A day with the SWTOR expansion Rise of the Hutt Cartel
Last week, BioWare invited a crew of gaming journalists to Austin to experience the latest content for Star Wars: The Old Republic. While I couldn't personally make the trip, BioWare invited me to listen in on the presentation given by Executive Producer Jeff Hickman. The journalists in Austin paired up and began their journey on the Hutt-controlled planet of Makeb, while I, having already been testing Rise of the Hutt Cartel for a few weeks, began writing my impressions of what I saw on that planet.

Before I begin my report, I would like to lay down a couple of disclaimers. In order for me to tell the story behind Makeb, I will have to give some spoilers about the main game. If you haven't completed it, and you don't want to know how it ends, then you will not want to read the first section after the break. Secondly, if you are looking for Rise of the Hutt Cartel to fix all the issues and emotional setbacks you had with SWTOR in the first place, then you might be a little disappointed. However, if you loved the storytelling and overall gameplay of vanilla TOR, then you will absolutely love this expansion.

A day with the SWTOR expansion Rise of the Hutt Cartel
The arrival (beware of spoilers in this section!)

I helped raise Darth Baras to his position on the Dark Council, then promptly dispatched him when he betrayed me. I am the Emperor's Wrath; I answer only to him. Despite the rumors to the contrary, I know for a fact that he is still alive and biding his time to rise up again. What can convince me to travel to little-known resort planet in the middle of Hutt space? The answer: Darth Marr. Marr has sat on the Dark Council the longest of everyone, outliving even some of the most powerful members like Darth Thanaton. He believes the Hutts are breaking their neutrality and attempting to strike at the Empire while it is injured. Although Marr is a powerful Sith, he understands that the Empire has experienced some setbacks, and the infighting and power-grabbing have only weakened the once powerful goliath. Unity, Marr says, is the only thing that will make the Empire powerful again. How could I argue with that?

My job is to sneak down to the planet of Makeb with no backup, capture a skyhook, procure the Hutts' supply of Isotope-5, then thwart their plans to amass an army. Skyhooks are satellite stations connected to ground stations as a way facilitate interplanetary travel. And Isotope-5 -- well, it's only the most efficient source of energy found in the galaxy. The Empire must have it.

A day with the SWTOR expansion Rise of the Hutt CartelBattling on the surface

The meat of the story begins when you hit the surface of Makeb. And although the premise is rather simple, there are some incredible twists and turns. I ran into situations where I was surprised at the outcome. If you've played through the Agent story, then you know how curvy the TOR story can be. In fact, the author of the Agent story, Alexander Freed, left his signature all over Makeb's primary questline. I'd be willing to bet he is the one who penned its prose.

In the interest of being balanced, I would like to mention that not everything followed a logical conclusion, particularly when it came to light and dark side choices. I'll give an example from a side quest so that I don't spoil the main story. The Empire sent a deep-rooted spy to live on Makeb. He has faithfully delivered information to the his contacts for years. He has been compromised, and your job is to track him down to make sure that his secrets don't reach the Hutt authorities. When you finally reach him, you find that he's not alone -- he's got his whole family with him, too. There is nothing in your mission that says you have to kill him. In fact, your mission is more or less an extraction mission. So when I was given the option to kill him and his entire family it seemed a little bit like a maniacal super villain, not an agent of the dark side. I was caught at an unfair crossroads. I could kill him to gain my dark side points, but that would break character. Or I could send him back to the Empire to use him another day, but I would gain light side points. I chose light side hoping to make up the points later.

My new powers

The press in Austin were paired up for their experience on the planet, and with good reason. The mobs on Makeb are slightly higher than than level 50. Luckily, I had my raid level gear to help carry me through.

Although I remained slightly behind the level curve, I did eventually level. At 51, I gained my new ability: double-saber throw. I loved this ability, and after talking to other players, I came to believe that additional abilities grained to us in this expansion don't make us more powerful but rather balance out the classes. I think the most appropriate comparison is between an Operative and a Marauder. Operatives now have a gap-closers like all the other melee classes (such as Assassins and Powertechs. Marauders were given an additional AoE ability, allowing them to compete with the DPS of a rage-specced Juggernaut. Classes like Assassins and Juggernauts, which are well-rounded classes already, were given abilities that expanded their abilities rather than made them more powerful.

A day with the SWTOR expansion Rise of the Hutt Cartel
The bottom line

As I mentioned on Massively Speaking last week, I had trouble giving Rise of the Hutt Cartel the label "expansion" because the additional content started only once a character hit maximum level. However, I don't really think the important part of the discussion is which label should be put on the DLC. Instead, we should discuss whether the game delivers quality content for the price. I can easily say that it does.

My litmus test for value usually adds up to how much time I spend enjoying the content. Typically, I prefer the content to add up to one hour per dollar I spend. Currently, Rise of the Hutt Cartel costs $10, and based on what I've seen of Makeb and the operation Scum and Villainy, BioWare has earned my money. Without even touching the other single-player content and dailies beyond the primary planet, there are easily 10 hours of enjoyable content. Even if you don't plan on sticking around for too long, pick it up if you have a level 50 -- you won't regret it.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

This article was originally published on Massively.
SWTOR's Hutt Cartel expansion launching April 14