Wasting Credits in All New Ways

The Nightlife event and I have a somewhat awkward history which I won't go into again in this post. If you want to read more about it, feel free to go back to this post from last year, in which I summarised it at the start and provided further links.

The important thing about last year's event was that Bioware added a prize to the event that I actually liked and wanted to win, namely the High Roller Shades - but in the end I didn't succeed at getting them. Still, based on past experience I was hopeful for the future: "The event will likely come around again next year, and if Bioware follows their previous track record, the shades might end up being added to the Kingpin prize pool or to one of the vendors at that point, which would make them much easier to get."

Naturally, the one time I was really relying on them to stick to the script, they decided to mix things up, meaning that the shades I want are still only available as a prize to be won from the Emperor's Grace slot machine... and on top of that, Bioware also further diluted the prize pool by adding half a dozen new prizes, meaning the odds of actually winning what I want are worse than ever now. Not loving that, Bioware.

To be fair though, they also made some other new changes that I do like. For example they added some new slot machines to the VIP area on the fleet, which I've found to be much less busy and easier to use than the ones in the casinos on Nar Shaddaa. Big thanks to Swtorista for writing up a guide to the event and all the changes (like she does for everything else) - I'm not sure how people were supposed to find out about these new machines organically unless they hang out in the VIP area all the time.

They also made Emperor's Grace tokens purchasable from the vendor for the first time - at 7.5 million credits a pop they're not cheap, but considering that getting enough of these from random drops in the world was the big challenge for me last year, I appreciate this change. I've spent a few hundred million credits on them already - I'm not sure how far I'm willing to go in pursuit of the shades, but then again, it's just funny money and I so rarely find anything I really want to spend it on, so why not splurge a little bit on this project? All the new weapons that can be won as prizes are also bind on equip, meaning that you can sell them on the GTN. While that isn't enough to make your money back, it does help to offset the cost of the chips to some degree.

In addition there's also this new thing called "max bet" tokens for all types of slot machines, which are very expensive and are supposed to give you better odds. Swtorista doesn't recommend them herself after doing a bit of testing, and I personally don't see the entertainment value of such high stakes gambling, but what makes them interesting to me is that you can trade in 20 of the regular chips for a single max bet token - which means that I finally have a way of getting rid of all those free Kingpin's Bounty chips without spending hours and hours clicking away at the stupid machines, something that drove me absolutely nuts two years ago. I don't even care if the odds are better or worse that way - just the fact that I can get through the process of "claiming my free prizes" twenty times faster is definitely worth it to me.

I will say that even though the odds of me actually winning the prize I wanted have gone down, the other changes Bioware have made to the event this year have actually made it more interesting to me. I like that the ability to just buy Emperor's Grace tokens from the vendor allows me to just cut to the chase if I want, and it's nice to actually have a use for some of my spare credits for once, even if it involves gambling. Simultaneously the high price per token serves as a deterrent to spending too much time and money at once (well, to me anyway). Plus the introduction of the max bet tokens and machines allows you to reduce the time spent just mindlessly clicking to get rid of spare chips.

So what I've been doing the past few nights is buy ten or twenty Emperor's chips and use them one at a time - if I get the Smuggler's Luck buff, I'll switch to the max bet Kingpin's Bounty machines until it's used up, and then I go back to the Hutt. The hundreds of free Kingpin chips that I win from the Emperor's Grace machine get converted to more max bet versions to save time, and all this means that each "session" at the slot machines actually requires me to pay a bit of attention and doesn't take all that long - which is a big improvement from the hours of mindless clicking, at least in my book.


Fall-down, Stand-up Comedy

I know I haven't sounded very happy about raiding recently. To remind everyone (including myself) of why I still love it, let me tell you a little story.

On Saturday some of my guildies and I did Nature of Progress story mode on Imp side. Dxun actually received heavy nerfs in 7.0, and then it was nerfed again in 7.1, something I unapologetically love. I always thought it was a fun operation, but the difficulty could make it a bit of a chore to run casually. Nowadays you can underman it, bring both inexperienced players and alts, mess up in silly ways and still muddle through somehow, which is how I like it.

So we were doing 16-man with ten people, and we had just made a pig's ear out of the Mutant Trandoshans fight, finishing off the last of them with only two people left standing. When we continued to Huntmaster, somehow our tank died nearly instantly. I used my combat revive on him and one of the other healers got all apologetic for not healing him fast enough.

However, when he did get up and we definitely made sure to heal him, his health still kept bouncing up and down like a yo-yo, prompting the same healer who had just apologised to say: "OK, either [the boss] does insane damage or someone is not wearing tank gear".

It was only at this point that I took a closer look at the numbers on my unit frames and noticed that our tank's maximum health was oddly low - less than 300k when everyone else had nearly 400k. I quickly inspected him mid-combat and it was as I suspected - half his gear had hit zero durability. Just as I shared this with the group, he died again, and one of our damage dealers commented: "I was wondering why I got the tutorial for disabled or destroyed items..."

Our tank expressed some confusion as according to him he hadn't seen the usual indicators for broken gear on his UI. Around this time, Huntmaster did his move of retreating to the lake. Someone asked whether we still had a combat res available, and I opined that it wasn't worth resing our tank again since you can't repair in combat so he was going to be useless anyway, but someone else had already done it.

Even better though, one of the other dps had managed to plop down a Revan statue (a utility item that serves as a vendor) and our tank quickly clicked on it while he was briefly out of combat after the revive. So even as I kept repeating that you can't repair in combat, he smugly replied: "Oh yes I can, now I did it!" And just like that, he was back in the fight and fully repaired. "Oh wow, he has so much health now," commented the other healer, and we all had a good laugh.

Unluckily for our tank, he died again less than two minutes later because Shelleigh ate him, but that's all part of the fun. I just thought the whole sequence of events was pretty amazing, both that we managed to be oblivious to the fact that our tank was half-naked throughout the entire trash leading up to Huntmaster, as well as that people somehow managed to get him up and repaired mid-fight and on the fly, when I hadn't thought that to even be possible.


A Non-angry R-4 Post

I haven't really felt like posting for a week since real life has been stressful, and at the same time my continued inability to clear the new ops on story mode really put a damper on my enjoyment of the game. Naturally, when my team finally did get the kill last week, it was on the night when I was sitting out. So when it was finally my turn today - halfway through week three of the new operation being out - I didn't even feel jubilant, just relieved that it was finally over. Plus as our tank commented (the other person in the run who hadn't got his achievement yet): Ultimately it felt kind of random that we survived the last phase on our first try tonight when we had continuously wiped to it during the previous weeks, so I can't say that I got to feel a great deal of satisfaction for overcoming a challenge.

However, as much as I think that the difficulty tuning has been god-awful and has really overshadowed everything else about R-4 (and my enjoyment of the game in general), there were some other things that I found noteworthy about the new operation. Now that I've actually seen the end, I want to talk about them all.

First off, the environmental and cinematic work is top notch as usual, but Bioware has never really let me down in those areas. Mr Commando was a bit thrown off by the fact that there was no short intro cinematic the first time we entered the operation while on the story mission, but the cinematics before and after the last boss were very cool.

The ops as a whole uses space very well, alternating between giant, cavernous rooms that make you feel really small and tight corridors in which you get overwhelmed by enemies and traps, both of which really play up the horror theme that the designers chose to go for in this operation. The closest thing already in the game that it reminded me of is Kaon Under Siege, though that obviously has a very different setting with its urban landscape.

The trapped corridors are a bit of a mixed bag mechanically - I guess some of our early struggles with them have been due to not doing the mechanics entirely correctly, but some of it is also just unfriendliness towards groups not being super tightly organised or mechanics simply being a bit buggy. During my first visit to the ops it took us ages just to get to the first boss as those force fields that go up in the hallway with the fire ended up separating people, then we exited area, came back in and were trapped with no way to advance, had to exit again and reset the whole phase... and so on.

The first boss or giant disco ball is reasonably fun I guess. The mechanic requiring you to press the buttons with different symbols is kind of interesting and different, but everything else about the fight is basically trying not to stand in five different kinds of fire and just makes me feel kind of old. I don't mind having a bit of that sort of thing, but the degree to which this fight takes it just stresses me out (though at least on story mode it's reasonably forgiving and you can survive quite a few mess-ups). Apparently veteran mode requires you to memorise a complicated dance pattern for the whole fight just so you can stay out of everything and... yeah, no.

Also, without wanting to touch too much on tuning issues again, the dps check for the final burn on that boss is kind of whack. My first kill on it was actually a draw as it blew up and killed the raid at the exact same moment as we killed it. That was certainly funny, but it was only afterwards that we learned that it was beneficial to ditch one tank for the whole operation and take a fifth damage dealer instead, in order to be able to beat dps checks like this one more reliably.

The second boss, Watchdog, is again reasonably fun mechanically and probably the most complex of the bosses in a non-obvious way. There's a lot going on with colours and bombs and stuff that doesn't immediately make sense, though it's quite fun once you understand what's happening. Apparently my ops team misunderstood the mechanics so badly the first night (while going in blind, without having looked at any guides) that their instructions to us on the second night were to "intentionally blow up the grenades" which led to all kinds of hilarity. We only wised up when a member of another team listened in on us and kind of went "WTF are you doing".

Lord Kanoth is probably my favourite boss of the operation, and not just because he shares a name with an old WoW buddy of mine whom I could amuse a bit by telling him that he's now a raid boss in SWTOR. The room just before the boss gives sufficient explanation of how to handle the Nihrot spread and it's a fairly intuitive mechanic that allows everyone to contribute to keeping the battlefield clean. There's also a lot more going on with the details of how Nihrot spreads that we didn't really pick up on and that I only learned from looking at a guide later on because it's not really essential to fully understand on story mode, and I actually appreciate that.

Finally, we have Lady Dominique, my personal nemesis, but aside from the annoyances of her burn phase, she's a pretty decent fight. On an intellectual level I like the attempt at using verticality in an environment that isn't circular like Soa's room or the machine in Temple of Sacrifice, but I also main a Commando so I can't claim that it's super fun to be knocked down at regular intervals and then having to slowly leg it back up to the boss while everyone around me insta-leaps to her. (Tonight I played as Scoundrel and having Trick Move made that part so much more bearable.)

Which just leaves the story of the operation, and to be honest that's something that's not great either. I've always loved it when SWTOR's ops convey a little narrative, but when they mess it up it's pretty awkward. The first time I remember feeling that way was in Ravagers, where there's this big twist happening in the middle of the last boss fight which is only conveyed through a voice-over that is easy to miss over the sounds of battle and it was just so confusing the first time. However, the worst example to this day remains Gods from the Machine, the ending of which is just a big ball of confusion, what with you killing Scyva but then she's immediately alive again and on your side now, somehow.

I had high hopes for R-4 in that regard since Dxun's story was so good and funny and this one was supposed to be a sort of follow-up, but something clearly went a bit awry somewhere. Cal has a much more detailed post about it on his blog, but in a nutshell, you start with ARIA speaking in a deep voice pretending to be someone else, then speaking in yet another voice pretending to be a third person (I think?), then suddenly being back to being her usual chirpy self, and then going "yes, it's me" and none of it is really tied together narratively. It's not as big of a deal as in Gods, because at least the dead don't come alive again and switch sides randomly, it's just this low-key itch of confusion that follows you through the whole instance. I'm fine with a bit of mystery and not knowing everything, such as ARIA's motivations or who exactly EVE is, but that part felt like it was supposed to tell us something but then just didn't make sense.

While trying to research whether I was missing something, I learned that apparently there was evidence of a fifth boss called Lord Valeo on the PTS, whose fight was supposed to take place on a train (similar to the first boss in Crisis on Umbara), and I wonder whether his inclusion would have shed any more light on what's going on with ARIA, but I could only find some deleted voice lines for the boss himself, not any potentially cut intermission content. I guess this is just going to be one of those "what could have been" mysteries of SWTOR.

All-in-all, I've got to admit that I've found R-4 somewhat disappointing. There's some good stuff in there and it might still have a chance to redeem itself if they do some re-tuning soon, but at the current rate I suspect it's just going to be one of those places that people avoid most of the time because the fun parts just aren't worth the required hassle.


A History of Story Mode Ops Difficulty

One of the downsides of playing the same MMO for a really, really long time is that you're likely to see certain bad ideas get repeated after a while. I'm guessing this happens because by a certain point you've probably been playing longer than some devs have been working on the game, so that they don't have the same context and experiences with the whole of the game's history as you do.

If you're a content creator like me, you also have the "bonus" of having receipts, meaning you can refer back to old blog posts and go "yep, this was already a bad idea back in 2012, and we said so at the time too". This might sound like it should be satisfying, but in practice it's honestly just deflating to constantly have to repeat yourself and wrestle with the same issues over and over again.

The specific subject that has made me think about this in the past two weeks is the difficulty of story mode operations. When SWTOR came out back in 2011, many people burned through the available raid content really quickly, complaining that it was both too easy and that there was too little of it. This was not my own experience, since I took my time levelling and didn't step foot into an operation until February 2012. And when I did, I loved it. We didn't kill Soa on our first night because everything was so new to us, but even then I noted that he was "still not too bad" and two weeks later I reported that my guild had cleared both EV and KP on story mode.

Explosive Conflict released in April, and I didn't write about clearing it on story mode until the beginning of June, noting that "story mode feels considerably overtuned". For people who weren't around back then this might sound a bit weird if you only know the operation in its current iteration, but back then, a lot of the mechanics that now only exist in veteran and master mode were also part of story mode, plus the gear requirements were pretty tight. Still, I didn't mind too much at the time and I had fun. It was a different time, and we were all still figuring things out - including Bioware. (I'll just say that my complaint from that post that "with 1.3 not containing any new raid content, PvE endgame will be a bit dry for the next couple of months" seems hilariously quaint in hindsight.)

My first experience with Terror from Beyond was a bit messy since it came out around the time that my first guild fell apart, meaning that my first visit there was a semi-pug and we only got two bosses down, but even then I noted, "the people who had told me that Terror from Beyond was a return to easier story modes were not wrong."

When I got to run Scum and Villainy for the first time in April 2013, I once again loved it. We only killed five out of the seven bosses during my first night, but that seemed to be down to the unusual length of the ops more than anything else.

When the two Oricon operations were released in October 2013, my first runs of them, into which we mostly went blind to allow ourselves to be surprised, were amazingly fun. I wrote about my first trip to story mode Dread Fortress (which we cleared in one evening) in this post and commemorated my first trip to Dread Palace with a short video called "Dread Palace in less than 100 seconds" which mostly involves a lot of giggling and squealing and finishes with one of my guildies going "best op ever".

It was as if Bioware was incapable of creating an operation that I didn't love at first sight - until the Shadow of Revan expansion that is. My post about Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice was called "New Ops: Good Stuff, Needs Some Work" and primarily for one reason: the difficulty. "Sword Squad and the Underlurker in Temple of Sacrifice were probably the worst in terms of requiring both a high damage output as well as flawless coordination. These are not bad things... for a hardmode. But for story mode, which is meant to be the easy way of seeing the content, easy enough that you can do it in a moderately competent pug, this is an absolute killer."

I also still recall my first night in Temple of Sacrifice very vividly, because I still remembered the fun we'd had clearing the Dread ops for the first time and started recording our run initially... However, after several wipes on Sword Squadron I turned the recording off because fun levels were plummeting through the floor and I didn't really want to create any lasting negative memories of that night (as it turns out, that didn't entirely work). Underlurker was eventually nerfed, and significantly at that, though Sword Squadron can remain a bit of a pain in terms of damage output.

This is when the dark times of no new group content additions for several years began, and I later wondered whether it was a coincidence that this came about after these two operations. When we finally got our first new operations boss in the form of Tyth in April 2017, I noted while looking back: "I still think less of Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice to this day due to their awful initial tuning, which hasn't actually been adjusted all that much even now, not to mention their propensity for pointless red circle syndrome. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if those two operations were at least partially to blame for Bioware's decision to not add any more of that type of content for a long time - raids that unfriendly towards both casual players and mid-level guilds can't have boasted particularly high participation numbers."

As for Tyth himself though, I was once again in love, and why? "When I first went in with my guildies to kill him on story mode, he absolutely melted. [...] "That was way too easy," I heard some guildies mutter, but I was wide-eyed with delight. That's exactly how story mode should be to an over-geared, organised and well-practiced group, or else it will be a killer to pugs. In fact, I'm sure there are pug groups wiping on him even now. And that's okay, because this game isn't about always succeeding at everything on the first attempt. But he should be well within reach of even casual players sticking their noses into a story mode for the first time, and that's how it should be."

The piecemeal releases of later bosses in the same operation had me a bit more sceptical in terms of their difficulty tuning, but Izax was pretty cool. I particularly gave Bioware credit for managing to create a fight that was both very involved but still casual-friendly by employing a little trick: "My favourite part of Bioware trying to make this ridiculously long and initially somewhat complicated fight more casual-friendly without neutering the basic mechanics is that while the encounter is active, the cooldown of all combat resurrections - which is usually five minutes - is reduced to thirty seconds. What this means is that the devs could allow certain mechanics to kill people without frustrating the whole group by enforcing a wipe. As long as you still have control of the fight overall and your healers/res-capable damage dealers are on the ball, you can allow people to fall over and get them up again a ridiculous amount of times. The death still teaches a lesson, leaving the victim with another repair bill and probably feeling slightly sheepish, but things keep rolling and remain fun for the group as a whole." Sadly this mechanic broke at some point and has remained unfixed for years as far as I'm aware, which has made the fight considerably less casual-friendly in later patches.

With the release of Onslaught we got the Nature of Progress operation, for which I had a lot of praise again, though there were a few criticisms too... one of them once again - surprise, surprise - the story mode tuning: "Story mode is no Gods of the Machine for sure (thankfully!), but fights like the two gauntlet bosses still require an amount of co-ordination that I wouldn't expect to find in your average pug. This strikes me as a shame as it once again means that the content will remain inaccessible to many more casual players even on what's supposed to be the easiest difficulty, which is particularly sad considering what a fun operation this is."

There is a very clear theme in all of this: I like my story mode operations to be easy. I think the name story mode more than implies that it should be easy, with its primary purpose being to allow people to see the story. It's okay to have some mechanics that can kill people, and there's nothing wrong with some wiping while you're still figuring out basic mechanics and/or if you're in a pug, but a co-ordinated group of guildies on voice chat should surely be able to breeze through without any major issues and while having a good laugh.

I understand there are incentives for devs to make even story mode somewhat more difficult, for example to prevent people from rushing through the content too quickly, or because it's much easier to sell people on the idea of nerfing something that's initially too hard than the other way round. Though honestly, I've never ever felt bad about an operation supposedly being too easy on story mode. Easy is fun and inclusive and allows for a bit of silliness.

Also, first impressions are important, and if an operation gets a bad reputation early on, it can put people off for a looong time. Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice aren't viewed as particularly tough after some nerfs and almost eight years after their introduction, but Gods and Dxun are still places that people avoid due to them feeling like too much of a hassle even on story mode. Dxun story mode was actually nerfed pretty considerably with the launch of 7.0, but it took months until people even started to notice because they just reflexively didn't even want to spend as much time there.

Why am I telling you all this? Because by this point, ten days after 7.1, I would have expected to give a brief summary post of what the new operation "R-4 Anomaly" is like, but my regular ops team - used to raiding veteran and master modes - still hasn't been able to kill the last boss on story mode after five nights. We obviously get the mechanics by this point, but we just can't meet the dps check and get overwhelmed by adds at the end. As the fight takes about ten minutes, it's particularly "fun" to go through all that over and over again, just to then wipe with the boss at 0.3% health. It simply overshadows everything else I might have had to say about this new operation.

I'm sure we'll get there eventually, even if it's by sheer luck, but either way it hasn't been something I would call a fun experience. Plus for me it's extra frustrating that I've basically been telling Bioware to not make freaking story mode ops so hard for a freaking decade, and yet here they are doing it again, worse than ever. I just don't understand.


Digging Deeper - Story Thoughts

Aside from dailies and a new operation, 7.1 also gave us a little story update called "Digging Deeper". For an intermission-style addition I considered it quite meaty, seeing how it clocks in at about half an hour (assuming you watch all the cut scenes) and actually takes you to several different locations. What I've seen of the reception so far has been pretty positive, but for me it's been more of a mixed bag to be honest. I by no means disliked it, but I also didn't really love it. Let me explain.

First though, let's have a quick summary of the story's events - including spoilers! We start with your character flying to Elom with Kira and Sana-Rae since Kira had a bad feeling related to the place. In the ruins where you captured Malgus you get an update from your recovery dig team, which essentially comes down to them being none the wiser about what any of the relics were about.

Suddenly Kira has a flash of recognition when getting close to a specific relic, leading her to have the epiphany that Darth Nul was a child of the Emperor (not literal, but like she was). The team also notes that of the original Republic expedition to Elom, only Sa'har's fate is unknown, meaning that she could still be alive and be able to offer a hint about what Malgus was up to. In the meantime you're advised to go back to the fleet and try talking to him again, since it's not like you've got many other leads to pursue.

We cut to a view of Sa'har standing over some dead bodies and freeing her brother Ri'kan from a cell, seemingly thinking that she saved him from slavers. However, he is not at all happy to see her, and the people cut down by Sa'har appear to have been Mandalorians. After she sobs and apologises, he doesn't really soften to her but suddenly seems to have an idea about "someone who can use you".

Next we find ourselves back on the fleet in Malgus' prison. You send away your advisors and try to talk to him alone, which is initially met with silence, until he suddenly cracks briefly to taunt you about how foolish you are for not even recognising that Darth Nul was none other than the creator of the children of the Emperor, and that his "vision" will come to pass no matter what you do.

You share this intel with your team on Odessen and they also have an update for you as they found an audio log from Jedi Master Denolm Orr (Sa'har's master from the cinematic) in which he admits to being a former child of the Emperor himself. He also brings up the holocron that Sa'har got away with. Finally, you receive an update from or about whoever you sent to that unknown planet that we all thought was Elom in the last update before 7.0. If you sent Arcann he'll tell you that it's a weird place and that he found some ruins he can't enter due to overwhelming Force energies. If you sent others, Sana-Rae will tell you with concern that the expedition has gone silent. You can agree to send her in for support or not.

When you return to where your ship's parked on Odessen, in order to meditate or clear your head, you suddenly receive a holo call from Shae, who tells you that she has finally found Heta Kol on a planet called Ruhnuk but that she'll need support as the opposition is stronger than she anticipated. We cut to a shot of Ri'kan introducing Sa'har to Heta Kol. Heta welcomes them with a smile while some of her Mandalorian underlings look on somewhat sceptically.

As you can tell, a lot actually happens in that half an hour. That's definitely one of the things I do like about this update: It manages to move the story forward in important ways, primarily by adding more context to the events of the LotS cinematic and by tying the Malgus arc to the Mandalorian storyline. I also like how many secondary and minor characters make reappearances, such as Kira, Sana-Rae, Talos Drellik (though I wonder who greets you if you never bothered to do his Alliance alert), Master Gnost-Dural, General Daeruun, Darth Rivix and Colonel Golah. Plus many of the cut scenes have cinematography that makes for some great screenshot opportunities.

Nonetheless I came away feeling rather unsatisfied after my first playthrough of this story, and while I repeated it on my alts I tried to pin down what was bothering me. My first instinct was that there weren't enough conversation choices, but I actually counted them and I think for the overall length of the update, 15 to 20 conversation wheels are fine.

However, the whole thing still just felt too passive to me anyway. While the plot advances somewhat, your character has zero agency in any of it. Everything's just other characters telling you what new information they have or haven't found, and you not being able to do anything about it. You get to look at the relics on Elom but don't really learn anything useful, and it's Kira who has the epiphany about Darth Nul.

The Malgus interrogation scene, which feels like it should be an important moment for your character, seems to go exactly the same way no matter which options you pick, in that he doesn't really respond to anything you're saying, meaning it doesn't feel like you really did anything clever to make him reveal himself; he was just getting bored I guess.

Other subjects that come up and feel like they could potentially be important, such as what to do about Sa'har and the holocron, or what's happening on that planet you may or may not have sent Arcann to, just get kicked further down the road. Ultimately there's a lot of talking going on, but your character isn't really doing any acting beyond listening to what everyone has to say, and that was a bit disappointing to me for half an hour worth of story. In that much time I was really hoping to feel like I was doing something, not just be on the receiving end of a big info dump.

Also, is it me or is there just too much vague stuff going on in the story at the moment? There are all these relics of Nul of which we don't know what they're for, Sa'har has a mysterious holocron, Arcann and Sana-Rae are potentially exploring another planet full of mysteries, Scourge also went off on some mystery mission of his own... I don't know about you, but I've kind of gone from being intrigued to feeling a bit lost and like I don't know what's important anymore because there are too many things going on that are all mysterious in kinda samey ways.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts. Check out Chash Larol's review for a different take. What did you think of this update?


Manaan: Dailies With a Story

I've said many times that I'm not a huge fan of dailies - and 7.0's new gearing system has forced me to do way more of them than I usually would, to be honest - but I was still looking forward to the new daily zone on Manaan. It's always nice to get new content, and dailies are one of those things that Mr Commando and I can still do together in these days of all main story updates being pure solo content / personal to your character.

After one full round of the new area on both Republic and Imperial side, I'd say the jury is still out on whether this is going to be a place I visit more regularly or not. Cal was surprised that the new dailies offer neither daily currency nor tech fragments, but I think that's intentional - at this point, people are going to do the area for its sheer novelty and the new reputation anyway. I'd expect Bioware to rebalance the rewards to make them more equal to other, existing daily areas eventually, but for now I get it if they don't want to over-incentivise this new content.

Just in terms of general feel I got the impression that I had to do a fair amount of running around, but I wouldn't be surprised if we all came up with our own, more efficient ways of going about things after a while. On the first night, Mr Commando and I started by fighting our way into a cave for a heroic and back out again, ran around the little "island" doing other missions and then found that we had to go back into the exact same cave at the end. There's definitely ways that can be planned out better.

What was most interesting though was that Bioware decided to add a little story to Manaan. The overall feel of the narrative reminded me a bit of the old planetary storylines - less personalised and centred on your character, but adding some life to the planet and context for what it is you're doing in each area. The dailies are immediately available without doing the story, but if you pick all of them up at the beginning, you'll be able to complete them relatively synergetically alongside each step of the storyline.

Bioware also did something that I've seen in WoW before (and I wouldn't be surprised if other MMOs did this too) by having the story reward you with extra abilities that only work on Manaan. After each step you're allowed to choose between two types of gadgets, including different AoE damage abilities, a reflective shield, a self-heal, a speed boost and even a stealth field generator, if you haven't already picked a stealth class as one of your two combat styles. These should make subsequent runs of the daily area a lot easier without otherwise unbalancing the game. Very neat.

I'd say the only downside is that the production values for this side story were clearly very limited, because not only does it use the KOTOR-style dialogue in which your character stays silent (which I'm fine with for side quests), but every single character speaks some form of alien gibberish, which I'm less keen on. It's particularly annoying when they radio you updates out in the field - this is something that makes perfect sense when characters speak Basic, as you can just listen to what's being said without disrupting your gameplay, but when it's all Huttese or Selkath or whatever, you've got to stop what you're doing to bring up the right chat window and scroll back to read the translation of what they said, which is a lot less fun.

There are also some small oddities in the flow of the dialogue which make me think that Bioware originally intended for story progress to be gated by time or reputation. On Republic side this is reflected in your two contacts standing right next to each other in the same room, while occasionally conversations end with something like "No idea where X is right now" just for the immediate next step to be to talk to X two steps to the right. The Imperial story is even more obvious about it as your contact will tell you to come back later because he needs time to do something or other, but then the conversation just continues after a brief fadeout anyway.

Anyway, overall I consider this little story addition a win, and the dailies seem alright, with nothing sticking out as particularly efficient or awkward at first blush - we'll see how they hold up over time.


Let's Look at 7.1 Patch Notes

At the time of writing this, patch 7.1 should already be deployed, but I'm not in a rush to log in as I have some other plans tonight. (Plus to be honest, based on past experience I always like to wait a bit with logging in after a major patch, because servers going down again within the hour after Bioware discovered some urgent problem is something that has happened more than once.)

In the meantime, let me start out by giving the obligatory shout-out to Blaugust, the annual event to celebrate blogging of all kinds during the month of August. If you're a blogger yourself, it's a great time to get some additional exposure for your blog. If you used to be a blogger and have fallen off the wagon, or you're someone who writes a lot of comments and has been thinking about maybe starting a blog of their own, it's also a great opportunity to get help with all aspects of (re-)starting a blog as well as have other people provide additional motivation. Finally if you're just someone who likes to read blogs, Blaugust is a good opportunity to cast your net a bit wider and find new blogs to follow! You can find the spreadsheet with the list of all participants here.

I signed up again myself, because while I don't make much use of the prompts and my overall blogging rhythm doesn't change because of the event (I was never one of those who aspire to blog daily throughout the month), I figure that with the big patch releasing today, I should have plenty of things to talk about over the course of the next couple of weeks.

I wanted to start with the patch notes because while I don't always post about these, we've been waiting for 7.1 for what feels like ages, and it's become quite a sizeable patch as a result, so I thought it would be fun to pick out some of the (to me) more interesting patch notes that might end up being drowned by sheer volume otherwise.

There are of course the big ticket items like the new story update, the Manaan daily area and the new operation, but I'm kind of surprised that "class balance" is included on the list of "highlights", considering that the listed class changes really don't look like that much of a big deal to me. Some classes are receiving small nerfs, and dps Commandos/Mercenaries are being buffed a little, all of which might help a bit with the considerable class imbalances we've had to deal with since 7.0, but at least on paper none of the changes look major to me.

I'm also kind of amused that they have a whole sub-section in the patch notes for Galactic Season 2 - you know, that event that ended last month - meaning we have notes about objectives being fixed alongside another note saying that they can't be progressed anymore because the season is over. The latter should've really kicked in when the season actually ended several weeks ago, but in typical Bioware fashion the objectives disappeared from our trackers just to keep popping up whenever we did something relevant anyway. I also kept finding Syndicate Plans everywhere even though they were supposed to be discontinued... but now they are officially supposed to drop again, at which point I wouldn't be surprised if they suddenly stopped dropping after all, just to be confusing. It's all a bit of a mess if you ask me, but at least of the harmless kind.

There is some good stuff though! I'm surprised they're actually launching Nar Shaddaa Nightlife alongside all the content coming with 7.1, considering that it's served as "filler" in the past to tide us over periods of no new content, but for that it's kind of late this year! Then again, it's August now and it's meant to be a summer event, so I guess they didn't have much time left to launch it without going into autumn. I don't have the greatest history with this event, but I did say last year when I couldn't get the shades I wanted that I'd try again this year, so there's that!

Rested Experience now correctly increases when a character is logged out in a rest zone.

This is a small bug that was really bugging me during my Season 2 exploits on other servers (no pun intended), because while levelling is very fast anyway, I just enjoy having rested experience and I hated that I could never get any.

Improved the visibility of the materials received in the Deconstruction window.

This is another one of those little things that was sooo annoying - basically hardly being able to see what you got whenever you deconstructed something. Glad it's finally being addressed.

Fixed an issue where Tacticals of players with 15 empty inventory slots were swapped with ship equipment or sent via mail when changing Loadouts.

This was quite a funny bug! I don't think I ever actually equipped ship modules in my Tactical slot, but sometimes when I changed loadouts, certain parts of my ship would just randomly land in my inventory. Other guildies had bigger problems with this... but I mostly thought it was amusing.

The currency tab no longer shows the PvP Season Tokens if the player does not possess any.

I hope that'll also apply to all those other old currencies that have been taking up space on the tab since 7.0... don't spoil, I'll find out soon myself.

Players wielding two weapons can no longer unequip their main hand weapon while being polymorphed.

This one just had me go "WTF" and not just because "polymorph" is WoW lingo and I can't really think of any in-game effects that this description would apply to... If you know what this about, please do tell me!

Fixed a texture issue on the Apprentice Pummeler’s Greaves MK-2.

This one just stood out to me because it's those exact legs my knight was wearing in the screenshot I posted here.

Restored the Legendary Implants color scheme for readability.

Fun fact: I actually had a guildie complain about the lack of colour consistency on the legendary implant icons big time, while I didn't even understand what he was talking about at first. Helpful that they changed it now I guess.

Players can no longer select a Flashpoint from the Group Finder window if they already have a mission for the same Flashpoint at a different difficulty level.

Not sure this is really going to solve all the confusion around the way these difficulty level missions work, but at least it should get rid of the situation where someone would get queued up for a flashpoint but then be unable to actually enter it, without understanding why.

The Exit Area button now appears on the mini-map when the player is inside a Flashpoint.

The button never actually went away, but see, I was wondering why they removed the words "exit area" so that only players who already knew what it was could really use it. It being removed in error in the first place makes a lot more sense.

Reduced the health of all encounters across all Operations and in all modes.

This is like the biggest change to put into a small patch note ever. For the next few days my guildies and I will obviously be busy running the new operation above all else, but I'm very much looking forward to seeing what this change does for all the crazy high dps requirements we ran up against in a lot of master modes since 7.0. There's also "Damage done by enemies has been reduced in all modes." for both Gods from the Machine and Nature of Progress.

The Ugnaught Leader in Blizz’s recruitment Mission, “Little Boss” is no longer too difficult to defeat.

I haven't done that mission in a while, but was that really a thing?

The following Missions now reward Tech Fragments for players above 75: [WEEKLY] The War Front, [DAILY] Zero Tolerance, [DAILY] United We Stand.

As one of my guildies put it: "OK, but can we actually pick up the quests between level 71 and 79, Bioware?" Because that has been an issue since 7.0... once again, I'm curious to find out, but I know that changes to the rewards of a mission that you can't actually pick up wouldn't be that useful.

Defeating The Eyeless during the Rakghoul Resurgence event no longer grants credit for the "Activity Finder: Socialite” Conquest Objective.

RIP easy Conquest completion during Rakghoul Resurgence. To be fair, we all knew this was a bug and it wasn't a big deal, just another one of those funny quirks, that killing this boss counted as being "super social" and instantly completed two Conquest objectives at once.

Do you have a favourite minor patch note that I didn't list here?