Star Wars: The Old Republic Hands-On E3 2011 Preview -- Assassinating Across TatooineBy Sophie Prell - Posted Jun 10, 2011
The first thing I did during my brief E3 2011 hands-on demo of Star Wars: The Old Republic, the highly-anticipated MMO from BioWare and EA, was smile. After being dropped into the arid Jundland Wastes of Tatooine, a mid-level questing area for my Sith Inquisitor advanced class, the Assassin.
This being my first time with the game, I could have also opted for a Republic side starting world. But a representative informed myself and fellow nerds that Tatooine was an entirely new experience, something they hadn't shown before E3 2011. Call me tempted by the “anything with the word new” side of the Force.
After I sat my hands across the keyboard and settled into the World of Warcraft-friendly control scheme, I finally looked headlong into the screen. Enter my first smile. Because while I'll admit, the cartoonish art and “heroic proportions” BioWare has been touting for player characters has never been a huge sell for me – and make no mistake, it still isn't – the environments were the perfect image of concept art made real.
I also noticed that my character's own design was not quite what I'd expected. While her attire was most definitely Star Wars flavor, it also had a certain flair all its own that I hope will help differentiate classes at a glance. With my fellow players, I get the same sentiment: I'm able to tell at a distance who is an Agent, who is a Bounty Hunter, and who is a Warrior.
Speaking of my fellow players, when the game's E3 2011 trailer was up for all to see at the EA press conference, I have to say the mention of “Social Hubs” worried me. In an MMO that has thus far showcased so many single-player elements, I began to wonder if I would be alone as I traveled across this galaxy far, far away. After all, why even mention “Social Hubs” unless the world itself is not social?
Thankfully, I was able to bump into other players and group up, maximizing speed and efficiency as I tracked down multiple quest objectives on route to my overarching goal. So yes, it seems planets will be teeming with life, and not just of the AI variety. There were also sections of the map I found restricted by class, which I imagine is to help segment story. What any of this means for open-world random PvP I can't say, unfortunately.
I did however get a chance to duel one of my fellow Imperials, which ended in a very, very close loss for me. And while I did lose, something I'm sure my Sith masters would find... disturbing, it showed some good balance between classes, which isn't as copy-paste from World of Warcraft as you might imagine.
My Assassin played like a mid-range mix of melee and Force abilities, using stealth to sneak up to groups and mind blast to crowd control and disable one enemy before tackling the others with a dual-bladed lightsaber enhanced with lightning. If you want to look at that from a WoW perspective, think a mix of Assassination Rogue and Enhancement Shaman. Or Shadow Priest and Enhancement Shaman. Or... well, like I said: These aren't cookie-cutter classes.
A SWTOR rep told me that there's even a tank-style build for the Inquisitor base class, something they haven't shown just yet. Considering the other Inquisitor advanced class, Sorcerer, looks to use its lightsaber only as a last defense while focusing more on Force-powered blasts of lightning and other dark side abilities; that's a good variety of playstyles.
Something else so far unrevealed is how SWTOR will use professions in defining your character. While the rep overseeing my demo told me, “Oh, that's nothing, you don't need to worry about that,” as I moused over certain objects in the world, it raised an eyebrow to see things like “Requires Archaeology (150).” There was also a computer terminal that could be hacked, though I didn't possess the required skill for that. For now, we'll leave that as another mystery of the Force.
There are plenty more mysteries too, as, I have to admit, I didn't get far in the questline handed to us. As an agent for the Empire, I was tasked with rescuing a missing Sith Lord. Okay, perhaps “rescue” is too generous a word. Perhaps “tracking down for possible execution due to disgraceful failure” would be more fitting.
There were hints of something new and ominous lurking under the sands of Tatooine, and I appreciated knowing what my smaller quests were building to. The presence of story cannot be overstated here: everywhere my quest took me, and everything it had me do had its distinct purpose, distinct relation to the tale of my character. This quest was streamlined and automatically updated: no running back to base for check-in. Still, it wasn't easy.
Before I started to learn the rhythm of my class, which felt very advanced for a level 26 character, I was struggling through even random mobs that wandered outside our Imperial outpost. Solo play was by no means impossible, but watching the interplay between classes when grouped was not only helpful while making the overall experience easier, but it was intensely satisfying as well.
Sadly, my time with The Old Republic at E3 2011 was very brief and left only the smallest taste on my tongue. Clearly, the Star Wars flavor is in full effect. This is a fantasy space opera about good and evil, right and wrong, mystical abilities and ballet-like finesse swordsmanship. Everything here feels uniquely built from the ground up.
Yes, it certainly shares concepts and some gameplay elements from what will no doubt be its largest competitor and point of comparison/reference (of which I myself was a five-year veteran, only recently freed from crippling addiction to epic lootz) but this is Star Wars, through and through. I'm somewhat worried about what players will do when they want to just relax at the old cantina and not bullseye womp rats, open PvP is still an unknown, and I'm not a huge fan of the look my pre-generated character had, but I am excited, now more than ever.