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.)