As anyone who has been to PAX Prime or East can attest, about half of the festival is waiting in lines. This year at PAX East, the Star Wars: The Old Republic booth brought a whole new meaning to waiting. The line took up most of my Sunday. Getting in line at 11am, it took five hours for me to get to the booth's entrance. This was mostly due to the large demo size; each player played through a 45 minute Flashpoint (instance) with three others.
Once I got to the front of the line a developer came out of the booth asking for four players. They would get to play but would not get to watch the introduction video. Since I had a panel to catch in an hour I was happy to do this.
The Flashpoint we were shown was later game content and each character was at level 32. The Flashpoint took place on Taral V and had the players taking control of one of four classes.
There is the Smuggler which is the ranged dps (damage per second), the Jedi Counsler who is the healer, and the Jedi Knight who is the melee dps. I got to play the Trooper, which is the tank of the group. In the time that I have put in with games such as World of Warcraft or Warhammer Online I usually chose a ranged combat class; playing a tank was new and fun to me.
As a Trooper you have the basic skills that a tank would have. However, as opposed to other games like WoW, the Trooper seemed to have a lot more damage centric skills than ones used for crowd control and pulling/holding aggro. Instead of using a taunt-like ability to pull aggro at the beginning of an encounter, I would have to use a grenade or explosive round to damage a number of enemies and pull aggro; all the crowd control skills were for a single target.
The lack of AoE crowd control was annoying, but something that is easily fixed. The only other problem I encountered with the demo was the dumb AI. The enemies would not attack if they could “see” you, instead I found myself having to pull them before they would even move.
Problems aside, there were some inventive things BioWare has done. One of my favorite parts of the hands-on was the neutral enemies on the maps. Creatures native to the planet would not only attack your group, but would also attack your enemies. This added a nice element, for at some points they would wait for an enemy to die before even attacking you.
The Old Republic feels like a Star Wars themed World of Warcraft, and that is about as big of a compliment as you can give a new MMO. The Flashpoint Taral V seemed more of an open area than a WoW instance, but was still very much pushed in one direction.
This game was a very long dungeon crawl; it could have been how new our group was to the game, but it took a very long time to clear Mobs, about two to three times as long as an equivalent WoW mob would. The demo was not tuned down, and at the boss our group wiped. If BioWare can pull players away from their World of Warcraft guild they should be able to capture them with this game. It needs some fine tuning, but it feels like a great entry to the current MMO market, and the addition of NPC voice acting aids in giving it an even larger sense of immersion.