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Editorial

SWTOR: Knights of the Fallen Empire new levelling experience

Disclosure: This is not to be seen as a review. This article is only to tell my experience of levelling a character since the 4.0 changes back in October. However since I am in favour in transparency in articles, I have been a long term subscriber of Star Wars: The Old Republic and have spent significantly in the in game store since the game’s release in 2011.

In October of 2015, Bioware released the latest expansion for their Star Wars MMO, The Old Republic titled Knights of the Fallen Empire. The overall game was updated to version 4.0 bringing significant changes in gameplay with the most notable being the consolidation of role specific stats into one mastery stat and offering a new levelling experience by having max level syncs on planets along with the option to only have to complete main class stories and planetary stories to progress in levels.

Having had a server full of max level characters for quite some time now I figured I would create a new character in order to experience these new changes while also replaying old content that I had not played through for some time.

Although I had already gone through the Sith Inquisitor story twice already, both Sorcerer and Assassin, I decided to go for another Sorcerer playthrough specialising in the Lightning DPS tree. I had used this tree before with my first Sorcerer but had since changed it to the Madness DPS as I felt that suited the character concept. Lightning has always been devastatingly fun in SWTOR (Star Wars: The old Republic) so I was still keen to have a high level Lightning specialisation character. I'd been seeing a lot of Darth Sidious while re-watching a lot of Star Wars media at the time, so I went human male and garbed him in dark cloaks as homage (which is more pleasant than saying rip off) to the signature Dark Lord of the Sith.

The voice of the Male Inquisitor had a familiar likeness to Ian Mcdiarmid’s iconic performance as Darth Sidious, so that helped a great deal with the presentation of the character, although disappointingly there is no maniacal cackling to be heard at any point in the game.
Xanthe Elbrick’s Inquisitor has the better range of being delightfully madder than a box full of mad hatters in one moment, to comedic moments of being aloof or bored while everyone else around is panicking during the introduction to a quest.

By default, exploratory missions (side quests) are not highlighted on the game map with the assumption that players are more likely to stick to the main story quests and the main planet quests to get to level 50 and the end of the original story. I instead turned on the option to see all missions and replay moments such as on Dromund Kass, the single Welsh Imperial Officer in all of the Sith Empire concerned about Lord Grathen’s diabolical ergonomic chairs!

As I was progressing through to the halfway point of Chapter 1, it was becoming clear that I was reaching levels well beyond the max level range traditionally associated with each planet. Whereas before if I was in this position I would be receiving diminishing returns in XP rewards to the point of only being rewarded maybe 7 points, with the new level sync system I was still technically at the max level of the planet and therefore, I was receiving the maximum XP rewards.

Taking inspiration of how game worlds operate in Guild Wars 2, players will be set to the max level of each particular world they visit or revisit should they be beyond that level. Their stats will be set to whatever the max stats for that level are expected for each class provided their gear is beyond that level. What players won’t lose however is powers and abilities so for example, a player that is level 50 or more that is brought down to the low 20’s on a planet, still has access to everything they unlocked at level 50.

When I had completed Alderaan, which is the last planet before the end of Chapter 1, I was level 51! Level 50 was the max level when the game originally came out in late 2011 and you would only ever expect to reach that at the end of the main story if not the original elder game content. Have to admit I was somewhat chuffed about that.

"Power........I have an Unlimited amount of it!"

While previous knowledge of the missions I was completing certainly helped in my progression, having access to powers that I wouldn’t have had a chance to use in previous playthoughs was a significant game changer and I was mowing down mobs with next to no difficulty, so I can understand if people would be put off from how easy the game can become. I of course still needed to keep my gear up to date for this to continue. Currency in SWTOR has remained largely unchanged. The Basic, Elite and Ultimate Commendations which served as the main currency for obtaining armour sets or mods have been renamed Common, Glowing and Radiant Crystals but effectively remain the same with Common Crystals dropping regularly in all content and Glowing and Radiant only coming into play at Level 65 elder game.

Initially I keep my gearing up as I had before by purchasing orange grade gear which allowed customisation of stats by buying the individual mods from vendors on the Imperial Fleet between planets and levels. I dropped this tactic once I learnt of the changes to the Heroic missions on each planet. Heroic missions were standard side quest contact to talk to but the missions ether recommended 2 or 4 players to complete the mission with enemy difficulty ramped up depending on whether it was Heroic 2 or 4. With the new expansion all Heroics have been changed to be Heroic 2’s and with a well ranked companion are entirely soloable.

When levelling, Heroic missions will offer lockboxes as rewards which will contain random Blue rated gear (SWTOR keeps to the MMO standard of Green, Blue, Purple for common to rare items) at the level you have reached at the time of unlocking the box. This meant that I could save time re-modding my gear on the fleet as I levelled up and save on common crystals until I needed them to get the entry level 208 rated elder game gear when I reached Level 65. Given that there is usually four Heroic missions per planet at minimum (some have more) I was not short of quality gear as I progressed through the game.

One aspect of levelling my new character that I was pleased to complete was completing most of the Flashpoints in story order, which I was never able to do with any previous characters. Previously Flashpoints (Four player dungeon like missions) were of a set level range and it was very difficult to get a team together as most players would instead be aiming for max level through quicker, regular content. Now all Flashpoint are set to Tactical which means any player between levels 10 to 65 can join and non 65 players will be boosted to that level in order to complete the mission.

For the Flashpoints that have significant ties to the general SWTOR lore they have also added Solo Mode, similar to the Flashpoints added in the last expansion Shadow of Revan, which greatly boosts the player character and offers a second companion to assist in the event. It meant that in later stories my character would reference the events of some of these Flashpoints bringing new dialogue, while minor, that I had never experienced before.

"A man can have anything.....if he is willing to sacrifice everything" - Emperor Valkorion

As I came to the end of the original main story I was only a few levels away from the max 65. It did not take long to reach that as I progressed through Illum which was the original post story planet. It meant that I could now simply play through the expansion stories and not worry about gearing. This seems to be the theme Bioware is going for with its subsequent releases. Bioware has said that the release of the Shadow of Revan expansion was very successful for them and took this as a message that players preferred more story driven content that Bioware made its name from rather than traditional group based MMO missions.

While I like the approach Bioware have taken to focus on story I do miss teaming with friends doing missions while progressing through everyone’s individual stories. While Shadow of Revan still offered group Flashpoints during its story, Knights of the Fallen Empire feels like you are locked away from everyone else in the galaxy until you reach Chapter 9 and have access to Star Fortress Heroics. There are also plenty of players not happy with no new Operations (8-16 player Raids) tied to the new expansion and no signs of any in the immediate future. The streamlining and new accessibility of all the previous Raids has meant that I have given some of them a go and raiding is something I was never really interested in. However I understand other player’s frustration at not getting new content for their preferred playstyle and I hope Bioware deliver something for them in good time.

The expansion stories are certainly serviceable with good moments but are not spectacularly epic although that can be said about Star Wars in general a lot of the time. Still better than the prequel trilogy though! Replay value is somewhat diminished as regardless of class, the story remains the same other than change in a few details based on choices in dialogue and actions, which many have commented is an issue with the game being an MMO as compared to stand alone games like the previous Knight of the Old Republic, the game world does not dramatically change as a result of player choices.

Overall though I continue to enjoy playing SWTOR and I am looking forward to seeing how the new story line progresses. It doesn’t beat City of Heroes (RIP) as my favourite MMO and I still hope for the day to play a massive online Star Wars game that plays more like the ground gun and Lightsabre combat of Jedi Outcast/Academy and the space battles akin to the X-Wing-Tie Fighter series (I’ll accept Rouge Squadron 2 on Gamecube style too), however there is enough in the game that keeps me entertained and scratches that Star Wars itch (Because Episode 7 didn’t!).

With the new levelling system in place I now have options in how I can proceed with a created character. I can take the old slow burn of story plus side quests but come out with a character near max level at the end and enough crystals to get great gear well before taking on elder game content, or breeze through the story quickly and not care about gear and simply pick that up from story mode operations. In either case I am also more likely to be teaming with friends due to the planets level shifting mechanic and boosts in Tactical Flashpoints. Unable to play with friends more than anything has been a major issue for me in SWTOR due to differences in levels between characters. I am happy that this is no longer an issue.

Now if you will excuse me.

"Your arrogance blinds you Prince Arcann......Now you will experience the full power of the Dark Side!"

Star Wars: The Old Rebublic is a Free to Access MMO with subscription options and a microtransaction store. Chapter 11 of the current expansion Knights of the Fallen Empire, which is a free expansion for subscribers, is due out on March 10th.

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