"Immersion" is the watchword for this massively multiplayer Star Wars game. It not only applies to BioWare's heavy investment in storytelling and fully voiced dialogue--about which we've heard plenty--but also to more traditionally game-y segments of an online role-playing game such as this: the player-versus-player combat, as well as the gathering and crafting system. In a presentation on the game's crafting and warzones (the PVP arenas announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo), BioWare bods Blaine Christine and Gabe Amatangelo explained how the number-crunching, stat-based heart of each would be concealed to maintain immersion.
The crafting and gathering, for starters, have been designed to fit into the player's experience in a way that is credible with respect to the fiction. As Christine puts it, more or less, it doesn't make sense for a badass Darth Vader-like Sith to skin womp rats for a new pair of boots in between conquering worlds. And, so, the coherent fictional basis for crafting is the crew skills system. "You are the hero," says Christine. "You make your crew work for you."
That crew is made up of the companion characters acquired as you play, with your spaceship as their base of operations. From the ship, your companions can be dispatched to gather materials and commanded to craft items while you go about the business of being, for instance, a Darth Vader-like Sith badass. These crew instructions can also be radioed back to the ship while you are planetside (we saw companion characters toiling over a spaceship workbench in the presentation), and crew members might join you while you quest. They may perhaps gather materials while you fend off enemies (we were shown a shot of Twi'lek character Vette foraging for materials while the player character battled a non-player character foe).
Among the four gathering skills to be included in the game is bioanalysis--the acquisition of information, schematics, and raw materials from living (or dead) creatures. With recipe-like items, companion characters will be able to manufacture useful kits for you; with one of the crafting skills, biochem, they can craft stimpaks, adrenals, and implants to confer benefits on your main character. Alongside gathering and crafting skills come mission skills. Of these, Christine touched on diplomacy and treasure hunting (one of Vette's specialties, as a Twi'lek pirate). With the latter, you can send companions off on errands to gather treasure, while diplomacy missions, for a dark-side character, involve having crew members do your evil bidding and spread your wicked influence around the galaxy. For these missions (say, bribing a senator), you might be rewarded with a shift in your light- or dark-side alignment.
The crew can also undertake this gathering, crafting, and evildoing while you are offline; progress is made both in game time and in your downtime, so you can queue up tasks. When you return to the game, you'll find your treasure hunted and boots crafted, for example, if the needed time has elapsed. It's an interesting remedy for the traditional grind in massively multiplayer online role-playing game profession systems.
Away from crafting and back to fighting, Gabe Amatangelo discussed warzones and player-on-player combat. The warzones are instanced--that is, there will be multiple instances of each to accommodate multiple matches--and can be queued from anywhere in the gameworld, though the first warzone to go on show is set on Alderaan, Princess Leia's homeworld. Here, the PVP battle takes place around a recently discovered planetary defense cannon, with Republic and Empire teams fighting for control of the cannon to destroy the opposing force's ship, which looms overhead. At the moment, the warzone battles are fought with two teams of eight, which are assembled with the help of a matchmaking system, though team sizes may change before the game's release, and PVP combat is rewarded with "all the fixins'" says Amatangelo--meaning the expected gear and tokens.
In warzones, player immersion is kept intact with what Amatangelo calls "a visceral coat of paint" to dress up the points-based progress and other game-y elements considered immersion breaking. Instead of capturing flags or bases, you control gun batteries in order to point them at the enemy's warship looming overhead. Instead of a tick of points as you near victory, your progress is indicated by the visible damage on the smoking, burning ship. Devices, such as respawn timers, are hidden with fiction, too: If you are killed, you reenter the battle by riding a transport vessel down from your ship, with the journey to the battlefield masking your respawn delay.
Expect to hear more on warzones in coming months; Amatangelo says the next warzone to be revealed will be set on a derelict starship and will contrast with the capture-and-hold objectives on Alderaan with "an entirely different gameplay mechanic."