12/12/2020

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.

4 comments :

  1. Echoes of Oblivion was the best part of a story i ever witnessed in this game. They made so many things just right.

    You talk briefly about it under the term of fan service. But some points of it, i hadn't even on my radar. But when i saw what they made, i thought, "yes...that is exactly what was missing".

    And i totally agree with you regarding the Valkorion fight. Mechanically it was the worst boss fight ever in SWTOR. Mobs you can't target, what should i do with them? Is it a bug, is it intended? No help whatsoever.

    An additional ability which only purpose was to interrupt Valkorions heal to full when he is under 30%. Not that i found out about it during the fight, just after taking a close look at some video material. All very un-intuitive. Especially if you consider, that every class has an interrupt-ability already. Why creating a new ability and overwhelming new or storyplayers with this?

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  2. It's funny how you say everything is wrapped up in this update. I mostly agree, but there's a theory going around that Vaylin managed to body-hope into one of Satele's students.

    When you first find Satele and her students, Kira notes that two of them are already dead. But then, after the story, Satele sends a message of how one of those two students was unexpectedly alive after the whole situation. Players have theorized that it's the redhead student who Vaylin was looking at right before the final battle in the mindscape.

    I'm curious what you think about this theory. Do you think it's true? And more importantly, do you WANT it to be true? I always felt Vaylin's arc in KOTET was unresolved, but they addressed that here in her words with Senya. So I'm not sure it would be necessary to bring her back.

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    1. Ah yes, I read about that on Calphy's blog, and as I said in my comment there it's something that I managed to miss completely in my own playthroughs but now that I've read about it, it makes a lot of sense. That doesn't mean I necessarily expect it to come true - it strikes me as the sort of thing that's intentionally a bit ambiguous to give the writers options later. It's like when the big bad dies by falling off a cliff - he's probably dead, but you can easily make up some excuse for how he survived and bring him back later if it suits you. Then again, maybe "The Return of Vaylin" is already all planned out and in pre-production, who knows. :)

      As for whether I'd want that to happen myself - not particularly. I've never been a "fan" of Vaylin as a character - which is not to say that I actively dislike her, but just like all the KotFE/KotET stuff I just feel that she/it was given more importance than I really cared for and I'm glad to be done with that. That said, the writing team's recent output has convinced me that they're better at delivering content that we as players enjoy now and I'm willing to trust them. If you'd told me before this that there was going to be a story where Revan, the Exile and Darth Marr all come back one more time to fight the Emperor with you I probably would have rolled my eyes at you because it would have sounded silly to me like that but it obviously worked out great. So we'll see what the future brings.

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  3. Hey!
    So, I really did enjoy the story update (still just did once so far) but probably didn't resonate as much... Even because I didn't play it alone by myself in silence, but being interrupted by house and life.
    I was too excited to wait... But, hey, I recorded it all for once, so, I can always just watch myself, huh?
    I'm almost sure that no, you can't die to The Emperor at all... Which just makes the fight impossibly annoying. I needed to stop and had to stuck my way out of it! Anyway, I'm almost sure Valkorion's army of adds are a result of something you're supposed to interrupt; there's clearly a lot of mechanics (that even seem complex), but if you ignore them, you still can get to the end.......... achingly slowly.
    I felt some of the dialogue needed some polishing (I had a particularly bizarre talk with Satele with her praising the fact that I had given Theron a home, me gushing how I wanted to keep him forever and she... looked at me silently and started speaking about something irrelevant. I mean, even a "I'm glad" or "that's good" or a SMILE would've made it less of a conversation dissonance), but all in all, it's a really, really neat little story bit :)
    The end of an Era...
    (or so theysay!lol)

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