Fan Site Summit: Imperial Agent Impressions
As many of you know, Darth Hater was invited to join a special fan summit this week at BioWare's Austin campus. In addition to presentations and live Q&As, we were able to get more solid hands-on with Star Wars: The Old Republic. While sado was traipsing through Nal Hutta with his Bounty Hunter, I was finally able to get some serious time with a class Ive followed closely since November of 2009: the Imperial Agent. After spending many hours bringing an Agent from level one to Advanced Class and beyond, I finally feel like I can report on this enigmatic, elusive class.
The Imperial Agent starts off with a significant number of skills compared to the Jedi classes we played last fall. My Level 1 character began with a basic attack (Rifle Shot), Shiv, Overload Shot, Coordination, Take Cover, Recuperate, and Snipe. The plethora of starting abilities could simply be due to the dual combat styles of the Imperial Agent (in cover and out of cover). However, with the in-flux nature of the game, the increased number of starting skills might simply be reflective of all classes in the current build.
Most of these skills will be familiar to anyone following The Old Republic, with the exception of Coordination. This ability is a single target buff that can be cast on yourself and your party members that increases the likelihood of landing a critical hit. Much like the Jedi Consular and Jedi Knight buffs we reported on last fall, these long duration buffs seem to be becoming a staple of the overall class design.
Combat at the earliest levels is fairly forgiving to the Imperial Agent. There are three combat abilities for use while out of cover (Rifle Shot, Shiv, and Overload Shot) and three for use in cover (Rifle Shot, Snipe, and Overload Shot). In the first few levels I utilized cover when available, but I could simply overpower the small groups of mobs in the starter quests without worrying too much. However, this grace period disappeared quickly.
As I neared Level 6, combat became more difficult and I needed to be more careful about how I approached mobs. By this point, I picked up Flash Bang (AOE Crowd Control), Suppressing Fire (Cover channeled ability that does damage and slows target),Toxic Dart (Single Target DOT), and Explosive Probe (debuff that causes additional damage when the target is injured) but the increased number of abilities were countered by tougher mobs that did more damage. I quickly realized that I needed to utilize cover whenever available to fight quickly without being near death at the end of every engagement.
This small hurdle made things increasingly difficult as I moved toward a class story quest halfway to Level 7. In this build of Nal Hutta, cover points were unusually sparse throughout the area of the map I was sent to, and the mobs were all two or more levels higher than my character. Thankfully, I was told two things that alleviated much of my concern over this. First, I apparently missed an entire quest hub that was located off the beaten path that would have brought me on par in levels. And second, they are currently testing a completely different build than the one we were playing that addresses many concerns with the location of cover points and the entire cover system itself. Unfortunately, I was unable to learn any tidbits about the latter point, so we will need to wait to know more.
After overcoming the hurdle at Levels 6 and 7, I finally got Portable Cover at Level 8. This ability is a buff that forces your character into a cover stance, offering a defensive bonus to all enemies in a cone in front of the shield. Unlike normal cover points, you cannot leave and return to a portable cover position -- a fact I learned the hard way during my first duel. Once you touch any movement key, you lose the bonus from the cover until you reuse the ability. Thankfully, the cooldown timer on Portable Cover is very short, so it wasn't difficult to regain cover once I realized how the skill works.
The only real problem I encountered came from fighting melee targets. The mutant Chemilizards and elite melee humanoids around Nal Hutta easily circumvented my cover positions and forced me to either try to kite them, or stand toe-to-toe and hope I out damaged them. At later levels, a cover focused Sniper Imperial Agent acquires skills that help solve this problem, but that didn't help much during the origin world. I was certainly able to kill melee targets, but the inability to use my high damage Snipe ability (only usable in cover) coupled with my relatively low defense and hit points meant I avoided tough melee mobs whenever possible.
After reaching Dromund Kaas, I was able to choose my Advanced Class for the first time ever. Once I was in the Imperial Intelligence building in Kaas City, I simply picked up a quest and turned it in at a specific trainer who gave me the option to become an Operative or Sniper. I picked the Sniper Advanced Class and quickly headed to the skill trainer to learn the Sniper specific abilities of Laze Target and Ambush. The former is a debuff that makes a target take more damage and the latter is a high damage attack used from a cover position. When looking at the Sniper abilities available for high level players I noticed two that stood out for people looking to use cover: Entrench and Cover Pulse. These two abilities could solve much of the melee concerns by letting a player stay in cover and keep melee targets at range for a limited time.
As testing and fine tuning continues to push SWTOR towards launch, we continue to see a variety of small changes and tweaks to skills available at this early level. The most obvious to me was the removal of the Sleep Dart -- a single target crowd control that was acquired at Level 4. What I had in its place was the Flash Bang skill, an AOE crowd control formerly acquired at Level 24. Both of these abilities are crowd control skills and something an agent needs at early levels. The Flash Bang currently causes a shorter stun duration then the dart did, but the AOE really helped limit incoming damage when the going got tough. This is just one example of how testing and polish is changing what skill the designers feel fit the best.
One thing that seems to remain consistent within the Imperial Agent combat design is the focus on tactical, preparation based combat. Finding the best place to engage a particular group of enemies is nearly as important as what skill rotation you use, and I found much greater success by taking the time to set up combat with Explosive Probe, Portable Cover and eventually Laze Target before firing a single shot. This combat style might not be best fit for people who want to run into combat and quickly execute a skill rotation, but I found it very enjoyable and can't wait to slaughter some more indigenous creatures in game.
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