28/04/2021

Thoughts on 6.3: The Dark Descent

The latest update to SWTOR, 6.3: The Dark Descent, saw us attempting to pick Darth Malgus’s trail back up after his disappearance in January of 2020 (has it really been that long? Gosh!) and discover what it is he has been up to. This update also saw the introduction of the newest game-system, Galactic Seasons, which is essentially an extension of the daily login rewards.

How do all these fit together? Let’s find out!

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Secrets of the Enclave

We learnt that Darth Malgus would be retreating to Dantooine last year, which hinted quite strongly that something within the Jedi Enclave ruins would be used to free him from his control methods. True to form, he has indeed invaded the ruins in search of something to help him in his quest. Our job, as Alliance Commander, is to follow him, learn what he’s up to, and – if possible – somehow stop him.

For Republic players, this sees us reunited with Master Gnost-Dural and Arn Peralun, who appears to be on his first proper solo-mission, presumably in preparation for becoming a Knight. Gnost-Dural stays behind this time (sadly), so we and Arn are accompanied to Dantooine by former Jedi Aryn Leneer, who we have seen appearing on-and-off since early 2020. She is understandably reluctant to get too involved with the galaxy again, but the threat that Malgus poses is too great even for her to ignore.

For Imperial players, this sees us going on our first ever excursion with our liaison with the Dark Council, Darth Rivix. He’s not the only first-time guest on one of our missions, as we are also joined by Darth Krovos. This is the longest we have been alongside either of these characters, and it’s great to get decent exposure to both.

When we arrive on Dantooine, we realise that despite our own apparent head-start our opposing faction has already set up shop on the surface, providing a few obstacles to wade through while finding a back door to the Enclave through some scavengers’ tunnels. Along the way, we deal with creatures big and small, some rogue droids, and of course a Terentatek.

Finally, we come face-to-face with the leader of the opposing forces. For Republic players, this is Colonel Barden Golah, last seen on Tatooine trying to contend with the release of The Imprisoned One. For Imperial players, this is Jedi Master Leeha Narezz, she of the Elite Strike Team in the Jedi Knight’s storyline. Last we saw her, she had just been released from Vitiate’s control, giving her a by-now-quite-stale perspective of a Jedi who has fallen to darkness only to return to the light.

Star Wars: ever-cyclical.

I liked seeing both these characters back again. It has been nine years since either featured in any story, so neither feels overbearing in their repeat appearance. Happily, unlike several characters in faction-differentiating storylines, neither character can actually die here. Sure, there’s a Dark Side option to “kill” them, but circumstances cause us to lose the opportunity to deal the killing blow. Brilliant stuff! We’ve seen a few too many characters come back only for one (or both!) of the factions to be able to kill them in recent years…

Ultimately, Malgus has escaped yet again. He has retrieved an unknown artefact from Dantooine and it is revealed that this is not his only theft. During his onslaught on the Ossus library, he was able to retrieve a specific tome. We have no idea what either this artefact or tome were, exactly, but their purpose was successful: Malgus is now free of his bonds and is his own Sith once again.

At the end of it all, Gnost-Dural introduces Republic players to Masters Sal-Deron and Vinyor Tesh. It's nice to meet Sal-Deron as a Republic player since her only other appearance has been to Imperial saboteurs at the end of Onslaught

Vinyor, voiced by Tom Kane, is very critical of former and non-Jedi having anything to do with the future of the Order, but Arn sticks up for both Aryn and Smuggler and Trooper Commanders. Imperial players just get one final conversation with Rivix. Acina and Vowrawn appear to have a “secret” conversation with Rivix but otherwise have no role to play.

The thing I liked most about this Flashpoint’s story were the characters we accompanied. It’s great to see Arn doing more things by himself, and I liked how he came to Aryn’s (and our) defense against Master Tesh. He’s shaping up well as a Jedi in his own right, and I look forward to seeing what else he can do.

Aryn was an intriguing character. Her priorities are quite simple: protect her family at any costs. Nothing else really matters to her, which I think is fair enough. She’s been through a lot, has poor Aryn, and anyone in her position deserves a happy retirement away from galactic conflict. Her Force Empathy is an intriguing power, one which I don’t believe we’ve seen all that much before. 

I really felt her pain and anguish during the vision which she has after the defeat of Colonel Golah. Moira Quirk really nailed that performance, I felt!

Darth Rivix… ooh. Now this is a character who I think is going to start rubbing people the wrong way really quickly from now on. I was always fairly uncertain about him from The Task at Hand but with his deliberately disobeying a Light Side order to spare poor Captain Meinar and indicate that he may do so again? What a bastard. What a Sith!

Darth Krovos is in many ways almost as off-putting as Rivix. She is determined that Malgus has only the best interests of the Empire in-mind with whatever he’s doing, and only seeking something that he can use to help crush the Republic. Her blind faith in his loyalties even hold true after the Flashpoint is over, as she sends a message basically saying that she knows that Malgus is still on “their side”. I am curious to see what becomes of her in future updates: once Malgus returns properly, will she join him or will she remain loyal to the Dark Council once his true colours are shown?

Speaking of Malgus, this Flashpoint also seems to indicate that he does not particularly care for the Alliance Commander as a potential ally. I would imagine that – much like Krovos – an Imperial player may be able to choose their loyalties in a future update, thus defining whether Malgus is an ally or an enemy. I would be dubious of such an occurrence, given how much variance there is in the story already, but I can certainly see it being possible. Presumably the same is also true of Republic saboteurs. We shall see!

As for his plans? Well, we don’t really know all that much yet. Since he remarks that he accomplishes what other Sith have strived to do for generations and broken his chains, it is logical to assume that he still views the Empire as a weak symbol of power for the Sith, literally weighing the Order down. It is possible that from now on his goal is to help other Sith “break their chains”, potentially even making them leave the Empire altogether. He’s tried it before!

The Flashpoint’s fights had some intriguing mechanics as well. The first boss, Graul, introduces the Fear mechanic into SWTOR at long last. The second boss is essentially a mini-Dread Guards with each boss buffing another as the fight goes on. The bonus boss seems to have circles which deal less damage the closer the target is to the boss. The final fights are actually the least interesting of all, primarily with lots of floor markings and a couple of adds. Really quite run-of-the-mill, really.

The thing I liked least about this Flashpoint has to be one of the Achievements – Little Buddies’ Buddy. Early on, you may come across a lake with a Skark’la, a Xuvva, and a Zeldrate waiting by three conveniently placed food bowls. You can find three frozen crates throughout that area, each with a different food type, so you can imagine what you would need to do. Crate, bowls, find the right bowl, done. Except that you only have maximum of 30 seconds to do this, perhaps not even that, and you might need to run a long way with the crate.

The only way I’ve been able to feed all three creatures – please note that you need to feed all three thrice for the achievement (this may not be intended) – has been to use Hideout and Phase Walk and I still had to reset the instance a few times to get it done.

Brutal.

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Galactic Seasons

In 6.2, BioWare introduced daily login rewards. With a couple of exceptions, these aren’t really anything special. They’re just a little thing to say, “thank you!” for playing the game.

Galactic Seasons is basically a big step-up from this. It’s this big calendar with a total of 100 levels, which you earn points for by completing Daily and Weekly Priority Objectives and just logging in four days in a single week if you’re a Subscriber.

Each Season will last for 150 days and be themed around a specific companion and their associated species. This month is focused on the Kubaz Altuur zok Adon, and three of the five decorations that you can earn grant Codex Entries about Kubaz history and their planet Kubindi when you interact with them.

The other rewards are presumably going to be part of a pattern in future Seasons. If you are a Subscriber, you will get two Legacy titles, a Stronghold title, enough gifts to get the Season companion to 50, a unique armour set and weapon which can only be used by the companion, two customisations for the companion, four mounts, two full armour and weapon sets, some Bronze and Silver Cartel items, 4,000 Cartel Coins, and 15 Seasons Tokens.

These Seasons Tokens can be used to purchase two new Strongholds set on Fleet, returning subscriber and achievement rewards, and the subscriber-track-exclusive variants of the weapons. Essentially, these Tokens will only really have a lot of value to new and returning players who missed out on the old rewards, which I think is perfectly fine enough. Veterans like myself who have picked up everything don’t need to be the focus all the time, so I think it’s nice to see BioWare extend a hand to those who missed out here.

The Objectives for the system are quite simple. Each week, you can do a maximum of 14 Daily Priority Objectives (2 per day) and 2 Weekly Priority Objectives. These range from killing insectoids around the galaxy (tip: bring Altuur with you for this one) to competing in a GSF match to completing one of a specific set of Operations. Enough there to entice people to do something that they might not necessarily consider doing, and with everything group-wise being Story for Operations and Veteran for Flashpoints forming groups should not necessarily be too difficult. Each week will be set in a different part of the galaxy, meaning that different objectives will be available throughout each of the five calendar schedules.

Of course, this does mean that if you want to push and push hard you would need to do so consistently for just under eleven / seventeen weeks depending on your subscription status. That’s a fair bit of work for some players, and I can see this system pushing some players to their limits in their desperation to get everything done ASAP. We have 150 days, just over 21 weeks. While you will need to earn at least 38 points per week to hit the full 800 points required to reach level 100, that does allow for a fair bit of self-pacing, although unfortunately this is one area where Subscribers have a massive advantage over Free-to-Play and Preferred players.

Alternatively, you could just (of course) shell out Cartel Coins or, eventually, Credits to help make your Season pass by quicker. The latter is hellishly expensive so is not recommended unless you literally have billions of Credits to spare. Those Cartel Coins, they find a way to infiltrate abso-bloody-lutely everything, don’t they?

All in all, I have mixed feelings about Seasons. The Stranger From Kubindi is an intriguing one to kick it off with, and while I think the rewards are decent I wouldn’t say that they are particularly great. I’m far more interested in learning about which other species will receive focus, as Seasons allows for BioWare to provide a moderate amount of lore-building around these species that wasn’t really present in-game before. I’m personally hoping for a Daichyura: just who the heck are they?!

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Conclusion

Secrets of the Enclave is a nice addition to the Flashpoint rota. It’s got interesting mechanics, it doesn’t feel too long, it actually has an interesting focus unlike its direct predecessor, and its associated story leaves you with enough information to be getting on with even while withholding several answers. It’s easily my favourite of the three 6.0 Flashpoints.

Galactic Seasons just kinda feels like it… exists. I have no problem with the Daily and Weekly Priority Objectives incentivising players to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. That’s great to see, and I hope that it leads to a moderate resurgence of GSF. It probably won’t, but it would be nice if it did! I just don’t feel all that enthused by the current Season’s rewards. I’m sure that they will appeal to more than a few players out there, but I’m just not really interested in using any of these items for any purpose, not even either of the new Strongholds. I hope that future Seasons will be more my thing.

That’s all with 6.3: The Dark Descent! Now, where does this leave us? We know that Zenith’s storyline has been set up, almost certainly forming the basis of 6.3.1, but could we see a Part 2 of the Mandalorian story before 7.0? It’s possible. We have a fair bit of time between now and the big 10-year anniversary for them to fit in a 6.4, but at the same time it is equally feasible that 6.3 is the last big story update of this expansion. 

We shall see!

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