03/04/2013

My favourite operation

With 2.0 and early access coming next week, it feels a bit like the SWTOR community is holding its breath right now. (Or maybe that's just me, still waiting on my new gaming PC. Any day now...) All the fan sites seem to be talking about is RotHC this, expansion that, and I feel like I have to approach every article with a lot of caution and at least one eye closed because I want to avoid accidental story spoilers.

Meanwhile I've been doing something completely different and have been looking back. With everything changing very soon, what have I enjoyed the most about the game so far? The official SWTOR Twitter account occasionally asks questions like "What's your favourite operation/flashpoint/class/companion?" and while there is a certain challenge in answering these in 140 characters or less, I often find myself wanting to talk about the subject some more. So today, let's talk about my favourite operation in the game so far.

About six months ago, lonomonkey asked people about what they thought made a good raid, and my own criteria basically came down to four points:

1. Interesting environment that feels like a real location, full of story and flavour, so that you find yourself pausing to look around.
2. Variety of interesting and original boss mechanics.
3. Appropriate difficulty, taking into account the raid's place in the game as a whole.
4. Having a good team of people with whom to share the experience. This last one is largely out of the developers' hands however.

Based on the first three of these criteria (since the fourth one is really kind of situational), my personal favourite operation in SWTOR is... /drumroll

... Eternity Vault!


Before I talk about it in depth, a quick note about why none of the others are my favourites:

Karagga's Palace is a very solid operation with some interesting boss mechanics (o Fabricator...) and certainly feels like a real place... just not a very interesting one. I mean, how many Hutt palaces do we raid while levelling up? They all kind of look the same. Also, the difficulty curve within the op itself was a little out of whack, considering that Karagga was a complete pushover by the time you'd mastered the fourth boss's Towers of Hanoi.

Explosive Conflict is pretty much in the same boat: very solid, lots of challenging new mechanics... it just lacks a certain "oomph". It's basically a warzone on a planet with a lot of trees. Pretty the first time you go in, but it doesn't have enough points of interest to really make you want to linger on repeat visits. Also, like KP, EC suffered from a distorted difficulty curve, with story mode being considerably overtuned on release, and Toth and Zorn being annoyingly fiddly for a first encounter. (Hands up if you've ever had multiple wipes on these guys - whatever the difficulty setting - and then breezed through the next two fights with no issues...)

Terror From Beyond is a tough one and easily rates as my second favourite, with its beautiful yet alien environment and incredibly varied boss mechanics. Really, the only thing for which I have to detract points is that Terror is a very annoyingly paced fight (phase one is just a huge stretch of nothing much happening really) and that from a healer's point of view it's possibly the most boring and tedious boss to heal in the entire game. Ten minutes of healing the tank while occasionally taking a step backwards or forwards do not make for very compelling gameplay!

Anyway, onwards to my love for Eternity Vault...

The environments in this operation are just stunning and could hardly be more varied if they tried. You start in this massive snowstorm, then you enter this enormous vault... then there are caves with lava, bits of jungle, more chambers of the vault - it could seem silly and random in another context, but since the operation takes place on a planet that does indeed have a natural environment like that, it just works.


The fights aren't exactly anything to write home about in terms of challenge, but I feel that this fits for an "introductory" operation. The Annihilation Droid is pretty much a tank and spank these days, but I still remember when we were all newly dinged and had to hide behind a pillar whenever he did his AoE... except then we were short on dps, so in the end we had the dps Commandos stay out to keep hitting him while the healers kept them alive from behind the pillar - it was pretty simplistic in some ways, but we were all still getting to grips with how things worked in SWTOR as a whole, so it was exciting anyway.

Then there's Gharj with his sinking islands and all the perils of being surrounded by lava, then the Ancient Pylons for which people wrote phone apps just so that they could figure out the puzzle more quickly before actually starting the fight. (I actually had a hand-written piece of paper with the symbol order originally... I felt so outclassed when a guildie just downloaded that app one night.) The Infernal Council as a built-in dps meter before the final fight still strikes me as a stroke of brilliance. And then of course Soa himself.

I'm always surprised by how many people seem to hate Soa. I even recall reading a dev interview somewhere at some point, where they were talking about how Soa taught them a lot about what not to do on a boss fight because players hated him so much. I'm just like... wha? I get it, he was extremely buggy for a long time and that annoyed me too, but that wasn't exactly part of the design, was it?


Disregarding the bugs for a minute, Soa was a considerable step up in difficulty compared to the previous fights - as it should be for the final boss of an instance in my opinion, he had great voice acting ("They come, marching..."), and last but not least the best approach to utilising all three dimensions in a boss fight that I've ever seen in an MMO.

The third dimension is one of those things... other game genres use it all the time, but if you're not into 3D platformers or similar titles, then you might feel a bit lost when it comes to moving in three dimensions in an MMO. I remember WoW had a couple of fights that forced you to fly, but somehow the end result was always a lot of awkward floating around and tapping of keys as you were trying to figure out in which direction you were just that little bit off target (Malygos, Valithria Dreamwalker, Al'Akir).

I thought it was interesting how the SWTOR devs approached the matter from a different angle. People are not used to their characters just floating around in space, so allow them to keep their feet on the ground and make them move through the third dimension the "natural" way - by falling. If the only way is up down, there's no confusion about which way to go. Also, allow the players to focus on their movement during that phase without having other mechanics that will distract or kill them if they can't instantly figure out which way to go next.

I'm not at all great at navigating in 3D in video games, but on Soa I loved the thrill of the falling floors and having to focus on where to go next, and still do every time I get to go back to that fight. The way you move from one "floor" to the next just gives the whole thing a sense of physical progression that I have yet to encounter in any other boss fight (as most of the time you start out in an enclosed area and stay within that same area for the entire time).

What's your favourite operation (boss fight) and why?

10 comments:

  1. Does it have to be an Ops fight?

    If not, and I'll be honest in that I've only done about half of the Flashpoints*, but I like the end boss in Cademimu the best. The constant keeping one eye on the rockets above you as well as having to keep moving makes the boss fight very "entertaining" (aka stressful). The end boss in Taral V is hard to heal due to the adds (and yes, I ended up healing it even tho I'm not healing spec; don't ask), and I also enjoy the end boss in Athiss (who reminds me of a souped up Ionar in Halls of Lightning for those WoW inclined).


    *I leveled my Smuggler without using Flashpoints at all, and my closest other toon to max level just finished the Maelstrom Prison the other day.

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    1. Well sort of, I was thinking of maybe writing a separate post about favourite flashpoints (though I might not get around to it if I get distracted by my new PC arriving).

      Anyway, this comment was worth having for the phrase "souped up Ionar" alone... :P

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    2. Massster..... You have guestssss......

      ;-)

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  2. I would have to say that the real problem with Soa is the tank moving him around in the last phase. The vast majority of the issue would go away if there was a shadow on the ground or some marker so you could tell where the block was going to fall.

    Of course, this might make Soa a little too easy, but the current way is a little too difficult, especially for new tanks.

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    1. I agree that that's probably the fight's weakest point. We pretty much always had multiple people running around and going "over here, over here" but often that only added to the confusion.

      If I was a tank myself I might have rated TFB as my favourite for this reason. :P

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    2. I recognize the "over here, over here", which does make the fight super chaotic at times, but also much fun. Only much fun if you make it to the end, ofc. (Which indeed we now always do.)

      I agree with EV that it's a great raid. I have warm memories of me going in there for the first time - it was my first raid in SWTOR. Good days.

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  3. I think the escape pod at the beginning when you enter the instance is one of the greatest starts to any raid or op I have ever encountered. I still love that part.

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    1. Funny, "one of the coolest starts to a raid I've ever seen" was exactly how I described the EV intro in my post about my very first visit to the place ever. :)

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  4. Could not agree more. Eternity Vault pretty much has everything I've wanted in an operation/raid instance. I only wish it was longer.

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  5. Overall, I agree, EV is the coolest operation so far. Though I must say there are two other fights that I think are at least interesting, or rather, parts of it are. They are the Minefield fight, specifically the part where one has to fight through it, defusing, etc. And then there's the second part of TFB's last boss, with the running back and forth on the platforms.

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