Saturday, 4 July 2009

SW:TOR in PC Gamer UK Magazine

So I was doing my groceries today and as I walked past the magazine stand I noticed that PC Gamer magazine had Star Wars: The Old Republic on the cover. Wasn't expecting that, but I bought a copy to check it out at home. And indeed, it seems PC Gamer just released their August issue (yeah, it's still July; I don't get that either) and that they have their E3 coverage in it. And part of that coverage is a 5-page article covering Star Wars: The Old Republic.

This is how their website puts it:
What do you imagine could be in it? Let your imagination run wild... No! Those ideas are rubbish! It's way better than what you thought of. For instance, how about the world's first hands on details for BioWare's super-excellent-looking Star Wars: The Old Republic. Tim spent so long playing it that when he came out of the tiny room the entire building was dark, populated only by people emptying bins. There's pages of info on the MMO we're looking forward to most.
The article itself is quite decent, but there are a number of errors in it. For example, they mention a few times that there are six classes, when we know that there will be eight. And overall there is not that much new information in it. But it is nice to read what someone who played the game thinks of it (and how excited he apparently is about the game).

Here are a couple of quotes with my thought following:
"The Sith is an action-point class. Do you play many MMO games?"
"A few."
"So he plays a bit like the rogu... oh, you've got it."
...(snipped)... [My Sith character] earns points by swiping and smashing; he can then spend them on finishing moves.
Ok, so Sith (and thus likely Jedi) play a bit like World of Warcraft rogues minus the stealth. Now, I very much like melee combat, magic-using classes, but the rogue's point building system is absolutely horrible. Mythic did the same kind of thing with their Witch Elves in Warhammer Online; and it turned what could have been a fun melee class into a "build, build, build, release, build, build, build, release" class. Absolutely boring to play. So this has me rather worried. not a good start.
Even at this early stage, The Old Republic is as polished, as playable and as slick as... that other major MMO.
There are a few more references to how good the game is already looking, but this is encouraging. Even if developers usually spend a fair bit of time specifically to polish their presentation demos to near finished quality. But it seems the writer of the article seems to think that "The Old Republic is a credible World of Warcraft killer."
A fully voiced cutscene follows, with the kind of dialogue choices and moral consequences that you'd usually expect from singleplayer roleplaying games.
Just reiterating this as people still dont' quite seem to get how SWTOR will feel as rich as a single-player game. Though slightly worrying is how it seems that one of the choices (let the captain live) seems to give an easier continuation of the quest while killing him gives a more difficult result: "The numbers are striking, particularly without the buffed and healed reinforcements from sickbay." I fear that sooner or later you might have websites full of the 'best' solutions, making multiplayer less fun because everyone just want to go with the 'best' solution instead of following the story. But then, I do get the impression that this game is probably much better played as a single-player game online where you can invite your friends along than as your typical MMO.
This creates a problem: most people aren't familiar with the expanded Star Wars universe. BioWare have groundwork to do, as Vogel explains: "So all this stuff we're doing around the game: the comic, the timeline videos, that's all to bring people up to speed with the setting. ...(snipped)..."
There seem to be a number of people complaining that they don't know anything about the game, by which they mean the mechanics of the game. Yet I always find that odd, considering that Bioware releases more roughly every week. As this quote shows though, they're not that interested in revealing game mechanics and are more interested in getting players into their story and their setting, and that's what they're doing instead.
BioWare have developed different game mechanics for every character class. The Jedi and Sith are melee-focused magic users, while smuggler and trooper classes will use cover to keep out of trouble, and fight with blasters. The bounty-hunter, the only other class so far revealed, can use the kinds of tools we seldom see in MMOs: a jetpack and a flamethrower.
They mention that Troopers use cover... yet I believe that they are wrong. From all I understand from Bioware the Trooper is a "get in there and kill stuff" class. The whole quote is odd as they group Smuggler with Trooper as being similar (while those are on the same side) and keep Bounty Hunter separate, while from what I know the Trooper and Bounty Hunter have similar game mechanics with the Smuggler being separate in that it makes heavy use of cover.

One interesting note is slightly further though. He notes that while walking around as a Sith there are places to take cover behind. He asks if that is for the Smuggler and gets a confirmation, which is odd since it is an Imperial Flash Point (i.e. PvE) and the Smuggler is Republic. So either the place is reused for Republic content, which contradicts their statement of no shared content for the two sides, or it's actually for the Smuggler's equivalent class on the Empire side.
"We have to ignore the top of the hardcore," says Walton, talking about those players who will simply ignore the story and min-max their way to the top end of the game. "We need to make a game that is accessible to the Star Wars fan, and the BioWare fan. Because really BioWare is a company that is about making a great RPG experience, not about making games for a hardcore MMO audience."
This, I think, might be the quote that got me happiest in this article. And it would explain why there seems to be some confusion from the more 'hardcore' players out there who simply don't seem to understand what SWTOR is doing.
"I don't know if you noticed," Vogel says, "but it's all synchronised combat. We have a synchronised animation system, it's not like every other MMO where it's two guys dancing, watching each other run through the animations. This is like KotOR. Blades hit, we can block stuff, people are actually parrying -- you always know why he hit."
We've heard about choreographed combat before and this goes into that again somewhat. This 'synchronized' combat should help to make it feel more cinematic.
But what if you want to join the party halfway through a mission? Isn't that going to be confusing for other players? "We actually have a system to do that. You have to decide: either we're going to start over for you, or they could join you where you are."
So this seems like confirmation that not only can people join you in your missions, but they can join half-way through... or you can start over if you choose. The only problem I can see with that is that it gives rise to people grinding misisons; play it almost to the end and then just before it finishes reset it this way to do it all again. But perhaps they're keeping all (or the best) rewards until the end. Also makes me wonder how that's going to work with the choices you made. You could use this to see what the result of the other choices are.
At the end of the presentation the point is made that what BioWare have shown is nothing like the MMOs we know of today. Where are the PvP arenas? Or the large, 25+ player raids? Or auction houses? Or, hey, space-combat?
Vogel raises an eyebrow. "Oh, we have all that too. We're just going to wait a little bit to show you that."
On the forums a number of people have already latched on to this quote as "space combat confirmed" and, indeed, from PC Gamer's podcast (linked below) they say again that space combat has been confirmed by the developers. However I'm still skeptical; the quote above sounds more like PC Gamer's interpretation with a quoted answer; did they really say "space combat" in the question (and not, say "space content")? And does "space combat" mean like in KotOR or more like SWG's Jump to Lightspeed? I have nothing against the latter directly, but it seems to me that they've already got more than enough to get right to add space combat to the mix.

Anyway, it's a nice article.

And as I said above, PC Gamer also has a podcast up where they talk a bit more about the game, starting from about 2 minutes in.


I just got the following message from Tim Edwards, Editor of PC Games: "I've just spotted that you're hosting scans of a piece in our magazine. Could you take them down, please - they're our copyright. We'll placing the content online ourselves, soon enough."

So I've removed the links. I'll put a link up to the content when they put it online. With my apologies to PC Gamer.


Frank said...

Great read, Ayane. I've posted my own breakdown at Overly Positive and I think it's great to see some comments on the Bioware philosophy of design. Ignoring the hardcore potentially pisses off a lot of people, but considering how fickle they tend to be, it's not a bad tack to take.

BakaMatt said...

I'm still having trouble picturing just how this all fits as an MMO.

The fact that you can go from start of game to finish solo with sometimes picking up another player or two just comes off like a multiplayer hub system rather than massively multi.

What I'm also curious about is how often the individual class stories cross over with one another. I think it could get terribly boring if the only other players on the same task were all of the same class.

I know, I know. It's far early to get worried.