Star Wars: The Old Republic PAX East Preview
Long queues ago, in a galaxy far far away… I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it. The doors opened for ‘press only’ access at 9am on the second day of PAX East 2011, and I headed straight through the door in a brisk walk towards Bioware’s booth to get some hands on time with Star Wars: The Old Republic. I’d seen the queue for it the previous day when we were in the Rockstar line for L.A. Noire, and believe me when I tell you that it was big, in fact… beyond big, it was possibly the longest wait of the show. I already knew that getting there early was important if I wanted any chance of playing the game and made it to the both for around ten past nine so, although the queue wasn’t as big, I still knew I was in for quite a wait.
Two hours later and I reached the front of the line; we were split into groups of four and handed an iPad with a brief presentation on it which outlined the set up for the instance that we would be playing today: a flashpoint called Taral V. The choices were as follows:
Smuggler – Basically the support unit of the group, which comes equipped with three levels of healing to cast on the other party members. The first level heals a small amount, casts quickly and has a quick cool down time, while the higher level regenerates more health and takes longer to recharge etc. Weapon wise, the blaster that this particular smuggler was equipped with didn’t seem very useful, although the portable cover that you could throw down was handy when surrounded, but unfortunately you could only heal from behind it.
Trooper – The tank of the group, heavily armoured and built to take a beating so you don’t have too, which is kind of what you want from a tank. Equipped with a high-powered blaster, it is the tank’s job to start the fights and keep enemies trained on him, so the others can concentrate on attacking without needing to worry too much about defending themselves.
Jedi Knight – Pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. You get to play as a Jedi Knight, fully equipped with lightsaber and the ability to use the force. The Jedi Knight certainly had the coolest looking moves of the group, and gives players the ability to use the good old lightsaber throw. When enough focus (think of it as mana) is spent, a powerful spinning blow attack is unlocked for use.
Jedi Consulate – In terms of MMO hierarchy, the consulate can be compared to that of a paladin. They have the ability to get up close and personal with the lightsaber if they wish, or keep their distance and use the force to lift objects out of the ground before hurling them into an enemy. The Jedi Consulate also possess some basic healing abilities; all in all, a good choice for those wanting a bit of everything.
I chose the smuggler; well, I say “I chose”, but it was more a case of ‘got stuck with’. My first choice would have been the Trooper, but the other guys in my group beat me to the PCs. The battleground mission briefing was handed to us by Jedi Master Oteg in his office; he’s a short little fella, green, with pointy ears, and looked familiar. The players in the party all needed to walk up to him and right click to signal their readiness, and it was at this point that I wasn’t just presented with a bit of text, but was treated to a fully voiced and acted out cut-scene. This involved some dialogue between Master Oteg and me and, later, a Jedi so powerful that she has transcended physical form and now appears as a blue ghost (think of the ghost of old Ben), who informed us of some nasty goings on down on the planet Taral V.
The conversation decisions are presented in a very similar way to those in Mass Effect 2, letting the player choose the way to answer a question, which is then expanded on in the actual spoken dialogue by the character. When the opportunity arises, the dialogue option will appear at the bottom of the screen and everyone gets to make a choice – one of which could be classed as the positive response, another just playing it safe, and then the more negative option. There were only three options to choose from each time the opportunity arose, but the design of the icon on screen lead me to believe there could be more options available for different conversations. Once each player had made their choice, the game performed a roll of the dice, giving each of us a number between one and 100; whoever rolled the highest got to speak their piece and then the cut scene would move on. It was refreshing to see something like this in an MMO, and made it feel like a very story driven experience. The voice acting was top notch and and the way in which the characters spoke and phrased their sentences fitted the Star Wars universe perfectly. It was then time to lock, load and ‘bzzzzzt’ for the lightsaber users in the group.
The next step of the quest saw us needing to get down to the hanger bay to board our ship. Traversing an elevator to the back of the room, we ended up heading down a corridor, which then opened up into a massive hanger bay, busy with droids, troops and other ships taking off. Unfortunately, once boarding the ship, we were only treated to a loading screen and I felt like a cinematic of the ship taking of and jumping to lightspeed would have been a better touch. Although, with that said, it’s important to remember that this is the first time that this instance has been seen in public, and Star Wars: The Old Republic doesn’t even have a release date yet, so it’s possible that such things will be added later. Don’t hold me to it though, that’s just me as a Star Wars fan being picky.
Down on the surface of Taral V, I played my role as the smuggler by quickly buffing my party up before taking a few moments to familiarise myself with the movement and camera controls (anybody who has ever played any other MMO will be able to fall right into it). As we marched up the hill, a pack of lizard-like creatures known as Jungle Crawlers spawned out of the ground and I realised quite quickly that my ability to manage the party and keep everybody alive was going to be tested. After the first wave was completed, it was time to move on. Progressing up the hill we encountered some more Jungle Crawlers with a much larger, menacing looking one present; I took cover behind a fallen tree.
Taking cover seemed a bit odd for an MMO, I’m used to just standing there taking hits, but the combat is more than just that in The Old Republic. You can get involved in a proper two way fight; it’s very organic and you feel connected with it rather than just standing there trading blows.
As we progressed on up the hill we encountered our first Sith operative and some troopers – I let the others handle that one, it looked tricky, so I just popped my portable cover out and hid behind it. Not too long after that we finally made it to the enemy base at the top of the hill; this is where, in the films, it all starts going wrong just as R2-D2 saves the day. He didn’t show up.
There was a big ‘sentinel droid’, which looked kind of like a battle droid but larger (the three legged ones that roll in ball, as seen in Phantom Menace) guarding the entrance, but, before we got to him, we needed to fight through another one of those big buggers and a pack of the jungle crawlers. It goes without saying that I managed to get the whole party killed at this point more than once (again guys, I’m sorry), but eventually the guy playing as the trooper managed to get us through it on about the third try; his Midichlorian count was clearly higher than mine.
Once we’d scraped through that last fight, we discovered that it wasn’t yet over and time was running low; the force would need to stay with us if we were to succeed. Before long, another one of the sentential droids came rolling round the corner and another Sith operative showed up, shortly followed by the commander of the base, Captain Shivanek. I might have got everybody killed again… OK, maybe twice, honestly I’m born to be a Trooper (or a Lee Roy Jenkins)!
Finally I managed to keep the the Trooper and the Jedi Consulate alive for long enough to finish off the Captain and victory was ours – we celebrated with a series of gentlemanly nods. Celebrations were cut short when another one of the big crawler guys broke out of his cage, but this one was different, this one was Shivanek’s pet and was clearly some sort of super version. I’d like to say that we stormed home in a blaze of glory but, sadly, due to a certain Smuggler getting carried away with a premature victory dance, it quickly made Bantha fodder out of us. Disappointed in defeat, our time was up, the galaxy will just have to wait to be saved until later this year when Star Wars: The Old Republic is expected to launch.
The Old Republic is a beautiful game, it has the style of Star Wars nailed down perfectly and, while having a slightly cartoonish look to it, it doesn’t go down the route of the animated Clone Wars series. As you’d expect, all the tiny sounds of droids and doors opening, to the more recognisable ones like a ship’s engines and blaster fire, match perfectly with everything that fans hold dear. Combat is smooth and, while activated the same way as other MMOs, it’s acted out in such a way that makes it feel like you are fighting somebody and not just standing in a field waving a stick, waiting for a red number to pop out the top of your head.
The force is strong with this one.
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