That said, it's not going to hurt to learn about this new update, although I suggest that, if you're into the story as much as I am, you don't read the patch notes... spoilers! Dang, BioWare, could you be a bit more ambiguous about the PTS patch notes next time? It's like someone leaning over halfway through the first screening Empire Strikes Back and saying, "Oh, by the way, Darth Vader is Luke's father." NOOOOO! It's impossible!
Being someone who is interested in the story revolving around SWTOR, I do love the continued use of Rakghouls in the newest update. Sure, some would call it an easy storytelling trope (zombies and all that). I'll admit it. I'm not going to hide behind "these are ghouls, not zombies." I love the story, but in truth these are Star Wars zombies. But I do find the history of the Rakghouls interesting. Honestly, I don't know how much of the story has been retcon'd after their first appearance in BioWare's first venture into the Star Wars IP, Knights of the Old Republic, but the roots of the Rakghouls stem from the birth of the Sith Empire. I love the way it all comes together.
[Update: BioWare postponed the patch to the 18th after the column was written. The first paragraph has been changed to reflect that.]
If you have been following the Hyperspace Beacon, then you will recall the column in which I talked about the formation of the Sith Empire on Korriban by the Dark Jedi exiles. Using Sith alchemy, these Dark Jedi intermingled their DNA with those of the native Sith species. Some historians believe that Sith Alchemy was part of the reason the Hundred Years of Darkness started in the first place. Usually, this dark magic involved mixing the Force with science to create weapons or creatures that were somehow more powerful than the sum of their parts. It can be argued that the symbolic weapon of the Jedi, the lightsaber, is a form of Force Alchemy, but no moral lines are blurred when creating a lightsaber. Sometimes, Sith Alchemy required living hosts -- and possibly torture.
Like many Sith, Lord Karness Muur desired to conquer the galaxy. When you're a power Sith Lord, what else are you going to do? Certainly not gardening. To help facilitate his passion, Muur dived into Sith Alchemy, creating what would eventually be known as the Muur Talisman. This artifact was able to change a humanoid into a mindless monster known as a Rakghoul. However, the first incarnation of the talisman would not change Force Sensitives or certain other species into Muur's mindless slaves, so instead of changing the talisman, Muur changed the Rakghouls. Muur ensured that if someone were bitten or scratched by one of these creatures, that person would be transformed into a Rakghoul himself. This later became known as the Rakghoul virus, although whether it's an actual virus is debated.
Although part of Muur's plan was to live forever, it did not quite turn out the way he intended. Instead of living forever in his body, his spirit haunted his talisman, and in a way, so did his virus. Through means yet uncovered, his talisman made its way to the undercity of Taris. There, the talisman spread its disease to the poor of the Tarisian slums. This is where the Mandalorian Pulsipher found the talisman. Eventually, at Jedi Zayne Carrick's warning, Cassus Fett bombarded Pulsipher's ice fortress on Jebble, burying the talisman along with Jedi Celeste Morne.
If you have played Knights of the Old Republic, then you know what happens next. Revan discovers a serum that will interrupt the Rakghoul transformation. Revan eventually gives this serum to Dr. Zelta Forn, who mass-produces the serum for the whole population of Taris. Unfortunately, Darth Malak razes Taris, killing everyone except a number of Rakghouls.
Three hundred years later, the Galactic Republic attempted to rebuild Taris and uncovered the Rakghoul plague. Unfortunately, the serum was destroyed along with Dr. Forn, so the Republic was vastly unprepared for what it found on the planet's surface. Hopefully, some adventurer will come along to help the Republic find the cure again and save Taris -- wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
In the SWTOR game update, writers at BioWare ask, "What would happen if Rakghouls escaped Taris and landed on another planet?" According to Lead Flashpoint Designer Gabe Amatangelo, a crazed scientist bent on galactic domination attempts to use the Rakghouls to create a super-soldier. I swear we have heard something like that before... but at any rate, these Rakghouls are different from those Revan ran into on Taris: These have mutated and evolved. As Gabe said later in the interview, "Rakghouls have all the different kinds of mechanics." I take this to mean that they will have different powersets or that their destruction might necessitate new and different game mechanics.
So yeah, Rakghouls are Star Wars zombies, but just like every other trope the Star Wars universe adopts, Rakghouls are covered in the Star Wars secret sauce, giving them their own unique flavor.
In comments, let me know what you think of the new flashpoint, and I will see you next week!
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, recently released by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!