23/11/2020

6.2 Cantina Livestream

On Friday the SWTOR team hosted a "Cantina Livestream", which featured a mix of Bioware staff talking about content coming up in 6.2 and fun activities such as giveaways and guest interviews. I'd originally meant to watch it live but then I ended up being very sick on Friday evening, fell straight into bed at an early hour and completely missed it. (It was ultimately nothing serious, don't worry, but I genuinely couldn't do much other than sleep that night.)

Fortunately the whole thing was recorded and is still available to watch on Twitch now, and I finally got around to checking it out last night. It was great! You could tell that the team had put a lot of work into making the whole thing more professional and organised, and it showed.

They aired pre-recorded interviews with three special guests (originally these were supposed to be live but after the date for the stream had to be moved on short notice they unfortunately couldn't make it anymore): Kari Wahlgren, the voice of the female Jedi knight; Noshir Dalal, who voices one of the new characters being introduced in 6.2; and Darin De Paul, voice of Valkorion, Admiral Daeruun and others.


They were all awesome in their own way: Kari talked a fair bit about what it was like to voice the same character for such a long time; Noshir was a bit of a dark horse as we obviously don't know his character yet but seemed like a really cool guy and made me look forward to meeting this new Mandalorian just based on his obvious passion for the role; and Darin De Paul revealed himself to be a massive, happy Star Wars nerd. Everyone was just loving what they're doing and having a great time, which was very infectious.

I'll admit the actual info about 6.2 felt a bit thin - not that they weren't trying to make the most out of it without spoiling the story, but I guess after nine months of 6.1 it just feels like we should be getting more. Not that I don't understand the awkward real life circumstances of the last few months and appreciate everything they're doing, just... if one of your major new features is a new UI for emotes it feels a bit like you're reaching. (Also, I didn't hear anything about it having a button to claim all my unlocked emotes on new characters in a single click. Once they make it so I don't have to click more than a hundred emotes manually on all my characters anymore, then I'll be excited!)

Anyway, my desire for moar, MOAR not withstanding, it was a great feel-good stream, both informative and entertaining, and if you missed it I can only recommend watching the recorded version, even if it's on the side while you're doing something else. Update 6.2 is supposed to finally drop in December (exact date to be confirmed) and I'm looking forward to it.

Oh, and if you didn't have the four Korrealis mounts from previous Cantina events yet, you can claim them with the code LivestreamCantina2020 CantinaLivestream2020 for at least a few more days.

18/11/2020

Ashara vs. Ahsoka

I'm continuing my marathon of The Clone Wars and finished season five recently. Instead of talking about the season in general, I wanted to talk a bit about Ashoka this time, the show's poster child - she features pretty prominently throughout season five, and the last arc of the season is all about her. Without spoiling anything, I can say that it hits pretty hard on an emotional level and makes it more relatable to me why so many people love the character.

I don't just want to talk about Ashoka though - rather I'd like to contrast her with Ashara, the SWTOR companion that was clearly modelled in her image. SWTOR and the Star Wars expanded universe in general have this obsession with relentlessly rehashing concepts and copying whole characters from previous material and the fans just love it. That's why (class story spoilers incoming I guess) Jedi knights get a visit from their dead master's Force ghost at a crucial moment, and why smugglers are best buds with a Wookiee and get a chance to hook up with a princess. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise then that the character of Ashoka received a homage in the form of a young and headstrong, orange-and-blue Togruta companion with a name that also starts and ends with A.

As someone who had never seen the Clone Wars, this was something that largely went over my head at launch except on the most superficial level... but let's just say that at this point I can see what Bioware was trying to achieve with the character of Ashara - I'm just still not sure they actually succeeded.

Asohka in the Clone Wars starts out as a fairly generic young padawan. A bit snippy perhaps, but still inexperienced and keen to learn. After a brief struggle to get her and Anakin on the same page, they become a pretty good team, and in a slow and subtle way you can see her learning from him as the episodes go by, as she becomes more confident and beings to trust in her intuition, while also developing a slightly independent streak.

She seems to believe in the Jedi order as a Force of good, but just like for her master, some of the Council's decisions don't feel quite right to her. This comes to a head at the end of season five (spoilers for real now), when she's framed for a crime and expelled from the Jedi order as a result. While her name is cleared at the very end and she's asked to rejoin, she's too hurt by the betrayal she's experienced and leaves, in order to digest the events she just experienced on her own terms.

A lot of this clearly served as inspiration for the character of Ashara, though now that I'm checking the dates, Clone Wars was only on its fourth season when SWTOR came out (gosh, how time flies), so the events of season five couldn't have influenced Ashara's story. Nonetheless, she too is a headstrong young Jedi padawan who - aside from the obvious superficial similarities - isn't quite convinced that her masters always got it right and ends up turning her back on the Jedi order.

The problem with Ashara is that she doesn't have the chance to get several seasons of character development, so her turning doesn't really feel earned. I can't help but wonder whether she wouldn't have worked better as a companion for a class other than the Sith inquisitor. (I remember reading somewhere that for the original companions, Bioware came up with all the character concepts before actually assigning them to different classes and their stories, so it wasn't set in stone who would join up with whom initially.)

The game tries to make you interested in Ashara on Taris by having the Sith inquisitor review a number of holo recordings of her interacting with her fellow Jedi, but they only really provide a very basic characterisation, and nothing ever gives her any obvious motivation for deciding to follow a Sith. I've long complained that her "acquisition story" is one of the worst and that it would have been more logical for the inquisitor to simply kill her. This has always greatly overshadowed any enjoyment I might have gotten out of having her around.

Now if I imagine her as having been meant to be more of an Ahsoka-like character, somewhat dissatisfied with the way the Jedi do things and wanting to find her own way in the Force, I could see that being an interesting angle and making her subsequent actions, such as deciding to work with a Sith, more understandable. If you don't already go in expecting her story to go that way though (because "look, it's Ahsoka!"), I maintain that it's just not given a very convincing foundation in-game.

13/11/2020

Grumbling About Login Rewards

Yesterday the PTS server for 6.2 went up (gosh, it's kind of painful to think that Onslaught has been out for over a year and we're still on 6.1...) and with it a bunch of posts on the PTS forum asking players for feedback on specific new features. One of those features were... "daily login rewards".

Based on the reactions I've seen, most people seem to be 100% on board with getting free stuff just for logging in, but my own gut reaction was more akin to Michael Scott's upon realising that Toby is back in The Office. I am not a fan of daily login rewards at all, and here is why.

Basically, having experienced these kinds of systems in different MMOs, my reaction to them can be summed up like this:

If I'm super casual about the game, just sort of exploring it with little commitment, I don't really care about them because I'm not invested enough to really want to maximise my personal character gains. Depending on the nature of the rewards, they can make for a nice surprise every so often (or annoying inventory clutter the rest of the time), but they don't really make me want to log in more often.

If I'm super hardcore about the game, I log in every day anyway because I actually want to play, and the rewards are likely to not be of great use to me, so once again I don't really care.

If I'm somewhere in the middle however, which is to say somewhat invested in the game but not necessarily driven to log in every single day, log-in rewards are a road to resentment and burnout, as I'll feel compelled to collect them every day to maximise my gains, but at the same time don't really feel like playing every day, making the whole thing feel like a chore. Worst case I end up spending weeks or even months doing nothing but logging in to collect my freebies, until I get so sick and tired of the whole thing that I don't really want to play anymore at all.

Basically, the best-case scenario is that I'm neutral towards the rewards and don't care.

One of the things I've long loved about SWTOR is that in this day of more and more MMOs feeling the need to add "retention mechanics" like this, it has remained surprisingly chill. Yes, there are daily and weekly quests, but there is little compulsion to actually do anything every single day. The game just wants you to have fun on your own terms, and if that involves not logging in for a few days that's okay too. I really don't want it to turn into the kind of game that values engagement metrics over whether players are actually enjoying the game and having fun.

Now, this post was actually going to be a whole lot rantier (yes, really), but then a dev posted an update on the forum thread about the login rewards to explain more about how the system is supposed to work, and it seems they want to avoid the sort of "must log in every day" compulsion that other games are going for.

Assuming I'm understanding everything he said correctly, there won't be any exclusive, time-limited rewards, but instead it's going to be more of an ongoing loyalty system that rotates through a total of 112 generic rewards or so every day you log in, and once you reach the end, the cycle starts all over again. So while logging in more often will give you more stuff faster, you're not actually missing anything if you skip a few days for whatever reason, merely delaying it.

I'll admit that's... probably the least annoying implementation of this kind of system they could have gone for, so thanks for that. I just still kinda wish it wasn't going to be a thing at all.

10/11/2020

Feast Finished

The Feast of Prosperity came to an end earlier today, and I wanted to write down some final thoughts on this world event. In a nutshell, I stand by my previous assessment that it was quite enjoyable. In fact, while I had been taking time out of my day to do some of the event dailies from the start, I actually ramped up my activities during this last week once I realised that a) some of the rewards were actually quite desirable (yet costly) and b) the best way to earn lots of tokens was to play alts, as the best sources of currency were the one-time story quest and the weeklies. Once you'd completed all the weeklies on a character, repeating just the dailies was a lot less profitable than simply starting on another alt.

Who wouldn't want to be rewarded with a chunky boy like that for a pet?

I mentioned in my last post that I quite enjoyed the daily world boss hunts, though it turned out that most of the missions on the terminal actually reset twice a day, so you could do them both in the morning and again in the evening if you were really into it. This, combined with the benefit of doing the event on alts, meant that world boss groups were running pretty much 24/7 and it was amazing.

I was really pleasantly surprised by the behaviour of the community too - as easy as guild ship transportation has made it to quickly move a whole group of players to a specific location, there were still always people who struggled with this concept, missed or accidentally declined the first summon and then promptly begged for another one two minutes later. It always made me roll my eyes a little, but in all the pugs I did I didn't encounter a single occasion of anyone in the group losing patience with this. You could tell that the Sentinels were tugging at their metaphorical leashes for sure, and often relieved the tension caused by the extended waits by murdering every trash mob in the area several times over, but not once did someone ninja-pull a boss while we were still waiting for a straggler. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

I also learned new things about the mechanics of grouping. For example I've long been technically aware that SWTOR has a public grouping feature, but I didn't know much about it because nobody ever seemed to use it. Therefore I was very surprised when I grouped up with one of my guildies (whom I can only describe as the most efficient event/achievement pugger I've ever seen) to form a new world boss group, just to have him set our group to public and then spam chat with "type /j [name] to join for the world boss". This way players who followed his instruction could add themselves to the group without requiring an invite. I followed his example when I was building a world boss group from scratch on a different day and found it quite convenient, though I got the impression that a lot of players weren't really familiar with this feature either.


I was also amused to find that the ingredient-collection daily tied to the same planet as the world boss actually worked quite well in an ops group too. I remember the first time I was told to collect larval geo beast brains on Hoth after killing Snowblind, I had to do several laps around the area and eventually even ended up switching instances because there was so much competition for the kills. On another day however, someone in my world boss group exclaimed "Now for the brains!" or something like that before I had a chance to leave the ops group, so I tagged along and found that in the most wonderful of MMO fashions, a single mob dropped enough brains for an entire ops group of people if you did the quest while still grouped up. Brilliant!

The one-time story came to a satisfying conclusion, with an ending that allowed you to make a choice between supporting one of the two Hutts hosting the Feast over the other. Besides the currency incentives this was the main thing that motivated me to play through the whole thing on an alt - also to see how it would feel playing through it on a dark-sided character. Unfortunately (?) you don't really get to be mean either way, so when you get the mission to deliver charity for example you have to do so regardless of your alignment, and don't get to bribe gang bosses instead (as the dialogue kind of suggested). That said, there was something slightly amusing about imagining my mostly evil Marauder getting letters from orphans thanking her for her kindness.

The only thing that did bug me a little was that the rescue mission on Mek-Sha involved killing Brothers regardless of your faction. Considering that Imperials are openly aligned with them, I thought it would have made more sense for the player character to bribe or negotiate with them rather than to be simply attacked on sight.

Anyway, I can only concur with Intisar's assessment that this event has been a nice addition to SWTOR's calendar, offering some light-hearted amusement in dark times and combining quick and easy event activities with optional but very attractive rewards. I'm already looking forward to seeing it return next year.

02/11/2020

Feast of Prosperity, Continued

We're approaching the end of the second week of the Feast of Prosperity and based on the excited chatter I've been seeing about it on Twitter it seems to be shaping up to be quite a success. Personally I haven't been doing the event quests quite as religiously as I've approached this kind of thing in the past, but I have been trying to do at least some of them on my main every day.

The story quest which I originally assumed to be just an introductory breadcrumb actually continued this week, and I assume it will come to some sort of conclusion after Tuesday. Like the Swoop Event story it suffers a bit from being all aliens talking gibberish all the time, but aside from that I've been finding it quite interesting. The question of whether these two Hutts really are as charitable as they've been claiming to be seems to be shaping up to come to an interesting conclusion. I liked the part where your character delivers charity to some individuals in need on Mek-Sha, which was actually pretty sweet. Who'd have thought that Mek-Sha of all places would have an orphanage?


I've also been quite enjoying the daily world boss hunts. I do like casual, impromptu group content in measured doses, and the world boss pugs have been fitting that bill pretty well. I think it was quite clever of Bioware to make them part of this event - if these dailies were just something that was on all the time, people would quickly become bored of them and participation would likely drop to unsustainable levels. However, in the context of this limited time event, it's easy to find groups for them pretty much at all times (plus it helps that the bosses are so easy that group composition requirements are pretty flexible).

After a few days I also went ahead and finally tried the more difficult versions of both the food serving and the cooking dailies. The former was a bit of a disappointment, as it's not really much harder, but simply longer. It does speed up a bit towards the end compared to the "easy" mode, but basically, if you can do the easy mode without errors you're capable of doing the hard mode as well; it just takes four times as long.

The more difficult version of the cooking daily is more interesting, as it puts certain tasks on a timer but also forces you to actually pay attention - no longer can you just blindly click on whichever item is highlighted in the UI, but you have to actually look around and identify the correct ingredient visually and/or by hovering your mouse over it. That is actually more difficult and engaging without taking much longer than the easy version. The only thing that's mildly annoying is that I've found that any time you're supposed to add something to the grill, the targeting can be a bit fiddly and doesn't always register, even if the targeting circle was clearly placed in the correct location. When you only have a few seconds to add the ingredient, this can be annoying - however, fortunately failure just means starting over, and since the whole thing is really quick it's not a big deal either way.