The above screenshot shows my significant other's Imperial agent. I'm the little face on the bottom left, with the dash next to it, doomed to inactivity. While he's doing stuff, I'm just watching.

If you've never helped someone else with a quest that you didn't have yourself, you might not even have seen Spectator Mode yet. It's what you get put in if you're in a phased area for which you don't have the quest (most commonly because it's someone else's class quest) and a cinematic and/or a conversation occurs. Basically it means that you see what your friend sees, but you don't get to make any decisions. You can help your friends fight their foes, but you don't get to mess with their words.

On the surface, the idea of just watching someone else play the game sounds pretty boring, but actually it really isn't. Thousands of gaming videos on YouTube should be enough to attest to that, though I personally don't care much for watching strangers. Friends and family are a different matter though: if you've grown up with other gamers, you're probably familiar with the joy of looking over someone else's shoulder while they took their turn playing with the only gaming equipment that you had. Maybe I'm also biased because in our pen and paper roleplaying adventures I tend to be the kind of person who spends most of her time watching and listening to the other players instead of speaking up herself. I do want to be involved, but at the same time I appreciate a good show every now and then.

My SO and me levelling a Marauder and a sniper together has been a very rewarding experience in that regard so far. The key probably lies in the fact that I already have an agent at max level, and he already has a warrior who's nearly there, so we each already know the gist of the other one's class story - but we don't know the details.

Last night we both completed Act I of our respective class stories, and I really enjoyed watching him make his way through the agent's first grand finale. I had a hunch that he would go for the darkest of dark side options, but he surprised me by choosing the more morally grey path, which allowed me to see a different outcome than the one I had experienced on my own agent, who had made the light side choice. My favourite moments were the ones when there was a delay in his character's responses and I could tell that he was genuinely hesitant about what to do. The suspense!

It's only one of the ways in which the game is closer to a traditional roleplaying game than any other video game that I've ever played: watching your friend's character being forced to make decisions that might result in enemies flying in your face at any moment if they say the "wrong" thing is definitely a very D&D experience.


First Thoughts on 1.4

When Tuesday went by without the regular maintenance I figured that patch 1.4 was still several weeks away. Then suddenly... surprise patch on Wednesday! Why does extended maintenance always have to happen on my day off? Oh that's right, it's one of the great unwritten laws of MMOs (and possibly life).

TOR also still lives by the old mantra that patch days always break about as many things as they fix, with the biggest casualty this time around being the GTN, which has simply been completely non-functional since the patch's deployment. If I was a big trader, that would drive me nuts. As it is, my augments can wait. Personally I was more concerned about the fact that my game crashed three times in as many hours. However, I'm hopeful that these are the kinds of problems that will be ironed out within a day or two.

Once I actually got to play, I immediately threw myself into some PvP. On my Commando I trained my new interrupt and then cackled with glee every time I got to use it, even if my interrupting didn't actually make any difference to the fight. As far as the other class and balance changes went, I found it too early to really tell whether they had any major effects. My Sage had some trouble aiming her revamped Force Wave sometimes, but that's probably just a matter of getting used to it. And it didn't feel like I spent any more time in stuns than before. The only thing that I found noticeable was that in the few Huttball games that I played, people seemed to have a lot more trouble stopping the ball carrier from a distance than they did before, which would be in line with my predictions about the reduced range on most stuns.

I was happy to see the warzone daily requirement being lowered from six games played (or three wins) to four games played (or two wins), as this should allow me to do the daily on more characters within a shorter amount of time.

Since this resulted in me getting my usual dailies done more quickly, I also checked in on my lesser played and geared Guardian and Operative. On them I was a bit disappointed to see that those of us who took the previous set of free Recruit gear from the PvP terminal don't get an option to swap it for the new MK-2 version. I don't really feel like spending several hundred thousand credits on gear that I expect to replace soon and that new fifties will get for free now. I'll just have to be squishy for a little longer. Battlemaster gear is not far off and will be better anyway.

I had almost forgotten about my initial glee about the announcement that 1.4 would improve the quality of the in-game shadows, but when a guildie reminded me I immediately looked down, and the new system is definitely so much better.

Actually this image hardly does the change any justice even if you maximise it, because I had to shrink the shot on the left so that you can't really see just how freaking pixellated that shadow was. It was awful. The new system is so much better.

Speaking of forgetting about things, I also can't believe that I didn't immediately remember about the new companion customisation options. Once I did, I immediately checked on all of my main characters and "updated" all of their companions. As far as the companions wearing trooper gear were concerned, I had almost forgotten what some of them looked like under their ugly helmets.

Oh and look! It's Doc! There's an actual human being hiding under that creepy gas mask thing! Too bad that this change comes too late for my Jedi, whose relationship conversations were generally more reminiscent of something from a horror movie than anything romantic. (Creepy gas mask dude: "Hi gorgeous!" My reaction: "Ahhh!") At least the alts that come after her will have some hope. (That said, I was surprised that there were actually a couple of companion hats that I didn't turn off, such as Tharan's wide-brimmed smuggler hat. There is some hope for companion fashion.)

As far as operations go, I guess it'll be time to make a decision soon. I do want to see Terror from Beyond eventually, but just how badly do I want to see it now?


Thoughts on pugging flashpoints in TOR

DraconianOne commented on my A Day in the Life post to ask whether I wasn't running any flashpoints and if not... why not? It's a fair question to ask, especially considering that once upon a time in WoW, running instances used to be pretty much my favourite thing in the game.

The truth is, I do run flashpoints every now and then, but very irregularly. I'll go through phases where I'll run one or two every day for a few days, and then go for many weeks without ever setting foot in one. This doesn't have anything to do with me not liking the content or being scared of pugs; I just don't want to burn myself out with endless repetition and I feel that the game doesn't push me to do so either. (That is a good thing by the way.) Yes, there are Black Hole commendations to gather, but you can get those from other sources too, and anyway, since I'm not currently raiding, what's the point of trying to get BiS PvE gear?

In general I feel that even with the voice acting, TOR's flashpoints stand up to repetition much better than I thought they would, but too much repetition can suck the fun out of anything. During WoW's Wrath of the Lich King I did something like two hundred runs of Drak'tharon Keep alone - and this is no hyperbole; it's backed up by scary statistics - but I couldn't tell you about a single fond memory of that place. I don't want TOR's flashpoints to turn into just another grind; I appreciate them way too much for that.

DraconianOne also asked whether I was avoiding pugs. Another interesting question! Pugs, too, used to be something that I quite enjoyed in WoW before the introduction of the dungeon finder. After that I still got some fun out of them for a while, but my enjoyment gradually wore thinner and thinner. Some people's attitudes in those automatically assembled groups were absolutely atrocious, and even the nicer ones were generally in a hurry to rush to the end to gather their reward. The experience eventually left me with the feeling that my more slow-paced type of play wasn't welcome in the game anymore.

I didn't realise just how deeply this had affected me until I started pugging flashpoints in TOR after the introduction of the group finder. I was actually kind of... afraid of my fellow group members. Not to a neurotic level or anything, but I realised that I was constantly worried that speaking up about anything at all would lead to someone exploding into a fit of rage. I did it anyway because I couldn't really help myself, and was quickly surprised by how laid back people actually were. Waiting for someone who DCed or had to go AFK unexpectedly to come back? No problem. Someone died to something stupid? Happens! We're failing to kill the boss because someone in the group's not good enough? We'll keep trying and if it doesn't work out - oh well, we can try again another time. I'm not saying that everyone's a perfect little angel, but I have yet to meet anyone who wasn't reasonable and willing to work with the rest of the group. Saw someone need on something they can't use? Politely point out that they shouldn't do that, assuming ignorance instead of malice, and they'll stop. Shocking!

I've seen some other bloggers remark that they are afraid of pugging, mostly due to bad experiences in WoW similar to what I described above, so I guess I'm mainly writing this to say: don't be scared, give it a try! However, I also know that having more information about what to expect helps to build confidence as well, so let me give you a couple of handy tips about what to expect from pugging in TOR:

Group Finder or Chat?

While the game added an automatic group finder in 1.3, you have to be aware that it's not some miracle instant content dispenser. I've never managed to successfully use it to get a group for "planetary destinations" (aka heroic quests) for example. My guess is that this is because most heroic quests don't necessarily require a full group or even a proper tank-dps-healer setup, so people find it more efficient to ask in general chat on the planet in question and then just build a group with whoever's around. Keep an eye out.

For flashpoints and operations the finder works well enough, but your role and the time of day make a big difference. A tank queuing for a hard mode in the evening will likely get an instant queue. A group of five dps queuing for an operation during the day might never get to see a pop-up at all. As a general rule of thumb I recommend treating flashpoint or operations groups as something that's great to get if you can, but that you shouldn't expect to appear on demand. Don't stand on the fleet and wait. Go and log on to do something else and just put yourself in the queue for whatever it is you want to do. Most likely something will pop sooner or later.

Know Your Role

I'm guessing the fact that groups are not something that's guaranteed to appear the instant you want it to is part of why people's attitudes in parties are generally pretty good. They are happy that you're there at all. It's okay if you're not perfect.

Still, it helps to know what you're doing. I'm not going to go into the basics of tanking, dps and healing here, but here are some things to consider that might be slightly different from other games:

Tanks: You'll often find yourself running into pulls with a lot of mobs of different strength, standing very spread out and attacking from range, and it will seem impossible to round them all up. That's okay! Let the dps apply some CC and kill the weak mobs on their own, they can solo them easily. Focus on keeping the attention of the harder opponents that are running loose, because they'll take a while to die and aren't as susceptible to stuns and other control abilities.

Dps: Focus on killing the small guys first; you don't want them standing around and shooting your healer. Apply crowd control on bigger pulls with strong mobs, preferably on something that's standing off to the side a bit so that the tank can AoE in the centre of the pull without worry. Speaking of CC...

Crowd Control

I don't think I've ever run into a player who didn't know their class's crowd control abilities. The levelling game does a very good job at teaching people how to play in that regard. As far as CC's utility in group content goes, I'm proud to say that the game seems to have achieved a happy medium where it's generally useful to apply some CC on some pulls, but it's not needed all the time (something that I thought impossible after WoW's Cataclysm aimed for a similar sort of difficulty but completely missed the mark if my own grouping experiences were in any way representative). Not sure what sorts of crowd control the classes in your group have on offer? Simples:

Guardian/Juggernaut & Vanguard/Powertech: none

Sentinel/Marauder & smugglers/agents of all types: can CC one droid indefinitely. They can also reapply this CC at any time as it has no cooldown.

Sage/Sorcerer & Commando/Mercenary: can CC one mob of any type. This can be reapplied if it runs its full duration, however it has a cooldown so if it's broken early there's nothing they can do.

Shadow/Assassin & Scoundrel/Operative: can CC one living target while in stealth and before the start of combat. However this can't be reapplied or refreshed once combat's engaged.

In addition every class has some sort of short-term stun that can help you to take the edge of the incoming damage for at least a few seconds. Just keep an eye out for champion and boss mobs that are immune to some control abilities - they'll always have a little buff on them that tells you what they are immune to so you can check before engaging.

As for who controls what, I've found that most groups don't require too much coordination. People generally know what they can do and are happy to show off their abilities, so they'll often pick their own targets without prompting, though a gentle reminder if you need something specific controlled is okay. Marks can be useful for that as well. Generally the content is reasonably forgiving though, so if someone controls the wrong thing or a CC breaks early it's not necessarily the end of the world, as long as people don't mess up too badly.


If in doubt, it never hurts to ask, especially in an operation where people might get a bit more prickly about loot. Generally the consensus seems to be that need is for main spec upgrades only, while greed is for off-specs and companions.

Personally I've taken to passing completely on BoP items that aren't useful to me or any of my companions, as I'd rather have them go to someone who can use them in some way. I know that gearing up your companions can be a nuisance and I'm not that desperate for a couple more extra credits. I don't expect other people to do the same, but I do think it's a nice gesture.

Bonus Quests & Spacebar Etiquette

From what I can tell, TOR seems to be have been spared the worst of the "gogogo" type players so far, probably because many things about the game require patience whether you want them to or not. (Loading screens, anyone?) Still, you will sometimes run into people that just want to get things done quickly. Personally, I'm not one of them. I'm the kind of player who's happy to listen to the entirety of the dialogue even if it's my tenth time. If I didn't want to listen to it anymore, I'd find something else to do.

Still, one must be willing to compromise. As a general rule of thumb, I would say that in levelling content (that includes heroic quests as well as normal mode flashpoints), taking your time should be okay. You may have players for whom this is their first time ever. Let them enjoy the story. Let them kill all the mobs for the bonus quest. You're in no hurry - if you just wanted to level as quickly as possible, flashpoints aren't really the best way to do so anyway.

In hard mode however... I think it's more fair to accommodate the ones that just want to get it done with. There is an expectation that you'll be doing this repeatedly, and I can at least understand why people might not care for hearing the same dialogue over and over again, or for killing lots of trash that can be bypassed easily. Don't force them to wait for you all the time.

Still, these are only rules of thumb, and don't be afraid to speak up if you have a good reason to want to do things differently. Treating your fellow players with respect and kindness goes a long way. The other day I did normal mode Battle of Ilum on my Imperial agent for the first time. I was really curious to see in what ways it was different from the experience on Republic side. We ended up with a tank who had 30k hitpoints. Somewhat bewildered, I asked him what he was there for, and he said that he was only doing it for the daily commendations (i.e. the end reward). He did not shout for us to skip the two short cut scenes, but asked whether we were happy to skip the bosses. I asked to please kill the bosses as my character was still gearing up. We skipped most of the trash but he did pull all the bosses as requested. I kind of would have liked to do the bonus quest and boss as well, but seeing how the tank was already doing me a favour and clearly wanted a quick run, I didn't want to push it. Give and take. Not that hard.

Good luck and happy pugging!


Brief PSA: Shintar on Twitter

At long last I caved in to peer pressure (not really) and created a Twitter account. There was no special reason for it other than a flight of whimsy, though it probably helped that I haven't seen anyone talk about how "OMG everyone must be on Twitter or they might as well not exist" in a while, as that was one of the things that I used to find the most off-putting about the Twitter community. I remember my conversion to Firefox as a similar experience: first several months of friends telling me how great it was and me hating them for their constant pestering, but a few months after their zealotry had finally worn off I did install it after all. Does that make me some sort of geek hipster?

Anyway, for those who are interested I can now also be found at @ShintarCommando. Just like this blog, the Twitter account will only really be about Star Wars. I expect to mainly use it to advertise new blog posts, plus for posting the occasional one-liner about the game if I feel inspired (see existing examples).

Can anyone recommend any SWTOR-related Twitter accounts that are worth following and don't post off-topic stuff all the time? (While also keeping in mind that I'm not really looking for anything too spammy with twenty updates a day.)


Podcast Reviews Again

A lot has happened since I wrote my last post about TOR podcasts over four months ago. Both The Instance: TOR Edition and Sunny's Diner closed their doors, and Mos Eisley Radio has undergone a reboot. What do I listen to now?

Mos Eisley Radio

I'm still tuning in to MER, but the show has certainly changed. After all the old hosts left at once, it was taken over by Leo and Evan, who used to do Ossus Academy, a more general Star Wars fan/lore podcast. The new MER is basically a hybrid of the old show and Ossus Academy, with the scope even broader than before, as the hosts spend a lot of time talking about other Star Wars related things such as the newest releases for tabletop games and CCGs.

I don't mind this in principle, because while I'm not personally into these other kinds of games, I have some friends who are and thus have at least a general idea of what they are talking about. I also find the hosts pleasant to listen to in general. Still, it's a shift in subject matter that might not appeal to everyone, or at the very least the show's attraction might vary from episode to episode. I have to admit that if they go on about a non-TOR-related topic at great length, I tend to kind of zone out after a while.

TOR Reporter

This podcast might be my new TOR-related favourite. One of the hosts is Anexxia from Inquisitor's Roadhouse, and while I don't approve of her fervent love for purple lightning and chopping off people's heads, she's definitely fun to listen to. As far as the other regular host, Chris, is concerned, I was surprised when I realised that he actually plays a lot of different MMOs and is involved in a couple of different podcasts as well, because he always sounds fully devoted to the game and never comes across as if he'd rather be playing something else.

The two of them have good chemistry on air, and mostly talk about TOR in positive terms. Even when criticisms of the game do come up, their love for it can never be in doubt. I also really enjoy that the show has a community segment where they pick up topics discussed in the blogosphere and share some link love.

TORWars Podcast

I'm not sure how I went so long without really being aware of this one, considering that TORWars is one of the biggest fan sites out there, but there you go. The hosts of this one are a crazy bunch, and I can imagine that their particular sense of humour might not be everyone's cup of tea, but you can always tell that they are having fun, it's contagious, and god knows that's something we need more of in this community.

During the episodes I listened to since I started following the podcast, Deirdre (whom I already knew from Corellian Run Radio) did a fair bit of moaning about the game, but oddly enough I didn't find it that off-putting because her righteous anger was so over the top that it was hard to take it seriously. I'm not sure whether that's intentional or not.

Darth Hater Podcast

I have to confess, I've always been a bit biased against Darth Hater, for the simple reason that I think that putting "hater" in the name of your fan site is pretty dumb. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be ironic or something, but it immediately gave me a negative impression when I first heard of the site. Still, it's one of the oldest fan sites out there still running, and it certainly makes a big contribution to the community. It was about time that I gave their podcast a listen as well.

Unfortunately... it didn't really click for me. I listened to episode after episode, thinking that maybe I had just caught a bad apple, but they were all pretty similar. Maybe it's something about the hosts' voices, but I absolutely couldn't concentrate on what they were talking about; my attention started wandering as soon as they opened their mouths. They never really sounded excited about anything and came across as incredibly jaded to me, immediately connecting every piece of good news to something bad that happened in the past and concluding that the new feature would just go down the same line. They don't exactly bash the game, but they don't really sound like they love it either. I get the impression that after 134 episodes they are pretty much just going through the motions.

Still, I would encourage people to give the show a listen at least once. While it didn't click for me at all, I could see it appealing to others.


Server Consolidations

Today was a big day for SWTOR, as Bioware finally put an end to the "free server transfers" and called them by their real name: consolidations. I'm very glad about that because only the other day I saw a commenter on Massively (I know, my own fault for reading) claim that "the game is clearly dead" because he logged on and found that he was the only person left on the fleet. This made me want to facepalm so hard it hurt, as it's exactly the kind of negative press I predicted three months ago would be the result of leaving the empty origin servers up and running. So I'm glad that the locked servers are gone now. I'll always remember Luka Sene with fondness, but we've got to look to the future now.

Seeing how the extended maintenance took much longer than usual, people were itching to log in by the time it finally ended, and surprise, surprise: there were queues. Instantly the forums were flooded with QQ about it. I dread to think what things will be like after the F2P transition, even if subscribers will get login priority and free players won't have forum posting privileges. It's going to be crowded.

The one thing that came as a bit of a surprise to me was that Bioware also got rid of a couple of former destination servers and just sort of mushed them all together. I feel really bad for people who effectively got moved twice and might have had to change their names a second time too.

Speaking of names, I'm not really that bothered about legacy names not being unique anymore. I doubt anyone else would want mine anyway, and I reckon the guy who owns the Sz'tae-a'rikeéy legacy on my server (cracks me up every time) has similar feelings. I'm just a little sad that I won't be able to have encounters like this one anymore, or at least not with the same kind of certainty.

The biggest plus of today's patch to me was the fact that they increased our character limit per server by fifty percent. More character slots is one of those features that I wanted from WoW for years, but they didn't actually implement it until after I left, and even now it's only one extra slot as far as I'm aware. Then again, I know that for some people even four extra slots are not going to be enough, especially if they had characters force-transferred during the final consolidation. One of my guildies is apparently sitting on 23/12 characters right now, though I still don't know what that means in practice. Do the ones that take you over the cap become unplayable?

Another nice side effect of the consolidation was that Bioware finally gave us distinctive server forums. Maybe that will encourage Red Eclipsians to use them a little more. Previously it was rather discouraging to go to the "Server group: The" forums and immediately have to go back three pages to find even one thread that wasn't about The Harbinger. Though today certainly wasn't off to the best start, as like I said above, the moment the forums came up they were just filled with queue QQ.

In game things were a bit mad as well upon logging in. My UI, chat and map settings had all been reset, and the comments on my friends list were gone. The latter annoyed me the most, because the whole point of keeping notes is so that you don't have to remember who all these characters belong to. Now I've got a couple of names there where I can't for the life of me remember who was the rarely played alt of a friend and who was that nice tank from the EV pug...

Finally, when I did some warzones, they gave me massive déjà vu, reminding me of when I first transferred over to The Red Eclipse myself. As of late, the Imps had been a bit demoralised because several of their big PvP guilds collapsed recently, but tonight the warzones were suddenly filled with names I'd never seen before and the Republic got absolutely caned. A Marauder Warlord who kept killing me over and over again quickly became my new arch-nemesis. Though it wasn't all bad, because we did manage to win a Novare Coast match where our team's bunker was already down to ten percent durability when we turned things around after all.

Either way, it's all a bit mad once again and things will probably take a couple of days to settle down.


A Day in the Life

I realise that a lot of my posts on here talk about SWTOR in a very general sort of sense. "Here is something that I consider great about the game." Or: "I think this was a strange design choice." I wouldn't be surprised if that left some readers wondering what it is that I actually do in the game on a day to day basis. So I thought I'd write a post about it.

I actually have a sort of routine I work through every time I play - except for when I don't. Obviously it's a game, so I'm not going to let a routine tie me down as if it was some kind of job, but I do like to have well laid-out plans for my leisure activities too, even if I don't end up sticking to them all the time.

Anyway, I tend to go through the following steps after logging in:

1. My first order of the day is to do the PvP daily on my Commando main (currently Valor rank 74), if she still has the weekly to do as well. I rarely bother to run any warzones without having all the associated quests for them because the rewards are so much smaller then. Also, limiting myself that way has the handy side effect of serving as a pacing mechanism so that I don't burn myself out by overdoing it. If any of my PvP-loving guildies are online and feel up for some action, we'll queue up together.

2. If I still have time and Republic didn't completely suck balls during the matches on my Commando, I'll do the same thing on my Sage (currently Valor rank 65).

3. If I still have time after that or the PvP weeklies were already done on both characters, I will log onto a couple of alts to send the minions out on missions. I'm not very organised in that regard and it's pretty random which characters and which missions I'll pick on any given day. Hey, I haven't checked my agent for sliced tech parts in a while! When did I last sell augments on my bounty hunter? My Sage has so much spare cash, I should make her collect some companion gifts for the characters who don't have their affections maxed out yet. Etc.

4. If I think that I'll have time for a longer play session and I'm feeling social, I'll poke either my boyfriend or my friend from Norway about working on one of our levelling duos. The former suggested to me only fairly recently that we form a Marauder/Sniper team to level through Imperial side content together the same way we had done on Republic side with our troopers when the game first came out. It's been different to have a double dps team, though it helps that we have both a tank and a healer companion now that we're on Nar Shadaa. With my Norwegian friend I still run a Gunslinger/Vanguard duo that recently completed Act II of both of their class stories.

5. If I'm not up for this kind of group play for some reason (or my levelling partners aren't), I'll look at what I could do with my other characters to help them progress. Mostly that comes down to levelling my bounty hunter right now. I have a Sith Inquisitor as well, but I haven't really felt like playing her in ages. As far as my other level fifties go (the agent and the knight), I honestly haven't done much with them since they hit the level cap. Repeating the same endgame activities is only fun so many times, and I've already got that side of things covered on my Commando and Sage. Maybe I'll do some work on them if I ever feel like my current endgame characters run out of things to do (for example my Commando is very close to completing her War Hero set, at which point she'll probably take a bit of a break from PvP for a while).


Making Faces on the PTS

Guys, when did logging onto the PTS become so easy? I remember looking into it briefly several patches ago, and it involved manually downloading some stuff and what not, which led me to the conclusion that it was too much hassle at the time. Now you just have to click on the little gear icon in the bottom left corner of the launcher window, select "yes" on "Enable Public Test Server Access", pick "Public Test" as your environment and off you go! Downloading all the data still takes ages, but at least it all happens automatically through the launcher, just like a normal patch.

Anyway, one of the comparatively minor 1.4 patch notes that caught my attention was this one:

Players can now set their moods, altering your character's facial expression. You can find these moods in the emote browser near the chat window.

This may not be something big and important, but it delighted me since I've always thought that it's a bit of a waste that they made all these art assets for facial expressions in the cut scenes, and didn't give the players any access to them. What a great tool for roleplaying and video making!

Anyway, so I made my first character on the PTS purely to have a look at the different "moods" you'll be able to set for your character in the future, and I thought I'd share:

You change your expression by going to the "Mood" menu in the drop-down for emotes. "Neutral" is the default facial expression we all currently have.

I'm not sure I would call this one "alarmed" so much as "slightly worried", but it's a solid choice.

This is the default expression I expect to see in warzones in the future.

Uh, you're going to swallow a fly or some other space insect if you run around with your mouth open wide like that all the time! I can't see anyone picking this one except as a joke.

"Awed" is basically a milder version of "astounded", though the mouth is still slightly open. Reminds me of the most popular female troll face in WoW for some reason.

I like this one, though I would personally prefer something with a slightly less pronounced smile.

"Dejected" basically means "slightly unhappy". Looks about right.

Now this is a seriously depressed face. If I saw anyone wearing that on the fleet I'd feel an instant urge to /hug or /comfort them.

Not bad, though it looks slightly constipated to me. Then again, "discomforted" is an apt description for that state, isn't it?

Almost scary, that grin.

This is my favourite of the bunch, though I would describe it as "cocky" instead of "flattered". This should be the mood of choice for smugglers most of the time in my opinion.

I'm not sure I'd want to run around with my eyes closed all the time.

That does look like she just got shot in the foot. Appropriate.

This is basically a slightly toned down version of "eager".

Another one with the eyes closed! This is more suitable if you're going for the peaceful sleepwalker look I guess.

Another sad one.

I could barely tell the difference between "mournful" and "saddened". Just a little bit of eyebrow movement I think. Note however that neither of them is nearly as sad as "depressed".

Okay, maybe this will be the default expression in warzones instead.

Finally, this appears to be about halfway between "astounded" and "awed". The open mouth is still too much for me personally though.

From what I could see, your portrait in the UI doesn't currently update with your mood. I don't know whether that's working as intended or will be changed in the future.

Also, we all know that pulling your weapon usually causes your expression to change from neutral to slightly scowly. I call it my "I'ma gonna shoot you" face. You know, this one:

However, it seems that if you select anything but neutral as your mood, that mood will "stick" even with your weapon out, which is something to keep in mind: it's only a small step from being cheerful to being a disturbingly grinning, giant-gun-wielding psycho.


PvP Banter

Sorting through my recent screenshots I was amused by some of the things people say in warzones... or generally related to PvP.

This first one is actually kind of old, from before the server merges. Ever seen someone go into a rage in PvP and tell another player that they shouldn't even bother to play or something similar along those lines? Well, on an increasingly quiet server where you needed every warm body to make a warzone pop, this had interesting consequences:

Can you feel the love?

What passes for humour in the Voidstar:

This is why cross-faction communication being possible is a good thing: you might get an unexpected compliment. Like in this case, where Tectus was a random Imp fighting us in the middle... and Shintar was obviously me, healing my butt off!

Finally, this is how you give a pre-warzone pep talk! (Seen in Novare Coast):


What's a spoiler?

Seeing how SWTOR relies heavily on story for its appeal, I think we can all agree that spoilers matter. Knowing how the big plot of your class story is going to end before you actually get to play through it certainly puts a damper on things, even if you have yet to discover the details of how it all plays out. Myself, I was accidentally spoiled for the ending of the Jedi knight storyline on another blog where the writer had casually mentioned at the start of the post that there would be "some spoilers", which didn't sound too bad to me, and then he ended up giving away the two biggest plot points of the class's storyline in two short sentences. Whoa! I still had lots of fun levelling up my Jedi, and there's still a certain appeal to wondering how exactly you're going to get to your final destination once you know what it is, but at the same time I do kind of wonder whether I would have felt differently about the whole knight plot had I not known in advance how it was going to end.

Yet every time I write a post about a class story, I struggle with how much of a spoiler warning I should give. I certainly don't want to ruin anyone's enjoyment of the story, but to be honest I also don't want people to shy away from reading my posts because they are afraid of massive spoilers that might not actually be there. The problem is, where do you draw the line?

I remember when the game had just come out, some people considered even things like revealing the name of your first companion a spoiler. It makes sense in a way, because I've certainly enjoyed the few times when an NPC ended up joining my character unexpectedly, as opposed to me having heard their name before and going "ah yes, this guy's going to be my future healer" as soon as I meet them in game. However, at the same time companion names are something that's incredibly hard to maintain secret, as spoiling yourself for that information can be as easy as clicking on someone else's companion on the fleet. Then again, there's certainly a continuum there as well - companions that are acquired early in the game or that serve as romantic interests naturally get a lot of exposure, but you can go quite a long time without ever finding out about companions that are unromanceable aliens and only join the player character very late into the game.

So, does that mean that talking about companions acquired in the latter half of the game is a spoiler and talking about the early ones isn't? There seems to be a certain expectation in fan circles that everyone must've played at least the first ten levels or so of every class and would thus know about any events and characters introduced there. Also, is it a spoiler to mention that a companion is romanceable?

And then what about story content outside of the class stories? The generic storylines are usually less engaging and thus also have less to lose by being spoiled in some way, but still... there are some surprises there that could potentially ruin someone's fun if they were revealed unexpectedly.

Where do you draw the line? What sort of spoilers do you shy away from and which ones do you not mind reading about?


Day 10: Death

This is the tenth and last post in my 10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots challenge. Click on any screenshot to see a larger version.

Let's start with a death that was not my own, but served as a lesson to me. Noob me was innocently cruising across the dunes of Tatooine at the time, when I suddenly spotted a lone Jedi going up against a world boss... and going splat very quickly. I can only guess that, like so many others, he fell victim to the lure of "clicking on the glowing skull to see what happens". I knew not to follow his example afterwards.

My own first death to a TOR raid boss was to the Rogue Cartel Warbot on Quesh. I'm not even sure how it happened, as he doesn't have any particularly tricky abilities or anything... I guess I was just dumb. I felt suitably humiliated as the fight moved away from me and all over the courtyard while I just continued to lie in a corner feeling stupid. Nobody else died on that fight either.

Oh Soa and your many fall deaths! Though I have to say, considering the harshness of the platform dropping mechanic when you're first learning it, I'm surprised that I haven't seen a lot more people die to it.

There was also this one time when we had just wiped and I was the last one to make it back... and then I took one step down from the ledge at the entrance and managed to fall through the tiny gap between the ledge and the top platform, instantly plummeting to my death again. Everyone was like "Where is Shintar?" and "What happened? Why is she dead again?" while I was laughing tears in front of my computer screen and nearly pissing myself. Just my luck to find a gap that most people hadn't even taken notice of. I did feel a bit bad for making everyone wait while I had to run back in a second time, but the fact that some guildies started referring to anyone falling to their death in stupid places as "doing a Shintar" afterwards absolutely made it worth it.

The boss kills where everyone except one person is dead at the end are always the best ones, aren't they? This was on hard mode.

Finally, this shot shows a run of Kaon Under Siege where we were in the cinema when our Commando suddenly keeled over dead. What happened? "I just stood on this chair and then I was suddenly dead! I didn't do anything else, I swear!" "Which chair?" asked our tank, clearly disbelieving. He jumped around on a couple of them... and suddenly fell over dead as well. The rest of us knew not to mess with the furniture after that! During a different run we also had someone die to a table in a different room. I probably shouldn't enjoy random bugs like that this much, but deadly furniture is just too silly...

Anyway, that's it for this series. I hope people got some enjoyment out of this little glimpse into my everyday play.


1.4 Class and PvP Balance Changes

It's rare that I find out about SWTOR news the moment they break, but I just spotted this developer blog by Austin Peckenpaugh on the official site and all I can say is whoa! The main thing I took away from it is that both my Combat Medic and my Seer will see some big PvP buffs in the next update. I'm not used to hearing that many good news at once.

Let's look at the more general news items first. Resolve changes incoming!

We’ve adjusted the gain logic of Resolve such that simultaneous and overlapping control effects no longer linearly add together their Resolve gain values. Instead, using a crowd control ability on an already controlled target now applies reasonable Resolve gain values by comparing the incoming control effect to the greatest of existing control effects. As a result of these Resolve changes, unorganized teams will no longer pay huge penalties for overlapping control effects at critical moments.

I think the idea behind this is a noble one, but it also has me a little worried. Getting stunlocked to death isn't that unusual as it is, and if they reduce resolve gains I see a potential there to make the problem even worse, depending on how exactly the system is implemented. The way I see it there is a risk that "sloppily" letting stuns overlap might actually result in longer chain stuns than ever if it results in less than the full resolve amount being applied. However, I'm trying not to worry too much since nobody knows the exact maths behind it yet.

As far as crowd control is concerned, the most commonly used instant stuns are having their range reduced. Meh? I know that this will make it harder for me to stun people in the fire in Huttball, but it also means that they'll have a harder time stunning me in the fire. I reckon that things should even out across the board. I'm just curious whether it will have a significant effect on the outcome of the average Huttball game if people have a better chance at making a run for it.

Force Wave is seeing a bit of a nerf, as it is being turned from a 360 degree knockback around your character into a forward-facing cone with slightly longer range. That will make it harder to use it to get twitchy melee off you in PvP, but then I've never had a lot of success with that anyway. I reckon that intentionally knocking people off bridges and into hazards will remain about as viable as before, if not more so since they also plan to get rid of the animation delay which previously messed things up for me many a time.

Sages also get a whole lot of other buffs to help them escape melee attacks and stay alive!

Force Speed now has a 20-second cooldown (down from 30) for all Consulars and Inquisitors.

If I had a penny for every time I've desperately reached for Force Speed and found that it still had a few seconds left on its cooldown, I'd be a rich woman. Win!

Fadeout/Egress has been redesigned. Now causes Force Speed to remove all roots and snares and grant immunity to roots and snares for the duration.

I specced out of Egress when I noticed how completely non-noticeable the speed buff was, but this is awesome. If I had a penny for every time I hit Force Speed just to be rooted at the same time and have the cooldown go to waste, I'd be even richer. More win!

New Sorcerer/Sage ability, Unnatural Preservation/Force Mend: Heal yourself for a moderate amount. Only usable on yourself. Instant, costs no Force, 30-second cooldown. This ability is trainable at level 18.

I can't see this being a massive game changer with such a long cooldown, but I certainly won't complain about a free instant heal on myself.

Polarity Shift/Mental Alacrity now additionally grants immunity to interrupts for the duration. 

Interrupt immunity = even more win! /faints.

And that's only the changes affecting my alt. The promised future for my main looks even better.

Mercenaries and Commandos now have a 30-meter interrupt, Disabling Shot. This ability interrupts the target's current action and prevents that ability from being used for the next 4 seconds. This ability can be trained at level 18.

There is a teeny tiny part of me that is sad about this because... flavour! We were the only class balanced around not having an interrupt! However, the rest of me just goes "hell yeah". No more "sorry guys, I can't help you with interrupting this really deadly ability" and sweating with dread every time a cast comes up. At last I can take responsibility in PvE too. And well, having an interrupt in PvP is obviously going to be useful.

New Bodyguard/Combat Medic skill, Peacekeeper/Frontline Medic: While protected by your own Kolto Shell/Trauma Probe, firing Rapid Shots/Hammer Shot at an enemy triggers your Kolto Shell/Trauma Probe to heal you on a separate 3-second rate limit.

Yes! Not being able to use Hammer Shot on myself in any way always annoyed me. This change won't make it possible to heal myself with it directly - but since I try to keep Trauma Probe up at all times anyway, this will finally allow for some free self healing whenever I hammer on enemies that are attacking me.

Kolto Residue: Now additionally snares enemies struck by your Kolto Missile/Kolto Bomb by 50% for 3 seconds.

What the? Seriously? They are making Kolto Bomb affect friends and enemies now? Considering that I use this baby pretty much on cooldown in PvP, that sounds pretty amazing. Mind you, I don't think that it will actually help me get away from anyone, seeing how I'm pretty much perma-snared in every warzone I play, but at least I'll get to enjoy a little bit of payback.

Honestly, I expect a lot of this stuff to still receive some tweaking once it goes up on the PTS, but nonetheless it looks like there'll be some good times ahead for me in PvP.


Jedi Knight of the Old Republic

For once, a ding shot that's not on Corellia, as my Jedi knight was my first character to finish her class story before hitting the level cap. As a result I decided to grab a few more warzones in the levelling bracket before she became my fourth character at max level. Unfortunately this made the actual dinging experience rather bitter, as I then ended up losing multiple matches against the same low-level premade from an Imperial PvP guild. Even if my team fought back tooth and nail, we simply didn't stand a chance against their coordination and it wasn't a lot of fun. Still... yay fifty!

First, a word on knight gameplay. As a general rule of thumb, I suck at playing melee, and I have great respect for people who are good at it. While I didn't keep track, I believe that I died many, many more times on my Jedi Guardian than I did on any of my other characters while levelling. The lack of healing abilities and crowd control became painfully apparent very quickly, and meant that content that had been a breeze on previous characters suddenly became an unsurpassable obstacle for this Jedi. Mind you, part of it simply may have been lack of skill on my end, and the fact that the levelling path I chose this time around saw me underlevelled for my class quests more often than it saw me overlevelled. But still... I'll never forget the random gold mini boss (not even a proper boss!) I faced towards the end of Act I who sent me back to the medcentre over and over again. (I sort of brought it up tangentially in this post.) When I struggled against the Imperial agent's Act I boss, I felt that this was because the fight was hard. On my knight, I just spent a lot of time feeling woefully inadequate.

Nonetheless, levelling a Jedi Guardian was fun. Force Leap is possibly the most fun ability I've ever encountered in any game, and combat generally felt very visceral and exciting. It seemed like everything but my default wiffle bat attack had a cooldown or depended on a proc, so even comparatively simple PvE fights had a certain crazy whack a mole quality to them. I don't think it's a playstyle that I'd want to spend most of my time on as it's a bit manic for my taste, but as an occasional distraction it was okay. Towards the end of my levelling experience I felt a bit like I was truly fighting like the Jedi in the cinematics, cutting down an opponent here, kicking the next enemy in line in the face to prevent him from hurting me with a heavy-hitting attack, and then immediately descending on yet another foe.

As far as the knight's story goes, I enjoyed it, but possibly less so than previous classes that I've played. It was just too much of a rollercoaster for my taste: one moment I'd be completely and utterly captivated by events, the next I'd be rolling my eyes at what felt like a tired old cliché to me.

I've seen people refer to the Jedi knight story as KOTOR 3, and while I haven't played any of the previous KOTOR games, I could easily see where that idea comes from. While levelling other classes, I never felt like their missions were more or less important than those of other classes, but the knight story gives off strong vibes that it's meant to be the main event (on Republic side at least). Superweapons and conspiracies seem like small change compared to what you come up against as a knight as your story progresses. In fact, it's hard not to go: "How come none of the other classes have even heard about these events?!" It's both cool and weird at the same time.

The one thing that I can definitely point out as a positive in the knight story is that I can easily see it working for a light side or a dark side path, leading to stories that are different but still make sense. (Unlike, say, the consular, where I've been told that playing dark side frequently left people feeling awkward and like the NPCs reactions didn't actually fit their character's actions.)

Another thing that made the Jedi knight story a bit less enjoyable to me than other class stories I've played so far is that I didn't really connect to any of my companions that well. I liked T7, but playing with a ranged tank companion was just a major pain in the butt, and I didn't have the option of changing to a playstyle that had better synergy with him, so I dumped him for a healer as soon as I got the chance. Kira felt to me like she was trying too hard to be spunky sometimes, always hovering on the edge of becoming annoying. Sergeant Rusk came across as a good man, but too gruff by half to make for pleasant company.

Doc became my permanent companion as soon as I acquired him, as anything but a healer by my side left me feeling hopelessly squishy and vulnerable. Fortunately we also got along in terms of personality and I gained a lot of affection from his approval of my conversation choices. I even romanced him, as it was hard to ignore his constant flirtations... but he wasn't really my kind of guy. I have to admit I cracked up when I actually gained affection with him from rejecting his marriage proposal.

The one character I could have seen myself connecting to a little bit was Lord Scourge, as I knew him to be a fascinating character beforehand, but you don't get him until very late in the game, and I knew that he'd just disagree with me all the time if I took him anywhere. And of course you can't romance him and his sexy voice either. /sigh.

Most of the recurring story NPCs didn't really engage me all that much either. My master had a very hands off approach to teaching, and I never really connected to him. The general I worked with repeatedly just came off as a bit incompetent, constantly losing vital information and resources. And Master Satele may be a cool character, but she gives missions to everyone, so talking to her hardly felt that special.

Still, I'm moaning too much. It was a fun ride regardless; a lot of it just didn't exactly match my personal taste. As I stated in previous posts, I'm quite happy to play a character who is slightly less important and just quietly doing her duty, so the bravado of the knight's story, being the one chosen to save the entire galaxy and so on, wasn't exactly my cup of tea.


SWTOR's Unique Appeal

In the past couple of days I've found myself thinking about what makes SWTOR so appealing to me, as I frequently struggle to explain it to people. Many features that I like about it are available in similar or equal quantity and quality in other games. While it matters that the general flavour of the game, the setting and character design appeal to me big time, that's not all there is to it. Saying that I like the voice acting is also true, but rings kind of hollow as far as explanations go.

The conclusion I eventually came to is that it probably all goes back to Dragon Age. As someone who only buys very few video games (one or two a year really), I'd never played any Bioware games before Dragon Age: Origins. It was my first ever single player RPG as well and as such left a very big impression on me. I loved how the interactions with the NPCs made the world come alive and how the different choices I got to make made me feel like I was actually roleplaying.

The only thing that made me sad was that it all had to end. There was replayability there alright - I was amazed when I found out about the many different permutations of the ending, depending on your character's sex and origin, and how you treated Alistair, Anora and Loghain - but it was lonely. I could share the details of my adventures with others on forums and in conversation, but in game our characters were forever trapped in their own alternate universes.

Also, combat kind of sucked. It's not that I ever hated it, but every time I went for another playthrough, my enthusiasm eventually fizzled out during one of the dungeon crawl sections, as killing darkspawn just felt like a tedious hurdle that I had to overcome in order to get to the next "interesting" bit (i.e. conversation / character development). I never managed to actually complete a second full playthrough of the first game for this reason. Dragon Age 2's combat may have been ridiculously easy and button mashy, but at least it allowed me to get to the bits that I liked more quickly and easily, and I actually did complete that one more than once.

Still, both games left me longing for some sort of multiplayer version of the experience, and preferably one without the tedious combat. Enter SWTOR!

Okay, so it's set in a completely different universe, but that's okay because it's another IP that I'm quite fond of. But otherwise it's all there, the stories and the memorable characters that make the world come alive. And this time, it's all happening a shared world, where once my characters are done with their private business, they can step out into the space station and embrace their friends. Combat? Pretty much copy and pasted from Burning Crusade era WoW, a.k.a. a sort of day-to-day gameplay that I liked for its own sake.

I never really thought about it like this before, but SWTOR basically filled a niche that I was actively longing for, and it filled it perfectly, not to mention at a good time (when I was growing really tired of WoW and the direction it was taking). I think I'd have a hard time going back to a more traditional MMO now.