SWTOR: Why is it so hard to play the bad guy?

kronkEvery time I roll up a new SWTOR character, I keep having the best of intentions to walk down the dark side. After all, my operative is pure light (with a few revenge-related hiccups along the way), so it’s all about seeing how the other side lives. But the weird thing is… I’ve never been able to stick with a dark side character for very long. I simply cannot connect with one.

It could partially be that most “evil” choices are of a sociopathic nature, playing to murder, betrayal, and utter greed. Extremes aren’t always that attractive. But I think a more important aspect is that I’m always looking to connect with my character, and while I might make noise sometime about being the rebel anti-hero in a game, there’s a line that gets crossed when my avatar becomes the bad guy or gal.

Playing an evil character, for me, satisfies a morbid curiosity about what may happen if I pull the red lever. It may even be gratifying to not always play by the goodie two-shoes rules or to put annoying NPCs in their place. But very rarely does it end up endearing that character to me.

Weird as it may sound, I genuinely care what NPCs “think” of my character. I certainly do care what I think of him or her too. When I am helpful in a quest or perform some feat of justice, it makes me smile inside. I become endeared to this character, because they’re what I’d envision I would do if I was in their place and had their capabilities (and utter fearlessness of death).

None of us in real life are truly good, but I think that most of us aspire to be and are attracted to virtues lived genuinely. It shouldn’t be surprising that these feelings translate into video games, especially ones that seek to emulate (on a basic level) the moral choices we face.

Thinking of all of this, I had to pull the plug on my new bounty hunter. I just couldn’t play the bad guy, even over on the Empire side. I spent my monthly cartel coin allowance to unlock a Twi’lek and rolled up a new (female, because the male voice is way too deep for my taste) bounty hunter.

I made a game of seeing how quickly I could blitz through Hutta to catch up with where my old character was at. I think I clocked in at under an hour, picking light side choices all of the way through. This time around, the character “fit” a lot better and I was able to sink into the role. Sure, she may go dark side choice now and then if it fits the situation, but she’s not going to be cutting off any more heads and giving them to grieving widows.

Marvel Heroes: Queen of the Squirrels

squirrelWell, I did it. After 500 runs through cosmic Kingpin’s Warehouse, I finished up my Doc Ock takedown achievement and got my coveted Octobot Controller. It’s a thing of beauty, too, with two additional levels of summon powers on top of other goodies. The controller is the last major piece of gear that I needed for her build, although I’m sure there’s still more to do to increase her stats.

I don’t mind having put in those 500 runs, either. In addition to the controller, I acquired countless runes, relics, a few very good uniques, and scads of omega points. I can’t check right now how many I’m up to, but it’s definitely a few hundred more than when I began.

Speaking of Squirrel Girl, I am beyond pleased that she’s got a new costume on the way (her Unbeatable Squirrel Girl outfit from the new comics). Love the detail on it, just wish it was here already.

Today’s the big Ant-Man update with the new story mode consolidation. I’m very interested in seeing how leveling goes with that now, especially since you only have to run through it all once. He’s not quite the summoner I was anticipating, but the more I’ve looked into his abilities and playstyle, the more I’m actually keen to get ahold of him. Should be going to see the movie this weekend too — it’s been getting good reviews. Sometimes you need a smaller superhero flick to balance all of the massive ones.

SWTOR: Ravaging the Ravagers

op1I logged into SWTOR last night with lightly ambitious plans to work on my bounty hunter (who is now on Dromund Kaas, has a companion, and three speeders to boot). And while I did run one instance with him as a healer — with not one, but TWO heals at my disposal! — my plans got waylaid when my guild invited me to join in on a story-mode Ravagers operation.

Sure, why not? I don’t think I’ve ever done an op in SWTOR before, certainly not this past year due to the free-to-play restriction. But now I’m part of that special sub club. I had no illusions that I was going to add a great amount of DPS to the team (I’m only just geared enough for an entry-point to hard modes and operations), but I guess a little is better than nothing.

It’s always weird when you step into an instance where everyone else knows the fights intimately and you’re just struggling to figure out what the heck is going on. While everyone was kindly explaining over Mumble what to do, it still made me feel like a little child who was being babysat: “No, Timmy, don’t eat worms. Don’t stand in the fire, either.” But we had good healers and I didn’t die, so at least it wasn’t as embarassing as it could’ve been.

op2The one cool thing about raids is that the devs tend to put some really cool visuals into them. I rather enjoyed this romp around the backwoods (so to speak) of Rishi. The fights weren’t too tough — story mode and all — but I’ve been having some problems with this computer that it’s struggling to handle everything that’s going on. I even reduced my graphics to medium, but still most of the fights were stuttery, slide show affairs that further cemented the feeling of being semi-useless.

Although considering that I haven’t really played my operative in a good while, I was pleased that my combat rotation came back to me rather fast.

op3I think my guild liked me being there simply to show off what they had seen a hundred times before. Everyone had a good laugh about a couple of cutscenes where suddenly your character is surrounded by a team that’s made up of complete strangers, including Fat Jedi and Astronaut Dude. Where did they come from? Where do they go? It’s all a mystery.

In the end we were victorious and I came away with a small pile of loot upgrades, including two new implants, a couple of headpieces, and more. I followed up the operation by heading back to Yavin-4 and farming slicing nodes for a while. Another nice benefit of being a subscriber is no more 350K credit cap; now I can get as rich as I want. I’m rounding on a million credits now, although I don’t have any specific purchase in mind. Everyone’s saving up for the Yavin stronghold, which might be interesting to buy.

SWTOR: Bodyguards ‘R Us

star1One upshot of my recent Final Fantasy XIV adventures is that I’ve come to realize that I have a deep desire to not only get back into the MMO dungeon scene, but to be a healer too. And that is a bit of a problem with much of my current line-up — mostly TSW, WildStar, and Marvel Heroes — all of which doesn’t quite offer me the experience to do that. I’m not set up as a healer in TSW (and don’t like the healing branches anyway), WildStar’s dungeons feel too frantic for me, and Marvel Heroes doesn’t really have healing characters and the traditional dungeon.

So in a weird way, FFXIV ended up pushing me right back into SWTOR’s arms. I had previously written SWTOR off for the summer until the expansion, but when I read the recent dev diary about flashpoint and operation changes, I thought that it might not be the worst idea in the world to roll up a new healer-focused character. I even subbed up for the time being, mostly to try the 12x leveling experience, but also because it gets me some extra goodies and allows my level 60 to snag the Yavin-4 companion gear sets that were previously denied to me as a F2P player.

Another nudge in this direction came when someone told me that — and I had no idea why I was ignorant of this — the bounty hunter offers a healing spec. That was perfect for me, since it would let me stay in my guild on the Empire side and play a non-force using class.

starrrrrSo Yeeti, Yeti’s older brother, was born. I went with another Chiss because the other races weren’t clicking with how I saw the character, but unlike Yeti, I’ll be playing him dark side through-and-through. Kind of a cutthroat merc who might be nice to his teammates but will never turn down a chance to get even or make a buck.

The 12x experience really is so much different than the traditional route. I wouldn’t want to do this on my first time through, and even now it’s making my eye twitch to be passing up all of these other (now unnecessary) quests. But I do appreciate how the personal story isn’t being broken up, but can be experienced straight through.

And then there’s the fact that you complete a mission and jump up two or three levels in a go. I haven’t even finished Hutta yet and I’m already level 13. I’ve had to buy some armor to make up for the lack of helpful quest rewards.

star3Still lugging around this corpse, I guess in my side pocket. Better turn it in soon or she’s going to start to smell.

I’m fairly excited about the potential to start running dungeons soon and try my hand at the bodyguard spec. Apart from heals, Yeeti is eschewing most of the bounty hunter toolset to focus on blaster skills. Hey, it’s just a for-fun character, and I get more enjoyment out of running around blasting things instead of shooting missiles and darts and flamethrowers, so why not?

I am looking forward to seeing the full bounty hunter quest line. I previously played a BH a couple of years back and got through most of chapter 1, but little past that.

 

WildStar: Protostar business tactics

Many of the quest hubs in WildStar are devoted to a single race or faction, offering us the opportunity to get to know those people more as we progress through the game. Probably one of my favorite types of hubs is any that features the clone-tastic Protostar corporation.

Protostar is the ethics-free, mercenary business outfit that’s there to make a profit at any cost without much of a thought to whether such actions are right or not. They stab each other in the back and offer up hilarious commentary on the nature of space bureaucracy. It kind of reminds me of Mom’s corporation from Futurama, the world in the movie Brazil, and SpaceQuest’s various corporate entities (such as ScumSoft). Having a faction that’s blindly capitalistic is a refreshing change of pace from high-minded ideals and goals.

proto2Thus I was pretty psyched to encounter another big Protostar hub in the middle of Malgrave. Psyched… and a little disturbed that there was a sentient Mechari head sitting on a table and being used as some sort of oracle attraction. There’s nothing Protostar wouldn’t stoop to for a buck.

I was instructed to take a safety test to see what I’d be qualified for, and I deliberately tried to fail it. No, I don’t know my favorite color. No, I can’t recognize the color red. But Protostar wants to use everyone, so I guess it really didn’t matter past my own amusement.

proto3I will say that one of the reasons that I’m progressing so slowly through Malgrave is that I will one day be loathe to leave this zone. It’s not the prettiest in the game, but it is so comfy to be in. It continues to feel like the better parts of the American southwest, including canyons cut with clear flowing streams. I am always willing to give a game a pat on the back when its higher-level zones aren’t oppressive-looking death traps.

I’m also not in a rush because I really don’t have an idea what I’ll be doing when I finish up the remaining zones. Contracts and dailies seem like obvious candidates, and perhaps veteran adventures or dungeons. I haven’t really gotten into the WildStar dungeon scene past a few forays, and I’m worried that I’ll be too undergeared and inexperienced to do so at 50. Maybe I’m thinking that if I drag my feet enough, Carbine will add more zones and solo content to the top so that when I get there, I’ll have even more to do.

FFXIV: Weighing the pros and cons

final1I don’t think I’ve ever been as conflicted about an MMO as I am with Final Fantasy XIV. As I said in my initial post, it seems as though for every great aspect I identify, there’s another that’s off-putting or annoying. After a week of playing it, taking advice from friends and guildies, and trying to keep an open mind, I find myself formulating one of those pros-and-cons lists to help me decide whether or not to proceed in the game.

final2Pros

  • Final Fantasy XIV is undeniably gorgeous. Screenshot bait is everywhere and I have a folder full of great pictures of the landscape and various critters. I wouldn’t call it the prettiest MMO I’ve ever seen, but top five? Sure.
  • There’s a robust list of emotes that’s easy to access and use. Small thing, but some MMOs slack off in this area.
  • The community that I’ve encountered is absolutely terrific. Not only do people in general chat actually talk like civil people, but the free company I joined (the unofficial “blogger guild” on Cactuar) has made my gaming experience quite pleasant. It’s been great to see and talk to many online friends, and everyone’s been patient with my barrage of questions.
  • I like the idea of a character being able to switch classes and acquire cross-class skills. I didn’t take advantage of it, but I like that it’s there.
  • I never felt lost. The game’s quite linear in how it directs you around, and for the most part I was able to track the story and slowly gear up. A few quests had fun rewards, such as pets and emotes.
  • As I said last week, I got a serious case of adventurer feels just walking around the pretty zones. It’s kind of like smelling something that reminds you of your childhood and wanting to chase that memory as much as possible.
  • Everyone I’ve talked to keeps encouraging me to stick out the story, raving about how it progresses and especially the Heavensward expansion.

Cons

  • Does the combat get any better? Twenty levels, and I’m slogging through some of the slowest, dullest fights of my MMO career. The global cooldown here is killing me.
  • Looking over lists of classes, jobs, and skills, I’m not seeing a lot that personally excites me. That’s a serious blow to my interest, because looking forward to fun abilities and character development is a major motivational factor to my play.
  • The nodding. The nodding. The nodding. I know I’ve lambasted SWTOR for repeated gestures, but this is just eyerollingly repetitive.
  • And while I’m on about gestures, I am not connecting with my character or NPCs in the story. All I can think of is how SWTOR and TSW delivers story so much better, and in that comparison FFXIV falters.
  • The Final Fantasy setting and tropes are much more of a liability than a reason to fanboy gush. That’s a personal thing, and I know what I got into when I stepped into a FF game, but it’s only served to reinforce how little I like the franchise these days.
  • The humor is weird and silly and juvenile. I mean, I like silly humor, but I suppose the line is when it stops being relatable and is just… bizarre. The hairstylist quest? The quests where the game forces my character to do ridiculous dances? I kept backing away from the computer, shaking my head and muttering, “No… no…”
  • The sub-only option makes this a hard game to only casually play.

I actually wouldn’t have a problem keeping this on my hard drive indefinitely if it was F2P or B2P. As it is, while I definitely appreciate some parts of the game and enjoy the company, I’m not hooked yet. Will it happen with another 10 or 20 hours? I have no idea. When I signed up, I paid for a month and then immediately canceled my subscription, giving FFXIV 30 days to convince me. There are still a few weeks left, so I’m not making a decision yet.