What you've got here is basically Mass Effect, set in a Star Wars universe and massively multiplayer-enabled. So when you're not talking to a human-controlled player, you get fully-voiced cutscenes and interactions, with the same conversation system that Mass Effect uses so convincingly. This applies to every non-player character, making this the first fully-voiced MMO. Fact.
As if that wasn't enough, the choice structure in conversations has permanent effects on the story. We see a demonstration of the player killing the captain of a ship (and got a pinbadge saying 'I killed the captain' to prove it) and, sure enough, he really does die. Irreversibly so, considering there's no possibility of reloading a previous save. Later, in our hands-on time with the game, we let him live – and the story and action branches accordingly.
Captain, your days are numbered. Or are they?
Story's all well and good, but how does it play? The answer is very well, right from the off. Your attacks are mapped to the number keys so, if you're playing as a Sith character (as we did), 1 is your standard lightsaber strike, 2 is a harder melee strike, 3 can be used to jump in from above or from a fair distance away, 4 impales your target, 5 hits many foes all around you and 6 is the famous Force Choke, which is time limited, but leaves your foe clutching at their throat, ready to be impaled.
The Force Choke in action - follow it up with a nice impalement
Crucially, there's no auto-attack. Some moves build up your attack points to allow other moves to charge, ready for use. During all of this, you can still move around with WASD, making for essentially real-time combat, even if it does have an RPG-slant. It's smooth, fast-paced, and very rarely degenerates into protracted melee exchanges as you wait for moves to charge. There are also some neat touches in combat, such as your avatar automatically blocking attacks from behind with his lightsaber.
You can raid the bodies of fallen enemies, which allowed us to pick up a second lightsaber from a defeated Jedi Knight, allowing for some impressive (wait, scrub that - try 'awesome') dual-wielding action. The sense of power as you carve through Imperial Troopers in a blur of coloured light is superb.
The only thing cooler than a lightsaber? Two lightsabers!
There is a basic cover system in place, with translucent green 3D representations of your character which appear whenever you're near a cover object, showing you the positions of cover that are open to you. There's also a healthy mix of weapons, ranging from Star Wars favourites like the blaster and lightsaber through to some rather unsubtle flamethrowers.
Toasting enemies is fun in any game so we welcome it here
While the draw-distance and misting are superb and the characters look good in combat, the environments and character models currently look a tad basic and low-res, especially if you're used to the sheen of Mass Effect. While this could well change before release, the art style itself won't - and that's where the controversy may lie.
It sits somewhere between the stylised look of The Clone Wars CGi film and the realism of Mass Effect. Characters' proportions are realistic, but their skin and eyes in particular are noticeably cartoony. It works as a cohesive style, but we're a bit disappointed they haven't taken the ultra-realistic approach as it looks a bit 'kiddy' in places. And we've already got Lego Star Wars for that.
You start off on Hutta - a planet colonised and renamed by (guess who)
All that said, BioWare has done a great job in bringing the Star Wars universe to an MMO. And when you consider the entire game is different for each of the four player classes (Sith Warrior, Bounty Hunter, Smuggler and Trooper) with zero repetition of quests between them, you're looking at a doubly massive MMO.
Fans may have been put out that they're not getting a true sequel to Knights of the Old Republic 2. But with the story-telling elements of this MMO so comparable to dedicated single-player experiences, BioWare had an easy answer for them at the end of the Gamescom presentation:
"This is Knights of the Old Republic 3. And 4. And 5. And 6. And 7…"
25 Aug, 2009