Hyperspace Beacon: SWTOR, it’s time to destroy the Eternal Empire

Those players who were looking for consequence in their Star Wars: The Old Republic storyline can, I’m glad to say, look to Knights of the Eternal Throne to get it. Although the Vaylin side of the story will remain virtually unchanged regardless of the player’s choices, it’s possible to lose multiple companions, and there is even one choice where you have to choose one companion over the other. However, the quality of the story really hinges on how much you like or dislike Valkorion’s family. They are a bunch of rich brats doing bratty things, so on a personal level, I couldn’t care less about them.

You know what I do care about, though? The Empire and the Republic. You know what most fans of Star Wars care about? The Empire and the Republic, or possibly the Jedi and the Sith. Whether it’s a story buried in the conflict of those two armies colliding or it’s a gangster taking advantage of being in the middle of those two opposing parties, the Empire and the Republic have been central to all the engaging Star Wars stories.

For this specific reason, it’s time for BioWare to tear down the Eternal Empire.

Intimate choices

I don’t want to imply that writing for an MMO is easy by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, creating a compelling storyline in an MMORPG is probably one of the most difficult jobs in all of games writing. The games that have done it well have usually resorted to telling a single-player story as an integrated part of a multiplayer game. SWTOR is probably the prime example, but Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2, and The Secret World do the same thing with varying degrees of success. Probably more than the other games, SWTOR attempted to make the story extremely personal.

The core game gives the players eight different story choices that coincide with the class choices. On the next level down, dark and light choices create a deeper personal story. And lastly, we have choices that aren’t related to dark-side or light-side but rather have to do with character personality. These choices in the main story don’t even touch on the romantic choices players have with their companions. These choices are far from perfect, but the idea is to make your character belong to you.

I don’t want to give the impression that it takes multiple storylines to make the game better. One of my favorite BioWare games, Mass Effect 2, pretty much has one story. The plot begins and ends pretty much the same way regardless of your choices. Of course, there are “good” and “bad” endings to Mass Effect 2, but the throughline is the same. And I have played through that same story at least a dozen times without losing interest in how things will turn out.

Where it fell apart

I don’t think that the five-year jump was a bad thing, and I don’t think that the individual parts of Knights of the Fallen Empire or Knights of the Eternal Throne are bad. In fact, there are some really great moments in both of them, and some of the choices that you have to make as a player are really difficult.

I believe the “Knights of” expansions lost that intimacy, sure. But I think this lack of intimacy really began before those expansions. I believe that it started with Shadow of Revan, but we were too caught up in the all the flashpoints and operations and nostalgia to notice that a key element of the story was missing. And the two key figures behind that loss are the true protagonists of the “Knights of” expansions: Lana Beniko and Theron Shan.

With the introduction of those characters, you became a figurehead for their kingdom. You were reduced to a meat shield on heavy missions and an orator for speeches. The only real choice that you made during the whole series was to kill or spare Jorgan and Kaliyo, and in the grand scheme of things, that was not a choice with a deep personal impact. Over the last few years, we have watched someone else’s story play out.

This is why the current traitor storyline has very little personal impact. The traitor didn’t betray you; he or she betrayed something that didn’t really belong to you.

Begin again?

It’s possible to take the existing story and make it personal again. It’s possible for BioWare to do a kind of historical reset by destroying the Eternal Empire, and the best way to do that is to make the scope smaller and make the stakes bigger. You have 30 or more disposable companions and some that are waiting to come back. The player needs to lose some. And by some, I mean about half. The player character also needs to lose the Eternal Empire. He, in my case, needs to choose to fully support the Republic or the Empire.

The story already has a major divergence based on the Iokath superweapon; BioWare needs to embrace that and take it to the next level. I enjoyed the stories on Makeb that were completely separate depending on your faction. I would definitely love to go back to that, but barring time restraints, a story that has nuances that are different would be fine.

How do we get to the point where the Eternal Empire is no more? Give it to Lana Beniko. After all, everything that you’ve done from Shadow of Revan on was her doing. She is the mastermind. Have her be the real traitor who tears down your kingdom. Then when you are ousted from your own Empire, a handful of your most loyal companions would come with you, and the story then becomes a lot more intimate. It becomes about you attempting to remake your place in the Empire or the Republic, which is what made the launch stories so much more interesting.

Of course, there are many alternatives to this, and these are just my thoughts. Let’s speculate a bit. Clearly, we need the player character to lose big so that we can build him or her up again. How would you do it? Let me know in the comments. I’ll send my favorite a Master’s Datacron level-up token and equipment so that you can play through the vanilla stories at max level. (I’ll give it two days before I pick my favorite. I’ll let you know which one it is in the comments.)

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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tyyriz tyyric

i dont think the story is much of the problem.

To me, it is the game world. I was a subscriber and couldnt get through the first “knights of…” because it ran more an an on-rails shooter than an MMO. maybe it opened up after episode 6 or 7 or 8 but i was always running down a corridor (or a valley with very defined borders) fighting 3 robots who magically popped up, then run 15 feet and fight another 3 robots.

I play MMOs for the exploration. A giant game world full of quests and side quests, reputations, gathering and achievements and, on the side, cool group content in dungeons and LFR-style raids (i never got to play through the revan ones). (other ppl of course look for other things). I played a lot of WOW, SWTOR, and GW2. I dropped wow in WOD. GW2 seemed liked a better alternative – faster, more action – but the lack of ever getting better at max gear (gear, level abilities) while increasingly fighting “champion” level enemies which grew tiresome. and SWTOR, which may have been my favorite with its stories, music, light sabers, just seem to give up on being an MMO. playing the first knights of I dont remember how many hours i played before i even saw another toon in the gameworld. I went back to wow for legion and thats really the only one i play now.

i think the SWTOR wheels came off the wagon with Zakul(?) – the world that got burnt to a crisp after Revan. it was a whole world with like 4 daily quests, no gathering nodes, and really no where to go, nothing to explore or find. it could have been built out – new areas open up, new quests, a dungeon or two into the caves or pit of the planet. what was there before it got crispy (oh, whoever decided to have us play through a quest world that would be vaporized should have been fired. imagine how many hours went into the quest design, world building, lighting just to be wiped out and have no replay value at all). they could have made the planet the place. but they didnt – they went for an onrails story which was exactly the same for alts – light or dark (? i think), republic or empire.

for a time i even created new toons just do to some leveling on the old worlds. i loved the jedi story of getting to make your own lightsaber at level 10. i loved being a light sided sith where everyone was confused by your answers. i loved the twin suns music every time the defender went to the map.

obviously, the game has only life support money. and it is a shame. because when it dies a new Disney MMO star wars will take its place. just like with Galaxies. but Legion also shows an MMO can recover – i’ve loved the legion expansion from the zone stories, to the exploration, to the gathering, to the repetitive world quests, to the new zones opening up. i wished GW2 had worked the same away.

i like MMOs for the huge world.
SWTOR got small and it saddens me.

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Zakuul reigns dominant over the galaxy, with you as a figurehead. But the period of peace proves short-lived. The autonomous planet is beginning to malfunction as terrorists from within begin to corrupt the systems that protect and control the populace. After a long investigation, the public learns that members of your own staff are behind the problems facing the planet. Fending off a people’s revolution, you find yourself with the option of destroying the planet to make an example of the populace at the cost of your own throne, or allowing the people to claim self-determination by deposing you. Either way, the Empire gets involved, the planet is eventually destroyed, and the player is forced to join the lower ranks of the Sith Empire.

Asina proves to have orchestrated many of these events. She has successfully won the full support of the Voss Mystics, and has achieved pseudo-omniscience. As long as she knows where and when to look, she can predict anything. The Empire launches a campaign against the Etermal Empire that completely annihilates the opposition on the basis of their foresight, and the Jedi make a desperate move. With you as an inside job and massive distraction, your former team and some new allies begin setting up the pieces for the least powerful of citizens to bring down the Empress. Receiving orders from Lana Baniko while under the effects of the BLUR – a drug that prevents short-term memory from being writtten to long-term memory, you become the perfect spy, following objectives you don’t truly understand or remember how you acquired. Following your quest log blindly, you manage against all odds to resurrect Darth Malgus with the help of one sympathetic Mystic. The last of the Gormak, rounded into safeguarded concentration camps by Asina, is exfiltrated and the Mystics panic. Though the Empire is strong, Asina is vulnerable at last.

With the final confrontation ended aboard the bridge of Asina’s starship, Malgus proceeds to blow open the hull and expose the bridge to space. Several of your companions and all of the Jedi are vented, with your own character being the sole survivor. Once the blast doors close, Malgus approaches, offering you a choice. Flee with your life to the Republic to herald the coming of the Empire. Or kneel.

Should you kneel, an over-application of the blur wipes your memory, and you start the next expansion as a lower-level Sith within the Empire. Defy the Dark Lord, and you are cast out, ostracized within the Republic for your role in Zakuul’s destruction and blamed for the Republic’s sudden position of weakness. A begrudging and judgmental Jedi order agrees to take you on as much to check your reckless actions within their hierarchy as to offer their support. The war rekindles in earnest, with the Empire having the upper-hand.

Milenial Is'so'bad

I think it has to be rebuilt, but done slowly and delicately. In my opinion, the real way they can let you forge your own story again is by ditching you. They (all your companions from the new expansion) all turn against you and leave you on a basic planet where there are some different species that know the basics. From then on you have no choice but to change your style of living. You decide the most important thing is to just live and you become apart of whatever community on the world they left you on. Then you let some years pass, so a few things can change. Maybe the eternal empire is destoryed, or the empire, or the republic, or maybe even there is another power that comes into play. Then one day when you’re doing your thing, a ship lands and out comes one of your original companions (from the original class story line) and they tell you what’s going on. You choose then whether to come back or not, and if you don’t the galaxy will keep getting worse. Give it a week until they try convincing you again with everything then finally have the story line lead where you say yes. From then on you go through some of the world’s you’ve been on and acquire resources and make new friends who will supply you with resources. Eventually, you’ll have a mini fleet and then pick a world to go and capture to set up your own base. From then on the story takes flight and you can do a mulitude of things. Ideally you would take down the eternal throne again defeating all of the people you helped when forging it. Then side with the republic or empire and do new missions or something…

Sorry I’m not the best with explaining or details, but hopefully this will let your imagination flow for a bit.


In practical terms, I just don’t see how you do it. There clearly aren’t enough resources being made available within Bioware to do anything beyond a minimal job. The result being they tend to focus on one aspect of the game to the detriment of the rest of the game. I think their return to focusing on story is laudable; but even as their number one focus recently, still manages to be completely sub par. Everything else isn’t even that good.

In lore terms, I just don’t see how they do it. I mean.. We discover the Eternal Empire, bring it to it’s knees within months? (weeks?) of being reawakened from carbonite. Then destroy it completely within another couple of months having neatly tied up the characters of consequence. Quickly forget the citizens of Zakuul and the droids and the eternal fleet and just move on as if you’re Patrick Duffy stepping out of the shower?

Unless we end up in carbonite again, which I grant you would at least be a solution to the plethora of companions I’m supposed to care about, but don’t.

I’m a big fan of “tear is down, and do it right next time”. But I think you need to be looking WAY wider than The Eternal Empire. And I just don’t see a “do it right next time” anywhere within the current MMO and/or RPG development world. Maybe CD Projekt Red, but I can’t keep relying on them solving all my gaming problems.

Knox Harrington

I haven’t even played through the second “Knights of..” expansion and I’m already sick of it. I was against this Outlander crap from the very beginning. I could foresee Bioware painting themselves in a corner and that’s exactly what they’ve done. They can’t afford to make two stories anymore so they went with this “shared” story crap and the only meaningful choices they can give us with that is via companions, which feels like a big disconnect when it involves companions I could care less about.

They haven’t done a good job of making me want to subscribe for this content, which is a problem because they haven’t had a respectable cadence of content in the entire history of the game. So not only is there a story I don’t care about, but there’s also little to do outside of it and what little there is to do doesn’t lend itself to replayability. When consumers have to go out of their way to find a reason to give you money, there’s a problem. Right now, the only reason to subscribe is because the game shits on you if you don’t.

I don’t know what the solution for Bioware is. Obviously they don’t have the resources nor the competence to give us the Star Wars MMO experience we deserve. I don’t even have any faith that they’ll manage to salvage the shit show they’ve created for themselves with this new direction they’ve gone in with the “Knights of..” expansions. I was happy with the Shadow of Revan expansion style. Granted, the story was ‘meh’ but at least there was plenty of other stuff to do. And they sacrificed all that to double down on the ‘meh’ story. If this is the best they can cook up, they need a new chef in the kitchen.


I don’t think the Eternal Empire necessarily has to die, but it needs to be taken down a notch or two… in the end of my story there will be a Republic, an Empire and a third faction, which is largely a criminal syndicate (kinda like the Zann Consortium) :)
Here is how it’s gonna happen

At the end of the Traiter story arc there is a superweapon, which is used on Iokath (it is activated by Theron to blow up and Dromund Kaas and Coruscant, and the countdown cannot be stopped, but the blast can be redirected… which is done by us) . It turns out, with Iokath destroyed the Eternal Fleet jumps into the nearest sun, it was a safeguard built into them at the beginning. The Gravestone turns out to be a last ditch effort by the people of Iokath before their destruction, and is programmed to self-destruct after the Eternal Fleet is no more.
So now it is a not all-powerful Eternal Empire against a weakened Republic and Empire., plus an Alliance. The Alliance lost the faith of the people of Zakuul, because we are seen as the destructors of their might (aka Eternal Fleet). The people of the alliance start to choose sides in the three-way war. (we have 4 factions: warriors, force users, criminals and scientist). Warriors and force users have rising infighting, with a few blaster shots and lightning/force waves sent, where The Commander tries to quell the conflicts. Criminals/smugglers start their own little side-adventures, which sometimes blow up in their faces and scientists are contracted by the Republic and Empire to go and work for them.
There is a big scene, where we get everyone together to smooth out our differences, but it quickly deteriorates into shouting and side-taking. Lana wants to support the Empire, Bey’wan Aygo wants to support the Republic, Hylo Visz wants to start freelancing for whoever pays more.
The heads of the factions, plus the commander get togethet to discuss things and they agree that they will go their separate ways and everyone can choose whereever they go. All our companions choose a side, according to their beliefs, but 3-4 chooses us, saying they will follow us wherever we go. We need to choose a faction now, which will be a final choice. We get around 5-10 comps (depending on who we unlocked).
Hylo and her band of smugglers join up with the People of Zakuul, who are in dire need of supplies and agree to get them stuff. They enlist the help of the Mandalorians, who will pillage the Republic and Empire. This faction can still use their original faction’s fleet, and join in their pvp (undercover of course). This faction also don’t really have a definite command structure, just a “Council of Elders” (We, Hylo, Shae, somebody from Zakuul, few others), who decide their direction.
In our original faction we were out of politics and high command for like 6-7 years, so while we are let back in, we are definitely not at the top and they send us on the most dangerous missions, so we might “accidently” die.

Future missions: a few pockets of resistance from all 3 sides, which we need to kill, schemes by our faction to kill us, denying victories for the opposing factions, etc… also, we will need a new arch-enemy. I think a grey force user will do (some Voss perhaps…) who uses all aspects of the force and think that jedi and sith are outdated

Formerly known as Sray
Formerly known as Sray

Alright, let’s see what we can do with this mess…

Warning, there may be minor spoilers for KotFE and KotET. If you haven’t played through them, and you respect your brain cells too much to abuse them in such a manner than to play through these stories, consider yourself fortunate that you’ll get to die a happier person than I.

For those wondering: I did not care for KotFE or KotET.

First of all, we are in agreement that the Eternal Empire needs to go away, and so do a crap ton of the companion characters. I know people love their companions, but they are the best means by which to make player actions have consequences, so a bunch of them are going to die no matter what you choose.

Here’s how we do it: Iokath turns out to be a gigantic overreach for everyone. Eternal Emprire. Republic. Sith Empire. It doesn’t end well for anyone. All of the comotion with the traitor and the other non-sense knocks a few things loose in the planetary computers system, and it turns out Scorpio and whatever original artificial intelligences remaining on Iokath don’t play well together: a schism develops, during which Scorpio and intelligences again take control of the Eternal Fleet to fight one another, and they end up devastating everything, leaving the Outlander (that name… ugg…) to put an end to the mess by blowing up Iokath once and for all.

During the blowing up of Iokath, about ten of the supporting cast are placed into positions where the player has to choose which ones to save, so that when the dust settles, you have 5 or 6 companions (plus ship droid, and any purchased/earned through events companions; just however many is enough for all your crafting needs plus a combat companion, but no more than that). For those of you who don’t like losing companion characters: tough beans; there’s way too many right now, and the losses will make the story actually have some weight.

Zakuul is steamrolled during all of this chaos, and knocked back into the stone ages; leaving it completely non-viable as any sort of power base. The high command for both the Republic and Sith Empire are wiped out, leaving power vacuums in both governments that end up being filled by less than competent folks, who quickly lose control of their respective territories (and much of their armed forces too).

The Eternal Empire is destroyed, and the Republic and Empire break up into both civil war with their nominal governments, and open war with other the factions. This gives us the ability to let the player choose which faction they wish to join now (stay same as original or switch), and have some explanation as to why whatever is happening on what planet is happening (why are Republic and Empire troops still at war on [insert planet name here]? it’s because no one is driving the bus anymore). Players at this point in the story who switch factions can now visit worlds they couldn’t before (ie. a Jedi Consular on Dromund Kaas), but only on a specific instance of that planet that is for players who have progressed that far in their personal stories (ie. a Sith Warrior still on chapter two would never see smuggler on Kaas becuase those originally Republic characters would be on a separate and unreachable instance; but they could once they’d advanced to this point in the story).

As for what the player character is doing at this point: they’re basically looking at being the most wanted criminal in the galaxy, so they have to choose a faction to work for in order to survive; and then from that point they’re essentially working as an enforcer for whichever incompetent government they’ve pledged themselves to. They run around the galaxy doing their dailies, flashpoints, raids, and etc to further the ends of whatever their faction leadership is trying to do; just now possibly on the opposite faction of what they started off as.

And one last very, very, very important thing: ABSOLUTELY NO TALK ABOUT THE FORCE (beyond anything that explains why Jedi and Sith can do what they do), THE WILL OF THE FORCE, OR ANYTHING ELSE LIKE THAT FOR AT LEAST TWO YEARS.

Pivot the tone back toward a sci-fi story with a fantastical element (aka the Force), rather than the fantasy story in a sci-fi skin that it’s been for the last few years.

This is nothing against people who like their Star Wars more on the fantasy side, but the sci-fi story with fantastical elements works much better for the “one size fits all” story: a massive complaint held by many people was the fact that the “Knights of…” stories made zero sense for half of the classes. My main was a bounty hunter and my eyes still hurt from how much I was rolling them during most of my play through of the first season; and I only went through the second season on an alt Jedi made specifically for that. I’m not alone in that feeling. Sci-fi with a fantastic element works for everyone; fantasy in a sci-fi skin leaves a lot of people in the cold.

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“You know what most fans of Star Wars care about? The Empire and the Republic, or possibly the Jedi and the Sith.”

That is almost exactly what I told Bioware when I unsubbed.

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I originally wrote this post in a WRUP column a couple of weeks ago — but I’m not certain anyone saw it, as I posted quite late. I’m not even sure the poster (Koshelkin) who I was nominally answering saw it. :-)

The post is long, but it covers pretty much everything I have to say about the current state of the writing in SWTOR, I think, so I figured I’d just offer it again here:


Sorry for the late (and long) reply. Koshelkin. The week’s been a tad frenetic …

I actually don’t have a lot of problems, myself, with my character being the head of a small third-faction organization by endgame — as with most things SWTOR these days, my problem is not so much the ideas in the game, but what the developers do with those ideas.

My problem with my character being the Alliance leader — beyond the fact that he’s a Smuggler/Gunslinger and didn’t actually want the job — is that he really doesn’t have any real say in what happens with “his” Alliance at all.

For all that Lana Beniko and the rest call me “Commander” and talk about how crucial I am, and how amazing I’ve been — inside the game’s story, I effectively work for them.

Nearly every story chapter starts with Lana, or Senya, or Theron or Koth, or somebody saying “Commander! A Very Bad Thing(tm) is happening, and we need to do x, y, and z immediately to stop it!!!”

And I get to agree, or not. And if not, I get told why disagreeing is not an option, and my character gets to reconsider and agree. :-)

Look, I do know they’re trying to tell us a story — obviously, we have to go along with the plot hooks if we want to see the new content. That’s not my problem.

My problem is, what fun story or gameplay benefits come out of being the Alliance Commander? What cool play options does it open up for endgame characters?

You guessed it. None, basically — unless a player really gets off on NPCs calling her Commander, or constantly singing his praises.

The whole Commander thing is basically just one big plot hook, and not much else. It doesn’t really add anything to one’s play experience (unless one is a praise junkie, as above).

Sure, you’re consulted on political events in the cutscenes, but how much input does the player really have as a “third faction” leader? None that I can see.

Remember when the game let us save only two of the three sets of faction representatives? (Republic, Sith Empire, Zakuulan) What ever came of that choice? Nothing.

And even if it does come up again, it’s been ignored for so long already, it’s lost its impact for players. Another story thread started and effectively dropped.

Remember when you possibly forged a cordial personal relationship between your Alliance and Empress Acina of the Sith?

That was intriguing, but it doesn’t matter now because the writers decided to have her go absolutely crazy-pants and hateful not long after. She’s not even Empress anymore.

See what I mean? — I don’t mind that my guy is Alliance commander, but being Alliance commander doesn’t really mean anything or do anything in the game, so why have it?

We have so little player agency (i.e. the ability to affect the game around us — or even the illusion that we can do so) in Star Wars: The Old Republic that it all feels a little false.

This is part of why I’m personally opposed to going back to the standard Republic versus Sith warfare as the focus of the game also — because it’s false.

Neither side will ever win the war, or the game will be over, so sending me on missions where I have to go kill X people “for the sake of the war effort” always feel dull and lazy and mildly annoying to me.

I think SWTOR, and the best of the Star Wars films, work best when the war is the background element against which stories about the characters play out.

The original Star Wars had this; Empire Strikes Back had this; Rogue One had this; Star Wars Rebels has this at its best points.

Even SWTOR’s original character stories had this at their best moments — they weren’t so much about “the war which will never end because it can’t, or we’re done” as they were about what was happening to our character and our character’s friends against the backdrop of galactic war.

I hope we can get back to that sort of gameplay in SWTOR some day.

My opinions, only of course. Yours may vary, and that’s absolutely cool.



The eternal empire already graced us with stopping being “in this week’s episode of Meet the Valkorions” and I don’t resent too much a three-or-more factions system, if only it’d actually became a central part of the story. They tried to shake up the status quo with the hutts but resolved it faster than you can say “I am your father, Luke”, with everything defaulted back to factory settings.

Just don’t you touch my companions! Whether I like it or not, they turned them in some sort of progression/assets system, no more no less than strongholds… and unless I can pick who to leave behind, I’m not sacrificing aaaaanybody for the sake of cheap drama.

/hugs Blizz like a teddybear… my precious, nobody is gonna take you away from me…