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Speculating on combat in Star Wars: The Old Republic

Kyle Horner

Even though Star Wars: The Old Republic is now officially a real game, we still know very little about it aside from slivers of information BioWare has been able to share with us. What we know even less about is the combat system, which has simply been described as "choreographed" much like the battles featured in the Star Wars films. Thankfully, this little nugget of information gives us a springboard into what combat in the online Old Republic could be like, and while it's not much, it's definitely a start.

The best place to begin at is, well, the beginning. During many of my past discussions with friends and colleagues about KOTOR and KOTOR II, one thing consistently came up: the combat in those games translates well into an MMO. Generally speaking, I agree with this sentiment -- although not without a couple of caveats.

Obviously an MMO can't have a combat system that allows for pausing. As nice as being able to pause the action at any moment can be in KOTOR I & II, it's out of the question for Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The next major topic to tackle is combat speed. Should the game be slow and methodical or fast and twitchy? You can't have both, because they're contradicting design philosophies. While a game can sit somewhere in the middle, it's always going to lean at least a little bit towards one direction. This is where the "choreographed" hint comes into play. If BioWare is trying to create battles that look as amazing as any of the ones we've seen in the movies, then chances are the game is going to tilt slightly more towards slower and methodical. I say this, because twitchy gameplay most certainly does not look choreographed.

If you ever played the Jedi Knight games, just think of that combat system. Most of the time, players looked like Jedi on a combination of speed and hallucinogens. It did look cool, but in the way that a cat hopped up on catnip and adrenaline looks cool while chasing it's own tail. Or in other words, it only looked cool for a little bit, but then you started to realize that your character just looked kind of silly.

Imagine the KOTOR combat system, only now instead of just standing there swinging swords or shooting a blaster, your character is moving about as the camera follows him or her. Nothing too major, but a few steps here, a leap into the air there -- swashbuckling more or less. Strangely enough, the newest SWTOR screens almost seem to support this theory. Just take a look:

So while it's way, way too early to get into any sort of detail I can most certainly say this: SWTOR combat is going to look action-y, but it may not actually play that way. It may even have controls that at first seem like an action-combat game, but I'm fairly convinced that ultimately the game will play quite a bit like the original games. You'll have abilities, you'll maybe even queue some of them up -- but when the animations play out, suddenly it's like you're watching the duel between Obi Wan, Quai Gon and Darth Maul in Episode One. I know a lot of people who played Matrix Online are thinking about that game's combat system right now, but I'm not really sure if we're going to get something that extreme.

I think we're going to get safe over risky, especially since it sounds like a lot of effort is being put into breaking new ground through story-telling in the game. Jade Empire was BioWare's first stab at action/RPG, and that game certainly had problems. Mass Effect was a better example but wasn't exactly perfect. My guess is that BioWare won't risk making the combat feel "off" by incorporating some sort of iffy real-time element. Instead we'll get a system that feels action-based in many ways -- it'll probably be quite satisfying, too -- but will actually be more turn-based than anything else.

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