Star Wars the Old Republic: E3 Preview
It’s hard to go into any discussion about massively online multiplayers without mentioning World of Warcraft which, since its launch, has dominated the genre as it ploughs through the competition like an uncontrollable juggernaut. So when talk first began circling about a possible Star Wars title being developed by none other than Bioware, ears began to twitch at the news; could this be the game to break Blizzard’s stranglehold? Nestled to the side of the monolith that is the EA booth at this year’s E3 is a behind-closed-doors look at one of the most highly anticipated MMOs there has ever been.
Star Wars the Old Republic looks to redefine the online landscape as it takes the genre by the scruff of the neck with the aim of introducing a more story driven experience. Bioware have long been thought of as the masters of the narrative landscape, so with them at the helm you can’t help but feel optimistic about what it is they are hoping to achieve.
Sitting down in a presentation booth with someone like Bioware is a very humbling experience. They are, of course, there to do their job promoting their next game, but through the way they address the dozen or so individuals within the room you can sense the passion behind the words they speak; the self-belief is in full flow. Of all the presentations and meetings attended at E3, Bioware were the only company that took the direction they did. Instead of diving straight into the game, they began to speak about the genre as a whole, making note of where they think some games succeed and others fail, the strengths and weaknesses of the genre, with storytelling falling into the latter category.
Storytelling is an area that is pivotal to the Old Republic and it’s iterated numerous times that each class, of which there are eight, will have hundreds of hours of play time available to them. If that alone wasn’t an impressive statistic, then the confirmation that each class won’t have any overlapping content is almost inconceivable. In essence, this means that should you play through the game up until ‘end game’ using one class and then feel like a new experience, you won’t find yourself replaying content you’ve already seen with your previous character. Simply put: mind blowing.
Suffice it to say that the narrative element to The Old Republic is going to be one of the game’s core features and, for fans of the MMORPG genre, this may just bring about that extra spark that some may say it’s lacking. This is about taking a heavily story driven environment often reserved for the single player experience and sticking thousands of other players in it alongside you. You’re no longer the generic hero that, despite having saved the world from the evil demon of unhappiness and looted the mystic armour of dragon nipples countless times, still doesn’t get any recognition. The storyline quite often doesn’t reflect your actions and that is where The Old Republic is different; this is all about you.
It’s also worth noting that this is a Star Wars game and, as such, Bioware have the ability to literally take their pick with some of the most iconic scenery to date. From the sands of Tatooine to the snowy outlets of Hoth, the gleaming towers of Coruscant and, of course, Alderaan, whose all too familiar fate still lies in wait some three thousand years in the future. The ability to call upon such locations will no doubt have gone a long way in aiding with the creation of the whole story driven experience.
With a plethora of distant planets to travel, it makes sense that you get there in style. This is Star Wars after all, and it wouldn’t quite be the same if you didn’t have the ability to take control of your own starship. Taking ‘control’ is perhaps understating it a bit as your starship will be your home away from home, your base of operations if you will. Of course, no starship will be complete without your own crew, who will actually prove to be of great value to you as opposed to being nothing but fancy ornamental NPCs.
In the need for some more resources? Simply give the order and your crew will do their best to acquire some. Now you’ve got some of those oh-so-valuable resources, you’ll likely want to put them to good use by crafting various items such as weapons or armour. Use them or sell them, the choice is yours. If you fancy something a bit more direct then issue the command and you can even have your crew venture forth into the recesses of the galaxy carrying out missions while you’re away. It’s good to be captain.
When it comes to space combat, The Old Republic has it featured from the get go as it looks to make combat as fast paced and cinematic as possible. Starships aren’t just a feature that’s been tacked on ‘for fun’, they’re a pivotal part of the game’s mechanics and that’s how it should be – refreshing.
Also up for discussion were operations, which you’ll likely have heard of under their usual name – raids. Operations, or raids depending on which way you swing, will be big business come end game, so I await their outcome with keen interest. It’s all well and good creating an enjoyable levelling experience but if the end game is lacklustre then the game will suffer for it. They say life begins at forty, well MMOs begin at end game. The operation on display was based on an ancient prison and I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself as it certainly had a bit of an Ulduar feel to it from Warcraft (sorry!). Jumping forward a few slides in the presentation, we’re presented a demo video showing just what it’s all about.
Cue scenes of behemoth-sized enemies being attacked en masse by a hue of lightsabers and blaster fire. It looks good although it doesn’t really seem to be offering anything too special, but at the end of the day it will all come down to how they perform. The fine tuning required to get the end game experience spot on is notoriously difficult, so it will be interesting to see just how it goes but from an initial showing it doesn’t look like they’ll have too many problems with them shaping up to be a fairly solid affair.
With the excitement and furore of E3 now settling down to manageable levels, the reflecting process can begin. My time with The Old Republic will be remembered as one of the best experiences I had and I leave with it being a firm contender for my game of show award. This game doesn’t just look to satisfy the Star Wars geek in me, nor does it simply appeal to the MMO player that I am, instead it looks like it could just be the best all round experience to hit the MMO genre for a very long time. With my only concern being a lack of release date and rumours of a potential 2012 launch, I can’t help but think it would have benefited from a release some time this year. That said, if the extra development time is required to spit, shine and polish, then so be it; far too many games in the genre get released in a non-working state as it is, so it’ll be somewhat refreshing to play one on launch day that actually works. The force is definitely strong with this one, believe the hype – it’s definitely the real deal.
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