This year at E3 has been the 3rd time that I got the chance to experience Star Wars The Old Republic. It has been great to see the different stages of the games development over the last three years. Three years ago we got our first look at the game and saw the early HUD and the combat system in action. We were introduced to the basics of the game and the plan the team had in place for SWTOR. Last year we had our first real hands-on with the game and got a feel for the combat system and got to experience the vast worlds the team at Bioware was creating for the game.
This year I was able to spend a solid hour playing the game and ran through two different demos. One demo was a starting demo that had me take control of a level 1 smuggler. The second demo was of a level 26 Sith Marauder, an advanced specializations for the Sith Warrior. Before I get into my thoughts on the demos, here are a few things to know before you ask: there was no new information on crafting or on space combat.
I’ll start with the advanced level demo. As the close combat Sith Maruder I was a duel lightsaber wielding badass. My abilities consisted of various melee attacks and strength/agility buffs. This was a difficult character to play solo even with my companion laying down some cover fire. When being attacked by multiple enemies, I had to keep an eye on my health and use a crowd-control smash move that would stun multiple enemies in-order to survive. It was also important to heal myself once the dust settled.
Speaking of companions, they are a nice addition and will help those that want to solo have a much less stressful experience. Each companion will have his own abilities and there is an action-bar for him in the lower left corner. It did seem like I needed to micro-manage my companion a bit in battle as his powerful abilities didn’t seem to have an auto-attack option.
The other thing with the advanced demo was to see the on-planet vehicles. I had a simple speeder which I was able to summon when out of battle. The vehicle had no types of weapons, and as long as you weren’t taking damage, you could move along to your destination rather quickly.
The HUD is a major part of MMOs and since last year the team has done quite a bit to streamline it. The action-bar at the bottom is stacked two rows high with the top row being tied to your number keys on the keyboard. Opening up your abilities or inventory allows you to drag and drop items or abilities to the various action-bar slots. The map is also very well done. You have a mini-map in the bottom corner which has your quest points of interests as well as dots for any alerted or attacking enemies. Opening the full world map will show you the entire area you are in, and if you start to move the map, it will become more transparent on its own, allowing you to see which way to go while seeing what’s going on around you. I thought the HUD was good last year, but this year it’s even better.
My second demo saw me taking a level one smuggler on her first quest of the game. After the lovely voiced cutscene, I was on my way to deactivate a computer. Of course, along the way I found some resistance. Unlike the Sith Warrior, the Smuggler is a blaster-wielding class and has the ability to use cover. Having very light armor, learning the cover system is very important, and I’m glad to say it’s an easy system. When you are in battle, a green hologram of yourself will pop up at spots you can use as cover. Hitting R will see you roll or run to the cover. Once in cover, you can then start unleashing your various blaster attacks. The cover system is one of the many aspects of SWTOR that makes it special and a great change form other MMOs. For the most part the system worked, though at times, I thought I was near places of cover but the marker wouldn’t show up. I found myself moving around quickly till I found a spot, and most times I was good, though other times I would pull other mobs and then find myself getting attacked from both ends.
Luckily when you die there is a neat system in place. Throughout the world their are medics, and if you die you can re-spwan at a medic. This acts less like a graveyard and more like a checkpoint. The other option you’ll have sometimes is a media droid that can come and revive you, usually the re-spawn has a quicker wait time than the media droid.
Overall, Star Wars The Old Republic has come a very long way in the last three years. The team has created an amazing living world that once populated by Star Wars fans will be a blast to play. I’m still very interested in the game’s crafting system, and how gather will work and play into the experience. I said it years ago but, SWTOR is going to be one the the most accessible MMOs out there and that statement remains true. I can assure the hardcore MMO fans that Bioware hasn’t dumbed the genre down. They just took all the good parts of MMOs and then created an amazing story. Even though I only played two characters this week, I can tell you that each class is unique in both gameplay and story. You will never see the same quests or same storyline when playing different classes. While no release date or beta date was revealed, judging by my experience we should be hearing good news soon.