Star Wars: The Old Republic Preview -- Seven Hours with BioWare's Epic MMOBy Christopher Monfette - Posted Dec 15, 2010
Seven hours. That’s how long we were given to go hands-on with Star Wars: The Old Republic, BioWare’s epic MMO set within the iconic and sprawling universe originally imagined by filmmaker George Lucas. Seven hours to roam the world of Tython, home of the Jedi Order. Seven hours to quest, explore and level our way through just one of the six possible opening stages of the game. Seven hours to rise from Padawan to Jedi. Seven hours to prepare to save the galaxy.
Seven hours and we barely even scratched the surface. So scant was our footprint on the Old Republic that not even the Force would know we were ever there. Eight levels, dozens of quests, a handful of story missions and we didn’t even board the vessel to Coruscant where the game truly begins.
Beginning on Tython, we were offered two class selections, Jedi Consular and Jedi Guardian, of which we chose the latter by virtue of our love for old-fashioned, close-quarters lightsaber combat. The Consular's abilities skew to the more "magical" side of the force with a focus on healing and ranged attacks. As the premier student in our classes at the Order, we had the opportunity to adopt either a humble or arrogant attitude, managing our responses throughout the day to keep a fairly balanced association. Immediately, the order is attacked by the local brutes known as Flesh Raiders and your assistance is required down in the valley below the training grounds.
These first few missions – from destroying a set amount of Raiders to rescuing a few stranded students – are the stuff of your basic tutorial. Thankfully, there’s little to teach as the interface is surprisingly intuitive for both hardcore MMO fans and relative virgins alike. You'll move with the WASD keys and assign useable items to the later number keys. Your basic force powers, which will evolve rapidly as the game progresses, are also mapped to the number keys. For the Jedi Guardian, many of these powers represent upgrades to your fundamental lightsaber attack, executed by simply clicking on the enemy in question. Force attacks like the spin attack and an area-attack are particularly impressive with the cool-down times on these abilities perfectly balanced to keep the combating moving without being excessively simple. Inventory management and map navigation are equally accessible as your various armor and equipment degrade over time, forcing players to be mindful of the loot they collect and equip along the way.
Force powers will be upgraded for experience as you encounter various Jedi instructors along the way. The more you level up, the more abilities will be available to you. More complex, however, is the game’s economy system, which’ll force you horde and sell your loot strategically as you go. At least this early in the game, repairing objects such as weapons or armor is usually vastly more expensive than simply equipping the best of what you find, and in our limited playtime, we did far more selling than purchasing.
Eventually, you’ll discover that the Flesh Raider attacks have been orchestrated by a renegade Jedi, believed long-dead. Soon, you’re taken under the wing of a cantankerous, self-confident Obi-Wan archetype and introduced to a larger conflict currently stirring in the galaxy. But before you can journey off-world to investigate the mystery further, your skills as a Jedi apprentice must first be honed. Hell, after seven hours of gameplay, we’d still yet to acquire an actual lightsaber, fighting our way through Tython with merely a reinforced training blade.
After all, the Raiders are causing tremendous trouble for the citizens here at home, including the suffering, overlooked camp of Twi’lek Pilgrims, and there’s work to be done before we can begin meddling in much larger affairs. At this point, the game opens up into the kind of free-form questing that both MMO fans and BioWare RPG enthusiasts will no doubt recognize. In fact, were it not for the distinctly MMO control scheme, The Old Republic might very seem like a well deserving follow-up to KoTOR, playable almost entirely as a single-player experience. With the exception of one quest encountered toward the end of our playtime, virtually no single feat required more than our own brawn and determination to accomplish. However, there are quests and areas of the game that simply won't be accessible -- or, at least, able to be accomplished -- without friends in tow, and its here where you'll find some substantial loot. That said, having never partnered up in the first few hours, we didn't exactly find ourselves missing it either, but we were only playing in a world with 16 players.
This may very well be one of the game’s most significant advantages or disadvantages as the story continues, threatening to lack the cooperative substance that MMO lovers require, yet boasting an ease of use and a straightforward mission structure that might very well invite less frequent MMO players into the genre. With any luck, BioWare’s talent for nuance will be able to fundamentally please both groups as the previously announced Crew Skills mechanic and WarZone PvP sections will serve to bridge the two worlds.
Neither of those features played a role in our seven hours exploring Tython, however, although it’s apparent that they’ll be vital to your experience later in the game. While we did recruit one companion character – a kidnapped droid who proved surprisingly useful in battle – the idea that future crew members would be able to carry out missions, gather resources and craft objects even while you’re away from the game is a difficult feature to ignore. And the story moments that funnel players into wide-scale, PvP conflicts on planets like Alderaan – otherwise known as WarZones – promise that no matter how self-absorbed we might have become, obtaining and finishing missions with little regard to the multiplayer aspect of the MMO, we’ll inevitably be forced to confront our online friends and enemies.
Seven hours and eight levels later, our time with the title expired, having never made it beyond the world of Tython. Our quests consisted of surviving ancient Twi’lek rituals, helping alien royalty, reuniting fathers and sons and deciding whether the relationship of two passionate lovers should be reported to the Council as insubordination. And there was still much, much more to do on the planet before venturing into the true heart of the game itself. And this is only one of several potential starting points, depending upon your class – each with their own tutorials and quests – including Alderaan, Tatooine, Nar Shaada, Taris, Coruscant, Korriban and others.
In this relatively short span of time, we can confidently say that the game looks and plays extremely well, controlling with ease and readily accessible for anybody looking for a strong overall RPG experience. What we can’t say, however – considering that so many of the more complex features were unavailable to us – is whether it’ll truly please the MMO elite. But from what we experienced, and given the rate at which the narrative was progressing, there’s infinitely more to discover in this massive, unending universe.