27/06/2012

Using the new group finder, day 1

Today was certainly one of the more exciting patch days in TOR. Crafters were going nuts about augment kits, PvPers were itching to try out ranked warzones, and PvE players wanted to make use of the new group finder. While I've spent a lot of time PvPing as of late, I was firmly in the PvE camp today and my priority for the day was to try out the group finder as soon as the servers came up.

I was reminiscing about the release of WoW's dungeon finder last night and was rather amused when I went back to read the first impressions post I originally wrote on the day of its release. Has it really been only two and a half years? In some ways that post reads like something from another world to me now. How little did I know of how radically my dungeon running habits would change in short order... but I'm rambling. I decided to copy the format I used back then, do three flashpoints today and tell you in detail about how they went.

As an aside, general chat really cracked me up upon logging in today. The servers had barely been up for ten minutes and already people were whining that the group finder wasn't working because they hadn't got a group yet. Give people some time to log in, dummy! In-between those complaints, people were posting LFG requests in general chat as usual and getting told to use the new tool instead, which then led back to others complaining again that it didn't work anyway. It was extremely silly.

Flashpoint #1: Maelstrom Prison on my Guardian

My first order of the day was to queue up for Maelstrom Prison in specific on my lowbie knight. The Jedi Prisoner quest line is one that I like to do on all of my Republic characters, but I'd only managed to do Taral V on my knight so far. I made sure to queue up for Maelstrom Prison in specific and was surprised to get a group pop-up instantly. Not working, pfft! I zoned in... and found myself with a little shield icon under my portrait. Tank, what? But I hadn't picked tanking as my preferred role!

Unfortunately however, I apparently hadn't unselected it either... and that leads me to my first minor niggle with the tool: that it has all the roles that your advanced class can perform checked by default. I don't know why anyone thought that this was a sensible idea, especially considering that the game currently doesn't have a dual spec option or anything of the like.

Still, at the end of the day it was a user error, and I felt deeply embarrassed. I apologised profusely to my group mates and offered to leave, unless they wanted me to try tanking in my dps gear and spec. They all just stood there and stared at me in silence. Oh god, please don't give me the silent pug treatment in my very first run already, I thought. "Yes, no, anyone?" is what I actually put in chat, trying to coax some sort of response out of the group. One of them gave me the virtual equivalent of a shrug: "Up to you if you want to try it."

I went into Soresu Form and we gave it a try. And actually... it wasn't too bad! In fact, with all the droids that do knockbacks in Maelstrom Prison, I almost felt like I had an edge in tanking with talents like Unremitting. There were a couple of scary moments on large trash pulls and some boss fights when my health bar took a nose dive, but I mashed my survival cooldowns like crazy and the healer managed to keep me up at all times, something for which I gave him crazy kudos at the end. One of the bosses dropped a shield generator too, so I had at least the most important piece of tanking gear equipped by the end.

In the end what had begun as a huge embarrassment for me turned out to be a really pleasant run. My group mates weren't really very chatty, but I did get the distinct impression that they were simply happy to be there. They had no qualms about telling me that they didn't know how a fight worked and followed my instructions with no problems. At the end there were a lot of smilies and thank yous... and most of all I was happy to be able to say: "see you around".

At the end of the run I discovered that instead of porting me back to where I had been when I took the shuttle (aka teleport) to the flashpoint, we all got dumped outside the instance entrance. I thought this was a very good move though, as many flashpoints have quest hand-ins right outside, which you can easily do with your group this way. Not to mention that in nine out of ten cases being outside the entrance means that you'll end up on the fleet, which really isn't the worst place to be even if you were out and about somewhere else before.

Flashpoint #2: Colicoid War Game on my Operative

Next I wanted to see what things were like on Imperial side, and I had been itching to do Colicoid War Game on my agent anyway. However, I had to discover to my chagrin that for some reason the option to queue for that flashpoint was greyed out for me, even though the character was in the right level range.

Fortunately I managed to guess the reason for this correctly: I had a breadcrumb quest to talk to Darth Malgus (about the Colicoids), and once I completed that the flashpoint suddenly became available. As far as I'm aware Bioware has generally relaxed requirements to do the prerequisite missions for each flashpoint for the group finder, but I can imagine that me sitting on that intermediate step of talking to Malgus was causing an issue.

This time I didn't get an instant queue. After five minutes I got a pop-up, but someone immediately declined and it was cancelled. It took another ten minutes or so for me to get another one, but this time everyone accepted.

You might remember that when I first wrote about the Colicoid War Game, I described it as "both hilarious and horrible" and concluded that it would probably be painful to do in a pug. I did feel like challenging myself today though, and fortunately for me some aspects of the flashpoint appeared to have been nerfed with this patch to make it a bit more pug-friendly. For example the gun turrets now provide a slow but steady stream of heals while you're mounted on them, which honestly made the first section completely trivial. I think you'd have to fail pretty hard to die there now. However, considering that it was never my favourite part of the instance to begin with, I didn't really mind.

The fun part came when we arrived at the forcefield obstacle course. Nobody in my party knew how to do it, but I was happy to explain. Unsurprisingly we spent a lot of time waiting for people to run back after they had been knocked off and died, but at least it got people talking, which I quite enjoyed. In the end it didn't take too long for us to figure it all out, and the fact that Bioware nerfed the respawn timer of the patrolling droids helped too, without having a negative effect on the puzzle part of the section. I was kind of amused when our tank appeared to have gone AFK while manning one of the consoles, and then came back saying that his cat had spilled his tea on his lap.

Again the whole thing ended on a very amicable note and with many "see you around"s.

Flashpoint #3: A random hardmode on my Commando

When I logged back onto Republic side, one of our tanks had just come online and was marvelling at the new group finder interface. I asked whether he wanted to team up with me to try finding a group for a max level flashpoint. He tossed me a group invite and next thing I knew I had the window popping up to tell me that a group was ready. I didn't even click anything! This would become important later. Anyway, not surprised that a tank and healer combo resulted in an instant queue, we accepted the pop-up to find ourselves zoning into... Lost Island. Gulp.

Don't get me wrong, I've successfully completed it more than once by now, but it's not really something that I'd want to pug just yet. We decided to give it a go anyway, however on the first boss we quickly found ourselves running into problems. Our gunslinger (another former Luka Sene player, yay) was doing a pretty good job, but our dps Shadow wasn't exactly performing in a stellar manner. His gear wasn't terrrible but probably not really up to Lost Island HM standards either, and more importantly he didn't really seem to be doing much, spending most of his time standing at range and running away from things instead of damaging the boss. After the third wipe the gunslinger commented that we didn't really seem to have enough dps (in the most generically inoffensive way possible) and the Shadow offered to leave so that we could get someone else. After he did so I sent him a whisper to say thank you and that it wasn't anything against him personally, and he seemed to be in quite a cheerful mood still. This was probably the most amiable parting over low dps that I've ever seen.

We queued up to get a replacement, and as I looked at the group finder window I noticed that I was listed as a provider of both damage and heals. Remember how I said that it's all turned on by default and that I never got to confirm my role when my guildie queued us up? Yeah. I unticked the damage box and hit the update button, but figured that we were probably going to get another dps anyway.

(Insert foreboding music here.)

We got another group member within seconds, a twi'lek Sage. Everyone was like: "Awesome, two ranged dps, that's going to make this fight so much easier!" And we did almost kill the boss before hitting his enrage this time... even though it was with two healers. How sad is it that we didn't even realise that we had two healers until halfway through the fight? Even though it was close, we wiped again and the Sage said that "Shíntar was queued as damage" and that she was out. And true enough, that's when I noticed the little damage icon under my portrait for the first time. I can only guess that the update to my queuing status came too late or didn't work properly. Again I felt very sheepish. I couldn't really tell whether the Sage was angry about what had happened, but her curtness before leaving certainly made me feel guilty.

The rest of us were a bit unsettled and unsure whether the system was working correctly. We reformed the party but weren't able to queue up to continue our run. My guildie and I agreed that we weren't very keen on trying Lost Island again, even if it was a letdown for the gunslinger who seemed really eager. He was right that we had almost got the boss down, but considering that more difficult fights lay ahead and that we hadn't really been looking for that level of challenge when we queued up (user fail on my tanking buddy's part this time), it was probably for the better.

After a brief break we tried again and an instant group pop-up took us to the False Emperor this time, with a dps Guardian and a Sentinel (who was another former Luka Sene player, what luck). It was kind of funny when my guildie took a shortcut early on by jumping down a ledge, I blindly followed him and realised only as I was jumping that we were leaping right over a bottomless chasm. Fortunately I managed not to fall to my death.

"How many times have you done False Emperor?"
"About five to ten times, why?"
"It's just that that jumping shortcut reeks of someone who's done this place way too many times!"

Our dpsers seemed skilled, but we were barely two minutes in when the Guardian started to say "wait" repeatedly and that he had to answer the phone for work. We said that it was no problem, we were just going to continue clearing some more trash. Unfortunately he was still on the phone by the time we arrived at the first boss, though he kept typing out more comments asking us to wait and assuring us that he was trying to make it quick.

"I just hope you're not a doctor," my guildie quipped. "'Yeah, yeah, just give him some of those drugs. I've got a boss to kill!'" The guy laughed and said that he was actually a management consultant. Which was funny because he then continued to give us unnecessary advice about what to do, no matter how many times my guildie said "I know" or was already doing what he was being told to do anyway.

Mr Management Consultant also kept saying "go" a lot, which was kind of ironic considering that he was the one who had kept telling us to "wait" only minutes before. Nooo, not my first gogogo-er already! "Stop saying that please," my guildie told him eventually. Fortunately he obliged... until we got to HK-47 and he did it again, right after giving us another redundant tactics rundown. "Oops, I'm not supposed to say that, right?" "Say it again and I'll slap you! :P" my guildie replied. (I do love him so.)

Basically, the Guardian's attitude was slightly annoying, but not overly so. It helped that my guildie was making some light fun of the situation. In terms of skill we had no problems though and breezed through the whole instance in what was a new record time for me (though it was only my third run of the place I think). The culling of trash mobs that was also mentioned in the patch notes was certainly very noticeable in this flashpoint.

So what's my verdict on the new group finder so far?

At least on the high population servers, it works, even while being limited to server only. I have no idea what dps queues were like though. What with today being patch day, there were presumably also a lot more people trying it out than there would be on a more average day. We'll see how that works out in the long run.

In terms of how it affects player behaviour, I'm not sure what to think. Struggling to get people to communicate and running into my first gogogo-er on day one already is not a good sign, but I'll try to remain hopeful. For what it's worth I had fun today. And unlike on my first day of WoW dungeon finding back in the day, nobody quit at random, threw a strop, tried to kick anyone else or ninjaed anything, which is a good sign.

In terms of technical implementation, I'm impressed by how many different functionalities Bioware managed to roll into a single tool, though I haven't tried queuing for heroics, dailies or story mode operations yet. I just wish they'd make some minor tweaks to it, such as not having all roles selected by default, asking you to confirm your role and what you're queuing for when you're in a group instead of just letting the leader throw everyone in the deep end, and maybe adding some more sounds. I think there's a really quiet noise when the pop-up to inform you that your group is ready first appears, but everything else appeared to be silent, which felt a bit odd to me. I really missed having sound cues for entering the queue or having a new party member join.

I'd love to hear about other people's experiences with the new group finder (and in fact I'll probably be off to the forums now to have a look around for more opinions).

5 comments :

  1. I can not comment on the groupfinder itself yet, but why be quiet just because I have nothing to say :p

    I seem to remember a developer quote not too long ago, stating basically that players in the lower levels didn't actually need to choose between tank/dps/healer, because it was all quite possible anyway. I can only imagine that is what lead to the default "on" state for all role options.

    It would make more sense to have it by default "off" and not allow queueing before a choice was made, but hey... what do I know.

    In your defense: A hybrid tanking build for sith warriors/jedi knights was apparently long considered quite powerful, and while you would probably not have many of the tanking talents from the second tree (Vengeance and .. err.. something Jedi-ish?) it should work. In the four seconds with your 20% damage reduction most trash groups will be dead anyway :p

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  2. As a Red Eclipse inhabitant I welcome you to the Red Eclipse server!

    My experiences with the Groupfinder(GF - weird abbreviation) are quite positive. After the initial role-fiasco, I had three skilled PUGs doing tier 1 content. The reason I don't PUG Lost Island HM, is because you can't check someone's gear level. Usually I'm not an elitist, but LI does require some base level.

    I've been enjoying your blog since I started SWTOR and would be fun to meet you in GF on the Imperial side at some point! ~ Darth Sharissa

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    1. Thanks for the welcome! :) Maybe I will see you around; I'm trying to finally get my agent to max level soon.

      And I've had another two pleasant runs since I wrote this post - one in which my guild made a new tanking friend, and another with an accidental ninjaing of an item that nobody wanted anyway and lots of apologising. It's as if people are trying to be extra nice. :D

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  3. My guild mostly uses the LFG to get BH comms for 4 man premades, but we've used it to grab a 2nd dps a few times as well and not really had issues, apart from a marauder who disconnected during HK (smug healer pistol whipped HK for the win with 17 health left, woot me), and the find replacement worked well. We even learned a way to make Taral V's final boss pretty easy (LOS to behind a crate to the right of the entrance), which was cool. Besides the roles not seeming to behave properly, it's worked out ok for us (queueing as 4 man helps a lot there, as does already having a heal and tank).

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    1. We've done a couple of guild runs like this as well. And one of my guildies introduced us to the "crate strat" only the other day too - though apparently you can just bypass the boss completely and simply talk to the guy at the end to "complete" the instance if you want (which I thought was both hilarious and silly).

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