Hyperspace Beacon: The SWTOR community divide over Knights of the Fallen Empire

    
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The past couple of weeks have been kind of strange for me. For five years, I’ve written about Star Wars :The Old Republic. I’ve embedded myself in the game and the big news and community discussions. I’ve seen some great websites come, and I’ve seen them go. There was even a point when this column had to take a back seat to another game. And somehow, there always seems to be something to talk about.

Now thanks to the announcement at E3, there has been a resurgence of discussion about what BioWare will do with its next expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire. Circus owner and showman P.T. Barnum is often credited with the quote, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” Hopefully, that is true for SWTOR because it’s certainly been a circus of criticism, zealous excitement, and wailing disappointment. In fact, it’s possible that this next expansion will do more to polarize the followers of the game more than anything that BioWare did or didn’t do at launch.

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In my polls of different MMO players, all of whom enjoy SWTOR in some way currently, I have found that in regard to the expansion there are two major factions with very few falling in between. The first faction loves the idea of the upcoming expansion and believes that this is just the kick in the pants that the game needs. The other faction believes that BioWare is not focusing on the right things to help the game grow.

All in favor…

The argument made by those in favor of the changes closely mirrors the reasons BioWare is making the changes in the first place. BioWare would like to get back to its roots, and that means storytelling. BioWare developers like to toss out nostalgic comparisons to Mass Effect. And the slogan for the new expansion is, “Your choices matter.” If you’ve played Mass Effect or any of its sequels, then you know that it’s full of galactic decisions being made by the main character as well as deeply personal choices with consequences that carry all the way to the final installment.

Although I highly doubt that BioWare will admit to making huge mistakes in the way that it handled the original SWTOR story, it’s clear that the developers believe that they can improve on what’s come before. A major complaint made of “vanilla” SWTOR was that your companions were guaranteed to stick with you and perform the way you wanted regardless of how your treated them or how they treated you during the course of the storyline.

hsb-mop-head-kotfe-community-03The example cited over and over is Malavai Quinn. The Sith Warrior player character runs into Quinn on Balmorra. He assists you in taking down one of Darth Baras’ spies who has outlived his usefulness, after which Quinn joins your crew, and for most players without Treek, he becomes your primary healer. If you play as I do, then you become extremely dependent on him mechanically to get through many of the game’s more difficult leveling encounters. Then, toward the end of the last Chapter, he betrays you in a major way. In beta, you could kill him, but then you’d be out a healer. So BioWare opted to allow him to live so that players wouldn’t have to limp through the rest of the content, no doubt regretting their choice.

We learned from MJ’s writeup on the presentation at E3 that in KOTFE, choices are going to matter, even when it comes to the life or death of companions or possible companions. This something I can stand behind 100%, regardless of the implications it might have on crafting or any other gameplay; community supporters of the new expansion love this part too and are completely on board with BioWare’s spending more time on developing a new, impactful storyline.

Those opposed…

Players opposed to the expansion’s direction fall into a few different camps, but all under one unifying theme: They are convinced BioWare is focusing on the wrong thing. Most also believe that this step will further separate the game from its MMO roots.

The least vocal of this group are the players who want more story and single-player-ish gameplay but believe that this isn’t the root of what made SWTOR great. Most in this camp believe that the individual class stories not only made the game more replayable but made the game feel unique among the other themepark MMOs that tend to push out one or maybe two storylines for the leveling process. Unfortunately for these players, SWTOR’s telling eight individual class stories again is a pipe dream. However, I can understand the frustration, and I don’t see how having a separate Republic story and Imperial story is out of the question.

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Other groups, like raiders, are annoyed at the lack of information. I kind of fall into this camp because I have thoroughly enjoyed the raids in SWTOR, and I’m disheartened that we might not see a new one with this expansion. Of course, my raid group hasn’t been able to complete the current progression of raids, but there are many in the game who have. It’s probably less than 5% of the total populations and likely less than 15% of raiders, but if we don’t see another raid by October, it will have been over nine months, almost a year since we’ll have seen a new raid or even an increase in difficulty for the current raids.

Yet even these complaints seem petty next to those of PvPers, who have not seen a new map in over a year; by the time the expansion comes out, it will have been a year and a half. And the developers haven’t even teased what the map might be. As with the operations, the developers say that they are currently working on a new warzone, but we don’t even have a taste of what it might be. Meanwhile, the PvP population continues to drop. Of course, the PvP community recently decided to take up residence on the Shadowlands so that more ranked PvP queues would pop, but how long will that last until it becomes stagnant again?

Losing the MMO in the MMORPG

I’d like to conclude this on a positive note. Although I can certainly see the issues that BioWare will face when releasing the next bit of content, I am looking forward to a meaningful story in the game again. I’m hoping for choices that will change not only the end of this particular storyline but also the future stories we will encounter — and so are some of the people who follow me on Twitter.

I asked my followers, “Does the single-player focus in KotFE get you more or less excited about the SWTOR expansion?” Surprisingly, most of them are positive, but just as I am, they are conflicted about endgame. CipherMandy summed up the feeling for most of my followers:

I feel very similarly, and I believe that this expansion will either be the glorious new beginning for SWTOR or its last breath before being crushed. I highly doubt it will be anything in between. In the meantime, what do you think? Which camp reflects your take on KOTFE?

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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MathewChilton
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MathewChilton

Came back after 2 years. Story content consumed in a day. Now what?

SirMysk
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SirMysk

JakeDunnegan SirMysk SWTOReconomics It’s on their forums. The website itself is useless, as usual, but the forums contain a lot of information.

http://www.swtor.com/community/showthread.php?t=817671

Quote:
11. Your new Level 60 character can’t play old story missions.
If you create a shiny new level 60 character for Knights of the Fallen Empire, you won’t be able to take that character back to the regular Old Republic game and play the class story. “The assumption is that you’ve already done it,” BioWare told IGN. “You are a veteran. The reason is with all the romances and decisions you have to make, it would be too much to set all those variables for you.”

You’ll need to click through the “Spoiler” tags to get the information. There’s a lot on that page. Have fun reading. o/”

JakeDunnegan
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JakeDunnegan

SirMysk JakeDunnegan SWTOReconomics That’s good news to me, I just hadn’t seen any of that – and wouldn’t mind a link if you have one. ;)

Woetoo
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Woetoo

Timing’s everything. Bioware just released a blog about 20 minutes after my post basically saying no new content. But all existing flashpoints will be playable (even Red Reaper) at almost all levels and all operations are being rescaled to level 65. Basically my worst fear for the MMO side of the content.

See: http://www.swtor.com/blog/operations-and-flashpoints-fallen-empire

So “continue grinding the same FPs/OPs you have been doing already and please spend $155.88 for a single player RPG”

Right now, my thoughts are to either resubscribe when enough FP/OP content has been added, or wait for Chapter 16 to be released and play through the story once.

Woetoo
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Woetoo

Right now, I’m
waiting to see if Bioware release any details about Flashpoints and/or
Operations before July 31st. I love the idea of story first, I’m
terrified it’s going to end up being mostly story *only*. I think asking
people to subscribe without a full picture of what the game will be
like is a bit of a d**k move. (Google search “Wheaton’s Law”)

My other concern is whether 16 chapters of story with some MMO content promised later is worth the potential money.

Bioware
would like us to subscribe from July 31st (to get the companion) until
the launch on October 27th. Then there’s 9 “chapters” of a total of 16
at launch. With chapters 10 thru 16 will be released monthly starting
“early 2016”. Let’s be kind and assume that means the end of January
rather than the end of May. That’s episode 10 on January 31st. Episode
16 on July 31st 2016. That’s 13+ months subscription. So is the
story worth $155.88+ ? (And yes, I’m aware there are much cheaper ways to
experience all 16 chapters and there are still some MMO content even if it’s rescaled “old” content – I’m merely highlighting what the bean
counters at EA/Bioware would *like* us to pay for it).

The
other side of “Story focus” is whether that’s “Story first” or “Story
only”. My guild right now spends most it’s weeks grinding
conquest/commendations out of the final bosses of SM content. Literally
doing the final boss of various instances on anywhere up to 6 alts each
person. Then the HM content too. No we haven’t cleared everything on HM,
we’re just a semi casual guild doing our best and filling time where
there isn’t enough content to keep people still actively playing to keep
our personal community going. The idea that we won’t have any MMO
content in our MMO until early 2016 frightens the living daylights out
of me – since that’ll mean people continuing to do exactly what we’ve
been doing for way too long already.
I fall into the category of full time raider who believes that the story is the glue that hold the game together and that the original 1-60 story telling could have resulted in a truly epic MMO if the MMO features people expected had been in place at launch, i.e. patch 1.3 minus group finder. Let’s be honest, a lot of MMO features STILL aren’t in the game and don’t look like they’ll ever be added (see the various 1000 cuts style threads that have been created over the years).

I absolutely love the idea of Story first. But story first doesn’t mean story only. MMO players BURN through levelling quests and developers are constantly surprised by fast people get through it. So what do we do when we’ve done Chapter’s 1 thru 9 on our main characters and 4 of our favourite alts within the first 5 weeks and the choice is levelling alt #5 through content we’ve experience 99% of 5 times already or doing Eternity Vault again (obviously pointing out that platform on Soa with the light orb that’s in the wrong place and has been since launch).

SirMysk
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SirMysk

JakeDunnegan SWTOReconomics They’ve said that you can take existing characters through the FE expansion and return to the old world content. Even if this doesn’t make sense in terms of time-line and story arcs, you will still be able to access the old stuff and that will include your stronghold and the like.
However, I seem to recall that any new level 60 character that is created for the FE expansion will not have access to the old content. So as I understand it, those will be FE-specific characters.

SirMysk
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SirMysk

In short, SWTOR is being used as a platform of delivery. It makes sense. It’s a platform that already has a cash shop. They have the excuse that it’s SWTOR and so they can evade some of the criticism of cash shops in single player games, and they already have an “engine” on which to build the game. They also have a subscription model to which they can piecemeal the “new game” in something vaguely similar to Telltale Game’s episodic content. It has an existing customer base and potentially another pool of fans who just want a proper KoTOR. It’s all ‘very EA’.
Yet it’s also limiting. A separate, single player game that’s its own entity would be more expensive to develop but it would make use of more recent technology. It would control better, look better, could be ported to multiple platforms (consoles + PC) and it would offer a significantly better experience by being able to do things that SWOTR simply doesn’t have the technology to do. It’s also admitting defeat in all but bluntly expressing such defeat. BioWare is effectively throwing in the towel with this move and everyone knows it — yet this is obviously what most people want, a new KoTOR of sorts.
Knights will be hamstrung by building it on SWTOR, it will fall short of what it could be and may well disappoint both groups due to those limitations. Hopefully the story and the overall experience will rise above its inherent limitations, though I’m not sure that BioWare still has that in them (or if they do, those people may actually be working on Mass Effect, the coat tails of which SWTOR is trying to ride as I certainly haven’t seen anything of note in SWTOR for quite some time).

Caec
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Caec

As a subscriber since day one, who’s largely come to peace with how the game operates at both a game design and business level, I’ll be perfectly fine if we get even a half-way decent story out of the expansion. I’m on record as saying I’m mildly optimistic about it, if only due to the willingness they had to spend money on a Blink video (talk is cheap, money isn’t), but I’m also pessimistic due to the management of this game and its history of how it approaches the melding of game and business design, and I have a strong suspicion that this chapters approach they’re taking is going to essentially be translating the very common DLC system most single player games have (ala season passes) to an MMO (which, as I write this, makes me wonder how the incredibly prevalent DLC system in single player games hasn’t already been wholesale adopted by MMOs), and that will likely mean very bite sized bits of content in these “chapters”, as opposed to an actual epic story experience. So, I’m not really sure where I stand. Fingers crossed, as usual.
As far as raiding and pvp goes, we’ve long since given up on SWTOR as a primary raiding game, and the only thing I personally care about in terms of pvp is that they hire someone with a passion for tourney/intramural play and Huttball, and spin that off as its own thing within the game. Ranked deathmatch play is a dime a dozen spread across a gazillion games and genres. Tourney/intramural Huttball…../swoon. 
Since that’ll never happen, I’d actually just settle for their allowing us to choose specific maps we want to queue for. I realize the pvp population is miniscule, and is likely the reason they’ve stubbornly refused to give us this ability, but RNG on the map selection is RNG. I’ve gone literally an entire Saturday without getting Huttball to pop as the random map. It literally took me two weeks of 1-4 hour play sessions before I even got the “new” Huttball map to pop when it was originally released, thanks to wonderful RNG. The things I’ve thought in my head towards the people at Bioware who stubbornly refuse to let us queue for select maps would probably put me on the FBI’s watch list. :D
And, barring even that, at least put a little more thought into the RNG queue system. Whether it’s for loot, pvp matches, whatever, it still astounds me how almost no developer ever bothers with using modifiers to create a dynamically weighted system to increase and decrease chances of something occurring, based off past occurrences. This is especially groan-worthy in SWTOR, which actually has one of the rare occurrences (though a bit simple) of actually thinking of doing such a thing when they implemented social scoring in grouped cinematic choices. Now, if only they took that basic philosophy to all the RNG aspects of the game!

DanielReasor
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DanielReasor

Peregrine_Falcon 
Every MMO that uses the Tank/DPS/Heals trinity should have the kind of opportunities for threat management training provided by leveling in Tank spec with DPS companions in SWTOR.  It turns solo questing time into practice between Flashpoints.

SwobyJ
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SwobyJ

JakeDunnegan SWTOReconomics The fall of the Empire and Republic doesn’t mean their full destruction. They’ll still exist on planets which are mostly stuck in plot-time anyway. Your Stronghold on Tattooine will still exist because there’s probably no story where the Eternal Empire obliterates Tattooine. The Empire and Republic are only significantly pushed back, to be reflected in future planetary content more than existing planetary content. My guess.