Huttball Meta

I've been spending a fair amount of time on the Sky Shredder lately. I'm starting to wonder whether Bioware didn't tweak its chances to come up in the rotation for the duration of this patch after all, what with how often I've seen it pop recently instead of other warzones.

I stand by what I said a month ago about it being quite a fun warzone, but what's been even more entertaining to me has been watching the gradual evolution of the Huttball meta. Shortly after I made my original post it came to my attention that there were people out there who claimed that the additional traps to slow down scoring were ineffective because supposedly it was easier to score quickly on Vandin than it had ever been before. Why? Because you could just leave a stealther to lie in wait at the enemy line, so that whoever picked up the ball can just jump into the pit, pass up, and boom - job done.

They are not wrong that this is something that can be done, but it's certainly not unique to Vandin - this has been a possible way of scoring in the original Huttball since launch, but it kind of fell out of favour over time, so it was interesting for me to see the Skyshredder cause a revival of that strategy. Basically, for all its efficiency when done right, there are several downsides to this "going through the pit".

- It does require a minimum of two people to co-ordinate. That may not sound like much, but we're talking pugs here... if you're a good player who knows how to chain cooldowns and are able to run to the line all on your own, you don't have to rely on anyone else on the Nar Shaddaa map.

- Even if you have two players willing to co-ordinate, if the ball gets picked up by another team member who doesn't pay attention to what's happening, the plan might not work.

- Worse, if the enemy picks up the ball first and starts running, the person waiting at the enemy line is miles away from the action and effectively not contributing.

- The person waiting at the line has to be willing to give up chasing kills and generally engaging in actual PvP, something that (understandably) doesn't sit well with a lot of PvPers. I was in a match the other day where we won in the "classic pit" with this strategy, and the guy who had been waiting for the passes finished the match with nearly 20k objective points but literally zero damage or healing.

- For this tactic to work effectively, you need the person lying in wait to be a stealther, which greatly limits the class selection. In theory you can have a non-stealther stand around and wait for a pass (and I've successfully done that too), but for that to work successfully for any length of time it requires the enemy team to be seriously oblivious.

- Once the enemy team catches on to what's happening, it's not hard for them to interfere. Knocking the intended recipient of the pass back down is the obvious and most effective counter, but even if you don't have a knockback you can try to stun them at just the right moment to cause the pass to fail, or hell, simply stand on their head and their chances of success go down to at least 50-50 as you might intercept the pass simply by proximity. I was seriously impressed one time when the second I came out of stealth on the line, a warrior leapt at me and managed to intercept the pass intended for me right in front of my nose.

- If the intended recipient of the upwards pass gets knocked down, killed, or it becomes otherwise impossible to safely pass to them, the person stuck at the bottom of the pit is in a very crappy situation, and unless they are on a class with a leap they'll probably die.

In other words: passing through the pit is an age-old tactic that can work very well but it's also susceptible to all kinds of issues. And that's what makes it fun! Quick passes and trying to mess with people who try to make them is what Huttball is supposed to be all about. The other day I had a match where both teams were really good at this and the game ended with no less than 15 goals scored. You bet that never got boring or tedious. We'll see how long people's preference for this scoring method will stick around before things get changed up again.


Day 4: Missions & Conversations #IntPiPoMo

My 10 themed days of SWTOR screenshots in celebration of International Picture Posting Month continue. If you want to see a list of all the themes I'm using, you can find it here.

Cal just made a post the other day about the impact that fast travel has had on how we play the game. I've been thinking about this a bit myself, as the way we can just kind of "teleport" from planet to planet feels kind of weird to me, and I'm actually a little startled when for one reason or another I actually end up in a cut scene showing my ship flying somewhere, like you can see the bounty hunter ship doing here in the intro to Oricon mission. At the same time though, I don't really like traversing spaceports and dealing with the loading screens to enter and exit the ship. I don't really have any ideas on how this could be made to feel better.

I posted this one on Twitter before, but I feel that doesn't count. I'm not sure I care much for the little cut scenes before each boss in Gods from the Machine, but I love the one before Nahut just because of the "WTF is this" face our characters make while they look around. Unfortunately it's only really there for a moment, so screenshotting it can be a bit tricky.

In general I feel that the upgrade they gave facial expressions in 5.0 (?) tends to give them a bit of  a comical edge. This one is a particularly good example because my Sage making a 0_0 face as Valkorion sneaks up on her from behind can be deliberately misinterpreted in all kinds of ways.

Some of the "action" sequences are pretty cool looking, such as this one of the Outlander and Theron throwing themselves into the beast pit during Vaylin's party.

This one on the other hand always makes me cringe a little. Surely this isn't actually based on a motion capture? Who would land like that after a jump? That's just asking for pain in your legs (and elsewhere if you're a guy I guess).

This one I just like because I managed to capture my Scoundrel's hand movement at just the right moment to make it look like she's about to make a grab for Theron's crotch.

Okay, so a lot of these were on the slightly silly side, which is a theme for another day, but nobody said that there can't be a bit of overlap between themes.

IntPiPoMo count: 23


Day 3: Companions & Pets #IntPiPoMo

My 10 themed days of SWTOR screenshots in celebration of International Picture Posting Month continue. If you want to see a list of all the themes I'm using, you can find it here.

Back in April I wrote a post about some of the class-specific Alliance alerts dedicated to bringing more of the romanceable companions back, and I was hyped about getting more of my characters to the point of getting theirs back too (a.k.a. to the end of KotET). That... hasn't happened, and the only other companion return I've done since then is the one pictured above, which shows my Scoundrel getting Akaavi back (plus Mako as a bonus).

Of the returns already in game, I have yet to make it towards getting Iresso and Vector back, as well as Mako as a bounty hunter. I guess I am still working my way towards them, but only slowly.

5.10 promises some more returns though that are even further out of reach. For example you'll be able to get Khem Val back, but only if you made a certain choice at the end of his companion story. Of course my Sorcerer who's all up to date with current content made the other choice. I can't say I'm thrilled by the idea of bringing my other Sorc up to that point, as she's only on Makeb story-wise. Likewise, Jaesa Willsaam will make a return in both of her light and dark side forms, and while I have recruited both versions of her in the past, only the Marauder with the dark side version is ready for Ossus in terms of current story progress.

I think at this point I'll just stop fretting about it and will simply file this stuff away as content I might see one day when I happen to get there naturally on an alt.

Replaying chapter one of the smuggler story I was reminded of this companion quest for Corso that I had nearly forgotten, in which he sets out to "rescue" his cousin Rona and finds out that she's actually made it big in the criminal underworld and has no interest in leaving that life. I've played through that mission four times now but I've never agreed with Corso on forcing the issue, so I don't even know if you can. Either way I think it's an interesting part of his character development. He doesn't get much love from people who don't enjoy his romance arc, but I think he's an interesting character regardless. He joins the smuggler with a pretty naive, black-and-white world view and has to learn that there is a lot more nuance than that to things.

I'm not a big fan of companion pets, but I took a screenshot of my tanking Guardian winning this little Force Hound because I love the Kath Hound model in general, and the winning roll came at the end of a prolonged Battle of Rishi master mode run in which I successfully tanked the bonus boss for the first time (and killed him for what was only my third time or so), which made it feel like a just reward for what had been a lot of effort.

As I said, I don't pay much attention to companion pets, but at some point I visited the Nar Shaddaa stronghold of a guildie who's both into decorating and pet collecting, which made for some interesting screenshot opportunities, such as this one of a tiny underwalker standing at the feet of a giant one.

He also had a fountain of Mewvorrs. (I had to look up how to spell that; for some reason I always think of them as "Meow-arrs".) I have no idea if these are meant to be aquatic or something, but again I found it kind of original and cute.


Finally, in another juxtaposition of small pets and their larger counterparts, he has tauntauns guarding their offspring with guns. Who thought it was a good idea to have tauntauns manning guns?!

The same guildie also proudly showed off his Treek, who had apparently been disfigured by a bug that had once made it possible to equip her with a C2-N2 customisation, and he was so tickled by the result that he kept her that way. I certainly found it screenshot-worthy and dread to think what this looks like in combat...

IntPiPoMo count: 17


Insights From 2008

Considering for how many years I've been playing SWTOR now, it's still funny to me sometimes to think of how quickly and suddenly I got into it. A big part of why many people ended up being disappointed with the game at launch was apparently that there had been years of hype about how great it was going to be and that it didn't live up to, but for me, all of that went completely under my radar.

The very earliest mention of SWTOR that I can recall is Spinks making a post about it in November 2010, in which she mentioned that Bioware was holding a community poll about what to rename the Jedi Wizard class. The main reason that stuck with me was that I thought that Jedi Wizard sounded absolutely ridiculous and I couldn't fathom how anyone had ever thought that it was a good idea to give that name to anything (boy, am I glad that they went with consular in the end), but beyond that I didn't really take in that SWTOR was going to be a big, new MMO. That didn't happen until a few months before launch, and back then the impression I got was simply that it was going to be a game that combined Bioware storytelling with WoW-like MMO mechanics and an IP that I was very fond of - a combination that sounded great to me; and one of the reasons I'm still playing seven years later is probably that I got exactly what I thought I was going to get - and more.

So in a way, I'm really glad that I missed all the hype, but that doesn't mean that it's not interesting to my inner archivist to know what was said back then and what happened. Wilhelm from the Ancient Gaming Noob, who is always good for some nostalgia and general reminiscing, had a post up on Saturday about an old podcast episode dedicated solely to all the news surrounding the official announcement of SWTOR back in 2008, so of course I had to go and listen to that.

The most "so wrong now it's funny" thing in the show was probably Brent (the host)'s talk about how there was obviously no reason for Star Wars Galaxies to shut down just because of another Star Wars MMO entering the scene. Mind you, his logic was sound! They were/are two very different games. Too bad the higher-ups didn't see it the same way in the end.

Even more interesting to me personally were several quotes about SWTOR's game design.

The first one mentioned how all the quests in the game would have you doing truly heroic things and you would never just be accosted by a random NPC in a cantina or by the roadside to go and rescue their cat or something. This made me laugh because that's exactly what the side missions in the base game are like. In fact, there is even one on Republic Taris where two NPCs by the roadside literally ask you to free some felines.

At the same time, many people didn't find those quests very interesting, which is what I always figured was the main motivation for Bioware to make them optional and skippable with 4.0, as well as completely moving away from having any side quests whatsoever in new content from that point on (unless you count the Alliance alerts - but they follow quite a different format). Listening to the podcast though, this apparently wasn't just a reaction to player feedback but rather a throwback to older design goals they had.

With all that said, I've personally always liked the side quests, and I miss them. They add flavour to the world, and personally I don't see anything wrong with a Jedi taking a few moments out of their day to rescue someone's cat. The class story mission on Rishi even emphasises how important it is for a Jedi to not forget about the little things while also facing bigger threats.

The second design quote that caught my attention was about how they were planning to completely revolutionise MMO combat - hah! More specifically though, there was mention of how they didn't think that it feels good to have a bunch of people attack one giant boss, and that it should really be the other way round - for players to have an epic experience, they should always feel outnumbered and as if they are overcoming the odds. Now, obviously they went back on this as well, considering that the game launched with old-school style raids... but then I suddenly thought of the uprisings they added with KotET! I've wondered in the past what exactly the design intent was behind those, and wanting to create a feeling of being outnumbered makes perfect sense... on paper.

Of course, it turns out that most MMO players apparently prefer fighting a giant, epic boss to being outnumbered by mooks. As commenter Forztr put it in response to a recent post: uprisings feel as if Bioware took the basic dungeon design, removed the bosses that people actually get excited about and instead added more of the type of trash that players are always desperate to skip. In other words: in trying to finally deliver something they were apparently aiming for as early as 2008, Bioware created a type of content that most people consider inferior and less interesting than regular dungeons. The irony.

Finally, there was talk of them having plans to make it so that companions would evolve alongside your character and "become different people" so to speak, based on your decisions. This is something they obviously experimented with via the Sith warrior story and by having different versions of Jaesa, but I guess they decided that it was way too much hassle in the end. (Honestly, you can always tell that Sith warrior was the first story they worked on simply based on the amount of random crap it has going on that's not featured anywhere else.) One has to wonder if they had actually gone so far as to lay out plans for different versions of other companions. I guess we'll never know.

Anyway, that was a very interesting blast from the past, which - funnily enough - made me think that it's really a good thing that we didn't get everything they originally promised, because a lot of it probably isn't half as fun in practice as it sounded on paper. Were you following the game in those early stages?


Day 2: Class Stories #IntPiPoMo

My 10 themed days of SWTOR screenshots in celebration of International Picture Posting Month continue. If you want to see a list of all the themes I'm using, you can find it here.

My first thought when I was putting together screenshots for this theme for this year's run was: Crap, I didn't really play any class stories this year, did I? And I wasn't entirely wrong, in the sense that I didn't complete any of the original class stories in the past year. I did however progress a few casually played alts a little bit through their stories, whenever I felt like it - which is the worst way of playing these of course, as by the time I get back to any given character, I've usually forgotten what kinds of decisions I made on them previously. But oh well.

My Commando on the Ebon Hawk Star Forge has finally got her whole team together after two and a half years - one advantage of not having to worry about gearing your companions anymore is that if you're as lazy as me and can't be bothered with giving them all unique outfits, at least their default get-ups create a somewhat coherent-looking team, instead of everyone looking like they just put on whatever armour they were able to salvage from their fallen enemies (which is of course exactly what we used to do). I think I last left her somewhere on Belsavis, so she still has some ways to go.

At some point last year I also decided to roll up a Gunslinger on Star Forge to keep my Commando company, and I played her up until the end of act one of her class story. That first act of the smuggler story is just so full of awesome that I found it impossible to choose only one screenshot from it. Here's Comptesse (as the little lady is named) meeting the shiniest bounty hunter on Nar Shaddaa...

... and here she is dealing with the stupidest of Skavak's ex-girlfriends.

Meanwhile, the smuggler's class story on Tatooine is a perfect illustration of just how absurd Jedi and Sith can potentially look to "normal" people.

My eternally pugging Commando Pugette has also nearly completed chapter one of her class story, mostly from me doing bits and pieces of it while waiting in the queue for uprisings. Here she is guarding a Twi'lek slicer that's doing a job for her. Now that I think about it, slicers/slicing used to be quite a frequently used plot device for the non-Force-using classes back before the storyline went all supernatural in Shadow of Revan, wasn't it?

I've said before that I really like cut scenes in which my characters make angry/determined faces. So here's one of my second Sage on... I think it was Balmorra? This is my slowest-levelled character of all time by the way, as I created her relatively early on (I think it was shortly after the game went free-to-play) as a dedicated grouping character in an attempt to get some old friends from WoW to play SWTOR with me. It quickly became apparent that this wasn't working out at all, but I've still been dragging my feet when it comes to levelling her alone ever since. Five or six years later she only just finished Quesh, heh.

Now this screenshot isn't from an original class story but from the Nathema Conspiracy flashpoint, but I actually consider that flashpoint to be the closest thing we've had to something approaching unique class content since Shadow of Revan. Sure, it's only a short conversation via holo that's unique, but there are so many variations! I took a quick look at a spoiler thread about the flashpoint on reddit because I didn't really want to know all the possible permutations, but I kind of did want to know how many there were (and therefore, how many different classes I could take through it to see different content) and there were a lot - at least two per class I think.

IntPiPoMo count: 10


Day 1: Bugs #IntPiPoMo

It's that time of the year again: It's International Picture Posting Month! By now, participating in IntPiPoMo has become a cherished tradition for me, as I go through my 10 themed days of SWTOR screenshots and reflect on some things I did and witnessed in the past year but that weren't necessarily worthy of having whole posts dedicated to them. I know these screenshot-heavy posts don't generate much discussion - and I'll admit that they are very easy to make - but I still like the change of pace they offer.

Day one, is as usual, about bugs. Interestingly, I didn't find many screenshots of bugs among the pictures I took in the past year. Are Bioware actually getting their act together or was I just lucky to not run into that many?

The Jindo Krey encounter in the False Emperor flashpoint has been notoriously buggy for years (ever since they made the side turrets irrelevant I think...) in that the bounty hunter's ship can become invulnerable to attacks when he calls for assistance, which can make the fight quite painful. This was something new to me though, that upon entering the area on my Operative, the ship seemed to virtually have landed inside the space station... it did fly back out when we pulled the boss though.

Another "oldie but goodie" is the "companion holocalls you in their underwear" bug. It's kind of incredible to me that it's 2018 and this still hasn't been fixed, but I guess something that does no more harm than cause a couple of silly cut scenes is probably not high on the "must fix" priority list. I could have done without seeing a Gand in underwear though.

This one requires a bit of context, as to the layperson it may not be apparent what's buggy about me getting an achievement after killing a mob on Ilum. The thing is that the achievement is totally wrong: it credits me for a world boss kill when I just defeated nothing but a couple of random mobs. This happened right after the Conquest revamp, and made the first Gree event in its wake both funny and ridiculously easy to complete, as everyone who killed any mobs at all (it didn't even have to be on Ilum) would instantly get this world boss Conquest achievement completed and gain a whole bunch of points whether they were trying to or not. I thought it was quite amusing, especially watching people's confused reactions throughout the week as each one of them experienced the bug for the first time.

IntPiPoMo count: 3


My #2 Most Wanted UI/QoL Improvement

I think the obvious question after reading that subject line is: What's your #1 and why aren't you writing about that? So let's get it out of the way right away: My #1 most wanted UI/quality of life improvement for SWTOR would be an account- or at least legacy-wide friends list. The existing character-based one is utterly useless and I stopped referring to it years ago. However, I don't feel like there's much to say about that beyond what I just wrote, which is why I didn't want to make a whole blog post about it.

My #2 however gives me more ground to cover, so here we go: My #2 most wanted UI/quality of life improvement for SWTOR would be a manual group finder.

To get one thing out of the way right away: I don't mean for this to replace the existing activity finder. I've made my peace with automated group finding and don't expect it to go away anymore any time soon. However, even Blizzard, the ones who unleashed the original automated dungeon finder madness upon the world, have conceded several expansions ago that a) it isn't necessarily ideal for every type of content and b) if you do want to form a group manually, it's nice to have more options than to just spam general chat in the game's main hub.

I was reminded of this during last week's Gree event, after doing the heroic mission for the event a few times. The Gree heroic is one of the few heroics that still requires other people... strictly speaking it can be soloed I suppose, but doing so makes it both a ridiculously slow endeavour and results in other people in the area hating you as you'll effectively be blocking a pylon for half an hour, while a full group could have been in and out of there in about five minutes. For that reason and because the event is only up for a limited time, many people actually make a point of joining a group for it when they can, so it's actually quite easy to find other players for the quest. I could just put a LFM request into general chat and we'd be off about two minutes later. It did get me thinking about the whole process of group formation in general chat though.

For example I've noticed that many people seem to be shy about taking the initiative when it comes to looking for others in chat. I don't know if it feels like too much effort, if shyness is a problem, or if more casual players are just uncertain how to go about it. (During my brief foray into LOTRO I do remember finding the thought of manually forming a group for a dungeon intimidating simply because I didn't understand what kind of group/class setup would even be viable for example.) It was funny to me how I could watch general chat for several minutes with nobody saying anything, and the moment I decided to take things into my own hands and went "LFM", I'd be flooded with whispers in seconds.

That aside though, it also made me think of the different kinds of group content for which it is much more of a pain to build a group. Getting a full ops group together to tackle the event world bosses for example, such as Xenoanalyst or the Eyeless, is already much more daunting. And while regular operations do have an option in the group finder, it's only for story mode and one per day. If you want to do something harder, a different operation from the featured one, or one of the instanced bosses that simply aren't included in the rotation, such as Golden Fury or the Colossal Monolith, you have to put the group together manually.

Even when it comes to smaller group content though, there are still gaps that aren't covered by the existing activity finder, such as the Star Fortresses, or the heroics at the end of the Seeker Droid / Macrobinoculars quest lines. The latter are particularly tricky because the Macrobinocular one at least requires exactly four people to complete; you can't even substitute one person for a companion as an actual human being is required to click on things. On top of that both missions sit at the end of a relatively long quest chain, so it's not like people are lining up to do them en masse at all times.

A guildie of mine claims to have successfully completed the Shroud heroic several times simply by camping Nar Shaddaa general chat (where the last mission takes place) but who wants to hang out in Hutt Vegas all the time? Many people have simply clamoured for a nerf to the quest, which I personally think would be a bit of a shame actually as it's very fun mechanically... but I agree that the difficulty of finding a group for it is a problem. I'd just prefer to solve that by making grouping easier instead of dispensing with the grouping requirement altogether. I suspect it would be much less of an issue to find people for this if you could simply set yourself as "LFG {[Heroic 4] The Shroud Revealed}" in a dedicated group finder at the start of your play session and then go about your business as normal until more people interested in the content sign up too.


Jedi Under Siege Hype

About two weeks ago, Bioware held another dev livestream, which - as usual - I didn't watch (it started at midnight my time on a weekday, for Christ's sakes), but I appreciated other people staying up to provide people like me with a written summary to read afterwards. (Thanks again, Vulkk! He was extra brave actually, as the starting time in Bulgaria was 2 a.m. I think...) He also has a YouTube mirror of the whole stream though if you really prefer video.

Since then I've been thinking about what to write about it, if anything at all. It was super interesting to me, with a lot more details on several bullet points about 5.10 from the autumn road map, but I'm not a news site and there wasn't anything in there that drastically changed my opinion on what was announced previously. Except that they've now conceded that they will nerf story and veteran mode Gods from the Machine when they add master mode, which I consider very much a good thing. I've always liked the three-tiered difficulty structure, I just thought it was ridiculous to crank up the operation's difficulty even more based on where we are right now. The early PTS patch notes also look promising in so far as Bioware seems to be applying the nerfs intelligently, trying to lessen pain points, without using what I came to think of the "Blizzard approach" of simply reducing everything by 20% and calling it a day, no matter what it does to encounter mechanics.

It's hard to say much about the guild perks before we've actually seen them in action. My main worry is that they might be seen as mandatory for certain types of content (e.g. if you are a raiding guild, you always need to slot the best perk for raiding at all times), which could end up feeling more like an annoying extra grind than a fun new feature and would also make it harder for new guilds to get off the ground, but we won't know for sure until we see the final product, with correct numbers etc.

The biggest thing was of course: the story! You can tell that they are going all out with this one because they made a fancy piece of art which will apparently become our new loading screen come 5.10 - and the only times they've changed our loading screens before was for content drops they actually called expansions (which this isn't).

I didn't mind hearing the names of some of the characters involved, but that's about as far as I want to go. Even merely speculating about what exactly might be happening in the story is already almost too much, though this hasn't prevented me from clicking some links and even reading something that might be a massive spoiler and which got me unreasonably excited. As I don't even know whether it's actually true, I'm trying not to think too much about it.

Generally speaking, I'm getting a bit hyped despite of myself. I was super excited for the Iokath update bringing back some Republic vs. Empire action, but then the actual implementation of it ended up being kind of "meh". We can hope that they'll do better in this new story, but again: I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much, as that sort of thing all too easily turns into disappointment, and I'd rather be positively surprised than feel let down because I was hoping for too much.


On Alts, Progression and Story

The other day I logged into SWTOR, delighted with the knowledge that I had a few hours to play, with no particular pressure to do anything specific, not even Conquest - I figured that I'd be able to do anything I wanted, finally able to work on some long-neglected character goals.

I stared at the character selection screen for several minutes and then logged off. It wasn't that I didn't want to play, or that I had nothing to do... but when it came to thinking of specific goals, I felt lost. I didn't even know where to start. On the plus side: This got me thinking on why that was, which is why you're getting this blog post.

In a level-based MMORPG with a narrative like SWTOR, progression basically consists of two parts: character progression and story. SWTOR puts more emphasis on the latter than most, but that doesn't mean that the former doesn't matter at all.

Ideally these two types of progression should work in tandem. You find yourself wanting to level up to see the next bit of the story or vice versa. When things align properly, level also serves as a sort of signpost to where you should be in the story, so in SWTOR's early days, if you hadn't played a character in a while, you could just glance at their level and get a pretty good idea of where you left off, e.g. "Hm, that one's in her thirties; must have left her somewhere on Alderaan."

Ever since 4.0 though, character and story progression have become utterly separated due to how much levelling has been sped up. The other day I even saw a F2P player - those who receive less XP than anyone else - complain that things were going to fast. "Why does it matter?" you might ask. "With level sync, you'll just continue to receive level-appropriate rewards anyway, even if you're over-levelled for the content you're doing." Well, it matters because with the way level sync is tuned, being overlevelled makes you way too powerful for combat to be much fun. (I received a stark reminder of this when I took a level 50 Sniper to Ilum this week and noted that the downlevelled players around me had several times more hitpoints as me.)

However, even if you leave that aside, you're still left with levels having become largely meaningless. Basically, you'd have to play in a very specific and self-limiting way to not overlevel content as you go along, so you never have reason to look forward to levelling up - it just kind of happens automatically. I actually find it alarming more than anything else when one of my few remaining sub-70 characters gains ten levels in a single play session these days. The only way to remain low level is to basically not play at all, which I've opted to do on a couple of characters whom I'm "saving" to continue to have access to the lowbie and midbie PvP brackets.

Aside from the characters mentioned above, almost my entire stable of alts has levelled up to 70 by now, more or less by accident and while still in hugely disparate places in the story, ranging from a few who are completely caught up with current content to those who've only just got their ship on Coruscant or Dromund Kaas. I do tend to always have a vague idea of where I left off - for example I've only taken a relatively small handful of characters through KotFE/KotET so far, so I do remember which ones those are, but if you were to put me on the spot and asked for example: "Hey, wanna level through Makeb with me?" I'd be staring at you like a deer in the headlights, because while I theoretically know that I've got quite a few characters who haven't done Makeb yet while technically being eligible for it, I'd have a hard time picking one on the spot.

And that's why I had such a tough time with that character selection screen, to bring us back to the beginning of this story. I like a good narrative, but I'm also a big fan of character progression, and there's not much left of that. I suppose Galactic Command provides an alternate progression system of sorts, but aside from the fact that I already have more 300s than I care to count, you'll note that this is also something you pretty much need a spreadsheet to keep track of, since the character selection screen certainly doesn't give you any indication of what Command level each character is at either.

Yet even if we ignore all of that and assume that I'd be happy to play my umpteenth alt just to see the story again, it's just a pain to keep track of where each character is at. And this is coming from someone who's been playing since launch and knows the game inside out. I dread to think how a returning player must feel when they go to their ship, see six different quests on their personal mission terminal and wonder what order these are even supposed to be in. It's not like their level is going to be any help.

A random page from my character selection screen with notes on some things that are very much not obvious.
So what can be done about this? Well, I suppose in my ideal world I'd like to see levelling slowed down again. We could keep level sync and just make it less OP. I know that's never going to happen though. I suppose a smaller thing that might help a little is if the character selection screen gave you the option to see more information about each character before logging in, such as what quests they are currently on or something. For now, I've settled on creating a spreadsheet to keep track of all my alts' mission progress. Just putting it together has already been quite informative and enlightening to be honest. (What? I can't believe I never did the Revan storyline on Shilu! Huh, I totally don't remember taking Tessal through Forged Alliances...) At the same time I feel that I shouldn't really need to have a spreadsheet for this kind of thing though.


Imperial Conquest Adventures

You might recall that last month, I bemoaned the way conquest has made me reluctant to play any character or participate in any activity that doesn't contribute to my guild's score, with my Imperial alts being affected the most. Now, one solution to this might have been to just try and not worry about conquest as much... but I instead opted to bring it to the other faction instead.

Twin Suns Squadron has had an Imperial alt guild pretty much for as long as I can remember. It just hasn't really served any purpose other than as "alt storage" so to speak. Every few months we'd organise a little event on Imp side, but that's about as far as any activity on that side ever went. We did spring for a guild ship at one point though, and you know what that means... (Guild ships are required to invade a planet for conquest.)

One of the perks of being an officer in your guild is that sometimes you can make things happen just the way you want them to be, and so - after carefully looking at the maths - I proposed that we could try to go for a small yield target on Imp side some time. Provided we weren't trying to win first place on a planet with TSS, and given that we were regularly earning more points than we needed to achieve even the large target anyway, I figured there would be no harm in shearing off some of the "excess" and transplanting it to Imp side. Sure, rewards for small yield would be less per character than for large yield, but it would give us the opportunity to do something slightly different.

I considered that the small yield target only requires the guild to hit 200k points to be rewarded, so with a personal target of 15k, that would only require 14 characters to hit their individual targets. (As a bonus, the small yield was then lowered to 170k in the next patch, reducing the participation requirement to 12.) Considering that we have more than fifty members contributing to conquest on Republic side, many of whom regularly hit their target on multiple characters, siphoning off just that number seemed very doable.

Even so I remained only cautiously optimistic after the other officers approved of my idea, because only half a dozen people had expressed interest in the public forum thread on the subject. Then again, how many people even still read guild forums these days?

Apparently not that many, because once things actually got going, interest exploded, and far beyond simply achieving our small guild target, we actually ended up winning first place on the small planet that week, presumably leaving some of our competitors baffled by this completely unknown guild coming out of nowhere to conquer Section X.

We almost repeated the same feat the week after, though we ended up being pushed back into second place during the last few hours of the very last day. Can't beat competition that has time to play while most of us are at work! (Though in fairness, we could have tried much harder earlier in the week to increase our lead - we'd just become too sure of ourselves.)

Even though the content we were doing and the classes we were playing were essentially the same, it's still been great fun just to bring some different characters out for air. I was particularly pleased by the chance to do Imperial operations with my guildies and to earn some social points. Despite of how long I've had some of those alts, their social levels tend to be low due to me rarely playing them except to see a new bit of story from a different perspective, so it was nice to take them out for some grouping.


KotFE Chapters 10 & 11 Master Mode

I expected these to be really tough based on what I remembered from veteran mode (and recalling a guildie wiping endlessly on chapter ten one night), but things weren't nearly as bad as I thought - it was almost a breeze!

Ironically, the fight that challenged me the most was the one where I least expected it, and that was the one against the junction guardians Faedral and Zaamsk. I noted on veteran mode that it "must be rough without a long-duration crowd control" but that it seemed okay as long as you did have one, and I figured that master mode would be the same. In reality... it was and it wasn't. I can hardly begin to imagine how you would beat these two without crowd control (actually, I found a video of a Juggernaut doing it successfully here after I wrote this), but even with my Sage having Force Lift available it was still the fight that caused me the most deaths in these two chapters. Even after I started the encounter by immediately taking Faedral out of the picture, Zaamsk's attacks on their own still hit nightmarishly hard. You just could not get hit by one of his red circles, or take an entire Full Auto to the face, as either would be instant death, not to mention that there were adds as well. This is the one fight I really would have wanted to record for this post but unfortunately I messed up so I didn't get a usable recording. I didn't want to replay the entire chapter just for the purposes of getting a video, so you'll have to make do with a verbal description.

Basically the way I finally beat Zaamsk was by interrupting / dodging out of as many of his attacks as I could and kiting him towards the entrance at the same time. Whenever he did that jump into the air that ends with him unavoidably landing on your head, I used what meagre damage reduction cooldowns I had. (I specced into the utilities to gain DR from both my instant self-heal and my aggro drop fairly early into this playthrough.) I was almost surprised when I got him down, though of course by that point I was all out of tricks and died to Faedral as soon as he came out of CC.

Conveniently, this is where I discovered that if you manage to kill one of them, he stays dead and at least on the next attempt you only have to deal with one enemy, which helps a lot, though it still didn't prevent me from dying to Faedral alone even more often than I had to Zaamsk. I seemed like I just couldn't take any of his attacks at all. So I remembered Captain Lazna Delothrea and went for the "heroic moment full burn while chaining stuns" strategy again, and that worked on the first try.

The Knights of Zakuul in the Overwatch were as annoying as I remembered from veteran mode, but as dps I found it much easier to kill them with a bit of kiting, and some I just "skipped", which is to say I made a run for the exit as far as I could, died, and then respawned without having to bother with them at all.

Tayvor Slen was easier than I expected and I got him down on the first try, though it was a close call at the end. This fight was the only one I actually recorded out of these two chapters, so here you go:

In chapter eleven I mainly remembered the droid boss near the end being an issue, but he was once again surprisingly easy as dps compared to the healing role I had chosen for veteran mode, as Aric just had to stand there and heal while I ran around and quickly controlled / picked off any adds.

The hardest mob in chapter eleven (in my opinion) was actually one of the random Knights guarding the back of the building, as he would go in and out of stealth and had some weird special attack called something like Stealth Strike, which hit like a truck, had huge range, and - despite of the name - didn't actually require him to be in stealth. I did eventually get him down by once again relying on kiting as much as I could.

Five chapters to go!


Life in the PvP Instance

I wrote about how servers were split into PvE and PvP instances when it first happened back in early 2016... gosh, has it really been that long already? Aside from levelling my Ebon Hawk Star Forge Commando in them for a while, I didn't pay much attention to the system for the longest time... but recently I've been spending some more time flagged for PvP on my home server Darth Malgus too.

Simply put, the big incentive for this has been Conquest. (Surprise!) I remember thinking when the system was first introduced how weird it would be to be able to kill Commanders completely unopposed in PvE instances from now on. However, Bioware did think of that (whether immediately or later on I don't know), so Commanders actually only spawn in PvP instances now, giving guilds an incentive to go there every so often if nothing else. Even if you don't consider yourself much of a PvPer, entering a PvP instance as part of a big ops group is fairly safe. What's the worst that could happen? That you run into a full enemy ops group and end up engaging in some random world PvP instead? The horror!

When normal world bosses are in high demand for Conquest, it's worth looking for them in the PvP instance as well, as the same rules apply. However, even while flying solo switching instances can have its advantages. I already noted back in 2016 that it's a great way of escaping competition in heroic areas, and due to their locations, you're pretty unlikely to run into enemies in most of them. (That said, I guess if your goal were to jump people, a heroic area for the opposing faction would be the perfect place to hang out. Hmm...)

Eventually I even decided to brave the PvP instance for normal questing, specifically after I got a bit fed up with how depopulated Rishi's PvE instance was becoming during a week during which Rishi featured with rampage (random mob kill) objectives for Conquest. It helped that I was on my Scoundrel at the time, as stealth allows you to hide from the enemy most of the time anyway, should you actually encounter one.

And so I did! I was just running across a bridge on the northern island, not even in stealth, when a Sith warrior started crossing the same bridge from the opposite side. I quickly jumped into stealth - my initial response to encountering hostile players tends to be fear, as I always assume that my enemy is better/stronger than me and will kill me. However, the warrior made no moves that indicated that he had seen me or was intent on throwing me out of stealth. So I hesitated - and noticed that he was randomly running around with less than full health... and just like that, I went from shy to vicious, and next thing you know I had gone and killed him.

I suspect that most people who quest in PvP instances are actually like me, which is to say they aren't primarily there to kill people. (I think SWTOR isn't really a particularly attractive game for killer types.) However, they also aren't necessarily completely opposed to PvP, and might take a chance if an opportunity arises. I would say the golden rule for avoiding world PvP in the PvP instance is to quickly turn away if you run into an enemy, avoid eye contact and create distance between you. Chasing you is effort, and probably not something most people are very keen on. If you stand around though, and give them time to inspect your gear level, while mulling over their chances in their heads... even comparatively peaceful people might get ideas.

Anyway, last week things kind of came to a head since it was Rakghoul Resurgence once again, and the Rakghoul Tunnels are a pretty small map. The place was crowded. For some reason I had got it into my head that I really wanted to kill the Catalyst on my Gunslinger (though I probably could have gained the same amount of Conquest points more efficiently elsewhere), and for those not in the know, the Catalyst is a rare spawn in the tunnels that can appear in one of five different spots to replace the neutral mobs that usually spawn there. So if you're not feeling lucky and have a lot of time on your hands, you can force the issue by camping one or two of those spots and just killing the neutral mobs over and over until the Catalyst spawns.

As I said though, it was crazy busy. In the PvE instance, all the camping spots were taken. So I decided to try my luck in the PvP instance again, even knowing that I was taking a much bigger risk this time, what with the small size of the area, plenty of Imps around, and me having no clue how to PvP on a Gunslinger. On the plus side, since all the camping spots are in little niches off to the side of the main tunnel, you can kind of "hide" in them from people who aren't too curious about side objectives.

I did OK for a while alternating between the two spots in the northern half of the map, until two Imps jumped and killed me. I shrugged it off, respawned and decided to relocate to the southern half instead. I did notice quickly that while overall numbers in the PvP instance were small, there were still way more Imps than Republic players. My peace in the southern half didn't last very long, as I was accosted by a group of no less than four Imps this time. Luckily for me, they were less quick on the uptake though, so I spammed every cooldown I had while making a run for the entrance to the Eyeless' lair, which is a sanctuary area (safe zone). I made it just in time and felt ridiculously gleeful as I regenerated my health safely next to the quick travel point while the four Imps stood outside the area, eyeing me like a pack of hungry wolves.

After that I decided to take another look at the PvE instance, but it was still packed, so I braved the Imperial threat once again. This time I relocated to the sole spawning point inside the heroic area, and found that people left me blissfully alone there, as I wasn't attacked again all evening. I did have one brief scare when I caught a glimpse of a stealthed Assassin appearing next to me, but he was apparently just as scared of me as I was of him, or at the very least not interested in fighting, as he immediately slunk off again and didn't come back.

For what it's worth, I eventually got the Catalyst to spawn after 80-something kills of neutral Rakghouls, at which point I had accumulated four of the rare purple material drops you can get from them, and one of the rare pets. It was an unusually adventurous night that felt surprisingly rewarding.


Braving the Sky Shredder

The main feature of this week's patch was a new Huttball map set on Vandin, the gas giant where KotFE chapter thirteen, Profit and Plunder, takes place. Like the Rishi stronghold and the last set of warzone changes, this could be play-tested on the PTS, but I didn't get around to it this time, so I was going in with little knowledge (though not completely blind, as I had seen some people who did try it on the PTS talk about it).

If you want to learn more about the details of how the warzone looks and functions Xam Xam has a guide for you, while I'm going to focus more on talking about its general look and feel. I'm part of the apparent minority of people who neither love nor hate Huttball, but I do like it well enough, so I was looking forward to seeing what Bioware cooked up this time.

In a nutshell, the Sky Shredder could be described as similar to the Pit on Nar Shaddaa, but with more traps. It certainly doesn't have the same feeling of offering a completely different game flow like Quesh Huttball. Actually the warzone of which it reminded me the most were the Yavin Ruins, simply because it exudes a similar feel of the devs wanting to improve on a classic map by making some small tweaks to the new version that serve to counter a couple of the most common annoyances of the old map.

The main issue they seemed to want to address was that of a skilled player or two scoring so quickly that the defense barely even has time to react. In the Pit this can happen when someone just grabs the ball and chains cooldowns to quickly rush to the enemy goal line (which only requires the crossing of two traps) or if someone manages to entrench themselves in the middle of the highest walkway, where they can receive a pass not very far from the centre and are then almost home free, with no more traps in their way.

The Sky Shredder counters this by having a big force field in the way that blocks people from making easy central passes, and by just generally having more traps around. There are fire traps like in the Pit, a new type of poison trap that leaves a dot, and brand new electric traps that only do a small amount of damage but stun you for what feels like a really long amount of time. The first time I encountered the latter they seemed a bit pointless to me, because no enemy was near and getting stunned without suffering much damage didn't strike me as all that dangerous. I quickly realised though that if there are any enemies around, the long stun is a pretty bad thing to walk into, especially since it doesn't build any resolve.

All of this makes it much harder for a single person to run the ball from spawn to finish line, even without opposition, and especially considering that Giradda's shortened "boredom timer" will cause people to get blown up after only 45 seconds of carrying the ball without passing now. Mind you, I'm sure people will find some shortcuts and "optimal routes" in time - but it's definitely fun while everyone's still in the "trying to figure things out" stage.

Another annoyance that Bioware seems to have tried to counter with the design of the Sky Shredder is that of being knocked down into the pit and then - assuming you're not playing a class with some sort of leap and have a handy enemy target nearby - having to run all around the houses to get back up to where the action is. On Vandin there are grappling pads in both sides of the pit that can quickly deposit you back on one of the walkways (though still not necessarily in a useful spot).

Supposedly the grappling hook also allows you to save yourself if you get knocked off the side of the carrier entirely, but I haven't been able to test that yet. The edges of the playing field just seem so far away that there seems little point in even putting yourself at risk by going there. I guess there are some buffs on the very edge that you could run to pick up, but chasing after them puts you pretty far away from the action.

So are all these new mechanics working? Is it fun? I would say: yeah! It's still early days and you never know whether people won't figure out some sort of trick that really gets on your nerves, but so far I'm enjoying the experience. (Also, it probably helped my first impressions that during my very first match on the new map, my team won 2-1 and both goals were scored by me, with people actively cheering for me.)

If I had to criticise anything it would actually be the voice work, which is surprising to me as I really loved the new lines they recorded for Queshball. Here the only new remarks Baron Deathmark has to offer are occasional shout-outs announcing the score, but these feel a bit random and slightly misplaced in their timing. Most of the actual new commentary is offered by a droid named V3-X, who appears to be voiced by the same voice actress who brought Z0-0M to life. She does a decent enough job and I guess the lines are funny... it's just not the same.

Also, and I'm not sure if this is an intended change or a bug but I hope it's the latter: when a player dies to the "boredom" timer (which I've seen loads of times already, due to the prolonged obstacle course to the goal line making it much more of an issue than it is on any of the other maps), instead of the game playing the line about how "this match needs excitement", you get the normal voice cue for a player being killed by the enemy, which I'm sure must be very confusing to newer players and possibly even older ones. I could certainly see it cause an increase in false reports about hackers/cheaters. ("I was only three steps away from the enemy goal and at full health, when the sole enemy there somehow killed me instantly! Hax!") I hope they'll fix that soon.


SWTOR Seems To Be Phasing Out Cartel Packs

I was talking to some guildies about this the other night and some of them had no clue that this was even happening - I've said before that as a subscriber the cash shop is very easy to ignore - so I thought it might be an interesting subject for a blog post.

Whether we've liked it or not, SWTOR's cash shop has heavily relied on random lootboxes since its introduction back in 2012. (I previously wrote a post about why calling them lockboxes is misleading, since unlike in other games there is no attempt to lure you into purchasing with keys or anything of the like.) There were always some things up for direct sale, sure, but it was clear that the vast majority of artistic effort went into producing content for the Cartel packs, with a new type of box being released every two to three months or so.

In April however, Bioware decided to release the "Ultimate Cartel Pack", a box that promised a selection of random loot pulled from everything they've ever released... and I guess the name should have been a hint: synonyms for ultimate are "last" or "final".

Since then we haven't seen any more Cartel packs. The Ultimate one is still there and for sale, and they've added new items to it as they were released, but it's not always on the store front page anymore. Instead the focus of new releases has been on direct sale items.

It's hard not to see this as a consequence of the Star Wars: Battlefront II lootbox disaster from last November, whether EA actually officially ordered Bioware to cut back on the lootboxes, or the sudden spotlight on the practice gave the team at Bioware increased wiggle room to try out different things instead. They certainly haven't made any kind of official statement about it as far as I'm aware; things just started to change one day.

You can tell that there is now more of a push for quality over quantity in the new releases, as some of the armour sets they've added since then are absolutely gorgeous, with much more detail than we were used to previously. It's a win for those who just want to buy things from the Cartel Market directly - less so for those who preferred to buy new items for in-game credits for other players. For the latter group, people opening Cartel packs full of items they didn't necessarily want for themselves provided a constant supply of new goodies. Even when it came to the rarest of rare items, there were always spares to go around, and if you weren't only after whatever people considered the latest "must-have", you could snatch up some other decent-looking and more common items at incredible prices.

With everything new being direct sale, there is much less of that. Sure, there'll continue to be a very small influx of random drops through the Ultimate Pack, but aside from those the only new things being put up for sale on the GTN will be those purchased from the store with the specific intent to re-sell, which makes for a much smaller number than when players were constantly opening new packs in search of the newest drops and thereby stacking up on goods to sell on the GTN more or less "by accident".

As for how well this is working for Bioware... who knows? If you think that random lootboxes are the devil, you're likely to assume that sales must be much better now because everyone hates lootboxes, right? In truth though, none of us know the actual numbers. So far there haven't been any obvious signs that things are going badly, such as sudden attempts to find new parts of the game to monetise, but it hasn't even been six months yet, so it's probably a bit early to tell anyway. I can't say that I miss the constant flurry of new lootboxes (not that I was paying much attention to them), but as someone who preferred to buy things for credits instead of Cartel coins, it does suck a little that supply on the GTN is now less than it was.


Conquering The World

Are you all sick of me writing about Conquest yet? To be honest, I am... at least a little. However, my guild's Master of Conquest knows no mercy. After we just managed to add Nar Shaddaa to our list of conquered planets last week, he drove us right on to try and conquer Oricon this week. And despite of starting to feel a bit burnt out on the whole thing, I'm still right there going along with it all. Have I mentioned yet how much I dislike the rampage objectives (to kill X mobs on planet Y)? If only they didn't grant so many points so easily...

I do have to say though that on the plus side, rampaging has got me to take a closer look at the "outside world" again (feels weird to use that term when we're talking about space stations vs. planetary surfaces but you know what I mean). I spend so little time on the original planets these days, not just because I haven't levelled an alt from scratch in a while but because even when I do, there just isn't much reason to hang around considering the speed at which you fly through the levels nowadays. And I haven't been too fond of heroics - the one type of endgame content that has you going back to a lot of lower level planets - ever since they effectively turned them into just another set of dailies.

Racing across Yavin as a group, killing everything in sight.

Chasing conquest objectives though, I've been looking for ways of combining the planetary rampages with actual "useful" things (instead of just trying to find a spot where I can kill the highest number of mobs in the shortest amount of time, like some of my guildies have been doing). So when Tatooine was a target last week for example, I exterminated a lot of sand people because there is an achievement for that I don't have yet. And this week's Rishi objectives got me to finally take a character through the first part of the Shadow of Revan storyline who had never done it previously. It's been so long since I last did that, it was a veritable trip down memory lane. (Oh snap! There's that jungle wampa that I always aggro by accident because it likes to lie down and I keep mistaking it for a corpse!)

What's even better is when I can find an excuse to do some of the open world stuff for Conquest in a guild group. We've actually done a few rampages as a full ops group, to finish off the evening after an actual operation, and it's been hilarious to charge across the landscape that way. We did it in the PvP instance too, so any Imps that just happened to come our way ended up being chewed up by the mob almost incidentally.

Raiding the Imperial base on Oricon, because Conquest told us to. There weren't many people in the PvP instance, but what few arrivals there were, were... surprised.

The best thing have been the world bosses though. I was very pleased when the introduction of level scaling turned those into proper enemies again, but incentives to actually kill them have long been lacking. (Why does the weekly quest to kill three world bosses give you nothing but a tiny amount of CXP and some credits? Not even a CXP pack? Come on.) However, people bloody love fighting over bosses for Conquest points and it's been great fun.

SWTOR's MMO aspects often go underappreciated (if they aren't getting brushed off as supposedly inferior to other games in the first place), but fighting for world bosses makes for some surprisingly old school fun. I've played games with open tagging as well and do like it for what it is, but in a system where guilds and factions are actively competing with each other, a certain degree of exclusivity makes sense. Sure, that also means that you can get things like griefers, who might try to get your boss to evade and reset so they can steal the tag, but I've only really encountered that a couple of times throughout the years, while experiencing many a happy rush just trying to beat the competition to the kill by "fair" means. During a recent Gree event for example our whole ops group charged into one of the side caves on the Western Ice Shelf and managed to snatch a world boss kill away from a group of Imps that was twice our size but still in the process of assembling and therefore too slow. You bet that was an exhilarating moment!

I only wish they'd include a greater variety of world bosses in the Conquest events. I get that Bioware wants them to fit a theme but there are still so many world bosses that still don't see any action at all (vs. Trapjaw on Tatooine for example coming up as a target what feels like every other week).


Shintar the Revanchist

I had to google how to pronounce that and what it even means, and as my pet tank commented, it makes zero sense as a title... but what's important is that you get it as a reward for killing Revan on hard/veteran mode, which my guild finally did this weekend, oh em gee. This wasn't like the Terror from Beyond either, where we had beaten the fight before, just not at the right level. Temple of Sacrifice and Ravagers have never been in a position where you could outlevel them.

Revan is another one of those bosses with whom I have quite a long history. During the Shadow of Revan expansion his hardmode remained out of our reach because we couldn't even beat the encounter leading up to him, the Revanite Commanders. Then everything got retuned with 4.0 and we one-shot them. We didn't immediately proceed to Revan, but I have posts talking about our guild working on the fight from as far back as June of last year. We kind of worked on him on and off again, with another post from March mentioning that we were back at it, before we once again returned to the Terror from Beyond. Once that fell to our combined might, we continued things with Revan where we had left off.

We actually already came very close to beating him several weeks ago or so, but then we just kept messing up on the core phase again and again. When we finally beat him on Sunday it was a fantastic feeling.

Despite of the frustration caused by repeated wiping I also really came to appreciate the fight in a weird way. To be honest I always thought that the story mode version was a bit dull, and in hindsight I think this is because the fight seems to have been conceived as a hardmode first, and then they just removed half the mechanics for story mode, which is why it feels a bit bland. However, on hardmode the encounter is chock full of inventive and interesting mechanics that constantly push the player without being so punishing that you can't recover from small mistakes if everyone knows what they're doing (until the every end that is, where I think things fall down a bit).

As a whole, the fight is a sort of reverse Soa, where instead of fleeing down towards the ground as the Rakata warlord keeps smashing the floor around you, you are on the offensive against Revan, climbing upwards in the infernal machine he intends to use and slowly dismantling it from the inside. When you think about it that's a really cool concept; the ease of story mode just doesn't really do it justice in my opinion.

In terms of mechanics, the hardmode version introduced a whole bunch of cool things that hadn't been seen in game before, and many of which haven't actually been re-used since (as far as I'm aware).

- Debuff bouncing: Essence Corruption, the debuff that Revan keeps handing out in phase one, is the ultimate punishment for damage dealers, because worse than just doing damage to them it reduces their outgoing damage by twenty percent per stack. What really makes it interesting though is that player abilities can't actually remove it; dispelling it only causes it to jump to the person doing the cleansing as well as any other players in close range. Therefore the optimal tactic is for people with the debuff to run out of the group and then have the healers dispel it. The healers accumulate more and more stacks that way (since they are the ones who don't need to do any damage and don't suffer from the damage reduction), until a puddle appears that allows them to cleanse themselves for good.

This makes the whole thing surprisingly strategic, and as someone who's never been a fan of "dispel spam" I actively came to like this phase despite of finding it very challenging at the beginning. I just haven't encountered anything else like it. Even looking back at my WoW days, the only thing I could think of with something roughly comparable would be the Necrotic Plague in the Lich King encounter, though the "debuff jumping" mechanic was used in a different way there.

- Knockbacks as an intended mechanic: Knocking hapless enemies to their deaths has been a fun part of playing The Old Republic since its beginning. Often the game lets you get away with easily disposing of hostiles that way, though there have also been missions that could bug out if you tried to knock the wrong opponent to their death instead of fighting them the "normal" way. Revan however is the only fight I've seen where people utilising their knockbacks isn't just tolerated but clearly intended, namely as a way to deal with the blades. That does mean that you could theoretically build a group that would find the fight impossible - if your ops consisted of nothing but Vanguards, Sentinels and Scoundrels you'd have a problem I guess - but in practice so many of the advanced classes have knockbacks that it works out okay.

- Destructible environment: As mentioned the fight is as much about disassembling the machine as it is about fighting Revan himself, with the final phase being about destroying the machine core. That's somewhat novel by itself, but I thought the most interesting part of it is that during the first phase, tanks are meant to turn their backs towards the pillars surrounding the platform to avoid getting knocked off, which results in those same pillars breaking down. (That said, our tanks could largely cheese that mechanic by resisting the knockback with abilities such as a Vanguard's Hold The Line.)

- Built-in jumping puzzles: Getting from the first to the second floor is extremely straightforward, as it just involves climbing up a set of stairs with two small gaps in them, but in the heat of the moment you'd be surprised how many people still manage to fall through those gaps to their deaths! Getting from the second to the third floor involves a teleport for everyone on story mode, but on hardmode you need to brave a proper jumping puzzle that has you leaping from one rock to the next. To not be too harsh on people who are not good at that, only one person in the group actually needs to complete it, then the rest can use the teleporter like on story mode. Still, you could argue that putting something like a tightly timed jumping puzzle in the middle of a boss fight is a bad idea, but I thought it was novel at least, and the requirement for only a single person to make it gives that one player a chance to really shine.

- Looking the right way: Finally, on the top floor you have to contend with the most novel mechanic of all: aberrations that will knock you off the platform (and whose knockback cannot be resisted) if you don't look at them (as in: turn your character to face them) at the right time. The only comparable thing I've played in an MMO is probably that mission in Secret World in the parking garage in Tokyo, where you have to keep your character facing a bunch of demonic ghost girls as they will advance towards you and kill you if you look away.

This was something that I thought was both a really cool idea and highly frustrating. As there isn't anything else like it in the game, you basically make it to that floor for the first time, go "What?" and then wipe. And then you have no other way of practising the mechanic than by repeating the first seven minutes of the fight over and over, just to practise on the aberrations for a few more seconds, which is very tiresome and demotivating. Kind of gave me flashbacks to WoW's Teron Gorefiend to be honest, and at least someone coded a little flash game back then to allow people to practise that fight outside of the game!

Ultimately I also didn't like the sheer deadliness of the knockbacks. I vaguely recall hearing a talk with a WoW raid designer (I think?) from a long time ago where he said something along the lines of "killing the players is easy" and that's what this made me think of. It's not hard to make a fight difficult by simply making the players deal with a one-shot mechanic every few seconds (as in "do X or die"). The longer this goes on for, the more people will have a chance to screw up, and that's exactly what creates the difficulty of the last phase. The act of turning your character the right way by itself is not tricky (except that you have to remember to avoid certain abilities that might turn you to face something else) but having to do so over and over again while also moving around and fighting or else die instantly is simply exhausting.

All in all, hardmode Revan is an extremely choreographed fight, pretty much the epitome of what people think of when they describe raiding as a form of synchronised dancing, unlike a fight like Tyth, which has a fairly limited number of straightforward mechanics where the challenge lies in their pattern changing ever so slightly every time. Initially I found this somewhat tedious, but over time I actually came to appreciate it for the fact that no matter how badly you do initially, you will get better with repetition.

This was particularly noticeable for me in the first phase with the dispels, which I initially found extremely challenging, desperately trying to make sure I always hit the right person at the right time and never "wasted" a cleanse, which wasn't helped by our melee dps initially also not being that good at moving out quickly if they got the debuff. However, I did get better at my bit over time, they got better at their bit, and by the time we killed the boss that stage had become almost mindless to me, like riding a bike. It was also very noticeable on the second floor, where initially everything seemed extremely overwhelming, what with weaving your way through the aberrations just right while also accounting for the core's pushes and pulls etc. Yet over time it just became second nature, and I could even spare attention for things such as helping to knock off stray blades or adding a bit of dps whenever I knew that use of a group-wide damage reduction cooldown would temporarily lower healing requirements.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I'm really chuffed with this particular achievement, more so than I've been with any boss kill in a long time. All the re-tuning since 4.0 and 5.0 has changed things up a bit, but at least once upon a time this fight was known as the hardest boss encounter in the game. We still have plenty more bosses to kill, but as I jokingly said to another officer today: After successfully beating this fight, it feels to me as if we can take on anything.