Use of Failure: The Imperial Agent Storyline

So Syp has, in a post mostly about GW2, related his feelings that the Imperial Agent storyline was the best one for SWTOR.   My reaction was basically this:

 

 

And this being the internet, we can’t let anything go unchallenged like that.  So I stated my disagreement.  And he replied: “The general consensus is that the IA story is the best in the game.”   Now I was all like:

 

 

I can’t speak to the consensus.  I’m not sure anyone can to be honest, but I can tell you from my perspective, the IA story was a terrible bit of dime novel trash.  My brother put it best, its a really bad Bond knockoff (more on this later).

 

You may wonder about my qualifications on this matter.  Well, I played in a group that consisted of a Bounty Hunter, a Sith Warrior, and an Imperial Agent, and we all did one another’s storylines.  And none of us thought the IA story was worth anything.   Furthermore, I’m halfway through the Sorcerer storyline, and its better than the IA one as well.

 

But then, anyone can say “I like it better” also.   So let me give you a few concrete reasons why the IA storyline is crap.   Minor spoilers follow this point.  I say minor because in a story that literally has no twists, I’m not sure there is anything to spoil for you.

 

 

Exhibit A:  Monologuing

 

The Act 1 villain monologues his entire evil plan to you and then knocks you out.  Apparently he hits you so hard you forget everything.  Sadly, you the player do not forget.  And you are forced to spend the next twenty levels yelling at the screen as legions of NPC’s wonder “whodunnit.”  The crazy thing is that when you finally catch up to said villain and confront him – he freaking monologues you again.   I got it the first time chucklehead, can we get on with it?

 

Exhibit B:  Spying is for Losers

 

At one point, we are in a facility, supposedly sneaking around and doing agent-y things.  Stealth is of the essence!  Which is clearly why I am running through the halls grenading and shooting everything that moves.  My sister in law pointed out that only James Bond could fulfill “Make sure nobody knows it was you” type orders by killing every living being  even remotely connected with the location, further cementing my brother’s observations.

 

Exhibit C:  Random Sex

 

Yes, it happens.   And the weird thing is it happens for no good reason.   Like, you might think I would seduce somebody to get information from them or to get them to change sides.   Instead we did the nasty after all that went down.  Apparently I was rewarding her?  Or I was just bored.  I can’t be judgmental really, I was at least as bored as my character was.

 

Exhibit D:  Remember When You Had To Pretend You Didn’t Know?

 

Now you have to pretend you don’t have control over your character.   Because you were given some chemo/hypno programming to force you to do what the bad guys want you to.   Which…is fine, because that’s how you gain their trust anyway.  Only now I have to not play the character and my dialogue choices are randomly transformed into something else, because screw you, that’s why.

 

Exhibit E:  Surprise!  He’s A Jedi!

 

The Act 2 villain that is.  I think this is supposed to be a twist given the dialogue options, but, since he is dressed as a damn Jedi and hints strongly that he has Force powers, nobody is surprised but your character.  And he’s so bored at this point he can only muster a mild sense of “meh.”

 

 

Now, just to be fair, none of this may completely be Alex Freed’s fault.   Maybe they altered things to fit within the game or realized when crunch time came that they just couldn’t pull off his vision of an Iain Bank’s novel.    That link may be broken now that the forums have been redone, but what Freed said in that reply to me on the forums was that “Bank’s novels, and Use of Weapons in particular” were models and inspirations for the IA storyline.

 

Now compare all that, and what I have said with, say…the Trooper storyline.  Where you get a great twist from the jump to set up an ongoing storyline.  I can’t agree that the IA story is the best in any relative way, and I’m also not convinced its good in an absolute or self-referential manner as well.

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28 thoughts on “Use of Failure: The Imperial Agent Storyline

    1. In Syp’s defense, the general consensus of tumblr is that the IA story is the best. Usually this is stated in all caps and interspersed with vague references to “feels” — so, you know, about as legitimate an argument as a cat can make.

      1. I thought that the general consensus on Tumblr was “porn is good and should be reposted constantly.” Maybe I am looking at the wrong parts of Tumblr… or the right parts, depending upon your point of view.

        But that is still like saying that the general consensus on a general hosting service, where 99.99% of the users are not concerned with the topic at hand, is that I am right.

        I would look for something more like “the general consensus on the SWTOR Reddit is that the IA story is the best” before taking it seriously. Or maybe the SWTOR class forums. At least then I could then go some place and get a sense of the so-called consensus.

      2. “My personal suspicion is that all of the stories are quite good.” Bwahahahahahah. Thanks, man, I needed a good laugh.

  1. Must. Not. Read. Post.

    I’ve still only finished the Bounty Hunter’s story — which I have to say, has one of the most fulfilling, character-driven stories I’ve ever played. So the Imperial Agent is in for some tough competition.

    That said, the male Imperial Agent’s voice is pure sex, which definitely helps a lot. I know that many people don’t like the Consular’s story because of the voice acting.

  2. I tend to think most of the story lines were ridiculous trite.
    I played the trooper as my first, and when you said that I had the same look as you did originally. It was some of the worst, most boring story with an abundance of recycled themes. Oh look they have an all powerful world destroying weapon, oh look they have another, and another. I GET It!

    There was also so little variance in the themes present and the characters. It’s all serious military with no room for personality.

    If your after interesting and compelling story in a game, Swtor is not it.

  3. I have to agree with J3w3l. I thought the stories were initially engaging, but flattened out quickly. Besides IA, which I played together with my lovely bride’s Bounty Hunter, I didn’t get past the third planet on any character, most of them didn’t get off Coruscant or Dromund Kaas. I, too, was irritated by the “mind-control” crap, but in the end liked my IA well-enough. I do sometimes wish I’d gotten farther with my Trooper. I found her engaging. But whoever designed the F2P transition made sure SWTOR would never get another second of my time, or a penny from my wallet. The sotries are fine, but not good enough to overcome that.

    Now, you want some engaging story and dialogue? TSW has it. Fascinating NPC characters, and the ability to project whatever attitudes and personality I want onto my own. But, like SWTOR and the IA story, TSW isn’t to everyone’s taste.

  4. pkudude99

    My IA is in its upper 30’s and currently “mind controlled” and I’ve gotta admit I don’t see what all the “IA story is AWESUM!!!!” hype is about. Story’s ok, I guess, but I read 30-40 books a year and not one of the TOR stories has anywhere close to the impact of any of them. I enjoyed the Sith Inquisitor story a lot more than the IA one, but even it wasn’t “all that.”

  5. Solid points all around. I am not surprised to find out that the Trooper story drops off, my only point is that 10 levels in, good or bad overall, its still better than the IA story.

    Also @ Wilhelm – the porn/reddit thing had me howling.

  6. depizan

    You said you wanted to hear from people who liked the story, and why, so I’ll explain.

    Short version:

    to those of us who liked it, it was a rollercoaster. It’s a amusement park thrill ride of a story, including all the things you’d expect a James Bond movie (in spaaaaace) to have, only you get to be Bond. The twists are not of the “shock, amazement, disbelief” type, but of the “whee, it’s that trope!” type. Don’t forget, a lot of Bond movies are pretty damn silly, even ones a lot of people really like. (Granted, most Bond movies _are_ bad Bond knockoffs, if one goes by the books.)

    (Or, given that the _author_ led you astray, their terrible attempt at a serious story happened to accidentally recreate the Bond movie feel perfectly for a number of people and we loved it and thought it was the intended feel. Whoops.)

    Long version:

    Like I said at Njessi’s, while I can recognize the story from your description, it sounds as though it went through a game of telephone, or something. Because my _experience_ of the story and yours badly don’t match.

    A: I _think_ I can match the events of the storyline I played to what you describe, but not _as_ you describe them. Did you by chance already know that Darth Jadus was the Big Bad? Because your description makes a lot more sense if there was a player/character knowledge confusion. (Or, I suppose, you could have guessed when he died, but you’re not the type of person for whom that guess would add fun. And I suppose the fact that Sith always sound like Bond Villains might have been a problem.) Though I don’t recall anyone wondering “whodunnit,” since the Eagle tells everyone he dunnit and you spend chapter one trying to shut him down and figure out what other terrorist acts he plans.
    (As a side note, if you were, as I’m guessing, playing it as a serious story, why did you pick the dialogue options that got Darth Jadus to Force LIghtning you? *genuinely puzzled*)

    B is a game design problem and I do agree that it would’ve been more fun to actually get to sneak around. But I’m not sure it’s fair to count gameplay against the _story_. Should the game have been designed so that you could sneak around? HELL YES. But there are game play/story disconnects in most (all?) of the classes.

    C: I don’t recall the sex scenes being as random as you do. They seemed on par with Bond’s. (And did generally involve getting information.)

    D: Whether or not one’s okay with a game taking away – or diminishing – one’s control is straight up a matter of taste I’m certainly not going to tell you you should’ve enjoyed something you don’t enjoy.

    But your description makes it sound as though your character was knowingly given that, not that s/he discovered she’d been brainwashed at some point while on an undercover assignment. There is rather a large difference storywise. (Though that may matter little if you’re frustrated by a gameplay mechanic you despise.)

    E: Was that supposed to be a surprise? I thought the surprise was that one of the ex-Jedi’s team was on his own side and playing them as well as you. (Did that not seem like a twist? Granted, he was a jerk from the get go, so perhaps not.) In fact, I’d consider him the real Chapter Two villain, as well as the Chapter Three villain. Interpretation difference? Taste difference?

    To sum up, I’m afraid those of us who liked it… or at least I…played a different storyline than you did. Whether because we took things differently, had different expectations, have different tastes, or all of the above.

    (And, honestly, I don’t see how the twists in the Trooper storyline are any more surprising than the twists in the Agent storyline. Though the Trooper story is played much more seriously.)

    1. I have got to reply to a couple of these, since I played through the IA.

      A. “your description makes a lot more sense if there was a player/character knowledge confusion.” I’m since this is a game not a movie, I can’t separate player knowledge from character knowledge. Maybe in a PnP RPG with an action storyline you can get away with that. But here, the game maker is providing not only the story but the audio/visual presentation as well. Instead of imagining the scene, we are imagining the dice rolls. Especially if this is a whodunnit, the player should only have as much knowledge as the avatar.

      Also, how can you say that resisting/being cocky with Darth Jadus is not a “serious” way to play your character? I was far less critical of the story at that stage of the game. But MY Agent issn’t loyal to the Sith at all, even if he is to the empire (which he actually was not). Nor is Bond in the books and especially the recent more serious movies.

      B. A game design problem IS a story problem when it interferes with the story of the game. Forgive me for bringing in my current favorite TSW. But the devs there wanted to tell stories involving stealth and sabotage, so they developed game mechanics that feed into that, where being discovered means instant death and/or reset of the scenario. SWTOR’s approach was, “Oh we’ve been discovered. Kill all the things!”

      C. I agree that the “sex scenes” were not quite that random—and on a par in the plot with both movie Bond and other SWTOR class stories.

      D. I suppose it is a matter of taste, but considering much of the voiced dialogue did not quite match the tone of the response choices in any of the class stories, the complete loos of control over my character pissed me off to no end, and I only continued because (1) I kept hearing how “great” the IA story is, and (2) this was the character I was taking through with my bride’s Bounty Hunter, in our spousal leveling contract. Otherwise I would have put the IA on hiatus and leveled a different class altogether.

      “Now you have to pretend you don’t have control over your character.” HZero’s argument goes back to the player/avatar argument above. I didn’t start this character to spend close to a third of the game with him out of my control. It sucks. And if I encounter another game that does this, I’ll ragequit on the spot. By the end I wanted to kill everyone responsible, the story villain, Keeper, and the devs that thought that would be great mechanic; especially since it implied character history that was not my own.

      E. Agreed, I didn’t think it was meant to be a surprise either. On this point though, I blame a brain bug in the SW universe. The garb of Obiwan Kenobi in the Stars Wars (1977, no ep. #) somehow became the template for all Jedi, making them instantly recognizable. Except that not only Luke himself but also Uncle Owen were also dressed similarly in that movie, making it a fashion of the desert planet. In my mind cannon (other than the fact that I believe they explicitly stated in dialogue the Act 2 villain had left the Order, therefore was still “Jedi”) that he was dressed in something like a martial arts gi should not have been a tip off. Again, that’s just me. As it is, his garb is a total giveaway.

      In the end, after the “Prelude” story on Hutta (which was great) and other than the Raina Temple romance, which was way too late in the game, the next time I *really* liked the IA story was the climax of Act 3, when my Agent shook off the torture he’d just endured and basically killed the entire room. And yes, I was a total ass to the villain as “he” lay dying. I was just happy to be done at that point.

      You may think from my prior comments that I have no love for SWTOR. On the contrary, dev-signed posters adorn my master bedroom walls. I think it’s a good game. But it could have been a great game, but was mismanaged.

      1. I meant to mention this, but forgot. Part of of my displeasure with SWTOR was one of characterization, and it bleeds over to GW2. When MY character’s story is not really mine to control, I have no investment in the character. The game may be fun, but ultimately empty. If I want to experience someone else’s story, I’d rather read a book or watch a movie.

      2. depizan

        A: Hm, maybe using player/character knowledge was a bad word choice. The game certainly doesn’t tell you (the player) that Darth Jadus is the big bad ahead of time. My question was whether hzero had become aware of that due to outside of game factors and interpreted things accordingly. After all, if one knows “spoilers” ahead of time, one won’t have the same experience of a story (whatever kind of fiction) than someone who didn’t have those spoilers.

        Regarding loyalty to the Sith and serious game play, it’s more that in a serious work of fiction, Jadus would kill you permanently. (At least that’s my read on Sith behavior.) Heavy plot armor seems like a lighter work sort of thing, but that’s opinion. *shrug*

        B: I agree. But that’s a complaint against the game, to me, not the specific storyline. I felt gameplay restrictions had some negative impact on all of the storylines.

        D: Like I said, I’d never tell someone they should enjoy something they don’t enjoy. It didn’t bother me. It was a no-go for you and hzero.

        I wasn’t trying to convince hzero or anyone else that they were wrong, but hzero had asked for those who liked the story to explain why… so… explanation. I really think it boils down mainly to expectation and taste differences.

      3. My next question to you would be have you played other classes through to the end, and do you still prefer the IA storyline to the others? Unfortunately, I became disenchanted with the game overall, and only pushed through to the end of the IA story.

      4. depizan

        I’ve played the Smuggler through to the end – which was fun, but I felt like the story was incoherent and relied on retcons for “twists.” I’ve gotten to Chapter Three on the Jedi Knight (which has an indefensibly bad plan as Chapter Two) and the Bounty Hunter (which, sadly, has some of the worst railroading in the game*). I’m part way through Chapter Two on a Trooper and a Sith Warrior.

        So far, -to me- the Agent story is the most fun and feels less railroaded than some of the others.

        I enjoy the game. Do I think it’s perfect? No. Do I think some gameplay tweaks and some story adjustments (particularly to Jedi Knight Chapter Two, because really, that plan *shakes head*) would make it infinitely better? YES.

        I also agree that having a storyline that takes away player control is probably something game companies should either not do, or should warn people of ahead of time because people who don’t like it REALLY don’t like it. And I can totally understand, even though I didn’t mind.

        *yes, it’s all railroaded, but, damn do you feel it a couple of times there. Which is too bad, because its a pretty good story otherwise.

  7. Hey depi, thanks for taking up my invitation.

    To answer a couple of your questions/clarifications:

    A) Yes, I did know who the big baddie was in each of the acts. It was telegraphed so bluntly, I’m honestly surprised if someone admits to not knowing who it was. Jadus tells you that the empire is soft and the only way for it to be stronger is to terrorize it – and then invites you to join his terror campaign. Then his capital ship becomes the focal point of a terror campaign against the empire…gee, wonder what’s going on there? So in answer to your statement “the game certainly doesn’t tell you..” – yes, yes it does. It does everything but paste it into the subtitles.

    C) The BSOK I referenced here was on Alderaan. I already had everything I needed from my contact, and I flirted as I am sometimes wont to do (with my character anyway) and behold – random sex scene. I wasn’t offended, I just thought it was left field, since there was no buildup or indication that this person had any interest in me. Even in Bond flicks, you know who the “Bond girls” are as soon as they hit the screen.

    D) The ex-Jedi in question has a line where he “reveals” that he was/is a Jedi and tells you not to act so surprised. I wasn’t. Perhaps, as Rowan notes, wearing an Obi Wan robe wasn’t the best disguise.

    I enjoyed TOR more than I let on. Its not like I ragequit the storyline halfway through. I can just tell you, out of the storylines I played for the duration I played them, it was the most frustrating and least interesting to me.

    1. depizan

      A) Ah, yes, well, pretty much all Sith act like that – so I can see why the characters would be confused. (If he were anything but a Sith, I’d completely agree that he might as well have had “Hi, I’m the villain” on his name tag. Having the Sith be a little less Mwahahaha! I’m evil! in general would’ve been an improvement. Subtlety, not the game’s strong point. Not really Star Wars’ strong point…) Which is not to say that I was surprised when Jadus proved to be alive and the mastermind. I was, however, amused. Like I said, the twists weren’t – to me – about being surprising, but about being tropetastic. (Though, after what you quote the author as saying, I suspect my assumption that it was _meant_ to be silly spy hijinx may be very wrong. Ah well.)

      C) Hmm, I remember that BSOK. I don’t remember it being particularly notable. Perhaps different dialogue choices made it seem more or less sensible? (I’ve certainly encountered things in various stories that make good sense or poor sense depending on previous dialogue choices.)

      D) Huh. I don’t recall that, though I could well have interpreted it as the Jedi thinking he was being shocking when my character (and I) were staring at him like “Seriously?” I did go into the entire story with very different expectations than you did. Makes a huge difference! (As do our probable differences in taste.)

      1. I think you are right about the expectations, since our tastes probably aren’t as different as they appear. I’m a huge fan of Bond movies (and books, having read all the Fleming novels as well), so that should not have been a hurdle. But I was expecting chocolate milk and got grapefruit juice instead.

  8. depizan

    Just as a side note, I’ve read the tie-in graphic novels, two of which were written by the main writer on the Agent story. I was about as unimpressed by them as you were by the Agent story. Which further makes me think the target he hit (for those of us who enjoyed it) was _not_ the target he was aiming at.

  9. Having played all the stories, I can honestly say that the IA is my favorite. Top three reasons why?

    1. Highest replayability. There are several endings to both Chapter 1 and 3, so many that the achievement for chapter 1 was broken until just today’s patch.

    2. Most connected. The IA has a lot to do with the other classes, if you are careful and pay attention. Also, planetary events are definitely more tied into the IA than the other classes. Like why Voss is neutral.

    3. Most unique companions. We have a second-generation IA who kills her own father, a Joiner, a conspiracy group supercomputer, a psycho-anarchist, and oh yeah, a FREAKIN’ RAKGHOUL werewolf thing.

    I get your complaints, and they are completely legitimate. I think that is what makes this game work. Each story has a lot to it. Some people really like the end of the Trooper story. I hate it. It feels anti-climactic. The Warrior story was great, but the first chapter really irked me. The Consular absolutely sucked to me until the second chapter.

    On that brainwashing thing, I think it would have been odd if you had been able to respond in a unique way. It struck me as completely normal for that storyline to work that way.

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