War! Still Surprisingly Good, Actually.

My guild has taken part in Conquest ever since the system was first introduced with the Galactic Strongholds expansion (you can read my initial thoughts about the system in this post from September 2014 for a serious blast from the past). We've never been a major player on our server, but depending on the state of the system we've had a chance to win prizes occasionally. Total Galactic War and the way it massively opens up the playing field has always been a good candidate for this in particular.

For some reason Bioware hadn't really taken that particular Conquest event out to play for nearly a year though, so it led to some excitement when we first found out that last week was going to be the first Total Galactic War in ages. Would we finally have a chance to conquer a large yield planet for Twin Suns Squadron again?

There was also some trepidation in the mix though: Several major changes had been made to Conquest since the last time and we weren't sure how those were going to affect the way the event worked and our performance in particular. The fix to put an end to "newbie farming" hadn't actually been implemented yet either.

Still, we started planning to the best of our ability. Honestly, that's the thing I like the most about the Conquest system in general, that it really gives SWTOR's MMO side a chance to shine, as it's one of those aspects of the game that greatly benefits from people sticking their heads together to plan and play in a coordinated fashion.

For example, if you know that "complete the PvP weekly" is going to be an objective that's going to award a lot of points, you can play a character up to having nine out of ten wins completed the week before, so that you only have to win one more match during the actual TGW week and get it done much more quickly. (Technically you could complete the quest entirely and just wait with handing it in, but that exposes you to some risk if you group with other people, as someone else doing the hand-in in your vicinity would also complete it for you.) A lot of my more PvP-obsessed guildies did this and I was quite proud of them. (Me, I was too lazy for that, though I did do some PvP and even GSF during the week itself.)

Then once the event starts, you've got to know which planet to invade and when. We knew that we wanted to avoid "the Shields" as well as another half-dozen, well-known large Conquest guilds, so we kept re-checking the table to see where they'd gone so that we'd know which planets to avoid, as it was impossible for us to compete there. On the other hand you don't want to wait any longer than necessary as it means that your guild misses out on the bonus points generated after invading, so once all the obvious players to avoid were out of the way, we decided to commit to Dantooine, which was attractive as a large yield planet (and therefore usually out of our league) and didn't seem too heavily contested yet at the time.

What looked like a pretty safe bet initially was put into some question though when a guild called Rapid Serenity decided to invade as well. Rapid has been somewhat of a nemesis of ours as far as Conquest is concerned, as we've gone up against them directly several times by now. I know that there was at least one occasion when we lost, but other times we successfully beat them, including the last time we went toe-to-toe on a planet before this event. I can only guess that since it had been so long, maybe they had a change in leadership since then and nobody remembered that we maybe weren't the best guild to mess with.

As far as I can tell, Rapid is a guild similar to ours, only somewhat more populated, which has been their main advantage in the past. We were initially a little worried that it could turn out to be our undoing this time due to the more recent Conquest changes really favouring doing any kind of activity in large numbers over players grinding specific objectives. As they are a Republic guild as well, we kept doing a /who to check on their progress and could see them going through all the big point generators en masse, from ops to world bosses to Star Fortresses, while we did our best to match their efforts.

Oh yeah, Star Fortresses! As I said there was some uncertainty about what this TGW's objectives were going to be, since Bioware had made several rounds of changes to objectives since the last time this event had been active, and there were some surprises in there indeed. For example the GSI weekly was removed as an objective - in the past TGW was one of the rare occasions when I used to do it on several characters. Good thing I hadn't tried to prepare that in advance!

On the other hand Star Fortresses, that slightly awkward side endgame activity introduced with KotFE, suddenly had multiple extremely high-paying daily objectives added, to the point that doing three Star Fortresses with a full group of four would give your guild's score a massive boost. I swear, getting characters through at least the first nine chapters of KotFE had never been this attractive to my guildies before! We got into a routine where we could complete each one in about twenty minutes, which made for a pretty good payout.

Anyway, that first night of TGW was pretty intense as my guild and Rapid Serenity competed for the top spot with all we had. We did come out slightly ahead however, and after that they seemed to be unable to overtake us again, even as we started to feel secure in our lead and relaxed a little. I can only suspect that they must have pushed very hard that first night and that seeing us overtake them despite of us having a smaller number of players online must have been demotivating enough that a lot of their own members stopped trying. Psychological warfare matters a lot in Total Galactic War.

When we took stock of the scoreboards for the other planets at the end of the week it was interesting to see that in some places the battles had been even closer than on Dantooine, with some guilds edging out their main competition with only a few hundred thousand points (which isn't a lot when the overall scores are over a hundred million), so there'd clearly been a lot of excitement in this event for other guilds as well.

I was really happy to look at the final tally of personal scores within the guild and see that 84 different accounts had contributed, which was a new record for us. I know that I can rely on most of our ops regulars to help out in events like this but it was great to see many of the more casual social members do their part too. It may all just have been for an achievement, a title and a general sense of accomplishment, but it's also the kind of thing that really brings a guild together.

Rumour has it that the next Total Galactic War is scheduled to happen at the end of March, so not quite so far away this time. The fix to neuter the "Shields" and their new player farm should be in by then, so we'll see what effect that has on the meta, plus there's also supposed to be a nerf to crafting incoming. I was worried that the more recent changes would make it all too much about just having lots of players in the guild, even if they don't pay attention to Conquest, but those massive objectives rewarding things like weekly completion and other bits of group content meant that you could still accumulate a lot of points strategically even with a smaller number of players. We'll see how things play out in a little over a month.


Rebels! Seasons 1 & 2

After finishing Clone Wars in December, it was time to look for some new material to very slowly consume in bite-sized chunks during my daily exercise bike ride, and I settled on Rebels as the most natural follow-up to Clone Wars.

One interesting thing about Rebels is that it only came out a few years ago and I actually remember people talking about it on Twitter a lot whenever a new episode aired. As I didn't expect to see it any time soon back then I allowed myself to be inundated with massive spoilers... but that hasn't really been detrimental to my experience so far.

I wasn't too impressed with the pilot (mostly I kept thinking about how much Ezra reminded me of Disney's Aladdin both in his looks and mannerisms - and I'm glad I'm not the only one who made that connection) but then first episodes often tend to be a bit rough, and things picked up quickly enough after that.

It's hard to not immediately draw comparisons with Clone Wars. I don't mind the softer, more rounded animation style, but besides that there are some occasionally (to me) very baffling artistic choices being made in Rebels. For example you know that thing film makers like to do sometimes where they hide the faces of evil minions and redshirts so the viewer doesn't feel too bad about them dying? For some reason Rebels loves doing that by having characters wear caps and open helmets with ridiculous visors and it just looks odd every time. Or there's a certain sound effect that they keep using whenever Ezra connects to the Force, which I guess is meant to sound mysterious but just makes me grind my teeth every time due to its awful pitch. Or what about those inquisitor lightsabers? I know new and slightly ridiculous lightsaber designs are a thing in Star Wars, and I was happy to let it slide as just another one of those the first time one of them started spinning, but when the inquisitors started turning into a squad of mini helicopters a bit later on it was just too much.

That said, in the grand scheme of things these are all just minor nuisances, and as a whole the show has been really solid so far. It feels much steadier than Clone Wars in the sense that there are fewer highs and lows and the quality is pretty consistent. You also get the idea that the writers actually had plans for the characters from the beginning, so you get episodes that have different characters interact with each other and develop their relationships in a way that feels like it has purpose.

The ensemble cast is varied and mostly quite interesting as well. Sabine being a lover of explosives but also artistic is an interesting combination for example. Or Hera with her odd mix of gentle, maternal caring and being a daring pilot. Even the crew's ship, the Ghost, has character, and that's coming from someone who generally cares less about the ships in Star Wars than most fans.

As the show progressed, the writers also started including more and more other, already established canon characters such as Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Ahsoka, Rex and more, which is something I feel somewhat conflicted about. On the one hand it's always been well done so far and it's just generally nice to see these characters again, but on the other hand it sometimes feels a bit like it detracts from what's supposed to be the main cast. For example, there's this two-parter at the end of season two that features Ezra being seduced by the dark side, but it also has Ahsoka meeting Vader so... you know where everyone's eyes will be!

I'm curious how the last two seasons will go.