I’m rarely surprised by a SWTOR storyline anymore. Even if there is a nice twist, it’s not totally unexpected, and it can usually be predicted that your character will play a side role in whatever conflict is happening in the galaxy at large. But it seems to me that BioWare has taken that criticism to heart and shifted focus in its storytelling in a big and surprising way.
In order to get into the depths of what I mean by SWTOR returning to form, I will have to spoil the storyline, but I also would like to help encourage people to play through this storyline. So I will compromise: The first part of this article will be a spoiler-free discussion of the long flashpoint that makes up the majority of Update 5.9, The Nathema Conspiracy. But the second part will be completely hidden under spoiler tags and will discuss what sets this storyline apart from the previous two years of storylines.
At first, I wondered how in the world BioWare was going to clean up the traitor storyline in a single flashpoint. The answer is a bit complicated because the flashpoint itself was a bit longer than most flashpoints, and the story itself extends beyond the flashpoint. I’d like to start with the flashpoint itself. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil anything but mechanics.
The flashpoint itself takes place on Nathema. If you’ve played through the Knights of the Eternal Throne storyline, then you’ve been to this planet when you attempted to stop Vaylin from removing her conditioning. MJ and I visited there in our last Choose-My-Alignment livestream. It is a gorgeously rendered planet. I know that MJ was taking screenshots the whole time. Although the world is supposed to be dead, the way BioWare constructed the landscape it appeared very organic like you would imagine a city right after a nuclear explosion.
The update to Nathema in this flashpoint continues that trend of an apocalyptic aftermath, but now life is starting to reemerge. Now we see trees and — well, it’s not grass — let’s call it moss on the ground and fallen buildings. I have so many screenshots. It’s just amazingly conceived.
I’m not going to give a full guide to the bosses themselves, but if that’s what you’re looking for, Dulfy, of course, has an amazing guide on her website that discusses the specific mechanics of each fight and what to do and not to do. However, if you play like me, you wing it and hope you figure out the mechanics as the fight moves along.
As I mentioned before, Nathema is now coming back to life with Valkorion’s influence over the world gone. Unfortunately, not all the new life is friendly. The Valkorion Zealots kept many creatures for experiments and training Vaylin. Some of them are just nasty, like the Voreclaw. This was a fun little fight that uses an external stun mechanic. You have to lure that creature to specific points on the map and activate pillars to stun him before he can take damage.
As with all the good SWTOR flashpoints, there is a bonus boss. Nathema is no exception. This boss — although fun — was the most disappointing because the mechanics weren’t as interesting. It was mostly a tank-and-spank with a side of stay-out-of-stupid.
The Ancient Guardian droid was probably the most interesting since this one required that you not kill something. The encircling mobs actually served to remove the shield from the primary boss and also act as protection from one of the bosses abilities. I play a tank, so I was able to absorb most of the damage or saber reflect it back to the boss.
The last two bosses sort of combined. When one boss fight ends, the next one picks up right after that. I don’t think I’m giving anything away in telling you that one of the bosses is a GEMINI droid. And if you remember the GEMINI fight in KOTET, you’ll recognize some of the mechanics in this fight, but combine it with the Voreclaw fight and tae it to the next level. It was a good, fun fight. The second boss was a bit more straightforward; just kill the adds ASAP.
Spoiler territoryClick to reveal spoilers!
I feel that’s where the main character of the SWTOR story sat. He or she was at a place where no one could do anything substantial to him or her. The Outlander or Alliance Commander was in a place where the most powerful nation in the galaxy bent its knee before him or her. The Eternal fleet and the only object in the universe that could destroy that fleet were under the Alliance Commander’s control.
How do you write a character out of that corner? You destroy everything that character has that give him power. First, you make one of his most trusted allies a traitor. Then you show him that everything that he’s done as the most powerful character is wrong by giving him an enemy that has actually suffered from the fallout of the main character’s actions. Then last but not least you destroy his source of power.
We saw this building in the stories leading up to the Nathema Conspiracy. First, we take away Theron Shan, by having him trade sides. We have to keep everything ambiguous so that there is a chance that Theron could be a double agent. Then we give him a sympathetic enemy in the form of Vinn Atrius, who is a Zakullan who has seen nothing but a power grab from the Outlander, even if it wasn’t true. Then the ultimate teardown was the Eternal Fleet and the Gravestone. Without those major weapons, the Outlander was just like any other leader in the Star Wars Universe.
At the end of the Nathema Conspiracy, the player choices have consequences that affect the character’s future. It’s possible to lose Theron, and not just Theron but all the Republic allies, too. Or you could lose all your Imperial friends. The writers have put us back into a good narrative place. It appears we are no longer going to be the leader of some third faction, but we have to make a choice about whom we are going to serve — a position that many players of SWTOR wanted us to be in again.
What are your thoughts? Do you like what BioWare has done with this latest update? What are your hopes for the future stories? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.