One thing that amuses me is how this game still throws me a curveball every now and then, even after I've been playing it regularly for one and a half years.

Last night I did the Section X dailies on Imperial side for the first time. Up until then I thought that quests in SWTOR had certain minimum standards. By that I mean that while some of them may essentially come down to the "kill ten rats" model, they wouldn't do anything like... wallow in poo jokes.

Then I found myself faced with this:

I'm a high-ranking dark lord of the Sith and you want me to do what?

It's huge. It's steaming. And it contains "biological samples" for the daily quest Hyperbiology.

To be fair, you don't actually have to dig through the giant turds. There are plenty of other sources of said samples, whether it's from killing k'lor'slugs, crushing animal eggs or picking bones off the floor. But, you know... it's the principle of the thing.

Imperials are so weird.


Bug Spray, Please!

Last week I actually had a good customer service experience! I just think that's worth mentioning since we're always happy to moan about bad customer service; the good times deserve to be called out as well.

Basically what happened was that I couldn't log into the game because it kept asking me for a one-time password that I'd never received (and I'd never had problems with getting them before), and yes, I did give it plenty of time, about one and a half hours in fact. In the end I decided to call their UK customer service number, got put through to someone right away, explained my problem and it was all resolved within minutes. Apparently they were aware that there were some issues with one-time passwords, they were working on it, and in the meantime the CSR just gave me one over the phone so that I could log in right then and there. Oh and by the way, would I like to get a security key to avoid any of this hassle in the future? I did give in and finally ordered one after that. I've wanted one for a while actually, but I don't have a smartphone and the physical ones were unavailable in Europe for the better part of a year and only recently came back in stock. Better late than never I guess.

Earlier this week I had a brief moment of panic when I looked at my character selection screen and my beautiful little Cathar with her golden fur was suddenly... very pale.

Waaah, what happened to me?

At first I thought that her fur colour must've been changed to a different setting or something, but after doing some reading up on the forums I found a comment from Bioware stating that the Cathar fur colour number one was bugged and that they were working on fixing it with the next small patch. Phew.

The one issue I've had recently to which I haven't found a good solution is my trooper's crowd control not always working. The first couple of times I thought that it was just a fluke or that somebody must've broken it early, but it's happening pretty much every other op now and I can see quite clearly that nobody else is interfering. Concussive Round just fires, the visual appears to hit the target, but nothing happens to them. Nothing. The combat log says so too. Grrr.

I made a post about it on the Commando forum to see whether other people had the same issue, but the replies have been a very mixed bag so far and not really particularly useful. I suppose there are worse problems I could be having, but it's still annoying to be asked to CC things and it being so unreliable.


Making Videos

I've occasionally linked some of my SWTOR videos before, but lately I've mostly settled on just letting the widget do its thing. What widget? The small one at the bottom of the sidebar that shows tiny thumbnails of the last four videos I uploaded to my channel. I do wonder if anyone actually notices it though; to be honest I keep forgetting that it's there myself...

Sometimes I'm not entirely sure how I feel about video-making. I definitely have no aspirations to become a "YouTuber" who puts out video content regularly. I don't want that pressure, plus I genuinely prefer the written word most of the time. However, that doesn't mean that sometimes a different medium doesn't lend itself better to a particular task - conveying the excitement of a first boss kill for example. Sure, you can post a screenshot and tell an epic tale of how you got him down just as he enraged... but it's pretty hard work to get that kind of thing right. Alternatively, you can just leave Fraps on, put some eighties rock on in the background and presto! You've got a pretty good approximation of what the crucial moments felt like that night.

While I've dabbled in recording different things, operations remain my favourite part of the game to make videos of, to try and capture that epic feeling of lots of people going up against a large opponent together. My favourite effort so far has been this TfB video I made a little over a month ago:

Basically, I wanted to finally make something that felt a little more "cinematic" than my previous attempts, with no annoying UI, floating combat text, my character always standing in the middle or other bits and pieces distracting from the action. It shouldn't come as a surprise that actually playing effectively like that turned out to be pretty much impossible!

Fortunately my guild allowed me to tag along for a 16-man story mode run for the express purpose of playing camerawoman, and I don't think the other three healers were particularly taxed. I don't doubt that at least a couple of people were quietly rolling their eyes at my quirky projects though.

I keep thinking that I want to do a similar thing for Scum And Villainy, but with seven bosses the operation feels a fair bit longer and I'm not sure I really want to subject people to more of me tagging along uselessly in terms of gameplay.


Book Review: Annihilation

The other week I found myself in Forbidden Planet thanks to some friends, and unsurprisingly it turned out to be the kind of place where it's pretty hard not to spend any money as a geek. Among other things I ended up with the paperback version of SWTOR: Annihilation by Drew Karpyshyn.

Set some time after the main plot arc of the base game, it tells the story of how the Republic sets out to destroy an Imperial space ship which is apparently so special and powerful that its mere existence is apparently totally turning the tide of the war in favour of the Empire. Hrm, where have I heard that before?

I have to admit that the summary on the back didn't exactly fill me with high hopes for the book, and things turned out pretty much as I expected. I liked it less than the previous two SWTOR tie-ins I read, though it was alright I guess.

The main problem I had with it was that it all just felt very generic. The plot is a classic "destroy the superweapon against impossible odds" story (which kind of gets overused in Star Wars fiction in general), and I struggled to get myself to care about any of the main characters as they all seemed pretty flat to me and had little personality. To be fair, apparently the book is a sort of continuation of a comic series featuring these same characters, so maybe they were fleshed out previously and the book feels more rounded if you've read about them before.

On the plus side, the writing is fast-paced and you never have time to get bored. Occasionally there are glimpses of the author trying to touch on a deeper theme (I quite liked Theron's thoughts on who is and isn't part of his family), but they are few and far between. Also, if you have any interest in Old Republic lore whatsoever, Annihilation contains some very juicy bits of information about Darth Malgus, Master Gnost-Dural, Satele Shan and Jace Malcom.

Basically, I can still recommend this if you can pick it up for cheap, feel like immersing yourself in an easy to read little Star Wars adventure and have some interest in learning more about the background of some of the more important NPCs in the game. Just don't expect it to be more than that.


My favourite warzones

On Tuesday, Maldwiz made a pretty detailed post about SWTOR's warzones, how they work, and what he likes or dislikes about each of them. This reminded me that I've been meaning to make a similar post for ages, though with less focus on describing how each warzone works and more on why I like some of them more than others.

As a general rule, I like warzones that manage to strike a good balance between objectives and raw PvP. All warzones in SWTOR are objective-based, but said objectives aren't always equally important. I do like it when the game encourages you to fight strategically instead of getting caught up in random skirmishes "on the road", however at the same time consistently defeating your opponents should be rewarded. Objectives that encourage running away or avoiding the enemy are generally not among my favourites.

The other major factor that affects my fun is personal responsibility. I like warzones where your success depends largely on how good your team is as a whole. I do not like it if too large a burden is placed on individual players, to the point where the whole team can quickly end up being "punished" with a loss due to a single person's mistake. Call me lazy, but it stresses me out when I'm the one who suddenly has all the responsibility, and it also frustrates me when I'm forced to leave an important job to somebody else and they mess it up. I prefer to feel like "we're all in this together" and success depends more on co-operation than on each individual's duelling skills.

Like Maldwiz, I like Novare Coast best of all. In my eyes at least, it does all of the things I mentioned above just right. Holding the encampments is crucial obviously, but due to the way capping works in this warzone, the best way to hold them is to overpower the other team. You do have to pay attention or you might get people trying to cap sneakily even in the busiest melee, but it's generally pretty obvious.

Also, again due to the way the capping works - and the scoring - a single person's contribution doesn't generally make or break the game. If your node guardian goes down and you lose your "home" encampment it's obviously bad, but if you've got a good team you should be able to get it back quickly enough.

Alderaan Civil War is probably my second favourite, probably due to being similar to Novare Coast, even if the capping and scoring mechanics are different. Since a cap requires a long and uninterrupted cast, it's quite hard to make a node change hands, requiring either some serious PvP domination or catching your opponents unawares. The only downside from my point of view is that being left to guard a node on your own against a team with clever stealthers can be quite taxing, as the difficulty of actually making a cap means that your team will likely be very cross with you if you lose a turret.

Huttball is very much a mixed bag for me. On high mobility classes I love it, on low mobility classes I don't. It's probably the warzone that's most heavily weighted towards raw objectives, and theoretically you can win without even doing much actual PvP if you set up a good pass line. I don't really consider that a positive, but it's made up for by the fact that Huttball also provides some of the most fun ways of offing your opponents in PvP (via knockbacks and fire traps).

While you occasionally get a "star player" who pretty much seems to win you a match on his own by scoring repeatedly, most of the time it feels very much like a team effort, even in a pug, and not necessarily like the whole game rests on a single perfect pass or intercept, which is something that I do like.

There are no warzones that I absolutely loathe, but Voidstar and Ancient Hypergates are probably tied for being my least favourite. In practice my actual like or dislike of each one varies depending on where I'm currently suffering the worst losing streak.

My "problem" with Ancient Hypergates is that it's actually a bit too PvP-focused. In theory you've got all these objectives to consider, whether to steal the enemy pylon or gather orbs, but in practice I've found that most games simply come down to each team holding one pylon and the one with the better kills-to-deaths-ratio claiming victory. There is some potential fun to be had with last-minute stealth caps of the enemy pylon, but that requires you to actually have one or more skilled stealthers on your team, and the enemy has to be fairly negligent.

This does sort of lead into what I said about personal responsibility earlier and which gives me another reason to dislike Hypergates. Due to the way the scoring works the responsibility of guarding the pylon feels enormous, as losing it to the enemy at the wrong moment will completely cancel out any successes your team might've had that round, and likewise someone on your team who can cap the enemy pylon at the right moment can easily win you the game. As someone who mostly plays support (healers), most of my matches seem to consist of trying to keep people alive in the big melee in the middle and praying that whoever is doing stuff at the pylons is good enough at their job to win us the game.

Voidstar actually has a pretty decent balance of PvP vs. objectives in my opinion, but the thing that makes me like it less than other warzones is the fact that it's the most punishing one in regards to individual mistakes. If you've ever started a game on defense and lost the first door within thirty seconds because the lone defender on what appeared to be the "quiet" side wasn't paying attention, you'll know what I mean. If it's particularly bad, you might find yourself slowed at the back or stuck behind a forcefield while the attackers continue to cap the next two points as well (again, avoiding your opponents is rewarded) - and all because of one guy's mistake. It's not a guaranteed loss quite yet, but it immediately puts your team at such a massive disadvantage that you'll probably end up struggling with motivation for the rest of the match.

Which are your favourites?


More tanking lessons

Our role-reversed tank/healer duo is progressing through the levels nicely, even if we're waaay ahead of (or is that behind?) the levelling curve once again, still bimbling around on Alderaan at level 37.

I feel like my little Powertech has really come into her own in the last couple of levels, as she gained more abilities to control the battle and talents that create nice synergies between my main aggro generators. I have my harpoon to pull mobs towards me, and hydraulic overrides prevent me from getting knocked back too often. Jet charge allows me to quickly get into a mob's face and punch it (whee), and free flame sweeps and flame throwers make getting AoE aggro a breeze. Fun!

The only downside is that I'm starting to see why most tanks are... well, a little crazy.

Some fight mechanics are just extraordinarily cruel to tanks. There was a [Heroic 4] we did on Tatooine where every other pull went something like this:

Me: [charges in]
Mobs: [do a knockdown]
Mobs: [stun me with a cryo-grenade]
Mobs: [stun me with a cryo-grenade again]
Mobs: [decide that since all I seem to be doing is standing there stunned, I'm not threatening enough and they should go after someone else]
Me: For fuck's sake, how many stuns do these guys have?
Pet tank healer: Language, Shin.
Me: Fine, "oh sugar". But seriously, how many stuns?

Tank rage in the face of being powerless!

The funny thing is, in hindsight I can't actually say that I feel that it's a bad thing that those mobs have all those stuns. It makes the fights more challenging and encourages crowd control. We were kind of silly for AoE tanking the whole lot every time I suppose. But still...

Back in WoW it was a commonly repeated mantra that tanking wasn't so much about fighting the mobs as it was about fighting your party (for aggro and control). Supposedly that's why so many tanks were complete jerks, because they automatically expected the worst of every pug they met. In SWTOR I haven't found things to be too bad so far, maybe because the tank isn't actually expected to handle the whole pull. (It's generally the dps's role to kill the weak mobs on their own.) Even so, it's still way too easy for even a bit of carelessness to completely ruin the tank's well-intentioned plans.

I mean, there's me in a flashpoint, looking at the pull ahead for a few seconds as I figure out that it's probably best to shoot an explosive dart at the one in the middle, charge the one on the right and pull the one on the left over... and then a fraction before I can actually pull, the dps Marauder charges in, causes two mobs to leap towards the healer and it all goes to pot. Arrrgh!

I have to admit that when we later got to a pull with some gun turrets that had a knockback, I cackled a little with glee every time they sent that same Marauder flying on his behind. Tanking makes mean.

Finally, sometimes tanks seem to be prone to outbursts of what can't really be called anything but random insanity. I have been affected by this as well. On Tatooine, I saw this group of strong banthas that were all quite close together... so of course I had to charge in and round them all up until I could see nothing but banthas on my screen and kept getting knocked down by their headbutts. My healer just rolled his eyes in bemusement and healed me as I got buried under a pile of fur while spamming AoE. I had to, because I could!

Whatever crazy adventures will tanking get me into next?



Getting Back Into PvP

I haven't done a lot of PvP since the expansion came out, mostly because there was so much new PvE content to explore that I didn't feel a strong urge to do anything else. However, now that I've had a chance to have a look at most of it one way or another, I'm slowly starting to dip my toes back into the warzone waters.

Doing the daily warzone on my lowbie Sage every day has been a lot of fun. I was very sceptical of Bioware splitting the lowbie bracket into two parts (because lowbie bolster works, damn it, how unnecessary!), but after actually seeing it in action I have to say that the new system has its charms. It's actually pretty funny to be in a lower level lowbie warzone (need to come up with a better name for that bracket...) where nobody has their class's signature abilities yet. Mostly it involves a lot of ineffectual swinging of lightsabers, spamming of free attacks, and healers running out of resources after about five casts. If you know what you're doing, it can be a real power trip though.

Max level PvP has been a slightly different beast. Despite of all the usual complaints about class balance, I can't say that I've noticed a massive change in the way things play out at 55, compared to how it used to be at fifty. The flavours of the month have changed a bit of course, but less so than I would have expected.

The big problem for me has been the interaction between max level bolster and gear. In principle, I'm a big fan of the idea of max level bolster allowing people to jump into a warzone for the first time and make a useful contribution even if they don't have any PvP gear. Giving everyone a free set of starter PvP gear worked alright at fifty, but not everyone knew about it, people forgot to equip it, people didn't want to equip it because the stats seemed worse than what they had on their PvE gear, and so on and so forth, so just applying bolster to everyone across the board seemed a lot more elegant. In theory anyway.

Unfortunately the practice is a bit more complicated. First there was the issue where bolster worked best if you were naked and I kept getting assaulted by Sith in their undies. That seems to have been resolved now, but nonetheless the interaction between gear and bolster at max level remains... opaque.

First and foremost, you would think that wearing actual PvP gear in any given slot would always be better for PvP than wearing PvE gear, even with bolster, but apparently that's not the case, at least not with the lower tier of PvP gear. But of course you wouldn't be able to tell until you're actually inside a warzone and see your stats change all of a sudden...

I didn't have the patience to try and swap my gear around for long and eventually simply gave up on the lower tier of PvP gear. I still bought all the pieces because I will eventually need them to trade them in for the higher tier, but I only actually wear a couple of them. I'm sure someone, somewhere has probably done a spreadsheet or something on which piece of gear is best to wear with bolster, but as a more casual PvPer I can't say that I can be bothered with that. Wasn't this new system supposed to make things easier? Personally I find it quite a hassle to not be able to tell at a glance which piece of gear will actually be better for me once I'm in a warzone.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that even the best PvP gear currently in game is several item levels lower than the best PvE gear, which means that no matter how much expertise you might gain, if you already have a decent PvE piece in that slot, the loss in other stats is absolutely massive and very painful to swallow. I must have missed the memo on why they decided to go with this new system, anyone care to englighten me? Was it really an issue that at fifty, PvP gear was decent enough to do some PvE in it as well? I had some characters that mostly did PvP but also ran the occasional flashpoint or operation in their War Hero kit, and while they weren't amazing, they were "good enough". Was that really an issue?

There's also been some interesting developments in the PvP community from what I can gather. First there was a bit of an uproar about the announcement that there wouldn't be any significant PvP changes or additions until 2.4. I can sort of understand people's frustration with that, but on the other hand... PvP doesn't rely on the frequent addition of new content in the same way as PvE does, and I don't think anyone could claim that SWTOR is mainly a PvP game. Then again, I suppose it's easy for me not to care as much, considering that PvP is something I only do on the side.

What I do care about are the talks I've heard that most of the big PvP guilds on The Red Eclipse are planning to transfer to Tomb of Freedon Nadd (the English-speaking EU PvP server) as soon as transfers become available. This is why I don't like server transfers, other people transferring messes with my game experience!

To be fair though, I don't know how exactly this will pan out yet. Superficially, it could be a boon to not go up against as many highly skilled premades in random warzones anymore - though ultimately that will depend on how many of the high end PvPers leave per faction. I'm afraid that a more realistic outcome however is simply going to be much longer PvP queues at max level, because say what you will about teams of hardcore PvPers stomping pugs in randoms... especially late at night, they were often the only ones queuing and providing the warm bodies to make the queue pop in a timely manner at all.

I guess we'll find out soon enough.


Scum, Villainy And Surprises

Some time ago I realised that while I wrote a first impressions post about Scum And Villainy two months ago, I never followed it up with any further thoughts. A commenter even asked whether I ever got to see the whole operation, considering that said first impressions post was about a run where we only killed the first five bosses.

I have indeed seen the whole thing by now; in fact I've run it quite a few times since then. Mostly I can simply stand by what I said in my original post: great story progression throughout the op, and some very original fights. I still love the Operations Chief and the silly shenanigans that he seems to inspire in my guild. My favourite so far was the one time when we fought him on 16-man and by the time we'd finally downed Blue Team, about three quarters of the ops group were dead. Then someone stealth-resed me, and since I was out of combat I could start a chain to get the entire group back on their feet before we proceeded to the actual boss encounter. Probably not quite working as intended, but funny as anything.

I suppose if I had to mention any negatives I'd say that a couple of the fights are kind of long and repetitive after the first time you do them, namely Olok and Styrak. Olok is the worst in my opinion, because both the credit stealing at the start and his constant vanishes at the end provide little in terms of challenge and just make the fight take forever. Styrak is a bit better because at least he keeps you on your toes throughout the whole encounter, but the alternating add phases ("big thing" and "little things" as a certain ops leader would say) do seem to go on for much longer than needed in my opinion.

I also have to confess that I'm getting just a little tired of the Dread Masters turning out to be the baddies behind every single operation except Eternity Vault. I hope Bioware won't make another five operations following the same pattern (based on Styrak's "five remain" comment as he dies). Just give us an epic finale where we finally defeat them for good and then let's move on to something else; how's that?

Generally speaking, I've been having a really good time with operations in the last couple of weeks, which honestly came as a bit of a surprise to me. While I was trying to maintain a positive attitude in my Operations Blues post from about a month ago, things weren't looking particularly rosy at the time. My group kept wiping on hardmode Operator in TfB and it kind of set everyone's teeth on edge, probably not so much because of the wiping itself, but because almost all of us had successfully done it at level fifty before and I think we were all kind of feeling as if we'd regressed.

And then the wind just changed one day, we walked in and one-shot the big droid, and then one-shot Kephess as well. Terror didn't go down that same night, but we did get him later.

In Scum And Villainy we cleared 16-man story mode, which was oodles of fun, and not just because the minions that Styrak starts out with are currently bugged and have only minuscule amounts of health (which encourages everyone to charge in at the beginning and make it a big free-for-all).

I wasn't particularly hopeful about making any kind of progress in hardmode S&V any time soon, seeing how the consensus seemed to be that it was harder than TfB, and we had already struggled a bit there (and that even though we knew the fights inside out).

Then Squishy Shadow Tank (who's already cleared all the content) put a S&V HM run together one night, taking the lead on his Sage healer alt. I was invited as well and certainly excited about the opportunity, but considering most of the group's lack of experience I didn't expect us to kill more than one or two bosses, even under Squishy's expert leadership.

Then we went on to kill all the bosses except Styrak that night. Wowie. We had some wipes, mind you, but it still felt like a crazy amount of progress for a single night.

Tonight we did another HM run with our usual team, and we pretty much breezed through the first six bosses. We had a couple of attempts on Styrak as well, and even though we hit the enrage timer waaay too early, the fight felt very doable in terms of mechanics. If we keep getting our damage dealers a couple more gear upgrades and everyone practises squeezing out just a little bit more dps (including the healers), we should see him downed soon enough.

And then we'll be ready for the new nightmare modes coming in 2.2, woohoo!

It's rather funny to have gone from pretty much no hardmode progression straight to 5/5, 6/7 within a couple of weeks, and with no major changes to the group or tactics.


Getting the alts to 55

One interesting thing about an expansion that raises the level cap is that if you previously had multiple characters at the old cap, ready to jump into endgame content at a moment's notice... you suddenly don't anymore. If you're anything like me, that means that you'll find yourself repeatedly falling into traps such as: "Oh, I could bring my Sage to this operation... oh wait, she hasn't hit the new cap yet, never mind."

Considering that it took me less than two days to get my main to 55, progress with my alts has been pretty slow. It took me more than a month to get a second character to the new cap, my gunslinger - which was incidentally kind of strange, considering that she was my least played level fifty character by a mile (and badly neglected), but I had got it into my head somehow that I wanted to have a ranged dps character at the cap next. A week later my inquisitor followed, and today my Sage - who used to be my "main alt" - hit 55 at last (after an awesome Lost Island HM pug where I won both the pet and the speeder off the last boss - woot).

Admittedly part of my slowness with getting my alts up to the new cap is that I've simply been having enough fun with other parts of the game (such as doing endgame content on my main and making more lowbie alts), but another part of it is certainly the fact that there is no continuation of the class story. I don't blame Bioware for doing what they did, but still... if they had continued to release unique class story content for all classes, levelling all your alts to 55 would have been a bounty of riches in terms of new content. Now it just means another round of Makeb.

While I'm generally quite happy to redo a lot of the quests that are shared between classes over and over again (because they are good), there is such a thing as having too much of a good thing even for me. The expansion has only been out for two months and I think some of my guildies have already quested their way through Makeb half a dozen times just to max out all their alts. That's a road to burnout any way you slice it. I still haven't played through the Imperial story and have only done the Republic one twice, but even there doing the Mining Mesa a second time shortly after my original run-through already felt like a bit of a drag. Fortunately Makeb completion isn't actually a requirement for anything other than to unlock the dailies, and on how many different characters do you want to do those anyway? There are alternative ways to 55.

As I mentioned in my "Shinquisitor" post, that character actually levelled to the new cap purely by completing planetary quests that she hadn't done yet, in particular the entirety of Voss and Corellia. Towards the end of each planet experience gains were starting to drop off pretty sharply, but at the end of the day those quests were still good for the entirety of five levels.

If you don't have any regular quest content left to do, the old dailies are a pretty decent source of XP as well. On my gunslinger I started off her levelling journey to 55 by doing the Belsavis bonus series and all of Ilum (minus the heroics) just once and it provided a pretty good headstart for the road to 55.

Then there are the old level fifty flashpoints, both on normal and hard mode. These are actually a pretty amazing source of XP if you play it right... but unfortunately many players don't. I've always said that I've observed general flashpoint etiquette to be in favour of taking it slowly, clearing everything and doing the bonuses while levelling, and going for a quick run at endgame - which makes perfect sense. The problem is that for quite a few players it hasn't quite sunk in yet that level fifty flashpoints aren't actually endgame anymore. I suffered from a particularly egregious example of this when my gunslinger got into a Battle for Ilum while levelling, looking forward to a nice XP pay-off after the long wait in the dps queue... and then ended up with a group that skipped pretty much everything possible, including most of the bosses. The only "saving grace" was that at the end of the run the level fifty tank suddenly stopped and said: "Huh, I guess I could have used the experience from all those mobs... and the gear... damn, I'm still stuck in farm mode." All I can say is, if you do end up in a pug with characters that are mostly still levelling, you can at least try to make a case for doing a full run. Maybe mention the achievements for killing all the bosses too, that might pique some people's interest.

Then there are the old level fifty operations of course - I wrote about using those to level up before. Good fun, good XP, good loot... what's not to love? If you don't pad your experience gains with anything else, it's kind of a slow way to level since you can only do each op twice a week at most, but it's still worth it. The only minor obstacle I've encountered is that for some reason Bioware won't allow level 55 characters to enter these old operations via the group finder (which really baffles me, because you can still queue for level fifty flashpoints, even the normal ones). This means that if you have an operations guild group of seven for example, and even one of you has hit 55 already, you can't fill the eighth slot from the group finder, which is annoying.

Last but not least, there is always PvP. My Sage levelled almost exclusively through a combination of old ops and warzones, and it was quite fun to find myself back in the levelling bracket after a year or so of PvPing at the level cap.

I'm pretty sure that I will redo Makeb on a couple of more characters eventually, but repeating it too many times - and still relatively shortly after release - just can't lead to anything good in my opinion.


Who's the tank?

Mine and Pet Tank's newest alt levelling project is one featuring role reversal, which means that effectively I am the pet tank (of the Powertech variety), and he's the healer (an Operative). This is something that he already suggested several months ago, but at the time I still balked at the idea, which is why his Sith inquisitor ended up being a tank again and mine another healer. He loves to tank and I love to heal. Why mess with a winning formula?

He wanted to try something different I guess, and I eventually relented, even though I kind of found myself agreeing with the guildie who, after being told about this project, laughed at us and predicted that we'd both end up hating it.

So far it's been going okay though. I'm not completely new to this whole tanking thing, as I used to have multiple tanking alts in WoW. Actually I have some very fond memories of tanking instances for friends in that game, but it never felt like my "true calling" in the same way that healing does, and after the introduction of the dungeon finder I frequently found myself tanking for pugs that just made me hate the whole thing.

Levelling with a healer friend obviously means that I'm spared from having to deal with such nuisances in SWTOR, which is good. We've run a couple of flashpoints with pug dps, but most of them have been nice enough and at worst one or two of them weren't particularly competent at their role. If anyone's giving me headaches it's actually my usual pet tank with his high expectations! "No, you should have charged the one on the right instead and pulled the left one over. I thought you would know that after watching me tank this so many times..." I'm usually a healer - I don't watch you; I watch your health! Fortunately most of it isn't exactly rocket science, and it usually doesn't take more than one or two pulls to drive home the point of which mobs are ranged, which ones have knockbacks and so on and so forth, and for me to deal with them accordingly.

The really funny thing however has been how this reversal of our usual roles has affected my thought and behaviour patterns. My favourite example of this was when we were duoing a [Heroic 4] on Balmorra. We were quite over-levelled for it, so we didn't bother with crowd control and I just tanked everything. For the most part this wasn't an issue, especially as Mako is still my only companion and always throws some heals on me as well.

However, there was this one pull where my health just kept going down. I popped a medpac, but it only seemed to buy me a little time before my health bar dropped some more. What do I do, I thought, should I say anything? Nobody likes the person who cries for heals, even if she's the tank. Besides, it would come across as if I didn't trust his ability to keep me alive or something. I know that's how I would take it at least, if I was the healer. Then again, I don't seem to be getting any heals from him AT ALL at the moment; I can see him standing over there, just stabbing the mobs...


Well, so much for that.

Pet Tank Healer managed to finish off the pull on his own and then apologised to me in a somewhat sheepish tone, with the words: "I was distracted."
I just sighed. "I know."
"Wow, you sound almost as exasperated as I do when you let me die."
"And you sound about as guilty as I feel when I let you die due to having been distracted myself."

Tonight we were doing a [Heroic 2+], still on Balmorra, that led us to an object that would play a little cut scene when we clicked on it, one that wasn't shared and played separately for both of us. I was only about halfway through watching it when I heard the very distinctive sound of blaster fire off to the side somewhere. (Pet Tank's Operative has one of those Cartel Market weapons that use a different sound effect than most.)

Oh god, he must have space-barred and now he's pulled something on his own! I'm sure he'll be fine, I'll finish watching this in peace...

That resolution lasted for all of two seconds and was then followed by some manic space-barring on my part and my Powertech charging into the Colicoid that my "pet healer" had engaged on his own. He was of course perfectly fine... but I couldn't shake the feeling that since I was the tank, I had to be responsible and protective! (Because that's what I expect when I'm the healer...)

"Now you know how I feel," he said, hurled a grenade into the next group of mobs, and I chased after him once more to taunt and harpoon the elite mobs that were now trying to chew his face off. At least I pretty much never pull for him on purpose when I'm healing... I just have this unfortunate habit of accidentally backing into things. Then again, maybe he can't really help himself either, considering that he's so used to being the tank and charging ahead at all times.

I'm still not entirely convinced that this was a good idea though...