Star Wars: The Old Republic Gamescom 2011 Preview -- Huttball and Cinematic Multiparty RaidingBy Sinan Kubba - Posted Aug 30, 2011
We’ve traveled a long way with Star Wars: The Old Republic. Two years ago we got our first hands-on with the game at Gamescom 2009, and two years and a ka-billion previews later we were in Germany again to get another teasing glimpse of BioWare’s Force-fuelled foray into the MMO realm.
Read through all those previews (do you have a spare day?) and you’ll see the ongoing line of thought has been where the game sits between MMO and RPG. How deep is the plot going to be for the Star Wars fans hopeful of a story-driven game as good as Knights of the Old Republic? How will it compare to the traditional MMOs before it and the more dynamic MMOs that will follow it?
For the last two years the Canadian studio has been keener to answer the first question, unsurprising of a developer renowned for its RPG-based storytelling abilities. As we near this year’s Q4, when the game is currently scheduled to be released, it’s similarly unsurprising that we’re seeing more and more of the game’s more high level MMO-like qualities. In Cologne, the focus was on PVP and raids.
First there was the reveal of a new PVP warzone called Huttball. It was presented like a mix between American football and Rollerball, with players using their powers, however violent or devastating, to attain victory. The idea: grab an energy ball and pass and run it over the opposition’s outside line to score a goal. Curiously, at least to those more invested in the Star Wars canon than your author, the teams were mixed, meaning Siths could be paired against each other, as could Jedis.
Inter-Jedi-squabbling aside, there was also the matter of environmental hazards to deal with, like spiked floors and ablaze platforms. Passing looked interesting, and I like the idea of interceptions and tackles, but with it resembling MadWorld so heavily, it was almost disappointing to not hear Greg Proops reprise his oft-besmirched role as the commentator Fode. Having said that, the commentator did sound like his fellow MadWorld actor and prolific gaming voice artist Steve Blum, so that’s alright by me.
The other side of The Old Republic under the German spotlight was that of the operations, what BioWare are calling multi-party raids. The one that showed off in Cologne was one they revealed at this year’s E3: Operation Eternity Vault. It will be available to all Level 50 players in teams of eight to 16. I was lucky enough to see part of Eternity Vault demoed in real-time by eight of BioWare’s own in a fierce battle which spanned a good 20 or so minutes. But first, the set-up:
As we learned at E3, the Eternity Vault is a vast former prison hidden beneath the ice of Belsavis, thought to now house a demon called The Infernal One, a potentially huge threat to both the Empire and the Republic. So the only sensible thing to do, at least according to those in charge on either side, is to send the best men and women available into the frozen throes of the planet and see if they can find out, and maybe harness, whatever it is that’s hiding behind door number one.
So, the eight BioWare Imperials (good Huttball team name) found themselves just outside the colossal metal doors of the Eternity Vault, but predictably the entrance was guarded by droids. Not just droids; a lot of droids. Oh, and two giant turrets. The great thing about MMO raids is they capture a large-scale visual pandemonium that other games never seem quite capable of doing without looking a little forced. As the glow of the lightsabers ducked and dived against the backdrop of laser beams coming at the heroes in all directions, I did get a brief tingle of that filmic spectacle.
Maybe it’s because BioWare were keen to show off as many of the team members’ unique powers as they can. I saw the rogue-like mercenary use a jet-pack to float up to the level of the left-hand turret and then deploy an EMP-like power to take it out. Meanwhile the assassin used the Force to draw droids towards him before chucking them away powerfully and dispassionately - as if he’d lost his way from The Force Unleashed. The sorcerer joined in by casting Force Lightning. This rained down a wide area-of-effect electrical shower onto the bots, and it proves particularly effective. All the while the two healing characters held back and maintained the group from afar.
And yes, it did begin to resemble a traditional MMO fight. The tank-like marauder and assassins characters took on most of the physical brunt, the mage and rogue type classes supported them, and the healers sat on the periphery. Take away the spectacle and it wasn’t spectacular as an MMO fight, at least to a seasoned MMO player like me. This isn’t to say it was poor because it did seem fun. But let’s be frank; if this demo of Eternity Vault is representative of high-level The Old Republic content, then it’s not going to be about innovative combat mechanics, but the spectacle and context of the combat. In short, the Star Wars of it; after seeing how it played out, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
After the last droid was finally slain, the deep voice of the Infernal One suddenly boomed out of nowhere. He did not sound pleased with the proceedings, and so that proved when a 50-foot tall robot came crushing out of the sky, armed with two fat missile launchers for arms and a deadly-looking twin cannon for a back. The heroes who dared to get up close and personal with the hulking robot were rewarded with huge sweeping arms which sent them spiraling out of the fight, while the support units were forced to duck in and out of cover whenever the robot fancied launching his torrent of health-destroying missiles. The battle reigned on, with the party chipping away at the huge machine’s health slowly but surely, responding to his patterns and maintaining the fight.
And even though it was familiar and predictable, it was still absorbing to see the battle come to a dramatic head when the robot was dragged into the final reaches of his health. The twin cannons came out and rained absolute terror on all below, taking out the heroes one by one. It was only due to the persistence of the marauder tank in particular, coming back from the devastating blows he took with equally devastating Force Charge attacks, that the robot finally took one too many lightsabers to the knees before collapsing backwards. As the party rejoiced, the doors began to slowly open… and then all faded to darkness.
Maybe this is worth noting too: this was only the very start of the operation. The battles should only get more and more intense in the deeper reaches of the icy vault, and maybe then the combat will evolve into something a little unexpected. We will see. For now, though, it’s good to get these glimpses into the high level content of the game and get a sense of what BioWare have got in store for players who stick it out until the very end. And we’ll find out what dark horrors are hidden behind those ominous metal doors when the game releases later this year.