The Search For Roleplay: Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes, and Secret World

Let me get this out in the open before I begin. My history of MMORPGs has stretched back to the start of Everquest. Even then, the only way for me to truly enjoy the game was to roleplay my character – ironically, an ogre known as Barsha Da Barsha. This need to roleplay followed me after I stopped playing Everquest, and I started with Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) and then later on to City of Heroes (CoH).

Now if any of you out there keep up with the MMO scene, you’d know that I have horrible taste in MMOs. Not because of their content (which I felt were strong!) but because they’ve been MMOs that have been cancelled. SWG was let go by Sony Online Entertainment after eight years and City of Heroes just recently got the ax by NCSoft, also after about eight years.


Star Wars Galaxies box art.Star Wars Galaxies was the first true sandbox I experienced, and I both love it and hate it for that. Star Wars Galaxies allowed for me to truly shape the world around me. It’s a format that I adore. The problem I have with SWG is that while it did a lot of things right (character creation, home decor, player cities, storytelling tools), it did a lot of things wrong (combat, alpha classes, abandoned houses). I fear no company wants to try for a sandbox because of how SWG handled the format. Which is a pity. The game SWG was built for roleplay. You’d walk through the streets on the Starsider Server and just run into it happening. Towns were dedicated to roleplaying, events were scheduled around it.


City of Heroes

City of Heroes was a bit of a hybrid when it came from formatting. With vast zones and instanced battles, it really allowed the player to get a feel for walking down the street in Paragon City or the Rogue Isles. And while it did have its flaws, CoH had two things that made it ideal for roleplaying. First, the developers. Paragon Studios were an amazing group who were dedicated to helping all players in the game, RPer or not. They helped with events, they constantly were releasing new updates, and they were always in communication. The second thing that made it ideal for roleplay is the community. The game’s easy-going nature, including getting rid of the need for constant raids in order to get ‘fat loot,’ the resulting casual community and nature allowed for it to be inclusive to all types. Throw in their mission designer, base designer (not as good as SWG’s but not bad!), and the ability to look the way you wanted to look starting out, and you had a recipe for success.

As I said, these games have been cancelled. And I honestly am afraid that I won’t find realistic roleplay in an MMO anymore.

I know, I know.. when did you find realistic roleplay in games where you could use the Force, fly like a super hero, and all that jazz? What I mean is realistic action and consequences in the setting designed. In SWG, I liked playing the Jedi who had the Force who had to not use his powers in front of people. In City of Heroes, I loved playing a citizen of the Rogue Isles who was afraid to speak out against Recluse. And while the game didn’t force these limitations or fears on my character with mechanics, I found enough people to roleplay that followed the same idea.

So… what I need in an MMO is roleplaying potential. Decent graphics are a must — but I’m not picky. City of Heroes was about eight years old and that was perfectly fine for me. Also, I wanted a game that has half-way decent combat. With me refusing to play another Star Wars game (sorry, The Old Republic) and my aversion with World of Warcraft, I had to decide on a few smaller titles.

Champions Online? Bah. City of Heroes was more amusing to me so I just couldn’t stay interested in the game.

Star Trek? Eh… Fun but I didn’t really want to be the captain of my own ship.

Secret World? I gave it a try.

And let me tell you folks, Funcom’s The Secret World has a lot of good stuff about it. For one, it’s beautiful. Two, once you get used to the combat, you find it tense and action packed. Three, the puzzles are fun to try to figure out — though sometimes, I think that they go a bit far (Morse code translator. Really?) but hey, some people might enjoy it so cool on them for being inclusive! So, all in all, the game is sound.

But how is the roleplaying?

First impressions, sadly, aren’t that great for me. In SWG and CoH, I was used to seeing roleplaying taking place all around me. That isn’t the case on The Secret World’s roleplaying shards. Even when I tried roleplaying around people, they either ignored me or began speaking to me Out of Character. I’ve looked for roleplaying in the dangerous zones, the city zones, and everywhere in between. I’ve only found it once in a two week long search.

So, it isn’t out in the open. Not yet, at least.

Second problem with The Secret World is that it lacks the tools for roleplaying that the other games have excelled at. The emotes aren’t great (yet) – you can’t even sit properly in chairs at the bar. You have no bases or apartments to roleplay in. There isn’t a character bio which is always key to roleplaying in MMOs. The body and face builder for the character is also limited so it starts feeling like you all are vaguely related. And personally, after coming from an amazing costume creator that City of Heroes had, it feels like I’m being asked to select an outfit from a dresser drawer instead of a vast walk in closet.

But I think the major difficulty with roleplaying in The Secret World is the setting itself. Like I said, the most important thing to me as a roleplayer is realistic actions and consequences in the setting that’s been established. So, in TSW, you’re assigned a role in a secret society. You can be the noble Templar, the greedy Illuminati, or the cunning Dragon. However, while shit is hitting the fan in the world, you are still a secret agent of your secret society.

This is cool! I like it. Yet, it’s awkward meeting new people. I’m stuck wondering if I should reveal I’m an agent or if that’s bad. Oh, and now they begin talking about blood magic in front of the Muggles — is that okay? Oh, wait, this person is claiming to be a vampire… do I got clearance to speak with a vampire?

I just don’t feel very secret in The Secret World. Since every PC has been shoe horned into the role of ‘secret agent,’ it’s complicated to handle random RP.

City of Heroes put everyone as Hero or Villain (and later on adding Rogue and Vigilante options) but it also established in the world that some heroes are greedy and fame seeking. Some keep with the secret identity. Some are dumb. Some are smart. Some are clones! So while we all were villains, vigilantes, rogues, and heroes, we could still classify ourselves in other categories. Star Wars Galaxies did the same.

The Secret World makes everyone a secret to each other. Or at least that’s how the setting feels to me. It’s a fun game but it definitely feels like a game that you need to get into a group if you’re looking for roleplay. Or just not be as stubborn with concept as I am.

Thus far, I don’t think I’m going to last long in The Secret World. While the game is fun, the roleplaying there seems forced – when it’s there at all. Since the game is new, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that they’ll fix some of the issues. However, from what I’ve seen thus far, if you’re looking for immersive Rp, you might consider looking somewhere else.

Disclaimer: Only been playing Secret World for a few weeks. All what I say has been built on observation.

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About the Author
Billy started out his roots like many roleplayers - D&D. Playing it and then Vampire all through highschool and college, Billy picked it all up again when he made the move from Michigan to New York. Now working in publishing, Billy does what he can to view roleplaying games through a narrative's lens. Does that sound classy as balls? It should.

2 comments on “The Search For Roleplay: Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes, and Secret World

  1. Ah, the origin story of the name Barsha! 🙂

    You may have heard of, another website where gamers share their recorded tabletop roleplaying sessions with the world.
    The head honcho, an imposing individual who goes by the nickname ‘Hal’, is very fond of the orcish name Gashbag. 😀 He’s used it for several of his characters – both in tabletop RPGs and video games, and probably anywhere else he can get away with it.

    And regarding your CoH review, I believe the correct spelling is ‘ph4t l3wt’. 😉

    I haven’t played the Secret World game, but from what I’ve heard it should have a certain Lovecraftian vein to it. So your observation that “The body and face builder for the character is also limited so it starts feeling like you all are vaguely related” might just be because of, y’know… Innsmouth. 😯

  2. Syren says:

    I’ve had much the same issues in the Secret World, which I will note is a game that I like a great deal on its own merits beyond role-playing. Still I hit a role-playing server so I was expecting a bit more from the people I found.

    The potential for it is usually rather high, because though we are surrounded by muggles we are also surrounded by zombies, tentacle faced psychos, walking scarecrows with chainsaws. If we are called in, the shit has usually hit the fan to such a degree that you know everyone in the vicinity is aware that the world isn’t all it seems. And every chosen being approaches their secret organization in a distinctive way, this is best seen by the rare moments at the end of every main questline where you are given the ability to make a possibly consequential choice. We may be of a group of a certain mindset, but that doesn’t mean we are so fit to it. And even in our various factions the npc’s are usually diverse in their attitudes.

    In the end what I need is just someone who is able to look at all these factors and form up an original thought. Which as you say is rare.

    The place I desire it most of all I think is in the group instances, while most other locations don’t really have the manifested setting of group conversation. The hectic and epic level of the issues you are tackling in them could raise up some rather intense sessions, but these are usually filled with people who are farming so it is still quite stunted.

    All in all I desire more, and I do roleplay a whole mess in my head, but am always hoping for something more.

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