An Epic Two Hours in Depths of Manaan

It's been a long time since I wrote a blog post dedicated to nothing but a single pug run, but I couldn't resist writing down what I experienced this past Saturday. The run I'm about to describe had just about everything: good pugs, bad pugs, angry pugs, the game bugging out in new and interesting ways - the works!

This cut scene is a good illustration of how the entire run felt.

To set the scene: It was Saturday afternoon and I had decided to do the weekly Masterwork Data Crystal mission to run four master mode flashpoints on my Mercenary Tessal (the one I levelled for my original flashpoint levelling experiment). I'm not a fan of this particular quest in terms of effort vs. reward, but I was in the mood to run some flashpoints so I thought I might as well kill two birds with one stone.

I'd already had three pretty smooth runs of flashpoints that I had queued for specifically in order to finish off some story quests. Now that I was all out of missions except for the weekly one, I decided to queue for a random and got Depths of Manaan. It's one of the harder ones to pug on master mode, but also one where I generally feel comfortable carrying people to some extent, and I was healing anyway (which makes carrying even easier).

I noticed that when we entered the facility, our Assassin tank, to whom I shall refer as "Vee" for the rest of this post, immediately took a turn to the left and clicked on the console to start the bonus. This caused me to raise an eyebrow, as the bonus boss in Depths of Manaan is one of the harder ones and pugs rarely attempt him. I didn't mind either way though, and if the tank of all people wanted to do it, I was happy to go along. Our damage dealers were a Juggernaut and a Marauder, whom I shall nickname Lord Rage and Lord Silly going forward.

The first boss, Sairisi, requires you to actually follow some tactics. He is immune to damage while protected by shields from two droids, so to be able to damage him you need to get both droids to half health, at which point they'll retract their shields and start to regenerate. Ideally you want to split the dps about evenly between the two droids so that you have maximum dps time on Sairisi. If it's uneven, one droid will already be regenerating while the other one is still being burned down, and even one shield going back up is enough to make the boss completely immune to damage again.

Anyway, as soon as we pulled, it was apparent that someone did not know how to do the fight as only one droid was actually going down. I initially tried to help even things out a bit and also thought about typing out instructions in chat, but it's a somewhat healing intensive fight so I had to focus on keeping people alive above everything else. I also had Earth, Wind & Fire's greatest hits running in the background and decided to just chill - as long as I could keep people alive, we were going to get there eventually - and about eight minutes later, the boss was finally down.

We continued and reached the bonus boss. Vee declared that the boss was easy "AF" even though our damage dealers indicated that they were unsure what to do. He took the time to type out some short instructions (very slowly) and we gave it a go. Unsurprisingly, we wiped quickly. In short, the fight is about avoiding exploding probe droids that travel down the room in three "lanes", while occasionally biting the bullet by blowing one up intentionally, but in a controlled manner so that the damage is manageable.

I had noticed that Lord Rage had run into what had only been the third droid to spawn and noted that there was no need to blow one up so quickly since we could have simply avoided that one. Vee countered that it was too much hassle to run back and forth between the lanes and that it was easier to blow up some extra droids to avoid having to move so much. This, again, made me raise an eyebrow as I'd never seen it done without the group running back and forth between the "lanes" to dodge as many droids as possible. Surely the damage from the extra, "unnecessary" explosions would kill people? On the other hand, Vee had seemed highly competent so far, so I was inclined to believe him when he said it was possible.

We tried again. Vee was optimistic that now that people had seen how it worked, we'd be fine. And things did go really well for about 75% of the boss's health... until Lord Silly got too close to a droid that wasn't meant to explode and pulled it right onto the rest of the group, causing us to wipe again. Oh well, mistakes happen, right?

Time for attempt number three. Again things seemed to go okay for a bit... until we had another droid pile-up and wiped again. I wasn't even sure what had happened there as I had wedged myself so tightly into the corner of the room that I couldn't really see what was going on with the rest of the group. (I saved a video recording of the fight to review later but it was literally impossible to see what happened from my point of view.)

However, chat suddenly exploded. "Why did you just pull them all?" shouted Lord Rage. "Why did you throw a grenade at them," chimed in Vee, "what did you try to accomplish there?" I was mostly confused. As far as I could recall, none of the classes in our group had any abilities involving grenades. Had someone confused the boss's cryo grenade with a player attack? Did someone use a Cybertech grenade? What had even happened? Had I done something wrong?

"You stupid fuck!" shouted Lord Rage and quit the group. "Oh for real?" sighed Vee. I was standing there like a deer in the headlights. Was this going to be one of those "group suddenly falls apart in a ball of rage" moments? But no... whatever it was that had incensed people so much, Vee still seemed more interested in getting on with it than shouting at people. He queued us for a dps replacement and we instantly got an Operative to replace Lord Rage. Let's call her Deena.

"Please tell me you know what to do," Vee addressed her as she entered. As far as I could tell Deena never replied, but we pulled anyway. This is where my memory actually gets a bit fuzzy - we might have had another wipe or not, but Deena generally did seem to know what she was doing, as either way the boss was dead soon after that.

Vee's "alternate" strategy of blowing up every single droid that came down our "lane" did work alright - if at least two people correctly took turns in order to take care of them. This was theoretically the damage dealers' job, but in practice it ended up being done by Deena and me. Lord Silly still seemed a bit confused about what he was supposed to do, occasionally darting in and out of the group like a shy animal but not actually doing anything useful other than dps-ing the boss. (In fact he was making me very twitchy with his running around, as it often looked like he was about to pull a droid again... but fortunately we managed to avoid that particular problem that time.)

We continued to Ortuno, who I think is by most considered the hardest boss in the instance. Mostly the fight is about the tank moving him around correctly, which Vee handled with aplomb. The rest of the group just needs to remember to run out of the puddles every time the boss casts "Flow" - not a challenging task, but if you get it wrong it's instant death.

Lord Silly died on the first cast, and the combat res was still on cooldown from the previous fight. Once it came off cooldown, I revived him. I mean, even if he was new to the fight, he'd seen how it worked now, right? The next time the boss cast Flow, he died again. The boss's health went down slowly enough that my combat res actually came off cooldown a second time, but after Lord Silly's previous performance, I didn't bother to revive him again. Until he begged to be revived in chat, at which point I did it anyway. This time he managed to survive for a little longer, but then died again.

Eventually the three of us got the boss down (if you've ever wondered whether Ortuno has an enrage, the answer appears to be no). Before the last add had hit the floor, Lord Silly was begging for a revive yet again. I gave it to him, then moved on to the next door. He released anyway, then complained that I hadn't revived him. "Yes, I did," I said. "You just didn't take it." He complained that it had been greyed out. I explained that this was probably because he had died too many times in quick succession, which causes the ability to accept revives to go on a cooldown.

Vee, Deena and I were forced to wait patiently at the door that triggered the next cut scene. But Lord Silly didn't show. Eventually he complained that he was locked out. We went back to investigate, and for some reason the door to Ortuno's room, which closes when you pull him, hadn't re-opened and Lord Silly was stuck on the other side. (Incidentally, if you hovered over it it also wasn't called "door" but "OBJECT HAS NO NAME", which I thought was funny. Too bad I didn't think to take a screenshot.)

At one point I thought that he had suddenly made it after all because a fourth person appeared next to Vee, Deena and me. It wasn't Lord Silly though, it was... a Jedi. "Why is there a Jedi here?" I asked. "Are we in the Twilight Zone?" "Oh good," replied Vee. "I thought I was going insane and had started seeing people." We could also see the Jedi's companion (Nadia) and the Combat Support Droid you get in most solo modes, but it didn't look like he could see us. He happily continued onwards through the door tied to the next conversation and disappeared.

I suggested that Lord Silly should exit the area and come back in, but that didn't help. "What are you guys doing?" Lord Silly eventually exclaimed in desperation. "Being stuck in a small room that we can't get out of without you", I replied, which earned me a +1 from Vee. I suggested that maybe we should all try exiting the area and then come back in. We did so, and now we were all stuck on the wrong side of the door. I thought I could hear the implied eye roll when Vee commented that he should have seen that coming.

That was going to be it, right? Our instance was bugged and there was no way out. (I tried a quick Google search in case this was a known bug with a workaround but couldn't find anything.) "I guess I could try resetting the phase," proposed Vee, who was party leader. "Does that mean we'll lose all our progress though?" I suspected so but wasn't sure. And anyway, what else did we even have left to try? So Vee reset the phase and we went back inside... to find that everything had indeed reset.

Vee: Are we going or fuck this?
Me: Well.
Me: I'm annoyed but I do need one more FP for the weekly quest and I don't mind which one it is.
Me: At least we know we can do this one!
Vee: Let's roll then!

So we started over. And even though it was our second time, it still wasn't a smooth run.

On Sairisi I came to the realisation that the reason he had gone down so slowly the first time wasn't in fact a case of the dps not being split correctly - it was Lord Silly attacking the boss the entire time even though he was immune to damage for most of it. This time he even went so far as to type out in chat that we should be doing the same! High healing requirements or not, that prompted me to pause and reply that no, he needed to hit the droids to remove the boss's shield. As far as I could tell from the target of target functionality, he never caught on though and continued to whack the boss for the entire rest of the fight. Gotta give kudos to Deena there for effectively soloing the adds.

Then we got to the bonus boss and wiped on that again. I think once I saw Deena accidentally shoot one of the droids, which caused it to aggro and explode on the whole group, and another time I swear I saw Lord Silly achieve the same effect by saber-throwing into a whole group of droids. I emphasised that it was important to never attack the droids, but to either run into them or avoid them entirely. Next try we got it down.

As we stood in front of Ortuno again, I quipped to Lord Silly that in case he hadn't caught on yet, standing in the water when the boss cast Flow was bad. He asked what else he was supposed to do. I told him to run with us. And he did! I'm not sure now, he might have died one more time, but he did actually get the hang of the basic tactics this time.

Finally we were able to approach Stivastin, the last boss. His gimmick is that he has a damage absorption shield and needs to be pulled under some fire vents periodically to burst it. We did manage to get this one down on the first try, though we were only seconds away from hitting the boss's enrage/reset timer. Also, Lord Silly kept yelling at Vee (who was doing everything correctly, as he had done throughout the entire rest of the run) to get under the fire more quickly or else we'd be here all day. "Gee, really?" Vee replied, and I have to admit that for a split-second I had a horrible feeling that this might be the straw that broke the camel's back and he might rage-quit, but fortunately that didn't happen. The irony of the one guy who had done pretty much everything wrong on every boss fight trying to tell our highly competent tank how to play was overwhelming though.

When we finally finished, I thanked everyone, particularly highlighting Vee's contribution. He thanked me and said that for an alien, I was quite alright. (Tessal is a Twi'lek.) I also won the roll on the six Manaan Research Data that dropped at the end, so I can't really complain.

Actually, I wasn't going to complain either way. I mean, yes, I had to effectively run the flashpoint twice to complete it once, one guy swore and rage-quit, and another guy was making our lives miserable by being utterly clueless about the fights and also being completely oblivious to just how hard we had to carry him... but I also learned a new way of fighting the bonus boss, met some nice and competent players, saw some funny bugs and generally had a good time. What more could you ask for when doing group content with random people?


Raise Your Flag

Two weeks ago, patch 5.10.2 added Guild Heraldry to the game, a feature that was originally intended to be part of 5.10 proper but then ended up being pushed back a bit. What is Guild Heraldry, you ask? Basically, it's what WoW has popularised as tabards, a way to create and show off a logo for your guild... except that we don't have tabards in SWTOR, even after this.

Where does this logo show then? Well, in your own guild window, in the guild inspect window that other people can see, and a teeny tiny version also shows next to your guild's name on the Conquest leaderboard if you make it into the top ten. Finally, you have the option to display it next to people's character names, because we clearly needed more stuff floating above our heads.

Mr Commando and I immediately set out to design a logo for our guild (conveniently enough, the design window can be accessed by all guild members at all times, they just can't save their creation without the proper permissions) but quickly disagreed on what it should look like. Also, I was reminded that my sense of matching colours isn't always the best, which in turn reminded me that we have some very artistic and creative people in the guild. So we decided to put the matter to the masses.

In the first round we had people submit their own banner ideas. There were a couple of obligatory jokey ones, but most were quite good. There was a lot of experimentation with different variants of planets, suns and stars to evoke that "Twin Suns" feeling but also some more original ideas, such as utilising the Aurebesh letter T. There was even some discussion on whether the logo should be starfighter themed - hardly anyone in the guild plays GSF, but the name Twin Suns Squadron has its origin in a fighter squadron from the old expanded universe.

Then the officer team picked some finalists, trying to represent a variety of ideas and we put the matter to the vote.

Funnily enough, the winner was the one on top, which was the very first idea I put together. All this effort to have a contest and then you just vote for the original suggestion? I mean, thank you for your confidence... I guess. (Plus there were the obvious "rigged" jokes since I'm an officer and the GM's wife.)

While the designing and voting was still going on, I also started inspecting other people's guilds on the fleet and in pugs to get an idea of what other guilds were doing with their logos. I'm afraid to say that sadly, the majority of them looked dreadfully boring. Every guild gets either a red Empire or blue Republic symbol on a plain black field as its default logo, and most guild leaders apparently haven't felt the need to make any great changes to this. On Imperial side, the Empire symbol is sometimes replaced with something else that's vaguely martial looking (such as a fist or a skull) but without any further adjustments. On Republic side, a lot of guilds just kept the Republic symbol and didn't do anything other than slightly adjust its colour.

There was some creativity on display though, which I thought would be fun to share on here.

I have it on good authority that chloroform isn't green, but that aside, I like how this logo conveys a mood. Smells Like Chloroform is an Imperial PvP guild, and just looking at that banner made me think of Operatives using their Toxic Haze ability on me.

This was the first guild I saw using the logo featuring planetary bodies partially eclipsing each other that I also used in my design and I think it's appropriate for the guild name.

Stroke My Wookie is the biggest Imperial guild on Darth Malgus, so big that its membership is split up into two separate guilds (both of which share the same logo). I guess if you're the biggest guild on the server you can get away with having a plain logo on a black background and still seem cool. Credit has to be given for using the Aurebesh version of the number five for its resemblance to the letter S.

This guild is jokingly named after something from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and since I imagine it would've been quite impossible to have anything resembling the actual Knights of Ni, going for an approximation of the St George's cross as worn by Sir Galahad struck me as a good solution.

I have no idea what this small guild is about- the name certainly sounds like something that would have a story behind it - so I can't exactly judge the appropriateness of the logo, but the chosen green and brown tones made me think of Kashyyyk (the Wookiee homeworld) and maybe that red X in the middle symbolises an explosion or some other negative thing that would give a Wookiee cause to wail? I don't know, like the first logo I posted above I think it just manages to convey a feeling.

This just amused me because of how they thought to use the planet icon to represent a cookie. It totally works too.

How did your guild choose its new logo?


When You (Can't) Go Back

Bhagpuss, MMORPG connoisseur extraordinaire, has decided to give SWTOR a try at long last and has been busy pushing out first impressions posts pretty much every day since. I've very much enjoyed reading them so far because Bhag's opinions are always well-articulated and often somewhat different from the mainstream, which makes them extra interesting. As an unabashed fan of the game, I've also been pleased by how much he's been enjoying it so far, especially as I didn't expect it to be his cup of tea at all. He himself has expressed surprise at how entertaining certain features have turned out to be when he didn't really expect to like them very much at all.

Seeing all this talk about and screenshots of starter planets made me wistful for my own days as a newbie. Of course you can't go back to that, but you can always roll up a new alt, right? Well... there's that "alt creation fatigue" I've been talking about in previous posts to consider though. What to do?

I eventually compromised by firing up the character selection screen of the Satele Shan server, where for some reason I have no less than four characters, none of which had even hit level ten or chosen an advanced class. There's Shintar the Mirialan trooper who I believe I originally created out of a desire to play with Redbeard, though I wouldn't swear that this was my motivation at the time. I tried to go dark side on her though and quickly found myself disliking the character (never good for an alt that shares your main's name).

Then there's a human Jedi consular, the only male character I ever created. I'm not sure now why I created him on an American server... maybe I knew that I'd struggle with connecting with a male character and didn't want this to "taint" my regular legacy?

Then there's the agent I created back in the day when Mr Commando and I were at the peak of our desire to level characters together and found that our regular server was down one evening, while a US server was up, so we decided to go there instead. We made it to level three (back when that took more than three minutes) before our regular server came back up and we dropped our new agents like hot potatoes, never to return.

And then there's the Togruta I talked about creating in this post from nearly four years ago - I levelled her to four and then never touched her again.

After carefully considering my options I decided that the Togruta knight would be the most fun to start up again... mostly because I had an outfit idea for her. (The outfit designer has made me so shallow.) I chose the option to turn her into a Guardian and off I went.

The best thing about playing on Satele Shan was that I had no legacy there; I only got to create it once I reached Coruscant. (In fact, I somehow managed to completely miss the legacy creation prompt; it was only because I found myself thinking "Shouldn't I have a legacy by now?" that I checked the icon in the top bar and there it was, flashing at me to choose my legacy name.) Legacy is a great system in many ways, but I have to admit that as a long-time player I also see it as a downside sometimes that you can't ever truly feel like you're starting over because thanks to your legacy you already own all the datacrons, all the class buffs and more, and have a bank full of materials at your disposal.

It feels like it's been forever since I bothered to hunt for the classic datacrons for example. The ones on Tython were easy enough to remember, as was the first one on Coruscant, but in the Black Sun territory something funny happened: I looked a the map and thought "I really can't remember where the datacron is here..." but then just set out to explore the map as I normally would. And what do you know, as I was picking up some archaeology crystals in a corner, I suddenly looked at the stack of containers next to me and knew that this was it. I couldn't remember where to go exactly; I just knew that I could and should continue climbing up those containers until I could reach a pipe, and then I just kept intuitively putting one foot in front of the other until the datacron was mine. The memories!

I also had fun working on my crew skills. I actually had a use for those rubat crystals and got excited to find gathering nodes around the district!

While on the fleet I purchased the Coruscant stronghold. It's still my favourite, but on Darth Malgus I've pretty much got it as I like it and have no particular desire to make any big changes. I was kind of surprised to find it only costing seven credits - to be honest that immediately made me think that this must have been a special put in place for the game's seventh birthday back in December and that nobody remembered to revert the price afterwards. Not that I minded or think that it should be particularly expensive, but seven credits felt like an insanely good (and oddly priced) bargain.

The one thing that put a bit of a downer on things again was the insane ease of combat and levelling speed. I found it very striking that Bhagpuss noted that he hadn't bothered to learn more than four skills on his smuggler because what was the point? I of course trained everything the game would let me, remembering the good old days when this was actually a useful if not required thing to do because enemies didn't all die in two hits. I also tried setting T7 to dps for a bit but eventually just sent him away entirely whenever I wasn't about to do a story cut scene. While on my own this allowed me to use a few abilities at least while fighting in a heroic area, even if the mobs still didn't manage to get me to half health before dying.

And then there's the levelling speed... as I said the Guardian started at level four, but only a couple of hours of play later I was already in my thirties and still not even halfway through Coruscant. Originally you were meant to be around level twelve around this part of the story. I suppose I haven't been helping myself by choosing to do this thing just as Bioware launched another double XP event, but it still makes me itchy. How can you enjoy playing a lowbie if the game doesn't allow you to be a lowbie for more than a couple of hours?

Maybe this is another thing that's making me shy away from creating more alts: I'm actually not sure I would find the low-level gameplay engaging enough to hang around if I came to the game as a new player now, and seeing the sheer OP-ness of every new alt just reminds me of the unease I feel about current levelling and kind of makes me miss the way things used to be pre-4.0.


KotFE & KotET Veteran & Master Mode Chapters Tips & Resources

I never thought I'd use that many ampersands in a post title...

While I was ultimately quite late to the party in terms of completing all the chapters on master mode, I noticed that the amount of resources on the subject of how to beat them still seems to be somewhat limited (even if things are a bit better now than they were two years ago), so I thought I might as well compile everything I learned along the way into a single post in order to help others who are still looking for help with getting these done.

First, some general notes:

Achievement vs. achievement: If you only want to complete the veteran/master mode chapters for the achievement badge, you can simply bring a friend to help you. They won't get credit for story progress or chapter completion (only the phase owner does), however they are able to trivialise the fights by helping out and you'll still get the achievement. For me it was more about the sense of achievement you get from overcoming a difficult challenge though, which is what the rest of this post focuses on.

Class matters: Your class will make a big difference to how easy or hard you're going to find certain chapters. Abilities that are useful are (in order of impact, based on my own impressions): strong damage reduction cooldowns, having a long-duration crowd control, having a short interrupt cooldown, having the ability to self-heal, stealth. The best class to complete these challenges on would therefore be Commando/Mercenary, while the weakest one is probably Vanguard/Powertech, with everything else being somewhere in-between. If you have a stable of alts to choose from that are all eligible for chapters, this is something you might want to keep in mind before choosing which character to use. Personally I completed veteran KotFE with a Sorcerer, veteran KotET with a Guardian, master KotFE with a Sage and master KotET with a Scoundrel.

Level: You don't have to be max-level to do chapters on a higher difficulty, and there's some theorising that due to the way the scaling works, they are in fact a bit easier if you do them below max level. I did some experimenting with this myself but didn't find any conclusive evidence either way. The only thing that felt reasonably clear was that going in as a fresh level 70 with not the greatest gear makes things much more difficult.

Gear: Going in with the best gear you can get helps a lot. Master mode chapters were originally tuned around the endgame gear available at the time of their release (item level 242), which is not to say that they are completely impossible with less if you're good at the game and chose to go in on a class with good cooldowns. However every little helps, and the fact that at the time of writing this anyone can get up to gear level 258 means that you can give yourself an extra edge that way. Don't forget to also add augments to all your gear slots.

Companions: Similar to gear, the intended companion influence rank for master mode chapters is 50. Again, most fights are actually doable with less, but if you find that you're struggling to survive or do enough dps, boosting your companion's influence level with some gifts is an obvious avenue for improvement.

Spec/role: Don't be afraid to experiment with different specialisations, utilities and roles. Some fights might benefit from increased AoE damage reduction while others really reward every bit of extra mobility. In terms of roles, some bosses that hit extremely hard actually have relatively little health, so the way to go in such cases might well be to have both you and your companion on dps to quickly nuke your opponent down before they have a chance to hurt you too much. If you're wiping anyway, you have little to lose from trying a couple of different approaches.

Other tools: Don't forget that you can use stims, medpacks and legacy abilities, such as your heroic moment and Unity. Basically, you'll find that on the tougher fights, players usually succeed by making sure that they use absolutely every ability in their toolbox to their advantage.

Specific chapter information:

Note that the following are not explicit guides, but blog posts documenting my experiences with various chapters. I did however make a point of describing any and all difficulties that I ran into as well as explaining how I eventually overcame them, while often including video footage of particularly tough encounters as well. I also linked to any outside resources, such as other people's videos, that I found helpful at the time. Sometimes others also added extra information in the comment section. Feel free to add your own if you think it could help someone else!

Knights of the Fallen Empire

Veteran mode impressions
Chapters 1, 2 & 3 master mode
Chapters 4, 5 & 6 master mode
Chapters 7, 8 & 9 master mode
Chapters 10 & 11 master mode
Chapters 12, 13 & 14 master mode
Chapter 15 master mode
Chapter 16 master mode

Knights of the Eternal Throne

Veteran mode first impressions
Veteran mode second impressions
Chapter 1 master mode
Chapter 2 master mode
Chapters 3, 4 & 5 master mode
Chapter 6 master mode
Chapter 7 master mode
Chapter 8 master mode
Chapter 9 master mode


Looking Back At Past Expansion Announcements

As someone who likes to look back as much as forward (if not more so), all the recent excitement about the Onslaught expansion made me try to recall how I felt whenever new SWTOR expansions had just been announced in the past. I don't think I was that excited? That's one of the great things about having a blog though: I actually have a written record of those times that I can check.

As it turns out, I remembered correctly that I wasn't as excited about previous expansions... but it's almost comical how un-excited I was about some of them when they were first announced.

Rise of the Hutt Cartel's announcement was received with a lackadaisical "Expansion Time, Then?" as I was actually kind of grumpy about having to pay for content that Bioware had advertised as free to all subscribers at E3 only a few months earlier. I wasn't convinced that raising the level cap after only a little more than a year was a good thing, and getting "only" one new planet didn't seem like much of an expansion to me. (How spoiled I was!) To top things off, this was also around the time when a memory leak caused my game to crash several times a night. I wasn't really having the best of times.

Galactic Starfighter's announcement was similarly unexciting to me. Once again I used "expansion" only in quotation marks and declared that I felt decidedly "meh" about the concept of space combat, despite of seemingly everyone else being super excited about it. Admittedly it turned out that my attitude was actually pretty in line with that of the majority of the player base on this one, but still...

Galactic Strongholds had been rumoured for a while when it was finally announced officially. I was kind of ambivalent because I was never really into housing but it seemed at least vaguely interesting. In hindsight it's weird to see myself talk about how much I used to enjoy hanging out on the fleet, because ever since the introduction of strongholds that has changed. I blame the legacy cargo hold... if I could access that from the fleet too, I would probably prefer to hang out there still, but I guess limiting them to strongholds was Bioware's incentive to make people use their new houses (and it worked).

It's also funny to see how I guessed some things correctly, such as that the system would be more about arranging furniture than about building things from the ground up, or that a lot of the best stuff would come from the Cartel Market. On the other hand it's interesting to see some of the things I was theorising about at the time that ended up being completely off-base, such as that we might be getting a new furniture-making crew skill, or that companions might come visit us in our strongholds and wander around instead of being static decorations.

The Shadow of Revan announcement mostly had me whinging about its trailer being lacklustre, Lana and Theron featuring too prominently in the loading screen art (boy, did I have no idea what was to come), not liking the experience boost that was being given out as a pre-order "perk" and feeling wary of  the upcoming changes to the talent system. But hey, at least I acknowledged with this one that two new planets, two new operations and two new flashpoints was a good chunk of new content.

Fallen Empire was shrouded in a lot of mystery and hype due to its fancy trailer and departure from what had come before. I was trying to keep things grounded in my initial analysis, and was actually spot-on with almost everything! Particularly prescient points in hindsight were "personally, I would find Star Wars without a Republic/Empire conflict very un-Star-Warsy" and, in the follow-up post, "re-acquiring your old companions [...] worries me a little because adding sensible reasons for players to hunt down forty old companions doesn't sound like a thing Bioware would do in a post-class-story world". Note that while Bioware has been trying to achieve this, we still haven't got all our companions back nearly four years later, so that was clearly a bit of a Pandora's box. Or how about this one: "An MMO can't live off story alone." Still, I'm pointing all those things out with the benefit of hindsight - at the time I was cautiously optimistic about the expansion despite of my concerns.

We knew very little about Knights of the Eternal Throne when it was first teased, so my comment section was mostly conspiracy theory talk about how the people in the teaser image were probably not Senya and Vaylin (something that's quite amusing to look back on). After that we spent almost three months without getting any more information, until we finally got the official announcement... at which point we still barely knew anything, so that most of my first impressions post was about analysing the trailer.

So yeah, I used to be pretty spoiled when it came to expansions, not really valuing them all that much because they came out frequently. Someone on Twitter pointed out that Onslaught is actually going to be SWTOR's seventh expansion, which is pretty crazy when you think about it, but it's also worth noting that the first four came out within the game's first three years... and that the last one came out two and a half years ago by now. As they say: absence makes the heart grow fonder - after so much time without a chunky piece of new content, I'm definitely more excited about this one than ever!


Onslaught Expansion Announcement

I bet you that you didn't have the same first thought as me upon hearing the name of the new expansion, because for me it was: "Onslaught, huh? That's going to take some getting used to." The reason for this is that my World of Warcraft guild of five years was called Onslaught, so that's a pretty deep-set primary association with the name that I'll have to change. It's also a break with the previous naming scheme for SWTOR's story expansions, which was more or less "Subject of the object".

Not this Onslaught.

The announcement didn't include a big CGI trailer - in fact there was no trailer at all, but I assume that at least a basic one is still to come. Either way, substance is more important than style in this case, and there was plenty of the former! We got confirmation that we'll be getting pretty much all the big ticket items that people have been asking for in recent months, so yay us! I'm sure more details will be revealed as time goes on but let's have a quick look at the major bullet points and I'll add my initial thoughts on them as they stand.

A new storyline spanning two planets, Onderon and Mek-Sha, that concludes in a new flashpoint on Corellia

Mek-Sha isn't technically a planet in astronomical terms (it's an asteroid) but we're talking about these in terms of gameplay features here and they'll both be big new locations.

Eric and Charles said relatively little about the storyline other than that it's going to continue the Republic vs. Empire thread that we started on Ossus, which makes sense as they usually like to keep the details of these a secret so that they can be a surprise later and to be honest that's how I as a player like it too. The splash art seems to indicate that a big showdown between Tau and Malgus is coming up though.

Onderon seems to have many people excited due to being a planet from KOTOR 2, but since I still haven't played that because they still haven't released a mobile port, it means little to me. (Apparently it also appeared in the Clone Wars, where I still haven't made it past season two.) The only association I had with the name was that C2-D4 repeatedly said that he used to serve the queen of Onderon, so I wonder if that means that he and Jakarro will make a return? Charles Boyd actually asked during the Cantina event whether people would like it if Jakarro was on Onderon, but it was unclear whether that was a hint or him still trying to decide whether to include the Wookiee as a side character or not.

Concept-wise, nothing they said about Onderon or Mek-Sha sounded drastically new and different - Onderon is a place of noble houses so we might get some story vibes similar to Alderaan, while Mek-Sha sounded like another potential haven for smugglers and other shady characters. Mind you, at this point I guess it's hard to come up with a concept for a planet that isn't similar to anything they've done before... I'm sure the devil (aka most interesting stuff) will be in the details.

Going back to Corellia also sounds good to me, because I think it's nice to mix things up by returning to older planets every now and then. I guess I would have preferred it if the main storyline hadn't been tied directly into the new flashpoint, but that seems to be the strategy they are rolling with right now. Oh well.

New operation on Dxun

Dxun is one of Onderon's moons and another KOTOR 2 reference. But hey, new operation, yay! Really glad they took the time to a) actually build another operation and b) do so in full this time after the so-so results of releasing Gods from the Machine piecemeal over the course of an entire year. I don't think it's been stated how many difficulties the new operation will come with - I assume two are a given, but is a third one at least planned, even if it might not be live at launch? No more hardmares please.

Also, the official announcement article says that the operation will feature both something Czerka-related (nice to see they got back on their feet after the whole CZ-198 thing) as well as "a band of fanatical Trandoshan hunters" - return of Kephess confirmed? (I'm not even sure whether I want this joke to be true or not.)

Level cap increase to 75 and a new ability for each class

In case the last two years made you think that Bioware tired of level cap increases, we got confirmation that Onslaught will add another five levels to the game to mix things up again. Plus every class will get at least one new ability! Part of me is like "yes but how many more abilities do we really need", while the other, louder part is like: "I don't care, gimme!" I don't think they've ever added any new abilities to the game that I didn't like; at worst it sometimes took me a little while to figure out what made a new ability good and when / how to use it to the greatest effect. The only thing to watch out for is whether they'll decide to prune any old/existing abilities to balance the scales (which they have done before).

New playable species: Nautolan

I was kind of surprised by the way this seemed to be the single most cheered for announcement at the Cantina, based on the video I watched. Not that it's not a nice thing; I'm just not sure it's nicer than everything else.

It wasn't exactly a surprise to hear them announce Nautolans as the next playable species, as I think everyone had them pegged as the top contender based on popularity and existing assets, but it was a surprise to hear Bioware talk about wanting to tie their release to the expansion, as that's not something that's happened before. The closest we had was Cathar being announced as a tie-in with Makeb, just to be frantically edited out of everything afterwards as they eventually had to be delayed until 2.1. Speaking of that though, weirdly the Nautolan reveal is the one major bullet point they didn't add to the official announcement article either, hmm...

I'm not sure how much use I'll make of this new unlock myself - I do think Nautolans are very cool and I would definitely like to have one, but I also suffer from a certain degree of what you could call alt fatigue at this point, due to already having too many alts that I rarely ever play and feeling like I'm "neglecting" them and that I really shouldn't add any more to the mix (yes, I know that's not rational; that doesn't change the way I feel though).

Big gear and itemisation changes

This one was probably the biggest head-scratcher about the announcement as it was about system changes and slightly vague ones at that, which kind of makes you go: "I guess that sounds good, but I'd have to see it to be able to say how much I like it". The main thing I was hoping for was simplification of the current gearing system, even if I know that something like that wouldn't be very exciting to announce. Not to mention that even if they are planning to do it, they might not have worked out enough details yet to talk about how it will work.

Anyway, that didn't happen - in fact the only thing even vaguely going in that direction was some talk about simplifying the process of moving gear across your legacy, which I have mixed feelings about because personally I've actually avoided doing too much of that anyway as I prefer all my characters to have their own gear sets. However, I guess if this change cuts down on certain guild members (you know who you are) constantly having to log through their entire stable of alts before every operation just to find where they left their trousers this time, I'm all for that.

The bigger issue though was that they talked about wanting to change the way we pursue gear in general, by giving us more different set bonuses to choose from, some of them cross-class and not even combat related. There is also going to be an entirely new gear slot that's meant to allow you to customise your most-used abilities. Eric Musco's made-up example was having a Sorcerer's chain lightning hit more targets vs. turning it into a punchier single target attack. I was instantly reminded of WoW's glyph system ca. Wrath of the Lich King/Cataclysm, which then led to me trying to remember why that didn't really work out, but I couldn't. I don't recall it being an utter disaster, so I guess it's fair enough for Bioware to give their own version a try.

There are two major sticking points that I see, with the first one being balance. SWTOR's player community isn't as obsessed with min-maxing as e.g. World of Warcraft's, so I'm sure there'll be more room for people to play around with different options without being shunned, but it does give the devs more things to worry about when it comes to balancing both PvP and PvE encounters.

The other concern I have can simply be summed up with the words "too much gear". One thing I've really liked about 5.0 was that they did away with separate sets of PvE and PvP gear. However, with all those new set bonuses and new game-changing items we'll suddenly have a lot more to think about than simply those two game modes, because who'll want to stick to just a single set at all times? Just how much of my bag space is going to be taken up by having to lug new alternate gear sets around? Also, and this may sound weird, but on a gut level I'm not sure features that are supposed to heavily customise the way we play should simply be stuck on gear. Shouldn't these things be a bit more inherent to our characters, like our combat specialisations and utilities? These were just the sort of thoughts that immediately came to my mind.

Coming This September

All of this is supposed to come in September, so currently about five months away. I've seen a lot of people say that this is actually less of a wait than they expected, but I don't know why anyone would have expected Bioware to announce this kind of thing much further in advance. Looking back at previous story expansions, they usually announced them around four months before their release. Shadow of Revan even had only a mere two months between its reveal and launch! Which is not me saying that I think five months is short or long, just that it's pretty in line with how they've handled these things previously.

I'm looking forward to learning more about Bioware's plans for this expansion.


KotFE Chapter 16 Master Mode

At last, more than two years after I first tried my hand at a veteran mode chapter, I completed the last of all the veteran and master mode story chapters. I kept putting off tackling KotFE chapter sixteen since I expected it to be somewhat time-consuming, and I wasn't wrong - I almost had to pull an all-nighter from Friday to Saturday since I spent so many hours dying on and re-trying some of the boss fights. In the end I succeeded however (plus there was some time left for sleep), and as always with these things, being able to say that I did it feels quite good.

There isn't much to say about the trash in this chapter, though it's worth mentioning that I chose to go with the turrets for support, since I remembered them being the "easy extra dps" option. Later, as I was reading up on some fights for hints, I saw at least one comment that claimed that the shield actually makes some of the boss fights much easier as its ability to reflect is completely OP, however the commenter also warned that it only has a limited number of charges which can't be replenished, so if you wipe too many times you basically have to re-start the whole chapter if you want to continue using the shield as you won't be able to gain any more charges otherwise. Obviously I wasn't able to verify this but I thought I'd just put it out there.


When Rav wrote about her annoyances with master mode chapters more than two years ago, she used shots from this fight to illustrate her post, and I can now see why. Boy, is this guy a pain! The two major challenges of the fight can be summed up as follows:

First, like the Gemini Captain, his default attacks hit ridiculously hard. I think his attack speed is slightly lower than hers, but in turn each hit took 20-30k off my Sage's health, which was absolutely insane. The only way I found to deal with this was to do the fight in healing spec and set Lana to heals as well, while prioritising survival above all else and mostly leaving the actual damage dealing to the portable turrets.

Second, the fight takes place in a relatively small room and all the boss's special attacks are AoEs. It's still easy enough to avoid them as a player, but Lana will happily jump to her death at any opportunity, which means that you have to micromanage her to the nth degree and she can only make a limited contribution to the fight. I eventually figured out all the tricks to keep her alive, and yet you can still see her running through an electric circle at around 1:50 in the kill video, which she just happened to survive with a sliver of health through sheer luck I guess.

I'll actually explain all the boss's abilities in detail for this one since the final video doesn't make it at all obvious just how much planning and thought went into every step of the fight by that point (after several hours of wiping).

Pulse Cannon: This is the big yellow cone he does, and as far as I could tell he only casts this if his main aggro target is within its range (probably around 20 meters or so). It's pretty big, pretty painful, and an instant death sentence for Lana if she gets caught in it. I guess that as melee you have to do some skillful dancing around here to avoid either of you getting hit, but as a ranged character I at least had the luxury of simply always staying far enough away to avoid having him cast it, even if it limited the area I could use for moving around. It was also important that I maintained aggro throughout, because if the boss switched to Lana in melee, he would start casting the cone and she'd just die instantly. This was somewhat annoying in so far as I had specced into the utility to gain damage reduction from my aggro drop, which I couldn't actually use in the end as it would always cause the boss to switch to Lana.

Antigravity Grenade: This is the white circle he casts on his main target every so often and should be your favourite ability as it can be avoided easily and in its entirety. Just try to not place it on your turrets if you've got one up. Lana should be safely away anyway as per what I wrote above.

Mortar Volley: This is the nastiest cast to deal with at range, a big yellow circle that starts doing damage instantly, puts a burning dot on you, and pretty much kills you if you don't start running out of it immediately. This became my main consideration when it came to placing turrets, as it sucked to put down a turret and then have it instantly destroyed by a mortar volley. So I always made sure to place them right after he had just cast this to maximise uptime.

Microwave Laser: At 60, 40 and 20% health, KJ will jump around and start channelling red on a large part of the floor. This is easy enough to get out of, but for your companion only if you immediately put them on passive (as there's always a bit of delay until they sheathe their weapons, trundle back to your side etc.). It's also a great time to dps from range as you can just stand there in a safe spot and nuke while the boss does nothing, however I found it more prudent to focus on survival, get both myself and Lana fully healed up for the next phase etc. As an aside, you can get Lana to do some healing even while on passive, but it's very fiddly as you need to target the character you want healed and then trigger each healing ability of hers manually. The important thing to know is that as ranged, I found that unless the boss was focused on a turret, he would re-enter the fight after casting microwave laser by instantly casting another mortar volley on me, which was a problem in so far as if Lana was still on passive at this point, she'd just die as she was still standing on top of me and could never move out of it fast enough. I therefore found it crucial to always sic her back onto the boss about a second or two before he finished casting microwave laser, so that she'd have time to draw her sabre, start moving and be away from my side in time to not die.

Shock Spike: At around 50% / after the first microwave laser, the boss casts an ability called shock spike which places four electric circles around the edges of the room and limits the space you have left to move around in. I didn't find this to be a problem as a ranged character, but again, the companion AI is dumb. Specifically I found that sometimes when I put her back on active after pulling her out of the microwave laser, she'd decide to run back to the boss via the edge of the room, right through one of the circles, and basically kill herself. I did eventually realise that I could at least minimise the chance of this happening by making sure that she and I stood as close to the middle as possible before re-engaging the boss (to make sure that she'd go through the middle and not along the edge).

There you go, I think that should cover absolutely everything.

Dara Nadal

I didn't think anything could faze me after beating KJ, but I was still annoyed to run into this named Knight of Zakuul right afterwards who could basically two-shot you with her melee attacks. This helpful video by GamingInABikini (who had also proven helpful to me while doing KotET chapter two) reminded me that sometimes it's best to just go for a quick burn. With both my Sage and Lana set to dps, I blew my heroic moment, chained my stuns and the rest was a breeze (even if you can see me actually cancelling my legacy orbital strike by accident in the kill video...)


Arcann caused me some more wipes, but no more than on veteran mode I think. The basic strategy was the same as I described in the post about that. The main things that threw me initially were these:

- The damage from the "throw manifestation" ability is really high. You can survive it if you're at or near full health, but if you're already low due to having messed something else up, it will kill you. He also always throws the first manifestation, so just get ready to be punted around at that point and focus on getting out of Arcann's yellow cone right after.

- Similarly, taking unshielded damage from the manifestations also hurts a lot. Now, obviously you should always reflect their casts, but I found that bad RNG could screw you a bit there if a set of two spawned at opposite ends of the room, making it next to impossible to reflect both of them so that at least one would knock you down, and if your timing was off they'd both hit you and you'd probably die. You can see in my kill vid that I got lucky with manifestation placement there as they spawned in a way that made it easy to reflect them in pairs, but I went through a fair number of attempts where I basically died to what felt like bad RNG.

- On story and veteran mode I used the shield bash ability to help deal damage to Arcann, but since I went into this fight as dps anyway, I found it prudent to save my charges for when he barriered at 25%, as otherwise there's a chance that you might end up without enough charges to bash him at that crucial moment, in which case it's a wipe.

Waiting for the two manifestations near the end to kill themselves with reflects was even more nerve-racking than on the other difficulties, but it seemed to be the right choice once again as I did manage to stay alive long enough to bash Arcann and win the fight anyway.



Let The Dragons Hit The Floor

Last week my guild achieved something that had long seemed impossible to me... We killed Izax the Destroyer (the last boss in Gods from the Machine) on veteran mode! The reason this seemed like an unattainable goal for a long time was that veteran mode was just that hard - we struggled to even get the first boss down reliably, and as a result progress on the second encounter was glacially slow. Esne and Aivela were added to the game mid-2017 and we still hadn't gotten them down on veteran mode a year later! Not that we spent all that time actually trying, but still...

The nerfs that accompanied the release of Gods master mode with 5.10 were an absolute godsend for us. Not only did we finally get the sisters down, but we then managed to progress through the Nahut and Scyva fights at a good pace as well. After that we suffered a temporary setback mostly due to some people leaving and us having to reshuffle teams, but this last week we finally polished off the operation in full by knocking out Izax as well.

That mysterious last phase that only exists in veteran mode was a total letdown by the way! I hadn't researched it in advance and was pretty stunned to find out that it's basically just Izax sitting there and your group having to nuke him down before he kills you (a straightforward dps race). Not that this can't still feel exciting... in our case three out of eight people were dead so we didn't have much dps left and only got him down just as he was casting the ability to annihilate us all. (You can see a video recording of the fight here if you like.)

Onwards to master mode next? Hell no! Considering how much we already struggled with the un-nerfed veteran mode, Gods master mode clearly wasn't made for the likes of us, not now or maybe ever. Not to mention that there are some old bosses that we still haven't killed yet (at level or ever, such as Dread Master Brontes on master mode) so there's still plenty of (relatively) easier content left for us to tackle first.

Still, having finally conquered the game's newest operation (which is already more than a year old at this point) on two difficulties makes me want to look back at what I liked and didn't like about it:

+ Interesting boss fights: Generally speaking I liked all the fights in Gods from the Machine. They are all interesting, featuring a number of fun and novel mechanics. My favourite boss is probably Nahut, simply because everything about him - from concept to execution - is so cool and the fight is relatively easy to learn too. I like that most of the time where more involved mechanics come into play, it's usually good enough to have one or two people learn how to deal with them, while less skilled players or those who are simply new to the fight can focus on just fulfilling their basic tasks. It's a good design philosophy that I remember seeing discussed in other contexts before and I still agree that it's probably the best way to design a raid boss.

Requiring everyone to be equally good and to not make any mistakes throughout the entire fight is just asking too much from your average raid group. This is also the reason why Esne and Aivela are my least favourite encounter in the operation, as they come closest to reaching that level of being demanding, what with the whole ops group having to change colours back and forth throughout the entire "wipers" phase. (That said, I still enjoyed that fight despite of that flaw. Nothing in Gods ever filled me with active dread the way fights like Draxus in Dread Fortress did.)

+ Great trash: I'm overdue for making another one of my "outtakes" videos in which I compile funny moments I captured with my guildies, and just based on what's accumulated in my videos folder, about half of it is going to be about Gods from the Machine trash. Especially on hard mode, it's just incredibly entertaining! There are those droids that cause a huge explosion if you interrupt them, the stealth mines, the weeny adds that like to swarm you... it's just entertainment for days. Sometimes it even teaches you something about what lies ahead, such as how to work the tethers that you pick up during the Izax fight.

- Too much, too long: While I think that the trash is fun mechanically, even I have to concede that there's just a bit too much of it, especially between Nahut and Scyva. I think this is a side effect of the way the operation was released: With each boss making their debut one at a time, I guess it would have felt weird to not release each one with their own dedicated trash packs and mechanics. And it was fine when completing the operation for the weekly quest only required you to kill the first few bosses, but now that you're always clearing the whole thing, it honestly feels like a bit of a drag.

The length of the boss fights themselves also contributes to this, as with the exception of Tyth each fight takes about ten minutes, with Izax taking a full fifteen. I guess the logic here was similar to what gave us all that trash, that the devs wanted to make sure that each fight would feel "meaty" enough when released on its own, but it just makes the operation as a whole feel incredibly long, even when you know all the fights and are proceeding through the whole thing at a steady clip. I'm okay with the very last boss of an operation (and only that one) taking ten minutes to kill, but it shouldn't be the normal duration of a boss fight.

- Tuning: I think the nerfs they eventually made to veteran mode were great, but how many guilds who were in a similar position to mine were even still trying at that point? I also still don't know what they actually changed about story mode because I don't think I've gone back in there since 5.10. The common opinion to avoid pugging it doesn't seem to have changed so far. And that's just not how it should be in my opinion.

Story mode should be easily puggable. Releasing Gods with "hardmare" tuning was a mistake in my book, as it made the operation a hugely off-putting experience for everyone trying it on their "usual" difficulty. Even if later nerfs have helped to bring things more in line, Gods has a bad reputation as a destination for more casual players now and will probably maintain it for some time to come, which is a real shame because as I said there are some fun fights in there.

We'll see if Bioware has learned any lessons from this and if we'll see them put those into action any time soon (new operation coming with the next big content release maybe)? My guild is ready at least.

Meme thing I made when we first killed Izax on story mode.


Star Wars Celebration + A Giveaway (Closed)

I've previously written about how this year's Star Wars Celebration is highly anticipated among SWTOR fans because that's when we expect to hear what's in store for SWTOR later this year (hopefully a full expansion). But what even is Star Wars Celebration? There's been so much talk about it recently, but I'm honestly not that clued in when it comes to wider Star Wars fandom, so I decided to do a little research.

According to Wikipedia, the first of its kind actually took place way back in 1999, with its main focus being the promotion of Episode I. It was then repeated for the releases of the next two films, and after the franchise's 30th anniversary Lucasfilm started to hold them more regularly, once every one or two years.

It's hard for me to tell how much SWTOR has been featured there in the past. I couldn't really find any mention of it before 2015, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Bioware didn't at least have a booth or something. I found a forum poster complaining in 2012 that SWTOR was "no longer" going to be at Celebration, but I don't know if that means that they were featured before and stopped or whether it was just planned and then cancelled. In 2015 there was at least an associated Community Cantina, but I'm not sure SWTOR was featured on the show floor. This video by an excited SWTOR player talking about his trip to Celebration seems to indicate a no; otherwise it probably would have been mentioned.

2016 was only the second year that Celebration took place in Europe, and also marked the second time that I got to go to a Community Cantina! There, SWTOR was also briefly featured on the actual Celebration stage itself, basically just to promote the game to a wider audience and tease Knights of the Eternal Throne. 2017 it looked like they were back to "just" having a Cantina event though - as far as I could tell from googling it anyway - and 2018 was one of those years when there wasn't a Celebration.

So it looks like this year's event might turn out to be SWTOR's biggest in terms of presence yet! Not only will Bioware be hosting a "special event" that was worthy of being mentioned on the official Star Wars site, there is also going to be a bigger fan presence than ever. Under the leadership of the lovely Swtorista (I feel like such a fangirl, mentioning her three times in one month, haha) this community effort even has its own website under swtorfancommunity.com. While the site was specifically set up for the event, it also contains a lot of "evergreen" content such as links to various fan resources as well as an excellent new guild finder tool which I really need to remember to add to my side bar. (And I don't just say that because this blog is also included among the fan site links.)

While at Celebration, the enthusiastic peeps present at the fan booth are planning to hand out swag, show off some awesome cosplay, and will also try to make those of us feel connected who can't be there in person, both via streaming and things like Twitter updates. There have also been some giveaways and contests via various channels already, such as - again - Twitter or the SWTOR Discord. I've entered a few of them myself, not so much because I desperately want any of the prizes, but simply because it's fun! Can't say I ever felt inspired to write a haiku about trooper-dom before... they are still going on at the time of writing, so just follow some of those links on the official community site and you should be able to join in the fun.

Giveaway stuff starts here!

And the lucky winner, determined by an in-game /roll 7 (the number of entries), is...

Commenter #2, fellow blogger Intisar from Star Forge!

Congratulations! :D

In fact, I've been allowed to join in myself by giving away a 30 day time code for SWTOR! How cool is that? That's the first time I'm holding a giveaway that I didn't have to pay for myself, hah! All you have to do to be in the running to win it is this:

1. Leave a comment in response to this post telling me about what you'd really love to see in SWTOR's next big update/expansion. A new operation? New romanceable companions? Another big showdown between Satele Shan and Darth Malgus? Feel free to go into as much or as little detail as you like.

2. At the end of your comment, leave your character name, faction and server name. This is so I have a way of contacting you if you win! This doesn't have to be your main if you're shy, just somewhere where I can mail the code if you win so that you will actually receive it. Alternatively, if you use Twitter you can leave your Twitter handle instead.

The blog is set up to allow anonymous comments, so as long as you can cope with CAPTCHAs you don't have to sign up with any third party service like OpenID to participate. However, should you still have issues commenting on this post for some reason, feel free to drop me an e-mail with what your comment was supposed to be and I will post it for you.

While I hope that people will leave thoughtful comments that will be enjoyable to read, they won't be rated by quality and the winner will be drawn at random from all eligible participants. You have until 8 am GMT on the 14th of April to enter (you'll have to check yourself when that is in your local time zone), at which point I'll close the comments for this post and announce the winner later in the day. By then we should also know at least some things about what's coming in the next big update, so no need to guess anymore!


Crafting Our Way to Victory on Rishi

Conquest fatigue is still a thing for me, but our resident crazy crafter remains enthusiastic and was starting to get stir-crazy from lack of challenge, so I came home last Tuesday to find that - against what I would consider better judgement - he'd somehow talked an officer into invading Rishi while it was being contested by Fallen Exsilium, the Imperial alt guild of local mega guild Exsilium.

We made a big push on that first evening, but I still expected Fallen Exsilium to leave us in the dust by the next day... yet somehow that didn't happen, probably in part because they seemed somewhat preoccupied with trying to go for first place on the large yield planet with their main guild. Long story short, we actually ended up beating them, though it was probably the toughest battle of our Conquest history so far. We remained neck on neck all the way until Monday, with our scores less than 100k apart at most times of day.

I can't say that I was unhappy to have been wrong in my initial assessment of our chances and felt very proud of the many guildies who worked hard to secure our victory. At times it felt like a veritable relay run, with one shift handing the baton to the next as they logged off.

That said, the way we won was pretty nuts. I've previously written about the sheer weight our resident crazy crafter can throw around when he puts his mind to it. However, there were still some limitations to this: The repeatable objective to craft war supplies, which was his main source of points, is only included in some Conquest events. Crafting war supplies requires a fair chunk of materials, so it costs money and requires a certain amount of resource management - you can't do it all the time and there's some build-up required. Finally, it takes time, so to really optimise your point gains, you need an army of alts among whom you can rotate to really rack up those numbers.

M1-4X is my only crafter at 50, and only because you gain influence with him from doing PvP.

More recently however, a new "crafting hack" has been making the rounds. There is an evergreen objective called "Inventor" in all Conquest events these days that awards 300 points (that is with maximum stronghold bonus but without any guild perks) for crafting 50 items. It doesn't matter what level those items are, so you could in theory chain-craft Dielectric Cell Grafts (the most basic biochem component, which takes less than 10 seconds to procure on an influence 50 companion) for all it's worth... but that never felt terribly efficient. You'd basically stand there, re-tasking your companions over and over to create fewer than 500 crafts every ten minutes, earning you maybe 2,700 points. That's not exactly bad, but you'd have to do it for a full hour to reach even a single character's personal target and overall that's a lot of boredom for relatively little gain. You could probably cap that character in a similar time frame doing something more fun.

Now apparently not that long ago, someone realised that among the biochem schematics from before the big KotFE crafting revamp, which older biochemists can still access through their "archived" section, is an item called Premium Battle Medpac, which requires two Dielectric Cell Grafts to make, takes less than ten seconds to craft and comes in stacks of six. So if you take the roughly thirty seconds to craft two Dielectric Cell Grafts and turn them into medpacs, you're already at 8 of 50 for the Inventor objective. Scale that up to eight fully tasked companions and you're creating over 1,000 crafts in ten minutes, worth more than 6,300 points. Within an hour of doing this you'd have accumulated 37,800 points.

And that's taking it easy, because you can also stockpile the cell grafts in advance and just chain-craft medpacks directly, in which case you'd be looking at about 2,400 crafts in ten minutes, for over 86,000 points per hour. And all of this from grade one materials, which are cheap and plentiful.

So some of us crafted. Not everyone, because most of my guildies don't actually like crafting very much. Of those that did participate, not everyone had characters old enough that they had the archived schematics either; so they contributed with other crafts, even if it was slower. I didn't go as crazy as others, only racking up about 50k worth of "crafted points" (most of my score was earned the "normal" way, by actually playing), but I still feel simultaneously proud and ashamed of it. Proud because of how much effort we were all willing to put in, but ashamed because I'm usually pretty resilient when it comes to resisting doing things that are rewarding but dull. And by god, clicking that craft button over and over again is extremely dull.

I've seen some guilds that have used this method to great effect get accused of botting, which I hope isn't true. If it is, I hope that Bioware is able to catch them and take action against them. That said, until now I've never done anything else in game where I could at least understand why someone would want to automate it instead of actually playing themselves. If this method of competing catches on I fear that Bioware may have to actually save us from ourselves by nerfing the value of these particular items at least.

It reminds me of when right after the introduction of Galactic Command someone found out that the best way to earn Command XP was to farm mobs in a heroic area in a full ops group, and at least that still involved a lot more gameplay than this crafting mayhem. At the same time, Bioware may be less inclined to take action in this particular case because relatively little is at stake in Conquest battles (you don't win anything powerful or exclusive, it's just a badge of pride).