Hutt Cartel expansion adds well-voiced characters, challenging endgame to troubled Old Republic
Rise of the Hutt Cartel
Star Wars: The Old Republic has had a bumpy road. After a disappointing first few months and a painful transition to free-to-play less than a year later, the game still struggles to be seen as more than EA's answer to World of Warcraft, complete with nine-year old mechanics. Rise of the Hutt Cartel is The Old Republic's first digital expansion, and adds five new levels, a new planet, and myriad other improvements. Is this the content to turn the game around and point it to a positive direction?
Yes, but make sure your expectations are in-line with reality before you get too excited.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
Rise of the Hutt Cartel presents an interesting, if somewhat disconnected, story. Instead of continuing your unique class story, Rise of the Hutt Cartel presents its own self-contained tale, though the Republic and Empire will be drawn to the planet for different reasons.
Empire players will be heading to the planet Makeb to obtain a rare power source they hope to use in the war, while Republic players are there to take the planet from the Hutts and send a message of Republic power to the universe.
I warmed to Makeb quickly. Having the Empire and Republic both focused on the Hutts, albeit for different reasons, gives the story an interesting twist.
It doesn't hurt that Makeb has some of the best voice-acting yet heard in the game. My main two characters are a Light Side Sith Sorcerer and a Dark Side Jedi Guardian, and it felt as though both had gained the character complexity they'd previously lacked. The writing itself is still very melodramatic, keeping in line with the space opera feel of the game, but each actor does more with what they're given.
There's also a new villain who calls himself The Shroud; he's a terrorist, more or less, who topples planetary governments just because it's challenging. He comes across like some wonderful Star Wars version of Tyler Durden.
The nice thing is, unlike most of the planets in vanilla SWTOR, Makeb feels like a singular, cohesive experience. Where other planets could feel clogged with disconnected side quests that had little to no impact on what you were actually there to do, Makeb's storyline moves players along from one area to the next at a nice pace, and side quests are minimal.
Unfortunately, that means that the same-sex romance options that caused such a fuss in January are also minimized. None of these NPCs really stand out, though at least they're not reduced to anything stereotypical. These are people you'd flirt with at a bar, but no one you'd take home to mom.
You will never find a more wretched hive
The Old Republic's combat remains much the same as it ever was, but each class has a new skill, and none of them feel wasted. My Sorcerer got a small Force field that granted her total invincibility for a short amount of time, while my Guardian was able to reflect all incoming damage back at the enemies. Interestingly, the new skill trees fill out the middle range of abilities, instead of simply adding another tier.
There's also a new operation, Scum and Villainy. This endgame raid is constructed a bit differently from most, as there are no trash mobs at the beginning; you simply jump right into the first boss fight and go from there. This initial boss fight is no picnic, either: you'll have to swap tanks when the creature uses a stun attack, and throughout the encounter you'll need to shield yourself against a raging sandstorm.
The raid culminates in a fight against a Dreadmaster, which is basically Star Wars-ese for “holy hell this guy will mess up your shit.” The boss will target one raid member at random and teleport them away from the group, where they have to go mano e mano against one of the Dreadmaster's minions. While this is happening, the Dreadmaster summons copies of himself, some of which are made of lightning, and these nasty apparitions can one-shot kill a party member.
In short, the operation is challenging, which is exactly what you want from endgame PvE content. If you don't want to be stuck grinding it though, the game's earlier dungeons have been given a hard mode to challenge max-level players.
If combat's not your thing, there's also the Seeker Droid and Macrobinoculars, which will take you to new areas of previously-explored planets. Often, the missions given by these gadgets lead to some really fun environmental puzzles where you'll have to flip switches, avoid lasers, and so on. Remember that villain I mentioned, The Shroud? You'll need the Macrobinoculars to track him down, and it feels like chasing a fugitive across the stars.
While these quests are fun in their own right, the nice part is that, since you're visiting planets you've previously completed, Rise of the Hutt Cartel manages to avoid the ghost town feel of many other MMORPGs, where the population completely abandons lower-level areas to focus on the newest content.
A new hope
Rise of the Hutt Cartel isn't exactly bursting at the seams with content. The $10 price for subscribers and $20 for non-subscribers make this feel like a map pack, and that's basically what you're getting: one new map, with the standard Old Republic experience spread throughout it. There's nothing wrong with that, it's still plenty fun to don the Jedi or Sith robes once again and get lost in the engaging story.
That being said, players should manage their expectations. Five new levels in Rise of the Hutt Cartel doesn't feel as significant as five new levels in World of Warcraft – you only have the one new planet, and peripheral features are almost nonexistent. There's nothing added for your companion, the same-gender romances feel extremely shallow and limited, and the game still lacks additions like a barber shop and playable Cathar, two features which have been heavily-requested.
Rise of the Hutt Cartel doesn't fix all of The Old Republic's problems. It's still WoW in space, it's still cooldown-based, hotbar rotation combat, and the game's free-to-play conversion still feels like it hobbles the experience. Still, if you're still invested in the game, this is a solid way to blow some cash and a few hours.