Expansion Prep

We still haven't got a release date for Legacy of the Sith, but if Bioware wants to stick to the originally announced end-of-year holiday period, it can't be more than three months away. This got me thinking about whether there's anything I need to do to metaphorically "get my house in order" before the expansion or whether there are any goals I should try to achieve before the level cap goes up again. With the way SWTOR tries to keep all content relevant these days, it's not that much of a rat race, but still, sometimes there are things that are better done sooner rather than later.

I came up with the following list of goals for myself: 

1. Get my main to Renown rank 999. 

Bioware may have dropped the idea of resetting Renown ranks seasonally, but I'll be very surprised if they don't make us start these over with the expansion. I got the achievements for getting all classes to rank 100 at the end of last year, but raising my main's rank has remained slow-going due to my love for alt play. At the time of writing this, she's in the mid-800s, and I realised that I'm not going to gain the last 150 ranks or so in time without putting some sort of concerted effort in.

It's not a particularly difficult or time-consuming task; it just requires me to focus. Based on some simple napkin maths, earning about two to three ranks a day should be plenty to get me there for the start of December, so that's what I've been aiming for these past couple of weeks.

2. Get my "main eight" all caught up.

I did the Onslaught story on one character of each class, but haven't exactly been religious when it comes to keeping up with new story releases on my alts since then. Content like Echoes of Oblivion or Spirit of Vengeance was fun enough to play through once or twice, but the lack of class- or even faction-specific variations has made it less interesting to repeat overall. Still, Secrets of the Enclave had at least a faction split again, and I'm hopeful that Legacy of the Sith will also offer content that is interesting to play through on alts, so I want mine to be ready.

3. Get a saboteur all caught up.

The main thing that has been absent from my "story roster" is a saboteur after that option was introduced, since all my characters have been loyalists. (And since their integrity is important to me, I couldn't just "make" one betray their faction just to see what would happen!) People have been telling me for ages that the saboteur story is awesome and I really need to get to it, and I'd always smile and nod but then not focus on it.

I did do some work on getting my Republic-aligned Sniper caught up, since she struck me as the perfect Imperial saboteur, but at some point in late KotFE things just kind of fizzled out. Recently I've picked her up again, and I'm telling myself that as little as one chapter/story installment per week would be enough to get caught up in time for the expansion. I just need to stick with it!

4. Finally get my pacifist to 75.

No special reason for this other than that I'd like to actually reach the level cap before it goes up again. Then I'll probably make a post on Reddit about it. Again, this is something that I can quite easily chip away at in small chunks, one week at a time.

5. Continue clearing out my materials tab a bit.

This kind of ties into what I wrote about making money in my last post. I've not just been selling jawa junk, but also realised that I've got a ton of stuff stashed away in my materials tab that's actually quite valuable. I kind of predicted that this would happen with how "out of sight, out of mind" crafting materials have become since the addition of this special inventory with Onslaught, but that hasn't prevented me from falling prey to it myself.

I don't know how many of these things will retain any value come expansion time, but even if I want to be cautious and keep some for myself just in case they remain useful for something, I won't need hundreds and thousands of each of the rarer items, so off to the GTN they go! I don't exactly need the extra credits either, but you never know.

6. Also-rans...

All of the above should be quite enough to keep me busy to be honest, but there are of course always other alts to progress as well. The question of who could even be a saboteur among my Republic characters has me pretty stumped... I'm leaning towards one of my Scoundrels, but even there I'm not sure I can really see her siding with the Empire to this degree. Either way, whichever one I'd pick would have all of KotFE, KotET and more to get through to get all caught up.


In the Money

I don't recall ever feeling poor in SWTOR. I do have this vague memory that when I hit level 25 on my very first character, it was a bit of a stretch to afford both my skill training and the first rank of speeder piloting (remember when you didn't get that until level 25?) and I may have delayed purchasing one of them for a bit, but it definitely didn't take me very long to get the funds together.

I also have this vague memory of everything seeming a bit expensive when I hit max level for the first time, but then my very first round of Belsavis dailies earned me 100k credits and I was like "whoa, alright then, if that's how it's going to be".

Since then, I've never really had to think about credits very much. I don't go out of my way to earn any, but just playing the game in whatever way earns me more than enough to cover my expenses. When I repair my gear after wiping during progression ops, I don't even look at the numbers anymore because they are completely inconsequential anyway. The closest I've come to having any sort of emotional reaction to something money-related is when looking for some cosmetic gear on the GTN and thinking that a lot of it feels kind of overpriced for what it is... but that's not the same as being poor.

That said, I still hate wasting money. I think this is due to the fact that my mother used to work in a bank when she was younger and taught me from an early age to take good care of any cash I was given. To this day I kind of struggle with the concept of "splurging" on anything, even when I can afford it easily, and that's also reflected in the way I play video games. I didn't do that silly belt vendoring dance before Onslaught because I needed the credits, but because not doing it would have resulted in wasting a huge amount of potential credits and that just bothered me.

During this expansion we've seen a huge proliferation of jawa junk, and when it started clogging up my bank I set to turning it into credits last summer. Many of my guildies have simply gotten into the habit of vendoring excess gear drops because it's quick and easy, but to me that feels like a waste of value when I know that those same gear items could be deconstructed and the resulting junk converted and sold for so much more.

Back when I wrote that post in August last year I said that I might eventually compose a follow-up, but that never happened. The truth is: The project never came to an end! I did eventually whittle down the stacks of green and blue junk, but as I keep earning more all the time I also have to keep converting it into goods that I put up for sale on the GTN over and over. And let's not even mention the purples... it's ironic, considering that they are supposed to be the most valuable, that I really struggle to convert and sell those. I think I still have five or six full stacks of them in my legacy cargo bay even now.

Looking at the date of that post and realising that I've been re-listing my wares on the GTN on an almost daily basis for over a year now, it hit me that I've kind of become what we used to call an "auction house baron" back in WoW. The amount of money in my legacy bank is approaching two billion credits, which is halfway to the technically imposed credit cap. And I'm sure someone will comment now that they make that sort of money every day before breakfast, but to me it still feels like a lot.

Like I said, I haven't been even remotely poor in a long time, but I used to hover around a couple hundred million credits and that already made me feel pretty rich. It's been very strange to realise just how much I've ratcheted up my credit-making this expansion without even meaning to.

And the funny thing is, I don't even know what to do with all that money. Acquiring gold-level augments is the one thing that would really drain my funds quickly, but I don't actually care about those at this point since I'm not doing master mode Nature of Progress anyway and due to the scaling they do very little in older content.

Besides that, there's only fashion? And I'm not the type who changes her characters' outfits all the time. My main adopts a new look about once a year but that's more opportunistic, depending on what new sets come along. And on the rare occasion when something does appear on the Cartel Market that I would like, I usually have enough complimentary coins to buy it directly from there anyway.

I sometimes hear people complain that SWTOR's economy is broken, but I'm never quite sure what that's supposed to mean. I guess there are a lot more faucets pumping credits into the economy than money sinks that remove them. In other words: If you play a lot it's easy to make a lot of credits and have nothing to spend them on, so everyone ends up charging ridiculous prices for cosmetics on the GTN because what else is anyone going to use that money for anyway?

But then, where is the harm? New players who are only just finding their footing won't have trouble paying for "necessities" like skill and speeder training because the cost of those is still mandated by the game and not other players. In fact, if they engage with the player economy at all they'll probably have an easier time making money than we did back in the day, since anything they could potentially sell, from a nice-looking green piece of armour to some mid-level crafting materials, will fetch much, much higher prices than it did back in the day, while outgoings like training costs have remained the same or even gone down in price.

I guess the situation could appear broken to the eyes of a new player when they've only just earned their first thousand credits from quests, they check the price of some armour set that they like the look of on the GTN, and they see that it's selling for two hundred million. However, from my experience that's pretty much the same in all the MMOs I've played: You can't expect to go in as a brand new player and immediately be able to afford some rare and coveted item. Level up and look into what ways there are to make money and you'll find that all this stuff isn't nearly as unobtainable as it might seem at level ten.


All In

Last week was Total Galactic War again, and I've written a fair number of posts in the past about my guild successfully conquering planets during that event. Last week was not one of those weeks though - we decided to go for a bigger challenge for once and ended up getting in over our heads, which eventually resulted in us falling behind and losing. C'est la vie.

It was still an incredible week for me personally though. Even though we eventually fell behind, we did manage to keep up with our main rival on Voss for at least a few days, and that despite of them having literally more than ten times as many players online most of the time. Being able to say that each one of my guildies is worth more than ten randoms (in terms of Conquest at least) felt pretty cool to be honest.

I also played a pretty crazy amount of hours, probably more than I did even while working on Galactic Seasons, and fully immersed myself in all kinds of activities that I hadn't done in ages: For example I did every single daily area and wallowed in the memories I associate with each. I even did uprisings with my guildies and am sad to say that I still don't find them very fun (the uprisings that is, not my guildies), but what was fun was seeing the ridiculous amount of achievements that popped up in guild chat that evening because we apparently had a considerable number of people who'd never done any uprisings before at all. (Oh, and it was fun to be the last person standing when it came to finishing off Crack-Shot Aggy in Done and Dusted because everyone else had died.)

I completed the GSF weekly on seven characters (one per day to align with the associated daily objective), playing probably close to fifty GSF matches if you assume a roughly equal win-loss ratio (though I didn't keep track). And I had fun with it! GSF occupies this weird place where I'm not hugely fond of it because I'm very bad at it and it's not really my kind of play style; but attach a significant enough reward to it and I'll be like: "All right, let's go!" Since there were special Conquest objectives for flying every kind of ship I even flew my scouts and strike fighters for a bit (despite of being terrible at them), and a few times I ran into people that were somehow even more terrible at GSF than me and managed to get a couple of kills that way.

I also completed the PvP weekly on seven characters, which required even more matches than GSF since it only counts wins nowadays. And again, it was actually great, because it had been ages since I'd done this much PvP over a relatively short period of time, and it was a great reminder of how queueing a lot means that you'll start to recognise certain names after a while. I could also feel my play improving massively on certain characters - for example I hadn't played either of my Scoundrel healers much recently, but with every match I got better at remembering to use my cooldowns and at predicting enemy movements. It was so much fun.

At the end of Total Galactic War we always do a tally and give away prizes based on people's contributions and I actually ended up in first place with over ten million points, which is something that never happened to me before (usually I'm maybe near the bottom of the top ten).

All this made me think a lot about how I've been playing the game for quite a few months now. I've long described myself as fairly monogamous in my gaming, unlike most bloggers I know, who tend to be variety gamers and like to dip into a lot of different games. I wasn't a complete purist anymore when I started playing SWTOR and also dabbled in other games from the beginning, but without much commitment. However, for a while now I've been splitting my time a lot more than I used to: never quite taking a break from Neverwinter, playing WoW with the husband, and Classic WoW with the guild I joined there. I never stopped thinking of SWTOR as my main game and home, but there were many weeks when it wasn't actually where I spent most of my gaming time.

I still think it's good to check out other games sometimes, even if like me you're mostly focused on one above all others, but I've been wondering whether I haven't been missing out on what I enjoy most by scattering my focus as much as I've done recently. Especially as there've been many times, not just in SWTOR but also while playing the other MMOs I mentioned, that I went: "Dang, this is fun... too bad I don't have enough time to really dig into this". No matter what I play, being stuck in this limbo where I'm always craving more but can't quite get it because of how much I'm divvying up my time is simply unsatisfying. I'm wondering whether it isn't time to go back to being full-on casual in those other games while being more focused on SWTOR and enjoying the perks that come with giving it my full attention.


Daily Tour: Oricon

I spent an unusually large amount of time doing dailies this past week. I've said before that I'm not really a "daily person" - I tend to binge on them a bit when they're new to max out any associated reputations, but after that I pretty much stop doing them unless an alt is making it to the area for the first time or it's worth doing them for Conquest. This past week was an occasion of the latter.

It got me thinking about what I do like about dailies whenever I do them, and it's a mix of trying to come up with an efficient route and then enjoying the familiar routine of following it. Since dailies are usually a solo endeavour, we all tend to come up with our own routes and don't necessarily exchange information about them... but it's something I find quite interesting, so I thought it would be fun to share some of my own daily routes.

I'd like to start with Oricon, and I made a little graphic to visualise what I'm talking about:

Roughly speaking, my route through Oricon could be described as a clockwise swirl that starts in the base (the image illustrates a Republic character's journey, but an Imperial's wouldn't be very different; it would just start further south) and ends in the central tower.

I think the somewhat circular motion is pretty natural, but while drawing this up I did find myself wondering why I'm going clockwise instead of counter-clockwise. I think the reason for that is that the initial storyline makes you run through all the missions that become dailies later in a specific order, and it sends you north before it sends you south, so I guess I just incorporated that initial direction into my routine without thinking about it. Or maybe it's because I'm Republic and the northern quest is closer than the southern one.

Anyway, starting in the Republic camp I begin with freeing the soliders from the crashed escape pods immediately outside the base, though I sometimes make a little detour right away as there are some strong mobs guarding a chest just to the left of the base exit sometimes (not shown on the graphic). Chests may never contain anything valuable nowadays, but I still like opening them.

Then I turn north and start hunting for the mobs dropping the quest items that allow you to enter the northern phase. If I'm on a character that has their seeker droid unlocked, I might meander a bit to also do the bonus mission to dig up roots.

After the phased bit, I turn south-east towards the heroic area, crossing over a giant root thing... I always dread that part because there's a mob standing on it that will yank you if you try to just ride past and dismounts me pretty much every time. I'm always relieved when someone else has just been through before me and killed it.

The heroic area is always the most time-consuming part since it's actually somewhat challenging still (just today I managed to get myself killed in there by accidentally aggroing a large group and a champion mob together, oops) - I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with that. I find it best to start at the north-western entrance since the bonus mission that becomes accessible if you have macrobinoculars also starts there.

If I'm not going to do the bonus I'll just try to climb shuttles and kill champions without aggroing too many other mobs before legging it back out, but if I also want to do the bonus I have to make my way south to get in range of the two southernmost things I need to scan and then double back up to complete the mission at the same terminal where it started. I vaguely recall someone mentioning to me once that there's supposed to be a spot where you can scan all four things at once but at this point I'm wondering whether I didn't just imagine that... as it is, the doubling back is quite annoying since everything takes a while to kill, but stuff's usually already respawned by the time I make my way back.

Then I ride south between the tower and the heroic area, destroy the terraforming devices and do the phased bit in the southernmost end of the zone. Afterwards it's back up towards the tower, which I always enter via the southern ramp. This is interesting in so far as I didn't find out until a couple of years ago that the mob that can drop the "bat hat" spawns at the start of the northern ramp because I simply never go there. Was quite a surprise when I found out!

Then I do the tower before quick travelling back to base. Here it's important to remember to exit the phase before using quick travel, because the mission has a step that says "exit the chamber" or something like that, and quick travelling straight out doesn't count. On at least one occasion I returned to base from inside the chamber, just to realise that my mission was stuck on asking me to exit the phase, so then I had to fight my way all the way back up the tower and inside the room just so that I could leave it "properly"... /facepalm

Anyway, I'd be curious to hear how this resonates with some of my readers. Does this route look similar to your own or do you prefer completing your dailies in a different order?


Thoughts on the KOTOR Remake Announcement

Yesterday I woke up to my Twitter timeline going wild - a remaster of the original Knights of the Old Republic had been announced! I have to admit it was great fun to see people get super excited about this, even if it didn't mean much to me personally.

Long-time readers might remember that I never played the original KOTOR back in the day - I just worked my way through the mobile port a few years ago and documented my experiences with it here on the blog. I did like it well enough then - issues with bugs and opaque mechanics not withstanding - but it wasn't the same sort of foundational RPG experience that it seems to have been for many people nearly twenty years ago.

I can see why the idea of a remake would be appealing to Disney - it's both an opportunity to cash in on the nostalgia from older fans while also introducing the game to a whole new generation of gamers. While the original is technically still playable and I found it decent fun, it definitely doesn't have mass market appeal in its current, dated form - but a remake would change that.

It's worth noting though that this is a remake, not a remaster - so it's likely that we'll see more than an update to the graphics and the addition of some quality of life changes. Aside from that we don't really know what exactly to expect though, as the trailer was basically just a shot of a photorealistic Revan and there is no release date yet.

I can certainly think of a lot of ways in which they could improve on the original without changing the core of the game too much: making the combat less rubbish, giving the player character a voice, fixing the bugs that persisted even in the mobile port (such as being unable to negotiate with the sand people on Tatooine), allowing the player to respec their character, adding a greater variety of NPC models, and so on and so forth.

Yet there's also risk in all of those things: First off, there are probably people who liked the original combat, but even if everyone were to agree that it sucked, I'm sure we've all got different ideas about what would constitute "better" combat. Heck, I could even see simple graphical updates be controversial in some way - the original KOTOR was very limited by the 3D of its time, but does that mean that photorealism is the only logical option for a more modern version? I can already hear the complaints that Bastila isn't attractive enough, or that a realistic rendition of Juhani looks kind of uncanny.

I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade by saying these things - I'm sure the devs will give it their all and hopefully it will turn out to be a good game. Just... if you're one of those people for whom the original KOTOR was an important part of their formative years, maybe don't get too hyped up? Even if it turns out to be a good remake, playing it probably won't feel quite the same as it did back in the day.

Oh, and for some reason this has once again brought up the question of whether KOTOR will become canon instead of Legends material now. Personally, I don't really see why it would? The remake will be a new product, yes, but not a new story (or at least I wouldn't expect them to change the story in any major ways, considering that it's always been the game's major selling point). It strikes me as similar to the release of a new audiobook for an existing Legends novel.

I suppose you could theorise that going for a remake over a remaster would be the perfect opportunity to "canonise" KOTOR if Disney wanted to, though considering how far the story is set in the past compared to the movies, I don't think it would have had any clashes with any of the new canon material to begin with? Some people just obsess way too much over canon vs. Legends either way. Most major science fiction or comic book franchises like to spin off into alternate timelines and the like at some point or another, but I've never heard of people getting too upset about that. Maybe they are and I just don't know about it.

Anyway, will I play this when it comes out? Maybe. I liked the original and the ability to make different choices should make it quite attractive to replay even without any major changes to the story. However, my ever-present inability to muster up the enthusiasm for a single-player game when I could be playing an MMO remains...


No More Master Looter

Last week's patch implemented a major change to the way loot works in group content, and one that was only communicated to the player base mere days before the patch dropped: The removal of master looter and general move towards making everything personal loot (though certain items that bind on pickup will remain tradeable within the group as it was before).

I was immediately reminded of when WoW did this about three years ago - I wasn't playing that back then, but there was enough wailing and gnashing of teeth from raiders that I heard about it anyway. I was somewhat confused by this move back then, and I have similar feelings about Bioware deciding to copy Blizzard's stance on this now. Yes, everyone's heard at least one story about some nefarious master looter taking all the good stuff for himself and/or his friends, but I've got to admit that in practice, I can't recall ever encountering any sort of issue with master looting in my fifteen years of playing MMORPGs. How much of a problem is this really?

That said, I don't expect the removal of master looter to have a huge impact on my guild as we weren't really using it in everyday operations anyway. As someone mentioned in the forum thread, on a world boss like Dreadtooth the lack of a master looter option will make it very unattractive going forward to let any pugs come along just for the experience or for fun, because the risk of Johnny Random being assigned the valuable drop that is the main reason you're there would just be too great. However, my guild only does that kind of world boss run very rarely anyway - in operations we've long just defaulted to need or greed, and then simply asked people to e.g. pass on the blue crafting mats so that an officer can pick them up for the guild bank. Running with people you know and trust, that's worked quite well.

But ah - and that's the bit that wasn't really clear from the initial announcement: need or greed is gone as well. Everything is randomised behind the scenes and then assigned as personal loot now, and you don't get a choice. Funnily enough, I actually think the benefits of that are much more obvious, considering the way many people in pugs have been in the habit of just rolling need on everything, regardless of whether an item is even useful to them or not.

However, our early experience has been that in a guild or friendly setting, where you want to make sure items go to the people who'd find them most beneficial, it also makes loot distribution a major pain in the butt. At least in WoW, personal loot still triggers a little pop-up that says "so-and-so received X", making it obvious to the rest of the group what just happened. However, the SWTOR UI currently has nothing like that, and with the roll window removed, the only way to see what's dropped for whom is to either be extremely quick on the looting and scrolling so you can see what items are on the body and whose name is next to them before they are actually picked up, or to sort through several pages of loot drop announcements in the chat log to find the actually relevant pieces like set bonus gear among the dozens of trashy mods and enhancements.

Crafting mats are even worse because they now go directly into your materials storage (for convenience's sake I guess), and for some reason this only shows in the chat log for the person actually receiving the items, not for anyone else in the group, so you wouldn't even know that anything's dropped unless the receiver announces it.

Even discarding the whole logistics of wanting to distribute items within the group, just on an individual level, if I'm the sort of person who would like to continue donating any blue mats I get in guild ops to the guild bank, I now need to remember to check my chat log after every boss kill to see whether I looted anything and if so, how much, because it won't show in my inventory and I'll be damned if I notice that the count of a certain material in my stash has changed from 121 to 134 by the end of the night.

It's just an annoying amount of faff that wasn't there before, and while I'll have to take Bioware's word on this being a beneficial change for a majority of pugs, I don't see why they have to make loot distribution actively annoying for organised guilds in the process. I hope they'll consider at least improving the visibility of loot drops in the UI, because if we have to go through the process of trading everything manually instead of simply rolling or passing on drops as we go along, the least they could do is make it easier for us to keep track of what it is we might want to trade from among the mountains of cheap loot that the game hands out nowadays.


Peacefully Sauntering Towards the Finish Line

Once again it's been a really long time since I last wrote about my pacifist levelling project - in fact, this time the break has been longer than last time! No special story about embarrassing myself this time; I just didn't feel like playing as much at the start of the year and then simply ended up forgetting all about this little pet project for a while.

I haven't been entirely idle however - at the moment Pacis is back on Dantooine and making her way through the mid-sixties. During the summer she participated in the Nar Shaddaa Nightlife event a bit, and she's done the swoop races a few times as well by now. Really nice non-combat acitivity, that, though the best thing about it from this particular character's point of view is actually that picking any of the Dantooine courses gives you a quick travel item to Dantooine... meaning that by keeping that mission in my log semi-permanently, Pacis is now able to return to her peaceful home at any time, not just when the Pirate Incursion event is on.

I've been thinking about whether I should attempt to do anything special during my last ten levels to the (current) level cap, though I'm sure I'll get there soon enough just by inoculating Kath hounds and digging up relics once a day. I might travel around a bit more, but I haven't decided yet.

I think one reason my interest in this project has been stagnating is that it's a solved problem at this point. The early levels were the most interesting, as it was a challenge and a puzzle to figure out where I could find sources of XP at low levels without fighting anything and with extremely limited travel options available. At this point however, Pacis has it pretty good to be honest, able to use the heroic terminal on the fleet to quick travel to most planets and now with the swoop quest able to return to Dantooine at any time as well. While I could technically try to uncover more non-combat missions for her to do, she's got a wide array of heroics available for XP and gear already if I really wanted to push it; it would just be kind of repetitive.

Either way, I expect that the next time I'll have an update on this, she'll either be 75 already or at least very close to it.