Onslaught Gearing Stream Thoughts

I've said often enough that I'm a grumpy old fogey when it comes to streaming (it's not for me), but that didn't stop me from staying up late last night to watch the planned dev livestream about gearing in Onslaught. 10pm wasn't that late even for a work night, and to be honest I was just way too curious about what Charles and Eric would have to say about the new gearing system, feeling a mix of positive excitement and slight trepidation. I've never doubted Bioware's good intentions, but I do remember that there was a time when they genuinely thought that Galactic Command was a great idea, and any arguments brought forth by the community about why this wasn't so just resulted in us being told to wait, and that we'd be sure to love it once we saw it. (We all know how that turned out.)

I needn't have worried this time though. The stream was highly informative and entertaining, and the tl;dr version of this post is basically that I thought most of it sounded good. I'm sure there'll be things that need tweaking, and there'll be something that doesn't work out as intended, simply because MMOs are complicated and that's how these things always go, but you could tell that a great deal of thought went into their plans for the new system and they made sure to avoid any obvious pitfalls.

Also worth noting was that they started the stream by stating that they were very dedicated to gathering feedback in a timely manner this time around (which is again, a nice contrast to Galactic Command, which was dropped on us as a done deal). There will be several rounds of PTS testing for which they are even planning to bring back the old reward titles, there'll be reddit AMAs, and they'll even send out surveys!

Keith also made an appearance early on and said that the game had subjected us to a veritable rollercoaster of emotions over the years when it came to gearing: "whether to get data crystals, not get data crystals, whether to use Galactic Command, not use Galactic Command" etc. and that he wanted the team to go back to the drawing board and learn from all this. Honestly, that was just incredibly heartening to me and once again made me appreciate just how great it is to now have a Game Producer who both knows and loves the game and understands where its problems lie. [/end Keith fangirling]

Also, the way he just sort of slid into the frame during the stream was kind of funny, as captured in gif form by Snave.

Anyway, if you just want a factual summary of what was said, you can find one in this forum post and a proper official blog is still supposed to be forthcoming as well. I'm not going to repeat it all in detail; I'm just going to pick out some parts to share my opinion on.

They went into some more detail about the new set bonuses and tactical items, which didn't really reveal anything drastically new in my opinion, just expanded on what had already been said. The only thing that was noteworthy to me here was that they explicitly stated that tactical items are meant to be rare, at least initially. They also listed some examples of item effects they've come up with so far, most of which made chat go "whoa, that sounds OP". Trying to balance all this is going to be fun...

The one entirely new thing they brought up was that the new gear is also supposed to have a new thing called "amplifiers" on them (apologies for saying "new" three times in a row there), which is basically a chance at that item having some random extra secondary stats such as "increased dot damage" or "faster gathering". I initially had a moment of panic there, thinking that this sounded a lot like one of the things that WoW players have been complaining about in recent years, but Eric was quick to clarify that while the original stat assignment is random, you can "recalibrate" amps to change their stats to something else. Okay.

Mostly I wasn't sure what to think of this one. Did we really need another stat slot on top of armourings, mods, enhancements and augments? Is this the sort of thing that excites people? At the same time it almost sounded as if they didn't want us to worry about it too much, as apparently amps won't be taken into consideration for PvE boss tuning and will only have a relatively small impact. It's like they want us to care and not care about them at the same time. Gonna file these away under "wait and see".

The second half of the stream focused on how we will acquire gear in Onslaught and that's where things got interesting. Basically they did still want to realise the original idea behind Galactic Command, to let people earn gear from pretty much anything, but it sounds like they also wanted to give us back the feeling of actually getting rewarded with items for completing specific tasks. As Charles and Eric put it: "Gear drops from enemies, hey!" - "Wild concept!" I do have to admit the thought of actually getting useful loot drops from flashpoints again really excited me, as that's something we haven't had in many years.

There will still be vertical progression, with harder content rewarding better gear, but mainly the focus seems to be on getting us to collect armour with different set bonuses and tactical items. Everything will be legacy bound and they fully expect us to trade things around between different characters. This brought up the issue of storage space, which led to Eric dropping the almost off-hand comment of: "What if you didn't have to store any of your crafting materials in any of your inventories? Hopefully that'll clear up some space for ya!" - which made the chat go wild (including me). Right now I only have a couple of free slots in my legacy cargo hold, and about three and a half of my six tabs are taken up by crafting mats, so yes, this change will make a big difference.

Useless gear drops are supposed to be drastically reduced via RNG protection and the gear level of rewards scaling with what you're already wearing. I'm not sure if that means that everything will be personal loot going forward? Waiting on clarification on that...

Galactic Command will become Galactic Renown, intended to be purely supplementary and with no more tiers, so that you can theoretically get the best gear out of your very first crate (depending on what you're already wearing). Levels will become pointless and basically just a cosmetic thing to raise for bragging rights, and they will also reset every so often in what will now be considered seasons. Not sure what's going to happen to the other stuff that currently comes from Command crates, such as cosmetic gear and pets - some open questions here. Also, apparently Conquest will start to give gear too?! I'll save my thoughts on that as well as on the changes to (C/R)XP for a separate post I think, as it's something quite near and dear to my heart.

Now, with the sheer number of new gear faucets, we'll still end up with lots of stuff we don't want or need, or that one slot for which we can't quite get the right thing. This is where the new currency comes in! It doesn't have an official name yet, so they jokingly referred to it on the stream as Charles Points / Chuck Bucks.

Twitter user Greyias even drew a picture of one. You know you've done well when your stream inspires people to do fan art.

You can deconstruct unwanted gear (which is going to be similar to reverse engineering but doesn't require you to be a crafter) to turn it into crafting materials and this new currency, and then use that to craft or buy what you actually want from a vendor.  (You'll also be getting more of the new currency as an activity reward.) I guess this is not dissimilar to the way unassembled components work now, but I guess the balancing will be different as you will also get the new currency from PvE and other activities.

So basically what you'll be doing is: run specific content you like for (somewhat but not completely random) rewards, then convert any unwanted rewards into materials or currency that you can use to acquire what you're missing and optimise what you already have.

Pretty much like they illustrated on the slides. Don't mind the not so happy expressions I somehow managed to capture here.

It didn't occur to me immediately after watching the stream, but now that I'm spelling it all out to myself a second time, this does feel like a system that tries to learn from the past and take all the parts of previous gearing systems that worked best:

- Making it rewarding to do actual content (e.g. getting set bonus items from flashpoints, something that was something that I loved in the base game)
- Allowing more than one avenue to acquire gear with the best item level (like we had with the final iteration of Galactic Command, before Ossus)
- Allowing people to simply go to a vendor for what they're missing (as has been the case throughout several iterations of the game pre-Galactic Command)
- Allowing unwanted gear to be turned into currency too (like you can currently do with Command crate drops)

The big unknowns are mostly the new factors:
- Everything being legacy-bound sounds great in principle but there might still be some unintended side effects. For example I personally prefer to get each character their own gear set - will I feel pressured to send my main's gear around to all my alts going forward purely so that their rewards will scale higher?
- Just how well will this loot scaling thing work? (See above.)
- Inventory management (even with the additional storage, the new focus on collecting different set bonuses might result in overcrowded cargo bays)
- Various unknowns, such as how exactly you'll be rewarded for doing PvP or GSF. Will you just get a box with a random item?

All that said, overall I'm feeling optimistic about everything I've heard, and especially about Bioware's renewed dedication to gathering and listening to feedback. I actually went and posted some questions in the forum threads currently dedicated to feedback about what was said on the stream, and I'll definitely also fill out any surveys they'll send me. Plus I should probably check out the PTS when they put it live! I haven't been back there since checking out the Rishi stronghold and the big PvP changes last summer, but this sounds like something that would really benefit from as many people as possible playing around with it, and the return of the title rewards sounds great too. (I currently only own one of them, First Line of Defense).

I'll definitely be keeping a close eye on more news about this as it gets released. Is there anything that stood out to you about this news drop above anything else?


Seek And You Shall... Be Surprised?

Bhagpuss' adventures in SWTOR continue to surprise and amuse me. I mean, here are the developers trying really hard to funnel new players into just doing the storyline, by highlighting the main quest chains in bright purple and hiding all side missions by default, and what does Bhagpuss do? Barely halfway through his class story on his first character, he starts doing macrobinocular and seeker droid missions.

I tried to alleviate his confusion about them a little bit with a helpful comment, but after posting it I did find myself pausing for a bit. Was I sure that my assessment of seeker droid areas only rewarding "junk" was still accurate? Just how long had it been since I last visited one anyway?

As I was driving around Hoth in search of information about nerfs (don't ask), I drove past one of those areas that caused my seeker droid to light up because it had detected something interesting. I decided to detour towards it and do a little digging to refresh my memory.

I did not find any of the "junk" I was expecting, such as low-level mods and green implants. I guess someone at Bioware did bother to go through the loot tables to remove those at some point. The first thing I found was a seeker droid related consumable that, according to its tooltip, "reduces the deployment time for your Seeker Droid by 100% for 1 hour". Wow, so it's instant then? Actually... as it turns out, it "only" makes your Seeker Droid go about twice as fast (whoever wrote that tooltip apparently doesn't understand how percentages work), but it was still a neat little thing that I previously hadn't even known existed.

Other things I proceeded to dig up were various speeder parts (they are a type of loot I vaguely remembered though I hadn't thought about them in ages, and I always thought they were much rarer), more of the speed boost consumables, some blue "secure crates" containing grade seven crafting materials (this was about the closest to what I'd consider junk, because while not totally useless, rank seven materials are of little value six years past their prime), GSI reputation tokens (no good for me anymore since I'm maxed out, but useful loot in principle), as well as one piece each of the cosmetic Dread Seed and Star Forager gear sets (that's the one valuable I actually remembered existing but had never seen myself before).

It was kind of mesmerising and before I knew it, I'd spent a full hour digging, at which point I asked myself: Just how long was this going to continue? As far as I remembered, dig sites were supposed to deplete after a while, but maybe that had been changed too? I looked it up and the exact way it's supposed to work is that the dig site stays up until someone finds the "special treasure". Since I was the only person working on it, I figured that this might be the reason for it taking so long and decided to keep going.

As it turns out, the system does still work this way, and I did eventually find the special treasure. Unfortunately that was indeed junk - a piece of purple level 55 gear, which is pretty much totally worthless now. Special treasure my arse.

While this was an anticlimactic conclusion to my little treasure hunting adventure, I was still positively surprised by how much better the loot had been than I expected. For example I got so many of the speeder parts that I was able to go and buy one of the speeders in the GSI offices on Nar Shaddaa straight away. It's nothing special in terms of looks, but it was still a nice little reward that I hadn't expected to get when I started digging.

I'd almost consider going back to dig for more, but let's be honest: While the treasure was marginally better than I had expected, I still spent one and a half hours just walking in circles in a small area of Hoth and shaking my fist at the seeming inaccuracy of the directions I was given at times. (My tip: Always use one of the consumables that are supposed to improve accuracy. The process is maddening enough either way, but at least this alleviates the pain a little.) There's a reason players haven't been clamouring en masse for Bioware to add more content for this system.

Back in October they actually said during a dev livestream that they were going to bring back macrobinoculars and seeker droids on Ossus, with the latter system also slated to receive some improvements. Based on the complete lack of coverage of the subject once 5.10 actually released, I'm guessing that this feature didn't make the final cut though... oh well. Nobody seems to be missing it either.


Good Quest, Bad Quest

I'm still playing Elder Scrolls Online on the side, though my enthusiasm for it has been waning as of late, and I think that I'll want to give it an extended break soon in order to come back to it at a later date. I'm at the point where I've completed about two thirds of the game's base content (personal story, Aldmeri Dominion and Daggerfall Covenant), so there is lots still to discover if I fancy it.

Since, like SWTOR, ESO has a reputation for offering a high-quality questing experience, I've found myself making a lot of direct comparisons between the two, as well as thinking about what makes for a good quest in general.

I think that MMO players are not the most discerning customers when it comes to quests. We'll say that we consider them good or boring, but rarely go into any detail about what exactly makes them so. I've been trying to split out different aspects of the quest experience to better come to grips with what I like or don't like about the way each game I've played handles them.


I think this is something that matters a lot to people these days but is rarely openly stated as such. The old-school way of simply having a box of text tell you what's going on has very much fallen out of favour, and these days players expect to at the very least hear some voice-overs and see the occasional cut scene, but if you can make it even flashier then that's all the better. This is one area where SWTOR really shines, what with the little interactive cut scenes at the beginning and end of most missions, and to be honest I think that those are responsible for a good chunk of the praise that the game's questing has received.


A lot of different things can potentially fall under this umbrella, but since I want to give most of them their own sections, I'll only really consider actual skill with words here. And in that regard... most MMOs are honestly okay but not outstanding. SWTOR has some good lines here and there, but let's not pretend that most of it is particularly deep. The tone mostly stays true to the genre, which is fairly straightforward and sometimes clichéd. Secret World is the only MMO I've played that I can think of that stood out a bit from the rest here, even if the delivery was sometimes weird due to the endless monologuing characters liked to engage in.


Now this varies a lot depending on quest type. Your average side quest simply doesn't have much to say beyond "go over there and do a thing". Longer chains can try to weave in twists and surprises, like you find in some of SWTOR's class stories.

Something I found interesting in ESO is that it tries very hard to infuse even the shortest side quest with a slightly longer plot, presumably to keep things more engaging. In some ways I find this admirable, but it becomes a bit of a trope of its own after a while, to the point where you expect things to never be what they seem to be at first. The biggest surprise I remember feeling while doing the quests I've completed so far was when our characters were tasked with rescuing a certain elf lady and it turned out that this was indeed all we had to do. We kept joking about how a member of the search party was surely a traitor, or maybe she was secretly a werewolf or what have you - because that's how these things always go - but no, we just saved her and that was that. Who'd have thought it.


This is another thing that I'd like to single out because I think it's possible to have a good plot and solid writing but boring characters and vice versa (even if they are often connected). Are the people that give you quests and that you interact with during your adventures unique and memorable individuals? I'm not expecting to always remember their names, but something about them should make them memorable as characters.

I think most MMO non-player characters are pretty forgettable, but I think this is at least in part a numbers problem. If you stick to fewer characters and have them make repeat appearances, they'll be more memorable by default, as opposed to when someone new is introduced to relay every single mission. Again, I think this is something that SWTOR does pretty well, and ESO to some extent, though the latter stumbles a bit in my eyes due to the sheer amount of characters/quests it likes to throw at you in every zone (at least in the base game, not sure if it changes later). This is exacerbated by the same small handful of voice actors voicing a mind-boggling number of different NPCs, which causes a lot of them to meld into one giant mishmash after a while. (Also, as a SWTOR player it hasn't helped that they seem to have used a lot of the same voice actors as SWTOR. So every other quest I'd go: "Hey, it's the female Jedi knight / Kaliyo / Baron Deathmark / Theron Shan again!") In SWTOR this sort of repetition is mainly a problem when side quest givers speak Huttese and regurgitate the same handful of voice lines over and over.


Let's not forget that quests are ultimately always about doing something, so it matters what you are being asked to do. There's the classic "kill ten rats" here, as well as "collect five bear asses". Sometimes you also get to click on stuff on the ground or walls, or are simply asked to walk from A to B and talk to someone.

This is something that I've often seen criticised about SWTOR - that people feel drawn in by the high production values used in the presentation of each quest, and then they look at their log and it's basically just another instruction to kill ten rats. I guess I can sort of understand that, but at the same time I don't really mind. As far as basic gameplay is concerned, I'm happy to stick to what works and what everyone's familiar with. When games decide to do something completely different here, such as Secret World with its investigation missions, the result is usually something that a minority will absolutely love but that to most people feels like a bit of a chore since it's not what they signed up for. (I previously wrote a similar post talking about this problem in regards to SWTOR's - much simpler - puzzle quests.)

What was interesting about ESO here is that one of the lead designers clearly hated "kill ten rats" type quests with a passion, so you're never ever asked to kill x mobs. Collect quests have also been so rare that I think I can count the ones I was given on the fingers of one hand. Instead, the vast majority of quests in ESO ask you to either kill a named mob or to talk to someone. It's an interesting design choice in my eyes, though it does get a bit weird at times how you're constantly sent into areas that are crawling with zombies/ghosts/bandits or whatever but everyone's always extremely blasé about this (because if they acknowledged the mobs as a threat, they'd probably realistically ask you to take some out on the way, but the game's core design doc clearly forbids this kind of thing).

World Building

Finally, something that you can't really judge based on an individual quest but which I still considered relevant on the subject matter: whether the things featured in different missions come together to paint a picture of the virtual world as a coherent whole. This is something I actually found quite amazing about SWTOR's launch content because of how all the storylines on both Republic and Empire side sort of wove together to form a tapestry of the state of the galaxy. (Except Quesh. Quesh makes no sense.)

ESO and Secret World do a good job at this too, and to some extent Vanilla WoW. (People like to say that Vanilla WoW's questing was bad, but if you looked at the big picture assembled by the quests I always thought it was quite interesting.)

Unfortunately, the trend towards linear personal stories is pretty much in direct opposition to this. So KotFE and KotET had some really interesting characters for example, but they left you mostly in the dark about what's been going on in the galaxy at large. Likewise ESO's "personal story" has very little connection to the vibrant world portrayed in the rest of the game, aside from featuring the same common foe.

In Conclusion

I think for overall quest presentation, SWTOR is still best in class on the market. More and more games also include things like high-quality cut scenes, but not to the same extent or as consistently. I also really love how vibrant and interesting the galaxy far, far away is built up to be during the time period of the base game, and the many interesting and memorable characters featured in the stories. The quality of the plot varies, and the gameplay is run-off-the-mill, but I'm fine with that because it's a style I enjoy.


Group Decision Making

I've sung the praises of the group conversation system in the past, and I stand by everything I've said about it. It just makes for a fantastic experience when playing through story content with friends... even in content that you've all done many times before. I was reminded of this while doing a master mode Esseles with three of my guildies (Cal, Mace and Ori) last night.

Naturally, all of us having been there dozens of times before and aiming for quick weekly completion, we hit those space bars to get through all the conversations as fast as possible... but that didn't prevent us from talking on voice chat about what was going on story-wise. The funniest of these chats happened when we entered the engineering deck.

Brief context for any readers who might not know/remember: The situation is that you are on a ship that's been boarded and you are under pressure to quickly get to the bridge to reclaim it. The bridge is locked however, and you've come to engineering to find a way to open it up. You are given two options: A reactor reset, which will achieve the desired result instantly, but also flushes a group of engineers that are trapped behind a force field right in front of you out into space (dark side). Or you can shut down the secondary conduits, which means that nobody has to die, but you have to take an extra two to three minutes to run to the conduits and kill the mobs around them (light side).

Does the gravity of the situation allow for you to take the extra time to choose the "safe" option? The NPC that's accompanying you, Ambassador Asara, doesn't think so and wants to sacrifice the engineers right then and there, but it's up to you to make the final decision.

As soon as we entered, the following conversation ensued on TeamSpeak:

Ori: Ah yes I know, we have to throw them out or Mace is just not going to do anything.
Mace: [laughs]
Cal: I was about to say: check alignments, people.
Me: You sound like someone speaking from experience.
Mace: For some reason light side tends to win a lot here!
Cal: Because who can bear to watch those engineers be flushed out into space every single bloody time?
Me: It's horrible!
Ori: Mace, take a bathroom break.
Everyone: [laughs]
Cal: What are you trying to say here?
Mace: Well, they need help getting out. So I help them get out.
Cal: Oh dear. Well, let's see what happens here.
[All except Mace make their choice on the crucial conversation option.]
Me: The suspense is killing me.
Cal: Roll, Mace, roll!
[He times out and one of us light-siders wins the roll to save the engineers.]
Me: He can't even make up his mind! Or he already went on the bathroom break.
[He times out on the next conversation choice as well.]
Me: Oh come on, making us wait through this is just cruel.
Mace: [laughs] That wasn't my intention, sorry...
Cal: Oh dear.

After that the three of us proceeded to shut down the conduits while Mace chilled with Asara for the next few of minutes, in silent protest of us choosing the goodie-two-shoes option that adds extra minutes of run time to the flashpoint. We all thought this was hilarious.

I have actually had similar - if slightly more subdued - banter about conversation choices in pugs sometimes, but generally speaking, the group finder's "press the button and go", expecting-to-be-in-and-out-in-30-minutes culture is unfortunately very much at odds with this sort of system. For that reason I can completely understand why Bioware has chosen not to include conversations in the newer flashpoints... but at times I do wonder what else we could have had if the game hadn't gone down the route of designing flashpoints primarily for quick and endless repetition by pugs.


Mastering Blasting

Today on "boss kills that I've been chasing for so long that I was starting to doubt they were ever going to happen", let's talk about Master and Blaster veteran mode.

Similar to Revan, we didn't even get to really work on this dynamic duo pre-KotFE because Bulo and Torque were enough of a stumbling block as it were. (We did end up killing both of those during the 3.x cycle, but it took a while.) As they became smoother kills post-KotFE, we kept coming back to Master and Blaster every now and then to try and kill them too.

You can see evidence of this in my #IntPiPoMo posts to some extent: I featured shots of us wiping to them both in 2016 and in 2017, and both years I also included pictures of people chilling between said wipes.

This picture still brings back fond memories every time.

I don't recall us ever getting very far though... ultimately we always ended up abandoning the fight again and changing focus to work on something else because people were sick of the encounter.

The thing that stuck with me above anything else from those times is that most of us felt that the fight was frustratingly random. It's a very "dance-y" encounter with a heavy reliance on correct positioning, but there isn't a simple guide you can follow. There are a whole bunch of things you have to dodge at the same time, and they don't always line up in the same way.

- Blaster has a giant cone-shaped knockback that everyone but the tanks needs to stay out of, and even they need to be careful to always face the boss in the right direction when they are about to get hit by it or otherwise they'll go flying to their deaths.

- Master has a spinny move that engulfs him in flames, which forces the tank that has him to kite for a bit, and again, everyone else has to make sure to stay out of his way when that happens.

- Throughout the entire fight, mortars keep landing on the platform, covering a large chunk of the floor in giant orange circles that everyone has to stay out of.

- A couple of times throughout the fight, an ability that's aptly called "Rain of Pain" will be triggered which additionally covers most of the platform in a big red stripe that will most likely kill you if you get caught in it.

- And to top if off, players will periodically have grenades attached to them, which eventually explode for a bit of damage and knock you down... more importantly though, if two players with grenades get too close to each other, they explode for more damage and get sent flying.

I'm sure you can see how all of this together could pose a challenge. Taken on its own, none of the mechanics are hard: Don't step in the orange circles. Don't stand on a red stripe. Don't stand too close to other people. However, add it all together and there'll be moments where you're trying to dodge out of the red, but the "safe" area is mostly taken up by an orange circle instead, and there are two others right in front of you and you know that if you run into them you'll just blow up and die... and so on and so forth.

As I said, we mostly used to complain about how random it all was. With so much going on at once, sometimes things just come together in a bad way and then there's nothing you can do, right? Stupid RNG. And then we'd try again, and wipe just the same the next time.

This time though, it felt to me like our approach was different... or maybe it's just me who was seeing things differently. But as we got closer and closer to the kill, it was less of a "hell yeah" feeling for me, and more like Neo suddenly realising that he can see the Matrix. It wasn't all random. In fact, it was all very predictable - you just had to allow yourself to accept that and to realise that there were strict rules for dealing with all the different permutations. When mortars land over there, I move here. When they land over here, I stand exactly there, where there's a small spot that is always safe. And so on and so forth.

It was pretty magical to be honest. It felt less like we were beating the fight, and more like we were transcending it - seeing all the patterns and knowing just how to react to every single one of them.

For the experts among my readers, this does indeed mean that we were doing the fight "the hard way". Some time ago, a group of my guildies led by someone very experienced with the operation beat the fight with what I consider a somewhat cheesy tactic that requires a Guardian tank to use certain utilities and abilities to solo-tank the boss and eliminate a lot of the movement requirements for the rest of the group.

We tried that, but the onus of performing the cheesy Guardian magic fell on Mr Commando and he was not happy with it. Having never done it before, he kept making mistakes and wiping us... over and over, while the rest of us literally just stood there and watched him, because this particular tactic didn't require us to do anything else. It was... a bit awkward, and didn't really feel like what raiding should be about. We ended up abandoning that plan in order to go back to working on the fight as a team - making equal contributions and getting equal chances to mess up (and boy did we make use of those). Just one of those little things that I love about my guildies. We do things our own way.

Coratanni was a massive letdown afterwards by the way! We briefly read up on what we needed to do and then killed her and Ruugar on the second try, with most of us not even fully understanding what was going on with some of the mechanics. But so it goes.


Let's Go To Dantooine

Two more weeks and Dantooine will be added to the game! We've actually known about this planned addition (minus its exact release date) since early April, but to be honest back then I didn't know what to write about it. This blog isn't a news site, and the main reactions to the announcement seemed to follow what I tend to think of as the "KOTOR rule": add anything that was in the original Knights of the Old Republic games and watch people go nuts with excitement just because of the association.

As someone who doesn't have the same nostalgic connection to the original games, I never quite know what to think or feel during such times. I mean, I did play through the original KOTOR on my tablet two and a half years ago, and the game was still entertaining, but it wasn't really a life-changing experience. My main impression of Dantooine back then was that it had a few interesting quests, but visually I found it pretty meh, so to be honest the thought of having it in SWTOR didn't particularly excite me.

Now that it's closer to release though, I'm increasingly looking forward to it.

While it may have looked rather meh with graphics from 2003, early screenshots of its implementation in SWTOR look like it may have a certain pastoral charm to it.

Getting a whole new planet before the expansion is pretty neat as well, something that I'm only now starting to really appreciate. I guess they did have to give us something else to pass the next five months until Onslaught, but a whole new planet was far from a given. In fact, the last time we got a new planet or moon between expansions was with the release of Oricon back in November 2013.

Getting a new content-based world event is also really nice. Again, I think the last time one of these was added to the game was with Nar Shaddaa Nightlife in 2014, and even that was fairly thin on actual content. The last really meaty addition would then have been the introduction of the recurring Rakghoul Resurgence in January of the same year. And that was over five years ago! Since then the only new "events" have consisted of things like temporary XP gain increases.

I also appreciate that it must be quite hard to come up with themes for these in a Star Wars MMO. Life Day aside, you can't just take a real life holiday like Easter and slap a bow on it, like most fantasy MMOs seem to enjoy doing. So I'm happy enough to see what this "Pirate Incursion" entails.

The proposed feature list looks promising enough, and the minimum level requirement of 20 means that new players and alts will be able to jump right in too. New daily missions don't exactly sound revolutionary, but I'm happy to get more of the familiar, and I like that they are once again including heroics. I also like the idea of the place including a set of separate missions during peace time. Even if they will probably be less rewarding (otherwise what would be the point of having the event), they should make for an interesting change of pace.

I've stayed away from the PTS and people talking too much about it, but I couldn't help picking up that there'll also be some random pointless bits of fun for explorer types, which I can't wait to see. Definitely something to look forward to!


That Was Fast

When I mentioned in my last post that I was working on the Sprint Champion achievement, I didn't expect to already have it a couple of days later. With my very relaxed speed of giving it one shot per night in order not to burn myself out, I figured I was going to be at it for at least a few weeks... but nope, it took all of five days. I was so pleased with myself that I did a little jig around the living room after the achievement popped up, much to Mr. Commando's horror.

I initially tried to beat the timer on my Sage, with whom I had done KotFE on master mode, and it did go reasonably well actually. However, then I tried on my Guardian and it just felt that little bit better. While I missed the advantage of being able to continuously dps from range, my Guardian is slightly better geared and I'm a little better at doing damage on her as well. She then made it on her second run. It must have been really close as well, because I manually started a stopwatch a few seconds before engaging the first encounter, and when I looked at it after getting the achievement pop-up, it was just over 15 minutes, so it really must have been down to the wire. So good news, everyone: If I can make it, and that quickly too, it can't be that hard anymore, as I'm pretty bad at doing damage. Just ask any of my fellow raiders.

To brush up on strategy, I watched this video by Aeyix (whose videos also helped me with some master mode chapter fights) and this guide by Crump3txxix (what a name). While they were both recorded back when the level cap was 65 so aren't necessary representative of what works now, they do give some very helpful pointers on how to speed things up.

As recommended by Aeyix and backed up by personal experience, I went with a melee companion on all of my attempts. On my Guardian I figured I would take Arcann along because she's in a romance with him, and was very dismayed to find that he was only at influence level 3! Clearly romance is dead. Fortunately bribery is alive and well however, so a few hundred companion gifts later he was ready to be my wingman.

Going in with the recommended double dps setup was pretty amazing. As someone who usually mains healers, I'm used to things dying slowly, so it was quite a treat to watch the first five bosses fall over so quickly that they basically had no time to do any mechanics.

Now, the Breaktown Brawler was still tough. Looking at Aeyix's video I have no idea how he managed to live through that fight with no heals. I gave it one try as double dps and I was literally dead in seconds. Seconds! The damage from the boss's regular melee hits was just that insane. So I quickly resigned myself to losing some time on this fight by setting Arcann to heals. Then I just followed the tactic as described by Crumpet (not typing out his name with all the weirdness in full every time) and things went okay, even if it did make the fight quite long and time-consuming.

The next two fights I could do with a double dps setup again - though you'll get knocked around a bit both times, the damage is manageable. On the Doom Droid I kept hearing that it was important to down her before she went into that temporary immunity phase as it causes you to lose a lot of time, and I was very pleased when I actually managed this!

Now the final fight, Zotar, is an interesting one. In his case I could kind of see how you might be able to do it without a healing companion, but I honestly felt that I wasn't good enough for that, so I figured I'd see if I'd be able to scrape by in time with Arcann set to healing again. On the run when I did get the achievement it went remarkably fast anyway, even with Arcann contributing limited damage. I did manage to prevent one probe summon with a stun (before watching Aeyix' video I didn't even know that was possible), though the second one got through, but there weren't any others after that. I actually smiled to myself when the walker had just enough time to start firing his laser on my second run at him, as one quick Saber Reflect was enough to put him out of action for good. The final burn on Zotar still feels nerve-racking every time, but I handled it well enough and then the achievement popped up.

So that's one item off the Onslaught bucket list already; lots more still to go!


Five Things To Do Before Onslaught

When I implied in my last post that I haven't really got a plan for how to prepare for the expansion yet, I was kind of lying. I do have a plan, I just haven't really been implementing it just yet. After all, the expansion is still five months away... and that's a long time, right? Or maybe not - better get started! Let me share with you my top five ways of getting ready for Onslaught. Advice and top list in one, what more could you ask for?

1. Finish up those hard achievements

If you weren't around / doing endgame content around the release of the last two expansions, you might not be aware that ever since the introduction of level sync, endgame content levels up with us. So nope, you won't get to give Izax an extra hard smackdown once you're level 75 - because he'll be level 75 too.

In fact, what tends to happen is the opposite of players being able to overpower old content: everything suddenly gets harder again. This happens because of gear inflation in the previous expansion; and due to the length of the 5.x cycle, it's currently more pronounced than ever before. When 5.0 launched, getting a full set of 230 gear already took some work, and 242 was as high as it went.

Since then, Bioware has effectively released three(!) more tiers of gear as well as new and improved augments, without re-tuning any of the existing content around this increase in character power. This means that there has never been a better time to let wildly overpowered gear give you a bit of an edge when it comes to beating particularly tough content, so consider working on those achievements before Onslaught launches. Examples of things you might want to work on are:

- Veteran and master mode ops bosses (though that requires you to find like-minded people who are willing to do them with you)
- Veteran and master mode story chapters
- Eternal Championship achievements

It had previously never occurred to me to even attempt the Sprint Champion achievement for example (complete the entire Eternal Championship in less than 15 minutes), but after thinking about it I realised that if I'm ever going to get it, the time is now and I better start working on it. The first time I ran a stopwatch in the background - while doing the Eternal Championship for the first time in ages, on a class I'd never done it on - that run took me 40 minutes! But I wasn't discouraged; there was a lot of room for me to improve. My most recent time was already down to 20 minutes, plus I got an Iknayid pet and the Cybernetic Rancor as drops from the bosses.

2. Take your character(s) up to and through Ossus

Obviously you should have done this already since Ossus is great, but I'll concede that there are always more alts to work on. This way you'll be ready to jump right into the new story content once it comes out, and if Ossus is any indication, it will actually be fun to play through it on multiple characters!

If you really want to, you can skip a lot of the stuff that comes before to jump straight ahead to Ossus and beyond, but even if you're not that big a fan of KotFE/KoTET, I personally think that it's nice to be able to make your own decisions instead of being saddled with default choices that may or may not reflect what you think your character would have done. That said, actually taking characters through all that content also means that it will take more time, so better get cracking!

Image courtesy of the Clone Wars Wiki

3. Prepare for Nautolans

With the announcement of Nautolans joining the fray as next playable species having been the undisputed fan favourite at Star Wars Celebration, chances are high that you, dear reader, are also thinking about making one. There are actually a fair few aspects to this that you can consider well in advance: what colour you think they should be, what class etc. Maybe you even already have an outfit idea and could go shopping for it? Just keep in mind that the species' big heads will mean no helmets or hoods, and chest pieces with any large protrusions such as spikes or backpacks are likely to result in clipping issues.

If that seems a bit too "RP" for your taste, there is still the name to consider. Trust me, you're not the only one considering some sort of Kit Fisto pun! You might want to make sure that nobody else has already thought of it before you, and depending on how attached you are to the idea, you could even go as far as creating a placeholder character to reserve the name.

Speaking of placeholders, do you have enough spare character slots? In fact, the matter of character slots may be a pertinent question for you even if you're not personally interested in creating a Nautolan, as it's likely to result in some business opportunities if you keep an eye out for cheap unlocks on the Cartel Market and the GTN in the months to come. There's bound to be a spike in demand for them once expansion day comes around.

4. Clear out your bank and spend those currencies

At first this may sound like pretty generic advice and to be fair, it is something I tell Mr. Commando all the time just to have him ignore me (I'm pretty sure that man has a fortune carelessly buried in his cargo hold). However, in this case I'm not just referring to general tidiness. For example crafting materials that are relevant at max level right now are likely to experience a steep price drop once the level cap is raised (though we don't know how exactly the new gearing system is going to work out).

Eric Musco also officially confirmed that both Masterwork Data Crystals and Unassembled Components will go the way of the dodo with Onslaught, and any leftovers will simply be converted into credits. As the conversion rate is likely to be unfavourable, you might as well use them to buy something useful now! With goal number one in mind, there may still be value in trying to get the best gear you can get right now for example, to help you beat those tough fights while you can still acquire that extra edge.

5. Complete any long quest chains you're on

This is less about hard content and more about time-consuming items, such as the various Aratech missions, which require you to complete a whole bunch of flashpoints or several operations. The reason I'd advise people to do this is that I remember at least one expansion where the big patch caused quest progression on all existing missions to reset. This doesn't necessarily have to happen again, but let's just say there is a chance, and I'd rather be safe than sorry (or annoyed that I have to re-start the mission from scratch yet again).


Pre-Expansion Energy

Everybody knows that the time just after the release of a new expansion is one of the most exciting periods in an MMO's life cycle, but it's only during the last year or so that I've come to appreciate just how important the time just before the release of a new expansion is as well. I observed it from the outside with WoW's Battle for Azeroth, and now with Onslaught's announcement I see it in SWTOR.

Just knowing that new content is coming is enough to get a good percentage of lapsed players back into the game, even if its release is still some time away. I was utterly amazed the other day when my friends list suddenly lit up with the names of not just one, but two members of my old launch guild (which dissolved less than a year into the game).

For me personally the expansion announcement has done wonders for my motivation as well. It's not that I didn't have fun playing before, but I was just kind of cruising along lately by alternating between doing dailies and PvP. I guess none of what you could call my long-term character goals have been feeling very urgent after two and a half years without an expansion. It's all still going to be there tomorrow, right?

However... with an expansion coming up, you never know! I mean, realistically I don't expect it to change many of the things that I'm working on right now, but strictly speaking you never know - so better get on with it. There is a bit of a sense of urgency now (as far as you can apply that word five months in advance) and it's been helping me to get off my butt and get some things done.

There hasn't been much rhyme or reason to my goals just yet - my enthusiasm is more based on a general feeling of being re-energised than any sort of real plan. So I've done things like getting two more characters their Aratech Ice speeders (the one you get for completing all of the original set of master mode flashpoints), finishing off the Seeker Droid and Macrobinocular missions on one character, and finally starting them on a bunch of others.

Cue my guildie: "I think the last time I did this quest was in 2015..."

It also helps that after Ossus I'm really excited about the current story direction for the first time in years. While KotFE and KotET had their strengths, ultimately I did not enjoy being the Outlander and leader of the Alliance, and I think that put a bit of a damper on all my alt playing. Beyond the sense of boring repetition that you get while replaying the chapters, taking any alt into the 4.0 content and beyond felt a bit like a dead end to me, not somewhere I actively wanted to go.

Since Ossus, I'm actually excited by the thought of taking more alts through the new story for the first time. KotFE and KotET are still going to be a bit of a "hump" to get over in terms of story (since I don't want to just skip them and be saddled with default choices), but I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel now, which is a great feeling.


An Arena Story

It seems that little Tessal the Mercenary is just having one amazing adventure after another at the moment. Monday night I decided to do a couple of PvP matches for Conquest points, since she was very close to hitting her personal target from all those flashpoints and just needed a little push to get over the line. I got into an arena. When I loaded in, there were three people on the enemy team and I was alone on mine, but soon more people started to load in. It went something like this:

Friendly 1 joined the ops group.
Friendly 2 joined the ops group.
Friendly 3 joined the ops group.
Friendly 1 left the ops group.
Friendly 2 left the ops group.
Friendly 4 joined the ops group.
Friendly 3 left the ops group.
Friendly 5 joined the ops group.
Friendly 6 joined the ops group.
Friendly 4 left the ops group.
Friendly 7 joined the ops group.
Friendly 6 left the ops group.
Friendly 5 left the ops group.
Friendly 8 joined the ops group.

I don't even remember the exact point at which the match started, but I do know that it was just me and Friendly 5 against their full team of four at that point, and unsurprisingly we got obliterated, which is when he quit too. But hey, at least I managed to get four medals before I died.

As I was waiting for the second round to start, now in a mighty team of three with Friendly 7 and Friendly 8, I typed in ops chat: "People must really hate arenas, considering how many joined and left without even doing a single thing." Friendly 7 found this amusing.

We were still a man down when the next round started, but this time the two remaining players on my team didn't leave. I decided to just aim to keep us alive for as long as possible in order to at least gain a few more medals. Soon I found myself thinking that I was doing surprisingly well at this.

Then I noticed that Friendly 7, an Assassin, had already racked up six medals. She was keeping me alive with Guard and taunts. Friendly 8, an Operative, was also helping to keep me alive, throwing me some off-heals even though she was dps-specced, while also still doing some damage on the side.

Suddenly someone on the enemy team dropped dead. How did that even...? Then we got another one of them. The match had been going on for long enough by that point that it went to acid, and we were the last ones standing. I laughed and thought that I didn't even care anymore if we lost after that, because that comeback alone had been worth it.

We didn't lose though. The final round was even tougher than the first (there were still only three of us and they had to some degree caught on to what we were doing), and it went to acid again, but we won again. I finished with fourteen medals.

And this is why I never, ever quit a match just because it looks like we're losing.