KotFE Chapter 15 Master Mode

Now this one was interesting. I had a hunch that it was going to be, specifically as I remembered more than one of my guildies (most of whom are pretty good players) spending some time wiping to the Gemini Captain, but at the same time I was hoping that it wasn't going to be that bad because I didn't really remember having any major issues on veteran mode. Master mode was pretty bad though.

First off, I thought that the chapter as a whole was pretty full of death traps. Some of it was probably me playing a bit derpily I guess, such as wiping twice to the Ship Defense Droid that ambushes you at the start of the chapter. I recorded it afterwards to make myself feel a bit better about it, as if I had overcome a significant challenge.

I was a bit taken aback by the speed with which some of the trash respawned. At one point I got a bit distracted and went semi-AFK for ten minutes or so, and the trash pull in the place where I had parked myself actually respawned twice during that time.

Or how about the room with those giant red lasers? I know, it should be obvious to not let them touch you, but when they barely tickle you on story mode it's easy to start slacking. On master mode even just clipping the edge of one was a one-shot.

In the reactor room I died when a strong skytrooper appeared while I was also trying to navigate the weird lava things, which was clearly too much for me to deal with at once. And that room with the gas traps that spawn little droids to repair them has killed me at least once on pretty much every difficulty I think.

The Skytrooper Constructor was kind of interesting to me because he has this move where he summons some adds via the assembly line controls, which is technically interruptable, but since it's always preceded by a massive knockback with a long-ass stun, it's never been particularly practical for me to do so and it's not like allowing him to call the adds really matters on the lower difficulties. On master mode however I found them sufficiently distracting that I actually used my stun breaker and immunity bubble to free myself and interrupt the cast twice. It's interesting when the higher difficulty makes you think about approaching a fight differently if nothing else.

But then the Gemini Captain... oh boy. If you want an indication of how often I wiped on her I'll just say that I killed the eight skytroopers that you have to deal with at the entrance of the room every time often enough to complete all three ranks of the Galactic Rampage conquest objective that night. I also stayed up way too late because I refused to give up, but coming away victorious in the end was worth the lost sleep.

I went through a slightly weird journey in terms of finding out how to deal with the fight. I started by making a couple of attempts as dps, with Senya set to healer, but quickly decided that this was infeasible with the boss's knockbacks sometimes sending us to opposite ends of the room and Senya being very sluggish when it came to returning to me, presumably because of the current issues with companion AI - though on second thought Senya is a melee fighter, so she shouldn't have been affected (as much)?

Anyway, I decided that swapping to heals, with Senya set to dps, was going to serve me much better, especially as it had worked just fine for me on veteran mode. However, I just couldn't make any progress. In fact, as I fed her companion gifts between attempts to get her influence level up, while waiting for heroic moment to come off cooldown, I found that my performance only seemed to get worse. As Senya's dps increased, she started to push the Captain through the phases more quickly, which led to her skipping some of her special moves... but somewhat ironically, some of her specials are actually easier to deal with than her regular attacks and provide a much needed break to regain some health, so her not performing them only made things harder instead of easier.

Plus the phase in which the Captain splits in four wasn't working out as expected. I had this memory from story and veteran mode that the challenge was to hit the "right" Gemini, which would then cause the others to disappear. However, it didn't seem to work that way, and sometimes I could see Senya make a beeline for the correct Gemini just to watch her three copies murder us both within seconds anyway. I decided to have a look at how Aeyix did it again, and it made me realise that actually the key was to hit all the fakes in quick succession to make them disappear.

It immediately struck me that this was never going to happen with Senya as dps, simply due to the delay between telling her to attack something and her actually doing it. So I went back to dealing damage myself, with Senya healing me... and one-shot it on the next try. (It's worth noting that I'd had enough time to get her up to influence level 50 by that point though.)

In terms of general advice, all I can say is that as noted above, most of her specials, such as the poison cone she does, are not really a problem. The issue is how hard she hits with the standard attacks shooting from her palm (not sure about the exact name of the ability), which come very quickly and hit my Sage for about 20k a pop, which was more than I could outheal for any length of time even in 248 gear, so it was a bit of a challenge to always survive just long enough until she'd take another break to do some drawn-out special ability.

The split was the deadliest thing though, and I quickly learned to save every damage reduction cooldown I had for it (I took both the utilities that grant you a brief window of damage reduction after using Cloud Mind and Force Mend), while rushing around and trying to hit all the copies as quickly as possible to make them disappear.

Only one chapter left to go - I'm quite excited for it now actually.


Will We Ever Get To Change Sides?

I don't recall there ever being much demand for an out-of-game faction-change feature in SWTOR, probably due to the fact that Bioware has always tried to make sure that neither side has any gameplay advantages over the other, so the main reason to choose one faction or the other is story. So if after levelling a trooper for example, you decide that you want to live the life of a bounty hunter instead, what benefit would there be in your existing max-level character being transformed into a max-level of the other faction, with everything that really sets the class apart already behind you?

The idea of changing sides in character on the other hand has always been vaguely intriguing, as it's one of Star Wars' core themes: the noble Jedi turning into an evil Sith, or the evil Sith redeeming himself when you least expect it. However, the only class that really ran with this theme in the base game was the Imperial agent, where making certain light side choices at the right moments could result in the option to pledge yourself to secretly working for the Republic at the very end of chapter three. Not many people got to experience that though, and with new class and even faction-specific content getting pared down quickly after launch, the whole idea soon lost its relevance. If we're all forced to become the Alliance Commander anyway, where do we even have left to go?

The Imperial agent actually hangs out with the Republic for the entirety of chapter 2 of their class story, but as your choices aren't your own at that point, it doesn't really count.

When Bioware decided to reintroduce at least the Republic/Empire split after KotET, it was a bit of a surprise to everyone when they said that not only would we be able to return to our original faction on Iokath, we'd also be able to betray them and change sides. This got a lot of people very excited at the time (including me!), but like so many aspects of Iokath, the actual execution turned out to be very lacklustre, as the faction change ended up being a limited-time feature that only applies on Iokath and can be reversed at any time. Has anyone actually felt that doing dailies on the right side of the Iokath map instead of the left had any significant impact on their character's identity? Personally I've found it to be nothing but a nuisance to occasionally have troubles inviting guildies to a group if they've been doing dailies on Iokath while pledging their allegiance to the other faction.

Nonetheless, Bioware decided to further expand on the idea of characters betraying their original faction on Ossus. I haven't actually got to see this myself as all of my sufficiently progressed characters are loyalists, and none of the ones I could picture changing sides are anywhere near the right point in the story yet to do so, but I've done some reading up on the subject. Bioware did away with the silly faction hopping this time and you're forced to follow the main story arc of your base faction, however the idea is that you're actually sabotaging it from within at the same time. From what I gather this doesn't change the overall story on Ossus, just a couple of lines of dialogue, but technically you're supposed to be harming them quite badly by doing things such as sending the Jedi's revolutionary farming data to the enemy instead of "your" side.

All that sounds good enough to me for what it is, but the big question it raises is what will come next. I suppose we can keep up this sabotage game for another two or three storylines (maybe with another option to turn back if anyone's starting to have second thoughts about what they're doing), but eventually you'd think that there'd have to be consequences, with the most obvious one being that you change sides for good. I'm sure this would be a huge undertaking from a technical point of view, but even if Bioware managed to get it done somehow I can't help but see other, far-reaching problems that would come with such an option.

- Lack of backwards compatibility: If you switched sides fully, to the point of hanging out on the other faction's fleet and so on... what would you actually do there? Most of the stuff from KotFE onwards would be completed, whether you actually did it yourself or it was auto-completed for you, but you couldn't go back to do most of the old content for your new faction such as quests or flashpoints, because the vast majority of it involves voice lines and there was never any dialogue recorded for a Sith warrior on the Esseles for example. I guess you could do operations or PvP, but then you could already do those as part of your old faction too. Otherwise there'd be nothing to do but wait for the next, saboteur-compatible content to drop and maybe do some crafting and roleplaying in the meantime.

Lord Praven from the Jedi knight story is an example of a Sith converting to the Jedi way of life (if you let him).

- The social aspect: I mentioned the annoyance of being unable to invite guildies to groups on Iokath earlier, but now imagine that this was permanent... Wouldn't it suck to lose your guild's main tank because they decided to switch sides during their solo story? And how would the player feel about suddenly losing the ability to group with all their friends? What happens if you're a guild leader at the time of changing factions?

I guess many people play both sides anyway, but that doesn't mean that this wouldn't still cause quite a few messes and conflicts. The only straightforward way of avoiding the entire issue that I can see would be to allow cross-faction grouping across the entire game, and that would go very much against the renewed focus of Republic vs. Empire and open a whole other Pandora's box.

- Choices matter is both one of Bioware's catchphrases and a bit of a meme in SWTOR as players have often found that a superficially impactful choice later turns out to not have changed all that much after all. However, changing your character's faction for good would be a pretty big choice - and as much as players like to claim that they want their choices to matter, you know that there'd be people who'd soon regret deserting, no matter how many times you asked them beforehand whether they really, really wanted to do it, and then there'd be hell to pay on the forums.

It's an interesting dilemma, because as much as I love the idea of people being able to play out their very personal story of redemption or fall to the dark side to its logical and very Star Wars-y conclusion, I just can't see it happen from a practical point of view. But then, what other possible outcome could there be after repeated acts of sabotage that still makes sense from a story point of view and actually respects your choices?


Ossus And Gear

One of the main things people have criticised about Ossus (beside the bugs) has been its gear grind. To me this has honestly been somewhat surprising, because I have to admit that I've been quite excited to be gaining gear the old-fashioned way again (as in by getting it as a reward for specific tasks) for the first time in years. After the overwhelmingly negative response people had to my post about Galactic Command being in a decent state now, I would have expected more players to agree!

I guess most of the unhappiness stems from one of two things: First off, for all of Galactic Command's flaws, people have got very used to being able to gain gear from absolutely anything, so the thought of "having" to do something they don't like that much to earn rewards (such as a round of dailies) rankles for some.

The other complaint is about the process taking too long/being too grindy, which I guess is just one of those matters of opinion. A lot of MMO players these days seem to think that everyone should be able to acquire best-in-slot gear quickly and easily, else the game is "gating" things or being unfair. They're not technically wrong, but to me getting more rewards if you are able to put more time in is one of an MMORPG's core features, so to me complaining about that just makes no sense.

If anything the main thing I would criticise about Ossus' gearing system is that it adds another complication on top of an already incredibly complicated system. It's hard to fathom at this point that the introduction of Galactic Command was originally intended to simplify gearing. Even as someone who's neck-deep into the game and plays it nearly every day I still sometimes run to the wrong vendor, what with how many different currencies and trade-ins there are now. I'm convinced that one of Bioware's biggest challenges for 6.0 will be to completely revamp the gearing system to go back to something simpler without completely losing the benefits of Galactic Command as it is now.

That said, I also find what Bioware has done with 252 and 258 gear quite fascinating. It feels very much like an experiment in gauging the players' preferences for gear acquisition. Basically there are currently four roads to 252 gear for people not raiding Gods from the Machine master mode, and to then upgrade it to 258 gear, for which you need to already have 252 and the new currency, masterwork data crystals or MDCs for short.

1. Dailies / weeklies: This is the only way to directly acquire a piece of gear - all the other options only reward one MDC each, and you need more than one for each piece of 252 gear you want to buy directly from the vendor. It's usually also the quickest and easiest option, as all you need to do is complete the weekly mission to do ten dailies. Unlike on Iokath, the dailies are also back to not being on a rotation, so this can be done in a single day if desired, like in the older daily areas.

There is one catch however: You cannot choose the exact piece of gear that you will receive. You get to choose among three different boxes that are assigned to different gear slots (for example there's one that will contain a main hand, off-hand, head or ear item) but which piece of gear exactly it contains is random. I suppose this could feel infuriating (especially with the box that contains relics, chances of getting something rubbish are fairly high), but knowing in the back of your head that you can always buy that last missing piece from the vendor instead if you really want to makes it seem not so bad. Instead its feels more like a bonus that you have a chance to get a piece of gear outright instead of having to buy them all from the vendor.

2. Killing the two Ossus world bosses or earning 50 ranked PvP points: For me it's pretty much a no-brainer that the former is the superior way of completing this quest to earn one MDC a week, due to being faster and more fun, but I guess they felt the need to acknowledge dedicated PvPers here. While getting those ranked points undoubtedly takes longer, if you're already playing ranked anyway you'll basically get the quest done "automatically" as you go along. I wonder what the distribution of people taking option one vs. option two looks like. Either way this is also the option closest to the traditional model of rewarding players for participating in a group-centric endgame, even if both world bosses are easily puggable.

3. Trading unassembled components: There is a smuggler in both the Republic and Imperial bases that will trade 500 unassembled components, Galactic Command's more important currency that can only be acquired through PvP, GSF, killing MM bosses or disintegrating loot, for one MDC every week. If you have components to spare, you can also buy a second MDC for double the price (1000 components), but that's the weekly maximum. I started off by buying two per character every week but soon found that this caused me to burn through my stacks of components too quickly and had to stop. Still, I find it fascinating that the option even exists, because this is basically Bioware offering you a way to completely bypass Ossus' endgame content and just upgrade your gear by doing more of what you're already doing. Keep earning those Galactic Command levels and eventually you'll be able to buy the gear without doing all the stuff on Ossus.

4. Time-limited missions: Finally, there is a single quest in the base that changes every week and that, depending on the week, will reward you a single MDC for performing a certain task in PvE or PvP. I haven't seen all the options yet at the time of writing this, but from what I understand the focus can be on warzones, master mode flashpoints, GSF or story mode operations. This feels like an experimental extension of the daily activity bonus for Galactic Command, which keeps the idea of rewarding you for doing old content but tries to nudge people into doing specific kinds of content every week instead of just doing the same thing every day.

Unfortunately there's been a number of issues with this. First off, it's not been clear whether it's supposed to be randomised or not. So far, the current "rotation" has been two weeks of warzones, two weeks of flashpoints and two weeks of GSF, which feels too rigid to be random but also awkward if it was set this way intentionally as it really doesn't give you as much variety as it could. Secondly, there's been a huge discrepancy in the effort required to complete the quest. The PvP version was just to earn eight medals in a warzone, which was a matter of maybe fifteen minutes. Then flashpoint week rolled around and we were asked to run four master mode flashpoints to complete the mission, something that takes anywhere from two to four hours! And people complain about PvP supposedly getting the short end of the stick... Then GSF week rolled around and the mission to win three matches was just outright bugged and literally impossible to complete as you simply don't get credit for your wins. It's just been a mess.

Those issues aside though, I really like this system of people being given different options to earn their rewards. It's a bit more rigid than Galactic Command as you can't just do anything at any time, but there is still a fair amount of choice. Also, you get rewarded more for participating in more parts of the game, which is how MMORPGs should work in my opinion - if you only ever want to do a single thing (such as PvP) there are plenty of other genres out there that will cater to your tastes in a much better way.

For me personally, it's also been great to have some more specific goals to work towards again beyond gaining Command levels, and having a reason to do the new content over the old at least for a while. I'm all in favour of keeping old content relevant, but before Ossus I hadn't realised just how difficult Galactic Command had made it to incentivise running new content. The other day my pet tank surprised me by telling me that he never even maxed out the Iokath-based reputation, but in hindsight it makes perfect sense - practical issues with the dailies aside, there was no reason to do them unless you were after any of the handful of cosmetic rewards. If you just wanted Command XP, pretty much any of the older content was easier and more rewarding.

I suppose there is a risk of burnout from doing the same thing over and over, and I'm certainly starting to feel the pressure now that I've got five characters caught up to Ossus. Doing the weekly on all five, doing the world bosses on all five etc. takes a lot of time - not to mention that I've got a couple of guildies who've been doing the whole rotation on a dozen or more characters! However, in the end that is just a problem of our own making. The new gear isn't really required for anything but Gods from the Machine MM (in which case the raid provides you with an additional avenue for gear acquisition anyway), and nobody is whipping our backs to make us upgrade the gear of all of our alts in the shortest time possible. It's just something to while the time away while we wait for 6.0, which is probably still many months away.


KotFE Chapters 12, 13 & 14 Master Mode

I'm way overdue to write about these, but to be honest a big part of the reason why I it took me so long was that I found them fairly unremarkable and kept thinking: "Well, that chapter's not really worth a post of its own, is it?"

Chapter twelve, the one in the Odessen Wilds, is the one you have to tackle without a companion, so I was curious how that would affect the tuning. It did seem to me that the trash mobs did a bit less damage than in other master mode chapters.

The confrontation with Valkorion was also interesting. When I did this on veteran mode I was delighted to find that I could just let him beat me up and this would trigger the next cut scene "naturally" - as said scene shows him beating you up, it made sense. I don't know if this is dependent on difficulty, whether it was changed since I played through veteran mode or something else was going on entirely, but either way I'm sad to report that I couldn't get this to work on master mode at all, so I had to actually get him down to the required amount of health to be allowed to watch him beat me up. Sadness.

The fight was tricky in so far as he's uninterruptable and will pretty much two-shot you, so the way to go on my Sage was basically to constantly hit and run, get off a shot and then hide behind a tree just in time to evade his casts. I have no idea how you're supposed to do this on a melee class. YouTuber Aeyix, some of whose videos I believe I have linked in previous posts on this subject, doesn't really provide an answer either... while he does have a video showing his Shadow beating Valkorion it's not really obvious to me how he did it... he just suddenly hits the boss for 760k in one hit (some sort of reflect thing from before they capped reflects maybe?) and the fight is over in seconds. Not really useful to most players I reckon. So yeah, not really sure about that one.

I was a bit worried about the encounter with Vaylin near the end as well, but I ended up one-shotting it. It did make me glad that I was on a Sage and able to self-heal though as she did put out a fair amount of damage and it didn't feel like the backpack provided enough healing to compensate for it. I guess if you can't actively heal yourself, use of cooldowns is key here.

I didn't record any of the fights in chapters thirteen and fourteen because honestly none of them were very exciting. Chapter thirteen only has one real boss, that skytrooper near the end, and just like on veteran mode I found that Vette and Gault were pretty good at picking off the adds more or less on their own so that I only really had to worry about nuking the boss anyway.

Chapter fourteen was similar in that it had lots of droids but none of them did anything particularly exciting.

Now, chapter fifteen will be interesting I'm sure...


Seven Golden Rules For Happy Pugging

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while now. If you're a long-time reader of the blog or have watched some of my YouTube videos, you've probably caught on to the fact that I'm very fond of doing group content in pick-up groups. At the same time I know that these same pick-up groups generally have a bad reputation, not just in SWTOR but in other MMOs as well. And while it's true that you'll sometimes get people being jerks no matter what, I think that a lot of pugs' bad reputation is somewhat undeserved.

In fact, I'm becoming more and more convinced that people who feel that all their pugs are toxic are at least partially bringing it upon themselves. Not necessarily by being toxic themselves, but due to attitudes and expectations that make it easier for things to go bad when they really don't have to, or that cause the player to perceive the situation as worse than it is.

Two things in particular have served to cement this belief in me. The first was a YouTube channel I follow. I still watch a WoW YouTuber called Preach Gaming, and he has a series called The Daily Preach in which he will do something like pug a dungeon and provide a bit of narration throughout the process - sometimes it'll be something educational actually related to the content; other times he'll just tell a random story throughout the run. Like me, he's quite fond of pugging and most of his runs go quite well. His viewers, who mostly seem to think that pugs are hell, always find reasons to explain his success away and to excuse why that particular run of his wasn't terrible - if only he had tried queuing for a different dungeon/on a different character/at a different time! But then one day he uploaded a run where literally everything went wrong and which ended in horrific failure - and while he did swear at the camera a lot, he was also laughing throughout, and the most upvoted comment on the video simply expressed wonder at his ability to have a good time no matter the circumstances. That - to me - was a prime example of how your own attitude matters more than anything.

The other event that gave me pause was a Boarding Party run I did with a guildie and two pugs. We were already several pulls in when I suddenly noticed that one person still hadn't even entered the instance. My guildie asked if we should kick the guy and I was simply horrified by the extreme escalation his suggestion implied. I told him no and typed in chat: "[Name], are you coming?" The latecomer replied in the affirmative, apologised for the delay, and a minute later he was with us. When I pressed my guildie about his trigger-happiness in regards to kicking, he said that he himself had been kicked from groups for less than that. I believe him, but two wrongs don't make a right, do they?

Anyway, both of these things inspired me to think about and write down the most important factors that I believe are responsible for me enjoying most of my random group runs. If your pugs often go bad, maybe there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of that happening in the future? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. But for now, without further ado: My seven golden rules for happy pugging, in order from least to most important.

#7 - Be good at what you do. I put this one at the bottom because I don't want to sound as if I want to discourage casual or new players from pugging, but let's be honest: Being good at the game yourself and knowing what you're doing helps a lot when it comes to making a run a success, and successful runs are more likely to be happy runs. If you know all the fights you can give advice to the less experienced; if you're good at your class you can compensate for others performing poorly to some extent; and if you're knowledgeable about the game in general you'll be better at reading your group as a whole, being able to tell who's performing well and who might need a helping hand in certain situations.

#6 - Be ready for what you're getting into. This is kind of one step removed from being good and more about expectation management. I'm not saying you should be expected to know all the fights in advance (I always thought the idea of people being supposed to read a guide before they even step into a dungeon for the first time was ridiculous), but you should at the very least have an idea of what you're signing up for in general terms: How long does this sort of content usually take? If you run out of time and have to leave halfway through, nobody wins. What's the difficulty? Is it at a level you are comfortable tackling or should you maybe start with something easier first? Is there a minimum gear requirement? Are there any fixed role requirements (tank/healer)? If you don't at least know the basics, odds are high that someone will be in for an unpleasant surprise.

#5 - Communicate. People often bemoan that players in modern MMO groups don't talk much. To be honest, with content that's tuned for a group of random strangers there often isn't much to talk about, and I don't think that's necessarily a problem. However, if there's something you want or don't want (such as killing the bonus boss), or something that the other players should really know (such as that you're new to the flashpoint and will need some help), make sure to let them know. It's not a guarantee for success, because sometimes you'll get people that don't read chat or just ignore it. However, from my experience most players don't go into these runs with strong opinions on anything, and if you ask for something most often the reply will simply be something along the lines of "OK", "sure" or "I don't mind". But people aren't mind readers, and if you don't say that you want to do the bonus boss or watch the cut scenes, you don't get to moan about not being accommodated by default.

#4 - Try to see the funny side. Now, in fairness, I think this is something that you can't force and probably has a lot to do with what kind of personality you have, but maybe you can still influence your attitude by making a conscious effort? Basically, sometimes things will go wrong; there's no two ways about it. And in the heat of the moment, I may well get angry about it too, but in the long run I prefer to see the funny side. How the hell did we just wipe to this trash pull? I didn't even know that was possible! Well, you learn something new every day. Or: I can't believe what that guy just did! I've got to tell my guildies, that will make for such a funny story. Again, I'll admit that this one's easy for me simply because I'm easily entertained. Other people may be mortified by something such as accidentally sending their entire party to its death, but to me that particular incident was simply hilarious.

#3 - Be humble. One of the #1 annoyances in any team-based game is the guy who immediately tries to blame every failure on someone else. These kinds of people are particularly common in PvP, but you can run into them in PvE too. You can't entirely avoid running into others doing it, but you can strive to not do it yourself. So don't be that guy. I don't care if you're the best player on the server and that noob got himself killed five seconds into the fight. Chances are that the noob actually noticed it themselves and is feeling quite embarrassed as it is. If they repeat their mistake or seem confused, you can politely (!) explain what went wrong, but shouting at them is more likely to turn them off the game than anything else. And anyway, if you're that awesome, how about you think about what you could do better on the next attempt? If you're as good at this as you think you are, maybe you could have used one more cooldown and downed the boss even with the healer dead? Personally I love it when I manage to turn a bad situation around mostly or even entirely by myself. So focus on improving your own performance, not that of others. Even if your intentions are good, a twenty minute flashpoint pug isn't really the time and place to lecture anyone about the intricacies of how to play their class.

#2 - Treat people with respect. Similar to the above, you can't entirely prevent people from treating you like a faceless NPC, but you can treat them like real people and hope that they'll return the favour. If you want to do things one way but the rest of the group prefers to do it a different way (e.g. on the question of whether to do a bonus boss or not), accept the majority vote. It's not all about you. Be polite in your requests, not imperious. (*cough* people who yell "SKIP" repeatedly and in all caps when they don't want to watch a cut scene *cough*) By speaking up early in a polite manner, you set a bar for the rest of the group and they'll be less likely to assume bad things about you or your other team members. How about you try addressing characters by their names instead of their class/role for example? I don't exactly consider the latter offensive anymore, but it does add a personal touch to use someone's name and shows that extra willingness to engage with them on a human level. Finally, always give people the benefit of the doubt. If you're communicating in writing and with very few words, it can be easy to come across as rude or uncaring without meaning to. Always assume that they didn't mean it that way and even if you don't like someone's tone, it's best to just let it go. Which brings us to...

#1 - It's just a game. I'm actually in two minds about this phrase because I've seen it get abused way too often to be dismissive of gaming as a hobby. "Why do you care? It's just a game!" So let me clarify right away that this isn't what I mean. I'm not saying that you shouldn't care. What I am saying is that when things don't go well and you find yourself getting angry or frustrated, it helps to keep things in perspective. Gaming is supposed to be fun, and if it at any point ceases to be enjoyable, you are allowed to get up and walk away. I think I'm generally pretty good at not getting worked up about things in game, but I'm not immune to getting riled up sometimes. There have been times when my pet tank has had to sternly raise his eyebrows at me because I was yelling at my screen, usually over something that happened in a PvP match. But the thing to do when that happens it not to start typing angry things into chat and start arguing with people. It doesn't even matter who's right or wrong at that moment. Nobody's playing this game to get into fights. Honestly, you're better off just getting up and taking a break. Both you and the rest of the group will be happier for it.


Guild Perks Are Confusing

One of 5.10's more low-key features has been the introduction of guild levelling and guild perks. It's kind of funny really, because in a different context this could have been the main feature of a patch, but with everything else that 5.10 delivered, it felt like a comparatively minor addition. Personally I was also hesitant to get excited about this new feature because while my guild is very important to me, I don't remember the implementation of guild levelling and guild perks in World of Warcraft back in the day being something that I ended up finding particularly great. Mostly I recall some rewards being kind of overpowered to the point that Blizzard had to nerf/remove them later, so my biggest concern was that Bioware might repeat Blizzard's mistakes in that regard.

So far it looks like they avoided that particular pitfall, but there have been others.

First off, let me just say that guild levelling by itself is fine. It doesn't really serve any purpose other than to signal to other players that you're active and to serve as a gating mechanism for some guild perks, but that's okay. It's basically an extension of Conquest that gives you yet another bar to fill via collective effort, and everyone goes "yay" when you succeed. I've taken a screenshot every time Twin Suns Squadron levelled up while I was online, because each one feels like an exciting "ding" that I won't get to experience a second time.

Guild level 2 achieved while I was doing dailies on Ossus...

... level 6 from killing the Alderaan world boss in a guild group...

... level 8 after tanking an uprising...

... level 10 from killing the Colossal on Iokath...

... level 12 in the middle of a PvP match.

Those perks though... I don't know. So far, it seems that if anything Bioware may have played it a bit too safe by making all the perks so inconsequential that nobody cares. I've actually been finding it a bit of a struggle to get the other officers in the guild interested in slotting perks, even though we have all the slots on the guild ship unlocked and aren't short on money either. People just aren't excited about most of them.

There hasn't really been much community buzz about them from what I've seen either. A couple of sites posted "guides" on the subject, but they're usually not much more than a copy and paste of what was posted about the system on the official forums when it was first put onto the public test server. I haven't really seen any talk about what perks might be best for what type of guild, and it feels to me that this is because nobody really knows. While the whole system was on the PTS before launch, it clearly didn't receive sufficient testing, which is evidenced by a multitude of strange bugs, which is in line with the rest of 5.10.

First off there was a perk that was supposed to grant you a slight increase in crafting crit for a few hours when used, but apparently its numbers were off and instead it pretty much guaranteed that all of your crafts would crit for a while (depending on the item and the used companion's influence level). They managed to fix that one pretty quickly.

Then there's a perk that grants you a chance of certain ops bosses dropping a Grand Chance Cube in addition to their normal loot if you kill them in a guild group. This just seems to be on by default, regardless of whether you actually picked the perk or not! Or at least we've seen a bunch of cubes drop from Soa, much to the consternation of everyone present in those runs, seeing how we never actually chose that perk.

There are a couple of perks that grant you an extra Conquest objective that gives a lot of points for doing a certain activity in a guild group. We bought the one called "Warzone Conquest I" which grants you an extra Conquest objective called "Warzone Rally" which claims to give you points once a day for doing ranked or unranked PvP in a guild group. Unfortunately, we quickly found out that this didn't work as expected, because it only triggered if we got into an arena. Seems that if your guild premade gets into an 8v8 warzone (the default for unranked), and the other four people are in a different guild (which they naturally are), it doesn't count as a guild group anymore. That's just plain nonsense seeing how you can't queue with a full group of eight. This perk has therefore ended up mostly going to waste, as the only reliable way to benefit from it is by doing ranked arenas, which most of my guildies don't like. I've given it a go a couple of times just for the sake of getting some use out of our purchase, but it's not fun when you struggle to find three other people willing to play even a single match just for the points.

We'd probably have been much better off with the perk that gives you a repeatable Conquest objective to do an operation in a guild group (though this might also be bugged and not working if the forums are to be believed). The thing is, I only know that this even exists because I've heard other people talk about it, because I've never actually seen the associated perk. About two weeks ago, I went through the list of available perks as displayed on our guild ship (to make sure I had the definitive live list and not outdated PTS information), and that one wasn't even there. Initially I thought that maybe there was some sort of display issue with all the guild group perks cancelling each other out or something - my evidence for this was that in our Imp ship we chose the flashpoint perk of this type and now can't see the warzone perk, while in our main guild it's the other way round.

However, the operations perk was never there on either faction's ship as far as I could see. And worse, the other day I looked at the list of available perks again and some of the ones that I noted down as available only two weeks ago have now disappeared as well, without us changing anything. Can you "outlevel" guild perks without meaning to? Are some of them only available during certain times or after fulfilling some invisible prerequisites? Who knows! (EDIT: Almost immediately after posting this I found some information on Jedipedia that talks about "perk cycles" and that some perks are only available during certain cycles. There is zero indication of these in game though, which just adds another layer of confusion on top of everything else. Holy crap.)

For all I know, there could be some amazingly overpowered guild perks lurking in the system somewhere - but at the moment we can't even tell because half of them don't show and the other half doesn't work right. Hopefully Bioware will sort things out eventually and thereby give players a chance to get more interested in the system... but at the moment there's still too much wrong with it to really get excited about the potential benefits.


Conquerors of Corellia

Last week Total Galactic War came around again, and since it had been almost six months since the last one there was much excitement to be had. Not to mention that Bioware added two new planets to conquer in the form of Ossus and Ziost!

I happened to be home at the time of reset and the guild's Discord chat turned into a veritable war room as people discussed what would be the best course of action to take. With the 15% bonus towards the guild total that you now get for invading, there is once again pressure to get going as soon as possible, not to mention that there's also the psychological benefit of "staking your claim". At the same time we didn't want to accidentally go up against one of the big guilds by committing too early, however. While we may have become a bit blasé about all the small and medium planets we managed to conquer in the last six months, the large yield targets are still exciting because during a normal three/four planet week we don't stand a chance against the small handful of dedicated Conquest guilds that usually claim them. But with Total Galactic War there is a lot of spread and a chance for smaller guilds to punch above their weight, which we obviously wanted to make use of.

After some spying on Imperial side (since Balmorra and Taris are split by faction you can't see which guilds from the other side have committed to them) we settled on Corellia, which was our first choice in terms of how many people in the guild needed it for the achievement. We had a bit of a scare when we were soon joined by a relatively new guild called Exiles of Yavin which had been in the top ten for the large yield the previous week and a quick /who revealed that they had more than fifty people online... however from what we quickly gathered from their guild recruitment messages in general chat and their only slowly increasing score, they appear to be a social/casual guild who mostly just happen to score high due to their large number of active members. Let's just say that the Conquest-crazy Twins were more than a match for them and our lead over them was never really in question after the first night. I guess they had expected to go up against a guild of complete nobodies and didn't quite know what hit them.

While writing about the last Total Galactic War, I mentioned how the objectives got me to take part in activities that I don't usually bother with, such as the GSI dailies. The same thing happened this time, and I wasn't the only one either, which was really funny to me as guild chat suddenly had people who never do these quests talk shop as if we were all pros at doing them. In particular I remember a conversation that went something like this, about the Tatooine daily Looking for Droids:

A: Wow, they were in the very first sandcrawler I scanned!
B: Same thing happened to me!
C: Me too, how curious.
D: For me it was the very last one; I hate you all.
E: I just keep resetting the quest until I get them from the Anchorhead sandcrawler.
C: You can do that? Holy crap, I had no idea!

Made me laugh a lot.

A rich guildie also contributed some cash prizes for the biggest contributors this time around, and some people got really into it! It was quite fun to watch two players in particular race against each other - they were neck on neck until the last day. The winner had eventually earned an amazing 385k points for the guild. My own 195k spread across twelve characters were nothing in comparison!

Anyway, it was another very successful and fun event, and while the fact that it only occurs irregularly is part of the appeal, I do hope that we won't have to wait another six months for the next one.


Buggy New Year

So, after singing Bioware's praises for the Jedi Under Siege patch in four posts in a row, there is one negative thing that I've got to get off my chest: the bugs. I wouldn't say that 5.10 has been the buggiest release they've ever had, but I guess the actual content being so great causes the technical issues to stand out in even greater contrast than usual.

First there were the odd bugs related to the new content. While these did cause me to miss out on a masterwork data crystal on some alts in the first week, I honestly thought that these were funny more than anything else. Like, how does it even happen that a certain quest can only be picked up on Tuesdays? Limited time missions aren't even a functionality anywhere! Well, I guess there is that new limited time quest now, but that wasn't the one that was bugged... anyway, I remember feeling like a right idiot running around on that first Wednesday on my Marauder and asking everyone and their mother where to pick up the weekly quest on Imperial side because I was apparently too dumb to find it. I was so glad when I found out that it wasn't just me! And at least some of the ensuing general chat conversations were pretty amusing. "Where do I pick up the weekly mission?" - "On Tuesday," sounded like something out of bizarre comedy skit.

Then of course there was the fact that this same mission to kill the two world bosses wouldn't actually give people credit for their kills most of the time... unless they made sure to leave the group just before the boss's death. Again, so counter-intuitive! I wonder who was the first person to find out about that workaround? But again, there was something humorous about seeing a whole ops group disband frantically just before achieving the kill. I'll have to remember to try that next time I kill the Colossal on Iokath, since that also still seems to have the problem of only giving credit to people in an ops group erratically. Either way, both of these bugs related to the new mission were patched out just before the team at Bioware went on holiday.

You do have to wonder why they insisted on dropping such a big content patch just before the holidays though. They did that with Shadow of Revan too, and it didn't work well then either. I guess they really needed to boost their Q4 numbers at all costs? Even if they aren't selling boxes, I have no doubt that a big story update like this causes a noticeable surge in subscriptions and cash shop purchases.

Anyway, unfortunately the few bugs they managed to fix just before going on holiday aren't the end of things. One of the new dailies for example is often hard or impossible to complete because the objectives you're supposed to click on the ground are bugging out somehow, and once an instance is bugged nobody else can do the quest in it anymore. If you're lucky and get a fresh one you can still do the mission, but it's very hit and miss.

Aside from the new stuff, there are also some weird bugs affecting basic game systems that make you wonder what exactly they changed to break those things. A good example is quest sharing, which suddenly doesn't work anymore. Or as a guildie would clarify: the sharing works, just the accepting doesn't. What did they change to affect that?

Or take companions: Most of them have been behaving very erratically since the patch. Ranged companions in particular have suddenly developed a habit of freezing in their tracks the moment you enter combat - so if you move even one step out of their range, you might suddenly find yourself fighting without support while they simply stare at you from a distance. I've got to admit that I see one upside to this one as it forces me to pay a bit more attention in combat and micro-manage my companion a bit if needed, which is engaging. Still annoying when you don't notice it in time though.

Companions in general seem to have lots of issues, and it's not clear whether the emergency fix Bioware applied for the companion bug on patch day really fixed the original issue in its entirety. There are still a lot of reports about missing companions, but we can at least hope that most of these are UI-based and not your character's actual history being overwritten.

My own Sorcerer has unfortunately fallen victim to one such bug that definitely goes deeper. I had jumped into Jedi Under Siege all excited, eager to replay the Imperial story after how much I enjoyed it on my Marauder, but about halfway through I suddenly ran into Khem Val, which made me escape out of the cut scene faster than you can say "skip please" because this particular Sorcerer chose Zash over Khem in her class story, which means that as per the Nathema Conspiracy Khem is dead. So I have the opposite problem of the missing companion people in that I have a dead companion having come back to life and suddenly wanting to be my friend. I haven't dared to advance the story any further since the interaction with Khem is baked right into the storyline. I did raise a CS ticket, but the person who replied clearly hadn't even read it properly, so I'm now just waiting for the devs to come back and hopefully read about this bug on either the forums or in their internal bug report tool (I've submitted it in both). At least for me my inquisitor is only one of many alts, so having to put the story on hold on her isn't a game breaker, but I can still see this kind of thing really souring the experience for people. Here's hoping that the team will get to bug-fixing asap now that they seem to be back from their Christmas break.


A Short Visit to Tamriel

With no real plans for New Year's Eve, I recalled that last year, I had used it as an opportunity to load up Elder Scrolls Online for the first time in ages. So I thought to myself: Why not make a tradition of that? Just give it a few hours to patch and perform the mandatory repair (because for some reason the game seems to like breaking itself while I'm not playing), and I should be good to go.

ESO remains the one MMO that I feel I should really like more than I do, due to its similarities to SWTOR in terms of lore focus, voice acting, other players with similar taste as me liking it etc. but somehow it never quite clicks. Still, nothing wrong with taking it for another non-committal spin, right?

I had forgotten that I'd left my cat person at level seven wearing an utterly hideous helmet, but I did remember that I still had Kenarthi's Roost (whose name I just had to google to find out what it's really called, because apparently I had horribly mangled it in my head) left to finish up, so I did that. It was okay I guess.

During the last quest in the main chain, when you're supposed to "escape the area" with some urgency, I got distracted by a fishing hole and started fishing, which quickly gained me several achievements. I knew that urgency was a lie anyway. Then I tried to go for a swim and was killed by "slaughterfish", resulting in another achievement and me having to run back inside the instance just to be able to escape from it properly.

I wasn't really feeling it yet at this point, but then I hit level eight and saw that they had introduced some level up rewards since the last time I played, which also hint at things that you will get later, and saw that at level ten I was going to get a free horse. Free horse! I still vaguely recall all the hubbub about the game's collector's edition coming with an exclusive horse back in the day, so the times have clearly changed a lot. Anyway, that served as a motivator for me to press on.

As this also marked the point where I was finally entering territory that I hadn't already seen back in the beta, I actually found myself getting somewhat drawn into the main storyline, despite of being constantly addressed as "Vestige". What am I, an appendix? If there is a good lore explanation for this, feel free to enlighten me in the comments, but I still think that it's a stupid-sounding title.

Also, the prophet is worse than General Garza and her constant requests for troopers to go back to Coruscant. He kept telling me that I should go because he needed to meditate or something like that, and as soon as I was two steps out of his cave his spectral form would pop up in front of me and call me right back. Seriously, every time. I'm hoping that this an accidental side-effect of the way I'm playing or an unintentional leftover from previous questing changes, because it's really awkward.

Levelling up somehow manages to feel really slow by modern standards, and having to assign new skill points makes me want to cry every time. Others may love having the freedom to build their own class, but I know that I suck at it and I just wish the game had some built-in recommendations or something. (In case you need a reminder, I'm the person who managed to build a KOTOR character that was lacking so many crucial abilities that it turned the final fight of the game into a soul-crushing slog.)

At level ten I got my horse though. Hurrah! And then was promptly defeated by ESO's UI. I didn't think I'd ever have to google something like "how do I summon my mount in ESO" but that's what I ended up doing, because the in-game help pages unfortunately were of no help. Apparently the answer is that you press H for horse, which probably made sense to someone somewhere. I don't know, from a distance all Bethesda games kind of look the same to me, so maybe there is a certain consistency there and they just expect people to know how everything works. As someone who hasn't played any other games from the studio I often feel a bit lost though.

You can recognise the noob by her mismatched armour and free starter horse.

I was also kind of surprised by how "needy" the game is these days, considering that it's buy to play with some subscription encouragement. Apparently there are daily log in rewards now; when you want to research something it takes a long time and you can only run one research project per skill at a time, and to fully train up your riding skill you're apparently supposed to visit the riding trainer once a day for half a year to queue a new training session each day. These "make sure to log in every day just to press a button" tactics are something I tend to associate more with free-to-play titles.

Shortly after I acquired my horse, I also had my first ever interaction with another player, and it was super awkward. I had this quest that required me to enter a certain area, but a guard was rebuffing and blocking me. I thought I'd try to sneak past. I failed, but since I hadn't really done much sneaking before, I re-tried a couple of times just to make sure I wasn't doing it wrong. Someone else saw this and started whispering me that I was doing it wrong and should follow him instead, switching to all caps and then /yelling when I didn't immediately respond. This made me so embarrassed that I just ran away and did something else entirely for a bit. It's funny because I'm 100% convinced that this person was just trying to be helpful but I felt uncomfortably judged for being a noob and just wanting to figure things out on my own.

The storyline continues to be somewhat interesting, though for some reason I really struggle to remember the names of characters and places - the naming conventions in Tamriel just don't work for me, and while you can sometimes ask questions about things in the dialogue options, the game generally seems to assume that you're already somewhat familiar with the world of the Elder Scrolls, name-dropping important characters, concepts and places like there's no tomorrow, which can cause me to zone out a bit. It's an interesting contrast to WoW, where I also had no knowledge of the IP when I started playing back in 2005, but a lot of the early vanilla quests were designed around giving you a basic idea of the culture your character lived in.

Also, the degree of importance bestowed on your character based on very little whatsoever is almost comical. Redbeard wrote a post on this subject recently but made it about MMOs in general, and my reaction was: "Okay, but in how many games does this actually happen?" Okay, so ESO is where it happens. I still can't believe I went to personally warn the queen of the Aldermarimeri Dominion of an assassination attempt against her and was then elevated into the position of one of her personal besties within about five minutes.

Combat is a mixed bag, as I'm not a huge fan of the style of action combat. I was kind of impressed when I suffered my first "real" death (not counting the slaughterfish) fairly early on, from one of the raptor-like things (again, don't ask me about names). Up until then everything had been a cakewalk, but then that thing just kept knocking me about to the point that I could barely scratch it before dying. Fortunately that particular challenge was easily overcome by using my stun breaker and block more effectively, but the overall flow of combat still feels kind of clunky to me.

Anyway, I made it to level 11 before I logged off for the evening and enjoyed puttering about enough that I also got myself certified in all the (default) crafting skills. Same thing again next year I guess?