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

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toophat82
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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.

mysecretid
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mysecretid

Blue Leader 
The second part appeared the following morning.

E3 2015: You are the chosen one in SWTOR’s Fallen Empire

darthziltoid
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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.

darthziltoid
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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.

Cosmic Cleric
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Cosmic Cleric

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

Blue Leader
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Blue Leader

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

Kass40
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Kass40

Well at elast 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.

Kass40
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Kass40

iMaximusRex cald not in WoW or LOTRO or STO or any other mmo I know of…

Kass40
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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 mmo.

sfrees80
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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.