A whole new game
Since new players can be granted an instant level-60 toon to start straight into the expansion, it’s hard not to consider the SWTOR and Fallen Empire two completely different games instead of a game and its expansion. At this point you may wonder what they have in common, and those who have played the base game might question how the two will connect together. For instance, since you get five new companions, what happens to the old ones?
Backus said point blank that answering me would involve spoilers, so he wouldn’t share. However, he did note that while you were frozen in carbonite for five years, your companions still had to live through the passage of time. In your absence, their lives went on — but the choices you made involving them might have something to do with where their lives headed after you disappeared. Companions are, in Backus’ words, “super important.” He said the team focused on making the experience better, giving companions more content, and making your decisions impact your companions as much as their decisions/actions impact you.
From the walk-through, we learned this: Lana Beniko, your Sith Lord companion, tells you that your memories of all your previous companions all dying is probably just stasis-induced dreams, and I know for a fact at least one old droid companion was there to help you out of a tight spot. But what happens to the rest is something for players to find out. Backus did say this, however:
“We’re doing a lot of cool stuff with companions. Some of it I can’t tell you about, but the gameplay in this system reflects the fiction and vice versa. We built both together. We said, ‘What if there were an opportunity to interact with this companion in this way?’ I can’t give you too many specifics, but the answer is it is very possible that classes and the companions start to cross-pollinate.”
Backus also said which companions you end up with will be reflected in the choices you make! He explained, “With the fall of both the Republic and the Empire, effectively you are that chosen one. They feel you can help rebuild, and part of that rebuilding is you going out and finding your companions. And who those companions are is kind of part of the player choice.” We know that Lana can be one, and we also met a new HK55 droid that’s programmed to protect meatbags at all costs. But it sounds as if all players will not have the same options depending on those choices they have made and will still make.
New worlds to explore are also a part of the expansion. One such world is Zakuul. Although it appears to be an ecumenoplis like Coruscant or Nar Shaddaa, it is not; Backus notes that while the city itself is very vast, the world also has outlying swamps and other terrain. Although we don’t know to what degree Zakuul is explorable, McLean noted that players will be fighting through the scaffolding in city heights as well as visiting the surface and the underbelly of the world.
What about the new abilities for the five new levels? MacLean stated that specific information will be released in the upcoming months but that “the general philosophy is on increased mobility and action-packed combat.” As for more information on PvP and flashpoints, Backus deferred those questions until later, saying the studio wants to reveal that information at a later time. However, fans should be assured that devs will be announcing more and more content and features as the October 27th release draws closer. “We understand that our players still love [flashpoints, Galactic Civil War, etc] and we plan on addressing those things as we progress,” said Backus.
It isn’t just the expansion that’s bringing something different to the table. As MacLean put it, “We’re also going back to the original game and we’re evolving the eight base class stories so that leveling up takes a fraction of the time it once did, with an epic story guiding you the whole way. It is a Knights of the Old Republic-inspired BioWare RPG experience in each of those eight class stories without the ‘go kill eight womp rats’ side quests.”
What happened to the Empire and the Republic? That, too, is in the story, but suffice it to say that they were conquered and now folks from both those sides are working together to get you — the hero — to the point where you can save them all from the Eternal Empire. No, really: You are the chosen one. Literally. As Backus said, “You’re special, and you’re special for a reason!” You need to restore your power and be the figurehead to fight the Eternal Empire. The whole story revolves around you.
Getting the goods
So how will players get this new expansion/standalone game? Those who are subscribed when the first nine chapters are released in October will get all those chapters unlocked on their account, and they will remain unlocked even if a player unsubs after that point. Those who haven’t yet bought Shadows of Revan or Rise of the Hutt Cartel and can hold off might want to as Knights of the Fallen Empire will include all previous expansions. Those who are subscribed in the months leading up to the release (starting in July) will earn special in-game items as well, the first being the smuggler Niko as a companion. Other perks will be available for each month until the expansion releases. Players who are subscribed between July 31st and October 19th will also have access to Fallen Empire on October 20th, a week earlier than it will be available otherwise.
Those who feel they are aren’t ready for Fallen Empire right now can wait before subscribing to unlock it without missing out on any chapters. Whenever players subscribe, they will get all chapters of the story up to date to that point. That means if 25 chapters have been released, one month of subscription will net a player all 25 chapters.
Instead of doing two expansions a year, devs confirmed that SWTOR will have just one really big one, though it won’t all be released at the same time; the seasons of episodic story chapters that start with Fallen Empire will continue. Free-to-play and preferred players will not see any content unless they have subscribed sometime during the release of the chapters, at which point they will have access to everything up to that date of subscription.
Don’t forget to check out part one of our E3 interview with BioWare!