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Hands-On Preview

Dana Massey Posted:
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Last month, LucasArts and Bioware showed off the final two classes to be added to Star Wars: The Old Republic during a demonstration in San Francisco. There, we had the chance to get hands-on with the Sith Inquisitor, take a good long look at the Jedi Consular and talk to the team that put them together.

"[We wanted to] make sure we fulfill the fantasy first," they told us during a presentation on a massive movie screen inside the LucasArts compound. Many MMOs take the basic RPG roles that a game needs and designs classes that fit those roles. With Star Wars, the team felt it important to deliver that authentic Star Wars experience first. While they made sure everyone has a role to play, they didn't want to be trapped by MMO archetypes and miss something Star Wars fans really wanted.

The Jedi Consular is Yoda to the Jedi Knight's Luke, or as Associate Producer Tim Tiemmerman put it, "the ying to the Jedi Knight's yang."

Where a Knight dives in, lightsaber whirring, the Consular seems to use his mostly to swat away stray fire. That's not to say he cannot cut them down, but he is far more focused on using the Force to control the battlefield and dominate his enemies.

"[The Jedi Consular uses] telekinetic Force powers to take down the enemy," we were told as we watched him grasp and slam enemies into the ground with invisible force powers, or grasp on and pull them in close for the kill.

When in a group, the Jedi Consular focuses predominantly on crowd control and managing the battle. While other classes can be a bit more hectic, the Jedi Consular is "the thinking man's Jedi," explained Temmerman. You're the archetypal general supervising everyone else, coolly surveying the battlefield and reading the situation before dropping some poor bastard on his head for getting too close.

The Sith Inquisitor is inspired by Emperor Palpatine, exploring the "mystical" side of the Dark Side of the Force by shooting lightning out of your hands and tapping into a deeper understanding of what the Dark Side is all about. If this were a fantasy game, he'd be one part Wizard, one part light-fighter. The class has elements of both. He can stand back and fire off DPS, but he can also hurt you in close.

Our characters (myself and MMORPG.com contributor Shannon P. Drake took in the event) were exploring an old Sith temple looking for artifacts, so ruins and sand were in abundance, and naturally people were trying to stop us. Our young Sith were pretty low level and had only a few skills to choose from, but recognizable MMO skills were there, from short range AoEs to classic crowd control spells, with a Star Wars flavor. I easily developed a routine of running into a room, firing off the AOE knockdown, and using my other skills as need dictated.

Combat was fast-paced and felt like Star Wars - lots of humming lightsabers, chirping blasters, and crackling force lightning - but it was far too early to judge in any depth. It was recognizable MMO combat, however, it was just a matter of figuring out what my "stun" "knockdown" and "crowd control" were and learning how to apply them.

It goes without saying that the game is still at a very early stage, and the level we saw was rough around the edges. Developers frequently had to nudge us back on the right track because it was easy to get lost, and monsters would respawn behind and beside you, complicating your progress through the level. The AI was similarly rough, seeming restricted to "Someone is shooting me? I should shoot them back!" That will (hopefully) change before launch.

The interface was similarly recognizable, a hotbar at the bottom of your screen with spells and skills, fired off as necessary to kill the monster. The demonstration was too short to form a detailed opinion, but it seemed to do what you wanted without getting in the way and learning to play was easy, just a matter of figuring out what button to push when.

What I can say with confidence though is that they've gone a long way to capture the mood and feel of Star Wars. The spells looked and felt powerful, the animations are as good as any game out there (single-player and MMO). Just seeing a character flick away lasers with the lightsaber as he ran toward an enemy was satisfying.

The dialogue though struck me as a bit odd. I'm used to the old Bioware standard of having a silent character that the world bounces off of. In Dragon Age, for example, your character never actually talks. It's kind of silly, in a way, but it's the standard Bioware themselves set for RPGs. To be fair though, this dialogue system is far more like Mass Effect, which didn't have silent protagonists.

In Old Republic, your character is fully voice acted. It was well done, the acting was serviceable, and maybe this is only because I was using a pre-fabricated character and not one of my own creation, but it only served to remind me that I was playing a game and was not a part of the experience. In an RPG, I want to sink into my character fully, and when he has his own voice and acting, it felt like I was watching a movie starring someone else. That complaint though could well just be a personal quirk. I am sure others will love the fully voice acted PCs.

The dialogue trees themselves were also done much like Mass Effect. The NPC speaks, and you select from a wheel of dialogue options that more or less summarize what your guy is about to say. That said, those summaries might need some buffing. Avatars say the darndest things. Occasionally, I'd pick what I thought was a nice response and he'd spout off something I never would have chosen. The dialogue options fit the usual range, from, "Of course I will do what you say as I comply with every request an NPC makes of me because I am a boot licking lackey that loves EXP" to "My, my, my I am a lippy and saucy lad." But I digress, it's still early in development.

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Dana Massey