My pet tank and I both had the week of KotFE's official launch off, and after having gone through the story in early access week, we were free to organise operation runs every single day of the week. In fact, these runs were so popular that we frequently had to upgrade the ops size to 16-man, something that we haven't had to do in quite a while. We all knew that those energy levels wouldn't and couldn't last, but it's still been exciting to feel that renewed enthusiasm in the air. It's been fun to run story mode operations with people that aren't usually around that much and to hear everyone's laughter on voice chat.
I haven't had a chance to see all the changes that Bioware has made to the old operations yet, simply because I haven't had a chance yet to run every single op on every single difficulty since 4.0. (In fact, the only nightmare mode I've set foot in has been Dread Fortress to kill Nefra.) But a few things have already been apparent either way.
First off, all the story modes have been subjected to a whole bunch of new nerfs, mostly by making abilities that used to kill people a lot less dangerous or by removing whole mechanics or even phases of a fight altogether. Examples of these include, but are not limited to:
- In EV, the area where the pylon will strike in the last phase of the Soa fight is now highlighted by a glowing blue circle, which has changed the fight from being very difficult to tank (due to the high demands in terms of spatial awareness) to laughably easy.
- In KP, killing the Fabricator droid requires no puzzle solving anymore; any of the consoles can be fired at any time.
- In TFB, Kephess doesn't connect to the pylons anymore during his first phase and just stands there like a dummy. I'm not entirely sure this isn't a bug though.
- In Scum & Villainy, during the Oasis City infiltration, more than one group of people attacking a strike team doesn't trigger the alarm anymore, so you can basically run in as a full group and just steamroll everything together if you like.
- In the Dread Fortress, the way to Gate Commander Draxus isn't barred by a puzzle anymore. Oh, and the exploding droids don't kill people any longer! (R.I.P., most awesome way of killing your guildies.)
- In Temple of Sacrifice, only four people (on 8-man, might be more on 16) need to get the cross mechanic on Underlurker right anymore, the rest can do whatever they like.
I'm not sure that all of these changes were needed or even good ideas, but on the whole I see them as a positive thing. I've always said that story mode should be accessible and easily puggable, and a lot of these changes do help with that, especially by removing mechanics that required the group to be somewhat more co-ordinated that your average pug group usually is. As long as they are still there to challenge us on hardmode, it's fine.
I pugged Temple of Sacrifice as a dps last week and it was an extremely smooth run, an experience that I would have considered unthinkable in this operation pre-4.0. Then again, maybe I just got lucky, as my team did seem to be particularly competent in that case. I also noticed that bolster works really well - when I joined the group I was a little taken aback that one of our group members had only 20k health, considering that a decently geared level 65 character sits on 75k+ at the moment, but once inside the operation they were no weaker than anyone else.
Also, running hardmodes with my guildies has been surprisingly fun so far. I was really worried about how it would feel to wipe on content again that we could easily overpower only a month ago, but so far it hasn't been too bad. For EV, KP and EC in particular it's been so long since they were progression content that they do actually feel pretty fresh again. We've also had some people in our runs who weren't even around when these were "serious" content, and many old-timers had genuinely forgotten a lot of the mechanics.
Karagga HM down with only one man left standing - could be a scene from 2012, but actually it's from two weeks ago.
I'm proud to say that I remembered most of these mechanics. In fact, it was a real joy to do so! Not long ago, Azuriel wrote a post about that sad feeling you get when all that knowledge and skill you acquired while playing a game becomes useless. Doing these old operations again has had pretty much the opposite effect on me: I get to feel important and clever because I still know these things! It sure felt grand to get back into the groove of repeatedly solving the Fabricator puzzle as quickly as possible, or dancing around the Firebrand tank on the ground while dispelling myself. I've got skills, man!
Admittedly I've been less keen on getting back into the 3.0 operations and the ones on Oricon. Somehow those still feel too recent, and I'm still just a little tired of them. But it really helps to have such a huge selection of operations at max-level right now that are all viable ways of gearing up - even if we ran an op every single night of the week, there wouldn't be any repetition and we wouldn't cover everything. That variety really helps to keep things interesting.
So far the fact that we've all been there before hasn't put too much of a dampener on our mood. Ops nights are a strange mix of waxing nostalgic, actually reliving some of the fun, and getting to grips with the way our characters, our group setup and the encounters have changed. I expect that in the long term, there will be annoyances once we run into our first progression wall, but so far it's been surprisingly fun for what's effectively recycled content.
Oh, and of course Bioware managed to (re-)introduce a couple of bugs again, never mind that some of this content has been in the game since lauch. My favourite are what we've come to call "Schrödinger's platforms" in EV, both on the Gharj and on the Soa fight - they only appear for you if you look at the ceiling to watch them fall down, otherwise they remain invisible to you!