Gamescom 2010: Star Wars: The Old Republic – Hands-On Impressions

by on August 20, 2010

With Star Wars: The Old Republic it isn’t so much the hype surrounding the game in the MMORPG community that is getting people excited…..it’s hope. The hope (or should that be “new hope”) that the pairing of creative genius at Bioware and the powerhouse franchise that is Star Wars is a match made in heaven. A match that not only works well, but has a real chance of toppling the World of Warcraft from its very comfortable MMORPG throne. Can it do that when it’s eventually released? Hit the jump to find out.

LucasArts have gone all out this time and called in the big guns with Bioware. After finally getting some hands-on time with the game, I’ve come to the belief that LucasArts have realised what potential they have under their belts. They’re seeing what we all hoped for with SWG (Star Wars Galaxies) – that it’s going to take a big title to grasp the MMO throne and this is not a time to play it safe. Star Wars is one of the few brands in the world big enough to even think about going up against WoW, but to do so they need to re-think the MMORPG idea and that is exactly what they have done.

SWTOR isn’t just an MMORPG template with a Star Wars skin. Bioware/LucasArts have learnt from the lessons of Warhammer and Lord of the Rings Online – this isn’t going to be World of Warcraft in space. SWTOR is a proper, fully blown Star Wars experience.

This isn’t a sales pitch, this is my genuine feeling after watching the three presentations, chatting with the staff and playing the game. This is real joy you’re reading here.

Even down to the basics, Bioware are taking a look at what it means to be a hero/heroine in the Star Wars universe and applying that to their game logic. Instead of having groups of players taking on one enemy character at once, in SWTOR players can expect to be fighting multiple enemies at once. As a true hero would or bad ass, for that matter.

The gameplay philosophy is very ‘Bioware’ in that it reminds me slightly of Mass Effect. Every conversation you have with non-player characters within the game helps to shape the way those very NPCs perceive you. The decisions you make and the amount of time you invest in the game will affect whether you become a good or bad guy just  as much as the race/class you select when you begin.

Combat takes a slightly different approach in SWTOR compared to convention MMORPG’s and for the better of the game I might add. Not only will there be ‘spells’ (Force abilities), guns and melee (as you’d expect), but there’ll be sticky grenades, gun butts (ok so technically that’s melee, but it’s such a cool option) and missiles. These actions won’t be boring and repetitive either. The animations for a lightsaber, for example, will feature the kind of choreography you’d expect to see in a Star Wars film, rather than simple slash animation.

Don’t worry MMO fans, SWTOR doesn’t totally revamp every classic gameplay element you have grown to know and love. Bioware have kept to the MMORPG roots with the important things, such as player attributes which include the usual strength, agility, endurance, cunning, willpower and presence. Skill points in these attributes along with the route taken on the skill tree will affect your character’s gameplay style.

Whilst Bioware/LucasArts should be be commended for taking a fresh/different approach to MMORPG development, it also raises a few issues. There are a few aspects of MMORPGs that we’ve become accustomed to that are missing from SWTOR. For example, all friendly characters in SWTOR feature green names, whilst all enemy characters sport red names. In most other MMORPGs we’d expect an enemy characters colour to change dependant upon his relative level to yourself. If that character is a lot higher level than yourself you’d expect the name to display in red, however if the character is at a similar level to you his/her name might appear yellow/orange.

Walking through other people is an abstract annoyance I thought the MMORPG industry had grown out of long ago, but unfortunately that seems to have made a return in SWTOR. I happened to walk through a couple of characters during my short-ish adventure and whilst it might not sound like much, it ultimately breaks the immersive feel and, of course, looks totally unrealistic. Plus, it’s always fun to push other players around!

I didn’t get a chance to play any PvP, but I was told it’s instance based. SWTOR will feature War Zones which is kind of disappointing, but this seems to be the way MMORPGs are heading these days. It’s a carebear world…..

The graphics in SWTOR are absolutely gorgeous. Not just for an MMORPG, but for a PC game in general. They’re very reminiscent of the Clone Wars cartoon in fact, a comparison which can only be a good thing. There were some problems with this build such as minor clipping, but I fully expect that to be cleared up before release.

Taking all things into consideration SWTOR is shaping up to be a damn good MMORPG. It’s a long way off from going gold and, even at this stage, it still looks highly polished. Need I say I more?!