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.
Within the first 15 minutes of playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, even in its beta state, you know this is a game made by the same people that made KOTOR, Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Everything in it screams: “Hi, my name is James Ohlen, I am the lead designer of this game and yes, I made Knights of the Old Republic as well”. There is that familiar feeling you get when you start talking to NPCs and start doing quests that makes you think that this is the game sequel you’ve been waiting for.
Yet, it is so much more than a sequel. After the first deja vu feeling you start noticing all these other components of the game. The first thing you notice is that combat is much more MMO-esque, yet somehow familiar. Leave it to Georg Zoller, lead combat designer, to provide you with that mix. He designed Dragon Age’s combat and worked on Mass Effect, Jade Empire and Neverwinter Nights. There is Daniel Erickson and his team of writers making your quest stories just a bit more stranger than what you are used to in MMORPGs. Working alongside all this Bioware talent are industry veterans. Damion Schubert, guy that contributed in making the very first MMO Meridian 59, leads a team that is designing various game systems from crafting to itemization. Richard Vogel, guy that helped launch and run Meridian 59, Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, is in charge of getting the whole game come together and be ready for launch.
By meeting all of these people in person I was finally capable of grasping what is all of that talk about Bioware having a mission and philosophy about making games. The secret ingredient is that all of them deeply care about what they are making and are really passionate about their work. These are not just employees, these are people with direction, drive and a clear goal. All of their efforts being put to bring us some great entertainment on a massive scale. You can see the influence of all these people’s talent and experience while you play the game, because the lasting impression I got from my 8 hours of hands on is that The Old Republic has layers upon layers of things to see and do. It is a multidimensional gaming experience and this actually caught me by surprise.
People have called this game a World of Warcraft clone (WoW with glow sticks talk). There have been doubts raised that if great story is the only thing that Bioware plans on bringing as new to the table than they are not innovative enough. The “they only made single player games before” concern has become a kind of mantra. You can’t help but wonder whether the naysayers are right. All of that fall apart once you sit down and actually play the game.
What you get is a distinctive Bioware experience. Game so compelling it draws you into its universe from minute one. Yes, basic game mechanics work just like you would expect them to work. Yes, you still have to right click the NPC to get quests. Yes, the wheel is still round in this one. However, they managed to make a game that does not feel like a clone. That elusive thing called mojo is what Bioware has produced and embedded into this game. I can think of maybe two other game studios that were capable of providing this. When I started this site I did it out of hope that this game will be good, when I sat down and finally played the game for extensive period of time I finally realized that all my hopes were well founded.
Everything they’ve been saying in the past is not only marketing fluff and they really meant all of it. The game really respects all four pillars of the genre. They have brought story to the level of combat, exploration and progression and they really are innovating (or maybe re-inovating) the genre in that regard. They also haven’t neglected any of the other pillars in any way. Combat feels pretty damn cool and entertaining. Exploration reminds me more of old RPG gems than modern, streamlined, ‘so easy we have to use term accessible to hide it’, versions of this mechanic. Progression is a bit harder to comment on because I haven’t had enough levels behind me to form a hands on impression. Knowing though that there is the social points system that lets you progress through social interaction, PvP “leveling” system that lets you progress through engaging in PvP activities and regular leveling that you get new skills through, I think it’s fair to say that Progression will be done the right way.
My general impression of the game comes down to this. The first layer of this game is that Knights of the Old Republic experience we love and remember fondly, only updated and up to par with modern games. There is also a layer of modern MMORPG mechanics prevailing throughout everything you do in game. There is also that old school MMO game design layer present that provides you with proven game elements that seem to have been forgotten with all this Farmville crap. The story layer seems to be so masterful this time around that I dared call this the best Bioware storytelling so far. Multiplayer dialogue and social interaction layer put the M in MMO and group content meets all the standards you’d expect. All these layers create a unique Star Wars MMO experience that meets all the standards, but with a unique spin this particular group of Bioware developers was able to provide.
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