Now before some of my more dirty minded readers get the wrong idea (I’m looking at you Frosty) no this isn’t an article about the absurd over-exaggeration of the female form in modern gaming culture. That is I am afraid an article for another day. Instead I would like to sit down and discuss a mainstay in the MMO world that can either make or break a game.
Whether you call them Raids, Operations, Epic Encounters or dirty stinking backstabbing (in EVE online), massive encounters involving multiple people is a mainstay of the MMO genre. Now-a-days a game cannot help but be compared to World of Warcraft, the current daddy of the MMO genre, just as pre-2005 a game couldn’t help but be compared with Everquest. Star Wars: The Old Republic has been no exception to these comparisons, with numerous players complaining about fights that were ‘too easy’ or not engaging enough. We have in the past looked at some of the Operation mechanics within The Old Republic, but now we should get into closer detail.
One thing that WoW accomplishes so well is the Epic feel of the fights. Don’t throw stones, but recently I logged onto WoW and was dragged into Dragon Soul, the current Raid, by my guild. I had left before the raid came out, so I got to experience everything fresh and new, including a couple of the hard mode fights. I haven’t touched a WoW operation since I came to ToR back in November. Perhaps it is because of that distance and time, but the scale of the fights up to Deathwing, and then the crawl up Deathwings back before going toe to toe with the massive dragon was breath taking.
Not only were the fights themselves epic, but WoW constantly raises the stakes on their raids. Time and time again, death and destruction faces the world if these villains are not thwarted, until finally the cataclysm occurs and all of existence is at stake. These high stakes, epic fights and circumstances make the raid what it is. That, more than the larger party size makes these encounters something more than your average run of the mill dungeon.
Star wars hasn’t yet achieved these things, though they are on the way to doing so. The fights just don’t feel epic. Eternity Vault and Karagga’s Palace as the first two Operations were too easy for most serious raiders. Even with the introduction of three difficulty levels, (a good move on the part of Bioware), the fights were repetitive and blown through in the first month of the games existence. I give kudos to the Bioware development team for how they have responded to player criticism for easy fights and really stepped up things when they introduced Explosive Conflict. The fights are more difficult with more intricate mechanics and a strong emphasis on two tank fights with two bosses. Is it enough? No, it isn’t, but it is a step in the right direction and paves the way for their next Operation.
This may come as a surprise, given my adoration of Bioware’s story, but I cannot give them a pass on their current Operation storylines. Eternity Vault’s story I would rate as their second best story. The scope isn’t too bad with this powerful force user escaping, but there isn’t a strong emphasis on the story going throughout to tie every encounter together. You can guess at them by the clues of Soa’s voiceover’s during various points, but the place still feels disjointed, feeling more like a fortress to protect Soa than a prison to contain him. Secondly the ease of the fights simply pulls the legs out of Soa. All I have to go on with Soa’s scope and power is what little story there is and this fight. He’s a pushover, whereas in a game such as wow, you have an entire expansion devoted to growing stronger to fight the ultimate end boss. The storylines of the dungeons and generic questing ties into the operations making them a part of the story.
The worst of the operations, story wise, though the second best mechanic wise is Karagga’s palace. Here the players go to investigate this member of the Hutt Cartel and after betrayal go through and fight him and kill him. While I think this would be a good story for a normal dungeon, I find it interesting and intriguing. It doesn’t have the same gravitas as the other Operations, making me wonder why, after he betrayed me and I had fought back to the main room, I didn’t just walk out the door, back to my shuttle and called in an air strike to blow the place up. Revenge is all well and good, but really an air strike is just as good and has less risk. I’m a sith, that’s how we do things. I just don’t feel invested in this fight at all.
The newest operation, Explosive Conflict, is a step in the right direction. It has to do with rogue troops in the middle of the War between the Empire and the Republic. Now War is always a very good source of conflict and should be a part of The Old Republic. You feel like you are trudging into an armed encampment and fighting warriors, and the reason there is no bombardment from orbit is made clear in that there is a giant shield covering the area, requiring a ground force (a staple of the Star Wars universe yet again). Perhaps this doesn’t seem as epic and world shaping as the release of a mighty force user who will destroy it, but at face value, it still is a major conflict that has impact on the world that we play in, giving it the oomph that is needed. Not only that, but those who might worry that it isn’t enough, one only needs to see the twist at the end and what is likely to lead into the next Operation to know that the stakes have gotten raised again.
Explosive Conflict is the first operation to have a tie in to earlier questing through the game and is by far Bioware’s best and most difficult to date. I just hope and pray that they use it as a stepping stone to produce even better quality content. I have hope, for even Blizzard didn’t start off with Gems. It took them several raids before they got their traction and found their identity. If Bioware can continue to raise the stakes, push the story and work to create an Epic experience and challenge for the players.