BioWare's Twin Comebacks: The Future of Mass Effect and the Return of Star Wars: The Old Republic

While one series tries to chart a course into the future, Star Wars: The Old Republic tries to make a comeback.

It's hard to figure what exactly was going on with EA's press conference.

There were confusingly edited sports trailers. There was a Minions tablet game for some reason. And there was a long, rambling interview with Pele that left even dedicated sports fans banging their heads against their keyboards. But while BioWare feature at different points of the conference, they weren't part of the problem.

Both of their offerings this year were comebacks of a sort. Mass Effect: Andromeda is attempting to put the controversy of Mass Effect 3 behind it and get off to a fresh start, while Star Wars: The Old Republic is just trying to get noticed. Both were promising in their own way.

Mass Effect: Andromeda led the conference, and while it lasted barely more than 2 minutes, it suggested a rather interesting course correction for a series that veered a little into Michael Bay-style summer action with Mass Effect. Compared to Mass Effect 3, more than half of Mass Effect: Andromeda's trailer consisted of shots of alien vistas as the camera steadily pulled back to show a mysterious character in N7 armor looking over a star chart. There was the requisite action sequence, but it was an exclamation mark than a centerpiece.

It was a trailer that suggested that the series is getting back to roots. Back in the hazy days of 2007, Mass Effect felt more like BioWare's answer to Star Trek than a sci-fi summer blockbuster. You could assemble a diverse crew of aliens and humans, explore strange new worlds, and eventually decide upon the fate of the game's equivalent of the Federation.

As the series progressed, though, it moved further away from its roots, settling into a battle for the soul of the galaxy akin to that of Babylon 5. But I never really forgot its roots, and apparently neither has BioWare, because their sequel/reboot hearkens back to the days when you could hop into the Mako and explore a host of random worlds simply because you could.

Of course, in true EA fashion, Mass Effect: Andromeda won't be out until Winter 2016 at the very earliest, so we have a long time to wait. But it's nice to see hints that the next chapter of BioWare's will hew closer to BioWare's original vision of Mass Effect rather than emphasizing increasingly over-the-top setpieces. Now if they can just make the transition from the Normandy to the planet as seamless as it was in the original Mass Effect, it'll be perfect.

While Mass Effect charts a course into the future, Star Wars: The Old Republic is trying to chart a revival. Bioware's MMORPG, once expected to be for EA what World of WarCraft was for Blizzard, has been all but forgotten since going to free-to-play. As it turned out, it wasn't catching the MMORPG wave as it was cresting, but as it was breaking.

But as MMORPGs go, there's still plenty to commend The Old Republic, which was at one point touted as Knights of the Old Republic 4, 5, and 6. Its story-based content in particular is second-to-none in the MMORPG space, there just wasn't enough of it. BioWare has seemed to accept that, opting to create a new expansion titled Knight of the Fallen Empire, which adds a host of new story content while raising the level cap to 65. It will also include the option to create a Level 60 character, easing new players into the latest content.

It makes sense for EA to make a push to revive Star Wars: The Old Republic, which cost a huge amount to make and went free-to-play extremely quickly. Aside from being a perfectly serviceable MMORPG with a huge amount of content, there is the heightened interest currently surrounding Star Wars. And even if J.J. Abrams' vision for Star Wars is every bit as bad as the prequels, The Old Republic will be insulated from the backlash by virtue of its setting, which takes place hundreds of years before the original trilogy.

It's fair to say that Star Wars: The Old Republic hasn't been everything that EA expected. They might not have been counting on World of WarCraft numbers, but they were probably expecting to be relevant for more than a year. But as with many other above average licensed MMORPGs, it has managed to chug along on the strength of its brand and its loyal core.

I've been telling myself for a while now that I need to get around to playing Star Wars: The Old Republic again, especially now that I have a good computer. I guess this is my chance.

Tagged with Articles, Bioware, e3 2015, Electronic Arts, Star Wars, USgamer.

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