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.
Trooper, Smuggler, Jedi Consular, Jedi Knight
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.
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)
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 (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!