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.