At PAX East 2011, G4ians Nikole Zivalich, Eric Eckstein, and I got down and dirty with Star Wars: The Old Republic in the new flashpoint instance, Tarval V. You'll find each of our impressions of the upcoming MMO below.
Our job was to take out the leader of the Tarval V Imperial research facility, as well as his jungle beast pet, Ripper. Before we got to the facility, we had to traverse the vibrant jungle terrain filled with enemies and littered with devices we could blow up to help with our mission.
While there are eight confirmed classes in Star Wars: The Old Republic, we took on the flashpoint in a team of four, as level 32 characters. For the demo, all of our classes were predetermined, and we had the classic one tank, one healer, and two damage dealers setup.
First up was a Jedi Consular Sage, one of the two damage-dealers in our group. She was a ranged caster with force powers that could also throw out healing spells in a pinch. When the fights started, I would generally put two damage-over-time abilities on enemies, then channel another move, which would allow my main spell to become an instant cast. It felt very familiar to how a Shadow Priest in World of Warcraft plays, and as soon as I figured out that's what this character's role was, it was easy for me to play, and I knew exactly how to get the most damage out of her.
She had a cool ability that let me pick up a big pile of rocks and launch it at helpless enemies. I was also equipped with quite a few crowd-control abilities that would knock enemies down, silence them, and otherwise make them useless to the fight. If my tank started to take too much damage, I could also help out with healing if needed. She seemed to do a great amount of damage and was very versatile, and while playing as the Sage, I knew I was a key part of the fight. It's a fast-paced role with a lot of different abilities, and managing them was the key to my success.
I also got to play as our healer, a Smuggler with the Scoundrel advance class. The other advance class for Smuggler is a Gunslinger, who uses fast attacks and dual pistols to deal damage. The way my Smuggler was set up to heal was in heal over time (HOT) format, but I also had the classic small, medium, and large heals. After playing a restoration druid in WoW for almost four years, it was very easy to fall into the rythym of the Smuggler. I could stack up to three HOTs on my tank and then activate them for an instant big heal based on the amount of HOTs that were on him. When you heal someone, a cute little droid follows them around splashing them with heal rays. Pew pew!
I have to say, I was expecting something very different to anything I've ever played before, and it seemed that the classes we played (and the way their talent specializations worked for the demo) was like playing a reskinned World of Warcraft. Sure, in the released game you'll get to customize your characters in tons of different ways, but for this demo, I left wanting to have felt impressed by something new to the MMO genre, and the demo didn't live up to my "I-love-innovation" expectation.
Even the Flashpoint instance left a little to be desired. There were enemies that came in packs of three or four and the occasional huge jungle beast. None posed much of a threat, and the fights were generally straightforward. I did like that strewn along the path were explosive boxes we could use to blow up the enemies, but they were few and far between.
It definitely feels Star Wars-y though, not high fantasy. The other classes were using guns and lightsabers aplenty, and even though I was using caster abilities with both classes I played, I knew it wasn't magic; it was The Force or healing droids/bots. So if you're a fan of the general World of Warcraft playstyle, but not necessarily fantasy elements, then The Old Republic will be right up your alley.
I'm very interested to try out the other classes in the future to see how differently they play than the Consular Sage and the Smuggler Scoundrel. Via screen watching during the demo, I saw that our tank wasn't exactly tanking the enemies; he was kiting it with his blaster mostly. And our melee damage dealer was doing all sorts of crazy stuff like throwing lightsabers and jumping from enemy to enemy to slam his glowy green saber into them. The classes I played didn't seem to have too many flashy abilities like those, and they were more utility than anything else.
Strategy, diligence, and patience. These are all qualities that are needed to wield The Force. Qualities you won't need to be a trooper, and I'm 100 percent okay with that.
Star Wars: The Old Republic has eight confirmed classes. I played as a Trooper. Troopers are members of the armed forces of the Galactic Republic whose mission is to defend civilians, or in this case, defend your team. As a tank, I was well-armed and taller and wider than the rest of my squad.
It doesn't take prior knowledge of MMOs to understand the Trooper Class. If anything, a knowledge of first or third person shooters will give you an advantage, as the trooper is a shooter. Since I play shooters, it was easy for me to use my surroundings as a weapon (i.e. using highlighted barrels to kill enemies). Armed with a laser gun, Troopers use a variety of short to medium range attacks that vary from rapid fire to lobbing cannon fire.
The Trooper has a health bar and an ammo bar. Ammo is like stamina and is needed to attack but runs out; after a few seconds, you'll have your full ammo back. Since you're the tank, your main role is to shoot and not stop. If you communicate with your healer, you'll be able to stay upfront and not worry about health.
SW: TOR characters have an advanced class on top of their core class. Troopers can either play Commando or Vanguard. Commandos have heavy blasters, grenades, and ranged DP3. Vanguard's use blaster rifles, energy shields, and a defense tank. I played the more defense focused advanced class, Vanguard.
Vanguards go in guns blazing but focus on keeping the team safe too. I was designated to go first and take out as many enemies as I could. If a big troll-enemy started attacking my healer, the smuggler, I knew I had to stop what I was doing and bring the thunder on whatever was attacking her.
Troopers have several taunts to lure enemies from attacking other characters. When a boss was getting the best of my squad, I volunteered to activate my taunt since I had the most armor. I died nobly. My team went on without me, and I shall always be remembered as a hero.
If I'm to play a Star Wars MMO like Star Wars: The Old Republic, then it's going to be all about the lightsabers. So naturally, when enlisting with Master Oteg AKA Yoda to fight off the Imperial forces, I chose the Jedi Guardian class, the only one on display that gets up close and personal with the bad guys. I'm not an MMO fanatic - the last one to really capture my attention was World of Warcraft - so excuse me if i don't know all the current lingo or use WoW as a reference point.
The Jedi Guardian specializes in a few different areas: crowd control with area stuns and pushes, individual lockdowns, close combat melee attacks, and the occasional taunt or pull. He's sort of a mix between Warrior and Mage, able to channel Focus to deliver a variety of attacks individually or to aid the group. In virtually every case, I was first to run up to hack/slash a bad guy, layering armor reduction stacks (ugh, stack management) and then attempting to lock them down with either Force Stasis or a stun attack.
During our Flashpoint instance, there were many times when jungle creatures would emerge from the ground to attack the party, which allowed me to channel my area attacks. I had a few at my disposal, including a Force sweep, which would hurt surrounding enemies with a chance to stun, and an attack that would slam down on the ground, knocking enemies back.
This was my first time hands-on with The Old Republic, and it was all completely familiar and easily accessible. I definitely had way too many skills to keep track of for being newly introduced to the game, but within minutes, I knew which key chains I needed to leverage to be most effective. A little too late did I discover my larger abilities that allowed me to leap at enemies and stab them, or pull them in for some saber action.
What really grabbed me had nothing to do with combat, but the way the mission began. My squad of four approached Master Oteg to get the details, and during our briefing, we each were presented with different responses to what was being said, which gets resolved randomly. As far as this SWTOR demo goes, this dialog wheel-lite was the only BioWare convention visible.
Honestly, I was a little taken aback by my experiences with SWTOR. It's been on my radar as the MMO to get me back into playing MMOs, after having left the highly addictive World of Warcraft post-Burning Crusade. Yet, now that I've played it, I realize it is more akin to WOW than I originally thought, which isn't necessarily bad, just not what I expected from a BioWare RPG. Regardless of expectations, what I played was engaging, interesting, and had the right blend of gameplay to keep me from being bored during an hour-long demo. And as a Star Wars fan, it was definitely a blast to be adventuring with blasters and Force powers, and not inside Star Wars Galaxies.
The Old Republic is definitely a game that still has my attention, and I hope the Force stays strong with it. If I've learned nothing, it's to have faith in BioWare. And besides, some fool decided to duel me while waiting for everyone else, and i totally 0wned him.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is coming to PCs later this year. Who knows when, but I'm guessing summer.