The best expansion yet, KoTFE offers an in-depth storyline and the new end-game Alliance feature in addition to an already vast universe to explore.
Storyline & Vast Worlds
Level Sync & Heroics Redux
Lag at Alliance HQ
Knights of the Fallen Empire Review Introduction
I started playing SWTOR the first day of release. After playing multiple classes and reaching end-game, I wrote my first review of the game in December of 2011. I then took a long hiatus and returned earlier this year to play Shadow of Revan. I was impressed with the changes and enhancements and decided to write another review titled “Three Years Later: Star Wars the Old Republic Review 2015” where I provided a score of 8.3 and covered the evolution of the game since launch. It has now been nearly four years since I first started playing SWTOR, and the latest expansion has, in a number of ways, taken the game to the next level.
Before I start, if you have not watched the KoTFE trailer, I recommend you do so before continuing to read. It is truly a work of art and one of the best trailers for a game that has ever been made. You can watch it here.
KoTFE (patch 4.0) is the most anticipated expansion for SWTOR since the game’s initial launch in December of 2011. To support the excitement for the expansion, SWTOR saw a 33% jump in subscribers between July and September 2015 and KoTFE also won the “Best Trailer” E3 award in June of 2015. With the new Star Wars moving releasing in December, interest in this game has been revitalized in many ways, and players are truly excited to participate in the evolved Star Wars universe.
The goal with this expansion was to take the game back to its story-telling roots, and it is an understatement to state Bioware was very successful in this goal. From a production and story telling perspective, KoTFE is a work of art; one of the best I have ever seen with a game. Fundamental changes have also been made that include complete redesigns of core mechanics and systems. As we prepare for the new movie next month, those who enjoy the Star Wars universe have been given a treat with this expansion.
SWTOR has been out nearly four years and has evolved numerous ways. Below is a quick recap of the expansions and patches.
12-2011 to 02-2013 | Version 1.0 (Initial Release) to Patch 1.7: Legacy Enhancements, Guild Bank, Custom UI, Group Finder, Ranked Warzones, Cross-faction GTN, Cartel Market, Nightmare Mode, Heroic Space Missions, Reputation System.
04-2013 to 09-2014 | Patch 2.0 (Rise of the Hutt Cartel) to Patch 2.10: Level Cap 55, Planet Makeb, Space PvP (Starfighter Battles), Legacy Achievements, Guild Perks, Appearance Designer, Armor Dye, Cathar Species, New Mounts, Treek Companion, Graphics Upgrades, Planet Oricon, Monthly Bounties, Daily/Weekly Ranked PvP Missions, Numerous Space PvP Ship Additions, Conquest Events, Galactic Strongholds (Player Housing), Guild Flagship, Legacy Bank.
12-2014 to 9-2015 | Patch 3.0 (Shadow of Revan) to 3.3.2: Level Cap 60, Planet Rishi and Yavin 4, Ability Costs Removed, Combat Proficiency System.
10-2015 to present | Patch 4.0 (Knights of the Fallen Empire) : Level Cap 65, Companion System Redux / Alliances, New Planets: Zakuul, Odessen, Redux on Character Skills, Level Sync, Class Adjustments, Crafting Adjustments, Heroic/Flashpoint/Op Adjustments, Star Fortresses, Graphic & UI upgrades, Leveling redux (main and arc storylines).
The focal core of KoTFE is the new Storyline. It takes place after the Shadow of Revan and involves a “new empire” that has overtaken the galaxy, requiring both the Republic and Imperial sides to join forces and hopefully destroy this new threat to the galaxy. KoTFE provides 9 new chapters and Bioware has announced they will be releasing an additional chapter to KoTFE every 30 days starting with Chapter 10 in January, 2016. Chapter 16 will be the final chapter in KoTFE, so players will receive a new chapter every month for 6 months following the release of Chapter 10. Note these additional chapters will only be available to subscribers.
The KoTFE story is fantastic; one of the best I’ve seen in any online game, and Bioware has produced the best quality of work for the SWTOR universe with this expansion. While many people say it’s “short” (about 6 hours), the storyline does have slight variations for all 8 classes, and since SWTOR is a game designed to entice players to have multiple characters (and build out all classes), the storyline alone provides more than 40 hours of gameplay.
The Alliance (Companion) system is one of the biggest changes to the game and has redefined the end-game and Companions features for all players. The Alliance UI encapsulates two major sections: Followers and Contacts. Followers are companions you can recruit to summon and fight by your side. With 4.0 there are more available than before, including including companions from other classes that were previously unavailable. Many of the new companions are acquired by completing quests while others are inherited through your class. Contacts are NPCs that you can level up (by turning in certain items), teleport to, and get missions from; but they will not fight with you. There are 4 Alliance Specialist contacts that unlock rewards and allow you to loot certain items in the Star Fortresses (covered below). Another big change is the removal of equipping gear on your companions to keep them viable. This is an excellent change that removes the need (and burden) to constantly upgrade their gear while you are leveling up. While a player can outfit the visual look and feel of some companions (“Other Followers” but not “Main Characters”), any gear assigned is only aesthetic and doesn’t impact a companion’s performance.
When you begin the KoTFE storyline, you will lose access to all of your original companions. Many are found through the storyline, but some classic companions are not yet available through the existing chapters. All companions will eventually be available through the complete storyline, but if you don’t want to wait for future chapters to provide access to these companions, you can activate them through the holo-terminal located in your Alliance Base Quarters. Activating companions through the holo-terminal does not impact their future acquisition through the storyline.
Affection has also been removed and replaced with Influence, which is raised through conversation decisions and providing gifts. Each level requires a certain amount of influence (e.g. level 17 takes 3500 points to reach level 18) and each level gained improves a companion’s Presence, which improves combat (raises their damage, health, healing)and crafting time/crit chance. A level 10 companion does very well as a healer and DPS role, but a level 50 companion is utterly devastating in comparison (which can allow players to solo content they otherwise could not). While Bioware says they want Choices to Matter with this expansion, I haven’t seen much of a difference in the overall story and experience based on the decisions I have made. There may be underlying mechanics that aren’t apparent, but so far, it seems more like a “cool thing to say” than something that really exists. There are also Alliance Alerts; these are missions available through NPCs spread throughout the galaxy that provide quests. At this time, the only alerts are for the initial Star Fortress missions (you only need to complete the actual missions to unlock the Star Fortresses once). Ultimately, the Alliance feature is an encapsulation of galaxy contacts and companions that will continue to grow as new chapters are released. There is also a feeling of accomplishment and companionship as you recruit these individuals throughout the galaxy.
Another major change is that of defining your companion’s Role, which is set to one of three values: DPS, Healer or Tank. As mentioned above, at higher influence levels, a companion’s damage and healing can be “crazy” to the point of allowing a player to solo ultra-hard content just with their companion. An example of how this new system enhances gameplay for all classes is you can play and level up a “healer” character (that has very low DPS) and use your companion as the main DPS for combat (which is nice). One thing I do not like about the new expansion and alliance system is while the story is focused on bringing Republic and Imperial forces together, you cannot group with members of the opposing faction to do any of the new content; this is a bit of a contradiction to the overall “theme” and storyline of KoTFE (reiterated by the fact both Republic and Imperial players run around the new Alliance headquarters, unlike Fleet). Another disappointing factor is it doesn’t really matter what companion you fight with; they all behave the same and provide no advantage regardless of the role you select. So level 20 Yuun as DPS will fight just as well as level 20 Theron Shan as DPS. It’s unfortunate Bioware did not add special abilities to each companion so players would be enticed to work with one more than the other based on different behavior or abilities. I believe their goal in making the companions all perform identically was to allow for players to choose the companion they liked the most (via storyline and personality) rather than one that’s “best at DPS” or has a certain attack that outperforms others. For more information, a complete overview of the new Alliance system can be found here.
You can now teleport to any mission-providing or “item accepting” contact in your list from anywhere in the galaxy. This allows for very quick transportation! The downside? You don’t really use your ship much anymore.
The new Worlds of Zakuul and Odessen have been added with the expansion. While Zakuul has zones one can adventure in (to proceed through the new storyline), Odessen only functions as the headquarters for the new Alliance base and doesn’t have any zones to adventure in. I am disappointed that Zakuul did not add any daily quests or “harvesting” areas like Yavin-4. The expansion also adds six Star Fortress flashpoints which provide weekly mission rewards and some of the best gear in the game outside of end-game hard/nightmare mode operations. While the SFs are generally the same (which is rather disappointing given there are only 6 of them), the path, rooms and mini-bosses can change to add a little dynamic difference to each run. There are no new operations, however Heroics have been completely redesigned and are now part of the weekly mission pool and directly connected to the Alliance system. But even cooler is the new Heroic weekly quests entice players to journey throughout the galaxy and experience additional content. Even as a veteran player, more than half of the Heroics I did my first week in KoTFE were new to me. The rewards from these Heroics are also very important, which I cover in more detail below.
The new expansion also provides all players with a free level 60 character slot so they can start the KoTFE content without having to play all of the previous content to reach the new content. Additional L60 character slots can be purchased through the Cartel Market for 2,000 coins ($20).
They also made a number of changes to the Cartel Market which includes new items, armor packs (Bronze, Silver and Gold), and the ability to filter items in your collection (which is a great enhancement). The collection list also comes up compressed instead of open as it did before. These features make it much easier to navigate the monumental amount of items one can collect and unlock.
There were numerous Class & Skill changes with the 4.0 release, many of which are covered below under the Mechanics section; however many of these changes included adding new abilities to the Melee classes, and adjustment to the ranged classes – but the biggest changes were made to melee classes. The game is more balanced now (for PvE) and playing a Sith Warrior is much more enjoyable than it was before the expansion. A detailed overview of the Melee changes can be found here.
The new Missions for KoTFE revolve around the new storyline, Alliance missions (to gain companions and level up the specialists), and the new Heroics, which are used to obtain items for the specialists. They have also made changes so a player can level from 1-65 by only doing storyline and “planet arc” missions, which are now defined by purple quest indicators above NPCs and on the map. The sheer volume of the content of this game comes out when you start doing the heroic missions spread throughout the galaxy, and there are more than 70 of them. One very cool aspect of the new Alliance system is it exposes players to the diversity of the worlds, missions, creatures and rewards, which is staggering and really shows the sheer breadth of content this game has to offer.
With Heroic Missions being key to leveling your Alliance Specialists, they are now packed with end-game players. Remember, you can switch map instances if you find there are too many players in the area!
While Star Fortresses are the only new Flashpoints available with 4.0, there have been a number of enhancements to Flashpoints and Operations. Every week a different Hard Mode Operation will be selected as “High Priority” and offer greater rewards. Starting at level 10, players will be able to queue for the Esseles and Black Talon, and then from level 15 will be able to queue for any of the other flashpoints. Starting at level 50, players will be able to queue for all of the Hard Mode Flashpoints, and players will be able to queue for one selected Story Mode Operation that will change daily.
There have been a few Currency Changes as well. Commendations have been changed to Crystals, but still come in 3 tiers. The number of credits dropped by NPCs has also been greatly reduced. This makes sense with Level Syching (covered below) and the Heroic Missions that are now teeming with numerous 65’s farming them for the weekly quests.
While the core concept of Crafting and Crew Skills stayed the same, Bioware made a number of changes by removing many materials, streamlining the base materials for crafting, and guaranteeing all crafted armor is Adaptive. Green items are gone, and all crafted items start at blue quality. Another change is all modifications from end-game operations can be reverse engineered for their schematics; but operation gear cannot be reverse engineered anymore. Crafters can now make gear that’s equivalent in rating to Story and Hard Mode Operations, but the key items are the 216-220 rating modifiers. Ultimately, crafting has been streamlined and simplified, but is still a strong part of the game and economy.
Another big change is characters can now harvest any resource node, regardless of their level; but the resources harvested will be greatly limited if (for example) a 78 slicer opens a terminal requiring 425 skill. On the other hand, if a 500 scavenger salvages from a 300 robot, they will receive more materials. This is a great enhancement that makes building a harvest character far less tedious.
Datacron discovery is now Legacy, meaning they are account-wide. Players no longer need to seek them on each character; find it once, and all characters on your account will gain the benefit! Reputation is now Legacy as well, so when you raise that Voss or Makeb reputation, all characters benefit.
Legendary Status has also been added to the game. This is achieved by completing the storyline with all 8 classes. Once a player achieves this status, a gold icon displays to the right of their character name.
Mechanics & Gameplay
Prior to 4.0 there were 4 main Stats: Strength, Willpower, Cunning and Aim. Those have now been merged into a single stat called Mastery. Surge has been removed and rolled into Critical Rating, which makes gearing much easier to pursue. 198 was the highest item rating before the expansion, but now players can acquire 224 gear from the most difficult tactical operations. 208 and 216 gear is fairly easy to come by, but once you get into 220-224 you’re generally running the hardest content in the game (which requires a group).
Level Sync is one of the biggest changes to the game, and it’s fantastic. Higher level players can now group and play with their lower level friends, and max-level characters can visit lower level worlds and pursue the missions and achievements with a bit more challenge. Synchronization only scales downwards.
Sadly, SWTOR still has the worst MMO auction system I’ve ever seen with the GTN. It has needed a complete overhaul since day one, and Bioware’s continued failure to redesign this system is a big let down to all players.
A major change relative to Travel is the ability to quickly teleport to your contacts, including the specialists. Many people wonder how to get back to their alliance headquarters once they reach max level and find themselves on a different planet. Just open your Companions and Contacts interface, click on an alliance specialist (like Hylo Visz) and click “Travel to Contact” in the upper right corner. You can also teleport to the alliance recruits you are attempting to secure.
The expansion provides new Rewards in the form of Commander’s Shares from the Alliance Specialists. These boxes always include an Adaptive piece of armor and an influence item for your companion. Beywan Aygo drops Trooper and Warrior gear, Hylo Visz drops Smuggler and Bounty Hunter gear, Juvard Illip Oggurobb drops Inquisor and Agent gear, and Sana-Rae drops Knight and Consular gear. Commander’s Shares can also include mounts and stronghold items. All heroics, flashpoints and ops now also provide crystals (the new version of commendations) that can be used to acquire 208, 216 and 220 gear.
The End Game for SWTOR focuses on completing the new storyline, building your alliance, and acquiring better gear through daily and weekly missions, flashpoints and operations; but all of this is character based (not legacy), so each alliance needs to be built with each character; there is no sharing. However, the higher influence level of your chosen companion, the more content you can solo (or duo).
Replayability still focuses on building multiple characters and experiencing the storyline differences with each base class; however it does become repetitive to have to rebuild alliances and run heroics/ops for end-game enjoyment for each character.
With the latest companion changes, especially to those set to a Healing role, there really is no Challenge to the game anymore when running solo. As such, the game focuses more on progression and completion than needing to survive. The advantage is players always feel powerful and can enjoy constant advancement. The disadvantage is the only way to engage in truly challenging content is to run raids or get your companion to a very high influence level so you can solo hard mode content.
Community & Support
The Population of the game has grown quite a bit (at least 33% over the past few months). Planets are teeming with life, and since Heroics are now part of the Alliance reward system, numerous players are constantly running them. You never feel alone in the game, even when you’re running through the frozen tundra of Hoth or the blazing deserts of Tatooine.
Spam is still a problem, but not nearly as bad as it has been in the past.
While there are many Bugs, the good news is SWTOR has a reporting interface built into the game (accessed by typing /bug). Bioware responds fairly quickly to reports and often forwards more severe bugs directly to the development team.
4.0 provides a number of Graphics enhancements. Some are apparent in the older content with lighting, colorization and texture quality, but the new KoTFE zones are a step up in overall quality above the older regions; and the new characters from KoTFE have much more detailed textures. The camera has also been pulled back a bit more, allowing for an enhanced field of view.
There really haven’t been any changes to the Sound FX, but the Interface Editor has been redesigned with sharper text and easier to adjust frames, and they also added an “advanced” UI layout for new level 60 characters.
The game now has a new player Tutorial, which introduces a character to their new class abilities (which can be very important for creating a new level 60).
Server Lag is still a problem, but mainly in the Alliance base.
While SWTOR is a solid game, there are still numerous Bugs. Some that have been around for a long time, and others that are new with KoTFE. These include the boss getting “stuck” in a Star Fortress instance (and you have to reset it and run it again), Heroic quests failing to identify completion of item acquisition, and the UI “disappearing” and requiring a logout to correct.
Knights of the Fallen Empire returns to the story-telling roots that so many players love about the game while taking it to a whole new level. It is so well done that most any gamer can appreciate the immersion and quality of what the expansion has to offer. On top of that, the new Alliance Headquarters are refreshing and provide a “next step” feeling that veteran players can appreciate while also opening more than 70 heroic missions for weekly enjoyment (taking players to nearly every planet in the game). The Star Fortress flashpoints are fun the first few runs, but quickly become repetitive. Sadly, there were no enhancements to the terrible GTN auction system, but leveling has been streamlined for those who want to create a new character and experience the storyline of another class. And the content doesn’t end with the initial launch of KoTFE. Bioware’s plan to release 6 more chapters on a monthly basis starting in January 2016 has everyone very excited (and hooked) to see how the story turns out.
In the end, KoTFE is the best expansion yet, and its release was perfectly timed in support of the new movie. If you like the Star Wars universe, or played the game in the past and are thinking of returning to see how the game has changed, now is a great time to return.