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Final Fantasy XV: A Flawed Gem

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So I finished Final Fantasy XV, and by finished I mean I got to level 99, I ran through every dungeon, and I got every trophy.  I FINISHED it.  And like every Final Fantasy game I’ve played before, I had fun.  But the question is how much fun did I have?  Well, let’s break it down shall we?

STORY

The story of Final Fantasy XV is deceptively simple.  By that I mean, the only reason it seems to be complex is the method by which its told rather the actual complexity of the events.  For instance, the actual purpose behind the majority of the actions in the majority of the game isn’t revealed until the end of Chapter 13 out of a total 14 chapters. It’s not uncommon for a Final Fantasy game.  Lightning Returns and Final Fantasy X both tried to do something similar to varying levels of success.  However, here it feels the deception is almost malicious in its intent.  When we meet the heroes, Noctis is on his way to get married and enjoying a bachelor party-ish road trip along the way with his closest friends and confidantes. Once we break through the games pseudo-prologue and the first twist happens (not much of a twist if you saw Kingsglaive first) where the city of Insomnia falls to Imperial betrayal, the road trip turns dark as the group swears on vengeance and begins to build power via Noctis’ birthright to command the weapons of former kings followed by forging pacts with literal gods.

We are given context to all of these events solely through the vantage point of Noctis himself.  Hence we discover the true reveal along with him.  We see the confusing messages that he struggles to interpret with him.  And we are forced to face the consequences of his actions with him as well.  It is a powerful way to tell the story, if your tale is simple enough to manage such a narrow point of view.  Final Fantasy XIII tried something similar as I have mentioned before and it bogged down into tons of extra reading or be very confused.  XV does succeed in the endeavor a bit more though there still are some confusing moments that feel like slapdash plot hole filling.  Where this approach suffers the most is in the development of characters that are not directly encountered by our protagonist:  Ravus, the Empire, King Regis, and sadly especially Lunafreya.  You only get glimpses of these characters who are such major players in this story because our field of vision is limited to what Noctis sees and interacts with.  You don’t meet up with Lunafreya until three-fourths of the way through the game.  Before that you only get Noctis’ flashbacks with her, their two sentences dog-texts (They both own reality warping dogs that deliver messages for them.  Yes, there is an explanation.  No, it’s not a great one.), and the brief visions given by the Gods.  This is all you get to figure out why these two who haven’t seen each other in years are supposedly “in love” (although Kingsglaive does explain the marriage idea was part of treaty.)  And yet, because we’ve seen Noctis interact with so many people that when he acts so out of character when he finally sees Luna, you get this feeling of knowing how much she means to him.

And that’s what the game does so very well with the story.  You may not know what’s going on, but you feel like you identify with the tale.  The story isn’t laid out in the most narratively pleasant order but it does a DAMN fine job of getting you emotionally invested in these characters.

Speaking of…

CHARACTERS

Our protagonist is Crown Prince Noctis Lucis Caellum, the sole surviving member of the Lucis Caellum line and a wanted fugitive of the Niflheim Empire.

I said before how a lot of the surrounding characters don’t get a ton of development and that is sadly true.  Lunafreya is shown to be a powerfully determined woman on a mission that won’t even make sense until the end of the game, but she is also one of the more kind hearted characters shown as well.  Her brother Ravus, despite building him up to be a big antagonist, gets next to nothing.  He is a character of many seeming contradiction tried together out of an extreme loyalty to family that comes from who knows where.  His story is mostly only told through journal pages you find late in game.  I can kind of see why they want to revisit Ravus’ story in a patch or something.

The main ‘Warriors of Light’ (Yes, that IS what the four are meant to represent if you missed the blatantly call back to the original Final Fantasy at the start of the game) are on the opposite spectrum.  You spend nearly ALL your time with your companions occasionally departing for a mission or two of the story before returning.  Ignis, the attendant of our prince protagonist and the caretaker of the group in charge of repairing damaged clothing, cooking meals, and driving the car most of the time.  Gladiolus is Noctis’ bodyguard and trainer who comes from a long line of Kingsguards.  Finally there’s Prompto the seemingly fun loving commoner that became friends with Noctis in high school.  The game does an amazing job making these three feel like they are your best friends.  You feel for them on an emotional level.  Which is important as the game progresses and starts using that affection and attachment against you.  Oh there will be drama. Oh yes, there will be drama.

Finally, there’s the supporting cast.  It’s a mixed bag of who you like and don’t like.  I found myself being rather fond of Gladio’s teenage sister Iris and her love of Moogles, the mercenary Aranea Highwind and her dry wit was great for a laugh on the mission she joined you, and I kept imagining Cor the Immortal having epic adventures off somewhere without me accompanied by either heavy metal or the soundtrack to Conan the Barbarian.  I was a bit irked that they changed “Cidney” to “Cindy” for the English release though.  I mean, way to kill the joke.  She’s still listed as Cidney in the credits along with her Japanese voice actress.  There weren’t any characters I downright loathed though.  Which is impressive for a big open world game like this.

Finally, we have our villain.  What? No. Not the Emperor. No one cares about Emperors. Haven’t you been paying attention since Final Fantasy VI?  No.  We have High Chancellor Ardyn Izunia.  Both pseudo friend and foe through much of the game, the main group immediately doesn’t trust him but also is forced to work with him repeatedly.  His goals seem to be at odds at times with his masters in the Empire, but it’s not clear what they are until much later on.  I’d go more into Ardyn but you really can’t without spoiling it.  I can say that he is easily on my short list for best Final Fantasy villain.  He’s so amazingly slimy.

WORLD BUILDING

I wanted to touch on this because as I had made mention of in my first reactions post a while back, this was one aspect that constantly surprised and frustrated me.  That the world of Eos is built up so amazingly well just using what you see, hear and interact with that very little exposition needs to be given about it.  You can tell how much of Lucis the Empire had controlled before the fall of Insomnia by the check points and military bases.  You get a feel for the vast gap between the frontier people and the people living inside Insomnia just by comparing the names “Noctis Lucis Caellum” and “Dave.” You discover that pretty much ALL women of working age work in the reactor by seeing them walk around the city in their protective work clothes.

How about the effects of a world where monsters and Gods walk among you?  You see the Hunters working to keep people safe, ultra bright UV lights at all points of civilization to help ward off monsters.  Duscae’s power infrastructure is based on the giant meteor that Titan holds in the Disc.  Altissia has statues and temples built to honoring Leviathan. All of these things and so much more end up coming together to form the world, and none of it is ever explained in depth.  It just gives you that feeling again that this world is actually coherent and thought out.

However, that lack of detail also just drove me crazy! I would read tomes upon tomes of the history of the world.  All we get is an art gallery at the start and a timeline in the strategy guide.  And the timeline only begins maybe 2000 years prior to the start of the game.  Everything beyond that is “Ancient Time” with no info.  Bah.

MUSIC

I kinda wish I could say more about the music.  It kinda of strikes me as similar to other open-world RPGs where the music kind of starts to blend into the background which in this kind of game I always considered a good thing.  I’ve had to turn off music or radios that tend to become annoyingly intrusive after a while as I explore (I’m looking at you, Fallout 4.)  The music alternates between pleasant and calm and bombastic and epic during the battles and especially the boss battles. The song ‘Apocalypsis Aquarius’ that plays during the battle with Leviathan is one of my favorites.  However, other than the titular song ‘Final Fantasy’ (known to some as ‘Main Theme’, ‘Prologue’ or for the very old school fans ‘The Bridge Song’) and some updated renditions of the ‘Prelude’ Crystal theme, there are very few songs in the game I could identify without looking at the track name and even then I probably wouldn’t be able to place them.  The music is good – of that there’s no doubt – but I can’t really say there are too many memorable themes or stand out tracks that immediately make you think ‘Ah, this is when X happened’.  Even the Leviathan battle song since every major boss battle is just a different arrangement of the same Apocalypsis song.  Great soundtrack for just playing in the background though.  I bought a couple of tracks I like to listen to while driving.

Of course, if something more iconic is your taste, you can get music collections from older Final Fantasy titles throughout the game that can be played through the car stereo or eventually a portable music player you can purchase.  The selection is usually about 5 or 6 songs per collection but some games have more than one “disc” that you can get.  For instance, Final Fantasy XI’s music has a separate collection for each expansion the MMO had.  There are some omissions though.  While multiple Dissidia and Type-0 collections appear, you won’t find many other spin off games or sequels (X-2, XIII-2, Lightning Returns, Revenant Wings, Tactics, or After Years.) Final Fantasy XIV’s music doesn’t appear either sadly, keeping this from even containing tracks from all the main numbered games. Still it offers a huge selection of songs from classic Final Fantasy games, so there is always that to take advantage of.

Though I will mention one thing about the ‘portable music player.’  It does NOT work in combat.  The normal combat music will always play and turn off the music player.  Big minus there.  Would love to beat up monsters while listening to ‘Sunleth Waterscape’.

GAMEPLAY

While the game has transitioned heavily into a ‘live combat’ style that feels almost closer to Secret of Mana then what one may associate with the Final Fantasy franchise, the combat system is quite fun.  There is a Wait Timer that while takes some getting used to at first, grants access to things like Libra that can be further buffed via the upgrade-able Ascension trees.  Speaking of the Ascension trees, they are used like Sphere Grids or the Crystarium in the previous game with the exception that the entire party shares a single set of Ascension trees.  Some branches of the trees will unlock or upgrade follower abilities and some will grant new ways to gain Ability Points to spend in the Ascension trees.  It offers a good level of choice with nothing feeling ‘Absolutely Mandatory.’  The costs increase exponentially as the branches go further and ultimately culminate in nodes that cost 333 or 999 AP to unlock.  Which is a lot when you realize you’ll be averaging about 2-4 AP a battle unless your actively farming it.  Luckily, you don’t need to get all of the abilities.  Not even in the end game.  So it’s kind of just another to work toward to if you want to and there are all manner of AP farming guides out there to help ya.

The one thing to keep in mind is that certain things and areas will take time to unlock.  You won’t have the car right away, and then you won’t have chocobos right away (And if your wondering why take a chocobo when you have a car, chocobos can off-road and the car can’t),  huge sections of the map are opened a piece at a time and there are a ton of things to do in each of them: Sidequests, Helping fix broken cars, Hunts picked up from food stops, treasure hunting, and dungeons.  Dungeons can be incredibly painful early on because while each has a ‘recommended’ level, there will often be monsters deep within (or right inside the door) that are much higher level than that.  I did a dungeon that was supposedly a “level 15 dungeon” that also had randomly spawning level 40 monsters that could petrify insta-death you.  Don’t be afraid to GTFO and come back more prepared with accessories or weapons to counter the enemies inside.  There’s an option on the map screen to warp back to the entrance for a reason.  There’s also a few dungeons you won’t be able to complete until the ‘post-game’ just simply because the means of accessing them aren’t available until then such as a specific quest or the flying car.  Yes. There’s a flying car in the post-game.  And landing that thing is the bane of my existence (you game over on a bad landing or crash.)

Once you reach a certain point – the end of Chapter 8 – the game shifts and the open world more or less leaves the game for a much more linear experience.  Altissia in Chapter 9 is a bit open but there’s not a ton of space to explore.  Once you reach the train however, the plot is literally and figuratively on rails until the end.  Luckily, you don’t get locked into this.  At any Inn/Lodging you can call one the previously mentioned reality-warping dogs to take you back to a previous section of the game.  So if you want to go level up on hunts, or find a Fire-imbued or Light-imbued weapon you can (The Light-Embued Weapons are at the Megiddo Hunter HQ in the North. Buy them.  They deal an extra 50% damage against daemons.)

As for the infamous Chapter 13?  I still stand by what I said before.  It’s not as bad as people make it out to be.  I found it to be quite an experience that made for an intense little bit of gameplay.  The only problem would probably be how poorly the story surrounding the ‘boss battles’ was handled.  But the mystery, the desperation, the frustration, the fear?  All just seem to help propel the story and create empathy with the characters.  I LIKED Chapter 13.  It was probably the most memorable moment in the game for me.

FINAL THOUGHTS

At its core, Final Fantasy XV is a great game.  At no point did I ever stop having fun with it.  Heck, I still have fun with it.  I logged back in to explore that weird Chocobo Moogle fair that’s going on and just running around was a blast and the humor still gets me.  But I won’t lie.  There’s some problems with the game.  The story truly feels like it suffered from one too many complete tonal changes in direction to the point that parts of it seemed to have become rubbed plain.  Assets re-purposed for the new narrative seem out of place and no one was sure what to do or how to handle certain characters.  The narrative suffers from being told from a single point of view much like Final Fantasy XIII, but unlike XIII it tries to compensate for that.  Honestly, I’d rather them just be willing to cut away to other places and people to progress the story or be willing to drop more exposition early on.

However, what shines in the game beyond the sometimes directionless feeling and the lack of development in the plot is the emotional core of the game.  You will find yourself completely enamored with these characters.  When bad things happen to them, you will feel sorry for them.  You’ll want to give them a hug.  And most importantly, probably driving the story more than the actual apocalyptic scenario, you want them to have a happy ending.  I can say that I have played many games that have better crafted stories and more finely tuned gameplay than Final Fantasy XV.  But I can’t say that they drew me in emotionally the same way.

Walk Tall, My Chocobros.

Review: Knights of the Eternal Throne

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So I finally got around to trying out the latest “expansion” from BioWare Austin’s Star Wars: The Old Republic.  And I’m sure you can tell from the use of those sarcastic quotation marks that I may have had some issues with the expansion and I will get to that.  First off, I just want to say that this is a review of strictly the “chapters” portion of the expansion.  I don’t do uprisings and I don’t do endgame. I have other MMOs for those.  So you won’t find an in-depth critique of the Eternal Command system or the new Uprisings content because quite frankly, I don’t bother with them.  All I will say about the Eternal Command system is that I’m not sure borrowing – of all things – Overwatch’s systems lock-stock-and-barrel is maybe a good solution for a MMORPG.  Just a thought. Heck if I know.

The Not Expansion

First of all, this isn’t an expansion.  Oh they’ll advertise it that way. And it ups the level cap.  But it’s not an expansion. Not in the traditional sense, and not in the way that SWTOR has offered expansions before.  Until KOTET, each expansion has been a self contained story.  Nothing in Shadows of Revan was connected to the events of Rise of the Hutt Cartel.  With KOTFE they actually sold you the ability to skip the prologue and first 5 chapters of any story and go straight to the new stuff it was so minimally related.  But KOTET isn’t like that.  This isn’t an expansion on SWTOR’s story.  This is the last half of KOTFE.  There is no reason this should have been even been marketed as a separate entity. From the moment it starts, to the moment it ends, it is unquestionable Chapters 17-25 of Knights of the Fallen Empire’s story.  Most of it only makes sense if you played through Knights of the Fallen Empire.  Because of that, I cannot recommend that you use your freshly rebranded “Outlander Token” to boost to 65.  It just doesn’t make sense to me that you would skip all the decisions and story of this first half.  Not worth it.

I guess I can’t complain too much.  It’s not like they charged you extra for KOTET. It just seems weird to me that this wasn’t just released as KotFE Chapters 17-25 instead of KOTET Chapters 1-9.

The Actual Story

BioWare Austin wasn’t pulling any punches after the barrage of complaints that followed the monthly chapters and most importantly the conclusion of Fallen Empire.  For the actual conclusion of the story they brought back Drew Karpyshyn, the writer that worked on Mass Effect 1 & 2 as well as the original SWTOR, from semi-retirement back in 2012 (he wrote novels). However because of this, more so than any expansion material before it, KOTET feels like an active part of the The Old Republic universe.

For instance, the opening chapter places you on Voss where you find Senya trying to heal Arcann while the newly… bathtowel turban-ed Vaylin is firebombing the planet to ash.  Right away your getting Valkorian making references to your class story, you get Senya utilizing Voss healing techniques including the life force draining one that appeared in the Sith Warrior Class Story.  Not to mention you actually get a slightly different series of quest objectives depending on your conversation choices and not just altered dialogue.  The first chapter is also the first time – but far from the last time – you can kill someone permanently this expansion.  In fact, you can kill at least five different characters.  One of which is unavoidable as Drew decided to draw on some of his Mass Effect background and presents you with the Virmire choice once again.  Choose who lives and choose who dies.  Even the most light sided person will have to face the Virmire choice.  Does this make sense?  Not really.  Since at the time and place in Mass Effect, you literally could only reach one or the other and here…  well, it happens on Odessan.  The Base of Operations for the Alliance.  That means you have theoretical access to your entire army right now.  But the choice is presented as NO ONE BUT YOU can fend off a half dozen Skytroopers to save one of them.  It stretches the believability when you can’t send troops to back up the other party. Or you know, send one of your 1-3 Jedi/Sith Alliance companions to go help them.  Thanks for the help Arcann & Senya, could ONE of you stop following me around to go help the other person?

Beyond that there’s some actual variety in the chapters.  For instance, one chapter features an elaborate puzzle as you Ocean’s Eleven your way into an extravagant Zakuul party.  You actually go back to Dromund Kaas to find out what has happened to the Sith Empire and get into a power struggle with a former chancellor of the Republic.  There’s also two new worlds but they are only featured for a single chapter each.  Ioketh is a machine planet where all super-technology comes from (The Eternal Fleet, The Gravestone, The Geminis, AND Scorpio) and the other is Nathema which is where Vaylin was imprisoned in a “sanitarium” and is also implied to be the original home world of Valkorian/Sith Emperor/Tenebrae that he apocalypsed to become immortal.  Nathema is pretty uninteresting visually. It’s a red/brown Ziost post-destruction. Ioketh is kinda cool looking and has a lot of potential for future expansion hopefully.

The whole thing ends with a fairly predictable twist.  I won’t reveal it for those who haven’t seen it yet, but it doesn’t exactly come as a shocker.  Though I will say that I think it’s impressive that in an MMO that the devs would let you – the player – do something so radical and situation changing as ‘Claim the Throne’.  Which you can.  You absolutely can.  It does deliver on that.

Choices That Matter

One of the repeated advertising phrases that Bioware Austin likes to use is that “This time your choices matter”.  Now how effective that has been has been up for debate since the games launch five years ago, but it was a major argument thrown back in the developers faces after the ending of Knights of the Fallen Empire when – despite having the ability to choose ‘Kill Arcann’ several times – Arcann always escaped.  I can happily say that the issue of people not dying when you choose to kill them has been rectified.  You can actually kill quite a few people: Senya, Arcann, Koth, and Scorpio.  Some characters will die no matter one, such as Vaylin and whoever you don’t choose in the aforementioned poorly handled ‘Virmire Choice’.

Sadly, while these choices do have consequences that play out to their fruition, all it usually results in is ‘less story’.  Cutscenes get skipped over, or another character fills the same role with nearly the same dialogue.  Heck, Scorpio’s death comes right at the point where she was about the leave the story permanently anyway so the result is the same except hey you killed her.  There is one however that gives you a different mission entirely if you choose it and that’s how you choose to deal with Senya when she reenters the story.  It not only affects how the next section of the chapter plays out game-wise but also affects things several chapters down the line when it comes time to deal with Arcann.  It actually changes the outcome depending on your choice, and not just swapping out actors for lines like stunt doubles.

Of course, how satisfied you’ll be depends entirely on what you expect from ‘choices that matter’.  If all you want is a level of recognition that a choice was made, this expansion has you covered in spades.  If you were hoping for something a bit more impactful, then you’ll find satisfying choices few and far between.

A Visual Experience

With the new expansion all comes with an assortment of visual upgrades to the game to make things all pretty.  I won’t lie, I was blown away just seeing my character on the selection screen when I first installed the expansion.  The way the game handles shadows and lights now adds a ton of more visceral detail to the game and especially to the cutscenes.  However, some of the updates to the character models seem kind of off too.  Like Senya and Lana especially.  Like their character model was upgraded, but the animations weren’t ever revisited for the new models, leading to weird issues with facial expressions that cause Lana’s eyelashes to clip through her head and Senya to look like a kabuki mask.  Overall though, the graphical improvements were very welcome.

Dramatis Personae

So, big new expansion. New story.  Bet there’s a bunch of new characters to enjoy, right?  Maybe like a snarky half-robot ewok or something?  Yeah, no.  As I said earlier, this is pretty much the last half of Knights of the Fallen Empire and it is pretty much determined to wrapping up all the storylines from that.  As such, your main cast of this expansion is as follows: You, Lana, Theron, Valkorian, Vette, Theron, Scorpio, and the Eternal Pain in the Rear Family (Senya, Vaylin, Arcann, Valkorian).  Heck, Gault, Aric and Kaliyo only get minor lines in a few spots and are otherwise reduced to screen filler.  So not even everyone from KotFE is involved in the plot.  The only new characters we get are one-chapter one-shot villains like Scorpio’s rival Aries and the Sanitarium’s lead…  well, I have a hard time calling him a Doctor given the things he does.  We also meet Lord Dathemar at one point.  He was Valkorian/Vitiate/Tenebrae’s father a long time ago and whose soul is now trapped in a box.

As for how the characters are portrayed?  Well, Vaylin is pretty much the stereotypical ‘mad person with unlimited power’ complete with classic catchphrases like “Burn the planet to ashes, then bring them to me. I want them for my garden.”  Just imagine Vaylin in the original KotFE but turned up to 11.  Arcann’s personality is really different depending on whether you try to heal him or not.  I’ll be the first to say that hearing THAT voice try to give this zen-like Jedi sentiments is wholly disturbing to me though.  If you don’t heal him, he’s pretty much the same as he was before.  Valkorian FINALLY gets his crap together and figures out what he’s been plotting.  I mean, it all fits. Sure.  In fact, a lot of people probably called it back at the start of KotFE. It’s not hard to guess.  He continues to play the shrewd manipulator, even when it flat out doesn’t work (Like trying to convince you that Lana and Theron will try to steal the Eternal Throne right before you get to the throne room).

Scorpio’s motivation on the other hand is all over the place and constantly changing it seems.  In KotFE she wanted to give the Gemini units freedom. So she did. They can do anything now.  That one chose the stars.  The rest it seemed were perfectly content to continue working for Vaylin.  Then she wants to help Vaylin rise above her station because she too has served ‘lesser creatures’. Okay.  Then they hijack the Gravestone for some reason and Scorpio learns about Iokath.  Her motivation is to now learn about where she came from and forces the Gravestone and all the Gemini units to come with (Freedom!) Then on Iokath she reveals that her motivation all along was to kill Aries and usurp his place as essentially the MCP from Tron of Iokath?  So, nothing to do with the Geminis or the Gravestone or Vaylin.  Right, whatever C-Scorp-30. Go live in your tin can.

Finally, the last noteworthy character to talk about (since the others don’t really change or develop much at all) is Koth.  I don’t think Bioware Austin wanted you to keep Koth.  I think if their writers had their way he would have jumped ship and stolen the Gravestone no matter what back in KotFE.  Why do I think that?  Well, because until your chance to re-recruit/kill him, his appearances only make sense when he’s not on your side.  “OMG! It’s Koth!” Lana says as the Gravestone appears over Voss.  Now does that reaction make more sense if A) Koth had taken the ship and ditched you OR B) He was still working with you and was just arriving as expected with your flagship.  When Arcann runs away, you ask Koth to stop him.  His reply when he’s not on your side is “I’m here to save people, not clean up your messes.” versus “Oh no! I can’t commander. I’ve taken some damage and must now leave unexpectedly!”  Heck, even Vaylin and Scorpio hijacking the Gravestone makes more sense since they do it when Koth is out cruising in the yoda damned Gravestone looking for people to help out which would make ZERO sense if he was still working with the Alliance.  Since I’m pretty sure no one would let Koth take the ONLY SHIP CAPABLE OF FIGHTING THE ETERNAL FLEET joyriding.

Mechanical Malfunction

I know I wasn’t going to talk about the Eternal Command, but I figure you should know if you were looking to see if the expansion was worth it for you.

This idea is dumb.  The Eternal Command is a brand new way to replay the exact same content over and over again.  Just like they tried to do with Heroic Missions in KotFE, and the Dark vs Light event.  This is them stretching out the existing content as long as possible.  In essence, once you hit Level 70, you start gaining CXP or Command Experience.  You get this from doing everything and anything: repeating chapters, heroic missions, flashpoints, operations, warzones, starfighter and the new Uprisings (Shorter, less story filled, action intense Flashpoints for 4 players of any specialization).  In other words, out of all the ways to earn CXP, the only one that isn’t repeating pre-existing content are the Uprisings.

When you gain a new ‘level’ of Command Experience, you get a loot box.  The loot box has three random items in it.  It can be gear (which can further be broken down into ‘Empty shells’, ‘Static Stats’, and ‘Fully Modded’ variations) or companion gifts.  There’s no way to know for certain what you’ll get which ensures a nice long grind.  From my own observations, purely anecdotal mind you, I averaged 1 empty shell gear piece, 1 static stats gear piece and 1 companion gift in the small offering of crates I earned from just leveling through the story.

I think you can see where I got the earlier Overwatch comparison.  Grind out a bar, get a box of random stuff, and then do it again and again and again.  Except this isn’t just skins or emotes.  This is THE method of endgame gearing in KotET. It’s a bit understandable why some people are a bit upset about this I think.

Final Judgement

So is it worth the one month sub to get access to all 9 chapters?  Sure.  I can think of worse things to do with $15 bucks.  It’s not perfect by any means, and I miss not getting old companions back – especially ones like Kira or Scourge who really should be there for the showdown with the Emperor – but it’s always a really satisfying conclusion to the story started in Knights of the Fallen Empire.  Just be aware that this isn’t a standalone expansion like I said.  Beyond that, a lot of the issues with the writing come down to probably the struggles of trying to tell a Bioware-style story in a MMO setting.  Heck, the ending of this expansion throws expectations out the window.  You can be the Emperor.  Of the galaxy.  Hot damn.  I wonder where they’ll go from there.  Because they do sequel-bait during the credits that both the Sith Empire and Republic and getting ready to start sith again and the Scions send you an ominous message about you fulfilling the prophecy but your darkest hour is yet to come (which makes me think… Unicron?)

If this were a full $40 expansion or something I would definitely say it’s only for those who really enjoyed the Fallen Empire story because it’s really more of the same but with the ability to actually kill people this time.  But for $15?  If you dig SWTOR and you don’t like mind how the stories are told in it? Go for it.  Flaws and all, it’s worth $15 bucks.

Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

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Leave it to Laika to remind you that quality animation is not solely in the pocket of Big Mouse.  After their amazing interpretation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, their homage to classic horror and Goonies-esque 80’s adventure films with ParaNorman, and a wild urban fairy tale with The Box Trolls, brings us a new treat in the form of a Japanese folk tale in Kubo and the Two Strings.  If you want to avoid any of the spoilers that may follow this and just want a straight up opinion, I’ll just say what I told my friend after the movie: “If more movies were like that, I’d actually go to the movies more often.”  It’s a story that is tight, where everything is established and foreshadowed, the characters are well acted and given well rounded three dimensional personalities, the animation is gorgeous and the cinematography is artistic.  In short, this film should be on your Must See list even if your not a normal fan of animation.  It’s not just a great animated movie, it’s a great movie in general.

Spoilers to follow beyond the break.

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SWTOR Class Storyline Review: Imperial Agent – Chapter Two

<– Chapter One || IMPERIAL AGENT || Chapter Three –>

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the second chapter of the Imperial Agent storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  To see a spoiler-free summary of the storyline please check this page instead.

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Welcome Back, Agent.

Aaah, what better way to relax after Annihilation Day than a nice vacation?  Yea! No.  Your back on the clock, Agent.  Chapter Two kicks off with a call with a call to report back to Intelligence ASAP for a meeting with Keeper.  However, when you arrive at Keeper’s office you only find Watcher Two there.  Like in Keeper’s chair.  All by herself.  Oh no.  No no no no no.  Sigh.  Yes.  It seems that there’s been some promotions handed out while you were out.  Watcher Two has been promoted to Keeper, and the former Keeper is now the Minister of Intelligence.  You still don’t learn their names. They just get referred to as Keeper and Minister.  Anyway, we have a job yes?  Well it seems that the new Keeper wants you to take on a job of going under deep cover to track down Ardun Kothe – the Republic’s best spymaster that has been turned loose from SIS and now is operating with unlimited budget and no oversight in pursuit of crushing the Empire.  You need to infiltrate Kothe’s team as a defector from Imperial Intelligence.  Keeper and the Watchers have been dropping leaks and hints of a top Cipher wanting to defect for some time now, and it’s time to cash in.

You head off the Nar Shadaa where you meet your contact with Kothe’s band of spies: Hunter.  Hunter has been assigned to test you to make sure that your capable and willing to do what’s needed for the mission. Not long ago the Empire arranged a partnership with a notorious Hutt crime lord called Nem’ro.  That partnership built a massive new droid factory and Hunter wants you to blow the place up.  While on the mission, you are introduced via radio to two more of Kothe’s band of miscreants – Chance the Slicer and Wheels the tech expert droid.  Once you’ve stolen the droid blue prints and blown up the factory, you meet up at the team’s hide out.  That’s where you meet the last member of the team – Saber the weapons expert and sniper.  There at last you get to have your meeting with Ardun Kothe.  The mastermind himself.  He invites you into his office where he assigns you your codename: “Legate” which is either pronounced Leg-Ette or Ley-Gah-Tay or a few other ways over the course of the next three worlds, once again confirming that there was very little communication with the voice directors on this game.  However, the whole things goes topsy turvy on you in a second as Kothe utters a single phrase: “Keyword: Onomatophobia.”  You black out and hear the familiar voice of Watcher X run through your mind.  When you come back to, you find yourself obeying Ardun Kothe’s every command.  He explains he just activated your mental programming and that you cannot tell anyone that it has been activated or that it exists and you cannot enact any harm on Ardun or his team.  You can try to express rage, or question the situation but no matter what conversation option you choose on that dialogue wheel that shows up – you simply acknowledge Ardun’s orders.  Kothe orders you to go to Taris as his double agent inside the Empire.  When you get back to your ship, Keeper will contact you to see if you met up with Kothe and ask if you’re alright. Again, you can’t mention the programming so any option you choose will result in a monotone “everything is fine”.  Before you head off, you hear Watcher X’s voice once again telling you to wait and watch for your chance.

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Taris

Your mission on Taris is to use your Imperial strings to track down a rogue Jedi named Ki Sazen who has reportedly been building up a power base on the planet. Chance, the geeky little slicer, will be your mission contact and watchdog for your time here.  Your first objective is an old laboratory that Sazen was snooping around in and try to find what she was after.  There you find another member of Imperial Intelligence – Doctor Lokin or ‘Fixer Fifteen’ as he is called in Intelligence – who says he was sent by Watcher Four to scavenge anything he could from the lab of Doctor Godera – a name Jedi Knight player’s will recognize – but it appears that Ki Sazen got there first and stole one ‘Ultrawave Emitter’.  Lokin says he has no idea what it is capable of and thus probably shouldn’t be in the hands of a crazy power hungry Jedi (Best keep it for a mad power hungry Sith, right?)  Lokin offers to join forces so he can triangulate the next lab that Sazen will strike that was lost somewhere in the swamps.

As your scouring the forsaken swampland of Taris, Chance gets in touch to tell you that he checked out what he could on Doctor Lokin and confirms that while there wasn’t a ton of information available, he is confirmed to be Imperial Intelligence. So he wasn’t lying. Chance also mentions that he doesn’t ethically agree with the mental programming and won’t use the code phrase on you unless he absolutely has to.  You finally dig out the lab in an old transport station. No, I don’t know why a Bio-research Lab was sitting in a subway station.  Maybe there was a reason these people were all dumb enough to get bombed 300 years ago. (You don’t need to correct me on that in the comments, I’ve played KotOR1 and yes, I know how Taris got this way.)  Here you find a cult of Nikto who worship Ki Sazen.  The three nikto leaders are each finding some item for Ki so that she can use the Ultrawave Emitter and create a Rakghoul army to take over all of Taris.  The Nikto here are getting Rakghoul biological data, and the others are looking for info on colony movements and the last is looking for a Republic doctor to help finish the device.  Chance says that the best well… chance you have is to split up.   You take the colony movement investigation and he’ll go save the scientist.

Your task is pretty much just running around to various spots and fighting a few waves of enemies before taking out the Nikto leader.  To do this you get a tip from Lokin on where he would look and he gives you a stim that will help your combat proficiency that I don’t think actually does anything beyond reinforce the plot point that Lokin is a biologist.  You think the elimination of two-thirds of the necessary components would be enough to halt Sazen’s plan but oh well.  After you take out the second Nikto commander, you get a call from Chance who unsurprisingly has failed his mission.  He’s been badly hurt and uses the code phrase – the prick – to force you to come to him.  He does this regardless of your intent – even if you wanted to come help him (Chance is the nicest of the Republic scum after all.)

Chance says that you should split up, he’ll find the scientist if you find the colony movement investigation nikto. You’ll need Lokin for this, so it’s back to the old lab.  Lokin gives you a tonic to help boost your combat proficiency and tells you that if he were to try something like this, he would use the colonist’s sensors to set up a sweep.  So you travel around the swamps, shutting down sensor towers until you fight and kill the Nikto leader.  Then Chance contacts you, he failed his head and took some bad hits.  Fearing death, he uses the code phrase and commands you to come to him.  Even if you already say you were going to do that. Like before, any response you make is replaced by the monotone acceptance of the command but the Watcher X voice reminds you that they can force you to take action, hell they can’t resist doing it, but you can still think and that is your escape.  You go track down your handler – feels like that should be the other way around but the SIS are incompetent little lemmings – and find him bleeding out on the ramp leading into the Hospital where he tells you that Doctor Ianna Cel is waiting to meet with an SIS agent who will use the code phrase ‘Gemstone’.  He needs you to make the meet since he can’t.  He apparently had trouble with the four packs of not-even-gold mobs leading to the doctor.  Friggin’ lemmings.  Before Chance passes out however, he tries to order you with the mind control phrase but can’t get the words out.  Well, well, well, looks like we have an opportunity.  Of course you get some light side options. Namely ‘save him’ or ‘save him begrudgingly’ but the one I have no doubt everyone is eyeing is the dark side option.  See, you can’t HURT Chance.  Your programming won’t allow it.  But you don’t have to fetch any help either.  The Dark Side choice is just to simply let Chance die and go on your merry way.  I like that option.

You go down the ramp and kill the all too easy mobs that slaughtered poor Chance (May we never forget his… snrk… ‘heroism’… lol…) and meet with Doctor Cel who has been hiding in the hospital after getting repeated threatening holocalls from Ki Sazen.  While talking to Doctor Cel, you’ll get a call from Lokin who has an idea. You can hear him out or just hang up on him.  If you hang up, he’ll appear RIGHT NEXT TO YOU from some sort of cloaking tech.  Apparently he’s been following you around. Either way he’ll suggest the same plan: Let Lokin pose as Doc Cel’s assistant and then let Sazen capture him.  From there, you can trace Lokin right to both Ki and the Ultrawave Emitter. But to ensure that you can receive the signal, Lokin has you disable some Republic Jammers in the area.  Once you do, the call comes in that tells you where Sazen is holed up with her Nikto cult.  Time to deal with a Jedi.

Or not? As you approach the base, you get another call from Ardun Kothe.  He tells you that Chance is either injured (Probs.) or missing (Oh no. Say it isn’t so.) and that you are the new ‘primary agent’ on this mission.  He also uses that damn mind control phrase to tell you that retrieving the Ultrawave Emitter is now the primary goal and dealing with the Jedi is an optional secondary thing.  No, he won’t tell you why. Did you really expect him to? Once inside you get to meet Ki and boy is she the textbook definition of the fallen Jedi.  Okay, so she wants to use the rakghoul and the nikto to conquer all of Taris and turn it into a savage utopia but only for those who swear undying loyalty to her.  Wow.  Just… wow.  So I kicked her butt with the quickness and then you get several choices of what to do with her.  You can kill her (naturally), send her back to the Jedi to be redeemed, put her skills to use elsewhere by hiring her into the SIS, or you can fan the fires and send her to be trained at the Sith Academy (In the name of Darth Jadus no less if he’s still around).  The choice is entirely yours as beyond a letter following up your decision, I don’t believe Ki ever comes back to the plot in any way.  Though apparently if you send her to the Sith, she catches the eye of Darth Serevin.  So she’s probs dead by the time Makeb rolls around anyway.

You go to the lab to get the Emitter and to find Lokin, but instead you find a big ol’ rakghoul that turns into Lokin.  Huh.  Apparently he’s been working on a ‘perfected strain’ that allows him to turn back and forth but currently it only works with his DNA.  I’m sorry if it seems like I’m treating that as an afterthought, but the game seemed to think it was one too with how it’s just kinda tagged on the end of the quest chain like a sticky note.  “Oh btws, I can totes become a rakghoul whenever I want and maintain my human mind. Shall we go back to the ship?”  Doctor Lokin, man.  His entire story does that.  Even back on the ship.   Never really liked the guy, but apparently he gets along with the Bugboy from the diplomatic service. They discuss opera.  That is given more screen time in this story than the rakghoul transforming thing.  Seriously.

Once you are back on the ship, you contact Ardun Kothe who asks you to connect the Ultrawave Transmitter to transfer over… something.  Again, he doesn’t specify.  After the call, you start to break down however. Hallucinations of people you know, tiny versions of your crew flying out of the giant mouth of Ardun Kothe, a flaming Darth Jadus, those jerks from Alderaan lounging and drinking with a giant monster…  freaky stuff. It all ends with you passing out with a vision of Keeper (the old one… the Minister of Intelligence one) shooting you in the back.  You then see a vision of Watcher X who can’t confirm if you’re seeing him because of the stress of being a double/triple agent, the breaking down of the mind control, or the chip he shoved into your spinal cord back on Nar Shadaa. However, he does know that it wasn’t the SIS that brainwashed you – The Empire did.  He recommends you scoot back to Dromund Kaas to have a look at your personnel file and to try and be careful. You don’t have friends anymore.

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Interlude

Back on the homeworld, you infiltrate Imperial Intelligence and descend into the archives below the main room.  Yea, that elevator on the south side? That’s where this goes. The mission has you cutting the security systems so no one knows what you are up to down there and then slicing into computers to piece together the data on what they did to you.  What was that?  Well, in the wake of the end of the last chapter, the rest of the Dark Council expressed concern over either you attacking Jadus or being given such a distinguished position of power by Jadus.  Either way, they feel threatened by you.  However, instead of killing you outright they agree with the newly appointed Minister of Intelligence that you should be fitted with something called The Castellan Restraint.  A form of mental programming performed by injected a serum dubbed  IX (that’s ‘Eye-Ex’ not ‘Nine’) into the brain which will rewrite neural pathways over the next three to thirty days depending on the person.  Once it has finished, the individual can be programmed a key phrase and any commands.

Sadly, the Restraint doesn’t have a way to reverse it.  You find out that the only way to do anything with it is to ‘reset’ the whole process and assign a new phrase.  However, doing this can apparently be ‘inhibiting’ to the subject.  Not that they go into detail in the recordings about what that means. In the end that seems like your best bet so you gather up a list of supplies of what you need to mix up a new batch of the IX serum but sadly the Empire is fresh out of Dimalium-6.  The only known source is a backwater planet called Quesh.  So we have to go to Quesh.  Yay.

Quesh

Your first stop on the poisonous swamp of a planet is the chemical warehouse where you meet with Administrator Kroius about the chemicals needed to make the IX Serum.  He has everything on the your list except the Dimalium-6.  Which would line up with the whole ‘out of stock’ scenario.  Luckily, there’s a mine where the Dimalium is harvested just north of here. Bad news is that the Republic has taken over the operation and you’ll have to er… “liberate it” from them.  The spectral voice of Watcher X can’t help but chime in as well to inform you that Kroius is the one who has been providing Imperial Intelligence with the chemicals needed to mind control you and anyone else in the Empire.  This leads you to the choice of either ordering Kroius to stop distributing Dimalium all together, killing Kroius by igniting the flammable and explosive chemicals in the warehouse but then having the deal with the security droids, or just leaving.  After you decide what to do with the good Administrator, you are off to the mine which is actually little more than a hole in the side of a mountain.  I’ve seen Wampa caves bigger than this.  You snag the Dimalium-6 from the Pubs and then use the chemical mixer in the cave to whip a fresh batch of Serum IX and then shooting it right into your veins.  Seems… hasty?  Then again, what do you really have to lose here?  It might kill ya but the alternative would be being a mind controlled puppet of both the Empire and the Republic. Naturally, it’ll take some time before the Serum does its job and rewrites your brain again, in the mean time Watcher X says you should go back to working with the SIS until the time is right.

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Hoth

Looks like Kothe has another job for you.  He wants you to go to the planet Hoth and find a lost spaceship called the Starbreeze from the infamous Starship Graveyard.  Well, that should be easy.  It’s like finding a random person in a graveyard of unmarked graves.  How long could that take?  Luckily, an Imperial admiral named Davos is assembling a mission to the graveyard to find scrap to use – supposedly including the Starbreeze.  Oh, and apparently your liaison for this mission will be Hunter.  Joy.

Unfortunately, your first encounter with Davos is not a positive one.  He greets you, asks what you need, then informs his men to torture you until they find out everything you know and then kill you.  Oh because no one ever just wants to chat.  Still, having your goons try to kill an Imperial Cipher?  That takes guts. Not to mention it immediately shifts you from the asset column straight into the super suspicious bucket.  When you finish with Davos’ men – because let’s be honest, did they really stand a chance? – you are contacted by a Chiss named Thrent who you bumped into when you first arrived and asks you to come to a frozen lake nearby for answers about Davos.  The lake is actually a cover for a large underground Chiss Ascendancy base operated in secret from even the Empire. This is where you encounter Ensign Raina Temple, an Imperial who requested to work with the Chiss that has been monitoring the Davos situation.  Apparently the Chiss have been watching Davos ever since he started building up what seemed to be a private army of men, weapons and machines to head into the Starship Graveyard and then bribing people to look the other way.  The Chiss formally ask for Imperial Sanction to act from you so they can help deal with Davos, which you naturally grant. It’s good to have friends.

Your first task is to investigate supply drops that Davos had been leaving across the icy plains as he headed out to the Graveyard. You run around and find several drops to find that they are stolen Imperial tech and weaponry that was left as tribute to a group of pirates that control the region known as the Marauders to gain safe passage.  Of course, you always have the option to steal the tech and guns for yourself to the delight of Kaliyo if she’s with you.  Also while you are out hunting down boxes, you get a call from Hunter who has finally arrived on Hoth.  He asks for a status update, but none of the answers you can give are a direct answer or at least not a satisfying one to Hunter, so he uses the code phrase to demand an update.  This causes him to laugh and say that loyalty is so much easier when you don’t have a choice before hanging up on you.  I really, REALLY don’t like Hunter. He seems like the kind of jerk that kicks puppies or watches MTV.  Anyway, after your investigation Temple wants to meet up to take on a lightly enforced Marauder camp to try and get some answers.  When you arrive, the Chiss are severely pinned down until Raina uses a force trick to confuse all the pirates so you can attack and turn the tide.  Here you finally get the details on why an Imperial like Raina has been serving with the Chiss:  She’s force sensitive but not strong enough to survive the Sith Academy.  Thus if the Empire discovered her abilities, it would pretty much be a death sentence. She knows as the ‘secret police’ of the Empire, you’ll want to pursue this information but she asks that you please hold  off on that until you’ve dealt with Davos.  Meanwhile, the rest of the Chiss have got the intel you came for. Davos was bribing his way through the pirates territory and is currently meeting with the pirates in their base.  Attacking head on would be suicide, so they recommend going through the Bone Pit – a slightly less suicidal approach… slightly – and tapping the walls to get into the security system to spy on the meeting.

Turns out that the ‘Bone Pit’ is a stinking wampa cave…  and yes it IS bigger than the “mine” on Quesh.  You get to the back and tap into the security system to learn some of the details behind Davos’ scheme.  Apparently, he fought in the Battle of Hoth.  The one that resulted in most of the Starship Graveyard being there.  However he was shot down and crashed on the surface.  There he began to collect treasues, technology and Republic secrets then hid them all away so that someday he would be able to retrieve them and become insanely rich.  Wow.  That’s it?  I mean, that makes sense and all but I was hoping for something more grand than a get rich quick scheme with buried treasure.  Well, we can’t all be Darth Jadus. Your spying is interrupted by a pack of wampa that attack you but luckily Temple was listening in remotely and got all the details you missed while almost getting your head ripped off. Davos apparently struck a deal successfully and the Marauders will act as protection and escort for Davos’ team to the Graveyard.

In the Starship Graveyard you meet up with Aristocra Saganu, the leader of the Chiss on Hoth.  He explains where Davos’ treasure hoard is and proposes a plan on how to stop him.  Namely, you take the risks and the Defense Force will back you up.  Not a shocker, but I think its funny that a squad of trained Chiss commandos are worth less in an infiltration assault than a single Cipher agent.  Really puts the whole Agent position in perspective doesn’t it?  Anyway, once you infiltrate the super dreadnought ship that Davos is in and meet up with Temple, you go ahead to deal with Davos and the Marauders and Temple with the Chiss will deal with keeping the White Maw pirates who live in the dreadnought at bay.  Davos is actually quite reasonable when you find him.  He wants to make a deal and essentially pay you off to let him leave with the treasure.  You can choose to either demand his surrender or just try and kill him – both of which lead to a big fight with the Marauders and Davos – or you can take him up on his offer and ask about the Starbreeze.  He doesn’t really want to part with it but if you are willing to keep quiet and say… give him the location of the secret Chiss base under the frozen lake he’d be willing to part with it.  I really don’t know WHY he wants the location of the Chiss base.  I mean, yea, in general the Imperials and the Chiss don’t see eye to eye out of just generic xenophobia and racism, but Davos himself has never expressed a burning hatred for the Chiss.  But if you don’t mind selling out your new pals secrets you can walk away with the Starbreeze with no mess.  Well, almost.  As you finish up, Temple will show up and regardless of what you chose to do pretty much all the Chiss are dead and Temple is injured.  You bring her along with you on the Starbreeze to the meet up with Hunter who poses as Minder-Seventeen.  The “Minder” suggests that Raina should be promoted for her actions and then asks to speak to you in private.

Hunter tells you that Raina needs to die.

You can try to defend her and Hunter will sympathize or you can agree and Hunter will just mock you saying that you don’t really want to and that you want to keep her like a lost puppy.  Honestly, it seems like this was another moment where they originally planned on letting you kill her off permanently early in the game’s design but changed it later because the ‘I agree, let’s kill her. Oh no, you don’t want to do that.’ thing comes off terribly forced and completely out of left field. In the end, you get a new companion in the form of Ensign Raina Temple who is nice and serves as something of a protege to you, learning the ways of the Agent to be more like her father who was a Cipher as well.  However, Hunter does use that damn code phrase again and puts a command in your head that if Raina becomes a problem or learns of the SIS’s involvement at all that she is immediately terminated.

As you get back on the ship, you receive a call from Ardun Kothe.  He is happy with you.  Which is… yay?  He says that Hunter gives you high praise which is a feat in itself.  Not really considering he just mind controlled me into doing what he wanted.  Kothe says it is time for the final phase.  He wants you to meet him on a death trap of a planet called Quesh.  I er… uh…  never heard of it?  I certainly have no connection to a group of dead Republic miners or anything.  Oh! Also, if you happen to be a Chiss Imperial Agent, Aristocra Saganu will contact you and make you an honorary member of his house in the Ascendancy. That’s nice of him.

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Finale

When you reach Quesh, Ardun has you meet up at a facility called ‘The Shadow Arsenal’.  There in a group holocall wit Hunter, Wheel, Saber and Ardun, it’s explained that the Shadow Arsenal houses 200 stealth rockets with built-in hyperdrives to allow them to jump right to their destination and explode, and one single rocket carries a payload big enough to level Kaas City. The Arsenal was developed by Doctor Godera and a team of other scientists during the last war, but the cowards grew a conscious about their actions and sealed the whole project away on Quesh.  Kothe has been seeking out a way to find the Shadow Arsenal and wants to use it to win the war.  The Ultrawave Transmitter on Taris had Godera’s signature activation codes built into it and then the Starbreeze had the coordinates of where the Arsenal got stashed.  With both in hand, Ardun Kothe has the keys to the cookie jar.

Hunter starts assigning tasks to the team.  Your job is just to deactivate the shields around the place so they can land and load up the missiles.  Oh and to make sure of it, after everyone else disconnects from the call, Hunter uses the code phrase again to implant the order to open the shields and do everything you can to ensure the SIS claims the Shadow Arsenal.  That prick.  You infiltrate the facility and find a security station to deactivate the shields.  Easy.  Now you just go and… wait.  Oh.  Kothe calls you before you can do anything and while they are loading up the weapons.  He uses the code phrase to force you to stay behind while they leave with everything.  Kothe wants you back in Intelligence for a few months laying low until they call upon you again.  The voice of Watcher X chimes in once more to tell you that they are abandoning you and that the time has come to break the programming.  Oh sure, there’s a risk it could put you in a vegetative state, but there’s not exactly a lot of time here. Watcher X asks if you want anything else to be done with your programming which gives you the choice of ‘having payback’, ‘being free’ or ‘break the limits of your body’.  Beyond a line of dialogue, I don’t think this actually does anything.  I do wonder what your companion thinks of their boss talking to no one in particular about all of this.  They just kind of stand there.  Ultimately, the programming is changed and you will no longer accept any outside commands from anyone.  Now the real mission begins.

You head into the Arsenal proper and find Wheel and Saber handling the automated droid security inside to cover Kothe.  They’re shocked to find you there since you were just ordered to stay put.  You can bluff them into appealing to let you help Kothe and letting the pair live – Wheel will even give you some extra supplies for it – or you can just kill them.  After dealing with them, it’s time for the primary objective: Deal with Kothe.  You find him opening the vaults of the Shadow Arsenal and deactivating the security turrets.  A massive room full of some of the deadliest weapons that were ever created.  You confront Kothe, who reveals that the SIS tactician was once a Jedi who couldn’t bring himself to live up to the Code.  He pulls out his lightsaber and attacks you. You fight until you either kill him or seal him inside the vault and let the turrets blow him to pieces.  There’s also apparently a ‘good ending’ to this section where you let Kothe live.  I was never able to find the dialogue option to get that but I will say that it does open another ending at the end of Chapter 3 if you do. So be on the look out if you want the ‘True Light Side’ ending?

The story isn’t over yet though.  As you are leaving you get a holocall from Hunter.  He laments that you managed to break out your programming and that while he was done with Kothe, he still had big plans for you.  He notes that in the end, history will forget about ‘Imperial Intelligence’ and ‘Republic Strategic Information Service’ and now history will also forget you since he called in some bombers to blow the entire Shadow Arsenal sky high.  Before you flee, you ask Hunter who he REALLY works for and he just smiles and notes, “The Winning Side.”

Final Thoughts

Chapter Two is a complete mind #%$& of a story.  It’s more than just ‘you are brainwashed and must do as your told’ but also shows the effects of your mental state deteriorating as you start seeing hallucinations and hearing voices,  and then to actually take the whole thing further and use the fourth wall breaking technique of using the games own dialogue system and choices to emphasize the mind control aspect.  Giving you three choices of different things you can say and then disregarding your choice to reply in the same stock monotone phrase when prompted is just chilling to me every time it happens.  That kind of stuff doesn’t happen anywhere else in the game.  It makes the lack of free will personal to you the player as much as it does to the character, because you actual FEEL the frustration of being aware of making a choice and having your choice disregarded because of an outside force controlling you.  As Watcher X mentions, the programming affects your actions and responses, but not your mind. When you choose a dialogue option, your character is thinking that and trying to say that but the Castellan Restraint is overriding it.

Speaking of Watcher X, his role was primarily the biggest let down of the whole chapter (which is saying a lot because it’s not even BAD as much as confusing).  Not so much what he does but what he doesn’t do – that being explaining what the hell he is doing there.  It’s left frustratingly vague why Watcher X of all people becomes your mental guide through breaking your chains.  Is he just a fragment of your mind trying to help you piece yourself together?  Is it actually something to do with Watcher X’s implant as a back up plan from Nar Shadaa?  I’m more inclined to say the former than the latter because after this he never shows up again.  Oh no, instead we get to deal with Hunter and his true employer from here on out and THAT will be fun indeed.

We also meet two more companions over the course of the chapter and while I jest about them quite a bit, they at least have interesting personalities.  Lokin is a seasoned veteran of Imperial Intelligence, he almost comes across as a Watcher X type but with an actual personality.  He is actually a great adviser on matters of espionage and counter-espionage which makes him a good teammate with Vector who knows people and how to be diplomatic through tricky situations.  It’s easy to see why the two are often found chatting away. Raina Temple on the other hand is the fresh faced new recruit despite not being either.  She is part Elara Dorne (Trooper), part Nadia Grell (Consular).  A firm believer in the Empire but eager about becoming an Imperial Agent to serve it better.  Her own storyline gets more into what that means as her own secrets force her hand and seem to maybe jade her a bit to the idea.  The romance gets somewhat into the creepy teacher-student thing but is less squicky than the Jedi romances.  I’d say it’s more of a tutor/student situation.  Which I guess is better?  Eh, at least Kaliyo is still an option if that’s not your cup of tea.

Unlike a lot of Chapter Two’s in these class stories where the entire point is to set up the third chapter the same way that the prologue sets up Chapter One, the Imperial Agent’s second chapter acts as a bridge that connect the first and third chapters.  It’s made very clear that the situation you are in is the result of your actions in the first chapter, and will adapt itself properly depending on how that chapter ended (either by stopping or joining Jadus) but then also introduces you to the primary villain of the third chapter and starts the bigger mystery of the storyline.  On top of that, it actually begins to tie in other things from some of the other storylines – namely the Jedi Knight’s visit to Taris.  That’s where you first meet Doctor Godera who has gone into exile out of guilt for his creations made for the Republic during the war.  These creations were various doomsday weapons that the Knight must stop or retrieve.  It’s safe to say that the Shadow Arsenal were among these weapons that were clearly better hidden.  However, this also may explain some of Watcher One’s interests in finding Doctor Godera during that story as well.  The Shadow Arsenal may also have been what The General was referring to with ‘Missiles that could blacken out a sun’ during the Black Talon flashpoint.

Overall, I’d say that despite a couple of hiccups, this is probably the BEST chapter two experience in the game in terms of both story and a willingness to shake things up and offer a mind blowingly unique experience.

<– Chapter One || IMPERIAL AGENT || Chapter Three –>

Review: Empire of Corpses

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Oh.  Oh sweet merciful fal’Cie.  What the hell did I watch?  My fiance and I went to the Alamo Drafthouse to see the Funimation Films presentation of ‘Empire of Corpses’.  A title that sounded quite promising.  In fact, the whole idea was quite promising.  A world where Victor Frankenstein’s experiment gave rise to an entire society built on and around essentially zombie slaves powered by steampunk-style “NecroWare” that program the reanimated corpses for a variety of tasks from simple clerical jobs, to military deployment.  Doesn’t that sound awesome?  Doesn’t that seem like there are a ton of cool stories to tell in a world like that?  I bet you’ve already thought of some.  And I also bet that they are WAY more interesting than anything this movie does with the premise. /sigh

The film comes to us from the works of the late Project Itoh (real name Satoshi Itoh) whose death in 2009 inspired the creation of a trilogy of animated films based on his science-fiction novels.  The last of which, published posthumously, was Empire of Corpses in 2012.  The trilogy of films will also feature “Harmony”, based on the novel of the same name that was given a special citation by the Phillip K Dick Award and will be shown state-side in late May, and “Genocide Organ” which currently stands as yet to be completed.  But surely with a stack of awards including a special citation from the Phillip K Dick Awards (a special citation being code for ‘throwing you a bone without actually winning’), surely the story will be an immensely riveting tale? Won’t it?  Well, how should I begin?

The Characters

The film begins with medical student John Watson (Yes, THAT John Watson) resurrecting his dead best friend as a living corpse that he names Friday (Not that Friday, but close) who he trains to be his servant, bodyguard, and to write down everything he sees and hears in a journal.  He is recruited by ‘M‘ the head of British secret intelligence who has a secretary named Moneypenny and teamed with a famed British soldier named Burnaby to go to Afghanistan (under the fake cover of being a field surgeon) to find a rogue Russian scientist Alexei Karamazov who is supposedly in possession of Victor Frankenstein’s notes on how to create a living corpse that has a soul like he did with “The One”.  Along the way Watson meets up with other characters like former president Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Edison, and Hadaly Lilith (who later renames herself Irene Adler).

If you haven’t gathered from the copious amounts of links in that last paragraph, there isn’t a single character that is based on, inspired by, or flat out IS, some sort of fictional or real historic person. The only person who possibly escapes this fate is Friday whose name draws inspiration from Robinson Crusoe but that where the similarities end.  This is mostly because we are told next to nothing about who Friday was in life beyond being John Watson’s best friend and potential lover (never confirmed, but there’s more than enough evidence to have that interpretation of their relationship) and that Friday was exceptional interested in Corpse Reanimation that he built an illegal lab to conduct NecroWare experiments in and then bequethed it Watson under the explicit details to ‘desecrate his grave’ and to bring him back to life.

Beyond that the characterization is all over the map.  Burnaby is fiercely devoted to bringing back the notes of Victor Frankenstein because that’s the mission for queen and country and all that, until the veteran soldier sees another spy that he had grown close to (via minute long montage) die and be ressurected that he immediately makes it his life goal to see the notes completely destroyed.  Almost every character in a cast of a dozen is given at least one big plot twist/betrayal/reveal through the course of the movie, to the point where you almost need a chart to keep it all straight.

The Story (Spoilers Ahead!)

The first half of the movie is an entirely different beast than the second half.  The first half is the pursuit of Victor Frankenstein’s notes.  It tackles a lot of questions that you’ve probably already seen done and done better in things like Fullmetal Alchemist.  Is knowledge for the sake of knowledge an end that justifies any mean?  Where is the moral line when it comes to science and knowledge (Especially in a world where reanimating the dead to become waiters, butlers, soldiers, etc to do the bidding of the living is standard practice). The pursuit has Watson, Friday, Burnaby, and the Russian Spy Nikolai Krasotkin pursuing Karamazov in the high hills of… somewhere?  They start in Afghanistan and end up in what looks like Tibet.  On foot.  Anyway, Karamazov has perfected a new form of living corpse that has problem solving skills, faster reaction time, and near living intellect (Watson tortures one into almost speaking at one point – because Watson’s leading theory is that language is only possible with a soul.  Also that a soul weights 23 grams that vanishes from your body when you die.)  They find Karamazov in a scene that is eerily familiar to Apocalypse Now when they first find the encampment of Colonel Kurtz, and have a nice meal with him where they discuss philosophy and whatnot.  Then they find out the secret of Karamazov’s new zombies: He isn’t resurrecting the dead. He’s killing the living.  By putting a living person in a trance with music and opium then ripping into their spinal cord and programming them with NecroWare, you create a far more capable undead.  Karamazov says Frakenstein’s notes are in Japan, Burnaby is horrified, Watson wonders why Karamazov is such a wussy that he didn’t keep experimenting on the subjects to find the truth of the soul (He’s apparently done this murder procedure to an entire village at this point). Then to… uh… prove a point I guess? Karamazov turns himself into a zombie.  Awkward.  You honestly could have made this the whole movie in a big send up to Apocalypse Now/Heart of Darkness.  The isolated village of the dead, stretch out the mystery of the secret of how to make the new zombies, big reveal at the end with a realization that some costs are too high. The end.  Good flick.  But no, it keeps going.  Clearly we’re building up to something big.  Oh well, off to Japan.

The Japan ‘chapter’ is fairly short.  They meet another historical figure, they find out what lab the notes are being kept in, and they break in.  Inside they find engineered zombies that can carry diseases like cholera as biological weapons.  This matches something earlier in the movie where there are exploding zombies that are engineered to break down their own body fat into glycerin so they explode.  Again, another neat idea. Zombie arms race.  Would explain the need for the notes.  But no, that’s not where this is going either.  Watson finds the notes, but instead of destroying them he has Friday analyze them (Because Zombies are also computers that can break electronic locks and crap) Because at the end of the Japan chapter, we get zombies going on a rampage, the lab in flames, Watson almost dead and the notes being stolen by none other than “The One” aka Frankenstein’s Monster.

This is where the plot completely goes off the rails, so let me bottom line some of the weirdness that transpires for the next 45 minutes.  The One is making zombies go insane using massive analytical computers built out of human brains in various cities while ‘looking for something’ before he is captured by ‘M’ so that M who is now a bad guy for some reason can create his perfect utopia of everyone being a zombie so there will be no war.  Watson does more experiments on Friday, Friday goes insane and tries to kill Watson but doesn’t, Friday might have a soul but nothing comes of it.  Burnaby gets drunk, and hits Watson for not destroying the notes.  Hadaly is a robot that is identical to a human but with no emotions (ie no soul) and wants a soul.  No, we’re never really going to go into that. Or how a robot got made.  Or why we’re relying on zombies when robot technology is available.  Zombies apparently can turn other people into zombies by biting them, but only sometimes when the plot necessitates it for M’s utopia idea.  Before that? No turning people to zombies via biting.

So after all that mess of confusing plot lines that go mostly nowhere, how do we end this?  What is the grand idea that so many other ideas were set aside or discarded for?  Well, the heroes rush from San Francisco to London in a few hours using the super-hyper powerful USS Nautilus (YES. THAT NAUTILUS.) that has been retrofitted by Hadaly’s father… Thomas Edison (Just go with it, movies almost over).  There they stop M’s evil plan of turning everyone into a zombie, while Burnaby tries to shut off the power to the whole evil lab by… battling the Universal Movies’ Frankenstein Monster who is guarded the power station for some reason.

Once M has been defeated, now it’s time for the REAL villain to show up and enact his REAL villainous plot: The One breaks out his chains, and uses Victor Frankenstein’s notes and brain (that M had for some reason) to…  ugh… /sigh…  suck the souls out of everyone on the planet so he can uses them as a massive… um… thing to resurrect his bride’s soul that was somehow trapped in Victor’s brain into Hadaly’s body, then transfer himself into Friday’s body.

No. I’m not joking.  One hour and forty minutes of story was actually all about just getting Frankenstein’s monster laid.  That’s the groundbreaking idea that this movie had for this premise.

Of course, the power of ‘not wanting to lose Friday’ causes Watson to defeat The One, who may or may not have died in the tower falling down (We see him get up from the ground as the tower falls apart around him), there’s an almost kiss with Hadaly and Watson before Burnaby who repeats his superpower of somehow never dying or getting hurt no matter what happens to him shows up to interrupt.  The movie ends proper with a repeat of the initial experiment that ressurected Friday at the start, only with opium and music as Watson does the ‘turn the living into a zombie’ thing Karamazov showed him so he can hopefully understand Friday better.  The End.

Only not really, because there’s another scene after the credits that fans of this trainwreck call ‘The Real Ending’ which is honestly just Watson and Sherlock Holmes running around, Watson has no memory of anything that happened, Friday stalks him like a scorned lover but apparently now has a soul, Hadaly has changed her name to Irene Adler, and Burnaby is still an ass.  The “REAL” end.

The Animation

Despite everything, the film is really pretty.  Supposedly the studio that worked a lot on things like Attack on Titan worked on this film (if the advertising is to be believed) and the polish really shows.  The detail to all the little steampunk gadgets really helps sell the setting and the look of the world.  The zombies seem to vary in detail depending on how many are in the scene but they do a good job animating the dead to look like they are just puppets and that helps a bunch when it comes to visually seeing why things like the newer zombies or Friday are different or special just in the way they move or stand.

Character designs are a little less inspirational.  You have your standard bishie protagonists, Hadaly has torpedo boobs to such an nth degree I was half expecting a joke about that being where her power cells are stowed or something, the villains look completely stock, and the only one who looks out of place in Burnaby who honestly from his face to his build to his animation just feels like he belongs more so in a Studio Ghibli flick than this.

The Voice Acting

We did get to see the Funimation dub of the film at our screening which was a welcome surprise since the Alamo Drafthouse’s website did not list any of the English cast.  It might just be me but there didn’t seem to be any sort of stand out performances for this movie.  My fiance however enjoyed J. Michael Tatum’s performance as Burnaby, but also stated that she couldn’t help continuously thinking of a certain Butler the entire time despite the completely different and fairly thick accent Tatum put on the film.  On a whole, the acting was good.  Nothing great to me, but also no where I could point and say “WTF is that?”  Except maybe with the Russian accents.  Those seemed to be a bit… Hetalia meets James Bond villain.  But hey, that’s only for the first third of the movie.

Final Impressions

I said it as soon as the house lights went up in the theater. This film is a hot mess.  Plot twists come out of nowhere and are legion in number.  The film can’t decide what it wants to be about.  Is it a monster movie?  Is there some kind of message it wants to convey?  What message?  What is the primary conflict?  The One, despite being mentioned a few times, doesn’t enter the film until the halfway point.  His character is never explored nor are we ever treated to any motivation or character for him beyond exposition dumps from other characters that have no way of actually knowing the info they’re spitting out which is only glossed over by crap like “My theory is” or “They say that”.  Yet by the end, apparently The One trying to resurrect his dead bride (who is shown once at the start of the film, and never mentioned as The One’s bride until 15 minutes from the end) is the central goal of the villain that our heroes are trying the thwart?  Heck, before that we had little to no motivation for our heroes to oppose ‘The One’ until after M becomes the villain for 20 minutes before being unceremoniously killed off so The One can take center stage.  M would have made sense as a villain because we see him throughout the film making vague mentions of scheming and plotting and how it’s his job to ‘predict the future’ and what not.

Then there’s the whole Watson and Friday thing that is given no resolution, is never really explored beyond using Friday to find out if there’s a soul, and in the moment where that seems like a possibility it’s treated as a huge shocking moment and then immediately forgotten about for the rest of the film. Heck, it can even be interpreted that Watson flat out kills Friday’s regained soul immediately afterward to create a better puppet/tool for fighting M/The One.

In the end, the film and the story feels very much like it wants took inspiration from several early science fiction writers without taking or even understanding why those ideas worked.  Like a filmmaker who sees a cool shot and decides to use it over and over regardless of whether it works or not because it was cool but they didn’t understand WHY it was cool.  So the film ends up completely falling apart after the half way point as it tries to throw more and more into the film without any understanding of how to use the elements it adds.  It could have been something great.  There were a lot of amazing ideas to be explored in this film.  What it needed to do was just pick one and stick with it.

SWTOR Class Storyline Review: Imperial Agent – Prologue

|| IMPERIAL AGENT || Chapter One –>

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the prologue of the Imperial Agent storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  To see a spoiler-free summary of the storyline please check this page instead.

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Welcome to the cleaning crew, Agent.  From this day forth you will have no identity, no friends, and no allegiances to anyone but us.  You are a ghost, a shadow, a passerby that is forgotten as quick as you are seen. Your mission will be to protect the Empire’s interest across the galaxy, to serve the orders of the Sith and to tidy up their messes.  This is your life now, Agent.  Welcome to Imperial Intelligence.

The Imperial Agent is exactly all that and more.  While the bounty hunter claims a paycheck, and the Sith war for power with each other, it’s you that will be behind the scenes of everything, picking up the pieces and ensuring that no matter what happens – the Empire wins.  Imagine James Bond, meets Ghost in the Shell, meets Mission Impossible, meets the Bourne Identity, all tossed in a blender of intrigue and action with a finger fully pressed on frappe. That’s what you are in for.  You’ve probably heard murmurs across the internet about how the Agent story is probably one of the best stories in the game, and this is not blind hyperbole.  But that’s for later, and now you are a fresh faced agent, just created, completely green and arriving on Hutta.  Let me give you the sit rep on the Prologue for the Imperial Agent.

Hutta

Oh of all the places to get stuck on your first mission.  This has got to be some kind of form of Imperial Intelligence hazing.  Hutta, the stinkball, is home to a powerful hutt named Nem’ro.  Nem’ro controls a ton of the resources here, and it’s up to you to secure a partnership with the hutt and the Empire by any means necessary.  Your handler, named “Keeper”, which I guess is supposed to be cute because of the ragged mangy akk dogs we are that we need a keeper not a coordinator or a commander, wants you to secure a new identity from an alien in town and make a good impression with the Hutt-in-charge and get to working on setting up an alliance.  The alien – Jeeg – has the identity of ‘The Red Blade’ set up for you.  It’s the name of a criminal of some renown, no one knows what they look like and the Real Blade is supposed to be on the other side of the galaxy by now.  The only real hiccup with this plan is that a couple of low life parasites made off with the crate of goods you were supposed to present to Nem’ro, so it’s up to you to get them back and get to Nem’ro for a meeting.   The meeting can go well or decent based on your choices really.  Either way you get introduced to several members of Nem’ro’s crew: Karrells the old timer, Kaliyo the muscle, and Tothrezen the…  uh…  dumb one that Nem’ro likes?  Really Toth doesn’t do much other than he’s the current favorite, a complete jerk, and dumber than bricks so Karrells always has to pick up his messes.  Keeper identifies as Karrells as the best target to get buddy buddy with and you go off using a bit of overhead info to help put Karrells back in Nem’ro’s limelight.

How you do that is pretty much taking care of problems for Nem’ro around the planet. Doing things like reclaiming ore from the renegade evocii (the locals that sold their planet to the hutts) that was stolen from Nem’ro’s mines, and breaking into the the rival hutt Fathra’s factory and blowing up a drilling shaft that’s being used to pillage Nem’ro’s gas deposits.  You’ve pretty much ensured yourself a man on the inside with Karrells until a slight problem arises.  Karrells’ kids?  His sons that he won’t shut up about?  Turns out they were just killed.  By a Sith.  So the chances of Karrells being sympathetic to joining the Empire pretty much will be blasted into space as soon as he gets the news.  Thus Karrells turns from your best asset into your biggest liability and we all know what to do with liabilities. Actually, beyond the straight order to just kill Karrells, you can technically just tell him to lay low, get the heck out of town, and not to contact anyone in order to spare his life.  Which seems counter to doing your job, but hey, he was a nice guy for a gang leader murderer thug.

The plan at this point radically shifts as you actually pin the murder of Karrells (or the attack if Karrells hid) on the rival hutt Fathra and using a Republic computer spike so it looks like the Republic and Fathra joined forces to take out Nem’ro.  But Nem’ro needs proof before he goes to war.  You volunteer to find said evidence for justice for poor Karrells (he was your buddy after all. Mwahaha.) and Tothrezen accepts your help.  However, Kaliyo is more suspicious.  She follows you to your room and confronts you about killing Karrells.  Your only choice really is to let her in on the loop because as it turns out – She’s not mad!  She actually wants in on the heist.  So you introduce her to Keeper and he offers her a job working for Imperial Intelligence under your command.  She takes the job under the condition that if Keeper ever refers to her as a loyal servant of the Empire again she’ll break his jaw.  With that settled it’s off to Fathra’s!

The ultimate goal inside the palace is pretty easy.  You kill lieutenants to get their security badges and then download the altered files that show that Fathra has been dealing with the Republic.  Of course, a bunch of Fathra’s goons try to stop you but that really doesn’t slow you down.  The actual choice to the whole thing comes in the form of whether you scorch part of the files or not.  Why?  Well these are all of Fathra’s records.  This shows that Fathra has had dealings with the Republic now, but also that he’s been in cahoots with half of the businesses that work for Nem’ro.  If Nem’ro finds out, Hutta’s gonna run red with blood which will make Nem’ro happy but destroy a lot of his merchant empire on the planet.  So it’s actually a nice real difficult choice.  You risk exposing this whole thing as a scheme if you damage the files, but you protect Nem’ro’s assets or you can just focus on keeping Nem’ro happy and if he slaughters his own city it’s his own dumb fault.  Either way, the records are proof enough that Nem’ro’s hated rival is working with the Republic and that he needs just as much help, so he gets on the holo contacting the Empire for assistance.  Mission complete.  Almost.

It would seem that on your way off world that the actual, real Red Blade is here and he’s not pleased that you’ve been using his identity.  How did he find out?  How did he get here so quick?  I dunno, but I blame Jeeg.  To me though he’s just another loose end to wrap up.  And by that I mean bury in the ground completely.  Or I suppose technically just leaving him dead on the hangar floor.  That works too.

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Dromund Kaas

Welcome to the home world, Agent.  Here you are the secret police and the clean up crew.  Which is a weird position to be in when people are terrified of you and at the same time you have to clean up their messes.  Speaking of messes, no sooner than you arrive at Imperial Intelligence HQ and you bump into Keeper and Darth Jadus himself.  Jadus is a creepy ol’ big sith dude who always wears a mask.  Honestly, he’s probably one of the cooler Sith NPCs in the game.  He’s very philosophical, not afraid to exert his power, has a unique agenda (more on that in a moment), and looks bad ass.  He’s not interested in the power plays like Baras or untold hidden power like Zash.  Best of all (or worst of all depending on your outlook) he seems to have taken a liking to you in particular, and tells Keeper he wants you to be the agent for the job he was apparently describing before you arrived.  That job?  Eliminating a terrorist cell on Dromund Kaas.  A uniquely boring terrorist cell at that, as they have no formal name, no motive or connections, and their only reason for resorting to terrorism is literally “we are not satisfied with Imperial policy.”  I’ve seen tweens on Tumblr with better reasons to get upset, let alone resort to terrorism.

Keeper sends you out to go find an alien slave that was once used to transport messages between political dissidents and supposedly kept copies of said messages “encoded” in his native language.  It’s encoded in the sense that Imperial nobility are too fricking racist to bother to learn any language other than Basic, I guess. Oh yea. And if you play an agent that’s not a cyborg, human or pureblood? Get used to putting up with the incredible racism from your team mates and other Imperials. They love bringing it up. Like calling you a ‘creature’ or ‘alien’.  Lots of “you people” crap.  You can also get to know the rest of the Imperial Intelligence team before you head out.  They are:

  • Watcher Two: Genetically engineered to be a ‘Watcher’.  But she has a quick tongue and can even keep up with Kaliyo in the insults department.
  • Lodenth: The token alien. He’s here to help understand Alien stuff. Like psychology. Or reading something other than Aurebesh.
  • Fixer Twelve: A former agent turned mechanic. He claims to be the guy who keeps the whole place running, which makes me wonder what the hell the other eleven fixers do.
  • Watcher Three: The new guy. I will not be shocked if he dies.  He is after all, the new guy.

If you are wondering where Watcher One is at the moment, he’s gone supposedly AWOL working with Darth Angral in the Jedi Knight storyline.  Anyway, you head off to find the slave in question – one Jurithus by name – who got caught up in the slave rebellions surrounding the giant statue in the jungle.  You hunt down and question a rebellion leader named Rebellion Leader and inject him with a serum you picked up before you left HQ.  This pretty much turns his mind into Jello so you can extract info from him.  Unfortunately the info you get is that Jurithus died in the jungle (or on the opposite platform from the one you’re on it turns out. Again, Jello.) You can then put rebellion leader Rebellion Leader out of his misery and shoot him (Dark Side) or command him to turn himself in (Light Side).  You go grab the datapad and since it’s “encoded” it’s off to Lodenth to translate.  Keeper checks in with you and tells you to head back right away – Darth Jadus wants a word with you.

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Darth Jadus finally lays out his grand design to you personally, since you are his ‘personal agent’ now it seems.  He no longer wants Dromund Kaas and the Sith to be central repository for hate and fear in the Empire.  He wants to ‘democratize fear’ so that every citizen of the Empire on every world – be they human, Sith or alien – can experience true fear and absolute hatred.  This is something he clearly cares deeply about and it’s weird.  On one hand, that’s messed up.  On the other hand, he wants everyone – not just the Elite – to experience the same thing.  Which is a unique perspective in the Empire where society is firmly divided between Sith and pretty much everyone else.  Jadus is planning on taking a starship with a few thousand dignitaries, sith and even slaves around the Galaxy to show them his ‘vision’ for the Empire and he wants to ensure that these dissidents don’t do anything to stop this.  He asks you to trust absolutely no one, since he knows that the terrorists to have contacts in the highest levels of power throughout the Empire.  He finishes the meeting by asking you to kneel before him.  Which you can. Or not.  If you choose not to – he kills you.  Not just in a cut scene. You die.  You have to rez.  He seems to expect you to be able to come back from being killed also.  Which officially makes Jadus the first character that I know that is aware that death is temporary and may in fact be leaning on the fourth wall a bit.

After the meeting and possibly coming back from the grave, Watcher Two sends you to the cantina for your next lead. Apparently, a weapons designer by the name of Theovor Mindak has contacts with the terrorists. But Mindak works for the rogue sith lord Grathan.  You need a better in.  Luckily, Mindak has a spoiled party girl daughter who is upstairs at the moment.  You can try to use diplomacy to cut a deal where she inherits all her daddy’s wealth and power (Light Side), flirt with her (She’ll see through it), or just beat her (or a combination!) to get the info out of her and get her access codes.  You can also kill her when its over if you want to tie up loose ends (Dark Side).  Using the access codes, you can find Mindak in his lab and you find out why he helps the terrorist – because he is dissatisfied with Imperial policy.  Okay, actually he’s a bit more specific.  It seems that Imperial Intelligence grabbed his wife one night and hauled her off to who knows where and she was never seen again.  No word on WHY she was hauled off, but I can see how this would sour his outlook.  It doesn’t matter if you go light or dark, sincere or snark with Mindak, you’ll have to fight him and his robots either way.  Once he’s dead, you grab his files and head back to base while Watcher Two deciphers them.

Once you get back, it’s time for a meeting.  Darth Jadus phones in as he’s readying his ship – The Dominator – for launch. We know the terrorist’s target: The power conduits to Kaas City.  By blowing just one it would set off a chain reaction that destroy every power source across the capital.  All the conduits are under strict military guard save one – the one that lies under the Dark Temple.  At this point we finally get some explanation as to what the deal with the temple is.  Like that apparently the temple was only opened up just under a month ago and after workers started vanishing to an ‘unknown phenomena’ (ghosts) they blocked access to it.  No I don’t know how they built a conduit under it without ever being able to go inside until just recently.  Especially since the access tunnel is IN the Temple. Though I suppose the terrorists could have just used that tunnel to blow a hole into accessing the conduit.  Still, this is the first but far from the last time we’ll receive information about the game’s setting that is exclusive to the Agent’s storyline.  Keeper wants to send in a squad of agents to suppress the terrorists, but Jadus says that the Temple is sacred and he will not allow non-Sith to just run about willy nilly in there.  Jadus decides it will be you and you alone that goes into the temple.  Keeper is not pleased, doubly so if you thank Jadus for the job.

The mission is actually really simple.  You bust in, take down three whole bombs, and then find an injured terrorist to interrogate.  You can talk or hit him all you want but what you get out of him is this:  There are multiple cells across multiple worlds.  Their reasons for doing this are vague but seem to center around the idea of standing up against Imperial Intelligence in particular.  And if you let him talk long enough instead of straight killing him when given the opportunity, he’ll reveal he’s terrified of the ghosts taking his mind more than he is afraid of you.  You can help him out by getting him out of there (Light Side) and he’ll be more ‘cooperative’ in looking for the Cells, or just ditch him in the Temple to let the ghosts have him (Dark Side).

When you get back to headquarters, the entire place is in chaos.  It would appear that while you were out stopping the terrorists, they had a secondary target in mind – The Dominator.  That’s right.  They blew up Darth Jadus’ flagship just as it was leaving Dromund Kaas, killing all three thousand-ish people on board including Darth Jadus himself.  This is followed by a proclamation by the terrorist leader – The Eagle – to the entire Empire.  He explains that they have proven that the Sith are not all powerful by killing Jadus.  That they will continue to strike.  That the Empire is bad and needs fixed.  That Imperial Intelligence can just grab you if you even think anything bad about the Empire and make you vanish.  Really, it’s mostly generic freedom fighter rabble rousing but we know who was behind it.  Time to go ge-  wha?  Oh there’s one more mission?  Ah yes.  The exciting conclusion of chasing down a starship before it leaves and planting a mouse droid on it before the military blows things up.  You run in and click a crate, then watch a cutscene before leaving.  That’s it.  Whoo hoo.  Despite the ‘we must beat the military there’, they never do show up.  Kind of a let down after the awesome reveal of the Eagle and the destruction of the Dominator.  I guess they had a quest quota to fill for the XPs?  Meh, we get the new title of “Cipher Nine” out of it, and our own ship.  Also, don’t be a goof like me.  Just because Keeper says that they’re trying to leave the starport.  THEY ARE NOT AT THE STARPORT.  They are at a docking area just across from the Cantina in Kaas City.  I quick traveled all the way to the actual starport only to be left very confused.

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Final Thoughts

The start of the Imperial Agent is a full blown taste of what you’ll be getting in Chapter One.  There’s intrigue, deception, manipulation and eliminating lots of enemies of the Empire.  In a lot of ways it feels very straight and by the book, but on the other hand it offers you a real chance to get into the headspace of the secret police of the Empire.  They aren’t exaggerating when they say that Imperial Intelligence can show up out of nowhere and make you vanish.  You are fully authorized to kill whoever you want and rest assured that the Watchers will make sure that no one else finds out if need be.  The only place you have to be cautious is outside of Imperial jurisdiction as shown on Hutta with Karrels.  It’s kind of scary to think about what you can do as an Agent if you look at it from the outside.

It’s also quite interesting coming back and playing this story a second (and third I’m sure you noticed with the screenshots) time.  While everything seems straight laced and by the books missions, there’s actually a metric ton of foreshadowing given in the prologue about the events that will transpire in the next chapter.  Not to get too spoilery, but the Prologue gives you all the clues you need to piece together the mystery in Chapter One.  But it also sets up red herrings, misdirection, and a sense of you don’t know who is on the level.  Simply put, there’s a lot more going on in this chapter than you will realize on your first play through it.  Which is awesome.  You can come back later on a new character after you finished an agent and go, “Oh. OOOOOOH. I GET IT!”

We also get our first companion, Kaliyo. Who coincidentally at the time of this writing has just been re-introduced in the Knights of the Fallen Empire storyline.  Kaliyo is anti-authority to the point of being an “anarchist”.  Anarchist like punk bands in the 80’s and high school kids who draw that ‘A’ symbol on their folders use the word, not like the actual political manifesto way.  She’s also a love interest of the male Agent.  I have only had a few chances to flirt with her, but honestly Kaliyo comes off a LOT like Jack from Mass Effect 2 without all the emotional baggage and breakthrough that can come from that romance.  So I’m not sure I can say I personally am the biggest fan.

Overall, I think the Agent has a good start.  I can see how it can be deceptively simple and straightforward to a first time player. I remember thinking it didn’t get good until the end of Chapter One.  But now re-playing it, I can see all the awesome connections and set ups that were actually going completely under the radar on this one.

|| IMPERIAL AGENT || Chapter One –>

SWTOR Class Storyline Review: Smuggler – Chapter Three

<– Chapter Two || SMUGGLER ||

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the third chapter of the Smuggler storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  To see a spoiler-free summary of the storyline please check this page instead.

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When last we left our intrepid smuggler, they had just foiled a scandalous attempt on the life of Senator Dodonna using cybernetically enhanced beasts of unknown origin.  The Senator tasked us with the job of hunting down where these beasts came from and how Rogun the Butcher got them.  To find this out, there’s only one place to go and one person to talk to: The man with his hands in every plan – Darmas Palloran who sits chilling at Port Nowhere.  Turns out that Darmas is completely on the ball on this one and has already got your answer by the time you arrive.  The animals come from the planet Voss, a newly discovered world with insanely strict laws governing the coming to’s and going from’s the planet.  Somehow Rogun managed to get these beasts off world, and that means going to Voss for answers.  Sadly that will take some time.  See, you’re not a fancy Jedi and you ain’t Republic special forces, so you’ll have to get to Voss the good old fashioned bureaucratic way – by getting a permit.  That means it will take time.  Luckily, Darmas has another lead you can pursue in the mean time.

Belsavis

It seems that our good friend/headache Rogun the Butcher has a bit of business on the secret prison planet of Belsavis.  He’s apparently aiming to break out his old mentor who goes by the name ‘Ivory’.  Ivory taught Rogun everything he knew, so he’s a powerful asset to Rogun AND to you against Rogun.  Also I feel its worth mentioning that somehow it is actually easier for me to get access to super secret prison planet than it is to get a parking pass on the diplomatically neutral world of Voss.  Keep that in mind the next time you go through there.  That every other class is pretty much in the express lane to getting to go to Voss compared to the Smuggler and the rest of the galaxy.

So your first task to go get Ivory from his cell.  Bit of a problem there though. Belsavis is in the middle of the biggest prison riot in the planet’s history thanks to the Imperials. So the guards aren’t exactly sure if Ivory is where he should be nor can they guarantee safe arrival to the cell. Could be worse though. They could be out of Space Coffee and Donuts, which they clearly aren’t given the ABUNDANCE of guards and prison personnel just standing around at the main compound. Get to work, you lazy pieces of trash.

It turns out that the cell is not empty at all. It’s full of explosives!  Seems like when Ivory flew the coop he wanted to leave a goodbye present.  You find a tunnel after taking cover that was dug into the stone that clearly indicates good ol’ Ivory has been contemplating getting out of here for a while.  I mean that’s not poured cement we’re talking about. It’s solid rock.  That’s determination!  So you know that Ivory is out, and it seems from reports that a lot of Ivory’s crew is being busted out as well.  Except for one.  You race to a guard station where they have the last member of Ivory’s team in holding to see if she has any ideas on where Ivory has gone.  But sadly, the girl is insanely fanatical and just spouts gibberish.  The bad news rolls in as it becomes very clear that the guard holding her their was holding her not for you – but for Ivory.  Ah, corrupt prison guards.  Nice to see that even in the level 40’s that we’re still slumming it as a smuggler. One of Rogun the Butcher’s personal assassins joins you from the rafters and kills the girl, so you quickly have to take out both the assassin and the corrupt guard.  And we’re back to square one with the whole ‘no clues’ thing.  But wait!  The guard has a list of names.  Names to set free!  Potentially for Ivory!  Another lead! HUZZAH!

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This lead sends you down to the prisons to meet up with two more members of Ivory’s crew whose names I never bothered to learn because I immediately just started calling them Bebop and Rocksteady.  Their comedy relief henchmen essentially who you can – through no great effort – convince to fight each other instead of you.  With them out of the way, it’s time to deal with the big ol’ gendai they let out and try to get some answers.  Honestly, I don’t know how we really plan to defeat a friggin gendai since they establish on Imperial Nar Shadaa that they essentially can regenerate from almost nothing to the point that they had to run the corpses through meat grinders to stop them from coming back.  Here you just blast him and walk off.  Maybe he does regenerate.  Not much reason to worry about him staying down so long as you can get out the door.  Anyway, you get your next clue about Ivory’s location – the Deep Vaults.

Now where in the Deep Vaults?  Never really pinpointed but the mission marker tells me where to go and I follow.  Apparently, Ivory headed to what at least appears to be an ancient Rakata starship hanger complete with repaired starship.  I’m suddenly having flashbacks to the end of John Carpenter’s The Thing.  Ivory says he’s going to use this ancient starship (Up next on The History Channel) to blast off and leave Belsavis.  This is actual fairly funny considering that a few scenes back with Ivory he was ranting about he was mastering the ancient Rakata technology and no longer needed to escape.  Meaning that he was going to use the Rakata technology to escape?  I’m not sure.  But sinister plotting is a foot as that assassin you killed earlier isn’t dead!  But he is!  He’s actually just got like a dozen identical twins!  What the fu-?!

Cornered by the baker’s dozen, you quickly learn that they’re not just there for you.  It seems Rogun considered Ivory too risky to have alive in or out of prison.  This opens up the brilliant opportunity to negotiate.  You and Ivory team up to wipe out the goons and then you can press your leverage on him to either get intel on Rogun from him and send him back to the prisons, just flat out kill the guy or – my personal favorite – bring him with you and smuggle him out of the prison to work under you and teach you the ways of being an underworld boss.  Heck. Yes.

Interlude

This first interlude is just a really weird brief break.  A Jedi Master, Sumalee, who is apparently yet another old friend of Risha’s gets a hold of you and asks you to retrieve another old friend of Risha’s who is an SIS team member from Hoth.  She’s pinned down and on a mission investigating something that isn’t really important to the plot at all but because of this she can’t trust anyone in the Republic base.  In other words, she needs to be smuggled off world.

I honestly don’t know what the point of this was beyond reminding you that you are a smuggler and to introduce Sumalee who has a minor presence in the story ahead on Corellia.  Beyond that it’s just an experience buffer.  You could have easily stuck this in the Interlude-less Act 2 (unless you count Quesh as an interlude. Might as well given how short those class story missions are.) Sumalee isn’t so vital that she needs introducing, and we already know that Risha is friends with everyone in the galaxy (Heck, she’s friends with Vette from the Sith Warrior storyline! That’s cross storyline friendship!)

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Voss

Well, looks like those permits have finally come through and we can land on Voss.  Or more accurately the space station orbiting Voss and then take a shuttle down.  But we’re totally allowed to be there now. Unlike all those riff raffs and undesirables.  Like the Exchange.  Who run a massive criminal base just outside of Voss-Ka…   Why did I have to wait for the paperwork again?  I thought I was a smuggler.  Like just in the last mission I smuggled friggin PEOPLE. Can I just smuggle things off of planets?  Can I not smuggle myself?  To make things worse is that the Voss assign you a chaperon to keep an eye on things. That won’t put a kink in these plans at all.  Seriously, Dodonna has to be the worst negotiator ever to get me here on just these terms.  Luckily, our nanny isn’t completely useless.  He actually leads us to the aforementioned Exchange base.  Seems our babysitter has a eclectic taste for offworlder music that the Exchange can get him.  He introduces you to a fixer who is willing to put you in contact with Rogun’s smuggling ring for a meet if you help him gather up some Voss artifacts to sell.

So once you get him set up, he sends you off to this meeting with Rogun’s team and this may come as a shock to you but Rogun’s lackeys recognize Rogun’s number one kill on sight most wanted.  I know. I didn’t see it coming either.  Shock.  They’re not dumb either. These guys not only have found a way to work with the Voss’ hated enemies – The Gormak – but found a way to smuggle Gormak modified cybernetic animals off world.  Better yet, they actually got a plan together as soon as the fixer arranged the meeting.  They’re going to pin the whole thing on you.  They knock you out and take off just in time for the Voss Commandos to show up and see only you and an entire smuggling operation.  Wow.  This sucks.  Luckily, my chaperon is willing to do the talking while I sneak off.  He apparently trusts me implicitly as long as I tell him that I’m not lying. How the heck have the Voss survived contact with the outside galaxy?

You rush back to the Exchange Fixer (Honestly, more than anything else I am utterly shocked how somehow the Exchange ends up being the good guys here) and explain what happened.  He feels terrible about how sour the deal went since after all he’s a business man and has a rep to think about.  But if the Gormak are involved, he does have a shipment going to the Gormak later and he can freeze you in carbonite (you know, it’s easy. Like going to pick up some milk from the store. Just a quick carbon freezing and then back to work on Monday. Takes years off your face, dahling.) so you can sneak past their lifesign scanners and get into Gormak territory.

When you arrive, you come face to face with “Gormak Zac” the ‘Human Gormak’.  Essentially, a human who went native.  He was momentarily in the earlier scene with the smuggling meet but we didn’t really get that much about him other than he was the contact between Rogun’s goons and the Gormak.  However, he’s not loyal to Rogun and defnitely not on his payroll.  Once you explain the situation and what Rogun’s been doing, Zac will happily help you since its against even Gormak law to sell abominations from the Nightmare Lands – a market Rogun’s female lackey is hoping to bust in on.  He helps you escape if you promise to help stop her.  Turns out that it’s two birds with one stone since while going after her in the Nightmare Lands, you get a chance to record a meeting between her and a Sith Lord that proves that you weren’t the smuggler to the Voss.  Well, not THAT smuggler at least.  You fight the abominations, the Sith and Rogun’s henchwoman and head back to Voss-Ka for your big fat… criminal… trial.  Damn.

The trial isn’t even remotely fair either.  You prove your innocence handily with the recording but then they change the rules after the fact and charge you with all this other crap you did while on the planet that you weren’t on trial for.  So, in Voss law, it doesn’t matter if you can prove you didn’t murder a guy if you even DARED to jaywalk while proving your innocence. Forgive me, honeycomb eyes.  You can choose to take your licks will gives you an entirely optional and don’t-need-it-to-progress side mission of delivering packages to various planets, OR you can throw your babysitter under the bus when he volunteers to shoulder the blame for the whole incident.  Don’t be a dummy, kids! If you do the crime, let your buddies do the time.

Interlude #2

So the words gone out.  Between the hit on the Voss operation and the royal mess up with trying to eliminate Ivory, Rogun is calling in all his remaining lieutenants to a secret meet on Tatooine that you just happen to have got the deets on.  Time to put an end to this pain in the rear once and for all.  However, as you confront Rogun and square off with his goons, a pair of strange Sith appear.  They delight in revealing the twist:  The Voidwolf is the real bad guy! Okay that’s not the actual twist.  It turns out that Darmas Palloran and Senator Dodanna are in league with the Voidwolf.  They’ve been pitting you and Rogun against each other so the two of you wipe each other out, leaving Darmas to control the criminal underworld.  Senator Dodanna’s privateer “project” was actually just a front for you to acquire things FOR the Voidwolf so she can earn ruling over an entire planet once the Imperials conquer the Republic.  They both have been playing you for a sap!

Next comes the big choice.  Rogun’s been hounding you since level 1.  He’s come after you time and again.  This is your chance to kill him.  But that’s not the only option.  You can also force him to work for you and for him to give you his share of the criminal underworld.  Revenge or profit.  It’s a race between my two favorite vices.  Take your pick!

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Corellia

With Rogun dealt with in one way or another, it’s time to go for the Voidwolf and his partners in crime – Darmas and Dodanna.  You reunite with Master Sumalee (Yup. Super vital to establish earlier for this express purpose) and try and convince her of the Senator’s guilt but without proof there’s not much hope.  After all, Dodonna’s a well respected senator of Coruscant, not scum like Darmas.  Speaking of which, you do scope out Dodanna’s partner – Darmas’s – safehouse and find he’s working with the Corellian rebels to blow open Supply tunnel 26, which happens to be the ‘artery’ of the underground tunnel network that many soldiers died to seal up so the Imps couldn’t use the tunnels to invade all of Corellia.  You find Darmas preaching to a bunch of Corellian revolutionaries who have all been told that you were a traitor who stole White Maw cloaking tech and Balmorran weapons for the Voidwolf (Technically accurate, but not knowingly).  You can respond by either opening fire, try to convince the angry mob that Darmas is an Imperial, or you can be like me and convince them that Darmas is trying to steal the women of Corellia – which apparently turns out to be somewhat true as he’s been flirting and asking girls back to his ship since he got there. (Who knew?)  He flees back to the Imperial’s base when cornered by siccing droids on you.

To get to Darmas, you need to get inside the Imperial base that is in a commandeered hospital.  Only way to get through that many guards is to attack various targets to lure them out and then sneak in using the revolutionaries’ doctor contact. Once you make contact with the doctor, he mentions he was expecting a captain with an injured leg and notes that the only way in is on a stretcher – so he shoots you. Once inside you find Darmas talking to a weasely Corellian politician that helped sell out the planet to the Imps, and here you can either kill him, turn him into the Republic to testify against Dodonna, or let him escape in exchange for all the info he has on Dodonna.

Next is to get to Dodonna, who fled to the Voidwolf’s men as soon as she caught wind that this was going down.  They’re holed up in the Museum of Alien History, but the only ‘safe’ way in is through an old abandoned selonian tunnel that was caved in.  After blowing through some walls, and fighting escaped zoo animals that decided to live there (Raising the question of how long they’ve been down here. Did they escape the zoo during the invasion and get stuck? Or did the zoo just really suck at its job?), you find Dodonna affixed with a slave collar and cleaning the floor for an Imperial Lieutenant.  She’s willing to tell you about the Voidwolf’s plans – that he’s building a pirate fleet to attack the Republic ship yards – but will mock your attempts to arrest her since she knows she’ll just walk free in exchange for all she knows about the Voidwolf.  Instead she wants ‘free free’ – to just be turned loose and let vanish into the greater galaxy.  You can let her do that if you want, or you can lie to her and then kill her once she’s turned over the evidence.  After all, it’s just a lie for a lie. However as a nice touch, if you do take the lie and kill route, your smuggler will look away as they pull the trigger.  Just one of those ‘not completely heartless’ moments that I really enjoyed.

Finally it’s time to go for the Voidwolf. To get to him, you’ll need to break into the weasely senator from earlier’s home and stow away or catch a ride with him to the Voidwolf’s flagship.  After the Jedi Master Sumalee gives some not-so-Jedi advice on breaking-and-entering (She was Risha’s friend, remember?), you go and deactivate all the cameras and sensors from around the house.  Then you defeat the guard captain and force him to walk you through the security system that will fry anyone who isn’t authorized or not with someone who is.  You then meet the senator who offers you a deal to work with the Voidwolf.  In the moment you might sped thinking that offer over, he calls the guards on you.  What a toad. Then you have to chase him down to get the codes to take off in his shuttle by either just killing him or forcing him to give you the codes before letting him go.  Either way you take his ship and we’re off to see the Voidwolf.

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Grand Finale

The finale starts IMMEDIATELY as you board the Senator’s ship, so be ready. From there it’s your standard ‘fight through the ship’ mission that if you’re like me and are playing every class mission – you’re quite used to.  There’s a mini boss in the form of the Voidwolf’s Underboss at the end of the first area which is actually a refreshing change of pace.  There’s also a small easter egg I found of a female officer kicking back with her feet on the table watching a double than life size holo of a female twilek pole dancing.  So there’s a fun bit of same sex…  uh…  interest?  When you finally reach the end of the ship, the Voidwolf is ordering his new pirate fleet around when you interrupt, and the various captains decide that they will serve whoever wins.  Because as pirates they all work on some weird Mad Max style set of rules where only the strongest is worthy of loyalty or some such.  You fight and defeat the Voidwolf, who tries to trick you with activating a thermal detonator when you kick over his assumed dead body, but you throw it back at him blowing him up.

With the Voidwolf dealt with, your new pirate fleet wants to know orders.  You can tell them to pay a tribute to you and then disperse, to attack the Imperials, or to serve you as pirates and to plunder from the Imps AND Pubs while they fight each other.  Then, because the Voidwolf is an ass and has to pull ever villain card from the deck, your crew informs you that a self destruct is imminent so you have to go find an escape pod. AND THE IMPS ARE STILL FIGHTING YOU ALL ALONG THE WAY.  WHY?  DO YOU WISH FOR DEATH THAT MUCH?! And in case you didn’t finish up any business planet side – good news! You crash back down on Corellia after escaping.

The ending of the story depends entirely on what you chose on the Voidwolf’s ship. I’ve done this storyline twice and have got two completely different endings to this story: When you chose to have the fleet attack the Imperials or take the money & have them disperse, you get a medal ceremony with Supreme Chancellor Saresh and Master Sumalee where I was proclaimed a Republic hero.  If you choose the pirate option?  Well the three captains show up to give you a share of the haul, Ivory and Rogun show up too if you had them join your team.  They announce that galaxy wide you are being called ‘The Bandit King’ and you can reopen Port Nowhere as your personal pirate fortress.  So Galaxy’s greatest hero or greatest crime lord. Not bad for a two bit smuggler who just wanted to run some guns to a bunch of freedom fighters on Ord Mantell.

My Reactions & Looking Back

Chapter Three is a really solid cap on an overall solid storyline.  Again, I think the thing that seems to really encapsulates the smuggler story is momentum.  The stakes keeping getting raised, the dangers escalate, the threats get more menacing – that kind of thing and Chapter Three carries on that whole process really well.  I was initially very worried when Skavak was defeated at the end of Chapter One that we would have a repeat of the situation in the Bounty Hunter or Trooper storyline but no, because the story had the foresight to neither string us along with the annoyance of Skavak for three chapters but to also include a secondary villain to wait in the wings and occassionally send goons after you to remind you of his presence with Rogun the Butcher.  Rogun is first mentioned right there on Ord Mantell and you don’t actually ever come face to face with the guy until right before Corellia. All the while he exists as a threat to you.  The Voidwolf may write you off as insignificant but Rogun wants your head on a plate and he keeps gunning for you the entire storyline.

That’s the kind of momentum this story has.  No matter whats going on, there isn’t a lull in the danger.  It never diminishes or even stays constant. It’s always growing.  From Skavak to Rogun & the Voidwolf to the surprise betrayal of Dodonna and Darmas, you find yourself constant fighting an uphill battle – which is what good drama should do.  In the Trooper storyline, there is no major threat to fill the gap of losing the first chapter’s villains.  The Bounty Hunter kind of meanders around in Chapter Three without a clear cut idea of what you’re doing beyond ‘earning favors’ to cash in for the ‘where to fight the bad guy’ coupon.  Here though? Everything ties together.  Everything plays a part in the overall story.  That junk robot Skavak wanted from the Seperatists? The ‘freaky trophy’ from the Imps? All used as items for trading to get what you need for the treasure.  Your seemingly unrelated privateer missions? That’s how Dodonna and Darmas buy their way into the Voidwolf’s inner circle.  The only point where the connections are stretched at best is a few of the interludes and even they aren’t pointless – just not necessary.  The smuggler story just builds until you – a lone plucky starship captain with no backing from any major organization – either takes down an Imperial admiral and his pirate fleet to save the day or rises up to become the most notorious pirate king since the days of Nok Drayan.

The one other perk to the story is that it’s funny.  Like honest to goodness funny.  I found myself constantly laughing while playing through this.  Especially if you play it with kind of a gray morality.  The light side stuff falls on the side of ‘help the innocent, save the day’ and the dark side stuff is mostly ‘get paid and kill anyone in your way’ but the gray choices usually fall firmly in the snarky category, and it is SO worth it to pursue that route.

There’s a reason I listed this storyline so high on my list of Worst to Best storylines.  It really is a well constructed and fun storyline.  It has two distinct endings that change based on your choices instead of just some basic fluff of a changed line in a default ending like the Jedi get.  It never feels like it slows down or stalls, and it always has some new wacky card to pull out to put a smile on your face.  It also exposes you to a side of the Star Wars universe you don’t get to see much of in the other storylines – the seedy underbelly.  Oh sure the bounty hunter starts on Hutta and there’s scum everyone on a Hutt controlled planet but beyond that your clientele seems to be those who can afford your fees.  Here?  Your a smuggler.  By definition you are working below the legal line.  Which leads you to meeting the more colorful characters in Star Wars.

Seriously, I don’t think anyone will be disappointed playing through this storyline. Do yourself a favor and give it a try.  I never thought it felt like a slog and I’ve played through it twice already.

<– Chapter Two || SMUGGLER ||

 

SWTOR Class Storyline Review: Smuggler – Chapter Two

<– Chapter One || SMUGGLER || Chapter Three –>

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the second chapter of the Smuggler storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  To see a spoiler-free summary of the storyline please check this page instead.

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So you’ve got the riches of Nok Drayan, you got a new partner who is the former crimelord’s daughter and the heir to the throne of an entire planet, you got nothing but wide open space ahead of you.  What better time than to sell out?  Yeah, well it seems like we had to put something in the story to justify why the heck the smuggler is a “Republic class” and not just some third neutral faction.  The Bounty Hunters have that whole ‘The Mandalorians are on permanent contract with the Empire’ thing, so now Smugglers get this.  What is this?

Well, after a quick holo call from Darmas Palloran (He’s that cheerful fellow from Coruscant that you beat handily at Sabacc and helped you find Skavak) telling you to come to Port Nowhere.  Unfortunately, Port Nowhere is essentially a starship turned into a hangout for smugglers and pirates, which means it’s a rough crowd.  Doubly so once they get wind about that bounty Rogun the Butcher put on your head.  Rogun’s goons are even there waiting for you and they got Darmas!  So now we have to save the gambler but for good reason. He’s got us a gig: Becoming a Republic Privateer under Senator Dodanna.  Essentially becoming an officially government sanctioned smuggler.  Doing the more nebulous jobs that can’t officially be on the Republic’s books and what not.  All with a fat paycheck.  Well, as they say: “A gig is a gig.”

However just as your leaving, Port Nowhere is attacked by the Voidwolf.  Who is the Voidwolf?   Well, he’s a big shot Imperial admiral who apparently has teamed up with Rogun the Butcher.  And he’s got the place surrounded.  Darmas sends Port Nowhere off into the hyperlanes to get away and you run off to your first official job as a privateer.

Balmorra

Our first job is the war torn world of Balmorra.  Oh boy. Yay.  Nothing like a stroll through the war ravaged hills of the factory and droid part ridden country side to get back to work and remind me that I’m not retired after scoring the treasure of a lifetime.  Apparently, the job here is to work with the Resistance and smuggle some much needed provisions (You know, food, water, medical supplies, grenade launchers) from their double agent contact in the Empire codenamed ‘Golden’. All the while you keep bumping into a Mandalorian zabrak named Akaavi Spar who is looking to kill a man named Moff Tyrak to avenge her destroyed clan.

You eventually track down the shipment to an Imperial base warehouse, but low and behold it’s not actually there.  However, ‘Golden’ is.  And Golden is actually Moff Tyrak.  And he wants out.  In fact, there wasn’t any supplies.  He just said that to the Republic so they’d send someone that could extract him because the Empire seems to be on to his whole double agent act.  Something about not normally being able to afford multiple mansions and luxury speeders on a Moff’s salary.  Shocking, I know.  Moff Tyrak quickly proves to be an annoyance – but an entertaining annoyance.  Kind of like that butt monkey that you like to see get kicked, and boy howdy do you get plenty of options to kick him.  Since no one is willing to extract Tyrak just because he can’t manage his money without the actual shipment, Tyrak leads you to where you should be able to get what you need – the Balmorran Arms Factory.  What a weird place to keep completely innocent humanitarian supplies.  Huh.

You break into the factory with minimal assistance from the Moff, but as soon as you take your eyes off of him for like two minutes he ‘scouts the area for anyone coming’ and then somehow – I’m sure he has nooooo idea how – they all show up to stop you.  With him in tow.  Aaaand with him shouting crap like “That’s him! That’s the one!”  Nerves on a Jedi on this guy I’ll tell you what.  Luckily, Akaavi shows up again to help and to get her ultimate revenge on the weaselly Moff.  She declares that she is here to avenge the deaths of Clan Spar.  But the Moff doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  She states that she knows that Moff Tyrak signed the order to kill her entire clan that had faithfully worked with the Empire until then.  Tyrak then realizes what happened.  See, he just signs any death order that comes across his desk.  He doesn’t even read them.  After all, their wouldn’t be a kill order if they didn’t deserve it.  Akaavi is to say the least flabbergasted that her arch-nemesis is no mustache twirling super-villain but a moronic bureaucrat. You can encourage her to just let it go, or to take her revenge and be done with it before she decides on joining you on your ship because quite frankly she has nowhere else to go.  You also get the choice of what to do with a fleet’s worth of high tech weaponry that you’ve just acquired.  There’s a few options including give it to the Republic (you know, what the Republic sent you there for) or sending it to Port Nowhere to be sold off to the highest bidder (Because money).  I took the Port Nowhere option myself.  Being King of the Pirates isn’t cheap you know.

On your way off planet, you get word that your success in pillaging the Empire’s weapons has caused The Voidwolf to execute several captains under his command for the failures to stop you.

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Quesh

As you head off world and deal with the consequences of maaaaybe the Republic not receiving those high tech goodies like they were expecting, you also get a message of a bunch of other Republic privateers pinned down by the Voidwolf’s fleet on the Planet Quesh.  They claim that if you help them, they’ll help you and I like people owing me things, so it’s off to the poison planet!

You make it to the hidden landing area and wipe the Voidwolf’s forces there, but the other captains explain that unless you take out the targetting computers in a nearby Imperial base, that the Voidwolf will just lock on and blast them as they try to leave.  Also, as an added kick you find out that Beryl Thorne is there with the other Privateers. Beryl was the nice smuggler lady you met way back on Taris that A) Didn’t like Risha and B) You had a chance to sleep with.  This naturally will make things awkward if you A) have romanced someone, B) Brought that person along and C) Triply so if that person IS Risha.

So once you blast your way into the base, you finally get to meet the Voidwolf.  Sort of.  It’s a hologram. He’s still on his ship.  But you get to see him finally, and talk to him in person.  He explains that you are no threat to his plans, that he is completely ready for anything you can throw at him, and he will see you dead.  You can naturally point out that he’s going to a lot of trouble to be ready for you and wanting you dead for someone who is no threat to him.  In fact, for being such a non-existent threat, he’s really gone out of his way to study up every detail of your personal adventures and life.  His response is naturally to send more goons after you.  You kill them and blow up the computers.  You go back to the privateers and can tell them that in exchange for saving their worthless lives, they can either go back and do their duty for the Republic (Light Side) or that they now work for you instead and should report to Port Nowhere for further orders (Dark Side).

No, I wasn’t kidding about being the King of the Pirates.

Hoth

For once, I actually enjoyed Hoth.  No seriously, most times in these class stories Hoth feels like a complete drag.  It’s a huge planet with only a couple of actually story missions that really just ends up with you running around on a speeder for 5-15 minutes at a time trying to get between point A and B, staring at the bleak endless white.  But the smuggler story here?  There’s actually crap going on.  It’s not just a macguffin hunt.  I mean technically if you distill it down to its raw parts it kind of is – but not how you might think at the beginning.  Rather for the Smuggler, you end up trying to navigate and slip through the political power struggle of the major faction on the planet – The White Maw pirates.

The actual reason you’re on Hoth is actually that the Republic wants its hands on the White Maw’s top secret cloaking technology.  Something so powerful it can hide an entire fleet.  They send you there with nothing but the name of a Jedi master to get in touch with only to find that he’s not there – he’s dead.  However, Jedi Master Guss Tuno is there to help you.  He’s the assistant/replacement for the missing Jedi Master.  His idea to get you in with the White Maw so you can swipe the tech is to make it look like your stealing some good stuff from the Republic’s storage depot/ice cave (Let’s be honest, they are all ice caves.)  Only the higher ups will know, but the rank-and-file won’t to help keep it looking legit so you’ll have to fight your way in.  However, once you do you find out that: No the higher ups don’t know, No there was no replacement for the missing Jedi, and yes you are very definitely really stealing this crap.  Guss comes clean and explains that he works for the White Maw, enslaved by their boss – Shie Tenna – who he offers to introduce you to in exchange for his dirty lies.

Shie Tenna is a hulking brute that seems to be quite fond of keeping his men in line with fear and displays of power.  You are introduced to him and his lover Alinna who vapidly hangs on his every word in his secret cantina base (read: ice cave) arranged by – but strangely not present – Guss Tuno.  Shie wants you to help him take over the White Maw by removing the other bosses’ from the equation.  By which he means killing the rival.  However, once Shie Tenna is out of ear shot, Alinna speaks to you and reveals that not only is she not as vapidly moronic as she lets on to Shie, she’s pretty much the brains behind the White Maw.  She manages the operations, handles finances, sets up plans – meanwhile Shie Tenna blows stuff up and postures.  Her suggestion is to expose Shie’s rival as being an Imperial sympathizer who plans to sell out the Maw to the Imps.  The White Maw may be a pack of psychotic pirates, but they all have a fierce passion for being free to do things their way.  The Imps would not work out well in that equation.  So the choice is yours whether the wipe out the rival base or to turn them against their leader. When you return, Shie Tenna declares you be brothers-in-arms!  Only to reveal that he also apparently killed his brother and throws you into a wampa holding pen (Ice cave.)  Luckily, good ol’ Guss is there to bust you out with another lead on getting in good with the White Maw.

And I’m not even going to string this one along – yea, that lead is also a trap.  A bunch of Gand bounty hunters waiting to take you out.  Guss confesses when you save him from the bounty hunters as well.  He isn’t a Jedi Master (though he is force sensitive. He dropped out of Jedi school), he’s not some White Maw slave – he works for Rogun the Butcher.  Rogun sent Guss to arrange for you to be taken out.  Guss sees that you’re a good guy and just can’t bring himself to go through with it.  With that out of the way, he’s willing to help you break into the White Maw fortress (Not actually an ice cave for once) and to get the cloaking tech…  which turns out to be a bit more complicated than you might have first thought.

So it turns out that once you breach the White Maw’s fortress and defeat Shie Tenna, you find their “Cloaking Tech” and it’s actually just an alien kid with severe brain damage.  Turns out the species the kid belongs to has a defensive mechanism that renders them and everything around them invisible to the eye, scans, radar… everything (which is an impressive evolutionary feat I must say) but they can only do this when they are scared of something.  So the White Maw beat him whenever they want the fleet cloaked. Alinna, Shie Tenna’s girl from earlier wants to actually save the alien kid and get him offworld somewhere safe.  At this point there’s a bunch of different choices you can make to decide what happens next.  You can smuggle them offworld, you can convince Alinna to take over the White Maw, YOU can try and take over the White Maw, you can force them to give the Alien Kid to the Republic, or you could give the Alien Kid to the Republic but also send Alinna with it to make sure it gets treated right and Alinna gets off of Hoth and being stuck with the White Maw…   So yea, a lot more options than your typical “This is the Light Side” and “This is the Dark Side.”  Which I really do enjoy.  Not all these choices can be broken down into simple binary solutions and I get a kick out of the fact that the game will let you explore multiple solutions to a single problem.  I personally sent the kid and Alinna to the Republic to ensure fair treatment (Cause it’s the job, but I don’t trust the Republic one bit in terms of treating the downtrodden fairly) and I personally took control of the White Maw faction.

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Finale

So we’ve helped the Republic, we’ve lined our pockets, and we’ve got a good start on building our criminal empire.  What’s left for this space jockey to do?  Well, how about a sick burn on the Empire and snubbing both the Voidwolf and Rogun the Butcher while you’re at it?  The job is the King’s Ransom – as in that’s the name of the ship.  An Imperial treasury ship that transports all the wealth and trade between Nar Shadaa and Dromund Kaas.  That’s right.  It’s essentially a Star Wars train job.  To help out there’s another chap who has been on the wrong side of Rogun’s ire and is looking to make a score.  But before you can take off, you have to help save a safe cracker from the Hutts who plan to sell him off to Rogun’s goons to be… well… butchered.  You get the choice of either simply killing the Hutts or bargaining with them and stealing their business right out from under Rogun.  Either way you’ll have to deal with Rogun’s goons but at least you might get out of having to fight the Cartel thugs while you’re at it.

Once the team is all together (the safe cracker, the muscle, and you – the looks and/or brains) you hop on a private shuttle provided by Senator Dodonna herself to infiltrate the King’s Ransom. You fight through the ship until you reach the vaults and break into them, where you find a random assortment of awesome old antiques – several of which are actually references to the original Knights of the Old Republic games.  In the final vault however, you find three Moffs hanging out and talking trash about the Voidwolf.  They mention how he’s not Imperial born  and yet rose through the ranks with unprecedented speed.  Seems like a lot of the other Imps don’t much care for the Voidwolf, and yet as soon as they see you they don’t spare a moment calling him to get him to come and help.

The Voidwolf’s help however is not exactly what the Moff’s expect however.  The nefarious admiral announces that since the war has just started up again, the Imperial military code dictates that if a ship is at risk of falling to the enemy (That’s you), then he is well within his rights to destroy said ship to prevent it from being taken.  So he does.  That would be the cue to GTFO.  Grab whatever loot you can and make break for it.

Back on Nar Shadaa, you divvy up the loot (you can take your share, let the other two keep it all, or kill them and keep it all for yourself) and go your separate ways ala the end of any Ocean’s Eleven movie.  But just as you round the corner, Senator Dodonna is there and being threatened by Rogun’s goons and a pack of strange beasts that are all wired up with some weird cyborg stuff.  You dispatch the beasts and Dodonna thanks the stars you showed up when you did.  She wants to know exactly what these are, where they came from and how the heck Rogun the Butcher got a hold of them and could transport them as weapons.

That little plot point ends up immediately kicking off chapter 3, so I’ll see you on the other side to find out what happens next.

My Thoughts

I’ll admit, I was extremely skeptical of the whole ‘Republic Privateer’ plot point.  It just seemed like a flimsy way to tie this into the whole two faction system.  However, what it also ended up doing was opening up a wider array of moral choices.  You weren’t just locked into ‘Selfless’ or ‘Greedy’ or ‘Live’ or ‘Kill’.   There was also the matter of the job you were hired to do.  So now things start to divide into three ways: Greedy, Selfless, or loyal.  You can help the locals at the cost of the job and yourself, you can be greedy at the cost of the locals and the job, or you can do the job at the cost of the locals and yourself.  This diversifies things a bit and starts to spread out the choices and implications of them.  Do you become the loyal hand of the Republic?  Do you play the dashing rogue hero?  Or do you go full greed and become the new pirate king?  All are viable directions you could take.

This really shines through in the Hoth mission.  While there isn’t a ton of long lasting effects to these choices, it still feels like you are really given a solid choice.  It’s not a simple binary choice either as I said.  You get multiple different ways that story can end and you can even combo some of them up.  If Alinna doesn’t choose to lead the White Maw, it opens up new options for what happens to the pirate gang that are independent of how you choose to deal with the Cloaking Alien.  It really feels like you can actually role play in this chapter and feel like you are your playing YOUR smuggler and not just a light/dark smuggler.  A feeling that does have the tendency to permeate a lot of the other stories.  It’s not speaking less of the other class stories as much as it speaks much higher of the smuggler.

In terms of the chapter structure, Chapter Two felt mostly like a bridge between the end of Chapter One and the setting up the starting of Chapter Three.  It does deal with the consequences of becoming the notorious finder of Nok Drayan’s loot and does a fair job showing how that kind of exposure ups the stakes for you.  It also thrusts you into the realm of being not only the target of Rogun the Butcher – still on your tail since the prologue might I mention and one of the only main villains that spans all four parts of a Class Story – and starting to reveal the Voidwolf as a serious threat.  The Voidwolf is ruthless, cut throat and efficient.  Imagine Grand Moff Kilran if he was raised in the mob instead of an Imperial Academy.  That’s the Wolf.

Chapter Two also starts to lay the groundwork for the more or less three major archetypes your smuggler can follow: The Republic Hero, the Contractor, and the Pirate King.  To elaborate, you can tow the government line and support the Republic and try to do the right thing and end up being this mythic folk hero of the Republic.  Not bound by rules, but still looking out for the little guy.  The Contractor is more of a ‘in it for myself’ kind of vibe.  You do the job, you get paid.  No loyalties beyond yourself and MAYBE your crew.  Finally, you can actively try to use the Republic’s work to your advantage, build alliances, and gain subordinates while putting together your own little criminal empire based out of Port Nowhere.  Honestly, I found that route to be very fun.  These three trends will continue to play out through Chapter Three culminating in the grand finale.

We also gained the remaining members of our crew in this Chapter.  There’s Akaavi Spar who is a mandalorian.  Her personality is that she is a mandalorian.  It’s like honor this, and clan that.  She doesn’t even like you very much when she first joins the crew, viewing you as some sort of cut throat merc without dignity or honor (to be fair, she can be entirely right.)  If you prove her wrong, it can open up a romance option with her.  Honestly, I didn’t find her to be anywhere near as intriguing as Risha in terms of the romance department.  She spends most her conversations talking about revenge and how you surprise her.  It doesn’t help it that her voice seems almost constantly monotone about everything unless she’s angry.  So happy and sad Akaavi are creepily similar voice inflections.

The last member of the crew is Guss.  Guss is a drop out Jedi who is force sensitive…  kind of.  He can do a couple of things with the Force – but nowhere near enough to do anything like the most basic padawan can achieve at the start of Tython.  He left the Academy and fell in with Rogun and his goons.  Guss can be viewed as annoying lost puppy that won’t start barking.  He’s got a serious hero worship thing going and I can see how it would be annoying to some people.  Honestly, beyond trying to teach good ol’ Guss to be a proper criminal and to come to grips with what he wants to do with his life, there’s not much to say about him.  Oh, he’s a Mon Calamari.  There’s that too I suppose.

<– Chapter One || SMUGGLER || Chapter Three –>

SWTOR Class Storyline Review: Smuggler – Chapter One

<— Prologue|| SMUGGLER || Chapter Two —>

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the first chapter of the Smuggler storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  To see a spoiler-free summary of the storyline please check this page instead.

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Oh the life on the open space-way.  The thrill of adventure, the sights and sounds, the constantly having a jerk tail you around and try to kill you.  Yes, when last we left the Smuggler we had just retrieved our starship from the dirty double dealer known as Skavak, who had stolen it in the first place while you were trying to unload some ‘illicitly transported’ guns to the war torn world of Ord Mantell.  Seems that Skavak was working with a woman named Risha and he was stealing everything they needed for some epic quest to obtain the long lost treasure of the fabled space pirate Nok Drayan.  Course now that all that stuff is on your ship and you have your ship, Risha is more than willing to deal with you instead of Skavak. Which puts you on the fast track for fame and fortune as soon as you finish the most epic of trading side quests since trying to get Big Goron Sword in Ocarina of Time.

Taris

The Treasure Hunt begins. First you need an astro map from a vault on the bombed out world of Taris.  Risha has a contact that doesn’t much like her, so it’s up to you alone to seal the deal and get the map.  But as always, there’s a hitch.  To get to the map, Beryl Thorne needs to finish her jobs on Taris and her partner came down with a slight case of the Dead.  So it falls to you to finish the jobs and make the deliveries so you can get your map.  First task? Deliver some sensors to a scientist.  Turns out he needs some help setting them up and is willing to pay as well, so that’s a quick hop into Rakghoul territory to lend a hand.

Next is to go pick up the second delivery, which were found with the tattered remains of Beryl’s partner who got Rakghoulified it seems and dropped off with the Republic Outpost.  To make matters worse, you seem to have gained the special attention of one major workaholic customs official that seems to constantly pop up wherever you go.  Luckily, the sergeant that has your next delivery is willing to make a sweet deal. Turns out he knows Risha too! (Who doesn’t?) And for a little help dealing with the local scavengers, he’ll make sure you get not only your next delivery but a tasty side of diplomatic immunity.

Now with the last delivery, it’s time to collect the core samples and get back to Beryl. Right? WRONG! Turns out the core samples were stolen by scavengers during a raid.  Aw man.  Time to recover the supplies and find the core samples which reveals that Beryl’s old partner was neither dead nor a rakghoul. In fact, that deveronian son of a hutt actually just backstabbed Beryl to steal the core samples – which are really Tarisian relics – and sell them on the Imperial market, instead of selling them to Taris survivor descendants for a modest finder fee. What scum! So a pox on him and back with the core samples so Beryl can tell us where to find our vault.  Which she does!  Only there is – say it with me now – a problem.

Turns out the vault is in “Zone Zero” a no-mans land area of Taris where there are worse things than Rakghouls wandering about.  So it’s time to check back in with Risha and see if you two can whip together a plan for how to get into that vault! Luckily Risha is prepared. Because Risha is always prepared. So you get to the vault deep in Zone Zero to find that Skavak’s men are already hammering away trying to get into the vault, and boy oh boy are they not happy to see you.  Skavak is, however.  This is the perfect chance to kill you and get the map.  Not that it happens that way.  You kill the goons, grab the map and hop back in the ship on your way to Nar Shadaa.  Even Risha gives you props.

smuggler_ch1_02Nar Shadaa

You know, it never occurred to me until this point that despite it being essentially the Hutt capital not many class stories actually deal with the giant slugs themselves.  I mean granted a lot of the time you are there for some kind of clandestine operation and getting the authorities (if you can call them that) would be detrimental to your cause.  But would be really be so hard to say “Hey, have you seen this guy? Also, here’s a thousand credits. You never saw me.”  I dunno.  Nar Shadaa seems like an easy place to buy people off is all I’m saying.

The reason I bring this up of course is that unlike most class stories the smuggler is dealing with a Hutt directly.  Well, some of the time.  Most of his time you’re dealing with his assistant/butler/majordomo person thing. Apparently our dear friend Risha has lined up a deal (or as the Hutts refer to it – a non-binding passing interest) to exchange a rare animal that is identical to but named differently than the hundreds that I’ve slaughtered across multiple worlds for an experimental starship engine.  Problem is that the Hutt wanted it as part of a pair – the last male and female of its species – to eat (Yes. Eat. He wants the ‘rarest’ meal in the galaxy.) And since some PETA wanna be’s stole his female, he doesn’t exactly have any need or desire for the male.  However his butler-person suggests that the Lord of the Feast is frivolous when it comes to changing his mind, so if you can find the other beast then the worm’s interest in yours may be renewed.

And that’s the general set up for the most of the planet. Running around and trying to track down the Alien Animal Liberation Front to get back the creature they stole so a Hutt can gorge himself on it.  I’m not saying the hippies don’t have a leg to stand on here – these are the last two of an entire species after all – but there’s no room for mercy when you want to be King of the Space Pirates.  Or at least not for ill tempered carnivorous beasts that look the same to species that I know for a fact aren’t about to die out because they keep bloody respawning!  Your adventure eventually leads you to a mad scientist who in a delicious bit of irony has the PETA-phile locked up in a cage to experiment on.  She apparently wanted to deal with the mad scientist to get the animal off world but instead became a test subject for what I will assume will ultimately be some sort of cyborg human centipede thing. Silly mad scientists, but not stupid because as soon as you explain who the animal actually belongs to the doc quickly returns it via hover sled because he maybe insane but he’s not crazy enough to cross a Hutt. Beyond that the only real choice is whether or not to leave the activist in the hands of the mad scientist.  Do you want to fight for the safety of the rich girl with a token cause that just dragged around all of Nar Shadaa?  Or just leave her there to get some… new life experiences? Up to you really.

There’s also a B-plot to this planet that comes up every time you meet with the Hutt’s traveling all-you-can-eat pleasure cruise of hedonism that sails around Nar Shadaa involving a wookie named Bowdaar.  It seems that Bowdaar is a slave to some random gambler that couldn’t pay his debts to the Hutt and thus left Bowdaar as collateral until he could return with the payment.  He never came back.  So now the Hutt uses Bowdaar for ‘entertainment’ and pits him again mercenaries, gangs, starved wild beasts, and anything else the worm can dig up all the while trying to handicap Bowdaar by doing things like poisoning him, draining his blood, and putting him up against massive odds.  I think the point of this whole thing was meant to contrast with the PETA Patrol trying to save the alien porkchop but it never really clicked for me.  Wookies are intelligent, the mutated Akk Dog thing is not. Wookies have societies, can use tools, build homes.  The combo platter again does not.  So it seems weird to try to equate either of these things.  Then again, I have met people who view animals such as dogs as more valuable than people, so maybe that’s what their going for.  Except the Hutt was going to eat it and render its species extinct…  so…  Hutts are horrible. That’s the moral.  Hutts are ****ing horrible.

Once you prove to the Hutt that you and Bowdaar are more trouble than your worth, you get your engine and you get to keep the wookie.  Bowdaar is one of the BEST companions because a) You get him in Act One and b) he’s not Corso.  So now you can bring someone else along instead the space hillbilly.  He’s honorable, enjoys fighting, but not brutal massacres.  He also apparently knows how to bar tend based on a few cutscenes on the ship.  Generally the big thing with Bowdaar is that he honestly just wants to be treated like a person.  Not a slave. Not a ‘thing’.  Keep that in mind and his affection will soar during your conversations with him.

Interlude

So before you can head off too far you pick up a distress signal from a lovely lady.  Her ship broke down waaaaaay waaaaaaaaaay out in deep space and she needs a hand.  You know, because this doesn’t sound suspicious at all. But hey sure anything for a lovely lady, not my smuggler has made any headway on the whole Risha angle.  Speaking of which, Risha warns you that this may be a trap and she’d rather not get stranded out in space with no captain and all the cargo.  She advises bringing the wookie.

This interlude is short.  Extremely short.  The whole area consists of maybe three rooms with a few fights dotted in them.  When you reach the end, you find out that it is actually – dun dun dun – a trap.  Looks like the stranded lady is actually one of Skavak’s presumably many ex-girlfriends and figures killing you will win back his heart for her.  Unlikely, as Skavak is just as convinced as I am that this young woman is a bit unhinged.  She sics a bunch of robots on you and when that fails falls back on her portable blaster shield to protect her. Which is does until Skavak reminds her that the batteries on those things are notoriously short and hangs up.  Sure enough like a well timed comedy routine the shield comes down and you can then deal with her as you see fit: blast her or let her go for being a poor deluded sap trapped in the web of love and lies that is Skavak’s dating life.

The best part for me though was coming back to the ship to start working on my own web of love and lies by blatantly lying to Risha when she immediately assumes it was a trap and you were a fool for even bothering by telling her that it wasn’t that at all.  The lady just needed some space gas.  That’s all.  All handled. No prob.  I’m the man now uh… dawg?

smuggler_ch1_03Tatooine

Meanwhile, in a completely different plot.  A lone Jedi searches the galaxy for a ruthless Sith. Her journey has taken far and wide but she has finally cornered the enemy of all things good on the backwater world of Tatooine.  There she seeks out information and bumps into a smuggler who literally knows nothing and normally that’s where it would end.  Except the story isn’t about the Jedi is it?  Yes, Tatooine is a quirky little chapter of our storyline where our smuggler gets trapped in the middle of an epic feud between the forces of Light and Dark and pretty much has nothing at stake in the fight.  Really! You’re there to find some reclusive gangster and make a trade for a rare navigational computer, and that’s it.  You got meet with his lieutenants, figure out how to enter his secret desert hideout, and go make the swap.  But somehow you keep stumbling into this massive battle between a Jedi and Sith almost like your the cast of Blazing Saddles breaking through the sound stages for other movies.

You first bump into the Jedi at a local bar where she deals with some local rapscallions before chatting up with you.  She advises you to leave, to give up your wicked ways and is completely ignorant to any attempts at flirtation.  Unfortunately for her, you have business to do.  Business that requires breaking into an overrun warehouse and getting a fancy horn, because only the person holding the horn may speak to the gangster (Apparently the gangster learned how to run his operation from kindergarten teachers.) On your way to pick up the horn, you bump into the Sith who is also looking for the gangster for some other unrelated to what you want reason.  The Sith says that since you and she are both looking for the same guy, why not team up?  If you’re a male smuggler, she even not-so-subtly offers you a uh… “once in a lifetime experience” behind closed doors if you agree to work with her.  Well…   that’s a first.   I don’t think my bounty hunter ever got the ‘Don’t freeze me in carbonite and I’ll jump your bones’ conversation option.  Though personally, I find in my best interest of NOT DYING to stay as far away as possible from between a Jedi and a Sith, so I declined and went along my merry way.

Except that when I go meet up with the lieutenant to pass along the horn so he can show me the way to his boss, the Sith shows up AGAIN.  Only this time with a battalion of Sith Troopers to take the horn by force.  The henchman scoots away through a hidden door, leaving me to fight them all myself.  I’d be more upset by this, but lest we forget who we are dealing with here.  This is the fabled scum & villainy of Tatooine after all.  They would leave you behind as they save themselves.  Luckily – kinda, sorta, not really – just as the last of the troopers falls, the Jedi shows up to help.  She warns you again to give up your ‘wicked ways’, is blatantly oblivious to any kind of flirtatious subtext, and is devoutly set on finding the Sith… still. Luckily, now you know where the Sith will be and it’s time for the dramatic showdown.

The setting? A picturesque oasis hidden in a cave in the Dune Sea.  The objective? Try not to get killed by the wacko light and dark side zealots while making a deal.  It’s a duel of the fates, a battle of the heroes, and I am really just trying to stay out of the way here.  I just came for that computer over in the corner.  Can I just… no? Sigh.  So sure enough things get nice and heated once all the parties assemble, and the fact that the gangster is a recluse who hates people and noise makes this even worse.  You do get the choice in the end of who to help – the Sith or the Jedi – and the game is nice enough to offer a ‘This is none of my business’ option (which mechanically means you help the Jedi kill the Sith and the Gangster).  If you don’t help the Sith willingly, she will try to mind control you which you have the option to simple laugh at her for, then she tries to mind control your companion.  Now I don’t know if this is different for other companions, but I had Treek with me (I usually do) and Treek just stared blankly at the Sith which was hilarious.  The gangster gets fed up and calls in a bunch of droids to kill everyone – you, the Jedi, the Sith, his own lieutenant – and the rumble begins!

And when the dust settles it’s just you and whoever you helped left (and maybe the gangster if you help the Sith, but I doubt it. She just wanted a little red box, so why keep him alive?)  You stroll over to the corner, grab the computer you came to this litter box of a world for and leave. The end.  Oh okay, you can flirt some with the Jedi or Sith.  It actually finally clicks that you want some lovin’ with the Jedi too and she promptly shuts you down BECAUSE SHE’S A JEDI!  It’s kind of a core tenant that they don’t get their freak on, and everything about this girl has indicated that she is a tried and true Captain flippin America of a lawful good light side Jedi.  Not a shocker.  Funny. But not a shocker.

smuggler_ch1_04Alderaan

Alright, home stretch on this treasure hunt.  We only got three delivery/trades left and then we can go grab that sweet sweet loot.  Luckily, two of them are here on Alderaan.  The first is that old junker robot that Skavak stole way back on Ord Mantell.  It’s going to a pair of siblings from House Teraan who want to prove that their house is owed a considerable debt from the other houses and want to use it to propel their family back into the big dogs of the Alderaan Nobility Circuit (Now on ESPN-15).  However, they need an ancient datapad ‘acquired’ from their former holdings now controlled by their dreaded rivals of House Baliss.  Of course. Is there anyone or anything on Alderaan that doesn’t have ties to the Noble Houses? Like some farmer off in the hills named Larry Smith who has no ties to nothing save his land, his nerf, and his shotgun?  I’d like to see that.  I really would.  You go and shoot your way through a bunch of Baliss goons, grab the datapad, and bring it back. Easy as pie and you got a new radiation shield schematic for your ship.

The second delivery however is where things start to get more complicated.  This one is to deliver that creepy head in a jar to the museums of House Alde.  And because I’m sure someone will bring it up if I don’t – Yes, the head belongs to Darth Bandon from the original Knights of the Old Republic who killed Trask Ulgo, distant ancestor to the current King Boris Ulgo of Alderaan.  Trask is apparently revered as a hero, and thus the head of the Sith who killed him is some way for House Alde to kiss up to the King, despite the fact that Trask didn’t even make it out of the prologue/tutorial level of that game alive.  Oh, but I said it got more complicated didn’t I?  Well, here’s the thing.  Someone already delivered that head you just walked in with.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Someone else already sold the Head of Darth Bandon, and it was already authenticated by the Curator’s lovely female assistant Neva who confirmed that it was authentic. So clearly yours is a fake.  Right?  Well after finding that Neva has vanished and some double checking (What? Check something more than once for authenticity?! Truly a scandal for any museum!) it turns out that YOUR head is the real one and the other was a fake.  But why would Neva lie?  Well, if you’ve been playing the smuggler – and I have – you probably already have a guess as to why the pretty female character lied about something.  Say it with me now in your best Seinfeld ‘Newman’ voice: SKAVAK!  It seems our persistent annoyance has jumped ahead of us in line to grab the Arkanian Hyperdrive Engine that the museum promised as payment.  Not sure what Skavak is going to do with it without all the other bits, but he could probably sell it at least.  Another strange note here is that I don’t think we ever actually SEE Nava.  Like at all.  Which I thought was weird since we’ve had face time with every other traitorous Skavak groupie.

So now begins another Skavak hunt.  You run to the space port where he left a nice note mocking you and introducing you to the team of Mercs (who I’m sure have ties to House Gorgonzola or something) he hired to kill you and also drop the plot point that he hasn’t had time to install that hyperdrive yet.  So he does plan on installing it.  Without all the other pieces.  That’s kind of like stealing the remote without the TV or DVD player and then running off into the night laughing about how you are so going to use the remote to watch a movie when you get home.  It’s not gonna work.  Skavak is either really dumb, or just being a #$%&.  I’m going to assume the latter. Risha says she knows where Skavak got to, but it’s in a House Thul (the house that works with the Empire) hanger.  I’m assuming the Imps have just forgotten about that whole incident on Coruscant.  So to sneak into the hangar, you meet up with a baron who speaks exclusively in Huttese because no one else on Alderaan does and thus its easier to keep secrets with and he’s happy to help you sneak in.  Mainly because Risha is blackmailing him with photos of unknown content or context from a ‘vacation’ on Nar Shadaa.

When you bust into the hanger, you find not Skavak but his mechanic there waiting for you. Skavak apparently had to run some errands.  The mechanic however will happily hand over the engine to you. He was kidnapped to install it and has no loyalty to Skavak but he wants to get the heck outta there before Skavak comes back and finds out what the mechanic did.  You get the choice of letting him go, killing him, or forcing him to sabotage Skavak’s ship first.  The last two are both dark side options, namely because the mechanic won’t have enough time to get out if he sabotages the ship essentially dooming him at Skavak’s hands instead of yours.

So you’ve made your deliveries and got your ship parts, so now it’s time to leave right? Noooope.  This mess of a planet won’t let you go just yet.  See those two House Teraan siblings have one teensy little favor still to ask.  It seems your smash-and-grab visit to House Baliss kinda was noticed (Dunno how. I was really subtle with those 20 corpses in their courtyard.) So their champion gunslinger duelist demands a formal duel to settle their grievances.  The siblings have come to you because you have a gun, and they suck at anything involving danger, pain, weapons, leaving the house, etc.  So you go and help them by fighting their fights for them.  You can have your silly honorable duel between men, or you can have some fun and play dirty.  I enjoyed shooting the gunman before he was ready by shouting “READY? GO!” really quick.  Then I did it a second time just to drill in the point.  That got the Baliss twerp to shut up and leave.  Now I can leave Alderaan.  Finally, no more nobility.

smuggler_ch1_05Finale

With everything in place there’s only one thing le- hold on. We’re getting a call.  A pair of Togruta you say?  Kidnapped?  Demand to see Risha alone.  I see.  Why are you calling me then?  Oh fine.  Apparently we need to go help Risha’s childhood friend and her husband.  The childhood friend has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom in some mine on Tatooine, her husband wants Risha (and by Risha’s insistence – You) to go get her back.  Risha arrives to find the kidnappers who apparently multi-criminal-classed into assassins ready to kill your…  I guess Risha is kind of like a boss.  Maybe a partner?  I dunno. They’re gonna kill Risha on orders of ‘His Majesty’.  No clue there, but that sounds Noble.  Buddies, I just got back from Alderaan. I’ve had it with Noble.  You are all dead.

Once the assassin-nappers are down, Risha meets up with her friend and reunites her with her husband.  They then never want to see Risha again.  Ever.  Cause they say it’s Risha’s fault any of this happened in the first place.  You can be a good person and help Risha patch things up with her friend, or you can join the friend in on the suspicion that there’s more to Risha than being JUST a business mogul/treasure hunter/starship mechanic/negotiator.  After all, there have been a lot of people we’ve bumped into that have had bad blood with Risha.  Heck, the only person that has anything good to say about Risha is Vette, and she’s in another class’ storyline! So what is going on here? Well, Risha can only ask you and her friends to trust her and that all will be explained soon.

That soon is actually soon for once as it comes right after your next and final delivery – the man frozen in carbonite – to a medical facility on Nar Shadaa.  It’s there that the man is unfrozen and is revealed to be…  DUN DUN DUN! Nok Drayan himself!  The legendary space pirate himself! In the flesh!  And cyborg bits!  And in a stranger twist… DUN DUN DUUUUUUUN! He’s Risha’s dad!  Did we just stumble upon a soap opera episode?  Who changed the channel on my computer?  It seems old Nok is dying from a horrible disease inflicted on him by a mutinous crew years ago.  Before he dies though, he wanted to ensure that his family’s fortune was found and retrieved.  He froze himself in carbonite with instructions for Risha on all the things she’d need to gather to get to the fortune which is on a ship headed directly for a black hole.  Nok promises you the entire fortune save one family heirloom which is reserved solely for Risha.  That heirloom being the family crown.  See Nok’s not just a pirate king, he’s an actual king.  The King of Dubrillion to be precise.  The Drayan line is the rightful rulers of the planet, but they were ousted years ago.  Meaning Risha is a princess.  Because every scruffy looking smuggler type needs a princess to romance.  (Does that mean now that Disney owns the rights that Risha is a Disney Princess?)

With surprise revelation theater now come to a close it’s time to go get that treasure.  Using every single new fangled gadget that Risha scrapped together, you make your way to the ship.  Which again makes me incredibly curious what on Hoth Skavak was going to do with JUST the Arkanian Hyperdrive.  Was he going to go after Risha on your ship next to get everything?  The ship with the wookie.  Yea, I would have loved to see that.  The ship is fairly simple.  Just a bunch of rooms filled with lethal robots who are on orders to kill any living thing on the ship.  Including the former crew you find out.  Apparently way way long ago, before even Nok Drayan’s peak, Nok and Risha’s ancestor –  Arak Drayan III – sent this here ship on a slow stroll to the edges of the galaxy and into a black hole.  He then activated the droids to kill all the loyal citizens that were operating it to ensure it would never be found.  Which is a perfect setting to end a pirate story on.  With a black hole.  So a space pirate story.  Also, I know this is nit picky and this is just one of those suspension of disbelief things you have to just go with in an adventure story on the high space-seas but daaaaaaaaaamn Arak III had some insane good planning skills.  He sent a ship on course for centuries to fall into a black hole?  It never hit a planet, an asteroid, got noticed, or nothing?  That is some skill.   Anyway, you grab the treasure and head back to the ship to head home only to find someone waiting for you.

Sigh… Skavak.  It just had to be Skavak.  He apparently knocked out your crew, stole Corso’s favorite-est blaster (Torchy) and is now gonna kill you, take the treasure, and steal your ship.  Oh, and if your a female smuggler you can apparently sleep with him.  Cause there’s time for that on the ship falling into a black hole.  It pretty much always ends up with fighting him though and he dies.  No there’s no choice in that matter.  He doesn’t even die in a cutscene.  You just kill him and loot Torchy.  Kinda wish I could have left him on the ship to get sucked into the hole though.  That would’ve been a fitting way for such a sucker to go.  Honestly, it’s a bit of an anti-climax but on the same hand it’s also not like there was some huge rivalry post getting your ship back.  Hell, his insane ex-girlfriends gave you more trouble than he ever did.  So in a way it’s almost fitting that the weasel goes out with a whimper instead of a bang.

Once you get back to Nok and Risha, Nok tells her that as a Queen she must now make the hard decisions and that a single spacer’s loyalty isn’t worth a fortune.  She should kill you and take everything.  Risha then actual defends you and says your a decent if not good man.  Wow.  I think that’s the first non-sarcastic comment she’s paid me this entire playthrough so far.  Nok collapses and dies cursing the ‘weak’ daughter that was raised in his absence.  Risha (Queen Risha?) ends the story of Nok Drayan’s fortune by deciding to stay with you on the ship.  She may have the birthright to the throne of Dubrillion, but she doesn’t have the means to claim it or to keep it once she doesn’t.  No army, no fleet – just a crown and a captain, and neither of those are gonna change the minds of the current rulers who are already sending assassins to kill her.

So Chapter One of the Smuggler’s tale ends with you being the hero that found Nok Drayan’s Lost Fortune.  Not that it actually means anything in terms of in-game money.  Do you how hard it is to pawn off priceless relics of antiquity?  So for now it’s kind of like having a lot of high priced stock in some major company.  You’re rich in theory, but not so much in the pocket book.  For now at least.

My Thoughts

Chapter One continues the prologue’s tone of fun and wacky adventure across space.  You flirt, make smart ass remarks, and generally can be as nice or as mean as you want without it ever really coming off as out of character.  The storylines are diverse and despite it being a looping task of trade X for Y planet to planet, it never goes about it in the same way – or at least never feels like it does.  It kind of reminds me of the Bounty Hunter in that regards only without the unsatisfying conclusions some of those bounties had.  Instead, everything in the smuggler story feels like it has some kind of weight to it.  Like you could honestly see these people come back and remember you later on in the story and for the most part you’d remember them.  With the Jedi Knight I saved so many people I started to forget faces and names (luckily there’s always one conversation option to remind you who they are) but with the Smuggler most of the NPCs you deal with are positively memorable and fun.  Even the bad guys as one note as they can be at times are some of the most memorable in the game.  Skavak is right up there with Tarro Blood as a guy you learn to love to hate (or for the female smugglers, just learn to love.  And then kill.)

Your companions feel fleshed out as well even before they join your party.  As much as I never did and still don’t like Corso, I would be lying if I didn’t ‘get’ his character by the end of the prologue. Same thing with Bowdaar.  You only briefly interact with him during the B-plot on Nar Shadaa, but when you do it is 100% character development and getting to know this wookie.  His plotline does nothing to advance the plot of trying to find the PETA wannabes, so it’s free to just give you tons of personality for the walking rug.  Risha spends most of her time doing two things: telling you what the next job is, and talking about Nok Drayan. There are a few gems of character development for her like when she actively shows concern for you when you leave on the interlude mission only to cover it in classic tsundere fashion with that she doesn’t want to get stranded in space.  To be fair, the lack of personal story on Risha’s part does play the bigger role of making her very mysterious.  She has contacts for days, continuously exhibits proficiency at task after task, and knows encyclopedic knowledge about the illustrious gangster for whose treasure you hunt.  By the time you get to the hints starting to drop in the early parts of the finale, you are on the edge of your seat ready to find out exactly who this woman is, and the payoff doesn’t disappoint – heiress to both a planet and the legacy of a pirate king, spent over a decade preparing for this mission, and pulled it all off to boot?  Risha’s one of those characters that you actually appreciate more on a second playthrough and can see what she’s doing and why.  One of my favorite companions to be sure.

In the end, like so many of these class stories, the prologue and first chapter form a complete narrative.  Unlike some of the others however, you will find that some of the groundwork has already been laid for where the story goes next.  Next time we dive into the exciting world of selling out to ‘The Man’ and becoming a privateer.

<— Prologue|| SMUGGLER || Chapter Two —>

Just Deicide: Lightning Returns (Final Part)

So we’ve talked gameplay and we’ve talked plot & characters – I think it’s time we wrap up the Lightning Trilogy with discussing probably my favorite part of Lightning Returns: the ending.  Not because it’s finally over oh sweet Noel Kreiss it’s over, but because I found it to be a satisfying conclusion to the overarching themes of the trilogy, even when the explicit details of the plot got a bit weird from game to game.  Let’s just go ahead and say that since we are talking the ending of a trilogy and then discussing said trilogy, there will be SPOILERS.

Alright, so as we previously discussed:  God is gathering up souls of the chosen using Lightning as his ‘Savior’, he will then usher those new souls to a New World and remove their hearts/chaos/emotions, then he will let the old world and all the souls of the dead there perish so that no one remembers any of them – the world or the people who died there – all so he can have HIS perfect world.  I don’t think it needs to be said, but Lightning and her friends do not exactly like that idea.

The ending to the game and the trilogy as a whole is done essentially in four parts.  There is the final dungeon, the final boss battle, the cutscene where you actually beat the final boss, and then the final final cutscene.  To get to the final dungeon on the last day (that’s Day 13 – or if you ran around and did 60+ side quests it will be Day 14), you show up at the church in Luxerion to bust up the ritual with Fang. Lightning holds back the guards while Fang talks down Vanille from doing the deed.  Luckily back up arrives in the form of Snow who proves that despite being a dummy at times is still able to deliver an epic smackdown. Snow is joined by Lightning’s other friends as it becomes one last stand as Vanille and Fang come together to guide all the lost souls – not to their destruction as the Church wanted but to Hope’s Ark to go be reborn on the New World with all the others.

Lightning’s job is not done however.  There is after all a god to deal with.  She enters the final dungeon which to be fair is essentially four monster filled corridors and a door leading to the final fight.  I’m not even sure you have to do the corridors – or ‘Trials’ – but I always do because they reward you with the Ultima Weapon and Ultima Shield, the two items that will not carry over to a new game+ because they are “story specific” to Bhunivelze’s temple.  Unfortunately, they don’t get any kind of cool unique appearance.  The Ultima items are pretty much just your starting sword and shield upgraded to have INSANE stats and abilities that will help immensely in the final boss fight.

Speaking of which, it’s time to show down with Bhuni-boy who is in an otherworldly realm dubbed ‘Cosmogenesis’ where he is putting the finishing touches on his New World and you finally get to see what this guy looks like:

LRFFXIII_Bhunivelze_Full_Render

Oh…  oh wow.  For the record, that checker pattern ‘skirt’?  Yea, that’s the ground.  He’s literally wrapped the world around himself.  It’s at this confrontation that the truth emerges to reinforce the theory:  Bhunivelze wishes to remove all the old souls and the bits of chaos that make up people’s hearts and emotions so that the New Humans on his New World will have euphoric peaceful lives without the burdens of sadness or pain.  They’ll be boring emotionless drones, but hey that’s the cost of never having to feel bad: never feeling at all. I honestly don’t know if I would take that offer.  I can imagine some who would argue that it’s a good thing and that God is kind to give us such a blessing.  Then again free will is nice.  Like SUPER nice.  He also reveals his plan to establish Lightning as the ‘New Etro’ to guard over the Unseen Realm and keep it in harmony with the Seen Realm.  Again, Lightning being someone he has a leash on as compared to his mother or Etro, both of which kind of had reasons to hold a grudge and good old Bhunie just loves to assume the worst.  Finally, it’s revealed that the Serah ‘soul’ that Bhunie has been dangling on a hook in front of Lightning this whole time is just a mocked up simulacrum.  Since God has no way of seeing into the Chaos, he legitimately has no idea where Serah’s soul actually is but is perfectly willing to offer the soulless copy of Lightning’s sister for her to dote on.  This pretty much where Lightning draws the line.

Lightning flat out declares her intent to kill God.  To perform one suicidal action to throw them both into the Chaos and free the souls to live in the New World without gods or fal’Cie masters.  Since Bhunivelze made her the savior with the intent to become a replacement for Etro, she may not have the power to kill Bhunivelze but she is finally strong enough to do this one desperation act.  But the Serah Simulacrum speaks to her and tells her that the real Serah IS still out there, and does still need her.  So thus begins the final battle, as Lightning abandons her suicide run in favor of just flat out trying to murder God.  Oh boy. When was the last time in Final Fantasy we actually killed God?  Not like a god-like being, but the actual creator of the universe capital-G God?  We’d have to go back a ways I think. I know we did in Final Fantasy Legends.  Kefka is debatable whether he was god like or actually ascended to become God proper but you do fight and kill the actual Gods of Magic.  Dissidia has you fighting Gods. But yea, it’s been a while since we did this.

The fight is massive and spans four different phases, each with a unique strategy to them.  Easily up there with Barthandelus and Orphan from XIII as the toughest non-Super Bosses fights in the Trilogy.  Not only that, but his fight has a ton of references to previous Final Fantasy games such as some of his attacks referencing the Emperor’s Starfall from Final Fantasy II, Almagest as used by Neo-ExDeath in Final Fantasy V, Hypernova based on Safer Sephiroth’s Supernova from Final Fantasy VII, several attacks including ‘Dancing Mad’, ‘Wings of Destruction’, and ‘Heartless Angel’ are inspired by either the abilities or even theme song of Kefka from Final Fantasy VI, and finally Bhunivelze’s pose in the final phase is based on the pose struck by the Cloud of Darkness in Final Fantasy III. He also draws several abilities and strategies from other bosses in the Lightning Trilogy. He’s immune to every status effect including poison, so forget using the poison and defend strategy from Orphan in the first game. Finally, he has several abilities that will drop you to either one or close to one HP regardless of your defense.  And all that is just on the normal version.  Oh yes, there’s a hard mode incarnation of this guy named Bhunivelze+.  I haven’t even tried that one yet.

So after four whole phases on intense fights is God finally dead? Oh heck no.  Bhunivelze created the universe (well along with his Mom), do you think four measly back to back fights will stop him?  It will knock him on his ass, but he crawls back ready to kill Lightning for the sheer insolence she has shown.  Luckily, Lightning has the one thing that Bhuni-boy doesn’t: Buddies.  Yes, this pen-ultimate cut scene has the entire assembled cast of the entire trilogy: Snow, Sazh, Dajh, Hope, Vanille, Fang, Noel, Caius, Yuel, and even Serah appear to help Lightning strike down God while utilizing all of the Souls of the Living gathered by Lightning and the Souls of the Dead gathered by Vanille as a giant sword of light to strike down Bhunivelze once and for all in an epic final blow worthy of Dragon Ball Z levels of sheer ridiculous epicness.

Bhunivelze’s death chimes in the death of the old universe however as the Unseen Realm and its tides of chaos begin to consume all that is left.  Caius and Yuel, both tired of their eternal struggle and cycle of life and death have agreed to stay behind and together serve the role that Etro once served.  But because Noel also wants a happy ending, Yuel gives him the last of her line – the final incarnation of Yuel in her cycle of Rebirth to take with him to the new universe.  With a new keeper of the Unseen Realm appointed, all that’s left is for the remaining team and all the souls to go to the new world in a brilliant stream of green lights and streaks that sort of looks like something that once helped stop a meteor from crushing a city (Yet another homage to an earlier game found here.  They really seem to enjoy the send ups.)

This brings us to the real ending of the series.  Claire Farron, the women once known as Lightning in another time and place, riding a train through what appears to be modern day France to go meet up with her friends once again.  It’s never flat out stated what this new world is, but theories have been as far flung as Gaia from Final Fantasy VII (Which considering there’s already a theory about Gaia is futuristic Spira from FFX, how does that work?) to Our Real Earth to the more modern and realistic setting of Final Fantasy XV.  Any and all are somewhat valid ways of viewing things, but the Real Earth seems to be the most likely since they do establish this as a world with No God, and No fal’Cie.  The FF7 connection is really reaching because all that connects them is the vaguely lifestream-y looking stream of souls, which has less traction then FF7 == FFX because Spheres are Materia idea.  We know that XV will have its own ties to the Fabula Nova Crystalis legend and that Etro will play some role in the story, so the No gods/fal’cie thing makes that one hard.  Plus… the signs are in French.  Like actual French.  Not even French sounding gibberish.  So that’s my best bet for where the ending takes place.

So with the story now finished, was it really worth it to play some 180 hours of game to reach that conclusion?  Well… yea. For me it was.  For all the game play issues, which really were improved on heavily after the feedback and criticisms of the first game (and even then most of those were – in my opinion – excusable to the nature of the story being told but admittedly flew in the face of what many people would expect from a Final Fantasy title), I found the story to be an incredible interesting and character driven narrative.  To the point where it utterly baffles me when I hear people say the characters are boring or bland.  There’s a difference between bland and subtle.  This is very subtle.  Not to mention the characters and their development is incredibly well rounded compared to many of the more popular Final Fantasy entries where the characters were almost defined by a single personality trait.  Optimisitc! Bad ass loner! Angry!  Moron!  Where as in the XIII trilogy, there were a lot of nuanced performances built around knowing these characters back stories and motivations.  Vanille is not a ditsy airhead.  She puts on a ditsy act as an act of denial about the immense guilt she feels, something that is quite noticeable if you contrast how she behaves around the others versus when she’s by herself.  The scene where it begins to dawn on her that her traveling companion, Sazh, has lost his son because of her actions and very existence, that she goes out and stands in the rain under the excuse to feel it on her skin but if you look, she’s trying to mask the tears coming down her face was a real punch in the feels.  Even Snow, the king of bravado, is dealing with the tragedy of his curse and the loss of his fiance by blindly marching forward like a hero to save the day, running from his problems.  But eventually, when he has lost Serah completely and the world is dying around him, he succumbs to depression and begins to slowly kill himself with a final silent noble act of absorbing the Chaos into his own body to try and give the people of Yusnaan another day of happiness before the end. Something he couldn’t do for Serah, despite all his trying.  The characters are THE reason to play through these games.  Just remember that the subtext is just as important, if not more, than what they are actually saying and doing.

The trilogy also has a great overarching theme of the desire for free will and fighting against your fate, and the need to preserve it even if free will means doing something stupid, or getting hurt by your choices or actions.  In the first game, the message is very direct.  The fal’Cie have literally stripped the main six from having any autonomy in their actions.  It’s complete the focus or be doomed to be a cie’th for eternity.  Even if you complete the focus, all it means is getting stored in crystal until the fal’Cie want you to do something again.  You become a slave to these god-like creatures for all eternity, or suffer a fate worse than death. The reaction to this is each character walking their own path to try and preserve their free will – be it by running away to do whatever they want to actively trying to kill their new ‘masters’.  Ultimately, the sheer strength of their freedom overcomes the chains.  Something that seems weird but makes perfect sense in the context of the mythology: humans are the only creatures capable of Free Will thanks to Etro.  It’s an X factor that the fal’Cie literally can’t comprehend and only out of fear, myth, faith, and sheer power have managed to control their thralls to this point.  There are thousands of years of stories about the fal’Cie and their l’Cie and what happens.  Your promised eternal life and happiness in a crystal dream for completing your focus.  To many it’s consider a downright honor to be chosen.  Why? Because that’s the belief the fal’Cie have worked to create in humans so they obey.  When these six broke that control and killed Orphan, they proved that the fal’Cie only have as much power over the human spirit as we let them.  That in the end, our focus and our destiny is for us to decide.

In the second game, the nature of free will and even more so the concept of fighting destiny is explored through the idea of time and the question of is the future set in stone?  Serah and Noel each want to change something.  Serah wants to change the past, and Noel the future to get what they want.  However, it’s shown that their actions do have a very real cost in the end.  Changing the future, striking out and making your own path, is what is killing Yuel and ultimately Serah as well.  Serah chooses to risk death to get a future where everyone can be happy.  However, with each life of Yuel’s reincarnation that gets extinguished the Chaos also grows and threatens everything.  It becomes a question of risk vs. reward.  Are you willing to put it all on the line to get what you really want?  You have free will to make your own destiny, but that can come back and bite you.

Those repercussions are fully explored in Lightning Returns, which feature’s the titular character faced with the decision of asking which is preferable: Euphoria with no free will or free will with suffering? You are constantly bombarded with stories of loss and misery through the side quests and main story, but are told that this can be avoided by simply casting aside your emotions and freedom and living in peace for all eternity.  But you also see stories of love, compassion, and those who despite facing the end of all things choose to keep pressing on and living their lives to the fullest.   There’s a kid who just wants to pass his hunting trials and become a man of his clan before the end comes.  What does it matter? In the grand scheme it doesn’t but to him it’s everything.  Fang is fighting to save her friend, Sazh to save his son, Snow to protect the people – all knowing that there are only 13 days left, they still choose to fight to live.  Lightning’s ultimate choice is that freedom is more important than a guaranteed happiness.  To that end, she kills God and frees everyone to have whatever life they choose to have.  Even Caius who was given no choice in becoming a guardian, no agency in whether he lives or dies thanks to the Heart of Etro or the Yuels, finally gets to choose to stay in the Unseen Realm.  Really, there was no need for him to go, but he didn’t want the Yuels to be alone.

The only thing I do wish they had done was keep the song from the first game going through the whole trilogy.  While only included in the western release, Leona Lewis’ “My Hands” is a song that strongly resonates with both Lightning and Serah that only strengthens as the trilogy goes on.  The song’s solemn lyrics of longing and missing another person while having to go on without them becomes even more poignant by the third game when you start coming face to face with just how many people are now trapped in time, forced to live eternally, after losing loved ones to the slowly dying monster ravaged world and expanding chaos.  Sadly, the song is only featured on the first game where it sort of resonates with Lightning’s quest to get her sister back but doesn’t live up to its full potential.

So is the Trilogy a flawless masterpiece?  Hardly.  The story is confusing and told is a jarring all-over-the-place style that requires copious amounts of reading extra content to follow any of the over arching narrative. The gameplay – especially for the first game – can be boring and tedious and will definitely be a huge turn off to fans of the previous games (even though I’ll admit that the ‘run a straight path and fight monsters’ is pretty much the exact same style as the critically and fan adored Final Fantasy X).  It is a flawed trilogy of games and I will admit that.  But that doesn’t mean I think it should be tossed aside and forgotten to the annals of history.  There is a lot of great content here: Wonderful stories, brilliantly well rounded characters, and a fascinating mythology behind it all. The second game explores a lot of the same ideas that Chrono Trigger fans would find very much right at home and the third game has a truly engaging time-based system and active combat system that has a ton of optional stuff to explore and is short enough to encourage multiple playthroughs with a new game+ feature.

My recommendation is while I can’t wholly endorse these games at $60 a pop, if you can nab them used or new at a decent price (I only paid $15 for the first two, and got Lightning Returns new at release) I would recommend nabbing them.  If you really want to skip the first one, I can’t blame you. There’s a decent enough recap in the Extras menu of XIII-2 that will bring you up to speed but you will miss some excellent character writing that comes later in the first game.  These games also serve as a firm full exploration of the Fabula Nova Crystalis mythology and covers everything from Bhunivelze to his fal’Cie, Pulse, Lindzei and Etro, the concepts of the Seen and Unseen realms, and of course the idea of the l’Cie that plays a big role in Final Fantasy Type-0 and assuredly in the upcoming Final Fantasy XV.  Remember, the mythology is the only thing shared between the three and you’ll get no better crash course in that than from the XIII trilogy.

So that’s the end of my look at the hated XIII trilogy.  I don’t know if I changed anyone’s minds but hopefully I showed that there’s a bit more to these three games than what appears on the surface.  I know I discounted the games pretty harshly at first when I first rented the first one to give it a go back in the day, but after a second look was quite impressed with what I found.  I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank all my readers and oddly enough Noah ‘The Spoony One’ Antwiler whose incredibly biased albeit hilariously entertaining reviews of the Final Fantasy games he doesn’t like inspired me to look deeper into these games and see if they were truly that bad.  They’re not in my opinion.  Hell, not even Final Fantasy X.  I mean, I didn’t like X as much, but it wasn’t garbage by any means.  Anyway, if you want a chuckle with someone ripping apart the games and riffing a lot of the admittedly silly parts, check it out.  I’ll be here finishing up class reviews for SWTOR, replaying Metal Gear while waiting for my PS4 to get repaired and trying to finish out Type-0 HD.

Stay weird, folks.

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