Hyperspace Beacon: First impressions of SWTOR’s Onslaught and Update 6.0

    
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Like all other Star Wars: The Old Republic fans, I have been waiting for another expansion from BioWare for too long. Of course, the developers have attempted to keep us satisfied with the traitor questline and trips to Dantooine, but those excursions never seem to hit the right notes. We wanted something big, and expansive! Then BioWare made the terrible decision to allocate much of its Austin staff to Anthem, giving SWTOR players crumbs over the last year.

Yesterday, BioWare dropped a real expansion in the form of Onslaught. This expansion, in conjunction with Update 6.0 Spoils of War, gave players many of the things we have come to expect from a SWTOR expansion: a level-cap increased, new planets to explore, new class abilities, additions to the endgame, and of course, a brand-new story. Being the super-fan I am, I hopped in to survey the landscape of all the new planets and play through the new storyline. I didn’t love what I saw, but at the same time, I didn’t hate it either. So let’s break down my first impressions into the important parts.

I did finish the main Imperial story, but I promise not to spoil any twists of plot or anything in Onslaught that you don’t learn from the trailer. However, if you have not played up to Jedi Under Siege (the Ossus update), know that I will spoil that. So read this article when you’ve finished that first.

Aesthetics

For me, the most divisive part of the expansion was the environment. In the past, I’ve praised SWTOR for creating interesting worlds despite a seemingly bland setting. Tatooine and Hoth, both essentially deserts, are two of the most diverse landscapes, full of nuanced and creative design choices. Each planet embraces its unique features. The only planets that lose an individual feel are those in flashpoints… until Dantooine. And I discussed Dantooine last week.

In Onslaught, we visit two new planets for SWTOR: Onderon and Mek-Sha. The look of each planet was amazing. They both fit the story being told. They were unique to each other and each had a natural flow to their layout. To the designers’ credit, I never felt lost despite the strange terrain of each world.

If these two worlds were the only two worlds in the game, I would have nothing but praise for them. But knowing the other worlds in SWTOR, I can see where the designers cut corners, unfortunately. Onderon might be difficult to spot because the paint job is very good, but many of the assets appear to be pulled from a mashup of the Caparo flashpoint and the jungle area of Rishi. Mek-Sha did have an interesting map, but everywhere I turned, I saw a run-down version of Nar Shaddaa. I wanted to take it all on its own merit, but big portions of the map would distract me because I would notice that I’ve seen this layout someplace else or I saw that same art on another planet.

I understand reusing assets. But I really feel that these two new maps took it a step too far, despite how great they look.

Tactical armor

First, setting aside any complaints about the stat distribution or other mechanical issues with the armor that I have, I want to just talk about the look of the armor for a moment. SWTOR is notorious for having the worst armor looks for its top-tier gear. I know some people really liked the old Darth Marr look in the old PvP gear, but seriously, those shoulder spikes were the worst.

Fortunately, the available top-tier gear in update 6.0 is actually wearable. By this I mean to say that I might actually wear pieces of it on my character unhidden by the appearance gear.

But there is controversy when it comes to how the gearing works, with the biggest contention being the tactical slot. Of course, I did not do any PvP or top-level PvE. I simply played through the storyline. I have yet to see what players’ issues are with the tactical slot. Prior to the tactical slot, the stats that the slot provides were usually tackled by set bonuses, which required gathering multiple pieces of the same kind of armor. Usually, the old set bonuses were divided by class and gave players less choice. From my experience with the tactical pieces, they broaden the choices for players regardless of class, and switching them requires replacing a single piece of armor versus a whole new set.

Storytime

What are we wanting from a SWTOR story now? It’s really a hard question to answer now because in the past it’s been pretty inconsistent on the type of story it’s delivered. Vanilla SWTOR gave us some great stories that wove together politics and epic battles. And if that’s what you want from a SWTOR story, then you’ve got it, again. But after the original storylines, BioWare strayed from that path, opting to give us stories about central antagonistic characters. If those are the stories you like, then it’s possible that you won’t enjoy the story offered in Onslaught.

The crux of the story is given to the player in the first major cutscene and trailer, so revealing it really isn’t a spoiler. The player is tasked with assisting members of the Dark Council as they attempt to cut off possible Republic reinforcements to Corellia in preparation for a major attack on a Republic shipyard.

On the one hand, the stories are interesting, and you get to meet some very fleshed-out characters. The Dark Councilmembers all have great personalities, and the voice acting is spot on. Onderon’s politics should already be known to people who have played the Knights of the Old Republic series, but I’m not going to spoil it for those who don’t. And those politics weave perfectly into the Onslaught storyline. I really want to hear more about the world of Mek-Sha. It’s fascinating. (We will discuss it further in another Hyperspace Beacon!)

My concern lies in the role the player plays in the storyline. The Sith Warrior, the class I ran for this playthrough, was once the Wrath of the Emperor, leader of the resistance against the Emperor of Zakuul, the ruler of Zakuul, the killer of Vitiate, and then the commander of one of the three most powerful factions in the galaxy. Now, he’s the errand boy for Acina and the rest of the Dark Council? That just seems off.

Setting that issue aside, I think that if you wanted a storyline that gets back to the war in SWTOR, then Onslaught does that, and does it very well. I enjoyed the cutscenes. The space battles were particularly good, and most of the plot points made sense and came together well. It’s worth subbing to SWTOR for a month to play this expansion – just don’t think about it too hard.

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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Brazen Bondar

Finally got in the expansion last night. Don’t know how someone finished it in 3 hours?! I had two hours or so to throw into it. I got three story quest missions done in Onderon but I’m not finished there yet. The city part of Onderon is lovely. I really like the enriched color scheme. The jungle and exteriors are re-used assets, although I can see where they tried to make feel “new.” I don’t know if anyone experienced this but when I was in the Untamed area my fps dropped to like 9 or 10. I got off my mount and tried to run and I was laughing so hard. My character looked like a 90 year old on a walk-run. As soon as I left that area, my speed went back to normal. A tip for those who aren’t in yet: You’ll get a companion who is someone you know from a previous expansion. Level the companion up before you go into the jungle. At Level 1, mine died pretty quickly when a group of mobs attacked, meaning I also died. Level 5 seems to work pretty well (my character was in 252 gear/Level 70).

I am looking forward to Mek-Sha. I was hoping it would be a little more like Rishi than Nar Shadda, but I will wait to see for myself.

So far for me:
GOOD: New story (YAY!) with good conflict between all the interested parties on Onderon.

BAD: So far as I can see the new story is not adjusted for the class you are playing. But I’ve only sampled it with my smuggler so far. Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised later?

Ugly: When you get on the taxi speeders the screen goes to black. I thought this was being unnecessarily cheap. The distance from the city to the jungle is not that far. Bioware certainly could have developed some scenery along the lines of what they did in Rishi and Ossus. The fps problem in the untamed area needs to be corrected.

Overall, I am enjoying it and I think, even with the problems it is worth $15.

Totally unrelated to the expansion, the developers have added really annoying glowing icons on all the NPC vendors. How do we turn those off?! Also now when you are doing special events to earn reputation, the game automatically clicks your reputation tokens. So if you are like me, and run extra missions after you reach your max points for the week, so that you can use the tokens the next week, that no longer appears possible.

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ghostlight

Thanks Larry for the review. I’ve been alternating each month between Secret World Legends and SWTOR, but have been enjoying Secret World so much lately (the storytelling and smart quests really speaks to me) that I was on the fence about whether or not I wanted to go back to SWTOR in November. From what you wrote it seems to me that although Bioware maybe didn’t knock the ball out of the park, there is still enough good about the expansion to make it worthwhile.

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Mikey's Bored

I am really liking the expansion, it’s starting to feel a lot more like vanilla SWTOR, which is refreshing. I actually have enjoyed the previous two expansions story-wise (unpopular opinion here, I know) but it is nice to see a return to how it used to be and definitely worth subbing to the game for, even for people like me who were worried we would have to abandon where our character ended up if we liked it, and I am glad they have not done that. While it may feel like you’re doing the bidding of whatever faction you aligned yourself with in the beginning,

Spoiler
you do have opportunities, if you choose, to assert your independence and your position and work some on behalf of your alliance as well, if you so choose.

I enjoyed the two new planets, and while I have always felt the planets in the game have felt very static or sterile in the past, the two new planets improve upon that somewhat. I think they could still improve a great deal on this issue, but I think they are headed in the right direction.

The renown system is an improvement on the previous gearing system in that the items that drop for you are legacy-bound, so you can share them with all of your characters, making the game FAR more alt-friendly than it had become during the last two expansions. Aside from that, I haven’t really gotten very far with it. I will say, the way gear stats and bonuses works appears to be a fair bit more complex than it has been in a long time, but that could also just be my lack of experience with the new system.

Also the Nautolan’s are pretty great.

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Hikari Kenzaki

We just finished the Republic on our Jedi and I’m just going to say I disagree with pretty much everything you’ve said here, for the exact reasons you said them.

KotXX was crap. Plain and simple. Unless you went the way they wanted you to in which their characters were more important than the PC, you hated it. The best part of Eternal Throne was sticking a lightsaber through Arcann, Senya and Koth’s plot armor.

Moving on…

We finally get to play Hikari and Talyia as Jedi again. We stopped playing them entirely when KotFE came out and recently took advantage of the KotXX auto-completion mechanic. It never made sense for them to be in those situations ICly.

It is very (very) clear that they are trying to evoke the feel of Vanilla SWTOR and they succeed. I for one, could not be happier.

While you imply that they were lazy with the world design and reused assets, I say that the fact that Onderon feels very much like Alderaan with some elements of other worlds mixed in or that Mek-sha feels like a NS-Rishi hybrid evokes the setting that I love most. You’re on these older, less well off (politically and financially) worlds and so it makes sense that they’re using old Imperial droids and barely maintained palaces.

It’s more than just the setting, though. The character plot is deeper and more focused. The KotXX storyline only makes sense if you’re a Force Using, Throne Seeking power player. Most of us just wanted to roam the galaxy and save (or force choke) some people. With or without a lightsaber. Onslaught gets back to that Hero on the Ground, doing what matters.

I can’t speak to the Sith Warrior. I’ll be playing that tonight, likely. The Consular and the Knight, however, do a great job of paying respect to your accomplishments in the past. The New New Chancellor treats you as an equal throughout and as the story concludes, several callbacks are made to the original Consular and Knight stories and the Rishi endcaps. Heck, Major Anri has one of the best lines on the Republic side that gives you the credit you deserve. She may be the first rational NPC in any MMO.

The only time that I disliked the expansion was toward the end, when they tossed you into a Solo Only Flashpoint (*sigh* Why? It’s an MMO…) with two of the most bugged out companions since the one where your companion just stands by the door dying. They seriously almost wiped out 7 hours of goodwill with one buggy mission. Why? Because it felt like I was being shoved back into KotXX style content with its series of teeth grinding forced solo missions.

I can agree with you on one thing though. It is most assuredly worth the $15 sub to play it. I’m actually looking forward to playing it on several of my alts. And that’s something I haven’t said in a long time. A long time.

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IronSalamander8 .

I actually never finished the Kotxx stotyline as I absolutely HATED it. I got one character, my Chiss Juggernaut (of 8 that were at the 55 cap after RothC and then 2 at 60 after SoR) through the first part, found it far and away the worst aspect of SWTOR (and was no fan of RotHC or SoR in the first place), and stopped bothering before quitting and uninstalling the game. ICly, none of my characters worked in the zakuul nonsense, not even my aforementioned sith warrior, and the carbonite time skip thing was cheap and dull.

Returning to a more vanilla SWTOR experience is a good thing indeed but if you’re already getting through it in a couple of days I think I’ll have to give it a pass. Everyone I used to play with has been long gone anyway, a large part of why I left in the first place.

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Hikari Kenzaki

Heh, don’t let our content devouring pace give you the wrong impression.

We’re atypical and spent 8 straight hours duoing (until the end of course
)

Ossus is also worth doing if you’re returning.

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Sarah Cushaway

I’ve always found the planets in SWTOR to be weirdly sterile. I’ve enjoyed the game on and off–have a level 70 IA– but there’s something just so damned BORING about the environments and constant droid battles.

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NeoWolf

My concern lies in the role the player plays in the storyline. The Sith Warrior, the class I ran for this playthrough, was once the Wrath of the Emperor, leader of the resistance against the Emperor of Zakuul, the ruler of Zakuul, the killer of Vitiate, and then the commander of one of the three most powerful factions in the galaxy. Now, he’s the errand boy for Acina and the rest of the Dark Council? That just seems off.

This was my biggest fear for this expansion.. :( it kills me to hear that this is indeed the case as it absolutely invalidates every bit of storytelling that preceded this expansion.

gutted :( i’ll still check it out but this is certainly a gut punch as far as my hopes went.

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rosieposie

That’s honestly a great exaggeration and oversimplification. You are there to support an ally and work alongside another Dark Council member on both planets. All across Star Wars media, authority figures involve themselves more directly in the events on the ground, so I’m not sure why this is so surprising.

I guess what Larry means is that our past accomplishments mandate that we should be doing nothing but sitting on a throne and sending out minions to complete tasks, but I doubt it would make for exciting game-play.

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NeoWolf

How is it an oversimplification? You say were there obviously to support an ally what are the specifics of the quests she has us undertake? Are they in some meaningful role or are they simply go here speak to X, go there kill 10 of Y etc..?

If it takes no real notice of the fact we were the ruler of one of the Galaxies most powerful factions and even with that aside are one of the most notable people in the galaxy rather than some trivial aide that would annoy me greatly. I mean we are HARDLY subservient to Acina in any way she’s only in her role because of us lol

So I guess what I’m asking is does it make note of who were at all? is it even mentioned or acknowledged or we just back to some random nobody who does everyones dirty work?

I mean the things we have literally done and been at this point means we shouldn’t be secondary to anyone as far as I’m concerned. It’s tantamount to sending the Emperor to the corner store for a loaf of bread lol

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rosieposie

I can’t speak about Mek-Sha, I have not completed it yet, but on Onderon you are aiding your ally with what I would consider important goals: initiate the takeover of Onderon’s government and using their missile defense grid to take out the Republic fleet stopping to refuel. These are pretty meaty decisions, and I was especially pleased that you could continue playing the saboteur of your faction.

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Greaterdivinity

I’ll be back in by the end of the month to catch up on everything. Will be nice to get some Star Wars action in after quite a while, especially with that last movie in the third trilogy coming out.

My body is ready for disappointment with that, but with Billy Dee Williams back on screen it will be worth the price of admission for him alone. Now to see if I can hunt down some Colt 45 malt liquor to try to sneak into the theater in his honor – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pK5HmuCMBM

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

Thanks, but I would rather see it with my own eyes. Which I did by watching some Twitch streams. And where I saw the game still looks just as ugly and gameplay just as bland as it was many years ago back when I played it. Same goes for story writing.

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Sarah Cushaway

The writing is “meh” overall, when compared to actual literature, but it’s miles above most MMOs–with the possible exception of some of ESO’s stories.

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overbyte

I don’t think it’s worth getting upset about the scope of the players role being diminished when a new expac hits. There are 2 ways to stop this: infinite power and scale creep until we’re headbutting suns and punching star destroyers to death or never increasing how epic the storylines get. When you’ve been the leader of the known universe, there has to be a certain amount of bushing-under-the-carpet in the story to allow the game to continue to deliver mmo fetch and rat-killing quests. That’s the nature of the game.

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Java Jawa

3+/- hours of content for an expansion. . . :( Being a major SW fan myself this stings.

I mean heck the first quest or two I’m FFXIV takes that time alone as a point of comparison.

So this leads me to. . . now what . . . Wait another year for -plot thing- to happen to another hour of content?

There’s casual and then there’s CASUAL.

Atleast we get fallen order and the mandalorian series to hit that SW craving.