Dread Master Brontes Wins Again

Progression raiding in SWTOR is a weird thing these days, and not just because a lot of outsiders are likely to go "SWTOR has raids?!" when you bring up the subject.

In a game like WoW, new raid tiers come out all the time, and every time a new one is added, the old one becomes obsolete, which fuels a frantic race to get through the new content before it reaches the end of its shelf life.

In SWTOR, there's only a very small minority interested in seeing who'll be the first to get the kill of a new operations boss on a higher difficulty - plus as it stands, we've only had a single new operation in the last five years anyway, so it's not exactly as if there's been a lot to get excited about.

For most players, what matters is that ever since 4.0 Bioware has continually scaled all operations content upwards so that Eternity Vault from back in 2011 is still as relevant as endgame in 2019 as the more recently released Gods from the Machine.

This means that if you're not good enough to actually clear all the operations on all difficulties, you can basically keep progressing on them forever... which is exactly what my guild has been doing. The 5.x cycle has been particularly good for us because the boss's values remained stable for so long and we got access to some pretty overpowered gear pretty quickly. I got to tell quite a few tales of successful boss killing on this blog in the past year.

We still haven't killed everything though, and that's not even counting the most recent release, master mode Gods from the Machine. It's slightly awkward to think about, because if we're being honest with ourselves, it basically means that we're not very good. Some of these fights have been out for more than five years and we still haven't killed them? Come on!

A more charitable interpretation would be that we are very persistent and have taken our time getting better at the game. Most of us struggled with simple hard modes when they first came out, to the point that nightmare difficulty felt like something we'd be unlikely to ever reach in the future - yet here we are.

One boss I was really hoping to get down before 6.0 resets everything again was Dread Master Brontes on master mode, mostly because I have personal beef with her at this point. I vividly recall wiping to her in the run-up to 4.0, back when we were actually five levels higher than the boss and still found the fight too hard. I don't remember all the details, but I do recall thinking that I was sure that we were going to get her down before 4.0 hit because to me it felt like we were close. That didn't happen though.

August 2015

That was over four years ago now, and I really wanted to get her down this time. While we have to fight her at level now, we all got a lot better at the game in the meantime. And yet... this past Sunday was our last night attempting her as people voted to have a few weeks break before the expansion, something I can't exactly blame them for. I'm also not sure we would have been able to get her down even if we had tried for another three weeks, because unlike my fuzzy memories from 2015, it hasn't really felt to me like we've come even close to killing her this time around.

We are pretty good at making it to the last phase by now, but as soon as we're there it feels like everything falls apart in seconds, and the problem is that unlike with Revan for example, it's kind of hard to tell what exactly happened. There isn't a single mechanic that will kill you instantly, but there are a lot of things that can do a lot of damage, so it can be hard to tell what exactly killed any individual at a certain point, whether it was just too much unavoidable damage adding up and not enough healing, or whether someone or even multiple someones made a mistake that caused just too much extra damage at the wrong moment.

September 2019

There was a time when this sort of thing would have upset me a lot more than it does now (and I have the awkwardly ranty blog posts to prove it), but fortunately I have too many other things going on these days to get too hung up on a single boss kill. Plus we'll always get to try again after the expansion's release I guess.

From the way things look right now, there's even a chance that my prediction that things would become harder again in 6.0 might actually turn out to be wrong! I based this on the way things played out during the transition from 4.0 to 5.0, but as we know from the PTS now, Bioware is actually planning to scale us down to the old operations going forward, making Brontes (and us when we go to fight her) level 55 again instead of 75.

If scaling was perfect that probably wouldn't make much of a difference, but as it stands, downscaled high-level characters in SWTOR tend to be a bit on the overpowered side, and early PTS reports indicated that this effect applied in full force in the newly downscaled operations. So for all we know we might be able to waltz in there in 6.0 and one-shot her. It's unlikely, but... I'm happy to wait and see how things pan out.



Recently a commenter expressed worry about the game's (and presumably my own) well-being, based on my recent (relative) silence on the blog. I'll admit it: I'm in a bit of a funk.

It may not be obvious, but the regularity with which I've been putting out posts on here has been a fragile thing for a while, as I've had less and less time to both play and write over the years, first going from working part time to full time, and then adding a long commute to my job every morning. There've been many times when my posting frequency wavered, such as when I was ill or went on holiday for a while, but I always managed to get back on track.

This past month however, I've been hit by what you could call a perfect storm:

First off, I'm in one of those phases where I'm not super excited about playing SWTOR. This isn't really unusual by itself as I always have my ups and downs with the game and times when I want to play more or less. It does also tend to reduce my desire to write about it, but usually I've been able to compensate.

However, this time about a month ago also saw the launch of WoW Classic, a game that I was very much looking forward to and which to be honest has me more excited than anything MMO-related has managed since 2011 (when SWTOR launched). So not only have I been feeling a bit down on SWTOR, all my free time has gone into thinking about, playing, and writing about another game with the sort of enthusiasm I only get to experience about once a decade. (If you are at all interested, those posts have gone onto my old WoW blog.)

Part of me has been feeling a little guilty about letting my routine on here slide because of this, but ultimately it's all meant to be fun for me, so I should be able to do what I feel like, damn it! Mind you though, even as I say this, that nagging little voice at the back of my head has been insistent enough that I felt the need to at least sort of explain myself in this post.

So where am I with SWTOR at the moment? I don't really see myself going anywhere. I'm still excited about the expansion and love all my characters. However, I do feel like I'm in a bit of a holding pattern until Onslaught's launch.

Four months ago I was excited about getting ready for the expansion, but while I achieved some of the goals I set myself surprisingly quickly, others haven't really gone anywhere. I was really hoping to kill Dread Master Brontes on master mode for example, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen now (I might go into more detail about that in a separate post), so now the main things I keep thinking about is that I should be spending all those character-bound currencies before they go away, but there isn't really anything I want to buy with them so I'm not particularly enthused about that either.

Not even my beloved guild of nearly eight years has been motivating me to log in lately, for a variety of reasons. No big drama, just the sort of thing that makes you think: "I'd rather not deal with that right now if I don't have to".

I'm still logging in and doing things on a smaller scale though. For example I'm still selling off small amounts of old crafting mats from my legacy cargo hold day after day to increase my credit count, though I'm not sure for what purpose exactly as I already have more money than I know what to do with. This week the Pirate Incursion event also made another unexpectedly quick return, which means that I'm working on more pacifist adventures, yay!

However, that level of engagement isn't really enough to inspire a blog post every three to five days right now, which used to be my target. I'll have to decide on a new routine that works a bit better for where I am right now - maybe posting once a week? (I'm not one of those people for whom it works well to just write whenever they feel like it.) We'll see.

Anyway, none of this is indicative of any problems with the game from my point of view. Even though I discovered that I wasn't born to be a PTS tester, I do try to keep an eye on the dev tracker, where Eric and Dan keep posting really insightful updates about what's happening on there and respond to people's feedback. I also finally went back and read some of the more recent news articles posted on the official website, such as about the making of Onderon and Mek-Sha or "Behind The Scenes Of World Design", which were all really interesting and made me all the more interested in the expansion.

How about you all tell me what's been keeping you engaged and interested as of late?


Pacifism Continued

Last week was Pirate Incursion week again, which meant that it was time for Pacis, my pacifist Jedi, to venture out into the world again, since Dantooine was too hostile for her and the event's quick travel option made it possible for her to go places without losing the option to return home.

I hadn't been particularly diligent doing the two daily quests on Dantooine during peace time... but I had done them often enough to get her up to level 19. Nothing much of interest happened during those routine circuits, except for that one time when so many of the Kath Hounds I tried to cure got mad at me that I didn't even manage to complete the "pet five friendly Kath Hounds" bonus. Talk about some bad luck!

Anyway, with the event on, I decided that her first order of business should be to return to Tython. While I had already fully explored it, Pacis had only been level five when she left, so I wanted to check back to see if I'd be able to do some more quests that didn't require her to fight anything.

I started off by having another poke at my class story and daring to go into the cave to confront Nalen Raloch. I couldn't remember what exactly happened in there, though I had a feeling there would be hostile mobs - but hey, I had stealth now! Indeed, Nalen summoned some flesh raiders who tried to kill me. Sadly they saw right through my stealth, but I just ran past them and out of the phase without coming to any harm. Hurray for cowardice!

I did eventually run into a dead end when I got to the part where you're supposed to defeat some training droids to earn the right to the first hilt. I'll admit: I did hesitate there, wondering if it really counted as an act of aggression to attack a training droid, but in the end I decided that this was a slippery slope and that Pacis should remain a strict non-combatant.

In terms of side missions, I dealt with the two padawans in a secret romance - it will never cease to amaze me how Bioware managed to take a situation where I think most players would naturally gravitate towards wanting to violate the Jedi code to side with the lovers and fill it with nothing but awkward and bone-headed dialogue, to the point where you really just want to turn the two of them in to be rid of them. I persisted and let them go though.

I also helped out the Jedi who wanted to analyse the memory cores of droids from the ruins - I felt a certain pride in that one since the quest said to destroy droids and scan them, but I realised that in actuality just the scanning was enough to update the quest progress. So I just waited near the entrance of the ruins and whenever another player came by and wiped out the guardians by the door on their way through, I had another couple of bodies to scan without having to lift a finger myself.

Another interesting experience was the quest to destroy the vats of flesh raider elixir - another perfectly peaceful mission I figured, until I stood in front of one and got an error message telling me that I was unable to destroy it since I didn't have a weapon equipped. D'oh! So much for vendoring my training blade because I wasn't going to need it...

I didn't want to spend money on a proper new weapon, so I just made a quick trip to my stronghold and got HK's vibroblade out of the bank - not a Shadow's preferred weapon, but using it to fight wasn't the point anyway. It just allowed me to complete the mission.

I would also have liked to help Flingeld lift his rock and to help find the missing Twi'lek boy, but neither of those quests showed up as available to me so I can only guess that they are tied to progression of the class story.

Once I'd run out of things to do on Tython (as far as I could tell) I used the shuttle to go to the fleet (which also answered my question from last time: the ability to use it is tied to level, not story progression). There I did the introductory missions for housing and crew skills. I also picked up bioanalysis, scavenging and slicing. Crafting or running missions didn't seem like a good idea for a character who'll only ever have very limited income.

Continuing to Coruscant, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of side missions I was able to complete there too: repairing network access nodes, retrieving stolen microchips and telling Nik Deleru to shove it. I'm so used to doing all the bonuses to kill x mobs that it actually took me by surprise how many main mission objectives haven't actually required any killing so far.

My only disappointment was that like on Tython, additional missions that I knew to not involve any combat were unavailable to me, presumably due to my lack of class mission progress, such as the one to intercept a parcel, to help out the security officer outside the Dealer's Den cantina, or the Gree quest chain.

As I didn't have that much time to play last week, I didn't progress any further than that before returning to Dantooine. However, the whole adventure did manage to gain Pacis another two levels and makes me feel optimistic about her next excursion: There seem to be a lot more non-combat missions than I remembered.


PTS Malaise

I'm in a bit of a holding pattern with SWTOR right now. For a number of reasons I don't feel like playing too much at the moment (though my enthusiasm for 6.0 remains undiminished) and when I do play on live I keep thinking that I should probably be on the PTS to help with testing instead.

Rationally, I know that this is silly considering that this is a game - something that's supposed to be fun - and that nobody's paying me to be a beta tester for the expansion, but part of me feels like I should be helping more and giving feedback, because I really want Onslaught to be a success after how long we've had to wait for it. I just... honestly don't find testing very fun.

For example the current testing of the new loot drop system on the PTS is limited to Hammer Station and Karagga's Palace... and while I fully understand that they need to keep it tight and focused, I also find the thought of running both of those instances on repeat boring as all hell. I participated in one run of each this week (plus I got lucky enough to get in on an additional kill of just Karagga himself) but I already feel so done with the whole thing. I expect to go back for the additional two runs to get the phase two achievement and title reward, but it does feel like the mother of all MMO chores, something I'm usually very keen to avoid.

Me tanking Karagga on the PTS. You can tell because my legacy name is "O'Testington" and I'm in a guild called "TSS PTS".

I also feel like I don't actually have very much to say on the loot changes so far, mostly because I copied some of my level 70 characters over and didn't insta-ding them to 75, so they got very few rewards and nothing they could actually equip. I did give that as feedback of its own (Why should useful rewards be limited to max-level characters?) but I also know that this is not what Bioware or most of the testers are looking for.

From what I've picked up from others, the main thing being worked on so far has been the amount of loot dropped, which was initially considered too little, until the devs decided to turn up the faucet to eleven. After that, my max-level guildies in the above-mentioned KP run kept complaining that their inventories were overflowing from all the personal loot, which is an odd problem to have. I'm sure Bioware will figure out a balance that's good enough for me.

Oddly, the thing that annoyed me more than anything else is something different related to gear drops. First off, they changed the design of the tooltips that give detailed item information, and I really dislike it for reasons I can't quite articulate. Mostly I think that thick coloured border at the top looks really ugly.

Somewhat more importantly though, I strongly dislike the way they've decided to go about the way loot adjusts to your worn gear level. Apparently everything appears to drop as an empty shell, which then miraculously auto-populates itself with level-appropriate modifications when you pick it up. I can only base this on second-hand information, because the gear drops I picked up myself didn't do so: They remained empty shells, presumably because my characters weren't high enough level. I'm curious whether they'll suddenly fill up when I ding or whether I've basically bugged them out.

The thing is, even if it does work, I hate the idea of receiving loot that looks like it's nothing but an empty shell. It's unintuitive beyond belief and I felt confused even after my more PTS-savvy guildies explained to me how it's supposed to work. I'm fine with the stats magically adjusting to what I'm wearing I guess, but let that happen in the background when the item first drops, not after I've picked it up. If it's shared loot that needs to be rolled for by the whole party, just let it have fixed stats.

I don't want every loot drop to feel inherently disappointing because it comes with no stats and only has the potential to maybe be better later. It reminds me of Queenie's "rolling for another roll for loot" and I didn't like that either. It's just too much blatant dice-rolling out in the open, which makes me hope that this is also still a work in progress.

I'm sure Bioware will work out something serviceable in time for the expansion launch; I actually do have that faith. And I am extremely grateful to all the people who've been spending lots of time playing on the PTS and giving highly detailed feedback on their findings. Unfortunately I personally find it too tiring to spend much time even thinking about it.