PAX East 2011: Star Wars: The Old Republic - Hands on

by: Ben Berry -
This past weekend, while the world got a link to a new trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic; folks at PAX East got their hands on a a 4 player team mission on Taral V. For media members, there was a special walkthrough that gave us some preparation for the mission, so we wouldn't be going in cold. This was important for me, as I had mostly avoided much of the in-depth details of the game.  

In this mission, 4 character types were available; Knight, Smuggler, Trooper, and Consular. Because I wanted one of the two characters with force abilities, I joined one of the groups that had a Consular available (the knights were all taken before I even got out of the press briefing room). As you can see from the video above, the mission is essentially the prototypical "rescue/retrieval" mission. What makes it stand out is the storytelling involved. 

The mission started on a starship, speaking with a Jedi Master of the same race as Yoda, who communes through the Force with a long dead Jedi. There's an object you need to retrieve that can greatly aid the Republic. The conversation controls feel very similar to those of the Mass Effect series. One interesting caveat, is that it's a team based conversation. Each player can choose a different response; the game uses a random number generator to select which players conversation choice is used. While BioWare didnt say anything, I'm guessing character skills have some modifier to the conversation selection. 

Once we got the mission briefing, it was a quick walk and a shuttle jump down to the planets surface. That's when things really got interesting, as we quickly shifted into combat mode. Not really being familiar with the controls wasn't a big hurdle; movement and target selection are pretty standard. The attack, defense, and healing selections make use of the typical numeric keys, and feel much like any other MMO. The Consular role could easily be equated to that of a typical cleric; light armor, attack ability, but "spells" (the Force) are their true weapon of choice. 

The characters in the mission we played were all preset to level 32, so we had a lot of choices to work with. Among the powers for my Consular were the ability to rip a large chunk of earth out of the ground and hurl it at targeted enemies. There were also some powers used to stun enemies, heal team members (or self) as well as buffs. We faced multiple alien beasts as well as Sith Empire goons on our way to the base where the object we needed to recover was stored. Most of the beasts we would have been able to tackle individually, but a few of the larger monsters and the mission bosses were almost beyond our abilities even as a team. 

A journalist sitting next to me as we failed at the at killing the mission bosses just as our playtime expired said "Well, it's WoW with lightsabers". While I stole that quote, I want readers to think about that for a minute; the developers took the quality parts of WoW and the storytelling of BioWare, and set the game in the Star Wars universe. While it is certainly too early to guarantee success, or name it as the next "Wow killer", the hands on time was sufficient to whet the appetite, and provide enough of a glimpse into the game to be extremely optimistic about the prospects for success.

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