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Star Wars: The Old Republic humongous hands-on preview

That was the extent of our initial progress into the game, although one other writer at the event managed to complete Tython and proceed to Coruscant, which we were informed was huge – way bigger than the starting area, and merely one of many planets in the game. After the taste of early levels, we jumped into a group raid with some higher-level characters. That particular instance gave us a different taste emblematic to the Star Wars universe – a battle inside a huge star ship. Quite reminiscent of the opening scene of A New Hope, the Sith Empire was boarding our ship in various places and we had to fight through the rising tide of troops invading every room and corridor. We were still controlling a Jedi Knight, but we got to see how he functions within a group, alongside two Consulars and one Smuggler. We definitely got a feel for how the Knight can be a tank, as the three other members of our group were ranged-attack focused. We all traded buffs, the Smuggler set up traps and threw grenades, and our Knight leaped into the fray.

The raid’s progression basically involved running around the ship trying to stem the flood, all while arguing with various members of the crew. A fun part of the group missions is that during dialogue, every player gets to choose from the dialogue options. What happens, then, is that the game makes a “roll of the dice” based on several factors and then picks one of the responses. One amusing aspect was how all the snarky voice options were spoken by the Smuggler.The mechanicadds an element of unpredictability to interactions and our group ended up laughing with many of the cleverly-written responses of our party, especially as we all gravitated to ever more snippy remarks.

Above: We didn't get a chance to play any PvP, but saw a tiny glimpse of how it works.This map involves taking control of the big cannons to fire them at the opposing team's ships

One aspect of the raid that stood out as a bit worrisome was the extremely short range at which enemies acquired our group as targets. We were informed that this entire section of the game was quite unfinished, but it raised some questions based on the layout of the rooms and the distribution of the enemies. During our encounters, we entered some rooms that were huge and absolutely full of enemies (troopers and droids). The problem we encountered was that we could engage a group of them while all the others stood around perhaps fifty feet away, totally ignoring the battle going on in plain sight. It certainly broke any sense of immersion. Now, if this is indeed just unfinished or buggy, it raises another potential issue: if the scenario does get tweaked to where it’s realistic, it seems like it would be impossible to complete, because based on how many enemies were in that big room with our group, we would have been outnumberedby aboutfifty to four.

We did, however, finish the scenario as it was, defeating the Mandalorian boss. And so our hands-on time ended, but we still have some quick interesting details to talk about. One central tenet the development team has held in mind is this mantra: “What would Darth Vader do?” What this means is that instead of going out and collecting minerals or animal parts, you’ll send your crew members out to do these mundane tasks for you, because that’s what Vader would do. You can have multiple crew members out on missions at the same time, and you can pick members based upon their strengths. The nice part isn’t just that they can do these tasks while you’re busy with more exciting stuff, but they can do these tasks while you aren’t even playing the game (since some tasks might even take days of real-time to complete). In case you missed it, here’s the crew crafting video that helps explain it:

One point that was emphasized by BioWare is that even though the bulk of harvesting and crafting is done automatically, they still intend to have a very deep system. Their example of how complex the crafting gets is that they expect to have rarer recipes for items that only one or two people on a server will have access to. So they want crafting to be an option as a major focus for the game – if you’re the type of MMO player that really loves crafting, TOR wants very much to be your home. There are also some interesting factors that come into play when choosing crew missions. For instance, if a member is off on a mission, maybe you need them along for some heavy combat. You can recall any member from a mission instantly, but of course you’ll lose the investment put into the mission. Also, if you’re not into the idea of crafting your own items, you can instead send members on treasure hunting missions so that they’ll come back with loot for you, or you can send them on diplomatic missions to gain you Light Side or Dark Side points.

Above: Let the AI do the boring stuff

The main thing we learned from our time with The Old Republic is that it is not reinventing the MMO. It’s not a shooter or an action game; it is very much a familiar RPG with everything that MMO veterans are used to. It does feel like a refinement of the genre, though, and creates a level of involvement through story and drama not found outside of single-player RPGs. It certainly captures the Star Wars feel and it is unmistakably a BioWare game. Will it take the MMO market by storm? Honestly, it’s possible. Of course, there’s no way to know for sure, but we really doubt it will be a failure.

Dec 15, 2010