Disclaimer: This article originally appeared over the weekend on our PAX East 2011 coverage hub. Travel there to read more previews, interviews and features from the expo.
Saturday morning at PAX East the media was allowed to storm the show floor for a full hour of free time before the doors opened to the public. I headed straight for the EA booth where I spent the entire hour with the fine folks at BioWare checking out their upcoming Star Wars game. Star Wars: The Old Republic is a fully voiced, story-driven MMORPG.
First I was ushered into a small booth with about 20 other members of the press. We sat down and enjoyed a short video showing off a new four-man instance called Taral V. This flashpoint, as BioWare calls it, is a heavily guarded Imperial outpost, which is holding an important Jedi captive. Guess who gets to break his ass out.
Along with the description of the instance, BioWare showed us the four classes we’d be playing in the hands-on demo. The Trooper would act as our tank, a Jedi Knight would provide melee damage as well as supporting the tank in tough spots, a Jedi Consular unloaded ranged force abilities and the Smuggler class acted as the healer and support role. Don’t worry though; roles such as these are not locked into each class. Players can customize their characters to excel at whichever roll fits their play-style. Multiple classes will be capable healers, tanks or DPS. That’s not to say a Smuggler should attempt to tank and expect results, you just don’t always have to heal or always deal damage.
We received a short explanation of each class and the spells that coincided with their role for the instance. We also witnessed group dialogue whereby all party members initiate conversation with an NPC, chose their response, and wait for a random roll from 1-100 to determine which player’s line is used. Again, this is a fully voiced game. Every option, for every class, for every possible NPC interaction will have that special BioWare flare. As a Star Wars fan, the music and characters immediately felt familiar.
When the video was finished we left the first booth and headed in groups of four to the testing stations. I sat down at the Smuggler and quickly looked over my spells. The developers were kind enough to start us off with level 32 characters whose hot bars were full with unlocked abilities. Each class has at least one unique buff for himself and his party and some form of health and resource regeneration outside of combat.
Anxious to get into the action, my group ran up to Jedi Master Oteg (think Yoda with a grittier voice, less giggling and not constantly thinking about food).
Once all four of us had selected Oteg, the dialogue began. We were given the opportunity to respond in a few different ways ranging from sympathetic to annoyed. Unfortunately for my group, my rolls were hot that morning, and Oteg was met with mostly snide, sarcastic remarks.
Players are meant to take their time with the dialogue, choosing their words carefully to build favor and develop the story. But we weren’t concerned with that. Each player clicked their response almost as soon as they were given the option. We wanted to get down to the surface and put the fight to those Imperial bastards ASAP. That, and we only had a limited amount of time at the booth.
We finished with Oteg and were directed to the hanger bay where a stolen shuttle awaited us. Having an Imperial ship at our disposal allowed us to bypass some of the outpost’s forces and hopefully allow for a hasty escape.
On the surface of Taral V we got our first taste of the action with a few reptile-like mobs on the outskirts of the base. Our trooper ran in guns blazing while the Jedi Knight swung away with his lightsaber. The Consular waited back with me for a moment before using the force to lift up a large object and then sent it flying into the reptile. I tried to take all the visuals in while keeping an eye on the party’s health.
Once we reached some imperial troops, the real fun began. The sound of blasters firing and sabers swinging filled my headphones. I remembered from our tutorial that players could take cover behind objects so I rolled over towards a fallen log and quickly ducked behind it. I only popped up to cast a heal on the tank or throw a thermal charge at the group of enemies (god, that felt so good).
The graphics have been improved since the last in-game footage I’ve seen, but are not the main focus of the game. Thankfully satisfaction is available in other forms. Targeting proved to be an issue a couple of times, but our party kept a good pace as long as the Trooper was taking all of the punishment.
We didn’t run into any big problems until multiple groups were pulled by mistake, or the Knight and Trooper got separated and each started taking heavy damage. The energy resource for me to use is far from infinite but regenerates at a good pace. Being that this was my first hands-on experience with the game, I found the situations either too easy or nearly impossible to keep up with. Again, none of us were familiar with most of the abilities at our disposal so I’ll chalk up our loss to inexperience.
We fell short right at the end of the demo where our party was mowed down by a Sith Captain and his large beast companion. We still walked away with a smile on our faces.