22/09/2022

Forum Nostalgia

A couple of days ago I was very surprised to find a post on the official forums announcing that the forums themselves were going to receive a makeover soon (and that's not "soon™" but "soon" as in next week). According to Eric Musco, the current forums are based on "a very old and very custom version of vBulletin [and] it was simply on its way to becoming unsupportable". That makes complete sense to me and I'm glad that they're continuing to modernise everything surrounding the game to be able to continue to support it for many years to come.

When Blizzard modernised the WoW forums a few years ago, they nuked all the old forum content, but Bioware has the lofty aspiration to import all the old posts into the new platform. We'll see how well that works out. I'll be very surprised if all the links to forum posts that I've included on this blog over the last decade actually continue to work - my more pessimistic/realistic expectation is that the move will generate a lot of link rot, but we'll see.

I've also been kind of surprised by how much of an emotional impact this announcement has had on me. I've never really been very active on the official forums as I don't tend to find the discourse there particularly inspiring, but I do tend to read them quite regularly... and I just have a soft spot for that sort of old-school, bulletin board format in general I guess, as similar forums were where I formed my very first connections online in my late teens around the turn of the century (gosh, it feels weird to say it like that). I even met my very first boyfriend on a forum about Transformers (the cartoon from the eighties, not the Michael Bay movies or the electrical components).

While the forum as a concept will remain, I expect the general feel of it to be quite different after the update. There's talk about the new software including "gamificiation" features, which I guess means stuff like upvotes, badges and what not. It just won't be quite the same. Then again, maybe that'll be a good thing and I'll actually feel inspired to post more often myself, who knows.

On a whim, I checked the stats on my current forum profile, and apparently I started 20 threads and made 124 posts in total over the years, which may not be a lot but is honestly more than I expected. Most of them revolved around bug reports or suggestions, which makes sense. While I do use the in-game /bug command sometimes, the official forums are still a primary destination for me when I encounter major bugs, because it does feel good to receive affirmation that a strange new issue is not just affecting me, plus the more attention you can draw to a bug the more likely the devs will make it a priority to fix it.

Occasionally I did post about other things too though, especially in the game's earlier years. For example I asked in March 2012: "How do Republic and Imperial side Quesh stories go together?" (I think the answer is: I still don't really know/they might just not go together.) And in April 2014 I felt the urge to poll people about their favourite and least favourite flashpoints for some reason. Nowadays I'd probably just do that kind of thing on Twitter.

Anyway, I'm very curious about this update and am crossing my fingers that things go well next week. The concept of official forums may be somewhat old-school at this point, but the same could be said about my own attitudes towards that kind of thing and one could argue even the MMO genre itself. I'm glad the SWTOR team wants to continue to invest into keeping that line of communication to their player base open.

11/09/2022

Combat Logging in SWTOR

Whether I like it or not, I've had a lot of reasons to look at dps numbers in SWTOR in the past few months: partially because I know I can't choose to hide my performance from others anymore, partially because certain operations have been so tough that looking at everyone's numbers and ways to improve has been very... relevant.

On a whim, I put "SWTOR combat logging" into Google today and was kind of shocked to see that most of the results were forum posts from 2012 full of now-dead links. So I thought to myself, why not use this as one of those opportunities to actually post something useful on here?

How to enable combat logging in SWTOR:

Go to your in-game preferences (bound to Ctrl+P by default) and select "combat logging" on the left. You'll see a checkbox called "Enable combat logging to file" on the right, which you'll want to tick. This will save all your combat data from each play session into a text file on your PC, which can then be found in your documents under Star Wars - The Old Republic > CombatLogs.

The game warns you that this is "a feature for advanced users that may require active disk management", which is their way of saying that if you play a lot, you'll want to make sure to clear out the combat log folder every so often or your hard drive might get clogged up with thousands of text files after a while. I hadn't cleared out my own since February and when I checked on it just now it was over 6 GB large, oops.

As for how to view the information recorded in these logs in a way that makes sense to a human, you currently have three main options that I'm aware of:

Ixale's StarParse

This is a separate program that you download onto your computer and run alongside SWTOR to watch your numbers (and now also those of your group mates) rise and fall in real time. Personally I find it somewhat clunky/limited for more detailed combat analysis (such as "just why exactly did we wipe there, I'm not sure what happened") but it's great for getting a quick overview of dps and healing numbers.

It also sports additional features such as timers and overlays. Timers can be a bit fiddly in my experience, but when they work they are the closest you can get to having something like a boss mod addon in SWTOR, as you can set them up to give you sound cues when certain abilities are triggered or to show countdowns to important boss moves.

Overlays can be set up to show you additional information on screen such as a boss's health percentage (without you having to keep the boss as your focus target) or to give a healer a better overview of their heals over time on different targets.

About the only thing it doesn't do is allow you to review your logs online and share them with others, but for that it has integration with...

Parsely.io

Not to be confused with the herb - I've mistyped this in my browser many times. Parsely is the longest-running site for people to upload their SWTOR combat logs and where you can compare your performance to that of other players, meaning it's full of interesting stats. With 7.0 and the changes to combat logging, it got a big revamp and now also allows you to do much more detailed analysis of your logs, making it possible to break them down in different ways and even allowing you to watch tactical replays of fights.

SWTOR Logs


SWTOR Logs is a relatively new kid on the block, but the site's creator isn't new as they also maintain well-known logging sites for other games, such as Warcraft Logs and FF Logs. I'd say that this has pros and cons: An example of a con is that SWTOR isn't their main priority, which is part of why it took several months for the site to be updated for 7.0. On the plus side though, if you're familiar with one of its sister sites, you'll find the UI very intuitive since it works in exactly the same way, and you'll likely appreciate the very powerful filtering tools that allow you to drill down to a very detailed level. I'm definitely biased here as I've been using Warcraft Logs for quite some time, and I've also spoken to the creator on Discord and found them to be very responsive to fixing bugs. You mileage may vary, but I can definitely recommend giving this one a try if you're interested in looking at logs at all.

06/09/2022

Total Galactic Victory

I've mentioned in the past that Total Galactic War is my favourite Conquest event by far, as it really opens up the planetary scoreboard and gives guilds other than the usual top three a chance to conquer a planet.

In the past my guild has been pretty good at planning ahead for these, as we often used to hear through the grapevine when the next event was planned according to a datamined schedule, or there would be a situation like last Christmas, where Bioware made a point of telling us that they were giving us three Total Galactic Wars in short succession to give us something to do after they delayed the much-anticipated launch of Legacy of the Sith.

This time around though, we were taken almost completely by surprise. It was literally only on the Sunday the week before that a guildie pointed out that he'd just noticed that the next week would be Total Galactic War (the Conquest tab always shows both the current and following week's events), and we all kind of went: "Wait, what?" However, most of us were also pleased as we had not had a Total Galactic War yet since Legacy of the Sith's launch, so it had been a while.

On Tuesday night, the deliberations about where to invade lasted less long than usual. In the past I had a whole list of guilds to avoid, but 7.0 had changed Conquest yet again and I honestly had no real clue how these changes had affected the overall competitive landscape. We just knew to avoid the current "big three" that were winning Conquest all the time when only three planets were up for grabs, but other than that, who knew?

Unfortunately the two large yield planets that we've still never won as a guild over the course of almost a decade were definitely out, so it was a matter of picking one of the other targets that members of the guild still needed for their personal achievements. After a bit of deliberation we settled on challenging a guild called ChissMyHutt for Iokath.

I remembered seeing their name in the top ten for large yield before, so I knew that they would require some effort to beat, but they seemed to be off to a very slow start, which made me hopeful that maybe they hadn't weathered the transition to 7.0 that well.

And indeed, for the first two days or so, things looked good. We quickly claimed first place and our lead slowly increased until we were about 3.5 million points ahead. I was already quietly patting myself on the back for my accurate assessment of their performance, while not stressing too much about my own contribution as we seemed to be winning with ease anyway.

But then, on the Thursday, they suddenly surged ahead, catching up with us within a matter of hours and soon acquiring a lead of almost six million points as well. I've said in the past that competitive Conquest involves a certain degree of psychological warfare, and seeing such a complete turnaround within less than 24 hours was certainly a blow. Had they just been toying with us? Did we even stand a chance if they could outclass us like that in such a short period of time?

However, with years of experience we were not that quick to give up and continued pushing, and in fact redoubled our efforts. I went into maximum grind mode to a degree that I hadn't done since September last year. Back then it was still possible to "prepare" partially completed weeklies and then finish them off quickly during the actual Conquest week, which is no longer possible now, but since the completion requirements for warzone and GSF weeklies were also lowered, I still managed to complete both of them every day, while rounding out my contribution with a bunch of daily zones and other activities.

Still, throughout the next couple of days it wasn't easy to stay motivated, as we consistently remained behind. However, the gap between our scores began to ebb and flow over the course of each night and day, and each time it shrunk we gained a little more ground.

There was also talk in guild about making strategic use of Conquest requisitions. These are an item that instantly completes a character's personal Conquest and were added when login rewards were first introduced as something that comes out of the final box of a specific calendar week. You can't really farm them as it's randomised which reward week will appear in your personal calendar, but if you log in consistently over long periods of time, you can save up a lot of them, and you can pop as many of them at once as you like. With 7.0 increasing personal Conquest targets from 50k to 100k, the tokens also doubled in power.

Since it had been so long since the last Total Galactic War, a lot of members had a lot of tokens saved up. I was one of the people who had popped all of theirs early in the contest, but others hadn't even touched their reserves, and a plan was hatched to "ambush" the opposition on Tuesday morning with a bunch of token pops. Considering that we had several million points worth of tokens saved up, we could potentially beat them even if we remained in second place until then, as long as we didn't allow the gap between us to grow any larger in the meantime.

However, as it turned out... we didn't even need that. After fighting us tooth and nail for several days, ChissMyHutt's activity just kind of seemed to fizzle out on Monday. I mean, Mondays are always a bit of a wild card as you never know how many members of a given guild will be prevented from playing due to work commitments, but the fight just seemed to have completely gone out of them all of a sudden, and we ended up closing the gap and overtaking them organically anyway. We still ended up popping a few tokens on Tuesday morning to be on the safe side (there had been a previous instance where we'd felt secure in victory just for the enemy guild to suddenly overtake us in a last-minute push), but our lead Conquest contributor made sure to save some for next time. I hope we won't have to wait another eight months for a similar opportunity.

All in all, I really enjoyed this round of Total Galactic War not just because we won, but also because it provided us with a good fight. You wouldn't necessarily know about all the stuff going on behind the scenes just from looking at the scoreboard, but those numbers can hide considerable tales of adventure.

03/09/2022

Difficult Decisions

Blaugust has come and gone, and has left me feeling rather down. I've never been into the whole "daily posting" aspect of the event, but the badges on my sidebar (only visible on desktop, sorry) are a testament to my consistency when it comes to participation, as I've been able to proudly show off my silver award (earned by making 15+ posts throughout the month, in my case spread out across multiple blogs) four years in a row.

I thought it was going to be a given that I'd earn it again this year, but I stalled out at thirteen posts. During the last days of the month I kept trying to think of ways in which I could still squeeze in another couple of posts to hit my usual milestone, but in the end I just couldn't muster the enthusiasm for it.

I expected the month of August to provide a lot of positive inspiration for posts in the form of SWTOR's patch 7.1, but that didn't really pan out the way I expected either. The story update and new daily area were okay, but the new operation was honestly just a shock for me.

Back in March I actually gave the new tuning for operations introduced with Legacy of the Sith a thumbs-up. Things seemed a bit on the tough side, but Bioware had been clear about their long-term gearing plan for this expansion and I had faith that they would come through and eventually give us access to better gear that would make things easier.

However, the more 7.1 got pushed back, the more we started to feel the squeeze. I wrote about class imbalances and how my ops team was increasingly running up against a wall, unable to find any more bosses that we could kill with our skill and gear level. I was looking more and more towards patch 7.1 as the source of our salvation, seeing how it was supposed to both give us our first new operation in almost three years as well as give us access to better gear. Unfortunately, the reality of that has turned out to be nothing like I imagined.

I've expressed some of my annoyances with R-4 Anomaly already, but really, it's not just the new operation itself, but also the fact that Bioware back-pedalled on the whole gear upgrades thing at the last minute - on the PTS, Rakata gear was upgradeable beyond 330, giving raiders a chance to improve their gear even if they couldn't immediately kill anything in the new operation on veteran mode, but for some reason they decided not to go with that for live, only allowing daily and flashpoint runners to increase their item level to 330 but not letting raiders have any progress outside R-4 veteran mode.

So my ops team is basically no better off than it was before 7.1, just that we now also have a new and horribly overtuned operation to wipe in.

I don't like writing posts like this because it's a game and I generally try to focus on the positive aspects of the hobby - if I don't like something, I prefer to just avoid that part of the game instead of whinging too much about it. The problem is that running operations has been such an integral part of my SWTOR experience for over a decade now that it's impossible to ignore all this. My ops team consists of people I've known and played with for years, and since we hang out multiple times a week they're one of my primary social circles.

And here we are, stuck with nowhere to go in terms of progression, basically because Bioware has decided that after ten years of raiding some of us are not good enough for their game anymore. This stinks! We've been trying to find some sort of solution, but it's difficult because outside of our shared interest in progression raiding, people have very different gameplay preferences. I eventually had to say last week that I need to step down and at least take a break from all that progression stuff because it was just depressing me. That's not how a game should make you feel.

Because of how integral running ops is to my experience, it's been a long time since I felt so down on SWTOR as a whole. The last time I wrote about hitting a wall in operations to this degree was proabably back during Shadow of Revan - but that was a different time, with much faster patches, and we got the announcement that the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion was coming up only two months after I wrote that post. There is no such relief in sight right now.

I also find myself thinking back to the early days of Galactic Command and how it made me not want to play. That one didn't have anything to do with difficulty, but instead was tied to a bad gearing system that made a lot of our efforts feel futile, which again sounds somewhat familiar - but again, at least there was some relief in sight back then as Bioware was already working on tweaking the system.

This time I'm finding it much harder to be optimistic. The other day there was a dev post that said that they "continue to look at Operation difficulty. The team continues to tweak and adjust R4 and other Operations to ensure a fair balance", but I'm not hopeful that this may result in useful action any time soon. Even if Bioware does end up nerfing the operation or changing the way gearing works in a few months, things have already been out of whack for so long that any changes may well end up coming too late for my ops team.

27/08/2022

Wasting Credits in All New Ways

The Nightlife event and I have a somewhat awkward history which I won't go into again in this post. If you want to read more about it, feel free to go back to this post from last year, in which I summarised it at the start and provided further links.

The important thing about last year's event was that Bioware added a prize to the event that I actually liked and wanted to win, namely the High Roller Shades - but in the end I didn't succeed at getting them. Still, based on past experience I was hopeful for the future: "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."

Naturally, the one time I was really relying on them to stick to the script, they decided to mix things up, meaning that the shades I want are still only available as a prize to be won from the Emperor's Grace slot machine... and on top of that, Bioware also further diluted the prize pool by adding half a dozen new prizes, meaning the odds of actually winning what I want are worse than ever now. Not loving that, Bioware.

To be fair though, they also made some other new changes that I do like. For example they added some new slot machines to the VIP area on the fleet, which I've found to be much less busy and easier to use than the ones in the casinos on Nar Shaddaa. Big thanks to Swtorista for writing up a guide to the event and all the changes (like she does for everything else) - I'm not sure how people were supposed to find out about these new machines organically unless they hang out in the VIP area all the time.

They also made Emperor's Grace tokens purchasable from the vendor for the first time - at 7.5 million credits a pop they're not cheap, but considering that getting enough of these from random drops in the world was the big challenge for me last year, I appreciate this change. I've spent a few hundred million credits on them already - I'm not sure how far I'm willing to go in pursuit of the shades, but then again, it's just funny money and I so rarely find anything I really want to spend it on, so why not splurge a little bit on this project? All the new weapons that can be won as prizes are also bind on equip, meaning that you can sell them on the GTN. While that isn't enough to make your money back, it does help to offset the cost of the chips to some degree.

In addition there's also this new thing called "max bet" tokens for all types of slot machines, which are very expensive and are supposed to give you better odds. Swtorista doesn't recommend them herself after doing a bit of testing, and I personally don't see the entertainment value of such high stakes gambling, but what makes them interesting to me is that you can trade in 20 of the regular chips for a single max bet token - which means that I finally have a way of getting rid of all those free Kingpin's Bounty chips without spending hours and hours clicking away at the stupid machines, something that drove me absolutely nuts two years ago. I don't even care if the odds are better or worse that way - just the fact that I can get through the process of "claiming my free prizes" twenty times faster is definitely worth it to me.

I will say that even though the odds of me actually winning the prize I wanted have gone down, the other changes Bioware have made to the event this year have actually made it more interesting to me. I like that the ability to just buy Emperor's Grace tokens from the vendor allows me to just cut to the chase if I want, and it's nice to actually have a use for some of my spare credits for once, even if it involves gambling. Simultaneously the high price per token serves as a deterrent to spending too much time and money at once (well, to me anyway). Plus the introduction of the max bet tokens and machines allows you to reduce the time spent just mindlessly clicking to get rid of spare chips.

So what I've been doing the past few nights is buy ten or twenty Emperor's chips and use them one at a time - if I get the Smuggler's Luck buff, I'll switch to the max bet Kingpin's Bounty machines until it's used up, and then I go back to the Hutt. The hundreds of free Kingpin chips that I win from the Emperor's Grace machine get converted to more max bet versions to save time, and all this means that each "session" at the slot machines actually requires me to pay a bit of attention and doesn't take all that long - which is a big improvement from the hours of mindless clicking, at least in my book.

22/08/2022

Fall-down, Stand-up Comedy

I know I haven't sounded very happy about raiding recently. To remind everyone (including myself) of why I still love it, let me tell you a little story.

On Saturday some of my guildies and I did Nature of Progress story mode on Imp side. Dxun actually received heavy nerfs in 7.0, and then it was nerfed again in 7.1, something I unapologetically love. I always thought it was a fun operation, but the difficulty could make it a bit of a chore to run casually. Nowadays you can underman it, bring both inexperienced players and alts, mess up in silly ways and still muddle through somehow, which is how I like it.

So we were doing 16-man with ten people, and we had just made a pig's ear out of the Mutant Trandoshans fight, finishing off the last of them with only two people left standing. When we continued to Huntmaster, somehow our tank died nearly instantly. I used my combat revive on him and one of the other healers got all apologetic for not healing him fast enough.

However, when he did get up and we definitely made sure to heal him, his health still kept bouncing up and down like a yo-yo, prompting the same healer who had just apologised to say: "OK, either [the boss] does insane damage or someone is not wearing tank gear".

It was only at this point that I took a closer look at the numbers on my unit frames and noticed that our tank's maximum health was oddly low - less than 300k when everyone else had nearly 400k. I quickly inspected him mid-combat and it was as I suspected - half his gear had hit zero durability. Just as I shared this with the group, he died again, and one of our damage dealers commented: "I was wondering why I got the tutorial for disabled or destroyed items..."

Our tank expressed some confusion as according to him he hadn't seen the usual indicators for broken gear on his UI. Around this time, Huntmaster did his move of retreating to the lake. Someone asked whether we still had a combat res available, and I opined that it wasn't worth resing our tank again since you can't repair in combat so he was going to be useless anyway, but someone else had already done it.

Even better though, one of the other dps had managed to plop down a Revan statue (a utility item that serves as a vendor) and our tank quickly clicked on it while he was briefly out of combat after the revive. So even as I kept repeating that you can't repair in combat, he smugly replied: "Oh yes I can, now I did it!" And just like that, he was back in the fight and fully repaired. "Oh wow, he has so much health now," commented the other healer, and we all had a good laugh.

Unluckily for our tank, he died again less than two minutes later because Shelleigh ate him, but that's all part of the fun. I just thought the whole sequence of events was pretty amazing, both that we managed to be oblivious to the fact that our tank was half-naked throughout the entire trash leading up to Huntmaster, as well as that people somehow managed to get him up and repaired mid-fight and on the fly, when I hadn't thought that to even be possible.

19/08/2022

A Non-angry R-4 Post

I haven't really felt like posting for a week since real life has been stressful, and at the same time my continued inability to clear the new ops on story mode really put a damper on my enjoyment of the game. Naturally, when my team finally did get the kill last week, it was on the night when I was sitting out. So when it was finally my turn today - halfway through week three of the new operation being out - I didn't even feel jubilant, just relieved that it was finally over. Plus as our tank commented (the other person in the run who hadn't got his achievement yet): Ultimately it felt kind of random that we survived the last phase on our first try tonight when we had continuously wiped to it during the previous weeks, so I can't say that I got to feel a great deal of satisfaction for overcoming a challenge.

However, as much as I think that the difficulty tuning has been god-awful and has really overshadowed everything else about R-4 (and my enjoyment of the game in general), there were some other things that I found noteworthy about the new operation. Now that I've actually seen the end, I want to talk about them all.


First off, the environmental and cinematic work is top notch as usual, but Bioware has never really let me down in those areas. Mr Commando was a bit thrown off by the fact that there was no short intro cinematic the first time we entered the operation while on the story mission, but the cinematics before and after the last boss were very cool.

The ops as a whole uses space very well, alternating between giant, cavernous rooms that make you feel really small and tight corridors in which you get overwhelmed by enemies and traps, both of which really play up the horror theme that the designers chose to go for in this operation. The closest thing already in the game that it reminded me of is Kaon Under Siege, though that obviously has a very different setting with its urban landscape.

The trapped corridors are a bit of a mixed bag mechanically - I guess some of our early struggles with them have been due to not doing the mechanics entirely correctly, but some of it is also just unfriendliness towards groups not being super tightly organised or mechanics simply being a bit buggy. During my first visit to the ops it took us ages just to get to the first boss as those force fields that go up in the hallway with the fire ended up separating people, then we exited area, came back in and were trapped with no way to advance, had to exit again and reset the whole phase... and so on.

The first boss or giant disco ball is reasonably fun I guess. The mechanic requiring you to press the buttons with different symbols is kind of interesting and different, but everything else about the fight is basically trying not to stand in five different kinds of fire and just makes me feel kind of old. I don't mind having a bit of that sort of thing, but the degree to which this fight takes it just stresses me out (though at least on story mode it's reasonably forgiving and you can survive quite a few mess-ups). Apparently veteran mode requires you to memorise a complicated dance pattern for the whole fight just so you can stay out of everything and... yeah, no.

Also, without wanting to touch too much on tuning issues again, the dps check for the final burn on that boss is kind of whack. My first kill on it was actually a draw as it blew up and killed the raid at the exact same moment as we killed it. That was certainly funny, but it was only afterwards that we learned that it was beneficial to ditch one tank for the whole operation and take a fifth damage dealer instead, in order to be able to beat dps checks like this one more reliably.

The second boss, Watchdog, is again reasonably fun mechanically and probably the most complex of the bosses in a non-obvious way. There's a lot going on with colours and bombs and stuff that doesn't immediately make sense, though it's quite fun once you understand what's happening. Apparently my ops team misunderstood the mechanics so badly the first night (while going in blind, without having looked at any guides) that their instructions to us on the second night were to "intentionally blow up the grenades" which led to all kinds of hilarity. We only wised up when a member of another team listened in on us and kind of went "WTF are you doing".

Lord Kanoth is probably my favourite boss of the operation, and not just because he shares a name with an old WoW buddy of mine whom I could amuse a bit by telling him that he's now a raid boss in SWTOR. The room just before the boss gives sufficient explanation of how to handle the Nihrot spread and it's a fairly intuitive mechanic that allows everyone to contribute to keeping the battlefield clean. There's also a lot more going on with the details of how Nihrot spreads that we didn't really pick up on and that I only learned from looking at a guide later on because it's not really essential to fully understand on story mode, and I actually appreciate that.

Finally, we have Lady Dominique, my personal nemesis, but aside from the annoyances of her burn phase, she's a pretty decent fight. On an intellectual level I like the attempt at using verticality in an environment that isn't circular like Soa's room or the machine in Temple of Sacrifice, but I also main a Commando so I can't claim that it's super fun to be knocked down at regular intervals and then having to slowly leg it back up to the boss while everyone around me insta-leaps to her. (Tonight I played as Scoundrel and having Trick Move made that part so much more bearable.)

Which just leaves the story of the operation, and to be honest that's something that's not great either. I've always loved it when SWTOR's ops convey a little narrative, but when they mess it up it's pretty awkward. The first time I remember feeling that way was in Ravagers, where there's this big twist happening in the middle of the last boss fight which is only conveyed through a voice-over that is easy to miss over the sounds of battle and it was just so confusing the first time. However, the worst example to this day remains Gods from the Machine, the ending of which is just a big ball of confusion, what with you killing Scyva but then she's immediately alive again and on your side now, somehow.

I had high hopes for R-4 in that regard since Dxun's story was so good and funny and this one was supposed to be a sort of follow-up, but something clearly went a bit awry somewhere. Cal has a much more detailed post about it on his blog, but in a nutshell, you start with ARIA speaking in a deep voice pretending to be someone else, then speaking in yet another voice pretending to be a third person (I think?), then suddenly being back to being her usual chirpy self, and then going "yes, it's me" and none of it is really tied together narratively. It's not as big of a deal as in Gods, because at least the dead don't come alive again and switch sides randomly, it's just this low-key itch of confusion that follows you through the whole instance. I'm fine with a bit of mystery and not knowing everything, such as ARIA's motivations or who exactly EVE is, but that part felt like it was supposed to tell us something but then just didn't make sense.

While trying to research whether I was missing something, I learned that apparently there was evidence of a fifth boss called Lord Valeo on the PTS, whose fight was supposed to take place on a train (similar to the first boss in Crisis on Umbara), and I wonder whether his inclusion would have shed any more light on what's going on with ARIA, but I could only find some deleted voice lines for the boss himself, not any potentially cut intermission content. I guess this is just going to be one of those "what could have been" mysteries of SWTOR.

All-in-all, I've got to admit that I've found R-4 somewhat disappointing. There's some good stuff in there and it might still have a chance to redeem itself if they do some re-tuning soon, but at the current rate I suspect it's just going to be one of those places that people avoid most of the time because the fun parts just aren't worth the required hassle.

12/08/2022

A History of Story Mode Ops Difficulty

One of the downsides of playing the same MMO for a really, really long time is that you're likely to see certain bad ideas get repeated after a while. I'm guessing this happens because by a certain point you've probably been playing longer than some devs have been working on the game, so that they don't have the same context and experiences with the whole of the game's history as you do.

If you're a content creator like me, you also have the "bonus" of having receipts, meaning you can refer back to old blog posts and go "yep, this was already a bad idea back in 2012, and we said so at the time too". This might sound like it should be satisfying, but in practice it's honestly just deflating to constantly have to repeat yourself and wrestle with the same issues over and over again.

The specific subject that has made me think about this in the past two weeks is the difficulty of story mode operations. When SWTOR came out back in 2011, many people burned through the available raid content really quickly, complaining that it was both too easy and that there was too little of it. This was not my own experience, since I took my time levelling and didn't step foot into an operation until February 2012. And when I did, I loved it. We didn't kill Soa on our first night because everything was so new to us, but even then I noted that he was "still not too bad" and two weeks later I reported that my guild had cleared both EV and KP on story mode.

Explosive Conflict released in April, and I didn't write about clearing it on story mode until the beginning of June, noting that "story mode feels considerably overtuned". For people who weren't around back then this might sound a bit weird if you only know the operation in its current iteration, but back then, a lot of the mechanics that now only exist in veteran and master mode were also part of story mode, plus the gear requirements were pretty tight. Still, I didn't mind too much at the time and I had fun. It was a different time, and we were all still figuring things out - including Bioware. (I'll just say that my complaint from that post that "with 1.3 not containing any new raid content, PvE endgame will be a bit dry for the next couple of months" seems hilariously quaint in hindsight.)

My first experience with Terror from Beyond was a bit messy since it came out around the time that my first guild fell apart, meaning that my first visit there was a semi-pug and we only got two bosses down, but even then I noted, "the people who had told me that Terror from Beyond was a return to easier story modes were not wrong."

When I got to run Scum and Villainy for the first time in April 2013, I once again loved it. We only killed five out of the seven bosses during my first night, but that seemed to be down to the unusual length of the ops more than anything else.

When the two Oricon operations were released in October 2013, my first runs of them, into which we mostly went blind to allow ourselves to be surprised, were amazingly fun. I wrote about my first trip to story mode Dread Fortress (which we cleared in one evening) in this post and commemorated my first trip to Dread Palace with a short video called "Dread Palace in less than 100 seconds" which mostly involves a lot of giggling and squealing and finishes with one of my guildies going "best op ever".

It was as if Bioware was incapable of creating an operation that I didn't love at first sight - until the Shadow of Revan expansion that is. My post about Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice was called "New Ops: Good Stuff, Needs Some Work" and primarily for one reason: the difficulty. "Sword Squad and the Underlurker in Temple of Sacrifice were probably the worst in terms of requiring both a high damage output as well as flawless coordination. These are not bad things... for a hardmode. But for story mode, which is meant to be the easy way of seeing the content, easy enough that you can do it in a moderately competent pug, this is an absolute killer."

I also still recall my first night in Temple of Sacrifice very vividly, because I still remembered the fun we'd had clearing the Dread ops for the first time and started recording our run initially... However, after several wipes on Sword Squadron I turned the recording off because fun levels were plummeting through the floor and I didn't really want to create any lasting negative memories of that night (as it turns out, that didn't entirely work). Underlurker was eventually nerfed, and significantly at that, though Sword Squadron can remain a bit of a pain in terms of damage output.

This is when the dark times of no new group content additions for several years began, and I later wondered whether it was a coincidence that this came about after these two operations. When we finally got our first new operations boss in the form of Tyth in April 2017, I noted while looking back: "I still think less of Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice to this day due to their awful initial tuning, which hasn't actually been adjusted all that much even now, not to mention their propensity for pointless red circle syndrome. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if those two operations were at least partially to blame for Bioware's decision to not add any more of that type of content for a long time - raids that unfriendly towards both casual players and mid-level guilds can't have boasted particularly high participation numbers."

As for Tyth himself though, I was once again in love, and why? "When I first went in with my guildies to kill him on story mode, he absolutely melted. [...] "That was way too easy," I heard some guildies mutter, but I was wide-eyed with delight. That's exactly how story mode should be to an over-geared, organised and well-practiced group, or else it will be a killer to pugs. In fact, I'm sure there are pug groups wiping on him even now. And that's okay, because this game isn't about always succeeding at everything on the first attempt. But he should be well within reach of even casual players sticking their noses into a story mode for the first time, and that's how it should be."

The piecemeal releases of later bosses in the same operation had me a bit more sceptical in terms of their difficulty tuning, but Izax was pretty cool. I particularly gave Bioware credit for managing to create a fight that was both very involved but still casual-friendly by employing a little trick: "My favourite part of Bioware trying to make this ridiculously long and initially somewhat complicated fight more casual-friendly without neutering the basic mechanics is that while the encounter is active, the cooldown of all combat resurrections - which is usually five minutes - is reduced to thirty seconds. What this means is that the devs could allow certain mechanics to kill people without frustrating the whole group by enforcing a wipe. As long as you still have control of the fight overall and your healers/res-capable damage dealers are on the ball, you can allow people to fall over and get them up again a ridiculous amount of times. The death still teaches a lesson, leaving the victim with another repair bill and probably feeling slightly sheepish, but things keep rolling and remain fun for the group as a whole." Sadly this mechanic broke at some point and has remained unfixed for years as far as I'm aware, which has made the fight considerably less casual-friendly in later patches.

With the release of Onslaught we got the Nature of Progress operation, for which I had a lot of praise again, though there were a few criticisms too... one of them once again - surprise, surprise - the story mode tuning: "Story mode is no Gods of the Machine for sure (thankfully!), but fights like the two gauntlet bosses still require an amount of co-ordination that I wouldn't expect to find in your average pug. This strikes me as a shame as it once again means that the content will remain inaccessible to many more casual players even on what's supposed to be the easiest difficulty, which is particularly sad considering what a fun operation this is."

There is a very clear theme in all of this: I like my story mode operations to be easy. I think the name story mode more than implies that it should be easy, with its primary purpose being to allow people to see the story. It's okay to have some mechanics that can kill people, and there's nothing wrong with some wiping while you're still figuring out basic mechanics and/or if you're in a pug, but a co-ordinated group of guildies on voice chat should surely be able to breeze through without any major issues and while having a good laugh.

I understand there are incentives for devs to make even story mode somewhat more difficult, for example to prevent people from rushing through the content too quickly, or because it's much easier to sell people on the idea of nerfing something that's initially too hard than the other way round. Though honestly, I've never ever felt bad about an operation supposedly being too easy on story mode. Easy is fun and inclusive and allows for a bit of silliness.

Also, first impressions are important, and if an operation gets a bad reputation early on, it can put people off for a looong time. Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice aren't viewed as particularly tough after some nerfs and almost eight years after their introduction, but Gods and Dxun are still places that people avoid due to them feeling like too much of a hassle even on story mode. Dxun story mode was actually nerfed pretty considerably with the launch of 7.0, but it took months until people even started to notice because they just reflexively didn't even want to spend as much time there.

Why am I telling you all this? Because by this point, ten days after 7.1, I would have expected to give a brief summary post of what the new operation "R-4 Anomaly" is like, but my regular ops team - used to raiding veteran and master modes - still hasn't been able to kill the last boss on story mode after five nights. We obviously get the mechanics by this point, but we just can't meet the dps check and get overwhelmed by adds at the end. As the fight takes about ten minutes, it's particularly "fun" to go through all that over and over again, just to then wipe with the boss at 0.3% health. It simply overshadows everything else I might have had to say about this new operation.

I'm sure we'll get there eventually, even if it's by sheer luck, but either way it hasn't been something I would call a fun experience. Plus for me it's extra frustrating that I've basically been telling Bioware to not make freaking story mode ops so hard for a freaking decade, and yet here they are doing it again, worse than ever. I just don't understand.

08/08/2022

Digging Deeper - Story Thoughts

Aside from dailies and a new operation, 7.1 also gave us a little story update called "Digging Deeper". For an intermission-style addition I considered it quite meaty, seeing how it clocks in at about half an hour (assuming you watch all the cut scenes) and actually takes you to several different locations. What I've seen of the reception so far has been pretty positive, but for me it's been more of a mixed bag to be honest. I by no means disliked it, but I also didn't really love it. Let me explain.

First though, let's have a quick summary of the story's events - including spoilers! We start with your character flying to Elom with Kira and Sana-Rae since Kira had a bad feeling related to the place. In the ruins where you captured Malgus you get an update from your recovery dig team, which essentially comes down to them being none the wiser about what any of the relics were about.

Suddenly Kira has a flash of recognition when getting close to a specific relic, leading her to have the epiphany that Darth Nul was a child of the Emperor (not literal, but like she was). The team also notes that of the original Republic expedition to Elom, only Sa'har's fate is unknown, meaning that she could still be alive and be able to offer a hint about what Malgus was up to. In the meantime you're advised to go back to the fleet and try talking to him again, since it's not like you've got many other leads to pursue.

We cut to a view of Sa'har standing over some dead bodies and freeing her brother Ri'kan from a cell, seemingly thinking that she saved him from slavers. However, he is not at all happy to see her, and the people cut down by Sa'har appear to have been Mandalorians. After she sobs and apologises, he doesn't really soften to her but suddenly seems to have an idea about "someone who can use you".

Next we find ourselves back on the fleet in Malgus' prison. You send away your advisors and try to talk to him alone, which is initially met with silence, until he suddenly cracks briefly to taunt you about how foolish you are for not even recognising that Darth Nul was none other than the creator of the children of the Emperor, and that his "vision" will come to pass no matter what you do.

You share this intel with your team on Odessen and they also have an update for you as they found an audio log from Jedi Master Denolm Orr (Sa'har's master from the cinematic) in which he admits to being a former child of the Emperor himself. He also brings up the holocron that Sa'har got away with. Finally, you receive an update from or about whoever you sent to that unknown planet that we all thought was Elom in the last update before 7.0. If you sent Arcann he'll tell you that it's a weird place and that he found some ruins he can't enter due to overwhelming Force energies. If you sent others, Sana-Rae will tell you with concern that the expedition has gone silent. You can agree to send her in for support or not.

When you return to where your ship's parked on Odessen, in order to meditate or clear your head, you suddenly receive a holo call from Shae, who tells you that she has finally found Heta Kol on a planet called Ruhnuk but that she'll need support as the opposition is stronger than she anticipated. We cut to a shot of Ri'kan introducing Sa'har to Heta Kol. Heta welcomes them with a smile while some of her Mandalorian underlings look on somewhat sceptically.


As you can tell, a lot actually happens in that half an hour. That's definitely one of the things I do like about this update: It manages to move the story forward in important ways, primarily by adding more context to the events of the LotS cinematic and by tying the Malgus arc to the Mandalorian storyline. I also like how many secondary and minor characters make reappearances, such as Kira, Sana-Rae, Talos Drellik (though I wonder who greets you if you never bothered to do his Alliance alert), Master Gnost-Dural, General Daeruun, Darth Rivix and Colonel Golah. Plus many of the cut scenes have cinematography that makes for some great screenshot opportunities.

Nonetheless I came away feeling rather unsatisfied after my first playthrough of this story, and while I repeated it on my alts I tried to pin down what was bothering me. My first instinct was that there weren't enough conversation choices, but I actually counted them and I think for the overall length of the update, 15 to 20 conversation wheels are fine.

However, the whole thing still just felt too passive to me anyway. While the plot advances somewhat, your character has zero agency in any of it. Everything's just other characters telling you what new information they have or haven't found, and you not being able to do anything about it. You get to look at the relics on Elom but don't really learn anything useful, and it's Kira who has the epiphany about Darth Nul.

The Malgus interrogation scene, which feels like it should be an important moment for your character, seems to go exactly the same way no matter which options you pick, in that he doesn't really respond to anything you're saying, meaning it doesn't feel like you really did anything clever to make him reveal himself; he was just getting bored I guess.

Other subjects that come up and feel like they could potentially be important, such as what to do about Sa'har and the holocron, or what's happening on that planet you may or may not have sent Arcann to, just get kicked further down the road. Ultimately there's a lot of talking going on, but your character isn't really doing any acting beyond listening to what everyone has to say, and that was a bit disappointing to me for half an hour worth of story. In that much time I was really hoping to feel like I was doing something, not just be on the receiving end of a big info dump.

Also, is it me or is there just too much vague stuff going on in the story at the moment? There are all these relics of Nul of which we don't know what they're for, Sa'har has a mysterious holocron, Arcann and Sana-Rae are potentially exploring another planet full of mysteries, Scourge also went off on some mystery mission of his own... I don't know about you, but I've kind of gone from being intrigued to feeling a bit lost and like I don't know what's important anymore because there are too many things going on that are all mysterious in kinda samey ways.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts. Check out Chash Larol's review for a different take. What did you think of this update?

04/08/2022

Manaan: Dailies With a Story

I've said many times that I'm not a huge fan of dailies - and 7.0's new gearing system has forced me to do way more of them than I usually would, to be honest - but I was still looking forward to the new daily zone on Manaan. It's always nice to get new content, and dailies are one of those things that Mr Commando and I can still do together in these days of all main story updates being pure solo content / personal to your character.

After one full round of the new area on both Republic and Imperial side, I'd say the jury is still out on whether this is going to be a place I visit more regularly or not. Cal was surprised that the new dailies offer neither daily currency nor tech fragments, but I think that's intentional - at this point, people are going to do the area for its sheer novelty and the new reputation anyway. I'd expect Bioware to rebalance the rewards to make them more equal to other, existing daily areas eventually, but for now I get it if they don't want to over-incentivise this new content.

Just in terms of general feel I got the impression that I had to do a fair amount of running around, but I wouldn't be surprised if we all came up with our own, more efficient ways of going about things after a while. On the first night, Mr Commando and I started by fighting our way into a cave for a heroic and back out again, ran around the little "island" doing other missions and then found that we had to go back into the exact same cave at the end. There's definitely ways that can be planned out better.

What was most interesting though was that Bioware decided to add a little story to Manaan. The overall feel of the narrative reminded me a bit of the old planetary storylines - less personalised and centred on your character, but adding some life to the planet and context for what it is you're doing in each area. The dailies are immediately available without doing the story, but if you pick all of them up at the beginning, you'll be able to complete them relatively synergetically alongside each step of the storyline.


Bioware also did something that I've seen in WoW before (and I wouldn't be surprised if other MMOs did this too) by having the story reward you with extra abilities that only work on Manaan. After each step you're allowed to choose between two types of gadgets, including different AoE damage abilities, a reflective shield, a self-heal, a speed boost and even a stealth field generator, if you haven't already picked a stealth class as one of your two combat styles. These should make subsequent runs of the daily area a lot easier without otherwise unbalancing the game. Very neat.

I'd say the only downside is that the production values for this side story were clearly very limited, because not only does it use the KOTOR-style dialogue in which your character stays silent (which I'm fine with for side quests), but every single character speaks some form of alien gibberish, which I'm less keen on. It's particularly annoying when they radio you updates out in the field - this is something that makes perfect sense when characters speak Basic, as you can just listen to what's being said without disrupting your gameplay, but when it's all Huttese or Selkath or whatever, you've got to stop what you're doing to bring up the right chat window and scroll back to read the translation of what they said, which is a lot less fun.

There are also some small oddities in the flow of the dialogue which make me think that Bioware originally intended for story progress to be gated by time or reputation. On Republic side this is reflected in your two contacts standing right next to each other in the same room, while occasionally conversations end with something like "No idea where X is right now" just for the immediate next step to be to talk to X two steps to the right. The Imperial story is even more obvious about it as your contact will tell you to come back later because he needs time to do something or other, but then the conversation just continues after a brief fadeout anyway.

Anyway, overall I consider this little story addition a win, and the dailies seem alright, with nothing sticking out as particularly efficient or awkward at first blush - we'll see how they hold up over time.

02/08/2022

Let's Look at 7.1 Patch Notes

At the time of writing this, patch 7.1 should already be deployed, but I'm not in a rush to log in as I have some other plans tonight. (Plus to be honest, based on past experience I always like to wait a bit with logging in after a major patch, because servers going down again within the hour after Bioware discovered some urgent problem is something that has happened more than once.)

In the meantime, let me start out by giving the obligatory shout-out to Blaugust, the annual event to celebrate blogging of all kinds during the month of August. If you're a blogger yourself, it's a great time to get some additional exposure for your blog. If you used to be a blogger and have fallen off the wagon, or you're someone who writes a lot of comments and has been thinking about maybe starting a blog of their own, it's also a great opportunity to get help with all aspects of (re-)starting a blog as well as have other people provide additional motivation. Finally if you're just someone who likes to read blogs, Blaugust is a good opportunity to cast your net a bit wider and find new blogs to follow! You can find the spreadsheet with the list of all participants here.

I signed up again myself, because while I don't make much use of the prompts and my overall blogging rhythm doesn't change because of the event (I was never one of those who aspire to blog daily throughout the month), I figure that with the big patch releasing today, I should have plenty of things to talk about over the course of the next couple of weeks.

I wanted to start with the patch notes because while I don't always post about these, we've been waiting for 7.1 for what feels like ages, and it's become quite a sizeable patch as a result, so I thought it would be fun to pick out some of the (to me) more interesting patch notes that might end up being drowned by sheer volume otherwise.

There are of course the big ticket items like the new story update, the Manaan daily area and the new operation, but I'm kind of surprised that "class balance" is included on the list of "highlights", considering that the listed class changes really don't look like that much of a big deal to me. Some classes are receiving small nerfs, and dps Commandos/Mercenaries are being buffed a little, all of which might help a bit with the considerable class imbalances we've had to deal with since 7.0, but at least on paper none of the changes look major to me.

I'm also kind of amused that they have a whole sub-section in the patch notes for Galactic Season 2 - you know, that event that ended last month - meaning we have notes about objectives being fixed alongside another note saying that they can't be progressed anymore because the season is over. The latter should've really kicked in when the season actually ended several weeks ago, but in typical Bioware fashion the objectives disappeared from our trackers just to keep popping up whenever we did something relevant anyway. I also kept finding Syndicate Plans everywhere even though they were supposed to be discontinued... but now they are officially supposed to drop again, at which point I wouldn't be surprised if they suddenly stopped dropping after all, just to be confusing. It's all a bit of a mess if you ask me, but at least of the harmless kind.

There is some good stuff though! I'm surprised they're actually launching Nar Shaddaa Nightlife alongside all the content coming with 7.1, considering that it's served as "filler" in the past to tide us over periods of no new content, but for that it's kind of late this year! Then again, it's August now and it's meant to be a summer event, so I guess they didn't have much time left to launch it without going into autumn. I don't have the greatest history with this event, but I did say last year when I couldn't get the shades I wanted that I'd try again this year, so there's that!

Rested Experience now correctly increases when a character is logged out in a rest zone.

This is a small bug that was really bugging me during my Season 2 exploits on other servers (no pun intended), because while levelling is very fast anyway, I just enjoy having rested experience and I hated that I could never get any.

Improved the visibility of the materials received in the Deconstruction window.

This is another one of those little things that was sooo annoying - basically hardly being able to see what you got whenever you deconstructed something. Glad it's finally being addressed.

Fixed an issue where Tacticals of players with 15 empty inventory slots were swapped with ship equipment or sent via mail when changing Loadouts.

This was quite a funny bug! I don't think I ever actually equipped ship modules in my Tactical slot, but sometimes when I changed loadouts, certain parts of my ship would just randomly land in my inventory. Other guildies had bigger problems with this... but I mostly thought it was amusing.

The currency tab no longer shows the PvP Season Tokens if the player does not possess any.

I hope that'll also apply to all those other old currencies that have been taking up space on the tab since 7.0... don't spoil, I'll find out soon myself.

Players wielding two weapons can no longer unequip their main hand weapon while being polymorphed.

This one just had me go "WTF" and not just because "polymorph" is WoW lingo and I can't really think of any in-game effects that this description would apply to... If you know what this about, please do tell me!

Fixed a texture issue on the Apprentice Pummeler’s Greaves MK-2.

This one just stood out to me because it's those exact legs my knight was wearing in the screenshot I posted here.

Restored the Legendary Implants color scheme for readability.

Fun fact: I actually had a guildie complain about the lack of colour consistency on the legendary implant icons big time, while I didn't even understand what he was talking about at first. Helpful that they changed it now I guess.

Players can no longer select a Flashpoint from the Group Finder window if they already have a mission for the same Flashpoint at a different difficulty level.

Not sure this is really going to solve all the confusion around the way these difficulty level missions work, but at least it should get rid of the situation where someone would get queued up for a flashpoint but then be unable to actually enter it, without understanding why.

The Exit Area button now appears on the mini-map when the player is inside a Flashpoint.

The button never actually went away, but see, I was wondering why they removed the words "exit area" so that only players who already knew what it was could really use it. It being removed in error in the first place makes a lot more sense.

Reduced the health of all encounters across all Operations and in all modes.

This is like the biggest change to put into a small patch note ever. For the next few days my guildies and I will obviously be busy running the new operation above all else, but I'm very much looking forward to seeing what this change does for all the crazy high dps requirements we ran up against in a lot of master modes since 7.0. There's also "Damage done by enemies has been reduced in all modes." for both Gods from the Machine and Nature of Progress.

The Ugnaught Leader in Blizz’s recruitment Mission, “Little Boss” is no longer too difficult to defeat.

I haven't done that mission in a while, but was that really a thing?

The following Missions now reward Tech Fragments for players above 75: [WEEKLY] The War Front, [DAILY] Zero Tolerance, [DAILY] United We Stand.

As one of my guildies put it: "OK, but can we actually pick up the quests between level 71 and 79, Bioware?" Because that has been an issue since 7.0... once again, I'm curious to find out, but I know that changes to the rewards of a mission that you can't actually pick up wouldn't be that useful.

Defeating The Eyeless during the Rakghoul Resurgence event no longer grants credit for the "Activity Finder: Socialite” Conquest Objective.

RIP easy Conquest completion during Rakghoul Resurgence. To be fair, we all knew this was a bug and it wasn't a big deal, just another one of those funny quirks, that killing this boss counted as being "super social" and instantly completed two Conquest objectives at once.

Do you have a favourite minor patch note that I didn't list here?

23/07/2022

Daily Tour: Ziost

Since 7.0's push to make us do dailies every week in order to keep upgrading our gear, Ziost has become one of my favourite daily areas. The (almost) complete lack of combat is particularly handy because many of my most-played characters are healers. And yes, I know that with the introduction of loadouts I could switch them to dps at the click of a button, but some characters are just not meant to be damage dealers, you know?

The responses to my Oricon daily tour post showed me that it's possible to tackle the same daily area in quite different ways, but with Ziost in particular I kind of wonder how much wiggle room there really is, considering that there's no quick travel point and the mission with the speeder takes you along a predefined path from the bottom left corner of the map to the top right.

The way I do it is, I start by checking the camp just outside the landing zone for remains to scan, since there's usually a bunch there... but as seemingly everyone else does the same, it's not unusual for all of them to be gone already. It's not a big deal either way, as there are plenty more of those particular clickies around the zone, and it's not unusual for me to finish this objective before any others.


Around where you see the tip of the first arrow outside the base on the above map, I tend to stop and use my binoculars, as you can scan three of the five points of interests in one go from there. I believe there's an even more optimised point where you can reach four at once, but I haven't really felt the need to try and find it, as the other two scans can be done more or less "on the way" anyway.

I then make my way to the broken down speeder and peek out on the east side of that area to perform my fourth scan. I've found that just outside that area is also a good place to get two to three of the crashed probe droids. From my experience those are the closest thing to an objective that can cause issues if there are too many people in the area at once, so I prefer to get as many of them out of the way early as I can.

Next I take the speeder for the mission and ride it up to the north-east corner of the map, where I also perform the last of the five scans. On my way back down south I try to pick up any remaining probe droids, but that's the area where things can get competitive sometimes. I then go into the phased area for the mission with all the holograms, and once I'm done I come back out and return to base to do the final hand-in there. (Sadly that one's been a bit buggy since pretty much forever, but if you get stuck with a speech bubble and no progress, just quickly log out and back in again and that usually fixes it.)

It's a pretty tight daily route that I didn't value very much at release as it rewarded nothing of interest to me, but with 7.0 equalising all the daily areas to give the new daily currency, it's probably more relevant now than it was at any previous point in the game.

18/07/2022

7.1 News and Big Changes at Bioware

I was just pondering what my next post on here was going to be when Keith actually dropped a proper "game update" on the official website. There are two major parts to it - one: We actually have a date for 7.1! It's going to launch on August 2nd. And two: After sixteen years, Charles Boyd is leaving Bioware.

I have to admit the latter was quite a shock to me. It always feels good when our MMOs have consistent leadership, and Charles was one of the people who provided that for SWTOR. He famously penned the original trooper story, which I know isn't many people's favourite, but I main a trooper so... come at me! I also suspect that him taking over as Creative Director at the end of KotFE played a major part in the overall narrative becoming more stable after KotET. I mean, people have different opinions on these things, but whatever criticisms I may have had of Bioware sometimes, I very much liked the overall narrative direction of the game throughout the last few years.

All that is without even going into the way Charles was present on social media and at conventions, always batting for the game and making it impossible to not be excited when you listened to him talk about whatever update was supposed to be coming up next. MMORPGs involve a lot of people, and it's rare that we as players really get to associate a name and face with a specific feature or direction, but Charles was definitely one of those rare creators that really stood out. I wish him all the best wherever he goes next.

As if to forestall some sort of "OMG, Charles is leaving, we're doomed" reaction from the fanbase, the news post then also takes a moment to remind us who's still there to take care of the game and who'll be taking over from Charles. No new Creative Director is mentioned, but it sounds like the closest people to his role will be Narrative Director Ashley Ruhl and Lead Writer Caitlin Sullivan Kelly. Ashley appeared in a recent developer talk at this year's Star Wars Celebration, which Swtorista posted on YouTube, and Caitlin has been responsible for writing some recent-ish story updates that I really enjoyed, such as the Secrets of the Enclave story for both factions and the Imperial Manaan arc. So while Charles' departure leaves them with big shoes to fill, at least they're not complete unknowns.

Personnel changes aside, while I'm happy to hear that 7.1 finally has a release date, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed by the complete absence of any sort of acknowledgement of or explanation for how long it took to get us here. I can understand if Bioware doesn't want to engage with the more toxic and demanding parts of the fanbase directly, but it seems pretty obvious that the game's big anniversary hasn't really gone as planned so far, so some sort of comment on that would have been nice I guess?

However, it looks like their strategy is to continue to carefully avoid talking about the elephant in the room while hoping that it will simply go away if they continue to not look at it for long enough. One can only speculate that whatever it was that caused everything to be delayed quite so badly was either some sort of massive internal screw-up that's too embarrassing to talk about, or some sort of corporate interference that they're not allowed to comment on. (Former SWTOR content creator Kid Lee certainly had some interesting opinions on the latter on Twitter.) Whichever it is, it means that we as the player base remain largely in the dark about what exactly is going on at Bioware beyond generic reassurances that things continue to chug along. Let's see how 7.1 will pan out.

13/07/2022

Slow Mode Legacy of the Rakata

My guild hits the large Conquest yield target with ease nowadays, even during the most quiet of times, but our smaller Imperial alt guild isn't so lucky, meaning that sometimes, it falls on me and other loyal members to actively grind out the missing points on Sunday or Monday evening to get us over the collective finish line.

Last Monday was one of those days, and after doing some dailies and completing the PvP weekly, I noticed that I was on four out of five for the "Socialite II" objective. I decided that completing it by doing a flashpoint would be a good way of hitting my personal target on one more alt, and consulted my spreadsheet to decide whom to take out for a spin. I eventually settled on my Powertech tank and queued up specifically for Legacy of the Rakata, since she had the Forged Alliances story mission for that one.

Being a tank, queueing for master mode resulted in an instant pop (even though it was quite late) and I loaded in to find myself grouped with a Mercenary, a Sorceror and a Scoundrel healer. "I just did this one five minutes ago," opined the Sorc. I replied with "Sorry, I actually queued for this one in specific" and earned the text equivalent of a "grinning squinting face" in reply.

We got on our way and I noticed on the very first trash pull that things were taking quite long to die. Some of the trash groups in this flashpoint have an elite healer in them, and while I interrupted him as much as I could, it felt like we could barely out-dps the heals that were getting through. On the next pull, I actually ended up loading up Starparse, something I rarely do in flashpoints, to see whether I was just imagining things or whether the numbers were going to back me up. It showed both damage dealers barely breaking 10k dps on an AoE pull, and me even overtaking one of them temporarily. Not just my imagination then.

I didn't say anything to the rest of the group of course, because I consider that kind of thing quite rude. We simply continued on, just very slowly as it were. The first boss in Legacy of the Rakata always takes pretty long to die, even with a good dps group, so with this one it took absolute ages. I didn't look at the clock, but I had a lot of time for random musings while tanking the rancor with my back against the wall.

I wonder if this guy has an enrage... if he does, we're sure to find out!
I wonder if there are people who would quit over this or try to kick someone... based on the tales guildies tell about their pug experiences sometimes, players certainly get removed from groups for less.
If he didn't keep knocking me out of position every so often, forcing me to refocus, I could have read a book by now.

As it turns out, Warchief Rehkta and his Savage War Beast do not have an enrage, and eventually they died. We moved on once again. I was definitely feeling a bit bored by the (lack of) speed by then, as it was late and I had hoped for a relatively quick run, but at the same time it wasn't the worst tanking practice to rotate through every single one of my defensive cooldowns on every pull. I had noted that the healer was the worst geared member of the group, with an item rating of only 318, but they held their own pretty well.

"Wanna do the bonus boss?", the Sorc asked. God no, went my brain, but what I actually typed into chat was: "Sure, if people want to do it I don't mind." We had skipped so much trash however that we hadn't unlocked him yet by the time we moved past his little bunker, so we just had to proceed towards the second boss, Commander Rand.

I was always under the impression that this guy's add phases were tied to his health percentage, but in this run I learned that there's also a timer, so if you're too slow he'll go into another add phase even if you haven't got him that low yet. I think he was only at about half health by the time we got the third round of adds, but as it turns out, he doesn't bother to summon additional waves after the third one either way. The more you know...!

We'd made it all the way to the last trash pull before the final boss when the bonus objective completed to unlock the bonus boss. Just forget about it, I told myself, nobody will want to go back anyway... but I'd said that I was willing to do it! I had to at least ask one more time, in case people were too shy to make any requests of the tank. (Tanks have so much authority, I tell you.)

"Did you want to go back to do the bonus boss then?" I typed into chat. The Sorc expressed enthusiastic assent and immediately turned around. I remained where I was and looked at the other two. They didn't reply but eventually turned around to follow the Sorc as well. That was that then.

Back at the Infinite Army Prototype's little bunker, we engaged in a brief tactics discussion to ensure we were all on the same page in regards to breaking line of sight behind one of the pots whenever he did his big AoE. Staying in and healing through it was obviously out of the question, but I wanted to make sure that everyone knew and agreed on what to do.

Then I pulled... and it didn't go well. As expected, damage was massive (the fight is tougher on the healer than on anyone else in the party) and we died fairly quickly, I think it was shortly after the first AoE phase.

After we'd revived and while we were running back, I said that I was willing to try again, but that there was no shame in not being able to do this boss, considering how much damage he did and that our healer was the least geared member of our party. "Nah, we can do this!" the Sorc replied. The healer just said that they were going to try their best.

And on the second try... we killed it! Much to my surprise. It was messy (we got multiple womp rats, and the Merc further reduced their damage due to constantly running away and getting yanked in again, even after both the Sorc and I typed out in chat that it was best to just stand behind the boss as one doesn't get pulled from there), and it did take what felt like forever - over seven minutes according to the combat log, during which we took 11 million damage. Turns out this guy doesn't have an enrage either, so just not dying was enough to eventually get there. I congratulated everyone on a job well done and then we proceeded to the last boss.

I'll admit that Arkous and Darok were another fight that I was a little worried about due to their damage output, and my health bar did indeed behave like a yo-yo for most of the first phase, even as I desperately cycled through all my cooldowns. With my guildies we always used to kill Darok first due to the fact that he has a random aggro table and can't be taunted, but I noticed that this group focused on Arkous instead. I didn't complain though, seeing how I was struggling to not die while tanking him, and I thought of how the Sorc had said at the beginning that they'd completed this same flashpoint earlier, so they kind of had to know what they're doing?

Indeed, after Arkous' death, things seemed to get significantly easier for a while, and I realised why - Darok decided to focus on Jakarro at first, and with a friendly NPC soaking up much of his damage output, our healer had an easier time keeping the rest of the group topped up. Unfortunately the good times eventually came to an end when Darok changed his mind and had a go at our healer instead - who kept themselves alive for admirably long, but eventually succumbed to his onslaught. Fortunately the boss was already pretty low by that point, so that the rest of us were able to finish him off before he could get us down too.

And that was that! I was pretty shocked when I looked at the time and nearly one and a half hours had passed. For a flashpoint run with only a single, quick wipe, that's incredibly long - by my standards anyway. However, we'd all stuck together and made it through in the end, which was the most important thing. And I guess the reason I felt compelled to write about this run was that it was also a reminder to myself to not get too hung up on things like dps when it doesn't really matter, as it was ultimately a good run and in fact I learned a lot too.

09/07/2022

Josh Strife Hayes Takes on SWTOR

Josh Strife Hayes is a popular MMO YouTuber and streamer whom I've been following for a couple of years now. Looking at his back catalogue, he spent several years trying different angles from Let's Plays to guides to personal vlogs, seemingly struggling to find a wider audience, until he struck gold with his "Worst MMO Ever" series, which - despite the clickbaity title - is a thoughtful and light-hearted exploration of the wider genre.

As I said, I've been watching his stuff for some time... though I refused to subscribe (or may in fact have subscribed and then unsubscribed again at some point) due to him having some very bad takes on SWTOR. Or rather: that's how I remember it going down. Having watched his most recent video on the game, that memory doesn't really add up and I wonder whether I didn't get him confused with somebody else at some point. I went ahead and (re-)subscribed now either way.

Anyway, last week YouTube pointed out to me that Josh's "Worst MMO Ever" series had a new installment... about SWTOR. Now, to reiterate: he's in no way saying that SWTOR is the worst MMO ever, or even that it's bad - the title is pure clickbait. He justifies it by saying that he's trying different games in search of the worst MMO ever, which did make some sense in the early days when he was mostly covering very old or unfinished games that really were bad in variety of different ways, and which made me appreciate just how much work must have gone into the MMOs I play for them not to have all these problems. However, more recently he's been covering more mainstream games that are actually pretty good, so the title doesn't really have much of a connection to the content anymore.

I was therefore somewhat torn between being really curious about what he was going to have to say about SWTOR and worrying whether it was going to be harsh and unfair, due to those aforementioned (confused?) memories. Of course I went and watched the video right away anyway. And I needn't have worried.

Overall, Josh actually had a pretty good time (as I would've expected in this context!) and his criticisms are all fair, even if I don't necessarily agree with everything. E.g. he started as a smuggler and found that he quickly grew tired of that story as he didn't really care about the events his character got entangled in. Specifically, he felt that it was all too reactive and he actually would've preferred to play as Skavak, the guy stealing ships and treasure and being chased by everyone, instead of being the person chasing after him. That's a fair take, but my experience with the smuggler origin was the complete opposite, in that I thought the early smuggler story was extremely good at making me care and at motivating me to keep going. (Revenge!) Likewise, I would've most certainly been displeased if my character had been cast as a thief by default. Smuggling is not the same as stealing.

I think the two most pertinent criticisms he raises are the multitude of small random bugs you're likely to encounter in the game (animations glitching out, character falling through the floor, a flashing icon that can't be clicked away, a mission requiring a relog because an NPC disappeared etc.), to which I can only say "yep, I hear you on that one" and that the new player onboarding experience basically consists of nothing but walls of text.

The latter is something I'd been low-key wondering about for a while, but I hadn't really had a chance to see how bad it really is. While I acknowledge that a modern game should strive to do better than making you read pages and pages of what's effectively a manual, I'm generally someone who doesn't mind reading. More importantly though, I also don't remember ever being flooded with pop-ups the way he is in the video. Some of it is probably simply the fact that I've "grown up" with the game - I do remember occasionally seeing a couple of new pages of tutorials after a patch that added a new feature for example, but obviously getting all of that content spread out over the course of ten years is a lot less disruptive than receiving a massive info dump every time you level up.

However, I also saw some people in his comment section claim that the tutorial didn't used to be like this, which makes me wonder whether some of it wasn't actually patched in until a later date, but I honestly don't recall ever noticing any major changes to the system. An admittedly cursory internet search didn't yield details about a specific patch changing the tutorials either, other than KotFE updating the system for characters jumping straight into the content of that expansion.

Either way, I agree that it's not well-done at all, though I suspect it takes a very special kind of player to get as entangled as Josh did, reading a tutorial pop-up about the activity finder while questing on Ord Mantell and taking it as a cue to immediately stop doing what he was doing and queue for solo mode Esseles (which then led to - justified - confusion on his part when he got ejected on Carrick Station, while technically still stuck on Ord Mantell in terms of story). I suspect that in general, players are more likely to just ignore these pop-ups, or look at them very briefly before clicking them away, and then just look for help if they find themselves getting stuck or confused by something specific.

Some of this was definitely better done in the game's earlier days, with the story leading you to the Esseles naturally after you'd travelled to Carrick Station and were told to take a shuttle to Coruscant for example. However, I can see how that also conflicts with the game's desire in later years to reduce friction caused by certain systems and wanting to get people into and through the content they want to focus on faster and more easily. It's an awkward balance to strike, but it could definitely be done better. (Josh actually released a video called "How to Design a Tutorial" only a few days later... not hard to see where the inspiration for that came from!)