New Conquest Musings

I'm sure some of my readers have been eagerly awaiting this post. So, the new Conquest system, huh? I wanted to wait a bit with writing about it because it's the kind of thing where day one impressions are unlikely to be representative of the larger picture, and even now I think it's probably still a bit early, but I still wanted to talk a bit about what I've seen these first two weeks.

On the official forums and in other similar places, there has apparently been a fair bit of outrage over Bioware "breaking" things, but that hasn't really been my experience. On day one I only had time to note the bug that wrongfully caused the objectives for the Gree event world bosses to erroneously be granted from killing random mobs, which basically granted a "free" 10k points and I thought was pretty funny, but everyone in my guild remained in a good mood as the week progressed as well. Being a small-ish guild, we had invaded the planet with the smallest yield and managed to hit our target even though we hadn't made that big a deal out of getting people to contribute; it just happened. On that front, it certainly felt like a success.

The new point values felt a bit weird though. I had been excited about the prospect of my conquest bonus from strongholds increasing from 60-odd percent to the full 150% due to the changes to how it's calculated, but in practice the point values for many objectives had been decreased so drastically that I actually got less out of each activity than I used to. This was additionally highlighted by a change in the interface - where it used to show only the base point value for each activity plus your invasion bonus (so that your actual gain was going to be more than what was shown, once the bonus from your strongholds had been applied) the UI now accurately tells you exactly how many points you will get for each activity. This is not a bad thing per se but serves to increase the feeling of disappointment when you "only" get the exact small number of points predicted by the UI and not more.

In the first week there was also a serious dearth of repeatable activities, something that Bioware acknowledged and deployed a fix for almost right away, but it was still kind of a weird experience that served to highlight imbalances in the rewards for different activities. I ended Sunday evening with one character "only" being a little over 2k points shy of her personal target, figuring that this should be easy to get, but ran into a bit of a wall as all the "good" non-repeatable objectives had already been used up and the repeatable ones only awarded a piddly amount. Eventually I ended up killing Imperial fortifications on Ilum with the help of a guildie, which created repair bills (level sync or not, those things still hit hard) and gave fewer points than the objective to complete a single Gree daily while taking ten times as long.

If you're not doing this as a side objective while killing a Commander with a full ops group, this is possibly the worst Conquest activity ever.

What's been the most interesting for me to watch however has been the meta with the new point yields. With crafting gutted as a source of points (for real now - remember, they already meant to do this years ago but didn't really go all the way back then) you could tell that many guilds were really struggling. By the end of the week, only two of the guilds that had invaded the high-yield Hoth on Darth Malgus had actually hit their target, and likewise only two had achieved the medium-yield target on Iokath (a third one got heartbreakingly close and missed it). Now, admittedly part of this may simply have been a result of ignorance - presumably not everyone keeps up with the patch notes and some smaller guilds may have been invading the "wrong" planets because they were under the false impression that they would still get rewards if only they made it onto the scoreboard. Still, Bioware responded quickly by slashing the targets in half for the second week.

This still didn't solve the problem however - it did cause some guilds (such as mine) to brave the shift from small to medium yield after having had a very successful first week in the lowest bracket, but something very curious happened to the large yield planet: It was entirely abandoned by guilds actually trying to achieve their target and was instead crowded by small guilds that were hoping to gain the prestigious first place on a board that nobody wanted to be on for the "regular" rewards. So nobody on the large board on Republic side is actually on track to hit their target this week, and it looks like the guild in first place will finish with a piddly 500k points or so. The question is: Will its members still be granted the title and the other first place rewards or are those tied to the guild target now? It's not something we've ever had to worry about before.

If the rewards for first place are independent from the guild target, that could certainly lead to a very weird meta, with large yield planets becoming the opposite of what they were intended to be: a playground for small, brave guilds who want to win first place and are willing to give up their weekly guild target to do so, abandoned by the large guilds because it's too much of a hassle and they can win and get their weekly reward by going for one of the smaller boards. It's also been stated on the forums that Bioware is still monitoring how the yield system is working out, however - I have a feeling that they would not leave it like that if what I just described turned out to be the way it's going.

The one thing that left a serious feeling of disappointment in my stomach this week was finding out that the new "Total Galactic War" was anything but and only featured a measly four planets (three really, but one was split in two due to having separate Imperial and Republic versions). This was confirmed on the forums to be an intentional change as well and is a real shame in my eyes, as nothing helps smaller guilds as much as simply having more planets to invade and therefore more chances to win. Not to mention that it would be an odd choice to make all conquest events feature the same number of planets if one of their stated goals with the revamp was to make the events more distinct from each other. I hope they'll reconsider that decision.

The long and short of it is that it's obviously still a work in progress, but I didn't expect anything else. For what it's worth it has reinvigorated my interest in Conquest for the first time in years and seems to have had a similar effect on many of my guildies. We'll see how long it lasts and how things develop from here.


Social Media Games #SWTORCompanionChaos

Last week's patch also brought with it an out of game "feature", as it was announced on the launcher and on the website that SWTOR's social media accounts would be holding an "event" called #SWTORCompanionChaos Celebration - could they have come up with a more convoluted name if they tried?

The premise was simple enough, however: a bunch of polls would be posted, pitting various companions against each other with the question of who's better at what they do, to be decided by the players. Each companion was also assigned to either #TeamNico or #TeamShae, so that at the end one of the teams would come out as the overall winner and then... well, we don't know what will happen then, though I can make an educated guess.

I'm not a heavy user of social media (among other things because I don't own a smart phone, which seems to be people's main avenue of interacting with them), but I do have a Facebook and a Twitter account and follow SWTOR's official accounts on both of them. I think they do a decent enough job at posting about game updates and engaging people in random conversation about the game, but I generally avoid reading the responses/reactions because they tend to be a pretty sad affair, more so on Facebook than on Twitter. Maybe Twitter contains a higher percentage of happy gamers, or maybe the concept of following and un-following an account is more intuitive there. Many Facebook users certainly seem to be oblivious to the idea that they can "un-like" a page and stop receiving updates from it instead of constantly posting trollish comments in response to each and every one of its updates.

I do wonder how important social media are for MMOs. I mean, happy players are probably too busy just playing the game to care either way, but if you're someone who's considering trying a new MMO for the first time or returning after a longer absence, I could see you checking out the game's social media accounts and being put off if there's too much negativity in the responses there. Less of that can't really be a bad thing.

That aside, I also have a semi-professional interest in the subject these days since I moved to my employer's marketing department last year. While social media are not part of my personal responsibility, I do find it interesting to see the challenges my colleagues face while handling them.

With that in mind, this new initiative sounds to me like someone new has been taking charge of SWTOR's social media recently and is trying to improve what's happening there. The most striking evidence of this (to me) is that they are finally using the poll feature correctly! It always bugged me when they posted a poll but instead of actually posting a poll they would ask an either-or question in a status update and attach a picture with the two options, labelled A and B... to encourage people to comment with either "A" or "B"? Always seemed very silly to me. Another hint towards a new person being in charge is that the game's Instagram account suddenly appears to have been abandoned. It was never super active, but it used to post at least one picture a week or so in the past.

Anyway, at the time of writing this, we're just waiting for the last poll in the series to go up. The scores so far appear as follows:

Deadliest Droid: HK-55 #TeamNico
Worst Crook: Tanno Vik #TeamNico
Toughest Soldier: Lieutenant Pierce #TeamShae
Most Charming Con Artist: Gault #TeamNico (didn't see this one posted on Twitter, only on FB)
Fiercest Sith: Lord Scourge #TeamNico (same as above)
Best "Fixer": T7 #TeamNico on Twitter, Blizz #TeamShae on Facebook - that one was really close, wonder how they are going to choose the winner?
Most Gifted Apprentice: Ashara #TeamShae currently in the lead, god knows why!


So, depending on how they decide the "tie" between Blizz and T7 and how the last vote goes, it could still end in a tie between the two teams, but #TeamNico cannot lose anymore.

As for what all this will lead to? Well, considering that the two teams are both named after companions that were previously given out as subscriber rewards, I'd say the obvious answer would be that the winning "team leader" is made available for a second time, whether by serving as a subscriber reward again or via direct purchase on the Cartel Market. I could even see Bioware giving out both of them a second time if it's a tie. If nothing else, I've got to admit that this would be a more interesting way of going about it than simply making players choose between the two available companions directly. Plus, at least for this week the event also seems to have done the job of getting people in the Facebook comments to talk about something other than how the game is dying and they're not getting enough of their favourite content - mostly anyway.


Izax Is Big

For all my ranting about difficulty, I was quite excited to see Izax story mode, even if he was going to be more difficult than a story mode boss really "should" be in my opinion. I've always been more forgiving about difficulty on final bosses anyway, and we've been waiting for this guy's release for nearly a year... in other words, I was a little hyped.

Izax the Destroyer does look incredibly cool when you first meet him, being the largest raid boss we've had to fight since the Terror from Beyond. Also, just getting to him is a challenge, as the "trash" leading up to him requires you to manoeuvre little droids around to redirect a laser to the correct spot in order to open a door. During our first night in Gods from the Machine last week, we actually spent so much time on this silly little puzzle that we barely had any time left to attempt Izax himself.

The boss fight itself is an interesting one as well though. There is a lot of stuff with little adds and laser beams going on that initially seems absolutely overwhelming, but once you understand what purpose each one serves it's actually not that bad. I still find Scyva more intimidating and punishing to be honest, especially with that red circle phase she has near the end. Izax is also super lenient in terms of dps and healing requirements, ensuring that you can take your eyes off your abilities to look around and take in what else is going on without causing trouble for your group.

My favourite part of Bioware trying to make this ridiculously long and initially somewhat complicated fight more casual-friendly without neutering the basic mechanics is that while the encounter is active, the cooldown of all combat resurrections - which is usually five minutes - is reduced to thirty seconds. What this means is that the devs could allow certain mechanics to kill people without frustrating the whole group by enforcing a wipe. As long as you still have control of the fight overall and your healers/res-capable damage dealers are on the ball, you can allow people to fall over and get them up again a ridiculous amount of times. The death still teaches a lesson, leaving the victim with another repair bill and probably feeling slightly sheepish, but things keep rolling and remain fun for the group as a whole.

This is especially important considering how long the fight is. I currently have my GeForce experience set to save the last 15 minutes of gameplay at the press of a button, and this wasn't enough to capture the encounter in its entirety after we'd killed the boss! So I used the footage to make just a little montage of moments instead of a full boss kill video:

The reason I wanted to make a video in any case was that the actual kill was pretty hilarious. I don't recall ever having a boss kill achievement pop up after we had thought that we'd hit some sort of enrage and died.

If I had to criticise anything at all - and this may sound odd to many raiders - it would be the lore. I've linked to Rav's excellent guide on the Zakuulan gods and their connection to the Iokath operation before, but just as a reminder: Izax is supposed to be the big daddy of all these superweapons. Now, I'd rather not think too hard about how concepts like marriage and child bearing translate into a world of giant droids, but there are some implications there. So why is it that after all these humanoid droids that are sentient and talk, we go up against a giant lobster dragon that doesn't do anything but screech and wave his claws a bit when he isn't trying to blow us up with the cannon built into his chest? All the previous bosses were so rich in personality; why is Izax nothing but an almost mindless beast?

In a similar vein, I was utterly confused by Scyva's role in the fight. First off, didn't we kill her in the previous encounter? Did I miss some important voice-over after her death that explains why she isn't really dead? And why is she helping us beat Izax? I get that she's kind of the "softie" of the Zakuulan pantheon and might take pity on us mere mortals as we throw ourselves into the maw of the dragon, but the assistance she renders goes far beyond helping us stay alive! In the cut scene it even looks like she is directing ships of her own to shoot at Izax before we've even arrived. Why? Genuine question - if someone knows the answer feel free to leave a comment.

Finally, I've read that Izax has an extra phase on veteran mode that doesn't exist on story mode. This is fine, however it seems that they just chopped it off for story mode without giving the fight anything like a proper ending. Part of why my guildies and I were so confused when the kill achievement popped up was that most of us had just died and Scvya was yelling at us to finish off Izax... and then it was suddenly over.

None of these ruined the boss for me or anything... just saying.


Short Romance

Lots of things to talk about in the latest patch, but I wanted to start with what I think is the shortest and simplest to sum up: the Arcann romance. I'm going to apply a bit of a sandwich technique here to talk about both things I liked about it and where I think it could have delivered more.

+ It all starts with Arcann wanting to give you a gift, a breastplate that he claims to have forged himself. In practical terms, this is a green quality chest that is an ugly, mustard-yellow recolour of the chest piece from the Zakuul Knight set. Your character gets a dialogue option to comment on how beautiful it is. I'm listing this as a positive because I thought it was hilarious.

My initial reaction on Twitter: "Really, Arcann? A green?"

- You cannot react negatively to the whole situation in any way. I was kind of surprised that I noticed this since I hardly ever pick the "mean" options anyway, but I found their absence in the dialogue here quite striking. I don't think it's unreasonable to think that someone who spared Arcann's life might not actually like him all that much. Maybe they are still wary of him, or think that he has a lot to atone for after all the awful things he did while ruling Zakuul. The spectrum of emotions between liking someone and wanting them dead is quite large. However, there are no dialogue options here to express anything even remotely like this. You're forced to be cheerful and friendly towards him no matter what.

+ That said, if you are happy to roll with it, I think this little romantic scene is well done. I'm not as fond of shacking up with virtual people as half my Twitter feed, but the dialogue seemed reasonably well done here, including Arcann seeming a bit lost and admitting that he has basically zero experience with this kind of thing. You also get the option to back out after that first flirt option if you regret it. (Haven't gone through with that one myself yet, though I'm tempted to do it just to see what it's like.)

- Biggest problem: the whole thing is super short. In the run-up to this patch's release, I once speculated about how they were going to make it not awkward to go through several cut scenes of romantic progression in a row. Turns out that Bioware's answer to this question was to not have multiple cut scenes. You just have one conversation that can end with a kiss if you like.. and that's it. That's not much of a romance in my eyes. I was also kind of hoping that your character and Arcann would go and do... something. Anything. Flowers picked on Odessen 0/10? Maybe not. But I want more out of this stuff than a brief conversation simulator.

+ For what it's worth, the Alliance alert works fine even if you don't want to romance Arcann. It's a lot like the last of the short conversations that your original class companions tend to have with you on your ship, where they tell you how awesome you are and how much they enjoy being around you. Actually, it's even a little better, because it doesn't feel as forced as some of those convos did. Arcann really does have major reasons to feel grateful to you.

Final verdict: Good stuff but... come on, Bioware. I'm not expecting a whole visual novel here, but three lines of dialogue make for a somewhat anaemic experience.


KotET Chapter 8 Master Mode

Spoiler: I completed the Eternal Master achievement yesterday! So I have two more chapters to talk about, but I will split them into separate posts again.

To be honest I wasn't sure whether I should give chapter eight its own post, since it didn't really present any real roadblocks, but in the end there were still enough nuisances that I felt it was worth talking about them in their own space. Once again, I played through this chapter on master mode on both my Scoundrel and my Sorcerer in order to gain a broader perspective of where its challenges lie, though it's worth mentioning that both characters were light side. I'm not convinced that Lana and Theron are as useful as Senya and Arcann can be in this chapter - particularly the latter's reflective barrier.

In many ways chapter eight struck me as the opposite of chapter seven - the latter was a tight experience consisting of several challenging boss fights. The former is mostly trash, and lots of it, something that I found very tiresome. Even stealth is of limited use here, as only one of your two companions will share it, with the other one happily running into things and aggroing them left and right. Of course, if you're "lucky" they might die in one of those skirmishes, with no way of getting them back up again other than to either die too or exit the area and come back in again.

So yeah, lots of trash, much of it annoying. However, the worst bit was once again the walker section, more than anything because any time you die you have a pretty long slog ahead of you to get back to where you were, but like me you might also run into "fun" features such as pulls that keep evading or a giant satellite dish that - while passive - kept respawning and putting me back into combat.

The main lesson I learned on my second playthrough was that homing missiles are your friend - by using them to start every pull, you can quickly eliminate a whole bunch of spread-out weenies that would otherwise bring your walker low with their inflated damage output.

The one opponent that had me stumped for a little bit was the so-called siege skytrooper at the end of the second walker section, because he hits so hard that he'll kill you long before you have a chance to do enough damage in return, even if you're using your most powerful abilities. Of course I realised in the end that you don't need to get him down to zero, only to fifty percent, and when he decides to float up into the air, his attacks can be outranged. So whenever he did that, I backpedalled a bit to get out of range and then spent time winding up another overcharged cannon shot before wading back into the fray.

The mini bosses on the ground were fairly unremarkable. I first tried to kill Tyrall Jerikko while ignoring his droids, but the moment he died they turned around and started channeling their siege cutters at me - ow! I vanished right out of that, and on the next attempt made sure to take the droids out first, even though they appear to be non-threatening at this early stage.

There was also this guy called Imperator Sunfell with loads of adds, but they don't hit too hard and if you die after only having killed some of them, those will at least stay dead so you'll have fewer of them to deal with the next time around.

I also ran into the glitch boss, when I managed to rescue Vette before my objective had updated to "rescue Vette", so that when it did there was nothing left to fight and the mission bugged out. Fortunately that was easy enough to fix by exiting the chapter and coming back in again, but unfortunately this also caused a whole load of trash to respawn, something I really could have done without.

For being one of the big bads of the expansion, Vaylin is a fairly unremarkable fight. Honestly, the scariest thing about her is the large number of adds she starts with. At that point your priority should simply be to survive; handily she seems to use her lightning pretty indiscriminately and actually kills off her own followers as the fight goes on.

After that it's just about remembering to stay in melee range, except when she's about to do that big explosion - then you run out, and don't forget to take your companion with you - and always keeping your back against a wall in case one of her Force blasts goes through uninterrupted (that thing has a fierce knockback).


More Secret World Legends

I wrote about trying Secret World Legends last year in July, and thanks to my pet tank getting really enamoured with the game, we actually ended up sticking with it for quite a while, slowly duoing our way through most of the story one weekend at a time, including all the story mode dungeons. I wanted to hold off with making this post until we were fully done, but in Tokyo we lost steam before completing everything, stopping just before being sent to the Orochi Tower, and since then we've been unable to muster up the enthusiasm to continue for several months now. So I thought I might as well finish up this draft and post it anyway.

My pet tank hit the level cap of 50 in the Scorched Desert zone (he was a patron/subscriber and I wasn't, providing him with a slight XP bonus), while I reached it in City of the Sun God. The interesting thing is that we were only slightly overlevelled for the content at that point, and it's quite clear that characters hitting the level cap before they actually reach the end of the "levelling content" is intended. I guess this way the game is trying to provide a smoother transition to "endgame" than most MMOs, where standard questing tends to become obsolete the moment you hit max level. Thanks to the way gear upgrades work, you'll also keep working on those at the level cap more or less the same way you've done throughout most of your levelling.

The ease of combat I observed in the early zones didn't quite last until the high levels. By max level, fights didn't so much get harder but more tedious, as mobs start to take longer and longer to die if your gear isn't that great (such as was the case for me, and which is yet another way in which the game reminds me of Neverwinter). Only in Tokyo did we really start to feel the challenge ramp up somewhat, with bigger, oddly-shaped and faster-hitting telegraph attacks that hurt more. This means that I probably wouldn't enjoy the combat very much alone, but at the same time it adds value to playing as a duo because you notice a significant difference in terms of speed and ease of progress when you have company.

The silent protagonist continued to annoy me a bit, but I got more used to it. I also learned that I liked cut scenes with more than one NPC a lot more, as the situation immediately becomes more natural if you are silently listening to two people talking instead of standing there like a muppet while being addressed directly. I also came to realise though that for all of the interesting writing in the cut scenes, they are often incredibly disconnected from the actual missions. My favourite example of this was a quest in Savage Coast where the intro cut scene literally just consists of you watching two people play chess, yet this somehow translates into a lengthy chain of killing X monsters and impaling them on spikes. Naturally. (Yes, I know there is a tenuous connection in terms of "taking out the queen", but it's really not much.) There is also rarely any kind of wrap-up. I found this most striking in a mission in Tokyo where a chipper little girl asks you to look for her missing friends, keeps texting you throughout, yet doesn't appear to even bat an eyelash at the fact that most of said friends actually turn out to be dead.

In my first post about the game I mentioned how the infamous investigation missions were a breeze initially, as my pet tank already knew the early ones from a previous character and I basically just followed him around. Once we hit content that was new to him too however, I have to admit I quickly grew to dislike both investigation and sabotage missions. I feel a bit bad saying this, because they aren't badly done, and I'm certainly not someone to dislike puzzles in principle... but all too often I felt that they were disruptive to the overall flow of the game. One moment you're breezing through the main storyline, mowing down zombies or whatever in one action mission after another... and then you spend the next two hours on a single investigation mission, completely failing to progress any of your daily challenges. Often it isn't even the puzzles themselves (for which you can usually look up a solution) but simply that many of these missions love sending you all over the place. Maybe this didn't feel as jarring back when the game as a whole was less fast-paced... but right now it's pretty rough. I will say that it varies a lot though - there were some investigation/sabotage missions that weren't nearly as much of a drag and that I actually quite enjoyed, like the one where you time-travel back to ancient Roman times. I guess it depends on whether you're into whatever's the focus of any given mission (e.g. maths, music puzzles, deciphering different languages etc.) but it's not like they tell you that in advance.

I also mentioned in my previous post how we never tried PvP because the group queue was buggy - this still wasn't fixed last time we tried, but we eventually gave it a go just queuing solo and I have to say, Secret World Legends' PvP is the weirdest MMO PvP I've ever seen. There is currently only one map/mode, which is understandable since they had to prioritise which content to port over first, but it's a 10v10 deathmatch where you are randomly split into "sun team" and "moon team" regardless of faction and it's always over in the blink of an eye. Seriously, I've had matches that lasted less than a minute and I think the longest one I saw was about two minutes? The wait time in the spawn zone is usually longer than the match itself. The funny thing is that it's still quite popular and pops very quickly, simply because for a single minute of effort it's very rewarding. However, running in and hitting a few abilities before falling over dead just doesn't really feel like proper PvP to me.

In the first half of August, the game held its first big event, which was a bit of a mess to be honest, as it consisted of nothing but a 40-man raid boss fight that you could repeat once an hour, which wasn't even very well done. For a game that hinges so much on story, it was very surprising that there was absolutely none connected to the event, not even a text message from your faction leader to tell you to check out what's happening. I heard veteran players say that there was more to it in the original Secret World, but that Funcom clearly couldn't be bothered to rewrite that stuff accordingly and port it over, which is a shame.

The boss fight itself was also decidedly meh. Clocking in at about 20 minutes per kill initially, it mostly felt tedious more than anything else, but it was also full of terribly unintuitive mechanics. Like an NPC yelling "We must reach the next platform", which you are supposed to interpret as "jump off the edge into the abyss to get teleported above your current location". Also, some people need to do this before the actual audio cue in order to kill an add. But not too many or they won't receive a shield and die. Got it? The cherry on top was that the mechanics were buggy on the first day and didn't actually hurt. So when Funcom hotfixed this on the second day, I went in and died eight times during the fight, confused about what was going on since I wasn't doing anything differently compared to the previous day. Good times. Since we persisted, we found that it did get better over time though, whether it's because Funcom tweaked the numbers or everyone just got better at handling the mechanics. By the end most attempts were down to taking "only" 10 minutes and I even managed to not die at all during some of them (heh). To give credit where credit is due, some of the rewards were quite nice. For example I got my first custom sprint animation this way.

The Halloween event that followed featured a similar boss fight, which wasn't nearly as deadly fortunately, and there was a thematically fitting investigation mission too. Apparently former Secret World players were still disappointed however, as the previous version of the game used to contain a lot more Halloween content. I do like the way they handle the daily login rewards for these events, giving players some leeway so they won't miss out on anything good if they miss a day or two, and allowing the boss-related goodie bags to stack up so you can save them for the weekend or whenever you actually have time to work on unlocking them all.

By Christmas we were already only logging in for the seasonal event, and the associated boss fight had descended into complete tank and spank for some reason, which didn't really make sense to me as I thought that they had found a pretty good balance in terms of difficulty and mechanics with the Halloween boss. This newest fight never took very long but was incredibly boring. Still, at least I got a jumper and a woolly hat out of it.

I really wanted to give Funcom some money eventually, since I was clearly enjoying myself enough to make it worth it, but like with Neverwinter at the start, I struggled to find anything that I wanted to buy. Like Neverwinter's VIP, SWL's patron status is definitely a nice perk to have if you are focusing on the game above any others, but for the casual player, it just doesn't offer very much. Faster quest cooldowns are irrelevant if you only play once or twice a week anyway, and the extra skill points assume that you actually have an interest in filling out all the different weapons - if you are happy with the ones you picked at the start, the points you gain as a free player while levelling up get pretty close to maxing those out anyway and nothing else is really needed.

Also - and I never thought I'd say this about any MMO - Funcom really need to get their act together and create a proper store interface. Microtransactions are part of the game and here to stay - not having an actual store where you can see everything that's for sale doesn't change that, it just makes it super awkward for people to just casually browse. Basically, you only run into prompts to pay when you click on certain interface options (such as to expand your inventory), which makes it hard to compare which of these purchases might be more worthwhile than others. Pets and mounts are only available as a long list with tiny icons and basically have to be purchased sight unseen - no, thanks! In the end I just splurged on some inventory upgrades and faster sprinting, which is the kind of purchase with which you can't go wrong.

While we strictly speaking didn't fully finish the existing story, we did complete the vast majority of it, and by the end we were starting to get a feeling of being ready to move on. I'm hoping that an actual new story drop might remotivate us to log back in. (This just in - the story will be going to South Africa in April, ooh!) It reminds me a lot of the way I often see people talk about SWTOR: "Great to play through the story solo/as a duo, but I have no interest in the endgame." All the PvE group content I tried seemed good fun, but like in Neverwinter, I just find the grindiness of the gear progression too off-putting to want to bother with it. Also - unlike with Neverwinter - we didn't succeed in getting any of our guildies to develop any kind of enthusiasm for the game in order to allow us to run group content with a full pre-made group. While fans of the game frequently cite the horror setting as a selling point, my own experience is that it's just off-putting to a lot of people.

I also think that Secret World Legends is somewhat lacking in other endgame areas right now, such as only having one raid. And how can you have a dedicated PvP community when you only have one map and it goes like I described above? It's telling that this still hasn't been changed after nearly six months of this post sitting in my drafts folder, even though other modes existed in the original Secret World. Still, the bottom line for me is that we got many long play sessions out of the story, and if they actually go ahead with releasing more of it now, we'll be back to check that out eventually. Can't complain about that.


KotET Chapter 7 Master Mode

This chapter was an interesting one to play through on master mode. There is very little trash on Nathema (just a couple of small pulls inside the sanitarium), so all the challenge comes from defeating the four (mini) boss fights the chapter features. None of them are easy, though nothing's quite as bad as chapter two.

The first challenge comes from the pair of Horizon Guards you have to pass on the way to the facility, just after crossing a bridge. On my Scoundrel I actually just stealthed past them, but that felt a little cheeky, so I gave the chapter another run-through on my Sorcerer afterwards, so I would have something to say about the encounter. I remember back on veteran mode I was a bit confused about why I ended up fighting more than two guards in the end and blamed this on them bugging out after being knocked off the bridge, but this time around I could see that after the first two die (regardless of how), another pair actually spawns in and puts you in combat right away, because apparently two gold mobs immune to crowd control at once weren't bad enough!

Still, with a knockback even that remained relatively easy... I only killed one of the guards the old-fashioned way, the other three all died to being knocked off the bridge/nearby cliff. I think that either stealth or a knockback are the way to go with these. I have no idea how you would tackle this fight as a Vanguard or Powertech though.

The Horizon Captain at the door is undoubtedly the hardest boss of the chapter, but can once again be dispatched easily if you have a knockback by simply running him towards the side of the cliff and punting him to his death. On my Scoundrel I had to kill him "the hard way", but that too was eventually doable.

His most dangerous ability is Mass Affliction, which hurts like hell and needs to be interrupted/cleansed every time. Overload and Thundering Blast can easily be dodged, and simply try not to stand on top of your companion whenever you get Force Imbalance on you. What makes the fight really tough in my opinion is that on top of all this, the Captain's basic melee attacks hit really hard. When you find your health dropping too low, you'll just have to resort to kiting him for a bit to give your companion time to heal you back up. Fortunately he's not a particularly fast runner.

Up next is a duo of Twisted Experiments. I found that if you wipe to these by the way, you'll respawn behind a locked door - you'll have to exit the area and then go back in to find it opened again. Fortunately here one of them can be crowd-controlled while you kill the other one off, and both of them are susceptible to stuns as well. Use what interrupts you have as well as those stuns to burn through their health quickly, and then kite the rest of the way. Once again, their basic melee attacks just hit too hard to withstand them without cooldowns (plus if you can't interrupt, they'll spawn puddles of corrosive goo on the floor that you need to move out of).

The Corrupted Vault Guardian is probably the most interesting fight of the chapter. On a basic level, he keeps covering the floor of the room in "Morass", which never goes away so if you're too slow or just bad at manoeuvring him, you can end up with bad stuff everywhere and nowhere left to go. Obviously interrupting that cast to buy yourself more time is useful, but you can only get it every so often.

After he's channeled Unleashed Rage, it's best to just kite him around for a bit, as he'll hit three times as hard and reflects damage. Shortly afterwards he tends to "resist the void", which is a brief "burn phase" when you should do as much damage as possible. Towards the end he also starts to do an AoE stun every so often which throws everything off kilter a bit, but you've just got to get through that somehow. Don't be afraid of using your stun breaker!

Throughout all of this, companion micro-management is key, to prevent Lana from running into the puddles of bad or trying to attack the boss while he's enraged.

For what it's worth, I actually found this chapter strangely enjoyable to replay on master mode. It's probably just a tad too long to be an efficient CXP farm, but it feels relatively short and while the fights are hard, they reward tactical play and aren't hampered by too much randomness.


Coming Conquest Changes

While I was initially a little underwhelmed by what the last road map had to say about changes to Conquest, Eric Musco had some details to add this week which piqued my interest. Yes, the UI will be reworked, but there will be more to it.

The following four changes seemed the biggest to me:

1) The planetary leaderboards will become meaningless except for the number one spot, which will still earn you the corresponding achievement and title. Beyond that though, guilds won't really compete against each other for the rewards anymore; instead they will just have a "guild target" to beat in order to earn rewards, in the same way the personal target works.

This mostly sounds good to me, though I'm also a little sad to see the competitive aspect go away for everything but the top spot. I remember some fun times fighting against other guilds for one of those coveted top ten positions. On the other hand, it kinda sucked if you were suddenly pushed down into 11th place shortly before reset (and it's not like you could see it coming, since the score of the guild in 11th place wasn't displayed).

2) No more invasion bonuses. Previously, the invasion bonus was the main reason that some planets were much more highly contested than others - those that gave multipliers to several popular activities were obviously more desirable destinations than a place that only boosted your points earned from GSF for example.

However, all planets will not become equal: Some will offer higher "guild targets" as described above, with better rewards, and some will have lower targets with smaller rewards. Apparently the idea behind this is to encourage bigger guilds to compete with other big guilds and smaller guilds against other small ones.

I have kind of mixed feelings about this. I think that in combination with the new guild target system, it's a good thing that there will be different things to strive for for guilds of different sizes. However, I don't think it will make any difference in terms of competitiveness... after all, Bioware is removing all competition from the overall leaderboard anyway, which only leaves the top spot to fight for, and I see no reason for that to not still go to a large guild most of the time. After all, if you're going for the title, you're probably not that fussed about the size of your weekly reward anyway.

3) Conquests also won't be on a schedule anymore (except for those that are tied to specific world events). Instead the events will be randomised so that people can't stock up and pre-craft for certain weeks by the thousands anymore. I sort of get the logic behind that, but on the other hand being able to prepare for Total Galactic War for example was one of those things that could make a real difference to a small guild. I guess we'll see how this one shakes out in practice.

4) Finally, your personal conquest multiplier won't be tied to how full your strongholds are anymore. Thank god! To be honest the connection between those two systems has always been awkward and forced... though Bioware isn't getting rid of it entirely; instead the bonus will be based on having a certain number of strongholds fully unlocked. Still, at least that's a lot less annoying.

Even Eric himself joked about how now people won't have a reason to fill their strongholds with chairs anymore. In my guild we were more prone to "poster puke" instead, plastering the walls with those free trophies you get for beating certain bosses in flashpoints and operations. I did it once, on Nar Shaddaa, and then felt vaguely dirty about it, so I didn't repeat the process in my other strongholds and just learned to live without a full bonus. Going forward my scores will be fully boosted anyway, woohoo!

Some smaller changes also on the list are:

The conquest UI showing an internal guild leaderboard. You could already look up this information in the regular guild window if you wanted, but I guess having it more prominently displayed will put those people working hard on the guild's score more into the spotlight and maybe encourage others to chip in as well. Seems nice.

Conquest objectives will now also reward things like XP and credits. That one seems kind of redundant to me because most of them are activities that were already rewarding those things anyway. It just seems like a little overkill? Not that I really mind though.

Objective points have been rebalanced, and in addition to one-time and repeatable, there will also be daily objectives now. The latter change sounds really good to me, because that was something that I always thought was missing from the system.

Either way, it remains to be seen how these changes will ultimately play out. To be honest I'm a bit worried that they'll get me interested for two or three weeks and then my interest will drop off again because working on Conquest on top of my other everyday goals is too much effort for too little reward. Then again, if it was so easy that you could do it automatically, what would be the point? I'm curious to see how it will change the feel of Conquest in any case.


From A Distance

If you've taken a closer look at some of the screenshots and videos that I've posted here over time, you may have noticed that they are always pretty closely zoomed in on my character. Or maybe you didn't notice because that just struck you as normal. However, I've certainly noticed while watching other people's boss kill videos and the like that my perspective was unusually close in comparison to theirs, with others frequently being zoomed out to the point where their character becomes little more than a tiny speck on the screen.

This wasn't really a conscious decision on my part; it's just that I've never felt the urge to fiddle with the default UI too much, so I had never felt the need to change the camera's maximum zoom distance either. Until recently that is.

Reporting on my guild's ops "progression" lately is kind of awkward, because we haven't killed anything new in quite a while (not counting story mode of the new Gods from the Machine encounters); we just rotate between wiping on different bosses depending on people's frustration levels with any particular boss.

Most recently this brought us back to Revan in hardmode Temple of Sacrifice, where we are now up to the point where we can pretty consistently reach the third floor of the encounter, at which point we usually die. The thing with this part of the fight is that it features a mechanic that isn't seen anywhere else in the game: Your character has to "look at" (in the sense of turning to face) a number of purple circles called aberrations in a certain order and at a certain time, else you get affected by a powerful knockback that throws you to your death.

The thing that struck me after a few failed attempts at this was that my limited field of view made it literally impossible to deal with this mechanic, because I couldn't actually see all the aberrations (which is required to know which one to turn towards). So it was time to change my settings.

Turns out that by default, the maximum camera distance is only 19% (of what, I'm not sure). Cranking that up into the eighties changed my view of the world... quite literally. At first I actually found it somewhat disorientating when it came to judging distances, because everything seemed to be much further away than it usually was, but I got used to that relatively quickly.

Since then I've done different content with this expanded field of view too, and it's definitely made me thoughtful. For example the sisters fight in Gods from the Machine feels that much more manageable! This one was certainly not impossible to do with a more limited field of view, but keeping track of the coloured beams is certainly much easier when you can see them coming from much further away.

PvP was another area where the change was very noticeable, especially when it comes to things like enemies sneaking up on a node from the side. It's made me wonder whether I previously must have seemed quite daft to some opponents for missing something "obvious" that was going on outside of my much more limited field of view.

Yet at the same time, there's a part of me that remains somewhat uncomfortable with the change. I like seeing my characters properly, damn it, not just during cut scenes, and being zoomed out to the point where you barely feel connected to them anymore certainly doesn't help with that. Are being a raider/PvPer who wants to see as much as possible to strategically optimise their movement and being someone who wants to feel immersed in the world and connected to their character just naturally at odds with each other? Discuss.