Well, let's get this over with. I'm not really, actually, that much of a Star Wars fan.
Yes, yes. Cue sharp intakes of breath, baleful looks and the curling of lips. I'm a heretic, a pariah, a man cast adrift upon a cultural sea of shame. I shouldn't be allowed anywhere near this holiest of universes, lest I taint it with my irreverent lack of faith. Don't get me wrong, the films are alright. Some of them. But I discovered the original trilogy late, probably when I was about 13, and as such they lacked the epoch-defining impact which they seem to have had for so many of my peers.
So, my main point of reference for the Star Wars universe is in fact BioWare's first foray into the legend: Knights of the Old Republic, a game which defined the canon fuelling the company's first MMO offering, and an experience which I enjoyed immensely. Helpfully, the similarities between the two are immediately obvious, both visually and in play-style - something confirmed when lead writer Daniel Erickson describes Star Wars: The Old Republic as KOTORS 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 ad infinitum. He even calls it "the world's biggest RPG". BioWare is clearly not shy about emulating its previous success. However, The Old Republic is an attempt to do something quite new in MMOs: create a story-driven world where consequences are everything.
What we're treated to in a dark and sweaty corner of EA's gamescom booth is a 15-minute hands-on of the scenario already seen in the E3 demo - storming the bridge of a Imperial Captain who has disregarded a direct order from a Grand Moff ordering him to engage a Rebel Battleship. This time, however, it's in the guise of the newly-defined Dark Side melee class, the Sith Warrior.
Expectations are clearly set, then. The Sith are the universe's rude-boys, totally outside the normal ranking system of Imperial officers - given carte blanche to wheedle, intimidate and violently direct the actions of officers who would normally be their superiors. Traditionally what we'd expect is a direct and forceful approach to this kind of inter-service discipline: a short, sharp shock with the business end of a lightsabre rather than any attempt at negotiation or diplomacy.
Of course, this is an option, and one we've already seen played out in the previous iterations of the scenario seen through a Bounty Hunter's eyes, so I decide to strike a blow for light from within the darkest heart of the Empire and attempt to resolve the situation relatively peacefully. BioWare seems confident that its deserved reputation for credible moral decision-making will carry weight in the MMO sphere, so I'll test it by making a few decidedly light-side choices with my force-wielding nasty. Compassion from the Dark Side? Even I know that seems a bit incongruous.
It turns out that a slightly pansy attitude has its advantages after all. By deciding to spare the captain, and going on to give him a little moral support and some emotional encouragement, I'm able to tap him as a resource. He's not captain for nothing after all, he's the most experienced and tactically talented person on board, with in-depth knowledge of this sort of engagement and the total respect of his crew.
Keeping him alive means that, after a hyperspace jump to within combat range of the Republic's battleship, a string of intelligent snap-decisions by him steer us out of much of the danger, avoiding a number of the boarding craft that the rebel scum fling our way and making my task of repelling the commandos who do come aboard much easier. Ghandi may well have been onto something, the sly dog. Whilst our decisions reward our gentle Sith with a few light-side points, very much in the vein of KOTOR, we're told that even the nicest of Sith cannot party with the most degenerate Jedi - Erickson uses the analogy of the good Nazi, whose ultimate conclusion would be the assassination of Hitler rather than defection. Interesting choice of scenarios, no? Watch your back, Emperor.