Daily Tour: Ziost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


7.1 News and Big Changes at Bioware

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

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

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

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

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

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


Slow Mode Legacy of the Rakata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Josh Strife Hayes Takes on SWTOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Galactic Season 2 Complete on The Leviathan

The last server on which I completed Season 2, just a couple of days before the season ended on Tuesday, was the French server The Leviathan.

The fact that my credit buyout for levels 83 to 93 on there came to only 25 million and was therefore slightly cheaper than on Tulak Hord is slightly deceptive, because in actuality, Leviathan was the server on which I was consistently the least progressed, and my Sage knight finished the season at level 62, which is five levels lower than my Commando on Tulak Hord.

The biggest obstacle to my progression were the PvP-related season objectives, which I generally liked and therefore wanted to do, but which I repeatedly failed to complete because I just couldn't get enough warzone pops. I did manage a few times, mostly when I was lucky enough to get into several successive arenas in the same play session, but this was rare. Throughout the season I queued in both the lowbie and midbie brackets, and would sometimes spend hours running around questing without ever seeing a pop. On the rare occasions when something did pop, it was usually an only partially filled arena. There was one single time when the server opened a midbie Novare Coast, which elicited gasps of surprise in warzone chat, but in reality it was still only a match of 3v5 or something like that and not very fun. This only affected ground PvP, interestingly enough - queueing for veteran flashpoints or GSF was usually fine, probably because those queues include max-level players as well.

In terms of solo play, I started by just breezing through the class story, as I'd just taken my Commando on Tulak Hord through all the planetary side missions and didn't want to do the exact same thing again, but I soon felt bad when it sunk in that this was after all my first and only character on Leviathan and she was hardly seeing anything of the galaxy. In addition, I made the mistake of playing too many knights this season (I also had lowbie knights on Star Forge and Satele Shan), so that at one point I was doing the same class mission three times within a single week, which just seemed silly and was actually more repetitive than doing a few more side quests. I eventually ended up going back to Tython and Coruscant to pick off exploration missions there in bits and pieces while my class story stalled on Nar Shaddaa. Once I crossed the level 50 threshold, my focus shifted towards more rewarding endgame activities, just like on the other servers.

However, the most fascinating aspect of playing on Leviathan for me was the language, or rather the way it affected my behaviour. I had several years of French in school over two decades ago, but even though I always liked languages in general, this one never really resonated with me and I was happy to forget most of it the moment I didn't have to deal with it anymore. The end result is that while I can still read and understand some very basic French nowadays, I felt too self-conscious to try and write anything in chat myself beyond the occasional "salut" and "merci".

This is kind of funny to me because I suspect that I wasn't the only "foreigner" moonlighting on Leviathan for the purpose of seasons, and I think others were a lot less shy about simply writing in English or perhaps running their messages through Google Translate. There was one arena I remember in particular where someone kept writing instructions about who to focus in French and even with my limited knowledge of the language I kept thinking: That doesn't sound grammatically correct... is this from Google Translate? 

Then again, it could just as well have been the French version of internet shorthand... I was greatly amused by the idea that laziness in regards to spelling and grammar online might accidentally be bringing native speakers and Google Translators closer together - I certainly had my doubts about which one I was dealing with when it came to some of the German I saw on Tulak Hord.

Equally amusing was the idea that I might well have ended up in an arena team where none of us really spoke French but assumed that everyone else was. To be on the safe side and in order not to make too much of a fool out of myself, I mostly restricted myself to using emotes, which I knew would show up correctly in whatever language client my team mates were using.

If any French-speaking players from Leviathan are reading this, I'd be curious to know your thoughts on the non-French-speaking "tourists" that appeared on the server for Season 2.


Galactic Season 2 Complete on Tulak Hord

On Tulak Hord I had to spend a bit more (virtual) money to achieve season completion, shelling out 31 million credits for levels 82 to 93, but it still could've been much worse.

What made playing on both Tulak Hord and Leviathan particularly interesting to me during this project was the fact that I didn't have any characters on them before, meaning that I literally had to start from scratch - and of course they are both non-English servers.

For those not in the know, German is actually my first language, so Tulak Hord was still relatively safe territory for me. I say "relatively" because I've never played with the game's German client, and the thing with gaming terms is that their translations don't tend to be entirely intuitive, so you have to learn them by rote and can't just come up with your own translations on the fly without looking like a bit of a weirdo. As an example, you'd have to be quite lucky to guess that a Guardian becomes "ein Hüter" in German but a Juggernaut stays a Juggernaut, using the English word.

Fortunately I never really found myself in a situation where detailed discussion of things like classes was necessary, plus German-speakers have a pretty positive attitude towards English in general. I saw some people type English comments into chat in warzones and the like, and they seemed to be accepted and understood. I was also surprised by how many guild names I saw that were in English... because it "sounds cooler" I guess.

Undoubtedly the most fun aspect of playing on Tulak Hord for me was wallowing in nostalgia, as the character I made was created as a perfect clone of my Commando main, so I got to pretend that it was 2011 all over again (even if the game was quite different then and I wasn't levelling on my own at launch). I had fun wearing similar levelling outfits (the trooper levelling armour sets are great, honestly) and doing all the quests... until things went somewhat off the rails on early Taris because I had levelled up enough to engage with things like reputations and dailies and those became my focus instead of actual class story progress because it was more beneficial for increasing my season level.

Still, experience kept coming in - despite of the annoying bug that kicked in at some point and prevented characters from gaining their rested XP bonus while logged off - so that my completely fresh Commando finished Season 2 at level 67. Not bad, if I may say so myself. Whenever Season 3 rolls around, I'll be in a much better starting position now if I want to complete it on multiple servers again.

Oh, and you may or may not remember that I ended up helping to form a guild that soon ended up being abandoned by everyone but the original GM. At some point he stopped logging in too, and I fully expected to eventually inherit leadership, at which point I was planning to just disband the whole thing (no need to have a dead guild with virtually no progression take up a name)... but the GM had apparently just been taking a break and eventually reappeared. In fact, we chatted a bit and I helped him out by inviting all his alts to the guild. So I guess it's just gonna be his personal guild now. Also fine by me.


Galactic Season 2 Complete on Satele Shan

Satele Shan was my second most progressed server after Star Forge in my belated "complete Season 2 on all the servers" project, but I knew I'd have to buy out at least a few levels to be able to finish in time. Since you can't buy out the last five levels with credits, I also had to do this before doing all my weeklies in the last week of the season.

After doing a bit of maths I eventually settled on buying my way from level 87 to 93, a step that only cost me 7.5 million credits - much less than I expected having to spend at the start. This left me a bit of wiggle room to reach level 100 easily by completing a few weeklies, without necessarily needing to capitalise on every single source of points available.

My season progress on this server was mainly carried by my Shadow Zilek, who was in his thirties when I started this project and finished at level 66, though with very little progress made on his class story. A general theme with my efforts to complete the season was that as long as all my characters were low-level, just questing along was one of my better sources of Conquest points for the daily objective, but past level 50 it was just more efficient to rely on reputations and companion influence for quick daily completion and to otherwise focus on the weeklies, which rarely meshed well with doing story content.

Still, having a stealther as my "season main" was a noticeable advantage compared to the other servers, as was very much in evidence this last week for example, when one of the objectives was to do the Black Hole weekly twice. This was quite a slog on most of my rather underpowered characters that did it, especially the heroic, but Zilek could just stealth past all but the couple of mobs directly required for the objective, making it a quick in-and-out operation.

In terms of experiencing what life is like on different servers, Satele Shan was a bit of a nothing sandwich for me to be honest. It's supposed to be the US west coast server (despite of no longer being labelled as such), but to me as a European either coast is just a different time zone from me, and I still ran into other players regardless of when I played. What little time I spent in group content such as veteran mode flashpoints and warzones didn't really feel noticeably different from the way I'd seen things go down on Darth Malgus or Star Forge. I still suspect that there are some cultural differences to be observed between the different English-speaking servers, but they may be too subtle to notice without spending more time there, reading general chat during prime time etc.

I mentioned in a previous post that I accepted a random guild invite on my Shadow. In fact, my lower-level Guardian also ended up in the guild shortly afterwards, simply because the recruiter was so zealous in whispering unguilded people that he also "caught" me while I was playing my alt and I was like: "Sure, I already have my main in your guild, why not?"

Since the guild seemed quite active, I eventually gave in and joined their Discord and Guilded site to have a bit of a look around. The thing that stood out to me was how convoluted the system to go up in guild ranks was, requiring attendance of dedicated guild events as well as proving certain in-game milestones such as class story progression, crew skill levelling etc. via screenshots. I didn't bother with any of that myself but found myself wondering how many players would engage with that system, considering that it's been my personal experience that it can be very hard to get people in a guild to do anything at all, never mind submitting receipts every step of the way.

Beyond having a look around and doing my Conquest I didn't really interact with the guild in any meaningful way, mainly because of time zones. Leadership was pinging @everyone pretty much twice a day about some event or other (though they've recently switched to @here, thankfully), but the events were always taking place at 2 a.m. my time or something silly, so I couldn't really have attended even just to sate my curiosity. I expect that now that my objective for Season 2 is complete, my focus will move back to Darth Malgus and I'll eventually be removed for inactivity.