I Finally Watched The Mandalorian

I'd kind of tried to avoid spoilers for it until now, but you try not being spoiled about the existence of Baby Yoda in the age of the internet... still, I managed to not learn too much about the actual plot until I was ready to see it for myself. Note that there will be lots of spoilers in this post as well!

Season 1

So initially, I was really impressed, by everything. I liked that new little "Star Wars" intro with the helmets - quite a departure from the classic Star Wars title sequence while still hitting all the right notes. I liked the end credits with the concept art. I adored the music - again, quite different from "typical" Star Wars, but appropriate and extremely catchy. The stunts were great; the CGI was great. The first few episodes were also kind of... "artsy" I thought, due to the way Mando spent a lot of time on his own and the show had to work hard to pull you in and hold your attention during a lot of quiet moments where he was just doing his thing, and you could barely even read any of his body language due to the armour.

As the season progressed and he started interacting with more people, it got more... "normal" though, which was a bit of a step down in this case but still far from bad. I just thought episode four was a bit of a low point, what with the lone ranger coming to save a village of peasants from the Uruk-hai. After that, it got a bit better again but also... a little odd. I was very invested in the action, but at the same time also found myself yelling "oh, come on" or similar phrases at my screen. Like the gunslinger just leaving Fennec's body behind for seemingly no reason. Or my favourite secondary character getting killed off off-screen. In the grand finale, they seemed to throw all logic to the wind and just had characters do stuff that looked cool. And that's coming from someone who's not usually particularly nitpicky when it comes to fictional characters making bad decisions... I mean, ultimately I was able to forgive it because I still enjoyed myself, but it also seemed like a bit of a shame when the writing had started off way better than that, so the writers were clearly competent.

Season 2

Interestingly, the second season almost immediately felt quite different from the first. While the first one also had an arc, the individual episodes still all had their own, distinctive tone. At least to me, the second season felt a lot more tied together. The writing seemed to have improved a bit overall, which was nice, but on the other hand the fan service suddenly went through the roof, something I'm a bit ambivalent about.

Doing things that fans like is obviously not a bad thing in principle, but I've long grown tired of how official creators keep reducing this wonderful sprawling universe to the same few people, concepts and planets. Yeah, the first season also had jawas and Tatooine, but not too much else. In this one though, we go from Krayt Dragons to Bo-Katan to Ahsoka Tano to Boba Fett. The latter was kind of funny to me actually because in hindsight his involvement was clearly telegraphed for several episodes, but I was completely blind to it - I didn't even realise the armour was his until he showed up to reclaim it; I'd just perceived it as generic Mandalorian armour the entire time.

And then you have the grand finale of course, which was the ultimate fan service. That one was kind of the opposite of the Boba Fett situation for me, as I found myself thinking ahead of time: Hm, I wonder who this mysterious Jedi is going to be that comes to pick up Baby Yoda. Can I think of any Jedi characters from the EU that might still be alive? Ahsoka is obviously busy elsewhere... Maybe it could be someone entirely new! No, it couldn't, because people would just be annoyed that Mando has to give up Baby Yoda to some complete no-name. So it would have to be someone important... it's gonna be Luke, isn't it? Yeah, it'll have to be Luke.

And I guess it turning out to be Luke wasn't bad... but the way it was done just felt gratuitous, with those endless shots of him cutting down droids to show how cool he is, and then everyone just staring at him and not even asking as much as who he is (cause we, the viewers, obviously already knew, so who cares).

Overall Thoughts

Apparently there's a season 3 in the works, though I'm not sure what that's going to be about. Sure, there's still the hook with the Darksaber, but at this point it's hard to imagine Mando without Grogu anymore! I guess we'll see.

Overall I really enjoyed the first two seasons of the Mandalorian, but I have to admit that I also have somewhat mixed feelings about it when I hear comments like how this show "made Star Wars great again" and stuff like that. I do think it's good, and I do think it's better than a lot of the major franchise releases that Disney has produced recently, but there's also a part of me that worries that both Disney and portions of the fandom could come away from its success with the (in my opinion) wrong lessons, e.g. that Star Wars is only good if the main protagonist is an emotionally repressed guy whose face is hidden under a helmet all the time, and that it can only be successful if it keeps recycling the same locations and characters that fans know and already love. Because while those are things that just about work in the Mandalorian, I feel it almost works despite of those things instead of because of them.

The SWTOR Connection

Finally, some SWTOR specific comments: While nobody but Bioware and EA know the numbers, it seemed to be commonly agreed that the release of this show helped SWTOR's popularity, because if it leaves you with an urge to take on the role of a cool bounty hunter in a video game, there aren't that many options out there.

I was kind of surprised just how well it mapped to the game though, as the bounty hunter class story actually touches on some similar themes in regards to Mandalorian culture, or the problems of your bounty hunting job potentially conflicting with your morals. I was also incredibly amused by how much Mando's quest on the show frankly resembles that of an MMO player at times, with every person he meets wanting him to run some personal errand first before they'll help him. Episode two of season two could even be interpreted as an escort quest, including the urge to move agonisingly slowly! I just thought those parallels were very funny. I hope anyone who started playing a bounty hunter in SWTOR because of this show got exactly the experience they hoped for.


Shintar's Galactic Seasons Diary, Week 4

Day 1:

The first thing I did upon logging in was check whether I had two weeklies this week. Check! Flashpoints and warzones, represent! However, the flashpoint weekly showed as completed for some reason, even though the counter was (naturally) on 0/3. I checked and I hadn't accidentally been awarded points for it either. I had a look at the forums to see whether there was a bug report about this by somebody else, but there was nothing. Just as I was contemplating taking a screenshot and submitting it myself... it reverted back to (correctly) showing as incomplete. I really wish I had taken that screenshot earlier now, just to prove to you all that I'm not going insane.

Anyway, I dithered a bit about whether to keep the flashpoints, as I do like flashpoints in principle and the bug with not receiving credit for them was supposed to be fixed by now, but eventually I decided that I just don't like how limited this objective is. I'm fine with only certain flashpoints counting, but only on veteran mode and only through the group finder? Meh... I re-rolled and it turned into operations, which was just as well as I was signed up to do the two Oricon operations with some guildies later in the week. Mind you, some of them tried to do Dread Palace that evening already, and hey, it turns out it was bugged and didn't give credit for the objective even though it said it should! What a shocker!

My dailies were once again the welcome combo of GSF and playing a warzone. I returned to doing GSF on my Assassin tank and she got into a domination match that started really well, but then we somehow ended up losing all three satellites and it turned into a loss. My warzone of the day on my Sage healer wasn't much better - I guess it was a nice change to not get into Huttball yet again, but instead it was Hypergates, which is probably my least favourite warzone. The match was an annoyingly close loss, an experience that was not improved by one guy constantly whining in chat.

Day 2:

My daily POs were doing a warzone and heroics on Taris. The latter would have been alright I guess, but I didn't really fancy heroics that evening so I dared a re-roll anyway and got Ziost dailies instead. At least something different!

I did the warzone on my lowbie Merc and got into an Alderaan Civil War which ended with a close win for my team. What was surprising to me was that everyone was very communicative and friendly, rather unlike your average PvP match. I took my Gunslinger to do the rounds on Ziost and that was very nice and chill as well.

Day 3:

Same dailies as the day before, but this time I decided not to re-roll the heroics.

I once again did the warzone on my lowbie Merc and got into an arena, in which I was the lowest level by quite a margin (the next lowest level character was 19 levels above me). It felt like the system had made some sort of attempt at balance, as my team had the higher level characters aside from me, but I still got slaughtered within seconds and we lost. It felt vaguely bad, but once again I'm not quite sure I can really blame the level disparity as I've been in similarly lop-sided matches before this whole merging of brackets thing. At least this completed both the daily and weekly objective for me.

Fortunately the heroics on Taris went well for a change, as I did remember for once which ones to pick for quick completion with my DvL Shadow. I think it helped that Republic Taris was more freshly on my mind from when my pacifist character came through there and I was checking whether any of the heroics were doable with her specific limitations in mind.

Day 4:

As mentioned previously, a story mode run of the two Oricon operations was scheduled by the guild, and Dread Fortress completed my second weekly.

My dailies were completely PvP-free for once, asking me to do another round of Ziost and to kill 75 mobs of any kind on a "Seat of the Empire" planet (Taris, Oricon, Yavin or Dantooine). I was OK with this and did the Ziost weekly on my Guardian and started the Oricon story on my dps Sage, while only going as far as I needed to in order to get all my mob kills.

Day 5:

The 75 generic mob kills made a return, this time accompanied by 75 kills worth of insecticide. While bugs from all over the galaxy were eligible for the latter, making it less annoying than the objectives from previous weeks, I still re-rolled it and got the warzone one again.

My PvP match of the day was a Voidstar I played on my Sage healer, which was a really good match that we won. For the kills I returned to my dps Sage and continued her Oricon story until she'd achieved another 75 kills.

Day 6:

My favourite combo of warzone and GSF returned, so there was no need to re-roll anything. I got exceptionally lucky with both as well: The PvP match took my Assassin tank into Odessen Proving Grounds, a long-time favourite of mine which I hadn't actually got into in ages. It was a tight match that we ended up winning, not least because of yours truly topping the team's scoreboard for objective points.

When I queued my Powertech tank for GSF, I got into a death match in progress with my team already up by 40 points. I conveyed this to a couple of guildies on voice chat and one of them commented: "So basically, some poor bastard disconnected and you're reaping the benefits!" Indeed I did. I still managed to shoot a couple of things, but the whole thing must have been over within less than two minutes.

Day 7:

The last day of the SWTOR week presented me with Oricon dailies and Taris heroics as my objectives again. I didn't really mind either of those, but seeing how it was the last day of the week, I tried re-rolling the heroics anyway just to see if could get something more synergetic or that I hadn't done before and got warzones again.

For this PvP match I selected my Nautolan Shadow and she got into a Voidstar which was a close loss. Considering how close it was, I can't really complain, and my team did fight hard until the end, but at the same time it was one of those losses that felt like it would have been entirely avoidable if the two people guarding the left door hadn't decided to chase some random to the other side of the map...

For the dailies I returned to my dps Sage, who had handily just reached the point in the Oricon story when you unlock the dailies, so I did a round of the area to complete the weekly and to unlock the one-time story quest for the two Dread operations.

Week 4 thoughts:

Once again I was reasonably happy with my objectives for the week, though I also have to admit that four weeks into this Season, things are starting to feel a bit same-y. In Bioware's detailed article about Seasons on the website, there seemed to be more generic objectives every week than I've personally encountered - has anyone actually got the ones for the low-level planets? Or are those limited to players with only low-level characters on their account?

After doing every single objective for four consecutive weeks now, I've also completed 37 out of the 100 Seasons levels, meaning that if I can keep up this cadence, I've got less than two months to go. Alternatively, I guess I could afford to slack off and slow down a bit without missing out on any rewards. We'll see how I feel about it in two weeks time.


No More Refer-a-friend

I finally removed my referral link from my sidebar, almost a month after Bioware decided to shut down SWTOR's refer-a-friend programme.

The earliest reference to referring a friend that I could find on this blog goes back to July 2012, back before the game had even gone free-to-play. It sounds like it was quite a faff back then, and judging by my own wording, no actual rewards for referring had actually been added yet at that point, though I mentioned that "they are finally implementing a reward for successful referrals" so it appeared to already be in the works.

Based on this post by Vulkk, the "Friends of SWTOR" referral system probably went live at some point in 2013, though I didn't add my referral link to my own sidebar until early 2014. Your first five referrals earned you a mount and some pets, and beyond that you would receive some complimentary Cartel coins for every month that a player you referred stayed subscribed.

The first few rewards took a little while to trickle in for me, but soon the whole thing transformed into a steady stream of free Cartel coins, especially after my friend Traitine added my link to his own "how to get free stuff in SWTOR" page - he stopped playing at some point and decided that he didn't need endless free CC accumulating in his own account, so he added my link to the page instead of his own so that the funny money would go to someone who could actually use it - which was extremely nice of him!

Ever since that day, I've never been lacking for cash shop currency. It helps of course that I'm not someone who does a lot of shopping for virtual goods - for some reason I'm fine paying for a service like a subscription, but actual virtual items rarely feel like good value for money to me. That said, whenever fancy did strike me and I felt like buying a new armour set for myself or maybe a gift for a friend, all the Cartel coins I needed were right there. By the end of it all, I had over 300 referrals to my name.

But that's where my interaction with the refer-a-friend programme both started and ended. Beyond having those links sit there passively, I never promoted it anywhere, and I also didn't really try inviting actual friends to the game much anymore. Despite of being the owner of a fan site, I'm actually really bad at promoting my fandoms, because I'm always like: "Yeah, I think it's really great, but I appreciate not everyone likes the same things so I wouldn't want you to feel pressured into joining me or anything!"

From what I understand, there was a darker side to the system though, because for some reason referral links also worked for existing, current players under certain conditions (don't ask me about the details, I genuinely don't know), which meant that a shady sort of economy developed around it in-game as people tried to get each other to click their links for more rewards in general chat, often offering to compensate players for their clicking with in-game credits - obviously a market that was ripe for scamming. It's not something I was ever involved in but I did hear from a couple of guildies that they were taking part in such trades and at least one of them got scammed too.

So I can understand why Bioware would have wanted to get rid of that, though it's a shame that the system as a whole had to go as a result. Couldn't they just have changed it so that the links didn't work for already active players anymore (she said, having no clue about the technical details)?

Then again, maybe the free Cartel coins were also getting a bit out of hand. It's hard to say without having any kind of insight into Bioware's financials, but my understanding is that virtual currency that is being sold for real money has to be accounted for in some way, and giving out some of it for free always makes for a bit of a mess in the books. There are Cartel coin rewards being given out as part of Galactic Seasons as well, but at least that's a specific, one-time amount. It's not like the CC you got from referrals, which was awarded based on your referrals' subscription status and had the potential to scale upwards to a scary degree. (I want to know how many referrals Swtorista had by the end!)

In short, I can't blame Bioware for sunsetting this system, but it does feel a little bittersweet to me, considering how much I've benefitted from it over the years. Then again, as I already said I don't actually spend Cartel coins very often, so it'll probably be a long while until my existing stash is gone. On top of that I'm in a much better place financially than I was in SWTOR's early days, so it wouldn't break my bank to actually buy some coins as well if I wanted/needed them. Still, I think that a refer-a-friend system in general is a good thing, so I hope that Bioware will consider re-introducing the idea in the future, even if it maybe has to be more simplistic and less rewarding than the last iteration has been.


Shintar's Galactic Seasons Diary, Week 3

So, hey! I guess me keeping a diary of my Seasons progress is a thing now.

Day 1:

New week, new bugs. When I logged in to check my new objectives, I found that I only had one weekly instead of the intended two. I could only add my voice to the forum thread talking about this bug and move on for the time being. The one weekly I had was flashpoints again. While I wasn't sure whether that one had been fixed, I wanted to wait a little with re-rolling to see if any more information was going to surface about the bug with the missing weekly first (in case it reappeared and I found myself wanting to re-roll that one).

My dailies were Hutt space enemies... and insectoids on Voss. I couldn't even think of any insects on Voss off the top of my head! Shaclaws count I guess, but still... I re-rolled it and got... three GSI missions on Makeb? Unexpected, but at least something different. I did them on the Scoundrel with whom I also did the GSI round on Alderaan in week one and made a point of not trying to be too sneaky so that I would naturally kill a decent amount of mobs on the way. This worked out well enough and I completed both daily objectives at almost the same time.

Day 2:

I checked the forum thread about the missing weekly and it was up to four pages of people saying that they had the same problem. There was some theorising going on about what might be happening, but nothing conclusive and no dev response yet.

My dailies were to defeat 75 enemies on any Hutt space planet and do two heroics on Makeb (I think - title and description disagreed on whether it had to be Makeb or could be another Hutt space planet). I figured I might as well go for it. I decided to go on my Vanguard tank, picking two Makeb heroics from the fleet terminal more or less at random. I know I've done them all before at some point, but it's been so long I honestly couldn't remember anything about them at all.

Then a funny thing happened when I charged into the first pull at the first heroic: I... died? And with hitting some cooldowns even! Another Vanguard was there too and threw me a group invite just before I died, which I accepted. Then he attempted what remained of the pull, and died as well. We both revived, and dusted ourselves off with slight embarrassment before proceeding to do the rest of the heroic together, which was of course much easier. The friendly fellow agreed to team up for another one as well, and he accepted me sharing my second choice of heroic (we did try the other way round but it said I wasn't eligible for the one he had picked).

I honestly can't remember the last time I grouped up with someone for a heroic other than to avoid fighting over limited spawns and it genuinely felt beneficial as well. Anyway, that little adventure took care of both of my daily objectives in short order.

Day 3:

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the devs had actually rolled out a hotfix for the missing weekly issue, and on login I now had a second weekly to do warzones. At this point I decided to risk re-rolling the flashpoints, as I was signed up for a Scum run with guildies the next day and it would have been nice to also get the operations weekly completion from that, but I got GSF instead, which I was also fine with.

It also aligned with one of my dailies being GSF, which ended up being a domination match during which I managed to blow myself up not just once, but twice, and yet still came out as the second highest ranked on my team. Unsurprisingly, with that being the average skill level of my team, we were three-capped and it was over quickly.

My other daily was more Makeb heroics, and that still felt novel enough to me that I didn't re-roll it. This time I took another one of my Scoundrels and picked two different heroics, hoping to save some time by stealthing since I didn't need the kills... probably needless to say that this once again didn't work out. I'd forgotten how involved some of those heorics were: fight three turrets that become immune to damage on a rotation - almost like a boss fight - pick up some explosives, free prisoners, plant explosive charges at four different points on an AA turret, start doing the same on another turret before a scripted interruption brings in an elite droid... and that was all in the same heroic! At least I didn't die this time.

Day 4:

My dailies were GSF again and more Makeb heroics. I decided that I didn't want to go to Makeb for a third day in a row (though according to my guildies the heroics on another planet should have worked as well, despite of the objective name only stating Makeb) and risked a re-roll while crossing my fingers in hopes of not getting shaclaws. I got the one to do a PvP match and all was golden.

My GSF match was another one of those in which everyone was so terrible that we ran out of time before achieving a sufficient number of kills, which I actually tend to find kind of fun, but sadly my team was still on the losing side. In contrast to that, my Sage's PvP match took her to the Huttball pit on Vandin once again, where she personally scored two of her team's goals (we won 5-0) and generally achieved some beautiful synergies with a few of her team members.

Day 5:

GSF and Makeb/Hutt space heroics again! I re-rolled the latter again and got the generic "kill mobs on these planets" objective instead.

For GSF I took a different character out for a spin since my Assassin tank was long done with her Conquest. My Powertech tank had never done a GSF match at all and did very badly, but as it happened that particular domination match ended up being a win anyway.

For the mob kills I did a couple of random quests on Quesh and Makeb on my DvL Assassin and my Juggernaut tank.

Day 6:

Got GSF as my daily yet again and the one to do a warzone. Honestly, that's pretty much the perfect combo for me, but if I was someone who hated GSF, I could see it being frustrating to get it as a daily objective four days in a row.

For GSF, I got into a death match where my team completely obliterated the opposition (no thanks to me), which also completed my GSF weekly objective to play four matches. My warzone ended up being another Vandin Huttball which was a pretty well-balanced game that we won 3-2 (and the enemy was close-ish to potentially scoring again so it really could have gone either way). Sadly I noticed in this Vandin that while Bioware did indeed address certain lag issues, de-sync still isn't a thing of the past, as I still witnessed people catching the ball while being nowhere near it on my screen and similar shenanigans.

Day 7:

On the last day of the SWTOR week, my daily objectives were GSF and Hutt space heroics yet again. I decided that I was okay with the heroics today and would just try a different planet than Makeb, but I didn't really want to do any more GSF after completing my weekly. I re-rolled it in hopes of getting a warzone maybe... and was promptly punished for this foolish gamble by being given the "kill 75 insectoids on Voss" objective, with no escape this time. D'oh!

I went to do a warzone on my lowbie Merc anyway, since I needed one more for my second weekly objective. I got into Vandin again (have I been doing anything else recently?), though this one was a 0-6 loss. I was tempted to blame it on the level disparity again (my team had no level 70+s, while the opposition had several) but if I'm honest it was probably just bad tactics. They had a stealther waiting on our line that nobody seemed to bother to dislodge for ages - I eventually went back myself and knocked them down twice but they kept coming back. Oh well.

As for my daily objectives, I remembered there being one or more Imperial heroics on Voss that had some shaclaws in it, though I wasn't sure which ones they were. I went on my Juggernaut tank and picked up both Ancient Guardians and Rock Eaters, since they sounded like likely contenders. Ancient Guardians turned out to be the right one, as it did have ten shaclaws in it, though it contained even more droids. Rock Eaters was also the heroic I'd expected it to be, but I'd misremembered the big mob at the end - it was a vorantikus, not a shaclaw.

I then swapped to my DvL Assassin to do Ancient Guardians a second time. I killed both groups of shaclaws in it and paused. My insectoid counter was on 20/75. It was really late in the evening and while I was sure there were plenty of shaclaws out in the open world somewhere, I didn't know for the life of me where exactly, and I knew that driving around blindly to find some would take me forever.

I remembered how commenter Pallais had mentioned the idea of resetting a heroic over and over (probably this one) in response to my last Seasons diary. It was only ten mobs... but they were all non-elites, right by the entrance, and as a stealther I could skip the pull consisting of strong and elite droids located between the two groups as well. So I exited, reset the phase (just the phase, not the heroic), went back in and killed the shaclaws again. Then I repeated this process five more times.

Once my insectoid killing objective was completed, I continued to actually complete the heroic, which took care of the second objective. (Fortunately the game had no qualms about giving me credit for doing the same heroic twice on two different characters.) All in all, this was actually reasonably quick, but I have to confess I felt slightly dirty. Talk about degenerate gameplay.

Week 3 impressions:

The bugginess hit a new high (or low?) for me with the missing weekly, though I appreciate that this particular issue was addressed quickly. Still, the amount of small bugs continues to be headache-inducing, as it feels like you should be visiting the forums every day just to check which objectives are reported as buggy before actually attempting to do anything.

In terms of RNG, I felt pretty lucky this week as about half of my objectives were things I liked doing anyway. I do kind of appreciate how the system encourages you to take part in different activities though, including things you may not have done in a while (or ever, in the case of some more casual players I guess). I'd seriously forgotten so much about those Makeb heroics...

I saw someone on the forums say that Seasons is basically what Conquest used to be (the personal part of it at least), back when it had more limited objectives and the weekly themes were more distinctive. This feels very true to me.


Rebels! Seasons 3 & 4

I like to also keep notes about other Star Wars media I consume on here (not that I'm enough of a super-fan for that to happen a lot), and back in February I noted down my early impressions of Rebels seasons one and two. I've since finished watching the show and wanted to make one more entry about seasons three and four.

First off, I really liked that they started season three by giving people new haircuts. For Ezra in particular in helped to visualise his growth and increasing maturity, of which there was a lot. I honestly feel that he had one of the best "slightly annoying kid grows up" arcs over the course of the series that I've ever seen, in the sense that it wasn't completely linear and he did relapse a bit occasionally, but you could always tell that he was trying.

In general, while I liked the first two seasons well enough already, they really stepped it up with season three. Also, a lot of the little niggles I had about artistic choices in the earlier episodes, such as that awful "using the Force" sound effect, went away... I guess the producers, too, realised that these weren't so great. (There will be some spoilers from here on by the way, so consider yourself warned.)

Agent Kallus' arc was great and a logical follow-up from that season two episode where he and Zeb were stuck on that frozen moon together. Thrawn made for a much better villain than any that had come before. Sabine's growth and everything surrounding the Mandalorians was really good (and that's coming from someone who's not a huge Mando fan normally). And I really enjoyed Maul's final end and the stunning sharpness with which it was delivered, considering these shows' love for crazy lightsaber battles.

Finally, season four was basically one giant arc about the crew coming to terms with the fact that the Rebellion as a whole couldn't focus on their little home world and taking local matters into their own hands. I was wondering how the writers were going to handle the fact that ultimately this little crew of Rebels couldn't be delivering a decisive blow against the Empire unless they were involved in the Battle of Yavin somehow, and I think it was ultimately solved quite elegantly.

That said, the grand finale didn't resonate that much with me emotionally because it all got a bit too mystical for my taste. I appreciate that it's a tough balance to strike with Star Wars - most fans didn't like Lucas just "science-ing away" the Force in the prequels with the introduction of the Midi-chlorians (including me) because the Force is magic, mkay? I do think there's such a thing as taking it too far though, when characters can basically wave their hands and do anything "because the Force". I believe the Dread Masters arc in SWTOR faced that criticism to an extent... and yeah, I just wasn't really on board with things like "the world between worlds" and Ezra going full-on Disney princess at the end with his pet wolves and space whales. I wouldn't say it was bad; it just wasn't really my cup of tea.

I will say that Kanan's death was still a powerful punch, even though I knew it was coming. (It was one of those spoilers I had read about back in the day.) Though the idea of human plus green Twi'lek equalling human with green hair still kinda weirds me out...

It's just a bit of a shame that the final episode had such an open ending. I'd really like to know what Sabine and Ahsoka ended up doing and if/how they found Ezra. Someone give me a shout if/when they ever make another show or release a book or comic that tells that story...


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.


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.


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.


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.