Star Wars The Old Republic
Credit: Jason DeCrow/AP Images

Expectations are high for Star Wars: The Old Republic, the just-launched massively-multiplayer online RPG, which represents probably the most ambitious effort to provide an online-game alternative to World of Warcraft. The game comes from BioWare, a company with experience crafting galactic space operas — they created the Mass Effect series, and also developed the fondly-remembered Knights of the Old Republic, a dry run for SW:TOR. With a rumored production cost between $135 and $150 million, it’s one of the most expensive games in history. And, as noted by Forbes, the decision to give voice to the in-game dialogue (instead of just communicating via textbox, like Warcraft) means that The Old Republic has the largest voice cast of any videogame… ever. To celebrate the launch, Stormtroopers flocked to the NASDAQ to ring the opening bell (see picture). Will it all pay off?

These are strange, evolutionary times for the online-games industry. World of Warcraft has dominated for seven years, leaving early combatants like Ultima Online, Everquest, Shadowbane, and Star Wars Galaxies in the dust. But the WoW population has been declining for some time now. And The Old Republic combines a whole host of potential demographic constituencies. The Star Wars saga remains one of the most viable pop-culture franchises after 35 years. BioWare has plenty of geek cred — not for nothing, but KotOR was one of the few good Star Wars games of the last decade. (Oh, hang your LEGO Star Wars.)

It’s possible that The Old Republic can co-exist peacefully with World of Warcraft as a sci-fi alternative. Of course, it’s also possible that consumer appetite for the MMORPG experience has weakened in the face of equally addictive, less time-intensive properties like FarmVille. The biggest question: If The Old Republic is set thousands of years before A New Hope, why did stormtroopers ring the NASDAQ bell? Shouldn’t they have been Republic troopers? Anachronism! Anachronism!

Gamers, have you tried out The Old Republic?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

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