During the first Fan Site Summit Bioware organized for members of the Fan Sites that write about their upcoming MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic, we had a chance to sit down for 2 days and play the game. These are impressions from our hands on experience and they are divided into the following segments:
You should also check out Swtorcrafter’s Bounty Hunter and General Gameplay Impressions for another view of the hands on experience.
In this article I will talk about the way combat works in SWTOR. I want to talk in detail about the skills my character had at its disposal during my gameplay and what it felt like to fight different types of enemies. I managed to get to level 6 on my own and I played a flashpoint with a level 9 character.
I’ve set a goal on playing the game outside of my usual gaming patterns. I usually read the quest text and do every quest I can find and I really hate to grind. I spend hours exploring and finding groups to do some cool stuff. In this case, I approached the game a bit different. I wanted to skip as much dialogue as I could to see if the game is still fun when I “break” the story element and I went off hunting mobs at random and outside my level range to see what it felt like. With all that in mind I sat at my designated computer and faced my scrawny imperial agent character. I felt sorry for the poor guy, he was in for some pain.
As an imperial agent you start on the planet Nal Hutta, toxic home of the fat Hutts and various criminal cartels. You are there as an agent of the Empire trying to make one of the local crime bosses pledge allegiance to your cause.
Let me say this right up front. Shiv is the greatest, most fun skill, I ever had a pleasure of using. Now that that is done with … The agent is mostly a ranged class at start and has three skills for his blaster rifle. One is your standard attack that shoots 100% of weapon damage. You also have an instant cast Overload ability that does significant damage and costs Energy points. If you ever find yourself in close combat situation you also have the ability Shiv at your disposal. You basically stab your opponent with a knife for significant damage (at cost of energy points as well). Imperial agent also has the cover mechanic at his/hers disposal. This provides you with places in the game where you can hide and shoot from safety. When you go into cover your bar changes and provides you with a different skillset. You can also click a small button on the UI to change to your cover skillbar setup to arrange it even while out of cover. At early levels you only get to use the Snipe ability exclusively while in cover. Snipe takes a while to aim (casting time) and does higher damage. To round out the abilities at your disposal you have a 30 minute buff that increases your critical strike chance called Concentration.
Not being a fan of ranged or stealth classes I frowned a bit and exited the building I started in. Time to face my first enemies and enemies were abound. They were mostly in groups of three and these groups were spaced very close to each other. We were told that this has been slightly modified in the latest beta build of the game and the build that we were currently playing was a bit on the hard side. With “shoot first ask questions later” attitude I ran in guns blazing. All I know is that next I was resurrected at the local med center. Congratulations, I won the n00bcake award. Being more careful this time I started shooting at the group of enemies from a distance. Opening up with 2 overload abilities, followed by your regular rifle shot I managed to take down the harder mob of the three. From close range I used Shiv to half the health of the second mob that I finished off with two face melting rifle shots. Third of the group presented no problem and would have been better off to run away than face its demise at my rifle’s energy beam.
I found the cover mechanic to be much more interesting than I anticipated before playing. By holding the SHIFT key all the cover options in the vicinity are presented to you as white or green arrows facing down. By rotating your character slightly you can choose exactly which cover spot to take. Pressing R or clicking on a skill in your skillbar you roll into the chosen cover spot. I am happy to report that the cover placeholders that we’ve seen at Gamescom last year that looked like Crash Test Dummies are no longer present and the semi-transparent ones we have now are much more pleasant to look at. One thing to remember about choosing which cover spot to use is that green is good. When you select a target you want to attack, cover spots marked as green are the most optimal, and will provide you with 100% damage evasion against the selected target. I’ve been playing Mass Effect 2 recently and the cover mechanic felt very much like the cover mechanic in that game. You hold shift, face the cover that will provide you the most protection from enemies and roll. It provides a somewhat arcade game feeling to MMO; Kind of like Gears of War meets EverQuest. One thing to remember about the cover mechanic is that if you stay still behind it you will get NO damage. Zero, nada, none! When you peer out to shoot you will get hit with damage reduction, but you can hold out for pretty long if you decide to chill behind that rock. This makes it essential when facing harder enemies or multiple enemies and dictates the long range Imperial Agent game style. It takes a bit of practice to roll into the right cover every time, but by the time we went to our first flashpoint I felt pretty comfortable with it. It is a genuinely fun mechanic and it greatly enhances the Agent’s combat feel. I was told that it is still being tweaked and what Bioware hopes will make it even better. I can’t wait to see how it will work in the final version.
Leveling up and new skills
I think level 2 already gives you your first Crowd Control ability – flashbang. It stuns your enemy and all enemies in close vicinity. The stun effect lasts for a short while and is broken if target takes damage. It is a perfect opening against multiple groups of enemies or harder enemies with adds. With Flashbang > snipe/overload > overload > rifle shot You would kill the first enemy without breaking a sweat or taking any damage. The two stunned enemies that are left are easy pickings afterward. It is also a good skill to help you get your energy points back up so you can use your stronger abilities once again.
You also get a Damage Over Time poison dart skill very soon. It is a good instant skill because of its low energy cost and short cooldown, since you always fight multiple mobs you can quickly DOT with the poison dart and then focus kill one by one while damage is constantly applied.
Another skill you get toward level 5 is an exploding droid skill. You “attach” a droid to one of the enemies without causing aggro and first damage that is done to that enemy causes the droid to explode. It also does some AoE damage which makes it a great opener. By level 6 I would go into cover, send a droid to the toughest opponent, snipe him, droid explodes damaging everyone, poison dart on everyone while they run to me and overload on the toughest guy to finish him off. Works great as a DPS skill on tougher single targets.
The last skill I managed to get was a portable cover skill. It is a kind of an energy field that you place in front of you and than you can use your in-cover skills and get some damage reduction. If I remember correctly the portable cover only provides damage mitigation (something like 20%) and if you really need cover you would be better off finding a true rock or a wall to duck behind. Portable cover is basically the skill you want to use when you are in an area with no cover opportunities (I came across these in flashpoints and group quest areas) and that require you to plan your attacks more carefully and using skills that are only available in cover mode.
This also lays out all the basic skills of the class and the way they will be branching once you pick your advanced class. Based on your advanced class you will be relying more heavily on poisons and darts, or you will be using droids, or your Snipe ability will become an instant cast and you will be doing long range, behind cover DPS more. Flashbang hints at having an option of being a crowd control class as well. By level ten, when you pick your advanced class, you will get a handle of all these basic class skills and this will help you decide which game style you like best and therefore direct you towards the advanced class that will fit you the best.
It was a problem for me to adjust at first to having to deal with three enemies at once. My World of Warcraft cowardly instincts constantly told me to run Forest, run. But combat is tuned so you can handle three mobs at once and it is so much more fun having to deal with three enemies at once. This is because I don’t have to be pressing 3 buttons all over again in the same sequence. I always would mix it up a bit. Those two snipers there guarding the gate. I’d run to them and open up with a shiv to the chest and then overload to melt face one, than jump to cover and let the other sniper try and hit me. I could feel his fear growing and I savored it while I prepared to snipe him. That is how I roll. Other times I would do things properly and go into cover, then open up with a flashbang or a snipe and go through the motions from then on. To have such variety in early levels was very fun. Enemies my level were easily disposable. I think I could do away with 2 groups of enemies at once if I did it from cover. I went on exploring at level 4 and faced my first level 7 enemies. Those proved to be much more challenging, but I could still kill them from cover. I came across some Strong labeled “dogs” that proved to be quite a challenge. After trying a few time I managed to kill one (with use of med pacs). The only enemy I really couldn’t handle was this elite robot in southern parts of the swamps. I could kill his smaller Strong cousins, but the named robot stomped me to the ground while I managed to take about ¼ of his HP.
The enemy AI was strange. Let me explain why. I saw regular MMO AI routines applied to the behavior of mobs, but then I came across some long range mobs that went into cover, just like I could do. Damage to them was mitigated so I had to come close range and shiv them! I did not expect that to happen. There were also times when one of the mobs would run the other way from me totally disregarding my shooting its back with salves of blasters, while its friends did the jig. It was obviously broken AI at work. The only conclusion I was able to make with certainty is that in the current build, the AI still has bugs, but it also has some advanced mechanics at its disposal that are more advanced than what we’ve seen with the competition and if all goes well the final product will be a thing to praise.
Having multiple enemies at once gave me options in how I approach killing every target within the group and the cover mechanic brought some action game feel to the whole class. Variety of enemies scattered across the origin world with Strong and Named mobs proving to be quite a challenge made the whole combat experience quite enjoyable and leaving me wanting to do this for a very, very long time. Bioware has not reinvented the wheel, but they have not put combat in second place. This makes the combat experience enjoyable, dynamic and different enough to hold its own against the competition.
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