Picture of the Day: My SWTOR Stalker

stalker1stalker2With little else to spend my SWTOR money on these days, I decided to upgrade my outfit by puchasing cartel market packs for the Stalker outfit. Again, no idea whether it’s one of those “everyone has it” or “people think it’s dorky because it has a big circle right on the butt, seriously, what was BioWare thinking,” but I kind of like it. It fits the commando-esque vibe of my Operative, and I used a black-and-yellow dye pack I had lying around to give it a cool wasp color scheme.

SWTOR: Judge, jury, and executioner

I’m still logging into SWTOR every few days to run a batch of dailies on Yavin-4 for rep and comms. I’ve almost got all of my gear up to item level 186, which is my primary goal before 3.2 comes out. Speaking of which, that looks like it’ll be a great update — a new planet plus the outfit designer! I’m still rocking one of the flight suits, but more looks would always be welcome.

I have to keep an eye on my credits, because every time I near 350K I know I have to go spend them on something or else face the dreaded untouchable escrow. At 348,000, I took a break from Yavin dailies (I’m getting really good at these!) and headed back to fleet for some shopping.

I saw a player in trade chat advertise that he was selling a complete set of adaptive Dark Seeker armor for what appeared to be an affordable price. I don’t know how much it’s really worth, but it looked pretty cool and I thought it would make a nice gift to my lowbie alt. Past that, I went to the GTN and started buying mod upgrades for HK-51. Since as a free-to-play player I can’t get the companion armor set reward from the Yavin weekly, this will have to do as a substitute.

I was kind of laughing about this in guild chat the other day when we were talking about the F2P restrictions in this game. For some, it either pushes them away from the game entirely or forces them to sub up. For me, it’s a powerful incentive to get stubborn and figure out ways around them or how to live with them.

With the armor sent off to my alt, I logged onto her to grab it and test drive her character a bit. Thursday is a thin, white-eyed Sith Warrior who is going so dark side and sarcastic that I’m sure she won’t get invited to any birthday parties from now on. I had already invested some credits in expanding her inventory during my free sub week, and apart from lacking the option to disable helmets and gaining access to artifact equipment, she’s pretty much set to go.

The Dark Seeker armor looks amazing, by the way. I’m not a fan of Jedi/Sith robes, so fortunately this is more of a comfy-looking tunic with a cool design and the most awesome face mask ever. It looks a little like General Grevious’ from Revenge of the Sith and adds a hint of voice modulation. It definitely helps to get into the mood of the character.

I only did a few quests at the start of Korriban, the most notable of which was to judge three prisoners who were being held for various crimes. Not only did I get to judge but also got to carry out the sentence. The light side options were to let them go, but dark side offered both a straight-forward execution and a trial by combat. I let the spy fight me, I killed the former Imperial officer outright, and I sent the last guy (who was definitely innocent) back to prison. Hey, I needed a dark side option and that was more merciful than torturing him until he confessed!

Don’t judge me.

SWTOR: Shadow of Revan complete!

rev1In the scheme of things, if I had to choose between long and dull or short and awesome, I’d go the latter — especially in MMO expansion packs and content updates. Don’t give me busy work; give me high adventure and memorable experiences. And while SWTOR’s Shadow of Revan was definitely short, it was a thrilling ride for most of its duration.

So yeah, I finished up the expansion, having just started it around the start of the month. Considering that I play other MMOs and have a notoriously slow pace of progression, that surprised me. It’s over? Already? OK, so when’s the next expansion coming out? Darn it, I want the story to continue.

While I’m a little bummed that the narrative portion is over, at least I can look back and say that Shadow of Revan hit all of the right spots that it missed with Rise of the Hutt Cartel. It’s NPC cast was far more memorable, for starters; C2-D4 became my second-favorite Star Wars droid of all-time, second only to HK-47/51. He cracked me up consistently, and the banter between the cast was interesting and made them relatable. It was genuinely heartbreaking to see the crew go their separate ways at the end because I didn’t want the journey to be over. They were the BioWare companion experience that I don’t always get with my own crew (probably because I can only take one with me at a time and the rest don’t interact on my ship).

rev2It helped that Rishi and Yavin were both attractive, fun planets to visit. No lava zones or dull battlefields here. And the expansion played heavily upon nostalgia and past experiences, both from the class storyline (as there’s a new mission tucked in here) and KOTOR. It really was a coda on the whole KOTOR storyline and I’m glad we got it. I don’t think I had to figure out what was going on with Revan post-KOTOR, but it was neat to find out.

From a design perspective, BioWare did a good job figuring out an economical way of presenting pretty much the same story and areas to both factions due to a “temporary truce,” although one wonders if this trick will come out in future updates as well. More expensive to make twice the content than to funnel everyone together into the same portion.

I’m not entirely satisfied, however. While Rishi felt like a decently paced, fleshed-out planet, Yavin 4 felt incredibly rushed and short in comparison. I barely arrived before I was thrown into the final fight, with little story to build up to that moment. In fact, I’m still a little underwhelmed at the reasoning of the primary villain and the supposed threat (that is never visually portrayed, even so). And it was a kick right after that final fight to have my newfound NPC friends go away, my new NPC girlfriend break up with me after three chaste kisses, and a heapload of dailies dumped into my lap. Welcome to the endgame, pal!

rev3It felt a little like having my excitement balloon deflate. I was having such a great time with the expansion… and then it was over, leaving me with chores and memories of a better time. I understand the decision to go the daily route and I appreciate the path to gearing up a bit by doing solo stuff, but it’s not going to blow my skirt up, either.

At least I have a character all the way through the end of the game, ready for what’s next. And I always have the option of tackling a new character, not to mention that Elder Scrolls Online is going buy-to-play this week and I’m planning on giving that a try.

So no regrets for a good ride. Here’s hoping that we’ll see more of it in SWTOR in the future.

SWTOR: In which I miss my class storyline

min1“That’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time…”

That’s what went through my mind when I bumped into the former minister of imperial intelligence on Rishi. It’d been a couple of years since I’d finished up my agent storyline for the core game — and I’d forgotten that Shadow of Revan threw in a mission unique to each class. A bone, really, but it’s the first official continuation of the storyline that I started way back in December 2011.

min2In this case, it was bumping back into my old boss, who is “retired” and keeping a low profile. Of course, he’s still up to his usual ways — secrecy, manipulation, covert sneakiness. I was so overjoyed to see him and have this mini-reunion that I was like, “Sure, I’ll do whatever you want!” Team player, that’s me.

The mission is pretty low-key, but kind of interesting even so. As part of the old storyline coda, he wants to rescue Shara, the former Watcher Two, who’s been frozen and kidnapped by pirates or somesuch. So while the minister goes off to negotiate a deal to buy the carbonite units, I’m running around Rishi slicing into terminals, fighting off pirates, and listening to the ongoing negotiations.

Being the “muscle” that’s giving weight to the minister’s efforts was an interesting exercise. As a story, I enjoyed it, although I was disappointed that I didn’t even get a special instance or anything. I’m glad that we rescued Shara — she got really messed up, psychologically, from the events of the IA storyline, and the minister wants to deprogram her conditioning and give her a chance to live her own life. I can get behind that.

Of course, I can’t get behind the minister lying to me and not completely trusting me. At the end of the mission I was reminded of how much I don’t really like the guy even though I do like him. Complex feelings for an NPC, that’s a sign of good storytelling on BioWare’s part. I snarked off to the minister and offered to come take Shara away if she didn’t want to be deprogrammed, but she declined.

I understand why creating additional class-specific missions is expensive and time-consuming, and why BioWare would prefer to create content that everyone can experience (and I’m NOT complaining about the expansion storyline thus far). But I missed it and I was glad to get a taste, at least. If just for a moment. I’d love to have that again.

SWTOR: The Revan nostalgia tour

Manaan! Now that's a name I haven't heard... for a long time

Manaan! Now that’s a name I haven’t heard… for a long time

Call it serendipity: Just as I hit level 55 on my Operative, SWTOR decides to start running a promotion that gave me 7 free days of subscription. So with the XP wind at my back, I jumped right into the Forged Alliances flashpoints that serve as the introduction to the Shadow of Revan expansion.

More than anything else I’ve experienced in SWTOR to date, these flashpoints are heavily tied to Knights of the Old Republic. I’d been hearing that the expansion is very much the final coda for KOTOR, so it makes sense that we’re going to go on some sort of nostalgia tour. And I even have an HK droid at my side! Like the good old days, just higher resolution.

I was a-goggle at Manaan and Rakata Prime when the quests sent me there, experiencing that rush of feels of these planets that I knew so well back then. I used to think that these were the two best-looking planets in KOTOR, but man, they are even better nowadays.

HK-51 poses for a vacation screenshot. Wish you were here! So I could kill you!

HK-51 poses for a vacation screenshot. Wish you were here! So I could kill you!

The flashpoints were a terrific introduction to Shadow of Revan for so many reasons. Like RIFT’s Chronicles, they’re set up so that the solo player can experience the story and not have to get stressed about finding a group for that first run through (although they become group flashpoints thereafter). I was given the much-ballyhooed “Jesus bot” who followed me around, keeping me from death and killing practically everything I pulled. I don’t think I was ever in real danger of dying, except maybe on one timed boss where it took me a couple of minutes to figure out its deal.

Probably the Manaan flashpoint was my favorite — a return to an underseas lab that had a thrilling conclusion. With the combat assistance droid at my side, I was raking in the XP left and right, and went from 55 to 57 within the span of four flashpoints. Rest XP too! Wow, you subbers live the high life.

I also enjoyed the gobs of commendations and plentiful gear upgrades that were thrown my way. I’ll be saving up for decent level 60 stuff with the comms, so the gear was welcome. It’s amazing how far I’ve come from my fragile Makeb self just a couple of weeks ago.

As for the story, already it’s been so much better than Rise of the Hutt Cartel. I’m engaged with the characters, intrigued by the Republic/Empire alliance (although I can also see why BioWare did that to save on resources), and wondering if Lana is on heavy medication due to the way she talks. That might just be a Force thing, makes everyone weird.

m4Seeing Revan pop up wasn’t a huge surprise — his name is in the expansion’s title, after all, plus we’d already fought him in a previous flashpoint. And killed him, although this is totally hand-waved away. “I was dead for a blink of an eye” what does that MEAN.

As I might have said before, facing off against Revan presents an existential crisis to the KOTOR player. Revan WAS me and I WAS Revan, but now I’m facing my former self who I played as a light side guy but is now all mean and galaxy conquesty? I’m going to have to sit down and discuss this with college philosophy majors to come to grips with it.

m5After a good amount of flashpoint and cutscene action, I was finally off to Rishi for a new planet of adventure. I’ve done a bit here so far, although I’m a little confused why everyone sees me as a space pirate (although, hey, flattered). Onward and upward to level 60!

SWTOR: I never want to see Kuat Drive Yards again

kdy1The good news, at least for me personally, is that I finally hit level 55 and can go straight into the Shadows of Revan content.

Now, how I got to 55, I’d rather not say. But this being a blog post and all, it would be a pitiful thing if I clammed up now. Basically, my journey from 52.5 to 55 was a tedious series of dailies on Section X and endless runs of Kuat Drive Yards. In an alternate universe, I’m still running KDY.

I will always be running KDY.

It’s not a particularly interesting or even rewarding dungeon. You get some rep and some comms, but good loot is few and far between, and non-existent on the bosses. Even after having run it scads of times, I couldn’t tell you how to get through it as I just mindlessly followed whatever gung-ho player wanted to lead the way and obviously knew more than I. I did grok that there are different objectives and a different end boss based on some light randomization, but for the most part it’s running through rooms, clicking on glowies, and killing groups.

So why did I lean on it hard as my crutch to get to 55? Simple: KDY is almost always available as a cross-level instance — and it delivered a good stream of constant experience. With a booster always running, I got two, three bars per run. It helped and I guess I can’t complain TOO much now that it’s all over.

kdy2One of the frabulous joys of playing a SWTOR free account is that the game loves to remind you just how low your credit cap is. Mine is 350K, and at 275K or so, every time I picked up a credit, I’d get a warning that I was rapidly approaching the cap. Hey, you know when I pick up credits? EVERY DANG FIGHT. I’m not a big fan of MMOs spamming me with messages. I know I’m walking on the wild side with my credit acquisition; shut up already. Maybe there’s an option to disable it? Doubtful, but I’ll look into it.

So whenever I get over 300K, I have to go on a bit of a spending spree or risk getting the excess credits tucked into escrow. I’ve been looking at unlocks on the GTN to see if there was anything to further help my character. Last night’s choice was either more GTN posting spots (which I don’t use) or an account-wide unlock for white eyes as a character creation option. Sure. Why not.

On a brighter note, I finally started to set up my stronghold on Dromund Kaas. 5K was nothing for a stronghold purchase, and I was happy to see that I had accrued several items due to various activities my character had done up to this point. It’s weird working with a hook system like this — it’s not nearly as flexible as RIFT or WildStar, but it’s certainly better than LOTRO’s hook system. At least the rooms don’t look spread out and empty when you put stuff in them. Maybe next time I get close to my credit cap, I’ll buy some unlocks or more decorations.

I’m excited to head into Shadows of Revan and get back into the story of the game, not to mention gear up a bit more. After that, an alt might be in my future, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself…