I've fallen behind on my Star Wars: The Old Republic reviews. In large part, this is due to the fact I don't have the same amount of time to game as I used to. I'd very much like to catch up and do reviews of Rise of the Hutt Cartel and the Shadow of Revan. However, due to the release of The Eternal Throne, I figure it's probably a good idea to get the biggest and most important of the expansions reviewed.
Knights of the Fallen Empire is, in my opinion, a game-changer. I liked all of the class-centric stories as well as the previous two expansions but this is really a step up. The others, bluntly, felt like they leaned a little too heavily on their archetypes so that they didn't have quite the same level of storytelling as the Knights of the Old Republic games.
|The Sith Emperor has a new guise.|
One of the things which never quite gelled in The Old Republic was it's very black and white view of the conflict with the Sith = Evil and the Republic = Good. The stories were never more interesting when you were playing a Light Side Sith or seeing the dark side of the Republic. While Knights of the Old Republic was very much a conflict between good and bad, it's best games blurred the lines like Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2.
|Lana becomes a major character here and I approve.|
The premise for the expansion is the Player Character joins an alliance with Darth Marr and Satele Shan (Jedi and Sith together! Woot!) to hunt down the newly-revived Emperor Vitiate. In true Empire Strikes Back fashion, this alliance is crushed by Vitiate revealing a third faction to the galaxy. The Zakuul Empire, armed with a fleet of super battleships, crushes the fleet sent to destroy Vitiate before revealing that he is worshiped as a god in a powerful new empire.
|Arcann is hateful and brutish but he has reason to be. Also, he's surprisingly reasonable about his dad.|
In simple terms, the Zakuul offer the game what it needed from the beginning in a third faction for Player versus Enemy games. A lot of people said The Old Republic was needlessly cribbing off World of Warcraft but the thing about that was WOW possesses The Burning Legion, The Scourge, Deathwing, and other characters to distract from the largely played-out Alliance vs. Horde business. Hell, it was largely played out by Warcraft 3 and there was a reason peace was the ultimate goal in that game.
|It's a small thing but there's some epic duels in this game.|
Attempts to move beyond the Empire and Sith as antagonists have always been a mixed bag in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. The Yuuzhan Vong, for me, failed because they were too alien. Star Wars is, for me, all about people with the aliens being more "normal" than in Star Trek (and that's a big statement given most ST aliens just have rubber foreheads). Thats because Star Wars is (mostly) a metaphor for all time mooshed together versus being set in the future. Zakuul isn't alien. It's a very believable conquest-minded nation with good, bad, and neutral people. It's akin to setting the British Empire in Star Wars than organic religious Forceless religious fanatics. As such, they feel like they belong and that goes a long way to make them good enemies.
|Senya and Vaylin are two great new characters.|
He's still a murderer of billions but he "conquest of the universe for my chosen people" is a more understandable as a motivation than "Dark Side Chaos God." It's doubly so if you assume he only intended to murder his people's enemies. There were a lot of times when Valkorion criticized the Sith Empire and my Light Side Sith Inquisitor couldn't help but nod along.
|I think the Knights of Zakuul have the Force right.|
The game makes a controversial decision to also make the player character into "The Outlander." All of the other player characters have disappeared in-universe (to die or be disabled in some way) so it's all up to the Player Character to save the universe. I approve of this because it really does amp up the Star Wars feel considerably. For those invested in more than one storyline, though, it feels like a gut punch since you get to see almost all of the Companions devastated by the loss of their heroes. There's no happy ending for the Sith Warrior and Vette unless you're playing the Sith Warrior and if you are then the Jedi Knight and Kira or Smuggler and Corso Riggs are doomed.
|Best Smuggler Ever! Especially since the other Best Smuggler Ever is missing.|
In a very real way, Knights of the Fallen Empire is pretty much what I wanted from Knights of the Old Republic 3. It's a high stakes, dramatic, well-written space opera with a hugely important position for your Player Character while also giving us new developments to the universe. The Empire of Zakuul could have been named better (Archduchy of Zakuul, Star Kingdom of Zakuul, Federation of Zakuul?) but it works well. I also felt the stakes were high as well and never really lowered. Congratulations, Bioware, you've earned back the trust you lost with Dragon Age: Inquisition.