Star Wars: The Old Republic Crew Skills and Jedi Classes Q&A with Daniel Erickson
Ten Ton Hammer: First, for the first time the press has gotten a chance to play the game for an extended period of time. Even though we’ve had our doubts about the game in the recent past, I can’t believe how deep the experience just through level 7 - it’s more of an RPG experience than I’ve had in an MMOG in a very long time.
Daniel Erickson: Every time we have a discussion, we always try to insist that BioWare games need to be shown in a large chunk because they’re story-driven and so much of it comes from contacts. Trying to show a BioWare game in fifteen minutes is like trying to take your favorite page from your favorite novel and show somebody how good a book it is.
Ten Ton Hammer: Regarding crew skills and companions, help us get our terms straight. What’s the difference between crew and companions. Are crew members just companions that you don’t happen to have with you?
Daniel Erickson: Crew refers to everybody. There’s a little button to despawn your companion. When you despawn your companion, they are available. So you can be standing around waiting for the flashpoint to begin, realize you have ten minutes before you show up, despawn your companions with you, send them on a five minute mission, and wait for them to come back.
Ten Ton Hammer: So crew skills and missions are governed by offline timers?
Daniel Erickson: Yes. You can also take a companion that is with you and send them back to sell all of your gray stuff, which works on the same timer system. Are you willing to be without them for a minute so they go sell all of your junk?
Ten Ton Hammer: That’s one of my favorite features from Torchlight, and I’m glad to see it’s catching on.
Daniel Erickson: We’re all big fans of games, all kinds of games. (laughter)
Ten Ton Hammer: How immersive is the crew skills concept? When you send your crew out to scavenge and stuff like that, are they actually in the world? Could you possibly run into them?
Daniel Erickson: They are not. They are off-screen. They are fictionally in the world, but the world is very big. It’s like telling them to go off somewhere in China to find you something. Your chance of running into them is pretty rare.
"The Consular is much more cerebral. They’re always going to be our scholar, the diplomat, the person who sees what’s happening under the surface. They present two very different play styles."
Daniel Erickson: We haven’t talked about maximums yet. Obviously, all of the classes have their own companions and we wanted there to be enough that you can balance your mini-party. Your actual combat stuff is balanced in a number of ways. You have your advanced class. You have your skill trees within your advanced class. You have which companion character you take, and then you have the AI kits that you give your companion characters. You can go to the vendor, get a healing AI kit, and then give it to your companion. Now, not only do they have a healing skill, but they know how to use it and how to heal appropriately.
You’ve now built a totally different mini-party than you would have you gone with a different advanced class, a different skill tree, gotten the grenade kit, and given that to a more aggro companion character. There are bunches of them in the game, but we’re not talking about how many per class yet.
Ten Ton Hammer: Companions will never replace group mates? And are players limited to having one companion with you at a time?
Daniel Erickson: No. They are definitely not another person in power. And, correct, one companion at a time.
Ten Ton Hammer: I’ve run into a couple of lore objects in the world so far in my play sessions, and lore objects obviously tie into your codex. Could you talk a little bit about what the codex is and what it does for your character?
Daniel Erickson: The codex is a few things. The first thing is that it’s the encyclopedia of what is all this stuff. The rpg always presents an interesting phenomenon because the first time, you are you. You’re supposed to actually be that person who has actually lived in that world for 25 years or so and should understand a lot of the basic concepts of that world. Who are these people? What is this place? Why is this happening? The codex is an ability for us to fill in a bunch of that and a huge amount of backstory. We have so many codex entries for those who want to know how the history works and other stuff because a lot of people really care about that content.
The other thing we did with it is that we spread it out. We put them on different things, and we put a tracker on it that said how many you found, and….boom! We have a collectables game. Some of the codex stuff is stuff you need to know on the critical path. The rest of the codex stuff is spread out over the world and you actually get xp for getting codex entries and whole groups of codex entries.
Ten Ton Hammer: Does that tie in with items at all? Do you get tokens or stuff if you unlock all the important characters?
Daniel Erickson: We haven’t actually talked about anything that deals with achievements or milestones yet.
Ten Ton Hammer: We explored the Jedi Knight class extensively in our Tython preview. Could you talk a little bit about the Consular?
Daniel Erickson: With the Jedi Knight, you got about five minutes pretending that it’s the normal beginning of a BioWare game where you’ll need to learn everything about training, and then everything goes horrible and you go straight into the action. At one point an NPC stops you and says, “If you have any questions, do it now.” You can choose to not do that and be the action star the whole time.
The Consular is much more cerebral. The Consular is exploring a mystery on Tython. They’re dealing with ancient Tython and what happened back in the day and how it’s affecting things now. They’re learning about force wards, and they’re learning about stuff that nobody on the Jedi Council knows about. They’re always going to be our scholar, the diplomat, the person who sees what’s happening under the surface. They present two very different play styles. One of the things that’s interesting about people who have gone through and played both on Tython is that it feels like you are playing two very different games. Even when you’re doing the same side-quests, you’ll notice that your contextualization of them is very different.
"Every time we have a discussion, we always try to insist that BioWare games need to be shown in a large chunk because they’re story-driven and so much of it comes from contacts. Trying to show a BioWare game in fifteen minutes is like trying to take your favorite page from your favorite novel and show somebody how good a book it is."
Daniel Erickson: Absolutely. You’ll notice on your powers page that if you mouse over each of them, it will tell you what derivatives come out of them and that makes it fairly straightforward. Obviously, the ones that give you a better melee attack, you’ll be more interested in as a Jedi Knight, although a Consular could use that. The Consular is the one that deals more with Force powers and stuff like that. The guy with the sniper rifle will be more interested in accuracy.
Ten Ton Hammer: That really is the combat distinction between the Consular and the Jedi Knight. In other words, the Jedi’s melee abilities versus the Consular’s ranged Force powers?
Daniel Erickson: The Consular is very interesting because they’re a middle-ground hybrid that goes in and out of range. They still use their lightsaber for a lot of abilities, but the vast majority of Consular powers are Force powers and not lightsaber powers.
Ten Ton Hammer: As you go forward in the game and start grouping with other players, I assume that the Knight would be a tank or DPS?
Daniel Erickson: The two advanced classes for the Knight do tend to lean in those two directions. The advanced class system exists because we’re already making the game story-wise bigger than every other game we’ve done put together. We pretty topped out at eight. It’s already huge and ridiculous, but for an MMOG, we wanted more classes than that for a variety of gameplay. Each of the advanced classes is basically a full class that we would have done. Under each of the advanced classes is a skill tree that you can entirely differentiate how that advanced class will work. The two primary sections that you would go off with the Knight would be the “do a lot of damage” or “protect everybody.”
Ten Ton Hammer: I noticed at a few points on Tython where it makes sense to group. Are you ever at a point where you have to group to get through the content?
Daniel Erickson: Never. Well, to get through which content is the point. You’ll never be forced to group to get further in your class content. If you can’t progress your class content, you can’t progress in anything. There are plenty of places where groups are helpful; plenty of places where groups are really mandatory. All of the things that are marked heroic mean get a group or don’t try to do this for quite a few levels.
There are also instance areas within a flashpoint that you can do by yourself, but there may be areas within that flashpoint that as soon as you walk into will go “Heroic area!” and you know you should get a group of guys if you want to tackle that area. Never will your forward progress in the game be stifled. If you just an anti-social, people-hating, RPG-loving guy, you could play the whole game like a BioWare game and just pretend that you’re just in an enormous single-player rpg. You would miss a bunch of cool stuff, but you could do it.
Our thanks to Daniel Erickson for this interview.