Wednesday, 3 June 2009

E3 Demo Impression Articles

E3 is in full swing and as part of the show BioWare is showing off Star Wars: The Old Republic to the press, including a gameplay demo that people can play themselves (as opposed to the developers handing the controls to give a demonstration).

Here's a list of all the demo impression articles (that I've found so far):
I'll add any more articles I find on the demo to the list.

To give you a couple of random excerpts from the above articles:

Besides one of the most beautiful cinematic trailers I've ever seen -- which depicts Sith forces infiltrating a Jedi temple and laying waste to the place before general hell breaks loose -- The Old Republic looks like the real deal.

The interactions with Braden gave the developers a chance to show off the massive amount of voiced dialogue in this game. The Old Republic will be the first fully-voiced MMOs; all the NPCs as well as all the PCs will have full dialogue. Moreover, the main interactions with the NPCs will play out in cinematic cutscenes that allow the player to input their own responses in a Mass Effect-style dialogue wheel. As Braden introduces Ayrik to his companions, a Nar Shaddan tech specialists and a Trandoshan security officer, Ayrik has the option to respond in ways that emphasize his moods. Whether he responds with humility or arrogance, cruelty or greed, will impact the way the rest of the story unfolds.

Our party confronted the captain and engaged in "multiplayer dialogue," which is another one of Star Wars: TOR's unique features. During the conversation, our bounty hunter and our Sith team members were each given a dialogue option during the conversation, which ended with the group decision of either killing the captain as punishment or sparing his life. Decisions like this will apparently give you and your party members a few moments to cast your votes before the game locks in the party's decision.

After the demo the BioWare folks explained that Star Wars: The Old Republic is being made with all the trimmings of an MMO. Full PvP, groups, raids, guilds, auctions, and crafting will play major parts in the game design and have players building up their resources to battle it out across the galaxy.

Leading up to this decision was a quite remarkable fight. SWTOR is designed to let you fight two, three or four enemies at once without certain doom. The fight for the bridge saw the Sith player perform some really splendid moves to take out multiple targets, including a Force Jump that let him target enemies on the other side of the sizeable level, and leap into them, lightsabre slashing as he landed.

But being an MMO, which is supposed to be about more than just hacking and slashing guys, I couldn’t help but struggle with the combat. Maybe it’s the console gamer in me, or my virgin status when it comes to MMO, but I kept expecting my character to lock onto the nearest enemy and await my command to attack, and instead I often had to hit the “TAB” button to make him pick a target. I also had some trouble moving and fighting at the same time, even when using the arrow keys. But these, as I said, are issues more about my gaming experience, or lack thereof, than with this particular game, so anyone who’s played WoW or any other MMO for more than a week won’t have these problems.

The combat feels a bit faster and more active than in WoW; the BioWare guys noted that there's no auto-attack option. So while combat doesn't quite match the fidelity of 1:1 input that you'd find in, say, a Ninja Gaiden or a Devil May Cry title, but it does translate into a more frenzied, button-pressing affair.

What Needs Improvement?
Not a thing. Seriously.

Stepping outside in central Hutta revealed a wonderfully detailed environment, with a very satisfying draw distance. The sense of scale and detail in The Old Republic's zones and instances can't be stressed enough. If anything, the environments far outshine the characters themselves, with BioWare's stylized approach to player design contrasting a bit strangely with the rest of the world.

Choices will also drive gamers to either the Light or Dark Side of the Force: "If you go totally Dark Side you will have some abilities that are available to you that aren't available to players in your same class who took a kindlier route," Dickenson said.

Anyone familiar with a modern MMO will feel at home with SW: TOR’s combat system. Special power bubbles with numerals line the bottom of the screen and action is fairly relaxed, or at least, actions have a certain cool down time.

Or, in other words, two characters from two different classes won't receive any of the same quests. The replay value here is going to be mind-boggling.

Overall, I say this adds some fuel to the hype. Naturally, you can't determine the worth of a game from a single controlled demonstration, but the gameplay looked solid. Like I said, if you're familiar with Knights of the Old Republic, you'll feel right at home playing this MMO.

We were told that this is Knights of the Old Republic 3, 4 and 5 and so on, but one you can play through with your friends. In addition to the player-vs.-environment mode, it was confirmed that there will also be a player-vs.-player mode.

After marching out two dozen Jedi in full regalia at Monday’s EA press conference for Star Wars [The] Old Republic, we weren’t entirely surprised to see that LucasArts had dressed up its own meeting room to similar effect, with stormtroopers posted at the door, an interior theater worthy of a movie set, and enough costumed Star Wars folk roaming around to fill a small convention.

We were also shown how the game starts players off with characters who actually feel heroic. During the demo, a bounty-hunter character was sent out into a town, whereupon he immediately started laying waste to the local police force. As it was explained, "we want you to feel like the hero from the start; it's going to be hard to expect to be the toughest bounty hunter in the universe if you start off shooting rats in an alley." As a result, this detail certainly carried a much more epic feeling than so many other MMORPGs.

Most impressive of all was the fact that even at this stage in development this was running for real on computers in the very same room as us, with the action being controlled by servers back at Bioware Austin's base of operations.

As the devs told us, the majority of the game can be done without a single bit of help from another player. They said that the main appeal of MMOs is the experience single player with the option of being with other players. They confirmed that names, chat, and so on could all be turned off or ignored if you really, really wanted absolutely nothing to do with other people.

Upon receiving his goals he arrived at the planet Hutta (home of the Hutts) and battled with some enemies. The combat was dynamic and involved much more than most MMORPG's and wasn't just stacking up attack commands.

The movement is what really sold it for me, though. This isn’t a game with two guys smacking each other in the face with light sabers. The combat looks fast and both sides will parry each other’s blows as iconic sparks fly. The fights end logically too. It’s not just a final smack followed by a death animation. When the guy dies that last blow clearly killed him.

I was also pretty annoyed at the general quality and polish of what I saw in The Old Republic, because after I kicked WOW for the third time I thought I'd never play another MMO again. But when a BioWare rep capped off the demo by taking down a named Jedi with his Sith character, then looting that character, grabbing his blue lightsaber, and equipping it in a dual-wielding configuration with his existing red one, I felt that familiar combination of loot lust and Star Wars fandom that made me admit to myself before I even left the demo room that, yes, I'm going to have to try this one.

As you can tell, on its narrative side, The Old Republic is still asking far more questions than it's answering. When it comes to combat, we can be clear: it's standard MMORPG stuff, but it's faster, and there's more of it.

"Heroic Combat" was a battle idea shown off where your character takes on multiple targets with a bit of style, and goes a long way to empowering the player. It's all a part of crafting a "real emotional impact" we're told, and from what we've seen, this is definitely going to be the case.

[EDIT] Added the link to AusGamers.

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