Star Wars: The Old Republic Preview and Editorial

Those of you patiently awaiting LucasArts and BioWare Austin's Star Wars: The Old Republic have a couple of new articles to read through today.

First, IGN brings us another preview based on some firsthand time with the Jedi Consular class:
Far and away, my favorite ability is Force Wave, an area-of-effect attack that has my Consular jump into the air and with a swirl of the hands send any nearby units flying in all directions. This is especially nice as The Old Republic is filled with enemy clusters, where three or four foes will all pummel you together. Enemies tend to be clustered with a few weaklings and one or two stronger units, and the Force Wave is frequently powerful enough to take the weaklings out of the fight altogether.

Using any of these abilities naturally requires me to use some Force, the Consular's resource. Force has a maximum of 100 and regenerates rapidly, akin to Energy in other games, rather than a mana pool which grows with level and gear and has to be carefully managed in longer fights. This gives the Consular an interesting dynamic, as they are later given the ability to heal. The Energy-like resource means that they may not be able to chain-heal, but also won't need to necessarily be overly resourceful with their spells.

The Consular, like all classes in The Old Republic, is more than just its move-set. Each class has its own storyline to follow. The Consular's begins with the news that Flesh Raiders have begun to settle in what was otherwise Jedi ground and now pose a threat to holograms of past Jedi, holograms that contain vast amounts of knowledge. I soon find that one particular hologram has vanished, and it is hinted that I may perhaps find its whereabouts in an illegal (but otherwise benevolent) Twi'lek camp.

And then 1UP chimes in with an editorial that presents some concerns on why the game "might already be too late":
While EA and BioWare Austin have the horsepower needed to at least draw even with World of WarCraft though, what we've seen so far has been worryingly conventional -- even generic -- given the millions being poured into development. Take the opening areas around Tython, which Mike Nelson describes in his most recent preview as being "rudimentary" owing to their somewhat generic, grind-driven quest design. Running around killing a set number of "Flesh Raiders" in a relatively quiet village doesn't seem particularly epic, but that's the route BioWare Austin seems to be taking with the opening areas for the Jedi -- what will surely be the most popular classes when The Old Republic is released.

It's not quite as bad as standing around on Tatooine and watching a bounty hunter chase a pack of womp rats, which was a depressingly common sight in Star Wars Galaxies; but it does seem like a bit of a step down from newer areas found in Cataclysm. Over the years, Blizzard has gotten very good at disguising the grind in their opening areas; where Burning Crusade's areas featured a swamp inhabited by a few monsters, Cataclysm had a full-on werewolf invasion, and so forth. The nuts and bolts aren't so different from what they were back in the day, but Blizzard has made them shine with both a wide range of scenarios and the clever use of phasing.

I think the real concern though is not so much in the quest design as in BioWare Austin's apparent willingness to play follow the leader. Whenever something becomes a big hit -- be it a movie, game or book -- there's always a mad scramble to replicate the formula; in World of WarCraft's case, that mad scramble has been going for six years now. The amount of money that goes into developing MMOs makes publishers naturally risk averse (Realtime Worlds is a great example of what can happen when an ambitious MMO goes horribly wrong), but the amount World of WarCraft contributes to Activision's bottom line is just too enticing to ignore. Given Blizzard's enormous headstart though, a developer has to do more than play it safe to reach the heights that World of WarCraft has scaled.