"People ask us why we didn't make Knights of the Old Republic 3," says Dallas Dickinson, senior content producer at Bioware. "I tell them we did, and we made 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and more."
He's talking about Star Wars: The Old Republic, Bioware's forthcoming MMO set in the same era as the Knights of the Old Republic games. The Republic is relatively strong, but the Sith are returning to the galaxy in sudden and overwhelming force, backed up by the remnants of the not-quite-extinct-yet Mandalorians. The Jedi Order is strong now, numbering in the hundreds if not thousands, but the Sith are ruthless and just as powerful.
Bioware was at E3 to show off a couple of new things about The Old Republic, in a sort of hidden room within LucasArts' booth, guarded by a couple of cosplaying fans. They'd already announced one of the character classes, the Bounty Hunter, but now they showed off the first few levels' worth of content for them.
As a Bounty Hunter, a player starts off on Hutta, the Hutts' planet, which is being rendered and displayed here for the first time. It's pretty much a toxic hellhole, but it's also the starting point for one of the greatest competitions in the galaxy. The winner proves himself to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, hunters of all time, and you're here to take the prize.
A Bounty Hunter character is essentially a walking tank, using a blaster and missiles to keep enemies at a safe range. If something does get too close, the Bounty Hunter can use a personal flamethrower to stun it briefly, allowing him to retreat to a safe distance. You actually start the game as a sort of low-wattage badass, able to hold your own in a gunfight against multiple enemies; Bioware doesn't want you spending three hours killing rats before you're elite enough to move on.
Another character class, which was debuted for the first time at E3 this year, is the Smuggler, who begins his adventure bringing a load of illicit weapons to the planet of Ord Mantell. As the Republic equivalent to the Imperial Bounty Hunter, the Smuggler is meant to do damage at range. He has very low armor, but also has a number of moves that are only available when he takes cover somewhere in the environment. The Smuggler also gets to use a number of Han Solo-esque dirty tricks, like kicking an opponent squarely in the groin or tossing flash grenades.
Bioware's traditional conversation trees are on full display in The Old Republic, allowing you to make choices, role-play, and/or influence NPCs' opinions of you. As usual, the options range from obsequiously polite to carelessly bloodthirsty, allowing you to customize your character's personality along the way.
Seeing it in action, it is essentially a multiplayer Knights of the Old Republic, with someone else playing your backup characters instead of the computer. It's a darker, more morally ambiguous sort of Star Wars, allowing you the option of playing as subjects of the Sith Empire or the Old Republic. According to Dickinson, you can go all the way through the game on either side and you'll never see a duplicate mission.
Further, Bioware's tendency to include some kind of moral choice in its games will actually determine how the game unfolds. One of the events in the demo involved watching as a couple of Bioware's developers played an Imperial scenario, as a mid-level Sith and Bounty Hunter. A starship captain defied the orders of a Grand Moff, insisting that the command he was given — to attack an infinitely better-armed Republic starship — was outright suicide. As players in the scenario, you have the option of listening to his argument and sparing him, or carrying out the Grand Moff's orders and executing him.
The people I was with opted to kill him, which made me edge toward the door a bit, and the Sith cut down the captain. One of his lieutenants promptly received a field promotion and attacked the ship, which occasioned a harsh and immediate response. The players then had to rush to engineering to dispatch a Republic boarding party, including a Jedi Knight. Had we opted to leave the captain alive, Dickinson says the rest of the scenario would have unfolded very differently.The more that I learn about The Old Republic, the less it looks like a typical MMO, and the more it looks like an extended co-op campaign for Knights of the Old Republic. Dickinson has promised there'll be typical MMO elements eventually, such as crafting, but for right now, it looks like somebody snuck a second player into KotOR. That's by no means a real criticism, though, as KotOR, for all its show-stopping bugs, was an absorbing experience. That's even coming from me, and I hate Star Wars. If The Old Republic manages to recapture that same feel while avoiding the typical pitfalls of a Bioware game (i.e., easily broken character builds, an unfinished or unsatisfying endgame), it's going to be the life-ending experience that everyone wanted Star Wars Galaxies to be years ago.
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