Hyperspace Beacon: Impressions of SWTOR’s Visions in the Dark for gamers still on the fence

After the last couple of lackluster chapters, I’ve lowered my expectations for the Star Wars: The Old Republic story. Not because I think that the BioWare writers are bad by any stretch; I think that Charles Boyd and the other writers are great. BioWare storytelling has topped the charts for a long time. In fact, players have always counted on the quality of BioWare’s storytelling even when the gameplay has been less than optimal.

But I’d like to look at this last chapter, Visions in the Dark, from the perspective of someone who might not have bought into chapter 10 and 11 of Knights of the Fallen Empire. After all, I have been recommending against subscribing to the game after those chapters released. So if you’ve been following my advice, then you probably have been waiting for something to blow you away. You’re likely looking for something to change your mind about SWTOR storytelling.

This column may not be that something. I found myself walking away from chapter 12 more confused than when the chapter started. Confusion isn’t necessarily disappointment, but I’m not sure it’s mind-blowing either. Depending on why you are interested in the SWTOR storyline, this might be a good time to jump in. (If you are PvPer, then you should at least jump into to taste the new warzone. It’s interesting if not amazing.) However, I will have to dive in deeper to give an accurate assessment of the storytelling side of Chapter 12. I promise no deep spoilers even for Chapter 10 and 11.

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Expositionally, we were told that Chapter 10 and 11 would lead directly into 12. Given the teaser image, we knew that it would focus on something to do with Valkorion directly, but other than that, we didn’t know any of the other parts just by playing through. However, when the developers announced that we would explore other parts of Odessen, extrapolating that we would run into Satele and Marr was simple. Essentially, this chapter, which ran a bit longer than the previous two, is divided into three parts: the Alliance war room, Valkorion, and Satele and Marr.

The alliance war room

The Alliance war room is the best of the bunch. Although it mostly centers around giving orders to different teams on the ground, while playing it I really felt as if the things I did in the last couple of chapters were actually adding up to something (and weren’t just missions to introduce our favorite former companions). If you’ve played Mass Effect 2, then you know this feeling: Before the strike team invades the Collector base, it gathers in the Normandy’s war room, and the decisions you make in that room determine the ultimate fate of the crew. And clearly, the SWTOR writers knew that I would feel that way because this one ends on a cliffhanger. Hopefully, this scene will greatly impact the story over all and not be resolved cheaply.

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A discussion with Valkorion

The Valkorion section of chapter 12 was the most confusing part. Even having played through it twice, I’m not exactly sure what was happening.

I’m spoiling anything by saying that you go to talk to Valkorion away from everyone else. And you confront him. I’m not going to tell you why or what the ultimate outcome is, but I am very confused at Valkorion’s motivations and his reactions given your history with him.

I think the biggest issue in this scene stems from the dialogue choices and the lack of differentiation between past Dark- or Light-Side choices. It appears that Valkorion acts uncharacteristically hostile toward you regardless of your past choices, and then at the end, he still does the same thing to you regardless of your choices leading up to the scene and during the scene. I was very confused by that — maybe Boyd wouldn’t mind clarifying that for us.

hsb-mop-2016-visions-in-the-dark-03In the valley with Satele and Marr

I enjoyed the Satele and Darth Marr section of the story. It will solidify what people have believed about the Force for a long time: The Force is neither dark nor light; it just is. However, do listen to Darth Marr as you play through this, as he says some things that are clearly not Sith but aren’t exactly Jedi either. I don’t want to spoil anything beyond that.

My chief issue with the Satele and Marr storytelling moment wasn’t the shift in the characters but rather understanding the difference between their point of view and Valkorion’s position. From what I can see, all three want to destroy Arcaan. (Is that a spoiler? Nah.) All believe that dark and light are old constructs, and all believe that they have risen above that. They also all believe that you are the person to take down Arcaan.

Yet, when confronted with this similarity in perspective, Satele says that they are not on the same side as Valkorion. Is this a philosophical difference? Is she saying that he is pure evil and there is no way that she could be on his side? Or is she saying that she’s never met with Valkorion — she doesn’t know for sure — but there is no way that she and Valkorion agree? Given the direction of the story, I’m going to say that there is a philosophical difference, but I’m having trouble seeing what it is exactly. It’s not as easy to interpret as the Light Side vs. Dark Side debate.

Force or no Force…

One more thing before I go: non-Force users. Since the beginning of Knights of the Fallen Empire, the story has focused heavily on the Force, what it can do, and what it means. From my perspective, there hasn’t been a lot of focus on those who don’t use the Force. Of course, there have been chapters like the Lady of Sorrows that told us how Zakuul society works, but anything that is directly tied to your character clearly revolves around the Force whether you play a Force-wielding character or not.

I like the Force; I am a Star Wars fan after all. But I find the stories that focus on human strength the most interesting. The Force is a MacGuffin that can do whatever we want when we need it, so it’s refreshing to see it not being used sometimes.

Final verdict

You probably should jump back in, especially if you are a Force user. (I foresee a lot of nerdy debates over the Force.) At very least, chapters 10, 11, and 12 combined are worth the price of admission, even if you decide not to stick around for chapter 13.

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Every other week, Larry Everett jumps into his T-16 back home, rides through the hypergates of BioWare‘s Star Wars: The Old Republic, and posts his adventures in the Hyperspace Beacon. Drop him a holocom on Twitter @Shaddoe or send him a transmission at larry@massivelyop.com. Now strap yourself in, kid — we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
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46 Comments on "Hyperspace Beacon: Impressions of SWTOR’s Visions in the Dark for gamers still on the fence"

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Greaterdivinity
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Greaterdivinity

sray155 And so what if it is an emotional need?
Actually, it matters a lot. We’re talking about game design. “Raid or die” design applies strictly to games with linear gear progression that are actively releasing raiding content that requires the completion of prior raid content to access. It’s a method of design/content delivery where are literally prevented from accessing newer content without raiding.
SWTOR in no way, shape, or form does this with Fallen Empire. Yes, you can get the best gear through raiding, but that gear is not necessary to progress through the content being released in the expansion. Raiding is very much an activity that has, by design, fallen by the wayside as a timesink rather than a primary method for content delivery and player progression through expansion content.

sray155
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sray155

StClair sray155 Greaterdivinity And so what if it is an emotional need? Virtually all of our “needs” in entertainment/leisure activities come from a primarily emotional place. We don’t sit down to watch a sitcom because laughing is required to help us digest our food: we do it for an emotional need to laugh. I can ask why is it so important for raiders that non-raiders be barred from the top gear, and the answer is equally likely to have zero practical reason behind it.

In any other video game genre, the pinnacle of player power progression is separate from whatever is considered the pinnacle encounter: the game is either structured so that the player has reached the peak of their power progression by the “final boss fight” (for games based on character skill, such as single player RPGs); or else the player’s power level has little to do with their ability to succeed in such an encounter (for games based more on player skill, such as a first person shooter). The MMORPG’s “insistence” on barricading the peak of power progression behind what is ostensibly the pinnacle encounter is a jarring aberration in game design. 

And for a game where the player’s progression to the max level is accomplished in a solo oriented, quick play environment, switching the max level advancement system to a forced grouping, time intensive environment is the video game equivalent of Superman spinning the Earth backwards to turn back time: a gigantic “WTF? where did that come from? nothing we’ve seen to this point even suggested anything like that.” I have zero issues with a game that requires players teaming up right from the start in order to progress, but when you shove forced grouping out there as the sole means of hitting the height of progression when it was absent from the game previously it is quite simply changing the rules arbitrarily; and is punitive to those wish to continue progressing via the established means to that point.

StClair
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StClair

sray155 StClair Greaterdivinity … so, that’s a “yes” that your “need” to have top numbers is strictly emotional, not practical.  Got it.

SallyBowls1
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SallyBowls1

paragonlostinspace sray155  But it is not personal.  MMOs don’t change because the solo-friendly players forced them to or even advocated for it. MMO studios voluntarily made them more solo-friendly because it is more profitable to appeal to the millions more who want solo convenient over forced grouping.

IMO, you are confusing “what an mmorpg is at its foundational base” with “what an mmorpg was at its foundational base” Transportation 150 years ago involved horses; 50 years ago it involved big, fuel inefficient cars and is evolving into something that uses batteries. Products are what they are, regardless of what they used to be.

direpath
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direpath

Personally I am waiting for a whole bunch of chapters to be lined up before I throw a sub at it again. I am having a lot of fun in BDO so im in no rush to get back at it.

sray155
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sray155

StClair sray155 Greaterdivinity Like I said, it’s the fact that gear progression is no different from level progression in my opinion. If the game allows me to hit the max level without doing time consuming, forced group content, then hitting the top of the gear progression should also not require that. I cannot explain it any simpler than that, and either you understand or you don’t.

Furthermore, the idea that “only raiders need the top gear because of the difficulty of raids” thing is complete crap: game developers could quite easily build raids of escalating levels of difficulty completely separate from the player’s gear rating, and should actually be doing that. I have no issue with unique rewards for raiders, I have an issue where raiders essentially get to “finish leveling” while non-raiders don’t.

StClair
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StClair

sray155 Greaterdivinity But in all seriousness, I ask – what do you actually need the top gear for, if not for raiding?  Simply to have “the best”?
I don’t raid, I don’t PvP, and I get by just fine with a mix of blues and a few purples, most of which I either got from heroics, a crystal vendor, or crafted it myself ’cause I wanted that look.  It’s not the best, but it doesn’t have to be.  (Likewise, my rotation is probably crap, but again, I get by.)

Fenryr
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Fenryr

Estranged If you think about it, Blizz and now EA(others maybe too) are shifting their resources more towards new players and not really vets of the game. Since MMO players (most of them) are a disloyal bunch it’s not really lucrative to produce stuff only vets can enjoy. That’s because vets have a very different opinions (even contradicting) what fun end content is. On the other hand it’s very save to cater newcomers in a rather unbalanced leveling experience. Blizz goes even so far to sell max lvl characters.  They want to catch the new kids coming to age to at least buy the game each and every year. That’s actually a huge potential, but it’s one on our backs (the vets).

paragonlostinspace
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paragonlostinspace

sray155 paragonlostinspace            

   Yeah I’m noting that I’ve become too quick to become short due to my growing frustration with this particular hobby of mine. I’m really just unhappy with where the mmorpg genre is going overall. Appreciate the compliment btw. 

    Basically the mmorpg is a subgenre of the mmo genre (other mmo  sub genres are FPS, MOBAs or RTS mmos for example) of computer gaming. Computers falling under the rather wide umbrella of personal computers, tablets, smartphones, consoles etc. What I don’t like seeing is game developers trying to mash the various sub genres of mmo’s into one larger mash up. 

 No one is happy then, though I guess it makes the life of game developers easier asset and code wise. I don’t have an issue when game developers take good ideas, mechanics, UI interface improvements etc from other mmo subgenres as an aside. if it improves the overall game play than I’m for it.

 What I don’t like seeing is the mmorpg subgenre becoming something it shouldn’t be. Something that’s a quick jump in and jump out distraction. We have console mmos for that, or smartphone games etc. I don’t begrudge anyone who enjoys playing games of that nature, It just doesn’t tend to be something that interests me.

 I’ve always enjoyed the depth, immersion, role-play, mechanics of tabletop gaming and then later on as I migrated over to online gaming the online versions of that. I expect more and want more. When I want a simple distraction I’ll load up Lemmings or Angry Birds or something like that. I’m in and out and I’m briefly amused. 

 I believe that the mmorpg subgenre is a large enough umbrella for a lot of variation on the theme and has a lot of room for growth and improvement. Sadly I don’t see that happening, I see game developers trying to just mash the various mmo sub genres together. Which is a lose scenario for all of the mmo sub genres.

 Anyhow thanks again for being understanding with my being a bit blunt and surly. I feel better now, I went for a two hour ride on the interstate. Wife had yoga and wasn’t going to be home and today was the first night it wasn’t too chilly and rainy so I took advantage of it to relax on the motorcycle. Still getting used to the fact that with all four kids off at college out of state the damn house gets too quiet. lol.

sray155
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sray155

JimGriffiths sray155 I mean now in that they’ve dropped the pretense: it’s always been very solo oriented, but in the past there was also a much greater emphasis -for better or worse- on also promoting more “traditional MMORPG” group content as well. With KotFE they’ve mostly moved from a solo heavy MMORPG to a shared world, single player RPG with multiplayer options, except they’ve left that “all endgame progression funnels into raids” barnacle attached for some reason.