15/01/2019

Seven Golden Rules For Happy Pugging

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while now. If you're a long-time reader of the blog or have watched some of my YouTube videos, you've probably caught on to the fact that I'm very fond of doing group content in pick-up groups. At the same time I know that these same pick-up groups generally have a bad reputation, not just in SWTOR but in other MMOs as well. And while it's true that you'll sometimes get people being jerks no matter what, I think that a lot of pugs' bad reputation is somewhat undeserved.


In fact, I'm becoming more and more convinced that people who feel that all their pugs are toxic are at least partially bringing it upon themselves. Not necessarily by being toxic themselves, but due to attitudes and expectations that make it easier for things to go bad when they really don't have to, or that cause the player to perceive the situation as worse than it is.

Two things in particular have served to cement this belief in me. The first was a YouTube channel I follow. I still watch a WoW YouTuber called Preach Gaming, and he has a series called The Daily Preach in which he will do something like pug a dungeon and provide a bit of narration throughout the process - sometimes it'll be something educational actually related to the content; other times he'll just tell a random story throughout the run. Like me, he's quite fond of pugging and most of his runs go quite well. His viewers, who mostly seem to think that pugs are hell, always find reasons to explain his success away and to excuse why that particular run of his wasn't terrible - if only he had tried queuing for a different dungeon/on a different character/at a different time! But then one day he uploaded a run where literally everything went wrong and which ended in horrific failure - and while he did swear at the camera a lot, he was also laughing throughout, and the most upvoted comment on the video simply expressed wonder at his ability to have a good time no matter the circumstances. That - to me - was a prime example of how your own attitude matters more than anything.

The other event that gave me pause was a Boarding Party run I did with a guildie and two pugs. We were already several pulls in when I suddenly noticed that one person still hadn't even entered the instance. My guildie asked if we should kick the guy and I was simply horrified by the extreme escalation his suggestion implied. I told him no and typed in chat: "[Name], are you coming?" The latecomer replied in the affirmative, apologised for the delay, and a minute later he was with us. When I pressed my guildie about his trigger-happiness in regards to kicking, he said that he himself had been kicked from groups for less than that. I believe him, but two wrongs don't make a right, do they?

Anyway, both of these things inspired me to think about and write down the most important factors that I believe are responsible for me enjoying most of my random group runs. If your pugs often go bad, maybe there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of that happening in the future? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. But for now, without further ado: My seven golden rules for happy pugging, in order from least to most important.

#7 - Be good at what you do. I put this one at the bottom because I don't want to sound as if I want to discourage casual or new players from pugging, but let's be honest: Being good at the game yourself and knowing what you're doing helps a lot when it comes to making a run a success, and successful runs are more likely to be happy runs. If you know all the fights you can give advice to the less experienced; if you're good at your class you can compensate for others performing poorly to some extent; and if you're knowledgeable about the game in general you'll be better at reading your group as a whole, being able to tell who's performing well and who might need a helping hand in certain situations.

#6 - Be ready for what you're getting into. This is kind of one step removed from being good and more about expectation management. I'm not saying you should be expected to know all the fights in advance (I always thought the idea of people being supposed to read a guide before they even step into a dungeon for the first time was ridiculous), but you should at the very least have an idea of what you're signing up for in general terms: How long does this sort of content usually take? If you run out of time and have to leave halfway through, nobody wins. What's the difficulty? Is it at a level you are comfortable tackling or should you maybe start with something easier first? Is there a minimum gear requirement? Are there any fixed role requirements (tank/healer)? If you don't at least know the basics, odds are high that someone will be in for an unpleasant surprise.


#5 - Communicate. People often bemoan that players in modern MMO groups don't talk much. To be honest, with content that's tuned for a group of random strangers there often isn't much to talk about, and I don't think that's necessarily a problem. However, if there's something you want or don't want (such as killing the bonus boss), or something that the other players should really know (such as that you're new to the flashpoint and will need some help), make sure to let them know. It's not a guarantee for success, because sometimes you'll get people that don't read chat or just ignore it. However, from my experience most players don't go into these runs with strong opinions on anything, and if you ask for something most often the reply will simply be something along the lines of "OK", "sure" or "I don't mind". But people aren't mind readers, and if you don't say that you want to do the bonus boss or watch the cut scenes, you don't get to moan about not being accommodated by default.

#4 - Try to see the funny side. Now, in fairness, I think this is something that you can't force and probably has a lot to do with what kind of personality you have, but maybe you can still influence your attitude by making a conscious effort? Basically, sometimes things will go wrong; there's no two ways about it. And in the heat of the moment, I may well get angry about it too, but in the long run I prefer to see the funny side. How the hell did we just wipe to this trash pull? I didn't even know that was possible! Well, you learn something new every day. Or: I can't believe what that guy just did! I've got to tell my guildies, that will make for such a funny story. Again, I'll admit that this one's easy for me simply because I'm easily entertained. Other people may be mortified by something such as accidentally sending their entire party to its death, but to me that particular incident was simply hilarious.

#3 - Be humble. One of the #1 annoyances in any team-based game is the guy who immediately tries to blame every failure on someone else. These kinds of people are particularly common in PvP, but you can run into them in PvE too. You can't entirely avoid running into others doing it, but you can strive to not do it yourself. So don't be that guy. I don't care if you're the best player on the server and that noob got himself killed five seconds into the fight. Chances are that the noob actually noticed it themselves and is feeling quite embarrassed as it is. If they repeat their mistake or seem confused, you can politely (!) explain what went wrong, but shouting at them is more likely to turn them off the game than anything else. And anyway, if you're that awesome, how about you think about what you could do better on the next attempt? If you're as good at this as you think you are, maybe you could have used one more cooldown and downed the boss even with the healer dead? Personally I love it when I manage to turn a bad situation around mostly or even entirely by myself. So focus on improving your own performance, not that of others. Even if your intentions are good, a twenty minute flashpoint pug isn't really the time and place to lecture anyone about the intricacies of how to play their class.

#2 - Treat people with respect. Similar to the above, you can't entirely prevent people from treating you like a faceless NPC, but you can treat them like real people and hope that they'll return the favour. If you want to do things one way but the rest of the group prefers to do it a different way (e.g. on the question of whether to do a bonus boss or not), accept the majority vote. It's not all about you. Be polite in your requests, not imperious. (*cough* people who yell "SKIP" repeatedly and in all caps when they don't want to watch a cut scene *cough*) By speaking up early in a polite manner, you set a bar for the rest of the group and they'll be less likely to assume bad things about you or your other team members. How about you try addressing characters by their names instead of their class/role for example? I don't exactly consider the latter offensive anymore, but it does add a personal touch to use someone's name and shows that extra willingness to engage with them on a human level. Finally, always give people the benefit of the doubt. If you're communicating in writing and with very few words, it can be easy to come across as rude or uncaring without meaning to. Always assume that they didn't mean it that way and even if you don't like someone's tone, it's best to just let it go. Which brings us to...

#1 - It's just a game. I'm actually in two minds about this phrase because I've seen it get abused way too often to be dismissive of gaming as a hobby. "Why do you care? It's just a game!" So let me clarify right away that this isn't what I mean. I'm not saying that you shouldn't care. What I am saying is that when things don't go well and you find yourself getting angry or frustrated, it helps to keep things in perspective. Gaming is supposed to be fun, and if it at any point ceases to be enjoyable, you are allowed to get up and walk away. I think I'm generally pretty good at not getting worked up about things in game, but I'm not immune to getting riled up sometimes. There have been times when my pet tank has had to sternly raise his eyebrows at me because I was yelling at my screen, usually over something that happened in a PvP match. But the thing to do when that happens it not to start typing angry things into chat and start arguing with people. It doesn't even matter who's right or wrong at that moment. Nobody's playing this game to get into fights. Honestly, you're better off just getting up and taking a break. Both you and the rest of the group will be happier for it.

12/01/2019

Guild Perks Are Confusing

One of 5.10's more low-key features has been the introduction of guild levelling and guild perks. It's kind of funny really, because in a different context this could have been the main feature of a patch, but with everything else that 5.10 delivered, it felt like a comparatively minor addition. Personally I was also hesitant to get excited about this new feature because while my guild is very important to me, I don't remember the implementation of guild levelling and guild perks in World of Warcraft back in the day being something that I ended up finding particularly great. Mostly I recall some rewards being kind of overpowered to the point that Blizzard had to nerf/remove them later, so my biggest concern was that Bioware might repeat Blizzard's mistakes in that regard.

So far it looks like they avoided that particular pitfall, but there have been others.

First off, let me just say that guild levelling by itself is fine. It doesn't really serve any purpose other than to signal to other players that you're active and to serve as a gating mechanism for some guild perks, but that's okay. It's basically an extension of Conquest that gives you yet another bar to fill via collective effort, and everyone goes "yay" when you succeed. I've taken a screenshot every time Twin Suns Squadron levelled up while I was online, because each one feels like an exciting "ding" that I won't get to experience a second time.


Guild level 2 achieved while I was doing dailies on Ossus...


... level 6 from killing the Alderaan world boss in a guild group...


... level 8 after tanking an uprising...


... level 10 from killing the Colossal on Iokath...


... level 12 in the middle of a PvP match.

Those perks though... I don't know. So far, it seems that if anything Bioware may have played it a bit too safe by making all the perks so inconsequential that nobody cares. I've actually been finding it a bit of a struggle to get the other officers in the guild interested in slotting perks, even though we have all the slots on the guild ship unlocked and aren't short on money either. People just aren't excited about most of them.

There hasn't really been much community buzz about them from what I've seen either. A couple of sites posted "guides" on the subject, but they're usually not much more than a copy and paste of what was posted about the system on the official forums when it was first put onto the public test server. I haven't really seen any talk about what perks might be best for what type of guild, and it feels to me that this is because nobody really knows. While the whole system was on the PTS before launch, it clearly didn't receive sufficient testing, which is evidenced by a multitude of strange bugs, which is in line with the rest of 5.10.

First off there was a perk that was supposed to grant you a slight increase in crafting crit for a few hours when used, but apparently its numbers were off and instead it pretty much guaranteed that all of your crafts would crit for a while (depending on the item and the used companion's influence level). They managed to fix that one pretty quickly.

Then there's a perk that grants you a chance of certain ops bosses dropping a Grand Chance Cube in addition to their normal loot if you kill them in a guild group. This just seems to be on by default, regardless of whether you actually picked the perk or not! Or at least we've seen a bunch of cubes drop from Soa, much to the consternation of everyone present in those runs, seeing how we never actually chose that perk.

There are a couple of perks that grant you an extra Conquest objective that gives a lot of points for doing a certain activity in a guild group. We bought the one called "Warzone Conquest I" which grants you an extra Conquest objective called "Warzone Rally" which claims to give you points once a day for doing ranked or unranked PvP in a guild group. Unfortunately, we quickly found out that this didn't work as expected, because it only triggered if we got into an arena. Seems that if your guild premade gets into an 8v8 warzone (the default for unranked), and the other four people are in a different guild (which they naturally are), it doesn't count as a guild group anymore. That's just plain nonsense seeing how you can't queue with a full group of eight. This perk has therefore ended up mostly going to waste, as the only reliable way to benefit from it is by doing ranked arenas, which most of my guildies don't like. I've given it a go a couple of times just for the sake of getting some use out of our purchase, but it's not fun when you struggle to find three other people willing to play even a single match just for the points.

We'd probably have been much better off with the perk that gives you a repeatable Conquest objective to do an operation in a guild group (though this might also be bugged and not working if the forums are to be believed). The thing is, I only know that this even exists because I've heard other people talk about it, because I've never actually seen the associated perk. About two weeks ago, I went through the list of available perks as displayed on our guild ship (to make sure I had the definitive live list and not outdated PTS information), and that one wasn't even there. Initially I thought that maybe there was some sort of display issue with all the guild group perks cancelling each other out or something - my evidence for this was that in our Imp ship we chose the flashpoint perk of this type and now can't see the warzone perk, while in our main guild it's the other way round.


However, the operations perk was never there on either faction's ship as far as I could see. And worse, the other day I looked at the list of available perks again and some of the ones that I noted down as available only two weeks ago have now disappeared as well, without us changing anything. Can you "outlevel" guild perks without meaning to? Are some of them only available during certain times or after fulfilling some invisible prerequisites? Who knows! (EDIT: Almost immediately after posting this I found some information on Jedipedia that talks about "perk cycles" and that some perks are only available during certain cycles. There is zero indication of these in game though, which just adds another layer of confusion on top of everything else. Holy crap.)

For all I know, there could be some amazingly overpowered guild perks lurking in the system somewhere - but at the moment we can't even tell because half of them don't show and the other half doesn't work right. Hopefully Bioware will sort things out eventually and thereby give players a chance to get more interested in the system... but at the moment there's still too much wrong with it to really get excited about the potential benefits.

09/01/2019

Conquerors of Corellia

Last week Total Galactic War came around again, and since it had been almost six months since the last one there was much excitement to be had. Not to mention that Bioware added two new planets to conquer in the form of Ossus and Ziost!

I happened to be home at the time of reset and the guild's Discord chat turned into a veritable war room as people discussed what would be the best course of action to take. With the 15% bonus towards the guild total that you now get for invading, there is once again pressure to get going as soon as possible, not to mention that there's also the psychological benefit of "staking your claim". At the same time we didn't want to accidentally go up against one of the big guilds by committing too early, however. While we may have become a bit blasé about all the small and medium planets we managed to conquer in the last six months, the large yield targets are still exciting because during a normal three/four planet week we don't stand a chance against the small handful of dedicated Conquest guilds that usually claim them. But with Total Galactic War there is a lot of spread and a chance for smaller guilds to punch above their weight, which we obviously wanted to make use of.

After some spying on Imperial side (since Balmorra and Taris are split by faction you can't see which guilds from the other side have committed to them) we settled on Corellia, which was our first choice in terms of how many people in the guild needed it for the achievement. We had a bit of a scare when we were soon joined by a relatively new guild called Exiles of Yavin which had been in the top ten for the large yield the previous week and a quick /who revealed that they had more than fifty people online... however from what we quickly gathered from their guild recruitment messages in general chat and their only slowly increasing score, they appear to be a social/casual guild who mostly just happen to score high due to their large number of active members. Let's just say that the Conquest-crazy Twins were more than a match for them and our lead over them was never really in question after the first night. I guess they had expected to go up against a guild of complete nobodies and didn't quite know what hit them.

While writing about the last Total Galactic War, I mentioned how the objectives got me to take part in activities that I don't usually bother with, such as the GSI dailies. The same thing happened this time, and I wasn't the only one either, which was really funny to me as guild chat suddenly had people who never do these quests talk shop as if we were all pros at doing them. In particular I remember a conversation that went something like this, about the Tatooine daily Looking for Droids:

A: Wow, they were in the very first sandcrawler I scanned!
B: Same thing happened to me!
C: Me too, how curious.
D: For me it was the very last one; I hate you all.
E: I just keep resetting the quest until I get them from the Anchorhead sandcrawler.
C: You can do that? Holy crap, I had no idea!

Made me laugh a lot.

A rich guildie also contributed some cash prizes for the biggest contributors this time around, and some people got really into it! It was quite fun to watch two players in particular race against each other - they were neck on neck until the last day. The winner had eventually earned an amazing 385k points for the guild. My own 195k spread across twelve characters were nothing in comparison!

Anyway, it was another very successful and fun event, and while the fact that it only occurs irregularly is part of the appeal, I do hope that we won't have to wait another six months for the next one.

04/01/2019

Buggy New Year

So, after singing Bioware's praises for the Jedi Under Siege patch in four posts in a row, there is one negative thing that I've got to get off my chest: the bugs. I wouldn't say that 5.10 has been the buggiest release they've ever had, but I guess the actual content being so great causes the technical issues to stand out in even greater contrast than usual.

First there were the odd bugs related to the new content. While these did cause me to miss out on a masterwork data crystal on some alts in the first week, I honestly thought that these were funny more than anything else. Like, how does it even happen that a certain quest can only be picked up on Tuesdays? Limited time missions aren't even a functionality anywhere! Well, I guess there is that new limited time quest now, but that wasn't the one that was bugged... anyway, I remember feeling like a right idiot running around on that first Wednesday on my Marauder and asking everyone and their mother where to pick up the weekly quest on Imperial side because I was apparently too dumb to find it. I was so glad when I found out that it wasn't just me! And at least some of the ensuing general chat conversations were pretty amusing. "Where do I pick up the weekly mission?" - "On Tuesday," sounded like something out of bizarre comedy skit.

Then of course there was the fact that this same mission to kill the two world bosses wouldn't actually give people credit for their kills most of the time... unless they made sure to leave the group just before the boss's death. Again, so counter-intuitive! I wonder who was the first person to find out about that workaround? But again, there was something humorous about seeing a whole ops group disband frantically just before achieving the kill. I'll have to remember to try that next time I kill the Colossal on Iokath, since that also still seems to have the problem of only giving credit to people in an ops group erratically. Either way, both of these bugs related to the new mission were patched out just before the team at Bioware went on holiday.

You do have to wonder why they insisted on dropping such a big content patch just before the holidays though. They did that with Shadow of Revan too, and it didn't work well then either. I guess they really needed to boost their Q4 numbers at all costs? Even if they aren't selling boxes, I have no doubt that a big story update like this causes a noticeable surge in subscriptions and cash shop purchases.

Anyway, unfortunately the few bugs they managed to fix just before going on holiday aren't the end of things. One of the new dailies for example is often hard or impossible to complete because the objectives you're supposed to click on the ground are bugging out somehow, and once an instance is bugged nobody else can do the quest in it anymore. If you're lucky and get a fresh one you can still do the mission, but it's very hit and miss.

Aside from the new stuff, there are also some weird bugs affecting basic game systems that make you wonder what exactly they changed to break those things. A good example is quest sharing, which suddenly doesn't work anymore. Or as a guildie would clarify: the sharing works, just the accepting doesn't. What did they change to affect that?

Or take companions: Most of them have been behaving very erratically since the patch. Ranged companions in particular have suddenly developed a habit of freezing in their tracks the moment you enter combat - so if you move even one step out of their range, you might suddenly find yourself fighting without support while they simply stare at you from a distance. I've got to admit that I see one upside to this one as it forces me to pay a bit more attention in combat and micro-manage my companion a bit if needed, which is engaging. Still annoying when you don't notice it in time though.

Companions in general seem to have lots of issues, and it's not clear whether the emergency fix Bioware applied for the companion bug on patch day really fixed the original issue in its entirety. There are still a lot of reports about missing companions, but we can at least hope that most of these are UI-based and not your character's actual history being overwritten.

My own Sorcerer has unfortunately fallen victim to one such bug that definitely goes deeper. I had jumped into Jedi Under Siege all excited, eager to replay the Imperial story after how much I enjoyed it on my Marauder, but about halfway through I suddenly ran into Khem Val, which made me escape out of the cut scene faster than you can say "skip please" because this particular Sorcerer chose Zash over Khem in her class story, which means that as per the Nathema Conspiracy Khem is dead. So I have the opposite problem of the missing companion people in that I have a dead companion having come back to life and suddenly wanting to be my friend. I haven't dared to advance the story any further since the interaction with Khem is baked right into the storyline. I did raise a CS ticket, but the person who replied clearly hadn't even read it properly, so I'm now just waiting for the devs to come back and hopefully read about this bug on either the forums or in their internal bug report tool (I've submitted it in both). At least for me my inquisitor is only one of many alts, so having to put the story on hold on her isn't a game breaker, but I can still see this kind of thing really souring the experience for people. Here's hoping that the team will get to bug-fixing asap now that they seem to be back from their Christmas break.

02/01/2019

An Short Visit to Tamriel

With no real plans for New Year's Eve, I recalled that last year, I had used it as an opportunity to load up Elder Scrolls Online for the first time in ages. So I thought to myself: Why not make a tradition of that? Just give it a few hours to patch and perform the mandatory repair (because for some reason the game seems to like breaking itself while I'm not playing), and I should be good to go.

ESO remains the one MMO that I feel I should really like more than I do, due to its similarities to SWTOR in terms of lore focus, voice acting, other players with similar taste as me liking it etc. but somehow it never quite clicks. Still, nothing wrong with taking it for another non-committal spin, right?

I had forgotten that I'd left my cat person at level seven wearing an utterly hideous helmet, but I did remember that I still had Kenarthi's Roost (whose name I just had to google to find out what it's really called, because apparently I had horribly mangled it in my head) left to finish up, so I did that. It was okay I guess.

During the last quest in the main chain, when you're supposed to "escape the area" with some urgency, I got distracted by a fishing hole and started fishing, which quickly gained me several achievements. I knew that urgency was a lie anyway. Then I tried to go for a swim and was killed by "slaughterfish", resulting in another achievement and me having to run back inside the instance just to be able to escape from it properly.

I wasn't really feeling it yet at this point, but then I hit level eight and saw that they had introduced some level up rewards since the last time I played, which also hint at things that you will get later, and saw that at level ten I was going to get a free horse. Free horse! I still vaguely recall all the hubbub about the game's collector's edition coming with an exclusive horse back in the day, so the times have clearly changed a lot. Anyway, that served as a motivator for me to press on.

As this also marked the point where I was finally entering territory that I hadn't already seen back in the beta, I actually found myself getting somewhat drawn into the main storyline, despite of being constantly addressed as "Vestige". What am I, an appendix? If there is a good lore explanation for this, feel free to enlighten me in the comments, but I still think that it's a stupid-sounding title.

Also, the prophet is worse than General Garza and her constant requests for troopers to go back to Coruscant. He kept telling me that I should go because he needed to meditate or something like that, and as soon as I was two steps out of his cave his spectral form would pop up in front of me and call me right back. Seriously, every time. I'm hoping that this an accidental side-effect of the way I'm playing or an unintentional leftover from previous questing changes, because it's really awkward.

Levelling up somehow manages to feel really slow by modern standards, and having to assign new skill points makes me want to cry every time. Others may love having the freedom to build their own class, but I know that I suck at it and I just wish the game had some built-in recommendations or something. (In case you need a reminder, I'm the person who managed to build a KOTOR character that was lacking so many crucial abilities that it turned the final fight of the game into a soul-crushing slog.)

At level ten I got my horse though. Hurrah! And then was promptly defeated by ESO's UI. I didn't think I'd ever have to google something like "how do I summon my mount in ESO" but that's what I ended up doing, because the in-game help pages unfortunately were of no help. Apparently the answer is that you press H for horse, which probably made sense to someone somewhere. I don't know, from a distance all Bethesda games kind of look the same to me, so maybe there is a certain consistency there and they just expect people to know how everything works. As someone who hasn't played any other games from the studio I often feel a bit lost though.


You can recognise the noob by her mismatched armour and free starter horse.

I was also kind of surprised by how "needy" the game is these days, considering that it's buy to play with some subscription encouragement. Apparently there are daily log in rewards now; when you want to research something it takes a long time and you can only run one research project per skill at a time, and to fully train up your riding skill you're apparently supposed to visit the riding trainer once a day for half a year to queue a new training session each day. These "make sure to log in every day just to press a button" tactics are something I tend to associate more with free-to-play titles.

Shortly after I acquired my horse, I also had my first ever interaction with another player, and it was super awkward. I had this quest that required me to enter a certain area, but a guard was rebuffing and blocking me. I thought I'd try to sneak past. I failed, but since I hadn't really done much sneaking before, I re-tried a couple of times just to make sure I wasn't doing it wrong. Someone else saw this and started whispering me that I was doing it wrong and should follow him instead, switching to all caps and then /yelling when I didn't immediately respond. This made me so embarrassed that I just ran away and did something else entirely for a bit. It's funny because I'm 100% convinced that this person was just trying to be helpful but I felt uncomfortably judged for being a noob and just wanting to figure things out on my own.

The storyline continues to be somewhat interesting, though for some reason I really struggle to remember the names of characters and places - the naming conventions in Tamriel just don't work for me, and while you can sometimes ask questions about things in the dialogue options, the game generally seems to assume that you're already somewhat familiar with the world of the Elder Scrolls, name-dropping important characters, concepts and places like there's no tomorrow, which can cause me to zone out a bit. It's an interesting contrast to WoW, where I also had no knowledge of the IP when I started playing back in 2005, but a lot of the early vanilla quests were designed around giving you a basic idea of the culture your character lived in.

Also, the degree of importance bestowed on your character based on very little whatsoever is almost comical. Redbeard wrote a post on this subject recently but made it about MMOs in general, and my reaction was: "Okay, but in how many games does this actually happen?" Okay, so ESO is where it happens. I still can't believe I went to personally warn the queen of the Aldermarimeri Dominion of an assassination attempt against her and was then elevated into the position of one of her personal besties within about five minutes.

Combat is a mixed bag, as I'm not a huge fan of the style of action combat. I was kind of impressed when I suffered my first "real" death (not counting the slaughterfish) fairly early on, from one of the raptor-like things (again, don't ask me about names). Up until then everything had been a cakewalk, but then that thing just kept knocking me about to the point that I could barely scratch it before dying. Fortunately that particular challenge was easily overcome by using my stun breaker and block more effectively, but the overall flow of combat still feels kind of clunky to me.

Anyway, I made it to level 11 before I logged off for the evening and enjoyed puttering about enough that I also got myself certified in all the (default) crafting skills. Same thing again next year I guess?

31/12/2018

Ossus Is A Great Planet

Now that I've spent no less than three posts waffling about all the things I love about Jedi Under Siege's story, it only seems fair to also give the environmental artists and level designers their due, because Ossus is both beautiful and fun to spend time on.


It's not just pleasing to the eye (to be honest I feel that most of the planets added after launch have been), but it also has a very "vanilla" feel to it. I think the main reason for this is how vast and open it is. I'd say it's probably similar to Yavin IV in size, which isn't huge, but the quests are very widely distributed across the area. I can understand why this "larger than life" design might not be everyone's cup of tea, but personally I really like it because it kind of serves as a counterpoint to the game's "theme-park-ness", which is to say that while SWTOR likes to take us through very tightly directed stories, having large and open zones at least makes the planets feel like actual worlds instead of as if they were just designed to serve as set pieces for the quest narrative.

In practice this means that doing the daily quests requires quite a lot of running around, but unlike on Iokath the whole thing flows very well, so it doesn't feel annoying. The missions themselves are all fairly run-off-the-mill in their gameplay (kill X, click on Y), but again: that's fine. Personally I don't mind Bioware experimenting a bit now and then, like they did with the puzzle and vehicle sections in KotET, but these things can be divisive, whereas you can't really go wrong with simply giving people more of a thing they already like, which is to say an opportunity to use their beloved characters' skills. About the most annoying thing is that a lot of objectives are limited to a fairly small area or even to just one specific mob, and with the oodles of players all trying to get their quests done at the same time the amount of competition can be aggravating. Personally I've been dealing with that by questing in the PvP instance most of the time.

I also have to give a special shout-out to the new heroic missions on Ossus. I've found the [Heroic 2]s to be easily soloable, but the [Heroic 4] definitely requires you to bring a friend (or make one). I've actually done all of them in groups though, simply because it's so easy! With how busy it is on the planet you can just post a shout-out in general chat and usually get a response instantly, but even if it takes a couple of minutes you can simply do some of the solo missions while keeping an eye out for other people interested in grouping. The automatically granted quick travel item also comes in handy (and is the main reason I've also done the [Heroic 2]s in a group sometimes to be honest), because it allows everyone to instantly get to the right place and get going. This is the kind of thing I had been hoping for when Bioware added the existing heroics to the fleet in 4.0 and added those quick travel items in the first place... before I realised that they'd obsoleted any grouping requirements in the process as well.

Another great thing about Ossus is that it has content beyond just the main storyline and its associated dailies. For example there are some hidden achievements to be chased and new datacrons to be found. I haven't actually bothered with these myself yet - while I already had guildies offering summons to the datacrons during the first week, I politely declined those as I wanted to at least have a closer look at them myself first. I like the idea of there being some extra content for me to check out later at my leisure instead of everything being more or less done once I've completed the quests.


There are also random security chests hidden in certain spots that contain more of the relic currency and are therefore worth picking up.

Finally there are the world bosses, and I'm delighted every time I see people forming groups for them. The weekly mission for a masterwork crystal means that they are currently in high demand, so just like with the heroics it's super easy to find other people to do them with. You can basically bring up general chat at pretty much any time of day and find someone in the process of forming a group. (I joined one of these at something like 11pm on Christmas Eve and one of the group members complained about the slowness of the process because it took longer than five minutes to fill the group.) You just whisper the leader to ask for an invite and then you can pretty much continue with your business until the group is full as someone will usually throw out a guild ship summon anyway once you've hit the maximum amount of players.

Both bosses are good fun, which is to say they have fairly straightforward mechanics without being boring tank-and-spanks, and handily support a role distribution that seems to mesh well with players' natural preferences, which is to say that you only need 1-2 tanks, about 4 healers, and then you're best off filling the other available 18-19 slots with damage dealers as both bosses have a lot of health. This contributes to groups filling up quickly and hassle-free, though it does worry me a bit in terms of how viable it will be to revisit these bosses once Ossus isn't the new hotness anymore.

My only real gripe is that the game's engine doesn't deal well with such large numbers of players, and especially when fighting Kil'Cik (the bug boss), the large group size combined with his endless add summons tends to turn the experience into a slide show for me. On R8-X8 (the droid boss), pugs usually do a lot of dying and zerging (fortunately the respawn point isn't far away) but it feels like this is mostly due to us as a community still not really understanding the fight (yet). For example I still don't know how/when you can actually interrupt him. One of his buffs states that normal interrupts don't work, but as for what qualifies as special enough to interrupt him anyway, I've seen theories from needing a certain number of people to interrupt at the same time to the dedicated interrupter needing a special buff (but nobody could say what it is or how to get it). Likewise I've repeatedly seen the advice to avoid blowing up the fuel barrels, however my guild found that doing so is actually a good thing as it's easy to avoid the resulting explosion, and no fuel means that the droid can't re-fuel, and once he hits zero fuel he stops doing Incinerate (his most deadly ability) entirely.


Anyway, what I'm saying is that there are plenty of things going on on Ossus to keep players engaged, with a lair boss scheduled to be added in the next patch as well, and I've actually been enjoying taking multiple characters there to get my reputation up and earn new rewards in a way that I haven't done in years. Thanks, Bioware!

(Bonus: One of my first ever posts on this blog was about me being endlessly entertained by people falling to their deaths, and even on that front Ossus delivers, as there's this elevator in the Imperial base that inexplicably travels faster than falling speed, so if you step onto it at the wrong moment, you can watch it speed away from you right under your feet while you slowly fall after it, until you eventually get reunited at the bottom and go splat. This has happened to me about two or three times now and I've also had times where I was waiting at the bottom of the lift myself and suddenly saw someone else faceplant right in front of me. Pure hilarity.)

28/12/2018

2018 Predictions vs. Reality

At the end of last year I let my fellow gaming bloggers lure me into trying to make some predictions about the upcoming year for the first time. I figured that my guesses were all super boring and more or less guaranteed to come true. I'm surprised by how wrong I was! Let's review the predictions I made about what was going to happen to SWTOR in 2018 one by one.


1. I expect that we'll get an expansion announcement once the current storyline has been wrapped up, and that the three flashpoints that comprise it will tie into the new expansion in the same way Forged Alliances tied into Shadow of Revan. The expansion's theme will be related to the Heralds of Zildrog and have a name that is designed to sound vaguely like the title of an existing Star Wars movie, such as "The Serpent Awakens". The actual release will be set to happen only a couple of months after the announcement, since Bioware never milks these things for hype, and will happen in early autumn at the very latest but probably earlier. The expac will feature another five levels of story content but no new operations.

My first and biggest prediction was the one I was sure was pretty much a given, at least the part about us getting an expansion, and I was completely off, as we're actually no wiser about 6.0 than we were a year ago. My proposed theme, which was the most "daring" part of the prediction I suppose, also turned out to be moot as they actually ended up wrapping up the entire Zildrog arc in the Nathema Conspiracy flashpoint. I honestly thought at the time that there was going to be much more to it.
 
2. Speaking of operations, the last boss for Gods from the Machine won't be released until June or so, making it the most drawn-out content release EVAH! In hindsight, all the fights will be excellent, but nobody will care because people lost interest months ago. Master mode will continue to fail to materialise or at the very least get delayed even more. If it does ever see the light of day, it will come with a hefty nerf to all of veteran mode. (Note that I'm not saying that this is what I want to happen, just what I expect to happen based on past observations.)

While it did ultimately take ages until we were able to run Gods from the Machine in its entirety, they were relatively quick with getting Izax out the door and got him live by March. I also think that I was wrong about nobody caring about Gods by the time it was completed, though we seem to continue to exist in this weird information hole where we don't have a single reliable source for guides for boss fights anymore and we're all kind of winging it. The other day my guild figured out that some of the common advice about what you're supposed to be doing on the Ossus droid world boss for example is actually the opposite of what you should be doing, so yeah...

I will give myself points for the master mode prediction though, because while it has come out now, it did take many months and was even supposed to have been cancelled for a while. I don't think the nerf to veteran mode has been as substantial as I would have liked, but it did happen despite of Bioware initially not wanting to do any nerfing at all.

3. Either with the expansion's release or somewhere around it, Bioware will reveal some major change or new feature that will leave everyone going "What the hell?" - not necessarily because it's a bad idea (though it might be), but because it seems utterly random and feels like something that nobody ever asked for. (Again, not saying I want this to happen, just speaking from experience...)

Again, we didn't even get an expansion, but even if we leave that aside I don't think they did anything super weird this year either. In actuality I thought that all their content additions and systems changes were fairly safe and predictable. I suppose the whole masterwork gear thing added with Ossus is slightly strange in that "did anyone ask for this" kind of way, but I suspect it's meant to be a response to people wanting crafting to be more relevant again as well as moving even further away from Galactic Command, both of which are things that people have expressed a desire for.

4. One thing that will definitely be changed is conquest. That's not much of a prediction, considering that Keith himself has officially said so! However, I will add that I expect them to add a lot of new activities as ways to earn conquest points, and more importantly, the system will be revamped in some way that allows smaller guilds to get more out of it than they currently do.

I suppose you could argue about what qualifies as "a lot" but they certainly did add a whole bunch of new conquest objectives. And the new system is definitely much more rewarding for smaller and medium-sized guilds. As I acknowledged at the time though, this was a bit of a non-prediction.

5. Story-wise, the Eternal Alliance will either be disbanded or become irrelevant in some way, finally returning us to the story of Republic vs. Empire. Now this one I might actually be hoping for...

Even this was kind of wrong, as the Alliance has been neither disbanded nor become irrelevant. Its importance has been greatly diminished, but it does remain a relevant player on the galactic gaming board, even if the focus is moving back Republic vs. Empire now.

Now, while this was pretty fun to review, despite (or maybe even because) of all the ways in which I was wrong, I don't think I'll be repeating this whole prediction thing this year. I did actually start a draft post trying to write down some guesses and ideas for things we might see in 2019, but to be honest I couldn't think of much to say beyond "we'll get an expansion in 2019, for real this time". I better not be wrong about this one a second time!

25/12/2018

The Return of [SPOILER]

I feel like we as a community are in a slightly weird place in terms of spoilers right now. There is this big plot twist in Jedi Under Siege that's definitely more fun to experience as a surprise... but Bioware themselves are at this point talking about it very openly on their social media and it's even on the front page of the official website, so we should be able to talk about it as if it's nothing special, right? However, since I know that my blog has some readers who play the game more casually, who might miss even those signs and would probably still prefer to be surprised, I'll try not to spoil things for anyone a little longer by not having the big twist just show up in people's feeds without warning. Maybe I'll go back and change the subject line of the post later.


Anyway, let's get down to business. You know now that there'll be spoilers!

There are basically three things that I'd like to talk about in regards to the return of Darth Malgus.

1) Did I like it and do I think it's a good thing for the game?
2) Notes on how things actually play out in detail
3) Looking forward to what might come next

Did I like it?

I've long said that Darth Malgus' "death" in False Emperor always struck me as a colossal waste. Last year I made a post called "11 NPCs That Died Before Their Time" and Darth Malgus came in at number two on that list. As I noted back then, it felt very weird that a character that had received so much build-up before launch was killed off before the game had even received its first patch. The fact that the original incarnation of the Malgus boss fight had you knock him off a ledge so that you never saw a body may have been a hint that Bioware was always planning to bring him back at some point, but it seemed to me that with six years having passed since then, that ship had long since sailed. When Bioware teased fans with that "deleted scene" from the KotFE trailer two years ago showing Malgus turned into a carbonite trophy for Arcann and Thexan, it left me completely cold. "Whatever", I thought. "Bringing him back at this point wouldn't really add anything."

Yet when I first stumbled across a spoiler saying that Malgus was alive in Jedi Under Siege, I was instantly and unreasonably excited and I couldn't have told you why. I wasn't even sure whether it was true, as I had kind of come across it by accident and from the context it wasn't entirely clear to me at the time whether the information was even reliable.

Now that I've actually seen Malgus' return in game, I can say that I absolutely loved it though. And most of the general reactions I've seen to the story have been very positive as well. Which leads us to...

Do I think it's a good thing for the game?

The one person on my Twitter who groused a bit about Malgus returning pointed out that it was a tired trope and in some ways a rehash of Shadow of Revan. And I can't say that they are wrong! But tropes aren't always a bad thing and I feel that in a way, Malgus' return is just what the game needed right now. Two years ago the notion didn't excite me, because it would've just been an easter egg in the story of the Eternal Empire. However, things are different now that we are finally moving away from that and returning to the Republic vs. Empire conflict that we all love about Star Wars. This was something that SWTOR handled very well at launch and for which Darth Malgus was very much a poster boy. Bringing him back now isn't just a random plot point, but rather serves to underline that we're going back to the "good old days" by literally bringing a beloved character from launch back from the dead. Not Quite Dead may be a trope, but it's the trope we needed right now.


In that context, I also understand Bioware basically "spoiling" their own story on the front page. They made sure that the big twist was going to be a surprise for those of us who are actively playing every day, but now they are basically switching gear to using it as a marketing tool. As I said above, Darth Malgus is a symbol of everything people loved about SWTOR at launch, and by shouting loudly about his return, they are probably hoping to reel some lapsed players back in who checked out during KotFE/KoTET because they didn't care about Zakuul. Honestly, I hope it works.

The Way It Plays Out

With me being a die-hard Republic loyalist, I naturally played through the Republic version of the Ossus story first. In that, the reveal that Darth Malgus is alive comes very close to the end - and while I still enjoyed it for what it was, you receive very limited information about just what exactly is going on. It left me feeling eager to see things from the other side, though I still remembered Ilum all too well, meaning that I didn't necessarily expect to receive satisfying answers on Empire side either. Boy, was I wrong.

On Imperial side, the reveal that Darth Malgus is alive comes as a surprise too, though more so to you as a player than to the rest of the Imps. As Major Anri puts it very amusingly, apparently tales about Darth Malgus being alive had been making the rounds for a while, but most considered him a sort of bogeyman used to ensure that good little Imps brushed their teeth and ate their vegetables. Still, the big reveal worked perfectly for me. The scene in which Darth Malora paces before the mysterious supply drop she's just received goes on just a little too long, with the camera slowly changing focus from her to the crate, and just as you start to wonder whether maybe someone is listening from inside... out pops Malgus!

My first playthrough on Imperial side was with my Marauder, who's been my "dark side story main" since KotFE, but other than that I don't usually enjoy playing her very much to be honest. That said, she was a great fit for this particular bit of story and it just felt perfect. I loved how she was the only one to not bow to Malgus and how you're even given the option to mock him, in that way Sith are wont to do when they are trying to get each other's goat. However, he totally doesn't take the bait, which is also very much in character with the Malgus we know from back in the day, who was very goal-focused and not easily distracted by anger. (During some of the flashpoint intro quests you can give slightly stroppy replies along the lines of "Well, why should I care?" and he always has a good response.) There's also some interesting dialogue with Anri in the aftermath of this where she thanks you for not making a scene with Malgus, because we all know what it's like when you put two or more powerful Sith into the same room, which was another nice acknowledgement of my character's base class and also underlined once again that Anri has a very good understanding of Sith power dynamics.

However, the best part is undoubtedly the bit closer to the end when you reunite with Malgus in the temple and he asks you to team up with him against the Jedi occupying the area. My first reaction was :"Squee, Darth Malgus is my companion!", immediately followed by: "Oh wait, I'm gonna set him to heals now and he'll just wave his hands around and channel purple lines at me, and that's gonna feel a bit undignified for him, isn't it?" However, it seems that someone at Bioware wisley anticipated this, so they coded Malgus to not act like a normal healer. He jumps around smashing things up regardless of what role you set him to, and if he's supposed to be healing, you just receive heals somehow while he's smashing things to bits. I don't know how it's supposed to work but I didn't really care either. It was a great way of letting you really enjoy the feel of the team-up without making it impractical.


Totally Besties Now.

We also learn during the story that Darth Malgus' current role is that of the Emperor's/Empress' Wrath, so for my Marauder the added dimension of old and new Wrath teaming up really hit the spot. However, it's also made clear that Malgus did not volunteer for his current role. He looks anything but pleased when he's being told that he'll soon be prepared for his next assignment, and frankly the fact that he was dropped off on Ossus in a box like a slab of meat instead of being allowed to arrive on a shuttle like a normal person doesn't indicate him receiving a great amount of respect from his new boss. His new codex entry explains that it was Acina who rescued him from certain death, and it's implied that she has pretty tight control over him (presumably due to the cybernetic enhancements she gave him). If Acina is dead in your story, Vowrawn is supposed to be the one pulling the strings after her demise.

I do love the idea of Acina having been behind all of this by the way. I really liked her in KotET, but I also couldn't quite shake the feeling that she seemed maybe a bit too nice for a Sith. I love the idea that underneath that agreeable exterior she's been running some extremely devious schemes and side projects the entire time, and it makes her rise to Empress that much more believable.

What's Next?

What we learn about Malgus' current state on the Imperial side of the story is very intriguing. His basic character traits still seem the same, but at the same time it's very obvious that he's not entirely in control of his own actions, which raises the question of what he's really thinking throughout the entire thing. When he expresses a desire to work with you, is that just him trying to keep you sweet because it's what he's been ordered to do? Or is he genuinely interested in your character, maybe even seeing the Alliance Commander as a possible future ally? Does he actually believe in the future of the Sith Empire again or would he still love to break away if given the chance?

There are so many ways this could do, and ironically my biggest fear is that because we are free to imagine a thousand different outcomes for this situation, whatever Bioware actually ends up going with might end up feeling disappointing simply due to its practical limitations.

In the immediate future (story-wise) I would expect our characters to fight against or by Malgus' side some more, but then what? Will he be able to break free? If so, will Imperial characters help him? What could Republic characters get to play through to match the sheer potential awesomeness of that? Or is it going to turn into another "sorry, but I hate you all" situation like on Ilum? There is so much potential here, but unfortunately also much room for things to go wrong.

How did you feel about Malgus' return and where would you like to see his story go next?

22/12/2018

Happy 7th Blogday to me

Back when SWTOR came out, I didn't even manage to go for a full week before I had the urge to start blogging about it, and well, here I am seven years later. That said, I've been less prolific in 2018 than in previous years - most years my post count for the year seems to average around 111, (123 if you include the unusually busy 2012 and 2016), but this year I'm only just making my 100th post.

Mostly I continue to blame my current place of employ and the annoying commute it forces me to endure, but to be honest I'm just generally trying to do too many things at once. Not only do I want to write about the game, I also want to make videos about it every now and then, and this year in particular I've also spent more time than ever just playing, what with the many Conquest events in which my guild decided to compete. I'm not very good at cutting back on things in a sensible manner, I just find myself suddenly running out of time while trying to do ALL THE THINGS and then get somewhat annoyed with myself. Anyway, you don't read this blog to hear me moan about my first world problems, not to mention that my chosen country of residence seems to be close to descending into anarchy, so who knows where I'll be this time next year... let's look back at what I blogged about in the past year instead; that's much more fun.

I started the year with a love letter to my favourite warzone, which is criminally underrated by most players. I was somewhat baffled to find that I'd apparently never done the Korriban Incursion flashpoint on master mode on Imperial side, and I started my journey to complete all the KotFE / KotET chapters on master mode. For anyone who might be waiting for me to post about the last few chapters of KotFE by the way, I haven't forgotten about them; I just need to actually write the post about chapters 12-14, which I've already completed, and then still play through 15 and 16, which I expect to be toughies. I also noted the day I reached Command rank 300 on my 9th character. For the record, not even a full twelve months later, I'm on 16 characters at that level, and I gave up on actively trying to level them up long ago... it just kind of happens now as I play.

In February I wrote about the third and fourth boss in Gods from the Machine, about whom I felt very ambivalent. We also got a spring road map, and I revisited all the repeatable world events, in which I previously hadn't participated in ages (something that Conquest would soon change though). I also made a compilation video of Pugette's flashpoint pug adventures, which I'm still proud of.

In March I expanded my in-game horizons (literally), and was excited to kill Izax for the first time when Gods from the Machine was finally completed. Bioware held a sort of event on social media, which I thought was kind of entertaining. They haven't done anything comparable since then though, so I'm not sure it achieved what they were going for. Conquests were revamped and despite of many people being critical about it at the time, it rang in a whole new era for my guild in terms of Conquest participation.

April started with the Big Cartel Market Spring Sale getting even me to take an interest in what was on offer. (I hope they bring it back some time.) I mused on the subject of story gating in SWTOR and wrote about some of the new class-specific companion returns. Despite of my enthusiastic finishing comment about wanting to complete KotET on the classes I was still missing to see their new companion missions, I've failed to make significant progress on that front ever since. I started on Pugging with Shintar season 2, a project that has been sorely neglected in the past couple of months due to the factors mentioned at the start of this post. I also talked about how my guild was doing just peachy despite of its age.

In May I discussed both the mechanics and the storyline of the new Nathema Conspiracy flashpoint in detail, while I started June expressing happiness about my guild putting more focus on 16-mans again (we've actually been able to keep this up and they are now a fixed part of our raiding schedule for one week each month). Conquest received further tweaks, and PvP was scheduled to receive some big changes. I expressed my thoughts on these and waxed nostalgic about what kind of changes SWTOR's warzones had gone through over the course of more than six years.

July saw me visiting the PTS and talking about beating the Terror from Beyond on master mode. My guild also conquered its first planet since the introduction of the new Conquest system, with many more to follow. In August I participated in Blaugust and killed the Yavin walker for the first time, three and a half years after it was added to the game. I also talked about the big PvP changes once they'd actually been implemented and had a look at the new Rishi stronghold.

In September we got another road map, and I decried the way Conquest had caused me to neglect my Imperial alts. I also defeated Revan in the Temple of Sacrifice operation on veteran mode for the first time, which was a big deal for me.

October saw me having some fun on the new Huttball map and thinking about how I'd been spending more time playing in planetary PvP instances lately. I also solved the problem of the neglected Imperial alts by making my guildies go on adventures in our Imperial alt guild.

November's posts were dominated by me participating in IntPiPoMo again, though I also got nostalgic for a bit, both about marketing hype after listening to an old podcast as well as about what I consider SWTOR's golden launch days.

Finally, I used December as an opportunity to review how the game's approach to dailies has changed over time, and when 5.10 finally launched I reported on the launch day, the Ossus story and both new and returning characters.

Whatever else happens, I'm sure the next year will provide me with plenty more subjects to write about.

20/12/2018

Seven Years of SWTOR

I like how making this post to commemorate SWTOR's launch date and taking a screenshot of my character's current look to add to the collage that I keep re-using for this purpose has become pretty much an annual tradition for me now.


Click to marvel at my trooper's changing fashions in full size.

If you want to look back at what I had to say about previous years, have some links:

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

Looking back at those previous posts, I'm noticing a slightly worrying trend: While I continue to enjoy the game and always try to maintain a positive outlook, the annual posts in review have gradually had fewer and fewer nice things to talk about. I mean, the game's launch was a disaster both in terms of PR and financial expectations, but as a player that first year was still a great time to be playing because of how much support the game received, and despite of lay-offs and other troubles, Bioware kept the ball rolling pretty well for the next couple of years after that too.

But then Knights of the Fallen Empire launched, the big expansion that was supposed to revolutionise the game... and while it did deliver on a lot of story, it also got people grumbling because suddenly little else was being added to the game. And then we had the dumpster fire of Galactic Command at the end of 2016 of course...

Last year I noted that 2017 had been the first year in which we hadn't received a new expansion and that there had generally been fewer content releases than in any year before that, but I was hopeful that Bioware might pick up the pace again in 2018. Yet here we are at the end of December and it's been another year. In fact, it blows my mind that it's been over a year since 6.0 was first teased and not only has it not launched, we are literally not a single step closer to even knowing when it will be delivered or what it's going to contain.

Now, this is not to say that 2018 has been an entirely bad year. After all, we just got a meaty patch with a new planet and some excellent storytelling in it. And there was other content before that too, such as a new flashpoint and a new warzone map. However, it all felt very... piecemeal, a very slow continuation of everything that had started last year. In fact, I keep thinking of releases such as Iokath as recent, forgetting that actually, that planet came out over one and a half years ago now (and I'm not the only one either). It just doesn't feel that long ago because not much else has happened in the meantime.

Bioware has also continued the trend of prioritising big systems overhauls over tangible content additions, so we got a big Conquest revamp at the end of March and a large set of warzone changes at the start of August this year. Again, this is not a bad thing depending on where you stand on these things - for me the Conquest revamp has done veritable wonders for my engagement with the game for example - but the lack of more new content updates has still been very noticeable... to the point where we had another surge of "Is this game dead yet?" type of articles across various media at the start of the year (in response to which a fan bought the domain isswtordead.com and used it to put up his own definitive answer to the question).

Last year I concluded my annual birthday post conceding that we hadn't got a lot of new content in 2017, but I was hopeful that 2018 would be better. Yet here we are another year later, and to be perfectly honest, 2018 wasn't really any better; it was more of the same, which is to say that I approved of the general direction of the game but the cadence of meaningful updates has felt painfully slow. Would it be foolish to hope yet again that 2019 will bring an improvement?

Vulkk's own year in review reminded me that Bioware's Casey Hudson said back in August that SWTOR's "most exciting year yet" was coming up. I mean, claims like that should always be taken with a grain of salt, but surely he wouldn't be quite so hyperbolic about it if they didn't have a bunch of stuff in the pipeline? I'm also thinking that at this point they don't have that many systems left that they can spend time revamping from the ground up in the same way that they've already redone servers, the group finder, Conquest and PvP. The number of original class companions that are still missing post-KotFE is also vanishingly small by now, so what else can they do but actually progress the story and give us some new content to run? (I totally jinxed it by asking that question, didn't I?)

Whatever happens, I'll be around and looking forward to whatever updates we do get. As it stands, I still have bosses left to kill and companion returns I haven't seen, not to mention lots of stuff to do on Ossus, so I'm far from bored. Happy Birthday, SWTOR, and thanks for continuing to offer me an online home.