Hands-On SWTOR Impressions from E3 2011

Ten Ton Hammer travels from Los Angeles to the Republic stronghold of Alderaan, to Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tattooine, and even to the remote prison planet of Belsavis to bring you the latest on Star Wars: The Old Republic!

While much of the pre-E3 style="font-style: italic;">SWTOR
excitement revolved around the href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/swtor/news/intro-cinematic">opening
cinematic - in which the Sith
return in force to their home planet of Korriban - BioWare shifted the
focus to Alderaan for the E3 presentation and then to Tattooine for a
hands-on demo of style="font-style: italic;">Star Wars: The Old

Castle Panteer, UI Changes,
and Group Dialogue

First up in the presentation, we were treated to a bit of group content
centered on Castle Panteer in Alderaan. A Republic team was dispatched
to the temperate planet to deal with Bouris Ulgo, who had recently
taken advantage of the strife connected with the Siths' return to usurp
Alderaan’s throne.

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The demo group was composed of a Jedi Knight (specced with the Guardian
class, taking the role of tank),
a Jedi Councelor (a Sage /
the healer), plus a Smuggler (Gunslinger/DPS), and a Trooper (Commander
/ DPS). The mini gun-wielding trooper and the dual-pistoling Smuggler
were remarkably true to their representation in the Blur trailer, right
down to their out-of-combat posturing and combat flair animations.

After the surprisingly nuanced animation, the second thing I noticed
was that the UI had been gutted and replaced with a  minimum
of decoration. The change was a direct response to player feedback,
according to Lead Writer Daniel Erickson: "One thing our beta feedback
told us was that MMO players don't like a pixel of screen real estate
wasted." Happily, this change included a new, flowing font –
a definite improvement over the previous free-to-playish sans serif

The group easily moved through the blast-pocked castle, winning through
to the throne room as the Guardian used his signature force pull and
the Trooper tossed area-of-effect grenades. The throne room was a huge
“story area” – meaning it’s
only accessible to players who have a certain mission or have completed
certain objectives. Additionally it’s an instanced area for
one player and their group – no outside help can come in.

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Inside, Bouris Ulgo awaited, and the first group dialogue of the demo
began. As Ulgo japed, the team decided, individually, how to respond.
Each response got a value of 1-100 and the highest score become the
team’s response. This was the lowlight of the demo
– I had hoped that style="font-style: italic;">SWTOR
would use a weighted scheme – meaning dialogue options got
the percentage chance, not the player. As it stands, one player could
pick the dark side option and the other three opt for the light side,
and the dark option stands an equal chance of winning. That said,
players are assessed dark and light side points based on their
individual choice, regardless of the group’s action. Still,
I’d like to see the popular option stand a better chance of
winning out.

In any case, there were no dark or light side points to be had with
Ulgo – it was just a bit of chest pounding before the battle.
The team took out four shield generators protecting Ulgo, but left the
outcome of the battle in question. We would have to decide
Ulgo’s fate when we reached that encounter in the live game.

Impactful Choice

It wouldn’t be a style="font-style: italic;">SWTOR
demo without the BioWare team
reinforcing the style="font-style: italic;">SWTOR
ideal of impactful choice.  In a brief
encounter on Tattooine, an area of the game never before revealed to
the public, but a desert planet familiar to Star Wars fans as Luke
Skywalker’s homeworld.

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As a Jedi Knight, we’d defeated a Sith – Lord
Praven. Kneeling, with his head bent, Praven commends you to take his
life. The player is presented with three options, one dark side
(“As you wish.”), one darker side (“Die,
Sith scum.”) and a light side option (“No, there is
good in you still.”) The dark side options are obvious, and
make an end of the matter. But should the player choose the light side,
Praven eventually becomes a Jedi.

A cutscene from later in the game showed Praven giving thanks. Whether
or not this leads to other good things – Praven helping you
out on a mission or some such – is yet to be determined, but
at least lighter side players can get a warm fuzzy feeling.

The Belsavis Operation

To close the presentation, BioWare offered us a quick glimpse at
Operations, the style="font-style: italic;">SWTOR
equivalent of raids. How many players Operations
will allow is still in question – “All
we’re saying now is more than one group,” Erickson
noted – but footage put me in mind of those too-few epic
moments from the first three style="font-style: italic;">Star Wars
films where hordes of Jedi and
Sith fought alongside their blaster wielding brothers and sisters. Only
the PvP Warfronts footage has, as of yet, evoked similar feelings of
sheer combat scale.

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The setting was Belsavis, a planet in the ninth quadrant that interned
the most ferocious prisoners of the ancient Infinite Empire. Inside the
Belsavis prison, an unwitting scouting party has opened the Eternity
Vault and allowed some majorly bad, Force-infused juju to escape (my
words, not theirs). The Republic wants to seal the vault for all time,
while the Empire is intrigued by its possibilities. So, while the two
factions will never compete directly for the prison (it’s PvE
only), they’ll experience the content in far different ways.

The footage showed the group assaulting massive turrets Normandy
Beach-style, confronting a massive robot straight out of style="font-style: italic;">MechWarrior,
and then venturing inside the Eternity Vault to find a massive, ancient
something (it defied description, sorry) protected by increasingly
ubiquitous golden shield generators. Though brief, it was reassuring to
see something of style="font-style: italic;">SWTOR’s
endgame at long last.

Hands On: Tattooine

The presentation ended, and we were ushered to a nearby room full of
demo stations. We had two options: play a new character and enjoy the
first few levels, or jump into Tattooine at level 25. Naturally I
picked Tattooine, jumping into the shoes of a Bounty Hunter specced for
Mercenary - a more offensive, missile-launching, ranged fighting take
on the class than the defensive-minded Powertech.

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I immediately hopped on my vehicle, a shortened version of style="font-style: italic;">Star
Wars’ trademark
speeders (“We wanted to do
full-size speeders,” Daniel explained, “but things
just got too crowded in town.”) Nonetheless, the style="font-style: italic;">SWTOR
speeder looked cool – sort of like a modern day racing
chariot ridden in a Ben Hur squat with tons of instrumentation and no
horse, of course – and, just as importantly, sounded cool
with a low tingly pulse.

Speeder activated, I was bound for Anchorhead, that wretched hive of
scum and villainy. Daniel said I was welcome to try, but that that area
was currently under Republic control. Getting guard stomped was not the
experience I was looking for, so I moved along.

I found myself with a mission to find Darth Silthar – an
archeology-minded Sith who’d been poking around the
indigenous Sand People’s caves. The Sand People, hostile as
ever, were linked in groups of three, and I suffered a death or two
before Daniel showed me how to bring out one of my fighting companions.

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Dying was actually a good thing – it introduced me to style="font-style: italic;">SWTOR’s
new death mechanic. Inspired by single-player RPGs, in which you only
load a quicksave on death, style="font-style: italic;">SWTOR
allows you to revive in place after waiting 30 seconds for a MedProbe
to arrive. It’s similar to style="font-style: italic;">Rift’s
soul walk system in that you have a short time to stealth walk to
safety, except that you can use it much more than once an hour. Daniel
noted that if you die several times in a short period of time, the
waiting time starts to lengthen from 30 seconds to, say, 2 minutes and
30 seconds. Or, you can wait ten seconds and respawn at a medcenter
(seemingly the only option when you die in a story area).

Learning about some of the unique companions available was one of the
biggest joys of my hands-on time. Each profession had one unique
companion, but I got the short end of the stick with Mako, a healer
full of sassy one-liners. To her credit, Mako also fought ferociously,
but for sheer comic relief she couldn’t hold a candle to
Blizz, a jawa (little hooded guys, yellow eyes, remember?) ranged tank
whose highly irritating taunts could only compare to his natural

Or Scorpio – a HAL-like, weeping angel statue-looking killer
droid whose fondest wish is to be release so, you guessed it, she can
kill you. Scorpio brought back memories of HK-47, a style="font-style: italic;">KotOR
counterpart, or more recently, GlaDOS. Either ones cold, outrageous
dialogue is still welcome in any party of mine.

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Bounty Hunter though I was, I couldn’t seem to stop making
light side dialogue choices. First, finding a mortally wounded Darth
Silthar inside a Sand People cave with information about a hidden camp
with powerful artifacts, I refuse to release him to death. Then, I opt
not to vandalize the Sand People mural which shows the location of said
camp. These decisions earned me bonus “affection”
points with Mako, interestingly, and Daniel took the opportunity to
point out that style="font-style: italic;">SWTOR
companions have their own quests, stories, and just about anything else
you could expect from a style="font-style: italic;">Dragon Age-style

I killed a few more Sand People to complete my somewhat genocidal bonus
objective and returned to the Imperial base, where the local commander
despaired to learn of Silthar’s death. Just then, some
frightening power released by an artifact took control of several
Imperial personnel, turning them into zombies! Well, sort of, they were
under the control of some unspeakable desert power, but they certainly
looked the zombie part.  Sadly, just when things were getting style="font-style: italic;">really
interesting, it was time for me to run to my next appointment.

BioWare Strikes Back

And that’s how every style="font-style: italic;">SWTOR
playsession has been for me; it
might take a while to reel you in, but when it does, you
can’t get enough.

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It’s increasingly banal to talk about story in style="font-style: italic;">SWTOR,
but the
fact of the matter is that style="font-style: italic;">Star Wars
is probably the most comfortable
yet compelling fictional universe ever created.  We knew
BioWare could interpret that fiction better than any other developer in
existence, and now we’re seeing good (if not mindblowingly
original) gameplay come to life around that shared story.

I still have some niggles – how shared decision-making works,
the ultimate “impactful” effect of light and dark
decisions for two – but with the care and responsiveness to
player feedback I’m seeing in the latest build, BioWare has
regained one editor’s trust to take a beloved franchise to
the next level.

So, suffice it to say that if there’s a bright center in the
MMORPG universe, style="font-style: italic;">Star Wars: The Old
Republic is definitely moving
toward it.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Star Wars: The Old Republic Game Page.

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