Spoiler Alert: I must warn you that this post contains spoiler content regarding HK-55 in the Knights of the Fallen Empire (KotFE) expansion. If you have not played the expansion and want to experience the content for yourself spoiler-free, please do so before reading this article.
Observation: The Role of HK-55 in KotFE
HK-55 was without a doubt a favorite among the new companions BioWare introduced for the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion. True to HK-series form, HK-55 made liberal use of classic “meatbag” references and sported an endearing inclination toward violence and wanton destruction -traits that have made the HK-series companions both likable and highly popular since HK-47 in Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR).
In the first eight chapters of the KotFE story, HK-55 played an active role as the comic relief, and his propensity for using overkill in cleaning out “undesirables” was distinctive both in terms of sheer number of shots fired and in his generous use of gallons of industrial cleaning fluid. His loss was therefore a particularly hard-hitting moment at the conclusion of chapter 8 as he was destroyed by Arcann in a gallant act of self-sacrifice to save the player during the control tower skirmish in the Battle of Asylum. In sacrificing himself, HK’s loss was felt deeply: The story would have to go on without its comic relief.
Musing: The Character of HK-55 Cheapened
If the above paragraphs read like an eulogy, they were meant to. Chapter 8 is where HK’s story ended. And for those like myself who have received the resurrected subscriber reward version of HK-55 as a result of having subscribed before January 11, 2016, he is now not unlike the akk dog companion -a companion, to be sure, but no longer a character.
And that is how it should be. At the conclusion of chapter 8, I could not have been more pleased with BioWare’s storytelling, which for me was beginning to approach the artful tragedy of Breaking Bad or the boldness of Game of Thrones with regard to the decision to terminate such a popular character. It is often the loss of a character that makes his or her contribution to the story more meaningful, and HK-55 certainly knew when to shed the mantle of comic relief and to don that of sacrificial hero who dies in a blaze of glory. I knew immediately -and I am willing to bet I was not alone in the feeling- that I would miss HK-55.
Back in the real world where credits do not exist but where dollars do, BioWare, having noted the player community’s positive reception of HK-55 as a character, decided to leverage it to solve a retention challenge after the release of 4.0. (SWTOR has, after all, experienced an influx of new subscribers as a result of the release of KotFE and The Force Awakens, and an effective retention strategy has been needed in order to hold on to them). BioWare therefore began leveraging HK-55’s popularity in an almost infomercial-like, heavily HK-55-centric subscriber rewards program, beginning with the reinstatement of HK-55 himself as a companion, then with a HK-55-themed jetpack, and now with the pending release of 4.2, a HK-55-themed helmet. With a plan to release content monthly throughout the duration of the KotFE story until August, BioWare promised six more HK-55-themed items for ongoing subscribers with each monthly chapter. No doubt mounts, weapons, armor, pets and stronghold decorations are on their way, and for those who remain subscribed throughout, a chapter of game play as HK-55 himself awaits at the conclusion.
For my part, I cannot help but feel that the subscriber rewards program cheapens HK-55’s story. BioWare prides themselves on epic storytelling and HK-55’s role in the KotFE story certainly lived up to that standard. But to saturate the player community with HK-55-themed items that the vast majority of ongoing subscribers will receive makes none of it rare or special. And the sheer volume of it distributed over months, hyped by livestreams and website announcements, runs the risk of making the player community sick of HK-55 by the time chapter 16 concludes. I would rather have seen our adventure with HK-55 in tow closed and remembered fondly than to see it remain annoyingly open and agonizingly pervasive -and for the player community to be happy to be rid of it when it finally concludes. For now, however, it seems the deluge of HK-55-themed reward items is fully operational, and while I am happy to see a subscriber rewards program go into effect in SWTOR, I must admit I see some unintended consequences associated with the current theme.
Addendum: A Look At The Subscriber Rewards
The first subscriber reward we have encountered is a salvaged HK-55 himself as of the release of 4.1, with an admittedly entertaining recruitment mission. Although I myself am happy to hear HK-55’s after-combat quips again, I can’t help but feel that his return makes him “less” than he was before his destruction (wasn’t that something Dr. Ogurrobb admitted anyway?) as if he were a horror-movie child who had died but we reanimated him by means of some bad voodoo and he just felt… “wrong”… somehow. And if the zombie analogy doesn’t seem fitting, perhaps that of a damaged and then remanufactured cell phone will. Having HK-55 back has been a bitter-sweet experience for me as a result, and I just can’t shake the feeling that he does not come back as 100% himself.
Of the reward items about which we currently know, perhaps the jetpack is the most favored with its three-booster mount flourish (CTRL + Z). My graphics settings render it poorly under dim lighting, but in better lighting out on the planets it looks sleek and futuristic. Some have complained that it is difficult to find armor to match it, and I have generally found this observation to be true. Regardless, I think an argument can be made that the fact that the vast majority of the player community now has the HK-55 jetpack, all of the previous jetpack mounts that were in circulation have been devalued (which were at least somewhat rare until now).
At present, we only have concept art regarding the HK-55 helmet, but generally I have observed a negative community reaction to the idea, something along the lines of, “Why would I want to wear a droid’s head on my head?” I like HK-55. I really do. But I am not so sure I like him enough to want to look like him. Moreover, the helmet doesn’t appear to enclose the entire head, and it was entertaining to hear Chuck and Brian of the Bad Feeling Podcast joke about how it would look on a character with a beard. The subscriber rewards are no doubt going to be hit-and-miss with regard to community reception, and I feel the helmet will be one of the misses.
Conclusion: The Need For Closure
My perception right now is that BioWare tends to milk things to death, like the pirate/Rishi theme (gear, mounts, the coming 4 vs. 4 PVP arena, ranked PVP season rewards), Revan (spanning three games, a book, the Dromund Kaas planetary story arc, three flashpoints, and an expansion), or the Dread Master saga (the Imperial Belsavis planetary story arc, Oricon and three operations). Suffice it to say, by the time we have moved on from these chapters, I have had all I can take and have been pretty glad to see them go. I must even confess to being a little bit fearful they will return.
That said, I am beginning to feel like the HK-droids have run their course too. We have known HK-47 since KOTOR and in SWTOR we have seen him in two different flashpoints and in an operation. We have experienced the colossal task of unlocking HK-51 across multiple planets and two factions, and have also played his companion story arc. And now we have now fought Arcann alongside HK-55. So as endearing as these droids have been, I am growing a bit tired of them.
Still, I lack closure: How are HK-51 and HK-55 supposed to react to each other when they no doubt stumble across each other in the Alliance hallways? (It was entertaining in chapter 9’s cantina scene to see HK-51 confused with HK-55 and incensed at what might make anyone think such absurd things of him). Will each view the other as an impostor? Who keeps making them? (Yes, I am aware of the droid planet concept that was supposed to happen as a result of the KOTOR expansion project, but I’m not sure a glorified player-created mod counts). Are we going to keep seeing new iterations of them until the end of time? Is there anything else we are going to experience with HK-55 after chapter 8 besides the play-as-HK-55 chapter in August? Or am I right in my suspicion about HK-55 being a companion but not a character?
No matter what, I would like to see a meaningful conclusion to the seemingly endless iterations of HK-series companions. I am concerned that I may be only too glad never to see them again after the rewards program is done in August, but I might be willing to endure a droid planet expansion (hint, hint, BioWare) to see the story come to a proper close. However it ends, my hope is that the conclusion will do the HK-droids some justice and that the story will be as epic as I know BioWare is capable of writing.