ZAM visited BioWare Austin to play through expansion content such as Makeb and more
The official launch of Rise of the Hutt Cartel can now be confirmed as April 14. Well, actually April 9 for all those plucky Star Wars: The Old Republic players who qualify for head start.
Last week, I traveled to Austin, Texas to take part in a special press event at the BioWare studio that breathes life into SWTOR. The event focused on Update 2.0 (currently on the game’s public test servers) and, more specifically, the new expansion. For those who are unaware of what Rise of the Hutt Cartel entails, take a look at the video below to get a clearer idea.
Amid the flurry of information, a collection of intrepid journalists was grouped together to be the first band of adventurers to set foot on Makeb. I whipped out my pulsing red lightsaber (Empire for the win, of course) and began to play through the new world and story.
Welcome to Makeb, Try Not to Perish
Makeb’s importance revolves around the material Isotope 5. The Hutt Cartel has discovered this resource which could prove to be a definitive edge in any battle; supplying almost limitless energy to power the vast array of weapons within the Cartel’s arsenal.
The Hutts aren’t just happily mining this stuff to make a tidy profit. In fact, the voluminous slugs with a penchant for delicacies like Klatooine paddy frogs have acquired a taste for galactic domination; a turn that has forced the Republic and the Empire to take action.
With level 50 characters decked out in the kind of finery that would make David Beckham look like a hobo in a potato sack (we were looking good and bringing the power to no uncertain degree), we paired up and began to explore Makeb.
As part of the main quest, we were soon stealthing our way down to the planet’s surface courtesy of a cloaked ship in a well crafted cinematic. We met up with two of the main NPCs involved in the story: Katha Niar, former Imperial Agent Commander and now military liaison to the Empire’s incursion and Lord Cytharat; a Force wielding Sith, so probably not one for taking time out for tea and crumpets.
Both characters have [Flirt] options and so we saw the first opportunity for Same Gender Romance storylines as our male characters could attempt to woo Lord Cytharat.
As a side note, it’s pleasing to see these options arrive in the game. They are not relegated just to Makeb, of course. You can also engage in SGR storylines on Dromund Kaas and Coruscant. So much for all of the ridiculously drummed up “controversy” a few months back; which I won’t specify as frankly it was all rather embarrassing for journalism in general.
The first thing noticeable about playing through Makeb other than the architecture is the slightly different quest flow compared to the original zones in SWTOR. Usually, when landing on a new planet, you find yourself greeted by so many quests that frankly the world itself often recedes into the background as you are bombarded by quest givers.
You are transitioned smoothly into the story and the quests build with more confidence in pacing (by better breadcrumbing after the initial introduction) compared to the kitchen sink approach that I often found unwieldy in the original front-ended, meteor storm style of mission delivery.
The new planetary arrival to the SWTOR galaxy is allowed to speak for itself through its visuals. There is more room for the world to breathe alongside the main quest (though of course you will find plenty of missions to take on as you progress through the world). Makeb itself has a pleasing, eclectic design, with refined estates encircled by lush verdant lands which lead onto huge dizzying peaks and then to roaring waterfalls. Makeb’s changing landscapes match, and at times surpass, the design of the current environments available in SWTOR. Here’s another video to give you a better view.
There were some noticeable design choices with NPCs too, as we saw a much less anthropomorphic droid being one of the first main quest holders. A design aesthetic centered on the practical rather than sleek which harkens back to the original focus on functionality inherent to the original Star Wars films.
Our hands-on session was focused purely on the Empire side of things (which suited me entirely) and fans of the cruel ruthlessness and arch malevolence of the characters (including their own) will not be disappointed. There are plenty of opportunities to engage in cathartic actions of utter bastardry to make you grin with Machiavellian delight. My group mate was all about the potential for profit; such a lack of vision.
Use the Force, Forcibly
My Powertech partner in altering the course of events on Makeb was Oliver Haake of Buffed.de, who took on tank duties while I performed the role of DPS and support with my Sorcerer. We combined very well, with the Powertech’s range of abilities (which of course increased as we began to progress toward the new level 55 cap) handling the damage and threat with gusto while I got lost in the glow of purple lightning at every opportunity.
Though we were told that the difficulty level in RotHC has been upgraded to be more challenging to both solo adventurers and groups, it was difficult to gauge at times as we were very well geared and seemed to handle most threats with effortless aplomb.
There were some occasions when we were stretched, particularly on some of the boss fights. And though we overcame even the more difficult stretches of combat, I did feel I had to make the kind of choices that inform good encounters.
I couldn’t just lay down AOE and single target fire with impunity when facing the named targets, Oliver and I did have to work together and I found myself switching to spot heal to help our companions (both healers) keep up. Some pulls, particularly on boss fights, required sensible use of crowd control and team work such as when taking down the Captain of the Third Eye; the commander of a vessel that required some first class Empire sabotage in order to further our dark interests. Muhahaha.
With the not-so-good Captain defeated, we were treated to another cool cinematic and off we went to the next stage of our mission, to plunder and also save the entire planet. You may think I’m being vague with plot details, mainly because I am. I don’t want to spoil the story as it’s such a large part of the expansion.