Andor Stuck the Landing

When I wrote my post about Andor last month, I commented that "for all I know the writers could still mess up horribly and ruin everything, but at the moment that doesn't seem likely to me". I'm happy to say that the writers did in fact not mess up the finale. The last episode came out this week, and it was great.

With the entirety of season one behind us now, I've seen people say that this is the best Star Wars has been in decades. Some might even say that it's better than the original trilogy itself. I don't know where I'd put it myself, but I've never been good at ranking pop culture items. Andor's definitely got to be somewhere at the top though.

Alternate Andor poster from starwarsnews.net

I've just continued to be amazed by the craftsmanship that has gone into this show on all levels, resulting in something that is both artistically and thematically incredibly coherent. Just this morning I was reading an interview with composer Nicholas Britell, who was responsible for the show's sound and music, and I couldn't help geeking out about all the little details. Did you know that the intro was slightly different for every episode? I'd seen people comment that the number of stars in the background increased as the season progressed, but I hadn't known about the acoustic side of it.

You know how with some shows, you have a good time in general, but then there'll be a scene or episode that kind of makes you go, "I don't know... that doesn't really make sense to me"? Hopefully you won't take it too seriously and will still be able to have fun, but it's a bit of a distraction nonetheless. Andor has been the opposite of that for me, in that there've been moments that made me go "huh, that's really clever/interesting" and then I see a comment or read something in an interview afterwards that suddenly makes it even better because it reveals additional connections or details that I'd missed. It's just such a beautiful work of art.

It's really fascinating how much they managed to do with the character of Cassian Andor alone. While rewatching Rogue One last month, it struck me again that while I did enjoy the film myself, the criticism that its characters never really got fleshed out were definitely very valid. You can basically see tiny glimpses of depth and if you're able to fill in the rest in your head that's great, but I can't fault people for whom that didn't work. It's absolutely true that the film itself didn't give viewers a lot to work with.

After seeing Andor, one has to wonder whether Tony Gilroy just prefers having more time to flesh out a whole cast of characters, as he certainly gets a lot done over the course of twelve episodes. (This is where it gets spoilery by the way.) Cassian starts out as someone who already hates the Empire, having lost many loved ones to its violence, but that by itself hasn't been enough to make him take meaningful action against it. He derides the Empire and steals from it, but ultimately he's still trying to just get by. It's not explicitly said like that, but there's a sense of: That's just how it is, what can you do? It's not like he's ever known the world to be any different.

He's also a slightly unusual main protagonist in that he's not instantly remarkable in some way. He's not particularly charismatic, strong or fearless; he's a fairly quiet guy who is rightfully and visibly scared when in danger. However, he's also very observant, intelligent and good at understanding what makes people tick - no wonder he makes for a good rebel spy!

When he finds himself conscripted into a rebel heist, he has no moral qualms about what they're doing, he's just not sure it's worth the risk, an assessment that turns out to be quite astute when about half the team dies in the process. In a way it's not really a surprise that he decides to simply take his cut and go. He just wants to get away from it all.

However, the world (specifically the Empire) doesn't let him get away. In a scene that feels both weirdly realistic but also humorous, he ends up being arrested for basically nothing due to just being in the wrong place at the wrong time and "looking nervous" - a massive irony after he just got away with a huge crime.

He ends up in a dystopian prison that doubles as a forced labour camp, which is more than he can bear, and planning an escape becomes his only means of survival. It's interesting though that here too, he doesn't suddenly transform into a charismatic leader but rather manages to push and encourage another inmate whom he knows others will listen to and follow.

Yet even after all that, it still feels like he's briefly considering just trying to get away from it all once again. He still has his hidden stash of cash, so if only he can get back to his elderly mother, they could both be okay... but of course Maarva is not okay; she's dead. And even as Cassian sneaks off to attend her funeral, you can tell that he's feeling lonely and lost. It's only when he sees the recording she made for the ceremony that it hits him that there's something left for him, that there are people whom he can help, and it feels fitting that he's not there anymore when the Imperials come looking for him because he's decided to go off and save Bix.

In a way I feel like even summarising it like that is perhaps simplifying it too much - the point is that his motivation isn't just "grr, revenge" or "I have nothing left to live for". It's complex and layered and feels very real.

This is true for the rest of the show's ensemble cast as well - because despite the title, it's not just about Andor. There's Luthen for example, who's what I suppose you could call a rebel spymaster: resourceful, devious and with eyes and ears everywhere. However, even though he's on the side we're cheering for, his behaviour is often appalling, as he's so removed from it all, it sometimes seems as if he's just treating people's lives and deaths as some sort of game. Of course, then he has an amazing speech at the end of episode ten in which he reveals that he's fully aware that many of the things he does are despicable but that he sees no other way of building a better future - a future he himself doesn't think himself worthy of and that he doesn't expect to ever see.

There's also Mon Mothma, a character from the original trilogy whose personal life wasn't ever really fleshed out in great detail, not even in the old EU as far as I can tell. In Andor she presents an interesting contrast to the rebels on the ground in that her role of providing financial support to the rebellion seems very easy on a superficial level, seeing how she continues to live a life of luxury as a senator on Coruscant in the meantime. However, we soon learn that she has to make sacrifices of a different kind, as she has barely anyone she can trust and has to keep up a facade in front of absolutely everyone, including her husband Perrin and her rebellious teenage daughter Leida.

Perrin was actually an interesting side character to me - I've seen many commenters deride him as boring or annoying, but my read on him was that he's just a guy who wants to live a good life and hates how with Mon everything has to be super serious and/or about politics, which is why the two are rather estranged. We learn that their marriage was arranged when they were very young, so it's not like they were ever deeply in love or anything, but my impression was that there was at least affection there once, and that it's just another thing that's crumbling for Mon. She finishes the season by arranging a marriage for her own daughter and wrongly accusing Perrin of having gambling debts in front of a known Imperial spy, all in order to cover her own tracks of financial wrongdoing, making heavy sacrifices in a different way.

And of course there are the Imperial antagonists, Dedra Meero and Syril Karn, whom we end up feeling for at times as well, even while we don't want them to win. Possibly my favourite scene from the first story arc was the one where Syril discusses Cassian's killing of two guardsmen with his supervisor, and the supervisor's assessment of the situation is completely spot-on, yet at the same time you can understand Syril's opposing viewpoint of wanting justice for his colleagues and feeling enraged by what he sees as corrupt handling of the case. He's kind of an Imperial idealist, in that he actually believes the propaganda about maintaining order and being rewarded for excellence, even as the system tries to beat him down over and over again. Honestly, I found him weirdly relatable at times, especially when he was exchanging snark with his mother - let's just say that when my own relationship with my mother was at its worst, I was quite familiar with being told that I was a disappointment too.

In general, all the characters feel like real people, so that you find yourself weirdly caring even about the minor players that hardly have any lines. I'm already excited for season two, though that won't be ready for another two years. We already know that its events will start about a year after the end of season one and will finish just before the start of Rogue One, with bigger time jumps between individual story arcs. It's just a shame we won't get more than that...


Master of the Feast

I've been doing pretty well for myself during the seasonal events this year. While I missed out on the coveted High Roller Shades last year, I finally managed to acquire them this year, two days before the Nightlife event was about to end again. I probably should have made a blog post about that, but for some reason I only felt like posting a brief comment on Twitter at the time, something I kind of regret now... here's what it said:

Finally, I waited more than a year for this! I feel I can make my peace with the Nightlife event now (until they add another prize I really want I guess...)

And this week I finally managed to complete the last achievement I was missing from the Feast of Prosperity. I had completed all the basic activity- and story-related ones ages ago, but there's one achievement in particular called "What did you put in this?!" which is hidden until you actually complete it, but at the same time features requirements that you might not hit automatically without tracking and specifically going for them.

Now, there's a very roundabout way in which you can check your progress even while the achievement is hidden, but I'd forgotten what it was. Fortunately Swtorista provided the answer (as usual) - you basically need to find someone who already completed the achievement, inspect them and shift-click their achievement into chat. Then you can click on that yourself and it will show your own progress.

It sounded like the kind of thing I can imagine being extremely awkward (how do you randomly find someone who's got that achievement?), but I guess I got lucky in that it didn't take me long at all to do so while chain-inspecting people around the Feast event area. Finally seeing my own progress was a major revelation as it clarified why I still hadn't got the achievement myself - I'd been barking up the wrong tree all along.

See, it has three requirements: to do 25 of the hardmode cooking missions, 25 hardmode cantina rushes, and to use pepper 75 times while preparing meals. I was convinced that it was only the pepper that was holding me back, since I seemed to remember only using it rather sparingly before I'd become aware of the achievement's existence. However, it turned out that I was actually done with peppers and all I was missing was nine more cantina rushes. I'd been thrown off by the fact that I already had the 25 completions achievement for that mission, however that achievement counts both difficulties, so I had clearly overestimated my willingness to take on the harder version. (To be honest, it's not really harder - it just takes twice as long for little extra reward, which I guess is why I hadn't done it more often.)

So I've dutifully been doing Feast dailies all week (not just the cantina rushes, but also the other types since I do still like the world boss hunts in particular), until I finally managed to tick the achievement counter over on Monday. Sadly I didn't manage to capture the moment of the achievement actually popping up, but it sure felt good to finally hit that 100% score for the Feast category. I've often said that I'm not much of an achievement hunter, but sometimes it just feels good to get that last thing done.

The question is now: Am I "done" with the event? I'm not usually someone to farm a world event endlessly for all the rewards, so once I've achieved everything I personally wanted to get out of it, I don't tend to go back very often. Then again, the Feast only comes around once a year, so maybe I'll feel ready for some more cooking, serving and killing delicious world bosses by this time next year anyway.


Alts and Endgame

This week, I took some time to review the state of my alt stable on Darth Malgus. Nine months after Legacy of the Sith raised the level cap, I've got fourteen characters at level 80. You might consider that a lot or not, but to me it feels rather low, considering that I had twice as many characters at the old level cap and the expansion only added five more levels.

I think there are several different reasons for this. One that I already mentioned previously is that levelling from 75 to 80 can be relatively slow by SWTOR's standards, unless you're all caught up with the current story or like to spend an hour or two cheesing the penultimate boss in Nathema. Some avenues for levelling that were available in the past have also been closed off. As someone who spends a lot of her time in flashpoints and operations with guildies, I used to just take my close-to-max level characters along to social runs of master mode flashpoints or story mode operations, but both of these are now unavailable until you actually hit the level cap (presumably for the sake of pugs who hated having non-max level players along). If I had a penny for every time I've looked at my selection of alts to pick one for a group activity and found myself thinking "oh yes, that one", just to then realise that the character in question wasn't 80 yet and therefore couldn't come...

In a lot of content that you can access at lower levels, such as daily zones, certain rewards such as the daily currency are also unavailable if the character doing the content isn't 80 yet. This has often pushed me towards playing my existing 80s for the rewards rather than spending time on getting more characters to the level cap.

The way you gear alts nowadays has also felt somewhat clunky to me. I wouldn't say it's alt-unfriendly (I did still level and gear fourteen of them after all) but it just feels less smooth. Onslaught's loot showers that were always based on your existing item rating (and where hitting the maximum was easy to achieve) made it very easy to gear alts as you could just throw some of the excess into your legacy bank and pull out a full gear set on any new alt as soon as it hit the level cap. Gearing that way was obviously not going to be 100% optimised, what with missing augments etc., but it was pretty solid for how easy it was.

In 7.0, the way you could only upgrade your gear to item level 330 via master mode operations made it kind of awkward to do the same, as just getting your gear up to that level took a lot more time. And once you got there, more 330 drops could only be acquired by continuing to kill master mode bosses (whose loot drops were scarce when compared to 6.0), meaning it wasn't easy to get a full set of gear, what with all loot being randomised fixed-stat items with no mods. Plus there was a certain incentive to dissemble the gear for more ops currency at times because if you wanted weapons for your alts for example they had to go through a whole chain of upgrades as well.

I initially tried to save up gear for my alts the same way I had done in Onslaught, but it was just awkward to end up with six pairs of gloves and no chest pieces for example. Plus because I wasn't generally taking my alts into master mode ops, they themselves could only contribute non-Rakata gear to the overall gear pool (which only went up to 326 max).

With 7.1 Bioware added a gear vendor on the fleet, who - once unlocked - sells you 330 mods that you can send to all your alts. Easy, right? Well... easi-er I guess, but still clunky as the unlock is not account-wide, so you either need to do it multiple times or do all your shopping on one character who then has to mail dozens of mods around your legacy, eight letter attachments at a time.

Also, I hope you've got suitable moddable gear on all your alts to put all those mods in! I mean, armour sets and weapons are straightforward enough, but if I put you on the spot right now and asked you where to get a moddable generator for example, would you know? (I asked my guildies and they pointed me to the adaptive gear vendor in the supplies section of the fleet, next to the level 10 mod vendor. That one's actually very affordable, but you've got to know about it.)

Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the legendary implants yet! At first I thought the little mission to unlock them after hitting level 80, asking you to gather "activity points", was quite cute, but after the tenth time it becomes a bit of a chore to be perfectly honest, just to be able to access the implant vendor. It's all... not terrible, but just noticeably more clunky than back in Onslaught and I've got to admit I'm not loving it.

If you're a certain type of raider, you might wonder why I bother to get any gear for my alts at all - since it's all legacy-bound, many of my guildies just operate with a single gear set (plus weapons for different combat styles and such) that they constantly shuttle back and forth between all their alts. The reason I don't do that is that I simply find it annoying. It feels dumb from an immersion point of view to effectively strip all your characters bar one naked most of the time, and it's annoying to always have to wait for people to send their gear back and forth (never mind the inevitable delays when someone can't find their Tactical of whatever), especially when all you're doing is a story mode where you really don't need to be wearing gear that is 100% optimised. I'm a bit more sympathetic when it comes to progression.

Either way I kind of find myself missing the simplicity of Onslaught's gearing, and being able to ease characters into endgame more gradually instead of having to hit max-level first. I know there've been other times in the game's life when gearing was more convoluted and even less alt-friendly than it is now, but that was so long ago now. The ease of 6.0 is still much fresher on my mind and easy to miss.


7.2 Livestream Thoughts and Impressions

I'm writing this shortly after having watched the official livestream about 7.2, because I'm actually excited by what I saw! I honestly went into this one with no real expectations, probably because both 7.0 and 7.1 have turned out to be somewhat disappointing to me, and I couldn't even think of anything to look forward to beyond the next story update (which is something that usually only gets touched on lightly in these streams to avoid spoilers). However, it turned out that based on what we were shown, 7.2 looks like it's actually going to be quite a meaty patch.

Story-wise, we'll be going to the planet Ruhnuk (pronounced "Roo-nik") to go after Heta Kol as hinted at the end of the previous story update, and that's all I'm going to say about that, even though there was some more talk about the characters we're going to meet there. Seek out additional information about that at your own discretion.

The first big surprise was that Ruhnuk is not just going to be a story location, but a proper open-world planet, with dailies, a new faction to earn reputation with, a world boss and even a new datacron! I've got to admit that this one completely blind-sided me, I guess because my thinking was that after they had to delay the release of the Manaan daily area, I wouldn't have thought that they'd already be working on another daily area at the same time, and one with more real estate than we got during what was supposed to be the main expansion patch 7.0.

I'm 100% here for a new planet though, even if I don't expect it to be very large. They showed a little flyby video which kind of gave me Athiss vibes.

Next they talked about changes coming to PvP, which started with Musco telling us that they're planning to abolish the ranked queue and that it's all just going to be the same thing now. My first thought was "Are we all going to be ranked all the time then?" but no, it seems they are simply getting rid of the whole concept of publicly ranking players and rewarding prizes based on ranking altogether. I mean, I can't claim to personally be sad about that, considering that I never really cared about ranked, but presumably there are people who do? Wonder how they're feeling about this...

Instead Bioware will introduce a PvP season track similar to the way Galactic Seasons work, where you "level up" through PvP and earn rewards within a limited time frame. I'm not really sure how I feel about that. Galactic Seasons have quickly grown on me, but I'm also quite content with having breaks between them. I'm not sure I really want another bar to fill for rewards running at the same time? I guess we'll see how compelling this turns out to be.

Other PvP changes included with the update will mean no more PvP restrictions for non-subscribers, and separate queues for 8v8 warzones and 4v4 arenas. Now, while I consider this a welcome change, it also cracks me up in a way because when arenas were first introduced nine years ago, I was quite unhappy with the fact that they were mixed in with the "regular" 8v8 warzones and not a separate queue, but then I quickly came to the conclusion that I didn't really mind them too much. I mean, if given the choice I'll probably only queue for 8v8 from now on, unless I know it's quiet and arenas give me a better chance of getting a pop, in which case I'd be fine with queueing for both. It's just not a huge deal for me at this point.

Finally, they'll also retune PvP medals a bit because they consider some of them too easy to get at the moment, and they'll add a new arena located on Onderon that looks like it should provide a lot of opportunities to play hide and seek.

There was a short note about gearing changes, in that both the minium item level dropped from all sources as well as the maximum item level attainable from all sources (except R-4) will increase by four to six levels. I guess this is the belated opportunity for people to gear up for R-4 veteran mode without actually having to kill anything in R-4 veteran mode first, but I'm not sure how much of a difference it's going to make at this point.

The final major item was that they're continuing to make updates to the user interface. The most exciting thing they mentioned in this context was that they'll finally be adding a colour-blind mode! As Mr Commando is red-green colour-blind and has often complained about the challenges of seeing certain kinds of circle mechanics, that's great news.

They are also changing the map so that no part of a planet is ever fully hidden anymore even if you haven't explored it yet, but instead you can see all the terrain from the beginning and it's just kind of greyed out. I guess my tips for how to get the Galactic Explorer achievement will become a bit outdated whenever that goes live. You'll also be able to have a semi-transparent map up on screen all the time, which is fine but didn't seem that big a deal to me considering the current map already goes semi-transparent if you have it open and want to move. I remember that was hailed as a very useful feature at launch, since you could keep it open while moving around. But I guess the functionality is becoming more granular/customisable.

The deconstruct window is going to gain a delete section, which sounds just like an accident waiting to happen in my opinion. (Oh no, I just deleted all those things I meant to deconstruct!) However, apparently mass-delete is something people wanted? I can't say I've run into many situations where I had to delete a whole bunch of stuff at once. In fact the only one I can think of off the top of my head is when I opened a bunch of Alliance crates and got a lot of duplicate legacy armour pieces that I wanted to get rid of. Still, wouldn't it be better to come up with a workaround so we don't have to delete quite so much stuff instead of making it easier to delete a lot of things at once, e.g. by allowing more of them to be vendored for one credit? Just my own two centscredits on that one.

Finally on the UI front, they're unsticking a bunch of buttons from the mini map and instead letting you add them in a custom order to the top left or bottom right of your UI. I've got to admit that after just checking out the UI revamp in the latest World of Warcraft patch the other week the parallels to that game's pared-down mini map and tiny icons in the bottom right of the screen were striking. At least you should be able to increase the size of the things in SWTOR.

Last and (in my opinion) least, there are going to be some new rewards for Life Day and new Cartel Market items. Which is fine I guess, just not something I personally care about a great deal. I was just amazed that they featured someone with the job title of "Art Monetisation Director" on the stream as I figure that brandishing the word monetisation in front of players is a bit like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I hope he doesn't get any mean comments.

Anyway, it was a good stream overall, and they said that the PTS should go up soon, but I figure it's going to be a little while until we can actually play this update in the live game. While they proudly advertised it as "coming this winter" as if that's really soon, they don't have a good track record with releasing things in the run-up to Christmas (see the delay of Legacy of the Sith last year), so I personally wouldn't expect to see 7.2 until next year, either in late January or early February, even if that would mean that they'll have to split out the Life Day rewards to actually release them in time for the event.

P.S.: If you're reading this before November 16th, you can claim a free Colonel Gallo poster decoration for your stronghold by redeeming the code LotSGallore.


Warming Up to Combat Styles

I've said since shortly after the launch of Legacy of the Sith that combat styles aren't really for me. I think they're a solid feature that I can see appealing to many, but for me a character's advanced class/combat style is just too big a part of their identity for me to just start changing it willy-nilly. When I decided to add a second combat style to my Commando main back in May in order to be more flexible in harder operations, it was a big deal for me.

I'm happy to say though that as we're approaching eight months of Legacy of the Sith, I'm slowly starting to warm up to the concept. I still have no great desire to make such a big change to the characters I play the most, but I actually went ahead and added a second combat style to two of my lesser played alts the other week. Interestingly, I've actually found it a bit easier to make this choice on characters I'm not quite as invested in, as their identity still feels a bit more malleable you could say.

The first character to take the plunge was my dps Commando whom I created back in the day during the Dark vs. Light event. She's mostly dark side and I've always pictured her as a bit of a brawler who likes to punch people, so Vanguard/Powertech or Scoundrel/Operative all seemed like viable options. In the end I made the final decision somewhat impulsively on a day when I was trying to do some dailies/heroics for Conquest and found myself wishing that I had more suitable alts with stealth to make the process easier. So Zeresa went off to the GSI shop and learned how to be an Operative.

I haven't really done much with this new flexibility other than struggle a bit to get her gear sorted, spend some time trying to find a suitable outfit, and do some of the dailies I made the switch for, but I guess the option is there now.

The other character that acquired a second combat style was my second Sage Tiranea. Interestingly, this one wasn't really inspired by any particular need; I just happened to be reminded of her and it occurred to me that she was uniquely suited to getting a second combat style due to having undergone more changes than most of my characters throughout the years. Plus I also have this vague memory of actually being a bit hesitant when it came to choosing her advanced class originally as I was at least considering Shadow as an option well. Now she can be both.

As this was my first Force user to choose a second combat style and I hadn't looked anything up about how it works, I was kind of surprised to see that they don't get to see any kind of trainer but simply meditate and have a vision that then unlocks their second combat style. Still seems fitting enough though.

I actually have potential combat style ideas for a couple more alts, but we'll see when I get around to them. While the new loadouts feature is very handy for quickly switching specialisation, I'm still not a fan of all the faffing around that's required to get that properly set up in the first place, so I've got to pace myself with those things.


Finding My Season 3 Groove

During Galactic Season 1 I kept a diary of all the objectives I completed, because the way the system worked encouraged you to play in slightly wacky ways and it was fun to document that - e.g. me trying to squeeze in two rounds of dailies before having to go to an emergency dental appointment. I was grateful that Season 2 eased up on that, but it also made the whole thing somewhat less fun to write about because a lot of objectives more or less completed themselves, in the sense that they simply got done as a side effect of normal play.

Since everything was so easy to complete, I took up the additional challenge of completing Season 2 on the game's other four servers as well, and that was actually quite engaging and interesting. Since Season 3 only made some very minor and (to me) inconsequential changes to how things work, my plan was to go for completion on all five servers right away this time.

In many ways I figured that this would actually be easier now that I have established legacies on all servers, but as it turns out, going all in from the beginning does actually feel like a bit much. Originally my plan was to just focus on Darth Malgus to begin with and only earn points from logging in and completing the daily objective on the other servers, but then I was like "well, this weekly isn't that hard, I'm sure I can do at least that one on multiple servers" and then things kind of spiralled from there.

I thought things would be better during week two, since it was also Total Galactic War and I wanted to focus on helping my guild win a planet through Conquest, but our competition turned out to be a lot less competitive than I expected, meaning I soon felt that I could ease up on the point grinding and do other things anyway, such as completing the CZ-198 weekly ten times (twice per server) - madness!

So while it's only the end of week two, I'm already sitting on seasons level 23 on Darth Malgus and 16 on all the other servers. I'd really like to pace myself better because part of the appeal of doing the season on multiple servers is that it'll give me something to do for longer, without being done quite so quickly, but obviously that doesn't work very well if I push my legacies on the other servers too hard from the beginning.

The "problem" is that the weekly objectives often encourage doing things in planned-out chunks, so you do just a little bit and then log off to do something else... and if you're like me you might go: hey, why not do the same little bit on another server, and on it goes until I've suddenly done the same daily zone ten times.

Trying to find the right balance in that regard is going to be... interesting.

Also, I know you can't complete more than seven weekly objectives, but I liked how close I got to getting all ten done near-simultaneously last week.


Andor Is Amazing

I'm perhaps not the most discerning Star Wars fan, which is why I don't really get it whenever people get super upset about not liking some new piece of content. I'm generally happy if I derive some sort of enjoyment from it, even if it's not perfect, and I'm okay with not everything being good or appealing to me personally. I thought the sequel trilogy was ultimately disappointing, but I've been enjoying most of the stuff Disney's been producing for TV. I thought Andor was going to be just another one of those shows - not groundbreaking, but enjoyable enough.

And the first few episodes did start out that way for me - entertaining enough, with some interesting parts, and others that were a bit more meh (in my opinion anyway). However, something happened around episode four or five: things started to ramp up, tension started to build, characters got more interesting. Episode six had me glued to my screen. I had to watch episode seven a second time to make sure I hadn't missed anything important (and I had, so it was good that I did that). I started seeking out articles and conversations about it because just watching the show wasn't good enough anymore. Andor reminded me what it's like to not just enjoy something, but to truly be a fan.

Poster taken from the show's IMDB page.

Why is that? Well, I do think it can be said that it's objectively very well produced. The acting is good, the writing is sharp and clever, there are some great visuals and it's supported by a strong soundtrack. It presents a number of interesting characters with a lot of nuance to their actions, and it does a lot of world building - not in the sense of inventing new locations, though that's something that does happen as well, but in the sense that it really explores what it means to live under the Empire as a regular person, to work for it or rebel against it.

I get that if for you, Star Wars is all about the lightsabers and spectacle, this may not be your cup of tea, but for me as someone who's always been very interested in the wider setting, it's fantastic. I liked this about Solo as well.

Unlike Solo however, Andor leans heavily into a more serious interpretation of the setting, to the point that I feel it genuinely manages to shift genre. The core Star Wars films could be classified as family-friendly action adventures - sure, there are some serious themes and bad things happen, but we're not meant to think too deeply about e.g. what it means for a whole planet to get blown up and a whole civilisation to be eradicated. That's not a flaw; that's just a convention of the genre.

My fascination with Andor led to me rewatching Rogue One the other day as well, and while that tried to be grittier in many ways, it still feels like a traditional Star Wars film in most other aspects... which actually makes all the tragic deaths feel a bit weird, because all the heroes dying doesn't quite fit the genre, yet at the same time the film also doesn't go far enough to really pause and think about what it all means.

Andor on the other hand is a full-blown... drama, spy thriller? I find it hard to categorise actually, but it's definitely not just an action adventure. In fact, one of the criticisms I've seen levelled at it is that there hasn't been enough action, that it's "too slow" because we spend so much time just watching characters talk with seemingly nothing happening except character development, but I can't say that I've ever felt that way, even during the first few episodes that didn't really excite me that much.

Usually I'd wait to write this kind of post until a show or at least the season is over, but in this case my excitement has got the better of me and I couldn't really contain it any longer. At the time of me writing this there are four episodes left in the season, and for all I know the writers could still mess up horribly and ruin everything, but at the moment that doesn't seem likely to me. I'm pleased to hear that a second season is already in the works.

Assuming that the show can stick the landing, I hope that this will inspire Disney to allow more Star Wars films or TV series like this to be made. And by "like this" I don't mean that they all have to be dark and super serious. Rather, I see Andor as confirmation that the Star Wars setting is rich enough to produce all kinds of excellent stories, and that they should dare to venture outside of the traditional boundaries of action adventures about Jedi more often. That could mean other more adult shows, but I'd be just as happy to see a good comedy set in the Star Wars universe for example, or even a romance (we've actually seen the latter done quite successfully in written form already, in Lost Stars). It doesn't all have to be aimed at my own personal tastes; I just love seeing this vast universe being given some room to truly breathe.


Meeting "Fay"

So the launch of Galactic Season 3 ended up being delayed by a couple of days due to Bioware discovering an issue during patch deployment (what else is new) but on Thursday we finally got to dig into it.

I have to admit that my first impression involved a slight feeling of disappointment when I looked at the weekly season objectives and saw a lot of the exact same ones that had been used in Season 2: Capitals of Dichotomy, complete the Revan flashpoints... there's nothing wrong with these as objectives, but while I wanted them to keep the structure of Season 2 for Season 3, I'd been hoping for a bit more variety in the content of the objectives.

However, soon I was off to pick up my new companion, and here I was quite positively surprised. Again, I wasn't immediately keen on a Scorpio-lookalike (the initial announcement about the season being "Galactic Gaming"-themed made me think we might get a Huttball player or something as a companion... wrong type of gaming it turns out) - but her intro really won me over.

I thought PH4-LNX has a much more interesting backstory than the previous companions, what with being a former Gemini droid, being captured by Czerka and being indentured to a Hutt! The little introductory storyline where you hop from planet to planet has her allude to even more tales of crazy adventure, such as when she tells you that she once killed a Hutt on Tatooine and became an Alderaanian Duchess.

One weekly objective that is new to Season 3 also involves travelling around the galaxy with "Fay" in tow to catch cheaters in casinos and cantinas and it's... weeeird. On the one hand I kind of like how it encourages you to visit different planets to find an uncontested spot to watch over, but on the other hand the scarcity of the designated gambler NPCs makes the whole thing a bit dystopian.

What I mean is that you end up with these scenes of half a dozen people staring at a character playing at a slot machine and just waiting to pounce on them to get them arrested for wrongdoing. Every gambler cheats at some point or another as well, and there are no false positives or anything where it turns out that their "acting suspiciously" was actually something innocent. I don't know, maybe I'm overthinking this...

The only real hiccup I've run into with the intro mission on Republic side (I don't know if the same issue exists on Imp side) is when it tells you to slice a terminal on Coruscant, pointing you to the Senate Tower cantina, and when you get there you see a gambler playing at a machine, surrounded by half a dozen people staring at him, so your natural inclination is probably to be confused in some way... is that the "terminal" I need to slice? Everyone seems to be looking at it, but I can't click it; does that mean it's bugged? I had to look it up when I got to that step myself and have since seen other people be equally confused by it. Bioware seems to be aware of this though and is looking into how they can reduce the confusion.


Galactic Season 3 Starts Tomorrow

On Friday we got (rather short!) notice that patch 7.1.1 will go live tomorrow, with one of the biggest patch features being the release of Galactic Season 3. After how decidedly meh I felt when Season 1 was originally announced, the concept of seasons has quickly grown on me (especially with all the positive changes that were made from Season 1 to Season 2) and I'm actually looking forward to Season 3.

That said, I'm a bit surprised by how little we've heard about the upcoming season this time around. Before the first one, we got a decent (if not fully finalised) overview of what it was going to entail about a month in advance, and Galactic Season 1 hadn't even ended yet when Bioware took to the forums to explain how they were going to make massive changes for Season 2. With Season 3, we haven't really heard anything beyond a vague mention that it will be "Galactic Gaming themed". (Note: While I was writing this, the patch notes went up and clarified that the official title of the season is "Luck of the Draw" and that the new companion will be "PH4-LNX, the new Croupier Droid".) I'm hoping that means they were happy with how positively Season 2 was received and aren't making any major changes to how it worked, but truth be told, we don't really know.

Assuming that Season 3 will follow the same general pattern as Season 2, I'd like to complete it on all five servers again, while jumping into that project from the beginning this time. If I start casually accumulating points just by logging in and doing the odd objective here and there from week one, I should hopefully be able to achieve full completion everywhere without having to resort to credit buyouts.

Looks like the next few months are going to be quite busy for me in terms of gaming... are you looking forward to the start of the new season? Or are you more interested in other aspects of the patch, such as the return of the Feast of Prosperity or tweaks to class balance?


Imperial Saboteur, Part 3

It's been a few months since I wrote about my decision to make my Chiss Sniper an Imperial saboteur and how that changed the story from Jedi Under Siege onwards. Part one, which covered the story content up to Onderon, could largely be summed up as "these saboteur options are pretty neat and interesting", while part two was still fun but veered a bit into the ridiculous with how obvious my character's sabotage was at times.

Last week I finally got the character caught up with the latest content - at the time of writing this, that's the "Digging Deeper" story update, though I can already tell you that I won't have anything to say about that one as I didn't encounter any saboteur-specific options in it; it seemed to be exactly the same as for all my loyalist characters. As far as everything else goes however, there'll be post-Onslaught spoilers in this post; you've been warned.

I previously covered up to the end of the main Onslaught story, so I had to pick things up with The Task at Hand and the introduction of Darth Rivix. Your sabotage is shown to have had consequences here as unlike the briefing for loyalists, the one saboteurs get from Rivix describes the Empire as being in deep trouble after the loss of the Meridian complex.

There's also a little section where Rivix asks your opinion on something that's specific to your origin story, which I don't actually remember catching on to before... for agents he notes that Darth Xarion appears to have planted some spies among the Hand's prospective staff and as a saboteur you can get him in trouble with the Emperor or Empress for that, though I didn't choose this option. I was also a bit confused why Rivix called me "Keeper" as I don't remember my agent attaining that rank (not that this is something that's specific to saboteurs).

Echoes of Oblivion and Spirit of Vengeance unsurprisingly had no saboteur options, seeing how they're not about the Republic/Empire conflict. In the "intermission" after that I didn't really note any saboteur options either, other than being able to dismiss going after Zenith as not worth your time, which I liked.

Secrets of the Enclave felt like the saboteur option was given some more thought again here. Krovos justifies her delayed arrival with Imperial forces facing "heavy resistance", which is not the case for loyalists. Before you set out, you also have the option to contact Jonas Balkar to give him a heads-up about where you're going.

With that in mind, I kind of enjoyed the bit where you land on Dantooine and are shocked that the Republic is already there. I mean, I know that's how the story goes regardless and that it has nothing to do with being a saboteur, but considering I'd literally tipped them off personally, it just made so much more sense, you know? Just like the complete abandonment of Malgus at the end of Objective Meridian makes more sense when you have reason to dislike him for being suspicious of you.

When you rescue the medical droid inside the caves, you've got the option to instruct her to also transmit her data to Jonas/Odessen, which I thought was a bit blatantly suspicious with Krovos and Rivix just around the corner, but whatever it takes I guess...

After the mission I got a mail from Jonas which initially confused me and I was actually going to ask my readers whether they could tell me what the encoded message in it was, but as I was looking at the screenshot again while editing this post, I suddenly noticed it myself: "Got message from droid. Good. Talk soon."

Again, the "intermission" style updates leading up to Legacy of the Sith didn't contain anything relevant to saboteurs other than that there was obviously no Zenith follow-up.

Now, Manaan was a weird one. I immediately noted that it was lacking the sorts of small touches I'd really enjoyed during Onslaught, where you let a Republic fighter escape after doing some damage if you're a saboteur instead of destroying them completely as a loyalist. On Manaan, our saboteur is shown to have no such reservations and seems perfectly happy to blow up the Republic pilots that are chasing Major Anri at the start. Also, I felt kind of bad about the bonus missions to kill what felt like a million Republic forces... couldn't they have thought of something more appropriate for saboteurs? Maybe to complete the mission while only killing less than a certain number of Republic NPCs...

I don't think it had anything to do with my saboteur status, but at one point while Anri was telling me who Darth Norok was, she also commented that "Darth Shaar's retired to some frilly palace on Dromund Kaas" and I was like, "What?". I actually had to pause and go back through the text in the conversation window to make sure I'd heard that right, because I didn't remember encountering that comment before.

Anyway, as far as Manaan goes, I'd actually exposed myself to some spoilers about the saboteur path by accident so I knew that something was going to happen at the end with Colonel Korrd, but I wasn't really sure how it was going to play out. I chose to cover for him in front of Darth Krovos, and then went with the saboteur-specific option to say something about how you protected him because you still have a use for him and you'd like him to report for debrief with your people on Odessen.

I honestly found that kind of confusing, because while Korrd is fed up with a certain kind of Sith, he still seems deeply loyal to the Empire, so I'm not sure what the angle is supposed to be here. The spoiler I'd read seemed to interpret it as him being recruited into the Alliance, but that doesn't really make sense to me. My best guess is that the implication is that you'll mine him for Imperial secrets since he owes you and has no reason to distrust you, but if so, that's not made very clear.

The conversation at the end where you have the option to flirt with Anri and where she tells you how amazing you are reminded me of my comment in an earlier post about how nonsensical her admiration feels when you've been playing a saboteur who's messed up one mission after another.

At the end I got a call from Jonas about the Republic weapons platform being destroyed, and there was no option to say that you feel bad about it. You can say something about how you've gained new intel through Colonel Korrd (somehow...) and how you secured some kolto for the Republic, but I mean... they were already doing well on that front before you came in to help the Empire beat them. It just didn't feel like a very satisfying exchange and like I didn't really help the Republic, considering how many of their people I mowed down.

Ruins of Nul didn't have any saboteur-specific options again, except that during the intro conversation, after Rivix asks you to come to Elom, you can say to Lana: "Let Malgus tear the Empire down. What do we care?"

All in all, the saboteur role still provides some interesting variations on content but I've got to admit that the post-Onslaught stuff has generally felt more muddled and less impactful to me. I know the story is progressing very slowly, but at some point you've got to wonder where we're going with this whole saboteur thing and how much longer it makes sense to maintain it. More than three years ago I wrote a post called "Will we ever get to change sides?" and my answer to that question back then was that it seemed very unlikely.

However, I've got to admit that since Bioware has gone through all the hassle of decoupling origin story from combat style since then, it seems... less far-fetched now that they could do the same thing for faction one day, though this would actually increase the amount of work required from the voice actors, as they'd now have to account for every base class being able to play through Republic or Imperial story. Whichever way they go, my main hope is that they didn't just add this whole saboteur thing with no real plan for where it should go in the long run.