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.

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