A closer look at the next six months of Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star Wars The Old Republic - Terror From Beyond

Most demos at E3 focus solely on the future, but BioWare started their Powerpoint presentation for Star Wars: The Old Republic's 2012 plan by showcasing their accomplishments in the past six months, before delving into what's next.

Live Producer Blaine Christine kicked it off. He noted that the game had over one million accounts on launch day, making Star Wars: The Old Republic the fastest-growing subscription MMO of all time. Impressive. He also talked about the first two major game updates—1.1's Rise of the Rakghouls and 1.2's Legacy—both large updates with well-received content and features. I remember them--they're solid.

Next, Christine went over what the next game update, curtly named Allies, will include. Most importantly, it will add a new looking for group feature for Flashpoints (group dungeons), Operations (raids), and Heroic quests (open-world group content). The system will allow players to choose the role they want to play as (tank, damage, or healer) and queue up. While they wait to be selected, they can continue doing whatever they want wherever they want--if you accept the group offer when it pops, you'll be teleported to the location of the content. This is a great addition that will help alleviate the biggest problem players have when trying to complete PvE content. 17 planets make for a wide landscape to separate you from potential groupmates, and the new system will allow players to form groups from different corners of the galaxy in a straightforward, streamlined way.

BioWare's also introducing new Legacy perks (the account-wide bonuses you unlock by playing a lot of alts or investing credits) designed to allow players to level on whatever content they want. These perks boost the amount of experience gained from PvP Warzones, Flashpoints, space combat missions, class missions, or exploration. With the proper perks, Lead Game Designer Daniel Erickson assured us that it'll be entirely possible skip side missions and focus solely on story quests.

Christine also highlighted the addition of adaptive social gear that'll allow players to wear gear for its appearance, while still retaining the best stats for their class. How this system works is that if you wear Heavy armor, but enjoy the look of the Pilot Suit (which is Light armor), the new adaptive gear system will scale that Pilot Suit to your type of armor when you put it on.

This is a very welcome change for both roleplayers and collectors. There are lots of great-looking outfits in the game, but without the ability to use most of those outfits in combat, they were relegated to sitting in players' banks. This new system will diversify galactic fashion, allowing players to feel less like they see the same suit of armor on every Trooper.

In addition to the new adaptive social gear, they're introducing the ability to add augmentation slots to existing gear through the use of augmentation stations, giving players a way to customize their gear further, whether that's for nightmare mode Operations, or stacking on extra protection for PvP. Christine also mentioned 1.3 will include a new tutorial systems for players who haven't played MMOs before, or for those unfamiliar with the normal MMO control scheme.

Fight it out

To many players, however, the main attraction of the 1.3 update will be the new ranked Warzones, which give players the chance to pick their teams and head into PvP with a full group of eight and see how they rank among other players on their server. The feature was originally intended to go live with the 1.2 update, Legacy, but was delayed for 1.3 to give the developers extra time to polish the system. Now, it works in tandem with the new looking-for-group system and also the normal Warzone queue system.

That means that players will be able to queue for normal and ranked Warzones at the same time, and play in normal Warzones while waiting for the ranked Warzone queue to find your team an opponent. Then finish that normal warzone and pop directly into the ranked Warzone, all while waiting for an Operation queue to pop. It should allow players access to a lot more activities, although multi-queueing is guaranteed to force you into some tough decisions about whether or not you should leave the WarZone you're currently winning for the Operation that just opened up.

Near the end of the presentation, Christine pointed out that these all features were supposed to be released within the first six months of launch, before going on to show what they have planned for the next six months up until the game's anniversary at the end of 2012.

Places to go, Hutts to brutalize

The first big addition will be a new planet called Makeb. Makeb is a brand new addition to Star Wars lore, and is a lush planet where the Hutt Cartel is making a play for power in the galaxy as the Republic and Sith battle elsewhere. I asked what kind of planet Makeb is and if it's themed around a central environment like Tatooine is all about sand, but the developers didn't say in order to not reveal "story spoilers." Intriguing.

The one thing they would say is that no matter what the planet is, Hutts tend to make of mess out of them. Makeb will introduce more story content for players to explore as they progress towards a new level cap. The developers said they received feedback from most players that they enjoyed the leveling and story content more than endgame content, which is why they decided to focus on story content again with Makeb. They also said they're learned a lot about pacing and how distracting side missions can be.

They're staying tight-lipped about how many levels the cap will be increased by, but they assured us that everything players expect with a level cap increase, including new skills and abilities, will come at the same time.

They also mentioned a new Operation called Terror From Beyond that brings the Gree, protectors of the Hypergates that the Dreadmasters are trying to open, to light. A new Warzone, The Ancient Hypergates, will also play into that same story as it adds a new game mode.

They're also adding a new playable species, the Cathar , new daily quests and a heroic area on Belsavis, and a new and improved version of the fan-favorite assassin droid from the Knights of the Old Republic series, HK-51. All of this new content will come directly through game updates, which makes me wonder if they're planning to have expansions at all, and if they are--what insane amount of content they'll bundle to earn the title.

They wouldn't say exactly when all of this new content is coming, only that it's planned for some time in the next six months. Christine closed the presentation by announcing that they're opening the game up in July to allowing anyone to play the first 15 levels of the game for free. Star Wars: The Old Republic has had a shaky last few months, but the heavy amount of free content they have planned for the rest of the year looks like it'll easily be enough to keep the remaining players busy.