Rise of the Hutt Cartel, the first digital expansion to Star Wars: The Old Republic, couldn’t have come at a better time. After a rocky 2012 (understatement, I know!), BioWare seemed to arrive (better late, than never) to the conclusion that just about everyone else in the industry has come to and jumped head-first into already: free-to-play is the future.
Despite a somewhat controversial implementation of the free-to-play model, Star Wars: The Old Republic has enjoyed new signs of life that have seemingly held over the intervening months since the switch. Given that second wind, a digital expansion, in the form of the Rise of the Hutt Cartel, could be crucial in carrying that momentum forward into the next few months of 2013. I say “could”, because it all depends on the quality of RotHC, and today, we’ll be exploring just that!
Priced at $10 (or $20 for non-subscribers), Rise of the Hutt Cartel adds two new main story arcs, one for each of the game’s two factions, that both center on the massive new planet of Makeb. The expansion also adds Achievements, new Macrobinocular and Seeker Droid missions, a new Operation, and of course, the requisite level cap bump (complete with new abilities and revamped talent trees) to level 55. There are a couple of other smaller additions, but this is mainly what you’re getting for your $10 (or $20).
Since I only have a level 50 on the Imperial side of things, this review will focus on that experience. Naturally, you can expect some replayability from the expansion if you’ve got 50s on both sides of the fence, but I can’t speak to the quality of the Republic side of things. For the Empire, Makeb’s story focuses on the invasion of the Republic-aligned planet by the seedy Hutt Cartel. The Hutts have taken over Makeb in pursuit of a potent (if generically named) resource called Isotope-5. With the Empire on the back foot in the war with the Republic, the player is given the crucial task of using the ongoing chaos between the Republic and the Hutt Cartel as an opportunity to steal some of this resource for themselves, in hopes of using it to turn the tide of the conflict in their favor. As one might imagine, this is a bit of a clandestine operation for Imperials, but don’t get it twisted, there are enough explosions and havoc present in the Makeb storyline to almost qualify as an action-packed summer blockbuster.
What Makeb’s overarching story lacks in depth, it makes up for with solid characters and sheer production value. BioWare’s pedigree for storytelling through solid dialogue, player choice, and cinematic quality are all alive and well in Rise of the Hutt Cartel. It would be fair to argue that Rise of the Hutt Cartel is much narrower in scope for an “expansion”, especially since it doesn’t include an extension of the eight player class stories found in the original game, but I feel it would be a bit unfair to expect all that from a $10-20 download.
Once you’ve chewed through the main story content, there’s some additional content associated with Makeb in the form of a “Staged Weekly”. Terminals scattered throughout Makeb offer a number of missions spread across a pair of stages. In order to complete the weekly, you’ll have to tackle three missions from each stage (of your choice) and a sort of bonus mission at the end. The missions offered vary in length and difficulty, from simple and brisk 5-10 minute jaunts, to tedious 30+ minute missions, or even two or four man heroics. The rewards given are commensurate with the difficulty and length of the missions you complete. This content is pretty much forgettable, though. It really only serves to pad out the experience and help get you geared for level 55 content, such as the Hardmode Flashpoints and new Scum and Villainy Operation.
There are achievements, too. Admittedly, I’m not much of an achievement hound, but the implementation appears to hit all the right notes. There are a plethora of titles and achievements to earn and some achievements even reward you with a modicum of Cartel Coins to spend on the Market. There aren’t enough of these to make major purchases, mind you, but it’s a nice little extra. Like the Galactic Reputation system introduced in a previous update, Achievements are also Legacy-wide, which should come as a huge relief to those of you who just can’t resist the urge to tackle ‘em all.
One of the more interesting additions included with the expansion are the Macrobinocular and Seeker Droid quests. Each of these quest types comes with its own storyline that will send you on a planet-hopping adventure.
The Macrobinocular quests involve seeking out encrypted data signals on different planets and scanning for them in the environment. Some of these signals are cleverly hidden, but most are fairly easy to spot.
As you scan signals you may or may not be ambushed by an assassin droid associated with the storyline or, more amusingly, an “Auditory Provocation Droid”, which will attack you and simulate different sound effects local to the planet you are on, often with hilarious results. In one example, we were ambushed by said droid on Hoth, only to have the droid put out a Wampa mating call and find itself on the receiving end of a brutal attack from a massive newly spawned Wampa.
Once you’ve found all the signals on a particular leg of the quest, you’ll uncover the location of a puzzle-filled instance to tackle. The entrances to these instances can sometimes be hidden in the environment, making getting to them a bit of a puzzle itself at times. The puzzles aren’t overly challenging, but they do a great job to spice up the experience. Depending on how long it’s been since you’ve seen most of these planets, you may also appreciate the exploration involved with the Macrobinocular quests. It’s been a while for me, so I got a bit of a kick from it all. Your mileage may vary!
The Seeker Droid content is far more annoying, however. From what I understand, it basically works the same as Archaeology did in World of Warcraft, a feature that doesn’t seem to have been well received by the playerbase. After playing around with the Seeker Droid stuff, it’s easy for me to see why. Like the Macrobinocular quests, you’ll be hopping from planet to planet, but this time you'll be search of certain objects that you must dig up from pre-designated scavenging areas.
Many of these areas are completely new extensions of existing zones, which is nice, and you’ll encounter new enemies here as well (including Champions!), but the gameplay of searching out for these quest objects is incredibly tedious. You call out the droid to a specific spot in the area and you have a chance for the droid to pick out the quest object you’re looking for. If it doesn’t, it will give you a general idea of where you should search next, and can also provide you with loot, or even dig up a nasty monster for you to fight.
I can’t say I had much fun digging around doing these quests, but similar to the Macrobinocular quests, there are also a number of instances you’ll tackle throughout the quest line, and these are actually quite fun. That is, until you come to the conclusion.
If you’ve been tackling these missions solo or perhaps with a duo partner, you’ll probably be annoyed to find out that the very end of each respective quest line are a number of Heroic quests. As of this review, I haven’t tackled the Heroic quest associated with the Macrobinocular quest line, but I can tell you that the Heroics (two of them) associated with the Seeker Droid line are quite challenging. In them you’ll find puzzles and bosses with mechanics along the lines of Flashpoint or even Operation fights, which would normally be a welcome addition, if not for the fact you’re completely surprised by their inclusion and being unable to complete them gates your ability to finish out the associated storyline.
I don’t mind optional Heroics, but forcing players who may have (up to this point) spent hours playing through this story solo to then group up for its finale is a bit odd. In fact, it’s more than a bit puzzling. You see, the instances we mentioned earlier all scale in difficulty depending on your group size, and I’m not really sure why (outside of puzzle mechanics requiring four people) this same design couldn’t be consistently applied to the entirety of the quest line. On a server as dead as my original server, it can be difficult to put together groups. In any case, if you do have a group of four readily available, you may enjoy the additional challenge.
If you’re itching for more Macrobinocular or Seeker Droid content, there are GSI Terminals available on a number of planets that offer Daily Heroic and non-Heroic missions associated with these quest types. Additionally, you can dig up parts to put together a number of exclusive speeders or even two new armor sets using your Seeker Droids at the right locations. Explorers can also look forward to a massive galaxy-wide Achievement hunt called “The Droids You’re Looking For” that will utilize your Macrobinoculars. If you manage to knock out this Achievement set, you’ll even be rewarded with a special mini-pet. For my part, I’m probably more inclined to do the Macrobinocular related content, but I think I’ve had my fill of the Seeker Droids, outside of maybe hoping to put together one of those snazzy new speeders
Finally, there’s the combat. The expansion patch, or Game Update 2.0, features a revamp of combat in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Even if you don’t own the expansion, you’ll have overhauled skill trees to look forward to, with fairly significant changes to how the game plays, depending on your class. The Alacrity statistic has been overhauled to be useful to pretty much every class, and I can tell you from personal experience that it makes playing a Marauder even more exciting. The new Alacrity stat now applies to instant abilities as well as channeled abilities, and this means that with enough Alacrity, you can speed up abilities to below the GCD. As a Marauder, it feels great to lash out at my enemies with a flurry of attacks in Berserk mode due to the Alacrity buff, for example.
If you did manage to pick up the expansion, you’ll earn a new ability (one for each Advanced Class) at level 51, and again, depending on your class, this ability can have a pretty significant impact on your play. For my Marauder, I gained access to an AOE Double Lightsaber Throw that really never gets old. It hits like a truck and can catch a massive amount of enemies in its radius. I couldn’t be happier with it.
Rise of the Hutt Cartel is a fairly priced expansion for what you get. The quality of what is included, despite some low points involving the aforementioned Seeker Droid content, is really top notch overall, and so it is my recommendation that any fan of the game not hesitate in picking this one up. You aren’t likely to be disappointed.
What did you think of the expansion? Let us know in the comments below!
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