Star Wars: The Old Republic Preview - First Look and Announcement

LucasArts and BioWare reveal a new massively multiplayer online game based in the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic universe.

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...wait, that's not right. It was actually only about five years ago that well-known role-playing developer BioWare and Star Wars game publisher LucasArts put out the highly acclaimed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for the PC and the original Xbox system. The RPG told a brand-new Star Wars story, which took place in a new timeframe (thousands of years before the events in the original motion picture trilogy), and let players explore both the Light and the Dark Sides of the Force as apprentice Jedi Knights facing an impending galactic war. And now, that universe is making its way online in the newly announced Star Wars: The Old Republic, a brand-new massively multiplayer online game, revealed at today's press event by BioWare at the LucasArts campus in San Francisco, California.

The universe of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is going online.
The universe of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is going online.

According to BioWare cofounder Dr. Ray Muzyka, although the traditional massively multiplayer game focuses on such things as combat, exploration, and character progression, the new game will attempt to introduce a "fourth pillar--story." Indeed, story will play a significant role in the game and will drive the motivations of all characters, including your own. In addition to choosing a profession from what LucasArts refers to as "a variety of...classic Star Wars roles," your character will also be able to pursue an education in the mysterious ways of the Force, either as a Jedi padawan learning the Light Side, or as a Sith apprentice, learning the ways of the Dark Side. The game will also feature "companion" characters that will join you in your quest and either fight alongside you, or betray you, depending on their motives...and yours.

Because the game takes place in the universe of KOTOR, fans of that game can expect to see people, places, things, and story elements they may already be familiar with. The game takes place in the wake of what is considered in the Star Wars universe to be a controversial political decision--the Treaty of Coruscant, which called for an uneasy peace between the once-united Republic and the increasingly powerful Sith Empire, led by Emperor Naga Sadow. Unfortunately for the Republic, the treaty was more or less a surrender agreement that ceded control of many planets to the growing forces of the Dark Side, even as the many defeats that the Republic suffered at the hands of the Sith divided the hearts and minds of Republic citizens across the galaxy, even going so far as to foster mistrust of the Republic's traditional guardians, the mystical Jedi Knights. The inscrutable Jedi, themselves, have withdrawn their central council from the planet of Coruscant to the traditional Jedi homeworld of Tython, where a new council grapples with the Republic's loss of faith in the Order, as well as with the discovery of ancient ruins that may house dark secrets, and an incursion of settlers of the Twi'lek race (the race of humanoids with long tentacles extending from their heads, such as Bib Fortuna from Return of the Jedi and Mission Vao from the KOTOR game)

According to the game's fiction, the Republic had originally held sway for a long, prosperous, and peaceful reign of some 20,000 years before suddenly coming under attack by the Sith incursion from the corner of the galaxy known as the Outer Rim. KOTOR fans will recall that this Sith attack came as a surprise both to the Republic and to the Jedi, who were caught off guard and suffered heavy losses, including the ice planet of Ilum, the desert planet of Dathomir, and the water planet of Manaan, whose peaceful, aquatic population appeared in the original game as an already-besieged planet populated by mistrustful fish-folk. Apparently, the Sith Empire, which had originally been in ruins, repopulated itself by settling and conquering the planet of Korriban, on which the Sith mingled with the inhabitants and also eventually erected its training academy, which players will also remember having visited in their time with the original KOTOR. Korriban suffered a minor setback when the Sith Lords Revan and Malak attempted to seize control of the galaxy during the events of the original KOTOR, but despite this setback, the Sith have returned to power and now use the planet as a seat for their Dark Council, as well as the home of their fearsome academy, where students of the Dark Side endure rigorous tests (that include exploring the tombs of their predecessors) in their quests to become Sith Lords.

KOTOR fans will recognize planets like the Sith homeworld of Korriban.
KOTOR fans will recognize planets like the Sith homeworld of Korriban.

In today's press conference, BioWare principals Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk took center stage with LucasArts president Darrell Rodriguez to introduce the game and talk up the massive amount of content that it'll offer. The presentation also included a brief cinematic CG trailer that showed a scene that could've come right out of the original KOTOR. In it, a Sith Lord, in black robes and all, flies in on a shuttle ship and lands on a pastoral planet next to a landed ship that was a dead ringer for KOTOR's Millennium Falcon-esque Ebon Hawk, walking next to an orange, assault-rifle-bearing robot that was a dead ringer for KOTOR's sinister, homicidal droid HK-47. The Sith Lord effortlessly repels an attack from what appears to be a Republic trooper, deflecting the soldier's blaster fire with a single gesture, and telekinetically strangling him, then flinging him away with another. In the meantime, another Jedi dressed in white robes, who is clearly intended to be a Light side Jedi, appears to be meditating peacefully while levitating a glowing crystal and several metal fragments in air. As the Sith Lord makes his entrance through a hallway of slaughtered Republic troopers, the Jedi's floating junk assembles itself into a lightsaber just in time for her to seize hold of it and lock blades with the Sith Lord.

The press conference then showed off a gameplay trailer, which showed brief looks at the revealed worlds of Tython and Korriban, the latter of which resembles a more-developed version of what we saw in the original KOTOR. Like in that game, the world includes a desert valley leading to the tombs of fallen Sith Lords, but to help indicate that the new game takes place 300 years after the events in the original KOTOR games, the valley is far more developed and has more and larger mining machinery to excavate the relics from the Sith tombs. It also showed several combat sequences, including a duel between a Light side jedi and what appeared to be an alien bounty hunter with a wrist-mounted flamethrower. The same Jedi later did battle with a praying-mantis-like monster that appeared to use force powers to seize hold of the Jedi and strangle her before she broke free of its telekinetic influence. The trailer ended with a lightsaber duel between a Sith and a Jedi that showed how the game's combat system will incorporate lightsaber-on-lightsaber collisions, as well as lightsaber-on-flesh collisions and attacks that can apparently target different body parts (at one point, the Sith character clearly scored a hit on the Jedi character's leg).

Lightsaber duels? Yeah, they'll be in there.
Lightsaber duels? Yeah, they'll be in there.

The trailers capped off the presentation with a handful of basic questions that basically clarified LucasArts' and BioWare's stance toward all the big questions: "We're not talking about that right now." This was the answer that the studio heads gave to the press corps when asked about such things as a final release date, a pricing structure (though Dr. Muzyka suggested the game's business model will likely be "as players around the world have come to expect"), and whether this game's announcement, development, or release would have any effect on LucasArts' other Star Wars-themed massively multiplayer game, Star Wars Galaxies. However, according to Dr. Zeschuk, the game is already in a playable state and is being tested by BioWare's teams in Edmonton, as well as in Austin--the home of BioWare's new massively multiplayer studio.

We then moved along to attend in-depth Q&A sessions with various key staffers, though these, too, were unfortunately short on hard information and long on "we can't talk about that yet," since the game is in such an early phase of development, though we'll give an overview based on what we've gleaned. The game will take place in the wake of the uneasy truce between the Empire and the Republic, though it's clear that war is about to erupt. You'll choose to align yourself with one of the two political factions, and this choice will determine exactly what character classes will be available for you to pick (and beyond Jedi and Sith, no character classes have officially been confirmed, though BioWare staffers have not-so-coyly admitted that many of the character classes will be "what you'd expect from the Star Wars universe").

The developer was also quick to clarify that your faction choice will be independent of your moral alignment, which will work on a completely different system that may resemble that of KOTOR's light-and-dark alignment system, which shifts your character's alignment toward "good" or "evil" depending on your character's actions. As such, you'll be able to play as a Sith character with a heart of gold who secretly hopes to turn things around from the inside, or as a Jedi who is battling the temptation to switch to the Dark Side. Then again, as the developers put it, "if you want to play as [a character as evil as] Darth Vader, you can do that too." And should you decide to play as a full-on evil character and go through the game's content (which will be custom-built around your class and alignment choices), then later decide to start a different character on the Light side and play through that content, you won't experience a single bit of content that overlaps both paths.

Hostile droids and other menaces await.
Hostile droids and other menaces await.

In addition, every character will be able to join up with one non-player "companion" character, who will be contextually appropriate and who, like the companions in such games as KOTOR and BioWare's award winning Baldur's Gate II, will not only follow you and fight by your side, but will also offer plenty of witty banter, and may protest your actions if you conduct yourself in a manner that your buddy disagrees with. You may also be able to influence your companion to change his or her moral alignment (a concept that played a significant role in KOTOR 2), betray him or her (or find yourself betrayed by him or her), or, where gender-appropriate, even conduct an in-game romance along the lines of Baldur's Gate II's romances, which were long-term affairs that were characterized by a great deal of dialogue and many extra side-quests. However, the game's quest structure remains very much in the dark, as does the game's dialogue system--though BioWare staffers did volunteer that the studio is devoted to evolving the role of dialogue in games--including its own recent RPG Mass Effect--to make it better, quicker, and more effective. It's also not clear whether your character will be voiced or simply remain silent as he or she makes his way throughout the galaxy.

Even though the game has just been announced, it's easy to see a ton of potential in this new game. Star Wars: The Old Republic has the pedigree of the experienced role-playing developer BioWare, as well as a very fleshed-out setting, the KOTOR setting, which itself represents a fresh new avenue to explore the universe that was first made famous on the big screen. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more updates on this promising game.

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