Jun 22, 2010

Posted by in Featured, Havoc Squad: Life as a Trooper, News | 0 Comments

Hands On: The Trooper!

Editor’s Note: We wanted to provide a slightly different perspective with this hands-on than you have probably been reading elsewhere: it was written by a non-MMO player! Matt Jarbo is a gamer and journalist living in Los Angeles, and provides a unique look at the game!

A long time ago (1995), in a galaxy far far away (Canada)… A little known video game company named BioWare emerged, and went on to create some of the greatest computer role-playing games of our time. Fast forward to 2010, and we find them in the middle of their most ambitious project to date – one that would rock the foundations of the MMO community, and surely bring any rival to their knees. We are of course talking about Star Wars: The Old Republic. I got a chance to get my hands on this masterpiece at E3 2010 in Los Angeles, and I’m here to tell you how it looks, how it plays, and how much fun it is.

The Trooper and his pals.

The Trooper and his pals.

Before I go into the details of the game, I wanted to inform all of you readers at home, that I am not a MMO player. I avoided WoW, I never tried EverQuest, and anything from NCSoft made my head spin. So I was a bit reticent to place my fingertips on the W,A,S,D, keys and navigate my way around the world of Ord Mantell. Read on to learn how that all turned out!

On the opening day of E3, I got to spend a good hour playing The Old Republic as a Republic Trooper. My character started off in a ship heading towards the planet, when it is attacked. I was trapped in the room with an Officer, who talks me through putting out the fires with an extinguisher. As soon as I started interacting with him, I got my first taste of the oft-touted fully voiced characters in the game. I was immediately transported back to Mass Effect’s dialog tree, and how I was able to select a good, neutral, or bad response each time I’m able to speak. I found out the hard way that the spacebar allows me to skip to the next dialog tree instantly.  This option will work for those gamers who want to play and not be bogged down by long conversations. With the conversation sequence over, after averting disaster, I was transported to the planet surface.

On the ground, I took a few minutes to become acquainted with the controls. As a life-long gamer, I know that a bad control scheme can kill a game very quickly. I was assisted by James Baldwin, a BioWare Network Engineer, who was very helpful in teaching me the controls. It was explained to me that the controls are very similar (i.e.: identical) to other “popular MMOs” in the marketplace.  Once the basic controls were explained, I took off running around the city to battle the enemies on my quest to save the Galaxy from Empirical rule.

Full Auto

Now this is a gun. But where's my helmet?

I led the Trooper down a pathway towards the gates of the decimated metropolis, and I was ambushed by a trio of blaster rifle wielding enemies. I targeted the first enemy and the Trooper engaged him in combat, James was standing next to me and told me to select the grenade option that was in my #2 slot on the Action Bar. As the ordinance flew out of my rifle and struck my foes for several XP, James cheered loudly at my victory.

After that encounter, he explained the rest of the UI to me. He pointed out that I was a level 2 Trooper, and he explained the other abilities that were available in my action bar. I had access to Fast Reload, Grenade, and Rifle Butt. While in my next battle, I ran up blasting away, and when I got close to the bad guy, I clicked the Rifle Butt ability, knocked him to the ground, and proceeded to shoot him until he was dead.

Next to the action bar on the HUD, is the standard selection of options: Inventory – which has 48 slots available, and the Character Sheet – This showed my current alignment and stats. The only thing I wasn’t able to access was the Skill Tree, as it wasn’t available. Directly next to the action bar, were the buttons for Recharge, and calling my shuttle. I tried to call my shuttle and blast out of the world, but it never came.

I noticed that sometimes there was a “radar” part of the HUD next to the mini-map. When I asked about the significance of the radar, James told me that it wasn’t  an actual radar, but rather that is was a placeholder for images of the NPC when you talk to them.

Trooper vs. Droid

Is it really wise to elbow a droid in the face?

With a good understanding of how the game played, I was now left to my own devices to explore the city, and battle enemies till someone kicked me off the machine. I used this time to check out the graphics of the game. I had been hearing reports/concerns from some TOR fans about the graphics. I can tell you this right now; while the graphics aren’t Mass Effect, they don’t disappoint. The graphics were designed to be less striking than Mass Effect, but still detailed enough to work on a wide range of different system types. Now, keep in mind, this build of the game is still in Alpha, and it will be more polished when it officially launches next year. To me, the graphics were somewhat reminiscent of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV show. There were similarities with the designs, and the more cell shaded edges to everything. Occasionally there were a few hiccups with the network connection. These were few and far between, but I was assured that these would be fixed by the time the game launched. Within 15 minutes, I was fully immersed in the game, and loving it.

While storming through the city and killing homicidal droids, I came across a Twi’Lek Smuggler who was in a battle with several foes (who, it turns out, was another person playing the game in the room with me.)  I clicked the Recharge button, and charged in to help my comrade. She fired her blaster at the droids, and I committed the coup de grace by launching grenades.  When the fight was over, I thought I’d try and engage in a little PvP by firing a grenade at her, but it wouldn’t work. James informed me that we were in the same faction and unable to fight each other.

After that encounter, I thought I’d leave the city and explore the countryside a bit. I ran around and fought these dragon-like creatures and more baddies while continuing to move away from the city. In the back of my mind I was expecting to encounter a barricade, or an invisible wall that would limit my progression into the world. I asked how far I would be able to travel on foot, and the response was that there were no walls. The planets that were on display (Ord Mantell, Hutta, and Koriban) were complete and able to be explored.  I decided to make a mad dash for the hills and see how far I could get, but I was out of med packs, and a few of those dragon-like buggers killed me in a fight. My Trooper died, and a debug screen popped up that had the option to “resurrect”. Before I could click the button and get back into the game, I was told by an booth attendant that my time was up.

Trooper w/ Big Gun

Happiness is indeed a warm gun.

To summarize my experience with TOR, I would have to say that this is a game that is being built with the idea that it will change the way MMOs are played. This game was designed to be an action RPG, and a damned good one at that. The combat is fluid and fun. The characters are fully developed and real. BioWare is renowned for creating powerful and gripping storylines, and I know they won’t disappoint. This game was created by an exceptionally talented team of artists and programmers who are devoted to the material, and its clear that a masterpiece is emerging.

As a person who hasn’t played MMO’s, this game is calling me, and I’m going to answer that phone.

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