One of the things I'm really enjoying about Star Wars: The Old Republic is the ability to make choices within a quest. Typically in an MMO you get one choice - to take or decline the quest. Once you've accepted the quest, you have no choice in the way it plays out, you either achieve the required goals or you fail. For example, in WoW I remember this quest on the Horde side where you were tasked with feeding a human prisoner some food infected with the undead plague for the purpose of turning him into a ghoul. It was a fundamentally evil act, and while you could choose not to take the quest, if you took the quest your only option was to kill the poor prisoner, or fail. I hated that quest. The Horde weren't supposed to be evil, yet that quest required I perform an evil act or abandon the quest. Additionally, in the days I took that quest (early in the Vanilla years) I'm not sure it was even possible to abandon a quest.
In SWTOR, many quests give you a choice further down the line, typically regarding how you complete the quest. To use the WoW example above, SWTOR's version would prompt you with a choice when you got to the prisoner -- feed the prisoner the food, dump it out and say it didn't work, or help the prisoner escape. Whatever you chose, you'd still get some sort of quest completion, and you'd get to do it the way you wanted. Things like that occur a lot in SWTOR, my Bounty Hunter switched sides during several quests and took a reward from his original target. He's also tricked his quest givers a couple of times, pretending to give them what they asked for while actually doing something else. For example, he was tasked with killing a native warrior who had killed a Hutt and bringing back his head. When confronting the warrior my character was given the option to take the head of another warrior that had already been killed and spare the Huttsbane who was, after all, just fighting for the freedom of his people. I accepted, and gave the slimy Hutt a head, but not the one he requested. Quest complete.
This is the story aspect that is going to make SWTOR stand out from the crowd. It's not that there's voiced dialog for all the quests (although that helps too), but rather than players have choices in many of their quests, choices that change how the quests play out. That also helps replayability, since it means you can take the same quest with a different character, make different choices, and get a different outcome. Is it a huge difference? No, but it provides a solid illusion of player impact, something most MMORPGs sorely lack.
In other news, Massively.com posted an interview with one of the SWTOR developers today and he had this to say:
In other MMOs, the team moves on to other games or gets downsized. We've actually kept our team, and we're not working on anything else. It's a little bit different for me. Basically, when I finished with Baldur's Gate, I went on to Baldur's Gate 2, then I immediately went to Neverwinter Nights, then I immediately went to Knights of the Old Republic. But here I'm finished with SWTOR, and it's just more SWTOR. The whole team is that way. We don't have a secret project. It's nothing but new content for The Old Republic. We have teams working on new flashpoints; we have teams working on new operations; we have teams working on new game systems and on new space missions.If that's true, if the entire SWTOR development team is continuing to work on SWTOR the game should get a lot of content updates over the next year. If they can do that and stay profitable, it could make SWTOR one of the most frequently updated MMORPGs in ages and give it another edge over WoW. Rift updates fairly often, but as many people have noted the nature of the content in those updates is somewhat predictable -- new elemental force trying to invade, special drops from rifts, new daily quests, special loot from a token vendor.
If Bioware can deliver solid content updates to the game every few months . . . then wow. This game will have serious long term potential: eight classes with unique storylines, choices with permanent impacts on characters, unique companions for each class, PvP, group instances, raids, and substantial ongoing content updates? The first and last items on that list will feed into each other too - you reach the level cap, run out of things to do, so make an alt, and by the time they reach the level cap there are new things for your old character to do, and once you're done with that there are new things for new characters to do, prompting you to create another alt, that hits the level cap in time for new things for your old character to do.
Pure speculation of course, but the potential is there. Here's hoping.