Planets I'd like to revisit

With 7.3's return to Voss, it's natural to wonder what other existing planets might be interesting to revisit as part of the ongoing storyline. Calphy shared his thoughts on this back in May, and in this reddit discussion thread on the subject people were offering up a lot of differing opinions a few months ago. Doesn't mean that I don't still want to add my own thoughts on the matter though! So without further ado, my personal top picks for planets I hope we'll get to revisit in the story at some point:

1. Alderaan

This was Calphy's first choice and the second most upvoted option on reddit, and it's my first pick as well. Now, it obviously helps that Alderaan is already my second favourite planet in the entire game, but it's not just about that. The lore surrounding the different houses in the base game is pretty complex, and I was not best pleased with the way the Star Fortress dialogue for Alderaan seemed to want to mostly brush that under the rug. I want to know how all those different nobles that we worked with in the class stories fared over the years! What happened after Bouris Ulgo was brought down in the planetary storyline?

I don't necessarily expect to get an update on every single story thread here, but I don't think it would be unreasonably complicated to have us visit a new house on a small new map (assuming a similar approach as was taken with the Interpreter's Retreat) and have some people there chat with us about at least some of the things that have been happening on Alderaan in the last few years.

2. Taris and Balmorra

I'm putting these two together because I want to return to both of them for the same reason, though I think the case for Taris is somewhat stronger than for Balmorra. Basically, what both of these planets have in common is that in the base game, they are in the unique position of existing in two different states at different points in time.

Republic players help with the reconstruction of Taris around level 20 and things seem to be going well, but then the Empire invades the planet and Imperial players get to beat the Republic back around level 40. For Balmorra it's the opposite, with Imperials seeing it firmly under Imperial control around level 20 (though they have to fight off rebels), until Republic players show up around level 40 and push the Imps back off the planet.

I always thought this was an interesting concept as it allows territory to change hands without making either side feel like a loser... though it is a bit weird that there's basically a whole story there that you wouldn't know anything about if you didn't play both factions. If you only ever played Empire for example, you might well think that your faction still owns Balmorra, because you're never told that it's been lost.

So the reason I think either of these planets would be interesting to revisit is that it would give us a chance to "canonically" get caught up with the current state of affairs, with Republic players having to deal with the loss of Taris and Imperials having to stomach being pushed off Balmorra. The reason I think Taris would be slightly more interesting is that we don't really know what happened there after the Imperial victory - how much did the Imps care about rebuilding there, and did they even have the resources after Fallen Empire? With Balmorra, we at least have a vague notion that it continued to support the Republic later.

3. Korriban and Tython

It's easy to see why there's a certain appeal to going back to the old starter worlds. I think most players have pretty fond memories of these (less so of Ord Mantell and Hutta, I suppose) and we know that they've been razed both during the prelude to Shadow of Revan and then again when the Fallen Empire invaded. We want to see them rebuilt and know how things have changed since our own Jedi and Sith were little! Have the Sith changed in any way in terms of the cruelty of their training? Whatever happened to those Twi'lek settlers on Tython?

I do think those are interesting questions, but the main reason I rank these two planets somewhat lower is that in practical terms, I can't see us going back to a fully rebuilt version of the exact same area of Tython and Korriban that we already know (as in, the Jedi Temple and the Sith Academy respectively). Assuming we'd follow the Interpreter's Retreat model of going to a different part of the planet that's set further in the future, it's just hard to image that being quite as interesting here. Still, I guess it would be nostalgic if nothing else.

How do you feel about revisiting older planets in new storylines?


Republic Saboteur, Part 2

My Republic saboteur's journey continues. 

Since I learned that Imperial saboteurs have a special alternate ending for one of the Onderon dailies, I was curious to see whether there was a similar Easter egg for Republic saboteurs. There was, though it's somewhat less cool than the Imperial version (in my opinion), since it's only a bonus.

The daily mission to destroy Imperial listening devices has a bonus to find and take out the Imperial surveillance commander. As a saboteur you tell this person to hold their fire instead and that you secretly work for the Empire. They point out that you're not being very helpful by destroying their stuff, and offer you the option to do something useful for them by planting some listening devices inside the city. If you take it, you get a follow-up task to do just that, which feels kind of ironic considering that the main mission's objective was to do the literal opposite.

On Mek-Sha, I was kind of surprised that there wasn't even a mention of committing sabotage by influencing the vote so that the fuel sale would be blocked. (After all, if you play Imperial side, that's what Veek and Indigo expect you to do.) I guess you could argue that directly sabotaging the sale would've been kind of obvious, but it's not like you couldn't have come up with some way to shift the blame.

Instead everything proceeds just the same way as it does for a loyalist, until you get to the Imperial attack on the docks at the very end, where you arrive just in time to see Narlock confronting Major Anri - and the saboteur option is to just shoot him, which I did. Anri is confused by the unexpected assist for a moment but knows better than to ask too many questions when you prompt her to get a move on. So once again, the Republic's plans fail because you were too late to stop the Imperials. Oops?

At the debrief afterwards, Narlock is replaced by a Nautolan with an eye patch and a Scottish accent called Captain Prenton, and Arn wonders how the Empire could do this to "us" twice in a row... gee, I wonder.

I have to admit I felt kind of bad about this particular act of sabotage, because it was so cold and personal. It's one thing to (not) press a button that triggers something bad, but quite another to directly shoot someone in the back who thought you were their ally. You also get to hear about how Narlock had a daughter and Junker Jott agonises about having to tell her about her father's death. She later writes you a letter asking whether you saw what happened. Junker also writes you a letter, saying he reviewed some security footage (gulp) that showed Major Anri so it was probably her who killed Narlock (phew).

You continue on to Objective Meridian, which is pretty unremarkable from a saboteur point of view as a Republic player. For all the devastating losses you inflict on the Republic fleet on Onderon and Mek-Sha, it doesn't look any smaller during the attack on Corellia and I didn't notice any differences to the loyalist outcome during the battle. The only thing I'll say is that like on Imp side, the ending with you leaving your buddies behind after the Malgus fight without a care in the world feels so much more natural as a saboteur than as a loyalist. I briefly considered not committing sabotage on this last step since I still felt bad about Narlock and handing the facility over to the Empire seemed like kind of a big deal, but it turned out to be just another opportunity to be just a second too late to press the button that was meant to prevent the shields from going down... it was simply too easy to do.

At the post-battle conversation on the fleet, things got a bit buggy as an angry Theron yelled at my smuggler for not using the fleet to protect the civilians the Empire was bombarding and then ran off... just to then proceed to contribute jokey comments to the rest of the conversation while invisible.

In the debrief on Nar Shaddaa, NR-02 introduced me to Darth Xarion. Unlike on my agent, I didn't even have my smuggler ask about being allowed to join the Empire properly; I think she quite enjoys being a chaotic force not strictly beholden to anyone. I just chose to have her complain about Malgus trying to kill her on Corellia, which of course just got her the response that he didn't know about her real loyalties since they're a closely kept secret.

All in all, the things that really stood out to me about the Onslaught arc for Republic saboteurs was that coming from a defensive perspective, with the Republic always caught on the back foot and scrambling to deal with Imperial attacks, it felt so much easier to justify the sabotage as failure and much less suspicious than the way the Imperial saboteur always makes it all the way to the objective of an offensive strike just to then mysteriously fail at the finish line.

Also, the Republic is incredibly chill about failure compared to the Empire. The Sith were always angry and seeking to place blame, but the Republic attitude can pretty much be summed up as "too bad, so sad". It's almost comical how they're only mildly disappointed by mission failures causing hundreds and thousands of deaths, and it's never anyone's fault, just a tragedy. All they do is talk about how they need to find ways to soldier on anyway.

If you asked me whether I preferred the Imperial or the Republic saboteur path up to this point, I'd honestly struggle to choose. The Republic version seems much more believable, but on the other hand the consequences of sabotage on Imperial side feel a lot spicier (what with angry Sith blaming and trying to murder each other), which is more entertaining in a way, even if the way you keep getting away with it is much less convincing.


The Interpreter's Retreat

I've written in great detail about 7.3's new story as well as the new flashpoint, but I also wanted to take a moment to talk about the new area on Voss more generally. As I said after the 7.3 livestream, I think that adding new areas to existing planets is a marvellous idea, even if Voss isn't a particular favourite of mine. From a production point of view it's presumably very efficient, since existing planetary assets can be re-used, while still giving players something new to play around with.

My initial expectation of the Interpreter's Retreat was that it was going to be roughly Black Hole-sized (since that was the first "secondary planetary area" that was ever added to the game) and it... kind of is? I do have the feeling that it's probably a bit smaller, but it's not like I counted myself doing laps around the two zones to compare.

Compared to the rest of Voss, it's a lot less open, with a lot of relatively narrow paths and much denser mob placement, but after spending the last few months on Ruhnuk, it still felt almost liberating to quest there. You can't really dodge most mob groups very well, but at least they are easy to kill (unlike many opponents on Ruhnuk) and the area is at least open enough that you can keep running and shake some of them off before running into a dead end.

One thing that wasn't quite clear to me after the initial livestream was whether the Interpreter's Retreat was going to be a daily area or not. They didn't call it that, and if it was they probably would've said so, but it still sounded like there were things to do there other than the main story. Based on the PTR, commenter Iris informed me that the structure of the repeatable quests was a bit like Mek-Sha, and after having seen how it works for myself, I think that's a fair comparison, though I think the Interpreter's Retreat does things somewhat better.

With Mek-Sha, my general feeling was that the repeatable/side content was just not very interesting or rewarding. Why do things like the heroics or the trade house missions more than once just to see what they're about? There's the one heroic with the gangs that has an achievement attached to it if you repeat it forty times, but all in all, the experience always felt very "meh" to me.

The Interpreter's Retreat is better at luring you in with a plethora of decoration and pet rewards, and I found all of it to be pretty "discoverable". For example I never looked up a guide for the picnic achievement, I just found the leftover food naturally while doing the daily in the Gormak kitchen, and then spotted the spare drink while walking around town on another character. Then the description of the combined item makes it clear what you need to do with it. Considering the area isn't huge, it didn't take too long for me to find the right spot to use it as well. My discoveries of the contemplation achievement and the pet played out similarly. There were some things I looked up eventually, but in general I was positively surprised by how many items of interest I managed to encounter organically and how they drew me into spending more time in the area without having to look anything up.

I also thought it was interesting how a couple of achievements unlocked decorations on the vendor in town when completed, which isn't something SWTOR's ever done before I think. A guildie commented that he's seen something similar in Elder Scrolls Online though. No matter its origins, I think it's a neat idea, as it provides a bit of extra incentive to work on those achievements even if you're perhaps not much of an achievement hunter normally, though it's not very clearly communicated. The achievement description does point out that there are decos involved, but surely I'm not the only one who doesn't usually read achievement descriptions... I just think it could've been made a bit clearer, perhaps with the vendor having a quick chat option where they tell you that they'll show you some special goods if you help out enough or something like that.

All in all, I think the Interpreter's Retreat is a nice little addition to the game. I don't think it will have a lot of staying power for people, as even going after the achievements is not something that's going to keep you grinding for months and months, but I think that's okay. The mobs are supposed to drop decos randomly (though it's been acknowledged that the drop rates are currently bugged), which could be something to keep people interested in grinding them once fixed. Now if only the devs also added a Conquest objective or two for the area and we'd be golden.


Republic Saboteur, Part 1

When Bioware first added the option to the game to sabotage your old faction after KotET, I was not ready for it. All my most progressed characters were simply way too loyal to their faction!

It took me until last year to finally get my Imperial double agent up to the point where I could start making saboteur choices on Ossus and beyond. I wrote about the experience in a series of posts here, here and here.

Of course, after that, the next step was going to be to be repeat the exercise on Republic side, which required me to get yet another character caught up to the relevant point in the story. The choice fell on my somewhat dark-sided smuggler Racelle, since I always pictured her as quite chaotic and enjoying personal power. I figured she would view it as liberating to break free from her old ties to the Republic, and to be fair, Acina and the Empire did help her during KotET...

Getting her up to Iokath was very slow though, and by the time I finally got there I was baffled when a piece of dialogue reminded me that she had romanced Theron. He must be my most-romanced companion at this point; I just can't resist flirting with him on the blaster-wielding ladies... on re-evaluation, I figured that the two of them probably weren't going to be a good match, but then, even a somewhat dark-sided, chaotic smuggler can have a soft spot, right?

Interestingly, when my bounty hunter who had also romanced Theron reached Iokath, that felt like a reason to side with the Republic there for the sake of his dad, but on my smuggler I had no such compulsion, even though she was also dark side and in a romance with Theron. Instead, she seemed to take the obvious cue that Theron didn't actually seem to like his dad very much, and saw it as just one more justification to turn her back on the Republic. Though that then led to her having to watch her beloved Theron get upset when his dad died, which was not a combo of events I had really anticipated seeing.

Up next was the traitor arc, which I'll admit was really tricky to decide on in this instance. My bounty hunter had turned her back on Theron on this occasion, but I felt that despite her chaotic nature, my smuggler wasn't quite that cold. When he asks you whether he can stay with the Alliance at the end, I actually selected "no" at first but then escaped out and changed my mind. Turns out this smuggler just had to forgive him... even I didn't see that coming.

In the Nathema Conspiracy, I was kind of disappointed by the way that this smuggler also got the dialogue with Master Sumalee at the end, just like my light-side smuggler did. Based on a quick Google search, there seems to be some disagreement on how exactly you trigger the alternate variant.

Anyway, Ossus was next and I got to start sabotaging in earnest. First you damage the water pumps in the Jedi base, then you plant an extra bomb in the cave with the Geonosians to make sure it collapses completely and no artefacts can be preserved (I think that's what the sabotage is about anyway, considering the loyalist version is to save some relics) and you steal the Jedi's farming data in a somewhat blatant way as it's handed to you directly and then when someone asks about it later you go "oh, but it was corrupted". Just a little suspicious I think...

Interestingly, unlike on Imperial side I didn't really get any vibes that the ending monologue sounded noticeably more pessimistic than for non-saboteurs. I went back to compare the loyalist and saboteur ending cinematics on YouTube just to make certain, and the overall sentiment really wasn't that different. There is some disappointment about the lost farming data and some of the escaping shuttles being snatched up by Imperials, but the overall vibe is still one of "yay, we got the Jedi back and we'll totally show the Empire".

During Hearts and Minds I confessed about the sabotage to Theron and he took it surprisingly well! I mean, he was taken aback and didn't like it, but also assured my smuggler that it didn't affect his love for her, plus he seemed to be more worried about how taxing the whole double agent business can be than anything else (based on everything that happened during Fractured Alliances).

The saboteur version of the interview with Alec Ranin was a hoot as expected - I especially loved the bit where the camera pans to your character and they just break into a big goofy grin, and how when Alec asks whether you have any last words, my smuggler said: "I really like your boots!" A true TV natural.

Onderon starts the same way for Republic characters as for Imperials, with a space battle where as a saboteur you let the enemy get away instead of shooting them down.

Interestingly, I found the first act of sabotage on Onderon much more convincing on Republic side than on Imperial, where you just mysteriously fail to press the right button at a crucial moment. After all, Republic side has you reacting to Darth Savik's attack on Iziz, and when you get to the point where you would usually stop the cannons from firing at the fleet, you just pretend that you were simply too late. Much more believable!

This means that all but a few of the Republic ships above Onderon are destroyed, and surprisingly little fanfare is made about it compared to what happens on Imperial side regardless of outcome. After that, there isn't really much sabotaging left to do, as you hunt down Darth Savik just like a loyalist would and there are no options to try to be nice to her (not that it would matter as she has a personal grudge against you).

All in all, my first impressions of the Republic saboteur path so far are that it feels surprisingly more subtle than the Imperial version, but also less impactful somehow. On Ossus, stealing the farming data for the Empire is a decent win I guess, but ultimately the Republic still wins the day no matter what you do. And on Onderon your sabotage is simultaneously much more believable, but also kind of downplayed in the story as you quickly shrug and move on to chasing down Darth Savik. I'm curious to see whether these vibes will stay the same or start to change as my sabotage continues. Read more in part 2.


Playing Story Catch-up

With Galactic Season 4 in the rear-view mirror for now, I've been able to set myself some more free-form goals again. As I've noted previously, it's not unusual for me to feel the urge to focus on some actual character/story progression at this point in the "season cycle".

This time around, I got quite philosophical while thinking about the subject though.

I remember during the game's first few years, it was relatively easy to get caught up because obviously, there wasn't as much story content back then as there is now, but also, in the days before level sync you kind of had to do the new content on every character you actually wanted to level up.

Then level-sync came around, and while I did love the way SWTOR implemented it in general, it did kind of mess with the flow of levelling. (Fun fact: I still maintain that spreadsheet to keep track of which character has done what and it's a godsend.) Plus KotFE was not very fun to replay so there was even less incentive to actually get characters up to that point in the story and beyond.

Then we got the Dark vs. Light event which encouraged you to level lots of alts without any need to do the story, meaning I ended up with all these (close to) max-level characters that hadn't really done anything other than run some flashpoints and participate in PvP and GSF. I really did not do well with progressing any of these alts in terms of story either.

My interest in making some progress on that front was revived for a bit when Bioware first made the change that made it possible to earn Conquest points by just doing story content, but that didn't last for long, and then Galactic Seasons were introduced and since then it's been mayhem as I constantly feel compelled to jump through the hoops provided by the seasons objectives instead of focusing on other things.

I had a closer look at my story progression spreadsheet and honestly, for as much as I claim to love SWTOR's story content, my progress over the past few years has been pretty pathetic. KotFE and KotET came out in 2015/16, yet it took me until 2020 to get one of every class/origin story through that bit of content. Since then I've tried to keep those eight roughly up to date with the current story, but I've not even been very consistent with that. I mean, I don't expect to get all of them through every new patch within a week - that would be pretty repetitive and boring - but I realised that a couple of them had barely even started on the 7.0 story yet.

And the alts stuck before the Knights expansions have it even worse! Many of them are barely any younger/newer than those "main eight", and yet an astounding number of them never even did the Shadow of Revan expansion. Content that came out almost a decade ago!

So my personal goal for the time being is to get all the characters that are meant to be caught up with current content actually up to the current content (aka patch 7.3), and to make a bit of a push to get a second of each origin story through KotFE and KotET. Now, that one's still going to be difficult and somewhat repetitive, so I'm not setting myself a deadline here, but I want to at least make a bit of an effort. I mean, how did I get three smugglers through KotFE but only one knight, consular and inquisitor? Those expansions aren't even that bad on those classes.

I tried to date my previous playthroughs by referring to old screenshots, and it was interesting to see that while I got seven characters through KotFE and KotET within three years of those expansions first coming out, I didn't play through either expansion even once in 2019 and 2021. I can do better than that!

(And yes, I get that if you're a more casual SWTOR player who rarely even does any of the story content on more than one character, all this might sound a bit insane, but for me this is my main game and I love my stable of alts. I can definitely do more with them than I have been doing.)


Savanna Vorantikus Returns!

Did you ever hear the tragedy of Savanna Vorantikus? OK, it wasn't really a tragedy, more of a comedy.

You see, SWTOR's Cartel Market has a daily flash sale, where an item will be half price for 24 hours only. Usually it's something that's not super popular, but the reduced price can make it a good deal regardless.

Last year, on the 30th of September, the featured CM item of the day was a mount called Savanna Vorantikus: only 750 Cartel Coins instead of the usual 1500! Sure, whatever. The next day, it changed to the Swamp Rancor, another mount.

However, on the 2nd of October, the Savanna Vorantikus was back. How odd! They don't usually discount the same item twice in such quick succession. Oh well.

The next four days featured an assortment of different items as you'd expect: two weapons, an armour set and a speeder. But on the 7th of October, the Savanna Vorantikus returned yet again. And then again the next day. And then again the day after. And then the next two days after that.

People on the forums, on reddit and on other social media went nuts. What was going on? Just how many of these beasts did they have to get rid of? I mean, it was pretty obvious that something was bugged, or perhaps the person that usually populates the flash sale schedule had unexpectedly taken sick, but those were boring explanations. It was much more fun to meme.

As someone who doesn't usually pay that much attention to the Cartel Market, I didn't immediately notice the repetition, but let's just say that by the fifth day, so many people were talking about it, it was hard to miss. Just as I was starting to think that I should really buy one for myself just to get in on the silly fun, they finally fixed the schedule. The flash sale still "hiccuped" a little as it repeated the exact same four items that had been featured in early October plus the Swamp Rancor, but it didn't revert to the Vorantikus after that, so we were out of the woods. And I always kind of regretted missing out! I even checked the GTN at some point but ultimately decided against buying it from there.

Needless to say, when I saw the Savanna Vorantikus on sale again today, I pounced on the opportunity to get my own. At last, I am in on the joke! Now the question is just whether that will be it or whether the Savanna Vorantikus will once again make a return tomorrow or the day after...


Galactic Season 4 in Review

I achieved my last Galactic Season 4 goal today (the 100 weekly objectives), so I thought I'd write down some final thoughts on the season. I mean, technically it still lasts another one and a half months, but I'm happy to be done. Regardless of how soon the SWTOR devs decide to launch Season 5, I should be able to have a proper break between seasons this time.

All in all, my experience of GS4 was very similar to that of GS3, just with me deciding to moderate my time investment a bit. There were no major changes to the concept or reward structure, so I liked and disliked pretty much the same things as before. The one new thing I liked was that the way the chapter completion objectives were structured helped me get my old smuggler through KotFE, though I'm still not sure whether that was intentional or not. It seemed too consistent to be mere coincidence, but then the objective preview for the last few remaining weeks of the season has KotET chapter eight coming up two weeks before chapter four, which wouldn't make sense in that context, so who knows.

At the end of the last season I really wished for a companion that didn't speak alien gibberish, and I didn't get that, but at the same time I just couldn't dislike Amity. I enjoyed his story, and the whole concept of a human raised by Selonians who also happens to have been disfigured to such an extent that he permanently needs to wear full body armour was just such a bizarre way to justify keeping costs down, I honestly kind of had to admire it. At this point I'm willing to accept that this is just the way it's going to be and I'm simply curious what weird combo the dev team is going to come up with next. A Wookiee that's secretly two Jawas in a costume? A Kel Dor whose consciousness has been transferred into an astromech droid? I'm sure they'll surprise me.

In terms of rewards, I was quite pleased to be able to spend my accumulated tokens on all servers on the new Mek-Sha stronghold at the start of the season, just to then do absolutely nothing with it. That's just the way I am with strongholds and that's fine. I am however back to being close to the token cap everywhere, meaning that I now dread the start of next season and once again having to wonder what the hell I should do with all that currency. (I'll be very surprised if they release another stronghold or other major reward soon enough to help me out with that problem.)

While I was glad to see that they made the reward dyes stackable, my inventory problems still hit a new high this season due to all the weapons the reward track gives out each time. I'd already unlocked the armours in collections last season, but this time I went nuclear and deleted everything on all servers once I was done (and after unlocking it in collections first of course). I remember when I was sceptical about the devs adding a mass-delete window. Thank you, devs - you clearly knew what was to come better than I did.

All in all, this season was a bit of a turning point for me in that it really hit me that Galactic Seasons are just another routine event now. That doesn't mean they're not fun anymore, just... that I at least can't approach them with quite the same zeal as before. I also still wonder about scaleability in the sense that I think that the team won't be able to keep these going in exactly the same way forever - our ship will eventually run out of room for new companions if nothing else! I have visions of companions being stuffed into every nook and cranny as if the Alliance Commander developed a serious hoarding problem.

On Discord, I saw someone suggest that the "main reward" of a future season could be something like a playable race instead - which I think would probably be a lot more effort than a companion actually, so it's unlikely to happen, but I thought it was a neat idea anyway. It would just be nice to see things get mixed up at least a little to avoid long-time players getting tired of the same old, same old.


The Shrine of Silence is Pretty Spiffy

As announced during the 7.3 preview, the new flashpoint Shrine of Silence is a bit of an experiment/return to the game's roots, in the sense that it's the first flashpoint since 2014's Kuat Drive Yards to not be part of the main storyline. And I'm happy to say that this seems to have worked out well!

Kinda like in the days of Hammer Station and Athiss, you just pick up a little breadcrumb that leads you to an introductory conversation that explains why you should be going there, please and thank you, and then you're free to go at your leisure, with no further cut scenes inside. The wrapper mission is still story-gated a little bit as I don't think you can pick it up before you've been sent to the Interpreter's Retreat as part of the main story, but because it's just a minor side mission, it doesn't feel too bad to just go in there whenever and without the story quest if you happen to do so.

The mission is also done in KOTOR style, except this one time it bugged out (?) for me and showed the normal UI, which meant I couldn't actually read the conversation options in full.

An interesting side effect of the flashpoint being independent of the main storyline is that its solo mode features the return of the GSI droid, a fellow we haven't seen since Battle of Rishi. This makes sense because there isn't an official story companion that should be accompanying you, so you can take whoever you like and the droid is there to provide support if needed, no matter your choice.

I was personally never a fan of the GSI droid because to be honest it's both OP in the sense that it makes the player feel kind of redundant (I seem to remember seeing videos of people just /dancing during trash pulls while the droid did all the work), but also kind of dumb in the sense that it doesn't care about what role your character is specced for, will constantly taunt off you if you're a tank and so on.

That said, the flashpoint is easily doable without the droid as well if you don't like it. I know this because during one of my run-throughs I was playing as dps with my companion also set to dps (since the droid provides endless healing anyway, whether you like it or not) and somehow managed to lose the droid at some point... and I didn't even notice until my health just kept going down and down and down on the second boss fight. However, I was still able to complete it easily by just running through the provided kolto power-ups whenever needed.

In general, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy and quick the flashpoint felt. There's trash to help pace things, but it doesn't come in copious amounts and dies pretty quickly on all difficulties. No Spirit of Vengeance style slogs here! It's also very easy and I've got to admit I was slightly disappointed to find that the devs managed to resist the urge to give any of the vine mobs knockback abilities, even on master mode. With all those holes in the ground, you know that would've been delicious...

The environmental design in general is also appealing. The flashpoint takes place in a mix of ruins and dark caves, but mysteriously glowing crystals and strangely ethereal golden shimmers in the air prevent things from getting too gloomy. Instead the atmosphere is slightly strange and mystical, which I suppose is what the designers were going for. All the deep chasms make for good old-fashioned "people falling down holes" fun, whether by accident or because a mysterious glow lured someone into exploring just a bit too far (I've seen both).

The boss fights are also interesting without being too complex, and as a bonus there's a bunch of achievements for doing things in different ways. (My favourite of these was when we were doing the bonus boss on master mode and a guildie pointed out a strange button on the wall. We pressed it and got an achievement called "Wonder what this does" - how appropriate.) There's also a very basic puzzle early on that can be used to unlock the bonus boss.

My only slight criticism here is that some things aren't very well communicated, e.g. you can miss out on the bonus very easily by not realising the importance of the early puzzle, and some of the boss mechanics are a bit opaque. For example the Vorantikus boss puts a white circle on someone that you can put over the boss to... debuff him I think? I'm still not entirely sure precisely because it's not super clear. Basically, we all know that red circles are bad, but yellow or white could honestly go either way and with no other indicators of what's going on it can be a bit tricky to figure things out on the fly. Again though, it's not as bad as the first and third boss in Spirit of Vengeance for example. In Shrine of Silence, you'll generally figure out what to do pretty quickly on the higher difficulties (and on the lower ones it doesn't really matter).

I remember running the flashpoint on master mode and thinking: Wow, this is so much fun. Everything's just perfect! This might be the best flashpoint that the SWTOR team's created in years. I mean, the previous ones weren't bad either, but there's always that one boss whose tuning is completely out of whack and who makes things a bit of a pain. They seem to have managed to avoid that this time! Naturally, this was when we got to the last boss on master mode and it was a wipe fest. While we did get it down eventually, it probably shouldn't have been as hard as it was, especially considering that our group was in 339 gear. The issue is that the boss has a soft enrage mechanic that causes more and more untouchable adds to cast disruptive abilities, and the dps check to overcome this is insanely tight on master mode, never mind the poor healer who's supposed to keep everyone alive while everyone's running in circles and being knocked about (*cough*me*cough*). I can't imagine the nightmare that must be in pugs. I'm sure it'll be nerfed eventually.

Let's call it a draw.

Still, overall I think this flashpoint is a big win for devs and players alike. I've had fun re-running it multiple times already and I didn't miss it being integrated into the main story at all, so I hope we'll see more of that again going forward.