Star Wars: The Old Republic Exclusive Hands-On - Bounty Hunter, Trooper, Imperial Agent, Smuggler, Sith Inquisitor, and
We've played as six of the eight professions in this highly anticipated online game. Read our hands-on account and get new info on gameplay, playable races, combat skills, and new game mechanics inside.
Star Wars: The Old Republic will take the pre-A New Hope universe of Star Wars that appeared in Knights of the Old Republic and combine story-rich gameplay with massively multiplayer online adventuring. The result will be highly differentiated experiences for the game's different professions, which will start off in different parts of the universe along different story paths until those paths converge in and around the war waged by the evil Empire with its Sith allies against the peace-loving Republic with their Jedi allies.
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In advance of this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, we took the opportunity to play through the early story content for six of the game's eight character classes: the Republic trooper, the smuggler, the bounty hunter, the agent, the Sith inquisitor, and the Sith Warrior. As we found, several classes are linked by their initial starting area and quest sets, though their differing powers and combat styles make playing each one a unique experience. Here is our report on these six professions. Please keep in mind that our impressions are based on an early version of the game and everything covered here is subject to change. Also, please also note that this story contains minor spoilers.
Republic Trooper and Smuggler
The Republic trooper and the smuggler professions begin their lives in the same area under different circumstances. As a trooper, we started our career as the newest member of the elite Republic commando unit known as Havoc squad--a handsome human soldier riding on the inside of a giant walker into a war zone on the planet of Ord Mantell. The planet is a Republic world torn apart by a civil war waged by separatist rebels. As a smuggler, we played as a Twi'lek, which is the humanoid Star Wars race that has long tentacles down either side of their heads, similar to the Bib Fortuna character in Return of the Jedi.
Yes, the Twi'lek are playable, and this one was a Han Solo-like ship captain who lands her Millennium Falcon-esque ship on Ord Mantell to drop off a weapon shipment to the Republic fort. Unfortunately for both characters, the Republic's on-the-ground contacts double-cross the standing armies, siding with the separatists instead. As a result, the separatists steal the smuggler's ship and hack into the local artillery banks, which means that the beginner smuggler must go out on foot (or risk being shot down), while the trooper's walker gets blasted by the commandeered guns and needs to go it alone on foot as well.
The trooper class begins with four different primary combat skills, which are keyed to the number keys on your keyboard, and all pertain to using your heavy blaster rifle. Most of the trooper's combat abilities operate based on ammo (this has been changed from the previous time we played the class, when it relied on action points). The abilities include hammer shot, a basic ranged attack that consumes a single round of ammo; rifle grenade, which consumes several rounds and activates your character's rifle-mounted grenade launcher to knock all enemies in the blast radius flat on their backs; fast reload, which reloads your weapon to full; and stock strike, a melee attack that lets you pistol-whip your foes with the butt of your rifle once you get up close.
The smuggler class, on the other hand, is one of the game's "cover classes" and focuses on acquiring cover behind various environmental objects. These objects then grant various offensive and defensive bonuses while accruing energy points with basic attacks and expending them with advanced ones. The smuggler tends to favor a single, handheld blaster (again, not unlike Han Solo), and the profession's starting abilities currently include flurry of bolts, a basic ranged attack that builds energy points; take cover, which lets the profession acquire any nearby cover indicated by a transparent green paper-doll model; burst, which fires off three times as many rounds as flurry of bolts but costs energy points; and flash grenade, a hand-thrown projectile that has a chance of stunning all targets within its short radius but also costs energy points.
From cover, the smuggler's action bar changes to include flurry of bolts (which causes the smuggler to quickly pop out of cover to fire), detaching from cover, and charged burst, which is a new skill that slowly charges up a blast before causing the character to peek out behind cover and deliver a highly damaging burst of three charged-up rounds at a great cost of energy points. (And aside from these character-specific abilities, all characters in the game will universally have some kind of fast-healing, meditative skill to use when out of combat to decrease the amount of downtime required for characters to recover from the wounds they've suffered.)
Each character has different entries into Ord Mantell. The trooper meets up with the rest of Havoc squad in short order, including Wraith, the stealth specialist; Fuse, the demolitions expert; Needles, the medic; and the squad commander, Tavus, who briefed us on our mission to track down a stolen orbital strike bomb with enough power to wipe the Republic fort and the nearby civilian refugee encampment off the face of the planet. Our mission required us to infiltrate a besieged village to meet with a refugee informant with intel on the bomb, fighting through a few waves of separatist guerillas and guard droids. We'll say that they didn't put up much of a fight; we took on groups of three or four rather easily and pounded them into the ground by unloading hammer shots and grenade blasts. We also periodically reloaded and used the stock strike melee attack to smack down the few rebels that dared to get in close.
We reached our checkpoint rather easily but found that the separatists had gotten to our informant first and left him for dead in an alley. After checking in with our commanding officer by remote communicator, we accepted our updated mission to find the deceased spy's data pad in his house, where his nerve-wracked wife waited for her husband's return. Unfortunately, it was clearly our duty to inform her of her husband's demise, which she took poorly to say the least, but rather than simply strong-arm the data pad away from the hysterical widow, we instead chose to hear her out--to listen to her vent her frustrations and assure her that her husband died a hero. While either approach would likely have gotten us what we wanted, our choice to delve deeper into the conversation netted us a "conversation bonus"--an as-yet nonfunctioning gameplay mechanic that LucasArts producers tell us may affect your character's light side or dark side alignment or result in some kind of other reward.
Republic Trooper and Smuggler, Continued
The smuggler, on the other hand, begins her adventure with the aforementioned betrayal and grand theft spaceship, learning quickly that the smooth-talking informant who worked with her contact in the Republic military was actually a con man who not only stole her spacecraft and weapon shipment, but also stole the Republic soldier's prized blaster pistol, which was built with rare, antique parts. After holding off the attacks from a handful of separatist ambushers, we sallied forth in search of our lost ship (and the soldier's valuable blaster), battling through the same refugee village. But we had a different goal and a final location--to locate and disable the hacked antiair guns and, eventually, locate our stolen ship.
Because we were playing the very first missions for each character in the game, we fortunately had little trouble dispatching our enemies once we acquired cover. The smuggler is clearly not a hardy class that can walk right into the thick of battle, and the few times we tried this, we nearly died. The key to the smuggler's survival seems to be finding good cover in the environment and then firing from cover. Fortunately, the flash grenade ability generally gives her at least a moment or two to find a decent hidey-hole, and the charged burst ability from cover deals an impressive amount of damage, so the smuggler seems like she can definitely hold her own in combat. We can imagine that in larger, group battles, the smuggler's stun-based and burst-fire skills will make it a powerful support class (even as the profession's stun grenade ability can penetrate cover), but its own need to seek cover will make it vulnerable to aggressive flanking.
Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent
We moved from the clear but troubled skies of Ord Mantell to the toxic yellow haze of Hutta, a homeworld of Hutt gangsters. While The Old Republic takes place centuries before Return of the Jedi's Jabba the Hutt ever reared his ugly head, his predecessors are very much a part of the game--wheeling, dealing, and squabbling over territory. Hutta is the starting point for two of the game's professions: the heavy-artillery-packing bounty hunter and the sneaky Imperial agent. Characters from both professions find themselves having to curry the favor of the local slumlord, Nemro the Hutt, for different reasons.
In the case of the bounty hunter, we played as a character of the Rattataki race--a breed of pale-skinned, bald humanoids with a pronounced mean streak. The bounty hunter starts her life seeking the Hutt gang leader's support to enter The Great Hunt, an intergalactic bounty competition that takes place once every 10 years and promises great riches to the winner. In the case of the Imperial agent, we played as a member of the Chiss race--a species of self-reliant, blue-skinned, red-eyed humanoids that aren't normally prone to direct acts of war. As the agent, our job was to infiltrate the Hutt's palace while posing as an honored guest and "persuade" the brigand to join forces with the Empire because the Hutt's illicit activities are monopolizing a valuable trade sector. This sector's huge profits rightfully belong to the kindly and just Empire--a faction so equitable that it sends assassins and fixers like us to do its dirty work.
The bounty hunter is a heavily armed, heavily armored walking tank with enough tactical weapons to make any Star Wars nerd sit up and take notice. At the very beginning of her career, she has four primary combat abilities: rapid shots, a standard firing mode from her wrist-mounted blaster; missile blast, which launches a concussive rocket that can strike up to three targets and send them all sprawling; flamethrower, which causes a damage-over-time effect to all enemies in a cone-shaped area immediately in front of you (it may even stun weaker foes); and vent heat, the character's most important ability. Unlike the trooper, who needs to constantly reload after firing, the bounty hunter instead builds up internal heat within her armor after firing continuously and must periodically vent that heat to continue the attack.
In contrast, the agent is, like the smuggler, a cover class, though this profession seems like less of a scout and more of an assassin. In addition to carrying an actual blaster sniper rifle, the agent accrues and expends energy points with different attacks (also like the smuggler) but starts out with subtly different skills. These include rifle shot, a basic attack that fires two standard rounds and builds energy points; take cover, which, like the smuggler's ability, acquires nearby cover after selecting from a handful of possible positions outlined by green silhouettes; and shiv, a devastating close-range melee attack that costs a good chunk of energy points but lets you bury a steely vibro-blade into your enemies to deal huge damage. From cover, the agent gains the snipe attack, which deals tons of damage, as well as the laze target skill, which marks a target and makes it much more vulnerable to damage--not unlike the Hunter's mark skill from World of Warcraft.
As a bounty hunter, our life on Hutta began with a briefing from the non-player characters running the small bounty hunting outfit our character had apparently joined. These money-hungry adventurers weren't exactly above twisting a few arms and pulling a few strings to impress the Hutt crime lord and get us into The Great Hunt (plus a chance at all those wonderful, wonderful credits). However, it was our job to perform enough reputable jobs to get the Hutt's attention, so we were tasked with hunting down a dashing smuggler so brazen and so dangerous that he would steal credits from Republic soldier pay kiosks in broad daylight.
We tracked our mark to the nearest hangar, dispatching his pirate underlings, with ease. Again, we had been playing through the very beginning of each profession's adventuring lives, so naturally, we didn't expect the fights to be tough, but for whatever reason, the bounty hunter seemed like a real beast in battle. We can't quite put our finger on why he was so tough, but it might've had something to do with the way the character can soften enemies up with a few quick rapid shot volleys, launch a missile right into their faces--knocking them clean off their feet--and then run right up to their prone bodies to burn what's left of them to a crisp with her flamethrower.
Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent, Continued
After cutting through a few waves of pirates guarding the hangar, we finally tracked down the pirate boss to find that he was a bit of a foppish dandy who talked like he was from the streets but dressed more like the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. We confronted our mark and started a dramatic conversation with him that was clearly building toward a Wild West-style quick-draw duel, but in this case, we chose to forgo the conversation bonus and chose the dialogue option to do as A New Hope's legendary scumbag Greedo did in a certain special-edition DVD set: shoot first.
Unfortunately, our victory was short lived--after returning to base, we found most of the bounty hunting support team slain. The surviving character from the team pulled up the base's security log, which showed that a rival bounty hunter, who played even faster and looser with the law than we did, had been making the rounds among potential entrants to The Great Hunt, ordering his henchman to murder most of your support characters to take you out of the game. The stakes for gaining the Hutt's favor were raised considerably because we weren't just out for credits anymore--but for revenge.
The agent's experience, on the other hand, seems even more cynical and even more removed. Rather than meet up face-to-face with a briefing team, the agent receives his orders remotely by holographic communications from his dispatcher, who is known only as "Keeper." This dispatcher is a sharp-tongued Twi'lek who demands that you remain discreet at all times, lest your existence be disavowed by the Imperial syndicate. As mentioned, the agent's job is to gain the support--willing or otherwise--of Nemro the Hutt by posing as a mysterious and rarely-seen crime lord known as The Red Blade, infiltrating the palace and entering into the Hutt's confidence. After a frigidly unfriendly mission briefing, we made our way to the palace through the broken-down streets of Hutta, which have erupted into open gang violence between Nemro's forces and those of a rival Hutt crime boss from a neighboring sector looking to expand his territory.
In combat, the agent, much like the smuggler, can't survive a full-on frontal assault for long and must take cover. However, when behind cover, the agent's devastating sniping and lazing abilities seem to make it a highly effective support class. However, these cover abilities, while powerful, are also potentially dangerous to use because they require the agent to poke his neck out of cover for several precious seconds while acquiring his target--seconds during which the character is not in cover and may take a beating. We're told by LucasArts staff that in the current version of the game, when dueling other enemies with blasters, you can actually carefully time your sniper shots to go off right when your enemies are reloading and avoid incoming damage, though this system, like everything else in this story, is subject to change. In any case, the agent, like the smuggler, brings an interesting positional element to battle and makes flanking a lot more important. But unlike the smuggler, the agent has a trump card up his sleeve in the shiv ability should his foes get the drop on him.
Once we infiltrated the Hutt's palace, we quickly gained access to him and sweet-talked him into believing our cover story. We were summarily admitted to our own private chambers, where we performed a brief minigame to search for good spots to hide listening devices so that we could better eavesdrop on the slumlord. We also became acquainted with the crime lord's two advisors: an ambitious Twi'lek and rising star in Nemro's court, as well as an older human heavy who has seemingly fallen out of favor. We quickly found out from a subsequent remote briefing that the human has fallen out of favor because he's sympathetic to the Empire and its efficient, calculating ways.
Clearly our mission was to get to the Hutt through his advisor, though the task wouldn't be easy. Among other things, we bumped into some lowlife in an antechamber who claimed that he was a close friend of the real Red Blade and then demanded a fistful of credits in exchange for his silence. We blew him off without paying him; this was partially because we're so brave that we never cave in to threats and partially because our play time with the Imperial agent had come to an end.
Sith Warrior and Sith Inquisitor
If the bounty hunter and agent's starting missions seem cold and mercenary, the atmosphere for new Sith characters could be described as downright hostile. Both of these professions begin their lives on Korriban, the Sith homeworld, which has appeared in both Knights of the Old Republic games as the location of the cutthroat Sith academy, where new recruits routinely resort to extortion, manipulation, and murder to outshine their classmates. It also appeared as the place where teams of archeologists routinely brave the arid desert to dig through the trap-laden tombs in the Valley of the Sith Lords in search of rare artifacts and ceremonial weapons. Korriban is every bit as unfriendly a place as it was in the previous games--more so, in fact, because you start your career at the very lowest rung of the ladder here. Both of the game's Sith professions--the warrior and the inquisitor--will find themselves interrogating prisoners detained in the academy and exploring the tombs.
The Sith warrior starts his career as an acolyte serving a bitter, angry overseer who leads the training of you and your fellow acolytes, including Vemrin, the apprentice to a powerful Sith lord. At the outset of your training, the overseer very bluntly explains that this other apprentice clearly outclasses you and is your enemy and shockingly points out that you must kill Vemrin as soon as possible, lest you be killed by him first. The Sith inquisitor reports to a different Sith overseer as part of the slave caste--a group of low-born wannabes who are not of proper Sith bloodlines but have been admitted simply because they are Force sensitive. It's actually implied that the Sith ranks are dwindling, which is why the academy's entrance requirements have been relaxed. As it turns out, the inquisitor has an opportunity to become apprentice to a powerful Sith lord but finds herself in competition with another ambitious recruit who is further along in his training. Both of our Sith characters were human.
Sith Warrior and Sith Inquisitor, Continued
The Sith warrior is the melee powerhouse of the evil, lightsaber-wielding faction and possesses powerful melee combat abilities that crush opponents at close range. The character's powers are based on rage points, which he accrues by performing basic attacks and can then expend with more-powerful abilities. The warrior's starting combat skills include assault, a standard lightsaber attack that earns a few rage points; vicious slash, a slower melee attack that deals significant damage to a single target; and Force charge, which is essentially the Knights of the Old Republic's Force jump power. This ability lets your character perform a superhuman leap across a long distance to immediately engage a faraway opponent with a powerful lightsaber attack.
The Sith inquisitor also wields a lightsaber, but the profession's true strengths come from its devastating Force powers, which are tied to a Force power meter not unlike that of the Knights of the Old Republic games. The inquisitor has a basic saber strike attack that deals lightsaber melee damage; shock, a Force power that zaps a single target with a lightning bolt; and lightning drain, a highly damaging Force power that bathes a single target with damaging lightning, a la Emperor Palpatine from Return of the Jedi. It also drains Force power and potentially stuns and slows the movement of its target.
As the warrior, our experience started with a mission to raid the tomb of a long-dead Sith lord to extract an ancient, ceremonial war blade (not unlike the early mission we undertook in our first hands-on session with the game many moons ago).On the way to the tomb, we quickly picked up a few extra side quests within the tomb itself; one came from an Imperial officer who asked us to clear out some of the K'lor slugs (huge, pale, centipede-like critters) that inhabited the tomb, where a stray data pad revealed that a security malfunction had allowed pesky tomb robbers to enter the various tombs to scrounge for artifacts to sell.
As the Sith warrior, we had no trouble dispatching anything foolish enough to cross our paths. In fact, the biggest challenge we faced in combat was that we couldn't Force charge every single enemy we encountered because our enemies were clustered in groups (the powerful leaping attack requires you to stand at a distance from your target). There's no mystery about how the warrior's basic lightsaber attacks work--they're simple, work only at close range, and do decent damage. Of the character's starting skills, the Force charge ability will make Sith warriors deadly in player-versus-player battles because as soon as they get within moderate range, they can use this skill to automatically engage in hand-to-hand combat; this is a very difficult scenario for more-fragile characters that rely on ranged damage, such as the smuggler.
After retrieving the war blade from the bottom level of the tomb, we returned to the academy, and en route to our superior, we encountered Vemrin, who confronted us and dared to offer us the choice to be his vassal. The ambitious apprentice bluntly stated his intent to overthrow and replace the overseer, insinuating that joining forces was in our best interest, but we declined the offer with a few threats of our own and reported back to the overseer. It seemed that our superior was already aware of the apprentice's designs and suggested a plan of his own--one about which he hadn't informed his own daughter, Eskella, who openly voiced her resentment at her father's harboring another Sith warrior and sending him out to retrieve a war blade, no less. The overseer callously dismissed his daughter and instead sent us out on our next mission--to interrogate three subjects held in the facility's detention center.
Upon entering, we watched a brief cutscene that showed the academy's jailor interrogating Vette, the wisecracking Twi'lek who, as we revealed in our exclusive preview, can join the Sith warrior as a NPC companion. We then introduced ourselves to the portly officer, who had already been briefed on our mission and introduced us to the three prisoners. The first was a defiant young human woman and freelance assassin who had killed a key Imperial officer under Sith watch and awaited her sentence. She insisted she was ignorant of the target's true identity and was merely following orders, and rather than torture her, we decided to take the unorthodox dialogue choice of insisting that the woman not only be freed, but also brought into the service of the Empire as an assassin herself. This was a choice we hoped would add light side points to our character, though this feature apparently hasn't been implemented yet. The jailor expressed mild surprise at our choices but let us continue to the second subject, a disgraced Sith warrior with many years of service under his belt, who had made a crucial mistake on a recent mission that cost many men their lives. Realizing that light side and dark side points weren't in the game yet, we went right to the Force choke option, eventually killing him. We decided to cut to the chase again with the third and final prisoner, a member of the Rodian race (to which Greedo belonged) who strenuously argued that he had no idea the supplies he kept shipping were ending up in Republic hands. We immediately chose the Force lightning option and repeatedly zapped him until he confessed, and for some reason, we felt a lot better about ourselves afterward.
As the Sith inquisitor, our experience was even more mean spirited and nasty. We began as one of a group of students of a different overseer who, as mentioned, addressed us as slaves and demanded that we head to the valley and seek out the council of a Sith hermit who had taken up residence in one of the tombs. We wasted no time heading out to the area to find the old man in meditation with four other disciples. We also found a nasty surprise when the hermit revealed that the disciples were fallen Sith pupils who had come before us and failed--and given a second chance to prove themselves by attacking us.
In battle, the Sith inquisitor definitely has powerful skills--and a lightsaber to boot--but seems to have trouble standing up to a melee onslaught from multiple foes. The character's starting Force powers can target only a single enemy, and though it's possible that later abilities can zap multiple foes, the profession seems like it might be at its best with a bounty hunter or Sith warrior covering the front lines while the inquisitor hurls blazing electric death from a distance.
Having played through six of the game's classes, it seems clear that The Old Republic will offer a great deal of variety in terms of branching paths, differing dialogue choices, and interesting gameplay nuances. We're intrigued by the prospect of playing through a massively multiplayer version of BioWare's best story-driven experiences while also playing through diverse PVP battles where smart use of your character's skills will seemingly make all the difference. We'll continue to bring you more updates on this highly anticipated game.
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