One of the very first booths I hit on the show floor this year was Bioware’s SWTOR – or Star Wars: The Old Republic – the company’s massively multi-player game set in the Star Wars universe. In development for the last five years, I was excited to learn there would finally be hands-on demos of the game both at the Con as well as off-site at the Hilton Gaslamp across the street.
To coincide with Comic-Con this year, Bioware announced pre-orders for the game on Thursday, which would allow players early access to the game as well as spiffy in-game bonuses. Given that the game’s release window is set for Holidays 2011, it made sense for the SWTOR team to leverage Comic-Con to start showing off their shiny new MMORPG.
After a roughly 45-minute wait, myself and a dozen other eager players were ushered into the booth and each seated at one of the high-end Alienware gaming rigs running SWTOR. We slipped on our headphones and were given 15-minutes on the clock to put the game through its paces. I decided to play a Sith Warrior, went through a brief intro and my character was jumped into a desert-like world ripe for the exploring.
My initial impression of the game was that it felt a lot like a Star Wars version of World of Warcraft with a whole lot of voice-over work and a bit more attention to story and plot. I mean that in a good way, truly these are the hallmarks of any Bioware franchise, and SWTOR didn’t disappoint. Gameplay on the high-end Alienware systems was very smooth and the interface was intuitive. If you’ve logged any time at all in WoW, you will instantly understand where everything is and how to access your character’s special abilities.
I spent my 15 minutes of hands-on time running a mission for a Sith Commander who needed an underground cavern area cleared of some hostile creatures that had taken up residence below the hot sands of the desert world. I rushed into combat, eager to light saber my way through some enemies and get a real feel for how combat works in SWTOR. Melee in the game feels very smooth and easy to manage. Click an enemy, pick an attack or power and your character goes to work. Overall, the game at this stage feels very polished and stable.
Later in the day, I also attended the official Bioware SWTOR panel to find out what sort of details the company might be leaking about this highly-anticipated game. As the lights went down, a packed hall experienced some cinematic trailers to get things warmed up. As the panel unfolded, the developers on-hand as well as some of the game’s voice actors shifted into high gear and began talking specifics. The panel hit quite a few critical bullet points and clarified how certain aspects of the game would work:
• Pre-orders have already sold out. Panel attendees were given tickets that would allow them to get in on pre-orders if they had not already done so. Bonus!
• If you decide to play a dark side character and then later come back and play a republic character, there will be no duplication of missions. There’s so much content, it’s simply not going to happen.
• As in many previous Bioware games, the decisions you make can affect your character down the line. The game remembers all, so decide carefully how to react.
• Vehicles, such as a land-speeder, will be available to help your character cover vast distances as you explore the initial worlds available in SWTOR.
• Companions will be a huge component of the game and players will be able to customize their appearance, weapons and even the sort of AI they use in combat.
• During the Q&A, it was revealed that there will be an initial 19 major worlds and numerous more small worlds to explore. The developers hinted that future DLC’s would provide additional planets and areas to explore.
• More than 900 voice actors were employed to handle the huge and complex script for the game.
• Developers briefly discussed how personal back-stories and missions would have little effect on group gameplay and that there would be specific content for groups that would mesh extremely well with each individual character, regardless of their particular background.
• “Beta Weekends” are coming in September!
• The official release window is “Holidays 2011.” So we’re talking somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2011.
And there you have it! Some very exciting news for fans of Star Wars and anyone who has been waiting for this game to release.