21/07/2020

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!

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