After seeing the stellar (pun intended) closed door presentation highlighting newly announced features like companion characters, vehicles, and an even deeper (and longer) story than we thought, it was time to get our hands on the latest build of Star Wars: The Old Republic.
When we last played at PAX East in April, we played high-level Republic characters, running them through a mission storming an imperial base in one of the "flashpoint" side stories of the game. This time around, we got to see how two republic characters, the Smuggler and the Trooper start things off on their origin world, and the other side of the coin as a high-level Sith Warrior and Sith Inquisitor, trying to uncover a dark, and deadly, secret.
Origin Worlds: Ord Mantell
Republic Class: TrooperBeginnings of games are typically the hardest to get right. There must be some level of introduction to the gameplay, but you also don't want to start too slow. While the two Jedi roles will certainly be the most flashy, the role of the Trooper is one both essential to the overall story of SWTOR and, as we found, an underrated character on its own. As far as starting slow, well, being dropped directly into a high-end squad and immediately fighting both Imperials and indigenous animals is anything but slow.
We didn't play with the character builder or customization, instead choosing a default trooper to join the fight for the Republic. While you start with few skills and special abilities at level 1, they are still enough to make you feel powerful. You're an up-and-comer in the storyline, and you've made it this far for a reason; you're already considered a strong soldier who is ready to make a real impact in the fight for the Republic. Getting that feeling down from the first conversation to the first time you fire a high impact shot is impressive, and shows accurately what the Trooper's greater gameplay will be like throughout your hundreds of hours of gameplay.
Running through your early missions, it is easy to find many extra small things to do. Characters that dole out additional information and additional goals are frequent; it'd be harder to not be always doing two or three things at once. Since Ord Mantell is also the origin world for Smugglers, you can join up with a Smuggler friend nearly from the start. Of course, you'll have some slightly different initial goals, but they're close enough together that you can still work with a friend early on to get yourselves started.
While this was a relatively short look into the start of the game, it gave a good idea of how to get started, how quickly you'll gain levels in those early times (i gained 2 in about 20 minutes of gameplay), and how the drop-in, drop-out grouping with friends works. Getting Hands-on with the less glamorous class of the Trooper also showed just how deep the folks at BioWare are making this game. I genuinely want to see more of this character, and especially of his story, after getting a small taste.
Republic Class: SmugglerUnder the weight of “You have the chance to be your own version of Han Solo,” the Smuggler class had a lot to live up to even more than some of the other classes. From the hands-on demo at E3, the SWTOR smuggler class delivered. You will feel like Han Solo from the beginning, whether you're male or female, human or Twi'lek.
The demo for the Republic began with the origin worlds; in the Smuggler’s case that is Ord Mantell. The first thing that needs to be said about the origin world demo is that you will feel like you are playing Knights of the Old Republic. It has the same feel as that game, it’s just that after the initial conflict of the quest is introduced, you can complete it with friends. Smugglers can team up with Troopers on Ord Mantell, but if you prefer to complete these early missions on your own you could. The Smuggler is mostly a ranged fighter, using blasters and a cover system. They can take a surprising amount of damage, especially since we were playing at lower levels. The blasters are fun and effective, with different types of shots you can take so that it doesn’t feel repetitive. The most impressive aspect gameplay wise for an MMORPG, is that the cover system is so smooth. A green outline appears in spots available for cover and you can move from one spot to the other with a click of a button.
The Smuggler’s personality and speech options are generally humorous, but are not set in stone. BioWare’s conversation wheel allows for you to say and do some pretty ruthless things as well. This is a class that will be particularly interesting when it comes to the light and darkside scales discussed in the closed-door presentation.
You will get to see and hear the drama play out the way you choose, not just read it in a text box. During this mission, the Smuggler is betrayed and their ship is taken. You will actually see your ship fly off… with you not on it. Now, betrayal is not new to MMORPGs, but because this is a BioWare game you get to choose – in game – how you want to react. You truly have a voice.
High Level Empire
Empire Advanced Class: Sith Juggernaut (Warrior)What kid in the last three decades hasn't wanted to be Darth Vader at least once? Whether it's the constantly imposing demeanor, the ever-present confidence or… oh, who are we kidding, it's the force choke! With the Warrior class, and more specifically the Juggernaut advanced class, your Vader dreams can finally come true in a major way in SWTOR. When our group of Imperials struck out across Tatooine, there was an actual goal in mind, a real point to the mission. Unfortunately, we all had so damn much fun slaughtering Sand People that we didn't get very far in our allotted time. It's not the worst problem a game can have: it's so much fun, you forget that you're actually playing for a purpose.
With the advanced Sith Warrior, the Juggernaut, focus is on brute strength, a single lightsaber, and killing your enemies as quickly and efficiently as possible. With limited MMO experience, it was very easy to just jump into this level 26 character and tear through Sand People and indigenous life forms alike. I found myself quickly using advanced tactics, chaining moves together, and of course, really enjoying the force choke.What made things more fun, however, was when we'd settled into our individual roles and started to really work together. In one encounter, our Assassin stealthed in and struck all three Sand People with lightning from close quarters. The Juggernaut leapt in, did a spinning slice, and boom. All three dead in an instant. It was exciting and fresh and made us feel like we had really accomplished something.
We got to experience some of the data collecting (had to find a specific compass), a little bit of story at the start, and the use of vehicles, as well. Vehicles certainly make it easier to cover large distances, and will come in handy in these massive worlds, but running around so you can strike at every passerby has its charms. There were also areas you could only enter if one of your party members was a specific class, encouraging group play, and we got to play around with controlling a companion character for the first time, backing us up in the larger battles. While we came away with more unique gameplay, the real takeaway here is this: yes, force choking Sand People is as fun as it sounds. Do it as soon as you possibly can.
Empire Advanced Class: Sith Assassin (Inquisitor)Sith Lightning. Do you really need more than that? It’s the signature attack of the Emperor! BioWare is giving you the ability to throw lightning at fools all day long as the Sith Inquisitor. The Sith Inquisitor has two specializations: Sorcerer and Assassin. This hands-on focuses on the Assassin specialization. As an Assassin, you not only have multiple lightning attacks, but also carry a dual-bladed lightsaber. Stealth and speed are two of your other strengths. The stealth mode is fantastic. With just one click, the Assassin is surrounded by shadows and can easily infiltrate enemy bases or in this demo, clusters of Sand People. At level 26, you have your speeder for long distances, but if you wanted to move quickly from one group of enemies to another or you are just impatient, then the Assassin’s force speed will come in very handy.
Teamwork in the later levels will make the quests easier, but honestly, it is just plain fun to watch how the abilities of each class work together. Just imagine a Sith Assassin, in stealth mode, coming up behind a group of unsuspecting Sand People. The Assassin attacks first by force slamming the ground, knocking the Sand People off their feet. Then the Sith Warrior comes charging in using his lightsaber and “force choke” to easily kill a couple of Sand People, while the Assassin continues to throw lightning at them. You get to see Sith lightning and force choke together on one screen, in one fight.Story and your character’s personality do not go away in the later levels. This quest was heavy with combat but it still had a purpose. We weren’t just killing a random amount of enemies or collecting items, we were there to discover a secret beneath the sands of Tatooine and find a missing Sith Lord. While you revel in your growing power, even then you'll be driven by story, showing the claims of this being a "real" BioWare game absolutely true. Except with SWTOR you can play alongside your friends. Star Wars: The Old Republic is due out on PC in 2011 More on Star Wars: The Old Republic: