One of the strongest anchor points of any BioWare RPG, alongside the story, is the cast of characters thrown into the mix. The character list of Fallen Empire is no exception to this, providing a slew of decent, entertaining, and interesting characters onto the already quite sizeable pile of characters one can encounter in this game.
Before I begin, this list is only looking at the main characters/followers and villians in order of appearance; the various Alliance Specialists and related Companions will get their own post next week.
Whereas the last couple of posts have been spoiler-free, this post will make up for that by having quite a lot spread throughout. Spoilerphobes beware.
It was good to see that Marr had seemingly taken a lesson from the Coalition on Yavin IV and was open to working with the Republic in hunting down the former Emperor. I must admit that, outside of a potentially Republic-affiliated Outlander, it is strange to think that the Republic would not send someone who had experience working with Marr and whom the Sith Lord has any ounce of tolerance for to ensure good will. Satele must have been busy that day.
Even if the Developers did not pre-emptively confirm that Marr would die on one of their streams, it was logically bound to happen to set the Eternal Empire up as a major threat whilst tugging at heartstrings of Marr-fans. Of course, whether or not the first point had any true reverence will remain to be seen given Valkorion's more middle-ground role in the game beyond that point and that Warriors and Inquisitors can even acknowledge their belief that Marr was weak in another Chapter.
Whilst I still feel that Lana is too heavily-involved in the game's story it is a good thing to have a familiar face for veteran characters to wake up to. Indeed, it is through her that we learn what has happened to the galaxy during our carbonite slumber, but this is pretty much where my own respect for her character begins and ends. I cannot deny, however, that it is good for players who had previously romanced her to finally be able to pursue this in-full in this story.
On another note, Lana's new design is much better than the previous one. Not only is her costume much better - no more silly high collar! - but her face and hair are also far better-realised than they were before.
Despite playing a minor part in Chapter III, T7 remains our contact on Zakuul once we escape and even alerts us to the Lady of Sorrows before joining us as a Companion in Chapter VII. Considering that Astromech Droids are a "staple" of any Star Wars story saga, it's fitting that this should be the case. It is a little strange to have him tag along on an Imperial character, but it's still fantastic to see the hardy Astromech become one of the key components of the new epic story.
Presented as being rather haphazard at first - resulting in a chase through the Zakuulan skies and two crashed shuttles - Koth is still an interesting character to get to grips with. This is mainly because he is one of two characters to contrast our preconceived image of Valkorion; he believes him to be a just ruler, and this is also implied to be the belief held by the majority of ordinary Zakuulan citizens. Perhaps if we'd have seen more of Arcann's rule than just the all-too-brief snippets we'd be more convinced of this in comparison, but it's still interesting to get the ordinary man's insight into Valkorion's character.
Additionally, Koth is the first major character to make you realise that the recurring theme of this expansion is "destiny". The Scion Heskal mentions fate to Arcann in an otherwise nonsensical encounter, but the moment Koth describes finding the Gravestone as destiny, it makes much more sense immediately. For people playing Force-Users perhaps this isn't such an out-of-place theme but it will be interesting to see how it affects non-Force-Users in the long run.
Additionally, Koth is the only new romancable character. Let's just hope that he doesn't rely on destiny too much in that regard...
Back when the character list was first made known to us with the Press Release, I was fairly certain that HK-55 would be one of my favourite characters from the expansion. I've always had a soft spot for HK Droids, and this particular HK seemed, in theory, to be bringing back the "spark" which HK-47 brought in the original KotOR, helped no less by the fact that he uses the term "Meatbag" instead of "Organic". Instantly far superior to the HK-50 series.
In practice, he does not disappoint. Unlike HK-51, who had little personality outside of being the finest in automated assassination and one battle quote, HK-55 actually has a personality; he's sarcastic, he's entertaining, and in spite of his more bodyguard-like instincts he's still very willing and able to kill. Need I even so much as mention the spider scene? He may be no HK-47 but at present he's the closest they've come to replicating him. Heck, even HK-47 in SWtOR is less entertaining than HK-55, but that's probably due to the fact that we've sadly only ever seen him as an enemy in this game instead of an ally as he used to be in both of the KotOR games.
Alas, no prizes for guessing who the most likely candidate for a self-sacrifice, to save your life from Arcann, was.
Considering that his "Interactions" indicate that there "seems" to be no way of rebuilding him, there is a slight chance that he can and will return, although we are spoiled in this regard because of the amount of times that HK-47 has been destroyed and rebuilt in this game alone (sigh). Whether it will be at the hands of the Eternal Empire or at the hands of a certain galaxy-travelling Jawa who uses him as a combat-ready translator - bringing the HK Droids' use in-game full-circle - will remain to be seen but hopefully he will make a comeback at some point.
If HK-55 is the most entertaining character on this list, then Senya has to be the most interesting. This intrigue was helped primarily by the fact that there were no official images of her until the Alliance Trailer which was released on the same day as Early Access and before anyone could possibly have encountered her in-game. Compare this to Valkorion, Arcann, Vaylin, Koth, and Lana, who all had images, either concept art or in-game screenshots, released with the initial Press Release whilst HK's image was released in a second batch of promotional screenshots. For a good amount of players, encountering Senya in-game would be the first time they'd ever seen what she looked like.
That's only part of the story, however. Whilst at first she is standoffish due to being in-combat, she reveals that she's much more personable when away from duty than she is otherwise, easing you into trusting and liking her. Heck, she even reveals her tendency to compose ballads and sing, although you can't persuade her to do so there and then. Her history with Koth is also interesting and you can see where both characters are coming from with regards to their duty despite both being at odds with each other.
However, by far the most interesting thing about her is the fact that she was the wife of Valkorion and thus the mother of Thexan, Vaylin, and Arcann. That she was forced to flee because her own children viewed her as weak and yet continued to serve the Eternal Empire out of a sense of duty reveals how pragmatic she truly is whilst her coming to terms with how evil her son's actions are also highlight her morals; it's very easy to understand why she had such a conflict of self before agreeing to join us.
One of our former companions becoming an information broker is not exactly a new development for BioWare. However, with SCORPIO, her becoming the Lady of Sorrows makes a great amount of sense given that she was plugged into the HoloNet as part of her discussions with the Agent. Whilst I'm not too keen on her forcefully joining the crew, I do have to admit that her reason for wanting to bring Arcann down - having been slighted by his apparent pilfering of her schematics - makes sense in spite of it being overtly selfish. Better that than have her constantly asserting her plans to kill us, though.
As an aside, SCORPIO has managed to earn my ire more than usual due to her insensitive comments about the "inferior" HK model being destined to become scrap in an apparent attempt to console you regarding his demise. He's very important scrap, thank you..!
You can't appease the Lana-romancers without also throwing a bone to the Theron-romancers.
Theron's role in the story thus far is incredibly minor; he just shows up out of the blue on Odessen once the base has been constructed, states that he's found your ship, and introduces you to the Alliance Specialists and, later, the concept of Star Fortresses. Regardless, and although like Lana I still think that he has still been too heavily involved in SWtOR's story of late, I do admit it's good that the players who romanced him earlier are finally be able to make something of it.
Additionally, unlike Lana, Theron has not changed one bit since we last saw him at the end of the Ziost story. The very least he could have done is fix the padding in the shoulders of his jacket.
Arcann, the white-robed twin seen in the Sacrifice trailer, is the main villain of this expansion. Having seen expansion and additional story content in the past deal with Vitiate as the main villain it is a bit jarring, but still in a way pleasantly surprising, to have this different villain in his stead.
Arcann is a very sedentary villain. There's only one chapter in the entire story which does not feature him in or around the Throne Room of Zakuul, where he can be seen for ~90% of the time. As such, he does not seem to be a great threat himself but the fact that he is personally in control of the Eternal Throne and its associated Fleet, responsible for bringing the galaxy to its knees, means that everyone is aware of the dangers of crossing him. Not even his own citizens are safe; he kills Scions because he disagrees with their philosophy and people are even forced to flee from Zakuul due to his despotic rule.
One of the problems of Arcann's portrayal in this expansion is a seeming incompatibility with his initial portrayal which offered a very interesting character study. In the Sacrifice trailer, we got a glimpse of Arcann's relationship with his father Valkorion and brother Thexan; he held a mutual love and respect with his brother, yet in spite of his constant yearning for some small measure of acknowledgement by his father, was constantly pushed aside and ignored eventually leading to an assassination attempt which resulted in Thexan's death. His continually serving Valkorion even in spite of this could have shown that his father was exploiting his remorse in a form of blackmail.
However, in the actual game, this is summed up as being Arcann's "ambition". Even Thexan's death is regarded completely differently than first implied; although Arcann expresses his desire that Thexan should see him on the throne, Vaylin's taunting Senya about Arcann's murder of him indicates that in some ways the siblings have come to view Thexan as being weak, but of course this could have simply been a tactic to demoralise Senya and possibly even result in her falling to Vaylin's blade in her grief. Hopefully we'll get more closure on this in the future as otherwise it's brushed under too many rugs for my liking.
Including Valkorion on the list of villains feels like cheating. For the most part, he's on this list because he is the villain we were hunting in Chapter I, but compared to the "evil world-devouring Sith Emperor", he's a markedly different man. He's much more level-headed and personable than you would expect him to have been, although he still has the absolute highest regard for his power-base; indeed, much like SCORPIO, he has a very selfish reason for wanting Arcann deposed, and that is that he doesn't want to see the society which he shaped so carefully on Zakuul to suffer unjustly at the hands of his son.
Indeed, listening to someone like Koth we do get the sense that Valkorion was a just ruler, at least in comparison to Arcann. Quite why this well-known despot is suddenly a just ruler who is able to find and acknowledge love is one of the biggest mysteries for this expansion, and we get a constant reminder of this through travelling with three different companions who have known him in different lights, as a wonderful discussion at the start of Chapter VII highlights.
That's not to say that he still isn't a corruptive influence. Due to his presence in our mind upon his apparent demise, we can choose to use his power at various points in the story. Doing so twice means that he has exploitative control of you which results in a different Light Side outcome in Chapter VIII than if you had only used it once or never at all. There's clearly still something of the original Vitiate in him, but it's much more obscure than you'd think.
Whilst I've glossed over the other characters in this regard, I have to mention Valkorion's voice actor, Darin De Paul, for his work in bringing the character to life. Doug Bradley was a good Vitiate, but the nuances of De Paul's work as Valkorion make listening to him an absolute delight and one of the highlights of the entire expansion.
What is there one can say about Vaylin? She's insane, she's psychotic, she's childish, and she's one of the most powerful Force-Users in the galaxy.
On-paper, she seems to be the biggest obstacle our character faces in their quest to defeat the Eternal Empire. We can take on Arcann, but when it comes to Vaylin we're either told that we're not ready of literally thrown away from an encounter. However, considering that she has not yet learned to control her power fully, we do not yet have a complete understanding of why she is so deadly. She's brow-beaten by her own mother in single-combat despite the look on her face strongly indicating that she is fighting to kill and not simply toying around to humour her aged parent. I would imagine that in a later chapter her power will completely manifest itself and we'll finally see her at her full potential, but right now there isn't a lot going for her as a threat.
As a villain, she complements Arcann nicely, considering that he's much less active in comparison. She's much more of a driving force in pursuing Zakuul's enemies whilst he is far more patient and observant. She can even be seen purging the members of Zakuul's Knights which she believes to be weak, something which Valkorion would surely have approved of as Vitiate yet even Arcann refrains from doing. Her reasons for doing so often range from expected levels to extreme levels, such as killing three Knights before she's satisfied with the truth of their report and then three more because she despises odd numbers.
The main characters of Fallen Empire are definitely an interesting bunch, as they deserve to be. Whilst Lana, T7, SCORPIO, and Theron are markedly no different than they used to be, the new characters of Koth, HK, and Senya more than make up for this, providing the most entertaining and interesting individual characters we've seen for a long while. Whilst neither Arcann nor Vaylin are particularly interesting villains by themselves, together they are undeniably a formidable force. Comparatively, Valkorion is one of the most interesting villains we've yet seen in this game and really offers a different perspective on the man you thought you were hunting at the start of the story.