Game Review - 'Star Wars: The Old Republic - Rise of the Hutt Cartel'

4 stars for 'Rise of the Hutt Cartel'

As someone who has spent may hours with Star Wars: The Old Republic over the past year, or so, I was one of those who was reasonably optimistic from the start that the first proper expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartel, would prove to be worth my time and money.

Did I set myself up for some pretty significant disappointment? Well, of course. If the expansion had turned out poorly, it not only would have left me uncertain of my future with the game, but it would have been yet another blow to the already somewhat shaky reputation of the game, in general. Was I disappointed, though? Not at all - Rise of the Hutt Cartel was, in many ways, everything that I'd hoped it would be, and I'm glad I bought it.

One note to start, though - the general 2.0 game update and the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion are so intimately tied together that you may as well take them as past of the same package - especially since they were released at the same time. So, for the purpose of this review, I'm not going to dwell much on which features are technically part of Update 2.0 and which are a part of Rise of the Hutt Cartel

The stream-lining of the game's commendation system (abandoning planet specific commendation medals in favour of a standard 'planetary commendation', and introducing new tiers of end-game commendations along with the new tiers of advanced gear to spend them on), for example, was technically part of Update 2.0 - but, Rise of the Hutt Cartel was also clearly designed to make the most of the new system. The new Basic Commendations (which can be used to purchase the first tier of new end-game equipment) are practically handed out like candy during the expansion. Every story mission, as well as all of the repeatable 'dailies' and 'weeklies' will give you at least one, if not more - meaning that even a devout solo player will not find it overly challenging to equip themselves. This is a pretty significant contrast to the way things worked previously, where it seemed as though all tiers of end-game gear required you to master the game's multi-player content. Of course, there are still higher tiers of commendations, and gear to spend them on, for the veteran end-game players, too - But, given solo players something a little more tangible to strive for is something that I definitely appreciate.

The new Operation, Scum and Villainy, is also technically a part of the 2.0 update - but, it was also designed for groups of players who had reached to new level cap of 55, which you cannot reach unless you have purchased Rise of the Hutt Cartel.

Makeb is the setting for this expansion. A new entry both to the game itself and, as far as I am aware, to the broader lore of the Star Wars universe. It is a visually stunning, and suitably alien, planet - one made up of mesas situation precariously on massive spires of rock, and where the actual planet surface is left largely unexplored. Settlers content themselves with establishing their communities on these mesas. This is something which leaves them at particular risk of the ground-quakes which occasionally crop up - as a single particularly nasty one can potentially cause an entire spire to simply collapse, taking anything which may have been built on top along with it. Makeb is an independent and largely neutral world whose wealth is largely dependent on its mining industry. It's a peaceful planet, overall - but, it is this same isolated independence which which placed them at risk.

With the Empire and the Republic wearing each other down, the criminal Hutt Cartel have taken the opportunity to establish themselves as a new power in the galaxy - starting with Makeb.

How did the Hutts manage to take over a whole planet? Well, they simply bought the loyalty of the largely mercenary security force, of course - why go to the effort of raising an army of your own when you have enough money to buy one? The Hutt Cartel aren't interested in simple conquest, though - their main interest is in mining the planet's reserves of Isotope-5, a mysterious substance which can be refined into an extremely potent fuel source.

Of course, as is usual for Star Wars: The Old Republic, there are actually two stories at work here - or, more appropriately in this case, to sides of the same coin. The Republic enter Makeb at the request of the former government, and they come in as heroes and saviors. As a Republic player, your role will be to liberate the people of Makeb and to drive the Hutt Cartel off of the planet. It's a straight-forward story, really, but it works well.

The Empire does seem to get the better deal in terms of story, though. The war with the Republic, combined with the constant in-fighting among the Sith, has brought the Empire close to ruin. You are told early on, in no uncertain terms, that the Empire will lose unless something changes. The Empire's story is one of infiltration and subterfuge, as their chosen agent (in my case, the actual Imperial Agent) is sent on a secret mission to steal the Hutt Cartel's reserves of Isotope-5.

'Infiltration and subterfuge' doesn't mean you won't have to fight, though.
'Infiltration and subterfuge' doesn't mean you won't have to fight, though.

Everything about the story is of the same level of quality that you would expect from Bioware - all of the original cast have returned to lend their voices to the various PC options. Even the companions you picked up during your class story get some new dialogue - though, it really only amounts to commented on the various locations as you progress through Makeb. They are completely silent, otherwise - it's a shame, really, but it's better than nothing. The new characters you will meet are similarly well-written, and brought to life by talented voice actors - though, in their case, they aren't really given enough time to develop into the fully realised characters you may be used to.

Though, I suppose no review of Rise of the Hutt Cartel would be complete without saying something about the inclusion of same-sex romantic options (that's them in image at the top of this review, if you're interested). it was a pretty big deal to some people, afterall. All I'll say on the matter, though, is that I've seen a man kissing another man, and I'm pretty sure I'm still straight - I also didn't feel any particular urge to poke my own eyes out, or anything else overly dramatic. That's really all the attention I want to give to this so-called 'controversy'. It's harmless - if it's an issue to you, get over it.

Something more worthy of attention, though would be the fact that some player's were a bit put-off by the idea that Rise of the Hutt Cartel would not be including any class-specific content (it's just the 'world story' - for reference, just take any other planet in the game and strip out the unique class-based story-lines). But, what is offered here is no less interesting because of that. There are enough references to included to your own class-story to give it a personal touch. My Jedi Knight, for example, was practically begged to make the trip to Makeb to sort things out - and, while there, was treated as the hero he so clearly is (though, he would never admit that). My Imperial Agent, on the other hand, had a more subdued introduction to Makeb - as someone who had developed a healthy dislike for the Sith over the course of his story, would could cut the tension between him and Darth Marr with a knife. Even though there is nothing in the way of class-specific content included on Makeb Bioware have, at least, made some effort to show that they haven't forgotten it.

This does lead to a potential minor problem, though - Rise of the Hutt Cartel was clearly intended to be played after you have finished your class story, but the game will still let you start the new quest-line beforehand. Because of this, some players on the Bioware forum have commented that the end of their class story was spoiled by the opening scenes of the expansion. It's hardly a major flaw, though. It's really more of an odd quirk in the design. But, still, it's something that you may want to keep in mind when decided when to take your character to Makeb.

Even after you have finished with the story of Makeb, though, there is still plenty more for you to do. New game-play features have also been added to the game in the form of the Macro-binoculars and the Seeker Droid. In themselves, they might not seem like overly impressive additions. The Macro-binoculars are exactly what you would think they are - a pair of binoculars which you can use to survey the landscape. While, the Seeker Droid allows you to dig up buried items. In essence, they are novelties, designed to give player's a few more ways to pass the time. Yet, what makes them most interesting is the fact that each comes with a new quest-line and its own story. The Macro-binoculars will prove to be instrumental in your efforts to track down a mysterious figure known only as the Shroud, who as managed to gain access to sensitive information on both the Republic and the Empire. While, with the Seeker Droid in your possession, you will be sent out to recover ancient Sith artifacts known as the Seeds of Rage, before they fall into the hands of the Dread Masters (who long-time players may recognise as another independent faction causing trouble for both the Republic and the Empire). Both items are also important in improving your reputation with a new faction, which offers a series of repeatable missions spread out on a variety of planets. Your mileage may vary (personally, I've quickly come to dislike using the Seeker Droid), but the stories behind them are as fascinating as anything else in the game - and, they both add some much needed variety.

Get used to this, though. It's as much fun as it looks. Really.
Get used to this, though. It's as much fun as it looks. Really.

For the solo-player (like me), Rise of the Hutt Cartel includes more than enough content to make it worthwhile. Of course, there is still the small matter of this game still technically being an MMORPG. With that in mind, it seems unfortunate that the multi-player veterans seem to have got the short end of the stick. There is the new Operation, of course - Scum and Villainy is the first designed for level 55 characters. There are also the usual handful of Heroic missions spread throughout the new content for groups of players to enjoy. And, also, new versions of a handful of pre-existing Flashpoints intended for level 55 characters. But, how long this will hold the attention of MMO veterans is anyone's guess. PvP gets even less than that - a reshuffling of the level range for Warzone groupings, and a new tier of advanced PvP gear to work toward, but no new Warzones. Of course, this is something that will most likely be addressed in time - Operations and Flashpoints (as well as Warzones) have traditionally been a part of the free content updates, so far. Provided that that doesn't change, those groups of player's should get what they need to hold their interest soon enough.

Rise of the Hutt Cartel is the first proper expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic. And, like seemingly everything else associated with the name Bioware in recent years, it's not likely to please everyone. It is, in the truest sense of the term, essentially 'more of the same'. If you've already written off Bioware's entry into the MMORPG field, then it isn't likely to win you back. But, for those who still enjoy their time with SW:TOR, it provides more than enough incentive to keep playing.

© 2013 Dallas Matier

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