The new expansion for Star Wars the Old Republic entered early access this week. Meaning those of us who scrambled to pre-order it are now able to play it in its entirety. Although I’m not ready to review it properly, I have dropped in enough hours to form some earlier opinions and impressions.
Note: This article is as spoiler-free as I could make it without talking in riddles. In particular I’ve done my best to avoid talking about any plot details. As a warning there are two screenshots from the first location you visit and a very brief mention of the tone of the planet. If you really want to know nothing at all I honestly suggest just waiting and not reading anything. If you don’t mind a tease, read on!
The first thing I have to say about Shadow of Revan is how incredibly vital the Forged Alliances Flashpoints are. I knew they were going to factor in but it seems Bioware basically gave us the first slice of the expansion for free with Forged Alliances. For those unaware Forged Alliances is the name of a set of Flaspoints and connecting cutscenes that released via patches over the last few months. Thankfully Bioware are well aware of their importance and urge you to play them first, calling it the expansion’s prologue and sticking a mission for it on your ship.
I think this setup actually worked out really well. It feels like a few months have passed in between Forged Alliances and Shadow of Revan and as such the expansion begins steadily with a mystery and builds off of what you know. This flows a lot better than the last expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartell, which simply began with a long conversation before dropping you into the fray. This time things feel more personal, you’re already invested when you land on the planet Rishi, where the story technically begins. You know the state of the galaxy and you’re just continuing your investigation. It’s a welcome change and is more like a single player RPG than an MMO, which is to say it’s fun feeling like you’re not simply following orders and going from point A to B.
Once you get into the bulk of the story it’s surprisingly different from other planet storylines and again feels more personal. Bioware seemed to have taken cues from Mass Effect and KOTOR by making you an incredibly important part of the world, you feel like the main character in the same way you did in your class story missions. There is something potentially very vital and dangerous occurring and it’s up to you to sort it out. This is achieved by the addition of personal story areas, phased sections where your group can come with you but only you get to advance the story. This ensures your teammates can’t nudge the conversation in a direction you aren’t happy with, which normally wouldn’t be a big deal but when this is the main storyline I can see how that may bother some people. Basically think of it as class storyline areas, just without the class limitations.
Speaking of class story missions, as you may have heard they are back in a limited capacity. I’ve only played the Jedi Consular mission, and unless I’m mistaken, it’s the only class mission my Consular is going to get in the expansion. It only took me about 15 minutes to complete, which may sound disappointing but I honestly loved it. Without giving any details I can confirm that, as Bioware implied, it did let me know what my character has been up to and what their place in the world is. It was a natural part of the overall character arc and was almost like an epilogue to the original story. If the class stories are a set of epic movies, think of this mission as one of those bonus TV specials that animated movies get, a short glimpse at where the characters are after some time has passed.
There are two new Flashpoints in Shadow of Revan but I’ve only played the first. Again, without details I can say it was very atmospheric and the fights were fun. In short: it was good. However it also felt a little straightforward. There were no twists and no morality decisions to make. However it was worked into the story very well. You have a reason to go there and it doesn’t just feel like it’s artificially stuck into the plot. If you have no interest in group content you’ll be happy to hear that playing it in the new solo mode works great, the droid who comes with you is a beast of a character and ensues you shouldn’t have too much trouble.
The new planet of Rishi may not sound very interesting but it’s full of flavour. As soon as you land you can see how different it is from the other planets in the game. In honesty it’s kind of a dump, there are patchwork buildings everywhere and criminal gangs made of up of a hodgepodge of different species. It absolutely reeks of Star Wars’ scum and villainy vibe. When completing missions you’re given quite a nice amount of variety and any grindy ‘Kill X number of Y’ missions are kept to a minimum. They’re there, as this is an MMO after all, but there are enough other things to do that you won’t just be setting out on every mission with a list of what to kill.
The discipline system arrived along with Shadow of Revan and my early impressions are good. It’s simple but I like it. The key difference is that by only having a very limited number of points to spend it makes your character quite unique. This is compared to the old talent system were you would basically end up almost identical to everyone else who also picked that tree. If you’re a DPS Sage you’re no longer the same as every other DPS Sage, you can pick what’s right for you from some surprisingly powerful changes. I will say though that it feels a little unbalanced. I only briefly looked at what’s on offer for the other classes but some felt like they got a bit of a raw deal while others are noticeably impressive by comparison. But that could just be a result of me only really playing a single class in the expansion so far. So don’t put too much stock in that early theory.
All in all I’m having a ton of fun so far. I’m a little bit concerned that the heavy emphasis on the story’s investigation angle might mean replaying it gets a little stale, but I suppose that’s always a risk with MMOs even when there’s little plot. It’s very hard to complain about the story though, as I feel far more invested in it than I ever did on Makeb in the last expansion.
If this is the future of SWTOR then consider me very pleased. All the new content takes advantage of some small improvements that tighten up the experience. For example, side quest NPCs no longer have lengthy conversations simply to tell you they’ve lost something, instead there’s just a box that pops up and a brief bit of dialogue that doesn’t interrupt gameplay. Another tiny change that boosts enjoyment is panning camera angles in cut scenes and an increase in character expressions. It all adds up to underline that you are playing an expansion, not a generous patch.
That’s all for my current thoughts, I’ll return and give it a full review once I’ve seen the full expansion. But as you’ve seen, my early impressions are pretty positive. I’m not convinced yet that this will bring back any fans who didn’t like SWTOR to begin with, but I’d say it’s definitely going to please the current playerbase.