SWTOR: Catching Up

The Jedi Under Siege Update has brought me back to SWTOR for another brief visit. I know, I’m a bit behind the curve. Things kept coming up. I played through the new story initially on my agent, but the return of Nadia Grell made this a perfect opportunity to finally bring my Jedi consular up to date, and that’s where the real story is, so let’s talk about that.

The Jedi and Sith do battle on Ossus in Star Wars: The Old RepublicThis will contain spoilers for all of the story to date, including Jedi Under Siege.

The downward slide:

When I’d left off, my Jedi had been about halfway through Knights of the Fallen Empire. Getting him caught up meant finishing off that expansion, Eternal Throne, and the subsequent patches.

I’d forgotten how good Eternal Throne was. Fallen Empire is good, but Eternal Throne is close to the best the game has ever been, rivaling and in some ways exceeding the best of the original class stories.

It’s a shame they couldn’t keep up that momentum.

I didn’t really notice so much at the time with months of time in between each update, but when you play through it all in one go, the drop-off in quality after Eternal Throne is stark. The War for Iokath is entirely forgettable, and the Traitor arc had some interesting ideas but is far too rushed to properly flesh any of them out.

This is a bit of a tangent, but can we also take this moment to acknowledge the fact that the Republic is the evil faction now?

My consular, Senya Tirall, and Arcann in Star Wars: The Old RepublicSeriously, the Republic’s been showing a shady side since Shadow of Revan (and arguably earlier depending on what story arcs you’ve played), but as of Eternal Throne onwards, they’re just the bad guys. The Empire has proven itself the more honourable faction time and again.

While the Republic was plotting a power grab to twist the Odessen Alliance to its own ends, Empress Acina was bargaining in good faith. While the Sith were fighting and dying to save Voss and ultimately liberate the galaxy, the Jedi were planting potatoes on Ossus and washing their hands of all responsibility. The Republic were the ones to fire the first shots on Iokath. The coming war is their fault.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, the Imperial loyalist in me isn’t going to complain about this smear on my enemies. On the other, I wanted the factions to be more gray, not for which is black and which is white to flip. I mean, I’m not saying the Empire doesn’t still have a very pronounced dark side (no pun intended), but they are clearly and decisively the better faction now.

When it came time to choose sides on my Jedi, I only picked Republic out of a desire for completionism. I really wanted to go Empire, and not just because of my personal preference. It’s objectively the right choice. Siding with the Republic after Eternal Throne means betraying a loyal ally (Acina) for people who spent the last five years abandoning and backstabbing you.

And that brings us to the latest story.

To Ossus:

The battle over Ossus in Star Wars: The Old RepublicThe trouble with Ossus is that it’s clearly the first part of a new story arc, and therefore hard to judge in isolation. When viewed as part of the larger whole, it might take on a new light. With that in mind, I try not to be too harsh, but right now I’m not exactly thrilled.

Obviously the headline here is that the war between the Empire and Republic is taking centre stage again. I don’t have the knee-jerk negative reaction to this faction conflict that I do to the endlessly tedious Alliance/Horde war in WoW, but it’s not something that thrills me, either.

The trouble with any story like this is that, as I have said before, neither side can ever really win or lose. The structure of the game prevents it. So it’s a conflict that has no real drama.

It worked in the base game because the faction war was just a backdrop for our class stories. We each had our individual stories to give us personal motivation, whether it be unmasking the Children of the Emperor or fighting to earn a place on the Dark Council. We need a similar hook or twist now to make things interesting, and while that might be coming later, Ossus doesn’t provide that. It feels like a side quest at best.

I’m also concerned that this may be too much an attempt to reset the story. I’m okay with taking the focus away from Zakuul and back to the base factions, but we can’t totally ignore recent events. Lana, Theron, the Alliance, and the war with Zakuul have all been too much a part of the game for too long to be swept under the rug. I really hope that’s not how this is going to play out.

My consular alongside fellow Jedi on Ossus in Star Wars: The Old RepublicOn a related note, what I find perhaps most concerning about Ossus is that it’s introducing so many new characters. That might not seem like a big issue, but one of SWTOR’s biggest problems is that it has an overly bloated cast and nowhere near the resources to give all the characters their due. And now they want to add even more characters to juggle?

Why?

It just shows really poor judgment on the part of the developers. And doubly so when you consider that so far none of the new characters are at all memorable or interesting. I’ve already forgotten most of their names.

Ossus is not entirely a write-off. When it’s not wasting time with faceless newbies I have no reason to care about, it does reintroduce some very beloved characters, though even with them there are stumbles.

Firstly, as trumpeted from the rooftops by Bioware for some reason, Darth Malgus is back. This frankly reeks of a marketing ploy. It comes totally out of the blue with no good explanation of how he survived, and the whole thing feels pretty silly.

That being said, Malgus is still one of the best characters in the game. Like Lana, he’s an excellent example of how to make Sith interesting, nuanced characters rather than mindless brutes. He’s as ruthless as you’d expect a Sith lord to be, but he also obviously cares deeply for the welfare of the Empire, and he’s thoughtful and pragmatic. I’ve always regretted that I wasn’t able to take his side in False Emperor, and he’s a character I’m happy to once more follow into battle.

Darth Malgus returns to conquer Ossus in Star Wars: The Old RepublicSo no matter how poorly handled his return might be, it’s still probably a net win for the game.

On the other side of things, we finally have Nadia back. That was, after all, the whole point of bringing my Jedi up to speed. He and his wife are reunited.

This also was not handled well. Of all the companions in the game, Nadia’s probably the one who was most well-equipped to track down the player when they went missing. She’s Force-bonded to you, she’s exceptionally strong in the Force, and she commands a sizable army. Her letter in Fallen Empire talks about how she’s on the warpath to get you back, and she has everything she needs to achieve that goal.

Ossus 100% ignores all of this. The Rift Alliance has apparently vanished into the aether (it’s not even mentioned), and it appears that Nadia gave up on finding you almost immediately and just buggered off to Ossus to farm with the rest of Jedi.

If you romance her, that’s also mostly ignored but for a few lines that could be interpreted as vaguely romantic if you squint and tilt your head. I was wondering if I was bugged and the game wasn’t recognizing the romance tag or something. Only at the very end do you get a very brief patch of dialogue in which you can choose to reaffirm your relationship.

All that being said, there is still a fair bit of Nadia in this patch, and Nadia is still an absolute and utter delight. I particularly enjoyed her effusive delight over what the Alliance had accomplished, and her truly inspiring vision for peace after the war.

My consular reunited with his wife, Nadia Grell, in Star Wars: The Old RepublicMan, we all need a Nadia or two in our lives.

It’s a long way from everything I wanted, but it’s good to have her back all the same.

* * *

So it’s not all bad news, but I can’t say I’m feeling very good about the state of SWTOR right now. I really hope that once Anthem launches and more resources are freed up things will improve.

Advertisements

Why I Don’t Crowdfund: Legends of Aria

I tend to take a pretty dim view of crowdfunding, especially where MMOs are concerned. It seems the last resort of those whose ambition outstrips their ability, and neither the developers behind crowdfunded MMOs nor the players who back them ever seem to appreciate how time-consuming and complex MMO development can be.

My character in Legends of AriaStill, there are one or two crowdfunded MMOs I’ve kept an eye because their concepts intrigue me (though not enough to actually back them). One is Legends of Aria, formerly known as Shards Online. Its promise of letting players run their own servers and design their own content is tantalizing, but I wouldn’t want to design my own content (or play amateur content) in a game that isn’t fun at the baseline.

Thus, when Massively Overpowered started out handing out trial keys for the closed beta, I was eager to give the game a try.

Normally when I do my impressions on a game, I tend to take a top-down approach and provide a general overview, but in this case I think it would be more educational to describe my experience with the game in detail, from beginning to end.

My first impression was that Legends of Aria has absolutely lovely log-in music that hits a perfect balance of soothing yet epic. My second impression was that the character creator was bugged such that it took me two tries to build a character without her being obscured beneath another avatar I couldn’t get rid of.

The character creation options are quite limited, but I was still able to make a character I felt pretty good about. The addition of diverse clothing choices was a nice touch.

You also get to choose your starting skills, this being a purely skill-based game without true classes, though there are basic archetypes you can start with. I chose to be an archer, but I tweaked my starting skills to have a little magic.

Starting out in Legends of AriaUpon logging in, my character woke up on a beach with no memory [wince] and was greeted by a sparkly globe that serves as the game’s only source of guidance. This is a true sandbox, with no quests at all so far as I can tell, so you need to figure out goals for yourself.

Being me, I just wanted to kill things. I asked my sparkly accomplice about this, and it recommended I seek adventure and glory at the local graveyard. Having chosen this as my destination, it put a waypoint on my minimap to guide the way, and I set off.

So far, so good.

On my way, I came to a town, where I met three NPCs. One offered me skill training (but I couldn’t afford it yet), another didn’t seem to serve any purpose at all, and the third vanished from existence when I tried to click on him.

Outside town, I encountered bears, deer, and some trees with severely bugged graphics. I tried fighting some of the wildlife, and that’s when things really started to go down hill.

Combat in Legends of Aria seems to mostly consist of standing there and auto-attacking. You have active abilities and spells, but half the time they just fizzle, and even when they do actually activate, they don’t seem to accomplish much of anything.

Combat in Legends of AriaAnd this goes on for really quite a while. Them bears don’t go down easy. I lost about half my health in the first fight, and then had to spend another good thirty seconds slowly getting it back through a combination of bandages (which have a cooldown for some reason) and healing magic (which, again, only works about half the time). I never did figure out how to recover mana or stamina. Maybe the food in my backpack?

Finally, I reached my destination: The graveyard. There, I encountered two skeletons and a zombie, who promptly massacred me. I got one skeleton to maybe half health before dying.

Let me remind you: This is what the game told me to do.

I was able to resurrect at a nearby… shrine? A pop-up informed me I would lose all my equipment until I recovered my corpse, but when I resurrected, my inventory was restored to me unchanged. I’m not sure if this is another bug, or some mercy afforded to people in newb zones.

I hurled myself into the skeletal meatgrinder a few more times just for the sake of being thorough, but I met with no greater luck.

And that was pretty much that. After about thirty minutes of dealing with bugs, spectacularly tedious and old school gameplay, and generally terrible design, I decided life was too short.

Graphical bugs in Legends of Aria

This is not how trees work.

I feel like the skeleton of a good game is here. The open-ended character building and organic skill progression appeals to me a lot in theory. But the tuning and implementation are so far from anything resembling fun it’s hard to imagine anything being salvaged from the experience.

Yes, it’s beta, but even for a beta, this is pretty shockingly unpolished. It feels like an early alpha at best. It’s also worth noting you can already buy beta access via founder’s packs, which makes this a soft launch as far as I’m concerned, and Legends of Aria still feels like it’s years of intensive development away from a finished product.

I don’t think it matters how good the player creation tools are. No one’s going to bother investing in a game this outdated and poorly executed.

It’s a shame. But I can’t say I expected much different from a crowdfunded game.