When BioWare and EA first launched Star Wars:The Old Republic, it was an ambitious if not slightly misguided foray into the world of MMORPGs. There had been a lot of hype leading up to its release and the initial consumer response was a bit, shall we say, tepid. It had delivered on all its promises in the eyes of most reviewers, but didn’t really pop with the general public right off the bat. So BioWare did something that anyone in their position would do if they’re smart, they asked the people what they wanted and changed their pay structure to be more enticing to casual players. But the changes didn’t stop there: the team has committed to updates every 8 weeks and has not stopped listening to players about what they like and don’t like. And next month’s April 14th upgrade looks to be the most ambitious one yet with a ton of new content and the brand new Rise of the Hutt Cartel DLC.
A long, long time before Jabba or even his parents were a twinkling in the eyes of their slimy, sluggy gangster ancestors, the Hutts were still a bunch of sleazeballs. In the midst of a powerflux after the endgame events of SW:TOR the Hutts, under command of the ruthless Taboro have revealed themselves as a third faction vying for control of the galaxy and have thrown their hat into the ring along with the Republic’s and Empire’s and, using an army of mercenaries known as the Regulators (think Blackwater meets the Clone Wars), they have invaded the planet of Makeb. The planet’s mountainous terrain hides a secret beneath its many canyons, an element known as Isotope-5 that may hold the key to swaying favor and an inevitable total victory for whichever side controls it. Isotope-5 is basically the Star Wars universe equivalent to cold fusion and even a small amount could power something like a Star Destroyer for a lifetime making it a highly desired commodity.
But mining the precious resource that can only be found on Makeb has left the planet unstable. As the Republic you’ll fight to save the populous of Makeb from annihilation and stop isotope-5 from falling into the wrong hands. As the empire you’ll endeavour to take control of the Hutt’s operations and harness their power for your own machinations. All of our hands-on time with the upcoming DLC focused on the Empire’s storyline and many of the early missions involved taking over installations such as radio towers. The atmosphere of Makeb makes flying a spaceship to the planets surface almost impossible, so gravity lifts carry you to orbital space stations controlled by the Hutts that you’ll have to acquire as well. But what fun would being a sith be if you didn’t get to throw down? How about a brawl on a giant flying battleship version of a skiff somewhat akin to Jabba’s in Return of the Jedi crawling with robots and guards? BioWare is hoping that such instances in their new content will offer up a new challenge to veteran players.
The Rise of the Hutt cartel will find you not only battling the ruthless Regulators and their guard droids, but taking on Hutts in mechanized exosuits with all sorts of deadly augments to blow you up with. Then there’s the planets native wildlife such as the Ginx that resembles a giant toad crossed with a bearded dragon or the Pterathki, which looks like the bastard offspring of Toucan Sam and a Pterodactyl. The enemies on Makeb are easily going to be the toughest you’ve ever faced in The Old Republic.
To balance out the toughness, players will get their level caps boosted to 55 along with some new endgame skills and a reworked skill tree. And while most of the 2.0 updates are to support the new DLC, players can also look forward to things like legacy achievements, which will give players bonus skills that carry over between all their characters, such as rockets-powered super-speed boosts. You’ll also be getting a galactic reputation system which will allow you to earn rewards by aligning yourself with different factions and there’s two new galaxy-spanning missions that you’ll be able to enjoy involving some new items.
The first new piece of equipment is the Macro-binoculars made famous by Luke Skywalker when in Star Wars Episode IV. You’ll be using the “binocs” as they’re called in the Old Republic to hunt down and scan radio towers as you track down intel and hunt the Galaxy’s greatest spy known only as “The Shroud”. Each set of scans will lead you to a new secret location and bring you one step closer to finding out exactly what the Shroud is up to and hopefully putting an end to his schemes before he ends you.
I’ve gotta level with you, I’ve never really been a big fan of WoW-style combat, but everything outside of fighting in SW:TOR intrigues me, especially since most of it’s so spot on in quality with the original Old Republic titles, but the Shroud missions in particular really drew me in because they featured so much non-combative gameplay. There was even some very light platforming and a deadly laser-maze puzzle to figure out along the way.
The second new side quest involves hunting down ancient sith relics known as the Seeds of Rage that have been stolen from the emperor's treasure vault called the Arcanum by the Dread Masters. The masters have spread the seeds throughout heavily populated planets and you must now use your seeker droid to hunt down the seeds and return them to their rightful master (at least as an Imperial agent). The inhabitants of the planets you’ll visit have been driven into a crazy blind frenzy by the seeds and will feature spec mods to that effect meaning fights against enemies you’ve faced before will offer up much more of a challenge.
The seeker droid mini game itself is very much a radar-enhanced version of hot and cold. You’ll enter areas where the seed is thought to be and use the seeker droid to hone in and dig it up. While the droid will point you in the right direction using a color-coded on screen compass, digging in the wrong spot isn’t necessarily a bad thing as you may uncover hidden loot and maybe even find something really rare while you’re searching for the seeds.
As you can see the Rise of the Hutt Cartel DLC and 2.0 upgrade are looking to be the most ambitious push for Star Wars: The Old Republic to date. Both will be launching on April 14th, but players who pre-order the Hutt DLC for $9.99 will get early access on April 9th. The XP penalty was recently lowered for the F2P accounts as well, so if you haven’t played before and want to check it out before throwing money at it, that’s always an option as well. Either way, may the force be with you!
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