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.


SWTOR's on Steam, but What Does It Mean?

On Tuesday, the team at Bioware ran its first community livestream in a while. They talked about a couple of different things, but the main occasion was... SWTOR launching on Steam?

This is one of those things that's simultaneously huge and completely irrelevant, depending on how you look at it. It's huge because it's undoubtedly a good thing for the game - launching on Steam is the digital download equivalent of selling your product on Amazon, which is to say that it gets put in front of a huge number of eyeballs that wouldn't otherwise have known about it. Lots of new players plus more money for the developers are good things in my book!

For someone who's been happily playing without Steam all this time though, it's simultaneously kind of a non-event. Sure, the starter planets might be a bit busier than usual (but then, lack of new players has never been an issue for the game from what I could tell - it's the mid-level zones where population sometimes drops off), but it's not like there's any new content to play through or anything.

So what does this mean for existing players? Is there any point in "moving" to Steam?

I had to have a think about this myself because I have a slightly weird relationship with Steam in that I do have it installed and also allow it to run on startup, but almost never actually use it. All I ever play is a small number of MMOs and I just install and play those through their native launchers! In fact, the only reason I have a Steam account at all is that a number of years ago when I went through a pretty rough time in real life which also included several months of unemployment, my significant other pushed me towards getting an account so he could gift me games through Steam to keep me busy and distracted, heh.

Anyway, after reading up on it I learned that there are some advantages to linking your SWTOR account to Steam, beyond the obvious "Steam stuff" such as tracking your play time, showing your Steam friends what you're playing, trading cards and whatever other gamification things Steam has going on these days.

First off, you get extra payment options! I've been on a stable income with a functional credit card for a while now, but that doesn't mean that I've forgotten that this isn't necessarily the case for everyone. As far as I remember, when I first started playing MMOs I used to pay with physical time cards from a store, and later when I switched to paying by credit card I recall having payment issues more than once. SWTOR stopped selling physical time cards where I live quite some time ago, so payment options have been limited ever since. (Though while researching this I found that there's a thing called "EA game cards"? Don't recall ever seeing one of those before, and not sure if they work without going through Origin.)

Anyway, Steam gift cards are pretty common and if you link up your Steam and SWTOR accounts, you can pay for your subscription or Cartel Coins that way as well. Plus if people gift you money that way and you haven't known what to spend it on in the past because you only really play MMOs all the time (cough) you can now turn those gifts into subscription time or Cartel Coins too. A guildie also pointed out that since there are ways in which you can earn money on Steam (from selling trading cards and so on), you could even "finance" your subscription through playing other games. It's nice to have options!

I also mentioned giving gifts through Steam earlier, and this is a big one for me. I've long been baffled by the fact that SWTOR doesn't allow you to gift sub time or Cartel Coins to other players. Considering that this would be another reason to give them more money, you'd think they'd be able to justify the dev resources for developing such a system! (Fun fact: when I went back to WoW for a few months back in 2013 this was purely because my significant other gifted me the then-current expansion and some game time to "force" me to play with him and I didn't have the heart to reject the gift - just one way to get more people to play your game.) Anyway, my point is that by linking your SWTOR account to Steam you gain the ability to gift both sub time and CC to other players or receive either from them in turn. How awesome is that? Swtorista describes how it works here.

Anyway, what does it mean to "link" SWTOR and Steam anyway? Well, just linking your accounts for the purposes of making payments or giving or receiving gifts is very easy: Select to install the game on Steam (which initially just installs the launcher), and then launch the game through Steam and log in, which will link the accounts. You can stop the actual game download and never go back after that if you like.

However, if you want to do things like track your play time, you need to actually install the full game through Steam, which is a bit more annoying simply because like most modern MMOs it's a huge download and feels a bit redundant if you've already got it installed and are happily playing away. Sadly, unless you previously switched from the default to the non-streamling launcher (which you wouldn't have done as an average player), you can't just copy the files from their current directory to the Steam one either but have to re-download the whole thing. I did decide to go through with that anyway and therefore have two copies of SWTOR installed on my PC right now! Let me tell you, it's not good for your hard disk space... I'll probably delete the duplicate eventually, maybe once they add a few more pixels to the Steam launcher icon so that it doesn't look completely atrocious.

All that said, the reinstallation should only be a one-time nuisance and I don't think there are any other downsides to switching, as you're logging into the exact same game afterwards, so things like your characters, preferences etc. will be there as they were before.

What about you? Have you made the switch or has this development not affected you in any way?


The Cartel Warlords and Other Multi-Boss Fights

Last month we got our first 6.x kill of the Cartel Warlords in Scum and Villainy on master mode, and like Dash'roode it got me thinking about how times have changed, as we actually used a different strategy this time around than last time.

When you have a boss fight that features more than one non-trivial enemy, it basically always comes down to one of two ways of beating it: either they all have to die at or around the same time (maybe because they have the ability to revive each other, or death of one causes the other to enrage and go berserk on the raid), or you kill them one after the other. If the fight favours or even requires the latter, you then have the question of which order to kill the bosses in, and your answer to that question can make the fight subtly or drastically different.

The earliest I remember contemplating this concept was back in WoW during the Assembly of Iron in Ulduar - there was one kill order that was generally accepted as the easiest, but there were also achievements for leaving different bosses until last to incentivise at least trying the other ways as well.

SWTOR has no such achievements that I'm aware of (maybe there's one for the Mutant Trandoshans in one of the harder difficulties of Dxun now), but a fight like the Cartel Warlords can still pose interesting challenges. Your four opponents are:

Captain Horic, a human trooper that does a random spray attack with his assault cannon and throws corrosive grenades

Vilus Garr, a Devaronian that likes to jump around the room and yanks people about

Tu'chuk, a dual-wielding, fast-hitting Whiphid with a knockback

Sunder, a slow but extremely hard-hitting Gen'dai that likes to periodically change aggro based on proximity (meaning he has to be kited but the tank has to take care not to get so far away from him that other members of the raid are actually closer to him than the tank)

The bosses that remain alive as others die also become stronger or gain additional abilities as the fight goes on. For example Vilus Garr gains a stun and stab attack, and Sunder starts rooting the person trying to kite him.

When I first encountered the fight on story mode, the kill order I was taught was Horic -> Vilus -> Tu'chuk -> Sunder. Story mode has never been rocket science, and it makes sense to kill the two untankable guys that attack people at random first, because even if Tu'chuck and Sunder get stronger in the process, they are being taken care of by dedicated tanks that can deal with the increased damage output.

On hardmode, I was taught to go for Sunder before Tu'chuk because the former was supposedly really painful to deal with if you left him to last, while Tu'chuck was more easily controllable even as his damage output increased. That seemed to work out okay as well.

Imagine my surprise when I did the fight on nightmare and learned that now our order of business was going to be Horic -> Tu'chuk -> Sunder -> Vilus. As it turns out, Vilus is a royal pain in the rear when left until last, because once all the other warlords are down, he basically stuns and stabs his targets until they are dead - he literally doesn't stop otherwise, unless you can get away from him by using a stunbreaker or getting pulled by a Sage for example.

We also learned that his stabbing wasn't entirely random though but rather somewhat based on proximity, so the result was that we had a Shadow tank following him around, trying to get stabbed, hoping to survive as long as possible with use of cooldowns and being spam-healed, and if it became too much they could stealth out and start over. Dps and healers had to use stun breakers to get the hell away if they got caught. It was crazy and different, but eventually it worked.

So when we returned to the warlords on master mode this time around, I expected to be dealing with the same thing again... but nope, the meta had changed once again. Now we were going for Horic -> Vilus -> Tu'chuk -> Sunder, just like on story mode back in the day. If Sunder is left until last on master mode, he starts casting an ability called "The End" every thirty seconds that one-shots even a tank with cooldowns up - but! There are some abilities that make it possible to avoid being hit by it altogether, so in a somewhat bizarre turn of events, getting to the last phase now meant that dps and healers just huddled in the middle of the room pewing the boss while our two Guardian tanks played ping pong with him, alternating between using their Saber Reflect and Blade Blitzes. It was weird and different and fun!

I have to hand it to Bioware's encounter designers that they managed to design a fight that is so versatile in the number of approaches it supports. At this point the only thing I haven't seen is what happens if you leave Horic for last... I wonder if I can convince a story mode group to give it a try one of these days?

It's a shame there haven't really been any other multi-boss fights that work quite as well. The Dread Council in DP gives you some wiggle room in terms of who you want to dps down first, but their abilities don't change so it's only really a matter of who you find easiest to deal with for the longest period of time. And I've literally never seen the Dread Guards in TFB tackled in any other order than Heirad -> Ciphas -> Kel'sara, which seems to indicate to me that other kill orders aren't really viable, but I do sort of wonder now, having never even tried. There could be whole unknown mechanics hiding there for all I know... another project to pitch on one of our next social nights I guess!


Another Summer of PvP?

When SWTOR announced a "summer of PvP" two years ago, this was the start of a number of seemingly small but impactful changes to PvP, such as all warzones becoming cross-faction and the introduction of role-balancing in matches so that tanks and healers would be distributed evenly among opposing teams.

It seems that we may be in for similarly dramatic changes this summer, though this time around they've been announced with a lot less fanfare. In fact, I would have completely missed them among this wall of text by lead designer Chris Schmidt talking about upcoming reward changes in ranked PvP. No offence, but ranked arenas are one of the few aspects of SWTOR that I don't really care about, so I wouldn't have read the thing if several content creators hadn't drawn attention to two important changes that are also going to affect unranked PvP and were mentioned in a very off-hand way:

In the update kicking off Season 13, all missions will be changed to require wins for completion and rewards. [apparently this includes unranked]

I have to say, seeing this just made me sigh in a big way because nothing exasperates me about MMO development like circular design. Is there nobody left on the team that was around at launch? Don't you remember that the daily and weekly PvP missions used to require wins to advance, and you changed it for a reason?

Initially the daily required you to win three warzones and the weekly nine. In patch 1.2.3 in May 2012 the requirement for the daily was changed from three wins to six matches played, with losses counting as one and wins counting double as they still do now. Four months later, in patch 1.4, this was reduced from six to four matches played. Interestingly, the win requirement for the weekly stuck around quite a bit longer, until patch 2.4 in October 2013, but looking back at this from 2020, that's still quite a long time ago. I'm not saying devs can't make mistakes and roll them back later, but you've allowed us to progress our PvP dailies and weeklies without requiring wins for almost seven years now.

I understand that you don't like people "farming losses" just to get their rewards, but there's a balance to be struck between discouraging that kind of behaviour and not preventing people who keep getting saddled with bad teams or maybe just aren't that good at PvP themselves from making any progress whatsoever. Nobody is arguing that winning shouldn't be more rewarding/efficient, but for PvP to function properly you need people to be willing to take losses as well, and if you make losing too painful an experience, they aren't going to stick around. Not in the long term, and not in a match that looks like it's a lost cause, which brings us to the second big change:

We will be extending the Deserter queue lockout to Unranked matches.

Now, I'm unsure how I feel about this one. For all the things that SWTOR copied from World of Warcraft at launch, it always surprised me that WoW's deserter debuff wasn't one of them, and that to this day, players are free to quit an unranked PvP match for any reason, without even the slightest penalty, and are instantly able to re-queue again. I do kind of feel that this has fostered somewhat of a "quitter culture" where people will leave matches pretty much at the drop of a hat, simply because it's not their favourite map or oh noes, the enemy team scored one goal. The prime example of this I always like to parade around is this Voidstar I was in, where the final results screen revealed that our team had had 28 players on it by the end of the match. Since the actual team size is eight, and I obviously didn't quit, the rest of the team was basically replaced in its entirety three times over the course of the 10-15 minutes of the match duration.

I do find this behaviour highly silly and at least mildly annoying, because even though backfills are reasonably quick, what with loading screens and so on, every quitter that needs replacing still puts their team at least at a temporary disadvantage and if a lot of people do it, it quickly stacks up. So from that point of view I should welcome this change, right? It certainly won't affect me on a personal level, since I never quit a match halfway through unless I suffer a DC.

That said, I can't help but feel that especially in combination with the previous change, this feels like a lot of stick and not a lot of carrot, simultaneously making it less rewarding to endure a loss until the end while also making it more punishing if you leave in frustration. I just worry that this will simply result in a lot of people giving up for the day more quickly, or staying in matches that they don't enjoy just for the sake of it, while taking out their annoyance on their team mates in other ways, such as by AFKing in a corner or endlessly ranting in chat about how the team/map/game sucks.

Now, interestingly Chris actually came back with a detailed response after people got upset about these two changes being snuck in under the radar. Specifically, he talked about alleviating two other reasons that people cited for wanting to quit a match in progress: that some maps are unfun to play because they suffer from worse performance problems than others, and that people just want to avoid some maps because they don't enjoy them or feel that they pop too frequently (*cough*Huttball*cough*). On the subject of performance, he had this to say:

In the short term, in the upcoming patch 6.1.2d, we will remove the Vandin and Quesh Huttball maps from rotation until we can solve the performance issues with those particular maps.

Longer term, we are profiling the root of performance issues in general (de-syncs, hitches, slide show experiences) across the board in order to provide you with a smooth, fun experience. No ETA on this, but we have already begun in earnest and are committed to fixing it.

While I actually like both of those maps, reading this immediately had me excited, because desync in particular is such a long-running problem that just seems to be getting worse and worse every year; if they could finally address it that would be genuinely fantastic. Could the crazy prediction I made at the start of the year actually come true? Of course, if we're unlucky they can't quite figure out what's wrong in a timely manner and might then just "forget" to add the two maps back in, but let's not even think about that...

Time to get out my desync gif again

Anyway, on the subject of map preferences, Chris had this to say, among other things:

In the short term, in the upcoming patch 6.1.2d, we will adjust the map rotation to favor match variety over map variety. What this means is that you will have an equal chance to have a Capture Point, Huttball, Ancient Hypergates, or Voidstar match type pop.

Now, I had kind of been asking for them to do that in the Huttball post I linked a few paragraphs ago, but that was just in reference to Huttball - I don't understand why Novare Coast would be lumped in with Alderaan and Yavin for example! Reducing Huttball pops from every third match to every fourth one is good, but instead getting Ancient Hypergates and Voidstar half the time is not! (Both are among my least favourite warzones.) Do Novare Coast justice please.

The exception is OPG, which we hear from y’all is the least popular match type currently. We aren’t removing it completely from the rotation for now, but the likelihood that match type will pop will be very small. Longer term we will take a hard look and address the issues with OPG that makes it less popular.

Fewer Proving Grounds matches is even worse! Don't hurt my Proving Grounds; it's my favourite game mode! Something's always going to be the least popular; that's no reason to axe it. Before Proving Grounds existed, everyone was constantly moaning about/quitting Huttball. Just leave it as it is please.

Longer term, we agree that a welcomed and healthy addition to the game would be the ability to choose which match types and/or maps you want or do not want to play. As with any new feature, this requires investigation and an assessment of the scope of work before we can commit to a timeframe, however that work has already begun. We are committed to this feature and will update y’all with more information, especially on timing, when we have it.

I'm not sure how much stock I'm supposed to put into this comment, because while doing research for this post I actually realised that they already wanted this to be part of the summer of PvP in 2018 and then it never happened. I don't doubt Chris' sincerity here, but I think this is just too tricky to implement with the limited size of SWTOR's PvP population, as siloing people off into different preferred queues would just kill pops. Even something as simple as allowing people to blacklist a single warzone type that they don't want to get could lead to issues, which is something that even the behemoth World of Warcraft with its millions of players had to find out when they added a similar feature (and then removed it again).

I won't complain if they do find a solution that allows people to express preferences without killing queue times or making some warzones impossible to get; I just won't be holding my breath for one. We'll see how the other changes play out in practice when they go live.


100 Levels of Empire Life

Since I posted about it when my guild hit both level 100 and 200, I guess it only makes sense that I give our Imperial alt guild a shout-out for hitting the level 100 milestone too (especially considering its history and that I'm the EmpressGM).

Unfortunately I didn't catch the big ding itself this time as my minions got a bit overzealous on the afternoon of the big day (I had done some maths and didn't expect the guild to actually tick over until the evening), but oh well. We did use the occasion to finally give our Imperial guild ship a proper name, something I commemorated with a /bottlesmash emote near the prow on the bridge.

As is quickly becoming a tradition, let's look back at the various guild level-up screenshots I managed to take over the Imperial alt guild's history. As it took this small guild almost nineteen months to hit this milestone, the screenshots cover a longer period of time than the ones I previously posted for our main guild.

Guild level 6 achieved after I successfully tanked Explosive Conflict on my tanking Powertech for the first time. You can see that she was only level 58 and being bolstered up to 70 - oh, the days when you were able to enter story mode operations as early as level 50 (I miss them).

Guild Level 10 achieved while doing Eternity Vault on the same Powertech - who was up to level 69 at this point.

Level 12 while doing Yavin IV dailies on my other Powertech...

Level 15 while checking out the (then new) Dantooine Pirate Incursion event on Imperial side with Mr Commando.

We ticked over to level 22 while I was doing Makeb on my Sniper - though it was a mysterious "Masked Marauder" (heh) actually earning all the Conquest achievements in chat.

Level 26 while doing Oricon on the same Sniper.

On Oricon again at level 37... this time on my dps Sorc though.

This one of us hitting guild level 49 is kind of amusing since the galaxy map view means you can't actually tell for sure which character I'm on... but since you can see the agent ship in the bottom left corner and my current location shows as Onderon, it would have been my Operative. Also, the inclusion of Onderon means that this was the first level-up I captured after the release of Onslaught.

At guild level 52, I'm on my Juggernaut tank and we're just starting to form a flashpoint group.

Guild level 55 achieved from completing Traitor Among the Chiss on master mode, with me healing on my Merc.

Back on the tanking Powertech as the guild hits level 67 at the end of a master mode Athiss run. (You can tell I do a lot of tanking on Imp side.)

Guild level 69 achieved as my boosted Assassin explores Dantooine (another tank!) - which was only three months ago, so we gained 30+ levels in the last three months alone.

Guild level 71 achieved after I ran my first master mode pug in a while on my dps Powertech (Directive 7) - and of course it had a guy called "Uranusishuge" in it, because pugs.

At the end of another master mode flashpoint run with guildies (Boarding Party), which I healed on my Merc, we dinged 73.

Level 75 while cruising around the Imperial fleet on my dps Powertech.

Level 82 while I was on Iokath on my healing Sorc (who is also the actual GM toon).

Levelling up to 90 in a cut scene from Xalek's alliance alert! I genuinely can't tell which character this was on, though I seem to remember that my Operative was the one on whom I did this quest most recently.

Level 94 achieved during an actual, honest-to-god 16-man operation on Imp side. I'd already forgotten this happened!

And the last one I've got, of my dark side Juggernaut leaving the Imperial cantina on Mos Ila while pursuing her class story on Tatooine.

Wonder how long it'll take us to 200 now! I'd wager on us getting there at some point between April 2021 and Februrary 2022... or is that too vague?


It's Not Easy Being Mean

I have long struggled with playing dark side characters in SWTOR. If you look at my characters page (which I actually haven't updated in quite a while, meaning that a couple of my newer characters are missing, but what's there is still broadly accurate), you can see that the vast majority of my characters are light-sided, and even those who aren't are generally described as neutral or at worst "moderately" dark-sided, meaning that they still make light side decisions pretty frequently.

I have started more than one character with the intent to make them evil, mostly whenever I felt inspired by comments about how this or that story twist is particularly engaging if you're dark-sided, but it never lasts very long. I always slip up and start drifting towards light side decisions, mostly because so many of the dark side decisions, especially in the base game, are flat out insane. As someone who always puts at least a little bit of herself into all of her characters, I simply don't want to play a psychopath.

There are some dark side decisions that I'm fine with making on my (supposedly) evil characters: Killing an enemy instead of sparing them after defeat, insisting on payment instead of simply helping someone out of kindness, or getting physically violent in the face of annoyance are but some examples. Sure, those are all bad things, but they are all based on basic human impulses (such as greed or anger) that everyone's at least familiar with, even if we do generally try to fight them in our everyday lives.

A lot of dark side options though simply do not make sense unless you are playing a psychopathic mass murderer who enjoys watching the world burn at every opportunity, such as when someone actively helps you out and at the end of the interaction you're basically given the option to say thanks or kill them just because you can. It's just... WHY.

My most recent attempts at living the dark side life have been the Assassin and the Juggernaut that I created back during the DvL event as I've finally been working on their class stories. Fortunately the built-in light/dark toggle introduced in KotET makes it easier to deceive myself about their alignments, because even if I make some light side decisions now and then, the constant trickle of dark side points awarded from simply having the toggle set to dark side easily drowns out any friendly or merciful impulses. I genuinely seem to have had some success sticking to my guns though, as evidenced by me running into some amusing conversation options that I hadn't encountered before (when you're only fighting with words, dark-siders can be quite funny, I'll give them that) and occasionally getting exasperated with the results of my own decisions.

A prime example of the latter occurred during the inquisitor story on Alderaan, where you're supposed to lure a Jedi onto the planet by having his former fiancée from many years ago contact him. I don't remember how exactly the light side version goes, but you can be nice to both of them and try to get them to reconcile after all those years (I just don't remember if it works). Playing dark side this time around though, I basically just bullied the lady into making the call, and when she expressed some nervousness about seeing her old fiancé again, I chose a conversation option that outright told her that I didn't give a damn because I was just going to kill him anyway. This - understandably - upset her, so she got mad and attacked me, causing her to die before the guy even arrived on the planet. Khem Val approved, but I seem to remember sitting back and actually saying out loud: "God, I'm such an asshole."

For the longest time I felt like a bit of an oddball for feeling so bad about playing dark side. It's just a game, right? I remember in the early days it seemed like all the big content creators were playing evil Imperial characters as their mains and poking fun at Republic wimps etc. at every corner. I actually got some comments from readers who said that they were impressed to meet someone that was so open about being a staunch, light-sided Republic player because it seemed quite unusual to them.

Recently I don't get as much of these same vibes anymore though. The current biggest SWTOR content creator, Swtorista, is a trooper main like me, and Vulkk mains a Sentinel from as far as I remember. The dark vs. light event four years ago surprised me by concluding with a pretty firm light side victory, even if the final result was still pretty close to a half and half split. Three years ago a SWTOR Facebook post revealed that 76% of players going through KotFE/KoTET had decided to save/redeem Arcann instead of kill him - admittedly that was only one specific choice, but I was still impressed by how strongly that skewed towards one end of the spectrum. More recently, I can also say that anecdotally at least, the dark vs. light "state of the galaxy" on Darth Malgus seems to see the light side winning about three times for every dark side victory. That's quite a contrast to the dark side winning within an hour of the feature's initial introduction.

A few months ago, a former Cinematic Designer from Bioware also commented on Twitter that in Mass Effect, something like 92% of players chose the "nice" options - which is a different game, mind you, but I still think a lot of people were surprised that with so much effort put into letting players choose their path, the vast majority went for the exact same goodie-two-shoes options anyway.

It has given me some comfort to know that there are more people like me who just enjoy playing the good guy most of the time - though it does make me wonder why SWTOR got such a reputation for everyone wanting to play an edgy dark-sider to begin with...


The All Worlds Ultimate Swoop Rally in Review

Unlike when the Dantooine Pirate Incursion was first introduced, Bioware decided that a single week of swoop racing was enough to give us our first taste of this new event, so it felt like the racing tracks disappeared almost as quickly as they had been erected. Did my positive first impressions hold up? I'd say mostly.

The novelty factor admittedly wore off pretty quickly, but I was still happy to do all the races at least once a day to quickly get a character from zero Conquest points to hitting their personal target in a single go. The first couple of days I did multiple characters per day, but that quickly turned out to be a bit much for my taste. Also, the introductory story quest is nice enough and all, but having to do it on every single alt got old really quickly. I'm not usually someone to resort to space-barring even on repeated playthroughs of most content, but after the third time or so I decided that I'd definitely had enough of Zella to last me for a while.

I did get a bit better at the actual racing too, managing to grab all the perfection achievements on Dantooine and two on Tatooine. On Onderon it felt like I also should have got one once or twice, but I heard from several sides that the Onderon ones were a bit fiddly and didn't always grant proper credit.

The event currency seemed to come in fast and furious, and I actually hit the cap of one thousand tokens per faction more than once because I wasn't paying attention (oops). I definitely appreciated that it was legacy-wide from the start though, instead of being character-specific like these things used to be! Since the weekly reputation cap limited what I could buy during this first week of the event I just picked up some decos and all the basic speeders on two of my characters. Since reputation tokens don't disappear anymore, I'll be able to advance my rank during the following weeks even while the event isn't on, so I should have a much wider selection available to me next time it's up.

Speaking of reputation, in an interesting move Bioware decided to include a small story quest at newcomer rank for each faction, and from the way these play out the implication is that there'll be at least another installment to follow, perhaps more. These feature fairly basic tasks as you do each swoop gang leader a small favour, and the cut scenes are the "KOTOR style" that seems to have become the default for side quests now.

While I'm fine with that in principle, I do have to admit it grated a bit that of the ten different NPCs or so that you talk to during these stories, every single one's an alien that speaks the default Huttese gibberish. I'm not as easily annoyed by the repetitiveness of those lines as some, but it did feel like a kind of obvious money-saving move. I'm okay with not having all sixteen character voice actors in for little side missions like that, but couldn't they have paid one guy or gal just to mix it up a bit and have one of the NPCs speak Basic? Then again, maybe they had plans for that and COVID interfered here too, who knows.

Anyway, it was interesting for me to realise that Bioware hasn't really done anything similar before, despite of the concept of reputation ranks unlocking new story content being old as dirt. (It even existed in Vanilla WoW!) However, previously they've only really used reputation as a different type of gating mechanism for cosmetic rewards... and to access the Gray Secant during the Gree event I guess. Kind of weird to imagine that nobody at Bioware ever really thought about using it like this before. Either way it's an addition that gets a thumbs-up from me and I look forward to seeing how the story continues the next time the event comes around.


Should There Be Sexist NPCs in SWTOR?

Deep thoughts today.

I've been spending more time replaying story content lately, especially the original class stories and other older quest lines that I hadn't done in a while, and one thing that I've been finding striking is how often NPCs treat you differently based on your gender. I wouldn't actually say that it happens a lot, but it happening at all is still a stark contrast to more recent content releases where your sex makes no difference whatsoever. All the newer romance options are "playersexual" as Bioware likes to say, and the rest of the time nobody really cares about whether your character is male or female either.

The class stories and other base game content are quite different in that regard. For example I was doing the planetary storyline on Quesh on Imperial side, and upon my (female) inquisitor walking into the room, one of the Imperials in charge piped up with some comment about how women shouldn't be on the front lines. I mean, excuse me?

That feeling when... you're the most appalling creature in the room while sharing space with a Hutt and a Gamorrean.

It's not all negative either - I was playing through the early levels on Hutta as a new bounty hunter and Juda the twi'lek, who's something like Nem'ro's receptionist, kept making comments to my female bounty hunter about how girls have to stick together and stuff like that. (Mind you, that sort of thing often feels like the writers were simply trying to fill in the gaps where male characters have exclusive flirt options, with the goal of still making female player characters care about the NPC in some way.)

Anyway, all this got me thinking about how the way I feel about this stuff has kind of changed over time. In the early days I honestly quite liked it - mainly because I was impressed by the granularity that Bioware applied when trying to make the experience tailored to the player character, making it not just about class, but sometimes species and gender too.

The blatantly sexist characters were a bit annoying (and being on the receiving end of comments about "little girls" or things along those lines when your character is the tallest body type always felt a bit weird - the opposite of tailored to the character really), but they were never put in without an option to get back at them. I won't deny that's there's something satisfying about zapping someone with lightning if they give you crap for being a woman for example.

Buuut... after getting used to gender just not mattering in the content released in recent years, I have to say I kind of prefer it that way. We're not discussing "realism" here, because Star Wars is a fantasy world and can be written any way we want it to be. It's actually been a while since I watched the original trilogy, but I seem to remember the source material treating the sexes fairly evenly too - there were certain trends, such as most of the pilots being men and the slaves in Jabba's palace all being skimpily dressed ladies, but that could easily be read as circumstantial in-universe rather than a rule, never mind real life influences at the time.

And if given the choice, I think I prefer the simplicity of simply not having to worry about gender biases, and having my female characters being respected (or hated!) simply for who they are and what they do rather than for anything to do with their sex. The revenge fantasy of punching or zapping the nasty sexist has some appeal for sure, but to be honest there is enough of this crap in the real world. Just not having to deal with it at all in my virtual world is simply more appealing to me at this point.


Mental and Physical Discomfort on Alderaan

Contrary to my expectations, Alderaan did not treat my pacifist Jedi well. I thought I was off to a good start, remembering right away that one of the heroics should be stealthable, and it was (the one to retrieve data spikes from the Killik cave). For some reason I'm more familiar with the heroics on Alderaan than with those on most other planets, so I knew right away what would work for Pacis and what wouldn't.

Other than that though, the planet was pretty much a bust. Despite of the sheer size of the map, I think I only found four other quests that didn't require me to fight anything. There were quests to capture either a joiner or a Killik alive, but both would have required me to beat them up first. Others seemed to tack mandatory kill requirements onto otherwise peaceful objectives almost randomly. In short, it was annoying.

I randomly ran into a DvL boss - after all the trouble I had killing them, I couldn't resist taking a picture.

One thing that was interesting though - if somewhat uncomfortable - was that I was forced to think about the limitations of Pacis' pacifism. It's a question that's actually been on my mind for a while but that I didn't really have to confront in practice until now.

Basically, I originally conceived of this project as more of a gameplay challenge than any sort of moral message. As such, the rules were fairly straightforward: don't attack any living creatures, not in the open world and not in cut scenes, and if they aggro on you first just run away.

However, over time I couldn't help but also think of the roleplaying implications of playing a character that literally wouldn't even hurt a fly, one that would rather be beaten down and revive at a med droid than throw a single punch. She must have pretty strong convictions about right and wrong, no? So what if I'm being asked to do something that isn't a personal attack but results in a lot of harm being done to others as a direct result? Wouldn't she hate that too?

This question became a very real concern when I picked up the quest Infestation at Wardpost Duvaal. It asks you to recover a bunch of "insecticide mines" and use them on the Killik hives. I didn't really have a good feeling about that but was hoping that as long as I was only destroying the hive structures I could justify it as merely doing property damage. Still, when I walked up to the first hive, I hesitated. I placed the mine. A friendly Killik appeared, walked up to the hive and fell over dead.

I just stood there and stared for a good minute. How horrible! Strictly speaking, I hadn't violated the rules of the gameplay challenge, but in in-world terms, Pacis had just been directly responsible for a living creature's death for the first time. I was kind of surprised by how intensely wrong that felt. I abandoned the quest without completing it.

I did that. ;(

Later there was another, similar moment when I did a mission to mark Imperial landing pads for bombardment, but then in the cut scene for mission completion they didn't show the pads being destroyed but rather an Imperial transport being shot down mid-air. It wasn't quite as bad as seeing the Killik fall over dead right in front of me, but it still felt wrong somehow. I suspect this won't be the last time I run into this sort of conflict.

On a more humorous note, remember the weird bug from KotET launch that caused certain characters' head and left arm to swap places when standing still on an animal mount? I posted a picture of it here. Now, this bug was fixed in relatively short order and I hadn't really thought about it in a while except when freaking people out in a Twitter thread. While doing those quests on Alderaan however, I was horrified to find that a variant of this bug has resurfaced after the most recent patch, though I'm not sure which animation exactly triggers it. I first noticed it happening when scanning databanks in Castle Panteer, but have since also seen it pop up after clicking on lore objects and some other interactables. Just what even is this, Bioware?! Fortunately it has since been acknowledged as a known bug and will hopefully be fixed soon.


Swoop Bike Event First Impressions

Fun fact: I fully downloaded the PTS when this event was being tested, with every intention to have a look at it in advance, but then never did. Clearly I'm just way too lazy and prefer to wait for stuff to hit live, so once again kudos to those of you who actually did play on the PTS and whose feedback surely made this new event better than it would have been otherwise. That said, here are my own early impressions after the first day on live:

The terminal announcing this event on the fleet is huge, noticeably bigger than the usual ones. That said, if you don't have the introductory quest, it's not really obvious that an event is going on when you first land on any of the three featured planets - they could do with some sort of announcement or event NPC at the spaceport to create additional awareness in my opinion.

Arriving at the event area on Dantooine, I was pleased by how extremely atmospheric it was. The decorations were loud and colourful, and the area was bustling with both NPCs and players. In typical Star Wars fashion, the swoop track was only delineated quite roughly and very open, meaning that players were crossing it everywhere, and in some places you could even aggro mobs onto it if you were sufficiently bad at navigating. It felt exciting and messy and fun.

On my own first round of the track, I accidentally left the emergency brake on for the entire run and was confused why this "race" was slower than walking speed. This is why it's a good thing that I don't have a driver's licence in real life...

Once I got the hang of things though, my rides got better and much smoother. The bikes don't exactly go at breakneck speed (I think without the speed boost it's quite close to that of normal speeders actually) but if like me you're not really good at twitch gaming that's a good thing anyway. Some of my guildies were already bragging to each other about getting the "perfection" achievements, but I was just glad whenever I was able to complete a race without failing one of the mandatory objectives. At its base, the whole thing is not dissimilar to that one daily quest on Ziost where you repair the broken speeder.

The three planets offer tracks with very different vibes to them - for example the jungle on Onderon makes for a very tight experience as you race through tunnels and narrow ravines, while Tatooine is extremely open.

To mix things up further, you got the three different swoop gangs, who all make you race the track in slightly different ways. My favourites so far are the Horizon's Razors who focus on speed and are simply about going fast and collecting some power-ups along the way. Next we have the Pit Screamers who love to show off and ask you to do things like go through hoops and make big jumps as you go along. The Blatant Beks are my least favourite so far as they require you to blow up some barrels while driving past them, and I'm finding it challenging to keep steering my swoop while also throwing explosives. I should probably keybind that ability properly to make things a bit easier, but even so it's an extra thing to do besides just making sure you're driving the right way.

I was actually slightly disappointed when I realised that you couldn't go again without having the daily quest, because it was sufficiently fun that I wanted to keep going. Good thing I have lots of alts...

For once I'm actually intrigued by some of the reputation rewards as well, because besides the "usual" decorations and armour sets, there are also "fun" Tacticals you can buy that make you do things like jump off your vehicle with a flair when you dismount. (I haven't seen a preview of this or anything, I only have the item description to go by.) That sounds like it would be quite a fun thing to have when you're cruising around and not actually in combat with anything.