Star Wars: The Old Republic was an obvious hit at PAX East. Fans stood in line for hours just to get a chance to touch one of the most anticipated games of this year and to catch a glimpse of Taral V, the first publicly shown Flashpoint. The excitement to be one of the first to get hands on SWTOR group content was palpable. Our contributing editors Larry Everett and Eliot Lefebvre scored that opportunity to play the game last Saturday. Read on as our intrepid reporters showcase their experiences in the Star Wars universe. Draw your blaster and ignite your lightsaber as we head to a galaxy far, far away...

Larry Everett: There are many things that can distract you from actually playing Star Wars: The Old Republic. Who wouldn't be distracted by the incredible layered scenery? I'd think the spot-on animations would make you want to attack more, although it is possible that you could attack the wrong target. Perhaps it was the vivid facial expressions that would cause someone to not make a dialogue choice. These have to be the reasons behind the fact that the Jedi Knight on our team completely failed to do his job in one of the most incredibly polished games and easy-to-slide-into games I have have ever played.

Let me start from the beginning. First thing Saturday morning, a few individual members of the media and four fansites were given an opportunity to experience the level 32 instance (or as it's called in SWTOR, flashpoint) of Taral V before the showroom floor even opened. This gave us a special chance to take in the full experience of kicking in Sith buckheads!

The dialogue system gripped me first. I picked the Smuggler class, which you'd expect to be the dirt bag, right? But apparently everyone else wanted to be the dirt bag too, so all the characters who spoke were really mean to the little Yoda-like guy, Master Oteg. It was really loud in the convention center, so I couldn't exactly hear what he was saying, but BioWare was kind enough to provide subtitles for all the speech. Now, I'm not sure whether the guy playing the Jedi Knight just didn't see or couldn't figure out how to use the dialogue wheel or was distracted by Oteg's pretty eyes, but he gave us a wonderful demonstration of what happens when you do not click on a dialogue option. Toward the end of the speech, a dialogue wheel a la Mass Effect pops up and a timer starts; the timer finishes shortly after the main speaker completes his dialogue. If anyone in the group has not made a choice, then that group member automatically passes. The other members of the group perform an automatic dice roll when they have chosen how they would like to respond -- 0 to 99, it seems -- and the one with the highest number gets to actually speak. However, as it's been mentioned before, light side and dark side points are awarded based on your choice, not the dialogue spoken.

After Oteg mesmerized us with his infinite wisdom (I did find it funny that we all meditated to call up the Force ghost even though we had just finished mouthing off to the Jedi Master), we headed down the turbolift. (We're in Star Wars. They ain't called elevators. That's Darth Vader's wife. Get it? Elle Vader? Nevermind.) Here we ran into what appeared to be a loading area. I noted another player in the room who was not in our group, suggesting that this area appears to be shared. Take that, people who don't believe this is an MMO... wait! That was me. Down the corridor to the left by the big blue transparent divider we jogged, then we were transported to the shuttle bay, where we jogged a bit more to the shuttle door. Oops, we were supposed to click on that, not just ram our faces into it. Click! And off we went.

The shuttle cinematic wasn't really anything to sing about, but it was nice to see a callback to the Lambda Shuttle from Return of the Jedi.

We were finally on the ground and in the action. I took a quick moment here to run through my power set descriptions. Since this Smuggler was set up as a healer, the majority of my top row of actions were heals or buffs. Down the chain, I did find my drop-cover button, then on the bottom row were most of my attack specials. I didn't have time to truly inspect every one of the buttons, but I did notice that I had a bunch of skills: two types of straight heals, one heal-over-time, a range-increase buff, another unknown buff I clicked on randomly, and a couple of ranged and AoE attack specials.

A yellow path on our minimap marked the direction we were supposed to go, but of course, Sith troopers and giant monsters lay in our way. I remembered from my playthough on Smuggler starting missions that cover was very important to a Smuggler's defense. However, I noticed that cover wasn't always so easy to find, and there were a couple of instances where I thought a fallen branch or rock would have been cover, but it wasn't. If I hit shift, I could see the cover points near to me, but I had to be near the object first. I could not detect good cover at much of a distance.

I'm going to pause the action here for a moment to talk about the art of the game. I know when the game was in early production and the developers had just started releasing screenshots, there were complaints about the characters seeming very cartoony and flat. I have to say, these characters were amazingly detailed, and although it was heightened realism, the quality of textures and depth of facial expression curtailed any criticism I might have had about the stylistic approach. One other thing that caught my eye in the midst of battle: There was no clipping. And it wasn't because we had no capes. In fact, every one of the characters was wearing a cape, skirt, or dress. Usually in games like this, you'd find that a character's heels would jut out of the back of draped clothing. In this case, I tried to get my Smuggler's skirt to clip on his feet, but I just couldn't do it. The graphics are incredibly polished, even in this beta stage.

Moving on to the action: We easily fell into our roles. Contributing Editor Eliot Lefebvre played the Trooper tank; I healed with the Smuggler; and two other media members played the Jedi Consular and Jedi Knight as ranged and melee DPS, respectively. With a few exceptions, everything worked smoothly this way. However, the foliage may have been too beautiful and distracting, or maybe it was the weather effects causing the Jedi Knight to lose interest in the action of the game, because every time we needed an off-tank, the Jedi would attack the same mob as the Trooper. This often caused the Trooper to take more damage than I could heal effectively. However, as I am awesome, I kept Eliot alive... until the last boss fight.

At first we were all so distracted by the shiny red corridor that we headed in a direction opposite from the final boss. Eliot, being the incredible leader that he was, only pounded his head twice against the invisible wall before realizing that we needed to go the other way. On the other side of the base, a Sith trooper was glowing red. Duh! We should have known: Glowy red equals boss mob. But we rammed into him headlong without any strategy anyway. As we attacked the Sith soldier, a giant creature escaped from its cage. On the surface, it looked just like many of the other creatures we had defeated multiple times, but to our surprise, he flattened us pretty quickly.

The next time, we knew that the Jedi Knight should take on one of the mobs while the Trooper tanked the other, right? Wrong! The Jedi Knight attacked the same mob as the Trooper, so we all wiped again. I leaned over to the Knight and expressed to him that it may be a good idea for him to not attack the same thing as everyone else. I wasn't really yelling at him; it was loud in the building, so I had to raise my voice. Apparently, he was averse to having a dirty scumbag of a Smuggler telling him what to do. We all died for a third time. By then, our time was up, and the best I could do was go complain to my friends -- which I did.

Taral V was a great instance to reveal to the general public where the game stands mechanically. It also gave the audience a chance to see the MMO side of the game and the multiplayer dialogue system. The UI was pretty good. I did, however, find myself staring at it more than the action on the screen. Perhaps that is the nature of being a healer. I did have tremendous amount of fun despite not winning the flashpoint. Thank you, BioWare. I cannot wait to play it again!

Force-leap on to page two, where Eliot will give his own impressions of the hands-on!


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!

This article was originally published on Massively.
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