KOTOR: Sexist worms off to the rescue!

(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.)

Fresh off the now-exploded Endar Spire, Syppi and angsty Carth are hiding out in the apartments on the upper levels of Taris. It’s actually a pretty good setting for the initial stage of the game, as the planet is under Sith control (meaning lots of enemies around and no leaving) and rich in that Star Wars feel. Also, the music! The soundtrack is amazing as it settles into the background and helps you get into the mood of the setting.

So one big pet peeve I have with KOTOR is that none of the characters ever holster their weapons. I really wish they would, because it’s so awkward to have them constantly holding pistols and swords while talking and running around.

Why do I hate Carth so much? Well, you’ve obviously never played KOTOR if you have to ask that, but the short answer is that he is trying way too hard to be a Han Solo type, if Han Solo was much more insecure and needy. To make myself feel better, I steal and equip Carth’s custom blaster while calling him a sexist worm and a sexless marsh toad. He’s a romance option, but that’ll happen only when Hell freezes over. And even then, probably not.

Without any clear direction other than to try to find Bastila’s escape pod, it’s time for that RPG tradition of “barge into every domicile in the area and steal everything that’s not nailed down.” And even then, we have a hammer to pry things up.

Naturally, as this is Star Wars, there’s a cantina nearby. It’s got an assembly of assorted toughs and brats, although you can play some cards or fight in an arena if you’re feeling lucky.

KOTOR wasn’t the first game to include some sort of morality meter, but it definitely was the first to really catch my attention. Although it’s kind of a trite and stilted feature these days, the light-side/dark-side paths in KOTOR aided in both roleplaying and replayability. You could go down the light side by being nice and helpful, down the dark side by being Hitler reborn, or just hang out in the middle by doing a bit of both. Since there isn’t much of a benefit from going “grey,” you might as well go all-out one way or the other for bonuses, exclusive force powers, and visual flair. As I said last time, I’m doing light side because I never really saw much fun in being unnecessarily cruel.

One of the first LS/DS choices on Taris is whether or not to turn in a doctor who is hiding hurt Republic troops. I kind of wish I could be floating in a jar in my underwear some days. Looks comfy.

The only real drawback to light side is that you don’t end up with as much stuff. Like, you give away more credits to be nice than extorting them, that sort of thing. Then again, you get that artificial feeling of being a good person in a virtual world where NPCs praise your name and then dash off, never to be seen again.

One nice touch is that KOTOR does make a bit of an effort to portray the Sith as something other than evil killing dudes. You get to know how they’re still people who work 9 to 5 jobs and party afterward. They’re still on Team Evil and deserve to be killed, of course, but it’s a little humanization that helps to round them out.

Also, Syppi totally steals one of the Sith uniforms to disguise herself and gain entrance to the lower city. It’s time to leave this life of upper crust luxury and descend into the belly of the city beast.

Welcome to lower Taris, where criminal gangs struggle for turf and swoop-bike races break all the speed limits. It’s more grungy but far more Star Warsian, if that makes any sense. I’m just glad there are tons of mobs to gun down, since I need the XP to get as many Scoundrel levels as possible on this planet. The only real combat gripe I have at this point is that there’s no natural hit point regen nor any force healing, so it’s either buying/scavenging a lot of med packs or keep making trips back to certain rest spots to heal up. Carth keeps falling down in battle if someone sneezes in his direction.

KOTOR: I have a bad feeling about this…

(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.)

After doing two adventure games back-to-back, I felt it was time to head back into a classic CRPG. And while I’ve done (most of) KOTOR 2 for Retro Gaming, I haven’t ever gone through the original BioWare classic. I think I’ve played it through, all the way, at least twice in the past, but it has been a long while and I would love to revisit the first game and see how the Old Republic gaming series first took root. I’m sure parts of it, like the graphics, haven’t aged that well, but I’ve always had very fond memories of first playing this one my old gaming PC as a bachelor, filling the nights with adventures in a galaxy far, far away.

As with KOTOR 2, for this playthrough I’m going to buck against the expectations of becoming a lightsaber-wielding Jedi and instead focus more on building an unorthodox dual blaster Scoundrel (who just so happens to have force powers because the game foists those on you whether you want them or not). I’m also going light side, as I don’t see a lot of added benefit in being a murder hobo jerk, and I don’t really want those force powers anyway.

KOTOR begins with that hoary RPG trope — video game amnesia. Syppi awakes on the Endar Spire, a Republic ship that’s currently under attack. Even as she has no memory of who she is or what she’s doing here, Captain Exposition up there runs in and says that the ship’s been boarded by the Sith and we need to go protect the uppity Jedi — Bastila Shan — with our level 1 naked bodies.

Soon we’re introduced to Carth, the resident whiny man-baby of KOTOR. BioWare is legally required to put one of these characters into each of its games as a companion, and this is the guy we got. He kind of makes you want to go down the dark side, just to tweak his nose.

Being set thousands of years before the Star Wars movies, KOTOR couldn’t completely ape all of the design elements, although it could homage them to death. So instead of the white stormtrooper outfits, the Sith troopers here have this neat gold reflective armor that I quite like. The Republic look just as dorky as the Rebel extras did in the films.

What I don’t completely buy is the use of swords. I mean, they go out of their way to say that these are VIBROswords and thereby can parry lightsabers because of… vibration… I guess? Sword fighting like this doesn’t fit, nor does it look anywhere as cool as blaster fire, with its sparks and laser light show.

With dark Jedi all over the ship, there’s this palpable sense of danger for us newly minted souls. We can’t stand up to them, so it’s all about fleeing and surviving to fight another day.

The good news? Syppi is able to escape from the Endar Spire before it completely blows up (and then mostly reconstructs itself to fall into large, explorable pieces onto the planet below for SWTOR). The bad news? Carth is along for the ride. Sigh. Carth, I can’t wait to ditch you, because you are going to get ditched so hard it’ll change your part, pal.

As Syppi lays unconscious for the second time in the last 20 minutes, she has a dream vision of Bastila fighting a faceless dark Jedi. I guess it’s a good thing that this ship has in-flight entertainment, although it’s pretty short.

SWTOR: Gettin’ frosty on Hoth

The other day I saw DasMoose tweet on SWTOR: “Do you know why Legendary is so special? It’s not getting every class buff across any character. It’s not for titles or achievements. No, that’s not why it matters. You went through Hoth at LEAST 8 separate times and retained your sanity.”

And I was like, aww, I like Hoth! Coincidentally, I’ve been going through Hoth right now on my Sniper, trying to cast off her chemical brainwashing while dealing with not a few uprisings and scavenger hunts.

I’m not entirely sure if Hoth has a terrible reputation, as DasMoose seems to indicate, but I’ve always thought it was one of the better planets in the game. For starters, I love winter zones, and Hoth is a good one — starkly beautiful with lots of shades of blues and whites all over the place. There’s frost on windows, ice in the underground bunkers, wampas frolicking left and right. It just *looks* cold, and that’s a good accomplishment for the art team.

It’s not a visually complex, but there are some notable landmarks — most significantly the frozen spaceship graveyard. I just like cruising around Hoth to see what there is.

Plus, Hoth draws heavily upon the setting and nostalgia from The Empire Strikes Back, and who doesn’t love that movie? The opening battle is one of the most iconic from the movies, with zooming snowspeeders and unstoppable AT-ATs marching on. I always felt like the choice of Hoth as a Rebel base suggested that the Rebels were at the end of any options and had to make it work. It didn’t look safe and cozy; it was hostile inside and out.

That’s an interesting setting for me and one that I was glad to revisit a couple of times in SWTOR. I can tell you that there are other planets that I like a whole lot less than Hoth, although I’ve never actually sat down to do a ranking. Hm. Maybe that’s a project for another day.

SWTOR: Free will and computer predestination

It’s been a long — a very long — time since I first went through the Imperial Agent’s story in SWTOR, and while I haven’t forgotten everything, enough has faded from memory that a lot of these beats are new to me. But if there is something I vividly remember from that first trip was how deeply upset the game got me when it brainwashed my character and took some of the control away from me.

I’m going through again right now in Chapter 2 of the story, and I have to say, the frustration and fury is no less real this time around. It’s a masterstroke of both writing and the video game format to make this happen, to cross the barrier between game and real life to make the player *feel* something.

Other than feeling constantly irked at Kaylio. Hey girl, you forgot to hold a gun there.

The Agent’s story works so well because no matter what angle you approach it from, sooner or later you really start to question your loyalties and those you can trust. Your team is fraught with characters with shifting or hidden motivations, such as Victor (is he more loyal to the nest than you?) or Doctor Loken (who has an Incredible Hulk complex). You can’t really trust anyone in the Sith echelon, because they’re all trying to use you as a pawn.

You can’t even trust Imperial Intelligence, as we discover, because they put brainwashing drugs in you to have a way to bring you under control if you go rogue. This all goes very badly when you’re sent in to be a double-agent with the Republic spies, only to have them use your conditioning against you. Who gave it to them? Who do you trust now? And what are you going to do if you manage to escape the conditioning?

As an aside, Taris is such a beautiful planet of destruction… and so incredibly annoying to navigate.

It’s just such a trippy chapter of the story, and I know that the first time I played it, my light side tendencies were sorely tested by all of this personal betrayal. When the game itself takes away your dialogue options or forces you to go on missions, you want to push back and rebel.

This time around? I’m all in on the dark side, so it’s going to be Revenge City on everyone. Little Chance was left to die bleeding out and trying to say the activation phrase. He seemed nice, but he was willing to use me like everyone else.

Oh, they all will burn. My sniper rifle’s fully loaded and it’s judgment day on the Republic and Empire alike.

Oh, and don’t try any of your sexist stuff on me, because I’ve got an armored fist and the will to use it. But I’m a really nice person if you try to get to know me — and don’t fiddle with my brain.

Mainstream games outlets need to drop the condescension toward MMOs

Last Wednesday, VG247 posted an article about Star Wars: The Old Republic that really rubbed me the wrong way. Oh, on the surface, it looks like it’s a piece written in 2020 that’s praising a 10-year-old MMORPG, which is kind of a win for our community. But the way it was written was a perfect example of the dripping condescension and contempt that many mainstream games outlets view MMOs.

In short, these outlets — your Kotakus, your Polygons, your VG247s — are staffed with plenty of writers who like to act all snide toward MMOs if they ever write about them. It’s like they’ve been trying to establish a pecking order so that the geeks on top can feel better beating up on the geeks below. We experienced a lot of this back when I worked at old Massively, as our colleagues at Joystiq would hardly ever deign to give us the time of day or promote our pieces. We MMO fans were the weirdos.

So going back to this VG247 piece, I think it’s a perfect example of the type of opinion article that we get every now and then from these outlets. There’s a type of formula to them, where the piece starts out trashing MMOs in general:

“MMOs feel too much like a second job to me. They’re spreadsheets that you play at your PC, which is where I sit down to work all day. I don’t like the idea of stabbing 20 wolves to get +1 of some stat I don’t give a crap about.”

That’s the opening paragraph right there. But then this article (and similar pieces) goes on to reluctantly say that this particular game has something appealing about it, despite it being a filthy MMO. “Damning it with faint praise” is the term that comes to mind. Actually, the praise that it gets has nothing to do with the MMO format but that a player can experience it as a solo game story if he or she wishes.

Listen, not everyone has to like MMOs, even game journalists. But some of us do, and these journalists keep acting like we’re nuts while they’re over there, I don’t know, playing genuine works of art. Like they’re so much better and would NEVER care about stats, achievements, patches, persistence, upgrades, or whatever. Like they’ve never grinded a day in their life in their single-player titles.

It’s just silly. Video game genres are bleeding over into each other more and more as time goes on, and to vilify one is to have those insults boomerang back when you realize that you’re playing titles that have a lot in common.

So get off your high horse, VG247, and get over yourself already.

SWTOR: No one betrays me and lives

Heading back to Star Wars: The Old Republic has turned out to be a really good idea, at least for me in the here-and-now. Enough time’s gone by that all of this feels fresh(er), and I’m going through that delightful stage of being reminded of all the things I ever liked about this MMO.

Initially, I thought to start a brand-new character — as is my wont — and go through the entire game journey. But after playing a Bounty Hunter for 20 levels, I found myself drifting back to the Sniper I made back in 2018. She was only in her mid-20s, but I knew I liked the combat style, the story, and the armor that I had picked out, so it was an easy jump back into that role. I think I was playing her somewhat Dark Side, so that was a change-up from my old Operative.

I think it’s a shame how little of the class stories I’ve seen in SWTOR. When the game first launched, I had grand plans to level up all eight and get the Full(tm) Experience. But then I went with the Agent right out of the gate, found a class and story that I liked immensely, and everything else I’ve tried has paled in comparison. And as much as I would have liked to go through those stories, I’m not going to force myself to play classes that do nothing for me.

But one class is fine right now, even if it’s more or less an old favorite, and I am having a really great time. Lots of screenshots, leveling up crew skills, and doing the class and planetary mission chains. Nothing radical, but since I’m getting to straight right on Alderaan, it’s kind of a relief to know I’ll get a second companion soon and can enjoy this gorgeous planet instead of Hutta and Balmorra. I’ve always really liked the fresh snowmelt look of Alderaan, kind of a ski resort-in-early-spring feel. You know, with giant bugs.

And there’s really no huge rush to level either, so the pressure is off in that regard. There’s plenty ahead to do — the core game, five expansions, and assorted planets — but BioWare only has one quest update coming for the rest of this year, so the goal post isn’t getting moved that quickly.

I probably should get a stronghold one of these days, but right now, the focus is on building up some measure of wealth and getting a good combat rotation down for the days ahead.

6 reasons why SWTOR is sucking me back in

Sometimes when you return to a game, there’s one overriding reason why that’s so. But for me, it’s been a bit of a different bag when it comes to Star Wars: The Old Republic as of late. As these things go, the thought of a return started to take seed a while ago and then was watered and nurtured by several different factors until the install screen happened.

Just happened! Out of the blue!

So what gives? I’ve identified the factors that facilitated the desire to return, and they are:

1. The recent Steam launch put it back on my radar

Sometimes it just takes a positive news story about an MMO to jog one’s memory and deliver a rush of positive emotions toward a title. Oh yeah! That still exists! And it’s doing good things!

In fact, it seems like the Steam release was a real shot in the arm for SWTOR and has greatly benefited the game over the past month. Good for it.

2. I’ve been wanting a little scifi for variety’s sake

It seems that when I end up spending a lot of time playing 100% fantasy MMOs, I seriously start craving one with a scifi bent. That usually sends me to SWTOR, Star Trek Online, or (in the past) WildStar.

3. I just replayed Knights of the Old Republic

Coming later this year to retro gaming! But yeah, I spent a couple of months replaying KOTOR, and if that doesn’t put you in the mood for some SWTOR, I don’t know what will.

4. It’s a nice lateral jump from World of Warcraft

SWTOR is the scifi version of WoW, at least with its combat and game design. It’s bright and colorful and responsive, and it’s all about that tab-targetting when it comes to fights. Since I’ve been doing a lot of WoW these days, it wasn’t much of a departure to do SWTOR too.

5. There’s still tons I’ve never seen in the game

It’s a harder sell when you look at an MMO where you’ve done it all, but this isn’t the case for SWTOR. I haven’t even finished the most recent two expansions, and I certainly have not seen most of the class storylines (I’ve only really ever fully completed three of the eight — Agent, Bounty Hunter, and Smuggler).

6. There are plenty of onboarding options

I could pick up and play one of my previous characters, continue their stories. I could make a new one and start at the beginning, the Fallen Throne expansions, or the Onslaught expansion. There are a LOT of potential choices here, and choices get me excited.

MMO fonts: The good, the bad, and the ugly

In my effort to start clearing out my drafts folder here at Bio Break, I’m digging out this topic that I started (checks) back in 2017. Anyway, fonts are most likely a part of online games that you never think about. Once you’ve been in a game for a while, you get used to its user interface and don’t really notice or acknowledge it.

Yet fonts are important, because a game usually just licenses (or creates) one and uses it everywhere — and if chosen poorly, that font can slowly and surely drag down on the user experience. So let’s take a look at eight MMO fonts today — chosen semi-randomly — and see if they’re easy on the eyes or not.

We’ll start with Warhammer Online (above), which prompted the writing of this piece. The font itself gives off a Ye Olde English fantasy vibe, which is good, but it’s not that easy to read in large chunks, especially when italicized. There isn’t enough spacing between the lines, either, so it comes off as crammed. Sometimes getting a little fancy with your font works against you.

We’ll move on to RIFT, which I always thought had a very clean and modern-looking font. Maybe a little too modern. It’s easy to read, which is a plus, but doesn’t do a lot to convey personality of the game, which is one of the jobs that fonts have to handle. Generally, though, I like it.

You know I had to include the itty bitty, smooshed-together font of EVE Online on this list. It gets points for a futuristic, minimalistic look, but dang is it always hard to read. It’s gotten better over the years, but my eyes have never leaked tears of joy to behold it.

And we’ll go with a classic — World of Warcraft — with this one. Blizzard did a great job all around with this font. It’s oozing personality (especially on the header fonts), has good kerning, and is easy to consume quickly without eye strain.

WildStar… sigh. WildStar had SUCH great art and interface style, but its font was terrible. From the color choices (blue-greens on blue-greens) to the thin, small style, it was too difficult to read without really focusing on it.

I’ll be fair and include Lord of the Rings Online here. It gets middling reviews for me. I think it does lend an appropriate personality to the game and is readable (especially if you increase the font size), but it’s not the quickest read. And considering just HOW MUCH text you go through, it could be better. I do adore the header font, though. That’s spot on.

Fallen Earth always struck me as a game that purchased its font at lowest bidder. It’s like a default Windows font that did nothing for the personality angle and wasn’t as eye-catching as it could’ve been.

I could keep going on, but I’ll end with a look at Star Wars: The Old Republic’s font. It definitely has that thick, bolded Star Wars look about it, and the spacing makes it easy to read. I think it does a pretty good job, all things considered, even if I feel like the text is yelling at me much of the time.

SWTOR: Wrath and ruin

And with that, I’ve started the next expansion in SWTOR — Knights of the Eternal Throne. Fingers crossed for fewer skytroopers, more choices, and a slightly better story. I’m prepared to go off the rails if the game lets me, but I know how BioWare corrals us. I’ll see what I can do to push against the boundaries.

Gotta say, I just *love* these title cards. Always gives me slight chills and lends a weight to each chapter. Also feels like progress.

So anyway, Eternal Throne opens up about six months after Fallen Empire ended. My side, the Alliance, has more resources at our disposal, but Vaylinn and SCORPIO wield not inconsiderable power on the titular throne. At the start here, they’ve placed Voss under attack for unknown reasons, and the Alliance is doing everything they can to hold them off. I vaguely remember Voss from way back in the day. I think the people here have a distinct smell? And one hit on me? That’s about it for my recollection.

Skytroopers or no, it’s a pretty impressive opening, full of eye-catching set pieces and things blowing the heck up. Doesn’t make a lot of sense for the singular commander of this entire space and ground armed force to be spearheading a small team like this, but I guess the game would be pretty boring if I was stuck in an office making big picture decisions and reading reports.

“Quick, everyone, pose for the box art! Good, I think we got it.”

Turns out that the reason the planet is under attack is that Senya took Arcann here to be healed, and his sister is not very happy about that. Can’t say that I care too much, seeing as how I’m really tired of the trope where a heartless monster who’s killed hundreds or millions is suddenly worth redemption without any consequences. I mean, save the guy, but lock him up too.

Eh. At least I got to pilot a walker for a while and one-shot stomp on skytroopers. That did wonders for my mood.

Senya gave (most of) her life to give Arcann a quick dose of healing when time grew short, and Arcann does his mother proud by fleeing her lifeless body and being nuts. Glad he’s coming around to our side.

At least the deceased emperor is talking a lot more now, and he’s urging me to seize the Eternal Throne for myself and become empress. You know what? Sure. Let’s do it. I’d make better decisions all around than most of these people, and I’ve had it with the Republic and the Sith. It’s like an independent voter looking at the Republicans and Democrats and going, let’s create a sane third party. VOTE SYP FOR GALACTIC EMPRESS IN 2019!

SWTOR: Knights of the Fallen Empire completed!

So this may mark the longest it’s ever taken me to get through an MMO expansion, as I started Knights of the Fallen Empire, oh, back in October 2015 and am only now wrapping it up in the late hours of May 2019. Despite a really strong start, I ran out of steam midway through and left the game for a good long while. I am glad I came back, however, because sometimes you want to see how everything plays out, you know?

The final two chapters accelerated the drama and tension of this expansion, which had a tendency to sag in the middle. SCORPIO, predictably, betrayed me and my crew, and unpredictably stole the Eternal Throne from right out under Arcann and his sister. Having a former companion, even a shady one, become a Big Bad Boss, is a pretty gutsy move on BioWare’s part. I always liked SCORPIO because she was a darker, more sinister droid that you always felt could turn on you at any moment.

And despite the last couple of levels being nothing but lengthy excursions through the corridors of enemy ships, there was enough narrative development and cool set pieces (especially when said ships were breaking apart all around me) to make it worth the journey. Other than a very brief interlude between the missions, I didn’t see or hear from another player, which definitely felt weird for an MMO. BioWare’s choice to greatly skew this to the single-player realm took away that feeling of “playing alone together” that so many of us enjoyed.

The final mission, the Battle of Odessen, was masterful from start to end. It was just the right length, exciting through and through, and ended on a series of fascinating cliffhangers:

  • Arcann is defeated but sort of (maybe) comes around to the light side again as his mother steals him away
  • SCORPIO gives all of her GEMINI “children” free will to stay and serve or head out to the stars
  • A good chunk of the Eternal Fleet, including the flagship, is destroyed
  • Koth returns — and steals the Gravestone
  • The Emperor ghost reasserts himself to give me a small pep talk
  • And Vaylin takes the Eternal Throne with SCORPIO’s permission, with the droid remaining to be her right-hand advisor

It wasn’t all that shocking, but it kept me glued to the monitor for the last half-hour or so. I liked the bits of humor that my character interjected, but disliked that my choice to shoot down Arcann’s shuttle was yanked away from me due to BioWare’s Plot Armor. Seriously, BioWare, if you’re going to give me a serious choice, then let it play out. Doing otherwise makes me feel like you’re handling me instead of trusting me to forge a path. It felt ironic that the droids of this episode were given more free will than I.

So as the curtain descends on Fallen Empire and rises on Knights of the Eternal Throne, what say I about this expansion as a whole? Like many SWTOR players, I’m deeply divided on whether or not the trade-off between MMO and single-player storytelilng was worth it. It was certainly initially exciting, receiving all sorts of publicity and acclaim, but I think that all of the production values couldn’t replace the social component (not to mention simply being able to explore areas and go on a variety of quests instead of just one main one). If you’ll excuse the expression, a balance needed to be struck here, and I think BioWare recognized that following Eternal Throne, which is why the game’s shifted back to its former format.

I am generally inclined to be kind to this expansion, because a lot here works well. We get the return of major companions, a daring time shift to five years in the future, lots of funny quips and NPCs, some amazing moments, an awesome main ship, a couple of poignant deaths (I’ll miss you, HK!), some residual tension between Empire and Republic, and crazy space battles. I have plenty of criticisms too (and if I never have to see another skytrooper again, I’d be a very happy man).

In any case, it’s time to see if I can get through the next expansion in something less than four years. I think that’s doable.