12/07/2015

Of Level Scaling and Recycled Operations

I apologise for the radio silence on here for the past two weeks. Work has been very busy and then last week I went off on a week-long holiday with no internet connection - which was kind of nice in its own way, but I'm nonetheless glad to be back!

Apparently I came back just in time to see Bioware release more information about their plans for flashpoints and operations in Knights of the Fallen Empire. To summarise in a nutshell:

- They currently don't seem to have any plans for new level 65 flashpoints and operations (that they are willing to reveal).
- All levelling flashpoints will now feature level scaling and therefore be available to a wider range of levels. The ones that are important to the story will receive the solo mode treatement, while the others will become role-neutral tacticals.
- Hardmode versions of most flashpoints will be available from level 50-65.
- All existing operations will be available from 50-65 as well, with updated hardmodes and, in some cases, nightmare modes.
- Some stuff about how all of this will work in terms of loot.

The reactions I've seen around the blogosphere so far have been muted (though I'm still in the process of catching up), ranging from "oh well, I guess that makes sense" to "but what will keep us raiding with no new content"? Myself, I'm actually feeling cautiously optimistic at the moment, even though I agree with many of the concerns. There are two reasons for this:

1) George Smith explains on the dev blog that their reason for not releasing any new operations with the coffee expansion was the following:

We felt it was important to first address some of the issues with our Elder Game before moving on to new content. These changes will allow us to be more flexible with how we release new content, as the content no longer needs to be tied to a new gear tier or level cap increase.

Rav takes him to task for this, as she feels that this is just an excuse and the real reason is that Bioware simply had no resources left for group content after focusing so heavily on the single player story for KotFE. While I believe that she has a point, there's usually some core of truth to any excuse like this (based on my experience anyway), and I can absolutely believe that Bioware wanted to revamp the way their group content works before adding more. And if that's the case, it's at least a sign that they still care about this part of the game and genuinely want to add to it in the long run. From a technical point of view, most of the changes sound good to me.

2) I don't care how many times I've done it, Eternity Vault is still my favourite operation and I'm totally looking forward to seeing it scaled up to level 65, never mind the potential downsides.

More seriously though, let's look at the announcement in more detail:

The changes to flashpoints make a lot of sense. I suppose I'm kind of old-fashioned in the way that I enjoy trinity-based gameplay and would like for people to learn how to handle it while levelling up. But realistically speaking, this hasn't been working so well for a while from what I hear. Personally I don't recall ever having a problem, since most of the alts I levelled more recently were either tanks or healers and always got into groups very quickly. Dps queue times have however been problematic from what I've read, especially on servers which are less populated than The Red Eclipse. The recent focus on speeding up levelling via the class story has also greatly reduced the incentives (and available time!) for people to queue for a levelling flashpoint.

Making all those flashpoints role-neutral and allowing them to scale with level will make them a lot more attractive for the average leveller. Most of all, it means that levellers won't be limited to Kuat Drive Yards for a fast queue pop anymore. The stories of these flashpoints are also self-contained enough that it's not too much of a stretch to insert them at any point in the levelling experience. As someone who generally enjoys doing flashpoints while levelling, I won't have to go "damn, I'm about to outlevel Mandalorian Raiders, I better queue for it now" anymore - especially during the early levels this can happen quite frequently. At the same time you'll have a wider variety of content to choose from at the higher levels, when it feels like levelling as a whole is slowing down. The only risk I see here is that of the scaling potentially being done badly - my recent adventures in Neverwinter taught me that badly done level scaling is worse than having none at all. However, as much as PvPers like to rail against the bolster system sometimes, it has held up well so far and I don't see any reason to assume that Bioware will make a mess of applying it in those flashpoints.

As for solo flashpoints, I've said before that I don't think they are a good way of telling important stories going forward, however as a band-aid to allow people to experience the already existing story of Revan or witness the rise and fall of Darth Malgus they make perfect sense. (As a guildie pointed out however, Bioware didn't list Directive 7 as either a new tactical or a new solo flashpoint. Wonder if that's an oversight?)

The idea of having a large number of flashpoints and operations available to play at the new level cap is a welcome one in many ways, because it means that we'll have more variety than ever when it comes to choosing which content to tackle in order to progress our characters. I've written about how my guild has mostly given up on trying to kill the hardmode bosses in Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice that are still standing in our way and has instead been going back to old operations that don't offer us anything except a couple of achievements. With the new endgame as described in George's blog post, this won't be as much of an issue anymore because you will have a lot more choices to progress.

Of course, the problem for us day one veterans is that we've already been there and done all that. Personally I feel this puts me in a tricky spot because to a certain extent I'm very much in favour of re-purposing or "recycling" content that isn't seeing much use. (I used to find Blizzard's long tradition of using every new expansion to discard everything that came before pretty frustrating.) At the same time I realise that this method is not without its problems. I remember being quite annoyed by my group wiping on Operator in TfB again when the operation was scaled up from 50 to 55 (though my guild's internal issues at the time certainly didn't help). When you were previously able to beat the content easily, suddenly finding it difficult again makes your character feel weak, which is not very fun. And of course there is the matter of repetition - how many times do we really want to rerun Karagga's Palace when we've already done it so many times before? I'm willing to give it a try and see how it goes. Running old operations with a guild group is fun now, there's no reason to assume that we won't be able to squeeze some more life out of that content when it's scaled up.

What mystifies me a little is how loot and future content releases are supposed to work with this system going forward, and how it's supposed to make things more flexible for the developers. What I mean is: Whenever a new operation (or flashpoint for that matter) gets released, where is it going to fit in? If it gets placed "on top", we'll be back to the old problem of everyone just running the newest content and this update won't have achieved anything in the long run. However, the main alternative I'm seeing is that any new content will be considered equal to the existing flashpoints and operations in terms of level, with everything getting scaled up every time they increase the level cap (that sure would make things easier on the devs) - however this would mean that we might still be running EV at level 100 or whatever? Also, I'm really not sure how gear progression is supposed to fit into all of this, but somehow I'm less worried about that as this has never been SWTOR's main draw for me anyway. (Story trumps gear progression in this game really.)

I'll continue to wait for more updates.

8 comments :

  1. And what's going to happen to flashpoint specific loot? Considering that there are a few very nice looking items that are only available from certain flashpoints. I would be very unhappy to see those items go away. (But I'd be perfectly happy to see them guaranteed to drop. Because I want to inflict myself on others as little as possible.)

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    1. I hadn't thought about that; I agree that especially the lower level ones have a couple of nice gear sets in them. I see no reason why they couldn't remain there... though of course you never know with Bioware, they are not shy about taking gear out of the game.

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  2. There are really 2 things I don't like about this change to flashpoints and operations. The first is that I really like to solo or duo instances I overlevel. It lets me continue to play on my schedule as questing does. I am not going to sit in a group finder ops (or flashpoint as dps) queue to possibly fail to complete at level content when what I really want is to blow up an instance while seeing the sights and get some cosmetic gear. Their attempt to appease the raiders by recycling the endgame is going to piss many off for just updating the old content, and will also piss off some casuals like me for taking away some of our endgame fun too.

    The other thing that's more odd is that the 50, 55, and 60 ops were designed as story beats made to fall at those levels because they continue the story from that point in the time line. If you are taking them away and moving them to a later point, doesn't that break the story to some degree? In the expansion focused on story? It seems weird that you'd be raiding stuff that was long since defeated in your quest line.

    Combined with the uneasiness I feel about what they are doing to crafting and companions (are they really going to just kind of toss the results of someone who worked in game to get max companion affection away?), I am not sure how this story plan is going to work out for Broward.

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    1. Bah, autocomplete! Bioware!

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    2. Well, with the flashpoints becoming tacticals I think you'll be safe grouping for them without risking failure. (I think the only time I ever ended a tactical flashpoint run without completing it was when it bugged out and we couldn't continue.) And I don't think any of the old ops, even the level 50 ones, were soloable anyway? Sorry, I don't think that's much of a loss.

      I agree that the flashpoint and operations stories will get a bit muddled, but to be honest for the most part they were pretty self-contained anyway. (The Dread Masters were relevant to the wider game for a longer time, but a lot of that was spent on them being a vague threat in the background; there isn't exactly a huge narrative there.) I do agree that it's not ideal from a story point of view, but I've also previously said that I don't think group content should focus on story.

      I don't think they've released any information about their plans for crew skills yet? I'm not buying into any rumours of them removing crafting completely or anything like that.

      And LOL @ Broward.

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  3. "I don't care how many times I've done it, Eternity Vault is still my favourite operation and I'm totally looking forward to seeing it scaled up to level 65, never mind the potential downsides."

    SO MUCH THIS. Haters gonna hate, but Eternity Vault is spectacular, even with all the bugs on launch.

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  4. I've only gone through Directive Seven once, and that was soloing it once I hit L60. It always seems to get the short shrift between Red Reaper, Collicoid, and the two Ilum FPs.

    I hope they don't delete it, but I'd not be too shocked to see it go.

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    1. From my experience a lot of people disliked D7 because it feels quite a bit longer than the other flashpoints around the same level. Whenever I got into a group for it via the group finder, someone was pretty much bound to drop as soon as they loaded in. Still, I always liked it and sure hope they don't remove it!

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