Star Wars: The Old Republic Previews

We have rounded up a few more hands-on preview for BioWare's first foray in the world of MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic, headed to a global release on the 20th of December this year.

Ars Technica:
SWTOR is very light on instancing, a concept that WoW flooded its world with in recent years which allows two players to see the same space with different features. It may be difficult to implement so widely, but there are some minor parts of SWTOR that could use it.

During NPC conversations, the world will continue moving around you and the NPC, which can introduce some frustrations, such as another player stepping in front of one of the camera angles so all I could see was his back instead of the quest-giver for parts of conversations. At another point, a quest-giver was talking about how he could not move a rock with the Force, but as he spoke to me, the rock was lifted and dropped. Really? That rock right there, it can't be moved? Turns out the next step in the quest is for the rock to be moved by other means, and another character at that step in the quest was moving it.

Still, the questing experience is great, and questing inside flashpoints (the SWTOR equivalent of dungeons, instanced areas you explore with friends) is amazing. I played through the Esseles flashpoint, where you help a Republic ship getting harassed by the Empire, and combined with the moral choices you make during your quests that bend you to the light side or the dark side, the flashpoints feel like a movie. When an interesting moral choice is raised (leaving someone for Empire bait or saving them, for example), instead of shouting at or willing the main character to do one thing or another, you are the main character. This feeling will be familiar to players of the Mass Effect series, but it's a great evolution for an MMO.

RPGamer has a 4-pages piece:
Breaking into a Secret Volcano Lair is dangerous work, and good ol' Viidu wasn't about to let me go it alone. Enter my old buddy Corso Riggs, who'd been hanging around ever since my ship was jacked, but so far hadn't really done too much, aside from providing me with a sexy new blaster pistol a bit earlier. Well that was about to change. In fact, the whole game was about to change.

Corso was my first companion character, but he was a far cry from the typical pets certain classes have in other MMOs. He had more HP than I did, was just as dangerous in a fight, and could even be outfitted with his own armor heavy armor, I might add, that was a class above my own medium-grade stuff. Although he didn't have as wide a skill set as I did, what he did have was plenty, and as we gained levels, he would learn new ones as well, the first of which was a grappling skill that could pull distant enemies up close.

More importantly, Corso was a tank. His skills allowed him to draw threat easily, and his armor and health allowed him to absorb the inevitable punishment. His AI was quite good and I never really needed to manage his skills manually. While cover was still important, it was more to allow me access to my cover-specific skills and less about damage control. Even though I was playing the game solo, I was using tactics that would typically be reserved only for groups. The Old Republic was feeling less and less like World of Warcraft by the minute.

That wasn't the only thing that Corso's presence changed. Suddenly, conversations during quests became a lot more important. While previously I had been irritated that the dialogue choices I made had no real impact on the game, having Corso by my side made them a lot more relevant. Companion characters, it turns out, have their own likes and dislikes. Corso was a natural ladies' man and a generally pure soul. He liked helping out people who'd been dealt a bad hand, and had a real problem with hurting or being mean to women, no matter how awful they might be. He also had a real problem with the Empire and anyone who did business them. With these traits in mind, the tone I chose to take during conversations now increased or decreased his affection rating. As this affection rating increased, character quests were unlocked, which usually consisted entirely of a conversation granting a bit of background about his character, along with a nice experience reward.

And finally, Videogamer wonders whether the title can take World of Warcraft's crown:
While fans saw SWTOR as the first legitimate rival to World of Warcraft, naysayers were busy baptising it as "that single-player MMO" thanks to its focus on pushing single-player narrative as far to the foreground as possible. The result so far is a staunchly BioWare-styled MMO. Picking and playing a class isn't altogether different to playing through a single-player BioWare title, where quest-givers interact with you via cutscenes and you decide on how to respond through various dialogue options, nudging your morality meter toward either dark or light sides of the spectrum. But whether this narrative-laden system is good enough to create a sea change in the industry is another question.

Here's the issue:

These design decisions have turned The Old Republic into the first truly character-driven MMO, but this begs the question whether a single-character storyline works for a genre built around massively multiplayer interaction. Can you have it both ways? Well, the game tries to make its case. Star Wars: The Old Republic gives users storylines whose paths can be determined by the actions of other players.

The Old Republic's conversation system is based on random rolls, much in the same way that loot is divided between players in a group. As part of the dialogue system players get options to choose good, evil, or neutral lines of response while the game automatically rolls a number between 1 and 100. The roll means nothing to the solo player - their dialogue option of choice will play out in the following cutscene regardless - but in groups, the greatest number dictates what happens next. The game loads the cutscene dialogue chosen by the user who won the roll and grants up to eight "social points" to the winner, used later to buy items.

Unfortunately, in significant missions this gets frustrating. Life-or-death decisions that let you decide the future of an NPC can feel unfairly placed in the hands of a peer when you hit an unlucky roll. While their chosen option won't have an effect on your character's morality if you chose the dark-sided option, that's what will stick in terms of your avatar's character development it will affect the narrative. A dead NPC is a dead NPC, an imprisoned character stays imprisoned, and so on, and it's all thanks to randomly-generated numbers.