You know things are going well when you have to force yourself to put the game down to make a deadline. Back when I wrote my impressions of Knights of the Fallen Empire, I commented that the expansion “starts off with a bang and just doesn't let go.” and the same is true for Knights of the Eternal Throne.
There will be spoilers ahead, so consider yourself warned.
Eternal Throne picks up a couple of months after the events of Fallen Empire with Empress Vaylin sowing carnage throughout the galaxy as only she can. Vaylin’s gaze turns to Voss, where her brother, and former emperor, Arcann is recovering under the care of his mother, Senya, and the planet’s Force mystics. We arrive on Voss to challenge the Eternal Empire, but it’s here that we also learn of Arcann’s presence and situation through the pleas from a desperate mother and former ally turned traitor, Senya.
Senya isn’t a former ally looking to make amends for some shortsighted slight against you. This is a mother, begging for her son’s life. You can hear the pain in her voice. She knows the risk she’s taking in reaching out to you, but with Vaylin’s soldiers fast approaching, time is running out. Senya believes that Arcann can be redeemed if he’s saved and she implores the Outlander to give her son a chance at that redemption.
You’re now faced with a choice: agree to help Senya and see where things go or use this opportunity to exact vengeance on your former ally for her betrayal and finish what you started with Arcann.
Naturally, my vengeful and power hungry Sith Warrior went for the latter. What’s interesting about making this choice is the delay between selecting the option and its consequences. It’s a small thing, and maybe it’s not even intentional, but it ratcheted up the emotional impact of what was to come. An energy shield separates you and Senya during the conversation, so you can’t simply select the choice and attempt to take out Arcann. This is how things are often handled in SWTOR. There’s immediacy to the light/dark choices you make. But here you must fend off an attack from Vaylin’s forces before you can track Senya down and make good on your decision. It’s this small delay that really lets the choice sink in: I am going to have to go through the mother to get to the son.
There’s just no other way to resolve this. There are few forces in nature more powerful than a mother’s instinct to protect her family. While BioWare did allow for some surprising character deaths in Fallen Empire, the notion of being forced to take out a character like Senya in order to make good on my desire for vengeance against Arcann is unfamiliar territory for Star Wars: The Old Republic.
But it happened.
I expected something or someone to interfere, for Senya to get away somehow. She’s a compelling character with much left unresolved between not just her and her son, but her and the expansion’s primary antagonist, Vaylin. But my choice to pursue vengeance did indeed result in Senya’s death and this represented snuffing out any flame of hope for not only the redemption of Arcann, but perhaps Vaylin as well. Once the deed was done, I found myself surprised at my need to pause and consider what I had just done in a videogame. Star Wars: The Old Republic got me to feel, which is something we all hope to experience in this medium, and it’s a rare thing, to be sure.
This is where Knights of the Eternal Throne’s opening act sets itself apart from Fallen Empire. The first chapter starts out with the same sort of well-made, action-packed set pieces we saw in the beginning of Fallen Empire, but it’s the emotional connection that now ties this story together that truly elevates the opening over its predecessor. We’ve gotten to know this family through the course of the last expansion and through the excellent Blur Studio cinematics, particularly ‘Betrayed’, where we got an intimate look at the complicated relationship between mother and daughter.
Fallen Empire didn’t do enough to leverage its strong character development in terms of player choice and consequence and this is something BioWare Austin intended to rectify with Eternal Throne. I haven’t played through the whole thing yet, so I can’t say if this continues throughout, but BioWare wasted no time asserting that this is a very different expansion from Fallen Empire along those lines and for me that’s been the most important takeaway so far.
I don’t know where things go from here, but I can’t wait to find out.
Have you played Knights of the Eternal Throne yet? What are your first impressions? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!