Yes, the Galactic Empire, the one from the movies, was pretty bad. They dressed liked nazis, were super racist and sexist, blew up planets, etc. but it could have been worse. And thousands of years earlier, it was.
The Sith Empire of Star Wars: The Old Republic is a lot like the Empire we know so well, except for a couple key differences. It is run by Damien from The Omen who grew up to sacrifice all life — ALL life — on a planet to make himself immortal. Then he built up his empire over 1300 years, all the while conscripting every able-bodied adult who can’t use the Force into the military. And instead of having one Darth Vader running around doing dastardly deeds, there are millions of them raised from childhood to be complete dicks to everyone they meet.
And then those Vaders led the whole Empire into Republic space, waged war for 28 years, and bombed the hell out of Coruscant before declaring a cease-fire. So when the game begins you already have this cartoonishly evil government holding one half of the galaxy and a metaphor for the modern United States, warts and all, holding the other.
But SWTOR was rated T by the ESRB, and it's Star Wars, so it can't be all that disturbing beyond the usual death and destruction, right?
Amongst the thousands of hours of role-playing in SWTOR are some unusually dark moments, should you choose to be a jerk — or "go dark side" — as you play. Most are intended to be comical and others are just mean, but when it wants to it can really make you feel weird. Here are a few of those.
The Sith Warrior class is granted a young female twi'lek slave named Vette early on in the game, and she's a pretty nice person, generally being opposed to you going around slaughtering noncombatants.
As you rampage around the Imperial capital planet of Dromund Kaas you encounter an older woman named Lady Grathan, and if you don't kill her and are a dude, you can proposition her. Vette is super disappointed by this. "Any spaceport in a storm? Is that the kind of guy you are?"
If you aren't dissuaded by her words, Lady Grathan will make her son leave the room, and then ask if you're going to make Vette go away as well. My Warrior simply replied, "Vette never leaves my side." Offscreen sex ensues with Vette just hanging out a few feet away.
Jump to 3:10 for the action:
On Hutta, the starting planet for the bounty hunter class, you are attempting to earn the favor of Nemro the Hutt by taking folks out for him. One target is his former accountant who has jumped ship to Fath'ra, one of his rivals. Nemro wants you to find this guy, take his head and present it to the accountant's wife.
When you encounter him, the accountant is pretty upset, both at the hunter he faces and that Fath'ra basically screwed him over by not paying him. So he suggests an alternative to losing his head: he will happily mess up Fath'ra's books and get the hell out, and that will make Nemro just as happy as sending a gruesome message will, right?
But of courses the dark side player says no, shoots the accountant and kneels over the body and starts making sawing motions. The bloody action there is out of frame, but you can hear some gross noises. (Think skinning an animal in Red Dead Redemption.)
The accountant's wife is just hanging out in a cantina when when you find her. You walk up, dump the head on the floor in front of her, and she lets out what might be the most horrifying scream in the entire game. In SWTOR there is much weeping and begging, but nobody else that I can remember makes a noise quite this unsettling.
Jump to 20:35 for the treachery:
By the time Imperial players show up on the planet Balmorra, it had been embroiled in a guerrilla war for a decade after the Republic was forced to officially abandon it at the end of the galactic conflict. The Empire technically controls the world at that point, but local resistance fighters aren’t letting them get comfortable, even as the local governor liked to round up civilians and execute them publicly in an attempt to get everybody to settle down.
A devious Imperial Intelligence agent dubbed Fixer 66 came up with a neat little plan for hitting the resistance’s morale. He sends players out into the battlefield to replace the portable communications units found on the bodies of dead resistance fighters with ones that explode when activated.
The guy rigging the units is a local named Toybox, a local who was clearly forced into service against his will. He points out that there are civilians who rummage through the equipment carried by dead fighters as well as other soldiers, and that this plan will likely result in collateral damage.
If you do carry it out, you’ll see that Toybox was exactly right. When you ask Fixer 66 later about the results of the op, he tells you some civilians blew themselves up, including one kid. And that was just the first day!
You thought the Imperials had all the fun? Nope, playing “dark side” in the Republic faction can result in some pretty strange moments as well, many of which come from the Trooper class. The dark side trooper is pretty much the stereotypical idiot meathead who joins the military for the murder, and somehow everybody else seems to only notice that you are incredibly good at your job and not that you’re completely unhinged emotionally.
The second-best example of this comes late in the story when you’re called into a senate hearing to discuss your unit’s actions in the war (the cease fire has ended by this point) because some senator who has been bought off by the Empire is trying to sideline you. This isn’t the first time you’ve been to one of these, but it is the first time you know an Imperial collaborator is in attendance.
Your boss, General Garza, and agent Jonas Blakar have evidence against the traitor and want you to counter his accusations by presenting said evidence to the other senators. This meathead doesn’t have time for that, however.
You go to the hearing, endure a few seconds of the corrupt senator’s diatribe against your unit, and respond by pulling out your pistol and blasting him. There are no immediate consequences for this — you don’t even have to fight the guards in the chamber — but everybody kinda hates you for a while.
The good stuff starts around 2:00:
There’s a small moment earlier in the meathead trooper’s story that is far darker and actually legitimately disturbing, even though it doesn’t involve murder at all. On Tatooine, an apartment building is bombed by Imperial suicide droids, and you race to the scene to investigate. There you meet an old man who is severely injured and a young woman who is tending to him. You speak to them for a moment, and then more suicide bomber droids show up to finish the job.
You take care of them, and then speak to the young woman and old man once again. “We owe you our lives,” the woman says, “I wish there were some way we could repay you.” In response, you can choose the following comment, which is labeled with the dark side icon. Brace yourselves.
“I’m sure a pretty girl like you could think of some way to reward me.”
Yes, this woman’s home has been destroyed and many of her neighbors are lying dead around her, and in that setting you can suggest she have sex with you as repayment for saving her. Holy shit.
Skip to 3:10:
In the prologue and chapter 1 for the smuggler’s story, our hero is constantly butting heads with an asshole named Skavak who steals your ship on Ord Mantell — you get it back on Coruscant — and is trying to get to a famous lost treasure before you do. In addition to being annoying, Skavak is a ladies man, and you encounter a few of his old lovers as you roam the galaxy. A couple of them try to kill you.
One of them, Feylara, sends out a distress call to you, claiming her ship is dead in deep space. You go there and board her ship, only to find that it’s a trap and she has some war droids that she’s going to sic on you. Before she does, though, she gets Skavak on the holocommunicator to watch.
You don’t die, of course, and the shield Feylara was using to protect herself from you fails moments later. “What am I going to do?” she cries to Skavak. “I don’t know, die?” he replies in classic jerk fashion before hanging up. Feylara then starts crying, and tells you that she thought she and Skavak had been in love and that she was just doing this to try to hold on to him.
Feylara speaks in a sort of Harley Quinn voice, so obviously this entire encounter is supposed to be funny. You can continue this conversation for a bit and have Feylara describe her relationship with Skavak in a bit of detail — her friends told her Skavak was bad news and just wanted her because she is rich, for one thing— but at every point in the conversation when it’s your turn to speak you have the option to shoot her in the face, which darkens the mood quite a bit.
Skip over to 5:20:
I’ve played this encounter twice, and it’s made me sad both times, because Feylara is so utterly crushed by what happens. As I said, you can kill her at a few different points in the conversation, but the option that so perfectly encapsulates just how messed up and hilarious SWTOR can be is this one:
Feylara: *crying* “I thought he loved me!”
Smuggler: “Nobody loves you.” *shoots Feylara*
The above scenarios are all the result of choices the player makes — BioWare never forces you to enact any of these dastardly deeds, as opposed to, say, GTA V's torture scene. No matter which class you play, or which faction you're fighting for, you are never required to do anything evil.
That said, these are all scripted into the game by BioWare. The Old Republic is not a sandbox, and so there isn’t much in the way of ambient havoc to wreak here. BioWare purposely including this sort of behavior in what may still wear the “Most Expensive Game Ever” crown, not to mention a Star Wars game, is a big reason why I enjoy it as much as I do.
Phil Owen is a freelance entertainment journalist whose work you might have seen at VG247, GameFront, Appolicious, Gameranx and many, many other places. You can follow him on Twitter at@philrowen. Send hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.