Return to EC NiM

This is the kind of post that should really have a victory screenshot to accompany it, but I kind of forgot to take one at the crucial moment. Oops. You'll just have to take my word for it.

You may or may not remember my videos about my guild's progression (or lack thereof) in EC NiM earlier in the year. Last I wrote about the subject, I ended on a rather positive note and was optimistic that we were going to get Kephess down soon. Alas, that never happened. We kind of got stuck on the phase with all the Trandoshan adds, unable to kite them effectively or kill them in a timely manner, and eventually people just lost interest, what with the expansion coming out soon and all. I was a bit disappointed by that, as it would have been nice to be able to say that I had finished all the existing operations content for once, but oh well.

Still, I always wanted to go back and down him at some point, even if it was going to be at level fifty-five and by applying overwhelming force. We actually first tried to do this a couple of weeks ago, but it was just one of those nights. We were seven-manning it and kept wiping due to stupid mistakes on Firebrand and Stormcaller ("What, someone blew up a shield generator again?") so we eventually called it without having achieved much.

This Sunday however the suggestion to go and do EC NiM came up again when we were just one regular player short for progression and had the option of getting a tank from another guild to fill our eighth spot. And this time we rocked the place! We still had a couple of wipes as some people were unfamiliar with certain nightmare mechanics, but we completed the timed run and got lucky with a tank mount drop as well.

Here are my insights on what it's like to run this operation at level fifty-five:

On Toth and Zorn, you still need that medpack at the start, you still need to keep swapping between the bosses (though their jump mechanics can bug out due to dps being that much higher than what the fight was originally designed for), and dpsing Zorn while you have the fearful debuff will still result in some hilariously quick self-annihilation. Other than that, all other sources of damage hurt a lot less now than they used to - the tanks hardly take any damage from the bosses if they are positioned properly, and the stacking mental anguish debuff barely tickles. You should have no trouble with this fight as long as your group knows the basic hardmode tactics, as there is actually a decent margin for error now.

Firebrand and Stormcaller are similar in that you can treat the fight the same way as hardmode now, with no need to worry about having dps switch to the other tank towards the end like we used to do when we did this on NiM at fifty. I also learned from experience (/hangs head in shame) that the bigger health pools at the new level cap allow you to survive a dispel fail on the yellow beam if you are at full health to start with. However, you'll probably still want to switch tanks at incinerate and not blow up the shield generators during the ground phase. Also, do watch out for the exploding add and leave it til last.

Colonel Vorgath is pretty much a walk in the park now if you understand the basic minefield mechanics. After all, this fight was always mainly about keeping your back to the wall and just having the numbers (to kill things in time, to keep the tanks alive through the damage at the end etc.). So as long as you still remember to keep your back to the wall, everything else is fairly easy now.

And then... Kephess! This fight has actually retained a lot of its mechanical complexity, even if the bigger numbers at fifty-five help a lot. Nonetheless you still want to interrupt those droids at the start, get the baradium bombers down in time to blow up the walker, watch your positioning in the transition phases etc. Fortunately the add phase that used to give us so much trouble in the past can now largely be overpowered. You still need to pull the shield-carrying adds away from the trenchcutters, but the tank can now simply hold the trenchcutters in place and dps can AoE them down before the next batch even spawns, which helps a ton.

The droid phase was funny because there was clearly some mechanic that we missed there as stacking up on them as we were used to caused them to erupt into absolutely blinding flashes of white light which made it impossible to see anything and made my PC lag like crazy. They also did some damage which we just healed through, but it just felt like we were doing something wrong. Around this point during one of our earlier attempts we also learned that on nightmare mode, Kephess has a mechanic called "nightmare of the makers" that automatically wipes you if you lose more than one person during an attempt, as he pulls you towards him and starts radiating massive AoE damage that kills you in seconds. Fun! Kephess himself also still hits damn hard and just makes you wonder how anyone ever made it through this fight alive at fifty. I wouldn't say that it's hard to heal at this level, but basically, with tanks and healers in full Underworld gear, we still had to heal the tanks non-stop to make sure they didn't die... which is kind of scary considering he's a level fifty boss that was originally designed to be done by tanks with less than 30k hitpoints.

Anyway, I can heartily recommend going back to EC NiM as an activity for an off-night when you don't have all your best and most geared players at hand but would still like to do something that requires some focus and feels rewarding in a way that breezing through story mode TfB or Scum simply doesn't.


Meh, Arenas

The biggest buzz in the community for the past couple of weeks has surrounded the arena system coming up in patch 2.4, which is currently being tested on the PTS. Most of the comments I've seen about it from PvPers are tentatively excited, but personally I actually kind of dread its realease. As usual, I could be completely wrong in my predictions and I'll be happy if I end up being pleasantly surprised, but for now I'm feeling pretty gloomy about the subject.

Basically, I tried arenas on several different occasions back in WoW and came to the conclusion that I just don't like them. I'm not going to claim that I never had an ounce of fun or anything: the adrenaline rush of a close win felt great sometimes, and I generally played with people I liked, so the company was good too.

However, on the whole I have to say that deathmatch gameplay just isn't engaging to me. I'm not sure why exactly that is. I'm guessing that at least part of it has to do with my general preference for playing healers and just not being that interested in killing other players. (I tend to quickly get bored of duelling too.) However, there's also the issue of flow. When I enter an objective-based warzone, it tends to have ups and downs in terms of activity: you run in for that first engagement, there's mad fighting when the opposing teams first meet up, then you get drawn off into a side battle, then it might be a bit quiet for a while as you guard a node. This feels good to me. By contrast, arenas tend to be frantic button mashing from beginning to end, with the only "break" happening after death when you sit in the queue for the next match.

The smaller number of players is also likely to make things too hardcore for my liking. I'd like to think that I'm a decent PvPer, but I'm not great. On top of that I'm the opposite of a flavour-of-the-month player and seem to have the habit of falling in love with class/spec combinations that are absolutely atrocious in PvP. (In WoW I spent several months doing rated battlegrounds as a holy priest, if that means anything to you... and in SWTOR my main has been a Combat Medic since launch. Go figure.) In a larger, objective-based game this isn't as big of a deal. The bigger the number of players, the harder it is to achieve perfect coordination even for a premade team, so there is a bit of room for sub-optimal performance in some areas and specs that aren't necessarily ideal for the job. In a small arena setting on the other hand, victory will often come down to whoever brought the best mix of classes as well as to who managed to do everything just right at the right time, i.e. who hit their stun half a second faster, and that's something that I personally find too frustrating as I'm just not that hardcore.

Okay, so I don't like arenas. "What's the problem?" you might ask. "Just don't do them." Well, the problem is that unless Bioware makes some big changes before letting the patch go live, PvPers won't get a choice: do arenas or don't do PvP at all. There will be a queue for rated arena play only, but the unranked queue will be for both warzones and arenas at the same time, with no option to opt out of either.

I know why the devs chose to do it that way: PvP queues can be long as it is, so the last thing you want to do is divide players among too many different queues and make wait times go through the roof. Nonetheless I think that it's a mistake in this case, because warzones and arenas are just too different. You think it's bad now how people sometimes drop out of a warzone as soon as they see that it's their least favourite? I can only see that issue getting magnified tenfold when wannabe warzone players keep getting put into arena matches that they don't actually want to be in. Maybe there'll be arena players who will always quit regular warzones too - though at least they will have the option of queuing for arenas exclusively by using the rated queue. Oh, and did I mention that you'll only be able to queue alone or with a group of four in the future? No more doing warzones with just your best friend or significant other.

On top of that, I'm really worried about class balance shenanigans resulting from these changes. Arenas haven't even left the PTS yet, and already people are clamouring that this or that class is totally useless in arenas, oh noes! Apparently the winning teams on the PTS are all dominated by smashers and healing Operatives. As someone who's mostly interested in larger cooperative experiences, I don't really care... but at this rate a lot of dev resources will be drawn away towards attempting to square the circle and achieving perfect class balance just for arenas. Even Blizzard went on record years ago as saying that the introduction of arenas to WoW was a mistake due to the havoc it played with class balancing. Seeing Bioware wanting to follow them down that road seriously worries me.


Story in a Box

I've said before that my attitude towards the Cartel Market is that I don't like to spend real money on top of my subscription, but I'm happy to buy other people's purchases for in-game credits. I do appreciate the added variety that comes from this. However, since I'm not actually keeping a close eye on the in-game store myself, I frequently miss new stuff coming out and don't really notice it until I see someone else use a particular item or piece of gear some time later and go: "Huh, that's neat. I want one of those."

This was the case with the encrypted datacubes as well. I vaguely recall hearing about them some time ago in connection to a burst of outrage about "story content from random packs" but since that quickly died down again I figured that it couldn't have been anything too important.

They came to my attention again the other day when Pet Tank and I were questing on Nar Shaddaa and a look at the group quest log revealed that he had eight missions on the promenade that I didn't have, all of them with nearly identical names. When asked about what they were, he explained that they came from the encrypted datacubes and were supposedly "quite interesting".

My curiosity piqued, I made my way to the GTN and splurged on a full set of all eight cubes myself. They ranged in price from roughly thirty to three hundred thousand credits - not insanely expensive, but not exactly cheap either once you add it all up. Each of them is consumed on use and gives you a quest to go to a terminal on Nar Shaddaa. When you use said terminal, each cube plays a little cut scene from what looks like the Shroud's diary. They don't exactly provide any major revelations, but they do fill in a couple of background details about the Shroud as well as about the Makeb storyline in general. Completing each mission grants a reward choice between an experience or a valor boost, though no XP or credits. (Apparently there used to be a monetary reward option, but typically people found a way of exploiting that by cloning the cubes via collections and then awarding themselves endless free cash on alts, so it had to be removed.) Watching all eight cut scenes on the same character also completes a sort of meta-quest which rewards you with a full set of decent-looking orange gear (except for the silly hat, but what else is new).

If you've got some cash to spare and happily eat up every extra bit of story content that the game provides, I recommend that you pick up a set of these from the GTN while they are still available. (From what I gather they came out of two different packs, in sets of four each, about two months ago, and I guess that like all previous packs they will eventually be retired.) If you find them too pricey however, there's no real need to fret either. Like I said, the whole thing adds a bit of extra detail to the story, but it's nothing essential.

That said, I'm glad that official word from the devs has been that they heard the negative feedback about story content in packs "loud and clear" and won't be adding any more in the future. It's not so much that I think that extra story content on the Cartel Market is a terrible idea (though I'm not a fan of it; I still expect to get automatic access to most things as a subscriber), but I do think that it's not something that should go into the Cartel packs. In my opinion story updates (even really minor ones) shouldn't be something that's distributed at random, and even less so when said random distribution method will eventually be retired, making the content disappear from the market and unavailable to new players in the future.


Bounty Hunted Out

I believe that we've got another day of Bounty Contract Week to go, but I'll probably pass on doing any more event content after finally achieving "Wanted: Dead or Alive" today (the achievement you get for both capturing and killing all of the henchmen and all the kingpins). I say "finally" as if the whole thing wasn't clearly designed to be done over several iterations of the event and at a much more casual pace, but being in a guild with some pretty hardcore players, I saw quite a few of them finish way before me and actually felt slow in comparison. I guess it's all relative. I could still continue to farm for reputation tokens to use during the weeks when the event will be inactive, but I'm not particularly bothered about that right now.

On the whole, it's been a pretty fun experience. I found that from login to logout, one mission took me about half an hour, though you could probably shave off a few more minutes if you had a very fast computer and used a lot of legacy travel options. This felt like a good chunk of time to me, and the rewards in terms of credits and experience (on lower level characters) weren't too bad. Mechanically the process remained fun, and it helped that Bioware was quick to drastically increase the spawn rate of shady characters when lack of available NPCs became a problem, as well as decrease the amount of successful interrogations you needed to complete each mission . That said, apart from that step of the quest, I found that competition for spawns wasn't much of a problem anyway. The pundits always blast MMOs with "old-fashioned" tagging mechanics for supposedly being anti-social, but people were always friendly and willing to help each other with kills even if there was no personal benefit to them. Sometimes they were too friendly, "saving you" by killing mobs that you were trying to capture alive... but for me it's the good intention that counts.

I also quite enjoyed how the fact that the event sent people to a variety of different planets made those worlds really come alive again. It's not that there aren't always characters around and levelling there anyway, but it just felt nice to see players of all levels mingling and assisting each other. I dare even say that all those bar brawls with shady characters added a certain amount of flair to cantina life.

The only thing I didn't like was suffering from bad luck with the random number generator, though I'm not even sure that this is something that's worth getting annoyed over anymore. I mean, this is something that I (and others) have criticised about pretty much every previous world event and yet Bioware always seem to find new ways of making it a pain in the rear. In this case the problem were the henchmen spawns that I mentioned in my previous post.

While the kingpins required a lot more effort to unlock, at least they were guaranteed spawns every time. Henchmen on the other hand you could spawn from day one, but it was random which one you would get a mission for. Guess for which type we achieved a hundred percent completion first? If you said kingpins, you'd be right. I maintain that I'm not an achievement hunter, but when Pet Tank and I had completed something like thirty-odd henchman missions without seeing one of the eight available ones spawn even once it kind of became annoying out of principle.

In the end we followed a guildie's advice and kept resetting the mission over and over again on one of the planets where said henchman was supposed to spawn (Hutta), even though it felt kind of stupid. We became scarily efficient at the resetting process as well, with me speedering back and forth between the quest pick-up at the spaceport and the table in the Hutt palace cantina, while Pet Tank did laps around the northern cantina to interrogate shady characters over and over again and then phoned in to all the conversations (credit for the shady character information fortunately seems to have an immense range, so I got it even while being nowhere near). It took us something like eight resets to finally get Udo Ensh to spawn for the last time.

I did feel accomplished after that, but also a bit burnt out. I'm definitely looking forward to just focusing on "normal" questing again during the next couple of days.


Bounty Contract Week Begins

Today saw the start of SWTOR's newest recurring world event, Bounty Contract Week. I had successfully been avoiding detailed spoilers beforehand, so all I knew was that 1) there would be bounty hunting of some sort, 2) you could only do one event mission per character per day (or something like that), and 3) doing enough basic missions would eventually lead to more "elite" boss hunting missions.

I have to say that the "one mission per character per day" restriction immediately struck me as a very curious thing. I do wonder how casual players with only one or two characters to call their own feel about that kind of limitation: does it feel good to them, not having to worry about being overwhelmed by event content, or does it make them feel disadvantaged? One thing is certain: as a dedicated player with a dozen alts or more (I think the minimum level requirement to participate is 15?) you can still go hog-wild regardless.

Finding the introduction to the event on the fleet was easy enough, though it also immediately struck me as a little bit awkward. I just can't quite wrap my head around the idea of all classes working as bounty hunters. It just feels wrong for Jedi to get involved in that kind of thing for example - not lore-breaking, but wrong. Not that I expected Bioware to make an event centered only around players of the bounty hunter class, but still...

The missions themselves then continue the trend of the whole thing feeling ever so slightly "off" by being an awkward mishmash of story content and generic daily content. The text intro to each henchman mission is very bland, but then you get treated to a proper conversation cut scene where your "employer" tells you a bit about themselves and the target they want you to hunt. Good stuff! Except then you go off to interrogate some random "shady characters" who keep repeating the same lines about how they will or won't give you information, without you as the player actually getting any kind of indication about what all this information is. The whole thing just feels awfully vague after the very specific quest introduction. "What exactly am I doing here?" was something that I asked myself more than once. From a mechanical point of view, this part of the quest is also pretty camped right now, with lots of people competing for the same couple of NPCs to interrogate. It wasn't too bad on most planets on my server - except for Hutta, which was a cesspit of seemingly AFK characters standing all around the starting area, camping shady character spawn points.
Eventually the whole thing culminates in you hunting down a henchman to the real crime boss - and while these henchmen have names, they are randomly drawn from a limited pool of characters, which once again serves to make the whole experience kind of surreal. While doing seven henchman missions today, I apparently hunted down the same guy on three different planets in service to three different crime lords. Weird. It seems to me that this is just a cheap way of drawing out the achievements related to the event. If each henchman was tied to a specific planet, it would be easy to just "grind them all out", while this way you have to fight the RNG every time and hope that you'll spawn one that you haven't got yet.

Once I'd accumulated five bounty contract rewards, I got to participate in my first kingpin mission to bring down a crime lord. Now this was fun, if also very silly. Pay attention to what your character does right after you unlock your kingpin mission, because there's some humour involving cast bars in there which made me laugh out loud due to its sheer surprise value.

Kingpin missions are group content, which is always a plus in my book. We decided to try the one on Voss first, and I immediately liked that it felt a lot more focused and less vague than the henchmen missions had been. At least the one on Voss was also pretty silly - I'm not sure if they are all like that though. I mean, everybody who's ever quested on Voss knows how touchy the Voss are about their culture and how it's usually of utmost importance that you don't commit any missteps that might shed a bad light on your faction, right? Yeah, for the Voss kingpin mission you nab a "priceless" artefact to use as bait for the crime lord right in the middle of an important building in Voss-Ka, and then your target turns out to be a maniacally screeching trooper in a dress. /blinks. That planet sure has gone to the dogs...

I'm looking forward to investing some more time into this event this week, though I'm not sure how well it will do in terms of long-term appeal. As someone with a lot of alts I expect that I'll be able to burn through a good chunk of the content before the week is over.


Casually Preferred

While my significant other and I had a lot of fun levelling together in SWTOR, he never really made in-game connections the way I did or got nearly as much into the endgame. So after over a year of being continually subscribed and levelling alts, he let his subscription lapse some time after the launch of Rise of the Hutt Cartel.

It was only this weekend that I nudged him to take another look at the game. In this regard free to play really is a boon, as it makes it easy to poke your head in on a whim, without necessarily having to commit to a full subscription. After downloading three patches worth of updates, he was ready to explore the world as a preferred status player.

Having been subscribed from launch myself, I was curious to see how it would pan out (and whether it would be nearly as bad as many people made it out to be). As usual with these things, the truth seems to lie somewhere in the middle.

We were off to a comically bad start when the "you now have preferred status" window that popped up when he first logged in had all the wrong information on it, which briefly managed to throw off even me. "Two character slots? Only two quickbars? That's not right, those sound like the restrictions for completely free players!" Smooth move there, Bioware, immediately making your restrictions sound much worse than they actually are...

Once in game, things didn't actually seem too bad. I was pleasantly surprised to see that his Sniper's artifact gear had been "grandfathered" in and that he could continue to use it as before. (Some posts that I had read online had given me the impression that this was not the case.) No restedness and generally reduced experience gains definitely have the potential to be very problematic while trying to quest with a subscriber, but considering that we started our play session with level fifty characters on Makeb and were in no particular hurry to get to the cap, it wasn't really an issue in this case.

Still, little annoyances kept rearing their heads as we progressed across the mesas. My SO's character was at the credit cap for preferred players right away, and kept getting one of those "you are at your cap" warning messages that you also get for commendations every time he looted something. It took all of five minutes until it drove him batty enough to make him hand over some of his credits to me, just so that I could hold them for him and make the warning spam stop.

The very first quest that we completed offered a green lockbox as a reward that he couldn't accept. When he went to scavenge something, he was told that he couldn't progress any of his crew skills until he either unlearned one of them or unlocked the third one (which prompted him to spend his last leftover Cartel Coins from his subscription days on doing the latter). When he tried to queue up a couple of things to craft, he learned that he could only craft one item at a time.

Even I had to agree that some of it seemed unnecessarily petty. It's a good thing that he was able to take things with a sense of humour instead of raging. When he discovered that most emotes were locked to non-subscribers, he just shook his head at his pet womp weasel and went: "I would cheer for you, Pinky, but I can't." I was also asked to "remember, my quick travel cooldown is two hours now, because I suck."

The couple that places orbital strikes plays together, stays together.

The thing is, all these things made us shake our heads a little, but the core gameplay was unchanged and no less fun. In fact, it was a nice change of pace for me too, seeing how I've been spending most of my playtime in a guild filled with relatively hardcore players. It's been a while since I haven't been rushing from one objective to the next while questing, took my time to calmly take in the environment, plan every pull carefully (even if it wasn't always needed) and got to enjoy turning every detour for gathering purposes into a little mini-adventure of its own.

I do think that preferred status is going to work well enough for my significant other's purposes if we're just going to stick to the occasional questing session together every now and then. I already bought him a couple of unlocks off the GTN as well, to alleviate at least some of the minor annoyances caused by not being subscribed. Having a subscriber who can "sponsor" you with credits should certainly help.


The Czerka Flashpoints in Review

So I've had a chance to try Czerka Corporate Labs and Czerka Core Meltdown (the two new flashpoints) on both difficulties since my last post. I have to admit - and I hate to say this because in general I really love what Bioware does with flashpoints - that I initially felt a teeny weeny bit disappointed by the experience.

Why? Because both flashpoints are quite thin on story. In fact, I believe that they are the first flashpoints in the game that do not contain a single interactive cut scene. There are some voice-overs as you progress through the building, and a little non-interactive cut scene as you approach the last boss in each instance, but that's it. Previously even the more "dungeon crawl like" flashpoints at least contained a little bit of non-combat player interaction, even if it was just to make a simple light/dark side choice at a console.

I can only hazard a guess as to why Bioware decided to go down this road, and I bet that endgame players who routinely chain-run instances for commendations will love this more streamlined experience with no "space-barring", but to me it feels like an essential part of what makes SWTOR's flashpoints unique has gone missing here. That makes me a bit sad. I liked the intro mission to the whole thing well enough, but then it was just a matter of going in, killing everything in the way and coming out again. That just felt a bit... lacking to me.

There were good things about the experience too of course.

The new model for story modes not requiring a proper trinity group seems to work well. On the longer/tougher boss fights there are "kolto stations" spread around the room which you can click on if your group doesn't have a healer for example. As a side effect the whole thing feels ridiculously easy if you actually do happen to have a tank and healer, but... it's story mode. It doesn't really matter.

As for hardmode, there's the usual debate about whether it is correctly tuned. This forum thread says it's not; supposedly it's too hard. When one of my guild's tanks came out of the hardmodes for the first time, he immediately commented that he found them too easy - but he's also used to tanking nightmare operations. If flashpoints that are supposed to be on par with hardmode Hammer Station and Athiss were challenging to him (keep in mind that unlike Lost Island back in the day, this is not supposed to be a new "tier"), I'd actually be worried.

Myself, I also went in with a guild group in full 72 gear and we had an easy time, unsurprisingly. I did notice however that there were parts, especially on some boss fights, where the incoming damage seemed quite considerable. I can see those being very hard on lesser geared groups.

In regards to trash, I loved the mechanic with the red and blue mobs in Corporate Labs. Silly but fun, even if the red ones do pretty harsh amounts of AoE damage on hard.

On the visual front, Core Meltdown in particular offers some gorgeous environments. I loved all the different habitats. And as one of my guildies commented, the sound effects are pretty atmospheric as well. I'll have to take some more screenshots there next time I get a chance (and assuming the game decides to cooperate with my print screen button, which it didn't tonight).


Some Quick 2.3 Impressions

While we got the biggest PvE patch in a while today, I didn't get as much time to play as I would have liked so I haven't had a chance to have a thorough look at everything yet. Here are some first impressions though:

- The first thing I thought upon logging in was that the graphics seemed sharper somehow and the colours brighter. I kept noticing little details about the environment that I'd previously overlooked. Then I read the patch notes and got official confirmation that they did indeed upgrade the graphics a notch. All I can say is: it shows, and it looks good.

- The first thing I did was fly to Hoth and buy a tauntaun mount. Whee! I was a bit worried that they'd cost Cartel Coins or something, but they can actually be bought for credits. At two million a pop they still don't come in cheap, though it's nice that there's a version for subscribers that costs half a million less. The actual buying process was a bit confusing to me at first because you can't just buy the tauntaun right away, you have to buy some tokens first which you then trade for the mount. The reason for this is that apparently there is an alternative way of gaining these same tokens by feeding tauntauns out in the wild or something. Usually I'd be all over playing instead of paying, but the first thing I saw upon arriving on Hoth was people moaning in general chat about how bad the success rate of this method was, and to be honest I wanted my tauntaun now, so I was happy to just hand over the cash instead.

- I also picked up my new Ewok companion. She's kind of funny, but I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that there isn't more of a story to how you get her. Hiring a random mercenary for your crew just seems a bit... odd for most classes. I haven't actually used her yet either, as she only comes with level ten gear and I need to buy her some bits that are actually useful at my level. I do think it's kind of neat that Bioware added this whole bazaar area for Cartel Market related stuff (which is where you have to go to get Treek). Better than having it encroach on other areas of the fleet in my opinion.

- I haven't tried the new flashpoints yet, but I did have a look at the daily area. I think it's a neat idea that instead of adding a heroic quest for the weekly, they included the new flashpoints in it. That just goes well together and might actually encourage me to do dailies more often (since I'm more likely to get the flashpoints done first, and then I'd be like "hmm, might as well knock out that handful of dailies..."). Actually getting any quests done was a bit of a pain since the area was crazy busy, but respawn times weren't too bad. I loved the mission where you get attacked by giant tentacles.

- On the PvP front, I only got into one Civil War match, where someone immediately asked whether it played very differently with the change to the side speeders, to which the reply was: "yep... if you are defending [you] need to fight in all the bad middle of nowhere spots... it's odd". I didn't feel like I really got to experience that, but it was notable that the side turrets changed hands more than once and we actually won even though our opponents were pounding us quite badly. I'm guessing that with the old system we wouldn't have been able to get either of the side turrets back with that much opposition. I'll have to play some more games to see how different it really feels.


The Other Shintar

When Luka Sene was merged with The Red Eclipse a bit over a year ago, I got relatively lucky with my character names. Most of my alts got to keep theirs, even the (in my opinion) catchy, four-letter ones... but my main's name, Shintar, was already taken. I wasn't massively bothered at the time and just added a "funny i" to the name. I mean, yes, it was an inconvenience, and I had been a subscriber from the beginning (boo-hoo etc.), but for all I knew so had the other guy.

A long time ago, on a character selection screen far, far away...

Out of curiosity I did add the other Shintar to my friends list, and it turned out to be a level fifty Sith Sorcerer. I wanted to keep an eye on whether they remained active or even deleted their character, but they seemed to be online reasonably often.

One morning a couple of months ago I found that a guildie had posted a screenshot on our guild website of him running into a male Sith pureblood called Shintar on Ilum. It was funny to finally be able to put a face to the name. I was asked whether it was an alt of mine, and I said no and explained the situation.

Recently the other Shintar has made a couple more appearances in level 55 warzones, and again I've had guildies querying whether it was me. I joked that the other Shintar is an evil name thief and that they should gank him lots.

With name changes in the game now, I've been starting to think though. At least two guildies who had to change their names after the transfers were able to get their original names back recently, presumably because the other characters were deleted or renamed too. Shintar doesn't seem to be going anywhere any time soon, but... maybe I should ask him how he'd feel about a name change. I could even pay for it! For all I know it could have been a random throwaway name to him and he might not mind changing it, while I'm definitely quite attached to it. (If I put "Shintar" into Google, the first three results plus a couple more on the first page are all references to me.)

On the other hand though, I don't want to look like a weird stalker or anything. I don't know, how would you feel if a random stranger asked you to change one of your character names?


More Companion Gear Ponderings

While I'm still some time away from completing the bounty hunter story, which is the last class story that I haven't experienced in full yet, I've come far enough to have unlocked all the companions in the game. This is interesting to me because it means that I can allow myself to take a closer look at them... before this I was wary of looking up too much companion information because I wanted to avoid spoilers.

One thing that I've found really enlightening is the armour/stat distribution among them. Of the forty class-restricted companions currently in the game, nearly half of them use aim as their primary stat. There are eleven tanking companions that use aim! Only a quarter of all companions are based on strength or willpower.

How does this matter? Well, at least for me, whenever I pick up a decent piece of gear that my current character can't use herself, my first thought is to pass it off to an alt or a companion. Only if I can't think of anyone who could use that particular piece off the top of my head, I'll turn to the GTN instead and try to sell it there.

Funny thing I noticed while doing this: even considering that classes aren't equally popular, the demand for certain pieces of gear was strangely out of whack. Anything with cunning on sold pretty much as soon as I listed it. Aim-based tanking gear also seemed quite popular. "Where are all those Vanguard tanks?" I thought to myself. "I don't see nearly enough of them around to justify all those gear sales." Yet at the same time a pair of perfectly itemised Jedi dps boots would be returned to me three times before they finally sold. Surely Jedi knights and Sith warriors can't be that unpopular?

Looking at this little companion gear chart I made for myself, the answer suddenly seems very obvious: it's because people buy gear for their companions too, and their "class" distribution is waaay out of whack. Consider how many people run mostly with their healer companion for example. With the exception of one, all companion healers are cunning-based. There isn't a single one who uses willpower. There isn't any companion at all who uses strength-based heavy armour with dps stats! No wonder I can never seem to sell that stuff!

Definitely something to keep in mind before trying to sell any more gear on the GTN.

Companions that use heavy armour with aim as main stat (17):

4X (trooper)
Blizz (bounty hunter)
Corso (smuggler)
Iresso (Jedi consular)
Kaliyo (Imperial agent)
Pierce (Sith warrior)
Qyzen (Jedi consular)
Scorpio (Imperial agent)
Skadge (bounty hunter)
T7 (Jedi knight)
Vik (trooper)

Akaavi (smuggler)
Aric (trooper)
Rusk (Jedi knight)
Torian (bounty hunter)
Yuun (trooper)

Elara (trooper)

Companions that use medium armour with cunning as main stat (13):

Andronikos (Sith inquisitor)
Gault (bounty hunter)
Risha (smuggler)
Temple (Imperial agent)
Vette (Sith warrior)
Zenith (Jedi consular)

Doc (Jedi knight)
Guss (smuggler)
Lokin (Imperial agent)
Mako (bounty hunter)
Quinn (Sith warrior)
Talos (Sith inquisitor)
Tharan (Jedi consular)

Companions that use heavy armour with strength as main stat (4):

Bowdaar (smuggler)
Broonmark (Sith warrior)
Khem Val (Sith inquisitor)
Scourge (Jedi knight)

Companions that use medium armour with strength as main stat (1):

Ashara (Sith inquisitor)

Companions that use light armour with willpower as main stat (5):

Xalek (Sith inquisitor)

Jaesa (Sith warrior)
Kira (Jedi knight)
Nadia (Jedi consular)
Vector (Imperial agent)