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E3 2009: Star Wars: The Old Republic demonstration

Alex Ziebart

The trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic blew nerds around the world away, and has managed to build some of the greatest hype possible for an MMO in just a few short days. The question has been asked whether or not a trailer which contains absolutely no gameplay footage should be producing that sort of hype, but that trailer wasn't all that we saw of the upcoming MMORPG at E3. A panel dedicated to The Old Republic had much more to say.

The panel opened up with the stage being set: The Old Republic begins 3,000 years before the rise of Darth Vader, 300 years after the events of Knights of the Old Republic, which would give BioWare an excellent opportunity to define and expand upon key events of Star Wars "pre-history."

The entire presentation laid a significant emphasis on story and story elements. Right from the beginning, the developers lay out it: RPGs have four primary elements. Exploration, combat, progression, and story. The story element is the one most overlooked in MMOs, and The Old Republic intends to address that head on. They intend to embrace story right alongside the other RPG elements. It will be a major player, and not something just used to justify the other elements.

Gallery: Star Wars: The Old Republic Screenshots | 68 Photos

The Old Republic's cinematic trailer was used to drive that point home right off the bat, putting the sacking of Coruscant on display. Immediately after, the subject of 'choice' came into play. If you've played Knights of the Old Republic, you're probably already familiar with what that means. For those that haven't, choice has played a significant role in BioWare's Star Wars games, and will continue to do so. The direction of the story will depend on the choices you make throughout it. An emphasis was placed on the fact that the choices will have real, emotional impact. It was said, "Story drives choice, choice drives action." The choices will carry emotional impact, and have lasting effects.

The Bounty Hunter

The presentation switched to live footage of the Bounty Hunter class that we've seen before. Again, the development team sets the stage: Your are a Bounty Hunter on Hutta, trying to gain entry into the Mandalorian Hunt, the contest in which the Mandalorians search for the greatest Bounty Hunters in the galaxy. The presenter laid out some of the design goals with this campaign: Make the Bounty Hunter feel true to the universe. The bounty hunter's drive is a personal one, and their actions are mercenary in nature.

When this scene began, we were given a firsthand look at what BioWare meant by a "fully voiced" MMO. Each and every character has dialogue, and they speak back and forth in a natural way. Player characters and NPCs alike speak to one another for story events. Right off the bat, all of the characters that are introduced have an obvious personality. There is no dry quest text, it's all cinematic in nature. The Bounty Hunter is faced with some of his first decisions, and the point is made once again that your decisions will impact how characters treat you down the road.

The first glimpse of action is given, and it's very reminiscent of KOTOR. Again, if you've played those, you won't feel at all alienated by SW:TOR's gameplay. The development team makes it clear that you will be fighting multiple opponents at once the whole way through. "Two, three, and sometimes four" enemies at one time. Considering the opening scenario has you potentially becoming one of the greatest bounty hunters in the galaxy, getting beat up by one schmoe in the streets of Hutta would be pretty lame.

The Bounty Hunter's design is intended to feel very much like the Bounty Hunters you've seen in the movies. Their combat involves a lot of gadgets, and they're a ranged class. You'll be using a lot of explosives, a lot of guns and blasters, and the little bit of melee the Bounty Hunter was pulled into involved busting out a flamethrower. Cool? Very cool.

The Smuggler

After the Bounty Hunter sequence came to a close, we were hit with an E3 exclusive: Footage of the new Smuggler class, which will quickly swandive into the hearts of Han Solo fans around the world. Once again, the stage was immediately set for the footage shown: The Smuggler's action takes place on the planet of Ord Mantell. You're in the employ of the Republic (who is trying to squash a Seperatist movement), and just like Han Solo, you're a gun runner. Things aren't going so well, and the Smuggler has been forced into a fight.

The Smuggler is another ranged class, and it was said that they had to find a way for a second ranged class to be iconic in its own way and very different than the Bounty Hunter. Han Solo continued to be the inspiration. The Smuggler uses a unique Cover system, gaining bonuses from finding safe and advantageous places to fire from. You choose a target, and the system points out things for you to hide behind or use to your advantage. Using proper Cover not only offers bonuses, but opens up added abilities for you to use as well.

The goal of the Smuggler is to play smart. Using every advantage you can, keeping the enemy at a disadvantage, and avoiding direct fire in any way possible. The Smuggler, just like the Bounty Hunter, was forced into melee combat to show how the class reacts. The dirty style of fighting didn't go away at all. The Smuggler just takes a cheap shot, then tries to get back at range. I suspect this class will be using a large number of stuns and similar effects.

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