Star Wars: The Old Republic's newest expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, starts off with a bang and just doesn't let go. I thought BioWare really upped its game with Shadow of Revan, but I had to check to make sure I was actually still playing SWTOR when I jumped into KOTFE for the first time today. The best way to describe it would be to compare it to that feeling you get when you sit down to see a film and the opening scene does such an amazing job grabbing you that you can't believe two hours have passed once the credits start rolling. So far, it's been that good.
The craftsmanship, attention to detail, and writing put into every scene I've experienced so far has had me glued to the screen. The camera work in particular is simply impeccable and really puts the cutscenes from the origin stories to shame. The story you're telling is important, but how you do it is just as important. Where the original game felt like an MMO trying to emulate BioWare's singleplayer RPG pedigree, KOTFE's production levels put it on par with some of the best of the best AAA RPGs we get excited for each year. I don't know if the expansion will maintain this level of quality throughout the rest of the chapters--this is a first impressions piece after all--but I'm already beginning to worry that I'll be fiending for the next chapter once I'm done with the nine available.
I'm not going to talk about story specifics in the interest of avoiding spoilers, but I will say that I jumped into KOTFE fresh after completing Shadow of Revan and the Ziost storyline and it connects so incredibly smoothly that it all feels like one entirely new game separate from what we've played pre-Shadow of Revan.
This very well could be the KOTOR 3 fans have been looking for, but that may end up being a double-edged sword for MMO fans. You see, when it comes to storytelling, BioWare has been making a fairly blatant shift towards singleplayer content over the past year or so. The quality of the content is now on a level where it may just warrant the shift, but it does certainly feel odd that this is being done in an MMO. That's not to say that game update 4.0 (which launched with the expansion) doesn't do a good deal to make playing with others a lot easier and more compelling, but if you're wondering if you should subscribe to get the actual expansion content, you may want to hold off if you're not particularly interested in the story bits.
Gameplay wise, things haven't changed a ton so far. This is still the same fairly old school MMO-style combat you're used to with SWTOR, though mobility has been kicked up a notch with the addition of one new ability per Advanced Class. As an Assassin, I can't tell you how much I love using the new Phantom Stride ability. It's a simple shadow step type move you see in just about every MMO, but the fluidity of the motion almost makes me feel like a character straight out of an anime. My only wishes are that the cooldown were significantly reduced and I could slot a utility that allowed me to store multiple charges. Blinking from target to target like some anime ninja would be pretty awesome.
Well, those are my thoughts so far. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some more BioWare story to play through. Stay tuned for our full review soon!
BILL'S ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS
Mike has pretty much the right of it. SWTOR's newest expansion feels pretty much like a whole new SWTOR. I can already tell that going back and trying to play any of the earlier content is just going to feel archaic at best. It really does feel, at least for the first three episodes that I played, that SWTOR is very much the Knights of the Old Republic sequel fans have been wanting... which is odd when you consider it's coming inside an MMO. In 2.5 hours of play, I haven't seen another player except in zone chat.
The wider world will likely open up and a more traditional questing and MMO-y gameplay system will probably filter in as I progress beyond what essentially amounts to the "introduction" to this new story, five years after the events of Shadow of Revan. I think that the wider MMO-playing public will be a little at odds with how solo-centric the KotFE story feels, but I think that's just SWTOR carving deeper into its own niche. No IP and no studio is better equipped to make a story-driven MMO, and it feels a lot like Knights of the Fallen Empire is BioWare's final realization that this what they do best. I fully expect the story to be the main focus of the game, something you do solo, while the MMO parts are what you do in between bit chapter updates to the main story. That might not please everyone, but I expect it'll greatly please fans of BioWare's games and fans of KotoR.
The first chapter playthrough, SPOILERS AHEAD for those who don't wish to see them.
Gameplay wise, I didn't have a 60 ready and waiting so I used the free level 60 boost to make a Jedi Shadow and was off and running. It's nice how they slowly feed you skills and place them on your hotbar where they feel they'll make the most sense. By the time I was done with Chapter 2 I feel pretty competent with my new stealth DPS machine. I also really appreciate that all companions can now tackle any role you want from healer to tank or DPS. You don't have to swap out companions based on your need, and you don't have to keep the "best healer" if you're a DPS class, when you might rather have someone else because you actually like their character better.
Overall, we'll wait and see what Mike thinks in his final expansion review soon, but I'll be damned if I'm not having fun in SWTOR for the first time since launch. It feels like a whole new ball game for SWTOR, and if you're a fan of BioWare's storytelling you won't want to miss this one. If you're still pining for Galaxies or unhappy with the way BioWare focuses on solo story with their MMO, you won't be happy here. But as a fan of Knights of the Old Republic and as a guy who doesn't mind solo-ing in my MMOs from time to time, I'm thrilled and absolutely hooked by the narrative so far.