27/05/2023

Observations about Warzones in PvP Season 2

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I dialled back my ambitions for PvP Season 2. I expect to complete the reward track next week, and then I'll be done with PvP for a little while I think. I don't really have anything to add about the PvP season system in general that I didn't already say last season, but I do have some observations about the way warzones have changed that I wanted to jot down.

Premades

According to the forums, these are currently THE big issue in PvP, and I've read some accounts of people coming up against full eight-man premades in warzones that sounded like they made for a pretty awful experience. However, in all my PvPing since the start of Season 1, I don't think I've encountered a single eight-man premade myself, which makes me wonder just how prevalent this really is.

What I have seen on the other hand is people complaining about premades when there was no evidence of any going on. I mean, it's not like I can tell with 100% certainty how the enemy team is set up, but if their performance is effectively indistinguishable from a pug, who cares? The most bizarre encounter of this kind I had was a Queshball match which was actually pretty balanced and ended 2-3, during which someone was incessantly complaining about how we were up against a premade and clearly never stood a chance. Just, what?

Anyway, the main reason I bring this up is that it's very weird to me that there's this much complaining going on about something that I've never seen, while at the same time hardly anyone seems to talk about...

AFKers

Now these have become the real scourge of warzones since the removal of ranked in my experience. I'm not going to claim that they're everywhere - I've seen maybe half a dozen since Bioware changed the system, but that's still huge compared to basically never having to deal with them before. I wrote a post back in 2017 about encountering an AFKer in Alderaan Civil War and how toothless the PvP vote-kicking system was, but the point is that this was a highly unusual occurrence back then.

It hasn't been highly publicised, but when Bioware removed ranked arenas, they also removed the vote-to-kick system from PvP matches (weak as it was), meaning that people are now completely powerless against saboteurs on their own team and this is definitely getting abused. I'm usually pretty chill about things like losing, people playing badly, or general complaining in warzone chat, but I've got to admit AFKers make me see red. I rarely add people to my ignore list, but people who openly AFK in PvP get an insta-block from me. I know it won't prevent me from getting grouped up with them again, but at least I'll never have to listen to their smugness ever again or accidentally help them out in PvE.

Because to be clear, these are not people giving up in the last minute of a match, or players who just want the rewards from the season track but hate participating in PvP. These are people who are invested in PvP, who get very mad when things aren't going their way and then decide to "punish" the rest of the team by AFKing out, and without any reporting or kicking tools there's nothing the other players can do about it.

I've tried to force AFKers back into action by pulling them towards combat (when on a Sage or Sorc) or running on top of them with an enemy on me, to get them caught in AoE and/or perhaps killed if they don't do anything, but unfortunately that rarely works because it's pretty obvious to the enemy team when someone's just standing there doing nothing and since it benefits them, they have no incentive to waste time on attacking/killing that player either.

I really hope Bioware does something about this. I'm not saying I necessarily want the vote-kick option back (though I'd definitely take it), just... something, anything.

Ancient Hypergates meta

On a totally unrelated subject, has it seemed to anyone else like the meta in Ancient Hypergates is changing? Hypergates has always been one of the more complex warzones due to its scoring system, and I'm not saying there was ever a fixed meta in unranked anyway, but my general experience was that you'd either win by dominating in mid and running orbs or by stealth-capping the enemy pylon at the right time. People rarely tried to brute-force the enemy pylon because if your team wasn't massively more powerful than the enemy, it was never going to work anyway.

However, for a few months now, it seems to me like all the fighting is around the pylons. I used to spend a lot of time fighting for the orbs in mid, but increasingly I see both teams just splitting between the two pylons and fighting there, leading to more volatile games with pylons swapping ownership more often. I'm reminded of how way back in the day when ranked warzones were a thing, people would just fight at the pylons all the time and it wasn't unusual to go several rounds without any pylon cap at all. I haven't yet seen that in regs fortunately, but it does feel like there's more of a push towards that pylon domination kind of gameplay. Is it just in my head?

23/05/2023

Yet Another Smuggler Fights the Eternal Empire

A few weeks ago I made the decision to start my Gunslinger Talara on Knights of the Fallen Empire. This was a bigger step for me than you might think.

You see, Talara was the first smuggler I ever created (back in 2012), and was pretty important to me as an alt for a while. She was part of a levelling duo with a friend during the game's early days, though unfortunately SWTOR didn't stick for him. At max level, she was the first character on whom I actually tried to learn how to do a proper dps rotation. And when Knights of the Fallen Empire was announced, I got her all caught up with the story and was ready to use her to see the new expansion from a smuggler's point of view.

Of course, the KotFE chapters turned out to not be a lot of fun to replay, and the story didn't seem like a good fit for a smuggler at all, so I moved her to the back of the queue. Then the Dark vs. Light event came out and required that we all start new characters of every class from scratch and take them through a bunch of content. As it happened, the smuggler I made for this purpose ended up being the character I played all the way through KotFE for the sake of the achievement. Of course, also taking Talara after that seemed a bit redundant at that point.

And so she has lingered behind, watching the level cap go up again and again. I usually got her to the new cap doing whatever, but in terms of story progression she was forever frozen in time at the end of Ziost. I just didn't want to make that leap - yet at the same time that lack of play made me feel increasingly estranged from the character, which was a bit of a shame. Especially as she's super cute!

Funnily enough, Galactic Season 4 was what finally made the difference. I pretty much never do the seasons objectives to complete KotFE or KotET chapters as I don't like replaying them on characters that have completed the story, and whichever alt is currently working their way through it is usually not on the right step. But this time around, they started the first week of the season with KotFE chapter 1 as an objective, and the related news post stated that week five would feature chapter 5. If Bioware's intention was to encourage players to use the season to work their way through the expansions one chapter or so a week, it worked on me and I finally made the jump into KotFE, only eight years late.


I'll be doing chapter twelve this week as that's the next objective, and we'll see whether the trend continues whenever they release the list of objectives for the next few weeks.

It's just kind of weird to me that thanks to this, I've now taken three smugglers into the "Knights of" expansions - which is more than any other class - even though I think that their origin story is the least suited for the story those expansions try to tell. It's funny to me how the game just sometimes works out that way.

18/05/2023

No More Daily Comms

Hot on the heels of the 7.3 reveals, Bioware made a post on the PTS forum in which they announced another change that's going to come with the next patch: the removal of Daily Resource Matrices, sometimes also referred to as daily commendations.


I was honestly kind of surprised by how much that bit of news excited me. I'm long past the point where I have to worry about upgrading my main's gear, and while I still get the occasional earpiece, implant or relic for an alt, that's just something I do for fun when I'm getting close to hitting a currency cap.

However, the requirement to farm dailies to upgrade any kind of gear never sat right with me, and I mentioned it as one of my major annoyances with Legacy of the Sith's gearing system shortly after the expansion's launch. Due to this, I've probably done more daily rounds in the last year than I did in the three previous years before that.

Some of my guildies hated this part of the system even more than I did - usually they were healer mains like me, for whom it seemed particularly awkward and annoying to go grind dailies (the new loadouts feature notwithstanding), when all they really wanted to do was heal people in operations or PvP.

I also had a couple of guildies who were totally fine with it though, and who were in fact constantly capped on daily commendations since they seemed to "naturally" acquire more than they could spend in a week anyway.

Ultimately, I had no idea how my own dislike of this part of the system compared to the rest of the player base. Being raiders, we're often far from representative of the "average" player. Maybe more casual players spend all their time at max level farming daily areas, and that's why this change was made? I kept trying to tell myself that it probably made sense from Bioware's point of view.

Needless to say, I'm taking the fact that they are removing daily commendations entirely in 7.3 as a sign that I was in fact not a lone weirdo for feeling like the daily grinding required to keep your gear upgraded was in fact not that great. Now that I think about it, daily commendations are also the reason my alts on the other servers don't have a higher item level than they do - I've had to exchange both Conquest and PvP currency for tech fragments at some point or another due to getting close to the cap, but I couldn't use them to upgrade my gear due to always being starved for daily commendations (and outright refusing to grind dailies on the other servers just to gear up).

I figure maybe it was a sort of experiment on Bioware's part to get people to engage with the old daily zones more... in which case my response to that would be: Okay, you tried; let's not to that again. Dailies already have their use as sources of reputation, credits and Conquest points as well as for the occasional seasons objective. I think that's enough to keep them relevant. Having to do them dozens of times to upgrade your gear as well was just overkill.

13/05/2023

A Season of Moderation

When Bioware launched Galactic Season 4 and PvP season 2 at the end of March, I was not particularly enthused. I felt that I hadn't really had enough time to recharge my batteries after the end of the previous season and was therefore less than energetic when it came to going back to completing my seasons objectives every week. Still, I wanted to at least make a start and see how I felt before making any decisions about how to ultimately approach the season.

It didn't take long for me to decide that I wasn't going to repeat my Season 3 experiment of getting the achievement for 100 weekly objectives on every server. I don't regret having done it last time, but in hindsight it took a lot of extra effort for not much of a reward. Also, the fact that I had set myself this stretch goal was the main reason I kept grinding until the very last week of Season 3, which contributed to the feeling of not having had much of a break. Regardless of when Bioware releases Season 5, I should have more of a break this time by simply setting myself the goal of "only" completing the reward track on all servers and nothing else. That should be done quite a few weeks ahead of the actual season end, resulting in more downtime for me.

With the PvP season I was even harsher in my cutting back, after I found myself thinking one evening that I really "should" be playing a few more matches to max out my weekly season progression while at the same time really not feeling like it. I wasn't really that excited about the PvP season concept to begin with, and already gave up any ambitions at completionism last season after my off-putting experiences in arenas, but this time I decided to just aim for completing the overall reward track before the end of the season and not bother with the achievements at all.

The one to complete a certain number of warzone weeklies kind of happened organically already, but the one to earn 2000 medals kept me grinding until literally the last day of Season 1 last time, and I'm just not going to bother with that again. I'm currently sitting at 19 out of 25 season levels completed but with less than 800 medals, so I'd basically have to play enough to complete the whole track twice over just for the sake of that achievement - no, thanks. I've been much happier just completing two to three warzone weeklies a week without worrying about hitting my weekly point cap, and that should still be enough to complete the reward track with plenty of time to spare.

It also helped that when I got the warning that I was approaching the PvP season currency cap, I finally did some research on what you can even buy with these coins (it's not super obvious in game) and found that I basically didn't care about any of it. In the end I bought the stripey Ackley for my Sage just to not run into any issues with the cap.


It's honestly been a relief to dial down my investment in seasons this way. We've definitely hit the point where the novelty has worn off, and instead of just feeling that FOMO rush of wanting to earn all the things before they go away, you know that after this season there'll be another, and then another, and you kind of have to plan for the long term and ask yourself just how many hours of your life you really want to be spending on this. For me the answer to that question is "some time, but not as much as I have been".

I've definitely seen this struggle in my guild as well, with some people already growing tired of seasons in their entirety. It can be fun to have some structure in your gameplay, to have a checklist of tasks to follow that give you that satisfying feeling of having achieved something, but in that same vein it's easy to fall into a routine and start doing tasks you don't actually enjoy. If you don't catch yourself in time to remind yourself of what it is you actually enjoy doing, it's easy to accidentally burn yourself out and reach a point where you just want to step away from the whole thing entirely. I'm honestly glad to have avoided that so far.

09/05/2023

Watch Me Take Part in the Galactic Championship!

I quite enjoy interacting with other bloggers or other types of content creators that play the same games as me, but with work and barely being able to find the time to do all the playing and creating that I want to do by myself, it's not been as much of a thing for me lately (I'm sure other content creators can relate). Looking back on the blog, the last "collaboration" I did was either (depending on how you count it) joining Swtorista on one of her streams back in 2020 or being a guest on the SOTOR podcast in 2017. Either way, it's been a while.

I was therefore quite delighted when Kal from Today in TOR approached me a few months ago to ask whether I was interested in taking part in what he described as a "SWTOR gameshow". The only reason I didn't immediately say yes was that his proposed filming times were between midnight and 2 am in my time zone, and that he said participation was going to require an Imperial character on Star Forge. For all the new characters I created for the purposes of doing seasons on multiple servers, that was an area I didn't have covered yet, as all my characters on Star Forge were Republic.

After a bit of deliberation I decided to go for it though. I didn't love the recording times - while I'm naturally a bit of a night owl and gaming until past midnight isn't unusual for me, there's a difference between feeling like staying up late and having to do it, you know? Ultimately I decided that I was up for it for the duration of the project though. When you're dealing with people from all over the world, there's just never going to be a time that's perfect for everyone.


As for the Imp on Star Forge, I realised that I still had the second free character boost that Bioware gifted to us with Knights of the Eternal Throne seven years ago, and this seemed like a worthy cause to use it on. Kal assured me that I didn't need to be max level or have good gear as we'd only visit the base game's planets during the challenges and there wasn't going to be much combat.

I had used the first free boost that was given out with KotFE back in early 2020 during Covid times, when I quickly wanted another tank to run flashpoints with my guildies. I remembered the process as not unpleasant, if mildly confusing, and it was a similar experience this time around. 

I created Shintoo the blue Twi'lek Sorcerer specifically to be my Galactic Championship character and tried to immediately respec her to heals for a bit of midbie PvP, but for some reason tutorial mode had got turned on. Let me tell you, tutorial mode and healing do not get on - I think my entire ability list only had about two skills on it and I was so confused. I thought my character was bugged or something until I finally realised what was going on and that I just needed to turn tutorials off.

I didn't bother to actively level Shintoo (though I did gain some XP from doing the Ossus story and the aforementioned PvP); I just did some travelling around the base game's planets to unlock quick travel points (which turned out to be a wise decision), and after one of the first filming sessions I also dual-specced her into the Shadow combat style.

All of this was a couple of months ago because Kal put a lot of thought into this project and has in fact been working on it for a while! So in real time, the Championship is already a bit more progressed than what you'll see when each episode comes out, but I won't spoil anything.

Either way, a trailer (see above) and episode one are now up on YouTube, so I thought I'd give it a little shout-out here. Go check it out! Just don't expect to see that much of me because obviously there are a lot of contestants and erm... I have to admit the first few challenges got condensed a lot more than I expected. That's television for you I guess, quite a big difference between what you see on set and what makes it to the final edit on screen. I might make a little "behind the scenes" video of my own once it's all over to showcase some of my own favourite moments that didn't make Kal's cut. Plus obviously I'll share some more thoughts about the experience in writing once it's all over. For now though, just go and watch the videos!

06/05/2023

7.3 Livestream Review

On Wednesday the Bioware team treated us to a livestream to preview what to expect from the next major patch, 7.3. It even started at a really good time for me! I've got to say I really like the way they run these streams nowadays. I still remember when these sorts of streams were always in the middle of the night for Europeans so that I rarely bothered to watch them, and even if I did watch the replay later, I didn't always find it very interesting. The current format is always entertaining to me though.

I was wondering a bit how things would shape up after Charles Boyd's departure since he was always such a great cheerleader for the game, but Musco and Jackie have continued to hold the fort just fine. There was a moment where Jackie completely stunned Musco by suddenly whipping out a fan that made me laugh out loud.

In terms of what was revealed about 7.3, as is my wont I won't be discussing every single thing here. If you want a full summary of the stream, Swtorista or Vulkk have got you covered as usual. This is more about sharing thoughts about the items that particularly interested me personally.

The main event of 7.3 is going to be a new story update and a new zone. I say "zone" because it's going to be an addition to an existing planet! The Interpreter's Retreat is going to be a new area on Voss, from the sounds of it similar to how the Black Hole was an addition to Corellia for example. I wasn't sure whether it was also meant to be a daily zone because they mentioned that it would feature Voss and Gormak working together and that we could steer them one way or another, which to me seemed to hint at another reputation to work on, but the zone's already gone up on the PTS and apparently it only contains regular missions.

There were some comments about how everyone should love this addition because Voss is many people's favourite planet, but I'm of course not one of them. In fact, when I did my ranking of all planets not long ago, Voss came in fifth from the bottom. However, I still liked this announcement because I always like getting new areas to explore, and it doesn't always have to be a whole new planet - adding to existing planets is fine too. While I'm not the biggest fan of Voss, it does make sense as a place to revisit since a lot has happened there since the base game's storylines.

Now, we didn't really get any information about what to expect of the new story in terms of length, but from the sounds of it, it should be decently chunky simply based on everything that's supposed to be in it. Under the title "Old Wounds" we'll primarily continue the Malgus storyline, but Shae and the Mandalorians are also going to show up, there'll be the aforementioned factions on Voss to deal with, and we'll also get an update on the "away team" we sent off to that mysterious planet quite some time ago now. They also showed a teaser clip of Tau facing off against Darth Rivix, so it sounds like there's a lot going on! I'm looking forward to it.

We'll also be getting a new flashpoint and apparently for the first time in forever it will not be part of the main storyline - Musco invited comparisons to Red Reaper. I tried to think back to when we last had a flashpoint like that, and at first I thought it must've been shortly before the introduction of solo modes for flashpoints, but actually the most recent example I could think of was Kuat Drive Yards, which was added in early 2014. Ever since then, flashpoints have always been used to drive the main storyline forward and wow, that's really been a while!

I've been trying to figure out what might have prompted this change and what difference it even makes - I guess it means they could justify not having any (significant) cut scenes in there? But then with the way they've been handling story in flashpoints since the end of KotET, the group version already had minimal to no cut scenes anyway, and I wouldn't think it makes a difference for the artists whether the cinematics they create for the solo story are set in the outdoor world or inside a phase? Honestly, I got nothing. Maybe I'll have some sort of epiphany when I actually see the result for myself. Either way, the new flashpoint will be called Shrine of Silence and will apparently feature an end boss that's going to look a bit like a plant-based Terror from Beyond.

I'm usually not that excited by the item previews they always do in these streams, but I've got to admit that some of the decorations they showed off looked really nice. I especially liked the giant tree and the Voss lanterns, which I always thought looked lovely.

In terms of systems changes, there'll be more updates to warzone medals - the changes they made with PvP season 1 made them a bit too hard to get sometimes and they're now slowly backtracking on that, while awarding medals for different achievements compared to the past. For example everyone's supposed to get attacker points in the future when the team manages to score in Huttball, which sounds nice.

They'll also continue their rollout of economic changes to battle inflation, which will include taxation of item and credit trades, but the thing that stood out to me the most was that their long-term plan is apparently meant to include a full revamp of the GTN and the addition of a buy order system, which honestly sounds pretty exciting! Still nothing about crew skills and crafting though...

We don't know when this patch will launch, but they already managed to push it onto the PTS mere days later. And while they mentioned on stream that Nar Shaddaa Nightlife is meant to start on July 11th and PvP season 3 on July 18th, they were also quick to add that neither of those are necessarily tied to the patch.

With 7.2 I think they actually launched the patch only five weeks or so after first unveiling it - if they can manage such a quick turnaround again, that would put the patch release into mid-June and would put us at a content cycle of about six months between major patches (with smaller ones in-between). We'll see whether that works out.

What was your favourite part of the 7.3 announcements?

EDIT: Almost forgot: if you didn't watch the stream but are reading this before May 18th, you can redeem the code LotsSahar to claim a free stronghold deco featuring Sa'har.

03/05/2023

Paying for Quick Travel

I just wrote about the game's 64-bit upgrade, but there's another feature that came with patch 7.2.1 that I've been meaning to talk about: the introduction of a credit cost for quick travel. Like I said when this change was first announced for the PTS, it sounded like a pretty good idea to me - a point on which a lot of players seem to disagree. While I get that adding an in-game cost to something that's been free for over a decade was never going to be popular with the masses, I've still been surprised by the amount of vitriol I've seen directed at Bioware over this change in particular. Who are these people who feel that paying 500-5000 credits for something in a game where a million is nothing nowadays is an affront to nature?

I've seen some arguments along the lines of "But won't someone think of the children new players!" but while it might be a bit expensive on the starter planets, genuinely new players still have a long cooldown on their quick travel ability anyway, so it's not like this is something that will come up very often. Also, at the risk of sounding like an old fogey, back when I started playing the game, we had to pay to train new skills and new ranks of existing skills every level, which was quite a drain on our credits and I remember that just being able to afford a speeder at level 25 was tough. Yet I still had fun! I think people overestimate how intimidated new players are by being asked to care about money a little bit.

Anyway, what's been surprising to me is how much I've actually enjoyed the addition of credit costs to quick travel. After the initial weirdness of seeing a cost attached to every use of the ability, I begun to appreciate that it actually made me think about travel again. And yes, I said that 500-5000 credits are nothing in this game nowadays, something that is even more true when you've been playing since launch and have billions in the bank, but there's just something about quick travel actually having some kind of trade-off attached to it that's made it more interesting to me.

Back when I still had to deal with the ability having a cooldown myself, before the legacy perks were added that allow you to reduce it to zero, there was at least always the question of "Do I want to put it on cooldown now or should I save it for travelling a greater distance a little bit later?" However, once the cooldown went away, using quick travel was basically always the optimal solution. Taxi routes would get used exactly once on new characters, to travel to a new area and unlock the quick travel point there, and then never again. I sometimes thought about the droid at the interfleet transport taxi and how lonely he must've gotten.


But now, with the cost attached to quick travel - even if its trivial! - other options are at least up for consideration again. Maybe I'd rather take a taxi and save some money. Sure, it takes a few seconds longer, but I was about to get up and grab a drink anyway... that kind of thing. On the fleet I've actually started using the interfleet transport again, because I don't want to pay 5000 credits every time I want to go to the Gav Daragon. It's kind of silly, but at the same time I like it.

I'm also paying attention to taxi prices again for the first time in forever. For example I was amused to find that on Yavin 4, taking a speeder from the base to the temple costs 2000 credits, while quick travelling the same distance costs 2007 credits. What a choice!

I'm not sure my interest in this little mini-game will last - as I said, I never used to pay attention to the cost of things like taxis or interplanetary travel because of how trivial they are, and I can imagine that once the novelty wears off, I might stop caring about this too. But it's fun for now, and even if I stop caring later, it still won't bother me to have to pay. It just makes sense both as a small anti-inflation measure as well as simply for the purpose of actually adding some meaning to the choice of whether to quick travel or use another option, as opposed to quick travel simply always being the best option at all times.

30/04/2023

Technological Advancements: 64-bit and New Regional Servers?

I didn't really comment on the release of patch 7.2.1 last month beyond the fact that it kicked off two new seasons, but it was an important patch from a technical perspective as it upgraded SWTOR's game client to 64-bit. As I said when this move was first announced, I'm not an expert on these things so I had no strong opinions on or expectations of this change. It just sounded like a good move in terms of keeping the game running and functional for years to come.

When 64-bit finally launched, I was hoping that I'd have more to say about it, but I had to hold off on commenting because to be honest I didn't really notice much of a difference. I'll qualify this by admitting that I'm the kind of person who isn't very observant when it comes to game performance... for example I always hear people complaining about FPS drops, but personally I don't even know what my FPS is most of the time and certainly won't notice it changing in any way unless my game lags so badly that it literally turns into a slide show.

I heard some people say that graphics looked a bit better somehow after the update, but I wonder whether that wasn't just the game resetting some settings. For example I soon noticed that something seemed off with my shadows. I wrote a post here once about how I actually ended up turning my shadows down because they made everything too dark. However, it was only while fiddling with the settings after the patch that I noticed that having enhanced shadows off also makes the shadows that characters and objects cast in the world look like utter crap. So it seems to be a choice between either having nothing but a blob shadow under you with the enhanced settings turned off, or cut scenes being super dark. This probably isn't new though, so I digress...

In terms of actual performance, I saw some people say that the 64-bit upgrade reduced lag and desync in warzones for them, but after at first getting excited about these comments, I have to admit I still encountered quite a bit of desync myself, so... About the only improvements I can attest to myself are that interactions with certain objects like cargo bays seem to be a smidge faster than before, and that performance in 16-man ops seems to have improved a bit. My guild's been working on 16-man master mode Dread Palace this past week, and in the past when we used to kill a boss and a bunch of people had achievements pop up, the whole game would literally freeze for everyone for several seconds. This time the "boss kill lag" was still there but felt significantly reduced.

Either way, I guess it's still a win that the update seemed to go relatively smoothly overall. Sure, there were some people that had problems immediately after the patch (something that seemed pretty inevitable) but from what I saw their numbers didn't seem too high and the Bioware team seemed to be on the case to get their issues fixed as soon as possible.

Another interesting development that happened the week after the patch was that Bioware temporarily opened an APAC test server called Shae Vizla to continue their testing as part of a previously announced initiative to move the game's hosting to Amazon Web Services. I didn't take part in this testing, but I thought the news that they decided to launch this test server in the APAC region was very interesting.

Having a server local to your region so you get a decent ping is another one of those tech things I've never really had to think much about, but I know that US players were not happy when during the last round of server merges in 2017, Bioware got rid of their west coast server farm, meaning that all US servers are now located on the east coast. Australians and other players from that region have had it even worse, as SWTOR's APAC servers were shut down a full ten(!) years ago. At the time, there were still three separate servers for that region, but Bioware didn't want to merge them into a single one because they didn't want to force PvPers, PvErs and roleplayers all onto the same server - how times have changed, eh? (Both dedicated PvP and RP servers no longer exist.)

From the sounds of it, moving to AWS will allow Bioware to rent a smaller amount of servers in different locations as needed, which could mean that we might see the return of a dedicated west coast server for the Americans and an APAC server for the Australians. The latter would be extra exciting because it would presumably involve opening a whole new server, something that I don't think we've seen since 2012.

This does of course raise the question of how viable adding another server would be in terms of population - after all the game's much smaller now than it used to be. However, I'm thinking that with most APAC players residing on the US servers now and Star Forge in particular being the largest of all servers by far, you could probably take a bite out of that without harming the existing player base there. The resulting new server would probably be small-ish and might not see all queued activities popping all the time, but it could still be viable, similar to the Leviathan right now. Either way, I'm excited to hear what comes next.

26/04/2023

The Dynamic Pacifist Duo

I mentioned in my last post about reactivating my pacifist Jedi Pacis and acquiring Amity as a companion that I wanted to take them both to Dantooine so they could pat the Kath Hounds and dig up relics together. But then I thought: Why wait until next week to start levelling? Dantooine is a mess this week because of the pirates, but that doesn't mean I can't traipse around the galaxy a bit and have Pacis show Amity what she's explored so far.

So I took them to the heroic terminal on the fleet and grabbed one mission each on every planet where I'd previously identified pacifism-compatible heroics.

The first thing I discovered was that Amity did not like to stay passive, as he reactivated himself every time I travelled to a new planet. I don't know if that's a bug, some intentional setting meant to prevent newbies from accidentally neutering their companion, or just another facet of the way the game resets your character's status in certain ways whenever you travel (such as non-combat pets disappearing).

Speaking of non-combat pets, I had a funny experience in the very first heroic on Coruscant, Trouble in Deed. At one point when I wanted to put a mob to sleep I accidentally hit the wrong ability and summoned a non-combat pet instead (I forgot that as a pacifist, Pacis has a very different quickbar layout from my other Shadows). This broke my stealth and aggroed the mobs I'd been standing next to, though it was no problem as I could just stealth out. However, even after I'd exited combat, the mobs did not (as I was told they were still in combat when I attempted to apply my CC again) - they kept their weapons drawn and remained transfixed by the little droid I had summoned. They couldn't attack it of course, but they clearly wanted to. I ran around the area a bit and was very amused to watch them chase the droid in circles.


On Nar Shaddaa, I struggled a bit with my Two Cloaks Tactical seemingly not working reliably... or maybe it was just a visual bug with the cooldown clock not displaying, but it looked like it wouldn't start adding the second charge sometimes until I un- and re-equipped it. It's weird because I don't recall running into this issue before, but I guess my other Shadows also don't usually spend much of their time standing around waiting for Force Cloak to come off cooldown, so maybe I haven't been looking hard enough until now.

On Alderaan, I experienced the fun of the game being unable to decide whether companions are separate from the player character or not. Basically, while Pacis and Amity were stealthing around, a bunch of Killiks aggroed on him. I wanted to vanish out, but the game told me that I couldn't because I was already in stealth. Which one is it, game, are we still stealthed or not? I had to watch Amity get beaten to a pulp while in stealth (at least he took it like a proper pacifist, bless him) and was only able to cloak and exit combat once the mobs started hitting Pacis. I do vaguely recall experiencing this on other stealth characters before, but I can see this becoming a bit of a nuisance for this duo in particular.

On Balmorra, I did the heroic where you collect intel from the crashed probe droids - an occasion where I decided that Amity could make himself useful by healing Pacis through the damage from the toxic sludge. Of course this was when I noticed that he wasn't doing anything even while set to active. A quick look at his action bar revealed why: like player characters, he needs to have a weapon equipped for many of his abilities, and the one heal he was able to do without his staff was turned off by default. D'oh! I turned it on of course.


Fortunately the remaining heroics didn't reveal any more issues, but I guess this went to show that having a companion definitely introduces new complications to Pacis' life. I was also a bit dismayed to find that after doing all those heroics, I was only sitting on 40k Conquest points. Last time Pacis participated in Conquest, it only required 50k points to complete, and I think it still may have awarded credits and XP as well? I actually approved of all of those things being changed, but when you're a pacifist, every little helps, and on the other hand even small changes can make your life a lot more difficult. Fortunately the Pirate Incursion conquest featured an objective for doing ten heroics, which allowed Pacis to complete her Conquest the next day. During other weeks it might be harder (comparatively), but it should also still be doable as long as I actually remember to log in and play her every day.

23/04/2023

Bad Batch Season 2 & Mandalorian Season 3

Two more seasons of new Star Wars content wrapped up on Disney+ recently, and I wanted to jot down some thoughts on each one.

Bad Batch Season 2

I really enjoyed the first season of this show, and the second one didn't disappoint either. In fact, the one criticism I had in season one, that nobody but Hunter seemed to receive much characterisation, was addressed this time around, with Tech and Echo in particular getting a lot more screen time than before.

While the Batch continued to have their adventures of the week each episode (which I thought were, on average, more interesting than those in season one), the larger story showed things under the Empire getting worse in different ways, from Crosshair realising too late that the status quo he was fighting so hard to defend actively wanted to eliminate him (insert analogy to real life politics of your choice here), to other clones increasingly being "retired" in unceremonious ways. Against this backdrop, Clone Squad 99 continues to struggle to find its purpose, with mercenary work for Cid clearly not being a good long-term fit, and different incentives pulling them towards wanting to seek a quiet retirement versus opposing the Empire more actively.

It was honestly pretty well-written, and I enjoyed the weekly discussions about each episode on my guild's Discord. On the matter of Cid for example, the writers quite deftly dropped hints that her loyalties could go in either direction, and different people had different opinions on what would end up happening in the end. The episode in which the Batch and senator Jennifer Hale work to reveal the truth about what happened on Kamino was also wrapped up in a very clever way. Basically, it was good stuff all around.

The ending raised a lot of questions and I'm looking forward to season three, even if I'm a bit disappointed that it's already supposed to be the final one. With how slow of a burn the clones' overall character development has been, I feel like this show could have had material for many years to come. I also wonder how they can wrap things up in a satisfying manner - on the one hand it feels like the remaining members of the Batch should really join the burgeoning rebellion, but on the other hand it's been pointed out many times that Omega is just a child and that forcing her to essentially live life as a child soldier is hardly ideal. We'll see what the writers come up with.


Mandalorian Season 3

If I had to sum up Mandalorian season three in one word, it would be "weird". The way season two ended there wasn't an obvious hook to work with other than the Darksaber, and that wasn't much to go on (in my opinion). Then they had Baby Yoda Grogu come back in Book of Boba Fett of course, which seemed like a kind of important detail to confine to a spin-off, but okay...

Those things aside, the first episode seemed like a decent start to me, setting up several plot points that I figured were hinting at what was to become the focus of the season. However, then all those things were pretty much resolved in the next episode, and from then on it was basically a crazy ride that made me feel like I had no idea where things were going to go from one week to the next. Looking around at various reviews, I was glad to see that I wasn't the only one who felt like this, though I wouldn't necessarily agree with the level of negativity that seemed to suffuse many people's opinions, because even though I had no idea where things were going, it was still a fun ride for me personally.

Actually, I would say that even considering some of the stranger episodes (the one with Lizzo, OMG), overall season three continued to be "on brand" in the sense that the plot didn't always make sense, but you're so engrossed in what's happening to Din Djarin and Grogu that you let it go.

In fact, and I know this may sound weird to some, but this season actually made me like Din as a character more. People were apparently complaining that there was too much focus on Bo-Katan instead of him, but I honestly thought the way he was supporting her when she was doubting herself was actually very sweet. Plus they generally had great chemistry and the interactions between them were fun to watch.

Once again the way the season wraps up would make for a great ending for the show as a whole, but apparently season four is already in the works. I guess seeing Grogu and his dad live the good life and maybe deal with some smaller problems for a change could be nice, but knowing this show's track record for over-the-top fan service, I guess I probably shouldn't hold my breath for the stakes going down instead of up.