Storytelling in Star Wars: The Old Republic

I have been kicking this post around for awhile now.  Its gone through drafts and rewrites, and I’ve always felt that the intention of this idea has not been fulfilled.  So if you don’t agree with the points here, think I’ve left something out, or whatever, then please leave a comment.

I love the storytelling apparatus of Knights of the Fallen Empire.  There, I’ve said it.  I will be back when all of the hate and bashing are done….   Does that mean I love the story of Knights of the Fallen Empire?  No, as some of the chapters are hit and miss, as well as the overall feel to me, seems to be geared toward a Force-user — Chapter 12 “Visions in the Dark” did not feel right at all as a non Force-user.

Because hockey season is over, I’ve had time to catch up on TV shows like Gotham, Supergirl, NCIS, Flash, etc…  If you view KotFE in the same way as a TV show, then things can make sense from the storytelling perspective.  Whether its the cuts to the throne room and Vaylin and Arcann discussing their plans, to the flash-forwards/flash-backs,  to the cuts to the facial expressions of characters, these are tools to help tell the story.  And these tools are being used very well in KotFE.  And as much as I love the vanilla stories, they did not make use of the multitude of storytelling tools that are available.

While there was some instances through holo-calls of conversations that focused on the other participant, most of the focus was on the character alone.  Since I’ve been going through the consular story for the Dark vs Light event, I’ve noticed several places where a cut could have been added to further the story, instead of the dialogue only route.  Imagine some short cutscenes where Blaesus, in shadow is communicating the Rift Alliance plans to his fellow Children.  Or the attack on the chemical factory that occurs before the Consular makes their way there.  Or the attack against the Sarkhai king and queen, if that was a cut that was viewable, instead of just hearing about it second-hand.  I know there are several more places, throughout the vanilla stories where these cuts could take place.

In fact, the expansions Rise of the Hutt Cartel and Shadow of Revan could have done a better job with their storytelling.  For me, Rise of the Hutt Cartel dragged in places, and changes to how the story was told, would probably have helped fix this.  It was already suffering from the fact that there was just the two faction storylines, with no real uniqueness for the different classes.

Shadow of Revan was the exact same, except it followed a single storyline, with the only unique parts coming as faction specific endings.  I know there is a manifest or two when you first arrive on Manaan that mentions Jakarro, but I think it would have been nice to “meet” him and C2-D4 in a cut that happens before traveling to Manaan.  Or to have a cut to the office area when Lana and Theron meet while your down in the lab.

I do realize some players would probably not appreciate this way of storytelling, as they are just trying to rush through to the next objective.  But for me, this would help with the immersion factor, and may even allow for additional “fan service”, such as inside jokes and references.

For me, I can appreciate what Bioware was/is trying to do with the storytelling in KotFE.  I do have to admit that the first 9 chapters did seem to be put together as a whole, more than the individual releases.  I like to think of every chapter as a 45 to 50 minute show, with 10 to 15 minutes of commercial.  Occasionally, like with Chapter 8, you get the double episode, and each chapter has had some type of impact, whether it was a cliffhanger, a character dying, or some major event happening.

That being said, there have been some fumbles in their storytelling, that have lead to a disconnected sense, instead of empathy for the situation.  The biggest failure being when Arcann orders the attack on 5 planets, and then you see an outcome of this, with Senya feeling the most pain, primarily from the fact it was her children who did this.  As the Outlander however, you can feel some emotion for the large amount of life lost, but imagine if even one of those planets had a name or connection to the player.  That thought of friends or family lost, would help to create a different set of emotions for the situation.  To me, it felt very similar to Ziost.  While I could sympathize with the massive loss of life, I had no emotional connection to the planet.  The cutscene however was done in a way that got most of the point across regarding Vitiate and his megalomania.

I don’t know what Bioware has in store for us in chapter 16, but it needs to invoke a real emotional response.  We are still reeling from SCORPIO’s deception.  We are unsure of what Arcann’s plan is.  Valkorion has been silent for too long.  This next chapter has to pack a wallop, and then do enough to setup whatever they have planned for Season 2.  I’m hoping they continue with their current approach to telling the story, with the tweaks coming with the story itself.

Some thoughts for the immediate future of the story:

  • With Drew Karpshyn and Charles Boyd, I’m hoping to see some real story impact coming.  Give me the emotions and action that scream, “this is a Star Wars story!”
  • If we are still dealing with the Eternal Empire in season 2, I would like to see some more interactions with Zakuul people.  Its obvious there are people speaking out against Arcann, we’ve met some, but the interaction ends there.  We have only had a dialogue option regarding any type of interaction past the two refugee scenes.
  • The Empire and Republic have been “bystanders” this season.  I want to see some more interaction there.  We have to respond to the 5 planets being razed, and I think it would be a perfect chance to get back into the sphere of Empire and Republic.
  • We still have plenty of story companions that need to be found, so I’m hoping they have either good story reasons for coming back, or have a good alert mission.  For the most part, I have liked how they’ve introduced the ones we have so far.  I would like to see some more faction specific companions though, as it might give some more differences, like with the M1-4x and Lt. Pierce.  For example, I think it might be neat to have a dark side Jaesa for Empire and light side Jaesa for Republic.  Might be tough with Sith Warrior, but theres a good hook for a mission and story!
  • I would like to see some content that makes more use of the large number of companions we have.  The great thing here, is I believe it could be woven into the story in a great way.  Whether that is through large-scale gathering missions that could have an impact on the Alliance, or battle missions, where you pick a group of 4 companions, send them out, and based on their performance, something could be affected in the story.
  • I would like to see some more class specific story, even if its like the Shadow of Revan missions.  Just give me more of it!  My main is a smuggler.  She’s never felt right about being the Alliance commander, and has been wondering what happened to the network of smugglers she was leader of at Port Nowhere.  Has Darmus Pollaran weaseled his way into control?  They could be a great asset to help Hylo Viz.

[UPDATE: I had scheduled this to go up next week, but decided to post this today.  Unfortunately, it looks like Chapter 16 is postponed until August 11th“This Chapter reveals the climactic ending to the Fallen Empire story and we want to make sure it delivers the emotional impact that the story deserves.”  I’m happy with this statement, as it goes to a point I was trying to make above.]

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One Response to Storytelling in Star Wars: The Old Republic

  1. Shintar says:

    Love this post; I wish more people would give a bit of analytical thought to what has worked about KotFE and what hasn’t. 🙂

    While I agree that they’ve made great advances in how they do their storytelling, I don’t think that the existing stories would automatically be improved by additions like the ones you describe, because many of the examples you cite rely on the thing that isn’t being shown coming as a surprise when it’s revealed later. KotFE doesn’t care about us knowing what Arcann and Vaylin are up to, it actively wants us to know so we develop a connection to them. I assume there will be a big pay-off of some sort for this in chapter 16, but we’ll see!


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