15/02/2019

Conquest Fatigue

It's hit me at last, and based on some conversations I've had, others in my guild are affected as well.

That's not to say that I've suddenly completely given up on it or anything - but with no realistic opportunities to have a shot at first place as of late, we've just been filling our guild's bar week after week, and if you choose your invasion target in accordance with your guild's size and activity levels, achieving your guild target is extremely easy at this point. I dropped from hitting my personal target on 8-10 characters per week to only doing so on 1-3 while skipping some weeks entirely, and it doesn't seem to have affected our weekly total in any way.

I guess it does speak in favour of the new system that the rewards for hitting the guild target keep you going even when you don't have the energy or influence to compete on the scoreboard anymore. It means that instead of just abandoning the system altogether, which is more or less what happened to me with the original iteration of Conquest, you can scale back and still get something out of it even while participating less.

Interestingly, what seems to have slowed us down appears to have less to do with burnout (which is what I would have expected) and more with the ever-changing meta. I previously wrote about how there used to be this one big Imperial guild on Darth Malgus called Stroke My Wookie (consisting of two sister guilds) that dominated everything, and how I actually kind of cheered when Republic guild Exsilium suddenly emerged out of nowhere to become their first serious competitor. The thing was, with "only" (what were effectively) three large guilds fighting among each other, the odds were pretty good that either the small or the medium planet would go unclaimed (by them) every other week or so, giving Twin Suns Squadron a potential opportunity to compete with other guilds our size there.

What happened in the last couple of months however is that Exsilium also got an Imperial sister guild into competitive shape, and on top of that another two to three guilds suddenly emerged as serious contenders. I don't know if this was due to heavy recruitment on their part, further changes to the way scoring works or a mix of both, but the end result has been that there are now six or seven very big guilds fighting for the top spots every week... which I guess is good in a way in so far as no guild has anything close to a monopoly on winning anymore - but it also means that it's pretty much a given that all three planets will be claimed by someone too large for us to compete with them every single week, which has sapped my guildies' enthusiasm somewhat.

I guess with that we'll be back to mostly caring about Total Galactic War, whenever that one's supposed to come around again next.

10/02/2019

ESO vs. SWTOR: Comparing Business Models

After playing Elder Scrolls Online for a few hours on New Year's Eve, I joked that I probably wasn't going to get back into it for another year, but actually I've ended up playing it casually throughout the past month and even splurged on an ESO Plus subscription too. Turns out that now that I made it over the hump of replaying content that I'd already seen in the beta years ago, I've been rather enjoying myself, though not always in the ways I expected.

I'll probably be able to get a couple more comparison posts out of the experience, but I'm a bit wary of making shallow "first impressions" posts at this point, as these are a dime a dozen in the MMO space and can end up being very oddly skewed, so I don't want to write about anything that I haven't been able to actually sink some time into/research in a bit more depth. So let's start by talking about business models, as these are very straightforward. (Well, relatively speaking. Actually they are pretty complex, but still less so than the gameplay itself.)

In a nutshell, I was surprised by how similar the two games are when it comes to their business model, considering that SWTOR is often decried for having a terrible one, while I mostly keep hearing people gush about ESO's being oh so great. I guess Bioware is still having a hard time with bad PR.

Buy to Play vs. Free to Play

To be honest I've never quite understood the obsession many outspoken MMORPG players seem to have with B2P over F2P. That one-off box purchase on its own isn't going to pay for years and years of content to be developed, so the devs still need to push the subscription option/additional cash shop purchases either way.

That said, having tried ESO I can see one advantage for the player in that the required buy-in means there has to be less worrying about restrictions during the early levels in particular. SWTOR places some pretty brutal chat restrictions on low-level free players, simply because of how much gold/credit sellers have abused the ability to create new accounts for free.

That said, having to spend money to start playing at all is still an obstacle, even if the price of the base game is quite low these days. I know I was unwilling to give Secret World a try until it went free-to-play for example, but then ended up enjoying it enough to be willing to give Funcom some money afterwards, so there's obviously some value to not having a pay wall at the very beginning. I'd love to know how the two models compare behind the scenes in terms of acquisition/player lifetime value.

The "Optional" Subscription

People often criticise that SWTOR's subscription isn't really optional as playing without it you'll feel very limited. I don't think I've ever met a SWTOR player that denies this either, though I think people sometimes don't give credit to all the content you can access completely for free, which includes all the class stories.

ESO definitely doesn't nag you about subscribing nearly as much, though in fairness they also don't have to since you've already given them money by the point you've started playing. That said, I actually found the game pretty unplayable without a subscription by level ten or so, for the simple reason that is the crafting bag.

The crafting bag is a feature that you only get access to while subscribed and is basically a portable hole that can hold infinite amounts of everything related to crafting. The thing that people don't tell you is that if you're the kind of person who likes to click on everything around you that the game will let you interact with, 90 percent of everything you loot will be crafting materials. Since I'm somewhat interested in crafting, I wanted to keep them too, but from level five or so onwards this basically meant that I could barely complete a single quest before my bags were full. By the time I ponied up for a month of ESO Plus, both my bags and my bank were full to burst, yet the instant I subscribed and the crafting mats were automatically transferred to the crafting bag, my normal bags and bank were suddenly virtually empty.

I guess this particular limitation doesn't get as much publicity because I know from experience with my guildies that most players aren't as obsessed with picking up everything that sparkles and will happily ignore large numbers of dropped loot, and what they do pick up they will happily vendor without thinking about potential future use for crafting or anything like that, but I suppose it goes to show that "optional" is in the eye of the beholder. At least I know that I'm not the only one who's struggled with the lack of crafting bag for non-subscribers, as people's opinions on the official forums range from "it's okay; you can circumvent it by making extra storage alts/a personal guild bank/buying additional accounts" to being entirely put off the game by this particular restriction.

Convenience aside, another thing that both games' subscriptions have in common is that they give you a cash shop stipend for every month that you're subscribed. ESO is much more generous however, by throwing in 1500 Crowns per month vs. SWTOR's 500-600 Cartel Coins. While the value of funny money like that can be hard to gauge accurately, I did the maths and the two currencies are actually very close in terms of real life value as well, so ESO really does give you more bang for your buck, which is nice! It's pretty obviously part of their marketing strategy too, as one month of ESO Plus actually costs less than buying 1500 Crowns separately, so the idea is to use the lower price to lure you into subscribing instead of having you simply make a one-time purchase.

General Cash Shop Observations

ESO for some reason felt the need to not have just one but two cash shop icons, because they figured the Crown Crates (random lootboxes) needed their own, which is kind of funny to me. Either way the icons are similarly unobtrusive as the Cartel Market icon in SWTOR.


In general, I like the Crown Store's UI a bit better. SWTOR's store UI is much better now than it was, but ESO still requires fewer clicks in comparison to navigate between categories, which makes it easier to casually browse what's on offer. There are also helpful sub-categories, such as "mounts" being split into "exotic", "horses" or "special". I've often wished that SWTOR had more of these, for example to make it easier to only look at animal mounts vs. speeders, or in the armour section at Jedi styles vs. bounty hunter outfits for example.

Another big plus in favour of the ESO store's UI is that they make it much easier to preview everything before buying. While SWTOR technically has a preview function, it's sometimes disabled for bundled items. Compare this to ESO selling a bundle with several dozen hairstyles in it and letting you preview literally every single one of them before buying (though how to do so isn't super obvious and - like many things relating to ESO's UI - I had to google how to do it).

The general wares in both stores mostly consist of cosmetics of some variety or another, with no power-related purchases. The main thing that SWTOR has that ESO doesn't is that they allow you to manually unlock some of the subscriber benefits (such as the infamous extra hotbars) permanently. The only comparable thing that ESO has is that you can buy DLC content - it's generally free to access for subscribers but unlike in SWTOR, you don't automatically get to keep it if your sub lapses. Also, the current newest "chapter" in ESO or whatever word they use to avoid saying "expansion" is not included in the subscription and still requires an extra purchase no matter what. Another thing that's worth pointing out is that ESO sells some insta-gratification consumables - as I mentioned in my last post, there are mechanics such as riding training and crafting trait research that are gated behind literally months of waiting... unless you're willing to pay up that is.

In general it seems to me that SWTOR's Cartel Market is somewhat better stocked than ESO's Crown store, despite of both games periodically removing items to create artificial scarcity; there's just more stuff to choose from in the former than in the latter.

Funny Money

Now, let's talk pricing! As mentioned above, funny money's whole purpose is to make it less obvious just how much you're spending on things, which it generally succeeds at (especially with additional discounts if you buy larger amounts at once etc.). There is however some napkin maths that you can do, and while doing so I was pleasantly surprised to find that SWTOR and ESO made it easy for me to draw comparisons between the two by having an extremely similar exchange rate. (Note that all prices in this post are in pounds as I'm located in the UK.)

Basically Cartel Coins range in price from £4 to £7 per thousand, depending on which bundle you choose, while ESO's Crowns range from £5 to £8 per thousand. So Crowns are slightly more expensive, but not massively so. The main thing that surprised me was the variance in bundle pricing. I think I've only ever bought Cartel Coins once a long time ago, so I didn't remember how it works in detail, but basically the bundles you can buy range in price from £1.80 to £24. For all the talk about "whales" people like to engage in nowadays, a maximum transaction amount of £24 is hardly daylight robbery. I mean, that's only slightly more than I have to pay for my daily commute. In comparison, ESO's Crown bundles start at £6 for the cheapest one but go up to £110. I wonder how many players actually go for that last one? I think I would struggle to even find enough things in the store that I'd like to spend 21,000 Crowns on.

Anyway, I figured that for price comparison purposes it was both fair and easiest to assume a value of about £5 per thousand Cartel Coins or Crowns. Looking at the different categories you can see some interesting differences.

For example on checking the mounts categories in both stores, SWTOR's ranged in price from about £2 to £13, with most averaging around £7.50. In comparison an ESO store mount will set you back £4.50 to £15, with most of them averaging around £9. One interesting tidbit about ESO store mounts is that the in-game alternatives to them are extremely restricted. I've sometimes heard people complain that SWTOR hides all the good cosmetic stuff in the store - something I've always disagreed with - but even if you see some merit in the argument it's nothing compared to the way ESO handles its mount skins. There are literally only four differently coloured horses plus an event mount available from actually playing the game; every other mount is exclusive to the store.

Another category I compared was that of non-combat pets, where again, SWTOR was a bit cheaper, with the average price for a pet being only a little over a pound, while ESO's tended to hover around £3.50. Is suspect that this is simple market pressure at work as pets are not very popular in SWTOR and I doubt they'd sell any at all if they cost more than they do. In ESO on the other hand I see people running around with non-combat pets all the time, despite of their higher prices.

When it came to character looks, I compared SWTOR's armour shells to ESO's appearances, which are slightly different but essentially both grant you a full cosmetic outfit for your character, which I judged similar enough for the purposes of this post. Here ESO is more generous, with prices ranging from £2.50 to £5, while SWTOR's armours can cost up to £13 for some, with most hovering around the £7 price point. I guess this must be one of Bioware's main money makers. I mean, I'm sure ESO players care about their characters' looks too, but SWTOR makes it more of an issue with all the cut scenes making you want to look your most fabulous for the camera. People jokingly refer to the game as "Space Barbie" for a reason.


Crown Crates vs. Cartel Packs

Let's talk about the elephant in the room: lootboxes, oh em gee! I've noted previously that SWTOR has effectively been phasing them out, but the Ultimate Cartel pack is still available, so I guess it counts. As far as I'm aware ESO has shown no signs of shifting away from relying on Crown Crates for its income.

Interestingly, there is a big price difference between Cartel Packs and Crown Crates, with the latter costing twice as much as the former: £2 vs. £1 per pack. (That said, this is still less than I thought either of them were going to cost in real money.) Now, it might be that the ESO crates make up for their higher price with better contents, but to be honest that's hard to judge considering that nobody knows the drop rates for anything for certain, and even if we did know, if the items aren't also sold in the store for a fixed price, there isn't an objective value we can attach to any of them, seeing how people have different opinions on what's a good or a bad drop. One person's favourite mount ever might be another one's trash.

That aside, I do think that SWTOR is miles ahead in terms of consumer-friendliness in this area simply because all the contents of the boxes are tradable. So if you enjoy opening random boxes you can, but if you just want a specific item, you can simply buy it off another player for credits. There is a chance that your particular item might not be available for sale at all times, but in general there is a pretty healthy secondary market for pack items.

I'd previously been told that ESO had this "Crown Gem" system, which was just as good or even better because you can use gems to buy crate items directly, but after having seen it myself I have to call shenanigans on that one. Basically you get gems for disintegrating unwanted junk items from the boxes, such as potions, but they are only worth one gem a pop, which is basically nothing. Bigger items such as pets or mounts cannot be turned into gems at will, only if they're duplicates! So getting an ugly mount that you're not going to use doesn't get you one bit closer to getting the thing you actually want, whereas in SWTOR you'd at least be able to sell it.

Also, and this is something nobody had ever mentioned to me before and that I only learned while looking it up, the top reward tier, which is called "radiant apex" rewards, can't be purchased with gems, ever, so you can only get those via sheer luck.

Really, the only thing I can say in favour of ESO's Crown Crates is that aside from the radiant apex rewards, all the rewards for the current crate season can be inspected via the in-game UI and you don't need to go to an outside site to learn what they are. This would have been a good feature for SWTOR to have too back in the day, though it has now become redundant with the Ultimate pack (as I get that they can't easily give you a preview of every Cartel Market item ever produced).

Trading & Unlocks

After railing against the lack of tradability of Crown Crate items, I do want to mention something positive related to store items and other players in ESO: the game has the option to give store items to others as gifts directly, which I think is very neat. In SWTOR you can give gifts too, but you have to buy them yourself, wait for the bind timer to run out and then send them through the mail or hand them over in person. I think a dedicated gift UI as part of the store is a nice idea.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that (as far as I could tell; personally I still only have one character), all of ESO's cosmetic cash store purchases are automatically unlocked account-wide, whereas in SWTOR you have to pay an additional fee through the Collection UI to get access on all your characters. How much of a boon that is to you depends on your play style I guess - I love creating alts myself but tend to give them all unique looks anyway, so to me automated account-wide unlocks are a moot point. However to players who don't mind recycling a good look, this can be a boon and drastically increase the value for money of purchases in ESO.

Whew, this ended up being longer than expected!

TL;DR: SWTOR's and ESO's business models are remarkably similar. The main differences are:

- SWTOR gives you a big chunk of content for free, but restricts and nags you a lot if you don't spend any money
- ESO's subscription feels more like a nice bonus than a requirement to fully enjoy the game (unless you have a specific play style), largely due to the generous currency stipend
- Both cash stores rely heavily on cosmetics, with no direct power purchases. Both have only a couple of what I would call slightly iffy items in there, such as SWTOR's extra hotbars for non-subscribers, or ESO's unlocks to skip months of waiting.
- ESO's store has the slightly better UI, but SWTOR's has more merchandise to choose from.
- In both cases, the prices for most items are what I'd call pretty reasonable, usually coming in at £5 to £10. I was actually kind of surprised by this, which is funny in itself as you'd think that as a long-time player I'd know better. It gets a lot of publicity when they experiment with releasing something super expensive, but if you look at the everyday items and prices, it's actually much ado about nothing.
- ESO still relies heavily on lootboxes at this point, with some bad luck protection but no ability to trade, which makes them a bad deal for anyone who just wants a specific drop, whereas SWTOR players can get pretty much anything they want from them without having to rely on RNG.

Do you think there's anything important I got wrong or left out? Feel free to add it in the comments and I'll edit it in where applicable.

06/02/2019

Good vs. Bad Faction Wars

Telwyn muses on why he doesn't mind participating in the war of Republic vs. Empire while feeling somewhat annoyed with what's been happening in WoW's Battle of Azeroth lately. It also reminded me of a post that Tyler made on MMO Bro a few months ago, in which he declared that factions had outstayed their welcome.

I'm pretty much of the opposite opinion as him in that I enjoy myself a good faction war in an MMO, and am really pleased that SWTOR is finally turning its focus back onto Republic vs. Empire. When done well, factions can help define your identity in a game and make you feel more attached to it. That's very much been the case for me in SWTOR, where I've been feeling a staunch affiliation with the Republic since day one. They are the classic good guys, and that's something I want my character to be too.


I never felt nearly as much attachment to the Eternal Alliance, despite of it being led by my own character according to the story. It just seemed to lack definition beyond wanting to oppose Zakuul, and even that was something I never fully connected with, and more importantly, hadn't chosen for myself. I wrote about this a few months after Fallen Empire's launch, how my trooper being shoehorned into a narrative that kept her away from her old faction made her feel like she was losing her identity. With how heavily SWTOR relies on having players emotionally invested in their characters, it was actually quite saddening, and I'm not surprised that the game lost many long-time players during that time.

I suspect that this is also at least partially responsible for a lot of WoW players' current dissatisfaction with their game. They haven't been forcibly removed from their factions, but the Horde in particular has changed a lot ever since Thrall gave up the mantle of warchief. It's certainly a far cry from the slightly primitive and ugly band of misfits it started out as back in Vanilla. This isn't a problem with factions per se, but with the writers and devs not caring to portray them consistently and to keep them distinctive. It's not enough to paint one side red and one blue; you've got to give people reasons to want to choose one over the other.

Humans are very tribal creatures, and we love to sort the world into us vs. them at every opportunity. In real life, this can take forms that are quite problematic, but in the context of a game I don't see a problem with it in principle. Having a faction conflict brewing in the background (or even in the foreground) of your MMO is a way of generating conflict and interesting plot points that are both easy to come up with and easy to understand even for the casual player. It means that you don't constantly have to come up with new threats to fight, but that there's a reliable staple that you can fall back on and use to fine-tune just how threatening you want a given situation to be, because it can provide story hooks on pretty much any part of the scale, from small, local and contained to something that's threatening millions, depending on how much you want the conflict to heat up.


I sometimes hear the argument that faction war doesn't work as a narrative device in an MMO because neither side can win. That always strikes me as weird though because that is exactly what makes it entertaining. You don't want the NPCs to outright say it, but I think as players we probably know it deep inside, even if we're not consciously thinking it: The other faction may be our enemy, but we don't really want them to lose, not fully. You want to be able to celebrate victories against them, but you don't want them to go away entirely. After all, you fight them for the fun of it, not to actually eradicate the enemy, and who are you going to fight if the losers pack their bags and go home? So the goal of well-written faction conflict is to have the two (or more) sides always fighting about something or other, maybe allow a minor victory here and a loss there, but it shouldn't feel too serious.

To me, the storyline on Ossus is a pretty good example of this. If you look at it from both sides, it's not entirely clear who came out the winner, but on either side people get to feel like they've achieved something for their faction and get to pat themselves on the back. Just as we like it!

And again, at least looking at it from the outside, this seems to be another thing that WoW's Battle of Azeroth got wrong, by trying too hard to up the stakes and featuring things like the utter destruction of two capital cities. These things make for great PR pieces in a "look what we did, we're so daring" kind of way, but it's not really going to make players happy. The "winners" don't exactly get a great sense of accomplishment from the writers having written a story about them burning down trees, or from seeing a cut scene of their leader taking over an enemy stronghold; and the losers just feel sad about losing one of their bases. It makes things more dark and serious for the benefit of no-one. We want to play at being at war; not be reminded of its worst aspects.

Now, you could say: That's all well and good, but why do we have to pit players vs. players? Couldn't we just have all the players on one side and in a perpetual conflict with an NPC faction that's never fully defeated? And I guess the answer is that yes, we could, but I also think that wouldn't hold players' attentions nearly as well, because just like there's a big difference between PvE and PvP, I think it's much easier to get into that particular headspace of taking your enemy seriously but not wanting to see them crushed completely when you know that you're up against real people. NPCs that you can never really fully defeat just tend to come across as annoying more than anything.

So I say: Bring on the Empire. Down with the Sith! But do let them get away at the end so they can live to be the (interesting and highly entertaining) baddies another day.

02/02/2019

SWTOR's Top Five Worst Planets to Navigate

Thanks to commenter sootnsweep for giving me the idea for this post. I don't think they actually meant to encourage me to make this particular post, but creativity works in weird ways. Thanks for the inspiration anyway.

#5 - Zakuul

Some of you might be raising your eyebrows at this one, thinking something along the lines: "Zakuul barely even qualifies as a planet, how confusing can it be?" Not that confusing, which is why it's only in fifth place, but considering how few open areas it consists of, it's still quite impressive how awkward Bioware managed to make those to navigate.


Look at this screenshot of the landing zone. Do you know where any of those arrows lead to? I've taken the wrong elevator while attempting to get to the last area I was still missing to uncover the full map on more than one occasion. There's also this area near the tram station where I swear I've gone up and down the stairs repeatedly just to watch the quest indicator change its mind about whether I should be going up or down. And despite of having done "To Find A Findsman" on multiple characters by now, there's still always that one part where I initially go the wrong way because the seemingly obvious route ends in a dead end and you actually have to go round the long way.

#4 - Iokath

I bet some of you were waiting for this one. It seems everyone loves to bash Iokath! And I agree that it's pretty underwhelming as a daily area and awkward to navigate.


Still, I couldn't justify placing it any higher on this list because as I expected when it came out, the confusion about where to go for your quests diminishes greatly once you've done the dailies a couple of times, and what with the various teleporters it doesn't take you too long to get to any of the parts of the map that you need to visit to complete your daily round. There's just this one area in the south-east part of the map where you have to follow a pretty annoyingly serpentine path to get to an objective, but at least the related mission is easy to avoid.

#3 - Balmorra

Good old Balmorra. I'm sure everyone will immediately know what I'm referring to with this one. Most of the map isn't too bad, but this planet's problem are the lifts, which are mostly located in and around the Gorinth Canyon. Their problem is that a) they are located in annoying places that never allow you to just go straight from one objective to the next, and b) for some reason some of them aren't in the same places on Imperial and Republic side, so if you switch between factions a lot this can be extra confusing.

The Republic also has this one quest hub for the bonus series in the lower part of the canyon called Moraine Outpost which for some reason still doesn't have a quick travel point to this day, so the fastest way to get there is to QT somewhere else and then take a speeder. Why, Bioware?


Also, there a bunch of broken bridges that tease you with the idea that you could be getting over there much faster if only the bridge wasn't missing a big chunk in the middle. I guess this teaches us that war is bad because broken infrastructure sucks.

#2 - Corellia

Corellia has two simple but persistent problems. The first and minor one is that all its areas look and feel extremely same-y. Except for the park, which I know has the zoo and Lucky in the middle, I couldn't tell you what's where. I still get confused about where to go every time we want to kill the Commander in the Imperial base or whenever I try to find one of the datacrons again. I know how they all work, but just finding the right general area they are in is more of a challenge to me these days than anything else and I usually quickly resign myself to consulting a guide rather than running in circles.


This is because of the second and larger problem, which is that Corellia's roads seem to have been designed with the intent to make the journey between any given points A and B as long as possible. It's pretty much a straight-up labyrinth. The worst thing is that the map can be very deceptive too, showing a path where actually the road leads to the dead end of a building wall or some collapsed bit of masonry prevents you from going any further.

I don't usually like to quote myself but I think I summed it up quite well in this post in which I was talking about levelling my Sniper: "[...] the maps are confusing and you constantly end up being lured into dead ends. There was one point where it took me something like fifteen minutes to find the right way to access one of my quest objectives... and I've been playing this game for nearly five years. FFS, Corellia."

#1 - Nar Shaddaa

I was somewhat torn whether Corellia or Nar Shaddaa should get first place, but I decided to give the award to Nar Shadaa for one simple reason: the Industrial Sector. I'll concede that most of Nar Shaddaa isn't too bad to find your way around, unless you're on a mission that tells you to go from one sector to the next and for some reason the quest indicator keeps telling you to go to the promenade first every time instead of simply pointing at your final destination. The smugglers' moon also suffers from a similar degree of "samey-ness" as Corellia, which always causes me to struggle to remember the datacron locations.

However, the Industrial Sector is the big one simply because it's three-dimensional, which is to say that there isn't a single overview map but that there are various ramps and lifts you have to take in order to navigate between different floors and which will spit you out in surprising locations.


If you know off the top of your head where each of these buttons takes you, I'll call you a liar. In fact, while trying to take this screenshot I initially quick travelled to the wrong place because of course I did, because who can remember what's where down there? And that's with me having gotten a lot better at navigating the area ever since the world boss that's located in a remote corner of the area became a Conquest objective, encouraging frequent visits.

Still, at the end of the day I think I can actually view it as a good thing that this list was relatively easy to come up with. While thinking about it I concluded that most of SWTOR's planets are actually fairly easy to get around on, which made the few exceptions to the rule easy to single out.

30/01/2019

KotFE Chapter 15 Master Mode

Now this one was interesting. I had a hunch that it was going to be, specifically as I remembered more than one of my guildies (most of whom are pretty good players) spending some time wiping to the Gemini Captain, but at the same time I was hoping that it wasn't going to be that bad because I didn't really remember having any major issues on veteran mode. Master mode was pretty bad though.

First off, I thought that the chapter as a whole was pretty full of death traps. Some of it was probably me playing a bit derpily I guess, such as wiping twice to the Ship Defense Droid that ambushes you at the start of the chapter. I recorded it afterwards to make myself feel a bit better about it, as if I had overcome a significant challenge.



I was a bit taken aback by the speed with which some of the trash respawned. At one point I got a bit distracted and went semi-AFK for ten minutes or so, and the trash pull in the place where I had parked myself actually respawned twice during that time.

Or how about the room with those giant red lasers? I know, it should be obvious to not let them touch you, but when they barely tickle you on story mode it's easy to start slacking. On master mode even just clipping the edge of one was a one-shot.

In the reactor room I died when a strong skytrooper appeared while I was also trying to navigate the weird lava things, which was clearly too much for me to deal with at once. And that room with the gas traps that spawn little droids to repair them has killed me at least once on pretty much every difficulty I think.

The Skytrooper Constructor was kind of interesting to me because he has this move where he summons some adds via the assembly line controls, which is technically interruptable, but since it's always preceded by a massive knockback with a long-ass stun, it's never been particularly practical for me to do so and it's not like allowing him to call the adds really matters on the lower difficulties. On master mode however I found them sufficiently distracting that I actually used my stun breaker and immunity bubble to free myself and interrupt the cast twice. It's interesting when the higher difficulty makes you think about approaching a fight differently if nothing else.



But then the Gemini Captain... oh boy. If you want an indication of how often I wiped on her I'll just say that I killed the eight skytroopers that you have to deal with at the entrance of the room every time often enough to complete all three ranks of the Galactic Rampage conquest objective that night. I also stayed up way too late because I refused to give up, but coming away victorious in the end was worth the lost sleep.

I went through a slightly weird journey in terms of finding out how to deal with the fight. I started by making a couple of attempts as dps, with Senya set to healer, but quickly decided that this was infeasible with the boss's knockbacks sometimes sending us to opposite ends of the room and Senya being very sluggish when it came to returning to me, presumably because of the current issues with companion AI - though on second thought Senya is a melee fighter, so she shouldn't have been affected (as much)?

Anyway, I decided that swapping to heals, with Senya set to dps, was going to serve me much better, especially as it had worked just fine for me on veteran mode. However, I just couldn't make any progress. In fact, as I fed her companion gifts between attempts to get her influence level up, while waiting for heroic moment to come off cooldown, I found that my performance only seemed to get worse. As Senya's dps increased, she started to push the Captain through the phases more quickly, which led to her skipping some of her special moves... but somewhat ironically, some of her specials are actually easier to deal with than her regular attacks and provide a much needed break to regain some health, so her not performing them only made things harder instead of easier.

Plus the phase in which the Captain splits in four wasn't working out as expected. I had this memory from story and veteran mode that the challenge was to hit the "right" Gemini, which would then cause the others to disappear. However, it didn't seem to work that way, and sometimes I could see Senya make a beeline for the correct Gemini just to watch her three copies murder us both within seconds anyway. I decided to have a look at how Aeyix did it again, and it made me realise that actually the key was to hit all the fakes in quick succession to make them disappear.

It immediately struck me that this was never going to happen with Senya as dps, simply due to the delay between telling her to attack something and her actually doing it. So I went back to dealing damage myself, with Senya healing me... and one-shot it on the next try. (It's worth noting that I'd had enough time to get her up to influence level 50 by that point though.)



In terms of general advice, all I can say is that as noted above, most of her specials, such as the poison cone she does, are not really a problem. The issue is how hard she hits with the standard attacks shooting from her palm (not sure about the exact name of the ability), which come very quickly and hit my Sage for about 20k a pop, which was more than I could outheal for any length of time even in 248 gear, so it was a bit of a challenge to always survive just long enough until she'd take another break to do some drawn-out special ability.

The split was the deadliest thing though, and I quickly learned to save every damage reduction cooldown I had for it (I took both the utilities that grant you a brief window of damage reduction after using Cloud Mind and Force Mend), while rushing around and trying to hit all the copies as quickly as possible to make them disappear.

Only one chapter left to go - I'm quite excited for it now actually.

26/01/2019

Will We Ever Get To Change Sides?

I don't recall there ever being much demand for an out-of-game faction-change feature in SWTOR, probably due to the fact that Bioware has always tried to make sure that neither side has any gameplay advantages over the other, so the main reason to choose one faction or the other is story. So if after levelling a trooper for example, you decide that you want to live the life of a bounty hunter instead, what benefit would there be in your existing max-level character being transformed into a max-level of the other faction, with everything that really sets the class apart already behind you?

The idea of changing sides in character on the other hand has always been vaguely intriguing, as it's one of Star Wars' core themes: the noble Jedi turning into an evil Sith, or the evil Sith redeeming himself when you least expect it. However, the only class that really ran with this theme in the base game was the Imperial agent, where making certain light side choices at the right moments could result in the option to pledge yourself to secretly working for the Republic at the very end of chapter three. Not many people got to experience that though, and with new class and even faction-specific content getting pared down quickly after launch, the whole idea soon lost its relevance. If we're all forced to become the Alliance Commander anyway, where do we even have left to go?


The Imperial agent actually hangs out with the Republic for the entirety of chapter 2 of their class story, but as your choices aren't your own at that point, it doesn't really count.

When Bioware decided to reintroduce at least the Republic/Empire split after KotET, it was a bit of a surprise to everyone when they said that not only would we be able to return to our original faction on Iokath, we'd also be able to betray them and change sides. This got a lot of people very excited at the time (including me!), but like so many aspects of Iokath, the actual execution turned out to be very lacklustre, as the faction change ended up being a limited-time feature that only applies on Iokath and can be reversed at any time. Has anyone actually felt that doing dailies on the right side of the Iokath map instead of the left had any significant impact on their character's identity? Personally I've found it to be nothing but a nuisance to occasionally have troubles inviting guildies to a group if they've been doing dailies on Iokath while pledging their allegiance to the other faction.

Nonetheless, Bioware decided to further expand on the idea of characters betraying their original faction on Ossus. I haven't actually got to see this myself as all of my sufficiently progressed characters are loyalists, and none of the ones I could picture changing sides are anywhere near the right point in the story yet to do so, but I've done some reading up on the subject. Bioware did away with the silly faction hopping this time and you're forced to follow the main story arc of your base faction, however the idea is that you're actually sabotaging it from within at the same time. From what I gather this doesn't change the overall story on Ossus, just a couple of lines of dialogue, but technically you're supposed to be harming them quite badly by doing things such as sending the Jedi's revolutionary farming data to the enemy instead of "your" side.

All that sounds good enough to me for what it is, but the big question it raises is what will come next. I suppose we can keep up this sabotage game for another two or three storylines (maybe with another option to turn back if anyone's starting to have second thoughts about what they're doing), but eventually you'd think that there'd have to be consequences, with the most obvious one being that you change sides for good. I'm sure this would be a huge undertaking from a technical point of view, but even if Bioware managed to get it done somehow I can't help but see other, far-reaching problems that would come with such an option.

- Lack of backwards compatibility: If you switched sides fully, to the point of hanging out on the other faction's fleet and so on... what would you actually do there? Most of the stuff from KotFE onwards would be completed, whether you actually did it yourself or it was auto-completed for you, but you couldn't go back to do most of the old content for your new faction such as quests or flashpoints, because the vast majority of it involves voice lines and there was never any dialogue recorded for a Sith warrior on the Esseles for example. I guess you could do operations or PvP, but then you could already do those as part of your old faction too. Otherwise there'd be nothing to do but wait for the next, saboteur-compatible content to drop and maybe do some crafting and roleplaying in the meantime.


Lord Praven from the Jedi knight story is an example of a Sith converting to the Jedi way of life (if you let him).

- The social aspect: I mentioned the annoyance of being unable to invite guildies to groups on Iokath earlier, but now imagine that this was permanent... Wouldn't it suck to lose your guild's main tank because they decided to switch sides during their solo story? And how would the player feel about suddenly losing the ability to group with all their friends? What happens if you're a guild leader at the time of changing factions?

I guess many people play both sides anyway, but that doesn't mean that this wouldn't still cause quite a few messes and conflicts. The only straightforward way of avoiding the entire issue that I can see would be to allow cross-faction grouping across the entire game, and that would go very much against the renewed focus of Republic vs. Empire and open a whole other Pandora's box.

- Choices matter is both one of Bioware's catchphrases and a bit of a meme in SWTOR as players have often found that a superficially impactful choice later turns out to not have changed all that much after all. However, changing your character's faction for good would be a pretty big choice - and as much as players like to claim that they want their choices to matter, you know that there'd be people who'd soon regret deserting, no matter how many times you asked them beforehand whether they really, really wanted to do it, and then there'd be hell to pay on the forums.

It's an interesting dilemma, because as much as I love the idea of people being able to play out their very personal story of redemption or fall to the dark side to its logical and very Star Wars-y conclusion, I just can't see it happen from a practical point of view. But then, what other possible outcome could there be after repeated acts of sabotage that still makes sense from a story point of view and actually respects your choices?

22/01/2019

Ossus And Gear

One of the main things people have criticised about Ossus (beside the bugs) has been its gear grind. To me this has honestly been somewhat surprising, because I have to admit that I've been quite excited to be gaining gear the old-fashioned way again (as in by getting it as a reward for specific tasks) for the first time in years. After the overwhelmingly negative response people had to my post about Galactic Command being in a decent state now, I would have expected more players to agree!

I guess most of the unhappiness stems from one of two things: First off, for all of Galactic Command's flaws, people have got very used to being able to gain gear from absolutely anything, so the thought of "having" to do something they don't like that much to earn rewards (such as a round of dailies) rankles for some.

The other complaint is about the process taking too long/being too grindy, which I guess is just one of those matters of opinion. A lot of MMO players these days seem to think that everyone should be able to acquire best-in-slot gear quickly and easily, else the game is "gating" things or being unfair. They're not technically wrong, but to me getting more rewards if you are able to put more time in is one of an MMORPG's core features, so to me complaining about that just makes no sense.

If anything the main thing I would criticise about Ossus' gearing system is that it adds another complication on top of an already incredibly complicated system. It's hard to fathom at this point that the introduction of Galactic Command was originally intended to simplify gearing. Even as someone who's neck-deep into the game and plays it nearly every day I still sometimes run to the wrong vendor, what with how many different currencies and trade-ins there are now. I'm convinced that one of Bioware's biggest challenges for 6.0 will be to completely revamp the gearing system to go back to something simpler without completely losing the benefits of Galactic Command as it is now.

That said, I also find what Bioware has done with 252 and 258 gear quite fascinating. It feels very much like an experiment in gauging the players' preferences for gear acquisition. Basically there are currently four roads to 252 gear for people not raiding Gods from the Machine master mode, and to then upgrade it to 258 gear, for which you need to already have 252 and the new currency, masterwork data crystals or MDCs for short.

1. Dailies / weeklies: This is the only way to directly acquire a piece of gear - all the other options only reward one MDC each, and you need more than one for each piece of 252 gear you want to buy directly from the vendor. It's usually also the quickest and easiest option, as all you need to do is complete the weekly mission to do ten dailies. Unlike on Iokath, the dailies are also back to not being on a rotation, so this can be done in a single day if desired, like in the older daily areas.

There is one catch however: You cannot choose the exact piece of gear that you will receive. You get to choose among three different boxes that are assigned to different gear slots (for example there's one that will contain a main hand, off-hand, head or ear item) but which piece of gear exactly it contains is random. I suppose this could feel infuriating (especially with the box that contains relics, chances of getting something rubbish are fairly high), but knowing in the back of your head that you can always buy that last missing piece from the vendor instead if you really want to makes it seem not so bad. Instead its feels more like a bonus that you have a chance to get a piece of gear outright instead of having to buy them all from the vendor.


2. Killing the two Ossus world bosses or earning 50 ranked PvP points: For me it's pretty much a no-brainer that the former is the superior way of completing this quest to earn one MDC a week, due to being faster and more fun, but I guess they felt the need to acknowledge dedicated PvPers here. While getting those ranked points undoubtedly takes longer, if you're already playing ranked anyway you'll basically get the quest done "automatically" as you go along. I wonder what the distribution of people taking option one vs. option two looks like. Either way this is also the option closest to the traditional model of rewarding players for participating in a group-centric endgame, even if both world bosses are easily puggable.

3. Trading unassembled components: There is a smuggler in both the Republic and Imperial bases that will trade 500 unassembled components, Galactic Command's more important currency that can only be acquired through PvP, GSF, killing MM bosses or disintegrating loot, for one MDC every week. If you have components to spare, you can also buy a second MDC for double the price (1000 components), but that's the weekly maximum. I started off by buying two per character every week but soon found that this caused me to burn through my stacks of components too quickly and had to stop. Still, I find it fascinating that the option even exists, because this is basically Bioware offering you a way to completely bypass Ossus' endgame content and just upgrade your gear by doing more of what you're already doing. Keep earning those Galactic Command levels and eventually you'll be able to buy the gear without doing all the stuff on Ossus.

4. Time-limited missions: Finally, there is a single quest in the base that changes every week and that, depending on the week, will reward you a single MDC for performing a certain task in PvE or PvP. I haven't seen all the options yet at the time of writing this, but from what I understand the focus can be on warzones, master mode flashpoints, GSF or story mode operations. This feels like an experimental extension of the daily activity bonus for Galactic Command, which keeps the idea of rewarding you for doing old content but tries to nudge people into doing specific kinds of content every week instead of just doing the same thing every day.

Unfortunately there's been a number of issues with this. First off, it's not been clear whether it's supposed to be randomised or not. So far, the current "rotation" has been two weeks of warzones, two weeks of flashpoints and two weeks of GSF, which feels too rigid to be random but also awkward if it was set this way intentionally as it really doesn't give you as much variety as it could. Secondly, there's been a huge discrepancy in the effort required to complete the quest. The PvP version was just to earn eight medals in a warzone, which was a matter of maybe fifteen minutes. Then flashpoint week rolled around and we were asked to run four master mode flashpoints to complete the mission, something that takes anywhere from two to four hours! And people complain about PvP supposedly getting the short end of the stick... Then GSF week rolled around and the mission to win three matches was just outright bugged and literally impossible to complete as you simply don't get credit for your wins. It's just been a mess.

Those issues aside though, I really like this system of people being given different options to earn their rewards. It's a bit more rigid than Galactic Command as you can't just do anything at any time, but there is still a fair amount of choice. Also, you get rewarded more for participating in more parts of the game, which is how MMORPGs should work in my opinion - if you only ever want to do a single thing (such as PvP) there are plenty of other genres out there that will cater to your tastes in a much better way.

For me personally, it's also been great to have some more specific goals to work towards again beyond gaining Command levels, and having a reason to do the new content over the old at least for a while. I'm all in favour of keeping old content relevant, but before Ossus I hadn't realised just how difficult Galactic Command had made it to incentivise running new content. The other day my pet tank surprised me by telling me that he never even maxed out the Iokath-based reputation, but in hindsight it makes perfect sense - practical issues with the dailies aside, there was no reason to do them unless you were after any of the handful of cosmetic rewards. If you just wanted Command XP, pretty much any of the older content was easier and more rewarding.

I suppose there is a risk of burnout from doing the same thing over and over, and I'm certainly starting to feel the pressure now that I've got five characters caught up to Ossus. Doing the weekly on all five, doing the world bosses on all five etc. takes a lot of time - not to mention that I've got a couple of guildies who've been doing the whole rotation on a dozen or more characters! However, in the end that is just a problem of our own making. The new gear isn't really required for anything but Gods from the Machine MM (in which case the raid provides you with an additional avenue for gear acquisition anyway), and nobody is whipping our backs to make us upgrade the gear of all of our alts in the shortest time possible. It's just something to while the time away while we wait for 6.0, which is probably still many months away.

18/01/2019

KotFE Chapters 12, 13 & 14 Master Mode

I'm way overdue to write about these, but to be honest a big part of the reason why I it took me so long was that I found them fairly unremarkable and kept thinking: "Well, that chapter's not really worth a post of its own, is it?"

Chapter twelve, the one in the Odessen Wilds, is the one you have to tackle without a companion, so I was curious how that would affect the tuning. It did seem to me that the trash mobs did a bit less damage than in other master mode chapters.

The confrontation with Valkorion was also interesting. When I did this on veteran mode I was delighted to find that I could just let him beat me up and this would trigger the next cut scene "naturally" - as said scene shows him beating you up, it made sense. I don't know if this is dependent on difficulty, whether it was changed since I played through veteran mode or something else was going on entirely, but either way I'm sad to report that I couldn't get this to work on master mode at all, so I had to actually get him down to the required amount of health to be allowed to watch him beat me up. Sadness.



The fight was tricky in so far as he's uninterruptable and will pretty much two-shot you, so the way to go on my Sage was basically to constantly hit and run, get off a shot and then hide behind a tree just in time to evade his casts. I have no idea how you're supposed to do this on a melee class. YouTuber Aeyix, some of whose videos I believe I have linked in previous posts on this subject, doesn't really provide an answer either... while he does have a video showing his Shadow beating Valkorion it's not really obvious to me how he did it... he just suddenly hits the boss for 760k in one hit (some sort of reflect thing from before they capped reflects maybe?) and the fight is over in seconds. Not really useful to most players I reckon. So yeah, not really sure about that one.

I was a bit worried about the encounter with Vaylin near the end as well, but I ended up one-shotting it. It did make me glad that I was on a Sage and able to self-heal though as she did put out a fair amount of damage and it didn't feel like the backpack provided enough healing to compensate for it. I guess if you can't actively heal yourself, use of cooldowns is key here.



I didn't record any of the fights in chapters thirteen and fourteen because honestly none of them were very exciting. Chapter thirteen only has one real boss, that skytrooper near the end, and just like on veteran mode I found that Vette and Gault were pretty good at picking off the adds more or less on their own so that I only really had to worry about nuking the boss anyway.

Chapter fourteen was similar in that it had lots of droids but none of them did anything particularly exciting.

Now, chapter fifteen will be interesting I'm sure...

15/01/2019

Seven Golden Rules For Happy Pugging

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while now. If you're a long-time reader of the blog or have watched some of my YouTube videos, you've probably caught on to the fact that I'm very fond of doing group content in pick-up groups. At the same time I know that these same pick-up groups generally have a bad reputation, not just in SWTOR but in other MMOs as well. And while it's true that you'll sometimes get people being jerks no matter what, I think that a lot of pugs' bad reputation is somewhat undeserved.


In fact, I'm becoming more and more convinced that people who feel that all their pugs are toxic are at least partially bringing it upon themselves. Not necessarily by being toxic themselves, but due to attitudes and expectations that make it easier for things to go bad when they really don't have to, or that cause the player to perceive the situation as worse than it is.

Two things in particular have served to cement this belief in me. The first was a YouTube channel I follow. I still watch a WoW YouTuber called Preach Gaming, and he has a series called The Daily Preach in which he will do something like pug a dungeon and provide a bit of narration throughout the process - sometimes it'll be something educational actually related to the content; other times he'll just tell a random story throughout the run. Like me, he's quite fond of pugging and most of his runs go quite well. His viewers, who mostly seem to think that pugs are hell, always find reasons to explain his success away and to excuse why that particular run of his wasn't terrible - if only he had tried queuing for a different dungeon/on a different character/at a different time! But then one day he uploaded a run where literally everything went wrong and which ended in horrific failure - and while he did swear at the camera a lot, he was also laughing throughout, and the most upvoted comment on the video simply expressed wonder at his ability to have a good time no matter the circumstances. That - to me - was a prime example of how your own attitude matters more than anything.

The other event that gave me pause was a Boarding Party run I did with a guildie and two pugs. We were already several pulls in when I suddenly noticed that one person still hadn't even entered the instance. My guildie asked if we should kick the guy and I was simply horrified by the extreme escalation his suggestion implied. I told him no and typed in chat: "[Name], are you coming?" The latecomer replied in the affirmative, apologised for the delay, and a minute later he was with us. When I pressed my guildie about his trigger-happiness in regards to kicking, he said that he himself had been kicked from groups for less than that. I believe him, but two wrongs don't make a right, do they?

Anyway, both of these things inspired me to think about and write down the most important factors that I believe are responsible for me enjoying most of my random group runs. If your pugs often go bad, maybe there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of that happening in the future? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. But for now, without further ado: My seven golden rules for happy pugging, in order from least to most important.

#7 - Be good at what you do. I put this one at the bottom because I don't want to sound as if I want to discourage casual or new players from pugging, but let's be honest: Being good at the game yourself and knowing what you're doing helps a lot when it comes to making a run a success, and successful runs are more likely to be happy runs. If you know all the fights you can give advice to the less experienced; if you're good at your class you can compensate for others performing poorly to some extent; and if you're knowledgeable about the game in general you'll be better at reading your group as a whole, being able to tell who's performing well and who might need a helping hand in certain situations.

#6 - Be ready for what you're getting into. This is kind of one step removed from being good and more about expectation management. I'm not saying you should be expected to know all the fights in advance (I always thought the idea of people being supposed to read a guide before they even step into a dungeon for the first time was ridiculous), but you should at the very least have an idea of what you're signing up for in general terms: How long does this sort of content usually take? If you run out of time and have to leave halfway through, nobody wins. What's the difficulty? Is it at a level you are comfortable tackling or should you maybe start with something easier first? Is there a minimum gear requirement? Are there any fixed role requirements (tank/healer)? If you don't at least know the basics, odds are high that someone will be in for an unpleasant surprise.


#5 - Communicate. People often bemoan that players in modern MMO groups don't talk much. To be honest, with content that's tuned for a group of random strangers there often isn't much to talk about, and I don't think that's necessarily a problem. However, if there's something you want or don't want (such as killing the bonus boss), or something that the other players should really know (such as that you're new to the flashpoint and will need some help), make sure to let them know. It's not a guarantee for success, because sometimes you'll get people that don't read chat or just ignore it. However, from my experience most players don't go into these runs with strong opinions on anything, and if you ask for something most often the reply will simply be something along the lines of "OK", "sure" or "I don't mind". But people aren't mind readers, and if you don't say that you want to do the bonus boss or watch the cut scenes, you don't get to moan about not being accommodated by default.

#4 - Try to see the funny side. Now, in fairness, I think this is something that you can't force and probably has a lot to do with what kind of personality you have, but maybe you can still influence your attitude by making a conscious effort? Basically, sometimes things will go wrong; there's no two ways about it. And in the heat of the moment, I may well get angry about it too, but in the long run I prefer to see the funny side. How the hell did we just wipe to this trash pull? I didn't even know that was possible! Well, you learn something new every day. Or: I can't believe what that guy just did! I've got to tell my guildies, that will make for such a funny story. Again, I'll admit that this one's easy for me simply because I'm easily entertained. Other people may be mortified by something such as accidentally sending their entire party to its death, but to me that particular incident was simply hilarious.

#3 - Be humble. One of the #1 annoyances in any team-based game is the guy who immediately tries to blame every failure on someone else. These kinds of people are particularly common in PvP, but you can run into them in PvE too. You can't entirely avoid running into others doing it, but you can strive to not do it yourself. So don't be that guy. I don't care if you're the best player on the server and that noob got himself killed five seconds into the fight. Chances are that the noob actually noticed it themselves and is feeling quite embarrassed as it is. If they repeat their mistake or seem confused, you can politely (!) explain what went wrong, but shouting at them is more likely to turn them off the game than anything else. And anyway, if you're that awesome, how about you think about what you could do better on the next attempt? If you're as good at this as you think you are, maybe you could have used one more cooldown and downed the boss even with the healer dead? Personally I love it when I manage to turn a bad situation around mostly or even entirely by myself. So focus on improving your own performance, not that of others. Even if your intentions are good, a twenty minute flashpoint pug isn't really the time and place to lecture anyone about the intricacies of how to play their class.

#2 - Treat people with respect. Similar to the above, you can't entirely prevent people from treating you like a faceless NPC, but you can treat them like real people and hope that they'll return the favour. If you want to do things one way but the rest of the group prefers to do it a different way (e.g. on the question of whether to do a bonus boss or not), accept the majority vote. It's not all about you. Be polite in your requests, not imperious. (*cough* people who yell "SKIP" repeatedly and in all caps when they don't want to watch a cut scene *cough*) By speaking up early in a polite manner, you set a bar for the rest of the group and they'll be less likely to assume bad things about you or your other team members. How about you try addressing characters by their names instead of their class/role for example? I don't exactly consider the latter offensive anymore, but it does add a personal touch to use someone's name and shows that extra willingness to engage with them on a human level. Finally, always give people the benefit of the doubt. If you're communicating in writing and with very few words, it can be easy to come across as rude or uncaring without meaning to. Always assume that they didn't mean it that way and even if you don't like someone's tone, it's best to just let it go. Which brings us to...

#1 - It's just a game. I'm actually in two minds about this phrase because I've seen it get abused way too often to be dismissive of gaming as a hobby. "Why do you care? It's just a game!" So let me clarify right away that this isn't what I mean. I'm not saying that you shouldn't care. What I am saying is that when things don't go well and you find yourself getting angry or frustrated, it helps to keep things in perspective. Gaming is supposed to be fun, and if it at any point ceases to be enjoyable, you are allowed to get up and walk away. I think I'm generally pretty good at not getting worked up about things in game, but I'm not immune to getting riled up sometimes. There have been times when my pet tank has had to sternly raise his eyebrows at me because I was yelling at my screen, usually over something that happened in a PvP match. But the thing to do when that happens it not to start typing angry things into chat and start arguing with people. It doesn't even matter who's right or wrong at that moment. Nobody's playing this game to get into fights. Honestly, you're better off just getting up and taking a break. Both you and the rest of the group will be happier for it.

12/01/2019

Guild Perks Are Confusing

One of 5.10's more low-key features has been the introduction of guild levelling and guild perks. It's kind of funny really, because in a different context this could have been the main feature of a patch, but with everything else that 5.10 delivered, it felt like a comparatively minor addition. Personally I was also hesitant to get excited about this new feature because while my guild is very important to me, I don't remember the implementation of guild levelling and guild perks in World of Warcraft back in the day being something that I ended up finding particularly great. Mostly I recall some rewards being kind of overpowered to the point that Blizzard had to nerf/remove them later, so my biggest concern was that Bioware might repeat Blizzard's mistakes in that regard.

So far it looks like they avoided that particular pitfall, but there have been others.

First off, let me just say that guild levelling by itself is fine. It doesn't really serve any purpose other than to signal to other players that you're active and to serve as a gating mechanism for some guild perks, but that's okay. It's basically an extension of Conquest that gives you yet another bar to fill via collective effort, and everyone goes "yay" when you succeed. I've taken a screenshot every time Twin Suns Squadron levelled up while I was online, because each one feels like an exciting "ding" that I won't get to experience a second time.


Guild level 2 achieved while I was doing dailies on Ossus...


... level 6 from killing the Alderaan world boss in a guild group...


... level 8 after tanking an uprising...


... level 10 from killing the Colossal on Iokath...


... level 12 in the middle of a PvP match.

Those perks though... I don't know. So far, it seems that if anything Bioware may have played it a bit too safe by making all the perks so inconsequential that nobody cares. I've actually been finding it a bit of a struggle to get the other officers in the guild interested in slotting perks, even though we have all the slots on the guild ship unlocked and aren't short on money either. People just aren't excited about most of them.

There hasn't really been much community buzz about them from what I've seen either. A couple of sites posted "guides" on the subject, but they're usually not much more than a copy and paste of what was posted about the system on the official forums when it was first put onto the public test server. I haven't really seen any talk about what perks might be best for what type of guild, and it feels to me that this is because nobody really knows. While the whole system was on the PTS before launch, it clearly didn't receive sufficient testing, which is evidenced by a multitude of strange bugs, which is in line with the rest of 5.10.

First off there was a perk that was supposed to grant you a slight increase in crafting crit for a few hours when used, but apparently its numbers were off and instead it pretty much guaranteed that all of your crafts would crit for a while (depending on the item and the used companion's influence level). They managed to fix that one pretty quickly.

Then there's a perk that grants you a chance of certain ops bosses dropping a Grand Chance Cube in addition to their normal loot if you kill them in a guild group. This just seems to be on by default, regardless of whether you actually picked the perk or not! Or at least we've seen a bunch of cubes drop from Soa, much to the consternation of everyone present in those runs, seeing how we never actually chose that perk.

There are a couple of perks that grant you an extra Conquest objective that gives a lot of points for doing a certain activity in a guild group. We bought the one called "Warzone Conquest I" which grants you an extra Conquest objective called "Warzone Rally" which claims to give you points once a day for doing ranked or unranked PvP in a guild group. Unfortunately, we quickly found out that this didn't work as expected, because it only triggered if we got into an arena. Seems that if your guild premade gets into an 8v8 warzone (the default for unranked), and the other four people are in a different guild (which they naturally are), it doesn't count as a guild group anymore. That's just plain nonsense seeing how you can't queue with a full group of eight. This perk has therefore ended up mostly going to waste, as the only reliable way to benefit from it is by doing ranked arenas, which most of my guildies don't like. I've given it a go a couple of times just for the sake of getting some use out of our purchase, but it's not fun when you struggle to find three other people willing to play even a single match just for the points.

We'd probably have been much better off with the perk that gives you a repeatable Conquest objective to do an operation in a guild group (though this might also be bugged and not working if the forums are to be believed). The thing is, I only know that this even exists because I've heard other people talk about it, because I've never actually seen the associated perk. About two weeks ago, I went through the list of available perks as displayed on our guild ship (to make sure I had the definitive live list and not outdated PTS information), and that one wasn't even there. Initially I thought that maybe there was some sort of display issue with all the guild group perks cancelling each other out or something - my evidence for this was that in our Imp ship we chose the flashpoint perk of this type and now can't see the warzone perk, while in our main guild it's the other way round.


However, the operations perk was never there on either faction's ship as far as I could see. And worse, the other day I looked at the list of available perks again and some of the ones that I noted down as available only two weeks ago have now disappeared as well, without us changing anything. Can you "outlevel" guild perks without meaning to? Are some of them only available during certain times or after fulfilling some invisible prerequisites? Who knows! (EDIT: Almost immediately after posting this I found some information on Jedipedia that talks about "perk cycles" and that some perks are only available during certain cycles. There is zero indication of these in game though, which just adds another layer of confusion on top of everything else. Holy crap.)

For all I know, there could be some amazingly overpowered guild perks lurking in the system somewhere - but at the moment we can't even tell because half of them don't show and the other half doesn't work right. Hopefully Bioware will sort things out eventually and thereby give players a chance to get more interested in the system... but at the moment there's still too much wrong with it to really get excited about the potential benefits.