As Kotaku's resident massively multiplayer online gamer, you'd think I would have gone hands on with Star Wars: The Old Republic before last week. Was it worth the wait?
Following a brief presentation of a couple trailers for The Old Republic, BioWare representatives led me to a small room lined with computers and asked me what kind of character I liked to play in an MMO. Six of the game's playable classes were available to play, with the two Jedi classes absent for tweaking reasons.
I answered rogue, and was escorted to a PC where a sleek and dangerous looking Twi'lek female smuggler awaited my input.
The basic controls are that of any other modern MMO game. You move with the W-A-S_D keys, the space bar jumps, and the number keys are used to activate various skills located on the hot bar at the bottom of the screen.
I found myself in a small hanger situated next to a Republic outpost. A couple of men, one with a Republic symbol over his head, stood off to one side. The symbol is The Old Republic's equivalent of a yellow exclamation point, indicating that there was a quest for me to complete.
The man told me, via on-screen text and a competent voice-over, that bad guys were using some sort of communication arrays that was causing problems for the local Republic forces. Using the game's dialogue tree, I told him that's wasn't my problem. Showing off the game's class-tailored storylines, he appealed to my Smuggler nature, telling me there was no way I was getting off that rock without being shot out of the sky unless I helped him.
The mini-map guided me to my next destination, where a Republic military officer explains the situation again and asked me to volunteer. "How much does volunteering pay these days?" I replied.
"More than I get," he assured me, giving me a mission to take out the three transmitters, kill five thugs, and disable the computer that controlled whatever it was that was keeping me from taking off.
You may notice I am leaving out some details. Due to a combination of time constraints and my own eagerness to shoot something, I sort of skimmed over the mission text.
Behind the officer sprawled a relatively vast base, patrols of thugs and the odd military droid standing between me and my goal.
Targeting a member of the closest group of thugs, a blue humanoid figure suddenly appeared behind the wall in front of me. After an initial bout of confusion I realised this was part of the Smuggler's cover system. When you're wearing nothing more than light leather armour, you really can't afford to go toe-to-toe with the bad guys of the universe. Instead, the Smuggler is the master of hiding behind things, popping out to fire a few shots, and then going back to hiding.
After nearly dying using the toe-to-toe method, I decided to give the cover system a try. Much better. I didn't need to use another healing item for the rest of the mission.
It's basically the same song-and-dance you get in any other MMO. Bad guys wander or loiter in groups of one to three. Take them out, advance, and repeat. I used my basic attack to send bolts of blaster fire sailing through the air, every now and then throwing in a slightly more powerful blaster attack that has a brief cooldown period between uses.
I picked my way through the bodies of my fallen foes, discovering some new leather boots and a slightly more powerful blaster for my troubles.
With the enemies dead and the three transmitters disabled, I ran back to collect my reward, only to realise I forgot to disable the computer. I hate when that happens. After another run and a brief struggle with a couple of enemies, my mission was accomplished. Since this is a science fiction game, I contacted the officer with my communicator, who granted me my reward, while directing me back to my friend in the hangar.
I find him lying in a crumpled heap. It turned out his fellow worker was in cahoots with the thugs I was fighting, and took off with his prized blaster and...my ship!
And then I had to leave, which is sad, as I know you're all sitting on the edge of your seats, awaiting the epic conclusion.
That's it. My time ran out. I had to scoot.
My overall impression? This is a massively-multiplayer version of the same sort of role-playing game BioWare has been putting out since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. All of the elements are here: companion characters with evolving relationships, tiered conversation systems, and excellent voice work. The only difference I've noticed so far is that the graphics aren't quite on par with the company's single-player offerings for obvious, lag-reducing reasons.
I'm intrigued by what BioWare is attempting to do, taking its award-winning formula online. I'm just not sure how well the experience will hold up when thousands of other players inhabit the same sever as I do. Is the story so personal and compelling that it overshadows the social aspects of the game?
I'm going to need a lot more play time before I can figure that out.