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SWTOR: Knights of the Eternal Throne Thoughts

SWTOR: Knights of the Eternal Throne Thoughts
Nat
  • On December 9, 2016

Completing “SWTOR’s Knights of the Eternal Throne” (“KOTET”) was a bittersweet moment for me. It’s a feeling I’m used to experiencing in single-player RPGs, beloved television shows, and novels—not MMOs. It’s been two years (give or take) since the seeds of the “KOTET” were laid in the epilogue of the “Shadow of Revan” expansion. Since then, there’s been a significant time skip, the introduction the Eternal Empire (an entirely new “Star Wars” culture), two emperors and one empress of dubious morality, and an immortal spirit residing in the player character’s mind. I’ve been elated at my character’s triumphs, but I’m also sad to see a storyline I’ve spent so much time with a come to an end.

(There will be some spoilers for “KOTET” ahead.)

I’ve written about it before, but it’s worth noting again, that “SWTOR” is one of the few MMOs that has gotten better with age. The latest expansion, where the player-controlled Outlander battles the new Eternal Empress, Vaylin, is another entry that leans into the game’s storytelling strength and refines it. “KOTET’s” story is nine chapters—compared to Fallen Empire’s 16— and, while I’ll miss the monthly chapter installments, I think the the more compressed route was a better choice. Having the chapters spread out for months had occasionally negatively impacted the story’s momentum for me; in this expansion the chapters felt meatier and had a greater impact.

“KOTET’s” tighter story doesn’t mean it skimps on cool characters moments or the fun of a “Star Wars” experience. Player choice factors into this installment heavily; there’s definitely the potential for a high body count, if a player chooses to go that route. There are decisions can make someone feel quite heroic or more than a bit evil. Characters who might not have gotten as much screen time in the previous expansion, like Theron Shan, get their moment to shine. There are also plenty of quick NPC comments here and there which will make the players who enjoy the more intimate moments with their favorite companions quite happy.

One facet of the expansion I was disappointed with was the lack of in-depth exploration of the relationship between Vaylin and her mother, Senya. Senya is sidelined fairly early in “KOTET” and the central family conflict revolves around Valkorian, the now ghostly patriarch of the family. Vaylin repeatedly expresses her desire to kill her mother, but the reason for that is never explored in-depth. Marketing doesn’t always reflect the final content, and the “Betrayed” trailer may have gotten my hopes up a bit too much in terms of what we’d see of this mother/daughter relationship. (Aside: It was awesome to see two women used in marketing. Please, please, keep doing this, EA/Bioware. It means a lot. I’ll buy extra Cartel Coins to prove it!) A relationship between two women driving the story is a rarity in the “Star Wars” universe. The original trilogy has Luke/Vader, the prequels have Obi-Wan/Anakin, and “Star Wars: Rebels” has Kanan/Ezra. These are not bad stories to tell, and I enjoy them, but it would be nice to see the ladies have their tales told as well. A mother/daughter conflict can be just as compelling as one between a father and his son; a rivalry between sisters as potent as one between brothers. If I can empathize with two dudes, I don’t see why men can’t find it in themselves to do the same for women.

I am apprehensive to how the player character’s story will progress, with the end of an external threat  to the Republic and the Sith Empire, the two main factions in the game. One of my main complaints with “World of Warcraft” is that the game always forces the factions back to fighting for arbitrary reasons; the Alliance and Horde fight because they’ve always fought, end of story. Given that the dual factions were central to “SWTOR’s” premise, I’m concerned that this is a path the game could also follow. There is plenty of room to tell stories outside of the original conflict between the Republic and the Sith. That’s not to say opposing factions have to hold hands and hug all the time; that’d be ridiculous. However, for me, “SWTOR” is at it’s strongest when it’s working in the grey instead of trying to maintain the traditionally rigid “Star Wars” boundaries of light and dark. The best characters (like my beloved Lana Beniko) and stories have come out of the blurring of faction lines. In that spirit, I hope the writers continue to develop complex stories and characters moving forward.

The other element I enjoyed in the new chapters was the gameplay, which is something I don’t often say when it comes to MMOs. I love MMOs, but they tend to be a grindy slog of killing endless enemies. While there is plenty of slaughter to go around, I appreciate that “SWTOR” tried to change it up a bit. Players get the chance to drive walkers and giant robots in fight sequences. I usually hate vehicle combat, and I enjoyed these interludes quite a bit. In a better twist, the sixth chapter avoids combat until the end, allowing player exploration to advance the story as you infiltrate a fancy party deep in hostile territory. Non-combat activities are a welcome way to break up the waves of enemies I’ve become accustomed to in MMOs.

I have yet to play extensively with the Galactic Command system (the post-story means by which a player can get for gear for group content and shiny things), but I am definitely planning to do so. I picked up a couple of the new command crates last night and immediately got a couple pieces of upgraded gear, which was nice. I was one of the people with concerns about the new RNG system (I am that person who always seems to get multiple copies of the same item over and over again instead of the one thing I need) but, so far, I am happy with what I’m seeing out of the crates. We’ll see how it plays out going forward.

Overall, I was really, really happy with “KOTET.” It’s a hard job, hitting all the right beats with storytelling—much less crafting a story for millions of players to enjoy. I’d argue it’s especially tricky in an MMO where group content tends to be king. I wouldn’t mind seeing new group content— it can be quite fun— but I hope the narrative remains a focus as “SWTOR” continues. From the launch of the game in 2011, it was the story which made this game special. The story was why I kept a subscription even during the times I went weeks without logging in. I can find raids anywhere, but finding a story I can connect with is a rarity, especially in MMOs. “KOTET” has left the door open for future narratives and I am certainly looking forward to where we go next.

Stray Thoughts:

  • Lana Beniko is a goddess and I will pitch the biggest fit if anything ever happens to her.
  • Can we romance Senya? Please? I have two characters who missed the Lana romance prompt when I first played through Fallen Empire because I was an idiot and they need some love.
  • Empress Acina is amazing. I love her rejecting the “old ways” of the Sith. I also just may have a type (see above Lana comment).
  • It was nice to see Theron do spy stuff again! Poor guy seemed like he was stuck organizing for a bit there, glad he got to be part of the action again!
  • I love to hate SCORPIO.
  • Koth remains a dumbass and I would punch him more often if I could, lightside or not.
  • Nathema, a new planet, was creepy as heck and I loved it.
  • Was Arcann hitting on me in his post-chapter e-mail?
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