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!

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