Friday, December 30, 2011

Targeter's MMO Year in Review

Lock and load, agents!  A different type of post today ... a look back at what happened over the past year in my own personal MMO sphere.  It was the best of times, the worst (the absolute worst) of times, but I think it wrapped up nicely.  2011 was an odd year filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, incredible highs and rock-bottom lows.  I'll attempt to sum up the happenings in quarters for your amusement.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Your Thirty-First Assignment: Milestones - Part 2

That be one wicked lookin' speeder, hee?

Yes, citizen, yes it is.  An Aratech Scythe, purchased on Quesh.

It be fast and whatnot, hee?

Fast, but not the fastest.  That comes later.


Lock and load, agents!  Another milestone down.  On December 28th, at 2:30am, with 4 days, 7 hours, and 18 minutes played so far, my Imperial Agent (Sniper) Targeter hit 40.  And oh, how good it felt.  Like Christmas elves tickling my balls with the dander of an ancient, mythical beast made of lollipops and noob tears.

Ok, so that may be exaggerating a bit, but damn did it feel nice.  Until I had to pay 210,000 credits for Speeder Piloting 2.  Yeesh.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Your Thirtieth Assignment: Of Slicing and Classes

Well now, Mr. Lockbox, what do you have inside you?

Lock and load, agents!  Today I'm going to speak about something dear to my heart: Slicing.  Slicing is like printing money.  Lockboxes, especially those on higher-level worlds without much competition are veritable treasure troves of free credits, a bounteous outpouring of chits that can turn into magical things like speeders, training, or slave girl outfits.

In short, I love slicing.

Your Twenty-ninth Assignment: Sniper Rotations


This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me.
-Rifleman's Creed
Lock and load, agents!  Targeter is currently sitting at level 38 and has just arrived on the planet Quesh.  It was a backwater paradise, since turned into a poisoned planet by the Hutts.  It's also home to most of the galaxy's adrenal production and under Republic control, so this ought to get interesting ...

So far, the Agent has not disappointed me story-wise.  It's engaging, epic, and most of all ... very non-Forcey.  By non-Forcey I mean that the Agent has little truck with Sith Lords and Jedi.  In fact, my Chiss can barely hide his contempt around such individuals (with the exception being Darth Lachris ... oh you naughty little Sith).  Oh, where was I?  Yes, the Force and all its inanity.  The Force won't save the Empire partially because Force-wielders, in my Agent's mind, are the corruption eating away at its base.  Time will tell if my Agent will have a chance to set things right ...

But you've not come here to read about Targeter's exploits, have you?  No, you saw the post title and thought, hmmm, Sniper rotations eh!  Let me see what this jackanape is about!  Mind, this is at level 38, so don't get your knickers in a twist if I'm missing something.  Also, this is just my own personal rotation; modify at will and report the results in the comments!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Snap Shot: Mumble Tip

Just a Snap Shot for right now ... do you have Mumble?  If so, you may find it distracting when someone is talking during your storylines.  Well, now there's a solution!  Simply set a Deafen Self toggle.  Here's how.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Your Twenty-Eighth Assignment: Christmas List

Agent, this is Control.  Come in, Agent.

I'm here Control.  Just working my wish list.

Your what?  Agent, it's time to get to work.


Lock and load, ye merry agents!  Since it's the holiday season (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus) I figured I'd get in the spirit by compiling a wish list for Darth Claus of what I'd like to see in the upcoming year for The Old Republic!  Let's dive in!

Snap Shot: Loggin' In

Just a Snap Shot for now ... having problems logging into TOR?

You probably didn't set your account subscription.  Bioware is requiring you not only to activate your product code but also to activate your subscription.  This means entering a credit card number, a PayPal account number, or a game time code.  You can go to the main site and head to the My Account page.  There, you'll need to activate your product code (which you probably already have) and set up your subscription. Both of these steps are needed to activate.  There is a short queue to get in, so keep trying.

Best of luck!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Your Twenty-seventh Assignment: Milestones - Part 1

Keeper, the threat has been neutralized.

Time for a mission overview, Cipher Nine.  Report to my office immediately.


Lock and load!  Fulguralis over at Killing 'em Slowly has been making his way through the game and posting his thoughts on the Shadow.  I recommend going to check out his progression.  He also pointed me towards a great blog by The Stoppable Force that includes a stat primer for all the classes.  For some of you it may be old hat, but more information is always good.

Today, we're going to talk about milestone achievements: when they happen, what you need to be prepared for, and how much it's going to cost you.  This is the first part of a multi-part series.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Your Twenty-sixth Assignment: Contact

Contact!  Enemy contact!  Watcher Two, get me Control!

Hang on, Agent.  Patching you through ...

Get me some damn reinforcements, Control!  My position is being overrun!  Advise!


Ladies and gentlemen, lock and load.  It's here.

Last week's early access went off without a hitch for most (more on that later), but today marks the official public release of the game.  Expect queues and prepare accordingly.  Our home server of Shien (US RP-East) is already jam packed.  How jam packed you ask?  At 7:00am this morning, I had a 10 minute queue.  Whaaa??

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

LAUNCH DAY QUICK NOTES

Lock and load, T-Day is upon us!

Just a quick note for those of you who are getting in/waiting to get in!

You don't have to wait for the email; start your client and patch up if you need to.  As soon as the 'Play' button goes active, you're good to go!  If you haven't gotten in yet, there is still one more wave of emails to go (per Stephen Reid @Rockjaw).  I expect another four waves of emailing invites tomorrow, so there's always hope.  Also, I'm hearing reports of server queues already ... I imagine that the PVP and PVE servers are filling quickly.  Our RP server should be ok, but if anyone notices a queue, make sure to report it here in the comments.

Lastly, have fun playing today!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Your Twenty-fifth Assignment: The Final Countdown

Destination confirmed, Agent.  We're headed for Nar Shadaa.

Thank you, Kaliyo.  Since we're locked in why don't we adjourn to the stateroom to go over some ... mission details.


Lock and load, agents.  The time is nigh.  A scant 36 hours remains until SWTOR's Early Access launch and we need to be prepared.  Now this will primarily be an Agent-focused (Sniper specifically) site, but this doesn't mean that we won't be talking about other classes.  In fact, let's do a quick run-down of the other Advanced Classes, talents to look for, and some gearing help.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Your Twenty-fourth Assignment: GRRRWARRARAR!

Lock and load, dammit.  No funny little anecdotes, no clever quips.  Just a searing, primal, anguished roar from deep in my chest today.  But Targeter, you say, what could possibly make you so angry?!?

I'll tell you, agent.  I'm a creature of habit.  OCD, if you will.  When I make plans, I tend to stick to those plans.  I abhor change.  So, changing the Early Access dates throws a huge ol' monkey wrench into my carefully laid-out pre-SWTOR ritual I had all planned!  DON'T YOU SEE?!

So, in case you're wondering what in the hell I'm talking about, check this out.  Pay attention to the second sentence.  Yeah, they moved it up two days.  No, it's not an error.  Stephen Reid's Twitter (@Rockjaw) confirms this.  But Targeter, that means more time for you to play, you say, flummoxed at this turn of events.

NO.  I do get more time and that's the problem.  You have to understand where I come from; I like all my little things in their little places and all my ducks in a row.  The morning of the 14th, I was going to attend my child's Christmas pageant.  Afterwards, I would have mosied over to the store and stocked up on all my essentials for the weekend; Pepsi Max, pork rinds, Reese's pieces, and perhaps some snack cheese.  Then I would have returned home and wiled away the rest of the day in the province of Skyrim, conserving my strength for the gaming marathon that was to come.  It would have been perfect.

But now, my plans are destroyed.  Early access starts on Tuesday, December 13th, not Thursday, December 15th.  I am ruined.  Granted, this is probably good news for almost every other gamer out there who planned on spending any time at all saving the galaxy.  But who cares 'bout them!?  I have to run out and grab all these supplies this weekend!  My marathon plans are sundered!

Doesn't Bioware know what it's doing to me?!

Fly safe, shoot straight.  I need a drink.

Also, I guess congratulations are in order for all of you who don't go into OCD meltdown over an even earlier access time than we anticipated.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Your Twenty-third Assignment: Sniper Breakdown

Cipher Nine, this is Watcher Two.  Time to target: 2 minutes.  The target is located inside the bunker, in the command room.  Do be careful.  Your training has been expensive.

Touching, Watcher Two.  I'll be back by tea time.


Lock and load, agents.  It's go time.

Today we're talking talents for agents.  Specifically, sniper agents.  Check this build out here, provided by the Darth Hater talent calculator (and made by mauler5858).  This is representative of the premiere sniper build for PVE.  We're maximizing our output and stat buffs to turn us into long distance DPS machines.  We'll break down each tier.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Your Twenty-second Assignment: The Precipice

Keeper, this is Targeter.  I am at the rendezvous point.  The enemy is here.  Preparing for assault.  This is the endgame.

Lock and load, agents.  This is it.

We're entering the final beta test weekend and what we'll be seeing will be the full retail client.  This is, frankly, a very scary time.  I've waited for this game since I first heard inklings of it in 2007, I've patiently slogged through years of lackluster updates, I've watched videos about walls and maps.  I've been oh so loyal.  Bioware will reward us all very soon.

So here at the precipice, as I ready myself to plunge once more into the beta breach, why do I feel a slight tremor of dread?  Why does my stomach knot up?  Why do I secretly cringe when I hit the play button?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Your Twenty-first Assignment: MM-No?

Keeper, this is Targeter.  On site.  Enemy presence is noticeably higher than predicted by Intelligence.  Requesting backup.

Lock and load, fellow agents.  Star Wars: The Old Republic is being billed as a massively online multiplayer role-playing game, but is it truly an MMO?  Does the heart and soul of the game center around the community it builds?  I'm thinking it isn't.

I commented today on a blog I read occasionally called Killing 'Em Slowly, a WoW Warlock blog (as a former Elemental Shaman, reading a 'lock blog should be heresy).  In it, Fulguralis posited that it felt like eight single player games rolled into one; granted, he's very excited for the game, along with what seems like most of the western hemisphere, but he is rightly concerned about the MMO part.  Let's examine this more closely.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Your Twentieth Assignment: Hatred

Targeter on site.  Prepping for assault.  The target has been hardened.  This won't be easy.

Lock and load, agents!  My unabashed love for this game is obvious.  My feverish fanboy hopes have been burning since 2007.  And yet ...

There are some things I actually don't like about TOR.  I'm going to talk/rant about them today.  Caution: this post contains profanity.  A metric fuck-ton of it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Your Nineteenth Assignment: Imperial Survival Guide

Today we gather to commemorate Ancestor, brave agent of the Emperor's will, son of the Chiss Ascendacy, and defender of all Imperial people against the tyranny of the Republic.  He died as he lived, fighting the good fight against the enemies of the Empire and ensuring peace across the galaxy.

Lock and load, agents!  Busy day today, but first some house-cleaning.  The name Ancestor has been permanently retired.  It was my WoW handle for a long time and I've just decided to move on; WoW no longer speaks to me (hasn't for a long time) and it's time to give myself a moniker worthy of The Old Republic.

Welcome Targeter, Cipher Agent for the Empire.

That being said, let's move on!  Big news - the NDA dropped for TOR!  That means I can regale you all with juicy tidbits from TOR's beta gameplay.  Here's my review of the game so far:

OMGWTFBBQSAUCEZOMGROFLMAO

Yeah, so it's good.  'Nuff said.  Here's some info that you guys actually need ... a primer on what you should be looking for in TOR this weekend!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Special Assignment: Disgust

Not going to do an Old Republic entry today.  Today, we're going to talk about the children of Penn State, the predations of a vile man, and the abuse of power by cowards who were more concerned with keeping their positions rather than protecting the boys and girls that parents trusted them to keep safe.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Your Eighteenth Assignment: Lessons of the Past

Control, this is Ancestor.  I've uncovered an ancient cache of information.  It seems to date back several centuries ... transmitting now.

Lock and load, agents.  Today we'll be discussing some stuff that Bioware needs to avoid when they finally dip their toes into the MMO waters.  Many companies have tried to compete in this harsh and unforgiving market, but a scant few still remain active today.  Let's talk about some landmines that Bioware should avoid at all costs.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Your Seventeeth Assignment: A Critical Eye

Flight Control, Agent Ancestor reporting in.  I'm on approach to the hangar bay but I'm noticing stress fractures in the hull.  Requesting permission to inspect the ship for more problems.

Lock and load, agents!  My love for TOR is unabashed and fanboyish.  I am a staunch proponent of all things Bioware.  My Collector's Edition was ordered in the first 6 hours it was available.  But, fellow agents, there are some things TOR needs help with.  I'll cast a very critical eye at TOR's blemishes today.

Your Sixteenth Assignment: 11 Million Pandas

Control, Agent Ancestor reporting in.  I have reached the enemy compound and am setting up long term surveillance.  The architecture is ... peculiar.  Inhabitants seem to be peaceful for the most part, though preparedness is high.  They look slothful, but seem to be physically very strong despite their rather ... cuddly ... appearance.  Observations to follow this message.

Lock and load, agents!  Bioware's biggest rival has absolutely blasted a warning volley over the bow.  The boys from Irvine, CA have served notice that they are still the subscription MMO juggernaut and won't take Bioware's newest game lying down.  I wouldn't be surprised if Metzen and Morhaime wrote dirty messages on the cannon rounds to the Doctors.  Blizzcon just wrapped up ... and boy howdy was it a show.

If there's one thing Bioware can learn from Blizzard, it's how to organize a show.  Blizzcon this year was just amazing (as opposed to the weak show last year).  So much info was pouring out that it reached critical mass inside the first hour.  Mists of Pandaria.  Annual Pass.  Diablo 3.  Heart of the Swarm.  Just tons of stuff coming out.  I fully expect the Doctors to put on their own show, perhaps called "Bio Break" or "Biocon."  There's just so much fan-generated goodwill that comes out of these events that it'd be silly not to host your own (once TOR gets enough of a fanbase, say 2-3 million subscribers).

'Great, ok.  WoW is putting stuff out.  What's it to us?' you ask.  Well, fellow agents, Mists of Pandaria is a very subtle, very precise strike at Bioware.  MoP looks to be a story-driven (in fact, story was mentioned multiple times during the announcement) expansion.  Metzen spoke of placing dungeons in the world that made 'sense' and fit thematically.  They were designed to work with the landscape and provide epic storylines.  Sound familiar?  You'd almost think that Daniel Erickson was up there himself.  Story and plot have become the new buzzwords in MMO development; everyone is falling lock-step behind Bioware in touting the immersion and plot of their games.  Blizzard is no exception.

In fact, if you look at what's being offered by MoP, you could almost call it a casual-friendly environment that aims to bring back the fun of Warcraft, and thereby increase subscriber count.  In this sense, they have utterly succeeded.  Blizzard knows that they have some serious competition on the horizon with TOR, Guild Wars 2, TERA Online, etc etc.  By skewing away from the 'uber serious' vein of Cataclysm and instead taking their players to a magical, whimsical world filled with kung fu pandas, they separate themselves from their competitors.  WoW returns to the quirky, fun game it used to be.  It's a brilliant strategy, really.  Position yourself as too much fun to let go and you retain your playerbase even if they drift to other MMOs.

So, what can Bioware do?

Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Bioware has done everything it can, and done it to perfection.  Everyone knows that the moment TOR drops that players will be lined up around the block to get in.  It's the gorilla in the room.  It's the white elephant.  Everyone knows it's coming and no one can do a damn thing to stop it.  TOR has moved into position as the preeminent MMO for serious gamers, while Warcraft has very solidly put itself in to the casual-friendly MMO that prioritizes fun.  Warcraft has always been sort of jokey and hokey, and that's fine.  That absolutely has its place in the world (and I even appreciate it).  TOR is for serious adults only, however.  There are no hokey quests to collect poop or gather up injured critters   Sure, you'll have your lolkidz show up and go Dark Side for the 'lulz.'  But the majority of gamers who will be attracted to TOR will be serious-minded people who want an adult, thematic experience that challenges them in all areas of the game.  And I think both Bioware and Blizzard are ok with that.

So can 3 million jedi and 11 million pandas coexist?

We better hope.

Fly safe, shoot straight!  For the Glory of the Empire!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Your Fifteenth Assignment: The Wild Blue Yonder

We got incoming, Agent!  Three Republic cruisers just entered the system.  The battle for Makem Te has just begun.  Lock and load.  Fly safe and shoot straight!

Suit up and strap in!  Today ... we go into space.

That's right, kids!  Here's my brutally honest review of space combat in the Old Republic.  For one, if you ever played Star Wars Galaxies and loved the Jump to Lightspeed expansion, stop now.  TOR space combat isn't like that at all.  AT ALL.  You can't fly anywhere.  You can't be a fighter ace.  You can't be a Y-Wing bomber pilot.  So take those expectations and toss them out of the airlock.  You will be sorely disappointed.  And as your disappointment manifests in whiny guildchat, I will laugh vociferously at you as I barrel-roll through the expanding debris cloud of a Republic starfighter.

The comparisons between Starfox and TOR's space combat are pretty spot on.  It is an on-rails shooter that flies you through a predetermined course.  On this course, there are objectives to complete.  If you do not complete the objectives before you finish the course, you fail the mission.  There are also bonus objectives, usually involving the destruction or turrets or fighters.  It sounds boring.  It sounds monotonous.  It couldn't be further from that if it tried.

Space combat is a blast.  Total blast.  I spent the better part of the weekend flying my ships (both Republic ships; Thunderclap for the Trooper and Guardian for the Consular) through about 50 combat sorties.  From what I can tell, there are about 15 different space missions (more could unlock later); each faction has their own missions, although plenty do overlap.  You can gain quests to do these combat missions aboard your own ship; these quests give it out pretty respectable xp rewards as well as commendations that are used to buy high level upgrades for your ship.  The first two tiers of starship upgrades are bought through credits (right now, at least) and they can really improve your performance.  They can be found at Starship Sales and Service vendors located in space stations as well as on planets.  The first full set will run you about 15,000 credits (~ 1200 credits per piece).  The second set will run you about 30,000 credits (~3500 credits per piece).  Ship upgrades can be right-clicked and automatically put on your ship, which is viewable on your ship tab (on the character screen).

To fly, you need both a spacebar and a mouse.  Spacebars are for barrel rolls.  Mouse is to move.  Left button fires your lasers.  Right button fires your missiles.  And that's it.  Simplicity is the key here; by making it no-muss no-fuss, Bioware ensures that maximum fun ensues.  And oh is it fun ...

I'll be honest - it's not going to appeal to everyone.  You have to approach the space combat as a mini-game.  It is not there for advancement; it is not like PvP.  It is very simply just an addition to waste time.  Sure you can get xp by doing it, but the rewards aren't as good as quests.  The xp comes it at about 1/3 the rate of questing and you get no credits for actually completing the missions.  But, if you wanted to upgrade your ship and waste an hour or so before raid time, the ship combat is the place to be.  It's Starfox in Star Wars.  'Cept no Froggy this time.

Let's get this out of the way: the space combat portions are gorgeous.  By using an on-rails approach, they basically can make sure that each section of the mission looks its absolute best because the player never really has control on where his ship goes.  The combat feels heroic as you twist and turn through the enormous space battles.  Lasers are responsive and missiles explode with a satisfying boom.  You can run into things as well, so make sure you are paying attention when flying around; running into an object takes away all your shields does considerable damage to your hull as well.  Even in space combat, there is story.  Each mission has a backstory and an objective; escort the freighter, shoot down the Imperial spy ship, assault the space station.  For the most part, the objectives are fun.  Some are annoying, some feel cheap, but you'll find that in any on-rails shooter.

In all honesty, space combat is a completely optional experience that you don't have to take part in if you don't want to.  You won't be missing anything important ('cept a couple of titles).  When you play it, you'll either have fun or you won't.  For me, space combat is a total blast and an excellent way to waste an hour before a raid.

Cut to the left, I'll take the leader!  Fly safe, shoot straight.  FOR THE GLORY OF THE IMPERIAL SPACE CORPS!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Your Fourteenth Assignment: Preparations

Alpha Base, this is Agent Ancestor.  I have identified an enemy invasion force.  Reconnoitering the area.  Preparing for contact.

Folks, it's here.  As of this writing, we are 74 days away from Release Day, also known as "The Day Marriages Died."  Are you excited?  This weekend, October 7th, also kicks off the second beta weekend.  Make sure you check your spam boxes for those invites!  And lastly, keep checking the Scum and Villainy sites at the TOR main site (which can be accessed here).

So, some of you may be wondering what's in store for S&V once The Old Republic launches.  I'd like to take some time to line out my goals, views, and a bit of a warning regarding guild behavior.

As you expect, standard Pub Crawlers rules are going to apply.  The guild will be friends and family only, but I am open to the prospect of adding new people (new folks, new game, right?) after an informal interview carried out over vent (actually, this was Colin's idea) by me, Colin, Chris, Atkian, or Nios.  We don't want to add the wrong type of person into our fledgling TOR home (more on that later).

While we're on the subject, I'd like to formally congratulate Joshua, Chris, Colin, and Nios!  You guys just got volunteered to be the Guild Council!  And by Guild Council, I mean, the five of us will combine our thoughts on what direction we'll be going in for TOR and discussing any and all possible policy changes.  That being said, feedback and ideas from the whole guild will not only be heard but highly encouraged.  We're all mature here, and I'm pretty sure we can find a way to get along pretty well.  After all, save for Chris, we pretty much like everyone!

Direction.  Goal.  What is it?  Eventually, I'd like to see us raid.  I think, in the grand scheme of things, that's why the majority of Pubbies play.  Certainly, there are those that don't raid, but more than a few of us enjoy it, as well as the camaraderie that it fosters.  To that end, we'll primarily be a casual raiding guild.  I'm not going to bust your guys' balls about attendance or loot or anything like that (more on that later).  But just respect your fellow players; show up if you sign up, let us know ahead of time if you can't make it.  In Pubs, we know that life happens.  Stuff goes on.  Family comes first.  We're not going to be hardcore about this game ... I just want all of us to have fun together.

And that brings us to fun.  In order to promote a fun atmosphere where everyone is welcome and feels safe in the S&V zone, I'm going to place a strict limit on the guild chat.  No racial, homophobic, or ethnic jokes, guys.  We're all adults.  We don't need to resort to that type of stuff to get a laugh.  Just because it doesn't offend you doesn't mean it's not offensive.  If an office pipes up and asks you to tone it down, please do so.  We're all trying to have fun here.

Making fun of Kellee is highly encouraged, however.

And lastly, a note about guild behavior.  So, in our previous game(s) we've encountered some drama and whatnot.  While a little bit of drama will always be present when human beings are involved, I'd like to keep it to a minimum this time around.  To whit, any and all guild invitations will have to have unanimous approval from me, Colin, Chris, Joshua and Roger.  This certainly applies to any and all members of Pub Crawlers as well as outside applicants.  There is a certain type of attitude that we don't want in this new game; the type of attitude that puts themselves above the team and wreaks havoc behind the scenes while pursuing a personal agenda.  Folks, we're all a team and we function as a group.  We won't stand by and watch another good thing get ruined because of selfish actions.  If anyone is found to have behaved inappropriately during a raid, pvp session, RP meeting, or any other guild function, please let your officer corp know.  We will get to the bottom of it quickly and administer corrective action.  I won't be pussy-footin' around this stuff, ladies and gentlemen.  I've seen what happens when you relax guild rules and I won't allow that to happen in a galaxy far, far away.  No ethnic/racial/homphobic jokes.  No inappropriate behavior while wearing our guild tag.  No slurs or excessive swearing.  Pay attention to your officer corp.  Team first, individual second (applies to raiding, mainly).  Don't let anything ruin your fun.  If you have problems, contact us immediately.

All in all though, it should be a fun time for us!  I can't wait to get in-game with you all!

Fly safe, shoot straight.  For the glory of the Empire!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Your Thirteenth Assignment: WILKOMMEN SWTOR!

Alpha Base, this is Agent Ancestor.  I have tapped into the communications network and am forwarding all related intelligence to you.  There seems to be an ample amount of beer, lederhosen, and bratwurst.  Preparing information packet.

This week kicked off Gamescom in Germany, the European equivalent of our own Penny Arcade Expos (PAX).  I didn't really expect too much from Gamescom since PAX Prime is just 9 days away.  Oh how wrong I was.  How very wrong.

Bioware hit us over the head on day zero (yes, Gamescom hasn't even officially started) with some content bazookas.  Up first?  Confirmation of beta test weekends; now Dr. Ray Muzyka said "open beta weekends" but he misspoke according to Community Manager Stephen Reid.  So, no open beta, but I expect the beta weekends to be very, very wide.  Hopefully wide enough to allow a certain Agent to play.  One can hope!

Next is the big reveal of the Eternity Vault operation!  Sixteen Bioware employees got together and showed us how bad they were at the game.  No really, they sucked.  We'll do way better.  It was nice to see the operation live, but I'm not going to lie to ya'll ... it's very similar to every other raid I've ever done in any MMO.  I mean, it was definitely a Star Wars experience, it had droids and lasers and escape pods and whatnot.  There's even a cinematic part at the beginning where you escape your ship, but still.  It was a raid.  I don't really know how far out they can go with raids and still make sure the players understand what's going on.  I was happy to see it, but it was standard game mechanics.  And I'm ok with that.

Finally: guild testing.  Guild beta testing is active.  No, Scum and Villainy hasn't been invited yet.  I'll give you a moment to weep.  Our adversary guild doesn't have an invite either, unfortunately.  I'll update you if this changes.

So, with all this information from Gamescom, what does it leave for PAX Prime?  We won't be getting a release date, so get that out of your head.  I think what we can realistically expect is a dissection of the September beta weekends, as well as an explanation of how the pre-order early game access will work.  We'll probably also get a deeper dive into the Eternity Vault operation, as well as more info on PVP and how it will work.

One thing is for sure; with the glut of WoW news this week, Bioware will really have to drop the hammer on us at Gamescom and PAX Prime to compete for the headlines.  I expect great, great things!  Fly safe, shoot straight.  For the glory of the Empire!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Your Twelfth Assignment: Line in the Sand

Alpha Base, come in.  I am stationed above the Republic transport Esseles and using the Imperial warship to hide my Phantom.  The Esseles is currently crippled ... wait, what's that?  The engine room just got vented.  Magnifying image ... are those bodies?

Lock and load, agents!  This past Friday we got a look at the Esseles flashpoint for our intrepid Republic counterparts (aka, the guys who will lose the Galactic War).  The video was narrated by fan favorite Dallas Dickinson who seems utterly surprised that folks are watching the presentation.  "Oh hi, I didn't see you there.  Want to watch the Esseles?  Cool, let's see how the team is doing."  He's just so classy.  Anyways, Dallas Dickinson isn't the real draw here.  The fact that all the douchey Republic players are evil is!  Watch that video right now.  Right now!

Ok, watched it?  What turdbags!  "Oh hello there faithful, hardworking engineering crew.  Oh yes, we could take some extra time and save you guys, but hey, we're all for the quick and easy path.  Enjoy vacuum, assholes!"  I mean, seriously!?  Those are Navy engineers, not just some mercenaries or transients.  FYI, that's exactly how I'm going to play my Jedi Knight.  Arrogant prick.  I think it'll work well.

So, the real point of this post today is to highlight the morality choices laid out in TOR.  In the Esseles flashpoint, there's a very clear choice between right and wrong.  The Republic players, who were probably trying to impress their digital girlfriends, choice to be hard asses and vented the engineering bay.  In the Black Talon flashpoint, Imperial players have the option of killing or sparing the captain of a vessel that ignores a direct order.  These type of morale decisions are prevalent in Bioware games; they make the RPG stand out in MMORPG and have earned Bioware critical acclaim.  Let's take a look at how they craft these story moments.

In nearly every Bioware game, there's generally a *big* choice to be made near the end of the game.  Whether it's Revan's destiny in KOTOR, the fate of the Water Dragon in Jade Empire, Shepard's views on saving the Council in Mass Effect, or the choice of the Grey Warden in Dragon Age: Origins, Bioware games have thrived on presenting the player with the ultimate "line in the sand" moment.  There are definite tells when the line in the sand is coming.  I'll help you identify where that line is.

First Clue!  You're going to a far off place. 
If you have to travel a long distance through some sort of one-way portal, then it's a line in the sand.  Better get all your stuff together before you go!  The game lets you know when this is happening; ie, the Omega 3 relay in Mass Effect 2, the trip to the Star Forge in KOTOR, headed off to fight the Archdemon in Dragon Age: Origins.

Second clue!  He/She's gettin' frisky ...
Your romance options will light up like a Christmas tree when you get to the line in the sand.  Think of it as Bioware's way of saying, "Baby, I may not make it back tomorrow so let's make tonight special."  Your romance partner will display obvious signs and you'll get that trademark fade to black scene.  Bow chicka bow wow!

Third clue!  You have to make a huge choice ... just not yet.
Before approaching the line in the sand, Bioware often gives you something to mull over.  Morrigan's offer in Dragon Age, the Illusive Man's transmission before heading to the Reaper base, the Water Dragon's question before heading to the capitol, and Bastila's dialogue before heading to the Star Forge are all great examples.

Fourth clue!  The big bad is around the corner.
Your archrival/enemy/hated adversary is literally breathing down your neck.  Now it's time give him what for.  Line in the sand by its very definition.

Lines in the sand will be different in TOR because there is no saving and going back ... when you make your choice, you make it.  You have to live with it.  Choose wisely.

And don't be a douche.

Fly safe, shoot straight.  For the glory of the Empire!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Your Eleventh Assignment: Operational Control

Alpha Base, come in!  Agent Ancestor reporting!  We have confirmed enemy size, including Jedi.  Placing charges and starting orbital assault.  Engaging.

Lock and load, agents!  We've got some very exciting news today.  Operation (TOR version of raids) size confirmed at 8 and 16.  Should be much easier to round up a group get into raiding (which makes me happy).  Just remember, as of right now companions are not allowed in operations.  They can enter flashpoints (4-person dungeons/instances) however, and of course they will accompany you on your quests.  Even more exciting than the confirmation of raid sizes is the loot rules.  Oh Bioware, TOR will be the greatest game in the world if only for this ...

You have just nullified loot ninjas.

You heard that right.  Instead of loot dropping off the bosses and having to develop loot councils, rules, DKP, etc etc, TOR heads that all off at the pass.  When a boss is killed, a personalized loot bag will open for you and you alone.  In it will be credits and either gear specific to your class or badges to buy gear.

I'll give you a moment to absorb that.  Done?

Yeah, I thought so too.  How excellent is that?  No more going through dungeon after dungeon, or raid after raid, seeing everyone who wears goddamn PLATE getting ALL THE DROPS.  Now you get your own loot bag.  It may not contain gear, but it will at least have badges so you can go buy gear.  What an elegant solution.  It rewards everyone while simultaneously eliminating gear envy (which is a real killer ... trust me :\ ).  In fact, if you have more than one class present (and you will) then no one has to compete for gear.  It's an epic decision and I totally support it.

September beta tests still look like they are on target and a recent EA quarterly earnings call basically confirmed that TOR will launch in EA's fiscal Q3 (October-December).  None of this is really news.  I'm expecting a November launch with a release date announcement at PAX Prime in less than 30 days.  Comic Con was a virtual truckload of info and I'm still sifting through it all.  Everything seems to be falling into place.

So, after perusing my usual Old Republic sites, I've come to a shocking conclusion that everyone in the world has already figured out; Force wielders are going to outnumber non-Force users.  By a lot.  I mean, who wants to play some douchebag with a glowstick when you can play a bad-ass, blue-skinned, cold-hearted Imperial killer?  I'll never understand either, fellow Agent.

OK, since apparently everyone and their brother is going to roll a Sith Inquisitor, what can Bioware do to make sure us truly awesome players get our fair share too?  I've got some suggestions.

1) More spikes.  This is Blizzard's way of fixing things.  Reference shaman armor.
2) Make us OP.  This seems to actually be happening as Imperial Agents are, according to rumor, the most powerful classes in the game.  As in, one-shotting elites powerful.  Yeah, you heard me.
3) Polygamy.  Non-Force users should be able to mack as many ladies (or dudes, for you lady Agents) as we want.  Like, we should have a harem.
4) Boom goes the dynamite.  We should get an I-WIN button, a button that makes us about three times as powerful as any other class in the game.  You know, sort of like a WoW paladin.

Barring all of that, one of the way Bioware can make non-Force users as nifty as douchey glowstick throwers is by working on their story.  According to reports, the Imperial Agent has a fantastic story.  Just simply awesome.  Lots of James Bond moments, lots of very hard to choices to make.  I can't wait to dive into my story as I strive to save my beloved Empire from the clutches of the evil Republic.  And yes, I mean that part.  In my eyes (well, my Agent's eyes), the Republic allows weakness and entitlement to foster, putting everyone at risk.  My Agent would rather die than let his people suffer that fate.  I personally am excited to see how this plays out in-game.

But we're not just concerned with Agents here (well, we are, but we'll pay lip service to other non-Force wielders).  Bounty Hunters, Smugglers, and Troopers all have to have engaging storylines to keep them competitive with the lasersword crowd.  Let's hope that they are.

That wraps it up for now.  Fly safe, shoot straight.  For the glory of the Empire!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Your Tenth Assignment: Primed

Alpha Base, I am now in position near target designated Pax Prime.  Continuing surveillance of target.  Preparing for assault.

Lock and load, agents!  The SW:TOR pre-order bonanza of 2011 is drawing to a close.  Do you have yours?  Remember, the sooner you get it, the sooner you enter your pre-order code, the sooner you get into early access.  No stress.  Right?

Darth Hater has a few articles up about the recent Comic Con event.  Take a moment to read them!  Lots of useful info in there, of which the following are the most important:

1) Speeder bikes and landspeeders ... CONFIRMED!  No more Scooty Puff Juniors; you can get a real speeder now.
2) Early Game Access explained!  Sort of!  Sooner you enter your code, the sooner you can get into the early access phase that could last "days or weeks."
3) Companions are cool again!  Not only can you customize their appearance (different skin tones, accessories, different armor/weapon kits), you can also customize their AI routines just like Dragon Age companions!  This means that companions are no longer useless, malformed lumps of shit in combat.  Good news.
4) Most importantly ... the exclusive Collector's Edition vendor IS NOT A CASH SHOP.  They will provide unique vanity items, weapons, and armor for CE owners.  The shop will reside in a special CE-only VIP area too!  Neat!
5) BETA WEEKENDS IN SEPTEMBER!  Much like RIFT, TOR will launch special beta weekends so we can all get our grubby mitts all over their game for free.  I mean, really.  REALLY.  Have to change pantaloons.

So what's our next target?

PAX PRIME is in (as of this moment) 32 days.  Pax Prime is the West Coast edition of the Penny Arcade Expo.  It is considered holy ground for videogame nerds of all sizes and shapes (usually large and round).  I fully expect a release date at that time.  In 32 days, it will be August 26th.  Beta weekends start in September, fresh off the Pax Prime announcements.  Release date information will whip the fanbase into a complete frenzy, making the TOR beta invites the most talked about (and most coveted) beta keys in the history of gaming.  EA has officially stated that they are looking for a Holiday 2011 release.  The ball is rolling, ladies and gentlemen.  It's good to be a TOR fan.

My prediction for an 10/11/11 release date is still alive, although on life support.  But I fully expect a November release date.

If you haven't ordered a CE of The Old Republic yet, don't fret!  They're nearly sold out everywhere, but Bioware has confirmed that they will release some more stock as the release date approaches.  Be patient, my young padawans.  Patience is a virtue.

Except when you're waiting for TOR.  GIEF ME TOR NAO!!1!!ONE!!!!ELEVEN!!


Fly safe, shoot straight.  For the glory of the Empire!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Your Ninth Assignment: Target Sighted

Alpha Base, come in.  Target sighted and continuing to monitor situation.  Awaiting confirmation of kill order.  Do I have a go?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Star Wars: The Old Republic pre-order.  What has been flying all over the 'net this week was apparently true!  I'm going to break down each edition.  Let's lock and load!

The Holy Grail ... the ultimate package ... The SW:TOR Collector's Edition

The CE is ridiculously packed with goodies, both physical and digital.  Let's get to the tangible stuff first.
  • Exclusive Gentle Giant Darth Malgus statue
  • Game disks collectible metal case
  • The Journal of Master Gnost-Dural as annotated by Satele Shan
  • The Old Republic galaxy map
  • Custom Security Authentication Key
  • Music of Star Wars: The Old Republic CD
  • High-quality Collector's Edition box
The Malgus statue from Gentle Giant is thought to be worth around $60-$100 by itself.  It stands 8" and features the main bad guy of the game, the fearsome Darth Malgus.  You know, the big, vicious Sith Lord who sacked Coruscant, made a mess of Alderaan, and was most recently seen retaking Korriban after handing his master some lightsaber TLC.  Yeah.  He's sort of a badass.  I was hoping for a couple of different statues to pick from (like Malgus, Satele Shan, or the uber tasty Shae Vizla) but that was logistically improbable.  Metal case for your disks.  Hold your game discs in style.  The journal ... you may recognize Master Gnost-Dural as the Jedi master who does the Timeline segments on the website.  He's voiced by Lance Henrikson.  It provides good insight into the lore leading up the actual game.  It's a hardback book with artwork as well.  The map.  Oh you beautiful map.   You're going right over my computer desk.  You may even get framed.  I love maps.  Like, a lot.  Authenticator!  Bioware has learned from Blizzard's error and provided you an authenticator free of charge (well, at least for CE owners).  Good move, as an RSA token is scientifically proven to increase your account security by 1500%.  Ok, not that much but seriously, it helps.  The soundtrack.  Excellent.  Featuring an all-new score for the game, plus the some music from the original KOTOR, KOTOR 2, and the movies.  I personally adore soundtracks (my TRON soundtrack says hi!).  High quality box.  To put all this shit in.

Both the Collector's Edition and the Digital Deluxe come with the same digital goodies, with the exception of two items.  Here's the list.
Flare gun.  Shoot a firework.  Make merriment.  Training droid.  The actual use of this is vague, but the item description says it will assist you in combat.  Hmmm.  Interesting.  The holodancer!  A Twi'lek dancer for you to fap to ... I mean, look at.  The strangest item in the bundle is the holocam.  It says you can record your adventures in TOR ... but you can take screenshots like normal.  Is this a possible FRAPS type item?  STAP.  This is a free speeder bike.   Yeah.  I KNOW.  This alone is worth the price of admission, as the speeder bikes are fairly expensive.  You receive them at level 25 and the bike + training is pretty much all your credits you've saved.  Nice.

Exclusive digital goodies for CE owners are as follows: mouse droid and store.  The mouse droid is a non-combat pet that will follow you around and get scared by wookiees.  The store.  THIS IS NOT A REAL CASH SHOP.  This is a special in-game vendor (like the Black Emporium from Dragon Age 2) that allows you to buy (with credits) cool items that only super hip CE owners get.  Be hip.  Get the CE.

The standard edition pre-order entitles you to the game and bittersweet tears as you watch your friends unwrap their CEs and laugh at you.  Sorry.

All three editions will include a special color stone for your saber and guns and early game access.  Bioware's not said how much early game access is available, but word on the street places the CE and DD at 6 days, standard at 3 days.

There's some cryptic wording on the website about entering your pre-order code and getting early acces "in the order it was received."  I don't quite know what that means, but I think they want you to put in your pre-order stuff ASAP.  I'll be placing my pre-order at Gamestop today.  Yeehaw!

Folks, the release date is right around the corner (probably at PAX Prime).  TOR is getting awfully close in the rearview mirror.

Are you ready?

Edit: After thinking about it, why would I need a midnight release?  They're going to have an early access time anyways, so I'll need to download the client (ie, full game) beforehand.  I used Amazon instead for the no-hassle shipping from being a Prime member.  Got my code instantly, redeemed it at the SWTOR website.  Jacked up and good to go!

 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Your Eighth Assignment: Deep Cover

Come in Alpha Base, come in Alpha Base!  This is deep cover agent Ancestor, reporting as ordered.  I don't have much time, but what I've learned is of critical importance to the Empire.  Transmitting data now ...

Imperial Intelligence has been quiet for a while because honestly, there's not been much to comment on regarding our favorite yet-to-be-released MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Until today.

There'd been some rumblings about announcement at San Diego Comic Con on Thursday, July 21st.  I honestly expected the same; a couple of looks at some flashpoints, some stuff on the Jedi Consular, maybe another gander at space combat.

Holy shit was I wrong.  Courtesy of Betacake and the official forums (if you can believe it) the Collector's Edition of SWTOR has been leaked.  Like, all of it.  Here's a picture.


I know, right?  Here's a list of CE features from a Spanish retailer (and a French one as well, claiming the same ... all but confirmed):
Collector's Edition includes:
- 30 day subscription to the game
- CD Soundtrack of Star Wars The Old Republic
- Security Key (Flash Drive that protects your account from hackers)
- Galaxy Map (Map of the Universe The Old Republic)
- Journal of Dural Gnost
- Figure Darth Malgus (18 cm)
- Flare Gun (digital content, shoot fireworks over the heads of the players).
- Mouse Droid (digital content, pet chasing the player wherever you go).
- Holodancer (digital content, projects a dancer in the game)
- Holocam (digital content, allows the player to take take pictures in the game)
- Collector's Store (digital content, access to exclusive in-game store to buy weapons and other items)
- Speeder (digital content, unique vehicle, available at level 25)

EDIT: Add a 6-day headstart to the list of CE goodies as well as a training droid
Yeah.  I know, right!?!

So, let's get to the nitty-gritty.  What's the damage?  Currently, the price in Euros is 149.95 at most outlets.  That translates to $200+ American and Canadian.

Breathe.

Ok, now that unpleasantness is out of the way ... yeah, I'm getting this.  I don't even care about the price.  I just.  Don't.  CARE.  I know, I know, I'm part of the problem.  I've been rabidly following this game since 2007 when I started WoW and it would be an utter disservice to my fanboy status to not get the CE.

Let's talk about what exactly comes in the CE.  There's a nice, big galaxy map.  There's a keyfob that could be either a authenticator or a USB drive, or both!  There's a nice metal case that'll look great on my computer desk.  There's 4 DVDs, presumably containing the game.  A hardbound art book/journal.  And a sweeeet Darth Malgus statue.  FYI, I've heard rumors that there's a Republic pack as well that comes with a Satele Shan figure.  Hawt!

Digitally, the CE gives us a free speeder bike at level 25.  It also contains a "Collector's store" ... I think this will operate like the Cerberus Network for Mass Effect 2.  A holocam and holodancer, look like RP items, a mouse droid that will probably act like a companion pet, and a flare gun so you can light up the night like the Protomen.

Yeah.

I know.

I gotta change my pants too.

So, the price is high.  Let's be honest, $200.00 for all that is a lot to ask.  $150.00 would be a lot to ask.  But I'll pay it anyways because I'm hopeless.

Now the long wait for confirmation at Comic Con.

Oh, the agony!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Your Seventh Assignment: E3 - What We Know and What We Want

Lock and load, agents.  E3 ended this past week and there was a wealth of TOR information ... just not the one thing we wanted to see.  Today we'll scope out some of what we learned and wonder about what may come.

On display at E3 was some new information concerning flashpoints, operations (raids), and planets.  There was no mention of a release date (not shocking) nor an open beta (also not shocking).  Operations, the TOR equivalent of raids, were on major display with the reveal of the Eternity Vault.  Currently, operations can run with as few as 8 people, although the upper limit on players is unknown.  Since operations run with as few as 8, flashpoints run with 4, it seems to me that Bioware is going with multiples of 4 for their group size.  This means 8-, 12-, and 16-player operations are entirely possible (and most likely probable).  The Eternity Vault had a few segments of Rakatta (from the original KOTOR game) as the primary bad guys.  This is entirely possible since it was the Rakatta that built the Star Forge that ensnared Revan.  It looks promising, if perhaps a tad formulaic.  Once open beta starts, we'll have a better understanding of how operations work.  Plan on Bioware releasing a plethora of info about this before launch.  This interview with lead writer Daniel Erickson is pretty illuminating.

Another aspect on display was planets, including a developer walkthrough and gameplay impression of Tatooine.  Tatooine is a mid-20s level planet.  This video is a pretty nifty look at what you can expect on this expansive desert world.  The developers talked about population packets, not just general mobs wandering everywhere.  The mobs fit in where they make sense, clustered around resources or buildings.  Most of the open desert is just that: open desert.  Luckily for us, personal speeders make their first appearance on Tatooine, so navigating this massive world will be much easier.  Tatooine also includes massive "world bosses."  Huge open-world bosses dot the landscape and require a large, coordinated raid to down.  These open-world bosses drop high quality loot appropriate to the world difficulty level.  They are reminiscent of the world dragons in vanilla WoW.

Here's a good list for the new information we learned at E3.  Good stuff!

The one thing that was notably absent at E3 was the mention of a release date or open beta date.  This article sheds some light on why Bioware/EA are so reluctant on announcing a date.  Doesn't take much critical thinking to realize the 'major competitor' is Blizzard.  Blizzard is famous for lining up patches and expansions alongside MMO competitors ... it's just smart business, really.  Let's take a look at some recent releases and Blizzard's response.

Warhammer Online launched on September 18th, 2008.  Blizzard reacted with the massive 3.0 patch that introduced the Achievement system, new talents, Inscription as a new profession, a Scourge world event, and the setup for the new expansion.  They then destroyed it with the Wrath of the Lich King expansion on November 14th, 2008, barely a month later.  Warhammer would never recover.

Age of Conan pre-released on May 17th, 2009.  Blizzard dropped patch 3.1, The Secrets of Ulduar, on April 14th, 2009.  This introduced a new raid; Ulduar, considered to be the best raid Blizzard has ever designed.  Age of Conan would never recover.
Aion released on September 22nd, 2009.  Blizzard dropped patch 3.2, The Call of the Crusade, on August 4th, 2009.  This introduced a new raid, 5-man dungeon, and a new armor tier.  Aion would never recover.

RIFT launched on March 1st, 2011.  Blizzard delayed releasing anything until patch 4.1 on April 26th, 2011.  This delay (hubris?) by Blizzard allowed RIFT to flourish.   So far, RIFT is the only MMO to withstand Warcraft for even a short time, combining familiar gameplay with a smooth launch.  Trion Worlds, the developer of RIFT, has yet to release any hard subscriber data, but RIFT's launch coincides with a 600,000 subscriber decrease in World of Warcraft.  At least one Trion Worlds VP thinks he knows where those 600,000 players went.


Notice a pattern there?  Blizzard killed their competition with timely releases either a month before or a month after a new game release.  The only time they deviated with this was with RIFT, and they are clearly regretting their mistake.  If you think Blizzard will risk another RIFT on the radar, you're crazy.  Bioware is playing it very, very close to the vest for a reason; the boys at Warcraft will not take The Old Republic lightly and will position themselves to kill the game as soon as it is launched.  John Riccittielo, CEO of EA and major proponent of The Old Republic said we will get a release date, but to announce it this early is 'irresponsible.'  I agree.  But it doesn't mean I have to be happy about it!

So what does the future hold for TOR?  Well, my prediction of an early July beta are straight out.  Also in jeopardy is my ballsy prediction of an October release date.  I think a more realistic projection is open beta in November, game launch in December.  But I'm going to cling to my original dates out of sheer stubborness (or stupidity).

Between now and release, there's few things TOR has to show to get the masses motivated.  We need to see more operations/raids and know the player limits on sizes of groups.  We need to see companions in action in a flashpoint.  We need to see more PvP options and warzonesflashpoint/operation progression paths.  We need an open beta announcement.  We need a release date.

Short list, eh?

Fly safe, shoot straight.  For the glory of the Empire!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Your Sixth Assignment: Don't Panic

In my zeal for Star Wars: The Old Republic, I sometimes forget that other folks haven't been following this game for nearly as long as I have.  I was on vent last night and Laura highlighted this fact well ... I *have* been following this game for a LONG TIME.  I first found out about the KOTOR MMO in mid 2007 and have been religiously dogging Bioware's steps ever since.  The MMO was officially announced in 2008.  This summer will mark my four-year obsession with this game.

Folks, apparently I've been lusting after this game since I started playing Warcraft.  Yowza.

In light of this fact, I'm going to compile a glossary of terms and cover as much nuts and bolts knowledge of this game as I can for the folks who just recently got interested.  Here we go!

Classes - There are 8 total classes, 4 for the Republic and 4 for the Empire.
Republic
Trooper, Smuggler, Jedi Consular, Jedi Knight
Empire
Bounty Hunter, Imperial Agent, Sith Inquisitor, Sith Warrior

Advanced Classes - At level 10, you can select an 'Advanced Class.'  Advanced Classes are basically analogous to specs in WoW.  Each class has three talent trees, 2 for Advanced Classes and a shared tree.  The shared tree are abilities and talents that are communal to all players of that specific class.  Here's a list of the Advanced Classes and their roles.
Republic
Trooper - Commando (ranged dps/healer) and Vanguard (tank)
Smuggler - Gunslinger (ranged dps) and Scoundrel (ranged dps/healer)
Jedi Knight - Guardian (tank) and Sentinel (melee dps)
Jedi Consular - Shadow (melee dps) and Sage (ranged dps/healer)
Empire
Bounty Hunter - Powertech (tank) and Mercenary(ranged dps/healer)
Imperial Agent - Operative (ranged dps/healer) and Sniper (ranged dps)
Sith Warrior - Juggernaut (tank) and Marauder (melee dps)
Sith Inquisitor - Sorcerer (ranged dps/healer) and Assassin (melee dps)

Races - There are currently 8 confirmed races (with a possible 9th that yet to be revealed).  I'll list each race and what they can play as.
Human - Any class.
Zabrak - Any class.
Miraluka - Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular
Sith Pureblood - Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor
Chiss: Imperial Agent, Bounty Hunter
Rattataki - Imperial Agent, Bounty Hunter, Sith Inquisitor
Mirialan - Trooper, Smuggler, Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular
Twi'lek - Sith Inquisitor, Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular, Smuggler
Cyborg (not yet confirmed) - Smuggler, Imperial Agent, Sith Warrior, Bounty Hunter

Light/Dark Side Meter - The morality scale is a popular part of every Bioware game.  It basically tracks your character's actions and how good or evil you have been.  This morality gauge will be in full effect in TOR.  Certain types of gear will only be equippable by characters of a certain type of alignment.  Please note that alignment is not restricted by faction!  You can play as a light-side Sith, but just know that your gear choices will be rather limited.  This is a designed penalty ... if you swim against the current, just know that you will encounter difficulties.  But isn't the price of being something totally different worth it?

Companions - In keeping with the Bioware tradition, The Old Republic will provide your hero with a set of companions that will journey alongside you, save your life, or perhaps even betray you.  There isn't much information about companions out right now, but here's the known list along with the classes they are associated with.  Tanno Vik (Trooper), Bowdar (Smuggler), T7-01 (Knight), Mako (Bounty Hunter), Vette (Warrior), Kaliyo Djannis (Agent), and Khem Val (Inquisitor).  Check here for more info on companions.  Companions are powerful and versatile additions to your party.  They can run missions for you, complete crafting projects, gather resources, and provide support in combat.  They can also be taken into flashpoints (see below) to help fill out your four person party.

Crew Skills - These are professions.  Check this page.  There are gathering, crafting, and mission types.  Your companions can do all of these on your ship on or foot, freeing you up to fight.  Not much is known about professions at this time, but I expect some information soon after 2011 E3.

Starships - Each character will receive a personal starship at some point during their travels, usually on their origin world.  Starships are used as modes of personal or group transportation as well as the primary vehicle in the space shooter portions of the game.  Bioware has included an on-rails shooter minigame that you can complete for xp, starship-only loot, and new customizations for your ship.  The starship minigame is not intended to be a fully-fledged portion of the game, but instead treated as a time-filler or perhaps a well-needed break from quest grinding.  Although capital ships are not expected at launch, guild capital ships are planned.  These capital ships will likely be purchasable for a princely sum or craftable at a huge expense.  It will house all the guild members' ships and provide a communal guild area to hang out in.

Flashpoints - Flashpoints are the TOR version of dungeons.  Flashpoints are group instances for up to 4 characters.  Notice how I said 'character' not 'player?'  That's because you can bring companions to flashpoints.  They'll never be as good as players, but they can help fill holes in your group.  As few as 2 players can join a flashpoint.  If only one slot is open for a companion, it automatically defaults to the party leader's choice of companion.  Flashpoints also feature the party dialogue system.  The party dialogue system lets all active players participate in the dialogue choices during a flashpointflashpoints are: The Esseles (Republic, low level), Black Talon (Empire, low level), Taral V (Republic, mid level), Boarding Party (Empire, mid level), Directive 7 (both factions, end game).  More info available here.

Operations - Operations are TOR's versions of raids.  There is little known at this time, although Bioware is releasing information on the "Eternity Vault" at 2011's E3.  More info to come.

Warzones - Warzones are the PvP battlegrounds of TOR.  They've not expounded too much on warzones yet, and have only really talked about one warzone: The Battle for Alderaan.  Story is a premium feature of the warzones, as each warzone will have a specific story-related task.  No flag capturing or base capping for no reason.  This article delves deep into the PvP aspects of the game.

Voiced-Over Dialogue - The Old Republic is the first fully-voiced MMO in existence.  You will never read a line of quest text.  You will never watch chat bubbles to see what's being said.  All dialogue is fully voiced and rendered in cinematic cutscenes.  Your choices will affect your gameplay and certain avenues of adventure and dialogue will open or be closed off forever based on your actions.  Think, and speak, carefully!

Hope that clears a lot up ... as always, feel free to leave comments below.  I'll answer any and all questions regarding TOR.

Fly safe, shoot straight.  For the glory of the Empire!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Your Fifth Assignment: The Long Wait

It's unbearable, really.  The long wait for TOR is only magnified by the information that will be flooding out of E3 in the next few days.  Today, we were treated to a Blur CGI trailer.  If you remember correctly, Blur also did the CGI trailers for the previous E3s in 2009 and 2010.  These trailers are good for the adrenaline level, but don't really do anything else for me other than set the tone of the universe.  I thrive on gameplay trailers, like this one that rolled out today on Origin.com (the exclusive digital download destination for TOR - whenever it releases).

So what are an Imperial Agent's options to fill the void while we wait?  Glad you asked!  Let's board my X-70B Phantom and blast off for an information overload!

Our first stop is here.  Betacake took over when the leak site Leakerz went down the tubes.  Betacake provides an in-depth Q&A session with an actual beta tester named Deebo.  He answers a ton of questions and provides some excellent insight, if you can look past the occasional spelling error.  Further down the page are the all-important beta videos for the Jedi Guardian and Sith Inquisitor.  Check those out for 3+ hours of TOR gameplay.  Saucy!

Next destination?  The corporate flagship!  The SWTOR website is a vault of information awaiting plunder.  All the class and gameplay features are housed in the media section, along with the aforementioned Blur trailers.  Companion information, the new advanced classes page lets you take a sneak peek at our class builds along with a few unique abilities.  While you're here, make an account, sign up for <Scum and Villainy> and make sure you get your beta settings loaded.  Quickly, to the Phantom!

Our galactic tour continues.  Next up are our friends at Darth Hater.  They have an outstanding podcast and a dizzying amount of information.  Of special note at DH are the video dissections; they take each gameplay trailer put out by Bioware and tear it apart, frame by frame.  They then itemize new abilities and take an in-depth look at what is actually happening in each trailer.  It's quite thorough and I highly recommend you check it out.  Hate on!

While we're on the subject of podcasts, lets go visit some more friends at Gamebreaker.  The Republic is hosted by Gary Gannon and Larry Everett (of Massively) and is an engrossing 60 minutes of video podcasting.  Larry and Gary go over each week's events and discuss upcoming features, breaking news, and general impressions of The Old Republic.  Make sure to watch episodes 38 and 39; those are the hands on episodes where Mike B, aka Fony got to go to Bioware to play for a full weekend.  There are PVE and PVP videos.  I recommend both.  Speaking of Massively ...

Massively is the home of Larry Everett's column, the Hyperspace Beacon.  It's an insightful look at all things Republic (and Sith too).  It's often geared towards the roleplaying aspects, but he also has some good information on what to expect, what he hopes will make it into the game, and other topics.

That's all for now ... as the floodgates of knowledge open, expect Imperial Intelligence to updated more frequently.  Until then ...

Fly safe, shoot straight.  For the glory of the Empire!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Your Fourth Assignment: No one expects the Sith Inquisition!

The Imperial Agent is a very exciting character in Star Wars: The Old Republic, but recently a veritable ton of information released on the Sith Inquisitor.  Wielding the Force as the power behind the throne, the Sith Inquisitor discovers that true power rarely makes overt displays of violence.  Subtlety, deception, and patience are viable paths to glory for this assassin in the shadows.

Sith Inquisitors can fufill the roles of tank, healer, and damage-dealer.  They can be both melee and ranged, hurling lightning bolts and lightsaber strikes with impunity.  Obviously, this class appeals to me in several ways; 1) they throw lightning, 2) they are a jack of all trades, 3) they like to use double-bladed lightsabers.  They're basically space-shaman with laser swords; utility classes with nasty damage capabilities and freakin' lightning bolts.

Have I mentioned that Inquisitors can throw lightning?

Sith Inquisitors have two advanced classes; Assassin and Sorcerer.  Assassin seems to operate more along the lines of a melee stealth class and the Sorcerer leans toward ranged energy attacks.  Both classes can stealth and both classes can dual wield (at this time).

Inquisitors are designed to be a support class, but they have the option of being Assassin tanks.  How this will work is unclear at the moment, but I expect a great amount of detail (as well as a beta announcement) at E3 this year.

All in all, the Inquisitor will be the second class I roll in The Old Republic; it was formerly my favorite, but the allure of the Agent is just too strong.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Your Third Assignment: Making Decisions

Bioware's games are famous for their morality.  Actions have consequences; characters die, plots are revealed, villains are vanquished, the innocent saved.  Unlike other Bioware games, The Old Republic won't have the option of saving and redoing a section if you mess up.  If someone dies in a TOR storyline because of something you did, that person is dead.  Congratulations, you jerk.

This morality play in Bioware's games is one of the main draws for me.  Dragon Age: Origins has one of the greatest decisions I've ever had to make (I won't spoil it, but yeah, my dwarf took the deal).  I literally agonized over it for hours before I finally made my choice.  Then I promptly loaded a previous game and reversed course because I simply couldn't live with what I'd done.

TOR will afford me no such luxury.  I'll need to make decisions on the fly and there will be no save point to return to.  I'll have to live with that decision, good or ill, and all the havoc it may or may not wreak.  In short, I'm going to be a total wreck when it comes to a big moment.

As such, I'm going to provide a short guide about how to make awful, terrible decisions and be a bad guy in Bioware games.  I find myself becoming emotionally invested with my characters and agonizing over choices that may or may not affect their companions and storylines.  Here's a quick guide on being evil in Bioware's epics.

1) Play through as a good guy once.  Can't stress this enough; you'll never know how depraved you can be unless you're a hero first.  That peasant you saved in the village?  What happens if you blow him off the second time?  For TOR, this may not be as applicable since each class has separate storylines, but at least you'll get to be a good guy first.  Makes you feel warm and fuzzy.

2) Make your villain nonhuman as possible.  Or if you actually like aliens (like me) make it as human as possible.  And ugly as sin.  The less you identify with your chode of a character, the better.  Makes the tough decisions that much easier.

3) Revel in your evil.  Go out of your way to make horrific choices.  Make a mini-game of being as evil as possible and you won't really think too much about the bone-crushing emotional baggage that Bioware is famous for dumping on their villainous players.  Seriously, Jade Empire has a villain decision at the end of the game that made me weep.  MADE ME WEEP, PEOPLE.  I had to leave the room because I couldn't watch what I'd done.

4) Play against type.  My first two characters are going to be an Imperial Agent and a Sith Inquisitor; the Agent I'm playing as James Bond who just happens to be an Imperial; loves his government, kills anyone that threatens their lifestyle, and fights for his Emperor and Chiss everywhere.  The Inquisitor I'll play as an honorable villain, sort of like Erwin Rommel.  My bad guy?  Oh, it's going to be a Jedi Knight.  He'll be pompous, arrogant, vicious, bloodthirsty, and xenophobic asshat.  And he'll probably be a human.  Evil little buggers, they are.

5) Take a breath.  If you get as emotionally invested in your characters as I do, then you'll need to take a deep breath before you jump off the bridge to Evil-Town.  It's just a game, and dammit, since it's just a game those aren't real tears because dammit tears mean you care and you don't care because it's just a game dammit!  Ash, why'd you do that?!  Tali would never leave me!!!  *whimpers and cries*

Long story short: don't identify with your villain, play the "how evil can I be" game, play against type, revel in your vices, and remember it's just a game.

Good luck!

Your Second Assignment: Uncovering the Agent

The one class that absolutely intrigues me so far is the Imperial Agent.  Suave, deadly, and professional, the Agent is the Imperial spy that lives behind enemy lines and rains terror on enemies of the state.  The Agent combines ranged firepower with mobile cover for some incredibly interesting story opportunities.  I mean, who doesn't want to be the Empire's best assassin?

The way that the agent has been portrayed so far is ingenious ... he's not a gun-for-hire or a psychotic with a rifle, but a patriot.  He believes utterly in the vision of the Empire and he's willing to do the dirty work to see it realized.  He reminds me of the Operative in Serenity ... he knows he's a monster, but he does what he thinks is right to craft a world where citizens can be safe and (relatively) free.

And this, in short, is why I love Bioware.  I don't RP.  I think it's sort of silly to be honest; traipsing about pretending to be a character while you're already playing a character in a videogame.  My previous MMO games never really rewarded or encouraged RP in any way, shape, or form.  And yet, Bioware has me crafting reasons and justifications for a character I haven't played in a game that's not released yet.  I can't wait to dive into the story of the Agent and discover what motivates him to kill for his government.  I want to see what decisions I can make, how I can mold this assassin into my own Imperial Agent.  To see my choices and the ramifications, good or ill.  It's terribly heady stuff.

Combat for the Agent seems pretty straightforward.  Move into range, pop cover, shoot.  The Agent utilizes droids for self-healing, as well as flash-bang grenades for crowd control.  Mike B, from ZAM, said that by about level 5 he had 8 usable abilities.  This points to a flexible ranged DPS class; previous The Republic shows and Darth Hater fan site summit information also shows that the Agent can be an off-healer as well, although this is likely limited to self-healing or perhaps some HoTs on allies.

The cover mechanic seems to be the Agent's primary staple.  They come with an ability called "Entrench" that prevents the Agent from being knocked out of cover.  I can only assume that certain abilities can only be used while in cover, so the idea of mobile cover you can activate anywhere becomes mandatory.  It'll be interesting to see how it plays out in the game.  The two advanced classes that the Agent can be are Sniper and Operative.  Sniper seems to be the DPS tree, like a Marksmanship Hunter from WoW.  The Operative seems to be a jack-of-all-trades type of character who can perhaps off-heal.  Breakdowns of the advanced classes can be seen here.

So far, the only two races that can officially be Imperial Agents are Humans and Chiss (the race Thrawn belonged to).  Unofficially though, Rattataki, Cyborgs, and Zabrak can also be Agents, according to PC Gamer UK in their May issue.  If you think I'm rolling anyone other than a cold-hearted Chiss Agent, you're on drugs.  Plus, you get that sweeeeeet Jaguar-looking spaceship to jet around in.

Once open beta begins, I'll be bringing more information on playstyle, abilities, and quests, as well as an overview (as spoiler-free as it can be) of the story.  Oh, and when will open beta kick off?  This humble Agent doesn't know for sure, but I'd be willing to bet my rifle that we'll find out at E3, starting on June 7th.  Here's my OFFICIAL GUESS™!

Open Beta Date: July 5th, 2011
Release Date: October 11th, 2011

Your First Assignment: Starting Over

It's not easy switching gears.  To leave one game in the dust and start completely from scratch is a rather taxing process.  Especially when the game you switch to isn't even out yet.

This blog will be focused mainly on Star Wars: The Old Republic, with a smattering of random stuff thrown in as well.  I'll hop from class to class, giving you as much detail as I can provide about the Old Republic's current state, open beta, classes, game systems, etc etc.

My first suggestion to you would be to hit up Gamebreaker's excellent web series The Republic.  Gary Gannon and Larry Everett do a great job.  Also head over to Darth Hater for great video dissections and news.  I'll have some more stuff later ... for now, just getting settled in.