12/02/2016

KotFE Chapter by Chapter - Chapter 4: The Gravestone

Time to continue my detailed discussion of Knights of the Fallen Empire's individual chapters! Unsurprisingly, this post will contain spoilers for the chapter in the title and may contain spoilers for previous chapters as well.



At the end of the last chapter, you and your new companions (Lana, Koth and HK-55) barely escaped Vaylin's clutches, but your escape vehicle was damaged in the process. As night falls, you find yourself forced to crash-land in a nearby swamp, dubbed the Eternal Swamp by the locals (according to Koth). Nobody is hurt by the crash and people are in relatively good spirits, with Lana and Koth immediately falling into more banter, indicating a long history between the two.

HK-55's scanners indicate a large metallic technological object nearby which seems your best bet at escaping the swamp, considering that the crashed shuttle is a complete pile of scrap. You set out to investigate with HK while Koth and Lana stay behind to cover up the evidence of your landing.

While investigating the swamp, you emerge into the first public area of KotFE... which was actually a bit of a shock to the system for me initially, because upon seeing another player I realised that I had spent the last three chapters without this ever happening, completely secluded in my personal instances the entire time. There's also a bonus mission to kill some wildlife if you fancy. I found it a bit disappointing that all the animals are reused models from other planets, which doesn't make Zakuul's wildlife look particularly interesting. There's also a chance of running into more random skytroopers, which really makes you wonder how these things operate, seeing how they seem to get sent out in small groups to scout, yet it never seems to alert anyone when one suddenly disappears and never reports back.

Finally you run into a new monster type called iknayid, probably more commonly referred to as "ugly spider things", and find various pieces of scrap metal that appear to be part of something bigger. As you make small talk with HK, he reveals that he's been programmed to be just as loyal to you as to Lana or Koth and to prioritise your survival above all else. You can humbly tell him that you're not that important or abuse your position by asking him to alter his programming further to obey you above Lana or Koth if it comes down to it.

Eventually you find the object that HK's sensors had been picking up and it turns out to be the wreck of an ancient starship. According to HK's scans it's centuries old and doesn't match any known Zakuulian designs. Koth gets quite excited about this and concludes after a brief inspection that you've found the legendary Gravestone, the only known ship that went up against the Eternal Fleet and won. It's also revealed that the Eternal Fleet is actually older than Valkorion and possibly even Zakuul, so the details of how the Gravestone faced off against it are lost to history. Koth is convinced that you finding this ship - one that others have supposedly been looking for for ages already - is a sign of destiny, that you are meant to win this conflict. You clear part of the ship of more wildlife with Koth by your side, while Lana and HK do the same to other sections of it.


At this point we get another glimpse of the Eternal Throne, showing that Arcann and Vaylin suspect that your team must have landed in the swamp and intend to search it. A Zakuulian Knight reports to Vaylin and submits himself to her judgement since he was the one who was supposed to oversee the security of the carbonite prison. Vaylin draws her lightsaber and stabs him without a second thought. It's interesting that Arcann actually seems a bit taken aback by this.

Aboard the Gravestone, you get more backstory about it from Lana and Koth. Koth has determined that the ship was intentionally scuttled after the defeat of the fleet, and clearly didn't crash. It's revealed that the Eternal Fleet is fully automated and was reactivated by Valkorion. Arcann can actually fully control it from his throne. Also, the gravestone has a mailbox. I loved that after three chapters of relentless movement, the first chance to check your mail comes inside of a centuries-old crashed starship. Logic!

Your companions suggest that you need to look for fresh water and supplies as well as scavenge for spare parts to repair the ship. You can choose which one you want to do first, look for water with Lana or go scrounging with Koth. I haven't noticed the order making any sort of difference to the actual conversations you have with them. Either way it is... exposition time!

(Also, while out in the swamp you get a little side quest to pick up a couple of speeder parts which then get assembled into a broken speeder, which is clearly meant to give players starting at 60 their first vehicle. I thought that was a neat way of incorporating that into the story.)

While searching for water with Lana she gets you caught up on the state of the galaxy. Apparently everyone knows by now that Valkorion was the Sith Emperor, since his death sent massive ripples through the Force. Arcann invaded both Republic and Empire soon after, framing it as revenge for an Outlander killing his father. The technical superiority of his ships was such that neither faction could compete and both were outmatched within three months or so, so that both eventually surrendered/negotiated a ceasefire. Most members of the Dark Council have died or disappeared, with Darth Acina (of the Imperial Seeker droid quest line) having declared herself Empress. On Republic side, Saresh has officially been replaced as Supreme Chancellor but apparently still wields all the power behind the scenes. Both factions have to pay heavy tributes to Zakuul, but instead of teaming up against their common foe, they still try to snipe each other while they perceive the other to be weak. Lana also says that she has allies looking for your old ship and crew but that it might take time to find them. She considers you an important piece in her plan to restore some kind of order to the galaxy. Also... she suspects that something is different about you since the carbonite prison - you can confess that you've had Valkorion talking to you in your head or deny that anything has changed.


While out searching for parts with Koth he tells you that he was in the Zakuulian army but deserted when he and his troops were ordered to massacre civilians during a mission in the core worlds. He also kind of fishes for your approval, wanting you to agree on his assessment that you finding the Gravestone was clearly fate, and wanting more reassurances that you don't plan to take down the population of Zakuul as well as Arcann (if you saved the civilians from the damaged generator in the last chapter, you already got some brownie points there).

Now at some point before you return to the ship, HK calls for you to join him at his location. I can't figure out how the game decides when this happens. In all three of my playthroughs it actually happened after the dialogue with Koth, even though I mixed up the order in which I took him and Lana out into the swamp. In fact, it was only thanks to a random YouTube video that I realised that there is a chance that HK will call you while you're with Lana instead! It turns out that he's run into a bunch of space hobos exiles that were expelled from the city for protesting Arcann's rule (seems Arcann isn't quite as ruthless with his punishments as Vaylin) and isn't sure what to do with them. You can offer to take them aboard the Gravestone or tell them to get lost. (Koth approves of the former, Lana of the latter.) The extra cruel option is to tell HK to shoot them once your other companion is out of earshot.

As you set out to repair the ship in earnest, you're shown what's quickly become known as "the eighties montage", which has Koth putting some cantina music on while he tries with mixed success to get the Gravestone up and running again. Meanwhile Lana uses the Force to tidy up and HK gets into a private little war with the iknayids outside, which makes for some hilarious viewing.

When the Gravestone is powered up again, you hear some strange sounds. You follow them to investigate the part of the ship where they seem to orginate and find a "Dark Sanctuary" in the bowels of the ship where Valkorion's ghost appears to already be waiting for you.


Conclusion

I remember reading the title of this chapter on the original KotFE preview page and wondering who dies. So deliciously misleading!

You can definitely start to detect a pattern here in terms of how the chapters play out. Chapter one was all action, chapter two contemplation. Chapter three was very focused on action again, now chapter four offers another chance for contemplation.

"The Gravestone" is probably one of my favourite chapters released so far. The Eternal Swamp by night is hauntingly beautiful if you actually take the time to look at it, especially with the impossibly large city looming in the distance. And of course you finally get some answers about what's been going on. They are only morsels of information really, but for me personally they definitely whet my appetite for returning to the Republic or Empire and seeing how they've changed.

A lot of small comments are made in this chapter that become relevant somewhere else later. For example it's mentioned that Zakuul has built powerful battle stations over several planets - these are the Star Fortresses you get to destroy later. There's also Koth harping on about fate, which will be shown to be a notion important to other Zakuulians as well. I wouldn't be surprised if even more things that get talked about here will turn out to be important in the upcoming chapters.

Of course the notion of getting a thousand-year-old starship back up and running within a few hours is patently ridiculous, but hey, this is Star Wars. It's never been too big on this kind of thing being anywhere close to "realistic".

10/02/2016

Patch 4.1 - Over Nine Thousand!

At last, yesterday it was patch day again, almost four months after KotFE's early access. Remember when we were never supposed to go for more than eight weeks without a major patch? Those were the days.

I had read that 4.1 was going to be enormous and that it was advisable to "pre-download" the patch. As I didn't know how to do so, I googled it and found this nifty tool on TORCommunity. I fired it up for about an hour on Tuesday morning and it worked great! When I came home in the evening and opened up the launcher, it went straight to installing everything.

For once, I was ready to play right away on patch day! Which of course meant that the servers went down. Apparently they were up for a whopping four minutes before Bioware had to announce that they had found a problem and no ETA for how quickly they could fix it. /rage
I stayed up for a couple of hours, hoping that the servers would come back up, while Musco practised damage control on the forums by giving people free Cartel Coins for guessing what colour shirts people were wearing in the office, but eventually I grew too tired and went to bed.

Fortunately I had a bit of extra time today to catch up. I won't comment on the new story chapter yet because I want to avoid spoilers for now and I'll eventually get to cover it in my "KotFE Chapter by Chapter" series anyway, except to say that some of the mobs behaved in a really strange manner, seemingly teleporting around or running over to attack me from three rooms away. There was also a majorly scripted encounter which I apparently managed to finish before the script had run out, so the following cut scene took place with sky troopers standing everywhere and things blowing up all around us while we were having a perfectly calm conversation. But hey, that's what "early access" is for, right? Bug testing?

I think that despite the new story chapter, the biggest thing this patch really brought to the game was a small but meaningful quality of life change: Item stacking now goes up to 9,999 instead of 99. So many more crafting mats in my legacy bank! Of course I'll have to relog all my alts and upgrade their crew skills and sort their inventories... but that seems like a small price to pay in the long run.

My favourite 4.1 patch note was this one:

Players can no longer toggle off the “Dusted with Snowflakes” buff that is received when hit with a Snowball. 

Mostly because we have one guy in our guild who's professed to hate the snowflakes and always clicks them off instantly whenever someone snowballs him. He's going to go nuts.

07/02/2016

500 Posts!

Can you believe that this is my 500th post on this blog? I can! I never quite get when people say that they have nothing to post about - if I can write 500 posts about Star Wars: The Old Republic alone, there is always something to say.

Traditionally I like to use these milestones as an excuse to look at the search terms through which people found this blog and see if there's anything funny in there. Here are the links to the previous posts in that vein:

100 Posts! (August 2012)
200 Posts! (May 2013)
300 Posts! (April 2014)
400 Posts! (March 2015)

Now, let's dive into what Google Analytics showed me this time:

why you should not be a soldier swtor - I'm guessing this was a German speaker, because troopers are called Soldaten (soldiers) in the German version. Anyway, there is no reason not to be a trooper! They are awesome! (Though I'll concede that their class story isn't the best.)

blakhol jnawa - There are no jawas in the Black Hole. If that is what you were asking about...

darth revan face swtor german - After thinking about it for a bit, I'm guessing this person was looking for the cut scene at the end of Yavin IV in German or something? The idea of people finding something particularly German about Revan's face amuses me though.

dirty-flirty swtor - /blinks in confusion

everyday i'm tanking - I don't know what this person was really looking for, but my first thought was that they were searching for an MMO parody version of LFMAO's Party Rock Anthem. Searching YouTube for "Everyday I'm tanking" just led me to this bizarre clip of part of the music video overlaid with the intro music to Thomas the Tank Engine. If the title isn't that important though and you would just enjoy a parody song about tanking, you might enjoy this song... or this one.

find me the meaning progenitor - Does playing on the Progenitor really need to provide special meaning? If you've ever wondered where the server got its name, click here.

glaciers in lack saperen lowlands - I put this one into Google myself and what do you know, my The Art of Achieving Map Completion post is the first result. What the heck? This is why spelling is important, kids! Best I can tell this was actually meant to be about this area in Wisconsin.

how do i get into the counselor phase next to the cantina in tython in swtor - Time to get out this image again:


To actually answer the question though, if I recall correctly you get to go there at the end of chapter one. Why not just play through the whole story and find out?

i want you to be a sith inquisitor - But I don't wanna!

lurfg - This search term invokes the mental image of someone trying to say "LFG" and then throwing up halfway through because the thought of having to pug makes them sick.

makeb kill it with fire - Aw, come on, Makeb's not that bad! Of course then I remembered that there's this achievement: Kill It With Fire. I haven't got it myself, but I seem to remember that it's either bugged or kind of awkward to get in that the kill won't count if your companion gets the killing blow, the fire doesn't actually cause the killing blow, or something like that.

new different golu decoration - My Sage is intrigued.

sith individualism - Yes. It's definitely a thing.

swtor jedi knight major hardon - I want to believe that this person thought that there's a character called Major Hardon in the Jedi knight story. The alternative is too awful and confusing to contemplate.

swtor whats a gf - While general chat requests like "need more for DP in GF" might give you the wrong idea if you have a dirty mind, it generally stands for "group finder".

tell me the meaning of foot commando. - What is it with people looking for meaning today? Surely feet are useful to have either way?!

warp speed from the earth to the moon in 4 minutes - warp speed - Sorry, wrong franchise. Though I do like Star Trek too.

From the good old "I don't know why Google thought I'm writing about that game" pile:

eq2 keeps crashing to deskop like i wasn't even playing
fallout 4 max companion affection
ff14 3.02
mwo keeps crashing why?

If I'm being honest though, the most fascinating part of going through the search terms for me aren't even the funny ones anymore, but simply the oddly specific searches some people go for. It actually makes me want to write a couple of guides - not about generic stuff like how to execute the perfect dps rotation (not that I know anything about that anyway), but... well... to answer oddly specific questions like these:

old republic dromund kaas entire map - Dromund Kaas is one planet I didn't mention in my Art to Achieving Map Completion guide, but I bet I still know which bit of the map this person was missing, because it's the same one I always forget about. You know that body of water located between Lord Grathan's Estate and The Unfinished Colossus? The Dromund Kaas world boss spawns in it, which is why it has its own name and needs to be uncovered separately even though it's a very small area.

swtor 4.0 heroic 2+ false history - I know it doesn't say so, but I'm pretty sure what they actually want to know is whether you can still solo this. I remember having to look this up pre-4.0 myself because I was struggling at the time. I just tried it again and it still works fine. I even recorded it, just for you you, anonymous Googler!



all interactions with juda (hutta) swtor - I don't have a list of all interactions with her, but I thought this one was interesting to highlight since you get the option to talk to her a couple of times even when it isn't highlighted by a quest icon, you just have to be curious enough to click on her without prompting. Republic has a similar thing going on with the planetary quest line on Belsavis, where you can spare a Sith Lord from death and work with him for a bit, and you can talk to him afterwards even though it's not required for or even pointed out by the quest.

can the revan quest line be continued without completing the torch flashpoint - Nope! It has a solo mode though, so you can just do it solo any time.

flashpoint kaon under siege solo swtor - I'm afraid they haven't given this one a solo mode yet. It's also not in the group finder as a tactical, but you can always queue for hardmode. Or you can try to solo the normal version at 65 - it hasn't been scaled up, so all the mobs are still level 50.

heroic moment abilities not in legacy since patch 4.0 - Don't worry, they are not gone, but they show up on a temporary quickbar instead whenever you activate your heroic moment.

i can't get out of kuat drive yard - Never fear! The "exit area" button above your mini map shall come to your rescue.

swtor what happend to the side quest? - I'm afraid they didn't make any for KotFE; it makes me sad too. If you are wondering about the old ones, those are (mostly) still there but hidden by default. To see the quest markers, you have to open your map and toggle the "show exploration missions" option in the top right corner.

what is a monsoon baffle - I was really surprised how often this one came up! Google defines a baffle as "a device used to restrain the flow of a fluid, gas, etc." so I guess the monsoon baffles on Rishi are supposed to protect Raider's Cove from the rain. Though I'm guessing what you really wanted to ask was: "Where the hell do I find those things?" Here's a screenshot of what they look like. There's a whole bunch on ground level right under the market near where you land.


which flashpoints have solo mode - So many questions about solo modes! Bioware actually posted the full list back in September last year, but I understand that this can be a bit hard to find nowadays.

To the next 500 posts!

05/02/2016

Flashpoint Friday: Colicoid War Game

Today I'd like to bring a flashpoint to your attention that hasn't thrived in the wake of the changes introduced in 4.0. In fact, the opposite has been the case: this flashpoint seems to have been pretty much abandoned, which is a crying shame considering its qualities. I'm talking about Colicoid War Game.


General Facts

Colicoid War Game is one of the launch levelling flashpoints accessible to both factions that are relatively light on story and can be accessed from your faction's fleet dropship hangar. It was originally designed for levels 39-45... and is still only interesting to that level range, as it didn't receive an update to make it scale with level in 4.0. Worse, it was also removed from the group finder (which only shows you tactical, level-neutral flashpoints up to 50 now), and when I asked some guildies to run me through it so I could see the current state of affairs for myself, we found all the loot chests locked and the last boss dropping no loot. I've reported this as a bug, but I'm not sure it isn't intentional. Which is a real shame as Colidoid War Game is actually a very interesting flashpoint in many respects.

Fights

Colicoid War Game was the first flashpoint to which I dedicated a whole post on this blog... all the way back in January 2012, because it was so strange and defied our expectations of what this kind of content should be by featuring little combat and being heavily focused on puzzles and dealing with environmental hazards. In essence, it consists of four parts:

First, you are led onto a plain with four turrets. As soon as one member of your party mounts one, waves of colicoids and colicoid-shaped droids start spawning around you, which you are supposed to hold off with the cannons. At launch this event was pretty darn unforgiving as you had no opportunity to heal and the droids tended to shoot you as soon as they spawned. This was alleviated considerably when they changed the turrets to automatically emit a trickle of heals onto the people mounted on them. By this point the biggest challenge became to simply remain calm, as the turrets - very unintuitively - shoot without prompting, so you must only use the directional keys to aim then. If you end up doing anything else in an attempt to make them fire on command, such as press a mouse button, you'll end up dismounting instead. During my first run of the place, I was so good at accidentally dismounting myself that eventually my turret just vanished in disgust.


After two rounds of mowing down colicoids, you face a corridor with a few "trash" mobs. They are pretty hard hitters though, and there are multiple champions among the lot. Add to that the fact that some of the droids have an ability that temporarily makes them immune to all damage if you let the associated cast go through and you have the recipe for something that can be pretty painful for a pug... though at least this section isn't very long.

Next, you face the infamous force field puzzle. Your party has to split up to hold down various buttons to gradually unlock a way towards the end of a "mini maze", though you can cheese things a bit if you have someone with a leap in your party. To keep things interesting, there are also fire and fast respawning droid patrols that will knock you off the narrow catwalks to your death. Fun for the whole family! Like on the initial encounter with the turrets, there are two stages to this that you need to complete.

In the end you emerge into an arena that is very reminiscent of the battle on Geonosis from Episode II, where you have to fight three big beasts and finally one final giant colicoid war droid who is a fairly straightforward encounter but amusingly certain of his victory in his voice snippets. 

Story

Why do you have to do all this? Because the colicoids, an alien race of bugs whose non-sentient cousins players will have encountered on Balmorra, have issued a challenge that they will only trade their highly advanced weapons with whoever prevails in their crazy tournament, and of course neither the Republic nor the Empire can miss out on an opportunity like that (lest the other faction get there first).

Just before you get to the final arena, there is a brief cut scene where you see a team of the enemy faction emerge from the trials on the other side of a force field. You have the option to manipulate the local turret controls to make them fire at your competitors, which is pretty hilarious, though it doesn't affect the outcome either way as you don't get to fight them even if you let them live.

Conclusion

While Colicoid War Game's story is not particularly exciting, voluntarily entering a deathmatch competition is a nice change of pace from constantly having to hunt down generic baddies. It's similar to what the Gree event would do later by inviting players to pit themselves against alien droids to test their strength.

It's the mechanics that really make this flashpoint shine though. The turret fight is admittedly somewhat dull once you get the hang of it, but the platform puzzle never ceases to amuse me. It can create some very different experiences, from the pug that takes ages to figure out what to do, with people repeatedly getting knocked to their deaths, to the experienced group that clears the whole area within a couple of minutes. One might call it "the Huttball of flashpoints", eliciting either love or hatred in people, with little space in-between.

I was really quite upset when I realised that this flashpoint hadn't been given any love in 4.0, and even more so when I had to find out that it's also been removed from the group finder and had all its loot taken away. (All the screenshots in this post were taken in "better" aka pre-4.0 days.) I honestly don't understand why that is, as I would have thought that the puzzle mechanics would lend themselves particularly well to being adjusted for a role-neutral group - the only thing you'd really have to do is nerf the hitpoints of the droids in the second section a bit.


I sincerely hope that this complete neglect is only an oversight or at least a temporary measure if there are any particular challenges to this flashpoint that the devs are still figuring out. It would be a real shame to see this fun and unique piece of content go quietly into the night.

02/02/2016

KotFE Chapter by Chapter - Chapter 3: Outlander

Time to continue my detailed discussion of Knights of the Fallen Empire's individual chapters! Unsurprisingly, this post will contain spoilers for the chapter in the title and may contain spoilers for previous chapters as well.



You awake from your carbonite-induced dreams, blinded and in pain, just to immediately get injected with something to counter the carbonite poisoning... by a very different looking Lana Beniko, who managed to stop her nose from looking perpetually runny and looks like she about quadrupled the amount of muscle in her body. It feels only appropriate that one of the options is to say that you don't recognise her, though I suspect the main reason it's there is that a player jumping into the game at level 60 really wouldn't know her.

She briefly re-introduces herself if necessary, as well as astromech droid T7-01, formerly a companion of the Jedi knight and now also part of this rescue mission, though he mainly stays in the background to hack into things and manipulate various systems for you. Lana confirms that at least the part of your dream about Arcann ruling the galaxy now is true and that you better run for your lives... now. She becomes your companion from here on out, which I'm sure pleased a lot of people who romanced her in Forged Alliances and Shadow of Revan.

You fight your way through corridors with doors closing off escape routes and stuff randomly exploding while skytroopers keep attacking you. As you get stalled by a heavy door, Lana gets contacted by her pilot waiting outside, Koth Vortena, who gets a brief introduction. Through a security camera you see Vaylin, who is revealed to hold the rank of "High Justice", being informed of your escape, then taking her anger out on the messenger and clearly sensing your location through the Force. Lana emphasises that you're not ready to face her as your character is still very weak from the carbonite poisoning.

Lana summons up the strength to temporarily open the heavy door with the Force so you can both run through. You fight more skytroopers, but just as you seem to be approaching an exit, Koth radios you that he's under fire and can't meet you yet. He advises you to continue to another tower. Vaylin is shown ripping the door to pieces that Lana could barely open, adding a sense of urgency.

You ride an nice and clean elevator downwards, which makes for a somewhat amusing image as Lana and your character stare at each other awkwardly while doing so. After some more fighting (so many skytroopers...) you manage to make your way across a bridge into another building. Vaylin arrives just in time to see you disappear into it and decides to unleash her inner psycho by using the Force to grab bits of a nearby "sun reactor" and smash it into the building... which turns out to be a skytrooper factory by the way. (In case you hadn't noticed by this point, they are all droids, not people.) Guess what? The factory contains even more of them!


Inside the building you see people panicking about the damaged reactor growing increasingly unstable and Lana encourages you to get the hell out of dodge. Koth however, who has been staying in touch via comms and has been revealed to be a native Zakuulian, insists that you still have time to shut the reactor down and potentially save thousands of civilians. So... your choice! You can follow Lana's advice and piss off Koth with your selfishness. Or you can stay to shut down the reactor and have Lana yell at you the entire time about how you're insane (though you eventually succeed), showing early on that it will be impossible to please all of your new companions at the same time.

Eventually you finally reach a potential extraction point, just as the sun begins to set. However, Koth contacts you to say that he's run into a "maintenance issue" - while you see his shuttle having crashed behind him. (Humour created by cinematic storytelling letting you see the discrepancy between what's actually going on and what your character is being told!) Enemies approach from all sides but he gets out his blaster rifle, eyes an enemy shuttle parked closeby and assures you that he'll just need three more minutes.

You run across some maintenance catwalks, fighting off more skytroopers (yawn...) until you run into two Knights of Zakuul that want to arrest you. Finally a different type of opponent! Lana explains that they are "a policing body under Vaylin's charge", consisting of Force sensitives. You beat them up until one of them, Novo, decides to run for it. Lana has Tanek, the other one, in her grip and is about to kill him, though you can stop her.

After the fight, Vaylin catches up with you, but just before she can get to you, Koth's new ship rises up from below in a heroic rescue shot and shoots at her above your heads. She deflects the shots with a piece of catwalk that she rips up with the Force, but the distraction gives you enough time to escape. Vaylin throws her "shield" at the ship though and damages it.


Your character gets pulled inside by HK-55, Koth's droid and you make your escape, with the ship flying off into the sunset. Vaylin is shown reporting to Arcann that you got away, and he is still keen to have you found. If you allowed Tanek to live, Vaylin strangles him for his failure.

Conclusion

After the introspection of chapter two, it's time to get back to something more action-packed. Your escape from the carbonite prison is fast-paced and exciting, as Vaylin and her troops are always shown to be right behind you. It's also a bit confusing as you're kind of thrown in at the deep end, meeting "new Lana", Koth and HK-55 in quick succession, but get very little time to actually talk about what's going on, other than the briefest of introductions and confirmation that five years have passed since you were frozen.

Vaylin, who came as a bit of surprise in chapter one if you'd been avoiding spoilers, as the trailer was completely focused on Valkorion's sons, gets established as a frighteningly powerful and not entirely sane opponent.

I quite enjoyed this chapter. It features some very cool shots, such as Lana's opening of the heavy door or Koth's last minute rescue, as well as showing the first signs of the kind of roguish humour that we'll see from these characters as time goes on. It's a bit of a bummer that your character is repeatedly suffering from weakness and pain and therefore has to rely on the supporting cast to get anything done, however it also makes sense that this is the way it is, considering that you just spent five years frozen in a block of carbonite. The only annoying thing is that fighting the endless stream of skytroopers gets boring quickly as they're not even remotely challenging.

31/01/2016

Lowbie Smuggler PvP with Traitine

I still don't really "get" streaming and I'm not sure I ever will, but it's obvious even to me that it's very much a thing these days, so I was quite flattered when Traitine of Constant Warefare (@ConstantWarfare on Twitter) asked me to join him for some SWTOR fun on his Twitch stream. I agreed to join him for about an hour last Sunday and rolled up a new Scoundrel just for the purpose of doing lowbie PvP with him, but we actually ended up playing for over two hours. Time flies when you're having fun!

I had warned him that Republic had a penchant for losing a lot on The Red Eclipse, but we seemed to get lucky as we won four out of the six matches we played, and the two losses were relatively close calls as well. Balance was restored towards the end though, when he suggested that we should try some GSF and we got roflstomped both times.

If you've ever found yourself wishing that you could see me play (hah!), I recorded my point of view of the whole thing and edited it down to a length of about 37 minutes to limit it to the "highlights".

28/01/2016

SWTOR Doesn't Have Lockboxes

Does this qualify as a clickbait title?

I'm pretty sure this does: "SWTOR is putting lockboxes inside of other lockboxes"

It's an article that was posted on MassivelyOP yesterday and which I saw this morning. It (and its comments) were simultaneously amusing and kind of sad.

The actual story behind it is that Bioware is tweaking the contents of their Cartel packs once again, which is not very interesting to me personally because I tend not to buy them myself. Plus when I actually made the effort of trying to understand the new system they were introducing with 4.0, they scrapped it again only a few months later... so at this point I'm just throwing my hands in the air, happy that other people are dealing with this stuff and I can simply buy most things that I'm interested in straight off the GTN. There's probably some discussion to be had here about whether the changes are good or bad, but that's not mine to chime in on.

What intrigued me about the MassivelyOP article was that with that headline, it managed to use a minor semantic inaccuracy to make the change sound like something completely different and nasty.

Games like Neverwinter have lockboxes. They are chests full of random treasure that drop out in the world, but they are locked (thus the name "lockbox") and to unlock them you need to buy a key from the in-game cash shop.

SWTOR doesn't have lockboxes. No random locked chests dropping out in the world to clog up your inventory here! It does have crates of random loot that you can buy straight from the Cartel market if you want any... but otherwise they are out of sight and out of mind, and they are never locked. Once you have the box, its contents are yours.

Now, to be fair, most of the time when people express issues with real money giving you random loot, it's totally fair to treat these two models as identical, because if you have concerns about gambling, it doesn't really matter whether the money is being spent on the actual box of items or on a key to open it.

But in the case of this story, it did matter. Talking about lockboxes inside lockboxes implies that you have to repeatedly buy keys merely to access everything contained in that first box that you wanted to open, which would be pretty crazy and inspired people to post all kinds of hysterical memes in the comments. As Wilhelm put it so succinctly: "Honestly, with EA in charge, putting lockboxes inside of lockboxes seemed completely believable."

Of course the actual story, "SWTOR changes the composition of the loot in their random packs", simply wouldn't be newsworthy, not even on MassivelyOP. There were commenters who did point out that the title was very misleading, but who cares if you can give people a chance to get all worked up about how supposedly sucky the game's business model is?

I thought it was telling that one commenter confessed that they had recently started playing the game and were confused that they didn't actually encounter any lockboxes in it, considering the complaints levelled at it for their supposed implementation.

Just another day of people spreading misinformation about SWTOR I guess... but it was surprising to see it happen in such a weird manner on a major MMO news site. You'd think they would know their stuff a bit better.

26/01/2016

Companions - Where Are They Now?

I've been doing some thinking about companions lately and about how their place in the game has changed since 4.0. I'm not so much talking about the mechanical changes (though those play into it) but their overall role and purpose in the game.

Looking back at it now, the original implementation of the companion system seemed to be all about compromise, trying to make them simultaneously important to your levelling experience and an essential part of the story, yet also completely optional and not required. Many people tended to stick with their first companion, simply because that one tended to be the most fleshed out - introduced naturally as part of your class story and then always with you for at least the first couple of planets. It's the additional companions that really threw a wrench into the system, because as soon as you give people the choice of who to bring, you can't allow that companion to get too involved in what's happening - unless you want to add another couple of extra story branches that a large part of your player base will never even see. I can completely understand why Bioware opted for minimal companion involvement for most classes as the story progressed. (Some of the classes that were presumably written earlier still do have some notable companion influences in their basic class story, such as Quinn for the warrior or Khem Val for the inquisitor, but there's definitely not a lot of that kind of thing.)

Companion stories were for the most part completely separate from the class story, giving you the option to ignore them if you didn't like a certain companion. That they were gated behind an affection grind always struck me as a bit odd though - I originally thought that it made sense that you would naturally unlock the story of whoever you quested with, but in practice no amount of "naturally" gained affection was ever enough and you had to shower everyone with gifts to get them to talk to you. After the gift-giving binge you'd then have ten conversations in a row, where your new friend could go from distrusting to loving you within the space of ten minutes - hardly immersive.

Looking back at that, I really approve of several changes that Bioware has made in Knights of the Fallen Empire. For example I love that all the original companion arcs now unlock automatically as you progress through your class story, regardless of individual influence level. You can still ignore them if you really don't like a certain character, but for those that you do like it feels a lot more natural to interact with them a little after every other mission, not to mention that the conversations provide a steady and welcome trickle of extra XP as you level.

I also approve of what they did with the companions in the new story chapters, that they simply saddle you with a different one every other section and that's that. It removes some choice, yes, but by knowing for sure who is actually going to be present in each scene, Bioware can get your companions so much more involved in the action, and hearing them wisecrack about your choices is honestly a huge part of the game's appeal. The removal of companion gear and role restrictions also took care of any worries about struggling with the gameplay in story segments that make you team up with a rarely used companion.

What I'm still waiting for is the option to actually have some variety among alts that have done KotFE - I don't really like the thought of all of mine ending up with the exact same companions, especially since you can't even customise their looks. Looking at the characters of Koth, Lana and Senya, I'm almost certain that there will be a big showdown where at least one of them will leave you or turn against you based on your choices, but I was honestly hoping for more of that kind of thing a bit earlier on already. That one point where you get the option to kill a former trooper companion is a lot less exciting when you realise that even if you spare him, he still won't join back up with you. It's just all a bit same-y so far, but I'm hopeful for the next couple of chapters.

The one thing that I can't really make sense of are the new Alliance companions. They feel like an attempt at giving us more options for everyday gameplay, except there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of choice involved here either. If you are bothering with the Alliance system at all, you will get most of them anyway, and therefore have the exact same stable of companions as every other person doing so. Each new companion features an interesting little intro story and then that's it. Admittedly I don't know for sure, but I didn't get the impression that Bioware has any further plans for involving those characters in the main storyline - assuming that they are optional, they simply can't show up there or we would be back to the same old issue of people bringing different characters that all need their own lines.


Two Alliance companions with (in my opinion) pretty interesting backstories: Veeroa Denz and Choza Raabat. But you recruit them... and then what?

I've also heard people joke about how it feels like we have "hundreds" of companions now with the Alliance system, and I can definitely relate to feeling a bit overwhelmed by that. The most companions I ever had pre-4.0 was eight: five class companions, the ship droid, HK-51 and Treek. After finishing what's been released of KotFE so far, my main is up to 23 companions already, which could have been 24 if I hadn't rejected Xalek, and I haven't even used the panel on Odessen to retrieve old companions that haven't actually come back (yet).

What's the point of having all these companions if I can only use one at a time and send out six or however many it is now to craft? Everything else is just interface clutter. With the great companion normalisation it also feels like I don't need more than one companion to be out and about anyway, since each one can fill any role and they all have the same abilities anyway... which just adds to the indifference about having more and more of them thrown at me. Influence actually affecting companion power and being a huge grind also encourages you to pick a favourite or two and ignore the rest.

You might ask why that's a problem - if I don't like the extra companions, I can just ignore them, right? Well, yes, but only if I want to ignore the whole Alliance endgame as well. If I do participate in it and allow myself to be flooded with tons of companions that all feel way too similar to each other, this is actually a step in the opposite direction compared to Bioware's other efforts to make companions feel more unique, interesting and relevant, which is just a strange contradiction.

22/01/2016

Flashpoint Friday: Battle of Rishi

After talking about Battle of Ilum two weeks ago, I decided to cover another "battle of" this week: Battle of Rishi.


General Facts

Battle of Rishi was released as part of the Shadow of Revan expansion (patch 3.0) in December 2014. Blood Hunt and Battle of Rishi were part of the expansion's main storyline and the first two flashpoints that launched with a solo mode right off the bat. Group-wise they only offered a tactical version initially, with the hardmode getting added in 3.1 two months later. At the time of writing this, more than a year later, Blood Hunt and Battle of Rishi are still the two newest flashpoints in the game, as no additional ones have been released. (Personally I don't think that the Star Fortresses really count, since they can't seem to decide what sort of content they want to be and aren't included in the group finder.)

Fights

Battle of Rishi is a romp across Rishi to take out a massive Revanite signal jammer, so you spend your time fighting Revanites and their droids. The trash is pretty uninteresting, and the bosses... well, they offer some reasonably interesting mechanics but are pretty darn forgettable in terms of story.

The first two boss encounters each feature a Revanite duo consisting of a former Republic and a former Imperial character, first a Wookiee (smuggler?) and an Imperial soldier, then a Sith and a Jedi master. There's a lot of "don't stand in squares/circles on the floor" in both fights, but the second encounter features an interesting mechanic where balls of lightning float towards the middle of the room and you have to "soak them up" or they'll do more damage to the whole group. Like in many duo fights, killing one of the bosses first results in the other enraging, both in the first and in the second encounter. Now, stuff like that sometimes gets announced in big red letters across the screen that say something like: "[Boss name] gets really angry!" In both of these boss fights though, no matter whom you kill first, the same line is used for all of them: "The remaining adversary rages at the death of their ally!" It's like not even the encounter designers could be bothered. "Who cares? Nobody has heard of these guys before and nobody will ever hear from them again after they're dead. They have no personality, no story and no lines. Why bother?"



Exhibits A and B.

To give credit where credit is due, at least the last boss - a walker that conveniently drops from the sky (yes, really) - is quite memorable, at least mechanically. It has this move where it powers up a massive electric discharge... which will one-shot you even in tactical mode. To survive, you have to go stand in a circle and use a console to activate a protective shield around you and any allies. There is plenty of time to do this, so it's not a matter of reflexes or anything, just a question of paying some attention to your environment. Yet the amount of people I've watched die to this... it's always pretty hilarious. I also have my own funny memories of this encounter, such as that one time when our entire group went to stand in the circle like good little players, but then nobody actually bothered to click on the console so we all died anyway, looking very foolish in the process.

On hardmode, there is also a bonus boss, who is probably the most mechanically challenging flashpoint boss I've ever seen in this game - which is quite impressive really! I talked about him a bit in this post. Unfortunately the sheer difficulty of the fight also makes him unappealing to anyone but a well-geared, fully organised group. I think he's cool in theory, but in nearly a year I've only actually bothered to kill him twice myself, which is kind of telling.

Story (spoilers?)

Battle of Rishi is directly integrated into the Shadow of Revan story, so it's hard to talk about it without giving at least minor spoilers for that... the major plot point is that you're fighting Revanites, and both a Republic and an Imperial fleet have just appeared above the planet, manipulated by the Revanites to hopefully annihilate each other. In order to prevent this, you need to contact your faction's representative, but a local signal jammer makes communication with the fleet impossible. So you charter a shuttle and invade yet another Revanite camp to destroy said signal jammer.

The entire flashpoint is just you fighting your way towards your objective, with a brief light/dark side choice near the end where you get to hijack an anti-air cannon and can decide to aim it either at the Revanites or at the enemy faction.

Once the signal jammer has been destroyed, you get in touch with your respective faction's leader in orbit (Satele Shan for Republic players and Darth Marr for Imperials) and they agree to temporarily halt aggressions to figure out what's going on.

Conclusion

I think most of my articles in this series have been pretty positive so far, but Battle of Rishi is not a flashpoint that impressed me. It features pretty environments, and it offers a fun little mob-killing romp for a pug, but other than that... it just seems to have no heart and no real point.


About a year ago, I wrote a post called Solo Flashpoints - Good or Bad Idea? in which I kind of came to the concusion that Bioware doesn't really seem to know what it wants to do with flashpoints. To be honest, I suspect that's part of why we haven't seen any in a year, not just because of KotFE! In the past, they've sometimes been story-light instances for group content, or an excuse to provide a particularly epic final boss battle. Battle of Rishi doesn't really try to do either, as it came with a solo mode from the get-go and is tightly integrated into the storyline, yet the objective of "go destroy that signal jammer" is so dull that it could simply have been a regular quest.

It's particularly interesting to compare Battle of Rishi to its partial namesake Battle of Ilum, which also suffered from having a somewhat lacklustre objective... but all throughout, it still told a story, of how Malgus' new Empire included lots of aliens, of the kinds of characters he had managed to win for his cause. Battle of Rishi is one massive wasted opportunity here, with the Revanites theoretically boasting an interesting background that has inspired both Republic and Imperial soldiers to defect... yet nothing is made of this whatsoever. None of the people you fight ever go beyond being random mooks, and in a game that prides itself in its lore and interesting characters as much as SWTOR, that's just outright shameful.

20/01/2016

KotFE Chapter by Chapter - Chapter 2: A Dream of Empire

Time to continue my detailed discussion of Knights of the Fallen Empire's individual chapters! Unsurprisingly, this post will contain spoilers for the chapter in the title and may contain spoilers for previous chapters as well.



Your character awakes... in a dream. You can tell because the edges of the screen are all fuzzy and everyone speaks with an echo in their voice! You appear to be standing on an asteroid in the middle of a debris field, with Valkorion keeping you company and complimenting you on your abilities. I don't know if male characters get to do this as well, but as a female character you get the hilarious option to ask: "Are you flirting with me?"

He shows you an image of all your companions fighting in what appears to be a heroic last stand, while talking about them in somewhat disparaging tones. You have the option to agree with him or defend them. Your visions get chaotic and Valkorion explains that the carbon freezing wasn't handled properly and you are slowly dying. You fight some imaginary skytroopers as a representation of you fighting for your life. It's worth noting that while you have no companions, you appear to be receiving heals from Valkorion throughout the entire thing! You also fight visions of the past in the form of old class story enemies.

After running across the asteroid, you make it towards your old companions, but they are all dead. Next you find yourself on a ruined version of either Coruscant or Dromund Kaas, floating in space. All the while Valkorion is with you, trying to fill you with doubt about your choices, insinuating that everything you did was pointless and/or wrong. You actually have to fight nightmare visions of members of your own faction that have turned against you, with an attached bonus mission to revive fallen citizens - a shred of hope in an ongoing nightmare? In the end you encounter someone you used to work with in your class story, such as Master Satele as a Jedi knight or General Garza as a trooper and have to kill them as well. Valkorion wants you to feel good about it too. Whatever you reply, a piece of debris suddenly comes loose from the building above you and crushes you, prompting another change of scenery.

You find yourself on what looks like Ziost after its "consumption" (though still with a backdrop of endless stars) and Valkorion tells you that the events on Ziost showed him that he has moved beyond death and is finally free of "crude" vessels such as hands, voices and children, hinting at the various forms in which he has appeared in the different class stories. He also says that he's done everything he can to keep you alive through the carbonite poisoning as he considers you a part of him that he wishes to keep. Mysterious!

A giant Monolith appears and Valkorion tells you that he can only help you if you will accept his power. Whether you accept or refuse his help, you will still be provided with ongoing heals while fighting the mob, though it's worth noting that at this point, accepting or refusing Valkorion's help has no alignment adjustment associated with it.

He says that you have a common foe, and after a fade to black you find yourself at the Eternal Throne, with Arcann sitting on it and Vaylin standing nearby. The scene looks much more real than any of the previous ones, and ambassadors from the Republic and Sith Empire kneel before the throne. Who else noticed that the Sith envoy looks like Darth Vowrawn from the Sith warrior story? The Republic ambassador wears the garb of a senator, but otherwise I couldn't place him. Valkorion says that more time has passed than you think and that Zakuul rules the galaxy now, though he is displeased with his children "abusing their power". Talking about his children makes him sound oddly romantic and he even mentions having found love on Zakuul, but he insists that they need to be stopped before they "ruin everything".


Vaylin suddenly draws her saber and stares at you, seemingly able to perceive your dream manifestion. Then she stabs you and you collapse, while Valkorion comments that you're being "reborn"... (in chapter three).

Conclusion

After the frantic events of chapter one, chapter two gives you some time to breathe and reflect, being fairly light on combat and focusing on how Valkorion appears to have ended up in your head. (It's also one of the shorter chapters.) Spending some time in a dream also gives the story the opportunity to introduce the idea of that five-year time skip that was talked about before the expansion, without having it feel too sudden.

Nonetheless I have to admit that personally I'm not too fond of this chapter, probably because I'm just not that into "dream stories". Or maybe I'm just jealous of people in fiction always having deep and meaningful dreams when my own are just random and make zero sense.

Valkorion has some interesting lines in this chapter, but there's always that feeling that it's probably all a dream anyway and none of it is true. Scenes like finding your dead companions or seeing your capital destroyed certainly serve to introduce some doubt about what may have happened in your absence though.