We give our first impressions of Rise of the Hutt Cartel, BioWare's first expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic.
It’s been a long time. Like many others I dove head-first into Star Wars: The Old Republic, gorging myself on the superb storytelling and fantastic voice acting. After hitting level cap I was hungry for more, with the ‘Interlude’ splash-screen promising just that. But while further content updates have added new areas such as Section X and new quests like those for HK-51, the central storyline has been paused.
That wait is now over, with Rise of the Hutt Cartel being the first digital expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic. With all-new voice acting and a new planet to explore, it’s a compelling reminder of everything that’s fantastic about BioWare’s MMO. Throw in a raised level cap, new endgame Operation and new achievement system, and there’s a lot to be excited about.
Before I begin, there’s something I should clear up straight away. If you’re subscribing to SWTOR, the expansion represents incredibly good value for money. At the discounted price of $9.99 it’s a no-brainer decision for the additional content offered. Pre-order by 4pm April 13 and BioWare will also throw in a couple of extras, such as an in-game pet and unique title. For those not subscribing the $19.99 full price might be a little harder to justify, although our final review next week should answer any lingering doubts.
No More Interlude
It’s been a long time since I last played my Sith Sorcerer, instead focusing on levelling a few alts and trying out some of the other stories. As a result, my first couple of hours after patching were spent dusting off the cobwebs and getting my character ready for Makeb.
With revamped talent trees in SWTOR 2.0, my first task was to get acquainted with the updated specs and spell rotations. It took a frustrating few hours to crank some muscle memory into my rusty fingers, but it’s worth fighting through the pain. This way, I can be sure that I’m throwing around that delicious lightning in the right way.
Commendations have also changed. Gone are individual tokens for each planet, instead replaced with a single Planetary Commendation. These are currently capped at 100 and will shortly drop to 50, so it’s worth spending these regularly to update your gear. Mine were immediately spent on a stack of Makeb-grade modifications and enhancements to spruce up my gear in order to make combat as potent and pain-free as possible.
My final task before leaving the Fleet was to update Crew Skills. With the crafting skill cap raised to 450, a new tier of training is required. After buying the new tier for each of my three skills, I sent each companion out to forage. Several of the archaeology nodes I encountered required a skill level of 401 to harvest, so I recommend sending them out while you work on your talent spec in order to get over that minor hump.
A New Chapter
Lightsaber in hand, I was finally ready to face the new planet of Makeb. After boarding my ship, my holo-terminal offered me a new quest. This was it: the start of Chapter 4, the moment I’d been waiting a year for. Would it live up to my expectations?
I clicked. The cut-scene started, rendered in-game; it was quickly apparent that BioWare has gotten much better with the in-game camerawork. Euan Morton’s familiar deep voice started up, but with new lines to recite. The story begins, and I’m back to where I left off a year ago, grinning as the story starts to unfold.
Perched on the edge of Hutt space, the planet Makeb is a planet of spire-like hills and mountains, interspersed with a mixture of grassy plateaus and mesas. This isn’t a tourist resort though; the isolated planet has experienced a series of worsening ground quakes, toppling buildings and tearing the land apart.
The Hutt Cartel isn’t interested in Makeb for the scenic views; the planet hosts Isotope 5, a rare mineral with unique gravitational and electromagnetic properties. If the Hutts are interested in something, you can bet that it’s bad news for everyone else concerned. For the Sith Sorcerer your task is simple: get to the planet undetected, get to the Isotope 5 stockpile and bring it back for the Empire.
After sneaking on to the surface, my time so far has been spent dispatching Hutt mercenaries and Makeb forces in order to secure a base of operations for Imperial forces. It’s been a little frustrating in places as my rusty fingers struggled to fire, but the results are as satisfying as ever. This isn’t designed to be a walk in the park, but a bucket of cold water to the face: cold, but refreshingly welcome.
The Continuing Story
For those that played SWTOR for the storyline, the good news is that the dialogue is just as compelling. Plots are unveiled, deceits are planned and political machinations are both created and countered. The choices you make still have an impact on companion affection and force alignment; after a particularly gruelling gauntlet, I had the option of recruiting an ally or butchering everyone in the room. My own voice cackled with dark-side induced glee as the sounds of lightsabers echoed around.
There are other changes that benefit storytelling. At one point I had to clear an instanced area of all Hutt mercenaries, only for it to become a questing hub for my own allies. Although I’d seen phasing before, this was the first time I’d witnessed SWTOR using the same technology.
As I quested through the early zones in Makeb, the new Achievement System periodically reminded me of its existence by congratulating me on a job well done. Along with racking up points and completion percentages, it’s also possible to earn a small collection of Cartel Coins by completing specific achievements. It’s no huge amount - only 20 coins here and there – but it’s a welcome alternative for those who aren’t interested in collecting mountains of pets or vehicles.
After a rocky start that’s been largely my own fault, Rise of the Hutt Cartel is fun. The combat is fun, the planet of Makeb is fun, and the dialogue choices are huge fun. I’ve been grinning from ear-to-ear while battling through the first few levels, and I can’t wait to experience more.
In terms of value, I can already say that the expansion is a great deal for subscribers. At $9.99 it’s an absolute bargain for the amount of content being offered, especially when compared to the unlocks and weapons being sold by other free-to-play games. For non-subscribers that have to pay the full price of $19.99 I’m still a little unsure, but that’s only because I’ve yet to discover how deep the Makeb rabbit-hole goes. I’ll be returning with a full review next week, which should hopefully put to rest any lingering doubts.