Last year, a writer at kotaku asked developers that were working on the game, what their plans for the future were. What they told him is a phrase that they told him was “a return to BioWare cinematic storytelling.” However, he didn’t believe them at all, but they actually did what they said they were going to do.
BioWare was responsible for last year’s expansion, Shadow of Revan, and it gave many people no hope for the games future. The expansion was really just an odd mashup of BioWare RPG and massive multiplayer online game tropes, with much lower production values.
The writer from kotaku recently started playing Knights of the Fallen Empire, and it officially came out for all Star Wars subscribers a few days ago. For most of it, it feels like something you would expect a successor to their Knights of the Old Republic to be. It seems that the people at BioWare Austin had a time during the last year where they just said screw it and decided to do it. He then asked a producer, Bruce Maclean and Charles Boyd, lead writer, if that is what they were thinking. They said “We can’t say that, but you can.”
“This is the year of Star Wars,” he continued. “This is a big year for everyone. And that was it. Why assume that our game is gonna go a certain direction, or things are gonna go a certain way for an online game that’s out been out for a few years?”
The Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion is also accompanied by the most important patch SWTOR has gotten. The free 4.0 update is a quality overhaul and it tries to apply it to the other previous content. It makes everything that was before it much less of an ordeal.
For those who have played SWTOR a lot since it first launched, the 4.0 update and Knights of the Fallen Empire shows a turning point. It’s quite a shocking experience and it shows how the game has slowly become more user-friendly since its first day. SWTOR 4.0 is a huge step forward in the right direction and its king of hard to comprehend how much it has changed since the beginning. It’s not perfect though, and it’s certainly not as great as it could have been if they would have chosen to construct the game this way in the very beginning.
The Knights of the Fallen Empire’s story is a large shift from what fans have seen before, even counting Shadow of Revan just a year ago. It’s actually just another instance of where the third party interrupts the war that is happening between the Sith and Republic, and no there is only one main storyline for Jedi and Sith players alike. This takes that formula to the extreme and something that is called Eternal Empire of Zakuul shows up as well. The empire features a fleet of droid-controlled ships that then outstrips any other type of force in the galaxy. The new empire has ships that patrol the space lanes but it’s not equipped for a foot soldier fight. Your job is to simply take the empire down first by escaping their hands after you have been frozen in carbonite for five years.
The Fallen Empire almost fully abandons the trappings of MMO questing in favor of having more linear dungeon crawling and a heavy part of story scenes. In the vanilla SWTOR, each character class had their own story and the Revan expansion narrowed the focus to only one shared storyline. With Fallen Empire, it seems like we actually get something in return for the sacrifice with production values in the story scenes that most didn’t think were even possible in SWTOR. There are no distracting or irrelevant side quests, you simply play the story. Group dungeons and other mundane activities are compartmentalized outside of the main story. The game will be this way for a little while, as the KotFE story will proceed in 2016.
The expansion is a surprise itself, but the largest shock is how different the game is all around, from level 1 and up. The experience that you get of creating a new character from scratch and then playing through their story is really cool. Here is a breakdown of the changes from day one to the present in key mechanics.
The largest one is how fast you are able to level up. In the past years you were required to do many of the solo quests, even if they were not part of your character class’ individual story, in order to stay on the right level with the planets you were going through. You can now stick to the class story quests and a few multi-part faction quests and get through easily. The ones that you need are marked in purple, making it easy to know which ones matter.
They have gotten rid of the need to keep your companion characters geared up. Before the 4.0, you had to update your companion characters’ gear the exact way you would do to your own. Their stats are now dictated by your characters level and level of influence. Any of the companions you have can fit any of the gameplay roles in the game. Both of these great changes allows the player to proceed through the game beside the characters you like best.
Specialized class stats have been taken off the game in order of a single generic one that is called mastery. In the past, the presence of the specialized stats and armor types made it where some character from being able to use different gear or mods for the gear. Gear selection is now quite easy and you have more freedom in what you want to wear.
Travelling the world is not much of a hassle because to the previous game updates and the 4.0. When you visit a planet all the taxi links are unlocked. You can go wherever you want by taxi, rather than having to walk to each one. You can also use the quick travel bind points whenever you want because they are unlocked whenever you enter the area that they are in. The level that is required to be able to use mounts has lowered to 10 for subscribers, rather than the 25 at launch.
The majority of the group dungeons now have a single player mode in addition to the old group mode, if you are just wanting to see the story without dealing with people.
Overall, the changes feel a bit strange. The game was not made to be played as efficiently as its possible now, and because many are acquainted with it, they feel this clearly. There is definitely more freedom and the 4.0 patch shakes up the game and the expansion moves it more forward.
“We want to be bold and think outside the box with this expansion, but we also have to be respectful of Star Wars: The Old Republic as it already exists, “Maclean said.
“Life as a developer of an online game is full of regrets,” Maclean said. “We’ll never get better if we don’t look at things we’ve done with a critical eye and say, ‘You know, that was stupid. Why did we do that?’”
BioWare has done an admirable job. Developers are always talking about being perfectionists and trying to build the best possible experience but it hardly ever works out. I can’t tell you why Star Wars: The Old Republic was what they made it to be in 2011, but we do know that is was a huge mess on someone’s end and nothing that came afterwards in terms of expansions and updates had been a really impactful course correction until now.
“It’s easy to fall into a pattern and just get used to the way things are and assume that that’s the way they should be,” Boyd said.
“[Players] want that Bioware role-playing game experience,” Maclean said. “And we can do it. Not only can we do it—we have to do it.”