Hyperspace Beacon: SWTOR, it’s time to destroy the Eternal Empire
You know what I do care about, though? The Empire and the Republic. You know what most fans of Star Wars care about? The Empire and the Republic, or possibly the Jedi and the Sith. Whether it’s a story buried in the conflict of those two armies colliding or it’s a gangster taking advantage of being in the middle of those two opposing parties, the Empire and the Republic have been central to all the engaging Star Wars stories.
For this specific reason, it’s time for BioWare to tear down the Eternal Empire.
I don’t want to imply that writing for an MMO is easy by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, creating a compelling storyline in an MMORPG is probably one of the most difficult jobs in all of games writing. The games that have done it well have usually resorted to telling a single-player story as an integrated part of a multiplayer game. SWTOR is probably the prime example, but Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2, and The Secret World do the same thing with varying degrees of success. Probably more than the other games, SWTOR attempted to make the story extremely personal.
The core game gives the players eight different story choices that coincide with the class choices. On the next level down, dark and light choices create a deeper personal story. And lastly, we have choices that aren’t related to dark-side or light-side but rather have to do with character personality. These choices in the main story don’t even touch on the romantic choices players have with their companions. These choices are far from perfect, but the idea is to make your character belong to you.
I don’t want to give the impression that it takes multiple storylines to make the game better. One of my favorite BioWare games, Mass Effect 2, pretty much has one story. The plot begins and ends pretty much the same way regardless of your choices. Of course, there are “good” and “bad” endings to Mass Effect 2, but the throughline is the same. And I have played through that same story at least a dozen times without losing interest in how things will turn out.
Where it fell apart
I don’t think that the five-year jump was a bad thing, and I don’t think that the individual parts of Knights of the Fallen Empire or Knights of the Eternal Throne are bad. In fact, there are some really great moments in both of them, and some of the choices that you have to make as a player are really difficult.
I believe the “Knights of” expansions lost that intimacy, sure. But I think this lack of intimacy really began before those expansions. I believe that it started with Shadow of Revan, but we were too caught up in the all the flashpoints and operations and nostalgia to notice that a key element of the story was missing. And the two key figures behind that loss are the true protagonists of the “Knights of” expansions: Lana Beniko and Theron Shan.
With the introduction of those characters, you became a figurehead for their kingdom. You were reduced to a meat shield on heavy missions and an orator for speeches. The only real choice that you made during the whole series was to kill or spare Jorgan and Kaliyo, and in the grand scheme of things, that was not a choice with a deep personal impact. Over the last few years, we have watched someone else’s story play out.
This is why the current traitor storyline has very little personal impact. The traitor didn’t betray you; he or she betrayed something that didn’t really belong to you.
It’s possible to take the existing story and make it personal again. It’s possible for BioWare to do a kind of historical reset by destroying the Eternal Empire, and the best way to do that is to make the scope smaller and make the stakes bigger. You have 30 or more disposable companions and some that are waiting to come back. The player needs to lose some. And by some, I mean about half. The player character also needs to lose the Eternal Empire. He, in my case, needs to choose to fully support the Republic or the Empire.
The story already has a major divergence based on the Iokath superweapon; BioWare needs to embrace that and take it to the next level. I enjoyed the stories on Makeb that were completely separate depending on your faction. I would definitely love to go back to that, but barring time restraints, a story that has nuances that are different would be fine.
How do we get to the point where the Eternal Empire is no more? Give it to Lana Beniko. After all, everything that you’ve done from Shadow of Revan on was her doing. She is the mastermind. Have her be the real traitor who tears down your kingdom. Then when you are ousted from your own Empire, a handful of your most loyal companions would come with you, and the story then becomes a lot more intimate. It becomes about you attempting to remake your place in the Empire or the Republic, which is what made the launch stories so much more interesting.
Of course, there are many alternatives to this, and these are just my thoughts. Let’s speculate a bit. Clearly, we need the player character to lose big so that we can build him or her up again. How would you do it? Let me know in the comments. I’ll send my favorite a Master’s Datacron level-up token and equipment so that you can play through the vanilla stories at max level. (I’ll give it two days before I pick my favorite. I’ll let you know which one it is in the comments.)