Sunday, October 25, 2015

Knights of the Fallen Empire - An Introduction


So last week the early access for Star Wars - The Old Republic's new expansion - Knights of the Fallen Empire kicked off. And with this expansion Bioware has delivered not only an amazing new chapter (nine chapters, in truth) in their portion of the Star Wars universe, but a host of changes to the game's core mechanics as well. So I thought, beyond the story itself, I'd take some time to introduce returning players and new players to some of the interesting changes released in the expansion.

On Spoilers
While I've tried very hard to not reveal any specific characters or plot points from the story, some of the screenshots and discussion of the content after the story will be, by its nature, mildly spoilerish. If you're fanatical about having a completely pristine experience your first play through of the game, feel free to return to this post after you've finished the nine chapters of the story. If however you just want to know about the expansion and don't mind a screenshot or two that might reveal this or that character that you will encounter, please read on after the cut!

And so it begins...
The Story
Of course though, the first thing, and absolute most important thing that has come out with the new expansion is the incredible new story for your character. If you enjoy Bioware games at all, and you like Star Wars, I can heartily recommend the story to you. In fact, it's worth picking up the 60 day non-recurring subscription solely to play through the story, even if you're not a fan of MMO's.  When you subscribe, you receive a token for a free level 60 character. So you could get your level 60 character, go to your ship, and immediately start the quest.. Which I highly recommend, as it's easily the best content released for this MMO so far. And that, is all that I have to say about that!

Contacts, Followers, and Alerts
Once you finish the story, you'll find yourself in a new hub, which provides a welcome respite from the Fleet. And more importantly, you'll be introduced to a new kind of content - Alert Missions. While you still have companions, just as you have in the original game, you will find you have a network of contacts as well. And these contacts will provide you with a variety of different missions, while you'll receive alerts for in the new contact interface.  The alert missions reward you with locked supply crates, which can be turned into contacts for both a collection of rewards, as well as influence with that contacts. And that's the main difference in the new system - not only do you earn influence with companions, which can provide buffs and improvements while accompanying you, but earning influence with contacts will provide you with new levels of missions. All of this - the alert missions, your list of companions and contacts, and the influence you've earned with them, are tracked through a new follower interface, shown on the right.

Beaming About
One new feature that is certainly worth mentioning is that Bioware has made it exceedingly easy to get to and return from these new alert missions. You can teleport instantly to the beginning of an alert mission (no matter what planet it's on) through the contacts interface. And upon completing the mission, you can teleport back to the contact of interest, through the same interface. In fact, I'm of the opinion that it's almost too easy to beam about from planet to planet now, but there's no denying the convenience. And I don't think any of us miss trudging through Spaceports.

Classic Conversations
Something else that's new - most of the contacts that you interact with, use a conversation system that is reminiscent of Knights of the Old Republic. You may love it, you may hate it. But I understand the reason for it. The classic conversations, in which the NPC has voice over, but your character does not, provides a nice compromise in a quest delivery system that is more interactive than a standard quest panel, but is not quite as expensive to produce as full blown cinematics for each and every alert mission interaction.

Heroic Missions & Flashpoints
Once you finish the story, you'll be introduced to a new collection of Flashpoints. I won't discuss the fiction behind them, but they are offered in a solo mode, and then a follow up in Heroic+2 mode. Now you might be thinking - oh great - more Heroics. But all of the heroic's in the game now have been converted to Heroic +2's, and all have pretty much been tuned to be soloable with a decent companion. And you don't have to gear your companion - they just get better with more influence.

Classic Flashpoints
So besides alert missions, and the new heroic+2 flashpoints, the group finder now has a ton of flashpoints available, which are tuned to be completed by any group of 4, which means that the queue times are almost never bad, even for DPS. Great, casual, fun group content that can be completed in about 30 minutes sessions.

Gearing Up
SWTOR's commendation system is still in force, though the commendations have been replaced with data crystals. But it's direct one to one replacement. Common crystals get you 208 rated gear, glowing crystals get you 216 gear, and radiant crystals get you 220 rated gear. The same things that earned you commendations in the original game still get you crystals in the expansion: flashpoints, dailies, and story mode operations.

So Much to Do!
In short, it should be obvious that SWTOR's done a great job of providing you with quite a bit to do once you've finished the story. A whole network of contacts and associated missions, flashpoints, heroic missions, all provide you with something to for just about every style of play.  All of the original flashpoints now provide a solo-able version, and you are now auto-leveled to whatever planet you are visiting. This means that even if you're bored with the new content, any of the old content you skipped over while leveling can now be returned to, and it will drop relevant gear and crystals for your level! And of course there's PvP dailies and warzones to earn new gear for as well, if that's your thing.

As you can see, I'm pretty pleased about the wealth of content for this expansion. I'd reached the point in SWTOR where, outside of PvP, I really felt like was only repeating of story mode operations by way of content for me to do. And now, it's like getting an entirely new MMO to play in, and that suits me just fine.