Shintar's Galactic Seasons Diary, Week 2

You know, originally I was only going to write about my first week of this Galactic Season, but it's been shaping up to be such an interesting experience that I figured I might as well continue this little diary. Read on to find out all about the adventures I had while completing Seasons objectives in week two.

Day 1:

My new weekly objectives were to play four GSF matches and do three veteran mode flashpoints. I would have been happy with both of those except that word was that the flashpoint objective was still bugged, so I re-rolled it and got the warzone one again, which was just as well from my point of view.

My dailies were to play one GSF match and do some Section X dailies. For the former I took the character whose ships I had started kitting out last week, my boosted Assassin tank, and with more ships it was immediately more fun. I lost again, but at least it was domination instead of a death match for a change and I got to play a bit differently. This also brought me to 1/4 on the weekly, but I decided not to pursue that further for the time being in case I got more GSF dailies over the course of the week.

I took my Powertech tank on what I expected to be a quick tour of Imperial Section X but got a bit bogged down by the heroic, which - while soloable - can still be a bit of a drag. Once done, I quickly travelled out and did some hand-ins, which was enough to already grant me the Seasons objective even though I had two more missions left for the weekly quest. I decided to leave those for now in case I got more Section X objectives in the next couple of days.

Day 2:

My new dailies were to kill bugs and other mobs, this time across outer rim worlds. I immediately re-rolled the bugs and got a PvP match instead. I played this on my Sage healer and got into a Hypergates match where we eked out a win by a hair's breadth.

For the remaining generic mob killing I figured I'd consult my character spreadsheet to find an alt on a class story step on one of the eligible worlds (Tatooine, Hoth, Belsavis, Rishi). Surprisingly there was only one real contender, my DvL Assassin, whom I'd left on Hoth at some point. Returning there I finished off the class mission I was on, but then got sent to various other places before it continued on the next eligible planet, Belsavis. I'd actually completed my Conquest almost twice over before my mob counter finally hit 75.

Day 3:

My daily objectives were outer rim heroics and Section X dailies. I um-ed and ahh-ed a bit but eventually decided not to re-roll as I might just have ended up with bug killing again.

I returned to Section X on my Powertech tank to finish up those last two dailies for her weekly, but sadly only one of them counted towards the four dailies needed for the Seasons objective, so I had to come back and do some more on another character. I chose my Marauder for this.

For the heroics I opted to take my DvL Shadow to Tatooine with the intent to do the quickest, most stealth-friendly heroics I could find, but my memory ended up betraying me and I did pretty much the opposite (as in: several heroics that required a stupid amount of killing). Also, the first heroic I completed didn't actually count towards the total for some reason - there was probably already another bug report about that somewhere on the forums, but I didn't think to check in advance.

Day 4:

GSF made a comeback and I got a generic kill objective for the outer rim that for some reason already sat on 54/75. Sure, why not? I quickly finished off the latter by killing a few more mobs on Belsavis on my DvL Assassin and went back to my Assassin tank for more GSF. I got into a domination map where I started off by accidentally suiciding into some debris mere seconds after the start, but we ended up winning and I earned a whopping 13 medals defending the middle satellite on my bomber.

Day 5:

With more Section X dailies and heroics I was once again dithering about whether I should re-roll, since I was getting quite tired of the former and wasn't really too keen on the latter either, but once again I didn't want to risk ending up with something even worse.

I finished Section X on my Marauder who had started it on day 3, and learned that while the area daily doesn't count towards the Section X daily objective counter, the heroic apparently does.

For the heroics I logged my dps Powertech and took her to Belsavis. Once again I made my heroic choices based only on very vague memories, and this time I did a bit better, though only one was really conveniently short. The others would have been quick if I had been on a stealth character instead of one that needed to wade through every single pack of trash between me and the boss.

Day 6:

I got a repeat of my day 4 objectives, only for some reason this time the kill counter was already on 67/75, so it was easy enough to dispatch the last seven mobs to get credit. My GSF match was a death match that felt like it was going pretty well for me personally (I earned eight medals) but we actually lost by eleven points.

I also did a warzone to push my weekly to 2/3, since I could only potentially get one more warzone daily objective anyway. I got into a Vandin Huttball which was a draw that we won by holding the ball at match end. I did find the improved performance in the warzone very noticeable - to be honest I was a bit sceptical of just how much Bioware had "fixed" Quesh and Vendin during their several-months-long absence from the PvP rotation, considering how little fuss was made about them being added back in, but it was very obvious that I didn't get the weird lags/apparent teleportation anymore that I used to get when jumping on the air vents for example.

Day 7:

The last day of week two presented me with requests to kill bugs on Tatooine and another buggy daily that told me to do missions on Rishi while having a counter for Section X. I decided to re-roll the latter as I didn't really want to spend a fourth day in Section X this week, or deal with more potential bugginess for that matter. Killing bugs on Tat didn't exactly thrill me either, but in fairness it was actually the first time that week that this objective had come up, so there was at least some novelty to it. The re-roll turned into "do a warzone", which was nice as I needed to do that anyway to complete one of my weeklies.

For the bug killing I took my Guardian to Jundland, to that area where the Jedi consular has a class story quest interacting with Jawas. There were a few other people there, but there were so many Geonosians and they respawned so quickly that I nonetheless got my business done quickly and without too much of a fuss. It also completed my Guardian's Conquest.

For PvP I played a match on my lowbie Merc and got into a Voidstar. We started defending and couldn't hold the enemy back for long, making me curse the new unified levelling bracket, as our team seemed to average around 40, while our opponents were mostly 60+, with several of them in the 70s, and it felt like we were just getting stomped. Somewhat to my surprise we ended up winning anyway though, as we had a couple of keen stealthers that managed to crack open the enemy doors even quicker than they had.

Finally I did one more GSF match to finish off that weekly, and got into a deathmatch during which I lagged horribly at first, making it hard to hit anything at all. I wrote it off as a likely loss, but the score remained remarkably even and in the end we won 50-49. "Wow, gg," I commented in chat... just to have an angry Imp whisper me to say "no, it was not". Some people.

Week 2 impressions:

I liked the mix of objectives I got better this week, or maybe I just liked the planets more that were this week's focus. The general bugginess continued, though at least it actually worked in my favour a couple of times. It was also nice to have a reason to play a bit of GSF again after not doing any in ages, even though I'm not great it. The only thing I got a bit tired of was being sent to Section X over and over.


Conflicting Priorities

No, this post isn't about some sort of personal struggle - the title is the name of the little "in-between mission" set after Spirit of Vengeance but before 6.3's Secrets of the Enclave. While it came out a while ago now, I still wanted to say some things about it before talking about the 6.3 story content.

Like other recent-ish "in-between missions" it's basically just a little bit of chatter taking place in your base on Odessen about what's been happening with the Alliance. To be honest, while I used to think that these were a really neat idea initially - clearly meant to serve as a sort of "hey, we haven't forgotten about the story and neither should you" reminder for the players during long breaks between major patches... as they've started to accumulate, I've found that I kind of like them less and less.

While each one serves as a nice reminder of what's been happening if you play through it on the patch's original release date, if you're catching up on an alt's story progression later on, I'm finding that all these little "fillers" actually pointlessly slow down the action, and now that we've had a number of them already, they are also starting to sound increasingly same-y. There are only so many ways you can have Lana and your other advisors say: "By the way, the Alliance is still doing stuff!" I thought "Conflicting Priorities" was particularly egregious in that regard, which is why I really started thinking about it for the first time.

However, that wasn't all there was to this story update - there is a reference to a mission on Balmorra and you are asked whether you want to involve a particular "asset" called Zenith. Gasp! Could my thoughts about 2021 turn out to be wrong and Zenith make his return after all?

Sadly the mission doesn't really tell us very much. The dialogue refers to Zenith as a resistance fighter (note the lack of the adjective "former"!), but isn't Balmorra officially with the Republic again now? Who is he fighting when the Imps aren't about to try and steal something? And what happened to his ambitions to lead a more normal life as a politician? If you're a Jedi consular, your options to comment on this are sadly limited - the best I got to do was express happiness that he's alive and approve of getting in touch with him. I wasn't sure whether I should read this whole section as a hint that we'll all get a proper story mission that takes place on Balmorra later or whether it's just meant to be a tie-in for an Alliance alert along the lines of: "Zenith accomplished his mission, now he's come to Odessen to find out more about this Alliance commander" (for Republic characters only).

I'm actually hoping for the latter because as much as I've been pining for Zenith's return for nearly six years now (god, has it really been that long?), I don't think he'd be that interesting a character for other classes to interact with in great depth. I do hope that whichever way it plays out, we'll get some more context for what he's been up to and why.


Shintar's Galactic Seasons Diary, Week 1

As I predicted when the Seasons system was first announced, while I dislike the concept of being incentivised to repeat old content yet again, that doesn't necessarily prevent me from engaging with it and being somewhat entertained anyway. As such, I thought it would be interesting to keep a diary of my first week of completing my personal objectives to document my experiences with the whole thing.

Day 1:

When I inspected the new Galactic Seasons objectives lumped in with my Conquest, I was initially confused why they were marked as "pee zero". Only later did it dawn on me that it's probably meant to be PO and short for "personal objective".

My weeklies were the one to do three veteran flashpoints from a short list and three warzones. The warzones were easy enough for me to do and I decided to jump into a few matches on a lowbie mercenary. I only found out on the day of the patch that 6.3 also included the merging of the lowbie and midbie brackets, meaning that now all players from level 10 to 74 are lumped into matches together. I can't say I was happy to see that change, but the matchmaker was with me and I was lucky that evening, so that my team absolutely stomped the opposition in all three matches that I played. Also, the two missing Huttball maps are back, yay! I got into Quesh once.

A group of guildies was doing a quick Scum and Villainy story mode run since that was a weekly objective for many as well. I was asked if I wanted to join but declined since I didn't have that one. Instead I posted in the Discord channel dedicated to chatter about Seasons objectives, which one of the other officers had set up with some foresight, and asked if anyone was interested in joining me for the flashpoints later. There were a couple of offers of assistance, though I found out shortly afterwards that apparently the flashpoint objective is currently bugged. Good thing I learned that before actively spending time on trying to complete it. I used the option to re-roll my second weekly and now got Scum too.

My daily objectives were to kill mobs on Alderaan or Balmorra as well as do three heroics there, which seemed nicely synergistic. I took my DvL Shadow to Balmorra since she also still had her class quest unfinished there, so I progressed it a bit and did the three heroics in the Colicoid area. I've never seen that place so thoroughly cleared out before, I actually had to fight people for spawns.

Completing all this allowed me to claim my first reward in the form of the new Kubaz companion, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that he had a short Alliance alert associated with him. For some reason I'd expected him to just be a clicky to unlock like the companions you can get from the Nightlife event.

Day 2:

We had previously assumed that you could re-roll weekly objectives more than once, but this turned out to be not the case, so I was "stuck" with operations for good or ill. Fortunately around lunch time another guildie with the same weekly decided to set up a Scum pug run (not many guildies were online). It was... an adventure, as pugs so often are, but we still completed the operation within the hour so it wasn't too bad.

I tackled the daily objectives in the evening and sadly they were less synergistic this time - but I wanted to at least give them a try once before re-rolling. One was to complete a GSF match, which was fine to me, though I got into a completely unbalanced death match on the losing side. It was over very quickly and I was the top performer on my team by having managed to earn one medal... everyone else finished on zero. Based on the general chatter about GSF, we seem to once again be back to the problem of Bioware adding extra incentives for participating to keep the queues popping, but this just ends up filling up the matches with people who hate Starfighter and may even intentionally decide to do nothing or even sabotage their own team by suiciding. I'm not sure what the solution to that is.

My other daily was to kill insectoids on Alderaan or Balmorra - and was already partially completed as it seemed to remember that I had killed a lot of bugs during my rampage the day before. So I went and did the Colicoid heroics again, this time on a different character - I could see now why the area had been so busy the day before, though it was a bit better that night. Still, killing 75 bugs specifically still felt like it took really long. I concluded that if I was going to do that one again I needed to find a better area to farm them in, with more weak mobs in it that are quick to kill.

Day 3:

One of my daily objectives was to kill enemies on "coreward worlds", specified as Alderaan, Balmorra, Corellia, Mek-Sha or Onderon. Something from the previous day must have carried over again because I was immediately on 63/75, significantly reducing the amount of killing required. Still, I couldn't quite decide on which planet to go to, so instead opted to go for my other objective first, which required me to do Black Hole dailies. Conveniently, this actually ended up also completing the other objective, as (somewhat to my surprise) the Black Hole did count as Corellia for the purposes of this particular counter, which is not something I expected. (I mean, yes, it's technically correct, but you never know with these planetary sub-zones.)

Day 4:

Got the same heroic objective as on day one, but this time combined with having to kill 75 insectoids on Alderaan in specific, so I went and did the three Killik heroics there. This time nothing had carried over and I had to kill the full 75 mobs to get credit, which felt quite tiresome, especially considering that the larvae didn't count. Not a fan of this whole insect theme so far.

Day 5:

I was not pleased to find myself saddled with the exact same daily objectives yet again, being asked to kill even more bugs. Deciding that nothing could be worse than dealing with more insectoids, I used a re-roll on that one and it changed to at least require only the killing of normal enemies. In order to not have to deal with Balmorra or Alderaan again, I opted to do three heroics on Corellia this time.

This was pretty relaxing, until I checked my progress about halfway through the third heroic and noticed that the counter was still on 0/3 - and that while the objective description listed several planets, the objective name actually specified Alderaan. I sighed to myself a little, finished off the last heroic on my Guardian tank, and since that had also completed her Conquest I relogged on my Gunslinger to go to Alderaan after all. At least the mob farming was done, so I could choose three heroics that were quick to do and required minimal killing.

When I completed the last one of these, I still didn't see a pop-up for the daily objective, so I checked my list, worried that I had messed up yet again, but it showed as completed. Now I'm not sure whether I just managed to miss the completion notification message or whether the three Corellia heroics had counted after all (which I definitely would have missed) and it was just the progression counter that was bugged. So confused.

Day 6:

When I saw that my daily objectives were to kill insectoids on Alderaan and to kill insectoids on Balmorra, I screamed. I immediately re-rolled the Balmorra one and got a generic "kill mobs on core worlds" instead, which I figured would at least synergise. Though I was then told by a guildie that the two bug objectives are currently also bugged in a weird way and if you have both they will complete at the same time if you just do one planet... or something. Who knows.

Since heroics weren't part of my requirements this time around, I decided to do some GSI dailies on Alderaan, since I remembered a couple of them taking place in areas full of non-elite Killiks. Unfortunately I'd forgotten just how much driving around they require. My daily objectives were actually long done before I finished the quests, especially the one to search for Big Red. The big thranta was unlocatable in two separate instances (yes, I checked all five spots in each), and I only found it in the fifth spot in the third instance I checked. Cannot recommend this particular experience.

Day 7:

This time my daily objectives consisted of GSF (yay) and yet more bug killing, which I immediately attempted to nope out of with a re-roll, and got lucky enough to get more Black Hole dailies instead. While these are hardly my favourite thing ever, they beat having to kill bugs for the fourth time.

For the GSF match I chose a random alt that had never even done a single match, so I probably ended up spending more time on purchasing and sorting out ships and components than on actually playing, but oh well. My team lost once again, but at least it was a fair and reasonably fun match. Basically we were all equally terrible, so that the match timer ran out with both teams only on twenty-something kills each, but at least it was close.

Impressions so far:

At the moment, Galactic Seasons features too many bugs of both kinds. I get that new releases are always a big buggy at the start, but when a system is all about offering rewards for completing content within a limited time window, being unable to do so because of bugs is extra annoying (even if the Seasons system has a considerable buffer for potential inactivity built in).

Also, it seems to me that the weeklies are skewed more towards group content while the dailies are more targeted towards the solo player, which would be fine if you could get by doing just one type, but you absolutely do need to do at least some of both to earn all the rewards in time. Given the nature of my play style, I was happy with my weeklies but the dailies to kill x mobs on a specific planet got old quite quickly and I barely seemed to get anything else, even when I used the re-roll option.

Funnily enough, when I went to the forums to check how other people felt about this, the first thread I found had the title "Galactic Seasons - Daily Priority Objectives - More Options Please!", so I thought hey, other people agree with me and think the same! Then I actually read it and the first few pages were mostly people complaining that one out of the eight listed potential daily objectives being "do a warzone" (wish I'd got that one!) was "forcing" them into PvP... good reminder of why the forums should never be approached with too high expectations.

Either way, I'm not hopeful that Bioware will make any major adjustments to things like the objective mix at this point beyond fixing obvious bugs. We'll see how long I can put up with the bug grind. At least next week should send me to different planets.


Eight Years with Dread Master Styrak

Last year I wrote a post with some musings about how the way SWTOR keeps its raids relevant from one expansion to the next makes for a very peculiar experience for long-time players, as we may get to re-progress on the same bosses repeatedly, under different circumstances and with different people.

I've had a lot more time to think about that over the course of the last few months, thanks to Dread Master Styrak, the last boss of the Scum and Villainy operation. Scum was originally added to the game with the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion back in April 2013. My first impressions of it were favourable, though I would also note later that the last boss was a bit repetitive. I also remember that the first time said fight was explained to me, I had to ask for repeated confirmation about the Kell Dragon's spine mechanic, because I couldn't quite wrap my head around the idea that there was an ability in the game that you could counter with actual body blocking.

It only took about two months for us to also clear the operation on hard mode - but it was still highly meaningful to me because at the time the then-leadership team had decided that a whole bunch of us weren't really worthy of being part of guild progression and were therefore excluded from their hardmode runs. This initially left us feeling very lost and dejected, but when we eventually rallied and started to get our own hardmode kills (even if they happened a few weeks later), it was all the sweeter for it. I made a video of our first kill, and let's just say that the choice of Spectre General's "Nothin's Gonna Stand in Our Way" for the soundtrack felt appropriate in more than one way.

Scum's nightmare mode was out of our reach for a long time... but then the Shadow of Revan expansion added another five levels to our characters, and back then the operations didn't level with us yet, which suddenly granted significantly less skilled players a shot at some of those achievements as well. We got our own Styrak nightmare kill on the 3rd of July 2015 - I made another video out of that one:

In hindsight I can see just how much and how obviously we benefitted from being five levels higher than the boss - for example we stood in the purple ground circles more than once without taking significant damage, and of course there's the fact that we dispatched no less than half the team to deal with slowing the adds that form the chain, one for each corner - an incredible luxury the way I see it now. Still, there were new mechanics for us to deal with compared to hard mode, and it was still something to be proud of.

After that, Scum became just another operation that we went back to every now and then on story or hard mode. As the average skill level and encounter knowledge in the guild increased, hard mode even became quite doable on social nights when we'd bring along less experienced and skilled players or have people playing on alts. In 2018, I made a silly little video that shows us killing Styrak on 16-man hard veteran mode on such a social night (you can tell because I'm on my Scoundrel and playing dps, what is this I don't even), and in which I poked fun at the fact that Mr Commando and another officer were constantly complaining about our dps being too low and that we were bound to hit the enrage; and then we didn't. (Though the kill was still an extremely close call, with only one person left standing by the time the boss died.)

After the release of Onslaught and after we had cleared the new Dxun operation on both story and hard mode, it was time to go back to digging our teeth into some of the older content again and we found ourselves returning to Scum nightmare master mode once more, especially as some of our newer members had never done it before. With level scaling in place now, it was a lot tougher than we were used to, but fortunately we'd also got a lot better, so we still progressed through it at a steady pace. Until we got to Styrak himself that is, who turned out to be an absolute brick wall.

The boss's health values felt insane, and all the mechanics were now incredibly unforgiving. It took several minutes just to kill his Kell Dragon pet now, before the boss himself would even join the fight, and we'd regularly fail at getting even that done. It just felt like we were in way over our heads, and frustration eventually led us to agree to take a break from Scum for a few months and revisit Gods from the Machine veteran mode instead, another operation where team members were still missing achievements. That was in late summer/early autumn last year.

It was only in January of this year that we felt ready to return to Scum, once again with a couple of changes to the team's roster, and it did feel a little better initially, though progress still only came in baby steps from one week to the next. We finally became somewhat consistent at killing the Kell Dragon, but then ran into the next wall in the form of the chain add mechanic, which requires people to knock back rapidly approaching enemies repeatedly at just the right time or the group wipes. The way we had done it back in 2015 by sending one person into every corner was no longer viable due to the dps requirements, so the whole group just huddled in the middle and people would use their knock-backs whenever the chain came too close.

I was one of the people responsible for this and it was always hit or miss, as the window for the knock-back was extremely small and it was very easy to hit it either too early or too late - either of which would result in a wipe. It's hard for me to put into words how frustrating it is to try to perfect a mechanic like that when your only way to practice is to drag your whole ops team through five to ten minutes of boss fight first, where of course other things can go wrong as well, until you finally get to the bit you need to practice, get it wrong, and everyone dies so you have to start over. And it wasn't just me either: If I got it right, another person assigned to a different place in the knock-back rotation would usually mess up instead, with the same result.

Eventually, both Mr Commando and I were pretty much at the end of our rope with this fight and sat down with the rest of our team to ask them if they seriously wanted to keep bashing their heads against this wall, as it might well take us another few months to kill it. I think we expected them to say no, but surprisingly the majority of them wanted to stick with it regardless.

I started talking to members of our guild's other progression team - who'd successfully beaten this fight - if they had any suggestions for what else we could do to improve our chances. We're not that much worse than they are and it didn't quite seem to make sense that we were struggling so much more. Their advice was pretty unequivocally that we needed to change our group composition (in terms of classes that is, not people), as the knock-backs become a hundred times easier to deal with if you use Sages or Shadows to do them instead of Commandos and Gunslingers, as the former have a much larger range on their ability.

This was a very bitter pill to swallow, as we've always been believers in letting everyone play what they want, and that technically every fight should be possible with a halfway reasonable group composition and not require extreme class stacking. Mr Commando remained adamant that he was never going to play a Shadow tank as he hates them, but I'd always considered my Sage my main alt... so I started bringing her to some progression nights instead - and the difference was like night and day. Where my Commando had struggled to maybe hit a fifty percent success rate on her knock-backs, my Sage did not mess up that mechanic once, ever. It was just that much easier.

Fortunately we had some other team members who were willing and able to switch to alts to pad our group with additional Sages and Shadows... and while things were still a bit rocky as people got used to their new roles, progress was suddenly palpable. Incidentally, our monthly 16-man progression run set its eyes on master mode Styrak as well and got him down a bit over a week ago, showing us all what a successful run could look like. And this week it was finally our turn on 8-man... how could I not return to that Spectre General song?

The kill was a little marred by the dragon bugging out at the end and miraculously ridding itself of 85% of its health within two seconds, but as one of my team's members put it: considering how many times the fight bugged out on us in negative ways (usually adds appearing or abilities firing at seemingly random times), it was about time that a bug did something nice for us. Also, after how much time we spent on practising the fight and how smoothly it went at the end there, I'm fairly confident that we would have got the kill anyway, even if the dragon hadn't bugged out.

It still took an amazing amount of persistence to get there - the kill was a 22-minute fight, and we had to go through the phase with the chain adds no less than twelve times... and to think I thought this part was repetitive on story mode, where you have to do it what, three or four times? That's definitely not a well-designed mechanic at all.

But for all its faults and all the associated pains I've suffered, I have to say that this boss kill will forever be memorable to me now. I'm so proud of my team members for voting to stick with it when I felt like giving up, and for stepping up to play Shadow and Sage alts to improve our odds. I'm also a little proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone on the Commando and learning to heal a progression fight on my Sage for a change.

We're looking at revisiting Dread Palace next, but to me the thought of going somewhere other than Scum is almost confusing right now. It feels like we've been there for so long, I'm not sure I remember how to do anything else anymore.


Pretty Fly for a Jedi (Enclave)

Oh look, 6.3 is here; feels like I wrote about the preview for that patch only yesterday! How time flies... *cough*

Naturally, there's lots to talk about, but I wanted to start with something relatively simple: expressing my appreciation for just how damn good-looking the new story content is.

I mean, I've always been happy with SWTOR's art style (even though I know it's not everyone's cup of tea), but there's been a clear improvement in the design of new environments over time, which - in my opinion - reached its current peak with the release of Copero. Since then, I think the SWTOR artists are sadly often somewhat hampered by their own setting - I criticised Spirit of Vengeance for being kind of dull to look at not because the artists designing the flashpoint did a bad job, but because there's only so much you can do with three ships' worth of running through corridors.

With that in mind, I was all the more delighted to see that the new Dantooine environments are absolutely gorgeous. Sure, there's a bit of running through tunnels as part of the flashpoint too, but a good chunk of it actually lets you enjoy the beauty of Dantooine and I loved it. It also makes for an interesting juxtaposition to see your character and their allies look somewhat grim-faced, with their minds on a serious mission, while they walk through dense flowerbeds for example.

Speaking of faces, it also struck me with this update just how much better the artists and their tools have become at rendering believable facial expressions. Around KotFE/early KotET I seem to remember reading a dev comment about how they were very proud of how much they'd improved their facial expressions with that expansion but to me personally the results were still a bit... "meh" at the time. I don't know if the artists just got overexcited by all the new possibilities, but to be honest I thought the expressions were often awkwardly exaggerated. I actually can't find a screenshot of it right now, but I'm sure many players will know what I'm talking about when I say that the player character in particular often made a sort of weird "o-face".

In this update on the other hand, I found it really striking how good the facial expressions were throughout the whole thing. I took particular delight in the variety of faces Darth Rivix pulled depending on his mood, but they were never silly or over the top. There were also a lot of really subtle eye movements to convey the feeling that characters are thinking - I just really enjoyed it.

This was also enhanced by some really good camera work. I'm not really very well-versed in the art of film-making, but even so I couldn't help but think while playing through some older content recently that a lot of the old conversation cut scenes - for as revolutionary as they may have felt ten years ago - are nothing but endless sequences of a simple shot/reverse shot. Not so with new content like this, where the camera angle changes at least slightly with every shot and a lot of really cinematic and plain good-looking scenes are created - I mashed my screenshot key pretty hard on my first runs through the flashpoint on both factions but still missed a lot of great moments that I'm definitely planning to try and re-capture next time.

Finally, the voice acting also deserves a shout-out, as it seemed snappier than usual in places, with fewer awkward pauses, and the last boss of the flashpoint on Empire side in particular was an absolute delight to listen to, as the actress put so much emotion into the performance - again, simply delightful.

It's just great to see how much the game has evolved in that respect, and I can only hope that the team will continue to deliver consistently at this high level. More thoughts on story, mechanics, and of course the new Seasons system to come!


6.3 Preview Thoughts

Last Thursday Bioware did a preview stream for patch 6.3 - now confirmed to be named "The Dark Descent" - similar to what they did for 6.2 back in November. I didn't watch it live, but fortunately a recorded version is once again freely available on both Twitch and YouTube.

Apparently they got a lot of positive feedback about the voice actor interviews they included last time, and I can only agree with the majority that they've been great content and I'm happy to see more of them. This time around they interviewed Moira Quirk, who voices Elara Dorne and Aryn Leneer, and Gideon Emery, who voices Darth Rivix. They were both great to listen to once again, and Charles Boyd uttered the words "sexy David Bowie vampire" in the second interview, which is definitely something to be preserved for future generations.

One thing that was really funny to me personally was that, when Gideon started his interview by saying "thanks for having me" it was as if a switch had been flipped in my brain and I went "oh my god, it's Fenris from Dragon Age" - I had completely failed to make that connection when chatting with Rivix in game (I guess I was too immersed?) but the moment I heard the voice out of context it was like BAM!

Besides the voice actor interviews and a few giveaways, the stream's other two big ticket items were some talk about the story content coming up with 6.3 and the introduction of a new system called Galactic Seasons.

Secrets of the Enclave

6.3's story update will once again be delivered in the form of a flashpoint, continuing the Darth Malgus storyline and taking place in the ruins of the Jedi enclave on Dantooine. I was quite giddy to hear this, considering that I've (somewhat to my own surprise) become quite a Malgus fangirl ever since Jedi Under Siege! My only slight caveat is that this would potentially be the third time that we face Malgus as a flashpoint boss, which even I would consider overdoing it a little in this particular format.

That said, I thought it was interesting that they didn't actually confirm in the stream that we'll be fighting Malgus; they just stated that he'll be the reason we're there, so things might not actually end up going as we expect. (My dreams of a Malgus team-up are not dead yet!)

Characters confirmed to feature are Arn and Aryn for Republic players and Darths Krovos and Rivix for Imperials. These are all people I'm happy to see more of so I'm 100% on board with that.

Galactic Seasons

There is a whole blog post up on the official website about how this new system is going to work, but in a nutshell it sounds a bit like a cross between a limited time event and what other games call a season pass. Over the course of a season (currently slated to last about five months), you'll be able to unlock rewards for completing certain in-game objectives (more if you're also a subscriber) but you can also just spend money to get the rewards right away without playing, or pay credits to catch-up if you've fallen behind.

My reaction to that whole announcement can mostly be summed up as a somewhat resigned sigh. I don't really need the game to give me more stuff for doing the same things I'm already doing. I want story, content, and systems that keep me busy in a fun way. Like the basic login reward system introduced in 6.2, this feels more like another one of those free-to-play "tricks" to keep you engaged for the sake of monetisation, and I don't like that. I don't hate the idea or anything, but it just feels like another one of those little steps in an overall direction that I'm not too fond of. I do worry about one day realising that the water actually has become too hot for this frog.

Because I don't want to sound too negative, I will say that a large part of the player base does seem to love collecting stuff for the sake of owning it, so from that point of view I can see this system being quite a success. If I understand the way it works correctly, it will also offer free or preferred players an additional incentive to subscribe for at least a couple of times a year, even if it's not required to access new story content, which should be good for the game I guess.

Also, being completely honest with myself, depending on the details of how it works, I could see the actual objective-chasing appealing to the part of me that likes being able to combo completion of tasks for different purposes (e.g. doing a flashpoint to advance a character's personal story and complete their Conquest). If I can add "progressing my galactic season" on top of those other things I'm already interested in doing, I could see that having a certain appeal. But I can only wait and see.

What are your thoughts on what's been shown to come with 6.3 so far?


The 12 Best Ways to Die on Gods Trash

I haven't actually been to Gods from the Machine in a few weeks, but I was going through some video footage that I recorded there the other day, which in turn gave me the idea for this post. I've said before that I think that due to the way the bosses were originally released, Gods has a bit too much trash for comfort, however at the same time it's quite interesting and even entertaining, especially when you encounter it for the first time on one of the higher difficulties.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that there are a lot of really amusing ways to die on these mobs, which was what ultimately inspired me to make this list. Without further ado, my 12 favourite ways to die in Gods from the Machine without any involvement from the actual gods, sorted from bottom to top!

12. Falling off a walkway on your way to Tyth

I don't think any of the trash mobs on the way to Tyth do knockbacks (unless they do on master mode, which would be funny), but some of them are positioned on somewhat precarious walkways and put a lot of fire down, so it's not completely out there to accidentally hurl yourself off the edge while trying to dodge out of something else. Or maybe you were just bored of wiping on Tyth on a higher difficulty one day and carelessly put on auto-run while getting back to the boss, just to find yourself running off an edge that way.

11. Blown up by mines

Cloaked mines are introduced on the way to Nahut and stick around to surprise you on later trash as well. They are mostly what you'd expect - you find them and they go boom - but the knockback component of the explosion can sometimes lead to additional hilarity depending on whether you set any of them off near a ledge somewhere...

10. Scyvan Swarmer attack

These lovely little lads are part of the many trash mobs on the way to Scyva and - living up to their name - like to swarm people. Gods help you if you unexpectedly get aggro on a lot of these and aren't a tank - your healers will pretty much need lightning reflexes to even stand a chance at saving you. What's more likely is that said healers will simply blink and then wonder why you're dead.

9. Scyvan Swarmer explosion

Even if you manage to successfully deal with the Swarmers' initial aggro, they like to jump around and explode on death, leading to crazy scurrying around on part of the raid as everyone tries to get out of their red circles in time. Good times.

8. Extermination Droid dot

On the way to Nahut you'll run into Extermination Droids that like to stab people and leave a nasty, stacking damage-over-time effect on their targets. If you allow this to stack too high, your healers won't be able to keep up - though even with lower stacks it can be kind of funny when you manage to kill the droids and then someone still keels over dead from the remaining dot ticks after you're out of combat just because nobody noticed that the person was still in danger.

7. Cruel Extermination droids

What else would you expect from stealthed stabby droids with a name like this but a one-shot kill ability? Not only do you need to find them in their stealthy hiding places, you then also need to keep them interrupted or stunned until dead or they'll kill someone. I always feel kind of proud when we manage to kill these without anyone getting ganked by their one-shot ability, but it doesn't happen often, since a single missed interrupt is literally all it takes.

6. Your shield carrier dies

The trip to Scyva leads across light bridges over a body of water while sniper droids try to pick you off, and the only way to protect the group is to have on person carry a shield. The shield can be passed around, but if it's dropped accidentally, such as by the carrier walking off an edge, there's no way to recover it, and there's nothing like that feeling of helplessly waiting for death because your shield carrier did something silly before you managed to reach your destination

5. Izax trash beam

Just when you think you've seen it all, you walk through one of those purple beams you need to redirect to open up the way to Izax and it zaps you dead. Seriously though, why wouldn't a giant purple laser of all things not be deadly in a place where pretty much everything else is?

4. Interrupting a Vindictive Plasma droid

With all the emphasis on needing to interrupt things, Bioware thought it would be fun to mess with our heads by putting in one trash mob on which interrupting is actually very bad, the Vindictive Plasma droid - interrupt its heat beam and it'll respond with a violent explosion that'll likely one-shot most people in its current melee range. Never gets old! I may or may not be saying this because I always stand at range myself.

3. Sniped into the water

I talked about the helplessness of losing your shield carrier on the way to Scyva, but there's also the option to plain old mess up yourself by not being under the shield when you're supposed to be. I have some guildies that actively enjoy tempting fate by dodging in and out of its protective field... watching them go flying whenever a sniper decides to focus on them at just the right time is never not satisfying.

2. Falling to your death on the way to Nahut

I mentioned falling off walkways on the way to Tyth, and there are more opportunities to do so later, but I do think there's this specific jump on the way to Nahut that deserves its own entry as you have to jump down a hole at one point but need to slow your fall via some ledges around its edges so as not to fall too far too quickly. Of course someone always gets it wrong and ends up landing with a satisfying splat right at the feet of their guildies. Every time.

1. Splatted by a door

Finally, the ultimate amusing way to die on Gods trash is... at the entrance to the mini-boss guarding the shortcut to Scyva. It's a shame that there's rarely reason to do it anymore... but anyway, the room is protected by a sort of airlock that requires opening one door first, and then closing it behind you while opening the next one. The thing is, both doors go up/down instantly and forcefully, meaning that anyone standing in the wrong place at the time when someone activates the airlock by clicking goes splat instantly (with a very crunchy sound effect as well). Some people may have been known to try and get others killed that way intentionally just because it's so funny...

If you've been to Gods from the Machine yourself, do you agree with this list? How many of these ways to die have you experienced yourself?


War! Still Surprisingly Good, Actually.

My guild has taken part in Conquest ever since the system was first introduced with the Galactic Strongholds expansion (you can read my initial thoughts about the system in this post from September 2014 for a serious blast from the past). We've never been a major player on our server, but depending on the state of the system we've had a chance to win prizes occasionally. Total Galactic War and the way it massively opens up the playing field has always been a good candidate for this in particular.

For some reason Bioware hadn't really taken that particular Conquest event out to play for nearly a year though, so it led to some excitement when we first found out that last week was going to be the first Total Galactic War in ages. Would we finally have a chance to conquer a large yield planet for Twin Suns Squadron again?

There was also some trepidation in the mix though: Several major changes had been made to Conquest since the last time and we weren't sure how those were going to affect the way the event worked and our performance in particular. The fix to put an end to "newbie farming" hadn't actually been implemented yet either.

Still, we started planning to the best of our ability. Honestly, that's the thing I like the most about the Conquest system in general, that it really gives SWTOR's MMO side a chance to shine, as it's one of those aspects of the game that greatly benefits from people sticking their heads together to plan and play in a coordinated fashion.

For example, if you know that "complete the PvP weekly" is going to be an objective that's going to award a lot of points, you can play a character up to having nine out of ten wins completed the week before, so that you only have to win one more match during the actual TGW week and get it done much more quickly. (Technically you could complete the quest entirely and just wait with handing it in, but that exposes you to some risk if you group with other people, as someone else doing the hand-in in your vicinity would also complete it for you.) A lot of my more PvP-obsessed guildies did this and I was quite proud of them. (Me, I was too lazy for that, though I did do some PvP and even GSF during the week itself.)

Then once the event starts, you've got to know which planet to invade and when. We knew that we wanted to avoid "the Shields" as well as another half-dozen, well-known large Conquest guilds, so we kept re-checking the table to see where they'd gone so that we'd know which planets to avoid, as it was impossible for us to compete there. On the other hand you don't want to wait any longer than necessary as it means that your guild misses out on the bonus points generated after invading, so once all the obvious players to avoid were out of the way, we decided to commit to Dantooine, which was attractive as a large yield planet (and therefore usually out of our league) and didn't seem too heavily contested yet at the time.

What looked like a pretty safe bet initially was put into some question though when a guild called Rapid Serenity decided to invade as well. Rapid has been somewhat of a nemesis of ours as far as Conquest is concerned, as we've gone up against them directly several times by now. I know that there was at least one occasion when we lost, but other times we successfully beat them, including the last time we went toe-to-toe on a planet before this event. I can only guess that since it had been so long, maybe they had a change in leadership since then and nobody remembered that we maybe weren't the best guild to mess with.

As far as I can tell, Rapid is a guild similar to ours, only somewhat more populated, which has been their main advantage in the past. We were initially a little worried that it could turn out to be our undoing this time due to the more recent Conquest changes really favouring doing any kind of activity in large numbers over players grinding specific objectives. As they are a Republic guild as well, we kept doing a /who to check on their progress and could see them going through all the big point generators en masse, from ops to world bosses to Star Fortresses, while we did our best to match their efforts.

Oh yeah, Star Fortresses! As I said there was some uncertainty about what this TGW's objectives were going to be, since Bioware had made several rounds of changes to objectives since the last time this event had been active, and there were some surprises in there indeed. For example the GSI weekly was removed as an objective - in the past TGW was one of the rare occasions when I used to do it on several characters. Good thing I hadn't tried to prepare that in advance!

On the other hand Star Fortresses, that slightly awkward side endgame activity introduced with KotFE, suddenly had multiple extremely high-paying daily objectives added, to the point that doing three Star Fortresses with a full group of four would give your guild's score a massive boost. I swear, getting characters through at least the first nine chapters of KotFE had never been this attractive to my guildies before! We got into a routine where we could complete each one in about twenty minutes, which made for a pretty good payout.

Anyway, that first night of TGW was pretty intense as my guild and Rapid Serenity competed for the top spot with all we had. We did come out slightly ahead however, and after that they seemed to be unable to overtake us again, even as we started to feel secure in our lead and relaxed a little. I can only suspect that they must have pushed very hard that first night and that seeing us overtake them despite of us having a smaller number of players online must have been demotivating enough that a lot of their own members stopped trying. Psychological warfare matters a lot in Total Galactic War.

When we took stock of the scoreboards for the other planets at the end of the week it was interesting to see that in some places the battles had been even closer than on Dantooine, with some guilds edging out their main competition with only a few hundred thousand points (which isn't a lot when the overall scores are over a hundred million), so there'd clearly been a lot of excitement in this event for other guilds as well.

I was really happy to look at the final tally of personal scores within the guild and see that 84 different accounts had contributed, which was a new record for us. I know that I can rely on most of our ops regulars to help out in events like this but it was great to see many of the more casual social members do their part too. It may all just have been for an achievement, a title and a general sense of accomplishment, but it's also the kind of thing that really brings a guild together.

Rumour has it that the next Total Galactic War is scheduled to happen at the end of March, so not quite so far away this time. The fix to neuter the "Shields" and their new player farm should be in by then, so we'll see what effect that has on the meta, plus there's also supposed to be a nerf to crafting incoming. I was worried that the more recent changes would make it all too much about just having lots of players in the guild, even if they don't pay attention to Conquest, but those massive objectives rewarding things like weekly completion and other bits of group content meant that you could still accumulate a lot of points strategically even with a smaller number of players. We'll see how things play out in a little over a month.


Rebels! Seasons 1 & 2

After finishing Clone Wars in December, it was time to look for some new material to very slowly consume in bite-sized chunks during my daily exercise bike ride, and I settled on Rebels as the most natural follow-up to Clone Wars.

One interesting thing about Rebels is that it only came out a few years ago and I actually remember people talking about it on Twitter a lot whenever a new episode aired. As I didn't expect to see it any time soon back then I allowed myself to be inundated with massive spoilers... but that hasn't really been detrimental to my experience so far.

I wasn't too impressed with the pilot (mostly I kept thinking about how much Ezra reminded me of Disney's Aladdin both in his looks and mannerisms - and I'm glad I'm not the only one who made that connection) but then first episodes often tend to be a bit rough, and things picked up quickly enough after that.

It's hard to not immediately draw comparisons with Clone Wars. I don't mind the softer, more rounded animation style, but besides that there are some occasionally (to me) very baffling artistic choices being made in Rebels. For example you know that thing film makers like to do sometimes where they hide the faces of evil minions and redshirts so the viewer doesn't feel too bad about them dying? For some reason Rebels loves doing that by having characters wear caps and open helmets with ridiculous visors and it just looks odd every time. Or there's a certain sound effect that they keep using whenever Ezra connects to the Force, which I guess is meant to sound mysterious but just makes me grind my teeth every time due to its awful pitch. Or what about those inquisitor lightsabers? I know new and slightly ridiculous lightsaber designs are a thing in Star Wars, and I was happy to let it slide as just another one of those the first time one of them started spinning, but when the inquisitors started turning into a squad of mini helicopters a bit later on it was just too much.

That said, in the grand scheme of things these are all just minor nuisances, and as a whole the show has been really solid so far. It feels much steadier than Clone Wars in the sense that there are fewer highs and lows and the quality is pretty consistent. You also get the idea that the writers actually had plans for the characters from the beginning, so you get episodes that have different characters interact with each other and develop their relationships in a way that feels like it has purpose.

The ensemble cast is varied and mostly quite interesting as well. Sabine being a lover of explosives but also artistic is an interesting combination for example. Or Hera with her odd mix of gentle, maternal caring and being a daring pilot. Even the crew's ship, the Ghost, has character, and that's coming from someone who generally cares less about the ships in Star Wars than most fans.

As the show progressed, the writers also started including more and more other, already established canon characters such as Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Ahsoka, Rex and more, which is something I feel somewhat conflicted about. On the one hand it's always been well done so far and it's just generally nice to see these characters again, but on the other hand it sometimes feels a bit like it detracts from what's supposed to be the main cast. For example, there's this two-parter at the end of season two that features Ezra being seduced by the dark side, but it also has Ahsoka meeting Vader so... you know where everyone's eyes will be!

I'm curious how the last two seasons will go.


Wasting My Tech Fragments so You Don't Have To

I remember when Onslaught had just come out and we were all chasing this new tech fragment currency for gear, one of my guildies said something like: "Give it a couple of months and we'll have these things coming out of our ears!"

God, was he right.

Initially I was after fragments to acquire my first set bonus and a Tactical item for my main. Then I did the same for alts! Then I did the same for even more alts. At some point I ran out of max-level characters that needed gear.

Then there were the achievements to collect all the various gear sets and Tacticals - though don't get me started on how buggy these have been since launch. Still, it was something to work on, so I started to spend fragments on filling those out instead, even if it wasn't very satisfying. I don't like being capped on any currency though, and even in their now overabundance, tech fragments still felt special somehow, and like I shouldn't just let them go to waste.

One of my guildies who found himself in a similar situation decided to regularly buy "unidentified unique items" from Kai Zykken instead. If you've never had one of those, they cost a thousand tech fragments and 500,000 credits each and can turn into any Tactical item or a (supposedly) class/spec-appropriate set piece item.

We poked fun at him for being a gambler, but there was a method behind the madness: He really wanted the extremely overpowered Emergency Power set, which technically has a chance to drop in Dxun, but our experience has always been that the drop rates for any gear in there are abysmal and that you could go weeks and weeks without ever seeing a single piece. As his Vanguard tank wasn't even his main, gambling at Kai's in hopes of having a random gear piece turn into a piece of Emergency Power was therefore the only real avenue open to him. And he did get there in the end! It took him several months but he still ended up being the first person in the guild to complete this set.

Anyway, I initially kept scoffing at him because I'm really against engaging with these kinds of RNG shenanigans, but the more I struggled with finding ways to use up my own tech fragments the more I started to feel tempted myself. I eventually gave in when the Fulminating Power set for Guardians was released alongside master mode Dxun. I knew I wasn't going to go there, but my AoE taunt having two charges sounded awesome for my flashpoint tanking!

And thus, I too started buying random pieces of gear from Kai every week, but unlike my guildie I kept a spreadsheet with the results, with the goal of eventually sharing them on the blog. I'm not necessarily done with this particular experiment, but as I actually did achieve my 4-piece Fulminating Defense last week, I thought I'd share how long it took me:

To get to this point, my Guardian bought a total of 114 pieces of random gear from Kai (that's 114,000 tech fragments and 57 million credits spent for those keeping track at home).

The most annoying thing was that only 28 of those (less than 25%) actually turned into tanking items. 64 of them (56% and therefore the majority) turned into one of those annoyingly generic items like the Luck Always Changes Tactical that aren't really obviously beneficial for any particular class or role and mostly quite useless. And 19 (or 17%) turned into outright dps gear, despite of my Guardian always being in tank spec. At least I didn't have anything turn into gear that my class couldn't even wear, which is something that happened to one of my guildies on at least one occasion.

Looking at the time invested (obviously this had to happen over the course of many weeks as Kai is only in town on weekends and you can't store more than 10k tech fragments at once) and money spent I unsurprisingly can't really recommend this as a method of gear requisition as it's kind of ridiculous. Then again, if you're like me and sitting on more credits and tech fragments than you really know what to do with, upgrading your gear at 14-15 million per piece isn't a considerably worse way of wasting that money than anything else. And at least you might eventually get something truly rare as not many people have cleared Dxun on master mode to this day.

First world problems, am I right?