We can't think of a better way to commemorate the game industry's biggest event of the year than sitting in on a demonstration for Star Wars: The Old Republic, the highly anticipated online role-playing game from BioWare Austin and LucasArts. Today's demonstration included hands-on time for the six classes we've already covered in our exclusive preview, as well as a sit-down session that revealed new game details and also included a live, hands-off demonstration of a group mission with Republic-aligned characters.
You've probably already seen this year's impressive E3 trailer and may remember last year's equally impressive E3 trailer. It appears that the two are linked, since this year's video depicts a Sith defeat on the planet of Alderaan at the hands of Republic troopers and Jedi, resulting in severe facial wounds for the commanding Sith lord--the same one who wears the menacing mask in last year's video, which depicts a successful Sith counterattack to destroy the Jedi council on Coruscant.
We were also informed that all players in the game will have their own personal starships, which will essentially act as mobile player housing that can be used for travel and for socializing, both with other players and with non-player companion characters (such as Vette), just like in the space travel sequences in The Old Republic, in which you could wander the decks of your ship and chat up your companions. The two ships shown were the Jedi ship, a Corellian Vanguard-class light corvette ship not unlike Knights of the Old Republic's Ebon Hawk, and a Sith ship, a Fury-class Imperial transport, whose dark, forbidding control rooms and meeting halls recall the Imperial cruisers of KOTOR as well.
We then watched a brief demonstration of how the bounty hunter class will differentiate itself visually over time, starting off with light armor and no helmet, moving up to slightly heavier armor on top of a flowing tunic, moving further up to heavier plate-like armor (with helmet) in fashionable stormtrooper white, and leading up to an extremely high-level character in heavy armor in Boba Fett's infamous olive green color, wielding a powerful auto-pistol that fires multiple shots in one hand and launching armor-mounted missiles from the other while floating around on a jetpack. We're told that the Republic troopers carrying the heavy minigun-like weapons depicted in this year's E3 trailer may belong to one of the advanced classes that eventually becomes available to the basic Republic trooper (a feature that we previously unveiled with the first advanced classes for the Sith Warrior).
Finally, we ended the session with a hands-off demonstration of a live, four-player adventuring party taking on a challenging combat mission. The group consisted of a Republic trooper, whose heavy armor and heavy blaster rifle make him perfect for soaking up frontline damage (as a "tank," in online RPG parlance); a smuggler, who deals heavy damage after taking cover and, in some cases, may occasionally heal her teammates (a "damage per second" character, or "DPS" in online RPG terms); a Jedi knight, who acts as a secondary "tank" and also deals good combat damage and whose Force-powered skills are crucial in neutralizing Force-wielding Sith; and a Jedi consular, who acted as the group's healer. This straightforward mission involved defending a Republic installment from a Sith invasion force helmed by gigantic war droids (which were themselves supported by tiny repair droids that would annoyingly heal the behemoths) and a Sith lieutenant.
Fortunately, this particular session went quite well for the party, as the trooper captured the full attention (or "aggro," if you prefer) of the first rampaging war droid while the smuggler and knight dutifully provided supplemental damage and picked off the hostile repair droids and the consular periodically healed the trooper. By working as a team, the group was able to defeat the first droid but was quickly assaulted by a second accompanied by the Sith lieutenant. This required the trooper to quickly grab the attention of the droid while the knight was tasked with grabbing the attention of the Sith before the enemy warrior tore the smuggler to shreds. Fortunately, the group of players controlling these characters (all of whom were wearing LucasArts shirts, so they probably knew what they were doing) skillfully stuck to their roles while the smuggler occasionally detached from cover to get out of harm's way, and their foes were all neutralized in a matter of minutes.
Star Wars: The Old Republic remains an intriguing game, and while we've played through many of its professions and seen several stunning E3 trailers, we'd really like to delve deeper into the higher-end parts and experience the full game at this point. It will launch next year.