|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: December 21, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Mild Language, Sexual Themes, Violence|
by Andrew Groen
It's been about five years since World of Warcraft ascended to the throne. They faced early competition from the likes of Lineage 2, Guild Wars, and Everquest 2, but nothing could stop Blizzard's behemoth. Nowadays, there are many who say that there's only room for one subscription-based MMO on the market. They may be right. Other games have found success by exploring alternative payment models (such as Turbine's new item mall), but every other game that has tried to go toe to toe with World of Warcraft has failed. The list is getting longer all the time. All Points Bulletin, Warhammer: Age of Reckoning, Star Trek Online, Champions Online, Everquest 2, Aion, and the list goes on.
So, what makes Electronic Arts so audacious to believe that they can actually defeat the giant? Well, two very simple qualities: they've got the Star Wars license, and they've enlisted Bioware to create it.
The first of those two factors is probably the more important. With the relatively recent release of the Star Wars prequels, and the very successful (with kids, anyway) cartoon series The Clone Wars, it's obvious that Star Wars is as popular as it ever was, if not more so. Its popularity also spans multiple age groups as well. The Star Wars license is far more popular than Warcraft was when Blizzard launched World of Warcraft. In fact, Star Wars is still more popular than World of Warcraft, even after five years as the number one MMO in the country.
Nonetheless, EA has a mammoth task before them, but if they succeed, the rewards would be great. Blizzard pulls in billions of dollars a year through the Warcraft brand. Billions more during a year that sees an expansion pack released.
The other important factor in this equation is Bioware. The company has a huge following in the gaming community. Their previous games like Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and (importantly) Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic have been extremely well-received by fans and critics alike. They've garnered high review scores (all three have Metacritic ratings in the 90s) and sold millions of copies. Over the years, quality has obviously been a chief concern for Bioware, and it's really paying off for them.
Their games are costly to make (especially The Old Republic), but after years of unceasing quality, fans understand that Bioware means greatness. This could be an important factor for The Old Republic. Hardcore gamers are traditionally wary of MMO games. It's not hard to see why, either. Two games this year illustrated the need for gamers to be cautious when investing in an MMO. Star Trek Online launched in February of 2010 and was mostly a wreck. It was barely functioning, and glitches and bugs could be found everywhere. All Points Bulletin was mostly a decent game when it released later in the year. However, the company supporting it went bankrupt three months after release, forcing the game to be shut down. It was possibly the most short-lived commercial MMO in history. The gamers who spent money on the game and invested their time essentially lost everything.
So Electronic Arts is hoping that a three-pronged assault on the hearts and minds of gamers will be enough to overcome gamers' wariness about investing in an MMO. The combination of Bioware, the Star Wars license, and a large corporation like EA (with large enough cash flow to keep the game running during hard times) should be enough to overcome gamers' fears. It may even be enough to convince them to invest in the game on launch day. Something hardcore gamers aren't used to doing for an MMO. The attitude amongst the hardcore is to wait a couple months to assess the company's strategy before jumping in. Are they committed to providing a great experience? Is the end-game content good? Are they planning new content? These are the kinds of things gamers need to know before investing.
So far The Old Republic looks absolutely incredible. It looks and plays a lot like Bioware's earlier action-RPG games like the original Knights of the Old Republic. The action is intense, there are intriguing moral decisions, and perhaps most importantly, the worlds look wonderful. I'm a big fan of exploring open worlds in video games, and Star Wars: The Old Republic looks absolutely delicious with its plentiful unique planets.
Can EA and Bioware team up to take down World of Warcraft? We'll have to wait to find out, but it seems almost certain that Blizzard is going to have some stiff competition on their hands. At the very least I predict we'll see these two games coexist for a long time.
CCC Freelance Writer