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E3 2009: Star Wars: The Old Republic Impressions

Star Wars: The Old Republic quickly became one of the most highly anticipated MMO's since it was originally announced that famed developer BioWare would be joining forces with LucasArts on the project. Similar to the single player role-playing games that take place in The Old Republic, this MMO is set 3,000 years before the rise of Darth Vader, when Jedi were common. A long series of events build up to the ongoing battle rages between The Republic and The Empire, with a detailed timeline found on the official website.

One of the first things that will strike players is the overall look of the game, which is described by the developers as "stylized-realism." Essentially, BioWare didn't want the game to look like a cartoon, but at the same time, the developers weren't shooting for photorealism either. The result is something that sits roughly in between, with characters that have some slightly exaggerated features running around some fantastic looking planets as backdrops. Also important is how the graphics look as though they might run well on a wide variety of computer systems.

As announced at the EA press event on Monday, Star Wars: The Old Republic will be the first fully voiced MMO. That means every NPC that has something to share with you will actually have a voice, and some of them will have interactive dialogue trees similar to those found in single player games. BioWare feels that having voiced characters and interactive cut scenes will address a role-playing element often overlooked by most MMO games: storytelling. BioWare states that the majority of MMO's handle combat and progression very well, but actual storytelling that fully engages players is a somewhat neglected area. Engaging with the characters and making meaningful choices that will make lasting impacts on the course of the game will get players fully invested in what's going on. As great as these interactive sequences are, it's hard to imagine a group of players patiently sitting by while the leader decides between supporting the light or dark side. It was indicated during the presentation other players will have some input on how things get played out, but it was difficult to see exactly how that worked during the presentation. Dialogue decisions also have a short time limit, which may work to keep up the game's pacing.

Players' decisions will make strong, lasting impacts on the outcome of the game. During the presentation, we (playing as Sith) were presented with the choice of killing a ship captain who disobeyed direct orders or letting him live to continue using his command expertise. Embracing our inner Sith, we chose to cut him down with our light saber, which resulted in a nice combat sequence culminating in a boss battle against a Jedi. We were told that if we had spared the captain that we'd have a very different game experience, and there are E3 attendees wearing buttons to denote the decision they made.

Storytelling doesn't come through unless there's plenty of action to go along with it, and Star Wars: The Old Republic will definitely deliver. Although many will probably be attracted to either the Jedi or Sith classes at first, The Old Republic will offer a nice variety of alternatives. The ones shown at the E3 2009 presentation include the Bounty Hunter, which is clearly modeled after Boba Fett. It relies heavily on using different gadgets to disable enemies from a distance. However, combatants that close in will find themselves facing a flamethrower. A feature that will set The Old Republic apart from many other MMO's is how the player can deal with multiple targets at the same time, which will further immerse players into their roles. Making its debut at E3 is the Smuggler class, modeled after Han Solo (black vest and all). This ranged class doesn't specialize in direct combat, so it tends to keep its distance from the fighting. To help, the smuggler can use the game's cover system, which shows a block figure silhouette behind large objects like boulders where the player can find cover. Of course, if an enemy closes in, the Smuggler can deliver a swift kick to the groin to disable foes and make a quick getaway. We were told that this move will work on most alien species, but we'll have to wait and see how it applies to all of them.

Overall, Star Wars: The Old Republic is shaping up to be an excellent game where players can come together experience the Star Wars universe when the Jedi roamed the galaxy and carried on an epic battle against the Sith. We'll be keeping an eye on this game as it develops.

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