E3 2011

E3: Star Wars: The Old Republic

| 10 Jun 2011 17:38

The Jundland Wastes are not to be traveled lightly.

I honestly think I could give the Star Wars: The Old Republic demo myself by now. I've seen the game so many times that I can recite the litany of the four pillars in my sleep. I know by heart the beats in the rehearsed claim that this game is Knights of the Old Republic 3...and 4, 5, 6, 7, etc... Story and choice? I know all about it. Fully voiced? Yep, been there and done that. In the end, as much as I'm looking forward to the game, which is a lot, I tend to spend the first ten minutes of each demo waiting to hear some concrete details that prove the game will live up to the claims.

Thankfully, the second half of these demos usually contains a few new bits of information. This time around we finally got some information on the multiplayer dialogue system and the high level raids, which in The Old Republic are called Operations. Along the way, we also got our first look at Alderaan and had a chance to drive the new player vehicles through the Jundland Wastes. At our level, they're not quite like Landspeeders or Speeder Bikes. These are more like intergalactic Rascals or Segways. Still, it's nice to run over Sandpeople.

The mission in the demo takes place in Castle Panteer on the world of Alderaan. As the last of a massive ten-part story arc on the planet, this showdown between the player and the rebellious nobleman Bouris Ulgo, who has seized control of the Castle, is the culmination of hours and hours of play. The party moving in to take him down includes a Jedi Counselor who selected the healing Sage advance class, a gunslinging Smuggler, a Jedi Knight who took the tank-focused Guardian specialization, and a Trooper who has been promoted to the rank of Commando.

The Force powers and cover system and suppression mechanics featured are nothing new, but they do highlight the cinematic, cooperative nature of combat. What really struck my eye was the new multiplayer conversation model. This has been a big unknown in the game, and one that BioWare has struggled to solve. To try to make every player part of the action, each player makes his or her own decision about what should be said during a conversation and a random die roll determines which player's option is actually spoken.

To help prevent players from manipulating each other's Light or Dark Side status, you'll earn Light or Dark Side points based on what you chose to say, even if the player chosen to speak picks a different response. If, for instance, you chose to spare an opponent's life but the party spokesperson at that moment chooses to kill him, you'll still get the Light Side points for wanting to do the right thing.

It'll take multiple groups to take on the game's raids, which are called Operations. These end-game challenges require loads and loads of skilled, powerful players. We saw a bit of one called The Eternity Vault, where players are tasked with protecting the contents of a massive fortress where particularly dangerous enemies and technologies are kept. The in-game movies showed fights against massive walking war machines, races across narrow bridges floating above pits of energy, and an encounter with what must surely be one of the toughest enemies held in the prison. Of course, just before things got good, the demo was over.

I suppose one of the problems is that the things BioWare is promising are hard to demo. If it truly does matter in the long run what your character does or doesn't do, you can't make that apparent with a lot of awkward transitions and some smoke and mirrors. BioWare hinted that a beta might not be far off, so we're hoping we have a chance soon to see if the game lives us to the substantial promises that have been made.

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