Flashpoint Levelling: Light at the end of the tunnel?

My Nautolan Shadow who's solely levelling through the group finder is getting close to level 60. Here's how her last five runs went.

Maelstrom Prison
I levelled: 52-54

Braving the full selection of flashpoints available to me once again for the sake of the weekly quest, I was pleasantly surprised to not get put into Hammer Station but Maelstrom Prison, which Nautalie had only done once before and for which she also had the story quest this time around. Once again the group consisted of nothing but damage dealers of a variety of levels.

The lowest among them, a level 40 Scoundrel, immediately expressed a dislike of the flashpoint, to which I felt the need to reply that I quite liked it. She responded that the "dude with laser eyes is one of the most tedious in the game IMO". I didn't actually say it, but all I could think on reading that was: "You've clearly never been to Copero, dear woman!"

At this point I felt the need to inspect her achievements and she had indeed never set foot into any of the Traitor flashpoints. I quietly amused myself trying to imagine what she was going to think of bosses like Syndic Zenta if she already hated Colonel Daksh.

Lest I give a negative impression of this person, she also suggested that we do the bonus, which instantly raised my opinion of her. We would have done both of them too if we hadn't missed one of the consoles somewhere, and by the time we realised that, even I couldn't be bothered to go back to search for it.

Just before we got to the first boss, one person who hadn't said a single word left the group seemingly at random. I queued us for a replacement and got a Scoundrel whose name was the term for the edges of a woman's underwear showing through her clothes, because why wouldn't you want to name your character something like that?

Colonel Daksh lived up to his reputation by the way and wiped us on the first attempt, with pretty much everyone in the group except me trying to face-tank him when they really shouldn't have. (I just died from all the other damage, clearly having overestimated my survivability at level 52.) During the run back I made sure everyone was now aware that they should hide if they got aggro during the laser phase, and on the next try we were victorious - though not without more deaths. Fortunately the Sage in the group knew where her combat revive was and with the reduced cooldown of thirty seconds she must have used it at least three times during that one fight. Beginner's Luck indeed.

I levelled: 54-55

Queuing late at night and with Hammer Station deselected again, my wait time lasted several whole minutes! Then I got a group which included a tank for a change, which was nice as it at least established who should be making the pulls.

On the first boss someone did that weird ledge jump again and I had a moment of unpleasant memories, but at least this person actually waited for everyone to follow (except me, who preferred to just stealth past the mobs on the ground).

A guy whose name was the name of an Italian city written three times in a row revealed himself as new to the place by running off into a random direction at one point and pulling some completely out-of-the-way mobs, and he also tried to fight the Prophet of Vodal's flames for a bit - fortunately for him, neither event led to his death.

Hammer Station
I levelled: 55-56

Another weekly reset, another shot at the full selection of flashpoints (up to 19 at this point), and I got taken to Hammer Station once again. With a level 75 tank and two damage dealers of levels 75 and 65, I figured it should be fast and painless, just to have the tank stop the whole group dead after literally the first pull because she was annoyed with the Gunslinger not regenerating their health.

Now, to be clear, people not using their regen abilities can be annoying, especially when you're struggling to stay alive from pull to pull, but this was veteran mode Hammer Station after literally the first pull and nobody other than the Gunslinger had lost any health at all. It just seemed like a very bizarre thing to get upset about, though it was equally weird that the Gunslinger kept standing there acting confused instead of simply hitting their regen ability for five seconds. We did continue eventually regardless of the Gunslinger's health.

On the Tunneler the Vanguard tank and the 'slinger kept trading aggro, which seemed to annoy the tank even more. After that I was unsure for a bit whether she had decided to troll us out of annoyance, since she started pulling extra trash that wasn't needed and ran Vorgan the Volcano in constant circles, which made it very hard to dps him as a melee.

At the bridge someone actually asked whether we should fight the turrets or run, to which I replied that I preferred to kill them. This prompted the Vanguard to burst out with something in all caps which Google Translate rendered for me as Spanish for "it's the same for me" - I wasn't sure whether that was meant to signal agreement or indifference.

Anyway, we killed the turrets and the last boss just fine. Once again I just found someone's (in this case the tank's) behaviour quite weird at times.

Battle of Ilum
I levelled: 56-57

After taking another look at the 19 available flashpoints on my group finder list, I realised that I hadn't done 12 of them even once yet and made the executive decision that in the future I will untick all seven flashpoints below level 40 whenever I'm not aiming to get credit for the weekly quest to do a random. As it stands I've done all the lower-level flashpoints at least once and most of them multiple times.

I braced myself for a potentially longer wait... but got an instant pop for Battle of Ilum instead, with three people who were all in the same guild, no less! Some people might find that sort of setup uncomfortable, maybe for fear of being ganged up on, but I'm always happy to group with a partial premade as it ensures a minimum amount of co-operation and greatly reduces the risk of in-fighting or rage-quitting. Based on the guild name they were Polish, but they did speak English in chat and acted perfectly friendly towards me.

And the best thing? We watched the cut scenes, did all the bosses and both bonuses. I don't think I've ever gotten all of that done in my first run of BoI on a new character while pugging. I seriously felt like it was my lucky day.

As an additional bonus it was a pretty fun run in terms of gameplay too. The three guildies were all level 75, though not all of them were well-geared, and nobody played a class that could heal, so there were some pulls where things got a bit tight and got the adrenaline pumping, but in the end we always succeeded.

Battle of Ilum
I levelled: 57-58

Queuing for the same 12 level 40+ flashpoints again, I was surprised to end up in Battle of Ilum again. This run was closer to my usual experiences with the place, involving lots of trash skipping, but considering that I'd just had the run of my life literally the day before, I didn't mind. We did kill all the bosses, even the optional ones, and the extent to which we skipped the trash was actually kind of amusing because our group consisted of a Vanguard tank and three Shadows, so we essentially had one person running around with a stealth escort that was mezzing everything around them as they went.

By the end of the flashpoint we'd killed less than forty mobs, and it would have been even fewer if not for a couple of accidental/lazy body pulls. I don't think I would have levelled up if flashpoint completion hadn't also granted me the Socialite I Conquest objective, which resulted in a bit of bonus XP.

I fear I'm going to jinx it by even saying this, but I can't help but wonder if unticking all the easy low-level flashpoints that people like to farm is going to make things more fun for me going forward. At least the first two runs using this new strategy were very successful, and I don't find it hard to imagine that players who are happy to queue for these are more interested in actually doing the content and having a good time than those who just want to run Hammer Station a hundred times in as short a time as possible to maximise their rewards.

I'll find out I guess.


Mini Road Map

A couple of weeks ago, Eric Musco gave us a brief "what's next" update on the forums, which (among other things) clarified that they were going to move away from giving us full road maps, without giving any reason why. I thought that was a bit of a shame, considering that I've always enjoyed Keith's road maps... we can only speculate as to why they decided that the time and effort put into writing these things wasn't worth the reward. Or maybe they are simply too uncertain right now about when they can deliver what content in the near future.

Maybe just a hint of a dirt path then?

Anyway, Keith did take to the forums yesterday to provide us with a few morsels at least. I think it's fair to describe the reception he received as lukewarm. It's not that people took issue with anything he said, but there just wasn't enough meat in those paragraphs to provide people with anything to latch on to. Lots of vague phrases about "exciting things" and such, but without any real specifications.

Personally I also thought that the tone of the original post sounded oddly defensive, in the introduction at least. "Thank You to everyone who has stayed with us" - should I have left? Are there people saying everyone's left? Because I haven't seen anyone be down on the game in the last few months, not even the usual Negative Nanciess. "I continue to play the game a lot as I believe it’s vitally important to have the same type of experiences as our players" - again, nothing wrong with the message, but it kind of sounds like he's responding to someone accusing him of not playing the game anymore.

Then there was a point about "updated stories" which confused several people with its ambiguity, as they decided to interpret it as some sort of overhaul of existing content. On re-reading I think it was just an odd choice of words though, and he simply meant "story updates" as in new additions to existing storylines.

Still, there were a few tangible reveals in there:

- February will feature our first subscriber reward in a while, a tauntaun mount. I don't really need another one of those, but as a loyal subscriber I do appreciate them giving us a little extra nod like that for the first time in many months.

- Patch 6.1, featuring the Alderaan stronghold and a small story update about the size of Hearts and Minds, is currently scheduled to launch on February 11th.

- 6.1.1 and 6.1.2 are supposed to come "pretty quick on the heels of 6.1" but this was then further specified as "in the next couple of months after 6.1 is live". I guess we'll see what Bioware considers "quick"... I could well see it being June by the time the second of these patches lands.

- Content in 6.1.1 and 2 is supposed to include "new quality of life changes for Conquests, more class changes, Master Mode Dxun, and more". Well, my guildies and I sure are ready for master mode Dxun now! Except... not really. If it's anything like MM Gods from the Machine, we'll only have a look at the first boss at best. But I guess it's nice to see that they are trying to release it quickly instead of endlessly delaying it the way Gods' master mode was.

Quality of life changes for Conquest could be anything really - I've seen people guess that it will likely involve yet more tweaking of point values and objectives, which I kind of hope it won't be, as I actually feel that these things are in a great place at the moment. Now if they fixed the bugs with the Conquest point display in the guild window and generally made it easier to tally up points to reward people, that would be a huge quality of life change for me.

- The line about what else is coming in 2020 is the one that's super vague, except that it includes "PvP improvements". You know the one PvP improvement I'm holding out for...

- Finally he notes that they'll be at Star Wars Celebration again this year and mentions again that they are already thinking about the game's tenth anniversary. Both of these are good things, but not really of immediate interest to most players, I suspect.

All in all, good things are supposed to be coming, but as usual we're light on details. One thing I liked though was that after some people complained about the lack of references to story content, Charles Boyd jumped into the thread to give some great teases about what's to come story-wise. Now that man knows how to get people excited! Or maybe I just find it ridiculously easy to get excited about even slight hints of what's to come story-wise. I won't put any of that here for people who are super sensitive about spoilers, but if you've played through Onslaught there shouldn't be any dramatic reveals among his comments, just some intriguing teases of what's to come.


Apex Vanguard Down!

I mentioned in my last post that my ops team was getting very close to killing the Apex Vanguard (the last boss in the new Dxun operation) on veteran mode, and this past Sunday we finally got him down! Yeah!

I do have to admit that my gut reaction wasn't to cheer and punch fists though, but rather a simple sense of relief. Finally done with this boss!

The main criticism I had of the fight on story mode, namely that it wasn't much more than a long and somewhat boring tank-and-spank for everyone but the person having to do the "battery dance", didn't really hold up in veteran mode: The person doing the battery still has the most responsibility, but there are other important things to do, such as taking care of flare placement, distributing and using stims, and everyone has to be able to react appropriately to the boss's Contagion and Zone Defense abilities.

That said, this boss and I just didn't gel. We weren't off to the best start when I missed the first two weeks or so of progression on him, which meant that on my first couple of nights of actually seeing the fight for myself I felt hopelessly behind... I'm usually not the slowest learner, but with everyone having had a chance to practise all the mechanics for so much longer I kept making what felt like pretty basic mistakes and felt very self-conscious about my lack of familiarity with the fight compared to everyone else.

Worse, I was then assigned a relatively important job, to handle the flares, which common wisdom says should be doable by a single healer. However, every time we tried this, it didn't go well - there were constant arguments about my placement of the flares, and whenever I had to run to pick up more flares we tended to fall seriously behind on healing, which would ultimately lead to deaths and then usually a wipe.

We eventually found that having two ranged dps take turns handling the flares worked much better for us. And I guess there's no shame in adjusting tactics to find whatever works best for your group, but I still couldn't help but feel like we were having to work around my lack of ability.

There was a similar situation when it came to injecting the tank with stims at the very end of the fight, which I got to try properly once, failed, and then things were immediately re-jigged to have the tank take care of the stims themselves.

To be honest I was kind of glad to not have the extra responsibility as I found myself quite taxed just paying attention to everything else, but at the same time I felt like I was being a real drag on the team. I can't even pinpoint what exactly has caused me to struggle so much with the fight, as it's not that hard on the healers if everyone else does their job correctly, but for some reason I just didn't get on with it.

It's not my least favourite fight ever or anything, but definitely my least favourite fight in this operation. Still, I'm glad to be able to say that I've completed them all. Now we just need to kill Huntmaster and Apex on 16-man hardmode (we've already beaten all the bosses before them), and then there are a bunch of WoW-style "complete the fight in a weird way that gives you a handycap" achievements, which I've never been too fond of, but as this sort of "hardmode plus" hasn't really been a thing in SWTOR before, I'm willing to give it a try.

We'll just need to make sure that everyone who wasn't in on the kill last night gets their regular achievement first.


Three Months of Onslaught

I realised today that as of yesterday, a full three months have passed since Onslaught's launch. Time flies when you're having fun!

My initial excitement has of course tapered off a bit, but I'm still happily chugging along, as the game feels like it's in a pretty good place right now.

First off, the expansion has really managed to reinvigorate my interest in endgame of all kinds. Working on the new operation has been a blast, and my guild has been able to run two full progression teams to focus on it. The other team actually managed to kill the Apex Vanguard (the last boss) on veteran mode last week, but my own team isn't far off either - just yesterday we had a zero percent wipe (/cries).

While there'll still be things left to do after he falls, I really like the thought of soon being able to say that we cleared the new operation in both difficulties. It's not something I've ever been able to say so shortly after the release of a new raid.

The Conquest rebalancing also revived my interest in that part of the game, and my guild managed to conquer both Mek-Sha and Taris in the last month, which was fun and exciting.

My excitement about gear has tapered off a lot since I earned full 306, simply because the set bonus I want seems ridiculously hard to acquire - it's not available from the regular vendors and I don't think I've seen a single piece drop in the operation it's supposed to be dropping from after three months of running it nearly every week. So I just keep spending tech fragments on sets for alts whenever I get close to the cap and that works alright for me.

Despite of my initial criticisms I did the Onderon dailies for quite a while, even after I'd maxed out the reputation, mostly because running them was something that Mr Commando was happy to do too, so it gave us another in-game activity to do together. Once he lost interest I mostly did as well, though I've been back a couple of times mainly to combine doing them with a round of gathering. The way Bioware has balanced gathering skills this time around, hours of running missions don't yield nearly as much profit as simply picking flowers while doing a round of dailies on Onderon.

The repeatable content on Mek-Sha has been oddly disappointing though. I only found one of the heroics really fun to repeat, as the other one required an odd amount of running around that made the heroic quick travel option feel almost pointless. Then later they added a third one which seemed like it was supposed to give you some fun options to support different factions and unlock achievements, but it was buggy as all hell on launch and gave no real reward, which caused Mr Commando to dismiss it after one run and we haven't been back since then.

Bioware also added a terminal with supposedly rotating dailies in patch 6.0.2, but I also only visited that one once. It gave me a mission to pick some fruit on Dantooine but sent Mr Commando off to Nar Shaddaa. The fruit-picking was cute enough, but being sent off to different planets at random obviously didn't make it a good choice for something to do as a team. I should probably revisit it anyway though...

To get back to gathering for a second, crew skills in general launched in a pretty messed-up state (which is honestly why I didn't bother to look into them too much initially), mostly with even the simplest crafts being ridiculously expensive in terms of materials. A patch has improved the situation somewhat since then, but it's still incredibly slow. I only got the achievement for getting all crew skills to level 700 the other day, and am slowly chipping away at trying to research this or that schematic, without too much commitment.

All of that aside, there is of course always more story content to go through. I've "only" completed Onslaught on six characters and I have so many more alts parked at various points, from their class story to KotET. And I do enjoy logging into different ones to play a bit here and there, but as much as I want to see different outcomes on a cerebral level, when it comes to deciding how I'm going to spend my one hour of playtime in the evening - or however much I happen to have - I all too often end up doing something else instead. But it's okay, fortunately that content isn't going anywhere, so I'll just keep chilling and chipping away at it as time allows and depending on my mood.


Flashpoint Levelling: Halfway There?

Nautalie the Shadow's levelling journey through the group finder continues.

Hammer Station
I levelled: 46-47

After several weeks of not seeing the place, I didn't mind getting it quite so much this time.

This group almost would have gone down as my first one where nobody said a single word, as nobody responded to my greeting at the beginning of the run, but then someone suddenly typed "hello" in chat halfway through the instance for some reason.

That, and our tank told us to just run past the turrets before the bridge, a tactic I'd read about somewhere but hadn't seen in action for a while (or ever? not sure now). It worked, but also meant that the tank almost died on the trash pulls afterwards, as we were unable to get out of combat to regenerate and nobody had any healing abilities. Also, at the end people had to commit suicide by hurling themselves off the platform since you can't exit while stuck in combat. Another prime example of how to make things unnecessarily complicated just to avoid killing two mobs if you ask me.

I also found it interesting that while the tank did a great job at rounding up mobs and holding aggro, she didn't seem to have much of a survival instinct. I watched closely on the Tunneler to see if she'd take the two steps to the side to click the kolto station next to her, but she didn't and only survived the first laser due to her Life Warden tactical proccing. After that I started clicking them for her.

Also, as an aside, for the last four or five runs all the personal loot I'd been getting was gear that required level 48 to wear, which I found funny. It formed a proper pile in my inventory by that point, since I couldn't put any of it on yet.

Hammer Station
I levelled: 47-49

I suppose I had been pushing my luck with all those times I queued without deselecting Hammer Station. At least this was a fairly uneventful and pleasant run with no weird behaviour from anyone and a group that was just tearing through the flashpoint as one happy wrecking ball. I felt smug about once again ending up tanking the Tunneler against three level 75 damage dealers without having used any taunts (while also taking care of my own health clicking kolto stations, as you do).

Hammer Station
I levelled: 49-50

By this point I knew that I really had to go back to making sure that Hammer Station wasn't part of my random selection. At least it was another solid group of 75s, with a healer who actually healed and dps who managed to generate more aggro than me. The only thing that detracted from my personal satisfaction was that it was another group that decided to just run past the turrets by the bridge, getting us stuck in combat for the remainder of the flashpoint.

I also got some level 65 green gear for some reason. I think I must have won the roll on some random loot.

Mandalorian Raiders
I levelled: 50-51

I made sure to unselect Hammer Station for this run, which fortunately did not prevent me from getting a pop within literal seconds. The group I got consisted entirely of mid-level damage dealers like me. I was also auto-granted the weekly to do five veteran flashpoints, as level 50 is apparently the first time you can pick that up.

The Commando in the group was very adept at turning everything into a corner pull, which I found admirable... but he was also impatient, rarely waiting for people to fully heal up before he ran into the next pull, which was less admirable. I also noticed that he was the only person rolling need on all the crafting drops...

I have to admit I felt somewhat vindicated when we wiped on Braxx after the Commando once again ran in without paying attention where everyone else was and promptly died within five seconds. This wipe also led to the only comments from fellow group members throughout the entire run (nobody replied to my hi or thanks), as one guy went "...." and another commented that "no way we're doing this shit". I half expected that one to drop out at that point, but we just tried again and the next attempt went perfectly. (Shocking, that one wipe isn't an indicator of utter failure!)

Nobody said anything before we pulled Mavrix either, and the Sentinel in the group stayed on the boss the entire time, but fortunately his dps wasn't enough to push the boss through before the rest of us could take out the turrets.

Not a terrible run by any means, but I've got to say the general attitude on display got a thumbs-down from me.

Mandalorian Raiders
I levelled 51-52

Another day of queuing for everything but Hammer Station, another instant pop, another group of four dps for Mando Raiders. Meh.

This group was fun though. They didn't talk much either, but at least everyone said hi and bye. The other Shadow in the group and I facilitated a lot of trash skips by doubling up on crowd control, which I didn't mind in this case and didn't find annoying at all since it required us to co-ordinate, which is actually fun to me (as opposed to people impatiently tapping their feet waiting for the newbie to get some awkward jump just right).

They were also the happiest kolto clickers ever. I've previously said that I often adopt the role of quasi-healer since nobody else seems to have sufficient awareness of their own health and of when they should be clicking on a kolto station, but this group was happily running laps around the room clicking each one almost as soon as it came off cooldown. In a fight with fewer stations that could have been problematic, but fortunately there is no shortage of kolto on the Allusis.

On the Imperial strike team I once again became witness to a slightly different strategy, because while people killed things in the order I expected, there was no dps split on the last two so that the agent was still on full health when the bounty hunter died. I worried a little that we might be done for, but the guy with aggro just ran away and hid behind some crates, and for some reason the agent wasn't too bothered by this and just kept vaguely firing in his direction while the rest of us killed him. The more you pug, the more you learn.

Half Time

With 23 levels left to go I reckon I'm at around the halfway point, so I decided to do a little tally of how it's been going so far. I've run a total of 24 flashpoints, and 10 of them (or 42%!) have been Hammer Stations. Not exactly an exciting amount of variety, which I think is the main reason I've been dragging my feet a little. Both Tessal's and Pugette's levelling journeys felt like exciting adventures, never knowing what the group finder would spit out next, while poor Nautalie is just becoming an expert in asteroid-throwing battle stations. That's what I get for wanting to find out what life's like for the "average" pugger I guess! Still, I'm committed to finishing this so I can do a proper round-up once she hits 75. Another 24 flashpoints or so to go I guess?


In The Shadows

I got a new PC a couple of weeks into Onslaught, and after playing through the new story both on the old machine and the new one, I was surprised to find some noticeable differences between the screenshots I had taken on one vs. the other. I thought that I'd already been playing with maxed out settings beforehand, but the newer screenshots seem to indicate otherwise.

Most striking was the difference in terms of shadows in shots like this one of Darth Shaar on Mek-Sha:

The second one made for a much moodier scene, giving the briefing room a dark and sinister air that was pretty appropriate for the situation... but it doesn't make for very good character shots.

This got me thinking about how much enabling bloom changed my perception of certain things back when I first did that. Now, glowing archaeology crystals are one thing, but later on I noticed that it was also causing other, more subtle changes, as you can see in these before and after screenshots:

Notice how in the second/newer screenshot everything in the background is blurry (at least I think it's bloom that's causing this - EDIT: now that I'm checking again, this might actually be the setting called "conversation depth of field"). It gives the whole scene what I'd call a more cinematic feel, with the camera being tightly focused on the characters instead of giving the eye a chance to get distracted by background detail.

It has a clear purpose, but even so... I can't say that blurring the background strikes me as objectively "better" than not doing so. I like the effect enough to keep it, but it's still a strange new experience for me that turning everything up to max doesn't necessarily result in the best possible graphics.

I'll definitely have to have a think about whether I want to turn down the shadows in particular, now that having them is apparently an option, simply because while it's a cool effect it doesn't make for the best screenshots. And I love taking screenshots way too much.

Have you ever opted for "worse" graphic settings not for performance reasons but because you actually thought the game looked better that way?


Flashpoints & Operations by Group Finder Level

This is that purely informational post I said I was going to make when I first found out about the unannounced adjustments to the group finder made in 6.0.

As far as I can tell the minimum levels set in 4.0 haven't been adjusted game-wide, so that you can still manually walk into any veteran flashpoint from level 15 upwards for example, however the group finder will only let you queue for content that it considers level-appropriate now. This mostly corresponds to the levels the content was originally designed for, with some minor tweaks made to the ranges for lower-level flashpoints.

Here is what you can access at each level:

Republic only veteran flashpoint: The Esseles
Imperial only veteran flashpoint: The Black Talon

Veteran flashpoints: Hammer Station, Kuat Drive Yards

Veteran flashpoint: Athiss

Veteran flashpoint: Mandalorian Raiders

Veteran flashpoint: Cademimu

Republic only veteran flashpoints: Taral V, Maelstrom Prison
Imperial only veteran flashpoints: Boarding Party, The Foundry

Veteran flashpoint: The Red Reaper

Veteran flashpoint: Directive 7

Veteran flashpoint: Battle of Ilum

Veteran flashpoint: False Emperor

Veteran flashpoints: Korriban Incursion, Assault on Tython, Depths of Manaan, Legacy of the Rakata, Battle of Rishi, Blood Hunt

Veteran flashpoints: Czerka Corporate Labs, Czerka Core Meltdown

Veteran flashpoints: Crisis on Umbara, A Traitor Among The Chiss, The Nathema Conspiracy, Objective Meridian
All master mode flashpoints
All story & veteran uprisings
All operations (most of them on a rotation*, Toborro's Courtyard & Hive of the Mountain Queen always available, Xenoanalyst II available during the Relics of the Gree event, The Eyeless available during the Rakghoul Resurgence events)

Operation: Nature of Progress (on rotation*)

*The rotation of operations follows a fixed format, so that you can predict when a specific one will show up in the group finder next despite of only seeing the current and following day's in the game itself. The order is:

Eternity Vault
Dread Fortress
Nature of Progress
Colossal Monolith
The Ravagers
Karagga's Palace
Explosive Conflict
Gods from the Machine
Temple of Sacrifice
Terror from Beyond
Dread Palace
Scum and Villainy
(then back to EV etc.)


Currency Confusion

When was the last time you participated in one of the recurring world events (Bounty Contract Week, Rakghoul Resurgence etc.)? Personally, since I tend to binge on every new event when it first comes out to max out my reputation and earn all the rewards that interest me right away, I tend to not go back to them that often.

The other week however I did, and learned to my surprise that the world events have been touched by Onslaught in an undocumented way as well - undocumented and very weird.

You see, all of these events tend to have one or two event currencies that are usually legacy-bound (there are some exceptions). And when I say currency here, I mean actual items that go into your inventory. Yes, it would have been more convenient to have them be part of the currency tab, but at the same time I personally didn't think that this system was too bad. It was just one more thing to store in your legacy cargo bay.

With Onslaught though, something odd happened. The old currency tokens still exist as they were, but any new ones you earn go into your currency tab - hurray! However, that currency is bound to that specific character, not legacy-wide. Oh no! Except... you can go to the vendor and spend this character-bound currency to buy a new token which goes into your inventory and can be traded across your legacy again. These new tokens can't be used to actually buy anything though; you always have to go to a vendor and convert it to the character-bound currency first before you can purchase anything.

Confused yet? I can't even begin to imagine what purpose this was supposed to serve. My best theory is that some new programmer was told to convert all the event tokens into a currency, but they didn't realise it was supposed to be legacy-wide currency and made it character currency instead. Then someone more senior noticed the mistake at the last moment, but in the mysterious ways of code, changing the entire thing to a legacy currency on such short notice actually would have been more difficult than adding a new legacy-wide token to the vendor that you can buy and sell with the character currency.
Sounds convoluted and far-fetched? For sure, but I just can't picture anyone intentionally coming up with the weirdness we have now.

Worse, as I said at the start, there used to be some exceptions to the legacy-bound rule... for example Bounty Brokers Association contracts were actually tradeable between players (mercenary as bounty hunters are), so some people basically only gathered them to sell, and others bought them to save themselves from having to do dozens of repeatable quests to buy a reputation reward. Under the new system the contracts are bound though and that whole mini-ecosystem has been destroyed.

It's all very strange and I'd love to hear some kind of official statement from Bioware what this change was all about. I know that these events are probably only a minority pursuit on a grand scale, but it's still strange to see this sudden convoluted mess.


My SWTOR Predictions for 2020

I didn't make any predictions for 2019 because I was still befuddled by just how wrong my predictions for 2018 had turned out to be, but also because I was genuinely uncertain about SWTOR's direction at the time, what with 6.0 having been perpetually delayed (not officially, but everyone was so sure that it was about to be announced any moment now... and then it wasn't).

Since Onslaught's launch it feels like the game has a much clearer path ahead - which is not to say that I necessarily expect my predictions to be right, but at least I have some things to base them on if that makes sense. To be honest I expect a lot of them to turn out wrong, but I feel they are at least educated guesses.

Note that some of these predictions concern story direction post-Onslaught and will therefore contain spoilers if you haven't played through the expansion story yet.

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.

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...

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!

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!

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.


Hammer Station No More

Let's ring in the new year with an update on my Nautolan Shadow's progress levelling through flashpoints.

Hammer Sta... Kuat Drive Yards!
I levelled: 38-40

As it was the start of a new week I queued for the full selection of available flashpoints once again, expecting to be thrown into Hammer Station for this transgression (when the queue popped I could see that we had a level 17 in the group so it couldn't have been anything other than that, Kuat or Athiss), but I got Kuat again! Yay!

In this one I was actually the highest level, grouped with two Sentinels and another Shadow below me. The Shadow was the lowest level and admitted that it was her first time in a flashpoint of any kind. Poor thing got lost at the very beginning as she couldn't even find the elevator but I showed her the way.

We got the Starship Assembly first and things went well enough, except for one or two deaths, which I consider fairly normal in a low-level group with no healer. But one of the Sentinels clearly wasn't happy, as (from what I could tell) he started swearing in Polish after dying once. Then he jumped into another big pull all on his own while the rest of the group was still low on health from the previous fight, died shortly thereafter and finally quit the group.

I re-queued us for a replacement unfazed and tried to actually do the puzzle properly since neither of the two lowbies seemed to know what to do and were therefore unlikely to interfere, but I messed it up and picked the wrong options anyway. D'oh! A level 75 Shadow joined the group just as we finished the section.

The second part was the hangar, and I'm happy to say that for once we completed all the bonuses in that one!

The final boss was Lieutenant Krupp again. I explained what to do and everyone executed things perfectly so that we got him down on the first try. Afterwards I stayed grouped with the newbie Shadow for a bit longer and she told me that she played other MMOs but had only just got started on SWTOR. She also said that she'd had fun in the flashpoint and added me as a friend. Warm fuzzies all around!

Hammer Sta... Taral V!
I levelled: 40-42

My initial enthusiasm for these runs diminished a lot after the first week, which made me log in to work on this project more infrequently, but being ill for a few days caused me to take a break for a full week, so that I soon found myself with the weekly quest yet again. Again I braved the full random selection and did not get Hammer Station - instead I found myself getting sent to Taral V, which was handy as I had the story quest for it too.

Taral V is one of those places where I always struggle with the majority's desire to skip as much as possible, but this time around I decided to take it easy and go with the flow. The other dps was a Nautolan Sage, and we had a level 75 tank and healer, so I let the tank lead us past most trash and bonus objectives, just doing their thing. The only skip that stung a bit was Doctor Zharan, whom I consider a very fun boss and I always expect him to drop loot (though I later verified that he doesn't), but I didn't say anything either way. At least with full restedness I still gained two levels despite all the skips.

Ha... Mandalorian Raiders
I levelled: 42-43

Third time in a row that I queued for everything and didn't get Hammer Station! Is the madness finally over? Even better, I got another flashpoint that Nautalie hadn't done yet.

This was another all-dps group, consisting of me, a level 75 Guardian and Commando, and a level 41 Sage. Contrary to expectations, the 75s didn't seem entirely sure what to do and were initially very hesitant to make the pulls, despite of it being the most sensible thing for them to do considering our level distribution. The Commando also ran off into completely the wrong direction (which is to say backwards) after we took the shortcut involving the elevator. Meanwhile the Sage seemed to be the one person who knew what they were doing... never judge your pugs by their level!

The first boss was the usual crazy mess (though nobody died) and it was once again mostly down to me to click kolto stations. I'm coming to appreciate that it really is an art, knowing when to click these, in particular that you need to start thinking about doing it before you're almost dead.

The Boarding Party was interesting in so far as I swear that I've killed its members in the same order pretty much since the dawn of time (warrior, inquisitor, then agent and bounty hunter more or less simultaneously), but as usual pugs are great at providing new experiences. I didn't actually know what would happen if you changed the order... as it was, the group actually left Rotham for last and he promptly one-shot the Sage with a Force choke from hell the moment all his friends were dead. Good thing I had been hitting him at least, so he didn't have that much health left.

Considering how it had been going I made sure to highlight the rule not to attack the final boss while turrets are up, and fortunately everyone was compliant in that regard so that we downed Mavrix Varad himself with no problems.

Ha... Cademimu
I levelled: 43-45

This was a run with three level 75s, two Sentinels and a healing Sage. Considering that, it was still harder than expected. The Sage was one of those odd healers where I'm never quite sure what they are doing, because he was obviously healing specced and I could see him cast healing spells, but somehow we were still all on half health even on the most mundane of pulls. On two of the bosses I had to click a kolto station because I was about to die from a complete lack of any incoming heals, just to get yanked away from it right afterwards by the very same Sage as if I he as annoyed at me daring to keep myself alive. Very odd.

I learned two new trash-skipping tricks, both of which failed and generally (as these things so often are) seemed way more hassle than simple killing the mobs we were trying to bypass. But I guess it's still interesting to know to what lengths people will go to in places to avoid killing one more mob.

Finally, on the last boss the healer died to rocket fire and then tried to tell us what to do while lying dead on the floor. One of the Sentinels died as well, but me and the other Sent finished the boss off just fine with just the two of us. It was just one of those groups that kind of grated on me despite of nothing going terribly wrong - I just didn't really like the juxtaposition of the dps being in a hurry and wanting to skip everything with a healer who came across as having a pretty high opinion of himself while doing very little healing.

Ha... Kuat Drive Yards again
I levelled: 45-46

And fifth time in a row that I didn't get Hammer Station! Though it was Kuat again, but then I'm not really tired of that one yet. This run was already in progress and halfway through the Starship Assembly when I joined. It didn't look to me like they were going for any of the bonuses, but when I saw the elite defender just sitting in a corner I asked whether we should kill it, and while I got no verbal reply someone else immediately charged it, so yay for communication I guess? As there was some dithering about the actual starship assembly I started to wonder whether they were actually trying to solve it, but the prototype turned out to be a failure as usual.

The second half was the prison wing, which we also blasted through in short order. This time the elite defender just kind of sat in the way of one of our objectives anyway, so I didn't even ask before charging it. I was happy to get all three bonus missions done for once!

We finished up with Lord Modo and I defaulted to clicking the kolto stations again, but this time it was more out of habit than due to a feeling that we were all going to die if I wasn't looking after our health. I haven't mentioned it yet, but this party also consisted of three level 75 damage dealers (two geared, one not) but for once the effect was actually as expected, which is to say that everything melted in short order.

I'm up to having nine flashpoints unlocked and not far off unlocking more at this point, so hopefully I'll be able to keep queuing for a random without being put into Hammer Station all the time anymore. It's certainly more fun to see some variety.