Friday, February 03, 2012

Pics or it didn't happen!

Huh... turns out that Chapter 2 goes much more quickly than Chapter 1. (Oh: I'm still talking about Star Wars: The Old Republic; I don't really talk about anything else these days.) So, I'll amend my earlier statement and do a mini-ish update here, and probably still another one at the end of chapter 3, which I'm GUESSING is the end of the storyline, but it's hard to say for sure. Let's see... I guess we could say that the prologue was about levels 1-10; Chapter 1 was about levels 11-32 (or 35 for me); and Chapter 2 was about levels 33-40 (I beat it at level 42, but I think the final boss was 40).

Anyways... before I get into spoilerville, I decided that I wanted to share a couple of actual images from the game. I'm getting unusually attached to my main character: Seberin is a cyborg Operative, known as Cipher Agent 9. He's quiet, very observant, and tends to play a very long game. He works for the Empire, but doesn't particularly care for the Sith; he has quietly betrayed his own masters on several occasions without them ever finding out. He follows a fairly utilitarian philosophy of promoting the greatest good for the greatest number of people. He does believe that the order of the Empire can lead to the maximum benefit for the galaxy, so long as its worst instincts towards cruelty are blunted. His faint feelings of patriotism lead him to oppose the Republic, especially when they are encroaching on Imperial territory, but he respects and even admires certain individuals within the Republic, just as he pursues secret vendettas against some powerful Sith.

So, here we go. These were all taken from around level 38-42, but there isn't anything real spoilery in them.

 Riding my custom-built speeder bike around Hoth.

 Confronting my target.

All things considered, this mission actually ended rather well.

Enjoying some down-time on my ship with my newest recruit.

Re-negotiating the terms of my contract.

Okay, here are MEGA SPOILERS for the IMPERIAL AGENT storyline for CHAPTER TWO (roughly until LEVEL FORTY-TWO)

When last we left Seberin, he was recuperating from his exhausting fight against the Eagle's terror network, and his reveal of Darth Jadus's treacherous power-grab. Watcher Two, who has now become Keeper, taps Seberin to infiltrate the SIS, the Republic's secret service. They're specifically eager to capture Ardun Kothe, a high-ranking SIS agent who has been given unprecedented power by the Republic Senate to head off a second war against the Empire. He has been using this autonomy to destabilize the Empire, to recruit away Imperial Agents, and infiltrate Imperial systems and communication. So, you receive your own autonomy: not officially sanctioned, but the Dark Council tacitly approves you taking any actions necessary to apprehend Kothe. Specifically, Keeper 2.0 asks you to become a double agent: present yourself as a defector, do whatever necessary to gain Kothe's trust (including killing Imperials and furthering the Republic's plans), and bring him in.

You make contact with Kothe's cell on Nar Shaddaa (yes! I love excuses to go here). They don't trust you, of course, and have you prove your loyalty by fighting against Imperials. Eventually, they admit you into the cell, but there's a catch: they brainwash you. Well, I'm not sure if "brainwash" is the right term... it's more of a Manchurian Candidate situation than a cult member. Most of the time you are free to take whatever action you want, but you are unable to tell anyone about what they did to you; you are unable to cause harm to any member of the SIS; and, when anyone uses your keyword ("Onomonophobia", I think), they can give you a command that you will be compelled to carry out.

The bulk of Chapter 2 thus has you actually carrying out Republic missions; you're still an Imperial, of course, so you'll need to fight Republic soldiers when you find them, but your goals are all to further the Republic's aims. There are a ton of role-playing options here; I chose to play along with the cell, gradually winning over their trust one by one, saving lives and acting reasonable even when not compelled to do so.

Soon after the operation, you start hearing a voice in your head. At first I'd thought it was Kothe's, but it seemed to be on my side and would actually advise me on how to thwart Kothe. I started to speculate about who it could be. Was it the Emperor? Or... could it be Darth Revan? I remembered that time back on Dromund Kaas when I had retrieved Revan's artifact, and been knocked unconscious by some sort of psychic power; could Revan's spirit be inhabiting my head? 

And then... there's an AWESOME sequence on your ship where you have a series of hallucinations. It's a bit brief, but I loved it. It's totally bizarre and phantasmagorical, with your trusted crew members transformed into nightmarish apparitions, a strange creature appearing on your ship; you try to run, but the doors and floor seem to move around. Whoever created this cut-scene deserves some sort of an award.

Out of all the creatures you saw, one sticks around afterwards: Watcher X. Yep, the creepy bald dude from Nar Shaddaa who I'd killed on the tarmac outside my space ship was now inhabiting my brain-pan. I actually chatted with him a bit, and we came to the tentative conclusion that he was a hallucination... but a very knowledgeable and persuasive hallucination. Talking with him/myself, I came to a realization: the Republic had brainwashed me, but the Republic doesn't have the technology to do it. Brainwashing is an Imperial science. Therefore, Kothe didn't actually turn me into a vegetable; he just discovered the key to a lock that my own employers in Intelligence has previously installed.

There's a cool mission that takes place on Dromund Kaas where you sneak into the Intelligence Archives to uncover evidence about your programming. It's a fun, high-tension situation; you can't explain to Intelligence what's going on, and even if you could, they presumably wouldn't be up-front about the secret operation they'd performed on you against your will.  You're talking with Intelligence handlers through your communicator while fighting Intelligence security droids and slicing into their systems. It's very cool, Mission Impossible-style stuff.

The mid-to-late part of Chapter 2 sees you continuing your mandatory service to the SIS, but at the same time, you're investigating your own past, trying to figure out what the Empire had done to you, and building a concoction that can help reverse the effects. It's a slow process, and you still aren't cured when Kothe summons all the members of the cell together for a "final" mission together. And that mission is on - drum roll please - Quesh! Yes, that weird little planet that I thought I'd left forever!

An earlier mission on Hoth had turned up a space craft created by a famous Republican inventor, which contained information and material that could significantly help the Republic's war effort. Among other things, this ship included information about the inventor's cache on Quesh. Retrieving this inventory would drastically advance the Republic's war readiness by several years. It was a critical time to make or break my mission.

I lowered the shields on the factory, only to find that the SIS was cutting me loose - Kothe seemed regretful, but he ordered me to stay in position by the shield control panel, where I would surely be discovered and likely killed; meanwhile, he and the more trusted operatives would carry out the rest of the mission. At this point, I finally broke through the remainder of the conditioning, and talked with "Watcher X" about the way forward. This led up to what I think may be one of the most critical questions in the whole game so far; it didn't have any Light Side / Dark Side implications, so I couldn't even use that to guide me. The question is something like, "You can now reprogram yourself. What do you want?" There are three possible options, which I think are basically something like: "I want to be free"; "Push me beyond my limits"; and "I only want revenge". The third one was a bit too evil for me, even with the accumulated annoyances of the past few weeks. I ultimately decided on the first option, to claim my own freedom; I did like the selfish tint of "Push me beyond my limits," but that seemed like the type of genie wish that would come back to haunt me, and I was not at all prepared to give Watcher X the benefit of my doubt. So: we reprogrammed my brain to remove the old commands, and to reject any future attempts at programming. At last, I was free. Free!

The building was swarming with enemies, and I gradually made my way towards Kothe's vanguard. The other members of his team were pinned down by enemy fire; they were a bit surprised that I was wandering around free, but I was able to lie my way through them. And easily so - they'd already grown to trust me, and of course they believed that the programming was still intact. I let them go - they were just soldiers, and doing their perceived duty.

I confronted Kothe next. Unlike the others, he quickly figured out what was going on - I was no longer on his chain, but that also meant I was no longer on the Imperial chain either. I actually really liked Kothe - he seems to have genuine compassion for the people he meets, and his goals and mine really weren't all that different - but there wasn't any way to avoid this fight, so I plunged into it. It ended up being one of the easiest Elite fights I've done, and fortunately it didn't have any of the horrible bugginess that had plagued the Darth Jadus fight earlier. I did this fight with Doctor Lokin, which was quite unusual for me - I almost always fight alongside Kaliyo these days, and haven't bothered to give Lokin anything other than my own castoffs - but we were able to take him down without resorting to anything unusual. Aaaanyways... afterwards, I actually decided to let Kothe go (light side) rather than kill him (dark side) or turn him over to the Empire (light side). Again: he had my sympathy; I'd already managed to break up his primary plan (material acquisition for the Republic); and, frankly, I didn't exactly have a lot of contacts within the Republic, and it seems like knowing someone on the inside who owes me could be more useful than to have Kothe chilling his heels in a torture cell somewhere.

Dr. Lokin wasn't too happy that I was letting Kothe go; but, when I asked him to keep this secret from our handlers, he was delighted. That man loves secrets wrapped within secrets.

I was a bit concerned about how I'd be received by Headquarters - I had provided a great deal of material support to the Republic over the course of my mission, and seemingly didn't have anything to show for it, particularly not my primary objective of Kothe. But, Watcher 2 focused on the positive: the Empire had succeeded in seizing the cache that Kothe was after, and so that technology was adding to our already-impressive lead in the arms race. Watcher 2 says that I've changed the course of the war, and we're now actually getting ready for an assault upon Coruscant itself. Exciting stuff, which I'm sure will be explored in Chapter 3.

That's it for the plot, but I now realize that I managed to entirely skip past my companions, so let's delve into them a bit more.

I got into Vector's personal story a bit more. The Killiks are native to Alderaan, but not restricted to there; apparently, at one time long ago in Alderaan's past, The Nest swarmed, and offshoots of the Killiks traveled to other worlds. Vector, in his role as the Dawn Herald, wishes to find if any of these other hives survive, and if so, to make contact with them and re-establish links between the galactic Killik community. He thought he had failed, but ended up catching the interest of another Joiner who had observed his search, and so she initiated contact with him. I think they like each other. At the same time, Vector has also been interested in forming an alliance between the Empire and the Hive; this seems like the perfect goal and a possible crowning life achievement for Vector, who is so obsessed with diplomacy, the Empire, and the Killiks. He is rebuffed, but explores his personal contacts and calls upon my help to push the alliance forwards. I don't think I'm to the end of this plot yet, and it'll be interesting to see what happens there.

I didn't really like Taris that much, but it was where I met Dr. Lokin, one of the more interesting companions I've had yet. I haven't totally figured him out yet, and judging from his dossier, it sounds like Intelligence hasn't figured him out either. He's a Fixer for IA, but their own records on him are pretty spotty, and they don't know what to make of him. His public persona is as a scientist, and he's focused on investigating the Rakghoul plague/species on Taris. He assists you on your quests on that planet, and joins your team at the end, after you discover his secret: he has purposefully infected himself with the Rakghoul strain, and has the ability to transform himself into a Rakghoul... or back into a human, more or less (though apparently not entirely) at will. (Vector observes that, when he's in his human form, he "smells" fully human, without any hint of the alien about him.) Lokin is pretty old, visibly around sixty but likely even older than that; he's also very mature, and gets along really well with all the other members of the crew, even with his occasionally slightly condescending attitude. I always ask for his advice, which he appreciates. In combat (which we rarely do together), I always keep him in human form, and he mostly focuses on healing me, although he does have a cool and useful freezing attack that can immobilize enemies. Like I said before, I haven't totally figured him out yet... he's been around for a long time, and has casually mentioned the fact that he has a plethora of safehouses and hideouts scattered around the galaxy. He seems to have worked within IA for practically his whole life, but (or maybe I should say "so") he doesn't trust them, and has offered gentle advice for a budding young career agent like me: pay attention to politics, keep your head down, and always make sure you're looking after your own interests.

I haven't talked much about Hoth, which was the one new planet for Chapter 2 that I didn't get into during my previous post. It was... pretty good, I guess. The terrain feels a bit like Tatooine, in that for the most part it's pretty wide open, with lots of open space and easy navigation; the exceptions are pretty annoying, like one central pit where you need to go to track down some Broken Maw (is that what they're called?) pirates. The thing I LOVED about Hoth, though, is that it's the first place where you meet a large number of Chiss. Do you know the Chiss? They're awesome. I don't want to get into this too deeply - it's pretty deeply nerdy fanboy stuff, and I haven't been a Star Wars fanboy since high school - but the Chiss were first introduced in Timothy Zahn's excellent (I think) "Heir to the Empire" trilogy, notably in the antihero Grand Admiral Thrawn. Since then, they've become a fan-favorite, and are now an established part of the Star Wars canon. The Chiss are a blue-skinned humanoid species, and are the one race/government that's been allied with the Empire. In all other cases, the Empire has conquered and subjugated planets; the Chiss, though, negotiated their own entry into the Empire, and while they fervently support the Empire's military and pay taxes, they're allowed to retain total control over their internal affairs. (There's a great analogy to be made here, with the Empire corresponding with the historic Roman Empire.) SW:TOR makes it pretty clear that the Empire is a pretty racist institution: the Sith hold all the top posts; humans occupy almost all of the bureaucracy and military; and all other races are considered inferior, only used for servants. The Chiss an an aberration, and on Hoth you can see the uneasy but largely respectful way that Chiss and humans work alongside one another. The Chiss are highly capable, and fully devoted to the cause, and so I used my growing influence to help promote Chiss within the Hoth expeditionary force, for the first time placing a mixed regiment under the command of a blue-skin.

Man, I didn't mean for that tangent to go so long. Hoth is where you run into Ensign Raina Temple, who is an aberration herself: she is clearly human, but is serving within the Chiss hierarchy instead of the human hierarchy. She's incredibly competent, eager, and loyal, and provides most of your direction on the planet. At the end, she oversees you acquiring the Republic shuttle; she doesn't understand the significance of it, but she's become a potential threat to you now. I talked my handler into allowing Temple to join my crew, where I would be held responsible for her.

EDIT: I realized after posting that I had neglected to mention WHY Ensign Temple was serving with the Chiss, thus making this whole section even more shaggy-dog than intended. I'm still learning more about her backstory, but as best as I can tell, she was embarrassed as a child when her father, a career officer in the Imperial Army, disobeyed orders and neglected some duty. (She hasn't yet specified exactly what that duty was.) She wants to correct her father's perceived failing and serve the Empire faithfully. However, she discovered as a young adult that she was force-sensitive; you find evidence of this yourself on Hoth when she uses a variation on Kenobi's Jedi mind trick to disarm some enemies. As a force-sensitive non-Sith, she would be forced to attend the Sith Academy on Korriban. People who graduate the Academy can become very powerful within the Empire; but most of the non-Sith who attend die, and she wasn't too optimistic about her chances. So, she left for Chiss space, where she impressed the Chiss with her copious skills. They trust her completely, and recently had been taking advantage of her familiarity with Imperial customs to use her as a liason during the joint Chiss/Imperial expedition.

ALSO AN EDIT: The screen-grabs above include images of Lokin and Temple. I've since picked new customizations for both of these characters; I'll try and post updated pictures in a future post. 

Temple is the second romance option for male Imperial Agents. (As far as I can tell, SW:TOR doesn't allow Dragon Age-style same-sex romances.) By this point, I was already pretty far along with the Kaliyo romance, if you can call it that... well, I'd been running a while behind in her personal storyline; I usually had her along with me, and generally picked conversation choices that she liked (I had to suffer the occasional -30 penalty from certain Light Side choices I made, but those were far outweighed by some +30 Light Side choices, and a steady stream of +15s for the pro-chaos decisions I made), but whenever I had an actual conversation with her, it would lead to a measly +5 experience, which probably means that I was having them many levels later than the game intended. (My conversations with other companions usually gives me more like +10,000.) Hmm... did I talk at ALL about the Kaliyo romance in my earlier post? Looks like I didn't. Well. She's a wild one, for sure... she loves violence and chaos, and as you eventually learn (and probably could have guessed), she was actually a member of an anarchist group in her youth. She CONSTANTLY lies to you, most memorably when she asks you to help rescue a female friend (and maybe lover?) of hers who has been captured by criminals on Nar Shaddaa, only to say after you rescue her that she's planning on selling her to a bounty hunter for some nice cash. I let her "friend" escape, which infuriated Kaliyo; worse, she wasn't even willing to accept my own lies about what happened. Later on, I figured out that I could advance her story by buying and giving her a ton of gifts... I'd kind of assumed that there would be some diminishing returns for repeatedly giving the same gifts, but there usually aren't; I can keep handing her Padded Weapons Cases and keep getting +96 Affection for quite a long while. So, I eventually spent some time in the Imperial Fleet buying a bunch of gifts off the Galactic Trade Network and giving them to Kaliyo. (She likes Weapons, and used to like Luxuries.) This unlocked a bunch of other conversations that moved out storyline forward. Kaliyo... she's a character, but definitely not someone you would settle down with; she sleeps with other men, continues to lie, and just generally does her own thing.

So, by the time Temple came along, I was ready to cast in my lot with someone new. Kaliyo took this AMAZINGLY well. I remember a similar situation in Dragon Age: Origins, where I had started a relationship with Morrigan before settling on Leliana, and needed to absorb a massive loss of approval to make the switch. Here, amazingly, I actually got a +15 from Kaliyo for dumping her - I think because I did it in a straightforward, upfront manner; it probably also helps that she's clearly uncomfortable with the idea of monogamy and feels slightly threatened by any long-term commitment. (There's some really cool, subtle POV used in the cut scenes with Kaliyo on your ship, where a few of the shots are taken from an air vent or something high up, which leads to the unstated impression that Kaliyo is spying on your meetings with Temple.) So far, the Temple relationship has been much more enjoyable than the Kaliyo one, and I'm curious to see where it goes.


I think that'll do it for now. I'll be kicking off Chapter Three shortly, and am looking forward to it!

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