BioWare is set to unveil Knights of the Eternal Throne, Star Wars: The Old Republic’s next expansion, this Friday at the New York Comic Con cantina event. We know that the expansion will continue the story featured in Knights of the Fallen Empire, but aside from a short eight-second teaser of the cinematic trailer that will accompany Friday’s announcement, we don’t have much else to go on.
While Knights of the Fallen Empire was a solid expansion overall, it wasn’t without its faults, so let’s take this week to discuss some of the things we’d like to see in Knights of the Eternal Throne to improve the experience.
Make Choice Matter
This isn’t necessarily a new criticism for BioWare games, but BioWare Austin made a pretty big deal out of the impact of your choices in Knights of the Fallen Empire, and now that we’ve seen it all, the expansion really didn’t live up to the claim. When I first started playing KotFE I would get nervous anytime I’d see “X companion disapproves” when I’d do or say something, but this really didn’t seem to matter aside from one significant instance. Other choices made in the expansion also didn’t appear to have much impact on anything.
It’s a little easier to gloss over this a bit in BioWare’s single player games, but in an MMO focused entirely on story, replayability is key. I’m not saying I need enough there to take every class in the game through the expansion with significantly different experiences, but some more branching would be nice.
When I first heard BioWare Austin would be delivering Knights of the Fallen Empire episodically I thought it was a genius move. Positioning SWTOR as a story-centric online game with monthly episodes sounded like a great way to keep players subscribed to the game. The issue was that the value didn’t necessarily line up. $15/month for a few days' early access to chapters that were often fairly short just doesn’t sound like a great sell for anyone other than diehards like me who never let their subs lapse. This was doubly true when one could simply wait for all the chapters to release and sub once to unlock them all permanently for a single payment of $15. Sure, you’d have to wait, but it comes out way cheaper in the end. BioWare tried to entice players to stick it through the whole thing with a bonus chapter where you get to play as HK-55 (the chapter is awesome, by the way), but I just don’t feel it was a strong enough incentive.
If BioWare continues with episodic content in Knights of the Eternal Throne, I hope the expansion features significant new systems to help keep players’ attention each month. The team could take lessons from the latest Hitman game, which serves as a great example on how to execute on episodic content delivery. Hitman extends each episode with time limited content to keep people subbed through the full season. For SWTOR, what about some time-limited alliance alerts that offer different cosmetic rewards or companions?
Companions could really use some love both in terms of gameplay and how they fit into the new content. All companions are basically identical now; they’re essentially just different skins at this point. It would be nice to see some additional flavor added to companions to spice them up in some way. Maybe some kits or some sort of progression to allow you to develop your companions in different ways. Personally, I’d also like to see (voiced!) companion quests make a comeback, even if it’s just for the companions directly featured in the KoTET story.
Don’t Forget the MMO Bits
I’m all for the shift in focus to more story content, but the MMO side of the game has been neglected for far too long at this point. Whenever I ask friends to come back and play the game again, I always have to warn them that we can play up through Hutt Cartel, but after that it’s going to get dicey, and basically impossible once we get to the KotFE content. Sure, KotFE included Star Fortresses, which I thought would feature a bit more variety, but once you’ve done one, you’ve basically done ‘em all. I don’t know that new operations are necessarily the best bang for BioWare’s buck, but how about weaving in some new flashpoints between the chapters? Maybe some heroic alliance alerts? Or even new warzones focused on the conflict?
Likely unrealistic, but I’d love to see BioWare make the whole experience more co-op friendly top to bottom. Think making the entire story work the way a flashpoint does, where it can be played solo, but other players fit in seamlessly. Sure, it would mean rewriting things to be less focused on a singular hero, but as an MMO, it could be a unique way to combine the story and online experiences without completely sacrificing the latter. I’m more than aware that this would be a Herculean task, but if BioWare could somehow figure out a way to at least keep friends together throughout the expansion content, I imagine that would go a long way for many. Either way, something needs to change, because as it stands it’s pretty awkward to feel like you can play with a friend or two for roughly 55 levels and then all of a sudden you’re in a fully single player experience. I love the story – I’d just like to be able to share the experience with my friends a bit more.
What do you want to see in Knights of the Eternal Throne?