The State of Operations in 7.0

I think I've mentioned before that considering the amount of time I spend raiding in SWTOR, I spend relatively little time talking about it on the blog. You might also think that there shouldn't be that much to say about operations at the moment, what with us still not having a release date for the new op, R4-Anomaly.

However, like it or not, with the way SWTOR works, every time the level cap is raised, things get shaken up in the existing operations as well, as everything gets re-tuned and we get to enjoy the process of re-progressing through the content once again. (I'm not being sarcastic here. It's the kind of thing you either like or not.)

For as much as I thought that Onslaught was a very good expansion overall, the state of ops throughout most of it was not great in my opinion. Sure, the new operation on Dxun was sweet, but the older raids suffered from awkward, extremely unforgiving downscaling with no avenues for progress other than to repeat the dance over and over until you were absolutely perfect at it.

My guild did continue to raid in that environment, but it was rough at times - the fact that it took my team something like nine months (with some interruptions) to get Dread Master Styrak down on master mode was a good example of this. That's also why I for one was perfectly happy to start our pre-expansion raid break early once the original launch date for Legacy of the Sith was announced... we didn't seem to have anywhere left to go where it wasn't going to take us many, many months to kill anything anyway.

That said, I'm happy to report that while Bioware showed no signs of relenting on their stance on master mode operations throughout the 6.x patch cycle, they did decide to approach things differently for Legacy of the Sith and actually had someone go through all the group content to level it up to the new cap correctly and to avoid any more forced downscaling shenanigans. As a bonus, whoever did the work on that also took a close look at various minor mechanics in ops that had become somewhat screwy over time and fixed a lot of those too. No more cheesing Writhing Horror's babies with double Shadow tanks, no more hiding behind the pipe on Operations Chief... and the pylons on the way down on Soa now actually have enough health to allow you to do their mechanic properly instead of them just kinda being killed by accident by the first person who Force-leaps down to the next platform.

I can't emphasise enough how enjoyable it's been to actually be able to feel a difference in performance from gearing up again. During 7.0 launch week, we actually wiped to the first boss in 16-man Eternity Vault enraging on us... which I thought was absolutely hilarious.

Now, we had been messing around and several people had gone down early, so were easily able to overcome that on the next try by playing "properly", but it showed that dps checks and following mechanics actually mattered again, and as we all started to improve our item rating under the new gearing system, it was very noticeable that our performance improved too, and that felt good. That's what I like to see in an MMO!

I won't say that it's been an entirely smooth ride, as a lot of what should be relatively straightforward hardmode bosses feel pretty unforgiving right now, especially in terms of dps required, which has been somewhat intimidating to some of our damage dealers in particular I think. There's a general sentiment of "If veteran mode is already this hard, just how hard is master mode going to be?!", coupled with a fear that we won't be able to progress as far this expansion as we did in the last one.

Personally I've tried to assuage people's fears by telling them that I don't expect things to be that bad. My general impression has been that Bioware's trying to play the long game here, and they have explicitly stated that we'll get to upgrade our gear by several more item levels with the release of the new operation. Considering how much of a difference we've already seen from the upgrades from 320 to 330, I expect that the old master modes will become significantly more accessible as we continue to gear up - which again, is how I feel it should work.

Other notable differences to the ops running experience revolve around gear and schedules. I've already talked about how I find the new gearing system quite convoluted, but aside from that, one thing that it unfortunately has in common with Galactic Command is that everything is personal loot - meaning that if you have anyone on your ops team who doesn't have as much time to play or is being held back for other reasons, you're limited in terms of how much you can help them gear up. You can offer to e.g. run flashpoints with them, but ultimately they have to be willing to put in the time themselves so to speak. You can't just craft upgrades for them or let them have your drops. Based on the same dev blog I linked above, this should at least improve with the release of the new operation, assuming that Bioware are still planning to go ahead with their plan to have tradeable gear tokens drop in there at least.

The thing about schedules is that in the past, we've largely been free to decide which content to run in which week at our own leisure, aside from the weekly highlighted hardmode system that was in effect during KotFE. We've also had a bit of a rule of thumb in our guild that we try to avoid having different ops teams work on the same content at the same time, both in order to ward off unhealthy feelings of competition, and to keep people's lockouts free so that teams could help each other out more easily if any group came up short a member one night.

The new featured ops rotation has kind of thrown us for a loop in that regard, because while we can technically still go wherever we want, it's most rewarding for all teams to try and complete whatever the featured weeklies are. Meaning that we can't help but compare performances to a certain degree, and extra care has to be taken whenever you're helping out a team other than your own so you don't get yourself locked out of a raid you're meant to do with your own group later in the week.

So far it's worked out okay, as we have a lot of players with a lot of alts (and free lockouts) at this point. All the officers who lead teams have also known each other for a really long time by now and are therefore doing their best to compare notes to help each other out and keep everyone progressing at a good pace. But it's certainly a change compared to how we used to operate.

Still, the bottom line is that my early impressions of what Bioware have done with operations this expansion are extremely positive, which is a nice thing to be able to say considering a lot of the negativity that has surrounded the expansion launch. I've been having more fun with them than I've had in a long time and I'm looking forward to seeing what R-4 Anomaly has in store for us whenever it comes out.

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