Posted on Tuesday, April 9th, 2013 at 6:00 PM by Chris Smith
Early Access to Star Wars: The Old Republic’s first expansion has begun for some pre-order customers; those who got their order in before the 7th of January can now access the benefits of “Rise of the Hutt Cartel” almost a full week before others. Due for wider release on April the 14th, RotHC has been priced relatively low in comparison to other MMOs, with subscribers paying even less. At $19.99 for free-to-play customers and $9.99 for subscribers, the expansion promises to bring a host of new features to BioWare’s story-focused MMO.
Perhaps as a testament to its failed subscriber-only model, the expansion is not being released in a physical form: this is a solely digital affair, helping to keep overall costs down and profits at a maximum. The expansion boasts a level cap increase from 50 to 55, with new story missions included in the mix. As someone who plays the game almost exclusively for the story, I can appreciate the addition of new chapters. Unfortunately, the development budget for eight different class quests runs the risk of feeling stretched thin in comparison to the meatier substance of levels 1-50.
There are the usual slew of pre-order bonuses, aside from the early access: an in-game pet, a unique title for all your characters and a cosmetic holo-statue of an unpronounceable Hutt doctor. I doubt anyone will be getting overly excited about these, which smell of EA more than BioWare, but there’s no harm in getting freebies. Most important among RotHC’s features is undoubtedly the new planet of Makeb, where players can finally explore same-sex romance with select companion characters. Up until now, all romance options between players and their various crewmates have been decidedly straight; a step backwards in terms of BioWare, who have offered same-sex romance in virtually all of their recent games. Awkwardly, it was also an option in the prequel to SW:TOR, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords.
Unfortunately, the romance doesn’t extend to characters you’ve grown to know and love; you’ll only find your gay soulmate on Makeb, in the form of a brand new companion. This has angered a lot of people, who rightfully feel as though this has been tacked on; BioWare had previously promised a lot more in the realm of same-sex relationships in SW:TOR and they haven’t exactly delivered. However, it remains a landmark in MMO history and a step forward, towards the day when it will be considered abnormal NOT to have same-sex romances in a game.
With “more exciting new features” promised over the coming months, it’s clear that BioWare and EA still have a plan for SW:TOR going forward. There’s every hope that, should the move to a combination subscriber / F2P payment system prove successful, we could see much more of this wonderful and under-appreciated MMO. One can only hope that EA don’t underestimate demand for this expansion and pull another SimCity on players in a galaxy far, far away.