Will The Star Wars Franchise Survive If The Old Republic Fails?
BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic is, without a doubt, one the most anticipated releases of the year. Not only is it a Star Wars MMO with real potential, it's a spiritual sequel to Knights of the Old Republic, arguably the very best Star Wars videogames to date, and it represents BioWare's (arguably the most popular developers of story-based Western style RPG's around) first foray into MMO territory. But is too much being hung on the success of The Old Republic?
According to reports, The Old Republic is the single largest project ever undertaken by EA Games. For a monolithic company such as EA, producing games like Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Dead Space 2, that's a big deal. EA are really pushing The Old Republic as their “World of Warcraft Killer,” and that means no expense is being spared. If anything can topple World of Warcraft, it'll be a Star Wars MMO developed by BioWare. Unfortunately, though, focus is so squarely on The Old Republic that Star Wars, as a videogame franchise, is being forgotten. All the Star Wars eggs are in one basket, as it were. But what about those of us who just aren't into MMOs? Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars is just around the corner, of course. It'll probably be an above average game, but it'll get lost in The Old Republic's hype.
The more troubling thing is that LucasArts' release slate appears to be clear. Once Lego Star Wars III is done, it's just The Old Republic (actually published by EA, an extreme rarity to find a game neither developed nor published by LucasArts). All the Star Wars eggs indeed. Should Star Wars fans panic? After all, if The Old Republic has been as big a production as it's been reported, failure could destroy investor faith in the Star Wars brand. In even worse news, the last Star Wars game, The Force Unleashed II, publicly suffered from staff cuts, while LucasArts were forced to axe even more jobs after the games lukewarm reception. The outlook isn't promising.
But fear not, Star Wars fans. The chances of The Old Republic buckling under the weight of its own potential are slim. And even if the Force is not strong with it, there are plenty of reasons not to lose hope.
The ongoing Clone Wars series on Cartoon Network, for example, may not be to everyone's tastes. It may also have not yet had much success in the videogame department: Republic Heroes was a mess, and free-to-play online game Clone Wars Adventures has slipped largely under the radar. However, the fact that the series is still ongoing means that there is still interest in the Star Wars franchise, and, even better, the show is hugely successful. Inevitably there will be more videogame adaptations of the series. Some will probably be awful. There is a chance, however, that there could be a winner.
And it's not just The Clone Wars keeping Star Wars alive. Thanks to the success of 3D movies, the entire Star Wars Saga will be getting cinematic re-releases over the next six years. Is it corporate moneygrabbing? Of course it is. Will I be going to see each and every one? Absolutely. Not only will it be a great chance to see all the movies as they were meant to be seen, on the big screen, the imagination on display in those films is perfect for 3D. These re-releases (not forgetting the high-definition releases on Blu-ray later this year) will rejuvenate interest in Star Wars in a big way. Because it's Star Wars, it won't just be the films. Toys, books, comics and, of course, games, will all be rolled out to up the hype.
But is there anything else that can be done? After all, there's been a Star Wars game in practically every conceivable genre. Dark Forces and Jedi Knight thrust us into the Star Wars universe from a first-person perspective. Empire at War let us witness the conflicts from a strategic position. Knights of the Old Republic let us role-play a character and shape the universe. So it's pretty much all been done, but gaming technology has come a long way. How great would it be to start new franchises based on the latest technology? A new FPS franchise with ultra-realistic graphics. A new RTS game with Company of Heroes' level of tactical control. A new RPG with Mass Effect's depth and complexity. It's an exciting time, with plenty of possibilities.