Monthly Archives: November 2019

A Long Time Ago: My Top Five Star Wars Things Aren’t Movies – Part One

To mark the imminent release of The Rise of Skywalker I thought I’d do something a little different. Even though Episode IX will conclude the classic film saga, Star Wars was, from the very beginning, much more than just the movies. A myriad of stories told in every conceivable medium continued the adventures of heroes old and new in that galaxy far, far away. I adore the movies to be sure, but I’ve also found great joy in many aspects of the Star Wars universe beyond the films. So I’d like to celebrate some of those with a Dumb Top Five list of my favorite things about Star Wars that aren’t movies.

As I assembled this list, I quickly realized that there was no way I could keep it to a single post and give everything the space it deserved, so I’ll be presenting a new item from this list each week until the debut of the movie on December 20.

Part One: Comic Books

Back in 1977, my first exposure to Star Wars came not from the movie, but from Marvel Comics’ 6 issue adaptation of the film that concluded before I even got to see it in a theatre. This in no way spoiled the experience for me; from the opening minutes, I was still blown away by what I saw on the screen.

However, in many ways, the comics informed my overall conception of Star Wars. In the movie, the lightsaber battle between Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi is not terribly exciting, but if there is one thing comics know how to stage, it’s a fight scene. The comics’ version of the confrontation does a superior job conveying the epic duel between the old master and corrupted apprentice. Indeed, the moment of Ben’s death as portrayed in the comic is particularly macabre.

Marvel produced well over a hundred issues of Star Wars comics starting three months before A New Hope was released and continuing three years after Return of the Jedi. They are very much of their time, steeped in the styles and tropes of 1970s and 1980’s comics, but the two or three quarters I spent each month to follow the continuing adventures of the “Star Warriors” absolutely made the wait between movies easier to take. Forgotten heroes like Dani and Kiro and Plif the Hoojib and villains like Valance, Lumiya and the Nagai loom nearly as large in my memories of the early days of a galaxy far, far away as Luke, Leia, Han and Vader.

In the 1990’s, starting with the terrific Dark Empire series, Dark Horse Comics continued the licensed comic line and expanded the universe with a whole host of new stories. Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics were the first to visit the Old Republic setting and touched every era of the saga’s past and future. Currently Marvel, which like Lucasfilm is owned by Disney is again producing diverse line of comics which feature our favorite heroes from the movies but have added popular new characters like Dr. Aphra and also revisited some old and infamous favorites from the early days of Marvel’s original Star Wars series.

Over the years, countless Star Wars stories have been told, but I think the best of the comics, with their emphasis on impossible visuals and larger than life action in bite sized chunks, come the closest to recapturing the magic of watching the films. When I think of Star Wars, I’ll never forget sitting in a dark theater watching movies I love, but I also recall afternoons sprawled out on the rug of my parent’s living room floor, eagerly turning the pages of the latest four color classic.

Next week: Your plastic pals who are fun to be with!

 

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Filed under Dumb Top Five, General Star Wars

First Impressions: Onslaught

It’s been a month since the launch of SWTOR’s latest expansion Onslaught, and I’m finally at point where I feel caught up enough to share some first impressions. I’m late to the party as usual, but I’ll still try to avoid major spoilers. In the interest of not keeping you too long, gentle reader, I will hit only a few points. It’s to the expansion’s credit that there are so many things I want to write about, but I just don’t have room to cover it all in a single post!

The Story

I was a fan of the Fallen Empire saga, but I understand it was not everyone’s cup of tea. Onslaught is a return to a traditional SWTOR story, but with extra style and tricks Bioware has learned in the intervening years. The biggest issue with even the strongest of Fallen Empire’s chapters is that there was little novelty in replaying the chapters on alts. There were variations, especially between light and dark side characters, but the general arc of the story was the same for all everyone. However, our characters can enter Onslaught from very different starting positions. The main Republic and Sith faction stories are separate despite intersecting plot points and characters. Added into the mix are the saboteur paths available to characters of both factions, and the outcome of Onslaught‘s story can vary quite a bit depending on the choices we make on the way.

The story itself has a lighter touch than Fallen Empire, with a bit more humor and a focus on classic heroes and villains doing their thing against a familiar backdrop of Star Wars’ ancient conflict between the Jedi and the Sith. Onslaught features the long anticipated return of some favorite heroes and villains, but makes room for other familiar faces that I did not expect to encounter again. Of course, there some new characters as well; I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Jedi Padawan Arn Peralun. His interactions with my character and Lana and Tau were all fun and established him as someone who’s arc I’m curious to see play out.

As with Ossus, playing the story through a second time on the opposite faction rewards the player with a different perspective on similar events. While the notion that our characters might exist in the same continuity has long since been abandoned, it’s neat to see where the stories overlap. Major Anri’s cameo in the Republic story was an unexpected pleasure and a nice moment that felt totally in character with what we’ve learned about her from the Sith faction’s story.

The dual story continues nicely into the climatic flashpoint, Objective Meridian, on the planet Corellia. We’ve seen flashpoints that played slightly differently between factions before, particularly the Forged Alliances flashpoints, but the Objective Meridian’s bosses are distinct with different mechanics depending on which faction you’re playing. It’s an attention to detail that makes an already excellent flashpoint feel even cooler.

As always, SWTOR makes sure your character is the center of the story and gives them plenty of opportunity to shine, but my two favorite moments involved Lana Beniko, a character who, if I’m being honest, I sometimes run hot and cold on. Lana is thoroughly entertaining throughout Onslaught. Her dramatic actions after a particular choice at the end of the Imperial Mek-Sha story had me clapping in surprise and delight. Even better was her cordial conversation with Gnost Dural in the Republic story. It was the kind of quiet, insightful Star Wars moment that you’d be hard pressed to find any where else but in SWTOR.

Speaking of the strengths of SWTOR, once again we get to explore two impressive new worlds: Onderon and Mek Sha. Onderon is a world steeped in many eras of Star Wars lore, and it’s neat to visit its dense jungles and bioluminescent caverns. With Mek-Sha it is clear the folks at Bioware relished going wild creating this brand new setting. While it seems to draw on aspects of SWTOR’s own Nar Shaddaa, the Stacks from Ready Player One and Alpha from Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the dark alleys and suspended walkways of the hollowed out planetoid are fleshed out with interesting factions and plenty of atmosphere of its own.

I very much enjoyed the Onslaught story, and I think old and new players alike will enjoy jumping into it.

Spoils of War

While Onslaught’s story returns to familiar ground, its gearing system dubbed “Spoils of War” diverges greatly from anything we’ve seen before. Even after numerous changes and iterations on the PTS, many, many players were nervous about how it would turn out. And it turned out pretty good, I think. Previously gearing consisted of acquiring sets of equipment with low item ratings, then spending the rest of the expansion slowly replacing that gear with new versions with slightly higher numbers. Spoils of War up-ends this system with a quick vertical progression to the highest level item rating, then a slower horizontal progression in which the acquisition of set bonuses, min-maxed, gear, Tactical items and Amplifiers take a greater time and credit investment.

A freshly minted level 75 character will feel pretty weak with the starter gear from the story, but once they start collecting upgrades, they’ll get far more durable and powerful. Right now, getting a cool set piece or a good Tactical is pretty satisfying. It can take some effort to get the exact pieces you want, but unless you’re really pushing the toughest content, they gear you get along the way will carry you just fine.

With Onslaught many of the big changes SWTOR has made since 4.0 finally feel like they’re coming together into an integrated whole. Legacy group content has been with us for a while, but Spoils of War allows different content to reward upgrades in a different ways. The Galactic Command system of Knights of the Eternal Throne basically gave the same reward for all content regardless of difficulty. Something of that remains in Onslaught, but players who venture into tougher and newer flashpoints and operations will find greater rewards than before. I think this is a good thing.

It’s not all perfect, however. Between the sheer range of gear we’ll be collecting, the huge variety of item modifications, the many sets, the numerous Tacticals and the dizzying array of Amplifiers, it can be overwhelming even to veteran players. I’ve been trying to unpack each of these new systems one at a time, rather than try to make sense of everything all at once. I’ll let you know when I’ve got Amplifiers all figured out. It might take a while.

Where Spoils of War failed out of the gate was with crafting. I realize crafting is a tough nut to crack for any MMO, and Bioware has announced changes to crafting coming next month. As I await those changes, I won’t dwell on this point at length, except to say that I think 6.0 crafting launched in its worst state ever.

Conquest is another system with disappointing changes. I understand the bonanza that was Conquest at the end of KotET might have needed to be dialed back a bit, but I think Bioware went too far. Conquest is the only source of important crafting materials, and the equipment crates rewarded from it are a solid source of gear upgrades. I don’t mind being nudged in the direction of Conquest, but right now Conquest is a hard push. With the changes in objectives it can be a pain for a casual player to even reach the weekly goal. This week, for example, the Pirate Incursion Conquest has only two objectives actually related to the event. One is non-repeatable and the other is a tedious Rampage mob-grind. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Conquest should not be work; there should be sufficient objectives for a any style of player to hit their Conquest target in an afternoon or so of targeted play. And I think Onslaught Conquest fall short of that mark.

There are also oddities with the Level Syncing of legacy content. Rather than beefing up group content to level 75, characters are instead scaled down to level 70. While level locked, our characters’ Mastery, Power and Endurance are set to static values; our overall item level can enhance those stats, but nothing else does. Most of the stats on our gear and augments, most relic procs, most stims and many guild perks have no effect in the vast majority of the game’s group content. I find myself in the odd position of recommending Primeval Fatesealer and Ephemeral Mending relics not because those two traditionally worst relics are finally good, but because they are the few relics that actually do anything these days. It’s very weird, and not at all ideal.

Now What?

Three years ago, I concluded my Knights of the Eternal Throne overview with this same question, but back then I asked it nervously. It would be months before Bioware even started talking about what content would come next. But Onslaught’s more or less smooth launch has me hoping the good folks at Bioware have hit the ground running. Papa Keith Kanneg has already shared plans for the end of the year including more heroics on Mek-Sha and a much needed revision to crafting.

It’s an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan. With Rise of Skywalker only weeks away, and Onslaught, Fallen Order and The Mandalorian appearing to be worthy additions to Star Wars lore, I am optimistic for next year. Onslaught‘s story ends by teasing at least three different possible adventures to explore, and I honestly don’t know which I’m most eager to see, but I can’t wait to find out.

 

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Filed under General SWTOR, Onslaught, Uncategorized

Clip Show

This Week in Aurebesh, I am not yet two weeks into Onslaught, and I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface of SWTOR’s new expansion. I still need to the complete the story on the opposing faction, visit the new flashpoint in something other than storymode and venture into the Dxun operation, let alone uncover Onderon and Mek Sha’s many achievements and hidden Datacrons.

I do want to share my first impressions about the good (the story and worlds!), the bugs (lost quest objective spawns, group finder ops!) and the ugly (Conquest and crafting!), but I also want to take my time enjoying leveling and exploring, so my commentary will have to wait a bit longer.

One thing that I do think is safe to say is that Mek Sha is super-cool. It’s as if all of Nar Shaddaa were stacked and crammed into one tiny planetoid with a gigantic picture window into the void of space. It’s dark, dank, claustrophobic and yet another neat setting unique to both Star Wars and the Old Republic setting.

It’s also bathed in a colorful, holographic glow. While there are many new signs and displays to be found on Mek Sha that I plan to examine in the future, there are also many familiar posters, lights and graphics repurposed from the game’s vast library of imagery.

Before you write this off as lazy, it’s worth remembering that whether you travel to Times Square in New York City or Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo or Piccadilly Circus in London you will behold many of the same ubiquitous brands and logos of our own world’s corporate landscape shining down on you in neon light.

So while I lollygag my way through Onslaught, I’d thought I’d take a break this week and revisit some of my favorite signs and graphics that I have already recreated in this blog and that you can spot on your journey into the underworld of Mek Sha.

I hope long time readers to this blog will forgive this self-indulgence, and I hope new visitors enjoy a taste of what this project has been for the last three years!

 

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Filed under Aurebesh to English, General SWTOR, Huttese to English, Onslaught