01/03/2012

How hardmode Esseles kicked my butt - and I kicked back

There's been some interesting discussion about the difficulty of hardmode flashpoints in SWTOR as of late. I'd like to add my own impressions to the mix, though I'll also state up front that I'm not laying claim to any objectivity.

As isn't unusual in many guilds, we've had players progress at a very mixed pace. Some people had already run dozens of hardmodes before others even hit the level cap. That's how these things go. Being one of the somewhat slower players myself, I was slightly worried about setting foot into a hardmode flashpoint for the first time, because I didn't want to be the weakest link and make a fool out of myself in front of more experienced players if possible.

As a result I was delighted when a tanking guildie whispered me last week to ask whether I wanted to do HM Esseles and we ended up with full party of "hardmode noobs". We didn't really have a clue what to expect, but since we were all in the same boat there was no real performance pressure either. Why the Esseles by the way? "I've heard Esseles is the easiest hardmode and the best one to start with for new players."

I'll give you a moment to recover from laughing. If you're not laughing, it's probably because you're not aware that the Esseles is actually considered one of the hardest flashpoints currently in the game. But at the time we didn't know that either.

So we ventured forth happily, learned that trash was easy but still hit considerably harder than on normal mode, and then wiped to the first boss within a matter of seconds. Oops? In hindsight, the fight isn't even particularly complex or anything, but as it turns out there are still a lot of things that you can mess up if you don't know any better.

- The boss absolutely has to be turned away from the group at all times. I know this is a standard boss fight trope, but there are also enough fights where it doesn't really matter so I can't blame anyone for not doing it automatically. It does matter here however, because otherwise the boss's frontal cone AoE will shave off half your party's health in one hit. Ouch.

-The adds that he spawns at regular intervals also vexed us for several attempts. At first they just ran past the tank and mauled me. Another time I used my AoE knockback to get them off me, but then they were so spread out that our damage dealers couldn't kill them in time. Another time the tank chased after them and the boss ended up turning around... and I refer you to the previous point.

-Finally we had agreed for the tank to keep the boss right where he spawns and do his main AoE move every time an add wave spawned. Now we had our dps unleashing their own AoE too quickly, so the adds turned around and hit our scoundrel all at once - splat.

Eventually we managed to get everything right, with the boss standing in the right place, adds getting picked up and nobody pulling aggro. We hit the enrage timer but still managed to kill him, and much cheering was to be heard on Mumble.

Then we moved on to the next boss, Ironfist... and seemed to stand no chance at all. We must have had another dozen attempts or so on him, but we made very little progress and eventually it became late and people had to stop for the night. The problem was mainly that he needed a lot of interrupting, while at the same time having a bit of a habit of knocking people down and away (and thus out of melee range) - not to mention that our group contained two Commandos, the only advanced class without an interrupt. Woe. The only thing we knew for sure at the end of the night was that we really wanted to kill First Officer Haken for yelling "Get us out of here!" non-stop every time we arrived on the bridge.

Still, there were no signs of annoyance or bitterness as we parted ways for the night. At worst our tank seemed a bit confused by the difficulty, considering what he had heard about the Esseles being easy. None of us really had a problem with it though, and everyone agreed that failure was expected the first time and that we'd eventually come back and kick Ironfist's butt.

The other night a group for the Esseles formed up in guild again, not consisting of the same four people, but it did include both me and the aforementioned scoundrel. We had both received a couple of gear upgrades since the last time though, and were quite looking forward to getting our revenge.

The first boss went down really quickly. Ironfist made everyone a little nervous since nobody had made it past him before apparently, but he too died on the first attempt - though he enraged at the very end and two of us were hugging the floor by the time he died.

The bonus boss was a complete pushover. The third one was a bit harsh on our two melee dps since as far as I could tell there was no way to tell when exactly he was going to activate his red aura of death (one of them died to it too), but he still went down without too much difficulty.

The fourth boss was the only one that wiped us once, as there were too many incidents of people not moving out of the purple lightning in time and the damage became too much. We quickly identified the problem though, namely that the damage started ticking pretty much a second after the purple circles appeared on the floor, so if you were waiting for them to appear before moving, it would inevitably be too late. On the next attempt we kept running in circles non-stop like a bunch of loonies (not a happy situation to be in for a Commando healer, let me tell you that), only pausing briefly every now and then just after he had placed his circles and people hardly took any damage at all unless they were targeted by his sabre throw attack. He enraged, but our tank hit his cooldowns and managed to tank him for another ten seconds or so, which was enough to get him down. Flashpoint completed! This was certainly a very satisfying experience, and I now feel confident in my ability to tackle all the remaining hardmodes that I haven't seen yet.

So for me personally, the difficulty of hardmode flashpoints is pretty much just right, and while I know that that's very subjective, I do wonder how much of the annoyance I've seen in comments on the subject actually comes from misguided expectations. This isn't current day WoW, where heroics are just a low stepping stone for raids. This is basically Burning Crusade endgame version 2.0, and that means that hardmode flashpoints are an alternative to raiding, not a precursor. They do drop the same quality of loot as normal mode raids as well.

Of course not all raid bosses and hardmode flashpoints are made equal, and again that's very much a reflection of WoW's Burning Crusade endgame, where getting a drop off Attumen in Karazhan was a lot easier than getting anyone to kill Kargath Bladefist in heroic Shattered Halls. However, I don't actually see that as a bad thing - it means that players are able to choose their own difficulty, depending on whether they feel up to a challenge today or just want to tackle something relatively easy. It also means that large group content isn't the only thing to do at endgame, as you can make progress both in terms of gear and skill with your smaller group of friends as well. Last night for example we didn't have enough people to run an operation, so we just did some hardmodes instead and still got equally valuable gear upgrades.

I guess the biggest problem with this system is simply that it's not exactly very transparent. Many people coming over from WoW might simply be put off by the initial shock of small group content being this challenging, even if they are perfectly capable of handling it if they work on it. And of course making the most of the variable difficulty relies heavily on people looking for information from third parties to find out which bosses are easier and which ones are harder, and that information might turn out to be wrong as well as my little anecdote at the beginning shows. It's certainly very counter-intuitive for the Esseles, the first and easiest flashpoint that players encounter in the game, to have one of the toughest hardmodes.

5 comments:

  1. Great post, I also thought that the Hard Modes were tuned correctly. Mostly because its called Hard Mode not Powder Puff Mode. My guild has been running them for a 2-3 weeks now and we still have problems with a couple of the HM FP's. I personnally think this is great because it keeps me interested. I acknowledge that there are some bugs that can frustrate you but overall I love running them.

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  2. I'm with you here Shintar - the hardmodes are definitely not easy but I'm enjoying the challenge. I think they're tuned just right. There are frustrating runs, annoying bugs, and boss strats that aren't really obvious a lot of the time; but I've found that despite this, I look forward to running them on the weekends.

    It is a fantastic experience to finally get the strat down and kill a boss at the end and have your teammates go "Woohooo!" It's something I've sorely missed in the last few months in WoW.

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  3. I entirely agree with your conclusion and I am thrilled that SW:TOR offers meaningful small group content as an alternative to raids - just like TBC did.

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  4. I haven't hit 50 yet, but it sounds a lot like LOTRO at level 65, where there were a number of pre-raid dungeons that (on their hard modes at least) could absolutely kick a group in the teeth. Beating Lost Temple T2 could be a a major achievement in itself for a group, it wasn't content just designed to be completed by any random bunch of, um, randoms in LFG.

    I think some of the complaints are a question of resetting expectations rather than fundamental flaws.

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  5. Hey Shin,

    Being the tank that went in with you for that first time, I completely agree with your comments. I have also been back and completed the HM with another group as well as doing the runs I have done with you.

    Killing the last boss at the E Vault last night was awesome also!

    Keep up the great blog

    MarsCreed

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