Wednesday 11 January 2012

Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with a vibroblade

According to a developer blog, in Star Wars: The Old Republic “The Imperial Agent is an expert at infiltration, seduction and assassination”; a bit of a Space James Bond. In fact playing an Agent reminds me somewhat of Alpha Protocol where dialogue trees typically had three choices: Aggressive, Suave or Professional, broadly equated to Jack Bauer, James Bond or Jason Bourne. SWTOR doesn’t explicitly tag things that way, but there are certainly elements of those three in the choices you can make, from extreme ruthlessness to raised eyebrow insouciance. For the “seduction” part of your brief sometimes there are conversation options specifically labelled “[FLIRT]”, and if one turns up I can’t help but select it to see the result, regardless of who I’m talking to; other members of Imperial Intelligence, Sith Lords, defecting rebel fighters, nobles, Hutts, Jawas, attractive looking vegetation, I’ll flirt with anything. At the risk of delving into deep psychoanalysis and uncovering mother issues, I think there are both in-game and meta-game reasons.

Character-wise, as a representative of the Sith Empire there’s a fairly relaxed moral code. I don’t know if Imperial Intelligence hold Sexual Harassment in the Workplace seminars, but if they do they’re probably a bit different to contemporary versions. “Hey, Darth Corporate-Video-Actor! Are you about to use your Force powers to abuse a slave? STOP! Think about it. There’s something wrong, isn’t there? That’s right, you haven’t set up a HoloCam to record the incident to upload to Sith Lords Do The Funniest Things.” I generally pick light side options when confronted with major moral choices, but for the most part gallivant around the place as an irreverent space womaniser.

In game mechanic terms, conversation choices don’t tend to have deep or long term implications. I could be entirely mistaken, but I haven’t seen any opportunities to deviate from the linear story quests so far; I can detour via space combat, PvP, crafting or what-not, even ignore the story altogether, but if I want to take part I go where I’m sent, and do what I’m told. Course single player story-driven games also tend to railroad you in something of an inverse butterfly effect, but MMOGs have additional issues, such as the absence of a save game. Melmoth linked to the Penny Arcade quote about reaching for the quick save button leading to some contemplation in the comments of irreversible consequences, something Pirates of the Burning Sea made me think about last year. Moridir points out in previous comments that you can reset a conversation using the Escape key to remake lightside/darkside/affection choices, a sort of pseudo-quickload, worth bearing in mind if you really don’t like the way something turns out, but possibly not entirely reliable. In a single player game I might try my luck with a Sith Lord safe in the knowledge that I have a save game to fall back on should she reject my advances (with hilarious, or fatal, or indeed hilariously fatal consequences); in SWTOR I rely on Bioware not wanting to face the wrath of a million forum posts that would doubtless result if your future was seriously effected by a conversation option not clearly labelled “[FLIRT] [ALSO GET FORCE-CHOKED TO DEATH DUE TO A SERIOUSLY MISJUDGED CHAT-UP LINE]”.

That’s not to say my amorous attempts have been universally positive. There was one minor incident of ill-advised flirting involving a fanatical assassin, a top of the line holo-disguise and a dagger to the kidneys that would’ve definitely needed a quickload in a single player game, but an Imperial Med-Bot got me through it. I was a bit disappointed not to have got in a snappy Space James Bond zinger before the combat started, though, something like “Argh! That’s not quite what I meant when I suggested a game of ‘hide the vibro-knife’…”

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