With my recent return to Star Wars: The Old Republic, I keep finding myself mentally comparing things to World of Warcraft. I have no ill feelings toward WoW in my heart, and it still stands as a fun game. In fact, I will be one of the first to defend Mists of Pandaria in a conversation. After all Mists has done wonders for the way that Blizzard has decided to portray story in their games. However, there is something that has been gnawing at me since I’ve come back to SWTOR. Where do I fit in the story?
Dating back all the way to the Ruins of Ahn’qiraj, WoW has had an ever shifting sense of perspective that seems to draw less on the player characters being heroes and more that they are the upper echelon of the nameless grunts. More and more the stories, especially for raids, have focused on large organized armies assaulting the dungeons/bosses/whatever to accomplish the goal, with you simply being the tip of the spear (or in some examples the rest of the arrowhead with an NPC being the tip). No longer are you the hero, but simply the ones more likely to survive out of a massive attack by a hundreds if not thousands.
For example, the Shattered Sun Offensive’s assault on the Sunwell, the Ashen Verdict’s battle in Icecrown, the Guardians of Hyjal in the Molten Front and assaulting the Firelands, backing Thrall and the Aspects during Deathwing’s Fall, The Sunreavers or Kirin Tor breaking through the Thunder King’s walls, and the entirety of the Alliance or the Darkspear Revolution during the Siege of Orgrimmar.
In each of every one of those examples, you are not the heroes or saviors. You are simply one part of a much larger effort to defeat the enemy. This has even extended into questing in Mists of Pandaria, where it no longer matters if you’ve killed C’thun or defeated Kel’Thuzad the master lich twice, you are just another nameless faceless piece on the board along with so many others. Now this isn’t universal either. There have been raids and dungeons throughout the expansions that have you and your group as a small team working your way into a dungeon to silence a dark big bad all on your own. Historically, these usual are the first tiers of raids in each expansion. Karazhan, the Molten Core, Blackwing Descent, Mogu’shan Vaults… there’s no army with you for these. It’s just you against the dark. Imagine if all of Ironforge joined together for a massive assault against Ragnaros with an army that took over the Dark Iron cities with Magni leading the assault. Magni who steps on Majordomo Executus’ tail and demands to be let into the Firelord’s chamber. Magni who proclaims victory once the Hand of Ragnaros is firmly planted in the earth and the enemy vanquished. Would that be better?
Compare this to Star Wars: The Old Republic where you are cast in the role of the hero for the entirety of the narrative. YOU the Jedi Knight confronts and battles the Sith Emperor. YOU the Bounty Hunter who wins the Great Hunt and goes after the Supreme Chancellor single handedly. YOU the brave imperial that freed the Dread Masters from their prison. The game devotes itself to you and you alone being the central figure of your tale. Compare Rise of the Hutt Cartel Imperial Side to the Horde side start of Mists of Pandaria. In both, a small tactical squadron lands in the area to cut a swathe of it and get what is of interest to their respective faction. The big difference is that in Mists, you are a lackey to General Nazgrim who is leading the team. You report to him and he tells you what to do. In the Rise of the Hutt Cartel, you are the leader of the small team. Mostly guiding the narrative and giving the orders to your subordinates who provide support and information to you, their leader, to help carry out the mission. Star Wars: The Old Republic goes to great lengths to make you feel like you are the star. Even in the Operations (Raids) and Flashpoints (Dungeons), you are treated by the NPCs like they HAD to get you because you are the best of the best and only you are capable of handling this problem, not because hey, you’ve got a better health pool than the grunts, so you make it to the end.
However, that’s not without it’s drawbacks either. When you see five bounty hunters rocking the ‘Champion of the Great Hunt’ title, it breaks the illusion a bit since your brain stops for a second and goes, “Hey, wait a minute. Didn’t I win that?” And the answer is yes, yes you did. This isn’t the worst thing ever, but I will admit it’s a drawback to the immersion. But ultimately it comes down to experiencing the story and the feel of leading the narrative along. I say feel, because honestly there are no dead ends, and no real way to break off the rails that Bioware has laid down for you. This may cause issues with role playing a character when everybody has followed the same path, but I’m not a real hardcore role player in game so I am not even gonna attempt to go down that road.
So which one is better? Well that’s for each to decide for their own. I personally enjoy feeling like the hero and leading the story forward, but I can see that there’s an allure to the whole thing. And honestly, when you sit and look at all the NPCs that are aiding in raid boss kills or massive armies tackling the citadels of evil, that’s really our fault from the get go. Since I can remember I’ve heard things like “It’s ridiculous that X boss can be killed by 10/25 nobodies.” Well, okay then. We’ll have a somebody do the killing. You just help. And it’s not for me. I won’t lie, it makes World of Warcraft – a game I LOVE the lore to enough to create an entire site like the old Oddcraft blog and do things like the Warchief Election – a little bit harder to get in to and enjoy.
So what about you? Which form of storytelling do you prefer and why? I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this, Internet.