Yay for Zakuul… sometimes I wonder if the writers remember that there are other planets…

Chapter 11 of the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic goes live today, though anyone subscribed since the start of the month has had access since Tuesday. This chapter is titled Disavowed, and these are my thoughts on it.

For anyone not in the know, Star Wars: The Old Republic is a MMORPG set in the Star Wars “Legends” continuity, it takes place some 2,000 years prior to the events of the A New Hope. Knights of the Fallen Empire is its fifth expansion and came out in October of last year, that launch included the first nine chapters. In February Chapter 10, Firebrand, launched. So, it seems that the games maker, BioWare, is looking to launch a chapter per month. I have a review of chapter 10 and the expansion as a whole, linked here, and here respectively.

The Story and Some Spoilers

This chapter begins much the same as the last one, a conversation with Theron Shan. Apparently he has sent a small portion of the information your character gathered in the previous chapter to an old contact in the Republic government’s intelligence service and something useful has come of it. Namely, the Republic’s top special forces team, called Havoc Squad has taken leave of their official duties to wage an unsanctioned guerrilla war in the swamps of Zakuul. Theron thinks they may make for good allies and that you, as the leader of this rag tag group need to bring them into the fold.

So off to Zakuul you go, again. At some point you have to wonder how it is that you can keep sneaking onto this world and have Arcann not know it until you are gone. But, little details like that really aren’t a strong suit of Star Wars in general. So I guess I can forgive BioWare, since I can’t take them out behind the woodshed for something George Lucas has been getting pass for doing since 1977.

The fastest description of the chain of events that follows is that, after arriving on Zakuul with Theron, you meet up with Havoc Squad and its commanding officer, Major Aric Jorgan. That’s followed by a fight with Skytroopers and a pair of Zakuulan walkers, after which you head back to Jorgan’s camp with him. This sets up some conversation with Jorgan and some choices about helping or ignoring the plight of some civilians. If you help them, you find that they are exiles, send into the wilderness by Arcann for various acts of minor “disloyalty”. They blame you for their plight as Arcann has been using your actions against him as the excuse to heavily punish even the smallest challenges to his power.

After returning to Jorgan’s camp, he fills you in on his plans. They’ve found a communications relay station that is important and Jorgan wants to bug it, but getting through its security requires more firepower than he has. So, you arrange assault teams from your forces to thin out the resistance. With a plan now in place, you and Jorgan head off to the relay.

There’s a lot of fighting through skytroopers, Knights of Zakuul etc in this portion, followed by a puzzle in the form deactivating a force field that blocks a doorway. After all of this, the buging equipment is installed and a really big fight to get out the relay ensues, ending with a long encounter with a powerful droid.

The chapter ends in a long sequence of cut scenes that wrap up the remaining story. Jorgan joins you as a permanent companion and Havoc Squad joins your cause. Theron and this advanced artificial intelligence called SCORPIO inform you of a big find. Namely that the relay you bugged carries the coded signals that allow Arcann to control Zakuul’s Eternal Fleet. The Fleet is largely automated and commanded remotely. This discovery may pave the way to preventing Arcann from using the Fleet or even hijacking it from him.

My thoughts?

Well, like the previous chapter, and I assume, the chapters to come, BioWare is reintroducing the companions lost at the beginning of this expansion. Aric Jorgan in this case is the first companion that the Republic Trooper get during their original story. Personally I’m not a fan, Jorgan is presented as hard nosed, by the books career soldier with a highly black and white moral view. He feels like a character that has played out in dozens of war movies and gets old, fast. Further his strict worldview seems in conflict with the morally and legally ambiguous nature of special forces.

Jorgan is actually the fourth of the Trooper’s five original story companions to return in Knights of the Fallen Empire. The first is Tanno Vik (who isn’t recruitable), then Yuun and M1-4X. So, it’s disappointing that there is no mention of those others in any discussion with Jorgan. Sure, it’s not something that you might blurt out in the middle of a firefight, but it is something that should have been noted. Those that play Troopers have been further disappointed that there is little mention of their fifth companion, Elara Dorne. Who, is romanceable as a male trooper and can be made second in command of Havoc Squad, over Jorgan.

This is further disappointing light of BioWare’s insistence that this expansion was about getting back to the focus on storytelling that they have been known for in the past. Well, not so much. Rather it seems that the story is intentionally generic, made to fit all and devoid of any specifics that would make the experience memorable.

I understand that the story and character interaction have incompass a lot, after all the original game had eight classes with five companions each. So, whichever companion gets introduced is more likely to be recruited by a player character with no connection to that companion than the other way around. Still, some reference to previous history or relationships would be nice to see.

In a slightly better angle for the storytelling, the abuse of power is common theme throughout this chapter. Jorgan discusses how the Republic has fallen from it ideological high points under former Supreme Chancellor Saresh and her handpicked successor. As they have invoked special emergency powers and have become more of petty tyrants that the leaders of galactic scale representative democracy. Likewise Arcann’s tyranny and abuse of his own people is put on full display. For those playing dark side aligned characters or characters with an authoritarian streak, this could be a mirror in which they could see themselves. For those on the light side or fighting for the common good, it serves to remind the player why they are fighting.

On the gameplay, I did like the puzzle to deactivate the force field and the boss fight. It was a good one, hard enough to make me deploy defensive cooldowns and at least for a minute, worry about my survival. I’m not asking that every time I engage an enemy it come down to the wire, but occasionally having to use a cooldown or an interrupt or having to move out the “bad stuff” isn’t a bad thing. As such, this was a welcome change from some of the previous fights.

I did encounter one funny glitch on Tuesday night during my first play though. That being: in the cut scenes Aric Jorgan had no weapon… or cloths. Instead, I had a naked cat-like alien standing in front of me. Further, it did bug after the first fight and rather than Jorgan joining me, I was alone. That prevented me from starting a conversation with him later and therefore continuing in the story. This was no longer a problem when I retried the mission on Wednesday morning.

All in all, I feel the chapter was ok, but disappointing.

Two Last Things

More on Gaming –  Tuesday also brought the official release of Tom Clancy’s The Division. I’m going to wait to review until I have spent more time in game. I never feel that reviews of MMOs and similar games should be made without some serious playtime. But, so far I’m really impressed and having a lot of fun!

And more on the Primaries – We saw Bernie Sanders pull an upset victory in Michigan. This is a big deal. It shows that he has serious momentum and will be a good for fundraising. Still though, because of Clinton’s win in Mississippi, she ended the night with 18 more delegates than Sanders did. That said, something that The Young Turks did bring up that I agree with is that many of the news sights use the total delegate count for the candidates… that is they combine dedicated delegates and the unbound “super delegates”. The thing is that super delegates can choose which candidate they will support. When you look at only the bound delegates, Clinton and Sanders are much closer together. So, this race is far from over and will likely go down to the convention.


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