Jun 20, 2011

Posted by in News | 6 Comments

E3 2011 – Tatooine Hands-On Impressions

Yes, one last E3 article. Yes, it’s late. But, better late than never, right? :)

I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on Star Wars: The Old Republic on three separate occasions.

This first was at PAX in Seattle last September, where there were a select group of Republic and Empire origin worlds available for play – minus the Jedi classes and Tython – in 15 minute sessions. This wasn’t really enough time to get a true feel for things, and the booth setup was less than optimal for focusing on the game. But I had a great time.

The second time was this past April during the Fan Site Summit held at BioWare’s Austin studio where TOR is being developed. I had 2 solid days of experiencing origin worlds, Warzones, and Flashpoints. It was during this event where I really got a sense for the state of the game, and where it was headed. And boy, was I excited!

So, fast forward to last week… the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles. The epicenter (pardon the earthquake pun) of the video game universe for 3 days every year. It was here, playing on a recently released build of the game, with a completely revamped user interface, that I truly felt like I had a feel for what the game might be like when it’s released later this year – and it was a really, really good feeling. Let me explain.

And So It Begins…

When I sat down for my play session at E3, it was towards the end of the 2nd day, and as luck would have it, it looked like we actually would get about 30 minutes to play instead of the scheduled 20.

This was the last session of the day and seemed to be mostly full of fan sites and other media, so there were quite a few familiar faces in the room. Dover from Darth Hater and I decided to group up and give it a go. He waited in line for a play session earlier in the day, and had some idea of the quest line but didn’t finish it. So we figured we’d make an effort to get through it!

The session started with my character in in the Jundland area of Tatooine, where I began by interacting with a Holoterminal to speak to a member of the research team, whom I learn has hit a snag when one of their members has gone missing… and guess who gets to help find him?

Interacting with the Holoterminal

Now, BioWare’s golden-throated Director of Production, Dallas Dickenson walks and talks us through the very same Tatooine content that we got to play at E3, in a gorgeous HD video. I’d recommend watching that to get an overview and a feel for the content. But here in this article, I felt it would be better to cover some of the intangibles, especially improvements and differences as compared to my previous play experiences.

The Polish

The very first thing I noticed as I sat down to play was the difference in the level of fit-and-finish. It was readily apparent in this build of the game compared to the Fan Site Summit just a few months ago. Even in just the 10 steps my character took before reaching the Holoterminal, I could tell how different everything was.

This is where I started out.

The environments were spectacular. Now, they weren’t exactly shoddy before, but there’s a certain sheen or sparkle to them now. A feeling that you want to be there… that you want to explore them. It literally draws you in.

The textures of both the characters and environments were of a much higher resolution than I recall, and certainly seemed higher than many current MMOs. The character models are also made up of more geometry than in most other comparable games. Also, the addition of certain armor pieces as physical entities, such as belts, boots, gloves and robes, each with their own geometry and textures, really makes the characters feel alive and very three-dimensional!

And then there are the animations. The character animations are so improved from previous builds and previous videos, it’s like night and day. They are very detailed and not over-pronounced or awkward in some cases, as we’d seen before. If you had any concerns before, and I did, you should rest easy based on the progress that’s been made in this area.

The details of other animations, such as the “hover pulse” that emanates from your speeder and hits the ground, is a nuance you might miss, but adds a lot to the depth of the overall experience.

Speaking of the speeder, it felt like a definite upgrade from walking, and it was fun to tool around on. I was knocked off my speeder on several occasions after zooming too close to a group of Sand People, and was forced to fight my way out of some sticky situations. Good fun. I can’t wait to see what else BioWare has in store for various personal vehicles, and what they actually mean by being able to potentially steal one from the opposing faction!

The Combat

I was playing as a level 26 Sith Inquisitor in the Sorcerer Advanced Class. Which means I was a caster, and something I never play in MMORPGs. But I decided to give it a go. I wasn’t disappointed.

Unlimited Power!!!

First off, if you like Force lightning, there are no less than 4 variations of abilities that use it, so you definitely get your fill! I actually found that I didn’t ever use my lightsaber, despite it being out and at the ready. Even though I was playing a class and a combat style I was unfamiliar with, it still felt very engaging and visceral. Much like the environments, it drew me in and encouraged me to learn better ways to do what I was doing… in other words, it kept me wanting to play.

My companion was the now infamous Khem Val. I didn’t use him that much, other than on auto, since I was too busy learning what I was supposed to be doing. There are a ton of abilities available at level 26.

Overall, the combat felt great, and very similar to the best-in-breed games in the genre, such as World of Warcraft. And that’s a good thing. It was visceral and you felt very connected to it – something a lot of other games failed at. As far as I can tell, the combat in TOR will be rock solid and locked in, and there’s nothing to worry about in this area.

The Other Stuff

Since we were making good time on our quest progression, we had some time to poke around and check out the UI, character controls and the settings and preferences in the game.

The map of Tatooine. Actually, it's just a small section. Look in the lower right!

First of all is the UI. It has come a long way from everything we’ve seen on the web, and even from the recent events. It’s very streamlined and doesn’t waste any space whatsoever. Aesthetically it matches the Star Wars setting nicely without being over the top “spacey.”

In the short amount of time we had, I was able to confirm that UI and controls missing from previous builds, such as /assist, were now in the game. Along with that, all of the keybinding settings panels were in place, which means the game controls will be as customizable as you like.

I also noticed very granular controls for elements such as raid frames, which should make long-time MMORPG players quite happy!

The Summary

The game that we played at E3 feels ready to release. I can tell you from personal experience that it already performs better, looks better and plays better than many MMOs that are already out there .

Now, it could just be that Tatooine was polished up for the show, but I doubt it. We’ve heard quotes before, and even from interviews during this E3, about the game being fully playable and in an intense polishing stage now, which is a hallmark of James Ohlen’s approach.

It looks as if BioWare is going to deliver on their promises in terms of quality of the experience and just pure fun. And honestly, anything on top of that is gravy (or, the Star Wars equivalent of gravy.)

  1. TheDarkKnight says:

    Nice write up. :)

    Most of us knew the polish was going to appear nearer the release it is just some expect the game to look brilliant from creation.

    I guess there will be a few more passes before launch too so it will be even smoother.

    Looking forward to playing at Gamescom to see what build they have there.

    • Lethality says:

      That’s awesome that you’re going to gamescom! Did you go last year? I sense big things for TOR at GC this year!

      • TheDarkKnight says:

        It will be my first time there. I seem to be working my way across the planet west to east.

        Pax (Seattle) – Pax (Boston) – Fan Night (London) – Gamescom (Germany).

        I wonder if there is anything in Moscow!

  2. pwnttothememax says:

    yeaaaah! thanks for all of the info/writings about events you’ve attended. i’ve been stoked for SWTOR for 2 years now. i wonder when open Beta will begin though? it has to happen before wide-release!!

    • They actually already announced there will be no open beta. However they did say that high scale beta is likely to start within a month. This means that there will be probably close to 4 times the people getting beta invites.

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