During this year's GDC I got a chance to head out to the super secret LucasArts headquarters for a sit down and demo of their much-anticipated upcoming MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic. We have interviews and further coverage coming later, but for now, we wanted to give you a look into the game from the player's point of view. Being that the demo time was short and only the Trooper class was available for play at the moment, I'll do my best to give you a feel of the game and talk about some of the abilities the Trooper showed off while blasting away at thugs in Ord Mantell.
The characters we were given for the demo were already specced out and equipped with some pretty good gear. We were not max level by any means, and started by running around on the planet of Ord Mantell. The customization options must be widely varied, because my Trooper looked like he ate one too many burgers while sitting in some intergalatic diner.
Still, the armor set looked great and definitely had that Star Wars feel to it, something the team at Bioware and LucasArts are working very hard to capture in the game. I was equipped with a pretty heavy blaster rifle which has a rocket launcher on it and some grenades that stuck to the targets when I threw them. These features were all specific to the Trooper class making him a great ranged and AoE fighter. If enemies got too close, I was able to knock them down with the butt of my blaster and continue shooting as they tried to pick themselves up. Also on the Trooper class, several different styles of shots were available to choose from. The Hammer Shot, from what I remember, was a great burst of lasers which pummeled my foes.
Equipped and ready we went to get our first quest in the game by chatting with an NPC outside a faction base which was separated from the Republic. The dialogue was very typical of Bioware games. You had your list of options to choose from, but the fully loaded voice interaction made things actually move faster. This was a concern of mine going into the demo. As much as I love Dragon Age, after a while the voice options got to be a little too much. Getting the quest and getting into the action worked much faster than I thought.
Turns out, we had to make contact with a few characters inside a base to shut down a force field. There was more to it, but between talking to the LucasArts guys while playing the game, I missed a little. The point is though that the voice over stuff moved faster than I thought and the choices were quick and easy to select.
So, here I am ready to go and blast my way into the base to shut down this force field. I came up on the first group of NPCs. Several of them were standing around a speeder craft of some kind. I targeted one of them and BAM! Let the lasers fly! Oh wait, what? All four of them started attacking me. Two with blasters and two with vibro-blades came charging in after me. So I chose the close combat ones first. I launched a rocket into one of the sword wielding attackers and blew him clean up. Next, I landed my grenade onto the other melee fighter which beeped louder and louder until it exploded, knocking him dead. Now it was time for the other two attackers. I jumped behind the speeder and kept blasting away with my Hammer shots into the shooters. One went down fairly quickly and my rocket launcher cool down ended so I was able to take the other one out with a quick blast.
So my first combat in The Old Republic was in the books. It was fast paced and fun. It held to the standard MMO gameplay we know and love and worked very well. One thing about the Trooper I found out was that while they are not a "cover class" like, say, the Smuggler. While players can use some pieces of cover no matter what class they play, some are better at it than others. In another fight, I was able to run behind a pillar and hide from laser fire. This was great as in many MMOs the blasts would just shoot me straight through the cover anyway. That was not the case here. The combat definitely had a Star Wars feel with the sounds of blaster fire all around. I was impressed with how quickly the combat moved. I had feared that I'd be standing still and firing away, but I was constantly on the move.
I made my way through the base and near where the force field was set up. The map system they had set up for the demo was a good one. The interface looked like something from Star Wars and had clear directions on where to go. It was a blue digital looking map with yellow markers for some of the quest objectives. On my way into the base I passed a very cool looking walker vehicle which was surrounded by battle droids. So I took a shot at one. While a little tougher than the NPCs I had been blasting, the battle droid went down quickly when I hit him with my grenade. It is very cool to see the pulsing beeps of the grenade as it sticks to your target. Beep, Beep, BEEP, BOOM! The droids looked cool and again with the background of the base, walkers, and attack droids, the Star Wars feel was all around.
Inside the base, I followed the map to my main point where I spoke to the NPC involved. After arguing with him a bit (again the choices are all there for your responses when you talk), he gave away three of his comrades who were the ones controlling the force field. I did not choose to blast him outright, but the option was there. I laughed at how my Sith Warrior will eventually answer those scenarios....primarily with his light saber. Anyway, I went after the three separatists and found them huddled together by a control panel. This battle worked out to be a mini boss fight. I took on three characters and was able to walk away with only a few blasts to my armor. They did get me down to half health though. You can also choose to sit and recharge as a Trooper, a skill that helped me after the bosses were down and the room respawned with NPC attackers. After shutting down the force field I was able to make it outside with some serious blasting power and a few rockets from my launcher.
My overall impressions of the hands on demo were good. I was not jumping up and down, but I was also not playing my chosen class. The game definitely impressed with its feel of Star Wars as well as its fast paced game play. I did not have to wait to shoot as my timers cooled down. I also had a lot of skills to choose from if things got rough. The melee knock down and grenades were great in fighting multiple attackers. Though the demo was short, it delivered. We look forward to much more from Star Wars: The Old Republic in the coming months.
Check back at MMORPG.com this week to read our interview with Jake Neri and also our interview with Bioware leaders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk.