Sunday, November 15, 2015

SWTOR: Busting Hutts

When I finished my last Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) post, Eltaix the bounty hunter had just finished bringing the planet Corellia under the heel of the Empire, and was nearing the free-to-play level 50 cap. I didn't realize at the time how close I was to completing her personal story...one final mission to go. That last mission was satisfyingly epic in a story sense and very pedestrian in a game-play sense, which pretty much describes my entire SWTOR experience.

Another destination opened up even though I'd reached the level cap: the planet Ilum. I decided to check it out, at least until I'd racked up the XP needed for level 51, at which point it would be a good time to subscribe. So after a few days off to settle some islands, Eltaix headed over to Ilum where I found the usual sort of planet-specific story-line.

Partway through that, I did indeed become a subscriber. A friend provided a referral link, so I got an extra 7 days (and so did he) on top of the usual 30. Considering how much I've played the game so far, and that I'm getting a bunch more content via the expansions that aren't accessible as F2P, $15 isn't bad at all. I doubt I'll continue more than one month, at least for now, even though I know I won't make it through all the classes; I'm sure I'll be a bit burned out before then. I noticed two immediate benefits when becoming a subscriber: quicker fast travel recharge, and extra quickbar slots. Well, that and the constant "hey, you should subscribe" reminds went away, which alone is worth a month's subscription cost.

Back on Ilum, I got to an interesting story twist where a Sith Lord decided to go rogue and betray the Empire. (Technically a spoiler, but come on, who doesn't expect a Sith Lord betrayal? It's what they do.) I was looking forward to putting him in his place, but was surprised to see the next mission labeled as a Flashpoint (the multi-player instances in SWTOR). I hadn't noticed anything on Ilum up to this point indicating that a Flashpoint was coming up, but here it was, and I didn't see any other option to continue the story. I actually gave it a try solo, and with some difficulty got all the way to the first boss objective. But I had no prayer against the champion-level boss (actually bosses, there were two). I understand that group content is going to be part of the MMO experience, but I'd like to know when I'm going down a path that leads to group-only areas. Disappointing that the Ilum arc didn't offer me a solo option, and doubly disappointing that it wasn't clear from the start that it was leading to the Flashpoint.

I suppose I could have found a group, but that would mean a lot of time and likely frustration. First you have to figure out how group-finding works. Then you hope that you can get people interested in your particular instance, and further hope that those people aren't a bunch of jerks. When you actually run the instance, the experienced players will want to go through at full speed, making it difficult to follow what's happening story-wise. Random pick-up grouping on a first attempt at group content in just about any MMO is a recipe for disaster.

Becoming a subscriber opens up access to the SWTOR expansions as well, and that meant more story-lines to follow. First one up is the Rise of the Hutt Cartel, meant for levels 50-55. After leaving Ilum, I found that the planet Makeb was now available to me. The Hutts were causing mischief, and as the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy, the Empire thought I was the perfect one to stop them.
Mako keeps saying how nice the Makeb scenery is, but she didn't want to line up for a picture.
I found Makeb to be a bit more interesting than the average planet story up to this point. There are more areas to explore, which isn't surprising since it's the centerpiece of a game expansion. The story has several decision points where you decide the fate of characters, groups, and even entire populations, which is fun to go through. I admit, I may have killed off a few more people than absolutely necessary, but it all seemed like a good idea at the time.

I even ran across a couple of instances where the gameplay became somewhat challenging. One boss gave me a bit of trouble, requiring running around and hitting various objects while dodging attacks. It was easy enough once I realized what was required of me, but just the fact that there was something more complex than "shoot all the things until they fall down" made it interesting. Then a bit later on I found a multi-level area which was a bit of a maze. Took me a little while (and a few falling deaths) to work out where everything was; again, nothing too difficult, but a nice change of pace from "follow the map to the glowing thingy."

The Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion also includes a couple of side missions, meant to introduce a couple of new toys: Macrobinoculars and Seeker Droids. They're not exactly epic story-lines, but it was fun following them around the galaxy. At least, it was fun until I looked them up online and found that both ended up leading to "Heroic 4" missions, meaning meant for groups of 4 people. See above minor grouping rant...no more toy missions for now.

Next up will be the level 55-60 expansion, Shadow of Revan.

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