Prepare for the battle for the Eternal Throne! On Friday, Oct. 7th, BioWare debuted information for their new Star Wars: the Old Republic expansion at New York Comic-Con. Entitled “Knights of the Eternal Throne”, the story will focus on (now) Empress Vaylin and the Alliance’s attempt to stop her galactic domination. In addition to a cinematic trailer, they provided a release date of December 2nd, 2016, and discussed the general gameplay.
Like its predecessor, “Knights of the Fallen Empire,” KotET will occur in chapters as a continuous storyline. The expansion advertises two new planets, although the precedent since Makeb suggests these will be small, limited zones… rather than the large multi-zone planets of the original game. For gameplay, they will raise the level cap to 70 (from 65), there will be three “levels” of play for those looking for more difficulty (Story, Veteran, or Master), and players will be presented with a new mechanic called Uprisings.
Sadly, this seems to be about it, and (like KotFE) this expansion appears to pale in comparison to “Shadows of Revan” (let alone “Rise of the Hutt Cartel”). With no indication of new Flashpoints or Operations and no attention to Warzones or Galactic Starfighter, there is little to draw the multitude of ex-players back. Other than a continuation of the story, which is primarily a single player affair, SWtOR remains “Massively Multiplayer” in name only. This lack of anything resembling an MMORPG has been one of the biggest problems with the game.
Current Story Chapters require absolutely no multiplayer, and I’m not sure if you’re even allowed to complete them in a party. The only new Flashpoints are the Star Fortresses, which are all eerily similar variations on each other. Besides, you can now complete every Flashpoint in “Solo Mode” with a super-powerful companion that rarely dies, negating the need for other players or even strategy. Even Heroic Quests can be completed with personal companions, negating the need for ever joining a group or working with others.
End-game, or the total lack thereof, has been even worse. There hasn’t been a new Operation since those introduced in SoR almost two years ago. Instead, BioWare chose to only update all the previous Operations to the current maximum player level, meaning long-time players are simply running the same content they’ve seen since 2011. Warzones did receive two new battlegrounds in February 2016, but that’s if you enjoy PvP. Galactic Starfighter, one of their best ideas, has fared far worse… not a single update since February 2014.
This complete inconsideration for anything resembling basic MMORPG concepts has brought the game to new lows. The only focus appears to be on the solo player experience and cosmetic purchases. The entire economy, once driven by gear modifications, now solely focuses on rare mounts, decorations, or armor skins… all often purchased through Cartel Coins. Equipment doesn’t even matter anymore unless you’re one of those remaining groups attempting to try Nightmare-mode Operations for the billionth time; everything else can be earned through Daily and Weekly gameplay, purchased cheaply off the Galactic Trade Network, or ignored by simply having a high-Affection Companion.
If Bioware would take a step backward toward MMO staples, like Dungeons/Flashpoints or Raids/Operations, maybe SWtOR would start regaining some of its losses. Even making solo play more challenging, like adding harder strategies to encounters, making equipment relevant again, or lowering Companion power so they can’t replace three other players, would go a long way toward drawing new (and old) players. Instead, like so many Asian MMOs, BioWare seems to focus on a cash-grab through Mounts, Stronghold Decorations, Armor skins, etc… nothing of any importance when it comes to the challenging gameplay so many gamers want.
There is a silver lining, however, as reports from NYCC say that they might focus on multiplayer more in 2017.
Will BioWare follow through on this promise? That’s hard to tell, given the precedent with this company. I’m cautiously optimistic at best, but I’ll remain subscribed; after all, I’ve invested five years of time and money into the game, and it’s the only option for a Star Wars MMORPG. If anything, I’ll continue to play for the solo story and try any new events or activities.
If they don’t do something soon, however, things look bleak for the game. Star Wars or not, gamers will only put up with so much.