Hyperspace Beacon: The three key problems with SWTOR’s War for Iokath

Unlike some gamers, I actually like Star Wars: The Old Republic’s Trooper storyline. In fact, one of the most meaningful choices in the whole game is made by the player in the Trooper’s arc. After spending several missions with an operative for the Republic, you are faced with a choice that will leave her dead or kill many Republic senators whom you have never met before. It’s a tough call for a character that is supposed to be loyal to the Republic and loyal to the crew. No other choice in any of the other class stories was as difficult for me.

Because of his proven ability to create meaningful moments like those in the Trooper story, I have been happy to see Charles Boyd at the helm of the creative side of the latest updates to the SWTOR experience. But I was disappointed by War for Iokath from a storytelling perspective. And I was especially disappointed by the less-than-meaningful choices players had to make in this update.

I’ve held off talking about Update 5.2 because I like to focus on the positive in the MMO genre, but I think it’s time to face what has to be one of worst updates I’ve seen for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Let’s examine why I felt so cheated, and let me know if you agree with my assessment in the comments.

A non-choice, again

Let me first say that the opportunity to kill Malavai Quinn was wonderful, and I really appreciate that. There are two characters in all my arsenal of companions who should not be alive. One is Gault. However, it’s possible that the Bounty Hunter could fall for Gault’s charm, but when I created a Bounty Hunter who works for the money and the money alone, there is no reason that Gault should have lived. But the betrayal of Quinn was even worse than that. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how it is even possible for Quinn to be a part of any Sith Warrior’s crew given what he did on multiple occasions in the Sith Warrior story. I was thankful for the opportunity to give him what he deserved. But that was the only real choice in the update.

Beat for beat, the rest of the story is the same regardless of the choices that you make. One of the things that made the original Knights of the Old Republic — then Mass Effect and Dragon Age after that — so interesting was that choices had unique consequences, similar to real life. Regardless of your choices as Revan, dark or light, you would end up fighting Malak, but not all choices lead to the return of Darth Revan. But more importantly, the story beats were different and clearly had their own flavor, which is the exact opposite of War for Iokath.

As the image above hints at, the characters of Elara Dorne and Malavai Quinn become exactly the same regardless of the choices you made. This is reflective of many of the choices plaguing SWTOR right now. Every choice, from the clothes you wear to romantic companions, lead to the same conclusions and story beats just with a different coat of paint. Elara Dorne is Malavai Quinn. Jace Malcom is Empress Acina. The Republic is the Empire.

Unique motivation

I’m sure you’ve seen one of the original trailers for Star Wars: The Old Republic called Hope, but if not, you can do so just above. In the trailer we see a desperate Republic soldier defending Alderaan from the Sith Empire. He was willing to sacrifice his own life for the homeworld he believed in. When it appeared that he would not survive, a Jedi warrior singlehandedly freed many of the Republic soldiers and the battle began anew. The leader of the Republic troopers even went so far as to face the dreaded Darth Malgus, even injuring the Sith colossus. That trooper was Jace Malcom; the Jedi was Satele Shan. Their son is one of your companions and possible romantic interest in SWTOR: Theron Shan.

I mention this trailer because we have seen Jace Malcom in the most desperate situation. He faced that trial with dignity and honor, which has been his mantra as a character. However, we see a very different character in War for Iokath. The situation on Iokath is hardly as desperate as the situation on Alderaan. We also see the man be deceitful and manipulative, two characteristics he has not shown before to the degree that they are wildly out of character. It’s almost as if the part that Malcom plays was actually written for Empress Acina but the writers ran out of time to write unique motivations for the characters involved in the storyline. Even if they did the same thing, and even if the outcome was similar, I would have liked to know what made Malcom’s motivation to obtain the super weapon different from Acina’s. Literally, line for line, there is no difference.

Now what?

In my recent video on lore vs. story in MMORPGs, I talk about situations in Star Wars: The Old Republic where we lose a sense of the state of the galaxy because we are missing key bits of information. My example asked which Republic planets did Thexan and Arcann attack? We don’t know; it’s never explained anywhere. We are in a similar but slightly different situation at the end of War for Iokath, especially if we follow the Republic path to its ultimate conclusion.

Spoiling it doesn’t really add to or take away from the story. In fact, if you haven’t figured out what happens just by watching the trailers, then you weren’t paying attention, but I’m going to tuck it behind spoiler code anyway just in case you haven’t run through it yet and want to find out for yourself:

Click to reveal insight about the ending (possible spoilers)
Whoever jumps into the seat of the ultimate weapon ends up dying. It could be Jace Malcom, but it could also be Empress Acina. The Republic will lose a great commander of its military if Theron’s dad dies, but if Acina dies, that means that the Empire will be thrown into complete chaos. That’s not something storytellers should do flippantly. What happens to the Empire now?

The consequences of that action are not things that cannot be rectified easily, especially when we have no idea who would replace the Empress. The two lackeys whom we have seen were both not powerful people and not Force users. And you just have to know that BioWare will answer this issue by replacing her with some person that has little to no weight in the continuing story, further separating us, the player, from the lore of the Old Republic.

I know there are some people who really enjoyed this last little bit of story, and I would love to hear from you in the comments below. I have my thoughts, but mine are just as right as your thoughts. Let me know where you stand.

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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Larry, you the man. Great article.


Larry, considering I’ve always felt you were far too generous in your appraisal of the story quality in SWTOR, reading you write the words “worst update ever” is a damning assessment indeed. Out of morbid curiosity I now almost want to log in and check it out. Almost.


My issue with Iokath is that once again they cap rep gain. It is annoying as hell.

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Paragon Lost

My main was/is the Trooper. I’ve enjoyed the class over all though I do play all the classes. One of my big issues with SWTOR is that Bioware repeatedly has shown that they’re lazy as developers. They’ve proven this time and time again and it irks me to no end.

That you still play a bit Larry amazes me. Kudos to you for extreme patience. I couldn’t do it, even if I were being paid. From the spoilers and what you wrote it appears that as per norm nothing really matters and it’s just gonna be a repeat of what was already done. :(


The best thing about Iokath is to be able to play as an Ops boss, everything else is pretty meh.

Broonmark’s alliance recruitment mission was much better than the return of Quinn and Elara, and Broonmark’s mission doesn’t really have any actual lines, it’s all Talzish and Wookiesih, a mission with mostly grunts and noises is better than the return of two love interests, pretty underwhelming.

It kinda looks like they are wrapping up the story, not sure if that means they are wrapping up the game.

Well, i’m off to try and create a fake US address and a fake credit card, so i can get an ingame reward…


One of the things that made the original Knights of the Old Republic — then Mass Effect and Dragon Age after that — so interesting was that choices had unique consequences, similar to real life.

Which is why I would purchase in a blink a proper KotOR3, but won’t bother with TOR.

A single-player game, and particularly one where you can save and reload at will and on multiple save slots, can do whatever it wants with choice and consequences; you can have choices that permanently alter the scenario, choices between grabbing actual power or doing the right thing, actual sacrifices that aren’t undone in the next scene, etc. Having an “incomplete” or gimped character isn’t an issue.

In a MMO, though, that doesn’t work. For one, you can’t save and reload at will, so any actual consequences from choices would carry far more weight than in a single player game, to the point regrets that would cause a player to reload an earlier save could make the player leave the game instead. Besides, MMOs are by nature competitive even outside of PvP, with player characters being compared at all times, which makes any choice that impacts character power in any way a non-choice for too many players; players will instead just goggle which choice is the “best” and will potentially leave the game if they make the “wrong” choice. Also, the scenario being shared it can’t be changed in any meaningful way by personal choices.

Thus the fake choices. The devs need to ensure that no matter what you choose your character is still as powerful as it can be, with the same variety of companions as everyone else, and that no choice can make any meaningful change on the game scenario.

Emiliano Lozada

Honestly? I wouldn’t jump for a KOTOR3 with current BW tbh. Andromeda and Inquisition showed me that whoever was part of BW back in its golden days are pretty much gone by now or pushed into other roles within the company.


Hmm. Well, the books and lore seem to setup Jace as the fall guy. The main reason Satele gave up Theron and kept him from his father is because she started to see the darkness begin to take hold of Jace. Ironic isn’t it? Because from what I’m seeing now it may have just pushed him further down the path.

But, in my view, Bioware needs to take care here. Story is still a major selling point of the MMO and if they keep removing the popular characters of the tale, people will leave in droves. We have alreayd lost Darth Marr, losing Jace might just bee too much.

Besides, Acina has broad shoulders. She was introduced late in the chronology of events, and lets be honest, the Empire has always been in chaos.

Bill C

You could say the same for Acina a bit as well. Before Iokath, working with her she showed a practical side and willingness to work together.

During Iokath she is more of the muwahahaha evil Sith type, much like Jace
Just bad writing all around. Totally agree with you on Quin.


I was glad to give Quinn the traitor’s death he deserved, even if it comes very late. And I agree that this update was weak across the board. Non-choices, extremely vague motivations to the point of absurdity, ridiculously overpowered trash mobs, and the promise of more frustration to come… that’s Iokath. Not to mention that Iokath is now the only source for Grade 10 mats in the wild, and you have to run a gauntlet of previously-mentioned overpowered trash mobs to scavenge for the few nodes that spawn.

Speaking of loose ends, one of the biggest (literally) are the HUNDREDS of Star Fortresses that are still unaccounted for. Unless Theron was outright lying in KOTFE, there are still many, many Star Fortresses throughout Republic and Imperial space. We attacked and destroyed a few, but what about the rest?