We're finally there, discussing the last of the nine chapters that KotFE originally released with! Soon I'll be able to start covering the "new" stuff. But first, let's talk about that Alliance - as usual, spoilers abound.
After the big showdown in the last chapter in which you got wounded or drained one way or another, it's time for some rest on the planet Odessen, where Lana wants you to lead the newly formed Alliance against Arcann, consisting of splinter groups from both the Republic and Empire. I can't help but wonder when she had the time to put all of this together, considering that you were only out cold for two days and before the battle, interest in any possible Alliance still seemed tenuous. Oh well, you don't look a gift horse in the mouth.
Odessen features gorgeous landscapes full of mountains and forests and it's a shame that not more of it is accessible for day-to-day gameplay. It's also super special because the Force is strong on it, yet both light and dark are perfectly balanced here (or so Lana claims).
There are members of both factions already about, seemingly working together. For some reason you have to hijack a giant drill to get everyone's attention. You'd think that with everyone making such a big deal about how you have to be at the head of this Alliance, someone would have been able to call ahead. When people are gathering up to look what the racket is all about, you get the option to hold either an "inspiring" or an "oppressive" speech - I haven't noticed this choice making any major difference, but either way it's used as an opportunity to show some shots of your new subjects working on building up the base some more.
Up next: Theron Shan arrives! If, like me, you preferred him over Lana in the previous story arcs, this is a bit of a "finally" moment, considering how much attention she's already been given. He also has a little something for you: He found your old ship. I always feel strangely emotional during this scene, finally getting a bit of my old class identity back.
After this, he wants to talk to you inside the base, where he introduces you to the four "specialists" that will overlook different parts of your Alliance. There's Doctor Oggurobb, the Hutt scientist whom Republic players know from Makeb and who's heading the science department; Bey'wan Aygo, who led the Republic in its fight for Kuat back in the day, does the Republic voice-overs for GSF and is now responsible for the military side of things; Hylo Visz, an apparently quite popular Mirialan smuggler that has had her own forum avatar since launch but hadn't actually been seen in game before (though she comes up in Gault's companion story); and Sana-rae, a Voss Mystic that will oversee all things Force-related.
After the introductions, Doctor Oggurobb asks you to see him in his lab. When you talk to him, the interface switches to the KOTOR-inspired "Alliance interface", which has your character not actually talking and presents a mostly static view of the conversation, with a fair amount of screen real estate getting taken up by black bars. Whether you like or dislike this system, it's quite a shock to the system when you first encounter it. Fortunately the regular conversations soon return to normal and the "mute" conversations remain limited to the optional Alliance content.
He gives you the mission to recruit Yuun into your Alliance, but as it's not part of the chapter itself, you can pursue this new objective at your leisure. Afterwards you also have a private little chat with each of the other three specialists and they tell you a bit more about themselves and what they do. There's also a datapad from which you basically get free stuff just for having introduced yourself.
Afterwards it's off to the local cantina, where there are two funny side missions to (re-)recruit the two ship droids whenever you feel like it. Meanwhile, your new companions are chilling and bantering in the cantina and you have the option to talk to one of them (Koth, Lana or Theron) in private. This is mainly to get all lovey-dovey if you romanced one of them, otherwise it's just a very brief catch-up. I haven't seen any of the romantic dialogue here, I just know that Koth actually blew me off when I tried to be flirtatious with him!
After the "party" is over, you go to look for Senya outside, near your starship. She muses on your situation and the Scions' belief in destiny. She also confesses that she allowed Vaylin to get away on Asylum and that she revealed to her that Thexan died by Arcann's hand. She professes to be more certain than ever that her children need to be stopped. As soon as she leaves, Valkorion appears in front of you and asks how you feel about everything you've done so far. He says that he expects you to defeat Arcann but claims that not everyone in the Alliance agrees, hinting at dissent among the ranks.
We cut to another view of the Eternal Throne, with Arcann being haunted by the knowledge that Valkorion is still out there. Vaylin adds that their mother probably wants his head as well now but assures him that he has nothing to worry about. Arcann expresses some regret about Thexan's death and Vaylin initially shares it, but she quickly refocuses her brother's attention on killing the Outlander for threatening their rule. They have a strangely chilling exchange: "I'll die before I let that happen to us." - "Of course you will." Does Vaylin expect or even foresee her remaining brother's death? Is she planning it?
We finish with your character returning to the Alliance War Room, where you're expected to hold yet another speech, this time as official leader of the Alliance. (As an aside, as an agent it's quite hilarious when Lana tells you that you've been promoted from your previous title - as an agent, Commander - to... Commander. I can't tell whether that's meta humour or just a funny oversight.) Once again you are given the option to sound inspiring or oppressive. Your subjects are suitably impressed and we see ships from both factions fly off into the sunset in true Star Wars manner.
And then... we see Satele Shan and Darth Marr's ghost standing about, observing from the distance. So they are on Odessen! Satele expresses hope that your Alliance may eventually be able to challenge the Eternal Throne, though Marr closes with the ominous words: "A pity so many of them will have to die..."
Chapter nine is short and honestly pretty unexciting after everything that came before, but that's kind of the point. It lets you catch your breath, introduces you to the Alliance gameplay and tries to ease you into KotFE's endgame, while also providing the story so far with a natural if temporary stopping point, since it was always planned that there would be a bit of a break between the first nine chapters and the tenth one.
After the constant breathless hurrying from A to B of the previous chapters, I know I found it almost confusing initially to be given complete freedom of movement again: walking around an open, shared space (even if the Alliance base isn't huge), seeing other people, exploring and picking up a couple of side missions for companions.
I think chapter nine does what it's meant to do; I just fear that it won't age as well as the other chapters we've seen so far. Once all of KotFE is released and the Alliance content will mostly be forgotten as busywork that was supposed to keep players engaged while they waited for the next couple of chapters, having to stop in the middle of the story to be told all about gathering resources and pleasing your allies will have the potential to be somewhat annoying.