17/05/2018

The Nathema Conspiracy - Mechanics

After players got confused by the way the one-time story mode was handled for Crisis on Umbara, and then got even more confused by yet another implementation of how to handle it for Traitor Among the Chiss, Nathema Conspiracy saw a return of the Umbara model where the one-time solo mode is baked into the story mission, and while you're on that you just can't enter any of the other difficulty modes: deal with it. I remain unconvinced that this is the best way to handle it, but it is what it is.


How's gameplay on Nathema otherwise? Quite pleasant really. Unlike another reviewer I was kind of surprised by how little trash there was. I won't go so far as to say there was too little, but it seemed to me like the space had originally been designed for more. It made me picture the designers initially coming up with a much denser and longer flashpoint, but after the negative feedback they received about the trash on Copero, they decided to just take 50-60% of their planned trash pulls out, leaving a lot of empty space behind. That's my theory anyway.

The mobs have a variety of abilities and at least on hardmode some of them have one hell of a knockback, which is amusing to watch as a healer to say the least. Another interesting mechanic on all difficulty modes is that some of the zealots seem to have a stupidly powerful heal over time - though I haven't actually seen a cast for it, which kind of takes out the fun of actually being able to do something about it, with the net result being that the mobs just take longer to kill. Likewise many of the other trash abilities, while they create all kinds of colourful geometric shapes on the floor, ultimately don't do enough to be truly disruptive and don't really give you the opportunity for intelligent counter-play. Maybe I was expecting too much - fun trash like in Kaon Under Siege or Lost Island has always been the exception rather than the rule. I guess I just can't help but note that the trash both on Copero and on Nathema comes very close to being interesting to deal with but then just misses the mark.

The boss fights are all pretty solid. The first fight is very simplistic, somewhat reminiscent of the Vrblther in Czerka Core Meltdown only without the adds, but that's fine. Since the consoles that you "pop" to increase your damage output on the boss are limited in number and don't respawn, you can strategise a bit when it comes to deciding when to use them.

The bonus boss encounter with the two Hands of Zildrog is a bit boring, as it's mostly a tank and spank with a few circles on the floor. I'm also still not sure if there's even any difference between the two bosses. At first I thought they cast different abilities, but then I swear I saw the second one start using the same abilities as the first one after the first one had died...

What's good is that like in Umbara and Copero, the bonus encounter is accessible without having to do a lengthy quest chain, so that each group can decide on the spot whether to do the fight or not. There is a bonus mission to find seven "Treasures of Valkorian" (which reveal that someone at Bioware doesn't know how to spell Valkorion's name), which is decent fun as the chests are all just hidden enough to make you look around a bit but don't require you to clear every inch of the flashpoint of trash, unlike on Copero. The odd thing is just that it literally rewards nothing: no CXP, no regular XP, no credits, not even a one-time codex entry. I can't decide whether that was an oversight or is a sign of Bioware kind of throwing in the towel on bonuses, thinking something along the lines of: "You know what, it doesn't seem to matter what sorts of rewards we put on bonuses, the majority will always want to skip them. Let's just add a few shiny things to click on for people who enjoy that kind of thing [such as me], but if they can't get their group members to go along with it, at least nobody misses out on any rewards."


Up next is the Giant Kitten Ancient Guardian Droid, who is an interesting amalgamation of a Kell dragon skeleton and a droid skin. His main mechanic is a spinning move that does AoE damage similar to Dread Master Styrak's pet in Scum and Villainy, however instead of hiding behind the tank you're supposed to hide behind some probes that you first have to damage but not kill. I have somewhat mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I think it's cool to see them repurpose what was previously a raid-only mechanic for smaller group content, but on the other hand it's kind of unintuitive. In solo mode you can pretty much ignore the mechanic and just heal through it, but in veteran and up it suddenly kills you and you might not even know why. Also, "damage this but don't kill it" is a mechanic that's always hard to execute for pugs. Maybe the hiding part could have been implemented in a way that makes it more obvious what to do.


In the final room you have two boss fights: first Gemini 16, then Vinn Atrius and Zildrog together. I really liked that Gemini 16 splits into multiple copies in a way that's reminiscent of the Gemini Captain fight in KotFE chapter 15; it makes for a nice bit of consistency (even if it's quite a painful mechanic to deal with as a healer, as all the split adds will instantly aggro on you). She also does a powerful damage beam that you can just move out of on solo mode but need to line of sight on higher difficulties to avoid the damage - again something that might take some trial and error for pugs.

Fun fact: When I did the flashpoint on veteran mode for my pugging series, I said that I expected the last boss to be relatively easy... and then we wiped on him. I still think that nothing he does is inherently difficult to deal with, but he does stack a lot of mechanics on top of each other: circles to avoid, a knockback you have to be careful with in order not to fall to your death, a beam that connects two players who then have to stay close together or else they'll heal the boss, and adds that reduce everyone's hitpoints for the duration of the fight. My pug ended up healing the boss a lot due to not quite understanding the beam mechanic right away, but what actually did us in were the adds, which I had completely forgotten about since they hadn't been an issue for me on solo or hard mode. However, left to do their thing unimpeded on veteran mode, they ended up reducing our hitpoints so much that we were barely at 10% of our normal health by the end and a bog-standard attack could one-shot us. Fun times.

All in all, the Nathema Conspiracy backs a great story up with very solid mechanics, yet I couldn't help but feel like something was missing. I think above everything else I felt a bit let down by just how easy the flashpoint felt on master mode in particular when compared to Umbara and Copero. It's not that everything has to be super hard, but to have the climax of the story of all things be a relative cakewalk felt a little underwhelming to me.


It did make me muse about difficulty in general though and how I too am sometimes guilty of saying that I want one thing but then acting counter to my own words. I like the idea of really tough fights such as in hardmode Umbara, and I certainly feel highly accomplished whenever I beat them, but I don't exactly go out to repeat them often. The last time we got MM Umbara as a random, my guildies sighed a lot, and we didn't end up finishing because we just couldn't get a handle on the last boss's endless add waves (not to mention the countless wipes we had on the way). I've even heard people talk about taking gear off just to make sure they don't fulfil the minimum gear requirement and can safely queue for a random hardmode without getting one of the new flashpoints. And I can't claim that I've been actively seeking them out myself, or that I don't relate to the frustration experienced when every single boss causes multiple wipes even though we know the basic mechanics.

I guess what I'm saying is that a part of me wanted master mode Nathema Conspiracy to be harder... but at the same time there's a part of me that is glad that it isn't. I'm not sure how both of them could be satisfied at the same time.

4 comments :

  1. It is interesting to compare all of the bosses from these Flashpoints.

    On the difficult side we have all four bosses if Umbara, the first two and ‘actual’ bonus boss of Copero, and arguably the fourth boss of Nathema. On the easy side we have the final boss of Copero and all but the fourth bosses (again, arguably so) of Nathema.

    The second bonus boss of Copero counts as both easy and difficult since if you have someone who can interrupt him every time it’s fine, but miss one and you run the risk of wiping as whomever he’s on will melt VERY quickly otherwise.

    There is no real pattern here between all of the difficult fights, although the final boss of Umbara and the first and second bosses of Copero have very troublesome Add waves. The first, bonus, and second bosses of Umbara are especially spiky.

    The walker bonus boss of Copero suffers from a particularly unique issue; that there is just so much stuff going on and not nearly enough space to do it in or avoid the AoE in - especially now they’ve restricted the area even further. I doubt I’ll ever kill it, and to tell the truth I have no wish to.

    I guess my point is that Nathema just doesn’t really have the issues which plague several fights in the others. Spikiness of damage isn’t a real issue unless you can’t avoid the AoE from some of the bosses or kill too many of the small droids in the second boss.

    The penultimate boss is the only real exception and thus definitely the hardest, although that’s mainly because of the split phase if the Tank isn’t quick enough or the Healer’s particularly adept at stealing Threat. That laser also hurts like hell so again a slow Tank - or a particularly badly-timed lag spike - is going to lead to a probable death.

    I do find myself reminded about my views on Manaan vs. Rakata with regards to ease. Manaan I found really difficult when HM first came out while I viewed - and still do - HM Rakata as among the easiest Flashpoints in-game.

    While my attitude to Manaan has drastically changed over the years, I can never see myself reversing my present opinion on Umbara and Copero. Some challenge is nice, but I draw the line at headache-inducing Hard Mode Operations-tier level of challenge in a mere Flashpoint.

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    1. Ooh, I didn't know you still hadn't done the Copero walker on MM. Might have to drag you through there some time. :P

      I guess I'm just not sure myself what level of challenge I'd consider fun for master modes, plus there is the matter of how they fit into the story. Had Umbara and Copero been on the same level as Nathema, I probably wouldn't have had an issue, but seeing the difficulty go down as you approach the end of the story arc feels awkward to me.

      I suppose ideally I'd like a balance between having to know how to execute mechanics and some straightforward performance pressure for dps and healers. Most of the fights on Nathema have decent mechanics but nothing feels very deadly. Umbara is sort of the opposite in that none of the bosses feel very fancy but they just hit like trucks.

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  2. I also wondered about the bonus quest, and if the lack of reward is due to accident or indifference. I noticed some other weird stuff too: the droid mobs can be cc'ed by stealthers making a lot more of the trash skippable. Bug or feature? It also seem that the bonus twin bosses don't drop CXP which probably guarantees their survival against random groups who tend skip stuff like that anyway.

    Otherwise, I'm pretty happy with the difficulty of HM Nathema; it's tougher than the classic flashpoints, and more or less on par with Kaon, Manaan and Tython which I think is a good baseline. Leaving aside pugging, it kinda sucks that not just any decently geared 70 can hop on and expect to clear HM Umbara and Copero, even if I know they can handle other HMs. I think those two go beyond even Lost Island and Blood Hunt in terms of difficulty; my guildies and I will run those when they pop, but no one wants to do Umbara again.

    I will say I've only done Nathema with folks with whom I raid, so we breezed through the mechanic checks. On the Vinn fight we killed adds usually before they could cast their debuff, and the red/green beam was a non-issue. With a group that doesn't do operations, I imagine it might be a bit trickier. I also read Vulkk's guide and watched your veteran mode video first so I pretty much knew what to expect going in. That's probably not the usual experience for most players.

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    1. I'm not exactly unhappy with Nathema's difficulty, it just kind of bothers me that it doesn't quite "fit in" with the rest.

      I've actually never got MM Umbara or Copero as a pop while pugging... I would think that the minimum gear requirement keeps a lot of people out, even more so if potentially eligible players do it like I said in this post and take gear off before queuing to intentionally disqualify themselves.

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