11/01/2016

KotFE Chapter by Chapter - Chapter 1: The Hunt

Since the first nine chapters of Fallen Empire have been out for over two months now, I thought it would be fun to have a somewhat more detailed discussion of each individual chapter. I doubt that I'll get through all of them before chapter ten releases, but I that's okay. I'll just get there when I get there. Unsurprisingly, this post will contain spoilers for the chapter in the title.

KotFE's chapter one starts in typical Star Wars fashion, with an opening crawl. This more than anything else immediately drove home to me that they are truly trying to reboot the game with this expansion, as it literally presents a whole new start within the game. It's established that the events of the trailer already happened, which kind of makes you wonder where your character was during that time and why especially Imperial characters aren't more concerned about planets like Korriban getting wrecked. Remember Korriban Incursion? We sure cared a lot back then!

In a major departure from any of the previous stories, we start with a scene on the distant planet of Zakuul, showing Valkorion and Arcann. Previously we were always more or less limited to our character's point of view (with Ziost taking some baby steps in this direction by showing us what Vitiate was up to in town even when we couldn't see him), so it's a pretty big step to suddenly show us, the players, events that we would have no possible way of knowing about in character. It takes you out of character a bit but creates a more cinematic experience in the sense that it gives you a bigger picture to worry about: The bad guys are up to something, what could this mean for me?


Whether your character is Republic or Empire, you end up being called to Darth Marr's flagship. Even after the events of Yavin IV and Ziost I found it a bit odd how it was implied that even as a hero of the Republic, your character was happy to oblige and trust Marr, but I guess the point is that after Ziost, everyone really has a strong interest in stopping Vitiate.

You board the ship without a companion and get greeted by the ship's captain. For new players there is a tutorial mode here that hides most of your abilities. During my first playthrough I didn't realise that this could be turned off and spent the entire chapter being annoyed by how gimped my play was.

As you move towards the bridge, you overhear background NPCs talking, something that also occurs frequently in the following chapters and helps a lot with setting the mood for each location if you're willing to listen. Like in this case you hear two Imperials talk about how they had a bet about whether Republic and Empire would be able to work together peacefully - one claims to have won the bet since nobody has been knifed yet, while the other argues that the mission isn't over yet. Later you hear a Republic and an Imperial soldier speculate about whether Vitiate has been found yet.

When you meet Darth Marr he explains that the former Emperor is "out there" and if you're a Force user your character will comment on feeling his presence too. You discuss how it doesn't make sense for Vitiate to have "fled" after what happened on Ziost.

Suddenly a probe appears, which doesn't seem that big a deal except that the music makes it clear that something exciting and dangerous is happening. The ship's sensors identify it as being associated with the "unknown force that attacked Korriban". Before you can do anything to it, a huge fleet of Eternal Empire ships appears and boarding pods attach to the ship. Your character volunteers to take out the boarders while Marr is supposed to get you out of there.

You fight a couple of inconsequential feeling skytrooper groups, which are obviously intended to teach new players starting at level 60 the basics of combat. The background chatter has Imperial and Republic soldiers sticking together against the unknown threat. In the port section, some soldiers from both factions are cut off fighting skytroopers. The Imperial Sergeant Dol argues to quickly shut the closest blast door to keep the enemies out, while the Republic Corporal Ralo doesn't want to leave anyone behind. You get to choose whose orders are followed and it's noted that both soldiers have an opinion on this that they will remember.


You fight some more skytroopers when the companion to whom you talked briefly before boarding Marr's ship radios you that the airlock has been shot up but the clamps are stuck and they can't get away. You free your ship and can tell your crew to either flee or to stay and fight.

You meet with Darth Marr on the engineering deck and he becomes your companion! So exciting! This was also where I was immediately weirded out by the fact that since KotFE any new companions are set to act as healers by default. I understand why - but it's really weird to see characters like Darth Marr run up to you and the first thing he does is cast a heal on you!

It's made very clear that Marr is willing to fight to the death and expects the same of his crew, but eventually it becomes undeniable that the ship has become too shot up to escape. You are given the option to abandon ship or use it to ram one of the Zakuulan ships as one last defiant gesture. (Marr obviously approves of the latter.)

The ship blows up either way, and you wake up as a prisoner on an enemy ship (shackled, with all your abilities greyed out). You meet Arcann, who introduces the Zakuul Empire. This is where the improved work on facial expressions really starts to show, as your character manages to look impressively pissed off with the occasional glance of worry thrown in. Darth Marr reappears as a prisoner as well. Arcann takes both of you to see his father, though shortly before you reach his throne, you run into Heskal, a so-called Scion, and it's made clear that he's made some sort of doomsday prediction that Arcann doesn't like.

In the throne room, it becomes apparent why Darth Marr had to be with you - if you are a Force user yourself, you can tell that Valkorion is Vitiate, but otherwise you need Marr there to say it out loud. Valkorion is rather amused by your anger at him and removes Darth Marr's shackles, offering him to join him. Marr is enraged however and swears that he will never serve the Emperor again. After he attacks the knights guarding him, Valkorion kills him with Force lightning. Then his daughter Vaylin appears and suddenly asks for the room to be cleared.

With just you, Arcann and Valkorion left in the room, the latter shares that he has been impressed by the way you have influenced the galaxy and offers you a share of his own power if you kneel to him, the pivotal scene shown in the Outlander trailer. It's interesting to note that while the scenes play out somewhat differently depending on what you say, the outcome is the same: Valkorion dies soon after. If you agree to join him, Arcann backstabs him while he appears to transfer some of his power to you. If you refuse him, he orders Arcann to kill you, yet Arcann cuts your shackles instead, encouraging you to finish what you came for, and attacks Valkorion himself. This leads to a pretty memorable exchange during which Valkorion parries Arcann's lightsaber blows with his bare hand, mocking him for his "jealousy" - until you stab or shoot Valkorion in the back while he's distracted.

As Valkorion dies, a sort of Force storm gets unleashed in the room, knocking everyone out. Arcann is the first to get up again and as Vaylin enters the room, he orders you taken prisoner since you assassinated the Emperor (which is actually true if you made the light side choice!). He is shown making a broadcast to the citizens of Zakuul, informing them of your vile deed and swearing vengeance against the core worlds, while your character's unconscious body is dragged away and frozen in carbonite.


Conclusion

Chapter one starts pretty much in medias res and as a long-time player it's hard not to feel a bit disoriented by everything that's supposed to have happened while you weren't looking. Things progress at a dizzying speed, which can feel a bit rushed but also keeps things interesting.

Receiving Darth Marr as a companion is many a player's dream come true, and seeing him die almost immediately afterwards sucks. I've read about players who actually abort the chapter as soon as Marr joins them just so they can traipse around the fleet and show off their unique companion.

The revelation that Valkorion is Vitiate comes surprisingly early and isn't properly explained, though upon replaying this chapter specifically for this blog post it's quite obvious that there is more to the whole thing than meets the eye, as Valkorion himself never actually agrees with the accusations that he is the old Sith Emperor and keeps making mocking comments about how there's been a mistake and do you really know who you're talking to? This isn't to say that he isn't Vitiate, as he doesn't deny it either, but the whole matter is clearly more complicated than is immediately obvious.

The fact that the "big choice" leads to Valkorion's death either way can be seen as a disappointment if you genuinely expected the story to branch into two completely different versions, one of which would have you ruling the galaxy alongside an evil Emperor, but personally I never expected things to go that way anyway. I for one was still very much intrigued by the different ways in which the situation played out.

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