Written By: Zachary LaBarge
So here we are. The cadets have graduated boot camp, and deployment is less than two weeks away. What’s left to talk about beyond the items, quests, flashpoints, and worlds that everyone doesn’t already know about? Many interested in trying the game firsthand got the opportunity to these past few months, and the rest won’t have long to wait in any case. The past beta weekend was easily the most crowded, with BioWare looking to stress test their servers and customer service system. Servers were looking at queue times pushing hours in some situations, while the cities and fleets were filled with a bustle seldom seen before. And that reveals quite a bit about how this game will feel post-launch.
What differentiates a game like Star Wars: The Old Republic from a game like Knights of the Old Republic are the first three letters of its genre; MMO, or Massively Multiplayer Online. You exist within a server, a community of other players that you will pass and interact with on a regular basis. How, where, and why you interact with these players helps define the very spirit of the game world. While not as concrete or tangible as the gear, plot, or major characters, the community is just as important, and we got a real taste for it as the server populations grew and grew.
Sith Don’t Dance On Mailboxes
In my time playing vanilla World of Warcraft, I came to find that whenever I was chatting with my guild, or just killing time while looking for a group, I would idle in one of a few places. The most common location was a large courtyard between the bank and the auction house; and I wasn’t the only person there. People would be crowding the mailboxes, or running back and forth between the auctioneers and their bank. Others would dance, or go out the front gate and duel. More than anywhere else, that segment of Ironforge defined the spirit of community for many players.
Wandering around the Republic Fleet during the peak hours, I took note of where players seemed to clump. Initially I was dismayed; there was no truly central area that players all tended to gather. The closest thing seemed to be the area between the cantina and the docking bays for flashpoints, and that had an elevator in the middle of it all. The Galactic Market Hubs were virtually abandoned (although this may have had more to do with people not knowing where they were). The station was so de-centralized that most players seemed to be running laps between everything they were looking for.
But as I watched all the players milling about, I came to appreciate its charm. The very premise of The Old Republic is that you specifically are important. You do not have time to idly stand around, but instead have a galaxy to save or conquer. Maybe you’ll catch a drink alone or with a friend at the cantina, but you have your priorities always on your mind. Perhaps you aren’t alone on your journey, but Star Wars is not a universe of trust. The only real social interaction in the Mos Eisley cantina (besides shady deals in the corners) involved losing a hand while picking a fight, and no place better exemplified this sort of tension than the starting world general chats.
A group of players with somewhere more important to be.
A Hive Of Scum And Villainy
Any game with a large player base tends to have its own version of this location. In WoW, it was known as Barrens Chat. In Eve, it’s often the Hi-Sec trading hubs. Heavily populated chats in MMOs will always bring out what Penny Arcade dubbed “The Internet F—wad Theory“, and innocent new players will often get caught in the middle as they try to get help, or accidently fuel the flames by feeding the trolls. I watched in dismay as players would post upcoming plot into general chat, spoiling the twists and dramatic moments for many a new player. The starting planet general chats were loud and busy, as most players found themselves having to start new characters, even if they had one from a previous beta weekend, and it was clear that these shenanigans were causing people to load up their ignore lists with names.
A New Hope
But what was important to note in this situation, was that a huge majority of the players on this server were under level 10, and therefor on the starting planet. The population normally would be much more spread out, and indeed on planets of smaller populations, or during off hours in the main ones, you saw the community’s spirit really start to shine. Everywhere there were amicable conversations between players, and a nonstop transfer of information from vets to newbies as they tried to get the hang of things. I witnessed on several occasions someone ask a question, only to respond a few minutes later in surprise about the amount of people willing to help them.
Just follow your quest markers, you’ll find the droids you’re looking for.
Of course every game has their good and bad within the community. I hope to see that as the malevolent players from the starting worlds get intermingled with the helpful veterans, things will pan out on the side of the friendly with cantinas and spaceports full of people chatting and trading. However, even if it does not, and it turns into a community beset with deceit and badmouthing, it will still feel like Star Wars, and that is what is most important. Most MMORPGs have to deal with both of these worlds, but Star Wars was designed explicitly with these two worlds in mind. For every Han Solo there was a Boba Fett, for every person to cheer there was another to hiss, and it is this duality and conflict that will make The Old Republic great.
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Tags: beta, beta weekend, Bioware, cantina, community, EA, Electronic Arts, Flashpoint, Knigts of the Old Republic, launch, LucasArts, MMORPG, MMOs, Republic Fleet, spaceport, Star Wars: The Old Republic, SWTOR, The Galactic Market, TOR, World of Warcraft, WoW, Zachary LaBarge