12/05/2018

The Nathema Conspiracy - The Story

It took me a few days to gather my thoughts (and to find the time to actually write them down), but it's time to talk about what happens in the Nathema Conspiracy. If you can't guess: this means spoilers! You have been warned.

To recap what happened in the previous two installments of this story arc: Theron Shan suddenly betrayed the Outlander, claiming that you were just using the Alliance to do evil, regardless of what you'd actually been doing. After trying and failing to track him down on the Chiss world of Copero, you as the player learn that he seems to be posing as a double agent for an organisation called the Order of Zildrog, but his divided loyalties are not yet made clear to your character at this point.

The Nathema Conspiracy starts with you and Lana following a mysterious signal to an abandoned Imperial listening post, where your character finally learns the truth, as Theron has left you information about the Order there. You learn that it is led by a former Horizon Guard called Vinn Atrius, a handsome cyborg who comes off as surprisingly sympathetic compared to all the megalomaniacs that we've been fighting since KotFE, and who actually has relatable reasons for hating the Outlander.


From the holos left behind on the station you learn that he's been searching for and has now found Zildrog, who turns out to be as real as the rest of the Zakuulan pantheon, except that it he's a superweapon stored in a vault on Nathema instead of on Iokath. Working with Vinn are Gemini 16, a former Eternal Fleet unit who managed to escape re-enslavement by cutting herself off from her "sisters" and who now wants to see them dead to avoid ever being influenced by the Gemini network again, as well as a couple of other characters who have reasons to hate you and whose identity varies based on some of your previous story choices. For example redeeming Arcann makes you an enemy of a Nautolan from one of the worlds that Arcann bombarded previously and who's outraged that you just made him part of your Alliance without any kind of punishment (understandable). Yet if you killed him and Senya, one of Vinn's allies ends up being a former knight who was apparently very close to Senya and who's furious that you killed her (also understandable). Just goes to show again that there's no winning when it comes to some situations!

Theron's info also tells you to go to Nathema to prevent Vinn & Co. from unleashing Zildrog, which is corroborated by your Alliance specialists on Odessen, who have finally made sense of the star map you retrieved from Copero. (Wait, didn't that get blown up before we could lay our hands on it?) Time to return to Nathema to find out what's what!

You and Lana take a shuttle there and find the planet transformed after Valkorion's death, full of new growth and wildlife. On meeting Theron at the co-ordinates he provided, you don't get to kill him right away (even if you want to) as you need him to point you in the right direction to prevent Zildrog's release.


Eventually you reach the vault where Zildrog is stored, and sadly he turns out to be a boring computer terminal instead of a cool lobster dragon creature... thing like Izax. Wonder how he became a dragon in the Zakuulan legends? You also learn that Vinn's precious allies ended up being recruited for no other reason that to serve as fuel for the machine - too bad for them.

Initially held back by a force field, you can't do anything but watch as Zildrog powers up and it turns out that his actual "body" is the Gravestone, which he promptly flies up into orbit above Odessen to one-shot the entire Eternal Fleet. He then turns it towards Odessen but needs to recharge before being able to fire again, which results in the shield around you dropping and allows you to engage Gemini 16, Vinn and Zildrog. You manage to successfully destroy/capture all of them, however Theron gets stabbed in the back by Vinn and ends up mortally wounded. You get the option to save him by quickly returning him to Odessen or leaving the "traitor" to die.

Back on Odessen you wrap things up with Lana (and potentially Theron if he's still alive) and get to muse on what's going to come next now that your Alliance has effectively been robbed of what gave it most of its power. You also have to choose whether to throw in your lot with the Republic or the Empire going forward.


Even though that was still a fair number of words, it's actually a very bare-bones summary of the plot that leaves out a lot of lovingly inserted detail. For example I've read that if you romanced Lana or Theron, you get the option to marry them at the end (which I haven't seen yet as none of the characters that I've taken through the story so far were romantically involved with either of them). My Guardian, who romanced Arcann in his Alliance alert, got to share a tender moment with him, but even if you're not romantically involved he makes a brief appearance if he's still alive.

On Nathema you have a holo call with one of Vinn's allies who's actually different based on your base class. I've tried to avoid spoiling myself for all the different possibilities, but from what I've gathered this person can even be different for some classes based on decisions taken during the class story. The sad thing is that this went completely over my head during my first playthrough because for my trooper said character wasn't anyone I knew; they just made the briefest of references to something that had happened in my class story, so I thought that sentence was as far as the customisation went. In reality however the identity of the person themselves varies, and for some classes it's even someone you know. Considering that the ally in question ends up being one of the people that get turned into fuel for Zildrog, that's a considerable cast of characters who could now potentially be dead.

None of this changes the overall flow of the narrative, but it does add some much added distinction between characters for those of us with many alts and showcases a love for detail that has often been absent in more recent content releases, probably making this one of SWTOR's best story updates in a long time.


But what about the plot, you might say... Is it any good? Well, I already summarised it earlier in this post, so you'll be the judge, but most of the reactions that I've seen have been very positive, and I was actually kind of surprised by how much I enjoyed it myself. I could see people who were really in love with the role of Alliance Commander hating it, and of course if you were already super jaded with the game to begin with, it's unlikely that this update will change your mind. (Though I have seen some comments from players who felt that the Nathema Conspiracy served to invigorate their previously flagging interest in the game.)

Personally, I've been wanting to see the Alliance come to an end for a while, so I guess I was positively biased towards developments in this flashpoint that way, but this hasn't stopped me from being critical of poorly written story installments in the past (see Iokath as an example). The Nathema Conspiracy just handles things better in every possible way, largely because of the aforementioned love for detail but also because the plot just works much better in general.

Vinn Atrius and Gemini 16 make for interesting and convincing villains despite of having been complete unknowns beforehand, and I wasn't surprised at all to see people asking for an option to romance Vinn the very day the patch came out. There are also some interesting character moments for Lana and Theron. Personally I found it amusing that Lana serves as your foil regardless of which stance you take towards Theron - if you say that you trusted him all along she keeps telling you to be cautious, yet if you leave him to die she's actually taken aback and later confesses on Odessen that despite everything that's happened she's genuinely saddened by his death.


The way the dialogue and cut scenes are set up, they also manage to hit some very strong emotional notes. For example I was genuinely worried about Odessen getting blown up and was actually relieved when we managed to save the planet - not because of it being my base, but because it's a lovely planet and I didn't want any of the characters still stuck on it to die! And when I chose to leave Theron to die on my dark-sided Marauder, I actually felt a pang of regret despite of her having wanted to kill him for months. Honestly, if I had to pick one thing I didn't like it would probably be that everyone kept referring to Zildrog as "it", which seemed like an oddly detached way of talking about a well-known mythical being with a personality.

As far as major plot points go, the Emperor having yet another superweapon stored away in a vault somewhere seemed plausible enough based on what we know about him. While I've seen some people express unhappiness with Zildrog's dialogue claiming that it was him who wiped out the population of Nathema, I don't think it takes anything away from Vitiate/Valkorion to know that he used an actual weapon to kill everyone to achieve his original "ascension" instead of just doing it purely through the power of the Force.

I suppose the Gravestone turning out to be Zildrog's body is a bit convenient, especially as unlike with the Gods from the Machine there's no physical resemblance between the body and the image the Zakuulans have of the deity/mythological creature. The Dark Sanctuary also doesn't really feel like it was originally meant to be a "brain connector" or whatever we want to call it, but I guess it was a leftover mystery from KotFE that had never received a resolution, and resolving it like this felt appropriate enough.


After how lacklustre this story arc started out with Iokath and Crisis on Umbara, the Nathema Conspiracy really restored my faith in Bioware's storytelling and makes me genuinely curious about what they will come up with next. What were your thoughts on the story?

2 comments :

  1. Lana mentions something about the Alliance repairing the Copero map, hence how you’re able to use it. Bit too convenient for my liking, but then a tracer on Theron’s ship would be too easy to detect by GEMINI 16 so it was the only ‘feasible’ way they could come up with to have us find where to go.

    Also according to a datamined Codex entry, ZILDROG (he who shall now be capitalised) and IZAX became merged as one and the same in the mythologies given that their most overt forms were giant aerial platforms with an Omnicannon. Again a bit convenient but it does at least wrap up the Zakuulan Gods and mythos in a way everyone can access without needing to do the Operation.

    I really liked the Arcann romance snippet in this Flashpoint, although it does leave me somewhat disappointed we didn’t get anyone else, especially after the Flashpoint. Before, I can understand, as padding out the time when we really should be going after Vinn and co. with a stream of well-wishers would feel quite peculiar. Afterwards, though, there’s all the time in the world and itvwould have helped accentuate the point that this was the end of KotFE and KotET to discuss going forward with more characters than just Lana and/or Theron as usual.

    Guess we’ll just have to wait until 6.0 until Arcann, Koth, and anyone else become more ‘well-acquainted’ with our characters.

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    1. Also with regards to a certain comment reply on the linked Iokath post, those are just yet more questions which would have been interesting to know the answers to now that we know what the story opened up to potentially include.

      Wiping the slate clean is a good thing in many regards, but it does leave one with a significantly lesser idea of where things exactly used to be. Goimg forward is only an issue if it doean’t capatalise on this effectively.

      As long as 6.0 doesn’t fall into the same trap that KotFE and the new Star Wars film trilogy fell into, and actually provide a decent and comprehensive state of political, military, and cultural affairs, it should work. We’ll see what we shall see, though.

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