Sunday, 5 September 2021

Where is Agent Galen?

I have no idea. I can't remember. And it's wonderful.

One of the undeniably great things about Star Wars: The Old Republic is the gargantuan size of the story content. With eight original class stories, the unified story of 2015-2019 and the diverging Republic and Empire viewpoints since, there's hundreds of hours of content.

Despite playing SWTOR since 2012, I've only completed seven of the eight original stories. The trooper is still a work-in-progress for me, but nevertheless I've rolled new Jedi, Sith and other tech classes to experience the stories again.

I've been leisurely progressing through these over the last couple of years - increasingly recently now I've completed Galactic Seasons Season 1, allowing me to get back to more rewarding story content*. Having not played many of them since 2012-2013 (Jedi Knight and Sith Warrior in particular) they feel like brand new stories. I'd completely forgotten 99% of them.

* As an aside, I'd like to borrow a line from Shintar over at Going Commando: Galactic Seasons completely 'sucked the air out of the room' over the summer. While she made this reference in relation to her writing, I think it's an accurate description of what Seasons did to my play style... Now I'm at level 100, it's a breath of fresh air to be able to get back to a more relaxed style!






Take the titular Agent Galen from the Jedi Knight story, who aids you in a quest to stop the Empire unleashing a number of devastating superweapons. The name rang a bell, but I'd forgotten everything else about the story. I quickly become invested in Galen and the colourful cast of characters that surround you, as if seeing a great film for the first time. Galen's disappearance prior to the Nar Shaddaa arc had me worried: 'I don't remember any of this... Is he alright?!'

It was a fantastic reminder that replaying the class stories feels, for me, like a whole new experience. The sheer wealth of content for SWTOR means that it'll probably be the same for the all the classes once I get round to them - I will probably remember very little!

The more recent expansions have tended to blend together and encouraged me not to play them on multiple classes, as the stories become conflated: I forget which companions have survived on which alts; the 'choices that matter' become irrelevant unless I keep a log of what each character has, or has not, done. And that doesn't sound fun.

Not so the original stories. Diving back into them is a reminder of the depth of storytelling we were originally gifted all those years ago.

Replaying them as the opposite gender character is also a great move, as the alternate voice actor adds another layer of shiny 'newness' to the experience. There are voices for the main classes that I've never even heard, despite playing for almost a decade.

I hope Agent Galen's ok. I look forward to finding out. Even more than that I'm excited to see what else I don't remember!

Friday, 9 July 2021

Playing in Style

Among many others things coming in update 7.0, SWTOR is getting 'Combat Styles'. Combat Styles will fix a mistake I made almost a decade ago...

Back in 2012 I tentatively logged into SWTOR and created my first character, a Jedi Sentinel. This valiant Jedi has been my main protagonist over all these years, but something has always bothered me: I have to use two lightsabers. I really just want to use one, in a classic Jedi sort of way.

This boils down to my own stupidity at character creation stage. In my early days with SWTOR I didn't understand that Sentinels dual-wielded and Guardians had a single blade. I thought I could just equip whatever weapons I liked, and the Sentinel seemed like the most 'Jedi' class to my eyes back then. (In retrospect, it's definitely not.)

I was already invested in the early story when I realised my mistake, and for whatever reason I failed to start over. The years only compounded my hesitance to start a new Guardian and get my single saber. The more I progressed through the story on my Sentinel, the less I wanted to do away with the character. You really become attached to them as the narrative drives on.

Yes, I know you can physically use one lightsaber as a Sentinel, but you lose many of your abilities in the process. Since 6.0 and the Item Rating mechanic, without a second blade you're also not going to be meeting Item Rating 306, which means the equipment you get from missions and mobs will be far below this level.

And yes, my Sentinel looks super-cool (below), but I'd really like to explore new story content with just the one saber.










Enter update 7.0! From December, each Force-user class will have access to the advanced class (now called Combat Styles) of every other Force-user class. Similarly, every tech-based class (Smugglers, Bounty Hunters, Troopers and Agents) will have access to each others' styles. This means you'll also have access to that combat style's weapon proficiencies.

Loadouts will be implemented, making it simple (we assume) to swap between combat styles at will (or near enough at will).

Finally, I'll be able to make my Jedi main a single blade-wielding Guardian, fulfilling the dream I had all the way back in 2012. Of course I've made Guardian characters since, but there'll be something extremely satisfying about getting my main to fight in that style.

I'm excited to experiment with different styles for all of my other characters, but I'm particularly looking forward to 7.0 for my troopers. I spend a lot of time getting my characters looking just the way I want, and combat styles will definitely help with my range of Clone Trooper look-a-likes! Finally I'll be able to equip them with more than just a blaster rifle...


As many have pointed out, here come the Captain Rex cosplays!

Monday, 5 July 2021

The Best Things About... The Phantom Menace

Many people like to rank the Star Wars films in order of preference, or ask others for their top three, top five, etc. Inevitably these lists are held up against one another, the upshot being that the things people like the least are often discussed the most.

I've never cared too much for ratings or lists. Every Star Wars film is - in some way - fantastic. Here we celebrate the best things (I think) about each of them, starting with The Phantom Menace.

Style and Feel

The Phantom Menace is for me the Star Wars film that feels closest to the Original Trilogy. There's something about the feel of it, the way the story is allowed room to breathe compared to the more hectic later installments, that rekindles that feeling of Episodes IV, V and VI. The Sequel Trilogy achieves this a little from time-to-time, but no film has managed it throughout its length as well as Episode I.

While the visual effects were moving with the times - replacing more and more practical effects - their prevalence compared to Episodes II and III is much more constrained and is more in keeping with the originals.

What we end up with is an occasionally imperfect film that feels like it came from a perfect place.

The Podrace

Ah, the podrace. Every so often a film will pause its narrative mid-way through for a well-crafted set-piece. Sometimes a great film will deliver a stunning set-piece, showing you something you've never seen before and driving the story forward.

The more you watch it, the more you realise the race itself is pretty straightforward. But it's the little details and the breadth of what is happening that elevates it to something more: Tusken Raiders taking pot-shots at the pods, the vivid personalities of the colourful racers, the sound design of the crafts - especially Sebulba's hammering engines overtaking the mix as he bears down on Anakin.

It's a masterclass in how to cinematically present a set-piece.

Lucasfilm / Starwars.com

Naboo

We've been to a lot of planets and locations in the Star Wars galaxy, but few can match the spectrum of Naboo. The splendour of the Nubian cities and their architecture, the sweeping plains, the gorgeous lake country, the vibrant life-filled swamps, the entire beautiful hidden Gungan culture, the porous planetary core teeming with monsters... It's difficult to sum up Naboo in one breath, let alone one paragraph.

Naboo is a colourful world that seems to invite exploration. It's my number one wished-for location in SWTOR, or any open-world Star Wars adventure game to be honest.

Lucasfilm / Starwars.com

That Lightsaber Duel

It's a testament to the evolving choreography of the Star Wars series over the decades that it's possible to look back at this Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Darth Maul duel and see deficiencies in it. But even if it does look at times a little staged (particularly compared to the fluidity we've been spoilt with in the Disney era), the speed and ferocity are astonishing.

The Original Trilogy and The Phantom Menace established the high-point of lightsaber battles that actually told a story without words (something later encounters have struggled a bit with).

Qui-Gon's patience mixed with Obi-Wan's youthful adrenaline tells you everything you need to know about this fight and its impact on galactic history - the importance of which has been so eloquently described by Dave Filoni in Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian (well worth a watch on Disney+).

Friday, 2 July 2021

Game Changer

Battlefront II is a beautiful, expansive game and it's hard to believe it's now over three-and-a-half years old. It won me over from a rocky launch, evolving into an online / offline shooter that lets you take part in hectic battles across some of the most iconic Star Wars locations. For most of its life, however, it has also been a torturous multiplayer experience for the casual player.

I consider myself 'ok' at video games. If I put in the time and effort I believe I can even become 'quite good' at them. Playing against other human beings in a game like Battlefront II, however, is very different to wandering around on your own in something like SWTOR, and if you're not prepared for it the experience can be pretty traumatic.

Battlefront II's major mode at launch, Galactic Assault, has a breadth that just about allows less-experienced or more casual players to stay on the periphery of the action and have a good time, mostly. Any interaction with the objectives or the player enemy team in force, however, and it can quickly descend into: spawn, run forward for a few seconds, get killed, respawn, repeat.

I'll admit that Battlefront II fell out of favour with me for more than a year in recent times, largely because of this dynamic. I didn't have the time or inclination to learn in detail what I was doing wrong to compete with the really good players out there. I just wanted to jump into a Star Wars environment and shoot some stuff! The offline single player modes were a little basic compared to the scope of something like Galactic Assault, so that didn't really float my boat either.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I decided to give the game another try and found a new mode: Co-Op! (Note I am very much behind the times here and understand Co-Op is no longer 'new'!)

I had assumed, knowing nothing about it, that Co-Op would be four human players going up against map-based objectives. A bit like the multiplayer Strike mode but with enemy AI. Imagine my further surprise when I realised Co-Op was basically a mash-up of the large-scale Supremacy and Galactic Assault modes, with large teams of AI enemies and allies and four human players (all on the same side) thrown into the middle of it.

I'd finally got exactly what I wanted out of this game: the ability to dive in, not have to remember exactly how to play and have fun running around and shooting at things. Perfection.

The AI isn't super-intelligent, but it's come a long way since the launch of the game, and is suitably impressive to have fun with. And the introduction of your human teammates means there's still an element of strategy to be had: it's entirely possible to be defeated if you don't work as a team and end up splitting your energies.

I would say that Co-Op is good and demanding fun with a well-orientated team, but can be extremely difficult if the team is less experienced or divides its forces and becomes overwhelmed by the huge numbers of AI opponents that spawn.

No longer do I have to watch from the side-lines for fear of dying every few seconds...

Importantly, even in defeat Co-Op mode is exciting. It's fun to go down being swamped by twenty enemies. It's not fun being sniped by a single, jumping, rolling, too-much-time-on-their-hands human player in Galactic Assault... (Can you hear the bitterness?)

So Co-Op has completely changed how I look at Battlefront 2 and given me something of a renaissance with the game. It's the mode I now almost exclusively play. Every so often I dip into Supremacy or Galactic Assault just to see if I get a decent game, but I'm soon back in Co-Op mode. This is what I'm here for: relaxed, engaging fun. I don't want to be able to play the best at Battlefront 2, I just want to be able to play.

Monday, 21 December 2020

A Finale and A First Step

Spoilers ahead for The Mandalorian Chapter 16

I'm not one for rushing out prose on recently released Star Wars content. I prefer to let the words sit in draft for a time, until my thoughts have fully formed and I can release something of value. (Hence why I have so many draft versus published posts!) But The Mandalorian has had a profound effect on me, especially the season two finale. I feel compelled to get my thoughts out of my head as quickly (for me) as possible!

It's easy to get swept along with the extra-universe content for the show, especially online speculation, discussion and reviews. It can at times feel like we're all supporting a sports team that competes every Friday for glory, and we're not always on the same side. Sometimes it's good to step away from the noise outside the series and simply let a show like The Mandalorian wash over you. Such was the hype surrounding the series two finale that I really tried my best to approach it in this manner. And as a result I was not disappointed by a single thing, and very nearly brought to tears...

I'm loving the pacing the show has developed - a no-nonsense approach that throws the viewer in to exactly what the filmmakers want us to see, when they want us to see it. Boba Fett? Get him in episode one. Perhaps they'll gradually tease Ahsoka into Chapter 13? Nope, white lightsabers within two and a half minutes. Who should answer Grogu's Tythonian call? Surely not the Luke Skywalker? Yep, and you know what? Let's not recast, let's build on existing technology and show him how we'd imagine him to be. Oh, and let's show what he can do in his youthful prime, cutting through Dark Troopers with the green-bladed lightsaber that we'd only seen tentatively spar with skiff guards and Vader way back in 1983. And lastly, R2's here too for good measure. Wow.

It would have been easy for season two to simply be a greatest hits of cameo appearances. Too many more and perhaps it would have become dull and distracting from the central story, but I think just the right balance has been struck - making best use of the time our visiting heroes are present.

The final scene between Din, Grogu and Luke is one of, if not the, most emotionally charged moments in all of Star Wars. That this can be achieved between a man who rarely takes his helmet off and a puppet is testament to the incredible writing and direction of the series.






So Din and Grogu take their first steps away from each other. I have no doubt that they will be reunited again and - in the manner that the show keeps surprising us - possible sooner than we might think.

Nonetheless, there are so many paths in which the show could head. Will Grogu indeed stay with Luke? What of the fate of the Darksaber and the unintended dynamic that now exists between Din and Bo-Katan?

Have we indeed finished reading The Book of Din Djarin, at least for the moment? I doubt it. The Book of Boba Fett (introduced in the post-credits sequence) is now confirmed to be a separate series from The Mandalorian. For the few days that I considered the Boba Fett angle might be part of the same show, I was intrigued by the possibilities. Could we then have moved on to the The Book of Bo-Katan and have returned to the Din / Darksaber storyline?

As much as I want to see Din's story continue, such an approach does appeal to me. A complete collection of Mandalorian stories that weave in and out of each other. With the announcement that other Disney+ series will interlace with The Mandalorian, such as Ahsoka, we seem to be seeing multiple threads of the same story starting to be told - within and without The Mandalorian itself. The possibilities appear endless.

On Grogu, I'm excited to see how his story continues. It struck me that perhaps R2 and Grogu have indeed met before, a (human) lifetime ago in the Jedi Temple of the Old Republic. The prospect of perhaps seeing Grogu's early years in flashbacks is mouth-watering.

What of his future with Luke? Will the training of Grogu be one of the first failures Luke experiences, setting him on a course to become the disillusioned figure we see in The Last Jedi? That would certainly help get The Child back to where I'm sure the audience considers he belongs: with Din.

This is the most exciting Star Wars storytelling perhaps... ever?

Friday, 18 September 2020

Now I'm An Achiever

I've never really bothered with the achievements aspect of SWTOR. But every now and again I get into a bit of a lull in my gameplay and I go searching for something to do. Recently, in one such lull, I stumbled across a forum post where someone was complaining that there was nothing to do at endgame. Another player replied, retorting that there was 'never a shortage of things to do' in the game - providing a long list of activities the original poster might like to try.

The list really struck me and the more I thought about it the more I realised that, 'Yes, there's never a shortage of things to do!' Among the long list was working on achievements.

Recently I've dug into trying to complete some and I've had a lot of fun. The best ones are of course the ones with rewards: be it a title or a few extra Cartel Coins. The legacy titles in particular have attracted me, and stumbling across the title reward Galactic Explorer, I knew that if I only ever completed one more achievement it had to be this one!

A couple of days later (and a lot of exploring on Nar Shaddaa - that place is a maze) and I'm now a bona fide explorer!






I had fun chasing the achievement. I don't think I'm turning into a completionist particularly, but I may dig into the achievement list more often now.

Friday, 28 August 2020

Return to the Skies

I hadn't played the Galactic Starfighter component of SWTOR in any serious way since it was released in the 2.x update cycle. Recently I've been looking to give one of my level 75 characters a particular focus, especially for Conquest, so I decided to really dig into GSF at last.

Two factors helped me with this. The first is that GSF progress and rewards are tied to each individual character, rather than your Legacy, so it makes sense to have just one Republic and one Imperial character focus on it. Secondly, the Daily and Weekly quest rewards are quite generous with Tech Fragments, presumably to encourage more people to play the mode.

I couldn't just pick up and play, though. My head canon needed placating first... Every character needs a good RP reason to do something!

So the first couple of hours of my GSF experience were spent getting just the right flightsuit costume sorted...










Meet Gale Rantilles, my Commando Combat Medic and part-time starfighter pilot. Until I learn how to properly heal in group content she'll be earning me Tech Fragments in GSF.

Queuing up, I was initially a little concerned at the long wait time for a GSF match. On a Saturday night, getting on for midnight, I got only one match in 45 minutes of queuing. If that was a representative rate of match-pops it may take more than a week to complete the Weekly quest! Subsequently queuing between 9.30 and 10.30 in the evening provided no such problems, so I might have to make GSF the first stop of the evening.

I was prepared for my first dozen or so matches to be pretty brutal. Most guides I've read highlight the steep learning curve and the high death rate until you manage to equip your ship a bit better, and my experience followed this path.










The first few battles were tough. A lack of experience and a low-spec'd ship resulted in a lot of early exploding. Then, about seven matches in, losing at a Domination game, something turned. The enemy team seemed to suddenly spread themselves too thin. I managed to capture a satellite, then another. The enemy responded, but it wasn't enough. We won by a handful of points, coming from several hundred behind. It was great, and the sense of achievement brilliant. 'I really like Galactic Starfighter!', I thought.

Like all PVP it's tough when you're losing. Even tougher when you're being hammered. Early on, you'll start to think it isn't worth it. But then a match will come up that changes your fortunes and your mind.

Swtorista has just started a new series on the basics of GSF and, as always, her content is highly recommended.

Happy flying!