11 quick thoughts on SWTOR: Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion announcement

knights1. SWTOR is gunning for a Guiness World Record of longest game name + expansion name combo here. And KotFE? No quick and easy way to abbreviate and/or say that!

2. Slightly wondering if the “Knights” part of the title is intended to make a connection in gamers’ minds to Knights of the Old Republic. They do sound similar, do they not? Milk that franchise nostalgia!

3. The trailer is… dark, disturbing, and really cool. I don’t think I envisioned the emperor looking like a well-groomed whisky spokesman. I like how much of a story it tells without dialogue, and that final bit where the emperor looks down with those yellow eyes — chills. Although what kills the black-clad brother? I didn’t quite get that.

4. For the record, I’m incredibly thrilled at this announcement. It’s not a smallish expansion pack that we’ve had in the past, but a full-blown one that’s making a big deal out of “returning to storytelling” and starting a new saga that will have multiple chapters.

5. At first, it seemed weird that BioWare’s not going to sell the expansion and make a good chunk of up-front money on it the way it did with Shadow of Revan, Hutt Cartel, etc. However, the business strategy here quickly becomes apparent — to get subscriptions and keep subscriptions. There are huge incentives to subbing now and staying subbed after the expansion launches, and of course that will be on top of all of the other cartel market offerings. It’s a different move that could actually pay off handsomely.

6. Not subbing right now is a viable F2P option, but one will need to sub at least for a month to get the initial 9 chapters of the expansion. The question for me is what I’m going to do. All I want to do is continue on with my Agent, not bring up a new character, so the 12x thing isn’t a huge deal to me. And the new companion and his gear… eh. I’ve got HK-51, that’s all I need.

7. It really looks like BioWare’s trying to blur/eliminate faction lines to make the most of its development dollars. Two faction stories is more expensive than just one, after all.

8. I love, love the look of the twins, the sky troopers, and all of the ships. It’s sharp and threatening and should make for a worthy challenge.

9. Getting a major SWTOR expansion out a couple of months prior to The Force Awakens is really smart, too. Gonna be high tide for Star Wars enthusiasm, and BioWare will want to make the most of that, I’m sure.

10. The option/gift to get an instant level 60 character has me feeling as though BioWare is in effect doing a soft reboot of the game. This is SWTOR 2.0, with the old Revan storyline wrapped up and a new storyline and episodic format to come. Not the worst idea, I guess, but I have mixed feelings about casting everything that came before aside.

11. Little disappointed that there won’t be any new classes or advanced classes. Would’ve liked to have seen that.

SWTOR: Zounds, it’s Zizzified Ziost!

You know a planet is rather skimpy on size and content when I — the most slow of slowpoky gaming ponies — is able to complete it in less than three nights.

The most recent content update to Star Wars: The Old Republic gave us both the planet of Ziost and the continuation of the Shadow of Revan storyline. Lots of players tired of Yavin dailies were eager to continue the tale and see a new locale, although after having gone through it I think we’re trading downward on the experience. Yavin IV is lush and beautiful; Ziost is brought to you by the color grey. It’s a world that was pretty dead and lifeless even before really horrible stuff (no explicit spoilers here) happens to it. I do not think I’m going to be spending a lot of time here to do the new round of dailies, is all I’m saying.

Anyway, I’m grateful that we did get more of the story — and it’s an interesting bit at that. The late, great Emperor is now alive and running rogue, having returned to Ziost to basically take over the entire planet and mind-dominate the population. As such, there’s very little feel to Ziost as a place with culture or personality, which is further backed up by the environment being somewhat industrial and sterile. It’s not lived-in, which is what I’m saying.

The story has us player characters reuniting with Lana and Theron to try to devise a way to counteract the Emperor (because he can mind-control a planet and I have a big knife I occasionally stick into things, so that’s a totally fair match-up). There’s also a new character, a spy who plays right into the whole Imperial Agent theme, although what little is interesting there quickly peters out.

z2Lana and I are totally on the outs, by the way. After romancing her in Shadow of Revan only to have her abruptly break it off with me AND take my deserved job as head of Imperial Intelligence, I have turned quite frosty to her. I’m so glad that the the devs gave me ways to be short and critical to her, even getting some measure of revenge. Hell hath no fury like a Syp scorned.

There wasn’t a lot of new in terms of mission variety, but occasionally I’d hit a moment that created interesting memories, such as hopping across a statue, using grappling hooks, and doing wild jumps on a speeder. At least I got a bit of a gear upgrade through all of the quest rewards.

z3Definitely the highlight of the patch’s storyline was the use of its cutscenes. There’s a major event that happens that gave me chills and had me feeling — just for a moment — like I was a very small character in a great big struggle, instead of the central hero.

Returning to a greyscale world of ash and death was quite interesting, although perhaps less impactful considering how dull Ziost’s population and cities were beforehand. I love the neat art touches, like the ash blowing off the trees (above).

So with Ziost done — sans dailies and whatever new operations or group stuff — I’m contemplating what to do next. I haven’t maxed out my rep on Yavin yet and I was enjoying the cash income from doing that, so I might well return there. I probably should start running flashpoints here and there to gear up better, but that’s a time thing.

And then there’s the whole temptation of subscribing and doing the 12X leveling track with some characters. I guess that would be cool? But I have a gut feeling that I’d ultimately feel that such advancement would be hollow, especially with the lack of companion affection choices. Plus, there really isn’t any class that appeals to me as strongly as the IA. I have a lowbie Sith Warrior with some unlocks on standby for a possible run, but lightsabers are actually duller than my trusty carbine. I have also pondered rolling a second IA and playing him or her as a sniper for a different combat experience.

Or I could just putter around until the next patch/expansion while giving my other games more time. Choices, choices.

SWTOR: A subpar costume outfitter

outfitWhat I don’t understand sometimes is how developers, when looking to design a certain system for their MMOs, can look at gold standard examples elsewhere and then go, “I know! Let’s make ours worse than those!”

You might recall how impressed I was with RIFT’s recent overhaul of its wardrobe system, which combines functionality with extreme ease of access. I’ve been waiting to see how SWTOR and WildStar did with their new wardrobes, and while WildStar has yet to reveal its, SWTOR popped out the costume designer with this week’s 3.2 patch.

And it is… subpar.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s way, way better than the fiddly adaptive armor that the game’s struggled with since release. And something is better than nothing. But overall it’s definitely behind the curve of some of the better examples in the industry (RIFT, Guild Wars 2, LOTRO, EverQuest II).

Let’s start with the positives, because I’m all about being fair. The costume designer is instantly accessible in the character UI (no finding a certain NPC for this) and allows for up to 16 saved outfit slots, which is 15 more than Guild Wars 2 offers. And for a free-to-play player, I was happy to see that buying new slots could be done fairly cheaply with credits.

It also works for what it does, allowing you to drag over a real piece of gear into a slot to “stamp” it while keeping the gear elsewhere. Despite what BioWare claims, this doesn’t really save me on inventory — I still have to hang on to that gear in my increasingly cluttered cargo bay if I want to use it again elsewhere — but it does work. Putting together an outfit and swapping between what you’re wearing is just a button click away.

I was pleased to see that BioWare’s opened up the field to use pretty much any piece of armor (although not weapons) for cosmetics, including your standard greens. And while allowing players to now use any armor class for cosmetics seems to have upset some of my guildies (who felt strongly that it took away from the uniqueness of certain classes), I was cheering a widened array of options. In this area, SWTOR actually has a leg up over GW2, the latter of which is still armor-class restricted.

But for every step forward, there are a few taken back with this system. Dyeing armor pieces is still handled in the awkward “you have to slot an item into a chest piece” fashion instead of taking a cue from RIFT/GW2 by allowing easy access to colors in the designer itself. And since the designer doesn’t let you unify to chest colors while putting together outfits (you have to be wearing the outfit and then click that button), it’s sometimes hard to tell what the color scheme will end up being.

I wish that the game took a cue from RIFT/GW2/LOTRO by storing cosmetic gear in an inventory-free unlockable screen so that you could easily select pieces while building an outfit. Instead, I had to open up my cargo bay, preview through pieces, transfer the gear to my inventory, then stamp it from my inventory into the costume designer. WAY too many steps. WAY too cumbersome.

The kicker is that BioWare, in its infinite wisdom, decided that the costume designer also had to be a money sink. OK, it’s not going to make me go broke, but I couldn’t help but be resentful that every item I slotted would cost me credits. At least it’s credits and not cartel coins, but it does leave a sour taste in my mouth.

At least for my efforts I now have a selection of outfits from which to choose in my adventures. It’s just a shame that what could’ve been a top-of-the-line ride ended up being a servicable economy car.

Picture of the Day: My SWTOR Stalker

stalker1stalker2With little else to spend my SWTOR money on these days, I decided to upgrade my outfit by puchasing cartel market packs for the Stalker outfit. Again, no idea whether it’s one of those “everyone has it” or “people think it’s dorky because it has a big circle right on the butt, seriously, what was BioWare thinking,” but I kind of like it. It fits the commando-esque vibe of my Operative, and I used a black-and-yellow dye pack I had lying around to give it a cool wasp color scheme.

SWTOR: Judge, jury, and executioner

I’m still logging into SWTOR every few days to run a batch of dailies on Yavin-4 for rep and comms. I’ve almost got all of my gear up to item level 186, which is my primary goal before 3.2 comes out. Speaking of which, that looks like it’ll be a great update — a new planet plus the outfit designer! I’m still rocking one of the flight suits, but more looks would always be welcome.

I have to keep an eye on my credits, because every time I near 350K I know I have to go spend them on something or else face the dreaded untouchable escrow. At 348,000, I took a break from Yavin dailies (I’m getting really good at these!) and headed back to fleet for some shopping.

I saw a player in trade chat advertise that he was selling a complete set of adaptive Dark Seeker armor for what appeared to be an affordable price. I don’t know how much it’s really worth, but it looked pretty cool and I thought it would make a nice gift to my lowbie alt. Past that, I went to the GTN and started buying mod upgrades for HK-51. Since as a free-to-play player I can’t get the companion armor set reward from the Yavin weekly, this will have to do as a substitute.

I was kind of laughing about this in guild chat the other day when we were talking about the F2P restrictions in this game. For some, it either pushes them away from the game entirely or forces them to sub up. For me, it’s a powerful incentive to get stubborn and figure out ways around them or how to live with them.

With the armor sent off to my alt, I logged onto her to grab it and test drive her character a bit. Thursday is a thin, white-eyed Sith Warrior who is going so dark side and sarcastic that I’m sure she won’t get invited to any birthday parties from now on. I had already invested some credits in expanding her inventory during my free sub week, and apart from lacking the option to disable helmets and gaining access to artifact equipment, she’s pretty much set to go.

The Dark Seeker armor looks amazing, by the way. I’m not a fan of Jedi/Sith robes, so fortunately this is more of a comfy-looking tunic with a cool design and the most awesome face mask ever. It looks a little like General Grevious’ from Revenge of the Sith and adds a hint of voice modulation. It definitely helps to get into the mood of the character.

I only did a few quests at the start of Korriban, the most notable of which was to judge three prisoners who were being held for various crimes. Not only did I get to judge but also got to carry out the sentence. The light side options were to let them go, but dark side offered both a straight-forward execution and a trial by combat. I let the spy fight me, I killed the former Imperial officer outright, and I sent the last guy (who was definitely innocent) back to prison. Hey, I needed a dark side option and that was more merciful than torturing him until he confessed!

Don’t judge me.

SWTOR: Shadow of Revan complete!

rev1In the scheme of things, if I had to choose between long and dull or short and awesome, I’d go the latter — especially in MMO expansion packs and content updates. Don’t give me busy work; give me high adventure and memorable experiences. And while SWTOR’s Shadow of Revan was definitely short, it was a thrilling ride for most of its duration.

So yeah, I finished up the expansion, having just started it around the start of the month. Considering that I play other MMOs and have a notoriously slow pace of progression, that surprised me. It’s over? Already? OK, so when’s the next expansion coming out? Darn it, I want the story to continue.

While I’m a little bummed that the narrative portion is over, at least I can look back and say that Shadow of Revan hit all of the right spots that it missed with Rise of the Hutt Cartel. It’s NPC cast was far more memorable, for starters; C2-D4 became my second-favorite Star Wars droid of all-time, second only to HK-47/51. He cracked me up consistently, and the banter between the cast was interesting and made them relatable. It was genuinely heartbreaking to see the crew go their separate ways at the end because I didn’t want the journey to be over. They were the BioWare companion experience that I don’t always get with my own crew (probably because I can only take one with me at a time and the rest don’t interact on my ship).

rev2It helped that Rishi and Yavin were both attractive, fun planets to visit. No lava zones or dull battlefields here. And the expansion played heavily upon nostalgia and past experiences, both from the class storyline (as there’s a new mission tucked in here) and KOTOR. It really was a coda on the whole KOTOR storyline and I’m glad we got it. I don’t think I had to figure out what was going on with Revan post-KOTOR, but it was neat to find out.

From a design perspective, BioWare did a good job figuring out an economical way of presenting pretty much the same story and areas to both factions due to a “temporary truce,” although one wonders if this trick will come out in future updates as well. More expensive to make twice the content than to funnel everyone together into the same portion.

I’m not entirely satisfied, however. While Rishi felt like a decently paced, fleshed-out planet, Yavin 4 felt incredibly rushed and short in comparison. I barely arrived before I was thrown into the final fight, with little story to build up to that moment. In fact, I’m still a little underwhelmed at the reasoning of the primary villain and the supposed threat (that is never visually portrayed, even so). And it was a kick right after that final fight to have my newfound NPC friends go away, my new NPC girlfriend break up with me after three chaste kisses, and a heapload of dailies dumped into my lap. Welcome to the endgame, pal!

rev3It felt a little like having my excitement balloon deflate. I was having such a great time with the expansion… and then it was over, leaving me with chores and memories of a better time. I understand the decision to go the daily route and I appreciate the path to gearing up a bit by doing solo stuff, but it’s not going to blow my skirt up, either.

At least I have a character all the way through the end of the game, ready for what’s next. And I always have the option of tackling a new character, not to mention that Elder Scrolls Online is going buy-to-play this week and I’m planning on giving that a try.

So no regrets for a good ride. Here’s hoping that we’ll see more of it in SWTOR in the future.