22/07/2018

Total Galactic War Returns

This week the Total Galactic War event made its return. As I noted at the time, one of my biggest disappointments with the new Conquest system was that Total Galactic War had been turned from a huge, unique event into just another Conquest, and I said at the time that I was really hoping that Bioware would reconsider that change. And they did! This week Total Galactic War broke out with a total of 19 planets up for grabs (21 if you count the faction-split Balmorra and Taris twice).


I had completely forgotten that this was going to happen, so I came online on Tuesday to a lot of frenzied discussion among the officers about which planet to invade. Since I still think back on my very first Total Galactic War as one of my fondest Conquest experiences, I got super excited and immediately began studying the state of the leaderboards. With SWTOR Conquest currently out of commission it was quite hard to judge the competition at times. While I've made a habit out of screenshotting the board at the end of every week since the new Conquest system was introduced and could therefore gauge some guilds' strength, others remained dark horses even so.

Back in the day when it was all about getting into the top ten on the leaderboard, just finding a planet that wasn't too crowded was usually our main consideration, but with how much Twin Suns has grown lately and a mere top ten placement not granting anything special anymore, there was no doubt for us that we wanted to go for gold.

Eight of the 21 planets are now large yield targets, seven promise a medium yield and six a small yield. And this is where the whole "hoping that large guilds will go for a large planet" system actually worked decently for a change. At least for us, it was clear right away that we didn't want to go for a small yield planet. If we didn't win first place, it would have felt hugely wasteful to have limited ourselves to a small reward, and also somewhat unfair to the smaller guilds who finally saw their big chance for a win in this event.

After much back and forth we settled for invading (large yield) Alderaan, where we knew that we would be facing another large guild as competition, but one I reckoned we would be able to beat if we tried hard enough. I don't want to jinx it because the event isn't over yet - knock on wood - but so far it looks like our gamble might have paid off, as we're sitting at a score of over two million at the time of writing this, while our nearest competitor only has achieved a little more than half of that.

Those of us with an interest in Conquest have been banging on about it all week, asking every guildie to make at least a small contribution, even if Conquest isn't usually their cup of tea. With the event's activities being focused largely on dailies and small group content/PvP, there were certainly plenty of opportunities to take part. Trying to lead by example, I also leaned into it myself as hard as I could, and I'm currently on track to finish with nine characters having hit their personal target.

It's certainly been an interesting experience - queuing for PvP comes quite naturally to me, but it was nice to have more guildies grouping up for it than I've seen in a long time. And while dailies are not something that I'm particularly fond of, it's not as if I dislike them so intensely that doing each area once this week would have been a major chore.


Feeling pretty spent after completing all of these and then some...

I can't even remember if I ever did the new Makeb weekly after it was no longer staged, if not this would have been my first time. Somewhat bafflingly, there is virtually no difference compared to the old system except that you can pick up more than one mission at a time now, but since the quests themselves are the same, you still end up doing them one at a time as they all take place on separate mesas and don't overlap. That quest to steal Regulator speeders in particular... oh my god!

The GSI dailies are another piece of content that I hadn't done in a long time. I know that FibroJedi likes them because most of them are effectively non-combat missions (except for the heroics and any mobs that might incidentally be in your way), which could be considered relaxing I guess. Looked at it from another point of view though, they are examples of the kind of old-school MMO quest design that many people hate, where you get sent all across the map just to click on something, with more time spent travelling than actually doing anything.

A lot of the missions are also bizarrely unintuitive the first time you do them - for example the original Seeker Droid quest chain teaches you to dig up objectives or treasure by placing your droid in a random spot and then following its indicators. However, the dailies don't work like this - instead they require you to (visually) find certain spots on the ground and plant your droid exactly on top of them. That's not a bad thing exactly, and I actually prefer it to the way the treasure hunting works, but without knowing this in advance, you could easily spend twenty minutes on your first GSI daily, wondering why your Seeker Droid is suddenly so useless and maybe giving up on the whole thing altogether before you've even really started.


Also, they make you dig for what looks like poop. I know that's not what the quest says, but...

Doing the Macrobinocular mission to find "Big Red" on Alderaan also gave me flashbacks, since I remember that the first time I did it, I didn't realise that there were several map markers for this quest and that you're supposed to visit all of them and find at which point "Big Red" just happened to spawn that day. As a result, I thought the first marker I visited was the only one and spent twenty minutes unsuccessfully trying to scan random thrantas that were flapping around in the background, wondering why Bioware had made the objective for this quest so hard to target.

Anyway, despite of these niggles about some of the quests, this week has felt hugely exciting for me in SWTOR, facing challenging competition for that first place spot on Alderaan and getting to revisit some older content at the same time.

19/07/2018

Terror From Beyond Master Mode Musings

This past Sunday was a big day for my guild ops team (we are back to having two separate progression teams and I'm still getting used to everything we do not automatically equalling "the guild" anymore): We defeated the Terror From Beyond on master mode for the first time.

Now, strictly speaking I got the achievement for doing this more than three years ago already, back when you could out-level the older operations to a certain degree and overpower them that way, before they were all level-synced. In fact, I remember a TFB run with some people who were taking such delight in how overpowered they were that they decided to ignore all the Terror's mechanics in the second phase of the fight and just plinked away at it despite of its large damage resistance until it entered the final phase of the encounter... and somehow, it worked.

Sort of an achievement, dated February 2015, with us overpowering the Terror by five levels.

However, this Sunday was our first time actually beating it at level, and boy, did it take us a long time. I didn't make a note of the exact date when we first started attempting the fight, but I do have some video footage that goes back as far as October. Now, we didn't literally spend nine months wiping on the boss - there were many weeks when we didn't even attempt it at all for one reason or another, such as not having enough people online, or not having a good team composition, or just plain old tiredness. However, we never seriously switched to a different progression target in all that time, so even without constant wiping on the same boss, nine months are a very long time to feel like you've basically hit a progression brick wall.

In hindsight I think the biggest challenges for us were simply the fight's length (this fight was the reason I changed my video recording software from allowing me to save the last ten minutes of gameplay to saving the last fifteen minutes - because I realised ten minutes wouldn't be enough to capture the whole fight), and how many opportunities it gives you to die. It's not that there are any mechanics that are super tricky to execute correctly, but your mind wandering at a bad time during the fifteen minute duration of the fight could be enough to wipe the group already. We actually suffered far more deaths early in the fight than in the later phases, I think at least partially because people started to zone out from all the repetition, which just led to even more mistakes.

So the final kill was super exciting to me, and as I often do I made a video out of it. Even at nearly twice the original speed it's still over seven minutes long, because that's just the kind of fight it is.



I actually really appreciated the way it ended up challenging me. While I've always liked TFB as an operation, the final fight was never really one of my favourites because as a healer the second phase in particular is actually pretty boring. There is all this exciting stuff going on with people jumping around between platforms, but as a healer you simply don't have to.

While working on this encounter however, we soon realised that the dps check was extremely high and even with all of our damage dealers trying their hardest, we were still a little off, which led to one of our members concocting a plan to get the second tank and one of the healers involved in adding more damage to make up the difference. As my usual co-healer is a Sage and it's a bit easier to add dps as a Commando due to the way the class manages its resources, I was soon instructed to run with the dps and hit tentacles in phase two as well (which you can see in the video).

This was actually quite confusing to me initially as despite of all my years of playing this game I've very rarely done anything but heal in operations, and certainly not on the harder difficulties. On our first tries involving this new strategy I made pretty much all the newbie mistakes I'd seen damage dealers make over the years, such as getting slammed to death by a tentacle, accidentally jumping on a tank platform, or simply falling to my death at random after running off a platform at a bad angle. To my credit though, at least I didn't do any of those things more than once. In the final attempt I was playing it quite cautiously, opting out of dpsing a few times when I felt that a bit of extra healing was more important at the time, but in the end my contribution still made enough of a difference for us to get the kill.

The whole thing did make me a bit philosophical as well though, because again: nine months. I'm actually kind of surprised we didn't end up losing more people during that time simply because they gave up hope / ran out of motivation. In a way this record-length expansion cycle is both a blessing and a curse: On the one hand it gives us extra time to work on bosses we never had a chance to down while they were current because there was always another level cap increase coming that changed up the game again. On the other hand... we spend ridiculous amounts of time banging our heads against the same bosses without going anywhere. Raiding is often considered a bit of a wacky pastime by many, but right now it feels even more insane to me than usual (even if I still enjoy it).

15/07/2018

Testing Success!

In my last post I talked about wanting to do some PvP on the PTS but being unable to do so because the testing session was scheduled to start at a bad time for Europeans. What else can I say but that Bioware immediately responded (not literally, I'm sure they were planning to do it anyway) by announcing that another session would be taking place on Saturday at a time that was morning for them, but afternoon for me and therefore a great time to join in.

Cal and I jumped in shortly before the scheduled start time and had a surprisingly good time. Actual testing "work" aside, I've got to say that it was really refreshing to play with people who were all there because they love the game and genuinely enjoy PvPing, without any of the less pleasant individuals you can get in regular warzones at times, such as those who are only there for the CXP and are just waiting to give up and AFK in a corner as soon as things don't go their way, or players who just don't have a clue what's going on. Not that I think there's anything wrong with being new... but I can't deny that it was fun to see whole teams focused on the objectives for once. I can't recall the last time I played a Huttball match on live where literally everyone was going after the ball with as much zeal as people did on the PTS.

The cross-faction queuing seemed to work well enough to guarantee fast pops even with a limited pool of players to draw from, which was nice, despite of my scepticism about the feature. Based on experiences with other games, I just worry that cross-faction queuing might be one of those things that won't immediately turn many people off, but that might get blamed for causing the game to lose some of its flavour later on. Anyway, as of now the only obvious downsides were some wonky assets, such as scoreboards in a clashing mix of colours or both teams in Alderaan Civil War starting from an unholy amalgamation of both the Republic and the Imperial ship.


As for how the actual match-making was working... it was honestly hard to tell! As I said, most matches were pretty fun and balanced, but was that because of the new matchmaking or because the type of people that bother with going on the PTS to PvP all have pretty similar skill levels? Role matching didn't seem to be quite there yet, with many of the 8v8 matches sporting 3-4 healers per side, though Eric has since confirmed that this looks to just be a side effect of the over-abundance of healers on the PTS, as they've decided to not enforce the originally planned "hard cap" of two tanks or healers per team for now (which I am fine with). We'll have to see how that works out on live though.

Between matches we also had another poke around the Rishi stronghold. Even though I don't expect the custom arena to see much use, it was kind of fun to mess around with. There were still some things going on with it that left me unsure whether they were bugs or features, such as someone flagged as Frogdog and someone flagged as Rotworm being able to group up, or people who get knocked off the edge popping right back up to where they fell off instead of dying or being sent back to the starting area at least.

Cal also showed off the new healing dummies to me, and while I was utterly unimpressed by the original announcement of their inclusion as I don't care about dummy parsing, I have to admit I thought it was pretty cute and creative that you could add extra probe droid dummies to simulate healing a whole party or ops group. Maybe I'll give that a try once it goes live after all...

10/07/2018

PTS Stronghold Excitement

A few days ago there was some excitement as Bioware opened up the Public Test Server to subscribers for the first time in quite a while. They had admitted several times previously that they'd somewhat fallen out of the habit of putting things up for public testing and said that they should probably get back into it.

For me, it's been even longer since I even bothered with the PTS. Looking back at the PTS tag on this blog I wrote about going on there a few times in the early days, such as to test out the moods feature or to familiarise myself with free-to-play. However, my interest in doing this gradually decreased, and the last time I even mentioned the PTS was over two years ago (probably around the time Bioware last bothered with it).

So there was much excitement about Bioware re-opening the PTS at last, especially since people got to preview the new stronghold on Rishi that will be released with the next patch. I'm still finding it hard to believe that they've given us three new strongholds within a year after there had been minimal support for housing for ages, aside from the release of new decorations on the Cartel market that is. I wonder if housing enthusiasts are more likely to buy Cartel coins than other groups of players?

Anyway, you don't have to log onto the PTS yourself to get a look at the new stronghold because people have been going nuts posting about it (in my feed anyway). You can have Swtorista walk you through it, or Vulkk, or Kid Lee, or Dulfy, or SWTOR Central, and probably more. If you'd prefer a written summary with static images, Xam Xam has you covered.

Despite of all this, I couldn't quite resist logging into the PTS myself, for old times' sake if nothing else. Cheers to Ondr the Scoundrel for being the only person online during that time who also happened to have their new Rishi stronghold publicly listed, allowing me to hop in and have a look around without having to bother with buying and unlocking it myself.


I do have to say, the inclusion of the ability to set up custom PvP areas sounds extremely cool and actually very innovative as well - at least no other MMOs that I know of allow you to also turn your house into an arena. Unfortunately I'm afraid that it will see very little use. Sure, there'll be the occasional guild event or community tournament, but... I just can't get really excited about something that I foresee gathering dust 99% of the time, despite of how cool it is in principle.

Am I at least excited about getting another new beautiful place to decorate? I'm embarrassed to say it, but: not really, simply because I eventually had to admit to myself that I'm not all that much into decorating. I adore strongholds for their practical features, which is why all my characters tend to log out in one, but I spend pretty much all my time in the first room of my Coruscant apartment (or Dromund Kaas for my Imperial alts). Despite of having fully unlocked every stronghold Bioware has ever released, most of them are virtually empty. The last "exciting" decorating project I engaged in was making one of the train cars on Umbara my "Baradium cart room" (Baradium carts being a common decoration drop from the Explosive Conflict operation that I have coming out of my ears).


In short: The new stronghold is something that sounds extremely nice in theory but unfortunately I just don't see myself getting much use out of it, which is why I can't really get excited about it. As soon as I actually logged onto the PTS I also queued myself for PvP in hopes of actually getting to see some of the planned PvP changes in action. There were almost 20 people online on Republic side alone, so we would have had enough to get a match going... if everyone had queued up that is. I'm guessing too many were just sightseeing on Rishi, because just like in the old days, nothing popped.

Unlike in the old days, Bioware does have dedicated PvP testing times these days, with the first one of these coming up tonight in fact - however, as it won't start until midnight in my time zone, this is unfortunately a no-go for me during a normal work week. However, there's already been talk of having more testing sessions, so hopefully at least one of them will happen at a time that makes it a bit more feasible for Europeans like me to also join. I'd really like to be able to make it one of these days, if for no other reason than to say that I did it.

05/07/2018

More DvL World Boss Hunting

Has it really been one and a half years since I last posted about hunting DvL world bosses? Apparently it has.

At the time, I mentioned that I was hoping to persuade my guildies to do more of them, but we never really ended up doing that. The CXP payout wasn't actually that good for the effort, especially after other activities got buffed, and the bugged achievement gave everyone the feeling that it was better to wait for it to be fixed before trying to kill any more of these bosses - until we just kind of... forgot.

With the recent ennui however, fringe activities to break our weekly operations routine are suddenly in demand again, so we've been going back to hunting. We've had some decent successes actually, and with the achievement long since fixed, we've been making progress towards that as well. Here's a video of one of our more recent kills, Overseer Qezzed:



I actually have two more recordings like that lying around that I still need to trim and upload. Why? I'm not sure; these are hardly tough kills. I guess I like to document my guild's achievements, but it also feels vaguely helpful to add these because there is still so little information about these bosses out there, especially with how apathetic Dulfy seems to have become about SWTOR (though she still posts updates about the Cartel Market and stuff like that). Even with beloved community members like Vulkk and Swtorista trying to fill in the gaps, Dulfy's guide to the DvL bosses remains the only one out there that I'm aware of, and it hasn't been updated in a long while, though some commenters have left useful tips in the comments. Those are easy to miss though if you habitually avoid the cesspit that's Dulfy's comment section.

Things that my guild and I have learned by doing so far:

The bosses don't seem to be tied to specific planets. I guess I have no evidence that there aren't rules of some sort that prevent boss X from spawning on planet Y, but we've seen a bunch of different bosses spawn in the same spot as well as the same boss appear on different planets, so it's quite possible that anything goes.

The bosses have at least two different sets of Force abilities, one that includes dropping lightning pillars on players and a Force execution like Raptus's from Dread Palace, and another consisting of a Trail of Agony type ability (like you get on the Revan fight in Temple of Sacrifice) and AoE damage over time. Getting stunned in a puddle of bad stuff is a real risk in either case and you've got to be ready to use your stun breaker quickly when needed or else you'll go down. It seems to me that this is less likely to occur if you bring more people to the fight, as it gives the harmful abilities the option to spread out more instead of one person getting targeted by several effects at once, but I'm not entirely sure about that. We've done several bosses with as few as eight people but they pretty much always involve someone dying and having to run back or needing revival.

I probably shouldn't tell you this to avoid competition, but so far the Dune Sea on Tatooine has seemed like the best place to hunt, as it has at least five spawn spots in pretty close proximity, and people are less likely to engage and despawn the bosses by accident. I've actually done the latter on Hoth myself, when I mistook a world boss spawn for a random champion and didn't realise my mistake until my Sentinel had already leapt in and was Force-choked to death in short order.

It also seems to me that the bosses are actually easier to kill on lower level planets. Sure, you get level synced, but we all know that being levelled down by a lot still leaves you pretty powerful compared to the average same-level mob, and on a lower-level planet this effect is more pronounced. In other words, I've noticed that we seem to do a lot less dying on Tatooine than on Hoth.

All that said, we haven't actually engaged a single light side boss yet! I'm very much looking forward to seeing how those are different (if at all). Initially we were only going after the dark side bosses because most of us main light side characters and we were basically roleplaying our alignment, but lately the dark side has also been winning a lot, leaving us with no real choice.

30/06/2018

Waiting for 6.0

I've said before that even though I like to dedicate most of my play time to a single MMO, I don't think it's fair to expect a single game to entertain you 100% of the time. There are times when you'll get bored, and it's okay to do other things - I would recommend also doing other things in fact, because if you force yourself to stick to something you're bored with, that just breeds resentment after a while. Better to take a break and give yourself the chance to actually miss all the things you love about the game.

That's kind of where I feel I'm with SWTOR once again right now. Not that I'm really taking a break - after all I'm still showing up for guild activities several times a week - but in between those scheduled events I've been feeling a bit aimless lately. It's not so much that I have nothing to do as that it's all stuff that I've done before, and more importantly stuff that I feel I've done quite recently. Meanwhile Neverwinter's being all alluring with the release of a new module... it's easy to see why my attention would wander.

Aside from the general ups and downs that everyone has, it does strike me though that we've been at level 70 and inside the 5.x patch cycle for a really long time now. Just for fun, I counted the duration between previous expansions and came up with the following:

Launch - 2.0: 476 days
2.0 - 3.0: 602 days
3.0 - 4.0: 322 days
4.0 - 5.0: 406 days
5.0 - today: 579 days

You can already tell that this is going to be the longest expansion cycle ever, because while the time between 2.0 and 3.0 was still longer if you compare them today, we're not far from catching up with it at this point, and we don't even have a release date for 6.0 yet, only vague hopes that it will hit before the end of the year. So whenever it comes out, 5.x will likely be closer to having lasted 700-800 days at least.

On top of that, the perceived closeness between the length of this current expansion and that of 2.x is deceptive, because the 2.x cycle also included the launch of Galactic Starfighter and Galactic Strongholds, which were big enough to be considered their own expansions at the time; they just didn't reset the patch counter so to speak. If we do include them as major milestones that broke up the flow of the game, expac duration actually breaks down like this:

2.0 - GSF: 301 days
GSF - GSH: 196 days
GSH - 3.0: 105 days

There wasn't a lot of time to get bored back then...

Mind you, I don't get bored that easily anyway. It's an interesting difference between me and my pet tank actually, which rears its head every time we try to play something new together. He gets super excited about new stuff and wants to binge on it 24/7, but then also gets bored more quickly. Meanwhile I also get excited about new things of course, but usually I don't want to stop doing everything else just because of that and will want to take short breaks pretty early on. This then also results in me staying interested much longer, long after my pet tank has already lost interest.

Anyway, that said... even I feel that 5.x has had its time in the sun and that the game could do with a bit of a shake-up by now. It's funny to me now to think back to how worried we were about Galactic Command taking forever to level up and how easy it became after a few patches. It actually served me well as something to keep busy, but after getting more than a dozen characters to Command rank 300 I'm really not that bothered anymore. The new conquest system had me engaged for a little while, and I do still participate in conquest every week, but I don't really want to engage in too many activities purely for the sake of grinding conquest points.

I do still have my Pugging videos to work on, and I've also been playing around with a new idea to spice up my alt play a little bit, but it is getting harder to come up with new things to do with Knights of the Eternal Throne rapidly approaching the two year mark. How is your engagement holding up?

28/06/2018

Endgame Pugging So Far

Pugette's adventures at max level continue, though I haven't been able to release new episodes as consistently as I did while I was levelling her through flashpoints. Partially this has been due to holidays etc., but partially also because the episodes about operations in particular actually take a lot more out of me than a simple flashpoint run, so I don't necessarily want to dedicate time to recording one every single week. That and wanting to run each operation when it's the featured op of the day through the group finder limit my options further. I've recorded five more episodes since April:


S2E2: Ragging on Uprisings - My first episode about uprisings actually only went on to reinforce why I don't like them all that much, though I was also reminded of some good things about them.

S2E3: Special Nathema Conspiracy Edition - Because I couldn't resist making an episode about a brand new flashpoint, even if I wasn't going to feature flashpoints in this season otherwise. This also featured what's probably my biggest ever gameplay fail in this series, though it was very funny (and goes to show that you shouldn't mistake my years of experience with much of the older content for innate ability).

S2E4: I love Eternity Vault (but nobody queues for it) - This was a bit of a game changer for me because I had planned to feature some more operations pugs built purely through the group finder, but after three full hours of waiting in the queue I got fed up with it and just joined a group from general chat. This did make me wonder whether SWTOR is seeing a bit of a seasonal population drop-off right now. Also, I committed another major fail in this episode, though I won't spoil what it is.

S2E5: Trying To Find The Fun in Uprisings - By this point I was actually wondering whether including uprisings in this was a good idea because I'm really not enjoying them all that much and I think it's very apparent in the way I talk about them. I feel I'm kind of committed now though. And they do give me a nice break from the more intense operations episodes...

S2E6: Getting into a partial guild run for Explosive Conflict - Here I initially failed to get a group through chat, but came back to it later and then ended up joining what turned out to be a partial guild run. Apologies to any members of BRACTWO whom I might have made look bad in any way; the awkward start to the run really threw me off though.

23/06/2018

Watching Clone Wars Season 1

I've never been a completionist when it comes to Star Wars fandom, someone who feels like they have to see or read all the things. For this reason I never had a particular desire to watch the Clone Wars TV series, because it was just another bit of supplementary material and aimed at kids to boot, so I couldn't be missing much, right?

However, as time has gone by it actually seems to have grown in importance. It was declared canon when so many other things were not. Ahsoka Tano became an aspirational character that grew beyond her origins, reminding me of the way people talked about Mara Jade back in the day, only more so. And I saw a lot of adults talk about the new animated show, Rebels, as well, lending credence to these being more than just light entertainment for the little ones. Finally, when I watched Solo... without spoiling anything, but something happens at the end of that film that doesn't really make sense if you've only seen the movies, but I was told that more explanation was provided in Clone Wars.

Next came the challenge of actually finding an avenue to watch it. I have neither a TV nor a Netflix subscription, and I don't do file sharing. I tried signing up for a free trial of Disney's Disney Life service in hopes that they might have it, but I couldn't even get the sign-up to work (it gave me a generic error every time). And DVDs proved hard to find at decent prices (at the time - looking at Amazon UK right now, they seem to be back in stock).

As it happened, I was on holiday last week and while browsing in a local electronics store, I spotted a DVD of season one for cheap, so I decided to grab it. At about twenty minutes per episode, they fit in well between other holiday activities. On a side note though, considering that I always perceived this as a kids' show, I was surprised to see that the German FSK had rated it as suitable for ages 12 and up (which is, incidentally, the same rating they gave the original Star Wars films).


The short of it is that I found what I watched pretty enjoyable. Each episode featured a healthy amount of what I'd describe as simple, condensed Star Wars fun: space battles, lightsaber duels and strange aliens included. That said, I also couldn't help but think that it must have gotten a lot better than this to have achieved the cult status it has. Ahsoka Tano for example didn't really do anything particularly remarkable throughout the entire season, and mostly seemed to serve as a foil for Anakin. (No matter who turned out to be right, they always seemed to disagree on something or other every episode.)

Watching Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker's adventures during the Clone Wars also made me kind of want to watch the prequels again to see how well it all fits in between episodes two and three, while at the same time worrying a bit that it probably doesn't. I mean, I really like the idea of Anakin having more personality than a piece of cardboard for example, but I'm not sure the portrayal we get of him in the show really gels with what's shown in the movies...

That said, I couldn't help but think that it feels like the show actually does the prequel area better justice in some ways than the prequels themselves. As implied above, Anakin Skywalker actually comes across as a person that did indeed accomplish great things and wasn't just whiny all the time. Or how about General Grievous? I always thought he seemed as a little silly with his twirling lightsabers and spider-like run in Episode 3, but Clone Wars actually embraces this and just turns him into a ridiculously over-the-top super villain who's always brooding and shaking his fists at things - but it kinda works! Likewise, the extremely disposable separatist battle droids are turned into properly silly mooks that often serve as comic relief and it actually feels appropriate more than anything else.

What was most interesting to me though was actually the realisation of just how much this show must have served as inspiration for SWTOR. Even the art style is somewhat similar - SWTOR veers a bit more towards realism, with less angular movements and more realistic proportions, but you can definitely see similarities.


For example I've often heard people complain that SWTOR's hair options don't look like real hair. I'm always like: "Duh, it's not supposed to." I wonder if people ever complained about Obi-Wan's beard not looking beardy enough here...

It's also quite obvious where inspiration for various classes came from: for example the episode "Rookies" features a clone trooper who's very much a proto-Commando, mowing things down with a giant assault cannon more than once.


Or how about Asajj Ventress? Everything this lady got up to in season one screamed "Sith Assassin" at me, and while she was using dual sabers the entire time, I've seen stills of her wielding a double-bladed lightsaber as well, so I know it's a thing.


We'll see when I'll get a chance to watch more... whenever I have internet available (which I didn't for most of my holiday), the lure of spending time on there instead of watching anything is usually too great, but my curiosity has certainly been piqued...

14/06/2018

Back In My Day: PvP Warzones

"Back In My Day" is an irregular series in which I talk about how certain aspects of Star Wars: The Old Republic have changed over the years. And boy, has it been a while since I last wrote one of these!

I originally started drafting this post after the Yavin Ruins warzone was released, which got me thinking about how far we've come in terms of available variety of content in PvP. With the big "Summer of PvP (changes)" coming up, I thought it was about time that I actually finished this post. Note that I won't cover all aspects of PvP here - I have limited knowledge of and no particular interest in talking about things like class balance and world PvP, so I'll be limiting myself solely to the subject of warzones.


Apparently I never took a screenshot of my main hitting Battlemaster rank, so here's my first alt hitting it instead.

Available modes and maps

At launch, we only had three different warzones: Alderaan Civil War, the Voidstar and Huttball. The latter actually received quite a bit of attention from critics and was frequently praised for being an innovative and unique type of instanced PvP in the MMO world (at the time). Among the player base it tended to be polarising: On one side there were those declaring it the best thing in the entire game, on the other those who would instantly quit any warzone as soon as they realised it was Huttball. I've had several of the latter type in my guild over the years, though more recently the Odessen Proving Grounds seem to have replaced Huttball as most passionately hated game mode.

Another quirk of Huttball was that, at the time, it was the only mode that would pit teams of the same faction against each other. On servers with a very imbalanced PvP population, this meant that the larger faction would spend a disproportionate amount of time just playing Huttball against itself, which gave people another reason to dislike it.

The following maps and game modes were then introduced to the game over time:

Novare Coast - added in patch 1.2 (April 2012)
Ancient Hypergates - added in patch 1.6 (December 2012)
Arenas (Corellia Square, Orbital Station & Tatooine Canyon) - added in patch 2.4 (October 2013)
Makeb Mesa Arena - added in patch 2.5 (December 2013)
Quesh Huttball - added in patch 2.7 (April 2014)
Odessen Proving Grounds & Rishi Cove Arena - added in patch 4.3 (April 2016)
Yavin Ruins - added in patch 5.6.1 (December 2017)

As you can see, the first additions came quickly and then still more were added at a decent pace for a while, with the biggest gap being the two years between Quesh Huttball and the Proving Grounds.


Ch-ch-ch-changes

Apart from releasing new warzones, Bioware has actually made only a remarkably small amount of major changes to the way existing warzones function (I'm not counting bug fixes, map adjustments to counter exploits and the like).

When Novare Coast was added to the game in 1.2, the idea of same-faction "training exercises" was first introduced. Before then - as mentioned above - Huttball had been the only option the game gave you to play if there weren't enough players from the other faction in the queue to form an opposing team. Alderaan Civil War and Voidstar were modified to support same-faction play two months later, in patch 1.3. Mixed-faction play wasn't introduced until the Odessen Proving Grounds were added to the game, and until the release of the Yavin Ruins it was also the only map that offered this option.

1.3 was also the first time Bioware changed the layout of a warzone, by cluttering up the first room in Voidstar to make it harder to switch from one side to the other. All that junk in the middle wasn't always there! Their reasoning for this change was that too many matches seemed to end with nobody breaching the first door, which was rather boring. Ever since then, your best chance to hold off the enemy has been the second set of doors (after the bridge), where the way from one door to the other is shortest. It's interesting that Bioware's reasoning for many of the upcoming changes to Voidstar has been pretty much the same they gave back then: that there are still too many stalemates in this warzone. The more things change...

2.3 saw a big change to Alderaan Civil War, where until then you had been able to take a speeder from your ship directly to one of the side turrets if you owned it. This made the side turrets quite easy to defend by sheer zerging, and Bioware eventually decided that they didn't like it. They had already previously tried to rein this in by giving the side speeders an activation time in patch 1.1.5, but that hadn't been quite enough.

Another change that I consider major and that came in the aforementioned patch 1.1.5 was that capping an objective would no longer be interrupted by damage-over-time effects. In late Shadow of Revan Bioware also tested the option of making caps unaffected by AoE damage on the PTS, but this was fortunately never implemented into the live game as general feedback was that it was very much not fun. They did however make "fire and forget" AoE like a Sniper's Plasma Probe unable to break caps eventually (in patch 5.3).

Going back to damage-over-time abilities though, do you remember that they used to be cleansable? It wasn't until 3.0 that the ability to remove enemy DoTs in PvP was taken out of the game. As a healer I remember being somewhat annoyed by this at the time, but then again my Commando main had always been powerless when it came to the countless Force-based DoTs anyway, so it didn't end up making that much of a difference to me personally in the end.


Bolster & Brackets

Our beloved Bolster has been in game since launch, though it went through a lot of tweaks over the years. One thing that's interesting to consider is that at launch Bioware was so confident in Bolster that all levels of characters were thrown into warzones together. However, people soon complained about the unfairness of fully geared max-level players smashing everyone else, so that level 50s (max level at the time) were split off into their own bracket as early as patch 1.1.

When the level cap was raised to 55 in 2.0, the levelling bracket was split again, into 10-29 and 30-54, which is how things have remained ever since, though the separation line has moved slightly upwards as the level cap increased yet again (currently the brackets are 10-40 and 41-69).

The 2.0 patch was also when Bolster first took gear rating at max level into consideration. Before then it had only applied to levelling characters, and once you hit the level cap it disappeared, which meant that characters who had only just arrived at the level cap were faced with a nasty surprise when they entered their next warzone, as they were suddenly much weaker than they had been in the levelling bracket. Bioware had initially tried to counter this by handing out cheap (and later even completely free) starter PvP gear, but eventually figured that it was more straightforward to just bake the effect into people's stats (as in, make it part of Bolster) as soon as they entered the warzone. I remember that they got this hilariously wrong at launch though, resulting in characters being at their most powerful if they wore no armour at all - as I noted in my Rise of the Hutt Cartel launch post while being mauled by Imperials in their undies.

Ranked

Ranked 8-man warzones were first introduced in patch 1.3 in June 2012 and were live for a little over a year until August 2013. Considering the brevity of their lifespan, it's quite astounding that there are still people campaigning for them to make a comeback nearly five years later. However, fact is that they were only played by a tiny, tiny minority of players (which Eric Musco has confirmed multiple times by now), which meant they weren't really viable in the long run. My own experiences with them were limited to not being hugely excited the first time I participated, being impressed by the community efforts displayed by those who cared about the system, then finally watching all the dedicated PvP guilds transfer off the server to chase the dream of some kind of ranked nirvana on the then-PvP server Tomb of Freedon Nadd, until the whole system finally collapsed.

Ultimately 8-man ranked warzones were replaced by 4-man ranked arenas, which have also had their ups and downs, including issues with cheaters and win-traders, but since they are still in the game nearly five years later I guess they must have worked out OK. I can't really comment on what's been going on with them otherwise, as I haven't actually set foot in one of them myself since the very first ranked arena season, unless you count the one time I accidentally ended up in a team ranked match with some guildies after the guy who queued us pressed the wrong button (we had meant to queue for normal warzones).


Gear

Finally, it's worth making a brief mention of gear. Without going into too much detail, PvP gearing didn't go through too many major changes before the introduction of Galactic Command, which eliminated all distinctions between PvE and PvP gear. Before that, PvP gear had been defined by its expertise stat, which increased your output and decreased your damage taken in PvP only. (I've actually had a long-time player claim that expertise wasn't in game at SWTOR's launch and was introduced later, but I haven't been able to verify that. It was certainly around by the time I started PvPing, though admittedly that wasn't on day one.)

You've also been able to buy gear with earned commendations since as far back as I can remember. Initially the best gear however could only be obtained from the infamous Battlemaster bags, which awarded gear tokens at random. Later the various PvP commendations that the game launched with were all rolled into warzone commendations, and the better gear could be bought with special ranked warzone commendations. However, since you could also directly trade the former for the latter at a ratio of 3:1, people were able to avoid ranked while still gaining the best rewards by simply doing three times as much regular PvP. Bioware later tacitly supported this by getting rid of ranked comms altogether and just making the better gear more expensive. Nowadays all ranked rewards are purely cosmetic (titles, mounts etc.).

Aside from old gear sets being retired, new sets being introduced and various price tweaks, that's pretty much how things functioned for several years... until Knights of the Eternal Throne got rid of the expertise stat and of PvP gear as something distinct from PvE gear and introduced Galactic Command. However, since then there have been mutterings about maybe reintroducing expertise... so who knows what the future will bring?

As an aside, while I was searching my Google folder for the blog to see if I had uploaded the screenshots used in this post before, I noticed that it kept showing me search results whose file name had nothing to do with the search term (e.g. "Battlemaster"). Then I noticed that it had shown me those pictures because there were people with the Battlemaster title displayed shown in the pictures. Your AI is freaking me out, Google.

10/06/2018

R.I.P. Faction Rivalry & Other PvP Changes

Last week Eric Musco started to use the forums to talk to players about some of the planned PvP changes to gather feedback. And you can tell that Bioware has been taking it seriously because they've actually already gone back on one major change after it wasn't well received! That's really good to see.

That said... considering that all of these changes are supposed to be improvements, I'm feeling so-so about what's been announced so far. Some things do sound good to me and like they could shake up the meta in interesting ways, but others have me taking a more sceptical stance. I'm not saying they'll be bad, but I'll actually have to see them in action for myself to be convinced that they really are as good as the devs think they will be, because to me there are some obvious downsides.

I won't go down the list bullet point by bullet point as others have already done a good job of that, but I do want to talk about some key changes.

First off, some general goodness: They are making some changes to forcefully stop cheaters that were using hacks to move around the map to places where they shouldn't have been able to go. After having witnessed people walk through forcefields or teleport themselves inside walls recently, I'm all for that. The only thing that makes me a little sad is that these changes all follow a brute force approach, which is to say the devs are putting up new barriers and causing players to be auto-killed if they enter an area that should be inaccessible. The reason this makes me sad is that the addition of extra force fields in the second room of the Voidstar will make a perfectly legitimate but tricky tactic to cross the chasm before the bridges are down impossible in the future. They didn't say anything about intentionally wanting to kill this manoeuvre, so I assume the change wasn't targeted at people doing this specifically and will just kill it as a side effect.

Matchmaking

The biggest announcement for me was confirmation of the matchmaking changes, which started with a statement that all warzones will become cross-faction. I've said in the past that I've never been a huge fan of that idea, so that was a bit of a downer to me. Don't get me wrong, I see the potential benefits. But I also liked feeling a certain faction pride in PvP, and that Bioware actually cared about the warzones making some sort of sense. (So when they initially enabled same-faction matches for all warzones for example, they changed the voice-overs to say that it was just a training exercise.) I wonder if they'll even bother to try and come up with anything to give completely mixed teams in warzones like Civil War or Novare Coast some legitimacy. Considering that the plans for the overall story line are to make Republic vs. Empire more of a focus again, ditching it completely in PvP seems a bit strange to say the least. (The other day I actually got teamed up with a guy in Yavin Ruins that thought his Imp being put on the same team as a bunch of Pubs was a bug. We had to explain that it wasn't.)


Then there is the planned role balancing for tanks and healers. Again, in principle this sounds like a good idea. One team being virtually unkillable due to an over-abundance of tanks and healers can be... interesting sometimes but generally it doesn't make for the most fun matches. What has me worried is that they are seemingly planning to lump tanks and healers into a single "support" role which will then be limited to two per team. (I don't think this has been 100% confirmed as the wording of the forum post is a bit ambiguous, but that's certainly what it sounds like.) As someone who often plays healers I'm certainly not looking forward to having longer queues just because there are usually a lot of us queuing when I play!

In addition I have to say that being the only healer in an 8-man team is actually rarely fun, because if the enemy puts a mark on your head there'll be nobody there to support you, so I'm not looking forward to that becoming more common. And no, I'm not really counting pug tanks as potential support. Don't get me wrong, a well-played tank can be a huge asset to your team, but from my experience many tanks in unranked are pretty bad... and yes, healers can be bad too, but at least they generally know that they are supposed to heal. Yet if I had a credit for every time I've run into someone who was specced into tanking in PvP yet earned zero protection points throughout the entire match... yeah. I wouldn't be surprised if tanks became pretty unpopular after this change, seeing how they'll be seen as "taking up a healer slot".

Interestingly there's been no mention of being able to select any maps as ones that you would prefer or want to avoid; I wonder if they've already given up on that. Though the new matchmaker will make arenas much less likely to pop in unranked apparently, which seems fair considering that you can always target them specifically by queuing for ranked. Once upon a time I would have been super happy about this change as I wasn't too thrilled by the introduction of arenas, but considering how many different maps have a chance to pop by now anyway, a certain percentage of those being arenas hasn't actually bothered me in a long time.

The one thing that really has me intrigued is that they are planning to include "skill" rating in the matchmaking process in the future, and that this is something they've apparently been tracking since the game's launch. (I put "skill" in quotes because presumably your skill has only a limited amount of influence on your team winning or losing in a random 8-man.) My first reaction was actually: I want to be able to see this! It should still be hidden from others of course, so that people would only know yours if you personally told them, but I would certainly find it fun to confidentially compare my stats with those of my friends (or even among different alts, assuming that this rating is character and not account based.)

Then again, even that could have negative side effects, especially as it's been stated that if you queue as a group, your group's rating will be based on that of the highest ranked player, not an average of all group members. That means that while in the past it was always a given that you would be happy for a highly skilled guild mate to join you, with such a rating system you might want to think twice before inviting Mr PvP Pro, considering that having him along will also drastically increase your chances of facing some very stiff competition in the next match... ah, it's fun to speculate about such things.

Gameplay Changes

Gameplay-wise, most of the proposed changes seem to be aimed at making matches faster and giving the offense more of a leg up (and Eric did state outright that this was their goal), though there are some outliers. Changes that fall into this category are ships taking faster damage on Alderaan and on Yavin, shorter cap timers in Voidstar, and the respawn area opening up more frequently in Ancient Hypergates than it does right now. I don't think the first two will make that much of a difference, as the only times when those maps seem to drag are when one or more of the turrets remain uncapped for a long time, and I think that will continue to be a drag regardless.


The shorter Voidstar cap timers are interesting though, as they will make lone defenders much more vulnerable to stealth capping. In case you don't know, long-duration crowd control in PvP lasts eight seconds at max, and caps in Voidstar currently take exactly the same amount of time. This means that it's very hard to pull off a cap after crowd-controlling, since there's always a tiny delay between your CC going off and you being able to start to cap, so that the CC will inevitably run out just before the cap finishes, giving the defender a chance to interrupt. With the cap timer being two seconds shorter than the CC duration, capping will become much easier - this can already be observed in Ancient Hypergates, where the time to cap a pylon has always been six seconds.

Changes that sort of go into the opposite direction, making matches slightly longer, have been announced for arenas and Huttball. In arenas the acid now won't kill you quite as quickly if the match goes into overtime and will gradually reduce healing done instead of instantly making it completely ineffective. This I'm actually really happy about, as the complete immunity to heals as soon as the acid hit always turned healers into a liability instead of an asset, because suddenly the winner was whoever could do more damage to the enemy more quickly. This way it will be more balanced and still give healers a chance to continue contributing, even as death slowly becomes inevitable.

Huttball was always going to be a special case based on how different it is from most game modes, so I guess it shouldn't be surprising that this was the one where Bioware ended up going back on their initial proposal. Their initial suggestion was to have the Huttball apply a hindered debuff (similar to what you get when you get hit by a Commando or Merc's Electro Net), disabling leaps, speed boosts and immunities. I'm glad that they decided to not go with that plan, because while it can be annoying when a well-played character uses their speed boosts to zoom across the map towards the goal line at high speeds, the sheer utility of these abilities in the Pit compared to other maps is part of what makes Huttball fun.

I'm quite happy with what they've announced instead, which is that Giradda will kill the ball carrier if they hold on to the ball for 45 seconds (down from two minutes). With the two minute timer I've actually seen this happen only very rarely, usually when the ball was caught by a newbie who didn't know how to pass and just kept running around aimlessly. Bringing this down to 45 seconds won't prevent someone from trying to make a fast run for the goal line, but they shouldn't be able to brute force it on their own via cooldown use if the enemy is actually slowing them and they aren't getting any support from their team mates.

That said, I find it interesting that Bioware felt the need to slow down scoring in the first place if one of their stated goals was faster matches. Yes, encouraging team play and all that... but that was already a big aspect of Huttball anyway. In a similar vein they've stated that in the future you'll have to score ten goals instead of six to win... which to be honest sounds more painful than fun to me, because rare is the match where you get to one team scoring six times and that actually being balanced and fun. Usually when one team is able to score six times it's because they are completely steamrolling the opposition and the poor losers are just waiting for the pain to end. Having to wait for ten goals in the future doesn't strike me as an improvement.


Sadly there's been no mention of trying to address the desync problems yet...