The Return of Zenith

All this talk about Galactic Seasons has really set me back in terms of writing about other things happening in the game that I wanted to cover on the blog. Time to get back on track on that front!

First off, let's talk about the return of Zenith, which was added as a small story update with patch 6.3.1 a month ago. It's sort of halfway between the two options I speculated about when the previous mini mission was released: It is indeed just a short chat on Odessen, but instead of being an Alliance alert, it is part of the main storyline. (The following post contains spoilers.)

Imperials misled Zenith with false intel to get him to destroy a Republic weapons shipment - a plan that does succeed, though Zenith himself gets away from the trap that the Alliance set for him (not sure why they bothered if he was unwittingly working for you anyway) and sends the Alliance Commander an angry letter afterwards.

For Republic characters, he successfully completes the mission he was given and then comes to Odessen to have a chat with you and you can try to recruit him into the Alliance. For non-consulars, this is doomed to fail as he's too put off by all the former Imperials under your command. I have to admit my mind was set racing, thinking about the possibility of whether it was feasible to have a character that he'd agree to join if you rejected every single former Imperial companion that you come across on your journeys... but of course you don't get the option for rejection for every single companion, and the Alliance is just generally portrayed as containing refugees from both the Republic and Empire lore-wise, regardless of your choices.

Now, the interesting part happens if you're a consular, because for your sake Zenith will agree to join the Alliance, as long as you keep the former Imps out of his hair (metaphorically that is). Or, and this is the part that excited me... you can flirt with him! Unlike many long-time players I'm not a romance fanatic, but this was something that was meaningful to me since Zenith was the first companion of whom I remember that I really wanted to flirt with him back in the day, just to be disappointed when I found out that it wasn't possible, and that there wasn't really any reason for it other than Bioware prioritising female love interests over male ones at the time. (The base game gave you eleven female companions to romance vs. only eight male ones.)

Since then I've kind of maintained it as my head canon that my Sage had deeper feelings for Zenith that she couldn't quite express at the time due to her strict observance of the Jedi code. Therefore I was filled with quite the mix of excitement and trepidation when I finally got to hit that [Flirt] option nine years later. (The trepidation comes from a feeling that I can never be entirely sure whether hitting [Flirt] won't make something wildly inappropriate for the situation come out of my character's mouth. To be fair, this hasn't actually happened in a long time, but the "trauma" from some early experiences with this in the base game has never quite left me.)

It led to what I thought was a very understated and cute little moment. Basically your consular says something like "I want you to stay" and "work with me" while taking a little step towards him and looking straight into his eyes, and you get the feeling that he's a little flushed and taken aback, yet very much swayed by this avenue of argument. It doesn't go any further than that, but it delivers an amazing amount of feels with little dialogue and a bunch of small touches, which I really loved. It would be great if we could get more at a later point, but I understand that content only applicable to a limited pool of players of a single class will probably be hard to fit in.

Anyway, even if you personally didn't care to romance Zenith or even about getting him back, this update still marked the end of an era, as it finally put a bookend to the "era of lost companions" that began with KotFE taking away all of the original class companions back in October 2015. (And yes, I know some people will point out that we haven't got Tanno Vik or Khem Zash back, but we also know that we won't at this point because we know why they aren't with us. With Zenith's return, everyone's accounted for.)

It's kind of mind-boggling that it took almost six years to reintroduce the last of the forty base game companions after they were taken away from us with a parting shot of them fighting in their undies in KotFE chapter two. I wonder if the devs ever regretted that decision... it did open up a lot of characters to interact with different classes, but I'm not sure Bioware was quite prepared for the vehemence with which players continued to campaign for their favourite companion to come back now, for months and years after they'd been separated from their base class. Never mind the newest story chapter about Zakuul, where's Mako?! However, I've got to give them credit for sticking with the overarching plan to bring them all back, even if it took forever. I reckon it would've been easy to say "who cares about that guy anyway" for some of the less popular companions and just move on, but the current dev team clearly values players of all classes and preferences - which is something I'm definitely grateful for.


Galactic Seasons Optimisation Tips & Tricks

I may be done with Galactic Seasons for the time being, but technically Season 1 still lasts for another two months, so there's plenty of time for people to work on completing it if they aren't done yet and for any advice on how to do so more efficiently to come in handy. Alternatively, you might find these tips useful once Season 2 starts with the release of the new expansion.

1. Seasons are legacy-, not account-wide

If gaining 100 Seasons levels already felt like a bit of a grind once, you probably won't want to do it several more times in parallel... but if you have a lot of free time and love the free Cartel Coins on the subscriber track, it's worth noting that Seasons progress is legacy-, not account-wide, so you can technically complete the Seasons track separately on each of SWTOR's five mega-servers. I'd call you slightly insane, but it would net you 20,000 free Cartel Coins (plus a lot of other goodies, obviously). If that sounds appealing but you're not sure you can take that much of Seasons, you might want to consider going for at least partial completion on secondary servers by simply claiming your free points from login rewards every week, which is a lot less effort.

2. You can influence what objectives you get

This was something I only really figured out after talking to commenters on the blog and chatting with some guildies, but it seems that the Season system can't "see" your legacy and therefore bases your objectives purely on what the first character you log after reset has access to. The objectives to kill mobs on the starter planets in specific seem to be locked to only appear for sufficiently low-level characters, which is why I never encountered them even once, as I never logged a really low-level character first after the reset. If AoEing grey mobs on Coruscant is your jam however, make sure to log that lowbie first thing every day and it'll make things significantly easier for you.

You'll also be able to avoid other, more high-level objectives this way. For example a low-level character will always get GSF and PvP as their weeklies as they're probably not high enough to queue for all the highlighted flashpoints and the operation of the week via the group finder. Hate Iokath dailies? Make sure to start your day on a character that hasn't unlocked them yet during an unknown/wild space week. And so on and so forth.

Just keep in mind that limiting your options also affects re-rolls. So if you're on a lowbie with the GSF and PvP weeklies, re-rolling will just give you the same weekly again since there are no other options available to you this Season! Don't end up wasting them like that.

3. Do your research!

I mentioned an unknown/wild space week earlier... are you perhaps confused by what and when that is? Then do your research! For Season 1, Bioware posted an extremely detailed article on the official website that clearly lays out what to expect in terms of objectives each week, even if it's not a 100% accurate reflection of what you might end up seeing in the game (e.g. the GSI objectives I got a couple of times were not on that list at all). However, it does give you an idea of what sort of objectives are lurking in the wings and what you might risk getting when using the re-roll option.

I'd also recommend checking out the bug report forum at the start of each new week to see if players have reported any objectives as broken or otherwise bugged. I wish this wasn't necessary, but realistically you might save yourself a lot of headaches that way.

4. Don't be hasty!

Related to the above, if you want to avoid frustration it's better to not rush into anything with Seasons but to pause and consider your options. If your weekly objective is an activity you wouldn't usually do and requires some effort, don't try to complete it on day one if you have any choice at all - if it turns out that there was a bug, you'll just be annoyed.

Likewise, avoid making impulse decisions when it comes to re-rolling objectives. You only have one re-roll per day (or per week for the weeklies) so make sure to make it count. Check the official Seasons post for all the potential options that could come up when you hit that re-roll button and consider whether it's really worth the risk first. I personally found that it was best to not use it unless I really, really didn't want to do that particular objective, because taking a gamble on "maybe" getting something better even if my current objective was okay rarely worked out.

5. Be efficient with your time

If there are any objectives that you're maybe not super keen on and you just want to get them done without too much faff, consider all the ways in which you can be efficient with your time. For example if you have the daily objective to do heroics on a certain planet but don't need mob kills, use an alt that has stealth and pick missions that require minimal killing (a quick Google search will lead you to various lists with recommendations) for a quick in-and-out job.

If you've got the weekly to play a certain amount of GSF matches or warzones, don't rush to get them all done in one go - odds are good that one of these will also come up as a daily objective at some point during the week, so you can earn both daily points and make progress towards your weekly at the same time.

Some dailies also go really well together - for example if you get one to do daily missions on a planet and another one to kill mobs on that same planet. Don't re-roll these even if you usually wouldn't be too keen on one of them on its own.

Got any tips of your own? Feel free to leave them in the comments!


My Feedback After Galactic Season 1

I was not particularly fond of the idea of Seasons when they were first announced. More login rewards and incentives to repeat content that we've done a hundred times before? Puh-leeease. And yet... I still love filling up bars, I'm a sucker for limited time events, and the things I had to do to earn Seasons points ranged from activities I enjoyed anyway to those that I at least didn't mind doing for a while. So I went all in and completed the Season in the minimum amount of time possible without using any of the buyout options to skip ahead.

That said, I'm glad to be done with the whole thing for a while. The novelty wore off quickly, and with only so many hours of free time in a week, having to spend half an hour to an hour on Seasons every day for three months while also continuing my normal ops-running two to three nights a week meant that I didn't really have time for much else that wasn't directly Seasons-related.

It's kind of interesting actually, because I was in a bit of a slump before 6.3 in terms of my in-game activity and didn't feel like playing too much. The Galactic Seasons incentives increased my engagement with the game... but also reminded me of parts of it that I hadn't played in a while and that I suddenly didn't have enough time for, such as progressing more of my alts through their personal stories. Previously I had just been slack with doing those things, but naturally, the moment I didn't have time for it anymore, I suddenly wanted to do nothing more than to play story content on my alts! I'm looking forward to giving them some love now that I have the time to do so again. Funny how that goes.

Anyway, while I'm sure that a lot of how Galactic Season 2 is going to work is already predetermined, I still wanted to write down some feedback for Bioware if they happen to read this, about what I'd like to see more of and what I hope they'll change next time.

Things I Liked

Effort vs. reward

While dedicating half an hour to an hour to Seasons objectives every day seemed like a lot when compressed into less than three months, ultimately the time commitment required to complete the Season isn't that high... but there are a lot of rewards on offer on the subscriber track in particular. A companion, four thousand Cartel Coins, plus piles of decos, gear and mounts... I didn't really need a lot of those things myself, but most players enjoy getting free stuff and I don't think anybody can say that there hasn't been a lot of that in this first Season.

I also liked how they put a lot of old subscriber/event rewards on the Seasons vendor. Again, as a steady subscriber from launch I didn't actually need any of them myself, but I know that there's been demand for the companions to return in particular, and I think it's nice that players who are keen on them have now been given a way to earn them in game.

Objective variety

When the concept of Seasons was first announced I wondered how they were going to distinguish it from Conquest, which is after all a similar system that rewards completing objectives on a daily to weekly basis. I did like that they limited things to just two daily objectives a day and two weeklies a week, which meant that unlike for Conquest in its modern state, you did actually have to target specific activities instead of simply doing whatever and watching your bar auto-fill. The re-roll option seemed sufficient to me to allow people to avoid that one thing they really dislike (though you did have to be smart about it, and generally speaking, the fewer different types of content you like, the harder a time you'll have being a completionist - but then, that's just MMOs for you).

I also liked the themes they introduced, both focused on the Season's companion Altuur and on different planets grouped by proximity. Because Altuur is a Kubaz and they like eating insects, there were objectives centred around insectoids, and I think that's a neat concept! Likewise, the weekly rotation focusing on a different part of the galaxy each time was a nice idea. It's just a different way of slicing these things that hadn't been done before, and I was happy with that.

Timings and catch-up

I was actually quite surprised when I realised after reaching Seasons level 100 that we were barely halfway through the Season at that point, because for some reason it had felt more urgent than that to complete it. But no, people have plenty of opportunity to still get there at their own pace, or to use one of the two catch-up options with Cartel Coins or credits. I think Bioware really did well there in terms of giving people options to make the whole thing appealing to different play styles.

Things I Didn't Like So Much


I'm talking about the technical variety here first. I've long accepted that SWTOR is not a highly polished game... you'll encounter a lot of little glitches and such while levelling up, though in Bioware's defense the vast majority of them are just visual and shouldn't ruin anyone's gameplay. (I've encountered more game-breaking bugs during my casual return to retail WoW over the last few months than I've seen in SWTOR over the last five years.)

But in a time-limited event like that... I just can't help but feel that they should have been able to do better. They tried hard to fix any truly serious issues (such as the missing weekly objectives in week 3) as soon as possible, but anything that didn't totally break the system has largely remained unresolved. During week 2 with its outer rim theme, I remember seeing a certain daily objective being unsure whether it was asking me to go to Rishi or Section X, and when the same week rolled around again five weeks later, that bug was still unfixed. Likewise, the fact that Dread Palace didn't count for the ops weekly in week 4 was never addressed and still persisted in week 9 more than a month later. Just because it's technically still possible to complete the objective by doing another operation that doesn't make it a great experience for players who bothered to put a group together for Dread Fortress just for this, you know?

I quickly learned that it was best to hold off on making any plans to complete my weekly objectives, in order to give other players time to find the bugs and report them on the forums first without me ending up wasting any of my own time (selfish, I know...) but it shouldn't have to be like that.


So I said earlier that I liked the idea of the insects theme in principle... unfortunately in practice, it sucked, mainly because insectoids are simply not a hugely common mob type, which meant that any objectives related to killing them were either awkwardly time-consuming or very repetitive. I mean, you can tell it was bad because they actually felt the need to add more Shaclaws to Voss in the last patch purely to make that objective a little less painful! (I don't know if that helped by the way, I avoided that objective like the plague after the first time.)

So I'm happy for them to give the next Season a theme like that too, but I hope that if it involves mob killing again they pick a type that's more common, such as droids or beasts.

Mob killing in general

Honestly, I wasn't keen on the mob killing objectives in general. I never liked the rampage achievements for Conquest much either. Which is funny because I'll happily grind mobs by the hundreds in other MMOs, but those games usually make the process more interesting by having those mobs drop interesting loot or something, or having them exist in high densities that are intentionally designed to be fun to AoE down. Mob pulls in SWTOR's open world are generally pretty spaced out, meaning that you spend a lot of time just running around the map to round them all up, and they rarely drop anything of value. It's just not that kind of game.

That said, I'm sure there are people for whom these are their absolute favourite type of objectives, so I guess I shouldn't call for their removal... I guess I just wanted to get this rant off my chest. Maybe we could at least reduce the mob counter a bit though? 75 kills is a lot. On some planets I could complete a whole round of dailies without coming across that many mobs.

Need more objective variety

I'm happy with Seasons objectives being somewhat limited... as I said in a previous post, it reminds me a bit of Conquest in the earlier days. So I'm certainly not campaigning to have Seasons objectives for everything the way we have for Conquest now, so that they basically auto-complete themselves if you play at all that week. However... looking at the general theme of the Season, I did think there were some obvious gaps that I'd personally like to see closed next Season:

  • Some sort of more solo-friendly weekly objective. I'm generally fine with the idea of the dailies being more targeted towards soloers and the weeklies towards people who like to group, but it seemed a bit odd to me that there wasn't a single option among the weeklies that could be done completely solo. Maybe something like "complete 15 quests" on the planets of the week? Or take away the veteran mode and group finder requirements for the flashpoint weekly.
  • A flashpoint daily objective! I thought it was really striking that this was the one type of staple repeatable content that wasn't represented at all among the daily objectives. This really needs to be added next Season I think. Any difficulty, no group finder requirement. Just do it, Bioware.
  • Something related to KotFE/KotET content. This may sound surprising coming from someone who's largely been happy to leave that whole era of storytelling behind, but I found it a bit odd that over the course of a five week cycle, we visited pretty much every known planet in the galaxy, including secluded daily areas and the dead Ziost - except for Zakuul. I'm not saying I'd want that content to pop up among my daily objectives all the time, but during something like an unknown/wild space week, why not have "complete a chapter" as a potential daily objective for that one week only?
  • More GSI! I'm not nuts about GSI missions in general and again, I'm not saying I necessarily want them to pop up all the time... but seeing them come up only twice this Season left me wanting more. There are GSI missions available on a number of planets, so I don't see why this couldn't be a (rare?) objective during more than one week.

Season 2

Regardless of how much is changed or stays the same for Season 2, I'd like to think that I might adjust my personal approach a bit next time around. Seeing just how much time I had left after reaching level 100 this time, I could see myself taking things a little easier next time around and not fretting too much about missing a day here or there, or skipping some objectives that I just don't fancy on a particular day. Then again, I'm also a sucker for routines, so maybe I'll burn just as hard regardless, simply because I feel compelled to fill up that bar as soon as I can.


The Stranger from Kubindi - Some Fun Personal Stats

As mentioned previously, I'm planning to write a three-part post-mortem about my experience with SWTOR's first Galactic Season. Let's start with some fun stats! Well, I thought they were fun anyway.

One of the nice things about keeping a diary of all the Seasons objectives I completed literally every day for three months is that it provided me with data that I could enter into a spreadsheet to find out how much some of my perceptions were backed up by reality. Did I really lose most of my GSF matches? How often did I use the re-roll function in the end? Let's find out!

First off... poor flashpoints. I got assigned the flashpoint weekly ten times out of eleven, but I only completed it twice! The other eight times I re-rolled it, while never re-rolling any of my other weeklies. You'd think I disliked flashpoints or something... I don't, but in the context of Seasons objectives I did find that weekly pretty time-consuming and inefficient.

The re-roll statistics for daily objectives are a little more varied, though they still paint a very clear picture of my preferences: The daily objective I re-rolled the most was insectoid killing, which I re-rolled 20 times throughout the Season! And yet I still ended up "having" to do it 14 times anyway. Heroics I re-rolled seven times, generic mob killing four, and dailies three. These weren't caused by any sort of strong dislike, but more based on general mood and often related to me having got a streak of the same objective several days in a row and craving some variety. GSF I only tried to re-roll once and the warzone daily never.

In general the number of re-rolls I attempted for daily objectives went up over the course of the Season; I'm guessing because my patience with repetition grew shorter. During the first two weeks I only used the re-roll function on dailies twice each, but in weeks eight and ten for example I used it no less than five times. I often regretted those later re-rolls though - the early ones were reserved for things I really didn't fancy doing, while the later ones were sometimes attempts at simply having a shot at something better... but usually it only made things worse. This is why gambling is bad, kids.

In terms of objectives I actually completed, there was a pretty good spread: Looking at my weeklies, I did GSF and warzones seven times each, and operations six times - flashpoints, as already mentioned, only twice. My most commonly completed daily objective was planetary mob killing with 31 times (note that this was always for the planets of the week - I did not see the ones for the starter planets even once). With 75 mob kills required each time (minus some bugginess), that resulted in a rampage of over 2,000 mobs cut or shot down purely for Seasons objectives!

My second most frequently completed daily objective was warzones, which I did 30 times, followed by 29 rounds of planetary dailies and 28 GSF matches completed. Thanks to the re-rolls I "only" had to do heroics 18 times and hunted down insectoids 14 times. The real outlier was the PO to complete GSI missions, which I only saw twice. I guess I could have lumped it in with the other dailies, but since it's mechanically so different that didn't seem right. I really wish that this one had come up more often, just for the sake of variety.

Anyway, what makes these numbers interesting to me was that they didn't feel this even while I was playing, probably because of how much some of them forced me out of my comfort zone. For example I do PvP all the time... not a lot of it, but quite regularly, often for Conquest, so also having a daily PO to do a warzone barely registered with me. GSF I hadn't done much in a while, but it's also something I'm quite comfortable doing at least occasionally for Conquest and such, so playing a few GSF matches a week didn't feel like a huge change either. But things like dailies and heroics are so rarely part of the way I play the game that being "forced" to do up to seven rounds of planetary dailies a week (I'm looking at you, week nine) felt pretty chore-like at times, even though realistically I didn't spend much more time on them than on the other activities.

Besides the objectives, the other two things I looked at were my PvP win-loss ratio and how much I travelled around the galaxy. Playing GSF over eleven weeks, it felt like I lost more matches than I won, and this was an accurate impression, though I guess the difference wasn't as drastic as it could have been: 14 wins vs. 19 losses. Warzones felt much better, and they were! In that mode I recorded 23 wins vs. 15 losses.

In terms of gallivanting around the galaxy, with each week being limited to objectives on a certain number of planets, I was curious whether I managed to mix it up or kept coming back to the same locations over and over. The answer is that I succeeded... kinda, I guess? The planet/area I visited the most often was CZ-198, on eight different days, due to the many "do dailies" objectives that sent me there. It's tied for first place with Balmorra, but that can be explained by the fact that the core world themed week is the only one I did three times (I only cycled through all the other weeks twice). The same reasoning applies to Alderaan, which I visited on seven different days.

Most planets I visited on around three to six different days, which seems quite reasonable. The biggest outliers were Iokath which I only visited once (though I would have liked to get an objective to go there more often), as well as Rishi and Voss. The latter I only visited that one time when I got the objective to kill Shaclaws and then decided "never again". Interestingly, Dantooine, Mek-Sha and Onderon were all eligible as locations to kill mobs at one point or another but I didn't visit either of them even once. Maybe something to consider for variety next time.

And that's it! Wasn't that interesting? Up next, we'll be looking at how this whole experience made me feel and what feedback I would give Bioware about what to change for the next Season.


Shintar's Galactic Seasons Diary, Week 11

The final week!

Day 1

My weekly objectives - the last weeklies I was going to do this Season - came up as warzones and operations, which was fine by me. My daily objectives were to play a warzone and generic mob killing on core worlds.

For the former I played a Hypergates match on my healing Sage that was pretty fun and we won. For the latter I returned to my little squid Sorc and did some more questing on Balmorra, like I'd done in week 6.

Day 2

The same daily objectives as the day before! This time my Sage got into a Voidstar, which was another nice win. During the attacker round I felt like I just spent all my time being killed over and over again by a veritable mob of enemies, but every time I caught myself noticing this, someone else on the team managed to plant a bomb on the other side of where I was - so I guess I did my job by being distracting?

My little Sorc continued questing on Balmorra. I can recommend the Okara droid factory as a place where you can get some side quests done while also killing lots of mobs.

Day 3

Heroics and Black Hole dailies made for a welcome change of pace, even if there wasn't any synergy between them. It was late in the evening and I didn't feel like risking a re-roll. For the heroics I went to Alderaan on my Assassin, since I figured Imperial heroics on Alderaan was one particular combo I hadn't done yet since the Season started. My picks for things that were quick to do and where stealth would be useful were mostly good, except for this one heroic where you're supposed to kill some enemies while friendly droids help, and for some reason it was just super buggy and everything kept evading. Fortunately blowing up a nearby barrel managed to un-bug at least a few mobs enough that I could kill them and then the rest followed suit.

For the Black Hole dailies I went back to Republic side after my previous observations about how I just have issues with these on Imp side. My Guardian made quick work of them.

Day 4

First I got my operations weekly out of the way by running Nature of Progress with my guildies, then I tackled more Black Hole dailies on my Nautolan Shadow and played a GSF match on my Assassin tank. In the latter both teams were neck-on-neck throughout the whole thing, though my team eventually eked out a win. In this one I was actually the worst player on my team, which made me oddly happy (because I know that I'm pretty bad at GSF, and every time I see how many people still manage to be even worse than me it depresses me a little).

I also kept looking at my Seasons points to figure out just how many more objectives I'd have to do in order to finish and was temporarily overcome by paranoia that I'd miscalculated and would actually have to do another week. I'm apparently not good at doing maths on the fly.

Day 5

I saw heroics and insectoids and immediately re-rolled the latter, just to then slap myself on the forehead for doing that because I'd forgotten that during "core week", the insectoid killing actually has good synergy with doing heroics and I could have got both of them done at the same time by doing selected heroics on Alderaan or Balmorra. As it was, I'd instead saddled myself with yet another round of the Black Hole instead. I went on another stealth character, my DvL Shadow, to at least make things there as quick as possible.

For the heroics I also went stealth on Imp side on my Operative, and opted for picking three heroics on Balmorra. My choices were pretty good: one didn't require me to kill a single mob; in another I killed two but probably could have avoided doing so if I'd cloaked when they aggroed. Only the third one actually required a bit of killing, but it still wasn't too bad.

Day 6

As if the game wanted to give me a second chance, I got heroics and insectoids again, and managed to resist the urge to re-roll this time. I completed both by doing a round of the Killik heroics on Alderaan on my Vanguard tank.

That just left me to complete the PvP weekly for the final few points! I queued for a warzone on my lowbie Merc and got into an arena where I initially was completely by myself on my team while the opposition had a full four. I pondered whether it was worth taking the deserter penalty if I was still alone by the time the gates opened, but fortunately two more people got added before the match started - though that still meant that we were one man down, but then, the other team didn't have a healer! Amazingly, we managed to win within two rounds despite the numbers disadvantage, and no, I don't think it was because of my healing actually... it's just that both damage dealers on my team did really high damage, and the Sage found the time to throw some off-heals on me on top of that.

After doing a couple of quests to finish my Merc's Conquest, I relogged on my main to claim my final Seasons prizes. There doesn't seem to be an achievement for completing the Season, but I did get one for Altuur's last custom gift pushing him to influence fifty.

Week 11 thoughts:

I'll go into more detail about my final thoughts on the first Galactic Season in a separate post, but I will say that it feels really good to be done. I don't regret committing to completing it as soon as possible and without using any of the buyout options, but some days I definitely did feel a bit pressured (by my own resolution I mean) to log in just to keep up even though I didn't really feel like playing or didn't have much time. So I'm looking forward to not having to worry about POs anymore for the next few months until they release Season two with the expansion.


LotS PTS Day 1 - WTF Is Going On?

So here I was, making a post full of happy musings about what combat styles will mean for me... and a few hours later the PTS went up. Great, I thought, maybe that can answer some of the questions we have! Me and some of my guildies were on there in a flash to check out what exactly Bioware had meant when they said that this first phase was going to be about Guardian combat styles only. Does that mean that all the Force classes will be able to play as Guardians only or...?

I was not prepared for what I found. Nothing on the PTS right now has anything to do with the whole "switching advanced classes" thing... instead it seems that Bioware is actually also planning to revamp all the classes, by pruning a lot of abilities and re-introducing something similar to the old skill trees, yet different. I was just like... WTF? Why wasn't there a peep about this on the livestream?

On the forums we're being urged not to panic, that this is all early stages and likely not final. Which is fine, but I'm still somewhat alarmed that they were planning to change up the class system that much and didn't even care to mention that when announcing the expansion.

I'm kind of glad now that they started the PTS with Guardian since that's not my main, so it's a bit easier not to freak out entirely. But it's still very bewildering. I went to see the special PTS trainer and the abilities it gave me at level 75 weren't even enough to fill out two action bars. I queued for a warzone and got into an all-Guardian arena where I flailed around very ineffectively, struggling to find buttons that I could push that weren't on cooldown. Later I found out that there was a known issue with the PTS training droid and it only gave out half of your intended abilities.

As a bit of a contrast, I then did a veteran mode Mandalorian Raiders with my guildies and we absolutely destroyed everything, even with half of our abilities missing. The final boss only had about twice the health of a normal player. Then we read that content scaling's apparently broken on the PTS as well. How do we know what's a bug and what's a feature?

Speaking to the training droid multiple times afterwards did fill up my bars a little more, but not a lot. A lot of basic abilities were still missing, such as our interrupt, stun breaker, or Saber Throw (a Guardian's only ranged ability). Others were present but suddenly limited to a single spec when they used to be available to all Guardians. There was a very long post explaining the specs on the forums but to be honest with you I still found that very confusing. This kind of skill tree really needs some sort of visual to be easily understandable. Swtorista made a valiant attempt at creating a graphic for the Focus path and posting it on reddit, but honestly I was still confused because when actually playing I found that not everything was actually working as laid out by Bioware either. Again, what's a bug and what's a feature?

My initial thoughts on ability pruning are this: I don't like it much, but I can see the logic behind it. There are probably a few abilities that they could remove and we'd all be fine. I was a bit sad when my Commando lost Pulse Cannon and Stockstrike back in the day, but I got over it. And if I'm being honest, part of the appeal of doing things like playing in the lowbie PvP bracket is that things are simpler there, without classes having 27 different cooldowns. But the current iteration of the PTS feels like it's taking it too far.

As for returning to some sort of skill tree... mweurgh. I liked the game's original skill trees and was a bit sad when they turned into a mere line with Shadow of Revan. But the reason Bioware did that was to make things more straightforward for new players, and this feels... more complicated than what we started out with? The whole "taking away abilities and making you choose between them" thing reminds me of modern World of Warcraft and I don't like it there either. Suddenly there'll be right and wrong ways to spec again, and we'll likely lose access to some abilities that add a lot of flavour to each advanced class. A Guardian without Saber Reflect sounds pretty sad to me to be honest! Plus do we really need advanced classes and specialisations and these combat styles on top of each other? It feels like they're taking away some of the complexity of "choosing the right buttons on your action bar while playing" and simply shifting it towards "choosing the right abilities while speccing your character" - is that really more fun?

I'm not sure Bioware will be doing themselves a favour with this added complexity either. They just added all these set bonuses in Onslaught... how confident are they really in being able to adjust everything so that nothing clashes or becomes unbalanced or outright weird? As an extremely simple example (which I'm sure will be fixed in time, but there'll be lots of these), I started my session on the PTS by buying the gear set from the vendor that my Guardian also uses on live... and then realised that it buffs an ability that doesn't actually exist on the PTS right now. I'm also thinking of how my guild's current master mode progression relies on characters being able to chain every single cooldown they have - so that means all those fights will need re-turning. You're creating a lot of work for yourselves by having to straighten that all out, Bioware.

I really want to have faith in them here, but at the same time I'm struggling to get on board with this particular vision. I'm really curious about what Commando and Sage testing will be like now, since those are the classes I know best and where I'll feel any changes most sharply. I'm just kind of taken aback by how unnecessary all this feels. The ability to swap between advanced classes as announced on the stream was going to be enough to change things up and people's reactions to that seemed to be largely positive. This... not so much.


What Will Combat Styles Mean for Me?

As mentioned in my post about the expansion announcement, there's still a lot about the new combat styles feature that we don't know, especially relating to how changing between different styles will work and whether there'll be any sort of limitations on when and how often you can do it, but it does seem pretty clear that you'll be able to swap between the existing advanced classes with everything that entails - including both their weapons and abilities - and I see no reason to assume that e.g. older characters will be excluded from this feature (though I did see that line of thought floating around on Twitter as well).

With that said, what is this going to mean for my stable of alts?

The thought of Shintar the Commando being anything other than, well, a Commando seems kind of absurd. I mean, it's in the blog name! And I've always had a giant assault cannon on my banner! That said... no, I don't think I'll change her play style, though depending on the ease of swapping, I might experiment with using Mercenary style some time. Same basic gameplay, but two blasters. Plus I mean, all tech-using classes have canonically always had at least one blaster anyway, considering the ever-present oddity of wielders of big guns and rifles suddenly holstering their weapons in cut scenes to threaten their enemies with a small blaster instead.

Looking at my alts, I honestly can't see myself making a lot of changes to them either, because I've never been fussed about weapon choice and if I made them one specific advanced class over another, there was usually a reason for that. Still, I could imagine some use cases for swapping combat styles:

One is for Force users whose alignment doesn't match their faction. I have thought occasionally that it's a bit weird that my Sith Sorcerer is still shooting lightning all the time, considering how much of a goodie-two-shoes she is. So I could see myself changing her to Sage for the more appropriate visuals. I think on a low-level character it would feel a bit strange to use opposite-faction Force powers, because you'd think that would be very alarming to your fellow Sith or Jedi, but if you're already the Commander of your own Alliance, I reckon you don't have to worry about hiding your true nature anymore if you don't want to. The same would apply to my light-sided Juggernaut tank.

I've said before that I'm terrible at playing dark-sided characters, so there aren't many contenders for a transition the opposite way among my Republic alts. The closest is probably my somewhat ruthless Sentinel, but I'm not sure she's evil enough.

Speaking of my Sentinel though, that does bring up another interesting line of thought. I've made alts of every single advanced class over the years because I simply wanted to know what they played like, but I can't say I actually enjoyed them all. Sentinels and Marauders look cool with their two lightsabers, but the play style has never appealed to me at all. My second least favourite is probably Sniper/Gunslinger.

So the question here is: Would it be worth speccing out of the advanced classes that I don't like very much? It has sometimes struck me as a bit of a shame that I find myself avoiding playing these characters purely because I don't enjoy the way they play very much, even if their story choices would make for some interesting content to experience. But at the same time, I specifically created them because I wanted to have a Sentinel, a Sniper and so on. Is that still going to be that meaningful when we can all swap combat styles though? Something to think about at least.

And of course there is always the option of new alts. As if I need even more of those! But then, there could be synergies with other things I want to do. For example I've talked about how I like to play healers in lowbie PvP, but just how many times do I really want to start over as a consular or inquisitor? Now I could level up through the knight and warrior stories to add more alts to the stable while having a bit more variety in my story content.

Do you see yourself making use of the new combat styles feature?


Shintar's Galactic Seasons Diary, Week 10

Day 1

On logging in, I found myself saddled with the flashpoint and operations weeklies, and decided to re-roll the former into warzones. One of my dailies was also to play a warzone, and the other to defeat 75 enemies in unknown or Wild Space. Since I'd just killed 150 mobs for my daily objectives the day before, I re-rolled that one as well and it turned into CZ-198 dailies.

Through the SWTOR community Discord I found out that there was some new bug with Seasons objectives not progressing, so I logged off again. They did fix that one within a couple of hours though.

When I logged back in I completed both of my daily objectives without problems, and the warzone also counted towards my weekly. I played an Ancient Hypergates on my Sage healer and somewhat to my surprise, we won pretty decisively. For the CZ dailies I got out my Operative healer again. She quested in the PvP instance, and apart from two people idling in the landing zone I didn't encounter another player of either faction during my entire round.

Day 2

On Wednesday I found that I had to jump into my ops group's progression run unexpectedly as one of the usual Wednesday healers couldn't make it, so I didn't get around to my Seasons objectives until later. They were warzones and galaxy-wide insecticide respectively, though the latter luckily re-rolled into GSF.

The GSF match was a domination that started out well but ended up being a pretty decisive loss. Looking at the scoreboard at the end, we had been hopelessly outgunned, but I didn't mind too much because I'd still had fun flying around and shooting things.

The PvP match landed my healing Sage in Quesh Huttball, and the moment we went to pick up the ball I spotted long-time PvP streamer Snave on the opposing team, presumably with one of his pre-mades. Unsurprisingly, someone called for us to just let them win and get it over with, but I got some satisfaction out of the rest of the team continuing to fight until the bitter 1-7 end. I did have some sympathy for the guy's frustration in this case though. Going up against a pre-made is rarely fun, but knowing that your loss will be broadcast to the public while someone on the other team trash-talks you makes it even more annoying.

Day 3

This was the day of the expansion livestream, which I missed due to being preoccupied with something else at the time, but I did go to watch the recording as soon as I was done and then continued to watch it on the side while knocking out my daily objectives, which were GSF and CZ-198 dailies again.

The GSF match was a domination game that was both an easy win and great fun - early on I ended up at a satellite with an enemy player who seemed to be as incompetent as me, so that we just ended up circling each other and shooting into space for what felt like several minutes. I got lucky in that my team was the first one to actually send some reinforcements, who then shot my opponent to pieces. Tough luck, bud!

For the dailies I went stealth on Imperial side again, this time on my Assassin tank. It felt like I was done in no time, seeing how I was merely going through the motions while actually focusing on the stream recording.

Day 4

I was relieved on login to find that my dailies were a straightforward warzone and galactic insecticide, which was at least an obvious re-roll and handily turned into GSF. I played the GSF match first, on my Powertech tank, and it was an oddly enjoyable deathmatch where we didn't just win but I only died once, when we were already sitting on thirty points! Mostly I was sitting safely in my gunship at the back and it felt like people were always trying to make a beeline for me but got shot down by my team mates before they could reach me, which was nice.

For PvP I queued on my squid Sorc and got an insta-pop into an arena in progress. My team was already one point behind, but for some reason we were a full team of four while the opposition was one person short. Unsurprisingly we spanked them on the next round and evened the score. They still didn't get reinforcements during round three, but changed their strategy and ended up doing a lot of damage. I was actually a bit worried when they managed to kill one of my team mates, but we still ended up winning in the end. This completed both my daily and my weekly objective.

Day 5

My dailies were GSF and mob killing in unknown or Wild Space. I decided to risk a re-roll on the latter but it just turned into insectoid killing, which I then got done by having my Sniper go on a quick rampage among the Killiks just outside Rhu Caenus spaceport on Alderaan.

The GSF match I played on my Juggernaut tank for a change and while it was a good match and a win, it was also a reminder of why I try not to spread my GSF activity around too many alts... it's just way too much of a hassle to set up ships, components and so on for every new character.

Day 6

The day before, I'd seen a guildie complete the Iokath dailies PO and thought, "Hey, I'd quite like to get that one some time this week!" so I tried making sure to log into a level 75 character first, but I got warzones and CZ-198 daily missions as my objectives. I risked a re-roll on the dailies and it turned into insectoid killing again. Sigh. That meant another round of Killik killing for the Sniper.

For the warzone objective I queued up with my lowbie Merc and she got into a Mandalorian Battle Ring arena. Since the last patch, the sub-75 queue has been been split into lowbie and midbie again - initially we weren't sure whether this was intentional or an accident, but it was later confirmed on the forums that it was intended and they just forgot to include it in the patch notes. Since then I've been getting a lot more arenas again... anyway, this one was a solid win as I had two dpsers on my team that did absolute monster damage. I then played a second match, which also popped as an arena, just to complete the character's Conquest, though that one was a loss. Funnily enough, everybody on my team gave me their MVP votes regardless, which surprised me.

Day 7

I once again completed my second weekly objective on the last day of the SWTOR week, by doing a Gods from the Machine story mode run with my guildies. As if the game had read my mind about the previous day, my daily POs were Iokath dailies (yay) and CZ-198 again. I hadn't realised that you only need to do three (!) Iokath dailies for that objective, which is less than a third of the weekly mission, as opposed to four or five missions for most other daily quest-based objectives. They really want to sweeten people on Iokath I guess.

CZ I visited on my Sniper, not too fussed about skipping unnecessary trash kills, but it was so busy that I actually struggled to find anything to kill - I was barely halfway done with the mob killing daily by the time I'd finished all the other missions in the area.

Week 10 thoughts:

With the second full five-week cycle complete, I'm sitting on 734 Seasons points, which means that I just need 66 more to reach 800 next week, and then it'll be retrospective time! I'm currently thinking that I could get up to three different analysis posts out of this: one about how I played this Season (which objectives I did how often etc.), one with feedback about what I think could be improved in Season two, and one featuring tips and tricks I've learned from chatting about Seasons with other players. Stay tuned for that!


Legacy of the Sith Expansion Announcement

I didn't watch last night's livestream while it was happening (though I do want to say to Bioware's credit that they've got much better at scheduling their streams at times when it's actually reasonable for Europeans to tune in too), but I did watch the recording as soon as I was able to. And once again I have to say that I found it very engaging and enjoyable to watch. I feel they've really found their groove with these streams recently - they may not be very high budget, but Charles and Eric have a great dynamic and are fantastic ambassadors for the game with their unending and infectious enthusiasm.

The intro with various devs talking about what ten years of SWTOR meant to them and how much they love their jobs could be considered a bit cheesy I guess, but it all sounded very genuine and to be honest it's nice to see some of the same faces making repeat appearances (proving that they're still around). Plus who doesn't like the idea of a game's devs actually enjoying their jobs?

And then we jumped right in: new expansion at the end of the year, called Legacy of the Sith (cue lots of "LOTS" puns, and Musco promised many more) to celebrate ten years of SWTOR! You can find the official run-down here, but here are my own thoughts on each item:

Five new levels, new story and locations

Not that much to say about this one, because while it's nice to see, it's also par for the course for a new expansion. All we know about the story is that it'll continue to focus on Republic vs. Empire, which I'm happy about, and they wouldn't say any more in order not to spoil us and I think that's how we as players like it.

In terms of new locations it sounds a bit less ambitious than Onslaught was, as instead of two new open world planets and a flashpoint, we'll only get one new place to hang out plus a flashpoint. The latter will also take place on a new planet called Elom though instead of being set on an existing one like Objective Meridian was.

The main "new" planet will be a battle-ravaged Manaan. I have to say while the concept art looks cool, I'm not sure I like it being all messed up! Seeing beautiful and serene locations torn up by war is always a bit sad. And it's one thing if it's only in a flashpoint like it happened for Tython and Korriban, but to have the "permanent" open world version of the planet be a mess is less appealing I think. Who wants to hang out on a rainy battlefield all day?

New operation

I like to call this one out separately because while you could argue that a new operation should also simply be an "expected" part of a new expansion, SWTOR's fraught history with this type of content has taught me to be careful with my expectations - so I'm happy to see that they are planning to deliver another operation soon!

Story-wise it sounds like the new ops might have a tie-in with Nature of Progress - it's teased at the end of the Dxun story mission (if you can resist the subtle pressure to kill Trey) that something dangerous has gone missing from another Czerka facility. Though again based on the concept art for the new operation, the overall flavour of this one seems very different, with more of a horror vibe similar to what we saw from the Dread Masters. I'm looking forward to it either way!

Combat styles

This was the main expansion feature aside from new content and to be honest it fried my brain a bit. Basically, after re-doing gearing in Onslaught, it seems that Bioware has targeted basic class gameplay as the thing that needs an update next. I have to admit I froze for a second when they started talking about that, as I wondered whether they were going to do something silly like pivot the game more towards action combat, but fortunately Bioware knows their player base better than that. What they did announce sounded a bit confusing though, and depending on the exact details has the potential to be a huge game changer or to make no difference to many players at all.

In a nutshell, based on the slides they showed, they want to disconnect base class (what defines your story content) from advanced class (what defines your gameplay), except for the divide between Force and tech users, which remains intact. What this means is that you could for example create a trooper but instead of playing her as a Commando with a big assault cannon or a Vanguard with a blaster rifle, you could choose to use a Sniper rifle and have access to all the abilities that a Sniper would usually have... I think?!

On a surface level this seems fine, logic-wise, because why wouldn't a trooper be able to use a different weapon? And many of the abilities are generic enough that seeing them used by a different base class wouldn't feel "wrong" - e.g. my Commando heals with different medical probes, and I see no reason why a bounty hunter, agent or smuggler couldn't also use medical probes. But some abilities are a bit more... flavourful, and there I struggle to wrap my head around the idea of all of them simply being available to every class. Would an agent tanking things with a flamethrower like a Powertech really feel "right"? Or how about a trooper running around kicking people in the nuts Scoundrel-style? Assuming that this is indeed how it's supposed to work, I'd hope that they're at least planning to tweak the animations/flavour of some of the abilities for different base classes.

That said, even if I understood all of that correctly, there are lots of question marks in the air about other details and how this is going to affect players in group content. Considering how big of a deal they made about it, it seems safe to assume that this "choosing a different play style" thing won't just be for new characters, but then how easy will it be to switch? If you could do it on the fly it could lead to weird gameplay expectations ("Everybody switch to a stealth style so we can skip the trash!") but then what would the restrictions be? Based on the fact that they said they'd also be introducing loadouts to go along with this (an easy way to save different specs/styles/gear sets and switch between them) it sounded to me like they do want players to be able to swap with relative ease.

And what will all of this mean for alts? If you want to see all the different gameplay options on both factions, you currently have an incentive to have sixteen alts, eight for each advanced class on both factions (though I'm sure most long-time players have more, haha). With this announcement, it sounds like you'd only really need two going forward: one Force and one tech user, who would then potentially have access to the full toolkit of all advanced classes on both factions. Does this mean there's less of a reason to have alts? I don't think so, though it does make things easier for people who want to avoid them for some reason. If you like having lots of alts though, there'll be even more class story/gameplay permutations for you to try though, as you could have e.g. eight different troopers that all level with a different play style.

Anyway, based on how many unanswered questions there still are about this new feature, a lot of this is really speculation more than anything else. We'll all have to hear more details first before deciding what it means for the way we play going forward.

Any other business

The expansion's launch, which is supposed to happen around the end-of-year holiday season (though we don't have a fixed date) will also mark the start of the second Galactic Season - so from the sounds of it there'll be a couple of months break between the end of the first and the beginning of the second Season, which is something I'd welcome. Season two will be centred around a new Duros companion.

There was also talk about improving a lot of the user interface, and I have to admit that was the part of the livestream that filled me with the least happiness... not that I'm against the idea in principle, but to be honest a lot of their UI "improvements" of the last couple of years haven't really felt like such (new windows that can't be modified in the UI editor etc.) - so you'll excuse me if I feel some trepidation around this.

On a general level, I liked how much optimism was expressed about SWTOR's future, considering how much doomsaying SWTOR players have had to put up with over the years. Apparently it's the longest-running Star Wars game at this point (I wouldn't expect them to count Star Wars Galaxies rogue servers for obvious reasons), and they have plans for more content for years to come. Eric even went as far as to say that this is just the start of the game's next ten years. I mean, obviously you never know when the corporate overlords might end up having different ideas - but still, seeing the team be so happy and confident does bode well.

If you made it to the end of this post and haven't heard about this yet, they also gave out a code that you can redeem in your account for a free stronghold deco poster of rebellious Mandalorian Heta Kol. The code LOTSofSWTOR (easy to remember!) is valid until July 15th.

What are your thoughts about everything that's been announced?