12/08/2016

KotFE Chapter by Chapter - Chapter 16: The Battle of Odessen

Let's cut to the chase. How does it all end? Not as amazingly as I had hoped, but it was still a fun ride. Time to spoil it all!



After the brief reprieve in the last chapter, we're back to starting with an outside view of the Alliance base. You and your companions are discussing the questions raised by the end of the last chapter. How much of a threat is Arcann still? What's Scorpio's endgame? Fortunately you don't have to wonder about the latter very long, as she actually interrupts your meeting by calling. She just wanted to let you know that Arcann is on his way to level Odessen. How does he know its location? Because Scorpio gave it to him... nothing personal, you understand. She just wanted to see whether he'd rather go after you or after her if given the choice.

Indeed, Arcann's remnant of the Eternal Fleet drops out of hyperspace even as you're talking about it. Theron opines that you can face it down, but you need to leave someone on the planet's surface to defend the base. Aric and/or Kaliyo volunteer (depending on who's still around) and you're asked to pick another one of your companions acquired in chapters thirteen and fourteen to stay with them. The remaining two plus your usual crew will board the Gravestone with you. If you are in a romance with anyone, they will share a brief moment with you before boarding (thanks again, YouTube - I haven't actually seen any of these for myself), otherwise Lana will just give you a brief generic pep talk.

The Gravestone flies up to face Arcann's remnant of the Eternal Fleet (which still consists of hundreds of ships)... and they shoot her a bit, but not that much. Do these ships actually ever do anything other than fly around in perfect formation? We see Arcann still obsessing about finally taking down the Outlander/his father on the bridge of his flagship.

Apparently the Gravestone will be just fine as long as she doesn't get too close (because it seems the Eternal Fleet ships really do hate leaving their formation) so you'll want to board the flagship with a shuttle. Theron volunteers to stay behind and man the omnicannon. Lana explains that Arcann's ship needs to be annihilated in case he has some kind of failsafe that could still instruct the fleet to attack Odessen after his death. She plans to go for the bridge with you while the two companions you didn't pick to stay on Odessen will sabotage the ship's guns and shields respectively. Oh, and Senya is coming along of course because it's her children we're about to kill. If Koth is still around, he also thanks you for being allowed to be part of something greater than him.

The whole part with assigning Gault, Vette and Torian to different roles is strangely reminiscent of the Sith warrior's final mission on Taris, where you have to assign different companions to different roles during an attack. Sadly, after playing through this chapter with three different configurations, it doesn't seem to make any difference whom you assign to which task. Unlike in the Sith warrior story, all your companions are competent in every role.


Theron clears a hole for you to land the shuttle, and unlike in the last chapter, the place where you landed does indeed immediately get swarmed by skytroopers! After a fun little melee with four companions at your side (whee!), the two companions you picked to take care of the ship's weapons and shields go off to do their jobs.

Meanwhile on the Gravestone, Theron is having way too much fun with the omnicannon... and promptly breaks it somehow, which prompts Tora to some laugh-out-loud meme quoting: "You had one job!" She goes off to help him fix it, and in her absence from the bridge Scorpio appears to make another attempt to take over the Gravestone remotely. Fortunately Koth is there to shut her out with the press of one button. I guess this scene is supposed to show how much of a tech wiz he is, but it comes across as a bit odd. Also, he is there to do this even if he ran off at the end of chapter ten! Apparently he managed to sneak back on board before the battle, much to T7's delight.

On the flagship, Vaylin watches you through the security cameras and makes unusually chipper conversation - she's looking forward to finally facing her mother. She also says outright that she doesn't care about the Outlander herself and won't get in the way, but hopes that facing you will cheer Arcann up since he's been so moody lately. Senya agrees to do things Vaylin's way and splits off to keep her distracted and away from you.

At a "combat terminal" you get the option to pick up either some weapons or shields, or some turrets. Based on your choice you gain different temporary abilities, and these are actually fun! I generally haven't been too impressed by these in previous chapters, usually because they were too weak for me to bother, but these abilities are actually some good stuff.

If you choose weapons and shields, you gain a knight's tower shield which slows you down and disables all your regular abilities but allows you to reflect enemy attacks, an anti-personnel rocket that does huge damage (it one-shots silver mobs) and a thermal grenade that does generic AoE. All of these can run out and need constant replenishing as you run through the ship, but they can be a lot of fun to use if you apply them correctly, for example to reflect a major attack by a mini boss.

Choosing the turrets on the other hand provides you with some portable turrets which you can plop down at the beginning of each fight to do extra damage to your enemies and which do a bit of "tanking" for you. Also, all the small turrets that pop out at various points during your journey through the ship will be friendly to you instead of hostile and shoot your enemies. I would say that the turrets are a more straightforward damage boost (and it sure is nice not to have to kill all those pop-up turrets), but the weapons and shields are more fun if you actually care about being engaged by the combat. Also, there are lots of exploding barrels to blow up on the way!


Just one small bug: a certain weapons locker can kill you instantly when you try to open it.

Thusly armed, you make your way through the ship's corridors, taking out bunches of droids and various mini bosses in the process. At one point Koth tries to shoot one for you from outside but fails to kill it - either way you know about his presence after that if you didn't before. After fighting a skytrooper with a big assault cannon, your other companions radio you that they've succeeded at disabling the weapons and shields. You can tell them to return to safety or encourage them to do more damage.

While Theron and Tora work on the omnicannon, Theron notices that the fleet has stopped shooting but appears to be lining up to fire at the flagship instead, which doesn't change your plan but means that you have to hurry up. As you approach the bridge, you notice that you've got a whole bunch of knights on your tail. Lana offers to hold them off, since she sees it as her destiny to enable you to defeat Arcann.

When you meet Arcann, he claims that his grudge isn't actually aimed at you, but only at his father. You can try to tell him that Valkorion is no longer in your head, but he doesn't believe you. When he tries to strike you, you instinctively raise a mental shield that blocks his saber the way Valkorion blocked him in chapter one if you chose not to kneel. This is a kinda cool scene if you're not a Force user but feels a bit contrived if you are. So you are using the Force to defend yourself... big deal?

Arcann is convinced that Valkorion is still tied to you and wants to fight. If you remembered to equip your super special weapon from chapter twelve, you will have some support abilities such as a damage absorption shield or a speed buff at your disposal (depending on your choices), but they are not in any way necessary to win the fight. I actually forgot to equip my special weapon two times out of three.


There is however another special ability that you'll need to pick up. At one point Arcann will become immune to damage, at which point a friendly green arrow will direct you towards picking up a shield similar to the one you might have used earlier. You need to use it to knock Arcann about some by reflecting his attacks, and also use the reflection power to destroy the Force manifestations that he summons. Reflecting attacks also builds up power, which you can eventually unleash against Arcann in the form of a mighty shield slam. This fight was so confusing to me the first time around because I couldn't figure out what to do with the manifestations and why I couldn't reflect a lot of Arcann's attacks (you're meant to get most of your stacks from the manifestations instead). However, eventually you get him down, which is about when the Eternal Fleet ships outside start nuking the flagship. Arcann refuses to surrender if you give him that option, and you strike him hard... then he appears to get buried under some rubble. While chapter eight should have shown us that this isn't a reliable way of getting rid of him, there is no time to worry about whether you really got him... you've got to run.

The omnicannon is back online and all of your companions except Senya are at the shuttle. You're told that you will have to find another way to escape the burning ship. Gee, thanks! Fortunately there are some small patrol ships nearby which you can hijack. As you make your way there, stuff explodes all around you. Fun fact: After dying repeatedly from falling to my death in the previous chapter, I was super careful not to fall into the first hole that opened up in front of me here... but of course that one actually required jumping down!

As soon as you're away, my favourite cut scene of the chapter takes place. Senya digs her way onto the bridge, tearing at the rubble in a way that's quite reminiscent of Vaylin in chapter three, and finds her son's limp body. She is heartbroken and moans about being too late... which is when Vaylin shows up and accuses her of always being too late. Senya pleads with her but Vaylin is inconsolable... and in a perfect mirror of the KotFE cinematic trailer, she makes a running jump to slice her parent in half - which is when it turns out that Arcann isn't quite dead after all, and he pushes Vaylin back. Her outraged "Why?!" at being betrayed once again is chilling. As the ship continues to collapse, she gets away, and Senya focuses on rescuing her remaining son.


You grab one of the scout ships and make your escape. Senya contacts you to let you know that she's alive but won't be joining you because she wants to take Arcann away to redeem him. Koth is outraged by the notion (as usual) but you have the option of letting them get away... or try to shoot down their shuttle. They'll escape either way.

The omnicannon has been repaired and gets used to blow up the flagship... which explodes into a huge ball of glowing... blueish... whiteness? It briefly looks like it might consume you before you can escape, but you do get away. Hurrah, victory! Except if you pissed off Koth in chapter ten, because it turns out that his renewed goodwill towards you was only temporary. He's captured your remaining crew on the Gravestone, ejects them in the escape pods and makes off with what's apparently your only ship. Jerk.

When you return to the base on Odessen, there are a bunch of NPCs cheering for you at the entrance... Bioware's attempt at phasing? Everyone is happy with your achievements (except Koth if he's still around, because he likes to rain on your parade no matter what). Lana emphasises that Scorpio is still a threat, but the battle has brought renewed support from both Republic and Empire. Valkorion's ghost appears briefly and declares that you're ready. (For what?)

Back on the Eternal Throne, we see Scorpio finally taking over command of the entire fleet and then... setting the captains free, causing some of them to shoot off into the galaxy to explore. Vaylin fights her way into the throne room, but Scorpio tells her skytroopers to stand down. Scorpio is surprisingly sympathetic to her situation and offers her the throne. Her own interest was supposedly only in freeing the Gemini droids, whom she refers to as her children. She also offers to stay and teach Vaylin how to destroy her enemies. Vaylin grins and takes her seat as the new Empress.

I know I'm not the only one who was quite confused by this scene. I can sort of buy Scorpio caring about the Gemini droids, though it's weird to see her referring to them as her children when she previously constantly derided them as inferior knock-offs. Was that all pretense? Likewise, while I can sort of believe that she has some sympathy for Vaylin, I don't really get why she would want to stay on as her adviser and offer her the services of her "children" after just making a point of freeing them from servitude. Maybe it will all make sense later.

Then... really, really, really long credits roll! So much for the frequent claims that there's only a "skeleton crew" working on this stuff...

Conclusion

I'm not usually one for hype, but I have to admit that after the brilliance of chapter fifteen, I was pretty excited to see how Bioware would wrap it all up and couldn't wait to come home after work on Tuesday to play the final chapter. When I came in and my pet tank told me that he had found it somewhat disappointing, my heart sank. And sadly, after playing through it myself, I found myself in agreement with him. The Battle of Odessen is by no means a bad chapter, but I didn't feel that it provided a satisfying conclusion to Fallen Empire.


I didn't expect to get closure on every single story thread that had been brought into play over the course of the storyline, because honestly there were a lot of them. However, it actually felt as if nothing was wrapped up at all - really, the only thing that was accomplished was Arcann getting dethroned. However, the Eternal Empire remains as much of a threat as before, Valkorion is still on the loose and we still don't have a clue what he is up to.

I found myself wondering if I had misunderstood KotFE all along. Was it really supposed to be Arcann's story and nothing else? He was absolutely central to the cinematic trailer, that much is true, but I certainly didn't get the impression that he was all that important while playing through the various chapters. We always had those "meanwhile, at the Eternal Throne" cuts to him brooding about something or other, but the only times he actually interacted with the Outlander before this chapter was the very first one, and during the confrontation on Asylum. Yet somehow, the game seemed to expect me to have a deep hatred for him... I found that in this chapter - for the first time in a while for me - my character kept saying things that didn't sound quite right to me. Why am I supposed to dislike him so much? My beef has always been with Valkorion, and then with Zakuul. That Arcann kept making a mess of things as its ruler certainly didn't endear him to me, but it was still never personal. I was oddly reminded of chapter three of the Sith inquisitor class story and how its villain is hell-bent on killing you even though you've never done anything to him. I thought that was pretty annoying. So me realising that Arcann had a similar thing going on with the Outlander was not a good thing.

I suppose the other explanation for the lack of any real resolution is that Bioware really meant to take the whole "we're treating this like a TV show" thing to the next level and therefore decided that they needed to cram enough story hooks into this first season to provide material for the next six years. I can't say I'd be particularly thrilled by this, but I can kind of understand it.

The other thing that bugged me big time was this: Where was our Alliance? I'm not talking about the mechanics of grinding out influence with the Alliance specialists - I never expected that to make a difference because it would be very unlike Bioware to gate story content behind a grind. But even if we completely ignore that, the narrative of the chapters has us recruiting allies and building up our forces. So why then, when Arcann attacks, it's all down to a single ship, plus the very same crew that has been with me since chapter three (give or take a few I guess)? I get that Scorpio's betrayal caught us on the back foot, but I can't believe that the Alliance had literally nothing but the Gravestone to defend itself. No fighter ships to help with distracting the fleet? Even the poor rebels in the movies managed to muster that!


Also, for all the talk about choices mattering, it was quite a blunder to have Arcann survive no matter what. I'm not one of those who expects every choice to split the game into two entirely different experiences, but this was a choice that could have been implemented very easily, based on similar examples that already exist in the game: If you spare Arcann, he and Senya disappear into the far reaches of the galaxy, never to be seen again. If you kill him... well, then both he and Senya are dead. Either way, you don't have to deal with them again and can focus on something else going forward. It really feels like the writers' love of their own characters got the better of them here, wanting to keep their creations alive and available for a future comback at all costs, even if it comes at the expense of the players' agency. Also, we didn't see a pay-off for any of the choices that were presented with so much gravitas in the early chapters, such as whether to kneel to Valkorion and accept his help at various points. It's kind of funny that the one thing that did end up making a significant difference (the whole Koth drama) was based on a choice that didn't feel particularly consequential at the time.

Interestingly, the one area in which this chapter did really well were the mechanics. It's interesting because this is also the one area where many previous chapters floundered, getting clogged up with boring trash or tedious boss fights. Chapter sixteen actually manages to keep things reasonably interesting with a variety of mini bosses and the extra abilities it lets you pick up. I wasn't a huge fan of those in the previous chapters because they were honestly pretty weak most of the time, but in this chapter they are really good and fun. Nothing like taking nearly half a champion mob's health off with that anti-personnel rocket, or reflecting a mini boss' big attack right back at him and killing him in the process. I can see why the final fight against Arcann might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I'll be honest: When I slowly walked up those stairs, preparing for that final shield slam, it felt pretty epic.

All in all, I have mixed feelings about this chapter. It was certainly fun to play through (or I wouldn't have been able to do so three times in four days), and I actually found that it became more enjoyable the second and third time, once my expectations were adjusted. Still, I don't feel that Bioware really delivered what they promised with this storyline. At least Knights of the Eternal Throne isn't too far off, so we won't have to mull over those unanswered questions for too long before things pick up again.

9 comments :

  1. Yeah, Chapter XVI definitely leaves an... interesting... taste in the mouth. It wasn't nearly as good as they had been making it out to be, but there were still some interesting developments.

    Notably, for all my wacky theories I was not expecting Arcann to betray Vaylin, as the cutscenes had been implying that the opposite might potentially happen instead.

    It was fun mechanically, but yeah... Chapters XIII and XV are still better in my books.

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    1. Yeah, I definitely also got the impression that we were working our way towards Vaylin turning on Arcann. But I didn't mind being surprised there. I honestly didn't think that Arcann could be redeemed, but they sold me on it in this chapter. I could definitely see something changing in him after he was so utterly broken, and with Senya still being there and being willing to pick him up.

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    2. I was surprised to see Arcann make it out alive. I now expect we'll be teaming up with him at some point in KOTET. Who knows, we may even get him as a companion, heh.

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    3. They better do something with him after making it impossible to kill him!

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  2. I was actually happy that Arcann made it out alive, I do not really understand all the hatred my character should have for Arcann (I am more pissed at Valkorian). But my character is a pure good Jedi, who believes in redemption, so she was actually happy that he might have at change for redemption.

    So that said when I play this with my evil sith warrior, she will probably not be so happy.

    I was happy that the endings were not rushed, I was a little bit afraid of that.

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    1. I didn't want to kill him on my trooper or my knight either - like I said in the post, I don't think the story sets him up as someone you necessarily need to have strong feelings about. My warrior mostly wanted to kill him because she's loyal to Valkorion and he wanted his son dead. I just think it comes across as a blunder that you don't even have the option to kill him.

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    2. lol , redemption for Arcann seems silly , as he bombarded five planets and killed millions of people and that's just on the top of my list but hey , he seems like a good enough character x_X

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    3. I don't think that's really an issue - how many millions did Darth Vader kill? And he redeemed himself too. It's really more of a conflict with the expansion's advertised selling point of being able to make choices.

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  3. Grr... That Koth's gonna catch it when I find him. :)

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