E3 2015: SWTOR’s upcoming expansion builds on the ‘legacy of KOTOR’

So what’s with Knights of the Fallen Empire? Inquiring Star Wars: The Old Republic fans want to know! That’s why we sat down with the BioWare devs at E3 to suss out some answers for you. We also got to see some of the expansion in action; Senior Producer Bruce MacLean and Studio Creative Director James Ohlen walked us through a demo of part of chapter three in the new story sequence. Afterward, Lead Designer Michael Backus fielded more of our questions.

What is Fallen Empire? It’s more than just the biggest SWTOR expansion to date. MacLean summed it up succinctly by arguing that this expansion is “a return to BioWare’s cinematic storytelling — it is a Star Wars epic where you are the central hero.” He emphasized that this expansion is about going from heroic story moment to heroic story moment and described the game as “cinematic action-packed RPG experiences thick with plot twists, surprises, betrayal, redemption, and hard choices.”

Ohlen chimed in too: “This is more than just an expansion for us. This is really the culmination of making Star Wars: The Old Republic what we always wanted it to be, which is that endless Star Wars BioWare epic story.” The devs stressed it is a change in how they tell story, inspired by Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect.

And more than all that, Knights of the Fallen Empire is only the beginning. This expansion is called season one for a reason; there will be more seasons coming. And that means more story.

Choices matter

Hurry, player #1859237; you are our only hope! A phrase that gets tossed around a lot in MMOland is “making choices matter.” It’s almost a Holy Grail of features that MMORPGs have a hard time achieving, especially since so many others share the same world and make the same choices. Until now in SWTOR, we’ve had plenty of choices within our story lines, but not many have any real impact on the direction or ending of our personal stories or the world’s story. So what about this new expansion changes that?

Even though I experienced only a sliver of the story arc, it demonstrated major character choices that had some immediate consequences and apparently will have long-reaching ones as well with companions and other NPCs. What does a major choice look like? One was whether you save a city — and the countless lives in it — or save only yourself. Another choice in that same arc is whether or not the force-using cop Tanek dies at the hand of your newest companion, Sith Lord Lana Beniko (I was the only one who voted for him to live!). Do you really want to chance ticking Lana off to avoid being hunted down by the cop’s partner later? While I didn’t see the long-term consequences during the walk-through, I did see the immediate ones. Backus noted that big choices will affect gameplay: “Do you go down this path or do you go down that path? Is one path more difficult? What happens?” Other personal decisions, however, will have more indirect consequences, such as NPCs: “NPCs returning to confront you — how will they interact with you? Are they upset with you?”

This expansion is literally “building on the legacy of Knights of the Old Republic as well giving players that BioWare RPG experience that they’ve been asking for.” – BioWare’s Bruce McLean
One of the reasons the game can pull this off a little better is because the focus is different than the base game; fans who think that SWTOR sounds like it is moving away from its MMO beginnings would not be wrong. As MacLean said, this expansion is literally “building on the legacy of Knights of the Old Republic as well giving players that BioWare RPG experience that they’ve been asking for.” There are no class stories, just the epic story with a dash of class flavor tossed in. Ohlen noted that this makes SWTOR the destination for folks who want big, epic stories. He continued, “It’s a very big departure, but at the same time we’re not abandoning the online components — we still have a giant online universe, you just now have the most epic BioWare Star Wars stories.” Backus assures that it is still an MMO; devs know that players still enjoy grouping content, and it will be there.

Because the story is personal to you, playing with even one friend is restrictive. Unlike the base game, where friends could play together and follow different class storylines, Fallen Empire has just the one epic story, so it can only be played out one player at a time. That means friends have to either take turns doing the steps or take turns completing an arc for each other. That’s good in that friends can witness your epic story without affecting it but bad in that it will spoil it for any friend that hasn’t already played through.

Lastly, let’s talk about changes to the world: Will yours affect how others see the world? Will there be a phasing mechanic? Backus answered, “As of right now, no. We have no plans to do that.” So does that mean there will be no physical changes to the world through choices? Backus hesitated and said, “I am going to dodge that one. You need to wait for some more announcements before we start talking about some of that. There’s things that I think resemble some of what you are talking about, but we need to wait.”

SWTOR as canon?

Although SWTOR was confirmed as not strictly canon at the Star Wars Celebration, the game has still attempted to play within the bounds. So we asked Backus how well this new story, with the new planet and original epic story, fits within current or former canon. Backus reminds that “it is and it is not” because SWTOR is set thousands of years before actual canon; he doesn’t believe the new story departs too far away from the sphere of canon. “We have a very good relationship with Lucasfilm,” he explained, “where we submit basically everything we want to do — be it character or stories or whatever — and they give us feedback on it. They keep us honest and they keep us on point.”

Backus also spoke about Lucasfilms’ Keeper of the Holocron, the existence of the small council that maintains the lore of all aspects of the Star Wars Universe, and how BioWare has a high level of communication with this group. “Everything we do is vetted; everything we do is absolutely on the up and up with Star Wars as far as lore and stuff.” An interesting fact that Backus shared is that Director J.J. Abrams watched the KotFE blur trailer because he had carte blanche to decide whether what the BioWare team was doing contradicted the story he was telling in any way. He also added that Lucasfilm could draw on any of what BioWare writes for future Star Wars things.
So why was a new planet created instead of something already existing in the Star Wars universe? Backus told me it was because the unknown threat needed to come from somewhere unknown; to use an existing planet would have been messing with its story and history. Parts of the epic adventure do still happen in known space as the story weaves around the galaxy.

That’s not all, folks!

If you were worried that this is all the information that we gleaned from the devs, you can be assured that it is not! Join us for a second installment of this interview series tomorrow for more about the game, the Eternal Empire, and what you get with Fallen Empire.

Massively Overpowered was on the ground in Los Angeles, California, for E3 2015, bringing you expert MMO coverage from NCsoft, Blizzard, Ubisoft, BioWare, and everything else on display at the expo!
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122 comments
Blue Leader
Blue Leader

So, what ever happened to the second part of this article? "Tomorrow" has turned into six days. :P

Cosmic Cleric
Cosmic Cleric

@Blue Leader <Wizard of Oz voice> Pay no attention to the writer behind the keyboard! </Wizard of Oz voice>

Kass40
Kass40

Well at least were finally getting our KOTOR 3 in a manner of speaking... if it works well, I can live with that, pop in and play and then unsub and wait for next update.

RG_historywatch
RG_historywatch

What i think would make SWTOR better is if they kept the story driven missions and cut scenes but added a more interactive living world like Guild Wars 2 and made combat a little more engaging as well and it would be an amazing game. I still like it for what it is but that's what it's missing.  Also after reading this i think it's a mistake to not include the feature where you could partner with friends if you were a different class in fact  they should have improved on that so that as you play together in your story both your stories progress at the same time instead of taking it away. I also  don't like the fact that were the only chosen one this is a MMO they should incorporate into the story that factor that their are other heroes.  I have mix filling about the details of this game so far theres things i like and theres things i don't like.

RG_historywatch
RG_historywatch

What i think would make SWTOR better is if they kept the story driven missions and cut scenes but added a more interactive living world like Guild Wars 2 and made combat a little more engaging as well and it would be an amazing game. I still like it for what it is but that's what it's missing.

MichaelHighlanderGinnis
MichaelHighlanderGinnis

Screw this game, if bioware wanted to make another star wars game they should have just made another KOTOR game possibly drag it out to a trilogy like mass effect, but no they want to save a failed experiment in the MMO. they should have known that once they went ftp adding on to this game is a waste. i wont play this game im not wasting my money, bioware can wake me up once they make another KOTOR


Chuki792
Chuki792

Did you not read the article? That's what they're doing... Moving away from the games mmo beginnings, more to a proper KOTOR game but maintaining the online elements...

darthziltoid
darthziltoid

@MichaelHighlanderGinnis Cry baby. This game is great the way it is. You're problem is the same problem I see from every other online game in existence, the player base is entirely spoiled and their expectations are always unrealistic. Then when a company doesn't hit those imagined expectations, the game is suddenly shit. I have played this for 3 years and counting, and have very few complaints, especially when compared to other MMO's on the market. How about take the game for what it is and judge it on the merits, and not what you think it should have been. It is not a failed experiment, or it would have gone by the way side, SWG is not coming back. This is the way they wanted to progress The Old Republic lore, since they invented that lore, I think they have every right to do with it as they please. I will even venture a guess that you played this game for the first 6 months, unsubbed, and have never fully returned to the game. If that is the case you even have less credibility in which to comment so please just stop.

GoldenHornet
GoldenHornet

"Because the story is personal to you, playing with even one friend is restrictive. Unlike the base game, where friends could play together and follow different class storylines, Fallen Empire has just the one epic story, so it can only be played out one player at a time"


Good job the rest of my guild left to play other games already, I can't play the new content in a group in an MMO  *facepalm*

SwobyJ
SwobyJ

Single Player Focus - All good with that, but I do hope that they don't utterly abandon the existence of planetary/etc group content. This doesn't mean I need several Heroic missions in a planet, but a couple really cool ones (one Heroic 2+ and one Heroic 4?) would be nice. I've never been against Heroic missions, only the quantity of them, preferring the focus shifted to larger, longer, and more interesting planetary + class missionlines.


Choices Matter - Awesome. Okay. Love it. But I hope this means or can mean in the future that they're 1)Keeping track of previous class story decisions (and if you bought a Lv 60 character, then there's a trigger at good times to ask the player what they 'did back then'), 2)Planetary questline results can matter, if only in some smaller ways usually. In fact I want it to matter. I just know that since they're not mandatory, they shouldn't impact a lot.

The voiced sidemissions for the most part can go away and not matter. At least mostly. Meh. Some NPCs from them a somewhat interesting, and a few choices from them seem somewhat interesting as well, but I would accept there being only a nod towards what was done with them, at best. I'd even not mind if they were at some point removed and the old planets got reworked to be smaller and more story-funneled instead of vast emptiness. (aka streamlining)


No Class Stories - I hope something was said/written incorrectly here. I don't actually mind no 'Class Story Questlines' happening. Fine. But I DO hope BW gets the message that we LIKE the OCCASIONAL class-EXCLUSIVE mission, and it can be tied into the main story. I DO want my, say, Consular, to get a mission ONCE IN A WHILE that does and means something uniquely meaningful to his story as a Consular. This doesn't mean several missions per planet done separately from the planetary missionline, sure, but it can mean 1-2, tied into the main missionline. Please, I hope Bioware doesn't abandon the appealing nature of running 8 whole characters to get unique enough class content (not just nods, but full missions and story options occasionally).


SWTOR as Canon-ish-maybe - This is exactly what I thought was the case. 'Not practically canon but could be made canon if it is so decided. Or a kind of canon that details can be taken from it and implemented in the films if it is so decided.' Not Legends but not SW films. It is its own 'SWTOR canon'. No problem.

darthziltoid
darthziltoid

@SwobyJ Almost the exact same opinion I had on this article, thank you for articulating. I am sad they are continuing with the, cannot include other classes in your story missions thing.

melissamcdon
melissamcdon

I suppose we will always be playing games that look inferior to the promotional videos and cutscenes.   Sigh. 


There is one company I think that has surpassed all others in their execution of high-value IP - TURBINE

Their work with LOTRO has been amazing.   I'd like to see them apply that much love to either Star Trek or Star Wars. 

Coffeefall
Coffeefall

Just hope I could meet a bunch of people and ride through places on speeders. Like a futuristic bike gang. Mmmh.

TheMirthMobile
TheMirthMobile

I don't really get people complaining about the story only being driven by single player at a time. That's the way this game has ALWAYS been for the main story arcs. I've been playing since early access, and while I could help people kill mobs and watch cut-scenes in their class story missions, my character had no interaction in that story. This sounds exactly the same, but people are losing their minds over that fact.


Am I disappointed that there will be no new warzones or ops in this expansion? Yes, as that is the true MMO part of this game, but lets not pretend that the SWTOR class and main story could really be progressed by a group of people at once.

rioinsignia
rioinsignia

/facepalm.


So am I reading this right? The high end SWTOR content will not be MMO based, but purely single player based which cannot even be "co-op'ed"?  Turning this MMORPG into a MSORPG (Massively Single Player Online RPG)?

I realise that in the past SWTOR has been labelled a "single player game" in MMO clothes in the past, but this is taking it to a whole new level.  I knew that Bioware were out of their depth in the MMO industry, but it's surprising that they'd go this far and butcher their only MMO, rather than create a new, more up to date, single player experience with a more technologically advanced and perhaps more efficient engine (e.g. Frostbite?)  It's a crazy gamble. 

Perhaps they think SWTOR has limited playability and are just going for broke, knowing that the game is reaching the end of it's popularity cycle?  I don't know.

The dodging of the question about whether players decisions effect the gameworld was also very notable.  To me, that says the effects won't be that much due to the fact that they aren't using phasing tech.

In short, it sounds to me that SWTOR will become even more "genre confused".  Never quite fitting into any of the established genres.  And thus perhaps it will labelled accordingly and never be able to climb out of the Sarlaac Pit of Medocrity

rioinsignia
rioinsignia

@Vexies The following is my own personal opinion:

I firmly believe that MMORPG's should cater for different playstyles, so as to encourage a large and diverse enough audience.  Such diversity and size can help with creating the illusion of a "living breathing" gameworld.  And even though SWTOR's design didn't really help much with that in the past, it nevertheless did have a **bit** of that with it's social areas and its "outdoor" content. To me, it is as necessary to include SP content, as group based content, because seeing a single player running around doing their thing contributes noticeably to the feeling of a "living, breathing gameworld" as seeing a group running around.


Now, whilst you might feel SWTOR is evolving, I disagree. To me, it's "devolving".  By that I mean from being an MMORPG, to being an MSORPG. To the individual enjoying that single player content, this isn't an issue for them.  But from the perspective of the entire game that is supposed to be an MMORPG, then shifting the design to placing even more focus on single player only content instances (which is what it sounds like they are doing) can result in creating it's own issues.   After all, I'm sure we've all heard calls from people on servers saying that the shard feels "empty" of players, even though the shards were allegedly near maxed out capacity.  Of course, that can occur with group based instance focus as well.  But in the latter situation, the players are not on their own in those instances, and therefore the sensation of an empty shard / server may be lessened somewhat.

This is why I think EA Bioware could end up shooting themselves in the foot with this decision.  Like I said, I've nothing against having story based single player content in an MMORPG.  But like lots of things in life, I think things have to be done in moderation, as well as thought through carefully.   And it seems to me that the potential long term effects of this decision have not been thought through very well. 

I feel that had they made a new single player RPG based in the SWTOR era, it would have been a better decision than this one.  But they haven't done that.  Instead they are attempting to butcher an MMORPG and turn it into an MSORPG.   Changing the very nature of a game into something else, purely for profit.  Of course, this is EA Bioware, profit is really all they care about.

Vexies
Vexies

@rioinsignia Im not so sure tho is a bad thing. The story is where the money is at for the vast majority of the player base. I don't see a reason why it has to conform to any mold / game genre. Why shouldn't it be able to evolve into its own thing? Multi-player content for the end game crowd and story for the more casual folks.. seems like a win, win. All to often MMO's these days are stuck in the END GAME IS LIFE! mode and completely try to ignore the fact that the vast majority of its player base neither raids nor does it pvp. Id love to see more MMO's focus on giving people of all tastes more to do at end game rather than put there head in the sand and pretend all we want is 5 more levels a couple of quest hubs and the next re-skinned raid

toophat82
toophat82

It's been a top 5 Mmo numbers wise and that includes subscriptions since its launch and still is so I don't see how you think it is at end of its cycle when in fact far from it and it's very much alive and successful while still making plenty of money. I think what they are doing is a matter of giving the fans and players that have been here from the start something they want according to research they have done but doing it with the least amount of work possible like they have continued to do recently with everything and that is what might hurt the MMO they have great ideas but poor execution due to trying to keep work and cost to the minimum they possibly can. That is the real problem and result of the some things being stripped away or left out in the process with everything they have done lately. Not sure if it is due to amount of resources and staff this MMO has now but it surely has been a factor as of late with everything they have introduced.

Which is a shame because swtor really has come along way since launch and only gotten better since then and in a short amount of time with all the changes, fixes, and additions at least until recently and since the new discipline system and last expansion has this started to happen where they seem to try to make most profit possible but with least amount of effort, work, and creativity possible when it comes to MMO itself and what counts but of course not the cash shop/cartel market they seem to always put the most effort and creativity into that part of MMO without question real shame because really is a great MMO and one of my top 2 MMOs ATM and surely ahead of and more successful then LOTRO no matter if you like that MMO or not so please don't compare as numbers don't lie. One of the few MMORPGS available that give you a real AAA RPG experience in an MMO setting. Hey I hope bioware proves me wrong with upcoming expansion and that it is all they claim but time will tell no matter my concerns.

Bannex19
Bannex19

people want to live in the star wars universe not be hand held through another 'save the galaxy' storyline.

I will never understand the vision bioware has for this game.

JakeDunnegan
JakeDunnegan

@Bannex19 Agreed - said as much a little earlier in the comments. I'm just SMH at this whole debacle. 

Kass40
Kass40

@Bannex19 It's a theme park so will never happen, people lived as you say in the SW universe in SWG's of days gone by. Oh I agree with you, once again we must save the galaxy, been there done that and left the galaxy and went else where. As I always said from the start the game was not a mmo, it was Mass Effect with multiplayer attached too it, now it is simply Mass Effect with multiplayer.

If it works then great, I will return just for the story content as I've lost all ounce of respect for it being a serious mmo. 

Ald
Ald

I just love not being able to play an MMO with other players!

cald
cald

So everyone is the central hero in this MMORPG ? how does that work...


I wish they would just work on making another Star Wars single play RPG.

Estranged
Estranged

You can't satisfy people. People beg for more story, then they say they want more end game. SWTOR pulled a WildStar and listened to the vocal raiding and flying crowd. Totally ruined their vision and wasted time on blah flying projects. They say they are actually making the game they envisoned now, versus having to tack on pointless sidequests, PvE flight rails content and GSF. The dungeons and raids are fun, but I'll take more story and less walled off content. 

JeremyZharkov
JeremyZharkov

I don't think this is going to work out very well, because there will be no replayability.


The base game, at least you could re-play it 8 times and have a different story. But with only one story, how many times can you play it without getting sick of it?3, maybe 4 times?


That's why 12x is so great - you can experience the class stories without having to do the sidequests over and over and over and over.  How is it that Bioware understands that playing stuff over and over is bad when it comes to 1-50, but not get it when it comes to 60+?


As awful as Makeb was, at least there were two stories. Now we don't even have that.

PVW
PVW

@JeremyZharkov Did Kotor have replayability?  Do people replay the same class stories in SWTOR?  I can't count on one hand the number of characters I've run through the Rishi/Y4 quest chains...  The thing about this is supposedly that there will be different things going on depending on who you "ally" yourself with and various other decisions you make.  I think that adds as much replayability as anything to this game, certainly as much or more than rep grind dly/wkly areas do.

therevan789
therevan789

@JeremyZharkov I would not be so sure, single-player RPGs can manage to do it just fine, Mass Effect did it just fine.

We'll have to see, I have enough faith on bioware to trust them

mysecretid
mysecretid

My personal plan is to wait until the Fallen Empire expansion drops, play it, and then decide what I think of it

I just don't want to get caught up in the internet bar fight masquerading as "discussion" on this topic. I'll play the thing when it arrives, and perhaps have a comment thereafter.

Pesko
Pesko

"Because the story is personal to you, playing with even one friend is restrictive. Unlike the base game, where friends could play together and follow different class storylines, Fallen Empire has just the one epic story, so it can only be played out one player at a time."


Well, I hope all the KOTOR reactionaries are happy. Thousands of people playing a single player game online. Is this progress in the MMO field? My wife and I leveled two characters together all the way up at launch. It was nice being able to do the planet quests together, and watch each others' class quests. It is utterly ridiculous that now we'd have to do the same thing twice, just because we want to play together.


And as if replayability wasn't an issue already.... now we don't even have lip service to the class quests being continued. One Story to Rule Them All. I have 10 max lvl characters... should be fun seeing the same story the 10th time.................................................... At least with the 12x xp class mission process I only see the same class story 2 or 3 times, and can play it out differently (light/dark, male/female). After the 4th time, this story will be a blur.


What improvements are they making to end game? You know, that place most players live except for the first few days of an expansion?

sfrees80
sfrees80

@Telos_ @Pesko

Well, I'm glad you recognize that this single story arc is Bioware cheaping out.  I wish Lucasarts would pull their license and give it to a better company that could make a real mmo, and not a single player game with a poorly realized star wars skin.

Telos_
Telos_

@Pesko I understand the disappointment about 1 story only, but it's just not feasible to create 8 different class stories, especially considering that the game went F2P, and they probably don't have the budget to do it.

sfrees80
sfrees80

@Estranged @sfrees80 @Telos_ @Pesko I agree that SOE didn't do a great job handling SWG.  To add to that, I couldn't tell you who should make a better Star Wars MMO.  I just think that Bioware was the wrong choice.

lorenleah
lorenleah

I'm extremely irked that this is basically going to be a single-player story.  If I wanted to play a storyline completely by myself I'd go pick up another single-player RPG instead of paying $$$ for all of the TOR subscriber bells and whistles.  It's already been enough of a pain just trying to do class stories as a duo with one friend, each of us missing tons of the other's class cutscenes because only *some* of them are set up to allow spectators...  Bioware is causing some real hurt feelings here when all my friend and I wanted to do was enjoy their game as a pair.  It doesn't make me inclined to keep spending money on them.  Being a newer player who came around because of 12x, I imagine this is the exact opposite of the reaction they'd hope for from someone in my demographic...

lorenleah
lorenleah

@Estranged @confectionally And be stuck completing the exact same story twice so both of us get credit for it? Sure, I suppose we could do that, and will probably be stuck doing that if we stick around for KotFE.  While being resentful about it all the while.

lorenleah
lorenleah

@Estranged @confectionally Okay, that's nice?  Maybe other people don't mind playing the exact same thing twice, but we do?  It's stated right up there in the article that there's only going to be one story.  Different choices are technicalities.  It's not going to change the way the overall story flows and it's not going to change the fact that we'll have to play one story twice for both of us to get credit.

The base game is set up in a way where a duo like us can play two different stories at the same time as long as we're on two different classes, and while helping each other we can see (at least portions of) two entirely different stories that are new to us.  That's flat out not going to be possible in the expansion as currently described and no amount of semantics will change it.

Skidblade
Skidblade

@confectionally @Estranged So what you're saying is you've never leveled the same class to get a different subclass in game? That counts as playing through the same story twice.

EO_Lonegun
EO_Lonegun

I wonder if the single-player prelude to Shadow of Revan was very popular. Honestly, I don't mind SWTOR not forcing players into grouping.

TheBBP
TheBBP

DANG.  Let's get tomorrow's article TODAY!!!!!


Please?

captainzor
captainzor

I just wish the suns would actually set and rise on Tatooine...

Ket_Viliano
Ket_Viliano

Bioware has no knowledge of the MMO design space, they have no idea what to do with more than one player having agency in the same game world. Being that this is the case, they have decided to revert to a form they understand: YOU are the HERO! ... Which is fundamentally a single player game.

Nothing wrong with that, but they really ought to just drop MMO support, and make it coop at most.

Boardwalker
Boardwalker

@Ket_Viliano  I'm enjoying the MMO part of the game very much. I hope they don't drop it, because then I'll drop them.

sfrees80
sfrees80

@Ket_Viliano And this was all obvious form the beginning.  I say it all the time, but I would love to see a real star wars MMO made by an MMO studio.  Bioware can never do justice to the Star Wars universe.  Why couldnt they have made a mass effect MMO and left Star wars alone?


Estranged
Estranged

@Ket_Viliano No, they reverted to what they were asked to do. There are plenty of text box quests, grind end game till you die games. 

ChrisFagan
ChrisFagan

@sfrees80 @Ket_Viliano  never any justice to the Star Wars universe? The original KOTOR was arguably the greatest thing to happen to the Star Wars story outside of the movies.


But, your point about the MMO aspect is valid. Though, I really really like the idea of the "endless KOTOR RPG" it would have been nice to have group content factored in to it more.

rioinsignia
rioinsignia

@Ket_Viliano Well, as much as this annoucement is crazy even for Bioware, they did tell us they wanted to view this game as KOTOR 3 - 10. It's just the rest of the world didn't realise they'd do that by turning an MMORPG into an MSORPG.