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.
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.
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)
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.