The first demo we were allowed to play was a brief scenario in which we freed Theron Shan from captivity. Having several level 60 characters to choose from, I chose a male Twi'lek scoundrel and summoned HK-51 from the companion menu to help me. We only spent roughly 15 minutes in this area, which consisted of a handful of biggish rooms sprinkled with easily-dispatched guards. The point of the sequence was to fight our way to a door, pass through it, then come face-to-face with the always-confident Theron Shan.
Having exchanged a few words with Theron, we were abruptly moved on to another Flashpoint called “Blood Hunt.” In this one, we found ourselves on Tracyn Island searching for Mandalorian Bounty Hunter Shae “Torch” Vizla. Needing Shae's help for the fight against Revan, we confronted her in her own stronghold—or tried to anyway.
We entered a central arena where Shae's taunting voice suggested I prove myself by performing a series of challenges. These involved exploring three separate areas (sort of like interior zoo enclosures) populated by hostile beasts where I was expected to defeat the biggest one I could find. This was a little confusing at first, if only because of the layout of each enclosure. The big beasties seemed hesitant to appear, and so I spent a good amount of time running around these locations trying to figure out exactly what to do. Eventually though, I drew out these massive menaces (Rancor anyone?) and took them all down. Post-beast hunt, I returned to the arena only to find Shae still had one more test up her armored sleeve.
I was attacked suddenly by a Mandalorian husband and wife team in one of the most fun (and ridiculous) fights I've ever been in. In a tag team kind of setup, the two took turns beating on me, heckling each other all the while. I have a distinct feeling the demo was tweaked to ensure my survival because the fight went on for a good long while, and by all realistic accounts, I should have been dead. Regardless, by allowing me to live, Bioware let me really enjoy the engagement.
Post-battle, I jogged through a series of moody hallways hung with mythosaur skulls to Shae Vizla's inner sanctum. There, the tough-as-nails veteran and I discussed the coming threat and what, ultimately, to do about it. As usual with these choice-driven dialogs, I'm left wondering if it really matters what I say, considering the needs of an MMO, but it's fun to control the tone of the conversation nonetheless.
Of the two experiences seen during the demo, Blood Hunt was the one that seemed most to fulfill Bioware's promise of more story-driven content. After the Flashpoints, I had a few moments to speak to head writer Charles Boyd about his intentions regarding the new expansion.
INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES BOYD
MMORPG.com: You mentioned during the presentation that Bioware had had to change gears a bit, in regard to this expansion. How so?
CB: Last year was a good year for us. We did a lot of things to play around and see what worked. We were observing to see what player behavior was. Surprisingly (or not) people spend most of their time on planets engaging with the story content. Ultimately, the core of the game was Bioware's story. After this year we decided we should really focus on that again.
MMORPG.com: Fitting the Bioware approach to story into an MMO template must be tricky. How do you go about doing that? Making choices matter?
CB: It's very tough when it's multiplayer and an unpredictable environment. There's a shift more toward solo story like Flashpoints being solo now or having the option for solo. We look back at class stories for our template for the best, most personal story stuff we've done and try to apply that to the overall story moving forward. Multiplayer games are popular but really, when you get down to it, people prefer generally to feel like they are the center of this piece of entertainment.
MMORPG.com: The MMO landscape has changed a lot in the last couple of years. What have you learned about what MMO players used to want and what they want now?
CB: We learned the people want to identify with their character in the strongest way and the way we deliver that is through story and through the ability to customize your character. As much control as we can give players to turn their characters into their persona...I think at first we were afraid to really cut them loose, like we were worried they'd put on some silly hat and then go into the cinematics and they won't take it seriously but people like silly hats! (laughs) If that's the way you want the story to be, that your character is this silly-hat-wearing guy doing epic things, then that's your choice.
MMORPG.com: Is that why you introduced Disciplines?
CB: We introduced those because they are fundamentally a better and more streamlined system than skill trees. The system is clear, it gives you the same or more options. Rather than the most complex part of the game, it's as simple as possible because I don't want people to have to stumble over some complex system in order to get to the fun stuff. So Disciplines was our way of removing a big barrier.
MMORPG.com: Shadow of Revan makes traditionally opposed factions join forces against a common enemy – how do you convince players who are so passionately factionally aligned to do this?
CB: You gotta give them a threat that's so colossal that they understand that “yes, we must work together.” At the same time, you have to give them options where they can kind of sneak around the edge there and kind of stick it to their allies without them realizing it.
CB: (Laughs) Oh I don't want to get into it, but there are some moments where you can do some shady things.
MMORPG.com: You mentioned working transparently with the community in developing this expansion. What did you find was most-requested or most doable?
CB: The request loud and clear since launch has been “more story.” Everyone wants to add another chapter to their own class story line. We've tried to give everyone that in Revan. We have the Bioware label for a reason, and we want to give them the kind of Bioware story they expect.
MMORPG.com: Shadow of Revan will presumably have permanent repercussions on SWTOR's world. How do you see the game developing beyond it?
CB: This is just the first step in a bigger...a lot of things we developed in Shadow of Revan set us up for the kinds of things we want to do next year. We hope we can start talking about where things are going early next year. We want to do big, epic stuff. What we want to do next year is even more aggressive than Revan.