Star Wars: The Old Republic was revealed more than two years ago, and in that time BioWare has held multiple 'immersion days' in which they invite media to a game studio to check out what they've been up to on the game.
Last week was the most recent of the day-long events – two days, actually – showcasing Hutta, the starting planet for the Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent. Those two classes were playable as well, and I decided to go with the Bounty Hunter due to its more iconic 'profession' within the Star Wars universe. After all, who doesn't want to be the next Boba Fett?
The last time we had a chance to check out the game, I played the Jedi Knight, so seeing a more gritty character story evolve was important to me. Plus the gameplay mechanics for the Bounty Hunter are rather unique in comparison to traditional MMO classes, so I wanted to have a feel for how differently it played.
Fortunately for me, the class did not disappoint. As a Bounty Hunter you start off your career on the planet Hutta, gearing up for an event the locals call the 'Great Hunt.' You've hooked up with local mercenaries with the goal of going into it as a team. As someone adept at hunting down targets, you're the muscle of the operation. But don't think you're brawn with no brains, you're pretty tech-savvy too.
The class starts out with a blaster pistol and two main abilities: the first is rather basic - you fire your blaster pistol at your target, with no other effects aside from damage. The second utilizes your gadgetry a bit more, allowing you to fire a rocket at your target that deals direct damage, as well as a bit of splash damage in a radius around the target.
BioWare has strayed from the norm with the Bounty Hunter and gotten rid of the concept of 'mana' for the class. Its resource system instead is called 'Heat' and many of your abilities generate it on use. The background for the system is that your suit heats up over time, and once you reach a certain point you can no longer use abilities that generate heat, until the suit has cooled down a bit.
On paper that sounds awesome, but in practice it became a bit frustrating at times, as I often found myself capping out on heat and then falling back on my basic pistol attack. Luckily you have a bit of an emergency button in an ability that instantly removes a portion of the heat you've generated, though it and the out-of-combat heal – which all classes receive – were the only ways to reduce heat that I found. This is of course something BioWare can tweak through testing.
As you progress through Hutta you'll gain access to new abilities, some of them a bit basic and others more exciting and – in some cases – bordering on iconic. One such ability is called Rocket Punch, which requires close range to the target but will deal significant damage to them. Many of us in the room likened its animation to something from Street Fighter, as you spin around and punch in an uppercut motion.
Another, and in my opinion the coolest ability I had a chance to toy around with, was called Death From Above. On use, you activate your jet pack and lift off into the air, bombarding a target location for a few seconds with rockets that deal area damage. Rounding out the abilities you pick up were a flamethrower attack that deals damage in a frontal cone – also lighting the enemy ablaze very briefly – and a pistol shot that dealt damage a bit below Rocket Punch. You'll also receive a stun which can be used from range, rendering a single target unable to act for a few seconds.
One cool note about the flamethrower, and other effects that set a target on fire: the target does not attack while burning, as they're more concerned with trying to put themselves out.
The class quest takes you down the typical path you'd expect as a bounty hunter. You'll take on jobs for various bigwig locals, including Nem'ro the Hutt – the 'Crime King of Jiguuna' – all in an effort to receive sponsorship for the Great Hunt. The conversation dialogue is a stark contrast to that I saw as a Jedi Knight. Hutta's setting allows for a lot more loose-lipped conversation options, at some points resulting in you being called a 'nublet' by Imperial liaisons.
The one disappointment I found in the class quest on Hutta is that it never really culminated in anything exciting. As a Jedi Knight, finishing out Tython sees you creating your first lightsaber – something extremely iconic for the Star Wars universe, and one of those 'geek out' moments for any fans of the IP.
As a Bounty Hunter, on the other hand, you simply receive your sponsorship and are told 'congratulations, you have a ways to go for the Great Hunt.' Even with that consideration, you'll still want to do your class quest since it unlocks access to companions. You'll get plenty of use out of the system as you're leveling up and once you take up crafting. Plus they pack a punch in combat, and the Bounty Hunter companion in particular – Mako – can also heal. I'll avoid spoiling how you come into contact with Mako and what ultimately persuades her to team up with you.
Once you finish up Hutta, you advance on to Dromund Kaas, and with it gain access to your advanced classes. The Bounty Hunter is extremely versatile and can perform every role available once you reach level 10. Whether you like dealing damage, healing your groupmates or want enemies to focus their attacks on you as a 'tank,' you'll be able to specialize in the playstyle of your interest.
Choosing your advanced class is an important step in your character development, as it's a decision that – at least as of this writing – cannot be reversed. For the Bounty Hunter, the two advanced classes are Powertech and Mercenary. I chose Mercenary, which allows you to specialize in damage-dealing and healing roles. As a Mercenary you can also dual wield pistols, boosting the damage of any pistol-based attacks slightly over what it would deal if you were only carrying one pistol. For Powertech, you'll be able to specialize in damage-dealing and tanking roles.
The specialization UI is fairly similar to other games at the moment, with three trees of passive and activated abilities that you spend points in – earned as you level up – to progress through the tree, unlocking stronger abilities and additional passive effects. You can spend points in all three trees, though with a limited number of points you're not going to be able to spend them on 100% of what's offered.
I went with the healing-focused ability tree, which initially provided a boost to the potency of my heals and reduced the cast time of one of my heals. There are a number of other passive abilities that boost attributes by a percentage, and in some cases add additional effects to some abilities. You also have access to an instant, single-target heal as well as a buff called Kolto Shield. It can exist on a single target at any given time, and lasts for five minutes. The buff has ten charges, and each time the person affected by the buff takes damage they will be healed for a small amount, expending a charge.
If you enjoy playing a healer in other MMOs and games in general, playing as the Bounty Hunter will take some adjustment due to the heat system. Once you've mastered its management, though, the class is a lot of fun to play. Plus you have a fun perk as a mercenary out for coin; the Bounty Hunter, according to Daniel Erickson – Star Wars: The Old Republic's Lead Writer – is the only class in the game that will be able to take on and perform missions for both the Empire and the Republic. There are potential repercussions to this, but it's a very interesting mechanic. Just be careful who you work for – money isn't everything.
Up next: Hands-on impressions of Star Wars: The Old Republic's multiplayer content and features that encourage grouping.