I finally got an opportunity to play Star Wars: The Old Republic, much to my joy. BioWare's latest take on the Star Wars universe just happens to be one of my most anticipated games in a winter season jam-packed with quality titles, so you can guess how excited I was for this hands on. Though I played both PvE and PvP, this article will focus mostly on PvP. I don't think I can convey an adequate measure of the PvE aspect due to a few factors: limited time, lack of party or companions, and starting from an incredibly low level, which veteran MMO players know to be one of the slowest parts of the game. So without further ado, let's talk player vs. player!
While waiting the 30 minute queue, I befriended a fellow World of Warcraft alumni who was just ahead of me on line. Our two-man party made its way toward the entry of SWTOR's massive PC complex, which easily housed at least 30 stations running the game at max settings. As the last two to make it into the current session, we couldn't really choose which class we played, as classes were predetermined by which station you manned. My compatriot took control of the Gunslinger, an advanced Smuggler class who dual-wields blasters and comes equipped with a variety of tricks. After he was seated, I was informed by the helpful staff - who don't head count especially well - that there were no more available stations and I would have to wait until the next session. Nuts, but I made the best of my time by observing the Gunslinger in action.
The players of this current session were dropped into a match of Huttball; The Old Republic's official sport, which lead writer Daniel Erickson described as football almost exactly, complete with player positions for the classes. The match is between two teams of 8, on a playing field littered with an assortment of traps and pitfalls. I spotted vents of highly damaging fire, movement slowing pits of acid, and high-pressure air vents which propel the player into the air and has a chance of dropping you into one of the aforementioned death traps. At the beginning of the match, a ball spawns in the middle of the field. The first to touch the ball becomes the carrier, and is tasked to deliver the ball into the opposing team's base, which acts as an end zone. If you kill the man with the ball, you become the carrier. As the carrier, you can attack and use skills as normal, and can also pass the ball off to a teammate in case the pressure of having the entire opposing team's crosshairs on you is too much to bear. A single team can consist of both Republic and Empire combatants, but only same faction players can party to enter the war zone together. It pays, however, to know your team. A lightly armored Jedi Sage may not be who you want attempting to blitz the opponent's end zone. The Sith Warrior makes a strong running back, due in part to good defensive capabilities and Force Leap, an attack that propels the player at his target, who is in the direction of the end zone, ideally. A Jedi Consular, in addition to healing, can use an area-of-effect Force Push which can keep melee heat off of the ball runner. Huttball is one instance where working with the enemy can be beneficial.
As Huttball ended, players shuffled out of BioWare's brief abode of bliss with mostly all positive reactions. After watching the entire preceding match, I was electrically charged to get on the mouse and keys. As the first person in, I had pick of the litter among the classes. Boba Fett fanboy that I am, I chose to play a Bounty Hunter, which is a class I was leaning toward to start my adventure in The Old Republic anyway. The real decision came between advanced Bounty Hunter classes: Mercenary, ranged DPS dynamo akin to Jango Fett, or Powertech, defensive juggernaut akin to Boba. My choice was simple. I always thought Jango was a bitch anyway. Once the players were set, we were thrust into the Alderaan war zone, which played a bit like a 'territories' game type. Teams began play away from the battlefield, and mounted speeders to be automatically flown to one of three turrets of their choice. After a short period spent to capture the turret, it would fall under your faction's control, and begin firing on the opposing faction's transport ship, which is chilling in low orbit. The more turrets you hold, the sooner your faction will win.
In the Alderaan war zone, my Powertech was impressive, raking an 11:3 kill-to-death ratio. He chipped away at enemy health from distance with wrist-mounted rockets and his trusty blaster, and when the enemy got up close and personal they were greeted by a flamethrower and a rocket punch to the teeth. It took about 2 or 3 enemies to take the Powertech down, a testament to his defensive capabilities, especially with his shield buff active. I would usually stay at a distance from the turret and attempt to pick off the Republic do-gooders, usually pulling them away from their objective one at a time, which is where the Powertech excels it seems. I made a point of asking every Old Republic staffer which class they preferred playing as, and the response was surprisingly well spread out. Not once did I receive the same answer, which means either there is incredible character balance, or those dudes are very well trained to tell players what we want to hear. According to Mr. Erickson, 6 of the 8 playable classes can be played as either tanks or healers, meaning you won't often find a shortage of two of the most important in-game roles.
What I think is one of the coolest parts of the PvP experience is the level playing field that BioWare has created. Players can PvP beginning at level 10, and the war zones are built with players ranging from the entry level of 10 to the level cap of 50. Base stats are evened out, so a level 10 and level 50 may have the same amount of base HP and other attributes, meaning the polar opposites could technically stand toe-to-toe, with the fight going either way. Of course, the level 50 will have superior equipment and a wider range of abilities to use, so there is still an advantage for he who has invested more time into the game, but the lackadaisical end-game PvPer will be punished. Some players may not agree with this aspect of the design, but I think it solves more problems than it creates, so consider me a fan.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is gonna be hot fiiiiiiire. I cannot wait to spend a good portion of my winter humiliating would-be Jedi who cower behind the false sense of security provided by a lightsaber. If battling other players ain't your thing don't worry, it appears SW:TOR will have something for everyone. With 50 man years worth or writing in the story how could it not? Unique storylines for each class means you'll have to play with all 8 to truly experience all The Old Republic has to offer. December 20 cannot come soon enough.