After the announcement that Galactic Strongholds would be delayed, we were told that we were going to get another update soon to let us know what was still going to be released in patch 2.8. Last night Bruce Maclean delivered said update, though it was somewhat "hidden" on the forums this time instead of being posted on the front page. Pretty much as expected, the patch is going to be somewhat thin on actual content after losing the expansion it was supposed to deliver, but there's mention of some pretty interesting system changes.
First off, he talks about being able to access casinos on Nar Shaddaa to play slots, and a "Nar Shaddaa Nightlife" event that'll last two months. This paragraph just raised a whole lot of questions for me. First off, from the way it's written it's not entirely clear whether casino access as a whole will be limited to the duration of the event, or only access to the rewards. Secondly, an event that lasts a whole two months is definitely something new and different from the current recurring events that only last a week or two. I wonder if it's going to be a seasonal thing?
Thirdly... slots, really? People have been asking for pazaak to be added to the game pretty much since launch, and while I've never played the original KOTOR games myself, I assume that it must be a decent amount of fun for so many people to want to have it included. Yet when Bioware finally gets around to giving us a game of chance to serve as a bit of a credit sink, they choose... slot machines. The most boring way to waste money ever. Sorry to say, but that sounds pretty lame. It also immediately conjures up unpleasant associations with real life gambling, especially considering that you can indirectly purchase credits for real money by buying things from the Cartel Market and selling them on the GTN, even if the temporary item binding should inhibit impulse purchases for quick credits. Then again, people could always hit up the lone gold seller advertising his wares by the GTN, seeing how customer service can't seem to be bothered with banning the guy's alts fast enough (grumble grumble).
Basically, my main impression of this bit of information is that I'd really need to know more about it to be able to form any kind of opinion. At the moment some of it sounds cool, some of it sounds kind of dodgy, but it could honestly go either way depending on how the actual implementation works out.
The second bullet point on Bruce's list talks about dedicated periods of three weeks where PvPers will earn double the currency rewards from either warzones or Galactic Starfighter. Now this is interesting because I remember seeing someone comment only the other day (sadly I don't remember who and where) that they wish Bioware would have more "mini events" like the double XP weekends, only for things other than experience gains. It also reminds me of games like Neverwinter, where there are specific times during the day where you will earn extra rewards for participating in highlighted activities, though three weeks is obviously a much longer period of time than a single hour per day.
I do wonder what Bioware is trying to achieve with these events. Obviously they want to increase PvP queue pops during the allocated time, but is it just an attempt to pull in more casual players or are there issues with the regular PvP queue and the Starfighter queue competing with each other? That's not an unusual thing to happen in games where people can choose between a lot of different activities, and since SWTOR doesn't have cross-server queues for anything, the issue is only all the more noticeable. By giving players incentives to choose one option over another during certain times, you can at least guarantee pops for one option during that time - though it might then be all the harder to get anything going during times when that incentive isn't there. Anyway, that's all just idle speculation on my part.
Finally, 2.8 will give the operations section of the group finder an overhaul. (Damn, and I only just wrote my "how to LFG" guide, now I'll have to adjust it already!) First off, they'll follow the community's common sense and change it to the more accessible 16-man format. They'll also introduce bolster, which mostly elicits a big "meh, whatever" from me. It's not as if getting geared for story modes was hard before, but I suppose this way it'll be even easier to jump right in, and elitists can't moan about anyone's health being too low for their liking. I suppose it's interesting to see the Bioware devs take a more inclusive approach here, as opposed to something like WoW's gear checks locking you out of content if you don't meet the requirements.
The biggest change however will be this: "The Operations section in the GroupFinder window
will list available Operations on a pre-determined schedule, rotating in
different Operations every few days." This is again in line with what I talked about above: funnelling players into specific content for a certain amount of time to keep queues short. I actually think that this sounds like a pretty damn elegant solution on paper, though of course we'll have to see how it works out in practice. This way the queuing population won't be spread among seven different operations on any given day, increasing the chance of a pop, but the different ops will all be available at some point or another. And if you really want to run something that isn't in the rotation that day, you'll probably still be able to form a group for it the old-fashioned way. I'm curious to see how that will work out.
At the end of the update Maclean mentions that all the usual recurring events will also make an appearance again soon, which is good to hear. The Gree have been gone for so long that I've actually heard mutterings from people genuinely longing for them to come back, something that I haven't heard in a while. (It helps that they added all those legacy off-hands to the vendor since the aliens' last visit.) Oh, and there totally won't be another rakghoul insurgence because obviously they were completely wiped out last time (hint hint). I have to say I quite like this approach of using recurring events to patch the gaps between major content releases. Much nicer than having them on a fixed schedule that eventually causes things to overlap in awkward ways.