E3 2009 is well underway at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and one of the most highly anticipated--and mysterious--games on display has finally revealed itself. Star Wars: The Old Republic is being shown in playable form for the very first time to the press here at E3, and the game looks great. From what we can tell, it'll have all the best elements of BioWare's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic single-player game, updated with all the best features from BioWare's more-recent games since then (such as Mass Effect). And, of course, it'll have online multiplayer for you and your 1, 000 closest friends.
The demonstration we watched started with a new bounty hunter character--a large, bulky male character with dark hair and a deep, menacing voice. Star Wars: TOR will apparently have full voice acting for all of its characters, as well as full cinematic cutscenes similar to those of Knights of the Old Republic. In the demonstration we watched, our new bounty hunter started his life in a small bounty hunter conclave on the planet Hutta (home planet of the Hutts, which has previously never appeared in a computer or video game before). He made his way to a central chamber where his mentor, a character named Braden, awaited. On greeting Braden, our character was sent into a cutscene in which Braden introduced two other non-player characters who will help you on your way, and made vague references to The Great Hunt, which is an event held by the warlike Mandalorians to see which bounty hunter can land the greatest prize. This event will apparently be the focus of a bounty hunter character's storyline. After swapping terse, not-so-pleasant pleasantries with our mentor by choosing responses from a circular dialogue wheel (some dialogue choices will have serious consequences that will not only change the game's story, but will also change the outcome of your character's adventure and may award you light side points or dark side points, as in KOTOR), we headed outdoors.
Hutta was apparently colonized by Hutts who turned the once lush planet into an industrial wasteland, and we saw that reflected in the landscape outside of our starting building. Huge, tall trees with hanging branches were scattered among large, metal buildings with long networks of pipes sticking out of them, and the sky was a sickly yellow color. Off in the distance, we could see a tall Hutt palace, which apparently houses the Hutt slumlord who will eventually be a fledgling bounty hunter's ticket off the planet. For the time being, we sallied forth and found some enemy human soldiers skulking around the area and engaged them in battle. The bounty hunter is a "ranged" character that will primarily rely on blaster rifles and blaster pistols. He also has several abilities (keyed into a hotkey bank at the bottom of the screen) based on firing powerful energy blasts, though the character also has some close-range abilities, such as a wrist-mounted flamethrower, which can spray multiple targets with incapacitating flames to control crowds.
After seeing the bounty hunter, we switched off to see the smuggler character in action. Though you can read more about this profession in our interview, smugglers will be nimble gunslingers who prefer sneaky tactics and good cover to heavy armor. Apparently, the primary story arc for the smuggler profession will involve smuggling a huge arms shipment to the besieged Republic army, but for the time being, we were able to see what a smuggler does in battle against a handful of enemy soldiers. This profession will have a unique cover system that will, when you acquire a target enemy, immediately place a stick-figure silhouette in the world, which provides the best cover. It's best to first head to that cover area and then start firing. In fact, cover is so important to this profession that some of its abilities may only be used while crouching behind cover.
Finally, we were able to watch a group session with a party of our bounty hunter character (at a higher level, in bulkier armor) and a Sith character sent on a mission to capture a Sith warship whose captain disobeyed a direct order from a high-ranking official. The mission started in a huge control room reminiscent of some of the areas in KOTOR, but they were much better looking, more detailed, and populated with several non-player characters going about their business. Our party confronted the captain and engaged in "multiplayer dialogue," which is another one of Star Wars: TOR's unique features. During the conversation, our bounty hunter and our Sith team members were each given a dialogue option during the conversation, which ended with the group decision of either killing the captain as punishment or sparing his life. Decisions like this will apparently give you and your party members a few moments to cast your votes before the game locks in the party's decision. In this case, we chose to kill the captain, which was an evil act that earned our characters dark side points, and according to BioWare, changed the course of the game (the following sequence of events we're about to describe apparently wouldn't have happened had we spared him).
After killing the captain, we exchanged a few cold words with the ship's remaining crew before the vessel came under attack by a Republic battleship. The battleship was being led by a Jedi strike force intent on destroying us, so we headed down to the docking bay to attack our attackers as they breached the ship. This battle also let us see some of the abilities of a Sith character, including the force jump ability, which works more or less the same as it did in KOTOR. You select a faraway enemy and on activating the power, your character leaps forward and performs a powerful lightsaber attack. Sith characters will also apparently have access to abilities, such as force choke, which also work just like in KOTOR. You select an enemy to gesture at, and that foe will be lifted in the air by an invisible force and claw at his or her throat while being incapacitated and taking damage. Sith characters will also have some form of force lightning. The version we saw was an attack that stunned all nearby enemies in a tight radius. The Republic soldiers came blasting into the docking bay to attack us but were no match for us--not even the Padawan of the Jedi knight character put up much of a fight. Finally, the Jedi made his appearance and seemed to pose a real challenge because he had force powers of his own, but using the bounty hunter's and Sith's abilities together, such as having the bounty hunter trigger his jetpack to dive-bomb the Jedi while the Sith character dueled on foot, eventually brought the mighty Jedi knight down. At that point, we did what any good Sith would do--looted the corpse. Apparently, the Jedi had been carrying some sophisticated scanner equipment for the bounty hunter, while the Sith simply picked up the Jedi's lightsaber and wielded it in his other hand. So, yes, like in KOTOR, you'll be able to dual-wield lightsabers.
Now that we've finally seen what the gameplay in Star Wars: The Old Republic is like, we have to say that we're more intrigued than ever and really can't wait to actually play the game. And we'll be able to do that as soon as the game is released, which will happen...when it happens. BioWare Austin isn't committing to a release date, but that's just as well. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more updates on this promising online game.