The Recruit Experience

I always imagine that a woman in labour must definitely be having second thoughts about this whole "having children" thing. The memory of the fun involved in making the baby is so distant as to be unreal, and any fantasies about the joy of rearing miniature versions of yourself in the future are probably also forgotten in the harsh light of the hospital lamps. What the hell was I thinking? Oh god the pain.

Jumping into level fifty PvP in SWTOR is sort of similar. Gone are the carefree days of casually running warzones while levelling up, and any dreams of rocking the house in full Elite War Hero gear are shattered by the harsh reality of regularly being reduced to a bloody smear on the floor in the blink of an eye. What the hell was I thinking? Oh god the pain.

Terrible analogies aside, it's kind of comical how the awfulness of jumping into warzones in Recruit gear surprises me every single time, even though I've been through the process of gearing up at level fifty several times by now. Somehow it never seems quite as bad in hindsight. Going through it again right now, I really can't blame anyone for not wanting to bother with PvP at fifty. However, at least it doesn't take very long to gear up these days.

Here are some tips to help you survive "The Recruit Experience":

1. Actually, you won't.

You'll die. A lot. Seriously. I remember when I was gearing up my Guardian, I once played a Voidstar match where the scoreboard revealed that I had died literally once every thirty seconds. When you take into account the time you spend waiting behind the force field to get out of the respawn area, that's a shockingly short amount of time to be alive.

That kind of thing is never going to be truly fun, but approaching the situation with the right attitude certainly helps. Just try to think of it as the beginning of your personal montage as you go from Recruit to War Hero. You've got to fail some at first to experience any visible progress.

2. Don't go in alone.

Sure, if you have stealth, try to cap the door while nobody is looking... but as a general rule you want to avoid getting caught in combat on your own at all costs. Unless you are extremely lucky and end up facing off against another Recruit-geared player of similar or lesser skill than yourself, you will always lose in a one-on-one, and quickly. Running in alone and dying in three seconds is just a waste of your and everyone else's time really.

If you stick with others, your output still won't be great, but at least you'll be contributing something instead of simply dying instantly.

3. Run away!

Self preservation is a useful skill for any PvPer really, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who gets a bit lazy sometimes on characters that are already geared. So what, let this guy hit me some more. He won't kill me anyway, and I'll just kill him first. 

As a Recruit-geared player, excuses like that simply won't fly. If you let them get you, they will kill you. Nothing teaches you how to hide behind bunkers, hump pillars and generally stay out of sight of the hard hitters on the enemy team like knowing that a swift death is an absolute certainty if you let them catch you.

4. Your gear sucks... so focus on abilities and tasks that are gear-independent.

Run in and cap/plant while your more robust team mates kill or slow the enemy. Use pulls, push-backs, stuns and other crowd control to distract and delay opponents.

If you have taunts, use them, even if you're not tank-specced. If you have stealth, stand guard for your faction where your enemies can't see you.

In Huttball, pick up the ball and pass it on quickly. Trap enemies in the fire and let the flames do the work for you.

Again, most of this is pretty good advice regardless of your gear level, but at higher levels you usually have a choice between doing these things and trying to engage in straight-up combat. Knowing that the odds are stacked against you in combat as a freshly-dinged level fifty, focusing on providing utility is definitely the better bet.

And if you play your cards just right, every victory will only feel all the sweeter, knowing that you managed to pull it off despite of being the underdog.


The Second Smuggler

If you had asked me not long ago which class was going to be my first pick to level to 50 a second time, smuggler definitely wouldn't have been my answer. Not that there's anything wrong with the smuggler story, in fact I quite enjoyed it, but if I was going to repeat a class story so soon I always figured that I was going to pick one where the light and dark side choices looked like they made a big difference to the outcome... so probably agent, knight or warrior.

However, not long after I hit 50 on my gunslinger and while I was still basking in the pride of feeling that I had seen all there is to see on Republic side, some guildies of mine were doing PvP on low-level alts:

"Want to join us, Shin?"
"Um... I don't have any Republic characters below 50 anymore."
"Well, then make one!"

So I did. Considering that this character was meant to be my dedicated low-level PvP character and in no hurry to go anywhere, I didn't pick her class based on the story, I picked it based on PvP utility, figuring that I wasn't actually going to level her to cap any time soon anyway. I just wanted an advanced class that I didn't have on Republic side yet (even if I had the mirror on Imp side perhaps), and one that was going to be fun to play in warzones. My choice soon fell on the Scoundrel, as a mirror to my Operative, but specced into dps this time so that I could have some fun blasting people in the back for a change.

At first things seemed to be going well. I levelled through Ord Mantell, did the Esseles, and then I started running warzones. While the lack of abilities at a really low level was somewhat annoying, I still found ways to contribute and had a lot of fun. I did my class quests on Coruscant to earn myself a couple more skills and found myself distracted for the first time as I ended up doing all the heroic missions on the planet as well. I just couldn't resist the lure of "LFM" in general chat! Oh well, I thought, even if I do some heroics in addition to my class quests, that still leaves the majority of my experience bar to be filled by PvP.

Then, one day, I found myself grouping up with a guildie's gunslinger alt, I can't even recall why. I said that I'd help him complete his last heroic on Coruscant, as I didn't mind doing it again. Then we both went to Taris, since that was going to be my next stop anyway. Before I knew it I had a load of quests in my log that I hadn't really meant to pick up... and the rest is history. Sort of.

While I kept moaning about "having to" do all the quests to satisfy my guildie's OCD, I was still happy to come back for more every time. Soon I respecced to healing as well, as my twinked out gunslinger companion was killing most things before I even had a chance to run up to them, and whenever we did heroics it made more sense for me to heal anyway. In exchange he provided me with a steady stream of crafted armourings, mods and barrels for my level, and his ruthlessly efficient levelling regime made whole planets go by in no time at all, which was quite a change from my usual slow bimbling about. One of my favourite examples of this happened early on Taris, when I received a phone call and told him that I'd have to be AFK for a bit, so he asked me to put myself on /follow. When I came back, he'd completed all my quests in the entire sub-zone for me and was in the process of trying to drag me up a ledge towards a datacron. Good times.

The only downside is that my "dedicated low-level PvP character" is just another one of my level 50s now... and she didn't even get to do that much PvP while levelling up either! I only just about made Gladiator rank - plus I ganked a couple of PvP-flagged Imps of my level whenever I met them out in the world while questing. I can always make another PvP alt I guess, but considering how easily I'm apparently coaxed into doing other things instead, I'm not sure how much good that will do me.


PSA: Captchas turned on

I've turned on captchas as a requirement for commenting because unfortunately I've seen a huge rise in spam comments lately. While Blogger is pretty good about filtering them out so that they don't show up on the site, I still get an e-mail notification for every single one of them and it's been getting pretty annoying.

We'll see if this helps - if not, I might have to turn off anonymous commenting instead, which would be a real shame as I have quite a few readers (guildies etc.) who don't have any kind of account to sign in with and who like to just leave their name.

So let's hope that captchas do help with my spam problem - even if Blogger's have convinced me that I must be at least part robot, considering how often I fail to enter them correctly myself.

Apologies for the inconvenience.


Wiping in EC NiM

With TFB hard more or less on farm (actual clear times still vary wildly depending on group composition on the actual night), the guild has recently turned its eye on EC nightmare for progression. Toth and Zorn as well as the two tanks have both been downed by guild groups once now, but I wasn't there for either of those kills. I only got to venture into EC NiM for the first time last Monday, and we didn't get any of the bosses down then.

Still, it was kind of fun regardless. To be honest I thought that I'd be kind of sick of Explosive Conflict by now, considering how many times I've run it on both story and hard mode, 8- and 16-man, but somehow it was still entertaining. That's another post idea right there actually: "things in SWTOR that I thought wouldn't be fun, but somehow they are".

I was also kind of anxious about my performance beforehand, and made sure to respec for maximum efficiency, craft myself some exotech stims for that extra boost compared to my reusable Rakata one and so on and so forth. It's kind of weird that I still get so worked up about this stuff after three months in the guild, but many of my guildies are just such good players that I feel I really have to continuously push myself to keep up. That's not a bad thing, it's just a bit strange to feel a bit like the struggling noob again after all the time I've spent raiding in MMOs.

Anyway, as I said I had a good time despite of all the wipes, and I decided to make an "educational" two-minute video about what wiping in EC NiM was like, for the benefit of those that haven't got to go yet. The guildies I showed it to alternated between amused and confused. I liked how our PvP officer commented: "Is PvE all about medpacks?"

(FYI, there's a rather unique but IMO also strange mechanic on nightmare that requires you to use a medpac at the start of the fight or you die, meaning you won't have that cooldown available later on when you might actually want to use one. Maybe Bioware's metrics were showing them that people were using a lot of medpacks on this fight and this seemed like an interesting way to increase difficulty? It seems rather unusual to me anyway.)

Warning: video contains some swearing.


Effects of the Cartel Market After Two Months

Both Sullas and Green Armadillo of PvD made some interesting posts about SWTOR's cash shop in the past couple of days. I've been meaning to write about the subject myself.

Basically, in case you somehow don't remember, I was quite opposed to the game transitioning to free to play. In my ideal world it would have remained sustainable as subscription only, but I pretty much made my peace with not getting that. It probably helps that even though the free-to-play conversion has had some pretty dramatic effects on the game, my experience as a continued subscriber hasn't actually been affected that much.

I had three major concerns when F2P was first announced:

1. I was worried about having the new payment model pushed in my face and having to deal with intrusive advertising reminding me to buy stuff from the shop every five minutes.

2. I know this is something that a lot of people will scoff at, but I was worried about the effect the cash shop would have on my immersion in the game. People love to buy silly random crap, so obviously Bioware will sell them silly random crap... but will it still feel like Star Wars if the fleet gets overrun by the SWTOR equivalent of sparkle ponies?

3. If most of their revenue came from selling items in the shop, development resources would shift to making more items for the shop, instead of, you know, working on actual gameplay additions.

Point one has just been a pleasant surprise all around. Yes, the Cartel Market button is a pretty prominent part of the UI, but it's not as bad as it could be, and seeing how it's located on the top bar it's honestly fairly out of the way. Most importantly, it's simply there for me to take it or leave it, with no obnoxious pop-ups or anything of the like attempting to remind me of it every five minutes.

Even the infamous gambling boxes seem to be fairly low-key compared to other games as far as I understand it. Where other F2P MMOs drop locked boxes out in the world in an attempt to make you buy keys for them ("hey, you already got the box, what's a little money for a key") and thus constantly remind you of the cash shop, SWTOR's are again something that you can simply buy in the shop if you want to - or you can ignore them completely. You only get the occasional reminder of their existence when someone near you goes on a spending spree on the fleet and it sounds like there's a mortar volley coming down somewhere close-by, going by the sound of all those boxes slamming into the ground.

(I seriously hope I haven't jinxed anything by praising these features. I'd be rather miffed if I found out that the next patch suddenly included Cartel Market pop-ups and locked boxes dropping out in the world.)

As for my fear of the harming of immersion... that one's a funny one, because in a way it's completely come true. People are prancing around in silly bikinis all over, Jedi dress up like Sith and vice versa, and both scoot around the fleet on "thrones" that make them look they just escaped from the Jetsons. I don't really get the appeal in most cases, but some of my guildies are going absolutely bananas over this stuff.

Pictured: smuggler on a meditation chair

Still, I laugh and shake my head a little, but other than that it doesn't actually annoy me that much, which surprised me. I don't think it's that I don't care about immersion, but after all this is Star Wars we're talking about, where the very source material contains things like Ewoks, alien strippers and musicians that leave you unsure of which orifice they use to produce sounds, and that's without even getting into some of the expanded universe stuff. I guess the game is less serious now than it was, but it still doesn't feel like it's completely deviated from its original IP.

Now as far as the last of my three fears goes, that's something that I can't yet determine after only two months anyway. I've certainly noticed that the first thing on each new set of patch notes is a big chunk of new cartel market changes and additions that I don't really care about. However, Damion Schubert has also gone on record for saying that the success of the cash shop has allowed them to allocate more resources to working on the game in general, which would definitely be a good thing if it turns out to be true.

So, as a subscriber the game is still as good as ever and apparently its performing better for EA as well. What more can you really ask for?


On the state of PvP

I've seen a lot of moaning lately that the Republic currently sucks in random warzones on The Red Eclipse. Anecdotally, I have to say I agree. Of course things vary depending on the time of day and on who else is queuing up at the time, but generally speaking we seem to be doing more losing than winning as of late, especially when compared to how it was a few months ago.

That's the thing though, there always seems to be a certain ebb and flow when it comes to the power balance between factions. A few months ago it was Imperial PvP that was the pits after several of their major PvP guilds apparently all faltered at the same time, and I regularly felt sorry for the poor Imps that bravely queued up again and again just to get their asses handed to them every time. It's certainly frustrating to experience one losing streak after another, but based on previous experience I think that it's safe to say that it's also something that will pass.

What has been frustrating me though is a visible deterioration in people's attitudes in pugs. Maybe it's related to losing more, as I understand that it's frustrating, but I'm not even talking about generic raging here ("you all suck" etc.), which is something that I've become more tolerant of, but very targeted nastiness. In the past couple of weeks I've had someone whisper me to say that they'd reported me while refusing to tell me what for (in a match that we were winning and where I hadn't even said anything), I've been singled out as "terrible" for failing to get a pass off in Huttball while dogpiled, I've had people call me and my guildies names, and last night I was called the c-word in Ancient Hypergates for losing a pylon to a stealther tag team.

There's always been the odd asshat in the game, but I don't recall having to deal with rude behaviour this frequently. It's easy to say that you shouldn't let it get to you, but if I run into that kind of thing enough times it will get to me, at least in the sense that I'll find myself thinking that it's no fun to have random people spout profanities at me and that I can find better things to do with my time. I seriously hope that this is only a temporary thing brought on by some particularly bad matches.

With that little rant out of the way, things aren't always that dire of course. Warzones still provide plenty of entertainment if you know where to look. First off, this is what I'd call "overexplaining", as seen in Huttball:

Up next, the award for the most awful yet funny pun name I've seen in a long time goes to:

This guy made me laugh as well though:

(I wonder if including that screenshot will result in even more "Bear Grylls knives" spam comments.) Finally, you think it's embarrassing to die to an obstacle in Huttball? Then try this:


I'm a Sith Warrior, hear me roar!

Just before the new year my Sith warrior hit level 50, and last week I finally finished her class story.

I was really positively surprised by the Sith warrior story. To be honest I had kind of expected it to be an "evil mirror" of the Jedi knight, with your character travelling around the galaxy smiting Republic soldiers in the name of the Emperor or something like that. Considering that the Jedi knight story wasn't exactly my favourite I didn't really have very high expectations for that particular scenario. As it turns out the Sith are a lot more selfish however, and while I certainly did my fair share of whacking things for the Empire, overall my story was mostly one of personal growth, intrigue and struggles for power.

In addition, the Sith warrior story seemed to be the most well-balanced of all the stories that I've seen so far in terms of pacing. With all the others I felt that there were definitely peaks and troughs as you advanced through the chapters, but the Sith warrior manages to deliver a truly solid experience every step of the way, as all three chapters of your class story connect into a single overarching plot that provides you with a very strong motivation to stay with it from beginning to end. I'd almost rate it as on par with the Imperial agent - less sophisticated I guess, but still entertaining as hell.

I quite liked all my companions and they were good for a lot of laughs. I wish I could have romanced Pierce beyond making him, ahem, love his job, but alas, us ladies keep getting the short end of the stick as far as romancing companions is concerned. I settled for shagging Quinn instead and made his life miserable, as I shot down his marriage proposal and then refused his request for some distance afterwards. I'm a Sith and he lives to serve me and my whims, damn it! I also thought it was interesting that there are apparently two different versions of your apprentice, depending on whether you nudge her towards the light or the dark side when you first take her on. (I did the latter and ended up with a fiercely loyal but bloodthirsty psychopath.)

There was one, ahem, plot twist involving a companion that I had been spoiled about as something that a lot of people hated apparently. I didn't think it was going to be that bad, but... to be honest it kind of was. Not because of what happens per se, but because your character's reactions are just too heavily railroaded for no good reason. I didn't really mind that the outcome was fixed to an extent, but I think it was handled kind of poorly, as it's all portrayed as your character naturally feeling that way. I would have felt a lot better if there had been some kind of intervention from other NPCs pushing me towards the inevitable so that I could've at least acknowledged the fact that my character had different feelings on the matter. I hope that was vague enough to not be a heavy spoiler while still making some sort of sense.

My Marauder was also my first character at max level who ended up going mostly dark side. Her "final score" was probably skewed by the fact that she had diplomacy and ran a lot of dark side missions, but even so I did a fair amount of not sparing my enemies and just generally being a dick. To an extent I found it justifiable, considering that Sith society teaches people to be ruthless and paranoid, but sometimes I still found it hard to make mostly dark side choices. If you go light side all the time, you end up being an insufferable goody two-shoes, but if you go dark side all the time, your character honestly just comes across as kind of insane, which I don't find particularly fun to play.

What else is there to say? It was interesting to see how levelling a Marauder compared to levelling a Guardian. The medium armour left me slightly more squishy, but getting a healing companion early on certainly made a big difference. Most importantly though, I levelled in tandem with my significant other's Sniper for more or less the entire journey, which obviously helped a lot, as nothing short of Heroic 4's posed any sort of challenge for us. Whenever we did one of those however, it was very strongly reminiscent of my Guardian's levelling experience, meaning that I found myself wishing for some sort of crowd control (that's not limited to droids) and hugging the floor a lot because all the mobs hated me and my AoE attacks.

Gameplay-wise, Marauders have way too many buttons for my liking - and here I thought the Guardian was bad! What makes it worse is that the icons for pretty much all of them consist of angry or agonised looking faces on a red background. Whenever I hadn't played the character in a while, it always took me at least half an hour to remember all my abilities and find them on my action bar.

Upon dinging fifty, I immediately picked up my free blue gear for both PvE and PvP, and oh boy, the PvE set in particular is truly horrible. And to think I had such a nice and sleek-looking suit of armour before! Now I've got random cables coming out of my shoulders and claw feet. Don't look at me like that, Pierce, you'd be embarrassed too!

Lastly, you know you play too much PvP when the Dark Council member you're most excited to meet is Darth Marr - because he does the intro to Voidstar on Empire side.


The strangeness of Ilum a year later

It seems to me that Ilum has acquired a sort of infamy in general MMO circles as a buzzword for how not to do world PvP. It's kind of strange to me personally as someone who completely missed all the drama shortly after launch, seeing how I was was still busy levelling my first character when all the troubles with lag fests and exploits went down. The Ilum I know is just... different. Not that it's a hotspot for world PvP these days or anything, it's just... weird.

The other night my pet tank and I had just finished a round of Ilum dailies on Imperial alts when he suddenly piped up with the suggestion to go and look at the PvP area. "I've never even been there," he said. I was a little incredulous, but then I didn't actually have much experience with the place either. There was this one time I went to have a look at it, but I couldn't really figure out what I was supposed to be doing there. All I remember was that I found something to click on and then got insta-killed for no reason that I could fathom.

"Sure, let's have a look."

I felt very exposed when we landed at the Imperial base on the Western Ice Shelf and my agent's arrival was announced as a zone-wide message in the middle of the screen. Not that there was anyone there to take note of it, apparently.

Just outside the base, my guildie found an interactive gun turret. "Look, I can shoot you! Not that it does anything to friendlies." Fifteen seconds later, he fell over dead. "You know, I think that's what killed me last time," I mused. "I'm still not sure why. Insta-killing people for using the gun turrets doesn't strike me as something that's working as intended."

According to the five quests to capture objectives which had automatically appeared in our log, the Empire already owned everything in the area. We did some driving around in an attempt to find something other than the gun turrets to interact with, but everything that looked like we should be able to click on it just told us off for even trying, since we already owned the place and were apparently supposed to be content.

As we crossed over into the southern half of the zone, we suddenly got a warning that a Jedi knight had been spotted nearby. O-ho, an enemy! A bit closer to the Republic base we actually ran into him, and he and my friend's level 48 bounty hunter were immediately at each other's throats. I decided to just hang back and cast some heals. The Jedi ignored me and apparently just wondered why that lowly level 48 Mercenary kept regenerating health so quickly. Eventually he died and we moved on. We also got a message that the Jedi had already been killed only recently and thus wasn't worth any valor.

Then we rounded a corner towards the entrance of the Republic base, and the freshly respawned Jedi was immediately on my guildie again. We went through the same scenario again, though we were rewarded with something like 200 valor this time. For killing a single guy! It seemed kind of silly.

Upon trying to actually enter the Republic base, we were instantly one-shot and decided that we were probably better off trying something else.

"You know what we should do now? Log on our Republic characters." "Ooh, I like that idea."

About ten minutes later, we were back on our mains, Commando and Vanguard. Since we were now on the side that didn't own the area, we could actually capture all the objectives. It felt kind of anti-climatic though, as everything just consisted of two ten-second casts which then declared the objective captured... and nothing else happened. No rewards, no fireworks, no big changes. There were no more Imperials in the area either. The only good thing about it was that we received a buff that would grant us bonus valor from warzones for an hour.

We did queue up for a couple of games to make use of the buff, while staying on Ilum the rest of the time to see if anything interesting was going to happen between our matches. It didn't. Eventually another guildie joined us, and it was rather amusing that he too was utterly confused by the place, considering that he's been playing for a long time and PvP is his big passion.

We sat down on some stairs together and looked out across the wide open plains where Republic and Imperial walkers were forever duking it out over a piece of terrain that nobody seemed to care about anymore. "What is this place? It looks like it could be fun." "Well, apparently it was... once upon a time. But it was also broken. So now we just have this."


Crash-To-Desktop Workaround

Behold, it's time for one of my biannual posts with actually useful information in it!

I've complained in the past that my game has been crashing non-stop since patch 1.4. It's a widely known issue, but more than three months later there still hasn't been any kind of update from Bioware on how to actually get it fixed.

How do you know whether you're affected by this particular problem and not something else?

1. It started with patch 1.4.
2. You're probably running a 32-bit operation system.
3. Your game will crash to desktop very frequently, very smoothly, and without giving any kind of error message. Most commonly this happens at points when it's very obviously trying to load more information, such as when you're on a loading screen, using quick travel, initiating a conversation or something similar; however, the game will crash after a while regardless of what you do, even if you're just idling in a random spot. The common consensus seems to be that this is due to a memory leak in the game.

Today I was having a quick look at the official forum thread on the subject to see whether there were any updates, when I stumbled upon a post on page 55 where another player actually offered a simple workaround for the issue. Holy crap! User Aortaex had the following to say:

After I tried this I didn't have single crash for over month now, before that it was either 1.5 hour idle game crash time or crashing to desktop after every 5th or 6th loading screen usually after switching from one char to another, hope it will work for you guys as well.

To enable the 3GB switch on Windows Vista™ or Windows 7:

1 . Right-click Command Prompt in the Accessories program group of the Start menu. Click Run as Administrator.
2. At the command prompt, enter "bcdedit /set increaseuserva 3072"
3. Restart the computer.

Since several people replied to his post to say that this method had worked for them as well and seeing how it was a really simple thing to do (basically it just allows the game to use more memory), I tried it myself today (after having previously verified that today's patch still hadn't done anything to fix the issue), and for the first time in several months I was actually able to play all evening without experiencing a single crash. Logging on to all my alts, doing multiple warzones, traversing whole planets - none of it a problem. It was amazing.

In part I just wanted to share my joy about this on here (really, you don't know what a pain it is when your favourite game constantly crashes on you unless you've experienced it yourself), but I also thought that it was generally worth spreading the love around since this information is currently very well hidden in the middle of that one thread on the official forums. I consider myself quite lucky for having come across it at all. I don't know if this fix will work for everyone (I saw at least one comment about it supposedly only working in windowed mode for example, which is how I always play anyway), but if you've been as frustrated with this problem as I have been over the past few months, it's definitely worth a try.


The Joy Of Healing... Mechanics

Back when I wrote my post about why healing people is fun, it occurred to me that aside from the social aspects, I also really enjoy healing from a gameplay point of view. The way that healing mechanics are implemented in TOR pretty much suits me to a T. Talking about that didn't really fit with the theme of the previous post though, so I thought that I'd save it for a separate one.

Mainly there are three points that I really like, especially when compared to what I was used to in WoW. Not that WoW healing wasn't fun in its own way, but I do like the way TOR handles it even more.

Resource Management

One of my favourite parts about being a WoW healer was always the challenge of being able to manage my mana. It's what really distinguished healing from just being a game of whack-a-mole where you always apply your biggest heal as quickly as possible. The "problem" I had with this in WoW was that, over time, the viability of mana management as a gameplay mechanic turned into a bit of rollercoaster: people would completely outgear the need to pay attention to their mana, then regeneration would be nerfed, then players would acquire better gear and make it trivial again... and so on and so forth.

I really like the way SWTOR has approached this, which is to simply to make the size of your resource pool and the rate of your regeneration something static that isn't affected by any stats. Better gear will make your heals bigger, sure, but it never absolves you of the responsibility of having to pay attention to your ammo/energy/force, as the only way to keep it at the correct levels is to play well. I really like that.

As a bonus, all three healing classes have ever so slightly different resource systems. Commando healing is on a short regeneration cycle that you need to watch closely at all times, though you have several cooldowns available in case you mess up. Scoundrels mostly use the same system, but they also have Upper Hand to watch as an extra resource which adds another layer of complexity. Sages on the other hand have a fairly long regen cycle that can only affected by a single ability (Noble Sacrifice), which means that on short fights they can actually get away with mostly ignoring it... but if you mess up and find yourself completely out of force too quickly, there's no good way of recovering.

Sensible Limits

I once read a post on game development somewhere (I don't remember where exactly) that said that the basic premise of designing a game is about creating a framework of rules and limitations in which the players will enjoy operating.

A Sentinel friend of mine once watched a gameplay video that I had recorded of myself and expressed amusement at how few buttons I had to pay attention to compared to him (or so he said). Truth is, I only have two different heals that have no cooldown whatsoever. Two! Then there's another four that come with shortish cooldowns, and about four utility skills that I use regularly. Doesn't sound like much, does it?

I really consider that a good thing though. Combined with the need to manage resources as mentioned above, this lack of buttons to push generally means that incoming damage mustn't come too hard and fast or else it's simply impossible to keep up - because the healers only have limited tools. The result of this is that except for a couple of hardmode fights that I've seen so far, the actual execution requirements on healers are pretty lax (compared to other roles anyway); you just have to be attentive and think strategically. This is exactly what I like about healing though, as opposed to (PvE) dps, where you might have to spend some time thinking about your rotation beforehand, but then it's mostly about executing it as quickly and accurately as possible.

Again I feel that this is an interesting contrast to the development of healing in WoW as it was when I stopped playing, where the power creep of several expansions had given healers so many insanely powerful buttons to press that as a result the fights became more and more about hitting those uber skills as quickly as possible or else see your tank die within two global cooldowns. (Or in other words: if your healers can potentially heal fifty bazillion damage per second... then the main way to challenge them is to make people take fifty bazillion damage per second. Not that fun to me personally.)

Healing Niches

Everyone knows that Sages are the masters of AoE healing. They can heal single targets as well of course, but it feels a bit sluggish compared to other classes. Commandos are the exact opposite, able to keep a single target stable as well as react quickly to burst damage, but as a trade-off our AoE healing is pretty lackluster. Scoundrels are a sort of jack of all trades or utility healer that can be matched with any other type and still do a good job.

During WoW's Burning Crusade, the game operated under a similar system, and I was quite disappointed when they completely did away with it in Wrath of the Lich King so that you could "bring the player, not the class". There were of course drawbacks to having niche healers: it could be annoying for the organiser of a raid to find themselves stuck with a team that didn't quite gel due to class mechanics, and it could be disheartening to come up against a fight where your particular healing role was weaker than the others.

Still, personally I definitely do prefer having dedicated healing niches. In a game that's about playing nice with other people, I'm quite happy to have mechanics that are based on the idea that not everyone is equally good at everything, and while you'll have your chance to shine on one fight, it's okay to let someone else do the heavy lifting on another. It makes the classes feel different and unique and enables people with very different preferences to all find a play style that they enjoy.


The One Where I Try Ranked PvP

Considering how much I grew to love my rated battleground team in WoW, it's kind of surprising that I've felt no real urge whatsoever to get into ranked warzones in TOR. I do think that there are three main reasons for this:

1. Back when I really got into rated play in WoW, this happened at a time when I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the game's PvE endgame. Rated battlegrounds felt like a better reason to log on in the evenings than raids, and I was glad to have something else to dedicate my time to. In contrast, I'm perfectly happy with organised PvE in TOR. I don't feel like I'm lacking a reason to log in regularly.

2. For all the gripes we have with pugs sometimes, I still find TOR's random warzones a lot more entertaining than I ever did running random battlegrounds in WoW. The latter often left me feeling pretty hollow if I didn't have any friends to play with. In TOR I don't really get that to the same extent. Sure, you do get stupid or rude people that frustrate you there too, but I still feel a lot more... engaged. Maybe it's because of the same-server nature of the whole thing; I don't know. The point is, I can get my PvP fix in randoms and be quite happy.

3. For all the good times I had with my rated battleground team in WoW, things did kind of end on a bad note, with the increased friction between people when we weren't able to raise our ranking any further, the constant peer pressure to work harder at being a better player even if it was reaching a point where it wasn't fun anymore, and so on and so forth. I've seen plenty of drama surrounding PvE content in my time, but nothing that ever felt quite as depressingly inevitable as the collapse of that PvP team. I'm not sure I want to go through that again.

There had been some talk about doing ranked warzones in the guild in the past, but things never really got off the ground, not while I've been there anyway. I suspect it's because leadership is more enthused about PvE progression, and naturally that ends up being their focus. Considering the above three points, I haven't really minded too much.

All that said, Tuesday evening a non-officer ended up putting together a team for ranked warzones and I was happy to join in to give them a try. I was quite impressed by his social networking skills and how he pulled in people from other guilds to create a balanced group.

What was even more fascinating though was the way he pulled strings to actually get us into a match. While I've found that the same-server model actually works quite well for creating groups for small-group casual content, ranked warzones are kind of dependent on having a lot of participants while at the same time being a very exclusive type of content, which is honestly not a good combination. You can't really queue up whenever you like and hope to get a balanced match, or any match at all for that matter. So what did our ops leader do? He whispered some people from a big PvP guild and they put together an improvised team just to queue up against us.

I suppose if you were very cynical you could look at that as them getting to farm some free commendations off a bunch of noobs, but I actually thought it was pretty nice of them to "help us out" so that we could get our feet wet in ranked play. After all you can't do PvP without any opponents.

Still, I have to admit that the two actual games we played (before some people got frustrated and wanted to stop) weren't exactly the height of fun. In Novare Coast we never even got close to capping a second turret, though we at least made a couple of spirited attempts at doing so. The Ancient Hypergates match that we had afterwards was worse though, as we only got a single kill (!) against the enemy team while they racked up about forty. Our only notable achievement in that game was that we briefly managed to cap both pylons, though this was at a time when it didn't actually matter and thus made no difference to the final outcome whatsoever.

Of course we never expected to win against an experienced team from a big PvP guild, but well... there is losing, and there is losing really, really badly. It was certainly a bit despiriting. For me, it also didn't help that I foolishly ended up going on my Commando, even though I knew full well that they are the worst PvP healers. I guess all those random warzones where people don't bother to interrupt much made me cocky or something, but facing off against a skilled team, the amount of interrupts and control I was subjected to was absolutely insane. It's not just that I died a lot, it's that I couldn't do much of anything even when I was alive. My healing output during those games was something like half of what I usually do in pugs. I was honestly kind of glad to be going back to queueing for randoms in small groups when we did.

The main thing I took away from this experience was that I think that ranked warzones in TOR might not really be for me. I mean, I'd happily join up for them again on a casual basis (though I'd make sure to take my Sage this time), but that's kind of the rub, isn't it? It seems to me that in their current state at least, you can't be casual in ranked warzones. There isn't enough of an active ladder that you can actually hope to go up against some lower ranked teams regularly, and to be able to be at all competitive on a higher level you'd have to put in a lot of time, effort and practice with a stable team on a regular basis. I don't think I really have the motivation to do that, considering the points I mentioned at the start of this post.

Still, I suppose I'm willing to wait and see. I could see myself giving it another try every now and then; I'm just not convinced that I'll go anywhere in terms of ranking.