GDC10: Hands-on with Star Wars: The Old Republic

Shawn Schuster
S. Schuster|03.15.10

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GDC10: Hands-on with Star Wars: The Old Republic
I could easily spend this article telling you about the amazing LucasArts Presidio compound, its history and the incredible relics of the Star Wars universe adorning the walls and hallways. But I won't. I could also easily go on and on about how George Lucas and Star Wars inspired my childhood, and how even setting foot in the presence of such greatness was a bit overwhelming. But I won't.

Instead, I will focus on the only reason you're reading this: my first impressions of Star Wars: The Old Republic and the Trooper class.

Once we arrived at LucasArts HQ, we were introduced to a few members of the LucasArts and BioWare crew, then we each sat down to our very own computer with our very own Trooper class character set up to run through our very own test mission. Although we weren't playing together in the game, we were all set up in the same location to run the same mission.

Interestingly enough, we weren't really given an overview of the game or an intro to the gameplay. They sat us down and told us to have fun. There was a print-out of a small cheat-sheet for help with the mission if needed, but I was honestly stuck to the monitor from the second I sat down.

I started out by talking to a quest-giving NPC standing near me. A cinematic-style dialogue started, with a fully-voiced exchange between my character and the NPC. My answers to the NPC's questions were based on a few choices, ranging from positive and agreeable to frankly argumentative. Against my best instincts to always cause problems for NPCs in games, I agreed to the terms of the mission and headed off towards the giant base just up the hill.

At first, I aimlessly wandered up towards some enemies, not realizing they wanted to blast me, until they actually did. I quickly figured out how to retaliate, killing both guards quite easily. As I made my way through the rest of the base, I realized that not only is the combat extremely easy to grasp, but it's easy to master as well. There is no auto attack, so you feel more involved in what you're doing. The skills are clearly labeled, the cooldowns on each are distinct and the mouse-over tips are brief enough to understand with a quick glance-over during intense combat.

I also noticed after a few battles that I wasn't really getting hurt. I'm not sure if this is something special with the Trooper class itself, the way the demo was set up for a bunch of journalists, or just the way the game is, but I was beginning to feel quite invincible, taking on 3-4 guards or sentry bots at once.

Additionally, my aggro range seemed really small. I was running between clusters of guards without as much as a warning shot. They seemed to completely not see me.

Once I made my way through waves of guards (by fighting or just passing by), I entered an elevator to a lower floor. As a testament to how comprehensive the quest log, map and quest indicators on the map were, I was able to easily find my objective on the base's lower floor. The computer I was commissioned to hack was shimmering (as any Champions Online or Star Trek Online fan might recognize), so it was easy to find exactly where I needed to be.

I encountered a few more cinematic interactions with NPCs throughout the base, and each one was entertaining enough to halt that temptation to skip. While my character and the NPCs talked, the camera angles changed regularly, showing every possible angle of work they put into making these discussions immersive and believable.

We were given around 45 minutes to play to our hearts' content, although once I completed the mission and started wandering around outside the base, I was gently reminded to stick to the base area -- curse my exploring nature! Even though those 45 minutes flew by, I was able to get a real feel for how the game is played and even how I believe the game will be received.

So to break it down by category, let's take a look at a summary of my first impressions:

Easy, comprehensive and immersive. The blaster effects and explosions from the grenade launcher were very well done. I could take cover, the enemies took cover, and I felt like I was really fighting for my life. Even if my health bar barely moved.

At level 4, the Trooper is equipped with a normal blaster skill, an auto-fire skill, a grenade launcher skill, a rifle-butt melee attack and a sticky bomb. It took me only a few moments to get the hang of crowd control with the rifle butt's stun and a few well-placed grenades to make quick work of the small groups of guards.

I felt that the enemy AI was a refreshing change, as they took cover and used the environment to their advantage. The respawn rate was practical, as I could run back by an area and see the fruits of my handiwork still lying around in various positions of death. That was actually a fun little addition.

Graphics/Art Style
Gorgeous landscapes and environments. Realistic lighting effects, shadows and character animations. As with most MMOs, the character's faces aren't the greatest (especially during cut-scenes), but I think the stylized look of the characters mixed with the more realistic look of the environments works really well. Basically, the screenshots you've seen so far aren't lying. The game really does look that good.

Comprehensive, concise and clearly-labeled. The meat of the lore and interaction is taken care of in the voiced cinematics, so checking back with your quest log gives you a brief summary of your objectives. That was very welcome, but you need to pay attention during the cinematics.

The quest objectives are marked by a yellow circle on the map showing you the general vicinity of where you need to be. This allows you to get within the perimeter, but doesn't hold your hand too much.

Immersive, interactive and entertaining. Despite a few camera angle bugs that I'm sure they'll fix by launch, it was nice to watch a typical wall of text in any other MMO become a short movie in which I could control the outcome. Let me remind you, this is not on one or two quests, this is every quest. The voice acting I experienced by a half-dozen voices was done very well. There was never a point where I felt it was done cheaply or felt awkward, as I regularly encounter in other games with voice work.

Overall, I am extremely impressed by this game. I'm pleased to see that they didn't try to reinvent the wheel on game basic game play, but at the same time, they didn't just cut and paste from more popular games. This is a BioWare game on a LucasArts property, so you just know it's going to be done right, and from what I've seen so far, it is done right.

But how well will it be received? Of course, that's hard to predict, but coming from someone who has played hundreds of games and doesn't consider himself TOO much of a Star Wars fanboy, I can see this game being a big hit. It's approachable, understandable and really quite fun. Now I can't wait to get it home at launch and try out the rest of the classes.

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!
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