20/02/2018

World Events Revisited

A couple of weeks ago the subject of world events came up on the official forums and drew enough attention to garner a dev response. The original poster pretty much asked for most events to be on all the time because "what does it matter", and to my great bafflement the dev response was that this sounded like a good idea. If an event is always on, it ceases to be an event and becomes just another daily area or whatever content the "event" previously consisted of! Limited availability is part of the appeal.

Thinking about it some more however, this does seem like a natural evolution of the attitude many MMO players have displayed towards limited-time events for years.

At first they were completely unique, once-in-a-lifetime occasions. I thought these were fun! But people complained if they happened to fall on a week when they were on holiday, and the devs were accused of "wasting time" on things that were only temporary.

So we got events that were designed to be repeatable instead, though there was still a certain sense of mystery because the length of time between different iterations was initially unknown. Again, people complained that it took too long to get the rewards they wanted and that they couldn't make plans to continue working on a reputation or quest chain they wanted to complete.

This led to things being put on a semi-regular schedule, which got quite boring. So now people complain that there's no point in having events at all.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I will admit though, that for someone who does like events, including their limited availability, I haven't actually participated in any of SWTOR's in quite a while, exempting the occasional Xenoanalyst kill maybe. Being as into the game as I am, I always jumped in feet first when a new event was first introduced and did all the things, every day and on multiple alts. Remember that time I got all the Bounty Contract Week achievements in the first week? By the second or third time I might still go back to finish off a stray achievement or something, but after that I mostly stopped caring, especially as Bioware has rarely added new content to events like these, only more rewards you can buy from a vendor if you are so inclined (which I rarely am).

Something recently gave me a reason to give them another look though: my alts on Star Forge. (Yes, there is a second one now!) With their fledgling legacy and virtually no achievements, I find myself able to view everything with fresh eyes - not quite like a new player of course, but from a different perspective.

Relics of the Gree

It's one thing to know that this is the oldest repeating world event in the game, but it's another to really take in the fact that it was introduced back in 2012. That's a long time to do all the things and get bored. Ironically, I'm still lacking a bunch of the achievements on my main server, simply because most of my interactions with the event took place before the achievement system was actually introduced.

It had however been a long time since I last did the dailies, and I was kind of pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable they still were (and by the fact that there's a weekly mission now. I don't remember there being a weekly back in the day. Or am I going mad?) Back in the day I remember having endless issues with the drops for the animal quest, but by now that all seemed to have been fixed. (Or maybe it was only fine because I was running solo and my problems back then seemed to be related to doing the mission while grouped.) It's a very tight little quest area that feels busy even with a relatively small number of people in it, and to be able to summon that last elite beast I always had to run in circles for a bit to find a free spot. Finding people to group up with for the heroic was also always easy. (One person even recognised me from the blog when I LFMed in general chat! So famous.)


The overall logic of the zone has suffered from the introduction of PvP instances though. The southern half of the ice shelf, which used to be the dedicated PvP zone, feels a bit pointless now and basically just prevents you from summoning a companion for no reason. Doing the heroic mission down there was originally designed to be a bit easier to make up for the risk you took by flagging for PvP, but nowadays it's just easier to go there, period (assuming you weren't planning to summon any companions to help you out).

Unlike for example the quest to find the Outlaw's Den that you get from the terminal on the fleet, the old Gree PvP missions have also been adjusted so that they actually require you to enter a PvP instance to complete them. I did so once just to see what it was like and got killed twice (not much hope for a lonely healer in greens). Nobody was spawn-camping people near the objectives though, so I got things done quickly enough, but I certainly had no urge to come back for more.

I wasn't too fussed about Xenoanalyst since it took me a few days to earn the required reputation to enter the Gray Secant anyway, but I was still a bit sad to not see any ops groups forming in general chat all week. This might have been down to me playing at off-peak hours for the server though. Also, when I went to look for the world bosses in the caves, there was no trace of either of them, so I guess someone must have been busy killing them.

Bounty Contract Week

This felt like the event that had changed the least, though the trip around the houses to complete each henchman or kingpin mission has been shortened fractionally by not having to go to your ship anymore to fly to different planets.

I was just a bit put off by just how easy all the bosses have become. The kingpins used to be a piece of work for two people back in the day but now die easily, and the henchmen die so easily that it's actually really hard to capture them alive! You basically have to set your companion to passive in time and prod them very, very carefully or they'll fall over dead before you've even realised what's happening.

The only thing that really surprised me was one time when I interrogated a shady character and he became hostile, after dying he did not drop a piece of intel! He only had a grey item called "corrupted piece of intel" or something like that. I never knew that could even happen! I swear in all my grinding out of the achievements I had never seen that before.

This event also made me glad that I had rolled an alt, as it feels quite limiting otherwise in terms of how much you can achieve within a day. For a levelling alt it's also not a bad amount of XP to run a henchman mission or two during the week! Assuming there are still people out there who find it hard to gain experience points somehow...

Rakghoul Resurgence

Vayne Verso from Twitter drew my attention to this one by complaining that it didn't feature level sync. I was like "What, really?!" and felt inspired to go look for myself. And he was right. For some reason the rakghoul tunnels have been immune to the spread of level sync everywhere else in the world, which is kind of ironic considering that the Eyeless was the game's first ops boss that allowed low-level players to participate by scaling them up (as far as I remember). It's not a big deal in the sense that you can still do most of the dailies and the weekly, using the same system that was originally designed to make the event accessible to people of all levels (by having low level mobs around that spawn reinforcements of the appropriate level as soon as you hit them).

But getting a group for the heroic as a lowbie is pretty impossible, as the mobs scale to the highest level in the group and you'll be pretty useless. Plus things like accidentally aggroing another person's mob can kill you. Both of those things were annoying but tolerable back in the day, but in 2018 there's really no excuse anymore.

I did have fun doing the heroic on my Commando though. That genuinely still felt like a [Heroic 4], which is saying something in this day and age.


It has been a long time since Bioware added a proper new world event (and I'm hesitant to count Soovada), and it would be nice to see them add more, but frankly even the existing events could do with some love at this point. Bounty Contract Week is fine as it is in my opinion, but the Gree event could do with a rethink of the Southern area and the PvP quests, and the Rakghoul event simply should have level sync like every other content in the game does now.

Don't turn any of the events on all the time though. Finding a group for an event that's only up for a week once every couple of months is one thing, but I imagine that things would look a lot bleaker if the population interested in participating was spread out over the whole year.

17/02/2018

The Road Ahead to April

Keith treated us to another road map this week, though for some reason it wasn't posted as a feature on the main website but instead relegated to a forum post. It was also much shorter than either of his previous road maps, which gave the doom-and-gloomers yet more ammunition ("No information on what's happening after April? Shutdown imminent!") and seems to have left quite a few people disappointed. Me? I'll take what I can get.


I'm not going to talk about every single point mentioned in the forum post in detail, but four main subjects were covered:

Operations

Master mode Gods from the Machine has been officially cancelled! As a raider, I guess I should be saddened by this, but firstly I can't even beat veteran mode anyway, and secondly I've been predicting this pretty much since September, so I can't help but feel somewhat vindicated.

There was some confusion as Keith started off by stating that Izax (the last boss) would come in master mode only, which of course made everyone wonder how that was going to work with the rest of the operation. Then it was clarified that the fight was actually going to be veteran mode as usual, just really hard. You mean... like most of the operation? I just suggested the other day that they might as well rename the whole thing to master mode, you know...

There was also some talk about special rewards for people who'd be able to beat Izax within the patch cycle, which will definitely not include me. I don't mind Keith trying to court top tier raiders a bit; I just wish it hadn't come at the expense of mid-tier guilds like mine.

Flashpoints

The third flashpoint that's part of the current storyline will come out in April, which means that this arc will finally wrap up after eight months. That's somewhat on the slow side, especially considering that the last time we had a story arc being told entirely through flashpoints (Forged Alliances), we got four of them in only half the time (four months).

Any rumours about the line that we would be returning to a place we hadn't expected to return to referring to Oricon were put to rest as it's been confirmed that this installment will be taking place on Nathema. I have to admit I was a little disappointed by that as I like Oricon more, and it would have felt like more of a big return to go back there since it's been a really long time since its release, while we had to go to Nathema only a year ago. Still, let more speculation about just why we're going back there abound!

Conquest Revamp

The long-predicted conquest revamp is apparently coming up in March, but it sounds less exciting than I had hoped - no mention of structural changes to make smaller guilds more competitive, just talk of more objectives, a new interface and new rewards. I mean, those are still good things and might help to reinvigorate my interest in conquest; I was just hoping for more.

One of the new rewards will be an item called the Commander's Compendium that will allow you to instantly boost a companion to influence level 50. The nice thing about reading this was that this item had recently been datamined and looked like it was meant to just go on the Cartel Market, but apparently that's not the plan.

I also have to admit that this is something I could actually see myself using. Most of my companions are actually at very low influence levels because it's a stat that doesn't really matter to me, but on the rare occasion when it does matter (such as in a master mode story chapter), it would be nice to be able to do something about it without having to click a zillion companion gifts. The downside of course is that this compendium is only a workaround for the tedium of the influence system instead of an actual solution to its issues. There still don't seem to be any plans to allow influence gains from a larger variety of sources (such as combat) or to add the ability to give a whole stack of companion gifts at once.

Companions

Loads of companion returns planned in the near future! The list for the next two months includes Akaavi, Ashara, Lt. Iresso, Mako and Vector! I was actually surprised by how excited I was to read this. I still haven't done the missions to get Andronikos, Corso and Risha back, but I'm working my way towards them and that's why I'm excited about these additions too. I've never been as enamoured with any of my companions as some people, but I did notice a few months after KotFE's release that having lost all my class companions did bother me.

More importantly though, I've felt that there's been little incentive to replay any of the more recent content on alts - but what better incentive is there than unique, class-specific content waiting at the end? I don't care if it's not long or particularly amazing - this is the closest we've come to giving the classes some definition since Shadow of Revan's class-specific vignettes on Rishi (which also motivated me to drag one of every single base class through that story).

As an interesting twist, Akaavi and Mako are slated to return together, striking an interesting compromise between limiting returning companions to their original class and making them available to everyone, as smugglers will now be able to recruit Mako and bounty hunters Akaavi. By the way, "Where's Mako? Torian knows (a little)" became the second most-watched video on my YouTube channel over time - after the road map announcement, I went and left a comment on my own video to point out Mako's imminent return. (You know that if I hadn't done it, someone else would have.)

There will also be content for one of our newer companions in the form of an Arcann romance. I've said in the past that he's come a very long way since KotFE, from a character I couldn't see anyone loving to a very changed man. I'm not usually big on companion romances in this game, but I've somewhat come around to the idea here and could see my Jedi knight going for it depending on how it plays out.

I'm also curious how they'll handle a romance coming out as a "package", as all previous romances were more about unlocking romantic interactions as an aside to the main storyline over time. Chaining three different cut scenes together during which you go from casually flirting straight to the black screen of carnal knowledge over the course of five minutes might feel a bit strange (to me, anyway. I know for others BSOCK is what it's all about.)

Other than these four main topics, there was mention of more subscriber rewards coming soon, as well as more "upcoming group content", which once again has people speculating whether this means more flashpoints, something entirely different, or whether Bioware is actually working on getting a whole new operation ready for release in one go after all the difficulties with Gods from the Machine.

Another thing that surprised me was this line: "As we look back to 2017 and now beyond the conclusion of the traitor storyline, we are planning to continue delivering content in the same manner throughout 2018." Keith then goes on to say that he's had feedback indicating that people want a more traditional expansion but that this wasn't the current plan. I had been utterly sure that they were already working on a "proper" expansion! I guess this doesn't mean that they won't decide to parcel up some of the new content and decide to release it as an expansion anyway, but at this rate we're unlikely to see anything like it any time soon.

13/02/2018

KotET Chapters 3, 4 & 5 Master Mode

I decided that none of these needed a whole blog post of their own, so I might as well lump them all together.

Chapter three is probably the easiest and fastest chapter of the lot. It doesn't even feature a boss fight! Sure, there's Vaylin at the end, but she doesn't really count since you don't even need to win the fight to progress - like in the fight against Valkorion in KotFE chapter 12, your character's health dipping low enough works just as well to trigger the next cut scene - and as a bonus, with you being on the losing side, Valkorion's interruption actually makes narrative sense too.

The only somewhat aggravating thing about this chapter are the patrols in the corridors, especially the stealthed ones. On my Scoundrel I just skipped most of them, but I gave the chapter another run-through on my Marauder right afterwards and some of those pulls were quite aggravating, though somewhat surprisingly the one that annoyed me the most was actually the lone Knight of Zakuul that jumps around like a particularly hard-hitting bouncy ball. The best advice I can give to avoid frustration here is to simply take each pull as seriously as a minor boss and not be afraid of blowing all your cooldowns to get through each one. They'll come back up again quickly enough anyway, and otherwise you'll just be wasting that time getting downed and having to repair.


Chapter four is similar, with lots of trash and no real boss fights; there are just slightly more mobs. They feature fewer annoying mechanics, but some of the pulls are painful simply because they are quite large, and several ridiculously hard-hitting mobs shooting you all at once can end badly on occasion.

The only tricky thing is the fight near the end to defend your temporary base against the swarming purifier droids, but I already talked about that in my veteran mode post, plus that's the one veteran fight for which I had already uploaded a video too. Still, I decided to add the Scoundrel's point of view as well, just for the heck of it, even though I applied the same basic tactic to beat it. I actually found it a bit easier to just heal myself and dodge the red circles while my little companion army took care of killing things. Any fight where you're dealing with a lot of mobs but have several NPCs by your side seems to be quite well-suited to playing through it as a healer actually.



Chapter five starts off with some more annoyingly large trash pulls, but was otherwise also surprisingly unremarkable. I was wondering whether the fight to subdue the colossal droid would be challenging in some way but I just killed the things that were powering it and the boss never even seemed to land any attacks.

The fight where you control the droid yourself was still fun; the increased incoming damage just meant that I had to hit the ability to shield and repair pretty much on cooldown, but it still felt easily doable.

Now, Aries looked like he might actually present some challenge if you're a melee character, since he won't laser barrage himself on master mode, but as someone with range it was actually shockingly boring. I learned on my first (failed) attempt that trying to melee him was not a good idea as he then suddenly started hitting fairly hard. On my second attempt I stupidly ran off one of the sides and fell to my death. But the third attempt was super easy, just very slow and boring, as I simply ran circles around him, forever avoiding his laser barrage, and very slowly dpsing him down. The only times things got a little hairy was during the intermission phases (but even those weren't too bad) and when I suddenly lost aggro to Vette and he downed her within seconds. However, even that didn't even really matter that much because I could just res her and continue my little run-around.



I can already tell that chapter six is going to be more interesting, however...

10/02/2018

Nahut, Scyva & A Little QQ

It's been a while since I last wrote about Gods from the Machine. Unfortunately my prediction from back then that my guild should have an easier time with Esne and Aivela's veteran mode than with Tyth's turned out to be wrong. I still think that we're better at executing a complicated dance than at adjusting to randomness on the fly, but in this particular case we ran into the issue of some people complaining that they had to pay attention to and react to so many mechanics that they found the fight overwhelming and frustrating. Since our primary goal is still to have fun, we decided to focus on other things for a while... and haven't really been back to serious progression attempts on the sisters since then, since we're still having issues with getting Tyth down consistently. Alas.

But hey, we got two new bosses in the meantime! Though the gap of four and a half months between the release of the twin sisters and Nahut was pretty shocking. Choosing a staggered release for the operation is one thing, but taking that long to make any progress with it at all is pretty bad, and I think it caused any enthusiasm that people had for the new operation to lose a lot of momentum. Heck, even Dulfy, beloved rescource for everything SWTOR-related since the game's launch, has stopped writing operations boss guides since, with the result that a large part of the community is still very confused about how the new encounters work.

First there's Nahut, the Son of Shadow. I thought it was interesting that in the little intro cut scene, you can actually hear Scyva urging him not to attack you - it's rare to see raid bosses show fear instead of bluster in the face of an approaching group of adventurers, but Scyva (rightfully) fears for her son's life after seeing you destroy her three other children. I do wonder how this whole parent-child relationship works with droids anyway...


Nahut is basically a ninja scientist robot, which really tells you everything you need to know. The fight forces you to deal with him striking from the shadows while a black hole forms in the middle of the room. It's a pretty cool encounter, but not lacking in a sense of humour either: there are multiple holes in the floor which allow for the classic "death by unexpected fall", which - to me - is a source of entertainment that never gets old, and you can also die to an ability called "Spaghettification". Originally I also thought that the mechanic to throw Nahut out of stealth by using a candle was pretty original, but since then I happened to see a video of the boss Cordana Felsong from a WoW Legion dungeon who seems to have a similar thing going on with a light that is used to dispel her stealth. I wonder if someone at Bioware plays WoW and got inspiration from that?

I haven't tried to take on Nahut in a pug yet, but compared to the previous two bosses, I'm kind of concerned about his pug friendliness. While the encounter isn't overly complicated, there are a couple of mechanics that can kill you instantly, which is automatically bad for pugs, and at the end there is a soft enrage timer as you run out of room to manoeuvre if you don't kill the boss quickly enough. While a guild has since gone ahead and posted a video of them beating the fight with only four people (half an ops group basically) I don't think that really counters the argument. You can see that it was still very close in terms of the dps check, and I would absolutely expect many people in a pug to do less than half of the dps of a geared and highly skilled raider.

Still, Nahut has nothing on Scyva. I've actually only seen her once so far, but it was still pretty impressive. Even the trash leading up to her requires some co-ordination to avoid being knocked to your death, and the fight itself is a crazy light show. I've heard people mention that there's some mechanic with gravity changes occurring at some point, but I couldn't even tell. During the one time I killed it, I ran with seven other people who'd done it before, but even they didn't seem to be sure what was going on most of the time, and instructions were limited to things like: "Now run around or purple circles will kill you!" From what I've heard around the community, even people in casual guilds (whom you'd expect to be a lot more organised than pugs) struggled to get her down on their first night. Unfortunately with this sudden lack of guides it feels like everyone has to figure things out by themselves. Though I did find that someone posted a guide on the official forums recently, but how many people even go there...


As far as veteran mode goes, I can't really comment seeing how we still haven't even got down Esne and Aivela. Though story mode being difficult to pug and veteran mode feeling more like master mode is giving me flashbacks to Shadow of Revan, and not in a good way. For those who weren't around back then, Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice were the first operations to release with a hardmode that was really more of a nightmare mode... with the result that middle of the road guilds like mine lost their "happy place" because story mode was too easy but "hardmare" was an absolute brick wall in comparison. I wrote a post about it at the time, and it's kind of frustrating to see Bioware make the same mistake yet again. Because yes, I do think it's a mistake to tune content like this, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if part of what led to operations being put on ice for so long in the first place was a lackluster reception of Ravagers and ToS based on their awkward difficulty.

I mean, at least with all operations scaling these days, we now have the option to go do something else if the new content doesn't offer a reasonable progression curve. But it also means that the new content is not being used! How many guilds have even killed Nahut and Scyva on veteran mode to this day? You shouldn't be able to count them on your fingers. If Bioware is still thinking about adding a third difficulty to Gods once it's completed, I think they should just rename the current veteran mode to master mode and insert a new, easier veteran mode between the two. Adding another difficulty on top of one that barely anyone plays as it is doesn't seem like a good use of resources to me.

07/02/2018

Activity Bonuses

One of the things I've enjoyed about the introduction of Galactic Command are the changing activity and alignment bonuses that have come with it. The basic idea behind them is that while Galactic Command allows you to gain Command XP from almost anything, the game wants to gently nudge players towards doing more than just grind a single activity until they burn themselves out.

Of course, not everyone has the same ideas about gentle nudges. I was honestly shocked when during an episode of a podcast I was listening to, one of the hosts complained about the dark vs. light system, claiming that because the light side was victorious more often than the dark side on his server, he felt that playing his dark-side main was never worthwhile. This surprised me because he made it sound as if doing anything without benefitting from maximum bonuses was unacceptable, which is the sort of hardcore min-max attitude that you don't see in SWTOR players very often.

I've certainly never let the bonuses prevent me from doing something I really wanted to do, nor have I ever felt compelled to do something that I don't really like doing. I do however love them for everything in-between, to the point where checking which activity is eligible for the daily bonus on any given day has pretty much become the first thing I do upon logging in.

If flashpoints or warzones are the activity of the day, it's very likely that said activity will take up most of my evening, because I really enjoy both of them anyway, and the bonus just makes them feel extra rewarding.

My Galactic Starfighter play has probably benefitted the most from the introduction of Galactic Command, because starfighting is something that I'm not massively fond of but that I do enjoy in small doses. The problem is that I've always struggled with finding reasons to choose GSF over other activities that I enjoy more regularly on any given day. (For a while I played on various alts for Conquest points, but as my interest in that waned, so did my enthusiasm for GSF.) Galactic Command has provided me with an easy solution: Just play whenever it's GSF bonus day! I won't necessarily go for it every time, nor do I usually spend all evening in a starfighter, but the recurring bonus has certainly managed to make it a more regular part of my gaming diet.

Operations is a bonus I usually ignore, because while I enjoy them, we have our guild runs scheduled on particular weekdays whether there is a bonus on or not, and I rarely feel the urge to join additional runs on top of that.

Chapters and planetary missions also don't particularly enthuse me, and either of them being the featured activity of the day will usually be my cue to go play a low-level alt instead. However if I do have an interest in doing either of those things for whatever reason (e.g. I made a plan to finally get an alt through KotET), I often wait until they are the featured activity of the day, so that I'll at least get the biggest benefit out of doing them.

Uprisings are a funny one. For a while I did do them occasionally - not too long after they first came out - but I just haven't found them nearly as compelling as flashpoints, lacking the latter's replay value, so I actually haven't done one in quite a while.

As far as the dark vs. light bonuses go, I actually pay very little attention to them unless I'm planning to pop a bunch of accumulated CXP packs (then I will save them until the "correct" alignment dominates). However, the state of the galaxy can be helpful when it comes to deciding which alt to play. If I'm torn between two characters of opposite alignments, it's an easy choice to go for the one that currently benefits from a bonus.


Fun fact: I was originally planning to write this post yesterday, but then I saw that it was flashpoint bonus day and I spent all evening running flashpoints with guildies. Just goes to show.

Do dark vs. light and the daily Command bonus influence the way you play at all?

03/02/2018

KotET Chapter 2 Master Mode

I was not looking forward to tackling this chapter on master mode, as veteran mode of this one had already given me way more trouble than any number of other chapters combined. You may remember that I spent a whole afternoon wiping on the GenoHaradan leader at the time, to the point where my pet tank was starting to get a bit worried about my sanity, and eventually I had to throw in the towel and ask for help. But just because you can't beat "hard" difficulty, that doesn't mean that you can't go in and try "hardest" anyway, right? /insert shifty eyes here...


In fairness, it didn't really feel any worse than veteran mode, which just made me wonder once again whether they made some kind of tuning error with the latter. Also, for all the complaining I've been doing about there not being enough resources about master mode chapters, this is probably the most well-documented one. Because it's so ridiculously hard, people have been more inclined to share their thoughts and videos about it than usual, proud to show off their knowledge and skill once they managed to beat it.

Initially I wasn't sure whether I should write about this chapter at all, considering that I already wrote about veteran mode and this felt largely the same, however in the end I decided that it'd be worth it anyway because I learned some more useful lessons this time around, plus the experience was just very different as a Scoundrel compared to a Guardian. On my Guardian I played much more offensively, trying to nuke things quickly and surviving via the use of cooldowns. My Scoundrel couldn't do that, but she could stay alive for a very long time due to her self-heals, so had to learn to dodge instead.

Ironically, I eventually survived the vine cat by face-tanking it while letting Acina heal me, something that I hadn't been able to pull off on my Guardian. It only worked once I remembered to hit both my heroic moment and the Unity damage reduction cooldown at the same time though. Maybe my Guardian would have been able to eventually do it that way as well, if I hadn't been so focused on the "nuking her down while Acina tanks" tactic at the time (which did also work, eventually).



The GenoHaradan scouting party really highlighted the differences between the two classes though. On my Guardian this fight had been pretty much a matter of charging in and hitting Saber Reflect at the right time so that the adds could nuke themselves, then taking down the boss while using some more defensive cooldowns to stay alive.

On my Scoundrel I had to take a completely different tack. For starters, I was having trouble even dealing with the adds at the beginning. I figured that line of sight was going to be the solution, but struggled to use the cliffs for this purpose effectively. Fortunately I then came across this video, which shows a Sentinel doing the fight and was therefore of limited usefulness to me in terms of overall tactics, but the tip to start at the back of the ship worked great for me. With myself specced into heals and Acina set to dps, I pulled with an AoE to get some initial aggro, made the mobs waste a bit of time by trying to follow me into a little nook, and then set Acina onto them while making a run for it before the Scout Leader herself could get me.

At some point I realised that there's a piece of wreckage behind the ship that's great to use as a "pillar" for breaking line of sight, and I eventually beat the fight by basically kiting the leader around it with my healing aggro while Acina slowly killed her. The second wave of adds also couldn't target me there, so they had to come up close and pile up, which allowed me to dispatch them relatively easily with some more AoE. In the end I even managed to succeed during an attempt where I didn't have heroic moment up and Acina died halfway through - nobody was more surprised than me when that actually ended up being the winning formula.



Up next was the tomb horror. That one was kind of funny. I nearly killed it on my first attempt actually and was surprised by how easy that had seemed. On my second attempt I did horribly however and died nearly right away. Then I realised that as a Scoundrel, I could actually simply stealth past and completely skip this one, since killing it is not actually a required objective. So... sorry, no new tips on how to fight that one!

But then... the final challenge: the GenoHaradan leader and hunters, which had remained unbested by me (solo) in veteran mode. You'd think that would have been more demotivating than it was - but I felt quite confident in being able to beat the fight on my Scoundrel due to having better gear now as well as having much more control due to being able to CC one of the hunters at the start. In the end the fight was still far from easy, and I once again spent one and a half million credits on repairs on that fight alone (despite of the ability to run out of the room and reset attempts that went very badly without actually dying), as well as more than two hours of wiping. But I did get there in the end!

The sheer randomness of the fight remains the worst thing about it, because there's just no way you can control everything and sometimes things just go down the drain instantly when one of the adds stuns you just as you needed to interrupt Hail of Bolts, or you get rooted in a Missile Barrage or what have you. Considering I always started with the same five or six moves, it was astounding how they could result in anything from a super smooth first phase to an instant wipe.

The basic strategy I used in the end was to put one of the hunters to sleep and sic Acina on the second (making sure to have her AoE ability turned off so she wouldn't accidentally break the CC), while I did my best to keep both of us healed up and interrupt the leader's Hail of Bolts when required. Possibly the most important lesson I learned in regards to healing in this fight is that of the two dots that the adds can apply, the green one needs to be cleansed asap, while you can heal through the other one if required.

Once the first add died, I would briefly put Acina on passive so I could use the next time the leader cast Ultimate Shot to heal us both to full, before telling her to attack the second hunter, who was usually about to wake up by this point. The first time I actually made it into the last phase, I kind of panicked / overestimated how easy it must be from then on without the adds, but you still have to take some care. I found this video helpful as an illustration of keeping your calm in the last phase, as you can see the player repeatedly "pausing" the fight during Ultimate Shot to allow Acina to heal her back up again.

Once again, success arrived in a surprisingly messy manner - I let Acina die not once but twice, so that I had to complete the final phase without a companion! This was really slow as a healer, but I was able to keep myself alive by not panicking and going the slow and steady route. Video once again below.



One thing I've got to say is that for all the times I swore at my screen because of a stupid wipe, and as much as I think that this sort of design isn't "good" difficulty - it kept me more engaged than anything else in the game has in a long time (no distractions needed, my attention was 100% on the fights) and I felt incredibly accomplished when I actually finished the chapter. While I'm sure that there'll be many more challenges ahead, from what I've heard I don't expect anything else in the coming chapters to produce quite this level of frustration.

30/01/2018

What A Long, Strange Trip It's Been

On the day before the currently running double (C)XP event started, I hit Command rank 300 on my Operative. This made her my ninth character to reach that milestone, and the last class I needed for the Resolute Commander achievement (getting all eight base classes to 300).


It's funny to look back and think that a little over a year ago, something like that would have seemed like utter madness. Just getting even one character to Command rank 300 seemed like something that would take way too long for comfort. But the changes over the past year have really helped with making Galactic Command less of a grind and more fun. I wish we could have been at that point from the start and saved ourselves a lot of unpleasantness, but there's no point in wishing that the past had gone differently.

What's next? Probably levelling up yet again, this time my Juggernaut tank, for no other reason than that I enjoy playing her and she's not 300 yet. I've really embraced Command levelling as a sort of amusing goal of its own. It's not even about the gear, seeing how my play time on each character drops drastically once the numbers stop going up, and they are then mostly left in a mix of mid-level gear, depending on how kind or unkind the random drops have been to them.

It's really just more levelling, and seeing how ridiculously fast the base levelling game is these days, working on my "extra levels" has actually become a strangely decent substitute that I enjoy working on.

27/01/2018

Keep Calm And Play SWTOR

I've been getting flashbacks to mid-2012 recently. For those of you who weren't playing SWTOR back then, it was both a good and a bad time for the game. What was good was that the game received new content updates at a pace that we are unlikely to ever see again, due to Bioware still operating with a massive team dedicated solely to the MMO for the first few months. What was bad was that the game's reputation was largely in the gutter. It was being called a failure left and right, and people who'd never even played it were happy to reinforce this negative image in public simply because they'd heard it was too much of a WoW clone / they were still mad at Bioware about the Mass Effect 3 ending / they just hated everything to do with EA. Even fan sites frequently sounded as if they felt the need to apologise for liking the game, and it was actually really off-putting if you were engaging with the community outside of the game itself. I wrote a post about it at the time.

Now, the haters never fully went away (do they ever, for any game?), but they did quiet down a lot after the first year, because there are only so many times you can shout "TORtanic!" about a game that continues to receive updates year after year and still continues to attract a considerable amount of players.

However, recently there has been a sudden resurgence of doom-and-glooming, which I suppose wasn't helped by SWTOR putting out less content in 2017 than in the years before that. It started with YouTube recommending a widely-viewed video to me which spent three quarters of an hour talking about how SWTOR is utterly dead. I have to admit that really annoyed me, mostly because it was released as part of a series that I had previously enjoyed watching, about MMOs that were actually "dead" in some way, as in shut down or at the very least put into maintenance mode. However, this one just felt like an attempt by the creator to get views by simply shitting all over a well-known game because he didn't like it very much himself. (And it worked - the video, which I'm not going to bother to link, quickly became the second most viewed video on his whole channel.) My favourite reply from the comment section was: "I hope you never become a doctor."

Then the rumour mill started to get going. MMORPG.com released an article with the title "The End of the Republic?" whose entire content could basically be summed up as: "SWTOR has been reasonably successful over the years, but now there are rumours that it might end! I mean, probably not any time soon, but I guess it was too good a subject line to pass up." This week, things came to a head when Kotaku published an article focused on Bioware's new property Anthem, which contained the following comments about SWTOR as throwaway lines:

"Over the past few months, BioWare has essentially transformed into a single-game studio as it harnesses its teams to work on the ambitious multiplayer action game Anthem, sources say. There are still small teams maintaining Star Wars: The Old Republic and piecing together the next Dragon Age, which was recently rebooted, but the bulk of BioWare’s staff in both Edmonton and Austin are now on Anthem."

And even more damning:

"BioWare has also discussed ending development on the multiplayer online game Star Wars: The Old Republic, those sources said, although one person familiar with the studio told me recently that plans are still up in the air."

The latter in particular has had people going absolutely bananas, some of them seemingly expecting SWTOR to get shut down any minute now. Personally I think they are misreading that quote in two ways:

1. "Ending development on" is not the same as "shutting down". I'm not saying that the game going into maintenance mode would be a good thing, but I still think that it's an important distinction.

2. More importantly, everything that article references from "sources" is fairly vague. It's still bad PR and probably not something Bioware/EA are happy to have aired in public, but they're not exactly giving away company secrets. However, if that sentence was a definitive statement of intent basically leaked to a journalist before its official announcement, that would've been quite a severe faux-pas on the side of the person providing the information. I think a more likely interpretation is that putting SWTOR into maintenance mode was something that was brought up in a discussion and then not followed up on. Trust me, businesses regularly discuss a lot of options for the future without necessarily implementing even most of them. The reason it is brought up here at all is to emphasise the article's point of how desperate Bioware is to have Anthem be a success, to the point that they've considered all kinds of things just to get even more manpower onto the project.

Now, beyond that I'm not going to spend a great amount of time arguing about why I think that worrying about SWTOR being shut down or even being put into maintenance mode at this point is premature. Other people have already done that, such as Larry Everett on MassivelyOP and Xam Xam on her new site MMO Bits.

The only thing I would like to bring up, mostly because I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere else so far, is that few people seem to consider that, regardless even of what happens to Bioware after Anthem's launch, there are reasons for EA to want to keep SWTOR going, assuming that it makes any kind of money at all:

1. They don't need any more bad PR right now. You could say that they are already hated by so many that a few more gamer tears are nothing but drops in the bucket, but I think the recent hubbub about Star Wars: Battlefront II's monetisation has shown that they do care when it gets to the point of drawing negative attention from their investors. And if there's one thing MMO players are good at, it's expressing their anger loudly. How many people are out there, still condemning the shutdowns of City of Heroes and Star Wars Galaxies years after the fact? And I'm pretty sure SWTOR still has more players than both of those had put together (at the point when they were shut down). So a premature end to the game would draw quite a bit of ire from the community. Now, maybe the people in charge at EA aren't sufficiently clued in to actually consider this... but to me it seems like they'd really prefer to tread lightly right now and to not piss off paying customers unnecessarily.

2. Remember the outcry when EA shut down Visceral and said that they wanted to focus on multiplayer games that could feature ongoing monetisation? Well, guess what, SWTOR is exactly that kind of game. In fact, I would think that from a marketing perspective, EA should view SWTOR as a great opportunity to test and review what sort of monetisation methods have worked for games like that and which ones have not.

Anyway, those are just my two cents on the matter. As someone who is very active in the community, I always find it a bit depressing to see stuff like this. At the same time, I'm aware that as a highly engaged player, my own view tends to be somewhat skewed towards the positive - I remember just how much of a shock the free-to-play announcement was to me at the time, because it seemed to go utterly against my own experiences of a great and thriving game.

However, regardless of what happens to SWTOR and when, there's also this to consider: Even if we were to find out that SWTOR was meant to shut down next week - would you rather spend the game's last remaining days wailing on forums or actually playing it while you still can? I know which one I'd pick. With that, I'm off to play some more!



(Also, Keith has been dropping more hints about the next expansion. MMOs generally don't launch expansions just before throwing in the towel. Just saying.)

24/01/2018

KotET Chapter 1 Master Mode

Last year I dipped my toes into veteran mode chapters for the first time. (Gosh, has it really been a full year since that fateful encounter with the vine cat?) I did complete both KotFE and KotET eventually but concluded that I probably wasn't going to attempt master mode any time soon, since I wasn't interested in repeating the story on characters that had already done it and none of my alts seemed well-suited to jumping right into the most difficult version of the content available.

However, it has been a year, more returning companions have given me an incentive to take more characters through the "Knights of..." expansions, and good gear for alts is about as easy to come by right now as it's likely ever going to be this expansion cycle, so I thought that I might as well give it a go, once again defying chronological order and starting with KotET instead of KotFE.

Unfortunately, already the first chapter didn't go well at first. I quickly got stuck on my Operative and soon gave up on it, downgrading the difficulty to story just to finish the chapter. Then I tried again on my Scoundrel. I don't know why I expected different results really, since that's essentially the same class, but I guess I figured that having slightly better gear and having completed all the Star Fortresses (which actually gives you some small perks in this chapter) would give me an edge somehow. And it actually did!

So last night I finally managed to complete one chapter, after several hours of fighting and dying and about a million credits in repairs. Ow.


Similar to what happened during my veteran mode experience, I found myself quite annoyed by how few resources there seemed to be about this particular content, even a year later. So I decided that I'm going to write down everything I learned that might help someone else with completing this chapter, and I'm planning to do the same for continuous chapters, assuming that they'll continue to be challenging.

So, where to start?

Like in many veteran mode chapters, get ready to die to trash a lot. At least for most of the first half of this chapter there are usually also some NPCs involved in the fighting, which helps to keep aggro off you. Nonetheless, be prepared to die to sudden (near-)one-shots and to not let this put you off. At least with most trash, you can simply get up again, dust yourself off and just soldier on - whatever you already killed will stay dead, so it's just a matter of slowly whittling away at the enemy's numbers.

The first real road block I encountered was the PA-717 Planetary Assault Goliath a.k.a. the big droid boss you run into early on. In fact, this was actually the fight that gave me by far the most trouble throughout the whole chapter, which made me feel extra bad about being unable to find anyone even talking about having had difficulties with it.

The first issue I ran into was the conal AoE attack that he starts with and which he repeats often. Just something to step out of, right? Sure, but tell that to Lana. And with my Scoundrel being a healer, it was usually Lana who had the aggro! I experimented with different set-ups but no matter what role I set her to, it just didn't work. As dps she would usually get one-shot. As tank she could take a couple of hits, but it was still too much damage, too quickly to keep her alive for longer than a few seconds. With both her and me healing, we could stay alive for a little while but got absolutely nothing done. And trying to manually move her out of the AoE didn't seem viable with how frequently and quickly it got cast.

In the end I did something I'd never done before: I respecced to dps, even though I have zero experience with it as a Scoundrel (unless you count me playing a hybrid spec for a while before Shadow of Revan did away with those). And as it turned out, in this case even bad and clueless dps was better than anything else, because with me on dps and Lana healing, I consistently kept aggro and could make sure to always aim the AoEs away from squishy old Lana.

The next problem I had was the inescapable AoE knockback the droid does every so often. It tended to knock me out of the boss's regular range, at which point he starts spamming instant orbital strikes on you which hurt a lot. Usually he then also yanks you right back, but that's a lot of time you spend sort of incapacitated and getting nuked. I died to this a lot. Until I took note of the little Voss flag next to the boss that is! By running next to it every time he wound up one of his knockbacks, I could just bounce off the flag harmlessly and then get right back into the action.

Finally, there are the mines, which move around and cannot be destroyed from range. Initially I was pinning all my hopes on getting help from "Deadeye" Leyta - if you destroyed the Tatooine Star Fortress before starting the chapter, she helps you out with a snipe ability that can actually destroy mines. However, it only works on one at a time and has a really long cooldown (on master mode anyway, I can't remember what it was like on story mode). I mean, it's still handy to have, but with the sheer amount of mines going around, it's not much more than a drop in the bucket.

In the end I realised that I simply had to take out some of the mines purposefully while hitting a damage reduction cooldown. As a Scoundrel I found my roll very useful for this. This helped me remove the worst offenders while minimising the damage they would cause. I even recorded a video of me finally beating the fight:



Note that it was still far from a perfect run - for example you can see me rolling right past the flag at one point and getting knocked back anyway! But it was good enough, and combined with a bit of luck I actually made it through. Boy, did that feel good.

The next bits of trash were easy enough, and having destroyed the Voss Star Fortress prior to the chapter, I also got free bonus completion from Rokuss. The next real challenge was the defense of the Tower of Prophecy, where I actually found my regular old healing spec pretty useful, as I spent most of the first half of it just healing myself and the NPCs while trying to break line of sight with the constant stream of adds. Since almost all of them were weak, they fortunately died quickly enough to the fire of the NPCs.

The real challenge comes when the three Horizon Guards come in, because all three of them cast an undodgeable thunderous blast that is once again a (near-)one-shot. At first I actually had to laugh at how quickly I died every time they appeared - I usually didn't even have time to do anything, not to mention understand what was going on.

My eventual approach was to immediately dodge behind the ramp leading upstairs as soon as they spawned, to use the way it breaks line of sight to avoid the one-shot - though not without putting down a Bushwhack at the door first, to make sure that I'd gain at least some aggro on the Guards and they wouldn't just immediately go and kill the NPCs instead. This was a bit RNG dependent to be honest. The NPCs would usually kill one of the Horizon Guards quite quickly, but the other two would go after me. Now, if I got unlucky they would both stick to me and then I'd usually die because I couldn't dodge both of their abilities simultaneously. However, as you can once again see in my video of the kill, when things went well, the second Horizon Guard would initially go after me but then turn around and go after the NPCs again, while losing enough time in the process to give the NPCs time to kill him as well. That only left me to deal with the last one, and he was easy enough to kite around a pillar at the back.



You can also see in the video that I was a bit hesitant initially when the last boss came in because I expected him to have thunderous blast too, but he's actually safe to approach and in fact better to nuke quickly while interrupting all his big casts.

Next came walking the walk to the Shrine of Healing and well... you probably won't need a guide for that but it was still pretty tedious. I've died at least once on that section pretty much every time I've done it, regardless of difficulty setting, and master mode cranks that up to eleven. Specifically there are rocket troopers to watch out for (handily marked by giant red arrows over their heads), whose long cast will take off about a third of your walker's health in one go. Oh, and they usually come in packs of four, so you can do the maths. Once you know what to look out for it's not too hard to take them out first, but the first time a set of them spawns you'll probably see your walker get blown to smithereens before you've even realised what's happening.

Also, to add insult to injury, the repair teams are for some reason unable to heal your walker back to full on master mode; they only repair you a little bit. But hey, like with most of the other trash, it's just a matter of attrition. The slow walk back every time I died never felt longer though.

The walker boss at the end also sports rocket trooper adds now but otherwise functions similar to veteran mode. Just keep walking in circles around him and shooting him whenever he's not in an immunity bubble, hit your shield if you happen to get rooted in the big beam, and kill adds as they come... unless the walker is really close to death, then it might be better to just go for a quick final nuke.

The inside of the shrine features some more hard-hitting trash mobs... /yawn. And I've got nothing on how to fight Senya because light side all the way, baby.

I hope that this will help some people at least, and if you have any tips of your own to share, feel free to do so in the comments. There just doesn't seem to be that much interest in these master mode chapters beyond farming a select few easy ones for CXP, considering that nobody seems to have written a comprehensive guide about them to this day.

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.