The Knights of the Old Republic games are among BioWare’s most acclaimed RPGs, bringing a level of subtlety and character complexity that many fans didn’t expect to see in either a video game or a piece of Star Wars media. However, since the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic back in 2011, the series has basically been on hiatus.
The Old Republic followed from the Knights of the Old Republic canon and adapted it into a huge MMORPG world that combined the breadth of MMO giants like World of Warcraft with the in-depth storytelling of a BioWare game. Not only that, but each class for both factions had their own totally unique storylines, making it one of the biggest RPG projects ever pulled off at the time. However, the game also demonstrated why the KOTOR franchise's multiplayer future would be more successful with an approach more similar to Destiny 2 than WoW.
The class storylines in Star Wars: The Old Republic were well-written and extremely compelling, but they had one big problem. The game combined the tight storytelling of BioWare’s KOTOR series and even introduced a plethora of new companion characters for every class that could have rivalled any of BioWare’s best followers, but they were all the same.
As the story part of the game and the multiplayer part of the game were almost entirely separate, few attempts were made to synthesize the two, and at times the story and multiplayer elements even directly clashed. Player characters could have their companions with them like most BioWare RPGs, but the studio had to introduce different skin options in order to stop players from seeing the same companion characters running around all over the place and breaking their immersion.
The problem was that even with the different skins the companions were still an emblematic reminder of the fact that players were essentially experiencing their own single player story experience while running around a multiplayer world. While games like vanilla WoW and EVE Online had famous stories in their history that were necessarily created by players interacting, like the great Corrupted Blood plague in World of Warcraft, there was no way in SWTOR for players to meaningfully experience stories together.
Group dialog posed another problem that showed the clash between these two main aspects of the game. In SWTOR'S MMORPG dungeons where dialog options were presented, players would be assigned a random number and whichever player got the highest number would be able to choose the dialog option as if they were the only player in the group. Not only did this element of randomness feel purely mechanical and not related to roleplay, but it also demonstrated the way the game was designed to focus its roleplay on interactions with NPCs, not interactions between players.
Furthermore, a group with more than 2 of any one Sith or Old Republic class would always be reminded that their character and their story was not unique in the universe when the other character of the same class would speak with an identical voice. Not only was the story experience separate from the multiplayer experience, but they were completely incompatible. There was no way for two Bounty Hunter players to roleplay with each other while integrating any aspect of the story they had experienced with their player character, or it would become obvious that both had been living nearly identical lives.
Destiny 2 may be a shooter with RPG elements, but by telling its story with a far smaller group of characters. it demonstrates the viability of a template that the Knights of the Old Republic series could use in future multiplayer endeavors. If BioWare took the small group dynamic from Destiny 2 and combined it with the different classes and stories from SWTOR, the game could avoid a clash between its story and its multiplayer aspects.
For example, instead of having a world filled with Bounty Hunters who have all lived the same lives and have differently skinned versions of the same companions, the game could have a 4-player story experience where one player plays as the Bounty Hunter, another as the Sith Warrior, another as the Sith Inquisitor, and another as the Imperial Agent. They could have their own individual storylines to play through as well just like in The Old Republic, but the stories told in the multiplayer setting would not have to worry about exposing clashing experiences.
If the Bounty Hunter in the group made a decision in their personal story, such as sparing an important character in the Star Wars universe, that character could then return in a dungeon and there would be no inconsistency with any other player's stories, allowing for a synthesis of the multiplayer and story aspects of the game that Star Wars: The Old Republic simply couldn’t do. Players could build a story together.
The game could even introduce dialog options which players could select when talking to one another, as well as the standard in-game chat. In short, BioWare could create a multiplayer RPG experiences where the choices of each individual player influences the story overall in ways that also have effects on the other players they’re in the game with, without running into the same problems in The Old Republic.
Currently however, the future of both Star Wars at BioWare and the studio itself are unclear. BioWare has taken recent hits with both Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem underperforming, while Disney’s take over of Star Wars and the elimination of the Expanded Universe canon could make it tricky to find a spot for a new BioWare Star Wars story to take place in.
It's also possible that BioWare abandons the idea of multiplayer RPG experiences entirely, instead focusing on a KOTOR remake. No matter what, if there’s any studio that should be tackling a Kotor RPG again, it’s BioWare, and even if the series returns with a purely single player experience, many fans would be very excited to return to the studio’s unique take on the series.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is available now.