Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My weekend as a Sith Sorcerer

This past weekend I was lucky enough to participate in another weekend beta stress test of Star Wars: The Old Republic. It. Was. Amazing. So amazing that by Sunday night, my boyfriend had declared "I hate SWTOR". I made him take it back, but I can understand why he was jealous of the love and attention I had lavished on SWTOR over the three days prior. While I enjoyed my first SWTOR beta test weekend, this one really got me hooked.

There were two main differences that made this weekend better. One was the simple fact that I had more time. The first weekend, I'd only been able to play Saturday and Sunday. This past weekend I had access from Friday morning until Monday evening--and Friday was a holiday. With more time, I was able to get one of my characters much further in the game than on my first weekend. This meant I had more skills, making the gameplay itself much more fun. I also got to see more of my character's storyline, which in typical BioWare fashion was intriguing, exciting, and entertaining. The other difference was that this weekend, I finally played SWTOR as the multiplayer game that it's made to be. My brother also got into the beta weekend, so we teamed up and adventured together. The first beta weekend, I played alone, as I am used to doing with BioWare games. And it's fine that way. But this weekend, I came to appreciate how great it is to enjoy a BioWare game with friends. Really, really great.

This past beta weekend had staggered start times, so while I got in on Friday, my brother didn't get in until Saturday morning. This was perfect, though, because it would give me time to catch my Jedi Consular up to the point in the game where his Smuggler from the previous beta weekend was. By Friday night, I had a Jedi Shadow waiting in the space station, all ready to team up with his Gunslinger (these are Consular and Smuggler advanced classes, respectively).

But the universe had other, more sinister plans for us. A bug with the beta made it so some characters created in previous beta weekends couldn't sign in anymore, and his Gunslinger was one of the casualties. Luckily, the other character he'd started, a Sith Warrior, was pretty close to the point in the game where my Sith Inquisitor was. Because they start on the same home worlds, we were able to team them up together immediately. And so I began my weekend as a Sith Inquisitor.

The Sith Inquisitor is awesome. If you get the game, I highly recommend this class. I said in my previous post that the Inquisitor storyline was addicting because you are repeatedly told how worthless you are and how you're going to fail and die, fueling your anger and making you more determined to succeed. This eventually gives way (not-so-suprising spoiler) to you becoming Lord Zash's apprentice. Lord Zash is intriguing as the most...amiable...Sith Lord I've come across. Evil and conniving, to be sure, but really quite pleasant and charming. She may try to kill me at some point, but for now, I'm just enjoying training under the coolest Sith master. I want to be just like her some day.

The Inquisitor gameplay was also really fun, particularly once I got my Advanced Class (this happens as soon as you leave your starting planet). Sith Inquisitors can choose to become Sith Assassins, using double-bladed lightsabers and stealth, or Sith Sorcerers, who can heal and make a whole lot of lightning. I chose to become a Sorcerer, and I don't regret it. As soon as I became a Sorcerer, my Whirlwind ability (which traps an enemy in a whirlwind) was extended from a measly 8-second duration to a whole minute, and my ranged spells were extended from 10 m to 30 m (a huge difference). Not only is a 30-m range much more convenient than 10 m, but it also means a lot more eye-candy lightning lancing across the screen. I didn't make it far enough in the game for my specialization in the Sorcerer's Lightning skill tree to become very significant, so I was also a relatively capable healer for my level, which was nice as well. A double-bladed lightsaber and invisibility would have been cool, too, but I really loved my Sorcerer abilities.

Playing alongside my brother's Sith Warrior, I was actually able to witness his class's storyline as well. You're allowed to accompany group members on their class quests, as long as your characters are not the same class (this avoids story inconsistencies: Wait, I thought I was Lord Zash's apprentice!). When you're in someone else's class quest area, you become a "spectator", meaning that you can't participate in any of the conversations or make any decisions. But you can participate in the battles. There are some situations where you may feel a bit like an intruder (as Lord Zash reveals some secret plan to me, she doesn't blink at the fact that someone is there eavesdropping), but seeing another storyline--and having someone else see your own story--really enhanced the experience, in my opinion.

All of the side quests are open to all classes (within a given alignment--Empire or Republic--of course). Conversations related to these quests become multiplayer conversations if you are in a group: each person selects a response, and invisible dice are rolled to determine whose response is spoken. This can be potentially contentious in situations where you're making decisions--to kill or not to kill a captive, for example--but you just have to put up with luck not always going your way. At least the game knows your intentions, so even if your group ends up killing the captive, if you had wanted to save him, you earn Light Side instead of Dark Side points. It's all worth it, because the conversations are more fun with more voices. It gives you something to think about, hoping that your own response is the one chosen, or nodding in appreciation when a companion says something witty or cool.

The truth is, my brother and I made terrible Sith. I would sometimes choose cruel, evil-sounding dialogue, but when it came down to it, we were both softies and almost always made Light Side choices when such situations arose. That's a nice thing about SWTOR. You can be a good person working for the Empire, or a bad person working for the Republic--whatever you want (though you're never allowed to switch sides entirely). And the plot is structured so it still works: At least as far as I got in the game, no plot line was ever derailed because I was too nice or merciful--just shifted, perhaps. This is the great thing about BioWare games in general: having plot choices. Even a person like me, who hates being mean in video games, can find a place in the Empire.

At the very end of the weekend, my brother and I earned our own personal star ships. It was extremely satisfying. Now I can't wait for the game to be released (December 20!!!) so I can get back there, and see what comes next. As much as I love the Inquisitor, though, I still really want to have a Jedi Knight, and Jedi Consular, and Imperial Agent, and Smuggler... There are so many good choices in SWTOR, really anyone can find a place--or multiple places--in the Star Wars galaxy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My weekend with SWTOR

I had a fantastic weekend playing in a beta test of Star Wars: The Old Republic, but alas, it was all too short. I'm kind of going through withdrawal now. I cannot wait to go back, whether for another beta test or for the official launch of the game next month (less than a month now!).

There are eight different character classes to choose from in SWTOR--four on the Republic side, four on the Empire side--and they each have different personal stories. I ended up starting five different characters, though that spread me thin and I didn't make it very far in each of their stories. Here are some brief thoughts on each one:

Jedi Consular - This one had a sort of typical prologue story, as far as I got, in that I was a promising young Padawan going through trials to become a Jedi. The tests, though, were atypical--rather than something out of a Jedi textbook, the Force was "guiding" my trials; that is, the plot kept thickening and my master would continue to send me out pursuing new leads. The gameplay was fun, but I did end up dying a number of times. This was the first character I played, and I played solo, so I guess dying happens. At least the penalty for death didn't seem so bad.

Jedi Knight - I made this character but didn't play her more than five minutes--enough to be given my first quest, but not enough to complete it. It was mainly interesting to see how her prologue fit alongside the Jedi Consular's. See, each character class shares an origin world with one other character class: Jedi Knights with Consulars on Tython, Smugglers with Troopers on Ord Mantell, Sith Warriors with Inquisitors on Korriban, and Imperial Agents with Bounty Hunters on Nal Hutta. That means that at the beginning of the game, you can only team up with one other class type. From my brief experience with the Jedi Knight, I saw how this works: Side quests generally are shared by both classes, so you can team up for those, but the main quests remain different. The main quests are structured, however, so their locations are similar, making it convenient to accompany someone on their main quest because you can probably complete your own without going much out of their way. At least, that was what I was able to gather with this short experience.

Smuggler - Basically, I was a female Han Solo. I felt pretty cool, and man did I look good in those striped pants. The smuggler also had the most enjoyable recovery skill--while the Consular, for instance, stood there meditating for a few seconds to recover health and energy, the Smuggler would do a variety of things like spin her pistol, throw and shoot a coin, etc.

Sith Inquisitor - I found this one's story to be the most addicting, because the guy giving you orders keeps telling you how worthless you are, how you'll never become a Sith apprentice, you're going to die because you're a weakling, etc. You can feel that good old Sith anger seethe inside you: Just you wait, I'll complete this task, and the next, I'll become an apprentice, and then I'll be a Sith Lord and make you sorry! Very fun.

Imperial Agent - This one has a very cool story from the start, where you're basically going under cover as a pirate, changing accents and manipulating people for the good of the Empire, kind of like some shady CIA agent. You also sound rather like Lady Hawke (Jo Wyatt). I'd known that the Republic Trooper voice was done by Jennifer Hale, but the familiar voice coming out of the Imperial Agent was a pleasant surprise.

One thing that I hadn't realized until I played my multiple characters in the Beta weekend was how closely classes from the two different alignments mirror each other. I knew the classes kind of matched up (Trooper-Bounty Hunter, Smuggler-Agent, Knight-Warrior, Consular-Inquisitor), but I didn't know that most of the skills themselves, even if they have different names, match up as well. Who knew that hurling a series of rocks at an opponent using the Force (Consular) had the same effect as Force Lightning (Inquisitor)? I guess it makes sense from a game perspective, giving you the freedom to choose your side regardless of what kind of play style you enjoy, but it was a bit unexpected.

I don't think I'll say any more, other than that I had a really fun time playing and my quick sampling of five of the different characters has not helped me decide which one I'll start with when the game officially launches. I have received an email saying that I'll be invited to another beta test some time. Next time, I hope to team up with someone, because that's kind of the point of an MMO, right?

I'll leave you with one image I came across in the game:

My character (blue hair), some guy I'm talking to, and a couple bystanders.

Edit 11/22: I just got another testing invite. Not sure of the dates, but possibly for this weekend. I'm so ecstatic that I get another fix! It's already an addiction...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Guess who's a SWTOR tester now?!!!

Yesterday morning, I got the email I'd long been waiting for:

You Have Been Selected to Test Star Wars: The Old Republic!

Eeeeeee!!!!! Following a brief squee, I suddenly became worried that this email had been sent out by accident, after an incident a month ago or so when I panicked upon receiving an email asking for my feedback on testing thus far. Frantic spam box searching occurred before I took to Twitter and discovered that there were a lot of other people having the same issue. The SWTOR team sent out an apology email a day or two later.

But this new email was an invite, not some strange message implying that I should already be testing the game. I quickly followed the link to confirm my place in the testing, and to assure myself that it was a real invite. I'm in. Turns out, the testing I've been invited to is just for this weekend. Yes, we're only a little over a month away from the game being officially released, and yes, it's only for one weekend, but still I'M SO EXCITED!!!!

I downloaded the game, and hopefully everything will run smoothly enough. If all goes well, I will be lost to the real world, in a galaxy far, far away, as of 1:00 PM Hawaii time today. See you all on Monday.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fall 2011 TV series

In past years, I've done posts on which shows I plan to watch in the new TV season. I never did that this fall. Now it's November, and basically everything that's going to air this fall has already started. So, I figured I'd do a post on what I think of the shows that I've watched. Some I've been keeping up with religiously, watching the first night it's available online. Other shows I've seen a few episodes of, and may watch more if I find the time. Others I may give up on. Mostly, I've been a bit disappointed with this year's freshman shows. We'll start with those.


New Shows

Pan Am
I love this show. I'm a couple episodes behind, but only because it's not a show the Housemate watches (loser). See, most of my TV-watching time is during dinner (and lunch on the weekends) which I have with the Housemate, so any show that he's not interested in gets pushed aside, and I have to find my own time to watch it.

Pan Am is probably my favorite new show this season. I love the period setting, the world travel, the glamour of it all, even if it is exaggerated (I don't care). Of the six main characters, I loved about half of them right from the start, and the rest I've warmed up to in recent episodes. The show is funny and fun, but can also be surprisingly moving, as I found myself tearing up a bit on behalf of Colette in the Berlin episode. Anyway, if you're at all inclined to watch this sort of show but haven't given it a try, I highly recommend you check it out.

Terra Nova
I so wanted this to be good. I still do. It's just they keep being stupid about it. I'm no writer, I don't know how to fix it, but I can spot bad choices when I see them. First, they chickened out in the pilot by tacking on an awkward scene in which Mira (Christine Adams) and some other Sixer discuss Taylor's son, basically saying "See? We already have answers to our mysterious mythology, we promise." But that scene somehow managed to make the mystery both less mysterious and more confusing at the same time. Then you had that terrible conversation between Mira, the evil(?) Sixer leader(?) and hero Jim (Jason O'Mara) that went something like this:
Mira: You seem useful. Be on the right side of history. Make the smart choice. Join us.
Jim: But I like Terra Nova. It's a new beginning, and all that good idealistic stuff.
Mira: You're naive if you think that's really what Terra Nova is about.
Jim: OK, I'm listening then. What is it really about?
Mira: You know, you'd think I'd tell you because I'm trying to convince you my side is the smart choice, but the writers are telling me we can't give away too much of the mystery yet, so instead I'll just say, "You'll see."
Inexplicable. Side plots have been pretty lame, too, perhaps reaching a new low as Jim and littlest daughter Zoe spend the whole episode trying to get out of what is essentially a personal theater room. Why does that room only have an emergency door release on the outside? Is it a prison cell or something? I've been in walk-in fridge rooms, and they have emergency releases on the inside, because that is the more awkward of the two sides to get stuck on. And why would someone construct an access shaft that's only large enough for a small child to fit through? Did Hobbits build the place? And how many different scene cuts do you need to spend on these people figuring out how to escape that room? The only thing that could have made their plotline exciting would have been if there were ACTUAL spiders in there, trying to attack them.

OK, I should have saved my Terra Nova rant for its own separate post. Contrary to how it may sound at this point, I'm still enjoying the show, and I watch it every week. But I do so hoping that it will suddenly get better. They have a beautiful, interesting world to explore and some good characters. They just need to figure out what they're doing and use them intelligently.

Person of Interest
I like this show. I don't love it as much as I'd hoped, but I think they've been doing a pretty good job with it. I think my main issue is the cool, detached manner that Jim Caviezel gives hero Reese. It makes scenes with him that don't have any action a little...boring. Without more passion, I find it hard to really become attached to the character or the story. But I'll keep tuning in for now.

The New Girl
I really wanted to love this one, but after three episodes, I've just been a bit disappointed. There have been some good laughs, and I like some of the characters sometimes, but just not enough. Only if I find myself with a lot of free time, or hear that it's gotten much better, will I catch up with this one. I think Zooey Deschanel is a talented, funny actress. I just wish the material she got were better.

I started this one late, but now I've seen three episodes and I have to admit, it's totally a guilty pleasure show. Watch beautiful people live extravagant, glamorous lives, and see the nasty ones take nasty falls. Like Pan Am, the Housemate doesn't watch this one, so I have to find time to catch episodes on my own. I may watch some more episodes at some point, but only if I'm caught up with everything else.

Once Upon a Time
I wasn't entirely sold after watching the pilot, but after watching the second and third episodes, I'm loving it. If any show challenges Pan Am as my favorite new show of the season, it's this one. The characters are fun (especially the Evil Queen), and the fairytale premise is intriguing. I just wonder how they can keep the plot going. I guess time will tell.

Another disappointment. It's not bad, but it does suffer from characters being unbelievably stupid from time to time. It's also a bit hard to believe how many fairytale-creature cases Nick and his partner pick up. Does this reflect a universal percentage of perpetrators who are actually fairytale monsters? If only a Grimm is well suited to take out these creatures, does that mean that the rest of them, who get other detectives assigned to their cases, go free? It's one thing when a certain detective is well known for being good at "these sorts of cases", and gets called in from around the city or state to investigate. Alternatively, they could explain that this city is a fairytale monster haven. But they need some sort of explanation, because at the moment, it just doesn't make sense. There have only been two episodes, so I'm willing to give it some more time. If it gets better, great. If it gets worse, I may start tuning out.

Returning Shows

Favorite show on TV right now. It's a bit frustrating at the moment (vague SPOILERS) with the new altered storyline, but things are definitely progressing in an exciting way. I love it.

This was my favorite new show of last fall, and I think it's still going strong. The formula has changed a lot since the first season, and that took some getting used to, but change is good. It keeps things interesting.

How I Met Your Mother
Fun, lovable characters, and I've been enjoying Kal Penn's recurring guest star role this season. And, as I've already explained, I really liked their Ewok episode. Ted can take as long as he wants to find their mother.

Big Bang Theory
The other of the two sitcoms I watch. It's light and amusing, and I like the characters. They've had a couple good cameos so far this season, and they FINALLY admitted that maybe, just maybe, there might be one or two women out there who actually like comic books. Progress.

I think I've only watched the first episode, maybe two, from this season. The Housemate has given up on it, so I find it's a good one to catch a couple episodes of while I'm beading, since it doesn't exactly require my undivided attention. I'll have to see more before I decide what I think about this season.

Yes, the Housemate and I are still hooked on Merlin. It alternates between painfully silly and surprisingly grim, and I really wish the characters would learn to recognize traitors (Look! He's smirking! All the time when bad things are happening! Why doesn't anybody see?????), but somehow I love it still. I like fantasy and Arthurian legend (even perversions of it), and I've fallen for the characters. Also, James Callis was in an episode this season. Oh, how I miss Baltar.

Walking Dead
This is a good show, but it's also distressing and depressing. If the Housemate weren't such a big zombie fan, honestly, I might drop it. It just never leaves me feeling good. At least it's staying interesting.

This is Chuck's last season. We were lucky we got it this long, seeing as it was renewed only by the skin of its teeth the past couple seasons. I'm finding the current plot very frustrating. I understand why they wanted to switch up the Intersect a bit, keep it fresh, and didn't want to make things too easy for them, but it still pains me. Still, I've been with the show long enough that I'll see it through till the end, which I trust them to wrap up in a satisfying way, given that they have advance notice of the series finale.

Covert Affairs
I'm so glad we didn't have to wait until next summer to see more of this show. I love it so much. Annie, Auggie, and Joan are great, and the filming on location that Annie gets to do is beautiful and refreshing. So many shows try to make L.A. look like other cities in the world, who can blame the Covert Affairs folks for rubbing it in: "See? We really went to Paris! Not a set! And this? Yeah, we went to Venice. For real!" Fun, delightful show, and lighter and more realistic than my other two returning favorites, Fringe and Nikita.


Well, I think those are all the shows that I've seen this TV season. Any other shows I need to pick up this fall before I fall too far behind?