Ten Years of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Ten years of storytelling across the vast universe millions across the world have come to love since the first movies released in the '70s. BioWare, the developer behind the MMO as well as the incredibly successful single player RPG Knights of the Old Republic series isn’t slowing down either. The next expansion in the SWTOR lineup is Legacy of the Sith, which will launch on December 14th, 2021.
The expansion brings players back to the ocean planet of Manaan, though this time returning players might notice some changes. The planet itself has become the center of the struggle between the Empire and the Republic, with both factions fighting over a substance called Kolto, which is known for its healing properties. Because of the struggle between the Empire and Republic, the Sith have invaded the usually idyllic planet of Manaan, bringing players to a very different experience than they are used to when they get there.
Manaan isn’t the only place SWTOR players will be visiting, as a new Flashpoint, Elom, will also be coming with the MMO’s expansion. Players will be pursuing Darth Malgus to a temple dedicated to a mysterious Sith lord. Elom is a remote planet, and while it’s in Sith territory it’s not that well known. Dotted with ancient ruins, technology as well as rival forces looking into the mysterious Sith lord whose temple is there will drive players in the Flashpoint, as well as trying to find out what is drawn the Sith lord Darth Malgus to the area.
A new operation will be releasing shortly after Legacy of the Sith, with players heading into deep space to investigate an anomaly. The team describes it as having a “space-horror vibe” with a “creepy” and “intense” environment. Operations, for those unfamiliar with the title, are Star Wars: The Old Republic’s version of raids. The R-4 Installation is a secret research base in an asteroid by the Empire and has been taken over by a Sith cult, the Unmasked.
Players will recognize some of the characters that will intersect with your path in the Legacy of the Sith, including the aforementioned baddie Darth Malgus, as well as newer characters introduced in the previous expansion, Onslaught. Players will join up with the Imperial Commando Major Arni, the now-graduated Jedi Knight Arn Peralun, Lana Beniko, Tau Idair, Darth Rivix, and more.
Legacy of the Sith isn’t simply just an expansion release, however. Project Director Keith Kanneg talked about how this is a foundational update to SWTOR and how it starts to set in motion what the team hopes will be the foundation for the next ten years.
“Yea, you look at it, we have a ten year old game, right?” Kanneg told MMORPG in an interview earlier this week. “And there’s a lot of decisions that were made about the game ten, even twelve or fifteen years ago. So what we’re having to do is kind of unwind some of that and look and say, ‘Well, what is it that we want to do? Where do we want to go? How do we want to expand? Because if you look at it as a foundational product, then what you’re looking at is how can we attract new players? Not just keep getting the players that used to come and bring them back. Yes, we want that too, but how do you attract new folks, right?”
To that end, the team is looking at everything from the baseline technology included improving the UI to better scale across modern monitors to even looking at the fundamental way players access the MMO. While Kanneg rules out a complete engine overhaul, there is a desire to improve the technology so the work the artists do on environment and models shine through and look like they fit in a game in 2021 versus 10 years ago.
Charles Boyd, the creative director for SWTOR added that while the MMO is an investment for the players, the team wants those players to feel like BioWare and EA are invested as well beyond simply updating content.
“MMOs are sort of an investment, right? As a player, you’re going to put a lot of time into this. You’re probably going to play it for a while. And it’s a game that’s going to be around for a while and going to grow and change and evolve. So it’s important for both current players and prospective new players to hear us talk about that stuff, to know that we’re invested in this game from our end, right? BioWare, Electronic Arts, the dev team – all of us are super into Star Wars: The Old Republic and it has been our passion for many, many years and will continue to be so. And part of that is making new stuff, new content. That is very important, but showing that we want to make this a game that feels current for the future, not just adding new bells and whistles. We are ready, will and able to update.”
It’s fitting then that in addition to the new content coming with this update, Legacy of the Sith is also seeing a fundamental change to how its classes and character building works with its upcoming Combat Styles update. This puts more power into the hands of players to create the Star Wars character they’ve dreamed of. Boyd uses the example of Captain Rex when talking about building a character using the new Combat Styles system, allowing players to create their version of this type of character in SWTOR – a trooper for example that now carries two pistols and fights like a gunslinger.
This is important, especially in a BioWare game where so much player choice and agency can influence how you feel about the story. Unlike other MMOs where you’re just another person in the grand scheme of things in a story, SWTOR still retains some of that BioWare charm, where you’re really roleplaying a vital character in the plot. But creating combat styles and giving more players control over their characters, it brings even more of that player agency the studio is known for into the MMO.
It’s that level of character development and control over character that feels unique in the MMO space, especially in a story-driven experience. While one can easily ascribe SWTOR’s longevity in the MMO world down to it being a Star Wars game, there is something to be said about a studio that brings a unique take on the genre to fans, as well as a team that listens and tries to respond to feedback as much as possible.
“For me, I think it’s because it’s bringing that BioWare experience into this MMO space where you can share it with your friends, right?” Boyd says when asked what the team would say has helped keep things going for so long. “Other MMOs definitely have moved more and more into story, right? You can see some great storytelling nowadays versus what was around back in the day, in the 00’s and the late ‘90s versions of MMOs and online stuff. But [to] still have that level of interactivity and character development and control over your own character and what their motivations are is something that’s still pretty unique to the MMO space. And it constantly compounds itself, because every time you add new content you’re adding new choices, new stuff, new developments, new little twists on your character or whatever that keep you loving it, keep you invested and what not. It’s not just ‘What’s going to happen to all my favorite characters.’ It’s ‘What’s going to happen to my character? [What’s] my character going to do?’ I feel like [that] makes it stand apart and gives it that longevity.”