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Pyramid scheme: The Old Republic's PvP Huttball to get a vertical makeover on April 8

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Pyramid scheme: The Old Republic's PvP Huttball to get a vertical makeover on April 8

One of those things that must have made KOTOR seem such a prime candidate for MMOification - besides its cooldown-based combat system and setting in bloody Star Wars - was its proclivity for minigames. 

In 2003, a player might have interrupted their journey of extraordinary self-discovery to play a few rounds of pazaak and watch the pod-racing, before decamping to the Ebon Hawke for a spot of turret target practice. 

These are precisely the sort of embedded distractions MMO players like to get involved in. In SWTOR, that’s manifested as something called Huttball: “the most brutal game in the galaxy", funded by its slimiest residents. To date it’s had a single PvP warzone to its name - but BioWare Austin have built a new one in portrait, on the atmospherically poisonous adopted homeworld of the Hutt: Quesh.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic's 2014: two new expansions and a storyline to span "the whole year"

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Star Wars: The Old Republic's 2014: two new expansions and a storyline to span "the whole year"

SWTOR’s 2013 wasn’t anything at all like its 2012: last year its live team witnessed the game’s playerbase shift from subscription-only to primarily free-to-play; instigated the release of its first proper expansion; and oversaw mammoth construction of an all-new PvP dogfighting mode to banish the memory of on-rails space combat.

In 2014, BioWare Austin hope, there will be no paradigm shifts. Free-to-play will continue to draw in thousands every day, and there’ll be another two expansions - one about the size of a Hutt Cartel, the other as big as a Galactic Starfighter.

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A new hope: The Old Republic subscriptions "decline" as free-to-play "continues to grow"

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A new hope: The Old Republic subscriptions "decline" as free-to-play "continues to grow"

I don’t know what it’s like to be a subscriber of an MMO that suddenly goes free-to-play, but it must be pretty galling. Every month, I imagine, it becomes tougher to convince yourself that whatever in-game privileges you might have add up to another $10 your peers aren’t paying.

It must be somewhat easier in The Old Republic, where despite change for the better, free players are still visibly second-class citizens. Even so, as free-to-play numbers climb, subscriber rates are plummeting in the opposite direction.

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The Old Republic Galactic Starfighter expansion brings the dogfight to (some) non-subscribers

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The Old Republic Galactic Starfighter expansion brings the dogfight to (some) non-subscribers

Since early December, interstellar jousting has been the preserve of SWTOR nobility - its remaining pocket of subscribers, sheltered under an upturned boat in an otherwise free-to-play sea. But BioWare could hold back the tide no longer, and have made the new Galactic Starfighter expansion available to the riff-raff, the rabble, and the Rattataki, effective immediately. So long as they’ve bought something from the in-game shop.

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BioWare's Old Republic studio hammering away at "several" unannounced projects

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BioWare's Old Republic studio hammering away at "several" unannounced projects

BioWare Austin was born to make The Old Republic. That’s not a comment on the studio’s suitability to build Star Wars MMOs, but a literal fact: its staff were brought together in 2006 explicitly to make that game, and since its release five years later they’ve done nothing else but run its operations, reconfigure its systems for free-to-play, and develop its expansions.

Or so we thought. A couple of new job listings ask for hires with experience in both MMO and action games to help out on some of “several unannounced projects".

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EA implicate shrinking interest in MMOs in The Old Republic's free-to-play fate

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EA implicate shrinking interest in MMOs in The Old Republic's free-to-play fate

Imagine you’re a shit-hot PI looking into the mysterious disappearance of The Old Republic’s prospects. There’s a few places you’d be tempted to start: its publisher’s investment in comprehensive voice acting it would take years to recoup; a broadly conservative game design in an era of Eve and Guild Wars 2; and reliance on a subscription model already starting to look dated in 2011.

But here’s EA’s femme fatale tugging at your ear, pointing to something else - the declining fortunes of MMOs in general.

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Watch a minute and a half's footage of Star Wars: The Old Republic's dogfighting mode

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Watch a minute and a half's footage of Star Wars: The Old Republic's dogfighting mode

BioWare have changed. In Baldur’s Gate II, dog fighting meant handing over 10 gold pieces to a sprite-man named Surly in an iffy pub, and getting 20 back if you were lucky. And lots of barking in the interim.

The Old Republic’s dogfighting, built by an Austin studio that didn’t exist in Baldur’s Gate’s day, is all high production pew-pew and free-flight weaving. It’s like nothing else the developers have ever assembled.

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30 minutes of Dragon Age: Inquisition: a choice-heavy RPG in which "actions speak louder than words"

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30 minutes of Dragon Age: Inquisition: a choice-heavy RPG in which "actions speak louder than words"

There's a moment in the 30 minutes of leaked Dragon Age: Inquisition footage from Digiexpo 2013 when the player stands on the crest of a hill, considering whether to intervene in the massacre of a village he’s pledged to protect. But instead, he turns back - choosing to honour a more recent promise and head to the keep, the seat of power that grants him his title as Inquisitor.

Moments later he decides to set fire to his enemies’ boats, to complicate their escape. This is how choices are made in Dragon Age 3 - in the thick of it, and not necessarily in a conversation wheel.

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Mass Effect 4's first screens glimpsed over BioWare Montreal's shoulders; promise "new worlds"

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Mass Effect 4's first screens glimpsed over BioWare Montreal's shoulders; promise "new worlds"

BioWare’s third sequel in their very popular Massive Effect series of videogames has been a shapeless, murky proposition thus far, like Angel Delight. With a trilogy-long story arc behind them, Shepard confined to whatever fate you happened to confine him to and custody handed to a brand new development team in Montreal, we’ve really had nothing to go on.

Until now, when a steady drip of photos began to emerge from the company’s various twitter accounts.

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Star Wars The Old Republic characters could lose their names next month

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Star Wars The Old Republic characters could lose their names next month

BioWare are in the process of letting players know about a “Character Name Renewal" that’s going to be happening on November 12th. At first glance it sounds kind of cool; you get to rename your character! A great opportunity if you named your character ‘UberL33tStarKiller42’ and have been regretting it ever since. The real story is not as it first seems though. The full story is that unless you are a subscriber to The Old Republic, your character could be about to lose their identity, which is a bit of a bummer if you managed to bag yourself a cool Star Wars expanded universe name before anyone else took it. 

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The Old Republic update 2.4 kicks off the Dread War

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The Old Republic update 2.4 kicks off the Dread War

“CONFRONT THE DREAD MASTERS AND COMPETE IN THE WARZONE ARENAS OF DEATH!", suggest BioWare in anticipation of SWTOR’s next big update. If you find yourself in the Deathzone Arenas of War, you’ve taken a wrong turning. You’ll know you’re in the right place if you can spot new endgame operations, story missions and 4v4 arenas.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion Rise of the Hutt Cartel now free to subscribers

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Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion Rise of the Hutt Cartel now free to subscribers

Now this is the way to encourage subscription. BioWare have used their stick to dig a trough in the earth and plant carrot seeds. After six months spent slowly relinquishing their stranglehold on free players, the developers have pledged access to their first and only expansion to new, old and returning subscribers for a fee of zilch.

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Dragon Age: Inquisition isn't open-world in the way you might think it is

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Dragon Age: Inquisition isn't open-world in the way you might think it is

Can I say that this is a relief? The Witcher 3 has taken its series open-world, and that’s nice. But when it seemed Dragon Age would do the same, it wasn’t clear who the new custodians of the open-yet-directed RPG structure - perfected in Baldur’s Gate II and iterated on in several BioWare games thereafter - would be. And that was a little worrying.

Dragon Age: Inquisition will have some “extremely large" regions on its world map. But it won’t be Skyrim.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic's "super secret space project" yields ten super secret spaceships

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Star Wars: The Old Republic's "super secret space project" yields ten super secret spaceships

Nobody knows anything for sure about SWTOR’s maybe-PvP, maybe-free-flight new space mode, but everybody knows it’ll be better that what we’ve currently settled for: crude rollercoasters and half-hearted barrel rolls.

Whatever it is, it’s merited a slew of new ship models from BioWare’s Austin team: none of which have been cleared for public eyes, but several of which have been unceremoniously unveiled by The Old Republic Reddit’s very own Toto, swtor_miner.

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Romances in Dragon Age: Inquisition will be "more fluid and natural"

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Romances in Dragon Age: Inquisition will be "more fluid and natural"

If you ask me, the best romances are fluid romances, that is, romances involving pints of fluid. BioWare Edmonton understands this (or something like this), and will be ensuring that romantic pursuits in Dragon Age: Inquisition will be more fluid, more natural and less "you have given a boy a flower, you have earned seven kiss points, congratulations, have a kiss" than in previous games. Speaking to PCGN, producer Cameron Lee briefly discussed how love and courtship is changing in the latest Dragon Age game.

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A first look at Dragon Age: Inquisition

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A first look at Dragon Age: Inquisition

There’s a big glowing hole in the sky and terribly evil things keep falling out of it. Demons, ghosts, rude lyrics, all manner of insane badness is tumbling out of an inter-dimensional sky-fanny and it’s up to you, the leader of the Inquisition, to find out why it’s happening and put a stop to it. This is Dragon Age: Inquisition, BioWare’s second shot at giving Dragon Age: Origins the sequel it deserves, one that draws on both the freshly Skyrim and Witcher-soaked influences of a recently rejuvenated fantasy RPG genre, as well as building on its own tactically minded combat roots. This is a next-gen Dragon Age that’s grown up, learned its lessons and added a horse.

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