SWTOR: “Fatal Alliance” ReviewAugust 4, 2010
Unless a book really hooks me, I know I can take much too long to read. So maybe I didn’t devour Star Wars: The Old Republic: Fatal Allliance in no time like I had expected, but at the same time I delighted in taking my sweet time to read it. I’ll cut to the chase here — if you can look beyond the faults that are so typical of novels based on video games, you will probably enjoy it. Keep reading for further thoughts, though I’m not going to go into the plot too much (if you want that information you can find it here as well as preview the first chapter) and I promise there will not be any spoilers.
I’d like to mention that I am a big reader and fan of Star Wars expanded universe books, and I can honestly say that Fatal Alliance can stand next to any of them. I’d even go as far as to say it was better written than most of the Star Wars books I’ve read. Sean Williams’ writing style is easy to follow, without feeling like you’re being talked down to. Dialogue can get cheesy and positively cringe-worthy at times, but it’s made up for by the author’s excellent handling of the characters’ relationships with each other.
The story, on the other hand, was a bit disappointing. I realize, however, that storylines that work for a game don’t necessarily translate as well into book form, and I’m sure much of characters and plots from Fatal Alliance were developed under such game-to-novel constraints. At times you may find the story predictable, and inevitably, you will come across parts in the book which will make you stop and think, “Wait, that doesn’t make much sense!” Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to look past these flaws if you can maintain appropriate expectations for an MMO tie-in of this nature.
Fatal Alliance is also blessed/plagued with a large ensemble of characters, depending on the way you look at it. The novel follows the activities of no less than eight characters, no doubt for the sole purpose of showcasing all the classes of the SWTOR game. Consequently, you can expect to find the points-of-view constantly switching around between and even within chapters, sometimes rehashing certain events over and over again. This may annoy some readers, but I think most will end up appreciating the author’s attempt to give equal attention to both the Republic and the Sith.
I also found the character development sufficient, but perhaps die-hards will still find it unsatisfying. In some ways, I believe the book was written with the expectation that the reader is already familiar the Star Wars universe, as well has decent background knowledge of the SWTOR MMO. Indeed, the class archetypes (Smuggler, Jedi Knight, Trooper, etc.) and their traits are well reflected in the novel, and readers will greatly benefit from having existing knowledge of them. Otherwise, you may find the story background and characters’ histories severely lacking and even confusing, and admittedly character development will not go that much further beyond what has already been established and/or understood about the archetypes.
Nonetheless, I am impressed with the way Williams handled the characters and the classes they represent, especially considering how much of it is obviously required to correspond to the game. It’s a challenge to create characters that are based on such prominent archetypes and still make them unique and interesting, but he manages well. Particularly, if you are interested in the Smuggler or Imperial Agent and are disappointed by the limited information Bioware has revealed on them so far, Fatal Alliance will be a treat. While reading, I also picked up on many hints regarding class abilities and other game mechanics, so SWTOR addicts might also have that to look forward to.
While some of my criticisms of Fatal Alliance might seem a little harsh, I do want to make it clear that I enjoyed the book. I think most people who are looking for a fun, casual read will enjoy it too; just don’t expect an epic tale. If you are a fan of Star Wars or the expanded universe, this book is worth checking out. And if you’re a fan of SWTOR, this is a must-read.