long time ago in a Galaxies far, far away… *queues theme
the Final Frontier
OLD REPUBLIC STRIKES BACK
It was a dark time for Star Wars fans. When SOE’s
target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Star Wars Galaxies
was released in 2003, combat never
fully lived up to expectations, forcing many fans to retreat.
Evading the dreaded NGE, players instead turned to BioWare’s
of the Old Republic to get
their Star Wars fix. Earning praise
of fans and critics alike, it was obvious BioWare was onto something
Ever since, MMO players have been obsessed with the idea of a Star Wars
title set in the Old Republic timeline. Now that href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/1422"
target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Star Wars: The Old
become official, everyone is excited to see what BioWare has planned
in SWG somehow missed its mark.
Long ago though it may be, I can still recall the day I experienced the
Star Wars universe for the first time. The sun was high in the evening
sky as I made my way into the tiny local theater, only to be replaced
by a blanket of stars by the time I emerged a couple of hours later. In
that span of time, my young, impressionable mind underwent a similar
transformation: Having witnessed the start of what would ultimately
become a global phenomenon, my lifelong passion for all things sci-fi
More than two decades later, style="font-style: italic;">Star Wars Galaxies
was unleashed on the masses. By that point I’d already
discovered an equally intense passion in the form of MMOs, thanks to
the three years I spent playing href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/38"
target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest.
At the time, the marriage of those two things – Star Wars and
MMOs – seemed too good to be true, and in many ways that
proved to be the case much to the dismay of diehard fans like myself. I
quickly discovered that, though the world may have looked the part,
combat in SWG simply wasn’t style="font-style: italic;">fun.
It was as though EQ were re-skinned with a Star Wars theme, and
somewhere along the line the excitement of combat scenarios got lost in
translation. What followed is now cemented in MMO history books, for
better or worse.
With a new Star Wars MMO on the horizon in the form of
BioWare’s style="font-style: italic;">Star Wars: The Old
Republic, it’s hard
to deny a certain sense of déjà vu. Many of the
same questions are being asked, but one in particular stands out from
the rest – how will BioWare handle combat, and can the
developer improve upon what was previously done in Galaxies?
Over the years, BioWare has developed a unique approach to role-playing
games, with each successive title building on the strengths of those
that came before. There’s a direct progression from early
games such as style="font-style: italic;">Baldur’s Gate
Neverwinter Nights up to the
more recent style="font-style: italic;">Mass Effect
in terms of story, character development and combat mechanics. Combat
in particular has drawn heavily from d20 systems, which should come as
no surprise considering BioWare’s roots in the Forgotten
Realms AD&D setting.
This system was also used to great effect in the original style="font-style: italic;">Knights of the Old
Republic, and could very well
serve as a basis for combat mechanics in The Old Republic. Mind you,
the combat system in Galaxies is just a highly modified d20 system as
well, but the key difference here isn’t so much in the math
going on behind the wizard’s curtain, but rather in how
characters ultimately interact with, and react to their environments.
Though little is currently known about the combat systems in The Old
Republic, BioWare has stated that it will be a more choreographed
experience, which makes sense if you’ve ever watched some of
the impressive lightsaber duals in the Star Wars films. This
isn’t two people standing toe-to-toe and haphazardly swinging
at their opponent, nor is it the kind of circle-strafe nonsense that
melee in many popular MMOs ultimately boils down to. Star Wars melee
has always been about fluid, graceful movements and ultimate spatial
awareness thanks to a strong connection to the Force.
awareness should factor heavily into ranged combat.
This naturally extends to ranged combat as well. As a recent poster
target="_blank">in our forums
pointed out, one issue with ranged combat in Galaxies was that blasters
were about as effective as a high powered flashlight, which is in sharp
contrast to the deadly beams of energy they emitted in the Star Wars
films. Looking at past BioWare titles, this is another area the
developer nailed perfectly. Avoiding incoming fire is often just as
important as getting a clear shot at your enemies, who typically make
the latter extremely difficult.
Some of that was made much easier in previous BioWare single player
RPGs thanks to the ability to pause the game and consider tactics.
Turning that feature off not only ramps up the difficulty, but makes
combat an exhilarating experience. Being an MMO, I highly doubt that
players will be able to pause the action in TOR to consider tactical
options in the heat of battle, but I’m all for keeping the
same sense of urgency once the pause option is removed.
Companion AI has been another staple of BioWare titles over the years,
so I was thankful to learn this will also play a key role in the world
of The Old Republic. These aren’t simple pets you summon with
a spell, or a cat you found roaming around the Ghostlands, but living,
breathing characters in their own rights. Not only will your companions
have an impact on how story is presented in TOR, but if their use in
previous games is any indication, their inclusion can add a new layer
of depth to combat situations since players need to consider not only
their own actions, but those of their companions as well.
A similar approach to player-controlled pets has already proven to be
extremely popular in other massively multiplayer titles such as href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/47"
target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Guild Wars,
which has an entire arena tournament series specifically for solo
players using their heroes in battle. The beauty of that system lies in
letting players make all of the important decisions up front, in terms
of which abilities your heroes will use or what weapons they wield.
From there, issuing commands on the fly is a breeze thanks to a simple
UI interface. Still, this can really ramp up the fun factor in combat
once you get begin to consider not just your own skill set, but those
of your companions as well.
If any of that sounds familiar, it should, as BioWare has proven a firm
understanding of how friendly AI should function across numerous
titles. When you consider that these NPCs will also carry the weight of
potential emotional attachment, it only serves to add yet another layer
of depth to combat situations. After all, who wants to see their
friends fall in battle?
Log: Stardate 2090.9
combat should be fluid and graceful.
Being a long time fan of both the Star Wars IP and BioWare’s
previous RPGs, simply saying I’m excited to experience TOR is
a gross understatement. Though I did play Galaxies at different points
in its various combat incarnations, the game never really grabbed me
from a combat perspective. Running backwards in circles while shooting
just felt wrong
in a Star Wars setting, even if it might be perfectly normal in other
genres or settings. Deflecting blaster fire with a lightsaber should
link directly to your connection to the Force – not to an
arbitrary stat that you boosted by putting on a new pair of boots.
While I’ve only scratched the surface as to what we can
expect BioWare to do differently with combat in TOR, some more concrete
answers will be coming your way soon. “How soon”,
you may ask? On Thursday, the 19th at 7PM EST, some of the fine folks
from BioWare will be dropping by for a very special Vooncast in the Ten
Ton Events room on Voon! The topic of discussion will be combat in TOR,
so I highly recommend being there on the 19th. If you don’t
already have the Voon client installed, you can get it right href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/voon" target="_blank">here,
and then check out the rest of our href="http://forums.tentonhammer.com/showthread.php?t=40268"
In the meantime, what are your thoughts on TOR combat? Join in on the
discussion right here in our forums, or you can always feel free to
send a virtual carrier pigeon to href="mailto:[email protected]">my inbox!
Until next time, dear readers, this is Captain Sardu, signing off!
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