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Monday, 22 June 2015

Knights of the Fallen Empire (part 2): overhyped?


A bit more than a week ago, information about the KotFE Coffee update was leaked and the SWTOR community exploded. The wildest ideas were flying around: we would finally get a continuation of class stories; with the Imperial and Republic factions gone players from both sides would play together; the expansion would be some kind of reboot of the whole game... and the only thing I could think, after reading the leaked notes myself, was: "Oh dear, a lot of people are going to be very disappointed upon release...".

Shintar from Going Commando made a brave attempt at separating fact from fiction, but more details about the expansion have been revealed since with the trailer and the E3 event. This article is pretty much my own attempt at wrapping everything up plus some thoughts about companions, the story and so on.

The presentation of Knights of the Fallen Empire at E3

Sources

The leaked information has been published both on Reddit and Dulfy. The presentation at E3 in the video posted above can naturally be viewed on YouTube as well. If you prefer to read, the SWTOR team has written this official announcement and Polygon has a pretty good article summing things up. There's also an official page for the expansion and someone has made a linkup on the official forum. Finally, I wrote down some thoughts on the trailer, that was rated as the best E3 trailer by IGN.

Facts

  • The Coffee expansion will be released on October 27th 2015.
  • It will be freely accessible to subscribers.
  • Monthly goodies are given to subscribers in the months leading to the release date.
  • Level cap will be increased to level 65.
  • The expansion comes with a new story that will be released in separate chapters over time.
  • The story takes place somewhere in the future and your character wakes up there after being frozen in carbonite.
  • You will be able to recruit five new companions and re-recruit old ones.
  • It will be possible to start a character at level 60, skipping the old content.
  • Old group content (including old flashpoints and raids) will be scaled up to level 65.
  • The existing class stories will be enhanced.
  • Although the press release focuses on the new story content, this dev post suggests that new raids are being worked on behind the scenes (more on this in part 3).

Eric Musco starring as Knights of the Fallen Empire, by Pelara from the Red Eclipse

Story content

Bioware has made it clear that the Coffee expansion will be focused on story content. They've recognized that this is their strong point and want it to play a larger role than ever before.

Jeff Hickman, general manager of Bioware Austin (emphasis mine):
"We can look at this stuff and say, 'look, if you want to go and play the standard MMO game — PvP, doing a flashpoint, operation raiding — we have that. We've always had that. We continue to expand on that. But we also heard, loud and clear, this scream for story, for personal custom story."
"You want story content? Good, we'll focus on story content." is what's being said here. But what we, if I may be so bold, want most of all is a continuation of our class stories. The small class specific sidequest on Rishi was fun, but, if anything, has just fed the desire for more.

I don't think this is what we should expect from the Coffee expansion, though. I've read everything I could and haven't seen the word 'class story' mentioned once in relation to the new content. I don't think that's a coincidence: if Bioware would plan to continue our class stories (and they know that's what we really want, otherwise they'd really live under a rock), they'd shout it from the rooftops. I would love to be wrong, but I wouldn't get your expectations up.

Instead, there's a lot of emphasis on "choices that matter". To me this sounds as if choices that are made in the game will have more implications than they do now. I'm thinking of irreversible ones regarding the storyline and companions, like for instance in the games Mass Effect and Dragon Age. SWTOR after the expansion would then have the character of a traditional Bioware RPG. I this is the case, then the expansion will indeed be a kind of restart of the whole game, as has been speculated.

No class stories would be bummer, but if choices do indeed matter it might provide a fruitful alternative. A lot of people enjoy replaying titles such as Mass Effect to see what happens if they take another route. It all boils down to how far the developers will go, how much choice there actually is.

With all the exiting news of new story content, the following is easily overlooked (emphasis mine):
"With the launch of Knights of the Fallen Empire, all of the original eight Class stories will be enhanced, allowing for a faster and more engaging playthrough for new and veteran players."
This took me by surprise. I don't have the feeling that the class stories are in need of an update, so I'm wondering what will actually change. Perhaps less running around or having to run back to hand in while you could just as well do a holocall? They did something similar to regions in LOTRO and that turned our well. I hope it's going to be restricted to quality of life changes like that, but I'll be completing the last class quests I need (which is the sith warrior one, both light and dark side) just in case.

Y-u'no practicing being frozen in carbonite

The story itself

First off, Eric Musco has confirmed that, although your character won't necessarily be affiliated with the Republic or Empire, the Imperial and Republic factions are not going to be merged, as some people speculated upon reading the leaked notes. I'm writing this specifically because a lot of blogs I read have written that cross-faction group content is going to be a thing. This is one of the wild speculations that emerged after the leaked notes and it's simply not true.

For the rest, the big question is (as Rohan from Blessing of Kings already stated): what will happen in between 'now' and 'then'? In SWTOR as it is live, the recent villain is lord Vitiate, the former Emperor. He doesn't have a physical form and lives to become stronger by devouring life. It is surprising that we're getting a new villain in the form of lord Valkorian 'the Immortal Emperor' with his sons (presumably the knights referenced in the expansion's title). What happens to Vitiate?

We also know the Empire and Republic will fall somewhere in between now and the Coffee expansion. I'm really curious to see how all these pieces of the puzzle will fit together. It seems likely that the Empire and Republic will destroy each other, with the war-loving Saresh leading the Republic. I like Treyan's (of SWTOR Musings) suggestion that Marr and/or Satele Shan foresee the fall of the factions in a force vision and freeze you in carbonite to set things right in the future, but we'll just have to see.

Where would I be without my big, furry friend to take care of me?

Companions

This is something we don't know all that much about. We know there are five new companions to recruit. We also know we'll have to work for getting our old companions back (some? all? we don't know). Apparently they have been up to other stuff while we were busy being frozen in carbonite. It may sound strange, but the fact that so much changes for companions really gives me the feeling this expansion is a lot like a new start of the game, much more so than the earlier expansions. In this sense starting out with a (instant) level 60 isn't all that weird.

I notice that I'm really curious at who our new companions will be. For the rest there are a lot of questions. We don't know how much time will pass while being carbonized. If it's a lot, will we have to part from our older companions? Doctor Lokin comes to mind. I also wonder whether it will be much of a grind to recruit companions. You apparently need to complete quests tied to their faction on various planets. Will this be something I'll have to do on all my level 65 characters? Because if so, that frankly sounds tedious. Perhaps it'll be nicer to divide what companions to recruit over different 65's, depending on what works for them lorewise. I guess we'll have to see.

It's going to be interesting what this means for crafting, too. If you lose your old companions (even if temporary), that might be annoying. I might keep some of my characters at level 60 for crafting until I have the time to work on regaining their companions in the new content.

Lastly, I have some mixed feelings about (potentially) losing (some of?) my companions. They have accompanied me on many adventures and I've become attached to them as a result. Just to be on the safe side, I'll try to finish my affection achievements with all my companions before the release of the expansion.

"The future is dark..."

So, overhyped or not?

The expansion has the potential to be a huge game changer, comparable to a reboot of the game. I suppose it all comes down to how well it is done. Will the new story be good? Will our meaningful choices have enough impact to make replay enjoyable? Will we be able to keep our favourite companions? Will it be fun (read: not a grind) to recruit new ones?

If they get it right, Knights of the Fallen Empire may very well be the "new hope for MMOs" Polygon claims it to be. If they don't, a lot of hyped players will be very disappointed and we may look at a second player exodus.

In Dutch we have the expression "koffiedik kijken", looking at coffee grounds to predict the future. I guess the English version would be "reading the tea-leaves", but I thought the coffee one is more appropriate in this case. As there are so many unknown factors, trying to predict what the Coffee update has in store is like "koffiedik kijken". I'm positively surprised that we're getting an expansion in this year of Star Wars and that it promises to be different from we've had so far, but I try not to be that hyped about it. With the towering expectations of this expansion in the media, I feel it can almost only disappoint in reality.

More on Knights of the Fallen Empire

Knights of the Fallen Empire (part 1): the trailer
Knights of the Fallen Empire (part 2): overhyped?
Knights of the Fallen Empire (part 3): group content
Knights of the Fallen Empire (part 4): the newest trailer and story leaks


17 comments :

  1. Just let me have my HK-51 and I'm the happiest SWTOR player around. Take my HK away from me and I become a tad violent. I loved it when I first got HK, and did the account unlock because I just knew that it would be impossible to get others to help get his last few pieces that require the Heroic missions. I am looking forward to more story content, but sadly disappointed that they are placing the characters in carbonite. Bad enough BH's do that, same with some NPCs in game, I dont wanna be frozen and have time pass me by, but overall I'll play it only cause I do have 60's that need to be used. Just right now I'm bored, so I bounce so much in game it's not funny now.

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    1. I have no idea how HK-51 will fit into the story. I do love mine as well, especially on my bounty hunter (he is less fond of my light side sage, who doesn't let him, I quote, "kill sufficient numbers of meatbags"). Calphaya has some thoughts on HK-51 in the Coffee update if theorizing about that is something you're interested in. For your sake I hope he will still be around! At least he is, sort of, immortal, so he has that going for him. :)

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    2. With maxing out his affection recently, I found out he's loyal to the one that activated him, so this is going to be a good twist, will he stay with his master in carbon, to watch over the frozen one until such a date to release ?????...thats gonna be good.

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  2. From my perspective outside the game the press releases and reports of KotFE immediately made me think that BioWare had decided to get out of the MMO business altogether. It read like a move to producing an online version of the kind of single-player RPG they've become best-known for, possibly with some degree of co-op play as well.

    With the 12x xp and the free level 60 everything from the game up to now other than the Personal Stories becomes irrelevant, doesn't it? I wonder how long they will even bother to maintain any semblance of an open world, let alone add to it?

    The flashpoints and raids would become the equivalent of battlegrounds or arenas in other MMOs - instanced mini-games or sub-games that stood to one side of the core game as optional extras. I think a lot of people might say that this is the way they should have gone from the beginning but I'm quite minded to download the original and have a run around over the summer just to see it while I can. I have a feeling it may not be around in the form we currently recognize for much longer.

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    1. I had no idea you had any interest in SWTOR. While they emphasized "RPG" and made sure not to use the word "MMO" at all during the presentations, I think there's a chance it's a marketing thing to appeal to the disappointed masses that say they want a "KOTOR 3" and that SWTOR is not it. I hope so, at least, because if you are right and the MMO grouping parts are going to be some small extra that is not invested in, it might be the end of my interest in the game after I've completed all story content.

      I think whether the main class storylines are going to be irrelevant or not depends on your definition of relevance in MMOs. If your only goal is to get to level cap as quickly as you can, then the answer is yes (although I wonder what the point is if there's little to do at level 65). I think a lot of people (that have not done them yet) will still want to level through the level 1-50 class story content for the stories, though, because they're really quite good. For the people who like PvP, it will also still be worth having characters lower than level 60 if they want to play in the lower level brackets (level 10-29 and 30-59 currently, although I suspect they'll change the level ranges for the brackets slightly with five extra levels added to the game). The PvP matches in those brackets have a different feeling to them than the more competitive level cap bracket and are fun for people who are new to PvP or just want to relax after a long day of work.

      If you're considering playing some SWTOR class stories (there are 8 different ones) during the summer, I think that's something you'll enjoy. Although the general questing experience is of a more old-fashioned MMO style in SWTOR compared to GW2, the class ("personal") storylines are more immersive in my opinion (good voice acting, less clichés, more RPG-like with light side/dark side/neutral choices).

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    2. Not to disagree or discourage Bhag from trying, but my money is on him not liking it due to the characters saying things he wouldn't have said and the whole game not being enough of an open world. If he does decide to try it that is. :D

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    3. Although I don't think there's a lot of people that don't run into their characters saying something else than they intend every now and then, that one thing wouldn't have enough influence on me to not like the game at all. Challenge accepted!

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  3. Guh, you totally sniped my post idea. I also agree with you on the class stories; the 'Outlander' story will be one and the same for all, I think. And I think that the x12 XP promotion will end with the release of KotFE ... only to be made a permanent feature going forward for all pre-KotFE content. And I personally think that's the absolutely right move!

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    1. Sorry for that 360 no scope - I obviously had no idea.

      The 12x XP buff permanently for subscribers would be something that would fit well with Bioware's (unofficial, but pretty obvious) subscription encouragement policy. I have mixed feelings about it, though. I kind of appreciate things more when they are temporary (I am weird, I know).

      Anyway, if you have more thoughts on the expansion, feel free to write your post anyway and link to it here. I'd love to read them. :)

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  4. I don't think Bioware has overhyped KOTFE. They hyped it, sure, but not nearly as much as the players have in their own minds - and then subsequently trashed it because the official hype hasn't met their expectations so far. MMO or not, Bioware is known in the industry for storytelling and it shouldn't be some kind of game-changing disappointment that they're going to work on the aspect, the same year a new Star Wars movie is coming out. I'm hopeful that they'll provide new operations because that's the part of the game I'm more focused on now, but some of the vitriol I've seen online...to me, that's more disappointing than anything else about the expansion so far.

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    1. Oh, I didn't mean Bioware, I meant the players themselves. Sorry if that wasn't clear. I think the presentation was pretty much like you'd expect: of course it's always a bit of hot air and all. I feel like there was a real hype when the leaked page became public and a lot of speculation was thrown around. And then the trailer was pretty spectacular and all. I guess most of that is now over. As you say, after the initial cheering, some people are now wondering (borderline panicking?) what this means for operations and PvP. I must have missed the really vitriol stuff, because I don't keep up with game fora (for exactly that reason)...

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  5. I think the idea of the factions being merged wasn't quite that wild, since other MMOs have already gone down that route (e.g. Rift). Nonetheless I'm glad that it has already been refuted, because it means that at least some sense of faction pride will be preserved. Also, even if we're all going to be "Outlanders" for now, the door remains open for the possibility of the Republic and Empire becoming relevant again and this development resulting in divergent story arcs. (Hey, a girl can dream!)

    The single story arc is one of the main reservations I have about this announcement. My last post just before the reveal was about being bored of running all my alts through the exact same story, and these new story chapters may very well suffer from the same problem unless there are ways for them to play out very differently. Having to make some sort of either/or choice when picking new companions might help, but who knows if it will be enough?

    Very good analysis in any case. :)

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    1. Also, I just wanted to say that I'm mightily impressed with your ability to hunt down new SWTOR blogs as soon as they are created and linking to them before the author has even made five posts!

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  6. I thoroughly enjoyed the expansion, except for the heavy grinding feel. They said they were going to put more emphasis on story but I felt like the number of insignificant mobs I had to trawl through had greatly increased. Ratio of cutscenes and conversations to mindless spamming of my basic ability keys was not ideal.

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