Farewell then Balmorra.
My opinion of Balmorra changed a lot during my time on the planet. Initially I was a little disappointed in the scenery and plot. It seemed like another generic warzone between the Empire and the Republic. That may have been down to the relatively small and enclosed starting area; the Republic foothold of Bugtown (it's appropriately named). However, as I travelled across Balmorra, getting more involved in the struggle of the native Balmorrans as they were caught between the might of the Empire and Republic, it went from being an average world to possibly my favourite of the planets so far.
The world story started out slow, but really expanded into an epic fight over a unique planetary defence system that could change the whole course of the war, with the native Balmorrans struggling for existence as the two invading fleets vied for control of their state-of-the-art weapons factories. By the end of the world-arc I genuinely felt like Merec was a reluctant war hero, having saved the planet from a fate even worse than Imperial occupation.
This is the first planet that felt like a real war zone. By the time Merec was adventuring across the Sundari Flatlands I was playing in a huge battlefield with Imperial and Republic troops fighting across the terrain. Giant anti-aircraft guns blasted their ordnance into the skies, and when I looked up I could see Imperial and Republic ships dogfighting. Bioware really nailed the atmosphere in this part of the planet.
The story was interesting too, starting slow but eventually resolving into the hunt for a powerful planetary defence system called the Barrager. Even once it had been recovered I was faced with a major decision. I could hand control over to the Galactic Republic (the supposed good guys, though the tales of some of the troops I had encountered made me even doubt that) and help avoid another world being destroyed by the Sith Empire, like Taris or Coruscant had been, thereby saving millions of lives. If I did so however it would be at the potential cost of destroying Balmorra itself, along with the people who lived there.
I made my decision to hand control back to the people of Balmorra, and was subsequently made to fully understand the cost. It really felt like a Pyrrhic victory, despite the moral rightness. I was a hero to the Balmorran's, but at potentially huge cost to the Republic. No other MMO quest I've ever played has had quite the same impact. It's these kind of moments where Bioware's story-based approach really pays off.
As well as the world story arc, the Smuggler arc was also a lot of fun. Chapter 2 of the smuggler's story seems based around the power struggles of the galactic underworld. I managed to make a good strike against the Voidwolf, and pocket a lot of credits at the expense of the Republic whilst helping them to gain control of a large prototype weapons shipment that was bound for the Sith Empire.
Along the way there were two NPC characters that really stood out, for very different reasons. The first was Moff Tyrak, an absolutely hilarious Sith Empire commander with a lot of military power and a complete lack of understanding of how the world works. He had me and my wife in fits of giggles on several occasions as I chased him down and forced him to help.
The second character turned out to be a new companion character. A Mandalorian Zabrak bounty hunter named Akaavi Spar. She would appear at a few choice moments in the story, kick some serious ass in a very cool manner, like some kind of alien Batman, and then disappear again. At the end of the smuggler's story she had joined my crew, though only on a temporary basis for the time being.
I liked Akaavi Spar's backstory and character, and she looked really cool in fights, leaping across large distances into the fray before attacking her enemies up close with flame thrower, electrostaff and the pugilistic arts. I'm now torn between who to romance! Do I stick with Risha (sexy and funny, a real scoundrel) or Akaavi Spaar (very cool, but slightly scary). Hmm, decisions, decisions...
So, that was Balmorra. Possibly my favourite planet so far, despite the slow start. Time for Merec to board his XS Stock Light Freighter and head to Quesh. There's a fellow smuggler's convoy needs rescuing!
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