SWTOR: Heavy Is the Head that Wears the Eternal Crown

One nice thing about starting on Knights of the Fallen Empire so late is that I didn’t have long to wait for Star Wars: The Old Republic’s next expansion, Knights of the Eternal Throne. I’ve also been subscribed long enough to qualify for early access, so while the expansion didn’t officially launch until yesterday, I’ve already finished.

My agent and Lana Beniko in the first chapter of Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Eternal Throne expansionAgainst the empress:

Knights of the Eternal Throne is so much a continuation of Fallen Empire’s story I’m not sure why they even bothered to label it a separate expansion.

The war against the Eternal Empire enters a dangerous new phase as Valkorion’s strongest and most depraved child usurps the Eternal Throne. The focus this time is on Vaylin, and I gotta say, she’s a much better antagonist than Arcann ever was.

Vaylin manages the incredible trick of being both hideously, irredeemably evil, and yet somehow still something of a tragic figure. Maybe she was never entirely stable, but her father robbed her of any chance she ever had to be a whole person. She’s a monster, and she has to be stopped, but yet I still spent a lot of the story feeling sorry for her.

Plus, Natasha Loring does an absolutely fantastic job voicing her. Probably one of the better vocal performances I’ve heard in a game.

It’s not entirely the Vaylin Show, though. There’s lots of other intrigues and plots going at the same time.

Empress Vaylin in Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Eternal Throne expansionThere’s a school of thought that says that Disney declaring most of Star Wars’ extended universe non-canon is a good thing, because it frees the EU properties to chart their own course more than ever before.

I’m wondering if KotET is an example of that, because more than ever SW:TOR is developing its own unique mythology that is very different from and honestly better than the world of the movies. At one point in this expansion I found myself caught in the civil war between two hyper-advanced AIs in a post-apocalyptic Dyson Sphere. There’s nothing like that in the movies.

I also very much like that KotET spent some time revisiting familiar locations and plot threads from the base game. One flaw of Fallen Empire was that it felt so utterly disconnected from what came before, but Eternal Throne makes an admirable attempt at bridging that gap.

Also, this is probably the first time in the game the Sith Empire has been portrayed in a more positive light than the Republic, and as an Empire fan, I’m pretty happy with that.

They did a good job of making it all fit together, too. Despite pursuing several plot threads at once, KotET is a very tight, very focused experience, and for the most part it’s an epic thrill-ride from beginning to end. The only significant stumble was chapter eight, which was mostly just an endless slog through mob-filled wilderness in an attempt to pad out what would otherwise be a very brief chapter.

The planet Iokath in Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Eternal Throne expansionIt is a very short storyline, but it’s well-paced, so it doesn’t feel rushed, and it only costs $15, so it’s hard to argue you aren’t getting your money’s worth.

Choices felt a lot more impactful this time, too. Reading up after finishing the story, it seems there’s quite a lot that could have turned out differently if I’d made different choices. Should be good for playing alts.

Alongside the Alliance:

Something that’s a bit more mixed is how Eternal Throne has treated the issue of companions.

No additional companions from the base game were brought back this time. I can see why they did that, because it did make for a smoother and more focused story, but at the same time there are still a couple of companions I’d really like back. I guess it’s kind of a no win scenario.

They did spend more time on the previously returned class companions than I thought they would, though. Well, Vette and Torian get a lot of screentime, anyway.

My agent and her allies in the first chapter of Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Eternal Throne expansionI’m also of two minds on how the ongoing romance with Lana Beniko was treated this time.

To be blunt, it’s barely there. There are no actual romance scenes; just some extra or different lines of dialogue that are few and far between. I have to ask myself if it was even worth the trouble of establishing the romance in the first place if it’s going to be so neglected.

On the other hand, minimal though it may be, I did think the romance content was really well done. I find Lana’s fretting whenever you’re in danger very endearing, and there’s one moment in particular that really stood out.

Without spoiling too much, there’s a scene where you’re heading into a place full of Force-related nastiness, and it’s bad enough that even Lana, normally icy calm, is starting to lose it. If you romance her, there’s an option to tell her, “I’ll be with you the whole time.” And it just felt so sweet, and so real. I think it might be one of my favourite moments from any Bioware romance to date.

I’m torn. I generally say I prefer quality over quantity, but Lana’s romance in KotET is a rather severe application of that principle.

Vette studies alien technology in Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Eternal Throne expansionMy biggest complaint about Fallen Empire, having no choice in what companion you use when, also returns, though in this case it didn’t bother me as much. Partly because they did a better job of justifying it from a story perspective, and partly because you spend most of your time with Lana or Vette, which is more or less who I would have picked regardless.

Claiming your prize:

There’s something else that gives me mixed feelings. Normally I’d say it’s a big spoiler, but they’ve been telegraphing it so heavily it’s hard to call it a surprise at this point. If you’re determined to go in fresh, I suppose you should stop reading now, but honestly if you’ve been paying any kind of attention to SW:TOR lately, you had to know this was coming.

Knights of the Eternal Throne ends with the player claiming the titular seat, which pretty makes them the ruler of the universe.

Now, it’s hard to deny the cool factor of that, or how viscerally satisfying it is to receive such an epic reward for all that you’ve done.

But I do have to wonder where they go from here. How do you escalate from, “You are the all-powerful lord and master of the galaxy”? Can you top that? Will they be forced to just hit the reset button on the story (again)?

My agent claims the Eternal Throne in Star Wars: The Old RepublicIt’s a little bit of awkward fit for my character especially. She’s a spy, used to lurking in the shadows rather than leading in the open, and my entire backstory for her is based on her desire to be a servant of a greater cause. Now she’s a great cause unto herself, and I’m not sure how to adjust.

Marching into the future:

Something else that needs to be highlighted about Knights of the Eternal Throne is how much it’s improved the fundamental components of the game.

For one thing, the graphics continue to improve. Environments are looking ever better, and I noticed another sharp uptake in the quality of cutscenes. Many of them are quite spectacular, and almost as thrilling as what you’d see in the Star Wars movies.

Even outside of cutscenes, the game is becoming more cinematic. We’re starting to see things like terrain changes in real time — like a bridge exploding as you try to cross it.

Character models are also getting much better, though this can create a jarring disconnect. New characters like Empress Acina look almost real, while my own character still looks like she’s made out of Plasticine. It’s distracting, to say the least.

Dromund Kaas in Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Eternal Throne expansionThey did implement new facial animations for characters both old and new, though it’s a bit of a mixed blessing. It does add more personality, but it can get a bit uncanny valley in places. Lana’s shocked face doesn’t really communicate what it was probably intended to.

Bioware also put a lot more effort into game mechanics this time. SW:TOR now features vehicle mechanics, allowing players to pilot walkers against the forces of the Eternal Empire, among other things. They’re not the greatest vehicle sequences I’ve seen in an MMO, but it’s a good thing for the game to have going forward. Opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities.

One thing I did enjoy that was very different is one chapter that was devoted almost entirely to puzzle-solving, something the game hasn’t really seen before. They’re relatively simple puzzles, but it still turned out to be a pretty fun, clever chapter.

Finally, core class mechanics and combat seemed a little better, at least for the Imperial agent. Cutting out a few of the more irrelevant abilities and offering a talent to let me cast lethal shot while moving are small but welcome steps towards improving the otherwise dull core gameplay of The Old Republic.

At a fundamental level, as a game, Knights of the Eternal Throne is a significant improvement over what’s come before.

The finale of the story in Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Eternal Throne expansionThere has been a lot of controversy around the new Galactic Command progression system, but while it’s probably a downgrade from what we had before, it’s still better than what a lot of MMOs offer, and honestly I think the whole thing is a tempest in a teapot. I got several powerful upgrades and useful items out of it just by playing through the story normally.

And let’s be real here: Who’s playing SW:TOR for the gear grind endgame at this point? It’s like playing TSW for the PvP, or EVE for the story. Sure, you can, but…

I’d be more concerned with new the Dark vs Light system, honestly. It’s very poorly explained, and from what I’ve seen so far, the Light Side seems to win every single time.

* * *

Overall, while it’s not perfect, I’d consider Knights of the Eternal Throne an improvement over Fallen Empire, and a pretty good experience through and through.

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One thought on “SWTOR: Heavy Is the Head that Wears the Eternal Crown

  1. Pingback: Your Guide to Taking Great MMO Screenshots - MMOBro

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