30/06/2015

Agent Shintar Continues

I haven't written about my little agent on the Progenitor in a few weeks because I've been distracted by other things, but I haven't forgotten about her. She's now level 28 and has so far completed her class story on Balmorra and Nar Shaddaa.


I still don't miss being rich and having a huge legacy. In fact, I got super excited when I dinged legacy level two today! The only thing I do miss sometimes is faster movement, specifically having rocket boots and my higher-level Scoundrel and Operative's ability to roll. That's just a small thing though.

I'm sadly terrible at taking the story in new and exciting directions; sometimes it feels like all my characters are doomed to have boring middle-of-the-road personalities. I remember reading somewhere that you could take your fellow agent on Balmorra out for a date if you flirted with him enough, but I didn't want to start with a flirt option the very first moment I met him... and then the opportunity never came up again. On Nar Shaddaa, I wanted to see what happens when you actually threaten the former executive in the casino with poison (I seduced him last time), but then I somehow managed to miss the chance to actually use the poison, and we had a really boring and civil conversation instead. The one thing I managed to do differently was that I let Watcher X get away! I wonder what sort of consequences that will have on certain developments in chapter two, where I distinctly remember exclaiming "But you're dead!" on my first agent...

The mission on Nar Shaddaa where you disguise yourself as a droid was ridiculously fun and I spent more time spamming emotes than actually doing the quest. I don't remember if the droid disguise was always capable of executing all the emotes or if I just never tried the first time around, but it sure is fun now.


I feel so pretty, Kaliyo! Don't you agree?


You don't? Well, you might regret saying that!


 I believe I can flyyy...


Or maybe I'll just do a handstand.

Interestingly, the epic story XP boost doesn't seem to actually result in me levelling much faster. It means that I do fewer quests, but I still end up doing other things that "waste time" (which is to say they grant limited or no XP) because I don't enjoy ignoring the world around me. So I drive around to uncover all parts of the map, pick up datacrons, gather materials and craft.

I did the introductory Soovada quest but didn't win anything with my five free chips. The casino seemed pretty abandoned. I'm guessing that the event isn't nearly as interesting to people this time around (to be honest, I didn't think it was all that last year either)... or maybe it's just another Progenitor thing.

I also did a henchman mission for Bounty Contract week. I found myself kind of intrigued by that event again... on the Red Eclipse, I got all the achievements for it during its first iteration (before Bioware imposed additional limits on how many quests you can do each week) and then I felt so burnt out that I basically never bothered with it again. Restarting with a blank slate, it feels like I could actually become interested in it again, dabbling in the content on a more casual basis.


I don't think I ever took a close look at the interrogation probe animations before... it's quite fun to watch them poke people.

I've also been doing some more PvP and have been trying to sell more furniture bought with warzone commendations for some extra cash. It's less appealing than it used to be though, since the new (crazy) warzone commendation cap of two hundred thousand makes it quite viable to just save up loads of comms while levelling and then spend them on a full max level set when you get there. We'll see. I'll probably take a break from PvP for a few levels once I hit thirty, because it's not nearly as fun to be at the bottom of the level bracket than it is to be at the top. Though I feel pretty damn powerful anyway. I mean, I just got my AoE heal two levels ago, the one that used to be the top level talent for healing Operatives. It's pretty bonkers.

27/06/2015

Companions I Wouldn't Want to Lose

I said that I wasn't going to do any more speculating about Knights of the Fallen Empire until we had some actual new information to discuss, but just knowing that changes are coming - even without knowing what they will actually look like in detail - can still serve as an inspiration. Calphaya from Spawn of the Dread Masters used the subject of gaining and losing companions as an excuse to talk about which companions she'd definitely like to keep this week (if she was given the choice to lose some). I found that post and her explanations very interesting, especially as my own picks would have been very different. So I thought: Why not tackle the subject myself? So without further ado, eight companions that I wouldn't want to lose - I decided to choose one for each base class.

Republic side:


M1-4X

Since my main is a trooper, I considered the trooper companions first. Since I like pretty much all of them (with the possible exception of Vik), I thought that I would have difficulty picking a favourite, but in the end it wasn't really that hard after all. The one companion I would really hate to lose (even though I rarely play with a tank companion out) would be that lovable killer droid M1-4X, and not just because he used to have droid boners for me. His unbridled enthusiasm for all things Republic, combined with the fact that he's a highly efficient killing machine, is just too endearing and funny. Unfortunately I can't see there being much room for his particular flavour of patriotism in a galaxy in which the Republic has been reduced to insignificance.

Zenith

When I levelled my first consular, I was quite disappointed that Zenith wasn't a romanceable companion and I found other voices on the official forums expressing the same sentiment. He's a cold-hearted killer and the kind of bad boy you know you wouldn't want to get too close to in real life, but in a fantasy setting you can't help but dream of bringing out the good in him somehow. Even without a romance option however, Zenith is a very interesting companion, a former terrorist that wants to become respectable but who also has huge trust issues and can't quite let go of his roots (and is therefore shunned by his government).


Lord Scourge

Of my Jedi knight's companions, the one I would miss the most if I lost him would probably be Lord Scourge. He's probably the only dark side companion I can think of that never annoyed me. His willingness to work with a light side Jedi for his own (still dark side) reasons is simply fascinating. As many others have stated, it's a shame that Shadow of Revan didn't include any references to his relationship with the former Sith Emperor. I totally would have romanced him too if that had been an option.

Risha

Picking a favourite smuggler companion wasn't easy as I feel that the smuggler has probably the most well-rounded set of companions, but after I had given it some thought, I decided that the one I would miss the most if I were to lose her would be Risha. She's probably one of the most resourceful and clever companions you get in the game, without coming across as being over the top (I'm looking at Gault here...). On both of my lady smugglers she always came across as the kind of friend with whom you could go and steal horses (tauntauns?) and was simply a joy to have around. She also has one of the more interesting companion stories, revealing her to be someone with a serious agenda.

Empire side:


Khem Val

I disliked Khem Val immensely when I rolled up my first inquisitor, because I wanted to be light side and I didn't want to be told at every turn that this made me weak and a bad Sith. It didn't help that inquisitors don't get their second companion until Tatooine. But the end of chapter one really turned my perception of Khem Val around. In his own way, he's very loyal, and he actually has a certain deadpan sense of humour. A Sith inquisitor without his or her pet dashade just wouldn't be the same.

Vector

Vector is one of those love interests that people either seem to love or hate. Personally I loved his quiet geekiness; and his deep loyalty to the Empire meshed well with my own agent's attitude. I was seriously grateful when he became my companion after I'd had to put up with Kaliyo for six planets! I believe that he was also the first companion that I managed to romance successfully. (Yes, I have difficulties with simulated romance.)

Quinn

This one will probably surprise a lot of people, because wherever I go, I only ever see a lot of hatred for Quinn. Don't get me wrong, there was a point in the Sith warrior story when I wanted to kill him too, and I totally would have done so if it had been an option. But it wasn't; we had to move on, and I kind of got over it. Aside from that "little hiccup" I always liked Quinn. He could be kind of whiny, but I actually found that kind of amusing. You're whining to a Sith about your petty little problems? You clearly have some guts! Other than that he's shown to be pretty resourceful, and romancing him is a funny subversion of the trope of the shy girl being swept off her feet by some rough guy, with Quinn constantly blushing and being mortified whenever my rough-and-tumble Marauder flirted with him.


Mako

Despite of having levelled two of them, I can't say that I have much of a connection to the bounty hunter's companions, probably because I never spent all that much time playing with them. If I had to pick one I definitely wanted to keep however, it would be Mako. In general I feel that the "quirky young girl" character is kind of overused when it comes to companions in SWTOR, but out of all the ones that fit this description, I probably like Mako the most. She can be a bit whiny, but she always felt a bit like a little sister to my bounty hunters. She's also incredibly devoted and very clever in certain ways. I can forgive her more naive moments because they are usually caused by her sheer enthusiasm for all things hunt-related.

We'll see if all these guys and girls will still be with us come coffee time... feel free to share your own picks for favourites you'd like to keep!

21/06/2015

Back to Old Haunts

I'm still very excited about Knights of the Fallen Empire, but I feel that at the moment, too much about it is still unknown. Speculation like me commenting about the possibility of faction barriers disappearing in my last post can end up being refuted the very next day. The devs have promised that they will give us more information on all aspects of the new expansion over the course of the next couple of weeks/months, so I guess I'll wait until that time to comment on the more important changes.

Meanwhile, it's been almost two months since I expressed some dissatisfaction about the current difficulty level of operations. As is sod's law, we got a new boss kill two days after I made that post, but since then things have been stalling again. Our attempts on the Revanite Commanders always fall apart in the last phase. On Torque we haven't had as much time to practice since he was bugged for a while so that his flame vents were invisible, but he feels like a very tough fight too. I think there's still a chance that we might get either of those two fights down before the expansion, but it's not guaranteed. Either way, the fights after that are guaranteed to be road blocks for us, as they are known to cause even players who are much more skilled than us considerable difficulties.

The release of the Monolith boss on Ziost didn't offer much of distraction either. On normal mode he doesn't drop anything we can use, and on hard mode he's just as hard, if not harder, than the bosses we are struggling with right now (if you are following the mechanics as intended). There's been talk about how you could ignore the mechanics and brute-force your way through the fight with an extra healer, but I've heard people say that this has finally been patched out now... either way it's not a particularly appealing progression path either.

I've really been struggling to stay motivated and maintain my operations attendance, especially with the way Bioware has been keeping quiet about when we can expect new group content to dig our teeth into. At least we know now that things will be shaken up in October, even if we don't know what Bioware's exact plans for operations are in the expansion.

Fortunately my guildies and I seem to have found a way to distract ourselves while still keeping busy within the game, and that's by going back to old operations and knocking out achievements that we haven't got yet. We're not the only ones who have chosen to go down this path either. Pre 3.0, we were 4/5 in Dread Fortress NiM and hadn't killed anything in Dread Palace NiM. We've gone back there a few times since then and killed Bestia, Tyrans, and made some very good progress on Brontes. After how sluggish things have been in "proper" progression, it's been great fun to make so much more tangible progress again in such a short time, even if it's on old content.

It's been fun too - the fight mechanics are far from negligible even now, but considerably less deadly, thanks to our increased health pools. Combine this with dps requirements which are much easier to reach with our higher level gear, and you get a fun learning experience for all. I found Dread Master Tyrans to be a particularly fun fight, since you can now mess it up in a lot of (often amusing) ways before wiping the group: unintentionally falling down, removing the wrong tile, placing fires all over the place etc. It was good for quite a few laughs.

 
Not even sure how we did that...

How are other guilds dealing with stalling progression and having little information about what's to come?

16/06/2015

KotFE Trailer & Updates

I have to agree with Syp that KotFE is a terrible acronym, though I liked the suggestion of one of his commenters to intentionally misread it as "coffee". SWTOR coffee! Still, fitting "Knights of the Fallen Empire" as a whole into every other subject line for the next couple of weeks would just be a pain.

I actually stayed up to watch the official expansion announcement at E3 last night. It was disappointingly short to be honest, but we did get to see the CGI trailer for the expansion afterwards, and some more bits of information were dropped in an IGN interview after the presentation and in a Polygon article. I haven't been this excited about an MMO expansion in a long time.

First off, the trailer:



I felt like a complete dork when I managed to completely miss the killing blow during the final duel the first time I watched it. I was like: "Yay, they are deactivating their lightsabers because they just remembered that they really love each other...! Wait, why is the one in black falling over dead?" I felt so much better when Syp admitted to initially being confused by this as well.

I think that one of the most upvoted comments on the YouTube video sums up my own feelings pretty well: "Awesome!  But I still have no clue what's going on." Which is a nice segue to start talking about the bits of information we did receive. As usual, if you just want a run-down of all the facts, Dulfy or TORCommunity have got you covered. Personally I want to focus on sharing opinions though, and put the new information in context with the speculation I posted two days ago.

First off, it has been confirmed that it will be possible to start a character at level 60 and completely skip the old content. (Also, the level cap will be raised to 65.) I hope Bioware is preparing a good tutorial - the idea of letting people jump right into the story sounds nice in theory, but being faced with four hotbars full of buttons you don't recognise is likely to be much less well-received (the numerous comments from WoW players calling the author of that article an imbecile for struggling to play his boosted character serves to nicely underline the message in my opinion).

It's also been confirmed that the factions will essentially become irrelevant, as your character will wake up after several years of being frozen in Carbonite to find that both the Republic and the Empire have retreated to their home worlds and are basically insignificant. However, so far Bioware has not elaborated on what gameplay effects this might possibly have. (New, shared hubs? Cross-faction queuing? Guilds? All unknown at the moment.)

As far as companions go, it's been confirmed that there will be five new ones, and that you'll also have to work on re-acquiring your old companions since apparently they scattered when you got frozen (or something). The latter worries me a little because adding sensible reasons for players to hunt down forty old companions doesn't sound like a thing Bioware would do in a post-class-story world. Rohan even speculates that we might simply lose some companions in the process, which I would hate. Don't take away my stuff, Bioware! I'm pretty sure that this would create significant amounts of outrage from the playerbase as well, because you can bet that no matter who they might decide to cut, it will be someone's absolute favourite.

Bruce Maclean also had this to say on the subject of companions: "You're able to recruit help and additional companions from an expanded cast, including companions who were previously exclusive to other classes. Building that alliance involves going to all the planets in the galaxy and doing activities and missions that build faction. If you want to recruit a character who's favorable to the Mandalorians, you'll be able to do missions for them. You want to recruit a character who hates the Hutts, you'll do missions to build your alliance standing against them." So maybe they are going to put a bigger focus on companions than before...

The notion of new class stories hasn't been officially rebutted yet, but frankly, I feel that if there were going to be any, they would have been talking about them by now. Instead they've only been talking about "streamlining" the existing class stories so that you can complete them even faster, though I'm not sure how that's supposed to work. Epic XP bonuses for all class missions, forever? Travel passes that instantly take you from the entrance of one phase to the next? Reduced mob kill/clicking objectives? I can't say any of this sounds particularly thrilling to me.

Overall, I'm simultaneously super excited about everything that's been announced, as well as a little worried. I'm definitely getting Cataclysm vibes off this one. Unlike Blizzard, Bioware is thankfully not planning to destroy its "old world", but the thought of it potentially being banished to insignificance still stings. They keep talking about wanting to get back to their Bioware roots, to what players really want, but to me that also implies that what we've had so far is somehow lacking - not in terms of quantity, but in quality, and I just don't agree with that. Obviously you can debate whether individual patches were better or worse than others, but I've never felt that the game wasn't "Bioware-y" enough. It has always struck me as an excellent hybrid of single-player RPG storytelling and MMO features. I don't see a stronger shift towards single player as a good thing, as I fear that it will just throw the game off-balance. Shadow of Revan's frequent use of personal instead of group phases was annoying enough as it is. In light of that, I don't find Jeff Hickman's reassurance that they haven't forgotten about MMO fans and "flashpoints and operations and raid bosses and PvP and that stuff" very reassuring.

Don't get me wrong, I really am very excited about this new story arc, even if it's currently a bit mind-boggling to think how we could possibly go from Vitiate threatening all life in the galaxy to some unknown Empire - one that nobody seems to have heard of before no less - kicking faction butt instead and becoming the focus of the entire game.

Only a couple of months ago people were ripping into EA/Bioware for not giving SWTOR the attention it deserves in such a year of Star Wars. I think they've just proven that they definitely have big plans for the game. I'm just not sure if they are entirely sensible plans. An MMO can't live off story alone. To stay subscribed continuously, I need reasons to long in when there isn't a new chapter of story to play through, opportunities to hang out with friends and have fun with them. Companions are cool, but they are no replacement for other players. Please don't forget that, Bioware.

14/06/2015

Fallen Empire Stuff

You go away to attend a family wedding for one day and all kinds of crazy stuff happens!

We already knew that there was going to be a big announcement about something called "Fallen Empire" on Monday, but EA decided to follow the time-honoured tradition of making an early announcement about the actual announcement and told us on Friday that it was going to be about a new expansion called "Knights of the Fallen Empire". Okay, cool beans.

And then, yesterday, it looked like someone accidentally published the full expansion press release on the official SWTOR website, and of course it was all over Reddit within minutes. Reddit user milkfairy posted a screenshot of the page in question before it was taken down here, and you can find Dulfy's summary here. Basically, it looks like this whole thing is shaping up to be a much bigger deal than Rise of the Hutt Cartel and Shadow of Revan ever were. I suppose the fact that Bioware has been posting screenshots from a CGI trailer for the last couple of days should have been a big giveaway - after all, we haven't seen one of those since launch.


Speculation is running rampant about what it all means, fuelled by a healthy dose of "this sounds too good to be true" scepticism and the fact that some of the information on the leaked page can be read in more than one way. Let's look at some examples:

START AT LEVEL 60 You will become The Outlander, a Level 60 veteran of the Great Galactic War.

Now my initial reading of this was that they'll basically remove factions at level 60, as it also says before that: "A third faction threatens the galaxy as we know it, and your choices will determine the fate of both the Sith Empire and Galactic Republic." To me that implies not that the Republic and Empire will be disbanded or anything, but that you'll operate in a world where your allegiance doesn't really matter anymore. This is supported by the fact that one of the broken image links on the page leads to an image called "swtorfe-dualfactions.jpg". From a gameplay perspective this would certainly be good thing in many ways, probably shortening queue times for future group content significantly... though personally, I would find Star Wars without a Republic/Empire conflict very un-Star-Warsy.

An alternate reading I've seen is that you will be able to create new characters at level 60, sort of like WoW's death knights, since it does say "start at level 60". Again, personally I'd find that very weird, especially since we got confirmation from Bioware only very recently that everyone loves the class stories and that only a small minority of players seems to care about skipping stuff and getting to the end as quickly as possible. It just doesn't strike me as a very attractive offer for a game like SWTOR, unless they are trying to pull in new players that have more of a "WoW mindset" and who might be deterred by the prospect of having to go through all those levels before they can get to "the good stuff".

BUILD AN ALLIANCE Build a team of hand-picked allies to join your alliance; meet new companions and reunite with existing companions ready to offer you their loyalty.

One of my guildies proposed that "building a team of hand-picked allies" was in reference to some new form of group content, however personally I suspect that this is meant to refer to NPC interactions. It's clear that there will be new companions and new interactions with them, but the scope of this is unclear. While a large cast of characters is listed, there is nothing to say that they will all become available as companions; you might interact with some of them in other ways instead. The line "choose your path… join or betray companions, old and new" seems to imply that we'll see new ways of interacting with companions as well - a lot of people seemed highly delighted by the notion of being able to throw Skadge or Quinn out the nearest airlock for example. If that is indeed the case, I wonder how Bioware solved the problem from beta that people later regretted having killed their companions (which is why you currently aren't able to get rid of any of them).

YOUR PERSONAL SAGA Play one of eight class stories enhanced to offer a deeper, more accessible experience purely focused on immersing you in a personal Star Wars story.

A lot of people read this as a return of the classic class stories, but this is definitely a case of "sounds too good to be true" for me. In fact, to me it sounded like this was just a little reminder that the existing class stories are also still there, since the whole page sounded a lot like it was targeted at new or lapsed players at least as much as current ones. Notice how there is no mention of "new" class stories or anything like that. Not that I would mind! I just think that this paragraph is mostly PR speak instead of a promise of new content.

CONTINUOUS STORY This is only the beginning of an evolving Star Wars story, new chapters released on a regular basis.

Now this is a big one, because it harkens back to the promises made at launch. Even if this new content is single faction and doesn't feature any class-specific content (as is my suspicion), that still sounds quite daring. Eleven "chapters" are listed with titles, with five more listed as supposedly "coming soon". Now, I would assume that those chapters are relatively short, but even so, I would expect something that's worthy of being called a chapter to be at least as long as the Ziost story, so getting eleven of them at once (or even as a slightly staggered release) would be quite a significant amount of new content. I'm just worried that they are dreaming too big again. Haven't we been through all this before? Even leaving the class stories aside, other MMOs have launched in the last three years that promised continuous updates every month and then inevitably had to break their promises shortly after launch because that pace of content production just wasn't sustainable. I have serious doubts that Bioware has suddenly managed to find the holy grail to making it work. That's not to say that I'm not seriously looking forward to this new content either way.

Other random bits:

There is a bit on the page where they manage to say "choices [that] matter" three times in three lines, which cracked me up. This is once again fuelling discussions about what it means for choices to matter. Many argue that the choices you take in planetary storylines don't matter because they are then never referenced again. In class stories, people that you didn't kill do sometimes make a reappearance later, but only sometimes. Some argue that those choices don't "really" matter either. I find it difficult to say much on this subject since we obviously can't even agree what exactly would have to happen for a choice to "truly" matter. Personally I tend to fall on the more easygoing side of this debate, as just getting to make a choice, even if it doesn't have amazing consequences, satisfies my inner roleplayer, so I'm sure I will like this no matter how it turns out.

Launch of this new content is supposed to be in October and it will be free to all subscribers, which was a big surprise to me, as this would have been a perfect (and justifiable, considering the implied scope!) opportunity to cash in on content. Again, not that I'm complaining. There's no mention of a level cap increase, though that doesn't necessarily mean that there won't be one. I think I'd be happy to pass on that this time however; after all we've been level 60 for less than a year as it is.

The one companion that is guaranteed to be included, and as a gift for subscribers no less, is Nico Okarr, who is apparently the smuggler from the "Return" launch trailer. I know absolutely nothing about him other than that, but I have to say it's about time he got a role in the actual game!

In terms of content, there is no mention of anything that isn't storyline-related, such as new flashpoints, operations of PvP maps. This does add fuel to the fire for those of us who worry that Bioware may be swinging too far the other way after the release of Galactic Starfighter and Strongholds by now focusing on single player, not-really-MMO content at the exclusion of everything else. Nonetheless all of this looks very interesting and I'm certainly looking forward to hearing the whole story once the official announcement is made.

11/06/2015

Too Many Alts or Not Enough Variety?

I've always loved rolling alts. Back in World of Warcraft, I had created a whole bunch of alts before my first character even hit the level cap... and over time, my stable only grew. I like to roll different classes and species to view the (virtual) world through different eyes. It's a way of playing that offers variety both in terms of gameplay as well as in terms of immersion. ("What does it mean to be a fighter in this world as opposed to be a healer? Or to belong to one faction instead of another?")

With its promise of eight unique class stories, SWTOR was always going to be an altoholic's dream. On the whole, I feel that it has indeed lived up to that promise. It took me nearly two years to complete all the game's class stories, and each of them offered a unique piece to the puzzle that is The Old Republic as a whole. You may even find it questionable how much content is hidden away in some class stories - for example the role and whereabouts of the Sith emperor are quite opaque until you've played a Jedi knight and a Sith warrior. Or how about the fact that the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic just changes from one person to another one day - for which the only explanation is found in the bounty hunter story? I've levelled a multitude of alts to explore all these different aspects of the in-game universe and have loved every minute of it.

Lately though... I've been feeling a bit burnt out on my alts, and I've been wondering why that is.

It started with a joking throwaway comment in my post about making an alt on the Progenitor, how I would feel guilty if I just made another character on the Red Eclipse that I then wouldn't find the time to play anyway. But it's definitely been remarkable how refreshing and freeing it feels to play on the Progenitor. When I log in there, Agent Shintar is all I have to worry about. It's limiting in some ways to not have a huge legacy of characters that can provide assistance in the form of resources, but it also makes life a lot simpler and carefree. But why should alts feel like a burden?

I remembered an old post of Syl's (or two), in which she talked about why she personally dislikes alts and why they are not for her. She makes some interesting points about how alts can negatively affect gameplay, but the most interesting thing to me was actually my own comment to that post back in 2011. I always think it's a bit conceited and possibly absurd to quote yourself, but just this once I'll bite the bullet. I was still playing WoW back then and this is what I had to say about it:

"I’ve definitely noticed a certain “alt burnout” in myself that started in WOTLK, due to the accessibility changes. In BC all my alts eventually hit some sort of progression ceiling, and that was good because it kept them alts. While my main was raiding Black Temple, my alts became Champions of the Naaru and I could be proud of it. But in WOTLK, it all became kind of samey. Every time the badges got updated, all my alts could upgrade their entire gear. They could all raid Trial of the Crusader. It actually felt kind of tiring, and I’m still struggling a bit with where to draw the line in Cataclysm."

The thing that made me tire of alts a bit back then was that they were all doing the same content at the same time. There was no distinction anymore between the main that you were always trying to keep on the cutting edge and say, the alt that was only ever doing the lower tier content but had a reason to actually keep doing it. And if I look at it, I think this is kind of the problem that I currently have in SWTOR as well. In fact, in some ways it's surprising that I haven't noticed it being an issue any earlier, even if gear gating is less of a "thing" in SWTOR than it is in WoW. The story matters a lot though.

If eight different class stories were an altoholic's dream, then the revelation that the class stories weren't going to be continued after launch should have shattered that dream long ago. But I suppose it didn't really matter at first, because it was always going to take me some time to actually see all the content that the game launched with. With Makeb, I guess the first cracks started to show, but at the same time, it wasn't too bad. I completed that planetary quest chain on some characters but not on others, and while I felt vaguely guilty about it since the loading screen summaries kept reminding me that it was supposed to be chapter four of my class story, it wasn't too big a deal. It was just one more story. There was little reason to go to Makeb outside of it because its dailies sucked anyway, and Toborro's Courtyard wasn't an operation you wanted to keep running on a regular basis. Completing Makeb wasn't a requirement to move on to CZ-198 or Oricon.

This sounds pretty terrible in some way, doesn't it? "I didn't mind that all my characters were prompted to go to Makeb because I didn't have to and didn't miss much if I didn't." But there is value in not feeling too tied down. Currently, any of my alts that are level 55 or higher feel very tied down. (The lower level ones are fine, honestly. It's not like I've done all the class stories multiple times, and stuff like "jumping into lowbie PvP" provides alternate gameplay that I can't experience on my main.)


But for those alts near the level cap, it feels like the path to progression that's open to them is all the same, and it's only getting same-ier. Shadow of Revan has brought with it an increased amount of linearity. Do the four Forged Alliances flashpoints in the correct order. Do Rishi. Do Yavin 4. Do Ziost. It's all got to be done in that order or not at all. I actually enjoyed repeating the main Shadow of Revan story arc multiple times because it was well done, not to mention the massive carrot that awaited on Rishi in the form of the new class missions. But then we got the next part of the story and... you can't even do it unless you completed what came before. It makes complete sense from a narrative point of view, but it also feels so limiting. I can't take my Scoundrel or my Marauder to Ziost just for fun (not without a guild ship summon anyway) because neither of them has completed the SoR storyline.

Ziost itself, while a great piece of content in some way, feels like it has limited replayability as well. It feels like it was mainly added to drive the story forward and doesn't have much purpose beyond that. I have to confess that as much as I've gushed about it, I've only actually completed the Ziost storyline on Shintar and one of my Imperial alts - that's it. I keep thinking that I probably "should" go and move more characters forward through it (because I do like their play style and their back stories), but the thought that all of them will just be going through the exact same motions as my first two characters is honestly quite a downer.

I thought I'd accepted the class stories ending on Corellia. I figured if Bioware kept adding more planets like Makeb or Oricon, they would eventually build a levelling path with enough content that you could mix things up on alts. But with Shadow of Revan it looks increasingly like we're all going to be playing the same linear story on all of our alts, and that chafes. I suppose that whatever ends up happening with the Emperor will only be playable after you've completed Ziost or it won't make any sense, but I hope that after this, Bioware will reconsider this highly limited and linear approach to storytelling. I'm actually okay with linear stories in MMOs... as long as you can either choose out of a selection of several different stories, or the game still gives you enough options on the side to mix it up and make alt play interesting. Right now, it seems that those options are rapidly diminishing as all our characters are being funnelled into a single storyline, leaving them with nowhere else to go (unless you want to do nothing but PvP I guess).

06/06/2015

Hearing from the Devs

I often see SWTOR's devs and community team get accused of not communicating very much with the player base or not doing a very good job at it. I honestly can't tell how true that is because I find it hard enough to keep up with everything going on on the forums and on fan sites as it is - I never feel like nothing is happening in this community, and I'm more likely to miss out on important information than to sit there going: "You're not telling me enough!"

Also, and I know many people may find this weird, but I actually kind of like it when MMO devs keep certain things close to their chests and refuse to talk about them. For example, I love a good surprise. I really enjoyed the way Bioware tried to build up suspense via the Forged Alliances story arc when it was first released and I loved seeing people speculate about which villain might be behind it all. The big reveal in Legacy of Rakata felt very satisfying, even if it wasn't completely unexpected. But of course you can only achieve that by withholding information from the player base until they can see the content for themselves (and if the data miners respect that stance and don't go around spoiling things for everyone else). Those of us who've played since launch may also remember how completely out of the blue the first Rakghoul event came - and it was great! Compare this to Blizzard for example, who posted all the in-game cinematics for Warlords of Draenor on their front page, spoiling the entire storyline two months before the expansion even released. (That sure saved me some money.)

There is also the saying that it's better to stay silent and be considered a fool than to open your mouth and prove it without a doubt. How does this apply to MMO devs? When they introduce something that I consider awesome, I'd like to think that it was all planned that way and that the devs are really good at their job. I'd rather not hear that this feature was slapped together within a month and with no resources, and that my favourite part of it is actually an unintended bug. Conversely, if I don't like a change, I'd rather imagine that the devs only had the best of intentions and simply made a mistake. If they come out saying that they love the change and that they are sure players will consider it the most fun thing ever, that's probably going to contribute more to losing me as a player than the change itself. Basically, it's easier to enjoy a good meal if you don't spend too much time talking about how the sausage gets made.

That said, every now and then I can appreciate a good, non-spoilery look behind the scenes, especially if it doesn't include anything that I consider bad news. And there's been quite a few of those over the past week or so!

First off, Chuck and Brian from the Bad Feeling Podcast interviewed PvP developer Alex Modny and Eric Musco about upcoming PvP changes. Now, the Bad Feeling Podcast is always fun to listen to and you shouldn't miss an episode anyway, but this one is particularly informative as some pretty juicy bits of info were dropped. If you just want a summary of the important parts, Xam Xam has one here. Basically, it's a lot of good news for casual PvPers, with warzones becoming more rewarding in terms of XP and credit gains, PvP gear having its cost reduced by a huge amount, and warzone comms becoming easily transferrable between alts. There was some stuff about ranked too, but that doesn't really affect me. They were also discussing adjusting the way AoE works in warzones so it doesn't interrupt node caps anymore, which could be a pretty big game changer in a good or bad way, but we'll have to see.

On the same day this interview was released, Olib from SWTOR Network posted a (written) interview with Alex Tremblay, Bioware's Manager of Analytics. I think this interview hasn't got nearly enough publicty, even though it's really interesting and includes some well thought-out questions. There weren't any huge and shocking relevations, but for those of us who love hearing about statistics and such, there are still some interesting tidbits (such as which colour crystal is the most popular at the level cap right now).

Finally, on Wednesday Bioware held a developer stream to show off the upcoming new stronghold on Yavin 4 and the new Togruta species. You can watch most of it here. Personally I watched about five minutes of the recording and then stopped, because unlike an obviously large number of people, I actually find it pretty boring to watch others play a game that I'd rather play myself. Fortunately there are parts of the community that are willing to provide summaries for people like me, so you can find a breakdown of all the facts that were revealed on Dulfy as usual. If you want some more opinions on what the stream was like, Mae and Xam Xam are happy to provide.

I'm quite excited about the Togruta, even though I'm not a huge fan of the species - I just like having new character creation options to play around with, so I'll probably create a Togruta alt at some point just because I can.

As far the new stronghold goes, I have mixed feelings. From an emotional standpoint I'd have no issue with dumping my Nar Shaddaa stronghold for it as I never liked it very much anyway, however I've been using it to boost my conquest point gains (basically I filled it with random trophies, pets and speeders) and losing that would be a bit annoying. Not that my guild has been doing much with conquest lately.

Also, apparently they kept emphasising that we can look forward to an exciting announcement on the 15th of June. I'm fine with that as that's my birthday and I already happened to book the day off work anyway. This better be good!

What are your thoughts on the newest bits of information to come out of Bioware? And is it enough or are you one of those always craving more?

01/06/2015

Continued Adventures on the Progenitor

In the comments on my last post, reader DualBlastersGuy expressed some concern that rushing through the levels on a new server would result in me becoming destitute quite quickly. Fear not, gentle readers: Even if I'm going to make use of the epic story XP boost, playing in the described manner is absolutely out of the question for me. I'm simply incapable of focusing exclusively on my class story. I always get distracted, whether it's by gathering nodes, datacrons, unexplored pieces of the map or what have you. With that said, let me tell you about how Agent Shintar continued her adventures on the Progenitor by going to Dromund Kaas:

First off, I bought the stronghold there. I was actually positively surprised that I was able to afford it so easily (without any expansions of course), using just the quest money I had earned on Hutta. For some reason I always think of strongholds as this massive credit sink, so the idea that a newly rolled character fresh off the starter planet and with no support whatsoever would be able to actually afford a stronghold as soon as she hit level fifteen seemed kind of preposterous. But it's true! The ones on the capital worlds are really that cheap. I'm definitely grateful for the additional travel option, and I also plopped down the free level one slicing node that you get from the introduction to strongholds. It may not be much, but every little helps!

On Dromund Kaas, I managed to suffer my first death (not counting warzones)... by falling down the elevator shaft in Lord Grathan's estate. And when I say "falling", I actually mean "jumping". Because you know, why would you pay attention to silly things like whether the lift is actually there? It was annoying too since you can't res on a moving platform, so I had to respawn all the way back at the medcenter and promptly got distracted by nearby gathering nodes again the moment I tried to make it back into the compound.

I also realised that since I soloed the Black Talon instead of running it the "normal" way, Agent Shintar is social rank zero and couldn't complete her Social Points quest. I'll have to run a random flashpoint or something purely to amend that. Having no social points whatsoever is simply unacceptable.

In the Nexus Room Cantina, I actually ran into some people who were roleplaying. (I didn't see where they were and didn't go looking, but I saw their chat.) Up until then I hadn't even thought about the fact that the Progenitor is a roleplaying server. Fun fact: I actually spent most of my time in World of Warcraft on a roleplaying server (on Earthen Ring EU), though I wouldn't consider myself a roleplayer. I always feel a bit bad for roleplayers and how their servers get invaded by people who don't actually want to roleplay but who think that roleplayers somehow make for a better community. (At least that used to be the argument back in my day.) In WoW I actually got pulled into at least some roleplay by people who roleplayed in public, but towards the end of Wrath of the Lich King that kind of seemed to die out, or at least I hardly ever saw it happen anymore. It's nice to see that roleplay is still happening in SWTOR in any case. I wonder where else the roleplayers hang out? (These Sith were discussing how they'd like to be buried by the way; seemed very appropriate.)


While uncovering the last couple of pieces of map that I hadn't explored yet, I ran into a level 55 soloing the world boss (very, very slowly). I wondered if he doesn't have Shadow of Revan, to spend his time soloing lowbie world bosses at 55.


I also did a couple more warzones and continued to get about a zillion achievements for each match. It's pretty ridiculous really. I used 250 of my warzone commendations to buy a Makeb Pergola, which is apparently going for nearly 100k credits on the local GTN right now - I'm thinking that can't be right. However, even if it's not, I reckon that it's going to be an easy way of making at least a little bit of money quickly.

The GTN seems weird in any case - I was looking to sell a skill mod that I had found and expected there to be lots of them since agents are popular... yet there were only a couple of pages of similar items, and the highest level mod of that type was only level 29. Really makes you wonder if it's true what they say about roleplaying servers... (that people are too busy roleplaying to care much about regular content). Feel free to correct me, Progenitor players.

27/05/2015

Being a Noob on the Progenitor

I've been wondering whether to do anything with this whole 12x Epic Story XP boost that's going on right now. I've said a hundred times that I'm not a fan of things like double XP weekends, but I think I've made my peace with the fact that they exist and that there is a clear demand for them. At least they are preferable to changing XP requirements across the board and thereby forcing fast levelling on people. This time Bioware also remembered to give people an option to turn the whole thing off, so all is well from my point of view.

Personally I have little incentive to level another alt as quickly as possible. I enjoy levelling in general so I don't really want to rush it, and I've seen all the class stories. There's a certain draw to repeating some of them to see a slightly different outcome, but then I ask myself: "Do I really want add another max-level alt to my stable on The Red Eclipse?" For some reason having too many unplayed alts makes me feel vaguely guilty. No, I don't think that makes sense either - it is what it is.

But then I saw someone make a suggestion for an alternative use of this XP boost (sorry, I forgot who exactly it was): use it to level a character on another server. This has been one of those goals that has been at the back of my mind for ages, wanting to have the ability to visit friends on other servers and play with them, but somehow I've never been very good at this. I've tried in the past, but usually I just faff around on the starter planet for a little while and soon end up logging off and never coming back. I figured that giving myself a bit of a push, so I would quickly get to the point where I could actually found a new legacy, would help me to maintain momentum, and it has.

I started my experiment by creating Agent Shintar the Cathar on the Progenitor, where some old friends reside on Imperial side apparently. (If you're my friend and playing on another server, don't think that I've forgotten you! But this is where I felt like making a start.)

Oddly, I was immediately struck by just how long it's been since I started a character on a new server with zero support. I was kind of surprised when an achievement popped up for killing people in the starting area on Hutta, because on the Red Eclipse I have so many achievements that I rarely see one these days outside of new boss kills in ops. I also realised that I'm terribly ignorant about which features are actually account-wide and which ones only legacy-wide. For example I immediately had three bank tabs unlocked, but barely any inventory space. While my mailbox was full of crap the usual "gifts", I had no stronghold to admire my furniture in, or legacy perks that would have allowed me to fly a speeder early. Bhagpuss wrote about the joy of starting fresh on a new server the other day (in the context of Everquest), and I can definitely recognise myself in that a little. I've become too spoiled by my big, fat legacy. There is fun in being a scrappy noob.

Of course even a scrappy noob feels a bit overpowered in SWTOR these days. I had forgotten that training new skills is now free for subscribers forever, and it feels like cheating. Don't I have to spend money on anything while levelling up? And the XP gains from my class quests on Hutta were utterly ridiculous of course. Sometimes I even gained two levels at once from a single quest hand-in. I feel like levels really start to lose their meaning at that point. I did all the quests anyway and was level fifteen (going on sixteen) by the time I left Hutta. I was too high level to queue for the Black Talon before I even got to it! I decided to solo it for fun, even if it granted me little XP. I was hoping to be able to scavenge some metal, but I forgot that unlike during its Republic equivalent, the Esseles, you hardly fight any droids in this flashpoint. I think I counted a total of five. It was also noticeable that my companion wasn't beefed up by tons of presence bonuses, as things actually took a bit of time to kill.

I also did a lowbie warzone, which seemed pretty flooded with lowbie agents of some flavour or another, and got eleven achievements in a single match. Operative healing feels extremely powerful in lowbie PvP now that they get Kolto Probe so early. Oh yeah, did I mention that I chose Operative over Sniper (again)? Being able to just choose my advanced class from the UI certainly made things more convenient at the end of Hutta, but I did the little "choose your advanced class" quest on the fleet anyway once I got there. I wonder if new players find that confusing.


I remember when ships in flashpoints going into Hyperspace used to crash my game. Good times.

We'll see whether I'll actually be able to progress, get distracted by side activities while ignoring the XP boost, or lose interest if my character levels too quickly (seemingly without me actually doing much of anything).

23/05/2015

Attack of the Clones

I'll say it right away: This post has nothing to do with Episode II. Sorry if you came here thinking that it would. The title was just too appropriate not to use.

A long time ago, I saw a video on YouTube that was bashing SWTOR pretty badly. I can't find it anymore, but it was very straightforward really. The video-maker was running around the Imperial agent/bounty hunter starter area on Hutta and accusing Bioware of being lazy and of having created a dead and uninteresting world. His evidence? The NPCs in front of Nem'ro's palace were all the same. Not literally all of them of course - but as he was walking around, he pointed the camera at various citizens that were strolling around the area, talking to vendors etc. and there were indeed a lot of clones among them. The guy sounded so bitter and hateful that I found it easy to ignore him and to dismiss his criticism. After all I had already been playing the game for a while by that point, and I'd never noticed anything like that. I figured that it was probably footage of placeholder NPCs from beta or something.

I kind of forgot about his whole argument until late last year, when my guild was getting really into conquests. Initially, one of our main sources of conquest points was grinding low-level heroics on multiple alts, which worked particularly well on Nar Shaddaa. As I was mindlessly killing the same mobs over and over again, multiple times a day and for several days in a row, I couldn't help but get a closer look at them. Since they were low level compared to my characters, they posed no threat and combat required no real attention. So instead I started to notice... similarities.

The thing is, to a certain degree I honestly expect lots of mobs to look similar. In SWTOR, we spend a lot of time fighting enemy soldiers of a certain faction or another, and it's no surprise that people in uniform or heavy armour all look kind of same-ish, especially when you're more focused on selecting the right abilities than on inspecting them up close.


But as I was grinding those heroics on Nar Shaddaa, I started to notice things that looked a bit odd to me. For example the [Heroic 4] Mandalorian Rage requires you to kill a lot of Mandalorians from Clan Sharratt. Especially when they have a helmet on, it goes without saying that a lot of them will look the same. But I noticed things like that all the mobs called "Clan Sharratt Vanguard" were female Zabraks with red skin. That's a rather striking look, and when there are two of them in each pull it looks rather odd.

A similar thing caught my attention in the [Heroic 4] Lab Animals, where you fight some bad guys called Xenobi. The Xenobi thugs were all body type one (or two, not sure now) with short hair so not particularly eye-catching, but the ones called rangers were all body type three and had that wacky haircut that Corso Riggs comes with by default. All of them. It was slightly disconcerting.


After that I started to notice the same pattern pretty much everywhere I cared to look: Bioware would make a bunch of different mobs with different names and mix them up in larger mob groups, but every mob with the same name would look exactly the same. I won't pretend that this bothers me very much, because most of the time when I'm in combat I'm busier with focusing on my survival than on inspecting the facial features of some random NPC, and I rarely go to low level areas to mow down mobs that can't really fight back (that heroic grinding for conquest purposes was definitely an exception). But every so often when Bioware gives one of these generic mobs a more striking look, with an unusual skin colour or a funky haircut, I notice it again.

I even went back to check on Hutta, and the YouTuber whose name I can't remember was actually right. That same NPC is still there, playing a whole plethora of roles in front of Nem'ro's palace.


I'm just wondering: Who else has noticed this? And if you have, does it bother you? I'm kind of thinking that in theory, I would like a world where no two NPCs look the same, but I'm not sure how much additional work that would create for the artists. I'm kind of doubtful it would be worth it, when even long-time players like myself can take almost three years to actually take a close enough look to notice.