The latest expansion for Star Wars The Old Republic, Knights of the Fallen Empire, has now been out for a week, with myself and other subscribers having access to it for two weeks. So after some time spent in game getting used to all the new stuff and going through the story, here are my two bits.
Oh, before I go on, a general warning: hic est spoilers! Although the story is only available through Chapter 9, a lot happens and I’ll be discussing some of it, so again, spoiler warning.
Controversial Changes: Companions, Stats, Level Sync… A slap in the face (™)
Let’s start with the fun stuff… /sigh. Bioware made some substantial changes to the game for this expansion, and to be expected some of the changes have been meet with controversy. Ok, perhaps controversy is too passive of a term, maybe spitting rage is more accurate. Let’s take a look.
First Bioware made some massive changes to the way companions work. Among these are that companions no longer use gear or benefit from stat. bonuses on gear. Most still can wear gear, but it’s just for looks. They all still have the customization slot, but droids, monsters (like Khem Val), and new companions from the KoFE story do not have gear slots (save a weapon). Also, companions no longer have set roles (Tank, Heals, Damage), rather the player can now decide which companions fill what role when. Furthermore, companion Affection is gone, though replaced with Influence, as are the specific bonuses from companions to crew skills. Biggest of all changes, is that when you start the KoFE storyline, you lose access to the companions from the earlier story and gain new companions as the story progresses. Some of these new companions are old class specific ones, like T7-01 and SCORPIO, others have been important NPC’s such as Lana Beniko and Theron Shan, others are new like Koth Vortena or Senya.
Second, Aim, Cunning, Strength, and Willpower are gone. They have been replaced with a single stat: Mastery. Stat-wise, this means that all gear is pretty much the same: + whatever to Mastery, + something to Endurance, + Secondary stats. Sure the proficiency to use the gear is still needed, but that is it.
Third, probably the most controversial change is Level Sync. Basically whenever a character out levels an area, they are scaled down to an appropriate level for that area. The sync affects health, damage and healing output for both player characters and companions, but does not change access to abilities or companions.
The most common complaints revolve around Bioware “dumbing down” the game or “destroying diversity” or “customization” for characters and companions.
I’m not sure I entirely agree.
Companion gear was kind of a pain in the ass… actually several asses… one for each companion. Their gear needed the same level of attention and up keep as the player character’s did. On top of which, if you hit a portion of a the story that stuck you with a companion that you didn’t use often… well, you had to scramble to get them gear or face some misery. This way companions are on a much more equal footing to each other and we, as players, have much more say in who we want to use.
I’m not sure what customization was really lost, maybe for those people that liked to make “unique” or “unusual” character builds… but those don’t generally work near as well as their users think… and because of that, there tends to be a name for those players: bads.
The customization I tend to care about is mostly intact, that is the ability to modify the companion’s appearance, including what gear they wear. Though, not entirely. Bioware changed what weapons some companions can use. Some of these changes make sense, others not, but most are rather jarring. For example, Aric Jorgan no longer uses an auto cannon, instead he gets a sniper rifle. While this does make sense to his backstory (once being part of an elite team of a Republic sharpshooters), it is still kind of weird to see. Further the new companions do not have gear slots at all, save a customization slot and a weapon. I’d like to be able to change their appearance. After all, if I must be stuck with Theron Shan, I at least want mine to look a little different. Also, the idea of stuffing Lana Beniko or better yet, Senya, in a really skimpy outfit is just too funny for me.
I think the issue with both the level sync and the changes to the main stats. is more one of identity rather than game mechanics. Really, it doesn’t matter from a mechanics standpoint if some classes benefit from certain stats and others not, or if they all benefit from the same stats. But there is an identity that intertwined with the archetypes that the in game classes represent, what stat they depend on is part of that archetype. For example a warrior would reasonably care more about physical capabilities, where a gunslinger that lives by their wits and a quick draw might favor something else, same for the Sith that relies on the force and esoteric dark side rituals. These relationships have a longer history than SWToR, and I feel, harken back to tabletop games. I think that is why this feels so weird.
Level sync is much the same, it’s hard for some to disassociate their character’s level from their progression. For me, not so much. My Jedi is as much of the Hero of Tython, Jedi Master, or Battlemaster as she was before, the downscaling doesn’t change that. Further, it should be noted, that despite the downscaling, most mobs still aren’t much of a threat.
Also, I had thought, and I may have been mistaken, but from the live cast Bioware did in August I had the idea that we could continue using our existing companions, as long as the story did not require us to use another one. That is not the case, they are listed as “unavailable”.
There is a fair comment to be made that companions are too overpowered right now. I have two examples: First, I was doing some of the planetary Heroic missions on my baby Jedi Sage, these missions are intended for a group and have stronger than average targets. Well, I cut through them with little to no real challenge… only needed to shield Qyzen like once. Yeah, it was kind of both amazing and disappointing at the same time. Further, in leveling through the KotFE story, Arcann is made into this uber scary badass. So far, I’ve faced off with him twice. The first time I had T7, I left the encounter with barely a scratch. The second time I was with HK-55, I can’t say that I ever saw my health drop below 90% and in fact stayed around 98-10%… and no, I did not use any medpacks/ stims, the kolto stations in the area or even a defensive cooldown. I’m not the type to drone on about games being dumbed down or having no challenge left in them, but I do think that experience did seriously undercut Arcann as a villain. Actually, I’d say that his scariness is all but neutered.
On the Story, or the spoily bits
The new story starts with the player character and Darth Marr confronting the Eternal Emperor Valkorion with their belief that Valkorion is in fact the Sith Emperor Vitiate. While Marr is killed, your character is given the option to bow before Valkorion. Refusing sets up a sequences where Valkorion’s son, Arcann, is given the task of killing you, but instead frees you and attacks his father. This doesn’t go well, but your character still kills Valkorion. After a large explosion of dark side energy, the player character is frozen in carbonite as Arcann takes the throne.
During the time you are frozen, there is an extended “dream sequence” in which we find that Valkorion is not dead, but has become part of the player character’s consciousness. As the game will progress, Valkorion will encourage the player to make use of his power to deal with certain situations. Flash forward 5 years, and your character is thawed from carbonite freeze by Lana Beniko. What ensues is a desperate escape from the city complete with some moral choices about saving part of the city and killing an unarmed Knight of Zakuul. During this time, new companions Koth Vortena and HK-55 are introduced as well as baddie Arcann’s equally baddie little sister, Vaylin.
After escaping, you crash in the swamp and find the ruins of an ancient powerful warship, the Gravestone. After some exposition on what has happened during the last five years and large fight you escape Zakuul with the Gravestone and head to a smuggler’s port called Asylum. There we meet the Scions, a persecuted and exiled group of force sensitive visionaries from Zakuul and get tasked with returning to Zakuul and retrieving a mysterious infobroker that can aid in repairs to the Gravestone.
After securing the aid of that infobroker and beating up on some cultists, you head back to Asylum. But, you are followed. Arcann, Vaylin and a ton of skytroopers and Knights of Zakuul show up to wreck the day. After two fights with Arcann, you, your crew and the Gravestone escape Asylum.
In the last chapter, you make your way to Odessen and take command of a joint group of Imperial and Republic forces dedicated to ending Arcann’s control over the galaxy.
Further parts of the story will continue to come out at regular intervals starting after the new year. I’m not sold on this method of delivering the story, but I did enjoy the story so far. I think this method encourages people to drop out of the game during the time between the release of new story. Still this also is probably true of WoW as well, people tend to drop in between patches and even between the last patch of an expansion and the next expansion.
I did not like the idea that Valkorion and Vitiate were to be the same being, though, it has turned out better than I thought it would. I actually kind of like him and the interaction between him and the player character. I am curious how it will feel on one of my non force users though. I am told that Bioware has handled this well, but in truth the characters that have the longest relationship and impact on Valkorion are the Stih Warrior, Jedi Knight and Jedi Consular.
On the NPC’s, I’ve never liked either Lana or Theron that much, but they are growing on me. The others, I don’t know yet. I do like the design of Koth’s blaster rifle though, it’s rather cool.
I do want to address something Bioware said before the expansion launched, that being: “your decisions will matter and carry consequences”. Now, I’ve heard this enough times from game makers to become very jaded to this claim. Hell, Bioware said stuff like that before the game launched. To say that I didn’t expect them to fulfill this claim is an understatement and I’m sure glad I didn’t hold my breath since player decisions certainly don’t matter. I could give serval illustration of this, but I’ll chose one in particular. During your escape from carbonite freeze on Zakuul, you and Lana are confronted by a pair of Knights of Zakuul. After beating them up, one flees but the other ends up getting force choked by Lana, at which point you can have her spare him or kill him. Think of what you might do, I did both. Later, on your return to Zakuul, you run into the Knight that escaped, he’s got a new partner and some serious hate for your toon. See, even if you – or Lana – doesn’t kill his last partner, Vaylin does. So, yeah, sparing him has no effect at all.
Bugs and Other Things
- I did the story as a Jedi Sentinel, when I first completed the story and reached 65, I had two separate T7-01’s. One was under my new companions, the other under “Jedi Knight Companions”. Each had a different Influence ranting, customization and weapon. This was a bug and has since been corrected.
- Removal of a lot of gear… the heroic quests that used to give adaptive gear, don’t any longer, neither to flashpoints and the vendors on fleet that sold adaptive gear, save one, are also gone. I’ve read that running the Star Fortress flashpoints can reward some nice retro gear, so maybe there is still ways to get these. Actually, more than gear was removed, quite a few quests where as well and with the new way of handling heroic quests, the titles for completing those quests on the started planets is gone as well.
- The Alliance quests conversations… This is weird. Much like how the non story quests on Rishi didn’t have those conversation cutscenes, the conversations with the Alliance forces on Odessen are also different. They are more like the conversations in old school Bioware RPGs, like Knights of the Old Republic. That is, your character is silent, the npc speaks and you have a list of questions, statements or interactions to choose from at the bottom of the screen. Some people really don’t like this, I just think it’s weird.
- Token Level 60… Like Blizzard before them, Bioware has introduced a token to by an almost level capped character. The new toon starts at level 60 and immediately into the KoFE story line. One thing that is strange about it is while you start with maxed out professions – that you don’t pick btw – you do not have the class specific titles from the class story. Presumably, this is because the character did not really do the story, but I would have thought that would have been an easy fix… just an instruction to game that treats that character as having completed the story. Perhaps though, since there is now a Legendary Player status for those that have completed the stories for all eight classes, Bioware doesn’t want players to be able to buy that.
- Speaking of titles… despite everyone and digital brothers calling you “Outlander”, but there is no in game title of Outlander or The Outlander. Seems a little strange to me.
- PVP & Crafting… I’ve read a lot of complaints from crafters, I never really felt that crafting was that good in this game, so I don’t have the knowledge to speak to it now. Same with PVP, while I did really enjoy Hutt Ball, I haven’t done much, if any PVP since coming back this summer. So no comments here.
- Cartel Market… Bioware also changed how packs work on the Cartel Market. Basically, a pack now has 2 items in it and can be purchased singly, in a “Supercrate” of five, or a “Hypercrate” of thirty. Also, now there are separate packs for armor, weapons, crystals, decorations, emotes, toys, mounts, companion customization and something else I’m missing.
In the End?
Well, I was fairly harsh on the game when it released, and I stand by that review. I still feel that the two words that most accurately describe SWToR are “missed potential”. But… I do feel that Bioware has made improvements, both in the previous expansions and this one.
I think this expansion is worth the try, despite its failings. But, due to how nickel and dimy the free-to-play set up is, I’d recommend actually subbing, at least for a month to try it out.
A Little Station Keeping… Blizcon is next week, I’m sure I’ll have something to say about it.