08/01/2016

Flashpoint Friday: Battle of Ilum

Today I decided to talk about the last flashpoint that my Mercenary had a "streak" of while levelling, Battle of Ilum.


General Facts

Battle of Ilum was in game at launch and was originally designed for levels 48-50, meant to finish off Ilum's main storyline, together with its follow-up, The False Emperor. Since 4.0 it's available as a tactical from level 15-65 and has a solo mode option as well.

Story (spoilers)

The flashpoint starts off with your party talking to their personal pilot, the Corellian Cole Cantarus for Republic players or General Hesker of the Imperial Guard for the Empire. Ilum's planetary storyline just ended with Darth Malgus - a repeat quest giver for Imperials but known to Republic characters as well - unexpectedly seceding from the Empire and attacking both Republic and Empire at once. A plan has been hatched to steal one of his new stealth ships and use it to find the old Emperor's cloaked space station, which has become Malgus' new base of operations. In order to do this, you need to succeed at a ground assault on Fort Barrow on Ilum, where a lot of Malgus' troops are stationed.

You get dropped off in a seemingly random spot and immediately have to take a taxi to actually get anywhere near where you're supposed to be (the trenches). You run into a lot of aliens fighting for Malgus, as a big part of his "New Empire" is embracing the diversity of different species that the old Empire has always dismissed as inferior.

After lots of fighting through trenches and mines you eventually make it to Fort Barrow, just as Malgus' right-hand man arrives: Darth Serevin, whom Imperial players may remember as the quest giver for the main Imperial storyline on Voss. (Personally I was quite gutted that he turned out to be a traitor as he had been one of the more likeable Sith that you meet throughout the game. You just can't trust a Sith that seems likeable.) As it turns out, he has brought some Voss with him as well. After you defeat him, you can either execute them or spare them - they promise to join your side if you do so.

Both factions also receive a set of initially somewhat unpleasant news near the end: General Hesker gets shot down by the enemy (though he survives) and Republic characters get told by Serevin that an assassin has been sent to kill Supreme Commander Rans. (Though as it turns out, he survives that attack as well.)


Fights

Battle of Ilum has the dubious honour of probably being the flashpoint with the largest amount of skippable fights in game. I already talked about this problem to some extent when I discussed Directive 7. If you want to, you can go around killing a lot of enemies and complete two bonus missions in the process. On the other hand, there are huge amounts of encounters you can skip just to get to the end quickly if that's what you prefer. The problem lies in pug groups bringing together people who might have different preferences. I don't know if it's still the done thing or even possible, but I remember a time when people even used to skip the first two bosses, which drove me absolutely nuts.

You spend the entire flashpoint fighting Darth Malgus' troops as well as some miners that work for him. Some are human, but a vast majority are aliens. Most trash pulls are not very exciting, but watch out for the groups with the ice cats, those critters hit quite hard.

The bosses are largely in line with this, as three encounters feature alien leaders fighting for Malgus and they all emphasise some variety of the golden rule of "kill the adds". Then there are two mining droids which are a matter of tank and spank. And finally, at the end, a Sith: Darth Serevin. He throws crystals at people and is meant to teach the lesson that long casts with ominous names like "Force Explosion" are best interrupted. (It used to wipe you on hardmode if you allowed it to go through, but even on regular difficulty it does quite a lot of damage.)

Conclusion

Battle of Ilum is a gorgeous-looking flashpoint with beautiful environments if you care to look, as Ilum's skies are as wondrous as ever and its designers clearly put a lot of love into placing everything. Who else knows that "secret" cave that's not on the map and which has several crates for the bonus mission in it as well as a dead tauntaun with a frozen body next to it (which is probably an Empire Strikes Back reference)?


Sadly, a lot of people really don't like spending time there though, and just like in other potentially long flashpoints, that rush-rush attitude can be a pain in the backside if you actually enjoy taking your time and doing the bonuses.

The storyline of Malgus' betrayal is interesting in principle, but somewhat awkwardly put together. It's very questionable whether it was a good idea to tie a main planetary storyline and two flashpoints together, as many people do one without the other and end up confused. Actually, the really sad thing is that even if you do run everything in order, the planetary storyline on either faction and the Malgus arc seem to have little to do with each other except that they both take place on Ilum. It can get particularly awkward if you're an Empire player, where you get the option to support Malgus and his ideas repeatedly, and then he's suddenly betrayed everyone including you with no warning whatsoever. The events of the planetary storyline and the the two flashpoints just don't feel very well connected.

Also, Battle of Ilum is definitely the weaker of the two flashpoints involved in this storyline, as stealing a spaceship via a ground attack is not very intuitive and you end up feeling kind of removed from the whole mission. Republic players also get the shaft a bit at the end since they have never met Darth Serevin before, while Imperial players likely have a history with him that makes the encounter a lot more meaningful (see my comment above about feeling betrayed).

The ending with the Voss is also a bit unsatisfying, because after all the fuss that is made about their neutrality the idea that your faction might get some Voss based on a simple flashpoint choice - which will of course never be mentioned anywhere ever again - feels like a bit of a letdown if you were really hoping for a more meaningful resolution to their situation.

4 comments :

  1. I do find it interesting that, to counter that annoying skippable factor, they actually changed the mission parameters for accessing the tunnels to "Defeat the Alien Commanders", or whatever with 4.0; Drinda-Zel and Velasu Graege actually need to be killed to advance, which is a decent change from just activating the panel. Gark and Krel Thak are still as skippable as ever, though.

    Looking forward to your take on False Emperor!

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    1. That's good to hear about the alien commanders at least. I know I was so bewildered the first time I saw people skip them. It just goes against my whole mode of playing to simply run to the end and circumvent all the objectives.

      I will get to False Emperor eventually, but probably not next week. I enjoy picking these at random!

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  2. Perhaps the setup of planetary story followed by two flashpoints wasn't so awkward before the advent of group finder? I wasn't around then (regretfully), but when you had to manually put together a group you wouldn't necessarily know about the flashpoints until after you completed your class quest and the Ilum storyline (at least on your first character). I somewhat feel this way about most flashpoints since you "discovered" them via couriers on the leveling planets (though after Hammer Station you could just pick them all up in the dropship hangar). In post 1.3, if you were overlevelled you had this flashpoint available once you hit level 48 no matter where you were or how far your story was progressed (it's even worse now in the 4.0 era - ugh). Though getting a group for this was likely tough after the server populations started to thin out in mid 2012. But from a design standpoint, it makes some sense (at least to me) when viewed through that lens.

    I had the same feeling when I ran this flashpoint the first time, which was on the Republic side - who is this pureblood Sith? Should I care about him? Then I ran my first Imperial character throgh Voss and I exclaimed "Wow! It's the guy from Ilum!" (somewhat spoiling the story).

    I guess Talsa-Ko's Voss were ready to join the fight after working with Serevin for so long, and maybe Serevin didn't tell her the whole story of Malgus' betrayal (though he does mention her "vision of prosperity under Emperor Malgus")? It's been some time since I ran the Imperial Voss planetary quest (and I don't think I ever did the bonus series), so maybe I missed something there.

    The final fight with Serevin (in both sotry and hardmode) was fun even in the 3.0 era since it was challenging and he enraged (even on SM). I recall having several groups where we wiped a few times (not just to failed interrupts) as he hit pretty hard and would often stun the healer. Sadly, now in 4.0 tactical mode it's just a zergfest. I had one run where everyone else died and ran back at least twice while I continued fighting and hitting kolto stations and using cooldowns. But that starts another topic -- 4.0 group content, so I'll save that for another reply :).

    It also seems that in 4.0 they removed the ability to skip most of the trash in the beginning by going up and around the outer wall on the right side.

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    1. I don't know if they removed the ability to skip some of the trash, but I know that I've still done some driving past mob groups on the edge of the trenches since 4.0.

      The group finder certainly increased the likelihood of people doing things in the wrong order, but I'm pretty sure I did so even back at launch. I didn't even bother with finishing my class story for several weeks after hitting 50 (a requirement to even start the Ilum arc) but was already very much into running group content to gear up.

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