The first time I logged on to Star Wars: The Old Republic and created my Jedi Consular, I was instantly hooked. For a fan like myself, simply having the chance to play in the Star Wars sandbox is enough to get me interested (and cause me to stay up way too late because I’m running around slashing enemies with my lightsaber). Getting to create all manner of characters, from Jedi to Sith to superspies to smugglers, meant getting to explore the Star Wars universe through the viewpoints of all manner of archetypes.
But though the base game makes a strong start and had me obsessed from the get-go, that momentum hasn’t kept up. Instead, it’s petered out into lackluster expansions and monthly story updates that take an hour at most to complete (and come across more as a desperate attempt to retain subscribers and keep revenue flowing).
While I would like to see SWTOR take steps towards embracing the features that made it great, I unfortunately think that it’s highly unlikely we’ll see a return to the expansive universe of the base game. So even though I love SWTOR and I love the characters and stories it has added to the Star Wars universe, I ultimately think it failed to live up to a lot of its potential. Therefore, it would be better idea to learn from SWTOR’s successes and failures and create a new Star Wars MMO.
The standout feature in SWTOR, in my opinion, has always been the variety of different class stories available in the base game. That feature alone sets it apart from pretty much any other MMO out there. With four different character archetypes per faction, there are eight different possible stories to play through. Your story isn’t that of a Generic Video Game Hero; it is tailored to a character archetype. This, in turn, means there’s a variety of genres to play through. Between the several Force-related classes, the military stories, or simply being a badass normal caught up in the struggle between Jedi and Sith, there’s a narrative for everyone. These individual stories should absolutely be a part of an updated Star Wars MMO.
Furthermore, it’s important to continue those individual stories. Unfortunately, SWTOR wasn’t as highly received at launch as predicted, which led to a significant decrease in resources dedicated to the game. In turn, SWTOR expansions have done away with individual storylines in favor of a “one size fits all” approach. And unfortunately it’s hard to stay invested in a game where the story is essentially the same regardless of whether you’re a Force user or Force-blind, Imperial or Republic.
Not to mention repetitive; the base game encourages creating multiple characters, if for no other reason than to play through each story at least once, but it’s quite tiring to try and take all those characters through the various expansions when you’re playing the exact same story over and over again. Going from a story tailored to your character archetype to a Generic Video Game Hero feels awfully impersonal. This problem is particularly notable in the current Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion, which pretty much railroads the player through the narrative with very little chance (so far) to make any impactful story decisions.
Obviously, as stated, it takes a lot more resources to create eight separate stories instead of one streamlined one, but surely there’s a way to compromise on that issue. For example, a new Star Wars MMO could have four class stories instead of eight (i.e. each faction would have a Force user and a non-Force user). Or, have a similar main storyline for each but supplement it with enough class-specific missions that it doesn’t feel impersonal and repetitive.
Third, a Star Wars MMO should remember the MMO part of the game. Lately, SWTOR seems to want to promote itself as a single player game (as opposed to a solo-friendly game). Chances to group up with friends and play through new content together have been dwindling to the point of being nearly nonexistent. And while there’s nothing wrong with focusing on solo content, if that’s the ONLY thing the game focuses on then it somewhat defeats the purpose of it being a Massive Multiplayer Online game. You might as well put those resources towards creating a true single player game instead of one that halfheartedly tries to incorporate MMO elements. Story is great, but if there’s nothing else to do except wait on the next story installment, people will lose interest and move on to other games.
As for the story, a new Star Wars MMO could go a couple different ways. The most obvious direction would be to cash in on the current hype surrounding The Force Awakens and set it in the sequel trilogy era, or at the very least in the post-Return of the Jedi, pre-TFA era. It’s a new era that we don’t know much about yet so there’s plenty of room to explore and world-build. There’s chances to add new planets (or see ones we’ve only read about in books so far), explore the political situation in the galaxy, and learn more about people and organizations we’ve only briefly heard about (what exactly is the Church of the Force?).
The only issue I see with setting a MMO in the post-RotJ era is that eventually it risks being constrained by canon. It’s easy to imagine an immersive sandbox game now, but once Episodes VIII and IX are released, as well as (probably) numerous books, the sandbox will inevitably get smaller with canon constraints. Not that it’s impossible to set a game in this time period, just that it might be more difficult.
SWTOR has an advantage in that it is so far removed, timeline wise, from the movies that it has a blanker slate to work with. So, a second option for a new Star Wars MMO would be to set it in an era not related to the movies. It could be (yet another) Old Republic era game, or perhaps closer to the Darth Bane era, or any number of time periods. Of course, the problem in this scenario would be making this new MMO sufficiently different from the current SWTOR game to justify creating it in the first place.
Ultimately I think that a sequel trilogy-era MMO would be the way to go for a new Star Wars MMO. It’s a change of pace from the current MMO setting and ties in well with the current Star Wars hype. It offers the chance to expand upon Star Wars lore and help develop the worldbuilding of the post-RotJ era. If it can learn from the successes and failures of SWTOR, and balance diverse storytelling with the more traditional social group aspects of an MMO, it has the opportunity to become a real standout in the MMO world. And the Star Wars franchise is nothing if not a trendsetter.