21/01/2018

On Hoth

After about four months of sitting around in Aurek Base, my Commando on Star Forge finally made it through Hoth. Sometimes it seems that this planet is where my alts (figurately) go to die - though it might just be a general problem I have with chapter two of the original class stories. Whenever I roll a new alt for story purposes, I tend to breeze through the prologue and first chapter really quickly, but once chapter one is done I (somewhat bizarrely) tend to feel "too accomplished" to continue right away, despite of the game beckoning me with even more story. Sometimes the momentum manages to carry me through to the end of Balmorra/Taris, but by Quesh I definitely start to lose steam. But hey, at least Quesh is short, right? And then I get sent to Hoth, look at the huge map, groan and log out.

I'm actually not entirely sure why that is. With the improved travel options we have access to nowadays, it doesn't really take that long to get things done. Even while doing all the quests as well as getting all the datacrons, I didn't feel that I actually ended up spending that much time on the planet. There's just something about those endless white plains...

The funny thing is that Tatooine is basically the same, only hot and brown instead of cold and white, and I love Tatooine. In fact, during my very first playthrough I commented on the similarity between the two and gave Hoth a good mark as well. It just hasn't held up as well in terms of replayability for some reason.

Maybe it has something to do with the story and NPCs. Replaying all the quests on Hoth for the first time in ages, it struck me how none of the side missions were very memorable at all (I didn't save a single one for my favourites list), and the main planetary story arc didn't really form a single coherent story either but was just several small missions strung together: first you defend the Republic base, then you go into that power station, then you fight pirates, then you're tasked with securing Republic superweapon #347.

It also struck me how incredibly unhappy all the NPCs are to be on Hoth! NPCs pretty much always have some grievance or another, that's why they send you out on quests to solve their problems after all, but these tasks can still be presented with a positive attitude. However, everyone on Hoth seems to hate the place so much - maybe this has actually rubbed off on me as a player. There was a funny moment in the first area that I'd completely forgotten about, where if you choose to leave a traitor alive after confronting him, he retorts with a resigned: "You're leaving me on Hoth? Couldn't you just shoot me?"


It's telling that the stories I do remember with some fondness are those that revolve around the rare few people who are actually having a reasonably good time on Hoth: the Ortolan settlers and the pirate survivalist cult. Though I'd forgotten all about the tension between the Republic and Empire that the player is subjected to in the latter quest on Republic side... I actually went with betraying the Imps this time (M1-4X approved) but felt kind of bad about it afterwards.

Overall, engaging plot lines and memorable moments are not one of Hoth's strengths however.

16/01/2018

Multitasking

I don't know if it's just a side effect of having played this game for more than six years and therefore not finding everything quite as engaging anymore or also a function of the way modern life has generally shortened our attention spans, but I'm finding it hard these days to just be happy doing a single thing while playing.

I always want to watch or at least listen to something on my second monitor at the same time, or alternatively I want to at the very least feel that whatever it is I'm doing and focusing my attention on will kill three birds with one stone (no, two is not enough).

For example, I'm enjoying another stint on the Ebon Hawk Star Forge right now, working on my Commando there. Those play sessions are satisfying because they tick a lot of boxes:

- I get to slowly chip away at my main goal of revisiting all the side quests on Republic side.
- If any of them catch my attention in particular, I can record them and add them to my "Favourite Side Quest" playlist (which is a sort of related side project).
- I get to complete the trooper story for a third time. Not a high priority, but might as well while I'm there...
- I get to play without the support of my max-level legacy. Intriguing!
- What's life like with Galactic Command when you don't have/use any of the boosts and just putter along doing quests every so often? Interesting to see.
- A low level legacy means that there are achievements to be had everywhere!
- ... and datacrons to hunt! I used to get my fix for that on the Progenitor but since that has been merged into Darth Malgus, doing them on yet another server is the only way to keep re-experiencing those jumping puzzles in a meaningful way.
- And with all that, I still get to watch things on my second monitor as well... I just pause the video every so often whenever I visit a quest hub, but I can continue watching while cruising around and killing ten womp rats.


Plus, every so often you get to relive fond memories, such as when running into this champion who actually still hits quite hard even to this day.

Now, it doesn't always have to be quite this much. Other times I will settle for something like PvPing on my agent because:

- PvP is fun.
- It gains her Command ranks and she's not 300 yet.
- It's PvP bonus day or we're in a light side victory state, so I'm feeling extra efficient.

Still, always wanting everything to be contributing towards several goals at once is quite a tall order. It's made me wonder whether this isn't the real reason I struggle so much with replaying KotFE & KotET. When I set myself the goal to complete veteran mode KotFE for example, I went through the entire sixteen chapters in a flash! Having more than one thing to work towards was fun. However, the rest of the time those chapters are pretty much the antithesis to my desire to multitask:

- The way combat and dialogue alternate quickly and frequently is very immersive the first time around but doesn't play so well with watching something else on my second screen because I need to start and stop all the time.
- Unless you're making a point of speed-running by skipping cut scenes etc., they aren't a great source of XP or CXP either.
- Beyond seeing the story and how different choices play out (which is fun two or three times) there just isn't... anything. You don't get any good loot, there is little to no room to go off the beaten path for a bit and do something else, there's no reputation to earn, no achievements for killing 100/500/1000 skytroopers... welp, I can't believe I just suggested that as an addition to make chapter replays a bit more interesting.

Don't tell me to go play something else instead though - I like my comfort food! I just really have an urge to be efficient about it at the same time.

13/01/2018

Better Late Than Never

I was perusing my flashpoint achievements today - noting once again that despite of my love for the format I'm far off ever reaching 100% completion in the category - when I noticed that in the more than three years that it's been in the game, I've apparently never done Korriban Incursion on hard mode on any Imperial character... according to my achievement panel anyway. I'm still not sure I quite believe it - I mean, yes, I play less on Empire side than on Republic, but... three years!

Fate has a funny way of going about these things, so I actually happened to be queueing for a random master mode on my Sorcerer as I was confronted with this information, and guess what I got?


It was actually a somewhat odd experience. The first boss kept putting dots on everyone, which I could not remember from the Republic version at all. And the bonus boss was a total pushover, where I remember the Republic version being quite a pain in the rear (at least in his original iteration) due to his mass Force choke ability. The Imperial version seemed to do nothing of the sort!

However, the biggest surprise to me was the second boss turning into an utter wipe-fest. Again, I don't recall ever having any issues with this on Pub side. I was starting to seriously question myself and my knowledge of the game: Is the flashpoint tuned that differently for the two factions? Was I just failing at healing? For how long are you supposed to be able to deal with that soft enrage?

Our first tank left after a few wipes, citing that he had just struggled through this flashpoint recently, taking several hours to complete it and that he was feeling unable to cope with all these wipes again. When one of the dps left as well, I got worried that the group might be falling apart, but fortunately the remaining damage dealer was a friendly Assassin who seemed quite keen on getting things done no matter what and patiently waited for replacements with me.

Luckily for us, our replacement tank was both overgeared and very patient, repeatedly telling us after yet another wipe that she believed in us and even going so far as to hand out free stims to everyone in the group. It sure felt good when we finally did get the boss down. The rest after that was easy again, though we learned that our friendly Assassin was even more clueless than he had seemed at first and didn't even know that he had a crowd control ability.

I actually really enjoyed the run despite of all the wipes. It really taught me how to optimise my performance on the second boss, and it was nice to see hapless newbies and seasoned veterans work together in harmony instead of butting heads. So, yes. Master mode Korriban Incursion down on Imp side, woo! Only three years late...

08/01/2018

A Love Letter to Odessen Proving Grounds


Dear Odessen Proving Grounds,

That is your preferred mode of address, isn't it? I know that's how you were originally introduced in the patch notes, but since then I've also heard people refer to you as "Alliance Proving Grounds" sometimes, which has made me wonder.

I'm writing to you because I feel sad thinking of all the bad things that you have to listen to people say about you every day. "Not this one!" or "I hate this one!" over and over again, usually followed by a notification that so-and-so has left the ops group. It would make anyone feel bad.

I just wanted to tell you: Ignore the haters. There are those of us who absolutely adore you.

People accuse you of being too complicated? I like a simple good thing as much as the next person, but if everything was simple the world would be quite boring. We love your beautiful complexity and how different it makes you from most of the other warzones. People who just want to bash others' heads in can stick to doing so in their ranked arenas.

I sometimes suspect that a lot of the most public hate for you is fed by well-known PvPers who love to play stealth classes, because stealth provides them with a noticeable advantage in most warzones. That doesn't fly with you however, oh no! Capping an objective? Not possible in stealth. Defending an objective? Not possible in stealth either. Carrying a power-up? No way you're doing that in stealth.

No, instead you decided to give love to those long-suffering support players, the tanks and healers. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that those roles aren't inherently fun to play - however, they are probably more prone to being made un-fun by other players than any other. You'll know what I mean if you've ever healed a Huttball game and pointlessly plinked shots off the enemy ball carrier while your team's damage dealers were off having random duels in the middle of nowhere. If you're playing support, you need someone to support who's actually interested in winning the game, and that's not always guaranteed.

However, your unique design has finally set the tanks and healers of the world free, since you offer multiple ways to contribute towards winning that don't actually require you to kill anyone. In fact, you turned a lone tank or healer guarding an objective into a force to be reckoned with all on their own. It doesn't even matter if the enemy eventually kills you, as long as you manage to stay alive just long enough. There is a unique kind of satisfaction in falling over defeated just as a round ends and the objective gets deactivated. You may have won this fight, but you definitely lost the battle, suckers.

I remember once zoning into a match in progress on my Sage healer, with the enemy team having a considerable lead, and I almost single-handedly turned things around because while everyone else was busy brawling in mid, I spent several rounds activating objective points with the green power-up and claiming them for our side.

People may complain that you don't give enough weight to killing the enemy. Again I say, leave those people to their arenas. I enjoy winning even if my enemy is still alive. (If killing was the only point, what would even be the point of playing a healer?)

Others may moan about your map design. The other day I saw someone state on the official forums in all seriousness that sometimes they manage to run all over the map without finding any players! Well duh, I thought, because running all over the map trying to find players isn't the goal. If that person actually focused on the objectives, they'd meet some opposition soon enough.

Again, I actually really love how different your map is, with those narrow tunnels making it hard to see the enemy. It means that you never quite know what's coming and you're rewarded for being able to make good guesses as to what's going to happen in the next round. I gotta write a guide about that some time...

Finally, let's not forget how you achieved that seemingly impossible feat of bringing Republic and Empire together to fight for the same cause. Sure, Yavin Ruins has copied that now, but you were the first. Not only that, but you did it with style. Some people may be clamouring for unity in other places now, but can you really see Pubs and Imps fighting side by side on Alderaan or Denova? Pfft.

Never change, Proving Grounds. Never change.

Lots of Love,

A Fan

04/01/2018

Stagnation Appreciation

Like I suspect many others, my guild has been fairly quiet over the holidays, with members spending  a good chunk of time away from the internet and with their families. Last week we finally got enough people together to organise a guild run again but we wanted to take it easy, so we ran Eternity Vault, Karagga's Palace and Explosive Conflict on story mode of all things.

And... I was kind of surprised by how much of a good time I'm still having with these operations. Sure, Eternity Vault seemed amazing to me when I ran it for the first time six years ago, but shouldn't I be tired of this stuff by now? When Bioware first announced their plans to scale all content, I wrote at length about my hopes and concerns about it, and the potential of getting tired of the same instances remaining relevant endgame forever was certainly one of my worries.

And yet, here I am and I'm still having fun. In fact, this week I also ran another group finder operation with random strangers (Karagga's Palace) and had a blast providing guidance to those who were unfamiliar with the content for one reason or another. There's just something extremely comfortable about doing something that you know very well with only minimal variation. It's kind of like knitting another scarf I guess. If you're an experienced knitter I mean.

The other night I decided that I really wanted to do something fresh and different, so I patched and fired up Elder Scrolls Online. Quite a few people in my wider social circle have been playing it as of late and most of them have been full of praise for it. I managed to gain two levels and it was... okay I guess. Nothing was wrong exactly, but part of me found the experience oddly overwhelming and exhausting. While looking for something in the UI, lots of windows kept popping up to tell me about this feature and that, and even though depth is a good thing, something that's supposed to intrigue and entice me, I just felt tired even thinking about having to learn and understand all these new systems.

Back to SWTOR it was.

Bhagpuss also wrote a post only a few days ago about how he's actually quite happy playing all the MMOs that already exist and not exactly dying for something new right here, right now. Like he says, maybe it's the season.

I kept thinking that for me, it's probably also a case of MMOs not just being different things to different people, but also different things to the same person at different times. When I first started playing World of Warcraft over ten years ago (yikes), my real life was in a somewhat awkward, uncertain and unsatisfying place. I relished the opportunity to escape into a virtual fantasy world full of adventure and systems that were a lot more straightforward than the real world (kill kobolds, level up - got it).

No, I haven't become one of those fabled "gamers with real lives" who barely have ten minutes of spare time to play each day, but I do have a full-time job right now and in the last few months in particular it's actually been quite engaging and I've had to learn a lot of new things. That takes brain power, and by the time I come home I'm not really looking to learn a whole new set of rules. I'd much rather have some comfort food that takes me through a well-practised and satisfying routine before going to bed.

That doesn't mean that I don't want new content of course - just that I'm still getting a lot of mileage out of the old stuff in the meantime. While I've been there and done that, right now I'm actually quite happy to be there and do it again.

31/12/2017

SWTOR Predictions for 2018

2017 is nearly at an end (in fact, in some parts of the world, 2018 has already arrived) and for the past few days my blogger feed has been filled with retrospectives about the old and predictions for the new year. I've already done my own looking back and do so every year, but I've never tried my hand at predictions before! As I've actually been thinking about what might be in store for SWTOR in the near future for once, I thought I might as well share those thoughts.

I don't think any of them are outrageous enough to be funny, but then that might just mean that they are more likely to come true! Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments or just let me know whether you agree or disagree.

1. I expect that we'll get an expansion announcement once the current storyline has been wrapped up, and that the three flashpoints that comprise it will tie into the new expansion in the same way Forged Alliances tied into Shadow of Revan. The expansion's theme will be related to the Heralds of Zildrog and have a name that is designed to sound vaguely like the title of an existing Star Wars movie, such as "The Serpent Awakens". The actual release will be set to happen only a couple of months after the announcement, since Bioware never milks these things for hype, and will happen in early autumn at the very latest but probably earlier. The expac will feature another five levels of story content but no new operations.

2. Speaking of operations, the last boss for Gods from the Machine won't be released until June or so, making it the most drawn-out content release EVAH! In hindsight, all the fights will be excellent, but nobody will care because people lost interest months ago. Master mode will continue to fail to materialise or at the very least get delayed even more. If it does ever see the light of day, it will come with a hefty nerf to all of veteran mode. (Note that I'm not saying that this is what I want to happen, just what I expect to happen based on past observations.)

3. Either with the expansion's release or somewhere around it, Bioware will reveal some major change or new feature that will leave everyone going "What the hell?" - not necessarily because it's a bad idea (though it might be), but because it seems utterly random and feels like something that nobody ever asked for. (Again, not saying I want this to happen, just speaking from experience...)

4. One thing that will definitely be changed is conquest. That's not much of a prediction, considering that Keith himself has officially said so! However, I will add that I expect them to add a lot of new activities as ways to earn conquest points, and more importantly, the system will be revamped in some way that allows smaller guilds to get more out of it than they currently do.

5. Story-wise, the Eternal Alliance will either be disbanded or become irrelevant in some way, finally returning us to the story of Republic vs. Empire. Now this one I might actually be hoping for...

Happy 2018! I'm looking forward to looking back on these in a year and laughing about how wrong I was about everything.

26/12/2017

The Last Jedi

Due to various real world issues, it took me nearly a week to see The Last Jedi. I was really glad when I finally got to go just so I could dive into all the spoiler talk that so many people were already engaging in. Everyone I follow on social media has been very considerate about not hitting people with unexpected spoilers, but the longer anything is out, the fewer aspects of it are considered truly spoiler-ish, and bits and pieces start to leak through.

I had also heard that the film's reception from the fans had been kind of mixed so far. Many people on my feed seemed to love it, but YouTube also decided to add things like Angry Joe's "Top 10 Reasons Why The Last Jedi Made Me ANGRY" to my recommendations... as I joked to my pet tank: "I wonder what he thought of it."

The general, spoiler-free tenor from the naysayers' side seemed to be that it was too different and did too many things that didn't really feel like Star Wars. I wanted to keep an open mind but used this as a cue to temper my expectations; though different actually sounded good to me, especially since I thought that one of the biggest and fairest criticisms of The Force Awakens was that it retread too much ground from A New Hope. I wanted Last Jedi to go in a new direction.


Movie poster from starwars.com

I'm writing this on the same day that I actually saw the movie and setting the post to be published next week, when I'm away for a few days. Maybe my feelings will have mellowed a bit by that point, but right now I'm unfortunately feeling kind of disappointed.

I didn't mind that things were different, but the whole film was just waaay too fragmented for me. As I saw someone else put it: It's one thing to subvert expectations now and then, but it's something else to try and do so all the time.

There were things I enjoyed: There was some fantastic cinematic imagery as well as some great character moments. Mark Hamill acted his damn heart out. Rose was a cute new character. Etc.

However, it felt like every time something cool happened, it had to be followed up almost immediately by something else that was weird and took you out of the moment. Think this is a serious and important moment? Let's make a random joke! Looks like a beloved character just died dramatically? No wait, they're miraculously alive but nobody even bats an eyelash at the strange circumstances of their survival! You think this new character is going into a specific direction? No, they are something completely different! On and on it went.

Surprises and about-turns like this are fine and even powerful in moderation, but when one relentlessly follows the other, it just makes it impossible to feel emotionally invested after a while (because the outcome of every scene essentially becomes random). The film repeatedly gets you to care about things just to discard them shortly afterwards and then goes off into a completely different direction. It's as if it was their top priority to not be predictable, so they took it to the point where the plot just became a mess. I'm surprised it got so many positive reviews from the critics to be honest, because Star Wars or not, the sheer amount of emotional bait and switch in this movie just strikes me as bad film-making. Here's hoping Episode IX will be better.

22/12/2017

Six Years of SWTOR Blogging

With six years of SWTOR come six years of me blogging about it. As usual I'd like to take this as an opportunity to look back on the past year and what I've been up to and writing about.

My post count has been down considerably compared to last year, largely due to me changing position at my place of employ, which resulted in a lot less free time for me. Still, I'm hoping that this isn't a situation that will go on forever. Also, at least I still achieved numbers comparable to past years - I had been more prolific than usual in 2016, which made it a hard year to live up to.

Anyway, January didn't start off too great, with me still feeling the effects of early Galactic Command and then feeling seriously let down by both Bioware and the community when it came to the subject of exploits. On the plus side however, I appeared on a podcast for the first time and tried my hand at KotET's veteran mode. That second chapter was not a pretty affair. KotET also inspired me to once again write a chapter-by-chapter review of the expansion, and I got excited to hear the announcement that a new operation was coming. (Ouch, I had forgotten that we first heard about this back in January. Makes it all the more disappointing that it still hasn't been released in full.)

At the start of February I was still feeling the blues a bit and wrote an opinion piece/guide on which classes suit the KotFE/KotET story best, which blew up unexpectedly after getting linked on reddit. The news of a new operation being worked on got me musing about the point of raiding in SWTOR and in general. I was also pleased that Bioware finally listened to a certain minority of players of which I am a part and returned the option to turn off double XP events in the game.

March started with me hitting the initially elusive-seeming Command rank 300 and not being all that excited about it in the end. The Cartel Market caused controversy with an expensive lightsaber and I held another giveaway, this time of in-game items instead of Cartel Coins. I also finished KotET's veteran mode (fortunately nothing else was as bad as chapter two had been) and said farewell to the Sith Emperor.

In April I participated in Developer Appreciation Week by sharing how my not-at-all gaming-related job has nonetheless changed my perception of MMO development. (It's also changed my view on finance and marketing since then... but maybe that's something to talk about during next year's DAW.) I mused on the importance of NPCs in MMOs and completed KotFE on veteran mode (not nearly as bad as KotET). I shared first impressions of Iokath when it launched and moaned about the grindiness of companion influence.

May saw a big change in the form of Keith Kanneg, who had been appointed the game's producer the month before, treating us to a road map, something we hadn't seen in years. I also looked backwards and mused whether people would actually like to go back to a previous version of SWTOR. I started my Pugging with Shintar video series, and I got caught up in trying to save the grophets from disintegration.

In June, SWTOR was part of a charitable event that EA was holding but which wasn't promoted very much. The Nightlife event made a return after two years and I noticed the subject of server merges getting discussed a lot. (I was not in favour.) I also noted that I got my second character to Command rank 300. (By now I'm up to six.)

In July I randomly hated on Voss and people who go AFK in PvP, finished the Imperial agent story for a third time as a really evil agent, and mused about whether Command XP can possibly continue to work as a system in the long term. I also decided to update my LFG guide from 2014 for 2017 - of course Bioware revamped the group finder only a few months later, immediately making parts of it redundant again.

In August I could proudly announce a second podcast appearance and wondered about why we want certain features to be character-specific and others legacy-wide. I was surprised to find some challenge in levelling my Jedi Sentinel and wrote about both the story and the mechanics of the new Umbara flashpoint.

September started with me finally finishing the Jedi knight story for a second time and pondering the importance of character hair styles. I ran into some interesting surprises while levelling an alt, and went into a bit of a rant about why I think Shadow of Revan is overrated as an expansion, after parts of the community had just declared it their favourite expansion ever when this subject made the rounds as a discussion topic. That post ended up receiving a surprising amount of support.

In October server merges were announced, I decided that Imps are the better players but also kind of mean, and I pondered what kind of personality it takes to be a good tank.

In November I took part in International Picture Posting month again and the announced server merges actually happened. I also attended a community event organised by Swtorista and made a list of all the MMOs I've ever played. Oh yeah, and I also had the gall to say that Galactic Command is much better now than it was at the start of the year, which some people on reddit found hilariously offensive.

Finally, I ended the year with some in-depth analysis of the story and mechanics of the newly released flashpoint A Traitor Among the Chiss, saying farewell to the Galactic Command Window and hello to a new warzone, and finishing my pug levelling series after seven months of regular video creation.

I hope you all had fun with those posts. Onwards to new adventures!

20/12/2017

Six Years of SWTOR

Once again, SWTOR's birthday has come around. I can't believe it's been six years since it launched - in internet time, that feels like forever! Even with a lack of new major MMOs coming out, I bet it's becoming somewhat hard for them by now to attract new players at this point. Then again, the game seems to be holding up alright, especially when you consider the news coming out of other MMOs that came out the same year these days...


Fun fact: I only bought that new assault cannon the other day and because I knew that this post was coming up. I didn't want to be seen using the same weapon two years in a row; I mean how terrible would that be?

2017 has been yet another interesting year for Bioware. They just can't seem to do boring and routine, can they? Mainly we saw a shift back towards paying attention to the game's "MMO bits". We still got story updates too of course, three of them to be precise (Iokath, Umbara and Copero), but that's nothing compared to the deluge of story chapters that had been released over the course of 2016. However, at the same time we got our first new operation since 2014 (well, three out of five bosses anyway), two new "proper" flashpoints of the kind we also hadn't seen since 2014, a new daily area (not seen since 2015), a new warzone (we had one of those last year to be fair), and a new Galactic Starfighter map (also something we hadn't seen since 2014).

I've welcomed this change in direction overall, but I do have to admit that in terms of output this hasn't been SWTOR's most productive year. In fact, this was the first year since 2011/12 that Bioware didn't release a new expansion. I suppose this isn't something you need to read too much into, considering that it's always been a bit arbitrary what they decide to call an expansion and what not, but to a long-term player of the game it's still noticeable. I think the current speculation is that we'll see a new expansion announcement in early 2018, once the current story arc has been wrapped up. It might even tie into the new expansion the way Forged Alliances became a prelude to Shadow of Revan.

Also, because you can never please everyone, we now have people complaining that Bioware is paying too much attention to things they personally don't care about, and asking why everything isn't about single player story anymore. Even if I'm happy with the change of focus personally, I think that if you joined the game within the last one and a half years, it's a reasonable complaint to have. Changing focus all the time just isn't a good idea for any business. That, and "we have half a new raid again" doesn't make for as much good PR as a shiny CGI trailer with a whole self-contained story in it.

My personal theory is that a lot of development time this year ended up being sacrificed to retooling things. The dumpster fire that was Galactic Command's release and how it was received by the community at the end of 2016 took several months to be shaped into a somewhat more acceptable version of endgame (largely by back-pedalling on a lot of decisions and trying to make them sound like new and exciting changes), and later in the year server merges were announced, something that had clearly required some background work to minimise disruptions as well. Finally the group finder was revamped towards the end of the year, and according to Keith's road map from earlier in the year, changes to Conquest are in the works for early 2018. The time to work on things like that has to come out of somewhere, and I'm guessing that's why we saw less actual new content come out in 2017. Whether that's a good investment of the devs' time depends on where your priorities lie I guess.

Either way, I'm still loving the game and looking forward to what's coming next. (I was really down on it after Galactic Command's initial release, but they managed to turn things around for me at least.) Here's hoping that if they actually manage to stick to their current direction for a while, the speed at which they can release updates will increase once again after they manage to get back into the swing of things. Happy Birthday, SWTOR!

18/12/2017

A Look At The Yavin Ruins

Last week's patch saw the (delayed) introduction of the new warzone Yavin Ruins. While I had initially been a bit disappointed when it turned out that the announcement of a new warzone actually meant "a new map for an existing type of warzone" instead of "a new game mode", remembering just how different Quesh Huttball turned out to be from regular Huttball still left me feeling excited.

Unfortunately it took a while until I actually got an in-depth look at the new map - even though Bioware stated in the patch notes that they had increased the new warzone's chance to pop, I saw little evidence of this on my first day of trying to play it. Two hours of chaining one warzone after another only took me to Yavin once, while Voidstar popped three times in a row. I'm guessing that they were trying to avoid a situation like during Odessen's release, where people were complaining about getting nothing else... but to me it seems that they turned the dial too far in the other direction this time.


Either way, eventually I did manage to get a closer look, and it's been... interesting. Yavin Ruins is not as different from Alderaan Civil War as Quesh Huttball is from regular Huttball, but there are still some noteworthy changes. It's also oddly... pretty. I never thought I'd say that about a warzone. So much beautiful foliage! I suppose it impedes visibility somewhat, but I consider that more of a feature than a problem anyway.

What has stayed the same is the basic layout of the battlefield: Three turrets lined up in a straight row from left to right, with the two on the sides being connected via an underground tunnel that goes under the central turret. Said central turret is once again encircled by two crescent-shaped walls.


Changes in the layout are comparatively subtle. For example you don't have to circle around the front or back to go from one of the sides to the middle, there is actually a little staircase leading straight up and across the wall on this map. The platforms in the middle don't have "railings" and offer slightly fewer opportunities to break line of sight. However, there is more space to fight around the side turrets, as they aren't directly up against a wall but instead against a slightly elevated platform which is nice for range and healers to stand on.

I  spotted two real mechanical differences: First, the turrets fire a bit faster, making the ships' health go down in increments of two instead of ten. This seems to make a psychological difference more than anything else - since a lot of people are bad at maths, the non-round numbers make it a bit harder to instantly spot the "point of no return" by which you are guaranteed to lose unless you manage to capture all the turrets, and which many therefore like to interpret as an excuse to give up.

The biggest addition however is a new orange buff that can be picked up in the underground tunnel where you also find the two speed boosts (like on Alderaan). These give you a buff that lasts for a couple of minutes and cuts your turret capping time in half for the duration.


These are pretty fun to use right now because a lot of people haven't quite caught on to their existence yet and are startled when someone suddenly caps a turret in only four seconds, making them great to use in the middle of a large scale melee when people don't expect it. However, it's a bit hard to predict how much of a role they'll end up playing in the long run. The basic idea seems to be to make it easier to cap a turret without requiring either the complete annihilation of the enemy team or use of a stealth class. (The buff does not let you go into stealth, so no need to worry about it being abused by stealthers.) That seems like a noble goal at least and something that could make Yavin Ruins a bit more dynamic and fun to play than Civil War. I generally like these base-capping warzones, but the sheer difficulty of capturing an objective on Alderaan can sometimes be a bit off-putting, something the speed buff seems designed to counter.

Aside from that, I've been having fun watching people try to come to terms with communication in the new environment. I've previously expressed my amusement about the arbitrariness of "grass" and "snow" as directional markers in Alderaan Civil War, and of course Yavin provides a new challenge here because if you eschew cardinal directions, you have to decide on which landmarks to use as reference points instead and there is no agreement just yet on how to go about this.


Things seem to be trending towards calling the side with more undergrowth "jungle" (though this can lead to confused calls of "everything is a jungle here", the same objection I've always had to "snow" in Alderaan) and to naming the other, more open side after the ruins that are located there, which I've seen referred to as both "relics" and "statues" so far.


Finally it's worth mentioning that after Odessen, this is the second warzone that mixes players from both factions in its teams. While I'm against implementing this for all warzones (yes, I'm one of those suckers who cares about lore in PvP), it's nice to have another warzone where it can be justified and helps to give the losing side a break if one faction is constantly dominating (as you have a chance of ending up on the same team as the people who were beating you before).

My early conclusion is that it's a solid addition to the roster. I've always ranked Civil War pretty highly among my favourite warzones, though I like both Odessen and Novare Coast even better. Yavin Ruins therefore has a solid foundation to build on and so far it hasn't disappointed, even if it's not as different from Alderaan as Quesh Huttball is from regular Huttball. Have you given it a try yet?