Preview

Star Wars: The Old Republic Preview (PC)

I worry about The Old Republic sometimes. Like most of the press, hearing what Bioware have been saying about the game (and due to the pure fact that this IS Bioware we are talking about), I'm as cautiously optimistic as the next journalist. Bioware haven't really made a bad game to date, and there's no reason to suspect they are going to start here... and yet I still worry.
 

Ground control to Major Tom

I guess it doesn't help that I'm not a huge fan of the art style: in an industry now where NCSoft can make their MMO's look painfully gorgeous, and Bioware themselves have made some good looking games, it's a shame then that The Old Republic looks almost... cartoony. Like the Clone Wars TV series. Which I didn't really like.

But it goes beyond mere personal aesthetic taste: the main problem with The Old Republic at the moment is that so far there's been a lot of hype, and not much substance. Sure, Strategy Informer was privileged enough to be able to get an extensive hands on session with the latest build at this year's GamesCom, but it was all the beginning levels. The recently announced space battles, the far reaching story, the consequences of choices, companions, personal ships... all the stuff that sounds like it's going to make this game really unique and different, all the good stuff essentially, just hasn't been seen yet.

That's not to say what we have seen is bad – on the contrary, to coin an old phrase, everything seems “so far so good”, but nothing has really wow'd us so far. Still, with a provisional release window of Spring 2011, there's still plenty of time for Bioware to work on the game. Not being a game engineer I have no idea how these things work in terms of what you can do in what time frame. Perhaps we're expecting too much too soon, but with the current level of buzz being generated about it, there is that subtle expectation we should be able to already see some of it by now.
 
It's ok, I can tell you're impressed

Despite the early levels feeling a bit generic at the moment, you can still see some of what Bioware has been talking about. Trying out the Sith Warrior felt surprisingly satisfying, and harked back to the KOTOR days. Leaping over boulders to drive your blade into my enemies flesh really brings out the evil Sith Lord in you, which is what makes combat feel so natural. Unfortunately, given the nature of MMO's themselves, the combat animations can sometimes hit thin air still, but the interaction is there. Strikes are actually blocked, enemies react to blows and everything just looks and feels more realistic when it works right.

Things like the classes as well: Bioware has now fully revealed all the classes and subclasses, and you can tell they weren't kidding when they said there was a ton of content in there. Re-playability is a key issue in MMO's, especially when you have to or feel like rolling a new character and essentially starting again. The amount of options you have, as well as the personalised story lines and quests etc... will really help with this.

Bioware gas also been keen to show off the voice-acting, one of the first things they touted back when this was first announced. This really helps to bring the world to life, and makes conversations and quests and just everything NPC and character related just that much more engaging. If we were to be finicky, conversations sometimes feel a bit stilted, and the lines themselves a bit clichéd, but hey, it's Star Wars. Props still go to Bioware for attempting such a feat as this, although with Guild Wars 2 hot on their tale with their own unique storytelling and character VO's, attempting may not be enough.

A quick amendment, actually: you did get to see the early stages of the 'far-reaching' choice mechanics in this build. Playing as the Sith Warrior, we were immediately caught up in a plot of political manoeuvring and back-stabbing, and one of the quests involved interrogating prisoners and figuring out what to do with them. In an odd break from form, Bioware scripted this quest as actually having 'wrong' choices, but never-the-less these choices will affect your character and later quests and so the seeds are sown very early on, and will probably have a knock on effect, which is impressive. We say probably, we didn't get to see what the true effects of those initial choices were, which is why we're eager just to get our hands on a build and spend some real quality time with this game.
 
That's how we roll

Forgive us if we seem a bit negative about the whole thing – in this line of work it's always healthy to try and keeps things in perspective. On a personal level, this is one of the few MMO's I'm actually excited about, and reservations about the art style aside, the graphics engine itself is actually looking pretty good.. Hopefully, as the months go on more of the advanced features will be playable, and we can get a real feel for the game. But as we said, at the moment all we can do is wait and hope.

Most Anticipated Feature: It's hard to tell at this point – probably the integration of all of the great RPG elements Bioware has spearheaded into what is traditionally a bit of a flat genre at the moment.

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Comments

By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Aug 23, 2010
Wowerine
Man I cant wait for this! :D
By Jake_SI (SI Elite) on Aug 24, 2010
Jake_SI
This is going to be a must-have MMO if you ask me. Sure, they aren't doing anything hugely ground-breaking I guess, but they are certainly taking existing MMO elements to another level, but doing it in a way that they can ensure the games success. It's just sensible if you ask me, given how much money they've poured into this game. (more than all previous BioWare games combined).

But think about it, imagine an MMO world in which you can actually get immersed, with voice-overs and great story telling, and the element of choice in quests. This game aims to finally put the letters R-P-G meaningfully into the term MMORPG.

On top of turning this into a real RPG, they are also putting in some cool new-ish features, such as ranged tanking, cover systems, space combat (not entirely new I know, but definately different). Personally, I think this game is shaping up to be an epic one, I can understand people having concerns, but I believe that BioWare wont let it's fans down, nor any fan of Star Wars, or the MMO experience.

EDIT:

Something I forgot to mention, was regarding graphics. Now personally, I think they look amazing, they are really putting great effort into making the environments look breathtaking, and making the outfits look epic. Sure, they could make it look more realistic, and in some people's minds that automatically makes it 'better', but in doing it this way, with stylised realism, the game is going to age a lot better. In 10 years time, it's still going to look relatively good, simply because they didn't try to make it look photorealistic, as opposed to games like Aion, which is already starting to look average, but when released everyone was in awe.