This week I want to spend some time talking about the SWTOR class stories. I’ve played through most of them and should be catching up on the last ones soon. There will probably be some spoilers, so feel free to skip these if you don’t want to hear them. Part of this is going to be recap, part of it is going to be review, and part of it is going to be “what I would have done differently”. It’s worth noting that I think the writing in the main storylines of the game in general is top notch, and while I’m going to be game-dev critical (read: harsh) in some places, I think that even the less-interesting stories are well-written and have some great moments, which I’m going to try to call out.
The first two I want to talk about are the Republic Trooper and the Imperial Agent. I want to start with these two because they were the two classes I was the LEAST interested in playing, and I’d heard quite a lot about them. I also want to start this series with some absolutely unmitigated praise. Without further ado:
Holy wow, this class story. There is some absolutely top-notch storytelling going on here, and for a class I didn’t actually enjoy the gameplay mechanics of, I was hooked through all 50 levels of main story. Even if I don’t come back to it later, it was worth the ride, and by itself was probably worth my resubscription money. I’d play it as a standalone game.
Let me break it down: You are an Imperial spy. The tutorial is a mission in which you pretend to be a notorious criminal (with a hilariously awful American accent) in order to manipulate some behind-the-scenes Hutt politics. It’s a pretty straightforward affair, with you befriending a close contact of the Hutt’s and working with him to clean up some messes and get him looking good for his Hutt master, who wants an edge over his rival, some other Hutt. It doesn’t matter, the main friend you make is this beefy older guy who is happy to have you around and who you are lying through your teeth to the entire time.
It’s a great setup, and right around the time you’re getting to like your new buddy, a call comes in from HQ, informing you that an accident has happened to the guy’s two sons and that you need to kill him before he finds out the Imperials caused the accident. It’s the kind of little-detail wrench in the works that tipped me off that there’s a lot of thought put into the Agent story. It forces your hand; you have to either do your job and kill the guy you’re after or set him free, but make everyone think he’s dead. The story changes the op on the fly, and you get a taste of how your support team at HQ handles situations– professionally and effectively, if ruthlessly.
This is a continuing theme throughout the Agent storyline, and it’s extremely well done. Keeping your humanity or being a soulless murderer and liar is a continual question; what are you willing to do for the Greater Good? Each of the planets you land on as an Agent is a separate mission, with its own characters and parameters, and with you pretending to be someone different each time. After a terrorist attack against a Sith Lord and his personal battleship right over the Sith capital, Imperial Intelligence becomes dead set on hunting down the terrorists who did it, which comprises the majority of your Act 1 arcs. Each mission you do gives you bits and pieces of who and what you’re looking for, while you dismantle the terrorist organization in a variety of ways.
The story also starts slipping in suggestions that you shouldn’t trust anyone, mostly from unreliable sources. It comes off as the kind of thing that desperate people would say to make you doubt yourself, especially considering that your handlers have your back pretty much the whole time. It’s a very effective setup, and though you do ultimately find out WHY people are saying this, it’s ambiguous enough that you can still decide if you think they’re right.
In the meantime, you dismantle a terrorist organization through a serious of classic spy tropes on various planets. You’re like a mix of James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Agent 47, with plenty of ways to express each of them. Act 1 ends with a bang, giving you one of the hardest choices in the entire game across any of the stories and really making you FEEL the impact of that decision. It seems like it could play out in a huge number of ways, and I only saw one of them. I won’t lie, I’m tempted to play another Agent just to see some of the rest.
After the Act 1 finale, however, I expected the story to take something of a downturn. The “mission on each planet” theme had just about worn out its welcome, and the Act 1 finale was so good I couldn’t imagine the game topping it. I was horribly wrong.
The Agent Act 2 begins with you being inserted as a double agent. It instantly and totally changes your main contacts and the kinds of decisions you make throughout the second arc. You’re working for the Republic while trying not to cause too much damage to the Empire but also not blow your cover… and that’s just the setup for every mission. It turns the structure of the story on its head and hands you several compelling new characters, a few of whom introduce a twist to make you despise them. Act 2 becomes about working undercover while subtly working towards Imperial interests, all while juggling these new, compellingly awful characters who need to believe you’re on their side.
The Act 2 finale, weak for most classes, is surprisingly strong for the Agent, allowing you to finish off your double-agent career and put a stop to the plans of this Republic spy force you’ve been working with. One of them escapes, however, and you realize that he’s much more than just a Republic spy.
The third act of Agent is about chasing down this incredibly elusive character, who has given you a ton of reason to hate him. He’s got a ton of resources mysteriously at his disposal and is perfectly willing to use your own past against you. Throughout Act 3, I would get ambushed by the agents of characters I’d dealt with previously, who were tipped off to my location and out for revenge. The looming threat of having my identity publicly exposed was a spectre throughout the third Act, and the secretive spy I was hunting for would frequently call in to gloat, Handsome Jack style. It was fantastically compelling and an absolute pleasure to reach the final conclusion, which is the second most satisfying finale of any class story I’ve played.
I’ve got a lot of good things to say about the Agent, and very little criticism. The biggest criticism I have is that the Sniper subclass is relatively uninspiring compared to the others. It hits hard, and that’s about it. The only other major criticism (that you’ll see a lot of) is that the Agent takes FOREVER to get companions, getting the standard first one on its starting planet then not seeing another until Tattooine. It does, however, have some of the most interesting companions, and while I don’t love all of them, I’m at least interested in them. I just wish I’d gotten them sooner.
Talk about a class I had zero interest in playing. I don’t go in much for the whole military-dude-in-power-armor thing; I’ve never liked Halo and I have Opinions about Warhammer 40k, so the Trooper seemed like it was going to be dead in the water for me. I was extremely wrong.
The Trooper story begins with a mission on Ord Mantell, a backwater planet. You’re a part of the elite Republic Special Forces, nicknamed Havoc Squad, and you meet the rest of your team, who are all welcoming but not super personable. This is fine, you work with them, work on recovering a nasty bomb, have to make some choices between being dutiful and being humane (the running theme of the class), and honestly this is where Trooper always stalled out for me. The finale on Ord Mantell revolves around your squad betraying you and defecting. You’re the only one left, things have gone pear-shaped, and your commanding officer is Not Happy, and trying to keep the wholesale defection of Havoc Squad off the record.
To this end, the majority of Act 1 is hunting down the defectors. This wouldn’t be so interesting if it weren’t so characterful. You meet a LOT of interesting characters, and make a lot of decisions between doing the right thing and pissing off your CO, who really wants the Mission To Be Adhered To, Dammit. Some of the defectors can be captured, some have to be killed, one even escapes, and ultimately you face off against the leader, whose plan is falling apart thanks to your work. There’re a lot of interesting characters and mini-arcs as you find the various defectors, and I found myself really interested in finding out the stories of the defectors and the people I met.
The strength of the Trooper story is in its characters and in the choices you can make in dialogue; there’s some really funny stuff in there, and the characters are compelling and interesting. I really want to call out the male Trooper romance here. Elara Dorne has a fascinating companion storyline that meshes really well into the rest of the plot, and the romance between her and your trooper has some serious hurdles to get over, due to that whole “fraternizing with a squadmate” thing. More interestingly, it’s not glossed over the way it is in other class stories, partly because of Elara’s by-the-book personality. I really like the resolution there, and the entire arc feels a lot more adult and mature than a majority of the other romances, where the primary conflict pretty much gets resolved at the point both you and your companion decide you’re into one another.
There’s a common trope in romances in media where the biggest conflict two lovers face is confessing their love for one another, and that things are pretty much smooth sailing from there. Once the “main couple” is together and settled, it seems, everything else falls into place and most of their interactions revolve around being sappy and lovey at one another. Indeed, most of the romances in SWTOR follow this arc, and there are very, very few examples I can think of where that isn’t the case (honestly, it’s one of the reasons I like SAO as much as I do). The Trooper storyline doesn’t do this anywhere near as much, and the most significant relationship conflicts actually happen AFTER you’re together with Elara. It’s a detail I like quite a bit; it makes the whole thing more believable and richer for me, and less like a “hit buttons, get romance” thing.
Trooper Act 2 is interesting, because it revolves around you bringing Havoc Squad up to full strength to take down an Imperial superweapon. It’s a neat concept, and the character focus switches from hunting down defectors to the new characters you’ll get to recruit. You need particular experts and specialists, and the story takes you to some remote planets to retrieve them. The interesting twist here involves their COs, who often aren’t thrilled to part with the best person under their command and sometimes work against you as best they can.
The Act 2 finale is even better than the Act 1, with your entire squad taking part and you working directly alongside a couple of members yourself to get the mission done. It’s fantastically scripted and makes you feel like there’s a full team effort going on. There’s no Big Bad to deal with here, but there doesn’t need to be, because your team provides the characterization you want to work with. Funnily enough, I suspect this superweapon might be adjacent to the one that appears in the Sith Inquisitor storyline, but I might be wrong.
Act 3 is where the Trooper story loses me. It’s analogous to Act 2, in that I’m going from planet to planet to retrieve key personnel, but the personnel in question aren’t characterized as well. It would be a great opportunity to focus on a particular Big Bad, and there is one, but he doesn’t get a lot of screen time, so I’m not terribly interested. It’s a telling rather than showing problem; I’m told this Imperial guy is really bad, but I barely see him and he doesn’t do a lot to convince me I should care.
I feel like the Trooper story would have benefitted from a better throughline connecting the Acts. If the Imperial Admiral in Act 3 had been the contact of the original defecting Havoc Squad, and more closely connected with the superweapon, he could have been sending agents to personally hunt Havoc Squad, which would give him more face time and make him a more compelling villain. As it stands, I’m not terribly interested in this guy other than from the standpoint of “my CO is telling me he’s bad and I should fight him, so that’s what I’m doing because I AM SOLDIER”. Without the compelling characterization or the thought-provoking choices of the first two Acts, Act 3 falls quite a bit short, and even at 12x XP I managed to stall out on Voss for a while.
I wouldn’t have played either of these characters were it not for the rave reviews I’d heard from other people, and I’m really glad I came back to SWTOR to play them. Even if the third Act of Trooper fell a bit flat, the first two Acts were great and Act 3 still has some great moments. Imperial Agent was fantastic from start to finish, excellently written, excellently paced, and honestly worth my subscription fee by itself.