Day 6: Environments

This is the sixth post in my 10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots challenge. Click on any screenshot to see a larger version.

First off, we have a sight that is not particularly pretty, but interesting. As a general rule, SWTOR's worlds are fairly static (and just to be clear: I'm perfectly OK with that; based on experiences in other games I wouldn't actually want the world to change too much), but every now and then something happens that does change the environment - like here on Alderaan, where the Spike from the Rakghoul Resurgence event left a very visible mark. I wonder how many players these days realise that the crashed spaceship in the northern Dune Sea on Tatooine also wasn't originally there at launch?

I always thought that the entrance area to Czerka Core Meltdown looks pretty inviting before it suffers its, erm, core meltdown. Taking this screenshot gave me way more trouble than it should have by the way, as the place repeatedly shut down just before I had found a good angle.

It took me many runs through this place on Hoth to realise just how imposing this Ice Fortress really looks. As I've mentioned before, I just don't look up enough.

NPCs can also add to the environment, though in SWTOR they don't do this nearly as often as I would like. This example of a Krak'jya appearing to peacefully sit by the water was one that stood out to me. There's also a Jungle Wampa on Rishi and another Krak'jya on Yavin 4 that appear to be sleeping (lying down) where they spawn, which means that I always mistake them for corpses and aggro them.

It's one thing to be intellectually aware that Nar Shaddaa is Hutta's moon, but it's quite another to look up into the sky and see Hutta actually hanging there in all its swampy glory. Eww...

This shot of the setting twin suns is from the intro cinematic for the Tatooine stronghold. All the stronghold intros offer some pretty amazing views. Bioware said that they were planning to give us the option to re-watch these cinematics somehow and I'd really like that (especially as changes in your strongholds are actually visible in the cinematic), however I'm afraid that it's probably not something they consider important enough to actually divert resources to it any time soon.


Blood Hunt and Battle of Rishi hardmode

Even though they were released over a month ago, it was only this past week that I finally got around to trying the hardmode versions of the new 3.0 flashpoints, Battle of Rishi and Blood Hunt. (This is not a bad thing by the way. It's nice when the content is coming out faster than I can actually work my way through it.)

Since I had heard that both of them contained at least one very hard boss, I made sure to get a full guild run together for each one. I'm glad I did it that way, because things got pretty rough at points in both flashpoints.

Commander Mokan in Battle of Rishi is probably the most elaborately designed bonus boss I've seen in the game so far, even more so than the droid boss in Depths of Manaan. He has a whole room to himself that is unused in the tactical version, with clickable things on the tables, and his mechanics are fiddly and extremely unforgiving. The short of it is that there's a stacking debuff going around that needs to be at 3-4 stacks at just the right time or you will die... yet if the debuff ever reaches five stacks, you also die instantly. I don't think it's hard to see how that can be quite difficult to get just right. He's pretty much a mini version of an operations boss, and even with a group that knew the tactics, communicated on voice chat and was way overgeared for the encounter (everyone was in a mix of 192/198 gear), we still wiped many times until we got him down.

I would say that he's overtuned, especially considering that it also seems to be pretty important to have a second dispeller in addition to the healer, but then again, he's "just" a bonus boss. If you're in there with a random pug, you can just skip him and it's no skin off anyone's nose.

The really scary fight was Jos and Valk Beroya in Blood Hunt's hardmode. Specifically we found that during the phase when you fight both of them at once, one of them casts a stacking debuff on the tank that increases damage taken, while the other one spams a high damage ability every now and then, with the result that even in our highly overgeared group I was unable to outheal the incoming damage from that combination. The only way we eventually managed to beat the encounter was by having one of the dps players off-heal whenever another high damage phase came around. I would imagine that you could also work around it with a dps that can taunt off the tank on occasion, but neither an off-healer nor an off-tank are guaranteed in a four-person group, so having that as a requirement to successfully complete the flashpoint just seems wrong.

All in all I was very much reminded of the discussion surrounding the difficulty of level 50 hardmodes at launch, and then again when Lost Island was released. Comparatively speaking, the level 55 hardmodes were relatively easy on release. I never wrote a post about the hardmode flashpoints that came with 3.0, but I thought that they were about on par with the level 55 ones, except for a couple of tough bonus bosses.

Blood Hunt and Battle of Rishi feel more like a throwback to an earlier time, and I'm not against high difficulty in small group content... but I do feel that it's a bit of a problem in this particular case. In a post group-finder world you are expected to frequently run instances with random strangers, which is not at all compatible with high difficulty, and unlike Lost Island back in the day, Battle of Rishi and Blood Hunt don't have a separate category in the group finder, which makes running a random hardmode flashpoint a lot less appealing now, considering that it's complete luck of the draw whether you get something relatively easy or an absolute killer.

Also, at least level 50 HM flashpoints gave tier gier equal to what you could get in normal mode operations back in the day. In Shadow of Revan, Bioware decided for some reason that flashpoints could not be allowed to drop anything worthwhile at all. It's not really a big deal to me personally since I mostly gear up in operations, but it does strike me as incredibly bizarre that the default drop from a hardmode flashpoint boss is a piece of blue 184 gear. I mean, you can buy gear better than that from the basic comm vendor pretty much the instant you hit level 60 - using basic comms which you received while levelling. The effort/reward ratio is just completely out of whack here.

Have you successfully completed these hardmodes yet? What did you think of the difficulty? Would you dare to brave them with a random group?


400 Posts!

It's that time again... time to celebrate another blogging milestone, this time my 400th post on here (namely this one)! As has become a tradition, I shall use this as an opportunity to dig up some search terms that have led people to this blog since my last milestone.

Before I get to that part though, I have to say that Google Analytics is a strange beast. It disagrees wildly with Blogger's internal metrics on how many page views I get a day, so I wouldn't even dare to guess how many readers I actually have. What is interesting however is that GA shows very little variation in my site's popularity over the past year. Sure, the line zig-zags a bit due to variations in daily page views, but overall it's remarkably straight. Could this be a hint that interest in SWTOR is also fairly consistent? Who knows.

Now, onwards to the search terms!

First off, random Q&A time!

swtor group finder is the issue healer tank alt - I don't know how to answer this one because the lack of punctuation makes it hard to figure out what the actual question is. Is the group finder an issue? Is there an issue with healers in the group finder? Are they incompetent or are there not enough of them? And how do alts come into it? If only I knew...

can group flashpoints on ilum be done as a solo - I wouldn't recommend trying to do so at level (50), but considering that we can level up to 60 by now, soloing these at cap should be easy-peasy.

how can i tell how manny datacrons ive got so far in swtor? - Sadly the only real way of telling is based on the related codex entries (under achievements - datacrons), except for the datacron on the fleet that gives +10 to all stats. That one doesn't have an associated codex entry, so good luck with remembering which of your alts have it and which ones don't. For the rest I've bookmarked this handy Reddit thread that lists which datacrons correspond to which codex entries. It's just missing the new Rishi ones, whose codex entries have the numbers 90-93.
if you send away companion no - affection - Unfortunately yes, you will only gain or lose affection if your companion is actually present while you make choices. Except sometimes it bugs out in flashpoints and you'll randomly gain or lose affection with whichever companion you had active during the whole thing, even if they were never actually present inside the instance.

inquisitor battlemaster gear vendor location - People are still looking for Battlemaster vendors? They haven't been in game since late 2012...

swtor assault on korriban where do u find 4th conquest commander - They are pretty hard to miss actually: the first one is to the right just after you jump down the hill where you spawn in, then about halfway down the valley there's one to the left and one to the right, and the last one is right in front of the last boss. The reason this question jumped out at me was that I had that flashpoint bug out on me once and asked myself the same question... as far as I could tell my group had killed absolutely everything in sight, yet our progress was stuck on 3/4. We eventually just had to disband and requeue. Sorry if that happened to you too.

swtor how to spam in general chat - I... no. Just no.

swtor supreme chancellor's personal guard? - They look pretty funky, don't they? I believe they are wearing the original Battlemaster gear for troopers, recoloured in yellow and blue.

swtor why is there a rakghoul vaccine at all the venders on taris should i buy some? - I thought this was a very sensible question, which has a disappointingly mundane answer. No, you don't need to buy rakghoul vaccines while questing on Taris. For all the dire things the NPCs tell you about the dangers of the rakghoul plague, in practice the 'ghouls won't give you anything worse than some temporary debuffs. The vaccines are for the rakghoul resurgence world event, where mobs on the infected planet as well as other players can spread a different version of the plague around (against which the vaccine protects)... and that version is actually seriously annoying if you just want to play as normal.

what is the beam of green that comes out of commandos swtor - When a Commando loves another player very, very much... they'll shoot green lasers out of their assault cannon to heal that player. Honestly though, what did you think it was?

Random commentary:

swtor gold seller joke - Two gold sellers walk into a bar. One says: "Buy gold!" The other says... Sorry, I got nothing.

blogger lie about demise of swtor - Any rumours of SWTOR's demise have been greatly exaggerated. I've been playing since launch and it's clearly still around.

happy birthday to me swtor - Yes, it's what the droids say. Ever since I saw this video, I keep hearing it in the background in various Republic bases and it drives me nuts!

shop clues offers for makeb box eye shades - I see Makeb in there but other than that I have no clue what you're talking about. Box eye shades?

swtor buttocks - Yes, if you like round, shapely buttocks you are playing the right game.

swtor coaching newbies through ops - I just wanted to say that I'm delighted that this is something that people find important enough to google it. Keep up the good work!

thana vesh killed me and i can't find her again - I'm sorry, but that's just embarrassing.


Day 5: NPCs

This is the fifth post in my 10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots challenge. Click on any screenshot to see a larger version.

Have you ever met an NPC in the game that immediately made you want to roll a character that looks exactly (or at least mostly) like them? Darth Minax from Balmorra gave me that feeling, along with the Sith lady in the Revanite camp on Dromund Kaas (what was her name again? Ladra!) who gives you the quest to steal the Mask of Revan from Lord Grathan's estate. I think I subconsciously tried to model my own Sith warrior after these two (she's a body type one like Ladra and has the same haircut as Darth Minax) but since I didn't have any actual pictures to use as references when I created her, the resemblance is not great.

The Cathar quest giver for Bounty Contract Week on Nar Shaddaa gives me a similar feeling of wanting to have a character just like him... I love the patterns on his face! Unfortunately I've learned long ago that I struggle to really get "into" playing male characters in an MMO, so I don't really try anymore these days.

Another character that I like the look of, though I wouldn't want to clone her: Darth Acina, who gives the Dread Seed quest on Imperial side. I think she looks a bit like an evil Elara Dorne (and may even have the same voice actor, though I wouldn't swear by that right now). I also like her weird looking shoulder armour and how it's vaguely reminiscent of the mutations you see on creatures that have been affected by the Dread Seeds, though it's probably just meant to be an animal pelt of some sort.

I present: Supreme Commander Jace Malcom of "Hope" fame, in one of his what I think are only two appearances in the entire game. He introduces Republic players to the Alderaan bonus series (which is where this screenshot is from) and shows up at the end of the Makeb storyline. I can't recall any other appearances of his however, which is actually kind of weird when you think about it. In terms of importance to the Republic he's right up there with the Supreme Chancellor and Satele Shan, yet while the latter two show up all over the place, Jace only ever seems to act in the background most of the time.

And finally, a shot of Moff Regus and Darth Malgus on Ilum. In recent weeks I've seen some discussion in the community on whether Darth Marr is a good replacement for Darth Malgus or not. I have to admit that when I first played through the whole Ilum story arc and its associated flashpoints, it did seem a bit wasteful to me to let Malgus die like he did. To someone like me, who did all the flashpoints while levelling, he had served as a quest giver during the entire levelling process and had acquired a similar status to that of Satele Shan on Republic side. He was also an interesting character in general.

I was quite sceptical of Darth Marr initially, because when he shows up at the start of Makeb he's a bit of a nobody from most players' perspectives, having featured only briefly in a class story or two and having served as the announcer for Voidstar matches since launch (if you're into warzones). Since then he's grown on me however, and I wouldn't want to trade him for Malgus anymore. Malgus was too much of a slave to emotional outbursts (if you read Deceived), while Marr seems much more chill, even if he shares many of Malgus's ideals. Plus his armour is just way cooler.


Yavin 4 Dailies and Companion Gear

(Small personal update: I'm nearly done with moving! Not fully settled in yet, but mostly.)

I'm not a huge fan of dailies. I don't hate them either, I just don't see the point in them most of the time - yet at the same time I dislike it if a game tries too hard to make me do them. The last time I recall dailies being truly meaningful to me was back during WoW's Burning Crusade expansion, when they were this whole new innovation that made it easy for people to earn money, and the lure of an (at the time) ridiculously expensive epic flying mount provided a solid incentive to do them. By Wrath of the Lich King I generally had more gold than I actually needed, just from levelling up and playing "normally", so dailies became something that I only did for fun (occasionally) or for faction reputation. (Unlike most of the population, I actually thought that the Sons of Hodir were hilarious.) In Cataclysm, Blizzard then created the Molten Front, a daily hub that required a ridiculous amount of grinding to unlock the associated story and rewards, and I hated it.

In SWTOR I experienced a somewhat similar development on fast forward. When I levelled up Shíntar as my first character, I remember money being a big deal initially. I vaguely recall levelling up on Tatooine and actually being unable to afford all my skill upgrades simply because I didn't have enough credits. I was actually a little excited about hitting the level cap and being able to earn money from dailies, but then my very first round of Belsavis dailies netted me something along the line of 100k credits, which was already more than I needed at the time. I continued to do dailies occasionally for item rewards, reputation, achievements, or simply to go through the associated story on an alt, but I never felt like I actually "needed" to do them, once I had got over that initial bump of my first character not having enough money.

I actually think that this is one of the things SWTOR does really well in general - no content feels truly mandatory. While this has led to some people lambasting the game for offering "bad" rewards for a lot of content, I quite like it that way. I'm OK with there not being a one true path that you have to follow in order to not fall behind. Often when I read about WoW these days, all content seems to get described as either mandatory or completely worthless, with no room left in-between. I don't like such extremes.

Of course lately, I've been doing dailies on Yavin 4 more than I really enjoy, because... free companion gear. In patch 3.0.2, Bioware added a gear lockbox to the weekly reward for doing the Yavin dailies which rewards subscribers with a full set of item level 192 companion gear (minus a weapon and off-hand, though those can be earned through other dailies). This is just insanely good.

I hesitate to call it a "must have" because nobody has to gear their companions, but it certainly helps to have them well-geared when you're out in the world. Picking up good gear for your companions used to be tough, especially for classes that can't give their "hand-me-downs" to their favourite companion due to stat differences. And even if you can, it generally means that your companions will always, at best, have slightly worse gear than your actual character.

Now compare this to getting a full set of raid-level gear from a single round of dailies. In terms of the effort-reward ratio, it's absolute madness. SWTOR has never asked its players to grind very much, but it seems pretty insane that one weekly quest is enough to kit out your companion in equal or better gear than your actual character is likely to acquire in weeks of running operations. I actually feel vaguely guilty whenever I don't do the weekly at all in a given week, especially if I then end up playing an alt whose companions still wear absolutely terrible gear. It's just too good to pass up!

As an extra complication, I also can't help but feel a little sad that this new method of gearing your companions is so much more effective than any other way. I've previously mentioned that I used to pride myself in reverse-engineering blue and purple schematics, which I could then craft to kit out my many alts and companions across my legacy... it feels like there isn't much point to that now.

The one "comfort" to me is that all the companion sets from the weekly are non-moddable, which they pretty much had to be or else people would have pulled out the mods to gear themselves or to RE them. And sometimes the look of that gear just doesn't go with what you had in mind for your companion, so your only alternative is to get a moddable gear set and fill it out the old-fashioned way: with commendation rewards, drops and crafted pieces.

Are you doing the Yavin 4 dailies? How do you feel about the companion gear rewards from the weekly?


Day 4: Missions & Conversations

This is the fourth post in my 10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots challenge. Click on any screenshot to see a larger version.

The cut scenes inside operations are a strange thing. Even while making them, Bioware has to be aware that operations are made with repetition in mind and that therefore these probably see a lot more space-barring than any other cut scenes in the game. And yet... I'm still glad that they are there and add something that other games don't have (as far as I know). Space-bar through certain cinematics often enough however, and you may even forget what they were all about.

When I took my Marauder alt to TFB one day, I actually watched the cut scene you get when the Terror is unleashed, because it's so rare that this character gets to go to any operations and I wanted to savour the moment. And as I did so, I couldn't help but think: "Damn, that still looks cool."

I really love the Imperial intro to Kuat Drive Yards. (The Republic one is OK, but not really remarkable other than that it featured the game's first Bothan NPC.) Bioware is better than most game developers when it comes to providing screen time for more than one sex/race/sexual orientation/whatever, but that doesn't mean that they are perfect and never fall back on clichés. As such I found it quite refreshing that the assault on Kuat Drive Yards on Empire side is led by two women whose sex nobody makes a big deal out of, who are very focused on business and who work well together. Much love for Admiral Ranken and Lord Krovos.

The end of the Legacy of the Rakata flashpoint felt pretty damn amazing to me the first time I played through it. (Considering the name of the expansion, I feel that it's not a spoiler anymore to mention that Revan plays a major part.) The final cut scene was very well orchestrated to make the big reveal feel satisfying, with the music swelling at the right moments and everything. Every time I do this flashpoint now I can't help but feel a little sad that new players won't get to have the same experience anymore, even if nobody bugs them to skip the cut scenes. Bioware had done such a great job building suspense during the staggered release of the Forged Alliances story arc... but now that Revan the cat is out of the bag it would be pretty hard to get a similar experience, considering that the very name of the expansion gives it all away. Sometimes you really just had to be there.

Bioware: letting me walk away from explosions with my character having a smile on her face since at least 2011.

I'm not a huge fan of the Blood Hunt flashpoint (and I still haven't done either of the two Rishi flashpoints on hardmode) but that doesn't prevent me from admitting that it has some very cool cut scenes towards the end when you meet up with Shae Vizla. Of course, her retractable floor and random lava flows are so showy and over the top that you can't help but wonder what could possibly have possessed her to build a compound like that - I just can't see any use for most of it other than "wanting to look cool".


Day 3: Companions & Pets

This is the third post in my 10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots challenge. Click on any screenshot to see a larger version.

Let's start with a shot of my Vanguard alt with her customised Elara. (This is Elara Dorne customisation #5, just in case you're curious.)

Companion customisation kits are a funny thing to me personally. I seem to remember that the main idea behind them was to allow people to gloss over the fact that many players in the world around them would have exactly the same companions. In practice, I never actually experienced that as a problem - people choose different companions to have out most of the time, everyone gives them a unique set of gear, often they wear hats that cover most of their faces, and so on and so forth - so most of my companions were never customised in any way when I levelled my first couple of characters.

But once I started rolling alts of classes that I already had... oh boy. "My Vanguard can't be running around with that Elara, that's Shíntar's Elara!" So on my alts almost all my companions get a new look, purely for that reason. I can ignore other people's companions out in the world, but it seems I can't ignore my own legacy.

I just love this shot of my baby Sith warrior and Quinn. She looks so... disgusted by his offer to swear fealty to her! It seems oddly appropriate, considering the way the Sith warrior story goes later on (trying not to spoil it for anyone who doesn't know).

Also, I love this shot of my Sith Sorcerer waking up from one of her many fainting spells to see... Khem Val and Andronikos. Reassuring to see a monster that eats Force users and a pirate, isn't it? Khem is a companion with whom I've had a bit of a love/hate relationship in the past (being stuck with a deeply dark side companion for the first four planets when you're playing a light side character sucks), but his companion story is awesome.

Speaking of companion stories, I think Mako's is pretty good as well. When I levelled my second bounty hunter however, it really struck me how unsatisfying the ending of Mako's story is... there's just never any real resolution to what her "family" was actually all about. Unless I missed something?

Finally, a shot of a companion and a pet: my Gunslinger with her Corso (dressed up to look a bit like my pet tank) and her Orosquab. I still get a little bit excited every time one of my characters wins an Unusual or Mysterious Egg. They were one of Bioware's early attempts to make the acquisition of vanity pets  interesting. In the same vein I also wrote a long, rambling post about my struggle to capture a taunlet once. Even though I'm not a pet collector, I find it kind of sad that it took no time at all for them to abandon this development path completely. Maybe it's because mini-pets supposedly haven't been that big of a hit in SWTOR, but I suspect that it had more to do with the F2P transition and with needing lots of goodies to fill those Cartel packs - such as pets.


5 Things to Love About the Gree Event

When the Gree last visited back in July, I groused a bit about how the event didn't turn out to be as much fun for me as I had hoped. This week I had a much better time, killed Xenoanalyst II several times and earned a fair amount of Gray Helix Components in the process.

A guildie of mine couldn't understand why I and others were still interested in the Gree event, considering that it was originally introduced over two years ago and hasn't received any updates since then other than two level cap increases and a few additional rewards. So I thought I'd make a post about five reasons why I still love the Gree event:

1. Irregularity

This isn't just too true of the Gree event, but I love that SWTOR has world events that are on an irregular schedule. It keeps things interesting and creates a certain feeling of wanting to make use of the event's "limited time offer", purely because you don't know when exactly you'll get another chance to play this content. Plus the devs are pretty good at choosing "sensible" times to put events like this one or the Rakghoul event live, so that they help bridge content gaps between patches instead of overwhelming people with too many things to do at once.

2. Diverse Content

Whether you like to solo, play with your close friends or with a large group, or love to PvP, the Gree event has something to do for everyone.

3. Rewards

This may sound weird, but I like that the Gree event has worthwhile rewards that require a certain amount of grinding. The legacy weapons and off-hands are not exactly a "must-have", but they are certainly damn useful if you're a dedicated player, and worth coming back for even once you've maxed out your reputation. At the same time the Gray Helix Components required to buy them are relatively hard to come by and their acquisition is limited by lockouts, so that you can't just buy everything you want after one intense week of grinding. It gives you a reason to come back to the event repeatedly.

4. PvP

I've become a pretty casual PvPer these days, as it's never been at the top of my priority list and my now more limited playtime pretty much prevents me from ever getting far enough down the list to actually want to PvP much. However, I still like what the Gree event does to Ilum in terms of world PvP. Back in 2013 I wrote about why the event's dedicated PvP area was fun, and even though I didn't even set foot in it this time around, I still saw it spill out into the PvE area whenever people forgot or decided to move on to PvE dailies while they were still PvP flagged, which could cause random brawls to erupt all over. I honestly find these fun to watch even when I'm not personally involved!

5. Xenoanalyst

Xenoanalyst II was the first single boss that Bioware decided to put into an instance of his own and I think that he may well still be the most fun one in this category. I don't know of another raid boss that is genuinely happy to be beaten, which makes his dialogue funny. And mechanics-wise the encounter is just involved enough to remain interesting even when you repeat the fight several times in a row (I'm still waiting for the day I'll see him spawn Jawas for the species comparison), but at the same time straightforward enough that he's not too difficult to pug.