31/12/2018

Ossus Is A Great Planet

Now that I've spent no less than three posts waffling about all the things I love about Jedi Under Siege's story, it only seems fair to also give the environmental artists and level designers their due, because Ossus is both beautiful and fun to spend time on.


It's not just pleasing to the eye (to be honest I feel that most of the planets added after launch have been), but it also has a very "vanilla" feel to it. I think the main reason for this is how vast and open it is. I'd say it's probably similar to Yavin IV in size, which isn't huge, but the quests are very widely distributed across the area. I can understand why this "larger than life" design might not be everyone's cup of tea, but personally I really like it because it kind of serves as a counterpoint to the game's "theme-park-ness", which is to say that while SWTOR likes to take us through very tightly directed stories, having large and open zones at least makes the planets feel like actual worlds instead of as if they were just designed to serve as set pieces for the quest narrative.

In practice this means that doing the daily quests requires quite a lot of running around, but unlike on Iokath the whole thing flows very well, so it doesn't feel annoying. The missions themselves are all fairly run-off-the-mill in their gameplay (kill X, click on Y), but again: that's fine. Personally I don't mind Bioware experimenting a bit now and then, like they did with the puzzle and vehicle sections in KotET, but these things can be divisive, whereas you can't really go wrong with simply giving people more of a thing they already like, which is to say an opportunity to use their beloved characters' skills. About the most annoying thing is that a lot of objectives are limited to a fairly small area or even to just one specific mob, and with the oodles of players all trying to get their quests done at the same time the amount of competition can be aggravating. Personally I've been dealing with that by questing in the PvP instance most of the time.

I also have to give a special shout-out to the new heroic missions on Ossus. I've found the [Heroic 2]s to be easily soloable, but the [Heroic 4] definitely requires you to bring a friend (or make one). I've actually done all of them in groups though, simply because it's so easy! With how busy it is on the planet you can just post a shout-out in general chat and usually get a response instantly, but even if it takes a couple of minutes you can simply do some of the solo missions while keeping an eye out for other people interested in grouping. The automatically granted quick travel item also comes in handy (and is the main reason I've also done the [Heroic 2]s in a group sometimes to be honest), because it allows everyone to instantly get to the right place and get going. This is the kind of thing I had been hoping for when Bioware added the existing heroics to the fleet in 4.0 and added those quick travel items in the first place... before I realised that they'd obsoleted any grouping requirements in the process as well.

Another great thing about Ossus is that it has content beyond just the main storyline and its associated dailies. For example there are some hidden achievements to be chased and new datacrons to be found. I haven't actually bothered with these myself yet - while I already had guildies offering summons to the datacrons during the first week, I politely declined those as I wanted to at least have a closer look at them myself first. I like the idea of there being some extra content for me to check out later at my leisure instead of everything being more or less done once I've completed the quests.


There are also random security chests hidden in certain spots that contain more of the relic currency and are therefore worth picking up.

Finally there are the world bosses, and I'm delighted every time I see people forming groups for them. The weekly mission for a masterwork crystal means that they are currently in high demand, so just like with the heroics it's super easy to find other people to do them with. You can basically bring up general chat at pretty much any time of day and find someone in the process of forming a group. (I joined one of these at something like 11pm on Christmas Eve and one of the group members complained about the slowness of the process because it took longer than five minutes to fill the group.) You just whisper the leader to ask for an invite and then you can pretty much continue with your business until the group is full as someone will usually throw out a guild ship summon anyway once you've hit the maximum amount of players.

Both bosses are good fun, which is to say they have fairly straightforward mechanics without being boring tank-and-spanks, and handily support a role distribution that seems to mesh well with players' natural preferences, which is to say that you only need 1-2 tanks, about 4 healers, and then you're best off filling the other available 18-19 slots with damage dealers as both bosses have a lot of health. This contributes to groups filling up quickly and hassle-free, though it does worry me a bit in terms of how viable it will be to revisit these bosses once Ossus isn't the new hotness anymore.

My only real gripe is that the game's engine doesn't deal well with such large numbers of players, and especially when fighting Kil'Cik (the bug boss), the large group size combined with his endless add summons tends to turn the experience into a slide show for me. On R8-X8 (the droid boss), pugs usually do a lot of dying and zerging (fortunately the respawn point isn't far away) but it feels like this is mostly due to us as a community still not really understanding the fight (yet). For example I still don't know how/when you can actually interrupt him. One of his buffs states that normal interrupts don't work, but as for what qualifies as special enough to interrupt him anyway, I've seen theories from needing a certain number of people to interrupt at the same time to the dedicated interrupter needing a special buff (but nobody could say what it is or how to get it). Likewise I've repeatedly seen the advice to avoid blowing up the fuel barrels, however my guild found that doing so is actually a good thing as it's easy to avoid the resulting explosion, and no fuel means that the droid can't re-fuel, and once he hits zero fuel he stops doing Incinerate (his most deadly ability) entirely.


Anyway, what I'm saying is that there are plenty of things going on on Ossus to keep players engaged, with a lair boss scheduled to be added in the next patch as well, and I've actually been enjoying taking multiple characters there to get my reputation up and earn new rewards in a way that I haven't done in years. Thanks, Bioware!

(Bonus: One of my first ever posts on this blog was about me being endlessly entertained by people falling to their deaths, and even on that front Ossus delivers, as there's this elevator in the Imperial base that inexplicably travels faster than falling speed, so if you step onto it at the wrong moment, you can watch it speed away from you right under your feet while you slowly fall after it, until you eventually get reunited at the bottom and go splat. This has happened to me about two or three times now and I've also had times where I was waiting at the bottom of the lift myself and suddenly saw someone else faceplant right in front of me. Pure hilarity.)

28/12/2018

2018 Predictions vs. Reality

At the end of last year I let my fellow gaming bloggers lure me into trying to make some predictions about the upcoming year for the first time. I figured that my guesses were all super boring and more or less guaranteed to come true. I'm surprised by how wrong I was! Let's review the predictions I made about what was going to happen to SWTOR in 2018 one by one.


1. I expect that we'll get an expansion announcement once the current storyline has been wrapped up, and that the three flashpoints that comprise it will tie into the new expansion in the same way Forged Alliances tied into Shadow of Revan. The expansion's theme will be related to the Heralds of Zildrog and have a name that is designed to sound vaguely like the title of an existing Star Wars movie, such as "The Serpent Awakens". The actual release will be set to happen only a couple of months after the announcement, since Bioware never milks these things for hype, and will happen in early autumn at the very latest but probably earlier. The expac will feature another five levels of story content but no new operations.

My first and biggest prediction was the one I was sure was pretty much a given, at least the part about us getting an expansion, and I was completely off, as we're actually no wiser about 6.0 than we were a year ago. My proposed theme, which was the most "daring" part of the prediction I suppose, also turned out to be moot as they actually ended up wrapping up the entire Zildrog arc in the Nathema Conspiracy flashpoint. I honestly thought at the time that there was going to be much more to it.
 
2. Speaking of operations, the last boss for Gods from the Machine won't be released until June or so, making it the most drawn-out content release EVAH! In hindsight, all the fights will be excellent, but nobody will care because people lost interest months ago. Master mode will continue to fail to materialise or at the very least get delayed even more. If it does ever see the light of day, it will come with a hefty nerf to all of veteran mode. (Note that I'm not saying that this is what I want to happen, just what I expect to happen based on past observations.)

While it did ultimately take ages until we were able to run Gods from the Machine in its entirety, they were relatively quick with getting Izax out the door and got him live by March. I also think that I was wrong about nobody caring about Gods by the time it was completed, though we seem to continue to exist in this weird information hole where we don't have a single reliable source for guides for boss fights anymore and we're all kind of winging it. The other day my guild figured out that some of the common advice about what you're supposed to be doing on the Ossus droid world boss for example is actually the opposite of what you should be doing, so yeah...

I will give myself points for the master mode prediction though, because while it has come out now, it did take many months and was even supposed to have been cancelled for a while. I don't think the nerf to veteran mode has been as substantial as I would have liked, but it did happen despite of Bioware initially not wanting to do any nerfing at all.

3. Either with the expansion's release or somewhere around it, Bioware will reveal some major change or new feature that will leave everyone going "What the hell?" - not necessarily because it's a bad idea (though it might be), but because it seems utterly random and feels like something that nobody ever asked for. (Again, not saying I want this to happen, just speaking from experience...)

Again, we didn't even get an expansion, but even if we leave that aside I don't think they did anything super weird this year either. In actuality I thought that all their content additions and systems changes were fairly safe and predictable. I suppose the whole masterwork gear thing added with Ossus is slightly strange in that "did anyone ask for this" kind of way, but I suspect it's meant to be a response to people wanting crafting to be more relevant again as well as moving even further away from Galactic Command, both of which are things that people have expressed a desire for.

4. One thing that will definitely be changed is conquest. That's not much of a prediction, considering that Keith himself has officially said so! However, I will add that I expect them to add a lot of new activities as ways to earn conquest points, and more importantly, the system will be revamped in some way that allows smaller guilds to get more out of it than they currently do.

I suppose you could argue about what qualifies as "a lot" but they certainly did add a whole bunch of new conquest objectives. And the new system is definitely much more rewarding for smaller and medium-sized guilds. As I acknowledged at the time though, this was a bit of a non-prediction.

5. Story-wise, the Eternal Alliance will either be disbanded or become irrelevant in some way, finally returning us to the story of Republic vs. Empire. Now this one I might actually be hoping for...

Even this was kind of wrong, as the Alliance has been neither disbanded nor become irrelevant. Its importance has been greatly diminished, but it does remain a relevant player on the galactic gaming board, even if the focus is moving back Republic vs. Empire now.

Now, while this was pretty fun to review, despite (or maybe even because) of all the ways in which I was wrong, I don't think I'll be repeating this whole prediction thing this year. I did actually start a draft post trying to write down some guesses and ideas for things we might see in 2019, but to be honest I couldn't think of much to say beyond "we'll get an expansion in 2019, for real this time". I better not be wrong about this one a second time!

25/12/2018

The Return of [SPOILER]

I feel like we as a community are in a slightly weird place in terms of spoilers right now. There is this big plot twist in Jedi Under Siege that's definitely more fun to experience as a surprise... but Bioware themselves are at this point talking about it very openly on their social media and it's even on the front page of the official website, so we should be able to talk about it as if it's nothing special, right? However, since I know that my blog has some readers who play the game more casually, who might miss even those signs and would probably still prefer to be surprised, I'll try not to spoil things for anyone a little longer by not having the big twist just show up in people's feeds without warning. Maybe I'll go back and change the subject line of the post later.


Anyway, let's get down to business. You know now that there'll be spoilers!

There are basically three things that I'd like to talk about in regards to the return of Darth Malgus.

1) Did I like it and do I think it's a good thing for the game?
2) Notes on how things actually play out in detail
3) Looking forward to what might come next

Did I like it?

I've long said that Darth Malgus' "death" in False Emperor always struck me as a colossal waste. Last year I made a post called "11 NPCs That Died Before Their Time" and Darth Malgus came in at number two on that list. As I noted back then, it felt very weird that a character that had received so much build-up before launch was killed off before the game had even received its first patch. The fact that the original incarnation of the Malgus boss fight had you knock him off a ledge so that you never saw a body may have been a hint that Bioware was always planning to bring him back at some point, but it seemed to me that with six years having passed since then, that ship had long since sailed. When Bioware teased fans with that "deleted scene" from the KotFE trailer two years ago showing Malgus turned into a carbonite trophy for Arcann and Thexan, it left me completely cold. "Whatever", I thought. "Bringing him back at this point wouldn't really add anything."

Yet when I first stumbled across a spoiler saying that Malgus was alive in Jedi Under Siege, I was instantly and unreasonably excited and I couldn't have told you why. I wasn't even sure whether it was true, as I had kind of come across it by accident and from the context it wasn't entirely clear to me at the time whether the information was even reliable.

Now that I've actually seen Malgus' return in game, I can say that I absolutely loved it though. And most of the general reactions I've seen to the story have been very positive as well. Which leads us to...

Do I think it's a good thing for the game?

The one person on my Twitter who groused a bit about Malgus returning pointed out that it was a tired trope and in some ways a rehash of Shadow of Revan. And I can't say that they are wrong! But tropes aren't always a bad thing and I feel that in a way, Malgus' return is just what the game needed right now. Two years ago the notion didn't excite me, because it would've just been an easter egg in the story of the Eternal Empire. However, things are different now that we are finally moving away from that and returning to the Republic vs. Empire conflict that we all love about Star Wars. This was something that SWTOR handled very well at launch and for which Darth Malgus was very much a poster boy. Bringing him back now isn't just a random plot point, but rather serves to underline that we're going back to the "good old days" by literally bringing a beloved character from launch back from the dead. Not Quite Dead may be a trope, but it's the trope we needed right now.


In that context, I also understand Bioware basically "spoiling" their own story on the front page. They made sure that the big twist was going to be a surprise for those of us who are actively playing every day, but now they are basically switching gear to using it as a marketing tool. As I said above, Darth Malgus is a symbol of everything people loved about SWTOR at launch, and by shouting loudly about his return, they are probably hoping to reel some lapsed players back in who checked out during KotFE/KoTET because they didn't care about Zakuul. Honestly, I hope it works.

The Way It Plays Out

With me being a die-hard Republic loyalist, I naturally played through the Republic version of the Ossus story first. In that, the reveal that Darth Malgus is alive comes very close to the end - and while I still enjoyed it for what it was, you receive very limited information about just what exactly is going on. It left me feeling eager to see things from the other side, though I still remembered Ilum all too well, meaning that I didn't necessarily expect to receive satisfying answers on Empire side either. Boy, was I wrong.

On Imperial side, the reveal that Darth Malgus is alive comes as a surprise too, though more so to you as a player than to the rest of the Imps. As Major Anri puts it very amusingly, apparently tales about Darth Malgus being alive had been making the rounds for a while, but most considered him a sort of bogeyman used to ensure that good little Imps brushed their teeth and ate their vegetables. Still, the big reveal worked perfectly for me. The scene in which Darth Malora paces before the mysterious supply drop she's just received goes on just a little too long, with the camera slowly changing focus from her to the crate, and just as you start to wonder whether maybe someone is listening from inside... out pops Malgus!

My first playthrough on Imperial side was with my Marauder, who's been my "dark side story main" since KotFE, but other than that I don't usually enjoy playing her very much to be honest. That said, she was a great fit for this particular bit of story and it just felt perfect. I loved how she was the only one to not bow to Malgus and how you're even given the option to mock him, in that way Sith are wont to do when they are trying to get each other's goat. However, he totally doesn't take the bait, which is also very much in character with the Malgus we know from back in the day, who was very goal-focused and not easily distracted by anger. (During some of the flashpoint intro quests you can give slightly stroppy replies along the lines of "Well, why should I care?" and he always has a good response.) There's also some interesting dialogue with Anri in the aftermath of this where she thanks you for not making a scene with Malgus, because we all know what it's like when you put two or more powerful Sith into the same room, which was another nice acknowledgement of my character's base class and also underlined once again that Anri has a very good understanding of Sith power dynamics.

However, the best part is undoubtedly the bit closer to the end when you reunite with Malgus in the temple and he asks you to team up with him against the Jedi occupying the area. My first reaction was :"Squee, Darth Malgus is my companion!", immediately followed by: "Oh wait, I'm gonna set him to heals now and he'll just wave his hands around and channel purple lines at me, and that's gonna feel a bit undignified for him, isn't it?" However, it seems that someone at Bioware wisley anticipated this, so they coded Malgus to not act like a normal healer. He jumps around smashing things up regardless of what role you set him to, and if he's supposed to be healing, you just receive heals somehow while he's smashing things to bits. I don't know how it's supposed to work but I didn't really care either. It was a great way of letting you really enjoy the feel of the team-up without making it impractical.


Totally Besties Now.

We also learn during the story that Darth Malgus' current role is that of the Emperor's/Empress' Wrath, so for my Marauder the added dimension of old and new Wrath teaming up really hit the spot. However, it's also made clear that Malgus did not volunteer for his current role. He looks anything but pleased when he's being told that he'll soon be prepared for his next assignment, and frankly the fact that he was dropped off on Ossus in a box like a slab of meat instead of being allowed to arrive on a shuttle like a normal person doesn't indicate him receiving a great amount of respect from his new boss. His new codex entry explains that it was Acina who rescued him from certain death, and it's implied that she has pretty tight control over him (presumably due to the cybernetic enhancements she gave him). If Acina is dead in your story, Vowrawn is supposed to be the one pulling the strings after her demise.

I do love the idea of Acina having been behind all of this by the way. I really liked her in KotET, but I also couldn't quite shake the feeling that she seemed maybe a bit too nice for a Sith. I love the idea that underneath that agreeable exterior she's been running some extremely devious schemes and side projects the entire time, and it makes her rise to Empress that much more believable.

What's Next?

What we learn about Malgus' current state on the Imperial side of the story is very intriguing. His basic character traits still seem the same, but at the same time it's very obvious that he's not entirely in control of his own actions, which raises the question of what he's really thinking throughout the entire thing. When he expresses a desire to work with you, is that just him trying to keep you sweet because it's what he's been ordered to do? Or is he genuinely interested in your character, maybe even seeing the Alliance Commander as a possible future ally? Does he actually believe in the future of the Sith Empire again or would he still love to break away if given the chance?

There are so many ways this could do, and ironically my biggest fear is that because we are free to imagine a thousand different outcomes for this situation, whatever Bioware actually ends up going with might end up feeling disappointing simply due to its practical limitations.

In the immediate future (story-wise) I would expect our characters to fight against or by Malgus' side some more, but then what? Will he be able to break free? If so, will Imperial characters help him? What could Republic characters get to play through to match the sheer potential awesomeness of that? Or is it going to turn into another "sorry, but I hate you all" situation like on Ilum? There is so much potential here, but unfortunately also much room for things to go wrong.

How did you feel about Malgus' return and where would you like to see his story go next?

22/12/2018

Happy 7th Blogday to me

Back when SWTOR came out, I didn't even manage to go for a full week before I had the urge to start blogging about it, and well, here I am seven years later. That said, I've been less prolific in 2018 than in previous years - most years my post count for the year seems to average around 111, (123 if you include the unusually busy 2012 and 2016), but this year I'm only just making my 100th post.

Mostly I continue to blame my current place of employ and the annoying commute it forces me to endure, but to be honest I'm just generally trying to do too many things at once. Not only do I want to write about the game, I also want to make videos about it every now and then, and this year in particular I've also spent more time than ever just playing, what with the many Conquest events in which my guild decided to compete. I'm not very good at cutting back on things in a sensible manner, I just find myself suddenly running out of time while trying to do ALL THE THINGS and then get somewhat annoyed with myself. Anyway, you don't read this blog to hear me moan about my first world problems, not to mention that my chosen country of residence seems to be close to descending into anarchy, so who knows where I'll be this time next year... let's look back at what I blogged about in the past year instead; that's much more fun.

I started the year with a love letter to my favourite warzone, which is criminally underrated by most players. I was somewhat baffled to find that I'd apparently never done the Korriban Incursion flashpoint on master mode on Imperial side, and I started my journey to complete all the KotFE / KotET chapters on master mode. For anyone who might be waiting for me to post about the last few chapters of KotFE by the way, I haven't forgotten about them; I just need to actually write the post about chapters 12-14, which I've already completed, and then still play through 15 and 16, which I expect to be toughies. I also noted the day I reached Command rank 300 on my 9th character. For the record, not even a full twelve months later, I'm on 16 characters at that level, and I gave up on actively trying to level them up long ago... it just kind of happens now as I play.

In February I wrote about the third and fourth boss in Gods from the Machine, about whom I felt very ambivalent. We also got a spring road map, and I revisited all the repeatable world events, in which I previously hadn't participated in ages (something that Conquest would soon change though). I also made a compilation video of Pugette's flashpoint pug adventures, which I'm still proud of.

In March I expanded my in-game horizons (literally), and was excited to kill Izax for the first time when Gods from the Machine was finally completed. Bioware held a sort of event on social media, which I thought was kind of entertaining. They haven't done anything comparable since then though, so I'm not sure it achieved what they were going for. Conquests were revamped and despite of many people being critical about it at the time, it rang in a whole new era for my guild in terms of Conquest participation.

April started with the Big Cartel Market Spring Sale getting even me to take an interest in what was on offer. (I hope they bring it back some time.) I mused on the subject of story gating in SWTOR and wrote about some of the new class-specific companion returns. Despite of my enthusiastic finishing comment about wanting to complete KotET on the classes I was still missing to see their new companion missions, I've failed to make significant progress on that front ever since. I started on Pugging with Shintar season 2, a project that has been sorely neglected in the past couple of months due to the factors mentioned at the start of this post. I also talked about how my guild was doing just peachy despite of its age.

In May I discussed both the mechanics and the storyline of the new Nathema Conspiracy flashpoint in detail, while I started June expressing happiness about my guild putting more focus on 16-mans again (we've actually been able to keep this up and they are now a fixed part of our raiding schedule for one week each month). Conquest received further tweaks, and PvP was scheduled to receive some big changes. I expressed my thoughts on these and waxed nostalgic about what kind of changes SWTOR's warzones had gone through over the course of more than six years.

July saw me visiting the PTS and talking about beating the Terror from Beyond on master mode. My guild also conquered its first planet since the introduction of the new Conquest system, with many more to follow. In August I participated in Blaugust and killed the Yavin walker for the first time, three and a half years after it was added to the game. I also talked about the big PvP changes once they'd actually been implemented and had a look at the new Rishi stronghold.

In September we got another road map, and I decried the way Conquest had caused me to neglect my Imperial alts. I also defeated Revan in the Temple of Sacrifice operation on veteran mode for the first time, which was a big deal for me.

October saw me having some fun on the new Huttball map and thinking about how I'd been spending more time playing in planetary PvP instances lately. I also solved the problem of the neglected Imperial alts by making my guildies go on adventures in our Imperial alt guild.

November's posts were dominated by me participating in IntPiPoMo again, though I also got nostalgic for a bit, both about marketing hype after listening to an old podcast as well as about what I consider SWTOR's golden launch days.

Finally, I used December as an opportunity to review how the game's approach to dailies has changed over time, and when 5.10 finally launched I reported on the launch day, the Ossus story and both new and returning characters.

Whatever else happens, I'm sure the next year will provide me with plenty more subjects to write about.

20/12/2018

Seven Years of SWTOR

I like how making this post to commemorate SWTOR's launch date and taking a screenshot of my character's current look to add to the collage that I keep re-using for this purpose has become pretty much an annual tradition for me now.


Click to marvel at my trooper's changing fashions in full size.

If you want to look back at what I had to say about previous years, have some links:

Happy Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy 2nd Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy Third Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy 4th Birthday, SWTOR!
Five Years of SWTOR
Six Years of SWTOR

Looking back at those previous posts, I'm noticing a slightly worrying trend: While I continue to enjoy the game and always try to maintain a positive outlook, the annual posts in review have gradually had fewer and fewer nice things to talk about. I mean, the game's launch was a disaster both in terms of PR and financial expectations, but as a player that first year was still a great time to be playing because of how much support the game received, and despite of lay-offs and other troubles, Bioware kept the ball rolling pretty well for the next couple of years after that too.

But then Knights of the Fallen Empire launched, the big expansion that was supposed to revolutionise the game... and while it did deliver on a lot of story, it also got people grumbling because suddenly little else was being added to the game. And then we had the dumpster fire of Galactic Command at the end of 2016 of course...

Last year I noted that 2017 had been the first year in which we hadn't received a new expansion and that there had generally been fewer content releases than in any year before that, but I was hopeful that Bioware might pick up the pace again in 2018. Yet here we are at the end of December and it's been another year. In fact, it blows my mind that it's been over a year since 6.0 was first teased and not only has it not launched, we are literally not a single step closer to even knowing when it will be delivered or what it's going to contain.

Now, this is not to say that 2018 has been an entirely bad year. After all, we just got a meaty patch with a new planet and some excellent storytelling in it. And there was other content before that too, such as a new flashpoint and a new warzone map. However, it all felt very... piecemeal, a very slow continuation of everything that had started last year. In fact, I keep thinking of releases such as Iokath as recent, forgetting that actually, that planet came out over one and a half years ago now (and I'm not the only one either). It just doesn't feel that long ago because not much else has happened in the meantime.

Bioware has also continued the trend of prioritising big systems overhauls over tangible content additions, so we got a big Conquest revamp at the end of March and a large set of warzone changes at the start of August this year. Again, this is not a bad thing depending on where you stand on these things - for me the Conquest revamp has done veritable wonders for my engagement with the game for example - but the lack of more new content updates has still been very noticeable... to the point where we had another surge of "Is this game dead yet?" type of articles across various media at the start of the year (in response to which a fan bought the domain isswtordead.com and used it to put up his own definitive answer to the question).

Last year I concluded my annual birthday post conceding that we hadn't got a lot of new content in 2017, but I was hopeful that 2018 would be better. Yet here we are another year later, and to be perfectly honest, 2018 wasn't really any better; it was more of the same, which is to say that I approved of the general direction of the game but the cadence of meaningful updates has felt painfully slow. Would it be foolish to hope yet again that 2019 will bring an improvement?

Vulkk's own year in review reminded me that Bioware's Casey Hudson said back in August that SWTOR's "most exciting year yet" was coming up. I mean, claims like that should always be taken with a grain of salt, but surely he wouldn't be quite so hyperbolic about it if they didn't have a bunch of stuff in the pipeline? I'm also thinking that at this point they don't have that many systems left that they can spend time revamping from the ground up in the same way that they've already redone servers, the group finder, Conquest and PvP. The number of original class companions that are still missing post-KotFE is also vanishingly small by now, so what else can they do but actually progress the story and give us some new content to run? (I totally jinxed it by asking that question, didn't I?)

Whatever happens, I'll be around and looking forward to whatever updates we do get. As it stands, I still have bosses left to kill and companion returns I haven't seen, not to mention lots of stuff to do on Ossus, so I'm far from bored. Happy Birthday, SWTOR, and thanks for continuing to offer me an online home.

17/12/2018

Jedi Under Siege Character Moments

Another thing I've loved about the Jedi Under Siege story is how much obvious attention to detail and love has gone into all the characters that feature in it. It's as if Bioware sat down with a list of "NPC slots" they had to fill ahead of time and thought long and hard about where and how they could re-use existing characters, and if they did decide to introduce someone new they took extra care to make them interesting and likeable.

There will be spoilers for both factions here, so proceed at your own risk.


As an example of re-using existing characters, the introductory Republic mission is given by SIS agent Jonas Balkar, a recurring character from the trooper story. My Commando only had to wait nearly seven years to get another shot at flirting with him, but it was definitely worth it!


Meanwhile on Imperial side, you get briefed by NR-02 of Black Talon fame. The fact that he greeted me as "the hero of the Black Talon" should have been a dead giveaway, but I actually didn't recognise him the first time around because he now has a different chassis! Wonder how that happened?


The Imperial briefing then continues via Moff Pyron, formerly a loyal servant of the Sith inquisitor. More good times with personal references if you're the right class!


Republic players are introduced to their first new character in the form of General Daeruun. I have to admit that I wasn't too keen on him based on the previews for the simple reason that I think his species looks quite ugly (and unlike some people I don't have a fetish for weird-looking aliens). But then he started talking and I was charmed almost instantly - he's got something avuncular about him, which is not usually a trait we see in military commanders. The funniest thing was that I took note of his really excellent voice acting but didn't realise that Darin De Paul had once again made a comeback! I'm sufficiently well-attuned to his evil Valkorion voice by now that I instantly recognise him in similar contexts, such as this WoW video, but hearing him voice a genuinely nice character talking about his love for tea caught me completely off guard it seems.


Darth Malora ultimately has only a surprisingly small role to play considering her prominence on the poster art, but I still think it was clever of Bioware to re-use a character from a low-level side mission here instead of just creating some new random Sith, as it makes the world as a whole more cohesive and gives meeting her a slightly personal note. The game was thankfully also very good at remembering for me just how that mission on Korriban had gone back then... it's not like I actually remember every decision I've ever made in some side quest five years ago! Simply choosing the dialogue option that acknowledges that you know her makes the relevant things come out of your character's mouth. Phew!


Major Anri the twi'lek soldier is probably my favourite of the new characters. Let's just say that as someone who's mained a trooper since launch I've always found it interesting that there was no Imperial story mirror to my class. I suppose the closest is actually the Imperial agent... but I think the main takeaway is simply that as a front line soldier you basically can't be a hero in the Empire, and we don't get to see the point of view of the common soldier very often. The closest was probably in the form of the warrior companion Lieutenant Pierce. Anyway, the point I'm making is that I loved meeting this soldier who's blunt, honest, competent and funny, and getting more insight into how things look from the perspective of someone who all too often finds herself at the mercy of the whims of the Sith.


In a similar vein, I loved the way the rescue of Anri's sergeant Brax goes. When she starts off mentioning that he might be dead or alive, I fully expected it to go the way oh so many missions of this type in SWTOR go, where you find nothing but a body and a datapad at the end. But no, Brax too is shown to be surprisingly competent at staying alive, and I thought the conversation that ensues afterwards in which he appears to be kind of embarrassed by the "celebrity rescue", as Anri puts it, was utterly adorable.


Meanwhile on Republic side, we have Jedi Tau Idair, who to be honest didn't resonate with me that much, as I kept wondering how in the world she ended up wearing half a robe. However, she's not a bad character by any means.


I did love Doc and Nadia's involvement on Republic side however. Again, they didn't actually play a large role, but just using characters that the player would recognise gave the whole situation a lot more weight. I haven't done the story on a Sage yet, but on my knight I was highly impressed by how much personalisation they added to the dialogue. Even though he doesn't actually join you until later in an Alliance alert, Doc basically keeps going on about how awesome it is to see you again, how you'll totally save the day etc., which was both entertaining and seemed very natural under the circumstances. Even Nadia, who obviously didn't know my Guardian personally, commented on recognising her as previously well-known Jedi.


Even the background NPCs are pure love, as Bioware inserted some great environmental chatter in the area. The above example was pointed out to me on Reddit and makes a couple of civilians state openly how a lot of SWTOR players have basically felt about the whole Zakuul story arc. Personally I also came across this...


... which refers to the "deleted scene" from the KotFE trailer that was shown at a cantina event and had Malgus being frozen in carbonite and being presented to Valkorion as a trophy. Of course, that's a whole subject for another post...

14/12/2018

Why I Love The Ossus Story (No Spoilers)

So, let's talk story. There are a lot of spoilers I'd really love to talk about, but looking back at how I discussed new story content releases in the past (also wow, I forgot just how enamoured I was with KotFE's story at launch), I know I can manage a fair chunk of discussion without actually giving the game away, so I figured I should be able to do so again.

Feelings can't always be explained, but I do like to analyse why things make me feel a certain way whenever possible. And funnily enough, one of the first things that Jedi Under Siege reminded me of was Makeb.


The thing is, I've never even been particularly fond of Makeb. When it was released I thought that the story was decent fun, but it wasn't amazing. Being the game's first official expansion, it was judged by the standards of the launch game, and in those terms it fell woefully short. While we already knew that we weren't going to get any more class story content, Makeb still felt like a bit of a letdown being "just" a planetary storyline, even more so when Bioware made attempts to sell it to us as a continuation of our class story anyway. (Doesn't the loading screen summary still refer to it as "Chapter 4"?) It was pretty obvious that it had been written for a generic hero of any class, and beyond a couple of pieces of background companion chatter in certain areas, there were no real references to anything that related to your character's class or story. It was particularly jarring if you had your romanced companion along and they didn't even do as much as bat an eyelid or even lose any affection with you if you started making out with an NPC in front of them.

In hindsight though, Makeb was also the last time that we had distinctly different storylines for Republic and Imperial characters. After that things merged gradually - Oricon still had a very different feel for both factions for example, but strictly speaking you were jumping through the exact same hoops on both sides. Shadow of Revan had somewhat random-seeming variations in dialogue and with cut scenes, but was ultimately still the same story regardless of your faction, until KotFE pretty much did away with the two factions altogether.

In that sense, Jedi Under Siege feels a bit like a throwback to Makeb - only better, because this time around we're getting two distinctly different tales for the two factions but with the benefit of personalisation and better companion integration. (Plus there are some intriguing parallels in terms of how much information about the situation the two factions have, which is another interesting throwback to Makeb.)

The problem with companion interactions has always been a matter of effort vs. reward. Even with just the Vanilla companions, and quests being targeted at just one of the two factions, if a mission was open to all classes it meant that you would have had to account for a total of twenty-one different companions per faction reacting to it, which was just madness. The practical result was that you could bring whoever you wanted, but they did nothing.

In KotFE Bioware changed the approach to instead requiring you to bring a specific companion to each mission, but this companion would then react to things and interact with you throughout the whole thing. Whatever else you want to say about KotFE, I found this change hugely preferrable, and I was happy to see it continue on Ossus.


Companions aside, the challenge of making a storyline that feels personal and fits your class without actually having more class stories is something that Bioware has struggled with for years. Content like Makeb or Oricon felt alright to play through (fighting for the Republic or the Empire was what we did after all), but it always felt a bit impersonal at the same time, what with the lack of companion interactions and only minimal references to your class. It didn't feel like it mattered whether you were the Commander of Havoc Squad, the Barsen'thor or someone else, because it literally didn't.

They took first steps towards making it personal again in Shadow of Revan, where you personally became important not because of your class, but because of your association with Lana and Theron and helping to uncover the Revanite conspiracy. Then the focus shifted to the Emperor, KotFE came out, and they went all out turning you into a kind of Chosen One who was the only one who could resist the Emperor.

Now, while this was always problematic for non-Force users in particular, the enthusiastic early KotFE review I linked earlier shows that I didn't consider this a deal breaker initially. I liked the more focused and personal approach. The problem was that as time went on the story insisted on trying to tell us what our character's motivations were in great detail (You're going to do this because you now hold a grudge against Arcann! No, I don't?) and that it eventually elevated the Alliance Commander into a kind of "sole saviour of the galaxy" role that many people were profoundly uncomfortable with, considering that most of the class stories had been about you being important but still part of something much bigger.

The great thing with the approach that Bioware has taken on Ossus is that your role as Alliance Commander is now pared down to something more similar to the old class roles - important enough to turn heads, but not more than that. As such, it can live alongside your old identity without overriding it, while still providing a story hook to provide some general direction. Ossus is still a personal story, as you get sent there because of your role as Alliance Commander, but the actual goings-on on the planet tie smoothly into your character's wider backstory, such as the Jedi in the enclave remembering your Jedi character, or Darth Malora recalling how your Sith treated her back on Korriban.

The end result is a story that, in my opinion, manages to combine the best parts of KotFE (the feeling that the story is personal to you, that you're not just a generic hero, as well as the increased companion involvement) with all the things that we've really been missing since Vanilla SWTOR: Republic vs. Empire, references to our base class, being part of something greater. The only way Bioware could top themselves at this point would be by bringing full-fledged class stories back, which of course won't happen... but if the next story update/expansion is written in a similar way to Ossus, we have good reasons to get excited again anyway.

12/12/2018

5.10 Launch Night

Boy, am I ever going to have a lot to say about this patch! But since a lot of it is spoilerific and I want to wait a bit with discussing spoilers, let's start by talking about a few technicalities.

The Bug

While the servers were down for patching, my guildies were joking in Discord about just how long the downtime was going to last. When the servers came up an hour early, it was my guildie Araf who uttered the in my opinion most prophetic prediction: "I won't be surprised if they shut them down again in an hour or two after finding a new hot exploit." And indeed, it didn't take thirty minutes for the servers to go down again, with a note on Twitter that they had found a "potentially severe issue".

Basically what happened is this: One of the new features of this patch is that the new story offers an auto-complete option for KotFE and KotET. If you want to just do the new stuff, without worrying about having to play through anything that came before, you can go right ahead and the game will pick some default options for you as far as story-relevant choices go. Now, the problem was that for some reason this process actually triggered for all characters the moment they started the new story, even if they had actually completed the previous storylines, effectively overwriting the player's choices with the new defaults.

I saw some grumbling about this ("Isn't this what the PTS is for?"), but in all fairness, I could sympathise with Bioware on this one. It was a bug that was triggered by the new story content, which hadn't been on the PTS, and while they obviously must have done some internal testing, I could easily see how this sort of thing could have been overlooked. If your chosen character had made the most likely choices, the default overwrite wouldn't trigger any noticeable changes, but even if it did, you would have had to immediately inspect your giant companion roster to notice any odd changes, unless they specifically affected a companion that you were actively using at the time.

It was still a pretty embarrassing bug to go live with, considering it was the kind of thing that was noticeable immediately with thousands of people jumping into the new story at once; I'm just saying I kind of feel for Bioware here anyway. Also, to give credit where it is due, Eric Musco was very good at keeping everyone up to date on their progress via Twitter, they did a full rollback to make sure that nobody lost anything, and the three hours delay until the servers were back up for good weren't too bad in my eyes. I've seen much worse in any case.

Bring A Friend!

One thing that excited me about another open world story installment was that, like Iokath, it would enable me to play through it with my pet tank again. Sure, I expected there to be some personal conversations/phases, but that's something we've had since launch. That's always been a part of the game; I just don't want it to be all there is.

Now, imagine my pleasant surprise when I found that Bioware had actually put some thought into this and tweaked the way the story phases work on Ossus. All the phases we entered for the Republic story were multiplayer phases, so that we could play together and share progress on quest objectives such as killing X mobs, but when we entered a cut scene we would each have our own personal conversation, just simultaneously - the best of both worlds really.


The only downside was that about half of the time, the new system didn't actually work as intended and bugged out. Once my quest didn't progress after a conversation, and I had to walk out, wait for my pet tank to finish and then walk in again to redo my bit. Another time we got separated into our own phases for no discernible reason (the phase wasn't marked as personal), continued on our own anyway, but when I reached the NPC at the end it wouldn't let me talk to her as the game insisted that I was a guest in my own phase and therefore not allowed to talk to anyone. I had to quit the group altogether to finish that one. The reason I'm still giving Bioware so much praise even though it was far from a smooth experience for me and my pet tank in the end is that I could at least tell that they thought about how to make it a better experience for groups and tried, which is more than they've bothered to do since Shadow of Revan.

Pew Pew!

I've mentioned before that I've been habitually playing in the PvP instance in recent months, so when we got to Ossus my pet tank and I had to decide whether I would join him in PvE or he would come join me in PvP, and he agreed to do the latter. It was surprisingly fun! We got more than a dozen Imp kills while only dying once ourselves, and there were some pretty fun and memorable moments, such as the duel against an Imperial tank/healer duo that forced me to blow every last one of my cooldowns, or the time we got embroiled in a fight on a staircase carved into the side of a cliff and many bodies went flying to their death.


With a name like that you're pretty much asking for it.

It only slowed our questing down a little - it's not like we were actively looking for fights, we'd just spar with any Imps that crossed our paths and then moved on - and actually added a nice layer of RP-like immersion to the whole thing: When we saw evil Imps burning the Jedi's farms for example, we could and would actually run up and stop them.

I have a lot of thoughts to sort out about the story, but that's for another post (or another two, or three...).

08/12/2018

Back In My Day: Dailies

"Back In My Day" is an irregular series in which I take one aspect of Star Wars: The Old Republic and look at how it has evolved over time. This particular installment was inspired by me doing a lot of questing on Ilum recently, which got me thinking about how many of the quests there used to be daily repeatable but aren't anymore.

Launch - The Dailies That Weren't Really

At launch, it was very obvious that SWTOR hadn't originally been conceived as a game with daily quests as an endgame activity in mind - until someone at the Bioware offices had a sudden panic attack three weeks before launch or something, and in order to shoehorn the daily concept into the game somehow, they took two quest chains that had been designed to be done at or near the level cap, the Ilum storyline and the Belsavis bonus series, and turned all the missions that weren't part of the main quest chain into daily repeatables that handed out endgame rewards. (I remember some of them gave out purple item modifications, but I seem to remember that this wasn't the case for all of them.)

This went about as well as you would expect. In a post from February 2012 describing my first impressions of the Belsavis dailies, I hilariously noted that I didn't even know where to go and where to start, as there was no "daily hub" or anything, and the daily missions were utterly indistinguishable from regular one-time quests.

Story-wise, a lot of them made no sense either. Now, daily tasks in an MMO require a certain suspension of disbelief most of the time, but there are still ways to make them more credible vs. blatantly hitting the player over the head with how little sense it makes to repeat certain things. My favourite example of this was always the Republic quest on Ilum that had a little astromech droid desperately seeking help and supplies for his owner, a recently crashed fighter pilot... who apparently crashed every day? We used to joke that the guy was really just a hermit who happened to live in a ship wreck and we were basically his daily supply run.

Mechanically, things were pretty bad as well. People were complaining about others not space-barring through the daily quest givers' dialogue quickly enough long before anyone got tired of the cut scenes in flashpoints, but at the same time they didn't just want to have the mission shared with them because they did want to go through the cut scene to farm social points and/or companion affection.

The area also didn't really seem to be designed to have a large number of people questing in it at the same time. Most infamously I remember the quest on Republic side to kill Rattataki leaders, of which you needed three for the quest, and there were only about five in the area, with half of them habitually bugged out and unkillable. Sometimes I'd just sit down and wait for the same guy to respawn three times.


Now, all of this may sound horrible, but it wasn't really that bad. It wasn't well designed for its purpose, but at least for me it also managed to stay below the threshold of actually becoming tedious and annoying. The fact that the Belsavis bonus series included no less than three heroics encouraged people to group up for the whole chain of dailies, and the end result felt kind of awkward but also fun. The payout was also high enough that you never really felt like you actually had to do the whole thing on a daily basis to stay afloat.

1.2 - Into the Black Hole

Patch 1.2 introduced the game's first "proper" daily area, the Black Hole on Corellia. It was a bit of a pain to get to as you had to go through no less than three loading screens to travel there, but it was much more streamlined for its purpose. There was an introductory quest with dialogue on the fleet, but then the actual dailies could just be picked up from a terminal all at once and were neatly clustered around the area.

Bioware decided to keep encouraging people to group up by also adding a heroic mission, as well as a weekly meta quest that required you to complete each mission, including the heroic, exactly once. I noted at the time that the concept of the weekly was very much in line with SWTOR's very casual-friendly approach, in that the best rewards only required you to visit the area once a week. It was also very much worth doing as the weekly also offered a new type of currency called Black Hole commendations, which could be used to buy new and more powerful gear from vendors on the fleet.

1.5 - Experiments in Section X

Section X reiterated on the Black Hole and mostly tried to improve it. 1.5 was also the patch that included the free-to-play conversion though, which led to the weird experiment of making the new zone into paid content that you could unlock by subscribing or via a special access pass (which was eventually dropped).

I can't even remember what sort of rewards the missions gave at launch, but they were most assuredly overshadowed by the introduction of the reputation system, which also made Section X the first daily area with a reputation attached and gave players an incentive to increase their standing with the faction just to get access to things like cosmetic armour shells and pets.

The area was also spiced up by featuring the start to the quest chain to acquire HK-51 and having the world boss Dreadtooth path around the area. People with an interest in world PvP were delighted to actually run into the other faction on occasion now - one thing that had been a bit odd about the Black Hole was that even though technically Republic and Imperial players were playing on the same map, their quests were on entirely separate halves of it and they never even crossed paths. In Section X the two factions still had their own separate missions, like in the Black Hole, but they took place in roughly the same area, and the heroic mission for the weekly was even located in the same instance.


The heroic mission in Section X was the one somewhat controversial thing about the area, as it required exactly four people for successful completion - you couldn't substitute someone with a companion as there were several sections where people needed to click on things in sync to bypass some force fields. This was a bit of a nuisance, and was later on removed without much fanfare, though the quest's [Heroic 4] tag wasn't changed. Personally I only found out that I was suddenly able to solo it pretty much by accident.

1.7 - The Gree Revive Ilum

Patch 1.7 introduced the Gree event, the first world event that was designed from the ground up to be repeated, and which re-purposed the previously abandoned Western Ice Shelf on Ilum where the big open world PvP debacle from launch had taken place. While it also featured one instanced and two open world bosses, the main focus was once again on daily missions with which you could earn reputation to unlock some nice goodies from the local vendors.

The biggest controversy here was Bioware's attempt to use dailies more openly to encourage people to engage in world PvP within a small separate area down south, which would not allow you to be in a group larger than four, dismissed companions, and flagged you(r group) for free-for-all PvP. Personally I thought this was quite fun and novel, but some people got very hung up on the mere existence of two daily quests that required you to flag for PvP, despite of their rewards being minimal compared to the regular dailies.

2.0 - Makeb and Galactic Solutions Industries

2.0 was not a very successful addition to the game in terms of daily quest endgame. There were daily quests to do on Makeb, but they were part of the super awkward Makeb Staged Weekly and required you to limit yourself to one mission at a time, which had you travelling all over the damn place and wade through dozens of mobs just to achieve a single objective. Myself and most people I knew did it once or twice and then decided to go back to the old daily zones because they were much more fun.


Rise of the Hutt Cartel also introduced Galactic Solutions Industries as a faction, which asked us to make use of our new Seeker Droids and Macrobinoculars which we had acquired through one of 2.0's side mission arcs. Like the Makeb dailies these were very spread out, across different planets even, though at least the fact that many of them were on lower level planets allowed you to travel largely unimpeded, and quite a few of them didn't even require any combat at all. Unsurprisingly, these weren't a huge hit with people either, though there does seem to be a niche audience for them that appreciates the slower and more relaxed gameplay that they offer.

2.3 - CZ-198 & Bounty Contract Week

CZ-198 was the first daily hub to be introduced post 2.0 and went back to the classic model of having a small area shared between the two factions in which you could just "do the rounds" for some credits, and it quickly became popular because it was very quick and easy to do and therefore a very efficient way to make some money. It was also the first permanent daily area that didn't really differentiate much between the factions, as they both got the same quests. (I'm not counting that Republic players collect kolto and destroy toxin while the Empire does the opposite. It's still "click on these containers five times".)

What was really odd about CZ-198's weekly mission though was that it required you to run both of the local flashpoints in addition to doing all the dailies... which was a bit awkward to be honest. It's probably the reason I got the achievements for running these on story mode twenty-five times more quickly than for any other flashpoints, and I remember trying to always have the CZ weekly in my log before running a random just in case one of the Czerka flashpoints would pop up. This odd system was eventually patched out in 3.2, when the requirement to run the two flashpoints was replaced with a single heroic mission to kill a big droid.

2.3 was also the patch that introduced the second recurring world event, Bounty Contract Week. This followed more in the steps of the Makeb Staged Weekly, by making you choose a single daily quest that you then saw through to form a kind of storyline. It was a little weird, but still made a lot more sense than the stuff on Makeb.

2.4 - Oricon

Oricon always felt to me like it was made by the same team that created CZ-198, only with small improvements: again we were in a small area shared by both factions, both doing the same quests. Even though the change to the CZ weekly to not require flashpoint running anymore didn't come until much later, it seemed like Bioware already felt a bit awkward about that particular design decision, so the Oricon weekly featured a daily in a heroic area instead. It was brutal and I loved it - to this day it remains at least moderately challenging despite of how much heroics have been toned down in general.

What was different was that there were bonus missions for those who had unlocked their Seeker Droids and Macrobinoculars - CZ-198 had only featured a one-time quest for a pet, but the bonuses on Oricon were attached to dailies and therefore repeatable.

More importantly though, there was a much bigger attempt to tie the whole area into a story. On CZ-198, there was an introductory quest that asked you to run the flashpoints, and the flashpoints were part of the weekly, but the dailies were just kind of... there. Oricon took a different approach, by unlocking the daily quests one at a time and tying them into a quest chain narrative that you had to complete once before the missions unlocked as daily repeatable from the nearest terminal. (As an aside, the story was also refreshingly different for the two factions despite of running along the same general lines.) The story quest then cumulated in you being sent to do the two Dread operations, something that generated some resentment among solo players, but that's really another story as it had no impact on your ability to do the dailies.


2.5.2a - Return of the Rakghouls

(Fun fact, I couldn't actually find any patch notes about this... I only know that the event came with this patch thanks to my blog posts about it.) The third big repeatable world event, the Rakghoul Resurgence that would come to rotate between three different planets, took a fairly conservative approach and basically mirrored the basic setup of the Gree event, with a small enclosed daily area, an instanced operations boss and a couple of open world bosses. They just dropped the PvP area and replaced it with another heroic area instead.

What was somewhat revolutionary at the time was that the event was trying to be level-agnostic - the mobs in the tunnels were mostly very low level and would only spawn reinforcements of your character's level once you got aggro, allowing players of (nearly) all levels to join in the fun. The operations boss The Eyeless was also the first boss that featured PvE bolster, boosting lowbies to a high enough level that enabled them to participate. It's kind of ironic that this whole event appears to have been overlooked when they introduced the galaxy-wide level sync in 4.0, which now makes it feel kind of outdated and causes lowbies to get left out of parts of it due to some of the system's limitations.

3.0 - Soloing on Rishi & Yavin IV

Shadow of Revan's two new planets were a funny bunch in terms of dailies. Rishi featured several missions that were daily repeatable, and some of them even had achievements attached to repeating them often enough, but they were scattered all across the area and had no coherent theme or reward structure to them.

Yavin IV was the "real" new daily area of the expansion but required you to complete the storyline first. There was the whole thing with giving you the choice of either doing dailies or doing the Temple of Sacrifice operation to complete the storyline, which was honestly just kind of awkward. The dailies themselves, once unlocked, were decent enough fun and proved very popular. I ranted at the time though that I thought they were actually kind of over-incentivised, with the hugely powerful companion gear that was rewarded by the weekly making you feel like you kind of had to do them to kit out your companions (this was back when their gear affected their power level). What's also noteworthy is that while there was a weekly quest to kill the walker world boss on Yavin, this was completely separate from the regular weekly mission for the daily quests, which could be done solo in its entirety and was therefore the first of its kind to not feature any kind of grouping component.

3.2 - Pointlessness on Ziost

After the fun of Yavin, the dailies on Ziost felt like a bit of a step back. Requiring the completion of both the basic Shadow of Revan story as well as of the Rise of the Emperor patch, they presented the as of then largest number of hurdles to overcome in order to gain access to a new daily area. It wasn't exactly a prohibitive amount of effort or anything, but compared to the ease with which any alt could jump into any of the pre-3.0 daily areas it felt like a lot.

Mechanically it was interesting in that all the dailies were non-combat missions, enforced by the circumstances of the story... but the big problem was that there was basically zero incentive to come back. Where Yavin felt like it was almost showering you with too many rewards, Ziost had nothing, neither a reputation to work on nor anything interesting to buy with the currency the quests rewarded. I expect the value of all rewards to deprecate over time, but I distinctly remember Ziost being the one planet where I did one round of the missions on the day of release, looked at the local vendor, and realised that he didn't have anything of interest to offer even on day one, which was kind of disappointing. My impression is that I wasn't alone in this and that Ziost has remained comparatively unpopular with the masses for this reason... though again, some players did appreciate the novelty of the combat-less mission design.


4.0 - Goodbye To All The Quests I've Loved Before

Knights of the Fallen Empire brought with it a new focus on solo story, and new dailies were not really a part of Bioware's plan because they were considered too MMO-like I guess. Since the devs were busy retuning a lot of content anyway though, they decided to make most of the old heroics soloable while also attaching Alliance endgame rewards to them, which basically means that they morphed from being open-world group content for levelling players into just another set of endlessly repeatable dailies. I hated that, but based on the responses I got to the linked post a lot of people felt the opposite way.

As part of this great, galaxy-wide tidy-up, the former dailies on Belsavis and Ilum were also turned back into the regular quest chains they had clearly been meant to be from the beginning, so you did them once and that was it. I didn't even notice this for a long time, but as with all things, there were people who were unhappy about the change because they had actually still been doing those old dailies, mostly as a way to farm companion affection.

5.2 - Icky Iokath

Nearly two years after Ziost, Bioware brought us our first new daily area in ages in the form of Iokath. While everyone was quite excited about getting a new planet to explore, what we eventually got felt a lot less iterative than the previous daily areas, and more like they struggled to remember how to design this kind of content after a long time away from it. It felt as if they picked a bunch of features from the old areas, mixed in a couple of new ideas, and simply hoped that the end result would be fun. Unfortunately the different parts didn't gel too well and in the end it was more of a slightly awkward mishmash.

There is an initial storyline like on Oricon, and a couple of the quests you complete in it do return as dailies, but most of the repeatable missions are actually quite different. The quests are more or less the same for both factions and take place in a shared area, though it's larger than most daily areas. Travelling around the zone is also very convoluted, making questing on Iokath very time-consuming.

One of the new features was the concept of different daily missions rotating on the terminal from one day to the next, and the player being expected to do more than one day of them to complete the associated weekly quest. There were also several vehicle quests, which were very badly tuned in terms of cost vs. reward at launch, and while Bioware fixed this later, the bad first impression tarnished many players' impression of the planet forever. The vehicles were also meant to encourage PvP, but the combination of the initial high cost to buy them as well as the awkward geography not really encouraging people to meet up made that fall flat on its face as well.

Nearly three years after the last bunch of daily quests that also featured group content, Bioware also decided to include a single world boss on Iokath, the Colossal, and to make a daily quest for him... but since it wasn't required for the weekly and wasn't even marked as a group quest, most people picked it up once, went "mm, nope" once they saw what they were up against (or maybe did it once just for the achievement) and that was that. It's not like the boss drops anything either.


Looking Back And Looking Forward

Looking back at this history of SWTOR's daily quests / areas, I see several different developments over time. Aside from launch and it's "improvised" dailies, the Black Hole's precedent of the terminal with both dailies and a weekly quest was something that quickly became the norm and that has persisted to this day, but other aspects of the system have been more fluid.

First off, there was a lot of experimentation with story. The first daily areas just offered a voiced introduction and then tried to engage you by giving you different things to do on each faction. On Makeb and with Bounty Contract Week they seemed to try to create a sort of daily repeatable miniature story, with very mixed results. The Oricon approach of weaving the dailies into a one-time story was the most attractive way of going about things in my eyes. More recently they have gated largely separate dailies behind doing a longer, one-time story quest, which I haven't been quite as fond of.

There was also a gradual abandonment of group content. The early weeklies up to Oricon all had some sort of group component to them (even if CZ-198's flashpoint running requirement was eventually abandoned as a failed experiment), but with Shadow of Revan that all went out the window. The Colossal on Iokath felt like a hesitant breadcrumb thrown at players who liked to group up, but it wasn't handled very well in my opinion.

Finally, there is an interesting undercurrent of wanting to incentivise world PvP every now and then, most notably with the dedicated PvP area on Ilum but also with the Iokath vehicles, yet people never seem to have taken to it very well. From my experience the best thing to do still seems to be to simply force both factions into a small space and then let them sort themselves out. I've had some enjoyable world PvP both on Oricon and in the Rakghoul tunnels.


In a few days we'll all get to see the game's newest daily area on Ossus. I've mostly avoided spoilers about it, though I hear that there are supposed to be some new heroics, which is something that I at least would definitely appreciate. As far as story integration and world PvP goes, we'll just have to see!