Hyperspace Beacon: SWTOR’s bonus chapter wins because of story

As threatened, the Shroud is back and like you’ve never seen him before. Seriously, you’ve never seen the Shroud like this. Star Wars: The Old Republic released its bonus chapter for its expansion Knights of the Fallen Empire. This was an intended loyalty reward for those who have been subscribed to the game since January, although there are reports of some people who were not subscribed that whole time actually receiving the bonus chapter. But most of the cases that I heard were those who were unsubscribed for only a day or two.

Of course, everyone will want me to jump in and tell you what I thought of it, but like everything with BioWare, there appears to be no easy answer. In order to really give you a feel for what I thought of it, I will have to break it down into two parts: story and gameplay. But where do I start? Let’s take the sandwich approach and talk about the good things first.

As always, I will not spoil any major twist or plot points in my review, but I will talk about some of the things that happen during the course of the chapter so that you can, as players, make your own decisions about the content.

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The characters and dialogue

Last week, I talked about the Shroud and all of his hidden glory. He was a clear megalomaniac and looking to win for no other reason than that he could. And during the course of this chapter, it’s clear that this is still his goal. However, he has reached a point where the Outlander (your character in KOTFE) has outgamed him, twice. Once was during the macrobinocular quest, and the second time was unwittingly when you didn’t die at the hand of Emperor Valkorion.

The Shroud captured your droid HK-55 to learn how to infiltrate your base on Odessen, and what does he intend to do with it? Blow it up, of course. But thankfully, his plans might be fooled by your faithful droid. If he can only get free of the bindings.

That is when your newest companion is introduced: Z0-0M. To say that Z0-0M is quirky would be an understatement. When you, as HK, first meet this droid voiced by the same actor as the herald droid on Rishi, she has completely lost her memory, but immediately after the first battle with the security droids it becomes clear why your new companion cannot remember anything: She has a glitch in her circuitry that causes her memory to be completely wiped periodically.

Even during the first couple of scenes with Z0-0M, you will absolutely love her or absolutely hate her. She sits in the same personality space as Dory from Finding Nemo. She enjoys everything that she’s discovering because everything is new to her. She even has an adorable shoutout when you kill off an enemy: “Pew. Pew, pew, pew.”

I’ve always admired Hal Hood as a character writer. I enjoy the writing in the past Shroud missions, and I really enjoyed the characters he helped create in the Smuggler story. And if you’re looking fun and frankly hilarious dialogue, then you will absolutely love this extra bonus chapter.

hsb-mop-shroud-of-memory-03Gameplay and lag-tastic fun

Shortly after the launch of the new chapter, Community Representative Tait Watson jumped onto the forum and addressed some of the issues that players experienced. “We are looking into the ability lag, which we should be able to fix without any downtime. As I get more information, I’ll let you all know!” That’s good new for anyone who wasn’t trying to get this chapter played-through and written about the same day that it launched. I guess the bottomline regarding this review and the lag is that I experienced a lot of ability lag, to the point where parts of the chapter almost became unplayable, but if Watson is correct, then the lag should be gone soon.

As soon as I was done playing through the HK chapter, I hopped into MassivelyOP’s chatroom because I just had to comment on the gameplay. “Well, it’s settled. BioWare is no longer making a video game; it’s making a monthly television series.” There was nothing to the gameplay other than hitting buttons on your actionbar, and even then, the actions were so superficial that it really didn’t matter what you hit.

Nearly all the enemies could be killed in two abilities. I’ve been told in the past that the reason I could take down enemies so easily was because of my gear, and this was clearly not the case since HK has the same gear as every other HK player. My guild jokingly refers to me as the top 5%, but I am not that good. I am serviceable in a raid, and that’s about as far as I’ll go. So why could I literally gather up a group of about seven mobs at one point, have my companion die, and I still make it through the encounter without dying? It’s not because I’m good; the level is too easy. And levels have been too easy for a long time.

With easy-to-kill mobs, lag, and zero other mechanics, the gameplay literally became an obstacle to overcome between cinematics. Couple that with the fact that I could not rearrange my ability bar, the gameplay became the most frustrating that I’ve ever had to deal with in an MMO that wasn’t in beta.

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Am I glad I got it?

Yes, I’m glad I got it. This chapter was some of the best writing in all of KOTFE, and the ending was satisfying as well. And it created a bit of replayability because I’m going to have to go back and see if my decisions as the Outlander affected what I could and could not do as HK-55. Also, there are some things about the Shroud that I will have to go back to look at.

However, I have to remember that I’m playing a game, and fundamentally, the audience participation is paramount. But in Shroud of Memory, it seemed like a secondary insert to service the cutscenes. This could have been improved by giving us similar activities as the first Shroud quest minus the group content at the end.

Bottomline: Trudge through the gameplay; stay for the story.

Every other week, Larry Everett jumps into his T-16 back home, rides through the hypergates of BioWare‘s Star Wars: The Old Republic, and posts his adventures in the Hyperspace Beacon. Drop him a holocom on Twitter @Shaddoe or send him a transmission at larry@massivelyop.com. Now strap yourself in, kid — we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
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