Technological Advancements: 64-bit and New Regional Servers?

I didn't really comment on the release of patch 7.2.1 last month beyond the fact that it kicked off two new seasons, but it was an important patch from a technical perspective as it upgraded SWTOR's game client to 64-bit. As I said when this move was first announced, I'm not an expert on these things so I had no strong opinions on or expectations of this change. It just sounded like a good move in terms of keeping the game running and functional for years to come.

When 64-bit finally launched, I was hoping that I'd have more to say about it, but I had to hold off on commenting because to be honest I didn't really notice much of a difference. I'll qualify this by admitting that I'm the kind of person who isn't very observant when it comes to game performance... for example I always hear people complaining about FPS drops, but personally I don't even know what my FPS is most of the time and certainly won't notice it changing in any way unless my game lags so badly that it literally turns into a slide show.

I heard some people say that graphics looked a bit better somehow after the update, but I wonder whether that wasn't just the game resetting some settings. For example I soon noticed that something seemed off with my shadows. I wrote a post here once about how I actually ended up turning my shadows down because they made everything too dark. However, it was only while fiddling with the settings after the patch that I noticed that having enhanced shadows off also makes the shadows that characters and objects cast in the world look like utter crap. So it seems to be a choice between either having nothing but a blob shadow under you with the enhanced settings turned off, or cut scenes being super dark. This probably isn't new though, so I digress...

In terms of actual performance, I saw some people say that the 64-bit upgrade reduced lag and desync in warzones for them, but after at first getting excited about these comments, I have to admit I still encountered quite a bit of desync myself, so... About the only improvements I can attest to myself are that interactions with certain objects like cargo bays seem to be a smidge faster than before, and that performance in 16-man ops seems to have improved a bit. My guild's been working on 16-man master mode Dread Palace this past week, and in the past when we used to kill a boss and a bunch of people had achievements pop up, the whole game would literally freeze for everyone for several seconds. This time the "boss kill lag" was still there but felt significantly reduced.

Either way, I guess it's still a win that the update seemed to go relatively smoothly overall. Sure, there were some people that had problems immediately after the patch (something that seemed pretty inevitable) but from what I saw their numbers didn't seem too high and the Bioware team seemed to be on the case to get their issues fixed as soon as possible.

Another interesting development that happened the week after the patch was that Bioware temporarily opened an APAC test server called Shae Vizla to continue their testing as part of a previously announced initiative to move the game's hosting to Amazon Web Services. I didn't take part in this testing, but I thought the news that they decided to launch this test server in the APAC region was very interesting.

Having a server local to your region so you get a decent ping is another one of those tech things I've never really had to think much about, but I know that US players were not happy when during the last round of server merges in 2017, Bioware got rid of their west coast server farm, meaning that all US servers are now located on the east coast. Australians and other players from that region have had it even worse, as SWTOR's APAC servers were shut down a full ten(!) years ago. At the time, there were still three separate servers for that region, but Bioware didn't want to merge them into a single one because they didn't want to force PvPers, PvErs and roleplayers all onto the same server - how times have changed, eh? (Both dedicated PvP and RP servers no longer exist.)

From the sounds of it, moving to AWS will allow Bioware to rent a smaller amount of servers in different locations as needed, which could mean that we might see the return of a dedicated west coast server for the Americans and an APAC server for the Australians. The latter would be extra exciting because it would presumably involve opening a whole new server, something that I don't think we've seen since 2012.

This does of course raise the question of how viable adding another server would be in terms of population - after all the game's much smaller now than it used to be. However, I'm thinking that with most APAC players residing on the US servers now and Star Forge in particular being the largest of all servers by far, you could probably take a bite out of that without harming the existing player base there. The resulting new server would probably be small-ish and might not see all queued activities popping all the time, but it could still be viable, similar to the Leviathan right now. Either way, I'm excited to hear what comes next.


The Dynamic Pacifist Duo

I mentioned in my last post about reactivating my pacifist Jedi Pacis and acquiring Amity as a companion that I wanted to take them both to Dantooine so they could pat the Kath Hounds and dig up relics together. But then I thought: Why wait until next week to start levelling? Dantooine is a mess this week because of the pirates, but that doesn't mean I can't traipse around the galaxy a bit and have Pacis show Amity what she's explored so far.

So I took them to the heroic terminal on the fleet and grabbed one mission each on every planet where I'd previously identified pacifism-compatible heroics.

The first thing I discovered was that Amity did not like to stay passive, as he reactivated himself every time I travelled to a new planet. I don't know if that's a bug, some intentional setting meant to prevent newbies from accidentally neutering their companion, or just another facet of the way the game resets your character's status in certain ways whenever you travel (such as non-combat pets disappearing).

Speaking of non-combat pets, I had a funny experience in the very first heroic on Coruscant, Trouble in Deed. At one point when I wanted to put a mob to sleep I accidentally hit the wrong ability and summoned a non-combat pet instead (I forgot that as a pacifist, Pacis has a very different quickbar layout from my other Shadows). This broke my stealth and aggroed the mobs I'd been standing next to, though it was no problem as I could just stealth out. However, even after I'd exited combat, the mobs did not (as I was told they were still in combat when I attempted to apply my CC again) - they kept their weapons drawn and remained transfixed by the little droid I had summoned. They couldn't attack it of course, but they clearly wanted to. I ran around the area a bit and was very amused to watch them chase the droid in circles.

On Nar Shaddaa, I struggled a bit with my Two Cloaks Tactical seemingly not working reliably... or maybe it was just a visual bug with the cooldown clock not displaying, but it looked like it wouldn't start adding the second charge sometimes until I un- and re-equipped it. It's weird because I don't recall running into this issue before, but I guess my other Shadows also don't usually spend much of their time standing around waiting for Force Cloak to come off cooldown, so maybe I haven't been looking hard enough until now.

On Alderaan, I experienced the fun of the game being unable to decide whether companions are separate from the player character or not. Basically, while Pacis and Amity were stealthing around, a bunch of Killiks aggroed on him. I wanted to vanish out, but the game told me that I couldn't because I was already in stealth. Which one is it, game, are we still stealthed or not? I had to watch Amity get beaten to a pulp while in stealth (at least he took it like a proper pacifist, bless him) and was only able to cloak and exit combat once the mobs started hitting Pacis. I do vaguely recall experiencing this on other stealth characters before, but I can see this becoming a bit of a nuisance for this duo in particular.

On Balmorra, I did the heroic where you collect intel from the crashed probe droids - an occasion where I decided that Amity could make himself useful by healing Pacis through the damage from the toxic sludge. Of course this was when I noticed that he wasn't doing anything even while set to active. A quick look at his action bar revealed why: like player characters, he needs to have a weapon equipped for many of his abilities, and the one heal he was able to do without his staff was turned off by default. D'oh! I turned it on of course.

Fortunately the remaining heroics didn't reveal any more issues, but I guess this went to show that having a companion definitely introduces new complications to Pacis' life. I was also a bit dismayed to find that after doing all those heroics, I was only sitting on 40k Conquest points. Last time Pacis participated in Conquest, it only required 50k points to complete, and I think it still may have awarded credits and XP as well? I actually approved of all of those things being changed, but when you're a pacifist, every little helps, and on the other hand even small changes can make your life a lot more difficult. Fortunately the Pirate Incursion conquest featured an objective for doing ten heroics, which allowed Pacis to complete her Conquest the next day. During other weeks it might be harder (comparatively), but it should also still be doable as long as I actually remember to log in and play her every day.


Bad Batch Season 2 & Mandalorian Season 3

Two more seasons of new Star Wars content wrapped up on Disney+ recently, and I wanted to jot down some thoughts on each one.

Bad Batch Season 2

I really enjoyed the first season of this show, and the second one didn't disappoint either. In fact, the one criticism I had in season one, that nobody but Hunter seemed to receive much characterisation, was addressed this time around, with Tech and Echo in particular getting a lot more screen time than before.

While the Batch continued to have their adventures of the week each episode (which I thought were, on average, more interesting than those in season one), the larger story showed things under the Empire getting worse in different ways, from Crosshair realising too late that the status quo he was fighting so hard to defend actively wanted to eliminate him (insert analogy to real life politics of your choice here), to other clones increasingly being "retired" in unceremonious ways. Against this backdrop, Clone Squad 99 continues to struggle to find its purpose, with mercenary work for Cid clearly not being a good long-term fit, and different incentives pulling them towards wanting to seek a quiet retirement versus opposing the Empire more actively.

It was honestly pretty well-written, and I enjoyed the weekly discussions about each episode on my guild's Discord. On the matter of Cid for example, the writers quite deftly dropped hints that her loyalties could go in either direction, and different people had different opinions on what would end up happening in the end. The episode in which the Batch and senator Jennifer Hale work to reveal the truth about what happened on Kamino was also wrapped up in a very clever way. Basically, it was good stuff all around.

The ending raised a lot of questions and I'm looking forward to season three, even if I'm a bit disappointed that it's already supposed to be the final one. With how slow of a burn the clones' overall character development has been, I feel like this show could have had material for many years to come. I also wonder how they can wrap things up in a satisfying manner - on the one hand it feels like the remaining members of the Batch should really join the burgeoning rebellion, but on the other hand it's been pointed out many times that Omega is just a child and that forcing her to essentially live life as a child soldier is hardly ideal. We'll see what the writers come up with.

Mandalorian Season 3

If I had to sum up Mandalorian season three in one word, it would be "weird". The way season two ended there wasn't an obvious hook to work with other than the Darksaber, and that wasn't much to go on (in my opinion). Then they had Baby Yoda Grogu come back in Book of Boba Fett of course, which seemed like a kind of important detail to confine to a spin-off, but okay...

Those things aside, the first episode seemed like a decent start to me, setting up several plot points that I figured were hinting at what was to become the focus of the season. However, then all those things were pretty much resolved in the next episode, and from then on it was basically a crazy ride that made me feel like I had no idea where things were going to go from one week to the next. Looking around at various reviews, I was glad to see that I wasn't the only one who felt like this, though I wouldn't necessarily agree with the level of negativity that seemed to suffuse many people's opinions, because even though I had no idea where things were going, it was still a fun ride for me personally.

Actually, I would say that even considering some of the stranger episodes (the one with Lizzo, OMG), overall season three continued to be "on brand" in the sense that the plot didn't always make sense, but you're so engrossed in what's happening to Din Djarin and Grogu that you let it go.

In fact, and I know this may sound weird to some, but this season actually made me like Din as a character more. People were apparently complaining that there was too much focus on Bo-Katan instead of him, but I honestly thought the way he was supporting her when she was doubting herself was actually very sweet. Plus they generally had great chemistry and the interactions between them were fun to watch.

Once again the way the season wraps up would make for a great ending for the show as a whole, but apparently season four is already in the works. I guess seeing Grogu and his dad live the good life and maybe deal with some smaller problems for a change could be nice, but knowing this show's track record for over-the-top fan service, I guess I probably shouldn't hold my breath for the stakes going down instead of up.


Daily Tour: Black Hole (Republic)

Is it me or does the Black Hole come up as a seasons objective more often than other daily areas? Maybe it's because it's the most accessible of these zones, having been the first of its kind. Looking back at what I had to say about the Black Hole at its release, I was quite charmed by its design, even if the whole concept of SWTOR having "proper" dailies (instead of story missions that just happened to be repeatable) still felt kind of weird and novel at the time.

Nowadays though, I have to admit I'm not nearly as fond of it anymore. The whole concept of having a [Heroic 4] at the end that you needed to group up for worked well enough when it came out, when there was less to do at endgame and grouping up for a round of dailies seemed like a natural thing to make time for in your weekly routine. Nowadays there are so many more daily areas, and players are more spread out, so Bioware made the heroics soloable - but to be honest that just makes them a slog. I'm not crazy about spending ten minutes on the "regular" dailies in the zone and then another fifteen on just doing the heroic.

If you're a stealther, mind you, it's super easy because you can just sneak straight to the end and be done just as quickly as with any other quest. It's just that I so rarely play a stealthy combat style that I tend to not think of that experience by default...

Anyway, here's a visualisation of my usual route through the Black Hole on Republic side (I never did it much on Imperial side for some reason):

I start by clearing out the mobs in the north-east corner of the map and then turn back to rack up more kills along the northern zone border, eventually looping down to Quick-Hands Quarl when I need him. If someone just killed him, I can always go do the "Eyes and Ears" mission first, else that comes after. Then I cross over diagonally to free the dralls (I used to always turn left at the entrance, but someone converted me to turning right at some point by pointing out that there was one less mob group to deal with on that side).

When I exit that building, I go in a straight line and drop down to a group of mobs that will usually drop one of the anti-radiation thingies for that quest. I make sure to use it right away so I can loot a second one and have that ready to use as soon as the first one expires. Once I've fixed the leaks, I continue to the heroic, and after completing that I used to quick travel back to base for hand-ins, though that part is no longer needed.

Now that I think about it, I still have a pretty good time whenever I go to the Black Hole, it's just that whenever I think about going there in the first place, the idea just doesn't seem that appealing in my head anymore for some reason.


Pacis Meets Amity

When my pacifist character hit level 75 (the level cap at the time), I said that I was going to take a bit of a break from playing her, since Legacy of the Sith was supposed to be imminent and I was sure that I would feel more like focusing on my "regular" characters for a while once it was out. Aside from LotS being delayed, this broadly turned out to be true, and I didn't even log into Pacis the unarmed Mirialan Jedi for more than a year.

However, now we've got a Galactic Season with peace as its theme, and a companion who proclaims to be a pacifist but honestly isn't very good at it. Pacis would show Amity how it's done, I caught myself thinking one day... and with that, an idea was born.

Checking on her for the first time since 7.0 was honestly a bit sad, as Legacy of the Sith has not been kind to the pacifist play style. The Go To Sleep Tactical I was so proud to acquire at max level (since its extra CC allowed for additional pacifist quest completion opportunities) was removed from the game for being too OP in PvP. And those quick travel items I loved so much for letting me return to Dantooine at any time as long as I kept a swoop racing daily in my log are no longer viable as they reset and get removed from your mission list every day.

So I just did a couple of rounds of the Dantooine peace time dailies as a warm-up before setting off to the fleet to prepare for new adventures. I also bought the Two Cloaks Tactical since an extra escape seemed like the next best thing to have as a pacifist after the no longer existing extra crowd control.

Pacis has never had any companions because she had to stop doing the story in order to avoid violence before she had a chance to acquire Qyzen. I admittedly could have got her a Cartel Market or reward companion before now, but what would've even been the point, considering that their main role is to assist in combat, something she doesn't engage in? However, Amity just seemed like a good fit thematically, so I started the quest from my collections and made my way to Alderaan.

I will say that the intro conversation felt pretty funny in context, with the "best" options barely allowing me to acknowledge pacifism as a thing. When Amity talked about how he's very capable of defending himself, I wanted to reply something like: "No, no, no. Don't even think about it. We'll always run away!" The first thing I did the moment he joined me as a companion was to take his weapon away and put him on passive. Because that's how you behave as a pacifist, Amity!

Now, his introductory mission requires you to visit three shrines on Tython, Voss and Ilum that spawn a dark side beastie when Amity meditates there. Unfortunately you can't progress without killing it, which was of course completely out of the question. I did kind of sneakily get around that however by always waiting at the shrine until another player came by, spawning my mob and then vanishing out. The other player would always kill the mob and my hands were technically clean... but I still felt pretty dirty, both for offloading a spawned mob onto another player (even if it had low health and posed no real danger to anyone), and for effectively facilitating a death... something I had wrestled with previously and had decided back then to avoid going forward.

Ultimately, it didn't matter anyway, since completing the mission requires you to talk to Amity on your ship... and of course Pacis doesn't have one of those. So he'll just have to follow her around as she wanders the galaxy as SWTOR's biggest hobo. Next week is Pirate Incursion, so I think I'll take that opportunity to return to Dantooine and have Pacis show Amity around there once it's quiet again. He has a lot to learn after all, and Pacis has five new levels to gain.


I Read the SWTOR Comics

A few years ago, I wrote a post about how I bought a comic book collection that I thought was going to be about SWTOR, but it turned out to be set in the KOTOR era instead (not that I had any regrets). The other day I was browsing around Amazon and noticed that the series these books had been a part of had received a Volume 4 since then - and that one did have the SWTOR tie-in comics in it. So of course I bought and read it!

Cover image taken from Amazon.

I've got to admit, for how long I've been curious about these, actually reading them was a bit of a let-down. I did enjoy seeing characters from the game in a different context, as well as spotting the many references to events and NPCs in the game, but aside from that, the three stories were honestly not that amazing.

Blood of the Empire (which was originally the second story but is put first in the book for continuity reasons I think) teaches us something about the Children of the Emperor and ends with a surprise reveal about one of the main characters, but ultimately fails to provide a protagonist to really care about. Hey, watch a bunch of Sith kill off every even remotely likeable character we encounter! I mean, okay?

Threat of Peace was actually pretty interesting but not well-suited for the medium in my opinion. It deals with the Treaty of Coruscant and the events that surround it, but the problem is that this involves a lot of different characters, with fast cuts between different scenes. Combine this with the fact that the art leaves many of the characters unrecognisable compared to their in-game counterparts (Master Orgus for example is a bald dude in the comic, and would you have guessed that the generic brunette on the cover pictured above is meant to be a young Satele Shan?) and it can be kind of hard to follow what's going on at times. I feel like this would have been a much stronger story if it had been told as a regular novel, making it easier to keep up with the different points of view and what each character is thinking at any given point in time.

Finally, The Lost Suns was kind of cool in that it made me realise just how long before his first in-game appearance Theron Shan was conceived as a character. In-game we first met him in April 2014 with the introduction of the Assault on Tython/Korriban Incursion flashpoints, but those comics telling his backstory already came out in mid-2011. Neat! Still, the whole storyline felt like it was meant to set up something bigger, such as Theron getting a whole series about him going on spy adventures or something, but that obviously didn't happen.

There were a few more non-SWTOR stories included in the volume as well, and I've got to admit I actually got more into Lost Tribe of the Sith than into any of the featured SWTOR tales... I guess there was a tiny tie-in in there in the form of a Sith Lord whose armour set you can buy on the Cartel Market - but I won't say more so as not to spoil anything.

Anyway, I guess my main takeaway is that I think it's cool that all these comics are finally available in the form of a single physical book, which is nice for collectors, and for SWTOR superfans like me it's a nice thing to have for the additional lore. However, if you're just a Star Wars fan in general looking for a good read, I'm not sure if this volume in particular is really worth it.


Galactic Season 4 - Ambivalence about Amity

The moment we first heard that Galactic Season 4 was already meant to start with patch 7.2.1, I was worried about that being too soon. At the time I still had a bit of hope that the break between the two seasons might end up being a decent length, but in practice we only ended up getting three weeks. Now Season 4 is here and all I can keep thinking is: Yeah, it's definitely too soon.

With prior seasons I was always excited to check them out and re-up my investment in the game, but this one landed and all I could think was "well, here we go again" as I re-started my habit of logging into every server every day to claim some seasons points. It's not that I dislike it, but I put so much effort into Season 3, I'm just not ready to do the same thing again. I suspect I will downscale my efforts a bit this time and not bother with the one hundred weekly objectives on all servers. It's just too much.

My feelings of ambiguity extend to other parts of GS4 as well, such as the new companion. I didn't expect my wish for new friend with properly done voice acting to come true, but that doesn't change that I can't really get excited for another companion who speaks nothing but alien gibberish. I appreciate that Bioware is trying to mix things up by giving them more interesting backstories and cycling through different kinds of alien gibberish at least, but I'm not sure whether making Amity speak Selonian was the best choice either, considering that Selonians have very few spoken lines in the game and I've literally noticed him repeat the exact same line of chatter back-to-back during conversations. That he's relatively peace-loving makes for an interesting theme, but then again, giving him an achievement that requires you to kill 2,500 mobs with a wannabe-pacifist by your side is weird.

His unique little trick that is a weekly objective sometimes, like catching cheaters was with PH4-LNX, is to meditate at a shrine. This has already turned out to be quite contentious because it involves sitting still for two minutes or more, and then requires you to take a ten-minute break afterwards (in-game minutes that is, the timer on the debuff won't count down while you're logged out) before you can meditate some more. Not only are those mechanics quite at odds with the very notion of how mediation is supposed to work (it's support to relax, not exhaust you), they also inspire some unflattering comparisons to the forced wait timers in some mobile games.

On the other hand... I haven't found the whole thing to be a big deal myself, as I just meditate until I get the debuff (and get a drink while doing so), play the game for a bit, and then meditate some more later. It's really easy seasons points! I also saw someone comment on the forums that they used the meditation time as an opportunity to strike up random conversations with other players at the shrine. So I guess it works for some people?

UI-wise, Bioware decided to move the seasonal objectives to their own tab next to the reward track, away from the Conquest window, and while this makes perfect logical sense, I'm really struggling to get used to it after three seasons of looking for my objectives next to the Conquest ones. I'm slightly worried that this has the potential to become a permanent misclicking situation for me like the guild invasion tab - I forget whether that one's under Conquests or guilds, but whichever one it is, I always open the wrong one first.

Bottom line is: I'm feeling conflicted. I did think it was a hoot this past week watching pugs make a mess of Nightmare Pilgrim over and over for example (killing him was a weekly objective) but at the same time doing as many objectives as I did across all servers already felt pretty exhausting, and this is only week one. I'm glad that I'll be getting away from the internet for a few days over Easter, as that might help a bit with gaining perspective and clarity about just how much I want to invest in this season, considering it has come this soon.