Given the years that have passed since Star Wars: the Old Republic launched, the arrival of a solo-focused, mostly standalone campaign expansion for the game seems like an odd choice. But it’s an intriguing approach to keeping the community engaged. In most of the ways that matter, Knight of the Fallen Empire is structured to be a new Knights of the Old Republic game, albeit couched within a four-year old MMO.
The only way to play Knights of the Fallen Empire is to subscribe to The Old Republic, which opens up the full scope of previous expansions and additions. That said, this can be played in its entirety without ever interacting with the broader game.
If you’re new to the game or a relapsed player who never leveled a hero or villain all the way to level 60, this new expansion includes a dedicated character slot that jumps you right to the previous level cap. It even sets up an appropriate skill loadout and hotbar layout, unless you want to customize everything yourself. Each of the eight previous classes slip comfortably into the new storyline. Some story elements change, like which characters recognize you and how they perceive you. However, the new story flexes to accommodate any character, and puts a bigger focus on your personal decisions than your class.
Storytelling is the highlight of Knights of the Fallen Empire. Several new and returning characters drive the action, which sees a new imperial power threatening both the Sith and the Republic, forcing a tentative alliance. As the great hero of the previous war, your character is uniquely positioned to stand in opposition to the threat, so the bad guys try to take you off the board, freezing you in carbonite. When you’re awoken a few years later, things look grim, and it’s up to you to form a ragtag resistance and win back the galaxy.
BioWare delivers a pulpy story in the grand Star Wars style, and several surprising reveals and tense character interactions give the tale some weight. However, that narrative is far more linear than it pretends to be, and while your choices might alter individual interactions, there are few moments where they turn the ship of the plot in any meaningful way.
MMO gameplay and visuals have come a long way in recent years, and The Old Republic is showing its age. The hotbar combat feels stale and inactive, though the animations remain top notch, lending an illusion of action. The tedium is accentuated by questionable balance choices; even with a newly crafted level 60 character, the battles are easy. With any A.I. companion at my side, I rarely dropped below 90-percent health, and strategic power use versus random button pressing both had roughly similar results.
Knights of the Fallen Empire is an episodic experience. As of this writing, the opening nine chapters offer an introduction to the story that plays out over about 10 hours. The meat of the storytelling in those early hours is fast-paced, but it’s really a build-up toward a more grind-focused experience that waits at the end, clearly meant to sate players as they wait for more content.
Even with its slower pace, I enjoy the investment and building opportunities in this second section of the expansion, which focuses on recruitment of allies and sabotage of alien facilities. Many familiar allies show back up, and you get that appealing fantasy of leading a growing alliance, inspired by other BioWare titles like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Effect 3. The new Star Fortress flashpoint dungeons offer a loop to chase better gear, but any one of the six stations is virtually identical to the last, which is disappointing.
Given the abbreviated nature of the story, and its incomplete arc, Knights of the Fallen Empire is ultimately a “wait until later” recommendation. That’s not because I don’t like it. The cinematics, epic Star Wars score, and character interactions are a lot of fun, even if the gameplay feels dated. However, given the scant hours it takes to churn through the first nine chapters, most players should wait until BioWare finishes its storyline, and then pay for a single month or two to play the entire epic.