SWTOR comes alive for its 10th anniversary

Here’s an MMO I didn’t expect would be making waves this year — Star Wars: The Old Republic. In fact, I didn’t even clock that 2021 was the game’s 10th anniversary until BioWare said something about it.

Boy, 2011 seems so, SO long ago, doesn’t it? I was so hyped up for SWTOR that I couldn’t wait for that December launch, and that initial year was a blast. I’ve enjoyed coming back to it here and there ever since, to varying degrees of interest.

But I may have to make some time to come back this year, and by the sound of it, many other MMO players are planning to as well. This is thanks to the announcement of an actual new expansion, Legacy of the Sith, which is slated for later this year. I would say on the actual anniversary of the launch day, but that’s just me.

From the sound of it, this sounds like a decent-if-not-revolutionary expansion that’s probably the best that BioWare can do with reduced staff and budget. New storyline, more Darth Malgus stuff, and the one feature that has everyone buzzing, combat styles.

If you haven’t noticed, SWTOR has never added a new class in its entire decade run so far. Probably never will, because a new class would — for this game — require a whole new class storyline and voice work and tons of other assets that BioWare does not have the spare money to make. Perhaps the studio could do something like WoW’s “heroic classes” and have a new one start out at a higher level to jump over the regular class storyline leveling, but still… that’s a lot of new assets.

So instead of a new class, BioWare’s doing the next best thing which is to allow players to mix-and-match classes with class storylines. This is done within boundaries, mind you. All “tech” (non-Force users) classes can pair up an advanced class with a different’s class storyline, and the same for all Force classes. So you can experience the Bounty Hunter’s storyline using a Smuggler’s playstyle, or a Jedi Knight’s storyline with a Sith Warrior.

It’s actually a clever idea that will help to inject some interest in rolling up alts and giving established players a new way to experience the game. I don’t know if there are any combinations that have me buzzing, personally, but I’m sure it’s going to help SWTOR get some people back and stay relevant in this important anniversary year.

SWTOR: Making my butt groove on the Eternal Throne

We started to come close to the wire in getting SWTOR’s Eternal Throne expansion done by the end of the year. I had to wait to play this in short bursts with my son right before bed time, and it came down to the last two chapters needing to get done in the two days before new year’s.

At least we got to commandeer a walker to help fight Vaylin’s invasion of Odessa. It was the only bright spot in a long slog through a very story-lite chapter.

At least the final (?) confrontation with Vaylin actually happened. This expansion’s been teasing it, oh, pretty much every chapter so far, and that sort of thing gets tiring, fast. She’s a decent villain but kind of one note with her angry-crazy-vengeance thing.

One of the joys of playing an Agent is seeing a non-Force powered character stand toe-to-toe with the galaxy’s greatest — and win.

That brought us to the final chapter, a race to claim the throne on Zakuul before the Eternal Fleet destroyed everything else in the galaxy. Honestly, I was just ready for this whole storyline to be over — and for me to never see another skytrooper ever again.

As the saying goes, don’t use electric toilets. Naturally, claiming the Eternal Throne wasn’t going to happen easily — as the Emperor chose that moment to try to take over my mind and rule through my body. Yeah, no, that’s not going to happen.

Cue another slog, although a visually interesting one, through my mindscape. A couple of semi-tough battles later, and Mr. Beardy was finally obliterated. Or so they say. He can go jump into the void with skytroopers for all I care.

And that was it! Eternal Throne, beaten just hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve. It was a decent enough conclusion, although it felt more like a watered-down single-player game than an MMO. I really will have to return to SWTOR some time in 2021 to head into the planets and expansions past this point, as it’s all new to me from here.

SWTOR: Mad scientists are merely disappointed scientists

As an Imperial Agent, I always liked SCORPIO. She was one of the last companions to join my crew, but her eerie nature made her endlessly fascinating to me. I was kind of sorry to see that she kind of became a villain (with ulterior motives) in these expansions. And I was even more sorry that my time with her came to an end. The game gave me a choice whether to spare her and let her merge with the Iokath planetary computer or kill her, but really it was all the same in the end. SCORPIO was no more.

And with ARIES and SCORPIO gone, there’s nothing left on Iokath — and so it’s time to load up the Gravestone and head back to Odessa. I felt a little let down by this beat, like something could have be very much resolved here and yet was not.

But yeah, I’m starting to sense that this entire expansion is an elaborate exercise in dragging its feet before finally letting the Alliance confront Vaylin. The next attempt was crashing her party on Zakuul, which involved an elaborate stealth sequence. I’m usually not one for these, but I thought this palace was designed well and kept the confusion to a minimum.

It was here that my oldest son started joining me for a nightly expedition in SWTOR. He really got caught up in the story and made me promise not to play without him. Bonding time over Star Wars? I’m down with that.

As I pointed out in this level, whenever a game shows you that there’s a huge death pit in the middle, you’re going to be fighting in there before all is said and done. I think SWTOR’s gone to this Jabba the Hutt-Rancor well one too many times.

Oh hey, Vaylin got away again, big surprise. She fled to Nathema, the planet where mad scientists messed up her brain to keep her under control as a kid. Her hope was to reverse that conditioning, which she did. Mine was to get a neat tour of spooky labs and perhaps get a weapon to kill off the emperor’s ghost. Missions accomplished all around!

Got a real Aliens vibe going on here.

At least the action keeps moving as we went into chapter 8 (of 9), with the Eternal Fleet once again showing uncanny positioning as it attacked Odessa.

KOTOR: Wishing on a Star Forge

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

When I first played through KOTOR, I remember being insanely excited at being able to go to Yavin as part of this new, post-release DLC that BioWare put out. It was a bit of a let-down, alas; instead of seeing where the Rebel base would be in A New Hope, Yavin here is pretty much a small space station with a fight and a pricey vendor.

Poor left behind Bastila, she’s enjoying a weekend stay at Darth Malak’s Torture Resort and Spa. He’s trying to turn her to the dark side, mostly via high voltage current, and she’s, “No, no, I’ll never do it!”

Meanwhile, Syppi’s crew finally puts the map together and finds the Star Forge system. Trouble is, some sort of disrupter field cripples the Ebon Hawk and forces a landing on a nearby planet for repairs. At least it’s a very pretty planet and not some dumb volcano zone.

This close to the end of the game, I don’t have as much patience with side quests and faction bickering, which this unknown world has in spades. I kind of just want to slice my way through a lot of bad guys, get to the end boss, and see that final cutscene. But I guess we’ll do it your way, BioWare, even if that means butting heads with a lot of rancors.

If you ever wanted to know what Malak looks like with his face mask removed, here you go. Being a Sith is just as bad for you as chewing tabacco, kids. I don’t recommend it. He’s being told that the Star Forge is pumping out ships like crazy (for that is what the Star Forge does — it’s a ship factory) and the Sith are getting the fleet ready to dominate the Republic.

At the top of the temple summit on the unknown world, Bastila reappears — and sporting a pretty groovy goth look. Malak finally convinced her to go full-on dark side, and it kind of suits her. And here’s where I’m bringing my personal twist to this playthrough — even though I’ve been goody two-shoes the entire way through, I’m switching to PURE DARK SIDE POWAH for the final hour! That’s right, I’m going evil in a bid to rule the galaxy. I think I’d make a good emperor. Of course, this means that I have to kill pretty much half of my companions, starting with Jolee and Juhani, but that’s a small price to pay for galactic domination.

So, yeah, not everyone is taking this betrayal with good grace. Carth runs off like the coward he is, and Mission vows to fight against Revan. Yet Big Z is stuck in the middle, having sworn a life debt to Revan. Now, what’s the really, really evil move here is to use a force power to dominate Zaalbar’s mind and make him kill his best friend Mission. I don’t have that, so I just have to take them down myself. That’s four companions down in as many minutes, plus Carth running back home to mommy. All that’s left on team Dark Side is Syppi, Bastila, Canderous, HK-47, and that other droid nobody cares about.

A mostly unseen battle rages in space around the Star Forge as Syppi, HK, and Bastila sneak aboard and conduct their own Trojan Horse raid. In typical BioWare fashion, this final level throws out of the window any real narrative, choices, or dialogue for a non-stop gauntlet of tough fights.

I’m not sadistic in real life, I’m really not, but I have to admit that there’s a kind of glee in seeing Grampa Yoda here slowly put the pieces together that he’s been six types of betrayed. Well, that’s what you get when you memory-wipe your greatest enemy and then try to get her to play ball.

It’s a bit of a letdown that the final showdown with Malak is one-on-one. After a full game of hanging out with companions, nope, it’s just you and Mr. I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream.

With Malak killed, the Star Forge falls under Revan’s control, and the Republic fleet is destroyed. All hail Revan! All hail KOTOR!

And that’s it — the end of one of the finest CRPGs that BioWare ever produced. It still holds up great over a decade and a half later, although I won’t deny that there are some frayed edges (especially with the graphics and some of the systems design). For the purpose of keeping this playthrough at a manageable length, I didn’t go into all of the companion or side stories, but there’s a really good amount of content on hand here.

It was nice to revisit KOTOR, but I may have played this one too many times for it to really hold any surprise or deep joy. Looking at it from SWTOR’s perspective, I can see many things I actually prefer more about the MMO — including the stories. It was a good foundation for the future, is what I’m trying to say.

SWTOR: The Yeti strikes back!

Even though I allegedly gave myself permission to play only Shadowlands this month, I started to feel the weird imbalance of only encountering one MMO every day. So I decided to get back to my old pattern of flipping between two games during nightly gaming sessions, and I figured that SWTOR was due for a one-month return.

In this case, I came back to my old, old main — Yeti the Operative. I had left her stranded in the second chapter of Knights of the Eternal Throne expansion back in summer 2019. So here’s my project: I’m going to finish KOTET by the end of December. You can do it, Syp! Thanks man, I appreciate the self-pep talk.

I did love getting back into this character. I missed her weird array of toxic, poisonous attacks and general Chiss attitude. As I got into it, I took a road trip with the new Empress of the Sith and got stranded with her on a surface of a planet that has horrible cell phone reception. At least she’s there to lug around all my awesome, because it’s too much for one person to carry.

Even though I’ve played Yeti more or less light side in the past, sometimes she gets pretty hellbent on revenge. You know, such as when the former Republic leader decides to have her assassinated in order to take over the alliance. Oh, Soresh, you done messed up big time.

As the action barreled forward, Yeti had the opportunity to take back the Gravestone after its abduction. Unfortunately, crazy Vaylin decided to drop by, so this became a big ol’ confrontation. There were some suitably tense moments when I wasn’t 100% sure how the game was going to play out scenes, but those got defanged when nobody got killed and nothing got resolved.

Instead, good guys and bad alike got stranded on a weird abandoned city-planet of Iokath. It was a little eerie, with no living souls and a whole bunch of murderous droids running all over the place. Man, these expansions loved droids as enemies. Never got old for the developers!

While I certainly like the forward momentum of a single, narrative-rich storyline, the complete absence of other players is downright eerie. I had forgotten how strange this part of the game was. Sure, I could jump out to go back to the fleet and see if I could hook up with a guild, but I don’t want to disrupt the flow here.

Also, I’m just chuffed to spend more time with Vette. She’s a peach.

So here’s a rule for any video game, ever. If you walk into a room with a giant but completely motionless robot or monster, you are 100% assured that it will come to life and become a boss fight. The good news here is that when I was done fighting it, we fixed it up and let my character jump into the cockpit to go step on bad droids for a good 20 minutes.

KOTOR: Leviathan levity

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

As the Ebon Hawk blasts through hyperspace for the next planet, it’s suddenly ambushed and caught in a tractor beam by the Leviathan — Malak’s ship. Things don’t look promising for our rag-tag group, so a plan is quickly devised to camoflage Juhani and let her be the jailbreaker once everyone else gets caught.

Considering that “non-stop torture” is on the menu, courtesy of Admiral Saul, this may not be the best of plans. This segment of KOTOR really is the Long, Dark Night of the Soul for the game — the moment when all goes from bad to worse and it seems quite hopeless for the heroes.

At least Juhani is free, and she’s kicking tail. I spent some time upgrading her lightsabers on the Hawk with the crystals that I got from the Tatooine dragon, and she’s now Death Incarnate with them.

For whatever reason — perhaps man-hours invested in making this work — the KOTOR devs were sure in love with the idea of putting the player in these bulky EVA suits to waddle around for a while before coming back to the action. I always felt like they were painfully pointless segments.

With a beefed-up party, it’s kind of fun to go around the Leviathan, smashing up the place and chewing through waves of elite Sith troopers and dark jedi. There’s a big boss battle on the bridge against Admiral Saul, who whispers a devastating secret to Carth right before he dies. What is this secret? No time for that, the game says, and if that’s not suspicious, I don’t know what is.

I wanted to say that the Leviathan stage is one of my favorites in KOTOR. It’s got a strong narrative flow that feels, for a lack of a better term, very “Star Warsy” in sequence. The odds feel stacked against getting back to the Ebon Hawk and making an escape, but the team keeps trying.

But there is one big obstacle standing in the way of freedom — Darth Malak. He shows up and demands to know why Syppi is here, why the Jedi spared me. This makes no sense until the game kicks into gear and delivers a series of flashbacks from various points in the game so far. Various throwaway quotes that were probably misread by the player. Things about the Force erasing minds, of Jedi not killing prisoners, of the counsel accepting someone a little older than normal for a recruit. This brings us to one of the biggest WHAM! moments of all CRPG history:

That I, the player, am actually Darth Revan, the big bad guy from the Mandalorian wars who was trying to overthrow the Republic and use the Star Forge to my own advantage. Apparently, a combination of Malak’s betrayal and a Jedi strike team combined to capture Revan instead of killing her. The counsel, trying to find the Star Forge, decided to Force-wipe my mind, give me a new identity as a common soldier, and assign Bastila to tag along as I hopefully led them to where they wanted to go. There’s a lot to unpack here, but I’ve always felt disgusted at both sides. There’s no defending Malak, but the Jedi are just as bad to erase a person’s memories and life while using them like a puppet.

Anyway, Bastila stays behind on the Leviathan to slow down Malak while the rest of the Ebon Hawk crew escapes. There’s a pow-wow with all of the companions to see if they still support Ex-Revan, and apparently they do. I love that Jolee knew who Revan was the whole time and was like, eh, she’ll figure it out sooner or later on her own.

KOTOR: Manaan musings

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Star Wars is well-known for its one-biome-fits-all planetary design, so it only makes sense that sooner or later we’d come upon an all-ocean world. Manaan is… kind of like an open-air space station sitting on top of the ocean, which is an inviting setting in which to adventure. Let’s go Jedi some stuff! Jedi it reaaaal good.

I seem to recall that Manaan got into SWTOR as well, and I know I was kind of jazzed to return here. Feels like a bit of a sterile oceanside resort. However, this city is teeming with tension between the Sith and the Republic, both of whom want the precious, precious kolto that the Selkath harvest here. For their part, the Selkath play it neutral, selling to both parties and strictly enforcing a peace on their planet.

One of KOTOR’s more memorable quests is on this planet. It involves becoming a lawyer for a guy who’s being tried for murder. As with many RPGs, there are easy ways to resolve this, but to do it right takes a lot more effort and footwork.

The Sith base on Manaan is a rather tough “dungeon” (and unfortunately generic in theme). What’s notable is that there are several discoveries of how the Sith have been recruiting Selkath to make into apprentices, which is kind of a no-no around here. I’m not too keen on fighting the Dark Jedi with twin blasters, to tell you the truth, but I soldier gamely on. And I game soldierly on.

Finally I have proof that the evil Sith are evilly up to no good, which was painfully obvious to everyone except the Selkath authorities. I mean, when you treat with guys who look like discount Cobra Commanders, you have to suspect that maybe they don’t have your planet’s best interests at heart.

I have a real problem with the Republic on Manaan. You go right up to the head guy on the planet and tell him that you’re there on Jedi Counsel orders to find the star map and it’s extremely critical to the fate of the Republic, and he’s like, “Oh, yeah, I *might* know something about that. But first you gotta go on a suicide mission to destroy a Sith base before I say anything.” You do all that for the jerk, and his big revelation is that the Republic has been going behind the natives’ backs and setting up a kolto mining operation of their own. But something happened under the ocean, the communication went dead, and he can’t be bothered to check it out himself so why don’t you go give it a looksee?

The real shame is there is no option to force choke the guy to death. And this is in a game saturated with dark choices.

Is there anything creepier than a deserted undersea base? No wonder so many video games and movies like using these as modern haunted houses. There’s definitely something unconcerting about seeing giant sharks lazily swim about right outside these way-to-large windows while a lone merc babbles about the Selkath going insane and shooting up the place.

Oh hey, here’s something creepier! Let’s jump into a big, bulky environmental suit and sloooowly jog outside of the base while nasty sharks try to get a free meal. It’s a short segment, but it gets high marks for tension. The feeling of vulnerability is palpable.

I’m starting to get tired of the endless wave of bounty hunters, dark jedi, and apprentices that Malak keeps sending to capture Bastila. But at least I save a giant shark from poisoning (the Republic operations were making the locals pretty upset) and got the star map. AND I got a really wicked-looking suit of armor that I upgrade to make me immune to all of the annoying mind-control Force attacks that the dark jedi use.

KOTOR: Korriban and Kashyyyk

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Welcome to Korriban, where it’s always Sith O’Clock and the teachers are quick to dole out electrocution if they get the wrong answers! Well, we gotta get through this planet at any rate, even though I have never been fond of Korriban (in any of the games) or the Sith. Both Sith and Jedi philosophy irk me for different reasons, and I’d rather stay out of it altogether.

It’s kind of funny to see how basic the graphics are here in comparison to the vastly more elaborate spaces and architecture of SWTOR’s Korriban. Both aren’t places I really enjoy visiting, though, so I guess there is that consistency.

Everyone on this planet is completely Sith crazy, reveling in the cruel things they do. One guy memorably makes a trio of potential students stand a vigil for days even though he has no intention of ever letting them inside the academy.

Everyone loves to do all these midair jumps and spins if they’re Jedi. That seems like a responsible thing to do when you’re holding a weapon that can cut through blasthead doors like it’s butter.

I took a break from that and jetted over to Kashyyyk. I think this right here is the most memorable planet in KOTOR and a personal favorite. I love seeing the homeland of the (corporately oppressed) Wookiees, and the treetop platforms and relaxing music put me right at ease. It’s a nice place to be, kind of a super-sized Ewok village. It reminds me of an MMO zone, in a good way.

It’s not a peaceful place, however. Big Z totes a lot of baggage in with him, what with being branded a “madclaw” for fighting against the slavers. His younger brother is now chieftan and has made a devil’s pact with the Czerka Corp to stay in power. That’s gotta change.

Like Taris, Kashyyyk has an “upstairs” and a less-friendly “downstairs” — the latter here being called the Shadowlands. It’s a little less visually appealing and more rough-and-tumble, but we can take it. As a side note, I always found the brief cutscene of the elevator lowering the party to the floor to be one of the most stunning of the game for some reason.

Down here we come upon the last remaining recruitable character of the game, Jolee. I *love* Jolee, because he’s the first character I ever encountered in Star Wars who was a “grey” Jedi — neither light nor dark. As someone who got very tired of both extremes, it was refreshing to quest with this guy who wasn’t bowing to the Sith or Jedi at every turn.

Eventually I help Big Z’s family to be restored to their honor and fight against the Czerka slavers, which is as happy of an ending as one could hope.

KOTOR: Tatooine tourism

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

It’s a race against time to stop the bad guys, as Malak already has the Star Forge and the information (from not-so-dead bounty hunter Calo Nord) that Bastilla is still alive. Meanwhile, Syppi and crew head to their first stop on the map-hunting expedition: Tatooine. Is there any planet more Star Warsy than this one? Very good choice to be included in this game, even if I’m not a fan of desert settings.

It does feel as though Tatooine helps to bridge a gap between the games and movies. Plus, there’s that strong dose of virtual sunshine to cheer up the questing soul. I kind of like being here, even though dark Jedi keep jumping me at every turn.

 

Of course, the BEST part of Tatooine is the acquisition of HK-47, the breakout star of KOTOR. This “hunter killer” droid drips with sarcasm and seethes with a desire to assassinate everything around him, which makes him a refreshing change from a lot of droids that we had experienced in the Star Wars universe to date. He became such a fan favorite that he appeared in both the sequel AND the MMORPG. I love me some HK-47.

Out in the Dune Sea, it’s a lot of fighting against Sand People — who are pretty tough, don’t let old Ben Kenobi tell you different. At least I died… clutching my… guns.

Since this is a BioWare RPG, each one of your companions comes fully loaded with a backstory and a crisis that needs to be resolved. For Mission here, it’s the fact that her older brother Griff deserted her on Taris. The crew rescues him from the sandpeople, but he’s still the same deadbeat and Mission is crushed to hear that he left her deliberately.

Here’s an interesting little interchange. Syppi questions Bastilla about her confrontation with Revan and Malak, and Bastila said that they boarded the ship to capture Revan. But when the player asks her if she killed Revan, she ducks the question. Repeatedly, but in that slippery Jedi way that you’ll only notice if this is your second or whatever playthrough.

Getting to the Tatooine star map means getting past this giant dragon thing, but here’s where SWTOR surprises. Instead of tackling it as a huge boss battle — which is what I would have expected — the thing can be taken down in a trap using mines and bantha fodder. Hey, we just got out of a boss fight!

Except we totally didn’t, because Calo Nord shows up looking to collect on a bounty. It’s not that tough of a fight — I’m not above using tons of grenades when the situation calls for it — and before I know it, the star map piece is in my hand and we’re blasting off this two-sun planet!

KOTOR: Dantooine daydreams

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Getting to Dantooine was always a big moment among my previous KOTOR playthroughs. I used to care about finally getting to be a Jedi (now, not so much), but I still do like the planet itself. It’s more peaceful and pastoral than Taris, a tranquil outpost in the plains with some really great music. And it was good to finally be somewhere other than the very long Taris section — and see some landscape!

Anyway, now that this ragtag group has escaped from Malak’s destruction of Taris, Bastila has the great idea of going to the small Jedi counsel instead of back to the Republic’s capital. She’s not the brightest of leaders. The counsel wants to see Syppi to promote her to full-fledged Jedi (well, padawan), but no thanks, I’d rather be a smuggler? Oh, there’s no choice in the matter. Well, fine. I’m keeping my guns, though.

So there’s this training montage so show that Syppi is getting her Force skills, but she’s got to go through three Jedi trials first. Also, because she and Bastila now are vision-bonded or some nonsense, they are going to investigate the dreams Syppi has of Revan and Malak investigating a temple on Dantooine.

Because, as far as I know, the mobs don’t respawn in this game, it’s always important to find and kill all of them to get as much XP as possible. So it’s kind of relaxing running around on Dantooine shooting at various beasties and spitting in the face of the Force.

Still a pretty game, in a sparse kind of way.

Out in the plains is a former Jedi named Juhani who got into a tiff with her master, killed him, and fell to the Dark Side. The choice to help redeem her back to the Light or further cement her in the Dark is a really great one and perhaps the most interesting of all of the companion “conversions” that you can do in this game.

The main thrust of the Dantooine chapter is to explore some ancient ruins that Darths Malak and Revan were tooling around in a while back. It’s there the party meets a droid that explains that this was the workshop of what eventually became the “Star Forge” — which is this game’s Death Star, but more on that in later chapters.

At the back of these ruins is a map to a map. It’s a map to four worlds — Korriban, Kashyyyk,
Manaan, and Tatooine — that each contain a fourth of the map to the location of the Star Forge. It’s basically the plot of the last few Star Wars movies, just less dumb. So that’s how the game is going to open up from here: In order to find this super-weapon that Darth Malak is also trying to find, it’s imperative to go to these four worlds and get the map segments. In classic BioWare fashion, it’s up to the player to choose the order of the four planets, but in the end, all have to be done.