Since the first official announcement of Star Wars: the Old Republic, BioWare Austin has not been shy about letting its audience know that story is one of the main pillars that they felt was missing from the MMORPG space. A bulk of their effort developing the game went into creating a richly-told, voice acted story that would ease the pain of the traditional level grind. It seemed like the perfect melding of two great things: both BioWare and the Star Wars franchise have an amazing reputation for telling some of the most seminal stories of several generations now, and the opportunity to play an MMO without quest text boxes sounded like the Promised Land.
Once the game was released, players eagerly absorbed the class stories. While rich and interesting, they never really lived up to the amazing scrappy group dynamic present in the original trilogy of Star Wars films. There was some opportunity to pick up and interact with companions, and even delve into their lives and backstories. At the end of the day, however, the class stories are the tale of the protagonist. With the story in the Shadow of Revan expansion, BioWare has managed to fold in much more of the ensemble feel that made the original movies so great.
Like the previous game expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartel, Shadow of Revan funnels all character classes into more or less the same story space, eliminating the impact of class choice on the storyline. In the newer expansion, however, BioWare Austin has gone to lengths to create NPCs with distinct and interesting personalities and memorable characteristics that are essential for an entertaining adventure story.
The characters and storylines in Makeb felt more like an extended version of one of the planetary mission storylines that came with each new planet in the quest to level cap. It was interesting for what it was, but it felt like it was a story about the planet Makeb more than a story about the protagonist or a story moving the state of the Old Republic universe forward. With Shadow of Revan (SoR), none of this is the case.
One component making a terrific contribution to the story in the expansion, as well as one of the new mechanical systems in the game, is the new Solo Flashpoint system. Flashpoints, which are in essence SWTOR’s answers to group dungeons, have always been a highlight of the game. Apart from a select few, however, the Flashpoints haven’t been as story driven as the rest of the game.
The pressure to keep things moving for groups and the possibility that some players aren’t as interested in group content have prevented these longer-form, more intricate quests from being woven too tightly into the overall narrative. By making some of these quests available as solo missions, these concerns have been eliminated and now Flashpoints can be used as critical chapters moving the story forward. Some MMORPG fans might take umbrage with any system that takes some of the Massively Multiplayer out of their game, but BioWare has implemented the system in such a way that people who would likely run with a group won’t be scared away from doing so, and the opportunity to try out the content solo first might encourage less socially oriented players to try out grouping up.
Players who haven’t dipped in to SWTOR in some time get the opportunity to dive right in and try out the new Solo Flashpoints system for themselves. Beginning with game update 2.7, BioWare began rolling out the Forged Alliances storyline through a series of four Flashpoints which previously could only be played through in a group.
Purchasers of SoR are treated to the opportunity to play through the Prelude to Revan, which is just the four Forged Alliance Flashpoints with the solo mode option enabled. These four Flashpoints serve as perfect examples of what having solo modes available allows BioWare to do: played through in order they form a very riveting, multipart story with challenging encounters and varied environments that have a very different feel from the standard quest cycles available in the more single player oriented sections of the game.
A few key elements make the solo Flashpoints possible. There is some armor stat bolstering that takes place, but the real heavy lifting is done by the combat support droid who accompanies players on these missions. The other players in general chat dubbed him “Jesus droid” because he basically steps in and fills whatever roles are not being filled by you and your companion. He can heal, deal damage and tank with ease, switching between the roles seamlessly and he doesn’t ever need to be healed or resurrected. If he is killed during combat encounters, he can be re-summoned with a mission item button in your mission tracker.
Another important note is that players only get one chance to run the solo Flashpoints, which prevents people repeating them for farming purposes. From what I could tell, farming them wouldn’t be very useful since enemies and bosses don’t appear to drop loot; most of their loot drops appeared to come in the form of galactic credits and specific pieces of armor.
It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that the combat support droids are possible because of the new discipline system, which we covered last week. Now that roles are carefully delineated and clearly defined, the AI assistant has very specific ideas about the roles that need filling in combat. Companion’s roles are also pretty clearly defined by skill and gear loadout, making the droid’s job clear cut.
The new solo Flashpoint system is a fantastic addition to SWTOR that benefits both players who enjoy playing solo and those who prefer to play in groups. Many people who are intimidated by the prospect of having to get the lay of the land and learn fights while grouped with others who might get frustrated get the opportunity to go through an easier, private version of the mission first and get an idea of what is to come. Hopefully, that will give them the initiative to give the group finder a spin which will make queues shorter for everyone.
Fans of the story in SWTOR benefit because the solo modes enable BioWare to integrate Flashpoints more tightly into the story without having to be concerned that they are locking some portion fo the playerbase out of essential content. They have taken full advantage of that capacity and the Flashpoints in Shadow of Revan are some of the most interesting story-wise available in the game. For information about the first one, Blood Hunt, see Neilie Johnson’s write up from a few weeks ago. Sometimes the droid assistant made things a little too easy, but people who crave more challenge can always queue up for the group mode.
Leading up to the release of Shadow of Revan, BioWare offered subscribers who pre-ordered the expansion the opportunity to play the game with a 12x XP boost, so that people could level up to 55 without missing out on any of the class stories. It’s clear that story is still a huge priority to BioWare Austin, and with the addition of solo mode Flashpoints they are going to be able to get more content for their development time. It would be nice to see older Flashpoints get the solo treatment, but that doesn’t seem like it would be a huge priority since those missions are not critical to the overall story. In any case, Shadow of Revan does a great job of bringing back one of the core foundations of SWTOR and doing it right.
One additional review note: intermittently since early access launch on Tuesday morning the Shadowlands server, which I was playing on, had severe lag issues in new content areas. BioWare has done a good job of addressing these issues quickly, but they have popped up multiple times. Keep an eye on the @swtor twitter account and the BioWare official forums if you have concerns about performance before purchasing the game.