I played through the latest chapter of the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion (12: Dark Passages) last week and was very pleasantly surprised by the change of pace and mood. Without delving into spoilerific details, it seemed quite a contemplative chapter. I’ll focus on mechanics and not the story but there are probably some really minor spoilers in this post.
The biggest difference I felt, much more than any of the chapters set in or around Zakuul’s underbelly, was that this chapter offered a sense of exploration. Although the main story may have been fairly linear still, the steps in-between were much more open-ended and could be done in more than one order – some back-tracking was necessary for me.
New mechanics were introduced to give your character greater freedom of movement and intermediate mission goals were of an exploratory nature. In some ways it reminded me of Wildstar’s Explorer path or jumping puzzles in Guild Wars 2. Those activities in the two other MMORPGs have mixed connotations for me; I like the exploration part of it but I grow tired of the ‘twitch’ aspect – the need to precisely time jumps or judge virtual distances on a screen. SWTOR’s latest chapter has a nice take on such exploration content without the player needing twitch skills.
I suppose the downside to this approach is that once you’ve memorised the map there’s no real gameplay to it, jumping puzzles still challenge you to a certain extent whether you know them off by heart or not. That doesn’t bother me though, other games have jumping puzzles already, so I’m happy that SWTOR has a different take on exploration content. I hope the devs do something similar in a future episode at least once in a while.