That’s What They Want You to Think

I was out of town when Game Update 5.9 launched, so this review is coming a little late, but I’d like to share some impressions. Between the excellent Izax encounter in Gods from the Machine and now The Nathema Conspiracy, the last couple of patches have been pretty good for group content.

Nathema is easily the strongest of Knight of the Eternal Throne’s three new flashpoints. It’s not as high concept as Crisis on Umbara or as beautiful as Traitor Among the Chiss, but it hits every mark when it comes to pacing, rewards and fun boss fights.

The flashpoint offers plenty of loot including more than a dozen new decorations, a unique armor set and even a brand new droid companion, all of which are available to all players regardless of skill level.

Nathema’s master mode also feels appropriately balanced for what I expect from a hard mode flashpoint. Thankfully, it’s neither as as brutal as Umbara nor the trash-fest that Copero can be. As long as the group can pay attention to a few mechanics, it’s perfectly doable in a reasonable amount of time by a decently geared team.

Visually, once again the artists at Bioware have created another wonderful environment to explore. Nathema’s landscape is at first familiar from our first visit, but we quickly discover that Valkorion’s death has brought the planet back to life before we finally descend into one of the Emperor’s baroque and spooky crypts.

I should also discuss the events of the story, so spoilers ahead. Unlike the previous chapters, a lot happens here. Things get started with a quick visit to an abandoned Imperial listening post. Exploring dark, deserted ships is something that happens a lot in SWTOR, but it’s almost always done well, so it’s a setting I don’t mind revisiting from time to time.

The story doesn’t waste our time before letting us know that Theron’s betrayal was only for show so that he could infiltrate the Order of Zildrog. This was foreshadowed from the beginning so I’m cool with this result. The real focus of the story belongs to the villains: Vinn Atrius and GEMINI16.  I think the writers did an excellent job with them. Atrius is remarkably fleshed out and sympathetic for a one-off antagonist. In many ways, he’s right; things on Zakuul did get a whole lot worse after the Outlander showed up.

And I also can’t complain about him objecting to my character’s sparing Arcann either. It’s one of those decisions I wish the game had fleshed out more. My character spared Arcann because I believe in mercy, but I still consider him a war criminal. In my head cannon, Arcann is under house arrest on Odessen, but from Vinn’s perspective, the guy who brought the war right to Zakuul’s doorstep got off scott free. I’d be pissed too.

The story also wraps up the GEMINI storyline. The SCORPIO parts of the Eternal Empire saga were some of my favorites (I’d love see KotFE and KotET told from SCORPIO’s point of view because she is so clearly the hero of her own story), but no matter what choices you make, it’s certainly a tragedy for the GEMINIs. I’d like to think that some of the GEMINIs freed during The GEMINI Deception are still out there, but that may not be the case.

I’m not the first the say this, but Nathema is all about clearing the decks in preparation for the next big story arc. The Eternal Fleet is destroyed, the Eternal Alliance will soon be folded into the Republic or Sith Empire, and we’re not too likely to visit Zakuul again. It looks like Lana is the only character left who is certain to be around for what’s to come.

From a storytelling standpoint, I can see why this is necessary. Bioware has done a good job lately letting new and returning players jump back into the current story without forcing them to catch up through stuff that may not interest them, and while launching Knights of the Fallen Empire with a five year jump did the trick there, dealing with the players’ status as Alliance Commander needed more work.

I may devote another post to my thoughts about the missed opportunity that was the Eternal Alliance and why I’m not as excited about a return to the Republic vs. Empire dynamic, but for now I’ll just finish up with the one part of The Nathema Conspiracy that did disappoint me: the destruction of the Gravestone. I loved that hunk of junk; it’s a cool mix of the Millennium Falcon, Serenity, Space Battleship Yamato, and a haunted house. I’m honestly bummed it won’t be a part of the action going forward, and instead got swept up in the rest of Nathema’s house-cleaning. Given the big role the Gravestone played in the whole Eternal Empire story, I think she deserved better.

But that, for me, is the only sour note of a flashpoint which I think stands among SWTOR’s best. Whether you play solo or with friends, definitely check it out.

Many Happy Returns

Game Update 5.9 also marks the first time I’ve been able to play one of the recent companion reunion missions. The two characters I’ve completed the story on are my Consular and my Bounty Hunter so each of them had a companion waiting for them. I’ve seen these missions very accurately described as short and sweet, and I cannot disagree.

On the one hand, it was really nice hearing my characters speak dialogue that was written specifically for them for a change. And catching up with Felix and Mako was most welcome.

But, yeah, they are short, really short. I realize at this point, Bioware just wants to get these long over due reunions out of the way, but it’s a drag that major companions are returning with less gameplay than Broonmark’s recruitment alert. It’s a shame Mako and Akaavi won’t get the Profit and Plunder treatment, or that my Sage could not have led the mission to rescue Felix from imprisonment. Clearly the companion thing is something that got away from the developers, but I hope it’s something Bioware doesn’t overlook again. However, with so many favorites and possible pairings, that’s a lot of plates to keep spinning, and I don’t envy them that herculean task.

We’ve reached the end of SWTOR’s latest road map, so it’s now time to wait and see. A new expansion means a host of new possibilities. I’m curious to see what comes next!

 

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