What We Already Know
BioWare wants to erase any memory of Star Wars Galaxies from your mind by launching a massively multiplayer role playing game that plunks you down right inside the pre-movies Star Wars universe, leveling up as a Jedi, a Sith, or a myriad of other choices. It's the world of Knights of the Old Republic, but a lot bigger and with a lot more options.
What We're Seeing Now
For the first time, we've finally been able to actually let loose inside this game instead of just watching trailers and hearing about their plans. But imagine someone says "Okay, you have a few minutes. Play through World of Warcraft and sum it up." How would you do it? Your brain would explode. There's just too much to cover. Star Wars: The Old Republic is no different, although you're going to find that the comparison to WoW is very appropriate.
BioWare and LucasArts revealed a lot more information about ToR this time around, and they have a slew of videos to go along with that info. Players now get their own starships in the game, and they aren't just little two-seaters. These are multi-room spaceships that will serve as your base of operations. Alliance, er … I mean Republic players get a Corellian Vanguard-class light corvette, while the Empire starters get a Fury-class Imperial transport. They were tight-lipped about the customization of these ships, but I imagine they'll be letting you play with them in some manner. Although it's very doubtful that you'll be engaging in combat in them.
They also showed off the level of customization in the game with a video that shows a bounty hunter leveling up all the way into top tier armor and weapons. By the time you get that far into the game, your character is bristling with enough hardware to make Boba Fett cringe. There are "thousands" of different ways to customize your character in the game, and you'll find wearables galore. In our brief play through alone I must have found 20 different things to wear, including a Bantha hide vest. Which might be the cutting edge fashion across the galaxy, but I can't imagine it smelling very good. I wonder if they have Tauntaun pants in here somewhere.
They also stressed that you can play the game solo if you want, but that at the heart it is a multiplayer game. They want you to team up and go on raids, but it's nice to know you can go rogue and be a lone wolf if you like. They also want it to be a visceral MMO, where you can feel the lightsaber blaster deflections and see the sparks dive off the blades as they clash. They've also implemented a cover system, the first of its kind in an MMO, which is one of the Smuggler-class key abilities. You'll definitely be glad its there as you start taking blaster fire. More on that in a minute.
There were multiple characters to choose from, but I choose to play at the Sith Warrior and the Smuggler, both of which were in their starting zones. The Sith Warrior is at the Sith Academy (I wonder what the admissions tests are like) where he is first instructed to seek out a warblade in a nearby tomb, so he can toss away his Sith practice blade. It might be meant for practice, but it certainly deals out damage fairly well. Characters you encounter can be spoken to via a Mass Effect style conversation wheel, and your responses can range from polite to downright rude.
Display-wise, the game looks like any modern-day MMO. You have your ability/spell slots, health indicator, mini-map, and so on. If you've played an MMO before, it's very intuitive. We didn't start at level one (my Sith Warrior was already a level two), so I'm not sure what sort of a tutorial you'll have, but I imagine they'll put something in for first-timers. The quest log and map (which shows quest locations, thank Yoda) are handy, but we didn't get to dive deeper into the ability trees or anything. In fact, clicking the Ability icon brought up an onscreen message that said "Requires Advanced Level." At least our Warrior already had Vicious Slash (a very powerful sword swing) and Force Charge (a leaping forward attack that does extra damage). You can also use Channel Hatred to add health if you're ailing. Mmm, good old hate.
Sith don't use mana, instead they build up Rage during combat that allows them to trigger their abilities. Non-Force powered characters just use Energy. You also have access to a "Call Shuttle" ability that takes you back to your linked area, much like the Hearthstone in WoW. In fact, everywhere you look there are nods to the mmorpgs that have come before. Not that it's a bad thing, because why invent the wheel? If someone told me "Hey, we are taking World of Warcraft and putting a Star Wars skin on it", I'd be happy with that. It's freaking' Star Wars, after all, without the dancing Wookies.
I took my Sith Warrior through his paces, cutting down dozens of K'lor'slug Broodlings and Foragers as I raided the tomb for my warblade, and picked up a couple of sidequests in the process. There were some treasure hunters in the tomb who needed clearing out, and I also blew up a ton of slug eggs for my compatriots. Along the way I netted a bunch of items, including upgraded armor and slug parts, but the real prize was the warblade, which is a big improvement. According to BioWare, you'll be sent on an early quest to acquire your lightsaber as well. Sadly, I didn't have one. That warblade is basically a slightly amped-up sword. They're also considering the ability to have a Sith wield both a blaster and a lightsaber, though probably not at the same time.
I didn't spend as much time with the Smuggler, but quickly noticed that she has a Cover ability. When you've targeted someone or something, you can activate that ability to hide behind a rock, a tree, a wall, or basically anything that offers cover. This keeps her from taking fire while firing out with her blaster, and you'll take much less damage this way. You'll see little green silhouettes of your character pop up behind different objects, indicating that you can take cover there. It felt foreign at first, but you'll quickly adapt to it and be thankful it exists.
There's a lot more to this game, but so far I'm extremely impressed with what it offers. I swore I wouldn't get addicted to another MMO after I spent a ton of time in Warcraft, but it looks like I'm going to have to forget all about that promise to myself so I can jump into George Lucas' sandbox. Goodbye, free time.