Merry Life Day To All!

I hope everyone is having a good Life Day Christmas holiday season.

Last year Bioware "celebrated" the occasion by putting some vaguely Christmas-themed items into the cash shop, and I expected more to follow this year. I was rather surprised when they didn't add anything new to the Cartel Market this time around and actually gave us something to do in game instead. I hesitate to call it a full-blown event because it's not really, but still...

Basically, there are a couple of "Life Day Reveller" NPCs in the GTN section of the fleet, and a vendor that sells you a reusable item to throw snowballs at people, similar to the tinsel bomb. Every time you use it on someone who doesn't already have snowflakes coming out of their ears, you have  a chance of finding a "snow-covered parcel", which serves as currency to buy one of two new speeders off the same vendor. And that's it.

My Marauder is not amused to find snow in her eye upon logging in.

There's a part of me that feels like I should really be annoyed by this whole thing. I'm not a fan of having real life holidays invade my MMOs, but if you're going to do it anyway, you might as well do it properly. You call people spam-clicking on other players around the fleet an "event"? Really?

But the truth is... I find it oddly compelling and amusing. Throwing things at other people is one of my favourite pastimes in this game, which is why all of my alts have a Ball Toss and a tinsel bomb. So how could I honestly complain about an event that rewards me for doing more of it and encourages other people to join in the fun?

I can't log on any of my alts on the fleet without finding myself doused with snowflakes instantly, and it cracks me up. You're not limited to throwing snowballs at other players either, you can toss them at friendly NPCs, hostile NPCs (without aggroing, yay!) and even corpses. Our last ops was a mad rush of people trying to "tag" all the trash mobs and at one point I even got a snow-covered parcel from a dead droid.

 Snowballs inc.!

Does it make even an ounce of sense? Nope. Is it hilarious? Yes!


Happy 2nd Blogday to me!

Aaand like last year, my "happy birthday, SWTOR" post is immediately followed by me celebrating the anniversary of me starting this blog.

I've talked about how the game has been doing in general in my last post, so let's have a look at how I've been doing within the game, or at least what sort of stuff I've been writing about:

I started the (blog) year by writing about how I celebrated Christmas raiding with my guild and spent the holidays bickering with a guildie (who would later go on to become my "pet tank" and a very important person in my life).

In January, I participated in a ranked warzone for the first time and it didn't go very well. Pet Tank and I went to Ilum shortly before they revamped it for the Gree event and I mused about what a strange experience it was. PvE-wise, I was wiping in EC NiM and I made a silly video about it which people in my guild like to reference to this day. ("Medpack!")

February was an exciting month. I attended the SWTOR Community Cantina in London (a real life adventure, oh my god), though it wasn't actually that amazing. After lots of wiping I finally got to kill some bosses in EC NiM, and made a silly video about that as well. I realised that after all the duoing I'd done, questing on my own drove me up the wall. The Gree Event was a thing for the first time, and I wrote about it both during the event as well as afterwards. I also had a heart-warming encounter with a known PvP rager who turned out to not be a complete jerkwad after all.

March saw me getting the "Drouk Hunter" title at last, only three months or so late compared to many of my guildies. Bioware started to run double XP weekends in the run-up to the first expansion and I complained about it, outing myself as a levelling hipster. So while other people were racing their newest alt to the level cap, I kept myself busy doing silly things like playing with the /boogie emote in warzones.

In April, Rise of the Hutt Cartel was released, and my first impression was that Makeb was pretty, but Imps ganking me in their undies were less so. We engaged in a silly little guild adventure fighting a world boss that isn't really a world boss, who also happened to be bugged at the time and spammed the entire zone with giant red error messages. When I visited my family in Austria (oh noes, more real life stuff), SWTOR gave me an opportunity to reconnect with my brother.

In May I was suffering from some Operations Blues, while also conceding that I didn't completely hate the new achievement system implemented with RotHC. More than a month after expansion release I also finally completed the Seeker Droid and Macrobinocular quest chains, and found the heroics at the end surprisingly fun.

June saw me trying out the tanking role and going a little crazy in the process. I also encountered SWTOR's first poo quest.

In July I began giving some more thought to how to dress my companions for the first time. More double XP weekends led to my pet tank and me playing our max level characters almost compulsively, leaving us with the feeling that we had pretty much "beaten the game" when we finally ran out of quests. I mused on just how badly some level fifty flashpoints have been nerfed over time, and whether free to play had really changed the game in any significant way.

In August I blogged about "The Other Shintar" for the first time, the guy to whom I lost my name during the server transfers. A new recurring world event was added, Bounty Contract Week. I went absolutely nuts with it, played alts until I had enough tokens to max out the associated reputation and haven't been back since. We also went back to EC NiM and finally killed Kephess - better late than never.

In September I experimented with dressing my companions so that they looked like actual players and gathered some data on just how badly the Republic was losing in warzones on my server. The answer was: quite badly.

October saw me trying out arenas despite of my initial scepticism about the feature, and I didn't have too bad a time. Nonetheless I haven't done much PvP since then. Galactic Starfighter was announced to most people's surprise, and I completed the last of the class stories.

In November, I complained about Bioware sending my characters too much junk many "goodies" and rejoiced when I finally found a way to reliably take screenshots of the game.

Finally, this December I've been comparatively quiet for personal reasons, but I did write about how awful I was at Galactic Starfighter once it released, and how I tried to have some fun with it anyway.

Let's hope the next year will be just as interesting!


Happy 2nd Birthday, SWTOR!

Today it's been two years since the game's official launch, not counting the days of early access for players who pre-ordered.

Shintar the trooper over the course of two years

When I wrote a similar birthday post last year, I had a lot of excitement to look back on: from the game's over-hyped launch to the painful fall from grace when subscriptions dropped massively over the following months, followed by server merges and eventually the controversial free-to-play conversion. In comparison, 2013 has been a relatively quiet year. While Bioware released a whole two "expansions" for the game (sorry, I just can't use that term without the quotation marks, especially when it comes to Galactic Starfighter...), they weren't really major game changers.

I'll admit that I haven't made a special effort to keep on top of what is being said about SWTOR in EA's quarterly earnings reports, but the general gist I got from various news outlets is that the game has remained stable in terms of player numbers (which would certainly match my own observations in game) and is doing okay from a financial point of view. It's not the cash cow EA originally wanted it to be, but it's doing all right for itself. With the game garnering less public attention, the vitriol that people have been spewing about it has also diminished. There are other, newer games to be complained about on the big MMO websites.

In terms of updates, the game has been chugging along pretty steadily. For comparison, here's how I summed up 2012's additions:

"They implemented two new flashpoints, two new operations, two new warzones, two new world bosses, two new daily quest areas, two world events - hey, I never realised that so many things came in twos - a new companion for all classes, as well as a multitude of system changes (legacy, the group finder, the augment system, gear colour matching, fifty bajillion PvP tweaks and so on)."

This year, we once again got two new flashpoints, three (!) new operations - admittedly no new 8 vs 8 warzones, but we did get arenas instead - four (!) new world bosses, two new daily quest areas, two new repeating world events and another new companion for all classes (though with less story). There wasn't as much constant tinkering with PvP and class balance that I can remember (oh hey, smash monkeys are still owning everyone), but in terms of new systems and quality of life changes they introduced reputations, a new species to play as, character re-customisation, the dye system, server transfers, the collection system and probably some more features that I'm forgetting about right now. Rise of the Hutt Cartel also gave us a five point level cap increase, a whole new planet worth of story content, achievements, and the Macrobinocular and Seeker Droid "mini games". Galactic Starfighter gave us... galactic starfighting a.k.a. free flying but instanced space PvP.

It's also worth noting that this was the game's first whole year as a free-to-play title. Has this affected the experience for subscribers? Of course - note how many of the new systems I mentioned are tied straight to the Cartel Market in order to make you spend more money. How badly this actually affects each individual depends on where your priorities lie in-game... but I already talked about that in greater detail several months ago. It is worth noting that for all that focus on how to improve monetisation, the dev team doesn't seem to have slowed down in terms of actual content output, which is nice (though a case could be made that there's been a certain drop-off in regards to attention to detail).

Overall it seems to me that it's been a pretty good year for SWTOR. I wish I could be more excited about that, but I have to admit that I've been a bit disappointed by the fact that several of the recent major additions just haven't been to my personal taste at all, even if there are segments of the player base that had been clamouring for them for ages (arenas, space PvP). However, looking back at that list of features Bioware implemented over the course of the year, and assuming that they'll continue churning out updates at a similar pace, I can hope to see more content that's to my personal liking again soon enough. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what major updates they have planned for next year.


Depressed Raiding

One of the major class changes in the recent 2.5 patch was that a Sentinel's Inspiration now affects the entire ops group, but also applies a debuff that prevents you from benefiting from it again for five minutes. I reckon that this came as a surprise to exactly no-one, considering that this is basically the same thing that happened to WoW's Bloodlust several years ago. (That is to say, people were stacking the class that gives the buff to ridiculous levels just to chain the ability over and over again.)

What I did find interesting however is the name they gave to the debuff that prevents you from being inspired again: depressed.

I suppose it makes sense as a counterpoint to feeling inspired, but considering that you'll want to have as much Inspiration uptime as possible, you'll be spending a lot of time with this debuff on... meaning that you'll spend a majority of your boss attempts being depressed. Am I the only one who sees some unfortunate connotations here?

(It felt particularly apt to me personally after we had to cancel ops for several weeks in a row due to a lack of available people, while still stuck on HM Corruptor Zero progression-wise. We finally killed him yesterday though, depression debuff or not!)


Tips For Terrible Starfighters

Okay, I know I said that Galactic Starfighter is pretty clearly not for me, but I hate discarding whole aspects of a game that I generally enjoy without taking them for a proper test drive first. Not to mention that the expansion is still new and thus "the thing to do" and I feel a bit left out not participating, so I've been playing a couple more matches in an attempt to get some entertainment out of the whole thing after all. I did succeed - to a point - so I thought I'd share my strategies for enjoying Galactic Starfighter even if you're terrible at shooters.

1. Get the quests

I wasn't actually aware of this initially, but there are separate quests for Galactic Starfighter on the PvP mission terminal, first an "introduction" which just requires you to play a single match, and then a daily and weekly similar to the regular PvP missions. The daily only requires you to play two games or win one, which should be achievable for even the most PvP averse.

The reason I mention this as something that can help you enjoy the game is that it adds a pacing mechanism ("just going to do the daily") as well as a consolation prize if you're doing badly ("well, at least I got the daily done").

2. Fly a gunship

Of the three spaceship types, the gunship is supposed to be the sniper. It's a bit hard to be a "proper" sniper when your enemies can see you on the map from miles away, but basically there are two advantages for the shooter-impaired like me in flying a gunship: firstly, you don't have to worry about moving your ship at the same time as sniping, and secondly, unless you're directly facing off against another gunship, you'll be able to shoot your enemy before they are in range to shoot you. Those things count for a lot when you easily find yourself getting confused while flying in circles and have trouble targeting things on the move.

3. Don't go in alone

This is a good strategy if you're weak in normal PvP as well, but I'm finding it more important than ever in space since the combat is so twitch-based. If I end up going one-on-one with anyone, I'll lose and they'll barely get scratched. That doesn't do me or my team any good. Instead, I try to stick with a large pack, and let the scouts and fighters get ahead of me (which pretty much happens naturally since gunships are slow). Then, once they've engaged the enemy and are distracting them... ka-pow goes the railgun from a safe distance!

4. Learn to reroute your power

There's a point in the tutorial where it explains how to use the F keys to reroute power to shields, weapons etc. - which is where I immediately zoned out because it sounded waaay too fiddly for my liking. I'm glad I let someone convince me to give it a try anyway, because it's actually very easy. There's no major fiddling required, just hit F1 to reroute power to your weapons, which is nice when you're sitting in a relatively safe spot and just sniping away. F2 powers up your shields above everything else, which can be handy if you're under attack and just trying to get away and get some breathing room. F3 reroutes power to your thrusters, which is most useful at the start of a game to get to the objectives as quickly as possible. And F4 puts everything back to a "balanced" state, which works well when you simply can't decide what to focus on at that particular moment. (This happens to me a lot.)

5. Embrace death

Sniping is fun as long as the enemy is too distracted and far away to fight back, but if they get a chance to break off and get in my face, I'm pretty much toast. I'm learning to accept this. If you're feeling rebellious, you can even try to crash yourself into an obstacle just before they can get a killing blow. They'll still get points for getting an "assist" but it can make you feel a little more in control to rob your opponent of that final kill shot. Plus, respawning at the start gives you an opportunity to get back into combat from a fresh angle and find a good sniping position again, hopefully undisturbed by direct attacks for at least a little while.

Using these highly sophisticated tactics (cough) I even managed to get a couple of killing blows already, and I'm up to a whole two (gasp) achievements. Feel free to share any of your own tips for those of us who are terrible at starfighting!


Galactic Starfighter Early Access

Today was the early launch of SWTOR's Galactic Starfighter "expansion". I have to confess that I nearly forgot about it. I explained before that I'm not a big fan of space combat, no matter whether it's on rails or not. Fortunately the game was kind enough to remind me of what was happening by changing its loading screen.

Upon checking my mailbox, it felt like someone at Bioware had read my recent post about mailbox spam and decided to mess with me some more by handing out no less than two titles and four (!) full sets of orange gear to all of my characters in celebration of the expansion launch. I thought about simply chucking them since I'm not particularly keen on the fighter pilot look but... it's four free sets of adaptive gear! Even if I'm not too keen on the look, you never know when a spare orange belt or pair of bracers will come in handy... (Yes, I'm a bit of a hoarder.)

Despite of my scepticism about the whole concept, I was keen on having a look at the new gameplay anyway. I dutifully read through all the tutorial text, seeing how I'm the kind of person who always reads the manual (and I hadn't read up on any expansion details beforehand). It all looked very slick and like there's actually quite a bit of depth to it, with the system giving you plenty of options to tweak both your fighter's appearance and abilities to match your chosen playstyle. I was very pleased to see that there was also an actual playable tutorial that allows you to at least get used to the controls before jumping into actual player vs. player combat. I'd already had horror visions of me dragging my team down while I was still trying to figure out how to steer.

An ugly but useful crew member.

I had previously wondered whether Galactic Starfighter was going to be anything like Star Trek Online's space combat, which is relatively slow and sluggish. The answer is no. SWTOR's starfighters are extremely responsive to even small mouse movements, which makes the gameplay very, very twitchy.

Whether that's a good thing or not depends on what kind of gamer you are. For me it's a bad thing. I don't do shooters. I've tried, I'm bad at them and I don't particularly enjoy them. Maybe I could get better after hours and hours of practice (though probably not by very much), but why should I bother if it's no fun?

I played three matches. My team won two of them, but no thanks to anything I did. I watched my guildies jump into their first couple of games and immediately the achievements started rolling in. Me? I didn't get any achievements, I didn't get any medals, I didn't get any kills. I hardly even managed to do any damage. I'm bad enough at this shooter stuff, more so in three dimensions, that I spent most of my time flying in and then getting picked off by people I couldn't even see. While I tried to clumsily get a lock on them, they just danced around my tail and killed me. Over and over again.

Erm, which way is up again?

I think it's safe to say that this expansion is definitely not for me. I'm actually a little sad because it all looks very cool, but it's just totally different from any kind of gameplay that I enjoy. I'm sure that a lot of people will enjoy it (shooters are a popular genre after all) and I hope that this will have a positive effect on the game. But if part of the reason you play MMOs is that they aren't massively twitchy, as it is for me, then unfortunately this expansion adds nothing for you.