I had a whole different plan for this week’s column, but sometimes major events just fall into your lap. Major events like the announcement of a digital expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic. That’s right, next spring, Star Wars: The Old Republic gets its first ”expansion” with the ‘Rise of the Hutt Cartel’. Let’s take this week’s column to break down what we know so far and offer our take.
EA released a trailer during E3 2012 that touted a number of new features coming to Star Wars: The Old Republic ‘this year’ and chief among them was a new planet, Makeb, along with a raise in the level cap to 55 (including new abilities and talents). Most of the features in that trailer have been released on schedule, but Makeb, along with the associated level bump and abilities, has been curiously absent.
As it would turn out, the Makeb content is being bundled together as part of the newly announced ‘Rise of the Hutt Cartel’ digital expansion. The expansion will run you $20 as a non-subscriber or $10 for subscribers. We don’t know too much about the expansion so far other than the fact it will include the aforementioned Makeb content, it won’t add new class story content, pre-orders will receive five days of early access, and the expansion cannot be paid for using Cartel Coins.
Reactions to the announcement have been mixed. Some players are upset that BioWare is charging for this content at all and others are upset they can’t pick it up for Cartel Coins. Indeed, BioWare’s James Ohlen even found himself a bit surprised earlier this year when discussing the notion that BioWare would be releasing Makeb as non-expansion content given its supposed size. It’s a bit ironic then that James’ comments about delivering Makeb to players as non-expansion content serves as a testament to BioWare’s commitment to offering players new story content can now be juxtaposed against recent criticism that BioWare has been overreaching in their endeavor to separate cash from players’ wallets since launching F2P this November. Is the conversion of the Makeb content to a paid expansion just a blatant cash grab and a sign of things to come? Or will the expansion pack contain as of yet unknown features along with the new content that will help justify players having to pay up?
You see, I’m not blind to the angst or disappointment that some fans feel when looking at comments such as the ones James made during the TORWars interview only to find out they’d now have to pay for the same stuff. I get it. But that doesn’t stop me from being excited about the new “expansion” nonetheless. Sure, it’s disappointing that we have to pay for it outright instead of getting it as part of our subscription and it certainly makes BioWare look pretty silly given James’ previous comments, but somewhere between now and then the situation changed, and here we are. I’m still interested in the content just as I was then and none of this changes anything. And for full disclosure: I’ve already pre-ordered the content and I regret nothing.
I put expansion in quotes, by the way, because I don’t think anyone should consider this thing along the lines of a World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade or Mists of Pandaria type expansion. This is more along the lines of perhaps LOTRO’s Siege of Mirkwood expansion, if anything. Basically, the word expansion is fairly meaningless at this point outside of big boxed products. Working in this gig for as long as I have, I would get press releases every day from countless publishers touting every new game update to their game as an ‘expansion’.
Let’s make it simple – it’s DLC. We all understand that term and it makes sense. And the content is being priced at what would be considered your typical DLC price range. You’re getting the Rise of the Hutt Cartel content for what you’d pay for a Skyrim: Dragonborn DLC. When considering DLC on the whole, I don’t really find the Hutt Cartel expansion’s content and pricing all that objectionable. I’d gladly drop $20 for ‘more Skyrim’ and so I don’t mind paying up for ‘more SWTOR’ if the content is significant enough.
Finally, I’ve also seen a good deal of grumbling about the new content not extending the player class stories. I don’t know about you, but when I beat my class story I felt pretty satisfied and that it was ‘done’. Would I like it if they expanded on the story with new chapters as part of an expansion later? Sure. But am I going to be disappointed that any piece of paid DLC that comes out doesn’t do this? Not at all. Further, if BioWare put class story behind a paywall with a digital expansion then wouldn’t it violate their whole notion of allowing players to experience their class stories for free as a major bullet point of the F2P experience?
As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t looking like some big, every 18-months or so boxed expansion product. I’m really not expecting the moon for 10 to 20 bucks. And to be honest, given the criticisms of SWTOR, shouldn’t we prefer that BioWare focus on this sort of content, anyway? Class stories are decidedly ‘singleplayer’ and Star Wars: The Old Republic is an MMO, right? I actually enjoyed the world story arcs on each planet a good deal more than my class story most of the time since it followed me throughout the entire planet as a cohesive story and I could do it with friends. After the first few planets in SWTOR, your class story really doesn’t amount to much more than a small handful of missions you’d do at the beginning or end of a particular planet anyways.
In any case, let’s wrap things up this week with a bit of a wishlist of features I’d like to see BioWare announce for the expansion over the intervening months in order to sweeten the deal.
Crew Skills: Why not add some new crew skills and announce some overhaul of the crew skills system? Crew skills have loads of potential in SWTOR and haven’t been fully realized from either a content design or economy standpoint.
Some of the earlier Flashpoints in the game feature interesting mechanics involving crew skills, such as slicing an elevator control panel to skip through some trash, for example. Why doesn’t BioWare make use of this more in their content design? I’d love to see the new Makeb content make use of crew skills to enhance the experience.
On the economy end of things, there’s just very little reason to use most crew skills to create products that players want to buy. I’d love to see this addressed in a meaningful way alongside the launch of the expansion, with perhaps some additional crew skills thrown in for players that purchase it.
Cathar: I’m holding out hope that the Cathar will arrive alongside the expansion and we already know they are going to be a Cartel Market item. Maybe include them for free for those who pre-order the expansion or offer a discount to expansion owners when the Cathar eventually do go live?
What do you think about the expansion announcement? If you’re unhappy, what would BioWare have to add in order to make you feel that it’s worth the purchase price? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below and have a safe and happy holiday!