22/07/2016

Flashpoint Friday: Legacy of the Rakata

Today it's time to talk about a flashpoint that shares an acronym with Lord of the Rings. Don't be confused like I sometimes I am when I see people talking about it!


General Facts

Legacy of the Rakata forms part three of the Forged Alliances story arc (which consists of four flashpoints in total) and was released as part of patch 2.10 in September 2014, which was aptly named "Forged Alliances". It wraps up the Prelude to Shadow of Revan as it is also called now, though at the time we didn't know that yet.

It was originally a tactical-only flashpoint for the level cap at the time (55), received a hard and a solo mode in 3.0, and was retuned to cover a wider level range in 4.0, like most flashpoints in the game.

Fights

Legacy of the Rakata takes place on Rakata Prime, which is populated by primitive Rakata, bits of wildlife, as well as Revanites and their droids. The trash generally doesn't pose any challenge, though some of the Rakata pulls feature powerful healers that can drag things out if they aren't shut down.

There are three boss fights in LotR, plus a bonus boss on hardmode. The bonus boss is actually quite challenging due to a combination of adds and powerful AoE that has to be avoided, but the "main bosses" are all fairly unexciting in terms of mechanics.

First there is the Rakata War Chief Rehkta and his pet Rancor. The Rancor smacks people about and Rehkta runs around like a maniac due to being untauntable and drops puddles of fire on the floor. However, there isn't really anything you can do about any of it, aside from stepping out of the fire every so often, so it's just a matter of slowly draining the two bosses' hitpoints (and boy, do they have a lot of them).

Next we have Commander Rand, a cyborg, who I suppose is moderately interesting in that he becomes invulnerable every so often, which forces you to kill a bunch of adds instead. Actually, I suppose it would be more appropriate to say that this was moderately interesting on release. Sadly that particular mechanic has since been re-used ad nauseam in several of the mini-boss fights featured in KotFE, so veteran players are probably pretty tired of it by now.


Finally, Darth Arkous and Colonel Darok have more or less the same issue as the first encounter: They have a bunch of abilities but there isn't anything you can do about them other than burn the bosses down (slowly), and try to kill them at roughly the same time as one will enrage at the time of the other one's death.

Story (spoilers)

By the end of Depths of Manaan, you have teamed up with Theron Shan, Lana Beniko, Jakarro the smuggler and his pet droid to uncover a conspiracy hatched by the cult of the Revanites. You know that they are working on building a cyborg army based on Rakata technology, but not to what end.

Part three of Forged Alliances starts with you entering Theron's/Lana's old office on the fleet to find it wrecked and you end up reuniting with them on Manaan instead. They've tracked down the Revanites' base of operations on Rakata Prime, where they are making use of old Star Forge debris to enhance their cyborgs. You're going to hunt them down.

You land on a beach on Rakata Prime with a plan to assault the temple where the base is located. Jakarro promises to provide a distraction while Theron and Lana will monitor the situation from his ship. You successfully "sneak up" on the temple by slaughtering a whole bunch of Rakata (who have apparently been hired to be an obstacle), wild Nexu and eventually Revanites on the way.

Inside the facility you find a room full of dormant cyborgs and end up talking to Theron and Lana about them on the holo. Depending on your faction, one of them sends the other way away under false pretenses, in order to be able to quietly urge you to deal with the cyborgs in their preferred way. Theron wants them destroyed via an overload so the technology won't fall into the wrong hands, while Lana wants them killed the old-fashioned way so that the tech can be preserved and stored for future use by the Empire.

Regardless of your choice, you find yourself chasing Darth Arkous and Colonel Darok (the emerging baddies from the previous parts of the story) to the roof of the building, where you eventually have a big showdown. After you defeat them, a fleet suddenly pops out of hyperspace... and it turns out that it's under the leadership of Revan, who has seemingly returned from the dead to lead the Revanites into a grand new battle. After briefly chatting with you on the holo, he starts to bomb the planet and you have to board a shuttle to escape.

Conclusion


I was really quite impressed with Legacy of the Rakata when it first came out, though over time my affection for it has somewhat diminished. I find that it scores highly in terms of first impressions, what with all the KOTOR throwbacks, the beautiful environment and the grand reveal at the end. But those are things that can't be experienced the same way on subsequent runs. In fact, I think nobody these days can experience it the way we did when it first came out, when we genuinely didn't know where it was going and who was leading the Revanites (Revan was supposed to be dead after all). These days, even if you generally try to avoid spoilers... well, the quest itself is called Shadow of Revan: Prelude! Not much room for surprises there.

Legacy of the Rakata's biggest flaw in my book is that its boss fights are pretty dull. Unlike in some of the earlier flashpoints with weak bosses, it's not that the bosses have uninteresting designs or virtually no abilites, but the problem is that they have few abilities that matter, abilities that you can actually do anything about (such as avoid or counter them). They just interrupt your tank and spank routine every so often with knockbacks and stuns but that only really serves to slow you down.

Still, overall I do like Legacy of the Rakata because in general I feel that its good sides outweigh the bad ones. I just consider it a missed opportunity that they couldn't make the boss fights a bit more interesting.

20/07/2016

Knights of the Eternal Throne - Hard to Have an Opinion

I feel I should really comment on the announcement of Knights of the Eternal Throne at Star Wars Celebration... but it's hard to have much to say about it at this point, considering that it was very much a non-announcement. Seriously, I've never seen an expansion announcement that was this thin on actual content. Literally all we've got is the name, a teaser image, a vague release window ("this fall") and promises that it's going to be great (one of the largest updates since launch). OK?


It's been suggested that Bioware may have mucked up their marketing schedule with the delays to chapters ten and sixteen - if those had been out on time, KotFE probably would have been wrapped up by now and they would have been able to give us more information about how it all ties into the next season. Still, that doesn't really explain why they were so shy about revealing any sort of technical details, such as whether there will be another level cap increase, how many new story chapters and so on and so forth. Anyway, let's try to work with what we've got.

The name: I have to admit, I'm kind of disappointed that they went with another "Knights of the Something Something" title. It's uncreative and pretty much asking for people to get the two expansions mixed up in casual conversation. Not to mention that I still don't know to this day why KotFE is even called KotFE. The only Empire that has fallen is the Sith one, but the only one that has knights is Zakuul, and the only one of those that really features prominently is Senya. I guess we theoretically still have a chapter to go that might answer the question of who the title "Knights of the Fallen Empire" is really referring to, but I'm not holding my breath. I can only guess that there is a directive from marketing that all expansions now need to have "Knights of the" in the title to make sure to draw in as many KOTOR lovers as possible... As an aside, for a German speaker like me, "KotET" is a really unfortunate acronym - in German, it literally means "(he/she/it) defecates".

The image: Pictured above, it shows Senya facing off against a slender figure, possibly Vaylin? If nothing else, it's good to see Senya, because this pretty much guarantees that she will survive whatever happens in chapter sixteen, which is not exactly a given with Bioware. Since she's a great character, I would have hated to see her die. If the slender figure is Vaylin, what's with the weird blue glow around her hands? Either way, people have been speculating for a while that KotFE might end with us finishing off Arcann but Vaylin somehow taking over or getting away, offering an opportunity for a tie-in with the next season, which this image seems to confirm. I have to admit I'm not super keen on dragging out the whole Zakuul story arc even longer, so I do hope it goes into a different direction eventually. I want to see what's happening with the Republic and the Empire, damn it!

Release window: I was actually surprised to hear that the expansion is already supposed to be out this fall, or autumn as we call it on this side of the pond. I was almost convinced that we wouldn't see the new season until the very end of the year or even the start of the next year, and I think we all kind of assumed that the Dark vs. Light event was meant to keep us occupied through a major content drought. I suppose autumn could still mean as late as November, but that would still "only" leave three months between the release of KotFE's last chapter and the start of KotET, which isn't too bad in the grand scheme of things.

Grand promises: Already I see people doing the same thing they do every time Bioware tells us that they've got something great in store - project all their hopes and dreams onto that vague promise, hoping against hope that this will finally bring whatever change or content they've been waiting for, whether it's a change to the business model, new operations or whatever. Hold your horses, people! We really don't know anything at this point, so let's not get too excited, OK?

All that said, I do look forward to hearing more about this. Call me weird, but I do actually kind of like the way you never quite know what you're going to get with a new SWTOR release. There are areas where I absolutely loathe change and surprises, such as when it comes to core class gameplay, but experimenting with adding different types of content in different ways is fine by me. Getting a predictable cookie cutter expansion every X months or years gets boring after a while anyway.

18/07/2016

London Community Cantina, Take Two

Long-time readers may remember that more than three years ago, I attended the last community cantina event that was held in London. While I did enjoy it overall, there were also some disappointments, and attending the latest cantina event this past Friday was an eerily similar experience in some ways.

First the good stuff: Last time, lack of space in the venue was an issue, but this time they were better prepared in that regard and had rented a much bigger place. And it was good that they did, because it was packed! There must have been several hundred people there. It's interesting that it was so much busier than last time, considering that the game is actually quite a bit older now, but I guess the association with Star Wars Celebration definitely helped to draw in people who might otherwise not have bothered to travel to London just for a community cantina.

In what I assume was more spillover from the Celebration event, there were loads of amazing cosplays on display, especially many great-looking Twi'lek ladies! Though my personal favourite was a male Zabrak Jedi knight whose make-up and armour were both absolutely impeccable. I'm not entirely sure if he was supposed to be Satele Shan's old master or a different character, but he looked fantastic regardless. Also, among those who weren't actively dressed up, I was pretty impressed with the amount of Star Wars-themed fashion on display. We're not just talking t-shirts here, but things like dresses with storm troopers around the hem and similar. I'm not really someone who cares about fashion in real life and I hardly ever wear dresses myself, but I still couldn't help but notice these things.

My pet tank and I had arranged to meet Calphy from Galactic Antics, which was nice, though in hindsight I can't help but wonder if I shouldn't have tried to meet some people from Twitter as well, because apparently loads of them were there! (I was amused when @Blachloch posted a crowd shot in which I spotted myself...) Maybe we should have all worn little name tags with "Hello, my name is X a.k.a. Y on Twitter" or something... Apparently I managed to look right at Stardust, noticing her great Hylo Visz getup, without realising that it was her!

The disappointment started with the complete absence of any sort of news announcement (at the actual cantina) or Q&A. While I've joked previously about how useless the cantina Q&As have often been because people would always asked questions like "When will we see (more of) [content type]?", to which the answer would inevitably be something like "It's on the Wall of Crazy" or "We can't talk about that yet", which didn't really tell us anything new. However, I thought that they were working on improving that system - I seem to remember reports from a community event where they had everyone write questions on cards early on and then picked out a bunch of them that they could actually give useful answers to - whatever happened to that?

As it was, they "only" had an interview with Natasha Loring, the voice actress for Vaylin, who I'm sure was absolutely lovely but I couldn't hear a single word she said. The positioning of the stage was a bit awkward, so that about a quarter of the venue was behind and partially walled off from it, which of course happened to be where we had decided to sit. Eventually my pet tank and I ventured forth towards the "main area", where we ended up spending half an hour queuing for drinks, but even though this put the stage in front of us, we still couldn't hear anyone but Musco (I'm guessing he's used to having to shout into the microphone to be heard). They also had an "imitate Vaylin" competition among the fans that were present, and again I couldn't hear any of the entries. That was pretty disappointing and probably could have been avoided with a bit of sound testing beforehand / putting an extra couple of speakers up in the corners or something.

The "worst" / most bizarre thing however was the handing out of swag. This was actually handled pretty well at the 2013 cantina, with everyone simply being handed a pre-packed bag with t-shirts and pet/mount codes on the way out, which seemed to go very smoothly. This time around however, people had to queue up for their freebies during the event itself, and for some reason handing them out took absolutely forever. I can understand that there was some delay as they were actually giving out different sizes of t-shirts this time and had to ask what everyone wanted, but I have no idea why it took so long. We spent nearly an hour in that queue, and during the entire time the line only kept growing, not shrinking, until it wound pretty much around the entire inside of the venue.

I also have to admit that while I appreciate the thought behind giving out t-shirts of different sizes, it didn't really work that well for me personally. I don't know if that's a weird US sizing thing or something, but the women's XL shirt that I was given didn't just feature a different cut (which made sense) but was for some reason also about three sizes smaller than a comparable men's shirt, which means that it barely fits me, and only in such a way that I probably wouldn't want to wear it in public...

Overall I'm still happy that I went: the atmosphere was nice, I got to meet another guildie in real life, and free stuff is always great! I just wish it had been less of a queue-tina, with a bit more "meat" for the wider community, not just for those who managed to stand right in front of the stage or who happened to catch Musco or Charles Boyd in person to ask them questions.

P.S.: If you haven't seen it elsewhere yet, they were giving out a shareable code again that you can enter under your account management on the website to claim a free speeder for all your current and future characters. This time it's the same code for everyone: CelebrationCantina16. Enjoy!

16/07/2016

The Social Side of KotFE

While doing all these chapter write-ups for Knights of the Fallen Empire, I've come to appreciate that KotFE does actually have a social side. Admittedly not in the gameplay itself, but in talking about your choices.

Now, you might want to dismiss me right there because a) obviously I like talking about games more than the average person or else I wouldn't have a blog and b) you can talk about anything, so what makes talking about KotFE in any way special?

I think that Bioware RPGs in general (and similar games as well probably) lend themselves to a particular kind of socialising because of their odd value proposition: that the choices you make will result in a unique (but still pre-crafted) story, so you're basically paying for lots of content that you won't see. Sure, in theory you could play the game over and over to explore all the different paths, but who really does that? In a single player game I suppose you can at least mess with save files to explore different outcomes for some situations with minimal effort, but in KotFE you don't even have that. While you can buy a level sixty character these days, that's just going to be based on a template, meaning that some options will still be locked out by default. If you want to know how things differ if you made different choices in your class story or romanced a companion, you'll actually have to level an alt from scratch.

So, if we accept that most people won't see the results of a lot of the built-in choices, how do they even know that they are there, that they aren't actually playing a completely linear game that's merely pretending to offer multiple different outcomes? And the answer is of course: by talking to other people.

As soon as I'd finished my first playthrough of KotFE's first nine chapters, I asked my pet tank if and when he had accepted Valkorion's help and we exchanged stories. When chapter ten came out, nothing very exciting happened in my own first playthrough... imagine my shock when I opened a forum thread about the new chapter that immediately started off with a player grousing about how a certain companion had left them. And so on and so forth. I don't really want to get into spoilers in this post, but basically I've discovered so many more things that can happen in KotFE - and that I would have been unlikely to ever have discovered myself - by simply reading about other people's experiences. References to companions. Choices from previous chapters leading to surprising results later on. I actually get super excited every time I find a mention of something like that on a forum or on a blog now.

I score very high as both a socialiser and an explorer on the Bartle scale, and I always like to remind people that exploring is about more than uncovering bits of the map. It's about finding things that most players don't usually see, and KotFE is quite a treasure trove in that regard - if you are willing to put up with some repetition while replaying chapters, but even more so if you are simply willing to share the experience with other people.

12/07/2016

KotFE Chapter by Chapter - Chapter 14: Mandalore's Revenge

Apparently this chapter was originally going to be called "Mandalore the Avenger" but then Bioware decided that a mere mention of there being a new Mandalore was too much of a spoiler? Seems a bit odd to me. Either way, time to get into some real spoilers.



Another outside view of Odessen base (sorry) transitions to yet another strategy meeting of the Alliance leadership, except that this time only Lana, Senya, Scorpio and Theron (via holocall) are present. Everyone else is "out patrolling", which is a nice way of not having to worry about which characters can be included and which ones may have been driven off or killed due to player decisions in previous chapters.

Scorpio has new information about the Gemini network that controls the Eternal Fleet - it can't be subverted from outside because every ship is captained by a droid based on her design, something the player has already sort of known or at least suspected since the cut scene that finished off chapter seven. She doesn't like this and wants to get to the bottom of it. She's also found out that all captains are moulded after a physical template called the Prime, which is stored in a factory on the planet Darvannis.

The name Darvannis will make the ears of old-school raiders perk up - while newer players might think it just another new planet, the desert planet Darvannis has actually been in game since Rise of the Hutt Cartel, as it's where the operation Scum and Villainy takes place. In my guild at least, this led to some humorous moments when this chapter was launched, such as an ops leader logging in on patch day and being absolutely bewildered to find everyone already (seemingly) in an operation, and in three different instances of it to boot. This is the first time that a location from inside an operation or flashpoint has successfully transitioned to the "outside world".


Senya and Lana inform you that the factory is too large to be taken by a mere strike team, and Lana cautions that you don't have the forces for a large scale assault. However, Theron claims to have called in some favours in the Outer Rim that should get you enough allies to go through with the operation, though he doesn't want to give any more details over the holo.

As you land on Darvannis, the nature of your allies becomes apparent very quickly (and not just because of Vode An playing in the background) - it's the Mandalorians, now led by Shae Vizla aka "Mandalore the Avenger". Apparently the Mandalorians haven't got along with the Eternal Empire either and are eager for an opportunity to actually hurt it, plus raiding the giant factory should result in lots of armour and weapons for them. They already have teams deployed hammering away it, trying to get its shield generator down. Shae (I can still call her Shae, right? Mandalore is so formal...) suggests that you could help by capturing the nearby perimeter guns and aiming them at the factory as well. As support she assigns you a certain, totally random Mandalorian called Torian Cadera... whom bounty hunter players will of course be happy to see, especially if they romanced him, though there isn't enough time for an extended reunion at this point.

You get a bonus mission to pick up some Mandalorian gear, which then leads to you killing three Zakuulan walkers and gives you three extra buttons to press for the rest of the chapter if you like that sort of thing. Otherwise you just fight your way to the three perimeter guns and reprogram them to fire at the factory. There are a lot of skytroopers in the way, but since this is an open world area, you can benefit from other people clearing them out or at least distracting them for you occasionally. While making your way around, you hear various Mandalorians giving status updates about their own progress and generally expressing their bloodlust, as Mandalorians are wont to do. Even Jos and Valk from Blood Hunt are here!

Once you've reprogrammed all the guns, you get to fire them... except a whole bunch of Mandalorians have been trapped inside the perimeter. The dark side and Torian are in favour of blowing them to smithereens along with everything else because apparently there is no honour in dying to droids, but you can order him to change the guns' targets to create an opening so the Mandos can escape instead.

We cut to a view of the Eternal Throne where Arcann and Vaylin watch the Mandalorians' suicidal attacks with a mix of bewilderment and amusement. Vaylin shows just how disturbed she is once again by going on about how the Fleet should burn them all to glass so they can be turned into a pretty window, however Arcann is convinced that they will eventually exhaust themselves on the defenses anyway, without the need for intervention.


You return to camp to find Shae's second in command, Khomo Fett, holding a speech about the honourable deaths of the Mandalorians who died fighting mindless droids... I wonder if I'm the only one who initially found this scene a bit confusing, as he does sound quite sincere in that boasty way that Mandalorians have... but Shae frowns at him and Torian tells him to not mock the dead. You can ask about why they are acting so weird when it comes to the subject of fighting droids and Shae explains that they've been fighting them in such huge numbers since the rise of the Eternal Empire that killing them has pretty much lost all meaning. Khomo likens dying to a droid to "falling off a cliff".

Before the next assault it's time for a little catch-up with Torian and for a Mandalorian "party", which means people shoving and punching each other at random and shooting holes into the ceiling. (Sadly it's just a brief cut scene and you don't get to participate actively.) The next morning an attack on the factory's power stations is planned, while you and Torian are supposed to distract Zakuulan forces at a nearby tactical outpost. Time to kill more droids while Mandalorians shout things over the comm!

Once you've finished up, Lana calls you on the holo to let you know that Theron has procured schematics for the factory, which should help with assaulting it. She also warns you not to trust the Mandalorians too much, likening them to wild animals.

Up next, it's time for the main assault. Khomo already dreams of all the glory that will follow once you win. You explain that your own target is the Gemini Prime droid, which the Mandalorians are all too happy to let you have while they get the rest of the spoils. Shae expresses worry about the factory being a bit of a death trap, at which point you can offer to share the schematics or withhold that information. Finally, she steps on a crate outside to hold a rousing speech for the assembled Mandalorians, explaining that while today's fight isn't that honourable by their standards, it will ultimately lead to much greater things.


You and Torian set out to recover the Prime. Time for yet more droid killing while Mandalorians transmit their death cries! There's another boss fight featuring the tiresome "immune to damage until you kill all the slowly spawning adds" mechanic. Then you get notified that hundreds of droid reinforcements are on the way, and Torian offers to hold them off on his own while you get the Prime. Um, sure, buddy! Before that he just wants you to know that he overheard your conversation with Lana and that Mandalorians are not animals.

We briefly cut to the Eternal Throne again, where Vaylin in particular is displeased that Arcann's not following her advice seems to once again not have worked out so well. Arcann realises that it must be the Outlander who's to blame for the Mandalorians' renewed fervour, but Vaylin points out that it's too late now to send the fleet to stop them. Nonetheless Arcann feels that he's been sitting on the throne for too long (no kidding, he doesn't seem to spend time anywhere else) and asks for his flagship to be readied.

You find Gemini Prime floating in a sort of stasis tube. She is not pleased by your interference but maintains a sort of detached curiosity. She identifies Scorpio as familiar but claims that instead of her being a copy, they both come from the same source, the so-called Luminous Engine. Scorpio doesn't want to hear any of it and just urges you to remove the Prime quickly. You can allow her to disconnect herself or remove her forcefully.


As you load the frozen Prime into your shuttle, you observe the Mandalorian wounded and the counting of casualties. Torian has survived somehow, what a shock. If you withheld the factory schematics, both Khomo and Shae are pretty angry about the casualties and kind of questioning whether it was all worth it. Otherwise they are super happy about their victory, with Khomo already dreaming of the next big battle, and you sort of suggest that they should redirect their energy elsewhere, whether it be helping Zakuul rebuild or attacking your former enemy faction. Torian joins you as a companion as he assigned to you as your new Mandalorian liason.

Back on Zakuul, Scorpio is analysing the Prime's brain and says that she will soon be able to locate all Gemini units. She still can't control them remotely, but she thinks that she could gain control of the fleet via the Prime if they could plug her into the command console of one of the Eternal Fleet ships. She's also already located a suitable target: a lone Eternal Fleet ship making a transport run in a nearby system. There isn't much time to intercept it, and you may not get such a good chance again. It's time to go on the offensive.

Conclusion

I just mentioned in my last Flashpoint Friday that I'm not overly fond of the Mandalorians, so what did I think of a chapter entirely dedicated to them? Well, actually I liked it well enough, even if it couldn't match the greatness of chapter thirteen, but that doesn't really have anything to do with the subject matter. In fact, I did like the way the Mandalorians were handled in this context. It was interesting to see the introduction of another major faction that still wields some fighting power and also opposes the Eternal Fleet. On my trooper I also got a nice line in about how the Mandalorians are pretty much just another type of soldier and are at least easier to understand than all that Force stuff.

On Twitter I joked that the chapter had a certain kind of meta humour to it, considering that we, the players, have been complaining about the overabundance of skytroopers for months and here are the Mandalorians, having pretty much the same issue. The fact that Darvannis is actually an open planet that you can revisit outside of the chapter feels like another small favour to the player base's clamouring for more planets, though the actually accessible area is quite small. Also, there isn't really any reason to go there outside of the chapter's story, unless you really enjoy gathering grade nine crafting materials out in the world.


What I found the most striking about this chapter however was how "old school" it feels. There aren't many fancy cut scenes, and the pacing is more akin to something you might find in the original levelling game: lots of conversation, then you run around and kill things, then another conversation, then you go to the other end of the map and kill things again. I'm actually kind of unsure how I feel about this - on the one hand I really like how immersive the newer format introduced by KotFE feels, but on the other hand it can almost be exhausting to play through an hour-long chapter that doesn't offer many good opportunities to have a break. Chapter fourteen is less exciting than many previous chapters, but I'm finding it fairly chill to replay since it's very clearly segmented, and the skytrooper fighting bits can be as long or as short as you want to make them.

Looking at the wider community, the reaction to this chapter seemed to be fairly calm if you weren't a big fan of the Mandalorians already. Those that liked it thought that it was nice and those that didn't thought it was kind of boring, but it didn't seem to excite people very much either way. It's easy to see why: Chapter fourteen doesn't have any great moments that make you gasp or laugh (though I liked Torian's letter afterwards where he comments that members of the Alliance like his hair...) but it continues the story in a solid way and one can only wonder what's coming up next now that the Alliance actually has a plan of attack... we'll find out in the next chapter!

08/07/2016

Flashpoint Friday: Mandalorian Raiders

... because it came up in my Assassin's random queue and I haven't covered it yet.


General Facts

Mandalorian Raiders is the last of the six story-light levelling flashpoints available to both factions that were in game at launch. That is to say - it's the last one that I haven't covered yet; in terms of the original levelling curve it was designed for levels 23-29, making it third in line after Hammer Station and Athiss. It didn't originally have a hardmode version but received one with the release of Rise of the Hutt Cartel.

These days it's available from level 15 onwards as a tactical and from level 50 onwards as a hardmode instance, like most flashpoints. Like its other story-light brethren, it doesn't have a solo version.

Fights

Mandalorian Raiders takes place on the Republic battlecruiser Allusis, which has been hijacked by the Mandalorians of Clan Varad. Their troops consist of Mandalorian warriors, their pet hounds and - as pretty much in all flashpoints - loads of droids.

The environment is your typical ship interior and therefore not very interesting, though attempts have been made to spice things up a bit with things like a bunch of lifts, but they don't really add that much.

A lot of the trash is however actually fairly challenging, with some pretty large packs here and there. Especially the ones with multiple hounds can be quite deadly.

Mandalorian Raiders features three boss encounters (plus a fairly nondescript bonus boss on hardmode), and all three of them are actually fairly interesting.


First there is Braxx the Bloodhound, a Mandalorian with two untauntable pet hounds that do more damage if they are close to him. If you have a tank, the strategy is generally to tank Brax somewhat off to the side, while the rest of the group tries to kill the hounds, who are usually jumping around like mad, constantly switching targets. If you don't have a tank, this fight takes on a whole new level of manicness.

Secondly we have the Boarding Party - which uses the premise that both factions are after the Mandalorians and takes it to an interesting new level. Basically you enter a room with a whole bunch of Mandalorian forces in it, when the back wall suddenly gets smashed, burying the Mandos, and a boarding party of the opposing faction comes through, consisting of one member of each base class of that faction. They cannot be crowd controlled, which makes the early stages of the fight pretty crazy, with what's effectively four bosses all over the place. They also get madder and madder as you kill them one by one, so that you want to make sure to kill the last two close together or the last enemy standing will be so buffed that your group runs the risk of being wiped out by powerful AoE.

It's worth mentioning that the Republic and Imperial boarding parties get treated as different bosses by the achievement system, meaning that this flashpoint requires twice as many runs on hardmode as any other to reach 100% achievement completion (as you need to do each faction's version 25 times).

Finally there's the clan leader himself, Matrix Mavrix Varad, who repeatedly leaps towards different corners of the room and summons turrets there. The trick is that these turrets need to be killed before you continue attacking the boss himself, or he'll go on to the next corner, summon more turrets, and you'll get overwhelmed. I remember having quite a few interesting wipes on him throughout the years.

Story

Clan Varad of the Mandalorians has decided to break with the rest of the Mandos (who support the Empire) in order to "search for battle", as the Empire is not offering them enough of it. For this purpose they have hijacked a Republic battlecruiser and are now running rampant raiding both Republic and Imperial colonies, giving both Republic and Empire a reason to hate them. You board their ship and fight your way through it to regain control. About halfway through, you get the option to either trap (light side) or kill (dark side) some engineers to create a disruption. The crisis ends once you have defeated the clan leader himself.

Conclusion

Like most of these early levelling flashpoints, Mandalorian Raiders features mechanically interesting boss fights and some challenging trash pulls, making it very engaging instance in terms of gameplay. In terms of atmosphere however, I always found it a little lacking, even compared to its siblings which also don't feature a very in-depth story. It doesn't feel as unfinished as Red Reaper, but just lacks a certain something in my eyes to make it truly memorable. There is a reason I didn't feature it any earlier in this series, and that's because I keep forgetting that it even exists! Hammer Station is a flying superweapon, Athiss features varied environments populated by dark Force users, Cademimu is just plain fun, Colicoid War Game is all about the puzzles, and Red Reaper has an intriguing back story. Mandalorian Raiders has.... um, Mandalorians?


This may well be personal bias speaking here, as I'm simply not very fond of the Mandalorians in general. They remind me a lot of the Klingons in Star Trek, and I never liked those very much either. Both are meant to be intriguing warrior cultures based on a code of honour but in practice usually end up being incredibly one-dimensional, so that characters from both respective cultures are often just portrayed as antagonistic douchebags purely "because it's their way". I suppose if you like Mandalorians, Mando Raiders is a good place to visit to hear Mavrix Varad go on about how you're not bad fighters but not as good as Mandalorians. The fights are definitely worth seeing! The overall setting however is a little less interesting than usual, though your mileage my vary.

05/07/2016

Dark vs. Light: Cruising Along

We're only a week into the Dark vs. Light event and some of my guildies are already working on the fourth reward tier... or is it the fifth one by now? Meanwhile, I'm only about to hit Legacy Level (the second one). I'm not sure if I play particularly slowly for a veteran player or if I just happen to be surrounded by a high percentage of nutjobs. I'm not even sure which option would be preferable!

Of course, I could have levelled faster if I wanted to, even with my limited time. My smuggler initially flew through the levels while partaking in activities that I love, such as warzones and flashpoints. When I handed in my Introduction to Warzones mission along with my first PvP daily, she sky-rocketed straight from 19 to 22. But I soon started to feel - and this may sound odd to some - that I was going too fast.


I've seen a lot of people take the approach of treating their event alts as "disposable". (I think it was Calph who pointed out a character in guild chat that was literally named "Delete Later".) That's not me though. After ten years of playing MMOs, I can still count the amount of characters that I've deleted on one hand, and sometimes I even still feel bad about deleting those few, even though it happened years ago in some cases!

So for me, any event alts have to be treated "properly", which means that they get a sensible name, a look I love, an appropriate outfit, and a levelling plan that follows some kind of structure. I had made my first event character a smuggler because I wanted to replay the smuggler story, so I was going to actually do that, damn it! It's kind of surprising how much questing slows you down compared to chaining flashpoint and warzone queues. Even the boosted XP for class missions doesn't help much when you're still puttering around on Alderaan while getting close to level 50.

But I'm not regretting it. There will be other alts to level the fast way. This one is getting more of my time.

As people seem to like bragging about what they got from their reward boxes, I got, um... some NPC decoration that sounded cool. I think it was the Kel Dor Jedi Master? I added him to my collection but haven't actually placed him anywhere. And then there was the snazzy Volatile Conqueror's Saberstaff. Of course it was absolutely useless to my smuggler (and I do hope they end up changing those stupid binding rules), but I did unlock it in my collections system and bought it for my next alt...


Yes, I finally gave in to the dark side and made a character with a punny name. The suggestion had come up in guild chat only days ago and made me chuckle. Also, would you believe that after four and a half years of playing the game this was actually my first Sith Assassin? It's the one advanced class that I've been holding out on... I specced her Deception with an eye on PvP - I don't care if Hatred is better for AoE or whatever, I want to be that jerk that usually stunlocks me and then comes close to killing me dead before my resolve bar's even fully filled up.

Where I've been focusing on the story with my smuggler, Shinister the Assassin has taken over flashpoint and warzone duties. And what fun it has been! Tacticals without a healer can be quite a challenge. Not exactly hard, but people get used to dying on trash and constantly running back quite quickly. I should have an easier time now that I got Force Cloak though. There's a certain joy in having complete control over my aggro. I'm happy to do the pulling if the rest of my team is too timid, because I can always vanish if I get close to dying. On the other hand, when I see a group mate in danger I can taunt things off them. Win-win. In Mandalorian Raiders, I had a fun time effectively tanking the Boarding Party because I was the only one daring enough to pull and then spent the entire fight stumbling from one kolto station to the next, having lots of healing aggro, while the rest of the group slowly killed things. A similar thing happened in False Emperor, where that droid duo is apparently intentionally one-shotting you now if you step outside the blue circle, as counter-intuitive as that may seem (and to think we thought that it was a bug...). My pug group for that flashpoint was great fun though.

I probably started PvP a bit earlier than advisable, as I spent my first couple of matches - without Force Speed or Force Cloak - basically being killed from range while I just stood there (usually rooted), helpless like a deer in the headlights. Things have been starting to look up since then though, and the class certainly offers a very different play style compared to what I'm used to - lone, stealthy hunter vs. supportive team player.

02/07/2016

KotFE Chapter by Chapter - Chapter 13: Profit and Plunder

Finally! Preparing for the write-up of this chapter took some time as I really wanted to be able to comment on it from a bounty hunter's point of view as well, which meant dragging another alt through KotFE. I do think it was worth it though. Without further ado, let's jump right in! As usual, there will be spoilers.



For the third time in a row, the intro screen is an outside view of Odessen base, because clearly Bioware is worried that a month between chapters might be enough time for us to forget where we are.

Chapter 12 ended with a massive cliffhanger, with both Kaliyo and Havoc Squad having gone MIA while on a mission on Zakuul that could make all the difference in the fight against Arcann. Chapter 13 decides to not immediately resolve this, as you are told that everything within a kilometre of the Spire has been locked down and there is absolutely nothing you can do about this. Never mind that you've been traipsing around Zakuul right under Arcann's nose in no less than three previous chapters... this time, it's suddenly completely impossible to do anything at all to help your companions. Sorry!

And now for something completely different: Hylo Visz wants to speak to you. She awaits you in the military hangar - come on, guys, you're not allowed to leave your respective "zones"; it's confusing! Hylo tells you that the Alliance is strapped for cash and that she wants you to meet a contact who might be able to help with that. You find him at the sabacc table, where he's just beaten Lana at the game, apparently by managing to cheat even the former minister of Sith Intelligence. It's Gault, the infamous former bounty hunter companion. As a bounty hunter, this reunion is filled with some great and hilarious lines of deadpan humour. Otherwise, Hylo just introduces him as an "untrustworthy scoundrel".

Gault outlines his plan to fund the Alliance: It involves raiding the Gilded Star, the Eternal Empire's top secret flying treasury, which is supposed to contain the largest collection of wealth "since the Hutt Empire was a thing". He's come to you because he can't execute his plan alone, and all he wants is his fair share of the loot. You agree that this sounds like a good deal, which soon has Gault taking you and a few select companions to the gas giant Vandin, where the Gilded Star is hiding and some last preparations need to be made.


First you need to hunt down the last member of Gault's "crew", an Anomid identity forger called Dretcher, who previously created the body double that allowed Gault to join the bounty hunter's crew. Dretcher has been living the life of a hermit inside a shipping container ever since a falling-out with Gault ruined his reputation and got him in trouble, but Gault has relocated his "home" to Vandin and wants him to come back out to work with you. Initially Dretcher is very hostile, siccing some droids on you, but after you dispatch them with ease he is forced to listen to what you have to say. You can either convince him in a peaceful manner or threaten to kill him inside his container while making Wookiee noises.

After successfully recruiting Dretcher, your next stop is a gang of Nikto pirates from whom Gault wants to buy a giant missile. Except he actually needs only the missile's warhead and wants to haggle about the price because of this. When the Nikto pull their guns on him, he activates the missile's launch sequence. As it starts its countdown to destruction in a high-pitched female voice that many players will find familiar, the pirates make a run for it. Gault tries to abort the launch sequence right afterwards, but it doesn't seem to be working. After a few seconds of panic, a hatch on top of the missile pops open and out comes Vette, laughing about her brilliant joke and carrying the warhead. Gault introduces her as his partner in crime. If you're a Sith Warrior, there is a brief moment of mutual surprised recognition before she walks off - unless you romanced her, in which case she will tell Gault to beat it and be by your side for the next bit instead of Gault.

The fleeing pirates triggered a security lockdown which you have to lift again by stealing security spikes from droids. As a bonus mission you can also take out various members of the Nikto's "Brekken Gang" while doing so. Once that's all done, you reunite with Vette/Gault and your other companions, as Gault explains the actual details of his plan.


The Gilded Star usually hides in the lower atmosphere of Vandin but has to come up for resupply once a year, which is when you intend to strike. Senya opines that it's too heavily guarded to infiltrate and reveals that overseeing its security was once among her own duties. Gault has a special plan for infiltration though: As a close genetic match, Senya is supposed to pose as Vaylin with the help of Dretcher and help Scorpio get to the bridge so she can take control of the ship. (One has to wonder how Gault knows about Senya and Vaylin's special relationship as it isn't generally treated as common knowledge.) Once that's done, the Outlander is supposed to follow with Vette and Gault, with Vette climbing into the guts of the ship to manually disable the vault's locks. Gault will then deposit the warhead inside the vault and use it to vaporise the contents (since the vault is designed to withstand huge explosions from the outside, it also works from the inside), so they can then easily be hoovered up by a tanker that Lana is supposed to connect to the ship. Then you "just" have to make a run for it before anyone has time to really react to the explosion.

After this talk, Sith warriors get a chance for a brief heart-to-heart with Vette (romantic if applicable) and bounty hunters get a chance to talk to Gault. On my female Sith warrior I found Vette to be strangely apologetic about the joke with the missile as well as for not trying harder to find me. You can reassure her that it's OK or be mean about it all. I couldn't find any footage of it, but apparently this bit of conversation even considers if you took the shock collar off during the class story, and if you didn't, she'll basically hate you.

On a bounty hunter, Gault tells you how your companions spent quite some time searching for you after your disappearance (even that "tumor" Skadge, as he refers to him), but eventually it just seemed pointless. Personally I liked how there was acknowledgement here of how Mako and Torian had become a couple in my bounty hunter's class story.


The next day, you watch the Gilded Star emerge from the clouds with Gault and Vette. You can have a fun little side conversation here, quizzing Gault about how he beat Lana at sabacc (which I missed the first couple of times since I never chose that particular conversation option). Scorpio and Senya (disguised as Vaylin) start the infiltration process as planned. As soon as they hold the bridge, you follow with Gault and Vette, both of whom will fight by your side at once for most of the rest of the chapter. Having two companions out at the same time is pretty neat. Scorpio promises to keep reinforcements off your back but you do have to dispose of some skytroopers and ship personnel on the way.

You find a panel that allows Vette to climb into the ship's insides to disable the vault mechanism while you continue clearing a path for Gault. Once you reach the vault, Vette manages to open the door for you and it does indeed contain incredible riches, mostly in bar form. You plant and detonate the warhead as planned and Lana shows up with the tanker to hoover up the vaporised goods.

As the explosion hasn't gone unnoticed and Scorpio and Senya need to vacate the bridge, it's time for you to make a run for it. Vette rejoins you with a giant assault cannon that she picked up on the way and which she has fondly named "Spewy". You repeatedly have to take detours to get around closing blast doors, and when you finally reach the sky hook, you can't take it because the lift's already busy... with Vaylin in it. What is it with this woman and always showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time? Gault declares that it's time for "Plan B": run and hope for a Plan C. Specifically he's hoping to scale the sky hook's exterior. So you run back into the ship, looking to exit it at another point.

After fighting off a skytrooper mini boss who has that annoying mechanic of repeatedly becoming immune to all damage until you've killed off half a zillion weak adds, you get cornered and Gault declares Plan C to be "jump". You take a leap of faith off the ship and land on top of a shuttle piloted by Hylo, who has come to your rescue. Hylo and Gault kiss afterwards, finally revealing to non-bounty hunter characters that they are an item. Vaylin is shown arriving on the Gilded Star, infuriated to have been too late once again, though at least you surely weren't able to achieve much in the time you were there... the moment when she opens the vault and finds it destroyed and empty is priceless.


Back on Odessen, it's time to divide the spoils. Hylo confirms that it's way more than the Alliance needs, so you can opt to use it expand, be charitable with it or give some to Gault for an "investment". Both Gault and Vette state that they would like to hang around and everyone gets ready to party when Theron receives a call that Aric Jorgan and Kaliyo have returned. You meet them in the hangar... along with a bunch of coffins draped in Republic flags. Kaliyo and Aric are arguing about whose fault it was that the mission failed and that four people died (as new Havoc had five members next to Jorgan, one has to wonder who's the one person that got away). The best they managed to do was grab a datacore with more information about the droids before they escaped.

This can go a bunch of different ways. You can act calm, say that you're glad that at least the two of them are alive or you can rage at them for making a mess of things. If whoever went in second did so against your direct orders, Theron points out that they need to be punished for disobedience. You can dish out a variety of punishments ranging from putting both of them on clean-up duty, to exile, to actually killing one of them personally. I watched some videos of this, as one of the few characters on which I could actually imagine killing Kaliyo hadn't ordered her to stand down (and the killing is only an option if she disobeyed a direct order). It's extra harsh if the one you kill was a love interest before!

We close with another view of the Eternal Throne, where Vaylin is fantasizing about torturing Senya before killing her, angry about how weak the loss of the treasury must make them look. For once Arcann seems more pensive, remembering their mother as she used to be and not too bothered by the theft, as he is convinced that he's still fearsome enough as it is.

Conclusion

This chapter was easily the most well-received so far on release, to the point that even the commenters on Dulfy had good things to say about it. It's easy to see why though - after all it features the return of one of the game's most popular companions: Vette. Gault isn't quite as popular, among other reasons because of the flaws in his "acquisition story", but once you got over that I always considered him to be very fun to have around. More than anything though, the two characters make a great team, making for a chapter sprinkled with clever and amusing dialogue and one that's just plain fun to play through. On top of that, both warriors and bounty hunters will encounter some satisfying references to their class stories here.


The ending also has the potential to deliver quite an emotional punch, based on your previous dialogue choices. You haven't seen heart-breaking until you've seen a female trooper execute her husband!

If I had to criticise anything it would be that the first half can make your character feel a bit passive, as you mostly listen to Gault explaining his plan and follow him around as he puts things in motion. If you don't like him very much, it can feel a bit tedious to have him talk your head off, and very straight-laced light side characters might also dislike some of his methods. The overall placement of this chapter is also a bit odd, and it seems weird that everyone is so happy to just completely forget about Kaliyo and Jorgan the moment they become inconvenient to reach. Finally, I was also a bit disappointed that Vette can't continue to use assault cannons after this chapter...

However, in the end none of those things detract from the chapter in a major way, and it's undoubtedly one of the more solid pieces of content we've seen added to the game since KotFE.

29/06/2016

Dark vs. Light: Early Days

First off, am I the only one who keeps wanting to call it the Light vs. Dark event? Somehow that just sounds so much more natural to me than the other way round. Damn you, Bioware.

Even though I hadn't exactly been blown away by the event announcement, I found myself strangely excited by the idea of actually getting started on Tuesday. I almost decided to roll up a new alt before even launching the new KotFE chapter... but in the end my curiosity about the Gemini Deception won out.

I had put a lot of thought into what kind of character to make my "main" for the event beforehand to make sure that I'd be able to get through the character creation process quickly come Tuesday evening. I'd even spent some time fiddling with the character creator beforehand, screenshotting some looks that I liked, as it always takes me ages to come up with the perfect face. Please tell me I'm not the only one who does that kind of thing?


The question of class was of course the most important one, but was actually relatively easy to solve. My "main" would be the character that I'll take all the way to the last tier - if I feel like doing so at all - so she will have to get geared up, run hardmode flashpoints and so on. I wouldn't want to do this as anything but my preferred role: healer. Also, it goes without saying that this character would be a Pub, since that's where my guild and my allegiance lie. This narrowed it down to trooper, consular or smuggler. In the end my choice fell on the latter, since it's been over three years since I last played through the smuggler story in full and I remember it being one of my favourites. Smuggler is also one of the three classes that I haven't taken into KotFE yet, and I haven't taken either of my existing Scoundrels to 65. Time to smuggle away!

It's clearly been too long since I last rolled up a character from scratch since I'd already forgotten again just how much housekeeping is required the moment you log in. Gotta sort the UI, put all the abilities in the right place, and of course there's the 47 messages waiting in my mailbox... sigh. And to think I complained about those back when there were only 14 of them! However, based on the amount of characters crowding around the first mailbox on Ord Mantell, I clearly wasn't the only one who got bogged down by micromanagement before the fun could start properly.


For all the moaning on the forums, the event seemed to be very well received in game. My guild has been active, the lowbie planets are bustling and the queues are a-popping. Some guildies are already racing through the levels, but personally I'm still "only" level 22 after two nights. I'm not in that much of a hurry. This has the potential to be fun. I just hope that those of us in the guild who are participating don't end up too spread out too quickly, so we can actually tackle the more difficult objectives together when the time comes.

26/06/2016

Dark vs. Light Event - Confused As Always

While the people of my chosen home country of nearly seven years were busy making facepalm-inducing decisions, Bioware announced the details of their new "dark vs. light" event which starts this Tuesday and was already teased at a developer stream several weeks ago.

Apparently a large chunk of the community already hates it. "Hm, I wonder how long it will take until I see someone refer to the event as 'a slap in the face'," I wondered, opened a forum thread about it and bam - right on cue, there it was, in the very first post. Based on the amount of times I've seen that phrase get repeated since then, spotting it would make for a fun drinking game.

I'm honestly kind of surprised by how overwhelmingly negative the reaction has been. One major gripe seems to be that it's not actual new content but I don't really understand what people expected based on the previous hints. When I heard that there was going to be a light vs. dark event, something centred on a particular mechanic of the game, I fully expected it to also be a "mechanical" event that simply encourages you to replay existing content, similar to a double XP weekend.

The other major gripe seems to be that credit isn't rewarded retroactively, and I'll admit that this also annoyed me at first when I first read it, but after thinking about it for a little while it quickly became evident that if existing characters did count, the event would actually be a non-event for me, as I've already done everything that it asks you do to - I'd simply have nothing to do and get a bunch of free crap in the mail. Yeah, I definitely need more of that...

That's not to say that I think there's nothing to criticise, as I said I'm just surprised by the sheer force of the negativity as well as by the things people focus on. My own overall impression of the event can probably be summed up as "well-intended but confused" - something that pretty much applies to a lot of things that Bioware has done with SWTOR over the years.

I think the basic idea of having an event centred around the concept of light and dark side decisions sounded great. The alignment system is one of SWTOR's unique selling points and bringing that to the foreground for a while it not a bad idea. I also like the idea of a one-time event focused on a certain game-mechanic. It gives the whole thing a touch of "once in a lifetime, be there or be square" feeling that is hard to find in MMOs these days ever since there has been so much backlash about limited time content (not just in SWTOR, but in other games as well - it's just not "convenient").

But the execution comes across as weird right away. For example making it competitive seems counter-intuitive to the very nature of the game. Light and dark side decisions are tied to the story - something you want to take your time to enjoy. However, if you really wanted to add towards your preferred side's tally as much as possible, you'd probably be better off space-barring through content as quickly as you can, always making the decision associated with the side you want to support, regardless of roleplaying considerations, which is hardly fun.

Secondly, looking at the many requirements to earn all the possible rewards that are available from this event, most of them actually have nothing to do with alignment whatsoever. It's more about levelling another bunch of alts and going through all the content available in the game. There's some obvious dissonance there.


It's seems that the only thing that's really dark vs. light is the question of which of the two possible companions will be the penultimate reward - either a light-side Chiss Sentinel or a dark-side Zabrak Assassin. I'd go for the Sentinel in a heartbeat, simply because of her unusual looks. I don't really care if it makes sense lore-wise; people have been able to create any class as any species for ages anyway. I also suspect that Bioware didn't put nearly that much thought into their design as people might hope and simply went with something like: "Let's make the light-side one blue and the dark-side one red." The Zabrak looks a lot like one of my inquisitors actually - having her as a companion would just be weird.

All that said, I'm definitely planning on rolling up a couple of characters to give this event a shot. If I enjoy it, I'll keep working my way towards the higher tiers, but if I don't... well, then I won't. I don't feel that this event is targeted at players like me and I'm OK with that. Instead it seems to be intended mostly for the new and returning players that came in with KotFE but may not have engaged with the game all that much beyond the new story. We'll see whether it works.

Initially I was worried about character slots because of the requirement to roll up multiple new toons to qualify for several of the rewards, but thankfully I was reminded that the overall character limit for subscribers was increased to 40 some time ago and I'm nowhere near that, I'll just have to buy some additional character slots. I wouldn't have fancied rolling all those extra characters on a new server, getting character- or legacy-bound rewards in a place where I'm unlikely to spend much time in the long term and where I would be lacking the support network of an established legacy and a friendly guild.

I wonder which of the achievement tiers will turn out to be "too much" for me. Many are balking at the requirement to get eight new characters to 50, but to me that one doesn't actually sound that bad as there are no limitations on how you do it and levelling is super quick these days anyway. So you could level purely through flashpoints for example and get that requirement done at the same time. I have to admit that what sounds most off-putting to me right now is actually the thought of having to redo Shadow of Revan and KotFE yet again, as I was only just talking about how that can feel like a bit of a chore. But we'll see. I'm definitely up for giving it a go, and so are a few of my guildies.