The Shroud Bugged Out

You may have surmised from the fact that I was talking about doing the Dread Seed quest chain in my last post that I was also going to do the heroic missions that cap off that very same chain and the one for Macrobinoculars this weekend. I'm very fond of both of these missions because I'll forever remember the first time I did them both being hilariously chaotic.

You would also think that after successfully completing them half a dozen times I'd be able to knock them out pretty quickly at this point, but this is a notion of which I was quickly disabused this Sunday.

And to think that we started out so well! When we met up in front of the Shroud's lair, I was immediately pleased to note that all of us were actually on the correct step of the quest. Most of the previous times that I've done this mission it usually turned out that someone still needed to do the part that I like to call the "taxi chase", and then it always took some time to get them caught up with the rest of us. Our team on the other hand - consisting of me and my guildies Mostyn, Ken and Uni - looked like it should be able to make short work of the whole thing.

Unfortunately it soon became apparent that I was the person in the group who had the most experience with the mission, which was less good. As it turns out it's very easy to follow the instructions of other people telling you to click the button in front of you, but being able to do so doesn't necessarily mean that you now automatically know what everyone else in the group is supposed to be doing.

Already in the second room we briefly got stuck as everyone else went into the little side alcoves and started clicking the buttons there, while I ran up and down the corridor yelling about how I knew that there was something for me to click here but I didn't know where it was. Fortunately another guildie who happened to overhear us on Teamspeak was able to point me in the right direction (the ceiling). "It's like the blind leading the blind," Mr Commando observed wistfully from the other side of the table.

Then things got buggy though. We got to the part with the droid in the security station, where mines keep going off around him, you kill the turrets surrounding the station, he summons some droids, and after you kill those, he surrenders. The problem was that we killed the turrets and then nothing happened; the mines just kept beeping away and the next phase refused to start.

This is actually something that had also happened to me the previous time I did this quest, though back then we'd been able to reset it by simply walking away from the area, and when the sequence restarted it completed properly the second time around. That didn't work this time though. We ran all the way outside the phase and back in, even tried wiping the group by suiciding on the laser grid, but nothing seemed to work.

Eventually we exited again and reset the phase, which did not reset the first two puzzles but respawned most of the mobs, so we had to kill those all over again. Fortunately the security sequence also started up properly this time (we noticed that messages about escalating defenses popped up in the middle of the screen now, which hadn't happened before).

Though then we got stuck again because when the droids finally spawned, one of them managed to somehow run inside the controller's defensive shield, where he was untouchable and kept us stuck in combat. Fortunately this time we were able to reset the thing by simple getting some distance. When we tried again we made sure to instantly stun and nuke any droids coming out of the station right next to the shield.

Then it came to the puzzle part, one I thought I remembered reasonably well. One person mans the security station (this is usually my job), one has to go into the room with all the poison gas, one to the droid assembly line, and the last to the elevator. How and why any of these things go together and interact in a logical way I don't know; I just know that they do.

We started off with me at the security station, Mostyn by the poison room, Uni at the droid assembler and Ken at the elevator, but Uni kept complaining that he couldn't get in. "When I click this thing, doesn't the door go up?", I asked. "Yes, it does, but there's another one right behind it. It's like it goes up and stays closed at the same time." While this sounded quite inane, I was quickly reminded of a visual glitch that I sometimes see in cut scenes involving doors. The problem was that for Uni it was more than visual: the "second" door remained solid and wouldn't let him pass. Mostyn walked over and was able to walk right "through" it in front of Uni's eyes.

So we decided to have Mostyn and Uni swap places. However, Uni's game would have none of that either: While he didn't see any doors at the poison room, he was still prevented from entering by an invisible force field.

We tried swapping him with Ken, but now Ken was having problems with the poison room. He could get inside; but he couldn't click the console! "I can see where I'm meant to click, but it's just not letting me interact with it!"

As a last ditch effort, we were going to try having Ken back at the elevator, me at the poison room and Uni at the security station, but of course he couldn't click on that either.

Everyone agreed at this point that it would be best for both Ken and Uni to leave the instance and restart their game, since whatever was wrong seemed to affect them in specific and not the instance as a whole. "Are we going to be featured in a blog post now?" Uni asked on the way out. Well, you've got your answer!

After they'd both relogged and rejoined the group, it at first turned out that they had loaded back into the wrong instance, so they had to leave the phase again to switch instances outside. But once we were finally all together again, everyone was able to get through doors and click on things, and we literally unlocked the next step on the first attempt. If only it could have been that easy right away!

Fortunately nothing that came after caused us any more serious issues, Mostyn just fell to his death once and in the last fight people were running in circles like headless chickens for a while, but that didn't prevent us from getting it down.

Ken went to bed after that but the three of us who remained also needed the Dread Seed heroic so we did that too, and fortunately it went down without a hitch, except that I swear those power cells get deadlier every time I do the part where you have to power up the turrets. I know they are supposed to explode if you get hit while carrying one, but I've also been one-shot seemingly just from stepping on a floor cable while carrying a cell (are neither the cables nor my shoes insulated?!) and this time I managed to fall over dead literally the moment I clicked on one to pick it up.

Another bug I had previously encountered but which fortunately didn't happen again this time was one of the doors not opening for a group member (who was fortunately only helping out at the time and didn't need to be there for the final kill anyway, and unlike the Shroud heroic, fighting Lord Tagriss doesn't actually require a full group of four players).

Still, though. I used to think that the toughest thing about these quests was finding a group for them, but now I'm not so sure anymore. I mean, we had a whale of a time because we are friends who trust each other and are able to see the funny side of most mishaps, but can you imagine trying to communicate Schrödinger's door to a pug group? They'd just think that you've gone mad! Hopefully the Bioware devs will find the time to fix some of those bugs before they ruin too many groups' experiences, even if this isn't one of the most popular quests in the game.


Voss Seeker Droid Bug

Consider this one of my rare PSA posts, which usually come about after I stumble across a question or problem that's very peculiar, and then on trying to google the answer/solution, I realise that nobody seems to have posted one so far. Hey, might as well perform a small public service and do it myself, right?

This time the issue is the Seeker Droid/Dread Seed quest line which sends you all over the galaxy to dig up Dread Seeds, as there are a couple of areas where the Seeker Droid mechanic is a bit buggy. One of them is Balmorra from what I remember, but it's relatively easy to work around that one because the area is very open, so you just run around a bit and eventually you'll get it to work.

Voss on the other hand is a tricky one, because the dig site for the mission is underneath Voss-Ka and can only be accessed via a tunnel and by going down a narrow little path. What happens is that you do that, get the "Your Seeker Droid detects something in the area" message, take two more steps, and immediately get its "Your Seeker Droid no longer detects anything" counter, which causes the icon/item to get greyed out again. If you then continue into the area marked on the map, you can run around as much as you want, the icon won't light up again and you can't dig. Frustrating!

Fortunately there's a simple workaround, which I'm not sure everyone's aware of, so I made a little video about it last night while doing the quest on my Scoundrel:

Basically it seems to be less about absolute positioning and more about making sure you don't "trip" over the line that triggers the "Your Seeker Droid no longer detects anything" message. So the thing to do is to walk down the path very slowly and stop instantly the moment your Seeker Droid lights up as available. Then, instead of continuing down the little winding path, turn towards the cliff and edge your way down into the area that way. If you run into the "Your Seeker Droid no longer detects anything" message at any point, go back up and start again. You should quickly be able to find an invisible "path" though that allows you to enter the area without your droid becoming disabled, and then you can run all over the place and dig to your heart's content. Hope this helps someone!


To Skip or Not To Skip?

Several bloggers I'm following have been talking about Final Fantasy XIV recently, not least because it just got a new expansion. However, the game being what it is, several of those bloggers haven't actually been able to talk about the expansion yet, because they are still in the process of getting through all the prerequisite quests first, something that can only be bypassed with a cash shop purchase, and even that is a relatively recent addition from what I gather (previously there was just no way around it, period).

From this post on Time to Loot I learned that the community even has a name for the long chain of quests that players have to complete to even get access to the very first expansion: they call them "the Horrible Hundred". Bhagpuss then used this as a jumping-off point for a post of his own on when focusing on the journey instead of the destination might not be sound advice.

I've previously written about how I'm kind of glad that SWTOR is not as dogmatic when it comes to story progression, despite of the game's self-professed focus on narrative. That said, reading this whole discussion, especially Bhag's comment on Naithin's post - in which he asked whether the latter would actually be happy to skip all that content if it was a gameplay option - really made me think.

As much I've moaned in the past about KotFE and KotET in particular feeling like a bit of a drag (though actually, I already complained about Shadow of Revan and Ziost before that), I have not made use of the option to skip either so far.

I keep thinking about it, but the thing is that there are choices to be made in those expansions, and I don't like the idea of simply being saddled with one of the two default sets of options. It doesn't matter if those things never come up again afterwards; I would know! I've sometimes seen people clamour for a tool similar to Dragon Age Keep, which would allow you to lock in custom decisions even while skipping the content, but I doubt that Bioware would consider creating such a thing a good use of their time and money.

The thing is, even if we did have that option, I'm still not sure I'd want to use it. Even though replaying the exact same linear story over and over annoys me, there are moments when I find myself engaging with parts of it on a roleplayer's level, even when it's my umpteenth time through - usually because I hadn't thought about how that particular character would feel in that particular situation considering her background... which can then cause me to make somewhat different choices than I would have made if you'd simply asked me to fill out a scorecard beforehand.

On the other hand, there are the problems that make KotFE and KotET in particular - and to a lesser extent also the Iokath/traitor arc - such a nuisance to replay:

- It's not just the linearity and one-size-fits-all format of the story, but that it is so all-encompassing. Makeb and Rise of the Hutt Cartel are also linear stories, but they are independent from each other and you can do them out of order if you so wish. When you start KotFE though, the game demands that you must have finished all the "important" storylines before it, and if you haven't they will be auto-completed for you, with no option to ever go back.

- For all the complaining a certain section of the player base did about lack of content during KotFE, I've found it striking just how long each chapter is compared to the average quest line in the base game. A single planet's worth of class story is generally shorter than a chapter, with the latter clocking in at about 45-60 minutes each if you watch all the cut scenes, and still at least half of that if you were to space-bar your way through.

This is a problem in so far as chapters make it much more awkward to pause at a random point and come back later. Your overall progress will be saved, but if you exit the phase even briefly while not at a dedicated "check point", all the mobs after that will respawn. I've cleared Odessen of Zakuulan troops in "End Times" more often than I'm happy to admit, simply due to exiting the chapter at a bad time and then finding that I had to do huge chunks of combat all over again.

I'm not certain that solo flashpoints are any better either. I haven't tested it, but I would expect them to give a bit more leeway when it comes to not respawning all the trash if you leave for five minutes, but they probably won't save your overall story progress if you need to abandon it halfway through to come back another day. Either way, the end result is that both solo flashpoints and chapters make you feel like you always need to be willing to commit a larger chunk of time to playing in order to make any progress.

- Finally, all of this is made even worse by the fact that some chapters are very closely tied together and affect your gameplay outside of the main storyline. Mainly I'm thinking of how starting KotFE gets rid of all of your companions, and you don't get any new ones until chapter three, and nothing like a proper full roster until chapter nine. For that reason I never start KotFE unless I'm willing and able to burn through the first few chapters in a single session.

So for all these reasons KotFE and KotET are a bit of a nuisance in the narrative progression of one's character, and I know quite a few people who have used the option to skip this content quite liberally. For me however, the roleplaying considerations I mentioned earlier in this post weigh against that, and so far they've still won out every time.

I do think that there's a chance that my attitude might start to shift over time though, as Bioware keeps adding more and more "post-Knights" content, because the more of it there is, the more I'll feel the urge to actually get to all that content. In addition, the more the adventures of Arcann and Co. retreat into the distant past and become irrelevant, the less strongly I expect to feel about "having" to go through them for my character arc to feel complete.


Is PvP More Balanced Now?

While I've always been better with words than with numbers, I have a soft spot for statistics. I mentioned recently that I put together some stats about warzones twice before: once in 2013 and once in 2015. Both times they seemed to confirm the common refrain that Republic sucks at PvP: my win rate was only 35% the first time around and 38% the second. (Though mind you, I didn't run a comparison on Imp side to verify whether this was really faction-related or if it was just me dragging my team down.)

I was curious to find out whether this had changed after last year's "Summer of PvP" tore down the faction barriers and took measures to improve matchmaking. The short answer is: maybe a little? This time around I finished my 100 recorded matches with a 42% win rate, which is certainly an improvement but still not as good as it should be in my opinion.

I also recorded once again whether it seemed like any given match had been fair or unfair (I used the latter label when it felt like the losing team never really stood a chance, regardless of which side I was on), and about half of all my games (48) felt like they had been seriously unbalanced. (Though again, this is slightly better than it was in both 2013 and 2015, when 53 of my 100 matches had felt like bad match-ups.)

One thing that's worth noting as different this time around is that I didn't just restrict myself to playing three healing characters on Republic side. Since faction shouldn't matter anymore I played characters on both sides (in fact, as it happens two thirds of my games were played on Imperial side this time around) and I also rotated through my entire stable of alts, playing characters of pretty much all classes and specs. I actually would have expected that to depress my win rate a bit as I'm pretty horrible at PvPing e.g. as Gunslinger or Sentinel, but if it did it wasn't enough to bring the numbers down to the level of the previous two experiments.

One thing that does seem to support the idea that class/role matters is that I came closest to reaching win/loss parity on my healers (20 wins vs. 24 losses, or a 45% win rate), and if you only count matches on my Commandos or Mercenaries (my main class), I did in fact win more often than I lost (12 vs. 8). Gunslingers/Snipers technically also won more than they lost (2 vs. 1) but that total is so low anyhow that I simply consider it a fluke. Sentinel/Marauder is certainly closer to what I'd expect from me on that class, racking up only 2 wins vs. 8 losses.

Of the old faction lines there was no evidence anymore, as my Republic characters had an average win rate of 45% vs. only 40% on my Imps.

Another thing that's interesting to look at is the distribution of the numbers among the different types of warzones. I noted in the past that my odds of winning were generally better in the node-capping game modes (Civil War, Novare Coast) and at their worst in Huttball. The former still seems to be true (mostly) as the two game types in which I could actually record more wins than losses were Novare Coast and the Proving Grounds, while Civil War was a perfect 50-50 split. Huttball wasn't as bad this time around though, as my 41% win rate in it was very close to the average.

This time the warzones that caused me the most losses were Yavin Ruins (only won 1 out of 5, but again that's a pretty small total), Voidstar (3 out of 10) and Hypergates (3 out of 9). So this is an area where the faction mingling definitely seems to have helped, as I still remember the pain of playing unranked Huttball as a Republic player back in the day very well. As for Novare Coast and Proving Grounds, I can't help but wonder if me really loving those warzones doesn't play into it a bit, as I would assume that it makes me play a lot better, therefore increasing my team's chances of winning.

Anyway, while win/loss ratio among different warzones has improved, Huttball still has balancing issues as it was the warzone that felt by far the most unfair, with nearly two thirds of matches having felt like the losing team never even stood a chance. I think that may just be the nature of the map though, as any amount of co-ordination just makes such a huge difference. Funnily enough the most "fair" game mode by that measure turned out to be Hypergates, at least during my experiment. Out of 9 matches played, only a single one felt like the outcome had been a foregone conclusion.

Finally, one more thing that I kept track of this time around and that I hadn't paid great attention to previously was the day of the week on which I played. This was interesting as there was a clear trend towards Thursday to Saturday being the best days to play, providing an almost perfectly balanced win-loss ratio, while Monday to Wednesday were the worst, as I had to put up with two losses per win or worse on those days. I'm not sure how to explain this. Theoretically a larger number of players participating in PvP should help with the matchmaking, but from my experience Thursday and Friday night aren't exactly prime time for PvP - then again, I might be wrong about that. Tuesday is also the time of the weekly reset, I wonder if that plays into it somehow?

tl;dr: Yes, your chances of winning as a Republic player seem to be somewhat better now than they used to be, though on average the change is not that drastic. The biggest and most noticeable change has occurred in Huttball, where your odds are much better now, though it remains somewhat unbalanced in general, with only a third of games actually feeling like good match-ups that result in a fair fight.


Random Makeb Love

Telwyn is finally playing through the Makeb story on Imperial side, only six years late... and here I thought I was slow when it took me two months to get to it! Funnily enough, I was reading his post on my second monitor while I was using my primary to play through Imperial Makeb myself... for the second time in recent weeks, in fact.

Looking back at some of my old blog posts, I've had a very on-and-off relationship with Makeb. At first I quite liked it, but then repeating it a couple of times quickly made me feel burnt out. Finding that every single one of my characters was getting funnelled into it as "chapter four" of their class stories felt disingenuous and annoying.

Then after Shadow of Revan came out my attitude towards it softened again, since it wasn't considered a requirement to progress the new storyline but rather just another piece of side content, like the various daily areas. Since then I've often skipped it since there's already enough strictly linear story content that I have to get through to get to the bits I like, but every now and then I like to take a character through it again - fortunately it doesn't matter where they are in terms of personal progression; you can do Makeb at any time.

The release of Ossus also made me oddly nostalgic for Makeb. As I discussed in this post, sometimes you don't know what you've got until it's gone. At the time of its release, Makeb had seemed a bit lacklustre compared to the class stories, but after more than three years of plodding through a one-size-fits-all storyline, I can't help but see it in a very different light. The depth of the world building conveyed through totally different story threads! All those different NPCs you get to interact with that have their own lives instead of everything being about your companions all the time! It suddenly tastes oh so sweet.

And it oddly makes me wish that we could meet some of those characters again one of these days. As it stands, the only story references to Makeb after its release were a brief mention about Isotope-5 powering Imperial ships in Lana's summary of what happened during your five years in carbonite, and of course Doctor Oggurobb joining your Alliance. On Imperial side though there are so many more characters that would be fun to meet again. I'd like to see how Captain Hanthor is doing for example. (And this time give us a flirt option while you're at it!)

I've even come to appreciate the relatively minor players such as Nadrin and Sergeant Bedareux. Actually, the latter made me realise that I don't recall another character anywhere in Star Wars canon that has a French-sounding name - based on the spelling anyway, even if it's then pronounced in a very English way in the English client. I wonder if the German and French voice actors actually pronounced his name closer to what you'd expect? Also, if you do know any other French-sounding characters from Star Wars canon, do let me know please because now I'm oddly curious.


Proving Grounds Tactics

I've been quite focused on PvP over the last couple of days, so I thought I might take this opportunity to finally write that post about tactics in Odessen Proving Grounds that I've been thinking about for a long time. Please note that this isn't a beginner's guide - if you want to know the basics of how this warzone works, consult Xam Xam's guide here.

People like to complain that kills don't matter when it comes to winning the battle for Odessen, but I think that's really only part of the problem - after all, with the exception of Hypergates and Yavin Ruins, most warzones don't directly award points for killing enemy players.

I suspect what confuses or annoys a lot of people about the Proving Grounds map is how fast-paced it is, with the 90-second rounds and constantly changing objectives, and that contrary to many people's instincts, it pays off to spread out instead of group up. Finally, the short duration of each round and constantly resetting objectives mean that it's frequently possible to lose a battle even if you're winning and vice versa (on a small scale) - because defeating that node guardian just as the round ends does nothing to advance your team's score.

Spreading out

There are two reasons why it's beneficial for a team to spread out in the Proving Grounds. The first is simply the randomisation of the objective spawns at the beginning of each new round, which means that you can't know in advance where to stand in order to quickly capture the next upcoming objective. By making sure that your team is spread out all over the map, you're increasing your chances that someone will be near the next node or battle mod to go active and can get on it as soon as possible.

Tied into this is the fact that the way capping works heavily favours defenders. Because the node won't flip as long as even a single defender remains standing inside its boundaries, even a single defender can buy valuable seconds just by staying alive for as long as they can, and if you have multiple defenders it becomes very hard to get rid of them all in time to change node ownership and still get points from it before the round ends.

In practice this means that you want to start the match attacking the initial two control points with a four-four split, with one person in each "team" breaking off to pick up the battle mod on their side as well. It's rather frustrating to see how rarely this actually happens, presumably because people uncertain about what to do think that their best bet is to "stick with the pack", or they might think that the warzone works similar to other base-capping modes such as Civil War and Novare Coast, where you usually have all but one person sticking together at the start.

From then on, after the end of each round, your goal should be to spread out across the map as far as possible. Obviously you can't tell the rest of your team where to go, but you can try to get away from them as much as you can! Personally I favour positioning myself near one of the battle mod spawn points, as they appear a few seconds before the control points become active, which means that you can pick up a mod and potentially still make it to a control point in time too. Also, the fact that they are located halfway between two nodes increases your chances of being near one that's about to become active. If you can't or don't want to stand near a mod spawn point for some reason, my next favourite place is the bottom control point (artifact chamber) as you can easily go from there to mid (cantina) but not the other way round.

Control points or battle mods?

On any PvP map where you have both main and secondary objectives, the question is always how much those secondary objectives are worth pursuing compared to the primary ones (e.g. orbs in Ancient Hypergates vs. pylons/kills). In the Proving Grounds the answer is that they are very much worth it! Two of the four mods are in fact equal in value to a captured control point each (assuming they are quickly put to use, and correctly), namely blue and green. Green obviously allows you to activate and capture an additional control point where the enemy team might not expect it, and blue doubles the point gain on an existing node, meaning that it's also worth as much as a whole additional objective.

While the mod colours rotate too quickly for you to be able to target the one you want specifically, what with lag and so on, you can definitely avoid getting one that you don't want, by making sure to run over it just after the colour you didn't want flashes up. Personally I usually avoid red.

The red (deactivate) battle mod is certainly also powerful, however it's hard to put to good use if the enemy defenders pay any attention at all. Unless you are a Sniper/Gunslinger that is - I don't even know what the ability is called, but they are able to temporarily make themselves immune to both interrupts and stuns at the same time, meaning that if they roll in with a red mod and use that ability, the node is gone and there is nothing you can do about it.

The orange/speed-up mod is not that useful in my opinion as it doesn't increase point gain, just speeds it up so that the control point expires quite a bit before the end of the round. Obviously this is technically advantageous in that you need to spend less time defending that particular node, however at 90 seconds the rounds are already quite short as it is, so that a few seconds saved usually don't give you sufficient time to do something useful elsewhere. I seem to recall that I've only ever seen this mod make the difference between victory and loss once, when both teams were incredibly close to hitting 600 points and the one that managed to speed up their point gain with the mod just managed to get there first.

Victory in death

Another thing that makes Odessen quite unique - as mentioned above - is that your chances of scoring a minor win even in death are much higher than in most other warzones. Sure, sometimes this can happen in other game modes too, such as when the act of killing you distracts someone for long enough that a team mate can capture a turret behind them for example, but the Proving Grounds really embrace the concept because dying between rounds effectively doesn't cost you anything, and you "only" need to stall the enemy for 90 seconds at a time to defend a control point or prevent either side from capturing it. So get ready to embrace death whenever it buys your team some time because every second counts.

Got any "expert" tips of your own to add? Feel free to leave them in the comments!


Less Huttball, Please

When the new Huttball map on Vandin was released in October last year, the PvP queue was tweaked to temporarily give it priority over other maps. This usually happens when a new PvP mode or map is released and makes sense, as people want to see what's new and need every chance to practice the new mechanics.

However, when the queue was supposed to return to normal, it... didn't really. Vandin popped slightly less often, yes, but Huttball was a whole still seemed to come up insanely frequently. People commented on this on the forums, even me! There was some questioning whether it was a bug, but eventually, in March, Eric Musco came right out and clarified that it was not a bug but working as intended because all maps get equal priority, which just leads to Huttball popping more often now as it has three different maps whereas most other (non-arena) game modes only have one (though he did encourage people to give feedback about this).

The thing that immediately struck me about this was that while Eric talked about the whole thing as if it had always been this way, in my own experience this hasn't been the case. I've compiled sets of warzone statistics twice on this blog, once to figure out whether Republic really loses all the time (the answer at the time seemed to be yes) and the other to find out how often arenas were popping compared to regular warzones.

When I collected data for the latter there were already two Huttball maps in the game, the Pit and Quesh, and my numbers clearly showed that in terms of priority, they were not being treated as full game modes. "Generic" Huttball had an equal chance of popping as other types of warzones, and those Huttball pops would then be split half and half between Nar Shaddaa and Quesh. As it should be in my opinion!

These days though, it's all Huttball, all the time. I'm currently collecting some data on my warzone matches again, and out of 45 games played so far, 15 have been Huttball, which means that every third match is a Huttball game, while Civil War, Voidstar, Novare Coast, Ancient Hypergates, arena, Proving Grounds and Yavin Ruins have to split the remaining two slots among the six/seven of them. (I'm actually not sure how arenas are handled now as they are supposed to pop less often if there are enough people in the queue, but I still see them relatively frequently even at max level.)

I like Huttball well enough but that still feels highly unbalanced to me. And it's been going on for nine months!

In my opinion the queue should be an even split between:

  • Arena (rotating between the six different maps)
  • Ancient Hypergates
  • Civil War / Yavin Ruins (I could technically see treating those as separate game modes, but I think they are similar enough to justify lumping them together and letting them alternate)
  • Huttball (rotating between the three different maps)
  • Novare Coast (as it's totally different from Civil War/Yavin other than also featuring three bases)
  • Proving Grounds
  • Voidstar

So in an even six/seven-way split, Huttball would only come up half as much as it does now, if not less. Meaning that it's been popping at double the "normal" frequency for more than half a year! (I forget when exactly the official "new warzone" grace period for Vandin was supposed to have ended.)

I imagine that anyone who really hates Huttball (and it was pretty much the most divisive game mode until Odessen Proving Grounds was released) must surely have taken a break from PvP by now... and that's not a good thing! Huttball is fun and all, but only in moderate doses. Please fix those queues, Bioware.


Guild Level 100!

This weekend Twin Suns Squadron hit level 100. We joked beforehand that this was a big occasion and that we should all have a party to celebrate, but in reality the guild ended up dinging late on Friday night, with me and a relative newbie to the guild being the only people online. At least that meant that I got to push us over the line personally and was able to take a celebratory screenshot.

I was doing KotET chapter 8 on my Sage at the time.

Of course, if you were to ask me what this means for the guild, the answer would be "nothing, really". I'm somewhat reminded of when I hit legacy level 50 in the most anticlimactic manner and had to admit that it didn't really do anything.

In the case of guild levels, the last one that provides additional benefits is level 64, at which point you unlock access to the final set of guild perks. After that, all that happens is that your number continues to go up... which does bring up the question of whether there is an actual cap, and if so, what it is. As far as I'm aware Bioware haven't made a statement about it.

While I find the thought of guild levels going on forever kind of amusing (a guildie joked about 1000 being our next goal), I wonder if there shouldn't be at least a temporary cap if Bioware has any plans to add more perks for higher levels. Otherwise the bigger guilds are just going to continue pulling further ahead of the rest of the pack indefinitely. I inspected a random member of one of the big guilds on the fleet to see where they were at and that guild was almost at level 150 already.

Of course, I'm doubtful whether Bioware is going to invest further into the guild levelling system. They've said that they want to keep adding to it, but realistically I can't say that guild levels and perks have seemed to be a priority since then. They haven't addressed any of the bugs and glaring issues that have been plaguing the system since its release more than six months ago (if Jedipedia ever takes down its page about guild perks, guild leaders everywhere are going to be so screwed). The only thing they fixed was the over-abundance of Grand Chance Cubes dropping from Soa... no surprise there.

That said, even while buggy and unfinished I guess the system is still a nice addition to the game as a way to track a guild's activity levels and progress. Even our tiny Imperial alt guild is up to level 21 by now. And like I said in my first post about guild levels, I still enjoy taking a screenshot every time we ding while I'm online. They are fun little snapshots showing what I've been doing while the guild continues to grow. Here are some more from the last six months:

Hitting level 17 while I was doing GSI dailies on my Guardian during Total Galactic War (I know that because I never do them during any other weeks).

Level 23 while I was doing Ossus heroics on my Scoundrel.

Level 32 while we were running back from a wipe in Gods from the Machine veteran mode.

Level 46 while I was healing a casual Karagga's Palace run on my Sage.

Level 55 after a messy Soa kill which had me (the tank!) finishing dead in lava.

Level 63 while doing progression on Master and Blaster veteran mode.

Level 77 while I was doing dailies on Iokath on my Scoundrel.

Level 78 from another Soa kill, this time with me doing Shadow dps.

Level 80 from another Soa kill? Must have been a week where we were going for first place in Conquest and were using the operations guild perk to its fullest.

Level 83 achieved while I was playing Quesh Huttball on my Sentinel... based on how PvPing on her usually goes, it probably didn't end well.

Level 84 from working on Corruptor Zero on 16-person master mode... lots of people were getting rampage achievements from killing the adds over and over during every attempt.

Level 86 while we were exploring the newly released Dantooine.

Still doing Ossus world bosses at guild level 90...

Hit guild level 91 from killing Dread Master Tyrans on 8-man master mode (this was the first time I'd done this at level by the way).

Level 95 during Dread Council master mode attempts. For some reason Dread Master Brontes' little tentacle spawns give an insane amount of Conquest points each since the Conquest changes.

Hit level 98 as we were pulling Styrak on 16-man master mode. (Not got that one down yet.)


Lessons Learned from ESO

When I decided to patch up ESO on new year's eve for a laugh, I didn't expect that to turn into six months of subscription time for Zenimax, but that's what happened. That said, I did just allow my subscription to run out again, as my play time decreased significantly over the past two months and I'd really rather focus on other games as my "secondaries" over the summer. (Hellooo, WoW Classic!)

While I'm very much someone who focuses on a single game and is happy to call it home, I do think that it's good to dip your toes into the wider MMO waters at least every now and then, as it can expand your horizons in terms of what's possible but also helps to crystallise just what it is that you love about your "home" MMO.

Here are the main things I learned while playing ESO:

I really like an "explorable" world

Until my husband decided to get in on the game too and "forced" me to make some actual progress with my questing, I was extremely slow to get anything done in ESO as I found it very hard to focus on any given task. I would leave town to get back to where I last stopped questing and immediately be distracted by a gathering node, a fishing pool or a random chest, and before you knew it I had wandered off into a completely different direction. And I loved it!

Some of my favourite ESO memories simply have me thinking back to those days of wandering around aimlessly and marvelling at the beautiful trees in Auridon. Without wanting to change the game into something it isn't, this does make me wish that SWTOR rewarded random exploration like that a bit more too.

Combat matters more to me than I expected

I love old-fashioned hotbar combat and am not a fan of action combat at all, but I don't completely hate the latter, as I've spent years playing Neverwinter and having a pretty good time. However, until ESO I'd never really thought about why that is, or what makes the difference between tolerable and tedious for me when it comes to playing with a limited action set.

I'm still not entirely sure to be honest, but I do know that while I don't completely hate ESO's combat either, I noticed that it tended to get tiresome pretty quickly for me. The best way I could think of describing it is that it feels like all the abilities were conceived to be part of a classic hotbar system and were then simply mashed into an action combat framework without much adjustment.

What I mean by that is that in Neverwinter, as an example of action combat that I like, all the abilities on my limited action bar feel very impactful, usually serve very different purposes, and most of them have cooldowns. It feels good to execute them in the right order, watch the flashy animations, and top things off with a powerful ultimate.

In ESO, a lot of abilities actually feel pretty samey, and except for your ultimate nothing has a cooldown, with your only constraint being resources. In a game with classic hotbar combat, I'd be quite happy to have several abilities that do similar things, because I can have them all on my bar and choose the one that is best for any given situation, plus there are often cooldowns to juggle. In ESO you just find one thing that does a lot of damage and then spam it.

I tried to get a bit of variation in my rotation by going for several damage over time abilities, but the default UI makes it a pain to track them, and ever since the Elsweyr patch the game has stopped showing them to me completely (and yes, before anyone asks, the respective UI option is turned on - buffs and debuffs just flash up for half a second when I cast them and then disappear). It's all just not very fun. And it's surprising how off-putting that can be when seeing the next bit of the story involves slogging your way through a bunch of mobs to the other end of a cave for example.

Just give me classes, I hate skill systems

Again, this is something I'd long felt on a gut level. I never saw the appeal in Rift's much praised soul system for example. But playing ESO really drove the point home. People say that the freedom of picking and choosing your own skills is fun, but to me it's like someone handing me a bunch of cardboard and some markers to give me the "freedom" to build my own board game. That is not the fun part, and since I'm not an expert on game design, the result is unlikely to be particularly balanced or enjoyable to play.

That said, I also don't like looking up guides on how to build my character to be viable, so it's simply a lose-lose proposition from my point of view. I originally hoped that it wasn't going to be an issue in levelling/easier content, but you do start to notice a bad build dragging you down after a while when you watch the speed with which other people around you kill things.

Finally, while ESO technically has classes, they are not very distinct as the vast majority of skills are cross-class, most notably all the weapon skills. So you can be a Sorcerer wielding a staff, or a Templar wielding a staff, or a Warden wielding a staff... you get the idea. Apart from a few signature abilities such as certain pet summons, I generally can't even tell what class the characters around me are because they all appear so samey.

Character identity is also really important to me

I now have two level 50 characters in ESO, a Templar and a Sorcerer. Even though I intentionally made different choices while levelling them, the problem described above has made it difficult for me to feel like they have distinct identities, and in fact I largely lost the enthusiasm to create a third character because it feels pointless making more alts if the experience isn't going to lead to anything that I'm not already getting from my first two characters.

This was made worse by the questing. I've mentioned before that ESO's questing is very much plot-, not character-driven, which means there is some interesting stuff going on, but you're just a blank slate being steered around by more powerful personalities and doing what you're told to advance the plot. (Kind of similar to the way KotFE & KotET feel at times actually...) Moving from one quest giver to the next, you'll be recognised as a hero one moment and get mistaken for a servant the next, depending on what's convenient for the story being told.

Unfortunately that even extends to the factions. I originally thought that the game would surely foster a lot of faction pride, what with the three-way PvP zone being a big focus, but if that's the case then it's clearly limited to that game mode.

The PvE content actually starts out really strong, with each faction having its own dedicated levelling path that introduces you to its different cultures, which is very interesting and did help me form an attachment to my faction at the beginning... but then you're given a quest to do the story of the other two factions too, because why let good content go to waste reasons, and the DLC content doesn't give a damn about any previous loyalties, happily sending you to slaughter soldiers of your own faction without as much as acknowledging that this might not be something a character of your background might want to do.

I actually found that worse than if there had never been any concern for factions at all. If I'm just some random adventurer, who cares, I can be a sellsword for hire by anyone. But to build me up as the Saviour of the Dominion for example, just to then send me off to kill soldiers of that same Dominion with abandon raised my hackles.

Anyway, all that might sound very critical of ESO, and it does explain how the game fell short of my expectations in several ways. However, I wouldn't have paid for a subscription for six months if I hadn't had any fun, and I'm still planning to go back to see more of the story eventually.

The whole experience really drove home for me though that I'm a very picky customer when it comes to MMORPGs, to the point that even a well-made game that does a lot of things right can fail to be "sticky" for me if it doesn't manage to hit certain notes that are important to me on a personal level.