Posted by Chris Scott Barr on Jun 10, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic Hands-On [E3 2011]

At this year’s E3, there were a lot of games shown off, and certainly no shortage of MMO’s. However, the one I had my eye on has remained the same for several years now. I’m of course talking about Star Wars: The Old Republic. Being a huge fan of the Star Wars universe, (as well as a disappointed fan of Star Wars Galaxies) I’ve been looking forward to seeing what BioWare can do in the MMO genre.

I was able to spend a bit of time with a hands-on demo of the game. I took on the role of a higher-level character, so that I could jump straight into the action. My character for the demo was a level 26 human smuggler. She had a companion droid that would help out with cover fire, and could be upgraded to do a bit of healing in the battlefield. You could also converse with the companion, though it wasn’t always up for chatting.

My character was in the midst of a World Quest. If you’re not familiar with the term, these are a chain of quests found on each world, that take you through a complex story, with each lasting several hours. I was on the planet of Tatooine, where I was sent to dispatch a group of Tusken Raiders, who had stolen something rather valuable.

After jumping on my speeder bike, I headed across the desert to the location I was given. As promised, there were a group of the sand people who were more than happy to give me my first taste of combat. The first thing I did was make sure that my companion was out and set to lay down cover fire. Then, I set down my portable cover and prepared my attack.

The portable cover system was really interesting, and not something that I have seen in other MMO’s that I’ve played. When I think of a smuggler caught in a shoot-out, I usually picture them hiding around a corner and poking out to make shots that count. This portable cover really added to that part of the experience.

From there, I was able to line up a number of ranged attacks to take down my enemies. A combination of blaster fire and thrown explosives kept the fight interesting, but certainly flowing in my favor. After picking up the item I was looking for, I went on to find a Sith that was hiding out nearby. I found him in a cave, after fighting my way through more of the raiders.

Once found, we discover that the Sith we’re after is on the brink of death. I approached him and began a conversation. Instead of having mouth movements with lines of text, this conversation (like every other in the game) was completely voiced. Also, unlike many other MMO’s, my conversation with this NPC is not straightforward. Instead, I am given a number of choices throughout the conversation, each of which not only leads you down the dark or light path, but also determines what happens after you are finished talking. In this case, I could either slay the sith in anger, or leave him to possibly recover.

What is really interesting is that the choices you make in these conversations don’t just influence what happens immediately after you stop talking, but rather it can impact what happens later on in the game. Since my demo only lasted a limited amount of time, I wasn’t able to see how these choices impacted later gameplay. Also, the choices aren’t just limited to conversations with NPCs. I encountered an item that I could destroy, so as to prevent someone else from reading it. I’ll be interested to see how far they take these choices in the finished product.

Overall, the game did play like many traditional MMO’s. However, the voiced dialogue and the ability to make choices in your conversations really made it a step above others I’ve played in the past. I like knowing that I’m not on a linear path, and that even in small ways, I can make a difference in how the game plays out for me. I’ll be looking forward to seeing the full finished product when it is released.

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