Friday, November 30, 2018

Remember the Days of Kill Ten Rats?

I remember playing through my first toon on SWTOR back in 2012, a Smuggler/Gunslinger, and thinking that Bioware didn't hesitate to show the grey morality of the Republic, particularly on Ord Mantell and Belsavis. SWTOR pretty much hit you over the head with that in Ord Mantell with the woman looking for her locket, and the Cathar woman stealing medical supplies for the refugees, not to mention the embedded videographer you're supposed to "rescue" from the Separatists. However, the one thing that I believe SWTOR did shy away from was the usage of tragedy to propel a story forward.

It's not that the Star Wars Universe is incapable of tragedy as a plot device --the television shows and the "Star Wars Story" films show that in spades-- it's just that the emphasis of SWTOR is more on heroism and getting to be the hero in a galaxy divided between Republic and Sith Empire. Despite all the gray, you do have moral choices to make (Light vs.Dark) that are baked into the system, and one of the choices the Bioware devs decided when working on SWTOR was to simply not use tragedy very much.*

Given the nature of the backstory, I expected more of this in Age of Conan, where in Robert E. Howard's stories the secondary (and frequently major) characters would meet untimely ends in the same way that people in H.P. Lovecraft's stories did. The Sword and Sorcery ethos of "magic = things that mankind was not meant to meddle with" pretty much demands it. On the flip side, when major players died in WoW it would frequently feel forced, and for a while most of the major deaths happened offscreen in the novels. The most notable exception for this was the Wrathgate event, which turned everything in Northrend on its head, yet the full event was so well done it felt completely organic to the situation. Anyone with a brain could see the Apothecaries were working on their own "secret projects" since Vanilla, that long game they were playing finally came to fruition two expacs later.

All that being said, The Elder Scrolls Online hasn't really hesitated into utilizing tragedy --and borrowed from a lot of Sword and Sorcery ethos-- to propel a story forward.

Having played the Main Questline through to completion, it was notably absent of much in the way of sacrifice. Yes, I'm aware of the ending, but even then it wasn't much of a sacrifice if you ask me, because I wasn't so invested in those characters. To be honest, I was more invested in their voice actors than the characters themselves. But the zone stories are an entirely different animal.

It is here that I differentiate between the Main Questline and the entire Coldharbour questline. While I suppose it might count as part of the Main Questline, it certainly has more in common with the other Zone Questlines, as the utilization of tragedy is much more common there than in the Main Questline.

I was thinking about the utilization of tragedy as a plot device last night, as I entered into Stormhaven the other day and was finishing up some quests on the western part of the zone. There I ran into yet another tragic outcome (sorry, no spoilers) which got me to thinking that the Elder Scrolls Universe has absolutely no problem utilizing tragedy, particularly when Daedra are involved to any extent. For all the Mary Sue-ism that your toon embodies, and believe me there's quite a bit of that,** the ESO zone stories temper that with things that you can't control and events you can't stop. Even when you're given a quest to make things right, events are never so simple as it seems.

Kill Ten Rats this ain't. More like "Kill Ten Rats, and oopsie, the original questgiver had that wrong, and you really need to do a Fetch and Carry, and uh-oh, maybe this is an Escort quest as well because the original questgiver decided they couldn't wait and got themselves in a crap ton of hot water (sometimes literally). Oh, and there's also a pretty decent chance that the subject of the quest is either in cahoots with the Daedra or is going to be killed by the Daedra or the Daedra had that subject's buddies killed. Rocks all; everyone dies."

ESO Rule for NPCs #1: Unless the Daedric Prince's name is Merida or Azura, don't even bother. Just don't. And if someone promises to make your problems go away, you're screwed, because it's likely a Daedra. Unless it's your toon doing the promising, of course.

*No, I don't have a pipeline to the SWTOR devs, but looking at the result shows that they did avoid tragedy. It's not like Bioware won't use tragedy as a plot device; after all, look at their other games --including KOTOR 1-- as proof otherwise.

**One questgiver says at the completion of a quest that she will erect a statue in your honor, which is more than a wee bit over the top. And really, your toon is trusted by people (commonly known as "your betters") who ordinarily have no business whatsoever trusting a random person who just happens to show up on their doorstep asking if they can help out. From my perspective, that is the laziest part of the writing in the ESO universe; I shouldn't be able to simply waltz up to a Captain of the Guard, much less nobility, and have them simply accept that I'm going to help out and do their heavy lifting. Even the Jedi get less initial traction in SWTOR than your toon does in ESO.

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