PTS Malaise

I'm in a bit of a holding pattern with SWTOR right now. For a number of reasons I don't feel like playing too much at the moment (though my enthusiasm for 6.0 remains undiminished) and when I do play on live I keep thinking that I should probably be on the PTS to help with testing instead.

Rationally, I know that this is silly considering that this is a game - something that's supposed to be fun - and that nobody's paying me to be a beta tester for the expansion, but part of me feels like I should be helping more and giving feedback, because I really want Onslaught to be a success after how long we've had to wait for it. I just... honestly don't find testing very fun.

For example the current testing of the new loot drop system on the PTS is limited to Hammer Station and Karagga's Palace... and while I fully understand that they need to keep it tight and focused, I also find the thought of running both of those instances on repeat boring as all hell. I participated in one run of each this week (plus I got lucky enough to get in on an additional kill of just Karagga himself) but I already feel so done with the whole thing. I expect to go back for the additional two runs to get the phase two achievement and title reward, but it does feel like the mother of all MMO chores, something I'm usually very keen to avoid.

Me tanking Karagga on the PTS. You can tell because my legacy name is "O'Testington" and I'm in a guild called "TSS PTS".

I also feel like I don't actually have very much to say on the loot changes so far, mostly because I copied some of my level 70 characters over and didn't insta-ding them to 75, so they got very few rewards and nothing they could actually equip. I did give that as feedback of its own (Why should useful rewards be limited to max-level characters?) but I also know that this is not what Bioware or most of the testers are looking for.

From what I've picked up from others, the main thing being worked on so far has been the amount of loot dropped, which was initially considered too little, until the devs decided to turn up the faucet to eleven. After that, my max-level guildies in the above-mentioned KP run kept complaining that their inventories were overflowing from all the personal loot, which is an odd problem to have. I'm sure Bioware will figure out a balance that's good enough for me.

Oddly, the thing that annoyed me more than anything else is something different related to gear drops. First off, they changed the design of the tooltips that give detailed item information, and I really dislike it for reasons I can't quite articulate. Mostly I think that thick coloured border at the top looks really ugly.

Somewhat more importantly though, I strongly dislike the way they've decided to go about the way loot adjusts to your worn gear level. Apparently everything appears to drop as an empty shell, which then miraculously auto-populates itself with level-appropriate modifications when you pick it up. I can only base this on second-hand information, because the gear drops I picked up myself didn't do so: They remained empty shells, presumably because my characters weren't high enough level. I'm curious whether they'll suddenly fill up when I ding or whether I've basically bugged them out.

The thing is, even if it does work, I hate the idea of receiving loot that looks like it's nothing but an empty shell. It's unintuitive beyond belief and I felt confused even after my more PTS-savvy guildies explained to me how it's supposed to work. I'm fine with the stats magically adjusting to what I'm wearing I guess, but let that happen in the background when the item first drops, not after I've picked it up. If it's shared loot that needs to be rolled for by the whole party, just let it have fixed stats.

I don't want every loot drop to feel inherently disappointing because it comes with no stats and only has the potential to maybe be better later. It reminds me of Queenie's "rolling for another roll for loot" and I didn't like that either. It's just too much blatant dice-rolling out in the open, which makes me hope that this is also still a work in progress.

I'm sure Bioware will work out something serviceable in time for the expansion launch; I actually do have that faith. And I am extremely grateful to all the people who've been spending lots of time playing on the PTS and giving highly detailed feedback on their findings. Unfortunately I personally find it too tiring to spend much time even thinking about it.


Onslaught Expansion to Launch on October 22nd

Last Monday, when nothing much of interest was happening in the MMO world, Bioware decided to finally give us an actual release date for Onslaught: October 22nd. This went against their initial announcement of 6.0 coming out in September, but I for one was relieved about the delay, not chagrined. Anyone who's been on the PTS could tell that the new systems were not ready yet, and who would benefit from a much-anticipated expansion launching as a broken mess just to meet a self-imposed deadline? Nobody, that's who.

Still, to make sure that nobody who'd subscribed early specifically in anticipation of a September launch would feel tricked or disappointed, they changed it so that Nautolans won't count as an expansion feature but as a subscriber reward for which you become eligible from September. So if your sub runs out in September, you could technically let it lapse, "earn" Nautolans that way and then claim them and/or check out the new content later.

Personally I've been on the six-month recurring sub for years anyway, so a delay makes no real difference for me on that front, but to be totally honest another reason I don't mind is that I, too, have been swept up in WoW Classic fever, and am therefore quite happy to have another month to get that out of my system before it's time to get excited about facing Darth Malgus again.

Even if you're not playing anything else though, there is no lack of things to do until October. Most importantly, Bioware can still use our help on the PTS! Phase two of PTS testing has officially started, which means that you can now earn titles for your live account by participating in group content on the PTS. The linked article gives more information about what to do and look out for if you are interested in helping out and earning those limited time rewards.

The first big ticket item to deserve attention is the new gear acquisition system, and unfortunately people's first impressions aren't very good. I think I even saw some comments along the lines of "Galactic Command 2.0" flying around... yikes!

However, even if the way things stand right now isn't good (purely based on other people's observations), I think it's important to remember that there's one very important difference compared to Galactic Command: the latter was dropped on us as a fait accompli, with player criticism and concerns being largely dismissed with assurances that we were sure to love the system if only we gave it a chance - only when people actually started to leave the game over it did Bioware rapidly start to backpedal and then spent the next few months fixing things up.

This time it's all on the PTS, with clear and explicit intent to make it as fun as possible for us and to give feedback on how to make it better. Hopefully if enough people get in there and make their voices heard, there is still time to mould the Spoils of War system into something that we'll all enjoy.


Operations Excitement

A few months ago I thought about sending some interview questions on the subject of operations to Bioware, similar to the interview about flashpoints I posted a few years ago. I got distracted by other things though, and was therefore pleasantly surprised to find that the Working Class Nerds podcast released an episode about operations featuring Eric Musco, Daniel Steed and operations designer Matt Pucevich a couple of weeks ago. That covered a fair amount of the sort of ground I was planning to cover myself, so now I feel I don't have to!

I'm also generally happy to see other players and content creators care about operations. I know that raiders are a minority in pretty much every MMO, but sometimes it feels like I meet even fewer people interested in it in SWTOR circles than I would have expected. Then again, maybe I just don't hang out with a varied enough group of players outside my own guild.

Anyway, I feel that this interview hasn't received as much exposure as it probably deserves, so I wanted to write down some thoughts on it and encourage people to give it a listen themselves.

As far as I'm aware the name of the new operation on Dxun hasn't officially been confirmed yet, though on the PTS its boss lockouts are listed under the name "Responsible Research Initiatives", which is quite a mouthful, so I wouldn't be surprised if people continued to just call it "Dxun" anyway if that's the final name, just like we sometimes refer to Explosive Conflict as Denova or Scum and Villainy as Darvannis.

Matt did state that it will come with five bosses though, which seems to have become SWTOR's standard for operations a long time ago, with Explosive Conflict (four) and Scum & Villainy (seven) being the only outliers.

The tone is also supposed to be a bit more light-hearted, similar to what's happening in Ravagers. I'm not sure how I feel about that, seeing how I criticised Ravagers at its launch precisely because "fighting random pirates" seemed a bit underwhelming after all the world-ending threats we'd had to deal with in pretty much every other operation. I guess at this point we at least have a precedent for having an op with this kind of somewhat lighter tone. (And it did grow on me over time.)

It's also supposed to be a bit easier than Gods from the Machine, which they said was intentionally made to be an outlier in terms of difficulty due to the time at which it came out. The Dxun op should be more around Scum & Villainy's level in terms of difficulty.

Another bit of news was that they are considering getting rid of lockouts for story mode operations in 6.0, so that if you want to keep running them over and over - like flashpoints and warzones for example - you'll be able to do that.

I can definitely see the upside to that, though for people only just starting out it would also mean that their progression won't get saved from one night to the next. So if you only did the first four bosses of Eternity Vault for example, like my guild did on my first ever foray into the place, you couldn't come back the next evening just to kill Soa; you'd have to start from boss one again.

It'll probably also mean that people can't "save" story mode lockouts anymore - among my guildies it's been common that if they were in a pug that failed to complete an operation, they'd bring their lockout back into the guild for us to complete the run without having to kill all the bosses.

On a similar note, Bioware are thinking about giving people doing veteran or master modes the option to extend their lockouts, a functionality that WoW added about ten years ago. That would certainly be helpful when it comes to pushing progression, though it can also lead to arguments among leadership about whether to extend or reset on any given night and can leave people disappointed if they "need" something from earlier bosses (e.g. achievements). Either way, Eric and Matt said that this would be a slightly more complex feature and therefore won't be in at launch in any case.

On the subject of the new scaling they are introducing with Onslaught (every operation and the players in it being scaled down to its original level instead of being scaled up to the current cap), they said that they are still working out just how powerful they want players to be in that situation (i.e. whether to simulate a progression situation or let them effectively be "overgeared" from the beginning).

Generally speaking they really like the idea of locking the old operations to their original level though, among other reasons to prevent their difficulty fluctuating every time they are re-scaled with a new level cap increase. I was surprised that Matt cited people complaining that encounters were getting harder every time this happened, because my personal experience has been that they've been more likely to get easier (with the Revanite Commanders in Temple of Sacrifice being the most striking example I remember).

Matt also explained that one general challenge with difficulty tuning is that different goals pull them in different directions: On the one hand they want story mode to be super accessible, but if they make it too easy, then making the step up to hard mode becomes more challenging unless they make that easier too and so on and so forth. They are currently considering making story mode operations even easier than they are now, but as the gap between that and hard mode is already considerable as it is, one has to wonder if that really is the best route to take right now (which is something the hosts also raised as feedback).

Matt and Eric also talked about internal operations testing and how it can be quite funny when mechanics go utterly wrong and result in things like endless add spawns or bosses killing themselves.

On the subject of naming conventions, it was interesting that they mentioned that they'd be quite happy to change the difficulty names back to hard/nightmare instead of veteran/master. (I think the latter labels have been more confusing than helpful, not least due to their inconsistent application, as veteran has sometimes corresponded to what used to be story, sometimes to hard, and likewise what's now called master mode was sometimes hard mode, sometimes nightmare.) Unfortunately changing it all back is apparently a fair amount of busywork and doesn't quite feel worth it, something I can very much believe considering for how long I kept finding places where the naming convention hadn't been updated when they made the change the first time around.

My favourite little story was Matt admitting that he's responsible for the difficulty of the bridge boss in nightmare mode Scum and Villainy: After seeing a forum post complaining about the holes in the bridge and asking for them to be filled in right next to another one expressing dread at the potential difficulty of a nightmare bridge boss, he felt inspired to combine the two by making the bridge appear to be filled in on NiM (even though it's not) and was given permission to do so during a one and a half hour downtime window where there wasn't anything more urgent for him to do. That's awesome!

Anyway, those are the things that stood out to me while listening, though a couple more questions were asked and answered during the podcast. If you have any interest in operations at all, I can definitely recommend giving it a listen.


Commonalities Between Books And MMOs

It's been quiet on here because I was on holiday for a week, largely unplugged from the gaming world - though for the first time not entirely unplugged from the internet, as I recently surrendered to various internal and external pressures and bought a smartphone (yes, I'm quite late to the party). This meant that I could at least read blog posts on the train and check my email.

I spent a lot more time reading good old-fashioned books during those days though. I clearly have MMOs on the brain at all times however, as I suddenly found myself contemplating similarities between long-running book series and massively multiplayer online roleplaying games.

I'm currently reading the Foreigner series by C. J. Cherryh - incidentally I found out about the first book in the series due to being friends with Wilhelm on Goodreads. Hurrah for blogosphere connections. Anyway, when Foreigner first came to my attention I noted that it was the first part of a series and this immediately made me cautious - knowing that something is part of a series is a sign that greater commitment may be required to get full enjoyment out of the thing, not dissimilar to how you can't expect to get a good idea of what an MMO is like without being willing to invest more than a couple of hours of play time.

The cover of the first book as pictured on Wikipedia.

Luckily for me, in this particular case general consensus in reviews and comments seemed to be that you didn't need to read the whole lot to have a satisfying experience, and that the first trilogy was quite self-contained, which was enough to convince me to take the plunge. And I enjoyed myself enough that it didn't take long at all until I was sure that I wanted to read more.

I'm up to book six at the time of writing this, and even though I enjoyed the series from the start, I think that books four and six (so far) feel like considerable improvements on the first trilogy, while having been read by fewer people, at least based on the number of reviews they've received on places like Goodreads. Which is somewhat sad but also makes sense: Lots of people are willing to give the first one in a series a go, but not everyone's going to like it, and those people aren't going to bother with buying any sequels. Again I couldn't help but be reminded of an MMO's launch hype and how most players drop off after the first few months because for one reason or another the game just couldn't hold their attention.

If a game can't draw you in to begin with, you're unlikely to care about the next expansion pack... but MMO players are probably more likely to give a game that didn't grab them another try than readers are likely to re-engage with a book they didn't like. After all a game's low-level experience can change, but a book will always remain the same. (Your perception of a book can change over time too, but I think it's fair to say that it generally takes longer for that kind of shift of perspective to occur - years or even decades.)

But just like an MMO can live off a relatively small but dedicated fan base for a long time, a book series can keep going for quite a while too as long as people keep buying those sequels. The first Foreigner novel came out in 1994, when I was a mere eleven years old, but Cherryh is still churning them out today. Apparently book #20 in the series is supposed to come out next year. And as long as there are enough long-time readers to keep buying them, with the occasional late-stage drop-outs being replaced by newcomers like myself who came to the series late, this can keep going for a long time.

Like an ageing MMO, such a book series isn't really interested in attracting new audiences with its latest releases... though that doesn't preclude the occasional awkward attempt to try anyway. I found it strikingly strange when book three for example started with a hundred-odd pages that basically did nothing but re-cap the first two books I'd just read, presumably for the benefit of readers jumping straight into volume three? Like a level boost in an aging MMO, it doesn't make for the smoothest of experiences.

Finally, like an MMO, a long-running book series quickly acquires degrees of complexity that are hard to keep track of even for the well-initiated. I'm only six books into a series consisting of nineteen novels so far and can't help but notice how many named characters of importance there are already, and I expect that number to only increase over time. It's not a problem with me reading these back-to-back right now, but I expect that after a couple of years away while waiting for the next release, it could be hard to remember who's who and just what is going on - not unlike the way you struggle to remember what all those buttons do when you return to an MMO you haven't played in a while.

Re-reading this a day after I wrote the initial draft, it all seems slightly inane or at least like stating the obvious, but I'm going to hit post anyway. It's vaguely on topic! And I can't help but wonder now how much overlap there is between MMORPG players and people who follow book series that go on and on for years...


Did I mention I'm a pacifist?

... is one of the voice lines of (not particularly popular) consular companion Tharan Cedrax. This post isn't about him though, it's about me. Yes, I've been trying out the pacifist life!

I first brought up the idea after visiting Dantooine during peace time, and got an approving comment from Charles Boyd of all people!
Well, now I had to do it. And thus, Pacis (pronounced "Paa-sis" in my head) the Jedi Shadow was born. It was obvious that a pacifist character had to be a Jedi, but the reason I chose Shadow was that I figured that the ability to go into stealth would come in handy when it came to avoiding combat later on.

The Pirate Incursion event wasn't actually on when I first created Pacis, so since I couldn't travel to Dantooine right away, I vendored my weapon and then walked around Tython a bit to see how far I could get without fighting anything. There were actually a couple of missions that I was able to do, such as the very first consular story quest to gather holocrons, and the side quest to visit the Twi'lek matriarch. Most of my XP had to come from simple exploration though.

Initially I was extremely paranoid about getting aggro on anything, but I soon realised that at least on the starter planet nothing really hurt very much. By the end I was happily charging through tunnels filled with hostiles twice my level and they would barely scratch me before I'd run far enough to get them to evade again.

I ran out of areas to explore by level five, but was still not allowed off the planet. I genuinely can't remember whether the ability to use the shuttle is gated by your class story or your level. The error messaging tied to that could certainly be more informative.

Anyway, I left it at that and waited for the Pirate Incursion event to come around again. Then I used the quick travel option in the activity finder to get to Dantooine and hid in a corner. The next time I logged back in the event was over and Pacis was able to explore in peace, only occasionally getting chased off by an Imperial spy or angry Kath Hound.

I was somewhat dismayed to find that the bonus mission to pet friendly Kath Hounds gives no XP, but of course I'm still doing it because why would anyone not do that one? However, I'm trying not to let the experience turn into a chore, so I'm not fretting about doing my two daily quests every single day. The goal is to slowly level up over time, and once the next Pirate Incursion comes around, to see if - being higher level - I end up being able to explore other planets and can find a few more non-combat quests to do. (The reason I want to wait until the next event is that without a ship of my own I won't be able to return to Dantooine otherwise.) I'll keep you posted about my progress.


PTS Adventures

I don't recall ever seeing as much excitement about the PTS as I've been seeing in the run-up to Onslaught. I don't know if it's just that I'm being exposed to more people talking about it now or whether is really is getting that much more attention, but the 6.0 PTS definitely feels different to previous public tests. I finally logged in myself the other night and was awed by the number of people just hanging out and messing around with the new gear on Odessen. It's not even like there was a special event going on or anything!

As none of the trooper/bounty hunter stuff was up for testing yet, I made do with a Sorcerer since I still consider my Sage my "main alt" and all the things we were being asked to test were Imperial only. From a healing point of view I wasn't sure what to make of the new set bonuses; the one I tried didn't really feel like it was affecting my play in any way. Of the three tactical items I saw for healing Sorcs so far, two unfortunately seemed pretty worthless due to how weak their effects were, but I made sure to say as much in the feedback thread on the PTS forum and am hopeful that Bioware will still tweak those numbers.

My guildies and I ran a master mode Hammer Station together since Bioware is apparently also changing the way level-syncing endgame content works. It did feel hard enough (the giant lobel Asteroid Beast wiped us twice as a certain someone spent way too much time goofing off), but apparently there's still a lot of tuning to be done on veteran mode and operations. Ajay on Twitter posted about suddenly being able to complete master mode Scum & Villainy in a pug in 25 minutes! Sounds scarily out of whack, but then again being able to take part in this kind of nonsense is precisely what makes it fun to play in a testing environment.

That said, I sure hope that Bioware will be able to gather enough data and take appropriate follow-up actions before Onslaught launches. We still haven't got an official release date for the expansion, but if they stick to their original September target, it's less than two months away now and public testing has only just started. Chuck and Brian said as much in the most recent episode of the Bad Feeling Podcast as well. I almost find myself hoping that the expansion will end up being delayed just to make sure that the devs actually have enough time to iron out all the kinks - looking at the current state of the PTS and thinking that this is what's supposed to go live in about six weeks or so doesn't inspire a lot of confidence.

Anyway, if you're interested in giving the public test server a try yourself, here's the official article on how it all works and what to look out for. Once the next phase goes live, there'll even be rewards you can earn for the live game by participating in testing, something that Bioware hasn't done in years and that I definitely wouldn't want to miss this time around. What can I say? Sometimes, bribery simply does work.


MMORPGs on TV: Dead Pixels

This past weekend I found out that there's a new-ish British television show about MMO players called "Dead Pixels". It first aired on Channel 4 this spring and was apparently successful enough that they already greenlit a second season. Since the first one is only six episodes long and available to watch online for free, I sat right down and went through all the available episodes on Sunday afternoon. I never understood why after the success of The Guild, nobody seemed to want to pick that idea up again and make it come to life somewhat more professionally, with a larger budget, to take it in front of a more mainstream audience.

One thing I immediately liked about Dead Pixels and which is probably my favourite aspect of the show is that it intersperses the actors doing their thing with animated bits showing their characters' actions in the fictional MMO "Kingdom Scrolls". One thing that always bugged me a little about the setup in The Guild was that all their avatars looked exactly like they did in real life, only with funny clothes on. Nobody practising a bit of wish-fulfilment or engaging in some experimentation? In Dead Pixels on the other hand, main character Meg plays an ugly hunchback in the game, and another character, Usman, plays a purple cat person. The animation is very simple and cartoony, but that doesn't detract from its charm.

The show is officially billed as a comedy, but the humour is... a mixed bag. There were some jokes that genuinely made me smile or even laugh, such as when Meg's co-worker Russell joins the game and the crew quickly gets exasperated with his wide-eyed sense of wonder and desire to have fun, or when Meg gets excited about watching a story cut-scene while Nicky is shown to be skipping through it all.

More often though, I simply found the jokes hugely cringe-worthy. For example in one episode, naive Russell invites a friend he made in game to his home without realising that said friend is only fourteen years old. The others joke that surely someone will call the police on him for being a child groomer - crass, but I could have lived with it as a one-off gag - but this then goes on and on, as in an increasingly unlikely sequence of events the awkwardness of the situation gets dialled up to eleven and the joke gets run into the ground. Apparently the show's creators are the same people who were responsible for Peep Show (for any British readers who might be familiar with that), so I guess I shouldn't have been entirely surprised, but I don't remember that show being quite so bad most of the time...

Anyway, I acknowledge that humour is entirely subjective, and other people might well find it hilarious throughout. At least many of the positive reviews I've come across said as much.

What ultimately left me feeling uncomfortable rather than satisfied by the end of the last episode though was the show's portrayal of gamers - which is ironic, considering that I also found an interview with the show's writer Jon Brown, in which it's stated that he wanted to demonstrate what gaming is really like and correct bad misconceptions about gamers. Unfortunately I fear that he may well have ended up doing the opposite: enforcing bad stereotypes.

Simply put, the show's main protagonist Meg is a massive asshole. (And to some extent her friend Nicky too.) I'm fine with characters having flaws and dark sides, but she genuinely just spends most of her time being horrible to people with little to no consequences, and that's a problem when we're supposed to be rooting for her. When Russell first joins the game, she and Nicky lure him into a cave where they club his character to death and steal all his stuff. She feels a little bit of remorse the next day, but this is quickly forgotten again as everyone immediately goes back to treating Russell like a nuisance.

Another episode starts with Meg stopping at a bus stop in real life to scream at a random woman for (in her eyes) looking like a fake gamer girl. She and Nicky also participate in a harassment campaign against an actor who is supposed to star in a Kingdom Scrolls movie and feel vindicated when he drops the role. In general, she keeps being horrible to Russell while also trying to use him for sex throughout. And so on and so forth...

There are moments where the characters show likeable traits and their humanity shines through in a good way, but unfortunately those are rare compared to all the bad stuff mentioned above. Mainly the show portrays gamers as angry, rude, socially inept, unable to differentiate between virtual and real world, and deeply cynical towards anyone who doesn't act like they do. Fortunately that is far removed from the reality of MMO gaming as I know it, but sadly a TV show like this is unlikely to do public perception of our geeky hobby any favours.

All that said, I'll still happily watch season two when it comes out (assuming I hear about it and actually remember to pay attention). The characters do show some growth throughout the series and I suppose one can hope that maybe in future episodes they'll actually become more likeable as a result. 


Master Mode Dread Council

Mine and my guildies' ambitions to knock out as many ops achievements as we can - before the coming expansion potentially makes the fights more difficult again - continue. The latest encounter to fall to our might was the Dread Council in Dread Palace on master mode. Unfortunately I didn't get a kill video of this one as I noticed halfway through the fight that my GeForce experience had unexpectedly stopped working, and then that very same attempt - which hadn't even felt all that great up to that point - unexpectedly turned into a kill.

The thing that made this fight particularly interesting to me is that it's one that I'd never even tried before we started working on it this time around, not even back when you could over-level the operation. I'm actually not sure why, as we did kill the first four bosses back then, but that's just how it worked out.

I also didn't really do any research on the fight or watched videos about just what was different compared to veteran mode, so I was utterly delighted the first time we reached the end of the phase with the two ghosts, when Styrak and Brontes did something totally new that they don't do on either of the two easier difficulties: they repeated additional mechanics from their solo fights in Scum/Dread Fortress. Specifically, Styrak does his "now you'll see real power" move where he grows big and you get surrounded by small copies of him that try to trap you, and Brontes summons little reaches that connect through deadly electrified beams just like she does during the first transition phase of her solo fight. I thought that was a great example of how you can make a nightmare mode fight feel different and exciting beyond just making everything more deadly, something that SWTOR hasn't traditionally been that great at.

As a healer, I didn't find the fight particularly interesting in terms of my role - the main challenge was spacial awareness, as the group has to spread out and move around a lot, so when death marks go out you have to be able to quickly run across the room to be in range of everyone you need to cleanse before they die.

That said, there is something fascinating about the fight when you watch it, which is why I'm actually a bit bummed out that I missed the opportunity to record our first kill. It's quite "dance-y" in some respects, but everyone has to do a different dance while making sure not to crash into anyone else. I always particularly enjoy watching the tank who has to handle Bestia solo run across the room like a headless chicken to get her debuff to drop off, just to then get punted all the way back to where they started. It helps to know that actually, their running isn't as random as it looks, as they have to make sure to keep a distance from the other bosses so that Bestia doesn't buff their damage, and they have to position themselves just right before the punt so that they don't go flying over the edge to their death.

Speaking of people falling to their deaths, you only die from fall damage if you're already on less than half health when you go over the edge, so every time a wipe was called it became a bit of a fun challenge to allow your health to get low enough so that you could jump off and die without incurring repair bills, but before the abilities of the masters themselves had a chance to kill you.

Also, for some arcane reason related to how it's programmed, we soon learned that every set of Brontes' reaches that spawns gives 625 Conquest points when it disappears again. I've never counted, but I think you get at least a dozen spawns throughout the phase, if not more, which meant that each attempt that at least saw us through the reaches phase (even if some people died in the process) gave a huge boost to our guild's Conquest total. Not something you can easily farm specifically for Conquest gains, but it softened the blow of each wipe to know that we'd at least contributed something to the guild in the process anyway.

Oh, and when the masters finally died they dropped a cybernetic rancor mount, which was won by one of our tanks. Looks pretty spiffy!


Happy Blaugust!

It's the first of August, which means that it's once again time for Blaugust, the "2019 Festival of Blogging" as organiser Belghast called it this year.

In short, it's a community event for content creators (not just bloggers anymore), encouraging them to be loud and proud of what they do, so that people can share ideas, give each other encouragement, find new audiences and expand their own horizons. Most of the participants focus on talking about gaming, but there are no real limits on the subject matter.

You can find out more about how it all works here, simply see a list of all the participating blogs with links to them here if you just want to browse other people's contributions, or start chatting with like-minded folks on Discord or Twitter (contact info also included in the two previous links).

I fear that my own contributions will be limited this time simply because I'll be on holiday for part of the month, but I still signed up as a participant just to spread the good vibes. At the risk of sounding overly touchy-feely, for me interacting with fellow bloggers and long-time commenters gives me more of a community feeling than any social media platform: I may have very limited knowledge of their personal lives, but I look forward to reading their thoughts every day and have had ongoing exchanges with some of them for close to a decade now. I guess it's like the virtual equivalent of going down to the pub and hanging out with the regulars, just for those of us who are couch potatoes and/or don't like alcohol.

Anyway, the point is that there's always room for more, so if you've ever thought about putting yourself out there or reviving a project gone dormant, Blaugust is a great time to do so.


The Shroud Bugged Out

You may have surmised from the fact that I was talking about doing the Dread Seed quest chain in my last post that I was also going to do the heroic missions that cap off that very same chain and the one for Macrobinoculars this weekend. I'm very fond of both of these missions because I'll forever remember the first time I did them both being hilariously chaotic.

You would also think that after successfully completing them half a dozen times I'd be able to knock them out pretty quickly at this point, but this is a notion of which I was quickly disabused this Sunday.

And to think that we started out so well! When we met up in front of the Shroud's lair, I was immediately pleased to note that all of us were actually on the correct step of the quest. Most of the previous times that I've done this mission it usually turned out that someone still needed to do the part that I like to call the "taxi chase", and then it always took some time to get them caught up with the rest of us. Our team on the other hand - consisting of me and my guildies Mostyn, Ken and Uni - looked like it should be able to make short work of the whole thing.

Unfortunately it soon became apparent that I was the person in the group who had the most experience with the mission, which was less good. As it turns out it's very easy to follow the instructions of other people telling you to click the button in front of you, but being able to do so doesn't necessarily mean that you now automatically know what everyone else in the group is supposed to be doing.

Already in the second room we briefly got stuck as everyone else went into the little side alcoves and started clicking the buttons there, while I ran up and down the corridor yelling about how I knew that there was something for me to click here but I didn't know where it was. Fortunately another guildie who happened to overhear us on Teamspeak was able to point me in the right direction (the ceiling). "It's like the blind leading the blind," Mr Commando observed wistfully from the other side of the table.

Then things got buggy though. We got to the part with the droid in the security station, where mines keep going off around him, you kill the turrets surrounding the station, he summons some droids, and after you kill those, he surrenders. The problem was that we killed the turrets and then nothing happened; the mines just kept beeping away and the next phase refused to start.

This is actually something that had also happened to me the previous time I did this quest, though back then we'd been able to reset it by simply walking away from the area, and when the sequence restarted it completed properly the second time around. That didn't work this time though. We ran all the way outside the phase and back in, even tried wiping the group by suiciding on the laser grid, but nothing seemed to work.

Eventually we exited again and reset the phase, which did not reset the first two puzzles but respawned most of the mobs, so we had to kill those all over again. Fortunately the security sequence also started up properly this time (we noticed that messages about escalating defenses popped up in the middle of the screen now, which hadn't happened before).

Though then we got stuck again because when the droids finally spawned, one of them managed to somehow run inside the controller's defensive shield, where he was untouchable and kept us stuck in combat. Fortunately this time we were able to reset the thing by simple getting some distance. When we tried again we made sure to instantly stun and nuke any droids coming out of the station right next to the shield.

Then it came to the puzzle part, one I thought I remembered reasonably well. One person mans the security station (this is usually my job), one has to go into the room with all the poison gas, one to the droid assembly line, and the last to the elevator. How and why any of these things go together and interact in a logical way I don't know; I just know that they do.

We started off with me at the security station, Mostyn by the poison room, Uni at the droid assembler and Ken at the elevator, but Uni kept complaining that he couldn't get in. "When I click this thing, doesn't the door go up?", I asked. "Yes, it does, but there's another one right behind it. It's like it goes up and stays closed at the same time." While this sounded quite inane, I was quickly reminded of a visual glitch that I sometimes see in cut scenes involving doors. The problem was that for Uni it was more than visual: the "second" door remained solid and wouldn't let him pass. Mostyn walked over and was able to walk right "through" it in front of Uni's eyes.

So we decided to have Mostyn and Uni swap places. However, Uni's game would have none of that either: While he didn't see any doors at the poison room, he was still prevented from entering by an invisible force field.

We tried swapping him with Ken, but now Ken was having problems with the poison room. He could get inside; but he couldn't click the console! "I can see where I'm meant to click, but it's just not letting me interact with it!"

As a last ditch effort, we were going to try having Ken back at the elevator, me at the poison room and Uni at the security station, but of course he couldn't click on that either.

Everyone agreed at this point that it would be best for both Ken and Uni to leave the instance and restart their game, since whatever was wrong seemed to affect them in specific and not the instance as a whole. "Are we going to be featured in a blog post now?" Uni asked on the way out. Well, you've got your answer!

After they'd both relogged and rejoined the group, it at first turned out that they had loaded back into the wrong instance, so they had to leave the phase again to switch instances outside. But once we were finally all together again, everyone was able to get through doors and click on things, and we literally unlocked the next step on the first attempt. If only it could have been that easy right away!

Fortunately nothing that came after caused us any more serious issues, Mostyn just fell to his death once and in the last fight people were running in circles like headless chickens for a while, but that didn't prevent us from getting it down.

Ken went to bed after that but the three of us who remained also needed the Dread Seed heroic so we did that too, and fortunately it went down without a hitch, except that I swear those power cells get deadlier every time I do the part where you have to power up the turrets. I know they are supposed to explode if you get hit while carrying one, but I've also been one-shot seemingly just from stepping on a floor cable while carrying a cell (are neither the cables nor my shoes insulated?!) and this time I managed to fall over dead literally the moment I clicked on one to pick it up.

Another bug I had previously encountered but which fortunately didn't happen again this time was one of the doors not opening for a group member (who was fortunately only helping out at the time and didn't need to be there for the final kill anyway, and unlike the Shroud heroic, fighting Lord Tagriss doesn't actually require a full group of four players).

Still, though. I used to think that the toughest thing about these quests was finding a group for them, but now I'm not so sure anymore. I mean, we had a whale of a time because we are friends who trust each other and are able to see the funny side of most mishaps, but can you imagine trying to communicate Schrödinger's door to a pug group? They'd just think that you've gone mad! Hopefully the Bioware devs will find the time to fix some of those bugs before they ruin too many groups' experiences, even if this isn't one of the most popular quests in the game.


Voss Seeker Droid Bug

Consider this one of my rare PSA posts, which usually come about after I stumble across a question or problem that's very peculiar, and then on trying to google the answer/solution, I realise that nobody seems to have posted one so far. Hey, might as well perform a small public service and do it myself, right?

This time the issue is the Seeker Droid/Dread Seed quest line which sends you all over the galaxy to dig up Dread Seeds, as there are a couple of areas where the Seeker Droid mechanic is a bit buggy. One of them is Balmorra from what I remember, but it's relatively easy to work around that one because the area is very open, so you just run around a bit and eventually you'll get it to work.

Voss on the other hand is a tricky one, because the dig site for the mission is underneath Voss-Ka and can only be accessed via a tunnel and by going down a narrow little path. What happens is that you do that, get the "Your Seeker Droid detects something in the area" message, take two more steps, and immediately get its "Your Seeker Droid no longer detects anything" counter, which causes the icon/item to get greyed out again. If you then continue into the area marked on the map, you can run around as much as you want, the icon won't light up again and you can't dig. Frustrating!

Fortunately there's a simple workaround, which I'm not sure everyone's aware of, so I made a little video about it last night while doing the quest on my Scoundrel:

Basically it seems to be less about absolute positioning and more about making sure you don't "trip" over the line that triggers the "Your Seeker Droid no longer detects anything" message. So the thing to do is to walk down the path very slowly and stop instantly the moment your Seeker Droid lights up as available. Then, instead of continuing down the little winding path, turn towards the cliff and edge your way down into the area that way. If you run into the "Your Seeker Droid no longer detects anything" message at any point, go back up and start again. You should quickly be able to find an invisible "path" though that allows you to enter the area without your droid becoming disabled, and then you can run all over the place and dig to your heart's content. Hope this helps someone!


To Skip or Not To Skip?

Several bloggers I'm following have been talking about Final Fantasy XIV recently, not least because it just got a new expansion. However, the game being what it is, several of those bloggers haven't actually been able to talk about the expansion yet, because they are still in the process of getting through all the prerequisite quests first, something that can only be bypassed with a cash shop purchase, and even that is a relatively recent addition from what I gather (previously there was just no way around it, period).

From this post on Time to Loot I learned that the community even has a name for the long chain of quests that players have to complete to even get access to the very first expansion: they call them "the Horrible Hundred". Bhagpuss then used this as a jumping-off point for a post of his own on when focusing on the journey instead of the destination might not be sound advice.

I've previously written about how I'm kind of glad that SWTOR is not as dogmatic when it comes to story progression, despite of the game's self-professed focus on narrative. That said, reading this whole discussion, especially Bhag's comment on Naithin's post - in which he asked whether the latter would actually be happy to skip all that content if it was a gameplay option - really made me think.

As much I've moaned in the past about KotFE and KotET in particular feeling like a bit of a drag (though actually, I already complained about Shadow of Revan and Ziost before that), I have not made use of the option to skip either so far.

I keep thinking about it, but the thing is that there are choices to be made in those expansions, and I don't like the idea of simply being saddled with one of the two default sets of options. It doesn't matter if those things never come up again afterwards; I would know! I've sometimes seen people clamour for a tool similar to Dragon Age Keep, which would allow you to lock in custom decisions even while skipping the content, but I doubt that Bioware would consider creating such a thing a good use of their time and money.

The thing is, even if we did have that option, I'm still not sure I'd want to use it. Even though replaying the exact same linear story over and over annoys me, there are moments when I find myself engaging with parts of it on a roleplayer's level, even when it's my umpteenth time through - usually because I hadn't thought about how that particular character would feel in that particular situation considering her background... which can then cause me to make somewhat different choices than I would have made if you'd simply asked me to fill out a scorecard beforehand.

On the other hand, there are the problems that make KotFE and KotET in particular - and to a lesser extent also the Iokath/traitor arc - such a nuisance to replay:

- It's not just the linearity and one-size-fits-all format of the story, but that it is so all-encompassing. Makeb and Rise of the Hutt Cartel are also linear stories, but they are independent from each other and you can do them out of order if you so wish. When you start KotFE though, the game demands that you must have finished all the "important" storylines before it, and if you haven't they will be auto-completed for you, with no option to ever go back.

- For all the complaining a certain section of the player base did about lack of content during KotFE, I've found it striking just how long each chapter is compared to the average quest line in the base game. A single planet's worth of class story is generally shorter than a chapter, with the latter clocking in at about 45-60 minutes each if you watch all the cut scenes, and still at least half of that if you were to space-bar your way through.

This is a problem in so far as chapters make it much more awkward to pause at a random point and come back later. Your overall progress will be saved, but if you exit the phase even briefly while not at a dedicated "check point", all the mobs after that will respawn. I've cleared Odessen of Zakuulan troops in "End Times" more often than I'm happy to admit, simply due to exiting the chapter at a bad time and then finding that I had to do huge chunks of combat all over again.

I'm not certain that solo flashpoints are any better either. I haven't tested it, but I would expect them to give a bit more leeway when it comes to not respawning all the trash if you leave for five minutes, but they probably won't save your overall story progress if you need to abandon it halfway through to come back another day. Either way, the end result is that both solo flashpoints and chapters make you feel like you always need to be willing to commit a larger chunk of time to playing in order to make any progress.

- Finally, all of this is made even worse by the fact that some chapters are very closely tied together and affect your gameplay outside of the main storyline. Mainly I'm thinking of how starting KotFE gets rid of all of your companions, and you don't get any new ones until chapter three, and nothing like a proper full roster until chapter nine. For that reason I never start KotFE unless I'm willing and able to burn through the first few chapters in a single session.

So for all these reasons KotFE and KotET are a bit of a nuisance in the narrative progression of one's character, and I know quite a few people who have used the option to skip this content quite liberally. For me however, the roleplaying considerations I mentioned earlier in this post weigh against that, and so far they've still won out every time.

I do think that there's a chance that my attitude might start to shift over time though, as Bioware keeps adding more and more "post-Knights" content, because the more of it there is, the more I'll feel the urge to actually get to all that content. In addition, the more the adventures of Arcann and Co. retreat into the distant past and become irrelevant, the less strongly I expect to feel about "having" to go through them for my character arc to feel complete.


Is PvP More Balanced Now?

While I've always been better with words than with numbers, I have a soft spot for statistics. I mentioned recently that I put together some stats about warzones twice before: once in 2013 and once in 2015. Both times they seemed to confirm the common refrain that Republic sucks at PvP: my win rate was only 35% the first time around and 38% the second. (Though mind you, I didn't run a comparison on Imp side to verify whether this was really faction-related or if it was just me dragging my team down.)

I was curious to find out whether this had changed after last year's "Summer of PvP" tore down the faction barriers and took measures to improve matchmaking. The short answer is: maybe a little? This time around I finished my 100 recorded matches with a 42% win rate, which is certainly an improvement but still not as good as it should be in my opinion.

I also recorded once again whether it seemed like any given match had been fair or unfair (I used the latter label when it felt like the losing team never really stood a chance, regardless of which side I was on), and about half of all my games (48) felt like they had been seriously unbalanced. (Though again, this is slightly better than it was in both 2013 and 2015, when 53 of my 100 matches had felt like bad match-ups.)

One thing that's worth noting as different this time around is that I didn't just restrict myself to playing three healing characters on Republic side. Since faction shouldn't matter anymore I played characters on both sides (in fact, as it happens two thirds of my games were played on Imperial side this time around) and I also rotated through my entire stable of alts, playing characters of pretty much all classes and specs. I actually would have expected that to depress my win rate a bit as I'm pretty horrible at PvPing e.g. as Gunslinger or Sentinel, but if it did it wasn't enough to bring the numbers down to the level of the previous two experiments.

One thing that does seem to support the idea that class/role matters is that I came closest to reaching win/loss parity on my healers (20 wins vs. 24 losses, or a 45% win rate), and if you only count matches on my Commandos or Mercenaries (my main class), I did in fact win more often than I lost (12 vs. 8). Gunslingers/Snipers technically also won more than they lost (2 vs. 1) but that total is so low anyhow that I simply consider it a fluke. Sentinel/Marauder is certainly closer to what I'd expect from me on that class, racking up only 2 wins vs. 8 losses.

Of the old faction lines there was no evidence anymore, as my Republic characters had an average win rate of 45% vs. only 40% on my Imps.

Another thing that's interesting to look at is the distribution of the numbers among the different types of warzones. I noted in the past that my odds of winning were generally better in the node-capping game modes (Civil War, Novare Coast) and at their worst in Huttball. The former still seems to be true (mostly) as the two game types in which I could actually record more wins than losses were Novare Coast and the Proving Grounds, while Civil War was a perfect 50-50 split. Huttball wasn't as bad this time around though, as my 41% win rate in it was very close to the average.

This time the warzones that caused me the most losses were Yavin Ruins (only won 1 out of 5, but again that's a pretty small total), Voidstar (3 out of 10) and Hypergates (3 out of 9). So this is an area where the faction mingling definitely seems to have helped, as I still remember the pain of playing unranked Huttball as a Republic player back in the day very well. As for Novare Coast and Proving Grounds, I can't help but wonder if me really loving those warzones doesn't play into it a bit, as I would assume that it makes me play a lot better, therefore increasing my team's chances of winning.

Anyway, while win/loss ratio among different warzones has improved, Huttball still has balancing issues as it was the warzone that felt by far the most unfair, with nearly two thirds of matches having felt like the losing team never even stood a chance. I think that may just be the nature of the map though, as any amount of co-ordination just makes such a huge difference. Funnily enough the most "fair" game mode by that measure turned out to be Hypergates, at least during my experiment. Out of 9 matches played, only a single one felt like the outcome had been a foregone conclusion.

Finally, one more thing that I kept track of this time around and that I hadn't paid great attention to previously was the day of the week on which I played. This was interesting as there was a clear trend towards Thursday to Saturday being the best days to play, providing an almost perfectly balanced win-loss ratio, while Monday to Wednesday were the worst, as I had to put up with two losses per win or worse on those days. I'm not sure how to explain this. Theoretically a larger number of players participating in PvP should help with the matchmaking, but from my experience Thursday and Friday night aren't exactly prime time for PvP - then again, I might be wrong about that. Tuesday is also the time of the weekly reset, I wonder if that plays into it somehow?

tl;dr: Yes, your chances of winning as a Republic player seem to be somewhat better now than they used to be, though on average the change is not that drastic. The biggest and most noticeable change has occurred in Huttball, where your odds are much better now, though it remains somewhat unbalanced in general, with only a third of games actually feeling like good match-ups that result in a fair fight.


Random Makeb Love

Telwyn is finally playing through the Makeb story on Imperial side, only six years late... and here I thought I was slow when it took me two months to get to it! Funnily enough, I was reading his post on my second monitor while I was using my primary to play through Imperial Makeb myself... for the second time in recent weeks, in fact.

Looking back at some of my old blog posts, I've had a very on-and-off relationship with Makeb. At first I quite liked it, but then repeating it a couple of times quickly made me feel burnt out. Finding that every single one of my characters was getting funnelled into it as "chapter four" of their class stories felt disingenuous and annoying.

Then after Shadow of Revan came out my attitude towards it softened again, since it wasn't considered a requirement to progress the new storyline but rather just another piece of side content, like the various daily areas. Since then I've often skipped it since there's already enough strictly linear story content that I have to get through to get to the bits I like, but every now and then I like to take a character through it again - fortunately it doesn't matter where they are in terms of personal progression; you can do Makeb at any time.

The release of Ossus also made me oddly nostalgic for Makeb. As I discussed in this post, sometimes you don't know what you've got until it's gone. At the time of its release, Makeb had seemed a bit lacklustre compared to the class stories, but after more than three years of plodding through a one-size-fits-all storyline, I can't help but see it in a very different light. The depth of the world building conveyed through totally different story threads! All those different NPCs you get to interact with that have their own lives instead of everything being about your companions all the time! It suddenly tastes oh so sweet.

And it oddly makes me wish that we could meet some of those characters again one of these days. As it stands, the only story references to Makeb after its release were a brief mention about Isotope-5 powering Imperial ships in Lana's summary of what happened during your five years in carbonite, and of course Doctor Oggurobb joining your Alliance. On Imperial side though there are so many more characters that would be fun to meet again. I'd like to see how Captain Hanthor is doing for example. (And this time give us a flirt option while you're at it!)

I've even come to appreciate the relatively minor players such as Nadrin and Sergeant Bedareux. Actually, the latter made me realise that I don't recall another character anywhere in Star Wars canon that has a French-sounding name - based on the spelling anyway, even if it's then pronounced in a very English way in the English client. I wonder if the German and French voice actors actually pronounced his name closer to what you'd expect? Also, if you do know any other French-sounding characters from Star Wars canon, do let me know please because now I'm oddly curious.


Proving Grounds Tactics

I've been quite focused on PvP over the last couple of days, so I thought I might take this opportunity to finally write that post about tactics in Odessen Proving Grounds that I've been thinking about for a long time. Please note that this isn't a beginner's guide - if you want to know the basics of how this warzone works, consult Xam Xam's guide here.

People like to complain that kills don't matter when it comes to winning the battle for Odessen, but I think that's really only part of the problem - after all, with the exception of Hypergates and Yavin Ruins, most warzones don't directly award points for killing enemy players.

I suspect what confuses or annoys a lot of people about the Proving Grounds map is how fast-paced it is, with the 90-second rounds and constantly changing objectives, and that contrary to many people's instincts, it pays off to spread out instead of group up. Finally, the short duration of each round and constantly resetting objectives mean that it's frequently possible to lose a battle even if you're winning and vice versa (on a small scale) - because defeating that node guardian just as the round ends does nothing to advance your team's score.

Spreading out

There are two reasons why it's beneficial for a team to spread out in the Proving Grounds. The first is simply the randomisation of the objective spawns at the beginning of each new round, which means that you can't know in advance where to stand in order to quickly capture the next upcoming objective. By making sure that your team is spread out all over the map, you're increasing your chances that someone will be near the next node or battle mod to go active and can get on it as soon as possible.

Tied into this is the fact that the way capping works heavily favours defenders. Because the node won't flip as long as even a single defender remains standing inside its boundaries, even a single defender can buy valuable seconds just by staying alive for as long as they can, and if you have multiple defenders it becomes very hard to get rid of them all in time to change node ownership and still get points from it before the round ends.

In practice this means that you want to start the match attacking the initial two control points with a four-four split, with one person in each "team" breaking off to pick up the battle mod on their side as well. It's rather frustrating to see how rarely this actually happens, presumably because people uncertain about what to do think that their best bet is to "stick with the pack", or they might think that the warzone works similar to other base-capping modes such as Civil War and Novare Coast, where you usually have all but one person sticking together at the start.

From then on, after the end of each round, your goal should be to spread out across the map as far as possible. Obviously you can't tell the rest of your team where to go, but you can try to get away from them as much as you can! Personally I favour positioning myself near one of the battle mod spawn points, as they appear a few seconds before the control points become active, which means that you can pick up a mod and potentially still make it to a control point in time too. Also, the fact that they are located halfway between two nodes increases your chances of being near one that's about to become active. If you can't or don't want to stand near a mod spawn point for some reason, my next favourite place is the bottom control point (artifact chamber) as you can easily go from there to mid (cantina) but not the other way round.

Control points or battle mods?

On any PvP map where you have both main and secondary objectives, the question is always how much those secondary objectives are worth pursuing compared to the primary ones (e.g. orbs in Ancient Hypergates vs. pylons/kills). In the Proving Grounds the answer is that they are very much worth it! Two of the four mods are in fact equal in value to a captured control point each (assuming they are quickly put to use, and correctly), namely blue and green. Green obviously allows you to activate and capture an additional control point where the enemy team might not expect it, and blue doubles the point gain on an existing node, meaning that it's also worth as much as a whole additional objective.

While the mod colours rotate too quickly for you to be able to target the one you want specifically, what with lag and so on, you can definitely avoid getting one that you don't want, by making sure to run over it just after the colour you didn't want flashes up. Personally I usually avoid red.

The red (deactivate) battle mod is certainly also powerful, however it's hard to put to good use if the enemy defenders pay any attention at all. Unless you are a Sniper/Gunslinger that is - I don't even know what the ability is called, but they are able to temporarily make themselves immune to both interrupts and stuns at the same time, meaning that if they roll in with a red mod and use that ability, the node is gone and there is nothing you can do about it.

The orange/speed-up mod is not that useful in my opinion as it doesn't increase point gain, just speeds it up so that the control point expires quite a bit before the end of the round. Obviously this is technically advantageous in that you need to spend less time defending that particular node, however at 90 seconds the rounds are already quite short as it is, so that a few seconds saved usually don't give you sufficient time to do something useful elsewhere. I seem to recall that I've only ever seen this mod make the difference between victory and loss once, when both teams were incredibly close to hitting 600 points and the one that managed to speed up their point gain with the mod just managed to get there first.

Victory in death

Another thing that makes Odessen quite unique - as mentioned above - is that your chances of scoring a minor win even in death are much higher than in most other warzones. Sure, sometimes this can happen in other game modes too, such as when the act of killing you distracts someone for long enough that a team mate can capture a turret behind them for example, but the Proving Grounds really embrace the concept because dying between rounds effectively doesn't cost you anything, and you "only" need to stall the enemy for 90 seconds at a time to defend a control point or prevent either side from capturing it. So get ready to embrace death whenever it buys your team some time because every second counts.

Got any "expert" tips of your own to add? Feel free to leave them in the comments!


Less Huttball, Please

When the new Huttball map on Vandin was released in October last year, the PvP queue was tweaked to temporarily give it priority over other maps. This usually happens when a new PvP mode or map is released and makes sense, as people want to see what's new and need every chance to practice the new mechanics.

However, when the queue was supposed to return to normal, it... didn't really. Vandin popped slightly less often, yes, but Huttball was a whole still seemed to come up insanely frequently. People commented on this on the forums, even me! There was some questioning whether it was a bug, but eventually, in March, Eric Musco came right out and clarified that it was not a bug but working as intended because all maps get equal priority, which just leads to Huttball popping more often now as it has three different maps whereas most other (non-arena) game modes only have one (though he did encourage people to give feedback about this).

The thing that immediately struck me about this was that while Eric talked about the whole thing as if it had always been this way, in my own experience this hasn't been the case. I've compiled sets of warzone statistics twice on this blog, once to figure out whether Republic really loses all the time (the answer at the time seemed to be yes) and the other to find out how often arenas were popping compared to regular warzones.

When I collected data for the latter there were already two Huttball maps in the game, the Pit and Quesh, and my numbers clearly showed that in terms of priority, they were not being treated as full game modes. "Generic" Huttball had an equal chance of popping as other types of warzones, and those Huttball pops would then be split half and half between Nar Shaddaa and Quesh. As it should be in my opinion!

These days though, it's all Huttball, all the time. I'm currently collecting some data on my warzone matches again, and out of 45 games played so far, 15 have been Huttball, which means that every third match is a Huttball game, while Civil War, Voidstar, Novare Coast, Ancient Hypergates, arena, Proving Grounds and Yavin Ruins have to split the remaining two slots among the six/seven of them. (I'm actually not sure how arenas are handled now as they are supposed to pop less often if there are enough people in the queue, but I still see them relatively frequently even at max level.)

I like Huttball well enough but that still feels highly unbalanced to me. And it's been going on for nine months!

In my opinion the queue should be an even split between:

  • Arena (rotating between the six different maps)
  • Ancient Hypergates
  • Civil War / Yavin Ruins (I could technically see treating those as separate game modes, but I think they are similar enough to justify lumping them together and letting them alternate)
  • Huttball (rotating between the three different maps)
  • Novare Coast (as it's totally different from Civil War/Yavin other than also featuring three bases)
  • Proving Grounds
  • Voidstar

So in an even six/seven-way split, Huttball would only come up half as much as it does now, if not less. Meaning that it's been popping at double the "normal" frequency for more than half a year! (I forget when exactly the official "new warzone" grace period for Vandin was supposed to have ended.)

I imagine that anyone who really hates Huttball (and it was pretty much the most divisive game mode until Odessen Proving Grounds was released) must surely have taken a break from PvP by now... and that's not a good thing! Huttball is fun and all, but only in moderate doses. Please fix those queues, Bioware.


Guild Level 100!

This weekend Twin Suns Squadron hit level 100. We joked beforehand that this was a big occasion and that we should all have a party to celebrate, but in reality the guild ended up dinging late on Friday night, with me and a relative newbie to the guild being the only people online. At least that meant that I got to push us over the line personally and was able to take a celebratory screenshot.

I was doing KotET chapter 8 on my Sage at the time.

Of course, if you were to ask me what this means for the guild, the answer would be "nothing, really". I'm somewhat reminded of when I hit legacy level 50 in the most anticlimactic manner and had to admit that it didn't really do anything.

In the case of guild levels, the last one that provides additional benefits is level 64, at which point you unlock access to the final set of guild perks. After that, all that happens is that your number continues to go up... which does bring up the question of whether there is an actual cap, and if so, what it is. As far as I'm aware Bioware haven't made a statement about it.

While I find the thought of guild levels going on forever kind of amusing (a guildie joked about 1000 being our next goal), I wonder if there shouldn't be at least a temporary cap if Bioware has any plans to add more perks for higher levels. Otherwise the bigger guilds are just going to continue pulling further ahead of the rest of the pack indefinitely. I inspected a random member of one of the big guilds on the fleet to see where they were at and that guild was almost at level 150 already.

Of course, I'm doubtful whether Bioware is going to invest further into the guild levelling system. They've said that they want to keep adding to it, but realistically I can't say that guild levels and perks have seemed to be a priority since then. They haven't addressed any of the bugs and glaring issues that have been plaguing the system since its release more than six months ago (if Jedipedia ever takes down its page about guild perks, guild leaders everywhere are going to be so screwed). The only thing they fixed was the over-abundance of Grand Chance Cubes dropping from Soa... no surprise there.

That said, even while buggy and unfinished I guess the system is still a nice addition to the game as a way to track a guild's activity levels and progress. Even our tiny Imperial alt guild is up to level 21 by now. And like I said in my first post about guild levels, I still enjoy taking a screenshot every time we ding while I'm online. They are fun little snapshots showing what I've been doing while the guild continues to grow. Here are some more from the last six months:

Hitting level 17 while I was doing GSI dailies on my Guardian during Total Galactic War (I know that because I never do them during any other weeks).

Level 23 while I was doing Ossus heroics on my Scoundrel.

Level 32 while we were running back from a wipe in Gods from the Machine veteran mode.

Level 46 while I was healing a casual Karagga's Palace run on my Sage.

Level 55 after a messy Soa kill which had me (the tank!) finishing dead in lava.

Level 63 while doing progression on Master and Blaster veteran mode.

Level 77 while I was doing dailies on Iokath on my Scoundrel.

Level 78 from another Soa kill, this time with me doing Shadow dps.

Level 80 from another Soa kill? Must have been a week where we were going for first place in Conquest and were using the operations guild perk to its fullest.

Level 83 achieved while I was playing Quesh Huttball on my Sentinel... based on how PvPing on her usually goes, it probably didn't end well.

Level 84 from working on Corruptor Zero on 16-person master mode... lots of people were getting rampage achievements from killing the adds over and over during every attempt.

Level 86 while we were exploring the newly released Dantooine.

Still doing Ossus world bosses at guild level 90...

Hit guild level 91 from killing Dread Master Tyrans on 8-man master mode (this was the first time I'd done this at level by the way).

Level 95 during Dread Council master mode attempts. For some reason Dread Master Brontes' little tentacle spawns give an insane amount of Conquest points each since the Conquest changes.

Hit level 98 as we were pulling Tyrans on 16-man master mode. (Not got that one down yet.)