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Hyperspace Beacon: Previewing SWTOR's Shadow of Revan

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When I was first introduced to the expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic, there were two things I wanted to see: the continuation of the class story and Yavin 4. And I'm happy to say that this expansion delivered both of those in a satisfying way. When I spoke to studio game director James Ohlen and lead writer Charles Boyd about the expansion a few weeks ago, they told me that Shadow of Revan would close one major chapter and open a new book for SWTOR. After seeing the expansion, I have to agree that Shadow of Revan does put a great cap on a class stories and opens the door for an exciting future for the game.

I don't want to give you the impression that everything in the expansion is exactly what I wanted, though. There is a surprising lack of exploration, the amount of content fell short, and parts of the maps felt slapped together. The screenshots depict beautiful scenes, but sometimes form outweighs function.

Before I continue, I feel obligated to tell you that there are spoilers of previous content in this piece, but the important parts of the new content will remain unspoiled.



A case of mistaken identity
The introduction of expansion content takes place on board your ship, just as in the last expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartel. This time, however, you do not receive a call from Dark Council member Darth Marr; instead, you receive a holo from an Imperial officer who mistakes you for someone else and gives you information about the planet Rishi. It's slightly different for each class, but the outcome is the same: You decide to investigate why you received information that you didn't ask for.

It turns out that you already have a reputation on the planet, not as -- in my case -- the Emperor's Wrath but as a leader of a pirate gang. In fact, you already have some enemies, and another gang owes you money. It's not a bad place to start, huh? But it's only when you discover why people believe you are the leader of this gang that you really begin to peal back the layers of secrets on the planet Rishi.

If I were to summarize the feel of the story between the two new planets of Rishi and Yavin IV, I'd say that Rishi has that lighthearted, underworld feel, whereas Yavin is the dark, brooding Force-user storyline. On Rishi, the writers aren't afraid to crack jokes or create humorous situations. I found the whole first part of Rishi to be lighthearted, from the first person you meet to the other gang owing you money to chasing a Kowakian monkey-lizard through the boardwalks of Rishi. But things turn darker when your class-specific mission starts and you find out that you have to make a difficult choice. Kudos to Alexander Freed, who penned the class stories. I found the Sith Warrior story to be very profound despite its only being one rather short mission.

Jungle to jungle
Unlike Yavin IV, which I'll get to in a moment, Rishi provoked no expectations from me. We knew it was a jungle because that's what it was in Heir to the Empire, but other than that, it didn't really have any iconic ties or visualizations. I would equate the aesthetic to something like the Ewok treehuts mixed with Mos Eisley's shady districts -- it's Kashyyyk meets Nar Shaddaa. The juxtaposition of primitive and futuristic is a signature of the Star Wars franchise, and this expansion actually nails the overall look.

I started running into issues on Rishi when I navigated its boardwalks. More than one time, I was caught up in the geometry. A small raise in the boardwalks would cause my speeder to stop or trying to take a shortcut would get me stuck. Granted, I probably shouldn't have tried to take a shortcut, but I did. On the other hand, the jungle areas presented little issue in the way of navigation.

Yavin IV's visuals blew my mind. Non-Star Wars fans will probably not understand how amazing the very first visual is on Yavin. You sit on a plateau on the side of a mountain overlooking the Massassi temples. As you approach the edge of the bottomless cliff, you witness a retelling of the classic visual from A New Hope where the X-wings rise from the jungle treetops to blast off into battle. Normally, I dislike pure fan-service, but in this case, it's fitting even for those who don't understand the reference. And those who do understand the reference will enjoy it that much more.

Bang for your buck
Star Wars: The Old Republic has an issue with its expansions. None of the expansions in the past has actually been large enough for players to consider it a true and full expansion. Perhaps if Rise of the Hutt Cartel has launched with Galactic Starfighter and Galactic Strongholds, we would have a product worthy of the title "expansion." However, to BioWare's credit, the expansions for the game have never carried the pricetag of a standard MMO expansion, either.

This particular expansion is only $20 in the US. Being a PvEer and consumer of game stories, I ask only for about an hour's worth of content for every dollar that I spend on the game. Unfortunately, I don't think that there is 20 hours' worth of content in Shadow of Revan, at least not from the pure questline experience. For me, the primary questline took approximately 12 hours to complete even as I was doing my best to absorb and savor everything and take notes. With the added hardmode flashpoints and the raiding content, I suppose it makes it worth the money spent. But I would not pay more for it.

The expansion officially launches on Tuesday, December 9th, but if you pre-ordered the game before November 1st, then you're likely playing the game right now. If not, then there is still time to get in on the official launch day.

The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your biweekly guide to the vast galaxy of BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to larry@massively.com. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!

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