The Unifying Force?

Merge Ahead

The devs at Star Wars: The Old Republic recently put up their roadmap for the next few months, and…well.  This can’t be good.

The biggest news coming out of it involve server merges.  It’s not a new thing-it’s happened at least twice before with this game (I freely admit there may have been another I missed at some point).  We’re now going from seventeen servers down to five:  two American, one European (English), one European (German), and one European (French).  They can put up a nice face on this all they want, but the simple reality of it is this:  you don’t see server merges of this nature unless the subscriber base has dwindled severely.  And that bodes ill for SWTOR entirely.  You can dress up the reasons for merges up in pretty language (More competitive PvP!  More people to group with for raids!), but in the end, the simple fact is that the developers feel that the seventeen servers don’t have the population to support their current “group focus”.  How much of this is a result of having focused too much on the last two expansions is an open question (I’m not convinced that a “raid or die” philosophy would’ve done much better).

With the merges comes the usual potential drama with names.  Legacy Names will not be impacted, and guild names will potentially have a former server slapped on it (so you could well end up as the “501st Fist – Jedi Covenant” because another guild on another server had the same name.  If one of those guilds should go belly up at some point, the suffix will be removed.  Of course, god forbid that the devs offer free rename tokens to the guild leaders to rename the guild to something that doesn’t have a server suffix on it.  Character names are, of course, an entirely different issue, with priority going to subscribers, then “highly played” characters.  I’m sure there are going to be a lot of people who are going to discover that their characters aren’t going to be what they last saw them as.  Characters who have been inactive for an extended period and not beyond 10th level will also be flagged for renaming prior to the big move.  So, good times.

(I’ll be putting any Cast List entries in my queue for SWTOR on hold until the merges hit; no sense in posting names that may be obsolete when the merges hit in early November.)

It’s not all doom and gloom here.  A new Flashpoint is set to land which continues the storyline with the Alliance Traitor, and offers the return of another lost companion, scheduled for late November.  Another step in raid progression is in the works, but they won’t be hitting until early 2018.  There is a lot of class “balancing” going on; whether or not that’s a good thing depends a lot on what classes you play, and I’ll leave it to other more analytical sites to go into that sort of detail (I always recommend Dulfy for this sort of thing).  There’s an anniversary celebration slated for December (let’s hope it’s not the last one).  There are updates being planned even for the Galactic Starfighter stuff, centering on Iokath (which I imagine would be a pretty fun map to fly on).  A minor but welcome thing is a new vendor at Fleet that will allow you to purchase customizations for opposite-faction companions (so Republic characters can change Vette’s coloration, and Imperials can slap on new T7 designs).  And there are some rewards for encouraging grouped behavior on deck, which can earn you the Darth Hexid companion.  If that names sounds familiar, it should:  Hexid was one of the two possible companions that were offered during the Light vs. Dark event, which Hexid lost (I guess folks liked the light-sided Chiss Jedi better).  I always suspected that Hexid would make an appearance sooner or later, but I figured it would be a gamble pack thing.  Instead, you need to play content under the Group Finder (PvE or PvP); I believe the target number is three of either of these (I don’t think it triggers from any combination; it’s gotta be three of one or the other).  Finally, there will be double rewards (xp, command xp, etc) for about two weeks after the merges go in.

November is shaping up to be a big month for SWTOR.  Whether or not this is a good thing is the big question.

Advertisements

The Cast List: Introducing Astirth of Star Wars: The Old Republic

Since I’ve recently finished running this fellow through to the end of the line, it’s time to look at my Sith Warrior representative in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Once the Emperor’s, once the Empire’s, now he is simply Wrath.

This character was designed with purpose in mind.  I had two big ideas to show how I was going to play this character, Astirth.  The first was inspired by a quote from a playing card in the long running card game “Magic the Gathering”.  The Black Knight’s quote:  “Battle doesn’t need a purpose; the battle is its own purpose.  You don’t ask why a plague spreads or a field burns. Don’t ask why I fight.”  That was a quote that just screams Sith to me.  But the other side was that I didn’t want him to just be a kill-machine.  I decided that this character is the road not taken; a character who could have been a Jedi if he was willing to surrender himself to its serenity, willing to quiet his emotions for the greater good.  But he loves the battle (see aforementioned quote), has no desire to cut off his emotions, and is just as happy to cut loose with every weapon at his disposal.  What I came up with was a character who can be cold blooded in slaughtering his enemies, but capable of showing mercy to the helpless (or if you look at it less charitably, to those who aren’t strong enough to actually give him a challenge).

Unsurprisingly, this attitude has given him a light-sided nature, but with heaps of dark-side choices that ensured he’d never max out the light-side meter.  He didn’t choose the needlessly sadistic options, but had no problem executing a fallen opponent.  A worthy fight would allow him to spare a life if the foe asked for quarter, but for the most part, if you took arms up against Astirth, he’d wind up delivering what was deserved-a swift death.  Thanks to the assorted betrayals he’s been delivered, particularly from a certain Emperor, it’s probably not shocking that he more or less spat in Valkorion’s face when offered a chance to join the Eternal Empire; he had nothing but contempt for the Emperor’s spirit, and although he spared Arcann in the end (see:  worthy foe, plus he’s useful…), he had no problem taking the throne for his own.  On the romantic side, it’s not shocking that he romanced Vette; her shock collar was off roughly ten minutes after arriving at the Imperial Fleet off Korriban, and he came to appreciate her ready wit.  Probably impacted some of his early decisions and helped the light-side part of his nature grow.

It took me a long, long time to settle on a final look for the character.  Nothing wrong with the looted stuff, but I kept experimenting with the appearance until the cartel crates brought along the Remulus Dreypa set, which looked to me to be perfect for the character.  He’s no armored behemoth (he went with the Marauder spec), and this look felt both fashionable and deadly.  I had gone with the standard red lightsaber crystals for the longest time, but I eventually had a black-core red crystal fall into my hands, and figured, “why not?”  I used a pair of curved hilts until Knights of the Fallen Empire, when I swapped one for the attuned saber crafted on Odessen.

All told, I’ve always been pretty happy with Astirth as a character.  Quick to avenge, quick to defend, eagerly seeking to test himself in battle against his enemies, and willing to reward his friends lavishly.  He doesn’t take betrayal well, though; folks who have done the Sith Warrior storyline will understand that I was regretful that I couldn’t kill a certain traitor at one point, but I made up for it by replacing his armor with cybernetic parts.  I like to think Astirth hacked off a number of parts with a lightsaber.  Like I said:  quick to avenge….  That said:  since the post-Eternal Throne storyline included the return of that character, I chose to let Astirth bring the character back into the fold; it’d been five years plus the length of the storyline, plus the time between the beginning of the storyline and the end of the Sith Warrior Chapter Three, which includes the entirety of Shadow of Revan and Rise of the Hutt Cartel.  The character had paid the price and had effectively repaid Astirth with excellent service; and, well, Astirth may hate betrayal, but is fond of loyalty.  I haven’t taken Astirth through the most recent mission, though, which reveals the Alliance Traitor, so when I eventually put him through it, we’ll see how things shake out.

Only two more of my “main” characters to go through the KotET story, plus the two “Dark vs. Light” characters!  And one of them will be getting their own Cast List posts likely at that time; it’s such a convenient time to take care of these things….  (The other is Chadam, who’s already had his turn here.)

The Cast List: Introducing Idievak of Star Wars: The Old Republic

Here’s the original character….

Since I’m presently making a push to get a couple more characters through the Eternal Throne expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic, I thought I’d look at another of my characters over there.  This entry for the List has its origins, somewhat, in the predecessor of SWTOR.  Well, it’s MMORPG predecessor, anyway-Star Wars Galaxies.  During a break I was taking from that game just after the Combat Upgrade, I made a character named Idievak Bialar, who was a much different sort of character than my Ranger on my main server.  That character directly inspired the creation of my Jedi Knight, Idievak, in SWTOR.

It’s true that I have no shame in reusing names sometimes.  I could say that the SWTOR version is an ancestor of the SWG version, but I prefer to think of it this way:  just because they share a same first name means nothing.  How many people in the state you live in are named “John”?  I simply see Idievak as something similar.  It’s easy to get away with things like first names; it’s the last names that are trickier, and I never established one for the Jedi Idievak-so I’m free and clear of having to deal with any ancestry issues.

…And the present day version. He’s a bit more badass….

I knew from the start that I wasn’t going to mess with the Dark Side; this was a true-blue Jedi Knight, strong in the Force and Light Side all the way!  I did hem and haw about what advanced class to use, but eventually went with the Sentinel and the dual lightsabers.  The other big choice I had to look for was the idea of romance; as was indicated early on in the Jedi storyline on Tython, romantic attachments are a no-no, at least as far as a pair of Jedi Masters there were concerned.  This led to a big question mark with an early companion, Kira, who is a romanceable companion for the Knight.  Well, everyone needs one vice, right?  Of course, since Idievak’s gone along the Knights of the Fallen Empire and Knights of the Eternal Throne storylines, Kira’s been missing in action along with a large percentage of the former flames of the character classes.  That hasn’t kept Idievak from doing the right thing all through the Zakuul story, where he definitely kept an antagonistic relationship with his unwanted head-guest.  It probably shouldn’t be a surprise what decisions he made at the end of the Eternal Throne, being my third character to complete that arc.

In spite of my insistence that Idievak isn’t actually related to the SWG version, I certainly crafted his appearance to have some similarities-a darker skinned Zabrak, although he lacks facial tatooos.  As an early character, he tended to go back and forth on his outfit until I got some “orange gear” which could slot mods; it wasn’t a bad look, but it really popped once color dyes became available.  A white-and-red dye gave him what I consider his signature look.  Lightsaber blade colors remained blue for a time, but thanks to a hypercrate of gamble-packs I’d picked up (I had so bloody much cartel coins that I HAD to spend them on something!), I acquired some crit-enhanced white/blue crystals, and their look was suitably impressive enough to me to use them-particularly since this character was the one to whom the collection item was bound, so he could replicate heaps of bound crystals for use by him and his companions (well, nowadays, the only thing they’d get out of it is color, but that’s progress for you).

Ultimately, I was extremely happy with the character’s final look, and how he dealt with the class story and succeeding content.  And now that the war is back on between the Republic and the Empire (c’mon, you gotta know which side Idievak chose to support), things are only gong to keep busy for a Jedi in the Eternal Alliance.

The Great Train Robbery

Are you sure this is the sort of thing an Alliance Commander really needs to be doing?

You know, missioning in an MMORPG can be a fairly dull affair.  Go to this location, and do this thing.  Kill the guys trying to kill you.  Get the MacGuffin.  If it’s instanced, it’s always within the bounds of four walls.  If it’s “outdoors”, well, that has its own problems.  So you really have to lean hard on the story to make a mission feel meaningful.  Except…there are ways to make it feel more interesting, and it doesn’t require dumb mechanics like jumping puzzles.  Sometimes, all it takes is a change of scenery-and give it motion.  Relatively recently, for example, when playing Champions Online, I extolled the virtues of a Queen City mission where you board a moving riverboat.  It’s still got all the constraints you’d expect from a regular mission, but the illusion of movement and activity make it stand out.

Star Wars: The Old Republic, has done this as well; they have at least one Heroic which combines this with one of my least favorite mechanics (the aforementioned jumping game)-but at least it’s a catchy situation hopping from moving air-car to air-car.  But with their latest patch, we’ve got a new Flashpoint:  Crisis on Umbara, which can be done traditionally or in a solo-story mode (and the traditional method-as in, grouped-has its own mechanics and assorted difficulty levels).  The FP continues on a thread taken from the Iokath storyline, where someone in your Alliance is trying to bring it down.  Well, thanks to the work of Theron and Lana, your primary advisers, the traitor has been located on board a train on Umbara, looking to acquire Adegan crystals-last seen when the late Darth Malgus tried to usurp the Sith Empire with his stealth armada.  So before you can say “Snakes on a Train”, you, Theron, and Lana are off to Umbara to snag the traitor before any real damage is done.

I won’t spoil the traitor’s identity here.  It’s not hard to find out on the ‘net, but I’ll sit on it until the next bit of content rolls in that builds on it, because I’m sure that we’re looking at the familiar trope of “Late Arrival Spoiler“.  Until then, though, let’s let the traitor’s name remain hidden.  Suffice it to say, however, that the traitor will be back to plague our heroes, and we get another indicator of just what is truly behind this all.  Besides, it’s not the traitor that interests me today.  Well, it is, but I was talking about the setting.  It’s a freaking moving high-speed train!  Of course, it’s a Star Wars train, so figure it’s not using anything resembling wheels and more along the lines of your average landspeeder.  Not anything resembling tracks on the ground, but hovering vertical rings.  And much like action sequences in most movies with trains as a setting, you will be fighting not just the local Umbarans (who, apparently, don’t like uninvited guests), but also the faction you didn’t choose to support at Iokath, who are a little irritated about the things that happened to either Acina or Malcom, depending on your actions.

By the way, I will take a moment for a minor spoiler here, so that readers do not do what I did.  You will find a point where there are two very large “Champion” level turrets.  Don’t bother trying to engage them; don’t bother trying to go around them.  Pay attention to the hole in the roof well before then instead.  Go that way.  Don’t be like me and try THREE TIMES to find a way to deal with those damned guns and get blown to bits by them.  Yes, I completely embarrassed myself by missing that hole in the roof and went on a futile quest to blow up those guns.  LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES!

There’s another big trope (well, it SHOULD be, even if I can’t find it) that you can associate with action sequences on trains.  It’s probably not hard to guess at what it might be.  Suffice it to say, it involves the traitor and your response to that, which consumes roughly the latter half of the Flashpoint.

There are a few boss battles on the way, and possibly another that I bypassed completely when I realized I didn’t have to fight it (but see below).  One involves a stealth-assassin and a tech who pops down automated turrets that upgrade fast.  I find that killing the tech first is the best way to maintain sanity in that fight, because those turrets can get out of hand.  Setting your companion to healing is probably a good move if you aren’t already a heal-spec character.  The next one involves a critter-it’s amazing how many large creatures exist on settled planets, right?  The final one involves a rather large battle-droid, who is ringed conveniently by a bunch of highly explosive containers.  Targeting said containers can be a bit tricky, though, since the hit box of the droid is so bloody large that half the time you’ll still wind up targeting it.  Each of these battles have their own special mechanics-I fully recommend using Dulfy’s site for details.

Much like the Flashpoints that led up to the Shadow of Revan expansion, there is a new currency drop available from the bosses (including, incidentally, the one I bypassed.  Oops).  This can be used to gather, among other things, a new armor set, a new mount…and a new Stronghold:  which, as I understand it, is one of Umbara’s trains.  Yes, you’re looking at a mobile Stronghold here.  Nobody’s actually seen it yet, though, because there is a cap on how many of the new currency you can get on a character (and it’s bound, big shock)-and the cost for the Stronghold is ten more than you can gain in a week.  The more cynical part of me wonders if that’s because the devs actually are still finishing the work on it; the more realistic part of me figures that a week is an awfully specific amount of time to estimate being done by, so that’s probably not the reason.  More likely that they didn’t want the content locusts to finish running the FP in less than a week.

I’ve run the mission through with my two “main” characters, my Smuggler and my Agent, and both have their opinions about the events of this FP, spoken and unspoken.  My Agent, in particular, has his own theories, based on his own experiences as Cipher Nine.  It may make for some interesting moments, should the writers of the story arcs choose to include that.  We’ll see.  In the meantime, I rather enjoyed running the FP, although I don’t know that I’ll bother trying for the new Stronghold; after all, 1) I still only recently acquired the Tatooine one, 2) SWTOR only recently released the Manaan Stronghold which I haven’t touched-and at this point, may not, 3) I’ d have to run this FP about a dozen times on a single character to unlock it, and even with my willingness to repeat content, that might be pushing it, and finally 4) I don’t have the heaps of credits required to unlock rooms, much less do a full useful decoration of the place.  I’m still in the middle of unlocking Tatooine rooms, never mind outfitting the place appropriately.

The Cast List: Introducing Jesken of Star Wars: The Old Republic

Waaaay back during the Closed Beta of Star Wars: The Old Republic, I knew that I wanted to be playing a Smuggler.  So, I made a deliberate choice to test with a character that wasn’t one (although obviously, I did do some testing with the Smuggler just to get familiar with the idea).  I decided to go with a class that wouldn’t interest me all that much:  the Republic Trooper.  That was the design origins of the character of Jesken, who I recreated at Launch.  Boy, did I blow that original analysis:  I wound up having the Trooper be my second Republic character to complete his class story.

For the Republic!

The general concept was simple:  what if you had someone who was a True Believer in the ideals of the Republic serving as a soldier?  What if you had someone who had the right personality to be a Jedi, but had not a lick of Force-sensitivity?  What if my Trooper was, in other words, a knight in shining armor?  This became an even bigger deal for me as I went through the early levels of Coruscant, where the character’s commanding officer was far more of a pragmatist and willing to consider collateral damage to be sure of a successful mission.  I managed to hold true to this, with a single exception where he did the selfish thing-and there were consequences.  (I won’t go into detail since it is POSSIBLE that it could spoil a small part of the Trooper story, but I will say that there were no good endings to that situation-and it impacted my play such that the character would not pursue a romance with any of his companions.)

I chose a Cyborg as the character’s species-something near human.  There’s nothing really special about that-really, character species doesn’t count for much except for certain Imperial storylines and special social moves (Cyborgs scan people).  Since he was leveling up during the first/second year of the game, he didn’t have as much possible armors to choose from as my later characters did, so his armor tended to be a constant work-in-progress.  The color matching to chest armor code wasn’t exactly perfect then, either, so sometimes he and his companions had some hilariously mis-matched armor in terms of coloration.  And this was before the special dyes became available.  Over the years, I’ve stabilized him to most of a single set:  the Yavin reputation armor.  It looked like it could take serious damage and serious abuse; the helmet was the piece I chose to pass on, keeping one I’d gotten while leveling.

In keeping with the personality I molded for him, Jesken would choose the Vanguard advanced class, with the Shield discipline.  I made him as tanky as I could-and he would either use Jorgan for damage dealing or Elara for healing (this was, of course, before Knights of the Fallen Empire allowed any companion to be set to any role).  This has made things a little tricky at times going through some missions, particularly as nerfs came to the damage dealing abilities of the class-and the removal of abilities that had any real range to them.  The Vanguard has become a very up-close-and-personal class, virtually melee with a ranged weapon.  But he’s able to survive, and that’s a good thing except missions where he doesn’t get a companion.  Then it’s a little more of a slog.

Jesken turned out to be the kind of guy you could write a recruitment ad around.  He wasn’t as gung-ho as a certain droid companion of his, but he was definitely all about doing the right thing, even if it damaged future strategic goals.  Saving lives was what the job was about more than killing the enemy (even if killing the enemy might save lives in the future-you can’t live with a hypothetical future when there’s a clear and present danger now!).  This would put him in conflict with his superior officers at times, and he would develop a dislike for politicians-although he certainly answered their questions with respect and honesty.

Recently, he found himself considered KIA by the Republic at the beginning of hostilities with the Eternal Empire.  Cue surprises when he showed back up, and able to claim a posthumous promotion to Colonel (props to the KotFE writers for including that detail-and to the developers for adding Colonel to the list of titles he could use-and of course, it’s the one he’s now using), and heading up an alliance to overthrow the Immortal Emperor.  I recently completed the Knights of the Eternal Throne story with this character, and it’s no surprise that he found it easy to tell his companions, “I’m no emperor”.  With the Iokath world being recently introduced, Jesken becomes the only character of mine to have interacted with all of his former companions from the class story, and has returned four of them into the fold.  (And no, he didn’t kill the fifth on Asylum.)  This makes the Trooper the current leader in the Great Companion Recovery, with all five former companions accounted for.

I had a lot of fun playing Jesken, and I enjoyed running him again through the Eternal Empire stories.  Says a lot about a character who was basically a throwaway character during Beta!

The Cast List: Introducing Chadam of Star Wars: The Old Republic

I confess, there are certain classes/professions in the Star Wars setting that do not appeal to me at all.  The top of that list is the Bounty Hunter.  Blame it on Boba Fett backlash; I always felt that he was overrated-sure, he had the cool armor, but he needed Vader and a heap of Imperials to get Han Solo (and of course, Solo was my favorite character at the time, so that didn’t help), and then he wound up killed by a blind smuggler with a pike and a Sarlacc.  So it drove me somewhat nuts that the Expanded Universe for Star Wars had to find a way to dig him back out of being digested for a thousand years and overcompensate.  When Star Wars Galaxies was a thing, my opinion didn’t improve when a heap of content was thrown into the whole “Jedi vs Bounty Hunter” thing they had going there, at the expense of other professions; that said, I didn’t really have a big issue with them actually, you know, hunting bounties-it was what they did!  If only the Smugglers in that game had been able to smuggle as THAT was what THEY were supposed to do, but that ship is long, long gone.

So, I have some prejudices against Bounty Hunters as a class.  That’s probably why this class was the next-to-last one I did in my work to level up all eight classes in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  But hell, I’m a completionist sometimes, and so I put together my future Grand Champion of the Great Hunt.

You can run, but you can’t hide. A job’s a job.

Chadam started out simple enough:  I wasn’t going to go out of my way to have him kill and eat kittens Dark-Side, but at the same time, he wasn’t going to be the nice guy.  I wanted him greedy, but with a code:  he did the job, and he got paid.  He would move heaven and earth to make it happen.  Not an evil character, but not exactly a role model.  Smarter than a thug, but not interested in the bigger picture or deep philosophy.  In other words, someone well suited for the fringe and not comfortable in the halls of Imperial power.  (Boy, did that go south on him…)

In appearance, my first goal was to use a different body type.  For those unfamiliar with the game, there are four body types for each gender.  I tend to use body type 2 for my males; fit, athletic, strong guys.  But I wanted Chadam to have a more imposing presence, so I went up a notch-someone who makes you think of a space marine.  As far as species went, well, I was still going for a wide variety among my characters, so I went with a Chiss, a popular Expanded Universe species who recently got canonized with the on-screen debut of Grand Admiral Thrawn.  His out fit look varied a lot during my gameplay; for a long while, he used a sort of turban-styled headgear and whatever mission-reward armor he could get.  Eventually, I was able to get a damaged set of Triumverate armor off of GTN (damaged in appearance, not in stats).  Later I picked up the restored version of that armor.  The icing on the cake, though, was the final helmet I used.  At one point, I looted a Sith Warrior helmet that was just too good to ignore.  I thought that a mildly terrifying helmet would suit Chadam just fine for his work, so I finally settled on the look shown on this post.

I went with the Mercenary advanced class, and went with the pyrotech discipline.  Because plasma fires are fun.  The Merc was chosen because I didn’t really want him to be the Boba-lite kind of character (well, I sure blew that one, when you look at the image above).  The dual guns made him an amusing mirror for my Smuggler main, who was took the Gunslinger path.

I actually got to like Chadam as I played him.  Sure, he had no problem shooting and executing people he was hired to off, but he wasn’t big on collateral damage.  He was interested in a fast credit-got along great with Gault-but Mako helped keep him more or less ethically honest.  He had no issues taking advantage of advertising-there are two moments in the game where a bounty hunter can effectively advertise himself to the galaxy at large, and man, he did it.  He came to respect the Mandalorian code, though, and his struggles tended to come in when that ideal came into conflict with his desire for ready cash.  The result of this all meant he was mildly Light-Side in nature-there were a heap of Dark-Side choices that kept him fairly balanced, not the least of which involved the reason why we got a Chancellor Saresh in power in the Galactic Republic.

The character completed the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion, but I have yet to run him through the Eternal Throne (just like in my leveling work, the BH is near the bottom of the list).  He knelt before Valkorion not for any desire of power, but because he saw what happened to the last guy who didn’t kneel; in other words, sometimes the best thing you can do is lie to the guy with all the power and hope you get another, better opportunity.  Which, honestly, he sort of did, since Arcann chose that moment to go after his father-but as a result, Valkorion keeps harping on that initial kneel-down, and Chadam only wishes he had an option to say to the dead Emperor, “Hey, you know I was only doing that to buy some time, right?”  I think the worst thing for him in his future isn’t the possibility of taking the Eternal Throne-it’s that he’s going through all this and not getting paid.  (I do seem to recall him having Gault funnel some of that loot from that treasure run into profitable enterprises, though.)

I can safely say that while the Bounty Hunter is still not on my list of favorite character types in the setting, Chadam is still a character I enjoy; sometimes, it’s not about “good” and “evil”; it’s about having credits and not having credits, and the things you will or won’t do to get them.

 

Driving with Roadmaps

A couple of days ago, the developers of Star Wars: The Old Republic released a long-awaited “roadmap” describing their goals for the next few months.

This has been a breathlessly awaited bit of information.  Some people on the forums declared it could make or break their continuing subscriptions, if it didn’t include their pet issues.  You know the ones:  raids, PvP, story content, companions, iterations on previous systems; it’s a song that’s been heard before in multiple games.  (Well, not the companions part, but the general idea is sound.)  And if it didn’t include their issue, that was it!  Game over!

Take with some salt; forum goers are, by definition, the loud sort.  Not to be completely ignored-particularly if it’s in overwhelming numbers (e.g. the NGE of SWG responses); they tend not to be a unified voice.  When they are, then it’s time to worry.  But I digress.

So, what did they have to say for themselves?

The raiders will be getting a new operation boss to add to the one out there now on the world of Iokath roughly every couple of months.  I was guessing that they’d be going to roughly 8 such, but it seems that the next one is a package deal of two, so that may be counting as a single boss encounter.  I can’t speak to that sort of thing; I remain entirely uninterested in the raiding thing ever since my WoW days ended-City of Heroes trials notwithstanding.

PvPers will be getting a new season of play, with new unspecified rewards, and a new warzone is expected.  Additionally, the neglected Galactic Starfighter side of things will be having some changes as well.  Classes can expect a balance pass (again), which will undoubtedly include nerfs which will make life more miserable for PvE people.  (I could be wrong here.  Not all balance passes are bad.  But man, they feel like they are.)

More story content is incoming, in the form of a “Crisis on Umbara”, which will feature a new Flashpoint; no word if it’ll be a solo FP or a group-only, although I’m inclined to believe the latter.  That doesn’t rule out a solo version at one point, though; it’s just that with the group-heavy emphasis after the Knights of the Eternal Throne wrapped, I expect FPs to be the same way.  Speaking of story related stuff, the missing Companions are supposedly going to continue filtering back.  (There’s a good number still MIA, though, and most of them were potential old flames for the player character.  No indications on the rate of return, but I’m not optimistic.  What does intrigue me more, though, is the ability to finally customize the newer companions that have come down the pipe since Knights of the Fallen Empire.  Theron and Shae Vizla are first on the list.  Still, there’s no word as to whether we’re looking at true customization, where you can put on the large assortment of armors and weapons on the companions like you can with your original ones, or if we’re looking at the “change the faces” kind which you see with the ship droids or HK-51.  I’d like to think we’re looking at the first of these options, but I’m dubious.

The first of the results in the roadmap are scheduled for mid-June, where we’ll see the return of the Nar Shadda Night Life event with new rewards (who wants a Gamorrean companions?  You know you’ve always wanted one!), along with some improvements and legacy perks-such as new Mount skills to make you drive even faster than before-along with the aforementioned Shae and Theron customizations.  In July, the new bosses for the Iokath raids land-along with a new “ocean view” Stronghold, for those who have been wanting a new place to decorate.  (I’m kind of kicking myself for recently shelling out credits for the Tatooine Stronghold now.)  More customizations at this time, but specific companions weren’t mentioned.  The balance passes begin here as well-be afraid!  Finally, in August, the Umbara FP lands.

The developers plan to release a similar roadmap quarterly; we’ll see how that works.  More communication is promised, but I’ve seen those promises come and go before.  The question is how long it’ll last.  A lot will depend on if the current team manages to avoid major shakeups in the near term.  I’m keeping a semi-optimistic outlook on where things are going from here; very little of it tends to be my speed, but the way I see it, I got my turn in spades with the last two major expansions-I can sit back and let the raiders and PvPers have their time in the sun.  We’re all in this together, right?

The Cast List: Introducing Zor’venrel of Star Wars: The Old Republic

The Cast List departs the final frontier for a little bit, to take a peek at a galaxy far, far away-particularly since I’ve spent a little time on this character to continue getting my primary characters through the Knights of the Eternal Throne expansion.

I’m a dagger in your back/An extra turn on the rack/I’m the quivering of your heart/A stabbing pain, a sudden start! (Lyrics by Voltaire)

I will confess that it’s tricky playing an evil character sometimes in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Some of those dark side choices can be pretty dark sometimes.  But ignoring them just isn’t in me-there are bad people in the galaxy, and the Sith, by and large, are some of the worst.  All the same, if they’re totally evil, they become a bit of a caricature.  Fortunately, the story of the Sith Inquisitor gave me an out:  it allowed me to give a Sith one redeemable trait.  In this case, as a former slave, and an alien, he took serious issue with slavers and anti-alien people.  Of course, since he was a Sith, he tended to be hard on said people….

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Zor’venrel was, honestly, a potential ancestor for one of my Star Wars Galaxies characters, Zhaven Rel.  Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t, but the possibility meant that the character was going to be a Twi’lek, which was going to do wonders for the character in an Empire that was iffy about aliens in general.  I’d designed the character during closed beta, and even did a good portion of Korriban with the character during testing-and certain conversational choices I made gave him a new nickname in my mind:  “Darth Jerkass”.  (You can thank Overseer Harkun for that one; he more or less provoked the trollish nature of this character.)

When it came to dark/light side choices, I went dark-side hard.  There were a few moments where I took light side choices-he remembers his past as a slave, and wishes his life hadn’t started that way-but for the most part, he was out for himself.  Once he got to the Dark Council, he grasped its power with both hands; he never let go of the bound spirits he took towards his rise to power; he willingly knelt before Emperor Valkorion in the hopes of getting more power (and seeing Darth Marr get curb-stomped probably might have affected that choice); and in the end, he recently completed the Knights of the Eternal Throne storyline to rule the Eternal Alliance as its new Emperor.  He romanced Lana Beniko, who may be the one person he won’t sacrifice for more power, and killed off pretty much everyone who has betrayed him…or even really annoyed him (I cut a swath through the KotET characters; nobody got away with it as far as he was concerned…), and sacrificed the more useless of his companions when he had to make a choice.  No, Zor’venrel was not a nice guy, and it showed.

For his appearance, I went with the red-skinned Twi’lek, as a nod towards my former SWG spy, but I left the option on to show Dark Side Corruption; on this character, in addition to the veins and eyes, it paled the formerly rich red of his skin to a pale appearance, nearly leeching out all of the color.  The robes he got early on in his career looked like they really suited the character, so I maintained that appearance pretty much throughout his career; I’ve mixed and matched gloves and lower robes, and I may still keep doing so-but the chest armor was perfect.  While I’d originally used red crystals for his saber blade, I liked the look of the dark core/violet blade lightsaber crystals I’d gotten from some promotion or other, and used those ever onward.

It isn’t a stretch to say that Zor’venrel is the most evil character I’ve got in the Old Republic.  He’ll troll his enemies before killing them, kick a sick puppy, and drop a moon on a single enemy if he could be sure it would do the job.  His moments of light are few and far between, and I’d hate to meet him in a lighted room, let alone a dark alley.  He’s the villain of his story, and he’d have it no other way!

An Eternal Alliance Versus Gods

It’s been a while since we looked in on Star Wars: The Old Republic, hasn’t it?

If I never see another throne as long as I live, it’ll be too soon.

From a playing standpoint, going through the legion of alts, I’m just about to have my Sith Inquisitor go through Nathema, after slaughtering everyone who’s irritated him up to now; it’s going to be very interesting when he gets to the end of the Knights of the Eternal Throne story, with the body count he’s racked up.  Once he’s done, I think the next on my list will be my Trooper-but that’s got a ways to go, given my current Champions Online focus.  Well, that, plus the point of this post.

It’s the first chunk of content released since the Eternal Throne fell to the Alliance (is it really that much of a spoiler that the PCs are victorious?).  And it seems that the Sith Empire and the Galactic Republic are already positioning themselves to kick off their own war again.  However, the force that is the Alliance is the pivot, the determining factor that both sides see as important.

So naturally, the first thing they do is piss off the Alliance by going to Iokath, a world introduced in KotET, and a presumed super-weapon located there.  It’s no coincidence that the Alliance, the Empire, and the Republic all converge at this same location at this same time.  Something’s up here, and it’s up to the Alliance Commander-that’s you, just as a reminder-to unravel what’s going on, and secure the super-weapon before it falls into the wrong hands.

One problem to be encountered early is:  whose are the right hands?  Early on, you are approached by representatives of the Republic and the Empire, urging you to side with them.  Players of Sith Warrior and Trooper characters will immediately recognize these reps.  That choice declares the Alliance irrevocably to one side or the other.  (Sadly, there is no option for “A pox on both your houses!”  Admittedly, the Alliance has their biggest sticks negated for story reasons for most of your time here, but still.)  While there’s a feature that will allow you to switch factional support on a regular basis, the initial choice here is what locks in the character story as to whose side the Alliance is ultimately on.

The true miracle is that they aren’t trying to kill each other.

Because your character is Destiny’s Chew Toy, the Commander will get a chance to say hello to another familiar faction-or what’s left of it-after they were more or less completely sidelined during KotET (some help they were…), and discover that the gods of Zakuul have a basis in fact.  By the time you’re done, that choice you made as to what government to support will have very permanent consequences-and opens the door to the raid content that the developers promised the players.  (Full disclosure-I’m unlikely to bother on those; I’m notoriously unwilling to bother with raids more complicated than the City of Heroes trials.)

Despite the fact that there are two companions returning in this chapter, you’ll only get one of them per character (although if you’re a Trooper or a Sith Warrior, you could conceivably pull off both by use of the Companion terminal back on Odessen; I haven’t tried this, so can’t confirm if it is possible).  There’s an issue with getting said companions, though; posts on the official forums indicate that some folks aren’t getting a companion out of this; I’m one of them, at least on my Smuggler.  My Agent had no issues there, with the companion showing up after the primary storyline was complete.  It’s not obvious, though-there’s very little fanfare in comparison with even the Alliance Alert companions.   The devs have indicated they are aware of this, so hopefully a fix is going in.  I don’t know if there is more fanfare for characters who have previously romanced those companions, though, so I don’t know if there’s more dialogue involved-be wary about going through this with Troopers or Warriors until the bug is fixed, just in case.

The quest line here does include participation in a raid, but that isn’t a requirement to get the companion or to finish the storyline-which, incidentally, will continue; there is a dangerous loose end here on Iokath that could spell the beginning of the end of the Alliance-or maybe just you.  Valkorion did say that there were people who meant you harm way back in Knights of the Fallen Empire….  Given the nature of that threat, players of the Imperial Agent will feel right at home.  (“Another conspiracy?  How novel.”)

In addition to the story and raid, there are daily missions here, and if you found the structure similar to Oricon, you wouldn’t be far off.  After all, Oricon had a storyline, leading to a raid, and had a heap of daily missions.  I haven’t noticed any Heroic dailies, but I haven’t looked hard at it.  There’s a new Reputation, based upon the side you choose for your Alliance, and a new vendor with stuff to use.  There’s also a new currency that is used to purchase the equipment (along with credits), although that currency can also be used to purchase special buffs with which to take on the dangers on Iokath.

Play-wise, it’s not incredibly difficult, although there are a couple of mechanics in big battles that might cause issues, particularly to DPS-focused characters; having a high-influence healing companion out may not be the worst thing you can do for those fights, particularly one early one.  Be aware that they may not necessarily be simple “survive and shoot them down”-paying attention to the environment will help defeat those encounters.  Expect another trip in a walker, too.  (Golden quote from the Republic side:  “Eh.  I’ve seen bigger.”  Iokath really spoiled my characters as far as the size of walkers…)

All in all, it’s not a horrible update; it’s got its bugs, and it’s not as in-depth as the missions we’ve seen in the last couple of years.  But it is more significant than an Alliance Alert, and it does include the return of companions for the Trooper and Sith Warrior (if that doesn’t glitch out on you), so it’s at least progress on my pet peeve.

The Answer Is In The Stars

While the blog’s been overwhelmed recently (so to speak) with Champions Online activity, the fact is, I haven’t been completely ignoring my other MMOs.

In Star Trek Online, I managed to get my main Starfleeter through the anniversary event to earn the Lokari starship.  I haven’t actually done anything with said starship, but I wasn’t planning to.  The big key for it was to allow the account unlock for the other large number of alts in case I feel it would be interesting for them to use it.  Plus, it’s handy to have a new Admiralty card in case I want to work a bit more on that again; I never did finish the Romulan tour of duty.  I’ve also pushed through to tier 3 for the Lukari reputation; I admit, I’ve let this one go quite a bit thanks to a bug that allowed me to view all the reputation log entries at DS9 instead of getting 1 log per reputation tier.  (I didn’t realize at the time it was a bug, which has since been fixed.)  That removed a bit of the motivation for finishing the rep.  At some point, I imagine I’ll start pushing again, when STO comes back in focus for my gaming time.  There is a new queue coming up involving a Klingon arena where you and other captains fight against endless waves of opponents.  Kind of like Kobayashi Maru, except on foot.  It’ll only last from the 23rd to the 27th, so I’m not sure if I’ll get around to it (particularly in light of my dislike for the ground queues anyway), but it does make me wonder if they’ll do something similar for space-after all, like I said, this is pretty much the Kobayashi Maru queue on ground, and it seems silly to not have something similar for space again at some point.  And endless enemies sounds just like that scenario should be.

You would think starship captains would be leery of arenas after Nopada....

You would think starship captains would be leery of arenas after Nopada….

Meanwhile, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…when last I checked in with Star Wars: The Old Republic, I’d gotten my Smuggler to the end of the line for the Knights of the Eternal Throne story.  Since then, I’ve gotten my Imperial Agent and my Jedi Knight through the story, and my Sith Inquisitor is on deck.  I’ve been really looking forward to running that character through, since-unlike the previous three-he’s Dark Side to the core.  I want to see what happens when he lets his bad side go wild, not to mention seeing how the story adapts to him killing off a significant number of characters; plus, I really want to see how he reacts to the current regime in the Sith Empire.  Darth Acina was sort of a peer on the Dark Council, and the Inquisitor could be said to have as much right to the former Emperor’s throne as she does.  I’ve yet to actually do any Uprisings; I’ve been concentrating on running characters through KotET, and that’s been a slow process due to my recent focus on CO.

Despite its availability to free players nowadays, I’ve sort of let EVE Online go fallow.  There’s only so many hours in a day.  This is why it’s probably a good thing that I haven’t been involved in any guilds or anything like that for the last couple of years.  So much to do, so little time.  I’m sure that at some point, I’ll have a craving for that setting again-it’s happened before, and it’ll happen again.