SWTOR: Knights of the Fallen Empire completed!

So this may mark the longest it’s ever taken me to get through an MMO expansion, as I started Knights of the Fallen Empire, oh, back in October 2015 and am only now wrapping it up in the late hours of May 2019. Despite a really strong start, I ran out of steam midway through and left the game for a good long while. I am glad I came back, however, because sometimes you want to see how everything plays out, you know?

The final two chapters accelerated the drama and tension of this expansion, which had a tendency to sag in the middle. SCORPIO, predictably, betrayed me and my crew, and unpredictably stole the Eternal Throne from right out under Arcann and his sister. Having a former companion, even a shady one, become a Big Bad Boss, is a pretty gutsy move on BioWare’s part. I always liked SCORPIO because she was a darker, more sinister droid that you always felt could turn on you at any moment.

And despite the last couple of levels being nothing but lengthy excursions through the corridors of enemy ships, there was enough narrative development and cool set pieces (especially when said ships were breaking apart all around me) to make it worth the journey. Other than a very brief interlude between the missions, I didn’t see or hear from another player, which definitely felt weird for an MMO. BioWare’s choice to greatly skew this to the single-player realm took away that feeling of “playing alone together” that so many of us enjoyed.

The final mission, the Battle of Odessen, was masterful from start to end. It was just the right length, exciting through and through, and ended on a series of fascinating cliffhangers:

  • Arcann is defeated but sort of (maybe) comes around to the light side again as his mother steals him away
  • SCORPIO gives all of her GEMINI “children” free will to stay and serve or head out to the stars
  • A good chunk of the Eternal Fleet, including the flagship, is destroyed
  • Koth returns — and steals the Gravestone
  • The Emperor ghost reasserts himself to give me a small pep talk
  • And Vaylin takes the Eternal Throne with SCORPIO’s permission, with the droid remaining to be her right-hand advisor

It wasn’t all that shocking, but it kept me glued to the monitor for the last half-hour or so. I liked the bits of humor that my character interjected, but disliked that my choice to shoot down Arcann’s shuttle was yanked away from me due to BioWare’s Plot Armor. Seriously, BioWare, if you’re going to give me a serious choice, then let it play out. Doing otherwise makes me feel like you’re handling me instead of trusting me to forge a path. It felt ironic that the droids of this episode were given more free will than I.

So as the curtain descends on Fallen Empire and rises on Knights of the Eternal Throne, what say I about this expansion as a whole? Like many SWTOR players, I’m deeply divided on whether or not the trade-off between MMO and single-player storytelilng was worth it. It was certainly initially exciting, receiving all sorts of publicity and acclaim, but I think that all of the production values couldn’t replace the social component (not to mention simply being able to explore areas and go on a variety of quests instead of just one main one). If you’ll excuse the expression, a balance needed to be struck here, and I think BioWare recognized that following Eternal Throne, which is why the game’s shifted back to its former format.

I am generally inclined to be kind to this expansion, because a lot here works well. We get the return of major companions, a daring time shift to five years in the future, lots of funny quips and NPCs, some amazing moments, an awesome main ship, a couple of poignant deaths (I’ll miss you, HK!), some residual tension between Empire and Republic, and crazy space battles. I have plenty of criticisms too (and if I never have to see another skytrooper again, I’d be a very happy man).

In any case, it’s time to see if I can get through the next expansion in something less than four years. I think that’s doable.

SWTOR: Returning to the Fallen Empire

You know what gets me to come back to an MMO? When I see a game (and its dev team/studio) working hard to get me to come back. And while I’ve been dismissive of Star Wars: The Old Republic in the year to date, it’s been getting increasingly hard to push it out of mind with the new content updates and the announcement of this fall’s expansion. So the thought started to bubble up in my brain that, yes, I think I might actually like to continue my old Operative’s story and actually see the rest of the content that I’ve been missing to date.

Of course, when the last time I played this character was May of 2017, it stands to reason that I’ve forgotten pretty much everything about the story and what she’d been doing. Thank goodness for my blog and this page, which neatly lays out the order of solo content progression.

Seeing as how I’m still in chapter 13 of the Fallen Empire expansion, I’ve got quite a ways to go to catch up! There’s the rest of the expansion, then the Eternal Throne expansion, then Iokath, then Ossus, then Dantooine (and all of the in-between patches). If it holds my attention — and here’s hoping — then that’s a good summer’s worth of content.

IN THIS WEEK’S EXCITING EPISODE… Gault (a Bounty Hunter companion) shows up to take me on a treasure hunt for a mysterious ship laden with money. Sounds legit, especially coming from a one-horned devil. But since I’ve always had a soft spot for Gault, I’m totally on board for whatever whackadoodle scheme he’s running.

About which time I started having some *fierce* deja vu, so I looked up my previous SWTOR posts, and sure enough, I recorded back in 2017 that I had already fully beaten this chapter. But it wasn’t that much of a bother to rerun it, seeing as how I needed to brush up on this character and both Gault and Vette were delights to be around.

After that I jumped into Chapter XIV: The Mandalore’s Revenge. I got the feeling by the middle of this expansion that SWTOR decided to feature which ever companion characters whose voice actors could be rounded up. Apparently it’s Very Important that we go find this GEMINI droid on Darvannis, as it can be used to access and enslave all of the droid captains of the Eternal Fleet.

That drops us in with the Mandalorians, which are a faction that I never really took a shine to in Star Wars. I’m kind of lukewarm on any warriors-are-the-best culture in fantasy and sci-fi, because that kind of posturing gets tiresome and the actual logistics of a functioning society of brawlers doesn’t make sense when you think about it. Klingons, I’m looking at you.

This chapter was…. fine, for all intents and purposes. I liked Darvannis, which was an oasis-themed desert world, but everything here felt like going through the motions. The little floaty round droids would summon skytroopers at the least provocation, and I have to agree with the Mandalorians that there’s little honor — or excitement — in battling robots. Honestly, it makes me feel that the bad guys are pretty much Arcann, his sister, about a dozen pseudo-Jedi knights, and then a bunch of bots. Fighting robots in the Terminator was one thing, this is far less.

What really got my attention is the growing unease that SCORPIO presents. As an Imperial Agent, I’ve had her around for a good long while and haven’t forgotten that she started out as my foe for the better part of an entire planet. Her design is very creepy and that voice… that voice gives me chills with the monotone malice that it presents.

It’s kind of clear that she’s not on the up-and-up with us, but no matter how many “I don’t trust you, you slinky robot!” dialogue options I make, she’s still allowed to come along for the next mission. But I don’t trust you, you slinky robot. Not at all. Of course, I romanced a bug-man at one point, so who am I to talk?

SWTOR: Agent, uninterrupted

I think MOP’s Bree hit it on the head when she said that I was “highly suggestible” in my gaming choices. I’ll admit it. I totally am. When I see other people being enthusiastic about games, especially MMOs, it arrests my attention and serves as an attraction to a particular title. Of course, I do weigh that attraction against my actual desire to play it, my past history, and my current whims, but when the stars line up right, I find myself reinstalling games that I hadn’t thought about for months or years.

So when I was chatting with some SWTOR podcasters about this game that I had written off a while back and they were all manner of enthusiastic about next year and the coming expansion, I was like, “Hm. Perhaps I need to…”

[FAST FORWARD TWO HOURS]

“Woohoo! I’m level 10 already!”

This definitely feels like a good time and a good fit to return to SWTOR. I actually toyed with it a little while back but was pulled between the choice of resuming my old character, starting a new character from level 1, or starting in the more recent expansions. That’s too much choice, and I skittered away.

This time, however, I went back to basics and began all the way at the start. It’s been a long time since I had a new character in this game, and it’s been even longer — SWTOR’s launch day, as a matter of fact — that I started on a new Imperial Agent.

I decided on a few other things for this run. One, I was going to check out the Sniper (Engineering discipline) instead of my old Operative, just for a change up of the combat style. Two, I turned off alignment indicators on choices so that I’d make choices without those light/dark symbols influencing me. Three, I turned off subtitles so that I’d listen more to the cutscenes. And four, I would just be doing the class storyline and perhaps planetary stories if XP required.

Good to see the community is still on the cutting edge of fashion!

All of this combined to create a rather pleasant return experience. There wasn’t any side questing distractions, just a continuous main quest (and IA is the best class quest, of course). I picked dialogue and choices based on what seemed the most interesting response. And I began my long climb back up to the top, through the core game and four or whatever expansions come after.

I did jump into a guild on day one, one of those “trawling newbie zones for fresh meat” guilds that you find everywhere. I mostly did this for the 10% XP boost, thus I was surprised when the people were actually pretty friendly and interactive. There was even a Star Wars trivia contest that first night, and I mopped the floor and netted myself 150,000 credits. That was kind of helpful.

Hey, it’s Watcher! And Darth Jerkus! I missed those guys, although not the shoulderpads. What is it with Sith and really bad shoulder attire?

As with any return to an old favorite MMO, there was that mixture of familiar good and familiar bad hitting you all over the place. I was quickly rolling my eyes at the repeated hand gestures and the not-quite-tight combat, but the general atmosphere and questing was fun enough to make up for it. And Sniper is a wonderful change from the Operative lifestyle; mowing down groups of mobs with a machine gun at 35 meters is what I was born to do.

I hope that when I become a turncoat Sith lord someone will construct a giant tacky statue of me. Least they can do, really.

Ignoring side missions has the benefit of cutting down on the amount of time spent on any particular planet. In the first week, I cranked out a planet per two nights, and that felt wildly fast for me.

I did wrestle with some of the restrictions of my preferred account (no, I’m not going to sub — at least, not yet). No speeder travel until level 20 was a burden, but I stuck that out over paying money to unlock it earlier. I would like to get a “hide head slot” option on this character at the very least, because there’s nothing sillier than have to watch your character with doofy glasses or a dorky helmet go through cutscene upon cutscene.

Gotta say, getting this ship back was a thrill all over again. Agents really do have the best personal starship in the game, and boarding this girl felt like going home.

SWTOR: Profit and Plunder (Fallen Empire XIII)

Back in action

It’s been long, very long since I sat in the SWTOR saddle. Excluding two nights of doing chapter 12 back in February, I haven’t played my Imperial Agent for well over a year. So there was a readjustment period back at fleet where I was doing the typical welcome-back stuff: checking my mail, making sure I had trained up skills, reallocating points due to some prior reset, glancing over my inventory, and getting reacquainted with my rotation.

While I was doing that, I kept checking out the scrolling chatter on fleet and ended up picking out a guild recruit message that sounded pretty promising. Dark Initiative, or somesuch. Joined up, made small talk, and felt a little more connected.

Good old fashioned bank heist

With some of my crew off to try to cripple Arcann’s communication array, Lena and Theron are putting their time to good use by being fleeced at another returning character. As an aside, I really like the above photo. The two characters’ body language says so much — Theorn is forward, cautious, guarded, while Lena is laid back, confident, cocky, even arrogant.

So yes, it’s Gault. I get the sense that he’s a love-him-or-hate-him character, but when I was doing the Bounty Hunter story, I really warmed up to him. His quips and surefire attitude reminded me a lot of people on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even looks like some of the demons on there.

Gault’s got a plan to pull off a good old fashioned bank heist. The Eternal Empire, for whatever reason, keeps a lot of its material wealth on a ship called the Gilded Star, and Gault proposes stealing all of it. Sounds like we’ve moved from Buffy to Firefly, but we’re still in the Whedonverse of the Old Republic. It’s of course needlessly difficult and complex, although my job mostly seems to be “show up and shoot things,” which I seem to do best. Also, I get snarky.

My favorite moment? Pretending to be a Wookiee for a little bit.

“Your last partner was crushed to death.”

“And never once complained about it!”

Gault assembles his Ocean’s 11 crew for the heist, which includes another fan favorite character: Vette. I’ve always heard awesome things about this character, and her introduction here — pretending to be the voice of a missile hellbent on exploding in your face — had me in stitches.

Start to finish, the episode was entertaining and filled with personalities and quips, but I felt like the actual heist itself came off as a little lacking. There was no challenge in it, no sneakiness, and (oddly enough for this game) no choices. It would’ve been nice to have had some say in how the heist went down, but oh well, it was nice to feel like we ripped off the Eternal Empire in the end. SWTOR: Profit and Plunder (Fallen Empire XIII)

SWTOR: A girl and her gun

Probably the most gaming action that I got this past weekend was diving headfirst back into Star Wars: The Old Republic with a brand-new character: Thursday the Smuggler. Yes, sure, I already have a high-level Smuggler, but I love the class so much and wanted to start over to get the feel for the story and the character all over again.

Plus, SWTOR was holding the Mother of All XP Bonus Weeks, with something insane like a 250% XP boost going on. When you’re free-to-play, that’s like going from hobbling on one leg to sprinting on four. My plan was to try to grab as many levels as possible so that when the XP boost shut off, I’d be sitting pretty for the remainder of the leveling experience without having to resort to too many side quests.

Nothing too fancy this time around, just a dual-pistol Gunslinger who’s probably going to go the Saboteur route to see if flinging bombs might be the most fun way to go. I didn’t really take a shine to cover mechanics, so I elected to use run-and-gun skills for the most part. Made getting through the zones seem a lot faster, especially at the start.

So I picked this newish style of hair, which ended up amusing me because it’s slightly physics bound and sometimes ends up whipping over my head in weird ways during cutscenes or after jumping.

Oh hey, Corso’s still here! Go jump in a rancor pit, Corso! Everyone still hates you!

This all might be a foolish diversion, but I was surprised how quickly I got back into playing and really grooving on all of it. One of these days I definitely would like to get through the two Knights expansions, although if I keep restarting I don’t see that happening. Logically, I should go back to my Agent, since she’s been the backbone of my journey since the start. But right now, a-smugglin’ I shall go.

I’m also totally playing her as nice as possible, which ends up delivering a lot of genuinely funny lines. I would have assumed that all of the good stuff was just sarcastic/mean choices, but no, it turns out that pretty much anything you pick for the Smuggler is going to be treated flippantly and with some charm.

As an aside, pretty much every time I go back to a game, I have this wish that I could rewind time and start playing from the very beginning and never leave. That whole “having left and now I’m coming back” bit fertilizes regret and a sense of playing catch-up instead of enjoying the content as it was gradually delivered. I guess that’s why I’m also all for the idea of progression servers (I have no idea if SWTOR ever considered this, but it would be interesting).

Battle Bards Episode 96: SWTOR expansions

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

With those words, you know you’re in for a rollicking good adventure — and some impressive and spellbinding music to match! On today’s episode, the Battle Bards return to Star Wars: The Old Republic to look at the music of the recent expansions. Has the Force been with this MMO’s soundtrack? I’ve got a bad good feeling about this!

Episode 96 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Star Wars Main Theme,” “Fallen Empire Main Theme,” and “Scorpio, the Deceiver”)
  • “The Alliance”
  • “Versus Arcann”
  • “Aries, the Mischievous”
  • “Lana, the Advisor”
  • “Odessen, the Sanctum”
  • “Serenity”
  • “Fulfilling Destiny”
  • Which one did we like the best?
  • Jukebox picks: “Twin Seeds” from Nights into Dreams, “Boss Theme 1” from One-Way Heroics, and “Menu” from Spore
  • Outro (feat. “Escape from Zakuul”)
  • Stinger