PvP in 7.2 - Missing My MVPs

When Bioware announced that 7.2 was going to include the removal of ranked PvP, my initial reaction was to have sympathy for those who enjoyed that game mode, and when I sought out other people's opinions on the matter I was surprised by how many comments I saw that basically came down to "good riddance, it was nothing but a toxic cesspit anyway".

I then had a look at the official forums to see the reactions of actual ranked players and was amazed by just how much denial and deflection was going on there: Ranked wasn't toxic, but if it was, it was justified because of bad players daring to invade their space, and now all those totally not toxic ranked players are going to invade unranked and make people's lives hell there, but also unranked was already the most toxic game mode anyway and the game's going to die because the subscriptions of ranked players were all that was keeping it alive. Or something.

It's still a bit of a shame because I remember when the Bad Feeling Podcast (rest in peace) went through a phase of really wanting to make ranked a thing, and their angle was basically that ranked should be for everyone - after all, the point of the ranking system is that people of all skill levels will be sorted into the correct "bracket", and if only enough people queued then everyone should be able to take part and have fun being matched up against other players of similar skill level. Sadly it seems that this never came to pass and instead ranked turned into the home of a small elite that cannibalised itself until it was too late. Oh well.

So 7.2 brought us a brave new world where there is no more split between ranked and unranked, but separate queues for 8v8 warzones and 4v4 arenas, and we get to fill out a PvP reward track similar to Galactic Seasons.

The PvP season track is pretty bare-bones compared to the regular season, with only 25 levels, no separate subscriber vs. non-subscriber tracks, and no daily objectives. Instead there are six weeklies that are the same every week, and beyond those you can earn a small trickle of points by earning medals until you reach the weekly point cap of 1000. (Completing the track in its entirety requires 7000 points.)

The weekly objectives are split into three for warzones and three for arenas, which ironically meant that after thinking that the new queue split would mean no more arenas for me, I actually ended up queueing for more arenas than ever before, just to complete the weekly objectives during the first two weeks. While I've never really minded the occasional arena sprinkled into my random queue, I've got to admit that this particular experience has actually been kind of tiresome as the objectives require you to play twice as many arenas as warzones to get the same amount of credit.

Also, while it's not made very clear in the UI, the PvP season seems to have similar limitations on the weekly objectives as the regular season, meaning you can only get credit for four out of six each week. After spending several hours being a punching bag in arenas just to complete objectives that ultimately didn't award me any points (even though they weren't greyed out), I think I'll stick to the 8v8 objectives for the rest of the season... though I might still find myself playing arenas if I decide to go for the achievements tied to the season as well, as they require you to complete 25 warzone and 25 arena weeklies. Considering the season is only 12 weeks long, that's a lot though and I'm not sure I'll bother.

Another change that wasn't really advertised much has been a revamp of the scoreboard that you see at the end of the match, and to be honest... I'm not a fan. The primary tab now just shows a picture of your character and your personal stats - which are pretty meaningless without those of the rest of the team to put things in context. About the only thing I like here is that medals earned are listed in full instead of requiring you to hover over them to read what you got them for.

On the team score tabs, kills have been removed from the main view and are now only visible on hover - not sure if this is supposed to make people feel better about dying a lot? I used to find it helpful to be able to see them more easily in order to gauge everyone's ratio of kills vs. deaths at a glance.

However, the thing that irks me the most - and I was somewhat surprised by this myself - is the removal of MVP votes. When I first heard that this was also going to happen with 7.2, my reaction was something along the lines of "eh". I liked MVP votes, but I couldn't deny that they were an old system that didn't really seem to serve any purpose anymore, and in most PvP matches I played, most people didn't seem to bother casting votes anymore anyway.

However, what their removal made me realise was that MVP votes made me care about the rest of my team - not because I coveted their votes, but because the act of casting my own MVP vote made me pay attention to how much everyone else was contributing to the match. In this blog's first year I wrote a post called MVP Votes And You, in which I talked about the many ways in which someone could earn my MVP vote, and there were a lot of them! With their removal, I just don't feel like there's any point in paying much attention to the other players' performance unless I'm planning to PvP all evening and want to get a bit of an idea of who's a strong opponent that day and who isn't. If I notice anyone having played particularly well, there's no real way of showing appreciation for it, except for maybe typing it in chat, but they probably will have quit the match before I've finished typing anyway. Not to mention that it's much more effort than pressing a button.

Considering that Bioware said that an important reason for them making all these changes was to make PvP interactions more positive, it kind of galls me that they also removed something that was created specifically to be a positive interaction. I can only hope that they'll consider bringing the system back in some form eventually.

In the meantime, the jury's out on how well this new PvP season system is going to work, for me at least. For now it's got me doing more PvP than usual, but I also worry that with arenas being so heavily incentivised, I'll end up burning myself out on those. (Which - again - is incredibly ironic considering that we're able to completely banish arenas from our queue for the first time since their introduction.)


Voices of SWTOR

It's always funny to me how SWTOR seems to kind of follow me around even when I'm not playing it. I was PC-less for the past few days, visiting relatives on the other side of the country, so my internet usage was limited to browsing some websites and watching a few things on my phone. One thing I watched was the 2002 Disney movie Lilo & Stitch - a film I know I saw when it first came out but could remember very little about. (It holds up surprisingly well by the way!)

There was this side character who's an alien that basically looks like a giant shark and whose voice sounded familiar, so I looked up the voice actor afterwards, and what do you know - it's Kevin Michael Richardson, who also voiced Jace Malcom in SWTOR. Seems like gruff military types that push boundaries are his "type".

A few weeks ago Mr Commando and I were also questing our way through World of Warcraft's newest expansion, and in the Ohn'ahran Plains we ran into both Senya (voicing the centaur Ohn Seshteng) and the female trooper/Master Satele (voicing the green dragon Merithra). I also wouldn't be surprised if there were even more overlapping voice actors doing minor characters that I just didn't recognise instantly the way I recognise the major players.

I can't quite decide whether that's a good or bad thing. On the one hand, it's kind of bad for immersion when an ancient dragon starts speaking and I go "ooh, it's my trooper". On the other hand though, I just think it's kind of neat that SWTOR has had so many noteworthy voice actors contribute to the game over the years, and identifying their voices in different contexts makes for a fun little game of its own.


My 11th Year of SWTOR Blogging and Happy Life Day

This blog celebrates its anniversary two days after the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic, and I always use that as an opportunity to review my blogging activity for the past year and how it reflected on my relationship with the game. While I just called out certain rough spots in the game's release schedule last year, it's honestly been doing better than the blog, as my output in terms of posts dropped for the third year in a row (though I should only be a couple of posts down on last year by the end of December).

I don't really have an excuse. As I've said previously, I'm simply not as focused as I used to be, what with splitting my free time between multiple MMOs and also blogging about WoW again.

The most quiet time on the blog this year was January, as I was honestly in a bit of a funk after the Legacy of the Sith delay and didn't feel terribly motivated to play. I think I did some Conquest or something? The only things I wrote about were SWTOR being featured in an issue of Star Wars Insider (an experience that taught me something about the challenges of hunting down a physical magazine in 2022) and how I'd come to quite enjoy the Iokath dailies.

Then in February, it was finally expansion time! The launch felt very exciting, though my overall first impressions were less so. Nonetheless I spent the next few weeks happily reporting on all the new content I was having fun with, such as the newest story and Galactic Season 2.

This continued into March, when I mused about the (to me) somewhat strange changes to repeatable content that limited which flashpoints and daily zones would grant rewards each week (which were fortunately reverted soon after) and the complexity of the new gearing system. I wrote about how the introduction of combat styles made the game feel different even as I personally refused to pick up an additional combat style on any of my characters for the time being, and I tried to evaluate the changes to the new player experience but found it difficult to distinguish between what was truly new in 7.0 and what had already been changed earlier and I just couldn't remember. I also had fun in the retuned operations and found it quite funny that even places like Eternity Vault were suddenly somewhat challenging again.

By April my excitement started to wane a little, however. I had to do some soul-searching in regards to the fact that the change to combat logging that was also implemented with 7.0 meant that I couldn't hide how bad I was at dps anymore. The tight tuning of the operations made gold augments more relevant than they had been before and gave them an uncomfortable air of pay-to-win. I was looking forward to the expansion's first patch, even if it was only a minor one. Most of my fun came from the fact that I'd found Season 2 so easy to complete that I decided to follow in the footsteps of one my guildies and attempt to complete it on the game's other servers too, something that led to some interesting new experiences.

At the start of May I had to admit that things weren't looking good on the ops front at all, as initial amusement about hitting the enrage on the first boss in EV had made way for frustration with how overtuned everything was, plus class balance issues were adding additional aggravation. In other news, I finally picked a second combat style for my Commando main, and had some good times in PvP. I confidently declared that SWTOR's endgame was all about alts instead of gear, and continued to have fun working my way through the Season 2 track on multiple servers. I also started to document my post-KotET experiences as an Imperial saboteur.

By June I was noticeably running out of steam again. I continued my saboteur's adventures and completed Season 2 on Star Forge, but otherwise I didn't feel terribly motivated and was kind of holding out for patch 7.1.

In July I completed Season 2 on the remaining servers, talked about Josh Strife Hayes' take on SWTOR, and was mostly very glad when we finally got a launch date for 7.1.

August came, and with it 7.1, which brought with it excitement about the new daily zone and an unexpected story update. And of course there was the new operation R-4 Anomaly... which made it a struggle for me to say anything positive about it since Bioware had once again decided that actually, they didn't need story mode to be accessible and that ops were now primarily catering to the top 1%. I tried to drown my sorrow in gambling (just kidding... though I did take part in the Nightlife event with more enthusiasm than I had in a while).

Seriously though, the problems with R-4 Anomaly really hit me hard. I did write a bit about the issues it presented for me at the beginning of September, but to be honest things were even worse than I admitted in that post. Basically it pushed me to a point where I was ready to step away from raiding altogether. So Bioware doesn't want people like me to raid anymore? Well fuck it; guess I won't then. Considering that I've been running operations in SWTOR pretty consistently almost since launch, that was a pretty big deal.

The reason this ultimately didn't happen was Mr Commando. This was a surprise in so far as he'd been moaning at me for years about how he doesn't really enjoy the game the way he used to, and that he's just "locked in" by our shared raiding habit, so I thought he'd be delighted by an opportunity to just drop the whole thing altogether. However, in a move that surprised even himself, he stuck with it even when I stopped and eventually managed to mellow me down to just "taking a break". I alluded to this in a post at the end of the month, where I wrote about the strange hoops people had to jump through to kill bosses in R-4 veteran mode.

I kind of avoided talking about the whole situation in more detail by posting less and mostly sticking to subjects that were kind of peripheral to the game instead of talking about actual gameplay, such as websites for combat logging, the update to the official forums, or the second "Best View in SWTOR" contest. This continued into October until it was time for the launch of Galactic Season 3, which somewhat invigorated my interest in the game and writing about everything a new season entailed.

As I spent more time playing again, I realised that I had warmed up to combat styles a bit and actually made use of the feature on a couple of alts. On a related subject, I complained a bit about how levelling and gearing alts was quite awkward this expansion, but I also celebrated finally finishing off the last achievement for the Feast of Prosperity. We got our first glimpse of 7.2 and it looked really good. It actually launched before the end of the year too, bringing with it a very cinematic story update and a new daily zone.

All in all, I think you can see that it hasn't just been a year of ups and down for the game, but also for my relationship with it. I was hyped for the expansion, but then it launched with many issues (though I still had fun with 7.0). I had a lot of hopes for patch 7.1, but instead it broke my spirit and tested my ties to the game in a way that had never happened before. It feels like brighter days might finally be ahead with 7.2, but I've also got to admit that I'm not entirely "over" my disappointment with R-4, and my interest in raiding remains a little precarious. I know it's just a game, but it's a game that has been my virtual home for more than a decade now, so these kinds of things can still hit hard.

For now I'll be AFK for a few days to take part in a family Christmas for the first time since the pandemic and I hope y'all have a good holiday period, whether you celebrate Christmas or do something else. Maybe you'll even find a tauntaun under your Christmas tree like I did.


Eleven Years of SWTOR

It's kind of wild to me that Star Wars: The Old Republic has entered its second decade now and that I've been along for the entire ride. The first year of this new decade has also been... something.

Last year around this time I was a little disappointed that Legacy of the Sith had been delayed on very short notice, especially as I was really looking forward to it. We eventually got that expansion two months later, but sadly it didn't turn out to be what everyone had hoped for. It's really weird actually, because there was so much hype around it; they even invested in a cinematic trailer for the first time in five years and it was awesome - Bioware must've known that what they were about to deliver wasn't anywhere near ready to live up to those expectations. I still wonder what went wrong behind the scenes there...

Anyway, while I thought that much of the negativity around the launch was blown way out of proportion, I think it's hard to deny that overall, people were let down. UI changes felt strange, the story content was short for something called an "expansion" even by Bioware's standards, and in general it felt like too much stuff had to be cut or delayed. It took until August's 7.1 patch to make it feel like we'd actually received an expansion launch worth of content, though that wasn't without its issues either... but I'll talk more about that in my general "my blogging year in review" post.

To Bioware's credit, they managed to push out 7.2 before Christmas, something I didn't really expect to happen. (And to me the fact that people kept asking about what was happening with Life Day and not getting any responses for a while indicates that there was at least some uncertainty internally as well.) 7.2 turned out to be a pretty meaty patch as well, with a new planet, a chunky story update, new dailies and a major PvP update.

If you look at all of that added together, we actually ended up getting significantly more content this year than last year: two large story updates plus one medium-sized one, two new planets/daily areas, a new flashpoint, a new operation, two Galactic Seasons, a PvP revamp and a bunch of UI updates. Not to mention combat styles, the expansion's big new feature. Technical updates like that are just always hard to judge because while I'm sure they take a lot of work in the backend, their impact on players is going to vary.

All in all, while the game was off to a rocky start this year, things seem to have stabilised somewhat by now, and I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say about the contents of patch 7.2 before my Christmas holidays are over. With all the updates they're making to things like the user interface, it definitely feels like Bioware are laying the groundwork for the next ten years of SWTOR, and that's nice to see.

If you want to make comparisons to how I felt at the end of the year on past anniversaries, feel free to check the links below:

Happy Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy 2nd Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy Third Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy 4th Birthday, SWTOR!
Five Years of SWTOR
Six Years of SWTOR
Seven Years of SWTOR
Eight Years of SWTOR
Nine Years of SWTOR
Happy 10th Birthday, SWTOR!


Dailies on Ruhnuk: Confusion Central

I really liked Ruhnuk's general visuals from the first preview we got of 7.2. The story impressed with intricate cinematics. We also knew from the 7.2 preview that the daily area on Ruhnuk would come with its own planetary story arc again, something that I quite liked on Manaan, and this time the NPCs were going to be voiced too instead of everything being alien gibberish (which had been my main criticism of Manaan).

What could possibly go wrong?

A lot, as it turns out.

You see, I'd initially held off on tackling the dailies since Mr Commando didn't have time to play for a few days, and a new daily zone is one of the few pieces of new content that we can still meaningfully play together, so I wanted to "save" my first experience for a shared play session. But boy, did that turn out to be a shitshow.

We started on Saturday at 3pm, with the caveat that Mr Commando would have something else to do for a bit at 4pm. "It's just dailies! This isn't going to take an hour, don't worry," I mocked. 4pm rolled around and we were nowhere near done, so we took a half-hour break while he did his other thing. Then we logged back in and continued... for another two hours. In total it took us no less than three hours to do the new storyline and a single round of the new dailies.

Now, to be fair, what with it being our first time and both of us going in blind, we were always going to be inefficient in ways that can be avoided once you know everything the new quests entail and where they take place. However, the amount of running back and forth we had to do was utterly comical, and it was made significantly worse by the fact that Ruhnuk's geography is terribly confusing to navigate. Mr Commando soon compared it to Iokath, at which point I felt the need to defend the latter, as I actually quite like Iokath nowadays and I don't think it's ever been nearly as confusing as Ruhnuk has been for us.

The problem is that Ruhnuk consists of a large number of little sub-zones, which are mostly either narrow outdoor canyons or indoor tunnels/corridors, none of which are reflected very well on the large planetary map (which the game helpfully shuffled out of the way onto a new keybind in this update as well), meaning it's really hard to get a grip on how they are all connected and which of the half a dozen exits from any given sub-zone is going to lead where.

Anyone who's played the game for any length of time knows that the helpful little map highlights that are supposed to show you where to go for a quest can also get a bit confused when it comes to things like taxi points or elevation changes, which only amplified our issues. (When I looked up some info about the daily area online afterwards, I found out that Vulkk's guide actually included multiple custom-made maps, which are awesome and contain so much additional information that's hard to impossible to discern in game.)

At first we just snarked about all this a little bit, saying things along the lines of how Bioware clearly took the feedback about 7.0 being quite short to heart by making these dailies take forever to complete. By the second hour we descended into hysterical laughter when we found that a quest marker made us fight our way through the same damn tunnel for the fourth time, but by the third hour we were honestly just kind of sick of it and wanted it to be over.

In hindsight I think we probably could have saved some time by making smarter use of quick travel points, but this is where the issue with the maps comes in again since it was impossible to see where on the planet we were supposed to go in order to plan ahead, meaning we couldn't do anything but follow the confused arrows back and forth through the same tunnels and ravines over and over. Other people seemed to be in a similar predicament, based on the number of characters we encountered that would just barrel through with a massive mob train in tow, trying to get from A to B at a decent pace without having to fight a dozen mob pulls... and often those mobs would then end up aggroing on us, forcing us to fight even more and making our own trip take even longer.

Despite of Mr Commando's initial passionate declaration that he was never going to come back to this horrible planet, we did give it another try today to see how we would do with a bit more knowledge of the lay of the land and with just the dailies and no more story missions left to do. This time it "only" took us a little over an hour, which is much more reasonable I'll admit... though still quite long considering we were playing as a duo in nearly best-in-slot gear and with maxed-out companions. I dread to think what kind of slog some of these mob pulls must be as a solo character with lesser gear (and without stealth).

I just don't quite know what to think. In general this patch has been shaping up to be a pretty good one, and I really like a lot of things about Ruhnuk... but I can't deny that in terms of gameplay, this has been the worst first impression I've had of a daily area in years, if not ever. I'd like to think that with time, it might grow on me the way Iokath has, but at the moment it's hard to imagine myself spending much time there beyond one visit per character and to max out the reputation, because endlessly wading back and forth through tunnels of mobs is just not my idea of fun.


Ruhnuk Is Very Cinematic

I was sceptical until the very end, but Bioware actually managed to release 7.2 before Christmas. I'll need a few more days and additional playthroughs on alts to fully sort out my thoughts on the new story update, but one thing I can already say about it is that it contains the largest amount of in-game cut scenes that we've seen in a long time, and they are marvellously done as well.

The big action sequences actually reminded me a bit of KotFE - and yes, I know I've said many times that I don't look back on that expansion with a great deal of fondness, but its cut scene quality was not something I ever had issues with, rather the opposite. The duel between Shae Vizla and Heta Kol in specific kind of reminded me of the showdown between Senya and Vaylin in KotFE chapter eight - as in: it was a prime opportunity to wear out your screenshot key while trying to get good action shots. You can see just a handful of them below.


Season 3 Halftime Thoughts

We're slowly approaching Galactic Season 3's halfway point, and I've been doing very well for myself! On Darth Malgus I'm up to season level 88, and on all the other servers I'm somewhere between the mid-sixties to low seventies.

That's basically me confessing that I haven't really been able to ease up on my slightly obsessive play on the other servers, even though it can be a bit overwhelming sometimes. It's not that I don't enjoy playing there, but my brain doesn't quite seem to be able to comprehend that you can't just multiply the effort for something like the PvP weekly by five without feeling a dramatic increase in play time required to achieve that goal. And by the time it starts to drag I've usually progressed enough that I kind of don't want to give up on the weekly so close to the finish line... c'est la vie. At least being close to finishing the season on Darth Malgus means that there'll soon be one server less to consider when it comes to weekly objectives.

Aside from chasing objectives, I've kind of enjoyed rounding out my legacies on the other servers a bit. At the start of the season I was able to buy both of the fleet strongholds on every server, which gave my Conquest point bonus a crazy boost compared to what it used to be.

The clone of my main that I made on Tulak Hord hit 80 the other day, as did my Shadow on Satele Shan, which leaves Leviathan as the only server where I don't have a max-level character, though my knight there only has three more levels to go as well.

I've also enjoyed adding to my legacies on the other servers with the creation of some Imperial alts. Occasionally there are some easy season objectives that require you to have characters of both factions, such as the one this week that asks you to kill a few named mobs on Quesh on both Republic and Imperial side, and it annoyed me a bit that I couldn't do those. So I've been using the weekly objectives to do x number of quests on a character with a specific origin story to create alts on servers where I didn't yet have anything that matched the requirements. Specifically that has resulted in a new Sith inquisitor on Tulak Hord and my ancient lowbie agent on Satele Shan finally getting to level ten. Fun fact: while Conquest and Galactic Seasons officially don't unlock until level ten, you already get credit towards seasons objectives before that, which meant that my Sniper got the one to complete fifteen quests as an agent at a mere level nine.

Another thing to note is that I've been loving the change to the prize tracks that replaced some Cartel Coins with Cartel packs instead. I know there was some moaning about this at the start of the season from people who primarily do them for the free CC, but I've got to admit as someone who's never short on CC I've unexpectedly been loving this change! It means I get to open some boxes without having to spend money of either kind, and I've liked some of the prizes enough to just keep them. For example I got a set called "Berserker" out of one of my free Cartel packs on Satele Shan, which is apparently a fairly common set from a really old pack, but I didn't recall ever seeing it before. I really dig the "cybernetic suit" look it sports though and decided that it was a great fit for my new agent.

And the stuff that doesn't appeal to me personally? Gets claimed and thrown onto the GTN once the bind timer runs out, which means that this is also a great time for people who prefer to buy their Cartel items with credits, as the free crates from seasons provide an additional supply of items that wouldn't otherwise be there.