Based on the fact that Bioware has always treated group content with respect, I decided to have faith in them. Yet when I first stepped foot into a solo mode flashpoint, I was taken aback. I was with my pet tank at the time and we had just discovered that we could enter the same solo instance together. If you think that one GSI droid to assist you is OP, just wait until you see multiple copies of it mowing down flashpoint bosses like nobody's business. Not being forced to do things solo is a good thing, but I couldn't help but wonder: If you can do this in a group on easy mode, why would you ever do it in a group on normal mode, if the game doesn't differentiate between the two in any way? (I've since heard that solo mode isn't supposed to give any loot other than basic comms, but I have seen some pieces of gear drop in solo mode so... I don't know about that.)
Of course, then I found out that you can only ever do each solo mode once. At first this struck me as reasonable - let people see the story once and then make them move on, but then I thought: if it's not supposed to drop any gear, what does it matter? If someone wants to repeat the Battle of Rishi solo over and over again, why would this be a problem? I know that I wouldn't want to do this personally, because I find solo mode pretty damn dull. It's okay that it exists, especially where a flashpoint is supposed to advance the story, so you don't have to wait for a group to get going to progress. But in terms of gameplay it's terribly dull. The "Jesus droid" makes it pretty much impossible to die unless you fall off a cliff, as he'll heal you even through continuous standing in fire, so everything just comes down to slowly reducing mob hitpoints at no actual risk to yourself. It's a bit like regular questing, only extremely boring.
Eventually I couldn't help but wonder what exactly the point of flashpoints is supposed to be these days. How did we get to the point where this is the way Bioware wants them to be played? Looking back at the game's launch, the devs have always been a bit schizophrenic about the purpose of group content. Most of it was set up to simply offer gameplay for groups, with stories that were of little to no consequence to the rest of the game. That's why the friendly NPC tells you before your first trip to Coruscant/Dromund Kaas that you can take the shuttle to get on with your class mission right away, or take the Esseles/Black Talon with some friends if you fancy a diversion.
But there were always odd outliers, like the Revan story arc. It's true that at release this storyline wasn't referred to anywhere else in the game, but considering what an iconic character Revan is, it always felt a bit wrong to hide him away in a series of flashpoints like that. Now that Revan has a whole expansion focused on him, it feels outright unacceptable that players might be thrown into that story possibly without ever having learned his backstory in the game if they didn't happen to do the right group content at the right time.
Darth Malgus is another character whose story remains unfinished if you only complete Ilum's planetary story arc - and he's a character that players actually can and do encounter solo. Yet to find out what really happens to him, you have to do the two flashpoints located on Ilum. It seems that there has always been someone at Bioware who adhered to the old school mantra that particularly important/epic boss encounters should require a group to emphasise their epicness. (You know those bosses are badasses if they actually take more than one person to kill!)
As a fan of group content I didn't mind this attitude in the past, but it has always led to backlash from people complaining that they suddenly need a group just to see the ending of what was previously a solo story, and I can understand that. Not to mention that there are disadvantages to handling story this way even if you are happy to group up. Having a story change from solo to group play means that you want to do the group content exactly when you hit that transition point, not later but also not earlier. I'm sure I'm not the only who's ever ended up in Battle of Ilum on an alt, cursing the fact that you haven't advanced the planetary story to the point yet where it actually leads into the flashpoint. Finding yourself in that kind of situation means that a) the flashpoint story is potentially confusing because you're missing vital information and b) you'll have to come back again later purely to finish the associated mission at the "right" time. For this reason I've come to appreciate the approach of making the stories of group content separate and unimportant to the overarching plot, precisely to avoid these kinds of issues. Nobody misses out on anything important if they never go to Athiss. Yet at the same time you can go there any time you like (as far as your level permits it anyway) without being confused.
Looking at the post-launch flashpoints however, there has actually been a move away from this design, which I find both sad and a bit backwards. Kaon Under Siege and Lost Island were the last regular flashpoints with clearly defined side stories in my opinion. Kuat Drive Yards was separate from the rest of the game as well, but I feel that this was only done because it was the only way to make it level neutral (to ensure its story could be played and make sense at any point in the game). The Czerka flashpoints were obviously supposed to be the epic finale to the story of CZ-198... even if beating up a fat businessman and his pet project isn't exactly the height of epic. The Forged Alliances story arc turned everything on its head a little by starting the story in a number of flashpoints, which then cumulated in a solo storyline. Blood Hunt and the Battle of Rishi are neither an introduction nor an epic finale - they hardly feel different from other tasks you complete while on Rishi - however, they are mandatory for storyline progression and you can't continue until you've completed both of them.
A very cinematic scene - but as just one step in a multi-part story, why is this a flashpoint while other things aren't?
Now, with how integral these latter flashpoints are to the storyline, it makes sense to make them soloable, but I have to admit that at this point I'm wondering why they are flashpoints in the first place. They don't even feature particularly epic enemies. (I like Shae Vizla a lot, but she's just a random Mandalorian. I can't even remember the name of any of the bosses in Battle of Rishi.) If you think that the story is too important to be locked behind a "grouping wall" (and flashpoints are by definition group content), why not just make this stuff the subject of a normal quest? Makeb and Oricon have shown that Bioware can design interesting encounters even for the solo player and outside of instances. I see no reason why Torch's compound and the Revanite base with the signal jammer couldn't have been part of the Rishi map - other than that it probably would have been more work, taking into consideration things like the Mandalorian compound needing a proper exterior instead of being limited to only having an inside.
It feels to me that solo flashpoints are a band-aid applied to a design problem of Bioware's own making, and as so often with band-aids, the end result is a lot less neat than if they had just fixed the core issue. If you just want to tell a story that people can play solo as well as in a group, you can do that through a dedicated quest chain like you've done throughout most of the game. Turning parts of the story into flashpoints seemingly at random just feels clumsy, and leads to all the disadvantages already brought up above. Solo mode leads to tedious "hitpoint grinding" during which it's impossible to die. People who prefer to group are once again faced with the problem of having to get their grouping done at exactly the right time or they can't even move on with the storyline. (But you mustn't go in too early either, or you'll be faced with a lot of dialogue that makes no sense.)
I've done Blood Hunt and Battle of Rishi less than half a dozen times and I'm already tired of them because whether solo or in a group, I have to do them on all of my characters, always at the exact same point, if I want to unlock Yavin 4. This has actually made me resent them somewhat, and unlike at level 55, where I was happy to run any of the offered tacticals for the weekly (and knew that I was free to do so whenever I felt like it), the idea of doing the same at level 60 seems highly unappealing right now.
I'm guessing that Bioware has more plans for solo flashpoints in the future, but personally I hope that they'll reconsider what purpose they actually want flashpoints to serve, and that the answer won't simply be "instanced story quests with scaled up hitpoints". In my opinion designing flashpoints like that degenerates the story experience for both solo players and groups.