13/05/2021

Shintar's Galactic Seasons Diary, Week 2

You know, originally I was only going to write about my first week of this Galactic Season, but it's been shaping up to be such an interesting experience that I figured I might as well continue this little diary. Read on to find out all about the adventures I had while completing Seasons objectives in week two.

Day 1:

My new weekly objectives were to play four GSF matches and do three veteran mode flashpoints. I would have been happy with both of those except that word was that the flashpoint objective was still bugged, so I re-rolled it and got the warzone one again, which was just as well from my point of view.

My dailies were to play one GSF match and do some Section X dailies. For the former I took the character whose ships I had started kitting out last week, my boosted Assassin tank, and with more ships it was immediately more fun. I lost again, but at least it was domination instead of a death match for a change and I got to play a bit differently. This also brought me to 1/4 on the weekly, but I decided not to pursue that further for the time being in case I got more GSF dailies over the course of the week.

I took my Powertech tank on what I expected to be a quick tour of Imperial Section X but got a bit bogged down by the heroic, which - while soloable - can still be a bit of a drag. Once done, I quickly travelled out and did some hand-ins, which was enough to already grant me the Seasons objective even though I had two more missions left for the weekly quest. I decided to leave those for now in case I got more Section X objectives in the next couple of days.

Day 2:

My new dailies were to kill bugs and other mobs, this time across outer rim worlds. I immediately re-rolled the bugs and got a PvP match instead. I played this on my Sage healer and got into a Hypergates match where we eked out a win by a hair's breadth.

For the remaining generic mob killing I figured I'd consult my character spreadsheet to find an alt on a class story step on one of the eligible worlds (Tatooine, Hoth, Belsavis, Rishi). Surprisingly there was only one real contender, my DvL Assassin, whom I'd left on Hoth at some point. Returning there I finished off the class mission I was on, but then got sent to various other places before it continued on the next eligible planet, Belsavis. I'd actually completed my Conquest almost twice over before my mob counter finally hit 75.

Day 3:

My daily objectives were outer rim heroics and Section X dailies. I um-ed and ahh-ed a bit but eventually decided not to re-roll as I might just have ended up with bug killing again.

I returned to Section X on my Powertech tank to finish up those last two dailies for her weekly, but sadly only one of them counted towards the four dailies needed for the Seasons objective, so I had to come back and do some more on another character. I chose my Marauder for this.

For the heroics I opted to take my DvL Shadow to Tatooine with the intent to do the quickest, most stealth-friendly heroics I could find, but my memory ended up betraying me and I did pretty much the opposite (as in: several heroics that required a stupid amount of killing). Also, the first heroic I completed didn't actually count towards the total for some reason - there was probably already another bug report about that somewhere on the forums, but I didn't think to check in advance.

Day 4:

GSF made a comeback and I got a generic kill objective for the outer rim that for some reason already sat on 54/75. Sure, why not? I quickly finished off the latter by killing a few more mobs on Belsavis on my DvL Assassin and went back to my Assassin tank for more GSF. I got into a domination map where I started off by accidentally suiciding into some debris mere seconds after the start, but we ended up winning and I earned a whopping 13 medals defending the middle satellite on my bomber.

Day 5:

With more Section X dailies and heroics I was once again dithering about whether I should re-roll, since I was getting quite tired of the former and wasn't really too keen on the latter either, but once again I didn't want to risk ending up with something even worse.

I finished Section X on my Marauder who had started it on day 3, and learned that while the area daily doesn't count towards the Section X daily objective counter, the heroic apparently does.

For the heroics I logged my dps Powertech and took her to Belsavis. Once again I made my heroic choices based only on very vague memories, and this time I did a bit better, though only one was really conveniently short. The others would have been quick if I had been on a stealth character instead of one that needed to wade through every single pack of trash between me and the boss.

Day 6:

I got a repeat of my day 4 objectives, only for some reason this time the kill counter was already on 67/75, so it was easy enough to dispatch the last seven mobs to get credit. My GSF match was a death match that felt like it was going pretty well for me personally (I earned eight medals) but we actually lost by eleven points.

I also did a warzone to push my weekly to 2/3, since I could only potentially get one more warzone daily objective anyway. I got into a Vandin Huttball which was a draw that we won by holding the ball at match end. I did find the improved performance in the warzone very noticeable - to be honest I was a bit sceptical of just how much Bioware had "fixed" Quesh and Vendin during their several-months-long absence from the PvP rotation, considering how little fuss was made about them being added back in, but it was very obvious that I didn't get the weird lags/apparent teleportation anymore that I used to get when jumping on the air vents for example.

Day 7:

The last day of week two presented me with requests to kill bugs on Tatooine and another buggy daily that told me to do missions on Rishi while having a counter for Section X. I decided to re-roll the latter as I didn't really want to spend a fourth day in Section X this week, or deal with more potential bugginess for that matter. Killing bugs on Tat didn't exactly thrill me either, but in fairness it was actually the first time that week that this objective had come up, so there was at least some novelty to it. The re-roll turned into "do a warzone", which was nice as I needed to do that anyway to complete one of my weeklies.

For the bug killing I took my Guardian to Jundland, to that area where the Jedi consular has a class story quest interacting with Jawas. There were a few other people there, but there were so many Geonosians and they respawned so quickly that I nonetheless got my business done quickly and without too much of a fuss. It also completed my Guardian's Conquest.

For PvP I played a match on my lowbie Merc and got into a Voidstar. We started defending and couldn't hold the enemy back for long, making me curse the new unified levelling bracket, as our team seemed to average around 40, while our opponents were mostly 60+, with several of them in the 70s, and it felt like we were just getting stomped. Somewhat to my surprise we ended up winning anyway though, as we had a couple of keen stealthers that managed to crack open the enemy doors even quicker than they had.

Finally I did one more GSF match to finish off that weekly, and got into a deathmatch during which I lagged horribly at first, making it hard to hit anything at all. I wrote it off as a likely loss, but the score remained remarkably even and in the end we won 50-49. "Wow, gg," I commented in chat... just to have an angry Imp whisper me to say "no, it was not". Some people.

Week 2 impressions:

I liked the mix of objectives I got better this week, or maybe I just liked the planets more that were this week's focus. The general bugginess continued, though at least it actually worked in my favour a couple of times. It was also nice to have a reason to play a bit of GSF again after not doing any in ages, even though I'm not great it. The only thing I got a bit tired of was being sent to Section X over and over.

10/05/2021

Conflicting Priorities

No, this post isn't about some sort of personal struggle - the title is the name of the little "in-between mission" set after Spirit of Vengeance but before 6.3's Secrets of the Enclave. While it came out a while ago now, I still wanted to say some things about it before talking about the 6.3 story content.

Like other recent-ish "in-between missions" it's basically just a little bit of chatter taking place in your base on Odessen about what's been happening with the Alliance. To be honest, while I used to think that these were a really neat idea initially - clearly meant to serve as a sort of "hey, we haven't forgotten about the story and neither should you" reminder for the players during long breaks between major patches... as they've started to accumulate, I've found that I kind of like them less and less.

While each one serves as a nice reminder of what's been happening if you play through it on the patch's original release date, if you're catching up on an alt's story progression later on, I'm finding that all these little "fillers" actually pointlessly slow down the action, and now that we've had a number of them already, they are also starting to sound increasingly same-y. There are only so many ways you can have Lana and your other advisors say: "By the way, the Alliance is still doing stuff!" I thought "Conflicting Priorities" was particularly egregious in that regard, which is why I really started thinking about it for the first time.

However, that wasn't all there was to this story update - there is a reference to a mission on Balmorra and you are asked whether you want to involve a particular "asset" called Zenith. Gasp! Could my thoughts about 2021 turn out to be wrong and Zenith make his return after all?


Sadly the mission doesn't really tell us very much. The dialogue refers to Zenith as a resistance fighter (note the lack of the adjective "former"!), but isn't Balmorra officially with the Republic again now? Who is he fighting when the Imps aren't about to try and steal something? And what happened to his ambitions to lead a more normal life as a politician? If you're a Jedi consular, your options to comment on this are sadly limited - the best I got to do was express happiness that he's alive and approve of getting in touch with him. I wasn't sure whether I should read this whole section as a hint that we'll all get a proper story mission that takes place on Balmorra later or whether it's just meant to be a tie-in for an Alliance alert along the lines of: "Zenith accomplished his mission, now he's come to Odessen to find out more about this Alliance commander" (for Republic characters only).

I'm actually hoping for the latter because as much as I've been pining for Zenith's return for nearly six years now (god, has it really been that long?), I don't think he'd be that interesting a character for other classes to interact with in great depth. I do hope that whichever way it plays out, we'll get some more context for what he's been up to and why.

04/05/2021

Shintar's Galactic Seasons Diary, Week 1

As I predicted when the Seasons system was first announced, while I dislike the concept of being incentivised to repeat old content yet again, that doesn't necessarily prevent me from engaging with it and being somewhat entertained anyway. As such, I thought it would be interesting to keep a diary of my first week of completing my personal objectives to document my experiences with the whole thing.

Day 1:

When I inspected the new Galactic Seasons objectives lumped in with my Conquest, I was initially confused why they were marked as "pee zero". Only later did it dawn on me that it's probably meant to be PO and short for "personal objective".

My weeklies were the one to do three veteran flashpoints from a short list and three warzones. The warzones were easy enough for me to do and I decided to jump into a few matches on a lowbie mercenary. I only found out on the day of the patch that 6.3 also included the merging of the lowbie and midbie brackets, meaning that now all players from level 10 to 74 are lumped into matches together. I can't say I was happy to see that change, but the matchmaker was with me and I was lucky that evening, so that my team absolutely stomped the opposition in all three matches that I played. Also, the two missing Huttball maps are back, yay! I got into Quesh once.

A group of guildies was doing a quick Scum and Villainy story mode run since that was a weekly objective for many as well. I was asked if I wanted to join but declined since I didn't have that one. Instead I posted in the Discord channel dedicated to chatter about Seasons objectives, which one of the other officers had set up with some foresight, and asked if anyone was interested in joining me for the flashpoints later. There were a couple of offers of assistance, though I found out shortly afterwards that apparently the flashpoint objective is currently bugged. Good thing I learned that before actively spending time on trying to complete it. I used the option to re-roll my second weekly and now got Scum too.

My daily objectives were to kill mobs on Alderaan or Balmorra as well as do three heroics there, which seemed nicely synergistic. I took my DvL Shadow to Balmorra since she also still had her class quest unfinished there, so I progressed it a bit and did the three heroics in the Colicoid area. I've never seen that place so thoroughly cleared out before, I actually had to fight people for spawns.

Completing all this allowed me to claim my first reward in the form of the new Kubaz companion, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that he had a short Alliance alert associated with him. For some reason I'd expected him to just be a clicky to unlock like the companions you can get from the Nightlife event.

Day 2:

We had previously assumed that you could re-roll weekly objectives more than once, but this turned out to be not the case, so I was "stuck" with operations for good or ill. Fortunately around lunch time another guildie with the same weekly decided to set up a Scum pug run (not many guildies were online). It was... an adventure, as pugs so often are, but we still completed the operation within the hour so it wasn't too bad.

I tackled the daily objectives in the evening and sadly they were less synergistic this time - but I wanted to at least give them a try once before re-rolling. One was to complete a GSF match, which was fine to me, though I got into a completely unbalanced death match on the losing side. It was over very quickly and I was the top performer on my team by having managed to earn one medal... everyone else finished on zero. Based on the general chatter about GSF, we seem to once again be back to the problem of Bioware adding extra incentives for participating to keep the queues popping, but this just ends up filling up the matches with people who hate Starfighter and may even intentionally decide to do nothing or even sabotage their own team by suiciding. I'm not sure what the solution to that is.

My other daily was to kill insectoids on Alderaan or Balmorra - and was already partially completed as it seemed to remember that I had killed a lot of bugs during my rampage the day before. So I went and did the Colicoid heroics again, this time on a different character - I could see now why the area had been so busy the day before, though it was a bit better that night. Still, killing 75 bugs specifically still felt like it took really long. I concluded that if I was going to do that one again I needed to find a better area to farm them in, with more weak mobs in it that are quick to kill.

Day 3:

One of my daily objectives was to kill enemies on "coreward worlds", specified as Alderaan, Balmorra, Corellia, Mek-Sha or Onderon. Something from the previous day must have carried over again because I was immediately on 63/75, significantly reducing the amount of killing required. Still, I couldn't quite decide on which planet to go to, so instead opted to go for my other objective first, which required me to do Black Hole dailies. Conveniently, this actually ended up also completing the other objective, as (somewhat to my surprise) the Black Hole did count as Corellia for the purposes of this particular counter, which is not something I expected. (I mean, yes, it's technically correct, but you never know with these planetary sub-zones.)

Day 4:

Got the same heroic objective as on day one, but this time combined with having to kill 75 insectoids on Alderaan in specific, so I went and did the three Killik heroics there. This time nothing had carried over and I had to kill the full 75 mobs to get credit, which felt quite tiresome, especially considering that the larvae didn't count. Not a fan of this whole insect theme so far.

Day 5:

I was not pleased to find myself saddled with the exact same daily objectives yet again, being asked to kill even more bugs. Deciding that nothing could be worse than dealing with more insectoids, I used a re-roll on that one and it changed to at least require only the killing of normal enemies. In order to not have to deal with Balmorra or Alderaan again, I opted to do three heroics on Corellia this time.

This was pretty relaxing, until I checked my progress about halfway through the third heroic and noticed that the counter was still on 0/3 - and that while the objective description listed several planets, the objective name actually specified Alderaan. I sighed to myself a little, finished off the last heroic on my Guardian tank, and since that had also completed her Conquest I relogged on my Gunslinger to go to Alderaan after all. At least the mob farming was done, so I could choose three heroics that were quick to do and required minimal killing.

When I completed the last one of these, I still didn't see a pop-up for the daily objective, so I checked my list, worried that I had messed up yet again, but it showed as completed. Now I'm not sure whether I just managed to miss the completion notification message or whether the three Corellia heroics had counted after all (which I definitely would have missed) and it was just the progression counter that was bugged. So confused.

Day 6:

When I saw that my daily objectives were to kill insectoids on Alderaan and to kill insectoids on Balmorra, I screamed. I immediately re-rolled the Balmorra one and got a generic "kill mobs on core worlds" instead, which I figured would at least synergise. Though I was then told by a guildie that the two bug objectives are currently also bugged in a weird way and if you have both they will complete at the same time if you just do one planet... or something. Who knows.

Since heroics weren't part of my requirements this time around, I decided to do some GSI dailies on Alderaan, since I remembered a couple of them taking place in areas full of non-elite Killiks. Unfortunately I'd forgotten just how much driving around they require. My daily objectives were actually long done before I finished the quests, especially the one to search for Big Red. The big thranta was unlocatable in two separate instances (yes, I checked all five spots in each), and I only found it in the fifth spot in the third instance I checked. Cannot recommend this particular experience.

Day 7:

This time my daily objectives consisted of GSF (yay) and yet more bug killing, which I immediately attempted to nope out of with a re-roll, and got lucky enough to get more Black Hole dailies instead. While these are hardly my favourite thing ever, they beat having to kill bugs for the fourth time.

For the GSF match I chose a random alt that had never even done a single match, so I probably ended up spending more time on purchasing and sorting out ships and components than on actually playing, but oh well. My team lost once again, but at least it was a fair and reasonably fun match. Basically we were all equally terrible, so that the match timer ran out with both teams only on twenty-something kills each, but at least it was close.

Impressions so far:

At the moment, Galactic Seasons features too many bugs of both kinds. I get that new releases are always a big buggy at the start, but when a system is all about offering rewards for completing content within a limited time window, being unable to do so because of bugs is extra annoying (even if the Seasons system has a considerable buffer for potential inactivity built in).

Also, it seems to me that the weeklies are skewed more towards group content while the dailies are more targeted towards the solo player, which would be fine if you could get by doing just one type, but you absolutely do need to do at least some of both to earn all the rewards in time. Given the nature of my play style, I was happy with my weeklies but the dailies to kill x mobs on a specific planet got old quite quickly and I barely seemed to get anything else, even when I used the re-roll option.

Funnily enough, when I went to the forums to check how other people felt about this, the first thread I found had the title "Galactic Seasons - Daily Priority Objectives - More Options Please!", so I thought hey, other people agree with me and think the same! Then I actually read it and the first few pages were mostly people complaining that one out of the eight listed potential daily objectives being "do a warzone" (wish I'd got that one!) was "forcing" them into PvP... good reminder of why the forums should never be approached with too high expectations.

Either way, I'm not hopeful that Bioware will make any major adjustments to things like the objective mix at this point beyond fixing obvious bugs. We'll see how long I can put up with the bug grind. At least next week should send me to different planets.

02/05/2021

Eight Years with Dread Master Styrak

Last year I wrote a post with some musings about how the way SWTOR keeps its raids relevant from one expansion to the next makes for a very peculiar experience for long-time players, as we may get to re-progress on the same bosses repeatedly, under different circumstances and with different people.

I've had a lot more time to think about that over the course of the last few months, thanks to Dread Master Styrak, the last boss of the Scum and Villainy operation. Scum was originally added to the game with the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion back in April 2013. My first impressions of it were favourable, though I would also note later that the last boss was a bit repetitive. I also remember that the first time said fight was explained to me, I had to ask for repeated confirmation about the Kell Dragon's spine mechanic, because I couldn't quite wrap my head around the idea that there was an ability in the game that you could counter with actual body blocking.

It only took about two months for us to also clear the operation on hard mode - but it was still highly meaningful to me because at the time the then-leadership team had decided that a whole bunch of us weren't really worthy of being part of guild progression and were therefore excluded from their hardmode runs. This initially left us feeling very lost and dejected, but when we eventually rallied and started to get our own hardmode kills (even if they happened a few weeks later), it was all the sweeter for it. I made a video of our first kill, and let's just say that the choice of Spectre General's "Nothin's Gonna Stand in Our Way" for the soundtrack felt appropriate in more than one way.

Scum's nightmare mode was out of our reach for a long time... but then the Shadow of Revan expansion added another five levels to our characters, and back then the operations didn't level with us yet, which suddenly granted significantly less skilled players a shot at some of those achievements as well. We got our own Styrak nightmare kill on the 3rd of July 2015 - I made another video out of that one:

In hindsight I can see just how much and how obviously we benefitted from being five levels higher than the boss - for example we stood in the purple ground circles more than once without taking significant damage, and of course there's the fact that we dispatched no less than half the team to deal with slowing the adds that form the chain, one for each corner - an incredible luxury the way I see it now. Still, there were new mechanics for us to deal with compared to hard mode, and it was still something to be proud of.

After that, Scum became just another operation that we went back to every now and then on story or hard mode. As the average skill level and encounter knowledge in the guild increased, hard mode even became quite doable on social nights when we'd bring along less experienced and skilled players or have people playing on alts. In 2018, I made a silly little video that shows us killing Styrak on 16-man hard veteran mode on such a social night (you can tell because I'm on my Scoundrel and playing dps, what is this I don't even), and in which I poked fun at the fact that Mr Commando and another officer were constantly complaining about our dps being too low and that we were bound to hit the enrage; and then we didn't. (Though the kill was still an extremely close call, with only one person left standing by the time the boss died.)

After the release of Onslaught and after we had cleared the new Dxun operation on both story and hard mode, it was time to go back to digging our teeth into some of the older content again and we found ourselves returning to Scum nightmare master mode once more, especially as some of our newer members had never done it before. With level scaling in place now, it was a lot tougher than we were used to, but fortunately we'd also got a lot better, so we still progressed through it at a steady pace. Until we got to Styrak himself that is, who turned out to be an absolute brick wall.

The boss's health values felt insane, and all the mechanics were now incredibly unforgiving. It took several minutes just to kill his Kell Dragon pet now, before the boss himself would even join the fight, and we'd regularly fail at getting even that done. It just felt like we were in way over our heads, and frustration eventually led us to agree to take a break from Scum for a few months and revisit Gods from the Machine veteran mode instead, another operation where team members were still missing achievements. That was in late summer/early autumn last year.

It was only in January of this year that we felt ready to return to Scum, once again with a couple of changes to the team's roster, and it did feel a little better initially, though progress still only came in baby steps from one week to the next. We finally became somewhat consistent at killing the Kell Dragon, but then ran into the next wall in the form of the chain add mechanic, which requires people to knock back rapidly approaching enemies repeatedly at just the right time or the group wipes. The way we had done it back in 2015 by sending one person into every corner was no longer viable due to the dps requirements, so the whole group just huddled in the middle and people would use their knock-backs whenever the chain came too close.

I was one of the people responsible for this and it was always hit or miss, as the window for the knock-back was extremely small and it was very easy to hit it either too early or too late - either of which would result in a wipe. It's hard for me to put into words how frustrating it is to try to perfect a mechanic like that when your only way to practice is to drag your whole ops team through five to ten minutes of boss fight first, where of course other things can go wrong as well, until you finally get to the bit you need to practice, get it wrong, and everyone dies so you have to start over. And it wasn't just me either: If I got it right, another person assigned to a different place in the knock-back rotation would usually mess up instead, with the same result.

Eventually, both Mr Commando and I were pretty much at the end of our rope with this fight and sat down with the rest of our team to ask them if they seriously wanted to keep bashing their heads against this wall, as it might well take us another few months to kill it. I think we expected them to say no, but surprisingly the majority of them wanted to stick with it regardless.

I started talking to members of our guild's other progression team - who'd successfully beaten this fight - if they had any suggestions for what else we could do to improve our chances. We're not that much worse than they are and it didn't quite seem to make sense that we were struggling so much more. Their advice was pretty unequivocally that we needed to change our group composition (in terms of classes that is, not people), as the knock-backs become a hundred times easier to deal with if you use Sages or Shadows to do them instead of Commandos and Gunslingers, as the former have a much larger range on their ability.

This was a very bitter pill to swallow, as we've always been believers in letting everyone play what they want, and that technically every fight should be possible with a halfway reasonable group composition and not require extreme class stacking. Mr Commando remained adamant that he was never going to play a Shadow tank as he hates them, but I'd always considered my Sage my main alt... so I started bringing her to some progression nights instead - and the difference was like night and day. Where my Commando had struggled to maybe hit a fifty percent success rate on her knock-backs, my Sage did not mess up that mechanic once, ever. It was just that much easier.

Fortunately we had some other team members who were willing and able to switch to alts to pad our group with additional Sages and Shadows... and while things were still a bit rocky as people got used to their new roles, progress was suddenly palpable. Incidentally, our monthly 16-man progression run set its eyes on master mode Styrak as well and got him down a bit over a week ago, showing us all what a successful run could look like. And this week it was finally our turn on 8-man... how could I not return to that Spectre General song?

The kill was a little marred by the dragon bugging out at the end and miraculously ridding itself of 85% of its health within two seconds, but as one of my team's members put it: considering how many times the fight bugged out on us in negative ways (usually adds appearing or abilities firing at seemingly random times), it was about time that a bug did something nice for us. Also, after how much time we spent on practising the fight and how smoothly it went at the end there, I'm fairly confident that we would have got the kill anyway, even if the dragon hadn't bugged out.

It still took an amazing amount of persistence to get there - the kill was a 22-minute fight, and we had to go through the phase with the chain adds no less than twelve times... and to think I thought this part was repetitive on story mode, where you have to do it what, three or four times? That's definitely not a well-designed mechanic at all.

But for all its faults and all the associated pains I've suffered, I have to say that this boss kill will forever be memorable to me now. I'm so proud of my team members for voting to stick with it when I felt like giving up, and for stepping up to play Shadow and Sage alts to improve our odds. I'm also a little proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone on the Commando and learning to heal a progression fight on my Sage for a change.

We're looking at revisiting Dread Palace next, but to me the thought of going somewhere other than Scum is almost confusing right now. It feels like we've been there for so long, I'm not sure I remember how to do anything else anymore.