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Full Beta Preview

Michael Bitton Posted:
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In my various opportunities to play Star Wars: The Old Republic, I’ve never actually played on the Republic side of things, that is, until recently. You see, the kind folks over at BioWare finally allowed the press to sample Star Wars: The Old Republic for an extended period of time and within the comfort of our own homes, though we’ll only be looking at the Republic side of things this time around.

As the team here divvied up our class assignments, I naturally jumped on the Trooper, which was the first class I wanted to play in Star Wars: The Old Republic before I found out there would be an Imperial Agent. Don’t get me wrong, I want to swing a lightsaber just as most of you do, but there is something cool about just being the guy (or gal, in this instance) with a (BIG) gun.

Tell Me a Story

I’m not going to get too specific on some story elements in order to avoid spoilers (though there may be some; you’ve been warned!), but I will touch on the various themes and experiences I played through along the way. Now, with that out of the way…

Your story in Star Wars: The Old Republic begins just like any Star Wars film, with the Star Wars theme blaring as you’re treated to an opening crawl detailing the basic story of your chosen class. Once the crawl completes, the camera pans down into a space scene involving a starship, which is of course a nod to every Star Wars film made. If you’ve never noticed this, well, now you know.

Troopers start out on the mountainous planet of Ord Mantell as a new member of the Republic special forces team Havoc Squad. The first minute or so involved my character being briefed on the situation on the ground by one of my fellow Havoc Squad members while riding aboard a Republic dropship. Things quickly take a turn for the worse as the dropship takes enemy fire, prompting the pilot to make an emergency landing. As the exit ramp opens, I am treated to a wide view of the war torn planet of Ord Mantell before I step out and put my boots firmly on the ground.

Given the warm welcome, it’s pretty easy to tell things are going to get real pretty soon, and BioWare doesn’t disappoint. The soldiers I encountered on my way to the planet’s main Republic base all needed my help, and as they made their desperate pleas for assistance, there was no shortage of the sounds of blaster fire and explosions occurring nearby.

The overall scope of the Trooper’s origin world story centers on the Republic’s struggle against a separatist movement on the planet and the danger of a stolen Republic bomb.  Along the way, I participated in a variety of side quests involving assisting the local population or various members of the Republic military. The class story content and objectives were quite compelling, and the side quests felt fitting, though many of the actual objectives were fairly standard stuff. The addition of story really spices up the formula, however. I certainly can’t stress that enough. If I never see another text box, it wouldn’t be too soon!

The game opened up a lot more once I left Ord Mantell (where I only saw other Troopers and Smugglers) and made my way to Coruscant. Before arriving on Coruscant, I traveled to the Carrick space station in the midst of the Republic fleet. This is the Republic social hub shown off during the TOR main panel at New York Comic-Con last week. The station is indeed filled with vendors, a cantina, class and crafting trainers, and a jump off point to launch Flashpoints. It was a pretty neat spot, but felt sort of inorganic. It almost felt like a bit of a shopping mall in space. Everything is neatly placed and organized in an intelligent and convenient fashion, which is great for gameplay purposes but really not much else.

In order to head to Coruscant, I could opt to take a basic shuttle straight from the station to the planet or a VIP ship called The Esseles, which is a Flashpoint that would eventually bring me to Coruscant at the end. The basic story behind the Esseles is that an important Republic Ambassador is on board and one of the Sith Empire’s top brass is keen on capturing her. As members of the Republic, we’re obviously not interested in giving her up that easily (well, maybe), so this prompts the Imperial Moff to launch a boarding attack on the ship. The result is a fairly awesome dungeon crawl set up for four players to run through, participate in dialogue, and make important choices that directly affect the way certain parts of the Flashpoint play out. The Flashpoint was peppered with all manner of cinematic set pieces, especially the last boss fight, which was absolutely epic to say the least. It was a real hoot to play through it alongside other players.

Dark vs. Light

As I progressed through Ord Mantell and later Coruscant, my morality was challenged in many different ways, often forcing me to choose between making pragmatic but cold decisions when having to weigh the needs of the Republic vs. being compassionate to the struggling local population. In one example, I had to return an AWOL doctor to the Republic and he wouldn’t budge unless we evacuated the many orphans he’d taken under his care as well. I made the call to not expend unnecessary Republic resources securing the whole group, and instead opted to just rescue the doctor. In another instance, a desperate local stole Republic medical supplies, and I had to threaten her with violence towards a child (gasp!) in order to fess up the location of the supplies. I had the choice of being the compassionate sort and giving the supplies to the locals or doing my duty and returning the supplies to my fellow soldiers who needed them just as badly. These are generally the sorts of choices you make as a Trooper.

Other choices tended to test my moral compass in terms of how I would react to questionable behavior by my fellow brothers-in-arms or whether I was open to taking bribes. I felt the type of situations I was put in as a Trooper, and the choices I was offered, really helped make the experience feel authentic. There are many mature, hard choices to make here. The grunt on the ground has a lot of freedom to do things without his superiors knowing (think Mass Effect’s Shepard), and it’s up to you to decide what you do with that freedom. It’s not as simple as whether you feel like being sadistic enough to Force Choke or Force Lightning some poor sap because he’s giving you lip.

I was frequently faced with multifaceted choices that really got me thinking about what I’m doing and what the best course of action is. I often found myself both surprised and impressed with the writing of the content when it came to moral choices on the Trooper. It’s really telling when I go into a situation with my mind made up on what choice I’m going to make and only to be convinced by an NPC to reconsider the implications of my actions against my actual intentions.  

The Gal with the Gun

Before I get into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk about the Trooper’s basic play style for a moment. On a basic level, the Trooper uses an ammo resource system where each ability uses a certain amount of ammunition (except for your first ability, which can be spammed) and you’ll have access to a wide gamut of blaster shots and ordnance, ranging from rifle-fired rockets to sticky bombs, to riddling your enemies in a barrage of fully automatic fire. Ammo can be reloaded in combat using a certain ability, but the ability is on a lengthy cooldown so it isn’t meant to be used willy-nilly. Otherwise, ammo regenerates in combat on its own.

Later, (as in level 10) the Trooper can choose between the Vanguard and Commando Advanced Classes, which open up entirely new avenues of gameplay options. Both Advanced Classes can specialize in damage-based roles, but between the two, only the Vanguard can fulfill the tank role and only the Commando can play the medic. In a DPS role, the Vanguard sticks to medium to close range (including melee) abilities and makes use of a blaster rifle. The Commando, on the other hand, walks around with a gigantic sort of blaster minigun. I’m personally interested in the Vanguard, but I took some inspiration from Brick of Reilly’s Rangers in Fallout 3 and thought the idea of a chick wielding a giant minigun sounded cool so I went with the Commando.

Leveling the Trooper up to 10 was honestly not as satisfying as I’d hoped, as I felt reliant on an ability called Explosive Round to do the most of my damage. It’s basically a rifle fired explosive that does a ton of damage and serves as kind of the bread-and-butter of my attack chain.

Then I unlocked Commando and received my assault cannon.

Let’s just say that if you enjoyed mowing down people in Fallout with a minigun or love the feeling of the Heavy in Team Fortress 2, the Commando really doesn’t disappoint. The whole dynamic of the Trooper gameplay immediately changed once I became a Commando, transforming me into a walking harbinger of death and destruction, able to clear entire rooms with sweeping hails of blaster fire and ordnance. I’m being literal here. There were times when I’d walk into a large room filled with enemies and between myself and my companion (who also wields an autocannon), we’d honestly just blow the whole thing up. There is something seriously satisfying about pumping unrelenting high speed blaster bolts into some poor guy's chest and watching him convulse like Chunk doing the truffle-shuffle in The Goonies. The few enemies who managed to survive the blaster fire and run up to my face were  often treated to an awesome cone lightning attack from the end of my weapon that felt incredibly satisfying and was also visually appealing with some wicked particle effects. If for some reason they managed to survive, I could beat them in the face with the business end of my cannon or detonate a Concussive Charge to get anyone around me out of my face.

Brothers in Arms

Companions in The Old Republic seem to ‘just work’. So far, they seem pretty intelligent in combat, with the exception of the cone lightning attack I mentioned earlier. My first companion also gets this attack and if I set him to use it in combat on his own, he will often fire it off when the enemy is way out of range. But hey, that’s beta for you, right? Otherwise, he used all his abilities in an intelligent manner and I could even switch him into different modes (focused on single target vs. AE damage). My companion levels up alongside me and also learns new abilities just as I do. Companion abilities can easily be set to be auto-used or disabled by the companion AI and I could even pop out my companion’s hotbar if I wanted to manually execute his abilities.

Outside of combat, companions perform the vast majority of crafting tasks in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Crafting in Star Wars: The Old Republic is called Crew Skills, mainly because these skills aren’t all necessarily what you would normally think of as crafting. True, there are a variety of gathering and crafting skills to pick up, but there are also mission skills, which most closely resemble Final Fantasy Tactics’ Errands system. The only thing my character could do involving Crew Skills was to actively gather resources from nodes out in the world, but even then I could shift+click the node to have my companion run to it and do it himself. Otherwise, Crew Skills are entirely time-based, where the player sends the companion out to perform a task or queued up series of tasks such as craft one or several items, or go out on a mission to find certain resources. I didn’t really craft much of anything during my play, but I really enjoyed Slicing as a Crew Skill. Slicing basically allowed me to hack a variety of objects in the world and retrieve sealed boxes that can be opened, each containing credits or even an item. The boxes come in various rarities as well. I’ve found anything from lumps of credits to rare item modifications. It’s a fun distraction that kind of made me feel like I was playing the lottery, especially if I sent my companion out on a Slicing mission. He’d come back with a box and I’d open it hoping for some good stuff. 

Let’s Play Huttball!

I wasn’t able to take part in any sort of World PvP during my play, but I did get a chance to mess around with the game’s Warzones. Warzones are your typical instanced PvP content akin to World of Warcraft’s Battlegrounds or Warhammer Online’s Scenarios, though Warzones in Star Wars: The Old Republic are considerably more story-focused. The cinematic approach to PvE content in the game is also clearly visible in the game’s PvP. Currently, you can’t begin queuing for a Warzone until you’re level 10, but this wasn’t a huge deal. BioWare has three Warzones planned for launch: the Alderaan Warzone (capture-and-hold), Huttball (think space football – with guns, lightsabers, and deathtraps!), and the Void Star (attack/defend). For the purposes of this preview, we’ll be looking at Huttball and the Alderaan Warzone.

Huttball was easily my least favorite of the available Warzones, not because it isn’t polished or anything like that, but because it is far more reliant on teamwork than Alderaan is. Teamwork is fine and dandy, this is an MMO after all, but Huttball just requires it in such a way I feel it may be prohibitive to playing in a solo queue, though I feel it has tons of potential to be fun in group queue. In Huttball, the goal is to basically grab the ball at the center and carry it into the enemy team’s endzone. Along the way the enemy team will of course be trying to stop you and there are many deathtraps such as acid pits and flame vents that can really mess you up. The ball itself can be passed to other teammates (and intercepted along the way, I believe) and that’s where the problem comes in. Hardly anyone passes the ball.  Either they don’t know they can pass or they simply stubbornly trudge on even when another teammate is in a better position (you know, without the entire enemy team on top of him). The match ends after about 10 to 15 minutes but it doesn’t matter how things are going, because you have to wait for the time to be up. If you’re losing terribly, you’re still stuck there for the entire duration of the match. I don’t need to hang around for 15 minutes to know that I lost when it’s 7-0.  Sometimes it just goes badly for any one reason or another and it would be awesome if the game mode took that into account.

Alderaan, on the other hand, has none of these issues. Alderaan is a straightforward capture-and-hold PvP map where both sides are vying for a turret placed in the center as well as turrets on the east and west sides of the map. Controlling turrets causes them to fire into the opposing team’s ship depleting its health. The more turrets you hold, the faster the enemy ship is taken down, and the ship visibly takes damage as it is it hit, eventually even catching fire and crashing into the ground at the end of the match.

PvP was just as visceral as it felt months ago when I sampled it in San Francisco, playing a dual-wielding melee Sith Marauder. Unlike the Marauder, as a Commando I was definitely looking to keep people at range. Early on, Commandos don’t have a terribly vast amount of crowd-control to apply, so it was sometimes a challenge keeping enemies off me, but if I got a chance to really lay into a clump of players, the fireworks were truly fun to watch.

It’s a Trap – I Mean Wrap!

Overall, I had a great time playing the Trooper and the game seems to have come quite a long way since my trip back in April. The biggest thing to worry about at this point isn’t whether or not Star Wars: The Old Republic will be fun, but what friggin’ class to go through with on your first go-around! I realize many of you out there (including myself) are possibly settled on what class they want to play – but honestly, if you try out the other classes, you will probably end up pretty conflicted.

While I’ve always looked forward to playing the Trooper, I actually found the experience to top my expectations. Not only am I left conflicted on what I want to play, I’m not even sure what Advanced Class I’d want to play if I did end up switching over to the Trooper.  I’ve been all about the Vanguard from the moment I heard about it, but man is that auto-cannon addictive. Give it a spin (pardon the pun) yourself if you get the chance and you may be surprised!


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB