It's Onslaught Time!

Tomorrow today SWTOR's long-awaited new expansion Onslaught launches at last! There hasn't been much hype about it compared to the previous two, but the other day it was actually advertised on the official Star Wars Twitter account - which is always enough to make us long-time players feel faint with shock - so maybe word about its release is finally getting around at last.

I left my final bits of expansion preparation until way too late... mostly because I forgot that spending certain currencies and then vendoring what you bought involved waiting out bind timers that don't progress unless you're actually logged in.

In other words, I realised that I had a crap ton of Command Tokens left over, and that allowing them to simply convert to credits at the default rate was going to leave a huge amount of money on the table.

The official conversion rate is going to be five credits per token, so if you have 50k of them saved up across your alts, you'll get 250k credits for them.

Alternatively, you could spend those same 50k tokens on buying 1,020 belts at a price of 49 tokens each and then vendor all those belts for 15,325 credits a piece instead... resulting in a total gain of more than 15 and a half million credits instead.

I'm not exactly short on money in game, but that just seemed way too wasteful, so I've been spending the last couple of days logging into and out of characters to claim tokens, buy belts, chuck them into a cargo hold and then wait two hours until the timer had run out so that I could vendor them.

Riveting gameplay, I tell you, but it's not like it's hard to just leave the game running in the background and move my character every so often while doing something else in the meantime... such as writing this blog post.

Live from my Dromund Kaas stronghold

Aside from crazy belt trading schemes, I haven't really made any further preparations - I remember when I would load up my quest log with completed dailies the night before expansion release to get a head start on levelling, but those days are fortunately long past... I don't think I've had trouble making it to the level cap since Shadow of Revan.

I also actually took two days off work again - thanks, Bioware, for always launching expansions during a time of year when I usually have a few days of leftover holiday to burn anyway. Expect my posting frequency to increase again over the next couple of weeks, as I'll be talking about everything from the new story to the new systems as usual!


Looking Back on Three Years of KotET

Seeing how we only have six days left until the release of Onslaught, it's about time I wrote the post looking back on the current expansion that I've been meaning to write for a while. It's not exactly a tradition, but nothing about Knights of the Eternal Throne has been traditional!

In fact, it probably featured the biggest period of upheaval for the game since its launch year and the free-to-play transition, at least from a player perspective. Business-wise, I'm sure the first year was a much bigger deal, what with the many unmet expectations and resulting lay-offs. But from a player point of view, it wasn't actually such a bad time, considering the sheer amount of content that was being released.

Knights of the Eternal Throne on the other hand was a bit of a mess from the beginning. The story was solid, but it was originally meant to go on for much longer and was quickly cut short (for whatever reasons).

After the heavy single-player focus of KotFE, there seemed to be some renewed interest in releasing group content, but initially only in the form of uprisings, which were a bit awkward. I really wanted to like them, but ultimately I was not at all inspired to repeat them unless I was going for an achievement or something. I couldn't quite put my finger on why they just didn't grab me for the longest time, until a commenter described them as flashpoints with the interesting bosses taken out and more of the sort of trash pulls put in that everyone always wants to skip.

And of course there was Galactic Command. Not going to re-hash that story yet again! Let's just say that it was quite a disaster at launch; it was probably the period of time in which I was the most unsatisfied with SWTOR gameplay-wise that I've ever been, and it made several good people I knew leave the game for good. Boo!

The first couple of months after launch mostly seemed to be dedicated to damage control. We will be getting back to Republic vs. Empire, honest! And you'll get a new operation too, even if it's only one boss at a time!

The release of Iokath in April 2017 was true to this change in direction, but felt somewhat clumsily done. Yes, we were getting back to Republic vs. Empire, but the plot felt like it had been written with a single destination in mind and little concern for whether it made sense how we got there. Iokath also featured our first new daily area in years, yet it was awkward to navigate and initially released with several dailies actually costing you money instead of awarding it (yes, really).

In May, Keith Kanneg becoming the game's new Producer gave many of us new hope for improvements. And ultimately, I think he has been good for the game, but it's been a very slow process. I'm a bit hesitant to speculate ever since I read John Staats' WoW Diary - in which he proclaims that player speculation about what's going on inside video game development is pretty much always wrong, no matter how well thought-out - but what it felt like from the outside above all else was like Keith had to completely clean house and revamp a lot of things, which took up a lot of dev time that could otherwise have been used to create new content.

After he took charge, we basically got a slow trickle of new content alternating with systems updates: the second Gods from the Machine encounter was released a full three months after the first, then a month later we got a new flashpoint with some story, then another three months passed until a big round of server merges, and so on.

It took almost a full year for all five bosses in Gods from the Machine to be put live, and the traitor story arc, consisting of three bits of story tied to an equal number of new flashpoints, took a full nine months from start to finish. It wasn't bad content, it was just coming out so, so... slowly.

The traitor story arc did also mark an interesting turning point from my point of view though. While the first chapter, Crisis on Umbara, continued in a similarly awkward vein to Iokath, part two was a marked improvement, and part three was all-around enjoyable again. It was also an interesting time to be playing and engaging with the community, as there was a lot of discussion about what to make of the traitor's actions, which was the kind of thing you only get to experience right at the release of such new story content.

After that we had to deal with another relative drought of content for several months, until Bioware revealed that a new, bigger piece of content was coming in December, which would eventually be followed by a whole expansion. It's kind of weird to think that this was a year ago now and said expansion is only launching now.

Three years is a long time for any MMO to go without an expansion, but it has been even more so in SWTOR's case, which was pumping them out mere months apart before that (even if they were smaller in scope than what many other MMOs call expansions). It kind of felt like Bioware just completely lost the plot for a little while after KotET's launch, with everything a bit of a mess and no clear plan in terms of how to proceed.

I don't have a citation at hand, but I even remember Keith saying at one point that he wasn't that keen on expansions and preferred smaller content updates himself, which may have contributed to no moves being made towards working on another big content drop for a long time. I'm glad that the cries for a new expansion eventually won out though, even if it took a while. I'm looking forward to playing it in a few days!

As for what comes after... who knows? I remain eternally optimistic that things are maybe back on track now and the next big update won't take three years, but I honestly don't know. It's a persistent rumour that the team working on SWTOR is much smaller than those working on comparable MMOs, which would obviously limit their resources if true. But I take heart from how passionate they seem to be and that - raw quantity of output aside - I've felt that they've been taking steps in the right direction for the past two years, both in terms of story and in terms of how they interact with the community. For me, Jedi Under Siege has easily been the most enjoyable addition to the game in years. Ultimately, those are things that matter more to me than the sheer frequency of new patches.


PTS Success (Sorta)

Yesterday the official SWTOR Twitter account helpfully reminded me that the Onslaught PTS is scheduled to shut down tomorrow on Friday, so I decided to finally sit down and get those PTS achievements done that I started working on over a month ago.
I returned to my level 73 Guardian tank on the PTS, queued up for all the group content (which is when I noticed that they added the one-boss operations like Toborro's Courtyard and the Colossal Monolith to the group finder, which is nice) and for unranked PvP and went off to do some heroics while I waited for the queue to pop.

I had only completed two by the time I got bored of waiting and figured that there clearly weren't enough people queuing for PvE group content to make anything happen on Republic side. That I wasn't getting any pops in the sub-75 PvP bracket was hardly a surprise either, so I returned to Odessen to use the terminal there to level up to 75.

When I re-queued after dinging, I got a warzone pop almost instantly, so that's how I then ended up spending most of my evening. I would have preferred to have a look at some of the newly re-tuned flashpoints to be honest but when you need to get your achievement credit now you take what you can get.

The gear rewards from PvP were really lackluster. While PvE content apparently showers you in loot right now, I only got a little loot box every other PvP match, which usually contained some crafting mats, some warzone adrenals and a green piece of gear. Half a dozen greens wasn't exactly a fantastic payout for a whole evening of PvPing.

I also couldn't quite figure out what was needed to qualify for a reward box, whether you simply needed to win a match or what. I'll admit that this was at least partially my own fault though as my inventory was a huge mess, meaning that I didn't always notice the appearance of a new box right away.

Some more changes had been made to the UI since my last PTS play session, such as an updated character window, which I didn't mind nearly as much as the new item tooltips. The only annoying thing about it was that it was not yet implemented/broken for other characters, so if I tried to inspect another player the result was only a blank window with an alignment bar in it.

Also, the little person icon on the very left of the top navigation bar kept flashing (like the icon for proficiencies does if you have unspent points) but I couldn't figure out what it was that it wanted me to do so it kept flashing away all evening.

The biggest point of interest was the amplifier system/UI though, which we were supposed to actively give feedback about. Initially I mostly found it very unintuitive - for example it required a double click to open the re-roll window. What the hell? Nothing else in the entire game requires double-clicking! I only really figured it out by accidental rage-clicking. (Why isn't this working...)

All the different effects and the process of re-rolling are kind of intriguing right now, but also overwhelming. Remember when they got rid of Aim, Cunning, Strength and Willpower two expansions ago because it was considered too complicated for players to figure out which of these four stats mapped onto which base class? Why do they now give us something like twenty new stats, many of which have weird and ambiguous names? What do you think "Aural Rejuvenation" does? Something to do with hearing? Shouts? (Nope, it increases AoE healing apparently.)

Seeing all of that on the PTS and knowing that Onslaught's launch is less than two weeks away now, I honestly can't help but feel slightly nervous about this whole gearing revamp. Unlike others, I'm not getting any Galactic Command 2.0 vibes here - Galactic Command's initial implementation wasn't at all complicated, just an obviously bad idea.

Spoils of War, at least from what little I've seen, just feels slightly overwhelming and confusing instead, which I suppose could go either way. Either I'll figure it out and enjoy the newly added complexity, or I'll freeze like a deer in the headlights as my inventory gets filled up with green items with two dozen different amplifiers on them, because I can't decide what to keep and throw away as I can't tell what's good anymore.

Oh well, I guess I'll focus on the new story to start with and then take it from there. At least I got my titles and silly log mount for my public testing duties! I had no idea it was going to look this phallic by the way.


Peaceful on Coruscant

Another Pirate Incursion meant another round of peaceful adventures in places other than Dantooine for my pacifist Jedi Pacis.

She had pretty good luck with the side missions in Black Sun territory - deliver some information here, disarm some bombs there: all of it possible without killing anyone and therefore available for her to complete!

In the Justicar sector she hit the ultimate jackpot: a repeatable heroic that could be done without fighting. I vaguely recalled hearing before that "Trouble in Deed" was soloable by stealth, but I couldn't remember whether you had to fight the guy at the end or not. Fortunately it was not necessary! I could just stealth my way up to the vault, grab the deed and then hit Force Cloak when the mobs next to it inevitably aggroed. Job done!

The greatest thing about finding a heroic that I could repeat was that heroics reward two random gear pieces appropriate for your level. I haven't really mentioned it yet, but as it turns out it's kind of hard to come by new gear organically when you refuse to fight anyone and therefore get no loot drops and only the occasional quest reward here and there.

I suppose you could argue that a pacifist doesn't really need gear since she doesn't want to fight anyway, but a bit of extra endurance and such still come in handy whenever you aggro something by accident and have to run away. Repeating the heroic every day of the week soon saw Pacis kitted out in a set of level-appropriate blues.

I had somewhat less luck with the side missions in Coruscant's remaining areas. There were a couple more that I could do, but there were just as many if not more that I had to abandon because they asked me to fight things. Sorry, creepy girl child, your brother will just have to stay in jail if the only way to free him involves beating up thugs.

I even started the heroic in the Jedi temple, vaguely recalling that it "only" involved retrieving some astrogation charts, but of course a Sith jumps out of the shadows at the very end and demands that you fight him. I noped right out of that one in front of the Sith's eyes (he didn't seem to care) and abandoned that quest too.

By the time I'd finished my tour of Coruscant the event was pretty much over again, so I only visited Taris very briefly to have a peek at a couple of heroics that looked like they might be doable without fighting. Again, I don't do these often enough and am so used to just killing everything anyway that I often wasn't sure what exactly was required to progress each objective.

In most of them it became clear pretty quickly that there was no progressing without a fight, whether because trying to click on a shiny would be interrupted as soon as you got into combat or there were just too many mobs too close by. In one heroic I got tantalisingly close to completing the thing without a fight just to get a rude awakening when the final step demanded I kill an elite mob to finish. So that one went into the bin as well.

One interesting side effect of these failed heroic attempts was that there were several occasions when I got into combat with multiple mobs and had to run for my life. I'd excitedly filled my bar with various utility abilities that I'd got from levelling up such as slows and stuns, anticipating that I'd still get a good amount of use out of those, just to find that most of them couldn't be executed without a main hand weapon equipped. I'll admit that this made sense for some of them, such as Deflection, but why I couldn't Force Lift anyone without a saber in my hand for example mystified me. I guess I'll have to consider re-equipping HK's vibroblade purely to be able to use some abilities, but then I'd worry about accidentally hitting things with it. Decisions, decisions.

Either way I intend to explore more of Taris next time around.


Dread Master Brontes Wins Again

Progression raiding in SWTOR is a weird thing these days, and not just because a lot of outsiders are likely to go "SWTOR has raids?!" when you bring up the subject.

In a game like WoW, new raid tiers come out all the time, and every time a new one is added, the old one becomes obsolete, which fuels a frantic race to get through the new content before it reaches the end of its shelf life.

In SWTOR, there's only a very small minority interested in seeing who'll be the first to get the kill of a new operations boss on a higher difficulty - plus as it stands, we've only had a single new operation in the last five years anyway, so it's not exactly as if there's been a lot to get excited about.

For most players, what matters is that ever since 4.0 Bioware has continually scaled all operations content upwards so that Eternity Vault from back in 2011 is still as relevant as endgame in 2019 as the more recently released Gods from the Machine.

This means that if you're not good enough to actually clear all the operations on all difficulties, you can basically keep progressing on them forever... which is exactly what my guild has been doing. The 5.x cycle has been particularly good for us because the boss's values remained stable for so long and we got access to some pretty overpowered gear pretty quickly. I got to tell quite a few tales of successful boss killing on this blog in the past year.

We still haven't killed everything though, and that's not even counting the most recent release, master mode Gods from the Machine. It's slightly awkward to think about, because if we're being honest with ourselves, it basically means that we're not very good. Some of these fights have been out for more than five years and we still haven't killed them? Come on!

A more charitable interpretation would be that we are very persistent and have taken our time getting better at the game. Most of us struggled with simple hard modes when they first came out, to the point that nightmare difficulty felt like something we'd be unlikely to ever reach in the future - yet here we are.

One boss I was really hoping to get down before 6.0 resets everything again was Dread Master Brontes on master mode, mostly because I have personal beef with her at this point. I vividly recall wiping to her in the run-up to 4.0, back when we were actually five levels higher than the boss and still found the fight too hard. I don't remember all the details, but I do recall thinking that I was sure that we were going to get her down before 4.0 hit because to me it felt like we were close. That didn't happen though.

August 2015

That was over four years ago now, and I really wanted to get her down this time. While we have to fight her at level now, we all got a lot better at the game in the meantime. And yet... this past Sunday was our last night attempting her as people voted to have a few weeks break before the expansion, something I can't exactly blame them for. I'm also not sure we would have been able to get her down even if we had tried for another three weeks, because unlike my fuzzy memories from 2015, it hasn't really felt to me like we've come even close to killing her this time around.

We are pretty good at making it to the last phase by now, but as soon as we're there it feels like everything falls apart in seconds, and the problem is that unlike with Revan for example, it's kind of hard to tell what exactly happened. There isn't a single mechanic that will kill you instantly, but there are a lot of things that can do a lot of damage, so it can be hard to tell what exactly killed any individual at a certain point, whether it was just too much unavoidable damage adding up and not enough healing, or whether someone or even multiple someones made a mistake that caused just too much extra damage at the wrong moment.

September 2019

There was a time when this sort of thing would have upset me a lot more than it does now (and I have the awkwardly ranty blog posts to prove it), but fortunately I have too many other things going on these days to get too hung up on a single boss kill. Plus we'll always get to try again after the expansion's release I guess.

From the way things look right now, there's even a chance that my prediction that things would become harder again in 6.0 might actually turn out to be wrong! I based this on the way things played out during the transition from 4.0 to 5.0, but as we know from the PTS now, Bioware is actually planning to scale us down to the old operations going forward, making Brontes (and us when we go to fight her) level 55 again instead of 75.

If scaling was perfect that probably wouldn't make much of a difference, but as it stands, downscaled high-level characters in SWTOR tend to be a bit on the overpowered side, and early PTS reports indicated that this effect applied in full force in the newly downscaled operations. So for all we know we might be able to waltz in there in 6.0 and one-shot her. It's unlikely, but... I'm happy to wait and see how things pan out.



Recently a commenter expressed worry about the game's (and presumably my own) well-being, based on my recent (relative) silence on the blog. I'll admit it: I'm in a bit of a funk.

It may not be obvious, but the regularity with which I've been putting out posts on here has been a fragile thing for a while, as I've had less and less time to both play and write over the years, first going from working part time to full time, and then adding a long commute to my job every morning. There've been many times when my posting frequency wavered, such as when I was ill or went on holiday for a while, but I always managed to get back on track.

This past month however, I've been hit by what you could call a perfect storm:

First off, I'm in one of those phases where I'm not super excited about playing SWTOR. This isn't really unusual by itself as I always have my ups and downs with the game and times when I want to play more or less. It does also tend to reduce my desire to write about it, but usually I've been able to compensate.

However, this time about a month ago also saw the launch of WoW Classic, a game that I was very much looking forward to and which to be honest has me more excited than anything MMO-related has managed since 2011 (when SWTOR launched). So not only have I been feeling a bit down on SWTOR, all my free time has gone into thinking about, playing, and writing about another game with the sort of enthusiasm I only get to experience about once a decade. (If you are at all interested, those posts have gone onto my old WoW blog.)

Part of me has been feeling a little guilty about letting my routine on here slide because of this, but ultimately it's all meant to be fun for me, so I should be able to do what I feel like, damn it! Mind you though, even as I say this, that nagging little voice at the back of my head has been insistent enough that I felt the need to at least sort of explain myself in this post.

So where am I with SWTOR at the moment? I don't really see myself going anywhere. I'm still excited about the expansion and love all my characters. However, I do feel like I'm in a bit of a holding pattern until Onslaught's launch.

Four months ago I was excited about getting ready for the expansion, but while I achieved some of the goals I set myself surprisingly quickly, others haven't really gone anywhere. I was really hoping to kill Dread Master Brontes on master mode for example, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen now (I might go into more detail about that in a separate post), so now the main things I keep thinking about is that I should be spending all those character-bound currencies before they go away, but there isn't really anything I want to buy with them so I'm not particularly enthused about that either.

Not even my beloved guild of nearly eight years has been motivating me to log in lately, for a variety of reasons. No big drama, just the sort of thing that makes you think: "I'd rather not deal with that right now if I don't have to".

I'm still logging in and doing things on a smaller scale though. For example I'm still selling off small amounts of old crafting mats from my legacy cargo hold day after day to increase my credit count, though I'm not sure for what purpose exactly as I already have more money than I know what to do with. This week the Pirate Incursion event also made another unexpectedly quick return, which means that I'm working on more pacifist adventures, yay!

However, that level of engagement isn't really enough to inspire a blog post every three to five days right now, which used to be my target. I'll have to decide on a new routine that works a bit better for where I am right now - maybe posting once a week? (I'm not one of those people for whom it works well to just write whenever they feel like it.) We'll see.

Anyway, none of this is indicative of any problems with the game from my point of view. Even though I discovered that I wasn't born to be a PTS tester, I do try to keep an eye on the dev tracker, where Eric and Dan keep posting really insightful updates about what's happening on there and respond to people's feedback. I also finally went back and read some of the more recent news articles posted on the official website, such as about the making of Onderon and Mek-Sha or "Behind The Scenes Of World Design", which were all really interesting and made me all the more interested in the expansion.

How about you all tell me what's been keeping you engaged and interested as of late?


Pacifism Continued

Last week was Pirate Incursion week again, which meant that it was time for Pacis, my pacifist Jedi, to venture out into the world again, since Dantooine was too hostile for her and the event's quick travel option made it possible for her to go places without losing the option to return home.

I hadn't been particularly diligent doing the two daily quests on Dantooine during peace time... but I had done them often enough to get her up to level 19. Nothing much of interest happened during those routine circuits, except for that one time when so many of the Kath Hounds I tried to cure got mad at me that I didn't even manage to complete the "pet five friendly Kath Hounds" bonus. Talk about some bad luck!

Anyway, with the event on, I decided that her first order of business should be to return to Tython. While I had already fully explored it, Pacis had only been level five when she left, so I wanted to check back to see if I'd be able to do some more quests that didn't require her to fight anything.

I started off by having another poke at my class story and daring to go into the cave to confront Nalen Raloch. I couldn't remember what exactly happened in there, though I had a feeling there would be hostile mobs - but hey, I had stealth now! Indeed, Nalen summoned some flesh raiders who tried to kill me. Sadly they saw right through my stealth, but I just ran past them and out of the phase without coming to any harm. Hurray for cowardice!

I did eventually run into a dead end when I got to the part where you're supposed to defeat some training droids to earn the right to the first hilt. I'll admit: I did hesitate there, wondering if it really counted as an act of aggression to attack a training droid, but in the end I decided that this was a slippery slope and that Pacis should remain a strict non-combatant.

In terms of side missions, I dealt with the two padawans in a secret romance - it will never cease to amaze me how Bioware managed to take a situation where I think most players would naturally gravitate towards wanting to violate the Jedi code to side with the lovers and fill it with nothing but awkward and bone-headed dialogue, to the point where you really just want to turn the two of them in to be rid of them. I persisted and let them go though.

I also helped out the Jedi who wanted to analyse the memory cores of droids from the ruins - I felt a certain pride in that one since the quest said to destroy droids and scan them, but I realised that in actuality just the scanning was enough to update the quest progress. So I just waited near the entrance of the ruins and whenever another player came by and wiped out the guardians by the door on their way through, I had another couple of bodies to scan without having to lift a finger myself.

Another interesting experience was the quest to destroy the vats of flesh raider elixir - another perfectly peaceful mission I figured, until I stood in front of one and got an error message telling me that I was unable to destroy it since I didn't have a weapon equipped. D'oh! So much for vendoring my training blade because I wasn't going to need it...

I didn't want to spend money on a proper new weapon, so I just made a quick trip to my stronghold and got HK's vibroblade out of the bank - not a Shadow's preferred weapon, but using it to fight wasn't the point anyway. It just allowed me to complete the mission.

I would also have liked to help Flingeld lift his rock and to help find the missing Twi'lek boy, but neither of those quests showed up as available to me so I can only guess that they are tied to progression of the class story.

Once I'd run out of things to do on Tython (as far as I could tell) I used the shuttle to go to the fleet (which also answered my question from last time: the ability to use it is tied to level, not story progression). There I did the introductory missions for housing and crew skills. I also picked up bioanalysis, scavenging and slicing. Crafting or running missions didn't seem like a good idea for a character who'll only ever have very limited income.

Continuing to Coruscant, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of side missions I was able to complete there too: repairing network access nodes, retrieving stolen microchips and telling Nik Deleru to shove it. I'm so used to doing all the bonuses to kill x mobs that it actually took me by surprise how many main mission objectives haven't actually required any killing so far.

My only disappointment was that like on Tython, additional missions that I knew to not involve any combat were unavailable to me, presumably due to my lack of class mission progress, such as the one to intercept a parcel, to help out the security officer outside the Dealer's Den cantina, or the Gree quest chain.

As I didn't have that much time to play last week, I didn't progress any further than that before returning to Dantooine. However, the whole adventure did manage to gain Pacis another two levels and makes me feel optimistic about her next excursion: There seem to be a lot more non-combat missions than I remembered.


PTS Malaise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Onslaught Expansion to Launch on October 22nd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Operations Excitement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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