In BioWare games, companions are quite possibly the most unique, not to mention vital, components to the success of any title.
When you look back at BioWare games, at first glance they may seem like little more than your average RPG’s. Especially in games like Dragon Age, people can look at it and think – foolishly -‘Oh, another fantasy game with castles, dragons, and knights.’ However, what has made BioWare such a giant in the RPG genre is not that they make a familiar fantasy world for you to explore. It is their ability to make you feel like your character is a part of the grand story that makes a BioWare RPG something different from the norm. Most RPG’s place you in the narrative, place you in the world, but few developers give you the chance to really make it your own. In a BioWare game, not only are you a focus of the story, you – Revan, the Grey Warden, Commander Shepard, etc – are the epicenter.
Everything you do has impact in a BioWare game. Not just on the environment, but also on the people closest to you in the game – your companions. Anyone who has played a BioWare game can tell you, NOBODY will let you know how your actions are affecting things more loudly than your companions. They are often your moral compass, but more importantly they are always your emotional compass. They pipe in their disgust with you when they see you do something reprehensible, or else throw in their sinister approval. They applaud your virtuous decisions, or else have no qualms pointing out your “weakness” in the face of taking the harsher action, and so on. Overall, companions really make the BioWare experience. Ask any veteran BioWare player and I’m sure they can reel off any number of companion names that made their lasting mark.
And damned if they don’t worm their way into your decision making… Sometimes whether you want them to or not.
I will admit right now that I’ve often allowed my companions to completely shift my ingame personality to a lighter or darker shade than it would otherwise have gone.
I just can’t be as big an asshole as I want to be knowing that Leliana will be standing just behind me watching my every move.
On the other side, sometimes I want to refrain from driving my lightsaber into a person’s skull – but Khem Val would think I was a little soft wuss (he already calls me a “little Sith” too much for my tastes, as it is).
When you throw romance into this mix, you get an interesting concoction you simply cannot get in any other RPG.
Romancing companions is one of the most fulfilling parts of a BioWare game. Not only because of the implications for your ingame character, but also because they often lead to the most entertaining, hilariously awkward conversations you will ever experience in an RPG.
While I am feeling the same familiar companion uncertainties (which choices to make in order to appeal to x or y companion) as I have in previous BioWare games, somehow in SWTOR the phenomenon has made a drastic and interesting shift.
Instead of allowing my companions to dictate which way my character shifts, I find myself struggling to decide which ones best suit the direction my toon is heading.
For as long as I’ve known I would play a Sith Warrior for my main when the game came out, I’ve known exactly how my path would play out.
With all the certainty of a person who knows next to nothing about (the launch version of) a game he claims to already have his path mapped through, I was deadset on seeing my carefully considered trail through to its end. I would begin dark side, then somewhere along the way I would rebel against my dark ways and start to redeem myself. I would traverse the galaxy saving kittens and little bunnies with my goody goody blue lightsaber, as well as Vette, by my side.
Fast forward to the present and where do I stand? Dark III… Murderer of innocents and guilty, alike… Solidly in the midst of my very own Betty vs. Veronica situation.
"Come on, let's go hit the cantinas on Nar Shaddaa! It'll be fun!"
"Come on, let's go murder Jawas on Tatooine! It'll be fun!"
A month ago I would’ve said Vette all the way, end of discussion. Now, with this character… I don’t know.
"Romance is tiresome. Things are so much better when you can just murder people and be done with them."
Truth be told, my Sith Warrior is nothing like I thought he would be when I started – and I’m not entirely unhappy with the way he has turned out.
The Empire is a far different place than I had ever considered. A blue boy would have been chewed up like wad in that world. The Sith are conquerors, and their world is an ever-changing one. The option may be there for someone to be the lone holdout, vehemently opposed to this world from which he was spawned – but somehow that didn’t seem terribly real to me.
The further I got into the SW story, the more I started to feel like the most logical, believable path for a pureblood Sith wanting out of the current ladder system would not be to become a hero type, always making choices for the sake of justice. That almost seems too cheesy. Instead, it seemed more believable to me that a pureblood Sith wanting out of the current system would just rewrite the current system – and pin under his thumb all who would stand in opposition. After all, Qin Shi Huangdi didn’t rebel against the warring states system by becoming an independent, pacifistic patriot – he subjugated (brutally) the states and unified them under one banner (China, fyi).
As a byproduct of this change in philosophy, my romance options have also changed. Throughout the course of the game, I’ve miraculously managed to keep Vette’s affection for me up, despite all the innocent people I’ve slaughtered along the way (and with the help of a few companion gifts *ahem*). That said, after obtaining my second romance option, the former padawan turned evil apprentice, Jaesa Willsaam, I am not so sure I want to end up with Vette as I had first decided.
To say that Vette and Jaesa are coming from vastly different places in SWTOR’s version of romance would be an understatement.
Without giving away too many spoilers, I’ll just say Vette is no angel (she has been involved in her share of heists and petty crime), but she is also far from a devil. She prefers non-violence overall, but is happiest when whatever I am doing brings in the cash. She hates seeing innocent people murdered, and hates ME with a vengeance whenever I succumb to bloodlust. Vette also seems to enjoy seeing me act like a dick to people in charge. Whenever I mouth off to people in authority, I have gotten used to seeing that familiar numbered “like” tab pop up on the bottom left of my screen with Vette’s portrait. I sometimes get the vibe that, while she is somewhat appalled by the world from which my Sith Warrior was forged, she can at least appreciate the fact that I am making a place for myself instead of blindly serving my (current) masters. For my character, who wants nothing less than the galaxy itself, she is a pretty ideal companion for my Sith Warrior. She is probably the only person in my crew that would never turn against me, could never turn against me, and doesn’t want to turn against me – in a world where betrayal is as common as breathing, that has to count for something.
Jaesa, on the other hand, can be a devil – but you have to read between the lines to get the full story. She is happiest when I tell everyone to fuck all and just do my own thing. As a dark side companion, she loves indulging in the vices that she had no access to as a Jedi or even growing up before she was found by her former master. That said, she has a somewhat naive approach to being Sith that I actually find refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, she can be as wicked as a scorpion, but she also picks and chooses which precepts of the Sith to follow and which to challenge (such as the practice of an apprentice eventually killing their master). She also seems loyal to my character above all else, which appeals heavily to my Sith Warrior. That kind of loyalty is uncommon in the world of the Sith – especially by a fellow Sith.
My character, Lord Oktavian, holds true to the Machiavellian principle of ruling through fear – but also giving enough (gifts, compliments) to his subordinates to keep that fear from turning into hate. The decisions I make with the character tend to border on a sort of Sith version of the Conan/Norse methodology (strength above all). I don’t murder for the thrill of murder, so much as I take delight in battling strong foes (and killing those who really deserve it, in my toon’s opinion). I also don’t spare people out of a desire to be righteous, just whenever I feel like killing or cruelty would serve no purpose. Oktavian the Sith Lord has no redemption policies. If you betray him once, you won’t have the chance to do it again. No excuses. No mercy. Having said that, I should point out that “Ok” is not devoid of humor. Whenever I have been given the chance to act like a smart ass, I do it.
When you put those three in the same room, I’m not exactly sure what will happen.lol Vette appeals to my character’s lighter nature (which is there, just buried beneath the inherent darkness of a pureblood Sith forged in the belly of the Sith power structure). Meanwhile, Jaesa is a newborn Sith, still unsure of which way is up, still learning restraint, but also with enough self-awareness to follow her own instincts when they conflict with centuries old Sith teachings. That sort of pick-and-choose philosophy really fits well with a Sith who isn’t interested in becoming just another step in the current ladder.
I had thought that this particular choice would be clear by the time my character took shape – but it couldn’t be murkier.
Damn you, BioWare for doing this to me. 😛