In The Shadows

I got a new PC a couple of weeks into Onslaught, and after playing through the new story both on the old machine and the new one, I was surprised to find some noticeable differences between the screenshots I had taken on one vs. the other. I thought that I'd already been playing with maxed out settings beforehand, but the newer screenshots seem to indicate otherwise.

Most striking was the difference in terms of shadows in shots like this one of Darth Shaar on Mek-Sha:

The second one made for a much moodier scene, giving the briefing room a dark and sinister air that was pretty appropriate for the situation... but it doesn't make for very good character shots.

This got me thinking about how much enabling bloom changed my perception of certain things back when I first did that. Now, glowing archaeology crystals are one thing, but later on I noticed that it was also causing other, more subtle changes, as you can see in these before and after screenshots:

Notice how in the second/newer screenshot everything in the background is blurry (at least I think it's bloom that's causing this - EDIT: now that I'm checking again, this might actually be the setting called "conversation depth of field"). It gives the whole scene what I'd call a more cinematic feel, with the camera being tightly focused on the characters instead of giving the eye a chance to get distracted by background detail.

It has a clear purpose, but even so... I can't say that blurring the background strikes me as objectively "better" than not doing so. I like the effect enough to keep it, but it's still a strange new experience for me that turning everything up to max doesn't necessarily result in the best possible graphics.

I'll definitely have to have a think about whether I want to turn down the shadows in particular, now that having them is apparently an option, simply because while it's a cool effect it doesn't make for the best screenshots. And I love taking screenshots way too much.

Have you ever opted for "worse" graphic settings not for performance reasons but because you actually thought the game looked better that way?


Flashpoints & Operations by Group Finder Level

This is that purely informational post I said I was going to make when I first found out about the unannounced adjustments to the group finder made in 6.0.

As far as I can tell the minimum levels set in 4.0 haven't been adjusted game-wide, so that you can still manually walk into any veteran flashpoint from level 15 upwards for example, however the group finder will only let you queue for content that it considers level-appropriate now. This mostly corresponds to the levels the content was originally designed for, with some minor tweaks made to the ranges for lower-level flashpoints.

Here is what you can access at each level:

Republic only veteran flashpoint: The Esseles
Imperial only veteran flashpoint: The Black Talon

Veteran flashpoints: Hammer Station, Kuat Drive Yards

Veteran flashpoint: Athiss

Veteran flashpoint: Mandalorian Raiders

Veteran flashpoint: Cademimu

Republic only veteran flashpoints: Taral V, Maelstrom Prison
Imperial only veteran flashpoints: Boarding Party, The Foundry

Veteran flashpoint: The Red Reaper

Veteran flashpoint: Directive 7

Veteran flashpoint: Battle of Ilum

Veteran flashpoint: False Emperor,
Operations: Eternity Vault, Karagga's Palace (note that these are on a rotation, so only show up about once a week)

Veteran flashpoints: Korriban Incursion, Assault on Tython, Depths of Manaan, Legacy of the Rakata, Battle of Rishi, Blood Hunt

Veteran flashpoints: Czerka Corporate Labs, Czerka Core Meltdown
Operations: Toborro's Courtyard (single boss operation that is always available), Terror From Beyond & The Legions of Scum and Villainy (operations on rotation)

Operations: Colossal Monolith (single boss operation that is always available), The Ravagers & Temple of Sacrifice (operations on rotation)

Veteran flashpoints: Crisis on Umbara, A Traitor Among The Chiss, The Nathema Conspiracy, Objective Meridian
All master mode flashpoints
All story & veteran uprisings
Operations: Hive of the Mountain Queen (single boss operation that is always available), Gods from the Machine (on rotation)

Operation: Nature of Progress (on rotation)


Currency Confusion

When was the last time you participated in one of the recurring world events (Bounty Contract Week, Rakghoul Resurgence etc.)? Personally, since I tend to binge on every new event when it first comes out to max out my reputation and earn all the rewards that interest me right away, I tend to not go back to them that often.

The other week however I did, and learned to my surprise that the world events have been touched by Onslaught in an undocumented way as well - undocumented and very weird.

You see, all of these events tend to have one or two event currencies that are usually legacy-bound (there are some exceptions). And when I say currency here, I mean actual items that go into your inventory. Yes, it would have been more convenient to have them be part of the currency tab, but at the same time I personally didn't think that this system was too bad. It was just one more thing to store in your legacy cargo bay.

With Onslaught though, something odd happened. The old currency tokens still exist as they were, but any new ones you earn go into your currency tab - hurray! However, that currency is bound to that specific character, not legacy-wide. Oh no! Except... you can go to the vendor and spend this character-bound currency to buy a new token which goes into your inventory and can be traded across your legacy again. These new tokens can't be used to actually buy anything though; you always have to go to a vendor and convert it to the character-bound currency first before you can purchase anything.

Confused yet? I can't even begin to imagine what purpose this was supposed to serve. My best theory is that some new programmer was told to convert all the event tokens into a currency, but they didn't realise it was supposed to be legacy-wide currency and made it character currency instead. Then someone more senior noticed the mistake at the last moment, but in the mysterious ways of code, changing the entire thing to a legacy currency on such short notice actually would have been more difficult than adding a new legacy-wide token to the vendor that you can buy and sell with the character currency.
Sounds convoluted and far-fetched? For sure, but I just can't picture anyone intentionally coming up with the weirdness we have now.

Worse, as I said at the start, there used to be some exceptions to the legacy-bound rule... for example Bounty Brokers Association contracts were actually tradeable between players (mercenary as bounty hunters are), so some people basically only gathered them to sell, and others bought them to save themselves from having to do dozens of repeatable quests to buy a reputation reward. Under the new system the contracts are bound though and that whole mini-ecosystem has been destroyed.

It's all very strange and I'd love to hear some kind of official statement from Bioware what this change was all about. I know that these events are probably only a minority pursuit on a grand scale, but it's still strange to see this sudden convoluted mess.


My SWTOR Predictions for 2020

I didn't make any predictions for 2019 because I was still befuddled by just how wrong my predictions for 2018 had turned out to be, but also because I was genuinely uncertain about SWTOR's direction at the time, what with 6.0 having been perpetually delayed (not officially, but everyone was so sure that it was about to be announced any moment now... and then it wasn't).

Since Onslaught's launch it feels like the game has a much clearer path ahead - which is not to say that I necessarily expect my predictions to be right, but at least I have some things to base them on if that makes sense. To be honest I expect a lot of them to turn out wrong, but I feel they are at least educated guesses.

Note that some of these predictions concern story direction post-Onslaught and will therefore contain spoilers if you haven't played through the expansion story yet.

1. The Emperor's Last Gruesome Weapon won't actually turn out to be that big of a deal, for all the time Scourge and Kira spent expositioning about it. I expect we'll get to see this story arc relatively late in the year, October at the earliest. It will be smaller than Ossus was, with no exciting new environments and largely the same storyline for both Republic and Empire players. Depending on some previous story choices, you'll get the option to kill Master Satele. Either way you stop the weird mind plague before it can actually bring the Emperor back or anything like that, and we can finally move on from this subject.

2. Darth Malgus will get in touch with Imperial players somehow and give you the option to ally with him like many of us always kind of wanted to on Ilum. The idea will be that you help him overthrow Acina/Vowrawn so that he can position himself as the new Emperor, not false this time! This might not actually happen yet in 2020 but there should at least be a smaller story snippet setting things up and having you meet with Malgus. I'm not sure what Republic players could get that's equally as interesting, mind you...

3. GSF will get a nice amount of love mid-year, with more than just some balance changes and a new map. There might even be a new game mode and/or new ships in the cards!

4. PvP will also get a new warzone at some point, though it might "just" be a new map for an existing game mode. More importantly though, someone at Bioware will finally figure out what's up with the weird desync in Huttball and fix it, or at least make it better... Yeah okay, I don't really think that one's going to happen, but I really, really want it to!

5. We still won't get Zenith back in 2020. It's mind-blowing to me now that we thought his return was imminent back in 2016 and yet here we are nearly four years later and he's the very last of the original companions that's still unaccounted for. I really wish we could get him back already, not least because he's my favourite of the original consular companions... however, looking at how Bioware has handled companion returns in the last year and a half, I've really enjoyed the way they've worked them into the main story again, compared to the rather disappointing Alliance alerts from two years ago. So I'm happy to wait if that means he'll get a nicely integrated return later on, preferably something involving Balmorra, considering his strong attachment to his home world. I just can't see that fitting into what's coming up in the short term.


Hammer Station No More

Let's ring in the new year with an update on my Nautolan Shadow's progress levelling through flashpoints.

Hammer Sta... Kuat Drive Yards!
I levelled: 38-40

As it was the start of a new week I queued for the full selection of available flashpoints once again, expecting to be thrown into Hammer Station for this transgression (when the queue popped I could see that we had a level 17 in the group so it couldn't have been anything other than that, Kuat or Athiss), but I got Kuat again! Yay!

In this one I was actually the highest level, grouped with two Sentinels and another Shadow below me. The Shadow was the lowest level and admitted that it was her first time in a flashpoint of any kind. Poor thing got lost at the very beginning as she couldn't even find the elevator but I showed her the way.

We got the Starship Assembly first and things went well enough, except for one or two deaths, which I consider fairly normal in a low-level group with no healer. But one of the Sentinels clearly wasn't happy, as (from what I could tell) he started swearing in Polish after dying once. Then he jumped into another big pull all on his own while the rest of the group was still low on health from the previous fight, died shortly thereafter and finally quit the group.

I re-queued us for a replacement unfazed and tried to actually do the puzzle properly since neither of the two lowbies seemed to know what to do and were therefore unlikely to interfere, but I messed it up and picked the wrong options anyway. D'oh! A level 75 Shadow joined the group just as we finished the section.

The second part was the hangar, and I'm happy to say that for once we completed all the bonuses in that one!

The final boss was Lieutenant Krupp again. I explained what to do and everyone executed things perfectly so that we got him down on the first try. Afterwards I stayed grouped with the newbie Shadow for a bit longer and she told me that she played other MMOs but had only just got started on SWTOR. She also said that she'd had fun in the flashpoint and added me as a friend. Warm fuzzies all around!

Hammer Sta... Taral V!
I levelled: 40-42

My initial enthusiasm for these runs diminished a lot after the first week, which made me log in to work on this project more infrequently, but being ill for a few days caused me to take a break for a full week, so that I soon found myself with the weekly quest yet again. Again I braved the full random selection and did not get Hammer Station - instead I found myself getting sent to Taral V, which was handy as I had the story quest for it too.

Taral V is one of those places where I always struggle with the majority's desire to skip as much as possible, but this time around I decided to take it easy and go with the flow. The other dps was a Nautolan Sage, and we had a level 75 tank and healer, so I let the tank lead us past most trash and bonus objectives, just doing their thing. The only skip that stung a bit was Doctor Zharan, whom I consider a very fun boss and I always expect him to drop loot (though I later verified that he doesn't), but I didn't say anything either way. At least with full restedness I still gained two levels despite all the skips.

Ha... Mandalorian Raiders
I levelled: 42-43

Third time in a row that I queued for everything and didn't get Hammer Station! Is the madness finally over? Even better, I got another flashpoint that Nautalie hadn't done yet.

This was another all-dps group, consisting of me, a level 75 Guardian and Commando, and a level 41 Sage. Contrary to expectations, the 75s didn't seem entirely sure what to do and were initially very hesitant to make the pulls, despite of it being the most sensible thing for them to do considering our level distribution. The Commando also ran off into completely the wrong direction (which is to say backwards) after we took the shortcut involving the elevator. Meanwhile the Sage seemed to be the one person who knew what they were doing... never judge your pugs by their level!

The first boss was the usual crazy mess (though nobody died) and it was once again mostly down to me to click kolto stations. I'm coming to appreciate that it really is an art, knowing when to click these, in particular that you need to start thinking about doing it before you're almost dead.

The Boarding Party was interesting in so far as I swear that I've killed its members in the same order pretty much since the dawn of time (warrior, inquisitor, then agent and bounty hunter more or less simultaneously), but as usual pugs are great at providing new experiences. I didn't actually know what would happen if you changed the order... as it was, the group actually left Rotham for last and he promptly one-shot the Sage with a Force choke from hell the moment all his friends were dead. Good thing I had been hitting him at least, so he didn't have that much health left.

Considering how it had been going I made sure to highlight the rule not to attack the final boss while turrets are up, and fortunately everyone was compliant in that regard so that we downed Mavrix Varad himself with no problems.

Ha... Cademimu
I levelled: 43-45

This was a run with three level 75s, two Sentinels and a healing Sage. Considering that, it was still harder than expected. The Sage was one of those odd healers where I'm never quite sure what they are doing, because he was obviously healing specced and I could see him cast healing spells, but somehow we were still all on half health even on the most mundane of pulls. On two of the bosses I had to click a kolto station because I was about to die from a complete lack of any incoming heals, just to get yanked away from it right afterwards by the very same Sage as if I he as annoyed at me daring to keep myself alive. Very odd.

I learned two new trash-skipping tricks, both of which failed and generally (as these things so often are) seemed way more hassle than simple killing the mobs we were trying to bypass. But I guess it's still interesting to know to what lengths people will go to in places to avoid killing one more mob.

Finally, on the last boss the healer died to rocket fire and then tried to tell us what to do while lying dead on the floor. One of the Sentinels died as well, but me and the other Sent finished the boss off just fine with just the two of us. It was just one of those groups that kind of grated on me despite of nothing going terribly wrong - I just didn't really like the juxtaposition of the dps being in a hurry and wanting to skip everything with a healer who came across as having a pretty high opinion of himself while doing very little healing.

Ha... Kuat Drive Yards again
I levelled: 45-46

And fifth time in a row that I didn't get Hammer Station! Though it was Kuat again, but then I'm not really tired of that one yet. This run was already in progress and halfway through the Starship Assembly when I joined. It didn't look to me like they were going for any of the bonuses, but when I saw the elite defender just sitting in a corner I asked whether we should kill it, and while I got no verbal reply someone else immediately charged it, so yay for communication I guess? As there was some dithering about the actual starship assembly I started to wonder whether they were actually trying to solve it, but the prototype turned out to be a failure as usual.

The second half was the prison wing, which we also blasted through in short order. This time the elite defender just kind of sat in the way of one of our objectives anyway, so I didn't even ask before charging it. I was happy to get all three bonus missions done for once!

We finished up with Lord Modo and I defaulted to clicking the kolto stations again, but this time it was more out of habit than due to a feeling that we were all going to die if I wasn't looking after our health. I haven't mentioned it yet, but this party also consisted of three level 75 damage dealers (two geared, one not) but for once the effect was actually as expected, which is to say that everything melted in short order.

I'm up to having nine flashpoints unlocked and not far off unlocking more at this point, so hopefully I'll be able to keep queuing for a random without being put into Hammer Station all the time anymore. It's certainly more fun to see some variety.


The Rise of Skywalker

So I finally went to see The Rise of Skywalker - a full 11 days after its release! I had to go on my own as well, since we don't have any friends that live close by and Mr Commando had been even more annoyed by The Last Jedi than me, to the point where he didn't even care to see how the whole trilogy was going to end anymore. You bet that I still cared though!

Movie poster from starwars.com

That said, I didn't go into the film with high expectations - rather the opposite in fact. From what I'd gathered from the spoiler-free commentary I'd seen, reviews were kind of mixed, which they had been for Last Jedi too. There seemed to be a weird kind of inversion though, where the people who loved Episode VIII seemed to hate this one and vice versa (obviously this isn't true for everyone... but it does seem to be the general trend).

After having seen the movie, my own opinion aligns with this as well. I didn't hate Last Jedi, but my overall feeling was that I found it unsatisfying and disappointing. And I didn't love The Rise of Skywalker, but I did have a good time with it.

This wasn't actually true from the start, as I didn't enjoy the first third or so of the film very much at all (I didn't check the exact time). It just felt like one fast-paced action sequence after another, with characters only being allowed to have the barest of dialogue to advance the plot. It kind of reminded me of bad fan fiction and actually left me feeling a bit bored if you can believe it, just because I couldn't really connect to anything that was going on.

Then there was one scene that genuinely surprised me though, and from that point on I started to get more engaged. (I think it also helped that around this time the film started to slow down a little in so far as it actually allowed the viewer to take in new scenes for more than a couple of moments.) I still found myself thinking "what the fuck is even going on, this makes no sense" a lot, but at the same time I actually cared about what was going on... which is a win I guess?

The climax is this bombastic CGI fest where the threats/powers just keep increasing and there's no real sense of place anymore as it's all just shadows and lasers and lightning (and to think people complained about the ending of Wonder Woman...) but I did have my eyes glued to the screen wondering how it would all end. The rest of the audience seemed to enjoy themselves as well, with some people even clapping at the end, and I left the movie theatre in a good mood.

With that said, as I'm sure you can tell from the way I phrased things above, I can totally understand people who didn't like this movie as well, because, well... it is a bit trashy in parts, similar to a mediocre fanfic or a low-grade EU novel. Just take the whole setup of Palpatine being back somehow, and having been behind everything somehow, and don't worry too much about everything that happened in the previous two films, just know that he suddenly has a giant fleet of Star Destroyers that all have planet-killing weapons and we've got to worry about that now. (I'm not sure I can even call that a spoiler, considering that most of this is revealed in the first five minutes of the film.) Or just look at the way certain characters that the writer didn't like are suddenly shunted into the background and behave completely differently (poor Rose)...

Anyway, this might sound weird but I'm kind of glad that the sequel trilogy is over now. Hopefully we can stop arguing about what true Star Wars fans should think of this or that on social media now. I still remember when Episode I came out and many people claimed that the idea of midichlorians had now ruined Star Wars and the Force forever! Yet where are we now? Ultimately, people just pick and choose the parts they like and drop anything they don't like by more or less pretending that it was never mentioned in the first place. I'm honestly curious to see what everyone will consider the memorable parts of the sequel trilogy in ten to twenty years from now.


Happy Life Day etc.

I hope everyone's having a good holiday season, whether you've been celebrating anything or not. I don't know if it's inevitable to get disenchanted with Christmas as you get older or whether it's simply dependent on your personal circumstances, but let's just say that I'm mostly glad to have it over with, and relieved that it went as well as it did.

In game it's Life Day again of course. I realised that I haven't written about that event in quite some time, but to be honest there simply hasn't been much to talk about. I first wrote about Life Day when it was introduced to SWTOR back in December 2013. In December 2014 I commented on the addition of the Overheated Gift Droids. And ever since then... there hasn't really been much to say since the event didn't change (other than some rotation among the offerings on the Cartel Market - I mentioned buying a red-nosed tauntaun in 2016).

This year Bioware finally decided to inject some new life into Life Day (yes, I went there)... with the addition of wookiee hugging! There is now a quest and several achievements for hugging wookiee revellers, not by using the /hug emote but by utilising a special temporary ability that appears if you stand in just the right spot and which results in you and the wookiee having a proper cuddle.

It's cute, though I think the top achievement requiring one thousand such hugs is a bit insane (and yes, I know people who've already got it). I did run around hugging some wookiees on several characters, but ultimately it's a bit fiddly to find the right spot to be able to perform the hug and I got bored.

It did make me give the other activities another look though. I rediscovered snowball-throwing as a nice way to pass the time while waiting for PvP pops and between boss attempts in operations for example - I'd forgotten just how chill and relaxing that can be. I even invested into the Life Day Snowball Cannon at last, an item that I'd been eyeing for a few years but every time I finally resolved to buy it, it had already disappeared from the Cartel Market again.

I was also surprised to discover that Nar Shaddaa is a veritable hotbed of Life Day celebrations. Not only does the promenade have lots of wookiees to hug, there are also oodles of gift droids around, a feature that I had thought was still limited to Coruscant and Dromund Kaas. Unfortunately I only had limited success coaxing gifts out of the droids simply because they require a crowd to function optimally, and there weren't any organised groups hunting them on Nar Shaddaa like I had seen on Coruscant in the past.

Anyway, I just wanted to share my renewed appreciation for this event and how it's different from many other world events in the way it has no real organised activities, just seasonal hugging and snowflakes. And I'm down with that. Now if only Bioware hadn't decided to also launch the Total Galactic War conquest event on Christmas Eve of all days... no season for peace in a galaxy far, far away!


Happy 8th Blogday to me!

As is traditional, my blog's anniversary comes two days after SWTOR's own birthday. In terms of blogging activity, this year has been similar to last in that overall, I wrote a bit less than the previous average, largely because I found myself struggling for a few months mid-year, though there was once again a burst of activity when we got a big new content release towards the end of the year.

I rang in 2019 by loading up Elder Scrolls Online of all things, a game that I had abandoned at a very low level several years prior. What I had expected to be only a brief spur of the moment adventure actually ended up with me subscribing for a while, and I was really into it for about three months... then I spent another three months just logging in for the daily log-in rewards and to train my mount and that was that. Still, it was a fun and educational experience and I might revisit some day.

In SWTOR I was still busy on Ossus, where after having spent most of December praising the new content, I got a bit critical by highlighting various bugs and analysing the new ways of getting gear. I also shared my seven golden rules for happy pugging, bemoaned that the new guild perk system was confusing, and - inspired by the new saboteur path introduced with Jedi Under Siege - considered the practical implications of the idea of changing factions, since faction involves a lot more complications in SWTOR than in most other MMOs.

Somewhat related to that, I used February to write about why I enjoy the faction conflict in SWTOR and consider it an important part of the setting. I also wrote a silly little top five list, and looked back at the strangely troubled developments of the two "Knights of" expansions. Oh, and I married my pet tank in real life. Minor thing, that.

In March I looked at just how much time I had spent playing SWTOR in February, since I had installed an app called ManicTime on my PC at the start of the month. By the way, while I haven't written about it again, I kept that app running all year, and so far I've racked up more than 36 days of SWTOR playtime for 2019. That's more than a whole month spent doing nothing but playing SWTOR! For comparison, the other MMOs I played this year came in at 16 days for WoW Classic (which is not bad considering it only came out at the end of August), 11 days for ESO, and 46 hours for Neverwinter. Sorry Neverwinter, we're clearly over.

Other things I wrote about in March included MMO superstitions (or the strange ideas people come up with when they can't tell what triggers certain bugs), musings on how level sync works in SWTOR vs. ESO, and Swtorista's "sweep event" celebrating the milestone of her YouTube channel reaching 50k subscribers. (She's up to 81k now - 100k subscriber celebration next March maybe?)

April was a month of big achievements for me as it saw my guild defeating Izax on veteran mode, and me finishing off the last of the KotFE chapters on master mode. Onslaught was announced to much excitement, and I spent some time playing a low-level character for the first time in ages but ultimately found it somewhat unsatisfying. Oh, and guilds got flags heraldry.

In May the thought of the upcoming expansion had me all excited, and I made a to-do list. My guildies and I killed Master and Blaster on veteran mode at last, and I had a slightly strange experience trying my hand at using my seeker droid for the first time in literal years.

June saw the release of Dantooine and its associated world event. When the latter ended, it got me thinking about how Dantooine in peace time offered the first real opportunity to level a pacifist character in SWTOR. I also realised that I still had achievements left to do and datacrons to hunt on Ossus, so I got on with that. People also got (sort of) nostalgic about the fact that it had been three years since the big Dark vs. Light event, and I joined others in musing about what had become of the alts I had created for the event back then.

In July my guild hit level 100 under the new guild levelling system (for whatever that's worth), and I was overcome by random nostalgia for Makeb. I asked the question whether PvP was more balanced one year after Bioware made all warzones cross-faction, and the answer seemed to be "mostly yes". I also ruminated on the option to skip KotFE and KotET and why I can't get myself to do it despite of the many arguments in favour.

In August I took part in (the more easygoing version of) Blaugust again, and had my first look at the Onslaught PTS. My earlier musings about levelling a pacifist character came to fruition as I started my pacifist Shadow Pacis on her journey. (For anyone who's wondering about her by the way, I'm still levelling her but it's been a while since I've done anything other than more Dantooine dailies or that one heroic on Coruscant, so there hasn't really been anything to write about.) Oh, and we got the launch date for Onslaught, which was later than originally indicated, but everyone who'd been on the PTS pretty much agreed that this delay was sorely needed to give them time to tidy things up.

September was the quietest month on the blog because I was in the throes of the freshly launched WoW Classic and not at all enthused by what I was seeing on the PTS.

Fortunately everything was sunshine and roses again once Onslaught actually launched. My first impressions were positive, the new loot system looked good (despite of how unimpressed I had been on the PTS), and I did the new Onderon dailies a lot, even though being asked to find green circles on green grass didn't strike me as the best design.

In November I took part in International Picture Posting Month again, wrote down my thoughts on the new story content, made a Nautolan and was intrigued by undocumented changes to the group finder.

In December I talked more about using your phone as a security key and to browse this blog, and my guild's progress through the new raid. And that's where are now! I'm looking forward to another fun year of playing and writing about SWTOR, which should incidentally also see me make my 1000th post on this blog. I hope you'll stay tuned!


Eight Years of SWTOR

It's that time of year once again to wish my favourite MMO a happy birthday! And to update my collage showing off my main's different looks over the course of the years:

I can't believe we're getting close to a decade of SWTOR now, and it's still holding up well. As usual, hard facts and figures are hard to come by, but when Keith popped into the dev livestream a couple of days ago he said that Onslaught has been doing "really, really well" and that lots of people are coming back to the game.

For me, YouTube also keeps recommending videos by smaller channels (less than 10k subscribers) that are about the creator trying SWTOR for the first time recently, and then said videos suddenly become the most watched things on their channels, eclipsing their subscriber numbers by several multitudes, so there's still obvious interest in the game.

Of course the release of episode nine and the Mandalorian have undoubtedly contributed to a renewed interest in Star Wars from more casual players as well. The other day someone on my Twitter timeline commented that the Mandalorian made them crave a Star Wars game that wasn't just about swinging lightsabers - I'm sure it won't take you three guesses to figure out which way I pointed them...

Anyway, to take a few steps back for a moment - as I mentioned at the start, these birthday posts are an annual tradition on this blog, so if you like you can look back at how I rated other years in SWTOR's history:

Happy Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy 2nd Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy Third Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy 4th Birthday, SWTOR!
Five Years of SWTOR
Six Years of SWTOR
Seven Years of SWTOR

Last year I was mostly expressing some concern that it had been the second year in a row that we hadn't got a new expansion. I liked the direction in which Bioware was taking the game and its content, but new content seemed to be coming out painfully slowly. My main hope for 2019 was that this would improve a bit.

Now, I wasn't instantly sure how I should rate this in hindsight. We did finally get that long-awaited expansion two months ago, so fist pump on that count! It brought with it a great new story, a brilliant new operation, a fun new flashpoint and more. Is one sizeable content dump at the end of the year really that much more than we got in 2018 though? Ossus was a pretty damn big patch too after all.

So I went to check the patch notes, and yeah, I think it's fair to say that we got more content this year. Before Onslaught we also got the Hive Queen as a lair boss, Dantooine as a new planet and with it a new world event, as well as some minor story updates.

As I had predicted, they've been kind of running out of actual game features to revamp at this point (something that had been a bit of a trend for the last two years), though they did upgrade the gear preview window in April. The toughest period were probably the four months in the immediate run-up to Onslaught, as nothing of impact happened during that time and things felt kinda slow if you weren't particularly interested in testing things on the PTS.

I've also learned from hearsay (though relatively reliable hearsay at that) that the SWTOR team is now much smaller than it was even a few years ago (so long after the big post-launch lay-offs), only about half the size it was around the release of Shadow of Revan, presumably because a number of staff were pulled off to prop up the ailing Anthem. While this is not happy news, it did greatly increase my admiration for this small team that keeps the game up and running as well as churning out exciting new content - if not at a regular pace, then at least at a decent one.

They also seem to have grand plans for the future - in the aforementioned dev livestream they also mentioned that they are already thinking about the game's tenth anniversary, which is still two years away, and I'm sure we'll see more exciting story and group content before then. For now, the next new thing we know to expect is a new stronghold on Alderaan, which is currently available for testing on the PTS and set to be released around February. Good times!

So another happy birthday to you, SWTOR, and I once again raise my glass to all the folks at Bioware who keep this show running in such an enjoyable way. Long may they continue!


Reviewing Objective Meridian

When I talked about the part of Onslaught's story that takes place on Corellia, I said that the Objective Meridian flashpoint probably deserved a post of its own... this is that post.

Functionally, it works the same as the previous three flashpoints we got over the last couple of years (Crisis on Umbara, A Traitor Among the Chiss and Nathema Conspiracy): there is a single-player story mode that you're meant to play through while making your way through the main storyline and which has all the cut scenes and dialogue. Then there are repeatable solo, veteran and master modes that are virtually devoid of cinematics and more about having fun with the combat and pursuing rewards.

However, this is already where the commonalities between Objective Meridian and those other flashpoints end. In fact, in every other aspect they are pretty much opposites.

The three flashpoints forming the traitor storyline wowed us with beautiful new environments, with each new one more stunning than the last. Story mode aside, they were also fiendishly hard however. (Nathema Conspiracy slightly less so, but still.) I didn't view this difficulty as a bad thing exactly; instead I found the challenge interesting - but after beating every difficulty once or twice, I started to dislike having any of them pop up as my random of the day in the group finder, as it always meant having to work so much harder than in most other flashpoints.

By contrast, Objective Meridian is visually quite dull. I'm biased in that I never liked Corellia's environments much, and this is just more of the same. The trash feels old-school as well, with wide and open spaces in which groups of enemies stand around neatly spaced out so that you can actually just run past a fair number of them without even engaging. I did enjoy the story very much, but in terms of flashpoint visuals and mechanics I wasn't at all impressed on my first run.

On the other hand though... it's really fun to re-run! I'm actually happy when it pops up in the random group finder because I know it won't be too long or difficult (though like Dxun when compared to other operations, it currently seems to award less loot than the older flashpoints for some reason). The fights aren't boring - Malgus and Tau in particular are quite well done in my opinion - and you may well find yourself wiping a couple of times the first time around while figuring out the mechanics, but once you understand what's going on the tactics are straightforward enough to execute without pushing you to your absolute limits.

Speaking of fight mechanics, another thing that was a pleasant surprise for me is that while the flashpoint's layout and progression are the same for both factions, the bosses actually have different mechanics for each side. I had expected it to be more like Assault on Tython/Korriban Incursion, where you essentially deal with the same content only with a different skin. But no, here every boss actually has their own unique mechanics (and Imp side actually seems more of a pain to me than Rep side, but maybe that's because I've only done the former on master mode once and am therefore less familiar with it).

Tl;dr version: My first impression of Objective Meridian wasn't great, but it's really grown on me with each subsequent run. On the other hand I got both Crisis on Umbara and Traitor Among the Chiss as my random master mode several times over the past couple of weeks (once we even got Copero twice in a row!) and as pretty as they are, it always elicits groans. It's really made me think about the comparative value of dazzling the player with a great first impression but being tedious to repeat vs. the other way round.