While in town for GDC 2010 last week, we took a trip to the Persidio in San Francisco to visit our friends at LucasArts. Once there, we took some more time with the upcoming MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic. For those of you in need of a quick refresher, you can click here to check out our previous preview coverage. The Old Republic is in development over at BioWare Austin and EA and LucasArts are teaming up to publish the game.

The demo that we had a chance to play followed a Trooper named Jastor within the Republic who’s part of the elite Havoc Squad. Our job was to help quell a Separatist uprising on Ord Mantell (the junkyard planet) before things get too out of control. A highly populated area called Mannett Point is being threatened by way of a massive ZR-57 bomb that will kill many if the Separatists aren’t stopped. The demo’s focus on ranged combat was a great way to see how the companies involved planned on tackling the hurdle of making it fun.

Starting off, our first objective was to find our commanding officer and squad member Wraith who was already inside the base. On the way, our first battle ensues and we get a taste of the Trooper’s ranged combat. The base attack Hammer Shot is a couple of blaster shots from the rifle equipped. As we attack and build action points, the other options become available including Full Auto, a rapid fire that shoots until the action points are drained. The most effective off the attacks for us was the Rifle Grenade, an explosive blast that has an area of effect against the enemies. The Sticky Grenade was great for hilarity sake as it allowed Jastor to toss an explosive device on an enemy and watch them run in terror as they blew up. Last but not least was the Shock Strike, a melee attack that knocked an enemy down and allowed you to get in a few cheap shots.

Upon finally meeting Wraith and having a few bits of conversation, we found out where the bomb was and headed off to disarm it. Moving from outside to the interior, we had a chance to take on more enemies and try some combos. The most effective strategy came with tossing a Sticky Grenade onto a Separatist soldier and, as he ran, opening fire with the Hammer Shot. The two worked in a very deadly way together.

As we got to the bomb and disarmed it, we pissed off a good number of Separatists and had an all-out super battle on our hands. There was even a battle droid in the mix. Being a ranged class going up against a mix of both ranged and melee required some strategy. We made sure we never stopped firing the basic Hammer Shot and added a good mix of the Rifle Grenade and Shock Strike.

The Trooper class cannot take cover like the Smuggler can, but players can still run behind stuff to get out of fire—although NPCs will follow. After a good hour with this ranged combat, it’s refreshing to say how active it felt. In the past, a lot of ranged combat didn’t feel much different that its melee counterpart in MMOs. BioWare seems to be cleaning up a lot of that, and while it’s still nowhere near a real-time shooter, people who may be turned off to MMO gameplay may yet still have fun with Star Wars: The Old Republic.