At this year's E3, I had the pleasure of smuggling for fun and profit as I found my ship stolen out from underneath me in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I spent a decent amount of time learning about the game's world, the game's combat and quest system, and how cover works for the smuggler. I also got to witness a bit of multiplayer combat, to get a feel for how the game works in a party.
Was it revolutionary? Was it solid? Was it a piece of junk that could do the Kessel Run in an odd measure of distance instead of time? Follow after the break for all of this and more!
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Right off the bat, I felt quickly at home behind the controls. Why? Well, it was in no small part due to the fact that the game's design feels very much like World of Warcraft. Looking down to find a red health bar accompanied by a yellow energy bar, I might have mistaken the smuggler class for a rogue, if everything were a little more fantasy themed instead of futuristic.
Even the cover system -- the smuggler's signature ability -- played very much like going in and out of stealth. Cover reduces the damage your smuggler takes while simultaneously offering him or her more options via new skills which will only appear while in cover. Just as you may have predicted, your skill bar will slide up while the smuggler is in cover, revealing a whole new "stealth" er... "cover" hotbar.
Using skills consumes energy from the smuggler's bar, but energy is rebuilt over time. Much like those of the rogue, the cooldowns I dealt with were short, making their attacks rely on utilizing energy efficiently. During the demo, I got to play with three different attacks -- a normal rapid-fire blaster burst, a set of slow but powerful blaster bursts, and a flashbang to stun targets. Oh, and I was a hot, Twi'lek male smuggler. You know it's awesome.
My trigger finger is itchin' for a workout!
Right after entering the game, I was told to walk through the green laser-door in front of me. This see-through green panel denoted a "storyline instance" -- one that would allow only my party and myself to enter. I hit the panel, expecting a quick loading screen, but I was surprised to find myself passing right through it and into the next room. The instancing had occurred without me even realizing it. The only confirmation I had that I was in a special instance was the system notification of my instance ID in the bottom right corner.
Approaching my quest contact triggered a cut-scene, offering some exposition as to why I was there. My smuggler was delivering some "illegal" (I prefer the term "overpowered") weaponry to the planet and I was sealing the deal. Unfortunately (as these things can never go smoothly) the local resistance had taken the military base's AA guns. I couldn't leave without shutting down the targeting systems and disabling the control terminals.
While my choice of dialog was varied, it pretty much led me to the same conclusion: go out and fix the problem. I ran out of my instance and over to the next-door military base area, where I found a large number of resistance fighters milling about and "guarding" the area. (See: Farmable mobs.)
Combat was fun and exciting as I pushed shift to find cover spots (they'll pop up as green arrows in front of you) and I activated my cover skill to slip into cover. My character would then hide behind walls and barricades, taking pot shots when I felt the enemies weren't about to fire. While I loved the "cinematic feel" of the combat moments, there was one little problem that brought me out of the experience -- my enemies fired directly at me in cover, and their rounds would pierce walls. I'd still get shot and I'd still flinch from the damage (even though I was behind a wall) and that broke the immersion. Hopefully that's something that will be changed in future builds though, so it certainly doesn't worry me now. (My problem here isn't that I'm taking damage from behind the wall, rather that the rounds clip the wall and the "hit" animation still plays while in cover. It's not the damage that's the problem; it's the animation. People seem to be confused about that.)
What makes me happy, however, is the automatic use of medipacks. (See: health potions.) Should your character die from an incoming attack, a medipack will be automatically consumed to save you, should it not be on cooldown. This saves you from having to rapidly dive for your medipack key, or from the occasional bout of stupidity that we're all known to suffer from (i.e., not looking at your health bar).
I did find some gear while milling about, and you'll still find yourself looting corpses for stuff. Armor and weapons do affect your statistics, so don't think you're escaping the gear grind just by playing Star Wars.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is finally here, and the Force is with Massively! We've prepared a Hutt-sized feast of class introductions, gameplay guides, lore roundups, and hands-on previews to help you navigate the launch period and beyond. And don't forget our weekly SWTOR column, the Hyperspace Beacon!