I didn't know exactly what to expect, walking into The Old Republic's clandestine meeting chamber at EA's booth in E3's South Hall. It was less a booth, though, and more a hub, sprawling out in all directions with playable stations for shooters on one end, sports games on the other, and secluded little back rooms for guided tours of the company's games. This included The Old Republic's showing, which brings us back to my point: Why the hell were they pouring so much into this MMO that had already launched? What did they have to gain?
If my knowledge of the past six months serves, TOR got off to a very strong start, hit a little over a million subscribers, and then stalled before dropping back down a few pegs. One of the pitfalls with creating a game so heavily focused on story content, but designed as a perpetual experience, is that this incredibly personal-feeling storyline will end at some point, and then what's the player's incentive to keep going, paying for month after month? They're finished their character's story, and the rest of what one can do at the endgame has been done better elsewhere. This ties back into another of TOR's major issues: it's a World of Warcraft clone when it comes to gameplay, but with a faster pace and Star Wars art assets and atmosphere.
EA's goal, then, was to "wow" the press to such a degree with their upcoming content that we'd go back, spread the word, and help welcome old subscribers back into the fold, all while enticing new ones. So they showed us that they were raising the level cap (always a good times), introducing the planet Makeb for players to explore (more areas are always nice), putting out a new space mission and both a new Operation and Warzone (only the former of which is really interesting; it's kind of Lovecraft in space, which is a neat idea if nothing else), and finally, they introduced the newest companion: an HK-51 assassin droid.
And that's really it. That is what EA and BioWare are convinced will draw lapsed players back into the fold. For newbies, there's a trial up to level 15, which is not time-capped, but it's still only up to level 15. The grind doesn't rear its ugly head until the mid-twenties, which is the point at which I really stopped caring and cancelled my subscription (dammit, Balmorra). I just wish the element of TOR that was most compelling, that made it stand so far out from the pack upon its inception—the freaking story—was in some way being expanded and enhanced. And not just general tales in which one plays a minor role, but in the personal and intimate manner in which each class' story is already forged. That, and not simply the Star Wars license, is what initially drew people in and, having seen the end of that, it's why they're leaving.
Look, maybe this sounds like moaning for the sake of moaning. It's a game, right? It's not just about the story, but about how it plays, and to that end the reps had a little end-of-presentation surprise planned for us: they were going to let us try out one of the new dungeons with fairly powerful characters. I managed to get into this exclusive group (within the exclusive group already allowed in the dark presentation room) because no one, and I mean no one, wanted to play as the healer. I was willing to give it a shot, if only to get my hands on the Razer Star Wars gear they had hooked up (the mouse: not bad; headset: fairly comfortable; keyboard: gorgeous and slick). So, uninverted controls in hand, I set to work playing whack-a-mole with my partners' health bars as we trudged through the first few rooms of the map. Is it bad that, sitting there at E3, playing a game that I used to play for fun on my own time, I was dreadfully bored?