SWTOR: Kneeling for power


Between Fallout and the baby, I’ve fallen away from SWTOR a bit (and by that I mean “haven’t touched it at all for almost two weeks). So instead of getting back into chapter 9 hoovering-companions-up-everywhere activities, I decided to return to my Smuggler and try to get her through the story as well.

I’ve allowed my subscription to lapse for a couple of months, since there’s no real reason for me to spend the money right now until the next chapter of Knights of the Fallen Empire comes out. I planned for it by spending most of my credits on cartel packs to get under the 350K limit, and when I logged in all was well other than a slight nagging screen courtesy of BioWare. Yes, BioWare, I’m a big boy, I know what I’m doing. I will absorb the consequences.

I have missed my Smuggler. She’s quite similar to the operative, to be sure, but I like her battle rotation more. Plus, gunslinging two pistols is somehow cooler than wielding a single blaster rifle.



One of the advantages of going back through this story is being able to explore the choices you didn’t the first time around. Since my Smuggler was always in the morally grey territory, she decided to embrace the dark side and kneel before the Emperor to get his power. Why not? Most powerful Smuggler in the galaxy. I like the sound of that.

I blitzed through chapter 1 and got part of the way through 2 before sleep demanded my audience. I was cheering to see Corso Riggs depart for good (oh, you think I’m going to pick him back up? Think again.) and less happy to see him take my precious ship away. I will miss Guss until our reunion in the future, but I’ll be happy to see HK-55 once more — even if just for the limited time we have together.

SWTOR: Retro isn’t always the way to go


Like many current SWTOR players, I was taken aback at the abrupt change in the conversation window that happens with Knights of the Fallen Empire’s chapter 9. Up until that point, SWTOR uses BioWare’s tried-and-true conversation wheel (with its three patented choices!). Then, starting in chapter 9, a good chunk of conversations utilize a much older BioWare design — one that goes all the way back to the original Knights of the Old Republic.

Maybe it’s a nostalgia thing, but I side with those who say that it’s a budget-saving move on behalf of the studio. As these new chat sessions don’t feature any actual voiced dialogue by your character (just who you’re talking to), I’m sure it saved BioWare money and time to lug in all 16 of the voice actors for additional recordings.

But it doesn’t work. BioWare claimed that this makes for more detailed conversations with additional choices, but… who cares? It’s changing one of the key systems of a story-based MMO in midstream with no convincing in-game explanation for it. No one was clamoring for it. It doesn’t add to the experience. And it’s distracting enough that it’s making gamers like me take time to complain about it.

It’s not a deal-breaker, of course, and at least the main storyline still has a lot of cinematic interactions with the traditional conversation wheel. I continue to be impressed by how much the game’s involving multiple companions during cutscenes — last night, the Gravestone’s engineer even had a funny interchange with HK-51, which I would never have expected BioWare to program (considering not everyone got this HK).


I am pretty excited about how the game’s opening up during this chapter to send me around the galaxy to round up an alliance of influential folk for this campaign. It’s nothing new to the studio, of course; BioWare’s been doing this sort of thing in Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age Inquisition, and I guess figured that why not go to the well again? I love the studio, but it does like to repeat its own techniques and story beats a little too often.

At least it gives me a lot to do with the promise of interesting interchanges. I would have been really disappointed if the story had just abruptly ended here and made me wait until 2016 for the next part. As it stands, I’ll have my hands full for the next couple of months on this character alone — and I haven’t even gotten my Smuggler into the new expansion yet!

SWTOR: I have a good feeling about this


Is anyone else wearing out their screenshot key with the new SWTOR expansion? Because I can’t stop hitting mine.

About the only bad thing of Knights of the Fallen Empire is my worry that I’m going through it too fast. I’m already in Chapter 6, and that’s taking it the Syp pokey route. And it is so good that I do not want these adventures to end. It really feels like a return to BioWare’s top storytelling form, with humor, surprises, goosebump moments, interesting new characters, and a gripping narrative.

Fortunately, I was told by my friend Larry that the end of Chapter 9 doesn’t mean that we will be spinning our wheels until Chapter 10 comes out in January. Apparently there’s a whole bunch of new endgame activities to do, including revamped and additional dungeons and a companion collecting system. I’m down with that. I would hate to pick back up my Agent only to abandon her to the void a couple of weeks later.


I have had to shut off general chat because people can be so spoiler-happy in there. And I won’t be dropping any major story beats here, as much as I’m really dying to talk about a few things.

But in general, I’m really liking how the expansion is taking us out of our comfort zones and giving us a different type of experience altogether. I haven’t seen my ship in a week. I’m much more aware of the key villains and am getting to know them more from a variety of perspectives.


And one of my most requested features of SWTOR for ages now has been kinda answered — my companions are having a lot more interaction with each other. I still can’t take more than one out at a time and listen to them talk/argue (or as HK calls it, “meatbag bickering), but there are scads of cutscenes in which dialogue reigns supreme.

BioWare really touted how choices will have more of an impact this time around and I’m still waiting to see how that plays out. I think the reason that I choose things isn’t necessarily what the devs/game figured are the important factors (no, BioWare, I do not like Lana and am never, ever going to be nice to and/or save her).

So hopefully I’ll finish up the current storyline within the next week and see what’s next for my Agent. It’ll be really interesting to go back through this expansion with a different character, I think.

The SWTOR Awakens


Like roughly the entire population of the world, I watched the full trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens probably way too many times over the past 24 hours. The whole film to me is full of unknowns (including whether it will be, y’know, good or not), but what I’m seeing, I’m liking. I really appreciate how it’s not wall-to-wall lightsabers and Jedis, how there is a sad tone, how there’s this multi-generational thing going on, and how the old that we’ve loved is being married to something new and potentially wonderful.

Also, it reminds me how old I’ve gotten since I was a seven-year-old watching Return of the Jedi in the movie theaters.

Anyway, BioWare had to be loving the fact that the movie trailer came out the same day that Knights of the Fallen Empire — SWTOR 2.0, in effect — started its early access launch. They probably loved it because it was intentional, but still, people into the game felt extra-jazzed because of the trailer.

Unlike people who took off the day from work or school, I stayed fairly responsible. There’s a pressure to want to get into the new story and not fall behind the crowd, but heck, even as I type this I’m sure someone’s finished chapter 9 already. Might as well take my time and enjoy the ride.

Besides, I had a lot to do. WildStar gets top priorities for Shade’s Eve (being time-constricted and all). Then after that, the SWTOR launcher decided that it simply wasn’t going to work right, requiring me to restart it a dozen times before I could log in.

And then came the character maintenance. No matter how “prepared” you were for the expansion, there was just a lot to do here. The game gave me a complete set of new purple gear that was presumably better than what I had, so I had to put that on. Then I needed to respec my utility points. Then there was some mail to sort through, blasters to resocket, and squeeing over the addition of the random mount/pet buttons.

Finally, my Smuggler needed to wrap up all of her companions’ storylines, which took an hour and a half to do. I really, really wish BioWare told me a week ago that this update would negate the need to dump tons of money into companion gifts, as now you can get through the companions’ dialogue as long as you’ve advanced through your storyline. Seriously, WHY DID THEY NOT TELL US THIS IN ADVANCE. This studio, I tell you, they do not do a good job communicating things ahead of time. It kind of makes me think that they’re scrambling to the last minute to get everything ready.

Anyway, the companion thing was compounded by the fact that Corso (ugh Corso) had three actual missions that required some planet hopping. Why yes, Corso, I’d love to cruise around the butt nowhere of Tatooine for you instead of checking out that hawt new expansion content. Spending time with you is always more exciting than festering in a sarlaac pit!

Mark my words, if I get a choice in the expansion to kill Corso, I will. Without batting an eye. Wouldn’t mind doing Lana in too. Man, how I have fallen to the Dark Side.


Finally, finally I was able to do what I wanted to all day: to play the new story content with my Operative. I haven’t done any new story content with her in months, so it was a joyous reunion to be back aboard her sleek ship and taking back on the role of the galaxy’s best spy.

I only got through the first chapter of the expansion, but that’s fine — don’t want to blow through it all in a week, after all. It’s very much a different experience than what’s come before, with a more cinematic style, a completely solo instance, no companions (for the most part), and a great shake-up of the Republic/Empire cold war that had dominated the game since launch.

I loved playing my light side Operative again. She gets done what needs to get done, but she’s also going to look out for others in the process. The fights were very tame, which was fine since I was getting back into the groove of that character’s rotation.

The first chapter, which took me about an hour and a half, felt like a prologue more than anything else. I liked seeing my character in chains and thrust into a more hopeless situation. I really liked how she got far more emotive than in the past — you could sense the righteous fury coming off of her at one point. And I even got to use the magically disappearing blaster(tm) that comes standard with all Agents.

Really looking forward to what happens next. It’s going to be agonizing to complete chapter nine and have to wait until the new year for more story, but that’s a good sort of pain. Kind of how I always felt with The Secret World. SWTOR needed to step up its narrative game and I think it just might have done that.

SWTOR: Who’s ready for Knights of the Fallen Empire?


I’ve been (understandably) consumed by WildStar recently, neglecting most else in the process — including SWTOR. But yesterday it struck me that we’re less than a week away from Knights of the Fallen Empire and that I should really get off my butt and finish my Smuggler’s trip through Ziost.

Cue speed run through the recent planetary addition. After spending so much time in an action combat environment of WildStar, it was relaxing to return to a more traditional combat setup. Pew pew, toss grenade, watch bad guys die — and no excessive dodging and juking in the process.

I could’ve done without the return of Lana Beniko. It’s very uncomfortable if you romanced her at any point during Shadow of Revan, because that didn’t stick (it’s not her, it’s me). As I said to my guild last night, it’s as if the game is forcing me to keep bumping into an ex-girlfriend without having the option to strongly rebuff her or flee on sight. Let’s just say that any time she’s in a scene, my eyes get all squinty and I look for any dialogue choice that has the most acidic tone.

I’m neutral on Theron, by the way. I think the devs did a fine job giving his face more personality and expression than some NPCs, and at least he’s not an annoying Carth stand-in. I think I really annoyed both of them by killing the possessed Jedi at the end of Ziost, but it’s just something my character would’ve done. Her universe, her rules.

So anyway, that’s all wrapped up and my Smuggler is more or less ready for the expansion, alongside my Agent. I wonder if other SWTOR players have this same mixture of excitement and nervousness brewing within them. After next Tuesday, the game as we knew it won’t quite be the same again, especially as our characters graduate to the expansion’s storyline and jump ahead five years into the future (wouldn’t it be hilarious if BioWare gave all of our characters’ hair a touch of gray in the process?).

It’s weird to think that my Agent has been around since the very first day of the game. I don’t actually have many characters out there in MMOs who are launch originals, since I’m a chronic reroller. But her, she was right there at early start, through my first year with Mercy Corps, then patiently waited as I took a long break, and resumed her journeys when I came back and joined up with Nefarious Intent.

When the head start for the expansion hits, I’m going to try to balance my time between the two characters, maybe doing chapter one on each before going on to chapter two, and so on. I’m still not really sure how quickly we’ll be able to zip through the new content, but when it’s done, it’ll be done until 2016, so it would be nice to have enough for a couple of months of casual gaming at least.

I am really looking forward to seeing what will happen with the companion system, to getting new gear (and visuals), and mostly to a new story. What say you?

Picture of the Day: Battle armor


I was messing around with a new Jedi Sage in SWTOR this past weekend — because blindfolds are all the MMO rage these days — and I gifted her a set of battle-worn armor so that I didn’t have to bear the sight of her running around in a bathrobe.

I just love, love, love this armor because it’s so dinged up. Armor with character is way more interesting to me than shiny, perfect looks. Here there are scorch marks, chunks missing, holes, and all sorts of other points of damage that suggest a sad history for its former user. It’s perfect for a counter-cultural Jedi.

SWTOR: Thoughts on Fallen Empire’s new features


In a livestream earlier this week, BioWare finally got around to talking about specific features in Knights of the Fallen Empire. Because I guess you can only stall so long. I mean, we’re just weeks out from the expansion and the studio’s been dragging its feet on some of these expansions since early summer.

So here’s a list of some of the points mentioned and my thoughts on them.

Creating a new level 60: If I ever did an alt, I wouldn’t want to jump all of the way to 60 and bypass the personal story — that feels so incredibly wrong. That said, the setup here looks solid. Feels a bit of a cheat that they’d be giving level 500 crew skills out like candy. BioWare will be charging for this (of course) so it won’t be the default option for the entire playerbase.

Legendary status: Beat all of the personal storylines, get a fancy icon next to your name. It’s silly but a literal status symbol can be a powerful thing, especially for those who value their epeen above all else.

Cartel market companions: Buy companions from other class stories? Or a grab-bag of new, non-story ones? Either way, it’s interesting. Might even be tempting, although I’m pretty attached to the companions I have (plus, only being able to have one out at a time puts a damper on wanting to collect them all).

Share keybind: It’s small but this feature should really be standard in all MMOs. I hate creating alts and then having to redo all of the keybinds and settings.

Temporary ability bars: A good idea for situational skills. I hardly use my heroic moments because they’re not that convenient to access.

Crafting/gathering: I don’t do a lot of either, so these changes aren’t of much interest to me. It is intriguing that you’ll be able to gather any resource no matter what your skill level (although your level determines how much you get).

Legacy datacrons: Now they’ll be made retroactive, which is a good start. Next would be to make acquiring them much less painful. Next after that would be to eliminate them altogether. I am not the biggest fan of datacrons in SWTOR.

Leveling and level-scaling: The new leveling process is as I predicted — the class and planet storylines will be the main focus, with side missions made obsolete/optional. It won’t be as fast as 12x, but that’s OK; I think it’ll still feel a lot better paced.

As for level-scaling to planets, I’m all in favor of it. Worked out well in Guild Wars 2, and even if you level is lowered, you still have better gear and skills at your disposal.

Fallen Empire chapter interface: This looks a LOT like Guild Wars 2’s living story interface, in that you can hop into different chapters of the ongoing saga. And that I really like. I hope there will be a lot of replayability here, because I have a suspicion that players are going to need it once they blaze through the first 13 or so chapters and have to wait for 2016.

Companions: Bye-bye annoying companion gear, hello cosmetics! Affection is being transformed into influence, which will reportedly affect how well that companion functions in combat. So maxing out influence will be much more important than before.