Sergeant Rock hit 50 a few days ago. You probably have to be a certain age to appreciate the name, but despite his actually being a Major now, I still proudly display the Sergeant title. You can take this sort of thing to an extreme, of course. As soon as I realised Smugglers could get “The Outlaw” title I gave serious consideration to rolling a Gunslinger, naming him Josey and taking the Legacy surname “Wales” as soon as Calli completed Act 1. Luckily, sanity prevailed, but a few days after I chose my Legacy name I caught sight of someone else proudly sporting the name “The Outlaw Josey Wales” at Carrick Station.
Then there are the missed opportunities. I saw one guy with the name “Pepper”. Now you’d be thinking at this point that he was a Trooper with the title “Sergeant Pepper”. Perhaps he even went the whole nine yards and formed a guild called “Lonely Hearts Club Band”? That would have been too awesome, but of course this guy was Captain Pepper, a Smuggler. Every time he walks past people look at him and think “If only…”
So yeah, Rock is now a level 50 Commando. Levelling him up has been almost as much fun as levelling a Scoundrel, I have honestly enjoyed almost every minute of it. Commandos are an awesome class and unlike Smugglers they don’t look like competitors from ComicCons Worst Costume Ever contest.
There’s just one teeny weeny fly in the Trooper ointment. They are totally awesome except for one minor detail. The Trooper storyline really, really sucks balls.
To read more, follow the break, but be warned, here be spoilers!
Act I – A New Stupid
The Republic Trooper questline just makes no damn sense. Act 1 is okay. In the prologue your squad betrays the Republic and defects to the Empire, leaving you and the recently busted Lieutenant… er, make that Sergeant Jorgen as the two remaining members of Havoc Squad. So Act 1 consists of you chasing down the traitors and recruiting new havoc Squad members along the way, culminating in a showdown with your treasonous former Commanding Officer. This is fine. What’s not fine is the way in which you go about it. You stumble around from location to location, taking on odd jobs here and there, loudly announcing to absolutely anyone and everyone within hearing range that Havoc Squad is here to save the day! Now, for those of you who aren’t sure at this point exactly how Special Forces units operate, allow me to give you two examples.
Here is a picture of a Special Forces unit going about their business.
And here is a picture of a Special Forces unit that takes operational security as seriously as Havoc Squad does.
There’s a reason you can’t tell me what a single current serving member of the SAS looks like. Because if you can’t, the people who’d like to kill them and their families while they sleep probably can’t either. Hell, you don’t even have to be Special Forces to get this basic a level of security consciousness drilled into you. Even the guys who vacuum the carpets in the Officers’ cabins are taught to not advertise what they do for a living (and not just out of shame). But Havoc Squad are so badass they just go around DARING assassins to take their best shot. Even the soldiers in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie aren’t this stupid.
Act II – The Stupid Strikes Back
But that’s just Act 1. It actually gets worse from there. In Act 2 you have to recruit yet more squad members to take on Yet Another Imperial Superweapon. We’ll just call it a Y.A.I.S. from now on to save time, what it actually does is pretty irrelevant. There’s some crap about a weapon that can yadda yadda whatever who cares? Now chasing after Tanno Vik, your explosives expert, is actually pretty fun. Tanno’s a bit of a geezer, see? He’s running around Balmorra requisitioning supplies, troops and equipment for a top secret “special operation” nudge nudge wink wink. Yeah, he’s organising a heist, and using Republic resources to get it done. Tanno is one of the best characters in the game, and so therefore he’s also one of the most criminally underused. Ever seen Kelly’s Heroes? If not, stop what you’re doing and go see it now. One of the best war movies ever. Fact. Tanno Vik is basically Private Kelly, and his questline is great, despite your doing your best efforts to get yourself and everyone around you killed by loudly announcing “SPECIAL FORCES HERE! YOOHOO! OVER HERE!” everywhere you go.
After recruiting Tanno, there’s a completely uninteresting quest to recruit a technical expert on Hoth, and then it’s off to defeat the Y.A.I.S. Now credit where credit’s due, you’ve spent an awful long time gathering your squad up until this point, and the one thing you’ve been loudly and consistently broadcasting every time there’s anyone in hearing range is that Havoc SQUAD are here. Except up until now they haven’t been, and that’s another reason the Trooper questline falls a bit flat, because no matter how loudly you shout it to any Imperial intelligence agents who may be listening it’s not Havoc Squad at all. It’s you and whichever single member of the squad you hate the least. However, it’s at this point where you do actually get to see your whole squad in action for once, and savour it because it never happens again. You can only directly control yourself and whichever companion you’ve chosen, of course, but it doesn’t matter because Aric’s right there next to you laying down suppressing fire with his assault cannon, Tanno’s getting stuck in with his vibrosword, Elara’s healing the crap out of everything in sight, M1-4X is crushing skulls underfoot and Yuun’s doing whatever Yuun does. And it’s great. It’s really really great. And you get to do it exactly once in the whole game, and that really really sucks.
Oh, and another thing. The Y.A.I.S. is mounted in the spine of a big-ass Imperial Cruiser, it can fire in one direction and one direction only – straight ahead. So if you were, for example, the captain of one of the Republic ships escorting Havoc Squads’ assault shuttle, the one place you’d probably like to avoid being is directly in front of the Y.A.I.S. But surely no-one’s that stupid?
Yes. Yes they are.
While we’re on this subject, I’d like to point out that this massive, slow, vulnerable Cruiser has precisely zero escort ships, too. So when you come to think of it, you didn’t actually need Havoc Squad at all. I routinely give Imperial Cruisers a savage kicking every day in my Corvette, the Republic Fleet jumps in here with a Cruiser (possibly two) and half a dozen Frigates. There’s no need for a complicated and risky plan to storm aboard all guns blazing and plant bombs all around her reactor core. Just let the Fleet do what Fleets do – beat the shit out of dumbass enemy cruisers that wander around space with no escorts and half their systems ripped out to accommodate a weapon that can only fire once every five minutes in one direction only.
Oh, this Y.A.I.S. can apparently shoot down ships flying through hyperspace, by the way. Well that’s nice. No mention is made of how they detect ships flying in hyperspace, I hasten to add. Wait, remind me, why is it that everyone always acts so surprised whenever enemy ships drop out of hyperspace? Oh that’s right, because you can’t detect ships travelling in hyperspace. I knew there was a reason. Yes, apparently no-one bothered to explain to the Imperial Design Bureau that while having a weapon that could shoot into hyperspace was nice, having the ability to aim the damn thing was generally considered quite important by most people in military circles. But this is the same military fraternity who thinks the safest place to park their cruiser is directly in front of the enemy superlaser so anything goes.
Act III – The Return of the Stupid
Moving on to Act 3 and it actually gets even worse. Outright war is declared and the Empire invades Corellia. Although technically Corellia joins the Empire, and then the Republic invades Corellia, but it doesn’t really matter. There’s lots of fighting and stuff, that’s all you need to know. There’s a new bad guy in town, General Rakton. Never lost a battle apparently, although which battles exactly he’s been fighting are anyone’s guess since the Republic and Empire have been technically at peace for the last thirty years. Perhaps they’re referring to the great battles he won in the war before the Treaty of Coruscant, back when he was twelve? Whatever, he’s The Bad Guy.
So Rakton’s holed up in a place they call The Bastion. The most heavily defended concentration of Imperial might on Corellia, which you probably guessed given that it’s called The Bastion. But before you can take him out you have to complete a series of utterly irrelevant missions that are so dull I literally cannot remember the details despite having only done most of them yesterday. But then we come to the final assault, the piece de resistance, what we’ve all been waiting for. And yes, it really is that dire.
You’re sent off, yes just you, not the whole squad you spent the last month recruiting, in a mission to shut down the forcefield guarding the entrance to The Bastion so your troops can get in. So off you go and shut down the forcefield as ordered, and are treated to a cutscene showing a Republic Transport flying over the courtyard and dropping a squad of troops off. Yeah, that’s right. Flying OVER the Forcefield you were just told was so vital to the Imperial defence that only the Republics’ finest special forces squad could handle it. Note that at no point whatsoever were you tasked with taking out any anti-aircraft defences, so there’s no reason your troops couldn’t have dropped in that way in the first place.
Forging ahead, you are at least treated to a reason why you’re heading off without your squad yet again (they’re staying to cover the rear, yeah really) Then after you defeat General Rakton you’re told that Imperial reinforcements, more than you can handle, are on the way and you have to get out. Uh, where did they come from? The OTHER single biggest concentration of Imperial forces on Corellia? How many biggest concentrations of troops does the Empire have? Do you clowns understand what the word “biggest” means? If you attack and conquer the Empires’ biggest stronghold, there’s nowhere else for them to send more reinforcements from than you can handle. You just captured the place all the reinforcements come from… and it’s a fortress…. and you hold it, and you have the troops that just conquered the Empire’s biggest concentration of troops with two (count ’em, TWO) casualties. You outnumber anything the Empire is in ANY position to attack you with, and you’re in The BASTION! Furthermore, I have it on reliable authority that should you require reinforcements yourself (but you don’t) you can quite easily fly them in and drop them off in the damn courtyard! Does this need spelling out?
Apparently yes, it does.
You’re also constantly running across dead Republic troopers and finding quests to complete whatever mission they were on. How do you know what mission they were on? Well they’re all carrying completely unencoded mission breakdowns on them for you to casually pick up and read. Has no-one in the Republic military ever heard of operational security? Actually, come to think of it, these bodies are almost always located in areas thick with Imperial troops. The soldiers were killed deep in Imperial territory, and not one Imperial soldier thought to check them for any valuable intelligence? Well of course they would. So these dead Republic soldiers, lying innocently in the middle of the road deep in Imperial territory who just so happen to have detailed maps and descriptions of Imperial strongpoints and instructions on how to breach them? Well apparently Bioware didn’t watch the same John Wayne movies I did, because if I came across that situation I might suspect a trap. Except it never is.
Here’s the thing. Bioware didn’t have to do much to make this all far less stupid. You have to give them credit for at least trying to give you the option of playing as a Republic Trooper and making it work as if you really were a member of the Republic military, but it doesn’t work, and it never will work as long as you have the freedom to pick and choose which quests you will and won’t attempt. To make a completely believable Republic Trooper levelling experience you’d have to have a completely different levelling experience to every other class in the game, not just different class quests and the same pickup quests as everyone else on the planet, completely different. Every quest would be a military quest written especially for Troopers and you’d not have the option of not doing them, soldiers operate under these things we call orders. Of course, that’s never going to happen, and much though I may despise Sony Online Entertainment for the way they utterly ruined Star Wars Galaxies, they realised this sort of thing was far too much work to do properly and too restrictive for players if done right, and so they point blank refused to ever allow players to be Stormtroopers for exactly these reasons. Bioware at least tried to find a middle ground, and they came so incredibly close.
Levelling a Trooper is fun despite all this. Lots and lots of fun, in fact. The majority of people aren’t going to care they’re picking and choosing which quests to do and in what order they do them instead of following orders and getting the mission done, and this is absolutely fine. Nothing wrong with that at all. Expecting Bioware to design a subgame from 1 to 50 just for Troopers to feel realistic in is utterly mad and you can still enjoy a very fun experience without that.
But was it too much to expect them not to be so mind-bogglingly, pants-on-the-head downright fucking stupid too?