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Alright, I think I’ve found the most absurd example of The Old Republic’s… creative approach to morality.

There’s a side mission on one of the early planets where, playing as an Imperial character, you’re called in to investigate a rebel smuggling operation. It turns out the local rebels aren’t smuggling supplies in, they’re smuggling untrained Force-sensitives off world, so they’ll be safe from the Empire and won’t be drafted into the Sith order. You can either help the rebels cover this up – gaining a hundred light side points, or you can murder them all, gaining a hundred dark side points. Fair enough, that bit makes sense.

But then, assuming you went dark side, you get another choice when you report back to command. You can either admit all that was there was a bunch of untrained civilians – and get fifty light side points for your honesty – or you can lie, claim they were trained Jedi, and get another fifty dark side points plus a few hundred credits hazard pay.

So, let me get this straight. Murdering civilians in cold blood, then lying about it, is three times worse than killing the same people but being completely up-front about it?!
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I’ve mentioned before that Star Trek Online seems to attract a lot of German players, and you can tell just by looking at their choice of ship names. I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so obvious among those playing Romulans though… yet, just on the beta test server, I’ve already seen warbirds named Anhalt, Stuttgart, and Hamburg.

Come on, people! Try to put a little thought into your names! Surely one of the defining characteristics of the German nation is that it was never subjugated by the heirs of Romulus?!
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Guess who got a beta invite to Star Trek Online's new Romulan expansion? :)

Read more... )
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One of the weird things about the Old Republic is that BioWare really didn’t seem to have planned for expansions very well. The main storyline ends with the Sith Empire facing defeat on almost every front, beset by internal division and with most of its leaders dead. There doesn’t really seem to be anywhere to go, the story as of release largely wraps up the conflict in a lot of ways.

The new expansion emphasises that further; the Imperial storyline there makes it explicit that the Empire’s on the verge of total defeat, and their involvement on the new planet Makeb is a final desperate gambit to turn the tide before they’re completely overwhelmed.

Now, sure, it’s Star Wars, of course the Empire’s going to lose, and it’s rather nice to see an MMO where the factions aren’t stuck in an endless stalemate. Still, it’s kind of weird to have the Empire as the plucky underdogs struggling against the overwhelming military might of the Republic and the Jedi.
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In today’s episode of “Hilarious Old Republic Morality”:

There’s a mission to infiltrate an Imperial fortress. There’s two options, a frontal assault or sneaking in through the sewers. You and your companion do one, and a squad of Republic soldiers does the other.

Choosing to sneak through the sewers gives you Dark Side points.

Because that makes sense, right? “Did you hear about that special forces operative who snuck into an enemy fortress while the army staged a diversionary attack? What a jerk! A real hero would have run a diversionary attack by himself and let the regular army do the sneak attack! Sensible tactics are a sign of moral corruption!”

Even more hilarious if you’re playing a smuggler – in other words, a civilian who’s chosen to volunteer to help the Republic army of their own initiative. Nope, sorry buddy, you’re not volunteering to risk your life enough, you’re a bad guy now!
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One of the impressive things in the Old Republic is the companion system. Each class has five companions, each with their own dialogue and storylines. It’s an area where they really could have skimped a bit – I don’t think anyone would have minded that much if some classes had shared a companion or two.

As is standard for BioWare, some companions can be romanced by the player character. In my current play through as a smuggler, I’m pursuing a romance with Risha, my partner-in-crime. In her storyline, it turns out she’s the exiled heir to the throne of some minor planet, and she’s working to regain her family’s power. I’ve advanced her storyline to the point where she’s made contact with a noble who might help her regain power… of course, there’s a complication. The noble’s a handsome young man, and the moment he meets her, he proposes marriage.

Leaving my poor smuggler feeling like a bit of a fifth wheel, and wondering how to convince Risha to forget about the charming noble in favour of sticking with a scruffy outlaw….

Yes, that’s right. BioWare’s apparently cribbing plot-points from The Courtship of Princess Leia
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In today’s adventures with The Old Republic’s increasingly arbitrary morality system:

My bounty hunter was hired by an old couple to salvage some parts from a Hutt-run factory they could sell for supplies on the black market. Not my usual work, but hey, a job’s a job. But, as I grab the parts, I’m approached by the factory’s foreman, who wants me to plant a tracking device in them so he can hunt down the trader the old couple are dealing with and shut him down – the Hutts are threatening his family if he doesn’t do something about the black market salvagers.

It’s a tough decision, but in the end, I turn down the foreman’s generous offer of bonus payment. After all, the old couple are dependent on the black market for clean food and water. They put their trust in me, and I’m not going to be complicit in shutting down their lifeline. Besides, what kind of reputation would I have if I sold them out for a few extra credits?

After making that decision, it did seem a little unfair for the game to saddle me with Dark Side points after that. I mean, I’m a bounty hunter, I’m not exactly morally clean – but things like this shouldn’t be damning me!

Granted, it was a good no-win moral conundrum – but those sort of situations really shouldn’t give Dark or Light side points…

Meanwhile, my Jedi knight has been asked to keep an eye on a pair of Padawans who, their masters suspect, are having an illicit relationship. I honestly wasn’t surprised that ratting them out was the Light Side option – Lucasfilm probably wouldn’t have approved a game where going against the Jedi code was the Light Side option. I was amused, however, to see as far as the game was concerned, just not reporting on the Padawans and actively blackmailing them for your silence were considered morally identically when it came to handing out Dark Side points…
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Observation: Much of the smuggler storyline in The Old Republic - and indeed, virtually anything related to smuggling in Star Wars - becomes far more entertaining if you decide that 'spice' isn't a euphemism for drugs, but actually is just food additives and flavor enhancers...

If nothing else, it explains why the Hutts, notorious gormands, consider the loss of a single shipment a crime worthy of death...
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I can’t help but feel Star Trek Online and the Old Republic are like some sort of Goofus and Gallant case study in how not to be a complete dick to your players.

For Christmas, Star Trek Online created a new Q-themed winter area, with snowball fights and races and other things, and if you play enough you can earn a free Breen warship with a special energy-dampener weapon. There’s a cash store option to speed up earning it, but a dedicated player can get the ship – and the decorative scarves and jackets and pets and other things being offered – without paying a cent.

The Old Republic, on the other hand, has thrown together a ‘Life Day’ speeder, which looks exactly like a regular speeder only with Christmas lights and no special abilities… and then charges twenty bucks for it.


Dec. 11th, 2012 08:53 pm
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One thing bugging me about The Old Republic – the handling of Revan. For those unfamiliar, Revan was the main character in the original Knights of the Old Republic, and, like all of BioWare’s protagonists, gender and morality was customisable in the game. Unfortunately, at some point the decision was made that Revan was canonically male, and aligned to the light side.

Despite that, early on the Old Republic seemed determined not to impose any one version of Revan on the player – there’s a whole quest line on the Empire’s capital planet about a cult of ‘Revanites’ who say that little information has survived about Revan’s life, that even his/her gender is unknown. I thought it was a nice touch, to leave it ambiguous what really happened in the first game.

Then I played the Foundry Flashpoint mission. At the end of it, you confront Revan – who, somehow, has survived the last three hundred years with only a few minor scars. And of course he’s a guy. A generic looking white guy at that. He’s also planning genocide against the Empire, which seemed a little odd too.

After going to so much effort earlier not to contradict anyone’s KotOR 1 playthough, why the sudden turn around? And if he had to be confirmed as male, couldn’t they at least have kept him masked during his appearance, leave a little mystery about him?

Not to mention the weirdness of having your new player character hunting down and killing your old one…

Think I’m going to pretend the Foundry ‘Revan’ was just a deranged Revanite who found some of Revan’s equipment and became convinced he was the real Revan…
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Continuing to play the Old Republic; my Sith character has made it to Alderaan, and is finally starting to rack up a decent number of Dark Side points. Alderaan’s noble houses are big enough jerks on both sides that I feel no qualms about zapping any of them that get in the Empire’s way… honestly, I’m starting to understand where Tarkin was coming from.

One thing that surprises me is the class choices other people are making. Empire side, it’s mainly Sith Inquisitors, same class I chose – after all, if you’re going to go Dark Side, you may as well go all the way and pick the class that lets you Force Lightning everything in your way!

Republic side, though, it seems like the most popular class is the Republic Trooper. Not what I expected, when the other choices are smuggler or two types of Jedi. People are passing up Obi-Wan and Han to be the generic guys Vader chokes in the first five minutes of A New Hope?!


Nov. 28th, 2012 07:20 pm
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One thing I will say in The Old Republic’s favour – it features, to my knowledge, the first Jawa Force-user in Star Wars continuity!

Unfortunately, as she appears in an Imperial faction mission, I was forced to fight her and take her prisoner. At least I had the choice to capture her instead of killing her – though whether turning someone over to the Sith Empire for ‘study’ is really the merciful/Light Side choice, I’m sceptical. But I’ve given up on trying to make sense of the game’s moral logic.

I can only hope the little Jawa shaman will be able to use her powers to escape, flee Imperial space, find sanctuary among the Jedi, and prove key to the inevitable defeat of this incarnation of the Sith...
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Been thinking about The Old Republic’s Free-to-Play model. It’s pretty limiting, especially compared to the MMOs I’m used to like Star Trek Online. Trek online gives you basically the whole game for free – subscribers get some bonus inventory slots and free cash store fun-bucks every month, little things like that, but gameplay wise, they don’t get anything free players can’t get.

The Old Republic, on the other hand, limits everything. Free players get reduced experience. Can’t equip purple quality items. Can’t really use the crafting system. Can’t access their bank or guild bank. Are limited in how many space missions and flashpoint instances they can do a week. Have only half as many interface bars, for crying out loud! There’s not a single aspect of the game where they’re not limited or outright barred until they pony up some cash.

I think The Old Republic is taking the wrong approach. To begin with, its method seems build around encouraging people to subscribe – but the game already failed as a pure-subscription model, and adding a fairly frustrating free option isn’t likely to give them many new long-term subscribers. Second, it feels a bit desperate – STO’s welcoming, it gives you the whole game seemingly confident that people are going to enjoy the free stuff enough to want to buy extras from the cash store. The Old Republic, meanwhile, seems to be holding a lot of stuff hostage to make you need to buy the extras to get the proper experience.

Thirdly, with Trek Online, cash store purchases… well, serve as advertisements for themselves. Since most of the extra stuff is largely cosmetic, you want to show it off. If I see a Caitian captain in mirror universe uniform flying an Excelsior around Federation space, it gets me thinking “Hey, that’s a cool-looking ship and captain. I’d really like something like that…” Meanwhile, in the Old Republic, if the guy next to me has paid to use the extra items and to craft and to get the proper number of interface bars… well, I’ll never know, he’ll look the same as my freeloading smuggler.

It’s frustrating, because underneath it all, TOR has some good stuff – but the people running it don’t seem to have a clue what they’re doing.
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Finally checking out The Old Republic. It’s a decent enough game, though it does have some annoying quirks, and feels suspiciously like a single-player game that’s been rather poorly converted into an MMO at the last minute…

The character limitations are annoying – can’t be a Wookee or a Mon Calimari or a Jawa or any other recognisable alien except for Twi’leks, with virtually all the species choices being essentially ‘humans in a different colour’. And the Free-to-play limitations seem rather petty, with things like quest rewards and elements of the user interface(!) being limited if you’re not a subscriber.

The thing that really confuses me though, is one elements of the quests. Like in the single-player games, some missions give you Light Side or Dark Side points depending on your decisions. Cool, and if ever there was a setting that could benefit from BioWare’s one-dimensional morality system, it’s Star Wars. Except… Well, the points you get seem to have been decided almost at random!

See, I rolled up a smuggler, intending to be a Han Solo-style reluctant hero. Emphasis on the hero. But because of my decisions, the game’s convinced he’s flirting heavily with the Dark Side! What decisions might you ask? Well, there was the time he turned medicine over to Republic soldiers, instead of giving it to the people who stole it from them. Or the time he tried to stop a reporter who’d gone native from producing propaganda for a brutal Sith-aligned rebel army. Or the time he tried to talk a traumatised child solder into returning to his family, rather than letting him run away from his home world and never see them again…

Meanwhile, hilariously, my Sith Inquisitor is picking up more than her fair share of Light Side points just because I decided her philosophy should be ruthless efficiency over petty sadism. Example, in one mission, she refused to crush a slave rebellion by using a poison that would cause prolonged suffering followed by death… instead, she used a poison that would only cause death! Granted, better than the alternative, but it doesn’t really seem like it should actively move her towards the Light…
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Did it not occur to Bioware/EA that maybe, just maybe, they should have scheduled server maintenance for The Old Republic to, say, some time other than the day it goes free-to-play?
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Here’s a fun detail from Star Trek Online I just noticed – it considers Diane Duane’s Rihannsu novels part of its setting. Not just the Romulan backstory, either, which have been borrowed by a number of sources, but the events of the novels themselves - the “Path to 2409” backstory, created to fill in the gaps between Nemesis and the game’s setting, compares Sela’s rise to power following a civil war within the Romulan Empire to that of Ael t'Rllaillieu – implying the events of “The Empty Chair” are part of STO’s continuity.

This is kind of amusing, since the last three Rihannsu novels included disclaimers to ensure everyone was aware that Duane’s Romulan culture wasn’t consistent with the TNG-era Romulans, that the events of the novels were meant to be a separate continuity, and that they shouldn’t be considered part of the ‘main’ Trek universe, and the novel continuity hasn’t referenced their events at all.

It’s kind of nice to see that the STO writers have decided to ignore that completely, to subtly incorporate the Rihannsu novels while, at the same time, ignoring most of the nonsense the more recent novels have been coming up with. Of course, in the latter case, that’s probably less an artistic choice so much as the recent novels seemingly going to the setting with a chainsaw, and incorporating their events wouldn’t leave much still standing for the game to use...
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Flying through space in Star Trek Online, I’ve seen a fair few Klingon players who’ve named their captain G’Kar. Hey, always nice to see a fellow B5 fan, and at a glance, it could pass as a Klingon name. Still, I’m a little surprised that not one of them was wearing an eye patch to go with the name.

Similarly, I’ve seen at least half a dozen Thrawns of various ranks commanding starships – but not a single one was Bolian or Andorian. I don’t understand why you’d pick a name that’s a blatant reference to something else, but not go all the way with it.

On the plus side, I have seen Betazoid Alfred Bester and Lyta Alexanders, so at least some people have clued into the obvious choices when it comes to this sort of psedo-crossover…
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Had a dream last night that Bioware had announced a Caribbean-themed RPG. Was rather disappointed when I woke up – I mean, how cool would a steam-punk fantasy Caribbean/Meso-American setting be? Pirates! Voodoo! Lost cities! Crumbling empires, both native and foreign! Throw in a United States analogue as the vast and decadent slaver empire to serve as the big bad, and the story practically writes itself!

Meanwhile, in gaming news that’s actually happening outside of my subconscious mind, EA games has announced The Old Republic will be going free-to-play soon. That was… quicker than I expected. Granted, I’ve felt for a while the age of subscription-only MMOs has come to an end, but there’s still a perception that switching to free to play models is somehow a failure – I wasn’t expecting EA or BioWare to concede that Old Republic subscriptions had faded so quickly less than a year after launch… I suspect BioWare is now desperatly wishing they hadn't had the whole Mass Effect 3 fiasco tarnishing their name. They've now got three franchises that are seen as struggling to survive...
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One of the curious things about Star Trek Online is how many Germans seem to play it. You can’t go half a sector without seeing a ship from the ‘Deutsche Flotte’ or with a name like ‘USS Swabia’ or somesuch. I’ve also seen a few Czech and Hungarian fleets (guild equivalent) – it gives the impression at times that the game’s an alternate timeline where the Habsburg Empire never fell and the Central Powers expanded into space. It’s an amusing image.

One German-language fleet name has made me wince somewhat, though. Was in a game the other day alongside a pair of ships that were listed as part of the Something-or-other ‘Sonderkommandos’ fleet. Now, I know Sonderkommando literally just means ‘special unit’, but to me, the term is linked pretty strongly to Nazi death camps and the SS. Does anyone know if the term’s just as tainted in modern German? I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I’d rather not play alongside Nazis if I can help it...
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Weirdest thing seen recently in Star Trek Online: a player going by Josef Tito. Not a ship named after Tito, no, somebody decided to name their character after Tito.

Now, hey, I’ve got nothing against Tito. Guy had plenty of admirable qualities, and as far as Balkan leaders go, he was a pretty good one. Still, why name your Star Trek captain after him? Is it some sort of weird theme, and all of this guy’s bridge officers are named after post-war European dictators? Is it some sort of commentary on the Federation’s vaguely socialist/utopian structure?

I choose to believe that there’s someone out there who sincerely believes that, if he’d had the opportunity, Tito would totally have become a space explorer, and he’s just glad to finally have a game where he can see how that would have turned out…


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David Newgreen

August 2017

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