Holiday Season

Wilhelm of The Ancient Gaming Noob put up a post yesterday in which he talks about feeling a certain amount of ennui with WoW's holiday events. I haven't even played WoW in one and a half years and I can still relate, because I was already getting kind of tired of these same events before I quit the game. I've said before that I'm a big fan of the occasional one-time event that everyone can gorge themselves on and then go back to normal while retaining fond memories of the whole thing... instead of, you know, having it come back over and over again and leaving you with an increasing feeling of disillusionment. (I have to admit that I'm already getting a little bit of that with the Gree event and Bounty Contract Week, but at least those are easy to ignore if you don't care to participate.)

Plus, with things like Halloween and Christmas, among others, there is also the fact that it's very jarring to have these things inserted into our fantasy worlds. No, I don't care what your excuse is for why Azeroth, Tyria or wherever just happen to celebrate all the same holidays as the US, it's not convincing. I'm not a big fan of them in real life, why do they have to haunt even my attempts at escapism?

So one thing I like about Star Wars: The Old Republic is that the devs don't have an excuse to insert real life holidays into the game willy-nilly. Not that this stops them from trying, mind you. Last year they stooped so low as to dig up Life Day from the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, just to have an excuse to sell vaguely Christmas-themed items in the cash shop. Was that Celebrator speeder the cheesiest thing ever or what? (Though I do love the Tinsel Bomb simply for giving me something else to throw at people during raid breaks all year round.) And that was when the Cartel Market was still in its infancy so to speak. I fully expect a much bigger cash-in this year.

What I didn't expect was for Halloween to have any influence. I'm not aware of any sort of similar festival existing in the expanded universe (though feel free to educate me on that front), and it just doesn't really... fit with the universe. For example, ghosts officially exist, but they aren't exactly scary in the conventional sense. So imagine my surprise when this showed up on the Cartel Market yesterday:

The "TRK-R Treatment Chamber" is basically a Sith meditation chamber recoloured to look like a grinning pumpkin when it's closed. Why? Who knows! It's just a random Cartel Market item; it doesn't need an explanation. I would be kind of annoyed if I wasn't seriously impressed with the creativity of whoever came up with that particular idea. I just hope that it's not an indicator of more forced random holiday insertions yet to come.


A Bounty Hunter's Tale

It's finally happened: I've completed all the class stories! The bounty hunter was the last one I was missing... until today that is. I have to say that it didn't turn out to be one of my favourites, though I'm not sure how much of that was due to the story itself and how much of it was due to the on-again-off-again nature in which I played through it. I mean, I originally made my first bounty hunter back in early 2012, played her very little (I believe I only got her to Nar Shaddaa), and then made another one earlier this year. Her journey from creation to the level cap to completing her class story took me something like five months in total, and there were a lot of breaks and distractions. Maybe that's why I didn't feel a strong sense of urgency to push onwards and find out what happens next a lot of the time.

Some of that may have been due to spoilers. I got spoiled big time for the ending of the bounty hunter class story very early on, without even realising at the time that it was the very ending of the story that had been revealed to me. So I happily played on until about halfway through chapter two, at which point I realised that the only way for the event that I had read about to still fit into the story would be at the very end. Knowing exactly what lay ahead admittedly took some of the wind out of my sails.

Other than that... I'm not really sure where I can accuse the story of going wrong. I felt that at the start there were some parallels to the trooper story (which I quite liked), in terms of trying to add a personal angle to a profession that is kind of cold and businesslike (soldier/mercenary). However, where the trooper story takes its time to build things up until the end of the prologue, the bounty hunter story tries to tug at your heartstrings as early as something like three quests in, where you've barely had enough time to develop an attachment to anything or anyone, so that fell a bit flat for me. I did however enjoy the way this puts you into the position of it being "you and your first companion as the underdogs vs. the world". The entirety of chapter one with its story of fighting your way to the top was quite satisfying.

After that things started to flounder a bit though. It kind of felt like my character was wasting her time playing silly games, and I didn't particularly care for any of it. Things got better again in chapter three, though again I felt like I was supposed to care about characters to whom I honestly didn't have that much of a connection (yet). I did quite like the interlude where I got to go out and rescue my male love interest from peril - that felt funny in a subversive way. But well, other than that... like I said above, I knew exactly where it was going and wasn't massively excited about it.

The companions were also a bit of an odd bunch. In another parallel to the trooper story, I quite liked the first four and found the last one to be annoying as hell. Also, while I quite liked the second companion once I had him, I have to say that he had a very annoying "acquisition story" that made little sense and felt heavily railroaded. I bet he was another one of those that got killed a lot in beta before they removed the ability to kill companions...

In terms of gameplay, playing a Powertech hasn't been too bad considering that neither melee nor tanking truly feel like my calling. I had however been told in advance that Vanguard/Powertech was probably the easiest tank class to play, and it certainly seemed that way. At least I never felt completely lost when I picked the character back up after not playing her for a while (unlike on my Marauder for example) and always got back into the swing of things quickly. The tanking "rotation" (as far as there is one) felt very fluid and natural.

Nonetheless I think that tanking will remain something that I enjoy only in very limited doses. Charging in ahead of everyone else just doesn't come easily to me, and I don't particularly like that feeling of constantly having to reassert myself as the leader all the time.


Czerka Health and Safety

Doing dailies at unusual times can lead to interesting discoveries. The other night I was roaming around CZ-198 late at night, as I was suffering from a cold and found myself unable to sleep. Since it was a lot quieter than it usually is when I go there, I was surprised to find quest item spawns in places where I generally don't see them because they are always gone... such as this biotoxin container in the middle of the office area. Never mind the big hazard warning sign next to the door to the next room...

Now, Czerka isn't generally known for being the most caring company when it comes to its employees (just refer to the main quest line on Tatooine for Republic players), but that still struck me as funny. You've got to feel sorry for the poor employee that used to work at that station. Can't you just imagine it? "Who dumped the biotoxin next to my desk again? I thought we went over this during the last health and safety meeting..."


The Galactic Starfighter "Expansion"

When Rise of the Hutt Cartel was turned into a free goodie for subscribers last month, I remember seeing a couple of people comment that this might be a sign of a) another expansion coming out soon, and b) Bioware considering giving away future expansions for free (or at least including them as part of the subscription). Personally I didn't think that either of those sounded particularly likely, but as it turns out these commenters were right. Last night a press release was posted on the official site to announce "Galactic Starfighter", a new expansion that is planned to release as early as December. And unlike Rise of the Hutt Cartel, it's going to be completely free from the start and available to everyone; release will just be staggered so that subscribers get access earlier.

Its main (and only, to be honest) selling point is 12 vs. 12 freeform space combat. Now, this is something that a lot of people have been asking for pretty much since the game's launch, and as a result, overall reactions to the announcement have been very positive from what I've seen. This is good! For me personally however... this whole thing is pretty meh to be honest. I've written about why I don't really do space combat, and it's got nothing to do with the current system being on rails. It's just not my cup of tea. I'll try to keep an open mind of course and will probably give the new space PvP a try at least... but I don't really expect it to grab me.

What I personally found the most interesting about this whole announcement are the semantics. Back when Rise of the Hutt Cartel was announced, I was already very sceptical about calling that an expansion, because it didn't seem to bring enough to the table to really be worthy of the title. (To be fair, in hindsight I feel that it did introduce enough changes to be indeed worthy of being called an expansion... though perhaps an "expansion light".) This Galactic Starfighter thing on the other hand... from everything I've read, the new space PvP is going to be all there is to it. More levels? Nope. Any PvE? Nope. How is that any different from a big patch then? In fact, as someone who isn't into space combat, this "expansion" will likely add less to the game for me than any of the major patches have done so far. Where's the distinction between patch and expansion then, other than semantics, especially if both are free?

I wonder if they are now trying to go for a model along the lines of EVE Online's, which releases free "expansions" all the time as well. (Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong about any of this, as I don't actually play EVE.) The important difference is of course that EVE is a sandbox game so expectations for what qualifies as a significant content addition are very different. I'm not sure that calling a big patch an expansion every now and then is going to do quite the same thing for a theme park MMO.


NBI: Start Your SWTOR Blog Today!

In the MMO writing community as a whole there's currently a project called "The Newbie Blogger Initiative" going on, which is supposed to encourage people to start their own blogs about MMOs. I wasn't originally going to get involved simply because I don't feel that I have a lot to say on the subject. My blogging is very niche and I do quite a few things that people usually advise against, such as writing only about a single game and producing walls of text that aren't broken up by any images, so I'm probably not the best person to go to for advice.

However, looking at my SWTOR blog roll on the side gave me food for thought. I used to be quite strict about purging inactive blogs after three months, but lately I've been giving them more and more time simply because I hate to take blogs off the list and have nothing to replace them with. Maybe I'm just looking in all the wrong places, but I don't see a lot of personal SWTOR blogs starting up right now, and I think that's a shame. Just because the game isn't the hottest new thing on the block anymore, doesn't mean that there isn't still a lot to be said about it!

Why should you blog? Well, it definitely isn't for everyone, however I've met plenty of people online that made me think "this person should definitely have a blog". Mostly it's about whether you like expressing yourself in writing. Basically, blogging is a logical next step if you're the type of person who likes to leave long comments on other people's posts or writes a lot on forums. The problem with these forms of writing is that things tend to get lost and buried. This is annoying if you think that what you've said was relevant and deserves more exposure, but also when it comes to archiving. Ever found yourself in a situation where you went: "I know I wrote my thoughts on this down somewhere, but I don't remember where"? Yeah, this is why it's good to have your own blog and a solid archive function. I can still go back and look at stuff I wrote about WoW four years ago, and that's nice.

So if you've got things to say about SWTOR and have ever considered starting your own blog about it, now is a good time. Just head on over to the NBI site for lots of advice on how to get started as well as plenty of opportunities to get your new blog promoted. And of course I want to hear about it too! Need more things to add to the blog roll...

P.S. You know I'm looking at you, Mace...


My First Three Arenas

I haven't done much PvP this week, but I did queue up for a couple of games. Having been very sceptical of arenas, I was glad to see that the majority of my pops in the unranked queue were still regular warzones, however I did get into a total of three arena matches too.

The first two were on my Guardian. I don't play my Guardian very much these days, so I'm not very good at playing her and she's still wearing a lot of level fifty gear. I hadn't really planned to take her into any sort of group content to be honest, but when I went to spend some warzone commendations that she'd had saved up since forever and was just a couple short of buying the piece I wanted, I decided to bite the bullet and queue up for a game or two.

Soon I found myself teleported into the space station arena, where I immediately wanted to sink into the floor in shame, feeling very exposed in the small waiting area and with three team mates staring at me and my bad gear (though nobody said anything). I also couldn't see a timer for when the match was supposed to start, am I missing anything there? Our team consisted of three dps and a tank, while the enemy had a team of three dps and a healer - or maybe there was a tank in there as well, I don't remember - the point was that they had a healer and we didn't, which immediately made my heart sink. Surely we were doomed and they were going to outlast us? Oh well.

The enemy Sage healer was marked up and it was agreed that he should die first. "Hm," I found myself thinking, "maybe arenas aren't all bad if they actually teach people to communicate and focus fire." As soon as the doors opened, I charged in, despite my squishiness. If WoW arenas taught me anything, it's that taking the initiative and getting that first hit in is generally a good thing. Despite of blowing all my cooldowns, I only survived for a couple of seconds and then got to watch the rest of the match from the floor. Much to my surprise, my team mates actually managed to eke out a win. I'd like to think it was because I provided such an efficient distraction at the start or something. /cough.

The second round went much like the first, with me being the first to charge in and dying within seconds. However the enemy team was a bit more savvy this time around and spent a lot of time running around, which caused my team mates to split up as everyone decided that they had their own ideas about what to focus next, and we lost. The tie-breaker round was the same again, but to be honest I didn't feel too bad about losing. It was enough of a positive surprise to me that we had managed to win even one round.

The next arena I got was the Tatooine one. Again I ended up in a team with no healer while the enemy did have one. Again I charged in and died quickly, though the rest of my team seemed to be more competent this time, killed the enemy healer and defeated our opponents without anyone else on the team going down. Round two was more or less the same and we won. More than anything I was just... baffled. I honestly felt completely useless in both games and just spent most of my time watching the proceedings from the floor. It wasn't exactly what I had expected.

My third arena game was on my Commando, who landed in the Corellia arena. Well, at least I had a healer on my team this time - because it was me! I was all prepared to be obliterated within seconds (because everybody loves Commandos...), but the enemy dps were neither particularly strong nor organised and didn't even get me to half health, which apparently gave my own team plenty of time to mop up any resistance. Once again the second round was just a repeat of the first, and we were promptly declared the winners. I was happy.

So, as first impressions go, that really wasn't too bad! If nothing else, things were always over pretty quickly, which means that the pain for the losing team is kept to a minimum.


Mercenary/Commando Questions And Answers

I can't believe I almost missed this! It was finally the Commandos' turn to have their class rep's questions answered by the devs - or rather, the Mercenaries' turn, but aside from the fact that they don't have a bright green beam connecting them to people they heal to mark them as an immediate kill target in PvP, they do tend to have the same problems as us, so it was still relevant to me.

The first thing that struck me was that both the questions and the answers seemed very well thought out this time around, which made me happy. It seems to me that both the community and the devs have learned from the whole "heal to full" debacle and made an effort to improve their communication in these Q&As, which is definitely a good thing.

The devs' answers also made me hopeful in that they are finally at least acknowledging some of the problems that plague our AC, even though they remained disappointingly vague when it came to coming up with solutions. I understand why that is, but still, it's hard to get very excited about promises that they'll probably work on improving the situation, at some point. Maybe.

Anyway, let's get down to the nitty gritty. You can read the full thing here, though I've reproduced the parts that I want to comment on below.

1. PvE

Question: "Can you please comment on how you feel both Merc DPS and Heals stack up against their raid spot competitors when it comes to what they bring to the table for ‘Progression Raiding’. More specifically, why would you consider taking a merc in your raid group over a Sniper (DPS) and Op/Sorc (Heals) if faced with the option?"

Comments: [some details about how Mercs/Commandos are technically "viable" for progression raiding, but it seems that other classes always bring that little bit more to the table]

Answer: "(...) Mercenaries/Commandos are not really underperforming in DPS as some sort of trade-off (unless the Mercenary/Commando actually is spending global cooldowns to cleanse, resurrect, or heal); it is more because we went too far to ensure that guilds would bring Marauders/Sentinels and Snipers/Gunslingers into operations. We did this because, while the other classes have an opportunity to fulfill one of two different roles in an operation, Marauders/Sentinels and Snipers/Gunslingers can only fulfill the damage dealing role in operations. So we made sure they dealt plenty of damage, and then we gave them utility to boot – probably too much damage, and probably too much utility, judging by the operation groups that some guilds put together. (...)"

So basically, what he's saying is... nerfs inc. for Marauders/Sentinels and Snipers/Gunslingers? I hope you're making sure to read the Q&As for classes that you don't play, guys! While I can see how this answer makes sense, I still find it a bit hard to get excited about other classes getting nerfed. I'd rather get buffed to their level myself, but I guess continuous buffing just leads to power creep.

"As far as healing is concerned, we agree that Mercenaries/Commandos are viable end game PvE healers, and we have internally been discussing the idea of a multi-target Kolto Shell/Trauma Probe for a while now. We appreciate your suggestion and think it to be a reasonable one. While we cannot make any promises at this time, it is definitely something we would like to give to Mercenary/Commando healers at some point in the future. (...)"

I keep seeing this multi-target Trauma Probe suggestion pop up everywhere, but I'm not sure how I feel about it. I mean, yay, any buff would be nice I guess, but I just don't have any great love for Trauma Probe anymore. They've tried to buff it so many times and yet it just remains... kinda underwhelming. I find it very hard to keep track of the stacks because the speed at which it gets used up varies so wildly depending on how quickly the target gets hit. And on fights with bosses that hit fairly slowly it just feels kind of pointless. Here's hoping I guess.

2. PvP

Question: "Are the developers aware of how the excessive length of Mercenary utility cooldowns have a negative effect on their capabilities in PvP, and how do they plan to improve this situation for Mercenary players?"

Comments: "Mercenary utility cooldowns are all exceptionally long and seem designed around a much slower pace of combat. Most of them do not offer a benefit that accurately reflects the length of the cooldown, and in comparison to similar abilities belonging to other ACs simply do not make sense.

[list of several examples] While these utility abilities are obviously not intended to be used in every encounter, the cooldown length is prohibitively long (players find themselves not using an ability where they normally would/should because the cooldown is so long and they want to use it at the perfect moment. This results in the ability being used far less than intended). The median cooldown of Mercenary utility skills is 105 seconds. Compare that to Sniper, who has a median utility cooldown of 60s (that’s ~40% lower than Mercenary).

Side Note: Tied into the idea of utility abilities is that they play a significant role in our ability to avoid being easily shut down and keep our enemies at range at least momentarily. This is a big concern in the community and the developers have stated they are working on this but a lot of time has gone by with little done."

Answer: "The reason why Mercenaries/Commandos were originally given longer, weaker cooldowns is because they are passively superior to many of the other classes in the game. By nature of wearing the heaviest armor in the game, they take less damage than many other classes without needing to touch a button. They also have the ability to heal themselves and their allies, along with a 30 meter range for most of their abilities."

I know this was only brought up as a "something that we thought in the past" thing, but the comment about heavy armour still made me sigh. Heavy armour seriously does bugger all in PvP these days, considering how many classes have abilities to reduce or even completely bypass armour. My Commando gets sliced to bits just as quickly as my Sage in her cloth, but at least the Sage is much better at running away...

"It is fairly clear now that Mercenaries/Commandos are not the dominating force on the field of battle that we originally feared they might be. With that said, some classes have utilities that are just too strong and/or cooldown durations that are quite possibly too short – the Marauder/Sentinel is a good example of a class like this. So while some classes may pine to be given cooldowns that will make them as strong as Sentinels/Marauders, we would rather reduce the effectiveness of Marauder/Sentinel cooldowns to make them more like the other classes when it comes to survivability."

Oh hey guys, more Marauder/Sentinel nerfs incoming! Seriously, are you reading this?

"However, this does not mean that we should ignore Mercenary/Commando (or any classes, for that matter) cooldowns. [some examples of changes they might consider] Unrelated to utility cooldowns, another thing that we have been internally considering for a while now is adjusting our pushback & interrupt systems because we believe the classes that have abilities with activation and channel times are simply being too greatly affected by those systems. These adjustments would primarily benefit all Mercenaries/Commandos and Sorcerers/Sages (Snipers/Gunslingers do not gain much because they are already immune to pushback & interrupts while in cover). Power Shot/Charged Bolts, Unload/Full Auto, and Tracer Missile/Grav Round are some key abilities that would benefit from these adjustments. Please let us know your opinion of the pushback & interrupt systems as they currently stand, and we will take the community’s feedback into consideration."

Hm, I hope the Sages are reading too. Anyway... I'm glad to see them acknowledging that interrupts are kind of overpowered vs. some classes right now. I understand that it's a difficult balancing act because there is obviously a point to letting certain things be interrupted and you don't want to swing the pendulum too far the other way.

Personally I wouldn't necessarily want an overhaul of the system as a whole, just... tone it down a little I guess? Maybe give a little bit of interrupt immunity to some abilities and/or on a cooldown. Or take out things like Force Leap automatically interrupting on top of its main purpose as a gap closer.

3. Other

Question: "A big concern/complaint in the merc community revolves around resource management across all specs. How do the devs feel about where the Merc A/C is at regarding heat management? Do you intend to make any changes in the (near?) future to alleviate some of the community’s frustration over heat management?"

Comments: [some stuff about dps recource management] "We still lack the basic ability to heal ourselves with our default heal (Rapid Shots) -- a basic function we need to share with Operatives with a similarly tiered resource regeneration system. ur very roundabout way of doing it with Kolto Shell + Peacekeeper, is only minimally useful in PVP, dismal in PVE, and above all else, is not as simple as what the other healers have. If you overextend and drop into low-tier regen, you're punished quite a lot if vent heat or TSO aren't available to help you get back to a manageable level or throw out a big heal while you don't have you heat to do so. You only have rapid shots (small heal) and emergency scan (long cooldown) while you slowly regenerate energy, and no way to speed up the process. In comparison, Operatives can use diagnostic scan and its crits restore energy, and Sorcerers can use consumption, and they also regenerate force at the same rate no matter their force level anyway. (...)"

Answer: "(...) As a damage dealer, it is not fun being forced to fight two battles at the same time – one against your enemy target and another against your resource bar. As you pointed out, we have made changes to certain abilities (like Incendiary Missile/Incendiary Round) and even created entire abilities (Vent Heat/Recharge Cells and Thermal Sensor Override/Reserve Powercell) to mitigate the frustration caused by an unforgiving resource system. But maybe the time has finally come to fix the real problem – the resource system itself?

Thematically, we would still use Heat/Energy Cells, so the change would only be in functionality. There is nothing that thematically requires Heat/Energy Cells to work how they currently do. For example, we could let you safely use more than 40% of your resource bar more than once every 2 minutes; however, we cannot allow Mercenaries/Commandos to heal indefinitely – which is actually the reason why the system works like it currently does. This is why a resource system that works in a similar manner to the Sorcerer’s/Sage’s Force resource could work for Mercenaries/Commandos, while something like the Juggernaut’s/Guardian’s Rage/Focus resource would not be feasible. We should state that overhauling a resource system is a substantial amount of work on our end, and as such, it is not something that would happen anytime soon. We will be looking for your feedback here, because we would not want to make a drastic change to your resource system without support from you – the players."

Again, it's nice to see them acknowledge that ammo management is a bit of a pain in the butt right now. I remember how pre-1.2, simply hitting Overcharge Cells would pretty much give me a full ammo bar again, and just how hard I found it to manage my resources right after that fateful patch hit. I did get used to it to an extent, but it can still be extremely fiddly at times. Especially while working on nightmare mode progression, I've frequently found myself in situations where I had to cast several big heals on the tanks right now, as they were on the verge of death... and then I'm out of ammo with no cooldowns and we wipe anyway simply because I can't do any useful healing at all anymore. That's pretty harsh.

The comment about completely overhauling the whole system immediately made me go "whoa, whoa, let's take a step back here" though, and I'm glad to see that most people responding to the thread felt the same way. We do like the way the system works overall, it just needs fine-tuning. For healers it was a lot more forgiving pre-1.2 for example. Or look at Scoundrel/Operative healers right now, they basically use the same system and have trouble running out of energy even if they try. I'm not saying Commando healing should be just as easy, but surely it should be possible to ease up on the unforgivingness of the regen system just a little bit, if simply by tweaking some numbers...?
"(...) We think it seems reasonable for Mercenaries/Commandos to be able to heal themselves with Rapid Shots/Hammer Shot, and we will look into making this a possibility – but it might not generate Combat Support Cylinder/Cell charges when you heal yourself with the ability. It is something we will need to test out internally first.

As for venting Heat/recharging Energy Cells when Rapid Shots/Hammer Shot is used, that may be something we could do. However, it is also possible that the energy return tied into Diagnostic Scan makes Operative healers better than they should be. It does seem strange that one healer would have an energy-returning ability, while another healer using basically the same type of resource system has nothing to compare with it. We will investigate this further, and the outcome should be positive or at least neutral for Mercenaries/Commandos. (...)"

My theory as for why things are the way they are is that a) Mercenary/Commando healers heal with their weapons, and it would look awkward for them to shoot themselves, and b) our "free heal" can be used on the move while Scoundrels and Operatives have to stand still to use theirs. Which sounds like a fair trade-off on paper, except that using Hammer Shot on the move is frequently impractical due to the directional requirements, and the "disadvantage" of not being able to move while casting Diagnostic Scan hardly affects Scoundrels and Operatives since they can still do most of their healing while on the move anyway. In comparison, being completely unable to heal yourself when you're low on resources is pretty damn harsh. So I'm in support of changing this, even if I'm not sure I really want to take shots out of my own assault cannon to the face...

All in all, this was a good Q&A; it just remains to be seen whether it actually leads to any changes in practice.


Oricon First Impressions

Patch 2.4 brought a lot of new additions to the game today, but for me the initial focus lay on the new PvE content, as usual. As soon as I came online in the evening, Pet Tank and I made our way to Oricon, the new planet moon.

I'd say that more than anything, it's a very atmospheric place. (This is something that Bioware generally seems to do very well.) The environment definitely conveys the feeling of unease that the Dread Masters instil in people; I'm just not entirely sure whether that's a good or a bad thing. In a way it reminds me of many a typical endgame zone in your average fantasy MMO, where everything is corrupted or diseased, which... isn't exactly the kind of environment in which you want to spend all your time. Then again, Makeb is lush and beautiful and yet how often do I actually go there? Not very.

The mobs also seemed to be very densely placed, and after two rounds around the area we were already up to three hundred kills according to the achievement tracker. The heroic area in particular is quite dangerous! You never really know what you'll get with a [Heroic 2], as they can range from very easy to quite hard, but this heroic area is definitely on the tougher end of the spectrum. I can't see myself questing there on my own for long and enjoying it (and not just because killing things as a healer can be tedious).

I did really like the little storyline though (Republic side that is, haven't done the Imperial version yet), and the missions rewards were very good as well, which is always nice. I can see this being a very quick and efficient way of getting a newly dinged alt ready for entry-level endgame content.

Around our usual ops time, the guild leader threw a 16-man group for Dread Fortress story mode together (though we ended up a couple of players short of a full team). A few people in the group had tried the operation on the PTS before, but they mostly kept quiet... so we basically went in blind, without having looked up any tactics. It was a lot of fun to discover things as a group and figure out mechanics on the fly.

The first boss went down with no problems as it was mostly a tank and spank fight, but things soon got interesting. I have no idea what the puzzle component of the second encounter was supposed to be, as I just got to run through some tunnels with a couple of dps, while repeatedly clicking on crystals to open gates in front of us. I'm guessing that it's more involved on hard mode. The actual boss caused our first "wipe" by suddenly disappearing and then not showing his face again, while leaving us stuck in combat for several more minutes. This prompted a group member to at least look up what we were doing wrong, and it turned out that we had neglected to do enough damage to the boss while dealing with the waves of adds, which had automatically caused us to "lose" the fight. That definitely needs to be made clearer in some way, because simply being left stuck in combat with nothing to fight and the boss not resetting is not very intuitive. We had another wipe or two before we got the add management just right, but then we were free to continue.

The third boss was awesome fun - what's not to like about a "Pirate Rancor" as a guildie put it? The over-the-top animations of him jumping around and smashing things with his giant pipe actually had me squealing with glee. After we were done, we also spent several more minutes just running after the magnet in the room to let it drag us into the air over and over again. Sometimes it's the little things...

The fourth boss was mostly funny because his giant laser attack led to a lot of manic running around and claimed quite a few victims. It's as if someone took Golden Fury's big signature attack (and I've complained about how boring that fight is) and thought: How could I make this mechanic more interesting? I know, let's make the boss jump all around the room so people actually have to use their eyes and brains to dodge his laser. It was actually fun! Good job, unknown dev.

In the honoured tradition of end bosses being a considerable step up from the rest of the instance, Dread Master Brontes wiped the floor with us quite a few times before we had seen and learned how to deal with all of her mechanics. Ahh, one-shotting zappy tentacles! Ahh, slowly rotating beam of doom! Ahh, exploding droids everywhere! In the end we got her though, and it felt quite satisfying to finally off another one of the annoying villains that have been haunting us for something like four or five operations now. I honestly think that I've never encountered another raid boss that I genuinely wanted to kill as much as I want to be rid of the Dread Masters.

Now to wait for Bioware to fix the bug that currently makes the final encounter in Dread Palace literally unkillable and then I can't wait to see the end of that particular story!