Early Onslaught Impressions (No Spoilers)

Whew, the first couple of days of the new expansion have been a bit of a whirlwind! So far I've played through the story once on Republic side (on my Commando) and once on Imperial side (on my Marauder), did the new Republic dailies once, killed the first few bosses of the new operation on story mode, and spent a couple of hours sifting through several hundred screenshots that I took during my story playthroughs.

To quickly sum up my first impressions of the story in a spoiler-free manner: It didn't grab me quite as much as Jedi Under Siege did, but I freaking loved Ossus, so that was an incredibly high bar to clear. That said, if you asked me to rate Onslaught in comparison to all the previous story expansions so far, I'd say it's the best one we've had to date.

I honestly felt a little lukewarm about the start on Onderon - the planet is smaller than I had hoped (definitely no Yavin or Ossus) and the story beats didn't quite resonate with me - but by Mek-Sha I was warming up to it. The hollowed-out asteroid was kind of the opposite of Onderon in terms of my expectations, as I thought it was going to be small and I've traditionally not been super fond of what you could call underworld environments. But then it ended up feeling much bigger than I anticipated (I can't tell you how it compares in terms of actual square mileage, but all the traversing between platforms and in three dimensions certainly made it feel bigger) and the story developments made me go: "Yeah! That's what I'm here for!"

The thing with having played a game like this for several years is that you can't quite appreciate some things the way a new player can, as you just can't feel the same sense of awe and wonder at the sight of new things (as everything new is usually at least similar to something you've seen before). However, being a veteran of many years does give you an eye for certain details and nuances that the uninitiated won't notice and that you can only recognise with years of experience.

With that said, I could tell that a lot of love has gone into the Onslaught story. (If anyone from Bioware is reading this: thanks, guys and gals!) There are so many little moments that make you smile, chuckle, or just go "o-ho!" as they reference past events, and the cast of characters - both new and returning - is huge.

I've always felt that SWTOR's two biggest strengths in terms of story are the personalised class story that makes the player feel invested in the game, and the huge cast of supporting characters - all with their own backgrounds, interests and influences - that can push the story into fascinating new directions at any moment. That is also what made KotFE and KotET fall flat for so many people: that our characters seemingly forgot about everything that had come before, including loved ones and spouses, and that we were supposed to care about nothing but Valkorion's family and the Eternal Empire now, just us vs. them. (Now that I think about it, the Alliance vs. Zakuul story was actually a more simplistic black and white version of the galaxy than Republic vs. Empire has ever been in SWTOR.)

Onslaught is chock-full of callbacks to our characters' pasts (where appropriate) and the amount of old non-player characters that have been pulled back into service (again, absolutely appropriately) is staggering. As a long-time player, that just feels so good. As a non-spoilery example, at one point my Marauder was asked to see the Dark Council and quipped in response (I'm paraphrasing from memory): "Are you sure they really want to see me? Last time I did that, I ended up killing one of them." That's no line for an Outlander or generic Commander, that's pure Sith warrior right there.

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about how MMOs are actually kind of similar to long-running book series: the audiences for both love to immerse themselves in a huge world that seems to go on forever, happily memorising countless numbers of different events, protagonists and their motivations. The Onslaught story fully caters to that invested long-term audience that will welcome every reference and in-joke enthusiastically. I don't think that necessarily makes it unenjoyable for more casual players, but let's just say that if you only play a single character for example you'll be missing a lot of Onslaught's more subtle context.

Anyway, my "quick" story summary turned into seven paragraphs - what else is there to say so far? Unfortunately in terms of questing as a group, Onslaught has been a bit of a step back from Ossus again, and I'm not sure why. On Ossus they had this weird system going that allowed you to go into the same phase, have the conversation parts be personal to you and then do any fighting as a team while progressing the story simultaneously. This time we're back to regular old personal phases everywhere, and for me and Mr Commando they even bugged out a couple of times, with one of us finding themselves forced into spectator mode in the other one's phase and being unable to create their own phase without first leaving the group. At this point I feel a bit like I'm the last person left on earth who cares about levelling and questing in SWTOR as a group, but I'll just keep banging that drum anyway.

In general there are a fair number of bugs again. No show-stoppers so far - as far as I'm aware - but what I'd call the usual array of minor annoyances, such as crafting nodes spawning in the ground, creatures and droids whose bodies should be salvageable not being flagged as such, the Mek-Sha world boss giving neither achievement credit nor any loot, and one of the daily quests on Republic side that requires you to pick up items from the ground being almost impossible to complete. There's a definitive pattern to these bugs, and from the way Bioware designs their weeklies and such it's almost as if they expect at least one quest to be broken at this point (since they never ask you to complete absolutely everything to get the main reward). I do wish it didn't have to be like that, but I also understand that bug fixes for anything that isn't a major feature get treated as low priority from a business point of view all too easily.

My dislike for the new item tooltips and item modification UI from the PTS has made it to live too. I also noticed that you don't need to hit "apply" when swapping mods around anymore as it commits them automatically! I'll have to be extra careful now, because I'm totally the kind of person who used to accidentally overwrite better mods with worse ones until I noticed just in time to avoid hitting apply...

I'm also hopelessly confused by the new colour codings for armour. Maybe one of my readers can enlighten me? Basically "orange" as a colour for moddable items seems to be gone, so now items of any colour can exist in moddable and unmoddable versions. I'm totally lost what decides the colour of the shell though, as my old oranges have sometimes turned blue and sometimes gold. Why? Who knows! Makes it much harder to not accidentally vendor stuff you want to keep in my opinion, as you now have to double-check even every bloody green...

The one thing I really like is the new legacy-wide materials tab, which freed up something like three of my legacy cargo bays (though I'm sure I'll find something else to fill them up with soon enough). Again, there are just some minor issues with it that I wish they'd fix, such as it not remembering whether you closed any of the sub-categories and simply defaulting to having all of them fully expanded whenever it refreshes.

I also really dislike not getting any feedback when I gather now: The way it used to be (and still is when you gather a slicing node for example) is that you'd get a small notification on screen and in your event log of what you just picked up. Stuff going straight into the materials tab doesn't make a peep though, so I had no idea what I was harvesting on Onderon all day until I sat down at the end of the evening and checked which of the biochem mats in my materials storage I only had in small numbers (and which were therefore bound to be the new ones).

Finally, let me finish with a couple of random, non-spoilery screenshots:

I suffered my first death of the expansion from sheer stupidity: coming to the edge of a waterfall on Onderon I went "whee" and leapt right off the edge... to my death of course. (The screenshot shows Mr Commando reviving me after the fact.) That's what I get for having got excited about diving underwater in WoW Classic in the past month - letting my subconscious forget that in SWTOR every body of water is but a knee-deep puddle.

One previously unannounced feature of Onslaught: exciting new ladder-climbing gameplay! Unfortunately the reception hasn't been too great so far: mostly I see confused Republic players complain about being unable to reach that one spot in their story mission where they're supposed to climb a ladder because they don't seem to realise that this is what they're supposed to be doing. On Imp side I found a ladder to climb a roof in the open world but I tried to use it three times and every time my character got to the top and the getting-off-the-ladder animation played, she fell straight down to the ground. Baby steps...

One of the more amusing bugs to me was that in my Marauder's version of the story, Theron Shan is dead, but this didn't prevent him from making an appearance as an invisible ghost to talk about... partying?


  1. I knew I needed to click on the ladder, but it didn't work for me until I got to a specific spot and had my camera pointed at the foot of the ladder. I had originally tried to click the middle of the ladder, but no go.

    Yeah the coloring of the shells is odd, but I'm not going to try to puzzle it out for now. I do like the little indicators letting you know if the slots have something in them. I'm not sure how useful that will be, but it is a nice touch.

    I can see the problems with just dropping the mods in, but as someone that would forget to hit apply, now and then, when adding a new mod this might be a good thing for me.

  2. Sounds like I'll be subbing at some point to play through this story :-) Probably just after I've seen the new movie as I'll be in a Star Wars mood for sure then. Very sad to read about the personal story nonsense. The game is the best small group MMORPG until SoR it seems. We're now playing that and the personal story has arrived. How can it be so hard for devs to just let people play with their friends?

    1. As I wrote that sentence about being the last person on earth to care about questing in a group, I did actually think of you, Telwyn. You and me make two then, yay! :P

  3. Sounds good overall, I'd hate that gear-colour-change with a passion though.

    I wasn't aware that there even was a new operation. Hope you're going to write something about what you've seen there so far too. :-)

    1. At the moment the changed gear colours drive me batty, but I'm hoping that there's some kind of logic to it and that I'll feel better once I actually understand what's going on.

      And oh boy, will I ever have things to say about the new operation! I'll probably want to have at least a full story mode clear under my belt though before I make a whole post about it.

  4. So I've now worked out why some stuff is blue even when empty; this is largely all the stuff that used to be orange now that that colour is reserved only for CM stuff. Aggravatingly, stuff that used to be purple by default also seems to have been turned blue. Yay?

    Curiously, there's one non-set-bonus item I've found which this border-colour-change-by-default doesn't apply to, which is the Assassin's Touch bowcaster; this still retains its gold border regardless of whether or not there's a barrel in there. Presumably this is because it's still coded as a legendary item even though that technically doesn't 'matter' in the same way for pre-6.0 stuff...?

    I wonder if the other Chevin weapons count in this regard?

    Regardless, it is definitely a bit confusing. I do wish they made it so that the border corresponded to the average gear-rating rather than just what the armouring / hilt / barrel is, since at least that would be slightly more indicative of what quality it was...

    1. I was using the White Scalene armor set. The pieces where I had all legendary mods/armoring/enhancements are yellow bordered. The one piece that had all blue items is blue bordered.

      The oddball piece is the one that I replaced legendary items with 270 green items. Its border stayed yellow. I wonder if the color border is supposed to let you know the current quality, but it looks to be stuck on the highest quality ever. I suspect this is bugged and that I've wrong about it at the same time. ^_^


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