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. R. says:

    Re. the lack of progression over 4000 years – think about it, guys. Once you have a galaxy spanning civilisation that can go faster than light and make laser swords, it’s not like there’s a lot else to advance to from there, is it? Surely there comes a point where you can’t help but hit a technological brick wall, where all the stories are written, all the songs are sung.

  2. Carra says:

    Having to make choices with real consequences. I haven’t thought about having no save games to rely on before. No “let me try that, I’ll just reload when I make the wrong choice”.

    And unique stories for all characters sounds too good to be true. Although everyone will want to try out a good & evil side.

    I do wonder if the hyping hasn’t started too fast. The game won’t hit stores until over a year. Great expectations are made but will they be able to fill them in? I sure hope so.

  3. beetleboy says:

    Quest – Choices with consequences is an interesting concept, to be sure. It’s been used to great effect in many single-player RPGs. Again, like the other things I mentioned (better writing/acting, etc) it’s certainly something I’d like to see, but that I do not really see the impact of in the core of a MMO – combat, leveling, endgame.. Or are we gonna have a raid team sitting around and having conversations including choices-with-consequences with a bunch of NPCs before going on to kill this weeks selection of raid bosses?

  4. Dexton says:

    I am starting to get very excited about this, but like some of the other commentors the make and break of SWOR is going to be end game. End game meaning what you do when you finish levelling, will the story arc continue? will they end up with raids/pvp like most other mmos?

    I would love to see the story arc continue after you have reached max level, but that would require frequent updates, something most other mmos have failed to deliver. People might buy the game based on the single player story arcs but they won’t renew their subscriptions for years on end unless there is something else to do.

  5. Noc says:

    You know, the thought just occurred to me that while the whole “single player MMO” thing sounds a little questionable, if you think of it like a “Single player game with a persistent world and drop-in drop-out co-op,” then it makes a hell of a lot more sense and starts to sound significantly less dubious.

  6. toni says:

    i wanna be able to wipe out all ewoks in the whole universe. that’s my personal grinding mission.

  7. Bobsy says:

    Re. the lack of progression over 4000 years – think about it, guys. Once you have a galaxy spanning civilisation that can go faster than light and make laser swords, it’s not like there’s a lot else to advance to from there, is it? Surely there comes a point where you can’t help but hit a technological brick wall, where all the stories are written, all the songs are sung.

    Progression isn’t the problem – Star Wars is fantasy after all and it’s like asking why the characters in Lord of the Rings were still using swords over a 10,000 year period. But my beef with this is that they’re visually emulating everything far too closely. Star Destroyers, Tie Fighters, tri-wing shuttles, dropships and so forth.

  8. beetleboy says:

    I’d even say it’s more a lack of progression in vision from 1977 to 2009.. where’s the new artistic ideas?

    And lest I come off as a bag of gripes and nay-saying, this is the most exciting MMO that’s been on the horizon for ages (granted, not much in the way of competition, but still!), and I’ll buy it in a second. Even tho I already play several MMOs and it’s a fair slice of time to devote.

  9. M.P. says:

    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.

    Yeah, the dialogue choices in Conan were mostly cosmetic, but I did always enjoy having a little backstory to every quest, it created the illusion that it was more than just “Kill X of Y for 10,000 XP”

    I can’t think of another MMO that had proper branching storylines, although you do in effect have different progression choices in every game that gives you a choice between different areas for where to go and level up next.

  10. Sonic Goo says:

    …but will he have an option to shoot first?

  11. Shoe says:

    Is it just me or does that smuggler have six fingers?

  12. Meat Circus says:

    I’m finally started to be rather excited by this.

  13. Dave says:

    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.

    Hi there, I’m a HeroEngine developer at Simu, and former DragonRealms GM, and former former GemStone addict. :D

    Anyway. It’s not even primarily “graphics tech”, but the entire back end, client/server communications, world-building tools and so on. When you talk to developers about their impression of HeroEngine, it’s the tools they get excited about.

    We’re actually not that unknown in the industry, we’re just not a household name among gamers (except GemStone and DR players).

    The original CyberStrike was released in something like 1992 (I’m working from memory here) and won a Game of the Year award from some magazine or other. CyberStrike II kind of fell over, sadly, but we aren’t all completely clueless about graphical games.

  14. Daniel says:

    Drool. Is it 2010 yet?

  15. ilves says:

    @Dave

    I used to be a dragonrealms junkie… looove me some Simutronics. Are you guys ever actually going to release Hero’s Journey are you mostly selling off the engine?

  16. Jeremy says:

    Wow, this sounds pretty amazing. If they can pull this off, it could open up a huge group of people to MMOs, myself included (never liked getting gear just so I could get better gear so that I could get even better gear). Adding story, meaningful choices and interesting combat could definitely change the game. It would actually be a game that could co-exist peacefully with WoW I think, and that in itself is a very intelligent business model.

  17. Comment system, what comment system? 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.”

    No. No No No NO!

    Alternatively:
    No, that’s not true… that’s impossible!

  18. Houdini says:

    @Dexton: Since each class will have its own story, plus a light side and dark side alternative to that story, they’re betting that players will want to experience each unique story as opposed to level up one character and wait for new endgame content, as in other MMOs.

    What sounds most interesting to me right now is the idea that morality won’t just be pure good vs. evil based on the side you choose. I look forward to being a jedi Order member whose a real douche nozzle, like a cop gone bad or something.

  19. Rei Onryou says:

    I still don’t 100% see how it will work as an MMO. Will it be like Guild Wars or do they have some inventive way of achieving awesome storytelling without instances?

  20. Ian says:

    @ Meat Circus: When you say you’re “starting to get rather excited” I assume what you really mean is you’re preparing vast reserves of bile to spew all over it when it doesn’t include everything you’ve ever dreamed of and come with a free pony?

    =)

  21. Nick says:

    I hope it is like GW so I don’t get my story ruined by pricks.

  22. Azazel says:

    A Smuggler class. That was as predictable as a really predictable thing. Or a *amazed face” Bounty Hunter class.
    Um, I don’t really know what point I’m trying to make here.

    Spaced moment:
    “I’m Han.”
    “Aw, can’t I be Han?”
    “No.”

  23. Dave says:

    @ ilves: the yellow flag is out for Hero’s Journey right now due to publisher negotiation stuff.

    Meanwhile the HeroEngine team continues to chug along, and the game team is working on an unannounced new project (and is hiring a writer).

  24. Blast Hardcheese says:

    @Rei
    You don’t need instances for storytelling. They obviously have a workaround, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense and their “dynamic range of consequences” wouldn’t be very dynamic.

    Or all the missions will be on ships.

  25. Tei says:

    We must learn to love TOR for what it is, and ignore and pardon what is not. And maybe, only maybe, we will get some incredible quality enteirnamente with it.

    I only have ONE problem, but is a big one. These “unattacable invulnerable” NPC’s. TOR smell like one of these games where guards are unatacable, and likeable aliens like the ewoks are unattacable. This to me break the inmersion and the fun.

  26. Tei says:

    oops.. dbl post

  27. CryingTheAnnualKingo says:

    @Dave
    Nice to hear from you. I started playing Gemstone 3 over AOL in the late 90′s and played on and off for the next 6-7 years or so and always lamented the dwindling number of players. If people only realized how amazingly deep and expressive the game is…
    It was such a pleasant surprise to hear about the deal with BioWare and I hope that Simu can finally emerge from obscurity and get the recognition it deserves.
    Other note: Did Blizzard outright steal the Dwarven disease storyline from GS4 or is that just my imagination?

  28. A Delicate Balance says:

    /me puts on flame-proof jacket

    I think I must be the only person who has seen Return of the Jedi and doesn’t want to lead a holocaust against the Ewoks. I liked them.

  29. TariqOne says:

    @Noc You know, the thought just occurred to me that while the whole “single player MMO” thing sounds a little questionable, if you think of it like a “Single player game with a persistent world and drop-in drop-out co-op,” then it makes a hell of a lot more sense and starts to sound significantly less dubious.

    That’s been exactly my thinking. A KotOR with a persistent community you can play with friends sounds great to me.

    I’ve pretty much soured on MMOs and gone back to single-player and co-op titles for a simple reason: utlimately most MMOs aren’t very good games. So if BioWare wants to put some more RPG in my MMORPG, I ain’t mad at all. It’s time we got away from the old model

  30. dozilla says:

    Couldn’t be more excited for this.

    Keep up the great PC news Mr. Walker, you’ve got the entire PC gaming universe on your shoulders!

  31. BrokenSymmetry says:

    I’ve always played any MMORPG as a single-player RPG with co-op with friends. So if SW:TOR makes this kind of play its focus, all the better…

  32. Jeremy says:

    My biggest problem with MMORPGs (WoW in particular, since that’s the one I’ve played) is that there is “hardcore” content. I don’t want access to the best items in the game, that’s no big deal, I don’t even deserve access since I’m not willing to put in the time. However, in spite of Blizzard’s admirable attempt to make all content accessible to all people, there is stuff that I simply won’t see because I’m not willing to spend 200 hours getting decked out in the gear required to either survive or be invited into the high end content. I don’t hate Blizzard for it, or WoW even, I just choose not to play it. If they were able to make a way for all content to be accessible for storyline purposes, I would pick it up and play again. Hopefully TOR makes that possible.

  33. Torgen says:

    Just hope there’s captions for the hearing impaired such as myself.

  34. TooNu says:

    “I hope it is like GW so I don’t get my story ruined by pricks.”
    @ Nick
    I couldn’t agree more.

  35. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    A game in which you actually have a choice? Haven’t seen that since pong. Those were some really difficult choices, shall I go up, or down? OOH, or maybe I should stand still!

  36. Sonic Goo says:

    For those wondering about actual storyline that changes the world in MMOs: check out the phasing technology in World of Warcraft. Apply that everywhere throughout the game where possible and you’re pretty close to what you want. No instancing required.

  37. cjlr says:


    I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

  38. Radiant says:

    @c-Row
    “HAN Solo… he’s not a German.”
    So he’s Turkish?

    ALSO!
    @DSX
    “A groin kick? With thousands of alien species? What if it’s a Ballchinian???”
    Is not getting the respect it deserves!

  39. Shoe says:

    Dude you guys made cyberstrike?

    That was pretty awesome. Weird, but awesome.

    Good times, back in the day.

    never graduated above blood bursting rats in the sewer in Gemstone though :p

  40. ryan says:

    @sonic goo: Stood in a grassy field, wondering what those thirty players are doing stood in an apparently random and empty circle?

    Uunless you’re talking about phasing other player characters too, and i think that would be the anathema of any mmo.

  41. Jayteh says:

    Hope this game can pull it off, it looks good from what I’ve seen/heard.

  42. Sonic Goo says:

    Ryan: that’s not how it works. I would say try World of Warcraft, but the phased stuff happens from level 55 onwards… One example would a quest called The Battle for the Undercity.

    [SPOILERS] In this quest a conspiracy by apothecary Putress and Varimathras succeeds in seizing power in the Undercity, the main undead city. The player then assists major characters like Sylvanas and Thrall in retaking it in an epic battle.
    During the battle, when the player is fighting his way through the Undercity, he is in a different version of the world with the whole place turned into a battlefield. Once the battle is over, life returns to normal, though with some slight changes.
    The two conspirators are missing, for example. This causes some complaints since players often still have quests that end at Varimathras, so they can’t hand them in anymore. That’s what you get for killing your quest giver.

    Another way this is applied is in the final zone, Icecrown. There, players can unlock various quest hubs, camps with quest givers, vendors, etc., by completing certain quests that help the npcs establish a base there. Elsewhere there are bases that only become populated as you complete quests to make this happen. So you will see people entering and leaving houses that for you only have useless npcs, but for them have useful vendors etc. [/SPOILERS]

    In short, it’s a technique that works, if applied correctly. And it would be interesting to see it as part of the very concept of a game, rather than being tacked on to an existing game.

  43. drygear says:

    @Shoe

    You’re right, he has six fingers! Maybe he’s this guy: http://www.shanemacgowan.com/covers/peace.jpg

  44. Darth Pants says:

    Yeah, that’s what they thought at the US Patent Office nearing the turn of the 20TH century. Nothing serious’s happened since then, right? They already had automobiles, they already had airplanes, they already had computers, guess there hasn’t been too much in the past hundred years, huh?

    But in all seriousness, there were changes and developments that happened over the millennia in the SW universe, just.. it’s a comic world, and we stick to the presentation we like. It’s space, so it’s all spacy, but we don’t need to get into the details of how many kilometers per second what ship goes for what reason. In some of the books they give snippets, but that’s pretty much it.

    Oh, and imagine a universe without lightsabers. The first Jedi didn’t have them. They really used swords, then developed battery backpack-powered ginormous rough-lookin’ things, and it went from there. So there is some development over the ages shown, just not much.

    And at the time of the Original Trilogy the SW universe is sortof in the middle of the dark ages.. so it’s natural for things to be held up a bit.

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