PAX 2010: Star Wars: The Old Republic Hands-On Preview

The day after we saw (and filmed) the information-packed Star Wars: The Old Republic panel, we headed over to the BioWare booth to try out the game for ourselves.

For anyone who played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, you’ll know that BioWare is not new to the Star Wars series. They’re also infamously good at converting licensed material into fun games (i.e. D&D in Baldur’s Gate/Neverwinter Nights), so I was excited to see how they’re doing here.

We fired up a build of the Trooper class, the equivalent of the “Tank” in the game. The Trooper is the guy you send in to the front lines, blasters a’blazing.

The demo starts out aboard a transport ship. We’re headed to the planet of Ord Mantell, where a group of Republic separatists have hidden a very powerful bomb. You can initiate a couple conversations with “Gearbox,” a fellow Trooper.

Conversations are navigated with Mass Effect-style dialog trees. We played it tough/cool with Gearbox, selecting responses like “Doesn’t sound tough to me…,” and “I was born for this.”

The ship is attacked! The separatists are firing missiles at you, and your ship is on fire. You have to walk over to a fire extinguisher, right-click it to pick it up, and then use it to put out the fires.

Combat

When you land, it’s time to fight right away. You make your way through an abandoned town, disabling the separatists’ missile launchers while Gearbox repairs the ship.

The Trooper class I played had the following abilities:

  • Hammer Shot – fires a series of hammering shots
  • Rifle Grenade – launches a grenade from the rifle, deals high damage
  • Fast Reload – Reloads 6 ammunitions for the Trooper’s weapon
  • Stalk Strike – Strikes the target with the butt of the rifle

Each of the abilities are mapped to a number key at the top of the keyboard, 1-4. To queue one up, simply click the appropriate button while you have a target in range. After you use each ability, there’s a brief cooldown period before it can be used again. The standard attack for the Trooper is Hammer Shot, a low-damage blaster attack.

One thing to note is that there is no auto-attack mechanic in SW: ToR. Every time you attack, you’ll need to manually select an ability. This puts you right in the action with a sense of urgency.

Rifle Grenade was a blast to use (literally). It fires a super powerful grenade, triggering a pretty big explosion and dealing massive damage. If up-close-and-personal is more your style, get up in melee distance, and use Stalk Strike. You’ll smack the enemy with the rifle, and knock them over.

You can’t use Rifle Grenade infinitely, though. The Trooper class has another energy meter to watch, called “Ammo.” When the Trooper has depleted his six rounds, he can’t use any abilities requiring ammunition. To recharge, you’ll need to stop for a second to use the “Recharge and Reload” ability. It takes a good few seconds, but it fully restocks the Trooper’s ammo so you can get back to blasting.

So, how does the game look?

Graphics

Personally, I have issues with the graphics in Star Wars: The Old Republic–both the art style, and the graphical quality.

The art style, which BioWare is describing as “stylized realism,” to me resembles the art style in the Clone Wars animated series. Basically, it looks cartoony, and maybe even kidsy.

That doesn’t sound like what BioWare is going for, though. Here is a snippet from a post on the official SW: ToR site, describing the motivation behind the art style:

The overarching goal of the art for Star Wars: The Old Republic is to bring concept art paintings to life in 3D. This goal has led the artists to forego the use of photographs for surface textures in favor of hand-painting every asset. The concept art also drove the game art to match its heroic and idealized proportions of the characters and environments. Part of remaining true to the classic big screen vision of Star Wars™ is not only to look like it, but also to ensure that the art feels like it on the small screen. There is a fine line to follow in being true to the realistic expectations that we inherit from the movies while making style choices that will play well on the computer screen. This distillation of the Star Wars vision through a painters eye and a fan’s heart forms the core of the visual direction of the game.

While this “through a painter’s eye” visual style sounds like a good concept, I don’t think it’s there yet in the execution.

The graphical quality also looked pretty low, perhaps because of BioWare’s focus on optimizing the experience for “lower-end computers” (mentioned earlier in that post).

This is definitely understandable for an MMO. You can’t expect this game to look like Uncharted. It’s also worth mentioning that graphics are not everything in an MMO.

Still, this seems a little below the bar I expect from a BioWare game. Am I wrong here? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Final World

I only spent about 15 minutes with the game, so these impressions are very limited. The game gets big props for being a full-voiced MMO (every single person talks), and combat abilities are simple and fun to use. I’d love to get some more time with the game, to dive into quests, leveling up, the whole package. Hopefully we will in the near future, so we can update our impressions.

While the graphics didn’t wow me, the thing to keep in mind there is Star Wars: The Old Republic is due out TBA 2011, so there’s still plenty of time to polish up the visuals. It sounds like BioWare has a grand vision for the game’s art style. If anyone can get there, it’s BioWare.

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5 Comments on PAX 2010: Star Wars: The Old Republic Hands-On Preview

Patrick

On September 11, 2010 at 7:15 am

I agree with you on the graphics to a certain extent. I think the character models look horrible as of now. I don’t expect to look realistic like in Mass Effect 2, but I don’t like the cartoony look they have going. However the enviornment graphics and art direction look amazing. Even it’s a little “cartoony” for the enviornment, they still look amazing and beautiful.

David

On September 11, 2010 at 6:55 pm

I agree with Patrick. The character models just seem unpolished. I guess thats to be expected with an unfinished game though. I can deal with the kiddish , cartoony art stlye as long as the gameplay is solid.

Heres hoping!

Jason

On September 12, 2010 at 11:09 am

To expect the game to look like mass effect is totally rediculous, you need to remember that one of the key qualitiies to and MMO is Bandwith and compatibility. People can’t have fun if they’re infinitely lagging all the time, and also bioware doesn’t want to make the whole world upgrade just to play the game, I mean most people aren’t harecore like myself and maybe you, if it come down to choice, upgrade to play or stay on WoW or some other MMO, people won’t play. Bioware is trying to capture the lastest audience possible and although game graphics are important they’re not the focus of this game, story is, story and a awesome system of combat.

Mike

On September 12, 2010 at 11:43 am

Personally I love the graphics. It keeps the synergy between the original Kotor and the the new mmorpg. If you remember Kotor was actually the same type of graphics, and nobody complained then. To put things into perspective, most games have a cartoony look. They try to look realistic but its actually impossible. If it looks to real the mind will regect the image, which is obviously a bad thing. The game is not yet finished, and graphics polish is always the last to go on to a game. I think its loking great. Keep it up bioware!

Goleyrob

On September 23, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Can’t stop, won’t stop.