Life in The Old Republic #3: Storytelling

Hello again, it’s Andrew Halliday with another installment of Life in The Old Republic. Today, I want to discuss the stories told in Star Wars: The Old Republic, which is one particular aspect that the game did very well.

TOR was marketed as having incredibly rich stories associated with each character class. Indeed, Bioware stated that TOR would feature no less than 200 hours of gameplay per character class, centered around vivid storylines. As a result, players could anticipate up to 3,200 hours of gameplay (200 hours, 8 classes, each of which can be aligned Light or Dark, changing the outcomes), and that’s excluding things like PVP gameplay (in warzones or dedicated PVP arenas) and end-game operations.

I would like to describe the gameplay mechanics of the game’s storylines, and highlight the stories of some of the classes. To do so, I will use my characters, which presently count at 6 (I have added two new ones since my first post).

Questing

Each class is introduced to their story upon creating their character. An Opening Crawl is shown, which provides a brief prologue to your character’s position in the Galaxy. You are then shown walking out of a shuttle on a landing pad of your starter world (Tython, Ord Mantell, Korriban, or Hutta), and meeting someone who will give you your first quest.

On the starter world, the first quests you are given pertain directly to your class story. These set the scene for the story that will take you all the way from a Level 1 newbie to a Level 50 master.

As the game progresses, you are introduced to new quests of different types, all of which are tracked on the Codex. Game Rules quests teach different elements of the game’s mechanics. Through these missions, you learn how to train new skills from trainers, or how to modify armor or weapons, or how Social Points work. Many of these missions are featured early in the game. Class quests forward the progress of the game overall, and are required to proceed through the story. Most of the game’s quests are planet-specific, and are labeled as such in the Codex. You unlock these missions as you complete other ones, and they gradually increase in difficulty. Featured under this category are Heroic quests. These are much more difficult (enemies are stronger and more numerous), and require multiple players to play together to complete them. In theory they can be played alone, but even at high level they can be challenging. Heroic quests come with a number (usually 2, 2+, or 4), which indicate the ideal number of players to beat them. It should be noted that while most Planet-specifc quests can only be completed once, Heroics can be repeated daily. Similar to Heroics are Area quests, which are triggered when you walk into certain areas of the map (such as a Mandalorian encampment on Dromund Kaas).

There are also Flashpoints and Operations, which are instanced quests that require groups of players to complete. Unlike Heroics, which merely strongly suggest group play, Flashpoints and Operations require more people. They usually take place on a separate planet or starship, which you can reach from the Republic or Imperial Fleet. The first Flashpoint (Esseles for Republic, Black Talonfor Empire, which also transport players from the Fleet to the capital) require two players. Other Flashpoints need 4 players, and Operations need 8 or 16. Flashpoints are meant for mid-level players, while Operations are designed for end-game play with Level 50 characters. Like other quests, Flashpoints and Operations are story driven. The last types of quests are Space Missions (where you control your ship in space), PVP missions (where you fight in Warzone matches or in other such arenas) and Daily Missions (a set of post-Level 50 missions for continuing gameplay when your story is done).

Almost every quest is given from a non-player character (NPC), and the details are conveyed through a fully-voiced cutscene. During these cutscenes, you are usually given the chance to speak. When these opportunities come up, the dialogue briefly stops and a Conversation Wheel (the typical structure in Bioware games) pops up, giving you multiple dialogue options. When you pick an option, your character will say what you told him to say (not verbatim, but the point gets across). Your dialogue choices affect the NPC’s replies, and can change the direction of the story. Sometimes, the dialogue choices you make will affect, positively or negatively, your current Companion’s affection for you, and/or will give you Light Side or Dark Side points. You are warned if a choice is going to be Light or Dark (more on this lower in the article), but Companion effects can only be predicted from their biographies; each Companion entry in the game’s Codex shows their Likes and Dislikes, and if you do something they dislike, then you lose points. For example, with my Sith Warrior, Tarahl, executing someone who is grovelling at my feet would make me lose points with Vette or Jaesa, but might earn points with Quinn. At the end of the dialogue, you return to gameplay may proceed with your quests. While you are in a dialogue, an icon floats above your head in the game, telling other players that you are watching a cutscene. During this time, you cannot be killed by other players (even if you are flagged for PVP) and anything affecting your character (buffs, spells, etc.) have their timers suspended. If you make the wrong choice in a conversation, hitting ESC during the cutscene will exit the scene and let you re-do it. It should be noted that some quests are provided through a computer terminal, without a cutscene.

Certain bonus quests are automatically added as you start performing them. For example, your mission is to meditate upon the Altar of Skulls. You need to fight off several beasts to get there. Killing the first beast might trigger “Bonus mission: kill 8 beasts.”  When these bonuses are completed, you are automatically given an XP reward. Certain bonus missions have multiple Stages, where the last one involves fighting a Boss, which can be quite difficult. Upon defeating the Boss, you recover some kind of artifact from them, that you either give to an NPC or deposit in a drop-box for your reward. It should be noted that Bonus Missions are automatically closed upon completing the main quest with which it is associated, even if it isn’t complete. To continue with the example above, if I complete the entire Meditate upon the Altar of Skulls quest, and only killed 7 of the 8 beasts, I cannot return to kill an eighth and get the bonus.

Character Stories

There are eight classes in TOR, and each has their own unique storyline, which is expressed through your Class Quests. I have direct experience with six of these so far, as I recently created my fifth and sixth characters, a Rattataki Sith Inquisitor by the name of Vec’tor and a Zabrak Jedi Knight by the name of Thahnos. Each story has a prologue and three chapters, and I hope to explain briefly what the first chapter of the game is like.

Sith Warrior

The Sith Warrior was my first character ever created, and Tarahl remains my highest level character yet created. I’m hoping to bring him to Level 50 soon, so I can write about end-game content. I have been leading Tarahl to the Dark Side.

Figure 1: Tarahl, Sith Warrior (Juggernaut, tank)

The Warrior story centres around your apprenticeship to Darth Baras, as he tries to improve his standing within the Sith Empire. You start out as one of many students vying to be his apprentice, and emerge on top. In Chapter 1, you search for the secret apprentice of Baras’s rival Nomen Karr. Karr’s apprentice has the ability to determine a person’s true nature at a glance, and thus risks exposing Baras’s spies. You must “retire” Baras’s spies and hunt down Jaesa’s family and mentors, in the hopes of driving her out of hiding, to either kill her…or possibly recruit her.

Sith Inquisitor

The Sith Inquisitor is the first character I made on a new server. Unsatisfied with the low populations on Sword of Ajunta Pall, I wanted to try playing on Ebon Hawk, a more highly populated Roleplaying server. This led to Vec’tor, a Rattataki male Inquisitor. Vec’tor doesn’t fit the naming parameters of my other characters, but since he’s on a different server, they couldn’t be part of the same Legacy family anyways. I have been playing Vec’tor as a Light Side Sith.

Figure 2: Vec’tor, Sith Inquisitor (Assassin, Force-related DPS)

When the Inquisitor lands on Korriban, he is a slave who has just been freed (something that is never done in the Empire). In an effort to boost the number of Sith Lords, anyone with Force potential, even slaves, are brought to Korriban. Your peers and trainers think you will fail, but Darth Zash sees promise in you, and you become her apprentice. It turns out that you are of the same blood as Aloysius Kallig, an ancient Sith, and under the guidance of Lord Zash, you seek to recover Kallig’s artifacts to claim his legacy. I have not yet reached the end of the prologue for Vec’tor, so I am interested in seeing the progress of the story.

Bounty Hunter

The female Chiss bounty hunter My’Tillinahr was my first Alternate character, and she remains one of my higher-level ones. I have been playing her as a Light Side character (a bounty hunter with a heart of gold).

Figure 3: My’Tillinahr, Bounty Hunter (Mercenary, DPS and healer)

My’Tillinahr is one of many bounty hunters who is seeking the sponsorship of Nem’ro the Hutt to participate in the Great Hunt, a bounty hunting competition. Upon defeating the other competitors, you earn Nem’ro’s sponsorship and join the Great Hunt. Your handler, Crysta, gives you bounties that you must travel the Galaxy to collect, with the intent of winning it all and defeating your nemesis, a Mandalorian who does not want someone outside the clans to win.

Imperial Agent

I have no Imperial Agent characters yet, but the beginning of the story involves becoming a spy, with the rank of Cipher, in Imperial Intelligence and ending the threat of the Eradicators of Darth Jadus.

Jedi Knight

Thahnos, a male Zabrak, is my newest character. He is on Ebon Hawk with Vec’tor, though neither of them have progressed enough to unlock the Legacy. As I believe the Jedi Knight story represents the definitive game story (based on what I know of the ending, which I will not spoil here), I am playing him on the Light Side, for the best possible canonical interpretation.

Figure 4: Thahnos, Jedi Knight (Sentinel, DPS)

On Tython, you become the apprentice of Master Orgus Din and must defend the Republic from Darth Angral, who is attempting to use superweapons against Republic worlds. Fortunately, the Empire’s Dark Council has declared Angral a rogue, and thus Thahnos has permission to hunt him down and remove the threat without fear of retribution from the Sith. The Knight’s story eventually intersects with those of some of the EU material, including the novels Deceived and Revan, and I believe that the conclusion of this story has direct consequences for the upcoming novel Annihilation.

Jedi Consular

Kyrahn, a male Miraluka Jedi Consular, was my first exploration at playing a Jedi. I am playing him on the Light Side.

Figure 5: Kyrahn, Jedi Consular (Sage, Force-related DPS and healer)

The Jedi Consular story revolves around finding the cure to a plague that had been unleashed against Jedi Masters (including the Consular’s own, Yuon Par) by a Sith called Darth Vivicar. Kyrahn travels the Galaxy in search of clues leading to the plague’s origins and cure.

Trooper

Lenahra, the female Human Trooper, was my first attempt to play a Human, as well as my first Republic character. I am taking Lenahra to the Dark Side.

Figure 6: Lenahra, Trooper (Vanguard, DPS). You can see how strongly the Dark Side has affected her (see Life in The Old Republic #1, for a before picture)

Lenahra becomes the newest member of Havoc Squad, under the leadership of Commander Harron Tavus (the trooper featured in the comic arc Threat of Peace). Unsatisfied with how the Republic had abandoned them on a mission on Ando Prime (years before the events of the game), Tavus and most of Havoc Squad defect to the Sith Empire. Lenahra must hunt down the traitors and either kill them or bring them to justice.

Smuggler

I have not yet made a Smuggler character, though I certainly look forward  to trying it out. Having had his ship stolen, he must find the gangster who stole it. Once he finds it, he begins a search for the treasure of Nok Drayen.

In other news

Unrelated to class story, I wanted to share one important note. On 7 May 2012, EUCantina.net reported that TOR had lost 400,000 subscribers. This was mostly due to casual and trial players who lost interest. But the problem with so many players leaving is that it caused some servers to become dangerously underpopulated, which exacerbated the problem. People don’t want to play on ghost town servers, so they quit too. Sword of Ajunta Pall was one of those servers suffering from underpopulation. I remember one time when I was literally the only person on Coruscant. When the populations are that low, it can be difficult to play, as you cannot make teams for Heroics or Flashpoints, and cannot get full teams for PVP matches. To address this issue, Bioware announced server transfers, with the intent of bringing players in low-population servers to higher ones. Sword of Ajunta Pall was one of those, and so I transferred all four of my characters there to Prophecy of the Five. If anyone wants to play with me, create a character on Prophecy of the Five and send a message to Tarahl in the in-game email system.

Tip of the week: Bonus missions are a great source of experience points, and can be incredibly useful when leveling up. So always finish your bonus missions before finishing the main quest it is associated with. You’ll get a nice experience boost, and it may make the main quest somewhat easier.

Next week: the planets of The Old Republic.

About the Author

Andrew Halliday contributes to EUCantina as a writer. He writes our column "The Star Wars Dissection," published every second Monday, and also reviews episodes of The Clone Wars television show. He began writing in 2010, sending letters to the SoloSound.net podcast The EU Review, using mathematics to look at certain trends in Star Wars content. These monthly analyses were expanded into his column in 2011. He has a degree in biology and a love for all things science and math.