All In

Last week was Total Galactic War again, and I've written a fair number of posts in the past about my guild successfully conquering planets during that event. Last week was not one of those weeks though - we decided to go for a bigger challenge for once and ended up getting in over our heads, which eventually resulted in us falling behind and losing. C'est la vie.

It was still an incredible week for me personally though. Even though we eventually fell behind, we did manage to keep up with our main rival on Voss for at least a few days, and that despite of them having literally more than ten times as many players online most of the time. Being able to say that each one of my guildies is worth more than ten randoms (in terms of Conquest at least) felt pretty cool to be honest.

I also played a pretty crazy amount of hours, probably more than I did even while working on Galactic Seasons, and fully immersed myself in all kinds of activities that I hadn't done in ages: For example I did every single daily area and wallowed in the memories I associate with each. I even did uprisings with my guildies and am sad to say that I still don't find them very fun (the uprisings that is, not my guildies), but what was fun was seeing the ridiculous amount of achievements that popped up in guild chat that evening because we apparently had a considerable number of people who'd never done any uprisings before at all. (Oh, and it was fun to be the last person standing when it came to finishing off Crack-Shot Aggy in Done and Dusted because everyone else had died.)

I completed the GSF weekly on seven characters (one per day to align with the associated daily objective), playing probably close to fifty GSF matches if you assume a roughly equal win-loss ratio (though I didn't keep track). And I had fun with it! GSF occupies this weird place where I'm not hugely fond of it because I'm very bad at it and it's not really my kind of play style; but attach a significant enough reward to it and I'll be like: "All right, let's go!" Since there were special Conquest objectives for flying every kind of ship I even flew my scouts and strike fighters for a bit (despite of being terrible at them), and a few times I ran into people that were somehow even more terrible at GSF than me and managed to get a couple of kills that way.

I also completed the PvP weekly on seven characters, which required even more matches than GSF since it only counts wins nowadays. And again, it was actually great, because it had been ages since I'd done this much PvP over a relatively short period of time, and it was a great reminder of how queueing a lot means that you'll start to recognise certain names after a while. I could also feel my play improving massively on certain characters - for example I hadn't played either of my Scoundrel healers much recently, but with every match I got better at remembering to use my cooldowns and at predicting enemy movements. It was so much fun.

At the end of Total Galactic War we always do a tally and give away prizes based on people's contributions and I actually ended up in first place with over ten million points, which is something that never happened to me before (usually I'm maybe near the bottom of the top ten).

All this made me think a lot about how I've been playing the game for quite a few months now. I've long described myself as fairly monogamous in my gaming, unlike most bloggers I know, who tend to be variety gamers and like to dip into a lot of different games. I wasn't a complete purist anymore when I started playing SWTOR and also dabbled in other games from the beginning, but without much commitment. However, for a while now I've been splitting my time a lot more than I used to: never quite taking a break from Neverwinter, playing WoW with the husband, and Classic WoW with the guild I joined there. I never stopped thinking of SWTOR as my main game and home, but there were many weeks when it wasn't actually where I spent most of my gaming time.

I still think it's good to check out other games sometimes, even if like me you're mostly focused on one above all others, but I've been wondering whether I haven't been missing out on what I enjoy most by scattering my focus as much as I've done recently. Especially as there've been many times, not just in SWTOR but also while playing the other MMOs I mentioned, that I went: "Dang, this is fun... too bad I don't have enough time to really dig into this". No matter what I play, being stuck in this limbo where I'm always craving more but can't quite get it because of how much I'm divvying up my time is simply unsatisfying. I'm wondering whether it isn't time to go back to being full-on casual in those other games while being more focused on SWTOR and enjoying the perks that come with giving it my full attention.


Daily Tour: Oricon

I spent an unusually large amount of time doing dailies this past week. I've said before that I'm not really a "daily person" - I tend to binge on them a bit when they're new to max out any associated reputations, but after that I pretty much stop doing them unless an alt is making it to the area for the first time or it's worth doing them for Conquest. This past week was an occasion of the latter.

It got me thinking about what I do like about dailies whenever I do them, and it's a mix of trying to come up with an efficient route and then enjoying the familiar routine of following it. Since dailies are usually a solo endeavour, we all tend to come up with our own routes and don't necessarily exchange information about them... but it's something I find quite interesting, so I thought it would be fun to share some of my own daily routes.

I'd like to start with Oricon, and I made a little graphic to visualise what I'm talking about:

Roughly speaking, my route through Oricon could be described as a clockwise swirl that starts in the base (the image illustrates a Republic character's journey, but an Imperial's wouldn't be very different; it would just start further south) and ends in the central tower.

I think the somewhat circular motion is pretty natural, but while drawing this up I did find myself wondering why I'm going clockwise instead of counter-clockwise. I think the reason for that is that the initial storyline makes you run through all the missions that become dailies later in a specific order, and it sends you north before it sends you south, so I guess I just incorporated that initial direction into my routine without thinking about it. Or maybe it's because I'm Republic and the northern quest is closer than the southern one.

Anyway, starting in the Republic camp I begin with freeing the soliders from the crashed escape pods immediately outside the base, though I sometimes make a little detour right away as there are some strong mobs guarding a chest just to the left of the base exit sometimes (not shown on the graphic). Chests may never contain anything valuable nowadays, but I still like opening them.

Then I turn north and start hunting for the mobs dropping the quest items that allow you to enter the northern phase. If I'm on a character that has their seeker droid unlocked, I might meander a bit to also do the bonus mission to dig up roots.

After the phased bit, I turn south-east towards the heroic area, crossing over a giant root thing... I always dread that part because there's a mob standing on it that will yank you if you try to just ride past and dismounts me pretty much every time. I'm always relieved when someone else has just been through before me and killed it.

The heroic area is always the most time-consuming part since it's actually somewhat challenging still (just today I managed to get myself killed in there by accidentally aggroing a large group and a champion mob together, oops) - I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with that. I find it best to start at the north-western entrance since the bonus mission that becomes accessible if you have macrobinoculars also starts there.

If I'm not going to do the bonus I'll just try to climb shuttles and kill champions without aggroing too many other mobs before legging it back out, but if I also want to do the bonus I have to make my way south to get in range of the two southernmost things I need to scan and then double back up to complete the mission at the same terminal where it started. I vaguely recall someone mentioning to me once that there's supposed to be a spot where you can scan all four things at once but at this point I'm wondering whether I didn't just imagine that... as it is, the doubling back is quite annoying since everything takes a while to kill, but stuff's usually already respawned by the time I make my way back.

Then I ride south between the tower and the heroic area, destroy the terraforming devices and do the phased bit in the southernmost end of the zone. Afterwards it's back up towards the tower, which I always enter via the southern ramp. This is interesting in so far as I didn't find out until a couple of years ago that the mob that can drop the "bat hat" spawns at the start of the northern ramp because I simply never go there. Was quite a surprise when I found out!

Then I do the tower before quick travelling back to base. Here it's important to remember to exit the phase before using quick travel, because the mission has a step that says "exit the chamber" or something like that, and quick travelling straight out doesn't count. On at least one occasion I returned to base from inside the chamber, just to realise that my mission was stuck on asking me to exit the phase, so then I had to fight my way all the way back up the tower and inside the room just so that I could leave it "properly"... /facepalm

Anyway, I'd be curious to hear how this resonates with some of my readers. Does this route look similar to your own or do you prefer completing your dailies in a different order?


Thoughts on the KOTOR Remake Announcement

Yesterday I woke up to my Twitter timeline going wild - a remaster of the original Knights of the Old Republic had been announced! I have to admit it was great fun to see people get super excited about this, even if it didn't mean much to me personally.

Long-time readers might remember that I never played the original KOTOR back in the day - I just worked my way through the mobile port a few years ago and documented my experiences with it here on the blog. I did like it well enough then - issues with bugs and opaque mechanics not withstanding - but it wasn't the same sort of foundational RPG experience that it seems to have been for many people nearly twenty years ago.

I can see why the idea of a remake would be appealing to Disney - it's both an opportunity to cash in on the nostalgia from older fans while also introducing the game to a whole new generation of gamers. While the original is technically still playable and I found it decent fun, it definitely doesn't have mass market appeal in its current, dated form - but a remake would change that.

It's worth noting though that this is a remake, not a remaster - so it's likely that we'll see more than an update to the graphics and the addition of some quality of life changes. Aside from that we don't really know what exactly to expect though, as the trailer was basically just a shot of a photorealistic Revan and there is no release date yet.

I can certainly think of a lot of ways in which they could improve on the original without changing the core of the game too much: making the combat less rubbish, giving the player character a voice, fixing the bugs that persisted even in the mobile port (such as being unable to negotiate with the sand people on Tatooine), allowing the player to respec their character, adding a greater variety of NPC models, and so on and so forth.

Yet there's also risk in all of those things: First off, there are probably people who liked the original combat, but even if everyone were to agree that it sucked, I'm sure we've all got different ideas about what would constitute "better" combat. Heck, I could even see simple graphical updates be controversial in some way - the original KOTOR was very limited by the 3D of its time, but does that mean that photorealism is the only logical option for a more modern version? I can already hear the complaints that Bastila isn't attractive enough, or that a realistic rendition of Juhani looks kind of uncanny.

I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade by saying these things - I'm sure the devs will give it their all and hopefully it will turn out to be a good game. Just... if you're one of those people for whom the original KOTOR was an important part of their formative years, maybe don't get too hyped up? Even if it turns out to be a good remake, playing it probably won't feel quite the same as it did back in the day.

Oh, and for some reason this has once again brought up the question of whether KOTOR will become canon instead of Legends material now. Personally, I don't really see why it would? The remake will be a new product, yes, but not a new story (or at least I wouldn't expect them to change the story in any major ways, considering that it's always been the game's major selling point). It strikes me as similar to the release of a new audiobook for an existing Legends novel.

I suppose you could theorise that going for a remake over a remaster would be the perfect opportunity to "canonise" KOTOR if Disney wanted to, though considering how far the story is set in the past compared to the movies, I don't think it would have had any clashes with any of the new canon material to begin with? Some people just obsess way too much over canon vs. Legends either way. Most major science fiction or comic book franchises like to spin off into alternate timelines and the like at some point or another, but I've never heard of people getting too upset about that. Maybe they are and I just don't know about it.

Anyway, will I play this when it comes out? Maybe. I liked the original and the ability to make different choices should make it quite attractive to replay even without any major changes to the story. However, my ever-present inability to muster up the enthusiasm for a single-player game when I could be playing an MMO remains...


No More Master Looter

Last week's patch implemented a major change to the way loot works in group content, and one that was only communicated to the player base mere days before the patch dropped: The removal of master looter and general move towards making everything personal loot (though certain items that bind on pickup will remain tradeable within the group as it was before).

I was immediately reminded of when WoW did this about three years ago - I wasn't playing that back then, but there was enough wailing and gnashing of teeth from raiders that I heard about it anyway. I was somewhat confused by this move back then, and I have similar feelings about Bioware deciding to copy Blizzard's stance on this now. Yes, everyone's heard at least one story about some nefarious master looter taking all the good stuff for himself and/or his friends, but I've got to admit that in practice, I can't recall ever encountering any sort of issue with master looting in my fifteen years of playing MMORPGs. How much of a problem is this really?

That said, I don't expect the removal of master looter to have a huge impact on my guild as we weren't really using it in everyday operations anyway. As someone mentioned in the forum thread, on a world boss like Dreadtooth the lack of a master looter option will make it very unattractive going forward to let any pugs come along just for the experience or for fun, because the risk of Johnny Random being assigned the valuable drop that is the main reason you're there would just be too great. However, my guild only does that kind of world boss run very rarely anyway - in operations we've long just defaulted to need or greed, and then simply asked people to e.g. pass on the blue crafting mats so that an officer can pick them up for the guild bank. Running with people you know and trust, that's worked quite well.

But ah - and that's the bit that wasn't really clear from the initial announcement: need or greed is gone as well. Everything is randomised behind the scenes and then assigned as personal loot now, and you don't get a choice. Funnily enough, I actually think the benefits of that are much more obvious, considering the way many people in pugs have been in the habit of just rolling need on everything, regardless of whether an item is even useful to them or not.

However, our early experience has been that in a guild or friendly setting, where you want to make sure items go to the people who'd find them most beneficial, it also makes loot distribution a major pain in the butt. At least in WoW, personal loot still triggers a little pop-up that says "so-and-so received X", making it obvious to the rest of the group what just happened. However, the SWTOR UI currently has nothing like that, and with the roll window removed, the only way to see what's dropped for whom is to either be extremely quick on the looting and scrolling so you can see what items are on the body and whose name is next to them before they are actually picked up, or to sort through several pages of loot drop announcements in the chat log to find the actually relevant pieces like set bonus gear among the dozens of trashy mods and enhancements.

Crafting mats are even worse because they now go directly into your materials storage (for convenience's sake I guess), and for some reason this only shows in the chat log for the person actually receiving the items, not for anyone else in the group, so you wouldn't even know that anything's dropped unless the receiver announces it.

Even discarding the whole logistics of wanting to distribute items within the group, just on an individual level, if I'm the sort of person who would like to continue donating any blue mats I get in guild ops to the guild bank, I now need to remember to check my chat log after every boss kill to see whether I looted anything and if so, how much, because it won't show in my inventory and I'll be damned if I notice that the count of a certain material in my stash has changed from 121 to 134 by the end of the night.

It's just an annoying amount of faff that wasn't there before, and while I'll have to take Bioware's word on this being a beneficial change for a majority of pugs, I don't see why they have to make loot distribution actively annoying for organised guilds in the process. I hope they'll consider at least improving the visibility of loot drops in the UI, because if we have to go through the process of trading everything manually instead of simply rolling or passing on drops as we go along, the least they could do is make it easier for us to keep track of what it is we might want to trade from among the mountains of cheap loot that the game hands out nowadays.


Peacefully Sauntering Towards the Finish Line

Once again it's been a really long time since I last wrote about my pacifist levelling project - in fact, this time the break has been longer than last time! No special story about embarrassing myself this time; I just didn't feel like playing as much at the start of the year and then simply ended up forgetting all about this little pet project for a while.

I haven't been entirely idle however - at the moment Pacis is back on Dantooine and making her way through the mid-sixties. During the summer she participated in the Nar Shaddaa Nightlife event a bit, and she's done the swoop races a few times as well by now. Really nice non-combat acitivity, that, though the best thing about it from this particular character's point of view is actually that picking any of the Dantooine courses gives you a quick travel item to Dantooine... meaning that by keeping that mission in my log semi-permanently, Pacis is now able to return to her peaceful home at any time, not just when the Pirate Incursion event is on.

I've been thinking about whether I should attempt to do anything special during my last ten levels to the (current) level cap, though I'm sure I'll get there soon enough just by inoculating Kath hounds and digging up relics once a day. I might travel around a bit more, but I haven't decided yet.

I think one reason my interest in this project has been stagnating is that it's a solved problem at this point. The early levels were the most interesting, as it was a challenge and a puzzle to figure out where I could find sources of XP at low levels without fighting anything and with extremely limited travel options available. At this point however, Pacis has it pretty good to be honest, able to use the heroic terminal on the fleet to quick travel to most planets and now with the swoop quest able to return to Dantooine at any time as well. While I could technically try to uncover more non-combat missions for her to do, she's got a wide array of heroics available for XP and gear already if I really wanted to push it; it would just be kind of repetitive.

Either way, I expect that the next time I'll have an update on this, she'll either be 75 already or at least very close to it.


More Adventures on the LotS PTS

I never actually wrote a follow-up to my confused post about day one of the Legacy of the Sith PTS, but that doesn't mean that nothing's been happening. Bioware did provide some more information and context for what they were trying to achieve with what was on display there soon after, but to be honest none of it really changed my opinion from "I'm not really sure about this, but I guess I'll wait and see".  The rather confusing initial implementation of the new system on the PTS - which required you to wade through several forum threads to have even the faintest idea of what's going on - didn't exactly help either.

Plus as previously mentioned, the first advanced class/combat style to be tested was Guardian, which I play only casually, so combined with all the other limitations I didn't feel like I could really give any good feedback on that one. After that they tested Sentinels, which I know even less about, as Sentinel/Marauder is probably my least favourite advanced class in the game right now and I play it very little.

However, this past week they added Sniper and Operative, and while I'm not big on Snipers and Gunslingers either, Operative/Scoundrel is something I do play somewhat more frequently, at least in the healer role, so I thought it might be worth checking out.

One thing that was immediately helpful was that they added a very rough work-in-progress UI, which just makes it so much easier to understand what's happening. I wrote in my last post that it felt like they were trying to return to skill trees of a sort, but the new visuals make it clearer that it's more of a merge of the current specialisation "line" and the utility system. So you'll still get a lot of abilities that are tied to your spec as you level up, predetermined like it is now, but then at certain levels, instead of getting a utility point, you may be given a choice of three abilities or passives that modify existing abilities tied to your spec, e.g. as a healing Operative one of my early options was to choose between three passives that added special effects to existing heals. Somehow just seeing it like that made the whole thing immediately less intimidating to me.

In terms of pruning, Operatives didn't seem to have been hit too badly from my point of view. There was a bit of early panic when Sleep Dart was missing from the initial PTS build, which immediately sent everyone's minds racing about the implications of a potential end to crowd control from stealth (no more stealth caps in PvP?!), but that turned out to just have been an error and they added it back in almost immediately. As a healer, all of my heals were still there, and the only thing I noticed being conspicuously absent was the class's raid buff.

Where abilities had been turned into choices, forcing you to pick one out of three, this mostly seemed to be directed at perhaps nerfing the class a bit in PvP by making people choose between things like having more stuns or extra survivability. I don't really have a good read on the details, but that doesn't seem too bad a concept... though the hard stun becoming an elective does make me wonder about PvP balance a bit, even as someone who's more of a PvE person. Every single class having a hard stun on the same cooldown was one of those things the original devs decided to include as an easy balance move... and I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad thing to move away from that, as being stunned in PvP isn't exactly fun, but I can see changing that baseline having a major effect on overall class balance.

With that in mind, I originally wanted to have a bit of a go at seeing how this new setup worked in PvP, but whenever I was on the PTS there weren't enough people queueing. So I went to do a couple of level 75 veteran flashpoints with my guildies instead (since level scaling still isn't implemented the way it is on live). First we did Objective Meridian, in which I healed and it was... actually kinda challening! We even wiped once or twice, and defeating Tau took absolutely forever (which wasn't helped by the fact that only two of us were still standing by the end). This didn't seem down to any weakness of the classes though; more a result of us having none of our usual legacy buffs and all playing characters/roles that we weren't necessarily 100% familiar with. For example one of the new utilities I picked was actually a major buff to one of my heals but then I completely forgot to use it appropriately to take advantage of that.

After that we went into Spirit of Vengeance, and as one of my guildies wanted to try his hand at Operative healing too, I respecced to Concealment - a spec I've actually never played on live, though I did play its Republic equivalent (Scrapper Scoundrel) for a bit when I took my Scoundrel through KotET on master mode. Even with everything being stabby knife moves instead of punches it quickly came back to me how there's a certain rhythm to that spec in terms of building Tactical Advantage and spending it, and I actually found it quite fun, even if I couldn't really tell whether/how it was changed from live. Oh, and we wiped on this flashpoint too, so it wasn't just my healing earlier! But still, it was good fun.

My main takeaway from this round of visiting the PTS is that I'm feeling much more optimistic about what I'm seeing. A big part of my initially rather negative reaction was due to the way the ability changes seemed to have come completely out of the blue, but having a better understanding of what's happening and why certainly makes it all look a lot more palatable and like less of a big deal than it felt like initially.


12 Things That Are Very Different in SWTOR after 10 Years

The other week I was having a chat with some WoW players I know and the subject of SWTOR came up. Knowing that I play it as my main game, one of them said something along the lines of: "I tried it at launch but it didn't really stick with me. I assume it's a much better game now?" To which I probably should have replied with a simple "Yes, of course!" but since I'm both rubbish at being an ambassador for my favourite MMOs and always have to complicate everything, my answer was some muttered deflection about how I was clearly too biased to make that judgement. Truth is, there are some things that I liked better about the way the game was at launch, which is something I worked through in this post from a few years ago.

But it did get me thinking about what the experience would be like for someone deciding to return now who only played for a little while at launch, or who has at least been absent from the game for more than a few years. With SWTOR's ten year anniversary coming up, I wouldn't be surprised if more people were thinking of checking it out again just to see how it's doing! So I tried to think of some major aspects of the game that have changed since then and compile them in the form of a blog post. Maybe this will alleviate some returning players' confusion... or encourage others to come back if they were on the edge and find out this way that something that put them off back in the day is no longer an issue. Without further ado: Twelve things that make SWTOR very different now compared to how it was at launch.

1. There've been a lot of server merges.

If you still remember the name of the server you played on back in the day... it won't be there anymore. SWTOR launched with a huge amount of servers, just to have to merge them together again and again as the game's population declined. We seem to have settled on there being only five, though that's not as dire as it sounds as they are all "mega servers" and considerably bigger than the average server used to be back in the day. There are three European ones for each of the supported languages (English, German and French), and two US ones for the east and west coast respectively. Note that while the Satele Shan server is nominally considered the west coast server, in terms of physical location, both servers are located on the east coast now.

If you used to or want to play on an RP or pure PvP server, you're out of luck now as neither exists anymore. The RP community just doesn't get much love, period, and world PvP was changed to a purely optional thing on all servers. Basically you have the option to switch to a "PvP instance" on any planet accessible to both factions, in which all players are flagged. There are no special rewards for it though other than sometimes having reduced competition for mob spawns.

2. The game has a free-to-play/freemium business model now.

I know this is a change that happened in SWTOR's very first year, but if you really quit within the first few months, I guess you never would have seen even that get implemented. It's kind of weird to think back to what a drama that was back then, when being subscription-only was considered the gold standard and dropping the mandatory subscription was considered a sign of a failed game. I feel like people have become a lot more chill about that nowadays and seem to consider the business model less important as long as the game is fun and no particular monetisation scheme is too annoying.

The way SWTOR's free-to-play model works is that it gives you access to a huge amount of content for free, but then tries to make you vaguely uncomfortable in terms of quality of life at every opportunity to get you to pony up for the optional subscription. If that sort of thing bothers you, I always suggest subscribing for at least a month if you think you're having any fun at all, as that immediately removes all of the restrictions and unlocks even more content.

The cash shop is fairly inoffensive unless you're a fashionista who needs to own all the outfits as that'll set you back by quite a lot. Note that everything from the Cartel Market can be traded and sold in game though, so if you've got enough credits you can get most things from other players via the Galactic Trade Network.

Aside from cosmetics the Cartel Market only contains a few unlocks that make life as a free/preferred (lapsed sub) player marginally less annoying, but really, if that's your goal it's much easier and better value for money to just subscribe. I wrote a post comparing SWTOR's and ESO's business models a couple of years ago if you find that kind of thing interesting.

3. Levelling has been simplified and sped up massively.

Not that it was ever really hard... but you could die on some solo story missions, and you sometimes had to worry about upgrading your gear or doing some side content for extra XP. None of that is really the case anymore. In terms of combat, I found it quite striking that when Bhagpuss gave the game a try a couple of years ago, he described the levelling journey as such: "Games intended for very small children not excluded, TOR is by far the easiest MMORPG I have ever played." And he's played a lot of MMOs! It does ramp up a bit later on, which is a point I don't think Bhagpuss ever got to, but it's still a far cry from what it was like during the first couple of years, when you could even die on the starter planets if you didn't upgrade and use your skills appropriately.

The XP you get from main story missions has also been multiplied so many times that doing anything but the main storyline(s) is now redundant for levelling purposes and if you engage with things like side quests or group content at all, you'll be over-levelled for the story in no time.

4. Side quests are now hidden by default.

Speaking of side quests or "exploration missions" as they are now called, not only are they not needed anymore to fill your XP bar, someone at Bioware also decided at some point a few years ago that their mere presence was confusing and/or off-putting and decided to make them hidden by default. If you still want to find and do them, you have to open your map and tick the "show exploration missions" box on there to make quest markers appear over the relevant NPCs. You're welcome.

5. The game is fully level-scaled now.

On the subject of being over-levelled for the story, a few expansions ago SWTOR introduced level-scaling. The way it works in most cases is that each planet has a defined level range, and if you are within that range or below, you'll simply play as your current level, but if you exceed it, you'll be down-levelled to the highest "permitted" level for the planet, while keeping all your higher level abilities and secondary stats, meaning that you're still going to be pretty OP. But it does mean that you can't simply run around lower-level planets one-shotting everything, and that you do keep getting XP for doing quests no matter where you are (with the exception of some low-level areas on Coruscant and Dromund Kaas), so if you're enjoying the lower-level content you can do most of your levelling by simply doing that.

6. Travel around the galaxy is faster now.

Something I'd almost forgotten until I re-read the post by Wilhelm that I linked earlier is how annoying planetary travel used to be sometimes, what with having to go to your hangar, loading into your ship, picking your travel destination, getting off there, exiting the space station or spaceport, and so on and so forth. Nowadays, the only reason you'll have to do that is if you have a quest inside the hangar or on your ship while levelling, but otherwise you can open the galaxy map from (almost) anywhere, click on your desired planetary destination and simply go there instantly. You might just have to briefly navigate out of a spaceport or station after arriving.

There are also a lot of other convenient travel options. Planetary taxis are now all available without having to unlock them first. Both quick travel and the emergency fleet pass had their cooldowns shortened drastically, to the point where subscribers with legacy perks have no cooldown on either of them (when it used to be something like half an hour and... twenty hours? respectively).

Strongholds (more on them below) also offer a way to instantly travel to a safe place and back if you need it. And people in a guild with a guild ship can instantly summon a group from anywhere in the galaxy to their location. WoW used to have this as a guild perk called "Have Group, Will Travel" that they took out at some point because it was considered too overpowered or something. Not so in SWTOR! I've written about the evolution of travel in SWTOR in a bit more detail here.

7. There's housing now, called strongholds.

Housing is one of those things that I really don't care that much about in an MMORPG, but I know that there's a dedicated audience for it that considers it an absolute key feature. Again, this is something that's actually been in the game for quite a while now (since 2014 to be exact), but if you left in the first year you might not have known that. You can purchase various apartments and estates on a number of planets and decorate them to your heart's content.

The way decorations can be placed is hook-based (so not completely free-form) but at the same time not as restrictive as in other games that use similar systems, as you can change the layout of hooks you use (e.g. by choosing whether a room should contain a lot of small hooks, a couple of big ones, or a mix).

8. The way companions work has been changed quite a bit.

At launch every class could acquire a total of five unique companions by completing their class story. Each companion had likes and dislikes, and you could only progress their personal story if they liked you enough. They also required constant gear upgrades to remain effective (the same way as a player) and each companion was locked into only being able to perform one trinity role (tank, dps or healer).

With the launch of Knights of the Fallen Empire, everyone's class companions were taken away (once you start that part of the story), though you later get to re-unite with them as the story progresses. However, now all characters get access to (almost) all companions, plus a whole bunch of new ones.

Companion stories aren't locked behind whether they like you anymore, and instead unlock automatically once you've progressed far enough in the overall story. "Liking" you isn't that important anymore either, as affection has been replaced with influence, which also goes up if you make decisions that they hate. Gear also doesn't affect companion performance anymore; instead they simply get stronger as your influence increases.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, all companions can perform any trinity role now, so you're no longer locked into dragging a specific companion that you don't like around just because they're your only healer. They've also been boosted incredibly in terms of power and are much more effective at keeping you alive now, which also contributes to the whole levelling being much easier thing (see point three). Again, if you're interested in more detail, I've written more about the evolution of companions in SWTOR in this post.

9. The gear treadmill is minimal.

Speaking of gear affecting power levels, the gear treadmill in SWTOR is minimal nowadays. With the launch of the last expansion they added a new item level of gear but this has stayed the same throughout the whole expansion, even though it was really easy to max out within a couple of weeks after launch. You don't need to do the hardest content to acquire max-level gear either - people have the option to gear up through different activities depending on what they find fun. Additionally, most gear is bound to legacy, meaning that you can freely send it back and forth between your alts, so that a new alt can instantly wear a full kit of max-level gear once you've ground it out once. If you feel like other games are too demanding in terms of making you grind for gear as you'd really rather just chill and enjoy the story or whatever, SWTOR might be for you.

10. The easier group content is role-neutral now.

I thought about starting with "SWTOR has an automated group finder now" since strictly speaking that wasn't in at launch either, though it did get added very soon after. Still, I can imagine few players being surprised by this. What does throw people off more often is that the easier group content (veteran mode flashpoints and uprisings) has been tweaked to be role-neutral now, meaning that you can run it with four damage dealers if you want - no long queue times to wait for a tank. So if the game puts you into a group with no tank or healer, this is not an error but working as intended! The only thing to keep in mind here is that in somewhat of a contrast to the easy solo-levelling, group content without a tank or healer can actually be quite a challenge (depending on the instance and your group make-up), potentially forcing you to actually take care with pulls and use cooldowns to not die.

11. The post-launch content is not unique for your class.

Many hours of new story content have been added since launch, however due to the game not meeting expectations they had to lose the whole "eight parallel class stories" angle and unify the storyline. If this makes you wonder which character class might be best to return to to get the best experience out of the new content, I've got a post for you here!

Still, it's important to know that there's not as much replayability for alts as there used to be. There is some depending on the content - as there are references to your old class sprinkled in here or there, and some storylines are different for Republic and Empire at least. However, eight unique class stories it is not.

12. There are options to skip ahead now.

I'd always advise players not to skip story the first time around, but if you were stuck on something you really didn't enjoy, or on an alt that stalled out while progressing through a piece of content you found too repetitive to do again, there are options to skip ahead to different points in the story now. So for example if you've only been gone for a few years but got bogged down in the "Knights of" expansions because you really didn't enjoy them, you can skip right ahead to Jedi Under Siege, where the story returns to a more traditional Republic vs. Empire setup.

Are you someone who hasn't played SWTOR in a long time and thinking about returning? Got any other burning questions about what has changed since the last time you played? Feel free to leave them in the comments!


Big Changes Coming with Galactic Season 2

When I wrote my feedback post for Galactic Season 1, I assumed that Bioware wasn't planning to make any major changes to the overall structure of the system, with two randomised daily and weekly objectives a week. As it turns out though, they're planning to change a whole lot!

David Staats took to the forums on Thursday to explain what updates they are looking to make for Season 2, and the list is quite extensive.

First off, the UI is going to change a bit - this is something I didn't mention before, but yes, having the Seasons objectives just mixed in with the regular Conquest ones was not great and slightly confusing. I kept having to re-order my list to find my Seasons POs, so giving them their own tab makes sense and will be a welcome improvement.

More importantly though, the number and nature of the priority objectives is going to change big time. The forum post lays out how during this first Season, most of the available points came from the daily objectives, and that the devs want to move away from that a bit to shift the focus more towards weeklies, as these give people more freedom to organise their play time and should ease the pressure on players like me who wanted to earn every available point as soon as possible. Can't say I disagree with that!

Going forward, there is only going to be a single, unchanging daily objective: to earn Conquest points. Datamining shows the amount of points required for this currently set to 50k (which is the same as an individual character's personal Conquest objective for the week), but since it hasn't officially been confirmed to be that number, I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up being a bit lower in the final iteration (higher would surprise me). This is a step towards homogenising Seasons and Conquest (already!), which I'm not too fond of, but it's somewhat balanced out by...

... people no longer getting two randomised weekly objectives but instead a list of ten that is the same for everyone, and the first seven you complete will award you points before the whole thing locks down (meaning you can skip whichever three you like the least). The forum post doesn't specify the nature of these and they are probably still up in the air, but again, if datamining is at least an indication of the general direction, quite a few of these will be more specific than the Season 1 weeklies were, e.g. to kill some mobs without a companion, to complete a specific KotFE chapter, or to kill a certain boss in a specific flashpoint.

Everyone drawing from the same list of objectives will make it easier for friends and guildies to co-ordinate, though it also makes me hope that Bioware isn't planning to add any competitive open world objectives to that list, because e.g. the whole server trying to complete a certain Taris outdoor heroic at the same time would probably not be that fun.

In general, this change in structure will definitely also change how I approach the Season. During Season 1 my priority was always to get my daily objectives done, and the weeklies were something I fit in whenever, or even something that completed itself while I was doing dailies (e.g. the warzone weekly getting ticked off if I got the daily objective for warzones several days in a row).

With the shift to a focus on weeklies and the daily being super generic, the question will instead be "What weeklies can I work on today?" and it will be the daily that completes itself while you work on other objectives. At the same time it will be easier to deal with busy days that don't allow for as much play time without missing a beat, because you could then just log in, do some quick and easy Conquest objectives that award a lot of points (such as raising a companion's influence level) and call it a day without falling behind on Season progress.

I have to say I really like the sound of that, and after a bit of time "off" from Season 1, I'm now actually looking forward to Season 2 and how it will work with that new system.


Bad Batch Season 1

As the last episode of Bad Batch season one aired on Disney+ a few days ago, I wanted to talk about this show for a bit! It was the first Star Wars show of which I've watched every episode as it came out, which was a novel experience for me. I was hoping that I'd be able to have some exchanges about it with my Twitter friends about it, since I remembered some of them talking about Rebels all the time back when that aired, but for some reason Bad Batch didn't seem to inspire the same amount of enthusiasm among the people I follow at least. Fortunately my guild's Discord had a Star Wars spoilers channel where people were happily chatting away about every new episode as it was released, so that was good fun.

For me, Bad Batch has been quite the pleasant surprise. I haven't been too hyped about Disney announcing that they are working on god knows how many more Star Wars shows, simply because let's be honest: both Star Wars and Disney have always been about fifty percent brilliance and fifty percent cheap crap, and you can't necessarily know in advance which one it's going to be. Bad Batch in specific also didn't excite me at all because I didn't feel particularly enamoured with the characters when they first appeared in Clone Wars. And anyway, how interesting can a show about a bunch of clone troopers simply fighting different enemies every week be anyway?

However, I was pleasantly surprised from the very first few minutes of the pilot. Despite the Batch being the titular characters, the show isn't all about them but also about the transformation of the Republic into the Empire after Revenge of the Sith, and I'm always a sucker for that kind of world building. Also, the Batch find themselves as outcasts almost right from the start, meaning that instead of being sent into battle every week by their superiors, they instead have to struggle with the question of what it means to be a soldier without a cause. They quickly settle into working as mercenaries (which is, after all, very close to being a soldier, it's just that your employers change) but come to realise over time that there could be more to life for them than simply being someone else's hired muscle.

A big part of that is inspired by their association with Omega, the show's child character, who I'm sure made every adult fan freeze in terror or groan at least a little the moment she was introduced in the pilot... but you know, ultimately I think she's been handled well. There are a few episodes where she's a bit much, but in general she serves her purpose of being a more "natural" foil to the single-mindedness of the clones, who're used to going where they're told and not having to ponder philosophical questions about what they'd actually like to do with their lives.

If I had to criticise anything, it would be that despite of everything that happens in season one, most of the Batch doesn't really see a lot of character development. Most of the personal growth I described above happens through the lens of Hunter, the leader of the squad, while his followers mostly remain true to the stereotypes as which they were introduced. I still think that works okay though, and with everything else that's going on I didn't personally perceive that lack of focus on the other squad members as annoying or detracting. Plus it's kind of part of the package with clones that they don't really have unique backstories to explore... it's more about the choices they decide to make going forward.

With that said, I'd like to add that I was surprised by how much the show's overarching themes of finding your place in the world and being forced to leave the past behind resonated with me on a personal level. I was a very "good kid" as a child, so unproblematic that my mother used to say that I appeared to have skipped puberty... I was just happy to trust the adult authority figures in my life and do whatever they asked of me (which mostly just meant staying out of trouble and getting good grades), but this also meant that when I hit my early to mid-twenties I had major difficulties adjusting to life as a grown-up and being expected to make decisions for myself. Let's just say that was a rough couple of years in some ways. So I could definitely relate to this bunch of clones feeling a bit lost without their Republic commanders to tell them what to do, even as they knew that the Empire wasn't right for them. Or maybe it's just that I main a trooper, so it's natural that I like a show about troopers? You decide.

Either way, I'm looking forward to season two.


All about the Codebreaker Title and Shortcut!

I'm not usually someone to write guides, but sometimes I'll come upon a fairly obscure piece of information that seemingly nobody else has posted on the internet yet, and that can be kind of fun to lay out for others. This is one of those occasions, somewhat randomly inspired by my ops group being back in Dxun and me suddenly finding myself wondering whether the Codebreaker shortcut is widely known, as I never saw anyone really talk about it... it's just something that we discovered organically.

A quick Google search for "swtor codebreaker shortcut" just got me the message "It looks like there aren't many great matches for your search", and trying "swtor codebreaker title" resulted in links to a few pages that replicated the codex entry for the title but nothing else. Hopefully this blog post will soon answer anyone's questions on the subject!

The first step to getting the Codebreaker title is to complete the Dxun Cipher achievement. I'm not going to go into detail about how to get this one, because there are already some good guides out there how to get that. Here is one of them. As you can see it requires you to have beaten the first three encounters in the Nature of Progress operation.

After killing the Mutant Trandoshans (boss number four, but it doesn't have to be in the same run as getting the achievement!), on your way to the Huntmaster, you have to pass through this room on the second floor of the main facility where you get ambushed by a trash pull. As you enter, on the left is the door leading to the stairs (yellow arrow), while on the right is the door to the tram/elevator leading to the spaceport and executive lounge (green arrow).

If you don't have the Cipher achievement, trying to use the lift before you've cleared the trash to Huntmaster won't work, as you'll be locked out. If you do have the achievement however, you can go up to the spaceport right away! And this is what grants you the title. Just be aware that if you do this on your own and you don't have stealth, you'll also die, as the tram spits you out right in the middle of a big trash pull.

However, if enough other people in your group have the achievement, you can all click the button simultaneously and go up together. (Timing is important here though, because the ride becomes unusable the moment the first person gets into combat.) Once the trash group at the top exit is dead, the lift becomes usable for everyone as normal. This is a nice way of skipping the stairs, which - while absolutely hilarious the first time - can get a bit old after a while I suppose.