Star Wars The Old Republic has been in a sticky position these past few years. The weight of expectation that rested upon its shoulders at launch was about as much as any game could ever carry.
A spiritual sequel to one of the most beloved RPGs of all time, a blockbuster budget, a highly-regarded studio at the height of its creative output, a humongous script fully voice-acted in three languages, one of the biggest IPs in the world, and a market leader (World of Warcraft) showing its first signs of faltering, stacked up to make SWTOR one of the most anticipated games ever.
Its launch was fine, but nowhere near the success that everyone expected. So, naturally, the TORtanic memes started, and kind of stuck. They were never really fair, but that’s the internet for you.
Like all the best MMOs, SWTOR stuck it out, and over the years was able to improve a whole bunch, and switch to a more widely appealing hybrid free-to-play/subscription model. In Rise of the Hutt Cartel and Shadow of Revan, it had two expansions which were well received but tread water.
Then, at E3 2015 we got the announcement of the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion. With a title that hearkened back to the Knights of the Old Republic games and a sumptuous CG trailer like those from the game’s initial release, this expansion seemed like a soft relaunch of the game. A renewed show of commitment to SWTORs future which had maybe been lacking in the years since launch.
Its next expansion, Knights of the Eternal Throne, got a similar treatment, but while the marketing wow’ed, the gameplay indicated that the well may have run dry.
This has been the theme of the past two expansions also. Onslaught was a decent enough expansion which sat more in line with Hutt and Revan, while Legacy of the Sith was essentially an expansion in name only (it had a flashy trailer though!)
And so, since around 2017 it has felt like we’ve been watching the game’s slow march to the grave. This has been compounded by knowledge of the fate of the previous Star Wars MMO (Star Wars Galaxies), and BioWare’s other attempt to break into the multiplayer field (Anthem).
We know that SWTOR‘s been making money, but that doesn’t alter the fact that between the 8 distinct class stories and the full voice acting, making new content for this game is clearly not easy. But, The Old Republic is a BioWare game, and anything less than the expected BioWare polish would be seen as an admission of defeat.
All that is now a thing of the past.
We don’t really have any idea of what’s going to be happening with future content for the game, other than the reassurance that more is coming. We might carry on getting the same tiny helpings of new content a couple of times per year, still fully voice-acted and all the rest of it. Except, probably a little less still, because some of the team are sadly not making the transition to Broadsword.
Let’s be honest though, that’s not going to happen. There will be changes in how The Old Republic doles out its new content going forward.
The worst-case scenario would be that we get a couple more patches to tie up the current main story and then the team lean back on the game’s season tracks to provide new content. As far as worst-case scenarios go, it’s better than the alternative.
What’s more likely is that we’ll carry on getting new seasonal content, AND new story content. But I think everyone is expecting voice acting to be the first thing to go. It surely adds a level of complexity to the process of adding new content that just isn’t worth the expense in both time and money. The voice acting in SWTOR is terrific, but I think at this point, after this many years, people would accept that it’s time to move on without it.
One thing that can be said with certainty is that all of the team members who have confirmed their move from BioWare to Broadsword seem positive about the changeover.
There can’t be any fun in working on a game that’s the studio’s least favourite child, and that’s more or less what SWTOR has been for the past few years. You need only look at the meagre number of pages devoted to the game in the BioWare: Stories and Secrets from 25 Years of Game Development book to get an idea of how little value the studio places in it.
At Broadsword, SWTOR is going to be the jewel in the crown. No more sneering at the old MMO – this is a studio that cares about the genre and its legacy. They’re going to be able to offer support and expertise that should translate into a bright future for the game.
In Star Wars: The Old Republic, BioWare created a great MMO which never quite hit the heights it should have. After a decade of live service, they’re ready to move on. What happens next could be the best thing possible for them, Broadsword, the players, and the game itself.