Dancing the Conquest Dance

I'm not nearly as invested in Conquest as I was about a year ago, but as mentioned earlier this month it's still a major driving force in the way I play. I guess I like the feeling of being rewarded for being organised - some people get their kicks out of killing people in PvP; I get excited when by handing in the PvP daily mission on Coruscant instead of the fleet I also complete the Conquest objective for Coruscant missions and juuust manage to push a character over the finish line for her weekly personal target that way.

That said, ever since the addition of those silly new objectives earlier in the year, I have to confess that some of my habits have become slightly bizarre. For example there are those objectives that give three or four times the number of points you need to hit your personal target. Those always feel so weird and wasteful to me, because it's not as if you get anything for the excess... but I always figure the numbers probably make more sense for players who don't also have the maxed-out stronghold bonus.

Still, the point remains that completing that one objective and doing literally nothing else is already enough to hit your Conquest target, making it feel like a bit of a waste to get it on a character that is already partially done anyway. So if I notice that I'm approaching completion of such an objective, I may find myself frantically relogging to a lesser-played alt just to have them do the one thing to get credit, achieve their personal target and log off again.

What's particularly funny is that because gaining points is so easy nowadays, there can be unexpected pitfalls even in that simple act. For example the other day I noticed that I was on four out of five for "gain five levels", which promised an instant 35k points towards the personal target of 50k. So I logged a lowbie with the intent to just quickly level her up once, but the things I did to gain XP pretty much got her to her personal target before she even had a chance to level up, which made me switch characters yet again to find a new "victim".

However, the oddest/most awkward things are undoubtedly the objectives to complete five crew skill missions and the one to gain an influence level with a companion - the latter more so than the former, since it gives 16k+ points, while the former only causes a small bump. As I wrote earlier in the year, ever since Onslaught introduced the materials inventory, I run crew skill missions a lot of the time purely to raise my companions' influence level, and I habitually queue up a full set before logging off. However, this now also means that I have to be careful which character I log first on any given day, as they could end up completing one or both objectives the moment I log in (if I sent companions on crew skill missions the last time I played them) - and of course I want those Conquest points to go to a character that will actually benefit from them too.

So I not only have to keep track of my different alts' progress towards their personal Conquest targets (the guild list is helpful for that, but not so much when it comes to making decisions before even logging in), but also which alts have missions running and companions close to gaining a level. I'd really need a spreadsheet to track the latter accurately, but while I love me a good spreadsheet I ultimately don't care that much about optimising this particular habit to the nth degree... just enough to be slightly bothered when I mess it up (and to write about it here obviously).

I wonder if that's just me...


Final Thoughts on Clone Wars

As mentioned in my last post, I finished the last season of Clone Wars recently and just wanted to jot down some final thoughts on seasons six and seven, as well as on the show as a whole.

I think one thing seasons one to five have in common is that even though they have their serious moments, they still stand somewhat apart from the two prequel movies they are set between, in the sense that it's not clear when exactly they take place and you're kind of supposed to enjoy the moment and not think too hard about how it'll all go to pot in Revenge of the Sith later.

This changes in season six, as it starts off with an arc to address a major elephant in the room in regards to RotS: Throughout the show, the clones are portrayed as both very human and as extraordinarily loyal soldiers - how could they execute Order 66 like they did, murdering people they didn't just trust and respect but also cared for on a personal level sometimes? In what is quite a heartbreaking arc, clone trooper Fives discovers that he and his brethren all have special chips of questionable purpose implanted in their brains, and he slowly unravels while trying to get to the bottom of what's going on.

There's also an arc that shows the first serious cracks appearing in Anakin and Padmé's relationship - seriously, he was such an asshole to her in some scenes, I think I yelled out loud at my screen at one point. There is still some light-heartedness in the form of a Jar-Jar two-parter, but less so than in previous seasons. Finally, season six closes with several episodes of Yoda getting in touch with Qui-Gon's ghost and learning more about the Force, which - apart from one rather touching scene that has Yoda dreaming of a perfect world where all his friends are still alive and Dooku never betrayed them - I did not care for at all. Reminiscent of the Midichlorians being introduced to explain the Force, some weird aliens that look like mimes teach Yoda how to transcend death... it was just a classic case of: "I really didn't need this explained to me and I feel worse for you having even tried, so I'll suppress any memory of this whole thing as soon as humanly possible." I wonder how the fans felt in 2014 when it seemed like this was how Clone Wars was going to go out.

With season seven, you could tell right away that it was made with a bigger budget and aimed more towards the many now grown-up fans, as there's a noticeable improvement in the graphical effects, especially when it comes to lighting and such. Oddly, the writing doesn't immediately feel much different - there are no more complete joke episodes, but the first arc for example mostly focuses on a squad of special troopers (who incidentally somewhat reminded me of SWTOR's original Havoc Squad) blowing stuff up in cool ways, which was... fine, but not really outstanding. (Those same troopers are slated to get their own spin-off series next year as well.)

Then the focus shifts to Ahsoka, and we see her trying to get by as totally-not-a-Jedi, but of course she immediately meets two sisters engaged in questionable business and has to help them out. From what I gather this arc wasn't popular with the fans, and I can kind of see why, but at the same time it wasn't really that bad, just kind of unnecessarily stretched out. I remember there's this one sequence where they are captured by bad guys, escape, get captured again, escape again, get captured again... even I couldn't help thinking: Was that really necessary? It probably would have been more effective condensed into fewer episodes.

Anyway, all this segues into the big four-episode finale, which is... quite something. It's edited more like it's meant to be seen as a full film, and mostly follows Ahsoka's path during the events immediately leading up to Order 66. There is definitely some great stuff there, to name just a few of my favourite moments:

  • Ahsoka being tempted by Maul felt like a better version of the Rey vs. Kylo confrontation in The Last Jedi. As a viewer who knows what's to come, there's a real tragedy in watching Ahsoka reject Maul's offer because she (wrongly!) has faith in Anakin, with the silent implication being that the two of them might have been able to stop Sidious if she hadn't been so tragically wrong about Anakin.

  • The music/sound design was pretty amazing, especially after Maul's capture and at the very end, where there are long periods without any dialogue. During the former section, I remember thinking: "Why is this music so oppressive; they just won a minor victory" and then Rex gets the call from Palpatine and it's like... oh no.
  • I thought it was well done how Rex had literally just had a conversation with Ahsoka about how much he values her and how this provided some explanation as for why he was able to hesitate long enough to buy her time to escape.

If I were to criticise anything at all it would be that they sure made brain surgery into something even more trivial than it had been before, and that I personally think it would have been more impactful if Anakin and Ahsoka hadn't seen each other again before his turning dark - as it was, it felt a bit odd that he would go into the events of Revenge of the Sith actually seemingly cheered up by having just reunited with his former padawan.

Anyway, all in all it was really well done and I can see why people who grew up with this show loved it to pieces. It takes the better parts of the prequels, expanding on the world and giving everything more depth. So if you think Star Wars is nothing but a bunch of movies of mixed quality, you're really missing out. You just gotta find the good stuff and focus on that. Personally I'll be working my way through Rebels next!


This Blog Also Turns Nine

As is traditional, this blog celebrates its own birthday two days after SWTOR's, and I always like to use this opportunity to look back on what I've written over the course of the past year.

It's not been the best year ever for the blog as my output has been the lowest it's ever been, falling under 100 posts a year for the first time. (Technically there are a few days left in the year but I'm not going to write six more posts in that time frame.) I can't even blame real life or work for that, because not only have I been lucky enough to retain my job during the pandemic, I got to work from home for most of the year, which eliminated my commute and resulted in about twelve hours per week of extra time to do fun things of my choosing. As it happened I just ended up branching out in terms of my MMO play and spending more time in WoW Classic, which then also resulted in some of my creative energy going towards writing about that instead. (Consider this a plug for my other blog by the way if you're interested in that game at all. It's kind of funny to me now how my WoW blog used to be the most-visited of my sites while this one got almost no traffic and now it's the other way round.)

Anyway, I still haven't exactly been idle here either. In January, my latest round of levelling solely through flashpoints to assess the viability of that play style was still going strong and I was sharing all about my pug experiences. Mostly I was going on about how much I hated getting Hammer Station half the time, until I actively started excluding it from my selection before queueing. I also reviewed how I felt about the Onslaught expansion three months in, and celebrated my guild getting the last boss of the new Nature of Progress operation down on veteran mode. (At the time that was the hardest difficulty.)

In February I celebrated my guild hitting guild level 200 (we're into the 300s by now but I've stopped paying attention to it). My pacifist leveller explored Taris, and I wrote about how I got into the habit of using crew skills to level my companion influence. (On my main I'm up to nine companions at level 50 now thanks to this!) My flashpoint levelling also continued, and I wrote about how the removal of the Veteran's Edge buff from master mode operations unexpectedly messed with guild progression. Ten months later and Bioware hasn't really made any significant changes to this, sadly. It's been a tough year for maintaining motivation to progress for an ops group that finds master modes with capped stats to be a struggle.

March saw my flashpoint levelling experiment come to an end, and as COVID panic became more widespread, I wondered about the effect this would have on MMOs. (In terms of finances, all indications seem to be that it's been a win for the gaming industry. The whole "do we really want to deal with deadly pandemics in our entertainment too" angle surprisingly turned out to be a complete non-issue.) As I found myself holed up at home for a (then) unprecedented amount of time, I expressed love for my guildies and how their companionship was keeping me sane.

This continued in April as I talked about some of my favourite guild videos and reported on our first ever virtual guild meet-up. I used a (free) character boost for the first time and was surprisingly pleased with the result. (That said, I haven't played that character very much since then!) I also wrote a bit of a rant about how some of my guildies were driving me crazy when I was tanking flashpoints for them (clearly the novelty of spending time with them every day was starting to wear off, haha), which resonated with a surprising number of people.

In May I told the story of how I came to be Benevolent Empress (aka guild leader) of our Imperial alt guild and celebrated completing a hard-to-get gear set. I revisited what is for me an evergreen topic on this blog: how levelling is just way too fast these days and can you please give us at least the option to slow down (Bioware says no). I also liked this post in which I compared the experience of getting a first kill on the same boss (but re-scaled) six years apart.

My pacifist's explorations continued in June and I got to celebrate with Swtorista as she hit 100k subscribers on YouTube! (Last year I predicted that this would happen in March... I guess being three months off isn't too bad. 150k subs in 2021?) I was ecstatic to get the achievement for defeating all the Dark vs. Light world bosses, and celebrated my birthday with a guild event that involved making use of those control modules that drop in the Gods from the Machine operation that nobody ever uses. Oh yeah, and Bioware added a new "welcome window" that everybody instantly hated. I think we've got used to it since then, and I'm not going to lie, it's drawn my attention to a Cartel market deal I liked once or twice. Still, I also find that it keeps re-opening itself after being minimised and at this point I kind of treat it like one of those pop-ups you get on some sites that you just automatically close without even looking at them...

In July I made some very thoughtful posts that sparked good discussion in the comments as well, such as on the role of sexist NPCs in SWTOR and about how I struggle to make dark side decisions for the sake of seeing different story outcomes. Continuing the theme of deep thoughts, I wrote about experiencing confusion and discomfort with my pacifist character on Alderaan as some quests she picked up there didn't technically violate the rules of the challenge I had set myself but didn't seem to be in the spirit of being a pacifist. Also, SWTOR launched on Steam and I did switch to that version of the game soon after just for the sake of being able to show off how many hours a week I play... or something?

August was when my activity started to drop a bit, at the time at least partially because I didn't have the greatest of times with the Nightlife event. I picked up watching Clone Wars again (I've finished the last season now by the way... writing a final post about that is on my to-do list) and wrote about my experiences with trying to convert jawa junk into credits. Four months later that is still an ongoing project by the way! While I've managed to greatly reduce the number of junk stacks in my legacy cargo hold, I just keep earning new junk too quickly for the pace at which I'm selling goods and considering that I'm trying to not flood the market with my wares...

In September I mused about how my main was spending a lot of her time on the guild flagship these days and talked candidly about how my guild failed to kill two difficult bosses. We did get at least one of them down a bit later though.

October was the quietest month on the blog, and I only updated about my progress watching Clone Wars, my experiences with healing 16-man Revan on veteran mode, and the launch of the new Feast of Prosperity event.

I continued writing about my experiences with the event in November, and compared the inquisitor companion Ashara Zavros to Ahsoka from Clone Wars. I also had a bit of a freak-out when Bioware announced that SWTOR was going to introduce login rewards, which are something (maybe somewhat unintuitively) I'm not a fan of at all. Two weeks in, the new system doesn't seem too bad, though I'm not a fan of getting all these legacy-bound companion gifts that don't stack with my regular two cargo bays full of companion gifts. I have yet to decide how to handle that going forward...

I started December by musing about how the Conquest meta on Darth Malgus was in a very strange place, and then got all excited when we finally got our first big story update since Onslaught's launch. I also reviewed my predictions from earlier in the year and somewhat less than half of my expectations were met. Let's see what 2021 brings!


Nine Years of SWTOR

Happy Birthday to SWTOR, which is turning nine years old today! You can tell that our relationship is getting on a bit as I actually got my dates mixed up and nearly would have posted this tomorrow (aka the wrong day) if people hadn't started talking about the anniversary on the forums... oops?

Here's my annual update on my Commando's looks over time:

You may notice the return of a familiar outfit from year two. The reason for this is that the last new look I sported was the Apex Predator set, which I did wear for a couple of months, but then one of my co-healers got it too and showed up to ops looking nearly identical to me one day, which I found horrifying. Keen to avoid such a fashion faux-pas reoccurring, I decided to re-use an old look that he was unlikely to be able to duplicate as it includes a lot of old gear pieces that are no longer available in that exact form, and that's where I am right now.

So how's 2020 been for SWTOR? Well... we don't know how it's been doing financially, but it's probably safe to assume that the rising tide of COVID causing people to stay at home and spend more time playing video games probably lifted Bioware's boats as well, but in terms of content releases the pandemic threw a spanner in the works and resulted in things being released somewhat more slowly than intended. I know I've banged the "the content is great but we need more of it" drum several times in the past, but considering the circumstances, I'll definitely give them a pass this year.

Anyway, we did still get a good chunk of stuff in 2020, including two major story updates (yes, I think it's fair to consider them two separate stories even though they ultimately came out as part of the same patch) plus one minor one (I don't really want to count the first chat with Jekiah Ordo since it's literally just a couple of lines). We got a new stronghold on Alderaan, which I now realise I never really wrote about - I just bought it and then did nothing with it, as is my wont with strongholds - sorry, housing enthusiasts! And we got not just one, but two new events, plus the usual number of tweaks to things like Conquest and PvP.

More generally I just want to say thank you to the Bioware devs this year... it's been an exceptionally crappy year for many, in which I've been one of the lucky ones, but even so all this staying at home business has been weird. I think it's safe to say that the virtual worlds I visited during this time have contributed more than their fair share to keeping me sane, so I'd like to once again thank the SWTOR team at Bioware for being so passionate about the game and always trying to make it the best it can be. There've been times when I've felt a bit down on the direction things were going, but the last couple of years I've honestly been a very content customer. Please keep up the good work and I'm looking forward to seeing what you've cooked up for SWTOR hitting the big ten next year.

For reference, here are previous years' birthday posts:

Happy Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy 2nd Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy Third Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy 4th Birthday, SWTOR!
Five Years of SWTOR
Six Years of SWTOR
Seven Years of SWTOR
Eight Years of SWTOR


My 2020 Predictions Reviewed

Wilhelm reviewing his video game predictions for 2020 reminded me that I actually joined in the crystal ball fun last time and made a short post with SWTOR predictions for 2020 early in January this year. While the year isn't technically over yet, all my predictions centred around content additions for SWTOR and I don't expect Bioware to give us another surprise content patch in the next 12 days, so I think it's safe to rate my predictive capabilities somewhat ahead of time.

I made five predictions for the year ahead back then; let's see how they turned out:

1. The Emperor's Last Gruesome Weapon won't actually turn out to be that big of a deal, for all the time Scourge and Kira spent expositioning about it. I expect we'll get to see this story arc relatively late in the year, October at the earliest. It will be smaller than Ossus was, with no exciting new environments and largely the same storyline for both Republic and Empire players. Depending on some previous story choices, you'll get the option to kill Master Satele. Either way you stop the weird mind plague before it can actually bring the Emperor back or anything like that, and we can finally move on from this subject.

I'm not quite sure how to rate this prediction. A lot of it ended up being spot on, from the late release to the small environmental scope and it largely being the same for Republic and Empire. And while you don't actually get to kill Satele, you do get an option to try under certain circumstances. Still, me saying that it would all be not that big of a deal seems very wrong considering Echoes of Oblivion's story scope.

2. Darth Malgus will get in touch with Imperial players somehow and give you the option to ally with him like many of us always kind of wanted to on Ilum. The idea will be that you help him overthrow Acina/Vowrawn so that he can position himself as the new Emperor, not false this time! This might not actually happen yet in 2020 but there should at least be a smaller story snippet setting things up and having you meet with Malgus. I'm not sure what Republic players could get that's equally as interesting, mind you...

Nope, no Darth Malgus story progress at all this year except for that brief scene at the end of The Task at Hand. I still kind of hope that this prediction will end up coming true one day though (as nothing's happened to rule it out either).

3. GSF will get a nice amount of love mid-year, with more than just some balance changes and a new map. There might even be a new game mode and/or new ships in the cards!

Hahaha, no. Among all the updates and changes made this year, I don't think GSF got a single thing. Sorry starfighters; I was rooting for you!

4. PvP will also get a new warzone at some point, though it might "just" be a new map for an existing game mode. More importantly though, someone at Bioware will finally figure out what's up with the weird desync in Huttball and fix it, or at least make it better... Yeah okay, I don't really think that one's going to happen, but I really, really want it to!

Oh boy, where to even begin with this one? Not only did we not get a new warzone (map) this year, we now have two fewer than we started with! I was right that Bioware expressed a serious interest in fixing the performance and desync issues in warzones, but unfortunately part of this initiative included taking Quesh and Vandin out of the Huttball rotation for the "short term". This was back in July. Having had bad experiences with other MMO developers removing content from the game to "fix" it, I expressed concern back then that the whole thing might just end up being forgotten, and considering that it's December and we haven't heard a peep about those two maps making a comeback I fear that I may have been right about that.

5. We still won't get Zenith back in 2020. It's mind-blowing to me now that we thought his return was imminent back in 2016 and yet here we are nearly four years later and he's the very last of the original companions that's still unaccounted for. I really wish we could get him back already, not least because he's my favourite of the original consular companions... however, looking at how Bioware has handled companion returns in the last year and a half, I've really enjoyed the way they've worked them into the main story again, compared to the rather disappointing Alliance alerts from two years ago. So I'm happy to wait if that means he'll get a nicely integrated return later on, preferably something involving Balmorra, considering his strong attachment to his home world. I just can't see that fitting into what's coming up in the short term.

This one may have been an easy one to predict, but it still came true. Though now that the next story arc is dealing with Mandalorians (and considering that I can't really see Zenith having taken up the bounty hunting life) I still can't see a good place for his return in the near future. So not sure I'd hold my breath for his return in 2021 either...

But that's getting into 2021 territory, and I don't know yet whether I'll bother trying to make any predictions for next year. If I do, it'll probably be in about two weeks or so.

Did you have any predictions for 2020 that came true or turned out to be complete opposite?


6.2 Story Time - Spirit of Vengeance

As mentioned in my last post, Echoes of Oblivion segues straight into the beginning of a new story arc, starting with a mission called Spirit of Vengeance. Once again, this post will contain full spoilers, so consider yourself warned.

In the last patch, Shae Vizla made a point of briefly introducing you to her advisor Jekiah Ordo, and we soon see her talking to him again about what sounds like internal unrest brewing among the Mandalorians. After you return from your showdown with the Emperor, it turns out that things have indeed come to a head and an as of yet unidentified rebel faction has attempted to seize Shae's flagship, the Spirit of Vengeance II. You agree to help her re-take it. What follows takes place in the new flashpoint of the same name, and I'll probably make a separate post about things like boss fights/mechanics there, so I'll mostly leave them out of this one and focus on what happens in the story.

You find the Spirit tethered to three smaller Mandalorian ships and it falls on you to board each ship in turn to detach the tethers from the inside. Your entire support consists of a Mandalorian called Rass Ordo, who's also Jekiah's younger brother.

On the first ship, the Champion's Glory, you find Mandalorians of Clan Varad of Mandalorian Raiders fame. The second ship, the Fortune's Folly, is crewed by Mandalorian outcasts (Dar'manda) such as you've met on Mek-sha. Besides the name there doesn't appear to be an obvious affiliation between this group and Indigo's crew on Mek-sha though, as they seem to be led by a rather smuggler-like Mando with the very punny name Bask Sunn. Finally the third ship, the Seeker's Vigil, belongs to the Ash'ad, a clan of Mandalorians who are apparently also the guys active on Onderon (I have to admit I'd missed that memo).

With the last restraint removed, you move on to the Spirit of Vengeance II itself, where Jekiah and his remaining loyalists find themselves desperately retreating to the bridge. You intervene and encounter the leader of the revolt, the self-styled Field Marshal Heta Kol. You fight but she gets away, though apparently her raiders captured a banner belonging to Clan Cadera and she seems quite content with that. Everyone's quite confused by this, considering that Torian's old clan has long been wiped out (he's there to comment on this if he's still alive in your version of the story by the way), though they acknowledge that it could be seen as a symbol of rebellion. Shae can't quite shake the feeling that Heta Kol must be driven by something more personal though.

As players, we're treated to a sort of epilogue cut scene that shows Heta "debriefing" her bickering lieutenants: Tyrus Brokenblade of the Varad, Bask Sunn of the Dar'manda (who was the only one of the first three bosses in the flashpoint that made it out alive due to begging to trade intel for his life), and Durn Wynnward of the Ash'ad. Clan Varad is blamed for failing to "contain the situation" when their ship was first boarded, and Heta Kol ends up throwing a thermal detonator at Tyrus. He catches it, but she then walks up to him and stabs him repeatedly in the side while going on about how they all need to be able to rely on each other more and as the rest of the room watches on anxiously to see whether Tyrus will drop the detonator or not. He seems to pass the "test" though and the Field Marshal deactivates the detonator before sending everyone away again, telling them that they should already be aware of their next mission. She takes off her helmet while looking up at the banner behind her and mutters "a Mandalorian never forgets" in Mando'a. (No, I didn't know that when I heard it; I had to look it up.)

I've stated in the past that I'm not the biggest fan of the Mandalorians, but this mission seemed like a good opening chapter to something new, as it featured interesting characters and lots of intrigue.

Rass Ordo, who gives off vibes of being meant to be a recurring NPC/companion later on, doesn't really do a lot other than simply help you along with the mission, but I agree with my friend Cal who said that it was nice to deal with a Mandalorian for once who just seemed like a "normal guy" - without speaking in tongues or wanting to start a fight every five seconds. Mostly he shows an ability to roll with the punches as he's not fazed by your character crashing a shuttle into the Champion's Glory, nor by you blowing up a console he's working on if you get impatient with him. He also clearly cares a lot about his older brother as he gets quite agitated when you get close to the cornered Jekiah. I look forward to seeing him again.

Heta Kol, the new big bad, is shrouded in a lot of intrigue. Who is she and why is she so mad at Shae? My favourite theory I've seen so far is that she could be the sister of the previous Mandalore (the Vindicated), whose regular name was "Artus Lok" - and Kol is Lok backwards, get it?! But I'm not too invested in any such theories either way, as I'm quite happy to accept the character on her own merits to be honest.

She makes it clear that at least one of the reasons she hates Shae is that she feels Mandalore the Avenger has taken the Mandalorians into a bad direction, working with the Alliance like mercenaries when they should be fighting for their own causes instead. With that in mind, it's confusing that she works with Dar'manda of all people, who are apparently only in it for the credits, which seems like a bad match on both sides. I'm hoping that this will be touched upon in a future update, whether through some sort of reveal or maybe Bask Sunn betraying her - I know Mandalorians like it rough, but the whole "threatening to blow up the room while repeatedly stabbing the guy preventing it" thing seemed a bit over the top to me even by their standards, so I'd like to know how her little faction has managed to hold it together so far (or watch them fail to hold it together - either would work).

Personally I also thought it was interesting that during the final showdown on the bridge, Shae opted to charge off and hold off the reinforcements instead of fighting Heta Kol herself. Now, obviously this kind of had to happen so we as players had a boss fight, but it seemed uncharacteristic for her to dodge the opportunity of a personal duel there and then. Is it because she still wanted to avoid making too big a deal out of the whole situation and in order to let you have the "honour" of potentially dispatching her enemy for her?

Lots of questions and not many answers, but that's fine for the beginning of a new storyline and I enjoyed it for what it was. Let's just hope there'll be an appropriate pay-off later.


6.2 Story Time - Echoes of Oblivion

6.2 brought us the first big story update since last year's Onslaught expansion - plus the first bit of new story that was supposed to come after that as well. In practice this plays out slightly strangely as you start by having a conversation with Shae about some Mandalorian stuff, then go off to adventure with Kira and Scourge, and then return to the Mandalorian arc properly. I can only guess that all of this was meant to be spaced out a lot more, so that the short chat with Shae could have landed with a smaller patch earlier in the year, before the global pandemic threw everything into disarray. But hey, we got new story at last, so let's talk about it!

At first I was planning to cover all of it in a single post, but I quickly realised that this would have become an absolutely massive wall of text, so I'll be splitting things out. Let's start with Echoes of Oblivion, the wrap-up of the issue Scourge and Kira told you about at the end of Onslaught. I'll avoid screenshots that might give away any surprises so as not to spoil anyone who's just casually scrolling by, but if you continue reading the actual meat of this post, consider this your warning that this will be a full spoiler post, so if you haven't played through the content yourself yet and don't want to know any details in advance, turn back now.

To recap where we left off: Kira and Scourge come to you, the Alliance Commander, to tell you that they've destroyed the old Emperor's original body, but that the process seems to have unleashed some sort of Sith mind plague, and that they've had to isolate a comatose Satele Shan and her students in a transport ship. Between the three of you you're in the unique situation of being confirmed as being able to resist the old Emperor's mind manipulations, so it's up to you to come to the rescue. However, when it comes to re-locating the auto-piloted transport ship, it's not where it should have been. You agree to send out droids to comb the wider area of where it might have gone astray.

Echoes of Oblivion starts with you getting a call from T7, who's finally found the transport but immediately comes under attack from a third party shuttle. He only just has time to communicate his coordinates before he's cut off. You and your two companions rush off to the hangar to get ready to come to his aid, when you run into... basically everyone you haven't killed who might have a reason to want to come along. Senya and Arcann want to be there to finish off whatever Valkorion's left behind, and Theron is understandably concerned for his mother. Lana is a bit mopey as she kind of wants to come along as well but has to admit to herself that she can't guarantee that she'll be immune to the Emperor's affliction. (Though she and Theron were on Ziost together, so I think you could argue that the risk would be the same for both of them? Whatever.)

Anyway, I immediately liked this because one thing that has sometimes been annoying about SWTOR's stories in the past is that the writers have built up this huge, diverse cast but didn't always use it to its maximum potential. Shadow of Revan was very bad for this as everyone was wondering just where the eff Lord Scourge was at what was clearly a pivotal moment for him too. So I'm totally on board with having any and all relevant side characters butt in during a story in an appropriate context. I was happy to have everyone along, but there's an option to deny their request as well. I'm not sure whether they oblige, but considering that there's an obvious version of the story where they don't come along anyway (namely if you killed them), I'm guessing they accept your decision.

You travel to the transport and temporarily come under attack from unknown forces too, though you soon discover that it's old Vitiate's former Servants, whose numbers were apparently greater than originally assumed. (Can you imagine being relegated to being code-named "Servant Twenty-Two"? Made me crack up anyway.) There's some low-key banter as you, Scourge and Kira try to seal off the ship to make sure nobody who's already on board makes a sudden getaway and spreads the mind plague or whatever it is, which made me chuckle. I loved the arguing about the ship's size and Scourge just charging in like a mofo when Kira wanted to be stealthy.

Then the first surprise! Revan's Force ghost appears! I have to admit that came completely out of left field for me, as I thought the ending of Shadow of Revan served as decent enough closure for him as a character. There was a brief moment where I was like: "Oh no, please let's not make this all about Revan again", but his appearances remained brief and I've got to admit that yeah, ultimately it seemed appropriate to have him there too in that final battle against the Emperor. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

You find that you don't just have the old Servants for company, but also whatever remained of the Scions of Zakuul. And they are bickering and fighting each other! I really loved that because it was the sort of thing I wouldn't really have thought of myself but which made complete sense to me as soon as I saw it. That, and two flavours of mad cultists duelling each other to the death are just entertaining. Again, I'm not sure the Scions really needed to be there considering they technically already fulfilled the prophecy by coming to you on Iokath - then again, they kind of ended up doing bugger all there, so this gave a somewhat more satisfying conclusion to their existence.

After dispatching all the minor baddies, you find the unconscious Satele and her students and start meditating as a group to basically enter her mind and find out what's going on with this mind plague. It soon turns out that it's a fragment of the old Emperor reassembling itself but lacking much of the knowledge and experience that the Emperor as you knew him had acquired throughout life. In a very cool move that attempts to bring some sort of cohesion to the being formerly known as Tenebrae, Vitiate and Valkorion, the character appears in all of his three bodies simultaneously, all speaking with their own voices but as one entity.

What follows is you traipsing across a "mindscape" kind of environment similar to KotFE chapter 2 and KotET chapter 9, only with more of a Tythonian Jedi flavour, which seems appropriate for Satele's mind. (I just disliked how narrow some of the bridges in there are. In my two playthroughs so far I fell to my death by slipping off a narrow walkway in the exact same place twice. Then again, maybe I'm just a klutz.)

You kill some trash mobs representing vices, spar verbally with the Emperor(s) and get sudden support as more and more characters from your and the Emperor's past appear to help you fight him. First Revan appears again to back you up, then an angelic white figure emerges from a rift whom it took me a moment to recognise: Meetra Surik, not seen since the story mission for the Jedi Prisoner arc from the base game. (Hot dang!) Just when you think it can't get any better, Darth Marr shows up too. (I couldn't help but think that I know some people who will have been very pleased with that particular cameo.)

If you brought them along, Arcann and Senya also join you in meditation, and if you killed them, they appear in spirit form, along with Thexan and Vaylin. It's a bit unclear why they are there in Satele's mind if they're dead but it's implied that you've been dragging their spirits along in your own head or something. I really liked the contrast here between the light side and dark side scenarios. If Arcann and Senya are alive, Senya pours her heart out to Vaylin's spirit about how sorry she is for everything that happened to her daughter and that it's all her fault - kind of the sort of dialogue I would have expected in KotET chapter 8 when I originally played through that. This actually seems to leave a crack in Vaylin's angry facade for once, though she's quick to remember her usual attitude when it comes to turning against her father, and she's given a satisfying scene where he tries to control her one more time but fails. Comparatively, if you killed Arcann and Senya, they dislike you and want to see you suffer but concede that finishing off Valkorion for good is more important then and there. The whole dead family forms a unified angry mob to go after the old family patriarch.

Eventually there's a big showdown with the three Emperors, which somewhat reminded me of the ending of Shadow Revan, what with the Emperor(s) on one side and all your allies on the other. There are additional shots showing other characters from the base game and earlier expansions in the background, which are very cool - you could make a whole mini-game out of finding and identifying them all.

Mechanically though, I have to confess I still have no clue what was going on in that fight. It doesn't have all the annoying stuns the Revan encounter had (thank god), but I didn't really understand what was happening most of the time. There are three "phases" as you fight each of the three Emperor's incarnations in turn, and you get some temporary abilities from your allies to help things along, but I just couldn't make heads or tails of it, despite of reading all the tooltips. For example in the Valkorion phase, there are a number of adds around the room that look like they should be involved in the fight somehow, but most of them are untargetable and any attempts of mine to do something useful with them (stand on them, land various abilities on them etc.) seemed to be pointless. In the end I just settled on slowly pew-pewing down each boss and killing adds only if the boss was temporarily immune to damage. That was also the only time I found a good use for a companion ability, as Revan's ultimate was good for clearing out all of Vitiate's many adds.

In the end you are victorious either way (I'm not sure if it's even possible to die/lose or if Satele's abilities always protect you), and it's... good! You have a final word with Satele where I think the game got a bit buggy for me as the screen kept shaking throughout the conversation even though the setting was the tranquil Odessen Wilds. If you killed Theron, she has some choice words to say about that. (You're also given the option to attack her, but I'm not sure if it works - I'm guessing that like in KotFE chapter 12 you don't actually succeed.)

Your allies get you home and we finish on Aryn Leneer coming up to Satele to talk - reminding us that there's still that thing with Darth Malgus going on.

From what I've seen on Twitter, the response to Echoes of Oblivion has been overwhelmingly positive. I liked it too, though I can't say it resonated as strongly with me as it seemingly did with many others. I think I'm reaching a weird point where Bioware has been doing so many good things with the story in the last few years (as far as I'm concerned) that I'm almost becoming a bit cynical about it, in an "Is this just fan service?" kind of way.

What I mean is that almost everything about Echoes of Oblivion felt like it was meant to address criticisms that players have levelled against the story in the past:

  • The whole thing with Vitiate and Valkorion supposedly being the same person just felt so clunky; it never really came together. - Look at us adding more context to make it more convincing!
  • Hey, the Scions never really came back like they said they would (I'm not counting Iokath because they didn't actually do anything there)! - Well, here they are.
  • How come we never heard from the Exile again after she was so keen to help free Revan? - Hey, here she is!
  • It sucks that there was never any closure to what happened between Senya and Vaylin and that Senya just came along to kill her daughter in KotET chapter 8 without further comment! - Okay, let's give her another chance to really pour her heart out about how she felt.

And so on... but then, those are not bad things! Because all those criticisms are valid, and the scenes that address them in this update are good! I guess all I'm saying is that I'm also hoping the writers won't get too bogged down in trying to address every possible thing they might have forgotten or not addressed in the best way in the past instead of telling us more cool stories.

Then again, after Echoes of Oblivion there honestly isn't a lot I can think of that's been left unresolved in an unsatisfying manner. As I was saying on Twitter and my guild's Discord, I'm actually kind of glad that this update ended up being bundled with the start of the new Mandalorian arc, as otherwise I might have worried that this story was heralding the end of SWTOR with how neatly it tried to put a bow on absolutely everything. But no, fortunately there is more to come... and we'll talk about some of that in my next post.


Pacifist Lost

Once again it's been quite a while since I talked about my pacifist Jedi Pacis. I recently decided to pick her up again and thought that this would be as good a time as any to write a little catch-up post about what's been happening to her.

The last time I wrote about her, the Nar Shaddaa Nightlife event was still going on and I was enjoying doing some non-violent dailies on Nar Shaddaa. After the event ended, I went back to my previous plan of working my way through all the levelling planets, with Hoth being the next one on the list. Unfortunately, Hoth kind of broke me. There just weren't a lot of pacifist-compatible quests there, and the map is so big and not particularly visually interesting, I just got somewhat tired of it about halfway through.

Pacis hit the milestone of level 50 somewhere along the line, and it occurred to me that it had been a really long time since she left Dantooine, the planet that I more or less consider her home. I actually found myself feeling kind of homesick for the place, plus there was the added incentive to return there some time to try out swoop racing. (Interestingly, the introductory mission to the swoop event doesn't provide you with a quick travel option to Dantooine if you don't have a ship, meaning that the only way for Pacis to get there was to use the option to travel to Dantooine that appears in the activity window during the Pirate Incursion conquest. Convoluted.)

Anyway, I used the next pirate event to return, and once the pirates had gone and peace had returned to Dantooine I started doing my daily round of digging for relics and patting Kath hounds as if I was level ten again. What nostalgia!

Unfortunately I had barely been at this for a few days (or it might even have happened on the very first night of being back, I can't remember for sure) when I did something incredibly stupid. Considering the chill and relaxing nature of the quests, I was watching something else on my second monitor while driving around to inoculate Kath hounds, being somewhat distracted. This is how I ended up hitting a quick travel item instead of the injector one time, which was still on my quest tracker from a leftover heroic, meaning that one loading screen later, I was suddenly off Dantooine again, with no way to return for who knows how many weeks until the next Pirate Incursion was supposed to come around.

I think I may have actually yelled "nooo" at my screen when I realised my mistake, and then just stared at my character for a bit, dumbfounded. That'll teach me to not pay proper attention while playing I guess. Either way I was so put out by the way I had managed to completely ruin my own plans that I didn't feel like playing the character for a while.

I did suddenly remember her during last week's Pirate Incursion though and made sure to use this opportunity to take her back to Dantooine. Today when I did my round there I made sure to click the right item every time (plus I don't think she currently has any heroics left in her log anyway). It felt really good to be back. The swoop rally is also supposed to come around again in a couple of weeks, which should allow for a nice yet still pacifist-compatible change of pace in a familiar environment.


Conquest Is in a Weird Place

I haven't written much about Conquest lately, but it's actually one of the things that keeps me logging in every day. The last time I wrote about the system at length was back in April when Bioware introduced a bunch of new and often very silly objectives, awarding points for extremely common everyday activities such as taking a taxi or giving a companion gift.

My reaction at the time was a mix of confusion and amusement. I found my own ways of using the new system to my advantage, but it did all seem a bit over the top and I kind of expected Bioware to nerf the whole thing again at some point. They did eventually tone down some of the more trivial objectives... but at the same time buffed others to be even more ridiculously rewarding.

As a result, a lot of my more recent, somewhat limited play has been what I can only describe as "passive Conquest point gaining", as I log in once a day to raise a crew skill, complete several crew skill missions, increase a companion's influence level (usually as a result of the former), and maybe re-roll an amplifier. Just doing this and nothing else is already enough to complete my Conquest on several characters every week, and while part of me obviously appreciates this, it also continues to feel slightly odd to me to gain so many rewards for doing so little. One of the characters on whom I've been doing this most regularly isn't actually max level yet, and since Conquest also awards XP, she's slowly been gaining levels without really doing anything. I'm somewhat uncomfortable with the prospect of having her reach level 75 while barely having left her Coruscant apartment.

One thing I haven't been paying too much attention to in the last few months is the meta, even though I've previously written about how it can be kind of interesting/entertaining to watch the big guilds duke it out for first place. One reason for my decreased interest is that the last set of changes kind of put my guild out of the running, making the whole thing less relevant to me - we'd previously been able to compete at least occasionally, but as explained in the post linked in the first paragraph, making Conquest too passive reduces the value of organised effort compared to simply having a large number of active players, regardless of whether they are in any way involved in guild business or not. So while it's easier than ever to hit the five million points required for the large yield target even as a small to medium-sized guild, there's just no way we could ever compete with guilds pumping out literally hundreds of millions of points each week.

Anyway, the other day I actually happened to look at the scoreboard for the first time in a while, and it made my jaw drop:

The infamous Stroke My Wookie [sic] is still around, but all previous competitors have disappeared, to be replaced by a mega guild called Shield of Destiny (Republic side) or Rest in Peace (Empire side). And when I say mega, I do mean mega - a single guild can only hold a thousand characters, and these guys are up to no less than six different guilds with slight variations in the spelling of the name and guild logo.

I'm not sure whether you can even speak of "a" guild in such a situation anymore... with so many thousands of characters spread across different guilds, how much do they even know of each other? And how do they maintain any kind of cohesion? I get the concept of alt/sister guilds, and there's some benefit in spreading out in an organised manner to dominate all the planets, but most weeks there are only three planets anyway, meaning that with six guilds competing, a lot of them don't actually get to claim first place with any regularity even as part of this coalition! I just don't understand what their angle is.

Even more intriguingly, googling the guild name leads to this guild listing from the Star Forge server. Did they move to Darth Malgus? Is it an offshoot? Or just copycats using the same name? Okay, I remember now why I tend to find this kind of thing intriguing...

Unfortunately this situation is bad news for any other guild not 100% dedicated to Conquest ever wanting to win first place. We haven't had a Total Galactic War in months, but at this rate they'll lay claim to a good chunk of the galaxy even then...