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.
DISCLAIMER: Everything discussed here is subject to change. The version of the game we played was not even the latest build that was about to hit the beta servers around the time we visited Austin. Please, take all of the things said here with a grain of salt. Through testing and player feedback things drastically change.
I will be covering exploration in The Old Republic in this part of my Imperial Agent hands on series of articles. Why exploration? It has become a lost art of MMO design. As developers moved towards creating more accessible games in order to reach the widest audience possible they chose to hold the players’ hand every step of the way and take them down a predefined path. This made exploration a moot point since there was nothing outside that laid out path. Massive Multiplayer games are, however, a perfect setting for exploration. With its massive lands that take hours to walk across you should be able to find things that none else saw before. Little gems of lore and land that game designers left for those inquisitive types of players. Does Bioware provide something like that in The Old Republic?
Map is the most important game component for us explorer types. In the Old Republic you get a sort of topographic view of the planet you are on. All of the quest givers and quest objectives are marked with special icons on the map. You only see the quest givers in your immediate vicinity. Quest objectives are visible no matter how far away they are. When in a group you can also see your group member’s quests, even if you don;t have that quest. Such quests are marked with purple icons and these are actually useful if you want to know where you want to be to help your buddy out on a class quest that you can’t get. Quests that you get by just approaching a certain area of the map are also clearly marked on the map (I think these are called optional quests). Mousing over quest givers or objectives shows you the quest name tooltip. You have several filters to help you show exactly what you want shown on both the big map and the minimap. These help you show class trainers, taxi service, vendors, crafting benches and the like. While on a big map you can also see your player’s X,Y coordinates as well as cursor X,Y coordinates. There is a Magnification tool that can help you zoom in on a particular small portion of the big map that will probably come more handy on bigger planets. The map becomes 50% transparent when you start walking/running with your character so you can actually monitor the map as you explore.
With this out of the way I can tell you about my exploring adventures.
My Imperial Agent was doing his quests and he was going from one small quest hub to another. That is what a new player, in his first levels, should be doing anyways. My goal was not to follow the rules though. I played Bioware’s introductory game for 4 levels and than said: “Goodbye theme park, hello world”. I just started going south. South had swamps and I was in Texas, so what the heck. I came across some automatic quests along the way – the ones you get when you approach a certain area and that task you with killing 10 of creatures in the area. Good, I had something to blast on my way to south. I started feeling like a proper cowboy. I started entering the area with level 6-7 mobs soon and I started seeing a lot of droids. One stood out in particular , being big and overshadowing and having a proper name like M74 or some such designation, so I shot him in his metal face. This really made him mad and since my shot only took about 0.001% of his health I was in big trouble.
One resurrection later at a med center, all the way to the north by the way, I started going south again. You should know, I am that stubborn. This time I avoided the big bad robot and merrily killed various humanoids and lizards on the way taking in the swampy vistas of Nal Hutta. This being a starter world It didn’t take me too long to reach the most southern point of the map to find it blocked off with pipes and garbage and some environment appropriate walls. On my way back something strange popped up on my minimap. It looked like a quest icon. I was checking out my map every few minutes or so to make sure I was exploring as much as I could and I was sure this was not there before. Mousing over it I found out it was a Datacron. The famous collectible that was first first found out only a few weeks ago and that permanently increases your stats once you find it. It was only 20 minutes before our scheduled interview with Damion Schubert. The Datacron was up in a hill and I couldn’t really find a way to get up there right away. The race was on – can I find the secret way to the Datacron in the next 20 minutes. I started running around the hill trying to climb any side that looked like it could have a small passage that will let me through. I had to kill several groups of mobs that were standing around. There is a metal wall/gate nearby that I thought I could climb and than walking on top of it I thought I could jump to the hillside that will take me to the Datacron. I failed at that as well. I had only 5 minutes left and in desperation I went running around the hill in last attempt to find a weak spot in what seemed to be an unscalable hill. At this point I had Bioware staff watching me, seeing if I could make it and the pressure was mounting. Suddenly I noticed there was this huge pipe that seemed to have fallen on the hill. Its base was a bit further in the swamp. I went there, scaled the pipe that took me all the way up the hill. I was just one small jump away from the Datacron and my +1 Agility reward followed by a cool looking in-game cinematic sequence. I got pats on the back and my exploration became a memorable adventure.
Hidden quests and mobs
The interview we conducted gave me a nice little break from the game and I wondered what else I can find. I went north this time. For no reason in particular, I had to even out my Chi, so I went north. The vista changed to something resembling a forestland, but in brown and orange tones Nal Hutta is known for. Not too far away from a quest hub I came across a camp site. A camp site populated by one large Wookiee. Hello there my furry friend, here’s a blaster shot for you. I shouldn’t have done that, it only made him mad and made him pull out his crossbow. Wookiee was a “Strong” enemy, a kind of SWTOR version of Elite mob. Luckily, SWTORCrafter was trodding in the vicinity and came to my help in the last minute. We managed to kill the mob without dying and got some nice loot. I was told that in very early versions of the game he dropped a Wookiee suite. I can only imagine how much fun I could have with that.
Moving further to the north I actually came across some quest givers and this was strange because no other quest sent me that way. I asked Alyson Bridge, Bioware’s community manager, about this and she said that his is a special quest zone that you can find by exploring. It helps you bridge a few levels in case you are behind so you can go to level 7-9 zones to the east. This was a whole sixth of the map that the developers chose not to hold your hand and take you there. I noticed later that while driving from the west to the east questing zone by taxi I would see a quest giver pop up at the middle of the road. This would hint at this area having quests. But basically, this is where exploration led to more content and quests. Whether this stays like this or not in the final build of the game remains to be seen. Not everyone likes to miss content because they did not want to earn their explorer’s badge. I for one was glad that my exploring led me to this special section of the beginners planet.
Evocii have nothing in common with Ewoks, no matter the similarity in the vocalization of their names. They are a primitive race that originally populated Nal Hutta, before the slimy Hutts came. They are now slaves to the Crime Lords and their villages are scattered across the map. You get to know a bit about them through your main questline as well as your planet questline. What they provide in terms of exploration are their village totems. These totems are scattered across the swamps in uncommon places and right clicking on them you get a Lore update in your Codex. I am not sure what is their official name, but lets call them lore collectibles. A few of these were in obvious places, like main Evocii village and remains of another village I found. A few of them were just laying around, presumably at spots where villages once existed. I only found 5 out of 7 possible, but I found these collectibles entertaining and as a hoarding type of personality I am sure I will be spending hours trying to find every lore item on every planet. This is where exploration led to lore and as such gave deeper meaning to my game playing. Person in me that used to collect baseball cards started squealing like a little girl and clapping out of excitement.
As a level 6 I was tasked of infiltrating a compound to the west. A farm or a fortress of some kind. Building filled with enemies for me to cut through. With my exploratory agenda I decided to not approach the compound from the side my quest instructed me to go t, but I rather approached it from its west side. Waiting inside a door, guarded by two level 7 mobs were elite droids and humanoids waiting to make my day a bit longer. For sake of exploration I entered that entrance to have my ass handed to me within seconds. After having to run several times from the Med Center to the elite wing of the compound, just to find that there is no way I can solo penetrate the premises I decided it was time for me to go follow regular game paths. I left the elite wing to be explored with my trusty friends in a group that will not be scared of Elites and purple drops they must have. Still, my explorations led me to another discovery of special content that I haven’t been sent to thus far. Perhaps there is a group questline that takes me there and that I needed a higher level to be able to get, but through exploration I was able to discover it at my own terms and enjoy doing so.
As you can see there is a lot to be said about exploration in the Old Republic. This game is being built by game design veterans. They remember what joy threading outside of a given path could and should bring. Although things that require exploration are not many and do not provide a major piece of the content it is still very good to know that there is something to be found “outside the box”. The focus of this game is not exploration and knowing that they were ready to spend so much time to provide an enjoyable experience in even such a sideways venue is reassuring. Just like with Combat and Story, Star Wars: The Old Republic feels richer in exploration than its main competition.
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