However, every now and then I find myself wanting to address the people "at the fringes", so to speak - those who may have played the game at some point and had some fun with it, but eventually got bored or fed up with certain aspects of it. Or maybe those who like Bioware's single player RPGs and have been curious what SWTOR is all about but are scared to dive into this whole "MMO" thing. Today I would like to address those among you... because Knights of the Fallen Empire's story is totally for you, guys.
Does that mean that it has no appeal to players like me, who have been playing since launch? Of course not. In fact, I think there are aspects of the plot that only long-time players will be able to fully appreciate, simply because they feature characters that you will only know if you actually played through most if not all of the different class stories. But the point is that as a long-time player, I'm someone who's been pretty happy with SWTOR as it was. Knights of the Fallen Empire was clearly made with an eye on changing some things that people like me weren't perceiving as problems but that actually kept others from enjoying the game.
At its core, it's all about the story, as this is the one thing that SWTOR has mostly been praised for even by its critics. However, even here there were imperfections - many felt that the MMO aspects of the game were often intruding too much on the personalised story to let it flow properly. You finish an engaging conversation with your (NPC) team, but then you have to leg it halfway across a planet before they will talk to you again. Or maybe you've got to collect twenty
With KotFE, Bioware has decided to throw out all that MMO "nonsense" for its main storyline. It's a beautifully crafted RPG storyline, to the point where even many Massively OP commenters are full of praise for it (and we all know that they are not the friendliest bunch when it comes to SWTOR). Combat as well as any sort of fetch and delivery mechanics have been massively reduced. I didn't keep track, but I'm fairly certain that only a small minority of my playtime was actually spent on things like that - the story switches a lot between showing you cut scenes and engaging you in brief but meaningful conversations. The occasional fight between those bits is more or less just a palate cleanser. It's balanced beautifully, as commenter mysecretid described on Massively OP (click to enlarge):
Companions feel much more part of the world around you instead of pets that follow you around everywhere. Not to mention that everything looks a lot more cinematic. The camera movements make for interesting and dynamic scenes, and all characters, including yours, seem quite a bit more expressive than they used to be. I also found it noteworthy that, in true RPG fashion, you sometimes get glimpses of things that are going on elsewhere, things that your character logically would have no way of knowing but you get to see them as a player because it adds something to your experience. This really is the KOTOR 3 that people clamoured for in the past, with the first nine chapters clocking in at about ten hours of playtime based on my own experience. If you think that's not worth a month of sub time just yet, wait until next year when they'll release some more chapters which will all be instantly accessible the moment you subscribe. But whether you're into the whole MMO aspect of the game or not, Fallen Empire is worth checking out for the story alone.
Now, for those of you who've been reading my blog for a while, you may be scratching your heads at this endorsement of mine. I've been railing against people labelling SWTOR as a single player game almost since launch. It's one of the main "myths" about the game that I've been trying to dispel. And I really disliked that Shadow of Revan forced you into solo phases. How can I condone this "solofication" of what's supposed to be an MMO?
The thing is, if you look beneath the surface, very little has changed about the things that make SWTOR an MMO, and if so, they've generally become more amenable to group play, not less (that will really have to be a post of its own at some point). SWTOR has always had a large amount of single player content, namely in form of the class stories. What has changed in Fallen Empire is that the borders between your personal story and the rest of the game are marked more starkly. While playing through the original class stories, you might have had to leg it past other players killing twenty rakghouls for their side quest for example, though the class phase itself was still cut off from the rest of the world. Fallen Empire takes this principle and takes it a step further by letting most of the story take place in phase and saving you the running around in-between - I was actually startled when in chapter four, you briefly emerge into a shared area where I saw other players around me.
I was never bothered by the fact that we had our "personal story" away from the rest of the world, as long as there were still other things to do as well. Shadow of Revan's personal phases bugged me because they seemed to serve little purpose from my point of view, constantly separating me from my pet tank without creating a better experience for either of us. But Knights of the Fallen Empire's story actually feels like it benefits from this treatement - it feels like a proper continuation of the class stories at last, even though the story contains only minor differences for different classes. The crucial difference to Makeb and Shadow of Revan is that it finally lives up to the standards set by the base game in terms of providing you with a personalised background for your character... and then surpasses them.
TL;DR version: KotFE's story is awesome, and easily playable as a single player RPG if you don't want to deal with any of the "MMO stuff", more so than the class stories were in the base game. However, all the underlying MMO mechanics are also still there for those of us who like them; it's just that our personal story got even better. Win-win!