I discuss story pretty often in these columns. It’s one of my gaming guilty pleasures, and BioWare just does it so dang well. It’s hard to not sit up and take notice from time to time, especially when the story standing out is in an MMO, 99% of which have the premises of Death and Destruction™, complete with boring enemies, flashy gryphon mounts, and really loud dragons. Yeah, screw the dragons. I’ll take Star Wars: The Old Republic and Kaliyo’s interesting yet crazy way of looking at things.
SWTOR isn’t bursting with companion story content. In fact, I’d consider it a small facet of a character’s overall story. But it has a large impact for many players, including myself, who love the ways in which companion interactions can breathe life to the normal questing grind. BioWare took a lesson from its single-player games here, and realized that players like their party members and companions to have opinions and personalities. Companions aren’t the pets WoW’s looking for (see what I did there?).
Let’s take the Dragon Age universe, for example. The parts of these games I love the most are the sections of party member story, quests, and banter. This is where the characters do more than simply fight at your side. It’s where they come alive, show their true colors, and you find out why the heck they’re with you to begin with. BioWare then takes these relationships one step further and lets players form romantic relationships with them.
Party members and companions in most RPGs typically tend to be pretty one-dimensional. Sure, we may find out some cool information about them at the beginning, but they don’t always show much character development or growth as the story continues. It’s the hero’s story, after all, so party members and companions tend to be agreeable, likeable do-gooders, or silent lone wolf-types who will stab things upon request.
That’s not always the case with most of BioWare’s games. Yes, BioWare stories still belong to the hero in charge, but the side characters don’t just follow along faithfully. They speak up when they disagree with decisions made, and their overall feelings toward a player’s decisions actually have an impact on what happens next within their own attached stories.
In SWTOR, companions were added with the same philosophy in mind. All of the “main” companions have involved storylines, complete with quests that open up based on their affection with the player. It’s a great system, especially in an MMO. I love being able to spend a couple hours questing, then hop back to my ship to find a companion or two with a quest for me. It makes me forget, for a moment, about the boring reality of MMO leveling. It makes me feel like I’m sort of actually moving along in these digital relationships with these characters.
I think we all, by now, have our favorite companions and corresponding stories. My own favorite is Kaliyo’s (Imperial Agent). She can be a cold-hearted bitch at times, but her character’s quite interesting. As I’ve gotten farther in her story, I’m seeing definite character growth. Vette’s (Sith Warrior) is also interesting, as is Mako’s (Bounty Hunter). I find myself wishing I could have more than one companion with me while questing, just so I can see multiple responses by my companions.
It’s a shame, however, that not all of the companion stories are as detailed as those first “main” companions. The quests where companions ask you to travel with them some place and assist them are among my favorite quests, but some companions don’t have many of these. It’s also a shame that not much happens after reaching maximum affection cap with your companions. Luckily that seems to be on the list of future content additions.
Speaking of content additions, same-gender companion romances are high on my list of future additions I’m waiting for. I won’t get into my main spiel about the subject, but let me just say, the fact that this type of content is being added to an MMO, as well as the companion stories in general, is a sign that gaming really has come a long way. Not everyone wants to see content of this nature, but luckily for those of us who do– we have BioWare on our side.
Sometimes the best moments in MMOs are the side quests, side journeys, and side adventures held on the less-beaten paths. Sometimes it’s the little moments of enjoying chatter among friends, diving into an unknown area with crevices to explore, and enjoying a well-written conversation with a companion character. There’s no reason why all three experiences can’t be among our favorite memories in Star Wars: The Old Republic. For many of us, they already are.