27/11/2023

GS5 Review: The Leviathan

Galactic Season 5 on my secondary servers has been a season of lateral expansion more than vertical progress, which is my way of saying that I made a lot of new alts. Mostly I did this to be able to cover more ground whenever the "complete 15 missions as x origin story" objective comes up. I actually think that I got all variations of the objective covered now except that I still need to create either a Jedi knight or a Sith warrior on Tulak Hord.

On Leviathan, this initiative resulted in the creation of two new Imperials: Chatoh the Sith inquisitor/Assassin and Blegun the Imperial agent/Operative. Both are male characters as well, which continues my experimentation with exploring that side of the game for the first time. They are only level nine and eleven respectively, but that'll be something to work on next season. I am pleased with their outfits already, which actually influenced my class choice, as they were both gear sets that I got out of season reward boxes and figured I wanted to do something with.

My "main" on Leviathan, my knight/Sage Fangirl, didn't really make any story progress this season, though I did clean up a few more side quests on earlier planets that I hadn't done yet. Specifically, I finally managed to finish the Nar Shaddaa bonus series and most of Taris.

The bonus series have turned out to be strangely painful and buggy in general. Ages ago there used to be an issue where it was possible for people to pick up and complete certain exploration missions that were part of a a bonus series before they were actually on the correct step of the overarching chain, and if you did that, your bonus series was basically borked forever. To fix that, the devs turned the planetary bonus series into weekly repeatables and made the individual missions daily repeatable, so even if you did mess up and did things out of order, you could always come back the next day after the individual missions had reset and continue then. Sounds nice enough, right?

Except there now seems to be a new kind of bug where if you stop a bonus series at a certain point and then come back the next day, it won't work. As in, it will say something like "complete the mission for NPC X" but that NPC just won't talk to you, not today and not for the entire rest of the week. I encountered this both on Nar Shaddaa and on Tatooine and was very disheartened to find nobody else talking about this bug, as any related searches just led me to the old issue from years ago. I just took away from it that if I'm going to do any planetary bonus series going forward, I need to be willing to complete the entire thing that same day, or I'll risk having it bug out and having to start over from scratch.

My character that made the most story progress on Leviathan this season was my bounty hunter/Vanguard Chonkov. To be fair, he's still on Balmorra and level 34, but he also got started on the original Revan storyline. On that occasion I also learned that you can apparently pick up the story missions for those and queue for the flashpoints on veteran mode two levels earlier than you can pick up the solo mode missions, which struck me as quite odd.

Anyway, my overall progress on Leviathan saw my legacy advance from level 24 to 28. It also occurred to me that with how much being guilded increased my overall enjoyment of playing on other servers, that it would be nice to find a guild on Leviathan as well... but the language is an issue of course. I joked with my guildies that we should band together to create a guild called "Just for Seasons" or something... but interestingly, I found out while playing on Shae Vizla of all places that something like that actually already exists. Or rather, I don't know if the guild is meant to be "just" for seasons, but their ad acknowledged doing seasons on multiple servers as a thing and that they could offer you a home on all of them. It's called Republic/Imperial Court, so I looked it up on Leviathan, and while there was only one person online at the time, they were happy to invite me, so we'll see whether that'll do anything for me next season.

25/11/2023

A Week of APAC Adventure

The Shae Vizla server has now been out for a week, and its first weekly reset has come and gone. At the time of writing this, I'm up to about 24 hours /played on there, which is quite a lot considering I've been working full-time as normal and also doing other things. Before the first reset I'd accumulated over a million personal Conquest points despite of only having a stronghold bonus of 15% (from claiming my free Nar Shaddaa stronghold and nothing else).

Levelling is always good for Conquest, but I think most of my points actually came from PvP, as I completed both the warzone and the arena weekly twice on the same character, something I don't think I'd ever done before. I've just been having so much fun with the lowbie PvP. It's always been my favourite bracket, but at the same time it's also the one that sees the least activity on the other servers nowadays, meaning that it pretty much only pops during prime time of whatever the server's time zone is.


On Shae Vizla on the other hand, the vast majority of the population is still low level right now and doesn't have a choice but to queue in that bracket, plus the server is in the unique position of currently attracting players from all over the globe for that "new server smell", meaning queues are popping quickly all around the clock (though I haven't tried playing during Australian night time yet). It's simply delightful.

It's also been fun to watch the guild I'm in (Heroes of the Republic/Empire, founded by Kal from Today in TOR) thrive and grow. The guild bank is effectively not functional yet due to the withdrawal wait timer the devs added when they introduced the trade tax a few months ago, but getting a guild ship felt like a matter of urgency to start earning Conquest rewards.

I remember when guild ships were first added, I wrote a post called "Want a guild ship? Hope you got 50 million lying around". Back in 2014 that seemed like a pretty steep price, but with how much inflation there's been since then, I could single-handedly afford a hundred guild ships without breaking a sweat.

On a brand new server though, where every credit has to actually be generated through gameplay from scratch and people have a lot of expenses to begin with, things are not as simple. Even with the cost of guild ships having been dramatically reduced to only eight million credits recently, that still wasn't a number a single person starting fresh could just pull out of their pocket in week one, so Kal solicited donations/loans (he said he'd pay people back with interest) from the guild membership to speed things up. Thankfully everyone was feeling very excited and generous, so both the Imperial and the Republic guild were able to fund their guild ship and invade a planet in time for the first week of "proper" Conquest. At the time of writing this, it looks like the Imperial guild is set to win first place on the large yield target, and the Republic guild might win first place on the small yield planet.

Other guilds haven't been slacking either, with the large yield scoreboard being completely filled up already (showing ten active guilds) and three guilds competing for medium and small yield currently. It makes sense that larger guilds would get there first, but I'd expect a number of smaller guilds to also be able to afford guild ships after the first few weeks.

It's definitely going to be interesting to monitor activity on this server over time. Right now everyone's excited because it's the new place to be, but it does feel like even beyond its purpose of serving as a new home for APAC players, there's also a real chance of establishing it as a unique space where players from all regions come together. However, over time many will probably feel the pull of returning to focusing on their legacy on their main server. I suspect the first real litmus test is going to be the release of 7.4, when people will want to see the new story on their mains.

Of course there's also the option of opening up transfers, but I also think the devs will want to be careful with not doing that too quickly so as not to kill the mood. It's going to be a challenging balance to strike between preserving the fresh start excitement as long as possible and not losing too many players to inertia pulling them back to their old homes.

23/11/2023

GS5 Review: Star Forge

The surprise launch of the Shae Vizla server has (understandably) been hogging a lot of my attention, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been up to anything else. As it happens, the devs hardly could have timed things any better for me personally, as last week was also the week I hit season level 100 on Star Forge, Leviathan, Tulak Hord and Satele Shan (in that order) - meaning I'm now freed up to focus on wrapping up the last couple of achievements on Darth Malgus and... sure, why not start from scratch on a brand-new server as well?!

But first, let's review what I achieved on the other servers during Season 5, starting with Star Forge. At the end of last season, I got all my characters invited to fellow blogger Intisar's little guild. I had no great expectations surrounding this; I just wanted them to be housed somewhere where I could trust I wouldn't be kicked for inactivity when I stopped playing between seasons. And I knew that due to time zone differences, my actual interactions with other guildies were always going to be limited.

That said, things turned out better than I expected in that regard. First off, I'd completely forgotten what a difference it makes to actually earn guild Conquest rewards every week, so that was pleasant from a practical point of view, but I also got to see more of my new guildies than I'd initially anticipated. I joined their Discord and said hi, followed the daily conversations there, and one time when I stayed up until silly o'clock in my time zone on a weekend, I even got to join them for one and a half operations (finishing off Dread Master Styrak on vet mode, followed by a full Eternity Vault on the same difficulty setting). When Intisar asked me whether I was sufficiently geared to raid I immediately replied in the affirmative, but I've got to admit the difference in output at gear level 330 compared to my main's 339 was very noticeable. I actually had to work for it!


There was also another time when I was invited along to a casual run hosted by Swtorista, where I got to kill Xenoanalyst on 16-man, the two Gree open world bosses, and the Coruscant world boss. It's not much in the grand scheme of things, but compared to never really having any meaningful interactions on the secondary servers, it felt like a massive improvement that made me feel more grounded and happy to be playing there.

In terms of progression, my Sorc/Shadow Shintoo was once again the character that got the most done, as I played through the Onslaught base story on her to get access to the Onderon dailies and tick Objective Meridian off my weekly objectives list one time. I also completed the Eternal Championship on her, something that hadn't even really registered with me as something that I had access to on a boosted character. It wasn't until Intisar asked in guild chat whether I and another guild member needed help with the Championship for seasons that it hit me that I could indeed just go and recruit Yuun and Bowdaar to unlock access to that feature. So I did that, and promptly got the Cybernetic Rancor mount out of it.

My Commando main on this server didn't get to do much this season other than come along to ops, though she finally finished Voss (except for the bonus series), which means she's at least approaching the end of her class story by now. Maybe I'll get there by the end of Season 7...

I don't think I did a significant amount of PvP this season, which is also why my trooper's gear rating didn't really increase, as she's mostly in Thyrsian gear and I didn't earn enough commendations to upgrade it any further (plus I couldn't be bothered to try and swap it out for Noble Decurion either).

Overall I gained five legacy levels, which brings me up to legacy level 45 on Star Forge. Not long now until I hit that cap as well! Would be funny if I got there before finishing even a single class story...

20/11/2023

Liabilities of Taris

Last week I wrote a post about my experiences with the Hotblooded on Hoth seasons objective. There was actually another weekly objective that week that I wanted to talk about, namely the "Liabilities of Taris" one.

I'm generally fond of the "Liabilities" objectives that ask you to kill named champion mobs across the galaxy. I remember back when I was new to the game, I always got excited when I encountered a named champion mob out in the world. There were no achievements yet back then, but even so I was always intrigued. Was it going to have any special abilities? Would it drop anything unusual? Sadly, the answer was almost always no to both of these questions. And while I don't think that everything in the game world has to serve some deep purpose, I did kind of wonder sometimes just what the point of giving these unique mobs names was if that was all they had.

The devs did add achievements for some of them later, but still... you can only get those once, so it's been nice to have a reason to seek these named mobs out again every now and then. One champion I particularly enjoyed revisiting last week was Maltok, a named rakghoul on Imperial Taris that had been memorable to me for actually having a couple of unique abilities, such as repeatedly summoning swarms of small adds. I found him so challenging and interesting when I first encountered him back in 2014 that I recorded myself soloing him on my bounty hunter Powertech and uploaded the video to YouTube.

At least one of the multiple times I killed him last week was interesting in a similar way, namely when I fought him on my Vanguard bounty hunter on Leviathan. Imperial Taris is recommended for levels 32-36 but said character had only just hit 31 that week (and I didn't have an Imp any higher on that server). With how quickly you level nowadays, it had been ages since I found myself going up against any mobs actually higher level than me, so I wasn't even sure how viable that was nowadays. I tried my hand at a pack of level 33 flappers and they died easily enough, just a bit more slowly than usual. Nothing like Classic WoW where taking on an opponent several levels above you would result in an endless series of missed attacks.

I was still a bit nervous when I charged Maltok, as he was level 36 and nobody else was around at the time, but I did it! I blew all my cooldowns including multiple adrenals and my heroic moment, and after seven minutes or so he was down. I hadn't felt that excited to be soloing a champion in a while.

Coming up against one of the featured champions on my own turned out to be a rare occurrence however, as pretty much everywhere else they were being hunted to extinction. It wasn't unusual for me to arrive at a spawn location and find no mob, but three or four other players already waiting for it to respawn. These little parties could actually be quite amusing, as people would start emoting or cracking jokes about why the mob wasn't there after a while.

"He's scared because he can see us waiting!"
"Must have been patched out by accident."
"I think he overslept!"

It was just a silly little thing that reminded me that "down time" in an MMO doesn't always have to be a bad thing, even when some of the respawns took a bit too long for my liking.

Finally, it also highlighted to me that I'm glad that SWTOR Spy is still around (even though the site appears to not have been updated in almost a decade), simply because it's still the only fan site that has a full list of all the named champions with detailed directions. The site's age is really starting to show by now though, as the thumbnails display at about the size of a stamp on a modern monitor.

Addendum: While double-checking the above to make sure I wasn't missing anything, I realised that Illeva actually does also have a more "modern" guide to all these champions' locations, it's just that the pages are all named after their associated achievements, so they never come up as the top result when googling for a specific mob by name.

18/11/2023

Enjoying the New Server Smell on Shae Vizla

There are about a dozen different MMO-related things I'd like to be doing right now, but I just had to make some time for checking out the launch of the new APAC server. I started by securing my name on a trooper, but then began levelling a Sith warrior instead, simply because one of the weekly seasons objectives was to complete fifteen missions as that origin story. I named her Apacella, which I thought was quite a clever pun for the occasion. In no rush to level up quickly but still keen to play, I made it to level 13 in my first play session.

I got myself invited to Kal's guild on Empire side but also kept general chat open - something I usually don't do - because I wanted to see what people were talking about on the server's first day. There was some silliness going on, but no real toxicity that I could see. Mostly people seemed to be talking about what a strange experience it was to start from scratch again and to have no legacy perks, whether this experience made them miss their legacies or filled them with nostalgia.

I was somewhat ahead of the pack in that sense as I already got to wrestle with that particular sensation early last year, when I started from scratch on Tulak Hord and Leviathan. Still, at this point my legacies on those servers are at least moderately progressed too, so being back to square one on Shae Vizla was certainly a noticeable shift again. Killing that gold k'lor'slug in the blood pool at level nine was a proper life-or-death battle that I only won very barely - same with soloing the Korriban heroics later.

I also had to resist the urge to open my mail initially, since I did not have a stronghold yet that I could travel to and use to dump all my freebies in my legacy cargo hold. I figured that the ancient promotion that granted the Nar Shaddaa stronghold for free to everyone who was a subscriber at the launch of Galactic Strongholds (or something like that) doesn't apply on Shae Vizla, but I did see later on that it showed up as available for free on the stronghold directory; I just had to actually go there and activate it. Either way I opted to sort out my mail and bags once I got to the fleet.

I queued for my first PvP match at level ten, something I'd usually never do because of just how low-level and weak you are that early on... but I figured hey, the server is brand new and we're all low-level and weak, so why not. I certainly didn't feel like I was doing particularly worse than anyone else and it was good fun. I even did some arenas and the matches felt pretty balanced, with no twinks AoE-stunning everyone with grenades and nobody getting salty about losing.

Another thing that was really interesting to me was Conquest. Since there haven't been any fresh servers since launch, I hadn't considered how that system would function on a brand-new server. Since there are no established guilds yet, the Conquest leaderboard is currently completely empty as nobody has the funds to buy a guild ship yet - though even if they did, nobody's Conquest points contribute towards the guild score in their first week of joining, so it's literally impossible for any guild to score points this week. It'll be interesting to see who'll be the first ones to actually launch a guild ship invasion after the next reset.

For now I'm up to level 24, though I'm still not even done with Korriban as a lot of my XP came from doing random things like PvP or joining a world boss group. We killed the world bosses on Dromund Kaas and Balmorra for example and I levelled up twice from the insane XP payouts. The Balmorran world boss also nearly wiped us, because it turns out that a full raid group of piddly dpsers takes a lot of damage and we barely had enough healing going around. Truly, everything's an adventure again.

16/11/2023

New APAC Region Server Launching TODAY!

We've known for a while that the SWTOR team had been toying with the idea of opening a new Asia Pacific server, ever since they tested the concept while getting ready for the move to Amazon Web Services earlier in the year. What I didn't expect was to wake up to a news post this morning announcing that the new APAC server - called Shae Vizla like its earlier test incarnation - was in fact going to launch today. When I came home from work in the evening, it was already open. Talk about keeping mum until the last second!

Technically it's "early access" for subscribers today, but tomorrow it will already be fully open to everyone. It's exciting times for our friends from down under who've had to suffer from bad ping ever since the last set of APAC servers were shut down back in 2013. I'm sure content creators Kal and XamXam (both Aussies) are over the moon.

But honestly, it's an exciting day for the whole community. The last time SWTOR added a new server was back in 2012 - since then it's been nothing but consolidations. So this is basically the first time the community as a whole has been able to experience something akin to a "fresh start" server (aside from the original launch), and I think many players will be treating it that way. Even if the ping for those of us not in the APAC region won't be great, if you're not aiming to play high-end content it shouldn't really be an issue, and there isn't really any reason not to join the fun of launch week at least. For Galactic Seasons altoholics like me it also means one more server to complete the seasonal track on, even if there's only a limited amount of time left in Season 5.

To have everyone start on (mostly) even footing, character transfers are disabled for now, though store boosts are still available. It'll be interesting to see what the GTN on Shae Vizla will be like to begin with, without anyone sitting on billions of credits hoarded over the course of the last decade. Later down the line, transfers are supposed to get enabled though, which makes sense as I'm sure many APAC players will be keen to move their existing legacies over.

Anyway, I don't have much more to say other than that this is surprising and great. There's a whole event schedule with people streaming, holding giveaways etc. which you can check out here. Let's all enjoy basking in those good vibes for the moment!

13/11/2023

Hotblooded on Hoth

 ... is the name of a weekly seasons objective that asks you to kill the two world bosses on Hoth, Gargath and Snowblind. It's an easy 12-pointer if you're in a guild, plus killing these particular bosses also counts towards other goals you might potentially have, such as completing the weekly world boss quest, recruiting Qyzen Fess into your Alliance, or progress towards the Aratech Coral speeder, which (among other things) requires you to kill both of these bosses three times each.

If you're not in a guild, or just can't make your guild's usual time for these sorts of events, things are a bit trickier, though not as bad as they used to be. Thanks to shared tagging, it's viable to just kind of loiter in the area, and then simply join the fight once a proper group comes along, even if they're of the opposite faction.

Sometimes that works well, but other times it just takes forever for an actual group to show up. It seemed like a solid plan to me last week to just hang out next to each world boss with the game minimised, tabbing back in every so often to make sure I didn't get logged out for being AFK, but otherwise simply doing something else on the side while keeping an ear out for sounds of battle or other players approaching.

However, doing this on four servers, I spent literal hours just staring at Snowblind and Gargath's butts (even if it was intermittent), and it honestly got a bit demotivating after a while, especially since getting in on one kill was no guarantee that you'd get in on the same group killing the other world boss as well, in which case the camping process would have to start all over again.


I spent so much time stalking Gargath that I learned that he only moves if you get too close to him, specifically a distance of less than 67 meters. As soon as he's further away from players than that, he stops and just stands still. The more you know!

Another useful lesson I learned was that most pugs seem to be doing the bosses in reverse order compared to how I'm used to doing them. My usual M.O. when I'm leading a guild group is to simply go left to right from the Republic base, which means Gargath first and Snowblind second. However, every time I caught a group killing Gargath while lurking, I would rush to Snowblind's hunting grounds right afterwards (which are a looong trip from the nearest Republic base) just to find nothing but his corpse there.

Initially I thought that I was simply too slow getting there, but at one point a group at Snowblind threw me an invite, and they immediately told me that they were going to go do Gargath right after. That was on Leviathan, where I also learned that they apparently call Gargath "Titi" there - or at least the leader of that group did. Silly French people!

Anyway, once I changed my strategy to camping Snowblind first and then rushing to Gargath (who has a quick travel point much closer to his spawn) I started to have better luck with getting both kills in one go.

The other thing I found myself thinking about was that it's a bit of a shame to have cross-faction tagging but no ability to actually work together. Once I was waiting at Snowblind on a Commando healer, and a small group of Imps decided to pull the boss. I joined in to help out with dps, but of course my damage as a healer was nothing to write home about. I noticed that they had no healer though! However, me throwing down kolto bombs did nothing for them due to the faction barrier separating us. Eventually they wiped and I was in fact the last person standing, until the boss took me out too. As much as I think SWTOR's faction conflict is crucial to the narrative, in that moment it just seemed a bit dumb that my kolto wasn't working on them. (Though at least one of the Imps respecced to healer after that and they were able to successfully kill it on the next try.)

10/11/2023

Surveyed!

I was pleasantly surprised the other day when I read that Broadsword has been sending out opinion surveys to players this week. I couldn't remember the last time I was asked to fill out one of these, but that's why I have a blog! This post from December 2016 mentions me completing a survey about Knights of the Eternal Throne. I'd completely forgotten about that... either way, it's been a while.

Presumably not every player is getting this survey (Jackie clarified on the forums that it's only available in English, so if you registered your game in French or German you might not get it for example), but it does look like it's going out to a pretty wide group as I've seen both guildies and people on social media talk about receiving it, plus they're staggering the email send over the course of the week (which is usually something you do when you're emailing a lot of people).

If you're unsure whether it's hiding somewhere in your inbox, look for an email from "The SWTOR team" with the subject line "You're invited to provide feedback on SWTOR". I received mine on Wednesday.

It consisted of a total of eighteen questions for me, though that number is clearly variable based on some of your answers, e.g. when I selected that I disagreed with a certain statement, a follow-up question suddenly popped up on the same page to ask me why.

I thought the first page was quite interesting as it basically asked about the new player experience: how much the first five hours of the game prepared you for what came later, and how hard you found different aspects of the game to get into. (I chose Galactic Starfighter as the most difficult to understand. Hell, I'm close to having played a thousand matches of that game mode and I still don't understand a good chunk of the kinds of things that happen to me in it.)

The next two pages focused on polling people about some general sentiments about the game, such as whether the graphics look modern, whether you like your companions, or whether you feel that your choices are meaningful, as well as asking about your favourite and least favourite story moments.

Then there was a question about whether you primarily play solo or with friends, and I desperately wanted a "both" option. As it was, I chose "with friends" since I guess that's the more unusual one... this only led to a single follow-up question about whether I considered my guild important to my gameplay experience, so I'm guessing the focus here was actually on the people choosing the solo option. Can anyone who completed the survey and went down that route confirm what sort of follow-up questions you got here? [EDIT: Pallais shared his survey with me and it appears that there were no special questions for solo players actually, just the guild one being limited to those of us who group a lot.]

Finally there was a section focused on monetisation that asked me to rate different subscriber benefits (not sure if this is different for people who aren't subscribed) as well as different types of Cartel Market purchases (e.g. hair styles, XP boosts, pets).

I was quite happy to complete this survey because I think it's in the interest of any good business to understand how customers interact with their product or service and while the devs obviously have some idea based on gameplay and transaction data, I'm almost willing to bet that there's going to be something in the results of this survey that's gonna make them go "huh, I never thought about that". (I say this as someone who finds customer surveys and focus groups extremely fascinating in her day job.)

I don't think any of our answers will trigger very specific changes - in fact, I thought it was funny that I first found out about this survey through someone posting about it on the PvP forum and asking others to please complain about premades in their survey responses... because my own version of the survey only included a single mention of PvP, and that was as one of the gameplay modes for which they asked whether it was initially hard to understand.

The way I see it, based on the questions I got to answer, they mainly seem to be looking for general guidance in three areas:

  • How much to invest into improving the new player experience
  • Which areas that are supposed to be core to the game do people find the least satisfying (e.g. if lots of people said they don't really care about their companions, that would be surprising and probably something they'd want to change)
  • What else can they sell us that we'd actually like to buy

And I think those are some perfectly sensible questions.

My own answers to those three points were, in a nutshell:

I generally thought the game starts out teaching you the basics well, but there is a lot more to learn later. I rated GSF as the most confusing mode to get into, followed by space missions and strongholds. None of the "more standard MMO fare" like flashpoints or PvP ever gave me too much trouble from what I can remember.

I responded neutral to positively to pretty much all the things they asked about, except the question about whether SWTOR felt "modern", because I just don't feel like I can use that word to describe a tab-target MMO in the year 2023. That's not a complaint, mind you, just an observation of the zeitgeist. I also noted a couple of places where I personally feel the graphics could use a bit of sprucing up, even if the game is still gorgeous in many ways.

As for store items, I answered truthfully that I like anything that makes it more fun to create new alts, such as new species unlocks and hairstyles. Armours qualify sometimes, but weapons I care little about because they are too small to be well visible most of the time anyway, and I'm always mystified when people get excited about different lightsaber hilts. I did note that I also like pets but it's hard to get into them when they despawn after every loading screen (hint hint).

Feel free to share some of your own survey responses and observations in the comments!

08/11/2023

Mysteries of Mek-Sha

I've been thinking about Mek-Sha recently. I had a good amount of fun at the Interpreter's Retreat, and people pointing out similarities to Mek-Sha made me want to reconsider my stance on that planet. I liked the story there back when it came out, but as I noted after three months of Onslaught, the repeatable content seemed half-baked and disappointing.

The other week Mek-Sha was one of the planets featured on the weekly seasons objective to do repeatable or side missions, and I thought I would use that as an opportunity to give it another look. I did so on my Shadow on Star Forge, and sadly I ended up being disappointed all over again, as most of the missions I completed didn't even count towards the objective. After I repeated one of the heroics for the third time without my mission counter advancing, I eventually gave up and finished the objective on another planet.

The "We're Wanted Men" heroic isn't even marked as one (which is why I guess it didn't count for the seasons objective) - though it did advance my "do heroics on Mek-Sha" achievement. It's also a bit "plain" compared to its predecessor "Turf War", as it just has you fight off waves and waves of mobs. I hadn't fully processed this previously, but they completely replaced the Turf War heroic with this "new" one back in 2020. Xam Xam still has the guide for the old version up, and I remember it being quite tough and having a sort of puzzle aspect to it. You'd get one of four different opponents that had a unique buff, and you'd have to interact with the environment to counter it (so for example you'd splash the guy with the "drunken rage" buff with a glass of water). I mean, there was a reason Mr Commando and I stopped bothering with it after a few tries, but that had more to do with bugged credit than the mission itself.

The two regular heroics are also quite a bit longer than most regular heroics, requiring you to move between phases in different areas, which makes them feel like a lot of effort for little reward.

Finally, I was reminded of how Mek-Sha has all these hidden achievements, but I couldn't be bothered to look them up online. I think the Interpreter's Retreat was much better at luring you in and getting you interested in what else there was to discover. Achievements that stay hidden until you complete them are not very intriguing, because unless you look up a guide in advance, you won't even know that you're already working towards something. I much prefer the approach of letting you discover the achievement as soon as you do something that progresses it.

I'm glad that the devs seem to have learned from those issues, considering how much better the Interpreter's Retreat worked, but part of me still kind of wishes that they'd go back and clean up Mek-Sha a bit too. Make sure heroics are labelled and counted as such, make sure exploration missions are labelled and counted as such, and allow hidden achievements to be found once you do something that triggers them, so you know you're actually making progress and have an incentive to keep going. Just one of those little things.

03/11/2023

Looking Back at SWTOR's Patch History

Every time the SWTOR devs announce a new content release, part of the community inevitably complains that it's too little and not enough to be worth p(l)aying for. Now, I don't want to spend too much time on that argument because it's the same thing every time, and how much is "enough" is ultimately always going to be subjective. People are entitled to have their own opinions about that.

However, I do find the question of just how fast or slow SWTOR's content release cycle is interesting because while it's obviously true that we get less content nowadays than in say, 2012, when the game was new and still trying to be the latest WoW killer with a giant dev team to support it, when you compare things to say... 2017, I'm already not so sure. Lately I would even say that things have felt... pretty good?

I suspect that I may be biased due to my real life circumstances changing over time. Back in 2012 I was only working part-time two days a week, and then I was unemployed for several months, so I had a lot of time to play. Nowadays, with a full-time job keeping me busy to some degree (even if it's a pretty cushy one), I suppose it takes less for an MMO to give me the feeling that I'm getting good value for my money.

But still... I wanted to know whether there was anything we could look at with any degree of objectivity. The game has faithfully been documenting both its major and minor patches since launch, so I thought it would be interesting to go through them and note down the release dates for certain "big ticket items" such as story updates and operations, to get an idea of how much love that specific part of the game has been getting over time. I'm only comparing SWTOR against itself here, as I think comparisons with other MMOs are always going to be too flawed in terms of accounting for things like different business models, production values, size etc.

Let's start with looking at what's inarguably The Old Republic's main draw: its well-presented personal story:

Timeline of main story updates

  • April 2013 (2.0): Rise of the Hutt Cartel
  • April 2014 (2.7): Assault on Tython, Korriban Incursion
  • August 2014 (2.9): Depths of Manaan
  • September 2014 (2.10): Legacy of the Rakata
  • December 2014 (3.0): Shadow of Revan
  • April 2015 (3.2): Rise of the Emperor
  • October 2015 (4.0): Knights of the Fallen Empire chapters 1-9
  • February 2016 (4.1): KotFE chapter 10 
  • March 2016 (4.2): KotFE chapter 11
  • April 2016 (4.3): KotFE chapter 12
  • May 2016 (4.4): KotFE chapter 13
  • June 2016 (4.5): KotFE chapter 14
  • June 2016 (4.6): KotFE chapter 15
  • August 2016 (4.7): KotFE chapter 16
  • November 2016 (5.0): Knights of the Eternal Throne
  • April 2017 (5.2): War for Iokath
  • August 2017 (5.4): Crisis on Umbara
  • November 2017 (5.6): A Traitor Among the Chiss
  • May 2018 (5.9): The Nathema Conspiracy
  • December 2018 (5.10): Jedi Under Siege
  • October 2019 (6.0): Onslaught
  • February 2020 (6.1): Task at Hand/Signal from Noise
  • December 2020 (6.2): Echoes of Oblivion, Spirit of Vengeance
  • April 2021 (6.3): Secrets of the Enclave
  • February 2022 (7.0): Legacy of the Sith
  • August 2022 (7.1): Digging Deeper
  • December 2022 (7.2): Showdown on Ruhnuk
  • June 2023 (7.3): Old Wounds

The first thing that stands out to me here is that even though the game launched in December 2011, we didn't actually get a continuation of our character's personal story until almost one and a half years later. This was interesting to me because I remember those first couple of years as a cornucopia of new content every other month - and it was, but in the other categories (which we'll get to later). On the story front, there was silence - presumably because they were initially planning to continue the class stories but had to pivot when it became apparent that this kind of development was not sustainable with the existing subscriber base.

I do vaguely seem to remember some people complaining about the lack of story continuation at the time, but it wasn't an issue for me personally as I enjoyed the other types of content they were adding as well, and more importantly, the eight unique class stories took me ages to get through anyway as someone who wasn't in a rush. I didn't complete the last of them (which was bounty hunter for me) until October 2013.

It's also funny to remember that when we did get new story in the form of the Forged Alliances arc, it wasn't actually apparent that this was the main storyline at first, as we didn't know at the time that it was a prelude to Shadow of Revan and not just another random side story taking place in flashpoints like Kaon Under Siege/Lost Island (this was before we had the purple markers to highlight main story missions).

Things continued to be somewhat slow until the release of Knights of the Fallen Empire in October 2015, which briefly ushered in a period of near-monthly story updates. I honestly find it pretty impressive to this day that they managed to pull that off, regardless of what you may have thought of the quality of those updates. Of course, this is was also the period when players complained about there being "nothing to do" more than I've seen at any other point in time - and not entirely without reason, as the hyper-focus on story definitely resulted in a dearth of content in other areas (again, more on this later).

All of this came to an end with the release of Knights of the Eternal Throne in November 2016. Interestingly, while I remember those months as a very dark time for the game, mainly due to Galactic Command, in terms of story updates the devs actually maintained a decent amount of momentum, releasing three updates in 2017. The main problem was that after a year of near-monthly chapters, this felt incredibly slow in comparison.

And then things slowed down even more, with only two updates in 2018 (even if Jedi Under Siege was pretty major) and then almost a whole year of wait until the release of Onslaught.

Then we had the pandemic, which we know interfered with their work and with recording voice lines for story updates, meaning we had wait about another year until the devs were finally able to give us a big combo-patch in the form of 6.2's Echoes of Vengeance. Note that there were a few more, very short status update "chat missions" spread out over the Onslaught patch cycle which are considered part of the main storyline, but I couldn't even find those in the patch notes. I pretty much only know around what time they came out due to blog posts.

Then we had another year with only a single story update in April 2021, as Legacy of the Sith ended up being delayed. This was followed by three story updates in 2022, and we currently seem to be on track to finish 2023 with two story updates again.

So what does this show us, really? Honestly, the thing that surprised me the most here was just how slow things were from about 2018 to 2021. Yes, we can partially blame the pandemic for that I'm sure, but only partially. The thing is, I absolutely adored Jedi Under Siege and thought Onslaught was a great expansion as well, so I didn't even really notice how slow things were at the time...

The more recent pace of two to three main story updates a year actually seems pretty reasonable to me, assuming they also add other content during that time. Have they been doing that though? Let's have a look at how they've been doing with group content for example:

Timeline of small group content releases

  • January 2012 (1.1): Kaon Under Siege
  • April 2012 (1.2): Lost Island
  • August 2013 (2.3): Czerka Corporate Labs, Czerka Core Meltdown
  • February 2014 (2.6): Kuat Drive Yards
  • April 2014 (2.7): Assault on Tython, Korriban Incursion
  • August 2014 (2.9): Depths of Manaan
  • September 2014 (2.10): Legacy of the Rakata
  • December 2014 (3.0): Blood Hunt, Battle of Rishi
  • October 2015 (4.0): Star Fortresses
  • November 2016 (5.0): Crimson Fang, Done and Dusted, Firefrost, Fractured, Inferno
  • January 2017 (5.1): Destroyer of Worlds, Divided We Fall, Landing Party, Trench Runner, Trial and Error
  • August 2017 (5.4): Crisis on Umbara
  • November 2017 (5.6): A Traitor Among the Chiss
  • May 2018 (5.9): The Nathema Conspiracy
  • October 2019 (6.0): Objective Meridian
  • December 2020 (6.2): Spirit of Vengeance 
  • April 2021 (6.3): Secrets of the Enclave
  • February 2022 (7.0): Ruins of Nul
  • June 2023 (7.3): Shrine of Silence

The thing that stood out to me here is that I can see now why the devs started to tie story updates to flashpoints: because it gave them an easy way to claim a two-for-one. Look, a new story update! Also, a new flashpoint!

With that said, I was kind of surprised that the periods where they added the most small group content at the most rapid pace were not when I would have expected them, with one high point being the run-up to and release of Shadow of Revan (since it crammed story updates into a total of six flashpoints) and the other one being (oddly to me), the launch of Knights of the Eternal Throne when they added all the uprisings. I guess the problem there was that these never really caught on as flashpoint replacements. As a commenter here once put it, they basically give you more boring trash and fewer interesting bosses.

Ever since then, we've had a pretty stable cadence of getting one new flashpoint a year. I wouldn't mind more, but at the same time I've got to admit with the way SWTOR keeps its old content relevant, I don't feel like we desperately need them to come out faster. If you queue for a random flashpoint right now, you've got a pretty big selection of valid destinations already.

What about large group content though? They do require you to subscribe for that one.

Timeline of large group content releases

  • April 2012 (1.2): Explosive Conflict (4 bosses)
  • September 2012 (1.4): Terror from Beyond (5 bosses)
  • January 2013 (1.7): Xenoanalyst II (Gree event boss)
  • April 2013 (2.0): Scum and Villainy (7 bosses), Toborro's Courtyard (single boss)
  • October 2013 (2.4): Dread Fortress (5 bosses), Dread Palace (5 bosses)
  • January 2014 (2.5.2? not actually listed): The Eyeless (Rakghoul Resurgence event boss)
  • December 2014 (3.0): Ravagers (5 bosses), Temple of Sacrifice (5 bosses)
  • April 2015 (3.2): Colossal Monolith (single boss)
  • April 2017 (5.2): Tyth (Gods from the Machine first boss)
  • July 2017 (5.3): Aivela and Esne (Gods from the Machine second boss)
  • November 2017 (5.6): Nahut (Gods from the Machine third boss) 
  • January 2018 (5.7): Scyva (Gods from the Machine penultimate boss)
  • March 2018 (5.8): Izax (Gods from the Machine last boss)
  • February 2019 (5.10.1): Geonosian Queen (single boss)
  • October 2019 (6.0): Nature of Progress (6 bosses)
  • August 2022 (7.1): R-4 Anomaly (4 bosses)

Here we can see where a lot of the dev's team resources went in those first few years when they weren't adding new story: making operations. Getting two to three new operations a year was certainly good times for a raider like me! Of course that all came to a halt when they decided to throw out all operations development in favour of monthly chapters. So far, these two content types seem most directly in opposition to each other when it comes to the tug-o-war for resources.

I'm glad that the devs decided to start working on them again, but this timeline shows that release of new ops bosses has been really slow. Back in 2016/2017, having to wait three years between Ravagers/Temple of Sacrifice and Gods from the Machine seemed like forever (I'm not counting the Colossal Monolith for now since it was just a single stand-alone boss), but nowadays, two to three years between operations releases seems to be the new normal.

I've got to say, that's pretty rough. While the scalability keeps old operations relevant to some degree like it does flashpoints, having to wait so long for a new one is not great, especially since access to operations is nominally still one of the game's incentives to be a subscriber. Assuming the devs will continue along the same track, I wouldn't expect a new operation until end of 2024 or early 2025.

Finally, the other major group activity in the game is PvP:

Timeline of major PvP additions

  • April 2012 (1.2): Novare Coast 
  • June 2012 (1.3): Ranked warzones (8v8)
  • December 2012 (1.6): Ancient Hypergates
  • October 2013 (2.4): Arenas, ranked arenas (4v4) replace ranked warzones
  • April 2014 (2.7): Quesh Huttball
  • April 2016 (4.3): Odessen Proving Grounds
  • December 2017 (5.6.1): Yavin Ruins
  • October 2018 (5.9.3): Vandin Huttball
  • December 2022 (7.2): Removal of ranked, first PvP season track

I was kind of surprised just how little I could note down here. The only things I could have feasibly added and that I left out as not important enough were a couple of new arena maps.

Now, PvP in an MMO is a fairly self-sustaining mode of play, meaning the main appeal lies in coming up against new people all the time, not necessarily in getting new maps. In addition, seasons of some kind (first for ranked warzones, then ranked arenas, now the new track model emulating Galactic Seasons) have been coming and going throughout the years, so I don't quite know how to rank this.

Still, I didn't realise it had been five years since Vandin Huttball was added to the game (the last time we got a new warzone map). I feel we're kind of overdue for another one of these now.

Instanced group activities aren't all there is to an MMO though. What sets it apart from many a lobby game is the open world, so I think the frequency of the addition of new planets/zones is another relevant statistic to look at. These also often include other kinds of non-story content such as dailies, datacrons, achievements etc.

Timeline of post-release open world planets/zones added

  • April 2012 (1.2): Black Hole
  • September 2012 (1.5): Section X 
  • April 2013 (2.0): Makeb
  • August 2013 (2.3): CZ-198
  • October 2013 (2.4): Oricon
  • August 2014 (2.9): Manaan (stronghold entry)
  • December 2014 (3.0): Rishi, Yavin 4
  • April 2015 (3.2): Ziost
  • October 2015 (4.0): Zakuul
  • June 2016 (4.5): Darvannis
  • April 2017 (5.2): Iokath
  • December 2018 (5.10): Ossus
  • June 2019 (5.10.3): Dantooine
  • October 2019 (6.0): Onderon, Mek-sha
  • August 2022 (7.1): Manaan Invasion Zone
  • December 2022 (7.2): Ruhnuk
  • June 2023 (7.3): Interpreter's Retreat

This is another area where things seem to go pretty much in the opposite direction from story content, with lots of additions during the first three years and then nothing for two years around the "Knights of" expansions. I only added Zakuul and Darvannis as technicalities, as in practice they are pretty empty and hardly worth mentioning.

I also didn't realise that there was an almost three-year gap after the release of Onslaught where we got no new areas to play in at all. Again, I liked Onslaught so much that I didn't really notice. Unlike with the voice acting, I also can't quite see how the pandemic would have interfered with the creation of new maps... either way, kind of shocking now in hindsight.

On the plus side, this is an area where the team has clearly upped their game again since last year.

Finally, there is one more category that I'd like to look at, and that's one I'm going to call "features and events". This is going to cover items that don't fit into any of the previously mentioned categories but changed the game in what I consider a major way and permanently added one or more new activities for us to do.

Features and events added to SWTOR over time

  • April 2012 (1.2): Legacy system, guild banks
  • June 2012 (1.3): Group finder
  • November 2012 (1.5): Free to play
  • December 2012 (1.6): Heroic space combat
  • January 2013 (1.7): Relics of the Gree, reputations
  • April 2013 (2.0): Achievement system, macrobinoculars, seeker droids
  • August 2013 (2.3): Bounty Contract Week
  • December 2013 (2.5): Galactic Starfighter, Life Day
  • January 2014 (2.5.2? not actually listed) - Rakghoul Resurgence
  • June 2014 (2.8): Nar Shaddaa Nightlife
  • August 2014 (2.9): Galactic Strongholds, Conquest
  • April 2015 (3.2): Outfit designer
  • July 2015 (3.3): Togruta playable species
  • October 2015 (4.0): Level sync, Odessen Alliance
  • April 2016 (4.3): PvE/PvP instances on the same server
  • November 2016 (5.0): Dark vs. light system, Galactic Command, chapter difficulties
  • December 2018 (5.10): Guild perks and levels
  • June 2019 (5.10.3): Pirate Incursion
  • October 2019 (6.0): Nautolan playable species, Galactic Command removed
  • June 2020 (6.1.2): All Worlds Ultimate Swoop Rally 
  • October 2020 (6.1.4): Feast of Prosperity
  • April 2021 (6.3): Galactic Seasons
  • February 2022 (7.0): Dark vs. light system removed, combat styles, loadouts

Now this is probably the fuzziest category, as the items on this list are of varying importance. I could see some people arguing that I shouldn't even have included the new species for example, since they are just a cosmetic update, while others might say that I should have included server merges since they dramatically changed the environment in which people got to play. I had to make some choices and this is what I decided to go with.

We can see that the devs have been quite busy in that area! It makes sense that this is something that has slowed down over time, because a lot of the early additions were honestly pretty "basic" features for a modern MMO, such as the group finder or achievement system. Likewise, there's only so many repeatable events you can cram into an annual calendar after a while. Not to mention that once you add all these things, you then need to continue to maintain them, or else you end up like World of Warcraft at its worst, proudly adding features in one expansion and then discarding them the next. Nobody really likes that.

Either way, I feel that in this area the devs continuing to add things at a slower pace is fine. Combat styles and loadouts were pretty major last year, and while I didn't have anything to add to the list for 2023 at this point, they did make a lot of under-the-hood changes to the game, such as the upgrade to 64-bit and the move to AWS, which are not exciting for players but were still important.

Anyway, after all this - what is my verdict for how good SWTOR is at adding different kinds of content right now?

  • Story: Faster than at launch, slower than during KotFE/KotET, probably a good middle ground
  • Small group content: slower than in the past, but still steady and good enough considering the evergreen nature of the content once it's added
  • Large group content: very slow, hard to justify a sub if this is the only thing you care about
  • PvP: not really been a focus since the first year, so not much change there, but probably overdue for a bit of love
  • Planets/zones: Slower than at launch, but currently better than during KotFE/KotET and the more recent past
  • Features/events: Slower than at launch but still steady and good enough considering how many systems there are to maintain already

And with that I've also found the answer to why, to me at least, the content output actually seems pretty decent right now: while everything is somewhat slower - which is to be expected to some degree after more than a decade and with a much smaller team - the only area that really feels like it's in a bad place is operations. And while I like operations and am in a guild that is quite focused on them, to me personally they're not the primary reason to play the game. As long as everything else keeps rolling along, I'm good.

Plus I've discovered while writing this that if you make some content that I really, really love (such as Jedi Under Siege and Onslaught) I'll be happy to spend time on that for longer than usual, to the point that I won't even necessarily notice any delays or content droughts. I didn't know that about myself. The more you know!