The Old Republic Awakens: Story Expansion Out Now

Things I never expected to hear myself say: “I’d quite like to go back to Star Wars: The Old Republic” [official site]. This SHOCKING turn of events is in the wake of news that its new expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, restores a little of the KOTOR-era Bioware magic that was sadly lacking from the majority of the base game. I suspect most of us expected that EA would leave the over-hyped and, at least initially, underperforming MMO to die a slow, quiet death on its own, but instead it seems they’re taking advantage of unchecked consumerism excitement around The Force Awakens, and making TOR a far more appealing prospect for people who can’t get enough of Far Away / Long Time Ago. Steven’s hands-on report last week detailed why this is worth paying attention to, especially if you’re more of a solo roleplayer, and now the expansion’s actually out. Trailers and whatnot below.

The expansion is episodic, and chapter one launched late yesterday. This here, from senior producer Bruce Maclean, is perhaps the money quote about what they’re trying to do: “When we began development on Knights of the Fallen Empire, we really wanted to bring to the forefront what has always made Star Wars: The Old Republic great — story. Not only to deliver a great story, but to return to our BioWare storytelling roots.”

The expansion is free for TOR subscribers. While TOR is now free to play, a great deal of its best stuff is locked off to subs, or in some cases as optional payments – but the latter isn’t currently available for Fallen Empire. You’ll have to cough up approximately $15 per month, and given this is being released episodically you can’t just binge on the whole lot in the space of a single month. Clever, clever.

The expansion also comes with a ‘free’ level 60 character so you’re good to go from the off, or alternatively it includes a ‘refined’ version of the main game’s levelling, so you can get your own character to level 50 in a hurry and, in theory, by playing purely solo. All this suggests a fundamental philosophical shift into an ongoing, subscription singleplayer RPG, rather than the groups’n’raids model of yore – although all that stuff is still in there too. It’s fascinating, in a way – is TOR slowly becoming the KOTOR sequel we’d long hoped for, years after the fact? That said, Steven’s summation of the Fallen Empire experience is that the well-realised story sits somewhat ill-at-ease with the resolutely MMO-style combat it’s weaved around. That strikes me as something that TOR can never change, alas.


  1. Rao Dao Zao says:

    “All this suggests a fundamental philosophical shift into an ongoing, subscription singleplayer RPG, rather than the groups’n’raids model of yore”
    Maybe one day we’ll even get to play RPGs offline? For a set entry price?

    No? ;_;

  2. Mapleine says:

    That’s how TOR always was though, entirely fine to play it solo or as a co-op game and the quest presentation was exactly in line with other Bioware games.

    Hell, some of the story lines in the base game were already better than the majority of content in KOTOR 1 & 2. Like the Imperial Agent, for one, which was probably the best thing Bioware ever made.

    • X_kot says:

      With respect to how solo-oriented TOR was, yes, you could avoid all of the group content, but then you would have to grind exploration and side missions in order to keep up with the exp curve. Plus, the gear from Flashpoints and Ops was significantly better than loot acquired via the story, so solo players were always working against a level and equipment deficit.

      With 4.0, they’ve introduced solo versions of Flashpoints, and all Heroic 4+ have been scaled down to Heroic 2. The stat changes to companions also make them much tougher, so groups are even less necessary. Now the only time you need other people are Ops and end-game progression raids, stuff that has no bearing on getting through character stories.

      • USER47 says:

        Regarding gearing, everyone is using moddable gear and is buying mods for commendations (which you get from almost all the quests including solo ones), so flashpoint loot has been largely irrelevant for years.

        • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

          As in flashpoint loot is no longer “better” or cosmetically unique?

          • USER47 says:

            It’s still cosmeticaly unique I believe.

            Currently it mostly drops cosmetic gear without stats, probably because everyone is gearing by using some random adaptive gear and buys mods with commendations anyway (there are now functional and cosmetic slots for gear, so you can wear some ugly modded armor and show something different).

            Flashpoint loot was functionaly important long time ago, before there were loads of cheap adaptive sets on GTN and before they made the blue mods from comendation vendors very accessible.

  3. Mapleine says:

    Oh, I also have to take exception with the jab at the combat. It was very serviceable and the class design and abilities were plenty amusing. KOTOR was designed to be a dumbed down Baldur’s Gate the day it hit the market, it’s not aged well.

    • aliksy says:

      I found the combat to be pretty atrocious and unengaging. But then again controlling only one character in Baldur’s Gate wouldn’t be very fun either by my current standards.

    • suibhne says:

      I’d say that KotOR was designed to be a dumbed-down NWN, not BG…which is even worse.

    • Sound says:

      The combat in SWTOR today is a bit better, post 4.0, with a all-class mobility increase, as well as a long stretch of balancing and rebalancing prior. Some classes are a bit more fun to watch than others(Jedi & Sith), and you can see some definite innovation in boss-design in the past few expansions. Furthermore, after you finish the release story, combats are less grindy and monotonous.

      All in all, the combat is better than it used to be, and can be pretty fun, particularly once you get into any of the expansions’ stories. And it’s quite fun for PVP(just a little stun-heavy). But you will want to bind a few abilities to your mouse & keyboard, since there’s a very large load of abilities to memorize and use.

  4. Vandelay says:

    How mundane is the combat in this compared to the combat in The Secret World?

    Talk of how good elements of this are makes me want to give the free to play version a go, but it also brings back memories of the crushing disappointed that was the discovery of what seemed to be a wonderful world blocked by excruciating combat that made up the majority of The Secret World, along with numerous amounts of padding with fetch quests and the like in areas that are lifeless besides jerky hyperactive other players.

    *Obligatory Old Republic comment complaining that this wasn’t released as another Knights of the Old Republic*

    • USER47 says:

      In Secret World you always use just few of abilities, builder, few builders, few finishers…In SWTOR you use much more of them during the combat, you have rotations, procs, single target stuff, aoe stuff…

      Basic rotation usualy consists of something like 8 or so abilities plus you have bunch more situational, like knockbacks, few defensive cooldowns, gap closers, interupts and so on. I believe it’s a similar system WoW is using for instance.

      The combat is good imho, certainly far better than Kotor combat, which was mostly about spamming force storm over and over and obliterating everything with ease. Being good in swtor requires some practice, which makes it more engaging.

      • Danarchist says:

        The combat in the game has the exact opposite problem of secret world, there are far too many buttons. But for all the options after awhile each ranged starts feeling the same and every melee feels the same. You start seeing a pattern with a few variations for the magic trinity.

        It won’t win awards for combat creativity, but the space fights are way more fun than they get credit for and some of the class stories are decent.

        Finished the new story line today, was definitely worth the time. If this is the way the game is going I will probably play until fallout 4 comes out.

        • USER47 says:

          I agree with too many buttons thing. Especially since they feel the need to add new active ability in each major expansion, which I really don’t like.

    • 7vincent7black7 says:

      I still own The Secret World, but I never finished it. First I got burned out when I reached that Desert map because there was a sudden, vaulting leap of difficulty in the way of power-house mobs, and my build was made irrelevant, adn I couldn’t make new ones work.

      I cam back later and created a new character who was my version of Bruce Lee, and that was fun, until I realized that nearly every monster I would encounter in the majority of the game, was a male or female slenderman ghost, or some mob that appeared everywhere I went. I wanted monsters, Ghosts, banshees, werewolves, vampires, aliens, and unnatural things, and I got a select few rehashed mobs and that was it.

      So eventually I left.

  5. badmothergamer says:

    I gave this a shot for the first time over the weekend after reading Messner’s take on the new update. I have never played an MMO and only tried TOR because of his description of solo play being possible now.

    I’ve been very impressed. It really does have the KotOR feel from a storytelling perspective and so far I haven’t experienced any of the “grinding” I was worried about. I did most of the side missions on the starter planet but from about level 10 on I’ve stuck almost entirely to the main quest missions and didn’t hit a stopping point until last night when I found myself at level 27 and unable to start a quest on a level 28 planet. Fortunately you level so quickly and receive so many 1 hour/25% experience boosts that even this wasn’t an issue.

    If you enjoyed KotOR and like me are looking for something to kill time the next few weeks until Fallout 4 is released, I recommend giving this a whirl. I haven’t put a penny into the game yet and am thoroughly enjoying it.

    • USER47 says:

      Solo play was always possible:). Class stories, planetary arcs and all side missions except heroics/flashpoints/operations (raids) have always been balanced around one player + AI companion.

      The 4.0 update just gave solo mode to most of the flashpoints and turned heroic 4 side missions into heroic 2+.

      You won’t find much grind right now, as XP from class story and main planetary arcs should be enough to carry you, they even turned off sidequests indicators as default. If you want to see sidequest givers on a map, you need to turn it on manually.

  6. Junkenstein says:

    So if I want to give this a go and chuck a couple of quid at it to get rid of the biggest F2P restrictions, which classes should I play?

    • USER47 says:

      Storywise Imp Agent is great, but maybe better after you went through few other class stories already. Gameplay wise I enjoy knight/warrior (all their subclasses), but stories not so much.

      Jedi Knight is sort of a most classic hero story which has probably largest effect on the overarching story ark. But it gets a bit repetitive and the voice acting is boring.

      I quite enjoy female consular (especially shadow), both story wise and gameplay wise. But many people hate it. Roll few classes, spend an hour with each on first few planets and decide for yourself:).

      • Wulfram says:

        I agree with all that. Also, I think the voice acting for the female Consular is really excellent, selling me on the serene Jedi thing while still being engaging and sometimes emotional. Other people apparently instead find her performance monotone, though.

        I love playing Sith Inquisitor because being a snarky and sometimes (apparently) crazy Sith Lord is surprisingly hilarious, whether you’re picking all the opportunities to shoot people with lightning or just adding to their confusion by being quite nice and light side. And this voice actress is also excellent.

    • Sound says:

      In each given class, you’ve got two factors – Story, and mechanics.

      Mechanics per class aren’t so easy to describe, and opinions are pretty subjective, so I can’t help much on that. But your impression of the mechanics will affect how entertaining combat is. Though each of the classes are basically mirrors of their Republic/Sith counterpart. If you like Smuggler, you’d like Imperial Agent. If you like Jedi Knight, you’ll like Sith Warrior, etc.
      Personally, I found Republic Trooper/Bounty Hunter’s mechanics to be the least interesting.

      Story is a different matter. Each story is an endeavor to capture the important ‘main idea’ of a class. A Jedi Knight is a hero of the Republic the way you’d expect a Jedi to be. A Consular is the problem-solver who deals with mysteries of the Force and the galaxy. A trooper is a hero soldier, embroiled in the war effort(my current character, frankly a little boring). And a smuggler is pretty much exactly what you’d expect it to be.

      The same kind of attempt at thematic encapsulation holds true of the 4 Sith Empire stories.

      It’s basically quite solid, you just choose what feels interesting and you mostly won’t go wrong. And it’s not hard to just roll a new character, or to pick up where you left off months earlier.

      I’ve come back to the game for a little while every year since release for some good, cheap Star Wars fix. It does the job quite well.

  7. Ergonomic Cat says:

    I played during the roll up to Shadows of Revan, getting the 12x xp boost for story missions, which is basically what they’re doing now. It really does make it a great MMO. I played all 8 classes up to about level 40 without feeling like I was wasting time or anything. I had high level crafters to supply me with equipment, which was the only real issue.

  8. TWChristine says:

    I’ve tried this game atleast twice before, and each time bounced off hard. The last time (maybe a year or so ago) I managed to get one character to level 3, and another to 2 before I finally gave up. I decided to give it another shot recently (probably because I’ve been in a bit of a Star Wars mood with the new moving coming out, plus the article on here) and I ended up doing a 10+ hour binge on my day off! I haven’t played a game straight through like that since Skyrim first came out. Suffice to say, while it’s not a GREAT game and it has its flaws like any, I still enjoyed it enough. So in the end, I’d say it’s atleast worth a shot for anyone else out there who still hasn’t tried it.

    • USER47 says:

      Bouncing off at level 3 is quite hardcore. You get to that level in about 10 minutes, after doing like 2 short quests in starting area of a first planet.:-D

  9. Philopoemen says:

    Well, as a long time subscriber (if not player), I think the expansion is much more aimed at newer players, than existing ones. The new companion influence system makes your companions viable all game without having to worry about gearing,which was a big reason for grinding side missions.

    But the Level 60+ content is a breeze, to the point that your companions are overpowered. I would not be surprised to seem them nerfed a bit. Gearing is also a lot easier elder game, because you no longer have to grind raids to get top-tier gear (you can, and it’s quicker, but you don’t have to.)

    • USER47 says:

      What do you mean regarding the gear? As far as I know, you still need to go into raids for decent low endurance gear with set bonus. The commendation gear still isn’t “top-tier”, same as before.

      • Philopoemen says:

        You can reverse-engineer/buy on GTN top tier gear now – I just bought a 220-rated hilt/mod/enhancement for my LS Juggs lightsaber which is Exarch level; ie Hard Mode Ops loot level.

        The only difference is not getting the set bonus, which depending on the bonus is not a huge deal.

        I think Nightmare Mode Ops loot (224-rated or Ultimate Exarch) is about the only thing you can’t reverse engineer or buy. That said, it’s definitely not cheap, but you can play solo Flashpoints/Heroics now, meaning it’s entirely possible to gear up without touching Ops.

        • USER47 says:

          So, it’s pretty much the same as before, isn’t it?*

          Also, set bonus is quite a big deal, it is usualy better to have lower tier armorings with it than higher tiers without, especialy with certain classes.

          *before I mean mostly 2.X and possibly 1.X (don’t remember high level gearing there very much) cycle as there weren’t high level nim ops in 3.X.

  10. gwathdring says:

    I tried TOR for a bit. I liked the storytelling but the game felt like it was getting in the way.

    It felt like someone took an internal alpha build of the next Bioware RPG and then put a freeze on level design and mechanical development while proceeding with technical development, art assets, writing, and general polishing.

    It just feels flat.

    The environment spaces are too big and too empty feeling. This is not just because of the lower graphical fidelity demanded by MMOs because I have played both MMOs and much older, uglier singleplayer games that feel less empty. The classes don’t quite feel distinctive enough and combat feels a bit rote even by classically styled CRPG standards. Leveling doesn’t feel right. It’s just so … dull. But there’s good writing woven throughout it, a lovely art style for all the blandness of the world, and class abilities that, conceptually, should work out to feel fun and distinctive.

    They have the Dragon Age: Origins answer to Star Wars buried in here somewhere–less grim, more adventurous, a series of smaller and more personal stories rather than one big Everything At Stake tale … I want to play that game, I’m willing to pay money for that game. But unfortunately all I have is the rough draft of that game stretched over tired MMO mechanics.

    • gwathdring says:

      I should note that I found the combat a lot more fun than KOTOR’s and the writing more interesting than KOTOR’s. I can see why people who thought KOTOR was great are happy with TOR. But I found KOTOR severely lacking; it might have been better if I’d tried it earlier in my gaming career, but that’s an explanation rather than an excuse. Plenty of older games hold up better for me. KOTOR felt very, very flat. It didn’t have the tactical intricacy that Bioware’s AD&D efforts had nor even that their more recent games have had with the exception of Inquisition which I found to be a prettier more interactive (story-wise) take on the basic feel KOTOR gave me–though it is possible it becomes more like DA:O (not my favorite tactical RPG experience by a long shot, but a lot better than Inquisition’s initial hours), but I was playing on a friend’s console for a few hours and I wasn’t impressed enough to buy it and see.

      I know Bioware is capable of better, so I guess I don’t see why I would settle for TOR’s flat environments and flat combat. :\

      • USER47 says:

        Flat combat gets far less flat once you get to max level. Until then it’s a bit meh. Also, some classes are more fun than others. For example gunnery commando is very simple and a bit boring, shadow or sentinel on the other hand require some skill to play well.

        • Sound says:

          I agree with USER47. Low level is very simplistic, and some classes are much less mechanically dynamic.

          Though more recent changes to leveling up do make those points much less noticeable and interesting. It’s better than what was before, but not very exciting at all.

  11. woodsey says:

    So is all levelling, including this expansion, now designed so that you can only play the main quest and gain enough XP to get through the main quest?

    I always bounce off at about level 20, ever since it was released, because you have to do all the fucking side quests to continue the main path. It separates you from the (often) quite interesting stories for hours on end and becomes a chore. Some of the side quests are interesting and I’ll happily play them, but having to do the myriad that aren’t becomes a total chore.

    • Philopoemen says:

      Yeah pretty much – you really only have to do the Story and World quests (the storyline of each world).

      Everything else is optional really, as you don’t need to worry about gear so much with overstrength companions until elder game.

      • 7vincent7black7 says:

        Ironcially, I’ve come back, bought the Hutt dlc, and am now a Preferred player, and I actually really enjoy doing all the side quests in a map. Turns out playing a Bounty Hunter character means that I really like money just as much as the toon I’m controlling. XD

        The stories in the side quests also are actually immersing me just as much as the main quests sometimes, and the rewards are not bad. I can make 40k in a couple of hours from doing the Heroics adn Side Quests.

  12. anHorse says:

    “the well-realised story sits somewhat ill-at-ease with the resolutely MMO-style combat it’s weaved around”

    Oh come now, the combat in KOTOR and KOTOR 2 was utter wank, slightly generic MMO combat is not a step down from that

  13. Evil Pancakes says:

    Do they still arbitrarily limit the number of hotbars you can use as a non-subscription player? Because if so, I have no intention of ever going back to SWTOR. Even though I always thought the class stories were pretty fun.

    • USER47 says:

      4 hotbars you get as preferred are more than enough anyway. Not sure how many pure f2p gets, maybe just 2 which would be a bit uncomfortable, but I guess everyone who enjoys the game is capable of spending those 5 bucks that get you to preferred status.

      • Wulfram says:

        From my experience 2 can be a pain at high levels, though its playable enough to get you through to the end of the class stories – particularly with the new quick levelling and overpowered companions, I imagine – but 4 is loads, yeah.