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Hands-On SWTOR Impressions from E3 2011

Updated Wed, Jun 08, 2011 by Ethec

While much of the pre-E3 SWTOR excitement revolved around the 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 Star Wars: The Old Republic.

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.

star wars the old republic

The demo group was composed of a Jedi Knight (specced with the Guardian advanced 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 typeset.

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.

star wars the old republic

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 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 SWTOR demo without the BioWare team reinforcing the 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.

star wars the old republic

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.

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