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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


No KotFE Nostalgia for Me

I realised that with SWTOR having turned ten in December, this also means that it's already been six and a half years since the release of Knights of the Fallen Empire. Sure hasn't felt that long to me! Like it or not, the two "Knights of..." expansions made huge changes to the way SWTOR works, many of which can still be felt today, long after the narrative has pivoted away from Zakuul, and to me a lot of these still feel relatively "new" somehow. Looking back at my blog archives, I found this post from 2016, when Bioware was promoting Knights of the Eternal Throne, in which I was talking about how I thought that KotFE had been a pretty good expansion really.

Is it time to get nostalgic for good old KotFE yet? A thread I saw on reddit the other week certainly seemed to think so. Reading it did make me wonder just how many years it had actually been since I last started a character on the KotFE expansion content. I explained in this post from 2019 how KotFE and KotET are kind of mental roadblocks for me that I simultaneously don't want to deal with but also don't really want to skip, so I've got exactly one character of each class caught up with current content and everyone else lingers at some point pre-KotFE because I just can't get myself to make the jump that would require me to abandon my companions and commit to hours and hours of story content I'm not crazy about before I can get back to a happy place.

These ponderings combined with a desire to finally, for the love of god, get a Republic saboteur character into current content, actually got me to pull the trigger on launching my slightly dark side smuggler into KotFE chapter one.

I'm only a few chapters in at the time of writing this, but I can already tell that no, I definitely haven't secretly been longing to get back to this. The first few chapters are a wild ride and quite fun in their own way, I won't deny it... but knowing what's to come, the story's flaws are glaringly obvious now. Back in the day I was willing to give Bioware the benefit of the doubt while always hoping for a better outcome later. Sure, the transition from the Emperor as we met him on Ziost to Valkorion in KotFE chapter one made absolutely zero sense, but hopefully there'll be an explanation for that later, right? Unlike back in 2015, I now know that the answer to that turned out to be "not really". (We did get some closure with Echoes of Oblivion eventually, but that was several years later.)

The early KotFE chapters also set up a lot of characters as really intriguing, just to completely drop the ball on them later. Koth's introduction is super fun, but then contrasted with his care about Zakuulan civilians and his worship of Valkorion to create conflict. At the time, that could have gone in all kinds of directions, but now I know that he mostly ends up whinging a lot until the game gives you an opportunity to kill him off if you really didn't get along with him.

Likewise, Arcann and Vaylin are introduced as powerful and brash, but also with hints that their relationship with each other and with the rest of their family could be more complex than it initially appears. But nah, Arcann is just an angry man-child (until a Voss ritual magically reforms him, or not), and Vaylin is simply an angry psychopath to the end, with any attempts to evoke empathy for her ultimately not going anywhere.

However, the biggest problem is that the very first chapter, with the iconic scene of Valkorion asking you to kneel, is nothing but a sham. You're technically given the choice to reject him (I mean, you did just spend the previous expansion opposing him), but ultimately the game doesn't actually give a damn about that and railroads you into doing what he wants you to do anyway. There are a few conversation choices where you can say that you don't actually want to sit on the Eternal Throne, but they become fewer as the story progresses, because the writers need you to want the throne, so after a while that's all you're allowed to say, never mind how your character would have felt from a logical point of view.

Similarly, the story just decides that you hate Arcann and want to personally bring him down, and again, the odds are that this might make no real sense to you. In chapter one, he either helps you kill Valkorion, or he kills Valkorion himself and then just uses you as a convenient pawn to shift the blame. And yeah, he freezes you in carbonite for five years after you pass out, and that's something your character would surely be angry about, but not like "I hate you with all my soul and want to take over your Empire now" angry (unless you're a Sith I guess). Ironically the sorts of things that could have been used to justify you being really mad at him, such as the lost time, missing companions and the damage he's done to Republic and Empire, are downplayed at every point because who cares about all that old stuff, we're in "Keeping up with the Valkorions" now.

Basically, I think that in hindsight KotFE and KotET are actually quite a bit worse than I perceived them to be at the time, at least in terms of how the plot treats the player character, and in terms of hours of build-up that just end up being wasted.

"OK," you might say, "so the story was bad, but don't you think the chapter format was kinda good? New story content every month! Imagine how good SWTOR would be if we got those kinds of story updates but for Republic vs. Empire..." (someone did actually leave pretty much this as a comment on my blog once). But to that I still gotta say: "no, thanks". Sure, chapters with a more coherent story would be better than what we got, but I still don't miss the chapter format in general, for a number of reasons:

  • Bioware was only able to release story content like that on a (roughly) monthly basis by pretty much stopping development on everything else about the game. I like the story, but I also want planets, flashpoints, operations etc.
  • KotFE/KotET chapter length was largely created by cut scenes that don't involve or even show your character and are therefore the exact same on every playthrough, plus by making you fight hordes and hordes of boring/unavoidable enemies, which I consider unnecessary padding that I can do without. I know we're all still mad about 7.0 delivering too little story, but you know what? I've played through that story on six characters already and can honestly say that I enjoyed it every time.
  • As mentioned in the previously linked post about story skipping and the issues with replaying KotFE/ET, pausing in the middle of a chapter is awkward, meaning they are not well suited as content that you can easily pick up and put down.
  • The nature of chapters has meant that a majority of their content has to take place inside phases, with whole locations like Asylum and Vandin only existing within that story and not being available to re-visit outside the chapter, making the galaxy a smaller place. Even when Bioware tried to add a proper outdoor location for KotFE chapter fourteen in the form of Darvannis, it kinda fell flat because there wasn't really anything there other than the chapter phases (though for a while it was good for harvesting crafting materials I guess).

So yeah, I can only speak for myself but I absolutely do not miss KotFE's story, neither the content nor the format. I'm only slowly developing a desire to get more characters through it because Bioware keeps adding more content after it that I actually enjoy replaying and that I want to see from the perspective of different classes.


Reviewing the Ruins

I said in my Elom story review that I was planning to write a separate post about what the Ruins of Nul flashpoint is like from a gameplay perspective. I ended up delaying this a bit since Bioware had to temporarily disable the flashpoint's bonus boss due to an exploitable bug shortly afterwards - I'd only had a chance to kill it once on solo mode at that point and didn't want to write a review until I'd had more opportunities to experience every encounter, including the bonus boss, multiple times. Fortunately last week's patch ended up putting the bonus boss back in, so here we are!

Visually, Ruins of Nul is... appealing. It doesn't have the breathtaking beauty of a Traitor Among the Chiss, but neither is it just a row of monotone corridors the way many flashpoints that take place on a starship or space station are. The scenery is mostly grey rock, but some of it is covered with snow, and in general the landscape is dotted with trees with bright red foliage. Not to mention that the skybox is dominated by a seemingly perpetual (partial?) solar eclipse, which makes for some pretty striking views if you take the time to pause and look around.

The overall length and pacing of the flashpoint is very good in my opinion, in that there isn't too much trash between bosses, and individual pulls don't take ages to die. The only slight criticism I might have on that note is that a disproportionate number of trash pulls are of the type that bursts out of the ground or suddenly appears out of nowhere - which is a fun gimmick every now and then, but can get a bit tedious if overdone, as it makes it hard to plan ahead when it comes things like pulling, kill order and crowd control: Stuff just appears and then you might as well AoE since everything's already in your face anyway. One has to wonder whether this was a conscious design choice to avoid the amount of trash skipping some groups like to perform via stealth in older content, where the trash is more predictable.

Another interesting pacing choice is that after the first boss, you have to advance to a locked door and then double back to pick up key stones for it - you can't go to pick up the key stones directly. It's not too much running around, but I still wonder why Bioware did that. There's also a small cliff in this area that's already inspired the usual pug nonsense of wasting ten minutes to try and climb up that one rock wall instead of killing two more easy trash pulls.

The boss fights are honestly... pretty good! (More on the Malgus bug later.) The first boss has a very straightforward strategy (to spread out in a cross-like formation around it), which is nonetheless important so as to avoid overwhelming your healer with swipe damage.

The second encounter has you facing off against a giant AI defense system ("player vs. wall" as I saw someone describe it) in a fight somewhat reminiscent of Directive 7's Mentor, which is a boss I always liked and whose mechanics we haven't really seen Bioware try and take inspiration from before, so I'm here for that too.

The bonus boss is a bit... odd. In multiplayer mode I like the strategic aspect of having different group members pick up different debuffs before the fight according to their role, but the fight itself can be a bit annoying. It basically has you facing off against three droids that have massive damage reduction shields, and the only way to temporarily remove them is to move around so that they hit each other with specific special attacks while trying to attack you. It's not a bad gimmick in theory, but in groups it's been my experience that - since two of the droids appear to have random aggro - it's very easy to end up with one guy being targeted over and over who never aims the attacks correctly, causing the fight to just drag on and on and on.

I will say that I've seen this encounter inspire some pretty funny "yelling at group members" moments though, mostly due to uncertainty about what to call each of the droids due to their awkward numerical names. Most of my guildies seem to have adopted Vulkk's nomenclature of Big Guy, Sword Guy and Floaty, though I think I've also heard Sword Guy get referred to as "skinny dude" or "jumpy one". In one run with Mr Commando we also had this rather Jarg-and-Sorno-esque exchange:

"Kill the Warden Unit!"
"Which one? They're all Warden Units!"
Before we get to the last boss fight, I guess it's worth calling out the "stairs boss" here, a gauntlet-type challenge between the bonus boss and final encounter. In it, you need to run up a narrow mountain path with some holes in it while adds keep spawning in and attacking you, plus giant red targeting circles appear under your feet every so often.

I kind of wonder what the design meeting for this part of the flashpoint was like: "Red circles are so old hat right now... how about we make players dodge red circles while also giving them minimal room to manoeuvrer and forcing them to fight at the same time?" It sounds like it could be a fun challenge on paper, but I've got to say the reality is... not that.

Fighting adds on a narrow mountain path could be fun if you could knock them to their deaths, but most of the time this doesn't work and they just bug out. Having to run around to kill them all while also dodging holes in the floor and red circles is just a bit much, especially on the higher difficulties, where all four party members will spawn red circles at the same time. Now, Bioware had some mercy on us here and you'll only actually be harmed by your own circles, but with how little space there is to move, it can still be hard to tell where one person's circle starts and another one ends. Bottom line is, I've probably had more wipes and random deaths on this gauntlet than on some of the bosses, and it doesn't feel super fun in my opinion. It's not an awful idea, but at least from my point of view it would benefit from having some aspect of it toned down a bit: make it viable to knock down the adds, make the red circles smaller, less frequent, or easier to tell apart... any of these would help.

Finally, the Malgus fight at the end manages to strike an interesting balance between having Malgus use abilities that we've also seen him use in previous fights and that he is well known for, such as Force lightning and powerful pushes and pulls, while also adding something new to show his increase in power. If anything, I was just slightly disappointed when I realised that the phase where he zooms around the platform at super speed is actually really easy to avoid by simply standing on the outer edge of the area, as he won't follow you there.

Of course, the thing about this fight that has had everyone talking is that a significant number of players were experiencing a hard to reproduce and awkward to squash bug that would cause them to get yanked under the floor or something, followed by insta-death. Having run the flashpoint at least a dozen times, I've never experienced or even witnessed this myself, so it's been rather odd to hear all these complaints about what a complete show-stopper that fight was for some people while trying to progress the story. It was definitely weird how it either seemed to affect people never, ever or all the time. One and a half months in and Bioware hasn't been able to officially state that they've managed to fix it... though the last patch did make some adjustments that apparently did solve the problem for some people at least.

In general, Ruins of Nul has had a rather odd launch period. Considering how everything Bioware adds to the game nowadays is supposed to be evergreen content, I try to primarily look at flashpoints from the perspective of how they'll feel to replay later down the line, but at the same time first impressions matter a lot, and players that have a very bad experience with a new flashpoint the first time they try it might never even want to give it another chance.

From that point of view it was interesting to see that Nul was initially tuned to be quite brutal, while also being one of only seven or so flashpoints available each week for more than a month. Some people quickly learned to fear it after repeated wipes, but because it was so new, my impression was that players were generally a bit more willing to soldier on and persist through difficulties, figuring that it was just a matter of learning the tactics. I've definitely felt that this mandatory crash course of having to deal with Ruins of Nul as your random over and over again, week after week, has served to accelerate the learning curve of the player base as a whole, where in previous expansions it would take people much longer to get the hang of a new flashpoint.

Still, I'll fully admit that I was glad when they opened up the flashpoint selection to the full set again with last week's patch, as well as hitting Nul with a well-deserved nerf bat. Especially the second boss with his bazillion adds was initially extremely demanding in terms of dps and healing required, and is now less so (without having been turned into a complete cakewalk, mind you). I hope that what with the Malgus bug and the harsh initial difficulty, players won't be too turned off from giving Ruins of Nul another try, as I think it's a pretty fun flashpoint overall that gets more things right than not.