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Star Wars: The Old Republic - Preview of a MMO in a Galaxy Far Far Away
by Matthew F. Hibben
Publisher/Developer: LucasArts & Bioware
Release Date: Late 2011
Platform: PC Windows
Star Wars has always held a special place in my heart, being a child growing up in the eighties, and having the memories of seeing the original series during the first original releases. That being said the idea of a Star Wars based MMO has always held a lot of magic for me, with the market saturated with casting fireballs and slaying dragons, it's time for new genre to take to the stars. This week's Game Tech article will explore Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR), for the first time exploring a game not yet released to the public utilizing information provided on http://www.swtor.com/ (the official SWTOR site).
Factions of the Force
The game is, as many familiar with the Star Wars genre, divided into the light side and the dark side of the Force.
Players choose upon character creation their siding with the Force, which are currently titled as either the Jedi Order or The Sith Lords. Through Q & A I learned that a player can change their faction as their character progresses through the game based on the choices they make, certainly a strong point for players that may jump into one faction early but later want to change to another based on what factions their friends play.
Playable classes in SWTOR are worked around the triad of MMO's: the Tank, the Healer and the Damage Dealer. In SWTOR the player can choose from 4 different classes between the two factions, or 8 total. I will point out that after going through the descriptions between the total 8 classes, it seems that even though the different factions use different names for their sets of four, they are basically mirrors of each other (which seems to make sense from a balance standpoint).
The classes are as follows:
Light Side: Trooper Dark Side: Bounty Hunter
Light Side: Smuggler Dark Side: Imperial Agent
Light Side: Jedi Knight Dark Side: Sith Warrior
Light Side: Jedi Consular Dark Side: Sith Inquisitor
At first glance this seems pretty limited in terms of starting classes, but each class can have a choice between one of two specialties, effectively increasing the number of classes to 8 for each faction. Before I go on to explain the different classes and roles, I want to first highlight the specialties or as they're called by the developers Advanced classes. The idea of your character growing and changing in utility holds a lot of interest for me. As you become more vested in your character, you get to see them mature into their advanced class and visually change through advanced armor modeling.
Trooper/Bounty Hunters and Jedi Knights/Sith Warriors (think melee warrior) can be advanced into either a tank role or a damage role. Smugglers/Jedi Consular and Imperial Agent/Sith Inquisitor are your ranged classes that can specialize further into more adept ranged damage dealers or healers. During a game play video I watched it certainly looked very diverse, with classes bouncing threats, crowd controlling, healing, and nuking at range.
A Place to Call Home
Some of my favorite MMO's had what I like to call a home point, a place where the hero can sit back relax, produce items, view items collected, you name it. In SWTOR your home is your ship.
That's right you get your own ship. Each of the playable classes in SWTOR gets their own type of ship. In addition to having your own ship you also get a crew, which is described as increasing in size up to 5 members as your character progresses (this of course can be subject to change + or -). These crew members also reside with you on your ship.
More About Crew Members
The concept of what crew members can do for the playable character in SWTOR is an article in and of itself, so I will try to keep it brief. Crew members can aid in battle, gather resources, complete side missions, and craft. The important and dynamic thing to point out is that they can do these tasks (aside from helping you directly in combat), without you being there. This blew me away, the idea that you can now micro manage a work crew, and also avoid one of the common pitfalls of gaming, which is botting. Your crew can do your crafting for you, can do your gathering for you, leaving you with freedom to either craft/gather in conjunction with them or simply go out and engage in other interests.
Combat and Flashpoints
SWTOR, from what I can tell based on the combat footage, seems on par with other current MMO's out there, with party UI frames, action bars, concepts of threat, healing, pretty much the things that are standard issue for a combat oriented MMO. Some cool things that I was able to pick up on from a video pertaining to instanced content called Flashpoints, is the need for cooperation and class knowledge.
Based on what I saw, combat seems fast paced and full of opportunities for classes to utilize their specialties vs. just a big nuke fest (simply going through an instance killing things with basic high damage attacks).
Based on what I have seen thus far, SWTOR could be the next big heavy hitter in MMO gaming. The market seems primed for a sci-fi based MMO, and with a built in fan base as large as the Star Wars franchise it will be exciting to see this unfold. Barring any real problems that simply aren't apparent from anything I have read or watched, I will be eagerly loading my blaster or powering up my Lightsaber and taking to the stars.