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http://Star Wars: The Old Republic E...d Sith Warrior
By Andrew Park, GameSpot
Jun 11, 2010 4:23 pm PT
We've played as six of the eight professions in this highly anticipated online game. Read our hands-on account and get new info on gameplay, playable races, combat skills, and new game mechanics inside.
Star Wars: The Old Republic will take the pre-A New Hope universe of Star Wars that appeared in Knights of the Old Republic and combine story-rich gameplay with massively multiplayer online adventuring. The result will be highly differentiated experiences for the game's different professions, which will start off in different parts of the universe along different story paths until those paths converge in and around the war waged by the evil Empire with its Sith allies against the peace-loving Republic with their Jedi allies.
In advance of this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, we took the opportunity to play through the early story content for six of the game's eight character classes: the Republic trooper, the smuggler, the bounty hunter, the agent, the Sith inquisitor, and the Sith Warrior. As we found, several classes are linked by their initial starting area and quest sets, though their differing powers and combat styles make playing each one a unique experience. Here is our report on these six professions. Please keep in mind that our impressions are based on an early version of the game and everything covered here is subject to change. Also, please also note that this story contains minor spoilers.
Republic Trooper and Smuggler
The Republic trooper and the smuggler professions begin their lives in the same area under different circumstances. As a trooper, we started our career as the newest member of the elite Republic commando unit known as Havoc squad--a handsome human soldier riding on the inside of a giant walker into a war zone on the planet of Ord Mantell. The planet is a Republic world torn apart by a civil war waged by separatist rebels. As a smuggler, we played as a Twi'lek, which is the humanoid Star Wars race that has long tentacles down either side of their heads, similar to the Bib Fortuna character in Return of the Jedi.
Yes, the Twi'lek are playable, and this one was a Han Solo-like ship captain who lands her Millennium Falcon-esque ship on Ord Mantell to drop off a weapon shipment to the Republic fort. Unfortunately for both characters, the Republic's on-the-ground contacts double-cross the standing armies, siding with the separatists instead. As a result, the separatists steal the smuggler's ship and hack into the local artillery banks, which means that the beginner smuggler must go out on foot (or risk being shot down), while the trooper's walker gets blasted by the commandeered guns and needs to go it alone on foot as well.
The trooper class begins with four different primary combat skills, which are keyed to the number keys on your keyboard, and all pertain to using your heavy blaster rifle. Most of the trooper's combat abilities operate based on ammo (this has been changed from the previous time we played the class, when it relied on action points). The abilities include hammer shot, a basic ranged attack that consumes a single round of ammo; rifle grenade, which consumes several rounds and activates your character's rifle-mounted grenade launcher to knock all enemies in the blast radius flat on their backs; fast reload, which reloads your weapon to full; and stock strike, a melee attack that lets you pistol-whip your foes with the butt of your rifle once you get up close.
The smuggler class, on the other hand, is one of the game's "cover classes" and focuses on acquiring cover behind various environmental objects. These objects then grant various offensive and defensive bonuses while accruing energy points with basic attacks and expending them with advanced ones. The smuggler tends to favor a single, handheld blaster (again, not unlike Han Solo), and the profession's starting abilities currently include flurry of bolts, a basic ranged attack that builds energy points; take cover, which lets the profession acquire any nearby cover indicated by a transparent green paper-doll model; burst, which fires off three times as many rounds as flurry of bolts but costs energy points; and flash grenade, a hand-thrown projectile that has a chance of stunning all targets within its short radius but also costs energy points.
From cover, the smuggler's action bar changes to include flurry of bolts (which causes the smuggler to quickly pop out of cover to fire), detaching from cover, and charged burst, which is a new skill that slowly charges up a blast before causing the character to peek out behind cover and deliver a highly damaging burst of three charged-up rounds at a great cost of energy points. (And aside from these character-specific abilities, all characters in the game will universally have some kind of fast-healing, meditative skill to use when out of combat to decrease the amount of downtime required for characters to recover from the wounds they've suffered.)
Each character has different entries into Ord Mantell. The trooper meets up with the rest of Havoc squad in short order, including Wraith, the stealth specialist; Fuse, the demolitions expert; Needles, the medic; and the squad commander, Tavus, who briefed us on our mission to track down a stolen orbital strike bomb with enough power to wipe the Republic fort and the nearby civilian refugee encampment off the face of the planet. Our mission required us to infiltrate a besieged village to meet with a refugee informant with intel on the bomb, fighting through a few waves of separatist guerillas and guard droids. We'll say that they didn't put up much of a fight; we took on groups of three or four rather easily and pounded them into the ground by unloading hammer shots and grenade blasts. We also periodically reloaded and used the stock strike melee attack to smack down the few rebels that dared to get in close.
We reached our checkpoint rather easily but found that the separatists had gotten to our informant first and left him for dead in an alley. After checking in with our commanding officer by remote communicator, we accepted our updated mission to find the deceased spy's data pad in his house, where his nerve-wracked wife waited for her husband's return. Unfortunately, it was clearly our duty to inform her of her husband's demise, which she took poorly to say the least, but rather than simply strong-arm the data pad away from the hysterical widow, we instead chose to hear her out--to listen to her vent her frustrations and assure her that her husband died a hero. While either approach would likely have gotten us what we wanted, our choice to delve deeper into the conversation netted us a "conversation bonus"--an as-yet nonfunctioning gameplay mechanic that LucasArts producers tell us may affect your character's light side or dark side alignment or result in some kind of other reward.
The smuggler, on the other hand, begins her adventure with the aforementioned betrayal and grand theft spaceship, learning quickly that the smooth-talking informant who worked with her contact in the Republic military was actually a con man who not only stole her spacecraft and weapon shipment, but also stole the Republic soldier's prized blaster pistol, which was built with rare, antique parts. After holding off the attacks from a handful of separatist ambushers, we sallied forth in search of our lost ship (and the soldier's valuable blaster), battling through the same refugee village. But we had a different goal and a final location--to locate and disable the hacked antiair guns and, eventually, locate our stolen ship.
Because we were playing the very first missions for each character in the game, we fortunately had little trouble dispatching our enemies once we acquired cover. The smuggler is clearly not a hardy class that can walk right into the thick of battle, and the few times we tried this, we nearly died. The key to the smuggler's survival seems to be finding good cover in the environment and then firing from cover. Fortunately, the flash grenade ability generally gives her at least a moment or two to find a decent hidey-hole, and the charged burst ability from cover deals an impressive amount of damage, so the smuggler seems like she can definitely hold her own in combat. We can imagine that in larger, group battles, the smuggler's stun-based and burst-fire skills will make it a powerful support class (even as the profession's stun grenade ability can penetrate cover), but its own need to seek cover will make it vulnerable to aggressive flanking.
Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent
We moved from the clear but troubled skies of Ord Mantell to the toxic yellow haze of Hutta, a homeworld of Hutt gangsters. While The Old Republic takes place centuries before Return of the Jedi's Jabba the Hutt ever reared his ugly head, his predecessors are very much a part of the game--wheeling, dealing, and squabbling over territory. Hutta is the starting point for two of the game's professions: the heavy-artillery-packing bounty hunter and the sneaky Imperial agent. Characters from both professions find themselves having to curry the favor of the local slumlord, Nemro the Hutt, for different reasons.
In the case of the bounty hunter, we played as a character of the Rattataki race--a breed of pale-skinned, bald humanoids with a pronounced mean streak. The bounty hunter starts her life seeking the Hutt gang leader's support to enter The Great Hunt, an intergalactic bounty competition that takes place once every 10 years and promises great riches to the winner. In the case of the Imperial agent, we played as a member of the Chiss race--a species of self-reliant, blue-skinned, red-eyed humanoids that aren't normally prone to direct acts of war. As the agent, our job was to infiltrate the Hutt's palace while posing as an honored guest and "persuade" the brigand to join forces with the Empire because the Hutt's illicit activities are monopolizing a valuable trade sector. This sector's huge profits rightfully belong to the kindly and just Empire--a faction so equitable that it sends assassins and fixers like us to do its dirty work.
The bounty hunter is a heavily armed, heavily armored walking tank with enough tactical weapons to make any Star Wars nerd sit up and take notice. At the very beginning of her career, she has four primary combat abilities: rapid shots, a standard firing mode from her wrist-mounted blaster; missile blast, which launches a concussive rocket that can strike up to three targets and send them all sprawling; flamethrower, which causes a damage-over-time effect to all enemies in a cone-shaped area immediately in front of you (it may even stun weaker foes); and vent heat, the character's most important ability. Unlike the trooper, who needs to constantly reload after firing, the bounty hunter instead builds up internal heat within her armor after firing continuously and must periodically vent that heat to continue the attack.
In contrast, the agent is, like the smuggler, a cover class, though this profession seems like less of a scout and more of an assassin. In addition to carrying an actual blaster sniper rifle, the agent accrues and expends energy points with different attacks (also like the smuggler) but starts out with subtly different skills. These include rifle shot, a basic attack that fires two standard rounds and builds energy points; take cover, which, like the smuggler's ability, acquires nearby cover after selecting from a handful of possible positions outlined by green silhouettes; and shiv, a devastating close-range melee attack that costs a good chunk of energy points but lets you bury a steely vibro-blade into your enemies to deal huge damage. From cover, the agent gains the snipe attack, which deals tons of damage, as well as the laze target skill, which marks a target and makes it much more vulnerable to damage--not unlike the Hunter's mark skill from World of Warcraft.
As a bounty hunter, our life on Hutta began with a briefing from the non-player characters running the small bounty hunting outfit our character had apparently joined. These money-hungry adventurers weren't exactly above twisting a few arms and pulling a few strings to impress the Hutt crime lord and get us into The Great Hunt (plus a chance at all those wonderful, wonderful credits). However, it was our job to perform enough reputable jobs to get the Hutt's attention, so we were tasked with hunting down a dashing smuggler so brazen and so dangerous that he would steal credits from Republic soldier pay kiosks in broad daylight.
We tracked our mark to the nearest hangar, dispatching his pirate underlings, with ease. Again, we had been playing through the very beginning of each profession's adventuring lives, so naturally, we didn't expect the fights to be tough, but for whatever reason, the bounty hunter seemed like a real beast in battle. We can't quite put our finger on why he was so tough, but it might've had something to do with the way the character can soften enemies up with a few quick rapid shot volleys, launch a missile right into their faces--knocking them clean off their feet--and then run right up to their prone bodies to burn what's left of them to a crisp with her flamethrower.
After cutting through a few waves of pirates guarding the hangar, we finally tracked down the pirate boss to find that he was a bit of a foppish dandy who talked like he was from the streets but dressed more like the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. We confronted our mark and started a dramatic conversation with him that was clearly building toward a Wild West-style quick-draw duel, but in this case, we chose to forgo the conversation bonus and chose the dialogue option to do as A New Hope's legendary scumbag Greedo did in a certain special-edition DVD set: shoot first.
Unfortunately, our victory was short lived--after returning to base, we found most of the bounty hunting support team slain. The surviving character from the team pulled up the base's security log, which showed that a rival bounty hunter, who played even faster and looser with the law than we did, had been making the rounds among potential entrants to The Great Hunt, ordering his henchman to murder most of your support characters to take you out of the game. The stakes for gaining the Hutt's favor were raised considerably because we weren't just out for credits anymore--but for revenge.
The agent's experience, on the other hand, seems even more cynical and even more removed. Rather than meet up face-to-face with a briefing team, the agent receives his orders remotely by holographic communications from his dispatcher, who is known only as "Keeper." This dispatcher is a sharp-tongued Twi'lek who demands that you remain discreet at all times, lest your existence be disavowed by the Imperial syndicate. As mentioned, the agent's job is to gain the support--willing or otherwise--of Nemro the Hutt by posing as a mysterious and rarely-seen crime lord known as The Red Blade, infiltrating the palace and entering into the Hutt's confidence. After a frigidly unfriendly mission briefing, we made our way to the palace through the broken-down streets of Hutta, which have erupted into open gang violence between Nemro's forces and those of a rival Hutt crime boss from a neighboring sector looking to expand his territory.
In combat, the agent, much like the smuggler, can't survive a full-on frontal assault for long and must take cover. However, when behind cover, the agent's devastating sniping and lazing abilities seem to make it a highly effective support class. However, these cover abilities, while powerful, are also potentially dangerous to use because they require the agent to poke his neck out of cover for several precious seconds while acquiring his target--seconds during which the character is not in cover and may take a beating. We're told by LucasArts staff that in the current version of the game, when dueling other enemies with blasters, you can actually carefully time your sniper shots to go off right when your enemies are reloading and avoid incoming damage, though this system, like everything else in this story, is subject to change. In any case, the agent, like the smuggler, brings an interesting positional element to battle and makes flanking a lot more important. But unlike the smuggler, the agent has a trump card up his sleeve in the shiv ability should his foes get the drop on him.
Once we infiltrated the Hutt's palace, we quickly gained access to him and sweet-talked him into believing our cover story. We were summarily admitted to our own private chambers, where we performed a brief minigame to search for good spots to hide listening devices so that we could better eavesdrop on the slumlord. We also became acquainted with the crime lord's two advisors: an ambitious Twi'lek and rising star in Nemro's court, as well as an older human heavy who has seemingly fallen out of favor. We quickly found out from a subsequent remote briefing that the human has fallen out of favor because he's sympathetic to the Empire and its efficient, calculating ways.
Clearly our mission was to get to the Hutt through his advisor, though the task wouldn't be easy. Among other things, we bumped into some lowlife in an antechamber who claimed that he was a close friend of the real Red Blade and then demanded a fistful of credits in exchange for his silence. We blew him off without paying him; this was partially because we're so brave that we never cave in to threats and partially because our play time with the Imperial agent had come to an end.