E3: Hands On ImpressionsA few weeks ago the Darth Hater team descended on E3 with a ravenous desire to learn about Star Wars: The Old Republic. With so many hands on deck, we were able to gather large quantities of data for the TOR fan community, and we shared much of this information in our articles, a group podcast, and even a packed live Q&A. The best part of this entire experience is that, after all of our coverage, there is still more to share.
Hands-on gameplay tells different people different things, depending on what they like and are paying attention to. Additionally, every member of the Darth Hater team has a unique gaming history, giving us multiple decades of combined MMO experience to draw from. This observational diversity allowed us to learn much more about The Old Republic then if there were only a couple people on-site. However, we didn't fully realize this until we gathered after our appointment at the LucasArts booth. As many of you heard during our on-location podcast, this spectrum of personal impressions continues to improve our understanding of TOR.
The User Interface, or UI, of The Old Republic will seem very familiar to anyone who has played a modern MMO. Although not revolutionary, this familiarity should make it easy for most gamers to pick it up quickly and intuitively. We were limited to only a few abilities on our low level characters, but we noticed there were a total of five possible action bars for high level characters who are flush with skills.
The UI was functional and compact, reducing screen clutter, but it may not be effective for hardcore players looking to maximize their information in minimal space. Thankfully the standard design and options imply a great deal of space and flexibility which is an encouraging sight for people looking to mod their heads up display.
One thing new to the UI in this build was Fly Text notifications during combat. Similar to some WoW mods or Borderlands, the Fly Text would show damage or healing done by displaying numbers coming from the target itself. This optional feature helped visualize the action on screen by letting players see exactly what they were doing to a target without needing to look at a scrolling log. While not revolutionary, it was a nice addition.
sado - I found myself in an odd place with the Trooper. As someone who does not traditionally play tanks, I wanted to find something I liked about the Republic's heavy gunner. During the Live Q&A, I described the Trooper as the "most annoying person in the world," and for one very good reason: I felt I should be yelling at the top of my lungs while playing it. The class itself involves running up to people while shooting your gun, knocking them down with the rifle butt, and firing a grenade into their stomach while they are on the floor. The character I would best equate it to would be Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando. It's a very loud class that does not apologize for being so.
In that same respect, I found myself wanting a couple more levels so I could access other abilities. My Trooper seemed unable to do high damage and resided somewhere in the middle of low to medium damage at level two. At the same time, the Trooper was nearly invincible. I gathered somewhere between nine to twelve enemies and still had no problem (but once again, I was only level two).
The newest bit of information on the Trooper came in the form of the Ammo system. The Trooper at level two has twelve ammo points and we were told this would remain consistent throughout the game. It functioned similarly to action points but the fixed clip needs to be reloaded to continue to perform abilities. For example, the Rifle Grenade ability used six shells so my Trooper could get off two Rifle Grenades before having to reload completely. We saw two abilities to help you recover your ammo count: Recharge and Reload, and Fast Reload. Fast Reload lets the Trooper quickly refill six Ammo slots and you can use this at any time, regardless of movement. Recharge and Reload worked as the Trooper's out of combat heal as well as a reload function, reloading approximately one ammo slot every two seconds. In between using the Ammo abilities and reloading I was able to use Hammershot, which uses no Ammo and functions as your basic attack, and Stockstrike. Stockstrike was the only crowd control ability that I had and I found myself using at the beginning of combat because of its thirty second cooldown.
Dover - The Agent's out-of-cover abilities felt very familiar to the many ranged classes I played in previous MMOs. On the other hand, the in-cover abilities felt new and unique. Snipe would almost always be a one hit kill, but I could only pull off two shots before my energy was drained. However, if I used Laze Target first I would be able to fire a third Snipe because of the energy return. This simple ability combo at level two instantly made me think about the tactical combinations we saw last fall, and now I really want to see what a higher level Imperial Agent can do.
The combat felt quick and nonstop. I think this fast paced feel comes from a number of very specific design choices by BioWare. The design choice of one player versus a group of weak targets made me feel extremely active and involved. It may take the same amount of time to kill three mobs in TOR as it would to kill one in WoW, but I found myself feeling like more was accomplished during combat. This psychological trick made the pace feel fast, even when playing the methodical Imperial Agent.
Zoidberg - I found that the Imperial Agent had multiple ways to approach combat. The primary method is to set up camp and get into cover. While in cover, powerful abilities could be used, such as Snipe. This felt slower paced, but the damage done mitigated the slow combat feeling because the kill rate was about the same as any other class.
The second form of combat was out of cover. I only had one melee ability at level two. Shiv was a powerful move capable of killing most targets in just one blow. This ability felt much quicker paced then the cover skills, yet against larger groups energy consumption became an issue. It did help to break the pace of setting up for each kill with the cover function. Along with Shiv, I could shoot at close range, but the powerful abilities from cover are not available when in the open.
The best part about the game was very little (if any) downtime between combat. The time running between groups of enemies was often enough for health and energy to regenerate.
Dave - The Smuggler's play style is very tactical. You pick and choose your fights rather than taking on all comers, and when you pick the group of enemies you wish you engage you plot out your approach, scope out the cover options nearby, and plan out the abilities you'll start off with. It's very easy to get the hang of, and at such a low level I never found myself having to employ mastermind-level tactics to win a scenario, but it's very easy to see the potential in a system like this assuming BioWare utilizes the system in puzzles and complicated encounters.
My low-level Smuggler only had a few abilities to play with, namely Flurry of Bolts (the basic attack), Burst (from out of cover only), Charged Burst (from cover only), and Flash Grenade (also from cover only). Generally my approach to encounters was to throw a Flash Grenade, which stunned any enemies within a small radius, and fire away with Charged Burst. For the most part one Charged Burst would kill the humanoid enemies in one hit, with a Flurry of Bolts afterwords if that wasn't the case. I did face several large battle droids that took a few Charged Bursts to take down. Fighting from out in the open generally depleted my health quickly, so it does seem like the Smuggler will always rely on cover for protection.
Combat is very quick, but not anything I would define as revolutionary. The cover system is certainly a refreshing addition to the MMO gameplay, but it feels as though it would lose its novelty after a good amount of play time. The one spectacular thing about the game currently is that you experience absolutely zero downtime. After a fight, you can activate your out-of-combat heal and be ready for the next encounter within seconds instead of having to sit down and wait for your health and energy to recharge.
Sleeper - The Bounty Hunter was a very fast paced, run and gun class with very low downtime. I ran close enough to grab aggro, and then proceeded to terrorize the groups of enemies. I started off with the trusty Wrist Rocket ability, which fired a rocket that caused an AoE explosion and knockback, and then proceeded to run up close and finish them off with the Flamethrower ability. After attacking the first group of three, I noticed the heat bar. I decided to start testing it out, trying to find the most efficient and fastest way to move group to group with the least downtime. Just by using the wrist rocket and flamethrower back to back put me at about 80 or so heat out of 100 and left me unable to use anything but my primary firing ability. After a while I began to use the Vent Heat ability in my rotation, which vents all the heat out of your armor and weapons and sets the heat level to 0 on a one minute cooldown. After each Vent Heat I was able to use my abilities normally.
Emlaeh - Since I was limited to only three offense Rank One abilities on my Level Two Sith Inquisitor, my task was to test the Saber Strike ability versus the one-handed Shock and two-handed Lightning Drain abilities to see how they worked independently of one another, and which combination was the most efficient. To perform this test, I first killed one Tomb Raider Heavy only with Saber Strike. It took about ten seconds to kill exclusively using Saber Strike with my Sith Training Blade using the ability at least three or four times. When I instead exclusively used Lightning Drain as an opener to slow my target from ranged on the same exact mob, it had at most 10% of its life left if it wasn't already dead, and died in half the time due to the 3s duration. I would finish off with Shock or Saber Strike.
Using Shock as an opener required immediate follow-up, as the Sith Inquisitor is extremely squishy against melee targets who did about 8-12 damage per swing. Using Lightning Drain after the Shock gave me enough time to back up while channeling to get out of melee range, while Saber Strike put me at risk of not dodging blows. Dodge (blaster fire) and Parry (melee) mechanics are in the game, as well as variable damage output (damage was not a consistently fixed or static number), confirmed by viewing the Combat Log.
Pete - Action flowed very smoothly for the Sith Warrior. Often times, I would open up with Force charge to cause AoE aggro. I would then keep building Rage by doing the Assault attack, often times twice. With enough Rage generated, I would finish the target by using the single target attack Vicious Slash. The rotation would often change depending on the level of the target, sometimes just using the Assault attack, while other times executing lower level mobs with a single Vicious Slash.
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