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Preview: Star Wars: The Old Republic

It certainly seems like the rumors concerning BioWare's obvious development of a Knight of the Old Republic-themed MMO began a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Like Blizzard's revelation of Diablo III this past June, the development of Star Wars: The Old Republic was one of the worst-kept secrets in the games industry. It was a title everyone knew was coming; the only question was when it would be revealed.

Yesterday, the transparent curtain was pulled back, and the gaming world marveled at the game industry insiders had been buzzing about for quite some time. Despite the game's advanced appearance, BioWare and LucasArts burst the collective bubble of assembled journalists by informing us that the title was not ready for hands-on trials. Fortunately, a number of designers integral to the game's development were on hand to show us gameplay footage and answer several questions.

As expected, The Old Republic takes place within the approximate time line of the Knights of the Old Republic games. Set 300 years after the events of KOTOR II and 3600 years before the prequel films, the Galactic Republic and Sith Empire have reached a tentative alliance. Of course, such an alliance was never meant to last, because if it did, you wouldn't have any Sith Lords or Jedis to kill.

At its outset, SW: TOR has players choose between the two aforementioned sides: the Republic, or the Empire. Each side hosts a number of unique classes, though only the obvious Jedi and Sith classes were discussed. Others such as smugglers and bounty hunters were hinted at -- complete with copious uses of phrases such as "Not that we're saying there are bounty hunters in the game!" and "We're not allowed to talk about that, but it would seem obvious". Though reticent to unveil too much, the developers told us to simply look at the movies, take note of characters that would make for interesting playable classes, and draw logical conclusions.

A staple of MMOs and Stars Wars itself, combat will plays an instrumental role in TOR. Spectacles such as lightsaber duels and blaster stand-offs will comprise more than the standard MMO "click, dice roll, strike-or-miss" fare. Lightsabers will actually collide against each other, which should make such instances far more dramatic, similar to the battle scenes in Star Wars films. Additionally, team members mentioned that TOR would incorporate a brand new combat mechanic rather than maintaining the d20 (20-sided dice) mechanic used in KOTOR I and II, though specifics were not divulged.

Whether you're a fan of Jade Empire, Baldur's Gate, Mass Effect, KOTOR, or every BioWare game, one element recurs throughout each of the famed developer's endeavors: story. Combined with combat, exploration, and character progression, storytelling is what The Old Republic's writing team refers to as the fourth pillar of MMOs. Sadly, they believe this fourth pillar is one that is often lost in a sea of grinding, looting, and making leather vests for your party.

Not so in TOR. Each class will have a finely crafted story with enough content to warrant a release as an individual game. In fact, the TOR team claimed that if BioWare fans were to combine the content of every BioWare game made thus far, that entirety wouldn't compare to the meat attached to TOR's bones. Once you're done playing as a Sith Lord, slip your feet into the boots of a Jedi to experience their own unique adventure, during which not a single quest or line of dialogue will be repeated.

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