The Tiniest Tank

The Powertech/Operative duo has hit a bit of a snag. We're level 51 and just finished Belsavis, but Pet Tank has been moaning at me about how tedious it was all the way home. It's only been about two months since we did this content on our inquisitors, and as enthused as we both are about levelling together, there is a limit to how often and how quickly we can repeat content without getting bored.

To mix things up, we decided to roll up some new Republic alts, as it's been about half a year since we really did anything on that side of the fence. Consulars this time, and I'm tanking again... because clearly that's been going so well...? Actually, the truth is that I simply wanted to have a Shadow because it's the one advanced class that I've never played in either of its incarnations and I really wanted to see what it's like.

She's also a Cathar, because I wanted one, and because the idea of a tiny kitty (she's the smallest body type) throwing herself at the enemy face-first amuses me greatly. I can heartily recommend rolling up a cat person for the sheer comedy value, even if my healer's constant urges to love, hug and pet the kitty (he hasn't tried to call me George yet) undermine my authority as a tank to some extent.

Gameplay-wise I'm surprised by how quickly the Shadow has been growing on me. At first I thought that some of their combat animations looked a little odd, but I got used to them very fast and now I actually think that they look very nice. There is also just something very cool about being a tank with stealth. It reminds me of the good times I had tanking on my druid in WoW - especially since I'm also a cat again.

To mix things up we've also been breaking up the questing with the occasional round of lowbie PvP. I remember trying PvP tanking as a Powertech once or twice and not being massively enthused by it, but as a Shadow it's actually oodles of fun! I enjoy bursting out of the shadows to attack unsuspecting assailants who thought that this particular healer was on his own, and cackle with mad glee when I get three people to focus on me instead of preventing a turret cap right next to them. Yes, keep attacking the tank, you fools! And don't mind the healer at the back either! Mwahahaha!

Ahem. There we go with the tanking-induced insanity again...


Random Free To Play Thoughts

In a couple of days the one year "anniversary" of SWTOR announcing its free-to-play transition is coming up. I'm putting anniversary in quotes because to me the word implies a joyous occasion that you're happy to remember, while the free-to-play announcement was pretty much the opposite of that for me. I may even have considered a ragequit for a day or two back then! Yet here I am a year later, still happily playing away. Have I changed my mind about the model? Not exactly.

In a way, the conversion has confirmed to me that I do prefer just paying a subscription. I'm a member of the apparently increasingly rare breed of gamers that likes to devote all their gaming time to one game, so a subscription is great in terms of value for money.

Having microtransactions instead of a sub that you pay only once a month (or even less frequently) also moves the focus of the game away from purely "playing the game" towards "shopping for virtual items". Now there are many people who enjoy that kind of thing, both in real life and virtually, "treating" themselves by buying things for themselves, but I'm not really one of them. I always fret about what the best offer is and whether I'm getting good value for money, and having to think too much about that in regards to my MMO of choice certainly doesn't increase my enjoyment of the game. Virtual goods are particularly devious because they take up no tangible space, and it's all too easy to spend money on something that you'll never even get any actual use out of and simply forget about. (The stories I hear about Steam users and their vast libraries of unplayed games...)

Free to play also does affect the development focus of a game, because no matter what exactly it is that is being sold in the cash shop, it's going to be an incentive for the developer to put all the good stuff in there and neglect alternatives that can be acquired purely by playing the game. In SWTOR, this has mostly turned out to affect customisable gear. Before the conversion, there was pretty good business in crafting things for looks, whether it was orange armour, weapons or colour crystals. Since the free-to-play transition, it feels like 99% of any additions in that area go straight onto the Cartel Market. I thought it was kind of humorously bad that the entirety of all new Armormech schematics that came with the expansion and that you can get as random mission rewards consisted of four patterns for gloves. Four. And no other gear slots! Every time I get one of those now it goes straight to the vendor because everyone and their mother's already got it and it's pretty much worthless. Yet how many dozens of whole new armour sets did they add to the Cartel Market in the last couple of months?

Don't get me wrong, it's not like crafting has become completely useless or anything, but it has definitely taken a heavy hit. I suppose the silver lining is that if you're not actually a crafter, you simply benefit from Bioware pouring more resources into putting out new armour models, and it doesn't really matter whether the guy from whom you buy them on the GTN crafted them or bought them for real money. I have to admit that I've never been a hardcore crafter myself, so I'm not exactly crying myself to sleep over it.

Keeping that in mind, and this is the important part, the game hasn't actually changed that much for me. It's funny actually, because people like to blast SWTOR for all the restrictions it puts on free players, but that's precisely why my subscription still feels like good value for money to me. In a recent episode of the Cat Context podcast, two of the hosts went off on a bit of a rant about how they hated SWTOR and its payment model now... and then sighed wistfully about how they kind of miss MMOs where they can just subscribe and not worry about anything else. This made me chuckle a bit because I feel that this is the biggest strength of SWTOR's model: yes, it does have a free-to-play option, and no, it's not the most attractive one on the market, but you can still subscribe and then not worry about anything else. The shop is fairly unobtrusive, and if you really do want to buy something from it, the subscriber stipend should generally have you covered.

Basically, when the payment model change was first announced, I kind of scoffed at the wording of them introducing a free-to-play option. How could there be a genuine choice between maintaining a sub or playing the whole game for free? Well, they managed to pull it off, because it's still quite obvious that the game is, at its heart, designed to be played with an active subscription, and there's a clear trade-off for not paying. You can play for free if you really want to, and you do get access to a lot of content at no cost, but various restrictions on bag space etc. make it quite obvious that the subscription is the best deal if you actually enjoy the game and want to play a lot. Bad news for former subscribers who wanted to come back to the game and have exactly the same experience as before without having to pay for anything, but good news for subscription lovers like me who just want to pay their monthly fee and then not have to worry about anything else.


Return of the Gree!

The Gree event is back once again! And I'm actually kind of excited about it this time around.

It's interesting for me to observe how my feelings about this event have changed and still continue to change over time. As a general rule of thumb, I like one-off world events every so often, because they feel special and provide me with a reason to throw myself into the game full force for a limited period of time. Frequently repeating events on the other hand I'm not nearly as fond of. I remember all those seasonal events in WoW and how they were pretty fun the first time around, but eventually there were so many of them and they were all so samey that they became just another token grind to go through once a month or so.

Now with the Gree, I was super excited when they arrived for the first time, because I basically treated the whole thing the same way I had treated the Rakghoul plague and the Grand Acquisition Race before then, which were one-off events at the time. It was exciting and I wanted to experience every aspect of it to the fullest, because who knew when I would get to see anything like it again?

Then the whole thing came back a mere two weeks later and I was decidedly underwhelmed. I still participated in it a bit, but it felt like a bit of a let-down to have all the "specialness" drained from the event within such a short time. By the time it rolled around for the third time (though this was admittedly after a slightly longer break), I didn't really care anymore. I think I did the quest chain for the pet on one of my alts, but mostly the whole thing just passed me by. I had maxed out my reputation with the Gree long ago, bought my Blue Sphere, and everything else I felt pretty "meh" about.

Today on the other hand I was positively hyped to see the Gree make another comeback. Why? Two reasons: timing and some changes. It feels like it's been quite a while since the game's last significant content patch, what with 2.1 having been a pure systems patch and 2.2 having focused on nightmare mode for existing operations (which is a form of additional content in my opinion, but something for the long term that you can't necessarily jump into and do the day it comes out). Just having something different to do again was nice.

For an additional breath of fresh air, the event has now been scaled up to level 55, which doesn't make that much of a difference in terms of gameplay, but it does mean that there are suddenly rewards worth chasing again. Xenoanalyst II drops Arkanian and Underworld gear as well as a new rare mount. The dailies reward basic comms now, which - as silly as it might sound - is actually quite alluring to me, as they are needed to buy crafting recipes and materials, and I don't tend to see much of them during my normal play. It's kind of funny really, because I have elite and ultimate comms coming out of my ears due to running multiple ops every week, but basic commendations require you to do the Makeb dailies or run level 50 hardmode flashpoints at random, neither of which are particularly high on my list of priorities on an average day. (And you can't trade down better comms for lesser ones.) Being able to get them as a reward for a fun little round on Ilum with friends is much better.

The PvP area has also seen a big surge of renewed activity. How so? They added achievements for killing people there. It's pretty funny just how easily some players' buttons are pushed. During one round of dailies today I watched a usually pretty quiet and phlegmatic tank who pretty much never does PvP as far as I'm aware turn into a raging killing machine who leapt at everything that was red. Cause, you know... "need loads of these for the achievement"! In fact, from the looks of it you'll currently need even more than the achievements actually state, because at least the energy orb-related ones seem to be bugged in some way: we killed several people carrying orbs as a group, but not everyone got credit for every kill, and there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to when it worked and when it didn't.

We also did a fair bit of dying of our own again, which admittedly led to a bit of PvP rage on my part ("Why didn't I have guard there? Have you guys never done this before?!") but otherwise it was all good fun.

As a bonus, the random drops from trash have been upgraded to level 55 as well and sell for a decent amount of credits on the GTN. Worthwhile entertainment all around.


Progression Continues

After killing Dread Master Styrak on hardmode a month ago, my operation team's progress floundered a bit. We didn't really want to jump into nightmare modes right away, and a couple of people went away on holidays, as always happens around this time of year. We found some friends of friends to help us out and fill the gaps in our roster, but while we appreciated their assistance, it didn't work all that well to be honest.

We've grown a lot as a team over the last couple of months, but as a side effect of this our success is more than ever dependent on actually playing with the same people week after week. Add pretty much any unknowns to the mix, be it a new person or someone playing on an alt in a different role and things start to go haywire. Whether it's taunts, dps or heals not landing exactly as they usually do, it's always enough to throw someone off their game. We're kind of like a well-oiled machine, but not very good at adjusting.

This week we finally got the whole gang back together and took our first tentative steps into Terror from Beyond nightmare. After about a dozen wipes or so we got the Writhing Horror down; then we switched back to hard and breezed through the rest of the operation at top speed before it got too late.

I kind of feel like "way too happy to be wiping (on trash)" should be our group's unofficial motto or something. Not that we're always quite this bouncy - we have our off days too - but on the whole things are generally good-natured. We have a good mix of people who push us towards progress and more mellow characters to keep up the good cheer.

I'm curious to see how well we'll progress in nightmare TfB and Scum. I have to admit I'm not terribly fussed about it, as for me hard is actually enough of a challenge most of the time and I don't particularly feel like I absolutely have to do it all over again with even more hitpoints and damage. However, on the other hand I absolutely enjoy the company and as such I do like that there is always something more for us to strive for, even if I personally might not achieve complete success and see everything while the content is current. Makes it feel like there is always something to do and prevents feelings of "having beaten the game" and boredom.


MMO Blogging

There's been a bit of a discussion in the past week about whatever happened to the MMO blogging community and whether it's dying (a little). I tend to not participate in these far-reaching discussions much, but this one kind of tickled my fancy. From my point of view, what we're seeing happening to MMO blogging is basically a reflection of what has been happening to MMOs as a whole in the last couple of years. That is to say:

- As a whole, the genre is stagnating/declining a bit. It's still got its audience for sure, but it's not "en vogue" the way it was while WoW was still expanding for example. There's even a bit of a trend of game developers and publishers wanting to distance themselves from the MMO label.

- MMOs are not "what they used to be". There's been a lot of change. New games have been released, old ones shut down, payment models have changed, feature expectations have changed.

- The Western market has fragmented a lot. While WoW is still a behemoth, it does have considerably more solid competition these days. A lot of it is free to play too, which is more attractive to newcomers to the genre. If you took a random sample of MMO players and checked where they spend their time, they would likely be playing in a much larger selection of virtual worlds these days than say, five years ago.

- There's a lot of "tourism" going on, with people flitting from game to game depending on what's new and depending on their current mood. Many of these "tourists" (though not all of them) are also kind of disenchanted with the genre and will complain about everything they play, all the while hoping for some kind of revolution that will bring them a new game with exactly the features they personally want.

Translate this to blogging and you get:

- Less interest in MMOs as a whole means fewer people dedicated to the hobby to the point where they want to write about it.

- Online media aren't what they used to be either. As others have pointed out, people choose a lot of different avenues to express themselves online these days, not just blogs, whether it's social media or YouTube. (I have a hunch that SWTOR has a pretty decent following on Tumblr for example, based on one friend's Tumblr that I occasionally check out despite of not liking the format of the site.)

- As the market has fragmented, giving players different options in terms of what kind of virtual world to immerse themselves in, so has the writing. I was never a big player in the "MMO community" but I did have a decent following while I blogged about WoW. When I moved to writing about SWTOR instead, the vast majority of those readers didn't follow, because they didn't care to read about another game - which is totally fair. But while I effectively "vanished" from the community for these people, I'm still around and writing - just not about a game they personally want to read about. I'm pretty sure there are blogs about pretty much any given MMO out there, but unless you just happen to also be part of the niche that plays that particular game, why would you be involved?

- Just like there's a lot of "tourism", there are a lot of multi-MMO blogs that write about flitting from one game to the next all the time. Since they keep finding flaws with every new game they try, they have no interest in getting more invested in the community surrounding it either. Then they wonder why there is seemingly no community. (Ok, I may be sounding a little cynical here, but I do see a lot of these same thoughts expressed over and over again.)

In summary: I do suspect that the MMO blogging community is going through a process of contraction and fragmentation, but just like with the changes happening to MMOs in general, it's a matter of what you make of it. If you're willing to invest yourself, there's still a community out there; it's just not exactly the same as it used to be.


Level 50 Flashpoint Nerfs

Another thing I spent a lot of time on during the last couple of double experience weekends was running level fifty flashpoints, mostly on hard mode, but some of them on story mode as well. It got me thinking about how some of them have already been nerfed over time, even though the game is only one and a half years old.

As a general rule, I'm not completely against gradual nerfing of content, as long as it's not done as a kneejerk reaction to people struggling on day one, when everyone is undergeared and has no clue what to do, and as long as it's done in a thoughtful manner, by reducing requirements only where it's most needed instead of applying blanket hitpoint and damage reductions.

The flashpoints where I found the nerfs the most noticeable myself are:

The Esseles (hard)

I cannot swear for sure whether Ironfirst's head shot has been nerfed, but I recall wiping a lot to him whenever we failed to interrupt it during our earliest visits. However, this is something that we simply might have outgeared over time.

One boss that has definitely been changed however is Vokk and his lightning storm. It used to be that it hit so quickly after the warning circle appeared on the ground that it was basically impossible to accelerate out of it in time if you happened to be standing still at the moment it appeared, especially since more than one tick from the lightning meant that you were dead. Due to this, the only way to avoid it reliably used to be to basically keep moving throughout the entire fight and only stop every so often right after he had just cast lightning storm (since you were then safe in the knowledge that he wouldn't immediately cast it again).

This has been changed to give people time to actually move out of the purple circle before damage starts ticking, even if they are stationary at the moment when it appears. It still hurts a lot though. This is actually a nerf that I approve of. The mechanic hasn't been trivialised, but it feels less twitchy now, and classes that can't operate as well on the move aren't at as much of a disadvantage as they used to be.

Maelstrom Prison (hard)

This flashpoint contains one of my least favourite nerfs in the game, and that's the one applied to Colonel Daksh and his optical implants. It used to be that you absolutely had to avoid his eye lasers, as more than one hit from them meant that you were dead. A tank could maybe survive two, but that was it. Kiting him around the boxes off to the side wasn't massively challenging by itself, but while the tank was on the run he was at risk of losing aggro and having the boss suddenly turn and nuke someone else. Line of sight issues for the rest of the group were also a consideration. I had many a wipe on this guy back in the day.

Now, I can understand why this encounter was nerfed, but I really don't like the manner in which it was done, which was basically to reduce the eye laser damage by such a high amount that it's become completely trivial. Any class can pretty much just stand there and tank the boss throughout the entire thing now, as long as they continue to receive heals. Pointless! I think there would have been other ways to make this fight easier, for example by increasing the boss's cast times, without making his unique mechanic completely irrelevant.

False Emperor (either)

The first thing that always strikes me when I do this flashpoint is how much of the trash has been removed since launch. To be fair, there was a lot of it, probably more than in most other flashpoints, and it's not as if any of it was particularly challenging... but it's still a bit strange how empty the place is now, especially when you spend long stretches of the instance running through abandoned corridors on what's supposed to be a space station bustling with activity.

The thing that really makes me sad every time I run this flashpoint though is what they have done to Malgus himself; I think it was only done in 2.0. Considering that he's a key NPC, his fight was designed to be one of the more epic small group encounters in the game. Most notably he became invulnerable towards the end of the fight, and the only way to finish him off was to make him fall to his doom down a nearby chasm via use of knockbacks, in a moment that's very reminiscent of the Emperor's death in Return of the Jedi. For classes that didn't have a knockback ability, grenades with a similar effect were available at the door.

Now, this could be another tricky encounter, and again it's one where I had a fair number of wipes in the day. Malgus becomes very hard to move once he gets low on health due to his chain-casting of uninterruptable force lightning. All the while there is also the risk of him casting his "unlimited power" insta-wipe ability which needs interrupting, or him using a knockback on someone who's poorly positioned and sending them to their doom. To successfully knock him off, you also needed to apply two knockbacks in a row, as he resisted if you only used a single one. This obviously required some coordination.

Again, I can kind of see why Bioware decided to nerf this encounter, especially considering that level fifty flashpoints aren't endgame anymore. There were just too many things that could go wrong and cause a wipe. However, I was still sad to see that the way they decided to go about it was to completely remove the need to knock Malgus off the bridge. He simply never goes invulnerable, so you just continue shooting or stabbing him until he falls over. The grenades are still there, but completely redundant. It feels extremely anticlimactic, considering how big a part he plays in the story beforehand and that the rest of the fight isn't really that challenging. Again, I can't help but feel that there would have been different ways to make the fight more accessible without completely draining all the flavour from it, for example by making Malgus easier to move and only requiring a single knockback.

Which nerfs have other people noticed?


More Max Level Shenanigans

The latest batch of double experience weekends are finally behind us, and I'm glad. Yes, I know why people love them, but I don't, and it's very annoying when most of your playtime is during the weekend and you can't play the way you want to because of the double XP event going on.

So, still being levelling hipsters, Pet Tank and I decided to have a look at what goals we had left to achieve on our max-level characters, where out-of-whack experience gains weren't going to "interfere" with our play. We mostly settled on giving our inquisitor pair some more love.

First we finished off various planetary quests that we still hadn't done on these characters, including at least one round of dailies where they were part of any given area: the Belsavis bonus series, Ilum, the Black Hole, Section X.

While in Section X, I insisted on picking up the feeder quest for the HK-51 chain to see whether it was significantly different from the Republic version. Answer: it's not, and everything that comes afterwards is exactly the same on both factions anyway. It was kind of funny though; after we had done the introductory bit, Pet Tank and I had roughly the following conversation:

Me: "Oh well, that's all the difference there is I guess. We can leave it at that."
PT: "But we started the chain now. You know how I am with leaving things unfinished."
Me: "We could just abandon it."
PT: "..."
Me: "But... but... I hated it the last time round!"
PT: "Shin..."
Me: "Fine! Fine! We'll do it!"

So after all the troubles I had with getting HK on my main, I went through the whole thing again, though this time with company all the way through, and it was actually a lot less painful. The funny thing is that Pet Tank already had HK unlocked via the legacy system anyway, and it's not as if he got a refund for doing it the hard way afterwards, but such is questing with a completionist.

Then we did Imperial side-Makeb, including one round of dailies there as well. One of these days I have to write a post about the staged weekly and how it's an interesting idea - once I actually figure out how the hell it works, that is.

Finally we also did the entire Macrobinocular and Seeker Droid chains on Imperial side, plus various GSI dailies. (As an aside, the HK chain can actually be done really well alongside these as they mostly send you to the same planets.) These were also mostly the same, but at least the intro and outro were noticeably different, and the mission on Dromund Kaas that's the equivalent to the one on Coruscant was something else entirely. Where you simply have to make it past a couple of locked doors on Republic side, the Empire has rotating death lasers! The repeated death squeals of our companions as they kept running into these sure made for some funny moments.

As far as the heroics at the end go, we managed to two-man the Nar Shaddaa car chase this time around (eventually, after a lot of failing at jumping), but the last fight alone took us about fifteen minutes, as we had limited dps and the boss kept getting heals off. We got help from guildies for the other two heroics, and they were still challenging, but definitely a little easier now that we actually knew what we were doing (unlike the first time around).

And then... we stood on the fleet and were unsure what to do. We had actually completed almost every single non-repeatable Imperial quest in the game (except for a few ops ones), and done almost every repeatable one at least once, including both dailies and flashpoints. I've never felt this close to having "beaten the game" in an MMO before; it was kind of scary.

Fortunately the double XP is over now, and we can get back to levelling even more alts to restart the whole process from the beginning.


Dressing My Companions

Looking around the fleet, I notice that a lot of people seem to quite enjoy dressing up their companions, purely based on the amount of Elaras, Kiras and Nadias that I see running around in bikinis. I have to admit that for me, this has never really been a priority. I want my characters to look reasonably presentable, but it's hard enough to keep on top of my own fashion and stats while levelling; I don't need to add to that by worrying about my companions as well (even if they do often end up looking like freaks in cut scenes, especially when the "hide head slot" option fails). At max level I tend to just give them hand-me-downs and spare raid or commendation gear, but I tend to not be too worried about their looks as they only come out for the occasional daily run anyway. (PvP? No companions. Ops? No companions. Flashpoints? No companions, assuming you run with a full group.)

However, as I've been playing my inquisitor lately, something started to nag at me. I've been spending an unusually high amount of time questing at max level with her, which means that I got to see a lot of my companions. Specifically, the ones that I used the most were Ashara, who is a (fallen) Jedi, and Andronikos, a pirate. All the gear that I put on the former made her look like a Sith, and all the gear that I put on the latter made him look like an Imperial agent. Basically, they both looked like exactly the opposite of what they actually are. So wrong!

Unfortunately my options seemed pretty limited at first. All regular and custom gear looks appropriate for your faction's classes, never the opposite faction. The exact same nice Jedi robe will turn into a Sith outfit if you send it over to an Imperial alt. The only items exempt from this are certain social items and gear from the Cartel market. I sure as hell wasn't going to spend real money just on dressing my companions!

Fortunately a brief look on the GTN soon revealed that things weren't nearly as dire as they appeared. Thanks to the Cartel packs, people end up with all kinds of undesirable adaptive gear that they then try to sell on the GTN for cheap. And even if it's not an outfit that you would choose for your own character, I found that a lot of it can make for a pretty decent companion look, especially with the addition of some dye. You don't need to gear them too thoroughly either, just a couple of pieces in key slots can do wonders.

For example I only picked up the following pieces for Andronikos:
Organa Statesman's Coat (dyed deep red/dark purple)
Rist Statesman's Trousers
Matriarchal Boots
The coat is really a bit frilly for a pirate to be honest, but at least he doesn't look like he just deserted from the Imperial army anymore. It's a fairly neutral look.

For Ashara I ended up buying a couple of pieces that all come in terribly garish and mismatched colours, but one dye module application and colour match later, it all suddenly works and she actually looks vaguely Jedi-like again. Success!
Ulgo Statesman's Coat (dyed deep red/dark blue, to match her skin)
Genteel Dress Gloves
Genteel Dress Bottoms
Organa Statesman's Boots

And the best thing? All of these items cost me less than 10k credits each (on my server anyway, your own might have different cheap options), most of them even less than 5k, with the exception of the dye kits, on which I "splurged" about 20k a pop. Maybe dressing up your companions to make them look vaguely presentable doesn't have to be an entirely terrible idea after all.


A Day in the Life Revisited

Back in September last year I wrote a post called "A Day in the Life", in which I talked a bit about how I actually spend my time in game. It's interesting to look back on that now, because things have certainly changed a lot. Back then, I was still in my old guild, but it was already mostly dead. I didn't get to run any operations. I also seemed to play under a sort of "priority" system, where there were things that I definitely wanted to get done every day and others that I didn't consider as important and would skip sometimes.

Nowadays I'm a lot more reliant on my guild to provide me with entertainment and as such my play time ebbs and flows with the pulse of guild life. Since I have irregular work patterns, the times when I can get online vary.

If I find myself coming online in the morning or early afternoon, the guild is usually very quiet. If anyone's online, it's generally just someone quietly grinding away on another alt or something. Personally I will use this time to rotate through my own alts, check their mails, send the companions out on missions and do some trading or crafting. I might also engage in a little bit of solo play: a random warzone, (rarely) a flashpoint via the group finder or I might do a couple of quests. On the whole I tend to spend only very little time playing like this though, as I know that more engaging things await if I can be there in the evenings.

Late afternoon is usually the time when guildies slowly start to trickle online, including my pet tank. Depending on how much time each of us has, we'll spend some time questing together or doing flashpoints. Basically, I do the same things I mentioned above, but with company so that they are much more fun.

In the evening, if there is an operation or other guild event going on, we will both join for that most times. Depending on what exactly it is, these tend to run for two to three hours on average.

Once operations come to an end, activity in the guild sees a sharp drop-off, as people who have to get up early for work have to call it a night, and others might simply consider themselves "done for the day" with no interest in doing anything outside of ops. However, most nights there are also two or three brave souls left who like to stay up late and enjoy PvP. If I'm in the mood I will join them for a few games, as the daily victories seem to come that much quicker when accompanied by friendly banter.

I guess some people would find this kind of relatively structured play off-putting, but personally I have to say that it's pretty nice to have a set pattern that you can slip right into, no matter what time of day you get online.


Makeb Story Thoughts - Imperial Side

For a variety of reasons I kept putting off doing Makeb on Imperial side, but last weekend I finally gave in and got it done. My first reaction? Now everything makes sense! You may or may not recall that the ending of the story on Republic side left me a bit bewildered as it was clearly missing some crucial information - and that information can be found on Imperial side. I'm not sure whether the Imperial story would feel like it was missing anything if you did that one first, but my gut feeling says no. I kind of want to cry "faction favouritism" here but I suppose there are also points in the game where the Republic gets crucial information first. (Jedi knight story, anyone?)

That said, I'm generally not sure how I feel about the story being split among the factions like that. I have to admit that there's a part of me that wants to accuse Bioware of bad storytelling because surely you can't rely on your players to play through all the classes on both factions to get the whole picture? Then again, The Old Republic is a game that actively encourages alting, so why not make it worth it? More story seems like a great incentive.

Anyway, my second thought upon starting the Imperial story arc on Makeb was that once again the Republic SIS has absolutely nothing on Imperial Intelligence (even though it officially doesn't even exist anymore). I already noticed this with the introductory quests to operations, which for Republic side always seem to say something along the lines of "something bad has happened on [planet]; we don't know what it is but you must go and investigate", while the Imperials always seem to know exactly what the problem is and simply want you to go and solve it. The situation on Makeb is a bit different as Republic and Empire are interested in the planet for somewhat different reasons, but it's definitely noticeable that the Imperials start out with about as much information on the state of the planet as Republic players will have accumulated only after working their way through two thirds of their quest chain.

There are other differences as well. While the Republic obviously considers Makeb important, it's clearly even more so for the Empire, as it gets emphasised time and again that you're on a "do or die" mission which will affect the fate of the whole Empire. Where the Republic goes all out with its fleet, the Empire only sends in a small group of people that at least tries to operate in secrecy. Personally I also thought that the Imperial story had more well-developed NPCs. The only area in which the Republic got a slightly better deal (in my opinion anyway) are the cut scenes - mostly because nothing beats this daring escape from the mercenary ship.

Overall I found the Imperial story more intriguing though, and not just because of the irony of - SPOILER - the "selfish" Imperials being the ones who end up saving the planet. While the Republic appears to be in a pretty comfortable place, the Empire is clearly in a state of turmoil after what happened with the Emperor and Malgus. I like how we see Darth Marr taking the initiative and trying to be sensible about things (and not just because I like hearing his awesome voice), though I have to admit that all his talk of a new Empire and following new principles makes me worry a little that he's being set up for a fall similar to Malgus's. Either way, it's an interesting development and makes me look forward to whatever else Bioware has in store for the overarching story in the future - even if we probably won't see its continuation for a little while.