Star Wars: The Old Republic. Jawaballs gets some hands on time prelaunch!

Myself with Mr. Jeff Bass. The guy in charge
of social events for Bioware

Hey Folks! Last night I had the pleasure of attending a meet and greet social at a club in New York City hosted by none other than Bioware!  As part of their appearance at NYC Comic Con, they decided to have an unrelated social event at a club for guys unable to attend the con.

I hopped on a train from CT right after work and made my way out to the club on 36th street with dreams of some face time with Star Wars: The Old Republic.  The new MMO due out on December 20.

I arrived at the location at 5:30pm knowing that doors open at 8 for the event. There were already about a dozen or so people in line.  I quickly introduced myself and shook hands with a few guys at the back of the line. One was from Scotland who flew over for the con, another worked in Finance around the corner and a few other guys were blowing off work and wives from Jersey. The typical mixed bag of gamers.  My kind of crowd.

Just a few folks in line. Ahead by the railing was a couple 
from Spain on their honey moon!  

This guy was passing out wristbands from a plush R2 unit.
He is the creator of a fan podcast site TorWars.

Jeff Bass came out to socialize.

So after almost three hours of waiting, IDs were checked and in we went!  

Lighting was of course dark so I have few pictures worth showing.  But I made my way immediately to the gaming area. It turned out there were 6 PCs set up for fans to play the game on, and each of us who got on one had 30 minutes to play.  Since there were easily 300 people there, grabbing one of those slots would be lucky.  I managed to score one though.  Apparently introducing myself as Jawaballs carried no weight except for a wry smile at the goofy name, but when I mentioned Bell of Lost Souls there was a glimmer of recognition from the guy running the gaming, and I made it to one of the first slots.  

Game on!

They had the game preset and we were playing on one of the actual US servers.  I was not able to create a character, but they had pregen characters and I picked the one I plan on playing live, a Sith Operative. (The sneaky sniper)   So then I was off. Headset on and blue haired chick running around some sort of Cantina sporting a carbine.  

As most of you know, the interaction between player and game is based on voice.  Instead of quickly reading/skimming a block of text that offers a quest, the dialogue is handled through cut scenes between the quest givers and your character.  At pauses in the conversation, you can select certain options that will guide the conversation, and give you positive/negative effects.  

After quickly watching the impressive cut screens and scooping up some missions, I was off to the wilds.  From here it was a standard MMO.  Get mission, run into wilds and kill. Defend the outpost from marauding thugs. But quickly I got a sense that TOR has the best of every thing, and more!  First comes the cover option. As you run up to boxes and barricades, a "hologram" of your character appears behind certain ones that would grant you cover. You run up to them and hit the button to take cover and your character does a snap roll into safety.  In this picture my toon jumped behind a box to get ready to charge up a power shot on a waiting thug.  

I managed to level three times as I played, and by the third I was one shot killing these thugs with the charge shot.  On the power bar you can see the three powers I had to begin with. There was a fourth, Shiv, that only appeared when I was close. She pulled out a knife and jacked dudes in the face.  

To the right of the living thug, behind the HUD, you can see a corpse. Some corpses glowed with that pillar of blue energy. Those signify that they carry loot. As I looted my kills I picked up a fairly good upgrade rifle.  Not sure how they run the power levels of gear but it was quite a bit better than the one I started with.  

In the middle shot you can see a cut scene of my character arriving on location, and at the top the NPC is talking to her.

In this last shot my toon just finished clearing out an army of thugs and stands ready for more.  They had called time to switch and that was that!

Recently I have been playing Rift, which is I think the most current MMO, and TOR shares a lot in common. As you kill mobs that are part of your quest an alert pops up on screen, and to the right you have a heads up quest tracker.  On the left upper it keeps track of loot.  You can see the last few items you picked up.

The interface was flawless from the little I could experience.  On the bottom right is your Heads Up Display map and if you are lost you can click it to bring up a map with you in the center as a cursor. The map is see through but you can follow your cursor around to navigate twisty turns.  Fairly standard fare for good games, but surprisingly difficult for some to pull off. Dungeons and Dragons Online for example is one that does not do this well.

The gameplay itself did not bring a whole lot new to the table, at least that I managed to experience in my furious few minutes.  The cover system is nice and I'm sure will be vital as the game grows, but the powers on the tool bar are reminiscent of the same button mashing brought to you by games like WoW and Rift.  Hopefully the game will indeed have an efficient Macro system that will enable efficient customization of the button pressing. Rift excels at this and TOR should take that page of code.

From there I have little more to share. The graphics were good, but almost a bit dated!  We have seen millions of screen shots and all sorts of videos of character progression so maybe that is the culprit. I do have a feeling however that the game engine may be a victim of it's own age. It has been in development for at least three years, having been announced on October 21, 2008.  How much of the basic work was already done when that announcement was made?  At some points I almost got the impression that I was playing an Xbox game on a 360.  Know the feeling?  The graphics were certainly good, and frankly with high action shooters you don't really want high res graphics slowing game play but I wonder if the very long development time has hurt the final game. Did the content overshadow the graphics?  Having said that, the game textures were nice. The grass looked like it truly enveloped the toon and stuff far off had detail.  I hope guys have the hardware to animate it.

When discussing  graphics with Jeff  Bass he seemed not concerned with some of the rigs described to him.  Is this a good or bad thing?  On the one hand you almost want him to say that the game is a graphics hog, that way you may get a truly ground breaking experience.  On the other... it would be nice if a rig showing it's age could handle the game without expensive upgrades.  Not every one has a power game machine!

So after my gaming I scored a couple of exclusive Empire T-shirts by answering Star Wars trivia questions, and had some free drinks at the open bar. I have to hand it to Bioware they spared no expense, though the chips were stale. :)  I had some top shelf scotch and a couple beers, and paid not a dime short of tipping the bartender. There was no entry fee either. Bioware really threw the fans a bone with this event.  Kudos to you for doing it right. I got to shake hands with some big names in other genres and make new friends with cool gamers.

Overall, my experience was great. I think that the game should come close to meeting it's MASSIVE expectations.  It is playable and fun. The interactive quest system gets you into it, and the fact that you have choices between good or bad, and the game tailors itself to your choices is great.  Quite revolutionary for an MMO.  Most games have a relatively linear story line in which you are more of  spectator watching events unfold. In TOR the story is uniquely crafted around your character and actions.  Your friend can take part in it too and have their own actions influence events.

Here is some video! Nothing great, but it was fun. :)

As standard fare, the devs were tight lipped about any thing not already released. There would be no secrets divulged here. This was more of a "Come look what we created!" event. Plus we had some free drinks and good laughs.

I'm looking forward to playing with the friends I made that will be joining my guild, Jawa Nation.
If you want to join the guild take a look at my Jawa Nation blog as well!

Tell me what you think about what you have seen of TOR so far and what your expectations are!



Black Matt said...

Did you ever write or post that article on how to make your marriage survive a mmo. Id like to hang

Jawaballs said...

Hah, I know I joked about it at some point. I will have to throw it together. Of course it requires self restraint... that will be in short order come December 20.

Will Wright said...

Seeing as I've been beta testing for the last month,It would be very rude not to join your guild.
If you think Operative is great just wait til you get your hands on the Bounty Hunter !!!
It just stinks that I am going to have to play the whole BH tree over again once it goes live.
Add Wilzilla as a friend next time your on.

Will Wright said...

Also Bounty Hunter is the class that gets the JAWA comanion ;)

Jawaballs said...

Oh snap! Follow the link to Jawa Nation and fill out the app. :)

Jawaballs said...

And damn you for getting into Beta. oh well. You arent legally supposed to talk about it! I can say whatever I want. :)

Will Wright said...

I just applied,now I have to get a mic for voicechat.
Maybe thats what I'll ask my Bro for X-mas

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