Canadian game developers BIOWARE have certainly come a long way since Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Undisputedly the new kings of the Role-Playing format (sorry Square Enix), they broke the mould with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, splicing together that most perfect of blend of cinematic story-telling, fast-paced action sequences (or, as I call them, ‘negotiations with a lightsaber’) and customisability. Arguably, it was one of the best science-fiction RPG’s out there—among the top Star Wars games without doubt.
Then along came Mass Effect. Bioware went and surpassed itself by creating a new universe from scratch, taking on board the lessons of SW:KTOR and improving upon it in almost every department. What resulted was something that, all things considered, made Knights look like a prototype by comparison.
That’s not just incredible game making, that’s darn-near witchcraft to some.
Still Bioware battles on: adopting, adapting and improving with every new release. Two huge releases lie on the horizon, like slumbering rancors (or Thresher Maw, depending on your franchise of preference) ready to rampage. The magnum opus of Bioware’s masterpieces may well be just around the corner.
So, it all comes down to that big question:
MASS EFFECT 3 or STAR WARS: THE OLD REPUBLIC?
It’s Shepard vs. Sith. One will stand triumphant. But which? Let’s run down our contenders’ key strengths and weaknesses…
Bioware are constantly highlighting the importance of an immersive and fully interactive storyline. In a good role-playing game, it can be the difference between an epic experience and a dull button-basher.
Mass Effect 3 is clearly at an advantage already, having had its two predecessors to grow from. If players are importing their veteran Shepard from their Mass Effect 1 & 2 save files, there are already a hundred or more variables influencing the time-line. Hooked up with a love interest in the first game? Did you stay loyal in the second? No? Couldn’t help yourself? Well, be prepared for ramifications, Casanova—you’ll be dealing with the consequences of a love-triangle. Save many of your old companions? Let them die? That isn’t going to bode well this time around. Cause and (mass) effect are a big deal by this instalment and with the world-crushing Reapers looking to make fertiliser out of Earth (thank you, Bioware, for that awe-inspiring trailer), every little detail is going to matter.
As an MMO, Old Republic could be forgiven for being a World of Warcraft inspired series of random quests. Kill ten pigs here, grab an amulet there, dungeon raid a little this afternoon, etc. However, Bioware have made it quite clear that this title will also stand as a third in the Knights series, with a massive emphasis on interactive story and (if, like myself, you find other players can sometimes be thoroughly distracting) optional solo-play with NPC companions—much like your crew in Mass Effect.
Old Republic has been in something of development Hell since 2009 now, with its release date being pushed back and back due to numerous technical obstacles. This, however, has allowed plenty of time to push the game virally. Plus, since the game exists in a well-established continuity, it’s had plenty to build upon in the form of timeline videos (narrated by science-fiction veteran Lance Henrikssen), books and a little-known film saga they did a while back. To boot, Old Republic is set to contain the biggest voice cast in games (maybe even entertainment) history. That’s right, no more dull dialogue boxes to click past.
If, when the game finally does see release, it can live up to it’s promises of epic story-telling, then Old Republic could well change the MMO scene forever. If that doesn’t thrust World of Warcraft off its plinth, nothing will.
From the offset, Mass Effect 3 is at a clear advantage in this department.
The combat system has had another overhaul for the third instalment, playing out a lot more like a third-person shooter. You’ll be able to sprint, roll, climb… pretty much anything that good ol’ Master Chief of Halo could do and then some. It’s even been whispered that you’ll be able to blow off selected pieces of armour or limbs with a well-aimed shot. If that doesn’t get your bloodthirsty side tingling little will.
Old Republic, meanwhile, is attempting to revolutionise MMO combat, with a much more fluid real-time battle experience (you won’t constantly be waiting for cool-down times, if reports are to be believed). Though this is hardly likely to stand up to Mass Effect in terms of out-and-out grit and carnage, Old Republic does possess lightsabers. And force lightning. And jetpacks. And honestly, given the choice between being able to blow someone’s leg off with a shotgun or choking someone Vader-style with the force… wow, that’s a tough call. To each their own.
As I highlighted above, Mass Effect 3 has the added edge of having the events of the past two games to build upon. The story itself is fully customisable, depending upon those all-important decisions you made.
No doubt you will, as in previous games, be in control of every sentence your character says and every action he or she carries out. And all this effects the universe in a massive way. Bioware has yet to announce any other customisation features it’s bringing to the table with Mass Effect 3, if any. Not that it needs much improvement, of course.
Old Republic, meanwhile, offers the full personalisation one expects with an MMO. Republic or Empire? Jedi Consular perhaps? Maybe a rogue smuggler? Bounty Hunter? Sith Inquisitor? Not keen on a human face? Stick a couple of tentacles on your head and call yourself a Twi’lek. It can be hoped that, with its Mass Effect-inspired dialogue system, Old Republic will follow a similar trend of branching storylines. Perhaps you start out as that rogue smuggler but fancy a change of heart by the game’s end?
RPG’s are all about customisability. Old Republic seems to have drawn a promising hand at this point, but methinks we have a lot more to see from the Mass Effect camp yet. Watch this space.
Now this is a tough one.
On the one hand, the Mass Effect series is one of the best-celebrated game sagas of all time, with Mass Effect 2 topping over two million units sold worldwide in its opening week. In the short space of four years (since the release of the first game), Commander Shepard has become a computer game icon on par with Solid Snake and the series has been critically acclaimed with enough awards to knock a Mass Relay out of orbit.
But then there is Star Wars.
MMO’s are big business if pulled off correctly. And what better way to target the ‘geek-out’ market (myself included) than by giving long-time fans a chance to be the next Boba Fett or Darth Vader?
Remember that World of Warcraft has had over 12 million users at its height. That’s the kind of numbers that makes even Mass Effect 2’s success look meagre. If Old Republic plays its cards right, who knows? Killing off WoW is potentially a god-like feat.
On the other hand, Old Republic has been circulating game ‘purgatory’ for so long now, it’s a wonder if it’ll be everything it claims to be or not. It’ll need to be on top form to impress those die-hard fans… there are a lot of them, after all.
Tricky. For now, Mass Effect 3 is looking to be the only sure-fire hit of the two.
There are a lot of Star Wars games out there that fail and quality is of the essence if Old Republic is going to stand out. If it does, however, live up to its promises… it may very well blow Shepard’s Normandy out of the sky. Time will tell. One thing’s for certain, Bioware’s got one heck of a year coming up. As do we avid gamers.
What’s your opinion? Which title do you think will reign supreme? Comments would be much appreciated.
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This article was first posted on July 14, 2011