KotFE Chapters 10 & 11 Master Mode

I expected these to be really tough based on what I remembered from veteran mode (and recalling a guildie wiping endlessly on chapter ten one night), but things weren't nearly as bad as I thought - it was almost a breeze!

Ironically, the fight that challenged me the most was the one where I least expected it, and that was the one against the junction guardians Faedral and Zaamsk. I noted on veteran mode that it "must be rough without a long-duration crowd control" but that it seemed okay as long as you did have one, and I figured that master mode would be the same. In reality... it was and it wasn't. I can hardly begin to imagine how you would beat these two without crowd control (actually, I found a video of a Juggernaut doing it successfully here after I wrote this), but even with my Sage having Force Lift available it was still the fight that caused me the most deaths in these two chapters. Even after I started the encounter by immediately taking Faedral out of the picture, Zaamsk's attacks on their own still hit nightmarishly hard. You just could not get hit by one of his red circles, or take an entire Full Auto to the face, as either would be instant death, not to mention that there were adds as well. This is the one fight I really would have wanted to record for this post but unfortunately I messed up so I didn't get a usable recording. I didn't want to replay the entire chapter just for the purposes of getting a video, so you'll have to make do with a verbal description.

Basically the way I finally beat Zaamsk was by interrupting / dodging out of as many of his attacks as I could and kiting him towards the entrance at the same time. Whenever he did that jump into the air that ends with him unavoidably landing on your head, I used what meagre damage reduction cooldowns I had. (I specced into the utilities to gain DR from both my instant self-heal and my aggro drop fairly early into this playthrough.) I was almost surprised when I got him down, though of course by that point I was all out of tricks and died to Faedral as soon as he came out of CC.

Conveniently, this is where I discovered that if you manage to kill one of them, he stays dead and at least on the next attempt you only have to deal with one enemy, which helps a lot, though it still didn't prevent me from dying to Faedral alone even more often than I had to Zaamsk. I seemed like I just couldn't take any of his attacks at all. So I remembered Captain Lazna Delothrea and went for the "heroic moment full burn while chaining stuns" strategy again, and that worked on the first try.

The Knights of Zakuul in the Overwatch were as annoying as I remembered from veteran mode, but as dps I found it much easier to kill them with a bit of kiting, and some I just "skipped", which is to say I made a run for the exit as far as I could, died, and then respawned without having to bother with them at all.

Tayvor Slen was easier than I expected and I got him down on the first try, though it was a close call at the end. This fight was the only one I actually recorded out of these two chapters, so here you go:

In chapter eleven I mainly remembered the droid boss near the end being an issue, but he was once again surprisingly easy as dps compared to the healing role I had chosen for veteran mode, as Aric just had to stand there and heal while I ran around and quickly controlled / picked off any adds.

The hardest mob in chapter eleven (in my opinion) was actually one of the random Knights guarding the back of the building, as he would go in and out of stealth and had some weird special attack called something like Stealth Strike, which hit like a truck, had huge range, and - despite of the name - didn't actually require him to be in stealth. I did eventually get him down by once again relying on kiting as much as I could.

Five chapters to go!


Life in the PvP Instance

I wrote about how servers were split into PvE and PvP instances when it first happened back in early 2016... gosh, has it really been that long already? Aside from levelling my Ebon Hawk Star Forge Commando in them for a while, I didn't pay much attention to the system for the longest time... but recently I've been spending some more time flagged for PvP on my home server Darth Malgus too.

Simply put, the big incentive for this has been Conquest. (Surprise!) I remember thinking when the system was first introduced how weird it would be to be able to kill Commanders completely unopposed in PvE instances from now on. However, Bioware did think of that (whether immediately or later on I don't know), so Commanders actually only spawn in PvP instances now, giving guilds an incentive to go there every so often if nothing else. Even if you don't consider yourself much of a PvPer, entering a PvP instance as part of a big ops group is fairly safe. What's the worst that could happen? That you run into a full enemy ops group and end up engaging in some random world PvP instead? The horror!

When normal world bosses are in high demand for Conquest, it's worth looking for them in the PvP instance as well, as the same rules apply. However, even while flying solo switching instances can have its advantages. I already noted back in 2016 that it's a great way of escaping competition in heroic areas, and due to their locations, you're pretty unlikely to run into enemies in most of them. (That said, I guess if your goal were to jump people, a heroic area for the opposing faction would be the perfect place to hang out. Hmm...)

Eventually I even decided to brave the PvP instance for normal questing, specifically after I got a bit fed up with how depopulated Rishi's PvE instance was becoming during a week during which Rishi featured with rampage (random mob kill) objectives for Conquest. It helped that I was on my Scoundrel at the time, as stealth allows you to hide from the enemy most of the time anyway, should you actually encounter one.

And so I did! I was just running across a bridge on the northern island, not even in stealth, when a Sith warrior started crossing the same bridge from the opposite side. I quickly jumped into stealth - my initial response to encountering hostile players tends to be fear, as I always assume that my enemy is better/stronger than me and will kill me. However, the warrior made no moves that indicated that he had seen me or was intent on throwing me out of stealth. So I hesitated - and noticed that he was randomly running around with less than full health... and just like that, I went from shy to vicious, and next thing you know I had gone and killed him.

I suspect that most people who quest in PvP instances are actually like me, which is to say they aren't primarily there to kill people. (I think SWTOR isn't really a particularly attractive game for killer types.) However, they also aren't necessarily completely opposed to PvP, and might take a chance if an opportunity arises. I would say the golden rule for avoiding world PvP in the PvP instance is to quickly turn away if you run into an enemy, avoid eye contact and create distance between you. Chasing you is effort, and probably not something most people are very keen on. If you stand around though, and give them time to inspect your gear level, while mulling over their chances in their heads... even comparatively peaceful people might get ideas.

Anyway, last week things kind of came to a head since it was Rakghoul Resurgence once again, and the Rakghoul Tunnels are a pretty small map. The place was crowded. For some reason I had got it into my head that I really wanted to kill the Catalyst on my Gunslinger (though I probably could have gained the same amount of Conquest points more efficiently elsewhere), and for those not in the know, the Catalyst is a rare spawn in the tunnels that can appear in one of five different spots to replace the neutral mobs that usually spawn there. So if you're not feeling lucky and have a lot of time on your hands, you can force the issue by camping one or two of those spots and just killing the neutral mobs over and over until the Catalyst spawns.

As I said though, it was crazy busy. In the PvE instance, all the camping spots were taken. So I decided to try my luck in the PvP instance again, even knowing that I was taking a much bigger risk this time, what with the small size of the area, plenty of Imps around, and me having no clue how to PvP on a Gunslinger. On the plus side, since all the camping spots are in little niches off to the side of the main tunnel, you can kind of "hide" in them from people who aren't too curious about side objectives.

I did OK for a while alternating between the two spots in the northern half of the map, until two Imps jumped and killed me. I shrugged it off, respawned and decided to relocate to the southern half instead. I did notice quickly that while overall numbers in the PvP instance were small, there were still way more Imps than Republic players. My peace in the southern half didn't last very long, as I was accosted by a group of no less than four Imps this time. Luckily for me, they were less quick on the uptake though, so I spammed every cooldown I had while making a run for the entrance to the Eyeless' lair, which is a sanctuary area (safe zone). I made it just in time and felt ridiculously gleeful as I regenerated my health safely next to the quick travel point while the four Imps stood outside the area, eyeing me like a pack of hungry wolves.

After that I decided to take another look at the PvE instance, but it was still packed, so I braved the Imperial threat once again. This time I relocated to the sole spawning point inside the heroic area, and found that people left me blissfully alone there, as I wasn't attacked again all evening. I did have one brief scare when I caught a glimpse of a stealthed Assassin appearing next to me, but he was apparently just as scared of me as I was of him, or at the very least not interested in fighting, as he immediately slunk off again and didn't come back.

For what it's worth, I eventually got the Catalyst to spawn after 80-something kills of neutral Rakghouls, at which point I had accumulated four of the rare purple material drops you can get from them, and one of the rare pets. It was an unusually adventurous night that felt surprisingly rewarding.


Braving the Sky Shredder

The main feature of this week's patch was a new Huttball map set on Vandin, the gas giant where KotFE chapter thirteen, Profit and Plunder, takes place. Like the Rishi stronghold and the last set of warzone changes, this could be play-tested on the PTS, but I didn't get around to it this time, so I was going in with little knowledge (though not completely blind, as I had seen some people who did try it on the PTS talk about it).

If you want to learn more about the details of how the warzone looks and functions Xam Xam has a guide for you, while I'm going to focus more on talking about its general look and feel. I'm part of the apparent minority of people who neither love nor hate Huttball, but I do like it well enough, so I was looking forward to seeing what Bioware cooked up this time.

In a nutshell, the Sky Shredder could be described as similar to the Pit on Nar Shaddaa, but with more traps. It certainly doesn't have the same feeling of offering a completely different game flow like Quesh Huttball. Actually the warzone of which it reminded me the most were the Yavin Ruins, simply because it exudes a similar feel of the devs wanting to improve on a classic map by making some small tweaks to the new version that serve to counter a couple of the most common annoyances of the old map.

The main issue they seemed to want to address was that of a skilled player or two scoring so quickly that the defense barely even has time to react. In the Pit this can happen when someone just grabs the ball and chains cooldowns to quickly rush to the enemy goal line (which only requires the crossing of two traps) or if someone manages to entrench themselves in the middle of the highest walkway, where they can receive a pass not very far from the centre and are then almost home free, with no more traps in their way.

The Sky Shredder counters this by having a big force field in the way that blocks people from making easy central passes, and by just generally having more traps around. There are fire traps like in the Pit, a new type of poison trap that leaves a dot, and brand new electric traps that only do a small amount of damage but stun you for what feels like a really long amount of time. The first time I encountered the latter they seemed a bit pointless to me, because no enemy was near and getting stunned without suffering much damage didn't strike me as all that dangerous. I quickly realised though that if there are any enemies around, the long stun is a pretty bad thing to walk into, especially since it doesn't build any resolve.

All of this makes it much harder for a single person to run the ball from spawn to finish line, even without opposition, and especially considering that Giradda's shortened "boredom timer" will cause people to get blown up after only 45 seconds of carrying the ball without passing now. Mind you, I'm sure people will find some shortcuts and "optimal routes" in time - but it's definitely fun while everyone's still in the "trying to figure things out" stage.

Another annoyance that Bioware seems to have tried to counter with the design of the Sky Shredder is that of being knocked down into the pit and then - assuming you're not playing a class with some sort of leap and have a handy enemy target nearby - having to run all around the houses to get back up to where the action is. On Vandin there are grappling pads in both sides of the pit that can quickly deposit you back on one of the walkways (though still not necessarily in a useful spot).

Supposedly the grappling hook also allows you to save yourself if you get knocked off the side of the carrier entirely, but I haven't been able to test that yet. The edges of the playing field just seem so far away that there seems little point in even putting yourself at risk by going there. I guess there are some buffs on the very edge that you could run to pick up, but chasing after them puts you pretty far away from the action.

So are all these new mechanics working? Is it fun? I would say: yeah! It's still early days and you never know whether people won't figure out some sort of trick that really gets on your nerves, but so far I'm enjoying the experience. (Also, it probably helped my first impressions that during my very first match on the new map, my team won 2-1 and both goals were scored by me, with people actively cheering for me.)

If I had to criticise anything it would actually be the voice work, which is surprising to me as I really loved the new lines they recorded for Queshball. Here the only new remarks Baron Deathmark has to offer are occasional shout-outs announcing the score, but these feel a bit random and slightly misplaced in their timing. Most of the actual new commentary is offered by a droid named V3-X, who appears to be voiced by the same voice actress who brought Z0-0M to life. She does a decent enough job and I guess the lines are funny... it's just not the same.

Also, and I'm not sure if this is an intended change or a bug but I hope it's the latter: when a player dies to the "boredom" timer (which I've seen loads of times already, due to the prolonged obstacle course to the goal line making it much more of an issue than it is on any of the other maps), instead of the game playing the line about how "this match needs excitement", you get the normal voice cue for a player being killed by the enemy, which I'm sure must be very confusing to newer players and possibly even older ones. I could certainly see it cause an increase in false reports about hackers/cheaters. ("I was only three steps away from the enemy goal and at full health, when the sole enemy there somehow killed me instantly! Hax!") I hope they'll fix that soon.


SWTOR Seems To Be Phasing Out Cartel Packs

I was talking to some guildies about this the other night and some of them had no clue that this was even happening - I've said before that as a subscriber the cash shop is very easy to ignore - so I thought it might be an interesting subject for a blog post.

Whether we've liked it or not, SWTOR's cash shop has heavily relied on random lootboxes since its introduction back in 2012. (I previously wrote a post about why calling them lockboxes is misleading, since unlike in other games there is no attempt to lure you into purchasing with keys or anything of the like.) There were always some things up for direct sale, sure, but it was clear that the vast majority of artistic effort went into producing content for the Cartel packs, with a new type of box being released every two to three months or so.

In April however, Bioware decided to release the "Ultimate Cartel Pack", a box that promised a selection of random loot pulled from everything they've ever released... and I guess the name should have been a hint: synonyms for ultimate are "last" or "final".

Since then we haven't seen any more Cartel packs. The Ultimate one is still there and for sale, and they've added new items to it as they were released, but it's not always on the store front page anymore. Instead the focus of new releases has been on direct sale items.

It's hard not to see this as a consequence of the Star Wars: Battlefront II lootbox disaster from last November, whether EA actually officially ordered Bioware to cut back on the lootboxes, or the sudden spotlight on the practice gave the team at Bioware increased wiggle room to try out different things instead. They certainly haven't made any kind of official statement about it as far as I'm aware; things just started to change one day.

You can tell that there is now more of a push for quality over quantity in the new releases, as some of the armour sets they've added since then are absolutely gorgeous, with much more detail than we were used to previously. It's a win for those who just want to buy things from the Cartel Market directly - less so for those who preferred to buy new items for in-game credits for other players. For the latter group, people opening Cartel packs full of items they didn't necessarily want for themselves provided a constant supply of new goodies. Even when it came to the rarest of rare items, there were always spares to go around, and if you weren't only after whatever people considered the latest "must-have", you could snatch up some other decent-looking and more common items at incredible prices.

With everything new being direct sale, there is much less of that. Sure, there'll continue to be a very small influx of random drops through the Ultimate Pack, but aside from those the only new things being put up for sale on the GTN will be those purchased from the store with the specific intent to re-sell, which makes for a much smaller number than when players were constantly opening new packs in search of the newest drops and thereby stacking up on goods to sell on the GTN more or less "by accident".

As for how well this is working for Bioware... who knows? If you think that random lootboxes are the devil, you're likely to assume that sales must be much better now because everyone hates lootboxes, right? In truth though, none of us know the actual numbers. So far there haven't been any obvious signs that things are going badly, such as sudden attempts to find new parts of the game to monetise, but it hasn't even been six months yet, so it's probably a bit early to tell anyway. I can't say that I miss the constant flurry of new lootboxes (not that I was paying much attention to them), but as someone who preferred to buy things for credits instead of Cartel coins, it does suck a little that supply on the GTN is now less than it was.


Conquering The World

Are you all sick of me writing about Conquest yet? To be honest, I am... at least a little. However, my guild's Master of Conquest knows no mercy. After we just managed to add Nar Shaddaa to our list of conquered planets last week, he drove us right on to try and conquer Oricon this week. And despite of starting to feel a bit burnt out on the whole thing, I'm still right there going along with it all. Have I mentioned yet how much I dislike the rampage objectives (to kill X mobs on planet Y)? If only they didn't grant so many points so easily...

I do have to say though that on the plus side, rampaging has got me to take a closer look at the "outside world" again (feels weird to use that term when we're talking about space stations vs. planetary surfaces but you know what I mean). I spend so little time on the original planets these days, not just because I haven't levelled an alt from scratch in a while but because even when I do, there just isn't much reason to hang around considering the speed at which you fly through the levels nowadays. And I haven't been too fond of heroics - the one type of endgame content that has you going back to a lot of lower level planets - ever since they effectively turned them into just another set of dailies.

Racing across Yavin as a group, killing everything in sight.

Chasing conquest objectives though, I've been looking for ways of combining the planetary rampages with actual "useful" things (instead of just trying to find a spot where I can kill the highest number of mobs in the shortest amount of time, like some of my guildies have been doing). So when Tatooine was a target last week for example, I exterminated a lot of sand people because there is an achievement for that I don't have yet. And this week's Rishi objectives got me to finally take a character through the first part of the Shadow of Revan storyline who had never done it previously. It's been so long since I last did that, it was a veritable trip down memory lane. (Oh snap! There's that jungle wampa that I always aggro by accident because it likes to lie down and I keep mistaking it for a corpse!)

What's even better is when I can find an excuse to do some of the open world stuff for Conquest in a guild group. We've actually done a few rampages as a full ops group, to finish off the evening after an actual operation, and it's been hilarious to charge across the landscape that way. We did it in the PvP instance too, so any Imps that just happened to come our way ended up being chewed up by the mob almost incidentally.

Raiding the Imperial base on Oricon, because Conquest told us to. There weren't many people in the PvP instance, but what few arrivals there were, were... surprised.

The best thing have been the world bosses though. I was very pleased when the introduction of level scaling turned those into proper enemies again, but incentives to actually kill them have long been lacking. (Why does the weekly quest to kill three world bosses give you nothing but a tiny amount of CXP and some credits? Not even a CXP pack? Come on.) However, people bloody love fighting over bosses for Conquest points and it's been great fun.

SWTOR's MMO aspects often go underappreciated (if they aren't getting brushed off as supposedly inferior to other games in the first place), but fighting for world bosses makes for some surprisingly old school fun. I've played games with open tagging as well and do like it for what it is, but in a system where guilds and factions are actively competing with each other, a certain degree of exclusivity makes sense. Sure, that also means that you can get things like griefers, who might try to get your boss to evade and reset so they can steal the tag, but I've only really encountered that a couple of times throughout the years, while experiencing many a happy rush just trying to beat the competition to the kill by "fair" means. During a recent Gree event for example our whole ops group charged into one of the side caves on the Western Ice Shelf and managed to snatch a world boss kill away from a group of Imps that was twice our size but still in the process of assembling and therefore too slow. You bet that was an exhilarating moment!

I only wish they'd include a greater variety of world bosses in the Conquest events. I get that Bioware wants them to fit a theme but there are still so many world bosses that still don't see any action at all (vs. Trapjaw on Tatooine for example coming up as a target what feels like every other week).


Shintar the Revanchist

I had to google how to pronounce that and what it even means, and as my pet tank commented, it makes zero sense as a title... but what's important is that you get it as a reward for killing Revan on hard/veteran mode, which my guild finally did this weekend, oh em gee. This wasn't like the Terror from Beyond either, where we had beaten the fight before, just not at the right level. Temple of Sacrifice and Ravagers have never been in a position where you could outlevel them.

Revan is another one of those bosses with whom I have quite a long history. During the Shadow of Revan expansion his hardmode remained out of our reach because we couldn't even beat the encounter leading up to him, the Revanite Commanders. Then everything got retuned with 4.0 and we one-shot them. We didn't immediately proceed to Revan, but I have posts talking about our guild working on the fight from as far back as June of last year. We kind of worked on him on and off again, with another post from March mentioning that we were back at it, before we once again returned to the Terror from Beyond. Once that fell to our combined might, we continued things with Revan where we had left off.

We actually already came very close to beating him several weeks ago or so, but then we just kept messing up on the core phase again and again. When we finally beat him on Sunday it was a fantastic feeling.

Despite of the frustration caused by repeated wiping I also really came to appreciate the fight in a weird way. To be honest I always thought that the story mode version was a bit dull, and in hindsight I think this is because the fight seems to have been conceived as a hardmode first, and then they just removed half the mechanics for story mode, which is why it feels a bit bland. However, on hardmode the encounter is chock full of inventive and interesting mechanics that constantly push the player without being so punishing that you can't recover from small mistakes if everyone knows what they're doing (until the every end that is, where I think things fall down a bit).

As a whole, the fight is a sort of reverse Soa, where instead of fleeing down towards the ground as the Rakata warlord keeps smashing the floor around you, you are on the offensive against Revan, climbing upwards in the infernal machine he intends to use and slowly dismantling it from the inside. When you think about it that's a really cool concept; the ease of story mode just doesn't really do it justice in my opinion.

In terms of mechanics, the hardmode version introduced a whole bunch of cool things that hadn't been seen in game before, and many of which haven't actually been re-used since (as far as I'm aware).

- Debuff bouncing: Essence Corruption, the debuff that Revan keeps handing out in phase one, is the ultimate punishment for damage dealers, because worse than just doing damage to them it reduces their outgoing damage by twenty percent per stack. What really makes it interesting though is that player abilities can't actually remove it; dispelling it only causes it to jump to the person doing the cleansing as well as any other players in close range. Therefore the optimal tactic is for people with the debuff to run out of the group and then have the healers dispel it. The healers accumulate more and more stacks that way (since they are the ones who don't need to do any damage and don't suffer from the damage reduction), until a puddle appears that allows them to cleanse themselves for good.

This makes the whole thing surprisingly strategic, and as someone who's never been a fan of "dispel spam" I actively came to like this phase despite of finding it very challenging at the beginning. I just haven't encountered anything else like it. Even looking back at my WoW days, the only thing I could think of with something roughly comparable would be the Necrotic Plague in the Lich King encounter, though the "debuff jumping" mechanic was used in a different way there.

- Knockbacks as an intended mechanic: Knocking hapless enemies to their deaths has been a fun part of playing The Old Republic since its beginning. Often the game lets you get away with easily disposing of hostiles that way, though there have also been missions that could bug out if you tried to knock the wrong opponent to their death instead of fighting them the "normal" way. Revan however is the only fight I've seen where people utilising their knockbacks isn't just tolerated but clearly intended, namely as a way to deal with the blades. That does mean that you could theoretically build a group that would find the fight impossible - if your ops consisted of nothing but Vanguards, Sentinels and Scoundrels you'd have a problem I guess - but in practice so many of the advanced classes have knockbacks that it works out okay.

- Destructible environment: As mentioned the fight is as much about disassembling the machine as it is about fighting Revan himself, with the final phase being about destroying the machine core. That's somewhat novel by itself, but I thought the most interesting part of it is that during the first phase, tanks are meant to turn their backs towards the pillars surrounding the platform to avoid getting knocked off, which results in those same pillars breaking down. (That said, our tanks could largely cheese that mechanic by resisting the knockback with abilities such as a Vanguard's Hold The Line.)

- Built-in jumping puzzles: Getting from the first to the second floor is extremely straightforward, as it just involves climbing up a set of stairs with two small gaps in them, but in the heat of the moment you'd be surprised how many people still manage to fall through those gaps to their deaths! Getting from the second to the third floor involves a teleport for everyone on story mode, but on hardmode you need to brave a proper jumping puzzle that has you leaping from one rock to the next. To not be too harsh on people who are not good at that, only one person in the group actually needs to complete it, then the rest can use the teleporter like on story mode. Still, you could argue that putting something like a tightly timed jumping puzzle in the middle of a boss fight is a bad idea, but I thought it was novel at least, and the requirement for only a single person to make it gives that one player a chance to really shine.

- Looking the right way: Finally, on the top floor you have to contend with the most novel mechanic of all: aberrations that will knock you off the platform (and whose knockback cannot be resisted) if you don't look at them (as in: turn your character to face them) at the right time. The only comparable thing I've played in an MMO is probably that mission in Secret World in the parking garage in Tokyo, where you have to keep your character facing a bunch of demonic ghost girls as they will advance towards you and kill you if you look away.

This was something that I thought was both a really cool idea and highly frustrating. As there isn't anything else like it in the game, you basically make it to that floor for the first time, go "What?" and then wipe. And then you have no other way of practising the mechanic than by repeating the first seven minutes of the fight over and over, just to practise on the aberrations for a few more seconds, which is very tiresome and demotivating. Kind of gave me flashbacks to WoW's Teron Gorefiend to be honest, and at least someone coded a little flash game back then to allow people to practise that fight outside of the game!

Ultimately I also didn't like the sheer deadliness of the knockbacks. I vaguely recall hearing a talk with a WoW raid designer (I think?) from a long time ago where he said something along the lines of "killing the players is easy" and that's what this made me think of. It's not hard to make a fight difficult by simply making the players deal with a one-shot mechanic every few seconds (as in "do X or die"). The longer this goes on for, the more people will have a chance to screw up, and that's exactly what creates the difficulty of the last phase. The act of turning your character the right way by itself is not tricky (except that you have to remember to avoid certain abilities that might turn you to face something else) but having to do so over and over again while also moving around and fighting or else die instantly is simply exhausting.

All in all, hardmode Revan is an extremely choreographed fight, pretty much the epitome of what people think of when they describe raiding as a form of synchronised dancing, unlike a fight like Tyth, which has a fairly limited number of straightforward mechanics where the challenge lies in their pattern changing ever so slightly every time. Initially I found this somewhat tedious, but over time I actually came to appreciate it for the fact that no matter how badly you do initially, you will get better with repetition.

This was particularly noticeable for me in the first phase with the dispels, which I initially found extremely challenging, desperately trying to make sure I always hit the right person at the right time and never "wasted" a cleanse, which wasn't helped by our melee dps initially also not being that good at moving out quickly if they got the debuff. However, I did get better at my bit over time, they got better at their bit, and by the time we killed the boss that stage had become almost mindless to me, like riding a bike. It was also very noticeable on the second floor, where initially everything seemed extremely overwhelming, what with weaving your way through the aberrations just right while also accounting for the core's pushes and pulls etc. Yet over time it just became second nature, and I could even spare attention for things such as helping to knock off stray blades or adding a bit of dps whenever I knew that use of a group-wide damage reduction cooldown would temporarily lower healing requirements.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I'm really chuffed with this particular achievement, more so than I've been with any boss kill in a long time. All the re-tuning since 4.0 and 5.0 has changed things up a bit, but at least once upon a time this fight was known as the hardest boss encounter in the game. We still have plenty more bosses to kill, but as I jokingly said to another officer today: After successfully beating this fight, it feels to me as if we can take on anything.


KotFE Chapters 7, 8 & 9 Master Mode

Like my Imperial alts, my master mode KoTFE project has been somewhat challenging to keep up with, but I haven't forgotten about it and am in fact up to the start of chapter ten now.

Chapter seven was fairly uneventful. There were several fights that would have had the potential to be challenging, but none of them actually turned out to be. In fact, the only time I remember dying is when the Exalted sicced his minions on me, and that's because the previous cut scene has you transition straight into combat with a significant number of mobs and I didn't manage to get the situation under control quickly enough to not have them kill me. When I actually had the chance to initiate combat on my own terms it went just fine.

Chapter eight had another walker that was a bit annoying (I'm really starting to dislike walkers of all kinds on my Sage) but the real surprise came in the form of Captain Lazna Delothrea, an unassuming Knight of Zakuul with some weak Skytrooper adds. I did remember her being a bit tricky on veteran mode, but on master she was an absolute killer, pouncing on you from quite a distance, just to follow this up with a stun and vicious stab that would reduce you to about a quarter of your health in one go.

I initially tried to go for my usual quick burn strategy, but since I seemed to be unable to take more than about a third of her health off before she came after me, I decided that I'd probably be better off trying to outlast her in my healing spec. I did a lot of fiddling then: getting Koth's meagre influence level of five up into the twenties at least, and trying to get HK-55 to make himself useful in some manner. Unfortunately I learned that the latter's contribution to the fight is worse than useless: he's immune to damage but also doesn't do any, though his useless shots are still capable of breaking crowd control somehow. I tried kiting around a container on the right, towards the platform at the back, around the structure on the left, but nothing worked as the Captain's ability to close any gaps quickly was just too powerful.

After more than a dozen wipes or so I finally grew sufficiently tired to google for advice and found this one video of someone successfully doing the fight - by going for a quick burn and using various legacy abilities from his heroic moment to chain more stuns than usual. Reminded me a lot of a video that an anonymous commenter linked in response to my post about KotET chapter six, in which I had stated that I couldn't see anyone killing the Rancor in the pit on a melee class. In said video a similar tactic to chain stuns was used to do just that.

The only thing that had me sceptical was that the video maker had been playing an Assassin - a class that is not short on defensive cooldowns, unlike my Sage. Still, I gave it a try... and what do you know, it worked, though it was close. Made me feel rather sheepish for having wasted so much time on all those drawn-out kiting attempts that didn't really go anywhere.

The final Arcann fight of the chapter was comparatively easy, though I decided to record and upload it to YouTube anyway, since the only other video of it I could find didn't show how you can use the power conduits around the area to stun him and take down his absorption shield.

Chapter nine doesn't actually have a master mode of course, but I still wanted to mention it just to repeat my annoyance about how it still has icons for veteran and master mode in the chapter interface that can't be filled. Just make it like the HK bonus chapter already and take them out.


I Miss My Imperial Alts

I considered calling this post "conquest is taking over my life" but decided that would have sounded just a tad over-dramatic. What has been happening though - in a nutshell - is that conquest has been dominating my play time heavily, at the expense of other activities (such as playing alts whose activities wouldn't contribute to my guild's conquest total), and I'm starting to feel a bit restless about it. Not burnt out exactly, but like that really shouldn't be all I'm doing.

Something similar happened when conquests were first released, and I hinted at how weirdly obsessive it made me back in this post from September 2014. And back then we weren't even that successful at conquest, only really making it into the top ten every so often.

Since the new system was released, things have kind of snowballed for my guild. We started with the small yield target, worked our way up to medium yield, and are now regularly going for large yield, or even fighting for first place on a planet. Last week we successfully conquered Ilum, making for our third victory in as many months. I also noticed that success breeds more success, as our placement on the board causes active players to whisper us and ask for guild invites, and then they in turn contribute to increasing our weekly guild total, allowing us to be even more successful.

Last time the "spell" of my conquest focus was broken by the release of the Shadow of Revan expansion, since activities such as levelling through the new content were by their very nature irrelevant to conquest but also sufficiently enthralling that I didn't care. Right now it looks like the next expansion is still several months off however, so I'll have to come to terms with how I want to spend my time in game by myself.

It's hard to nail down just what makes conquest so compelling. Part of it is simply the appeal of "making bars go up" that we MMO gamers are so fond of, however it matters that it's not just about me but about the guild. Knowing that other people care about us achieving our target, I feel that I should contribute as much as I can, especially as an officer. Yet even if we already have achieved the target, I then find myself thinking that I might as well cap another character to reap as many of the per-character rewards as possible (which I then just end up throwing in the bank to never look at them again, but I never claimed to make sense).

The revamped objectives make it "worse" by providing a great source of inspiration if you're unsure about what to do on any given evening. I used to be more focused on the daily CXP bonus activity, but with more than a dozen characters at Command rank 300 that has lost some of its lustre for me. The daily objectives in particular can be immensely alluring, because there's that slight pressure of missing out on the points for the day if you don't do the thing today, and often they are fairly small and quick activities that make me think something along the lines of: "Eh, whatever else I do tonight, I have time to quickly do that daily objective!" - but if there are several of them that interest me, my evening's gone before I've even realised what I'm doing. Since they are legacy-wide, there's also a bit of a fear of "accidentally" triggering one while on an unguilded alt and losing out on the points that way, which also serves to focus my attention on the same set of characters over and over.

It's a peculiar problem to have when you like an activity and there's nothing really wrong with it, but there's still also a part of you that wishes you'd be spending more time on other things.


Podcast Shout-outs

I haven't been very good at linking and giving shout-outs to other content creators more recently. I mean, I have a whole bunch of links up on the sidebar to the right, but I'm not sure how many people even look at that. I was definitely better at bringing up other fan sites and the like in my regular posts in the past. Anyway, since Armagon was recently talking about the subject of MMO podcasts, I thought I'd give him and the general public some recommendations! Note that I'll happily recommend all the podcasts on my sidebar, but I'm not going to talk about all of them here because I already made posts about some of them in the past.

Bad Feeling Podcast

I actually wrote about the Bad Feeling Podcast before and wouldn't usually write about it again, but I do feel the need to mention how much it has changed. The hosts are still the same, with their dirty sense of humour and copious amounts of swearing, but where back in 2014 they were hapless newbies and therefore making podcast episodes about subjects along the lines of "aren't companions neat" or "what are crew skills", things have changed a lot on that front. They haven't exactly become hardcore players (actually, they definitely haven't), however they became official Bioware influencers and realised that they actually live quite close to the studio's offices. This has resulted in them being able to interview devs directly more often than any other SWTOR podcast, and I've got to say those episodes are really, really great. That's not to say that I don't enjoy the regular banter as well, but even if you're not usually that into podcasts, tuning in for the Bad Feeling Podcast's dev interviews is a great way of learning more about what's going on behind the scenes.

Passionately Casual Podcast

I didn't give this podcast a chance for way too long, and now that I think about it I suspect that it's because of the name. There's nothing actually wrong with it, but I have this really vague recollection (it's so vague that I don't have a time stamp for it or even any names associated with it) of being pointed towards a podcast or two that were supposed to be about SWTOR but weren't, which resulted in me feeling very let down at the time, and ever since I've been highly suspicious of anything that doesn't have an explicit SWTOR or at least Star Wars reference in the name. Silly, isn't it?

Anyway, the Passionately Casual Podcast is definitely about SWTOR, though they do have segments where they might mention other games for a bit. What eventually got me to check it out was that Corellian Run Radio shut down in January this year... and in the final episode it was pointed out that the two podcasts were effectively run by the same people and they wanted to focus on just one show, which is really fair enough. So if you used to enjoy CRR, you can get a similar mix of casual chat about what's been happening in game, community discussion and guest contributors from Passionately Casual now.

State of the Old Republic Podcast

Ted from the State of the Old Republic (SOTOR for short) podcast has a special place in my heart because he actually invited me to be a guest on his show last year, plus he likes and retweets my stuff on Twitter a lot. Thanks, Ted!

His show also stands out from other SWTOR podcasts in that it's usually just himself talking (though he does have the occasional episode with a guest, see above) and it's much more scripted. Whether that's your cup of tea or not is a matter of taste I guess... but I do like that it differentiates his show from all the others out there, and that it's pretty dense in terms of providing news and info (as he doesn't have the chance to get side-tracked by random conversation). He also has to put in extra work to come up with things to talk about by himself, which is something I can sympathise with as a blogger. For example he's been running a series of segments about levelling all eight classes in sync and commenting about where their stories intersect or where it's implied that events happen in a particular order, which I've been finding very interesting.

The Council

The Council is the newest podcast on this list, but even that celebrated its first birthday recently, which should tell you how long it's been since I last made a post like this. This show marked the return of Redna, formerly of OotiniCast, who appears to have gotten back into SWTOR fandom after taking a break to get married and have a baby.

The Council has a number of unique features that I really like. So far, all of their episodes were dedicated to very specific subjects, with relatively little random chatter - though this might also be a side effect of the show still being relatively young. I've noticed over time that a lot of podcasts start out this way, but once they've talked about all the most common subjects, it just becomes "whatever's been in the news this week".

Anyway, they also stream their podcast on Twitch and then upload the videos to their YouTube channel, which I hadn't noticed any other podcasts doing before. (Though now that I did a bit of searching, I found that OotiniCast for example also uploads their episodes to YouTube... gotta switch to listening that way!) Anyway, the reason I like this is that while I still focus on the audio, I can occasionally glance over onto my second screen for the video, and being able to tie a face to each voice has made it much easier for me to remember who is who.

They also have this thing with posting polls on social media before every episode, which was what originally drew my attention to the show and inspired my post about Shadow of Revan being overrated when they were having an episode on the subject of expansions. I just like how they tie that into their discussions every time.

Finally, personally I haven't found another podcast where the crew feels so diverse in terms of interests inside the game. I was very surprised when I found out that Alise for example had only joined the game around KotFE's release - you don't hear from (relatively) newer players getting this involved in fandom that often. Or when they discussed the Conquest changes and literally everyone had a completely different opinion on them. I do love how that invites listeners to consider a point of view different from their own, and to think about how updates and changes might impact people with different play styles.


Twin Sunmer Games 2018

Two years ago I wrote about my guild organising a fun little social event which we playfully called the "Twin Sunmer Games". We didn't repeat it last year, but this year people decided to revive it, though by running it at the start of September we were only just able to justify still calling it summer games.

The two officers organising it managed to strike a nice balance between old and new, repeating previously popular activities in new locations while also adding something new. The most important addition was to give the new custom Huttball functionality in the Rishi stronghold a try. The one match we played as a guild was quite fun, though we also ran into what I can only guess was a previously undiscovered bug, namely that a new Huttball would respawn before the old one had actually been removed from the game via scoring or being dropped, which led to up to three balls being carried around at the same time. That certainly turned wanting to focus on the ball carrier into an interesting dilemma...

To tie things together, the older activities that we decided to repeat were also made Rishi-themed. So we also played "Hot Ball" (Hot Potato) with the custom Huttball stand in the Rishi stronghold for example. People were complaining a lot about the ball disappearing without doing anything this time, suggesting that it was bugged, though to me it didn't really seem to be happening more often than usual.

A relay run on Rishi was also planned, but then scrapped because we were running short on time. I've been told that the plans for it have been saved for a later date though.

Sticking with the theme, the flashpoint speed run took place in Battle of Rishi this time. Since I still remembered what a pain it had been in the last event to be stuck in a healer-heavy group, I made sure to relog my Guardian for dps. I also remembered the group with the most conservative approach winning last time, but of course our group leader had other ideas! This time the crazy plan was to skip a load of trash by running through to a checkpoint, dying, and letting the Scoundrel in our group vanish and then revive us once the mobs had reset. To be fair, that would have worked if we hadn't messed it up on the first attempt, which resulted in a wipe. As it was, the whole group dying and having to rerun the whole gauntlet up to the first boss was quite a set-back, though we still managed to finish in second place, only mere seconds behind the winners.

I also made a ten-minute video to summarise the event again, in the same style as last time:

If that makes you want to join in the fun, we do accept applications... though in fairness you should know that we don't organise events like these all the time.