22/10/2017

Pugette's Journey Is Nearing Its End

Pugette, my Commando alt who's levelling through flashpoints and whose adventures I've been recording on video, has reached level 64 today, so she only has only six more levels to go! I expect that my next post about this series will be my last one. I will probably have some more things to say about the project as a whole at that point, but for now, here is once again a summary of the last six weeks/episodes:


Episode 19: Getting Nostalgic in Directive 7 - As I continue to queue for both master modes and a diminishing number of veteran modes, I mostly keep getting instant queue pops for the former but every now and then also still for the latter. This run was part of the second category. Directive 7 is one of those places that always makes me super nostalgic for the game's early days because I associate so many funny stories with it, some of which I shared in the video. The way the run progressed also gave me reason to detour into some adventures I used to have during my time pugging in WoW.

Episode 20: Testing the Puggability of Crisis on Umbara - I was so excited to get the new flashpoint as my random! I had only done it with guildies before and therefore had zero idea what it would be like with a pug. My main impression at the start was that there was a lot of damage flying around and I couldn't imagine doing it without a healer. But when we got to the bonus boss, things got really interesting... I won't spoil the rest!

Episode 21: Unexpected Developments in MM Czerka Core Meltdown - This flashpoint defied my expectations because I remembered the desert boss being very hard to heal while having no issues whatsoever with the jungle boss. Apparently this has been reversed at some point! Also, a 15-minute wait for a new tank after our first one abandoned us led to some interesting experimentation with companion tanking.

Episode 22: Killing ALL THE THINGS in Taral V - At last, Pugette was able to advance her Jedi Prisoner quest line through Taral V, veteran mode this time. I was endlessly amused by the fact that after I explained at the start (and in previous videos) that most people just want to skip most of the trash in this instance, I of course ended up in a group that actually wanted to do both bonuses. The group's zeal for killing absolutely everything was actually pretty comical.

Episode 23: Getting chatted up outside MM Depths of Manaan - Just as I started recording this episode, I got whispers from some random person who started with some innocuous but pointless questions, causing me to predict that he was going to ask if I was a real girl next... and he promptly obliged, allowing me to nicely capture the awkwardness that comes with playing a female character online at times on screen. The instance itself went very well, especially considering that it's one of the tougher master modes. In fact my team seemed to engage in a game of one-upmanship with achievements, trying to convince each other that they were the one who knew the flashpoint best.

Episode 24: Inconsiderate Tanking in MM Esseles - This was a fairly uneventful run, except that our tank seemed to think that "tanking" means constantly charging ahead to solo things and ignoring what's going on with the rest of the group. Fortunately it wasn't much of an issue considering the low difficulty of the flashpoint, and at first I even laughed about it, but after a while it did get a bit annoying.

17/10/2017

11 NPCs That Died Before Their Time

Life in a Bioware game is dangerous if you are an NPC. While I've previously written about my annoyance with certain unkillable companions, regular NPCs are not nearly as well off. In fact I would say it's the opposite: many NPCs are seemingly introduced and made memorable in some way purely for the purpose of dying a gruesome death shortly after (sometimes even by your hand). I guess Bioware is doing something right with their characterisation if an NPC's death actually leaves me sad or annoyed - after all it shows that I care. However, that doesn't mean that I wouldn't have preferred to see more of that particular person before their untimely demise. So, without further ado: 11 NPCs that I feel died before their time. (Spoilers!)

11. Darth Silthar

In case you don't remember, Darth Silthar is the Sith who is working with the Imperial Reclamation Service on Tatooine and who talks to you at the start of the planetary story arc on Empire side. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call him a "nice" Sith, but he surprises you right off the bat by being respectful and appreciative of his Imperial associates, which is something Imperial players don't get to see often. However, he then dies on the very next mission he goes on and you're left to deal with the Reclamation Service for the rest of the story arc. I'm not sure he had tons of potential in him exactly, but I distinctly remember feeling a bit disappointed to see him die so soon the first time I played through this. Non-crazed Sith NPCs are rare enough as it is, and it would have been interesting to see more of him. Also, the rest of his team were a bunch of bores.

10. Broga, Jeelta & Portho

Another group of names that might not ring a bell right away, these are the Hutts that make up the "Three Families" that you deal with on Quesh. I'm forever confused by the supposed chronology of the events on Quesh, but the important point is that they are Hutts that aren't afraid to take sides in the Republic-Empire conflict, and that's refreshing. More could have been made of that before killing them off; that's all I'm saying.


However, I will admit that killing Hutts is a special kind of fun.

9. Grand Moff Kilran

Despite of "existing" only in flashpoints, Moff Kilran's appearances in the Esseles, Black Talon, Taral V and Maelstrom Prison were more than enough to make him a memorable character. And he did have a good run! However, I don't think we've seen an Imperial officer of his calibre ever since, and from my point of view it's been very noticeable that the position of "ruthlessly scary yet kind of fun to mock" Imperial figure has been glaringly empty for too long. Shouldn't have killed off the one who was doing a great job at it quite so quickly after all...

8. Supreme Commander Jace Malcom

You may be surprised to see Theron's dad so low on this list. My reasoning for this is that he's never actually had much development in game, and most of what could have potentially made players feel attached to him one way or another happened in cinematics or novels. Nonetheless... he was a big player with a lot of background, and killing him off without actually doing much of anything with him in game felt wasteful. Of course he's not necessarily dead, as he's one of those characters that can stay alive or die depending on your choices. But let's be honest: Once someone is "optionally dead", they never have much of a role to play anymore and are as good as gone from the game anyway.


7. Tari Darkspanner

In case you need a reminder, this is the secret leader of the Revanites on Dromund Kaas. While the quest chain gives you the option to sell her out at the end, we never really find out what happens after that. However, it seems that she got away either way, as she eventually shows up again as the end boss of a daily chain on Yavin IV. Some people might consider it a refreshing throwback that Bioware thought of including her at all, but to me it just seems like a waste to have her be a simple daily quest mob. How did "the Master" react to meeting Revan in the flesh after all? So much more could have been made of that, and I can't help but feel that she deserved better.

6. Katha Niar

Katha Niar is an Imperial, formerly of the Ministry of Logistics, who helps Imperial players coordinate their missions during the planetary storyline on Makeb. I've always found the way she struggled with being in a difficult situation really likeable (even if the player is given the option to constantly be mean to her) and would have loved to see her become a recurring character. Unfortunately she dies at the end, no matter what you do. I suppose I can also give an honorary shout-out to her associate Lord Cytharat at this point (who dies an "optional" death), but personally I never found him quite as interesting. (Maybe if he also liked girls...)


5. Gayem Leksende

This servant of the Czerka Corporation is your main opponent as a Republic player during the planetary storyline on Tatooine (aside from the big bad you run into at the very end). I always loved how slimey and outright evil this guy is - trying to bomb old men in their retirement homes and stuff like that. Unfortunately his eventual end is unremarkable, and then Czerka is pretty much never heard from again until CZ-198. Again, seems like a missed opportunity to me, maybe not so much for Gayem in particular, but for Czerka in general.

4. (Former) Supreme Chancellor Saresh

I'm guessing that this one will surprise many people, because how could I not want this woman dead? Well, as it happens I always thought that Saresh was a pretty interesting character, filling the niche of that guy on your side with whose methods you constantly disagree, even if you are on the same side at the end of the day. I can't exactly claim that she didn't get enough screentime, what with all the ops missions she hands out to Republic players, but her final fate in KotET was just very undignified and felt entirely out of character to me. She should have been given a chance to go out actually fighting against the Empire in some way in my opinion.


3. Darth Marr

Oh, Darth Marr. Again, I can't really complain that he didn't get enough time in the limelight, what with his prominent roles in both the Rise of the Hutt Cartel and Shadow of Revan expansions, not to mention his appearances in both the Sith warrior's and inquisitor's class stories as well as the fact that he voices the Imperial intro to the Voidstar warzone. His death wasn't that bad either; at least he got to go out with a bang... and then got a reprise as a Force ghost on top of it all. Nonetheless I can't help but put him on this list because I just wanted to see so much more of him still! He was just one of the coolest Sith NPCs out there in my opinion, with his mysterious mask; deep, growly voice and overall aura of cool. I can't blame people for stopping halfway through KotFE chapter one just to keep him as a companion for a while...


2. Darth Malgus

One of the poster children for the game, literally featuring in trailers, on posters, and as a statue in the collector's edition, it was a bit of a shock to see this guy get killed off before the game had even received its first patch. The fact that you didn't originally see his body may have been a hint that a return was planned for a later date, but well... let's just say that at this point it seems increasingly unlikely, and the game does allow you to kill him off properly. It strikes me as a shame as you see quite a bit of him if you level through flashpoints as an Imperial character, but at the same time he's not given nearly enough time to show his personality as described in loving detail in the Deceived novel. His betrayal just comes out of nowhere and feels like both a waste as well as bad storytelling. Here it just feels like the story could have been fleshed out to be so much more than it was ever given a chance to be, even if it had still ended with his eventual death.

1. Empress Acina

Finally, my personal number one for this list is another "optional" death, Empress Acina. The reason I rank her much higher than Jace Malcom even though they die to the same thing, depending on your choices, is that she was much more fleshed out in game (chapter two of KotET is pretty much entirely about bonding with her) and the choices that lead her to hold the idiot ball in order for her death to occur seem even more out of character for her than they were for Malcom. Again, what a waste of a perfectly good character.


Go ahead and share anyone that I didn't include but that you feel also would have deserved a place on this list!

11/10/2017

Faction Attitudes

I've been playing some of my Imperial max-level alts lately. As my fourth Republic character slowly makes her way towards Command Rank 300, I figured it was about time to give the other faction some love. (And not just because yesterday's patch introduced an achievement to get all eight classes to 300. Only mostly.)

However, I've also found that for some reason pugging on Imp side is a bit more likely to frustrate me. I keep running into attitudes that annoy me, and I wonder whether there is some truth to my perception or whether I'm just biased.

Actually, I think there can be no doubt about character distribution in terms of light and dark side at least. Go pug the Esseles five times and tell me how many times you got to sell out Ambassador Asara. Zero, right? Now pug the Black Talon five times and tell me how many times Captain Orzik survived. Maybe once - if you got lucky.

It's understandable though. While the game allows you to play a kind Sith or an evil Jedi, it's more natural for people to choose the Republic if they want to play a good guy and the Empire if they want to be evil.

However, people don't just roleplay differently. I've also found that Republic players are more likely to at least try to be team players. Now, I'm not claiming that all Republic players are one way and all Imperials another. I'm not even saying the majority on each side is one way or another. But at least to me it seems that attempts at team play are a bit more common on Republic side.

While doing warzones as an Imp, I repeatedly found myself abandoned guarding a node or door, my cries for help as I was trying to stay alive in the face of two or three attackers soundly ignored. Whenever I died and watched the enemy cap, I couldn't help but think: "Typical Imps". On Pub side I almost always get support. People may be slow or run around like headless chickens in other areas of the map, but usually someone will at least try to help.

Imps are also perfectionists. In a Lost Island hardmode run the other night I was healing on my Sorc, when the tank suddenly started berating me for my healing, even though we had a great run with no deaths whatsoever. Earlier he had also moaned about how slow everyone was when I hung back to help a party member who didn't know how to skip the trash at the beginning and pulled something by accident. (Note that the tank himself didn't lift a finger to actually help kill things or guide the person through!) I couldn't help but think about how a Rep pug would most likely just have high-fived each other for having had such an awesome run. Here it was nothing but moaning about how we didn't quite meet the tank's standards for perfection. Again, I see similar things in PvP. People get angry in chat on both sides when they are losing, but it seems to be mostly Imps who start shouting at people for playing sub-optimally even while their team is in the lead.

The one thing I will hand to the Imps is that they seem to have more of the really good players. When I see truly outstanding play in PvP, it's almost always from an Imp - as long as we're talking pure duelling skills, that is. When it comes to objectives, their disinterest in team play (see above) sometimes gets the better of them and they do things like run away from objectives just to get one more killing blow, resulting in a loss despite of their superior ability to kill the enemy. Again, I'm not saying that I've never seen a Pub player do this - it just seem to observe it on the other faction much more often.

Still, in the end I have no numbers to back up my observations either way, so it might just all be bias. Do your experiences with the two factions match my own perceptions? I would expect Imp players to disagree that they have more unpleasant individuals among their ranks, though I'm sure they'll be happy to accept the compliment of supposedly having the better players...

07/10/2017

More Road Map Thoughts

As mentioned in my last post, the announcement of the impending server merges kind of overshadowed everything else that was said in the road map update this week, but there certainly was more. The team at Bioware did a pretty good job at banging the PR drum for once actually, as the post was almost immediately followed-up by a Q&A on Twitch, and this weekend more information about upcoming content has been pouring in via the New York Cantina event.

First I'd like to look at something else though: namely the previous road map released in May. How accurate was it in hindsight? Did everything that was promised in it actually come to pass? The answer is no, but nonetheless the final verdict is positive - nothing that was mentioned in the previous road map has been outright cancelled; a few features that were said to come in the future without any specific time frame just haven't arrived yet but are clearly still being worked on (such as Unassembled Components becoming a legacy currency, the new warzone map, or more returning companions).

The new road map reiterates those points and gives the impression that Keith continues to be devoted to delivering a strong and varied line-up of new content. The next story update will bring back a former Imperial agent companion and has been co-written by famous Star Wars author Timothy Zahn, which gives it quite a pedigree. In terms of multiplayer PvE, there'll be another flashpoint and the next encounter in the Gods from the Machine operation. PvPers will get a new Civil War-type map set on Yavin 4. (I have to confess I'm a little disappointed by that in so far as the previous references to "a new warzone" had made me expect a new rule set, not just a new map, but we will see how interesting it is. Quesh Huttball was sufficiently different from The Pit to make it a fun addition anyway.) And Galactic Starfighter will see its first proper rebalancing in years as well as a new map. (Again, not as good as a new game mode, but a big step up from nothing!)

At the same time, an impressive amount of effort seems about to be invested in quality of life changes and polishing existing parts of the game, such as continued CXP changes and the addition of a special vendor for companion customisations that were previously unavailable to one faction. What intrigued me the most personally was the mention of plans to update Dark vs. Light, conquest and the group finder. Maybe the longer dark/light states will improve my chances of convincing my guildies to hunt down some of those special bosses. (Understandably people didn't want to jump out to go looking for them for an hour in the middle of an ops.) My interest in conquest has been waning for a while, and the incoming server merges will likely make it impossible for my small guild to ever compete again under the current rule set. But if they make changes to the system afterwards, who knows? I don't know what to think of the idea of a group finder revamp, because I do think the current one works fine, but I'm open to possibilities.

All in all, the current direction continues to be encouraging for long-time fans of the game. Sure, I've seen the occasional grumble from dedicated KotFE/KotET players who want to see nothing but new solo story content, but overall public perception seems to have improved a lot compared to say, a year ago. Even in places like the SWTOR Facebook page, where I'm used to the top comments usually being whines about how much the game sucks now, people are positively excited and discussing the new developments with interest. Not bad for a nearly six-year-old MMO, not bad at all.

03/10/2017

United Forces AKA Server Merges Inc.

Yesterday, passionate SWTOR players around the world were eagerly awaiting the release of Keith's latest road map, to find out what he has in store for the game for the next few months. It launched with quite a bang, with the very first bullet point being big enough to require its own lengthy post and (in my opinion at least) pretty much overshadowing everything else that came after: Server merges are coming - even if the post itself carefully avoids using the M word at all costs, as seems to have become the standard in the industry. All we hear about is connecting servers and uniting players.

Server merges have been a subject that the community has been talking about for a long time. As recently as June, I wrote about why I personally wasn't keen on the idea. However, I can't claim to be totally surprised that they are happening anyway. I had a feeling they were going to happen eventually, I just didn't expect the time to come quite so soon.

As you'd expect from someone who was against the idea, I'm not particularly happy about the news - but somewhat to my own surprise, I'm not really upset either. More than anything, I'm just kind of stunned. Even though I foresee few effects on my personal in-game experience (as I mentioned before, queue pops can't get any faster than instant), I felt a strong emotional connection to the name Red Eclipse, especially after all the trials and tribulations that accompanied my move onto the server back in 2012. I'm so used to talking about playing on TRE and tagging all my videos with "Red Eclipse" that it's going to be strange to be on Darth Malgus soon, even if it's not a bad name. (Everyone's thoughts are going out to the American west coast players who will soon be living on "The Hot Prospect". /snicker)

I'm also kind of quietly impressed by the sheer amount of effort that was clearly put into preparing for this. The post linked above contains a lengthy FAQ listing all kinds of things that won't be affected by the merges but that were constantly borked up by server transfers in the past. This certainly goes some way towards explaining why it felt like the team hasn't been working at full capacity in terms of putting out content for the past few months - they were obviously busy coding other things. Even things like duplicate strongholds are accounted for, something I never expected them to really give a damn about - and yes, you will get to keep them both.

However, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Unsurprisingly, not all the downsides of enforced server merges could be addressed. If you simply liked being on a quieter server, you're just screwed, and I've already heard disgruntled grumblings from several roleplayers about Bioware abandoning them. (To be honest, I think Bioware already abandoned them when they removed the server tags and therefore made it impossible for new players to "organically" find the game's RP communities, without prior research.) I also had to chuckle a little at the prediction of conquests having more fierce competition than ever before being framed as a positive thing, as if it wasn't the deathblow to the aspirations of many smaller or medium-sized guilds of ever conquering a planet again.

And of course there is the naming issue, as character names will continue to remain unique and nothing was done to alleviate the incoming pains of people having to duke it out over the more popular ones. I was kind of surprised they decided to go ahead without addressing that, especially as they are implementing a workaround to deal with identical guild names. At least priority will be given to subscribers and characters that have been played a long time.

This one has also given me food for thought though. Newer readers might not know that my in-game character is actually called Shíntar with a funny i as I lost the "simple" version of the name during the first round of server transfers. I never worked up the courage to ask the other guy whether he would consider changing his name, but I did keep him on my friends list on one of my Imperial alts to keep an eye on him, and he never levelled up beyond level 60. Now, for all I know that could just mean that he changed mains and is now playing something else, but I can certainly hope that this means that he stopped playing and subscribing some time ago. And as I own the name Shintar on The Progenitor, which will be merged into TRE, I might be able to win out over him! I'm not really sure about the guy owning the name on Tomb of Freedon Nadd, but a quick inspection revealed another level 60 Sorcerer, so odds are that it's another abandoned account. Fingers crossed I guess...

I suppose it will be an interesting time for the game if nothing else. I've found that at least to some degree, server merges have a way of making lapsed players come back to check out the new situation, especially if they previously left because they weren't happy with their server's population but didn't want to pay for a transfer. Subscribers getting preference when it comes to keeping their names certainly also serves as an incentive to come back for at least that month, and the way the game is choosing to see it as an event to celebrate, including the dishing out of in-game goodies and achievements, will only be the cherry on top. Let's see how things go I guess.

01/10/2017

Balance Schmalance

For the past couple of months, the SWTOR devs have been spending some time on class rebalancing. The latest round of changes announced for 5.5 included Commando healers, who will have pretty much every healing ability in their arsenal nerfed by X percent.

If you think this post is going to be some sort of thoughtful analysis of these changes, I'm sorry to disappoint. The truth is: I just don't care that much. That's actually why I always find class changes kind of annoying, regardless of whether they are nerfs or buffs. People constantly want to talk about them (usually in the form of lambasting Bioware for supposedly doing it all wrong) and everyone expects me to have an opinion on the matter. I usually don't mind that much when Bioware gives attention to an aspect of the game that doesn't interest me personally. However, usually it's also acknowledged that said updates just won't be relevant to everyone.

I'm continually perplexed by how many people seem to rate constant class changes as something that absolutely needs to be done. I get that they matter to hardcore PvPers, but surely there aren't that many of those? If you're just PvPing more casually... well, my main's class was pretty much universally rated as an easy kill for something like four years and I still had fun. And in PvE I don't recall a single instance since the game's launch where my guild had to ask someone to change class because whatever they were playing was underpowered and we wouldn't be able to bring them otherwise. And that's without even touching on the tens of thousands of people who just log on to do their quests... do you really think they will notice that ability X now does Y percent less damage?

I want to be understanding of why people care about class balance so much. I certainly get a glimpse of it when I look at GSF, which hasn't really been rebalanced since its launch. Strike fighters are just totally useless for example, there isn't anything that a scout can't do better, so nobody really plays the former. And that sucks! But even so, people are still queuing up and having fun. And balance between the actual player classes has never been so bad that a class couldn't participate at all.

I don't know how exactly the work at Bioware is distributed - I know that different people do different things - but I can't help but think there must be something more productive to do for the devs involved than to spend weeks poring over whether certain numbers should go up or down a bit.