14/09/2020

The Nameplate Dilemma

I think that on a basic level, a good user interface is crucial to an immersive MMO experience. I'm not talking about details like the size and exact positioning of your action bars here, but about the very way you interact with the world. It seems to me that there's always a balance to be struck between immersion and convenience: Pushing a button to instantly teleport from anywhere to anywhere else is certainly convenient, but it also means that there's no real sense of place. On the other hand, running around a beautiful landscape with no understanding of where to go or how to interact with anything will soon leave players feeling lost. The trick is in finding the sweet spot in the middle.

I've been thinking about all of this recently because of nameplates. You see, the default setting in World of Warcraft when I first started playing that was to show nameplates for friendly players and nothing else. It being my first MMORPG, I of course didn't know any different, but even once I became aware of my options, that setup still made sense to me. I get that characters having their name float above their head isn't in any way "realistic", but it enables the player to recognise familiar faces out in the wild, something that their character should reasonably be able to do in-universe as well, but that could be hard from a player point of view when all you see is a generic character model in the distance.

Eventually I learned that there could also be a benefit to turning on nameplates for friendly NPCs when doing the quest for master first aid in WoW, which is basically a slow whack-a-mole that requires you to click on a number of injured NPCs in the right order based on their names, but the actual character models all look the same. If you have to click on each one first to see what they are called, it's nigh-impossible to get right within the allocated time. If they all have their names floating above their heads at all times, it's trivial. So I got into the habit of turning that setting on for that specific quest and then immediately turning it off again.

I've been following the same model in SWTOR since the beginning, but just like Revan forced me to re-evaluate my view distance, bosses sometimes have a way of favouring one UI setting over another. We've been running veteran mode Gods from the Machine again recently, to teach some newer players the ropes, and the first phase of the Scyva fight involves dealing with a number of small adds with relatively little health, at least some of which need to die in the right place and at the right time. When I was first learning the fight myself I found that part to be a bit of a struggle, but then I noticed on someone else's kill video that they had enemy nameplates turned on, so I followed their example and voilà: instantly it became so much easier to keep track of all the little adds in the room and what health each one was on.

Back then I still stuck to my guns and turned enemy nameplates back off after the fight, but this time around I keep forgetting and it's been making me thoughtful. When tanking a flashpoint it's so much easier to keep track of all targets when they have their names and health floating over their heads, plus you can make much more decisive switches based on health levels.


Just cruising around the galaxy has felt very different too. Out in the wild, I can see even smaller mobs from miles away and it's much easier to circumvent them. I've long had a reputation for being oblivious to my surroundings and frequently pulling adds by accident, but now I'm wondering whether I've simply been made to feel like a buffoon because the people I've been playing with all had enemy name plates turned on at all times. It's not hard to avoid those!

As a result, I'm kind of torn. Part of me just wants to go back to the way it was already, to a landscape unmarred by floating names everywhere. It's so much more beautiful! However, the difference in convenience has also been very noticeable, and I fear that I may well end up missing it, especially in group content. Of course there's nothing stopping me from simply switching my settings around every so often, but still... it's given me food for thought.

10/09/2020

More Patchy Goodness

Yesterday was patch day, which made me realise that it's been two and a half months since the last medium-sized patch. Dang.

One feature that wasn't in the patch notes but that launched at the same time was that they finally turned on the Steam achievements that they promised us on launch. I was quite amused by the deluge of pop-ups that appeared when I first logged in after the patch... and slightly disappointed that I had actually been granted every single achievement instantly. I mean... I knew that they were going to be granted retroactively, which is definitely how it should be, but I'd been kind of hopeful that there might be something to aspire to in there. Guess not. /dramatic sigh


Anyway, let's talk about the actual patch notes! As usual, I'm not going through literally every single one (you can find the full list on the official site), but just highlighting some that stood out to me.

Double XP Event - Starting September 15th and lasting until October 13th, there will be a month-long Double XP event! Enjoy a full month of Double XP, Valor, and Renown.

I've expressed my disdain for double XP often enough at this point, but double Valor and Renown are definitely useful. I'm still working on some of the Renown rank-related achievements.

Uprisings - Rewards have been improved and added to all Uprising bosses comparable to Flashpoint rewards.

Oh look, another attempt to get players to care about uprisings. I have to admit, I read this and thought: "Huh, maybe I should go have a look at that some time", just to immediately forget about it again five seconds later. Maybe one day...

Effects granted by “On Use” Relics abilities are now removed when the Relic is unequipped.

Now this one wouldn't actually have caught my eye on its own, except that players were immediately complaining on the forums that this also affects the relics you can buy to deal with the rakghoul plague, meaning that they don't work like a reusable stim anymore. (You used to be able to just equip them, vaccinate yourself, and then unequip them again.) I agree that this change is a nuisance, but at the same time I can't claim that it's a big deal. It's not like the sort of content for which you'd want to be vaccinated is so cutting edge that a small loss in power in one gear slot would really put you at a serious advantage. Though I guess I wouldn't mind Bioware actually making an MK-4 version of the relic with stats appropriate for level 75.

The following self-healing defensive cooldowns no longer generate threat: [a list follows]

This just made me raise an eye-brow... why shouldn't cooldowns that result in you healing yourself generate threat when all healing does? Wonder if there was some sort of heal-tanking cheese going on that this change was meant to address.

The Jedi Guardian’s Force Leap Cooldown reduction from the “Battlefield Command” utility is now working correctly.

A guildie of mine notoriously complained about how bugged this was. I experienced the bug with Force Leap showing as off cooldown when it actually wasn't a few times myself but didn't actually connect the dots tracing it back to this utility; I just thought my game or connection was being laggy.

The following archived Biochem schematics are no longer available to craft: [a list follows]

Aw, why you take things away, Bioware? And most of all, why now? There was a time when these were being used to win at Conquest in silly ways, but that's kind of been obsoleted by the more recent Conquest changes anyway. Once again, I can only wonder what that was about.

The Eternal Empire Walker in Chapter VIII of Knights of the Eternal Throne no longer interrupts the abilities of the player’s walker.

I experienced this bug the last time I played through that chapter of KotET myself and it was annoying AF. At the time I wasn't even sure what was happening; I just knew that it was nigh impossible to get any ability off on my walker at all (and then I died).

Players are no longer blocked in the “Macrobinoculars: Heroic 4: The Shroud Revealed“ Mission as droids are now spawning after the turrets have been defeated.

Another big "thank god"! This mission has been notoriously buggy for a long time, but at least there were workarounds in the form of resetting the phase and such. However, a few months ago or so they seemingly stopped working, and the last time I tried to complete this mission with a group of guildies we eventually had to give up after countless phase resets and what not because we just couldn't get those damn droids to spawn. I hope it really has been fixed (I shouldn't have to say that, but Bioware has a bit of a thing for saying they fixed bugs but then it doesn't actually turn out to be true). I should get a group of guildies together again soon to find out for sure.

The Emperor Slot Machine no longer removes a Kingpin’s Casino Chip when a Cartel Market Certificate is won.

This one just amused me because this is a patch note for an annual event that ended a couple of weeks ago. I guess it was already in the pipeline and they just decided to deploy it anyway in anticipation of next year? Still a bit weird.

Did anything catch your eye in the latest patch notes?

06/09/2020

Life on the Guild Ship

I think everyone has their own preferred spots to log in and out in any MMO. In the game's early days I used to "live" on the fleet, but ever since they added housing, my Coruscant stronghold has been my home on all my Republic characters. It's just too convenient to be able to have all my utilities right next to each other, plus I also take the opportunity to harvest some free crafting materials from the utility decorations every day.

Ever since I started my project to sell most of my jawa junk, I've had to relocate to our guild ship however, as we have all three of the jawa vendors located right next to a GTN terminal and multiple cargo holds there. Technically I could have acquired the vendor decorations for myself and placed them in one of my personal strongholds, but that would have required an amount of effort that I didn't feel like making.

It's been interesting to see just how many other people seem to have made the guild ship their virtual home - I suppose I shouldn't really be surprised by this, but I expected more players to be like me and prefer hanging out in their private abodes. Whenever I'm logged in on the guild ship, bouncing back and forth between the vendors and the GTN, I'm continually amazed by all the people I see logging in and running to and fro. Considering how much it costs to acquire and fully unlock a guild ship, I guess I should be glad that people are actually using it!

As for my jawa junk selling, it's been going moderately well. I think I've made about 75 million credits from it so far, but it feels like I've barely made a dent in my junk stash and of course more scraps keep coming in all the time. I guess it's nice to be making all that money from seemingly nothing but in terms of freeing up more bank space it would be preferable if I could get rid of more materials faster. I'm just not a fan of flooding the market with any single item; it just never works out well for me.

I did get a bit bored with maintaining my spreadsheet of prices. I like me a good spreadsheet, but let's just say that manually price-checking 261 items every few days got old really fast. Instead I've settled into a routine where I will only do the full check every so often, but I do log in several times a day to check what has sold, and anything that sells quickly and is still going for a good price at that point, I just buy more of and re-list immediately.

There are some green and purple low and mid-level materials that sell very consistently for a decent profit and of which I have a stack on the GTN almost at all times at this point. I do try to avoid grade one materials and anything above grade five, because while there is good profit to be made with some of them too, I've found them annoyingly volatile. Technically you don't lose any money if the price suddenly drops and your listing expires, and you can just keep re-listing it at a higher price until it sells I guess, but as stated previously my goal with this has been to shift jawa junk both at a good conversion rate but also at a decent speed, so I try to avoid too much speculation and uncertainty.

Interestingly, blue junk/materials are probably the hardest to get rid of and actually bring in less value than the greens at times. Naturally, blue junk is also what I've got the most of, so it looks like I'm gonna be at this for a while at least...

02/09/2020

We Failed to Kill Some Bosses

Last week was 16-man week in my guild again, and we decided to do something different this time by revisiting the Dreadful and Hateful entity (the latter of which I hadn't seen since that afternoon back in 2014), as well as a world boss on Yavin IV called the Ancient Threat, which I didn't really know anything about other than that it was kind of secret and existed.

It was... interesting.

The Dreadful Entity went down easily enough, probably in part due to the Veteran's Edge stacks you get on hardmode these days. The other two bosses... didn't.

With the Hateful Entity, there was some confusion at first about how to summon it as people kept saying that a certain pack of womp rats needed to be killed in a specific way. Mr Commando and I were raising our eyebrows at this as we remembered no such thing from back in 2014 - it sounded a lot like some sort of superstition to me and I said as much. In this case it turned out that I was wrong though, and you really do need to get all the womp rats equally low to get the "Hateful Presence" to spawn that in turn can be used to summon the Hateful Entity. I'm still baffled by how I have absolutely zero memory of doing anything like this back in 2014 and I even went on a bit of a googling spree afterwards to find out if Bioware maybe changed the mechanic at some point, but no: I found guides from before then that referenced the womp rat thing too. I can only guess that the allied guild that we ran with back in 2014 were already familiar with the whole concept and made sure to do it right without talking about it? I have no idea.

Anyway, we eventually managed to summon the Entity, but killing it was unfortunately another matter. I don't think we even got it to 80 percent on our best attempt. Some of that failure was undoubtedly down to bad play on our part (especially early on we lost quite a few people to death mark dispel failures), but the damage also seemed quite insane. For example a Gunslinger reported being hit by two unavoidable abilities in quick succession that hit for more than his entire health bar even when at full health. How do you deal with that in a downscaled operation with fixed health values?

A quick search yielded only a single kill video uploaded since 6.0, but I guess that proves that it's technically possible. Unfortunately it's a bit hard to tell what's going on in it, but it looks like they brought a lot of Powertechs in order to have the Sonic Rebounder buff on the group 24/7, which would then presumably prevent the sort of deadly two-shot combos that kept befalling some of our raid members.

Speaking of it being hard to tell what's going on, I remember being told back in the day to make sure to turn all my graphics settings to low for this fight as it would otherwise be too hard to see what's happening... this is probably still true, but I decided to leave mine on high anyway this time as a sort of experiment. My PC could actually deal with it fine, but the sheer amount of lightning and particle effects did indeed make it hard to tell what was happening a lot of the time. Still, I have no regrets - at least I got some cool screenshots out of the whole ordeal whenever I died and hid my UI to watch from floor level as the rest of the group slowly followed my example.

Another thing that was funny and which I definitely don't remember happening back in 2014 was that after wiping, people wouldn't necessarily respawn at the start but instead appeared in a random location inside the operation. I ended up on the other side of Thrasher's gate a couple of times, and in the middle of trash pulls the rest of the time. The latter made for a sort of cruel but hilarious Russian roulette as the whole ops group would revive but certain people (often including me) would immediately die again as they were teleported alone into the middle of various trash packs and mugged to death. Hey, if you're gonna die anyway, you might as well do it in an entertaining way!

We didn't have much luck with the Ancient Threat world boss either, though at least it was an interesting experience to get all the buffs required to summon it, as this requires you to find a number of small "secret" clickies dotted around Yavin IV that also grant several achievements.

The boss itself is the same "glowing ball" model as the two Entity bosses and has similarly simplistic mechanics, though the mask from Dreadtooth isn't required anymore. A lot of guides we found said that this fight was quite easy, but this didn't really match our experience. For example the red circles that were supposed to come down only every 15 seconds or so according to some sources were dropping almost non-stop, forcing the whole raid to run around like headless chickens. More importantly though, the ongoing AoE damage that was supposed to be insignificant and easy to heal through actually ticked for about seven percent of everyone's health every two seconds and felt pretty impossible to heal through with a normal role setup of "only" about a quarter of the group being healers.

For this one we couldn't find a kill video from this year at all, just one that was uploaded this year but clearly recorded before Onslaught, so it may well be that the scaling went a bit awry for this boss. We heard from some acquaintances that they have successfully killed it since 6.0, but apparently only by going in with a group of five (two of which were healers) and drawing out the fight to nearly an hour.

Interestingly we did get quite close to killing it once, by going complete zerg and spamming guild flagship summons every time someone died, revived and ran back. The only problem was that as Republic, the run back without a summon is really long (way too long for a significant number of people to survive). At some point, one of the summons got borked up and red circles were dropped right under the summoning spot so that people got put in combat or died instantly the moment they accepted the transport, and then we couldn't get another person into a position to summon in time, leading us to wipe at around ten percent. As guild ship summons have a long cooldown, it wasn't really feasible to keep trying that method for several attempts in a row, unfortunately.

We are however of half a mind to try this same zerg method again some other time, but this time on Imperial alts, who respawn much closer to the Ancients Threat's "home", meaning that people should be able to keep running back to some degree even without a summon. If we do get it down that way it wouldn't exactly be something to be proud of, but hey... sometimes you just gotta do what works.

30/08/2020

7 Ways of Being Better at PvP Without Actually Being Better at PvP

I've been doing relatively little PvP these past few weeks, but it's been on my mind today and made me remember this post, which has been sitting unfinished in my drafts folder for many months. Might as well finish it!

I try not to hold it against people in my random warzones when they aren't too great at PvP. Things like knowing when to use all of your abilities and how they could possibly be countered by other classes are something that takes a fair bit of play time to really internalise, and that's not even getting started on the benefits of good reflexes, which not everyone has either.

However, I'm always astounded by the amount of people - even players who are actually quite good at the actual PvP part - who are completely oblivious to basic tactics in the objective-based warzones. So, without further ado: seven ways in which you can help your team win an 8v8 warzone, regardless of your actual skill at PvP:

1. Inspect your team at the start of the match

Obviously there are situations where this isn't feasible, such as when you get back-filled into a match already in progress, but in most cases you'll load in well before the start of the match and can take a moment to familiarise yourself with the rest of your team. I don't mean that you literally have to hit "inspect" on every single one of them, but at the very least you can check what sort of class and role mix you've got.

The removal of stances and cells as visible buffs has made it harder to identify tanks and healers than before [note: the fact that I even thought to mention this tells you how frickin' old this draft is], but at least at 75, looking at their gear and any set bonuses usually gives them away. Many healers also like to spam heals in the spawn zone as a sort of non-verbal way of saying: "Look at me, you have a healer on your team!" At worst you can still check everyone's advanced class and hazard a guess. If nobody on your team is even of an advanced class that's capable of healing, you'll just be showing your ignorance if you complain about a lack of heals later (for example).

2. Mark enemy healers

In a similar vein, the moment you come face-to-face with the enemy, try to take in the class and role composition of the enemy team. People who intentionally dress to confuse (e.g. bounty hunters in Jedi robes) can make this tough for new players, but you'll soon learn to recognise each class by their weapons and certain signature moves. If you see someone casting healing abilities, it's generally a good idea to put a mark over their head to make sure everyone knows who to focus on if they ever want anyone on the opposing team to die. (Plus if you're a damage dealer, follow your own advice in terms of focusing!) Try to resist putting marks on non-healers, because nobody really cares if that Juggernaut is your personal nemesis, and it's just counter-productive.

Close inspection of the enemy can also lead to other surprising revelations...

3. Focus on objectives

You could argue that this point is a bit of a "duh", but based on the number of people I regularly see ignoring all objectives it clearly still deserves to be highlighted. Aside from completely new players who might not yet understand what's going on, you don't really have an excuse. Even if you never looked up any sort of guide, the voice-over at the start of each warzone still tells you what needs to be done to win, and you should focus on doing that. Don't chase kills in random places, but rather make sure that you're always attacking an enemy position or defending a friendly one when you're in a node-based warzone, and stick with the ball when in a Huttball match. Depending on your experience level, you could also look up guides for each map on how to hone your objective play further and improve yourself that way.

4. Communicate

Nobody joins a PvP match to chat, but a minimum amount of communication is generally beneficial. Most importantly, it helps to call "incomings", such as when one or more enemy is about to attack an objective currently held by your team. It's fine to keep it short and snappy here - most people will know what you mean when you say "1 inc snow". (Confused about how people call directions? This post might clarify some things.) 

I had this ancient screenshot saved under the file name "How to make calls in warzones".

Also, try to stick to being informative instead of being demanding or lecturing. When you're with a team of strangers, your odds of successfully playing battlefield general - even if well-intentioned - are pretty low.

It should go without saying that you shouldn't waste time ranting about how your team sucks or anything like that. I absolutely understand why people have that urge sometimes, but it does nothing to help - rather the opposite: it can cause newcomers to feel demotivated, not to mention that the time you spent typing your rant into chat is time you didn't spend focusing on the actual match yourself.

5. Look at the map every so often

All warzones limit your line of sight in places, though some are worse at this than others. (Odessen is probably the worst at this, as in most places you can't see anything beyond the room you're currently in.) However, the locations of your team mates are always displayed on the map and can help you make decisions about where to best reinforce after a death or when to help with an attack. If you ever find yourself wondering "Where is everyone?", the map is your friend.

6. Keep an eye on your ops frames

I know it's not very intuitive if you don't play a healer (and I do in fact know some people who like to hide their ops frames altogether to improve their fps), but everyone benefits from having a look at their team's health bars every now and then. First off because the general state of people's health gives you an idea of how you're holding up against the enemy team (everyone being close to full most of the time is a sign that you're kicking ass, while people going from one hundred to zero percent health in seconds is a bad sign), but more importantly because it can help you make better decisions in combination with the advice given above: If the map shows you that Bob is guarding an objective on his own for example, and Bob's health suddenly starts dropping, you'll know that he's under attack and you can go help him out, whether he has the sense to call for help in chat or not.

7. Do the maths

I saw this explained in a lot of detail in a video once, but I don't remember where exactly. The gist of it is that especially in node-based game types, you should always keep in mind that both teams have eight players each (the occasional quitter notwithstanding) and move around the map accordingly. As an extreme example, if you see seven opponents run towards one of the turrets in Civil War, that means that at least one of the other two remaining turrets can't have an enemy nearby right now (as only one enemy player is left unaccounted for), and you might want to have a go at capping this potentially unguarded target.

More commonly you may notice that you're having an uneven fight somewhere (e.g. four vs. two), which means that numbers must be tilted the opposite way elsewhere. This is important because if a large number of your team is fighting a small number of enemies, it means you are leaving yourself exposed to a large-scale assault somewhere else (and you may want to move). Conversely, if a small number of you manage to keep a lot of enemies busy, you could reasonably expect the rest of your team to overwhelm their opponents elsewhere and hopefully turn the fight in your favour.

25/08/2020

The Best Classes to Take into Onslaught

With the recent Steam launch having brought many new and returning players (back) to SWTOR, there's been a resurgence of curiosity about many basic aspects of the game. One question that returning players with a stable of multiple characters might have is which class they should pick up first to get the most out of the new story additions since they last played.

My post about the best classes to take into the "Knights of..." expansions is one of the most popular posts on this blog, but we've had a fair amount of new story since then, with the arc about Valkorion and his family more or less wrapped up and abandoned. I think it's fair to wonder whether the storylines that have come after are better suited for a different set of classes, or if there is one class that's just best for everything, meaning KotFE/KotET and everything that comes after. My answer to the latter is "yes, and it's the Sith inquisitor", but I'd really like to go into a bit more detail than that. So get ready for some minor content spoilers and mention of companion returns post-KotET, but I'm not giving away any major plot points or anything.

First off I think that on the whole, the post-KotET content has been much more neutral in terms of which classes it's suitable for. Your character is now the commander of the Eternal Alliance (whatever you may think of how they ended up there) and they are back to dealing with the two big factions, which is easily justifiable in my opinion, whether you originally started out as a Sith or a Republic trooper.

When Bioware first eased their way back into this style of writing they seemed to struggle a bit, and the Iokath storyline that followed KotET was pretty bland and awkward as a result. This was followed by what has been dubbed the "traitor arc" since then, which again started poorly but got better as it went along. It's also probably the single most class-neutral storyline we've had since KotET, simply because it focuses very much on your personal relationship with the traitor, which depends more on how you feel about that particular character than your class choice. That said, the last flashpoint in the series, The Nathema Conspiracy, features a nice callback to your class story with a lot of different permutations based on your choices there.

From there it's off to Jedi Under Siege, which takes place on the planet Ossus, and where the current ongoing storyline kicks off. While this is still fairly class-neutral content as a whole, Bioware started to include a lot more references to the original class stories from this point onwards, which is what I will use to justify most of my rankings. Also noteworthy is that from Iokath onwards you're given the option to start sabotaging your old faction, which is something that might be greatly suited for characters that were played as never having been that attached to their original faction to begin with.

With all that out of the way, I would recommend prioritising the classes as follows if you're uncertain:

1. Sith Inquisitor

The Sith inquisitor is in the lucky position that they were a great fit for KotET/KotFE but the new content fits them like a glove as well. They basically enjoy ruling their own little faction, and whether you decide to go back and help the old Sith Empire or would rather scheme against them because it's the Sithy thing to do, opportunities for intrigue abound.

Jedi Under Siege starts with a call from your old friend Moff Pyron (who remembers you of course), and if you sided with Khem Val over Darth Zash at the end of his companion arc in the base game, you'll get to reunite with Khem on Ossus. Even better, you get to romance him too if you're into that kind of thing!

In Onslaught you're also given the opportunity to reclaim your old seat on the Dark Council if you wish (and in an appropriately Sithy manner as well).

Oh, and Andronikos and Ashara also come back in post-KotET Alliance alerts but that's really just the icing on the cake.

2. Jedi Knight

The Jedi Knight is another character that gets along well with the KotFE/KotET storyline and manages to continue into the new content quite seamlessly. You'll get recognised both as an important Jedi and a military commander, and no fewer than three of the original knight companions make their return as part of the storyline from Ossus onwards: Doc, Kira and Scourge. The latter two haven't had that much to do yet (that'll be in the content drop we're anticipating towards the end of the year), but all three are fully integrated into the storyline and reuniting with them is quite interesting. Kira can now also be romanced by female knights and Scourge is open to either gender. I haven't been able to find confirmation whether Doc swings both ways as well now...

3. Imperial Agent

The reason I rank the Imperial agent highly is mostly because of the saboteur option. You don't have to take it if you don't want to, but of all classes the agent was the one for whom it could (potentially) make the most sense to want to betray the Empire by the end of their class story. This was the sort of story thread that I think most of us didn't expect to ever get picked up again once Bioware said that there weren't going to be any more class stories, but the saboteur option has effectively revived it and even made it more "mainstream" so to speak.

Vector returns is a post-KotET Alliance alert, which is nice enough if you like him or even romanced him, and agents also get an exclusive little chat with him after the Task at Hand interlude that serves to remind you that he's still there and involved in the agent's life and decisions.

4. Jedi Consular

Similar to the knight, the consular is recognised for previous achievements on Ossus, and there are opportunities to both fight and be diplomatic.

In terms of companion returns, the consular was a bit of a black sheep during the KotFE/KotET era as no consular companions were involved in the main storyline and Qyzen was the only one that could be re-acquired via an Alliance alert. Post-KotET however, Lieutenant Iresso returns in an alert, you reunite with Nadia as part of the Ossus storyline, and Tharan comes back during Onslaught. Good times!

5. Sith Warrior

I ranked the Sith warrior as fairly high in terms of its suitability for KotFE/KotET, but to be honest I never pictured the warrior as someone who wants to sit on a throne and rule - better to leave that to someone with an interest in politics while they go out and smash faces. Ossus and Onslaught offer some nice opportunities here as you get back onto the front lines of the war and get the option to leave all that pesky planning to other people if that's more up your alley.

Quinn returns on Iokath and you get the option to finally get closure in regards to "that thing" he did during your class story. Jaesa returns in an Alliance alert after Ossus too, both her light and dark side versions. The former can now also be romanced, and the latter can also be killed if, like me, you always found her pretty annoying.

6. Bounty Hunter

You finally get Mako back in post-KotET Alliance alert, but it's a bit lacklustre to be honest. There is an interesting moment in Onslaught where bounty hunters get a slightly different reaction from an NPC than other classes, but other than that it doesn't offer anything particularly exciting for the class. The main reason I still rank it above trooper and smuggler is that bounty hunter is another class for whom the option of wanting to change sides in the war makes more sense than for most others.

7. Smuggler

Corso, Risha and Akaavi come back in two post-KotET Alliance alerts but they are short and not that great in my opinion. And while part of Onslaught takes place on a planetoid where a smuggler could feel right at home, nothing much is made of how this might make for a different experience for this class.

8. Trooper

Elara Dorne makes her comeback during Iokath but it's not very exciting. In the aftermath of Onslaught you get another little scene with her though (like the agent does with Vector), which is nice. Other than that there isn't anything going on that feels particularly tailored towards troopers.

Looking back at the final ranking, I'm kind of surprised by how similar it is to my KotFE/KotET ranking, with knight and inquisitor coming out on top once again, and smuggler trailing behind yet again. That said, I think it's important to repeat that overall, the newer content doesn't feel nearly as badly suited for some classes as KotFE/KotET did, and that there's much less of a difference between how much you'll enjoy playing through it as an inquisitor vs. a smuggler.

Got a different take on how different classes experience the current expansion and the content leading up to it? Feel free to leave it in the comments!

20/08/2020

Turning Jawa Junk into Credits

When jawa junk suddenly started to proliferate with Onslaught, I was kind of pleased. Valuable tokens that you can trade for crafting materials and more! Yes! However, as the expansion has gone on, I've found that I've got more and more stacks of the things piling up in my bank and it's starting to bother me. I kind of want to get rid of at least some of them - just to free up some space if nothing else - but at the same time I don't want to just waste them, you know?

Initially I just bought some grade 11 crafting materials (which is the current crafting tier). This turned out to be a big mistake. While you do need stupendous amounts of these to craft pretty much anything, they are horribly overpriced on the junk vendors. I initially thought that maybe this was justified due to the materials' rarity or something, but it really isn't. People easily gather the exact same materials out in the world or from missions by the thousands and sell them on the GTN for much less. I did some maths and at least based on the prices on Darth Malgus, if you buy grade 11 crafting materials for jawa junk, you're basically parting with your junk for as little as half a credit (!) per piece. Just... don't do it.

I did a bit of research to see if others had any recommendations and found several people saying that the companion gifts and exotic crafting materials were reliable sellers. They weren't wrong, and I did sell a few stacks of those, but my gut feeling was that I still wasn't getting good value for my money/junk.

Yearning for a definitive answer, I did what any player with a bit of an obsessive streak would do in such a situation: I made a spreadsheet. Specifically, I wrote down every single item sold on the jawa vendors and how much it cost in junk, price-checked it on the GTN, and then let it calculate how many credits per junk piece I was going to make if I sold the same item at the current lowest price.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first: There is no single, clear "winner". I repeated my price-check just a couple of days apart and there was considerable variance in what came out on top. But there are some patterns, which I guess make sense if you think about them.

For example, the "obvious" sellers like companion gifts and exotic crafting materials are - at best - lower to mid-tier in terms of value for money. I guess this makes sense because it's right there in the previous sentence: they are the "obvious" choices. Every players knows what a companion gift is and knows that they're useful. Therefore it's safe to assume that they have some value and other people will buy them. Similarly, anyone who's ever done any group content has likely rolled off for some exotic crafting drop, and even if you're not sure what exactly they're for, there's some vague sense that they're rare and valuable.

Regular crafting materials are very different though, because they're fairly obscure. (Just writing down the list made me realise how many item names I didn't even recognise.) Even if you're a seasoned veteran of the game, I'm pretty sure that most of you would give me a wide-eyed look if I asked you to sense-check whether Lanthanide Modulators are worth buying and trading (that's a grade 5 slicing component by the way). Or how about Neuro-Stimulators (a type of grade 3 medical supplies)? Can you think of something craftable that uses these items as reagents?

The good news is that you don't actually need to know all those details. It's enough to know that certain crafting materials are where the money's at, and that they let you cash out hundreds (for the green ones) or thousands (for blue or purple) of credits for each piece of jawa junk converted and sold.

Which ones exactly sell for the most can vary from day to day, even on the same server, and I haven't been gathering data for long enough to spot any real trends, but the most basic common factor seems to be that it's usually selected lower-grade (1-6) materials that give you the best conversion rate so I would at least price-check those if you can't be bothered to go through the whole list. My best guess as to why that is the case is that people don't spend much time gathering in the lower levels but still need the mats to level up their crafting crew skills. The recent influx of new players from the Steam launch may have contributed to that too.

My only other advice is that due to the volatility of the market, I wouldn't recommend buying too much of anything in one go. Throw up a stack of 10-100 of a highly valued crafting mat and see how quickly it sells. Fortunately the generosity of the GTN means that you always get your deposit back even if things don't sell the first time around.

I may update this post later or write a follow-up to let you know if I notice anything else that's interesting or just to let you know how well my own plan to turn my junk into riches has been going.

16/08/2020

Watching Clone Wars Seasons 2 & 3

More than two years ago now (yikes), I mentioned watching Clone Wars season one on DVD. I actually ended up buying season two a few months later and did watch a few episodes of that as well, but then I just kind of... stopped. I think popping discs into a DVD drive every couple of episodes is just too much effort nowadays...

Earlier this year I subscribed to Disney Plus when it finally launched in the UK, and of course all seasons of Clone Wars are one of the things that's available on there as well. Sadly I've been pretty terrible at making use of that subscription - I can't explain it; I can put dumb YouTube videos on my second monitor all day long but when it comes to watching any sort of "proper" content I'm always hesitant and put it off until later. I really don't know why that is.

Anyway, I did end up finding a good opportunity to get more use out of that subscription recently, because we purchased an exercise bike the other week and watching some Clone Wars (or whatever) while pedalling the miles away is a nice distraction. Thanks to this new setup, I've now made it through seasons two and three (oh, and I watched the Clone Wars animated film as well).

I don't really have much to say about the film, other than that baby hutts are silly but I guess it served as an explanation for how Anakin ended up with a padawan to begin with. I did want to write down a few comments about seasons two and three though before proceeding to watching the next one.

First off, I had read somewhere that there was a recommended watch order, which was different from the actual release order, but that seemed a bit overkill for a kids show to me. I could soon see that the idea wasn't without merit though, when - while simply watching the episodes in the order in which they popped up on D+ - I watched clone troopers graduate that had already been killed in season one, and saw a senator get murdered just to have him pop up again alive and well a few episodes later. It's not too bad I guess, just slightly disorienting in the moment.

While there are still a few lighthearted and simple episodes (the two-parter with pseudo-Gozilla for example, or the one where the droids go shopping /sigh), there was a very noticeable increase in mature subject matter. There's a lot of fairly adult talk in regards to politics for example, and I was going to comment how it was very prescient of the writers to paint the banking clan as the ultimate bad guys, but I just looked it up and these seasons came out just after the 2008 financial crisis so I guess that was just meant to be low-key educational.

There's also quite a shocking amount of death for a kids' show - and I don't just mean anonymous troopers and droids getting shot in big space battles, but people getting stabbed, sliced to pieces, gunned down point-blank etc. While there's never any blood and the camera pans away if the method of death is sufficiently graphic that there really ought to be, it's still quite a lot. We're not just talking about generic mooks dying here either, but named characters with personalities.

Interestingly, there's also been an increase in mysticism - I've sometimes seen people comment that SWTOR content that treats the Force more like magic (such as anything to do with the Dread Masters) doesn't quite fit into Star Wars, but Clone Wars is one piece of canon material that clearly also embraced this style whenever it suited the writers. For example there was this three-parter where Anakin, Ahsoka and Obi-Wan get trapped in a weird place with three powerful Force users, and that explores the prophecy about Anakin bringing balance to light and dark in a more literal way than I had ever considered. (The episode has some pretty cool visuals too.) Or the arc where Asajj Ventress returns to the Nightsisters? Definitely some weird shit going on there.

Finally, I think I could see the seeds of where Ahsoka's popularity comes from. In season one she didn't really do that much yet, but in seasons two and three she gets more episodes that focus on her and manages to pull off a couple of heroic feats of her own, not the least of which happens in the two-parter that finishes season three. It did leave me curious where her character will go next.

13/08/2020

Master Mode Flashpoint Tips: Syndic Zenta

Introduction

It's been a while since I've written one of these! I did however have a few more bosses on my list that I really wanted to cover, and one of them is Syndic Zenta in master mode Traitor Among the Chiss. I've been told by some people that they haven't had that many issues with her, but to me she's been a right pain in the rear on more than one occasion, which I think makes it worthwhile to share what I have learned, for the benefit of others who might be having the same difficulties.

The boss in a nutshell

She starts on the floor, then jumps up onto the walkways above her, changes position a few times, then jumps down again and covers the floor in lightning periodically. There are also a lot of adds, and during the top phase she throws some targeted circles around that you should avoid placing on other players. That really is the gist of it, but once again I'll happily point you towards Vulkk or the old Dulfy guide for more details on the mechanics.

What to do as a tank

At the start of the fight, round up the adds on the ground as best as you can while damage dealers focus on AoEing them down. Once Zenta goes up, follow her (either by leaping or via using one of the available grappling hooks) and position yourself just around the corner from the ramp that leads up onto the walkways. Feel free to taunt and hit the boss occasionally, but she shouldn't really be your main priority at this point as she doesn't actually hit that hard. It's more important that you focus on rounding up the adds as they appear and do your best to keep them from overwhelming your healer (who should be standing near you.)

Once Zenta goes down again you're basically racing against a soft enrage as more and more adds will be spawning in rapidly. Use everything you've got to get their attention while staying alive (AoE taunt, stuns, damage reduction cooldowns etc.) and hope that the dps can kill her in time before you and the healer both get overwhelmed.

What to do as a damage dealer

Start off by killing the adds on the ground, then dps the boss until she goes up. Follow her and continue to focus your damage on her, but keep an eye on the tank and healer, and jump over to them occasionally to mop up the pile of adds that will accumulate on them. When Zenta goes down again, just nuke her from range if you can.

If you're playing a melee class, make sure to wait a few seconds as she will cast her big lightning floor move almost immediately, and you don't want to jump right into it. Then jump down after it and nuke her with all you've got (while also hitting what damage reduction cooldowns you've got available) before the swarms of unending adds overwhelm your tank and healer.

What to do as a healer

At the start, you can hide behind a nearby crate to the left to avoid getting sniped. Once Zenta goes up, stick close to your tank as you will be getting healing aggro on any and all adds that spawn, and you'll rely on the tank picking them up to stay alive. Keep an eye on dps taking damage as well, though it shouldn't be too bad on them. Once Zenta goes down again, leave the damage dealers to their fate and focus on just keeping yourself and the tank alive as best as you can. If you can survive until Zenta's defeated, all remaining adds vanish automatically.

08/08/2020

Nightlife Grind Update

Initially I was going to use "gamble" in the title again, but since I established in my last post that clicking on a virtual slot machine a thousand times to eventually claim your guaranteed prize at no financial cost is really more of a grind than a gamble, I edited it accordingly.

Over the last few days I managed to click my way through all the free tokens I'd accumulated on my Commando main and one of my Shadow alts, but more chips keep pouring in from every "normal" play session regardless of my efforts. Still, just this first "round" of clicking my way through the chips already resulted in me getting the "rare" Rodian companion and speeder on both characters, as well as a couple of extra speeders and almost two hundred certificates. Fortunately all the prizes bind to legacy so you can send them to other characters, which is nice. I don't think this was always the case, as I have this vague memory of winning a duplicate speeder that I couldn't use years ago, but I may well be mistaken about that.

I also got the achievement for blowing up a slot machine, but it was a bit disappointing as there was no animation to go with it. I can't tell if it's supposed to be that way or whether it's just another bug.

Keeping busy on my second monitor while going through the click-grind eased the tedium somewhat, but I still wouldn't call it a fun experience. In fact, once I'd cleared out one character's tokens, I barely felt like playing for several days after.

As the event is running for another two weeks I'll undoubtedly end up with several dozen more free chips, but I think at this point I'll just let them pile up. Maybe I'll come back next year for whatever the new prizes are then, but at the current rate it costs me almost as much time to use my free chips as it takes me to earn them, and the former is just not enjoyable to me.

As I said before I'm usually pretty good at not succumbing to artificially created pressure to engage in in-game activities that aren't really fun to me, but I'll admit that the promise of free stuff got me this time. Looking at the negative effect it's been having on my overall fun levels though, I at least know to take a step back from that now and to re-focus on doing things that actually bring me joy.