700px Star Wars The Old Republic first logo 620x225 Star Wars: The Old Republic E3 2011 Preview

Blain Christown of Bioware Austin gave us an extended look at the highly-anticipated MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Before he even kicked off the demo, he made a statement that carries quite a bit of weight – Bioware Austin is going to change the face of MMOs as we know it.

Kicking off in style with the CGI montage we’ve recently posted call “Choose”, the tone is already set – this game is about heroic combat and epic storytelling.  Many MMOs are simply a collection of frequently-skipped fetch quests, asking you to go get 5 of this and 7 of that, with no real motivating reason beyond new loot.  SWTOR is being built as a story-driven MMO.   Set several thousand years before the movies, but about 100 years after the KOTOR series, Bioware intends to build an entirely new way to play.

thumbs vehicle 3 Star Wars: The Old Republic E3 2011 PreviewBefore we got to what new features SWTOR will bring to the table, we took a look at the four tihngs that make a good RPG – combat, exploration, progression, and story.  Most MMOs have the first three to some degree, but few development houses are as good as Bioware at telling a story.

SWTOR will feature four classes for each side, and each class has a completely different story.  This means that you will not be playing the same quests, not picking up the same gear, and essentially not playing the same game between classes.  This means you can set up multiple characters and play several hundreds of unique gameplay activities without repeating content!  No MMO has been able to deliver on this promise…but Bioware can and has.  Split into three chapters (at least to start) it is clear that you’ll be harvesting, crafting, fighting, and cruising the galaxy for a long time. If you wondered when KOTOR 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and more will ship – you’ve got your answer right here.

In another first, SWTOR is the first ever fully voiced MMO.   Every character and quest giver you interact with will be fully voiced.   This means 100s of thousands of hours of voice acted work!  As I contemplated purchasing a new (and much larger) hard drive, we finally got to a live gameplay demo.thumbs e3 ulgo 14 Star Wars: The Old Republic E3 2011 Preview

In a key moment in the Jedi Knight line, we’ve bested a Sith named Lord Kraven in a dual.  His request is simple – he asks that we end his life.  This selection is made using a radial menu where we can select from several dialog options. Choosing “Killing you will bring me great satisfaction”, we immediately see a red arrow pointing down – we’ve just gained dark side points as our saber cuts through his neck.

Backing up, we give this same key moment another chance.  Refusing to end his life, we instead give him the chance to be redeemed.  With the potential to switch sides and become a Jedi Knight, we suggest that he try to appeal to the Order.   Moving forward in the line, we meet up with Lord Kraven.  He’s resigned his title of Sith Lord and has taken up the mantle of a being that embodies all that is good.  It changes the entire path of Kraven’s destiny, as well as your own.

Covering the Progression arm of the RPG world you’ll obviously get cool loot and such, but when you chose your faction between the Empire and Republic, you’ll select an entire tree that will change based on your personal choices.  Using the Bounty Hunter example, later in our thread we’ll be tasked to kill a girl.  We can fake her death and take the money from the bounty, give up the credits and let the girl live, or kill her for the credits.  Everyone’s experience will be different, meaning that you can play each class multiple times. Given that you’ll get your own ship that you can customize, travel to dozens of unique worlds, each with hundreds of areas to explore, and you’ll have to agree that you won’t be bored with the Star Wars world any time soon.

thumbs e3 tatooine 18 Star Wars: The Old Republic E3 2011 PreviewTackling the combat aspects of SWTOR, Blain and his team wanted to demonstrate that you can fight multiple enemies at once, with a unique cover system, and equally epic combat.

Kicking off a four player party demo, we see four Level 32 characters.  A Jedi Consular specialized as a Sage (she’ll be the medic of the group), a Smuggler Pistol Gunsmith, a Jedi Knight specialized as a heavy weapon guardian/tank, and a Trooper – the massive gun-wielding damage Commando.

Since this game predates the films, this event takes place on Alderaan.  We are near the end of the thread for this planet, preparing to storm Castle Pantier.  We enter it for the end of the World Event Quest that tells the story of this planet, as well as the culmination of one of the class quests.  Immediately beginning our assault, our Jedi Knight Force Leaps into the fray as the Commando begins dropping grenades on the enemy.  The Sage builds up a portable cover generator and begins to rip chunks from the ground to hurl at the enemy.  Our peon enemies dispatched, we bring up our Codex.  Looking over the Lore about the area, we find that our target is named Bouris Ulgo.  Ulgo is an ex-Republic General who is trying to take over the planet.

Entering the incredible and massive throne room, we pull up the character screen to prepare.  With 14 slots for stuff, a meter that shows our light vs. dark progression, and a paperdoll that shows the current look of the player, our look at this screen is brief – there’s fighting to do!  Bringing down the map, it resembles the blueprints we’ve seen in the films.  Flipping it into a translucent overlay similar to what we’ve seen in Diablo, this map is riddled with detail, giving us a look at our destination without obscuring our vision.thumbs e3 tatooine 13 Star Wars: The Old Republic E3 2011 Preview

Approaching the throne, the conversation with Ulgo begins.  All players will be able to participate in the conversation, with everyone feeling the consequences of their fellow party member’s choices.  As each player selects their conversation choice from the wheel, we noticed that all of them get unique choices.  Whoever wins the random dice roll wins that part of the conversation tree response.  I cannot for the life of me imagine all of the possible choices that have to be constructed and written in such a way as to make them coherent, but clearly Bioware has this on lock.  Ulgo issues us a challenge, but our Jedi wins the roll and refuses to let him take over this planet.  Ulgo erects a shield, but we can clearly see four shield generators that need our attention.   With the Jedi Leaping forward once again, our Commando flies up and rains an area-of-effect hail of gunfire down on the enemy.   Kicking open a crate in the room, we find a rocket launcher that we can use to take out the generator.  Our demo ends, but eventually this would evolve into a multi-stage boss battle to take down the would-be warlord.

Moving onto the last key feature demonstration, the Bioware team wanted to make sure that players know that they have Raids in mind.   Called “Operations” in SWTOR, these are opportunities for multiple parties of 4-player teams to band together to take on epic challenges.  Taking on huge enemies for huge rewards, this is meant to be end-game content for high level players.  We watch a quick trailer for an Operation called “Eternity Vault” which has players uncovering a hidden vault inside a prison.  This vault holds technology that would be devastating if it were ever released into the wild, but breaching the vault means assaulting the front of the base.  Guarded by turrets, a giant robot guardian, flying droids, and a boss character at the end.  While we didn’t get to see this live, the trailer showed an epic battle that would be a blast to play.

Ending the last bit of our demo, we watch a final gameplay trailer.  Reinforcing the key aspects of the game including cinematic storytelling, heroic combat, companion characters, personal starships, space battles, battles between worlds, personal vehicles, a galactic trade network, flashpoints, PVP warzones, operations, and much more, there is so much content just waiting for us in SWTOR. With the game coming dangerously close to the next wave of outgoing Beta keys, you can bet that all eyes (including mine!) are on this title. I may have hung up my MMO spurs, but I’ll gladly trade them for a pair of light sabers just as soon as I can.  Hey Bioware!  Shut up and take my money!!