It may seem at odds to use the words “epic” and “accessible” in the same sentence, but Bioware and EA’s upcoming expansion to Star Wars: The Old Republic seeks to embody both of those terms in equal measure. If the entirety of Knights of the Fallen Empire (KotFE) is matched by the brief playthrough that I was privy to at an offsite preview yesterday, the expansion is going to pack quite a bit of a punch, while still being inviting to newer players.
If you’re not familiar with Knights of the Fallen Empire, suffice it to say that it will be the largest SWTOR expansion since the game’s launch, and will feature an increased level cap of 65, along with nine chapters of story-based, emotionally engaging content in a return to classic Bioware form. Building upon the positive player reception of the storytelling in the previous expansion, Shadow of Revan, KotFE will provide a new entry point into the game’s narrative at level 60, while also streamlining the original 1-50 class stories and improving the UI.
Knights of the Fallen Empire continues SWTOR’s narrative by putting players at the center stage of the fragile alliance between the Empire and the Republic, who have joined forces to combat the immortal Sith Emperor. All nine chapters will be included with the initial release, with monthly episodic content planned to begin after the new movie and holiday season. The expansion emphasizes the ability to choose between different far-reaching decisions that matter not only for the direction your personal character story will take, but also to the reactions of the NPCs around you, as you’ll need to recruit and build your alliance of characters throughout the new adventure. You’ll be able to set your companions’ roles and customize their gear without having to worry about influencing their combat ability, and will be introduced to new characters and companions with each chapter.
In our brief preview, I got to play a substantial portion of Chapter 1: The Hunt, and noticed immediately the production values of the expansion being head and shoulders above that of the base game. SWTOR has always endeavored to be cinematic in its presentation, but the game seems to be hitting closer to the mark with each attempt, and Knights of the Fallen Empire continues that trend. The user interface is also noticeably cleaner, and the voice acting is excellent as usual. Additionally, without giving away any spoilers, the story in Chapter 1: The Hunt is indeed of epic proportions and easy to catch onto even if you haven’t been keeping up with SWTOR’s more recent content, with streamlined gameplay that kicks the grindy nature of the vanilla game out of the window.
You can jump into the expansion with your level 60 character, or, if you’re a subscriber, start a new character right at 60. I’m usually trepidatious about this kind of thing because of the steep learning curve that’s required to play a high-level character without any previous experience, but KotFE eases you into the idea by tutorializing your way into the expansion and doling out a couple of abilities at a time. It certainly assumes some familiarity with SWTOR and MMOs in general, but I found the option to start at 60 to work fairly seamlessly. Furthermore, while you can’t autolevel your existing characters to play in the new content, Bioware will be normalizing the experience curve that players are currently experiencing with the Epic Story XP Boost, meaning that you can just do your class quests to level from now on.
In our preview, I also got to chat with Senior Producer Cory Butler about SWTOR in relation to Star Wars canon (check this article if you’re new to the discussion). Cory clarified that although the game’s not officially considered to be “canon” in the conventional sense, all of SWTOR’s dialogue, plotlines, and art are still reviewed by LucasArts, with whom the Bioware team is very much in constant contact. They do get some freedom in the sense of being able to create planets and species such as the Voss, but work to align everything that they develop with the existing themes of the Star Wars universe. Additionally, while SWTOR will not be seeing any direct in-game events tied specifically to the release of The Force Awakens, Knights of the Fallen Empire is seen to be a celebration of the new film.
Knights of the Fallen Empire is set to release on October 27, and is free for subscribers.