Indeed, it's safe to say that it has received much better attention and to some extent publicity than Shadow of Revan, which was pitched as "the" big thing for SWTOR. This completely free update has received a fully-animated CGI Trailer rather than using the in-game engine to render cutscenes for trailers as what happened with Rise of the Hutt Cartel and Shadow of Revan. A full-CG animation hasn't been done for this game since the brief HK-51 Reveal back in 2012, which even then was under a minute and just a teaser, and it's excellent to see another CG trailer even if it's still strange knowing that a free update received one whilst the two paid full expansions did not.
Some information was, as many know by now, leaked accidentally on Saturday but I decided to hold off on presenting my thoughts until the announcement was officially broadcast.
The full trailer can be viewed here, you can read the press release yourself here, and a Developer Blog update detailing more about the update, including the new Level Cap of 65, here.
Oh good lord the love I have for this thing is insurmountable. I'm probably "compromised" by the fact that I still can't believe we've finally got another one and am letting my admiration for it be guided by that.
The trailer does a good job of establishing the factions at play; Republic Troopers and Sith Lords alike are struck down by two mysterious brothers and their armies, under the leadership of an elderly and very elegantly-armoured figure, establishing themselves as the third faction. They even destroy the Sith Academy on Korriban, doing a darn-sight better job than the Republic did!
Whilst we know nothing more of the planet which they're based on - their centre of power is identified as Zakuul in the press release - or any more details about the faction they represent from this trailer, we do get a glimpse of two of the specifically identified characters in the cast list; one of the twin brothers, clad in white, who later becomes the cybernetic Arcann, and the brothers' father Valkorion. Arcann and Valkorion are being set up with a psychological rivalry. Arcann is the son feuding with the father who doesn't give him the attention he craves; upon killing his unidentified brother during a failed assassination attempt against his father, Valkorion accepts him as his son. Somehow, I sense that Arcann will, in spite of this, get a redemption ending.
Something which I particularly love the look of from this trailer is the design of the soldiers standing behind the two twins dominating the scene. If you've read previous entries of mine, particularly the Inquisitor Story Critique, you should have picked up that I'm something of a history nut; specifically, as a medieval historian, I particularly adore the soldiers' knight-like armour and weapons; it seems that they utilise energy spears alongside of course those shields. We haven't yet had any physical hand-held, presumably Cortosis or Phrik Alloy, shields in the world of SWTOR, and I'm really really enthusiastic about this development if it makes it into the game itself. Sadly, the screenshots at the bottom of the Press Release showcase Knights with their spears, perhaps even staves, and not with their shields. Ah, well. Always later.
So again we're going to have a common ground or common threat for both factions to content with. Whoop-de-doo. This is pretty much all we know about the direction the story is going to be heading in. The Press Release actually strongly implies that the story would continue with class stories, and I was originally going to wax lyrical about this implication, but Shintar of Going Commando made a very good point; absolutely nowhere is the word "new" included in that particular segment. Without anything else to go on, there is this dread settling in the back of my mind that we're once more going to be returning to this unified story for both factions which we've seen done to death.
The story is, undeniably, going to be much bigger than I think anyone could have asked for or predicted. After years of the updates always concluding in one chapter, we're finally returning to a multi-chaptered scenario. Rather than sitting through one chapter and completing the whole update, we're going to be seeing a grand total of sixteen chapters introduced over the course of Knights. Longevity, particularly when it comes to repeating the same content on different classes, has really been lacking in the new content and it's excellent to get some indication of more story and content which is all interlinked and on a grand scale.
The IGN "After-show" revealed a great deal more to this. Basically:
- Our characters will get frozen in Carbonite at the end of the "current" story and awaken in the Knights story an unknown period of years later
- The Empire and Republic have both collapsed
- We have to find our old companions alongside discovering new ones
Not that I mind the collapsed Republic and Empire; I believe that both factions need a major shake-up in order to survive, particularly in the case of the Republic which apparently survives until Revenge of the Sith. The Empire is far too splintered and the Republic is far too militaristic and perhaps even Imperial in its doctrine, particularly under the leadership of Leontyne Saresh. It will doubtless be interesting to see where we go in the future; I love the idea of this game moving forward in time like this!
This having been said, this does also introduce a potential solution to Vitiate's absence, which in all earlier renditions of this piece I had been contemplating.
I'm guessing that we're frozen because Vitiate has disappeared and, as we're the only ones who can stop him, we're too valuable an asset to let die of old age and so are kept in stasis until such a time as we are needed. Either that or we're deemed a criminal threat and stowed away, which I sincerely doubt. Whatever the reasons, we survive the collapse of our factions because of our freezing for which I'm sure we shall be grateful.
I wouldn't particularly mind if Vitiate was completely absent from all of this. As we learn from the Knight storyline, the former Emperor has insurmountable patience, and him constantly returning and having begun the next step of his plan months after the last step of his plan just seems incredibly rushed for him. Whilst I will admit it is strange to have to deal with another Emperor, I am rather thankful that Vitiate is seemingly being given a break, as it builds some lengthy suspense to his plans rather than simply enacting everything in one go.
Knights seems to be bringing SWTOR back to not only story-driven... er... Story, but also to character driven story. For the most part, characters seem to be taking more of a back seat and letting events drive the story, with only a couple of notable individuals rising to the fore. So much so, in fact, that only Lana Beniko, Theron Shan, Darth Marr, and Satele Shan seem to be properly-established characters from both factions, and it would be excellent to get more of this.
Sadly, it doesn't look like we'll be getting this from the Empire or Republic anymore, which is a shame as we shall be saying hopefully temporary farewell to organisations we still don't know all that much about.
However, we will be making alliances and even receiving wholly-new companions as a part of our quests, something which I absolutely adore. We haven't seen a new companion since Treek in 2.3 in August of 2013, and I eagerly await confirmation of which characters will hopefully join our companion rosters. Even if the alliances are all cutscene related and forced to exist because of events, it's going to be nice to once more contend with numerous different allies on a repeated basis, something which has only been apparent in a couple of class stories and only right at the end of Shadow of Revan.
Theron Shan's name is notably absent from this cast whilst Lana Beniko sadly returns. I'm pleased that they are giving one of these characters a much-needed break, although I'm curious to see whether this will be Lana's last fling. I do hope so.
Subscribers who are subscribed as of July 31st will receive a new Companion; Nico Okarr.
Okarr - once of course voiced by John DiMaggio - is the smuggler who helps Satele Shan and Jace Malcom escape from the clutches of Darth Vindican and Lord Malgus in the Return trailer. With Shae Vizla now being in-game, Okarr is the last trailer-original character who could still be introduced - Eleena Daru having been killed off-screen by Malgus himself in the novel "Deceived" - and receiving him not as a one-time story helper but as a full-on companion is excellent news. However, considering that, in the in-game universe, Okarr was last seen 41 years before the current events, he'll probably be a grouchy old gun-toting veteran who just doesn't refuse to back down. The Jolee Bindo of smugglers, if you will. Not that this is a bad thing; it'll probably be hilarious having him tag along. Additionally, if he has a long memory, Knights may be privy to a reunion between him and T7-01, who was ordered by Ven Zallow to work with Okarr undercover and can even be seen in the Return trailer himself.
Then again, we may just receive an "I don't ever remember owning a Droid" and that'll be the end of that.
I must say, the notion of a companion being a subscriber benefit is absolutely fantastic. Subscribers have never been privy to anything but cosmetics - which are, amusingly, the remaining benefits as you'll see below - as a pre-launch benefit, and this will be the first time that an actual "gameplay/story mechanic" is rewarded to us. I'd be very interested in seeing his abilities in particular, as companions added to the game after its launch have always had their own unique set of abilities, but if they're too powerful or too unique then he'll probably be the subject of many a "subscribe-to-win" argument. I hope not, but time will tell. Additionally, Okarr will be the second additional companion to have Cunning as his mainstat, with HK-51 technically being the first , in spite of all Droid armour being Aim-stat. With Treek using Aim as her mainstat, we do need a unified companion with Strength of Willpower at this point, so hopefully one of the "potential companions" will deliver.
Whilst I'll remain silent on my speculations of future potential companions who may have been identified on the cast list for the most part, I have to give a brief shout-out to HK-55. His quotes indicate that he will have an HK-47-like personality - even using the term "Meatbags" - which I both like and dislike. I like it because he's far more similar to '47 than HK-51 is by way of personality, so much so in fact that '55 seems to have a better "KOTOR HK-47" personality than SWTOR's HK-47. However, I have a small dislike and apprehension for '55 because HK-47 was, in case you didn't know, programmed by Revan himself to use the term "Meatbags", because he found it amusing, where other HK droids would use the term "Organics". Thus, "Meatbags" is unique to him, although cut content from KOTOR II does reveal that he disapproves of other HK units using the term "Organic" and one can infer that he would prefer them to use his own term. It will be interesting to see how '55 started using the word "Meatbag", whether he was part of a personal project by HK-47 on the Foundry to "perfect" other HK units based on the KOTOR II cut content or whether it's just someone trying to recreate '47 and failing miserably. Regardless, I do find it interesting that HK-55 is strongly indicated to be a Tank companion, which logically shouldn't make the most sense for a Hunter-Killer droid.
In terms of reuniting with older companions, a particular phrase has received a lot of attention. Not only can we reunite with old companions, but we can "betray" some as well. This has been interpreted as a means of allowing players to once more kill companions as could be done in the Beta test, but I have a feeling that it will simply refer to in-story events and the allies you make over the course of the story. The betrayal would simply be a Dark Side option which has consequences - they seem to be big on this - later on in the main story of the update. Time shall tell, but I'd be surprised to see it affect our roster of personal companions.
Nico Okarr isn't the only subscriber benefit.
- August 31st: Nico Okarr Blaster Set
- September 30th: Nico Okarr Duster Coat
- October 19th: Star Wars™: Knights of the Old Republic™ - Inspired Swoop Bike
- July 31st through to October 19th: Early Access on October 20th
Of course I instantly approve of the KOTOR Swoop Bike being reconstructed. Indeed, it's surprising that it hasn't been introduced before, as it surely should have been one of the first and most obvious things to reconstruct for SWTOR. I doubt it will have the functionality that it needs to truly be a swoop-bike - imagine the Ziost GSI Speeder daily or the "On the House" mission also on Ziost - but it's still nice to get the model at long last.
Of course, early access is excellent news as well. All-in-all, it's nice to be able to get various hopefully-decent items as a subscriber benefit rather than just another Cartel item.
Not only we will be seeing a Level cap raise within a year of Shadow of Revan having been released - which is incredibly soon, perhaps too soon, in my opinion - but there's also an unprecedented addition.
- Start at Level 60: Your character will become the Outlander, a Level 60 veteran of the Great Galactic War.
This is interesting because this seemingly contrasts with the indication that people care most about the class stories whilst levelling. All the same, very interested in seeing how this works.
With the level cap raise, I think we can finally confirm the reason why they've been so furtive about potential new raiding content, with the answer simply being that being a few months away from a new level cap raise new Operations beforehand would be pointless. They have, however, confirmed that many unidentified Operations and Flashpoints together will be scaled up to 60+, so I'm very curious to see which old Operations and Flashpoints will be chosen.
Hopefully with story updates being very regular now, there is going to be more opportunity for more frequent endgame content. However, that may be a forlorn hope and the old content may simply be a substitute for the new, which I hope will not be the case.
To conclude, I am of course like many highly excited for this particular update. It seems to be taking the game back to its roots for the purposes of moving it forward, which I think is desperately needed. It will be very interesting to learn more in the coming months.