You go away to attend a family wedding for one day and all kinds of crazy stuff happens!
We already knew that there was going to be a big announcement about something called "Fallen Empire" on Monday, but EA decided to follow the time-honoured tradition of making an early announcement about the actual announcement and told us on Friday that it was going to be about a new expansion called "Knights of the Fallen Empire". Okay, cool beans.
And then, yesterday, it looked like someone accidentally published the full expansion press release on the official SWTOR website, and of course it was all over Reddit within minutes. Reddit user milkfairy posted a screenshot of the page in question before it was taken down here, and you can find Dulfy's summary here. Basically, it looks like this whole thing is shaping up to be a much bigger deal than Rise of the Hutt Cartel and Shadow of Revan ever were. I suppose the fact that Bioware has been posting screenshots from a CGI trailer for the last couple of days should have been a big giveaway - after all, we haven't seen one of those since launch.
Speculation is running rampant about what it all means, fuelled by a healthy dose of "this sounds too good to be true" scepticism and the fact that some of the information on the leaked page can be read in more than one way. Let's look at some examples:
START AT LEVEL 60 You will become The Outlander, a Level 60 veteran of the Great Galactic War.
Now my initial reading of this was that they'll basically remove factions at level 60, as it also says before that: "A third faction threatens the galaxy as we know it, and your choices
will determine the fate of both the Sith Empire and Galactic Republic." To me that implies not that the Republic and Empire will be disbanded or anything, but that you'll operate in a world where your allegiance doesn't really matter anymore. This is supported by the fact that one of the broken image links on the page leads to an image called "swtorfe-dualfactions.jpg". From a gameplay perspective this would certainly be good thing in many ways, probably shortening queue times for future group content significantly... though personally, I would find Star Wars without a Republic/Empire conflict very un-Star-Warsy.
An alternate reading I've seen is that you will be able to create new characters at level 60, sort of like WoW's death knights, since it does say "start at level 60". Again, personally I'd find that very weird, especially since we got confirmation from Bioware only very recently that everyone loves the class stories and that only a small minority of players seems to care about skipping stuff and getting to the end as quickly as possible. It just doesn't strike me as a very attractive offer for a game like SWTOR, unless they are trying to pull in new players that have more of a "WoW mindset" and who might be deterred by the prospect of having to go through all those levels before they can get to "the good stuff".
BUILD AN ALLIANCE Build a team of hand-picked allies to join your
alliance; meet new companions and reunite with existing companions ready
to offer you their loyalty.
One of my guildies proposed that "building a team of hand-picked allies" was in reference to some new form of group content, however personally I suspect that this is meant to refer to NPC interactions. It's clear that there will be new companions and new interactions with them, but the scope of this is unclear. While a large cast of characters is listed, there is nothing to say that they will all become available as companions; you might interact with some of them in other ways instead. The line "choose your path… join or betray companions, old and new" seems to imply that we'll see new ways of interacting with companions as well - a lot of people seemed highly delighted by the notion of being able to throw Skadge or Quinn out the nearest airlock for example. If that is indeed the case, I wonder how Bioware solved the problem from beta that people later regretted having killed their companions (which is why you currently aren't able to get rid of any of them).
YOUR PERSONAL SAGA Play one of eight class stories enhanced to offer a
deeper, more accessible experience purely focused on immersing you in a
personal Star Wars story.
A lot of people read this as a return of the classic class stories, but this is definitely a case of "sounds too good to be true" for me. In fact, to me it sounded like this was just a little reminder that the existing class stories are also still there, since the whole page sounded a lot like it was targeted at new or lapsed players at least as much as current ones. Notice how there is no mention of "new" class stories or anything like that. Not that I would mind! I just think that this paragraph is mostly PR speak instead of a promise of new content.
CONTINUOUS STORY This is only the beginning of an evolving Star Wars story, new chapters released on a regular basis.
Now this is a big one, because it harkens back to the promises made at launch. Even if this new content is single faction and doesn't feature any class-specific content (as is my suspicion), that still sounds quite daring. Eleven "chapters" are listed with titles, with five more listed as supposedly "coming soon". Now, I would assume that those chapters are relatively short, but even so, I would expect something that's worthy of being called a chapter to be at least as long as the Ziost story, so getting eleven of them at once (or even as a slightly staggered release) would be quite a significant amount of new content. I'm just worried that they are dreaming too big again. Haven't we been through all this before? Even leaving the class stories aside, other MMOs have launched in the last three years that promised continuous updates every month and then inevitably had to break their promises shortly after launch because that pace of content production just wasn't sustainable. I have serious doubts that Bioware has suddenly managed to find the holy grail to making it work. That's not to say that I'm not seriously looking forward to this new content either way.
Other random bits:
There is a bit on the page where they manage to say "choices [that] matter" three times in three lines, which cracked me up. This is once again fuelling discussions about what it means for choices to matter. Many argue that the choices you take in planetary storylines don't matter because they are then never referenced again. In class stories, people that you didn't kill do sometimes make a reappearance later, but only sometimes. Some argue that those choices don't "really" matter either. I find it difficult to say much on this subject since we obviously can't even agree what exactly would have to happen for a choice to "truly" matter. Personally I tend to fall on the more easygoing side of this debate, as just getting to make a choice, even if it doesn't have amazing consequences, satisfies my inner roleplayer, so I'm sure I will like this no matter how it turns out.
Launch of this new content is supposed to be in October and it will be free to all subscribers, which was a big surprise to me, as this would have been a perfect (and justifiable, considering the implied scope!) opportunity to cash in on content. Again, not that I'm complaining. There's no mention of a level cap increase, though that doesn't necessarily mean that there won't be one. I think I'd be happy to pass on that this time however; after all we've been level 60 for less than a year as it is.
The one companion that is guaranteed to be included, and as a gift for subscribers no less, is Nico Okarr, who is apparently the smuggler from the "Return" launch trailer. I know absolutely nothing about him other than that, but I have to say it's about time he got a role in the actual game!
In terms of content, there is no mention of anything that isn't storyline-related, such as new flashpoints, operations of PvP maps. This does add fuel to the fire for those of us who worry that Bioware may be swinging too far the other way after the release of Galactic Starfighter and Strongholds by now focusing on single player, not-really-MMO content at the exclusion of everything else. Nonetheless all of this looks very interesting and I'm certainly looking forward to hearing the whole story once the official announcement is made.