Dec 19, 2011

Posted by in Clandestine Maneuvers: The Imperial Agent | 3 Comments

Clandestine Maneuvers: Spy Game

(Thanks to special guest author Ehren for his contributions on the Imperial Agent impressions entry!)

By The Tailor of Coruscant

Introduction

”Bond, James Bond.” – England’s greatest secret agent introduces himself in Dr. No

Over the past several weeks I have been fortunate enough to engage in a wide variety of Beta testing. One of the most enjoyable play experiences came as an Imperial Agent. There is a compelling story, engaging and challenging gameplay mechanics and an opportunity for a variety of play styles should make this class one of the most attractive options in the game.

Curiously, in much of the early polling, Imperial Agent is among the lowest ranked in terms of raw numbers. Spend a moderate amount of time lurking on the Imperial Agent however, and you will find though the numbers are small, the core player base is devoted. They should be. Those looking to play Imperial Agent in the live game can perhaps take solace in the famous words of Shakespeare’s Henry V, when he called out to, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” I have always had a fondness for the underrepresented classes in role playing games (RPGs), and perhaps that contributes to my affection for this class.

What follows is a (mostly) spoiler free account of early game play for one of the true gem classes in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I think this game in general, and this class in particular, are best experienced without spoiling the story too much. That said, there is still plenty of good information to pass along without revealing too much that would take some of the magic away from this excellent story.

Character

“Who has a safety deposit box full of… money and six passports and a gun? Who has a bank account number in their hip? I come in here, and the first thing I’m doing is I’m catching the sightlines and looking for an exit.” – Jason Bourne, The Bourne Identity

Another video once posited there were basically three iconic ways to play an espionage character in an RPG. You have the three JB’s: James Bond (ultra suave and sophisticated), Jason Bourne (quiet, professional, efficient) and Jack Bauer (hardened and brutal). Your play options as an Imperial Agent certain fit within those guidelines. Perhaps more so than any other class than the Smuggler, you can flirt your way through a fair percentage of dialogues. Inquisitors may get by with a plethora of lightning, but an Agent can get a lot of mileage out of a well-timed smirk or raised eyebrow. Whether you are looking to be smooth or savage, noble or snarky, the game has your options covered.

In terms of actual roles, the Imperial Agent can fulfill a number of different slots in a group. As a Sniper Advanced Class, an Agent is set for ranged DPS and defensive PvP. The Operative Advanced Class can either opt for healing specialization or a more run and gun close in style of DPS. These are discussed more in the Combat section below.

Interestingly, the BioWare designers have discussed “iconic” characters from series lore as important to the creation of the various classes, yet there is little in terms of obvious characters from the movies to remind players of the Imperial Agent. There is no obvious Han Solo Smuggler, Boba Fett Bounty Hunter, or Darth Vader Sith Warrior.

In all honesty, a direct Star Wars Icon is not as necessary for this class. It is hard to imagine anyone who was not raised on myriad acceptable iconic figures in other media. The aforementioned “JB Three” of Bond, Bauer and Bourne are the obvious contenders, but there is also the sexy Sydney Bristow, Serenity’s coolly professional and loyal “The Operative,” Burn Notice’s Michael Westin or even Deep Space 9’s Elim Garak, who was always so much more than “just a simple tailor.” Television and film are filled with great spies from which to draw inspiration. Even in the original Star Wars films, go back to watch the original trilogy and you may find that Princess Leia is actually a great role model for this sort of dedicated operative.

Story

“I’m Federal Agent Jack Bauer, and this is the longest day of my life.” – Jack Bauer

The developers often cite this class’s story as the strongest in the game. I don’t want to sell any of the other stories short, because one of the biggest surprises for me about Beta testing was how compelling all of the stories were, even those I did not expect to play in the live game or had little interest in. That said, if you are looking for a compelling story, you will be very pleased with what’s on display for the Imperial Agent.

As can be expected in a spy tale, you will get your share of betrayals, twists, turns and, “Holy Sith! What just happened?” moments in the Agent storyline. You wouldn’t be playing this character if you trusted anyone, would you? Without delving too deeply into the storyline and revealing spoilers, suffice to say you’ll be defending the Empire from threats both internal and external. If you are the sort who enjoys betrayal, you will have more than your share of opportunities to sell people out as well.

BioWare hangs their hat on the tent pole of story, so it needs to be good. What I really noticed with this story was the use of nonverbal cinematic elements to enhance the storyline. From the moment your Agent steps off the shuttle, the mood and scene are established visually, getting a feel for the gritty, rough and tumble world of Hutta where your Agent starts off. Other cutscenes nicely frame important characters subtly looming in your background long before they become integral components of your tale.

It is becoming cliché to state that story is the strongest component of the game for BioWare with TOR, but you can’t help but hand it to them for delivering on their strong suit. This story grabs you from the very beginning and does not let go. You will find yourself drawn along the path of the story, barely even noticing the levels as they melt away. If there is one complaint I had, it is that I found the class story so compelling I was tempted to skip peripheral quests on some of the worlds in order to focus more attention on advancing my class story. In the long run, that can gimp your character in terms of being proper level to survive content. In any case, I had little to complain about in terms of story, Light and Dark options were both rewarding, and the class seems likely to support a variety of playstyles in terms of what people look for in a story.

Abilities

The Imperial Agent begins play with the following abilities:

  • Crouch / Take Cover: essential for the cover mechanic, discussed later
  • Rifle Shot: Your base attack, Instant cast and does not cost energy
  • Snipe: a stronger, charged attack – aesthetically I like this better than the comparable Smuggler ability because rather than sitting there watching a barrel charge up you feel like you’re methodically taking aim and taking out your opponents. Especially when you one-shot some of the weaker ones
  • Explosive Probe: sets up a foe for explosive damage that can knock down weaker foes. Helpful as an opening salvo
  • Coordination: the Agent’s buff, increases Crit for an hour. Ensure you always have up time with this.

After the initial level 1 skills, be sure to visit your trainer for new skills, about one per level as you progress through your starting area.

Itemization

“Technology gets better every day. That’s fine. But most of the time all you need is a stick of gum, a pocket knife and a smile.” – Nathan Muir, Spy Game

Imperial Agents, like their companion class Smugglers, favor Medium Armor with lots of Cunning. Agents also use vibroblades in their off-hand weapon slot and a primary weapon based on their Advanced Class. Snipers use (naturally) Sniper Rifles while Operatives stick with the plain old Blaster Rifle. Again, BioWare sticks with a single primary stat for each class, and in the Agent’s case you are going to want plenty of Cunning.

In terms of Crew Skills, you pretty much have your pick. Slicing seems “in character” and can provide plenty of cash from the money cases you will find throughout the game. Armstech and Armormech can provide gear upgrades. Biochemists will never find themselves short of Medpacks and stims to stay on their feet in combat and Cybertech can help modify all your gear as well as provide other bonuses. Essentially, only the Force based skills like Synthweaving and Artiface are going to be useless.

Combat

Cyril Figgis: “Am I going to learn karate?”
Sterling Archer: “The Dane Cook of martial arts? No. ISIS Agents use Krav Maga.”

Any discussion of Imperial Agent or Smuggler combat is going to revolve around the Cover mechanic. Let’s face it, you’re either going to like it or you won’t. No other feature of the game has been seemingly so divisive among the fan base. Full disclosure, I’ve played Smuggler as well and I happen to like Cover. Others find it complicated and struggle with it, so you’re going to have to do some playtesting of your own and decide if it’s for you.

Either way, whether you play from Cover or go with a more run and gun style of combat offered by the Operative Advanced Class you’re going to have to think about what you’re doing. It doesn’t lend itself to button mashing. This is a class for people who like to plan out encounters and who prefer to enter a prepped and prepared battlefield.

Developer Georg Zoeller assures us a Sniper (or Gunslinger) firmly embedded in Cover is going to be about the toughest class out there to beat. You can deny ground in PvP and dish out some serious damage while being hard to kill in your own right. I fully expect a lot of post launch tweaking and balancing around the Cover mechanic.

In any case, it’s certainly enjoyable to sit back in the distance and pick off bad guys calmly and quietly while the battle rages around you. If that’s not your style, as an Operative you can cut a bloody swath through your foes with and assortment of backstabbing vibroblade attacks and a variety of poison darts and other tricks.

Imperial Agent is probably not for everybody in terms of combat style, but those who find it to their taste will have a plethora of death dealing options to keep them entertained through many hours of combat.

Companions

“Spend a career in covert ops and you’re going to know some bad people. You’ll work with them, you’ll live with them, you might even trust your life with them. But none of that makes them your friend. It can’t. Because one day, you might have to end them.” – Michael Westin

Even the most paranoid Agent is going to need some backup to survive in this galaxy. Where would Bond be without Felix Leiter, or Michael Westin without Sam Axe? In the case of our intrepid hero the first sidekick out of the gate is a tough looking Rattataki by the name of Kaliyo Djannis. Kaliyo is just as punk as she looks. Fully at home in wretched hives of scum and villainy she is essentially a Bounty Hunter in gameplay terms. She is equally adept at ranged DPS as well as ranged tanking if you need someone to take the heat off of you during combat. She packs blaster pistols and heavy armor with Aim as a primary statistic.

Much like every other class in the game, you will eventually get companions to fill every role in the game, from ranged to melee tanks, as well as ranged and melee DPS and a healer.

Summary

“Ye shall know the truth and it shall set you free.” John 8:32 – engraved on the lobby floor of the Central Intelligence Agency

Ultimately, it says a lot about this game that my favorite class tends to be the class I just finished playing. This means they’re doing a good job. In all honesty, I’m a Republic, goody-goody kind of guy. I’ve seen enough misery and suffering in remote regions of the world in my real life that I have an aversion to inflicting suffering and tyranny in my fantasy life. I come to games to be a hero, because I wish heroism worked that way in the land that isn’t made up of pixels.

That said, I tried to play a little of everything in the Beta and I repeatedly found myself sucked in and enjoying even some of the darkest stories. The Imperial Agent story certainly has the potential for darkness, but also to be that hero who is the point of light in a very dark world. It says a lot about this class that before experimenting with it in Beta I had no intention whatsoever of ever playing one in the live game. Now I’m making plans for my Imperial main to be an Agent. I found the story and play that compelling and that much fun.

That’s what a good class should do. A good class should suck in even the non-believers and be as irresistible as a certain debonair Englishman who likes his martinis shaken, not stirred. Their numbers may be few as of now, but I believe the more people who try out Agent, the more people will find themselves coming back to follow the twists and turns of this roller coaster.

This blog post will self destruct in 5…4…3…2…

 


  1. Very nice post! You made me really want to try the class out.

  2. Awesome post. This is exactly how I feel about the class and why my main which is level 20 now is an IA Sniper.

    TF

  3. Boss Dwarf says:

    Honestly, this was one of the great revelations of Beta – classes I had little to no interest in that I would play, get sucked into, and then really want to play.

    The best compliment I could give the Devs right now is my favorite class tends to be the one I just got finished playing.

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