Playing KOTOR: The Big Reveal

So I thought that I had two pieces of the star map left to find but apparently there's nothing on Yavin IV except an almost empty space station... at least for the moment.

What's more important is that the next time I came out of hyperspace after Kashyyyk, I was captured by a Sith ship! I was quite engrossed by my companions' frantic discussion of an escape plan while the Ebon Hawk was slowly being pulled in by the tractor beam. You get to choose which of your companions you want to be the "dedicated rescuer" - and I'm really curious how that part goes differently based on your choices.

Personally I opted for Mission because she has a history of surviving on her own in tight spots. So instructed, she bit and kicked the Sith upon her capture, causing her to get put into solitary confinement while my character, Bastila and Carth were off to the torture chambers - oh yeah, did I forget to mention that our captor was Carth's old mentor, the one who betrayed both him and the Republic? You undergo some pretty harsh treatment at his hands and are told that Malak has found out about the Jedi enclave on Dantooine and wiped it out. Ouch.

Anyway, I thought it was very neat how you then get to play your rescuer - Mission in my case - as they put their plan in action. She steals a guard's key card early on and can therefore free herself easily but only has her undies on her. In a nearby crate I then found a stealth field generator, which was handy as Mission has the stealth ability. I never used it beforehand because it wasn't obvious to me how it worked, but a lack of any other abilities to distract me helped me find the right option quite quickly. Then stealthy Mission got to sneak around the ship, looted everything and freed her friends!

After a quick detour to the bridge where you deactivate the tractor beam and kill the traitor (involving a somewhat annoying and in my opinion unnecessary mini space walk), you are about to escape... when Darth Malak appears! And this is where the big spoiler happens. If you don't want any spoilers, why are you even reading this? Either way, you have been warned one last time!

As it turns out... you are Revan. Dun dun DUNNN. Yes, the big, bad fallen Jedi that everyone's been talking about with awe in their voices throughout the entire game... is you. I had been spoiled for this plot twist some time ago but still enjoyed seeing how it all played out. For example it was fascinating to see how the dialogue had been written in such a way to sound natural but at the same time avoid the use of any gendered pronouns when talking about Revan (though I caught Canderous' voice actor at least taking liberties with the script a couple of times and saying "he" when the text said Revan, which was obviously inaccurate in my case since I'm playing a female character).

Likewise, when the game allows you to ask questions about Revan on Dantooine, you are never allowed to bring up the question of his/her ultimate fate: Captured? Killed? But at the time that didn't seem too important.

Anyway, the story goes that Bastila and her strike team were sent to confront Revan, but before they could even get her (in my case), Malak decided to betray his former master and fired on the ship, causing Revan to get severely injured. The Jedi manage to save her but her memory is wiped. Placed under a new identity as a soldier under Bastila's command, the hope was that just enough of your old identity would remain that you would eventually remember something about the star forge, leading the Republic there and thereby providing it with the edge it needed to overcome the threat of the Sith Empire.

Malak stuns your two companions and duels you one on one, until Bastila manages to break out of her trance and distracts Malak so you and Carth can escape with the rest. There is another one of those space battles like the one that gave me so much trouble after Taris, but through frantic tablet tapping and what I can only assume was a minor miracle I managed to scrape by with a sliver of health left on the very first attempt.

All your companions are (understandably) quite stunned by the revelation that you are Revan and it's interesting to see their different reactions. Carth for example is immediately suspicious again, while Mission and Zaalbar stand staunchly by your side. HK even has the droid equivalent of a sudden epiphany, with his memory suddenly fully restored as he realises that Revan was the one who built him and that he couldn't be happier to be back with his original master. It's kind of interesting because while you might want to distance yourself from your past as Revan if you are playing light side like I am, people like Canderous and Juhani revere you precisely because you were Revan, making you toe a somewhat awkward line.

Either way, there's one star map fragment to left to find, and then Bastila will need rescuing again I guess. Onwards!


10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots and IntPiPoMo

Telwyn reminded me that IntPiPoMo is nearly among us again. What's IntPiPoMo? Click here to read the detailed explanation, but the short version is that it's a community challenge to post at least 50 pictures on your blog during the month of November. (IntPiPoMo stands for International Picture Posting Month.) I haven't taken part in it before but decided to do so this year because I've been looking for an excuse to do my 10 Days of SWTOR screenshots all year, and I do feel like I'm treading water for a bit until Knights of the Eternal Throne comes out at the end of November - not because there is nothing to do exactly, but because the many incoming changes make me feel like I don't know whether a lot of activities are really a good investment of my time right now.

So I will try to post all ten days of themed screenshots during the month of November, which should result in a post at least every other day, but more likely there will be times when I'll actually have a new post up every day, as I have other, "proper" posts planned as well (which may or may not contain extra images). We'll see how well I'll do with this temporarily crazy schedule, but it's worth a try!


New PC & Windows 10

I'm happily writing this from a brand new PC - the third one on which I've played SWTOR by now. For the first time in a long time I decided to replace my old machine before it had broken down completely - I had some money to spare and figured that three and a half years had been a good run. Not to mention that the graphics card did show some signs of being on its way out...

The real reason I wanted a new PC however was that I was sick and tired of always being the last to load into anything in SWTOR, with the group usually being on the second trash pull by the time I was able to move and act! I never timed them but I think my loading screens tended to last between 40 and 50 seconds - I know that much because if I was in a PvP queue and the warzone popped just as I started zoning, I would usually arrive just in time to still accept it. It was time to upgrade to an SSD!

After dealing with some minor nuisances, like they always seem to come up when you switch to a new machine (such as the new USB wi-fi adapter not being compatible with the operating system), I am now happily switching zones within only 15-30 seconds. That can still feel kind of long at times to be honest, but it's certainly a lot better than it was!

The new PC also forced me to upgrade from Windows 7 to 10, and I have to admit my first reaction was instant dislike. Windows 10 is trying way too hard to pretend that it's a mobile operating system, what with giant buttons, use of phrases like "tap here" and calling programs "apps". This is a proper PC, not a phone, damn it! I managed to tone that down a bit fortunately, though the impression of a somewhat half-baked OS remains. It didn't help that I ran into two known but minor bugs on the very first day - one causing images to give an "operation timed out" error when you try to open them shortly after having moved them around, and another causing the basic categories like "documents", "images" etc. in the file explorer to appear in multiple duplicates until you restart it.

On the plus side, SWTOR seems to run fine on it, and I decided to jack up the graphics settings to the highest possible for once. (They were already on high previously, but I had some bits and pieces turned off.) I didn't know that archaeology crystals would suddenly glow this brightly with bloom enabled! It's almost blinding!

Screenshots presented me with a problem. As previously mentioned, I used to use Fraps to get around the known issue of SWTOR's screenshot function not working in cut scenes. However, as it turns out I couldn't re-download my paid version of Fraps on the new machine, and after learning that it apparently hasn't received any updates in over three years, I wasn't actually that keen on buying it again. Fortunately looking for alternatives quickly revealed that Windows 10 also has its perks - such as a built-in screenshot function for games, activated by pressing Windows + Alt + Print Screen. It's a slightly awkward key combo, but it should work for those situations when normal Print Screen would usually let me down. There is a built-in recording function as well to replace Fraps' video recording function, but I actually found an even better alternative for that.

My new graphics card is a Nvidia GeForce and apparently these come with a program called ShadowPlay these days, which I had vaguely heard about before. Now this offers the kind of functionality that genuinely makes me feel like I'm living in the future, as it quietly records everything you do as a temp file in the background, up to a specified amount of time (such as ten minutes), and whenever you feel like it you can just tell it to actually save that temporary recording as a proper video file. This is fantastic for funny or otherwise outrageous situations where someone goes: "Oh man, I hope someone recorded this!" Believe it or not, this happens a lot in my guild, but the answer was usually "uh, no"... because who has Fraps running non-stop? Now you can just hit that save button afterwards and magically have a recording of the funny or great situation you didn't even know was going to happen. I feel like a time traveller. (You can still do old-fashioned start/stop recording too though.)


How Much RNG Can We Take?

The unhappiness about the announcement in regards to how endgame gearing will work in Knights of the Eternal Throne has made me really think about random number generation (RNG for short) in MMOs, especially in regards to loot. It's interesting because I've seen similar grievances as those of the SWTOR players spring up in other MMOs as well - for example Neverwinter players are currently outraged about an upcoming patch that won't allow them to decline the random rewards from a dungeon chest anymore without also losing their chest key. And from what I've been hearing about World of Warcraft's Legion expansion, one of the more divisive additions there was the introduction of legendary (very powerful) items just randomly dropping out in the world.

Every now and then I see someone say that they hate all RNG, but it can't be denied that it's a staple of both RPGs and their board game predecessors, which frequently rely on dice rolls or random card draws to make sure that no two games are exactly the same. If we had no RNG in MMOs, there would be no chance to hit or crit, every mob would die from the exact same number of attacks and always drop the same precisely predetermined loot. I think it would get boring quickly.

But a lot can go wrong with RNG too. In the reddit discussion about the Galactic Command announcement, one comment that really made me laugh went like this:

Why not make every thing random? Like, your Class and Advanced Class, your Level, the Companions you have. Random! Everything random. Today your character is a Level 56 Juggernaut, tomorrow he is a level 16 Trooper and the other day a level 70 Assassin.

While intentionally over the top, I think it really highlights the problem with too much randomness: it makes the game unpredictable to the point where it becomes frustrating to play because you can't plan for anything and influence your progress accordingly.

Now, when it comes to gearing, randomness in MMOs mostly seems to serve two purposes: keeping things interesting with a bit of unpredictability, and increasing longevity. If few people can expect to get all the drops they want within a short amount of time, they have to keep playing for longer. The latter can also be achieved without RNG, but then you have "the grind" - while you never have the chance of getting what you want on the very first try, you are guaranteed to get it after, say, fifty runs. That has its own issues...

But staying with RNG, how can these goals be achieved in a manner that isn't super annoying? To me, the following points came to mind:

The first option is to give the player some agency in how the RNG functions. This can be done by giving them the option to affect their chances. As an example, if your biggest problem is that you have to roll off against a large number of other people in a raid group for the item you want, you can make sure that you run with your friends, who have promised that they will let you have that particular drop, therefore increasing your chances that you will get it.

Another way of easing the pain of RNG is to give the player some options. Dungeon boss A may only have a one in ten chance of dropping the chest piece you want, but dungeon boss B drops a similar piece which isn't quite best in slot but is seen much more frequently. Currency systems that allow you to purchase a maybe slightly inferior but similar piece after X runs also fall under this umbrella. This way you keep the excitement of having randomness in there but help out players that want to avoid RNG at all costs or who simply end up being very unlucky.

Finally, the actual importance of what is being dropped also has to be considered. For example few players will seriously complain about a rare mount having only a one percent chance to drop. Why? Because generally there are other perfectly serviceable mounts out there that are much easier to obtain and while the special skin is nice, people usually won't feel disadvantaged for not having it.

SWTOR has been an extremely easy-going and casual-friendly MMO in terms of gear-related RNG for a long time. You knew which operations boss dropped which set piece and could target them specifically, while the token drops themselves could be turned in by any class. Additional random drops were mostly used as a bonus to min-max certain stats or to gear up alts. The commendation/crystal system provided guaranteed gear after a certain amount of content had been done (even if it lacked set bonuses), with all currencies being handed out fairly generously. In PvE, the system also offered additional options, as you could earn crystals from different sources, such as flashpoints or dailies.

The proposed Galactic Command system does away with both agency and options - the "option" of being able to earn GCXP through a multitude of activities is really a false one because what matters is whether you can get different outcomes, not just whether there are different ways of getting the same thing. Under the new system, the only thing a player will be able to do to increase their chances is grind more, thereby getting the worst of both worlds - RNG and grind.

The matter of importance gave me pause however. If randomness and bad odds are fine for things that don't really matter to the majority, there could be a world in which the SWTOR player base is happy with Galactic Command - if said player base mostly consists of players who don't care about gear. If you are such a player, you don't care about getting a full set of anything, but every lucky drop is a source of happiness, even more so since you can now also get one from simply doing your dailies. You also mustn't be of a competitive mindset, because in a scenario like PvP the fact that some lucky opponent has better gear than you because of sheer chance would be frustrating.

I hope that I don't sound dismissive of that sort of play style in the above paragraph, because I certainly don't mean to be. I am a player like that in Neverwinter for example, though that game makes gear matter somewhat more even while soloing, as open world mobs tend to get progressively harder as you advance through the zones. But I just tend to shy away from anything that's too hard there, and I stay the hell away from PvP.

Suddenly, I understand Bioware's thinking that much better - this is geared towards a truly casual player base, and not just because you will be able to get the best gear from comparatively easy activities, but because these players are the ones who won't be fussed if they don't get everything they want within a couple of weeks.

You need to keep RNG in check if you are dealing with things that are important to the players, but for minority interests it's much less of a concern. Or to actually answer the question posed in the title of this post: We can take a lot as long as it doesn't affect the parts of the game where we want to be completionists and actually care about "having all the things". It's just a shame that gear acquisition being demoted to a minority interest is another step towards alienating SWTOR's remaining more "hardcore" players like raiders and PvPers. I'm certainly glad that I care less about these things than I used to, so that the threat of Galactic Command - while unappealing - is not as upsetting to me as it might have been some years ago.


65 on the Ebon Hawk

I'm proud to say that I hit level 65 on a server other than The Red Eclipse for the first time! I mentioned before that the DvL event reinvigorated my interest in levelling alts, causing me to pick up a couple that had been lingering without progress for a while. One of these was my Commando on the Ebon Hawk, on whom I'd decided to go through all the side quests on Republic side again. With how much levelling has been sped up and thanks to level sync (not to mention the current double XP event), I hit 65 shortly after finishing Alderaan and completing chapter one of my class story, after going back to Nar Shaddaa for that planet's bonus series (which for some reason doesn't unlock until level 60 since 4.0).

I guess I'll keeping questing anyway just to see more of those side missions again and to find out just how well or badly I'll fare along the way. While the restrictions that a single character is faced with are annoying sometimes, it's also been kind of fun to not have a legacy and a guild to fall back on for a change and to actually have to start over from scratch with things like datacrons and achievements. I haven't had a reason to ride the Jawa balloon since 4.0!

I also had a good laugh levelling in the PvP instance of each planet from Nar Shaddaa onwards. As mentioned before, they were pretty dead... but once when I arrived at House Organa on Alderaan, I ran straight into an Imp killing all the guards there (presumably for a conquest objective). I was so surprised that I ran straight into his line of fire and died - but it was way too funny for me to be annoyed!

It's just a bit ironic that all this happened on the Ebon Hawk of all places, since the whole reason I rerolled there, to play PvP/GSF with Traitine, has since become moot as he transferred his main over to TRE. According to Madmar's Twitter list, Swtorista and Zerne live on Ebon Hawk I guess? Feel free to give me a shout in the comments if that server is your home too, maybe we'll see each other some time. (Though admittedly it's not very likely, as I would be playing at awkward times for the US, not to mention that I still "live" on TRE.)


Playing KOTOR: Companion Interlude

After my last post about Kashyyyk it occurred to me that I should probably talk about the game's companions a bit more, as the companion system is one of the staples of any Bioware RPG and this is certainly true for KOTOR as well.

Carth Onasi: I did talk about him a little bit at the start and mentioned that he reminds me a bit of other slightly hapless-seeming Bioware characters, such as Alistair from Dragon Age, which is to say that he oscillates between being kind of cute and being annoying. He is super hung up on possibly being betrayed because his old mentor turned on him and now serves Darth Malak. If you get him to open up to you a bit more, it turns out that he had a wife and a son who died in the war too... well, the wife did, we don't know for sure about the son and I expect this will turn out to be a plot point later on. I'm kind of thinking that I would like to romance him if that's possible, but considering my luck with these things I probably already messed up my chances back on Taris when I told him off for calling me some stupid nickname.

Mission Vao: She's the other one I already talked about a bit, mostly to point out the similarities between her and SWTOR's Vette. She's just as adorable and often makes me think that merely being able to take along two companions with you when out in the world isn't nearly enough.

Zaalbar: Initially he was too quiet for my liking, but events on Kashyyyk have certainly endeared him to me somewhat.

T3-M4: I thought this little droid would be like T7 in SWTOR, but I haven't got him to say anything but "beep" to me. I guess that's more realistic than those beeps and whistles conveying half a novel every time (and my character actually being able to understand it), but it's also boring. The only time I remember him expressing an opinion was when I took him to the droid shop on Tatooine and HK suggested threatening the owner, which got a disapproving whistle (one droid telling another one off I guess).

Bastila Shan: I really liked Bastila's introduction, when she turned the damsel-in-distress trope so thoroughly on its head. After that she quickly became kind of annoying though, due to how preachy she is about what it means to be a Jedi and the dangers of the dark side. I think that in general people who like to play evil are way too quick to dismiss good characters as boring, stiff etc. but Bastila represents this cliché perfectly. Maybe she opens up a bit more if you play a male character. Either way I suspect that there will be some sort of reveal or change involving her nearer to the end to shake up that impression of the unshakable goodie-two-shoes a bit. She's probably like those religious people who are super judgemental of everyone around them to distract themselves from their own problems...

Canderous Ordo: He's a Mandalorian and I've stated repeatedly that I'm not a huge fan of them. Nonetheless I decided to take him out for a bit of questing after he joined me, just to see what he was like, but I quickly had to send him back to the Ebon Hawk because he was just such a jerk to everyone we met! Every conversation went something like this: "I'm so sad, I lost my daughter, sob..." "Well, should have taken better care of her then! Loser." His stories of the Mandalorian wars are interesting though, and I find it fascinating that Canderous paints a picture of the Mandalorians as a lot less concerned with honour and glory than I'm used to seeing in SWTOR. After all he betrayed his previous employer once he got bored of the job, and in his war stories he repeatedly mentions not feeling bad about the deaths of innocents - they just happened to be in the way and who cares. He's really kind of a despicable person but gets a pass from me for still being an interesting character.

Juhani: If I hadn't known that Juhani could become a companion, I would have killed her because by god is it the natural thing to do. She is a Jedi padawan who temporarily falls to the dark side after striking her Master in anger and it's your job to stop her or guide her back to the light. I really wanted to keep her alive because of my light-sided nature but it was hard because I had no persuade skill at that point in the game, causing all my persuasion attempts to fail, which in turn results in her going back to howling and pulling her hair (figuratively) every time. After about ten failed tries or so I found the correct conversation path to persuade her to go back to the Jedi enclave without actually using the persuasion skill but I was already tired of her by then. Her accent is kind of grating, and even after turning back to the path of the light side she keeps getting angry about all kinds of things, which I find super annoying. I imagine she might be fun to have around if you're playing dark side and actively feed her anger issues, but then you probably wouldn't have got her as a companion in the first place?

HK-47: I already talked about him as well, and every word that comes out of his mouth speaker grille is fun.

Jolee Bindo: I haven't had as much of a chance to get to know him yet since he was the last companion to join my party, and couldn't decide initially whether I found him funny or annoying. He represents the grey Jedi idea very well, never showing much affection or ill will towards anyone or anything, but he has a wicked sense of humour and clearly enjoys winding you up. I'm starting to lean towards liking him.

If I had to rank them in order from favourite to least favourite, I would currently do it like this:

1. Mission
2. HK-47
3. Carth
4. Jolee
5. Bastila
6. Zaalbar
7. Canderous
8. Juhani
9. T3-M4


Galactic Command - Bioware Trying to Reinvent the Wheel Again?

I was innocently checking the newest comments on my last post (about my love for PvP) this morning to find that someone (/cough) had casually dropped a comment on it mentioning that expertise and therefore the separation between PvE and PvP gear will be removed in 5.0. Apparently this information was part of last night's livestream and the associated revelations posted on the forums. I went to read the summary on Dulfy and learned that it's not just expertise that's being removed.

No more warzone commendations. No more data crystals. No more max-level gear from vendors. No more boss drops. No more endgame gear progression.

Apparently Bioware decided that endgame as it is was "too complicated" and needed reinventing in the form of the Galactic Command system. Through it, anything classified as endgame activity, from dailies to nightmare operations, will fill up a special Galactic Command experience bar, and every time you level up you get a box containing a random gear item, with higher/max Galactic Command level now being the only source of the best gear. If you are lucky.


After the initial shock subsided and I regained my ability to think somewhat, I could see what they are trying to sell us here. It's simple and streamlined, and you can earn the best rewards by playing however you want, right?

But what I'm reading is this: No more choice to work towards a specific goal. No more progressing through content. No more helping someone gear up by boosting them through an operation and giving all the loot to them. Everyone and everything will be at the mercy of that damned random number generator.

The worst thing is that we've been through all of this before. Does nobody work at Bioware anymore that was there for the game's launch? There are still some of us around who were there as players, and we do remember the pain that was the Battlemaster gearing system. People hated it, which is why you got rid of it. Doesn't anyone remember these things? Why is game development going in circles?

Let me be clear here, I'm not among those who hate RNG on principle. Used correctly, it can be a great source of entertainment. But having your entire gear progression system hinge on random boxes is shit. I don't swear on this blog very often, but this really deserves it. I'm sure I'm not the only one who already has visions of getting 18 pairs of bracers in a row but nothing for the slots where I actually need gear. And no, being able to turn those bracers in for additional XP so you can get your 19th pair even faster will not make it more fun.

Some of the other complaints I've seen don't faze me nearly as much. So what if people can also get the best gear by grinding dailies? High-level gear ceased to be a real status symbol quite some time ago. The only reason I've been in full 224 gear for ages is that we made the most out of it whenever Eternity Vault was the highlighted operation of the week - so it was really more about knowing how to game the system than about being the leetest of the leet. It's rare mounts and titles that really command respect these days.

And as for having to be a subscriber to benefit from Galactic Command at all? Ehhh... I kind of get why it annoys people, but sorry, as someone who's been subscribed since launch I'm finding it hard to care. Free to play games don't really want to be free, and obviously people were still finding it too easy to keep engaging in endgame while opting out of paying any money, so I guess they had to put another barrier incentive in there somewhere.

One positive thought that occurred to me after the initial knee-jerk feeling of dislike wore off was that this will basically mean that endgame will now be like endless levelling, with everything you do being about feeding that bar. And you know, I like levelling. Especially during the recent DvL event, I did a lot of it, and gear was a complete non-factor in anything I did. I quested and did flashpoints and warzones because it was fun and gave a feeling of advancement. If I got any gear upgrades on the way, that was entirely incidental and didn't really have any effect on my ability to keep doing what I was already doing. So if endgame becomes more like that... I guess I won't mind that much on a personal level?

I do worry what this will mean for group content though. Part of the reason I haven't felt dragged down by the lack of new operations in the same way as others is that I've accepted long ago that for me, it isn't so much about the operation itself as it is about simply hanging out with friendly people and having a laugh, in the same way that more extroverted people spend their evenings in a pub I guess. But gear acquisition still added at least some sort of structure to what we were doing. You did that one op to help the tank get his main hand, or to gear up someone's healer alt. With bosses basically dropping nothing in the future (cosmetic items like furniture and mounts are so rare as to hardly count), will it still feel like it's worth the effort? Even if they make operations amazingly rewarding in terms of GCXP numbers, I just can't see getting together purely to push that bar forward feeling very satisfying, unless a single operation will be enough to level you multiple times and provide several chances at drops, the way it does now.

What else is there to talk about? To loop back to the separation of PvE and PvP gear mentioned at the start, as far as I remember that had its origins in a desire to make sure that raiders wouldn't be able to jump into battlegrounds and obliterate the dedicated PvPers with the awesomeness of their raid gear. Or the other way round, that raiders wouldn't feel the need to do PvP to get better items for their PvE progression. Basically, the content you were doing was supposed to provide you with appropriate rewards that would allow you to do better at that same type of content. Well, that concept is not just going out the window, it's leaving the atmosphere and shooting for outer space. Except that now it might not merely be a battle between PvE and PvP, but whatever is the easiest source of GCXP I guess. 

In general, whoever can spend the most time in game to grind - whichever type of content - will win. You won't be rewarded for simply playing well and say, doing high-level operations twice a week. The guy who has the most hours per week to play will always be further ahead. That sounds kind of sucky. The only reason I'm not more upset is that SWTOR isn't exactly a highly competitive game by nature and has had a pretty low ceiling for a long time. So it might not be quite so bad if you can get a full gear set within a reasonable amount of time anyway - the theoretical no-lifer will then just continue to receive more bracers to maybe send to an alt. While we haven't had official confirmation on how the legacy system will tie into this, from the sounds of it being able to send gear to lesser-played alts will still be a thing.

This post has been kind of rambly and confused, but that reflects my feelings about this announcement pretty well. I don't think I've felt this uncertain about the game's future since they announced the free-to-play conversion. Still, let's try to summarise the pros and cons as I currently see them:

- Easy to understand progression system, simulates endless levelling.
- Can earn rewards from lots of different content types.
- One set of gear for PvE and PvP = easier to manage.

- Little benefit to challenging yourself with tougher content anymore. (Wiping for hours on NiM is just a waste of time when you could be earning GCXP from easier content.)
- There will likely be one "path of least resistance" that will be optimal to grind, countering the concept of having lots of options.
- Being dependent on RNG for all your gear is horrible, no protection against being the unlucky one.
- Fewer tangible goals to work towards since the next Galactic Command level is all there is.
- No way to assist someone else with speeding up their gearing anymore.
- Time to play will be the only deciding factor in gear progression, putting "no-lifers" at more of an advantage than they had before.

What are your thoughts on the proposed new system?


Things I Love About SWTOR's PvP

Most of the time when I see people talk about SWTOR's PvP in general, I see moaning about how it's not balanced enough or about how the devs don't provide enough support for players at the high end. I'm not saying that many of those complaints aren't justified in some way. As someone who plays it more casually - as merely one of many activities in the game that I enjoy - I really love it though. Let me tell you why:

1. It's easy to get into and the difficulty increases gradually.

In case you don't know, there are currently three brackets in SWTOR's PvP: the lowbie one from 10-40, the "midbie" one from 41-64 and the max level one for 65s only. I've spent a lot of time in all three, and they all have a very distinct feel to them.

Lowbie is by far the easiest to handle and a good place to learn for new players, because while you get into all the same warzones as a max level player and may still come up against more experienced opponents that just rolled an alt, everyone has comparatively few abilities, which makes both learning your own skills and those of your enemies a lot more manageable. You don't have to worry about all your attacks failing to land because your opponent just chained three survivability cooldowns in a row or people using different utility skills to zoom across the map with what seems almost like impossible speed. You have time to get to grips with your own class and with the objectives, and countering enemy moves is fairly straightforward.

Midbie is a clear step up, and depending on how close to 65 most members of both teams are already, you might have to deal with a good chunk of the same abilities that max levels also have. However, it's still somewhat more forgiving than the max-level bracket, and you don't have to worry about gear disparities.

At max level the difficulty is definitely somewhat ramped up and you need to start acquiring actual PvP gear, however they lowered the price of the basic set by so much that you can buy it after only a few games (or even right away if you've PvPed while levelling). Warzone commendations can also be transferred between characters of the same legacy, so if you already have a well-geared character on whom you PvP regularly, you can use them to give a new alt a leg up.

All that said, if you find that the next bracket up is too difficult for you, you can stay down in the lowbies or midbies if you want. While there is no option to stop XP gains, rolling up a new character and getting it to level ten to get back into the lowbie PvP action takes no time at all these days. (Some of my guildies have done it in less than an hour.)

2. Lowbie PvP actually happens.

It may sound strange to you to point this out if you're someone who's used to World of Warcraft, where any queue longer than ten minutes is already an outrage, but other MMOs don't always have the population to keep all the different content queues running at once. If you frequent the forums for games like Rift or Wildstar for example, you'll see people telling newcomers quite emphatically that PvP while levelling simply doesn't happen (despite of cross-server queues) and they can't expect a queue pop until they've hit max level. In SWTOR this can be a problem on the less populated servers too, since the queues are not cross-server, but if you roll on one of the bigger servers, the pops for any of the brackets keep on rolling all night long.

3. Class balance is pretty good.

As Yahtzee famously said in his review of SWTOR: cows go moo, dogs go woof, MMO players go "the PvP is unbalanced". No game ever gets it completely right, and as someone who plays all three healing classes in PvP I can tell you that Sages are definitely far more powerful right now than Commandos or Scoundrels, and that while being a lot easier to play to boot. However, if you look around the MMO space a bit, things are actually worse in a lot of other MMOs: class A doing literally twice as much damage as class B or some classes being virtually indestructible while others get one- or two-shot, not to mention the ability to pay for power in some cash shops. None of that is an issue in SWTOR. If you want to dip your toes into ranked, class selection becomes an issue for sure, but in regular warzones where people generally aren't very organised, you can have fun with any class and spec.

4. Plenty of different warzones from the ground up.

Most competitors limit a lot of their better PvP maps to higher level characters - for example in WoW, you won't get anything but Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin until you're level 35. Not so in SWTOR: all seven gameplay modes are available from level ten onwards, guaranteeing fun and varied pops from the start.

5. It looks cool but isn't too tiring.

I see a lot of hatred for tab target combat in comment sections these days, but personally, action combat isn't for me. I've tried it and I do play Neverwinter too for example (which does have action combat), but I find constantly having to kite and dodge extremely tiring after a while. I like that SWTOR's classic hotbar combat is far less demanding in that regard, but is still visually engaging because the animations are very good and fun to watch (lightsabers go whoosh!).

6. You meet a lot of funny people.

OK, this isn't really related to the PvP itself, but I still have to mention it. While you can run into a lot of weirdly named characters on the fleet, I always get the impression that PvPers are the kings when it comes to giving their characters stupid names or dressing them up in ridiculous costumes. (Maybe because they are less invested in things like story, lore and immersion?) Either way, it's rare that I load into a warzone and don't immediately spot a name or look that makes me go "What the...?" It's a nearly endless source of amusement and can do wonders when it comes to taking the sting out of a bad defeat.


KOTOR Adventures: Leave My Wookiee Alone!

This series of posts hasn't really been a full description of my KOTOR playthrough in so far as I've skipped a lot of stuff and focused only on the things that have stood out to me, specifically as a SWTOR player. One of the things that I haven't mentioned for example is that one of the companions that I picked up back on Taris is a wookiee called Zaalbar. I pretty much never used him for anything because unlike the other companions, who all got pretty chatty about their backgrounds after a while, he never had anything to say to me. I didn't know it was possible to swear a life debt to someone and still keep them at arm's length like this!

Nonetheless, I wasn't going to visit the home planet of the wookiees without my very own wookiee in tow, so Zaalbar finally got the opportunity to grab some fresh air. I immediately had cause to wonder how things go differently if you don't take him along, because as it turns out he's the exiled brother of the local wookiee leader, appropriately named Chunder Chuundar, who willingly allows his people to get enslaved by the Czerka Corporation. Oh right, they are on Kashyyyk too and have gone from merely being annoyingly corporate to being literal slave drivers. Unsurprisingly, showing up with Zaalbar in tow immediately causes trouble. As I said, it really makes you wonder how things go down if you don't bring him along, unless the game enforces his presence somehow.

Anyway, next thing you know, Zaalbar is being held prisoner and you are being told to hunt down a crazed wookiee in the "Shadowlands" a.k.a. on the ground (wookiees live in trees, remember). As soon as you arrive there, you get ambushed by Darth Malak's apprentice with two flunkies in tow, and I'm super proud to say that I defeated them on the first try! Slowly but surely I am getting better at this.

Next you run into a grey-bearded Jedi called Jolee Bindo, whose name I immediately recognised as someone whom you can recruit as your companion (the last one I was missing). He turns out to be another grey Jedi - of which there seem to be a lot more than you would think - which mostly makes him a slightly grumpy old git. He tells you that he wants to join your crew to get off the planet and that he can help you find the local star map, but not before you get rid of some poachers for him first, and in a non-violent manner please. I failed at the latter by accident more than anything else, since I said one too many rude things to their leader, causing him to attack me and forcing me to kill them all in self-defense. Fortunately Jolee wasn't too hung up on it. Karma punished me in a way anyway as I realised afterwards that the poachers had apparently been the only way to get the quest items for Mission's brother, so that's that side quest closed off to me now.

Jolee leads you to some sort of Rakata doodad that wants to test your character by providing you with moral dilemmas. I can only guess that you are meant to answer as dark-side Revan would have, while I went down the path of the goodie-two-shoes light-side Jedi instead, which caused the device to sic two battle droids on me. I had a brief and panicky flashback to my encounters with similar droids on Dantooine and Manaan, which had been slow and painful, but lo and behold: Jolee has the ability to stun droids, so they both went down like a sack of bricks, causing the Rakata thingamajig to change its mind and hand over the star map to me anyway. Easiest map fragment so far! 

This also meant that I hadn't even finished any of the other quests yet and got to do so afterwards. There was one super annoying side mission where you're supposed to kill Mandalorians that only attack unarmed targets - which sounds fine in theory but in practice results in nothing but stupid busywork as you have to repeatedly unequip your entire party's weapons to lure them out, just to immediately re-equip them in the first combat round. The wookiee stuff was mostly fine and fun (I freed Zaalbar and disposed of Chunder of course), but the biggest disappointment was a quest to deal with a merchant who had betrayed a group of spacers... I was really looking forward to unmasking him, but when I returned to the spaceport the wookiees had stormed it and killed everyone! Talk about an overreaction! I mean, sure, don't let them enslave you anymore, but did you have to go and murder my quest NPCs? Sheesh.

Anyway, that was Kashyyyk, and I'm noticing that fights are getting dramatically easier. Malak's apprentice was the only one who gave me a brief fright and even he went down on the first attempt. I suspect it has something to do with levelling up, because even though the game lets you do the planets with the map fragments in any order and doesn't display any levels on your opponents, I suspect that there was no advanced scaling technology or anything involved and it's simply that they are all, say, level ten or something while you are supposed to go from eight to fifteen over the course of that part of the story. Two map fragments left I think...


Using Kolto Stations in Tactical Flashpoints

The Dark vs. Light event had me running a lot of tactical flashpoints while levelling, and I'm happy to report that on the whole, it's been a pretty smooth experience. When I performed my flashpoint levelling experiment shortly after 4.0, I found that being a healer seemed to help a lot with ensuring any given pug's success, but these past couple of months I've done pretty well even while queuing as tank or dps. That's not to say that there were never any wipes, but those tended to be random screw-ups rather than hard road blocks or any sort of inherent incompetence on part of the player base.

In fact, I got the impression that overall, players have learned to handle tacticals a lot better than they did even a few months ago. Presumably more people have had a chance to get used to how they work and can help their less experienced brethren by making the average run more likely to be successful.

One subject that's been on my mind a lot though is the use of kolto stations on bosses. Again, in most cases there are no issues, but I remember actually getting into an argument with someone in Kuat about how to best utilise them, and since I have a blog (and he presumably doesn't) I get to spread my point of view more widely. Hah!

Basically, there are three core facts to consider about the kolto stations available for boss fights in tacticals:

- Clicking on one casts a big heal on the person doing the clicking and puts an also pretty sizeable heal over time on everyone in the party (assuming they are in the same room, the range is pretty large but not infinite).

- After it's been clicked, the kolto station goes on cooldown for about thirty seconds.

- There is a limited amount of kolto stations available.

From these, three basic consequences arise:

- Since the heal over time gets put on everyone, everyone in the group can use the kolto stations to heal other people.

- However, since the one actually clicking also gets that big heal on top of it, you get the most bang for your buck if the person with the heaviest injuries (which is usually the one with the aggro, whether they are a tank or not) does the clicking.

- Since the kolto stations have a cooldown and there are a limited number of them, it is possible to "mis-use" them by clicking at the wrong time and end up with no option to heal when it's actually needed.

This in turn means that there are basically two things that can go wrong:

From my experience, most deaths and wipes on bosses occur because nobody bothered to click a kolto station at all. Sometimes you'll get people complaining "why didn't you click", but fact of the matter is that nobody is "the healer" (this whole post is working on the assumption that you don't have one, or you wouldn't have to rely on the kolto stations to begin with), so you can't blame any one person for not doing the clicking. If you notice that you have the boss on you and are taking heavy damage, it's best to run for your nearest kolto station at about fifty percent health. For the reasons mentioned above, it's best if you do the clicking yourself.

However, sometimes things can prevent the de facto tank from reaching a station in time, such as when the boss decides to stun or knock them down at a bad moment. If you see that happening and it looks like the injured person won't make it to the console in time, it's OK to click on it even if you're not the one who's the most hurt. Some big bosses also make it really hard to click the kolto stations through their sheer bulk. I remember that on the desert boss in Czerka Core Meltdown I actually had to ask someone else to click for me before, because even though I always had the aggro, the boss's bulk in my face made it impossible for me to actually target the kolto stations even when they were right next to me.

Now, deaths from people being overeager to click are a lot rarer - but they do happen, especially on bosses that have very few kolto stations. Station Guardian One in KDY is a good example, since he's only surrounded by two, which are located on opposite sides of the room. A low-level damage dealer will take quite a lot of damage from him if they have aggro, and personally I found that the only way to survive this was basically to run back and forth between the two kolto stations non-stop. However, this was all ruined if someone else decided to click on one in-between, as the heal over time alone wasn't enough to keep me up until the next cooldown, forcing me to either die or drop aggro and let someone else get killed. It's particularly annoying when I'm almost at the kolto station, nothing is holding me back, and yet someone else clicks on it right in front of me - you're not helping!

Bosses with three kolto stations aren't quite as tricky but can still be close calls depending on how squishy you are - examples where I've had groups struggle include the droid boss in Taral V and HK-47 in False Emperor.

All that said, it's worth reiterating again that your reliance on kolto stations can vary a lot depending on what kind of group you get. If you've got a well-geared max-level character in the group you might find yourself breezing through fights even without a tank or healer and it really doesn't matter who clicks on the kolto stations or when, as they merely serve to get people topped off every now and then. However, if you do find yourself struggling with an encounter for some reason, I've found that making sure that your group optimises their use of the available kolto stations is usually the first step towards success.


Back In My Day: Travel

With SWTOR rapidly approaching its fifth birthday at the end of the year, I'm thinking that the game's old enough now for us to start waxing nostalgic about how much better things used to be "back in the day" - or how they were different at least. I don't think that SWTOR has undergone nearly as many changes as for example World of Warcraft did in its first five years, but things have changed nevertheless. In light of this I wanted to start a series of posts detailing some of these changes - both to indulge in nostalgia and to let newer players know how much better they've got it these days (or what they missed out on in some cases).

For starters I'd like to cover the subject of travel, which is one of those areas that has definitely seen a lot of changes.


Free players may feel like second class citizens these days for not getting Sprint at level 1, but back in the day none of us did, and the starter planets are all small enough that they were clearly designed with the intent to be easily traversable even at slow speeds. Sprint wasn't unlocked until level 14. Yes, this meant that you could enter a PvP warzone without it - I remember doing that once and then never again, after how horrified I was by how slow I was at getting to the side turret in Alderaan Civil War.


In case you've ever wondered why this blog doesn't have a "mounts" tag but only a "vehicles" one, this is because at the game's launch vehicles were the only mounts we had. The first animal mount wasn't introduced until patch 2.3, when rideable tauntauns were added to the game.

Use of those early speeders was also a lot more restricted than it is now. If it still annoys you that you get dismounted in the Senate Tower on Coruscant, just think of what it was like when this happened in every single spaceport and space station, and that at a time when people had to walk/drive back to their ships all the time.

You also couldn't train the first rank of speeder piloting until level 25. Again, this is still quite apparent from the way the planets were designed, as Coruscant/Dromund Kaas, Taris and Nar Shaddaa aren't that big compared to some of the later planets. I remember being really relieved to get a speeder by Tatooine, as that's when things really opened up.

Speeder rank was initially also tied to the vehicle itself, so once you upgraded your skill, you needed to buy a new one that was actually faster. I remember doing quite a bit of research about that before I settled on my Ubrikkian Raider back in the day. The downside was of course that once you were capable of travelling faster and more securely, you never wanted to ride the older and slower vehicles again.


It wasn't that long ago that we had to discover each taxi point first before we could travel to it (except for Makeb), but with 3.2 this requirement was removed, which in a sort of interesting turnaround has made travelling around a new planet by taxi the fastest way of helping with its discovery.

Initially, some taxis also weren't fully linked up - Dromund Kaas was infamous for this, always forcing you to leg it between the taxi pad at the Kaas City entrance and the one inside the city if you wanted to cross the entire map. The teleporters on Belsavis also weren't all linked up the way they are now.

Quick Travel / Fleet Pass

I remember when I first started playing SWTOR, I was hugely impressed by the quick travel feature - and that was when it had a half hour cooldown! This was because I was coming from WoW, where you can only set your hearthstone to one location at a time (though I think they've added extra options since my time). In comparison, SWTOR's ability to choose to quick travel to any point on the planet once you had discovered it was absolutely amazing. In addition to that you also got the fleet pass once you hit level ten, which allowed you to return to the fleet once per day (!). In terms of questing dynamics this meant that you generally used the quick travel option to "get back to base" after finishing one area of the map (though it might not always be off cooldown) and the fleet pass was reserved for the end of the evening when you were done with everything else.

A lot has changed since then: if you're a subscriber and have all the legacy perks unlocked, neither quick travel nor the fleet pass have any sort of cooldown on them, but even without those perks the cooldowns are much shorter than they used to be. On planets this means that once you've discovered a part of the map, you can hop from any quick travel point on it to another, at no cost and with no cooldowns, making taxis completely redundant unless you've only just landed on the planet for the first time. (I don't remember the last time I used one of the taxis on the fleet...) Likewise there's nothing stopping you from using your fleet pass for absolutely everything on the fleet, even if you already are on the fleet and just want to get back to the centre of the main station quickly.

Another important change to quick travel points is that nowadays they simply unlock by proximity. It used to be that you had to click on each one to unlock it, which led to many a "d'oh" moment when you were in the middle of hostile territory, wanted to return to base quickly and realised that you'd forgotten to manually unlock the nearest outpost's quick travel point on this character. Some were also notoriously bugged and would constantly reset themselves back to being "forgotten" - the one in front of the Dread Fortress on Oricon was a well-known offender, as was the Raider's Cove cantina on Rishi.


Outside of the means of travel mentioned above, travel between planets originally meant using your ship - the one method of travel that hasn't really changed much since launch and one that's very slow and inconvenient. If you were on the fleet and wanted to do dailies on Belsavis for example, you'd have to run/drive to the correct hangar for your class, board your ship, use the galaxy map to travel to Belsavis, exit on the Belsavis space station and then travel down to the planet every time.

Terminals were Bioware's first attempt at alleviating this issue a bit by placing terminals at key locations that would instantly allow you to travel to your ship or to prominent daily locations with a single click. I remember it originally being such a hassle to always remember the way to the correct hangar for whatever class you were on at the time, but with the terminals placed at every hangar entrance this became a non-issue as every terminal would simply allow you to choose "your ship". Doing the rounds around the different daily planets also became a lot easier once  you didn't have to board and disembark from your ship anymore between each planet.

Strongholds & Legacy Travel

Over time, Bioware introduced more and more ways to quickly get from point A to point B. It started with additional legacy travel unlocks that would function like the quick travel or fleet pass option and quickly take you to various places that required visiting more frequently, such as your faction's capital world or a planet with dailies.

However, the ultimate in travel convenience was introduced with the strongholds expansion - I even dedicated a whole post to this. Strongholds allowed you to travel to your stronghold instantly and from anywhere - and afterwards you could chose the option to be returned to exactly where you had come from (unless you logged out in the meantime - then it will take you back to the same planet but dump you at the spaceport/entrance). This means that you never again had to worry about things like running out of bag space in the wilderness or unexpectedly needing something from your cargo hold - your stronghold could be modified to contain all these services and was only a click away.

Guild ships also finally introduced the option to "summon" other people to your location as it's usually called in fantasy games - finally allowing everyone to slack off when you needed a large group of people to move to a specific location and alleviating everyone else's annoyance with that one guy who was always the last to make his way over. People quickly discovered the usefulness of this feature to get people to difficult to reach datacrons en masse - however I believe that at least the ability to do this with the fleet datacron was later patched out; I'm not sure about others.


Travel is one of the areas in which the game has changed the most in my opinion, since it's become a lot more convenient over the years than it used to be. Originally you always had to use your starship to travel everywhere, but nowadays you pretty much only do this for the base levelling game, with endgame being dominated by using terminals and quick travel options to get around.

I remember in World of Warcraft I always felt that the increasing ease of travel (flying etc.) diminished my feeling of being inside a virtual world a lot, but curiously I never really had this feeling in SWTOR. I think the reason is that the stuff we skip in a game like WoW are zones that we actually used to play in and that we don't really perceive anymore when we fly over them, while the space between planets in SWTOR has always been irrelevant to the experience. I suppose I feel somewhat less of a connection to my ship now since I don't board it as often, but to be honest I never felt very attached to it anyway, and since the stronghold expansion my strongholds have always felt much more like a home to me than the ships ever did.


Knights of the Eternal Throne Officially Announced!

The link to all the information provided so far can be found here - time for a first impressions post!

First off, we have the new trailer of course! Like all of the game's cinematic trailers, it's extremely well done, though I would nitpick that young Vaylin's hair looks a little off at times and her face at the end looks downright strange? I guess some things are hard to get right even for the pros. Those are minuscule nitpicks however.

KotET's trailer forms an interesting juxtaposition to the one for KotFE - while the latter focused on the men of the family and showed a distant father driving his sons to distraction, this one shows us the women's point of view - and a loving mother who tries her best but still gets it wrong. The title, "Betrayed", can be read in two ways - Vaylin betraying her mother by showing no interest in coming with her during her rescue attempt, or Senya betraying Vaylin by allowing Valkorion to take her away in the first place. (Oh, and there's the opportunity for obligatory jokes about "betrayed" raiders of course.)

I like that this trailer shows us a very different side of Vaylin and her relationship with Senya than we've seen in the game so far. Let's be honest: in game, Vaylin has been kind of limited to acting like a crazy hag - she's the classic chaotic evil character who just likes to watch the world burn. When Senya tells you in chapter 7 how dangerous Vaylin was even in early childhood (crippling a guard for dropping a ball etc.), you kind of get the impression that she was bad news from the start.

This trailer however paints a very different picture, showing us a young and innocent Vaylin whose attempts at using the Force (and hurting people in the process) come across more as childish acts of wilfulness than as genuine malice. She doesn't look happy when Valkorion takes her away either, and it reminded me of Vaylin's line in chapter 16 about how Senya's "always too late". That line really had me wondering when I first heard it, but it seems to match the events in the trailer perfectly, implying that there was a point where Vaylin would have wished for her mother to come and rescue her.

Last but not least, I'm kind of glad that all the crazy speculation about the identity of the people in the teaser image and the teaser clips of the trailer turned out to be baseless and it really is just Senya and Vaylin. I like a wild conspiracy theory as much as the next person, but let's be honest: the current storyline has enough going on without the introduction of even more wild cards.

While the new trailer does a good job at giving us a case of the feels, it doesn't tell us anything about what's coming up in the expansion. Unfortunately, the current expansion page doesn't really do so either! What it does do is confirm that we'll get nine new story chapters, though it's still very much unclear how these will be released - staggered, all at once or something in-between (three times three)? If they are released all at once, what comes after? The brief one-liners that describe each chapter in a vague manner basically seem to confirm that we'll have to go up against Vaylin but don't tell us anything else.

The feature list briefly mentions "Uprisings", which sound like the new Star Fortress-like flashpoints that had been brought up by dataminers not long ago. There is also an odd focus on light/dark side choices: "Fight to influence the galaxy for the light or dark side of the Force™!" Does that mean that we'll be in a permanent Dark vs. Light event affecting the eventual outcome of something? Too many marketing buzzwords, not enough meat.

Like KotFE, KotET will be free to subscribers... which I guess is nice, but I can't help but be baffled at EA/Bioware's generosity here, as new content is the best opportunity to get some cash flow going without annoying anyone and relatively few people seem to mind paying for an expansion from what I've seen. (Wilhelm keeps joking about how Daybreak probably makes most of its money from selling $140 special editions of each of their Everquest expansions.) Can SWTOR really afford to give that much away for "free"? Or does that kind of thing really boost subscriber numbers so much that it actually pays off?

Oh, and speaking of subscribers, for some unknown reason they are suddenly referred to as "premium" players on the KotET page, getting everyone confused about what that means and forcing Musco to take to the forums and explain that it's literally just in change in terminology and nothing else. Is subscriber becoming a dirty word now, like MMO?

Anyway, it was a nice reveal but I'm glad to have it out of the way now. Hopefully we'll be able to get some real talk about what to look forward to in Knights of the Eternal Throne soon.


Cautiously Optimistic

Bioware likes making announcements about announcements, so while we still know virtually nothing about Knights of the Eternal Throne that hasn't come from data miners, we know that on Friday, everything will be revealed!

We even got a teaser for a shiny new Blur trailer about a week ago, which really surprised me. These are expensive and while I could understand EA splurging on one for KotFE's effective re-launch of the game, I expected them to return to business as usual for KotET. Apparently not.

(I can't believe that some people are actually complaining about getting another trailer, arguing that they'd rather have a new operation instead. Have you heard of this thing called a marketing budget before? Good luck getting any company to completely forfeit marketing in order to spend all that money on their product instead. Considering that marketing is a thing that exists, I find them investing it into a shiny new trailer more appealing than a bunch of "play for free" ads on Google. But maybe that's just me.)

Anyway, based on how bitter certain parts of the community have become over the past couple of months, you'd think that Knights of the Fallen Empire was the worst expansion ever, which is really weird because on the whole it was really well done. My main two criticisms of it would be the lack of support for group play in the new content and that levelling content in general feels quite undertuned now. All in all though, I think that there has been more a lot more good than bad.

I really love level sync for one thing. Levelling alts since 4.0 has been incredibly satisfying, as it's fantastic that you don't have to worry about outlevelling content anymore and can receive XP and level-appropriate rewards no matter where you go.

In terms of new quests to play through, the KotFE chapters have undeniably delivered much more in terms of quality and quantity than any previous expansion. The other day I looked back at my gushing review of the first nine chapters and I can honestly say that I stand by everything I said. That it loses some of the shine once you repeat the whole thing half a dozen times or more over the course of only a few months is hardly a surprise and doesn't invalidate the original experience.

While no new group content was added, I've loved the updates to flashpoints and operations. I was originally a bit sceptical about all levelling flashpoints becoming tacticals, but in practice I quickly found that they still provide a similar amount of challenge to a levelling group as before and the role- and level-neutral groups make group finder pops nearly instant.

The revamped operations have also been really nice. I was initially a bit worried about how I (and my guildies) would feel about re-learning fights we had beaten before when we'd overlevelled them, but in practice that hasn't really been a problem. And having such a wide variety of content to choose from every week has been fantastic. For comparison, the 3.0 cycle - while containing new ops - was immensely frustrating for me and my guild due to the super awkward tuning of Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice and those two being the only places to go to for gear upgrades. The past year has been so much better.

Oh, and how could I forget the addition of Odessen Proving Grounds, which immediately became my favourite new warzone and really helped invigorate my interest in PvP?

With that in mind, Knights of the Eternal Throne delivering more of the same actually sounds like a good thing to me, especially since Bioware has already stated repeatedly that they've heard our feedback in regards to group content, lack of challenge and overabundance of skytroopers. There've also been hints that we'll check back on the Republic and Empire and find out more about what's been going on with Valkorion, two things that have pretty much been my biggest "wants" since KotFE's launch.

As the title says, I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm not going to speculate about the identity of the kid in the teaser trailer for now (I'll leave that to others), but we'll all find out soon enough!


KOTOR Adventures: Hunting on Tatooine

Glad to get off Manaan and with enough credits in my pocket to afford any future docking fees, I decided to return to Tatooine, originally meant to be my first destination. I just love that planet in SWTOR, and I'd also read somewhere that this was where you acquire HK-47.

Of course I hadn't even left the spaceport before something went wrong and a confused Czerka employee let a load of Gizka loose inside the Ebon Hawk. But... they are those cute things you can have as mini pets in SWTOR! Who'd have thought that they are apparently vermin? The option to poison them to get rid of them was made quite obvious, but they are too cute! I decided to leave them be for now, even if I hate the thought of how much poop they must be dropping on the ship's floors. I doubt that Bioware would stoop to such an amount of realism anyway.

Anchorhead's two most important buildings (to you) are pretty obvious as soon as you leave the spaceport: the Hunting Lodge and the Czerka office. As for the former, it's quite odd that Tatooine of all places would attract a lot of hunters, but it is what it is. Outside, a poor woman begs you to sell a wraid plate for her that used to belong to her deceased husband and for which she doesn't have a license. Of course I did that for her, being the nice person that I am.

The Czerka office is a funny place because the woman in charge answers most questions about the company by telling you that you should go to their kiosk on Coruscant, business hours only please. However, she does have a job for you too: to kill sand people. Can't go wrong with that. Except that outside, a man accosts you to say that surely there must be some way to come to a peaceful solution with the sand people, if only you bought a protocol droid from the local droid shop that can speak their language.

As you turn a corner, you get ambushed by some Dark Jedi, and one thing I've learned in this game is that I'm very bad at dealing with surprises, turn-based combat or not. I did learn a valuable lesson from this fight however: that it's OK to run away. I'd previously fought to the death almost every time, but this time I thought of all the conversations I'd gone through since the last time I saved and hated the thought of having to redo them all enough that I took my last remaining party member and ran. Turns out that while mobs don't exactly reset in this game, they do stop giving chase quite quickly and aren't necessarily linked to each other either - so with some application of hit-and-run tactics I managed to split the ambushers up and then took them down one by one until it was safe to revive the rest of the party. Success! I would soon get more chances to practice this maneuver when I went out into the Dune Sea, where sand people ambushers loved to jump at me from every corner.

Anyway, I found the droid shop and there he was: HK-47! Sadly he was way too expensive for me, and I didn't want to take the option to intimidate the shop owner by threatening to kill him (though even HK himself suggested to do so), which is why I continued out into the desert to see if there was anything out there that could make me some money.

I quickly ran into some wraids, which had the silliest run animation ever and dropped more wraid plates. Excellent, I thought - the one I had sold for the poor woman had fetched 500 credits - with these I should be able to afford HK in no time! Of course then it turned out that the vendor only paid 24 credits for each plate I brought in - what a bastard.

Still, fortunately I wasn't far off either way, so I was soon able to purchase my very own HK "protocol" droid, and I can already see why he quickly became a fan favourite. His lines are pretty damn funny even now. I've unlocked the back stories of two of his previous owners so far and both were hilarious.

Further out into the desert I ran into a hunter waiting to lure a krayt dragon out of his cave onto some mines, but he needed banthas as a lure and those would only be attracted by bantha fodder, which I could get from the sand people.

It seemed that all roads led to the sand people enclave. Sadly I was never able to figure out a peaceful solution with them and had to kill them all. I'm curious what I missed though. I put on disguises as instructed, but those broke instantly the moment I entered the actual enclave. Also, while it was repeatedly stated that HK should be able to speak the sand people's language, there never seemed to be an option to try to talk them or to bring up the subject with HK himself. I never saw those Jawas that were supposedly kidnapped and enslaved by the sand people either... probably missed a map again somewhere...

Anyway, with gaffi sticks and bantha fodder in my bags I returned to the krayt dragon cave and got that done too. The dragon looked pretty cool, that's definitely one monster they could have used in SWOTR as well! Would have made for a great world boss or something. Oh, and as it happens, the krayt dragon was sleeping on another star map. Mission successful!

After the pains of Manaan I found Tatooine a lot more straightforward and enjoyable to explore, even if I couldn't figure out how to talk to the sand people. I also had fewer issues with the combat encounters here, only suffering a single full party wipe when I unexpectedly walked right into the sand people chieftain's room without realising what I was going up against.

I'll probably go to Kashyyyk next, if for no other reason than that I already have a side quest to fetch something from there for Mission's brother.