This is part one of PC Zone's massive reveal of Star Wars: The Old Republic. For the second part of the reveal and exclusive screenshots pick up PC Zone issue 201, in shops now, or check back here later this week.
This is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game with more story content than every other BioWare game combined. That got you interested, didn't it? That unbelievable boast (from the mouth of Rich Vogel, studio director at BioWare) encompasses classic RPG serials Baldur's Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights, Mass Effect and Jade Empire.
Star Wars: The Old Republic will be huge. Set 300 years after Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel, it'll also wrap up any loose ends you may have been fretting over. You'll discover what became of Revan, Bastila and our twittering robo-chum T3-M4. BioWare are keen to allay any fears that by taking the MMO route they will dispose of Star Wars mythos which fans have come to love. Instead, The Old Republic will be built on the tenets BioWare are famous for: deep storylines, fully realised and meticulously scripted companion characters, branching dialogue trees and player choice.
But that sort of narrative doesn't work in the MMOs we're used to playing. You couldn't have the trolls and dwarves of Warcraft embarking on identical story arcs. You couldn't have every inhabitant of the Warhammer universe chasing down a single nemesis and keep it feeling personal and unique at every point along the way. There's no 'twist' in City of Heroes. How can BioWare properly weave a story into an MMO?
Well, most notably they're giving every class their own storyline and overall quest, each with their own starting planet, villains and game content. From the moment you start a new character you can expect a lengthier story arc than any other BioWare game, and that's just for your chosen class. Start over as a different class (Sith, Jedi, and others) and you'll be approaching the game from another angle, with an entirely distinct story and agenda.
"Imagine playing KOTOR," offers Daniel Erickson, lead writer at BioWare, "and then playing Mass Effect in the very same game. That's the kind of scope we're after. A role-playing game has four pillars: you've got exploration, combat, progression and story. For whatever reason, MMOs seem to leave story behind. Our speciality at the studio has always been putting story into these games.
So one of the things we talked about really early on was how to bring back that fourth pillar. How do we bring story, which belongs in an RPG, into the MMO space?"
"Our solution was to have your chosen class define your story," continues Erickson. "So if you're playing a Jedi you're going to have a completely different experience than if you're playing a Sith. You can't have all these people going forward and having the same, unified experience.
"You can't build a storyline for both the guy dreaming of becoming Darth Vader, and the guy dreaming of being Luke - it wouldn't make any sense."
"Once you've chosen your class," adds Vogel, "you've got something larger than KOTOR, just for your class. We like to think of it as each class getting its own trilogy of movies, essentially."
"And inside of that," claims Erickson, "you've got all of the player choices, all of the light and dark side decisions, all of the quests which have choices both big and small that effect what happens in your story and where your story goes."
While BioWare won't yet divulge exactly how many classes to expect, they happily state that each class will be associated with "heroic roles" from the first and second movie trilogies.