The galaxy is under siege by the Eternal Empire in Bioware's new expansion
When Bioware released Star Wars: The Old Republic back in 2011, fans of the game praised it for having a stronger focus on story than other MMOs. From class-specific storylines to Companions with their own story quests, SW:TOR had a great launch with numerous high review scores. Unfortunately, once you reached the end of that story, it became a standard hotkey MMO. Many of the players who finished their class stories ended up quitting.
SW:TOR has tried many things to fix this problem. They went Free To Play in 2012 and have released several expansions which added new features to the game: space-based PvP, player housing and guild flagships, new planets, as well as various new small-group Flashpoints and large-group Operations.
But none of these expansions quite captured the original game’s focus on an epic storyline. Bioware hopes to fix that with their newest expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire. Bioware claims that KotFE will have a renewed focus on cinematic storytelling and bring with it new worlds, new companions, and a storyline that will be affected by decisions you make along the way. So the question now is: did they pull it off?
The Eternal Empire and the Outlander
To begin the new KotFE content, you can use one of your pre-existing level 60 characters if you’ve already played through the Shadow of Revan expansion that preceded this. For the rest of us, Bioware took a page from World of Warcraft’s book and included an instant level 60 boost for those looking to jump right into the new content. I used my boost on a fresh 60 Jedi Knight and was immediately thrown into new content.
The expansion begins with you on an Imperial ship with various members of both the Sith Empire and the Galactic Republic as you track down the Sith Emperor following the Invasion of Ziost. While investigating leads on the location of the Sith Emperor, your fleet is assaulted by a mysterious new force calling itself the Eternal Empire. You fend them off as hard as you can, but in the end you cannot fend off all of their forces and you’re taken to their leader, Emperor Valkorion. Without spoiling too much, I’ll leave it as “things go poorly” and you find yourself frozen in carbonite. You’re eventually freed by Lana Beniko and her companion Koth Vortena. During your escape, you’re informed that your carbonite nap lasted five years. During that time the Eternal Empire overpowered both the Sith Empire and the Galactic Republic, forcing both factions to kneel and pay tribute. As one of the few who stood up to the Eternal Empire and survived, as well as your previous heroics from the pre-KotFE content, you’ve been freed in the hopes that your actions will provide the people with hope that the Eternal Empire can be defeated. Sounds simple enough – let’s get to work.
Off to a Strong Start
In the original game, the story content stretched from level 1 to 50, but you had to do most if not all of the available sidequests to level through the content. KotFE, however, has no filler; from level 60 to 65 I was doing nothing but story quests and following the plot.
I can safely say that the story in KotFE is one of the better MMO stories I’ve seen. From the beginning of the expansion to the end I was enthralled with the new setting and characters. The new followers were charismatic and played well off each other. There were enough twists and turns in the plot to keep me on my toes. All in all, the story so far is on par with what I’d experienced with the original Sith Warrior storyline, which I consider high praise. Playing through the story content available at launch will take most players 10-12 hours of gameplay.
Once you’ve completed that last chunk of story, the game introduces another feature: your Alliance base. From here you’ll be given a variety of content to work on. There’s missions to recruit new companions for your alliance. After the events at the beginning of KotFE, the vast majority of your previous followers are considered missing in action, so it’s time to recruit. The leaders at your base will point you towards promising individuals scattered across the galaxy. Some of these leads will be old friends, while others you’ll recognize as companions from other classes. If you’re looking to get a full list of companions, you’ve got some work ahead of you.
The rest of the new endgame content involves the Star Fortresses. These giant, orbiting space stations, are Eternal Empire bases, and your goal is to blow them out of the sky. After you’ve unlocked them, each Star Fortress is a quick solo or 2+ person Heroic instance. Your rewards, beside instance loot, will include a new companion to fill out your army.
Once you’re done collecting companions and blowing up Star Fortresses, there’s still a few new features you can play with. There’s now a solo mode for all of the old Flashpoints. In addition to your companion, you’ll be provided with a NPC droid that will assist you through the instance. These are tuned fairly low and are seem primarily meant to let all players experience the story.
Those solo instances won’t provide you with much in the way of gear (green currency only), so if you want to try the next step up, you’ll need to gear up. There’s blue currency you can farm from Heroic quests to buy 208 purple gear as well as 208 equipment and mods from Heroic Star Fortress runs. Once you’re ready for the next step, you can move onto Hard and Tactical difficulty versions of all Flashpoints and get the purple currency from those for 216 gear. After that, all of the old Operations are available in Story and Hard difficulty for groups of 8 and 16 for top-tier gear.
Assuming that farming gear isn’t your idea of fun, the last option you’ll have to bide your time until the next story patch is working with your companions and KotFE’s new Influence system. If you played SW:TOR before, you’re used to thinking of companions and their Affection level. This Affection stat, affected by dialogue choices and gifts, gated companion story quests and romance options. Influence works similarly, but it ties into gameplay. For each rank of Influence you gain with a companion, you’ll gain Presence (a stat which scales your companion’s health/damage/healing) as well as time efficiency and critical rate for crew skill tasks. The crew skill portion is a nice bonus for crafting, but the Presence stat is the important part. The power difference between a companion at Influence rank 1 and rank 10+ is significant.
The Eternal Empire’s Star Fortresses, or Adventures in Copy-Paste
My initial impressions of Knights of the Fallen Empire were quite strong. I loved the story content, and recruiting new companions I recognized from my alts was a neat feature. Building up my WoW Garrison- er, Alliance base seemed like it would give me a decent amount of content to chip away at while I waited for the next story chapter. Everything was looking up… right up till I was clearing my way through the only new Flashpoint content available at launch, the six Star Fortresses. Normally, six new dungeons would be an excellent start of any expansion. The problem is that it’s not really six new dungeons so much as it is… one.
Each of the six Star Fortress Flashpoints is 95% the same as the other five. I’ll list the differences between each of the instances below:
- Theron Shan’s one line of voiceover after selecting your Star Fortress references the planet you’ve selected
- The name of the Exarch endboss and his voice acting and dialogue throughout the instance
- The names of optional bosses and minibosses, which are largely also the same
- A single cooldown ability used by the Exarch named after their patron god. One Exarch’s ability is a heal, another summons ranged adds that can be one-shot and a third casts a DPS buff. I could not puzzle out what the other three abilities do, so they’re likely instant damage. Everything else about the encounter is the exact same for all six Exarches.
The instances are so similar that you’re going to run into burnout much faster than you would with six different instances. Luckily, if your goal is to gear up for Operations or Hard and Tactical versions of the old Flashpoints, you’ll get enough gear from that first clear of the six Star Fortresses that you can move straight into those. Unfortunately, that means that the current endgame is rerunning content from the original game and previous expansions. Giving players the option to run all of this old content for current gear is a great feature, but you need to provide them with enough new content that those old instances feel like a bonus rather than your only option.
When I first started playing Knights of the Fallen Empire, I was ecstatic. They’d managed to bring back the epic storytelling from the original SW:TOR launch. Now that I’ve seen just how repetitive the current endgame really is, I have to say my enthusiasm has been fairly tarnished.
Nevertheless, I would say that it is worth the $14.99 one-month subscription fee to get the expansion. If nothing else, the 10-12 hours of well-paced storytelling is easily worth the price of entry. After that though, it really depends on if you’re a new player or a returning subscriber. People that are new to the game will be able to jump right into the new content with their friends, then have this galaxy full of Flashpoints, Operations and questing they can explore from the previous expansions.
Returning veterans will likely going to get burned out about as fast as I did. If you’re considering coming back to SW:TOR for this expansion, it’s at least worth grabbing the expansion now while it’s only $14.99 and comes with all of the subscriber bonuses. When you finish the new content, however, you may just want to cancel your subscription and just wait for another story update.
Michael “Ragar” Branham