E3 2011: Star Wars: The Old Republic Hands-On Preview

By Jordan Douglas on June 18, 2011, 4:19PM EDT

World of Warcraft has been sitting comfortably atop the MMO genre for the better part of a decade now, but EA and BioWare are determined to challenge that position. The iconic RPG developer has the financial backing of a major publisher to create a fully-voiced, truly massive experience, as well as one of most beloved sci-fi franchises of all time to draw from. Will it be enough? Granted, our time with The Old Republic was brief, but it was clear the potential was there - even if World of Warcraft's example was mirrored quite closely.

(Note: Properly assessing an MMO's worth takes hours upon hours, so our roughly 30 minute session with the game is hardly an all-encompassing look.)

The demo was set on Tatooine, some 3,000 years before Luke Skywalker leaves his mark on the universe. Our character of choice was tasked with finding a missing Sith Lord amongst Tatooine's barren desert filled with hostile sand people. A handy speeder made traversing the large environment easier, although there wasn't a whole lot to do other than hunt raiders and experiment with the different classes.

Speaking of classes, BioWare was keen to show off the variety players will have in The Old Republic. We didn't get to try out that many of them due to time constraints, but we did get acquainted with the Marauder class. It was a good choice for an inexperienced MMO player like myself, because its strength lies in relatively straightforward melee combat. After vaulting into a skirmish, I was able to deal blows with dual light sabers by selecting an offensive skill and clicking on an enemy. This increased offensive power came at the expensive of armor. At least with the Marauder, combat was pretty simple.

Some other class options BioWare mentioned included;

-Sith Warrior: overwhelming arsenal of melee attacks
-Juggernaut: heavily armored unit
-Sniper: deployable cover and support probes
-Operative: stealth and various sabotage abilities
-Bounty Hunter: weapons expert
-Sith Inquisitor: dark force powers

Regardless of your chosen class, players will have companion NPC characters at their disposal. Companions stay by your side, offering complimentary abilities in combat and can be commanded to take strategic actions. It's a good option if you find yourself in a difficult spot without the support of other players in your group.

The demo gave us a quick look into The Old Republic's take on questing and combat. The fully-voiced character interactions were a definite plus, but there didn't appear to be much else that pushed the genre forward. Ultimately, the power of BioWare and the Star Wars license may be enough to overcome any hurdles the game faces.

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