I'm sure there's such a thing a over-previewing a game, but we doubt that could apply to Star Wars: The Old Republic. Assuming you've read our previous coverage, you know how excited we are about Bioware's latest take on the Star Wars universe, an MMORPG that is more focused than Star Wars: Galaxies and contains many of the features that we look for in a BioWare title. At a recent 2-day "immersion event" at Electronic Arts, we got introduced to the last two of the eight classes in the game: Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent. Both classes come from the same Sith faction and start off on the same planet of Hutta, but they're definitely not cut from the same cloth.
As a Bounty Hunter named Eshasaz, I was looking to make a name for myself in order to get sponsored for an event called The Great Hunt. Getting a sponsor requires pulling off a hit, specifically a target that goes by the name of Vexx. It was also during this quest that I would have to cross paths with crime lord Nem'ro the Hutt.
As an Imperial Agent named Yaw'yn, I would also visit Nem'ro but for more devious reasons. My boss, known as The Keeper, wants me to look into Nem’ro and see what can be done to “encourage” this gangster to do more business with the Empire. The mission is to sneak surveillance equipment into Nem’ro’s Palace. This is done by disguising the spying devices as gifts. There is one complication involving some mobsters who intercepted the gifts, but retrieving them ends up being child’s play, especially for an Imperial Agent.
Both characters start off in the Poison Pit, a shabby base where I got my initial directives. In the Pit, I found I can also talk to NPCs for some side missions. One brief quest involves an ex-gangster named Lee Brell, who wants me to stop his little brother from following in his older brother’s footsteps. I was particularly amused by a mission involving a custody battle. The mother wanted me to find and retrieve her son so he can properly train to be a Sith, unlike the boy's father, who somehow fell short in his own training.
Like all the other classes both can transcend their initial attributes after reaching a certain level, at which point the player can choose one of two specializations. For Bounty Hunters, there's the heavy weapon-intensive Mercenary or the tactical, defense-centric Powertech. For the Imperial Agent, players can choose the stealthy Operative or hone their one-shot-one-kill long ranged abilities as the Sniper.
I was particularly drawn to play out the story of the Imperial Agent. The obvious James Bond comparison can't be overlooked; heck, my character even sported a haircut and verbal tone similar to Daniel Craig's 007. Still, Yaw’yn manages to feel like a genuine Star Wars character. To BioWare's credit, the developer ensures that I would fully appreciate the talents of this agent, both through customization as well as through story exposition. Taking more of a cue from Mission: Impossible, it seems that one of the requirements to be an Imperial Agent is the ability to change accents, so Yaw'yn actually sported an American accent through most of my playthrough.
This is especially helpful in Yaw'yn's main mission; in order to win the trust of Nem'ro the Hutt, our agent is advised to impersonate a space pirate known as the Red Blade. The real Red Blade is off in the Outer Rim so running into him won't be a problem. Although, that didn't protect me from the eyes of anyone at Nem'ro's Palace who has actually met the Red Blade. You can pretty much guess what happens: I run into a fellow outlaw who wonders why I’m calling myself the Red Blade but doesn't really care since he'll be happy to extort me for hush money. Cue BioWare dialogue choice options: pay him off or reason with him verbally or physically.
Hutta is about as hostile as any gangster-run planet. The moment I stepped out of the Poison Pit, there were NPC shootouts I was able to join so I could get started on leveling up. Aside from the Rifle Shot and the short-ranged but powerful Overload Shot, I was also able to help some fellow NPC by enabling my Coordination ability, which increases friendlies' critical hit percentage. Then there's the Shiv if you just want to cut someone, Quick Travel so you can jump back to your current bind point, and Recuperate, for quick healing after living through a battle. I also snuck a peek at some of the higher level abilities including a Level 46 unlock known as Orbital Bombardment, which deals 23 damage to all enemies within a 10 meter radius.
Much like the other classes, modest rewards are given when accomplishing optional missions. When I made it into the hideout of the guys who stole the gifts, I didn't have to kill all of them, but I did anyway. My reward ended up being additional experience points and a med kit. As an added touch, the reward notifications appear in a non-intrusive manner, as a tiny icon on the upper right corner of the screen.
In the times the The Old Republic does find some traditionally sci-fi moments, I could not help but think about wanting to associate it with Mass Effect, not in a bad way. I should be glad that BioWare is following the strictest of licensing protocol and not sneaking in references or inside jokes from their flagship space franchise.
Perhaps it's because I've been watching too much cable TV or I'm dealing with the two classes in The Old Republic who get especially hands-on with the galaxy’s scum and villainy, but it’s very easy to get engrossed with all the scheming and deception. It was as if I was playing an intergalactic version of The Wire with the occasional dialogue smoothness of Mad Men.
Out of all the ways Star Wars: The Old Republic is excelling, the one prevalant strength it has for me is how it has this pervasive momentum, the same kind that we see in BioWare's best works, where the more you play, the more you want to keep playing. Nem'ro's Palace alone has several conversational NPCs, many of whom will open up possibilities to new quests. There's compulsion to just wander the world, kill things, and just soak in the Star Wars universe, but I'm also conflicted in wanting to forward the plot, side missions or otherwise. It's a nice problem to have.
Star Wars: The Old Republic will be available for PC later this year.