It’s kind of funny that five years after release, Star Wars: The Old Republic has finally found its footing. The game went through a tumultuous period after launch and miraculously came out the other end of the tunnel with wind at its back, but BioWare Austin’s vision for SWTOR has been a bit muddled for years now.
It wasn’t until the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion late last year that BioWare’s vision for the future of SWTOR crystalized. The studio strongly shifted focus back towards what set the game apart from its peers: the story. But Fallen Empire wasn’t without flaws. BioWare got caught up in the massive focus on story and seemed to forget the game was still an MMO. Thankfully, Knights of the Eternal Throne successfully strikes that balance and this bodes well for the game’s future.
Eternal Throne features “only” nine chapters to Fallen Empire’s total of sixteen, but there aren’t any filler chapters, and the entire experience is improved from top to bottom. Fallen Empire did an excellent job telling its story, but both gameplay and the impact of players’ choices left much to be desired, and this is where Eternal Throne improves upon it most. Level design throughout the expansion is varied, both in terms of layout and enemy encounters. You’re not just plowing through endless waves of Skytroopers on every level. In fact, there are a couple of new gameplay sections altogether. Throughout your adventure you’ll pilot massive walkers into combat, sneak around as a mouse droid, and even go undercover at a soirée for Empress Vaylin. I was surprised with how much I enjoyed the walker combat and call me crazy, but I’d love to see a walker PvP mode.
The tale BioWare’s spun with Eternal Throne is also improved considerably. It’s much more tightly paced, especially without the companion filler chapters found in KotFE, and choices matter a whole lot more overall. Most notably, if you are one of those players who wants to kill off significant portions of the NPC cast, you’re going to love Eternal Throne. I don’t want to spoil anything, but if there are characters you didn’t like in Fallen Empire, you’re probably going to be pleased with your options in to deal with them in Eternal Throne.
There are some new characters, too. Empress Acina, the new technocratic empress of the Sith Empire, was a surprisingly compelling new addition, even though she only appears for a small section of the expansion. I came into Eternal Throne a bit apprehensive of where BioWare could take the story next, given the fact this expansion wraps things up for Valkorion and his family, but with characters like Empress Acina and a couple of others, I’m excited to see where BioWare takes things next.
We mentioned earlier that BioWare struck a balance with Eternal Throne and it’s true. It’s not a perfect balance just yet, but BioWare seems to be setting the stage to introduce a chunk of story and then fill in the gaps between the next chunk with a focus on multiplayer content. It’s a solid plan, if the studio can pull it off. For the launch of Eternal Throne, that new content is entirely focused on something called Uprisings, which are kind of like bite-sized Flashpoints. Again, there are only nine chapters of story vs. sixteen in KotFE, but this expansion also comes with five of these Uprisings. I say it’s not a perfect balance just yet because the Uprisings on offer aren’t really meaty enough on their own to keep people playing long term, but presumably there will be more of these to come, and hopefully BioWare will make good on its plans to expand on other types of group content we haven’t seen much of in SWTOR for a while now. That said, as it currently stands, once you’re done with your story chapters and played through the Uprisings, you’re basically back to retreading old content again.
There is one major aspect of Eternal Throne that undermines what is otherwise an excellent expansion and that is the new Galactic Command feature. Basically, once you reach the new level cap of 70, endgame item progression is earned through leveling up your character’s Galactic Command rank. You can gain Galactic Command experience (or GXP) through just about any activity in the game, making almost everything you do in SWTOR endgame, which is a plus, but there are many issues with the system as it stands.
The two major pain points are that it’s incredibly grindy, and that it severely punishes players for playing alts. SWTOR is a game designed around playing alts, so it’s pretty bizarre that BioWare didn’t make Galactic Command rank shared across your Legacy, but it should at the very least have some sort of catch up mechanic. The trouble is that even if you do stick to one character, it’s still a huge grind. The quality of gear you get through Galactic Command is dependent on your character’s command rank, and even if you do manage to get a bunch of command ranks under your belt, that quality level takes a long time to ramp up. To make matters worse, you end up finding a demoralizing level of junk in your boxes. This is all stuff that can be tweaked, of course, but we can only review things as they are now, and for now, the system is incredibly frustrating.
Even though the somewhat meh Uprisings and frustrating state of Galactic Command tarnish Eternal Throne’s sheen a bit, the overall package makes for BioWare’s strongest expansion to date. For veterans, there’s not a whole lot new just yet aside from the story bits, but it’s definitely worth coming back to if you enjoyed Fallen Empire and want to see how the rest of the story plays out. For new or lapsed players though, Knights of the Eternal Throne adds yet another layer to SWTOR’s story pillar.
Frankly, if you’ve been waiting around for BioWare to put together a KOTOR III, you may actually want to take a look at SWTOR. BioWare Austin has essentially been building it under our noses in SWTOR over the past five years and Eternal Throne makes the most convincing case for this yet. With Fallen Empire and now Eternal Throne, the team has really upped its game. In my view, Knights of the Eternal Throne (along with Fallen Empire) should be considered essential to any Star Wars fan. BioWare’s carved itself out a unique creative space in the Star Wars mythos, and though it may not be canon, it’s compelling all the same and no Star Wars fan should miss out.
Final Score – 8.5/10 – Recommended for any and all Star Wars fans