Mass Effect 3 is BioWare’s latest release, the same company that brings us Star Wars: The Old Republic, and there are a lot of differences and similarities in both games. We’re not exactly comparing apples and oranges either, ME3 and SWTOR are both space dramas focused on a the various stages of an impending galactic war and one person’s role in preventing all out chaos from happening.
Both games feature active storytelling, where your choices shape the world around you. You’re placed in the role of a relative newbie who are flung into the middle of galactic politics and a much bigger threat looming in the distance. By both accounts, you could interchange “LOLASSASSIN” and “Commander Shepard” all day, every day.
The general flow of the game is similar, breaking the game down into three main arcs. The first arc is the hang around and do various fun tasks while thinking the world, society, and your friends are one way. The second arc turns all of that upside down and has you doing various tasks that drastically different than the first arc. The final arc is the conclusion arc, where you now know what you’re doing and who you’re up against, and it’s time to take them out.
Most of this applies to the Mass Effect universe, and rightfully so. Most of the games produced by BioWare share similar traits, even if they’re drastically different titles.
Well, the first is that Mass Effect 3 leans more towards Dead Space and Gears of War than Star Wars: The Old Republic. The enemies, locations, and general gameplay revolves more around creepy crawlies and their desire to consume a galaxy while SWTOR focuses more on Knights of the Old Republic and rolling around the galaxy smashing rebels in the face.
Seriously, isn’t most planets just rebels? Darth Vader would have been shaking his fists as he strolled through each planet at just the sheer amount of rebellion going on in the galaxy, from droids to loyal imperials rebelling to a slightly less loyal empire. That’s not the point, you’re more likely to face a normal Human waltzing up to you than you are a Husk running at you with intentions of getting punched in the face.
Combat is drastically different, too, of course. There are similarities, some classes can jump to cover, but the system is refined and the cover that’s out there isn’t the same as the snap to cover gameplay found in ME3. Oh, let’s not forget one is an MMO and the other is a single player game.
The real meat and potatoes of this article, beyond the duh and “no duh” comments is the comparison of ME3’s story to SWTOR. In ME3, decisions matter, more than ever actually. Choices I made on my save file from the first installment brought about drastic differences in my gameplay. I won’t spoil what they are, but you can tell there is definitely a huge difference whenever swaths of characters can and cannot show up. Even if they’re still there, they may or may not want to take your head off as well.
Decisions don’t matter in SWTOR. I’ve made thousands of choices and the only difference is the flavor text. Class quests are a small exception, but the impact of your choices vaguely affects the flavor text in a few of the later missions. If you choose to off someone then they will have a replacement, of course, which they may or may not add in a line of dialog in discussing why they got the job to replace the other guy. A few select quests may give you alternate ways of completing them, but the different ways are generally similar or just involve an additional step. Decisions only truly matter in flashpoints and those choices generally mush together into a light and dark side cornucopia, because it’s a group thing, not an individual thing.
That’s not to put down SWTOR’s storytelling, it’s the most ambitious way of telling an MMO’s story, but it doesn’t have that punch that choices in Mass Effect 3 bring with them. A lot of this, I think, is the consequence of characters being confined to their planets. No one hops a transport and meets you at your next destination. They sort of just sit around and their stories end and another one starts up. This may be intentional, the future story arcs may pull drastically from your choices, but as it stands right now, I just don’t feel like I make as much of a difference as I do in ME3. There isn’t any
SWTOR could also learn a thing or two about companions. This is one thing that is very similar in the KOTOR and ME universes: you have a ship, you have a crew, and it’s almost like you’ve got yourself a role in Firefly. The crew has a deep personal story that you explore throughout your adventure, but you won’t find that story out unless you bribe your companion with lavish or optimal choices throughout your adventure to pump their reputation sky high. It should be more open and fluid, even if there is no direct reward for talking to them, they should at least give more dialog chances without having to bribe them.
Of course, there are some things that should have carried over to ME3. For instance, combat feels… smoother in SWTOR, so does walking animations, and it features tons of side quests. ME3 feels lacking in meaningful side quests. Like, all of the side quests that have you discovering awesome artifacts or things left by Darth Revan.
Another thing is the variety in planets and landscapes. I’ve felt that ME3 had a lot of Cerebus buildings that were reused so much that my head was spinning. SWTOR does a really good job of fleshing out each planet, each culture, and making each area seem like its own universe. To be fair, you’ll see a lot of caves and building repeats, sure, but that’s an MMO staple and we can’t be too harsh about that.
Something really important, I think, is the neutral alignment. Often in ME3 you either have to be a good guy or a bad guy. You get a few grey options, like not punching someone in the face, but most of the time your options are either be a jerk or an angel. SWTOR gives you that much needed apathy choice that lets you roam around the galaxy punching people who deserve it and hugging kittens when it’s important to.
Multiplayer. Okay, it’s unfair to say that SWTOR has better multiplayer than ME3 because one is an MMORPG and the other, simply, an RPG. However, I feel that ME3 could have benefited greatly from improved multiplayer, ala Phantasy Star Online. Come on, who doesn’t see the similarities? You could have persistent areas like the Citadel and then go out for missions and fight bosses on the maps. Oh, and don’t force players to group. SWTOR, a multiplayer game, doesn’t demand forced grouping and can be played to conclusion without joining a single party.
Overall, I feel that both games have met and/or exceeded most fans’ expectations and resemble each other rather closely. You can feel a BioWare game by the general atmosphere of the games and it’s strong in both. Fans of SWTOR have likely been playing away at ME3 recently and ME3 fans have probably used the recent feel trial experience to give SWTOR a try.
I can't really tip my hat to one or the other, it's just not fair. They're not only different genres, but both are amazingly fun in my experience, with their own pros and cons.
What do you think about the two games? Would you like to see something hop from one game to the other, or do you think the genres are so different that it doesn’t matter. Let us know in the comments section below.