17/03/2020

Levelling Through Flashpoints Post 6.0 - Would I Recommend It?

I originally wrote a version of this post back in January 2016, shortly after Bioware had first introduced level sync to the game and made all levelling flashpoints role neutral. I was intrigued by the idea of being able to level quickly and easily entirely through the group finder and wanted to find out what that was going to be like. The conclusions I came to back then are all summed up in the post linked above, plus it contains links to all the individual posts documenting my Mercenary's levelling journey itself.


I'm going to use the same format for this post, since I think it's still relevant, and will draw comparisons where they seem interesting to me. Sticking to the same headings as last time, let's start off with:

Speed

Just like last time, I intentionally avoided anything that would have artificially increased my levelling speed, such as guild perks, XP boosts or character perks, though unlike last time (when I was rarely fully rested), the casual on-and-off-again nature in which I played my Shadow meant that I benefitted from having some sort of rested XP bonus active most of the time.

Back in 2016, getting from 1 to 65 took me one day and a bit less than nine hours of /played time. I was surprised that getting from 1 to 75 - considering that I had ten extra levels to gain - only took about two hours longer. I wouldn't have expected that extra restedness to make that much of a difference.

More importantly though, despite of the small difference in /played time, it felt like the whole thing took way longer this time around, and looking at the numbers there's an obvious reason for that: while it only took me 37 flashpoints to hit the level cap in 2016, this time around I had to complete 54 of them, meaning that while the overall time required to level was only 6% higher, the number of flashpoints I had to run went up by 46%.

It's hard to find a clear explanation for this. Possible reasons for the reduced XP per flashpoint could be that I frequently forfeited the random bonus this time around, or that "skip culture" wasn't as well developed back then as it is now, resulting in more XP from mob killing. On the other hand though, I benefitted from more restedness this time, things like conquest objectives contributed extra XP (which wasn't the case back in 2016), and the paths of least resistance through places like Taral V or Battle of Ilum are hardly new inventions.

I can only guess that XP gains from flashpoints (whether from completion rewards, mob killing or both) must have received a significant nerf at some point between 4.0 and 6.0. Looking at my /played time, this was probably not an unreasonable move though, as increased familiarity with the content has led to people completing each run faster than they used to back then as well. At least during my own journeys, the average time spent on each flashpoint dropped from 54 minutes in 2015/16 to 39 in 2019/20.

Difficulty

Back when flashpoints were first level synced and made role neutral, there were concerns about the content being too difficult for lower levels. I mostly disagreed. While levelling my Mercenary in late 2015, her completion rate for the random flashpoints she entered was 89% (or 33 out of 37), which I considered satisfactory. That said, I acknowledged that some flashpoints that had been designed with a higher level character's tool kit in mind, such as Blood Hunt, could be a pain at lower levels, and I guessed that playing a healer may have served to elevate my teams' success rates as I could just heal them through a lot of problems.

Now, the big change that inspired me to revisit this whole experiment at the end of last year was that Bioware decided to put minimum levels back on flashpoints, limiting lower level characters to a smaller selection and keeping them out of content that was likely to be too demanding for the average lowbie pug.

And it does seem to have worked! My Shadow's success rate was 96% (or 52 out of 54), and that was without being a healer and therefore with limited ability to save other players from their mistakes. The only time I felt like the group I was in was really pushed to its limits in terms of what the characters could do was on Lieutenant Krupp in the first Kuat Drive Yards run described in this post.

That said, I didn't get the impression that the content has been made too easy or anything like that either. I didn't bother going through my older posts for this, but while reviewing the ones about my Shadow's levelling journey, I also made notes about where I had mentioned wipes and other character deaths, and apparently she was involved in 26 wipes and on at least 27 other occasions people died without wiping the group. That averages out to about one death per run (though of course in reality what happens is that you get a lot of very smooth runs and then the occasional shitshow), which shows to me that Bioware has managed to strike a good balance between making the content easy enough that most groups will be able to complete it but hard enough that you will suffer some setbacks if you don't pay attention, which (to me) is how it should be.


Player Behaviour

Like last time, I thought that on the whole players behaved "nice enough", which is to say that I did not witness anything that I would classify as verbal abuse, people being vote-kicked for bad performance or anything like that. This isn't to say that everyone was always perfectly polite - some players were very friendly but others could be more accurately described as cranky. Most just came across as indifferent towards their fellow pug mates, which is more or less what I've come to expect from automatically matched groups in modern games.

One thing that did seem somewhat different to me, though it's hard to quantify, is that people seemed somewhat less patient to me (which is not necessarily the same as rude). There's always been some impatience in pugs, especially when it came to things like people watching cut scenes, but it seemed to be a more general thing now: barely waiting a minute before wanting to vote-kick someone for lagging behind or being AFK, not wanting to wait for instructions to be typed out, running ahead and not caring if anyone's left behind.

To some extent this may simply be a side effect of us still running Hammer Station in 2020, meaning that more veteran players have perfected the process to a degree that makes everything significantly faster (which would also be in line with my "less time taken per flashpoint" observation earlier). However, personally I can't help but wonder whether over-incentivisation of flashpoints doesn't play a role as well. Basically, as someone who loves flashpoints, I like that gearing up under Spoils of War is most efficiently undertaken in instances, but it also means that players who don't actually enjoy that content (as much) will still gravitate towards it just for the rewards. I'm guessing that these are the ones most likely to be impatient with anyone or anything that "forces" them to spend even more time in there than they would really like.

Social Points, Crew Skills, Money, Gear

Being only social rank four after more than fifty flashpoints feels a bit underwhelming, but as previously observed it aligns with the fact that you only earn points for taking part in conversations and these are limited in most instances.

I did not max out any of my crew skills from gathering this time, though Scavenging came close. This is because I've taken to spending less time on gathering materials from dead enemies in flashpoints - it's always been something that tended to make other players tap their feet, but with the increased push towards speed and not wanting to be left behind I did it even less.

That said, it's honestly also just not really worth it any more - it used to be worthwhile in the past because you would get crafting materials for the current tier, but with everything but Objective Meridian being synced down to level 70, you keep getting nothing but materials for the last expansion, which most people don't really care about at this point.

I made a decent amount of money - more than two million just from levelling and without selling anything on the GTN. I just moved everything straight to the vendor this time around.

Personal loot kept upgrading my gear at a decent pace, but with Bolster it's hard to tell how much of a difference that made anyway.

Story

Besides smoothing out the difficulty curve, the new minimum level requirement for each flashpoint has also reduced the potential for story confusion - no more getting thrown into False Emperor at level 15 to fight the guy who just gave you a mission earlier. That said, I think you would have to be extremely disciplined in your levelling to unlock all content at the right time relative to your class/personal story, so some degree of confusion is still likely when people end up doing Battle of Ilum before completing the Ilum storyline and so on. Then again, this is just one of the side effects of Bioware's relatively lax attitude when it comes to story gating (which I do think is a good thing in general). Let's just say that the in-game signposting to make it clear what's supposed to be done in what order could still be improved.


So... would I recommend it or not?

Back in 2016 my recommendation basically came down to this: I do recommend it if you're an experienced player looking for a change of pace; I don't recommend it if you're a new player as it would be too confusing.

This time around my recommendation will have to be more nuanced, mainly due to a new phenomenon that I haven't really mentioned in this summary post yet but which was a major talking point throughout my posts about levelling: the lack of variety.

Last time around, running the full selection of random flashpoints throughout the entire levelling process, I had a pretty even spread in terms of repetition: Most flashpoints came up one to three times, one (Blood Hunt) came up four times, another one (Cademimu) five times, and another three never popped at all.

This time around I actually ended up abandoning the fully random selection about halfway through the process, as out of 24 runs drawing from the full selection of flashpoints available to me at the time, 14 (or 58%) put me into Hammer Station. Now, part of this can be blamed on the low-level selection being more limited these days and Hammer Station being one of the first flashpoints that unlocks, but the other instance that appears at the same level is Kuat Drive Yards, and I only got that one randomly three times. That's not a coincidence.

As I elaborated a bit in this post, the aforementioned over-incentivisation of flashpoints has led to a whole section of the player base, who seek to earn the most rewards for the least amount of effort, declaring Hammer Station their destination of choice, and it really skews the "random" numbers for anyone hoping to genuinely see a variety of content throughout the levelling process.

However, even if this was not an issue and/or you were to curate your selection to exclude Hammer Station at times, the available selection remains pretty limited for quite a long time, with most flashpoints not unlocking until around level 50. With the increased number of runs required to level up (as explained in the "speed" section), you'll therefore see a lot of repetition of the same flashpoints over and over. Unfortunately this is the opposite of getting a change of scenery; it's boring.

So I can't recommend levelling solely through flashpoints to experienced players seeking a change any more, and I still wouldn't recommend it to completely new players either - while the minimum level requirements have smoothed out the difficulty curve and reduced potential story confusion, there is still room for some confusion. More importantly though, I think that if you're a new player trying to find the fun in SWTOR, being put into Hammer Station over and over again is unlikely to give you the best experience.

Now, all that said, I wouldn't consider flashpoint levelling entirely unappealing. It's still quite fast, so for someone more mechanics-focused who's looking to raise an alt it remains a solid option, especially if you were to add some XP boosters to the mix. It's also a great way of learning your class tool kit in an environment where it actually matters (as opposed to most solo content). I'm still not great at playing Shadow, but the challenges associated with pugging content that can actually kill you have been excellent practice for things such as using my damage reduction cooldowns, playing with threat (when to drop it vs. when to taunt to help someone else out) and more, something that made for one of the most educational and fun parts of Nautalie's levelling journey.

Just keep in mind that you may find yourself being grouped with people with very different goals, from the complete newbie who only just started playing SWTOR to the veteran who just wants to get things "done" as quickly as possible to get their reward. This has always been an issue but has come to the forefront even more with the new gearing system.

And that's all there is to say really!

Here are links to all the installments of my levelling journey in case you want to re-read any of them:

Part 1: Group Finding in 6.0 (hey, the Esseles is hard again)
Part 2: Stuck in Hammer Station
Part 3: Hammered Home
Part 4: Kuat Drive Yards Can Be... Fun?
Part 5: Hammer Station No More
Part 6: Flashpoint Levelling: Halfway There?
Part 7: Flashpoint Levelling: Light at the end of the tunnel?
Part 8: Finding My Fun
Part 9: Harder Better Stronger?
Part 10: Battle of Ilum really IS Hammer Station version 2
Part 11: Finishing Up My Flashpoint Levelling

5 comments :

  1. Currently in WoW Mythic Keystone dungeons, you are required to kill a certain amount of trash mobs. Do you think SWTOR would benefit from something like this to combat the worst of the skip culture?

    Though, I'm not sure how it would work, perhaps the final boss is not available until the requisite amount of trash is killed.

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    1. Sounds more like an awkward band-aid than a solution to me. "People don't like doing the content? Force them!" While obsession with skips sometimes annoys me, I can't deny that it often comes about simply because there is a huge amount of trash in some of those older flashpoints.

      To be honest Bioware has already handled things better in the newer ones by just having less trash in general and not having prerequisites for doing the bonus bosses to avoid that being a bone of contention.

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    2. It's not that bad. In fact it becomes something to optomize. Which trash to skip to which ones you should kill. Since you have to kill some trash, the trash which is dicey to skip gets killed, and the ones which are easier to skip get skipped.

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  2. Well, if I *had* to pug-level a toon and I didn't feel like doing story, I think I would try/recommend mixing heroics to pvp to flashpoints. I mean, PVP is perfect as soon as you hit level 10, get the pvp mission, and get a full left side set. It will be old soon, but at least you'll have something equipped. Heroics are good for keeping your gear up to date while you wait on a more limited selection of fps, unmarking those you don't wanna try... And they also would bring the played time way down, because they give a good amount of xp and money.
    However, I still just love the storytelling and I'm still finding amusement of it -- like, just these days I romanced Lana for the first time as an Empire character.... And got absolutely wtf as she kept going on and on about her and Theron and how she ruined it and how she couldn't let her guard down with him because they'd be on opposite sides soon and I'm like... Nice? I thought I had hit [flirt]? Do you even know what flirt's like? Dude, you've got it bad, Miss Spooky Eyes! Never went through that before, LOL. Just now I got an e-mail in which it seems Koth broke up with my JK... Because she punched him? I mean, he gave her good reason for punching. She had 100% approval rating with him until then, so, it feels kinda quick? Then again, yeah, Koth, don't stay with people who physically punish you! Be healthy!... Still, I had no idea this could happen! Love the small things, really. :)

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    1. I always love it when I run into unexpected small touches like that too. :)

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