Sometimes, a role-playing game hits the player with a choice that is legitimately tough. It can be a moral quandary, or a question of what to sacrifice. Star Wars: The Old Republic is an MMO with a strong focus on narrative content, and so the game has many tough choices designed to make the protagonist sweat. While the galaxy’s politics can change over time, and new enemies appear or are vanquished, the core of the game remains making those tough choices.
The Old Republic developer BioWare Austin has been faithfully updating the game since it was first released in 2011. The next expansion, Legacy of the Sith, introduces new endgame content in which players chase down a rogue Sith Lord to the watery planet of Manaan. The expansion also includes lots of important changes in the early game. For example, new character creator options allow players to mix and match between their abilities, weapons, and stories they experience, instead of funneling down one of eight roads with stricter guardrails.
“We’re continuing a storyline that kicked off with our last expansion, and even before that with a plot,” said Charles Boyd, creative director on Star Wars: The Old Republic, in a call with Polygon. “There’s a lot going on with [Darth] Malgus, and he’s going rogue a bit. There’s also a storyline where there’s a civil war brewing among the Mandalorians.”
The Sith have continually been one of the high points of The Old Republic. There’s no Rule of Two, which means there are tons of them, and they’re all constantly fighting. That conflict is great for game design, according to Boyd, because everywhere the Sith go, conflict follows: “With Sith, it’s built right in. That’s their instinct, to bounce off each other as violently as possible.”
While there’s plenty of new stuff to explore, it’s still worth stopping to go through those old campaigns, especially since the chaff has been cleaned out. Over the years, BioWare has been courteously curbing the need for players to grind. It’s possible to skip past the campaign side quests, filler material, and early expansion content like the Hutt Cartels and get right into the meat of intergalactic adventure, evil emperors, and moral choices. Something that makes the MMORPG feel like, well, an RPG is that the early campaigns are still very relevant to the endgame story, and the player’s choices matter throughout.
The characters that players meet, even during their earliest days, can come back into the mix. “We have so many cool characters, anytime we’re establishing a situation we’re like, OK, who would make sense for this?” says Boyd. “We have a wealth of choices that are already established that folks already know and can get excited to see again, but it’s also a challenge because it’s a huge cast. We only have so much canvas to paint on at any one time.”
But when expansions like Legacy of the Sith come around, this huge cast can be a boon. Characters like Lana Beniko are loyal to the player, and have their own interpretations of Sith philosophy. Those characters, and their influence on the player, help set the stage for Darth Malgus and the Sith as antagonists. Different campaigns also meet different characters; while my Agent might know one assassin well, my Smuggler might be entirely in the dark.
“Whenever we look at a scene, one of the key pieces we look at is, how can we change this for a Sith Lord versus a bounty hunter versus a Jedi?” says Boyd. “You need the story moving in the same direction for most everyone, because otherwise it’d turn into a big mess. But we also want to honor who you are — or were when you started — and make sure the characters treat you importantly.”
Boyd continues, “We’ll know the general premise of where [the story is] going, and we think, OK, well, what would be the most interesting moral choice? Sometimes they aren’t even Dark Side or Light Side; it’s about loyalty. Then, we build the story around that and work backwards so we can make it less about morals or your character and more about you personally engaging as much as possible.”
Legacy of the Sith’s new character creation options make going through the campaigns again an appealing option, since you can mix and match weapons and skills from different classes under the tech or Force umbrellas. Many of these old stories hold up remarkably well.
Dark Side Inquisitor, for instance, is the most unhinged fun I’ve ever had in an RPG of any genre. I walked around the galaxy like a total girlboss, electrocuting everyone who disagreed with me, and dealing with administrators who were forced to treat me like a toddler with a gun. The Imperial Agent story is another great path, with some truly twisty decisions that can make the player a double or even triple agent.
Legacy of the Sith is currently set to be released before the end of 2021. It will also kick off The Old Republic’s 10th anniversary event, which runs throughout 2022.