Apparently someone is making a new Star Wars game. Have you heard of it?
I'm not a huge Star Wars fan, so this normally wouldn't interest me. However, it is being made by Bioware, and they are known for having a strong focus on characterization and story. One of the things that is intriguing is that you have the possibility of picking up NPC companions who become a part of your story. Also, you have the ability to make irreversible decisions and even find a love interest.
Irreversible decisions are very rare in MMOs. After all, irreversible decisions tend to irritate people when they are playing a game that involves hundreds of hours of time invested. EverQuest II used to have an irreversible decision: if you killed centaurs in the Thundering Steppes, you were forever Kill on Sight to them. Well, that decision was changed not too soon after release, because of the uproar from the player base.
Providing irreversible changes to the game world isn't something fans would typically enjoy either. A PVP game where one side could literally win (permanently, as in, your Order-aligned Germanic-speaking Order character literally starts learning Norwegian [or whatever Destruction speaks]) would lose players fast. Ultimately, MMO conflicts become constant stalemates that never go anywhere. And if they do go somewhere, it just results in a big, giant reset so people can start again.
The only real way to provide irreversible decisions is to do it within a player character's personal storyline. We've seen this type of approach done before... Pirates of the Burning Sea let you meet NPCs, who would become a part of your story, and various decisions you make would affect future missions. NPCs you meet during your role-playing story arc missions could evolve into allies, enemies, rivals, or otherwise, depending on decisions you make.
It wasn't always done well... Sometimes you were forced down certain paths. And naturally you couldn't do anything that wasn't scripted into the missions.
Early on in my short Caribbean stint, the game announced that I had found my love interest. It actually came as a surprise since I wasn't particularly paying attention to that quest's writing. I never played the game long enough to see that quest arc to fruition. I saved some Sultan or somesuch who had a bunch of sons and daughters, and apparently whoever I clicked on became a love interest. Then they went and stood in some instance and ignored me. Maybe if I stuck around for about ten or more levels, I would have received the mission that would allow me to win their heart. But even if the implementation was a little flawed, the idea was great.
Some of the other quest arcs had more immediate feedback. I was given the choice to choose a side between two rival NPCs, and immediately gained an ally and a rival that impacted future missions. The role-playing story arc quickly became my favorite aspect of the game for me, despite its flaws. I was able to make decisions that determined just what kind of character I was playing: noble or villainous, impetuous or reflective. My character became much more than a bundle of levels and loot.
A story can only be meaningful if you can make decisions that are permanent that you can't reverse simply by grinding another 40,000 faction for the other side. Irreversible decisions are integral to story telling and playing a role. Most dialogue trees in EverQuest II or Age of Conan simply resulted in getting you closer to receiving a quest, or leaving the dialogue tree. You couldn't piss off a quest giver such that he would decide not to work with you. You could slaughter your way through centaurs and still find that some of them will gladly give you quests.
Some of us would like to see a game live up to the ROLE in "Massively Multiplayer ROLE Playing Games". You can see it all over the blogosphere; time and time again, people rail against the mindless grinds we suffer through. It's high time that developer started allowing us to make our characters more than a simple bundle of levels, loot, and unlocked flags. I can't wait to see what Bioware cooks up.