famous for small moments and snippets of dialogue. Things that exist outside of the quests: a few pieces of lore to be found, scattered cosmetic collectibles, a few non-quest characters having their own conversation, random occurrences with small choices, all of these things could encourage players to forgo the taxi and instead take a walk in their character's shoes, so to speak. When developers and artists spend all that time creating interesting environments for players to be in, we shouldn't be waiting for the cooldown timer on the fast travel feature just to avoid crossing the same empty space for the dozenth time.
8. The question of “canon”
Revan, featured in a recent digital story expansion, is one character that many fans are clamoring to be made official in the new Star Wars canon
With Disney's acquisition of the Star Wars universe, a lot of Star Wars games, comics, and novels became unofficial and no longer part of the canon story of Star Wars. At last year's Star Wars Celebration event, Lucasfilm's Pablo Hidalgo said that the Old Republic games were a separate universe, and not canon parts of the Star Wars story.
Solution: The Old Republic takes place thousands of years before the events of the movies. It's an era that's been often explored by other works, and has the potential to lend interesting background to the series should Lucasfilm decide to bring some works in. Recently, there has been talk of characters from the Old Republic games coming into the new Marvel comics and Star Wars Rebels TV show (with the Sith planet Malachor, first referenced in Bioware's Knights of the Old Republic, already featured in last season's finale). It's a more nebulous change than the others, but bringing canonical stories to the game could widen its audience, appeal to longtime fans, and expand the official Star Wars universe.
7. Crack down on bots
Using the general chat channel is incredibly difficult, and makes it hard to join random groups
No, I'm not talking about the ubiquitous droids across the Star Wars universe, but rather the staggering number of spam bots standing around in social areas and clogging up the mail system. It makes the General chat channel a nightmare to sort through, and many players mute it, taking away a small bit of community interaction and immersion in the world.
Solution: Make reporting spam and bots easier from players who come across them, as well as instituting strict policies to block these accounts from operating, or even being created in the first place.
6. New planets
Choosing to travel to a new planet from your ship's navigation computer is exciting...until you run out of new planets
The 18 planets in The Old Republic are varied, open, and overall impressive, but you spend a lot of time on the same ones unless you choose to explore on your own, and the environments on the planets can be a mixed bag of well-designed wonder and bland, repeating textures. Many of the towns and community areas, in particular, suffer from a lack of variety and a feeling of emptiness.
Solution: Bioware has been pretty good thus far about opening up new planets, but it's always nice to see more places that explore new designs and types of environments. Art and music, as well as new flora, fauna, and NPCs can go a long way towards creating that feeling of truly being in a new world. The Star Wars universe has hundreds of planets to choose from, so there's plenty of established material to take from. Another possible avenue would be to open up new areas to explore on planets that already exist. Revisiting planets is a lot more exciting when you have a new place to go and can see everything with fresh eyes.
5. New playable species
Kel-Dorians are present throughout the game, and one of the most-requested species to play as
The galaxy's a big place, and Star Wars is known for its diverse range of non-human life. The Old Republic's 10 playable species are mostly near-human, and we've only had two new species since launch (the cat-like Cathar and Togruta, the same species as Ahsoka Tano in the Clone Wars TV show).
Solution: Introducing new species shouldn't be particularly difficult. Aside from the 10 playable species, there are dozens of NPC species that you encounter in the game, so there is already design and animation work in place. One of the biggest hurdles is incorporating characters who don't speak Basic (AKA English), such as Rodians or Sullustan, but with subtitles in place, it could work.
4. New classes
Each of the two factions, Galactic Republic and Sith Empire, has 4 possible starting classes
Sensing a pattern? MMOs need constant fresh content to stay relevant and fun. Unlike the two new species, the game has never been updated with new classes. Other successful MMOs have progressively introduced new classes and play-styles to keep things fresh over the years, yet The Old Republic still has the same 8 it launched with.
Solution: While it would be great to have entire origin stories for new classes, having a bunch of new starting planets and level 1 quests might be too big to wish for. Bioware could take a cue from other MMOs, and allow players to start one of the newer classes from a higher starting level, and drop right into the game's flashpoints and quests. In any case, this would easily be the most work, as it involves new gameplay, missions, items, and more. However, if Bioware could drop a new class for the two factions once a year or so, it would give fans something to constantly look forward to, and a reason to keep coming back. In addition, Bioware could reserve new species and classes for monthly subscribers (as they've done with all but a few basic starting species), giving players another incentive to pay for the free-to-play game.
3. Better ship gameplay
Starship combat is a welcome addition, but PvE (pictured) is boring, PvP feels unfinished, and the whole thing lacks connection to the main game
Released in early 2014, the Galactic Starfighter digital expansion finally brought spaceship combat to the game, a feature that had long been talked about since before the game released. However, it feels separate from the rest of the game, and disconnected from your character. The on-rails shooter style gameplay for PvE combat feels constricted, and the PvP ship combat, while more open, feels half-done. A huge part of Star Wars are these space battles, and while what's there is better than nothing, it could be a lot better.
Solution: There are plenty of Star Wars games that have nailed the excitement and feeling of spaceships without being overly complicated. Gameplay like that of the Rogue Squadron or X-Wing series shouldn't be too hard to work in. In addition, it'd be great to spend more time on the ship overall, offering a chance to interact with companions or other players while in hyperspace, like we've often seen in the films. For a small side-request: player starships should appear in stronghold hangars, and in more places in general, to really give that feeling of traveling in your own ship from place to place.
2. More companion focus
A lot of work has been put into companion characters, but the more you play, the less you hear from them
People play Bioware games for their incredible side characters and love interests. The latest expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, may have brought some great story beats and NPC interactions, but companions felt rather under-served. At the start of a character's story, these companions have tons of dialogue, side quests, and chances to build (or harm) your relationship with them. These meaningful interactions seem to have dried up.
Solution: More focus in the quests, and more unique dialogue. Although the companion roster is rather large across all classes, some conversation or reactions for when they're brought on story missions, as well as occassional updates where you can just go and talk to them, would go a long way towards keeping the companions feel fresh. On the plus side, companions' AI and overall usefulness has been getting better and better since release.
1. Don't separate storytelling from the MMO side
Dialogue and choices are Bioware's strongest points, and even better when experienced with friends
Although Knights has been seen as a high-point for The Old Republic's cinematic storytelling and decision-making, it separated itself completely from the social aspect of MMOs that comes with joining other players via long sections of forced single-player instances. At its launch, the game boasted conjoined dialogue scenes and decision points, and it was honestly my favorite part of the experience. Hearing other players' characters speak on the matter, and disagreeing within the party, made for a more real experience of fighting side by side, and harkened back to what makes Bioware's single-player games so fun, but inside an MMO with other real people. I hope this recent update isn't the start of a trend of compartmentalizing single player story and MMO gameplay.
Solution: It's not at all easy to bring Bioware's signature conversation-focused storytelling into an MMO space, but there are plenty of places throughout the game where this is handled really well. While Knights of the Fallen Empire and the previous update, Shadow of Revan, did much to create a more focused, engaging story, they also railroaded all the classes and players into single, separate paths, where the story became more their own, and less something to share. Bioware should keep the shared story instances, and let players who want to experience the story as a group do so.
This wishlist is pretty long, but it should be said that The Old Republic, since its release, has offered a pretty consistently fun and engaging Star Wars experience, that can be enjoyed completely free, and is constantly bringing new stories and features. Most fans, myself included, would keep playing even with none of these changes, just to spend some more time in that galaxy far, far away.
What are your thoughts? Anything you'd like to see in the game's next update? Let us know in the comments below!