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.