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Friday, June 10, 2011

SWTOR @ E3

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It's been a very busy week for Star Wars The Old Republic news following the game's last showing at E3 (Electronic Entertainments Expo) before release. Bioware stepped up to the plate and have given us loads of new information and video footage including the first details on the game's raid system (called Operations), player mounts and a whole lot more.

Read on for a summary of the news.

There were three main reveals at this years E3, and we'll look at each of them before going into a list of miscellaneous new things we learnt about the game. First of all Bioware revealed the raid system for the game for the first time. Secondly they revealed the player mounts, and finally they had their booth open to anyone who wanted to play the game hands on, on the planet of Tattooine, which we had not seen before.

Before the expo even began Bioware gave us the final CGI trailer for the game, which will actually be the game's opening cinematic. It's fun, exciting and brilliant and feels more like Star Wars than any of the three prequel movies. You can check it out here.

Operations - Raids in The Old Republic.

Raids in Star Wars The Old Republic are called Operations. They aim to do for MMO raids what their Flashpoints do for traditional MMO dungeon runs, i.e. wrap them in a shiny interactive story with huge set pieces. The video below gives some idea and features the first Operation to be revealed, The Eternity Vault, an alien prison where a powerful force user is imprisoned.


The Operations will have varying difficulty settings that will be determined by both raid size and by the decisions of the raid leader. Rewards will be commensurate with the level of challenge. The first Operation becomes available at level 50 - these are part of the end-game.

Bioware are attempting to make Operations exciting and challenging by including puzzles and challenges not normally seen in a raid environment (as well as giant stompy bosses of course!). For example, players will have to navigate the environment as a powerful Force wielder brings down the room around them; they'll have to work together to solve a code and fend off enemies while they're cornered, and so on. The idea is to make sure that the raids are not static, with people having to stand in one spot for the duration of a fight, but forcing people to move, leap and generally have a more action-oriented experience.

The maximum raid size has not yet been fixed, but the minimum raid size is set at 8 characters. Preview videos have shown up to 16 players on a raid, though the final maximum number will apparently be determined during game testing. Companions are not currently allowed into raids and do not count towards this number (as they do for Flashpoints).

There will be several Operations available at launch, though so far the only one revealed is The Eternity Vault shown in the video. There are no multiplayer conversations within the raid itself (running a multiplayer conversation for so many people would not work), but rather the story parts bookend the raid so as not to break it up.

Whilst the Operations are an end-game system, available from level 50, raids can be formed at any level. Each planet has a level appropriate world boss that requires raid groups to defeat, and the world bosses are open world raids, not instanced.

2. Player Mounts

Player mounts can be gained at around level 20, and include several different types. The first type available looks a little like a hovering segway (see the screenshots below), but faster speeders and swoop bikes are available at higher levels.


Some of the mounts are faction specific (Galactic Republic or Sith Empire), but apparently there is a way for determined players to obtain a mount from the opposing faction (no clues on how this is done, but it is apparently very difficult).

There are not currently any animal mounts in game, this is something they are saving for after launch.

3. Tattooine play test


First of all Tattooine looks huge. It is apparently the size of 7-8 WoW zones, and larger than the entire gameplay area of Dragon Age Origins (and it is of course only one of 16 planets in the game at launch). The planet itself seems to display a lot of variety for a desert world.

One of the things that surprised me a little from the various videos is that the mob density seems very low compared to many MMO games. According to the developers this was a conscious decision; originally the mob density was much higher but the planet looked wrong, it didn't feel like the vast oceans of sand presented in the movies. Now the plant has a lower mob density, with concentrated areas of activity. Other planets, such as the city planet of Coruscant have a very high mob density as befits the environment. Personally, I really liked the fact that Tattooine looked to have a low mob density. It really made it look different to most MMO worlds.

Senior Producer James Ohlen gave a great overview of the game as he played through a quest on Tattooine, which you can find in three parts. It's full of great info as well as giving a nice look at the game.
You can find hands-on reports and feedback from those who attended the playtests here and there are plenty of new screenshots of Tattooine here. Finally, check out the new video, an 11 minute developer walkthrough of a quest on Tattooine, below.


4. Miscellaneous

Lots of new miscellaneous information on the game was revealed. In no particular order:
  • There is a new Game Setting page and a new Advanced Class page on the official website that gives more details on the lore and class choices respectively.
  • Companions will change their appearance depending on what armour you equip on them. Humanoid companions can equip any armour that a normal character can loot and equip. Non-humanoid companions (like the new Jawa companion for example) can have different appearances unlocked by the player (but these have to be earned).
  • The new companion revealed was a Jawa called Blizz. This is a companion for the Bounty Hunter and is very, very cute!
  • All characters get a resurrection ability! This is very different to most MMO games. The ability (called Medical Probe) can even be used on yourself. It has a cooldown that increases the more times you die. As long as one player character in a group or raid remains standing they can resurrect all the other players and companions.
  • Once the self-rezz has been used the player has 12 seconds of stealth to sneak out of aggro range.
  • Everything in the game is real sized. So, a spaceship is the actual size it would be. A building is the real size it would be for all the rooms inside it, and if you wander into a building it you can go through all the rooms.
  • Companions can be equipped with different kits to give them different abilities and AI behaviour. Not all companions can equip all kit types. Kit types know so far include Stasis Kit (crowd control?), Shockwave Kit (dps?), Medipack Kit (healing?), Grenade kit (AoE ranged dps?) - the suggested effects are my own thoughts on what they might do.
  • Companions have pretty decent AI. They will not attack mobs that have a crowd control effect on them (such as stun or mezz).
  • Stealth in SWTOR works a little differently to most MMOs. It is not true invisibility, but rather a cloaking device. This will allow you to sneak past mobs (and players in PvP) but they will be able to see you if you come closer than around 5 metres and they are facing you. You will need to sneak behind them or around the side if you have to get that close.
  • The quest journal tracks your group mates' quests as well as your own, and your map also shows your group mates' quest objectives as well as your own (colour coded so you can tell the difference).
  • The PvE servers are likely to have some kind of PvP lakes in (areas where everyone is automatically flagged for PvP and involve some kind of PvP objective).
  • Multiplayer conversation rolls that determine who speaks for the group can be affected by abilities and equipment modifiers.
  • Helmets can be toggled to show or hide.
  • The inventory system does not use bags, but one large inventory. This can be expanded and upgraded. Quest items appear in a separate quest inventory and do not count towards your inventory total.
  • The current endgame comprises Operations (raids), endgame specific Flashpoints, PvP, repeatable endgame quests and endgame specific space missions.
  • Big one this. There are hints that there may be no Open Beta, just a very large Closed Beta test before launch. The reason is that there is so much interest in the game they would not be able to handle the number of players just for a Beta Test. "It wouldn't be a stress test as much as a bullet in the head!"
  • There is unlikely to be a character creator released before launch.
As if all that wasn't enough Bioware have an E3 summary page up on their site and if you really have too much cash burning a hole in your pocket they have revealed a range of official peripherals.

Sources:
All sources for this information can be found in the E3 thread on the main SWTOR forums.

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