On Monday at the Electronic Arts presser at E3, BioWare Austin announced that it was overturning the applecart that is Star Wars: the Old Republic. While we got a taste of the next iteration the previous Friday when a somewhat calculated leak of the new expansion's name and many of its details was hastily removed from the official website, sometimes it takes a trailer and a studio General Manager showing up to make it feel more real. For a game that has had issues with managing expectations, they seem to be trying to finally make The Old Republic feel more like a proper BioWare game with the promise of more story as the core of the new expansion.
First, let's cover the hype. At the EA presser at E3, studio General Manager Jeff Hickman presented a shortened trailer of the new expansion Knights of the Fallen Empire, due to go live on October 27th. With such a packed schedule of other games to present, it's no surprise that EA devoted so little time to SWTOR versus the more mainstream (and pre-launch) Battlefront or the brand new mobile CCG Galaxy of Heroes. However, of the three Star Wars games mentioned at the presser, only The Old Republic truly brought new story to the party. The other two are simply rehashing the movie and cartoon era.
The big nugget of joy for lore nerds like me is the basic fact that this expansion is all about story, if you believe BioWare's current press releases. The trailer during the presser was pretty cool, but the full trailer available on YouTube does a much better job of explaining what's going on. The expansion will launch with 9 chapters of new content and several more releasing monthly starting next year. What's exciting for me is knowing that BioWare is apparently getting the band back together, with at least three original class writers returning to SWTOR join Lead Writer Charles Boyd, Courtney Woods Ackland, and Sean McKeever for some of those chapters.
Despite what a number of people first assumed, the two brothers in the promotional stills that look hilariously like SWTOR Community Manager Eric Musco don't represent players coming from the Sith Empire or Galactic Republic, they're the conquerors of both from a new planet called Zakuul and its Eternal Empire. I found it interesting that the white-dressed brother was the one who tackled the Republic and went all dark side. If you discount the many theories on sites such as Reddit that link their Eternal Emperor father named Valkorion to the recently-thumped Sith Emperor Vitiate, this would represent the first major addition to The Old Republic lore since the John Jackson Miller-penned Knights of the Old Republic comic, and certainly is a huge departure from the incessant and repeated returns of Revan. It truly strikes to the heart of the conversation I had with Jeff Hickman and James Ohlen at PAX South and their intent to shake the game up and to take the story in entirely new directions. However, I will point out that even though Zakuul and its Empire might be all-new lore to add to The Old Republic era, it doesn't change the fact that game is still not canon. Leland Chee and Pablo Hidalgo's replies to this FAQ at Star Wars Celebration in April are still in force, so SWTOR remains the only active Legends property.
On the official website, they lay out things such as timed subscriber rewards that relate to fan-favorite smuggler Nico Okarr but here's where they throw status quo out the airlock. While repeatedly pointing out that players will make 'choices that matter', BioWare also mentions starting out at level 60, which a number of players rightly questioned. These players lament the fact that they'll have to deal with grouping up in high-level Flashpoints and Operations with new players who haven't had 60 levels to learn how to play their class. BioWare will need to learn how to handle this community dynamic the same as Turbine, Daybreak, and Blizzard all had to do when they first instituted free or purchased high-levels.
The story hype is real, but naturally the E3 trailer and the information on the website do as intended, which is leave us with plenty of questions. The E3 presser didn't show any gameplay, and there's some confusion about this Outlander persona that players are intended to take on. Also, this is an MMO, but yet all the information talks about making it a personal story, how your choices will matter, and that's always been one of the bigger issues that was sort of slid under the carpet all the time with SWTOR. It sounds more like playing Dragon Age or Mass Effect: single-player games. This feels like it's only emphasizing that, so how can my choices determine the fate of the galaxy when every other player could choose the other options?
One of the more intriguing aspects of their announcement was how players would build a presumably new team of companions from both all-new compatriots, old friends, and there are rumors you could possibly even pick up companions from other classes, according to Charles Boyd's recent blog. However, the thing that tickled folks the most was the little bit where players could kill some of their companions. Social media promptly lit up with a number of players cheerfully citing which companion(s) they wanted to send out the airlock, but as with BioWare's usual penchant for setting expectations, I'd caution anyone against assuming this is what they actually meant. I believe what they've done is finally come up with a plan that would allow a player to get rid of companions without losing their combat capabilities, which is why airlocking Malavai Quinn was only available pre-launch despite his terrible transgressions.