SWTOR: Walkers on the east ridge

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Random thought: I wonder how much of the plot and writing of Knights of the Fallen Empire was contingent on which voice actors BioWare could bring back to reprise their roles? I suspect that it’s more than we’d think.

In one short evening, I blitzed through Chapter 11. This time, the guest star companion was Jorgen (of the Trooper storyline). I never played the Trooper much, but what I had left me the impression that Jorgen wasn’t the most jolly or likable of souls.

Naturally, the leader of the resistance decided that a half-hour away from Zakuul was too long to be out of danger, and so she rushed back in. The mission was remarkably straightforward: To assist Havoc Squad with tapping a transmitter so that they could listen in on the bad guys. I like straightforward missions.

Sure, it got a bit complicated when my presence triggered an immediate Skytrooper assault. Here’s a thought — perhaps if I stayed at the base and stopped micro-managing, the bad guys might not find me so tempting a target? Some folks got kicked out of their homes and we had to escort them all back to a base for safekeeping.

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This time around I played very nice, although there wasn’t much of an opportunity to exercise light or dark side decisions. Just a lot of random, meaningless combat designed to slow down the progression of the mission.

Two things made this quest something other than totally forgettable. The first is that I enjoyed the feeling of a frontal assault, and at times the game did a great job making everything feel immediate and dangerous. The second was when I was tasked with getting inside a force field… somehow. My Secret World training kicked in and I figured out the puzzle in no time. Still, it was kind of nice to be required to use my brain instead of my finger muscle memory for battle rotations.

With that mission done, I went back to Odessa, only to be told that there’s an even BIGGER transmitter tower and a more DANGEROUS mission to tap into it. What, was this a dry run? Do the devs not have any better idea than copy and paste?

SWTOR: Is regretting a decision a sign of a good story?

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Some spoilers ahead for SWTOR’s Chapter 10, but either you’re way more behind than I am or you’ve beaten this months ago, so I’m not terribly worried here.

Anyway, as part of my month’s goals, I went through the entirety of Fallen Empire’s Chapter 10 last night. It was another field trip to Zakuul to check out a possible ally, a mission that I found preposterous on two fronts. First, we had scads and scads of allies, thanks to the Chapter 9 interlude. And I wasn’t even trying hard to collect them!

And second, why in the BLUE BLAZES do we keep going back to Zakuul? The enemy planet? The planet filled with bad guys and uber-bad guys that all want to kill you? I mean, this chapter makes such a big deal out of how frustrated Arcann is that he can’t find me — to the extent that he ends up firebombing five worlds — and if he’d only pay attention to history, he’d know that I’d be coming right back to his planet within a week, probably in the exact same zones. It’s like playing hide-and-go-seek with someone who is deliberately trying to get herself found.

The real reason, of course, is that the devs spent a lot of effort making some pretty cityscapes and they wanted to reuse them as much as possible, even if logic and common sense had to fly out the window.

Anyway, once back on the planet I bumped into yet another old Agent companion — Kaliyo — which would have been a total surprise except that the splash screen for the mission spoiled it. She wasn’t too happy to see me, probably because she felt abandoned. Tough — I was a corpsicle for five years. She can deal.

Apart from the pathos-filled reunion (which I handled diplomatically), the mission itself was the height of tedium and backtracking. Seriously, it was way too much running all over the same zone maps, fighting the same waves of skytroopers, and clicking on the same glowies.

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Eventually we did get into a great set piece fight at the Overwatch’s HQ. Would’ve been nail-biting, too, if there was any chance of actually failing. I loved the gunships firing in through the window, especially when you got to blow it up. I’m the A-Team in one Chiss-sized package.

The interesting part of Chapter 10 came at the very end, when Kaliyo revealed that she had planted even more bombs around the city that would go beyond mere service disruption (our original intended goal) and detonate public areas, skyscrapers, etc. Lots of human collateral damage, but she reasoned that Zakuul as a planet was the enemy, so all was fair game.

The light side choice was to shy away from this, while the dark side leaned more toward the “revenge! REVENGE!” aspect. I was feeling all cranky and contrarian, so I figured that my character had had enough of this planet. Blow it all to smithereens — after all, wasn’t that what Arcann was doing anyway?

In reflection, it was a bad choice. Terrible one, even. I felt horrible as I saw all of those buildings come down, more so after I got back to the home base and the various allies chewed me out over it. Koth even stormed off, leaving me permanently (?), saying that this wasn’t what he signed on for. I won’t say that I’ll miss him — he’s a whiner, that one — but it was a shock even still. It’s the kind of heavy cause-and-effect consequence that BioWare often promises and only sporadically delivers, especially in an MMORPG.

I logged off actually wanting to rewind the clock and choose differently. I even had my character throw a snit fit and stomp out of the room saying that she was done with it all, much to the dismay of my companions. Emotionally, this all sent me plunging a bit (although not too much, this being a game and all).

Yet it got me thinking that this result was, in its own way, a sign of a good story. That eliciting an emotion, even a negative one, from the effects of a personal decision and seeing that play out, meant something to me. Getting a player to care can be a herculean task for devs, especially in games with reset buttons everywhere. So regret, if properly earned, can be as powerful as elation or surprise.

I’ll live with my regret. I’ll forge on. I don’t even know where my character’s morality lies, but I feel as though she should make up that one bad choice in any way she can.

SWTOR: Operative appraisal

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I feel as if I’m gradually getting my gaming house in order, and it is glorious. Having a computer that actually runs these titles is a plus, of course, but on top of that I’m loading up MMOs (as many as I want!) and organizing them according to interest and projects. The idea is that I generally want to focus on one character in each game and have him or her be on top of the content so that I can jump in and check out whatever is new.

This brings me back to SWTOR and my long-time Operative Yeti. According to my gaming records (this blog, which functions surprisingly well as a record of what I was up to and when I left and returned to games), Yeti had reached chapter 9 of Knights of the Fallen Empire around November 2015, after which I lost interest in the whole companion search party and never returned for the new chapters. Still, like my LOTRO Captain, Yeti has been with me on a very long journey so far and I want to see her through. I’m not super-interested in ops or raiding, but seeing the storyline progress? Sure, I’m on board with that.

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Plus I got this in my email, a note from BioWare welcoming me back and saying that I could come play five chapters for free. I’m not sure if this means I get chapters 10-14 for good from now on or just for August, but why not? I think my plan here was to wait for the ultimate chapter to come out and then sub up for a single month to snag it and all the previous chapters for a free-to-play account anyway.

If I don’t have to spend money right now on a game that I’m quite casually playing, sure. I’m in.

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I will say that I’ve missed my Operative. It’s such a joy to play her without a computer stuttering all of the time, and she just looks cool all around. It took me about 30 seconds to get reacquainted with her fight rotation (which I adore) and everything else kind of fell into place soon thereafter.

To help with the refamiliarization process (is that a word?), I did go on one of those companion gathering missions that was sitting in my log anyway. I really truly do not understand why SWTOR wants us to get all of these companions, since you can’t have more than one out anyway. To be honest, I was totally fine with my Agent companions.

So two slight bummers in this return gaming session. The first was that my guild seems more or less dead at the moment. Every time I’ve logged in during the past week, there’s been one or zero other people on. That’s not a terrific sign, at least for the guild, so I might have to go shopping again. The other bummer is that now the game has made my Agent’s spaceship completely empty of companions. Running through it, I felt their absence keenly. Maybe all of these other companions we’ve collected are clogging up a closet somewhere in the back?

It wasn’t all bad, of course. I maxed out my slicing skill while we puttered around on Zakuul, and I had a great time fighting. Chapter 9 is officially over and done, and that purple button inviting me to start Chapter 10 is waiting for my say-so.

Another night, perhaps.

Recharging the MMO interest meter

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Hey guys, meet Yeetii, my new Imperial Agent in SWTOR. With my new computer, I’ve been (re)installing several MMOs, mostly just to have them there in case I want to branch out on a given night. Some are old favorites while a few are on my list of games to try.

I’m on the fence as to whether or not I should go back to SWTOR right now. You see, with MMOs it isn’t always a question of available time (which there never is enough of, but which you can make time for if you want to). Sometimes it matters how full or empty my interest meter is.

This is totally nerdy and probably a product of my years spent playing RPGs and MMOs, but I see my interest in any given game as a bar that goes from empty to full. On the empty end, that represents complete burnout and disinterest after a long time playing. On the full end, it usually signifies excitement to return to a game and plenty of interest to sink into it for a good long while.

When to return to an MMO is tricky sometimes. If I haven’t “refilled” the bar by letting enough time go by (and enough changes come to the game), then by jumping in I’m just going to re-deplete it faster than before. I don’t want to be mildly interested in playing a game, I want to be downright enthusiastic about it. But if I wait tooooo long, well, then I could forget about a game entirely or feel as though too much time has gone by for me to really reenter the scene.

One other way of refilling that imaginary meter for me isn’t just by taking long sabbaticals from the game, but by playing it in short, occasional bursts. Right now this is me and The Secret World. I’ll pick it up about once a week, so that’s about six days of gradual recharging and one of depletion. That keeps the game almost always interesting to me, although it’s not going to re-top that meter any time soon.

So when I return to a game I’ll be cautious about feeling it out. Maybe a new expansion or big news (such as in the case of SWTOR) helps with an interest boost, but I’ll usually spend the first couple of days just puttering around and seeing if the game triggers any “ugh, been there, killed that” negative emotions or if it’s sparking genuine interest in me.

For SWTOR? Too soon to tell. I have an idea of replaying the entire Agent storyline, only this time completely dark side with a sniper — two big changes from my light side operative.

SWTOR’s race problem

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Yesterday on SWTOR’s dev stream, BioWare revealed that it will be rolling out a subscriber rewards program (to no one’s surprise). As much as I’m liking Knights of the Fallen Empire so far, I have to say that I’m not inclined to feel very generous to the studio’s marketing efforts here.

Maybe it’s because we’ve already seen version 1.0 of subscriber rewards earlier this year. Remember? Remember how BioWare was pushing subscriptions so dang hard based on the promise of a COMPANION! And… um… his CAR! And… dang it… his COAT! And GUNS!

Can you tell I was generally unimpressed with these extras? Because I totally was. Especially the crappy coat. Man, that was a dull design that totally wasn’t the duster that Niko wore in the opening cinematic.

Anyway, so version 2.0 has two rewards announced so far (are they the only two?) — getting HK-55 as a companion and getting to play as HK in a special questline/chapter. This marks the 50th time that BioWare’s gone back to the HK well with SWTOR. It’s almost as bad as how Star Trek got with the Borg. Yes, it was popular once. It might still be really cool except you drove it into the ground, then buried it, then dug it back up and put on a parade with its corpse.

BioWare is the most begrudging studio I’ve ever seen when it comes to its free-to-play model. It has it. It offers it. And it clearly loathes that it’s had to include it. Want to be F2P? No expansion chapters for you! And no HK! Nyah nyah! No way to buy those a la carte, no sirree.

My companion dance card is already full (and I have HK-51, so why do I need another one?), but more importantly, the whole play-as-HK thing feels as a tease. You know what I wish the developers would actually spend their time on? Kicking down the fence of character barriers and open up the game to embrace the fuller Star Wars body of races.

Am I the only one who’s more than tired of playing yet another very-similar-to-human race? This is freaking Star Wars. Remember Galaxies? You could play as a Wookiee or a Mon Calamari there. A decade later, we’re in a game that’s restricted its immigration policy to only allow the least interesting races.

If BioWare can scoot off its butt and figure out ways to fix its story, it can fix its racial problem too. There are options, even if it’s just a cosmetic overlay. Let me play as a droid. Or a Jawa. Or Second Lieutenant John Ackbar. Something other than a regular person, a green person, a gray person, a person with head tails, a person with totally different head tails, and a cat person.

I think I’ve complained about this before. I’m sure I have. But if BioWare wanted to put out subscriber rewards that really tempted me, it would make more than just HK playable — and for more than a mere side quest.