The Old Republic's first expansion delivers something that most players believed would arrive within six month's of the game's release: a meaningful expansion to the personal storylines that originally drew them to (and through) the game.
Rise of the Hutt Cartel adds a new planet for level 50 characters and extends the cap to 55. Depending on your faction, you'll play a particular role in an unfolding drama on the Hutt world of Makeb, which is embroiled in civil war and on the brink of environmental catastrophe.
If you've played enough of The Old Republic to be eligible for the new content, you'll know how this works. You follow the main narrative arc through a series of zones, picking up side-quests and completing bonus series as you go. Makeb follows BioWare's template for late-game planets to a close degree, and it's a real shame that the developers didn't use this opportunity to mix things up. I wanted more than another Belsavis or Corellia to burn through in a couple of sessions, and grinding out another three-stage bonus series upon arrival on Makeb's surface reminded me why I drifted away from The Old Republic in the first place.
On the positive side, Makeb is a pleasant place to explore. It's divided into a series of rocky, temperate islands, and the sight of Hutt palaces jutting out of distant cliffsides shows off the quality of The Old Republic's art direction. There's a definite thrill to returning to a favourite character, too. The beginning of the story explicitly acknowledged the choices I'd made at the conclusion of my Imperial Agent's personal narrative, and I appreciated the chance to take him out for one last, well-produced mission.
There's one new ability for every class, ranging from the dramatic to the mundane: Bounty Hunters and Troopers get a shoulder-mounted cannon, while Agents and Smugglers have to make do with the power to, er, do a forward roll. There's also a new level 55 operation, although it's short and can be burned through quickly by dedicated raiders.
I still enjoy The Old Republic, almost despite myself. Makeb might be a world under threat of collapse, but the game itself has felt that way for months. BioWare's free-to-play implementation is generous on paper but obnoxious in practice, to the extent that if you're a lapsed player thinking of coming back for Rise of the Hutt Cartel – ie, pretty much the only type of person for whom this review is relevant – then I'd strongly advise you to factor-in the price of a month's subscription alongside the cost of the expansion itself.
Rise of the Hutt Cartel shares The Old Republic's strengths and its weaknesses, and those who variously enjoyed and tolerated them the first time around will find something here, but don't expect a revolution – and, to be honest, don't expect the reignited affair to last.
- Expect to pay: £12
- Release: Out now
- Developer: BioWare
- Publisher: EA
- Multiplayer: It's an MMO
- Link: www.swtor.com