RPS At E3: Star Wars – The Old Republic

By John Walker on June 3rd, 2009 at 7:12 am.

Friendly chaps

A new class for BioWare’s forthcoming Star Wars MMO was revealed today: the Smuggler. Described by BioWare as, “The Han Solo fantasy,” the Smuggler is a ranged fighter who makes cunning use of a freshly revealed cover system. More details, plus a reaction to our seeing some fantastic battles, below.

The thing I want to report most of all is just how bloody beautiful the game looks. Stylised, it’s one of a number of games around at the moment that appears to have taken its inspiration from concept art. SWTOR’s world looks as if it were created with a watercolour paintbrush. The vistas of the Smuggler’s lush world, or the barren wastes in which a Bounty Hunter stalked, were just breathtaking. Not just because of the sheer volume of detail, but the artistry with which it’s presented. It’s pretty special.

But back to that new class. The Smuggler has his Han Solo-style blaster pistol, and lacking any heavy armour, is reliant on more tactical, stealthy play. This is realised through a cover system unlike any other MMO. When approaching trees, rocks, buildings, and so on, a crude faint green blocky figure appears, indicating places the player can lock into to take the cover. This is apparently not unique to the Smuggler, but certainly won’t be available to all classes. It was quick-n-simple, letting the blaster fire be aimed at multiple enemies easily and with more safety. Of course, the Smuggler needs to be able to do something if the enemy gets too close, and one of his melee options was revealed today: he can kick a baddie in the groin, then shoot him in the head. Nice.

Once again the emphasis could not have been more firmly stated as being on story. And once again, we were shown a ton of really awesome looking battles. The ddifference between BioWare’s claims for the power of the narrative in The Old Republic, and what’s being shown, is always a little disjointed. But it’s understandable. When you’ve got a game that can present battles that look quite so stunning as those shown in LucasArts’ Jedi temple today (no, really, they’ve build a faux-stone Jedi temple in the corner of a small upstairs room of the LA Convention Center), you can see why they’d not want to demo you someone having an extensive chat with an NPC, no matter how emotional the consequences.

However, it’s important to report that we were shown an important choice moment. The game’s dialogue is 100% voiced – a first for an MMO, and a task too gargantuan to bear thinking about – so decisions aren’t as simple as dismissing a screen of text. Decent actors delivering their pleas always add significance. We were shown a level in which a Sith and a Bounty Hunter had fought their way to the bridge of a Republic ship. Killing the captain was a choice put into our hands, and of course the vote went with his death. Sith, after all. The consequences of this action are apparently far reaching, and in this instance led to a tremendous space battle going on outside the window.

There’s no going back on moments like that. Saving that captain’s life would have taken the plot in a whole other direction, and it’s one the bloodthirsty player would never know without playing the game over again from the start. No saving and reloading in an MMO. Quite how such moments are handled when played in a party is not being divulged just yet, but we’re assured it’s all worked out.

Leading up to this decision was a quite remarkable fight. SWTOR is designed to let you fight two, three or four enemies at once without certain doom. The fight for the bridge saw the Sith player perform some really splendid moves to take out multiple targets, including a Force Jump that let him target enemies on the other side of the sizeable level, and leap into them, lightsabre slashing as he landed. Force Choke also provided a grisly ending for a tough Jedi enemy, who had been impressively weakened by the Bounty Hunter who set him on fire with his flamethrower. He was now hovering in midair on his jetpack, taking pot shots. Good times.

The emphasis on story means there’s also a strong focus on morality. Whether you’re Republic or Sith, you can still be a bastard (I have been promised that there will be plenty of opportunities to make some completely horrendous decisions) or a do-gooder. And with Dark and Light come unique abilities unavailable to those who fail to be as lovely or as evil as you. At one point the Sith character had a bar on screen explaining that he was “channelling hatred”. Ooh.

SWTOR boasts a bunch of firsts. As mentioned, it’s the first MMO to have every line recorded. It’s also the first MMO to offer conversation choices (although I think there’s a couple of others in development that are planning the same). And it’s the first MMO that will have a truly unique experience depending upon which side you take. BioWare were keen to once again point out there’s not a single quest common to the Sith and the Republic. When asked why they’re not making Knights of the Republic 3, their reply is that this is it, and it’s KotOR 4, 5, 6 and 7 as well.

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99 Comments »

  1. Tei says:

    “The game’s dialogue is 100% voiced”

    To what language? I only speak spanish. Or maybe is too soon to ask that.

  2. Devan says:

    Fascinating. I think this may be my top choice of the classes presented so far. They’ve been pretty good at building the anticipation, and I really hope they can pull this off.

  3. CryingTheAnnualKingo says:

    These screens make me feel a little better about the art style than the first batch they showed a while back.
    I think its pretty bonkers that BioWare licensed graphics tech from a completely unknown company (Simutronics’ Hero Engine) that has made and sustained text-based games for the past 15 years or so and hasn’t even released a graphics based game of note.
    I’ll take this chance to add that Simutronics’ flagship text based MMORPG Gemstone 4 is still the best thing I’ve ever played in my life.

  4. Junch says:

    EPIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. c-Row says:

    HAN Solo… he’s not a German.

  6. mr_monolith says:

    What!? What is is this feeling i feel?What is THIS?!!

  7. Yfel says:

    I could not be less excited about this game. Everything I’ve heard about it, from them “adding another pillar to MMO gaming through storytelling” to these 100% voiceovers, shows they’re absolutely clueless to what makes a good MMO game. People don’t even want to read quest logs, let alone listen to them. If they’re going to spend all that money on hiring voice actors, they must be lacking in actual game-content. How about they start by offering a meaningfull large world to explore, an interesting combat system, and a PvP system that provides log-in&play for any number of players instead.

  8. sfury says:

    Who is this “Hans Solo” you’re talking about?

  9. nutterguy says:

    @Yfel: WHAT?
    Did you read the article above?

  10. John Walker says:

    Yfel – you appear to have confused you with everyone else in the world.

    Everyone else – shut up, it’s late. And be grateful I didn’t write “Hands”.

  11. nutterguy says:

    Poor Mr. Walker. I hope E3 people are being nice to you!
    Thanks for all the great info and that interview with Chet Fal… Valve person, that was great!

  12. Nexus says:

    @Yfel Actually that’s what got me interested in this game in the first place. I don’t play MMOs but TOR looks like it’s going to feel pretty much like a singleplayer cRPG. And having in mind KOTOR this sounds really promising.
    On the other hand the art design is awfully boring. Everything looks like a slightly modified version of stuff from movies, especially the prequels (that pseudo Vader being just one example). KOTOR created wonderful world that didn’t look like carbon copy of the movies but still managed to retain that unique Star Wars feel. Unfortunately, in case of TOR they still didn’t show anything I haven’t seen before. Yet I’m looking forward to this one – the fact that you don’t have to be a Jedi makes it really interesting (among other things).

  13. .backslash says:

    @Yfel Darkfall is that way>>>
    Godspeed.

  14. adg1034 says:

    John Walker, you are dead to me.

    EDIT: Never mind; carry on.

  15. NegativeZero says:

    Alpha Protocol is an MMO?

  16. Deadend says:

    Uhh, I don’t think Alpha Protocol is an MMO with dialog choices, what with it not being an MMO.

    I can’t think of any MMOs that really gave real dialog options. Age of Conan had some, but from what I could see all options lead to the same thing except for Goodbye.

  17. John Walker says:

    Sorry – brain fart. I didn’t mean Alpha Protocol, obviously. But I think there are a couple of MMOs in development that are planning on doing the choices. SWTOR is certainly the first to have announced it.

  18. Orange says:

    People do not read the quest text in mmos because so much of it has been poorly written or just unnecessary filler. That and the quests themselves have been so often poorly connected and shallow. Why read a great big chunk of text when the only outcome is to kill 10 wolves, then 10 more wolves with a slightly different skin?

    Old Republic can change that, the voicing will definitely help as it did in the early stages of Conan. It’s easier to be drawn into the game when its voiced. A higher quality of text and quests which are interesting and tied into it and an overarching story will help even more.

    Also at least it’s trying something different, that in itself will draw people like me in, let alone all the Star Wars fans.

  19. pauleyc says:

    “When asked why they’re not making Knights of the Republic 3, their reply is that this is it, and it’s KotOR 4, 5, 6 and 7 as well.”

    The right answer would be that Obsidian is making a proper single-player KotOR 3. One can still hope…

  20. Solar says:

    You know, I’m starting to get the innocent twitterings of fan-gasim. Stay on target Bioware, and don’t let Lucas touch this baby.

    …I must not fear Lucas, Lucas it the mind killer, Lucas is the little death that will bring total oblivion…

  21. Ian says:

    I for one want Walker to write a walkthrough of him being a horrendous bastard for hours on end when this comes out. We’ll break his spirit yet!

  22. Dan says:

    Ace. I’m still being a bounty hunter though.

    Jetpack > groin kick.

  23. MonktonGaz says:

    I like the idea that this isn’t going to be a Wow clone where you can download a questhelper and skip the ‘boring’ story bits. Maybe the kids will stay away. The worst moment of my gaming life so far came when UO removed the age limit.

  24. Babs says:

    @CryingTheAnnualKingo
    Indeed, that is bonkers. On the otherhand, the HeroEngine (from the blurb on the site anyway) seems to have a similar concept to Eskil Steenberg’s LOVE tools. The rapid-prototyping with collaborative development model may well be the future, at least for MMO development.

  25. Nurdbot says:

    Got to give points to Bioware for trying with the differences and morality with the Jedi and Sith.

    Unlike another massive failure of a Star Wars mmo.

  26. Idle Threats & Bad Poetry says:

    I feel like something inside me dies every time I hear about this game. Wasn’t KotOR suppose to happen thousands of years before the Star Wars movies? When, then, is everything so much the same! We even have Darth Vader and Han Solo counterparts, for Pete’s sake. Why has civilization advanced so little? :-S

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m taking it too seriously, I know. But if I can’t geek out about Star Wars, what can I geek out about?

  27. Bananaphone says:

    Is this typical push-button-watch-animation MMO combat, or something a bit more exciting?

  28. CMaster says:

    it’s also the first MMO to offer conversation choices

    Erm what? That’s an odd thing to say. Neocron was FULL of dialog choices (amittedly none effected how missions turned out, but you did need to pick the right ones to get/complete a mission sometimes). An unamed MMO I am testing at the moment does. I thought dialog choices were normal in MMOs in fact (though I guess CoX didn’t)

  29. Crane says:

    Well, given the descriptions of snapping to cover and the like, I’d assume it’s got a little more player involvement than normal, but IDK how much.

  30. Bobsy says:

    Oh I forgot to mention: I take back what I was saying about Darth Vader yesterday – when I got home and watched the video more closely without panicking to see if my boss was watching, and now with sound, I don’t think the dude there was much of a Vader analogue. He was just a general sith guy. They’re all the same anyway.

    But I maintain that Bioware aren’t being creative enough with the design of the universe. There’s no reason for Star Wars to be so stagnant.

  31. The Sombrero Kid says:

    it’s important to rremember that in the star wars galaxy most of the aliens speak thier own language and so will be voiced and then subtitled i expect.

  32. Nimic says:

    I’m starting to get pretty excited about this. For me, the perfect way this could turn out is if it could basically be played like a single player KotOR, just with 2 people (or more, even). I live with my cousin, and we’ll no doubt spend most of the time playing together. And I don’t see how anyone can find anything negative about voice acting. Isn’t it possible that their funding is just so good that they can add all the voice acting without compromising the quality of the rest of the game? Not all problems can be solved by throwing a lot of money at it.

    And as someone who has played both WoW and AoC, there’s no doubt that quests in AoC were much more “involved” (that is, as are as there were any quests at all. So the later levels were quite empty, but the first 20 were brilliant). That is no doubt partly because of some decent voice acting.

  33. Legionary says:

    @Yfel: actually what you’ve described as an ideal MMO is my nightmare of the worst direction BioWare could ever go. Gamers don’t need another WoW-clone. If you’re a fan of WoW then fine for you (I’m not and don’t enjoy it) but even if you think WoW is a good thing surely it’s important to innovate. I really enjoyed Neverwinter Nights, but I wouldn’t want every RPG ever made to attempt to emulate that game.

    SWTOR really does sound like my dream game: an MMO where a strong singleplayer experience is strongly woven into the fabric of the game.

  34. The Fanciest of Pants says:

    Sounds pretty good. Will keep an eye on this one. Cheers for the preview, rps

  35. Kauhanen says:

    The combat system and end game content will make or break the game. All what their describing now is just fluff compared to the combat system and end game content.

  36. beetleboy says:

    Idle threats etc – I’m thinking the same thing, but from another angle.. The first star wars movie came in ’77 – have we had so few original ideas since, that could work in that universe? As the saying goes, “Bad artists borrow, great artists steal”. So far, this all looks more like borrowing to me..

    Other than that, I agree with Kauhanen – fancy trailers are fun, but what matters in the end is the gameplay, esp the end-game content. And to have a solo-play story-centered endgame sounds very un-MMO, in all honesty.. so remains to see what Bioware can come up with.

  37. The Sombrero Kid says:

    I’m pretty sure there are more people who don’t play mmo’s who do, the ones who do put up with a hell of a lot, it’s not hard to improve thier experience, i’m sure bioware intend to, but for now i think they’re showing innovatinos to convert gamers who can’t bear to put up with the massive failings of the genre as a whole.

  38. Lobotomist says:

    So nice. Except it is basically singleplayer game with monthly fee

  39. Rinox says:

    /me wonders how the groin kick will work on other races whose nether regions may actually be middle, back, front, eye or upper regions.

    I’d like to see anyone try kicking a Hutt in the balls.

  40. Premium User Badge

    MonkeyMonster says:

    Not that I venture much into the Star Wars universe but isn’t part of the point behind the “apparent” stagnation due to the Evil Empire classically not allowing new thoughts/progression (bar new funky weapons) in culture because new thoughts are bad and might lead to an overthrow? This is annoying sound good enough to even tempt me into playing my first mmo ever… As goody jedi that on occasion acts like a real cu…

  41. DSX says:

    A groin kick? With thousands of alien species? What if it’s a Ballchinian???

    Anyway… when can we see vids of in-engine stuff you saw??? *impatient*

  42. beetleboy says:

    A lot can be done with MMOs, to be sure – it’s just that talking of gameplay being story-driven, solo-play-focused and companion-heavy – it sounds like a very backwards sort of cure. Hey, I mean – would freeway congestion be more fun in a horse and cart instead of a car? Mind you, better writing and voice-acting is something that I wouldn’t complain about – I’d love it. I just don’t see how it could fundamentally change leveling, end-game content, combat mechanics, etc – i.e. the bread and butter of MMOs. Yeah, more story, nice – but we still have 50/60/70 levels until we participate in the real game. Yeah, companions, but are they used creatively in the endgame? Etc..

  43. phil says:

    If being sith means it will allow me to grind levels solely on the strength of murdering Ewoks, sith it willl be.

  44. woppin says:

    They said they’re fixing Star Wars, so removing Ewoks would be step two, coming straight after removing the Gungans and before removing Hayden Christenson.

    No Ewok grinding pls.

  45. Quests says:

    @beetleboy: I see you purposedly didn’t consider the whole choices and consequences system impacting on the whole levelling progression, which is what Bioware’s are pretty much all about ever since kotor.

    Which is odd, almost the entire article focuses on this concept.

  46. Xercies says:

    Still unsure how the hell they can do choices in an MMO without fragmenting the playerbase, using instances, or just not changing very much. To be honest this sounds like Guild Wars Factions morality at the moment, where basically what changed was which mission you could do..nothing much else.

    And also thats a stupid reason why your not making Kotor 3. and it does not address the actual issue.

  47. Rinox says:

    Bobsy said:

    He was just a general sith guy. They’re all the same anyway.

    Racism alert!! Don’t worry though, I’m sure many of your friends are Sith.

    @ making the decisions John mentioned while in a party…I guess it could be done through a simple voting system where every party member can choose an option and the majority wins, with the party leader’s vote breaking ex aequo votes if necessary. This could also be applied to conversation choices.

    It could make for interesting interactions really, provided you have some people who actually like to play RPG’s (as opposed to grindkiddies) in your party…if you’re playing a blindlingly light side jedi and your party kills said captain by majority vote, do you stick it through? Try to convince your party members? Attack them? Bail? Coolio. Something tells me all this is better done with a group of friends than a random PUG though, kinda how L4D changes from good to awesome depending on who your fellow survivors are.

  48. Nallen says:

    “Bring me 10 Ewok feet and save the village!”

    Yeah hrm. Interested in this though. First MMO in a while I’ve liked the look of.

  49. El_MUERkO says:

    Can you walk through people like WoW or are they solid like WAR?

    I fecking hate that you can walk through people in WoW, it really breaks the immersion.

  50. Tom says:

    This is looking awesome