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The Old Republic and the Illusion of Choice

Creepy Doll IllusionIn preparing for tonight’s Multiverse Chris sent me an article to read about Morality Gear in Star Wars the Old Republic (Thank you to Darth Hater for taking the time to write it). He wanted to be sure I was appropriately informed on the subject so I didn’t end up stuffing my foot in my mouth like the last time we talked about the game! In reading it, I became very confused by the subject. I fully understand where the developers are going with this gear but I don’t get the why. The why just doesn’t make sense! In fact it makes so little sense I had to write about it!

Loud Disclaimer

This article is based on speculation and speculation only. I am only using Star Wars the Old Republic as an example and not picking on it individually. This type of things happens in every MMORPG and I just happened to use this one because it is new and I read about it today.

The Illusion of Choice

Star Wars the Old Republic will use a morality system similar to Bioware’s single player games. I had honestly not thought about it to begin with but I guess it makes sense that they would use something they’re familiar with. As your character progresses through the much touted story line they will have to make choices, both good and evil, that will effect the outcome of the tale. That is a great sort of system in a single player game with a defined ending. In an MMORPG I get the feeling that it is going to be a train wreck. This could not be any clearer than with the introduction of this morality gear.

I said earlier that I didn’t understand the why behind morality gear. Why would it exist? SWtOR is not a single player game. Every choice a player makes ultimately influences their experience. That is what Bioware is harping on, the fourth pillar of story. Of course they’re talking about how the choices you make in the single player story will chance how the game world looks and reacts to your character. You’re forging your own story, so to speak. That is fine but I’m talking about how those choices will influence your ability to enjoy the game once that nifty fourth pillar ends and you’re left staring at the realities of the other three.

Bioware has brought gear into the morality mix and this sounds like a terrible idea. Consider this: you play through your story arch and try to react how you would normally. You pick some light side choices and some dark side choices. When your story ends you end up at light level three. Awesome for you! The world changes based on those factors but, beyond that, you’re left at the end game. What happens if the best gear for a slot is light level four or five? You’re either screwed or get to go grind out light side faction (which basically invalidates your choices anyway)! The truth of the matter is if you want to optimize for the end game you don’t actually have choices, just the illusion of choices. To optimize you have to pick one side or the other every time or face the consequences. That leaves me once again questioning the viability of the game beyond the story campaign.

I wrote recently that I believe two faction MMORPGs are an obsolete mechanic. I had no idea that that particular article would tie so neatly into this one. I bring it up because I am also confused on how a morality system could even exist in a two faction game! This is the Star Wars intellectual property so a Jedi is good and of the light side unless they fall and Sith is malevolent and evil until they’re redeemed. Nothing is black and white and the morality system addresses that. With that said, in the rigid confines of this MMORPG a Jedi cannot fall. They cannot switch from their faction’s side. A Sith cannot be redemed. How can you possibly have morality choices then? A Republic Jedi is a Republic Jedi regardless of choice. What happens if they make all dark side choices? Will they be hated on their own faction and punished through game mechanics? Is it viable to be dark side, Republic Jedi?

So that leaves me to ask, why give the illusion of choice? If I know that by picking dark side options in the story line with my Jedi I’ll be punished later on why would I do so? This is where the fourth pillar ends up several feet shorter than the other three. Eventually you’ll run out of story line and be left at end game with regrets. Were this an MMORPG where you weren’t artificially separated into sides for no reason what so ever (other than the fact WoW did it) I could see it. Choices made in the campaign would ultimately dictate who’s side you were on. The way SWtOR is designed it just doesn’t matter. You either do it right or do it your way and suffer later. Only time will tell if I’m right or wrong but on a fundamental level someone somewhere needs to be asking these questions.

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5 Responses to The Old Republic and the Illusion of Choice

  1. Malchome says:

    You would think that this would be something they would have considered even before designing any morality system and or gear. Typical oooh shiney, pie in the sky development. That is one thing that always used to bother me in the Star Wars TT games. It was all Light/Dark side BS, truth of the matter the Grey Jedi or Jedi of old that were more about Balance were more powerful than either. However that is not a subject that would work for the movies. Walking the line of Light and Dark was always more interesting than being the Goody little too shoes or Evil bad-ass.

    • Ferrel says:

      Exactly sir. When I played KOTOR I didn’t always want to be the perfect prim and proper Jedi. I just don’t buy into all of their rules. At the same time I certainly don’t see a need to go out and force choke every fool that can’t find a ship in an asteroid field. I’m just not wired that way. I am wired well enough to know how MMORPGs work and to me it seems like you had best go all light or all dark or you’ll be left out if you intend to play the end game.

  2. Hunter says:

    Why give the illusion of choice? Why wouldn’t they want to put role play back into mmorpgs? I admit that not having enough light/dark points will definitely be problematic (if this is indeed how it works) but I think the choice is integral to the story. It invests the player in what is going on.

    Maybe its not perfect for endgame min/maxing but I think they made the right decision.

    Hopefully there isn’t a need for any kind of light/dark grind, but if there is, how is that different from any other MMO that has come before it anyway? Not a good argument for it, but I can’t really knock them either.

    Have to agree about the two faction mechanic. It just doesn’t work as far as social games go and I’m tired of being seperated from my friends because I have very slightly different tastes in avatar or lore background.

    Oh and as you say, nothing is black and white. Just because a jedi/sith can’t switch sides it doesn’t mean he can’t be ruthless/kind etc.

  3. While I agree that the two faction PVE mechanic has outlived its usefulness, I don’t necessarily think that the lack of a faction betrayal option necessarily means that moral choices are false. History and literature are both full of good people who ended up faithfully serving the “wrong” side of a conflict and people who happened to be on the “right” side despite generally acting like dicks. If anything, it makes sense that someone who disagrees with their side’s tactics would not be able to betray in SWTOR because the other side actively wants them dead.

    That said, I agree that Morality gear sounds like a very bad idea. Unless they offer identical stats for the other alignment (i.e. a “good” appearance for light side and an “evil” appearance of the same gear for dark side) there will be minmaxing issues.

    I also maintain that there is going to be a sizeable population of people who picked Jedi because they like the movies, sleep with their NPC’s because that’s what you do in a Bioware game, and end up irritated if they’re pigeon-holed into the Dark Side as a result.

  4. Bronte says:

    The problem isn’t just the morality gear or the illusion of choice. So much in TOR is being banked on the fourth pillar, the story, which, for all intent and purposes, is central to the narrative and the core gaming experience. But what is the the fourth pillar is built from crap and rotten to the core. What if the story actually sucks, and, as you hint in your two factions article, is bogged down by the monotony of Jedi vs. Sith; good vs. evil, black vs. white with nearly no middle ground?