Star Wars: The Old Republic humongous hands-on preview

We’ve all heard about the very BioWare touches that will make The Old Republic the most story-focused MMO ever, but no one has known how the game actually plays. Until now. We recently sat down and played one of the starting areas and proceeded to play for about six hours – enough to get through most of the first planet and to try out a party-based raid mission. We also learned about some of the higher-level content, including how recruited companions will allow you to delegate the less-heroic tasks like gathering and crafting so you can spend your time doing what Star Wars characters are supposed to be doing – going on adventures.

Above: Our primary enemies in the starting area were the flesh raiders. Whether they were actually evil, or rather puppets in a larger plot, reamained properly ambiguous

We started our game on Tython, a temperate planet with forests, rivers, and mountains. Here, the Jedi have established a colony, but we learned later that the natives as well as earlier settlers aren’t so happy with the Jedi presence, which is a surprising and interesting social dynamic – you never expect anyone to just dislike and distrust the Jedi, and we’re not talking about shady bad guys either. Our character was a padawan (a Jedi in training) in the sense that we were still young and without tons of experience, but for the sake of classes, we were a Jedi Knight. Knights are agile melee fighters – we’re not sure if they are the game’s main tanking class, but they aren’t rogues either – their abilities are all about direct damage but they aren’t exactly sneaky. Other members of the press who played alongside us in this starting area were randomly selected to play Jedi Consulars, who are more like casters – their earliest attack ability is visually flashy, where they tear a huge rock out of the ground with the Force and hurl it at enemies.

We started off at the Jedi temple, which showed off TOR’s visual splendor: all of the buildings we encountered featured huge halls with high ceilings, sweeping curves in the architecture, and cool details like giant floating spheres of sci-fi gobbledygook (they look cool, but their purpose is a mystery – not that we care). We were told to head out to the wilderness, where young padawans were having problems with the indigenous life. We hopped on a speeder bike, which is (at least on Tython) the game’s fast-travel system. In seconds, we arrived on a platform that we realized was a sort of frontier, an outpost of civilization at the edge of forbidding wilderness. Here we could purchase and sell items to vendors and meet up with trainers to learn new abilities. First, though, since we were penniless, we met up with our quest giver and got to explore BioWare’s now-beloved dialogue wheel.

Above: The Jedi aren't shy about the grandeur of their temples - not exactly humble, are they?

First, we must say that having fully-voiced dialogue brings a lot to the table of the standard MMO: it lends drama to what is ordinarily an inert setup to grind mobs. Here, we could select from options familiar to KOTOR or Mass Effect players, choosing to be friendly or dickish, and in certain circumstances, these choices can affect your affinity toward the Light Side or Dark Side of the force (side note: we wonder how non-Force-related classes will handle these moral decisions). With a movie-like back-and-forth between your character and a quest giver, the stakes feel raised: we learned that padawans have been captured by flesh raiders, the surly indigenous humanoids who up until recently weren't much of a problem. So we headed out to free the padawans from a potentially grisly fate.

Despite the enhanced story focus, The Old Republic is very much a traditional MMORPG, borrowing the nuts and bolts from successes that preceded it. Hence, we have a hotbar for our abilities and items which have cooldowns and point costs. One difference that makes the combat more engaging than many other competitors (like WoW) is that your character doesn't auto-attack. So you must either click or hit a key every second or so or you'll get wailed on. Still, at least at the low levels, skill isn't really a factor. You don't have to move around and dodge in combat or aim anything, you just have to manage your abilities and pick the right maneuver at the right time.


  • cybersleuth58 - January 17, 2011 11:52 p.m.

    Can't wait!! I hope it ends up being as good as it looks. Please please please...
  • crazyfast94 - December 19, 2010 7 p.m.

    i wish it would come out for the 360 as well. then i might buy it
  • alexthewhite - December 16, 2010 8:13 p.m.

    Star Wars+ Bioware+ Some really good ideas+ Cataclysm= Next big MMO that still can't touch WOW.
  • gazer89 - December 16, 2010 1:08 p.m.

    Yes I want a release date too or even just a hint! this even coming out next year?! Christmas '10? Or Q1 '11? Sooner?! The suspense is killing me Nothing will beat this. Nothing.
  • AlmightyFuzz - December 16, 2010 12:25 p.m.

    I want! I also want a decent computer that can run this thing at the optimal settings, but so long as it works on what I have now, I'll be happy :)
  • RicePuddingUK - December 16, 2010 8:34 a.m.

    I don't have a PC capable of playing modern games anymore (My collection consisted of stuff from '98 to '04) so I won't be getting this BUT.... If TOR is successful, We may see a KOTOR Revival and have a 3rd game put in the pipeline. That's what annoys me about LucasArts, they ditch all their successful IP's at their height and then start new crappy ones. KOTOR series, sure KOTOR 2 was buggy and glitchy (Obsidian made it, what do you expect?) But it was still a great game DARK FORCES/JEDI KNIGHT series, fantastic 1st/3rd person hybrid game, JA was a fantastic game. XWING FIGHTER Anyone? Instead we have the STUPID!!! Kids CLone Wars games, the terrible Force Unleashed and god knows what else on the way
  • tabuju - December 16, 2010 5:20 a.m.

    i have one simple question.. WHEN DOES THE $#^#^#ing GAME COME OUT??????????????!!!
  • joshjacobs - December 16, 2010 4:30 a.m.

    I want to like it so much but...STFUII ruined my love of Lucas. How could he let "That"
  • Nodoudt - December 16, 2010 3:51 a.m.

    I saw that bizzare samurai thing and proceeded to FFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU-
  • Personamanxx - December 16, 2010 1:59 a.m.

    I honestly wish this was not an MMO. I love everything Bioware touches but I'm no fan of PC MMOs. I know it's not gonna happen but I hope they do another Single player Star Wars RPG.
  • nomnom52 - December 16, 2010 12:36 a.m.

    @spekko: The reason the old video player is being used is because GR hasn't been able to age-gate the new one yet, and age-gating is required for any game rated M or higher by the ESRB. On topic: I want it, but my computer can't handle much in the graphics department. it sucks.
  • Reubenguy - December 16, 2010 12:08 a.m.

    haha man i have been waiting for this game for over 2 years, ever since the site went up October 08! you can check the website every friday for the updates at coz man this game gets better and better every update. A BIOWARE MMO!!!!! HELLS YEA!!! its like KOTOR online pretty much
  • mausjake - December 15, 2010 11:58 p.m.

    My girlfriend has been trying to get me to play WoW with her, (i know, something about that doesn't sound right, does it?) but THIS, THIS is what I've been waiting for!
  • Brutalicus - December 15, 2010 11:01 p.m.

    Wow. All those rumors and "insiders" saying this game was going to fail just lost a lot of pull with me. This looks awesome.
  • CoktorBloktopus - December 15, 2010 10:03 p.m.

    looks fantastic I will try this game out I hope my computer will be able to run it. Sounds like KOTOR but even better and I played the pants off of KOTOR I and II. Even though II was the exact same as I just with a few new features added like lightsaber fighting styles.
  • Glides - December 15, 2010 10:03 p.m.

    Ever since WoW proved to be horrible, I've been waiting for the MMO that is actually awesome. This might be that MMO
  • Blistersonmefingers - December 15, 2010 9:50 p.m.

    Fun Fact! Jedi are not celibate in that they are allowed to procreate. They are forbidden from from romantic relationships because love can lead to jealousy, anger, hate, even compassion. Any potent emotion is the fuel for the Dark Side of the Force. Sith, too, were forbidden from love; albeit to prevent any kind of mercy. Jedi + Jedi / Sith + Sith = children strong in the Force. /end nerd rant
  • Bawheidbob - December 15, 2010 9:46 p.m.

    Does sound promising, as for the raid and fighting groups of mobs in plain sight of other mobs without pulling them then that is basic MMO stuff and really without 'pulls' they would not work.
  • Crabhand - December 15, 2010 9:42 p.m.

    Very excellent preview, there were certainly a lot of small details that really excite me. I'm really loving the crafting system and the idea of your companions being like a "hero of another tale" while you're off adventuring. People have been saying for months that this game isn't reinventing the MMO experience, but they certainly are working to improve it. I seriously cannot wait to play this game, it just looks amazing on so many levels.
  • lrem - December 15, 2010 9:36 p.m.

    Man, this game sounds great, and the guys at Bioware have yet to disappoint me. I wish it would come out for Mac!

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