Dancing the Conquest Dance

I'm not nearly as invested in Conquest as I was about a year ago, but as mentioned earlier this month it's still a major driving force in the way I play. I guess I like the feeling of being rewarded for being organised - some people get their kicks out of killing people in PvP; I get excited when by handing in the PvP daily mission on Coruscant instead of the fleet I also complete the Conquest objective for Coruscant missions and juuust manage to push a character over the finish line for her weekly personal target that way.

That said, ever since the addition of those silly new objectives earlier in the year, I have to confess that some of my habits have become slightly bizarre. For example there are those objectives that give three or four times the number of points you need to hit your personal target. Those always feel so weird and wasteful to me, because it's not as if you get anything for the excess... but I always figure the numbers probably make more sense for players who don't also have the maxed-out stronghold bonus.

Still, the point remains that completing that one objective and doing literally nothing else is already enough to hit your Conquest target, making it feel like a bit of a waste to get it on a character that is already partially done anyway. So if I notice that I'm approaching completion of such an objective, I may find myself frantically relogging to a lesser-played alt just to have them do the one thing to get credit, achieve their personal target and log off again.

What's particularly funny is that because gaining points is so easy nowadays, there can be unexpected pitfalls even in that simple act. For example the other day I noticed that I was on four out of five for "gain five levels", which promised an instant 35k points towards the personal target of 50k. So I logged a lowbie with the intent to just quickly level her up once, but the things I did to gain XP pretty much got her to her personal target before she even had a chance to level up, which made me switch characters yet again to find a new "victim".

However, the oddest/most awkward things are undoubtedly the objectives to complete five crew skill missions and the one to gain an influence level with a companion - the latter more so than the former, since it gives 16k+ points, while the former only causes a small bump. As I wrote earlier in the year, ever since Onslaught introduced the materials inventory, I run crew skill missions a lot of the time purely to raise my companions' influence level, and I habitually queue up a full set before logging off. However, this now also means that I have to be careful which character I log first on any given day, as they could end up completing one or both objectives the moment I log in (if I sent companions on crew skill missions the last time I played them) - and of course I want those Conquest points to go to a character that will actually benefit from them too.

So I not only have to keep track of my different alts' progress towards their personal Conquest targets (the guild list is helpful for that, but not so much when it comes to making decisions before even logging in), but also which alts have missions running and companions close to gaining a level. I'd really need a spreadsheet to track the latter accurately, but while I love me a good spreadsheet I ultimately don't care that much about optimising this particular habit to the nth degree... just enough to be slightly bothered when I mess it up (and to write about it here obviously).

I wonder if that's just me...


Final Thoughts on Clone Wars

As mentioned in my last post, I finished the last season of Clone Wars recently and just wanted to jot down some final thoughts on seasons six and seven, as well as on the show as a whole.

I think one thing seasons one to five have in common is that even though they have their serious moments, they still stand somewhat apart from the two prequel movies they are set between, in the sense that it's not clear when exactly they take place and you're kind of supposed to enjoy the moment and not think too hard about how it'll all go to pot in Revenge of the Sith later.

This changes in season six, as it starts off with an arc to address a major elephant in the room in regards to RotS: Throughout the show, the clones are portrayed as both very human and as extraordinarily loyal soldiers - how could they execute Order 66 like they did, murdering people they didn't just trust and respect but also cared for on a personal level sometimes? In what is quite a heartbreaking arc, clone trooper Fives discovers that he and his brethren all have special chips of questionable purpose implanted in their brains, and he slowly unravels while trying to get to the bottom of what's going on.

There's also an arc that shows the first serious cracks appearing in Anakin and Padmé's relationship - seriously, he was such an asshole to her in some scenes, I think I yelled out loud at my screen at one point. There is still some light-heartedness in the form of a Jar-Jar two-parter, but less so than in previous seasons. Finally, season six closes with several episodes of Yoda getting in touch with Qui-Gon's ghost and learning more about the Force, which - apart from one rather touching scene that has Yoda dreaming of a perfect world where all his friends are still alive and Dooku never betrayed them - I did not care for at all. Reminiscent of the Midichlorians being introduced to explain the Force, some weird aliens that look like mimes teach Yoda how to transcend death... it was just a classic case of: "I really didn't need this explained to me and I feel worse for you having even tried, so I'll suppress any memory of this whole thing as soon as humanly possible." I wonder how the fans felt in 2014 when it seemed like this was how Clone Wars was going to go out.

With season seven, you could tell right away that it was made with a bigger budget and aimed more towards the many now grown-up fans, as there's a noticeable improvement in the graphical effects, especially when it comes to lighting and such. Oddly, the writing doesn't immediately feel much different - there are no more complete joke episodes, but the first arc for example mostly focuses on a squad of special troopers (who incidentally somewhat reminded me of SWTOR's original Havoc Squad) blowing stuff up in cool ways, which was... fine, but not really outstanding. (Those same troopers are slated to get their own spin-off series next year as well.)

Then the focus shifts to Ahsoka, and we see her trying to get by as totally-not-a-Jedi, but of course she immediately meets two sisters engaged in questionable business and has to help them out. From what I gather this arc wasn't popular with the fans, and I can kind of see why, but at the same time it wasn't really that bad, just kind of unnecessarily stretched out. I remember there's this one sequence where they are captured by bad guys, escape, get captured again, escape again, get captured again... even I couldn't help thinking: Was that really necessary? It probably would have been more effective condensed into fewer episodes.

Anyway, all this segues into the big four-episode finale, which is... quite something. It's edited more like it's meant to be seen as a full film, and mostly follows Ahsoka's path during the events immediately leading up to Order 66. There is definitely some great stuff there, to name just a few of my favourite moments:

  • Ahsoka being tempted by Maul felt like a better version of the Rey vs. Kylo confrontation in The Last Jedi. As a viewer who knows what's to come, there's a real tragedy in watching Ahsoka reject Maul's offer because she (wrongly!) has faith in Anakin, with the silent implication being that the two of them might have been able to stop Sidious if she hadn't been so tragically wrong about Anakin.

  • The music/sound design was pretty amazing, especially after Maul's capture and at the very end, where there are long periods without any dialogue. During the former section, I remember thinking: "Why is this music so oppressive; they just won a minor victory" and then Rex gets the call from Palpatine and it's like... oh no.
  • I thought it was well done how Rex had literally just had a conversation with Ahsoka about how much he values her and how this provided some explanation as for why he was able to hesitate long enough to buy her time to escape.

If I were to criticise anything at all it would be that they sure made brain surgery into something even more trivial than it had been before, and that I personally think it would have been more impactful if Anakin and Ahsoka hadn't seen each other again before his turning dark - as it was, it felt a bit odd that he would go into the events of Revenge of the Sith actually seemingly cheered up by having just reunited with his former padawan.

Anyway, all in all it was really well done and I can see why people who grew up with this show loved it to pieces. It takes the better parts of the prequels, expanding on the world and giving everything more depth. So if you think Star Wars is nothing but a bunch of movies of mixed quality, you're really missing out. You just gotta find the good stuff and focus on that. Personally I'll be working my way through Rebels next!


This Blog Also Turns Nine

As is traditional, this blog celebrates its own birthday two days after SWTOR's, and I always like to use this opportunity to look back on what I've written over the course of the past year.

It's not been the best year ever for the blog as my output has been the lowest it's ever been, falling under 100 posts a year for the first time. (Technically there are a few days left in the year but I'm not going to write six more posts in that time frame.) I can't even blame real life or work for that, because not only have I been lucky enough to retain my job during the pandemic, I got to work from home for most of the year, which eliminated my commute and resulted in about twelve hours per week of extra time to do fun things of my choosing. As it happened I just ended up branching out in terms of my MMO play and spending more time in WoW Classic, which then also resulted in some of my creative energy going towards writing about that instead. (Consider this a plug for my other blog by the way if you're interested in that game at all. It's kind of funny to me now how my WoW blog used to be the most-visited of my sites while this one got almost no traffic and now it's the other way round.)

Anyway, I still haven't exactly been idle here either. In January, my latest round of levelling solely through flashpoints to assess the viability of that play style was still going strong and I was sharing all about my pug experiences. Mostly I was going on about how much I hated getting Hammer Station half the time, until I actively started excluding it from my selection before queueing. I also reviewed how I felt about the Onslaught expansion three months in, and celebrated my guild getting the last boss of the new Nature of Progress operation down on veteran mode. (At the time that was the hardest difficulty.)

In February I celebrated my guild hitting guild level 200 (we're into the 300s by now but I've stopped paying attention to it). My pacifist leveller explored Taris, and I wrote about how I got into the habit of using crew skills to level my companion influence. (On my main I'm up to nine companions at level 50 now thanks to this!) My flashpoint levelling also continued, and I wrote about how the removal of the Veteran's Edge buff from master mode operations unexpectedly messed with guild progression. Ten months later and Bioware hasn't really made any significant changes to this, sadly. It's been a tough year for maintaining motivation to progress for an ops group that finds master modes with capped stats to be a struggle.

March saw my flashpoint levelling experiment come to an end, and as COVID panic became more widespread, I wondered about the effect this would have on MMOs. (In terms of finances, all indications seem to be that it's been a win for the gaming industry. The whole "do we really want to deal with deadly pandemics in our entertainment too" angle surprisingly turned out to be a complete non-issue.) As I found myself holed up at home for a (then) unprecedented amount of time, I expressed love for my guildies and how their companionship was keeping me sane.

This continued in April as I talked about some of my favourite guild videos and reported on our first ever virtual guild meet-up. I used a (free) character boost for the first time and was surprisingly pleased with the result. (That said, I haven't played that character very much since then!) I also wrote a bit of a rant about how some of my guildies were driving me crazy when I was tanking flashpoints for them (clearly the novelty of spending time with them every day was starting to wear off, haha), which resonated with a surprising number of people.

In May I told the story of how I came to be Benevolent Empress (aka guild leader) of our Imperial alt guild and celebrated completing a hard-to-get gear set. I revisited what is for me an evergreen topic on this blog: how levelling is just way too fast these days and can you please give us at least the option to slow down (Bioware says no). I also liked this post in which I compared the experience of getting a first kill on the same boss (but re-scaled) six years apart.

My pacifist's explorations continued in June and I got to celebrate with Swtorista as she hit 100k subscribers on YouTube! (Last year I predicted that this would happen in March... I guess being three months off isn't too bad. 150k subs in 2021?) I was ecstatic to get the achievement for defeating all the Dark vs. Light world bosses, and celebrated my birthday with a guild event that involved making use of those control modules that drop in the Gods from the Machine operation that nobody ever uses. Oh yeah, and Bioware added a new "welcome window" that everybody instantly hated. I think we've got used to it since then, and I'm not going to lie, it's drawn my attention to a Cartel market deal I liked once or twice. Still, I also find that it keeps re-opening itself after being minimised and at this point I kind of treat it like one of those pop-ups you get on some sites that you just automatically close without even looking at them...

In July I made some very thoughtful posts that sparked good discussion in the comments as well, such as on the role of sexist NPCs in SWTOR and about how I struggle to make dark side decisions for the sake of seeing different story outcomes. Continuing the theme of deep thoughts, I wrote about experiencing confusion and discomfort with my pacifist character on Alderaan as some quests she picked up there didn't technically violate the rules of the challenge I had set myself but didn't seem to be in the spirit of being a pacifist. Also, SWTOR launched on Steam and I did switch to that version of the game soon after just for the sake of being able to show off how many hours a week I play... or something?

August was when my activity started to drop a bit, at the time at least partially because I didn't have the greatest of times with the Nightlife event. I picked up watching Clone Wars again (I've finished the last season now by the way... writing a final post about that is on my to-do list) and wrote about my experiences with trying to convert jawa junk into credits. Four months later that is still an ongoing project by the way! While I've managed to greatly reduce the number of junk stacks in my legacy cargo hold, I just keep earning new junk too quickly for the pace at which I'm selling goods and considering that I'm trying to not flood the market with my wares...

In September I mused about how my main was spending a lot of her time on the guild flagship these days and talked candidly about how my guild failed to kill two difficult bosses. We did get at least one of them down a bit later though.

October was the quietest month on the blog, and I only updated about my progress watching Clone Wars, my experiences with healing 16-man Revan on veteran mode, and the launch of the new Feast of Prosperity event.

I continued writing about my experiences with the event in November, and compared the inquisitor companion Ashara Zavros to Ahsoka from Clone Wars. I also had a bit of a freak-out when Bioware announced that SWTOR was going to introduce login rewards, which are something (maybe somewhat unintuitively) I'm not a fan of at all. Two weeks in, the new system doesn't seem too bad, though I'm not a fan of getting all these legacy-bound companion gifts that don't stack with my regular two cargo bays full of companion gifts. I have yet to decide how to handle that going forward...

I started December by musing about how the Conquest meta on Darth Malgus was in a very strange place, and then got all excited when we finally got our first big story update since Onslaught's launch. I also reviewed my predictions from earlier in the year and somewhat less than half of my expectations were met. Let's see what 2021 brings!


Nine Years of SWTOR

Happy Birthday to SWTOR, which is turning nine years old today! You can tell that our relationship is getting on a bit as I actually got my dates mixed up and nearly would have posted this tomorrow (aka the wrong day) if people hadn't started talking about the anniversary on the forums... oops?

Here's my annual update on my Commando's looks over time:

You may notice the return of a familiar outfit from year two. The reason for this is that the last new look I sported was the Apex Predator set, which I did wear for a couple of months, but then one of my co-healers got it too and showed up to ops looking nearly identical to me one day, which I found horrifying. Keen to avoid such a fashion faux-pas reoccurring, I decided to re-use an old look that he was unlikely to be able to duplicate as it includes a lot of old gear pieces that are no longer available in that exact form, and that's where I am right now.

So how's 2020 been for SWTOR? Well... we don't know how it's been doing financially, but it's probably safe to assume that the rising tide of COVID causing people to stay at home and spend more time playing video games probably lifted Bioware's boats as well, but in terms of content releases the pandemic threw a spanner in the works and resulted in things being released somewhat more slowly than intended. I know I've banged the "the content is great but we need more of it" drum several times in the past, but considering the circumstances, I'll definitely give them a pass this year.

Anyway, we did still get a good chunk of stuff in 2020, including two major story updates (yes, I think it's fair to consider them two separate stories even though they ultimately came out as part of the same patch) plus one minor one (I don't really want to count the first chat with Jekiah Ordo since it's literally just a couple of lines). We got a new stronghold on Alderaan, which I now realise I never really wrote about - I just bought it and then did nothing with it, as is my wont with strongholds - sorry, housing enthusiasts! And we got not just one, but two new events, plus the usual number of tweaks to things like Conquest and PvP.

More generally I just want to say thank you to the Bioware devs this year... it's been an exceptionally crappy year for many, in which I've been one of the lucky ones, but even so all this staying at home business has been weird. I think it's safe to say that the virtual worlds I visited during this time have contributed more than their fair share to keeping me sane, so I'd like to once again thank the SWTOR team at Bioware for being so passionate about the game and always trying to make it the best it can be. There've been times when I've felt a bit down on the direction things were going, but the last couple of years I've honestly been a very content customer. Please keep up the good work and I'm looking forward to seeing what you've cooked up for SWTOR hitting the big ten next year.

For reference, here are previous years' birthday posts:

Happy Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy 2nd Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy Third Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy 4th Birthday, SWTOR!
Five Years of SWTOR
Six Years of SWTOR
Seven Years of SWTOR
Eight Years of SWTOR


My 2020 Predictions Reviewed

Wilhelm reviewing his video game predictions for 2020 reminded me that I actually joined in the crystal ball fun last time and made a short post with SWTOR predictions for 2020 early in January this year. While the year isn't technically over yet, all my predictions centred around content additions for SWTOR and I don't expect Bioware to give us another surprise content patch in the next 12 days, so I think it's safe to rate my predictive capabilities somewhat ahead of time.

I made five predictions for the year ahead back then; let's see how they turned out:

1. The Emperor's Last Gruesome Weapon won't actually turn out to be that big of a deal, for all the time Scourge and Kira spent expositioning about it. I expect we'll get to see this story arc relatively late in the year, October at the earliest. It will be smaller than Ossus was, with no exciting new environments and largely the same storyline for both Republic and Empire players. Depending on some previous story choices, you'll get the option to kill Master Satele. Either way you stop the weird mind plague before it can actually bring the Emperor back or anything like that, and we can finally move on from this subject.

I'm not quite sure how to rate this prediction. A lot of it ended up being spot on, from the late release to the small environmental scope and it largely being the same for Republic and Empire. And while you don't actually get to kill Satele, you do get an option to try under certain circumstances. Still, me saying that it would all be not that big of a deal seems very wrong considering Echoes of Oblivion's story scope.

2. Darth Malgus will get in touch with Imperial players somehow and give you the option to ally with him like many of us always kind of wanted to on Ilum. The idea will be that you help him overthrow Acina/Vowrawn so that he can position himself as the new Emperor, not false this time! This might not actually happen yet in 2020 but there should at least be a smaller story snippet setting things up and having you meet with Malgus. I'm not sure what Republic players could get that's equally as interesting, mind you...

Nope, no Darth Malgus story progress at all this year except for that brief scene at the end of The Task at Hand. I still kind of hope that this prediction will end up coming true one day though (as nothing's happened to rule it out either).

3. GSF will get a nice amount of love mid-year, with more than just some balance changes and a new map. There might even be a new game mode and/or new ships in the cards!

Hahaha, no. Among all the updates and changes made this year, I don't think GSF got a single thing. Sorry starfighters; I was rooting for you!

4. PvP will also get a new warzone at some point, though it might "just" be a new map for an existing game mode. More importantly though, someone at Bioware will finally figure out what's up with the weird desync in Huttball and fix it, or at least make it better... Yeah okay, I don't really think that one's going to happen, but I really, really want it to!

Oh boy, where to even begin with this one? Not only did we not get a new warzone (map) this year, we now have two fewer than we started with! I was right that Bioware expressed a serious interest in fixing the performance and desync issues in warzones, but unfortunately part of this initiative included taking Quesh and Vandin out of the Huttball rotation for the "short term". This was back in July. Having had bad experiences with other MMO developers removing content from the game to "fix" it, I expressed concern back then that the whole thing might just end up being forgotten, and considering that it's December and we haven't heard a peep about those two maps making a comeback I fear that I may have been right about that.

5. We still won't get Zenith back in 2020. It's mind-blowing to me now that we thought his return was imminent back in 2016 and yet here we are nearly four years later and he's the very last of the original companions that's still unaccounted for. I really wish we could get him back already, not least because he's my favourite of the original consular companions... however, looking at how Bioware has handled companion returns in the last year and a half, I've really enjoyed the way they've worked them into the main story again, compared to the rather disappointing Alliance alerts from two years ago. So I'm happy to wait if that means he'll get a nicely integrated return later on, preferably something involving Balmorra, considering his strong attachment to his home world. I just can't see that fitting into what's coming up in the short term.

This one may have been an easy one to predict, but it still came true. Though now that the next story arc is dealing with Mandalorians (and considering that I can't really see Zenith having taken up the bounty hunting life) I still can't see a good place for his return in the near future. So not sure I'd hold my breath for his return in 2021 either...

But that's getting into 2021 territory, and I don't know yet whether I'll bother trying to make any predictions for next year. If I do, it'll probably be in about two weeks or so.

Did you have any predictions for 2020 that came true or turned out to be complete opposite?


6.2 Story Time - Spirit of Vengeance

As mentioned in my last post, Echoes of Oblivion segues straight into the beginning of a new story arc, starting with a mission called Spirit of Vengeance. Once again, this post will contain full spoilers, so consider yourself warned.

In the last patch, Shae Vizla made a point of briefly introducing you to her advisor Jekiah Ordo, and we soon see her talking to him again about what sounds like internal unrest brewing among the Mandalorians. After you return from your showdown with the Emperor, it turns out that things have indeed come to a head and an as of yet unidentified rebel faction has attempted to seize Shae's flagship, the Spirit of Vengeance II. You agree to help her re-take it. What follows takes place in the new flashpoint of the same name, and I'll probably make a separate post about things like boss fights/mechanics there, so I'll mostly leave them out of this one and focus on what happens in the story.

You find the Spirit tethered to three smaller Mandalorian ships and it falls on you to board each ship in turn to detach the tethers from the inside. Your entire support consists of a Mandalorian called Rass Ordo, who's also Jekiah's younger brother.

On the first ship, the Champion's Glory, you find Mandalorians of Clan Varad of Mandalorian Raiders fame. The second ship, the Fortune's Folly, is crewed by Mandalorian outcasts (Dar'manda) such as you've met on Mek-sha. Besides the name there doesn't appear to be an obvious affiliation between this group and Indigo's crew on Mek-sha though, as they seem to be led by a rather smuggler-like Mando with the very punny name Bask Sunn. Finally the third ship, the Seeker's Vigil, belongs to the Ash'ad, a clan of Mandalorians who are apparently also the guys active on Onderon (I have to admit I'd missed that memo).

With the last restraint removed, you move on to the Spirit of Vengeance II itself, where Jekiah and his remaining loyalists find themselves desperately retreating to the bridge. You intervene and encounter the leader of the revolt, the self-styled Field Marshal Heta Kol. You fight but she gets away, though apparently her raiders captured a banner belonging to Clan Cadera and she seems quite content with that. Everyone's quite confused by this, considering that Torian's old clan has long been wiped out (he's there to comment on this if he's still alive in your version of the story by the way), though they acknowledge that it could be seen as a symbol of rebellion. Shae can't quite shake the feeling that Heta Kol must be driven by something more personal though.

As players, we're treated to a sort of epilogue cut scene that shows Heta "debriefing" her bickering lieutenants: Tyrus Brokenblade of the Varad, Bask Sunn of the Dar'manda (who was the only one of the first three bosses in the flashpoint that made it out alive due to begging to trade intel for his life), and Durn Wynnward of the Ash'ad. Clan Varad is blamed for failing to "contain the situation" when their ship was first boarded, and Heta Kol ends up throwing a thermal detonator at Tyrus. He catches it, but she then walks up to him and stabs him repeatedly in the side while going on about how they all need to be able to rely on each other more and as the rest of the room watches on anxiously to see whether Tyrus will drop the detonator or not. He seems to pass the "test" though and the Field Marshal deactivates the detonator before sending everyone away again, telling them that they should already be aware of their next mission. She takes off her helmet while looking up at the banner behind her and mutters "a Mandalorian never forgets" in Mando'a. (No, I didn't know that when I heard it; I had to look it up.)

I've stated in the past that I'm not the biggest fan of the Mandalorians, but this mission seemed like a good opening chapter to something new, as it featured interesting characters and lots of intrigue.

Rass Ordo, who gives off vibes of being meant to be a recurring NPC/companion later on, doesn't really do a lot other than simply help you along with the mission, but I agree with my friend Cal who said that it was nice to deal with a Mandalorian for once who just seemed like a "normal guy" - without speaking in tongues or wanting to start a fight every five seconds. Mostly he shows an ability to roll with the punches as he's not fazed by your character crashing a shuttle into the Champion's Glory, nor by you blowing up a console he's working on if you get impatient with him. He also clearly cares a lot about his older brother as he gets quite agitated when you get close to the cornered Jekiah. I look forward to seeing him again.

Heta Kol, the new big bad, is shrouded in a lot of intrigue. Who is she and why is she so mad at Shae? My favourite theory I've seen so far is that she could be the sister of the previous Mandalore (the Vindicated), whose regular name was "Artus Lok" - and Kol is Lok backwards, get it?! But I'm not too invested in any such theories either way, as I'm quite happy to accept the character on her own merits to be honest.

She makes it clear that at least one of the reasons she hates Shae is that she feels Mandalore the Avenger has taken the Mandalorians into a bad direction, working with the Alliance like mercenaries when they should be fighting for their own causes instead. With that in mind, it's confusing that she works with Dar'manda of all people, who are apparently only in it for the credits, which seems like a bad match on both sides. I'm hoping that this will be touched upon in a future update, whether through some sort of reveal or maybe Bask Sunn betraying her - I know Mandalorians like it rough, but the whole "threatening to blow up the room while repeatedly stabbing the guy preventing it" thing seemed a bit over the top to me even by their standards, so I'd like to know how her little faction has managed to hold it together so far (or watch them fail to hold it together - either would work).

Personally I also thought it was interesting that during the final showdown on the bridge, Shae opted to charge off and hold off the reinforcements instead of fighting Heta Kol herself. Now, obviously this kind of had to happen so we as players had a boss fight, but it seemed uncharacteristic for her to dodge the opportunity of a personal duel there and then. Is it because she still wanted to avoid making too big a deal out of the whole situation and in order to let you have the "honour" of potentially dispatching her enemy for her?

Lots of questions and not many answers, but that's fine for the beginning of a new storyline and I enjoyed it for what it was. Let's just hope there'll be an appropriate pay-off later.


6.2 Story Time - Echoes of Oblivion

6.2 brought us the first big story update since last year's Onslaught expansion - plus the first bit of new story that was supposed to come after that as well. In practice this plays out slightly strangely as you start by having a conversation with Shae about some Mandalorian stuff, then go off to adventure with Kira and Scourge, and then return to the Mandalorian arc properly. I can only guess that all of this was meant to be spaced out a lot more, so that the short chat with Shae could have landed with a smaller patch earlier in the year, before the global pandemic threw everything into disarray. But hey, we got new story at last, so let's talk about it!

At first I was planning to cover all of it in a single post, but I quickly realised that this would have become an absolutely massive wall of text, so I'll be splitting things out. Let's start with Echoes of Oblivion, the wrap-up of the issue Scourge and Kira told you about at the end of Onslaught. I'll avoid screenshots that might give away any surprises so as not to spoil anyone who's just casually scrolling by, but if you continue reading the actual meat of this post, consider this your warning that this will be a full spoiler post, so if you haven't played through the content yourself yet and don't want to know any details in advance, turn back now.

To recap where we left off: Kira and Scourge come to you, the Alliance Commander, to tell you that they've destroyed the old Emperor's original body, but that the process seems to have unleashed some sort of Sith mind plague, and that they've had to isolate a comatose Satele Shan and her students in a transport ship. Between the three of you you're in the unique situation of being confirmed as being able to resist the old Emperor's mind manipulations, so it's up to you to come to the rescue. However, when it comes to re-locating the auto-piloted transport ship, it's not where it should have been. You agree to send out droids to comb the wider area of where it might have gone astray.

Echoes of Oblivion starts with you getting a call from T7, who's finally found the transport but immediately comes under attack from a third party shuttle. He only just has time to communicate his coordinates before he's cut off. You and your two companions rush off to the hangar to get ready to come to his aid, when you run into... basically everyone you haven't killed who might have a reason to want to come along. Senya and Arcann want to be there to finish off whatever Valkorion's left behind, and Theron is understandably concerned for his mother. Lana is a bit mopey as she kind of wants to come along as well but has to admit to herself that she can't guarantee that she'll be immune to the Emperor's affliction. (Though she and Theron were on Ziost together, so I think you could argue that the risk would be the same for both of them? Whatever.)

Anyway, I immediately liked this because one thing that has sometimes been annoying about SWTOR's stories in the past is that the writers have built up this huge, diverse cast but didn't always use it to its maximum potential. Shadow of Revan was very bad for this as everyone was wondering just where the eff Lord Scourge was at what was clearly a pivotal moment for him too. So I'm totally on board with having any and all relevant side characters butt in during a story in an appropriate context. I was happy to have everyone along, but there's an option to deny their request as well. I'm not sure whether they oblige, but considering that there's an obvious version of the story where they don't come along anyway (namely if you killed them), I'm guessing they accept your decision.

You travel to the transport and temporarily come under attack from unknown forces too, though you soon discover that it's old Vitiate's former Servants, whose numbers were apparently greater than originally assumed. (Can you imagine being relegated to being code-named "Servant Twenty-Two"? Made me crack up anyway.) There's some low-key banter as you, Scourge and Kira try to seal off the ship to make sure nobody who's already on board makes a sudden getaway and spreads the mind plague or whatever it is, which made me chuckle. I loved the arguing about the ship's size and Scourge just charging in like a mofo when Kira wanted to be stealthy.

Then the first surprise! Revan's Force ghost appears! I have to admit that came completely out of left field for me, as I thought the ending of Shadow of Revan served as decent enough closure for him as a character. There was a brief moment where I was like: "Oh no, please let's not make this all about Revan again", but his appearances remained brief and I've got to admit that yeah, ultimately it seemed appropriate to have him there too in that final battle against the Emperor. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

You find that you don't just have the old Servants for company, but also whatever remained of the Scions of Zakuul. And they are bickering and fighting each other! I really loved that because it was the sort of thing I wouldn't really have thought of myself but which made complete sense to me as soon as I saw it. That, and two flavours of mad cultists duelling each other to the death are just entertaining. Again, I'm not sure the Scions really needed to be there considering they technically already fulfilled the prophecy by coming to you on Iokath - then again, they kind of ended up doing bugger all there, so this gave a somewhat more satisfying conclusion to their existence.

After dispatching all the minor baddies, you find the unconscious Satele and her students and start meditating as a group to basically enter her mind and find out what's going on with this mind plague. It soon turns out that it's a fragment of the old Emperor reassembling itself but lacking much of the knowledge and experience that the Emperor as you knew him had acquired throughout life. In a very cool move that attempts to bring some sort of cohesion to the being formerly known as Tenebrae, Vitiate and Valkorion, the character appears in all of his three bodies simultaneously, all speaking with their own voices but as one entity.

What follows is you traipsing across a "mindscape" kind of environment similar to KotFE chapter 2 and KotET chapter 9, only with more of a Tythonian Jedi flavour, which seems appropriate for Satele's mind. (I just disliked how narrow some of the bridges in there are. In my two playthroughs so far I fell to my death by slipping off a narrow walkway in the exact same place twice. Then again, maybe I'm just a klutz.)

You kill some trash mobs representing vices, spar verbally with the Emperor(s) and get sudden support as more and more characters from your and the Emperor's past appear to help you fight him. First Revan appears again to back you up, then an angelic white figure emerges from a rift whom it took me a moment to recognise: Meetra Surik, not seen since the story mission for the Jedi Prisoner arc from the base game. (Hot dang!) Just when you think it can't get any better, Darth Marr shows up too. (I couldn't help but think that I know some people who will have been very pleased with that particular cameo.)

If you brought them along, Arcann and Senya also join you in meditation, and if you killed them, they appear in spirit form, along with Thexan and Vaylin. It's a bit unclear why they are there in Satele's mind if they're dead but it's implied that you've been dragging their spirits along in your own head or something. I really liked the contrast here between the light side and dark side scenarios. If Arcann and Senya are alive, Senya pours her heart out to Vaylin's spirit about how sorry she is for everything that happened to her daughter and that it's all her fault - kind of the sort of dialogue I would have expected in KotET chapter 8 when I originally played through that. This actually seems to leave a crack in Vaylin's angry facade for once, though she's quick to remember her usual attitude when it comes to turning against her father, and she's given a satisfying scene where he tries to control her one more time but fails. Comparatively, if you killed Arcann and Senya, they dislike you and want to see you suffer but concede that finishing off Valkorion for good is more important then and there. The whole dead family forms a unified angry mob to go after the old family patriarch.

Eventually there's a big showdown with the three Emperors, which somewhat reminded me of the ending of Shadow Revan, what with the Emperor(s) on one side and all your allies on the other. There are additional shots showing other characters from the base game and earlier expansions in the background, which are very cool - you could make a whole mini-game out of finding and identifying them all.

Mechanically though, I have to confess I still have no clue what was going on in that fight. It doesn't have all the annoying stuns the Revan encounter had (thank god), but I didn't really understand what was happening most of the time. There are three "phases" as you fight each of the three Emperor's incarnations in turn, and you get some temporary abilities from your allies to help things along, but I just couldn't make heads or tails of it, despite of reading all the tooltips. For example in the Valkorion phase, there are a number of adds around the room that look like they should be involved in the fight somehow, but most of them are untargetable and any attempts of mine to do something useful with them (stand on them, land various abilities on them etc.) seemed to be pointless. In the end I just settled on slowly pew-pewing down each boss and killing adds only if the boss was temporarily immune to damage. That was also the only time I found a good use for a companion ability, as Revan's ultimate was good for clearing out all of Vitiate's many adds.

In the end you are victorious either way (I'm not sure if it's even possible to die/lose or if Satele's abilities always protect you), and it's... good! You have a final word with Satele where I think the game got a bit buggy for me as the screen kept shaking throughout the conversation even though the setting was the tranquil Odessen Wilds. If you killed Theron, she has some choice words to say about that. (You're also given the option to attack her, but I'm not sure if it works - I'm guessing that like in KotFE chapter 12 you don't actually succeed.)

Your allies get you home and we finish on Aryn Leneer coming up to Satele to talk - reminding us that there's still that thing with Darth Malgus going on.

From what I've seen on Twitter, the response to Echoes of Oblivion has been overwhelmingly positive. I liked it too, though I can't say it resonated as strongly with me as it seemingly did with many others. I think I'm reaching a weird point where Bioware has been doing so many good things with the story in the last few years (as far as I'm concerned) that I'm almost becoming a bit cynical about it, in an "Is this just fan service?" kind of way.

What I mean is that almost everything about Echoes of Oblivion felt like it was meant to address criticisms that players have levelled against the story in the past:

  • The whole thing with Vitiate and Valkorion supposedly being the same person just felt so clunky; it never really came together. - Look at us adding more context to make it more convincing!
  • Hey, the Scions never really came back like they said they would (I'm not counting Iokath because they didn't actually do anything there)! - Well, here they are.
  • How come we never heard from the Exile again after she was so keen to help free Revan? - Hey, here she is!
  • It sucks that there was never any closure to what happened between Senya and Vaylin and that Senya just came along to kill her daughter in KotET chapter 8 without further comment! - Okay, let's give her another chance to really pour her heart out about how she felt.

And so on... but then, those are not bad things! Because all those criticisms are valid, and the scenes that address them in this update are good! I guess all I'm saying is that I'm also hoping the writers won't get too bogged down in trying to address every possible thing they might have forgotten or not addressed in the best way in the past instead of telling us more cool stories.

Then again, after Echoes of Oblivion there honestly isn't a lot I can think of that's been left unresolved in an unsatisfying manner. As I was saying on Twitter and my guild's Discord, I'm actually kind of glad that this update ended up being bundled with the start of the new Mandalorian arc, as otherwise I might have worried that this story was heralding the end of SWTOR with how neatly it tried to put a bow on absolutely everything. But no, fortunately there is more to come... and we'll talk about some of that in my next post.


Pacifist Lost

Once again it's been quite a while since I talked about my pacifist Jedi Pacis. I recently decided to pick her up again and thought that this would be as good a time as any to write a little catch-up post about what's been happening to her.

The last time I wrote about her, the Nar Shaddaa Nightlife event was still going on and I was enjoying doing some non-violent dailies on Nar Shaddaa. After the event ended, I went back to my previous plan of working my way through all the levelling planets, with Hoth being the next one on the list. Unfortunately, Hoth kind of broke me. There just weren't a lot of pacifist-compatible quests there, and the map is so big and not particularly visually interesting, I just got somewhat tired of it about halfway through.

Pacis hit the milestone of level 50 somewhere along the line, and it occurred to me that it had been a really long time since she left Dantooine, the planet that I more or less consider her home. I actually found myself feeling kind of homesick for the place, plus there was the added incentive to return there some time to try out swoop racing. (Interestingly, the introductory mission to the swoop event doesn't provide you with a quick travel option to Dantooine if you don't have a ship, meaning that the only way for Pacis to get there was to use the option to travel to Dantooine that appears in the activity window during the Pirate Incursion conquest. Convoluted.)

Anyway, I used the next pirate event to return, and once the pirates had gone and peace had returned to Dantooine I started doing my daily round of digging for relics and patting Kath hounds as if I was level ten again. What nostalgia!

Unfortunately I had barely been at this for a few days (or it might even have happened on the very first night of being back, I can't remember for sure) when I did something incredibly stupid. Considering the chill and relaxing nature of the quests, I was watching something else on my second monitor while driving around to inoculate Kath hounds, being somewhat distracted. This is how I ended up hitting a quick travel item instead of the injector one time, which was still on my quest tracker from a leftover heroic, meaning that one loading screen later, I was suddenly off Dantooine again, with no way to return for who knows how many weeks until the next Pirate Incursion was supposed to come around.

I think I may have actually yelled "nooo" at my screen when I realised my mistake, and then just stared at my character for a bit, dumbfounded. That'll teach me to not pay proper attention while playing I guess. Either way I was so put out by the way I had managed to completely ruin my own plans that I didn't feel like playing the character for a while.

I did suddenly remember her during last week's Pirate Incursion though and made sure to use this opportunity to take her back to Dantooine. Today when I did my round there I made sure to click the right item every time (plus I don't think she currently has any heroics left in her log anyway). It felt really good to be back. The swoop rally is also supposed to come around again in a couple of weeks, which should allow for a nice yet still pacifist-compatible change of pace in a familiar environment.


Conquest Is in a Weird Place

I haven't written much about Conquest lately, but it's actually one of the things that keeps me logging in every day. The last time I wrote about the system at length was back in April when Bioware introduced a bunch of new and often very silly objectives, awarding points for extremely common everyday activities such as taking a taxi or giving a companion gift.

My reaction at the time was a mix of confusion and amusement. I found my own ways of using the new system to my advantage, but it did all seem a bit over the top and I kind of expected Bioware to nerf the whole thing again at some point. They did eventually tone down some of the more trivial objectives... but at the same time buffed others to be even more ridiculously rewarding.

As a result, a lot of my more recent, somewhat limited play has been what I can only describe as "passive Conquest point gaining", as I log in once a day to raise a crew skill, complete several crew skill missions, increase a companion's influence level (usually as a result of the former), and maybe re-roll an amplifier. Just doing this and nothing else is already enough to complete my Conquest on several characters every week, and while part of me obviously appreciates this, it also continues to feel slightly odd to me to gain so many rewards for doing so little. One of the characters on whom I've been doing this most regularly isn't actually max level yet, and since Conquest also awards XP, she's slowly been gaining levels without really doing anything. I'm somewhat uncomfortable with the prospect of having her reach level 75 while barely having left her Coruscant apartment.

One thing I haven't been paying too much attention to in the last few months is the meta, even though I've previously written about how it can be kind of interesting/entertaining to watch the big guilds duke it out for first place. One reason for my decreased interest is that the last set of changes kind of put my guild out of the running, making the whole thing less relevant to me - we'd previously been able to compete at least occasionally, but as explained in the post linked in the first paragraph, making Conquest too passive reduces the value of organised effort compared to simply having a large number of active players, regardless of whether they are in any way involved in guild business or not. So while it's easier than ever to hit the five million points required for the large yield target even as a small to medium-sized guild, there's just no way we could ever compete with guilds pumping out literally hundreds of millions of points each week.

Anyway, the other day I actually happened to look at the scoreboard for the first time in a while, and it made my jaw drop:

The infamous Stroke My Wookie [sic] is still around, but all previous competitors have disappeared, to be replaced by a mega guild called Shield of Destiny (Republic side) or Rest in Peace (Empire side). And when I say mega, I do mean mega - a single guild can only hold a thousand characters, and these guys are up to no less than six different guilds with slight variations in the spelling of the name and guild logo.

I'm not sure whether you can even speak of "a" guild in such a situation anymore... with so many thousands of characters spread across different guilds, how much do they even know of each other? And how do they maintain any kind of cohesion? I get the concept of alt/sister guilds, and there's some benefit in spreading out in an organised manner to dominate all the planets, but most weeks there are only three planets anyway, meaning that with six guilds competing, a lot of them don't actually get to claim first place with any regularity even as part of this coalition! I just don't understand what their angle is.

Even more intriguingly, googling the guild name leads to this guild listing from the Star Forge server. Did they move to Darth Malgus? Is it an offshoot? Or just copycats using the same name? Okay, I remember now why I tend to find this kind of thing intriguing...

Unfortunately this situation is bad news for any other guild not 100% dedicated to Conquest ever wanting to win first place. We haven't had a Total Galactic War in months, but at this rate they'll lay claim to a good chunk of the galaxy even then...


6.2 Cantina Livestream

On Friday the SWTOR team hosted a "Cantina Livestream", which featured a mix of Bioware staff talking about content coming up in 6.2 and fun activities such as giveaways and guest interviews. I'd originally meant to watch it live but then I ended up being very sick on Friday evening, fell straight into bed at an early hour and completely missed it. (It was ultimately nothing serious, don't worry, but I genuinely couldn't do much other than sleep that night.)

Fortunately the whole thing was recorded and is still available to watch on Twitch now, and I finally got around to checking it out last night. It was great! You could tell that the team had put a lot of work into making the whole thing more professional and organised, and it showed.

They aired pre-recorded interviews with three special guests (originally these were supposed to be live but after the date for the stream had to be moved on short notice they unfortunately couldn't make it anymore): Kari Wahlgren, the voice of the female Jedi knight; Noshir Dalal, who voices one of the new characters being introduced in 6.2; and Darin De Paul, voice of Valkorion, Admiral Daeruun and others.

They were all awesome in their own way: Kari talked a fair bit about what it was like to voice the same character for such a long time; Noshir was a bit of a dark horse as we obviously don't know his character yet but seemed like a really cool guy and made me look forward to meeting this new Mandalorian just based on his obvious passion for the role; and Darin De Paul revealed himself to be a massive, happy Star Wars nerd. Everyone was just loving what they're doing and having a great time, which was very infectious.

I'll admit the actual info about 6.2 felt a bit thin - not that they weren't trying to make the most out of it without spoiling the story, but I guess after nine months of 6.1 it just feels like we should be getting more. Not that I don't understand the awkward real life circumstances of the last few months and appreciate everything they're doing, just... if one of your major new features is a new UI for emotes it feels a bit like you're reaching. (Also, I didn't hear anything about it having a button to claim all my unlocked emotes on new characters in a single click. Once they make it so I don't have to click more than a hundred emotes manually on all my characters anymore, then I'll be excited!)

Anyway, my desire for moar, MOAR not withstanding, it was a great feel-good stream, both informative and entertaining, and if you missed it I can only recommend watching the recorded version, even if it's on the side while you're doing something else. Update 6.2 is supposed to finally drop in December (exact date to be confirmed) and I'm looking forward to it.

Oh, and if you didn't have the four Korrealis mounts from previous Cantina events yet, you can claim them with the code LivestreamCantina2020 CantinaLivestream2020 for at least a few more days.


Ashara vs. Ahsoka

I'm continuing my marathon of The Clone Wars and finished season five recently. Instead of talking about the season in general, I wanted to talk a bit about Ashoka this time, the show's poster child - she features pretty prominently throughout season five, and the last arc of the season is all about her. Without spoiling anything, I can say that it hits pretty hard on an emotional level and makes it more relatable to me why so many people love the character.

I don't just want to talk about Ashoka though - rather I'd like to contrast her with Ashara, the SWTOR companion that was clearly modelled in her image. SWTOR and the Star Wars expanded universe in general have this obsession with relentlessly rehashing concepts and copying whole characters from previous material and the fans just love it. That's why (class story spoilers incoming I guess) Jedi knights get a visit from their dead master's Force ghost at a crucial moment, and why smugglers are best buds with a Wookiee and get a chance to hook up with a princess. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise then that the character of Ashoka received a homage in the form of a young and headstrong, orange-and-blue Togruta companion with a name that also starts and ends with A.

As someone who had never seen the Clone Wars, this was something that largely went over my head at launch except on the most superficial level... but let's just say that at this point I can see what Bioware was trying to achieve with the character of Ashara - I'm just still not sure they actually succeeded.

Asohka in the Clone Wars starts out as a fairly generic young padawan. A bit snippy perhaps, but still inexperienced and keen to learn. After a brief struggle to get her and Anakin on the same page, they become a pretty good team, and in a slow and subtle way you can see her learning from him as the episodes go by, as she becomes more confident and begins to trust in her intuition, while also developing a slightly independent streak.

She seems to believe in the Jedi order as a force for good, but just like for her master, some of the Council's decisions don't feel quite right to her. This comes to a head at the end of season five (spoilers for real now), when she's framed for a crime and expelled from the Jedi order as a result. While her name is cleared at the very end and she's asked to rejoin, she's too hurt by the betrayal she's experienced and leaves, in order to digest the events she just experienced on her own terms.

A lot of this clearly served as inspiration for the character of Ashara, though now that I'm checking the dates, Clone Wars was only on its fourth season when SWTOR came out (gosh, how time flies), so the events of season five couldn't have influenced Ashara's story. Nonetheless, she too is a headstrong young Jedi padawan who - aside from the obvious superficial similarities - isn't quite convinced that her masters always got it right and ends up turning her back on the Jedi order.

The problem with Ashara is that she doesn't have the chance to get several seasons of character development, so her turning doesn't really feel earned. I can't help but wonder whether she wouldn't have worked better as a companion for a class other than the Sith inquisitor. (I remember reading somewhere that for the original companions, Bioware came up with all the character concepts before actually assigning them to different classes and their stories, so it wasn't set in stone who would join up with whom initially.)

The game tries to make you interested in Ashara on Taris by having the Sith inquisitor review a number of holo recordings of her interacting with her fellow Jedi, but they only really provide a very basic characterisation, and nothing ever gives her any obvious motivation for deciding to follow a Sith. I've long complained that her "acquisition story" is one of the worst and that it would have been more logical for the inquisitor to simply kill her. This has always greatly overshadowed any enjoyment I might have gotten out of having her around.

Now if I imagine her as having been meant to be more of an Ahsoka-like character, somewhat dissatisfied with the way the Jedi do things and wanting to find her own way in the Force, I could see that being an interesting angle and making her subsequent actions, such as deciding to work with a Sith, more understandable. If you don't already go in expecting her story to go that way though (because "look, it's Ahsoka!"), I maintain that it's just not given a very convincing foundation in-game.


Grumbling About Login Rewards

Yesterday the PTS server for 6.2 went up (gosh, it's kind of painful to think that Onslaught has been out for over a year and we're still on 6.1...) and with it a bunch of posts on the PTS forum asking players for feedback on specific new features. One of those features were... "daily login rewards".

Based on the reactions I've seen, most people seem to be 100% on board with getting free stuff just for logging in, but my own gut reaction was more akin to Michael Scott's upon realising that Toby is back in The Office. I am not a fan of daily login rewards at all, and here is why.

Basically, having experienced these kinds of systems in different MMOs, my reaction to them can be summed up like this:

If I'm super casual about the game, just sort of exploring it with little commitment, I don't really care about them because I'm not invested enough to really want to maximise my personal character gains. Depending on the nature of the rewards, they can make for a nice surprise every so often (or annoying inventory clutter the rest of the time), but they don't really make me want to log in more often.

If I'm super hardcore about the game, I log in every day anyway because I actually want to play, and the rewards are likely to not be of great use to me, so once again I don't really care.

If I'm somewhere in the middle however, which is to say somewhat invested in the game but not necessarily driven to log in every single day, log-in rewards are a road to resentment and burnout, as I'll feel compelled to collect them every day to maximise my gains, but at the same time don't really feel like playing every day, making the whole thing feel like a chore. Worst case I end up spending weeks or even months doing nothing but logging in to collect my freebies, until I get so sick and tired of the whole thing that I don't really want to play anymore at all.

Basically, the best-case scenario is that I'm neutral towards the rewards and don't care.

One of the things I've long loved about SWTOR is that in this day of more and more MMOs feeling the need to add "retention mechanics" like this, it has remained surprisingly chill. Yes, there are daily and weekly quests, but there is little compulsion to actually do anything every single day. The game just wants you to have fun on your own terms, and if that involves not logging in for a few days that's okay too. I really don't want it to turn into the kind of game that values engagement metrics over whether players are actually enjoying the game and having fun.

Now, this post was actually going to be a whole lot rantier (yes, really), but then a dev posted an update on the forum thread about the login rewards to explain more about how the system is supposed to work, and it seems they want to avoid the sort of "must log in every day" compulsion that other games are going for.

Assuming I'm understanding everything he said correctly, there won't be any exclusive, time-limited rewards, but instead it's going to be more of an ongoing loyalty system that rotates through a total of 112 generic rewards or so every day you log in, and once you reach the end, the cycle starts all over again. So while logging in more often will give you more stuff faster, you're not actually missing anything if you skip a few days for whatever reason, merely delaying it.

I'll admit that's... probably the least annoying implementation of this kind of system they could have gone for, so thanks for that. I just still kinda wish it wasn't going to be a thing at all.


Feast Finished

The Feast of Prosperity came to an end earlier today, and I wanted to write down some final thoughts on this world event. In a nutshell, I stand by my previous assessment that it was quite enjoyable. In fact, while I had been taking time out of my day to do some of the event dailies from the start, I actually ramped up my activities during this last week once I realised that a) some of the rewards were actually quite desirable (yet costly) and b) the best way to earn lots of tokens was to play alts, as the best sources of currency were the one-time story quest and the weeklies. Once you'd completed all the weeklies on a character, repeating just the dailies was a lot less profitable than simply starting on another alt.

Who wouldn't want to be rewarded with a chunky boy like that for a pet?

I mentioned in my last post that I quite enjoyed the daily world boss hunts, though it turned out that most of the missions on the terminal actually reset twice a day, so you could do them both in the morning and again in the evening if you were really into it. This, combined with the benefit of doing the event on alts, meant that world boss groups were running pretty much 24/7 and it was amazing.

I was really pleasantly surprised by the behaviour of the community too - as easy as guild ship transportation has made it to quickly move a whole group of players to a specific location, there were still always people who struggled with this concept, missed or accidentally declined the first summon and then promptly begged for another one two minutes later. It always made me roll my eyes a little, but in all the pugs I did I didn't encounter a single occasion of anyone in the group losing patience with this. You could tell that the Sentinels were tugging at their metaphorical leashes for sure, and often relieved the tension caused by the extended waits by murdering every trash mob in the area several times over, but not once did someone ninja-pull a boss while we were still waiting for a straggler. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

I also learned new things about the mechanics of grouping. For example I've long been technically aware that SWTOR has a public grouping feature, but I didn't know much about it because nobody ever seemed to use it. Therefore I was very surprised when I grouped up with one of my guildies (whom I can only describe as the most efficient event/achievement pugger I've ever seen) to form a new world boss group, just to have him set our group to public and then spam chat with "type /j [name] to join for the world boss". This way players who followed his instruction could add themselves to the group without requiring an invite. I followed his example when I was building a world boss group from scratch on a different day and found it quite convenient, though I got the impression that a lot of players weren't really familiar with this feature either.

I was also amused to find that the ingredient-collection daily tied to the same planet as the world boss actually worked quite well in an ops group too. I remember the first time I was told to collect larval geo beast brains on Hoth after killing Snowblind, I had to do several laps around the area and eventually even ended up switching instances because there was so much competition for the kills. On another day however, someone in my world boss group exclaimed "Now for the brains!" or something like that before I had a chance to leave the ops group, so I tagged along and found that in the most wonderful of MMO fashions, a single mob dropped enough brains for an entire ops group of people if you did the quest while still grouped up. Brilliant!

The one-time story came to a satisfying conclusion, with an ending that allowed you to make a choice between supporting one of the two Hutts hosting the Feast over the other. Besides the currency incentives this was the main thing that motivated me to play through the whole thing on an alt - also to see how it would feel playing through it on a dark-sided character. Unfortunately (?) you don't really get to be mean either way, so when you get the mission to deliver charity for example you have to do so regardless of your alignment, and don't get to bribe gang bosses instead (as the dialogue kind of suggested). That said, there was something slightly amusing about imagining my mostly evil Marauder getting letters from orphans thanking her for her kindness.

The only thing that did bug me a little was that the rescue mission on Mek-Sha involved killing Brothers regardless of your faction. Considering that Imperials are openly aligned with them, I thought it would have made more sense for the player character to bribe or negotiate with them rather than to be simply attacked on sight.

Anyway, I can only concur with Intisar's assessment that this event has been a nice addition to SWTOR's calendar, offering some light-hearted amusement in dark times and combining quick and easy event activities with optional but very attractive rewards. I'm already looking forward to seeing it return next year.


Feast of Prosperity, Continued

We're approaching the end of the second week of the Feast of Prosperity and based on the excited chatter I've been seeing about it on Twitter it seems to be shaping up to be quite a success. Personally I haven't been doing the event quests quite as religiously as I've approached this kind of thing in the past, but I have been trying to do at least some of them on my main every day.

The story quest which I originally assumed to be just an introductory breadcrumb actually continued this week, and I assume it will come to some sort of conclusion after Tuesday. Like the Swoop Event story it suffers a bit from being all aliens talking gibberish all the time, but aside from that I've been finding it quite interesting. The question of whether these two Hutts really are as charitable as they've been claiming to be seems to be shaping up to come to an interesting conclusion. I liked the part where your character delivers charity to some individuals in need on Mek-Sha, which was actually pretty sweet. Who'd have thought that Mek-Sha of all places would have an orphanage?

I've also been quite enjoying the daily world boss hunts. I do like casual, impromptu group content in measured doses, and the world boss pugs have been fitting that bill pretty well. I think it was quite clever of Bioware to make them part of this event - if these dailies were just something that was on all the time, people would quickly become bored of them and participation would likely drop to unsustainable levels. However, in the context of this limited time event, it's easy to find groups for them pretty much at all times (plus it helps that the bosses are so easy that group composition requirements are pretty flexible).

After a few days I also went ahead and finally tried the more difficult versions of both the food serving and the cooking dailies. The former was a bit of a disappointment, as it's not really much harder, but simply longer. It does speed up a bit towards the end compared to the "easy" mode, but basically, if you can do the easy mode without errors you're capable of doing the hard mode as well; it just takes four times as long.

The more difficult version of the cooking daily is more interesting, as it puts certain tasks on a timer but also forces you to actually pay attention - no longer can you just blindly click on whichever item is highlighted in the UI, but you have to actually look around and identify the correct ingredient visually and/or by hovering your mouse over it. That is actually more difficult and engaging without taking much longer than the easy version. The only thing that's mildly annoying is that I've found that any time you're supposed to add something to the grill, the targeting can be a bit fiddly and doesn't always register, even if the targeting circle was clearly placed in the correct location. When you only have a few seconds to add the ingredient, this can be annoying - however, fortunately failure just means starting over, and since the whole thing is really quick it's not a big deal either way.


Feasting with Hutts

I've been posting a bit less frequently than on my usual schedule lately - just seems to be something about this time of year, looking at past years... - but yesterday we had the first sizeable patch in months so of course I have things to say about it!

There's a teeny tiny story update that comes with it - more of a two-minute conversation really - but it's still nice to have as a reminder that things are supposed to be happening in terms of plot even while we've been treading water for the past few months as players.

However, the undisputed main event was of course the start of the Feast of Prosperity, the new seasonal event centred on Hutts and food. I knew it was going to be exciting when I logged in to this in guild chat:

There is indeed an introductory quest that features you chatting with the Hutts for a while before running some errands on Rishi, one of which involves waiting for what feels like a stupidly long respawn on three clicky things. Having heard my guildies complain about this in chat I made sure to hop straight into the PvP instance, though for once that wasn't completely empty either. In fact, I saw Republic and Imperial players wait peacefully next to each other and felt oddly torn whether I should wreak havoc on the red nameplates.

Fortunately a random Guardian threw me a group invite and saved me from my own indecision by immediately charging the nearest Imp, which actually made me feel a bit better. They can complete their quest after we're done, let's not risk any hostile queue jumping! Being in a party also has the added benefit of only having to click once to get everyone in the group credit for the clicking, so I can only recommend it.

As an aside, I'm not sure how I feel about this new trend to have the breadcrumb quests for new events expanded into these mini storylines. On the one hand it's neat and more context is nice, but on the other hand it makes repetition on alts somewhat annoying. (I'm looking at you, Swoop Event.)

Anyway, the repeatable event quests made for more interesting fare. There's some traditional gathering by clicking on things as well as some world boss killing (because apparently we didn't have enough reasons to kill the Primal Destroyer over and over again yet) - fortunately Bioware has had the sense to dramatically decrease the respawn timer of the affected bosses to only five minutes or so, or else there would have been hell to pay I'm sure.

The main event in my eyes however are the new dailies to cook and serve dishes. I laughed out loud when I first tried the one with the droid serving food, because it reminded me somewhat of a repeatable quest to serve noodles I remember doing back during WoW's Mists of Pandaria expansion. I'm sure there are other games with similar mechanics but that was the closest thing I associated with it. It took me a little while to figure out what's what, but once I got the hang of it I thought it was quite fun!

Similarly, the cooking daily involves you dashing around the kitchen, gathering ingredients and turning on appliances as instructed. Both missions have an easy and a hard version, but I've stuck to easy so far. Maybe once I've done it a few times I'll want to up the challenge. As the event is supposed to run for three weeks, there should be plenty of time to try everything out without feeling rushed.

It's all a bit silly really, but then we can't be dealing with big drama and galaxy-wide upheaval all the time!