E3 2011: Star Wars: The Old Republic Updated Hands-On Preview - High-Level Play on Tatooine

We hit E3 2011 to try out some high-level exploration and questing in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

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The 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo is under way, and highly anticipated games like Star Wars: The Old Republic are on display. Having already shared an overview of both the game's E3 demonstration and what lies ahead, we took the opportunity to get our hands on the game once more, this time to try out a higher-end quest on the desert planet of Tatooine. Lead writer Daniel Erickson explained that the planet is the "second-to-last one in chapter one" of the game's story arc and suggested that the world is "absolutely huge, way bigger than anything the press has seen so far." Please note that this story may contain minor plot spoilers.

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We played a few sessions as Imperial characters but were advised that Republic characters would land on the planet on the other side, at Anchorhead--just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Dune Sea, a huge tract of open desert and a site for open faction-based player-versus-player (PVP) battles. According to Erickson, the version of Tatooine that appears in the game (which takes place thousands of years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope and hundreds of years after the events of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic) is sparsely inhabited and even more sparsely governed--so it's not like there are any authorities that are interested in getting involved when a bunch of players from opposing sides decide they want to settle their differences with lightsabers.

Our first session was as a level 26 Sith inquisitor, specialized to the damage-dealing sorcerer profession. This character had a ton of different abilities, and nearly all of them involved dealing damage to enemies either through zapping them with lightning or inflicting some sort of Force-based malaise that would deal damage over time. The inquisitor also possesses a few healing and defensive skills, but for the most part, we were too busy fricasseeing womp rats to explore these to any extent. As it turns out, this particular prebuilt character had a single companion, Xalek--a fledgling Sith who came equipped with damaging lightning-based attacks of his own.

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Our second character was a high-level bounty hunter--a profession with which we were extremely familiar, given our previous time with the class, and which was equipped with more-powerful versions of the missile launchers, flamethrowers, and pistol flurries we've already covered. The bounty hunter's companion was still Mako, the chipper young human girl, though her character model had been updated to look a bit more slender and a bit less young. We also noticed that the bounty hunter's basic conceit--the idea of building up "heat" within the character's armor suit, which needs to be vented periodically--seems to have been tweaked so that most of the basic attacks we had equipped generated barely any heat, putting us in no real danger of overheating.

In any case, we made short work of any rills, womp rats, wraids, and Sand People foolish enough to cross our paths with either character--though to be honest, we were moving too fast on our personal speeder to care. As we mentioned in our pre-E3 story, the game will launch with personal speeders and other quick-travel vehicles to help players cover ground quickly, and our own vehicle, an upright hovering contraption that resembled a cross between a hovercraft and a Segway, helped us move at so brisk a clip that we were able to completely duck past most of the clusters of hostile Tatooine wildlife on our way to our destination.

In this case, our character had been sent to Tatooine to investigate the remains of a failed operation by Czerka Corporation, the coldhearted, money-grubbing conglomerate that appeared in the Knights of the Old Republic games. It appears that the company had originally set up excavation operations on Tatooine but abruptly pulled out--so our job was to figure out what it was that Czerka had unearthed that had spooked them so badly. Our first lead was Darth Silthar, a high-ranking Sith lord who had been investigating a legend propagated by the Sand People before mysteriously disappearing. We headed out into the desert in the direction of our clearly marked goal using the game's handy-dandy overlay map (which still goes transparent when superimposed over the world, letting you see where you're going as you go), stopping only to get a side quest from an Imperial officer whose company had been waylaid. It seems that the soldiers had been ambushed by agents from the Exchange--the intergalactic crime cartel that players infiltrated in Knights of the Old Republic--but it also seemed that this would be a "heroic" level quest that would require two or more companions to complete. Since we were on a time limit, we declined this mission and went on with our primary quest.

The next leg of our mission lay in the deep desert, specifically in the dusty pockets of the Sand People, whom we butchered mercilessly to eventually discover the missing Sith lord's compass. After we equipped and used this quest item, the next step in our journey was revealed--the missing Sith lord was holed up in a nearby desert cave filled with Sand People, whom we obliterated by patiently tackling each small cluster of foes, rather than charging in headfirst. When we located our target, we found him to be an old man who lay dying, but who was still convinced of an ancient legend of a mythical being in a white room--a being revered by the Sand People. We grew tired of listening to his prattling, especially when we were given a dialogue option to gain either light side points or dark side points, and immediately chose to draw our lightsaber and finish him off. However, the old man's last words indicated that clues to our quest were scribed on a Sand People mural deeper in the cave, which we briefly inspected and then immediately set aflame--again, to gain more dark side points.

We then returned to the Sith base of operations on Tatooine to report our findings to the presiding officer and took every opportunity to unsentimentally point out that the foolish old Sith was dead, dead, and dead. However, our conversation was punctuated by a brief cinematic sequence that showed other crew members of the Sith expedition being electrocuted by their archeological equipment, causing them to rise once again, this time shambling slowly and speaking in tongues. It seems that they have been possessed by the spirit of a being known as The Imprisoned One, who seeks to take control of all living beings and eventually, the planet. We killed off these possessed grunts and then regrouped with the commanding officer to try to get some sense of what happened. While the flustered soldier had no idea where this being came from, he was very clear that we could not allow its influence to spread, particularly to outlying settlements where some Tatooine inhabitants possessed conventional levels of technology--possible vectors through which the being could replicate itself. We were all ready to set out to contain the threat when the demonstration came to an end.

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Tatooine's real charm hasn't yet revealed itself to us--we didn't get a chance to explore the huge world to any appreciable extent, or to engage in an open PVP battle. Still, now that we've had more time with higher-level characters, particularly ones specialized using the game's advanced profession system, we're gaining more of an appreciation for just how powerful a character in The Old Republic can be. As we've mentioned previously, the game will offer a huge story-based experience for each of its eight professions, along with PVP, raiding, crafting, romanceable companions, housing (in the form of your character's persistent ship), and space combat, so The Old Republic will have a ton of stuff to offer when the game launches later this year. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more updates.

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