E3 2011: The Old Republic Hands-on — WoW in Space?

E3′s The Old Republic experience began, like many of the conference’s demos, in a dark theater. The assembled journalists and civilians were treated to a seven-minute video, which attempted to give us a crash course in the classes that would soon be available for sampling. Since the characters on offer were all level 26, they were furnished with a dizzying array of skills and talents, and EA and BioWare were wise not to toss us directly into the Rancor pit.

As the video wore on, however, it was clear to me (a veteran of far too many hours in Azeroth) that the game‘s many abilities accorded closely with MMORPG conventions. We would soon be handed control of a variety of unfamiliar Sith archetypes, but the touchstones were all there: Casters had nukes. The sneaky class worked best if it attacked from stealth. Support classes had heals and buffs. Melee classes waded directly into the fray.

To be fair, The Old Republic’s Star Wars setting and profusion of different character builds adds some welcome spice to proceedings. Each faction has four classes, sure, but within each class are two “Advanced Classes,” specializations that have a huge effect on the playstyle. Bounter Hunters can be “Powertechs” (focusing more on gadgetry) or “Mercenaries” (focusing more on direct damage). Imperial Agents specialize as Operatives (with a Rogue-style – not Roguelike – focus on stealth ambushes, gadgets, and technological heals) or Snipers (speaks for itself). Sith Warriors have the choice between Juggernaut (tanking) and Marauder (damage-dealing) styles. The Sith Inquisitor bifurcates into the Sorceror (casting) and Assassin (stealth, burst-damage) specialties.

Released from the theater, we were ushered into a large room set up like a LAN-partier’s wet dream. Row upon row of top-of-the-line PC’s awaited, each furnished with Razr’s Old Republic tie-in peripherals (stay tuned for our coverage of Razr’s E3 booth and an interview with Robert Krakoff). Enticing avatars went through their idle animations on each monitor.

In the scramble that ensured, I ended up with an Operative. Not my first choice, but I decided to make the best of it. My enthusiasm was hardly increased when I noticed that my character was wearing a pair of under-sized purple shades that made him look like Agent Nein from Psychonauts.

I surveyed my surroundings. The Old Republic’s demo quest took place on Tatooine, back when the Sarlaac, presumably, was just a hole in the ground. We began in a small Imperial base in the Jundland wastes, full of sun-baked clay buildings and patrolling troopers. The game’s distinctive art, known as “stylized realism,” was shown to good effect, and Bioware’s designers made the iconic desert planet look appropriately epic.

Following a crowd of other avatars, I navigated my Operative over to a small kiosk that rested against the side of a building. The basic keyboard-and-mouse controls were like putting on an old, familiar set of MMO clothes. Spacebar still meant jump, a function I proceeded to briefly abuse, just for old time’s sake.

When I arrived at the kiosk, the game made its first misstep. The quest we were tasked was delivered by a tiny, holographic Imperial Officer, which quickly brought the grandeur of the setting to a creaking halt. I realize that there’s a precedent for holographic communication in the galaxy far, far away – Leia was a fan – but would it have killed BioWare to provide us with a flesh-and-blood NPC, so to speak?

The mission was a rescue operation of sorts. A quixotic, mystical Sith had disappeared into the desert searching for some kind of powerful relic, and hadn’t been heard from in some time. The Imperial officer suspected that he had run afoul of some Sand People. I was expected to track down a Sand People guide (a Sand Person?), relieve him of one of the special compasses that pointed the way to their hideout, and find this missing Sith.

Our quest-giving conversation showed off The Old Republic’s vaunted voice acting, which was solid, to be sure. The writing, as well, was up to the developer’s high standard. I was able to choose between three responses to each query (matching the classic BioWare “friendly-neutral-douche” triumvirate). F*cking up Sand People has a long and noble tradition in the Star Wars universe (cf. Skywalker, Anakin), but that didn’t mean I had to be happy about it. Deciding to roleplay my Operative as a jerk, I chose the most contentious, insulting answer possible each time. The result were a number of satisfyingly sarcastic responses, and, as an added bonus, I curried favor with my companion.

Companions are an important game mechanic in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Every character has one, and despite their function as dramatic foils, they’re also there to have your back during combat. The Operative was accompanied by a bald Dathomiri Nightsister (a la Asahj Ventress), who provided extra DPS every time I got into a scrap.

Now that I had a quest, it was time to consult the map. Maps are a key component in any MMO, since you spend a lot of time figuring out where to go next, and I’m happy to report that The Old Republic’s map was one of its best features. Looking sharp in blue and gold, the Map showed a huge area of the Jundland wastes, full of points of interest, quest-givers, portals to other areas, and other ephemera. Most usefully, if you move with the map open, it fades out but does not disappear, enabling you to navigate around while keeping an eye on your location. This feature is a staple in randomly-generated action-RPG’s like Torchlight and Diablo II, and it was welcome in the The Old Republic.

Venturing out of the town into the wilderness, it was time to summon my speeder bike. Pictured above, speeders will take the place of mounts in the game, enabling players to traverse vast distances quickly. They’re ridden standing up, which looks nice if you’ve got a cape to billow out behind you.

It wasn’t until I hit that hotbar button that the similarities between The Old Republic and World of Warcraft dawned on me with full force…

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10 Comments on E3 2011: The Old Republic Hands-on — WoW in Space?

Old MMO Player

On June 19, 2011 at 3:49 am

Don’t be fooled: WoW didn’t come up with this formula on their own either. They borrowed from the other 800 lb gorillas in the room too. Nothing new here.

BP

On June 19, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Just ONCE, I’d like reviewers comparing every MMO to WOW. Have to burst your bubble because WOW is NOT the be-all end-all. They took ideas from MMO’s before themselves. Also, Blizzard didn’t create the MMO genre. Try to remember that next time.

addedelement

On June 19, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Wow…that review was horrible. Take for granted he did give out info but it seemed to be more opinions than information. Like the rest of you, I totally agree that he compared the game to WoW WAY too many times. Once is MORE than enough. What I gathered from his dialog was mostly this:

OMG, they have a jump button too! Copycats!
WTH, they have heals & attacks & mounts? So unoiginal.
WTF, we play this game thru the internet? Come on Bioware, come up with new stuff!

Take the game for face value. Comparing an MMO to another MMO is like comparing apple to well, apples. This game takes the good and the bad just like any other thing out there game, tool, car, house, design, ANYTHING and tries to create a fresh, new look upon a favorite geek pass time.

My review for this reviewer: D-

Go back to Azeroth because no matter what, nothing will compare without having SOMETHING to do with it. I breathe oxygen too, does that make me a wanna be clone of you?

Homer

On June 21, 2011 at 12:04 pm

O’rly?
Guys commenting on how the author is wrong – you haven’t seen anythnig beside WoW did you?
There IS another way, way be creative and original. Look at EVE online – that’s how you make something different in MMO world (also EVE came into being BEFORE WoW)
Blizzard didn’t create what? kids probably don’t know what Diablo was, and of course Diablo II, which in many ways was reflected in WoW and it’s first steps. Blizzard had a lot of practice even be4 WoW and created MMO worlds be4 WoW, think about it.
As for SW – it’s published by EA. Says everything you need to know about what to expect from the game. Will be same failure as Warhammer. Just copy of WoW with “oh look – droids!” twist to it

Sterling

On August 12, 2011 at 12:51 am

This is a very biased and irrelevant article written by a person who even admits that he is a veteran/fan of WoW. When you’ve burnt out your eyes playing that game, then of course everything is going to look like a replica of it… I would also like to point out that the author doesn’t posses the qualifications to be taken serious on any review concerning Star Wars as he didn’t even know to make sand people singular (an unintelligent mistake that any other reporter would have investigated). I’m afraid that the bias in this article speaks for itself and is an embarrassment to gamefront.

Josiah

On August 12, 2011 at 1:33 am

@Homer
I don’t suppose you’ve heard of a game called Freelancer?
If you have, then you know that it is also a space simulator with the same basic mechanics of EVE (I own both games so I know what i’m talking about). Now obviously, EVE is a far more complex game than Freelancer, but my point is that EVE, also had to copy another game. You simply can’t state that there is a MMO game out there that hasn’t taken something from the years spent of evolving the genre. Also, anyone that took the time to investigate SWTOR would find that it is completely developed by Bioware (yes, the same developer that created KOTOR, perhaps the greatest SW game ever). It is funded by EA (since they own Bioware), Yes this means that they could potentially control the development, but they have wisely decided to keep their hands off. And I think you’ll also find that SWTOR is much more like a sci-fi game then another fantasy game like WoW.

Divinity

On August 18, 2011 at 11:32 am

Can’t believe how idiotic these comments are…

He’s comparing it to WoW because the games are ridiculously similar. Who the hell cares if Blizzard weren’t original? It’s an article aimed at WoW players (that small crowd) who want to know if TOR uses the same formula they’ve played to death over the past few years.

Honestly use some actual sense for a change and drop the defensive act, it’s embarrassing.

Joe Bernstein

On September 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm

This author is an idiot. Idiot! He’s a good writer but dammit what an idiotic nerf herder!

Common Sense

On October 13, 2011 at 4:29 pm

For those saying “this review was mostly opinions” you do realize what a review is right? “Biased review” is a redundancy as all reviews are biased. What you really meant to say instead of “this review sucks” is that you do not agree with his opinions. Which is fair in itself.

And your point about his numerous mentions of WoW is really moot. A new MMORPG will and should always be compared to WoW and you know why? Because it was and is the most successful MMORPG out there and most people who are into MMORPGs(IE his potential readers) play it.

And somehow it’s his fault there’s so many similarities?

Cam

On November 11, 2011 at 9:31 pm

All of you morons angry at the author for comparing it to WoW, have any of you actually played it? Because, let me tell you, it is damn near the same game. Even the damn art style is the same. I cannot express how disappointed I am with SWTOR. I would have much preferred if they had simply made KOTOR 3.

For what it’s worth, I am not a “veteran” player of World of Warcraft. I played it back in 2005/2006 for under a year and haven’t played it much since. Once the rest of you play it, maybe you will redact your angry comments towards the author, because it is everything he said it was and more.

And by the way, there are PLENTY of MMOs out there that aren’t similar to WoW the same way that this one is. I have never played another MMO that was as much like World of Warcraft as SWTOR is. From the classes, to the abilities, the animations, the presentation… I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the people that developed WoW for launch were behind this as well, though I would hope game developers would be a bit more creative than to recycle stuff they made 6 years prior…