22/05/2019

Group Decision Making

I've sung the praises of the group conversation system in the past, and I stand by everything I've said about it. It just makes for a fantastic experience when playing through story content with friends... even in content that you've all done many times before. I was reminded of this while doing a master mode Esseles with three of my guildies (Cal, Mace and Ori) last night.

Naturally, all of us having been there dozens of times before and aiming for quick weekly completion, we hit those space bars to get through all the conversations as fast as possible... but that didn't prevent us from talking on voice chat about what was going on story-wise. The funniest of these chats happened when we entered the engineering deck.

Brief context for any readers who might not know/remember: The situation is that you are on a ship that's been boarded and you are under pressure to quickly get to the bridge to reclaim it. The bridge is locked however, and you've come to engineering to find a way to open it up. You are given two options: A reactor reset, which will achieve the desired result instantly, but also flushes a group of engineers that are trapped behind a force field right in front of you out into space (dark side). Or you can shut down the secondary conduits, which means that nobody has to die, but you have to take an extra two to three minutes to run to the conduits and kill the mobs around them (light side).

Does the gravity of the situation allow for you to take the extra time to choose the "safe" option? The NPC that's accompanying you, Ambassador Asara, doesn't think so and wants to sacrifice the engineers right then and there, but it's up to you to make the final decision.


As soon as we entered, the following conversation ensued on TeamSpeak:

Ori: Ah yes I know, we have to throw them out or Mace is just not going to do anything.
Mace: [laughs]
Cal: I was about to say: check alignments, people.
Me: You sound like someone speaking from experience.
Mace: For some reason light side tends to win a lot here!
Cal: Because who can bear to watch those engineers be flushed out into space every single bloody time?
Me: It's horrible!
Ori: Mace, take a bathroom break.
Everyone: [laughs]
Cal: What are you trying to say here?
Mace: Well, they need help getting out. So I help them get out.
Cal: Oh dear. Well, let's see what happens here.
[All except Mace make their choice on the crucial conversation option.]
Me: The suspense is killing me.
Cal: Roll, Mace, roll!
[He times out and one of us light-siders wins the roll to save the engineers.]
Me: He can't even make up his mind! Or he already went on the bathroom break.
[He times out on the next conversation choice as well.]
Me: Oh come on, making us wait through this is just cruel.
Mace: [laughs] That wasn't my intention, sorry...
Cal: Oh dear.

After that the three of us proceeded to shut down the conduits while Mace chilled with Asara for the next few of minutes, in silent protest of us choosing the goodie-two-shoes option that adds extra minutes of run time to the flashpoint. We all thought this was hilarious.

I have actually had similar - if slightly more subdued - banter about conversation choices in pugs sometimes, but generally speaking, the group finder's "press the button and go", expecting-to-be-in-and-out-in-30-minutes culture is unfortunately very much at odds with this sort of system. For that reason I can completely understand why Bioware has chosen not to include conversations in the newer flashpoints... but at times I do wonder what else we could have had if the game hadn't gone down the route of designing flashpoints primarily for quick and endless repetition by pugs.

18/05/2019

Mastering Blasting

Today on "boss kills that I've been chasing for so long that I was starting to doubt they were ever going to happen", let's talk about Master and Blaster veteran mode.

Similar to Revan, we didn't even get to really work on this dynamic duo pre-KotFE because Bulo and Torque were enough of a stumbling block as it were. (We did end up killing both of those during the 3.x cycle, but it took a while.) As they became smoother kills post-KotFE, we kept coming back to Master and Blaster every now and then to try and kill them too.

You can see evidence of this in my #IntPiPoMo posts to some extent: I featured shots of us wiping to them both in 2016 and in 2017, and both years I also included pictures of people chilling between said wipes.


This picture still brings back fond memories every time.

I don't recall us ever getting very far though... ultimately we always ended up abandoning the fight again and changing focus to work on something else because people were sick of the encounter.

The thing that stuck with me above anything else from those times is that most of us felt that the fight was frustratingly random. It's a very "dance-y" encounter with a heavy reliance on correct positioning, but there isn't a simple guide you can follow. There are a whole bunch of things you have to dodge at the same time, and they don't always line up in the same way.

- Blaster has a giant cone-shaped knockback that everyone but the tanks needs to stay out of, and even they need to be careful to always face the boss in the right direction when they are about to get hit by it or otherwise they'll go flying to their deaths.

- Master has a spinny move that engulfs him in flames, which forces the tank that has him to kite for a bit, and again, everyone else has to make sure to stay out of his way when that happens.

- Throughout the entire fight, mortars keep landing on the platform, covering a large chunk of the floor in giant orange circles that everyone has to stay out of.

- A couple of times throughout the fight, an ability that's aptly called "Rain of Pain" will be triggered which additionally covers most of the platform in a big red stripe that will most likely kill you if you get caught in it.

- And to top if off, players will periodically have grenades attached to them, which eventually explode for a bit of damage and knock you down... more importantly though, if two players with grenades get too close to each other, they explode for more damage and get sent flying.

I'm sure you can see how all of this together could pose a challenge. Taken on its own, none of the mechanics are hard: Don't step in the orange circles. Don't stand on a red stripe. Don't stand too close to other people. However, add it all together and there'll be moments where you're trying to dodge out of the red, but the "safe" area is mostly taken up by an orange circle instead, and there are two others right in front of you and you know that if you run into them you'll just blow up and die... and so on and so forth.

As I said, we mostly used to complain about how random it all was. With so much going on at once, sometimes things just come together in a bad way and then there's nothing you can do, right? Stupid RNG. And then we'd try again, and wipe just the same the next time.

This time though, it felt to me like our approach was different... or maybe it's just me who was seeing things differently. But as we got closer and closer to the kill, it was less of a "hell yeah" feeling for me, and more like Neo suddenly realising that he can see the Matrix. It wasn't all random. In fact, it was all very predictable - you just had to allow yourself to accept that and to realise that there were strict rules for dealing with all the different permutations. When mortars land over there, I move here. When they land over here, I stand exactly there, where there's a small spot that is always safe. And so on and so forth.

It was pretty magical to be honest. It felt less like we were beating the fight, and more like we were transcending it - seeing all the patterns and knowing just how to react to every single one of them.


For the experts among my readers, this does indeed mean that we were doing the fight "the hard way". Some time ago, a group of my guildies led by someone very experienced with the operation beat the fight with what I consider a somewhat cheesy tactic that requires a Guardian tank to use certain utilities and abilities to solo-tank the boss and eliminate a lot of the movement requirements for the rest of the group.

We tried that, but the onus of performing the cheesy Guardian magic fell on Mr Commando and he was not happy with it. Having never done it before, he kept making mistakes and wiping us... over and over, while the rest of us literally just stood there and watched him, because this particular tactic didn't require us to do anything else. It was... a bit awkward, and didn't really feel like what raiding should be about. We ended up abandoning that plan in order to go back to working on the fight as a team - making equal contributions and getting equal chances to mess up (and boy did we make use of those). Just one of those little things that I love about my guildies. We do things our own way.

Coratanni was a massive letdown afterwards by the way! We briefly read up on what we needed to do and then killed her and Ruugar on the second try, with most of us not even fully understanding what was going on with some of the mechanics. But so it goes.

15/05/2019

Let's Go To Dantooine

Two more weeks and Dantooine will be added to the game! We've actually known about this planned addition (minus its exact release date) since early April, but to be honest back then I didn't know what to write about it. This blog isn't a news site, and the main reactions to the announcement seemed to follow what I tend to think of as the "KOTOR rule": add anything that was in the original Knights of the Old Republic games and watch people go nuts with excitement just because of the association.

As someone who doesn't have the same nostalgic connection to the original games, I never quite know what to think or feel during such times. I mean, I did play through the original KOTOR on my tablet two and a half years ago, and the game was still entertaining, but it wasn't really a life-changing experience. My main impression of Dantooine back then was that it had a few interesting quests, but visually I found it pretty meh, so to be honest the thought of having it in SWTOR didn't particularly excite me.

Now that it's closer to release though, I'm increasingly looking forward to it.

While it may have looked rather meh with graphics from 2003, early screenshots of its implementation in SWTOR look like it may have a certain pastoral charm to it.


Getting a whole new planet before the expansion is pretty neat as well, something that I'm only now starting to really appreciate. I guess they did have to give us something else to pass the next five months until Onslaught, but a whole new planet was far from a given. In fact, the last time we got a new planet or moon between expansions was with the release of Oricon back in November 2013.

Getting a new content-based world event is also really nice. Again, I think the last time one of these was added to the game was with Nar Shaddaa Nightlife in 2014, and even that was fairly thin on actual content. The last really meaty addition would then have been the introduction of the recurring Rakghoul Resurgence in January of the same year. And that was over five years ago! Since then the only new "events" have consisted of things like temporary XP gain increases.

I also appreciate that it must be quite hard to come up with themes for these in a Star Wars MMO. Life Day aside, you can't just take a real life holiday like Easter and slap a bow on it, like most fantasy MMOs seem to enjoy doing. So I'm happy enough to see what this "Pirate Incursion" entails.

The proposed feature list looks promising enough, and the minimum level requirement of 20 means that new players and alts will be able to jump right in too. New daily missions don't exactly sound revolutionary, but I'm happy to get more of the familiar, and I like that they are once again including heroics. I also like the idea of the place including a set of separate missions during peace time. Even if they will probably be less rewarding (otherwise what would be the point of having the event), they should make for an interesting change of pace.

I've stayed away from the PTS and people talking too much about it, but I couldn't help picking up that there'll also be some random pointless bits of fun for explorer types, which I can't wait to see. Definitely something to look forward to!

11/05/2019

That Was Fast

When I mentioned in my last post that I was working on the Sprint Champion achievement, I didn't expect to already have it a couple of days later. With my very relaxed speed of giving it one shot per night in order not to burn myself out, I figured I was going to be at it for at least a few weeks... but nope, it took all of five days. I was so pleased with myself that I did a little jig around the living room after the achievement popped up, much to Mr. Commando's horror.


I initially tried to beat the timer on my Sage, with whom I had done KotFE on master mode, and it did go reasonably well actually. However, then I tried on my Guardian and it just felt that little bit better. While I missed the advantage of being able to continuously dps from range, my Guardian is slightly better geared and I'm a little better at doing damage on her as well. She then made it on her second run. It must have been really close as well, because I manually started a stopwatch a few seconds before engaging the first encounter, and when I looked at it after getting the achievement pop-up, it was just over 15 minutes, so it really must have been down to the wire. So good news, everyone: If I can make it, and that quickly too, it can't be that hard anymore, as I'm pretty bad at doing damage. Just ask any of my fellow raiders.

To brush up on strategy, I watched this video by Aeyix (whose videos also helped me with some master mode chapter fights) and this guide by Crump3txxix (what a name). While they were both recorded back when the level cap was 65 so aren't necessary representative of what works now, they do give some very helpful pointers on how to speed things up.

As recommended by Aeyix and backed up by personal experience, I went with a melee companion on all of my attempts. On my Guardian I figured I would take Arcann along because she's in a romance with him, and was very dismayed to find that he was only at influence level 3! Clearly romance is dead. Fortunately bribery is alive and well however, so a few hundred companion gifts later he was ready to be my wingman.

Going in with the recommended double dps setup was pretty amazing. As someone who usually mains healers, I'm used to things dying slowly, so it was quite a treat to watch the first five bosses fall over so quickly that they basically had no time to do any mechanics.

Now, the Breaktown Brawler was still tough. Looking at Aeyix's video I have no idea how he managed to live through that fight with no heals. I gave it one try as double dps and I was literally dead in seconds. Seconds! The damage from the boss's regular melee hits was just that insane. So I quickly resigned myself to losing some time on this fight by setting Arcann to heals. Then I just followed the tactic as described by Crumpet (not typing out his name with all the weirdness in full every time) and things went okay, even if it did make the fight quite long and time-consuming.

The next two fights I could do with a double dps setup again - though you'll get knocked around a bit both times, the damage is manageable. On the Doom Droid I kept hearing that it was important to down her before she went into that temporary immunity phase as it causes you to lose a lot of time, and I was very pleased when I actually managed this!

Now the final fight, Zotar, is an interesting one. In his case I could kind of see how you might be able to do it without a healing companion, but I honestly felt that I wasn't good enough for that, so I figured I'd see if I'd be able to scrape by in time with Arcann set to healing again. On the run when I did get the achievement it went remarkably fast anyway, even with Arcann contributing limited damage. I did manage to prevent one probe summon with a stun (before watching Aeyix' video I didn't even know that was possible), though the second one got through, but there weren't any others after that. I actually smiled to myself when the walker had just enough time to start firing his laser on my second run at him, as one quick Saber Reflect was enough to put him out of action for good. The final burn on Zotar still feels nerve-racking every time, but I handled it well enough and then the achievement popped up.

So that's one item off the Onslaught bucket list already; lots more still to go!

08/05/2019

Five Things To Do Before Onslaught

When I implied in my last post that I haven't really got a plan for how to prepare for the expansion yet, I was kind of lying. I do have a plan, I just haven't really been implementing it just yet. After all, the expansion is still five months away... and that's a long time, right? Or maybe not - better get started! Let me share with you my top five ways of getting ready for Onslaught. Advice and top list in one, what more could you ask for?

1. Finish up those hard achievements

If you weren't around / doing endgame content around the release of the last two expansions, you might not be aware that ever since the introduction of level sync, endgame content levels up with us. So nope, you won't get to give Izax an extra hard smackdown once you're level 75 - because he'll be level 75 too.

In fact, what tends to happen is the opposite of players being able to overpower old content: everything suddenly gets harder again. This happens because of gear inflation in the previous expansion; and due to the length of the 5.x cycle, it's currently more pronounced than ever before. When 5.0 launched, getting a full set of 230 gear already took some work, and 242 was as high as it went.

Since then, Bioware has effectively released three(!) more tiers of gear as well as new and improved augments, without re-tuning any of the existing content around this increase in character power. This means that there has never been a better time to let wildly overpowered gear give you a bit of an edge when it comes to beating particularly tough content, so consider working on those achievements before Onslaught launches. Examples of things you might want to work on are:

- Veteran and master mode ops bosses (though that requires you to find like-minded people who are willing to do them with you)
- Veteran and master mode story chapters
- Eternal Championship achievements

It had previously never occurred to me to even attempt the Sprint Champion achievement for example (complete the entire Eternal Championship in less than 15 minutes), but after thinking about it I realised that if I'm ever going to get it, the time is now and I better start working on it. The first time I ran a stopwatch in the background - while doing the Eternal Championship for the first time in ages, on a class I'd never done it on - that run took me 40 minutes! But I wasn't discouraged; there was a lot of room for me to improve. My most recent time was already down to 20 minutes, plus I got an Iknayid pet and the Cybernetic Rancor as drops from the bosses.

2. Take your character(s) up to and through Ossus

Obviously you should have done this already since Ossus is great, but I'll concede that there are always more alts to work on. This way you'll be ready to jump right into the new story content once it comes out, and if Ossus is any indication, it will actually be fun to play through it on multiple characters!

If you really want to, you can skip a lot of the stuff that comes before to jump straight ahead to Ossus and beyond, but even if you're not that big a fan of KotFE/KoTET, I personally think that it's nice to be able to make your own decisions instead of being saddled with default choices that may or may not reflect what you think your character would have done. That said, actually taking characters through all that content also means that it will take more time, so better get cracking!


Image courtesy of the Clone Wars Wiki

3. Prepare for Nautolans

With the announcement of Nautolans joining the fray as next playable species having been the undisputed fan favourite at Star Wars Celebration, chances are high that you, dear reader, are also thinking about making one. There are actually a fair few aspects to this that you can consider well in advance: what colour you think they should be, what class etc. Maybe you even already have an outfit idea and could go shopping for it? Just keep in mind that the species' big heads will mean no helmets or hoods, and chest pieces with any large protrusions such as spikes or backpacks are likely to result in clipping issues.

If that seems a bit too "RP" for your taste, there is still the name to consider. Trust me, you're not the only one considering some sort of Kit Fisto pun! You might want to make sure that nobody else has already thought of it before you, and depending on how attached you are to the idea, you could even go as far as creating a placeholder character to reserve the name.

Speaking of placeholders, do you have enough spare character slots? In fact, the matter of character slots may be a pertinent question for you even if you're not personally interested in creating a Nautolan, as it's likely to result in some business opportunities if you keep an eye out for cheap unlocks on the Cartel Market and the GTN in the months to come. There's bound to be a spike in demand for them once expansion day comes around.

4. Clear out your bank and spend those currencies

At first this may sound like pretty generic advice and to be fair, it is something I tell Mr. Commando all the time just to have him ignore me (I'm pretty sure that man has a fortune carelessly buried in his cargo hold). However, in this case I'm not just referring to general tidiness. For example crafting materials that are relevant at max level right now are likely to experience a steep price drop once the level cap is raised (though we don't know how exactly the new gearing system is going to work out).

Eric Musco also officially confirmed that both Masterwork Data Crystals and Unassembled Components will go the way of the dodo with Onslaught, and any leftovers will simply be converted into credits. As the conversion rate is likely to be unfavourable, you might as well use them to buy something useful now! With goal number one in mind, there may still be value in trying to get the best gear you can get right now for example, to help you beat those tough fights while you can still acquire that extra edge.

5. Complete any long quest chains you're on

This is less about hard content and more about time-consuming items, such as the various Aratech missions, which require you to complete a whole bunch of flashpoints or several operations. The reason I'd advise people to do this is that I remember at least one expansion where the big patch caused quest progression on all existing missions to reset. This doesn't necessarily have to happen again, but let's just say there is a chance, and I'd rather be safe than sorry (or annoyed that I have to re-start the mission from scratch yet again).

05/05/2019

Pre-Expansion Energy

Everybody knows that the time just after the release of a new expansion is one of the most exciting periods in an MMO's life cycle, but it's only during the last year or so that I've come to appreciate just how important the time just before the release of a new expansion is as well. I observed it from the outside with WoW's Battle for Azeroth, and now with Onslaught's announcement I see it in SWTOR.

Just knowing that new content is coming is enough to get a good percentage of lapsed players back into the game, even if its release is still some time away. I was utterly amazed the other day when my friends list suddenly lit up with the names of not just one, but two members of my old launch guild (which dissolved less than a year into the game).

For me personally the expansion announcement has done wonders for my motivation as well. It's not that I didn't have fun playing before, but I was just kind of cruising along lately by alternating between doing dailies and PvP. I guess none of what you could call my long-term character goals have been feeling very urgent after two and a half years without an expansion. It's all still going to be there tomorrow, right?

However... with an expansion coming up, you never know! I mean, realistically I don't expect it to change many of the things that I'm working on right now, but strictly speaking you never know - so better get on with it. There is a bit of a sense of urgency now (as far as you can apply that word five months in advance) and it's been helping me to get off my butt and get some things done.

There hasn't been much rhyme or reason to my goals just yet - my enthusiasm is more based on a general feeling of being re-energised than any sort of real plan. So I've done things like getting two more characters their Aratech Ice speeders (the one you get for completing all of the original set of master mode flashpoints), finishing off the Seeker Droid and Macrobinocular missions on one character, and finally starting them on a bunch of others.


Cue my guildie: "I think the last time I did this quest was in 2015..."

It also helps that after Ossus I'm really excited about the current story direction for the first time in years. While KotFE and KotET had their strengths, ultimately I did not enjoy being the Outlander and leader of the Alliance, and I think that put a bit of a damper on all my alt playing. Beyond the sense of boring repetition that you get while replaying the chapters, taking any alt into the 4.0 content and beyond felt a bit like a dead end to me, not somewhere I actively wanted to go.

Since Ossus, I'm actually excited by the thought of taking more alts through the new story for the first time. KotFE and KotET are still going to be a bit of a "hump" to get over in terms of story (since I don't want to just skip them and be saddled with default choices), but I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel now, which is a great feeling.

01/05/2019

An Arena Story

It seems that little Tessal the Mercenary is just having one amazing adventure after another at the moment. Monday night I decided to do a couple of PvP matches for Conquest points, since she was very close to hitting her personal target from all those flashpoints and just needed a little push to get over the line. I got into an arena. When I loaded in, there were three people on the enemy team and I was alone on mine, but soon more people started to load in. It went something like this:

Friendly 1 joined the ops group.
Friendly 2 joined the ops group.
Friendly 3 joined the ops group.
Friendly 1 left the ops group.
Friendly 2 left the ops group.
Friendly 4 joined the ops group.
Friendly 3 left the ops group.
Friendly 5 joined the ops group.
Friendly 6 joined the ops group.
Friendly 4 left the ops group.
Friendly 7 joined the ops group.
Friendly 6 left the ops group.
Friendly 5 left the ops group.
Friendly 8 joined the ops group.

I don't even remember the exact point at which the match started, but I do know that it was just me and Friendly 5 against their full team of four at that point, and unsurprisingly we got obliterated, which is when he quit too. But hey, at least I managed to get four medals before I died.

As I was waiting for the second round to start, now in a mighty team of three with Friendly 7 and Friendly 8, I typed in ops chat: "People must really hate arenas, considering how many joined and left without even doing a single thing." Friendly 7 found this amusing.

We were still a man down when the next round started, but this time the two remaining players on my team didn't leave. I decided to just aim to keep us alive for as long as possible in order to at least gain a few more medals. Soon I found myself thinking that I was doing surprisingly well at this.

Then I noticed that Friendly 7, an Assassin, had already racked up six medals. She was keeping me alive with Guard and taunts. Friendly 8, an Operative, was also helping to keep me alive, throwing me some off-heals even though she was dps-specced, while also still doing some damage on the side.

Suddenly someone on the enemy team dropped dead. How did that even...? Then we got another one of them. The match had been going on for long enough by that point that it went to acid, and we were the last ones standing. I laughed and thought that I didn't even care anymore if we lost after that, because that comeback alone had been worth it.

We didn't lose though. The final round was even tougher than the first (there were still only three of us and they had to some degree caught on to what we were doing), and it went to acid again, but we won again. I finished with fourteen medals.

And this is why I never, ever quit a match just because it looks like we're losing.

29/04/2019

An Epic Two Hours in Depths of Manaan

It's been a long time since I wrote a blog post dedicated to nothing but a single pug run, but I couldn't resist writing down what I experienced this past Saturday. The run I'm about to describe had just about everything: good pugs, bad pugs, angry pugs, the game bugging out in new and interesting ways - the works!


This cut scene is a good illustration of how the entire run felt.

To set the scene: It was Saturday afternoon and I had decided to do the weekly Masterwork Data Crystal mission to run four master mode flashpoints on my Mercenary Tessal (the one I levelled for my original flashpoint levelling experiment). I'm not a fan of this particular quest in terms of effort vs. reward, but I was in the mood to run some flashpoints so I thought I might as well kill two birds with one stone.

I'd already had three pretty smooth runs of flashpoints that I had queued for specifically in order to finish off some story quests. Now that I was all out of missions except for the weekly one, I decided to queue for a random and got Depths of Manaan. It's one of the harder ones to pug on master mode, but also one where I generally feel comfortable carrying people to some extent, and I was healing anyway (which makes carrying even easier).

I noticed that when we entered the facility, our Assassin tank, to whom I shall refer as "Vee" for the rest of this post, immediately took a turn to the left and clicked on the console to start the bonus. This caused me to raise an eyebrow, as the bonus boss in Depths of Manaan is one of the harder ones and pugs rarely attempt him. I didn't mind either way though, and if the tank of all people wanted to do it, I was happy to go along. Our damage dealers were a Juggernaut and a Marauder, whom I shall nickname Lord Rage and Lord Silly going forward.

The first boss, Sairisi, requires you to actually follow some tactics. He is immune to damage while protected by shields from two droids, so to be able to damage him you need to get both droids to half health, at which point they'll retract their shields and start to regenerate. Ideally you want to split the dps about evenly between the two droids so that you have maximum dps time on Sairisi. If it's uneven, one droid will already be regenerating while the other one is still being burned down, and even one shield going back up is enough to make the boss completely immune to damage again.

Anyway, as soon as we pulled, it was apparent that someone did not know how to do the fight as only one droid was actually going down. I initially tried to help even things out a bit and also thought about typing out instructions in chat, but it's a somewhat healing intensive fight so I had to focus on keeping people alive above everything else. I also had Earth, Wind & Fire's greatest hits running in the background and decided to just chill - as long as I could keep people alive, we were going to get there eventually - and about eight minutes later, the boss was finally down.

We continued and reached the bonus boss. Vee declared that the boss was easy "AF" even though our damage dealers indicated that they were unsure what to do. He took the time to type out some short instructions (very slowly) and we gave it a go. Unsurprisingly, we wiped quickly. In short, the fight is about avoiding exploding probe droids that travel down the room in three "lanes", while occasionally biting the bullet by blowing one up intentionally, but in a controlled manner so that the damage is manageable.

I had noticed that Lord Rage had run into what had only been the third droid to spawn and noted that there was no need to blow one up so quickly since we could have simply avoided that one. Vee countered that it was too much hassle to run back and forth between the lanes and that it was easier to blow up some extra droids to avoid having to move so much. This, again, made me raise an eyebrow as I'd never seen it done without the group running back and forth between the "lanes" to dodge as many droids as possible. Surely the damage from the extra, "unnecessary" explosions would kill people? On the other hand, Vee had seemed highly competent so far, so I was inclined to believe him when he said it was possible.

We tried again. Vee was optimistic that now that people had seen how it worked, we'd be fine. And things did go really well for about 75% of the boss's health... until Lord Silly got too close to a droid that wasn't meant to explode and pulled it right onto the rest of the group, causing us to wipe again. Oh well, mistakes happen, right?

Time for attempt number three. Again things seemed to go okay for a bit... until we had another droid pile-up and wiped again. I wasn't even sure what had happened there as I had wedged myself so tightly into the corner of the room that I couldn't really see what was going on with the rest of the group. (I saved a video recording of the fight to review later but it was literally impossible to see what happened from my point of view.)

However, chat suddenly exploded. "Why did you just pull them all?" shouted Lord Rage. "Why did you throw a grenade at them," chimed in Vee, "what did you try to accomplish there?" I was mostly confused. As far as I could recall, none of the classes in our group had any abilities involving grenades. Had someone confused the boss's cryo grenade with a player attack? Did someone use a Cybertech grenade? What had even happened? Had I done something wrong?

"You stupid fuck!" shouted Lord Rage and quit the group. "Oh for real?" sighed Vee. I was standing there like a deer in the headlights. Was this going to be one of those "group suddenly falls apart in a ball of rage" moments? But no... whatever it was that had incensed people so much, Vee still seemed more interested in getting on with it than shouting at people. He queued us for a dps replacement and we instantly got an Operative to replace Lord Rage. Let's call her Deena.

"Please tell me you know what to do," Vee addressed her as she entered. As far as I could tell Deena never replied, but we pulled anyway. This is where my memory actually gets a bit fuzzy - we might have had another wipe or not, but Deena generally did seem to know what she was doing, as either way the boss was dead soon after that.

Vee's "alternate" strategy of blowing up every single droid that came down our "lane" did work alright - if at least two people correctly took turns in order to take care of them. This was theoretically the damage dealers' job, but in practice it ended up being done by Deena and me. Lord Silly still seemed a bit confused about what he was supposed to do, occasionally darting in and out of the group like a shy animal but not actually doing anything useful other than dps-ing the boss. (In fact he was making me very twitchy with his running around, as it often looked like he was about to pull a droid again... but fortunately we managed to avoid that particular problem that time.)

We continued to Ortuno, who I think is by most considered the hardest boss in the instance. Mostly the fight is about the tank moving him around correctly, which Vee handled with aplomb. The rest of the group just needs to remember to run out of the puddles every time the boss casts "Flow" - not a challenging task, but if you get it wrong it's instant death.

Lord Silly died on the first cast, and the combat res was still on cooldown from the previous fight. Once it came off cooldown, I revived him. I mean, even if he was new to the fight, he'd seen how it worked now, right? The next time the boss cast Flow, he died again. The boss's health went down slowly enough that my combat res actually came off cooldown a second time, but after Lord Silly's previous performance, I didn't bother to revive him again. Until he begged to be revived in chat, at which point I did it anyway. This time he managed to survive for a little longer, but then died again.

Eventually the three of us got the boss down (if you've ever wondered whether Ortuno has an enrage, the answer appears to be no). Before the last add had hit the floor, Lord Silly was begging for a revive yet again. I gave it to him, then moved on to the next door. He released anyway, then complained that I hadn't revived him. "Yes, I did," I said. "You just didn't take it." He complained that it had been greyed out. I explained that this was probably because he had died too many times in quick succession, which causes the ability to accept revives to go on a cooldown.

Vee, Deena and I were forced to wait patiently at the door that triggered the next cut scene. But Lord Silly didn't show. Eventually he complained that he was locked out. We went back to investigate, and for some reason the door to Ortuno's room, which closes when you pull him, hadn't re-opened and Lord Silly was stuck on the other side. (Incidentally, if you hovered over it it also wasn't called "door" but "OBJECT HAS NO NAME", which I thought was funny. Too bad I didn't think to take a screenshot.)

At one point I thought that he had suddenly made it after all because a fourth person appeared next to Vee, Deena and me. It wasn't Lord Silly though, it was... a Jedi. "Why is there a Jedi here?" I asked. "Are we in the Twilight Zone?" "Oh good," replied Vee. "I thought I was going insane and had started seeing people." We could also see the Jedi's companion (Nadia) and the Combat Support Droid you get in most solo modes, but it didn't look like he could see us. He happily continued onwards through the door tied to the next conversation and disappeared.


I suggested that Lord Silly should exit the area and come back in, but that didn't help. "What are you guys doing?" Lord Silly eventually exclaimed in desperation. "Being stuck in a small room that we can't get out of without you", I replied, which earned me a +1 from Vee. I suggested that maybe we should all try exiting the area and then come back in. We did so, and now we were all stuck on the wrong side of the door. I thought I could hear the implied eye roll when Vee commented that he should have seen that coming.

That was going to be it, right? Our instance was bugged and there was no way out. (I tried a quick Google search in case this was a known bug with a workaround but couldn't find anything.) "I guess I could try resetting the phase," proposed Vee, who was party leader. "Does that mean we'll lose all our progress though?" I suspected so but wasn't sure. And anyway, what else did we even have left to try? So Vee reset the phase and we went back inside... to find that everything had indeed reset.

Vee: Are we going or fuck this?
Me: Well.
Me: I'm annoyed but I do need one more FP for the weekly quest and I don't mind which one it is.
Me: At least we know we can do this one!
Vee: Let's roll then!

So we started over. And even though it was our second time, it still wasn't a smooth run.

On Sairisi I came to the realisation that the reason he had gone down so slowly the first time wasn't in fact a case of the dps not being split correctly - it was Lord Silly attacking the boss the entire time even though he was immune to damage for most of it. This time he even went so far as to type out in chat that we should be doing the same! High healing requirements or not, that prompted me to pause and reply that no, he needed to hit the droids to remove the boss's shield. As far as I could tell from the target of target functionality, he never caught on though and continued to whack the boss for the entire rest of the fight. Gotta give kudos to Deena there for effectively soloing the adds.

Then we got to the bonus boss and wiped on that again. I think once I saw Deena accidentally shoot one of the droids, which caused it to aggro and explode on the whole group, and another time I swear I saw Lord Silly achieve the same effect by saber-throwing into a whole group of droids. I emphasised that it was important to never attack the droids, but to either run into them or avoid them entirely. Next try we got it down.

As we stood in front of Ortuno again, I quipped to Lord Silly that in case he hadn't caught on yet, standing in the water when the boss cast Flow was bad. He asked what else he was supposed to do. I told him to run with us. And he did! I'm not sure now, he might have died one more time, but he did actually get the hang of the basic tactics this time.

Finally we were able to approach Stivastin, the last boss. His gimmick is that he has a damage absorption shield and needs to be pulled under some fire vents periodically to burst it. We did manage to get this one down on the first try, though we were only seconds away from hitting the boss's enrage/reset timer. Also, Lord Silly kept yelling at Vee (who was doing everything correctly, as he had done throughout the entire rest of the run) to get under the fire more quickly or else we'd be here all day. "Gee, really?" Vee replied, and I have to admit that for a split-second I had a horrible feeling that this might be the straw that broke the camel's back and he might rage-quit, but fortunately that didn't happen. The irony of the one guy who had done pretty much everything wrong on every boss fight trying to tell our highly competent tank how to play was overwhelming though.

When we finally finished, I thanked everyone, particularly highlighting Vee's contribution. He thanked me and said that for an alien, I was quite alright. (Tessal is a Twi'lek.) I also won the roll on the six Manaan Research Data that dropped at the end, so I can't really complain.

Actually, I wasn't going to complain either way. I mean, yes, I had to effectively run the flashpoint twice to complete it once, one guy swore and rage-quit, and another guy was making our lives miserable by being utterly clueless about the fights and also being completely oblivious to just how hard we had to carry him... but I also learned a new way of fighting the bonus boss, met some nice and competent players, saw some funny bugs and generally had a good time. What more could you ask for when doing group content with random people?

27/04/2019

Raise Your Flag

Two weeks ago, patch 5.10.2 added Guild Heraldry to the game, a feature that was originally intended to be part of 5.10 proper but then ended up being pushed back a bit. What is Guild Heraldry, you ask? Basically, it's what WoW has popularised as tabards, a way to create and show off a logo for your guild... except that we don't have tabards in SWTOR, even after this.

Where does this logo show then? Well, in your own guild window, in the guild inspect window that other people can see, and a teeny tiny version also shows next to your guild's name on the Conquest leaderboard if you make it into the top ten. Finally, you have the option to display it next to people's character names, because we clearly needed more stuff floating above our heads.


Mr Commando and I immediately set out to design a logo for our guild (conveniently enough, the design window can be accessed by all guild members at all times, they just can't save their creation without the proper permissions) but quickly disagreed on what it should look like. Also, I was reminded that my sense of matching colours isn't always the best, which in turn reminded me that we have some very artistic and creative people in the guild. So we decided to put the matter to the masses.

In the first round we had people submit their own banner ideas. There were a couple of obligatory jokey ones, but most were quite good. There was a lot of experimentation with different variants of planets, suns and stars to evoke that "Twin Suns" feeling but also some more original ideas, such as utilising the Aurebesh letter T. There was even some discussion on whether the logo should be starfighter themed - hardly anyone in the guild plays GSF, but the name Twin Suns Squadron has its origin in a fighter squadron from the old expanded universe.

Then the officer team picked some finalists, trying to represent a variety of ideas and we put the matter to the vote.


Funnily enough, the winner was the one on top, which was the very first idea I put together. All this effort to have a contest and then you just vote for the original suggestion? I mean, thank you for your confidence... I guess. (Plus there were the obvious "rigged" jokes since I'm an officer and the GM's wife.)

While the designing and voting was still going on, I also started inspecting other people's guilds on the fleet and in pugs to get an idea of what other guilds were doing with their logos. I'm afraid to say that sadly, the majority of them looked dreadfully boring. Every guild gets either a red Empire or blue Republic symbol on a plain black field as its default logo, and most guild leaders apparently haven't felt the need to make any great changes to this. On Imperial side, the Empire symbol is sometimes replaced with something else that's vaguely martial looking (such as a fist or a skull) but without any further adjustments. On Republic side, a lot of guilds just kept the Republic symbol and didn't do anything other than slightly adjust its colour.

There was some creativity on display though, which I thought would be fun to share on here.


I have it on good authority that chloroform isn't green, but that aside, I like how this logo conveys a mood. Smells Like Chloroform is an Imperial PvP guild, and just looking at that banner made me think of Operatives using their Toxic Haze ability on me.


This was the first guild I saw using the logo featuring planetary bodies partially eclipsing each other that I also used in my design and I think it's appropriate for the guild name.


Stroke My Wookie is the biggest Imperial guild on Darth Malgus, so big that its membership is split up into two separate guilds (both of which share the same logo). I guess if you're the biggest guild on the server you can get away with having a plain logo on a black background and still seem cool. Credit has to be given for using the Aurebesh version of the number five for its resemblance to the letter S.


This guild is jokingly named after something from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and since I imagine it would've been quite impossible to have anything resembling the actual Knights of Ni, going for an approximation of the St George's cross as worn by Sir Galahad struck me as a good solution.


I have no idea what this small guild is about- the name certainly sounds like something that would have a story behind it - so I can't exactly judge the appropriateness of the logo, but the chosen green and brown tones made me think of Kashyyyk (the Wookiee homeworld) and maybe that red X in the middle symbolises an explosion or some other negative thing that would give a Wookiee cause to wail? I don't know, like the first logo I posted above I think it just manages to convey a feeling.


This just amused me because of how they thought to use the planet icon to represent a cookie. It totally works too.

How did your guild choose its new logo?

23/04/2019

When You (Can't) Go Back

Bhagpuss, MMORPG connoisseur extraordinaire, has decided to give SWTOR a try at long last and has been busy pushing out first impressions posts pretty much every day since. I've very much enjoyed reading them so far because Bhag's opinions are always well-articulated and often somewhat different from the mainstream, which makes them extra interesting. As an unabashed fan of the game, I've also been pleased by how much he's been enjoying it so far, especially as I didn't expect it to be his cup of tea at all. He himself has expressed surprise at how entertaining certain features have turned out to be when he didn't really expect to like them very much at all.

Seeing all this talk about and screenshots of starter planets made me wistful for my own days as a newbie. Of course you can't go back to that, but you can always roll up a new alt, right? Well... there's that "alt creation fatigue" I've been talking about in previous posts to consider though. What to do?


I eventually compromised by firing up the character selection screen of the Star Forge, where for some reason I have no less than four characters, none of which had even hit level ten or chosen an advanced class. There's Shintar the Mirialan trooper who I believe I originally created out of a desire to play with Redbeard, though I wouldn't swear that this was my motivation at the time. I tried to go dark side on her though and quickly found myself disliking the character (never good for an alt that shares your main's name).

Then there's a human Jedi consular, the only male character I ever created. I'm not sure now why I created him on an American server... maybe I knew that I'd struggle with connecting with a male character and didn't want this to "taint" my regular legacy?

Then there's the agent I created back in the day when Mr Commando and I were at the peak of our desire to level characters together and found that our regular server was down one evening, while a US server was up, so we decided to go there instead. We made it to level three (back when that took more than three minutes) before our regular server came back up and we dropped our new agents like hot potatoes, never to return.

And then there's the Togruta I talked about creating in this post from nearly four years ago - I levelled her to four and then never touched her again.

After carefully considering my options I decided that the Togruta knight would be the most fun to start up again... mostly because I had an outfit idea for her. (The outfit designer has made me so shallow.) I chose the option to turn her into a Guardian and off I went.

The best thing about playing on the Star Forge was that I had no legacy there; I only got to create it once I reached Coruscant. (In fact, I somehow managed to completely miss the legacy creation prompt; it was only because I found myself thinking "Shouldn't I have a legacy by now?" that I checked the icon in the top bar and there it was, flashing at me to choose my legacy name.) Legacy is a great system in many ways, but I have to admit that as a long-time player I also see it as a downside sometimes that you can't ever truly feel like you're starting over because thanks to your legacy you already own all the datacrons, all the class buffs and more, and have a bank full of materials at your disposal.

It feels like it's been forever since I bothered to hunt for the classic datacrons for example. The ones on Tython were easy enough to remember, as was the first one on Coruscant, but in the Black Sun territory something funny happened: I looked a the map and thought "I really can't remember where the datacron is here..." but then just set out to explore the map as I normally would. And what do you know, as I was picking up some archaeology crystals in a corner, I suddenly looked at the stack of containers next to me and knew that this was it. I couldn't remember where to go exactly; I just knew that I could and should continue climbing up those containers until I could reach a pipe, and then I just kept intuitively putting one foot in front of the other until the datacron was mine. The memories!


I also had fun working on my crew skills. I actually had a use for those rubat crystals and got excited to find gathering nodes around the district!

While on the fleet I purchased the Coruscant stronghold. It's still my favourite, but on Darth Malgus I've pretty much got it as I like it and have no particular desire to make any big changes. I was kind of surprised to find it only costing seven credits - to be honest that immediately made me think that this must have been a special put in place for the game's seventh birthday back in December and that nobody remembered to revert the price afterwards. Not that I minded or think that it should be particularly expensive, but seven credits felt like an insanely good (and oddly priced) bargain.

The one thing that put a bit of a downer on things again was the insane ease of combat and levelling speed. I found it very striking that Bhagpuss noted that he hadn't bothered to learn more than four skills on his smuggler because what was the point? I of course trained everything the game would let me, remembering the good old days when this was actually a useful if not required thing to do because enemies didn't all die in two hits. I also tried setting T7 to dps for a bit but eventually just sent him away entirely whenever I wasn't about to do a story cut scene. While on my own this allowed me to use a few abilities at least while fighting in a heroic area, even if the mobs still didn't manage to get me to half health before dying.

And then there's the levelling speed... as I said the Guardian started at level four, but only a couple of hours of play later I was already in my thirties and still not even halfway through Coruscant. Originally you were meant to be around level twelve around this part of the story. I suppose I haven't been helping myself by choosing to do this thing just as Bioware launched another double XP event, but it still makes me itchy. How can you enjoy playing a lowbie if the game doesn't allow you to be a lowbie for more than a couple of hours?

Maybe this is another thing that's making me shy away from creating more alts: I'm actually not sure I would find the low-level gameplay engaging enough to hang around if I came to the game as a new player now, and seeing the sheer OP-ness of every new alt just reminds me of the unease I feel about current levelling and kind of makes me miss the way things used to be pre-4.0.

20/04/2019

KotFE & KotET Veteran & Master Mode Chapters Tips & Resources

I never thought I'd use that many ampersands in a post title...


While I was ultimately quite late to the party in terms of completing all the chapters on master mode, I noticed that the amount of resources on the subject of how to beat them still seems to be somewhat limited (even if things are a bit better now than they were two years ago), so I thought I might as well compile everything I learned along the way into a single post in order to help others who are still looking for help with getting these done.

First, some general notes:

Achievement vs. achievement: If you only want to complete the veteran/master mode chapters for the achievement badge, you can simply bring a friend to help you. They won't get credit for story progress or chapter completion (only the phase owner does), however they are able to trivialise the fights by helping out and you'll still get the achievement. For me it was more about the sense of achievement you get from overcoming a difficult challenge though, which is what the rest of this post focuses on.

Class matters: Your class will make a big difference to how easy or hard you're going to find certain chapters. Abilities that are useful are (in order of impact, based on my own impressions): strong damage reduction cooldowns, having a long-duration crowd control, having a short interrupt cooldown, having the ability to self-heal, stealth. The best class to complete these challenges on would therefore be Commando/Mercenary, while the weakest one is probably Vanguard/Powertech, with everything else being somewhere in-between. If you have a stable of alts to choose from that are all eligible for chapters, this is something you might want to keep in mind before choosing which character to use. Personally I completed veteran KotFE with a Sorcerer, veteran KotET with a Guardian, master KotFE with a Sage and master KotET with a Scoundrel.

Level: You don't have to be max-level to do chapters on a higher difficulty, and there's some theorising that due to the way the scaling works, they are in fact a bit easier if you do them below max level. I did some experimenting with this myself but didn't find any conclusive evidence either way. The only thing that felt reasonably clear was that going in as a fresh level 70 with not the greatest gear makes things much more difficult.

Gear: Going in with the best gear you can get helps a lot. Master mode chapters were originally tuned around the endgame gear available at the time of their release (item level 242), which is not to say that they are completely impossible with less if you're good at the game and chose to go in on a class with good cooldowns. However every little helps, and the fact that at the time of writing this anyone can get up to gear level 258 means that you can give yourself an extra edge that way. Don't forget to also add augments to all your gear slots.

Companions: Similar to gear, the intended companion influence rank for master mode chapters is 50. Again, most fights are actually doable with less, but if you find that you're struggling to survive or do enough dps, boosting your companion's influence level with some gifts is an obvious avenue for improvement.

Spec/role: Don't be afraid to experiment with different specialisations, utilities and roles. Some fights might benefit from increased AoE damage reduction while others really reward every bit of extra mobility. In terms of roles, some bosses that hit extremely hard actually have relatively little health, so the way to go in such cases might well be to have both you and your companion on dps to quickly nuke your opponent down before they have a chance to hurt you too much. If you're wiping anyway, you have little to lose from trying a couple of different approaches.

Other tools: Don't forget that you can use stims, medpacks and legacy abilities, such as your heroic moment and Unity. Basically, you'll find that on the tougher fights, players usually succeed by making sure that they use absolutely every ability in their toolbox to their advantage.

Specific chapter information:

Note that the following are not explicit guides, but blog posts documenting my experiences with various chapters. I did however make a point of describing any and all difficulties that I ran into as well as explaining how I eventually overcame them, while often including video footage of particularly tough encounters as well. I also linked to any outside resources, such as other people's videos, that I found helpful at the time. Sometimes others also added extra information in the comment section. Feel free to add your own if you think it could help someone else!

Knights of the Fallen Empire

Veteran mode impressions
Chapters 1, 2 & 3 master mode
Chapters 4, 5 & 6 master mode
Chapters 7, 8 & 9 master mode
Chapters 10 & 11 master mode
Chapters 12, 13 & 14 master mode
Chapter 15 master mode
Chapter 16 master mode

Knights of the Eternal Throne

Veteran mode first impressions
Veteran mode second impressions
Chapter 1 master mode
Chapter 2 master mode
Chapters 3, 4 & 5 master mode
Chapter 6 master mode
Chapter 7 master mode
Chapter 8 master mode
Chapter 9 master mode

18/04/2019

Looking Back At Past Expansion Announcements

As someone who likes to look back as much as forward (if not more so), all the recent excitement about the Onslaught expansion made me try to recall how I felt whenever new SWTOR expansions had just been announced in the past. I don't think I was that excited? That's one of the great things about having a blog though: I actually have a written record of those times that I can check.

As it turns out, I remembered correctly that I wasn't as excited about previous expansions... but it's almost comical how un-excited I was about some of them when they were first announced.

Rise of the Hutt Cartel's announcement was received with a lackadaisical "Expansion Time, Then?" as I was actually kind of grumpy about having to pay for content that Bioware had advertised as free to all subscribers at E3 only a few months earlier. I wasn't convinced that raising the level cap after only a little more than a year was a good thing, and getting "only" one new planet didn't seem like much of an expansion to me. (How spoiled I was!) To top things off, this was also around the time when a memory leak caused my game to crash several times a night. I wasn't really having the best of times.


Galactic Starfighter's announcement was similarly unexciting to me. Once again I used "expansion" only in quotation marks and declared that I felt decidedly "meh" about the concept of space combat, despite of seemingly everyone else being super excited about it. Admittedly it turned out that my attitude was actually pretty in line with that of the majority of the player base on this one, but still...

Galactic Strongholds had been rumoured for a while when it was finally announced officially. I was kind of ambivalent because I was never really into housing but it seemed at least vaguely interesting. In hindsight it's weird to see myself talk about how much I used to enjoy hanging out on the fleet, because ever since the introduction of strongholds that has changed. I blame the legacy cargo hold... if I could access that from the fleet too, I would probably prefer to hang out there still, but I guess limiting them to strongholds was Bioware's incentive to make people use their new houses (and it worked).

It's also funny to see how I guessed some things correctly, such as that the system would be more about arranging furniture than about building things from the ground up, or that a lot of the best stuff would come from the Cartel Market. On the other hand it's interesting to see some of the things I was theorising about at the time that ended up being completely off-base, such as that we might be getting a new furniture-making crew skill, or that companions might come visit us in our strongholds and wander around instead of being static decorations.

The Shadow of Revan announcement mostly had me whinging about its trailer being lacklustre, Lana and Theron featuring too prominently in the loading screen art (boy, did I have no idea what was to come), not liking the experience boost that was being given out as a pre-order "perk" and feeling wary of  the upcoming changes to the talent system. But hey, at least I acknowledged with this one that two new planets, two new operations and two new flashpoints was a good chunk of new content.

Fallen Empire was shrouded in a lot of mystery and hype due to its fancy trailer and departure from what had come before. I was trying to keep things grounded in my initial analysis, and was actually spot-on with almost everything! Particularly prescient points in hindsight were "personally, I would find Star Wars without a Republic/Empire conflict very un-Star-Warsy" and, in the follow-up post, "re-acquiring your old companions [...] worries me a little because adding sensible reasons for players to hunt down forty old companions doesn't sound like a thing Bioware would do in a post-class-story world". Note that while Bioware has been trying to achieve this, we still haven't got all our companions back nearly four years later, so that was clearly a bit of a Pandora's box. Or how about this one: "An MMO can't live off story alone." Still, I'm pointing all those things out with the benefit of hindsight - at the time I was cautiously optimistic about the expansion despite of my concerns.

We knew very little about Knights of the Eternal Throne when it was first teased, so my comment section was mostly conspiracy theory talk about how the people in the teaser image were probably not Senya and Vaylin (something that's quite amusing to look back on). After that we spent almost three months without getting any more information, until we finally got the official announcement... at which point we still barely knew anything, so that most of my first impressions post was about analysing the trailer.

So yeah, I used to be pretty spoiled when it came to expansions, not really valuing them all that much because they came out frequently. Someone on Twitter pointed out that Onslaught is actually going to be SWTOR's seventh expansion, which is pretty crazy when you think about it, but it's also worth noting that the first four came out within the game's first three years... and that the last one came out two and a half years ago by now. As they say: absence makes the heart grow fonder - after so much time without a chunky piece of new content, I'm definitely more excited about this one than ever!

15/04/2019

Onslaught Expansion Announcement

I bet you that you didn't have the same first thought as me upon hearing the name of the new expansion, because for me it was: "Onslaught, huh? That's going to take some getting used to." The reason for this is that my World of Warcraft guild of five years was called Onslaught, so that's a pretty deep-set primary association with the name that I'll have to change. It's also a break with the previous naming scheme for SWTOR's story expansions, which was more or less "Subject of the object".


Not this Onslaught.

The announcement didn't include a big CGI trailer - in fact there was no trailer at all, but I assume that at least a basic one is still to come. Either way, substance is more important than style in this case, and there was plenty of the former! We got confirmation that we'll be getting pretty much all the big ticket items that people have been asking for in recent months, so yay us! I'm sure more details will be revealed as time goes on but let's have a quick look at the major bullet points and I'll add my initial thoughts on them as they stand.

A new storyline spanning two planets, Onderon and Mek-Sha, that concludes in a new flashpoint on Corellia

Mek-Sha isn't technically a planet in astronomical terms (it's an asteroid) but we're talking about these in terms of gameplay features here and they'll both be big new locations.

Eric and Charles said relatively little about the storyline other than that it's going to continue the Republic vs. Empire thread that we started on Ossus, which makes sense as they usually like to keep the details of these a secret so that they can be a surprise later and to be honest that's how I as a player like it too. The splash art seems to indicate that a big showdown between Tau and Malgus is coming up though.


Onderon seems to have many people excited due to being a planet from KOTOR 2, but since I still haven't played that because they still haven't released a mobile port, it means little to me. (Apparently it also appeared in the Clone Wars, where I still haven't made it past season two.) The only association I had with the name was that C2-D4 repeatedly said that he used to serve the queen of Onderon, so I wonder if that means that he and Jakarro will make a return? Charles Boyd actually asked during the Cantina event whether people would like it if Jakarro was on Onderon, but it was unclear whether that was a hint or him still trying to decide whether to include the Wookiee as a side character or not.

Concept-wise, nothing they said about Onderon or Mek-Sha sounded drastically new and different - Onderon is a place of noble houses so we might get some story vibes similar to Alderaan, while Mek-Sha sounded like another potential haven for smugglers and other shady characters. Mind you, at this point I guess it's hard to come up with a concept for a planet that isn't similar to anything they've done before... I'm sure the devil (aka most interesting stuff) will be in the details.

Going back to Corellia also sounds good to me, because I think it's nice to mix things up by returning to older planets every now and then. I guess I would have preferred it if the main storyline hadn't been tied directly into the new flashpoint, but that seems to be the strategy they are rolling with right now. Oh well.

New operation on Dxun

Dxun is one of Onderon's moons and another KOTOR 2 reference. But hey, new operation, yay! Really glad they took the time to a) actually build another operation and b) do so in full this time after the so-so results of releasing Gods from the Machine piecemeal over the course of an entire year. I don't think it's been stated how many difficulties the new operation will come with - I assume two are a given, but is a third one at least planned, even if it might not be live at launch? No more hardmares please.

Also, the official announcement article says that the operation will feature both something Czerka-related (nice to see they got back on their feet after the whole CZ-198 thing) as well as "a band of fanatical Trandoshan hunters" - return of Kephess confirmed? (I'm not even sure whether I want this joke to be true or not.)

Level cap increase to 75 and a new ability for each class

In case the last two years made you think that Bioware tired of level cap increases, we got confirmation that Onslaught will add another five levels to the game to mix things up again. Plus every class will get at least one new ability! Part of me is like "yes but how many more abilities do we really need", while the other, louder part is like: "I don't care, gimme!" I don't think they've ever added any new abilities to the game that I didn't like; at worst it sometimes took me a little while to figure out what made a new ability good and when / how to use it to the greatest effect. The only thing to watch out for is whether they'll decide to prune any old/existing abilities to balance the scales (which they have done before).

New playable species: Nautolan


I was kind of surprised by the way this seemed to be the single most cheered for announcement at the Cantina, based on the video I watched. Not that it's not a nice thing; I'm just not sure it's nicer than everything else.

It wasn't exactly a surprise to hear them announce Nautolans as the next playable species, as I think everyone had them pegged as the top contender based on popularity and existing assets, but it was a surprise to hear Bioware talk about wanting to tie their release to the expansion, as that's not something that's happened before. The closest we had was Cathar being announced as a tie-in with Makeb, just to be frantically edited out of everything afterwards as they eventually had to be delayed until 2.1. Speaking of that though, weirdly the Nautolan reveal is the one major bullet point they didn't add to the official announcement article either, hmm...

I'm not sure how much use I'll make of this new unlock myself - I do think Nautolans are very cool and I would definitely like to have one, but I also suffer from a certain degree of what you could call alt fatigue at this point, due to already having too many alts that I rarely ever play and feeling like I'm "neglecting" them and that I really shouldn't add any more to the mix (yes, I know that's not rational; that doesn't change the way I feel though).

Big gear and itemisation changes

This one was probably the biggest head-scratcher about the announcement as it was about system changes and slightly vague ones at that, which kind of makes you go: "I guess that sounds good, but I'd have to see it to be able to say how much I like it". The main thing I was hoping for was simplification of the current gearing system, even if I know that something like that wouldn't be very exciting to announce. Not to mention that even if they are planning to do it, they might not have worked out enough details yet to talk about how it will work.

Anyway, that didn't happen - in fact the only thing even vaguely going in that direction was some talk about simplifying the process of moving gear across your legacy, which I have mixed feelings about because personally I've actually avoided doing too much of that anyway as I prefer all my characters to have their own gear sets. However, I guess if this change cuts down on certain guild members (you know who you are) constantly having to log through their entire stable of alts before every operation just to find where they left their trousers this time, I'm all for that.

The bigger issue though was that they talked about wanting to change the way we pursue gear in general, by giving us more different set bonuses to choose from, some of them cross-class and not even combat related. There is also going to be an entirely new gear slot that's meant to allow you to customise your most-used abilities. Eric Musco's made-up example was having a Sorcerer's chain lightning hit more targets vs. turning it into a punchier single target attack. I was instantly reminded of WoW's glyph system ca. Wrath of the Lich King/Cataclysm, which then led to me trying to remember why that didn't really work out, but I couldn't. I don't recall it being an utter disaster, so I guess it's fair enough for Bioware to give their own version a try.

There are two major sticking points that I see, with the first one being balance. SWTOR's player community isn't as obsessed with min-maxing as e.g. World of Warcraft's, so I'm sure there'll be more room for people to play around with different options without being shunned, but it does give the devs more things to worry about when it comes to balancing both PvP and PvE encounters.

The other concern I have can simply be summed up with the words "too much gear". One thing I've really liked about 5.0 was that they did away with separate sets of PvE and PvP gear. However, with all those new set bonuses and new game-changing items we'll suddenly have a lot more to think about than simply those two game modes, because who'll want to stick to just a single set at all times? Just how much of my bag space is going to be taken up by having to lug new alternate gear sets around? Also, and this may sound weird, but on a gut level I'm not sure features that are supposed to heavily customise the way we play should simply be stuck on gear. Shouldn't these things be a bit more inherent to our characters, like our combat specialisations and utilities? These were just the sort of thoughts that immediately came to my mind.

Coming This September

All of this is supposed to come in September, so currently about five months away. I've seen a lot of people say that this is actually less of a wait than they expected, but I don't know why anyone would have expected Bioware to announce this kind of thing much further in advance. Looking back at previous story expansions, they usually announced them around four months before their release. Shadow of Revan even had only a mere two months between its reveal and launch! Which is not me saying that I think five months is short or long, just that it's pretty in line with how they've handled these things previously.

I'm looking forward to learning more about Bioware's plans for this expansion.

13/04/2019

KotFE Chapter 16 Master Mode

At last, more than two years after I first tried my hand at a veteran mode chapter, I completed the last of all the veteran and master mode story chapters. I kept putting off tackling KotFE chapter sixteen since I expected it to be somewhat time-consuming, and I wasn't wrong - I almost had to pull an all-nighter from Friday to Saturday since I spent so many hours dying on and re-trying some of the boss fights. In the end I succeeded however (plus there was some time left for sleep), and as always with these things, being able to say that I did it feels quite good.


There isn't much to say about the trash in this chapter, though it's worth mentioning that I chose to go with the turrets for support, since I remembered them being the "easy extra dps" option. Later, as I was reading up on some fights for hints, I saw at least one comment that claimed that the shield actually makes some of the boss fights much easier as its ability to reflect is completely OP, however the commenter also warned that it only has a limited number of charges which can't be replenished, so if you wipe too many times you basically have to re-start the whole chapter if you want to continue using the shield as you won't be able to gain any more charges otherwise. Obviously I wasn't able to verify this but I thought I'd just put it out there.

KJ-931

When Rav wrote about her annoyances with master mode chapters more than two years ago, she used shots from this fight to illustrate her post, and I can now see why. Boy, is this guy a pain! The two major challenges of the fight can be summed up as follows:

First, like the Gemini Captain, his default attacks hit ridiculously hard. I think his attack speed is slightly lower than hers, but in turn each hit took 20-30k off my Sage's health, which was absolutely insane. The only way I found to deal with this was to do the fight in healing spec and set Lana to heals as well, while prioritising survival above all else and mostly leaving the actual damage dealing to the portable turrets.

Second, the fight takes place in a relatively small room and all the boss's special attacks are AoEs. It's still easy enough to avoid them as a player, but Lana will happily jump to her death at any opportunity, which means that you have to micromanage her to the nth degree and she can only make a limited contribution to the fight. I eventually figured out all the tricks to keep her alive, and yet you can still see her running through an electric circle at around 1:50 in the kill video, which she just happened to survive with a sliver of health through sheer luck I guess.



I'll actually explain all the boss's abilities in detail for this one since the final video doesn't make it at all obvious just how much planning and thought went into every step of the fight by that point (after several hours of wiping).

Pulse Cannon: This is the big yellow cone he does, and as far as I could tell he only casts this if his main aggro target is within its range (probably around 20 meters or so). It's pretty big, pretty painful, and an instant death sentence for Lana if she gets caught in it. I guess that as melee you have to do some skillful dancing around here to avoid either of you getting hit, but as a ranged character I at least had the luxury of simply always staying far enough away to avoid having him cast it, even if it limited the area I could use for moving around. It was also important that I maintained aggro throughout, because if the boss switched to Lana in melee, he would start casting the cone and she'd just die instantly. This was somewhat annoying in so far as I had specced into the utility to gain damage reduction from my aggro drop, which I couldn't actually use in the end as it would always cause the boss to switch to Lana.

Antigravity Grenade: This is the white circle he casts on his main target every so often and should be your favourite ability as it can be avoided easily and in its entirety. Just try to not place it on your turrets if you've got one up. Lana should be safely away anyway as per what I wrote above.

Mortar Volley: This is the nastiest cast to deal with at range, a big yellow circle that starts doing damage instantly, puts a burning dot on you, and pretty much kills you if you don't start running out of it immediately. This became my main consideration when it came to placing turrets, as it sucked to put down a turret and then have it instantly destroyed by a mortar volley. So I always made sure to place them right after he had just cast this to maximise uptime.

Microwave Laser: At 60, 40 and 20% health, KJ will jump around and start channelling red on a large part of the floor. This is easy enough to get out of, but for your companion only if you immediately put them on passive (as there's always a bit of delay until they sheathe their weapons, trundle back to your side etc.). It's also a great time to dps from range as you can just stand there in a safe spot and nuke while the boss does nothing, however I found it more prudent to focus on survival, get both myself and Lana fully healed up for the next phase etc. As an aside, you can get Lana to do some healing even while on passive, but it's very fiddly as you need to target the character you want healed and then trigger each healing ability of hers manually. The important thing to know is that as ranged, I found that unless the boss was focused on a turret, he would re-enter the fight after casting microwave laser by instantly casting another mortar volley on me, which was a problem in so far as if Lana was still on passive at this point, she'd just die as she was still standing on top of me and could never move out of it fast enough. I therefore found it crucial to always sic her back onto the boss about a second or two before he finished casting microwave laser, so that she'd have time to draw her sabre, start moving and be away from my side in time to not die.

Shock Spike: At around 50% / after the first microwave laser, the boss casts an ability called shock spike which places four electric circles around the edges of the room and limits the space you have left to move around in. I didn't find this to be a problem as a ranged character, but again, the companion AI is dumb. Specifically I found that sometimes when I put her back on active after pulling her out of the microwave laser, she'd decide to run back to the boss via the edge of the room, right through one of the circles, and basically kill herself. I did eventually realise that I could at least minimise the chance of this happening by making sure that she and I stood as close to the middle as possible before re-engaging the boss (to make sure that she'd go through the middle and not along the edge).

There you go, I think that should cover absolutely everything.

Dara Nadal

I didn't think anything could faze me after beating KJ, but I was still annoyed to run into this named Knight of Zakuul right afterwards who could basically two-shot you with her melee attacks. This helpful video by GamingInABikini (who had also proven helpful to me while doing KotET chapter two) reminded me that sometimes it's best to just go for a quick burn. With both my Sage and Lana set to dps, I blew my heroic moment, chained my stuns and the rest was a breeze (even if you can see me actually cancelling my legacy orbital strike by accident in the kill video...)



Arcann

Arcann caused me some more wipes, but no more than on veteran mode I think. The basic strategy was the same as I described in the post about that. The main things that threw me initially were these:

- The damage from the "throw manifestation" ability is really high. You can survive it if you're at or near full health, but if you're already low due to having messed something else up, it will kill you. He also always throws the first manifestation, so just get ready to be punted around at that point and focus on getting out of Arcann's yellow cone right after.

- Similarly, taking unshielded damage from the manifestations also hurts a lot. Now, obviously you should always reflect their casts, but I found that bad RNG could screw you a bit there if a set of two spawned at opposite ends of the room, making it next to impossible to reflect both of them so that at least one would knock you down, and if your timing was off they'd both hit you and you'd probably die. You can see in my kill vid that I got lucky with manifestation placement there as they spawned in a way that made it easy to reflect them in pairs, but I went through a fair number of attempts where I basically died to what felt like bad RNG.

- On story and veteran mode I used the shield bash ability to help deal damage to Arcann, but since I went into this fight as dps anyway, I found it prudent to save my charges for when he barriered at 25%, as otherwise there's a chance that you might end up without enough charges to bash him at that crucial moment, in which case it's a wipe.

Waiting for the two manifestations near the end to kill themselves with reflects was even more nerve-racking than on the other difficulties, but it seemed to be the right choice once again as I did manage to stay alive long enough to bash Arcann and win the fight anyway.



Victory!