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)

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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

SWTOR: The Marr and Satele Show

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Back to SWTOR for part two of my largely unnecessary vision quest through the gorgeous Odessan wilds. Satele and Force Ghost Marr show up to do their song-and-dance routine (not literally, although if SWTOR suddenly became a musical, that would have made my day) that pretty much boils down to the same lecture that both the pretentious Jedi and the stuck-up Sith have been giving since Day One: The Force is awesome. The Force guides you. There is no resisting the Force. If you expose the Force to direct sunlight, it may explode. Keep the Force out of reach of small children, especially with high midichlorian counts. The Force is good for a 20% discount at most local diners. And so on. Blah blah blah TALK.

If I as a Star Wars fan was enraptured with the whole Force element of the franchise or if my character was a Force user, I suppose I might have received this differently. But there is a good reason why I went Imperial Agent, which is that I didn’t want to be waving neon tubes around and mucking about with the most ill-defined and ambiguous religious concept in the galaxy. I want to win by practical, non-lecturey methods.

But even though I try to shut these two down any chance I’m given, I still have to go on the rest of this walk and accept their help. Wait, “help.” Yes, that properly conveys my annoyance.

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You simply cannot blame me for seeing these “training poles” in the wilds and instantly assuming that some sadistic BioWare designer had come up with another jumping puzzle. I mean, right? That’s the first thing anyone playing this game this far would assume. But it was just a shortcut and nothing more.

Huh. Sometimes SWTOR surprises me.

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Love the overhead perspective of this cave shot. So we get to visit another Force cave (I’m assuming), where Marr and Satele set up some sort of visionistic fight against Vaylin. It’s not a terribly easy fight, but thanks to my self-heals and the fact that, oh yeah, I’m an awesome Imperial Agent who actually trains hardcore and doesn’t expect the universe to jump at her finger beckoning, I win the day. Kind of a hollow victory, but oh well.

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Marr and Satele offer to help me build a special weapon that might actually kill the Emperor. I was thinking about how I was doing just fine the last time I fought him, but hey, free gun, who am I to say no? There are options here to have one or the other or both help you make the weapon, as well as an option for the weapon’s focus, but the game doesn’t explain any of it, so I made a couple of random picks and here I am with my new cave gun.

I finally stumble back to the base, determined to kick Lana’s butt for suggesting that I take a stroll in the woods for clarity. Next time, she gets to do it while I sit in my office and devour a whole box of Valentine’s Day chocolates. The coconut ones are my favorite!

SWTOR: S’mores and Jedi

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I’ve dragged my feet long enough on returning to Star Wars: The Old Republic, which might be appropriate considering that my character is quite the reluctant hero. I’m, oh, about a year behind? Something like that. Eternal Throne is already an old hat, and I’m still in the last third of Fallen Empire. Such is the fate of the player plagued with skipping forever through MMOs.

It really has been on my mind to get back to the game, if only to take players up on the common sentiment that the newest expansion has one heck of a story that’s worth playing even if you’re not going to be doing endgame gear grinding. My Agent has been on a journey ever since launch and I definitely have a deep fondness for this game, despite how much it has changed. It’s worth it to me to at least catch up on the story.

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I’m on Chapter 12, and my team is getting ready to go back to Zakuul for about the 20th time just to streak past Arcann’s throne and go “NYAH NYAH CAN’T CATCH ME!” What’s that, Arcann? Starting to annoy you how much we keep mooning you and then darting away?

arc

Poor baby. He’s like a poster child for Sith health care: “Join the Dark Side, get half your body burned off and replaced by ugly prosthetics!”

Anyway, before we head back to Zakuul for a mission to take over the transmission tower controlling the Eternal Fleet, Lana has the bright idea that I should go consult my personal ghost to get any tips on how to infiltrate. As usual, there isn’t an option to say “SHUT UP LANA” and I am let down by BioWare for the umpteenth time. Job-stealing jerkess.

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At least it’s a good excuse to wander around Odessa at night, which is definitely one of the prettier planets that the devs have made in this game. It’s kind of like the planet of summer camps, what with the fireflies, pine trees, picturesque creeks, and actual Jedi camping out. But we’ll get to that in a second.

q4

First things first: the Emperor is being his usual preachy, condescending self, demanding that I take on the role of a student in need of all of his great wisdom and gifts. But that’s not who my character is. She may not be arrogant or all-powerful, but she has always been highly resistant to people trying to control her and force her down a path. When it comes to Valkorion, she wants nothing to do with him. She kicks against him every time, shuts him down, and refuses to listen. There’s no bargaining here, no coming to a mutual understanding.

I’m an Imperial Agent, darn it, and I don’t need any mystical Force crud to help me succeed. I do that on talent, skill, and tech toys alone. You Jedi and Sith can go stuff it.

Vakorion gets majorly ticked at me, sending me on a vision quest of sorts that ends up in a prolonged fight that I could’ve won except that he cheats his way out of it. Following that, I wake up on a strange starship, still on the planet, only to bump into a very old character.

sat

Yes, it’s Satele Shan, looking much more matronly and angry than her earlier incarnation. She’s also talking to a force ghost. Obi-Wan, is that you?

Anyway, she’s pitted herself firmly against Valkorion, so I guess maybe she’s a way out of my predicament. But I’m not inclined to be that friendly to the Republic either. Kind of tired of all of the factions, to be honest, and again, any Force-user has me suspicious and distant. Plus, Shan seems to have taken a page from the Yoda playbook of “When the good guys are losing, just run away and camp out on a planet for a while until a mentor comes along to fix everything for you.” Can we just call Yoda a coward? I liked him and all that, but in light of the prequels, he really was.

Now Satele sends me on a vision quest of her own, and I am officially tired of these people jerking me around. Can I start my own empire already?

SWTOR, I don’t know you any more

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Change is to be expected in MMOs. But what happens when an online game changes so radically that it isn’t the same title you knew at all? Game devs know that playerbases will bend with some degree of change, but if you make those changes too drastic, the connection between a player an an MMO snaps and bonds are dissolved.

I feel that this is exactly what’s been happening in SWTOR over the past year. And after looking at what the next expansion is going to bring, I’ve simply lost any desire to ever come back.

It actually hurts a little bit to think back to SWTOR’s launch back in, what, 2010? And to think of all of the great adventures I had in that game, especially over the first year. The Imperial Agent story was tremendous, and the free-to-play switch meant that I could leave and come back at my convenience. I might have drifted away, but it’s always been one of those MMOs that would come back into my orbit sooner or later. I was anticipating this event with this fall’s expansion, Knights of the Eternal Throne, but the more I find out about it, the more I know that this is not to be.

It’s not one big thing or a thousand small things, it’s somewhere in the middle — a death of interest due to a hundred medium cuts. The sheer contempt that BioWare holds for its F2P community is one such cut, and the news that not only will you be unable to participate in the expansion at all if you don’t subscribe but you can’t even get any gear at level 70 makes the free-to-play label laughably obsolete. A free trial, perhaps, but this has to be one of the most unfriendly, unwelcoming F2P systems in the industry. As BioWare holds what it must see as freeloaders in contempt, so I too hold the studio in equal contempt for shunning its free crowd and all but strong-arming people into subscribing.

Hey guys? If you wanted just a subscriber option, you should’ve stuck with it. Remember how your numbers tanked and you went F2P to draw in the crowds? Can’t have it both ways. That’s going to bite you, hard.

Beyond the business model is the structure of the game itself. Up through Shadow of Revan, SWTOR stuck to its original formula, with the classes distinct from each other, with their own companions, stories, and so on. Planets were released as adventuring zones with overarching stories and all was good.

But then comes Fallen Empire, and the paradigm of the game shifted considerably. SWTOR split into two games — the old, 1.0 experience that took players from 1 to 60, and the new 2.0 experience (which BioWare encouraged people to jump right to via boosts) that started in Fallen Empire and is continuing through Eternal Throne. There was a greater emphasis on a cinematic story, which was pretty great for storytelling. Less sidequest deadweight. Some strong new characters. I can’t condemn it for being ambitious or trying to hew more to BioWare’s strength, which is its stories.

Still, the changes were so drastic that they went beyond trying to change things up a little to reinventing most everything. The timeline was shifted five years into the future. The companions and relationships that we’d spent years cultivating had been abandoned, and in some cases, still haven’t been able to be recovered. All classes were funneled down into the same story with the same selection of companions, with many of the missions forcing us to use a certain companion instead of letting us choose. We were relocated away from our ships to the Gravestone. It was a whole lot of change to swallow, and while I was initially on board with it, after a while it left me feeling more disconnected than ever from the character I’ve had since launch.

And to be honest, the whole Zakuul storyline was starting to leave me cold, too. As another blogger said, how many evil empires do we need in a Star Wars universe? Very little of the Fallen Empire felt fun, like a high-spirited Star Wars adventure should. It was perhaps a little too solo, with very little open world exploring with the chance encounter of other players.

I don’t know. Looking at SWTOR right now makes me a little bit angry, but even more sad and wistful. I miss what it was. I don’t like what it’s growing to be. And I have strong doubts that I’ll be coming back to this game world because of it. If BioWare’s mission was to make it as difficult as possible to come back and enjoy the ongoing story, then that is fairly accomplished in this case.

Maybe we should start hoping that someone else starts working on a new Star Wars MMO?

6 major MMORPG launch days revisited

wildstar plans

One of the neat things about having a long-running blog is that it inadvertently turns into a historical document chronicling major events. In this case, Bio Break has been around since 2008, and I’ve gone through several major MMO launches since then. I thought it might be fun to look up the day one (or day two) posts talking about those experiences to reshare them with you.

Guild Wars 2 (August 2012)

“Guild Wars 2.  Is incredible.

“Playing it live feels so much different than beta, and I’m so glad I have a character to actually invest in.  But even more than that, this is just a game that exists to wow you left and right.  I’m sure that there are those who have become immune to in-game beauty and details, and only see the numbers and min-maxing, but that’s missing the point here.  It’s a game where I felt fully justified to spend the first hour just gawking around like a tourist instead of killing things, and I’m forever going off the beaten track to explore.”

WildStar (June 2014)

“As you may have heard/experienced, it was anything but a smooth beginning.  Due to a purported DDoS attack and a kajillion people trying to cram through the login servers at the same time, we simply could not log into the game.  We got to know the little running hamster, the theme music, and our account passwords very well, however.  It was 4:15 before I could log in, and by then going back to sleep wasn’t much of an option.”

RIFT (February 2011)

“All in all, I’m pretty impressed with the game performance.  No crashes for me, and everything flowed just smoothly.  I did roll a Dwarf Bard, and I’m pretty pleased with the choice.  I’m a Medieval Guitar Hero and proud of it, baby!  I splashed in a bit of Riftstalker for the teleportation spell — being able to jump ahead 25 feet every so often is a ton of fun, as well as a helpful escape button if I got over my head.”

Star Wars: The Old Republic (December 2011)

“On a lark I tried to see if I could log in at 6:30, and lo and behold I could.  Servers were up about ten minutes after that, and I began the process of reserving the eight character names I picked out.  When I finally logged in, it was to a ghost town — not a single soul in the zone, not a single voice on the chat screen, nothing.  I’m not saying I was the first in game, but it almost felt like it.”

Champions Online (September 2009)

“Framerate issues notwithstanding, I had a great time last night.  It was fun to see a lot of friends in the game (and the @name system is growing on me, for sure).  I even spent a bit of time learning the ropes of the crafting system, which is pretty useful — you can make your own inventory bags, which is certainly useful.”

Neverwinter (April 2013)

“While the character creator is really skimpy and the Foundry reportedly in shambles, the core game itself looks fantastic and is pretty fun to play.  It’s more action/arcade-like than a traditional MMO, but for some reason it works here.”