SWTOR: The Traitor Trickle

Man, what’s going on with SWTOR? They seemed to be on such a roll there with Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne. Two great expansions in rapid succession that seemed highly successful by just about every possible measure. But now I return to the game after nearly a year away, and it seems to be floundering, with barely a trickle of new story added since I left.

Lana Beniko in Star Wars: The Old Republic's War for Iokath storyDo note this post will contain spoilers for Knights of the Eternal Throne and the recent patches.

It’s not that I don’t like the new story. It’s imperfect, but it’s got a lot going for it.

I do give Bioware major points to finding a way to bring drama to the story after effectively painting themselves into a corner with the ending to Eternal Throne. At this point, the player is the most powerful person in the galaxy, commanding an army that no force in existence has yet been able to beat.

It’s hard to make a dramatic story in that context. The War for Iokath suffered from this. Why am I wasting time fighting a ground war against the Republic when I can just threaten to wipe Coruscant off the map with the Eternal Fleet?

There’s pretty much only one thing left that can threaten the Eternal Alliance: a betrayal from within its own ranks. And very wisely, that’s exactly what Bioware has thrown at us.

Unfortunately, I had the traitor’s identity spoiled for me, so the reveal didn’t have much drama, but I still think making Theron the traitor is an interesting path to take.

The new Copero flashpoint in Star Wars: The Old RepublicMore than anything else, I admire the sheer gutsiness of it. Theron’s been around for a long time. People have put a lot of effort into grinding influence for him. Many people have even romanced him. I feel really bad for those people — I’d be losing it if Lana had been the traitor — but at the same time I can’t help but admire Bioware for being willing to take such a huge risk. No sacrificing good story for the sake of gameplay here.

It fits well with my own RP, too. As a player, I’ve never had any strong feelings one way or another on Theron, but my agent has always hated him. This is due to a combination of the traumatic experiences she’s had at the hands of other Republic spies and his close relationship with Lana — Cipher Nine is the jealous type.

So having Theron now turn traitor is a great escalation of the tension that’s always existed between them.

Also, speaking of Lana, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of romance content in recent patches. I mean, it’s not a lot, but it’s more than I expected, and it’s well done. I think I might need to reexamine my views on relationships, because I think Lana’s bloodthirsty tirade about the wrath and ruin she’ll bring down on anyone who hurts me is just about the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen.

It’s an interesting story, but the trouble is there’s just so little of it. Each of the three major content patches since I played last contains roughly an hour of new story. Even TSW, at least prior to the pre-reboot drought, was putting out more content than this.

The Crisis on Umbara flashpoint in Star Wars: The Old RepublicIt’s not just a lack of bang for my proverbial buck, but the extreme brevity of the story harms its quality, too. I think Theron may have a point, and there’s probably a great conversation to be had around the Eternal Alliance playing Team Zakuul: Galaxy Police, but there’s just no time for any of that, so instead of a gripping ideological split it’s more, “I’m the bad guy now, kthxbai.”

Also, we need to talk about Copero. Man, that was a disappointment. As a Chiss main, I was really looking forward to finally getting to know Cipher Nine’s people. Not being a big Star Wars fan, I know very little about the Chiss, and I’ve always regretted being so ignorant of my own character’s origins.

But the Copero flashpoint and accompanying story tells us pretty much nothing about the Chiss, their history, their culture, or why they’re the only society in history the Sith have chosen as allies. They’re just a different color of trash mob to mow down.

On that note, it also needs to be said Copero is an absolutely miserable experience from a gameplay perspective. Umbara was pretty good, and I thought maybe Bioware was finally figuring out how to do fun dungeons, but Copero is a long, long slog through endless trash mobs and bosses that have about twice as much health as they should. It was painful — actually painful; my fingers were getting sore by the end.

To make matters worse, I had to do it twice. For some reason story mode and solo mode are separate this time, and I made the mistake of doing story mode first, which doesn’t count for the story mission. I therefore had to pick up the actual story mode (which is called solo mode) and do it all over again.

Lieutenant Raina Temple in Star Wars: The Old RepublicI feel a bit dumb, but based on general chat, I am far from the only person to make that mistake.

Oh, and there’s no recognition at all that I’m playing a Chiss. Racial content is usually very minimal in SWTOR, so I wasn’t expecting much, but at least a few dialogue tweaks would have been nice. It’s weird having all the Chiss treating my Chiss as an outsider.

At least Raina’s back. She was one the last missing companions I really wanted back — just waiting on Nadia now. Although it was too short as always, I did really enjoy seeing her and Cipher Nine catch up. That was a very real feeling moment. I’ve always liked their relationship.

So it’s not all bad news, but nonetheless, it’s a big letdown after how stellar Eternal Throne was. My hope is that the current lull is due to most of Bioware’s efforts being put toward another big expansion, and I think there’s pretty good odds that is the case, but I don’t like having to take it on faith. It would be nice to hear them confirm, “Yes, we’re working on Knights of Theron’s Douchey New Haircut; just be patient.”

Because at face value, it looks like SWTOR reinvented itself for the better only to squander all its momentum and faceplant once again.

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Gaming Round-Up: A Return to SWTOR, Wolves of Midgard, the Horners, and More

I finally got a bit burnt out on Legion, so I’m taking a break before I tackle the last few class stories. In the interim, I’ve been bouncing around between a few different games, which means it’s time for another multi-topic gaming post.

A rare moment of quiet in Vikings: Wolves of MidgardBack in the Republic:

Long-term, I want to give some serious time to SWTOR. Catch up on the story and maybe finish the last two class stories. However, there’s supposed to be a major content patch soon, so I figure I should wait for that before I get too heavily invested, and as a result I’ve just barely dipped my toes in.

Despite my obscure tastes, I did lose a couple of character names during the recent server merges. I’m rather pissed to have lost my bounty hunter’s name, as it was already my second choice for her name, and now she’s down to like my sixth or seventh choice. The others I don’t mind, but boy is it hard to find a new name now. Absolutely everything is taken. Who the hell even knows what “Bagrada” is other than me?

I did eventually think of a name for my knight that wasn’t taken, and I actually really like it. I should use it more. And thankfully my main characters — agent, warrior, and consular — all got to keep their names. The reign of Empress Maigraith Numin continues undisputed.

Another mild annoyance is that SWTOR apparently stores UI data client-side rather than server side, so I had to set everything up again since I’m playing on a different computer now.

Unlike most MMO players, I’m not fussy about my UI. I’m usually happy to play with the default settings of any given MMO. Even ESO’s much maligned interface is fine by me. But for whatever reason the default UI in SWTOR makes me want to punch kittens, so I have to rekajigger it a fair bit.

Cipher Nine and Lana Beniko in Star Wars: The Old RepublicOn the good news front, I am delighted to be able to customize the armour of my KotFE companions. Well, Lana, anyway. I never much bother with the others. I put together an outfit based around the Protoss-looking armour from the new light side vendors, and she is now the glorious space paladin of my dreams.

Mr. and Mrs. Horner:

In other news, this week saw the hotly anticipated (by me) release of StarCraft II’s latest co-op commander(s), the husband and wife team of Matt Horner and Mira Han.

My early experiences with them were actually something of a baptism by fire. I was struggling even on normal — something I haven’t done since I first started on co-op. I’ve come to the conclusion they’re a bit like Karax, despite having a totally different playstyle: They have a very steep learning curve, and they’re highly dependent on leveling upgrades.

I’m getting the hang of them now, but I would definitely say they’re one of the most challenging commanders in co-op.

The thing is that Matt’s units are extremely strong, but also extremely expensive. Meanwhile, Mira’s are pretty much just trash. The goal, then, is to mass up a large force of Matt’s air units while using Mira’s mercs only as a mineral dump. The trouble is getting to that point. You simply can’t afford Matt’s units in the early game, but you can’t spend too much on Mira’s or you’ll never get ahead.

Matt Horner and Mira Han's army in StarCraft II co-opThus, while the Horners are a force to be reckoned with late game, the early game is a nerve-wracking ordeal.

Their one saving grace in that regard is the Assault Galleon. These are Mira’s main production structure, but they’re also powerful capitol ships. They’re a lot like Tempests — long range, high damage — but with much more health, and you can build them right off the bat, and they only cost 200 minerals. And later on you can upgrade them to also be Carriers.

Galleons are kind of amazing.

My strategy therefore is max out on Galleons (you can only have a maximum of five) ASAP, lean on them to survive, and try to fast tech to the truly valuable units: Wraiths and Battlecruisers.

As far as Mira’s units go, my preference is for the Hellion. Their range means they don’t die quite as quick as her other stuff, and their damage is quite respectable. A lot of people seem to like Reapers, and that can work, but they die so much you end up replacing half your army after every battle.

The good news is the Horners definitely scratch my itch for an air-focused commander. Five Galleons plus their fighter bays plus Wraiths plus Battlecruisers is the unstoppable doom fleet I’ve spent all my life longing for.

Matt Horner and Mira Han in StarCraft II co-opAlso, dropping a space station on people is every bit as hilarious as I dreamed.

Overall I do think they’re a fun commander, but you definitely need to bring your A game. You have to work for your wins.

One final thing to note on the subject of StarCraft: I recently managed to solo a brutal mutation for the first time ever. My ally DCed on the load screen, and I was left to fend for myself. It was very challenging, I had to base trade with Amon, and there were only 21 seconds left on the clock when I killed the final objective, but I did it.

Considering I normally struggle to solo even standard matches, and that brutations are generally the toughest thing in the game short of PvP, I feel pretty proud of myself.

Nova OP.

Favoured of Skadi:

On top of that, I also played through a single-player RPG I got cheap on a Steam sale, Vikings: Wolves of Midgard. It’s a Diablo clone inspired by Norse mythology, which also neatly explains why I bought it.

Fighting a boss in Vikings: Wolves of Midgard

Most folk’ll never lose a toe, but then again some folk’ll, like Cletus the slack-jawed Jokul…

Even after having finished it, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it.

It has some neat ideas. One example is the exposure mechanic of environmental hazards. For example, if you’re traveling in a cold area, you’ll need to warm up by fires regularly or risk freezing to death. I really wish more games made the environment part of gameplay like this.

The combat is also very fun, and it does an admirable job of bringing the world of Norse mythology to life. It’s clear they actually did their research, even if they still take liberties in places. The story’s junk, but the strength of the setting carried it through, and the main character’s voiced by Alix Wilton Regan (if female), which is always a plus.

I did enjoy the class system, as well. Rather than traditional classes, you gain bonuses based on which of the Norse gods you follow, and it’s possible and even encouraged to put points into two skill trees at once, with the option to swap between them at will. I enjoy that level of versatility.

Most of the trees still more or less correspond to traditional RPG archetypes — Skadi, my main choice, is an archer class — but the Odin tree is a bit different. It’s the caster class, but it’s melee, focusing on acrobatic staff fighting. I suppose that might be bad for people who prefer traditional casters, but for my part I think “Gandalf + ninja” is a pretty awesome class concept.

But Wolves of Midgard a lot of rough edges. Despite some solid graphics, it’s nonetheless clear the game was done on the cheap, and it has many polish issues. That I could live with, but what really surprised me was how old school and unforgiving it felt at times. Save points, for example, are few and far between, so a single death can prove very punishing.

The realistic snow effects of Vikings: Wolves of Midgard

This is the first game I’ve played where the snow actually behaves like snow.

It got worse near the end. There’s a massive spike in difficulty in the last few levels. The intention seems to be to grind earlier content to level up, which is fairly awful. You can get around this by lowering the difficulty, but it’s just not a great situation all around.

So that put a damper on what had otherwise been a pretty fun game up until that point. If you really like Norse mythology and/or you want a more “hardcore” RPG, it might be worth a look, but otherwise I’m not sure how strongly I can recommend it.

And finally…

There’s actually one other noteworthy thing I’ve been playing lately, but that deserves it’s own post, so it can wait.

In the meanwhile, why not check out my latest article for MMO Bro? This time I’m pondering if and how the stories of MMOs can be given satisfying conclusions.