Star Wars: The Old Republic Previews

The PAX East-based previews of BioWare Austin's Star Wars: The Old Republic continue in force, with a half dozen more appearing over the past couple of days.

Quest dialogue is handled by (rolls.) Each of us four players had to approach a character and right click to begin the conversation at the same time. When the dialogue tree reached a branch, we each got to pick our own response and the game assigned us a numbered roll (from 1 to 100). The response of whoever rolled the highest is the one the game goes with -- and this could just be sour grapes, but I swear the game seemed to favor negative responses over middle-of-the-road and positive lines.

The painterly style graphics and Star Wars blaster noises might make Old Republic look and sound like other Star Wars games, but Old Republic plays very much like a traditional MMO. Ninety percent of what I did for the 30 minutes of playtime involved clicking (spells,) waiting for cool downs, clicking a new target, and then clicking the same spells.

I have to say, I was expecting something very different to anything I've ever played before, and it seemed that the classes we played (and the way their talent specializations worked for the demo), it was like playing a reskinned World of Warcraft. Sure in the released game you'll get to customize your characters in tons of different ways, but for this demo I left wanting to have felt impressed by something new to the MMO genre and the demo didn't live up to my "I-love-innovation" expectation.

Even the Flashpoint instance left a little to be desired. There were enemies that came in packs of three or four and the occasional huge jungle beast. None posed much of a threat and the fights were generally straightforward. I did like that strewn along the path were explosive boxes we could use to blow up the enemies, but they were few and far between.

Crave Online:
Along with the description of the instance, BioWare showed us the four classes we'd be playing in the hands-on demo. The Trooper would act as our tank, a Jedi Knight would provide melee damage as well as supporting the tank in tough spots, a Jedi Consular unloaded ranged force abilities and the Smuggler class acted as the healer and support role. Don't worry though; roles such as these are not locked into each class. Players can customize their characters to excel at whichever roll fits their play-style. Multiple classes will be capable healers, tanks or DPS. That's not to say a Smuggler should attempt to tank and expect results, you just don't always have to heal or always deal damage.

We received a short explanation of each class and the spells that coincided with their role for the instance. We also witnessed group dialogue whereby all party members initiate conversation with an NPC, chose their response, and wait for a random roll from 1-100 to determine which player's line is used. Again, this is a fully voiced game. Every option, for every class, for every possible NPC interaction will have that special BioWare flare. As a Star Wars fan, the music and characters immediately felt familiar.

The raid was one that was revealed a few weeks ago, Taral V. In this raid, the group had to rescue a Jedi from the clutches of the Empire in a jungle base. Before the raid began, the party of four got to engage in an interactive cutscene with Mass Effect-style dialog choices. As with Mass Effect, the three options went from Light Side or heroically positive on the top, to neutral in the middle, and Dark Side or harsh and negative on the bottom. After each person in the party selects their response, a roll is made and the player's whose number, which is determined from a few factors, is highest makes the response. In some cases, these responses can actually change the course of a mission.

After getting our mission, we ran through the Alliance base to the starship, which whisked us off to the instanced raid. I was a Scoundrel, but my character had been spec'ed to be a healing class, rather than the normal ranged class. Meanwhile, the Counselor Sage, which is usually considered a healing class, was spec'ed to be a more offensive class. This was probably done to assuage fears that the Sage would basically be a priest character devoted to healing and support. While the Sage could heal, and the Scoundrel could engage in ranged combat, their roles were such that the Scoundrel just had to do the supporting role, since this raid with elite mobs required constant attention from a specialized healer.

Piki Geek:
As I was waiting in line, the employees passed around a few iPads with a short tutorial describing the (flashpoint) (instance/raid) we would be playing. After splitting into groups of four, we would each choose one of the four available classes Trooper, Jedi Consular, Smuggler or Jedi Knight. The catch? We were playing level thirty-two characters. This meant that each of our characters had already specialized deep into their advanced classes, such as Scoundrel or Sage, and learned more advanced abilities. More importantly, it meant that we had two full skill bars' worth of abilities to memorize, so the iPad tutorial helped teach each of us our various powers and tactics that would help us beat the demo.

I was always a fan of the Smuggler class, so I immediately claimed it, but it wasn't what I imagined it would be. You see, in order to show how each class could take on multiple roles at higher levels, BioWare decided to throw us all for a loop they made this particular Smuggler the group's main healer. With slow healing med packs, underworld medicine, and other mechanical healing devices, this Smuggler healed while standing behind cover and occasionally throwing grenades or shooting his blaster. The Consular took on the role of ranged DPS, the Jedi Knight was melee DPS, and the Trooper was the group's main tank.

And Newsarama:
The Commando would go take on the base commander as our primary tank, while I would take down the gigantic "Ripper" with our Consular and Smuggler hanging back and healing and buffing. While we ran out of time before we could defeat them both, we did take down Ripper, and it felt like a major accomplishment. It was fun, it was tough, it took team work and individual play; it was everything you want out of an RPG, and you were playing side-by-side with actual people.

For a Star Wars fan, there's nothing quite like stepping into the role of the galactic heroes recognizable worldwide. While this game is even a longer, longer time ago, the classes and tropes you know and love from Star Wars are all there. For those upset that many members of the Dragon Age team left that franchise to work on this in BioWare Austin; don't be. Their expertise is being used wisely in the service of what will be without a doubt the most story-driven MMO to date. In fact, in a casual conversation with lead writer Daniel Erickson, he told me that any one of the eight classes' main story is longer than all of Dragon Age: Origins. This game has story to spare, and it is interweaved throughout all the character types, encouraging you to explore it from every angle.