25/09/2012

Thoughts on pugging flashpoints in TOR

DraconianOne commented on my A Day in the Life post to ask whether I wasn't running any flashpoints and if not... why not? It's a fair question to ask, especially considering that once upon a time in WoW, running instances used to be pretty much my favourite thing in the game.

The truth is, I do run flashpoints every now and then, but very irregularly. I'll go through phases where I'll run one or two every day for a few days, and then go for many weeks without ever setting foot in one. This doesn't have anything to do with me not liking the content or being scared of pugs; I just don't want to burn myself out with endless repetition and I feel that the game doesn't push me to do so either. (That is a good thing by the way.) Yes, there are Black Hole commendations to gather, but you can get those from other sources too, and anyway, since I'm not currently raiding, what's the point of trying to get BiS PvE gear?

In general I feel that even with the voice acting, TOR's flashpoints stand up to repetition much better than I thought they would, but too much repetition can suck the fun out of anything. During WoW's Wrath of the Lich King I did something like two hundred runs of Drak'tharon Keep alone - and this is no hyperbole; it's backed up by scary statistics - but I couldn't tell you about a single fond memory of that place. I don't want TOR's flashpoints to turn into just another grind; I appreciate them way too much for that.

DraconianOne also asked whether I was avoiding pugs. Another interesting question! Pugs, too, used to be something that I quite enjoyed in WoW before the introduction of the dungeon finder. After that I still got some fun out of them for a while, but my enjoyment gradually wore thinner and thinner. Some people's attitudes in those automatically assembled groups were absolutely atrocious, and even the nicer ones were generally in a hurry to rush to the end to gather their reward. The experience eventually left me with the feeling that my more slow-paced type of play wasn't welcome in the game anymore.

I didn't realise just how deeply this had affected me until I started pugging flashpoints in TOR after the introduction of the group finder. I was actually kind of... afraid of my fellow group members. Not to a neurotic level or anything, but I realised that I was constantly worried that speaking up about anything at all would lead to someone exploding into a fit of rage. I did it anyway because I couldn't really help myself, and was quickly surprised by how laid back people actually were. Waiting for someone who DCed or had to go AFK unexpectedly to come back? No problem. Someone died to something stupid? Happens! We're failing to kill the boss because someone in the group's not good enough? We'll keep trying and if it doesn't work out - oh well, we can try again another time. I'm not saying that everyone's a perfect little angel, but I have yet to meet anyone who wasn't reasonable and willing to work with the rest of the group. Saw someone need on something they can't use? Politely point out that they shouldn't do that, assuming ignorance instead of malice, and they'll stop. Shocking!

I've seen some other bloggers remark that they are afraid of pugging, mostly due to bad experiences in WoW similar to what I described above, so I guess I'm mainly writing this to say: don't be scared, give it a try! However, I also know that having more information about what to expect helps to build confidence as well, so let me give you a couple of handy tips about what to expect from pugging in TOR:

Group Finder or Chat?

While the game added an automatic group finder in 1.3, you have to be aware that it's not some miracle instant content dispenser. I've never managed to successfully use it to get a group for "planetary destinations" (aka heroic quests) for example. My guess is that this is because most heroic quests don't necessarily require a full group or even a proper tank-dps-healer setup, so people find it more efficient to ask in general chat on the planet in question and then just build a group with whoever's around. Keep an eye out.

For flashpoints and operations the finder works well enough, but your role and the time of day make a big difference. A tank queuing for a hard mode in the evening will likely get an instant queue. A group of five dps queuing for an operation during the day might never get to see a pop-up at all. As a general rule of thumb I recommend treating flashpoint or operations groups as something that's great to get if you can, but that you shouldn't expect to appear on demand. Don't stand on the fleet and wait. Go and log on to do something else and just put yourself in the queue for whatever it is you want to do. Most likely something will pop sooner or later.

Know Your Role

I'm guessing the fact that groups are not something that's guaranteed to appear the instant you want it to is part of why people's attitudes in parties are generally pretty good. They are happy that you're there at all. It's okay if you're not perfect.

Still, it helps to know what you're doing. I'm not going to go into the basics of tanking, dps and healing here, but here are some things to consider that might be slightly different from other games:

Tanks: You'll often find yourself running into pulls with a lot of mobs of different strength, standing very spread out and attacking from range, and it will seem impossible to round them all up. That's okay! Let the dps apply some CC and kill the weak mobs on their own, they can solo them easily. Focus on keeping the attention of the harder opponents that are running loose, because they'll take a while to die and aren't as susceptible to stuns and other control abilities.

Dps: Focus on killing the small guys first; you don't want them standing around and shooting your healer. Apply crowd control on bigger pulls with strong mobs, preferably on something that's standing off to the side a bit so that the tank can AoE in the centre of the pull without worry. Speaking of CC...

Crowd Control

I don't think I've ever run into a player who didn't know their class's crowd control abilities. The levelling game does a very good job at teaching people how to play in that regard. As far as CC's utility in group content goes, I'm proud to say that the game seems to have achieved a happy medium where it's generally useful to apply some CC on some pulls, but it's not needed all the time (something that I thought impossible after WoW's Cataclysm aimed for a similar sort of difficulty but completely missed the mark if my own grouping experiences were in any way representative). Not sure what sorts of crowd control the classes in your group have on offer? Simples:

Guardian/Juggernaut & Vanguard/Powertech: none

Sentinel/Marauder & smugglers/agents of all types: can CC one droid indefinitely. They can also reapply this CC at any time as it has no cooldown.

Sage/Sorcerer & Commando/Mercenary: can CC one mob of any type. This can be reapplied if it runs its full duration, however it has a cooldown so if it's broken early there's nothing they can do.

Shadow/Assassin & Scoundrel/Operative: can CC one living target while in stealth and before the start of combat. However this can't be reapplied or refreshed once combat's engaged.

In addition every class has some sort of short-term stun that can help you to take the edge of the incoming damage for at least a few seconds. Just keep an eye out for champion and boss mobs that are immune to some control abilities - they'll always have a little buff on them that tells you what they are immune to so you can check before engaging.

As for who controls what, I've found that most groups don't require too much coordination. People generally know what they can do and are happy to show off their abilities, so they'll often pick their own targets without prompting, though a gentle reminder if you need something specific controlled is okay. Marks can be useful for that as well. Generally the content is reasonably forgiving though, so if someone controls the wrong thing or a CC breaks early it's not necessarily the end of the world, as long as people don't mess up too badly.

Loot

If in doubt, it never hurts to ask, especially in an operation where people might get a bit more prickly about loot. Generally the consensus seems to be that need is for main spec upgrades only, while greed is for off-specs and companions.

Personally I've taken to passing completely on BoP items that aren't useful to me or any of my companions, as I'd rather have them go to someone who can use them in some way. I know that gearing up your companions can be a nuisance and I'm not that desperate for a couple more extra credits. I don't expect other people to do the same, but I do think it's a nice gesture.

Bonus Quests & Spacebar Etiquette

From what I can tell, TOR seems to be have been spared the worst of the "gogogo" type players so far, probably because many things about the game require patience whether you want them to or not. (Loading screens, anyone?) Still, you will sometimes run into people that just want to get things done quickly. Personally, I'm not one of them. I'm the kind of player who's happy to listen to the entirety of the dialogue even if it's my tenth time. If I didn't want to listen to it anymore, I'd find something else to do.

Still, one must be willing to compromise. As a general rule of thumb, I would say that in levelling content (that includes heroic quests as well as normal mode flashpoints), taking your time should be okay. You may have players for whom this is their first time ever. Let them enjoy the story. Let them kill all the mobs for the bonus quest. You're in no hurry - if you just wanted to level as quickly as possible, flashpoints aren't really the best way to do so anyway.

In hard mode however... I think it's more fair to accommodate the ones that just want to get it done with. There is an expectation that you'll be doing this repeatedly, and I can at least understand why people might not care for hearing the same dialogue over and over again, or for killing lots of trash that can be bypassed easily. Don't force them to wait for you all the time.

Still, these are only rules of thumb, and don't be afraid to speak up if you have a good reason to want to do things differently. Treating your fellow players with respect and kindness goes a long way. The other day I did normal mode Battle of Ilum on my Imperial agent for the first time. I was really curious to see in what ways it was different from the experience on Republic side. We ended up with a tank who had 30k hitpoints. Somewhat bewildered, I asked him what he was there for, and he said that he was only doing it for the daily commendations (i.e. the end reward). He did not shout for us to skip the two short cut scenes, but asked whether we were happy to skip the bosses. I asked to please kill the bosses as my character was still gearing up. We skipped most of the trash but he did pull all the bosses as requested. I kind of would have liked to do the bonus quest and boss as well, but seeing how the tank was already doing me a favour and clearly wanted a quick run, I didn't want to push it. Give and take. Not that hard.

Good luck and happy pugging!

5 comments:

  1. I need to get around to doing the occasional flashpoint, but I need to get a large enough block of time to do it. (Without the kids looking over my shoulder; they've got their own free account, and I'm not going to give them spoilers!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Headphones on, subtitles off, and it would be pretty boring to look over your shoulder for longer periods of time anyway!

      Delete
  2. For some reason, I never thought of listing out all the cc like you did - but it is a GREAT little "cheat sheet" you have there. Bookmarking! (I know that a few classes have a very short duration aoe stun, but those aren't particularly useful in most situations.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's surprisingly neat when you group them together like that, isn't it? Until I wrote it down for this post I hadn't quite realised myself that all the long duration CC in the game falls into one of only three groups.

      And the ones with the AoE stuns are Guardians/Juggernauts and smugglers/agents. I didn't give it a special mention because it's more of an "oh shit" button that only works if people aren't AoEing already, and as you said that's of limited usefulness to the average pug.

      Delete
  3. I ask a lot of questions! But this is great. I was tempted to try a pug earlier but realised I am one of those players who has actually no idea what CC my current class does! (My Vanguard is tank spec with DPS gear - ie PvP build and I've just respecced my Scoundrel to DPS and can't remember how to play it.) But yes, great cheat sheet.

    ReplyDelete