The story of SWTOR has always been a major anchor point for many. Even those who criticised the gameplay or certain lackluster "baseline MMO features" found something positive in the varied and enthralling stories. Since 2.0, however, the story has noticeably taken a hit. We've gone from each of the eight characters having unique stories to both factions having a unique story and are now currently in the phase of both factions sharing the exact same stories, which has garnered a lot of criticism.
I can of course understand where the criticism of the current story path is coming from. Having to repeat scenes and missions is tedious enough, but having to do the exact same things on every character you own can be next-to infuriating.
With this in mind, I have decided to write a post analysing where the stories can progress to and see how the game's world has itself aided or abetted potential future paths.
I will be, for the most part, staying away from crossing paths with the story of Vitiate's return that we are in currently. Anything can of course change within the course of that, but this is more looking at a general "scheme" of the galaxy and will only involve minor pointers rather than major story paths.
I will also be focusing more on "Faction-specific" stories. Whilst I, like many, of course hope that the game will include more class-specific missions, I think it's imperative that we get away from the "one size fits all" story which we have been seeing pretty much since 2.4 and Oricon first before we hope to see anything more intricate.
New worlds are great to see. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the prospect of stepping foot onto fresh shores and I believe that Rishi and Ziost in particular have been among the best planetary additions this game has seen yet. If I had to choose planets I really wanted for future release I would have to choose Kashyyyk and Dantooine.
This said, I would quite like to see us return to a planet we've already been on for a new adventure. This could be accomplished through a Daily Area akin to Section X and Black Hole for Belsavis and Corellia, respectively, whereby it's still fundamentally the same planet, but it is still a new area to explore and do missions throughout. The problem with this depends entirely on how they construct the scenario behind it, as they can't realistically restrict it to one faction only. Both would need to have a role to play.
The easiest solution here seems to be either one of the factions being incredibly close to liberating/conquering or losing a planet. Ziost was interesting in that it was the first time that nobody won, but this has been the first noteworthy and true "defeat" since Makeb. Oricon, Rishi, and to some extent Yavin all saw victories for both factions. Seeing as Makeb was a Republic "defeat", I think a world where the Imperials "lose" would be the next logical step for separate faction divisions.
Even here we are presented with a problem; just how many planets are there which fit this scenario? The answer is not many. There are some planets where each military has a presence but the war is much more of a by-product (Tatooine; Nar Shaddaa), some where a quagmire is in effect, both military (Hoth) and political (Alderaan; Voss), and there are those which are already dominated by one faction already. The Empire owns Taris and to some extent Hoth (it is their quagmire in effect, after all), whilst the Republic owns Balmorra and Corellia, and keeps a tentative hold on Belsavis, Quesh, and Ilum.
It is the tentative planets which would make more sense to focus on; either for the Republic to finally push the Empire away or for the Empire to make a last-ditch stand and finally put their Isotope-5 to the test.
That said, it has been a maximum of three in-game years since certain planets were "active" in the grand scale of things, so maybe something in the balance has changed which we need to provide help with. It's been a long time since we received any sort of "update" on these various worlds, and it would just be nice to know exactly what's been happening since our 'proper' departures.
Who are the leading organisations for both factions? For the Empire, it's of course the Dark Council with some help from Sith Intelligence, whereas for the Republic has the Senate and the Jedi Council. We need to get a proper grasp on how each of these organisations are going to help us win the war.
With this in mind, we need to be introduced to more of the members of each.
The one we know most about at this point is the Dark Council, but even then there are things which are obscure. The only members we know to be alive and active from in-game are Darths Marr, "Nox", Mortis, Vowrawn, Ravage, and Acina. Darth Zhorrid of course succeeds her father Jadus but her present status is in my eyes "ambiguous" as she can be killed. Darths Vengean, Hadra, Acheron, Decimus, Thanaton, Baras, Arho, Soverus, and Arkous all definitively perish over the course of the game, with a further two members - Thanaton's unidentified predecessor and Hadra's successor Karrid - mentioned as dying by Moff Pyron and having their death depicted over the course of the book Annihilation, respectively.
Outside of the game, only two surviving names are known; Darths Rictus and Aruk. That still leaves at most 4 seats left currently unclaimed on the Council. Marr and "Nox" are of course the most active members, and only Acina, Vowrawn and Mortis have been involved in the story since 2.0, leaving Ravage behind in 1.0 besides a mail message to Imperial players who let Cytharat die on Makeb.
Inquisitors can talk to Marr about the other Councillors following their mission on Yavin, where he reveals that he only trusts you as the one Councillor truly "in service" to the Empire. That's nice and all, but we do need to see why Marr distrusts the activity of his other councillors, especially when we as players can help Mortis and Acina with their own missions to save the Empire from the threat of the Shroud and the Dread Seeds, respectively. Of course the seeds of doubt sown by Darth Arkous and infighting being a cause of several of the deceased Sith's deaths don't help matters much.
Sith Intelligence only has Lana Beniko and Cipher Nine confirmed as having been members, and there have to be more "rising stars". Whatever happened to the Watcher units of Imperial Intelligence? Are they decommissioned or is Sith Intelligence making use of them? Are the Alien Initiatives still in effect? What role, if any, does the Imperial Military have in all this? A lot of questions need to be answered surrounding this organisation if were are truly to understand its importance, and all we know for sure at present is that it has only ever operated from one small room on Vaiken Spacedock...
Much like the Dark Council, the Jedi Council needs its membership expanded, but to a much greater degree. In-game, we know of only three confirmed surviving members; Shol Bestros (who only ever appears once in a hologram, but I can't for the life of me place where), Bela Kiwiiks, and Satele Shan. Jeric Kaedan, Oric Traless, Orgus Din and Tol Braga all die - or, at least, Braga's death is "confirmed" by the Star Cabal's Inner Circle - and they make up a good number of all known Councillors from in-game.
Unlike "Nox", the Barsen'thor can actually be refused a proper place on the Council, instead being promoted to "Combat Advisor" if they go on the Dark Path, so this would need to be accounted for somehow; most likely scenario would be with the death of the other Combat Advisor, Oric Traless, his seat is open for the dark Consular to take. Names given to us outside of the game world include Gnost-Dural, Nikil Nobil, Giffis Fane, and Wens Aleusis. I don't know how many seats the Jedi Council itself is meant to hold, but this - including the Barsen'thor - totals 8 members, 2 of which can physically be met in-game and even then only the Knights get to interact with Kiwiiks.
Compared to the Empire, where all players have the chance to interact with Darths Marr, Ravage (prior to the Battle of Ilum in the preparatory stages), Mortis, Arkous, and Acina, and only the Hunter not being privy to one or more unique Dark Council members in their class quests, this does feel incredibly small and desperately needs expanding upon in future. As with the Dark Council, we can't hope to understand the Jedi Council without more knowledge being given to us about their operations.
Similar questions for the SIS exist which existed for Sith Intelligence, but at least the SIS hasn't been closed down and restarted; it's still the same organisation which we are introduced to on Coruscant and members like Jonas Balkar are still around. That said, it would still be nice to get an update on where exactly it "is" in the grand scale of things, and it would especially be nice to meet with Marcus Trant, the director of the SIS.
The Republic Senate has, rightfully in my opinion, only been focused on to a very small extent, only really showcasing a handful of senators and the two Supreme Chancellors, Janarus and Saresh. Regardless, I think that it is probably time that we had a shake-up in terms of leadership. Supreme Chancellor Saresh is already an official who acts on impulse to capitalise on any and every chance to cripple the Empire. We've seen from both Yavin and Ziost that she completely disapproves of anything which doesn't meet her own standard of expectations and that what she says is obviously what she wants to go. If she keeps on rushing in and completely ignores all chances of being cautious I fear that she might get the Republic in more situations where it can't escape and eventually she will fall into a very protested disrepute, especially if some liberated planets fall under Imperial rule again in the meanwhile.
The Empire had "one hope" at the beginning of 2.0: the acquisition of Isotope-5. Since then, it really hasn't seen as much use as it deserves. Darth Arkous is mentioned by Beniko to be "researching" Isotope-5 Bombs following part 1 of Forged Alliances, but the only other mention of it since then is Marr stating that it has already proved beneficial in helping the Empire following the end of the Yavin quest.
We don't know. We genuinely haven't seen how or why this substance has "helped" the Empire stay afloat. Of course, the fact that it is still afloat is one thing but we again need to see why it is so crucial. At this point in time, Darth Arkous's raid on the Jedi Temple and reclamation of Korriban seemed to be far more effective gains for the Empire than this miraculous substance, and neither of those, as we now know, were true Imperial motives!
We need to understand why Marr wanted this substance and, crucially, believed it to be the Empire's last hope, and to this end we need to see it put into effect. Even if it's deployed once on a doomed-to-fail initiative, we would still at least get some glimpse of its potential. If it helps win a planet then that's all the more reason to celebrate having won it two real-world years ago.
On a similar note, we don't really know what's become of all the Superweapons. The Silencer Project is mentioned by Pyron on Rishi to be leaking radiation, but there are ways around that besides scrapping it. A more secure version could be invested into, or a new weapon altogether. The Gauntlet promised to be a devastating weapon and yet they only built the one? Surely, there are more deadly initiatives of this sort which could be revealed? The Republic had secret Superweapon initiatives, but who's to say that they haven't constructed more?
Point is, we do need to get a grasp on both factions technical potential in the future, whether it's simply showcasing a tiny glimpse of Isotope-5 or going over-the-top and exploring the possibilities of another superweapon.
In a similar vein to technologies, we need to know the capabilities of each faction's military personnel. Together, of course, we've recently seen them take down the Temple of Sacrifice if you choose to galvanise the coalition, but the most recent case of one military overwhelming the other has been the Assault on Tython and the Korriban Incursion. Even then, it is unknown exactly how many soldiers of the initially-attacking side in each case are Revanites, so this might skew the results.
The Imperial Military in particular has received little-to-no focus, whereas we can of course see the Republic military from the inside as a Trooper. Indeed, the Imperial Navy gets much more focus than the military, as seen in the aforementioned cases of the Gauntlet and Silencers, whilst the ground forces are nearly always grunts or General Rakton. Some initiative where we actually have to get involved behind-the-scenes with the Imperial Military would be very nice, hence supporting a future "Conquer" storyline rather than a "Liberate".
Technology here also must play a part; whilst minor, Ziost's daily area features the first appearance of a wheeled tank rather than a legged or tracked one. Whilst I'm sure that this is more a sign of real-world-game-cosmetic-design improvement than it is actual in-game engineering development, it still can be seen as some sort of improvement! Additionally, if Isotope-5 proves truly successful, both militaries must adapt accordingly, which would probably be a very interesting development to address.
For a final point, there really isn't that much to say. The Empire, perhaps the only faction which needed a major ideology revamp, has already gone through quite a major development in this regard; the Alien Initiatives from Makeb onwards are all about introducing aliens into the military forces. Considering that up until this point the Empire has been staunchly anti-alien, that's very good going!
If there was something to pick here, it would be the treatment of the Force, but I honestly do not see where it could progress to. You'd still get skeptics and staunch believers, and you'd find those who believed that the Force was not as black or white as someone else says it is. We already see a lot of those in the game. However, since the Dread Masters - notably, Calphayus - perhaps there is the indication that the Force is more in control of its users than it would seem, which could be an interesting line to argue for a one-time character. The Sixth Line were the closest to this; they were mainly a new take on Gray Jedi, but not on the Force as a whole.
Suffice to say, the story as it stands now really can't be compared to the story that we saw at the beginning of the game. Sadly, I don't see there being any way to reach the same level without returning to Class Quests which BioWare have reportedly outlined as being extremely unlikely apart from missions similar to those small-scale missions on Rishi.
Without class missions, we only have the option of faction-specific stories to keep us away from the single story which both factions can see. Variety is crucial to keeping people as a whole involved and intrigued, and I think the current path is going too far away from this.
I sincerely doubt that my analysis will have hit any nails on the head. BioWare have shown that they can keep on surprising with whatever they do, which is more than sufficient for the time being.