22/02/2020

The Veteran's Edge Controversy

Gosh, it's been a long time since I got to write about a genuine controversy surrounding SWTOR's raiding. I mean, I talk about running operations and the challenges involved in that often enough, but it's not usually something that has the community up in arms. In fact, the last time I remember talking about anything even remotely similar was when the subject of Nightmare Power was brought up six years ago.

Looking back at that post, Nightmare Power was ultimately a well-communicated change aimed at throwing the bleeding edge raiders a bone while at the same time making nightmare mode raiding just a little bit more accessible - basically the complete opposite of what's happening right now.

But let's start at the beginning, with an executive summary of the situation for anyone who might be interested in the subject but isn't up to date with what's happening in the SWTOR raid community (I wouldn't blame you).

Back in Knights of the Fallen Empire, when the game introduced level-scaling, all operations were scaled up to be endgame content. This meant that you could run the very first raid that was added to the game back in 2011 for rewards in pretty much the same way you could run the newest one. Like it or not, that's what we got. When the level cap was raised by another five levels with Knights of the Eternal Throne, all endgame content was once again scaled up by another five levels as well.

With Onslaught though, the developers talked about wanting to come up with a different solution going forward, because apparently this constant re-scaling is a lot of work. On the Onslaught PTS, they tried scaling each operation down to its original level at first (so that Eternity Vault was level 50, Scum & Villainy level 55, Temple of Sacrifice level 60 etc.), the idea being that they could then stay there forever regardless of further level cap increases, but apparently that didn't work so well. So what happened instead was that all the old content stayed at its previous level cap of 70, and players are scaled down to that from the new level cap of 75, which felt very much like the devs were just running out of time before the expansion's launch and needed to do something.

The main problem with that has been that downscaling in SWTOR puts a cap on most of your primary stats such as endurance, mastery etc., meaning that downscaled content is essentially set to a fixed difficulty that is largely unaffected by gear. (You can still increase some secondary stats like crit, but that doesn't make that much of a difference.) I'm sure some people love the idea of that, but this is still an MMORPG, and making your character stronger by acquiring better gear is a big part of that - if you're looking for an experience where all players are equal all the time, there are plenty of other genres that provide. Also, fixed difficulty unaffected by gear means that if your guild gets stuck on a boss it's basically game over for you, cause people will only be able to "get better" to a limited degree and without being able to improve your gear there's nothing else you can do.

So, in what felt like a band-aid on top of a band-aid, Bioware introduced a buff called "Veteran's Edge" to downscaled endgame content, which basically increases all your stats once you're past a certain item level and goes up to 30 stacks if you're fully geared in the highest level currently in the game, at which point you're buffed to the point of essentially being vastly overgeared compared to what the content was originally designed for.

This has meant that in terms of survival and dps requirements, even the formerly hardest content in the game has been easier for the past four months than it was before... though that's all relative, and I think anyone claiming that it was easy in absolute terms must live in a very peculiar bubble.

You would think that this shouldn't be a big deal, considering the game as a whole has generally decreased in difficulty over the past few years, that it mostly affected very old content, and that this basically just made something that was previously only done by maybe two percent of players now accessible to (made-up number) four percent.

However.

Something happened - and we can only speculate about the reasoning, but the common theory is that people from a couple of hardcore guilds prompted this change by abusing their direct channel to certain devs established during things like play-testing - and Bioware decided to remove Veteran's Edge from master mode operations in patch 6.1. Without any sort of prior communication, warning or even mentioning it in the patch notes. Even community manager Eric Musco was initially confused when questioned about it and had to check with the devs first before confirming that it was actually intended and not a bug.

This means that any guild that had previously been progressing through a nightmare mode operation of some sort was in for a rude awakening on patch day. My own ops group had been working on the last boss in Terror from Beyond before the reset - yet after the patch we struggled to kill the first boss. While we did kill her in the end, we also decided that the change was so inane that we'd rather go and do something else for a while. Specifically, Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice with their "hardmares" still offer a similar level of challenge in terms of gameplay, but with the Veteran's Edge buff intact.


This is actually a really old screenshot of hardmode, dated January 2013. But our experience on master mode the other night was very similar.

Now, whatever level of difficulty you think is "right" for any given content is always going to be up for debate, as it's clearly deeply personal for a lot of players. I have previously written about the challenge of not being bored to tears by combat in the levelling game these days for example. However, I hate it when people argue about the subject with their sole argument basically being that people who prefer a different difficulty are clearly morally degenerate in some way (either lazy and entitled or cruel and elitist, take your pick).

Here are some facts about this particular player nerf though:

- Players are used to difficulty resets in existing content at the start of a new expansion, but not in patches between expansions. This came completely out of the blue, wasn't communicated at all and has been seriously disruptive for many guilds working on this content.

- Bioware has gone on record saying that they find it a challenge to encourage players to transition from one type of content (difficulty) to another as the gaps between them are often too big. How does it help to increase the difficulty between veteran and master mode even further?

- Progression content where better gear doesn't help you at all goes against a core tenet of MMORPGs.

I do hope that Bioware will reconsider their decision in regards to Veteran's Edge for master modes. There are a variety of paths that they could go down to amend the situation while still keeping the super hardcore raiders sweet:

- Level everything up to 75 after all. I'm sure it would take some work, but regardless of what the final difficulty for master mode ended up being in such a scenario, it would feel cleaner and fairer as we'll at least know where we are in terms of gear and can e.g. try rejigging some stats instead of being stuck at an arbitrary ceiling.

- Turn Veteran's Edge back on, but make it a toggle and give people who complete the content without it a special title or something.

- Turn it back on but only let it stack to fifteen or something. Admittedly that would be a pretty weak solution, but probably the easiest to implement.

Ultimately I don't really want to argue about the exact difficulty level the content should be set at; that's definitely up to Bioware to decide, though I won't deny that personally the fights felt more fun to me with Veteran's Edge than without. But I don't think they should go around making such massive changes four months into an expansion. If instead of nerfing player power by 20% they'd stealthily nerfed bosses' health and damage output by 20%, it wouldn't have been as much of an issue for me personally but I still would have agreed that this kind of thing is a bad move to make at a time like this and and in that manner.

7 comments :

  1. Out of interest, was your guild group playing with all 30 levels of VE before or something lower? Just wondering if you'd seen the 'full' effect of VE before on this raid or not?

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    1. Yes, as it's quite easy to reach the current item level cap with Onslaught's new gearing system. I talked a bit about that here. In the end, all of my raiding guildies hit the cap within 1-2 weeks.

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  2. "Turn it back on but only let it stack to fifteen or something. Admittedly that would be a pretty weak solution, but probably the easiest to implement."

    I don't see why they didn't make that the first thing they tried. It just makes sense, if a buff is making you too strong, weaken the buff.

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    1. Yeah, I think a big point of contention is just how extreme the difference is with the buff's complete removal. If they had just reduced it a bit, there wouldn't have been nearly as much moaning.

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  3. Very well writen and balanced analysis of the situation and very good ideas what to do about it. Great writing generally on your blog, congratulations and thanks for your continuous efforts doing this!

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  4. Yeah, it is better to nerf bosses/instances than it is to make players feel they've been nerfed. The lack of communication about the issue is troubling after the efforts they've made to communicate. I know I'd rather see them say they were turning VE off to deal with an exploit and would be working on a solution. At least then folks would have a chance to know about the change.

    I just hope they come up with a better solution going forward, plus communicate these types of changes going forward.

    Lastly, I laughed at the screenshot being old as I knew exactly which boss it was at a glance, as I haven't really done Swtor ops since Shadow of Revan launched.

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