Star Wars the Old Republic Preview: Bam, Here It IsS

Star Wars has a spotty history with massively multiplayer online fans. Who better to salvage the zero for one record than role-playing game developers Bioware?

What Is It? Bioware's take on a Star Wars massively multiplayer online game complete with full voice acting for all scenes, the ability to play as a number of classes on either Republic or Sith side. The game takes place 3,000 years before the rise of Darth Vader and 300 years after the events of the Knights of the Old Republic.

What We Saw
I played through a section instance called The Taking of the Black Talon. I controlled a level 10 Sith.

How Far Along Is It?
They won't say, they can't say. They will say the game will take less than a decade to make.

What Needs Improvement?
Not a thing. Seriously.

What Should Stay The Same?
Voice Acting: The game features 100 percent voice actins. All cut scenes, all conversations, all choices come with voice, well acted voice. The impact this has on the experience is substantial, the game feels less like the sort of massively multiplayer online game that drove me away from the genre and more like a role-playing game.

Forking Paths: During interactions with non-player characters your choices not only drive the voice-acted cut scenes, they also drive the story and your experience. In the section I played I first decided to kill a disobedient spaceship captain and the second time decided to let him live. In the resulting first scenario, a new captain takes over and her inexperience leads her to ignore pods ejecting from a ship we're attacking. Those pods later attach to our ship and I was forced to go repel the invading soldiers. In the second scenario, the captain, happy to be alive, blasts the pods as they approach the ship, allowing me to concentrate on my main task: Taking out a Jedi.

Ambient Animation: During firefights lots of things are going on. Ships hover in, firing blasters as they drop off troops. My men and the enemies fight one another. And my favorite: While taking on the Jedi, my Sith character nonchalantly deflects blasts from nearby troopers without me having to worry about it.

Sense of Scale: This is a war of bounty hunters, Sith, Jedi, smugglers and others. You can feel, in every scene, the importance of your action. The game does a great job of walking that fine line between making you the most important person in the universe and making you just another player.

RPG: It may be a massively multiplayer game, but it certainly didn't feel like one. While playing I was still moving around with the keyboard, attacking with the mouse, using hot keys to pull of choke holds, powerful light saber attacks, impaling enemies. But the inclusion of all of those choices, the voice acting, the look combines to make it feel more like a powerful single player experience.

Look: The game forgoes a realistic look for something a bit closer to animation, though it's not really cel-shading. The developers invented a new word to describe it to me: Painterly. I'm not sure what that means, but it is sort of a painting quality. The characters are a bit over-sized, but not so much as to look like a cartoon. This may be the game's weakest link, but I liked it.

Powers: This is why you're going to play this game. As a Sith I could force choke, deliver powerful light saber blows, impale, and stun with a lightning attack. There are plenty of more options, and attacks. You will also, I'm told, be able to dual wield light sabers and deliver special attacks.

Final Thoughts
This is the sort of massively multiplayer experience that I think could bring back a lot of people long lost to the genre. Of course I only saw a small snippet and we have no way of knowing just how far out this game is, so keep an eye out for further developments.