23/06/2019

Peace and Pacifism on Dantooine

Since the double dose of the Pirate Incursion event came to an end on Tuesday, Dantooine has been in its dedicated peaceful state. And I've got to say: Dantooine during peace time is both unique and adorable.

There is no other planet like it: Except for some Imperial spies hiding in corners and the occasional angry Kath Hound, it's devoid of hostile mobs. You can easily ride across the rolling meadows from one end of the accessible area to the other with nothing ever attacking you .

There are a bunch of achievements to chase that require you to find some small clickies that have a medium to long respawn timer, which is not something that's particularly up my alley, but there are two regular daily quests too: to inject Kath Hounds with a serum and to dig up some relics. They don't reward reputation or the special event currency, just a bit of XP and credits - they are just a cute little thing to do for fun.

I particularly like the one with the Kath Hounds, considering that I've previously professed my love for them. On Republic side, it has a bonus to pet friendly Kath Hounds, which again, is just adorable.


It got me thinking though: Does the inclusion of these quests mean that we've now officially got a way to play a pacifist character from level 1? If this sounds like an odd idea to you, you've got to know that I've always loved stories about people levelling up in unusual ways: whether it's considering any death a permanent failure, running around naked, refusing to use a companion or going from 1 to 70 exclusively via GSF.

In World of Warcraft, a player also made headlines by refusing to join a faction and levelling his character without engaging in any combat, purely by picking flowers and mining ore (both of which grant experience points in WoW). I always figured that this wasn't possible in SWTOR because while there are non-combat activities that grant XP, such as many GSI dailies, they generally don't unlock until the higher levels and you don't gain character XP from gathering or crew skills.

As I noted previously though, the Pirate Incursion event is accessible from level one, and you don't even need a ship to travel there via the activities window. So you could use this method of travel to get to Dantooine when the event is on, and then log back in once it's over and start levelling purely via petting Kath Hounds and digging for relics once a day. (If anything attacked you, you would have to run away of course, if you genuinely wanted to stay true to your pacifist creed.)

Madness? For sure, but also a really intriguing idea to me.

20/06/2019

Once Upon a DvL Event

Can you believe that it's been three years since Bioware announced SWTOR's big Dark vs. Light event? Two days ago Dr. SWTOR polled people on Twitter about what they ended up doing with all the characters they had to create for this event, and the poll results seem to indicate that most players either abandoned or outright deleted them. However, I wasn't the only one who chimed up about missing an option to state that I simply treat them as normal alts now.

This made me think that it would be fun to look back in more detail on what happened to my DvL alts. As a reminder, I took two of the eight through their class story at the time, with the other six levelling purely through flashpoints, PvP and GSF, only doing their class story up to the end of Coruscant/Dromund Kaas in order to get their ship and acquire mobility. As a general rule, the ones on Republic side have received more attention since, simply because I spend much more time playing there, but even there not all alts are equally loved.

My DvL "main" back in the day, Shilu the Scoundrel, on whom I did all the story content achievements such as completing Shadow of Revan and KotFE, as well as all the major group content objectives such as hardmode flashpoints and world bosses, has actually ended up becoming one of only five alts that are all caught up on current content and ready to jump into Onslaught when the time comes.

It's funny because I already had two smugglers that I was quite attached to when I created her, but the fact that I knuckled down and got her through KotFE for the DvL achievement (something I consider a bit of a chore at this point) gave her an edge over the other smugglers from then on in terms of being used for story progression, because I didn't have it in me at the time to go through the whole thing on a second smuggler.


That said, even though she's been my "smuggler story main" for several years now, it's interesting that I still struggle to think of her as my primary smuggler. Checking my /played time, both my old Gunslinger and my first Scoundrel (neither of whom have started KotFE) still have considerably more play time. I do think that the slower levelling process pre-4.0 allowed me to get more attached to characters than the current way of flying through the levels.

Also on Republic side, we have Starberry the Guardian, who was the second to last character I created for the event, but who quickly became a bit of a favourite of mine. I just think that she looks really cute, and playing Guardian tank is super fun. Unfortunately I don't get to tank very often, and even when I do, my Vanguard is still better geared and I'm more comfortable playing her, which forever leads to poor Starberry being sidelined. Though hey, at least I progressed her class story up to Tatooine/Alderaan by now. (Only took me three years...)


The other two Republic characters, Zeresa the Commando and Shin-dow the Shadow, aren't quite as well off. Zeresa still hasn't progressed past Coruscant, while Shin-dow is halfway through both Taris and Nar Shaddaa. Mostly they come out on the rare occasion when a guild run is short on dps for some easy piece of group content, or when I fancy a bit of PvP as a damage dealer.

For the latter I actually prefer playing Commando, as it's quite fun! It's weird to look back at my post about Zeresa's creation and see me complaining about Commando survivability, but that was before the big buff they received in 5.0. As it stands, she's the only dps character I have that makes me feel like I can actually make a dent in an enemy's health in PvP. Shadow is fun for the stealth aspect but I don't like Balance Serenity spec much while not really wanting to respec her either.

A good way to highlight the differences in engagement between Republic and Empire side is (Command) level. All four of the above are level 70 and have been Command rank 300 for a while (if with the help of CXP packs earned by other characters, but it's still telling that I prioritised them as recipients), but on Imperial side none of my four old DvL characters have maxed out their GC ranks, and Cheriza the Juggernaut isn't even level 70 yet.

My favourite over there is undoubtedly my Sniper Corfette, because even though I don't like Sniper gameplay, I loved secretly siding with the Republic at the end of her class story, and ever since this whole loyalist/saboteur thing came into focus on Ossus I've been meaning to make some progress with her as she'd be the perfect candidate to become an Imperial saboteur. I haven't actually got her any further than Rishi yet though.

I'm also quite fond of Shinister the Assassin. Deception is the more fun dps spec for Shadow/Assassin in my opinion, so doing some PvP on her is better for that particular fun fix than using Shin-dow. Only the other day I decided to finally play through her class story on Balmorra and I'd forgotten just how fun some of the inquisitor's lines are... "How do you know I'm not a Colicoid?" Now that I think about it, it's been a long time since I last played through the inquisitor story, so maybe I should give her some more love on that front.


Shi-rah the Merc and Cheriza the Jugg are honestly the least loved of the lot. Shi-rah only hit level 70 last week when I took her to Dantooine on a whim, and Cheriza hasn't had anything to do since 2016 other than a handful of PvP matches and that one time I took her along to a casual guild operation on Imp side. Still, I don't see that as a sign of not caring - after all there are only so many hours in the day, even fewer of them are free time, and I have so many alts to play!

The point is that I do not value these alts any less for having been created during the DvL event. That said, I think that the ease and speed of levelling since 4.0 has generally made it harder for me to get attached to any alts created since then. You just don't spend enough time getting a feel for what you'd like their characters to be or how to play them, and there are fewer opportunities for memorable moments to occur that would make you feel more invested in them.

17/06/2019

Hearts and Minds

While game update 5.10.3's focus was on the release of Dantooine, it also included a surprising little story addition: a mission called "Hearts and Minds" that takes place after Ossus. It's quite short and purely dialogue-based, but really well done.

I've expressed disappointment in the past when e.g. the Arcann romance consisted of nothing but a few lines of dialogue and a kiss, but in this update it didn't feel like more should have happened, and the conversations seemed highly customised. (Plus we didn't even know that it was coming, which is always good for expectation management.)

As far as I can tell none of the events and choices in Hearts and Minds are of great importance, but a lot of variables are taken into consideration and expressed in some way, such as your faction, whether you're loyal or a saboteur, whether Theron and/or Koth are still around, whether you're in a romance with either of them etc.


I looked up videos of a couple of permutations that I currently expect to never see myself, but avoided others so as not to spoil myself. For example I haven't seen the Theron romance dialogue yet as I'm holding off on doing the mission on my Scoundrel because Koth's "exiled" state is apparently bugged right now. (And I think he exiled himself in her story... to be honest I'm sometimes struggling to keep track of what happened on which character at this point.) I'm also really starting to feel the pressure to level up a saboteur; as I heard that some of their dialogue choices are hilarious!

The basic non-spoiler summary of events is that you have a brief meeting with some of the high-ranking members of your Alliance, and then you visit the fleet to either take part in a brief interview (Republic) or hold a short speech for the troops (Empire).


This seems to mainly serve two purposes: to further cement your stance as a saboteur or loyalist, and to give you a refresher on where you stand with some of your Alliance members. For example my inquisitor had Theron asking for reassurance that she merely wanted to win the war against the Republic, not destroy them all - presumably as a set-up/reminder that he might leave you if you treat his old faction with too much brutality.

Imperials are also faced with Bey'wan Aygo handing in his resignation as he doesn't want to fight the Republic. I've been trying to find out if there's an option to kill him if you don't like him leaving, but I'm guessing not, even though I haven't come across anything conclusive. As it stands he offered my characters to train up a replacement in the form of Commodore Pardax, who then takes his place as the "contact" for any outstanding Alliance alerts you might still have in your log from him, and can be seen standing in the base's hangar next to him. You can tell that she still has a lot to learn because she's only level 21! I hope we don't have to level up our standing with her all over again though.


As I said there are a fair number of conversation options I haven't seen, but among the versions of the quest I did experience I wanted to note a few more things that I liked:

Paxton Rall gets a mention by Aygo as offering useful naval support if you recruited him.

Imperials get to meet up with Darth Krovos of Kuat Drive Yards fame, and if you rescued Admiral Ranken in KotFE chapter 15, she says that "Zasha and her family send her regards". I always wondered if those two were an item, considering that they seemed oddly close for a Sith and an Imperial officer, and that pretty much confirmed it for me.

I tried two different versions of the Imperial loyalist speech, the one to increase the troops' fervour for war, and the one emphasising change and reform. The former seemed to meet with approval from both of my Sithy bystanders, while the latter caused Lord Izar to express some doubt, just for Krovos to talk right over him and say that it was a great speech and that it expressed exactly what was needed.


Finally, a small thing, but I was kind of impressed by the number of Imperial soldiers that were actually lined up for the Imperial speech. I've long been somewhat disappointed by SWTOR's crowd scenes and assumed that they had to be kept small due to the limitations of the engine, but either that has changed or they found a way to work around it this time.

What were your thoughts on this mission?

15/06/2019

Points and Pointlessness

Sooner than expected, Tuesday's patch brought the return of the Conquest point change about which I expressed concerns two weeks ago, and which crashed the servers last Tuesday. This time it "only" caused the game to crash whenever you looked at the mission or Conquest tabs, which was still something to behold. (Seriously, I don't think my game had crashed this much since 2012.) A server restart took care of that particular issue quickly enough, but the game remains somewhat laggy during busy times, as it's now trying to assign Conquest points to every little action.

The reports from guildies who had briefly seen the way this worked a week ago, before the change had to be temporarily reverted, were not exaggerated. The Conquest point gains assigned based on normal experience earned are absolutely insane at level 70. Yes, I know it's also double XP week right now, but still. After less than two days of playing, my main was "accidentally" sitting on a personal score of about 80k points, without even trying... with your personal "target" for the week still set at 15k.

And I know this is not going to be a popular opinion, but I find that kind of sad.

More than anything the current situation actually reminds me of what was done to levelling heroics in 4.0: They used to be casual, open world group content, and I loved them. Then Bioware changed them into basically another form of solo daily quests, and all the people who like dailies and who didn't care for the old heroics went: "Yes! Best change ever!"

And because there are apparently a lot of people who like dailies, this was seen as the popular opinion, and the end result was that people who liked dailies now had more of them than before, with two different names (the ones actually called dailies and the ones called heroics), and people who liked casual, open world group content (like me) had no content of that type to play anymore.

Conquest has always been an objective-based endgame system. While you could technically also participate at lower levels, the general idea was quite obviously for it to be something to keep you busy at max level. The different objectives gave you goals to work on, and the changing weekly events provided variety in what kind of goals were available.

I think Galactic Command caused a bit of an identity crisis for Conquest, because the two systems were filling somewhat similar niches, giving you a bar to fill via a variety of activities to earn rewards. At least that was my theory as to why, when Bioware revamped Conquest in 5.8, they narrowed down the objectives a bit and emphasised the collaborative aspect more heavily than previously.

The initial version of the updated system was probably a bit too stingy with objectives, but this was rectified relatively quickly, leaving the new Conquest in a very good place in my opinion. I've been participating in it almost every single week since then, much longer than the original iteration of Conquest ever managed to keep me engaged.

After this week's patch though, Conquest objectives have suddenly and decisively become utterly pointless, because the amount of "passive" points you automatically earn for the simplest of tasks, from killing a group of mobs to completing a single daily quest, is so insanely high that pursuing any particular objective for its comparatively piddly Conquest point reward is pretty much a futile endeavour with no real benefit. From what I've seen, the most efficient way to fill your Conquest point bar now is to simply do dailies/heroics or grind mobs.

It doesn't really matter though, because you'll get points no matter what you do. You'll get enough points to hit your target if you've never even heard of Conquest. I'm pretty sure that there's a significant number of casual players out there who'll be very surprised this week to suddenly get a random quest-like pop-up that suddenly gives them free stuff for nothing in particular (as far as they can tell).

And in my opinion, that sucks. Like with the heroics, a type of gameplay that was one thing has suddenly been turned into something completely different. And since that "something different" is "get free stuff for whatever you were going to do anyway", forums and blogs are full of praise for this change. But all I'm seeing when I read "I love the new Conquest" is: "I didn't care for Conquest before, so thanks for turning it into something different now that gives me free stuff for doing my dailies".

Meanwhile my own gameplay experience is diminished, because Conquest goals feel like a thing of the past now, as my Conquest bar just fills itself in parallel to my CXP bar, with no notable difference between the two other than different rewards when the bar is full.

Make no mistake: I'm not saying that Conquest needed to be hard, before anyone accuses me of some kind of elitism. In fact I just praised the Pirate Incursion event for its variety of new and rewarding objectives only a week ago. I'm saying it should have remained something that requires deliberation and conscious decision-making about which activities to do or not do. We already had a system that rewarded you for playing any way you like, and I don't see why we needed another that works more or less the same way.

I will keep participating in Conquest of course, because there literally isn't a way not to anymore, unless all you do is roleplay on the fleet. But mindlessly showering me with rewards is not the same as actually giving me something interesting to do.

12/06/2019

Alderaan Places

I join an Alderaan Civil War in progress on my Mercenary alt. I don't know why she's the one who ends up having all these adventures as of late; it's not as if I play her particularly often. Just weird luck, I guess.

Anyway, the match has already started, but hasn't been going for long yet, as only one turret has been capped and both scores are still high. I run towards mid the Command Center (!) which is usually where most of the action is and where I can be of most use as a healer.

While we fight, the second side turret gets captured - by the same team, and I notice for the first time that said team is not mine. Not a good start, but at least we should be able to get mid with those odds and then we can take it from there, right?

Nope. We fight, I hit every cooldown I have, but eventually I go down while being nuked by four different opponents.

Seeing that everyone else around me was also already dead or dying and that mid is lost, I head for snow the Generator (?), where I can see some of my team members fighting and it looks like we might stand a better chance of winning. However, I've barely jumped off the landing platform when out of nowhere I have three enemies on me again, and of course all my defensives are still on cooldown. Why are they even here? I'm nowhere near an objective! I die much more quickly this time while the enemy team captures their third turret and the helpful announcer voice calls out that "an enemy is unbeatable". It's gonna be one of those games, isn't it?


Since I'm not interested in throwing myself into the maw of the exact same enemy gang a third time, I try mid again, where the crowd appears to have thinned out a bit. I support the lone Juggernaught there and come agonisingly close to capturing the turret not once, but twice, but enemy reinforcements arrive just in time to prevent it and kill me yet again. At least someone on my team manages to capture grass the Crash Site (?) in the meantime.

I return to mid once more, because after the carnage I was just subjected to it suddenly seems suspiciously empty... but another attempt at the turret gets interrupted by some pebbles coming at me from behind a pillar, and when I see what I've come to think of as "the kill squad" coming around a corner again, I don't think twice and make a run for it towards snow - which my team just managed to capture.

So now we own two turrets... but we're way behind, with our ship on less than 200 health while the enemy's still has more than 500 points left. "Too late, it's all over," a dejected team mate announces in ops chat. "We need three to win and that won't happen." Another agrees, and to be honest so do I... so I decide to attempt to regain at least a bit of my dignity by standing guard at snow.

This time I'm not alone though, and soon several enemies come over from mid to skirmish. They aren't quite so hot when it's not three or four vs. one though. With four of us vs. four of them we manage to at least hold our ground.

"Your ship is nearly lost. Turn the tide, Shadow Squad! Take back the artillery!" the second announcer chimes in as our ship ticks down to less than one hundred health points, when someone... captures... mid?


I take a moment to type "lol" into chat. I don't really dare to hope, but just having made that comeback, even if only briefly, feels worthwhile on its own. I continue to run in circles and heal people... but now I can't take my eyes off the score indicator. The enemy ship's health is ticking down quickly with three turrets firing at it, and it's already almost down to 200. If we can only hold that third turret for another minute, then we'd be back to winning with two!

Eventually I notice the attackers starting to peel off to run towards mid, and I follow to continue the fight there. Ultimately only one of our defenders remains at snow, and she eventually gets killed, losing the node and asking in chat why everybody abandoned her. But by that point the enemy ship is on less than 40 points while ours still has more than 80. Thirty seconds later the warzone is ours.

"That was pretty awesome!" I type in chat.
"Very surprised," concedes the Generator's last defender, who was also the person who'd declared the match a certain loss a few minutes earlier.
"That's a lesson for ya, never give up!" adds the Juggernaut with whom I was fighting at mid earlier, adding a happy smiley face for emphasis.
"Yee-haw us," agrees the second person who had expressed doubt in chat earlier.

I know I've said it before, but this is why you shouldn't quit just because things look bad for your team: If you leave as soon as it looks like a loss, you'll never get to experience those awesome moments when your team unexpectedly manages to turn things around.

09/06/2019

Dailies on Dantooine

So, we have a new daily area on Dantooine! How is it?

The daily lovers in my guild seem to adore it, based on the fact that some of them have literally done it several dozen times over the last couple of days. Me, as someone who's not quite so fond of dailies but doesn't mind doing them on special occasions or with a specific goal in mind... I think it's pretty solid, though I don't like it as much as Ossus.

SWTOR's version of Dantooine is certainly very pretty and also quite open, making it easy to get around. I was surprised to note that the mobs feel a bit tougher than usual, to the point where it actually feels worthwhile to use things like crowd control, interrupts and cooldowns on some pulls, which I like as it makes the combat more engaging. I already mentioned that it's very rewarding in terms of Conquest, and the reputation vendor has some pretty good stuff for sale, including a lot of decos. Finally, you can tell that Bioware really tried to make the quests a bit more interesting - there isn't a single one that asks you to just kill x mobs.


Despite of all this and having done the full set of missions on both Republic and Imperial side several times now, I struggle a bit to achieve good flow. While I actually love the vehicle quests for example (the turret defense mission on Republic side is similar to the one on Iokath, which I also love, and its mouse droid counterpart on Imperial side is short and cute), others are a bit... annoying.

For example quest credit in groups is once again somewhat hit and miss. Laying mines on Empire side is shared (but apparently only if you stand right on top of each other), but revealing them on Republic side is not. Tagging Nova Blade ships and speeders as Imperials gives shared credit, while destroying them as Republic does not (though at least you can both target the same camp without having to wait for it to reset or anything like that).

On Republic side the mine quest has a bonus mission to kill Imps, and for some reason half the Imperial mobs in the area don't count towards it. In general the mine quest seems to have way too few spawn points for both factions, which can turn it into a real drag.

I'm also not super fond of the way they decided to split the meta quests this time around. I really liked the way Ossus makes it a valid option to do everything in one day or to split it over two days. On Dantooine you must do two days of dailies to complete the weekly quest, and while you could technically leave out one or two quests by doing five and five or six and four, you'd then miss out on the meta daily once, as it requires you to do all six missions.

Finally, I'm not sure how I feel about the heroics. I generally love heroics, and right now they have some funny stuff going on which I'm not sure is intended, such as that you can rush to the end of the Hugo one and click the door in combat to instantly teleport your whole group inside, or that a stealther can get past all the mobs in the power station, use the elevator and cause all the mobs to despawn. But I appreciate that not everyone is a fan of the format, so requiring the completion of five for the weekly feels a bit excessive, as it means two days of normal dailies and two days of heroics.

There are a few more positives though: First off, I like the way they incorporated a little story quest for characters who've done Ossus. If you haven't, the terminal will only play a short snippet of a news report about Dantooine (which could have been a bit longer I'll admit) but otherwise you get General Daeruun or Darth Malgus cutting in and telling you why they think Dantooine is important right now. I don't think we've ever had a recurring event incorporated into the main storyline like that, and I think it's neat. (Though why it causes one daily mission to then have two extra steps remains confusing to me.)


Also, and I'm surprised that I haven't seen more people talking about this, but Dantooine is actually SWTOR's first open world area that scales you upwards. The technology to do so (Bolster) has been in game since launch, but it was initially only used in PvP and then in instanced PvE content. Until now, planets only ever scaled you down, not up.

I decided to take a level 20 alt on Satele Shan straight to Dantooine and it was really a surprisingly smooth experience. The lack of defensive cooldowns and escape moves made me feel a bit squishy, but dps was fine, thanks to Bolster taking into account the number of abilities you have available, and additionally buffing your damage if you have fewer moves.

In fact, even though the event was officially advertised for characters of level 20 or higher, the solo content tab in the activities window apparently makes it available from level one. A guildie of mine used this option at level two (when you have what, two abilities? Three?) and was bolstered so hard that when he jumped into the turret daily first thing after arriving, his turret managed to one-shot all the gold mobs. Again, not sure if that was intended, but I guess I don't see the harm. I wouldn't expect new players to accidentally run into that option at level one and get confused.

Mind you, just because Bolster works that doesn't necessarily mean the players will accept it. I was actually kind of amused when I joined a group for the heroics on my level 20 and was instantly removed again after joining. I did ask why that was and was told that I was missing too many abilities in my rotation at level 20. I didn't waste any time arguing and the next group I asked took me along happily enough, but it was still interesting.

Also, it is worth noting that while dps isn't an issue, the lack of survival cooldowns at low level is definitely painful in the heroics. Even while trying to take care to always run out of red circles and the like, I still died enough times (mostly from things like random aggro moves and dots) that after we had finished the third heroic (which coincided with my last death) I had a two minute cooldown on being revived and just returned to base. So I guess I should add that while I think it's fine to do/join the heroics at low level, you should be realistic about what you're in for. When I helped my guildie's level four through the heroics later, he didn't die once as I knew that if he got aggro he would need quick heals and made sure to provide them.


We'll see whether another week of this event and then seeing the different missions during peace time will change my first impression.

07/06/2019

Pirate Incursion Conquest

After I expressed some concerns about the idea of Conquest points being awarded based on a percentage of regular XP in my last post, I actually felt vaguely vindicated when this change went live on Tuesday and literally crashed the servers - it was causing them to lag so badly that this particular part of the patch had to be reverted during an emergency maintenance to make the game playable again. It vaguely reminded me of the time when the automated group finder for operations was meant to be changed to 16-man. Whatever happened to that anyway?

But I digress. According to those who were actually able to play a little during the big lag fest, Conquest points for straight-up XP were ridiculously overpowered. If I understood it correctly, some of my guildies were doing an operation at the time and everyone in the group basically hit their personal target just from killing trash. While the change has been reverted for now, Eric said on the forums that they're still planning to bring it back eventually - but I hope that if they do, they'll at least consider tweaking the numbers a bit, because as I said in my last post, I don't really want Conquest to become another bar that you just fill mindlessly and automatically.

Anyway, the patch also gave us Dantooine and I have thoughts on it, but I want to spend some more time playing there before I actually write anything down. (I've had a limited amount of time to play over the last couple of days.) In the meantime I'd simply like to express some love for the Conquest event that this new planet is tied to, "Pirate Incursion", because this event feels like it was designed specifically to address some issues with the current Conquest meta.


First off, there's the fact that it features seven planets instead of the usual three (nine if you count Balmorra and Taris twice for being split into separate Republic and Imperial versions). Actually winning first place on any planet still remains a challenge largely due to the fact that no more than three or four guilds on the whole server can do so in an average week. That's why I love Total Galactic War so much, and I'm sure I'm not the only one: With more than twenty planets up for grabs at once, it's a whole different (and much more inclusive) game.

Pirate Incursion isn't quite Total Galactic War, but more than doubling the available number of planets is still a big deal, and since this is going to be a recurring event along the lines of Relics of the Gree and the Rakghoul Resurgence, it should happen reasonably often as well, giving a whole number of guilds additional opportunities to call themselves Conquerors for once.

The planets featured in the event seem to have been chosen with care as well. Dantooine was a given of course, but Taris as the other large option was clearly not a coincidence either: out of the previously existing seven large planets, it was the only one that had only been available during a single event (apart from Total Galactic War), and a not particularly frequent one at that (Flashpoint Havoc).

A similar pattern can be seen among the medium and small yield additions. Like Taris, Balmorra had previously only been available during Flashpoint Havoc, and Ossus had only been a target during the Rakghoul Resurgence on Alderaan. Likewise, the Black Hole had only been available to be conquered during the Rakghoul Resurgence on Corellia, and Ziost could only be invaded during the Balance of Power Conquest. The choice of Rishi is the only one that isn't entirely obvious to me, as it was already featured in three other Conquests outside of Total Galactic War, but who knows - Bioware's internal metrics might well have shown more players still missing the Conqueror of Rishi title than the ones for other planets.

The objectives are also noteworthy because at last we have planetary objectives for Balmorra and Taris! Until now they were the only two planets that didn't have any Conquest objectives associated with them to kill mobs or do quests (aside from Quesh, but there's little to do on Quesh). This was noticeable to me as I like to kill two birds with one stone whenever possible and would sometimes use rampage or daily objectives as inspiration for which alt to play in a given week - e.g. if Alderaan Rampage was an objective during an event, I would choose to play a character who's currently doing her class mission on Alderaan. So it was very noticeable to me that Taris and Balmorra were effectively dead ends with that approach because they never featured - until now that is.

Finally, this event is just crazy generous in general. Just doing the Dantooine weekly on any character is enough to hit your personal target and then some, because for some reason all the daily quests on Dantooine grant more than three times as many Conquest points as you would usually get for different dailies during other Conquest events.

So thanks for paying attention and showing some love to your planetary conquerors, Bioware!

03/06/2019

XP, CXP & Conquest

I mentioned in my post about the Onslaught gearing stream that I had a few things to say about XP and Conquest, so here goes.

First off, Charles and Eric said that once Galactic Command becomes Galactic Renown, CRXP will simply be based off the regular XP numbers you would gain if you were still levelling at max level. This may not sound like much but is actually a pretty big deal in my eyes because of how different the two systems are right now.

Basically, Command XP is heavily focused on rewarding you for doing what you could call endgame content, which generally means repeatable activities, a lot of which involve other players. I mean, SWTOR doesn't draw as strict a line between levelling and endgame as some MMOs, and technically you can quest, run flashpoints or play GSF at any level, but you probably know what I mean.

As a reminder of just how skewed the ratio between XP and CXP is right now, I decided to do a couple of simple tasks on both a level 70 character (to earn CXP) and on a level 60 character (to earn XP):

- Do a side quest (I chose Explosive Discontent in Kaas City)
- Do a warzone (OK, I had to do a couple to get comparable results, as you get more for a win than a loss and more for an 8v8 than for an arena, but you get the idea)
- Kill a few outdoor mobs (possessed people in front of the Dark Temple)

Killing a level 15 possessed Sith initiate (strong) netted me 3,456 XP on the 60, and 15 Command points on the 70, which is only 0.4% of the regular XP number. The quest gave my level 60 76,208 experience points, and my level 70 227 Command experience points - and that last one was with a boost applied! This made it worse in terms of CXP than the mob killing, as it was less than 0.3% of the number I got in experience points ten levels earlier... but OK, just because the number is smaller that doesn't have to be a problem if it scales down the same way across all content, right? This is not so, however.

Losing an 8v8 warzone for example got me 84,187 XP on the 60, and 4,986 CXP on the 70. So here the max-level number was actually almost 6% of the levelling number, meaning that participating in actively promoted endgame content rewarded 20 times as much CXP as just continuing to play as you would have while levelling by doing quests and killing mobs. Or in other words (and this is more what it feels like in practice): if you continue questing and killing mobs at max level like you did while levelling, you suddenly get bugger all XP for it.

Now, in fairness Bioware did have grounds to nerf mob CXP at least - remember the guy who hit Command rank 100 three days into KotET due to farming a heroic area on Tatooine in an ops group? Basically, with Galactic Command being the only way to gear up, and mob killing being the fastest way to do so if you did it right, the game suddenly turned into a mob farming simulator, which is not something it was ever meant to be.

The result was a massive nerf to CXP gained from kills... but they did ease up on that again after a while, as Galactic Command was improved upon and actually gave you a bit more freedom to actually make some progress by playing your own way.

Still, the spectre of the crazy power-leveller hasn't been banished entirely. Whenever there's a double XP event for example, "bug farming groups" will sometimes form in Bugtown on Balmorra, an area that's very densely packed with mobs that are easy to kill, where a certain type of player likes to power-level their umpteenth alt by simply grinding mobs in a group for a couple of hours.

I don't see this as a problem as long as it remains a niche style of play - but I think if Renown experience is meant to scale the same way as normal experience, Bioware will have to keep an eye out to make sure farming bugs won't suddenly turn into the new best way to get endgame gear.

That said, I do look forward to the transition from normal levelling to "endless levelling" at the level cap becoming a bit more organic. Right now doing any sort of quest content at max level feels extremely unrewarding if you're not doing it primarily to see the story.

Now the other matter is Conquest, which will also be tied to XP gains to some degree in the future, in fact already starting with tomorrow's patch. Now, this won't be a 1:1 conversion, as you'll only get a small percentage of XP as Conquest points, but still... in 6.0 it will also start to reward gear.

I have to admit that my first instinct was to not be happy about this one, even though I should also benefit from it becoming yet another little bit easier to hit my personal Conquest target on any given character. I also don't inherently dislike the idea of getting gear rewards from Conquest... but there are two issues I have with this general direction:

The first is simply that I think Conquest should remain its own, distinctive thing. In fact I talked about this back when the system was first revamped in April last year and people were complaining that it was suddenly much harder to hit their personal target by just doing whatever. If both Galactic Command/Renown and Conquest fill a bar based on your XP and give you a box of rewards for it, what's the point of having two different systems doing the same thing?

The other fear I have concerns competition between guilds. Several times now my guild has managed to beat guilds that were much bigger in terms of active members than ours (we figured this out via the /who Command) but whose members clearly weren't particularly interested in Conquest, with a lot of them just logging on to play through the story or whatever. Yes, I'm biased here: I want my guild to keep winning!

I like that an interest in how Conquest works and making an effort to participate in specific activities that reward Conquest points can currently beat raw numbers (to some degree). Anything that makes Conquest more "passive" means moving away from that and more towards favouring whichever guild can simply get the most members to log on and play in some fashion, regardless of what they do and whether they are making any effort to work together.

I guess I'll find out about just how much of an effect that will have tomorrow.

31/05/2019

Onslaught Gearing Stream Thoughts

I've said often enough that I'm a grumpy old fogey when it comes to streaming (it's not for me), but that didn't stop me from staying up late last night to watch the planned dev livestream about gearing in Onslaught. 10pm wasn't that late even for a work night, and to be honest I was just way too curious about what Charles and Eric would have to say about the new gearing system, feeling a mix of positive excitement and slight trepidation. I've never doubted Bioware's good intentions, but I do remember that there was a time when they genuinely thought that Galactic Command was a great idea, and any arguments brought forth by the community about why this wasn't so just resulted in us being told to wait, and that we'd be sure to love it once we saw it. (We all know how that turned out.)

I needn't have worried this time though. The stream was highly informative and entertaining, and the tl;dr version of this post is basically that I thought most of it sounded good. I'm sure there'll be things that need tweaking, and there'll be something that doesn't work out as intended, simply because MMOs are complicated and that's how these things always go, but you could tell that a great deal of thought went into their plans for the new system and they made sure to avoid any obvious pitfalls.

Also worth noting was that they started the stream by stating that they were very dedicated to gathering feedback in a timely manner this time around (which is again, a nice contrast to Galactic Command, which was dropped on us as a done deal). There will be several rounds of PTS testing for which they are even planning to bring back the old reward titles, there'll be reddit AMAs, and they'll even send out surveys!

Keith also made an appearance early on and said that the game had subjected us to a veritable rollercoaster of emotions over the years when it came to gearing: "whether to get data crystals, not get data crystals, whether to use Galactic Command, not use Galactic Command" etc. and that he wanted the team to go back to the drawing board and learn from all this. Honestly, that was just incredibly heartening to me and once again made me appreciate just how great it is to now have a Game Producer who both knows and loves the game and understands where its problems lie. [/end Keith fangirling]


Also, the way he just sort of slid into the frame during the stream was kind of funny, as captured in gif form by Snave.

Anyway, if you just want a factual summary of what was said, you can find one in this forum post and a proper official blog is still supposed to be forthcoming as well. I'm not going to repeat it all in detail; I'm just going to pick out some parts to share my opinion on.

They went into some more detail about the new set bonuses and tactical items, which didn't really reveal anything drastically new in my opinion, just expanded on what had already been said. The only thing that was noteworthy to me here was that they explicitly stated that tactical items are meant to be rare, at least initially. They also listed some examples of item effects they've come up with so far, most of which made chat go "whoa, that sounds OP". Trying to balance all this is going to be fun...

The one entirely new thing they brought up was that the new gear is also supposed to have a new thing called "amplifiers" on them (apologies for saying "new" three times in a row there), which is basically a chance at that item having some random extra secondary stats such as "increased dot damage" or "faster gathering". I initially had a moment of panic there, thinking that this sounded a lot like one of the things that WoW players have been complaining about in recent years, but Eric was quick to clarify that while the original stat assignment is random, you can "recalibrate" amps to change their stats to something else. Okay.

Mostly I wasn't sure what to think of this one. Did we really need another stat slot on top of armourings, mods, enhancements and augments? Is this the sort of thing that excites people? At the same time it almost sounded as if they didn't want us to worry about it too much, as apparently amps won't be taken into consideration for PvE boss tuning and will only have a relatively small impact. It's like they want us to care and not care about them at the same time. Gonna file these away under "wait and see".

The second half of the stream focused on how we will acquire gear in Onslaught and that's where things got interesting. Basically they did still want to realise the original idea behind Galactic Command, to let people earn gear from pretty much anything, but it sounds like they also wanted to give us back the feeling of actually getting rewarded with items for completing specific tasks. As Charles and Eric put it: "Gear drops from enemies, hey!" - "Wild concept!" I do have to admit the thought of actually getting useful loot drops from flashpoints again really excited me, as that's something we haven't had in many years.

There will still be vertical progression, with harder content rewarding better gear, but mainly the focus seems to be on getting us to collect armour with different set bonuses and tactical items. Everything will be legacy bound and they fully expect us to trade things around between different characters. This brought up the issue of storage space, which led to Eric dropping the almost off-hand comment of: "What if you didn't have to store any of your crafting materials in any of your inventories? Hopefully that'll clear up some space for ya!" - which made the chat go wild (including me). Right now I only have a couple of free slots in my legacy cargo hold, and about three and a half of my six tabs are taken up by crafting mats, so yes, this change will make a big difference.

Useless gear drops are supposed to be drastically reduced via RNG protection and the gear level of rewards scaling with what you're already wearing. I'm not sure if that means that everything will be personal loot going forward? Waiting on clarification on that...

Galactic Command will become Galactic Renown, intended to be purely supplementary and with no more tiers, so that you can theoretically get the best gear out of your very first crate (depending on what you're already wearing). Levels will become pointless and basically just a cosmetic thing to raise for bragging rights, and they will also reset every so often in what will now be considered seasons. Not sure what's going to happen to the other stuff that currently comes from Command crates, such as cosmetic gear and pets - some open questions here. Also, apparently Conquest will start to give gear too?! I'll save my thoughts on that as well as on the changes to (C/R)XP for a separate post I think, as it's something quite near and dear to my heart.

Now, with the sheer number of new gear faucets, we'll still end up with lots of stuff we don't want or need, or that one slot for which we can't quite get the right thing. This is where the new currency comes in! It doesn't have an official name yet, so they jokingly referred to it on the stream as Charles Points / Chuck Bucks.


Twitter user Greyias even drew a picture of one. You know you've done well when your stream inspires people to do fan art.

You can deconstruct unwanted gear (which is going to be similar to reverse engineering but doesn't require you to be a crafter) to turn it into crafting materials and this new currency, and then use that to craft or buy what you actually want from a vendor.  (You'll also be getting more of the new currency as an activity reward.) I guess this is not dissimilar to the way unassembled components work now, but I guess the balancing will be different as you will also get the new currency from PvE and other activities.

So basically what you'll be doing is: run specific content you like for (somewhat but not completely random) rewards, then convert any unwanted rewards into materials or currency that you can use to acquire what you're missing and optimise what you already have.


Pretty much like they illustrated on the slides. Don't mind the not so happy expressions I somehow managed to capture here.

It didn't occur to me immediately after watching the stream, but now that I'm spelling it all out to myself a second time, this does feel like a system that tries to learn from the past and take all the parts of previous gearing systems that worked best:

- Making it rewarding to do actual content (e.g. getting set bonus items from flashpoints, something that was something that I loved in the base game)
- Allowing more than one avenue to acquire gear with the best item level (like we had with the final iteration of Galactic Command, before Ossus)
- Allowing people to simply go to a vendor for what they're missing (as has been the case throughout several iterations of the game pre-Galactic Command)
- Allowing unwanted gear to be turned into currency too (like you can currently do with Command crate drops)

The big unknowns are mostly the new factors:
- Everything being legacy-bound sounds great in principle but there might still be some unintended side effects. For example I personally prefer to get each character their own gear set - will I feel pressured to send my main's gear around to all my alts going forward purely so that their rewards will scale higher?
- Just how well will this loot scaling thing work? (See above.)
- Inventory management (even with the additional storage, the new focus on collecting different set bonuses might result in overcrowded cargo bays)
- Various unknowns, such as how exactly you'll be rewarded for doing PvP or GSF. Will you just get a box with a random item?

All that said, overall I'm feeling optimistic about everything I've heard, and especially about Bioware's renewed dedication to gathering and listening to feedback. I actually went and posted some questions in the forum threads currently dedicated to feedback about what was said on the stream, and I'll definitely also fill out any surveys they'll send me. Plus I should probably check out the PTS when they put it live! I haven't been back there since checking out the Rishi stronghold and the big PvP changes last summer, but this sounds like something that would really benefit from as many people as possible playing around with it, and the return of the title rewards sounds great too. (I currently only own one of them, First Line of Defense).

I'll definitely be keeping a close eye on more news about this as it gets released. Is there anything that stood out to you about this news drop above anything else?

29/05/2019

Seek And You Shall... Be Surprised?

Bhagpuss' adventures in SWTOR continue to surprise and amuse me. I mean, here are the developers trying really hard to funnel new players into just doing the storyline, by highlighting the main quest chains in bright purple and hiding all side missions by default, and what does Bhagpuss do? Barely halfway through his class story on his first character, he starts doing macrobinocular and seeker droid missions.

I tried to alleviate his confusion about them a little bit with a helpful comment, but after posting it I did find myself pausing for a bit. Was I sure that my assessment of seeker droid areas only rewarding "junk" was still accurate? Just how long had it been since I last visited one anyway?

As I was driving around Hoth in search of information about nerfs (don't ask), I drove past one of those areas that caused my seeker droid to light up because it had detected something interesting. I decided to detour towards it and do a little digging to refresh my memory.


I did not find any of the "junk" I was expecting, such as low-level mods and green implants. I guess someone at Bioware did bother to go through the loot tables to remove those at some point. The first thing I found was a seeker droid related consumable that, according to its tooltip, "reduces the deployment time for your Seeker Droid by 100% for 1 hour". Wow, so it's instant then? Actually... as it turns out, it "only" makes your Seeker Droid go about twice as fast (whoever wrote that tooltip apparently doesn't understand how percentages work), but it was still a neat little thing that I previously hadn't even known existed.

Other things I proceeded to dig up were various speeder parts (they are a type of loot I vaguely remembered though I hadn't thought about them in ages, and I always thought they were much rarer), more of the speed boost consumables, some blue "secure crates" containing grade seven crafting materials (this was about the closest to what I'd consider junk, because while not totally useless, rank seven materials are of little value six years past their prime), GSI reputation tokens (no good for me anymore since I'm maxed out, but useful loot in principle), as well as one piece each of the cosmetic Dread Seed and Star Forager gear sets (that's the one valuable I actually remembered existing but had never seen myself before).


It was kind of mesmerising and before I knew it, I'd spent a full hour digging, at which point I asked myself: Just how long was this going to continue? As far as I remembered, dig sites were supposed to deplete after a while, but maybe that had been changed too? I looked it up and the exact way it's supposed to work is that the dig site stays up until someone finds the "special treasure". Since I was the only person working on it, I figured that this might be the reason for it taking so long and decided to keep going.

As it turns out, the system does still work this way, and I did eventually find the special treasure. Unfortunately that was indeed junk - a piece of purple level 55 gear, which is pretty much totally worthless now. Special treasure my arse.


While this was an anticlimactic conclusion to my little treasure hunting adventure, I was still positively surprised by how much better the loot had been than I expected. For example I got so many of the speeder parts that I was able to go and buy one of the speeders in the GSI offices on Nar Shaddaa straight away. It's nothing special in terms of looks, but it was still a nice little reward that I hadn't expected to get when I started digging.


I'd almost consider going back to dig for more, but let's be honest: While the treasure was marginally better than I had expected, I still spent one and a half hours just walking in circles in a small area of Hoth and shaking my fist at the seeming inaccuracy of the directions I was given at times. (My tip: Always use one of the consumables that are supposed to improve accuracy. The process is maddening enough either way, but at least this alleviates the pain a little.) There's a reason players haven't been clamouring en masse for Bioware to add more content for this system.

Back in October they actually said during a dev livestream that they were going to bring back macrobinoculars and seeker droids on Ossus, with the latter system also slated to receive some improvements. Based on the complete lack of coverage of the subject once 5.10 actually released, I'm guessing that this feature didn't make the final cut though... oh well. Nobody seems to be missing it either.