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Monthly Archives: December 2011

May you all receive great power as long as you are strong enough to seize it! 🙂

And for those on the Light Side, peace on Earth and goodwill to all men.

I hope everyone reading this has a great holiday break and may 2012 be a different year from 2011.

Finally got my SW:TOR early access email last night; naturally, it came through while I was out at the office Christmas over-indulgence fest. So, as someone who pre-ordered on November the 30th I was allowed in on December 15th, i.e. I got the 5 days of early access originally advertiseed despite being late to the party. I’d like to think the monstrously entitled whining noises on the forums will now subside as everyone should be in by the end of today… but I’m sure people will find something else to complain about. Syncaine seems to be leading the charge with a moan about the two day grace period, although I’m not sure his motives as a champion of people eager to play a theme park MMO are actually that pure 🙂

Anyway, I ended up creating characters on Kellian Jarro, one of the newer PvE servers that didn’t have a queue when I got to log in a little after 22:00 last night, and I’m looking forward to having a run around as Tremayne the Sith Warrior and Seethe the Inquisitor over the weekend… well, apart from when I’m at my daughter’s birthday party, anyway!

Continuing on from the previous post, I have a few thoughts on playing the Imperial Agent. The IA is in my opinion the odd character class out on the Imperial side – he’s the only character there who is actually a part of Imperial (as opposed to Sith) society.

The Sith stand above and apart from the Imperials, in the same way that the Jedi are separate from the government and organisations of the Republic. The Empire has armed forces, a governing bureaucracy and a civilian economy all of which function perfectly well without direct governance from the Sith. Meanwhile the Sith attend to their own affairs – learning the secrets of the Dark Side, indulging in their favourite sport of murdering each other for advantage and pursuing their ancient vendetta with the Jedi. To be an Imperial Agent is to be part of the apparatus of most of the Imperial society that goes on its own way with the occasional bothersome interruption from their lords and masters. If the Sith and Jedi both vanished, the Empire and Republic would both exist – and would still be at war. The roots of that war go back hundreds of years to the Great Hyperspace War, and the decision of the Republic to utterly destroy the Sith civilisation after defeating it. The Empire of today are the descendants of the small, ragtag fleet of survivors that were all that escaped the destruction of their colonies (wait, I’ve heard this one before…) – anyway, the Imperials have a very justifiable grievance to settle with the Republic; they aren’t just the mindless minions of the Dark Side Sith doing battle with the Light Side Jedi.

As an Imperial, you can be in awe of the Sith who are the very apex of your culture, the living representatives of the Emperor who saved your people from disaster and rebuilt them into a force to be reckoned with; or you can regard them as a dangerous, squabbling nuisance that has to be placated while you and your fellows get on with the important work, as a sort of covert Jeeves in the service of a psychopathic, Force sensitive Bertie Wooster. Either way, as an Imperial citizen you know the truth. The Republic, for all their public moralising, aren’t any better than the Empire. They bang on about democracy and liberty, and then tried to genocide your own people. The Republic are a bunch of sanctimonious hypocrites, and their vaunted democracy is just a smokescreen for corruption and inefficiency while the Empire offers order and certainty. Now that has to be a cause worth fighting, killing, dying, and doing anything else that may be necessary for.

In the run-up to actually getting into playing the game, I’ve been having a think about the characters you get to play in terms of actual CHARACTER instead of game mechanics – in other words, how to role-play in TOR. Now, I don’t normally go for an RP server or join an RP guild in MMOs, and what I say in-game varies from mildly RP to completely OOC depending on the company I’m in and my mood. On the other hand, as an old pen and paper roleplayer and occasional writer of fiction, I do tend to think about character and setting and not just optimum talent builds and skill rotations anyway, and I found TOR’s character story and use of dialogue bringing that to the fore during the beta weekends. Since I found the dark side to be more fun, I’ve put most effort into thinking about the Imperial character classes. I’ll take a stab at the Sith classes here (Warrior and Inquisitor) and then take a look at Imperial Agents and Bounty Hunters another time.

The first problem is that it’s very easy to portray the Sith and the Empire as stereotyped cartoon villains, because, well, that’s what they are. Most games with multiple player factions go out of their way to portray all sides as equally good or bad, at least from their own point of view. Not so the case here – this is Star Wars, where the good guys are the good guys and the bad guys wear faux Nazi costumes and speak with British accents. While Bioware are happy to throw in some moral ambiguity on the Republic quests, there’s little doubt that the Sith are evil with a capital E.V.I.L. Not just the “ain’t we cool, we wear black and have an attitude” so-called evil that appeals to rebellious adolescents, but genuine oppressive, genocidal, torturing nasty pieces of work. Given that, you could easily play a Sith as a murdering psychopath who slaughters his way across the galaxy, Force choking anyone who looks at him crosswise and needing regular shiploads of goons to replace the minions he kills himself in a fit of temper. After all, that pretty much describes Darth Vader.

But that would be boring. At the very least, I want someone in the mold of the original Inquisitor Tremayne from my old PnP Star Wars campaign: urbane, intelligent and while he may be utterly ruthless where necessary, not prone to committing dumb and self-destructive acts purely because he’s wearing a ‘hey, I’m evil!’ badge. Even better, can I take things a level beyond George Lucas’ Saturday-matinee style of morality and create a character that’s a ‘good’ Sith while still remaining true to the setting? Let’s take a look at the Sith Code – something you get explained to your Warrior Inquisitor early on, and encapsulates the Sith teachings:

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.

I find the interesting thing is that the Sith Code doesn’t mention anger or hatred at all. The Sith Code is about PASSION. Sure, a lot of the Sith you meet are vicious, evil buggers, but that’s probably because anger and hatred and fear are the easiest strong emotions to produce on demand, when any strong emotion will call upon the dark side. I can imagine a Sith Warrior who is a berserker, who finds joy and revels in battle and the glory of struggle and victory, without necessarily being driven by hatred and cruelty. This guy is giving vent to his emotions in a way that is utterly alien to the Jedi, he’s going to seek out conflict because fighting is what he does best – but he’s not driven to crush and dominate, but rather to battle against worthy foes. Out of combat, he can be honourable and probably good company in a rambunctious, hearty way. For role models, look to Conan or any half-decent movie or book with viking characters (personal picks – The 13th Warrior for a movie, Robert Low’s series of novels about the Oathsworn for reading).

That’s the Warrior. For the more cerebral Sith Inquisitors, I offer a more enlightened view of the Sith Code. Most Sith take the first line of the code to exhort them to an endless round of murder, betrayal and internecine warfare, trying to reach the top of the hierarchy through a brutal Darwinian process that ultimately leaves you as either Emperor or dead. I think that’s a narrow reading of the Sith code. It’s not necessarily a call to endless strife. Maybe that first line would be better stated as “Tranquility is a lie, there is only passion”. The Jedi way is to seek serenity, and to act from a center of calm and balance. The Sith way is to take the raw energy of your emotions and channel them. The danger of the Sith way is that the darker emotions such as hate and fear are lot easier to call up and channel, and also that in the grip of these emotions you may let them rule you instead of you ruling them. So most Sith indulge in hatred and perform hateful acts… but that means that they haven’t achieved victory. The last set of chains are ones they have set upon themselves, by letting their anger and hatred control their actions.

Only when a Sith has the power of will to master his emotions and make them his servant has he achieved true victory, broken his chains and become truly free to do what he will. Freedom and victory don’t have to require crushing every other being in the galaxy. Once you have mastered yourself, you are truly free whatever your immediate circumstances. Even if you give your service to another – if you have done so of your own volition, that doesn’t mean that you are not free. The enlightened Sith, at the end of his journey, may stand at the right hand of the Emperor as his willing servant and ally, master of himself yet dedicating that mastery to serve a cause he believes is just and worthy. Whether other, lesser Sith who are still slaves to their own fears can believe that that is truly your position is another matter.

The thoughts above give me some hooks to hang a Sith character on, at least. I hope if anyone who reads this is planning on playing the Imperial side they find it sparks some thoughts of their own. And any Republic players who read it may realise that their opponent is not necessarily just a marauding psychotic with a red lightsaber. He might be far more dangerous than that.

While I’m waiting for the game to launch, here are just a few things I found out during the beta that were useful but maybe not communicated as well as they could have been by the game:

You can area loot by setting the option in preferences. I had been grumbling to myself about this after being spoilt by Rift for a year, and then spotted the option. In a game where a typical combat encounter is a pack of enemies rather than a solo, it sure helps to be able to grab all the goodies with a single mouse click after the fight. The range for the AoE looting seems quite good as well, which is handy given how all the knockback effects and ranged blaster fire result in bodies scattered all over the place.

Once you’ve area looted and your backpack is filling up, you can order your companion to go sell all of your grey loot items for you. Your companion disappears for a minute and when they return you get the credits. Note to Sith Warriors – you send Vette off to the shops without keeping an eye on her at your own risk. On the other hand, she does still have that electro-shock collar fitted…

In space combat, you use missiles by holding down the right mouse button and pulling it across targets. As the cursor touches targets, you’ll see a lock on indicator around each one, up to a maximum of four. When you release the button, your ship launches a missile at each locked on target. Great for taking down a gun battery or two on enemy frigates before they start pounding on you, or for continuing to kill stuff while your shields regenerate (ship shields don’t regen while your lasers are firing). The expanded missile magazines are the #1 must have ship upgrade in my book.

You get your companions and your ship from following your class storyline. The answer to the guys asking how to get them in public chat is simple – keep following the story quests. The answer to people who whine that they’re hardcore PvPers and shouldn’t have to do PvE to get goodies is… well, it’s dependent on your choice of faction. As a Sith Inquisitor, I have a number of ways of, ahem, accepting their apology 🙂

Finally, one thing I didn’t find in beta and wish I had done. While SW:TOR doesn’t have skill forwarding (i.e. my heals targeted at an enemy go to target of target), it does have a focus target system. This means I can set a focus target as a kind of alternate target, and if I hold a key down while using an ability it goes to the focus target instead of the normal target. This is handy for a Sith Sorcerer – I can set Khem Val as my focus target and then throw Static Barrier and heals at him as needed whilst tabbing through enemies to burn down with lightning. The video that explained it to me is here

So, I got some solid time in on SW:TOR last weekend and it’s with some sadness that I realise that the servers are now being wiped and Tremayne the Sith Warrior, Kian the Bounty Hunter and Sareitra the Dark Side Sorceress are no more… at least until I get to re-create them. At least I had a chance to experiment with the three features of the game I wanted to – flashpoints (group instances), PvP and starship combat.

I got to play through Black Talon, the first Imperial flashpoint, twice, plus an attempt to solo it with my over-levelled sorceress (which ended badly). Playing through with other players felt more like a pen and paper RPG than a traditional MMO instance, very much a case of taking part in a story rather than a straight loot run. There are a number of conversations with NPCs that break up the fighting, and these aren’t entirely window-dressing; there’s at least one point where your decision affects what you get to fight through next. Doing these conversations with three other players competing to choose responses and actions adds an extra level of fun to seeing how the whole thing plays out.

Huttball is definitely my favourite of the PvP battlegrounds – an extreme sport played in a complex of walkways and barriers with flame jets and acid pools, where the objective is to get the ball over the other team’s start line by any means necessary. In a game with plentiful knockback abilities, there’s ample opportunity for slamming people you don’t like into all sorts of environmental pain. Yes, it’s instanced battlegrounds – the fast food of PvP. But in this case, it’s tasty fast food 🙂

Probably the best reason to avoid over-snacking on PvP is the fact that a lot of the goodies in-game, such as getting your own starship, are tied to progress on your class quest rather than to character level. Focus on your storyline, and you’ll have your ship by the mid-teens, but if you decide to live in the battlegrounds for fast levelling, you may never get your ship. And that would be a shame, because the ship gives you access to the wider galaxy, acts as a base of operations, and allows you to indulge in the ship combat mini-game. Starship combat in SW:TOR is a single-player experience where you pick a scenario to play and then get to see your ship fly through a space battle, with enemy fighters coming at you and capital ships lighting the sky up with volleys of laser bolts. Your general course through the battle is fixed, but you can move around the screen as you follow the course to shoot at targets or avoid fire. Your left mouse button fires blasters, which you can do indefinitely but need to stop shooting to let your shields regenerate (if you’ve fitted them – don’t forget to go buy some ship upgrades). Right button locks missiles on to targets, these are effective but you only have a limited supply. Overall, the ship battles are shallow but good fun and quite pretty. I can see myself doing a few of these if I’m at my ship and have a bit of time to kill, or just in the mood for some simple uncomplicated blowing stuff up. As with everything else in SW:TOR, there’s plenty of voice acting to listen to as you hear your character gloating over a kill or ordering your crew to check damage after taking a hit.

So, in a couple of weeks I’ll be playing for real – probably on the Imperial side. While I enjoyed playing my Bounty Hunter and loved their storyline and dialogue, chances are I will succumb to the lure of the Dark Side and level up as a Sith Sorcerer first… or maybe try the Sith Assassin… or one of the Sith Warrior advanced classes. I’ve got time to decide before I get into head start. For sure, though:

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.

See you on the Dark Side!

Didn’t manage to make the 50K in November. I was up to a bit over 37k by the 24th, then got knocked off my stride by a four hour call-out from work in the early hours of Saturday morning that left me feeling too stressed and knackered to focus for the rest of the weekend, especially as it came on top of me realising that the current chapter wasn’t flowing too well and I needed to force the writing on to get through it. Final word count at month end was a hair under 40k words.

On the whole though, a good experience and the next step is to build on it by staying in the habit of churnning out at least a few hundred words most days. Once i can get the quantity thing going, it’ll be time to think about quality!

Just found an invite for another TOR test weekend in my inbox. Time to decide what my ‘to do’ list is this time around… I think I’m going to make an effort to do one of the beginning flashpoints (AKA instances) to get a better handle on grouping in TOR, try a few more PVP matches and maybe level a Republic character off their starter world so I can see how Coruscant matches up against Dromund Kaas. Primary objective though is to have a bit of fun after a week at work where being able to Force Choke a few of my colleagues would have been awfully tempting…

And as an aside, just noticed that this video on the TOR website is using music by Two Steps From Hell (Black Blade, from the album Invincible), which of course dials the epic up to 11 🙂