SWTOR: A Knight of the Fallen Empire

I’m always so slow. I’ve finally gotten around to playing Knights of the Fallen Empire, and already it’s old news and everyone is talking about Knights of the Eternal Throne.

The opening of chapter three in Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Fallen Empire expansionWell, regardless, I finally made it to the expansion that initially inspired me to invest in Star Wars: The Old Republic against all odds. It’s Cipher Nine versus the endless armies of the Eternal Empire.

Start all over again:

Although it is technically an expansion, in a lot of ways Knights of the Fallen Empire feels more like a sequel — SW:TOR 2. Although some familiar elements carry over, for the most part you’re starting an entirely new story with new characters, new locations, and new threats.

It actually bears a very close resemblance to another Bioware sequel: Mass Effect 2. In fact the opening of KotFE is almost an exact duplicate of the beginning of ME2, to the point where some of the cutscenes are basically shot for shot recreations of ME2’s.

The transition to the new story is… less than smooth. There’s some pretty serious retcons going on, and you’ll have to suspend your disbelief quite a lot, even by Star Wars standards. Even putting aside how far-fetched a lot of it is (again, even by Star Wars standards), it would still be jarring to abandon the conflict between Empire and Republic for this new battle against the Eternal Empire.

(Tangent: How many damn empires does Star Wars need? There’s the Sith Empire, the Infinite Empire, and now the Eternal Empire, and those are just the ones I know about. My knowledge of the greater Star Wars mythos is pretty shallow. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there are half a dozen other empires in there somewhere.)

The Odessen Alliance in Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Fallen Empire expansionHowever, once you get past how jarring the change is, KotFE does start to look a lot better. The first nine chapters are incredibly tense and exciting. This was the first time in a very long time that a story — in any medium — has seemed so dire that I was truly at a loss as to how the heroes could ever prevail. The Eternal Empire is not a perfect antagonist faction by any means, but Bioware certainly sold their intimidation factor.

After chapter nine, things get a little more inconsistent.

The content in KotFE outside the main storyline certainly leaves a lot to be desired. I did one star fortress (twice, on both difficulties), and I do not understand what the point of these things is supposed to be. In theory I like the idea of solo dungeons, but in practice they’re just tedious. Like most of SW:TOR’s dungeons, they’re overloaded with endless swarms of tedious trash mobs, and their rewards are only marginally better than that of heroic missions — while being vastly more time-consuming.

Similarly, I did one or two alliance alerts, but quickly lost interest in the concept. I don’t see a compelling reason to trek all over the galaxy to recruit characters who have no connection to my agent and will likely never play a significant role in the story going forward.

Also, I would like to say I very much resent having to wait for a specific in-game event to reclaim one of my old companions. Even if the event comes around pretty often, it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

A star fortress boss in Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Fallen Empire expansionSo it didn’t take me long to return to the main storyline. The upside to waiting this long to play the expansion was that I could do all the post-launch chapters in one go — probably the best way to experience them since they’re all quite short.

Here, again, we see shades of Mass Effect 2. A great deal of time is spent simply recruiting more companions (and wading through endless waves of the same generic mooks). In some ways this isn’t as annoying as it was in ME2, but in other ways it’s worse.

The good news is that recruitment isn’t the same grind in KotFE it was in ME2. There are fewer missions devoted entirely to recruitment — both by raw numbers and per capita — and even those that are pure recruitment still have at least some connection to the main story. So on the whole it’s not as annoying as it was in Mass Effect.

There’s a downside, though. The silver lining in ME2 was you got to have all kinds of awesome, deep conversations throughout the game with all the characters you were recruiting, but that isn’t the case here. In fact there are no conversations beyond those that make up the chapters themselves, and on the whole there’s surprisingly little character development for a Bioware game.

It also feels a bit pointless because most of the time you’re forced to use a specific companion for each chapter.

Senya Tirall in Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Fallen Empire expansionThis is probably my biggest complaint about Knights of the Fallen Empire, honestly. They revamped the whole companion system to make it easier to use whichever one you want, and they built an entire expansion around collecting companions, and then they remove any ability to choose your companion for most of its content? Were the different departments at Bioware even talking to each other?

I grant that there are times where being locked into a specific companion makes sense for the story, but there are also plenty of times where it’s completely arbitrary and unnecessary.

I spent a fair bit of time and resources raising Lana’s influence and getting her a nice lightsaber crystal — my head full of romantic ideas of Cipher Nine and her love taking on the galaxy side-by-side — but I almost never got to use her for anything.

On that note, I should also point out that romances are fairly messed up. I would normally never say something like this, but if you haven’t played KotFE yet and are at all interested in romancing any of the new characters, I strongly recommend looking up some spoilers, especially as it relates to romances and chapter nine.

I very nearly missed out on Lana’s romance due to some mind-bogglingly bad design on Bioware’s part. The only reason I was able to salvage the situation was because I’d stumbled across some spoilers in the past and knew something was wrong when nothing happened at a specific point. With the aid of a kindly GM and a certain degree of luck, I was able to repeat the mission and fix things, but the Internet is full of no end of rage from those who weren’t so lucky.

My Imperial agent and Lana Beniko in Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Fallen Empire expansionOne final complaint is that this expansion leans very heavily on Force mysticism. Normally things being more fantastical wouldn’t be a problem for me, but it feels very awkward when you play a class that isn’t Force sensitive. Furthermore, one of the few story-telling sins SW:TOR shares with the films is that most of its Force mysticism consists of statements that sound profound at first but are revealed to be little more than meaningless blather the moment you start to analyze them.

It should be clear by now there’s a fair bit I didn’t like about Knights of the Fallen Empire. However, it definitely wasn’t without its strong points.

The award for best chapter definitely goes to The GEMINI Deception. In terms of both story and gameplay, it provided the most thrills, the best twists, and the all around most satisfying experience. It was just generally awesome from beginning to end.

The final chapter was also pretty strong, and Profit and Plunder was another favourite. Partly because life is always better where it’s Vette-r, and partly because it allowed me to finally rid myself of a long-time thorn in my side.

Something I found very interesting about KotFE is its theme of trust. By necessity, you’re forced to ally with a lot of suspicious characters, and never knowing who to trust adds a lot to the already high tension of the story. As the plot plays out, it’s fascinating to see who ultimately betrays you and who turns out to be trustworthy after all.

Lana Beniko in Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Fallen Empire expansionI wish I’d gotten to spend more time with her, but I still find Lana Beniko interesting. I’m having a very hard time nailing down what it is I like about her — she’s not the most immediately lovable or fun character. But there’s definitely something about her that’s fascinating.

I think part of it is how she can be so cold and reserved most of the time… but every now and then the veneer cracks, just for a moment, and you get a glimpse of the person underneath. That’s gratifying.

Taken altogether, I did enjoy Knights of the Fallen Empire, but I expected better. After how amazing Ziost was and all the hype around this expansion bringing a redoubled focus on story, I was expecting something truly special. Instead, I got an expansion that was more good than bad but which offered plenty of both.

Eternal Throne isn’t so far off now, and I’m of the impression all its chapters will be released at once (I think?), so I’m thinking I’ll jump into it at launch. In the meantime, maybe I’ll do more class stories. I know I said I wasn’t interested in smugglers, but now I have a concept for one I like…

BlizzCon 2016 Predictions

As has become my tradition, I’ve put together a collection of predictions for the upcoming BlizzCon, where the owners of my soul will announce the latest big updates coming to their games.

The city of Suramar in World of Warcraft: LegionThe one difference this year is that instead of hosting my predictions on Superior Realities, I wrote them up for MMO Bro, so head on over if you want to see all the guesses I’m going to get wrong.

Coming up with predictions this time was rather challenging. We’re flying blind going into this BlizzCon — much more so than usual. Everything is up in the air. The journalist in me is enjoying the mystery, but the gamer in me is nervous about the uncertainty.

I really want to see a Diablo expansion announcement and/or a story-mode for Overwatch, but both of those things are looking pretty unlikely right now.

We’re definitely getting something for StarCraft, and that’s one franchise that can’t seem to do wrong lately, so I should be excited for that, but it’s hard to get too hyped when we have so little idea what to expect. Obviously new story will always appeal to me the most, but that’s already been all but ruled out.

Most perplexing.