Diplomacy, blackmail and intimidation; these are the tools of the trade for Imperial Agents in The Old Republic. This is established from the first steps you’ll take on the Agent’s origin world, Hutta, both in terms of storyline and certain aspects of combat. Whether you eventually choose to go the stealthy, melee route of the Operative advanced class, or prefer to take full advantage of The Old Republic’s cover system as a Sniper, the intro levels will give you a good taste of both before you lock in one of the two upon reaching level 10.
Thematically, I’ve found the Imperial Agent to be one of the most interesting classes in the game. This is partially due to the fact that less is known about the inner workings and day to day activities of the intelligence arm of the Empire, so in terms of storyline payoff you potentially stand to learn more interesting Star Wars lore by playing the Agent than either of the Jedi or Sith classes.
The other standout element of the Agent that I ended up enjoying far more than I anticipated is the use of the cover system. While it will only factor into combat heavily if you choose the Sniper advanced class at level 10, it adds a dynamic element to combat that you likely won’t find in other MMOs.
Espionage, and playing the spy game to manipulate galactic events in the Empire's favor are central to the role you'll play as an Agent from a storyline perspective, and this is established as soon as you take your very first steps on Hutta. Upon arrival you'll discover that two rival Hutts are vying for control over the planet's vast resources, and your role will be to assume a secret identity as the Red Blade to manipulate the situation by whatever underhanded means necessary.
Without getting into plotline spoilers, I think it’s safe to say that these early class missions on Hutta represent another unique element of gameplay for Imperial Agents. Namely, class quests won’t all necessarily devolve into an endless stream of combat scenarios. Don’t get me wrong; you’ll still see plenty of combat action as you progress through your core storyline missions. However, the Agent enjoys some of the most cleverly written quests in the game due to being part of The Old Republic’s equivalent of the secret service. In a certain sense, you can expect the Agent to have some great James Bond moments, albeit with a decidedly evil bent given that you’re an agent of the mighty Empire.
Level 10 is one of The Old Republic's biggest milestone moments, when you'll be able to select your advanced class. For the Imperial Agent this means deciding between the Operative and Sniper, each offering a radically different playstyle depending on whether you prefer to assume a close-quarters melee or healing role, or stick with ranged DPS as your combat bread and butter. Below you can see the overviews for the Agent’s advanced class options as seen in-game:
During your first 10 levels you'll get a small sampling of abilities from either playstyle, so be sure to pay close attention to which you enjoy most: utilizing the Agent's cover system to pick off targets at range, or using vibroknife abilities like Shiv in melee range.
One important thing to note is that if you ultimately intend to play the Agent as a healer, you'll definitely want to choose the Operative advanced class. This will give you immediate access to your first injection-based heals, and by the mid game you'll also be able to unlock some fairly powerful AoE heals like Kolto Bomb which may not be as effective while solo, but really start to shine in Warzones and Flashpoints where the AoE will give you the most bang for your buck.
You'll also gain some extra abilities to help with energy regen, since healing as an Operative tends to be an interesting mini-game of topping off not only your target's health bar, but your own energy pool as well.
As the name implies, the Sniper advanced class is all about doing huge amounts of ranged DPS. As such, you’ll continue to make liberal use of the cover system throughout the game.
Perhaps the biggest thing to be aware of when it comes to the Agent’s cover system, is that your main skill bar will change when entering or exiting cover. This is partly due to the fact that certain skills – such as the core class skill Snipe – can only be used while in cover.
As such, each time you train new abilities at your class trainer, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of organizing both versions of your skill bar before diving back into combat. Beyond level 10 this will really only be a concern for Snipers, who obtain a decent stable of cover-only abilities as you level up.
In general, using the cover system does take a little getting used to. Once a target is selected, the game will automatically suggest the closest natural cover point which you can roll into with a quick tap of the F key. Most of the time the suggested cover points work fairly well, but that won’t always be the case. Thankfully, at level 10 you’ll also be able to use “portable cover” so that you can hit the F key no matter where you’re currently positioned to set up temporary cover.
The only place where I simply did not like any aspects of the cover system so far has been in PvP Warzones. For starters, the suggested cover points often don’t make any sense, and rolling into them may position you with your target behind you. Likewise, cover does you little to no use when you have a Jedi Knight leaping to your position and smacking you upside the head.
As such, I found the Operative’s more rogue-like gameplay to be a far better fit for warzones – at least at early levels – because the Sniper’s best tricks can only be used from cover, and you’ll rarely be able to take full advantage of playing as a true ranged DPS class.
Towards the end of your class quests on Hutta you'll gain your first companion, Kaliyo. Mass Effect 2 fans will feel right at home with Kaliyo by your side in combat, as she bears a striking resemblance to Subject Zero in all the ways that count, and is even voiced by the same actress. Given that she is also a Rattataki and has a bald head only helps strengthen the resemblance, and once you begin interacting with her in conversations and discover that she tends to be a true agent of chaos, has a deeply rooted dislike of authority, and considers killing with no reason to be a fun, leisurely activity.
In combat Kaliyo is somewhat of a badass as well, being roughly the equivalent of a bounty hunter tank. This pairing works particularly well with the Agent, whether you choose the more rogue-like, backstabbing Operative, or the lethal-at-extreme-range Sniper advanced class.
As illustrated above, Kaliyo reminds me of what you'd get if you put ME2's Jack and Marilyn Manson circa the Beautiful People video in a blender. And being a big fan of both I mean that in the best possible way!
Having played each of the available classes in The Old Republic at different stages during the beta, I was pleasantly surprised by the Imperial Agent to the point where it’s one of my favorite classes in the game. The overall playstyle is a bit harder to pinpoint than some of the other classes until you select your advanced class at level 10, at which point the Operative and Sniper take extremely divergent paths.
On the operative side, the best way to describe it would be that it’s more of an archetypical rogue class, complete with stealth, stuns, and backstabbing. However, you don’t have to play strictly as a bread-n-butter rogue thanks to the ability to spec into the healing tree. While I found healing a much more satisfying experience as a Sorcerer or Sage, the Operative does a decent enough job in that role, even if healing does become a tad monotonous thanks to having to constantly juggle health bars and your energy bar via an arbitrary third resource that can be used either fuel some of your heals, or replenish your energy more quickly. And since the only way to build the resource is to heal, it feels less natural to heal as an Agent early on as a result.
On the Sniper side, you’ll be able to do some of the best ranged DPS in the game. As noted above, the cover system takes a little getting used to, but it also increases your survivability tenfold in PvE. Unfortunately neither translates particularly well in PvP warzones, especially since they’re currently dominated by the flashier sorcerers and sage who have been a bit overpowered through most of the beta. That’s not to say that Snipers have no place in warzones, as they’re a great boon to have on your team in the Alderaan map. But in Huttball and Void Star matches, it’s a tougher class to find your footing with.
In terms of storyline, you’ll have to experience that for yourself, but I honestly feel it’s one of the best in the game. The initial turf war quests on Hutta give you a decent sampling of what types of missions you can expect to see as you progress further into the game, but if you like the idea of playing a shifty spy for the Empire, the Imperial Agent will not disappoint.