More Adventures on the LotS PTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


12 Things That Are Very Different in SWTOR after 10 Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Levelling has been simplified and sped up massively.

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

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

4. Side quests are now hidden by default.

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

5. The game is fully level-scaled now.

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

6. Travel around the galaxy is faster now.

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

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

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

7. There's housing now, called strongholds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. The gear treadmill is minimal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. There are options to skip ahead now.

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

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


Big Changes Coming with Galactic Season 2

When I wrote my feedback post for Galactic Season 1, I assumed that Bioware wasn't planning to make any major changes to the overall structure of the system, with two randomised daily and weekly objectives a week. As it turns out though, they're planning to change a whole lot!

David Staats took to the forums on Thursday to explain what updates they are looking to make for Season 2, and the list is quite extensive.

First off, the UI is going to change a bit - this is something I didn't mention before, but yes, having the Seasons objectives just mixed in with the regular Conquest ones was not great and slightly confusing. I kept having to re-order my list to find my Seasons POs, so giving them their own tab makes sense and will be a welcome improvement.

More importantly though, the number and nature of the priority objectives is going to change big time. The forum post lays out how during this first Season, most of the available points came from the daily objectives, and that the devs want to move away from that a bit to shift the focus more towards weeklies, as these give people more freedom to organise their play time and should ease the pressure on players like me who wanted to earn every available point as soon as possible. Can't say I disagree with that!

Going forward, there is only going to be a single, unchanging daily objective: to earn Conquest points. Datamining shows the amount of points required for this currently set to 50k (which is the same as an individual character's personal Conquest objective for the week), but since it hasn't officially been confirmed to be that number, I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up being a bit lower in the final iteration (higher would surprise me). This is a step towards homogenising Seasons and Conquest (already!), which I'm not too fond of, but it's somewhat balanced out by...

... people no longer getting two randomised weekly objectives but instead a list of ten that is the same for everyone, and the first seven you complete will award you points before the whole thing locks down (meaning you can skip whichever three you like the least). The forum post doesn't specify the nature of these and they are probably still up in the air, but again, if datamining is at least an indication of the general direction, quite a few of these will be more specific than the Season 1 weeklies were, e.g. to kill some mobs without a companion, to complete a specific KotFE chapter, or to kill a certain boss in a specific flashpoint.

Everyone drawing from the same list of objectives will make it easier for friends and guildies to co-ordinate, though it also makes me hope that Bioware isn't planning to add any competitive open world objectives to that list, because e.g. the whole server trying to complete a certain Taris outdoor heroic at the same time would probably not be that fun.

In general, this change in structure will definitely also change how I approach the Season. During Season 1 my priority was always to get my daily objectives done, and the weeklies were something I fit in whenever, or even something that completed itself while I was doing dailies (e.g. the warzone weekly getting ticked off if I got the daily objective for warzones several days in a row).

With the shift to a focus on weeklies and the daily being super generic, the question will instead be "What weeklies can I work on today?" and it will be the daily that completes itself while you work on other objectives. At the same time it will be easier to deal with busy days that don't allow for as much play time without missing a beat, because you could then just log in, do some quick and easy Conquest objectives that award a lot of points (such as raising a companion's influence level) and call it a day without falling behind on Season progress.

I have to say I really like the sound of that, and after a bit of time "off" from Season 1, I'm now actually looking forward to Season 2 and how it will work with that new system.


Bad Batch Season 1

As the last episode of Bad Batch season one aired on Disney+ a few days ago, I wanted to talk about this show for a bit! It was the first Star Wars show of which I've watched every episode as it came out, which was a novel experience for me. I was hoping that I'd be able to have some exchanges about it with my Twitter friends about it, since I remembered some of them talking about Rebels all the time back when that aired, but for some reason Bad Batch didn't seem to inspire the same amount of enthusiasm among the people I follow at least. Fortunately my guild's Discord had a Star Wars spoilers channel where people were happily chatting away about every new episode as it was released, so that was good fun.

For me, Bad Batch has been quite the pleasant surprise. I haven't been too hyped about Disney announcing that they are working on god knows how many more Star Wars shows, simply because let's be honest: both Star Wars and Disney have always been about fifty percent brilliance and fifty percent cheap crap, and you can't necessarily know in advance which one it's going to be. Bad Batch in specific also didn't excite me at all because I didn't feel particularly enamoured with the characters when they first appeared in Clone Wars. And anyway, how interesting can a show about a bunch of clone troopers simply fighting different enemies every week be anyway?

However, I was pleasantly surprised from the very first few minutes of the pilot. Despite the Batch being the titular characters, the show isn't all about them but also about the transformation of the Republic into the Empire after Revenge of the Sith, and I'm always a sucker for that kind of world building. Also, the Batch find themselves as outcasts almost right from the start, meaning that instead of being sent into battle every week by their superiors, they instead have to struggle with the question of what it means to be a soldier without a cause. They quickly settle into working as mercenaries (which is, after all, very close to being a soldier, it's just that your employers change) but come to realise over time that there could be more to life for them than simply being someone else's hired muscle.

A big part of that is inspired by their association with Omega, the show's child character, who I'm sure made every adult fan freeze in terror or groan at least a little the moment she was introduced in the pilot... but you know, ultimately I think she's been handled well. There are a few episodes where she's a bit much, but in general she serves her purpose of being a more "natural" foil to the single-mindedness of the clones, who're used to going where they're told and not having to ponder philosophical questions about what they'd actually like to do with their lives.

If I had to criticise anything, it would be that despite of everything that happens in season one, most of the Batch doesn't really see a lot of character development. Most of the personal growth I described above happens through the lens of Hunter, the leader of the squad, while his followers mostly remain true to the stereotypes as which they were introduced. I still think that works okay though, and with everything else that's going on I didn't personally perceive that lack of focus on the other squad members as annoying or detracting. Plus it's kind of part of the package with clones that they don't really have unique backstories to explore... it's more about the choices they decide to make going forward.

With that said, I'd like to add that I was surprised by how much the show's overarching themes of finding your place in the world and being forced to leave the past behind resonated with me on a personal level. I was a very "good kid" as a child, so unproblematic that my mother used to say that I appeared to have skipped puberty... I was just happy to trust the adult authority figures in my life and do whatever they asked of me (which mostly just meant staying out of trouble and getting good grades), but this also meant that when I hit my early to mid-twenties I had major difficulties adjusting to life as a grown-up and being expected to make decisions for myself. Let's just say that was a rough couple of years in some ways. So I could definitely relate to this bunch of clones feeling a bit lost without their Republic commanders to tell them what to do, even as they knew that the Empire wasn't right for them. Or maybe it's just that I main a trooper, so it's natural that I like a show about troopers? You decide.

Either way, I'm looking forward to season two.


All about the Codebreaker Title and Shortcut!

I'm not usually someone to write guides, but sometimes I'll come upon a fairly obscure piece of information that seemingly nobody else has posted on the internet yet, and that can be kind of fun to lay out for others. This is one of those occasions, somewhat randomly inspired by my ops group being back in Dxun and me suddenly finding myself wondering whether the Codebreaker shortcut is widely known, as I never saw anyone really talk about it... it's just something that we discovered organically.

A quick Google search for "swtor codebreaker shortcut" just got me the message "It looks like there aren't many great matches for your search", and trying "swtor codebreaker title" resulted in links to a few pages that replicated the codex entry for the title but nothing else. Hopefully this blog post will soon answer anyone's questions on the subject!

The first step to getting the Codebreaker title is to complete the Dxun Cipher achievement. I'm not going to go into detail about how to get this one, because there are already some good guides out there how to get that. Here is one of them. As you can see it requires you to have beaten the first three encounters in the Nature of Progress operation.

After killing the Mutant Trandoshans (boss number four, but it doesn't have to be in the same run as getting the achievement!), on your way to the Huntmaster, you have to pass through this room on the second floor of the main facility where you get ambushed by a trash pull. As you enter, on the left is the door leading to the stairs (yellow arrow), while on the right is the door to the tram/elevator leading to the spaceport and executive lounge (green arrow).

If you don't have the Cipher achievement, trying to use the lift before you've cleared the trash to Huntmaster won't work, as you'll be locked out. If you do have the achievement however, you can go up to the spaceport right away! And this is what grants you the title. Just be aware that if you do this on your own and you don't have stealth, you'll also die, as the tram spits you out right in the middle of a big trash pull.

However, if enough other people in your group have the achievement, you can all click the button simultaneously and go up together. (Timing is important here though, because the ride becomes unusable the moment the first person gets into combat.) Once the trash group at the top exit is dead, the lift becomes usable for everyone as normal. This is a nice way of skipping the stairs, which - while absolutely hilarious the first time - can get a bit old after a while I suppose.


Nightlife Disappointment

The Nar Shaddaa nightlife event and I don't have the best of histories. My initial impression of it when it was first introduced back in 2014 was a resounding "meh", and since then I've mostly alternated between not really caring or being mildly annoyed by some aspect of it. Last year my annoyance reached a new peak when I realised that the newly added Emperor's Grace slot machine resulted in more free Kingpin chips than any sane person could ever use, effectively turning use of the Kingpin slots into nothing but a grind where prizes were guaranteed if you just kept clicking for long enough. I honestly felt pretty burnt out after simply trying to get rid of all my free chips for a few days, even as new ones kept rolling in faster than I could spend them.

With that knowledge in mind, I knew I had to approach things more carefully this time and not let myself get lured into some sort of self-inflicted sense of having to use all the chips. Occasionally clicking away on one monitor while watching a video on the second was fine, but only in moderation.

However, Bioware managed to throw a spanner in the works for me by adding a new prize that I actually really liked - a shiny visor.

Promotional image from the website article about Soovada. Not my own screenshot, obviously.

This one came from the Emperor's Grace machine, and since acquisition of those chips was much more limited, I figured that simply using whatever chips I earned in pursuit of some new shades shouldn't be an issue. And it wasn't, not in that way anyway.

Within days of the event going live, my Twitter feed was full of people proudly showing off their new visors and I figured that I should be able to join their ranks soon enough. Since Emperor's Grace chips can't be bought - unlike the other two types - this wasn't like prizes from previous years where you could assume that someone who showed off having won the jackpot within days of the event going live had likely poured several millions of credits into buying chips. Emperor's Grace chips had to come "naturally", so if people saw success so quickly, it couldn't be that bad, right?


I just kept playing normally, only going to use up my Emperor's Grace chips on whichever character had earned them as I went, but luck was simply not with me. I won a mount and the new droid pet, sure - but neither of those were items I was after.

With less than two weeks to go on the event I started to get a bit nervous. What else could I do to earn more chips? I knew that you could get them as prizes from playing the Kingpin machines, and I did have thousands of chips for those... so I started another round of click spam, to little avail. It felt like I could go through hundreds of Kingpin chips while barely getting a return of two or three Emperor's Grace chips. That's not a great return on investment for so many hours of clicking.

Eventually I decided to take to Twitter for advice - after all it was full of winners - and this was interesting in so far as it resulted in what's been my most replied-to tweet in a long time:

As it turns out, trying to get chips from the Kingpin machines is apparently the worst thing to do, and the generally agreed upon recommendation was to do content instead, especially anything that involved killing lots of mobs. I was more than happy to be told to get out of the casino, though the most emphatic advice I'd been given, to simply AoE down mobs by the dozen on the starter planets, didn't sit quite right with me either.

So I spent the last week of the event playing the game "normally" again. Ops nights were pretty good for earning chips, but other content honestly didn't feel that much better than playing the slots, with me often finishing the evening with only one or two chips gained. Still, at least it was more fun than clicking slot machines all night.

Still, today the event concluded without me having won my desired prize. I didn't actually count how many Emperor's Grace chips I went through in the end, but it must have been several dozen. I guess such is the nature of anything RNG though. 

Fortunately I'm a patient person - the event will likely come around again next year, and if Bioware follows their previous track record, the shades might end up being added to the Kingpin prize pool or to one of the vendors at that point, which would make them much easier to get. I can only hope - but so far my streak of not getting along with Nar Shaddaa Nightlife seems to be doomed to continue.


Let's Talk About... Secrets of the Enclave

This post has been sitting in my drafts for literal months, mostly thanks to Galactic Seasons sucking all the air out of the room when it came to my writing energy, but I knew that I'd come back to it eventually. SWTOR's story updates are just way too much fun not to write about them!

I had to think a bit about how to structure this post, because technically the 6.3 story update is extremely easy to sum up (spoilers incoming by the way, if you don't want to read any of those, get out while you can): Your faction finds out that Darth Malgus is doing something in the old Jedi enclave on Dantooine, so you follow him there with two companions, but as it turns out he's already gone. The end.

However, while reducing it to that single sentence is truthful, it's also kind of unfair. It's truthful because, well... it's strictly true, and you could argue that this update's biggest major weakness is that it doesn't really move the plot along very much, if at all. But it's also unfair because not every piece of story needs to advance the plot in leaps and bounds - it's okay to focus on other things sometimes - and what Secrets of the Enclave does do is provide major insight into at least four secondary characters, feature lots of KOTOR fan service, the return of two known (if minor) SWTOR characters that we hadn't seen in ages, more information about Malgus' current status, and a bit of an update on how our faction and the Alliance's relationship with it is coming along. So I guess these can be my sub-headers for this post or something.

First I'd like to note though that Secrets of the Enclave sits in a funny place in terms of faction split, in the sense that it's kind of the same story but at the same time it isn't. Strictly speaking you hit all the same notes along the way both as a Republic and as an Imperial player, but since you're coming at things from a different background and with completely different companions, it actually feels quite different as well. The closest existing piece of content that I can compare it to is probably Korriban Incursion/Assault on Tython, where the gameplay is identical for both factions but it obviously evokes quite a different feeling depending on whether you're attacking or defending. Secrets of the Enclave has a lot more dialogue that either of those did though.

Your guides along the way

Let's start with the friendly faces that assist you throughout your journey to and inside the Dantooine enclave. There's an interesting behind the scenes interview with writer Caitlin Sullivan Kelly on the official SWTOR website in which she explains why she chose the characters she did to accompany the player in this flashpoint, but in short each side needed someone with a connection to Darth Malgus and someone who could provide a bit of exposition/history about the enclave.

On Republic side, the former position is held by Aryn Leneer, who actually kicks off the mission to the enclave for both factions (Imperials are inspired by having captured some footage of her testimony to the Republic). Her connection to Malgus is that he killed her master during the sacking of Coruscant (he's the poor chap that Malgus offs at the end of the "Deceived" trailer). Back then she tracked him down to get revenge and they duelled - a fight that she lost, though she was spared for reasons. Not gonna say any more; if you want all the details, go read Deceived, the book! In SWTOR we first encountered her in The Task at Hand last year, where we saw her sensing Malgus coming to Dantooine (where she'd settled with her family) and freaking out about it. Apparently this cumulated in her finding him at the enclave and alerting the Jedi about his presence, which is why you're being approached to hunt him down. Aryn comes along as your guide and struggles with her emotional connection to Malgus along the way.

Your other companion on Republic side is Arn Peralun, who was introduced at the start of Onslaught as Tau's new padawan. He has previous experience fighting Malgus by your side in the Objective Meridian flashpoint and he also seems to enjoy reading up on things as demonstrated by his intro on Onderon. Here he shows that he's also read up on Jedi enclave on Dantooine and provides historical context for what happened there. Honestly, I quite liked him in that role. I felt kind of "meh" about him on Onderon and Mek-sha as he seemed a bit too defined by his trauma and insecurities, but it's fun to see him come into his own, clearly emboldened by his time with Tau.

On Imperial side, his role is filled by Darth Rivix (also first introduced in The Task at Hand), for whom I guess it makes sense to gather a lot of knowledge considering his ambassadorial role, though your other companion keeps expressing a mix of bemusement and suspicion about just how knowledgeable he appears to be about Jedi business. As I mentioned in my first post about Secrets of the Enclave, the animators also did a great job with his facial expressions, from subtle eyebrow raises to slight smirks. He's not all smooth talking though... if you make the light side choice after defeating the second boss, asking Rivix to let him go, he goes ahead and kills the guy anyway, something that will make my Sorc very suspicious of him going forward!

Your connection to Darth Malgus on Imperial side comes in the unexpected form of Darth Krovos, whom we first met during the intro to Kuat Drive Yards more than seven years ago (gosh, I hadn't realised she's been around such a long time) and who's been making small reoccurring reappearances since then but hasn't exactly been fleshed out a lot. In this story update we learn that she's known and respected Malgus for a long time, and she does in fact plead his case with you, expressing the belief that regardless of what it may look like, Malgus is sure to still have the Empire's best interests at heart and to keep that in mind when it comes to dealing with him.

I really enjoyed what Bioware did with all four of these characters. The studio's always been good at writing believable and amusing party banter, and I found it particularly fun to listen to the exchanges between Rivix and Krovos - you don't get to hear Sith interact in what you could call an amicable manner very often! On Republic side, I already mentioned that I liked seeing a different side of Arn.

Aryn's dialogue had the heaviest lifting to do since this was the first time we interacted with her in game, and you can't expect people to instantly care about her just because she was in a novel, but I felt that it was done well. The grizzled veteran coming out of retirement to protect their loved ones is a common stereotype for male heroes, but seeing a female fighter in that role is more unusual, plus here it was also coupled with a certain vulnerability as Aryn admits at the start that she realised while following Malgus that she's in no shape to stand up to him on her own the way she did when she was younger.

KOTOR fan service

The flashpoint takes place in the abandoned Jedi enclave on Dantooine, a location that features in both KOTOR games... need I say more? I can't actually comment on the KOTOR II stuff too much as I haven't played it but would still like to at some point, so I didn't want to dig through spoilers too much if that makes sense. The dialogue makes reference to the events of the first KOTOR as well though, which I did get!

This is all pretty cool but has limited relevance to the story we're being told in the flashpoint. I'm kind of hoping it's not just gratuitous fan service and it will turn out that Malgus's plan has at least a vague connection to something that was brought up in this context.

Surprise cameos

There's not just fan service for KOTOR fans, but also for long-time SWTOR players in the form of cameos from two minor characters that we haven't seen in a long time. Personally I always enjoy these, because if you don't remember them it's not a big deal and the story still works, but if you do it just adds that little bit of extra flavour.

On Republic side the final boss fight is against none other than Captain Colonel Golah of the Imperial Reclamation Service, whom Imperial players will remember as one of the quest givers for The Thing Czerka Found on Tatooine. There's a nice callback to his cordial relationship with the late Darth Silthar as he basically complains about how the Sith nowadays aren't what they used to be. In general he sounds a lot more bitter than he was back then, and you get the impression that he's definitely seen a lot of nasty things in the meantime (even beyond the events of that mission on Tatooine I mean).

Meanwhile Imperials face off against none other than Leeha Naarezz from the Jedi knight class story, and here too it's obvious that the events of the past have left a mark on her, though she still employs her personal pet droids.

What's Malgus up to?

As mentioned in the introduction, Malgus is actually already gone when you arrive, though you learn that he managed to steal some kind of artefact. He also claims during a sort of echo/vision to have broken his chains unlike any Sith before him, and... he makes it very clear that he wants you dead, as he apparently counted on you (as in, the Alliance Commander) to come looking for him and laid a trap for you. You escape of course, but the intention is quite clear.

As a Republic player this isn't exactly surprising, though I was a little disappointed to find out that he feels no differently about you if you're a (former) Imperial. Why do you hate an Imperial-aligned Alliance Commander so much, Malgus? I get that you'd hate the Emperor or Empress, but don't you care about the Empire itself? And we got along so well on Ossus... I feel that my dreams of a renewed Malgus team-up for Imperial players are pretty much dashed at this point. And it's also a shame in-character, because it feels like age hasn't made Malgus any wiser and he's pretty much repeating the mistakes he made on Ilum by discarding even the possibility of certain people (aka the player character) coming around to his side and actively forcing them into opposition against him, which will likely end up becoming his undoing this time around as well.

Still, Krovos sends you a letter afterwards in which she basically says that she still has faith in Malgus, even after he tried to kill you all, so make of that what you will. She may just be wrong, but it would be cool if that turned out to be an angle that players could pursue further.

The thing is, we still don't know what exactly Malgus is up to beyond freeing himself from Vowrawn/Acina's control. Being a lone wolf with no help (as we learn during the flashpoint, he even ditched the medical droid), what can he really hope to achieve? And how does he feel about the Empire and its citizens at this point? I look forward to finding out.

The Alliance and the Republic/Empire

The mission debrief for Republic characters involves a holocall with important people in the newly rebuilt Jedi order, one of whom is Tau and another Master Sal-Deron, someone who Imperial defectors would already be familiar with. A new Nautolan called Master Vinyor Tesh is also introduced and shown to be very suspicious of outsiders. The Jedi are definitely presented as being more cautious in their rebuilding efforts, and quite a far cry from the proud and public role they took during the game's base storylines.

Imperials catch Rivix chatting with Acina and revealing some more details about Malgus stealing a book on Ossus. I actually thought it was pretty hilarious how scared Rivix looks when you walk in on him. I hadn't even thought he was doing anything suspicious talking to the Empress without me in the room, but he looks like you just caught him doing something really naughty. He reassures you that there'll be no more secrets between the Empire and the Alliance, but if he also disobeyed your order during the flashpoint there's definitely a bit of suspicion there, just in case previous chats with Rivix left you feeling a bit too trusting of him.

In summary

I think all of that should give you a pretty good idea of why I loved this story update even if it didn't advance the plot very much. It's packed full of character development and lore, and that's just something that SWTOR does really well. I'm looking forward to seeing where this story goes next, though we might not find out yet in the next update, considering that there's also the plot thread with the Mandalorians still going on. Then again, the expansion has Sith in the name, so who knows? Either way it's good times for SWTOR story fans.


Datacron Hunt on Mek-Sha and Onderon

Ah, datacrons - I have such an interesting history with them. Originally I was pretty oblivious to them while levelling, to the point that I'm not sure I came across even a single one organically (the one simply lying on the ground on Coruscant perhaps...), but then other players started showing them to me and datacron hunting became both a fun social activity and something I liked doing on my alts. Then they were made account-wide with KotFE and that whole avenue of play kind of fell off a cliff... especially as Bioware didn't add any new ones either - until Ossus that is, and I wrote about my experience with those datacrons in this post.

Onderon and Mek-Sha were similar to Ossus in that guildies were offering summons to the new datacrons within days, but like on Ossus I refused because simply accepting a summon to an unknown location, clicking a cube and leaving again kind of seemed to defeat the purpose of the whole thing to me. I told myself that I'd go back to get them later, but to be completely honest I mostly forgot about them again after that. So I was delighted when my guild decided to host a guild datacron hunt for the first time in literal years and that Onderon and Mek-Sha were supposed to be the first destinations. 

We started with the endurance datacron on Mek-Sha, which follows in the footsteps of similar datacrons from the base game such as the mastery ones on Imperial Nar Shaddaa and Corellia, which both require you to jump on a small kiosk/carrier as it floats past and ride it (close) to the datacron location. I would rate the Mek-Sha one as slightly less fun than either of those though, as part of the path you ride along is a bit buggy, which is disorienting (the environment around you goes all crazy, the platform appears to disappear under your feet etc.), and after successfully jumping both on and off the floating "sign" you then still have to make another couple of (admittedly not very difficult) jumps before reaching the datacron.

My guildies and I spent some time chatting while repeatedly falling to our deaths here, but our guide for the evening made it to the finish line very quickly and was able to offer limited assistance for some classes with a Sage pull (we also found that with some skill and/or luck a Scoundrel could jump to them with Trick Move.). After a given time limit we simply used a guild flagship summon for anyone who was still struggling... but I refused to accept it, as - despite of my repeated failures - the whole thing felt very doable and I figured that I'd be able to do it the "proper" way if I just gave myself a bit more time.

Still, for the time being we moved on to the endurance datacron, which was a more straightforward jumping puzzle in a fairly small area. I actually did pretty okay with this one except for one really far jump near the end. Here we sort of moved along as a group, initially falling down and re-trying all the jumps on our own, but I wasn't the only one struggling with that one particular jump, so we eventually started to "pool" around that one and once a couple of people got across they helped others with pulls and such. I was not too ashamed to accept a little help there myself, as getting a bit of a leg up with one jump in a row of about a dozen jumps isn't on the same scale to me as simply getting a summon to the final destination. In the end we all managed to get this datacron without having to use the guild flagship summon at all.

After that we were off to Onderon, first to deal with the endurance datacron there. This was another jumping puzzle but with a deadly edge, as missing one of the first three jumps meant falling to your death. Fortunately a medical droid wasn't far away, but it was still quite silly how many times I fell to my death here. Otherwise it was a similar affair to Mek-Sha in that I eventually managed all the jumps by myself except the very last one, for which I accepted a pull since I was the only person who hadn't made it yet and people wanted to move on. We took a little group photo next to the datacron since the backdrop was quite nice up there.

Finally, there was the mastery datacron, which was introduced as "the Indiana Jones datacron" to the group and it sure lived up to its name. This one lives in a personal phase and requires you to leap across a bridge with invisible holes by following a certain pattern (in what is undoubtedly meant to be an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade reference), followed by dodging a bunch of floor spikes in the dark that insta-kill you if you step on them. This is already tricky enough one way, but then you finally get to the datacron, a little cut scene plays and some sort of electric/force field gets unleashed, forcing you to make it back the same way with the additional pressure of a timer or you die. I must have died a hundred times to that thing and was once again one of the last people to get it (cheaty Sages and their Phase Walks...) but it didn't really feel impossible at any time... it was just a matter of mastering the sequence to the point that I was able to execute it both flawlessly and quickly enough.

At this point some of my guildies moved on to Ossus, but since I already had those 'crons, I instead opted to return to Mek-Sha and went back to practising riding the sign. It took me another half-dozen attempts or so and then I made it to that datacron as well.

I'm glad that I originally decided to save getting these datacrons for a more opportune time, as getting them with my guildies was much more fun than it would have been to simply get a summon or even to follow a guide on my own.

The Indiana Jones datacron was probably my favourite, despite of being sequestered in a personal phase and causing me to die a hundred times. It was just a very fun idea, and restarting after a death was extremely fast so the failures didn't feel too punishing. Though I guess the time pressure at the end could be considered a bit harsh for the rather casual player base that the game has cultivated over the years. Sure, casual players don't "need" the stats from it either, but I just think it's a pretty fun experience to have regardless, for all kinds of players.

The endurance datacron on Mek-Sha was the sort of mini adventure that I usually like with datacrons, but I was a bit let down by the bugginess of its implementation. Also, considering that there are follow-up jumps after the sign ride that you can fail, having to wait about two minutes for the sign to come around again after each try was a bit annoying.

The two jumping 'crons were both alright - they both featured at least one pretty fiendish jump, which always strikes me as a bit frustrating when it's part of a whole series of jumps that you have to restart if you fail, but at least the run back wasn't long in either case. The Onderon one also had what you could call "save points" in the sense that if you fell off at a later point, you only had to redo the last couple of jumps and didn't have to start over from the very beginning. That was good.

I wonder if there'll be datacrons on Manaan?

PS: It's the first of August, which once again heralds the return of Blaugust! Whether you enjoy discovering new blogs, would like to promote your own writing or are maybe only just thinking about starting your own blog, I can definitely recommend checking out this community event.