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Changing the Face of the Galaxy

Jean Prior Posted:
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We see brief descriptions for five new characters on the website such as fan-favorite Lana Beniko, including concept art that show she's really changed many things (including apparently her class).   Charles Boyd made a point during his character blog to note that those characters listed aren't necessarily new companion characters and that there were many others not on the list.  Obviously, given the unknown number of years our characters will be on ice, that leads to an interesting question: our flesh and blood companions had to have aged.  Have some simply died of old age?  It would make no sense at all to use the same models (except for Bowdaar), so has the art team been going back and aging the appearances of all these companions?  What about companions players can acquire via legacy unlocks and the Cartel Market such as HK-51 and Treek?  It would be very poor customer service on BioWare's part to suddenly take away a companion players spent in-game credits or real money for cartel coins to buy.

The story downside of aging our characters is that players who had built relationships with or even married certain companions will have to face the question of what happens if that old companion is no longer available or has died or suddenly aged.  It's a very interesting question that pops up in various sci-fi novels and even in the non-canon Vector comic mini-series that spans the Old Republic to Legacy eras, but this will be more personal for our characters.

In all this talk about a personal storyline, this is still an MMO, so where's the new group content?  They only mention revamping old Flashpoints and Operations to retune them for level 60+.  What about PVP?  No mention at all, same as with crafting, although Musco did note on the forums that a post on crafting was forthcoming at some point in the future.  Also, here's a change of plan.  At the Star Wars Celebration Cantina Tour in April, they announced that the Epic Story XP boost for subscribers would be around 'a long time' and added 'indefinitely'.  However, the FAQ on swtor.com states that the boost expires on October 19th. This raises the question about how players who choose not to take on the instant level 60 character will go through classic content.  BioWare included information in their releases that state they're going to be enhancing the elder content to make it smoother and more streamlined.  This is at variance with every previous BioWare statement that it wasn't feasible to go back and revamp elder game content, that they were only focusing on future content. It's reminiscent of Blizzard swearing up and down there would never be flying in vanilla zones because it would be too much work and eventually releasing Cataclysm.  Will it be worth it to level up a new alt or eight through classic content again to see what changed?  With the ability to rejoin old companions in new story content, does this mean that players can finally elect to romance same-gender companions?  Or... is it possible they might even include that as part of the classic story enhancements since they were already altering things?

We also have no information on monetization other than certain things are free for subscribers.  What are the free-to-play or preferred price points for the expansion?  We know thanks to Eric Musco's post on the forums that each subscriber will get one free instant-60 with the expansion and that the plan (not set in stone!) is to increase the per-server character slot limit to 24. Will non-subscribers have to buy episodic passes?  The FAQ seems to indicate that's not even a possibility.

9. What if I unsubscribe from Star Wars: The Old Republic after October?

If you unsubscribe after October 27, 2015, you will keep the first 9 Chapters of Knights of the Fallen Empire, but will not receive any additional Chapters when they are released.

Another good question to wonder, considering how a number of game studios set release goals that seem to slip over time for various reasons (looking at you, Carbine), can BioWare maintain this schedule?  How big are the chapters anyway?  They're obviously not as complex as the first three chapters of a player's story that comprised levels 1-50.  Even if they'd started working on this over a year ago, which is very likely, a few core writers and a couple of freelancers aren't enough to keep eight classes going for tons of quests per chapter.  My guess is that we'll see something like how the Rishi content would be one chapter, and Yavin IV would be another, and Ziost another.  They've had pretty good success with those, but if these chapters are meant to naturally come out once a month, that's pretty light for story but a lot of art and set design to work on.  For example, I multitask frequently even when playing games, and it only took me a few hours to play through Ziost one afternoon.  We also have to bear in mind that this expansion is supposed to cover five levels, up to 65, so how will the chapters work with leveling?

Turning back to the Blur-created trailer, it seems grim for both factions, but I was struck by a few things:

  • Only one female character was shown the whole time.
  • Only one non-trooper Republic character was shown.
  • Other than the Twi'lek, all the characters whose faces you could see were white males.
  • Most of the characters are pretty darned dark side.  

In a Star Wars universe where it's canon that one of the leads of the new movie is a black guy and the actual MMO is pretty varied, you'd think they'd diversify the cast of characters in their up-front trailer a little bit more than 'one alien lady'.  However, none of the Blur cinematics for the game ever really had anything other than 'white human' or 'alien' in the past, so I suppose they're just keeping this part of the experience a status quo.

In a separate post-presser interview with IGN, Jeff Hickman and Senior Producer Bruce Maclean revealed that level 60 characters entering into the expansion will be frozen in carbonite and wake up some years later and find their companions scattered and the Empire and Republic 'all but fallen'.  It's a great story to read about, but when it comes to an MMO, how will that work for players who might want to help out their lower-level friends in elder game areas?  Musco confirmed on the forums that players would be able to go back to the older planets.  Obviously, there will be new planets to explore (Bothawui is confirmed via the leaked information from Friday), but if both major factions have fallen, what about Fleet?  Clearly the SWTOR team gained back a number of their devs from the canceled Shadow Realms team, but it surely wasn't be enough to redo every 1-50 planet to account for the changed political landscape.  The easiest solution was to pull a Warcraft-style handwaving of things (i.e. Schroedinger's Lich King) and take advantage of the game's sometimes-annoying instanced-planet space model.  However, I'll admit to a bit of wishful thinking that they had the resources to code up post-Fall planets and let players visit them however they wanted. It would be totally surreal if they let Republic players wander around on night-time Taris or vice versa with the Imps on daytime Taris, for example.

How will this changed landscape and potential lockout affect things like Galactic Starfighter and your Stronghold? With the multiple new planets mentioned but not named by Maclean, will we finally ever get to see more of an open space system?  Okay, maybe that's too much of an overturning of the applecart, but after seeing E3 trailers for games like No Man's Sky, I had a wistful moment there.  Still, since we're talking about major game overhauls, let's drop the loaded question here, is this SWTOR's version of the infamous NGE?  SOE (now Daybreak) pretty much alienated the majority of their SWG fans with their ill-considered overhaul, and there seem to be a huge number of changes in store for how we're going to be playing SWTOR from October onward.  How BioWare answers these questions will determine whether the story will triumph over the fear of change or if we'll see players leaving in droves again despite it. 

Either way, no matter how all of these questions are eventually answered, I'm convinced this represents SWTOR's 4.x iteration.  We can assume there will be an NDA-driven closed beta like happened with previous expansions, and of course we'll find out more information as time passes.  One thing that encourages me is that BioWare is holding 5 hours of story panels at the next Cantina Tour stop in San Diego even before the usual 3 hours of Cantina Tour goodness, and there is the promise of more information about game mechanics and companions at Gamescom in Germany.  This is the sort of thing that would have been perfect to hold at Celebration in Anaheim two months ago, but conventions and game development cycles don't often meet up... and if you think about it, the sheer potential number of new players at SDCC and Gamescom is far greater than 'preaching to the choir' at a dedicated Star Wars convention.  It's another calculated marketing choice in a cycle full of them.

Of course, as more information comes to light, keep your browser here at MMORPG.com, where we'll keep you up to date on all the latest news about The Old Republic.

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Jean Prior