Recently during E3 in Los Angeles, I had a chance to go hands-on with a segment of one of the new Belsavis daily heroic quests as a level 50 Sith Sorcerer. Following a presentation showing off a preview of new content coming in 1.3 and later this year, I sat down with a group of three other players rounded out by a Sith Juggernaut tank, Operative healer and a Mercenary DPS. You can see a brief preview of the content we were able to test in our gameplay demo video, but read on to get the full experience as it was at E3.
Live Producer Blaine Christine noted as I sat down that I’d have to do some crowd control as the Sorcerer. While my main character is a Trooper I do have a level 15 Sorcerer and am familiar enough with their basic lightning attacks, heals and crowd control abilities that I wasn’t too worried at that point. My biggest hurdle though, was attempting to play on a Razer SWTOR keyboard and mouse when I’m used to playing on a Steelseries 6Gv2 and Logitech G500 at home. The key and button configuration were not what I expected them to be.
According to what BioWare told us, the segment we played was just one of multiple new daily quests that will be coming along sometime later this year. The wording they used makes me think they’ll be introducing a zone similar to the Black Hole on Corellia, and that the area we tackled was the culminating group quest. Our goal was to detonate an EMP in the heart of an underground structure, the only problem being that around every corner were Dread Guards blocking the way, with a Dread Master boss at the end. No sweat.
As we made our way through the structure I felt the same vibe as a heroic dungeon from the Burning Crusade days of World of WarCraft. By that I mean that I would use my crowd control ability Whirlwind to take one of the champions out of the fight, the tank would jump on the other champion to build threat and the damage dealers would get busy downing the lesser powerful enemies. It felt surgical and precise, words I wouldn’t currently use to describe my runs through Hard Mode Flashpoints on live servers.
A standout feature of the quest we demo’d was the environmental interactivity. I talked a bit about this on the recent DarthHater podcast, but the first obstacle you come across is a bridge spanning a chasm filled with molten rocks and lava. On the far end of the bridge is a group of enemies larger than most packs you encounter up until that point. The trick to getting across is to channel a type of ray gun at two panels situated to one side of the bridge, while your companions run for the far end. Clicking on the panels starts an animation where your character pulls out a device and shoots a stream of energy, very reminiscent of the Ghostbusters’ proton packs; it didn’t take long for someone to crack a joke about crossing the streams. As soon as both panels activate and the bridge extends, the group of mobs across the way begin rushing towards you head-on. Simply moving your character breaks the channeling effect and we all watched and laughed as the group of enemies fell to their collective deaths in the lava below, earning us credit for the bonus quest to defeat 35 Dread Guard forces.
As the Mercenary and I made our way across the bridge, Christine pointed out that just as easily as dumping enemies into the lava, players too could be dropped to their doom if the channeling was stopped. Luckily, our Juggernaut and Operative companions experienced no inopportune Dark Side outbursts and we made it safely across. With gratitude, we elected not to let them fall into the pit below either.
We continued to clear a path towards the core of the complex, striking down Dread Guards until we came to a second environmental challenge. I use the word “challenge” in the loosest sense here, as there were four doorways each blocked by a force field. Above each doorway was a panel that could be channeled, causing us to break out the ray guns again as the streams activated and negated the force field effect. I held the door open for the other members of the group until all three passed through, and on the opposite side of the door one of them was able to do the same for me.
At this point we had a decision to make, as the complex split into two separate directions. The first option was to continue forward, taking on additional foes as we headed towards the structure’s core. The second was to traverse a passageway devoid of any enemies but blocked by a laser beam. Christine pointed out that the laser beam could be deactivated, but if anyone crossed the beam while still active a security alarm would be triggered. He chose not to specify what exactly would happen if the security alarm was tripped, but my guess was that an influx of enemies would soon follow.
I immediately recalled the Stay Frosty quest for Troopers and within a few seconds found the panel to disable the laser beam. As I channeled the control box allowing the rest of my group to pass through, one of them ran ahead and pulled a pack of enemies by mistake. I had a quick choice in front of me. As a Sorcerer I knew that I could interrupt channeling, take one of the champions out of the fight with Whirlwind and begin to damage the rest with lightning spells from afar, all the while making sure not to touch the laser beam. If I stopped channeling however and one of the group members happened to accidentally back up into the laser, we’d be in for some trouble.
I considered the option for a moment, then decided to continue channeling the panel to eliminate the potential of any worst-case scenarios. Between the Operative’s healing abilities and Juggernaut in high-end Operations gear, I was confident that we would be ok even if I wasn’t able to participate in the fight. That’s when Christine walked over and tapped me on the shoulder, telling me I should jump in there. Against my better judgment, I did just that; when you’re playing a demo of a game in front of a developer there’s nothing more embarrassing than looking like you don’t know what you’re doing (as seen in this video at 1:57:52). In this case however I think he might have been having a little fun at our expense.
I watched it all play out, as if I could see the future and knew what was coming. After I stopped channeling and cast Whirlwind on one of the champions, I observed helplessly as the Mercenary immediately backed up into the laser beam and a system message prompted that there was a security alert. The next thing we knew we had not only the group of enemies we were already fighting, but the group from the path straight ahead and another set of unseen enemies from around the corner as well, all rushing to join the fray.
As you might have guessed it was just too much to handle, and despite our valiant efforts we all died. Christine thanked us as we left and I felt I had gleaned a somewhat better idea of what BioWare has planned for future updates. I saw hints of more structured and meticulous Flashpoint encounters and possibly the addition of the illusive splintered group mechanics that many players anxiously await. Time will tell as we see more content hit the Public Test Server, but it looks as if BioWare intends to add more challenge to everyday content. Whether that’s to train players early on for higher difficulty Operations, or just to raise the skill level of players in general, it opens the door to some new and interesting mechanics, and I’m excited for that development.