Revan is Coming
The floodgates have finally opened, a week has passed, and now the floodwaters are receding in the news release cycle for Star Wars: the Old Republic. 3.0 has been formally announced, and it's proof that BioWare Austin is very fond of the letters S and R and the word 'shadow'. Shadow of Revan promises to bring even more story to the almost three-year-old MMO, as players get to hopefully sink their teeth into what is the end cap of the video game trilogy focusing on an era in galactic history where Revan was pretty much the central lore figure.
Okay, as many of you know from having read my article last month, I'm not the biggest fan of Revan coming back (again), but even I acknowledge that we're all inured to the trilogy model due to decades of training from books and movies. If you count Knights of the Old Republic II as part of the story, then this will hopefully deal with him once and for all, so we can start moving out of the 'tried and true' or 'safe' stories available in this era... that is, if you assume the game will survive the 3.0 expansion cycle into a projected 4.0. I'm personally not holding out huge hope for it, because BioWare's contract for SWTOR is due to expire here in a couple of years, and their usual caginess in telling us of future plans doesn't give us much upon which to cling. It's the reverse of knowing World of Warcraft will be around for years because Blizzard's quite happy to tell us they've got multiple expansions lined up already beyond the upcoming Warlords of Draenor.
So what are we getting in Shadow of Revan besides, well duh, Revan and some epic quests to take him on as the final boss? We know from the announcement page that early access for preorders is December 2nd (regular access is December 9th), level cap is going up to 60, and there are two new planets to explore: the piratical Rishi, and the future home of a secret Rebel base, Yavin IV. One of the questions I immediately had was whether what we're getting is going to merit the $20 USD price point. The previous full expansion Rise of the Hutt Cartel was only $20 for non-subscribers, but subscribers got it for $10, and eventually, BioWare started giving it away for free. It's only natural for us to poke at things in comparison to see if it's value for the money. It also depends on one's viewpoint. I'm used to paying upwards of $50 or $70 for game expansions, but also used to getting a minimum of 5 levels per level cap increase, major system updates/upgrades, enough zones and PVE content to justify that price, perks for preordering or buying a collector's edition, so $20 isn't much to me. The only fair comparison here can be with RotHC. Is there more content? Having two new planets seems to imply such, but five levels of content fit on Makeb back then, so will it be spread thinly over both planets?
You can review the official details of the expansion as published on swtor.com, and it will show you what you get based on when you preorder and whether you're a subscriber. My guild has been having a field day with the 12x class mission XP boost already live for subscribers (good until December 1st). I've been running the last couple of classes I never finished yet and rather enjoy how much easier it is to follow the class story is when I'm not distracted by non-class quests. As denoted in the FAQ section, Legacy and consumable class XP boosts won't stack with this, but the generic Legacy and consumable boosts will. In practice, I find I'm keeping up level-wise with the places I'm going in the story, but of course my gear and credits aren't keeping up. However, BioWare did the smart thing and made it so that skill training is now free for those preordered subscribers. While it's a nice classy move, it's also paving the way for the biggest change to the game that will come out with 3.0: the Discipline system.
Skill trees will soon be a thing of the past. With the new Discipline system outlined in this official blog, players will automatically acquire their basic class skills as they level up, but will get to choose a discipline that is reminiscent of the old skill trees. Current Mists of Pandaria players can nod knowingly with me right now because in basic overview, the system does resemble the revamp of WoW's skill trees of doom from Cataclysm and earlier into the talent system they have now. Their stated goals with this change are twofold. First, they wanted each class to feel like their chosen role in the so-called holy trinity was more obvious even in early levels. Their example was that they wanted a tank to feel 'tanky' without having to wait until 30 levels into the game. Their second goal was to eliminate some of the crazy hybrids that players had come up with that they hadn't intended in the design. Now this has led to some grumbling amongst players, and there's certainly an argument to be made for letting players play the way they want versus developer intentions. However, their quieter tertiary reason for going this route was that the huge number of choices in the skill trees and the various iterations meant that balancing all the classes and advanced classes was a sheer nightmare and a huge timesink for the developers. Between now and Early Access, Community Manager Eric Musco will be hosting livestreams on twitch.tv/swtor to demonstrate each class' Discipline options, so it's a good idea to check them out if you want a get an idea of how each one might wind up playing out after beta.
Speaking of beta, they've already announced there will be a closed beta for Shadow of Revan. Much like the RotHC beta, it will be an NDA-covered event with many players being specifically invited due to past guild or fansite ties and others will be randomly selected to cover various playstyles. Whether they'll have enough time to properly test anything between now and December is anyone's guess, so hopefully they already have people in now. Unlike the RotHC beta, there will not be a separate concurrent open beta, which is a very good idea. I remember the very loud growling on the part of many players when guilds had half their people invited to supersecret closed beta and the rest were able to play in the open beta, and people were expected to lie about their whereabouts due to the NDA when someone asked 'why aren't you available for raid night?' It caused a great deal of needless aggravation in the community, so thankfully BioWare learned from that lesson.
However, there are more things coming with the expansion or sometime thereafter that most players haven't really heard about. One of the biggest questions I had was answered on the forums, when Eric Musco answered player DomiSotto's similar question: what about a solo version of the four Forged Alliances Flashpoints, so players could catch up to the game's current story without forcing them to group to do so. He replied that a soloable version was exactly what their plan was, because they wanted all players to be able to experience the main story before heading into the expansion's content. Great news for folks like me whose hours make grouping difficult on most days. It should be noted that the original (current) group versions of the FPs aren't going anywhere.