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E3 2015: How SW:TOR's Knights of the Fallen Empire looks to bring story back

While Star Wars: The Old Republic has proven itself to be a competent MMORPG over the past couple of years, there's been a grand expectation from the people at BioWare Austin to create an experience that's closer to the games they've created previously. It's a tall order, given that both Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II are considered to be among the greatest Star Wars games ever made. But after dabbling with the game's MMORPG mechanics and creating vast worlds to explore, BioWare Austin is now looking to further dive into what originally put the studio on the map -- a deep story.

The Knights of the Fallen Empire update is pure BioWare story, reminiscent of the old KOTOR days. The story will fast-forward several years after the events of Shadow of Revan and follow a new conflict against an entirely new antagonistic force that has devastated both the Republic and the Empire. During E3 2015, Shacknews had the opportunity to look at the story's opening minutes and get an idea of what's coming later this year.

"Knights of the Fallen Empire is a return to our BioWare storytelling roots," said producer Bruce MacLean. "This is a continuation of your personal story for current players, but for new players, we wanted to make this expansion as accessible as possible. So we're giving you the ability to create a level 60 character and jump into Knights of the Fallen Empire immediately."

While the trailer offered a glimpse into what the story will entail, Knights of the Fallen Empire begins proper aboard a space station, with the player's character (now known as "The Outlander") being unfrozen from carbonite captivity by Sith warrior Lana Beniko. Enemy forces quickly get wind of what's happening, with new Sky Troopers rallying to try and round everyone up. This allows for a display of combat, which is focusing more on action and movement, rather than mindless clicking. It should be noted that none of the specific Level 65 abilities were on display, with MacLean noting that those particular skills would be revealed at a later time.

The story choices kick in when the player character walks by a Sun Generator, which is quickly starting to overload. The surrounding city is now in peril, so the player has the choice to either save the city and risk capture or simply leave the city to a potentially bad fate. This choice will help shape the player's character, as well as change the story path moving forward. For the purposes of this demo, the Sun Generator was left behind, where it soon reached critical mass and left the nearby city without power. While Lana expressed her approval, pilot Koth Vortena was displeased by such disregard for humanity.

The player and Lana are quickly confronted by a pair of dark knights, where some of the dialogue options are put on display. The choice for Force Persuasion comes up, but interestingly, the option completely fails and a fight ensues. After coming out on top, the player has the option to execute one of the remaining knights. To Lana's chagrin, the knight is spared, which MacLean and general manager Jeff Hickman point out may prove beneficial if that character is encountered again in the future.

The demo concluded with the player and Lana rendezvousing with Koth, just as they're approached by one of the newest big-time baddies, a lightsaber-wielding Force user known as Vaylin. As Koth tried to fire at her with his ship, Vaylin used the Force to grab a metal plate and shield herself from the blasts. As HK-47 pulled everyone onto the ship ("Observation: Meatbags cannot fly."), Koth flew off to formally end the demo.

This is supposed to be part of Knights of the Fallen Empire's first chapter. The expansion will feature nine chapters at launch with additional story set to be added on a regular basis. There are still some questions about some of the changes that will be included and whether those additions can be taken into the base game, but those details are expected in the coming months. At the moment, Knights of the Fallen Empire appears to follow the example of Shadow of Revan and infuse more story elements with an emphasis on consequential decisions. Whether it can fully live up to a KOTOR experience remains to be seen.

One interesting thing to point out is that while BioWare Austin is placing a far greater emphasis on single-player story content, it is not forsaking the idea of The Old Republic as an MMORPG. Multi-person raids and PvP remain a pivotal part of the experience, but the studio is looking at events like Knights of Fallen Empire as a way to fulfill player demand for single-player story with real BioWare-like choices and consequences. Much like a Jedi with the Force, BioWare Austin seeks balance with The Old Republic's MMO experience, offering enough of the genre's elements for multiplayer users while offering enough of a worthwhile single-player story for those that desire it.

Look for more on Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion in the coming months. The expansion is set to release on October 27 and will be free for all subscribers.

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