Hand of Jadus

I'm proud to announce that today, I finished the Imperial agent class story for the third time! Yes, that means that I finally completed it on the Cathar agent that I created on the Progenitor over two years ago.

This brings my current tally of class story completions up to:

Imperial agent: 3x
Smuggler: 3x
Bounty hunter: 2x
Jedi consular: 2x
Sith inquisitor: 2x
Sith warrior: 2x
Trooper: 2x
Jedi knight: 1x

It's funny to me that the agent surged to the top alongside the smuggler, because only a year ago the class was lingering at the bottom with only one completion along with the Jedi knight, but then I levelled my DvL agent and well, here we are. The agent is definitely a prime candidate for a class story replay in any case, as all three endings that I've seen so far had a distinctly different feel to them.

I don't know if this is a high number of class story replays to have done in total, but it doesn't feel like it to me, not after five and a half years. As much as I love the class stories, I generally prefer to spend more time on repeating content that was actually designed with repetition in mind, such as flashpoints and PvP. I actually have four troopers at max level for example, it's just that two of them haven't actually done their class story.

Now I just need to give that lowbie knight of mine some love to complete my second playthrough of the Jedi knight. The problem is that she's such an old character and I've picked her up and dropped her again so many times that I can barely remember what sort of characterisation I tried to go for in her story. This is a problem I have quite often when trying to level alts this way. At least with the agent I remembered clearly that this last one was supposed to be evil.

Some notes on finishing this latest playthrough (warning, contains spoilers for the Imperial agent story):

I only found out by chance while googling for something else that agents that side with Jadus have a special bonus quest on Hoth, given by an NPC called Lalya Verron, located in the Imperial base by the Starship Graveyard. Since I had only focused on my class story on that planet, I had completely missed that extra quest giver with a purple triangle above her head. Fortunately I was still able to go back later and complete it then. In terms of mechanics it's nothing too exciting, but it's still cool to see all those small touches that were included in the base game and which can still surprise you even after more than five years.

I also had to note once again that bringing different companions along to missions really helps to spice things up while playing an alt of a class you already know. I'd previously always left Kaliyo behind on my ship and found some of the commentary she offered quite interesting.

Since this agent is my only character on the Progenitor, she didn't get to benefit from any legacy perks while levelling (oh rocket boost, how I miss thee)... but I also had a reason to go datacron hunting again, and it's actually been pretty fun. I got all of them up to Corellia except for the one on Belsavis for which you need the Rakata Energy Cubes, but I'm not holding out too much hope for getting the ones on Makeb and onwards, as I needed help with most of those even on my main. Still, it's been fun to remind myself of some of those jumping puzzles and my memory of how to tackle them was overall pretty good. For all the convenience of legacy-wide datacrons, I do think it's a bit of a shame that there's no benefit to collecting them on alts nowadays unless you completely start over on another server like I did in this case.


The Future of CXP?

As my Scoundrel is slowly working her way towards becoming my third character to reach Command rank 300, something has been rattling around my head that has bugged me about CXP from the start but which I didn't really talk about before because there were too many other things wrong with the system that were more important. However, now that Galactic Command is in a relatively comfortable place, I can't help but wonder: Where is it going?

The moment it was first announced, I was immediately reminded of the way Blizzard has gotten into the habit of coming up with "cool ideas" for their WoW expansions just to completely scrap each and every one of them the moment the next expansion comes out, simply because they were never designed to scale and work for the game in the long term. That's what CXP looks like to me too, like something that someone thought "would be a cool idea" but without thinking through how it would integrate into the game in the long run. Simply put: If you have an alternate levelling system after the level cap, what happens to those levels once the normal level cap is increased again?

One obvious solution would be to simply scrap the whole system. It would be the easy way of dealing with it at least, and I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who would not be sad to see it go. I would be a little sad though. After a painful amount of iteration, Galactic Command is finally in a good place, and I think it's not bad as a supplemental way of getting gear. Also, while it's just numbers, I think I would feel a little cheated if my total of over a thousand Command levels just disappeared into the aether without a trace. I may not rank very high as an achiever, but that doesn't mean that I can't develop an attachment to some achievements.

But if it were to stay, this would open up a lot of questions. Would the system still unlock at level 70 or would it move up to the new level cap? And would people be allowed to keep their existing Command levels? If the new stuff were all tacked on at the end, it would still leave 300 Command levels of "old stuff" for new players to grind through before even getting to the new gear, which would feel silly. At the same time, just resetting everyone back to rank one would feel like a sting to veterans for the reasons described above. Any attempt at keeping both new and old players happy while retaining the system would probably involve some awkward rejigging, keeping in line with making the system ever more complicated. As an example, the existing 300 ranks could continue to exist while being greatly sped up for new players, and the loot tables would have to be reworked completely to drop lower-level "new stuff" right from the start, so that veterans would only get a bit of a headstart. I struggle to imagine a simple and elegant solution for this though.

How do you expect Bioware to handle Galactic Command going forward?


How to LFG in SWTOR, 2017 Edition

The other day it came to my attention that people are apparently still finding my post "How to Successfully LFG in SWTOR" via Google. This is one of the few guides I've written on this blog, but while some of the things described in it still apply, others have become quite outdated with the introduction of level sync and such. Re-reading my own post, I had actually almost forgotten about how EV and KP used to only be in the group finder from level 50-54, or how many pugs wouldn't do a full run of any given operation because the weekly quest only required you to kill things up to the third or fourth boss. Good times.

Anyway, I thought it might be worthwhile to rewrite this guide to provide a more up-to-date source of information for curious new players. I might do some copy and pasting from the old post, but many things have changed!

First off, there are three major types of PvE group content in the game right now:

- Flashpoints are SWTOR's equivalent of what's called "dungeons" in many other MMOs, instanced group content designed for a group of a fixed size, four players in this case. The "default" group setup is one tank, one healer and two damage dealers, however Bioware has greatly simplified the easy versions of most flashpoints to not require a fixed group setup anymore and to be level neutral as well. So you could run them with four level fifteen damage dealers or four max-level healers if you wanted to... though I wouldn't necessarily recommend either setup. The harder versions still require a traditional trinity group.

- Uprisings are sort of similar to flashpoints but only available at level 70 as they are supposed to take place after the story of Knights of the Eternal Throne (the expansion that increased the level cap from 65 to 70). There are fewer of them and they are somewhat shorter, with fewer trash pulls between bosses and a love for endless waves of weak adds for you to AoE down. Like with flashpoints, the easiest difficulty is supposed to be doable with any group composition.

- Operations are SWTOR's raids and each one can be done with eight or sixteen people (you can choose the group size). Both formats require two tanks, while the ideal number of healers doubles from two to four in 16-man.

There are other reasons why you might want to group up with other players, but let's focus on these three game modes first.


It's worth noting that while this is a guide to grouping, and flashpoints were primarily designed to be group content, many of the more story-heavy ones have been given a solo mode in the recent past, so if you just want to see what they are about and other people scare you, you do have the option to go in alone. An all-powerful droid will accompany you and will tank, dps and heal for you all at once, so that you can lean back and /dance throughout the entire thing if you want to. Personally I find that pretty boring, but to each their own.

Flashpoints come in three different settings: There is the solo mode mentioned above, also called story mode, then there is veteran (hard) mode, and finally there is master (nightmare) mode. This naming convention is a bit misleading because veteran mode isn't actually that hard, it's actually the "story mode" for groups, but I guess someone at Bioware thought that this was too confusing so it became veteran instead. Don't let the nomenclature scare you off in any case.

Veteran mode flashpoints open up at level 10, at which point you only have access to your faction's first flashpoint for five levels (the Esseles for Republic and the Black Talon for Imperials), then at 15 they disappear from your group finder list (though you can still walk in directly if you want) and all the rest opens up. The fact that all these flashpoints are accessible and rewarding for players from level 15 all the way up to the cap has greatly increased their replayability and the speed at which you can get groups for them, but be warned that many of them are quite story-heavy and if you jump into the full random selection at a low level you are likely to accidentally spoil and/or confuse yourself by watching later story events unfold before you've actually played the main game up to that point.

Aside from being level-neutral, veteran flashpoints are also role-neutral, so the group finder will put the first four people in the queue into a group together regardless of their role. You will get a pop-up to ask you to accept the group that has been formed, and this is a good opportunity to decline if the group setup is something manic like four tanks or three healers. As people move through the queue quite quickly, waiting a couple of minutes before re-queuing is usually enough to get something better. Pops are very quick on large servers (often instant for me) and still quite fast on smaller ones - note that you only get grouped with people from your server, there is no cross-server grouping in SWTOR.

If you are feeling timid about your performance, rejecting a group with too many low-levels might also be a consideration. SWTOR's level syncing works pretty well, but there's still a noticeable difference in terms of difficulty between going in with a full group of level 30s or having one or more level 70s in the party. There is no punishment for rejecting a group at the assembly stage, but if you quit after accepting the group, you will receive a debuff that will prevent you from queuing again for a little while. Also don't forget to select your preferred roles before queuing up! It can be quite terrifying to end up being marked as a tank or healer when you didn't really mean to play either of those roles.

Master mode flashpoints, which are the real "hardmodes" and not really nightmare-ish in difficulty, have longer queues since they require a traditional group setup of tank, healer and two dps. They are still reasonably popular though as they are quite rewarding. They are not completely level-neutral but become accessible from level 50. How can a level 50 do hard content with level 70s, you might ask? The same way all the different levels can play together on veteran mode, via something called "bolster", which increases everyone's level and stats to a minimum max-level baseline. It works pretty well actually, and I've successfully healed many a master mode flashpoint with a tank who wasn't even level capped yet. They are just a little bit more squishy than normal.


Uprisings don't have solo modes (and I don't think they need them either as not much story is happening in any of them), so here the naming convention actually makes sense: story mode is the (supposedly) easy one that can be done with a role-neutral group, veteran mode is the hard(er) one that requires a trinity setup, and nightmare mode is nightmare-ish (here and there, some uprisings are easier than others). Only the first two difficulties can be found in the group finder, but trust me, you wouldn't want to try the hardest one with anything but a group of friends anyway.

Due to being limited to level 70, queues for uprisings are a bit longer than for flashpoints, even for the role-neutral story mode. Also, some of the story modes are actually a real pain without a healer. You have been warned.


Like hardmode flashpoints, operations are accessible from level 50 onwards in story mode at least, and people get bolstered in them. So don't worry about bringing your level 50 alts in crappy levelling greens along for a ride, they'll be able to pull their weight just fine.

Only story mode operations are available through the group finder, only in 8-man size (they tried to upgrade it to 16-man one time and it literally crashed the servers) and only one at a time (the available operation rotates once a day; you can see it on the group finder interface). But according to general opinion nobody really uses the group finder to actually build operations groups anyway, everyone just uses general chat on the fleet to put a group together manually and then everyone queues up together to get the reward for using the group finder.

This is... mostly true. I don't know what it's like on other servers, but on The Red Eclipse at least I have actually gotten into groups assembled directly through the group finder a couple of times, after sitting in the queue for a moderate amount of time during prime time. The problem from my experience is that such groups are usually not what you'd call successful. I once got a group for Ravagers and it fell apart on the first boss because we hit the enrage with her still at half health. Another time I got a group for Eternity Vault that could barely kill the first boss and then repeatedly wiped on Gharj's enrage before falling apart. Wait, Gharj has an enrage? Yeah. I don't say that to diss anyone, but I guess it makes sense that somewhat clueless players would be more likely to just queue up for things via the interface instead of trying to form a group manually, which means that the quality of these groups is distinctly below average when they do happen.

So yeah, in general you are better off keeping an eye on general chat and responding to a LFG request. For story modes people usually don't care if you're experienced or not, as long as you are able to communicate and follow basic instructions, and thanks to bolster, gear isn't a concern.

The Interface

I've been saying all these things about "the group finder" without even explaining what it is. You access it through the little button next to your mini map that looks like three people. At level 70, the Galactic Command interface (Ctrl+G) also serves as a prettified group finder, but it provides fewer options and less information. So for example if you click on the operations icon, it will queue you for the currently featured operation, but you won't know what it actually is without checking the "proper" group finder window. Or if you want to queue for an uprising through the Galactic Command window, it will always be a random one, you can only choose a specific one through the normal group finder interface. Slightly confusing, I know.

It's also worth noting that unlike group finders in some other games, SWTOR's does not provide you with an estimate of how long you are likely to have to wait, a timer for how long you've been in the queue, or any indication if you've made partial progress towards assembling a group and are only waiting for a tank now (as an example). You just have to press that "join queue" button and have faith. Unless you're queuing for veteran flashpoints or story mode uprisings, I wouldn't recommend just waiting around, best to get out there and do some quests in the meantime or something.

But what about...

Heroics? These used to be group content pre-4.0, but have been nerfed so hard that they are all easily soloable. That said, if you see other people in the area and want to group up, there's nothing stopping you. It's quite common that people just throw around group invites without even saying anything beforehand if they can see that you're obviously on the same quest, and then quietly leave again once they're done. It can be very beneficial in areas where spawns for kill quests are highly contested.

World bosses? There is so little incentive to do these these days, I honestly have no idea who does them and when. I reckon that groups must sometimes form in general chat on the planet they are on. Since the introduction of level sync, you can't overlevel and solo them anymore either.

Datacrons? Other quests? Difficult story chapters? There isn't really a big pool of public LFG-ers for these and if you are desperate for help I would recommend making a friend or finding a guild. You could always try asking in general chat as sometimes people don't mind helping out even a stranger if it doesn't take too long, but it can be very hit and miss whether someone even responds at all.

Did I forget anything important? Let me know in the comments and I might add it in! Got a question about finding groups in SWTOR? Happy to answer those in the comments as well.


The Trouble With Voss

I took an alt of mine to Voss this weekend and it reminded me of how much that planet bugs me at times.

At first glance, there is much to love: I adore the open, grassy zones in autumn colours; they are simply beautiful. And the Voss themselves are at least intriguing initially if nothing else. My very first impression of the planet back in 2012 was mostly positive, even if I found it a bit awkward to deal with the Force-obsessed Voss as a trooper.

But the more often I've revisited the planet, the more it's bugged me, and I've long struggled to put my finger on why. I now think that one reason at least is how extremely repetitive all the storylines on Voss are. If you look back at the original class stories in general, the writers did a pretty amazing job at constructing plots that forced you to visit the exact same planets (not to mention the different sub-zones on each one) in the exact same order on every character while still making for a vastly different experience on each class. Everyone comes to Tatooine, but while a smuggler visits a crime lord's hideout, a trooper goes on a mission to hunt down a traitor and a Sith warrior has a spiritual experience while trying to find a certain Jedi.

On Voss though, everything feels the flipping same. The planetary arcs for both factions, while spiced up with different details, both have you visiting the Shrine of Healing to impress the Voss and then follow this up with a visit to the Nightmare Lands while emphasising what a scary place they are and how the Voss don't like you going there. Yet when you look at the class stories, they all have you do the exact same thing! We're not just talking about visiting the same sub-zones here, but every single class having to enter the same building to grovel to the Voss mystics. It made me feel thoroughly sick of the place, which wasn't helped by the fact that part of the planetary storyline is a prerequisite to get the local endurance datacron, so it was one of those pieces of content you wanted to redo on every single alt too... at least that's something that legacy-wide datacrons have done away with.

The Voss as a species grate on me too, and I'm continuously surprised by their popularity with roleplayers. I guess it's fun to pretend to be a Voss purely because you can't actually play one, so you get to feel all special and different for having thought of it (even if lots of other people have actually had the same idea). But as a species, they are extremely dull. They love their mystics, hate the Gormak, and... what exactly? Through class and side missions we get a bit of extra insight into the lives of Voss Commandos, but not everyone can be a mystic or a commando. What are "normal" Voss like? There don't seem to be any. I'm somewhat reminded of how in early Star Trek all aliens were basically slightly funny looking humans with some random character trait exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness that then defined their entire species (Klingons with wanting to fight for their honour, Vulcans with the logic etc.). That's the sort of vibe I get from the Voss too and it feels old.

As the cherry on top, I really dislike the way they talk. They aren't supposed to be emotionless, but for some reason they always speak in some sort of weird monotone that makes it sound like nothing interests them. It's rare that they display even a tiny bit of excitement in their voices and on their faces, and that even though there is nothing in the dialogue or lore to explain this strange lack of emotional expressiveness.

Feel free to tell me why you think Voss and its people are totally awesome though.


More Patchy Goodness

Another Tuesday, another patch. I had somehow gotten it into my head that this one would be the one with the new flashpoint, but actually that one is slated for 5.4 it seems, so my disappointment with its absence was entirely of my own making.

For now, the theme of handing out goodies to different parts of the player base that have felt neglected for a while continues.

First off, there were some class balance changes. I have some guildies that keep asking me for opinions on these things and all I can respond with are blank stares. As someone who plays healers for life I pay remarkably little attention to numbers, so as long as I can do my job in ops and don't get focused too hard in PvP, I'm happy. I'm not even too worried about the Commando survival nerfs that people keep crying about (though nothing has been implemented yet), because I don't actually take most of those "OP utilities" as a healer anyway. As long as they don't take away the wonder that is Echoing Deterrence (the survival cooldown with the built-in reflect), which has increased my survivability in warzones tenfold compared to how things were before its introduction, I'm good.

I jumped into a warzone and ended up in an arena where the person who did the most damage by far was a Juggernaut tank. I didn't think that was a thing Bioware was balancing for?

There is also a new stronghold on Manaan. I bought it because I had the complimentary Cartel Coins to spare but I haven't placed a single decoration in it so far. I was quite curious about Galactic Strongholds when it first launched but never really turned into a true housing aficionado. But honestly, it looks pretty even while empty, and the lighting in the outside area looks good for taking screenshots.

... which is something I did with Lana and Koth, who've now also been given the honour of becoming customisable. I was initially surprised that I couldn't see any change, but basically they come with a "customisation" by default which retains their current look, but you can take it off and they'll suddenly lose a lot of muscle and acquire a slightly sickly complexion to allow you to dress them however you want. I can't get over Koth's forehead without those goggles there! I think I'll just leave them both as they are.

Though I have been doubting myself a bit, based on the amount of chatter I've picked up from people who are over the moon about being able to put them in different clothes. I'm somewhat reminded of how I felt when Galactic Starfighter launched and I didn't really care about it, but since it was all everyone was talking about I felt that I should give it a try because I didn't want to miss out. Is playing space barbie really where it's at? I don't know.

My guild also had a brief look at the new operations encounter on story mode, but I really want to see more of it before giving my opinion on that!


Archaeologists, the Unloved Gatherers

This is a post that has been sitting in my drafts folder for a little while, and before that I'd been bouncing the idea around in my head for even longer. I think it's about time that someone speaks up for the poor archaeologists.

Of the three gathering crew skills (strictly speaking you could count slicing as a fourth, but I don't think that gathering money really counts), my bioanalysts and scavengers never have issues maintaining a healthy supply of high-end crafting materials. I spend most of my time in PvE doing group content, and in both flashpoints and operations, there are plenty of beast and droid type mobs that can be disassembled for their parts. But what is there for the archaeologists? Nothing! Nowhere!

Now, I'm not saying that we should start fighting living crystals (better not give Bioware ideas) and I don't think there's any existing mob type for which it would make sense to suddenly turn out to consist of artifact fragments. But there are plenty of existing instances where it would make perfect logical sense to place some artifact gathering nodes at least:

Assault on Tython, Korriban Incursion: The seats of the Jedi and the Sith respectively are known for suddenly revealing ancient forgotten artifacts to this day, why not let us find some?

Athiss, Legacy of the Rakata: What better places to discover interesting archaeological finds than on planets that are home to forgotten civilisations? Athiss actually has a couple of artifact nodes but except for the ones that unlock shortcuts, they just give pretty useless buffs and you can't level your skill on them either.

Battle of Ilum: The whole reason people are fighting over Ilum is its crystal supply, where are there none for us to pick up in the caves?

Battle of Rishi, Blood Hunt, Hammer Station, Lost Island, Taral V: These all have at least some outdoorsy areas where it would make sense to find a crystal or two.

Cademimu, Kaon Under Siege: OK, city planets are a bit of a stretch, but considering the sheer amount of junk lying around on the streets of Corellia, why shouldn't we find anything on these too?

Operations also offer up multiple locations where it would be perfectly reasonable to find artifacts and/or crystals: Eternity Vault, Terror From Beyond, Scum & Villainy, Dread Fortress & Palace, and Temple of Sacrifice all qualify in my opinion.

Now, you could argue that if we're going to start placing static gathering nodes for archaeologists in instances, why not have some for scavengers and bioanalysts too, aside from the corpses of mobs? And you know, I wouldn't mind that either. But they already have something, while archaeologists leave every instance empty-handed. Give them some love first, I say.


Trying Secret World Legends

I mentioned previously that I was trying out another new MMO this month... and this MMO has been Secret World Legends. Yes! For once I, too, am on the bandwagon of bloggers all trying out the new shiny on the block (sort of).

Unlike LOTRO, the original Secret World was an MMO that I never had any desire to play, for one simple reason: the setting. I don't have much interest in horror and mystery at the best of times, but completely immersing myself in a world filled with these things? No, thanks.

I still enjoyed reading about the game sometimes though, mostly because it's a great example of how a loyal and vocal community can greatly influence public perception of a game. From what little numbers we have (such as steam charts), the original Secret World seemed to have a player base of a size roughly in the same ballpark as Wildstar. Yet while the latter is constantly lamented as dying and seemingly no news article can avoid mentioning threats of closure, Secret World was consistently praised as a successful niche game and for supposedly having a payment model that "does it right". I remember I once mentioned in a comment that I didn't think Secret World's payment model was working out well for Funcom and was immediately told off for daring to suggest such a thing. I have to admit I felt quite vindicated when a Funcom dev said pretty much just that in an interview leading up to Secret World Legends' launch: that part of the reason for the reboot was that they needed to find a different way to monetise the game.

But I digress... as I was saying, I was never planning to play it myself, but a couple of months ago my pet tank suddenly got it into his head that he wanted us to try it together, and with the F2P relaunch coming up it was really hard for me to say no. So it happened, and here we are.

For someone who went into the game fully expecting not to like it very much, I found myself strangely attached to my green-haired, bespectacled Templar surprisingly quickly. (Once I had made it through the slightly strange character creation screen, which had everything in hexes... which is probably in line with the magical bee theme from the intro but made it kind of hard to see all the options.)

Reactions to the new tutorial from veterans seem to be mixed, but to me it seemed serviceable. In fact, I could have done with some more information still. Even if you pride yourself in your game being challenging, figuring out how the UI works should not be the main event! I think the main reason I didn't have more trouble than I did was that a lot of keys were mapped similar to how things work in Neverwinter. But as an example of what was lacking: As a "Ravager", I was given a healing skill to start with but there wasn't even a mention of the fact that there is a separate friendly target and that you switch it by using the mouse wheel. That I learned only through reading other people's comments about the game on blogs. (Pretty cool feature though.)

The quality of the cut scenes was also good in my opinion, except for some of the NPCs having awkward, nutcracker-like mouth movements which stood in stark contrast to everything else - but then I also read somewhere that this is a bug and not how they usually look. I immediately disliked my character's silence though, something that I knew to expect from videos and which I'd already found off-putting the first time I saw it. I don't need my quest delivery to be super-fancy, but if you do put work into such detailed cut scenes and voice acting, it has to go both ways. As it is, all the NPCs monologuing on and on while my character just stands there looking like a lump falls into a sort of uncanny valley for me... close enough to believable human interaction to draw attention but then missing the mark, with the final result veering mostly into awkward and unintentionally comical. Maybe it works for people who imagine their character as someone super shy who always clams up in the presence of anything that isn't a zombie.

Don't mind me, I'll just stand here and stare at you blankly... it's my thing.

Since I never played the original version of the game, I can't comment on just how the new streamlining and combat changes compare to the original, but to me they seemed... okay. I never felt lost for things to do, though the sheer rigidity of the level requirements for some quests seems a bit patronising. While questing in a group, I also found the quest tracker a bit annoying as it allows you to pick up several missions at once but will only ever display one, and the game can be very fiddly with individual mission steps - sometimes they update for everyone in the group, sometimes they don't. It's become a running gag how often I had to backtrack because I had missed a "click on this" step somewhere and suddenly couldn't progress.

The combat seems okay so far, though it's a bit hard to judge when things fall over as quickly as they do in the first zone. In fact, while questing with my pet tank we repeatedly ran into the problem that he started attacking a rare mob from range and it would die before I could run into melee, resulting in no loot baggie for me.

My starter class combines fist weapons and blood magic - god knows how I heal people with spiked fists, but considering that I spend my days dishing out healy goodness in SWTOR with a giant assault cannon, who am I to judge? Things may have been simplified compared to what they were like, but I still had to rearrange my bars multiple times already to find a combo of skills that worked for me. In fact, I think I'm still not quite there yet, despite actually willfully ignoring a lot of the built-in complexity for now and trying to keep things simple.

As an example, fist weapons have this mechanic called fury, which you can spend on going into a frenzy, which in turn gives you more powerful skills to use. In theory. In practice, every time I tried this the frenzy state was so short (3-5 seconds it seemed), that I had trouble figuring out what was even going on. Later I deduced that apparently all those exciting, more powerful skills are pretty much the same as my regular ones, only with slightly bigger numbers. I decided to just forget about the whole thing for now as too much of a hassle. If it matters later on, I will revisit it.

Being in a group at all times hasn't really helped in that regard, because as mentioned above things die way too quickly. It has also affected my experience of other parts of the game. Like those much-acclaimed investigation missions that people like to talk about? Well, my pet tank has already done them all on his second, higher-level character, so each one so far has basically consisted of me plodding after him while he mumbled something about "music puzzle here, need to enter the correct notes" while I'd just smile and nod until he was done. (Credit for those things was thankfully shared, so I basically got all those missions done without actually investigating anything myself so far.)

One thing that was a really positive surprise to me was the first dungeon. This already opens up at level 10 and I thought it was super fun. Not very difficult perhaps, but once again I found this hard to judge since my pet tank was constantly instructing me to avoid this or run over there. There did seem to be some mechanics that would most likely have killed a group of completely ignorant new players. Either way I found it extremely fun and atmospheric, and immediately wanted to run it again once we were done. I was surprised in so far as I remember seeing very little talk of TSW's dungeons on blogs and such... I guess that like with SWTOR, everyone is so focused on the unique features of the solo content that the lovingly crafted group content gets treated as a side feature? In my opinion it shouldn't be (in either game). We also wanted to try some PvP but there currently seems to be some sort of bug when you try to queue as a group that will only queue one of you.

Fighting winged Cthulhu as early as level 10? Sure, why not!

Overall, my impression of the game so far has been a lot more positive than I expected. They've clearly made an effort to make it more appealing to people who had no interest in or disliked the previous version, and it shows - even if previously loyal veteran players are understandably annoyed by the result. Whether it will work to give the game a second lease at life... who knows. Even though there's been noticeably less buzz about it on my blogroll than there usually is for a completely new MMO, the "new game smell" is still strong: The official subreddit is full of fun threads such as customer service admitting they are too busy to deal with anything but payment issues or people being totally unable to play the game, or a player complaining that they spent over 400 dollars on lockboxes without getting the items they wanted (whales ahoy). Sustainability is something else though.

The new monetisation model reminds me a lot of Neverwinter's, which is widely criticised but clearly works to support a steady stream of content updates. Specifically the triple currency system is very reminiscent of Neverwinter's (I keep referring to the middle currency as astral diamonds whenever I forget its proper name), and they even had their own version of the Caturday exploit just before launch! Likewise the weapon upgrade system has a lot of similarities to Neverwinter's artifact refinement so far. The question is whether SWL will also copy the overall trajectory of that game's monetisation: which is to be extremely generous at low levels and to casual players, while squeezing those who are highly invested in gear upgrades for all they are worth.


AFK in PvP

The scene: Alderaan Civil War on a Friday night. While waiting for the match to start, people inspect their fellow team members to get a better idea of what they are in for. Suddenly someone points at a well-geared Togruta Sage and shouts in ops chat: "Not THAT useless guy again! He just goes AFK for the entire match and does nothing!" Then the accuser quits the group.

I wasn't quite sure what to think of this dramatic outburst. People will say a lot of stupid stuff in PvP, as evidenced by ops chat in many a random match I've been in, but to see such an eruption of anger before the game had even started was definitely odd. Still, I wanted to presume the Sage innocent until proven guilty, and just made a note to myself to keep an eye on him.

However, once the match had started and we were brawling around the middle turret, all was forgotten. I was the only healer on my team and the Imps knew it, with the enemy melee on my case at all times. I was forced to practice my kiting, which strangely led to one of my own team members shouting at me to stop running away! I think he was having trouble keeping up with the people chasing me and whom he wanted to kill? I think I spotted Pfannenstiel and his friend Sanne on the enemy team too.

We actually managed to cap a side turret first and were ahead for a little while, but eventually we lost the fight at mid and then never quite recovered enough to reclaim a second turret. "Oh well," I thought, "we gave it a pretty good go". Only as the last couple of hitpoints of the Republic ship were ticking down did I suddenly remember about the Togruta Sage. Looking at the map, I spotted him standing in a corner in the tunnel underneath the middle turret, out of the way of combat and away from any objectives. When the scoreboard came up moments later, it showed a big, fat zero in all columns for him... except for damage done, where a very, very low number seemed to indicate that he had hit a single offensive ability at one point, probably to earn the one medal required to get rewards for the match. The doomsayer at the start had been right.

My mood instantly transformed from being gracious in defeat to pure anger. Considering we had held our own as well as we did with one person down, actually having an eighth who contributed to the match in some way surely would have made a difference. I rarely get angry at people for playing badly, because we all have to start somewhere - but this was something else: someone actively sabotaging their own team for the entire duration of the match. Infuriating. I went to rant about it on Twitter and got a bit of a conversation going.

Now, let's not make a mountain out of a molehill here: This isn't something that happens often in SWTOR. For comparison of what things can be like, I only have to think back to a certain period in World of Warcraft's life cycle when the entrance to Alterac Valley was dubbed the "peace cave" by many, as it was not unusual for half the team on each side to just sit around AFK. But on the rare occasion when it does happen in SWTOR, it's still highly annoying, especially as the game's warzones feature smaller teams, where even a single AFKer can deal a severe blow to their side.

There is actually a feature to kick AFKers from the warzone, but I think many people don't know about it because it's so rarely used and not well documented. The way it works is that you can right click on someone in the ops frames and mark them as being AFK - I'm not sure how many people are required for the system to take action, but I don't think it's very many, though still more than one. If enough people mark the AFKer, there is an announcement, which is visible to the rest of the group as well, that they have to engage in combat or will be removed from the warzone. If the player then gets into a fight, the flag is cleared, otherwise they are kicked after some time (if I remember correctly).

I have actually seen this work in the past, but it's a bit of a hassle. Specifically I remember a Novare Coast where a stealther had decided to just idle somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I called them out in chat and managed to drum up enough support for a kick, at which point they briefly engaged in combat to clear their flag before going back to their previous idling in stealth. My memory of the incident is a bit fuzzy, but I think we then flagged them a second time and they actually ended up being removed... eventually. However, I'm sure you can see how this is a lot of effort to remove a leech, considering that you actually want to be focusing on the game instead. There have been other occasions for me when there simply wasn't enough time or engagement to get the AFKer kicked and they went on to finish the game with full rewards.

Now, I understand why Bioware wouldn't want to make it too easy to kick someone: to avoid people getting bullied or targeted by outright trolls, just because they don't have good gear for example. But it's an interesting contrast to GSF, which tackles the AFK problem in a completely different manner: by automatically flagging people AFK if they don't engage for too long - there is no threat to be removed from the match here, but you simply won't be eligible for any rewards if the match finishes while you have that flag up.

Ironically, I've been flagged as AFK in GSF quite a few times simply due to my own incompetence, as sitting in your gunship and missing every single shot doesn't count as being in combat. However, I always managed to clear the flag in short order. So why can't ground PvP have something similar?

My first thought was that objectives that don't involve combat would be a problem. Nobody should be flagged for guarding a turret! But this is already a thing in GSF too, and sitting on a satellite in a domination match is correctly counted as a perfectly valid form of participation. Likewise, the warzone scoring system knows where the objectives are located on each map and you could automatically be exempt from being flagged while you're near one. AFKers tend to avoid those places anyway, because they want to stand as far out of the way as possible to avoid being killed.

I suppose I could see some situations where such a system could throw up false positives: For example a stealther running ahead in Huttball to be ready for a pass later. But as long as there was sufficient leeway in terms of how long you can be in this state, I think it would be fine. If you spend minutes on end just standing around in stealth and waiting for a pass that doesn't come, you're not really helping your team anyway and would probably be better off trying something else.

So, why do we have such a much more clunky system in ground PvP instead? Maybe people can think of other ways to improve it instead of copying the way GSF handles it?