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!


Healing Revan 16-man veteran mode

My guild hit another milestone the other week by defeating Revan in Temple of Sacrifice on 16-person hardmode difficulty. This was easily the most satisfying boss kill for me in a long time, considering how long it took us to get there. We only do 16-man ops for one week once a month, and we'd been working on this particular challenge for three or four months now (I honestly lost track). I was so excited when the achievement finally popped up I even forgot to take a screenshot! I do have a kill video though:

I'm not going to re-hash my general thoughts and opinions of the fight, which I already gave when we beat it on 8-man two years ago and which still apply. However, the larger group size did provide some unique challenges for the healers on the first floor, which I thought I would document here as I couldn't find any written information on the subject myself when we started working on the fight, so maybe this will be helpful to others.

In a nutshell, the big complication is the Essence Corruption debuff. On 8-man, affected damage dealers run out of the group, healers cleanse and gather up all the debuffs, then run into the two puddles to cleanse themselves and you move on. This mechanic already takes some getting used to in the smaller format (not just for the healers, but also for the dps), but 16-man really ramps it up to eleven.

With twice the number of people and the same amount of room, there is less space for people to spread out when they need to be cleansed, and on our earlier tries we often had to wipe it because Corruption got totally out of control in the melee group. The poor guys got yelled at quite a lot and accused of stupidly using self-cleanses, but as it turned out the problem was actually that one of the healers was standing too close to them when doing the cleansing. Healers are contagious too, so you really can't do that - you either have to hug your fellow healers or just stay away from everyone.

The next challenge was cleansing assignments. With two people and eight raiders, we tended to agree on something like "I start top left and you bottom right (of the ops frames)" and it was fairly straightforward, but with double the amount of everything, things got kind of complicated. I watched some kill videos for inspiration and people mostly seemed to be yelling out who they were going to cleanse, so eventually that's what we did too. It felt very chaotic at first, and it does require a certain amount of discipline for the rest of the group to shut up during that phase so none of the calls get missed, but we actually settled into it quite quickly. There tended to be a sort of unspoken hierarchy which meant that the ones with faster reflexes were calling first and then the others took whoever/whatever was left over. Plus everybody knows that every healer has their favourites that they prefer to cleanse before others...

So we got the basic gist of it down quite quickly, but especially at the beginning there were still a lot of mistakes, with people getting cleansed too close to others and causing unnecessary spread. Still, that's not necessarily a reason to wipe it; people just have to keep their cool, focus on the task at hand and continue doing what they're supposed to be doing. Nonetheless I was very proud of the healing team by the time we got the boss down, because there were huge improvements in the smoothness of the process and eventually we rarely had any cleanse go astray at all.

The big question that remained at the end of the phase was how to get rid of the Essence Corruption on the healers, because while there are twice the number of healers on 16-man, there aren't twice as many puddles! There is a third one that spawns near the entrance fairly early on, but it's easy to miss, people frequently stepped into it by accident, and if you don't use it in a timely manner it despawns anyway.

The way we dealt with it in the end was to have one healer cleanse only at the beginning, take the extra puddle relatively early on and then focus only on healing. Then, once HK-47 comes in, the three remaining healers with Corruption finish up the cleanses on the damage dealers while staying at somewhat of a distance from everyone else. Two of them manually cleanse all debuffs from the third (ideally the one with the lowest number of stacks, but we usually decided in advance who it was going to be), and then take the two remaining puddles to clear themselves. Success! For that phase anyway...

The rest of the fight was pretty similar to 8-man to be honest, and the main thing that kept wiping us were the aberrations on the top floor, as usual. For all that though, it felt all the more epic when we finally got it down.


Watching Clone Wars Season 4

I'm continuing to watch Clone Wars in small but regular drips, and wanted to write down some of my thoughts on season four after finishing it the other day and on how it relates to SWTOR.

You can tell that the show is coming into its own at this point, as like so many that start out with fairly shallow, mostly stand-alone episodes, it's slowly moving towards longer, more intricate multi-episode arcs.

Still, I thought the start of the season was fairly weak, as I didn't much care for the three-parter set on Mon Cala, which mostly seemed to be an exercise in showcasing some cool underwater visuals. (Though I thought the bad guy being a literal shark was kind of funny.) The episodes that followed weren't really much better either.

Things picked up with Darkness on Umbara, which is of course where the location for SWTOR's Crisis on Umbara flashpoint came from. What I didn't know was just how much visual inspiration the Bioware artists took from this season: For example there is a fight with some vehicles that look somewhat like giant flying centipedes, and after they're blown up and crash, the resulting wreckage looks eerily reminiscent of the sort of terrain that players have to navigate in the flashpoint. Also, while the plot on Umbara doesn't feature a train, another episode later in the season, Bounty, mostly takes place on one and again it looks quite similar to where players start out in the flashpoint in SWTOR. I just thought that was interesting.

Story-wise, the Umbaran arc was also the one I probably liked the most this season, though I was admittedly a little disappointed that the Jedi general just turned out to be evil, as I personally thought that it would have been more interesting if he'd really just been someone employing questionable methods and embodying a bad attitude on the Republic side, but I guess that would have been considered too morally complex for a kids' show.

One episode that really kind of shocked me was the one called Massacre, which lived up to its name as it's basically about the Separatists eradicating the Nightsisters. It's just one big battle episode, but both sides are nasty and you can't really root for either! I guess in the end Ventress is at least a slightly sympathetic character, but nonetheless I kept wondering to myself for most of the episode just what I was watching here...

Finally the end of the season brings the return of Darth Maul, something I'd wondered about ever since seeing the end of Solo, but I haven't been a huge fan so far. There isn't even any kind of explanation for why he's alive, he's just... there, insane and with weird mechanical spider legs as a replacement for his lower body. I don't know if it ever does get explained how he survived, but so far I haven't been too impressed.


We Succeeded at Killing a Boss

A little less than a month ago I wrote about my guild's attempts at killing a couple of unusual bosses. On the subject of the Ancient Threat world boss, I noted that while we had failed to kill it that night, we actually came pretty close by relying on a zerg tactic utilising guild ship summons, and that we were thinking about coming back and giving it another go on Imp side, whose nearest base is much closer to the boss's spawn point than it is for Republic players.

Well, last week we did just that and it worked! We did it with a group of 22 people and it took about ten minutes. It was still almost as much of a mess as last time, but at least we were somewhat more organised about the guild ship summons, which allowed us to achieve victory this time around. I uploaded a video of the fight too, where you can watch me do all kinds of stupid things such as hit heat venting cooldowns when I have no heat anyway (I'm used to the bar working the other way round on Republic side, okay?!) or just running around like a headless chicken while trying to get in range of the current tank without stepping into red circles. Maybe it'll help some other guild out there though!


The Nameplate Dilemma

I think that on a basic level, a good user interface is crucial to an immersive MMO experience. I'm not talking about details like the size and exact positioning of your action bars here, but about the very way you interact with the world. It seems to me that there's always a balance to be struck between immersion and convenience: Pushing a button to instantly teleport from anywhere to anywhere else is certainly convenient, but it also means that there's no real sense of place. On the other hand, running around a beautiful landscape with no understanding of where to go or how to interact with anything will soon leave players feeling lost. The trick is in finding the sweet spot in the middle.

I've been thinking about all of this recently because of nameplates. You see, the default setting in World of Warcraft when I first started playing that was to show nameplates for friendly players and nothing else. It being my first MMORPG, I of course didn't know any different, but even once I became aware of my options, that setup still made sense to me. I get that characters having their name float above their head isn't in any way "realistic", but it enables the player to recognise familiar faces out in the wild, something that their character should reasonably be able to do in-universe as well, but that could be hard from a player point of view when all you see is a generic character model in the distance.

Eventually I learned that there could also be a benefit to turning on nameplates for friendly NPCs when doing the quest for master first aid in WoW, which is basically a slow whack-a-mole that requires you to click on a number of injured NPCs in the right order based on their names, but the actual character models all look the same. If you have to click on each one first to see what they are called, it's nigh-impossible to get right within the allocated time. If they all have their names floating above their heads at all times, it's trivial. So I got into the habit of turning that setting on for that specific quest and then immediately turning it off again.

I've been following the same model in SWTOR since the beginning, but just like Revan forced me to re-evaluate my view distance, bosses sometimes have a way of favouring one UI setting over another. We've been running veteran mode Gods from the Machine again recently, to teach some newer players the ropes, and the first phase of the Scyva fight involves dealing with a number of small adds with relatively little health, at least some of which need to die in the right place and at the right time. When I was first learning the fight myself I found that part to be a bit of a struggle, but then I noticed on someone else's kill video that they had enemy nameplates turned on, so I followed their example and voilà: instantly it became so much easier to keep track of all the little adds in the room and what health each one was on.

Back then I still stuck to my guns and turned enemy nameplates back off after the fight, but this time around I keep forgetting and it's been making me thoughtful. When tanking a flashpoint it's so much easier to keep track of all targets when they have their names and health floating over their heads, plus you can make much more decisive switches based on health levels.

Just cruising around the galaxy has felt very different too. Out in the wild, I can see even smaller mobs from miles away and it's much easier to circumvent them. I've long had a reputation for being oblivious to my surroundings and frequently pulling adds by accident, but now I'm wondering whether I've simply been made to feel like a buffoon because the people I've been playing with all had enemy name plates turned on at all times. It's not hard to avoid those!

As a result, I'm kind of torn. Part of me just wants to go back to the way it was already, to a landscape unmarred by floating names everywhere. It's so much more beautiful! However, the difference in convenience has also been very noticeable, and I fear that I may well end up missing it, especially in group content. Of course there's nothing stopping me from simply switching my settings around every so often, but still... it's given me food for thought.


More Patchy Goodness

Yesterday was patch day, which made me realise that it's been two and a half months since the last medium-sized patch. Dang.

One feature that wasn't in the patch notes but that launched at the same time was that they finally turned on the Steam achievements that they promised us on launch. I was quite amused by the deluge of pop-ups that appeared when I first logged in after the patch... and slightly disappointed that I had actually been granted every single achievement instantly. I mean... I knew that they were going to be granted retroactively, which is definitely how it should be, but I'd been kind of hopeful that there might be something to aspire to in there. Guess not. /dramatic sigh

Anyway, let's talk about the actual patch notes! As usual, I'm not going through literally every single one (you can find the full list on the official site), but just highlighting some that stood out to me.

Double XP Event - Starting September 15th and lasting until October 13th, there will be a month-long Double XP event! Enjoy a full month of Double XP, Valor, and Renown.

I've expressed my disdain for double XP often enough at this point, but double Valor and Renown are definitely useful. I'm still working on some of the Renown rank-related achievements.

Uprisings - Rewards have been improved and added to all Uprising bosses comparable to Flashpoint rewards.

Oh look, another attempt to get players to care about uprisings. I have to admit, I read this and thought: "Huh, maybe I should go have a look at that some time", just to immediately forget about it again five seconds later. Maybe one day...

Effects granted by “On Use” Relics abilities are now removed when the Relic is unequipped.

Now this one wouldn't actually have caught my eye on its own, except that players were immediately complaining on the forums that this also affects the relics you can buy to deal with the rakghoul plague, meaning that they don't work like a reusable stim anymore. (You used to be able to just equip them, vaccinate yourself, and then unequip them again.) I agree that this change is a nuisance, but at the same time I can't claim that it's a big deal. It's not like the sort of content for which you'd want to be vaccinated is so cutting edge that a small loss in power in one gear slot would really put you at a serious advantage. Though I guess I wouldn't mind Bioware actually making an MK-4 version of the relic with stats appropriate for level 75.

The following self-healing defensive cooldowns no longer generate threat: [a list follows]

This just made me raise an eye-brow... why shouldn't cooldowns that result in you healing yourself generate threat when all healing does? Wonder if there was some sort of heal-tanking cheese going on that this change was meant to address.

The Jedi Guardian’s Force Leap Cooldown reduction from the “Battlefield Command” utility is now working correctly.

A guildie of mine notoriously complained about how bugged this was. I experienced the bug with Force Leap showing as off cooldown when it actually wasn't a few times myself but didn't actually connect the dots tracing it back to this utility; I just thought my game or connection was being laggy.

The following archived Biochem schematics are no longer available to craft: [a list follows]

Aw, why you take things away, Bioware? And most of all, why now? There was a time when these were being used to win at Conquest in silly ways, but that's kind of been obsoleted by the more recent Conquest changes anyway. Once again, I can only wonder what that was about.

The Eternal Empire Walker in Chapter VIII of Knights of the Eternal Throne no longer interrupts the abilities of the player’s walker.

I experienced this bug the last time I played through that chapter of KotET myself and it was annoying AF. At the time I wasn't even sure what was happening; I just knew that it was nigh impossible to get any ability off on my walker at all (and then I died).

Players are no longer blocked in the “Macrobinoculars: Heroic 4: The Shroud Revealed“ Mission as droids are now spawning after the turrets have been defeated.

Another big "thank god"! This mission has been notoriously buggy for a long time, but at least there were workarounds in the form of resetting the phase and such. However, a few months ago or so they seemingly stopped working, and the last time I tried to complete this mission with a group of guildies we eventually had to give up after countless phase resets and what not because we just couldn't get those damn droids to spawn. I hope it really has been fixed (I shouldn't have to say that, but Bioware has a bit of a thing for saying they fixed bugs but then it doesn't actually turn out to be true). I should get a group of guildies together again soon to find out for sure.

The Emperor Slot Machine no longer removes a Kingpin’s Casino Chip when a Cartel Market Certificate is won.

This one just amused me because this is a patch note for an annual event that ended a couple of weeks ago. I guess it was already in the pipeline and they just decided to deploy it anyway in anticipation of next year? Still a bit weird.

Did anything catch your eye in the latest patch notes?


Life on the Guild Ship

I think everyone has their own preferred spots to log in and out in any MMO. In the game's early days I used to "live" on the fleet, but ever since they added housing, my Coruscant stronghold has been my home on all my Republic characters. It's just too convenient to be able to have all my utilities right next to each other, plus I also take the opportunity to harvest some free crafting materials from the utility decorations every day.

Ever since I started my project to sell most of my jawa junk, I've had to relocate to our guild ship however, as we have all three of the jawa vendors located right next to a GTN terminal and multiple cargo holds there. Technically I could have acquired the vendor decorations for myself and placed them in one of my personal strongholds, but that would have required an amount of effort that I didn't feel like making.

It's been interesting to see just how many other people seem to have made the guild ship their virtual home - I suppose I shouldn't really be surprised by this, but I expected more players to be like me and prefer hanging out in their private abodes. Whenever I'm logged in on the guild ship, bouncing back and forth between the vendors and the GTN, I'm continually amazed by all the people I see logging in and running to and fro. Considering how much it costs to acquire and fully unlock a guild ship, I guess I should be glad that people are actually using it!

As for my jawa junk selling, it's been going moderately well. I think I've made about 75 million credits from it so far, but it feels like I've barely made a dent in my junk stash and of course more scraps keep coming in all the time. I guess it's nice to be making all that money from seemingly nothing but in terms of freeing up more bank space it would be preferable if I could get rid of more materials faster. I'm just not a fan of flooding the market with any single item; it just never works out well for me.

I did get a bit bored with maintaining my spreadsheet of prices. I like me a good spreadsheet, but let's just say that manually price-checking 261 items every few days got old really fast. Instead I've settled into a routine where I will only do the full check every so often, but I do log in several times a day to check what has sold, and anything that sells quickly and is still going for a good price at that point, I just buy more of and re-list immediately.

There are some green and purple low and mid-level materials that sell very consistently for a decent profit and of which I have a stack on the GTN almost at all times at this point. I do try to avoid grade one materials and anything above grade five, because while there is good profit to be made with some of them too, I've found them annoyingly volatile. Technically you don't lose any money if the price suddenly drops and your listing expires, and you can just keep re-listing it at a higher price until it sells I guess, but as stated previously my goal with this has been to shift jawa junk both at a good conversion rate but also at a decent speed, so I try to avoid too much speculation and uncertainty.

Interestingly, blue junk/materials are probably the hardest to get rid of and actually bring in less value than the greens at times. Naturally, blue junk is also what I've got the most of, so it looks like I'm gonna be at this for a while at least...


We Failed to Kill Some Bosses

Last week was 16-man week in my guild again, and we decided to do something different this time by revisiting the Dreadful and Hateful entity (the latter of which I hadn't seen since that afternoon back in 2014), as well as a world boss on Yavin IV called the Ancient Threat, which I didn't really know anything about other than that it was kind of secret and existed.

It was... interesting.

The Dreadful Entity went down easily enough, probably in part due to the Veteran's Edge stacks you get on hardmode these days. The other two bosses... didn't.

With the Hateful Entity, there was some confusion at first about how to summon it as people kept saying that a certain pack of womp rats needed to be killed in a specific way. Mr Commando and I were raising our eyebrows at this as we remembered no such thing from back in 2014 - it sounded a lot like some sort of superstition to me and I said as much. In this case it turned out that I was wrong though, and you really do need to get all the womp rats equally low to get the "Hateful Presence" to spawn that in turn can be used to summon the Hateful Entity. I'm still baffled by how I have absolutely zero memory of doing anything like this back in 2014 and I even went on a bit of a googling spree afterwards to find out if Bioware maybe changed the mechanic at some point, but no: I found guides from before then that referenced the womp rat thing too. I can only guess that the allied guild that we ran with back in 2014 were already familiar with the whole concept and made sure to do it right without talking about it? I have no idea.

Anyway, we eventually managed to summon the Entity, but killing it was unfortunately another matter. I don't think we even got it to 80 percent on our best attempt. Some of that failure was undoubtedly down to bad play on our part (especially early on we lost quite a few people to death mark dispel failures), but the damage also seemed quite insane. For example a Gunslinger reported being hit by two unavoidable abilities in quick succession that hit for more than his entire health bar even when at full health. How do you deal with that in a downscaled operation with fixed health values?

A quick search yielded only a single kill video uploaded since 6.0, but I guess that proves that it's technically possible. Unfortunately it's a bit hard to tell what's going on in it, but it looks like they brought a lot of Powertechs in order to have the Sonic Rebounder buff on the group 24/7, which would then presumably prevent the sort of deadly two-shot combos that kept befalling some of our raid members.

Speaking of it being hard to tell what's going on, I remember being told back in the day to make sure to turn all my graphics settings to low for this fight as it would otherwise be too hard to see what's happening... this is probably still true, but I decided to leave mine on high anyway this time as a sort of experiment. My PC could actually deal with it fine, but the sheer amount of lightning and particle effects did indeed make it hard to tell what was happening a lot of the time. Still, I have no regrets - at least I got some cool screenshots out of the whole ordeal whenever I died and hid my UI to watch from floor level as the rest of the group slowly followed my example.

Another thing that was funny and which I definitely don't remember happening back in 2014 was that after wiping, people wouldn't necessarily respawn at the start but instead appeared in a random location inside the operation. I ended up on the other side of Thrasher's gate a couple of times, and in the middle of trash pulls the rest of the time. The latter made for a sort of cruel but hilarious Russian roulette as the whole ops group would revive but certain people (often including me) would immediately die again as they were teleported alone into the middle of various trash packs and mugged to death. Hey, if you're gonna die anyway, you might as well do it in an entertaining way!

We didn't have much luck with the Ancient Threat world boss either, though at least it was an interesting experience to get all the buffs required to summon it, as this requires you to find a number of small "secret" clickies dotted around Yavin IV that also grant several achievements.

The boss itself is the same "glowing ball" model as the two Entity bosses and has similarly simplistic mechanics, though the mask from Dreadtooth isn't required anymore. A lot of guides we found said that this fight was quite easy, but this didn't really match our experience. For example the red circles that were supposed to come down only every 15 seconds or so according to some sources were dropping almost non-stop, forcing the whole raid to run around like headless chickens. More importantly though, the ongoing AoE damage that was supposed to be insignificant and easy to heal through actually ticked for about seven percent of everyone's health every two seconds and felt pretty impossible to heal through with a normal role setup of "only" about a quarter of the group being healers.

For this one we couldn't find a kill video from this year at all, just one that was uploaded this year but clearly recorded before Onslaught, so it may well be that the scaling went a bit awry for this boss. We heard from some acquaintances that they have successfully killed it since 6.0, but apparently only by going in with a group of five (two of which were healers) and drawing out the fight to nearly an hour.

Interestingly we did get quite close to killing it once, by going complete zerg and spamming guild flagship summons every time someone died, revived and ran back. The only problem was that as Republic, the run back without a summon is really long (way too long for a significant number of people to survive). At some point, one of the summons got borked up and red circles were dropped right under the summoning spot so that people got put in combat or died instantly the moment they accepted the transport, and then we couldn't get another person into a position to summon in time, leading us to wipe at around ten percent. As guild ship summons have a long cooldown, it wasn't really feasible to keep trying that method for several attempts in a row, unfortunately.

We are however of half a mind to try this same zerg method again some other time, but this time on Imperial alts, who respawn much closer to the Ancients Threat's "home", meaning that people should be able to keep running back to some degree even without a summon. If we do get it down that way it wouldn't exactly be something to be proud of, but hey... sometimes you just gotta do what works.


7 Ways of Being Better at PvP Without Actually Being Better at PvP

I've been doing relatively little PvP these past few weeks, but it's been on my mind today and made me remember this post, which has been sitting unfinished in my drafts folder for many months. Might as well finish it!

I try not to hold it against people in my random warzones when they aren't too great at PvP. Things like knowing when to use all of your abilities and how they could possibly be countered by other classes are something that takes a fair bit of play time to really internalise, and that's not even getting started on the benefits of good reflexes, which not everyone has either.

However, I'm always astounded by the amount of people - even players who are actually quite good at the actual PvP part - who are completely oblivious to basic tactics in the objective-based warzones. So, without further ado: seven ways in which you can help your team win an 8v8 warzone, regardless of your actual skill at PvP:

1. Inspect your team at the start of the match

Obviously there are situations where this isn't feasible, such as when you get back-filled into a match already in progress, but in most cases you'll load in well before the start of the match and can take a moment to familiarise yourself with the rest of your team. I don't mean that you literally have to hit "inspect" on every single one of them, but at the very least you can check what sort of class and role mix you've got.

The removal of stances and cells as visible buffs has made it harder to identify tanks and healers than before [note: the fact that I even thought to mention this tells you how frickin' old this draft is], but at least at 75, looking at their gear and any set bonuses usually gives them away. Many healers also like to spam heals in the spawn zone as a sort of non-verbal way of saying: "Look at me, you have a healer on your team!" At worst you can still check everyone's advanced class and hazard a guess. If nobody on your team is even of an advanced class that's capable of healing, you'll just be showing your ignorance if you complain about a lack of heals later (for example).

2. Mark enemy healers

In a similar vein, the moment you come face-to-face with the enemy, try to take in the class and role composition of the enemy team. People who intentionally dress to confuse (e.g. bounty hunters in Jedi robes) can make this tough for new players, but you'll soon learn to recognise each class by their weapons and certain signature moves. If you see someone casting healing abilities, it's generally a good idea to put a mark over their head to make sure everyone knows who to focus on if they ever want anyone on the opposing team to die. (Plus if you're a damage dealer, follow your own advice in terms of focusing!) Try to resist putting marks on non-healers, because nobody really cares if that Juggernaut is your personal nemesis, and it's just counter-productive.

Close inspection of the enemy can also lead to other surprising revelations...

3. Focus on objectives

You could argue that this point is a bit of a "duh", but based on the number of people I regularly see ignoring all objectives it clearly still deserves to be highlighted. Aside from completely new players who might not yet understand what's going on, you don't really have an excuse. Even if you never looked up any sort of guide, the voice-over at the start of each warzone still tells you what needs to be done to win, and you should focus on doing that. Don't chase kills in random places, but rather make sure that you're always attacking an enemy position or defending a friendly one when you're in a node-based warzone, and stick with the ball when in a Huttball match. Depending on your experience level, you could also look up guides for each map on how to hone your objective play further and improve yourself that way.

4. Communicate

Nobody joins a PvP match to chat, but a minimum amount of communication is generally beneficial. Most importantly, it helps to call "incomings", such as when one or more enemy is about to attack an objective currently held by your team. It's fine to keep it short and snappy here - most people will know what you mean when you say "1 inc snow". (Confused about how people call directions? This post might clarify some things.) 

I had this ancient screenshot saved under the file name "How to make calls in warzones".

Also, try to stick to being informative instead of being demanding or lecturing. When you're with a team of strangers, your odds of successfully playing battlefield general - even if well-intentioned - are pretty low.

It should go without saying that you shouldn't waste time ranting about how your team sucks or anything like that. I absolutely understand why people have that urge sometimes, but it does nothing to help - rather the opposite: it can cause newcomers to feel demotivated, not to mention that the time you spent typing your rant into chat is time you didn't spend focusing on the actual match yourself.

5. Look at the map every so often

All warzones limit your line of sight in places, though some are worse at this than others. (Odessen is probably the worst at this, as in most places you can't see anything beyond the room you're currently in.) However, the locations of your team mates are always displayed on the map and can help you make decisions about where to best reinforce after a death or when to help with an attack. If you ever find yourself wondering "Where is everyone?", the map is your friend.

6. Keep an eye on your ops frames

I know it's not very intuitive if you don't play a healer (and I do in fact know some people who like to hide their ops frames altogether to improve their fps), but everyone benefits from having a look at their team's health bars every now and then. First off because the general state of people's health gives you an idea of how you're holding up against the enemy team (everyone being close to full most of the time is a sign that you're kicking ass, while people going from one hundred to zero percent health in seconds is a bad sign), but more importantly because it can help you make better decisions in combination with the advice given above: If the map shows you that Bob is guarding an objective on his own for example, and Bob's health suddenly starts dropping, you'll know that he's under attack and you can go help him out, whether he has the sense to call for help in chat or not.

7. Do the maths

I saw this explained in a lot of detail in a video once, but I don't remember where exactly. The gist of it is that especially in node-based game types, you should always keep in mind that both teams have eight players each (the occasional quitter notwithstanding) and move around the map accordingly. As an extreme example, if you see seven opponents run towards one of the turrets in Civil War, that means that at least one of the other two remaining turrets can't have an enemy nearby right now (as only one enemy player is left unaccounted for), and you might want to have a go at capping this potentially unguarded target.

More commonly you may notice that you're having an uneven fight somewhere (e.g. four vs. two), which means that numbers must be tilted the opposite way elsewhere. This is important because if a large number of your team is fighting a small number of enemies, it means you are leaving yourself exposed to a large-scale assault somewhere else (and you may want to move). Conversely, if a small number of you manage to keep a lot of enemies busy, you could reasonably expect the rest of your team to overwhelm their opponents elsewhere and hopefully turn the fight in your favour.


The Best Classes to Take into Onslaught

With the recent Steam launch having brought many new and returning players (back) to SWTOR, there's been a resurgence of curiosity about many basic aspects of the game. One question that returning players with a stable of multiple characters might have is which class they should pick up first to get the most out of the new story additions since they last played.

My post about the best classes to take into the "Knights of..." expansions is one of the most popular posts on this blog, but we've had a fair amount of new story since then, with the arc about Valkorion and his family more or less wrapped up and abandoned. I think it's fair to wonder whether the storylines that have come after are better suited for a different set of classes, or if there is one class that's just best for everything, meaning KotFE/KotET and everything that comes after. My answer to the latter is "yes, and it's the Sith inquisitor", but I'd really like to go into a bit more detail than that. So get ready for some minor content spoilers and mention of companion returns post-KotET, but I'm not giving away any major plot points or anything.

First off I think that on the whole, the post-KotET content has been much more neutral in terms of which classes it's suitable for. Your character is now the commander of the Eternal Alliance (whatever you may think of how they ended up there) and they are back to dealing with the two big factions, which is easily justifiable in my opinion, whether you originally started out as a Sith or a Republic trooper.

When Bioware first eased their way back into this style of writing they seemed to struggle a bit, and the Iokath storyline that followed KotET was pretty bland and awkward as a result. This was followed by what has been dubbed the "traitor arc" since then, which again started poorly but got better as it went along. It's also probably the single most class-neutral storyline we've had since KotET, simply because it focuses very much on your personal relationship with the traitor, which depends more on how you feel about that particular character than your class choice. That said, the last flashpoint in the series, The Nathema Conspiracy, features a nice callback to your class story with a lot of different permutations based on your choices there.

From there it's off to Jedi Under Siege, which takes place on the planet Ossus, and where the current ongoing storyline kicks off. While this is still fairly class-neutral content as a whole, Bioware started to include a lot more references to the original class stories from this point onwards, which is what I will use to justify most of my rankings. Also noteworthy is that from Iokath onwards you're given the option to start sabotaging your old faction, which is something that might be greatly suited for characters that were played as never having been that attached to their original faction to begin with.

With all that out of the way, I would recommend prioritising the classes as follows if you're uncertain:

1. Sith Inquisitor

The Sith inquisitor is in the lucky position that they were a great fit for KotET/KotFE but the new content fits them like a glove as well. They basically enjoy ruling their own little faction, and whether you decide to go back and help the old Sith Empire or would rather scheme against them because it's the Sithy thing to do, opportunities for intrigue abound.

Jedi Under Siege starts with a call from your old friend Moff Pyron (who remembers you of course), and if you sided with Khem Val over Darth Zash at the end of his companion arc in the base game, you'll get to reunite with Khem on Ossus. Even better, you get to romance him too if you're into that kind of thing!

In Onslaught you're also given the opportunity to reclaim your old seat on the Dark Council if you wish (and in an appropriately Sithy manner as well).

Oh, and Andronikos and Ashara also come back in post-KotET Alliance alerts but that's really just the icing on the cake.

2. Jedi Knight

The Jedi Knight is another character that gets along well with the KotFE/KotET storyline and manages to continue into the new content quite seamlessly. You'll get recognised both as an important Jedi and a military commander, and no fewer than three of the original knight companions make their return as part of the storyline from Ossus onwards: Doc, Kira and Scourge. The latter two haven't had that much to do yet (that'll be in the content drop we're anticipating towards the end of the year), but all three are fully integrated into the storyline and reuniting with them is quite interesting. Kira can now also be romanced by female knights and Scourge is open to either gender. I haven't been able to find confirmation whether Doc swings both ways as well now...

3. Imperial Agent

The reason I rank the Imperial agent highly is mostly because of the saboteur option. You don't have to take it if you don't want to, but of all classes the agent was the one for whom it could (potentially) make the most sense to want to betray the Empire by the end of their class story. This was the sort of story thread that I think most of us didn't expect to ever get picked up again once Bioware said that there weren't going to be any more class stories, but the saboteur option has effectively revived it and even made it more "mainstream" so to speak.

Vector returns is a post-KotET Alliance alert, which is nice enough if you like him or even romanced him, and agents also get an exclusive little chat with him after the Task at Hand interlude that serves to remind you that he's still there and involved in the agent's life and decisions.

4. Jedi Consular

Similar to the knight, the consular is recognised for previous achievements on Ossus, and there are opportunities to both fight and be diplomatic.

In terms of companion returns, the consular was a bit of a black sheep during the KotFE/KotET era as no consular companions were involved in the main storyline and Qyzen was the only one that could be re-acquired via an Alliance alert. Post-KotET however, Lieutenant Iresso returns in an alert, you reunite with Nadia as part of the Ossus storyline, and Tharan comes back during Onslaught. Good times!

5. Sith Warrior

I ranked the Sith warrior as fairly high in terms of its suitability for KotFE/KotET, but to be honest I never pictured the warrior as someone who wants to sit on a throne and rule - better to leave that to someone with an interest in politics while they go out and smash faces. Ossus and Onslaught offer some nice opportunities here as you get back onto the front lines of the war and get the option to leave all that pesky planning to other people if that's more up your alley.

Quinn returns on Iokath and you get the option to finally get closure in regards to "that thing" he did during your class story. Jaesa returns in an Alliance alert after Ossus too, both her light and dark side versions. The former can now also be romanced, and the latter can also be killed if, like me, you always found her pretty annoying.

6. Bounty Hunter

You finally get Mako back in post-KotET Alliance alert, but it's a bit lacklustre to be honest. There is an interesting moment in Onslaught where bounty hunters get a slightly different reaction from an NPC than other classes, but other than that it doesn't offer anything particularly exciting for the class. The main reason I still rank it above trooper and smuggler is that bounty hunter is another class for whom the option of wanting to change sides in the war makes more sense than for most others.

7. Smuggler

Corso, Risha and Akaavi come back in two post-KotET Alliance alerts but they are short and not that great in my opinion. And while part of Onslaught takes place on a planetoid where a smuggler could feel right at home, nothing much is made of how this might make for a different experience for this class.

8. Trooper

Elara Dorne makes her comeback during Iokath but it's not very exciting. In the aftermath of Onslaught you get another little scene with her though (like the agent does with Vector), which is nice. Other than that there isn't anything going on that feels particularly tailored towards troopers.

Looking back at the final ranking, I'm kind of surprised by how similar it is to my KotFE/KotET ranking, with knight and inquisitor coming out on top once again, and smuggler trailing behind yet again. That said, I think it's important to repeat that overall, the newer content doesn't feel nearly as badly suited for some classes as KotFE/KotET did, and that there's much less of a difference between how much you'll enjoy playing through it as an inquisitor vs. a smuggler.

Got a different take on how different classes experience the current expansion and the content leading up to it? Feel free to leave it in the comments!


Turning Jawa Junk into Credits

When jawa junk suddenly started to proliferate with Onslaught, I was kind of pleased. Valuable tokens that you can trade for crafting materials and more! Yes! However, as the expansion has gone on, I've found that I've got more and more stacks of the things piling up in my bank and it's starting to bother me. I kind of want to get rid of at least some of them - just to free up some space if nothing else - but at the same time I don't want to just waste them, you know?

Initially I just bought some grade 11 crafting materials (which is the current crafting tier). This turned out to be a big mistake. While you do need stupendous amounts of these to craft pretty much anything, they are horribly overpriced on the junk vendors. I initially thought that maybe this was justified due to the materials' rarity or something, but it really isn't. People easily gather the exact same materials out in the world or from missions by the thousands and sell them on the GTN for much less. I did some maths and at least based on the prices on Darth Malgus, if you buy grade 11 crafting materials for jawa junk, you're basically parting with your junk for as little as half a credit (!) per piece. Just... don't do it.

I did a bit of research to see if others had any recommendations and found several people saying that the companion gifts and exotic crafting materials were reliable sellers. They weren't wrong, and I did sell a few stacks of those, but my gut feeling was that I still wasn't getting good value for my money/junk.

Yearning for a definitive answer, I did what any player with a bit of an obsessive streak would do in such a situation: I made a spreadsheet. Specifically, I wrote down every single item sold on the jawa vendors and how much it cost in junk, price-checked it on the GTN, and then let it calculate how many credits per junk piece I was going to make if I sold the same item at the current lowest price.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first: There is no single, clear "winner". I repeated my price-check just a couple of days apart and there was considerable variance in what came out on top. But there are some patterns, which I guess make sense if you think about them.

For example, the "obvious" sellers like companion gifts and exotic crafting materials are - at best - lower to mid-tier in terms of value for money. I guess this makes sense because it's right there in the previous sentence: they are the "obvious" choices. Every players knows what a companion gift is and knows that they're useful. Therefore it's safe to assume that they have some value and other people will buy them. Similarly, anyone who's ever done any group content has likely rolled off for some exotic crafting drop, and even if you're not sure what exactly they're for, there's some vague sense that they're rare and valuable.

Regular crafting materials are very different though, because they're fairly obscure. (Just writing down the list made me realise how many item names I didn't even recognise.) Even if you're a seasoned veteran of the game, I'm pretty sure that most of you would give me a wide-eyed look if I asked you to sense-check whether Lanthanide Modulators are worth buying and trading (that's a grade 5 slicing component by the way). Or how about Neuro-Stimulators (a type of grade 3 medical supplies)? Can you think of something craftable that uses these items as reagents?

The good news is that you don't actually need to know all those details. It's enough to know that certain crafting materials are where the money's at, and that they let you cash out hundreds (for the green ones) or thousands (for blue or purple) of credits for each piece of jawa junk converted and sold.

Which ones exactly sell for the most can vary from day to day, even on the same server, and I haven't been gathering data for long enough to spot any real trends, but the most basic common factor seems to be that it's usually selected lower-grade (1-6) materials that give you the best conversion rate so I would at least price-check those if you can't be bothered to go through the whole list. My best guess as to why that is the case is that people don't spend much time gathering in the lower levels but still need the mats to level up their crafting crew skills. The recent influx of new players from the Steam launch may have contributed to that too.

My only other advice is that due to the volatility of the market, I wouldn't recommend buying too much of anything in one go. Throw up a stack of 10-100 of a highly valued crafting mat and see how quickly it sells. Fortunately the generosity of the GTN means that you always get your deposit back even if things don't sell the first time around.

I may update this post later or write a follow-up to let you know if I notice anything else that's interesting or just to let you know how well my own plan to turn my junk into riches has been going.


Watching Clone Wars Seasons 2 & 3

More than two years ago now (yikes), I mentioned watching Clone Wars season one on DVD. I actually ended up buying season two a few months later and did watch a few episodes of that as well, but then I just kind of... stopped. I think popping discs into a DVD drive every couple of episodes is just too much effort nowadays...

Earlier this year I subscribed to Disney Plus when it finally launched in the UK, and of course all seasons of Clone Wars are one of the things that's available on there as well. Sadly I've been pretty terrible at making use of that subscription - I can't explain it; I can put dumb YouTube videos on my second monitor all day long but when it comes to watching any sort of "proper" content I'm always hesitant and put it off until later. I really don't know why that is.

Anyway, I did end up finding a good opportunity to get more use out of that subscription recently, because we purchased an exercise bike the other week and watching some Clone Wars (or whatever) while pedalling the miles away is a nice distraction. Thanks to this new setup, I've now made it through seasons two and three (oh, and I watched the Clone Wars animated film as well).

I don't really have much to say about the film, other than that baby hutts are silly but I guess it served as an explanation for how Anakin ended up with a padawan to begin with. I did want to write down a few comments about seasons two and three though before proceeding to watching the next one.

First off, I had read somewhere that there was a recommended watch order, which was different from the actual release order, but that seemed a bit overkill for a kids show to me. I could soon see that the idea wasn't without merit though, when - while simply watching the episodes in the order in which they popped up on D+ - I watched clone troopers graduate that had already been killed in season one, and saw a senator get murdered just to have him pop up again alive and well a few episodes later. It's not too bad I guess, just slightly disorienting in the moment.

While there are still a few lighthearted and simple episodes (the two-parter with pseudo-Gozilla for example, or the one where the droids go shopping /sigh), there was a very noticeable increase in mature subject matter. There's a lot of fairly adult talk in regards to politics for example, and I was going to comment how it was very prescient of the writers to paint the banking clan as the ultimate bad guys, but I just looked it up and these seasons came out just after the 2008 financial crisis so I guess that was just meant to be low-key educational.

There's also quite a shocking amount of death for a kids' show - and I don't just mean anonymous troopers and droids getting shot in big space battles, but people getting stabbed, sliced to pieces, gunned down point-blank etc. While there's never any blood and the camera pans away if the method of death is sufficiently graphic that there really ought to be, it's still quite a lot. We're not just talking about generic mooks dying here either, but named characters with personalities.

Interestingly, there's also been an increase in mysticism - I've sometimes seen people comment that SWTOR content that treats the Force more like magic (such as anything to do with the Dread Masters) doesn't quite fit into Star Wars, but Clone Wars is one piece of canon material that clearly also embraced this style whenever it suited the writers. For example there was this three-parter where Anakin, Ahsoka and Obi-Wan get trapped in a weird place with three powerful Force users, and that explores the prophecy about Anakin bringing balance to light and dark in a more literal way than I had ever considered. (The episode has some pretty cool visuals too.) Or the arc where Asajj Ventress returns to the Nightsisters? Definitely some weird shit going on there.

Finally, I think I could see the seeds of where Ahsoka's popularity comes from. In season one she didn't really do that much yet, but in seasons two and three she gets more episodes that focus on her and manages to pull off a couple of heroic feats of her own, not the least of which happens in the two-parter that finishes season three. It did leave me curious where her character will go next.


Master Mode Flashpoint Tips: Syndic Zenta


It's been a while since I've written one of these! I did however have a few more bosses on my list that I really wanted to cover, and one of them is Syndic Zenta in master mode Traitor Among the Chiss. I've been told by some people that they haven't had that many issues with her, but to me she's been a right pain in the rear on more than one occasion, which I think makes it worthwhile to share what I have learned, for the benefit of others who might be having the same difficulties.

The boss in a nutshell

She starts on the floor, then jumps up onto the walkways above her, changes position a few times, then jumps down again and covers the floor in lightning periodically. There are also a lot of adds, and during the top phase she throws some targeted circles around that you should avoid placing on other players. That really is the gist of it, but once again I'll happily point you towards Vulkk or the old Dulfy guide for more details on the mechanics.

What to do as a tank

At the start of the fight, round up the adds on the ground as best as you can while damage dealers focus on AoEing them down. Once Zenta goes up, follow her (either by leaping or via using one of the available grappling hooks) and position yourself just around the corner from the ramp that leads up onto the walkways. Feel free to taunt and hit the boss occasionally, but she shouldn't really be your main priority at this point as she doesn't actually hit that hard. It's more important that you focus on rounding up the adds as they appear and do your best to keep them from overwhelming your healer (who should be standing near you.)

Once Zenta goes down again you're basically racing against a soft enrage as more and more adds will be spawning in rapidly. Use everything you've got to get their attention while staying alive (AoE taunt, stuns, damage reduction cooldowns etc.) and hope that the dps can kill her in time before you and the healer both get overwhelmed.

What to do as a damage dealer

Start off by killing the adds on the ground, then dps the boss until she goes up. Follow her and continue to focus your damage on her, but keep an eye on the tank and healer, and jump over to them occasionally to mop up the pile of adds that will accumulate on them. When Zenta goes down again, just nuke her from range if you can.

If you're playing a melee class, make sure to wait a few seconds as she will cast her big lightning floor move almost immediately, and you don't want to jump right into it. Then jump down after it and nuke her with all you've got (while also hitting what damage reduction cooldowns you've got available) before the swarms of unending adds overwhelm your tank and healer.

What to do as a healer

At the start, you can hide behind a nearby crate to the left to avoid getting sniped. Once Zenta goes up, stick close to your tank as you will be getting healing aggro on any and all adds that spawn, and you'll rely on the tank picking them up to stay alive. Keep an eye on dps taking damage as well, though it shouldn't be too bad on them. Once Zenta goes down again, leave the damage dealers to their fate and focus on just keeping yourself and the tank alive as best as you can. If you can survive until Zenta's defeated, all remaining adds vanish automatically.


Nightlife Grind Update

Initially I was going to use "gamble" in the title again, but since I established in my last post that clicking on a virtual slot machine a thousand times to eventually claim your guaranteed prize at no financial cost is really more of a grind than a gamble, I edited it accordingly.

Over the last few days I managed to click my way through all the free tokens I'd accumulated on my Commando main and one of my Shadow alts, but more chips keep pouring in from every "normal" play session regardless of my efforts. Still, just this first "round" of clicking my way through the chips already resulted in me getting the "rare" Rodian companion and speeder on both characters, as well as a couple of extra speeders and almost two hundred certificates. Fortunately all the prizes bind to legacy so you can send them to other characters, which is nice. I don't think this was always the case, as I have this vague memory of winning a duplicate speeder that I couldn't use years ago, but I may well be mistaken about that.

I also got the achievement for blowing up a slot machine, but it was a bit disappointing as there was no animation to go with it. I can't tell if it's supposed to be that way or whether it's just another bug.

Keeping busy on my second monitor while going through the click-grind eased the tedium somewhat, but I still wouldn't call it a fun experience. In fact, once I'd cleared out one character's tokens, I barely felt like playing for several days after.

As the event is running for another two weeks I'll undoubtedly end up with several dozen more free chips, but I think at this point I'll just let them pile up. Maybe I'll come back next year for whatever the new prizes are then, but at the current rate it costs me almost as much time to use my free chips as it takes me to earn them, and the former is just not enjoyable to me.

As I said before I'm usually pretty good at not succumbing to artificially created pressure to engage in in-game activities that aren't really fun to me, but I'll admit that the promise of free stuff got me this time. Looking at the negative effect it's been having on my overall fun levels though, I at least know to take a step back from that now and to re-focus on doing things that actually bring me joy.


From Gamble to Grind

Looking back at this blog's archives, I seem to write about the Nar Shaddaa Nightlife event about once every three years. It's not one of my favourites, as people's weird flexing about who can manage to lose the most credits in the shortest amount of time always weirds me out, and I just don't consider watching my character stand at a console clicking things to be particularly riveting gameplay.

Still, it's been three years now since Bioware introduced casino chips as world drops to encourage greater participation, and ever since then I've at least tried to make use of the free chips the game keeps giving me - I say tried because I remember two years ago I meant to use them all up just before the event ended, but got the time wrong so that I actually showed up too late. Last year I think something similar happened, except then it occurred when I finally wanted to see the prize vendors about what to buy with my certificates. The fact that I can barely even remember what happened kind of speaks for itself really.

This year though, Bioware added a new, third slot machine called the Emperor's Grace, and a lot of the chips that drop from content were the type to use on this new machine. It was bugged initially, but the last patch fixed it, so I thought I'd stop by quickly to use up the seven or eight chips I'd earned through drops so far. I figured it was going to be a quick affair, and it being the newest and shiniest machine, the prizes had to be good, right? That's one of the big appeals of gambling: the chance to win big with minimal effort.

I therefore felt a mix of delight and horror when I realised that the most common prize for a win at the Emperor's Grace machine actually consists of fifty tokens a pop for the Kingpin's Bounty machines - which meant that within minutes I had racked up several hundred of the things.

I briefly felt excited by the sheer monetary value of my winnings - at the vendor, one Kingpin's Bounty chip costs 75,000 credits, meaning that I had won more than 50 million credits worth of casino chips. Unfortunately you can't sell them back to the vendor at that price though.

Now, even without knowing the exact drop rates of the prizes coming from the Kingpin's Bounty machines, it's pretty obvious that having several hundreds of complementary tokens to spend on them is bound to result in a nice payout. Even if you don't win one of the rare "special" prizes, the more common certificates that can be traded for all kinds of decorations and cosmetics are pretty damn useful as well.

However, considering that each spin's most common outcome is to simply give you your chip back, getting rid of literally hundreds of the things takes absolute ages, and it was with this realisation that the feeling of dread set in.

I mean, this isn't even gambling anymore. There's zero financial investment required from my side, not even in virtual currency, because the game's just given me hundreds of tokens for free. There's no question about whether I'll even get anything from playing either - with so many chips, I'm guaranteed to receive a good number of prizes. However, we're not talking about a quick game of chance for a potentially big win anymore - instead I'd have to spend literal hours at the slots just clicking away to be able to claim my rewards. It's basically the worst sort of grind.

And while I don't mind some grinds, I'm not sure I'll be able to make myself go through with this one. Maybe if I an opportunity arises to watch something sufficiently engaging on my second monitor for long enough, but I don't know. I kind of find myself thinking: "If you just want to give me free stuff, Bioware, why can't you just give me the stuff? Why are you asking me to stupidly click on slot machines for hours first?"

It's a silly question of course, but in a way it was still enlightening that I found my thoughts even going down that road. I've noticed that in many modern MMOs, people complain a lot about randomness in all aspects of their games. And I've often considered that a bit weird, remembering my early days in WoW and recalling my delight at many random drops, and just generally not minding the randomness too much most of the time.

However, the thing back then was that I wasn't expecting to get every possible drop. The odds of many items dropping compared to how often you would realistically run the content were such that you knew that you were never going to get everything you'd potentially like, and everything you did get was therefore perceived as a treat.

The thing is, with content having become more and more accessible and infinitely repeatable to keep people busy, you're much more likely to hit a sort of "saturation point" where you've got everything you want/need and once you know that the game is designed to give you everything over time, you're essentially just grinding out the time to that saturation point. I guess at that point it's not that big of a jump to ask why you can't just cut to the chase, especially if the activities on offer don't provide a lot of inherent enjoyment.

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this. Just... damn slot machines.


The Longest Journey

I've mentioned previously that I've not been very good at getting new alts through story content ever since 4.0 dramatically increased levelling speed. It used to be that I just engaged in a variety of activities to level up - including my class story - but since 4.0 changed it so that doing multiple things is not a requirement anymore, I always end up outpacing it by doing group content, and level sync or not, I just tend to not feel very inspired to hang out and do story quests on Coruscant once I'm past 50 or so. It just doesn't feel good.

As a result, it always takes a concerted effort for me to get high or even max-level characters back on track story-wise. Being able to (slowly) earn Conquest points that way too has certainly helped my motivation.

There is one character though whose journey I've been putting off for longer than any other: my Sage Tiranea. She was the second Sage I ever created, and possibly even the second consular? I don't recall for sure whether I created my first Shadow before or after, but I'm pretty sure it was after.

Tiranea was created for the express purpose of levelling with a couple of friends whom I tried to get into the game after it went free-to-play in late 2012. I had helped them out with heroic quests on my main, but I wanted to be able to just level with them organically. Unfortunately, by the time she had caught up to them in the mid-twenties, they had already lost interest in the game again (because that's how these things always go for me for some reason).

So I let Tiranea idle for several years, just in case they were going to come back. Once level sync was introduced I realised that trying to stay around their old characters' level was pretty pointless, and I started to log her occasionally at least, to help the guild with Conquest or to play a midbie PvP match here and there. But she always remained neglected, and never hit the level cap in any expansion. Until now that is, as I finally finished her class story the other night.

I realised that for all the countless times I've played through the Tython starter experience on new alts, I hadn't actually seen the end of the consular story since 2014. In the final boss fight I got one-shot by the cave-in ability and it was like meeting an old friend: Oh yeah, I remember that!

On the whole though, dragging her class story out over eight years has not done the experience any favours. In the confrontation with the final villain he talks a bit about your previous deeds, and when he referred to me killing the boss at the end of chapter one (instead of redeeming him) I was like: "I did that? I guess I must have."

This did bring back vague memories of how my original idea for the character had been to go slightly dark side (since I had just experienced the light side on my first Sage) but over time I found myself drifting back to making more light side decisions. I'd like to come up with some sort of roleplaying excuse, such as that she had impulsive tendencies when she was younger but grew and matured over time, but the truth is that I just forgot and going light side is simply my default.

The character has been malleable in other ways as well: I tend to pick a look and spec for my alts very early on and then pretty much stick with it. Tiranea on the other hand alternated between healing and dps several times, changed both her haircut and her hair colour (I even wrote about that at the time), and I gave her a completely new outfit about three times as well. I'm still not sure what her exact role's supposed to be in my stable of alts, which means that she probably won't see a lot of play time after this. But hey, at least she actually got to complete her class story.

On the subject of that, defaulting to my usual light side options meant that I didn't really get to see anything new in terms of content variations, but I did romance Lieutenant Iresso for the first time. It was a decision that came about on a bit of a whim after I'd just recruited him and I read in a reddit post that his romance was supposed to be quite enjoyable.

Ultimately I agree with the comments made there that he seems to have one of the most "mature" romances - no crazy advances or awkward shuffling of feet as someone struggles to express their feelings. Iresso and the consular just really like each other and say as much. There was one conversation cut scene where instead of the default smoochies animation he just gives her a peck on the cheek and funnily enough that was more memorable to me than anything else; it just felt like such a small but natural thing.

Anyway, that's that done - next on my list of characters that are working on finishing their class stories is my Jedi Guardian from the DvL event.


War on Balmorra and Living the Nightlife

After completing her tour of Alderaan, it was time for Pacis the pacifist Jedi to move on to Balmorra. Funnily enough, that planet was the complete opposite of Alderaan in terms of expectations vs. reality: On peaceful Alderaan everyone kept asking me to kill people, and on war-torn Balmorra... there was a lot of talk about killing people, but the actual quest objectives were often surprisingly non-violent. I found it strangely funny when I accepted my first couple of missions that were seemingly all about helping to fight Imps, and then the actual objectives were just to destroy some cannons/collect some supplies. On hand-in the quest givers talked about how well I'd supposedly beaten up lots of Imperial soldiers, while I was just quietly amused in the knowledge that I had done no such thing.

There were three easy heroics too, one to recover crashed probe droids, another to sabotage some Imperial bombers, and somewhat to my surprise I was reminded that while my old friend Larindaz really likes the taste of Colicoid steak, collecting said steaks is actually only a bonus and the main mission just requires you to click on some consoles, which can be done without fighting anything.

In the comment section of previous posts in this series commenters have urged me to check out some recurring events with Pacis. My initial gut feeling had been to stay away from them (Pirates? Argh! Bounty hunting? No thanks!) but on reflection I realised that they were right and that there were some events that would undoubtedly offer employment opportunities for a pacifist. The currently running nightlife event was an obvious candidate, being all about slot machines - whatever else you may think of them, they're not violent.

I knew there were two introductory quests that granted free chips, but was pleased to find that Bioware added a few more dailies this year. The one to advertise for certain companies is delightfully ridiculous - handing out fliers makes sense, but promoting heavy metals by dancing and security services by singing? Yeah, right...

The one where you sort of play bouncer and ask difficult guests to leave was kind of hilarious, because being a pacifist I was patently the worst bouncer ever: if anyone refused to leave and got hostile I always ran away! Fortunately there are enough customers who are willing to leave peacefully to not make it too hard to actually complete the quest without fighting.

I haven't completed the one with the counterfeit chips because the conversation choice I made resulted in combat, forcing me to back out, and I haven't re-tried to see if you can complete it without fighting if you accept to be bribed or whatever. Also, I think I read somewhere that it's currently bugged? Something to check back on later I guess. Either way it's a good event to easily get the "Mission complete: Nar Shaddaa" Conquest objective every day and it's on for another month.


What's Coming for the Rest of the Year

As briefly mentioned in my last post about the Steam launch, there were other things that the team talked about during the livestream, such as what content updates we could expect for the rest of 2020. The fact that talking about those things wasn't the main event should give you a hint as to how meaty they were (not very).

Am I a bit disappointed that there isn't more? Yes. Is it a big deal for me? Not really. SWTOR isn't the only game I play, but even though I do play it a ton I rarely feel like there's nothing for me to do even after more than eight years of being a continuos subscriber. But people play the game in different ways and have different circumstances, and if you feel that what's coming up isn't enough to justify you staying subscribed for the whole remainder of the year that's perfectly sensible. Just don't expect me to agree on a personal level because for me it's fine.

Anyway, with that out of the way (to pre-emptively answer the inevitable "this game's in maintenance mode, I'm cancelling my sub" comments), what is coming?

First off, we'll get another new world event in autumn, but this one will be longer-running and seasonal instead of tied to a Conquest week, like Soovada and Life Day. It will be called "Feast of Prosperity" and be centred on... Hutts and food I guess?

Now, those of you who've been following my writings for a while may know that I'm not a huge fan of seasonal events. It's not that I hate the idea, but all too often I just find them incredibly lazy both in conceptualisation and implementation, such as how lots of fantasy MMOs just happen to have some version of Christmas in their worlds - oh, it has a different name of course but it also just so happens to be celebrated in all the same (or remarkably similar) ways as in real life, which is not helpful when part of the appeal of playing the game is escapism. The event activities are often a copy and paste from one event to the next as well - I remember when I last played retail WoW, pretty much every single seasonal event had been reduced to grinding some sort of token to buy cosmetics and queueing for a special event boss once a day in hopes of getting a rare mount. If players liked it once, they'll like it a hundred times! Game design, everyone!

Sorry, went off on a bit of a tangent there... anyway, my point is that announcing a new seasonal event that has a clear relation to a real-life holiday is not a good way of getting me excited. (Where's my Grinch hat?) So my first reaction to that announcement was a bit of a sigh and eye-roll - so we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving in a galaxy far, far away now? Sounds grand.

Buuut I'll admit, once I heard some of the details, things started to sound more appealing. Supposedly there'll be repeatable non-combat missions to do (something I've come to appreciate a lot more since starting my pacifist project), and an incentive to kill world bosses for "rare ingredients". I'm trying to figure out how that will fit in with the theme - will we be farming Grandfather on Balmorra for Big Bormu Livers to feed and amuse Drooga the Hutt or something? Okay, that actually sounds kind of weird and funny; I'm game for that.

The 6.2 story continuation that was originally meant to happen in summer will now go live in late autumn/winter, though it will contain two story updates at once (we'll see how "big" that feels in practice). First we'll get the resolution of the arc that Kira and Scourge set up at the end of Onslaught, and then apparently a flashpoint introducing us to a new storyline about internal Mandalorian conflict. I've said in the past that I'm not crazy about Mandos, but I'll admit that this sounds interesting, especially as we haven't dealt with them in a while. I hope this ties into the conversation you have with Shae at the end of KotFE chapter fourteen about how to keep the Mandalorians busy going forward and whether they can adapt their culture to be a bit less bloodthirsty.

In terms of gameplay changes that aren't currently tied to a specific update, Conquest, crafting and amplifiers were mentioned as systems supposed to receive further tweaks, but what really stood out to me was Lead Designer Chris Schmidt mentioning that they were looking at adjusting older content to be more in line with newer design, in terms of things like travel time, number of mobs you have to kill etc. I find this quite intriguing, though I'm not entirely sure what to expect. I think the way they've balanced things in Jedi Under Siege and Onslaught has been very good, but the last time they tweaked low-level content like that in 4.0 it was a bit of a mixed bag to be honest. Additions like extra quick travel points were welcome, but content removals like cutting out most of Czerka's underground base on Tatooine or binning that one heroic on Alderaan just to reduce travel time on a story mission in the area were not. So we'll see how that pans out I guess.

Honestly, writing all of this down has actually made me feel a bit hyped about it. There are only five months to go in the year (I know, right) and we're getting all this stuff? Yeah, more's almost always better, but to be honest that sounds like plenty to keep me interested and busy.