Star Wars: The Old Republic — GameFront Impressions (Part I)
I have to admit that I was looking forward to combat in The Old Republic. Hey, who doesn’t want to swing a lightsaber around?
There’s not a lot new here if you compare TOR to other MMOs. You select a target, and push buttons on your action bars to activate your skills, all of which are on some sort of cooldown. I’m certain that it won’t be long before someone works out the optimum rotaton for every class to achieve a maximum output of damage or heals, just like other MMOs.
However, it’s not all bad. The animations for characters in combat are solid. Jumping, spinning, and slashing with lightsabers looks like you’d expect it to, and that’s a big plus. Bioware chose to leave out auto-attacks, meaning that you won’t do any damage just by clicking on the target. Instead, you have to actively participate. This is one reason the animations aren’t somewhat out-of-sync, as other MMOs have auto-attacks and activated powers competing for sctreen time.
Combat in groups is well thought out, as skills from multiple classes mesh well together. A Sith Warrior can stun a group of targets, allowing the Inquisitor to hit them with an area of effect knockback, or an Imperaial Agent to toss a bomb at them all. These sorts of synergies are very rewarding when you can pull them off, and are some of my favorite things about combat so far.
Well, besides the lightsabers. Did I mention the lightsabers?
For the most part, combat in TOR is your standard MMO fare. Before you’ve memorized your ability cooldown timings, you’ll spend more time looking at your hotbar than the actual battle.
One innovation TOR introduces is a cover-based combat mechanic for two of its firearm-focused classes, the Smuggler and Imperial Agent. While I’m generally not a fan of cover-based combat in shooters, the transition to the MMO world feels more natural, because combat is slower-paced. Rather than function as a true hit-detection cover system, the system allows these classes to perform better when behind cover, dealing more — while taking less — damage through the use of abilities.
I’ve tried four classes in the lower levels — Sith Warrior, Bounty Hunter, Smuggler, and Sith Inquisitor — and each of them plays differently in combat. There’s enough variety to make creating a secondary (and tertiary, and quaternary…) character enticing.
Having struggled through an underwhelming PVE play session at E3, I was pleasantly surprised by my experience with the Bounty Hunter at low levels. Getting rid of auto-attack might have been one of BioWare’s smartest design moves — players have to be constantly paying attention, working in regular attacks in between their special abilities.
The game’s other smart move is the introduction of a global cooldown, which cultivates a welcome sense of timing. Unloading the right array of skills in the right order, without wasting even a second, is extremely satisfying. Even right at the beginning of the game, you’ll want to work to increase the quality of your pulls, and I can only imagine some of the hardcore number-crunching that will ensue once people reach the level cap.
Overall, combat is much faster-paced than in WOW, TOR’s main competitor. Instead of attempting to pull a solo mob and burning it down over the course of a minute or so, TOR usually asks you to take on adversaries in groups of three. If you concentrate, they’ll be dead in under thirty seconds. Enemies that die quickly also respawn quickly, however, so stay on your toes. Of course, everything might change at higher levels.
Even at low levels, however, the Bounty Hunter skills feel powerful, abetted by some great animations. Cold-cocking a charging, melee-class enemy with a jetpack-powered uppercut never gets old, and a sudden burst of flame from a wrist-mounted flamethrower is fun for the whole family. The fact that you have to keep right clicking to keep up steady blaster fire makes you feel really engaged — focused on the action, not the cooldowns.