Hands-on / Star Wars: The Old Republic

Personally, I’ve always thought that covering an MMO must be a daunting task; so much to see and do, potential technical difficulties in earlier builds and the incredibly confusing game mechanics have meant I’ve never envied those who write about them. Of course, then I found myself in front of Star Wars: The Old Republic at Gamescom and was a bit concerned that I was jumping in at the deep end, despite being a huge fan of the KoToR games.

After a short presentation from the BioWare team that demoed an impressive multiplayer battle, I was moved into a room stacked with screens to play on. Each build had a different class/section, and so continuing the TVGB tradition of setting ourselves apart, I stepped over that Jedi nonsense and sat down to play as a trooper.

As you probably know by now, The Old Republic is a fully voiced MMO, the first of its kind. It’s the first thing to experience, as the demo boots up with me and another trooper inside a walker as it roams the battlefield. Played Mass Effect? Then you’ll be right at home with TOR’s conversation system; you get a handful of replies to pick from that range in attitude and tone, and your character will say something along the lines of what you choose. Seeing as my character was pretty well built, I went the tough-guy route and blabbered on about how I’d crush the enemy and lead the way to victory. This earned the respect of my comrade, but a similar approach in later conversations just offended whoever I was speaking to. You’ve really got to pay attention to what you say to whom, because it can lead to some cool bonuses, or give you a bigger task.

Once our chit chat had gone on long enough, we were rocked by an explosion. It didn’t take us long to find a fire extinguisher and put out the flames, but now we finally had our mission; to head into the enemy base and mess stuff up. And so I left the safety of the walker with “here comes the difficult bit” in mind.

It turns out that I couldn’t have been more at home with The Old Republic. As I said before, I’m a KoToR fan and really that’s all you need to be to jump right in and start blasting away. I was greeted by a small group of enemies as soon as I moved into the new area, but taking them out proved to be as simple as hovering my mouse over them and right-clicking. From there I enjoyed the stat-fest of damage and hit points flying out from the battle, just like the good ol’ days.

A handy list of moves/powers at the bottom helped choose new ways of attacking my foes too; granted there’s only so much one can do with a blaster rifle, but this at least encouraged experimentation.

Up until now, I’d been seeing a very single-player side to TOR, but once I’d made my way inside the base (after a tiny bit of confusion about where to go and who to talk to) I was joined by other players that helped me take care of my objectives. Using a mix of classes was key here, and it helped to have someone by my side healing me throughout the mission. We were making short work of our enemies here, and being part of a team really did add another layer to the experience.

It also made objectives simpler; our mission was to sabotage three antennas, but seeing as we’d all split up into smaller groups, we could each go and take care of one antenna each, allowing for some more solo play that helped you feel like you were contributing to a bigger picture.

Once that was done there was only one last part; to sabotage a crate of enemy supplies. Here we all came back together to make one final push. This part, like the rest of the demo wasn’t especially challenging, meaning no one really had to put much thought/tactics into play other than shooting straight at the enemy. However it’s obvious that this is purely circumstantial; TOR will offer plenty of challenge when it releases.

By the time we’d finished our objective, my time was up and I had to be torn away. Looking back on what I’d played I was pleasantly surprised by how much I’d felt like I was playing the next sequel to KoToR. BioWare have seemingly nailed a whole new genre while staying true to their original fan base.

No matter how much an MMO has enticed me over the years, I’ve always been adamant that I wouldn’t pay a monthly fee for a game. If there was ever going to be an MMO to change that, it just could be The Old Republic.