The Next SWTOR Expansion Looks Like The Same Old Thing

The Next SWTOR Expansion Looks Like The Same Old Thing

At E3, Bioware announced a new expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic, dubbed Knights of the Fallen Empire. At its start, players will be frozen in carbonite for five years and when they’re thawed out will find that something called the Eternal Empire came out of nowhere to smash both the Republic and Sith Empire and take control of the galaxy. I don’t know what any of that means, and it appears this new faction is original to this expansion. It’s all very confusing and mysterious, as video game marketing is prone to be. But I do know one thing: it looks like more of the same stuff Bioware has been putting into SWTOR since release, and that’s not a great vibe.

If you go on the SWTOR forums, you’ll see promises from Bioware that Knights of the Fallen Empire will give players what they want from new story content, and of course this whole Eternal Empire thing is not entirely what it seems. But I can only go on what I see from here, and I see a repetition of a pattern.

Ever since players have hit level 50, with the apparent death of the Sith Emperor, nearly all the new plots Bioware has cooked up have been pretty similar. First we had Darth Malgus carve out a portion of the Empire for himself and then (briefly) wage war against both sides with his splinter faction. Then we had the Dread Masters starting up their own war against both sides. Then we had the Hutts invade Makeb in a resource grab to try to rebuild their own fabled empire. Then we had Revan, again, gathering his cult in a galactic power grab. And now, guess what, another third party has shown up and actually succeeded in taking over everything.

This is a stale formula. When SWTOR began it was a tale of a galactic cold war between Sith and Republic, which eventually flamed up into all-out war. At the end of the class quests at level 50, the Republic had struck a serious blow at the Battle of Corellia, thanks in part to the Star Cabal (another third party!) baiting both sides into committing far too many resources to that fight, and in another part to Sith infighting. The whole Makeb thing reset the table a bit as the Empire seized the rare Macguffin resources the Hutts had been after. And then Revan unwittingly resurrected the Sith Emperor in the Shadow of Revan expansion in December, seemingly setting the stage for a revival of the core conflict of the game.

There are certain realities that those of us who have played SWTOR for the story long ago had to accept. It’s an MMO, and so Bioware would have to draw out the war for as long as the game existed, and it also was unlikely that it would get a normal big story resolution whenever the time comes to shut the game down because probably EA would not want to through a bunch of resources at an MMO on the way out. A lot of folks has thus assumed the war would just peter out out and the two conflicting societies would eventually merge when the end came.

Knights of the Fallen Empire, on the other hand, feels like a reboot of the game. Our original character classes will still exist but now we’re all just The Outlander in this brave new world of the Eternal Empire, and taking us out of action for five years comes off today like a winking nod as the slate is wiped partially clean. Not to mention they will let players roll a new toon at level 60 when this expansion begins, something they have never done before. Producer Jeff Hickman told me in November that they want to deliver on the promise of SWTOR as a true successor to Knights of the Old Republic, and that along with the current marketing refrain of “a return to Bioware cinematic storytelling” further amplify the sense that this is intended as a fresh start.

But the age of developers teasing something new with few substantial details and everybody reflexively jumping on board is over, and SWTOR being a game that we’ve played for years and know very well gives us reason to doubt that what they are going to give us is what we actually do want. As I wrote when Shadow of Revan launched last year, the trajectory of SWTOR is not one that makes me feel optimistic about its future, and mysterious reveals that make it look like the story is going off on another tangent — except this one is permanent — isn’t going to change my mind. I could assume that long-dangling story threads will finally be addressed in Knights of the Fallen Empire, but I could also assume they won’t, based on the last several years of story in SWTOR as well as the actual information we have about it that indicates nothing at all about said dangling threads.

Yeah, I’m gonna play this thing when it does come down in October, and I’ll give it a fair shake when I do. But today, given what we’ve seen of it I’d say some strong scepticism is warranted. Bioware has not earned the benefit of the doubt with SWTOR, and much of the rhetoric about storytelling with the new expansion sounds a lot like the sort of things they said about vanilla SWTOR ahead of its launch in 2011. We’ll see, I guess.


  • Might want to spoiler some of this stuff, it’s end-game story and while this usually means nothing in just about any other MMO; SWTOR is actually worth playing for the story.

  • Adding story to MMOs is great and all, but I’d really rather they just made a new KOTOR.

    • EA have effectively made that impossible with this MMO for the same reason we’ll never see a Warcraft game again.

      MMO’s = a constant stream of revenue over time.
      Single game = lump sum revenue over a short period of time.

      It’s sad but KotoR is effectively dead; and from what I’ve seen of the writing in Shadow of Revan it’s probably a good thing. The characters appear two-dimensional at the best of times. I would hate to see their current writing team do up a character like Kreia or HK-47.

      • That’s not entirely true though. It was their line of thinking when they made SWTOR but I think the experience of actually releasing the game changed their mind. World of Warcraft was hugely successful where SWTOR will never make it’s money back. It’s like when you see someone invest a ton in rental properties right before prices take a hit. Right now the game is making enough to keep production going and everybody paid but the initial costs were decided based on it bringing in WoW levels of subscription dollars every year for half a decade. That initial investment went up in smoke so the ‘constant stream of revenue’ isn’t a true profit (not to mention how much of it goes back into the game, since MMOs are pretty damn expensive to run). They’ve probably made more money from KotOR on Steam over the course of SWTORs life.

        The reason this is potentially good news for KotOR fans is that they may seek to recover some of that initial investment by reusing parts of SWTOR. There’s still quite a lot of love for the franchise and if Battlefront III does well the subject of KotOR III might come up too. Plus say what you will about Disney but they like making money, they like thinking long term and they’re pretty good at it. It wouldn’t take much to remind them that Dragon Age and Mass Effect have roots in Knights of the Old Republic and those franchises have both been doing very well in recent years. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that SWTOR’s problems mostly stem from it’s MMORPG traits.

          • Oh yeah, for some reason I keep forgetting they did that to everything not just post-Return of the Jedi stuff. Still, that doesn’t mean a new Knights of the Old Republic game is impossible. The Old Republic was made to be a very isolated era. I don’t think it expressly clashes with anything from the show or movies, and it probably won’t clash with the new movies. I’m not getting my hopes up on old EU stuff being folded into new canon, they don’t seem hugely interested in making exceptions for their blanket ruling, but it’s still possible for entire books and games to get the new canon stamp of approval. Like how a lot of comics count older stories as canon even though the series they were part of was retconed out of existence.
            After SWTOR I think the KotOR series needed a reboot anyway, so they could always just go that route. =P

            As for making it’s money back, at an estimated $150m – $200m development alone it needs a lot of subscribers to clear that cost. They didn’t shy away from advertising so I’m guessing there’s more to it than just raw development costs. They got a huge early boost by making players purchase a retail key, and they got some good numbers in the first few months, but they dropped pretty fast and it’s not a super cheap MMO to run month to month.
            Obviously it’s hard to say since the numbers are all unofficial but it began development at the height of the MMO gold rush and went free to play almost immediately. I’d be very surprised if they built SWTOR with the goal of making development costs back that early (and impressed that they showed such restraint). Free to play and micro-transactions seem to be working but given the state of the game I’d say they haven’t been swimming in excess cash. That’s not exactly a worthwhile return on the investment.

        • Disney may like making money but after they took over the SW franchise they declared Kotor non-canon, I believe the only thing left on the board were the movies and the lame 3d animated series Clone Wars.

          Personally while it would be nice to see KotoR 3 the writing talent that made all of BioWare’s older games great have more or less left the building. Even if they made a sequel within the universe it’s not likely to hold up to the prequels.

          With regards to the income stream; you’re working under the assumpion that SWTOR’s only form of income is subscriptions which leaves me thinking you haven’t played the game recently have you? I’m willing to bet that EA triple or quadruple their subscription earnings from the cartel market alone. While they don’t have the numbers like WoW does; they’ve created more money making opportunities through IAP’s, hundreds upon thousands of aesthetic IAP’s. And going off the number of these items on sale within the Galactin Auction House there’s a lot of people buying in game.

          At the end of the day this is all just speculation and without seeing the game’s financials you can’t know for sure. As I see it Disney have little to gain by getting EA to do a KotoR game; and EA have even less to gain by creating a space faring game in direct competition with their Mass Effect universe. So if the options on the table are to pay royalties to a company that owns the franchise that yours fans are clamoring for or to create a game that you own the rights to and get a full cut off that fans are clamoring for I think it’s safe to say EA are going to go with Mass Effect. Once again all completely pointless until Disney are willing to accept Kotor as canon, the best we could hope for is a Star Wars RPG set in a different time/universe done by EA/BioWare.

  • I don’t know. If a character like Lana wasn’t coming back, then yeah, maybe there’d be more substance to your skepticism. But she’s coming back, so there’s an opportunity for an interesting tack there. OTOH, maybe they’ll squander it. I’m feeling more optimistic about it than you are, but we’ll all see, I suppose!

  • This sounds like a reasonably cool story but you can’t just freeze players in carbonite for a time skip. Yes it was possible at that time but that wasn’t something people did.

    There are certain realities that those of us who have played SWTOR for the story long ago had to accept. It’s an MMO, and so Bioware would have to draw out the war for as long as the game existed, and it also was unlikely that it would get a normal big story resolution whenever the time comes to shut the game down because probably EA would not want to through a bunch of resources at an MMO on the way out. A lot of folks has thus assumed the war would just peter out out and the two conflicting societies would eventually merge when the end came.

    Actually this is the logical outcome for a two faction WoW-like MMORPG. They failed to secure the massive subscriber dollars that it takes to continue producing a large amount of quality content for both factions (and all the classes). Honestly I don’t see how they ever thought they would bring in enough money to keep up with production demands. I mean for all it’s short comings the game was crazy ambitious when it comes to the sheer volume of story content. Even with most of the content updates centering around non-class specific things like dungeons, raids, PvP and new features they still needed to keep, what, eight? Plots up in the air. I love that they aimed high but I just don’t see how they thought they could keep it going post-launch.
    The only realistic path forward in that situation is to merge as much as possible. It maximises the effectiveness of content creation and removes the problem of having to decide between giving more content to the popular classes/faction to satisfy the most people or spreading it evenly to avoid neglecting the niche players.
    As much as I love MMO worlds to have multiple factions it’s a huge commitment. Another evil NPC empire waging galactic war may seem like a cop out but there isn’t really anywhere else to go. It’s a shame but it’s the best of a bad situation.

  • So my paranoid Inquisitor got frozen by idiots who somehow got onto his ship, and avoided the crazy giant cannibal who never sleeps… so they can streamline story even further. Everyone’s the Outlander. (Great name for a Western, not so much for space travel where everyone’s from another world.)

    I was starting to feel curious about trying this game again, after they killed local service… but this stopped that. Thanks, BW.

  • I wish writers would look at themselves every so often and realise how beholden to ignorant assumption and confirmation bias they really are. When the whole world furrows their brows in vain attempts to understand each and every situation, why are writers almost empowering people to think less yet scrutinise more? We constantly hear the same tired old schtick about not acknowledging alternate perspectives in order to strengthen one’s own but this is just an excuse to never hold that honest lens to your own prejudices and ignorant perspectives. Can we get some kind of hashtag where we ask for a return to actual writing like Mark, Patrick and Steven? All articles, columns and the cowardly modern opinion piece amount to today is a doom and gloom warning of a dubious and dramatic potential scenario, almost framing perspective before people have a chance to engage.

    Why is it that we’re taught so many writing, communication and debate techniques all throughout school and university only to see almost every presumed educated graduate eschew all responsibility to the craft of writing in favour of ignorant perspective transparently veiled as an educated opinion? It seems as if a constant question from writers towards readers is why people tend to care what they say so much or why people are “afraid” (their ignorant words) of what others will think when they read their ignorant work. I’m not afraid nor do I think it’s “dangerous” to adopt a tone of intense certainty when ignorance or dismissal is clear, I do think worse of the writer, however. Articles and human beings with intense certainty in their uneducated perspectives which or whom intend for any reader to engage with such a thing must understand that it can’t be on blind faith that you are simply BETTER. We constantly have writers saying outlandish statements like “______ is NEVER a good idea” when a quick google search reveals the writer thought it was a good idea at one point yet is now portraying a hypocritical position. This could be alleviated simply by the writer acknowledging their old perspective and a realisation that lead them to a new one, modelling basic empathy at the very least.

    Time and time again, however, writers have excused themselves from the expectations placed on others by simply falling back on the old pile of garbage that abject dismissal and omission of legitimate perspective is the most noble way of presenting one’s argument. We’ve even had it suggested that moving against this structure and culture of omission is a prejudice. If you didn’t buy into the generalised narrative put forth in this article, it makes no sense. Wait, how do we know everything sucks? How do we know this is the same as before? Were all the others exactly the same as this dude says? Were they all confusing? It sounded like he described basic storytelling then called it a “stale formula” like a douchebag on twitter, is he right? etc.


    Just read the comments. With articles like these, there’s probably more truth and perspective down there.

  • I guess, once again, we reach a stage where the story of an MMO universe begins to drag out. The same things occur again and again because on one hand, the story must sustain the perpetual nature of an MMO, but on the other hand, must show some level of progression to add new gameplay elements (missions, Raids etc).

    Wonder will they go for a WoW style cataclysmic shift next (or has it happened already)? Though the bigger question is, I wonder is there a game out there that provides a solution for delivery of story based on conflict in a persistent world…

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