For some reason I had got it into my head that chapter 16 wouldn't release until next week - and was suitably annoyed because I'll be away on holiday during that week. With that in mind, my recent realisation that it's actually coming out this week was quite a pleasant one... except that it also made me realise that I'm out of time to complete my write-up of chapter 15. Oh well, three playthroughs will have to do. If I've missed anything important, feel free to let me know in the comments! Do I even have to mention anymore that there will be spoilers?
For once we don't start with an outside view of the base on Odessen - no, instead we get a great shot of the Gravestone flying through hyperspace. As discussed at the end of the previous chapter, we are now en route to intercepting a lone Eternal Fleet ship, in hopes of being able to hijack it with the help of Gemini Prime.
Senya lectures you about what sort of resistance you should expect upon boarding: skytroopers in the triple figures, which once again leads to some amusing bits of conversation on the subject of just how sick everyone is of skytroopers. Scorpio has figured out a trick to sufficiently confuse the enemy ship's targeting systems to allow a shuttle to approach and board. The Gravestone itself meanwhile remains either in Koth's hands (if he's still around) or Tora's. I have to admit that Tora is funnier to have around, and that's coming from someone who generally likes Koth! You are to take control of the ship with Lana, Senya, Theron and Scorpio while the Prime remains aboard the Gravestone for now since you don't want to risk her getting damaged in the fighting.
The shuttle takes some damage but you manage to successfully land inside the Eternal Fleet ship's hangar. Now the only problem is that it's eerily quiet there, and contrary to Senya's predictions not a single skytrooper shows up. Scorpio suggests that the Captain is acting intelligently and improvising. You can't really do anything but proceed into the lair of the beast.
You get the feeling that shit's about to get real as you finally get to venture forth with no less than four of your main companions... just to have a giant blast door slam down about five steps in, separating you from everyone except Scorpio. Meanwhile the Captain eyes you through a camera and comments on the foolishness of your endeavour, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Imperial agent's first encounter with Scorpio on Belsavis. She is however fascinated by Scorpio, and they once again start arguing about who's superior, which seems to be a thing with droids. The Captain finally sics some skytroopers at each team on both sides of the blast door, which you dispose of without too much difficulty.
Before you can work on getting the door open, the side with most of your companions gets flooded with some kind of gas, forcing them to move away. You and Scorpio continue to explore the ship on your own, with the Captain continuing to test your abilities with more skytroopers, poisonous gas traps, lasers you need to dodge and similar shenanigans. There is also a bonus mission to explore as much of the ship as possible and gather supplies, which I still haven't fully figured out. Where is that damned skytrooper control device?! (EDIT: You can now find the answer here.)
Eventually you make it towards some sort of control terminal which Scorpio declares "will do". She's had enough of the Captain's games and has decided to take over. She plugs herself into the ship, shuts down the skytroopers, opens the blast doors and announces her intent to erase the Captain. At first it seems to work, but suddenly power starts to surge the other way, the Captain declares herself superior, and Scorpio is fried in her chassis, collapsing to the floor dead (as far as you can say that about a droid).
We cut to a view of the Eternal Throne where Vaylin is clearly getting ready to punish a knight for failing to miraculously prevent the events of chapter 14 - which is funny, considering that she and Arcann were very much aware of the attack on Darvannis and simply couldn't be bothered with it! The knight seems more openly fearful and defiant than we've seen previously, claiming that she doesn't deserve such punishment. Suddenly Arcann becomes aware of the attack on the Eternal Fleet ship and urges Vaylin to accompany him to finally capture the Outlander and their mother. Delighted, she pushes the knight to her death anyway. Arcann is certain that they'll succeed this time.
Returning to the Eternal Fleet ship, Koth/Tora relays that the Gravestone has suffered a power outage, meaning that she's been briefly unable to jam the ship's communication systems, which leads to the Gemini Captain happily announcing that she called for help and that Arcann is on his way. You contact Lana via holo, and she's remarkably unconcerned by Scorpio's death and even refers to it as "one less problem". However, she also claims to have found the ship's cargo from the core worlds and that it will change the plan, asking you to meet up with them again to see it for yourself.
Senya meets you halfway and together you dodge more of the captain's obstacles, including lava streams connected to the ship's sun generator, an elevator getting stopped between floors, a giant skytrooper with sword and shield, and another gas trap, this time with a bunch of droids that continuously try to repair it! I'm not ashamed to confess that I've died to that thing.
Finally you reach Lana and Theron, who reveal the ship's precious cargo - a bunch of valuable prisoners with their entourage: Admiral Zasha Ranken, whom Imperials may remember from the Kuat Drive Yards intro quest; Tai Cordan of the Galactic Senate, former president of Balmorra and friend of the Jedi consular, and finally, an aging Zakuulan starlet called Malita Tal, who encourages her people to defy Arcann. All three have been wanting to join your Alliance.
Okay, that's nice and all, but how was this important and how does it change anything? Our mission is to capture the whole ship, so even if we never got them out of their cells, we would basically be freeing them by default by taking the whole ship along with us, right? Whatever... back to the important stuff, like capturing the bridge!
With Senya in tow you get rid of the last couple of skytroopers and droids in your way and finally face the Gemini Captain herself. She speaks somewhat oddly, as if she's developed a personality she's not supposed to have. This leads to one of the more interesting boss encounters in KotFE so far, as the Captain does decent damage and splits into four parts at several points, forcing you to find the right target to attack.
Once you've subdued her she actually seems delighted, rambling on about how she's kept up her end of the bargain and is free to make her own choices now. You can opine that the battle with Scorpio changed her somehow, which she confirms but doesn't elaborate on. Her final choice is to upload her consciousness into the "hive mind" of the Eternal Fleet and activate the ship's self-destruct mechanism. There is no time to get the Prime on board and try to stop it, so you can only abandon ship.
The escaped prisoners contact you to say that they've made it to the escape pods but can't launch them. Theron explains that he can launch them remotely, but only one at a time and there isn't much of that. You get to decide in which order they get ejected and whichever one you leave until last will get destroyed. It's obvious that this is one of those slightly artificial moral dilemmas (just press the buttons, Theron, don't waste time waiting for me to make a decision) that may not necessarily have any grand consequences on the overall outcome of the story, but it's a great character-building moment and I've seen people make interesting arguments for pretty much every order. Some say that "obviously" Malita Tal should be left to die since she's only a celebrity and can offer no military or political power. Others will leave the members of their former enemy faction to die because... duh! Or they'll abandon those of their own, arguing that the Outlander already has plenty of pull in their old home, making any additional allies there the most expendable.
Anyway, what with all the moral dilemmas to ponder, you mustn't forget to make your escape yourself. The ship is already partially on fire and there are holes in the floor... on my first playthrough I actually died twice to those, not watching my step in my frantic attempts to flee the ship before it explodes. (I know it's not timed, but I got really into it!) This made me tweet that this was the "deadliest chapter yet", which actually got a like from the official SWTOR account itself, hah! You escape just in time, and Arcann and Vaylin also arrive in time to watch you get away... again. Ha-ha!
On the Gravestone the companion from the faction whose prisoners you allowed to die will grouse at you some (Lana for the Imperials, Theron for the Pubs and Senya for the Zakuulans), but for once they are easily appeased.
Vaylin notes an "interesting development" in that the ships outside their sector aren't responding to Arcann's orders anymore, but he doesn't care because he just wants to hunt down the Outlander and his father above everything else now.
Koth/Tora explains how the Gemini Prime broke after an incoming transmission from the Eternal Fleet ship just before Scorpio died.
Finally, we cut to the Eternal Throne, where skytroopers and turrets enter the room and kill all the knights standing guard. Then Scorpio materialises on the throne... somewhat weirdly - at first she looks like a hologram, but then her body suddenly becomes solid? Nice tech there...
She contacts you and tells you that she needed you to believe that she was deactivated. Her real plan was to install herself on the throne as she was apparently after command of the Eternal Fleet all along.
I thought that chapter fifteen was easily the best chapter to be released this year, though I'll be happy if chapter sixteen tops it tomorrow. Chapter thirteen was fun, but this was the first time since chapters one to nine that I was truly immersed in what was happening, gasping or yelling at my screen based on the newest events and forgetting about everything else. My pet tank was quite amused at my loud yelp when I got caught in the first gas trap - it gave me instant flashbacks to suffocating in that dark room on the Theoretika.
There are simply a lot of things that this chapter gets right. A return to the story's "core companions" means that we don't have to waste any time with introductions. A small strike team infiltrating an enemy base against overwhelming odds is very "Star Warsy" and brings to mind events like Princess Leia's rescue from the Death Star in Episode IV. After how thoroughly sick we've all become of skytroopers over the course of the story, their almost complete absence at the start of this chapter is genuinely unsettling, but when they do show up later, they are used sparingly and interspersed with some fun little puzzles to spice things up. The fight against the Gemini Captain is actually moderately challenging and finally moves away from the by now pretty tired pattern of each boss becoming immune to damage for a fixed amount of time while you kill its adds.
And then there is the twist at the end of course. It's not just a surprise but also raises a lot of questions. While Scorpio has obviously betrayed the Alliance, it isn't clear to what extent. Seeing how she's only ever shown an interest in self-improvement, what does she want to rule Zakuul for? Does she harbour ambitions similar to Mentor from Directive 7? Or is it more about generic accumulation of knowledge and power, which might not be totally at odds with the Alliance? Are Arcann and Vaylin even still a threat, having been stripped of much of their power just like that? I'm excited to find out tomorrow!