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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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:
— Cipher Mandy ? (@CipherMandy) June 27, 2015
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?