23/10/2021

Maximum Pacifism Achieved!

At last, the time has come! Last night my pacifist Jedi Pacis hit level 75 after another round of Cantina Rush on Nar Shaddaa. The Feast of Prosperity turned out to be nothing short of a fountain of XP for her. Two daily quests each for cooking and serving food plus a weekly associated with both, plus the ingredient gathering that she could at least do when it involved picking fruit on Belsavis or gathering ice crystals on Hoth. Three weeklies completed then also granted the meta weekly, and all this with double XP - what more could you ask for?


The only slight disappointment was that she couldn't do any of the one-time story quests past the intro. The mission to Rishi doesn't require any combat and therefore would have been compatible with her ideals, but alas... Rishi doesn't have any heroics or other accessible quick travel options, so she can't actually go there.

Want to know what was the first thing I did upon hitting max-level? I went to the fleet, bought the "Go to Sleep, Go to Sleep!" Tactical and then returned to Tatooine to rescue Raith's loved ones. Yes, I never deleted that quest from my log and it had been staring at me from my mission tracker ever since. The funny thing was, after I used the double CC to peacefully remove the toy robots from the chest, I ran into another player on my way out who was just barrelling through and killing all the mobs anyway. If that had happened back during my first visit, I could have completed that quest over a year ago, but of course at the time nobody else just happened to come through at the right moment.

As for what's going to happen to Pacis now... I don't know, I'll probably let her participate in the Feast some more and then give her a bit of a break. Next time the swoop event comes around I might have a go at seeing how many of the one-time story quests for that I can do - I picked them up last time with the intent to just do them whenever, but then found out that the quest NPCs on other planets also disappear when the event isn't on, so you can't progress the off-Dantooine steps during that time either. When LotS raises the level cap to 80 I'll probably get her up there as well at some point, but certainly not as a priority over my regular characters.

I would say something about what a long, strange trip it's been, but it really hasn't been all that long. I created Pacis back in August 2019, over two years ago now, but the only reason it took this long to level her was that my interest in the project has been very on and off. Her actual /played time after hitting the cap was only two days and six hours, which isn't long at all, especially when you consider how much her pacifism hobbled her ability to level up normally.

Either way this has been a very interesting experiment. In a way I was both surprised by how much full pacifism limited me and by how much I was still able to do despite of all the additional limitations I put on myself. As an example of the former, I'm thinking of things like being unable to click certain quest items or use a lot of abilities without a weapon equipped (even when the ability didn't sound like something that should require a weapon), or how many side quests didn't even unlock without having made sufficient progress on the main storyline. And of course there was being unable to leave Tython via shuttle after having fully explored the map at level five.

I actually think that you wouldn't be able to replicate Pacis' exact levelling path today, since she only managed to "escape" the planet via the Pirate Incursion quick travel option to Dantooine, which was originally accessible from level one, however this has now been patched out to require level twenty (at least according to this event guide by Vulkk) and is therefore no longer an option.

On the other hand though, I was surprised by the sheer amount of quests that didn't strictly require any fighting or killing, despite of SWTOR's early levelling being very much designed in the classic "kill ten rats" tradition. As players we just tend to kill everything that's in the way because it's the "natural" and easy thing to do, and the game also pretty much assumes that you will do this - it never ceased to amuse me when some NPC dialogue referred to me supposedly beating people up when I had done no such thing.

Travel without a ship was also more feasible than I had expected. Generally speaking, the game really expects you to do your class mission up to the end of Coruscant at least and to definitely get your ship asap... without it, you can't freely fly from planet to planet, you can't accept guild ship summons, and you can't use the "exit to planet" option from a stronghold. But the quick travel items added for heroics in 4.0 and later even for some other missions make no such distinctions and were a surprising godsend in terms of getting around. I would have been quite content to level from 5 to 75 purely by running the two dailies on Dantooine (though that would have been quite boring) but being able to planet-hop via these quick travel items certainly made things a lot more interesting and varied.

EDIT: This was a big enough deal for me that I also made a post on the subreddit.

20/10/2021

Feasting So Far

The first week of this year's Feast of Prosperity is behind us and it's been going well from my point of view. The funniest thing that happened to me so far occurred when I did the story quest on Rishi on my Sorc on the second day, and while the Selonian was talking to me about how I should please not kill this rare Orobird, another Sith sprinted right through my cut scene (a glitch that sometimes happens), immediately followed by sounds of lightning and bird screeches from off-screen. I actually laughed out loud at that.

Immediately afterwards another player ran up to me and asked me if I could help them kill a Tonitran. I said sure, but even as I did so I wondered why they needed help killing a single silver mob... it was only then that I noticed that the character was only level 36! I'm surprised you can even pick up the quest at such a low level, but I guess strictly speaking the Rishi step doesn't require you to kill anything...


I've been doing the dailies pretty consistently on at least one character per day. Initially I was quite motivated to earn the event currency to buy rewards too - something that's quite rare for me - because last year I realised fairly late that there were actually a lot of rewards that I liked, and that I hadn't earned enough tokens to afford them all. However, after a week I've managed to buy most of the things I wanted for my main and that I missed out on last year, so my enthusiasm to earn more tokens that I'm not sure how to spend anymore is admittedly waning a bit.

There are some achievements left to chase, and apparently achievement hunters were quite pleased that Bioware finally fixed the one hidden achievement that was impossible to complete last year, but what they haven't fixed is the hidden achievements revealing themselves on cue in the first place. Clicking on other people's progress has revealed to me that I've apparently also been working on them (unknowingly) but being unable to keep track of my own progress because it won't show in my achievement panel has been a bit of a downer.

It's a good thing I at least really love the world boss hunts, whether I still need them or not. There were some issues here too, with the Primal Destroyer not respawning properly if people tried to evade its adds instead of killing them, though I'll confess that I blame that one more on the players than on Bioware. Yes, it's a bug, but why even bother trying to evade a couple of mobs that only take seconds to kill... it astounded me that there were enough people doing that to bug out the boss in every single instance at one point. It's just so unnecessary. Like when people try to circumvent that one weak mob in Directive 7, someone gets stuck and then everyone has to wait around for them to un-stick themselves.


But I do love the feeling of the world boss hunts in general. Just pop down to Nar Shaddaa, pick up the daily mission, type "+wb" in chat and you're pretty much on your way. It's great to see ops groups filling up to their max capacity within minutes and see the traces of each group coming and going in the form of multiple dead copies of the same world boss lying next to each other. A lot of SWTOR's focus is on instanced and/or solo content and that's absolutely its strength, but I do love the hustle and bustle of these world boss groups reminding us that it's still an MMO for a reason.

17/10/2021

82.4% Towards Fleet Admiral - Maybe I DO Like GSF?

One of the things I've been doing to gain my two to three Renown levels a day while working on my goal to reach Renown rank 999 before Legacy of the Sith comes out, has been playing Galactic Starfighter. I quite enjoyed binging on it during Total Galactic War, and I kept thinking that it was kind of odd how I kept doing random matches on all kinds of alts with minimal ship upgrades unlocked while my main had maxed them all out ages ago and yet I pretty much never did anything with that.

(After making an attempt to make more use of them I will say though, despite of what's considered common wisdom on that subject, I found that the ship upgrades don't make that much of a difference. There's something to be said for having all your preferred ships and components unlocked, but despite of many upgrades nominally increasing your survivability and damage output by quite a chunk, I can't say that I really feel more powerful in my fully upgraded ships than in ones that aren't. It's still possible to just get blapped out of the sky sometimes before I've even had time to realise what's happening, and that process remains as opaque to me as ever.)

On a whim, I decided to have a look at the GSF statistics in my achievement panel and I was... actually kind of surprised! I always say how I'm not a huge fan of GSF and that I don't feel that I'm very good at it, but some of those achievements felt like they were trying to make a liar out of me. I knew that I'd unlocked all the crew members and mastered all the ships at some point (except one on Imperial side, hmm... need to go look for that and finish it), but I was surprised to see that according to the Matches Played category of the GSF achievements, I'm also on 824 out of 1000 matches played for the legacy title of "Fleet Admiral" (which is what inspired the title of this post).

I mean, 824 matches played seems like a pretty big number for something that only makes up a tiny portion of the game and that I've always professed to not like all that much. At the date of me drafting this post, 2,875 days have passed since Galactic Starfighter went into early access, so that averages out to a match every three to four days (even if in reality I've gone months without playing and then just binged on it during certain periods).

Even more astounding, I've apparently won 422 out of those 824 matches, which is 51.3%! I was certain that I must have lost more matches than I've won. (On a side note though, with a win-loss ratio this close to 50%, maybe Bioware's match-making isn't quite as dire as it feels sometimes...)

Similarly amazing, I've got 95% completion on the "Battle" category, which includes such random feats of strength as finishing a match with a 6:1 kill-death ratio - something I apparently achieved once in Feburary 2014 - who knew? The only one I'm missing for completion is the one to destroy 12 enemy turrets in a single match, which... yeah, I don't think that would ever happen organically, but I could actually see myself achieving it if I specifically went for it over the actual domination objectives one day.

You don't get to give out MVPs in GSF the way you do in ground PvP, but apparently the game awards some automatically in the background based on certain contributions, and while I haven't completed any of the categories in this section, I'm still kind of impressed that I managed to get the MVP for most damage dealt during the match 75 times so far, even if it was over the course of eight years...

I'm also on 84% completion for the medals category, which led to me googling what they all mean because sadly the achievement panel itself doesn't explain what causes you to e.g get an "Annihilator" medal. Apparently I've completed all the achievements in 13 of the 18 sub-categories, with the only incomplete ones being Demolisher (destroy 8 turrets, surprised I've organically done that twice apparently), Mechanic (repair 2k total damage, 66 out of 100!), Ravage (get 8 kills, 77/100), Savior (repair 4k total damage, 11/100) and Siege (destroy 4 turrets, 14/100).

Seeing all these statistics progress slowly but surely, I could even see myself getting close to reaching 100% completion of GSF achievements one day! Though I don't think I'll ever actually reach 100%, because there's a line in the objectives category that requires you to gather five power-ups during 100 death match games and I've not done that a single time. I'd actually have to do some research on how to even do that and then put some work into it while potentially playing rather sub-optimally in all those matches, and that's definitely more than I can be bothered with.

But still, overall... I'm kind of surprised by the picture these numbers paint. Maybe I enjoy GSF more than I give it credit for while also being at least a little bit better at it than I thought.

14/10/2021

Peaceful Adventures on Hoth & Belsavis

I took last week's Pirate Incursion event as an opportunity to take a break from having Pacis look after the Kath hounds and dig for relics, and instead had her resume her mission to explore the galaxy and find out what else there is to do that doesn't require you to fight anything.

As I mentioned previously, Hoth is where I lost interest in this part of the project at one point, but nonetheless I felt compelled to go back and at least finish it up. I tried to do the main story quest where you're supposed to trigger an ambush and then have Imperials come to your aid, figuring that maybe I wouldn't actually have to get involved in the fighting myself to get credit, but as it turns out the traitorous bastards don't even show up if you don't attack the ambushers yourself first.

Besides that, I re-did the one heroic that's doable without any combat and finished exploring the rest of the map. In the Starship Graveyard I ran into these two troopers that appear to be brothers or something and looked like they were sparring with each other. I don't recall ever seeing them before.


When I moved on to Belsavis, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this snowy prison planet perpetually stuck in a state of rioting is an unexpectedly great place to get things done without fighting! There is of course the perennial favourite of heroic runners everywhere, looting Agent Mynock's corpse, but I also found three other heroics that I could do.

Open Communications just requires you to loot an item and as a stealther you can vanish out when this act spawns a group of attackers, and of course doing the Stasis Generator without fighting anyone reawakened fond memories of the game's early days when these missions were part of the daily circuit that many people did in a group and it wasn't unusual for us to chill by the door while the stealther in the party took care of things. Doing it on my own was a bit more boring though since I didn't have anyone to talk to while waiting for Force Cloak to come off cooldown four times.

The biggest and most amusing surprise however was the heroic to save captured scientists from rioting Gand. Most of these "rescue" type missions require you to kill the mobs around the captives, but I couldn't remember that being the case with this one for sure, so decided to give it a quick go anyway. And what do you know, not only can you rescue the scientists without fighting anything, it doesn't even break stealth! So I just had to walk up to them, nudge them in stealth, and they'd just get up and walk away. Never mind the armed prisoners with guns pointed at their heads, clearly it was just their own negative attitude that was keeping them imprisoned. Life lessons!

After that I was planning to explore the map and look for some more one-time missions to do, but then the Feast of Prosperity came around and I realised that this was too good an opportunity to engage with some temporary non-combat content to pass up. The event missions also happen to give tons of experience, which is only enhanced by it overlapping with three weeks of double XP this year, so the level cap is now so close that I can smell it!

11/10/2021

Star Wars: Visions & What's Canon Anyway?

I didn't think I was going to have any interest in Star Wars: Visions when it was first announced, because I'm not really a fan of anime and the trailer didn't look interesting to me at all. But then I saw it pop up on my Disney+ feed and thought: Eh, might as well see what that's all about!

And as it turns out... I enjoyed it overall! My very first exposure to the Expanded Universe back in the day was Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, so I'm actually quite partial towards random short stories simply set in the Star Wars universe, and every animation studio gave the property a slightly different flavour. Let me do some mini-reviews for each episode - these will contain spoilers. If you want to remain spoiler-free, it's (mostly) safe to continue reading below the list.


1. The Duel

This one was very moody and visually interesting. I rolled my eyes a little at the Sith lady fighting in heels and wielding a lightsaber umbrella, but then I was kind of like... it's not canon, so who cares? The revelation at the end was intriguing. It occurred to me that I could see the young chief telling his own children one day about the events leading up to him being given this rare crystal, and if this was his re-telling that would explain why some things are a little over the top.

2. Tatooine Rhapsody

It seems most people weren't too impressed with this one but I kind of liked it once I got over the shock of how different the style was to the first episode. Chibi Boba Fett hunting a Hutt with a wig that wants to play in a band? Why the hell not! I liked that the main character's "microphone" did indeed just remain a microphone and he didn't suddenly ignite his lightsaber for a heroic rescue at the end. This appealed to my "not everything in Star Wars has to be resolved by using the Force" leanings.

3. The Twins

Based on other opinions I've seen, people seem to either love or hate this one. I'm more in the latter camp, though "hate" would still be too strong a word. I was after all entertained, just by laughing at how ridiculous it all was instead of being able to take the story seriously in any way whatsoever. It just reminded me of bad fan fiction, the sort where someone just picks one or two aspects of a film they saw and decide to write a story all about that, which doesn't mesh with anything else from the source material. Star Destroyers, X-Wings, something something dark side, massive battle scene woo!

4. The Village Bride

This one was probably the least memorable of the lot for me. It was competent and I did like it well enough while watching it, but it felt like a fairly generic story of a low-lying Jedi choosing to reveal herself to save a village. I liked the guy with the bucket hat. Oh, and someone pointed out that the ship that the bandits arrive in is the same as SWTOR's smuggler ship, which was neat.

5. The Ninth Jedi

Now this one was fun. Come on, do you really think that ominous guy with the full body armour and the red glowing eyes wants to just help out some Jedi? Are you daft? But then! A delicious twist! I loved that.

6. T0-B1

First off, was anyone else slightly amused by the main protagonist's name kind of sounding like "Teen Obi-Wan" when said out loud? No, just me? Oh well.

This one was kind of weird and I didn't really know what to make of it. I was on board with the idea of a droid wanting to be a Jedi, and I liked how during the big battle getting his arm chopped off didn't phase him at all because duh, droid! But then the whole "you're just like a real boy" vision gave me Pinocchio vibes and I never liked Pinoccio much. Also, I was a bit put off by the planet initially looking kind of like Tatooine but then it clearly wasn't.

7. The Elder

This one had very strong Qui-Gon Jinn and young Obi-Wan vibes, but I didn't mind. For all the aspects of Star Wars that the franchise has cloned and repeated to death, this particular dynamic is not one of them I think? I liked how this was the calmest and most dialogue-heavy of the episodes, reminding us that Star Wars doesn't have to be all about flashy battles. The only slight negative from my point of view is that the dialogue felt kind of weirdly paced in the English dub sometimes, but then I've read somewhere that this is fairly common with anime due to the way the Japanese language works (?)

8. Lop and Ochō

This was probably the most visually beautiful of the episodes, and I liked the theme of found family over blood relations, which is something the sequel trilogy kind of undermined with its weird focus on genetic heritage. The only con from my point of view was that I thought the dialogue was a bit weak (just how many times does Lop repeat something or other about bringing the family back together...)

9. Akakiri

This one was visually and stylistically very interesting, but I found the cuts a bit weird and honestly got confused at one point because I didn't immediately recognise that a couple of scenes were meant to be flashbacks. It also felt the least "Star Warsy" to me somehow, because even though there was mention of Jedi and Sith, everything looked very stereotypically Japanese, and most of the other common Star Wars trappings, such as aliens, droids or familiar locations were notably absent.

Overall I enjoyed seeing the IP get explored in this different style, though I think some critics are giving it too much credit for originality... e.g. Forbes reviewed the series under the headline of "Star Wars: Visions finally breaks free from the Skywalker saga", which I think made most Star Wars fans go "Dude, where've you been?" There's already plenty of supplemental content out there that explores other aspects of the Star Wars universe. I'd even say that in terms of themes, Visions is fairly conservative by having most episodes be about some sort of Jedi vs. Sith conflict. Which is not a problem! However, it's hardly revolutionary either.

Now, what really got me thinking about Visions was the fact that it's been labelled as "not canon" and that in my own reactions to individual episodes, I sometimes perceived this as a good thing (like in The Duel, where I saw it as an easy excuse to hand-wave away some awkward details) and other times as a bad thing (like in The Twins, where I felt kind of annoyed that the writers seemed to have zero respect for established norms in the Star Wars universe). Why is that?

I thought about what exactly canon even means in this kind of context, and the definition that seemed the most appropriate is "the works of a particular author or artist that are recognized as genuine" or "the list of works considered to be permanently established as being of the highest quality". Of course George Lucas waived the exclusive right to come up with Star Wars stories a long time ago, so it's less about the author and more about what the IP holder, in this case Disney, has deigned to give the stamp of approval as "the true story".

I feel that having an established canon does add value to a universe like this, because it adds authenticity to the stories by ensuring that they contradict each other as little as possible, and ideally there should also be some sort of minimum quality control. (Ideally...) But in a fiction as vast as the Star Wars universe, it can also become restrictive and cause fans to become weirdly obsessive about pointless details, fretting about things like why that one stormtrooper in that one scene wore the wrong helmet for the time period and what that must mean.

And I think that explains why I felt the way I did about Visions too. In The Duel, my initial reaction to seeing the Sith's weapon was to think something like: "Oh no, I thought we'd seen all the weird things people could do with lightsabers... " But on reminding myself that it wasn't canon, there was a certain sense of relief that I didn't have to worry about where it fit into the "canon of lightsabers", I could just take it at face value in this particular story and enjoy it for what it was.

Comparatively, The Twins made me think: "OK, I know that Star Wars isn't very concerned with physics, but people still aren't able to breathe in space, usually..." It didn't just violate some obscure part of canon, it clashed with most stories taking place in space and just gave me the feeling that the creators didn't care about any kind of logic or credibility, which in turn made me feel detached from the story.

If you've watched Visions, what did you think of it? And did you see the lack of canonicity as a pro or a con?

08/10/2021

Onslaught in Review

As I said previously, we still don't have a launch date for Legacy of the Sith, but it can't be far off now, and I don't expect us to get another major content update before then, so I thought it would be interesting to look back on how Onslaught has gone as a whole. I wasn't sure what conclusion I'd come to when I first started writing this, but honestly, now that I've added it all up, this has been a pretty ace expansion.


Features

After Bioware tried (and failed) to reinvent the wheel for the last two expansions (with the single player focus in KotFE and Galactic Command in KotET), it was nice to see them refocus on simply adding features that players had actually been asking for in one form or another.

  • Nautolans as a new playable species: They ended up looking a bit more... weird than most people expected I suppose, but I still think they were a good addition. Based on forum polls and the like, Nautolans were easily the most requested species that wasn't available yet - so much so that after this, I'm not actually sure what playable species they could add next. Sure, there are lots to choose from and you can find people suggesting pretty much all of them on the forums somewhere, but I haven't seen anything else have the same kind of consistent demand as Togruta and Nautolan had before they were added.
  • Spoils of War: Gearing was a mess towards the end of KotET and needed a revamp desperately. I think the new Spoils of War system worked out well overall! It's not perfect, but what ever is? I'd say its biggest flaws are that a lot of set bonuses and Tacticals they introduced were pretty useless so that there ultimately weren't that many viable choices to make about what to get, and that drop rates for both types of items were pretty poop, meaning that most of the time, you were better off just saving fragments to buy from a vendor, even when all you were doing was gambling at Kai's. Still, overall the ease of gearing up in terms of item levels was amazing, and everything being bound to legacy so that you could gear all your alts in one fell sweep has been super neat.
  • Material storage: I liked how they never even advertised this as a feature; it was just suddenly there and amazing, freeing up tons of space in cargo and legacy bays across the land. This is the kind of quality of life improvement we all love to see. Separate but related, they also added all those event currencies to the legacy currency tab.

Story

I didn't love the Onslaught base story quite as much as Jedi Under Siege, but it was still excellent overall, making use of the game's large pre-established cast and adding all kinds of great little touches to remind players of their class identity. Over the course of the expansion, we then got three more story installments:

  • Echoes of Oblivion: This was a pure love letter to the game and its community, taking all kinds of loose ends that had been left dangling in an unsatisfying manner and tying them into a neat little bow.
  • Spirit of Vengeance: Probably the least interesting of Onslaught's updates, it still introduced Rass Ordo as a likeable new character and laid the seeds for what's hopefully going to be an interesting arc about the Mandalorians facing off against an intriguing new villain.
  • Secrets of the Enclave: The expansion's second piece of story that was actually different for both factions (after the Onslaught base story), this again featured a plethora of interesting character moments, even if it didn't advance the plot very much.

If I were to criticise anything, I guess you could point out that there is no clear theme to all of these to tie Onslaught together: a bit of Darth Malgus here, some Mandalorian stuff here. Then again, this is pretty in line with how things used to be in SWTOR's "good old days": After all, Rise of the Hutt Cartel was only really about Hutts for a very short time; all the content added after its launch centred on organisations like Czerka or the Dread Masters.


"MMO Stuff"

It seems to me that after the early years of most content additions being standard MMO content and the wild swing in the opposite direction with KotFE & KotET's story chapters at the expense of all else, Bioware has finally settled into a nice balance between continuously adding engaging story installments while also consistently churning out repeatable content to keep dedicated players busy in the gaps in-between.

  • Two new planets: Onderon and Mek-Sha were both smaller than I would have hoped, but they were fully fleshed-out planets with datacrons and everything. The Onderon daily circuit is decent fun. Unfortunately Mek-Sha felt a bit half-baked with its somewhat random selection of side missions in different places, some content being quite buggy initially and none of it ever really becoming very rewarding.
  • One new operation: Nature of Progress (or Dxun as most people call it) is a brilliant op in terms of story and undoubtedly the funniest piece of group content Bioware ever released. The fights are mostly good fun as well, except for the last boss, whom I find kind of tedious mechanically to be honest.
  • Three new flashpoints: Objective Meridian, Spirit of Vengeance and Secrets of the Enclave. I stand by what I said about Objective Meridian seeming a bit dull at first blush but being interesting to replay. The last boss(es) can be infuriating but in a good way (to me anyway). Spirit of Vengeance was a bit meh - some neat little Easter egg achievements couldn't make up for the fact that it consists of too much boring trash and the environment isn't exactly thrilling to look at either. Secrets of the Enclave is probably my favourite of the three, meaning it's fairly fast-paced, features decent boss fights and includes some beautiful environments to feast your eyes on.
  • Two new world events and more: We got the Ultimate Swoop Rally on Dantooine and the Feast of Prosperity as a seasonal event in autumn. I liked both of these as creative non-combat additions. I found that swooping gets quite boring quickly if you do it for too long but it is something different. I also enjoyed the little mini-games coming with the Feast and the way it livened up the world boss pugging scene - I'm quite looking forward to doing that again this year actually. Finally, we also got the Alderaan stronghold and Galactic Seasons for what it's worth.

Summary

I know people always complain about wanting more from Bioware - and it's not like I'd object to being given more! - but honestly, looking back at all this, it strikes me as a pretty decent tally for a two-year long expansion that came free with the subscription. Especially considering that for a lot of that time, Covid was interfering with the devs' working patterns as well.

I like that there's a clear effort to balance single player story content with MMO features and additions now, and most of it was really good quality as well, with just a couple of not-so-great items on the list but nothing completely awful or boring. If Legacy of the Sith can deliver in a similar way, I'll be one happy camper.

05/10/2021

Daily Tour: Onderon (Republic)

My post about my daily route across Oricon got a better response than I expected, so I guess I'll post a few more of these over the next couple of months. Today I'd like to take you along to the game's newest daily area, Onderon - but only on Republic side, because Imperials get different missions and I've not done those often enough to have really developed a routine. In fact, the last time I did them on an Imp, I actually found myself pausing more than once and wondering whether I'd gone the wrong way.


My tour around Onderon on Republic side could be described as roughly counter-clockwise. Starting in Iziz, I first do the one mission inside the town, find the beast tracks just outside and then proceed north along the shoreline to root out Imperial spies. I'm guessing at least that part of my route must be similar for many people, considering that the beast-tracking quest requires you to hit certain markers along the way in order.

After killing the bonus guy in the cave, I usually spend several minutes flailing around trying to find the next traces of the beast - I've said it from the start: Onderon is pretty and a good place to have a gathering skill, but the missions that require you to find tiny clickies or camouflaged markers on the ground that can move ever so slightly from one day to the next are a royal pain in the butt. There's more of that sort of searching required around the crashed ship, and then I proceed to rounding up the Orlaxes.

After that I kill the big beast by the lake and cross over to the main part of the Mandalorian camp. The quest to collect Mando gear is always a bit weird in terms of drop rates, because sometimes I kill a few mobs and I'm done, while other times I have to clear out the whole camp and do another circuit around the lake and still don't have enough drops afterwards.

Then it's through the first cave to root out some conspirators, and the same in the next cave on my way to Untamed territory. There I light the torch and go into their temple/cave to challenge their champion and kill some Zakkegs. Here I have to take care to not get too distracted by gathering nodes in the surrounding jungle or my torch might go out before I can use it, and then I'd have to re-light it.

Finally I plant a few sensors just outside the area and then loop back down to flush out conspirators in the last cave to finish up.

I expect that the Onderon daily route is a lot less popular than Oricon, seeing how the planet's only been out for two years and requires completion of a sizeable bit of storyline, unlike the much more accessible Oricon, which has also been out for more than eight years now. Still, if you've done the Onderon dailies at least a few times, dear reader, I'd be curious to hear how you go about them.

02/10/2021

No News Is Good News (from the PTS)?

The PTS for Legacy of the Sith continues to quietly chug along. When I was playing there with guildies recently, one of them commented that there were very few people online, and I replied that that's pretty normal. There's usually a big rush on opening day as everyone logs on to check whether there's anything particularly interesting to see, but since there rarely is, they log off again and don't come back. Even the few who do end up doing genuine testing will usually only play that content for a little while and then go back to doing something else. The PTS just isn't a place to hang out.

That said, I'm surprised by how many hours I've spent there already this time around, especially considering that unlike for Onslaught, Bioware hasn't offered up any rewards for participation. According to Steam I've spent more than ten hours on the PTS so far.

Last night me and six of my guildies ran Terror from Beyond master mode on the PTS with an all-inquisitor group because scaling isn't in yet and we wanted to see what it would be like to be ten levels above the content. The answer is, we managed to one-shot everything up to Terror himself and probably could have got the timer achievement (something many of us have never managed on live) but then we wiped a couple of times on Terror and people didn't feel like pushing on as it was getting late. It was still a fun time. I played as Lightning dps, something I don't think I've ever done in master mode content; I pretty much always heal on the harder stuff.


Previously we'd also tested the new inquisitor skill trees by running the flashpoints added in Onslaught on master mode, using copied level 75 characters. I tanked Objective Meridian and healed Spirit of Vengeance and Secrets of the Enclave. The bonus boss in the latter absolutely wiped the floor with us repeatedly for some reason; it did so much damage (though we did get it down eventually). We did a run on live afterwards just to compare the experience because I was kind of starting to doubt my healing abilities, and there the boss didn't even do the ability that was causing us so much trouble, so that we took almost zero damage... it was very odd.

In terms of how the class changes felt, I can only reiterate what I said in my last post about the PTS - compared to the initial hubbub, they really don't feel like that big a deal. (Though my main class still hasn't been added to the PTS - typical that they'd save the best for last - so I guess I'll reserve judgement until I see that.)

Assassin tank didn't really feel very different at all. At level 70 they make you choose between your knockback, that cone-based AoE they added in Onslaught and that no-one ever used anyway, and Whirlwind, none of which really matter to a tank in PvE. I guess in PvP people might have to decide whether they get more use out of the knockback or the extra CC. Passives are mostly centred around increasing your AoE damage/threat or some new interactions with taunt, which I found hard to judge in terms of their usefulness.

Sorc had more changes going on, but still the overall rotation felt largely the same. The only thing that bugged me at level 75 was that the utility to move while casting Innervate and other key abilities isn't unlocked until 80 now, so I was constantly interrupting myself by moving at the wrong time. Here the proposed choices at 70 are between your friendly pull, Volt Rush and immunity bubble, which is a bit more tricksy. The pull is super situational but where it is useful it's extremely useful - yet, can you really justify choosing it over the bubble? I'm kind of hoping they still change that one.

The changes to passives I found very hard to judge once again. A guildie was playing Madness and cackling about Shock finishing all your dots at once or something like that, which does sound pretty OP, but I didn't see anything as exciting in Lightning or Corruption. Not everything seemed to work properly either... as a healer one option was supposed to allow me to follow up a Dark Infusion with another instant cast but that never seemed to trigger, and as Lightning there were multiple effects that looked like they were meant to be passives but actually gave me another button to press on my bar that didn't really seem to work properly either... it's a bit hard to form strong opinions based on that.

In general I'm surprised by how much I've enjoyed these test runs on the PTS with my guildies though. Stuff like running an unscaled operation offers a different view on content that hasn't been available in the live game for years. And as far as the class changes go, it does kind of feel like the goal of the pruning is simply to make sure you don't need more than two full action bars for your combat abilities and I'm OK with that. That's still plenty of buttons to press.

28/09/2021

Expansion Prep

We still haven't got a release date for Legacy of the Sith, but if Bioware wants to stick to the originally announced end-of-year holiday period, it can't be more than three months away. This got me thinking about whether there's anything I need to do to metaphorically "get my house in order" before the expansion or whether there are any goals I should try to achieve before the level cap goes up again. With the way SWTOR tries to keep all content relevant these days, it's not that much of a rat race, but still, sometimes there are things that are better done sooner rather than later.

I came up with the following list of goals for myself: 

1. Get my main to Renown rank 999. 

Bioware may have dropped the idea of resetting Renown ranks seasonally, but I'll be very surprised if they don't make us start these over with the expansion. I got the achievements for getting all classes to rank 100 at the end of last year, but raising my main's rank has remained slow-going due to my love for alt play. At the time of writing this, she's in the mid-800s, and I realised that I'm not going to gain the last 150 ranks or so in time without putting some sort of concerted effort in.

It's not a particularly difficult or time-consuming task; it just requires me to focus. Based on some simple napkin maths, earning about two to three ranks a day should be plenty to get me there for the start of December, so that's what I've been aiming for these past couple of weeks.

2. Get my "main eight" all caught up.

I did the Onslaught story on one character of each class, but haven't exactly been religious when it comes to keeping up with new story releases on my alts since then. Content like Echoes of Oblivion or Spirit of Vengeance was fun enough to play through once or twice, but the lack of class- or even faction-specific variations has made it less interesting to repeat overall. Still, Secrets of the Enclave had at least a faction split again, and I'm hopeful that Legacy of the Sith will also offer content that is interesting to play through on alts, so I want mine to be ready.

3. Get a saboteur all caught up.

The main thing that has been absent from my "story roster" is a saboteur after that option was introduced, since all my characters have been loyalists. (And since their integrity is important to me, I couldn't just "make" one betray their faction just to see what would happen!) People have been telling me for ages that the saboteur story is awesome and I really need to get to it, and I'd always smile and nod but then not focus on it.

I did do some work on getting my Republic-aligned Sniper caught up, since she struck me as the perfect Imperial saboteur, but at some point in late KotFE things just kind of fizzled out. Recently I've picked her up again, and I'm telling myself that as little as one chapter/story installment per week would be enough to get caught up in time for the expansion. I just need to stick with it!


4. Finally get my pacifist to 75.

No special reason for this other than that I'd like to actually reach the level cap before it goes up again. Then I'll probably make a post on Reddit about it. Again, this is something that I can quite easily chip away at in small chunks, one week at a time.

5. Continue clearing out my materials tab a bit.

This kind of ties into what I wrote about making money in my last post. I've not just been selling jawa junk, but also realised that I've got a ton of stuff stashed away in my materials tab that's actually quite valuable. I kind of predicted that this would happen with how "out of sight, out of mind" crafting materials have become since the addition of this special inventory with Onslaught, but that hasn't prevented me from falling prey to it myself.

I don't know how many of these things will retain any value come expansion time, but even if I want to be cautious and keep some for myself just in case they remain useful for something, I won't need hundreds and thousands of each of the rarer items, so off to the GTN they go! I don't exactly need the extra credits either, but you never know.

6. Also-rans...

All of the above should be quite enough to keep me busy to be honest, but there are of course always other alts to progress as well. The question of who could even be a saboteur among my Republic characters has me pretty stumped... I'm leaning towards one of my Scoundrels, but even there I'm not sure I can really see her siding with the Empire to this degree. Either way, whichever one I'd pick would have all of KotFE, KotET and more to get through to get all caught up.

25/09/2021

In the Money

I don't recall ever feeling poor in SWTOR. I do have this vague memory that when I hit level 25 on my very first character, it was a bit of a stretch to afford both my skill training and the first rank of speeder piloting (remember when you didn't get that until level 25?) and I may have delayed purchasing one of them for a bit, but it definitely didn't take me very long to get the funds together.

I also have this vague memory of everything seeming a bit expensive when I hit max level for the first time, but then my very first round of Belsavis dailies earned me 100k credits and I was like "whoa, alright then, if that's how it's going to be".

Since then, I've never really had to think about credits very much. I don't go out of my way to earn any, but just playing the game in whatever way earns me more than enough to cover my expenses. When I repair my gear after wiping during progression ops, I don't even look at the numbers anymore because they are completely inconsequential anyway. The closest I've come to having any sort of emotional reaction to something money-related is when looking for some cosmetic gear on the GTN and thinking that a lot of it feels kind of overpriced for what it is... but that's not the same as being poor.

That said, I still hate wasting money. I think this is due to the fact that my mother used to work in a bank when she was younger and taught me from an early age to take good care of any cash I was given. To this day I kind of struggle with the concept of "splurging" on anything, even when I can afford it easily, and that's also reflected in the way I play video games. I didn't do that silly belt vendoring dance before Onslaught because I needed the credits, but because not doing it would have resulted in wasting a huge amount of potential credits and that just bothered me.

During this expansion we've seen a huge proliferation of jawa junk, and when it started clogging up my bank I set to turning it into credits last summer. Many of my guildies have simply gotten into the habit of vendoring excess gear drops because it's quick and easy, but to me that feels like a waste of value when I know that those same gear items could be deconstructed and the resulting junk converted and sold for so much more.

Back when I wrote that post in August last year I said that I might eventually compose a follow-up, but that never happened. The truth is: The project never came to an end! I did eventually whittle down the stacks of green and blue junk, but as I keep earning more all the time I also have to keep converting it into goods that I put up for sale on the GTN over and over. And let's not even mention the purples... it's ironic, considering that they are supposed to be the most valuable, that I really struggle to convert and sell those. I think I still have five or six full stacks of them in my legacy cargo bay even now.

Looking at the date of that post and realising that I've been re-listing my wares on the GTN on an almost daily basis for over a year now, it hit me that I've kind of become what we used to call an "auction house baron" back in WoW. The amount of money in my legacy bank is approaching two billion credits, which is halfway to the technically imposed credit cap. And I'm sure someone will comment now that they make that sort of money every day before breakfast, but to me it still feels like a lot.

Like I said, I haven't been even remotely poor in a long time, but I used to hover around a couple hundred million credits and that already made me feel pretty rich. It's been very strange to realise just how much I've ratcheted up my credit-making this expansion without even meaning to.

And the funny thing is, I don't even know what to do with all that money. Acquiring gold-level augments is the one thing that would really drain my funds quickly, but I don't actually care about those at this point since I'm not doing master mode Nature of Progress anyway and due to the scaling they do very little in older content.

Besides that, there's only fashion? And I'm not the type who changes her characters' outfits all the time. My main adopts a new look about once a year but that's more opportunistic, depending on what new sets come along. And on the rare occasion when something does appear on the Cartel Market that I would like, I usually have enough complimentary coins to buy it directly from there anyway.

I sometimes hear people complain that SWTOR's economy is broken, but I'm never quite sure what that's supposed to mean. I guess there are a lot more faucets pumping credits into the economy than money sinks that remove them. In other words: If you play a lot it's easy to make a lot of credits and have nothing to spend them on, so everyone ends up charging ridiculous prices for cosmetics on the GTN because what else is anyone going to use that money for anyway?

But then, where is the harm? New players who are only just finding their footing won't have trouble paying for "necessities" like skill and speeder training because the cost of those is still mandated by the game and not other players. In fact, if they engage with the player economy at all they'll probably have an easier time making money than we did back in the day, since anything they could potentially sell, from a nice-looking green piece of armour to some mid-level crafting materials, will fetch much, much higher prices than it did back in the day, while outgoings like training costs have remained the same or even gone down in price.

I guess the situation could appear broken to the eyes of a new player when they've only just earned their first thousand credits from quests, they check the price of some armour set that they like the look of on the GTN, and they see that it's selling for two hundred million. However, from my experience that's pretty much the same in all the MMOs I've played: You can't expect to go in as a brand new player and immediately be able to afford some rare and coveted item. Level up and look into what ways there are to make money and you'll find that all this stuff isn't nearly as unobtainable as it might seem at level ten.

22/09/2021

All In

Last week was Total Galactic War again, and I've written a fair number of posts in the past about my guild successfully conquering planets during that event. Last week was not one of those weeks though - we decided to go for a bigger challenge for once and ended up getting in over our heads, which eventually resulted in us falling behind and losing. C'est la vie.

It was still an incredible week for me personally though. Even though we eventually fell behind, we did manage to keep up with our main rival on Voss for at least a few days, and that despite of them having literally more than ten times as many players online most of the time. Being able to say that each one of my guildies is worth more than ten randoms (in terms of Conquest at least) felt pretty cool to be honest.

I also played a pretty crazy amount of hours, probably more than I did even while working on Galactic Seasons, and fully immersed myself in all kinds of activities that I hadn't done in ages: For example I did every single daily area and wallowed in the memories I associate with each. I even did uprisings with my guildies and am sad to say that I still don't find them very fun (the uprisings that is, not my guildies), but what was fun was seeing the ridiculous amount of achievements that popped up in guild chat that evening because we apparently had a considerable number of people who'd never done any uprisings before at all. (Oh, and it was fun to be the last person standing when it came to finishing off Crack-Shot Aggy in Done and Dusted because everyone else had died.)


I completed the GSF weekly on seven characters (one per day to align with the associated daily objective), playing probably close to fifty GSF matches if you assume a roughly equal win-loss ratio (though I didn't keep track). And I had fun with it! GSF occupies this weird place where I'm not hugely fond of it because I'm very bad at it and it's not really my kind of play style; but attach a significant enough reward to it and I'll be like: "All right, let's go!" Since there were special Conquest objectives for flying every kind of ship I even flew my scouts and strike fighters for a bit (despite of being terrible at them), and a few times I ran into people that were somehow even more terrible at GSF than me and managed to get a couple of kills that way.

I also completed the PvP weekly on seven characters, which required even more matches than GSF since it only counts wins nowadays. And again, it was actually great, because it had been ages since I'd done this much PvP over a relatively short period of time, and it was a great reminder of how queueing a lot means that you'll start to recognise certain names after a while. I could also feel my play improving massively on certain characters - for example I hadn't played either of my Scoundrel healers much recently, but with every match I got better at remembering to use my cooldowns and at predicting enemy movements. It was so much fun.


At the end of Total Galactic War we always do a tally and give away prizes based on people's contributions and I actually ended up in first place with over ten million points, which is something that never happened to me before (usually I'm maybe near the bottom of the top ten).

All this made me think a lot about how I've been playing the game for quite a few months now. I've long described myself as fairly monogamous in my gaming, unlike most bloggers I know, who tend to be variety gamers and like to dip into a lot of different games. I wasn't a complete purist anymore when I started playing SWTOR and also dabbled in other games from the beginning, but without much commitment. However, for a while now I've been splitting my time a lot more than I used to: never quite taking a break from Neverwinter, playing WoW with the husband, and Classic WoW with the guild I joined there. I never stopped thinking of SWTOR as my main game and home, but there were many weeks when it wasn't actually where I spent most of my gaming time.

I still think it's good to check out other games sometimes, even if like me you're mostly focused on one above all others, but I've been wondering whether I haven't been missing out on what I enjoy most by scattering my focus as much as I've done recently. Especially as there've been many times, not just in SWTOR but also while playing the other MMOs I mentioned, that I went: "Dang, this is fun... too bad I don't have enough time to really dig into this". No matter what I play, being stuck in this limbo where I'm always craving more but can't quite get it because of how much I'm divvying up my time is simply unsatisfying. I'm wondering whether it isn't time to go back to being full-on casual in those other games while being more focused on SWTOR and enjoying the perks that come with giving it my full attention.

19/09/2021

Daily Tour: Oricon

I spent an unusually large amount of time doing dailies this past week. I've said before that I'm not really a "daily person" - I tend to binge on them a bit when they're new to max out any associated reputations, but after that I pretty much stop doing them unless an alt is making it to the area for the first time or it's worth doing them for Conquest. This past week was an occasion of the latter.

It got me thinking about what I do like about dailies whenever I do them, and it's a mix of trying to come up with an efficient route and then enjoying the familiar routine of following it. Since dailies are usually a solo endeavour, we all tend to come up with our own routes and don't necessarily exchange information about them... but it's something I find quite interesting, so I thought it would be fun to share some of my own daily routes.

I'd like to start with Oricon, and I made a little graphic to visualise what I'm talking about:


Roughly speaking, my route through Oricon could be described as a clockwise swirl that starts in the base (the image illustrates a Republic character's journey, but an Imperial's wouldn't be very different; it would just start further south) and ends in the central tower.

I think the somewhat circular motion is pretty natural, but while drawing this up I did find myself wondering why I'm going clockwise instead of counter-clockwise. I think the reason for that is that the initial storyline makes you run through all the missions that become dailies later in a specific order, and it sends you north before it sends you south, so I guess I just incorporated that initial direction into my routine without thinking about it. Or maybe it's because I'm Republic and the northern quest is closer than the southern one.

Anyway, starting in the Republic camp I begin with freeing the soliders from the crashed escape pods immediately outside the base, though I sometimes make a little detour right away as there are some strong mobs guarding a chest just to the left of the base exit sometimes (not shown on the graphic). Chests may never contain anything valuable nowadays, but I still like opening them.

Then I turn north and start hunting for the mobs dropping the quest items that allow you to enter the northern phase. If I'm on a character that has their seeker droid unlocked, I might meander a bit to also do the bonus mission to dig up roots.

After the phased bit, I turn south-east towards the heroic area, crossing over a giant root thing... I always dread that part because there's a mob standing on it that will yank you if you try to just ride past and dismounts me pretty much every time. I'm always relieved when someone else has just been through before me and killed it.

The heroic area is always the most time-consuming part since it's actually somewhat challenging still (just today I managed to get myself killed in there by accidentally aggroing a large group and a champion mob together, oops) - I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with that. I find it best to start at the north-western entrance since the bonus mission that becomes accessible if you have macrobinoculars also starts there.

If I'm not going to do the bonus I'll just try to climb shuttles and kill champions without aggroing too many other mobs before legging it back out, but if I also want to do the bonus I have to make my way south to get in range of the two southernmost things I need to scan and then double back up to complete the mission at the same terminal where it started. I vaguely recall someone mentioning to me once that there's supposed to be a spot where you can scan all four things at once but at this point I'm wondering whether I didn't just imagine that... as it is, the doubling back is quite annoying since everything takes a while to kill, but stuff's usually already respawned by the time I make my way back.

Then I ride south between the tower and the heroic area, destroy the terraforming devices and do the phased bit in the southernmost end of the zone. Afterwards it's back up towards the tower, which I always enter via the southern ramp. This is interesting in so far as I didn't find out until a couple of years ago that the mob that can drop the "bat hat" spawns at the start of the northern ramp because I simply never go there. Was quite a surprise when I found out!

Then I do the tower before quick travelling back to base. Here it's important to remember to exit the phase before using quick travel, because the mission has a step that says "exit the chamber" or something like that, and quick travelling straight out doesn't count. On at least one occasion I returned to base from inside the chamber, just to realise that my mission was stuck on asking me to exit the phase, so then I had to fight my way all the way back up the tower and inside the room just so that I could leave it "properly"... /facepalm

Anyway, I'd be curious to hear how this resonates with some of my readers. Does this route look similar to your own or do you prefer completing your dailies in a different order?

11/09/2021

Thoughts on the KOTOR Remake Announcement

Yesterday I woke up to my Twitter timeline going wild - a remaster of the original Knights of the Old Republic had been announced! I have to admit it was great fun to see people get super excited about this, even if it didn't mean much to me personally.

Long-time readers might remember that I never played the original KOTOR back in the day - I just worked my way through the mobile port a few years ago and documented my experiences with it here on the blog. I did like it well enough then - issues with bugs and opaque mechanics not withstanding - but it wasn't the same sort of foundational RPG experience that it seems to have been for many people nearly twenty years ago.

I can see why the idea of a remake would be appealing to Disney - it's both an opportunity to cash in on the nostalgia from older fans while also introducing the game to a whole new generation of gamers. While the original is technically still playable and I found it decent fun, it definitely doesn't have mass market appeal in its current, dated form - but a remake would change that.

It's worth noting though that this is a remake, not a remaster - so it's likely that we'll see more than an update to the graphics and the addition of some quality of life changes. Aside from that we don't really know what exactly to expect though, as the trailer was basically just a shot of a photorealistic Revan and there is no release date yet.


I can certainly think of a lot of ways in which they could improve on the original without changing the core of the game too much: making the combat less rubbish, giving the player character a voice, fixing the bugs that persisted even in the mobile port (such as being unable to negotiate with the sand people on Tatooine), allowing the player to respec their character, adding a greater variety of NPC models, and so on and so forth.

Yet there's also risk in all of those things: First off, there are probably people who liked the original combat, but even if everyone were to agree that it sucked, I'm sure we've all got different ideas about what would constitute "better" combat. Heck, I could even see simple graphical updates be controversial in some way - the original KOTOR was very limited by the 3D of its time, but does that mean that photorealism is the only logical option for a more modern version? I can already hear the complaints that Bastila isn't attractive enough, or that a realistic rendition of Juhani looks kind of uncanny.

I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade by saying these things - I'm sure the devs will give it their all and hopefully it will turn out to be a good game. Just... if you're one of those people for whom the original KOTOR was an important part of their formative years, maybe don't get too hyped up? Even if it turns out to be a good remake, playing it probably won't feel quite the same as it did back in the day.

Oh, and for some reason this has once again brought up the question of whether KOTOR will become canon instead of Legends material now. Personally, I don't really see why it would? The remake will be a new product, yes, but not a new story (or at least I wouldn't expect them to change the story in any major ways, considering that it's always been the game's major selling point). It strikes me as similar to the release of a new audiobook for an existing Legends novel.

I suppose you could theorise that going for a remake over a remaster would be the perfect opportunity to "canonise" KOTOR if Disney wanted to, though considering how far the story is set in the past compared to the movies, I don't think it would have had any clashes with any of the new canon material to begin with? Some people just obsess way too much over canon vs. Legends either way. Most major science fiction or comic book franchises like to spin off into alternate timelines and the like at some point or another, but I've never heard of people getting too upset about that. Maybe they are and I just don't know about it.

Anyway, will I play this when it comes out? Maybe. I liked the original and the ability to make different choices should make it quite attractive to replay even without any major changes to the story. However, my ever-present inability to muster up the enthusiasm for a single-player game when I could be playing an MMO remains...

05/09/2021

No More Master Looter

Last week's patch implemented a major change to the way loot works in group content, and one that was only communicated to the player base mere days before the patch dropped: The removal of master looter and general move towards making everything personal loot (though certain items that bind on pickup will remain tradeable within the group as it was before).

I was immediately reminded of when WoW did this about three years ago - I wasn't playing that back then, but there was enough wailing and gnashing of teeth from raiders that I heard about it anyway. I was somewhat confused by this move back then, and I have similar feelings about Bioware deciding to copy Blizzard's stance on this now. Yes, everyone's heard at least one story about some nefarious master looter taking all the good stuff for himself and/or his friends, but I've got to admit that in practice, I can't recall ever encountering any sort of issue with master looting in my fifteen years of playing MMORPGs. How much of a problem is this really?

That said, I don't expect the removal of master looter to have a huge impact on my guild as we weren't really using it in everyday operations anyway. As someone mentioned in the forum thread, on a world boss like Dreadtooth the lack of a master looter option will make it very unattractive going forward to let any pugs come along just for the experience or for fun, because the risk of Johnny Random being assigned the valuable drop that is the main reason you're there would just be too great. However, my guild only does that kind of world boss run very rarely anyway - in operations we've long just defaulted to need or greed, and then simply asked people to e.g. pass on the blue crafting mats so that an officer can pick them up for the guild bank. Running with people you know and trust, that's worked quite well.

But ah - and that's the bit that wasn't really clear from the initial announcement: need or greed is gone as well. Everything is randomised behind the scenes and then assigned as personal loot now, and you don't get a choice. Funnily enough, I actually think the benefits of that are much more obvious, considering the way many people in pugs have been in the habit of just rolling need on everything, regardless of whether an item is even useful to them or not.

However, our early experience has been that in a guild or friendly setting, where you want to make sure items go to the people who'd find them most beneficial, it also makes loot distribution a major pain in the butt. At least in WoW, personal loot still triggers a little pop-up that says "so-and-so received X", making it obvious to the rest of the group what just happened. However, the SWTOR UI currently has nothing like that, and with the roll window removed, the only way to see what's dropped for whom is to either be extremely quick on the looting and scrolling so you can see what items are on the body and whose name is next to them before they are actually picked up, or to sort through several pages of loot drop announcements in the chat log to find the actually relevant pieces like set bonus gear among the dozens of trashy mods and enhancements.

Crafting mats are even worse because they now go directly into your materials storage (for convenience's sake I guess), and for some reason this only shows in the chat log for the person actually receiving the items, not for anyone else in the group, so you wouldn't even know that anything's dropped unless the receiver announces it.

Even discarding the whole logistics of wanting to distribute items within the group, just on an individual level, if I'm the sort of person who would like to continue donating any blue mats I get in guild ops to the guild bank, I now need to remember to check my chat log after every boss kill to see whether I looted anything and if so, how much, because it won't show in my inventory and I'll be damned if I notice that the count of a certain material in my stash has changed from 121 to 134 by the end of the night.

It's just an annoying amount of faff that wasn't there before, and while I'll have to take Bioware's word on this being a beneficial change for a majority of pugs, I don't see why they have to make loot distribution actively annoying for organised guilds in the process. I hope they'll consider at least improving the visibility of loot drops in the UI, because if we have to go through the process of trading everything manually instead of simply rolling or passing on drops as we go along, the least they could do is make it easier for us to keep track of what it is we might want to trade from among the mountains of cheap loot that the game hands out nowadays.

02/09/2021

Peacefully Sauntering Towards the Finish Line

Once again it's been a really long time since I last wrote about my pacifist levelling project - in fact, this time the break has been longer than last time! No special story about embarrassing myself this time; I just didn't feel like playing as much at the start of the year and then simply ended up forgetting all about this little pet project for a while.

I haven't been entirely idle however - at the moment Pacis is back on Dantooine and making her way through the mid-sixties. During the summer she participated in the Nar Shaddaa Nightlife event a bit, and she's done the swoop races a few times as well by now. Really nice non-combat acitivity, that, though the best thing about it from this particular character's point of view is actually that picking any of the Dantooine courses gives you a quick travel item to Dantooine... meaning that by keeping that mission in my log semi-permanently, Pacis is now able to return to her peaceful home at any time, not just when the Pirate Incursion event is on.

I've been thinking about whether I should attempt to do anything special during my last ten levels to the (current) level cap, though I'm sure I'll get there soon enough just by inoculating Kath hounds and digging up relics once a day. I might travel around a bit more, but I haven't decided yet.

I think one reason my interest in this project has been stagnating is that it's a solved problem at this point. The early levels were the most interesting, as it was a challenge and a puzzle to figure out where I could find sources of XP at low levels without fighting anything and with extremely limited travel options available. At this point however, Pacis has it pretty good to be honest, able to use the heroic terminal on the fleet to quick travel to most planets and now with the swoop quest able to return to Dantooine at any time as well. While I could technically try to uncover more non-combat missions for her to do, she's got a wide array of heroics available for XP and gear already if I really wanted to push it; it would just be kind of repetitive.

Either way, I expect that the next time I'll have an update on this, she'll either be 75 already or at least very close to it.

29/08/2021

More Adventures on the LotS PTS

I never actually wrote a follow-up to my confused post about day one of the Legacy of the Sith PTS, but that doesn't mean that nothing's been happening. Bioware did provide some more information and context for what they were trying to achieve with what was on display there soon after, but to be honest none of it really changed my opinion from "I'm not really sure about this, but I guess I'll wait and see".  The rather confusing initial implementation of the new system on the PTS - which required you to wade through several forum threads to have even the faintest idea of what's going on - didn't exactly help either.

Plus as previously mentioned, the first advanced class/combat style to be tested was Guardian, which I play only casually, so combined with all the other limitations I didn't feel like I could really give any good feedback on that one. After that they tested Sentinels, which I know even less about, as Sentinel/Marauder is probably my least favourite advanced class in the game right now and I play it very little.

However, this past week they added Sniper and Operative, and while I'm not big on Snipers and Gunslingers either, Operative/Scoundrel is something I do play somewhat more frequently, at least in the healer role, so I thought it might be worth checking out.

One thing that was immediately helpful was that they added a very rough work-in-progress UI, which just makes it so much easier to understand what's happening. I wrote in my last post that it felt like they were trying to return to skill trees of a sort, but the new visuals make it clearer that it's more of a merge of the current specialisation "line" and the utility system. So you'll still get a lot of abilities that are tied to your spec as you level up, predetermined like it is now, but then at certain levels, instead of getting a utility point, you may be given a choice of three abilities or passives that modify existing abilities tied to your spec, e.g. as a healing Operative one of my early options was to choose between three passives that added special effects to existing heals. Somehow just seeing it like that made the whole thing immediately less intimidating to me.


In terms of pruning, Operatives didn't seem to have been hit too badly from my point of view. There was a bit of early panic when Sleep Dart was missing from the initial PTS build, which immediately sent everyone's minds racing about the implications of a potential end to crowd control from stealth (no more stealth caps in PvP?!), but that turned out to just have been an error and they added it back in almost immediately. As a healer, all of my heals were still there, and the only thing I noticed being conspicuously absent was the class's raid buff.

Where abilities had been turned into choices, forcing you to pick one out of three, this mostly seemed to be directed at perhaps nerfing the class a bit in PvP by making people choose between things like having more stuns or extra survivability. I don't really have a good read on the details, but that doesn't seem too bad a concept... though the hard stun becoming an elective does make me wonder about PvP balance a bit, even as someone who's more of a PvE person. Every single class having a hard stun on the same cooldown was one of those things the original devs decided to include as an easy balance move... and I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad thing to move away from that, as being stunned in PvP isn't exactly fun, but I can see changing that baseline having a major effect on overall class balance.

With that in mind, I originally wanted to have a bit of a go at seeing how this new setup worked in PvP, but whenever I was on the PTS there weren't enough people queueing. So I went to do a couple of level 75 veteran flashpoints with my guildies instead (since level scaling still isn't implemented the way it is on live). First we did Objective Meridian, in which I healed and it was... actually kinda challening! We even wiped once or twice, and defeating Tau took absolutely forever (which wasn't helped by the fact that only two of us were still standing by the end). This didn't seem down to any weakness of the classes though; more a result of us having none of our usual legacy buffs and all playing characters/roles that we weren't necessarily 100% familiar with. For example one of the new utilities I picked was actually a major buff to one of my heals but then I completely forgot to use it appropriately to take advantage of that.

After that we went into Spirit of Vengeance, and as one of my guildies wanted to try his hand at Operative healing too, I respecced to Concealment - a spec I've actually never played on live, though I did play its Republic equivalent (Scrapper Scoundrel) for a bit when I took my Scoundrel through KotET on master mode. Even with everything being stabby knife moves instead of punches it quickly came back to me how there's a certain rhythm to that spec in terms of building Tactical Advantage and spending it, and I actually found it quite fun, even if I couldn't really tell whether/how it was changed from live. Oh, and we wiped on this flashpoint too, so it wasn't just my healing earlier! But still, it was good fun.

My main takeaway from this round of visiting the PTS is that I'm feeling much more optimistic about what I'm seeing. A big part of my initially rather negative reaction was due to the way the ability changes seemed to have come completely out of the blue, but having a better understanding of what's happening and why certainly makes it all look a lot more palatable and like less of a big deal than it felt like initially.

24/08/2021

12 Things That Are Very Different in SWTOR after 10 Years

The other week I was having a chat with some WoW players I know and the subject of SWTOR came up. Knowing that I play it as my main game, one of them said something along the lines of: "I tried it at launch but it didn't really stick with me. I assume it's a much better game now?" To which I probably should have replied with a simple "Yes, of course!" but since I'm both rubbish at being an ambassador for my favourite MMOs and always have to complicate everything, my answer was some muttered deflection about how I was clearly too biased to make that judgement. Truth is, there are some things that I liked better about the way the game was at launch, which is something I worked through in this post from a few years ago.

But it did get me thinking about what the experience would be like for someone deciding to return now who only played for a little while at launch, or who has at least been absent from the game for more than a few years. With SWTOR's ten year anniversary coming up, I wouldn't be surprised if more people were thinking of checking it out again just to see how it's doing! So I tried to think of some major aspects of the game that have changed since then and compile them in the form of a blog post. Maybe this will alleviate some returning players' confusion... or encourage others to come back if they were on the edge and find out this way that something that put them off back in the day is no longer an issue. Without further ado: Twelve things that make SWTOR very different now compared to how it was at launch.

1. There've been a lot of server merges.

If you still remember the name of the server you played on back in the day... it won't be there anymore. SWTOR launched with a huge amount of servers, just to have to merge them together again and again as the game's population declined. We seem to have settled on there being only five, though that's not as dire as it sounds as they are all "mega servers" and considerably bigger than the average server used to be back in the day. There are three European ones for each of the supported languages (English, German and French), and two US ones for the east and west coast respectively. Note that while the Satele Shan server is nominally considered the west coast server, in terms of physical location, both servers are located on the east coast now.

If you used to or want to play on an RP or pure PvP server, you're out of luck now as neither exists anymore. The RP community just doesn't get much love, period, and world PvP was changed to a purely optional thing on all servers. Basically you have the option to switch to a "PvP instance" on any planet accessible to both factions, in which all players are flagged. There are no special rewards for it though other than sometimes having reduced competition for mob spawns.

2. The game has a free-to-play/freemium business model now.

I know this is a change that happened in SWTOR's very first year, but if you really quit within the first few months, I guess you never would have seen even that get implemented. It's kind of weird to think back to what a drama that was back then, when being subscription-only was considered the gold standard and dropping the mandatory subscription was considered a sign of a failed game. I feel like people have become a lot more chill about that nowadays and seem to consider the business model less important as long as the game is fun and no particular monetisation scheme is too annoying.

The way SWTOR's free-to-play model works is that it gives you access to a huge amount of content for free, but then tries to make you vaguely uncomfortable in terms of quality of life at every opportunity to get you to pony up for the optional subscription. If that sort of thing bothers you, I always suggest subscribing for at least a month if you think you're having any fun at all, as that immediately removes all of the restrictions and unlocks even more content.

The cash shop is fairly inoffensive unless you're a fashionista who needs to own all the outfits as that'll set you back by quite a lot. Note that everything from the Cartel Market can be traded and sold in game though, so if you've got enough credits you can get most things from other players via the Galactic Trade Network.

Aside from cosmetics the Cartel Market only contains a few unlocks that make life as a free/preferred (lapsed sub) player marginally less annoying, but really, if that's your goal it's much easier and better value for money to just subscribe. I wrote a post comparing SWTOR's and ESO's business models a couple of years ago if you find that kind of thing interesting.

3. Levelling has been simplified and sped up massively.

Not that it was ever really hard... but you could die on some solo story missions, and you sometimes had to worry about upgrading your gear or doing some side content for extra XP. None of that is really the case anymore. In terms of combat, I found it quite striking that when Bhagpuss gave the game a try a couple of years ago, he described the levelling journey as such: "Games intended for very small children not excluded, TOR is by far the easiest MMORPG I have ever played." And he's played a lot of MMOs! It does ramp up a bit later on, which is a point I don't think Bhagpuss ever got to, but it's still a far cry from what it was like during the first couple of years, when you could even die on the starter planets if you didn't upgrade and use your skills appropriately.

The XP you get from main story missions has also been multiplied so many times that doing anything but the main storyline(s) is now redundant for levelling purposes and if you engage with things like side quests or group content at all, you'll be over-levelled for the story in no time.

4. Side quests are now hidden by default.

Speaking of side quests or "exploration missions" as they are now called, not only are they not needed anymore to fill your XP bar, someone at Bioware also decided at some point a few years ago that their mere presence was confusing and/or off-putting and decided to make them hidden by default. If you still want to find and do them, you have to open your map and tick the "show exploration missions" box on there to make quest markers appear over the relevant NPCs. You're welcome.

5. The game is fully level-scaled now.

On the subject of being over-levelled for the story, a few expansions ago SWTOR introduced level-scaling. The way it works in most cases is that each planet has a defined level range, and if you are within that range or below, you'll simply play as your current level, but if you exceed it, you'll be down-levelled to the highest "permitted" level for the planet, while keeping all your higher level abilities and secondary stats, meaning that you're still going to be pretty OP. But it does mean that you can't simply run around lower-level planets one-shotting everything, and that you do keep getting XP for doing quests no matter where you are (with the exception of some low-level areas on Coruscant and Dromund Kaas), so if you're enjoying the lower-level content you can do most of your levelling by simply doing that.

6. Travel around the galaxy is faster now.

Something I'd almost forgotten until I re-read the post by Wilhelm that I linked earlier is how annoying planetary travel used to be sometimes, what with having to go to your hangar, loading into your ship, picking your travel destination, getting off there, exiting the space station or spaceport, and so on and so forth. Nowadays, the only reason you'll have to do that is if you have a quest inside the hangar or on your ship while levelling, but otherwise you can open the galaxy map from (almost) anywhere, click on your desired planetary destination and simply go there instantly. You might just have to briefly navigate out of a spaceport or station after arriving.

There are also a lot of other convenient travel options. Planetary taxis are now all available without having to unlock them first. Both quick travel and the emergency fleet pass had their cooldowns shortened drastically, to the point where subscribers with legacy perks have no cooldown on either of them (when it used to be something like half an hour and... twenty hours? respectively).

Strongholds (more on them below) also offer a way to instantly travel to a safe place and back if you need it. And people in a guild with a guild ship can instantly summon a group from anywhere in the galaxy to their location. WoW used to have this as a guild perk called "Have Group, Will Travel" that they took out at some point because it was considered too overpowered or something. Not so in SWTOR! I've written about the evolution of travel in SWTOR in a bit more detail here.

7. There's housing now, called strongholds.

Housing is one of those things that I really don't care that much about in an MMORPG, but I know that there's a dedicated audience for it that considers it an absolute key feature. Again, this is something that's actually been in the game for quite a while now (since 2014 to be exact), but if you left in the first year you might not have known that. You can purchase various apartments and estates on a number of planets and decorate them to your heart's content.

The way decorations can be placed is hook-based (so not completely free-form) but at the same time not as restrictive as in other games that use similar systems, as you can change the layout of hooks you use (e.g. by choosing whether a room should contain a lot of small hooks, a couple of big ones, or a mix).

8. The way companions work has been changed quite a bit.

At launch every class could acquire a total of five unique companions by completing their class story. Each companion had likes and dislikes, and you could only progress their personal story if they liked you enough. They also required constant gear upgrades to remain effective (the same way as a player) and each companion was locked into only being able to perform one trinity role (tank, dps or healer).

With the launch of Knights of the Fallen Empire, everyone's class companions were taken away (once you start that part of the story), though you later get to re-unite with them as the story progresses. However, now all characters get access to (almost) all companions, plus a whole bunch of new ones.

Companion stories aren't locked behind whether they like you anymore, and instead unlock automatically once you've progressed far enough in the overall story. "Liking" you isn't that important anymore either, as affection has been replaced with influence, which also goes up if you make decisions that they hate. Gear also doesn't affect companion performance anymore; instead they simply get stronger as your influence increases.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, all companions can perform any trinity role now, so you're no longer locked into dragging a specific companion that you don't like around just because they're your only healer. They've also been boosted incredibly in terms of power and are much more effective at keeping you alive now, which also contributes to the whole levelling being much easier thing (see point three). Again, if you're interested in more detail, I've written more about the evolution of companions in SWTOR in this post.

9. The gear treadmill is minimal.

Speaking of gear affecting power levels, the gear treadmill in SWTOR is minimal nowadays. With the launch of the last expansion they added a new item level of gear but this has stayed the same throughout the whole expansion, even though it was really easy to max out within a couple of weeks after launch. You don't need to do the hardest content to acquire max-level gear either - people have the option to gear up through different activities depending on what they find fun. Additionally, most gear is bound to legacy, meaning that you can freely send it back and forth between your alts, so that a new alt can instantly wear a full kit of max-level gear once you've ground it out once. If you feel like other games are too demanding in terms of making you grind for gear as you'd really rather just chill and enjoy the story or whatever, SWTOR might be for you.

10. The easier group content is role-neutral now.

I thought about starting with "SWTOR has an automated group finder now" since strictly speaking that wasn't in at launch either, though it did get added very soon after. Still, I can imagine few players being surprised by this. What does throw people off more often is that the easier group content (veteran mode flashpoints and uprisings) has been tweaked to be role-neutral now, meaning that you can run it with four damage dealers if you want - no long queue times to wait for a tank. So if the game puts you into a group with no tank or healer, this is not an error but working as intended! The only thing to keep in mind here is that in somewhat of a contrast to the easy solo-levelling, group content without a tank or healer can actually be quite a challenge (depending on the instance and your group make-up), potentially forcing you to actually take care with pulls and use cooldowns to not die.

11. The post-launch content is not unique for your class.

Many hours of new story content have been added since launch, however due to the game not meeting expectations they had to lose the whole "eight parallel class stories" angle and unify the storyline. If this makes you wonder which character class might be best to return to to get the best experience out of the new content, I've got a post for you here!

Still, it's important to know that there's not as much replayability for alts as there used to be. There is some depending on the content - as there are references to your old class sprinkled in here or there, and some storylines are different for Republic and Empire at least. However, eight unique class stories it is not.

12. There are options to skip ahead now.

I'd always advise players not to skip story the first time around, but if you were stuck on something you really didn't enjoy, or on an alt that stalled out while progressing through a piece of content you found too repetitive to do again, there are options to skip ahead to different points in the story now. So for example if you've only been gone for a few years but got bogged down in the "Knights of" expansions because you really didn't enjoy them, you can skip right ahead to Jedi Under Siege, where the story returns to a more traditional Republic vs. Empire setup.

Are you someone who hasn't played SWTOR in a long time and thinking about returning? Got any other burning questions about what has changed since the last time you played? Feel free to leave them in the comments!