Pugging Explosive Conflict

Oh, Explosive Conflict, you still make for the best stories.

I was logged in as my Operative when I saw a call go out in general chat that someone was looking for more to do EC hardmode. As I still had the story quest for it in my log and only see pugs for that particular operation form fairly rarely, I jumped at the opportunity to join in. Sure, EC's mechanics are still comparatively unforgiving, but personally I've done that content so many times now, on every possible difficulty, that I felt confident in my ability to maybe even carry a couple of inexperienced people.

As we approached Toth and Zorn, I asked whether anyone needed tactics explained to them or whether everyone had done the fights before. As so often on such occasions, the answer was silence. In hindsight, I think there was only one other person who truly knew the instance, a dps Mercenary who would show his expertise later. Everyone else may have had a vague idea of how the fights worked, possibly from pugging them once before, but they went on to reveal a clear lack of understanding when it came certain fight mechanics.

Anyway, on the first encounter the ops leader instructed people to quickly burn down one of the two Drouks and then kill the other one, never mind the enrage. That made my hair stand on end right there, but due to us being both overlevelled and ridiculously overgeared, we succeeded. From a healing perspective it was pretty annoying though, as the bosses were jumping around willy-nilly (while they were both alive), players and debuffs were all over the place, and we had more than one death. Still, I guess we won, so whatever.

The next fight was the one I was really worried about. I swear, I've got some sort of tank-induced trauma when it comes to that encounter. Just... too many wipes due to people destroying the shield generator on their side, and then everybody denying that it was them. /shudder. Surprisingly, that fight actually went down without a hitch and we one-shot it without any issues (even though the tank on my side got the Double Destruction debuff every time). I think on the other side (from where I was standing) they might have lost their shield generator at one point, as people got very low on health and one person died, but we made it anyway.

I thought that we were doing pretty well at that point and that Colonel Vorgath should be easy in comparison... yeah, right. As it turned out, neither tank knew how to do the part in the tower. Since I've never done it myself, I couldn't really give any advice on it either. Tanks in my guild have always been keen on calling shotgun on the tower, so I figured that it must be easy and certainly not rocket science.

We made a couple of attempts while one of the tanks flailed around up top, but he never seemed to get anything done in time and the rest of the group repeatedly got consumed by flames without even leaving the encounter's starter area. Eventually the dps Merc I mentioned before spoke up and offered to take care of the tower duties instead. He did a great job, and surprisingly the drones' overload ability got interrupted every time too. However, people allowed the explosive droids to wander into the group constantly, which we always survived with just a sliver of health left, and both the tanks decided to randomly wander into non-cleared areas of the minefield at some point, leaving us with nothing but dps and healers alive when we actually got to the boss. We somehow managed to wing it with no tanks, even though all the ranged classes but me insisted on standing right next to the turrets and getting nuked to hell instead of simply outranging them. It's truly marvellous what sufficient amounts of overgearing and overlevelling content can do.

I wasn't sure whether that was going to be good enough for Kephess though. Our first attempt started off alright, but during the Trandoshan add phase, people were AoEing things (including themselves) left and right, to the point that I considered it a miracle that "only" one of them managed to kill themselves. Thank god for dps that is high enough to kill the warrior add quickly I guess. We ended up killing the walker in only two phases, so that Kephess himself came down and roamed around during the droid phase, but somehow we survived that... except for the other healer, who insisted on standing at range and got himself nuked by the droids. We went into the last phase with two people down and a lot of flailing and soon it was a full wipe - but at that point it still seemed doable.

However, as we tried again and again, it turned out that neither of the tanks had any idea how to do the tank swap in the last phase, leading to instant death on their part over and over. We might have been able to wing it to the end if any of the dps other than the Merc had had a clue and dropped aggro at the right time - but that wasn't in the cards either. Eventually the Merc said that he had to go (/sadface).

People were still convinced that we could do it however, so a replacement dps was invited and we went at it again. This time however, we didn't even get the walker down, as the bomb debuff repeatedly went to people who didn't seem to notice it and didn't react to being called out in chat either, meaning that it went to waste. After that wipe, people finally said their goodbyes and left the group. I felt bad for the guy who had only just been called in to replace the Merc, especially since he had been one of the people who had let a bomb go to waste - clearly nobody had filled him in on anything.

Now, I actually don't want to call out anyone in that pug as being terrible players or anything like that. The atmosphere was quite pleasant and people seemed to be open to learning... it just wasn't good enough. If I had to criticise anything it would be the eyesore that was two female Sith warriors with the blonde Barbie haircut and wearing bikinis, looking like clones even though they were from different guilds. It was quite a sobering experience though in terms of how hard EC HM still is, even with five more levels and way better gear than anyone should ever need. I can definitely see why hardly anyone ever pugs this - you definitely need more than two competent people to succeed, and most pugs just won't have the patience to learn and understand all the different mechanics that can wipe your group if tackled the wrong way.


Have YOU Maxed Out Your Companion Affections?

Last night I got the achievement for maxing out the affections of all the available class companions (not counting the ship droid, HK and Treek) on Republic side. You know when I actually completed the last of the class stories on Republic side? One and a half years ago. Ahem.

Now, to be fair, it's not as if I was missing a huge chunk of anything. Basically I had just never bothered to push Akaavi that last little bit of the way to trigger the very last conversation with her, the one that is similar on most companions: something about how they think that you're a-ok and they want to stay with you for as long as possible. But it still made me pause to think for just how long I had managed to completely ignore that part of the game.

On Empire side things have been shaping up in a similar fashion - I completed the last class story there about six months ago but have almost no reputation with my bounty hunter's last companion at all. My Sith inquisitor, the one whose story I completed a whole year ago, also still had two companions hanging around who had almost no affection for her as of last night.

It certainly makes me see the way Bioware keeps deflecting requests for companion story updates as something that not enough players bother to see in a whole new light. As someone who's been subscribed since launch and has played through all the class stories at least once I'm definitely hardcore when it comes to investment in the game - if even I haven't felt much need to go through all the companion stories until now, just how much less likely are casual players bother then?

In a nutshell, I can think of three reasons to max out companion affection:

1. While levelling up, going through all the companion conversations adds up to a nice chunk of XP, especially since they seem to have tweaked it recently so that at least the parts that are pure conversation don't go grey as quickly if you let your companion's progress fall behind for a while.

2. The first time you level a class, you may genuinely be interested in learning your companions' stories.

3. Companions that love you are better at crew skills, so if you're a crafter, you want to maximise your companions' chance to crit by having their affection maxed out.

The first is... nice I suppose, but personally I'm never short on sources of XP anyway. Also, this goes away if/once you hit the level cap before maxing out all your companions' affections. The second is certainly relevant in a story-heavy game like SWTOR, but how many people end up actually liking all of their companions? There's pretty much always at least one "bad apple" whom you don't like, and as a consequence you often don't really care about their story. (Honestly, I didn't want Skadge on my ship to begin with!) When you're levelling an alt of a class that you've played before, this incentive also loses a lot of its power. The third point is pretty much a min-max thing, and with the current state of crafting, I reckon that fewer people than ever are particularly invested in min-maxing their crafting. All in all, there are some solid incentives to work on companion reputation, but none of them are massively strong.

And then there is the question of how to max out any given companion's affection to begin with. I remember that when I first started playing the game, I kind of assumed that it would just happen through affection gains from conversations, more or less automatically, if you had a companion with you that agreed with your general attitude. I quickly learned that if you spend a lot of time grouped up (which I do), this definitely doesn't work. Also, like I said above, you pretty much always end up with at least one companion whom you pretty much can't take anywhere (if you want to get their affection up) as they'll disagree with pretty much everything you say. So while affection gains through conversations work under some circumstances, in most cases it comes down to giving your companions gifts, and lots of them.

This is, once again, a bit of a mixed bag. A lot of companions like the same gifts (can anyone say weapons?), while other types are almost universally shunned. This makes sense from an immersion point of view, but makes the randomness of gift acquisition through crew skill missions very annoying. Yes, there are ways around it... but my point is that it can be a hassle. It's especially bad with some companions who don't really like any sort of gift and thus need up to double the "normal" amount of lesser gifts than you would need on most companions.

It can be even worse if you're like me and have previously decided to be randomly OCD about giving your companions only gifts of the "appropriate" affection level (e.g. level one while their affection is below two thousand and so on). Got lots of rank four gifts of the right type? Well, too bad, because your companion is stuck in rank three territory and hates pretty much every word you say. Yeah, I know, this is just me being crazy, but still. That's only the cherry on top, everything else is already enough to explain why sometimes at least, maxing out companion affection can feel like a lot of work for very little reward.

Now don't take me wrong, this isn't meant to be a complaint. I don't think everything in the game needs to be incentivised in such a manner that everyone feels the urge to do it on every character. It's okay for some things to be there for you to "take it or leave it", without your decision having a major impact on anything else you do. It was just surprising to me personally to realise that companions were one of these things for me, considering that they are a pretty major feature of the game.


In the News: Ranked Season 2 & Galactic Strongholds

I'm a bit late commenting on the developer blog about "What's New in Season Two" because it came out while I was away, and I wasn't sure whether I should say anything about it at all, seeing how I barely even played the minimum amount of ranked games required to earn a reward in season one. I was really chuffed by the news about the addition of quests for ranked PvP though. Why? Because they might actually get me to participate more regularly. I've never been and don't think I ever will be a hardcore PvPer, but with three max-level characters in full PvP gear that I play regularly, there's no reason I shouldn't participate in ranked at least occasionally... but I honestly simply forget about it most of the time. I mean, I open up the PvP window almost every day and look at the choice between unranked and ranked and then find myself thinking something like: "I should really do some ranked matches again some time, seeing how I only need ranked comms... but I have a quest for unranked. I'll do some ranked later." And then I never do. I can see a simple daily or weekly quest adding just the incentive I need to play more often.

Imagine my surprise when I then saw people whine about this promised addition on the forums. I get it, it's the forums, but what possible downside could there be to having a quest to do ranked warzones? Well, apparently some hardcore players are worried that this will attract too many scrubs. I can hardly roll my eyes hard enough at this. Player Teclado commenting on that thread summed it up best in my opinion, and I quote:

It seems like ranked pvp is having an identity crisis. Is it hardcore? If so, you want an atmosphere that discourages casuals (which is sort of what we have now), meaning that you get longer queue times but a higher overall level of play. Is it for everybody? If so, you want an atmosphere that encourages casuals, meaning shorter queue times but a lower overall level of play. I really don't think that you're going to get the best of both. 

It's really no skin off my back either way. I can easily live without ranked. But if you want ranked play to be a super exclusive club for the PvP elite only, you really can't complain about long queue times and lack of participation.

In other news, there's been another producer letter about what's coming up in the game's future, telling us more about Galactic Strongholds while also letting us know that they've decided to delay its release by nearly two months to make sure that players will have access to the expansion's full range of features right from the start. Delays are always a bit of a shame, but I think the reasoning presented in this case is fair - we'll still get patch 2.8 in June; it will just be smaller.

Many of the additional features that they revealed also sound super exciting to me and like they'll be well worth waiting for: I'll be able to get a house on Tatooine after all, and they've confirmed that things like vehicles, pets and companions will be available as "decorations" that we can place around our stronghold.

The additional functionality for guild flagships sounds like a pretty big deal too, but I'm a bit unsure how I feel about expanding on that feature. I like the idea of guild bonuses in principle, but I've also witnessed the negative effects they can have on the community when WoW introduced guild levels and achievements in its Cataclysm expansion. Suddenly guild alliances became terribly sub-optimal and you were encouraged to stick with people from your guild for everything. In SWTOR, a change in attitudes like that would certainly affect me, considering that my guild is regularly mixing it up with several "allied" guilds right now, helping each other to fill operation spots and the like. I hope that this is something that Bioware will consider when it comes to adding any future guild perks: while they should offer additional incentive to be in a guild, they shouldn't actively discourage you from mingling with players from other guilds.



I was away from the internet for a week and had three posts pre-written and scheduled to be published throughout my absence. I was looking forward to finding comments in reply to them in my inbox upon returning home. Unfortunately, I messed up the scheduled publishing process, so none of them actually went up until I returned home and made them all go live manually. I suck. If you missed any of these posts due to them all going up at once, I just wanted to briefly point them out now:

Assault on Tython and Korriban
300 Posts!
Huttball on Quesh

I've pointed out before that, for someone who never misses an opportunity to mention how underwhelmed she's been by the Galactic Starfighter expansion, I've actually spent a not insignificant amount of time playing it. In line with this, I'm proud to announce that last Sunday I finally achieved mastery of my first ship, the SGS-45 Quarrel gunship. It only took me, what, four and a half months since the expansion's early access for subscribers? Go me.

I remember when I first looked at the way you can customise different ships in GSF: it seemed to me that the available options were all about playstyle choice. However, while there is definitely some of that in the different components that are available, there is a significant amount of vertical progression to it as well. Fully mastering a ship is essentially the equivalent of getting a player character to the level cap. The power difference between a ship with no upgrades and a fully mastered one is insane.

That isn't entirely bad, mind you. With some upgrades in particular, you can really feel the difference it makes once you get them, and that sense of having achieved something feels good. But the way people of such vastly differing power levels get pitted against each other at random... is less so. There's an achievement for getting a silly amount of kills without dying, which I figured I was never going to get due to not being all that great... until I ended up in a match against a bunch of clearly un-upgraded ships that popped like bubbles whenever my gunship shot them. While I was pleasantly surprised to get the achievement after all, I also felt vaguely dirty after that match, as if I had ganked a bunch of newbies - which, in a way, I had - except that it was simply a consequence of the game thinking that this was perfectly fine match-making! The problem is, I'm not sure they can afford to split the game into brackets for different upgrade levels without making queue times go through the roof. Not to mention that things like people with both mastered and un-upgraded ships would present difficulties for any matchmaking algorithm.

All that said, I have to admit that I've honestly warmed up to Galactic Starfighter. Having a fully upgraded ship certainly helps, but I also feel like I've got a better grip on how to play by now, at least when it comes to the slower ships. I'm still far from being a good player, and maybe I simply benefit from flying a gunship a lot (as a lot of people on the forums claim that they are overpowered), but during most matches I feel like I can carry my weight. I've also grown fond of my bomber - for domination matches at least, hugging a satellite of my choice, pooping out drones on cooldown and firing the occasional torpedo at people engaged in dogfights with my more agile brethren. It's almost relaxing.

Who'd have thought that starfighting could be an acquired taste?


Huttball on Quesh

After my initial struggles to get into the new warzone on patch day, I've had a chance to try it more than a few times by now. It looks great so far. I suppose my first impressions are to be taken with a grain of salt, as I remember enjoying Ancient Hypergates very much when it first came out, while it's one of my least favourites nowadays, but I like Huttball well enough in general, and the new map doesn't really change the basic gameplay of the warzone.

The first thing I found striking about the new Quesh map was the attention to detail that was clearly given to it by the devs. It didn't even occur to me that they might change the sound cues for example - it's still Huttball after all - but they actually recorded a whole set of completely new lines for Baron Deathmark, for everything from the intro to silly things like people kicking the Huttball. I haven't played a match yet where I didn't chuckle at one of his new sarcastic remarks.

The warzone itself seems slightly confusing at first, as it's more... cubic than original Huttball, meaning that vertical movement matters as much as horizontal movement, if not more so. While the original Huttball map has its ramps and pits, the one on Quesh takes things to a whole new level. As a healer it can be a bit bewildering to see someone clearly in range of you but be unable to heal them because they are on the level below you for example. Once you figure out where the ramps to climb different levels are located (around the edges), things become a lot more obvious however.

The thing that I found the most striking after a bit of observation is that this new map is not merely a reskin, it actually has a very different flow. Original Huttball is pretty much a straight line, with the Frog-Dogs on one end, Rot-Worms on the other and the ball in the middle. What this means is that you always want to push towards your enemy because getting closer to their line is beneficial both from an offensive (closer to scoring) and a defensive point of view (ball gets further away from your own goal line).

The Quesh Huttball pit on the other hand is basically an even-sided, downwards pointing triangle, with the ball spawn point at the bottom and the two goal lines located at the two top points. What this means is that as you climb the ramps to carry the ball towards the enemy goal line, the distance to your own goal doesn't diminish... in fact, depending on your route, the ball might be getting closer to your own line as well! A dangerous game, and if your ball carrier dies while on high ground, the enemy might be able to turn things around and score a goal of their own very quickly. At the same time, because so much of the fighting happens in between and close to both of the goal lines, it's a lot harder for a single person to just grab the ball and make a break for the line, away from the people fighting in the middle.

The area right in front of the goal line is also considerably smaller than in original Huttball, with fewer avenues of approach for the enemy, which makes it quite a bit more defensible from what I can tell. My impression of this so far is that it makes the whole game feel a bit more tense, as the only time you feel relatively safe from an enemy scoring is when the ball is at the bottom of the pit. It seems to me that there's less room for the endless back and forth in the middle, with no side coming even close to scoring, that you sometimes see in Huttball games on Nar Shaddaa.

One "downside" of the more vertical design is that leaps, pulls and pushbacks are more powerful than ever, so if you have neither you might feel a little left out. However, I've always felt that way in original Huttball already, so it doesn't make that much of a difference to me now.

There are a few grapple tables around the area that are supposed to ease the issue of fast movement between platforms for the less mobile classes (if you're not carrying the ball) but so far I'm not convinced of their usefulness, as their animation is kind of slow and doesn't actually carry you very far. One time I even bounced off the ceiling and fell right back down to the ground, which just felt pointless. I don't know, maybe there's some kind of trick to it that I have yet to discover.

I'm definitely looking forward to perfecting my mastery of this warzone over time; it looks like it will offer a lot of opportunities for interesting gameplay.


300 Posts!

Welcome to my 300th post on this blog! In what is starting to become a tradition, I used this occasion to have a look at Google Analytics to find out what sort of search terms brought people to this blog.

First off, there's the usual lot of people looking for a different kind of "going commando", including the lovely: is going commando an offence in north carolina? It did seem to me that there were slightly fewer of these than usual though. Is Google finally getting the hint that this isn't that kind of site? Then again, I haven't exactly kept count, so a reduction in that kind of traffic might very well just be wishful thinking on my part.

There are also still loads of people coming to this site looking for information on how to find a group in SWTOR. I've previously expressed confusion about this (because surely the group finder has made finding groups easy enough?) but looking at some of the more recent searches I'm starting to see the issue, as people ask questions like how do I get eternity vault in group finder or how to get groups for heroic missions - questions to which the answers are not exactly obvious. I think I'll have to write a guide about this some time, if for no other reason than so that someone can find something useful on here - unlike all the people who get sent here after doing searches such as swtor seeker droid dig sites, taris hk part coordinates or questions about level 55 hardmode flashpoints.

Random Q&A time!

swtor where to buy battlemaster schematics - This one came up surprisingly often. As of right now (patch 2.7) they are not available in game anymore, as they were removed back in 1.6. You'll just have to buy the crafted gear from someone else or hope that Bioware re-releases the armour model of your choice in some other fashion, just like they've done with the consular Battlemaster gear recently, which has made a re-appearance as a reward for running the new Forged Alliances flashpoints.

are the new czerka hardmodes really hard - Not very, but the first and second boss in Core Meltdown can be challenging to heal if your group doesn't execute the tactics correctly or your gear isn't so great.

did they fix the swtor problem with the commando trooper for pvp - Uh, you'll have to be more specific than that...

how to kill red and blue creat\ures on czerka corporate labs - On story mode, the blue ones will simply pull the red ones close after a few seconds, then they'll both explode. On hardmode, you need to do some damage to the blue ones before they use their "chemical attraction" move. You can't interrupt the red creatures' casting, however they can be crowd controlled and stunned to reduce their outgoing damage until the blue ones blow them up.

should I still play swtor? - I can understand people asking whether they should play SWTOR again, curious about what may have changed in their absence, but this one just has me confused. Are you having fun? If so, why shouldn't you continue playing? If not, what sort of reasons do you expect the internet to give you to keep playing anyway?

swtor bad dps - I wonder, did they want to know what qualifies as bad dps or were they looking for stories about bad dps?

swtor why does the male agent get 2 romance options but the female agent only gets one - Same reason the male smuggler gets two while the female only gets one and the male warrior gets two while the female only gets one: sexism. While Bioware is generally pretty good about gender equality, they are sadly not completely immune to showing bias when it comes to production values.

who likes galactic starfighter - The hosts of OotiniCast seem to be pretty fond of it...

Random bits of opinion:

galactic starfighter is hard - I hear you, man.
gree event boring fluff swtor - Don't hate on the Gree, man!
meh arena - That's what I said.
pointless gree event - What is it with hating on the Gree?
swtor idiots who haven't played kotor - As someone who hasn't played either of the KOTOR games, I take offense to that.

Why are you telling Google about this?

I did the esseles by myself - Good for you? It's not that hard.
im a sith warrior - Okay?
u cant see me face - I don't think I'd want to...

Still getting traffic from searches for games I don't play (anymore):

bioshock 2 crashes to desktop bcdedit
ffxiv arr hide helm
guild wars 2 crash to desktop
neverwinter online slayer achievement
tsw pvp
why is lotro crashing and quitting to the desktop
wow dbm comandos -
This is why spelling matters...

Just random:

funny image made from lasers
greetings from another planet
jgffdi - Why would that lead people to my blog?
men need to look vaguely presentable

And on that utterly confusing note... to the next one hundred posts!


Assault on Tython and Korriban

I've written about some of the little things that were implemented in 2.7 that I like, but the highlight of this patch's content additions are definitely the two new flashpoints and the story that plays out through them. (For what it's worth, this post contains spoilers.)

What with my main being Republic, that's the side where I decided to have a look at the new content first. I was immediately pleased to see a separate room for the story introduction, something that we haven't seen since Lost Island and something that I personally associate with the story being serious business. It was nice to meet Theron Shan (whom I knew from reading Annihilation) in game, even if I wish that they hadn't given him that overly gelled looking haircut. I wasn't the only one who was happy to meet him, and I rather cracked up when a straight male guildie commented that he thought Theron was "such a cutie".

Since both of the new flashpoints were labelled as tactical (in other words, doable without a full trinty group and therefore easy), my pet tank and I decided to just walk in with the two of us plus companions and do it that way. For what it's worth, they actually felt reasonably challenging. Mind you, our companions' inclination to stand in bad stuff and generally low dps probably didn't help, but even so, both the trash and the boss fights seemed a lot harder than anything in Kuat or on CZ-198. Many pulls contained a mix of strong, elite and champion mobs, and some bosses had abilities that genuinely hurt if you allowed them to catch you off-guard. I imagine that without a healer, these fights must be quite tough, kolto stations or no kolto stations.

We also ran into a minor bug with a platform that appeared to be incorporeal, so you could walk through it and would fall through the floor if you tried climb it via the attached ramp. This was a little confusing as you needed to press a button on said platform to proceed inside the flashpoint, but we quickly figured out that you could reach and activate it even while standing on the ground "inside" the structure.

Most of the boss fights were interesting simply because we were facing off against characters we recognised from levelling our Sith inquisitors, both quest givers and Sith instructors. The last boss, a Dark Council member I didn't recognise, was apparently a new guy though. (At least Wookieepedia says that he hadn't appeared anywhere before.) At the end a Jedi commander appeared and our characters talked to him as if he was someone they knew, but I had no memory of meeting him before (though upon re-reunning the whole thing I noticed that he was at least mentioned by name).

After completing the assault on Korriban and handing in the associated mission, the inevitable news came in that Tython had come under attack and that it was up to us to reclaim it. Again we just two-manned it.

Seeing the beautiful Jedi starter planet so ravaged by war was pretty heart-breaking. The bosses in there were somewhat less memorable though, except for Lord Goh at the end, whom we would later meet on Imperial side. He is extremely taciturn and pretty much never says more than a word at a time, which led to some joking around about how voice actors must charge by the word now and his monosyllabic-ness was a side effect of cost-cutting measures at Bioware.

After the mission is complete and you've been praised for your hard work, Theron says that he needs a drink and asks you to meet him in the cantina. (Comment from a guildie: "Now there's something that a real person would actually say after all that happened.") He expresses suspicion about the Korriban and Tython attacks coinciding and about how the other guy we worked with seemed to show relatively little interest in the implications. He promises to look into it some more and later sends you a mail with his findings (which do not reveal much yet). You also receive a mail from another NPC commenting on the events - which NPC depends on your class - which I thought was a nice little touch.

Changing to Empire side, we found ourselves invited to participate in an attack on Tython by a certain Darth Arkous and his assistant Lana Beniko. Unlike Theron, neither of them have any currently known backstory, but you could immediately tell that Lana was going to be important due to her having a unique character design and haircut. Unlike on Republic side, it's explicitly mentioned that "someone" leaked information to the Empire that enabled the assault on Tython.

This time around we were accompanied by a guildie doing dps, which made things a bit faster. I was a little disappointed to find out that the attack on Tython was pretty much identical to the defense of Tython in terms of gameplay, with the bosses being simple reskins that share the exact same abilities. As a side effect of this, a fight that makes perfect sense for one faction may seem a bit random to the other. The most obvious example of this we discovered on Tython was the second boss, Master Liam Dentiri. Playing as Republic, we fought a functional Imperial clone in his place who summoned a lot of droid adds, which seemed somewhat random at the time. While fighting Master Liam as Empire on the other hand this made perfect sense, as he's the guy who gives you all those missions to fight training droids when you're levelling up a Jedi on Tython.

Unlike during the attack on Korriban, Master Liam was the only familiar face we ran into while assaulting Tython. While doing a bit of reading up however, I found out that the last boss is apparently taken straight from Fatal Alliance, the one tie-in novel that I haven't bothered to read due to having heard too many bad things about it.

When we returned to Darth Arkous and Lana Beniko, news of the attack on Korriban came in and we were sent out yet again. Korriban was somewhat less interesting to play as Empire side, due to all the opponents being pretty much random Jedi that share the abilities of the instructors you fight on Republic side. The last boss was the aforementioned Jedi commander that appeared at the end of the Republic version.

Just like Theron, Lana wants to speak to you in private after the whole ordeal, though she's more secretive about it, making sure that Darth Arkous doesn't overhear. She reveals that he definitely had ulterior motives for attacking the Jedi temple and that she feels some kind of disturbance in the Force that she suspects she's connected to. Like Theron, she sends you a mail afterwards but has to admit that she hasn't really found out anything new.

I think what I liked the most about these flashpoints is that - "tactical-ness" aside - they feel like a return to what Bioware does best, telling a story. They introduce an intrigue that I can't wait to hear more about, though at the moment everything seems to point towards a third faction wanting to play havoc with both the Republic and the Empire once again. A return of the Shroud seems like an obvious possibility, but there are other options. Survivors of the Star Cabal? Who knows.

Characterisation is taken more seriously and we're being introduced to NPCs that are memorable and interesting. During some of the cut scenes, Bioware used a moving camera for the first time, which feels a little odd at first but makes for some interesting shots. The last boss in each of the flashpoints actually talks to you before the fight, giving them more distinction, and the replies you can give vary depending on your class. There are also light/dark side choices to be made that actually make sense in context, in short: it's got everything that made previous flashpoints in the game unique and fun.

If I had to criticise anything, it would be that they made the Republic and Empire versions of the encounters too similar, to the point where it seems a bit silly sometimes. For example it makes sense that there are Sith acolytes on Korriban when you first attack it as Republic, but encountering Jedi padawans (=reskinned acolytes) while retaking the planet on Empire side makes no sense - surely the Republic wouldn't have sent inexperienced padawans on such an important and dangerous mission. I'm also a bit disappointed that once again there is no hardmode that requires a proper trinity group, but at least the story mode is tuned to be less of a face-roll this time around. I'm still holding out hope that what I saw someone suggest somewhere else will turn out to be true, which is that Bioware might be "saving" hardmodes for Kuat and now these new flashpoints for when they raise the level cap again at the end of the year (which has been confirmed by now).


Minor Out-of-Game Systems Rant

I briefly thought about titling this post "Customer Service Rant", but then I realised that this would be doing an injustice to all the times Bioware customer service was perfectly helpful with issues that I've had. This isn't really about the customer service reps anyway, more about two out-of-game systems that have annoyed me as of late.

First off, you may or may not have noticed that I added my referral link to the sidebar a little while ago. It's no big deal; I just saw other sites doing it and figured that I might as well. People that use it get some goodies, I get some goodies - it's a win-win, right?

The other week a friend e-mailed me to say that he had used my link to give the game another go. He had forgot his original account information, so he just signed up through the link again, made a new account, bought several months of game time... and neither of us got anything. Scouring the forums for information on what had gone wrong, I found out that I had missed an important line of small print that says that referrals only count if the referred person ticks the "please send me promotional e-mails" box when they sign up. D'oh! I can't decide what's worse: that this is a requirement to make a referral to begin with, or that they've hidden this requirement in the small print so that it's easy to miss. I mean, most people probably wouldn't mind ticking that box at account creation in order for the referral to go through, after all you can always untick it in your preferences later if the e-mails annoy you. But for that, you actually have to know about that requirement...

Oh, and forget about trying to ask customer service for help afterwards, apparently they have no way of tracking referrals if you don't accept those promotional e-mails at signup. Clicking that referral link and confirming that you want to be referred by an existing player is clearly just for show. /facepalm

The funny thing is, the other day another friend of mine used the link and his referral did go through. so now the referral page on my account management has updated to show that I've earned the first referral reward, the Kurtob Alliance speeder. Except that I already earned that one from referring a friend one and a half years ago, under the old referral system, and it has been landing in my mailbox on every character I've created since then. But clearly Bioware has no way of verifying that either. /eyeroll

It's not a big deal for me as I'm not exactly dying to get any of the referral rewards; it just strikes me as a very badly thought out system.

The other thing that has bugged me has been Bioware's billing. I had to change to a new credit card recently and was able to enter it into their system just fine, but when my sub ran out today and I tried to re-subscribe I kept being given an error message: "An error has occurred while trying to process your request. Please, try again later." Where had I seen that before? Oh right, I remember having the same issue at launch - Tobold even blogged about it back then. I can't believe that it's two and a half years later and they are still giving out the same completely unhelpful error message. I get that there can be problems with these things, but is it that hard to actually let me know what's wrong so that I can fix it? Again I tried Google to see whether anyone else with the same problem had made any useful discoveries, but all I found were reports of how phoning customer service about this issue would only lead to them blaming your bank - even if you had already tried three different cards from three different banks and they all assured you that they weren't blocking anything.

In the end I settled for borrowing someone else's card... the same thing I had to do back at launch. I love the game and am clearly willing to jump through all kinds of hoops to be able to play it the way I want, but you'd think that Bioware would be interested in making it a bit easier for people to give them money...


Patch Day Joy

Content patch days are always happy days, but this one was particularly good from my point of view as 2.7 is chock-full of additions that are relevant to me personally and make me very happy.

I've run the new flashpoints once on both factions so far and will definitely have to make a full post about the experience. One thing I can already say is that I really enjoyed both of them and liked them better than either of Bioware's more recent flashpoint offerings (that is to say KDY and the Czerka ones).

I think it's good that they temporarily adjusted the warzone queue to make the new Huttball map pop more often, as after a patch like this, many people will queue up specifically just to see the new map: both to learn how it works and to see whether it's any fun. The learning part in particular can be quite difficult however when it only has a very small chance to come up in rotation. In fact, even with the supposedly increased percentage, I only got Quesh Huttball once in the nine matches I played. (The rest was normal Huttball x2, Voidstar x2, one Ancient Hypergates and three arenas.)

Ranked season one rewards were given out and I saw a lot of rancor mounts in the PvP area of the fleet. It was almost comical how common they were. Myself, I "only" got a title, a pet and a character-bound set of gear that looks just like Obroan with a bit of extra bling added. Not amazing, but definitely a good payout for the small effort of playing a total of twelve ranked games or however many I did (not a lot).

The changes to how AoE targeting works are amazing, especially in the aforementioned Huttball. The biggest challenge in getting a pass off under pressure has always been the problem of repeatedly having your cast cancelled just because your placement of the targeting circle was ever so slightly off. Now you can just target the person you want to pass to and double tap your keybind to pass the Huttball, which makes things so much easier. In PvE I wasn't immediately convinced that the new way of AoEing would be useful, but I was quickly converted. It's especially nice since your target's allegiance doesn't matter, so you can target your friendly tank for example and double tap to unleash AoE damage right over his head. It actually feels significantly faster than messing around with manually placing the targeting circle most of the time.

I have mixed feelings about the change to how mod levels are displayed. To be honest I never understood why items needed to have both an item level and an item rating anyway. What's the difference and what purpose does it serve? So in the long run this will be useful as it'll make things more consistent and easier to understand. (For example I always struggled to convert the item rating recommendations for certain operations to the corresponding mod levels.) In the short term however I'm very confused, as I see items drop and can't remember which of the new numbers corresponds to which tier of gear. I also kind of wish that they had kept the smaller numbers and got rid of the bigger ones instead, as the bigger numbers make gear inflation look worse than it is in my opinion. (My gear has a rating of 180? Really?!)

A small change that nonetheless made me squee is that they reduced the prices of the weapons from the CZ-198 reputation vendors to less than half of what they used to be. Arkanian level weapons are hardly anything to write home about at this point, but main hand weapons in general are hard to come by since they aren't available from the regular commendation vendors, so the reputation vendors are a nice way of gearing up alts and companions. And if you have a main who runs ops, you'll have more Elite Commendations than you'll know what to do with anyway. Now I just need the Gree to come back so I can buy a legacy saber for hilt transfers. (I have dozens of Gray Helix Components lying around, but they are all bound to different characters, so I'll need to do some dailies to actually be able to buy something on at least one character.)


Attis Station

The other day my tiny Shadow tank made it to Quesh. The class quest there leads you to a place called Attis Station, and without giving away any story spoilers, I think it's safe to say that you've got to fight some bad guys in it. The thing that makes this particular mission stand out from many others is that the bad guys are quite a bit tougher than in most class story installments. In fact, the phase is closer in difficulty to a [Heroic 2] mission than to most solo ones, featuring pulls of one weak mob and two strong ones, a strong mob plus elite combo, and one group of no less than three strong opponents. For some classes, a setup like this would be outright impossible to solo.

Not so for the Jedi consular: regardless of whether you chose to be a Shadow or a Sage, you'll have a tank, a dps and a healing companion by this point, so whatever setup you picked for your character, you'll have a companion to complement it. You'll also have access to a sixty-second crowd control, an interrupt, and at least one stun, not to mention extra abilities only available to your chosen advanced class. Basically, as a consular of that level, you have all the abilities needed to solo something of [Heroic 2] difficulty if you know what you're doing... but do you?

On the consular class forum you can find quite a few threads about Attis Station, full of people expressing confusion about how to overcome this challenge. One thread I found had no less than 22 pages. Most of them don't so much complain that it's too hard... they just aren't sure what they are doing wrong.

As an experienced player (and somewhat over-levelled for the planet on top of it), I had no problems with the mission of course, but I remember finding it at least somewhat challenging the first time I did it, on my Sage.

Taking the strongest mob out of the equation by using crowd control goes without saying.

There are other class missions that have inspired similar threads. At the time I'm writing this, there's a ten-page thread on the first page of the consular class forum that asks how to defeat the final boss of chapter one. This is one I don't recall ever having any difficulties with, but apparently he does a big cast that will one-shot the player if not interrupted. As an MMO vet, interrupting anything that looks nasty comes to me pretty much automatically, so I never even found out about it being a one-shot. But to a genuinely new player who might not even be used to paying attention to cast bars, even something as "simple" as having to interrupt a single ability can seem baffling.

I think it's really nice that SWTOR has these slightly more challenging class quests sprinkled in among the easier ones every now and then. I don't think that any of them should be prohibitively difficult (after all the focus during the class story is on the story, not so much the gameplay), but keeping in mind that this is an MMO, I think it's beneficial to train players in the very basics of how to play their class as they level up. The class story is the ideal vehicle for this as well because it's the one piece of content that almost everyone will do as they level up, and it can be tailored specifically towards the abilities of the class. A setup like Attis Station would be cruel and (at level) pretty much impossible for a class with no crowd control for example - but since it's a story exclusive to consulars, the devs know that you'll have some CC available and can require its use.

Features like WoW's recent insta-max level if you preorder their next expansion have once again ignited the discussion about the value of an MMO's levelling game vs. what you do at the level cap, and one argument that I often hear is that levelling doesn't teach you anything relevant to the elder game anyway. I don't agree with that, though I'll concede that levelling in WoW certainly teaches you a lot less these days than it used to. The thing that people tend to forget is that it doesn't have to be that way - and it's certainly increased my appreciation for the fact that SWTOR, while far from being a difficult game while levelling up, at least "dares" to challenge you enough to encourage you to get comfortable with all your class's key abilities.


Weather Changes and Day/Night Cycles in SWTOR

There aren't any.

The end.


That would be a pretty short post though, wouldn't it? Let's go into a bit more detail.

Syl recently wrote about her love for day/night cycles in MMOs and how they contribute heavily towards making her feel truly immersed in a virtual world. Rav then followed this up with some comments about how much she appreciates the changing weather conditions in Lord of the Rings Online, while also noting that this is something that she really misses in SWTOR.

I heartily agree with both of them. I still remember the amazement I felt when I first experienced rain in World of Warcraft (my first MMO), and I'd love it if SWTOR implemented weather and day/night cycles tomorrow. However, I feel that it's a bit unfair to draw a straight comparison between a game like SWTOR and your average fantasy MMO and to accuse Bioware of being lazy for not having all the same features.

Most fantasy MMOs that I know of take place on a single world (things like WoW's trips through the Dark Portal not withstanding). Once the devs figure out how day and night work in that world, how often they alternate and how they change the sky... they are pretty much done. If you add a new area to play through later, it's still going to be in the same time zone and look up at the same sun and moon. (I'd be quite curious about a game that includes different time zones as an in-game feature though, or day/night cycles that change with the seasons.)

In a sci-fi MMO where you hop around between different planets on the other hand, things are a bit different. Every sky is unique, with the differences ranging from a variety of colours to there being different numbers of suns and moons in the sky, so the changes between night and day would be different on every single planet - meaning that day/night cycles would be an extra piece of work that would need redoing every time they add a a new planet.

There is also the question of how the passage of time would work. Right now every planet is forever stuck at the same point in time when you visit - on most of them that's day time, but there are exceptions where it's dusk or night whenever you land. Now, it would be possible to simply tie day and night to the server clock and make it pass the same way everywhere, but personally I feel that it being night on every single planet in the entire galaxy at the same time, wherever I go, would be no less weird than it being the same time on each planet (but at least different on different planets) whenever I visit. So if you wanted to go for something truly immersive, you'd have to come up with unique day/night cycles for each planet - more busywork!

I don't think there are really enough space MMOs out there to establish a shared standard as for how much work should go into features like this, but I did do a quick bit of reading up on how it was in Star Wars Galaxies (which I never played). According to this page, different planets did indeed have different day/night cycles there, based on a pretty simple system - however, it's worth noting that even after eight years of operation, Galaxies didn't have as many different planets as SWTOR launched with.

So I can completely understand that this is not something Bioware chose to go for. At least when you develop a day/night cycle for a fantasy world, players will actually get to experience it most of the time (unless they are in a cave or a dungeon for example). A day/night cycle for Tatooine on the other hand would only ever be experienced by the small percentage of players who actually spend time on Tatooine at that particular moment - and the same would be true for every other planet, with the percentages getting ever smaller the more planets you add and the more you spread out the population. It just seems like a lot of work for a very limited pay-off.

Now, weather... that's something I feel less sure about. I can understand it always being day when I go to Alderaan, but I don't understand why it's always sunny. It seems to be a planet with a moderate climate, so there should be some rain occasionally. And unlike day and night, I could see weather being something that would be easier to "recycle". It doesn't have to be on a fixed timer, so it could just be randomised for each planet, drawing from a pool of existing options that seem sensible for the planet in question (e.g. no rain on Tatooine). Things like cloud cover and the animation for rain (which already exists on Dromund Kaas at least) could be reused on different planets without it feeling weird. (I probably wouldn't want to drink the rain on Hutta for example, but it would be perfectly fine looking the same as other rain.) It would still be extra work compared to just having no weather variations at all of course, but in this instance it strikes me as more of a case of having to put in the work once and then they'd be able to re-use a lot of the assets whenever they add another planet.

So in summary, while I'd certainly love to watch the twin suns set over the Dune Sea one day, I can understand why that's not likely to ever happen in The Old Republic. But a bit of weather? One can always hope.


No April Fools?

I was really looking forward to seeing what Bioware would come up with for April Fools' Day this year - but so far nothing has gone up on the site. Even considering the time zone differences, I would have expected something to have shown up by now. I'd be a little disappointed if they decided not to bother this year. While not really important, April Fools' jokes seem to have become a tradition among MMO developers, not to mention that they present a nice opportunity to remind both players and devs not to take everything about their game too seriously all the time.

2012's Ship Droid Experience is still a classic, and when I went back to re-watch the little videos they released for it, they made me chuckle even now.

Last year's Dance of the Hutts was a bit more subdued, offering no promotional videos or anything, but just seeing those screenshots of characters on their Hutt mounts again still made me smile.

A Google search for "swtor april fools" even brings up results from 2011, before the game was even released - and while I'm not sure whether this actually came from official channels at the time or was just a fan-made thing, seeing random characters converse in the Wookiee language is certainly humorous.

We'll see whether they'll still come up with anything for 2014...

EDIT: They did add something after all, yippee! "Become part of the battlefield with the newest Ship Role: The Asteroid"