I used to be a roleplayer like you

But then I took an arrow in the knee. In fact, it was Star Wars Galaxies that urged me to rise above dabbling in thees and thous and transformed me into a smart-ass, quick-thinking pirate queen. I never broke character in spatial chat. Every toon had an elaborate backstory. My guild founded a roleplaying metropolis. I stayed up until the crack of dawn because I couldn’t bear to leave the scene of some amazing emergent storytelling session. It’s really hard to explain to people who didn’t experience it just how gripping that RP scene was.

And yet not one game since SWG has made me care so much or try so hard, and it’s not because SWG was my first love — I’d been playing MMOs for almost six years before SWG even launched.

I’ve talked before about the things that we, as gamers and inheritors of the MMO genre, have lost with the passing of Star Wars Galaxies. My colleagues at Massively have done the same. But none of us really touched on free-form roleplaying as one of SWG’s highlights. That wasn’t something the game itself provided, and roleplaying won’t die forever without SWG; people roleplay en masse even in World of Warcraft. But they’re hemmed in by rules and regulations, by the game mechanics and the lore. I couldn’t adjust to it. Roleplay in post-SWG games like World of Warcraft, Warhammer, and even City of Heroes felt flat, contrived, and stale to me, and I started wondering why someone who had once considered herself a hardcore roleplayer was suddenly turning away from it, even looking down on other roleplayers with disdain. Was I, to borrow a term from Matt Daniel, becoming a roleplay snob?

First I stopped roleplaying in public. Then I stopped writing stories, then character outlines, then guild lore. In recent games, I’ve just plunged in without any RP preparation at all, not even a name. Why bother, I thought. None of it matters anyway. RP is ephemera. The game contradicts everything I plan. The game doesn’t care about me enough to let me do my own thing.

That’s when I realized that what SWG provided so uniquely wasn’t its space flight, player cities, or storyteller system at all. Above all else, SWG provided freedom, even in its NGE form, and losing that freedom has become my arrow in the knee.

Star Wars: The Old Republic lacks that freedom and makes no apologies for it. This is our story, BioWare says, so you had best enjoy it. As one of the Massively commenters joked, BioWare is known for telling a great story — “the same story, over and over.” Bloggers are particularly hard on the role of story in SWTOR, and maybe the studio deserves the criticism.

But for the first time in a long time, I’m roleplaying again.

I’m not sitting in a cantina until 4 a.m. arguing philosophy, gambling, or singing, as I did in SWG. There are people in cantinas doing these things; it’s hard not to overhear their slow and plodding and usually amateur attempts at dialogue (which isn’t to say that they’re any worse than BioWare’s storytellers). I pass them by. Even to them, I’m a level 23 mostly Light-side-aligned Female Mirialan Smuggler Scoundrel Scrapper with the same origin story as every other Smuggler, the same ship, the same companions, even the same love life. The good RPers will pretend they don’t know that, but they do. There’s no mystery. A “dancer” in SWG’s Mos Eisley cantina could be anything skill-wise — an Imperial spy, a bounty hunter, or even an actual dancer. Her backstory was whatever she said it was, and her skills were masked. By contrast, TOR contradicts your character design. Roleplaying there requires an additional level of suspension of disbelief, even above what is necessary in a basic RPG setting. First accept the setting, then reject parts of it, and try to keep it all straight. That isn’t fun.

What is fun is what I’m going to start calling rolepursuing. I didn’t really design the role my Smuggler is playing in the SWTOR story context, but I can certainly pursue a role within the mechanics provided, far better than in any other themepark I’ve sampled. I’m finding it enjoyable. I’m not a fan of the specific alignment dichotomy as BioWare’s implemented it, but it’s been relatively easy to play a Han Solo-esque rogue with a heart of gold alongside Paul’s play-by-the-rules Commando. Having him as an audience helps, and for our amusement, I go out of my way to choose snarky responses to the situations with which we’re presented. Oddly, I don’t miss sitting in a cantina to eke out 10 minutes of RP per 60 minutes of gametime, not when I can roleplay — well, rolepursue — all the time.

It turns out that I miss having the freedom of SWG more than what I actually did with that freedom. SWTOR isn’t SWG, not by far, but it sure beats moping in a tavern with the other old-timers, moaning about the arrow in my knee.

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  1. ArcherAvatar says:

    Do you see any titles on the horizon that “might” fill the spot recently vacated by SWG shutting down?

    My sympathy for your situation causes me to hesitate to even suggest possibilities but perhaps you have a cautious eye on a couple of potential replacements already? The only one I’m personally curious about that seems like it would cater well to a RP crowd would be The Secret World. However, although there is a lot of freedom (apparently) in the character development (selecting your own combination of skills, etc.) I’m not sure you’ll find a truly “open world” there either… if fact, I’d wager they will also attempt to funnel players down narrow, twisting, “tunnels” rather than providing them with wide open spaces to explore.

    I won’t indulge in my usual rant about SOE, other than to say their handling of SWG is yet another glaring example of how they consistently ruin otherwise promising MMOs. Although Lucas Arts certainly deserves it’s own share of blame, I can’t help but lay the lion’s share at the feet of SOE – since their mismangement and failures all along the life of SWG were largely responsible for it not achieving the “level of success” that it might have otherwise seen.

    I can’t help but be somewhat curious about the fate of Planetside2 (their next victim) you know… in that same way you can’t turn away when you see an impending car crash about to happen.

    • Bree says:

      Honestly — not really. Several of the sandbox folks at Massively have their eyes on ArcheAge, but I just don’t think it’s going to actually be as polished as we’re dreaming. WildStar is also promising some sandbox-love, but it’s an admitted hybrid. Honestly, I think The Secret World is going to crash and burn. Funcom knows *how* to do a sandbox (Anarchy Online), but some of the design elements are horrible. A quest log limited to three quests at a time so that you have to keep going back to contacts because heaven forbid we just run to a hub and do all the quests at once? It’s sadistic and retrograde design. Also not impressed with what I’ve read of the skill system so far.

      The frustrating part about it is that so many sandboxes are being made by pk/pvp-happy devs, so unfettered open pvp/ganking is a central element of most modern sandboxes, which is like the nichiest niche imaginable. Naturally, with the exception of Spreadsheets Online aka EVE, those games (Darkfall, Mortal Online, Xyson, Shadowbane back in the day) get basically no players/coverage, and people assume that ganking and sandboxes go hand in hand. So we’re left with terribly few options, and I don’t see that changing for many years. I’d like to think that in that time, sandbox designers can get a bit more creative and polish up the systems for modern tastes, rather than just throwing everyone in a half finished simulation and saying, have fun, it’s on you now.

      I don’t really blame SOE for SWG. LA basically forced the NGE on SOE, and my suspicion is that LA raised the IP’s license fee high enough to price the game out of existence (that’s the trouble with running a game on a popular IP with fickle owner). The sad part is that SWG had actually done relatively well in the last few years as it readded sandbox elements it had been forced to delete. SOE has bungled a lot of games, so don’t think I’m an SOE apologist — I’m definitely not — but those particular screwups are down to LucasArts.

  2. ArcherAvatar says:

    I definitely prefer my PVP engarde’ and challenging, and so I have little to no patience for ganking, griefing, or most of the other b.s. that goes along with open-world PVP. Personally, I simply consider it a waste of my time to easily kill someone from ambush/hiding, and I especially have no respect for those who count “curb-stomping” a lower level as a “kill.” There’s simply no laudable elements to it imo.

    (PVP where all participants are engarde’ and of equal level+equipment – a level playing field – where the skill of the player is the primary determinant for success or failure is another matter all together… I find that so challenging and interesting that I can easily play it all day long.)

    So I share your exasperation with sandbox developers who are seemingly fixated on including open-world PVP in their designs.

    I would love to see a fully sandbox designed game, perhaps set in colonial times in America, or in the wild west, or using the tried and true space-colonization theme… where we could develop characters and skills that were not necessarily enitrely focused on combat. Something where harvesting and building / crafting skills were equally valued alongside combat skills, with a lush, deep, and dangerous open world environment to explore and conquer… and where the focus was primarily on cooperative play, and the PVP was restricted in some form, either by location, or by consentual dueling, or at the very minimum was given the harshest of societal ostracization penalties on an account-wide basis to disuade that sort of immature idiocy.

    I’m convinced that eventually, some developer who wishes to distinguish themselves from the increasingly overpopulated “sameness” of MMOs currently on offer will at least attempt to bring something like what I described to market… then it will be up to the “silent majority” of MMO gamers who would like to see something like that to vote with their wallets.

    • Bree says:

      I’m with you — I don’t really find ganking newbies/lowbies/miners to be fun, nor will I ever understand people who do. I *can* understand the appeal of a open-PvP — UO’s pre-Trammel days did have their appeal, but enjoying a lawless game (or rather, trying to bring law to a lawless game) takes a lot more time and energy than I suspect most gamers have time for. I also played more than my fair share of WoW battlegrounds, but I admit I gave up after my character hit Lieutenant Commander — that was just a different sort of timesink/grind.

      I’d love to see a good triple-A sandbox that actually has working law system to allow PvP but discourage ganking without shoveling in battleground instances and PvP toggles. I’d love to see a BIG game with a working jail system, bounty system, etc. — basically UO with systems that actually work. :P

  3. Telwyn says:

    I missed out on SWG as I found it too confusing as a first MMO, when I came to WoW years later there was a pretty decent RP scene for a while though it was mostly the ‘scripted’ guild-based RP that I found way too confining.

    So my close friends and I always roleplayed our dungeon runs or questing at our own pace, similar to your current mode in SWTOR perhaps?

    I too am sad to see so many sandbox games lost to the assumption that sandbox must equal PVP. Wizardry Online and Pathfinder Online both interest me as games but the PVP or even Full loot-PVP they are implementing is a deal-breaker for me.

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