E3 2011 Preview: Star Wars: The Old Republic
After getting to play Star Wars: The Old Republic at PAX East last March, I was surprised to find myself excited again just to get another glimpse of BioWare's upcoming MMORPG at E3. It probably had something to do with the kickass intro trailer they released, and while the game itself doesn't look quite so visually complex and sharp as what we see in this video, it's still on track to be one of the better looking games in the genre so far. Our demo this year involved watching a BioWare-run team work on a mission in a temple on Alderaan, and we also got to go hands-on once again, this time in a lower-level adventure on everyone's favorite planet for power converters, Tatooine.
What I found interesting is that the four base classes we saw at PAX had different "final" class choices this time, so what used to be the melee DPS in March was now demonstrated as a tank; what was the healer became a DPS class. It changed how the game was played quite a bit, especially since the tank was now a melee-oriented class, while the DPS class this time around, the scoundrel, could create (and hide behind) cover for defense and attack bonuses. (Simply put, not all roguish profiteers are cookie-cutter Han Solo clones.) For World of Warcraft fans or MMORPG veterans, this is not exactly a huge revelation, but it's important to point out that BioWare's willing to include this diversity and expand beyond the more rigidly-defined roles in Star Wars lore.
BioWare reps went a lot into the story this time around, explaining how The Old Republic will serve not only as a finale for the Knights of the Old Republic series, but also as many sequels that follow. This isn't really a relief to gamers who purposely avoid MMORPGs and wanted a more solo-focused journey, but it's hard to fault BioWare for branching out and trying something original here. There are tens of thousands of lines of voiced dialogue in this game, and what I thought was interesting was that if you choose one class on the Empire and play through the whole game, then restart as, say, a Jedi Guardian, you will have an entirely different set of content set on different planets and no shared quests between the two; you'll never see or hear the same stuff twice while leveling up. I imagine those lines blur once you start to get into the PvP and raiding, but it seems that at least the leveling will be totally different. I also question how much is unique between, say, the Jedi Guardian and the Jedi Consular, two classes on the Republic side that I would think should have at least some shared content.
We've seen a decent amount of TOR's flashpoints - essentially, dungeon-style instances - and how they can really challenge players to formulate some real strategy before going into boss battles. We only got a few glimpses (as in, screenshots) of what BioWare is calling "operations", but these are the raids, and, well, that's about all the information they were willing to divulge. So yeah, there are raids, there are PvP warzones along with the expected line up of PvE and PvP servers (where you have to flag yourself for open-world PvP on the former, and you're just always flagged for PvP on the latter). Another feature was debuted at E3: speeders. Players can ride these around like one would a mount in a fantasy MMO, and while there are no tauntauns or banthas available - just motorized vehicles so far - BioWare hasn't ruled out the possibility yet. As revealed before, you'll also have your own personal starship for traveling between worlds and can participate in space battles, but we've heard that we're not quite to the point of delivering Tie Fighter-quality sim battles just yet. Hopefully that's on the way, since it seems LucasArts isn't planning on any space sim games for at least quite a while.
It remains to be seen just how well The Old Republic delivers on its promise of infusing a real story and narrative into the MMORPG, but we got another good idea of it in one situation where a player defeated a Sith Lord and had the choice to either execute him or turn him to the light side. All players will have the dark/light side meter that we remember from the KOTOR days, and your choices will not only affect your personal plot through the game, but also where you wind up on that meter; presumably, someone who starts out as a Jedi Guardian could eventually turn to the dark side, but it remains to be seen whether that meant actually joining the Empire side of the conflict or not. Still, BioWare stressed that the difference between you and another player is not just in the number of quests completed, your talent tree, and your gear, even those are all there too. It's also in your personal plotline and what choices you made.
MMORPG fans that aren't happy with the current fantasy fare should be really looking forward to The Old Republic. It's likely that the game will be released inside of the next year (and it'll be exclusively on PC), but so far there are no wide-open beta plans announced yet.