Last month when I finished KotET on veteran mode I mentioned that I was going to give KotFE a try next. What I didn't expect was that I would power through the full sixteen chapters on veteran mode more quickly than I ever did them on story mode!
Mainly there were two reasons for this. One was that I actually really enjoyed the story as a Sith inquisitor. In my "best classes to take into KotFE/KotET" post I ranked the inquisitor as number two, but after this I'm inclined to agree with Sullas, who commented back then that this class should be number one. Even though dealing with the Sith Emperor/Valkorion isn't a natural continuation of their class story, the plot itself fits inquisitors like a glove. In terms of dialogue I was enjoying myself more than I have on any other class I've played.
The second reason was that I wanted to get it done for the achievement and to be able to write a blog post about it. So there you go. Though wondering just how hard veteran mode was going to be this time around also kept things fresh and intriguing, always making me want to push on.
Fun fact: Since I found it annoying to play KotET veteran as a freshly-dinged 70, I wanted to make sure to get as much of KotFE as possible done before hitting the level cap on my inquisitor. I turned off the uber XP boost, but I was still surprised by how little XP the chapters gave past level 65! 65 to 66 went by quickly, only taking two chapters as far as I recall, but then things slowed down drastically, and by the time I completed chapter sixteen, I wasn't even halfway through level 69, despite of having been fully rested the entire time.
Unfortunately I'm none the wiser on whether it really helps to do the higher difficulties below the level cap. The difficulty curve certainly felt a lot smoother than it did in KotET, but that might just mean that Bioware did a better job with tuning this expansion's veteran mode. I didn't encounter any roadblocks like KotET's chapter two this time around, and the only boss on whom I wiped often enough to need to repair between attempts was Arcann. But then, he was basically the "expansion end boss", and I didn't mind that one being harder than anything else.
In general I was surprised by how few of the bosses gave me trouble. Having a long-duration crowd control certainly came in handy, and my combat res saw repeated use as well to revive companions that had managed to get themselves killed in a moment of inattention on my part. Funnily enough, the thing that killed me most often was actually trash. In my KotET post I talked about the annoyance of dying to mobs labelled as weak, and on my Sorcerer in her light armour that feeling was only amplified. I got so much use out of Force Barrier on trash groups! And I laughed out loud when some random wingmaws in the Zakuulan swamp killed me so quickly that I didn't even have to react and hit said barrier. I did learn to deal with those trash pulls a bit better after a while though.
But let's start at the beginning. Nothing really gave me any trouble for the first four chapters except the aforementioned trash pulls. The first boss fight that presented somewhat of a challenge was the skytrooper boss in chapter five (I forgot what he's called, I just remember that it wasn't Skytrooper Captain). The issue was that he became invulnerable every so often while summoning adds, but Lana was obsessed with trying to hit him inside his invulnerability bubble. Oh yeah, I haven't mentioned yet that I was doing this as heal spec, have I? Whenever the adds spawned, I therefore couldn't kill them quickly enough, and manually directing Lana towards each of them in turn took too much time. But I eventually succeeded after I switched her from dps to tank. She was still obsessed with the invulnerable boss most of the time, but once I directed her towards the adds, she would use an AoE taunt and grab all of them at once instead of needing to be told to attack each one individually.
The scions' trial in chapter six presented an interesting challenge. You know how Senya defaults to healer when she joins you? It was surprising how quickly we died as a double healer team! On respawn I changed her to damage, started the fight properly with a crowd control and off we went. I imagine that this part is quite tough if you always have to deal with both scions simultaneously. Heskal was a law onto himself because you're not allowed to have a companion during that fight and he hits pretty hard, especially with his turbulence. I spent a lot of time running in circles and trying to line of sight him while keeping myself healed up and slowly whittling away at his health with dots and weak instant casts. Both times the cut scenes kicked in it felt like I would have died if they hadn't "saved" me just then. I read that it's a lot easier to accept Valkorion's power here, but since this wasn't a replay but my actual story progression, I didn't want to make out-of-character choices just to make the fight easier.
No major issues in chapter seven and eight, except for a knight boss with skytrooper adds in the latter, which caused me similar issues as in chapter five, but again setting my companion to tank eventually did the trick. The first confrontation with Arcann was actually surprisingly easy.
Chapter nine, understandably, doesn't have a veteran mode, but why does it have tick boxes for the other two difficulties then? The HK bonus chapter doesn't have veteran and master mode either, but it's also not showing the icons for them. Argh. [/random UI OCD]
Chapter ten was probably the most annoying one. The fight against the duo of guards at the last junction must be rough without a long-duration crowd control, but as it was I managed. But the Knights of Zakuul in the Overwatch were really annoying. Those were the only mobs that seemed badly tuned to me, as they hit much harder than any knight-type mobs in other chapters, sometimes taking off more than a third of my health with a single instant attack. Switching Kaliyo to tank did no good here either, as she melted just as quickly. Eventually I managed to clear my way in with a lot of frantic kiting, making sure the mobs could barely ever touch me. On the way out, the same type of knight repeatedly spawned in, jumped me, killed me, and then instantly despawned again, never to be seen again, so I made my way back outside in a sort of death zerg. It just seemed so unnecessary.
In chapter eleven I found the final fight against the battle droid on your way out quite challenging: While the weak adds die in one hit even when you're a healer, there are a lot of them and they spawn all over the place. I did eventually succeed with Jorgan tanking and me doing a lot of frantic running around to off all the adds before they could do too much damage. Fun fact: If you try to knock anything off the platform, the fight resets.
Chapter twelve was one I expected to be a major pain in the arse as a healer, seeing how you have to do most of it without a companion (except for part of the second half, when you can tame a pet for a while), but it actually wasn't bad at all. In fact, I had a huge revelation about the first Valkorion fight. You don't actually have to get him to whatever percentage he usually stops at - simply letting him take you down to about thirty percent health also triggers the next cut scene. Quickest boss fight ever!
Thirteen, fourteen and fifteen were pretty smooth too. Unlike Lana in chapter five, Vette and Gault in thirteen immediately switched targets whenever the last boss went into an invulnerability phase, making that fight a breeze with two dps comps sniping any adds the moment they spawned. The Gemini captain in fifteen also wasn't an issue because with Senya on dps she picked out the correct target after a split pretty much instantly, saving you from taking too much damage from the "illusions".
The final chapter initially had me surprised by how easy everything seemed to be. I had picked the turret option for easy extra dps and they pretty much melted all the mini bosses for me without issue. But then I got to Arcann himself... and he is painful. As I said above, I just didn't mind as much because he is the big bad of the expansion.
I already found the shield mechanic a bit clunky on story mode, specifically that switching out of "shield stance" isn't instant but has a one to two second delay. In veteran mode this becomes even more of an issue as at least one of the AoE attacks Arcann does is a guaranteed one-shot, and if you're slowed by the shield at the wrong time, it's pretty much game over. I had to switch back and forth a lot, and found it helpful to try and stay near Arcann, as the deadliest AoE would start at his feet and get wider the further away you were, making it easier to dodge it if you were right on top of him.
When he gets low and puts up his "attuned barrier" or whatever it's called, it's time to get ready to raise your shield, as he will unleash a flurry of lightning in your direction afterwards. I found that if I didn't have the shield up at this point, I would die within mere moments. And then there's the big finale where you're supposed to walk up the stairs and smash him one last time. I saw several people complain that this was impossible on their class, but it seems that the key is timing. (Seeing how the raised shield disables all abilities, class shouldn't make a difference.) The damage and healing seems to be balanced in such a way that as long as you stay at max distance, they continuously balance each other out, so you are actually better off waiting a bit and making sure the first two manifestations kill themselves with reflects. If you charge ahead before that, you might accidentally end up turning your back to them before they are gone and then you die. Likewise, the ascent up the stairs seems to be tuned to take you to the very verge of death just before you reach Arcann, so just keep going and spam that slam button even while it's still greyed out. I thought I was going to die for sure on my last attempt but then the button lit up at a greater range than I had expected and I got that slam in just in time.
It was a satisfying ending to a fun experience and has definitely raised my opinion of veteran mode chapters as a whole. But is master mode going to be next? Eventually I guess, but probably not any time soon. The biggest obstacle for me is that I don't like re-playing the story on a character who's already done it, but master mode is intended for max-level characters in endgame gear. While I do have some characters at or near max level that haven't done the either "Knights of" expansion yet, getting them ready for master mode difficulty would require some work, and I'm not sure I'm sufficiently motivated to put that much effort in just yet.