First impressions: SWTOR’s Knights of the Fallen Empire delivers

    
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For the last few days, I have been playing the Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion Knights of the Fallen Empire. My expectations going into this expansion were low. I believed it would just be more of the same. I had been burned by Makeb and to a lesser extent Shadow of Revan, but ultimately, I wondered how in the world BioWare could change its formula. For the last couple of years, it’s been producing SWTOR in a very similar way to its original launch plan. I assumed that BioWare was content with how it was doing and believed that it would continue on the current path that it was on. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right?

But the advertising for the KOTFE expansion suggested that choices really would matter and that as a whole the game was headed back to its roots in Knights of the Old Republic.

I have recorded about 10 hours of footage that I will be sifting through this week, putting together a video or two about the content. In that time, I played through the entire nine chapters that come with the expansion, and I can say without a doubt that KOTFE has surpassed all my expectations.

SWTOR_KOTFE-impressions-01

Possible spoilers

Before I begin taking this expansion apart, I would like to say that there could be some minor spoilers in this impressions. Although I will attempt to remain spoiler-free, anything that is in chapter one is fair game because it has been livestreamed multiple times by Twitch users at Twitchcon. I will also talk about the location hub for KotFE activity, but I’ll do my best avoid primary plot information when talking about it. Basically, I want to talk about this expansion, but it’s so full of spoilers that it makes things extraordinarily difficult. If I reveal something, it will not impede your enjoyment of the game.

SWTOR_KOTFE-impressions-02

The plot

The story begins almost immediately following the massacre on Ziost. Darth Marr has assembled a group of Imperial and Republic forces to track down the traitorous Sith Emperor Vitiate, who was raised up by Revan on Yavin IV, waged war on Ziost, and then completely disappeared.

Somehow, Darth Marr tracked the Emperor to Wild Space; this part is never really explained, and the name “Wild Space” doesn’t exactly explain where Marr has tracked the Emperor to. However, I cheated and checked the galaxy map the first chance I got. According to the in-game map, Zakuul and the other Eternal Empire planets lays between Rattatak and the Chiss Ascendency. This is where Darth Marr says that he feels the presence of the Emperor. So he calls you to help him out.

Shortly after you arrive, an unidentifiable probe screeches through the assembled fleet. When the fleet attempts to follow it, another fleet pops out of hyperspace and begins laying siege to every Republic and Imperial ship, including the one you’re aboard. During the course of the battle, your ship and crew leave, and most importantly, Darth Marr’s flagship, with you on board, is destroyed.

When you wake up, you find that both you and Darth Marr have been imprisoned by the Empire of the Eternal Throne and are on your way to meet Emperor Valkorion. If you’ve seen the Twitch streams, you know that Darth Marr refuses an offer that Valkorion made to him. Then he offers you a slightly different proposition to you, and you have the choice to accept or refuse it. And for funsies, I did one choice on one character and the other on another character, but I will save results for my spoiler-rich video impressions of the expansion. Regardless of your choice, you are frozen in carbonite, where you sit for five years.

I will skip the details of chapter two because that’s likely the most spoilery of the first few chapters, but in chapter three you are freed from your frozen prison by Lana Beniko and work to escape from the capital of Zakuul. You are then introduced to characters like Koth and HK-55. Ultimately, you escape, and that’s when the real fun begins. Anything beyond that falls into heavy spoiler territory.

SWTOR_KOTFE-impressions-03Storytelling devices

The Knights of the Old Republic formula was a giant fetch quest, but what made the game interesting was your companions, or more specifically, your interaction with your companions. Mass Effect 2 had a very similar formula. The vanilla version of SWTOR kind of followed this formula, but it didn’t have the same strength of character. Many times, I felt the original SWTOR stories forced a companion on you because the game required that you have a companion at that time. Knights of the Fallen Empire companions flow naturally with the story, and it feels possible that anyone you run into could become your companion.

The fact that any companion can do any role makes choosing companions a lot easier. At first, I was opposed to this idea, but as I played through the game, it made more sense to have your companions be so flexible. For the purposes of the story, you would want to have one companion over another, and many times, certain companions weren’t available because of your place in the story. Allowing every companion to fill every combat role prevents awkward companion swaps before stepping into some cutscenes.

Many times SWTOR‘s original cutscenes were static shots of talking heads. Not only was that visually boring to look at, but it also showed a lot of the flaw in the character animation. The characters seemed to be conducting an odd orchestra with very formulaic and predictable movements. Fortunately, there have clearly been improvements to the animation in KOTFE. Characters can grab their right side now, for goodness’ sake! Many times the right camera angle or movement could mask an animation flaw, but most of all the additional camera movements and creative angles serve to give the expansion a grand, epic adventure feel.SWTOR_KOTFE-impressions-04

All is not perfect

I can’t exactly critique individual bits of the story without spoiling too much too early, but I can talk about how the story is presented in the expansion. And its biggest flaw is that this story doesn’t fit into an MMO. In fact, it doesn’t feel like an MMO at all. Even when I hit the parts of the story that introduce the new player hub, the game doesn’t create any feeling that I am part of a large, multiplayer game. Even the new flashpoints, the Star Fortresses, are intended to be soloed. I’m not opposed to solo gameplay. I just know that there will be critics of it, and more than Elder Scrolls Online‘s solo gameplay, KOTFE‘s solo game seems to completely ignore that we are even playing an MMO because many of the large phases won’t even allow other players to participate in the action.

Let’s talk character aesthetics. There is a unique quality to the SWTOR character model; it toes an acceptable line between a cartoon-like World of Warcraft and The Secret World realism. However, the new characters like your companion Koth and one of the antagonists Arcann don’t quite match that aesthetic. They feel out of place when in a cutscene with your character or a character that uses the old character models. I was reminded of when Lana Beniko was first introduced to the game. They stood out, but not in a good way.

The last and most jarring flaws in relation to story and the overall presentation are the old-school dialogue trees presented during the base missions. I had to run a couple of them before I realized that it was done on purpose. I get that the dialogue tree layout and the lack of character voiceover was intended to invoke a sense of nostalgia for KOTOR, but it falls flat, and frankly, I want to avoid some of the repeatable missions because of it.

Early access has started for Knights of the Fallen Empire today. If you’ve not subbed up to the game, I recommend doing that for a month so that you can experience KOTFE. It is a really great single-player story. Unfortunately, with so few people on the preview servers, it’s difficult to judge how well the expansion MMO bits work, but look for that next week when the game officially launches on October 27th.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?

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garethew
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garethew

It’s tedious

MikaeruDaiTenshi
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MikaeruDaiTenshi

EdwardKearns I think you confused something there.
Dark Side or not, the Empire wants to rule the Galaxy, while Revan tried to destroy both sides to kill the Emperor who was not seen or heard by the Empire for many years.
When the Emperor was “awakend” he continued in the destruction of Republic AND the Empire.
The Empire didn’t join in an Alliance with the Republic to fight greater evil, but to survive, because the Emperor’s power was beyond theirs.

Of course you could see it like you did, but that’s totally not what it’s meant to be.

MikaeruDaiTenshi
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MikaeruDaiTenshi

GoJammit Qarran 
Far as I know it’s that only your very first companion has Quests you’re able to join.
As I remember well, I had those quests as Sith Warrior with Vette, and as Agent with Kaliyo, both are your first companions.
But I didn’t have those with Jaesa or Nadia, and I had them both at max rep before Fallen Empire.

GoJammit
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GoJammit

Qarran GoJammit I haven’t bought the expansion. Just playing through the regular game at level 54. I finished the main story for my inquisitor. I remember when i was with mako doing lots of stuff, now it seems like I’m jst kindawatching a movie talking to all these guys with a bunch of granted affection or something I guess.

Qarran
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Qarran

GoJammit  Lol.  I know what you mean.  So the deal is, that you are going to find some if not all your companions as part of the story, and most especially Mako.  Now, when you find them, who knows what situations they will find themesleves in.  But, you should also know if you have been unfaithful to Mako, even if it was well before KoTFE, you will feel the consequences.

Or… if you can’t wait, there is a terminal in Alliance HQ that will summon them all back for you.

GoJammit
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GoJammit

Hey party people, maybe you can help me with something. So when I played through the game with my BH, as I gained affection with my healer companion, she sent me on various missions as part of her story. Now here I am standing in front of Talos Drellik, who I have never spent any time with and he kkeps talking to me and his companion level keeps going up, but nothing we’re not doing anything together. Did they remove that stuff?

Wandris
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Wandris

This game treats its f2p/preffered players like dirt, possibly worse
than any other MMO ever made. Unless you plan on subbing dont waste your
time or money on this.

Llokki
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Llokki

Hurbster I want to throw Corso out the airlock. So sick of his whining >_<

Llokki
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Llokki

EdwardKearns Estranged Ok…

Llokki
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Llokki

scaasi  “Nowhere near the money that is being charged.” You mean the subscription price? The one that many people pay anyway? The one that gives benefits besides access to the expansion? Yes, yes, that is completely outrageous!