16/06/2022

Galactic Season 2 Complete on Star Forge

Two down, three to go! I'm honestly quite proud of finishing Galactic Season 2 on Star Forge after first doing so on Darth Malgus. It's one thing to split your time to make progress on multiple servers simultaneously, but I'd hardly done anything anywhere else yet when I finished up on Darth Malgus, so I basically completed the season twice, without using any of the buyout options, almost consecutively. I wasn't actually sure there was enough time for that in the season.

As previously established, I currently have three characters on Star Forge: my Cathar Commando, who was my first max-level character not on my main server (several expansions ago though), a Gunslinger and my new Shadow knight created after the combat styles update. Unlike in Season 1, when conscious use of low-level characters could actually be beneficial and give you easier objectives, this season was definitely all about the higher-level characters, and as such Cathar Shintar undoubtedly did most of the heavy lifting and is the reason I managed to complete the season on Star Forge before any of the other servers, even though I started paying attention to them around the same time.


I did play my alts on Star Forge a bit when it was convenient, such as when there was an objective to complete a certain number of missions as a specific origin story, but my "main" in this context definitely earned her position, from running featured flashpoints to doing dailies. In the process, she hit the new level cap, completed the level 80 implant quest and earned enough tech fragments to buy her first legendary implant - hardly an amazing achievement, but not bad as a mere "side effect" of doing seasons objectives.

Another benefit of this is that I'll now be able to join friends for easy endgame content on Star Forge if an opportunity arises, as I know a number of friendly content creators who have their home on that server. (Intisar for example sent me some ship parts to improve my space combat experience after I talked on Twitter about having done one too many Fondor escorts recently, the on-rails space mission for complete beginners.)

As for the other servers, I already know I won't be able to reach level 100 there without using the buyout option for at least a few levels. Bioware helpfully put out a post detailing all the objectives for the last few weeks of Season 2, making it easy to plan ahead. I'll completely miss out on week 19 due to being AFK in real life, which means that I'll have exactly one week left after my return to earn some final points. While it'll be a good week with many easy objectives, a bit of maths tells me that even if I earned the maximum amount of points for that week, I'd still end up 6-18 levels short on the other servers.

I've also been told that you can't buy out the last five levels or so with credits, so I'll just have to make sure to do my credit buyouts immediately upon my return and then just do a few more weekly objectives on each server to cap. What a ride!

11/06/2022

Looking Forward to 7.1

I'm in a bit of a funny place with SWTOR at the moment. I was rather disappointed with the expansion launch after Bioware had splurged on our first CGI trailer since KotET and had previously alluded to Legacy of the Sith containing "LotS" of content. Unlike others, I didn't really have any major issues with what was there, but I didn't like that half of the intended launch content was effectively cut out and postponed until later.

This was almost four months ago now, and we still don't have a launch date for 7.1, just a vague target of "mid-summer". If I were to bet on it, my money would be on the 5th of July, because that's when Galactic Season 2 ends; and the datamined schedule for the ops rotation that someone posted in our guild's Discord a few months ago also cuts off the week before. Bioware better have some kind of plan to drop an update around then, because if not we'll just end up with awkward bugs again if nobody remembers to update the schedule for certain events. I also think that around then would be a good time to reactivate Nar Shaddaa Nightlife to be honest...

Despite of the objective lack of content, I've been keeping pretty busy in game. The new gearing system is neither significantly better nor worse than 6.0's was (in my opinion) but it was different and something to do. I still haven't crafted a single gold augment because I keep spending all my tech fragments on implants for my alts and could probably keep doing so forever, but in my experience diminishing returns set in after a while when it comes to the fun of gearing alts.

Running ops with my guild has been enjoyable - we currently have three different progression teams, something I'm not sure we ever managed before, and it's been decent fun so far, but the brutal tuning of the legacy content and newly introduced class imbalances are starting to take their toll. We're basically scrambling to find master mode bosses that are realistically within our reach with the people and gear that we have, just to pass the time until the launch of the new operation.

I've been making some story progress on alts too, though I soon fell into familiar patterns in the sense that I pick up an alt and go "hey, I'd forgotten how fun this is to replay, I should do this more often", but then I get another alt into the exact same content and kinda go "ok, it's too soon to do this again right now" and then I become a bit aimless.

Galactic Season 2 has been super fun and as I wrote before, working towards the goal to complete it on all servers has been quite demanding and takes up a lot of my play time right now. Sadly my progress would be kind of disjointed and not very exciting to write about, what with the constant starting and stopping on different servers, and doing the exact same weekly objectives four times over. I do plan to do a sort of summary post about my experiences on each server at the end, and I'm excited to say that I can see the light of the tunnel on Star Forge at least, where my Season level is up into the nineties.

How are you passing the time if you're still playing right now? Or are you taking a break until the new content drops?

03/06/2022

Imperial Saboteur, Part 2

Continued from part 1!

I completed the rest of the Onslaught base story on my saboteur agent and there were some interesting things to see. However, first I'd like to note that I also did a round of dailies on Onderon and was quite surprised when I realised that one of the daily missions has a cut scene with a different outcome if you're a saboteur! It's the one that tells you to hunt down a Republic assassin, and to be honest I always wondered why the end of that took place in a phase, considering that you just kill him (usually). However, if you're a saboteur, you get to talk instead of attacking straight away and you have the option to distract the guards to help him escape! How cool is that? Now if only the quest giver had remembered that King Petryph wasn't alive in my playthrough anymore...

As for Mek-sha and beyond: There are a couple of opportunities to randomly be nice to people aligned with the Republic, which generally didn't strike me as a wise thing to do in public, not to mention unlikely to actually achieve anything, so I didn't always choose those options, except to try out the concept on Tau, to whom my character said something like: "You have nothing to fear from me, Jedi". I think her reply was something along the lines of: "We'll see about that".

When you infiltrate Junker Jott's base to steal the schematics for the failsafe, you can intentionally leave evidence of what happened, which results in Anri's diversion at the end being less successful. At least I think that's how these two things were connected... it wasn't entirely clear to me what Anri's diversion being less successful actually meant in practice.

I didn't get to find out because I chose to commit maximum sabotage again by simply not triggering the failsafe and pretending that it just didn't work.

Darth Malgus doesn't go ballistic on Darth Shaar during the debrief at the end the way he did on Savik, so I chose to actively throw her under the bus by saying that her whole plan was bad when Malgus asked me about what I thought went wrong. It was fun to see Shaar get pretty mad about that, though Emperor Vowrawn downplays the whole thing when you talk to him later.

I already felt that my sabotage on Onderon was pretty suspicious, but having a second mission in a row fail in the exact same way - because I mysteriously couldn't press the right button when left in a room on my own - made things even worse, so I was pleased to see that at least Darth Malgus seemed to agree. He sent me a pretty angry letter afterwards in which he asks: "How is it that you, who have accomplished so much, display such incompetence?" Good question, Malgus; very good question.

In the run-up to the attack on Corellia, you can try to sabotage Krovos' proposal to bomb civilians on the other side of the planet by suggesting that she's hiding something, but it doesn't work. (Good on you, Krovos.)

During the actual attack on Corellia, you see the consequences of your sabotage on Onderon and Mek-sha, as the Imperial fleet struggles and several ships get blown up before your strike team can make it to the surface, which I thought was another neat difference compared to the very successful assault that loyalists get to experience.

The Objective Meridian flashpoint goes the same as always, with Malgus being back to talking nice to you. It struck me as kind of amusing that the ending with you escaping without displaying any concern for your fallen companion - something that always struck me as a bit weird - is something that actually makes sense for a saboteur. I mean, Malgus was obviously on to me, so good riddance to him!

At the end of the flashpoint you do actually get to choose again whether to do what the Empire wants or make the whole mission a failure. I did the latter, though this also made it the third time in a row that I mysteriously failed to press the right button when left to my own devices so I don't know how the Empire can continue to put any faith in me at this point.

Jonas Balkar actually gave my agent a holo call right in front of some Imperial guards just before I was about to meet the Dark Council and nobody batted an eyelid. You can chide him for calling you at a bad time and he responds that calling during the actual meeting would have been worse. That's a false choice, Jonas, and you know it!

Watching the Dark Council play blame games with each other about who was responsible for the mission failure was admittedly quite amusing, though it's once again surprising that the finger doesn't get pointed at your character more directly. One thing of note was that while Vowrawn talks about reinstating the Hand, he didn't ask me to return the Alliance to the Empire as a whole - though Lana kept making comments later as if he had.

In the chat on the fleet afterwards, Theron is actually very angry that so many civilians died on Corellia and questions the point of being a saboteur if we can't do more to prevent this kind of stuff. In the in-person debrief with Jonas later, you can also ask whether you can join the Republic properly now, and he's kind of evasive about it and says that you're more useful continuing to be an undercover agent - I can't say I'm entirely convinced by that argument. He does introduce you to Master Sal-Deron via holo, however.

I also had a note here saying ,"Why does Anri still admire me so much?" because she only met me on Ossus and I've done nothing but mess things up for the Empire since then. I guess she might still have been impressed by my character's prowess in combat.

All in all, Onslaught has some pretty interesting content variations for saboteurs - in fact, I found out while doing some reading up on the subject that there's an additional variant if you agree to become a saboteur at the beginning but then always choose not to sabotage at the crucial moments, making you a sort of triple agent... oh god, does that mean I need to take another character through this to see that dialogue?

I also have to say that your character's not really a very convincing saboteur here and I don't think it's great storytelling for the most part, as your repeat failures are just too obvious - you kind of have to tune out any concerns about realism at that point, and just agree to roll with it for the fun of seeing how much the game will let your character get away with while still praising you for how amazing you are. The question is whether that will actually end up going anywhere.

29/05/2022

A Season for Everything

I mentioned over a month ago that after completing Season 2 on my main server Darth Malgus, I started engaging with the whole season concept on other servers. What started with making characters just to log in and score free points, gradually progressed into actually playing them regularly and has now become a personal obsession of mine. Last week I actually completed all daily objectives plus the maximum amount of weekly objectives on all servers.

Truth be told, it's becoming a bit stressful to keep up with, which is kind of ironic, because one feedback I had about Season 1 was that while it was kind of fun, it was also a bit much to keep up with all the daily and weekly objectives next to my "normal" gameplay and I definitely felt like I needed a break after three months of that. I greatly welcomed the changes introduced with Season 2 and how they eased the pressure to play in a very specific way every single day.

However, I guess in a way it ended up being almost too easy for me, which led to the notion that making some additional progress on other servers might be a nice challenge. In this roundabout way I've taken myself almost back to where I was in Season 1, where trying to keep up with my objectives every day was actually a bit much. I guess I'm a glutton for punishment.

It is fun though. It's been enjoyable to revisit some low-level content that I haven't played through in a while, and playing on Leviathan and Tulak Hord in specific quickly highlighted how many of the weekly objectives expect you to have a higher-level character or else you can't even access the relevant content. Because of this, hitting level fifty on my characters there has felt like a huge milestone, as that's where you unlock access to the reputation objective which is good for earning a huge chunk of Conquest points quickly, and it's also when you're first able to access some sort of endgame content, since level fifty was the game's level cap at launch (those were the days, am I right).

When I first started investing into seasons progress on other servers I said that "I won't get close to completing the season on any of these servers", but at my current rate, reaching the end of the track doesn't actually seem completely out of reach anymore. On Star Forge in specific I might actually get there naturally (since I had a high-level character there from the beginning, my progress was faster than on the other servers), but even on the others it doesn't seem completely unfeasible that I might be able to get close, and buying out a few levels with credits could do the rest.

Now, the credit buyouts get stupidly expensive very quickly, and I don't have a lot of money on any of these servers, but as noted previously, the Cartel Market effectively allows access to a lot of credits quickly if you know what to buy for re-selling. It's not something I felt comfortable doing in order to buy gold augments, but financing a few levels of season buyout is a different matter - you can do that by using Cartel Coins directly anyway; buying and selling Cartel Market items in order to then go the credit route just makes it a lot cheaper in terms of real money value.

A few weeks ago a guildie highlighted that the black/black dye module was the daily Cartel Market deal of the day, which meant that it was on sale for half price (500 CC), and noted that this item is something that both sells well and is valued at up to a billion credits. So I took that opportunity to buy one module on each server, and assuming that I can sell them, even if it's for less than a billion, that should finance any amount of credit buyout I want to invest in, and without spending the thousands of Cartel Coins the direct buyout would require.

At the time of writing this, there are 36 days left until the end of Season 2, and my progress looks as follows:

  • Star Forge: season level 73
  • Satele Shan: season level 60
  • Tulak Hord: season level 53
  • Leviathan: season level 51

I know I'll miss some days at the end of June as I'm going on holiday for a bit, but with the credit buyout serving as a backup plan I'm not too worried about that causing any issues. Fingers crossed!

26/05/2022

PvP Ups and Downs

I stayed up late this past weekend, running warzones on the US servers for the weekly season objective, and as the hours went by, I found myself getting quite philosophical about my PvP experience.

In terms of gameplay, SWTOR's unranked warzones are the most fun PvP I've had in any MMO I've played. Even with the annoying desync issues on certain maps, the way abilities work allows for a lot of fun combos. Balance isn't perfect (is it ever?), but it's good enough most days, and matches are set to last just about the right amount of time. The map variety is great and provides an interesting selection of objectives.

However, by its very nature, PvP also promotes a certain amount of friction, and it doesn't take much to tip the balance in that area to the point where things start to feel bad. People shouting insults at each other over who's responsible for the team losing. Bad matchmaking making you feel like you never had a chance. Just... generally annoying situations like that one guy from the enemy team deciding to pick on you all match.

I think that in general, I have a pretty good temperament for PvP because I'm usually not quick to anger. I'm not going to pretend that I don't experience moments of annoyance, but compared to some of the types of characters I regularly encounter in PvP, it takes quite a lot for my mood to turn sour. And even at my worst moments, I've learned long ago to not let outbursts of anger control what my fingers do to my keyboard. I might shout at my screen in frustration, but never at my team mates. That kind of thing just never helps anyone.

However, in recent months it has sometimes felt to me like my mood was tilting towards the negative in PvP more quickly than before, like it took less to make me feel bad and I generally wasn't getting as much enjoyment out of the game mode as I used to. I was starting to wonder what I ever saw in it.

And then this weekend came along and it was glorious. My win-loss ratio wasn't so bad, but more than anything I had some of those moments that remind me of why I do love PvP in this game. There are certain moments, usually when I find myself in a tight spot, where time slows down, the adrenaline starts pumping, and I'm completely immersed in the game in a way that's hard to achieve even in the most intriguing story update or challenging operations fight. In those moments I see my character almost like the protagonist of a movie, with key moves happening in slow motion.

My Commando healer backed against a wall of the southern bunker in Novare Coast, fighting a losing fight, until she's finally the last woman standing and all guns turn on her... when I hear a Juggernaut's roar from behind me, a Guard bubble surrounds me, and my freshly respawned team mates descend upon the enemy like the Rohirrim on the orcs in Helm's Deep.


Me running along the bottom ramp in Huttball and making it about halfway across the pit, when the enemy team finally notices me and comes for me. I know I don't have the cooldowns to continue and survive the final stretch, so I desperately look around for someone to pass to - I throw the ball just before an enemy has a chance to stun and push me, and a Sentinel gracefully hits Transendence and speeds into my target circle in time to catch the ball and whisk it over the finish line.


My lowbie Guardian in an only partially filled arena match on Tatooine, two of us vs. three of them. Somehow we manage to get the upper hand anyway and whittle down two of them before my partner dies, and then it's just me vs. a Marauder. He manages to run out of sight and get out of combat, so I quickly heal myself up (knowing that he's doing the same) before we meet again in the middle of the arena. Sabers clash, he runs and I chase, we both chain cooldowns and go down at a roughly equal rate, I can feel my blood pumping - and then I land the killing blow and we win. (When the same Marauder ended up on my team in a follow-up match, he congratulated me on the good fight, and we enjoyed kicking ass against a common enemy this time around.)

Yeah, this is what I'm talking about.

22/05/2022

SWTOR's Endgame Is Alts, Not Gear

It's been a while since I ran into a piece of content about SWTOR that inspired me to write a direct response to it, but yesterday morning I found a video called "SWTOR Endgame... Why Has EA Let This Happen?" in my YouTube recommendations.

It's by Bellular, who I believe is best known for making videos with clickbaity thumbnails about WoW and other MMOs. The actual content of the videos tends to be much more mundane than the title suggests, and this was the case here too, as I think a more accurate summary of the twenty-minute video would be something along the lines of: "I tried SWTOR's endgame and found it quite disappointing". He does mention that he thinks EA doesn't seem to be supporting the game enough, which is where the title comes in, but that's only really a small part of the video.

Clickbaity titles aside, I think it's a solid piece of content and I don't really have any major criticisms of it. He's not wrong when he points out that keeping players busy at max-level mostly seems to revolve around running the same old content over and over, and I was honestly quite happy to hear someone else point out how crappy GSF is at communicating to players what's happening to their ships in combat, something I also wrote about a few years ago.

I did however take some issue with his conclusion that SWTOR wasn't really suitable for being someone's "main" MMO, seemingly based on the unspoken premise that engaging with an MMO in-depth must mean focusing on a single character, doing some sort of max-level grind, and expecting a steady stream of more of the same so that your single character's progression rarely comes to a halt. I'm not saying I wouldn't love for Bioware to be able to put out more content faster, nor that I think people are wrong if that's how they like to play. In fact, if you're the kind of person who really does just want to focus on a single character and who thinks that the real game starts at the level cap, I fully agree that SWTOR probably isn't for you.

Because SWTOR is and has always been a game about alts. It launched with eight unique class stories, and you better believe that the devs didn't intend for you to only play one of them! Playing alts in SWTOR isn't some kind of side activity that you engage in when you've hit a bit of a lull with the "main" game - it is the game!

I thought it was very telling early on in Bellular's video when he talks about being a bit put off by what he saw at max-level and says: "I'd rather do another origin story, one I haven't done before... but that wouldn't be too fair." I'm not sure how playing the content that seems like the most fun to you, the content that the game is focused on making interesting, wouldn't be "fair". I guess because he considered levelling an alt a lesser form of gameplay? Or thought that you can't compare different ways of keeping busy in different MMOs to each other?

I know we've just had a new expansion (for better or worse) that raised the level cap and gave us new gear to grind for - and yes, that is an activity that exists and that people engage in. However, I think it's important to understand that this isn't SWTOR's "real" endgame. Throughout Onslaught, we stayed at the same item level of gear for more than two years! Improving your gear is something to work on for a few weeks or months throughout the entirety of an expansion, but then you're done with that and it isn't the main gameplay for people who consider SWTOR their main MMO.

I think it's safe to say that most people who consider SWTOR their online home level alts, and not just a few of them. Most long-time players I know have literally dozens of different characters. And when new story content gets added to the game, it's not necessarily just a matter of seeing it once, but of taking all your alts through it to see a number of different variations. And again, I get that this isn't for everyone, but in the same vein grinding out a completely new set of gear every few months isn't for everyone either. (I sure don't have the stomach for that anymore personally.)

Fittingly, the same day I saw the Bellular video and started writing this post, I ended up watching a video by Swtorista called "All My SWTOR Characters", in which she introduces viewers to her entire alt stable on Star Forge (presumably she has even more characters on other servers). It's nearly an hour long, so that should give you an idea! I really loved it though, and not just because it was interesting and funny, but also because I saw a lot of similarities to the way my own alts are organised: There are the mains who have a backstory, have seen lots of play time and have lots of different outfits; the also-rans where there's not as much going on, but there's usually still some kind of story attached to each one, whether it's that you levelled that character with a friend or created it as part of some crazy project. Finally there's "the rest", including many characters that just exist because you didn't have that particular species-class combination yet and wanted to try something different. This is the kind of thing that keeps people coming back to the game, and I do think SWTOR provides an excellent playground for it.

19/05/2022

Imperial Saboteur, Part 1

Ever since Jedi Under Siege introduced the concept of loyalist vs. saboteur (the faction switch on Iokath was treated as more of a one-off before that), I've been curious to see the saboteur story options for myself - problem was, all my most advanced characters in terms of story were pretty loyal to their faction and I couldn't see any of them going down that path.

So I've slowly been chipping away at progressing more suitable saboteur characters through the story as a sort of side project... and the other week I finally reached the crucial point on my Imperial agent Corfette, the Sniper who became a double agent for the Republic during her class story - is there a more natural fit for the role of Imperial double agent?

What follows are my impressions of this path up to the end of Onderon, so consider this your spoiler warning for that content.

First off, I gotta say that it felt a bit odd to return to the Empire as a saboteur after openly siding with the Republic on Iokath. Paradoxically it actually felt better to return to being an Imperial loyalist after betraying them on Iokath on my bounty hunter, whose loyalties were always a bit questionable and for whom Iokath had been a somewhat impulsive decision based on a dislike for Acina's scheming and being in a relationship with Theron at the time.

On my agent however, who had previously been assisting the Republic undercover, Iokath was almost a sort of "coming out", and to then go back into the Imperial closet so to speak felt weird and like my old faction would obviously be suspicious of me now.

Incidentally, on Nathema I was confronted by the former Watcher Two, who did not look kindly upon my involvement with the Republic, despite of everything I'd done for her on Rishi.


Anyway, so the start of Ossus felt a bit awkward, but it seemed easy enough to slide back into the old agent patterns, what with Darth Malora expressing distaste for my character and the option to commiserate with Major Anri about the moods of Sith superiors.

I'd previously been told that Ossus wasn't that different for a saboteur vs. a loyalist and I would say that's broadly true. The bonus mission at the start is to sabotage the Imperial fighters instead of giving them a boost, and when it comes to the Jedi farming data, you tell Major Anri that it's not really your focus while secretly passing it on to the Republic. The main events stay the same however.

Interestingly, the wrap-up at the end sounds very pessimistic compared to the optimism a loyalist gets presented with, with the implied justification being that your small acts of sabotage made the whole mission way too costly. However, it doesn't really feel different, because the base still gets shot up by a Republic attack either way and the damage doesn't look any different as far as I could tell, even if it gets talked about in very different ways.

During Hearts and Minds, I told Theron about my saboteur status and he actually commented: "So it's true what Shara said on Nathema", which made me squee except that I thought it was it a bit odd that Theron would be on a first-name basis with my former Imperial colleague whom he saw exactly once.

I was also happy to choose the saboteur option for the speech at the end of the mission, which was pretty hilarious in that you're not saying anything that's obviously meant to be detrimental towards morale, you just come across as being absolutely abysmal at giving speeches. After the repeated air punching while yelling "Empire!" over and over again, you're basically quietly escorted away, and Doctor Oggurobb sends you a message in the mail later to suggest having you checked for Geonosian brain worms. (Nice reference!)

Onslaught starts with your character being involved in this little space battle, and I was pleased to see that as a saboteur, you don't end up killing the Republic fighter you're engaged with but let them get away.

The mission on Onderon initially goes exactly the same as on a loyalist, what with ingratiating yourself with King Petryph and enlisting the aid of the Untamed. But then! When you're at the point where you'd usually use the cannons in Iziz to shoot down the Republic fleet, you can pretend that they're not working. (Your character gets a very over-the-top smirk on their face as they do this - you won't survive long as a saboteur if you make faces like that every time you successfully perform some sort of sabotage! I just thought it was funny.)

Savik frets but doesn't panic quite as much as I would have expected and tells you to at least get to the throne room to help King Petryph. And here I got the opportunity to just shoot him and leave Senator Nebet be, which is exactly what I did! To be honest this is an option I've kind of wanted to have even on my loyalists sometimes, simply because it seemed like it could be useful to capture a Republic leadership figure that isn't a complete idiot.

Then I got back to base and Malgus absolutely lost it with Savik for failing, going instantly into remote Force choke mode, at which point you get the option to suggest whether you think she should be allowed to live or die. I really liked this choice as you could argue that either one can make sense for a saboteur: You can position yourself as a voice for moderation and potentially earn Savik's favour for the future, or you can simply let her be offed and be happy that there's one less Sith in the galaxy. I chose the former option here.

I gotta say the saboteur options on Imperial Onderon felt extremely satisfying and I was quite surprised that they actually allow you to blow the whole mission this time. You'd think that might make the Empire suspicious... but I guess from the point of view of the NPCs you aren't "the player character who never fails at anything" but simply another person who's fallible to some degree... plus you were just following Savik's plan, right?

I'm looking forward to what more there is to see. Continued in part 2!

16/05/2022

The Big Decision

Almost from the moment combat styles were announced as Legacy of the Sith's big new feature, I was pretty sure that they weren't for me. I tried to think of some ways that I could potentially make use of this new option, but it was honestly a bit of a struggle to come up with use cases for myself. I didn't think that it was a bad idea by any means; I just wasn't really the target audience. I like to lock my characters into specific play styles, and if I want to play in a different way, I just change characters.

So the expansion came out, people around me changed combat styles left and right, and I did nothing. All of my characters stuck to their single combat style and that was that. However, I'd be lying if I claimed that I didn't think about the process at all, especially in the context of running operations with my guild and watching my fellow raiders swap frequently between tanking and dps - or melee and ranged dps - on the fly. The closest I came to doing something similar myself was to switch to healing on my Scoundrel on some nights... but as I noted previously, the new way in which Bioware has decided to handle the weekly ops missions encourages you to not change characters for any boss as it leads to you missing out on mission credit and rewards.

So as the weeks went by, I started mulling over my options. I became increasingly convinced that I'd have to choose a second combat style eventually, at least on my main - but what to go for? In my post from last year I was considering Mercenary, and while that would have had some RP value, it wouldn't have added any practical utility. Looking at the reality of my day-to-day ops experience, I figured that I was looking at either Vanguard or Scoundrel, with each one having its pros and cons.

Vanguard:

Pros:

  • Would stay true to the trooper origin as it's the original second combat style option for troopers.
  • I would actually get some old abilities back that Commandos used to have before they were limited to Vanguard only, such as Stockstrike and Pulse Cannon!
  • Since a Vanguard's roles are tank and melee dps, it would enable my main to truly become a jack of all trades.
  • From my experiences on alts, I quite enjoy Vanguard tanking and dps at least in casual content.

Cons:

  • In terms of practical use, I don't think I've ever been in a situation where we wanted to have one less healer but one more tank, and in terms of dps we tend to have too much melee already anyway.
  • It may sound wishy-washy, but I never considered my trooper to be the sort to face-tank things. It just seems a bit out of character.

Scoundrel:

Pros:

  • Scoundrel healing is incredibly overpowered right now, to the point that having or not having one can make a big difference to how doable a fight is, and my progression team doesn't always have someone else wanting to play that role, so me being able to swap can be very useful.
  • Scoundrel is at least somewhat adjacent to the trooper archetype, since I remember Elara Dorne being pretty much a Scoundrel healer when she first joined your squad early in the game, coming with a blaster with Cunning on it (the old smuggler stat) and a very similar ability set.
  • Cut scenes always show tech users wielding a single blaster pistol anyway, so it's kinda canon that my trooper has and uses one already.
  • Having access to stealth is handy in many situations, both when soloing and in small group content.

Cons:

  • Considering how unbalanced Scoundrel healing is right now, I wouldn't be surprised to see it get nerfed soon, at which point I'd be "stuck" with just having two different healing styles, somewhat reducing the usefulness in ops.
  • Wearing medium armour just isn't as cool.

Late last night I finally made my decision and launched the mission to choose a second combat style for my Commando. I hadn't looked into what to expect from that experience at all, so I was kind of pleasantly surprised to find that there was a little "mini story" attached to the process, similar to the little conversations you used to have on the fleet back in the day to choose your advanced class.

A GSI droid being your "trainer" is a bit odd but works for all tech classes, and I liked how you could ask it for a little demonstration of each combat style which then shows you a mini cut scene of your character pulling off some moves typical of that combat style.

So the deed is done - I thought of titling this post "Going Scoundrel", but that would have given the game away from the start! I can't really see it changing the way I see my trooper though, because I still vastly prefer the Commando healing play style in groups - it'll just be nice to have the option to synergise with my fellow healers better where appropriate without switching characters every time.

12/05/2022

Pugging on Tulak Hord

It's been a while since I had a good pug tale to tell! However, as part of my efforts to work my way through Galactic Season 2 on servers other than Darth Malgus, I've also found myself running some veteran flashpoints there. I was curious whether there were going to be noticeable differences in "pug culture" among servers, but so far I haven't really noticed anything particularly remarkable... except for the fact that both of the veteran flashpoint runs I've had on the German server Tulak Hord have been weird AF.

First my levelling Commando healer got into an Esseles with three level 80s, two of whom were in a guild together. I can't say that I loved getting that particular flashpoint as my random at that point in time, but whatever. I expected everyone to start space-barring immediately, but the first conversation lasted suspiciously long... I was starting to wonder whether people on this server were just generally in the habit of watching the cut scenes when someone asked to skip after all and I was like: "Ahh, of course!"

The request was met with a sort of partial compliance, as conversations seemed to pass noticeably faster but still took a while, as if someone was watching at least a few lines play out every time. In general, everyone's behaviour just seemed ever so slightly odd. Aside from the initial greetings, only a few words were said in chat that made absolutely no sense to me and which made me wonder whether someone was drunk or I was missing some important context (such as the guildies talking to each other in guild chat).

At points there was some erratic running around as if people didn't know where to go or really wanted to have a closer look at the scenery. I suppose it could've been some people's first time, though I'd consider it slightly unusual for a group of 80s to have never done the Esseles. At one point the guy who wasn't in the guild with the others initiated a vote kick on one of the other two without providing a reason. I voted no and it failed due to insufficient votes (I didn't think the other guy was going to vote to kick his guildie either).

We made it through the instance without any real issues, but the slightly off-kilter behaviour made me glad to be out of there. I figured that it was just a weird group as you just get them sometimes on any server and that hopefully my next run on Tulak Hord was going to be better.

Spoiler: It was not!

This time I got into Mandalorian Raiders with a group of levellers: a Guardian tank in his 20s, an Operative in his 30s and a Vanguard in his 50s. The Guardian and Vanguard were in the same guild. I saw the group makeup and instantly realised that a group of levellers was going to make things slower and more challenging, but at the same time we had both a tank and a healer (me) so it should still be relatively easy, right?

It immediately became apparent that the two guildies didn't really know where to go, though the Operative seemingly did and tried to lead the way. On our way to the first boss the two guildies ran off into random side rooms on two occasions that I didn't even remember existed, and we could only just prevent them from doubling back entirely. I was already noticing that dps seemed low and that I was getting aggro on a fair number of mobs but I didn't think too much of it yet.

That changed when we got to Braxx the Bloodhound and not only did I end up tanking him for most of the fight, the fight also took forever. As I was running in circles clicking the kolto stations and bemoaning my life choices to Mr Commando (who told me that I only had myself to blame), I started looking a bit more closely at what my group mates were doing and noticed that the Guardian had a permanently filled focus bar - he wasn't using any abilities other than his basic attack! I also found myself wondering whether the boss was going to hit some sort of enrage eventually because of how long we were taking, but the answer seemed to be no. He eventually died after more than seven minutes - longer than many ops boss fights.

On the next few trash pulls I noticed that the Operative's energy bar was also barely moving, and that he spent his entire time shooting from range with his basic attack (for those not in the know, Operative is a melee class).

On the enemy boarding party encounter I ended up tanking most of the mobs yet again, and by the time only two of them were left alive I got sick of it and started kiting them around one of the containers in the room to reduce my damage taken. Fortunately it wasn't that high anyway, but I didn't see why I should just stand there and let them smack me in the face just because nobody else was doing anything resembling tanking. Sure, it meant that the others had to run in circles behind me too, but it's not as if they didn't have the option to actually take aggro...

Between the second and third boss there is this one section where you cross a bridge and on it there are two patrolling droids as well as several adds that can spawn in depending on where you enter combat. I watched with some horror as my clueless proteg├ęs pulled absolutely everything and then the two guildies jumped or fell off the bridge onto the level below as well. I just stood there and healed myself while the Operative did some meagre dps from range. Eventually the other two, who had survived the fall on low health, managed to run back up and rejoin us. I thought it was a minor miracle that we didn't wipe, though the Operative got downed towards the end.

And so it just continued for the rest of the run. Another memorable moment was when we went down the big lift and I found myself wondering whether I could perhaps make things easier for myself by crowd-controlling one of the three silver mobs at the bottom... but nope, as if the rest of the group had read my mind, they fanned out perfectly to each engage one enemy on their own and duel it to death in the slowest way possible.

I guess one good thing about terrible damage dealers is that them not knowing the tactics for the last boss didn't wipe us, because while the two guildies did attack the boss initially, their damage was worthless and they did listen to the instruction to focus on the turrets eventually, so that we did not trigger any premature jumps.

When we finished I felt both relieved and oddly giddy that we had actually made it through somehow. I'm not sure that group would've made it very far without a healer (aka me) or at least an otherwise very strong and competent player carrying them through, but we'd succeeded, even if it had been an extremely slow and in parts quite painful journey.

I just hope that pugs on Tulak Hord aren't always like this...

06/05/2022

Levelling from 75 to 80

Adding five more levels to the level cap whenever a new expansion comes out seems to be one of those things that SWTOR just does at this point, but as much as I like levelling in general, I do have to wonder a bit about the purpose of those extra levels nowadays. Levelling is generally so fast that you'll hit max level long before you run out of content, so it doesn't feel like the extra levels are there to preserve some kind of pacing or anything.

Legacy of the Sith has really kind of highlighted the absurdity of it all because the amount of story content added wasn't really that much, yet Bioware still had to make sure that it would cover five levels, even if people stealthed past most of the trash mobs and didn't do the bonus missions. As a result, each completion of a story mission on Manaan gives an absolutely absurd amount of XP - even without having any sort of XP booster active, several of my characters actually jumped up two levels at once when handing in a quest.

My main hitting 80 at the end of Manaan.

For characters who were fully or mostly caught up with the story, this has meant that levelling from 75 to 80 is both quick and easy. For anyone who wasn't up to at least Ossus or beyond however, it's been a very different experience. In recent weeks I've been levelling some of my alts that were level 75 before LotS but were also at a much earlier point in the story from a narrative point of view, and it's been super weird.

My tanking Guardian Starberry, originally created during the Dark vs Light event many years ago now, actually still had the end of her class story to do. I took her to Corellia and because it coincided with a season objective or two, I didn't just do her class story there, but also the planetary storyline and all of the non-heroic side missions. Then I did the final Jedi knight mission on Dromund Kaas. Then I continued on to Makeb and cleared out two and a half mesas there (again, including non-heroic side missions) before I hit 80.

I know that still working on my class mission at 75 meant that I was very much behind (or is that ahead of?) the game's original levelling curve, but with everything being scaled you should still get decent XP everywhere you quest, regardless of what planet it is, right? So having to do a whole planet worth of quests and then some to get through five levels felt quite odd. It reminded me of the way levelling was paced when the game first came out, and I haven't had reason to reminisce about that in a long time!

As a different example, let's take my Scoundrel Racelle, who hadn't really done any story content since Shadow of Revan. Since 7.0 I did all of Ziost with her, a round of dailies there, and then got her started on KotFE. I didn't really get into the Alliance alerts when those became available, but I did do the introductory mission for Star Fortresses. In addition to those things, it took thirteen and a half chapters of KotFE to make it to 80. That's only about a third of a level per chapter! Then again, chapters giving poor XP shouldn't really be news I guess - I noted as far back as 2017 that I managed to complete all the Fallen Empire chapters without gaining a full five levels on my Sith inquisitor at the time.

For yet another example, my Sniper Corfette was on KotET chapter six when the expansion came out, and made it about halfway through Traitor Among the Chiss before dinging 80, though it's worth noting that this included a fairly extended stay on Iokath during which I did the weekly there about three times. So levelling was kind of speeding up by that point, but still far from fast.

Soon after 7.0 launched, I noticed that a lot of people were looking for ways to speed-level their alts from 75 to 80 if said characters weren't caught up with the current story. Several of my guildies took to running heroics as a group to level up and seemed to be quite happy with the results. I was kind of shaking my head at them initially, considering how fast levelling in SWTOR is most of the time, but after having taken more of my own alts through that stretch I have a bit more sympathy for their impatience.

The most bizarre (to me) outgrowth of this desire to speed up levelling from 75 to 80 has been the "Nathema farm". I quizzed a guildie about it after he kept bringing it up in guild chat and eventually learned that this particular speed-levelling method involves running the Nathema Conspiracy flashpoint up to the penultimate boss, Gemini 16, and fighting her to the point where she splits. Then you kill all her clones and jump off the platform to reset the fight. There are even videos advocating for this.

As far as I can tell the reason this works is because killing a flashpoint boss gives a decent chunk of XP, and for some reason Gemini's clones all reward the same amount as you get for killing the boss herself properly. So every aborted boss attempt counts as killing four flashpoint bosses and it only takes a couple of minutes to reset and do it over.

It's the very definition of degenerate gameplay, something I'm generally not fond of, but at the same time I have to admit I was kind of amused by the irony of all of this happening in Nathema of all places - a flashpoint that hasn't been super popular in the past due to its length and perceived difficulty.

Either way I had no plans to take part in that silliness myself, but as these things so often go, circumstances conspired against me. Last night we had our first social ops run on Empire side since 7.0, and someone raised the question of whether it was possible to quickly level an Imperial character from 75 to 80 between his return from work and the start of ops, so of course someone brought up the Nathema method. Before I knew it I had another guildie giving me puppy dog eyes about whether I wasn't going to "help" the two of them level their characters for the op (I am leader of the Imperial alt guild after all), so I had my level 75 Powertech tank strap on her helmet and off we went.

Our expedition took about an hour. We didn't have a stealther to skip a lot of the trash as people sometimes do, so we had to clear the flashpoint properly, which took about half an hour and awarded me about three quarters of a level on its own. Then we spent another half hour killing Gemini's clones a few times and by that point we were all 80. I was actually the last to ding as the others seemed to have additional XP boosts active, while I only remembered to pop a normal consumable when we started on the dedicated farming portion instead of at the start of the flashpoint.

Still, it was impressively fast - though this was of course helped by the fact that there's a double XP event happening this week. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed the whole process if it had taken twice as long. As it was, it was a fun little one-time adventure, but I have no particular desire to go back and repeat it.

My Powertech tank dinging 80 in Nathema.

How have you been levelling your alts to 80?

03/05/2022

Force Imbalance

Back in March I wrote a post on here in which I basically gave Bioware a thumbs-up for the way they handled operations in Legacy of the Sith, mainly for the fact that they actually took the time to properly scale them up to the new level cap this time - unlike in Onslaught. I also noted that the content felt incredibly tough at first, but that it seemed obvious that the plan for the long haul was for things to get easier as we geared up, and I was fine with that.

One and a half months later, I feel like I have to qualify that statement a bit. I was fine with the "plan" as it was originally advertised to us, which included the new operation coming out a month or two after Legacy of the Sith's launch and providing us both with new bosses to learn and access to gear upgrades that would allow us to take our power level in the legacy operations up a notch.

Unfortunately, the reality is that LotS has now been out for almost three months and we haven't had any word about as much as a potential release date for 7.1. Raiders have had plenty of time to gear up to the current item level cap of 330, which has certainly helped with making content a bit easier, but truth be told, a lot of operations are still incredibly hard.

Last week my regular team decided to venture into Gods from the Machine on veteran mode, a difficulty setting that we'd cleared with relative ease during the 6.x patch cycle. This time around, we spent hours wiping on just the first boss. When we eventually got him down, one of our tanks commented that the fight had felt a bit like the way it was when it was first released, back when Bioware wasn't planning to ever add a master mode for Gods and intentionally made it quite a bit harder than other veteran modes.

I checked the public logs on Parsely after that and was shocked to find that not a single log for Izax (the last boss of the op) on veteran mode had been uploaded since 7.0. For Scyva, the boss just before him, there was exactly one recorded kill. Now, this doesn't mean that nobody has cleared Gods from the Machine on veteran mode since Legacy of the Sith came out - they might have done it and not uploaded a log after all - but it does point towards the number of raiders capable of doing this content being vanishingly small. And this is the "medium" difficulty for this operation we're talking about!

Now, you could argue that Gods is perhaps a cherry-picked example, as other operations are not as bad on veteran mode and instead have people running into a difficulty wall a couple of bosses into master mode. But regardless of where exactly it happens, it can still be kind of demotivating to come up against these massive number checks that make some of these fights harder than they've been in years. Again, I was totally fine with this being a temporary state of affairs, but the longer we have to wait for Bioware to release the new operation and its new gear tier, the more we run the risk of some people just throwing in the towel out of frustration. Because it's one thing to re-progress old content at the launch of a new expansion, and another to have that same old content actually get considerably harder.

All of this isn't helped by issues of class balance. It's a topic I actually really dislike because I find number crunching quite boring, and I usually don't play at the sort of level where small imbalances make that much of a difference. The problem is that Bioware made major changes to all the classes with LotS, which was pretty much always going to result in worse balance at launch than we've had in a long time - and when you combine this with the highly unforgiving content tuning, more players than ever are going to find themselves in a situation where their preferred class might not be able to do the harder content at all.

Good luck doing some fights without a Scoundrel/Operative healer for example, who can put out nearly twice the AoE healing of a Commando or Sage due to a new, extremely overpowered utility they've been given. The situation is similar for damage dealers - again, Parsely provides some interesting stats here if you look at their numbers for Nefra NiM for example, who functions almost like a target dummy and shows dps Vanguards/Powertechs being able to do nearly twice the damage of Gunnery Commandos. It doesn't really matter on Nefra, but it's not hard to see how on fights with tighter dps checks (of which there are plenty now), you'll have issues if you have people who play classes that do significantly less damage than others.


I know that this isn't really a pressing matter in the sense that it only affects a very small portion of the player base - after all, only a certain percentage of subscribers do operations at all, and an even smaller slice of that group does the harder content. However, Bioware has already decided to commit some resources to ops players this expansion by taking the time to re-tune the legacy operations and giving us a completely new raid (eventually...) - I just don't want them to stumble so close to the finish line by frustrating and losing their audience.

(And on a completely selfish note, as an officer in a long-running guild, I want my loyal ops teams to thrive and have fun, and we're definitely at risk of having certain people run out of patience.)

28/04/2022

Mores Notes From Abroad

With Galactic Season 2 wrapped up on my main server, I've been spending more time playing my mix of ancient and new alts on the other servers. On any day when I have enough time, I currently try to log into each of them in order to at least achieve the 25k Conquest point daily objective. Without any real stronghold bonus this requires some work, but it's not too bad.

However, today I'd like to focus more on my experiences on each server than on my Season 2 progress. I've been finding my encounters there quite fascinating.

Star Forge

Star Forge is probably the server where I've spent the least amount of time recently, simply because I have access to a high-level character there who in turn has access to the reputation Conquest objective, which makes getting the daily season objective done much easier and faster than anywhere else.

I did get a generic whisper and guild invite once though, but declined it because it struck me as too weird. One of the benefits said guild was advertising was a dedicated "military section on Discord" - I know Americans have a reputation for loving their military and guns in general, but is this a common thing? It just seemed very alien to me. A less weird thing they were also promoting was that they were apparently running D&D events, but I still found it surprising to see that as a selling point in a SWTOR guild.

Satele Shan

On Satele Shan, I did not decline when someone whispered my Shadow with a random guild invite, because the tone sounded more welcoming and appealing to me. The guild was smaller and fairly new (it was only guild level seven when I joined), and as far as I could tell they were inviting guildless levellers pretty indiscriminately, but I was still kind of impressed by the amount of effort that seemed to already have been put into giving the whole thing some structure. I've already seen guild messages of the day advertising Imp side events and datacron hunts.

I also played my little Guardian a bit and found that the texture of her trousers had gone missing, making them render an error message in the character window and displaying as bright pink in game. I found a replacement quickly.


I also did some heroics on her when this was relevant to a weekly season objective and was amazed by how much I struggled... I actually died quite a few times! (Note that this is the same character that made me bemoan the mindless ease of SWTOR's outdoor content a few years ago... so I got what I asked for I guess!)

After the first couple of deaths I had a look at my gear and noticed that I was wielding a cosmetic weapon without any mods in it, meaning it basically had zero stats, so I actually made a point of travelling to the fleet and grabbing some level-appropriate modifications from a vendor. This didn't prevent me from dying some more later, but it did make me feel at least a little more powerful - it's kind of wild to me how the new scaling actually gives gear a bit of a purpose even on low-level planets again.

Tulak Hord

It was immediately obvious that the German server is quite a bit more quiet than any of the English-speaking ones. The first time I made it to the fleet (which was admittedly quite late in the evening), the only real signs of life in chat were one guy angrily talking to himself about how some pug had mistreated him (nobody was engaging with that) and another person looking for one more to help them form a casual PvP guild.

The guild guy eventually ended up next to me at a mailbox and whispered me directly to ask if I wouldn't mind helping out, and I didn't, which meant that I soon became a founding member of "The Relentless Justice". The guild message of the day instantly became a long and excited statement about how much fun we were all going to have while still maintaining a relaxed atmosphere, and to please be active and recruit. I thought about leaving right away since I hadn't really meant to join this guild, but decided to stay for the time being, out of curiosity about how things would develop. A bit less than two weeks later and I'm the only person left in there besides the original GM. I wonder if I'll end up outlasting him too...

On a different note, I was low-key delighted to see several references to TeamSpeak in general chat. My own guild still uses TS for voice comms and generally limits Discord to written communications, which people always seem to find incredibly weird when they first join, so I felt oddly pleased to see that TS still seems to be a thing at least among the Germans. Unless it was all a big coincidence and I just happened to run into the two people on the entire server who still use TS over Discord.

The Leviathan

To be honest I was least excited about playing on the French server simply because I don't really speak the language. I had a few years of French in school, but that was more than two decades ago now and it was never one of my favourite subjects anyway. But hey, I've actually been OK saying "salut" and "merci" in groups. (Though I did not respond to the random guild invite someone sent me; that was still too terrifying.)


Aside from that, my first impression of the Leviathan has been that it's both kinda dead and extremely polite. By kinda dead I mean that there's only a single instance of the fleet even at prime time and it's barely half full, and despite of queueing for hours, I've only ever been able to get into a single PvP match so far, which was a 3v2 arena that we still managed to lose somehow (lol).

The politeness is mostly on display in the form of everyone being all please and thank you in general chat all the time, which even I with my limited French was able to take note of. The one exception here was the GSF match I joined, where there was a lot of chatter going on that I wasn't able to follow but which I strongly suspect wasn't all polite.

Anyway, what's really sold me on this server so far is that I really love the Sage I made here for some reason. I bought her a Cartel Market outfit and everything. Which is a funny counter to my original inspiration for wanting to play on these other servers: wanting to earn some extra Cartel Coins from seasons - well played, Bioware, well played.

23/04/2022

My Dps Is Bad and I Can't Look Away

Last autumn I wrote a post on my WoW blog called "The Toxicity of Damage Meters", in which I laid out why the general WoW community's obsession with measuring everything, all the time, is very off-putting to me. In that post, I cited SWTOR as an example of how to do damage meters right, since SWTOR's more restrictive personal logging gave you access to all the (in my opinion) legitimate uses for meters such as wanting to increase your personal performance or having a shared log in a progression team to better understand damage patterns in difficult content, without any of the downsides such as other players constantly judging everyone around them by their numbers - because you couldn't know anyone's else's numbers unless that person explicitly joined a shared group log with you.

Naturally, not long after I wrote that post, I found out that with the Legacy of the Sith expansion, SWTOR was going to get rid of the personal logging system it had used for a decade, and was instead going to replace it with a system where everyone can see everything, just like in WoW.

Naturally.

My first reaction to this news was very negative, and I was low-key kind of hoping against all reason that Bioware might end up changing their mind at the last minute, but they didn't. Legacy of the Sith is here, and now you can see everyone and anyone's numbers, whether they want you to or not.

Now, the good news is that SWTOR hasn't changed into WoW overnight. Some of that might simply be lack of general awareness about the change to combat logging, considering that it's still early days, but I think that even as this knowledge becomes more widespread, the SWTOR community as a whole isn't really in danger of changing into a bunch of people obsessed with parses. There have always been many similarities between the two games, but there are also important differences that continue to affect the way people behave.

For example group finding and PvP are not cross-server, so if you're a jerk to someone, there might be consequences. Or how about the fact that SWTOR doesn't allow addons? StarParse, the tool most commonly used to turn the combat log into a more readable format, is more of a "companion app", so it's not automatically there every time you log in - I'm sure I'm not the only person who uses it but doesn't actually think about firing it up unless I'm about to enter an operation... which makes it harder for the average person to think about numbers all the time. Not to mention that I think most SWTOR players just aren't as fussed about numbers as players of other MMOs, what with the game's heavy focus on story. I have seen some negative comments about low dps on the forums and in general chat though - places that are rarely friendly at the best of times, mind you, but at least they didn't have that particular stick to wield against their fellow players in the past.

Anyway, this post isn't about anyone behaving badly towards anyone else over what they saw on a damage meter. It's about the impact this change has had on me personally and the way I see myself in the game.

My focus in SWTOR has been on playing healers from day one. I levelled my very first character with my boyfriend at the time, so I specced into Combat Medic as soon as I unlocked my first talent point and never looked back. While I also played and levelled other roles later, healer has always remained my identity, and the only role I played in progression content. I looked at healing meters there to see how well me and my co-healers were sharing the burden, because I didn't want to feel like I was making things difficult for anyone else, but I was always quite content with what I saw.

On the rare occasion when I took a damage dealer to a casual ops run, I usually left StarParse off, even if others were trying to coax people into joining the group log for the "fun" of competition. I knew perfectly well that my dps wasn't great, but I didn't really need to know the details, and I didn't want to opt into serving as a prop for other people to feel better about themselves, or be made to feel like I was making the experience worse for others with my low numbers.

(As an aside, a long time ago, during the early days of the game, I did log myself on the training dummy and tried to improve my performance as a Gunslinger and dps Guardian at one point. When the numbers on the Guardian weren't great, I asked some guildies for advice who enjoyed parsing, and got a response along the lines of "wow, those numbers really are bad, lol" but no actual tips for how to improve. That forever put me off letting others see my dps numbers ever again.)

However, with the combat log change, it was time to face the music. I mean, sure, I technically could've continued to not look at my numbers, but now others would be able to see them anyway, and I figured if that was the case I'd at least like to know what they were seeing, so that I'd know the appropriate amount of shame to feel (or whether I was secretly not so bad after all... who knows?!)

Since healers are always in demand, I still ended up in the healer role for most of our casual ops runs, until we suddenly had too many healers for an Eternity Vault the other week and someone asked me whether I was okay to go dps. I said sure, since I had actually set up a Telekinetics loadout for my Sage healer anyway that I used for questing.

Of course, doing dailies and fighting an operations boss are very different things. I was suddenly very aware of the fact that my legendary implants were both for healing, that I didn't have a dps Tactical, and not even enough accuracy to be effective at fighting an ops boss. I also wasn't entirely sure what my rotation was supposed to be and basically just had a quick glimpse at a guide on my second monitor hoping to reassure myself of the very, very basics, but knowing full well that I wasn't going to suddenly execute a 24-button rotation perfectly.

In the end, the EV run went perfectly fine, but seeing my numbers was pretty painful. We ran with five damage dealers and I was in last place by quite a margin. And while I knew that I had a number of factors working against me, I had really been trying to do the rotation right, so I still felt quite bad.

Which then left me wondering what to do about it, with two basic paths open to me: either don't join ops as dps anymore, or get better at it. The second would normally be more appealing to me, as I do like a bit of a challenge like that, but the thing is... reading dps guides for any class in SWTOR makes me feel so old.

You see, I actually started my raiding career back in WoW as a damage dealer - but that was fifteen years ago during the original Burning Crusade, when many classes could literally do their max dps rotation by simply pressing a single button over and over again, and my shadow priest was considered very sophisticated with her priority system that involved no less than five (!) different abilities. I remember practising the hell out of even that.

Yet when I look at many dps guides for SWTOR, the rotations never seem to involve less than several dozen steps. I'd have to practice for weeks to get good at any of them, and that's assuming I'd be able to get the hang of them at all. I just don't think I have the will or energy for that kind of stuff anymore, especially when it's just to make myself feel better about my numbers on the rare occasion when someone asks me to dps in EV.

Maybe I just need to learn to be more Zen about the knowledge of just how bad I am at dps, but let's just say that this is easier said than done.

18/04/2022

Season 2 Progress & Playing on Different Servers

It's been a few weeks since I last wrote about Galactic Seasons, and since then, I actually stopped keeping notes on the subject entirely, as every week has been pretty similar: The daily objective is a no-brainer and several of the weeklies more or less complete themselves too. As for the remaining objectives, I look at what's there and do some work on them throughout the week, usually leading to easy completion by the weekend.

At the time of writing this, I'm mostly done with the current week as well, and sitting at season level 96 out of 100, so I'll complete the season not long after Tuesday's reset. Exciting times! However, with the way things have been going, that won't mean that the season is over for me this time around.

As I mentioned in my last post about seasons, I've been logging into alts on other servers to collect some seasons points there and it's honestly been an interesting experience.

To set the stage and provide some context, I've been spending pretty much 99.9% of my play time since the game's launch on my main server Darth Malgus and its pre-merge predecessors. The only other server on which I have a character that was ever max level is Star Forge, where my Cathar Commando lives. I originally created her back in 2016 on the Ebon Hawk with the intent of playing with some American friends, which never really got off the ground, but for some reason or another I did keep levelling her, and since then she's become my go-to character every time Swtorista organises some kind of event (since those usually take place on Star Forge, which is her home server), but that's pretty much been it.

I do have two other characters on that server: a Gunslinger in her forties whom I created for reasons I can't really recall, and the new knight with the Shadow combat style whom I created to check out the levelling changes in 7.0.

On Satele Shan I have a bunch of lowbies that were jumbled together during previous server merges but which were mostly created at some point or another when I randomly felt like re-experiencing some of that "new player with no legacy" feeling. I actually talked about them previously in this post. The currently highest level of those is my dark-sided consular in his thirties, who also has the dubious honour of being the only male character I've ever created in this game (if I ever finish levelling him, that subject might make for another post of its own).

On the German and French servers I had zero characters before Galactic Season 2. When I started logging into different servers just to accumulate "login points", I created a trooper who's a clone of my main on Tulak Hord (the German server) and a Twi'lek Jedi knight with the Sage combat style on Leviathan (the French server). I made zero effort to actually play these characters though - whenever I logged into them to claim points, I'd literally just escape out of the very first cut scene that you get at level one, click the claim button for the login reward, and log out again.

At first I was actually really bad at remembering to do even this, and even though the eight season points you get for logging in only require you to do so four days out of seven, I just... forgot to do even that twice during the first month or so. Once I started to make a proper habit out of it, it became a lot easier to remember though.

My guildie who's trying to complete the season on all servers on both of his accounts was encouraging me to be a bit more ambitious and try to actually complete some of the easier gameplay objectives as well - after all, I've been talking about how easy it is to earn 25k Conquest points on this very blog, right? Unfortunately, things are a lot tougher when you don't have a character of a high enough level to access any of the content that involves reputations, and having a meagre 2% stronghold bonus on Star Forge and Satele Shan compared to my 150% on Darth Malgus also makes a big difference to my Conquest point earnings. Not to mention that my level ones on Tulak Hord and Leviathan obviously didn't even have a stronghold at all, or access to Conquest for that matter.

However, after a few weeks there was an interesting development. Basically, after several weeks of just standing there and claiming login rewards over and over, I noticed that my bags were getting dangerously full. On the US servers I could dump stuff into my cargo hold, but I noticed that even just sorting out my inventory kind of served as a way of reacquainting myself with those characters and actually made me want to play them a bit, so that I started to achieve a few objectives now and then too.

My trooper and knight on the German and French servers didn't even have access to a bank though! So there was only one solution: to start levelling them. It does strike me as pretty funny and very typical for me that where other people might be motivated to play to get stuff, for me the game throwing lots of free stuff at me makes me feel like I have to actually spend some time playing just to be able to sort out my inventory. Thanks, game! So we'll see where that goes for the remaining months during which Season 2 is active. Currently my progress on the other servers is:

  • Star Forge: season level 19
  • Satele Shan: season level 10
  • Tulak Hord: season level 4
  • Leviathan: season level 4

I know that I won't even get close to completing the season on any of these servers and that was never my goal anyway, but I'm just curious to see how far I'll get with the limited amount of effort I'm willing to put in. It also gives me an opportunity to see whether the community is different on any of the other mega servers, and if I ever feel like pushing things more in Season 3 or just generally want to spend time on one of the other servers for whatever reason, I'll be in a much better position to do so after having levelled these characters and having done some work towards establishing their legacies.

14/04/2022

Patchy Goodness Inc.

Considering how many things that were originally meant to be expansion features ended up being cut out of 7.0, I think I'm not the only one who's been keenly waiting for any news about 7.1. Sure, I've been having fun with the new gearing system and all that, but I would like some more new content and gameplay to actually dig my teeth into at max level.

Sadly, we're two months into Legacy of the Sith and still haven't gotten any news about when this might be happening, but! Patch 7.0.2 is supposed to be released "in the coming weeks" and while not what I would call a proper content patch, it does seem to be shaping up to be more than additional bug fixes at least.

It's going to make tweaks to the acquisition of materials for gold augments as mentioned in my previous post, as well as rebalancing and adding some quality of life changes for other endgame currencies. I'm sooo glad there'll be a way to trade in Conquest commendations for tech fragments for example, because the way these are constantly capped with nothing useful to spend them on, all while the game keeps trying to throw more of them at you, has definitely been one of those low-key but still very noticeable annoyances of 7.0.

Another minor-sounding but big impact change is that they'll finally be reverting unranked PvP missions to give progression credit from losses as well as wins; you'll just get more for wins. For those not keeping track, the daily and weekly PvP quests were changed in summer 2020 to only count wins for progress, and I observed back then that this was depressingly backwards, as this was how things used to work at launch and that the devs moved away from that system for a reason. But no, they had to give it another shake, and I'm honestly surprised that it lasted this long.

I'm still pleased to see it being changed back though, as it will make doing the PvP weekly a lot more appealing. My experience these past two months has been that even with the updated version of the quest "only" requiring four wins, that can still require multiple full evenings of PvP (depending on your luck with groups), and with everything being reset on Tuesdays, I find myself unwilling to even start on it whenever I'm not sure that I'll be able to commit enough hours to finishing it too.

The most surprising bit of news however was Jackie announcing on the forums this week that weapons being added to the outfit designer is meant to make it into this patch as well, ahead of 7.1. And I'll admit it, at this point I'm actually looking forward to this feature too. I still don't really get why people have been making quite such a fuss about it (especially if they play a Force user and their lightsaber is barely more than a piece of pixel art during regular gameplay), but us Commandos have pretty big weapons, and I'd kind of forgotten that item modifications actually weren't going to be in for a little while, meaning that we've been having to use whatever weapons actually dropped. I've rarely run into an assault cannon model that I actually disliked, but there are definitely some that I like more than others, such as the three-barrelled Columi style, and I'm quite looking forward to being able to sport that look again when I have the chance (similar to the one displayed in the blog's banner).

09/04/2022

Gold Augments and a Brush with Pay-to-win

Last year I wrote a post about how I'd been making a lot of money in SWTOR by simply selling stuff on the GTN that I'd earned through normal gameplay. I also concluded that people's concerns about inflation were a bit overblown in my opinion, because there are ridiculously few situations in game that require you to spend an amount of credits that you'll even notice.

In recent weeks, a couple of things happened. Roger from Contains Moderate Peril wrote a few posts about being back in SWTOR, and one of them expressed annoyance about how he'd lost some money from going over the hardcoded credit cap (which is over four billion) without noticing. I was utterly baffled that this was an issue for him (and said as much in a comment) because as far as I can tell, Roger's relationship with the game is very casual (as in: he spends some time playing solo through the story once and that's it) and yet I, as an extremely invested player of more than a decade, have never run into the issue of having more money than the game is technically capable of letting you hold even once, never mind accidentally! He confirmed in a response to my comment that he'd merely purchased a few things from the Cartel Market and then sold them on the GTN.

On a similar note, Mr Commando was moaning recently that he was soon going to run out of money to pay for his repairs. Being a good wife, I told him that this was ridiculous because repairs are not expensive at all, and that he could solve the problem in mere minutes by simply selling some of the items he's been hoarding in his cargo bay and material storage for years. However, he considered that "work" and scoffed at the idea.

One of the other tanks in our ops progression team had different advice for him though. "Just do what I do," he said, "I buy a Hypercrate from the Cartel Market every so often and then just sell the contents. Covers everything easily." Mr Commando liked this idea since he had plenty of complementary coins to spare anyway, so he followed this advice and it pretty much worked as advertised. In fact, when he was done, he had about the same amount of credits as I'd slowly worked my way up to over the course of several years of GTN trading.

Now, I hesitate to call that "pay to win" because paying for repairs is actually not at all expensive, and most of those extra credits seemed pretty superfluous for both of us either way. But my pride was certainly a little stung, considering just how stark the contrast was between the amount of time I'd put in vs. his single Cartel Market purchase leading to more or less the same results.

I really don't like talking about pay-to-win in MMOs though, because it's one of those areas where people can never agree on a definition and will happily contradict even themselves. Not to mention that I've seen many a self-righteous commentator preach about the evils of pay-to-win just to be perfectly fine with partaking in such systems when it suits them.

Fortunately SWTOR has only really had light brushes with the subject in the past, such as when some of the earliest Cartel Market items had stats on them (even if they weren't particularly good), or when Galactic Command boosters were purchasable for real money back in 2016. However, none of these things lasted long in their original iterations, probably because Bioware saw that they were generating a lot of bad vibes for little profit.

Nowadays the devs are quite happy to focus on getting people to subscribe and buying cosmetics, and I'm fine with that myself. Speaking of cosmetics though, these also tend to be among the most expensive things to buy on the GTN, because the resale prices can be through the roof, which is something that critics of the game's economy often like to point to as evidence of inflation being a problem. For me this has always been kind of "meh" because there are plenty of good-looking and affordable outfits in the game, so who cares if there are some that are expensive? I don't really feel like I'm losing anything by not wearing the most expensive set of robes. Now, things that actually affect your stats are a different matter...

Which brings us to the subject of gold augments. I mentioned them very briefly in the post I linked at the start of this one, but brushed them off as pretty irrelevant at the time. With the way almost all max-level content was scaled and the stats on your gear were capped during Onslaught, trying to invest billions into tiny stat increases seemed like something for bored min-maxers with too much money on their hands and with nothing else to do.

Since 7.0, operations don't scale you down anymore though, yay! This means that you can actually see the effects of improving your gear, including augments, which means that gold augments - despite of being a relic from the last expansion since crafting hasn't received an update with 7.0 - are suddenly of a lot more interest now than they ever were when they were first introduced. Seriously, back then I didn't even look into what was required to get them. Everyone just said they were both ridiculously expensive to make and nearly useless, and that was enough for me to feel that I didn't need to know any more.

So imagine my shock when I actually looked into what's required to make a single one of these augments the other day: seven of a material that drops once per nightmare mode ops boss, and 14 of another material that comes from ranked PvP. Disregarding the chance of a lucky crit which can allow you to get multiple results from one craft, you need a set of these for every single augment, and a single player has fourteen item slots to augment. At the moment my guild's also not really killing any NiM bosses other than Nefra and sometimes Dash'roode, and I don't know anyone who regularly does ranked PvP. In short: It's hella expensive, and while augment prices on the GTN aren't the highest they've ever been, I still wouldn't be able to buy more than a couple of these even if I spent all of my hard-earned wealth at once.

Meaning of course that I thought of the whole "just sell Cartel items on the GTN" thing and how that would allow me to kit myself out in gold augments within days, which immediately made me uncomfortable. I didn't do it because I rather dislike this kind of thing, but if I'm being honest also because I don't think me as a healer not having full gold augments is what's holding our progression back at the moment. But it sure reminded me of SWTOR's previous brushes with pay-to-win and how this may very well be the closest yet, seeing how better augments don't make you "win" but provide a more tangible benefit than anything else ever did.

Of course, the funny thing is that where e.g. Galactic Command boosts were a clear attempt to make players spend money on the Cartel Market, this... doesn't seem like it was ever meant to be. After all, there is nothing about gold augments that can be acquired from the Cartel Market - each and every part of them needs to be earned by players actually playing the game. It's just that the primary sources of these materials are quite inaccessible to the average player, so people value them highly - and there's nothing else you can earn through gameplay that would make you rich enough to actually be able to pay that price, because the only other thing that players rate as similarly valuable is Cartel Market fashion. It's really a pretty bizarre situation if you think about it.

With that said, I'm glad that Bioware is planning to make changes to this system in the next patch, both by reducing the material requirements for gold augment crafting and by moving the rare materials from master mode operations and ranked PvP onto a vendor where they can be bought with tech fragments. (Note that the vendor is actually already an option right now, but much more expensive than it will be.) With that, these augments will still require a lot of effort to get, but I do expect the prices to go down with the increased accessibility, considering that tech fragments are something that anyone can earn over time, whether it's from Conquest or even dailies.