I know I'm "late to the party" on both of these topics, but since most of my game time over the past couple weeks has been consumed with RIFT and Star Wars: The Old Republic, the recent expansions of both of these games have been at the forefront of my mind recently. Since both of these expansions came out a while ago, today's post may not feel particularly "new" to some of you, but I thought with RIFT's free-play conversion right around the corner, and SW:TOR remaining a highly controversial topic, that it would be worth offering my perspective on both of these games and their new content. Besides, we all know MMO's take a while to "age" appropriately. Taking a look at a game or an expansion a few months down the road can prove more enlightening than the initial impression. So let's start off in a galaxy far, far away...
What Defines an Expansion
The first thing to address right out of the gate with Rise of the Hutt Cartel (RHC) is the definition of an "expansion." Now to be fair to Bioware/EA, they were pretty clear about what exactly RHC was and was not. It included a new planet (Makeb) and a story specific to each faction. It made the usual tweaks to skills, talents, and a variety of game mechanics. And it raised the level cap from 50 to 55. You knew up front what you were getting, and what you were not getting. So I don't fault Bioware for what they gave us. I don't feel like players were misled in terms of what RHC included. However I do believe that the use of the term "expansion" was applied rather liberally in this case. When compared to other AAA themeparks (World of Warcraft or RIFT for example) what RHC offers would qualify more as a major content patch, not an expansion. Using those two games as examples, one could point to the 2.4 patch in WoW which added a new zone, a new 5-man dungeon, and a new 25-man raid. Or the 1.6 patch in RIFT which introduced the Ember Isle. In both cases this content was entirely free, granted both of those games were fully pay-to-play with mandatory subscriptions. SW:TOR no longer requires a subscription so you may argue that they can't give content away like this for free. True. But here is my major problem with RHC; it is not worth what it costs.
The "expansion" should have been free to subscription players. Either that, or it needed to be made purchasable with Cartel Coins from the market, essentially making it "free" to subscribers with their monthly stipends. To charge them even an additional dime for the amount of content RHC offered is ridiculous. And for the non-subscribers, I think $10 would have been much more reasonable (again in terms of the amount of content) with $15 (the equivalent of a monthly sub) being the absolute maximum. To charge $20 for what RHC included is again, ridiculous. RHC is a fine bit of content, as I'll get into shortly. But there is nothing in it that justifies the kind of cost Bioware imposed on its players. It really sets a bad precedent in terms of the game's future, in my opinion. If they think that a major content patch is worth $10 to people already paying $15 a month, what are they going to charge for larger content releases in the future? Or is the future of SW:TOR going to be made up entirely of small releases like this that we will be continually overcharged for? This is where Bioware really lost me. Not because of what RHC is, but because of what it isn't, and what Bioware thinks it is worth.
All that having been said, RHC is not without it's good points. Makeb is a fun and interesting planet, easily in the upper tier of SW:TOR's locales. It is not a planet I dread having to spend time on like other pits of despair like Taris or Alderaan. I think Bioware did a good job in terms of tuning the questing and combat on the planet. You get fights between large groups of weak enemies (even larger than on previous planets) and a lot of fights against Elite mobs that end up feeling challenging and rewarding. So RHC definitely gets kudos for its questing and combat design. Also of high quality is the storytelling. I understand (but am disappointed by) the shift to a single faction story rather than class based stories, and both the Republic and the Empire tell a good story. I would have to give a slight nod to the Imperial storyline as the Republic one ends up being a bit too cliche for my taste, but your mileage may vary. All in all, the content that RHC offers is good content, up there with some of the best examples that SW:TOR already had to offer. So if you enjoyed what the game was already giving you, RHC will not disappoint in that regard.
(Quick side note on the highly dramatized "same sex" flirting options introduced here... it is much ado about nothing. It's mostly harmless innuendo you can direct at NPC's, not even your companions. It feels like the whole topic was nothing but a publicity stunt for attention. If you were hoping for actual same-sex romance options, you won't get them. Go load up Mass Effect 3 for a FemShep shower scene if that's your thing.)
Overall, if you like SW:TOR you'll like RHC. It just gives you a little bit more of what you were already getting. As I said, my problems with it are in terms of "packaging" rather than what is actually in the package. If you were "on the fence" about the game and waiting to see if RHC would change it in some significant fashion that would impact your perception of the game, it doesn't do that. And as a non-subscriber I would find the $20 price point rather prohibitive. I don't know if the offer still exists after the launch, but I was able to buy a "package" with 30-days of game time and the expansion for $25, essentially getting RHC at the subscriber price. I then used the month of sub perks to power level my Smuggler to 55 and run my Bounty Hunter through the Makeb content. This was worth the cost in my mind... barely. But paying $20 straight up for RHC is robbery, in my opinion.
Next Time, As Telara Turns
I was going to make this a single post comparing and contrasting RHC with RIFT's Storm Legion expansion, but this ran a little longer than I had planned so I'm just going to split it into two different posts. So check back tomorrow for my initial impressions of Storm Legion. (Spoiler: I liked it better than RHC.)