Shortly after launch, The Old Republic was repeatedly criticised for its supposed difficulty when it came to finding people to do group content with if you weren't in a guild. (I never had any issues myself, but there was enough complaining about the subject that this was clearly a thing.) Patch 1.3 then introduced an automated group finder such as people knew it from games like WoW. Nonetheless many of the most popular search results leading to this blog are related to looking for groups in game. What gives? The problem is that the group finder works very well for some types of content, but not so much for others, and to the inexperienced player it's not easily apparent when group finder use makes sense and when other methods might be more efficient.
There are three major types of group content in the game:
- Heroics: These are group quests for two to four players situated out in the open world, either completely out in the open or inside a group phase.
- Flashpoints: These are group content designed for two to four players and always fully instanced (meaning you get a loading screen when you enter one). So-called "tactical" flashpoints are the easiest ones and designed to be doable by any group of four, no matter the class and role distribution. Skilled players may be able to do them with fewer people. Most "normal" flashpoints are designed for groups of four that include a tank and a healer. Some also have hardmodes which are meant to be extra challenging.
- Operations: These are endgame group content for either eight or sixteen players with a balanced group setup that includes multiple tanks and healers. They come in three difficulties: story (easy), hard and nightmare.
A fourth but less common type of group content are open world bosses. They can be tackled with a varied number of people, depending on the boss's level and mechanics as well as the levels of the characters trying to kill it. There are also other occasions where you might find yourself in need of help, for example to get a datacron that requires another person to push a button, or if you find yourself struggling with a solo mission, but these are comparatively rare.
Let's look at how to best get into groups for each type of content:
This is the type of group content for which the group finder is the least useful. It does have a category for heroics, unhelpfully called "planetary destinations", but it doesn't allow you to be any more specific than to set what planet you're on, which means that even if you used the group finder for this category and it successfully formed a group for you, you might get teamed up with people who aren't even on the same quests as you. That's why nobody uses it. Simple.
("Nobody" is of course an exaggeration: I think I managed to fill out a group for the Section X [Heroic 4] by using the group finder twice, but at least one time the person we got wasn't even aware of what they had been queued for and was visibly confused when we asked them to come to Belsavis. I wouldn't recommend this method.)
What to do instead? Use general chat. It may sound old-fashioned, but a lot of the time, it works - and when it doesn't, it's not that big of a deal since Heroics are completely optional content that don't even tell that interesting a story a lot of the time. Some tips:
- When you first acquire a heroic quest, put a LFG request into general chat. If nobody responds within a minute, continue doing solo content for the time being.
- Keep an eye on general chat while doing other things. When someone else is looking for a group for a heroic that you need, be ready to stop what you're doing and join them. You don't know when the next opportunity will arise.
- When someone is looking for a group for a heroic that you don't have yet... ask what level it is and if it's shareable. Most of them are, so you might as well join and get it done before you "find" it out in the world yourself.
- Once you have a group and everyone seems reasonably competent, assuming you have more than one heroic in your log... ask if people want to stick together and do that as well. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's handy. Likewise, be open to the idea of coming along to a heroic that you might not have picked up yourself yet - as per the previous point, it might be shareable.
- Most heroics can be done without a traditional tank-healer-dps group setup, so don't worry too much about whom you invite (though having someone with the ability to heal, even a dps-specced off-healer, is generally handy). There are exceptions to this though; some [Heroic 4]s can be quite harsh on damage output.
- Many [Heroic 2]s are actually soloable at level, depending on your class and gear. Likewise, just because something is labelled as [Heroic 4], that doesn't necessarily mean that it requires a full group of four. Many times one or two companions can fill in just fine, and it's often better to go ahead with three players and a companion than to spam "LF1M" in chat for ten minutes.
- If you're pretty much done with everything else on the planet except for a pesky group quest or two... don't hang around spamming chat, leave it be. For anything up to most of Hoth at least, you can come back later and solo it once you've outlevelled it (if you're the completionist type). Otherwise, just look at it as a piece of content that you can save for your next alt and thus make the levelling process for that one more interesting.
This is the type of group content for which the group finder works best. You can always try to put a partial group together manually to speed up queue times (especially if you can find a tank or healer), but even as a lone dps you can put yourself in the queue and sooner or later you'll generally get a pop.
The tricky thing is managing queue expectations. Like in many games, tanks will pretty much get a group the moment they queue up, but for other roles wait times can vary wildly. Unlike WoW's dungeon finder, SWTOR's LFG tool doesn't tell you how long you've been sitting in the queue already or try to predict how long it will take you to find a group, which can make using it feel like a bit of a gamble sometimes.
As a rule of thumb I would say: if you're a tank, or queueing for a role-neutral (tactical) flashpoint during your server's prime time (usually the evening hours), expect an instant or very quick group formation. Under any other circumstances, I recommend that you get ready to do something else while you wait, whether it's some dailies or using your Seeker Droid - but just sitting on the fleet is boring. As the group finder is limited to people on your server, be aware that during very quiet times (i.e. in the middle of the night server time) you might not get a group at all, no matter how patiently you wait.
Some general tips and tricks for using the group finder:
- Make sure before you queue up that you have the proper roles selected (meaning only the ones you're actually prepared, able and willing to perform). If you're already grouped, double check with your group mate that they have the right boxes (un)ticked as well. Unlike WoW's dungeon finder, SWTOR's LFG tool doesn't initiate a "role check" before queuing as a group, so if your friend doesn't have the right boxes ticked before you queue up, things can get confusing later.
- One thing that SWTOR's group finder does is show you the group that is about to be assembled before you have to confirm that you're ready. It's generally worth taking a couple of seconds to actually look at this because it allows you to double-check that you've got the right role icon next to your name. If you recognise one of your potential group mates as a known jerkwad, this is your chance to decline. (Though I would then wonder why you don't have them on ignore already.) If you're queuing for tactical flashpoints, it can also be worth declining at this point if you get a really awkward group composition (such as four tanks), as another group with a better setup will probably form quickly anyway. There is no penalty for declining to join the group at this point, however you will get locked out of using the tool for a little while if you accept the group and then quit afterwards. While levelling, seeing the levels of your group mates in advance can also be an interesting indicator of which flashpoint is coming up (assuming you queued for a random one). For example, if you're level 19 and one of your group mates is 23, you're not going to get Hammer Station (which is rated for 15-21).
- Most flashpoints include NPC conversations. Experienced players that have seen them many times before may ask you to "spacebar" through them since they don't care to listen to the voice-overs and just want to get to the end quickly. In most runs at the level cap, people do this automatically, but especially while levelling or seeing content for the first time, don't let anyone pressure you into skipping things that you want to see. I've read horror stories of people getting kicked for not wanting to spacebar, but I've never seen it happen myself and from personal experience most players don't seem to have an issue if you politely explain that you would prefer not to skip the voice-overs.
- If you queued up as dps, focus on killing the weak mobs in each pull first while the tank holds the attention of the stronger ones.
- If you queued up as tank, make sure to focus on the biggest mobs first, but be prepared for the possibility that your dps might have their priorities wrong and ignore the weak mobs around the edges of the room - in which case you need to run around and do at least a little bit of damage to them or they will mob your healer.
You can get into an operations group via the group finder, but most people prefer to join ops the old-fashioned way, via general chat. The problem with the operations sub-section in the group finder is that it's extremely limited. Of all the different group sizes and difficulty modes, it only supports 8-person story mode. Now, while I definitely wouldn't recommend pugging hard or nightmare mode operations anyway (those are really designed to be done by more organised groups), many people prefer 16-man when it comes to story mode, due to the fact that it rewards more commendations and is a lot more forgiving of having a couple of unskilled or clueless players in the group.
The selection of available operations is very limited as well. For example Eternity Vault, Karagga's Palace and Explosive Conflict only show up on the group finder while you're between level 50 and 54, at 55 they disappear, and if you've got a 55 in your group, you won't be able to queue up for these operations even if they show up as available to your character. At 55, you only have the option to queue up for Terror from Beyond or Scum and Villainy. Dread Fortress and Palace aren't included in the group finder in any format.
So what does this mean in practice? Most pug operations groups are assembled for 16-man story mode in general chat on the fleet, so keeping an eye on that is your best bet. Since there are weekly quests for all the operations (including the old level 50 ones), people tend to create groups for pretty much all of them throughout the day, though some are more common than others. (For example most people will go for EV to get the classic ops weekly done, as it's the easiest of the old operations, while hardly anyone will try to brave hardmode EC.)
The group finder for operations isn't completely useless, but queue times can be very random and I've never seen it assemble a full pug group from scratch. What's more likely to happen is that a guild group that's short a dps or healer will use it to fill that last spot, for which it can work. In turn, your best bet to get some use out of the operations group finder as a solo player is to queue up on your own in the evening and hope that a guild group somewhere will have an open spot.
Some tips for pugging operations:
- You really don't have to watch any videos or guides to prepare yourself for story modes, but if you've never done an operation before, be honest and up-front about it. Unless the LFG request specifically asked for people to know the tactics beforehand, most groups don't mind giving a quick explanation before the fight. What they do tend to mind is when nobody admits to not knowing the fight and then the group wipes because of people obviously not knowing the tactics.
- Pay attention to the LFG message (or ask the leader if it's not clear) to find out whether the group is intending to run the whole operation or just planning to kill things up to the boss needed to complete the weekly quest.
- Try to make sure that you're adequately geared for the content you want to do - the weekly quests for each operation all give a recommended item rating that you can compare your gear to. Most pugs I've been in don't really care about people's gear, as there are usually at least a couple of players in the group that are way overgeared for the content and can carry some underperformers. However, some ops leaders will be displeased if your health is very obviously on the low end of what's needed for the content (not always rightly so) and might remove you from the group.
- Be polite when it comes to loot and only need on things that are actual upgrades for the character you're on. Greed on things that you would take for alts, companions or to vendor. Pets, mounts and crafting materials are generally needed on by everyone, but if you're unsure of what's appropriate, just wait for a couple of other people to roll first and then follow their lead. Some people will need on gear for their alts, arguing that that's who they are really running the ops for and that they are "helping" by playing their better geared character instead. While I haven't seen anyone get kicked outright for this behaviour, it definitely won't make you any friends, as people have no way of verifying whether those claims are true or you're just being greedy.
- Don't join for an operation if you're in a rush and short on time. (This applies to all forms of group content actually.) Yes, if you get a good group you might get things done quickly and with little fuss, but you never know in advance what kind of group you're going to get. There might be wipes; there might be random AFKs. Be prepared for some difficulties. It sucks for the rest of the group if you can't schedule your time properly and end up having to leave before the end, leaving seven to fifteen other people in the lurch.
- If your 16-man pug falls apart before you've completed the operation, ask whether anyone is willing to complete the run on 8-man. (They share the same lockout, so you can just switch the group size and pick things up where you left off, though some trash might respawn.) It doesn't always work, but when it does it's a nice way of salvaging a run that has gone bad.
If you find yourself in need of help with a datacron or a solo mission, your best bet is to politely ask a random passer-by or in general chat of the area you're in. Many people don't mind taking a few minutes to help someone out, since they've usually been in the same situation themselves at some point.
World bosses can be tricky to get a group for, since assembling a whole ops group just for one boss is generally more effort than any rewards will be worth. However, if you do want to give it a try, general chat on the planet where the boss is located is probably your best bet for lower-level bosses, as you'll reach people of the right level that way. Higher-level characters will often prefer to solo lower-level bosses, as it's less hassle for them. If everyone's at the appropriate level, a group of eight to twelve should get you through most fights, though adding more people tends to make things easier. For the higher-level world bosses (Hoth and onwards), the fleet is a better place to look for interested players, as most high-level characters choose to hang out there.