Several intriguing design choices add extra texture to The Old Republic's morality system. Character decisions have a different flavor on the Republic and Empire sides. It often feels that the more practical or pragmatic choices give Dark Side points in Republic quest lines and Light Side points in Empire quest lines. This helps players to actually think about the decisions they're making, although some players will simply choose the Light Side or Dark Side response regardless of what it is. Also, non-player companions have their own moral codes that don't always coincide with Light or Dark Side philosophy, and it's interesting to see their reactions to the player's choices.
There are still some odd kinks to The Old Republic's morality and decision-making system. It doesn't work well in groups, in which every group member chooses the answer to a dialogue option, and an invisible dice roll determines which group member's answer is shown on the screen. It's strange and immersion-breaking to watch one party member execute a non-player character that the rest of the group had hoped to spare, simply because they won an unseen roll of chance. Some quests could use a second pass in terms of which decisions are considered Light or Dark Side, as well, since the various quest designers weren't always consistent in terms of the types of actions they considered good versus evil.
There are also some issues that oddly aren't addressed in the system. Real-world topics such as slavery and xenophobia are often tackled, yet the game rarely allows players to question the sexism inherent in the setting (there are scantily-clad dancing girls in every cantina, but no go-go boys in the entire galaxy?) and currently doesn't allow players to pursue homosexual romance of any sort. It seems a strange moral system in which a female Imperial Agent is allowed to sleep with a male character in order to buy his silence, but isn't allowed to form a loving relationship with another woman. At least one BioWare representative has acknowledged that particular issue and has stated that the company hopes to add same-sex romance options to the game later on, but it would have been nice for them to have been in from the beginning.
In the end, though, The Old Republic's morality system is an important step forward in MMORPG design. It incorporates role-play into the very fabric of the game's story, allowing players to make decisions and express their character's personality with the game's full support. This is huge in a genre in which role-playing is usually relegated to a bunch of people standing around emoting at each other. The dialogue options are also varied, frequently interesting, and a great step forward in storytelling. Deciding how to handle a Jedi and Sith chasing each other around Tatooine and interfering with everyone's business is a far more interesting quest story than delivering ten rabbit spleens to some random whiny peasant. We can only hope that BioWare will find ways to refine and improve on this system as the game matures. It would be great to see unique quests based on Light Side, Dark Side, or neutral alignment for high-level characters, or to see important quest line decisions have farther-ranging story-based consequences than they currently do. We're looking forward to seeing the next innovations that BioWare brings to its galaxy far, far away.
The author would like to thank the members of the guild Shattered Moon, who informed this article by sharing their experiences with The Old Republic's morality system.
Date: January 11, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*