E3 2011: Star Wars: The Old Republic

By Jeff Mattas, Jun 10, 2011 6:00am PDT

QUICKTAKE: Bioware has a proven track record of creating games that deliver meaningful player choices and engaging stories, and their maiden voyage into massively-multiplayer territory, Star Wars: The Old Republic is aiming to revolutionize the way that narrative is delivered in a MMORPG. In a live demo at this year's E3, I got to see some four-player cooperative adventuring on the planet of Alderaan--Princess Leia's home planet some 3000 years later. I also got to see some examples of the overarching impact of player choice, and found out that even on a per-class basis, there are "several hundred hours" of unique gameplay.

THE DEMO: Player choice within conversations was illustrated first. In a dialog sequence that apparently followed a victorious battle against a Sith Lord, the player was able to choose whether or not to end the bad guy's life, or try to sway him to the light side of the Force. Killing the Sith played out as one would expect; however, after choosing to spare his life, a dialog sequence from later in the game revealed the former Sith had become a powerful ally, and had embraced the light side of the force.

Next, a four-player Alliance party consisting of a Jedi Consular (healer), a Smuggler (dual-wielding gunslinger), a Jedi Knight (powerful in melee combat, and a damage sponge), and a Commando Trooper (powerful ranged gun), landed on the planet of Alderaan to confront an evildoer by the name of Bouris Ulgo inside a skyscraper-sized building. Upon confronting Ulgo in a cinematic dialog sequence, the players chose to confront him directly. At the start of combat, Ulgo raised a protective barrier, which needed to be disabled by destroying four nearby power sources, all while battling waves of enemies.

The final section of the demo footage wasn't played live. A brief tease of an "Operations" mission--high-level end-game content (The Old Republic's version of Raids)-- was also shown, consisting of a massive battle between a huge number of high-level players and giant turrets outside a heavily-fortified structure and a several-story tall robot.

THE DETAILS: One of the most striking things about Star Wars: The Old Republic is the amount of unique content that Bioware plans to deliver. Of the eight character classes, there are hundreds of hours of unique gameplay. Though it sounds insanely ambitious, those at the presentation were told that playing the game from start to finish with a particular character class, and then playing through again with a different class would yield completely different experiences with no duplicate mission content. Furthermore, the player's chosen faction (Republic or Imperial), character class, and in-game choices will cause noticeable shifts in the narrative, making for a huge amount possible narrative variance. On top of that, all characters in the game are all voice-acted.

When a party of allied players enter into dialog sequences (presented with the same cinematic flare and response system from other Bioware RPGs), each player selects their own response, and the game determines which character actually speaks, on the fly. It's a cool touch that will help keep players invested in the story.

Though only highlighted in a gameplay trailer at the end of the presentation, things like companion characters, space battles, vehicles, personal starships, and social hubs are just some of the other features that will be included in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I have to confess, though I'm personally not the hugest fan of MMO's, Bioware's serious focus on story and choices with real consequences means The Old Republic is looking like it might just be the contender that brings me over to the dark side.

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