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Star Wars: The Old Republic humongous hands-on preview

So for instance, with the Jedi Knight you start with a power strike as your primary ability. Since the Knight is physically-centered he doesn't use Force, but rather Focus. Attacking enemies builds up Focus points that quickly drain off if not used. Using the power strike is simply a matter of getting enough points to spend on it. Later, we trained in a wide sweeping attack, which worked well against groups of enemies. The coolest ability we learned was a Force Leap, where you simply target an enemy from up to approximately a hundred feet away and launch across the entire distance for a dramatic saber stroke. It's the flashiest move in the Knight's early arsenal, and it never gets old flying a ridiculous distance across the battlefield, and is also certain to make other classes jealous (by the same token, we were jealous of the Consular's telekinetic giant boulder toss). The last move we earned was an overhead flipping strike that knocked a single enemy to the ground, but it also cost considerable Focus, so it had to be earned in combat.

Above: Most of the enemies we encountered were close to our size, but there are bigger enemies out there...

At first we always initiated combat with a long distance leap because it was so fun, but then we realized we weren't using the move optimally. Since the flesh raiders didn't attack unless we got really close anyway, leaping in as the first move didn't provide much of an advantage. We imagine that later on, against ranged enemies that can acquire you sooner, the leap might be a good opening move, but we discovered a better use of it early on. When fighting groups of flesh raiders where some of them were ranged, we saved the leap for when we needed to engage a ranged attacker immediately after defeating a melee opponent: by closing the distance rapidly, we cut down on the loss of DPS (damage per second) that would otherwise occur while running from one target to the next. Since these distances tended to not be at maximum leaping range, it meant that the leaps were not as visually striking, but such are the sacrifices we must make for more efficient combat.

The missions that motivate all the fighting are indeed standard MMO territory: go to X location, kill or collect Y number of objects/enemies. The way that TOR wants to stand out is through the storytelling that leads to the standard gameplay structure, but whether a player sees it as so much window dressing or an important element will depend upon personal preference. The missions do, more often than not, raise the stakes beyond collecting the hides of a particular creature. The perfect example is the very first mission: sure, we had to kill flesh raiders in order to flee a prescribed number of padawans, but seeing said padawans inside crudely-fashioned cages, huddled in fear and despair, added more drama to the mission than any flower-picking could do.

This being a BioWare game, there are also emotionally weighted plot developments and twists. We knew early on that the Twi’lek settlers weren’t super friendly with the Jedi on Tython, but we didn’t know why. When we finally made it to their village, we discovered that the flesh raiders had been attacking and killing them for some time, but the Jedi had essentially ignored their plight under the pretense of more important matters taking up their attention. We saw the anguish on their faces and heard it in their voices, and we honestly felt guilty. We offered to help them, to which they responded that it was convenient that only now, after the flesh raiders began attacking the Jedi directly, that we were willing to help.

We begrudgingly had to agree that it was a shameful situation. Even then, the heady decisions escalated: we learned that the flesh raiders had become more aggressive by imbibing a new concoction that made them stronger, but drove them mad. One of the Twi’lek suggested that we could steal some of this compound and let the Twi’leks take it to become stronger and fend off the enemy. Sensing the distinct whiff of a Dark Side option, we elected to destroy the chemicals instead. We were rewarded with progress in the Light Side, but infuriated the NPC who asked for help, making it a bittersweet ending to the mini-story.

Above: A Consular shows off her rock-throwing skills

Another mission that caused us considerable internal conflict began when we talked to a Jedi at one of the temples, and he informed us he was suspicious that two padawans were in a romantic relationship, which is forbidden for Jedi (something never discussed in the original Star Wars trilogy, but introduced in the prequels). Our mission was to spy on the two padawans to determine if they were in love, and to tattle on them. It felt like a clever play by BioWare on the weirdness that Lucas introduced to Star Wars: after all, why couldn't the good guys be in love? We always knew they were Zen-ish monks, but we didn’t realize they were freakin’ celibate! And so, we found the two padawans and of course they were making googly eyes at each other and saying things like “Damn the Order if they deny our love!” So, we made our presence known. The couple told us that it would be wrong to out their relationship. Here, the Light/Dark choices weren’t so clear cut. We felt bad for denying anyone a chance at true love, so we chose not to expose them – but wait! The twist came: suddenly their demeanor became shady and we wondered if we had made the right choice. Certainly not your typical MMO quest.