If there’s one thing that a Star Wars MMO needs, other than quests, instances, space ships and a Jar Jar Binks murdering mission, it's some player versus player matches. After all, Star Wars is often at its best when a Jedi goes head to head with a Sith Lord in a dual to the death, and with such high pressure weighed upon the shoulders of a lightsaber wielder, it’s only fair they should get a bit of recreational down time. Rather than play whack the Piñata or hunt for Womp Rats, in my hands-on with Star Wars: The Old Republic I got to take part in a game of Hutt ball.
In Hutt ball, the aim of the game is to grab hold of the ball that spawns in the middle of the field of play and transport it across your opponent’s goal line. Of course this all sounds simple enough, but it’s far from it. The teams spawn at opposite ends of the map and your opponent’s goal line is also where the opposition spawns from, and of course when you and your team mates die it’s back to your own goal line.
The map I played on was call The Pitt and was a fairly geographically complex stage, with the pits of the maps title, a ground level with narrow walkways, and an elevated ramp all featuring a lethal cocktail of damage dealing traps. Intended to make the journey to touchdown glory that little bit more treacherous, hazards in The Pitt include flame throwing floor vents, pools of poison and air vents that launch you up into the air in a randomised fashion.
Teams can also be randomised to let Jedis and Siths let bygones be bygones, and work together for the greater sporting good. Teamwork, as is the case with most multi-athlete sports, is very much the key to victory in Hutt Ball, especially since your pace slows down when carrying the heavy metallic sphere. Strategies can include buffering the defences of the ball carrier, launching him/her forward with a force push, generally protecting the ball carrier with the power at your finger tips, and much more besides. To make it even easier to transport the ball from point A to B, you can also throw the ball towards another team mate and let them carry the coveted ball for a while.
Of course this being PvP, Hutt Ball touchdowns aren’t the only thing worth striving for, as it’s also mighty satisfying to pick up a kill or two. Lightsaber strikes, force lightning, blaster fire and force pushes all sound and act just as they do in the Star Wars movies and, even without bottomless pits, killing someone by force pushing them into a pool of boiling acid feels just as wickedly sadistic as it should.
As is the case with many gladiatorial arena spaces, there is a slightly repetitive announcer commenting on the action. Thankfully, though, he does redeem himself by doling out useful information, such as when the opposing team has picked up the ball, from time to time. The Old Republic itself could have struggled to convey all the necessary information, but thankfully the heads-up display is very user friendly, with a mini-map in the bottom right corner, your numerous powers along the bottom, important text information along the left side of the screen and, if you’re playing a PvP game, the match score is highlighted in the top right corner of your monitor.
When my twenty minute match was all said and done, The Empire and The Republic had to settle for a 1-1 draw, and walk away being none the wiser as to which of the two factions was better where it really mattered; Hutt Ball. While Hutt Ball may not be the major selling point of Star Wars: The Old Republic, it represents an interesting diversion in a content rich MMO when the traffic jams on Coruscant are getting you down. The Old Republic is currently slated for a late December unleashing, exclusively on the PC.