Levelling With A Guildie

Him: You realise that after this, we'll have to do the bonus series too.
Me: Errr, do we? I was originally planning to level this character just through class quests and PvP.
Him: I'm a completionist, I have to do all the quests.
Me: I like seeing all the quests, but surely you don't want to redo them on every character. Doesn't that get seriously boring, doing the same thing on every alt?
Him: Nope. I like the game. [shares start of bonus series]
Me: [sighs and hits accept]


Him: [tries to bioanalyse a plant and pulls some mobs]
Me: [loots the plant while he kills them]
Him: What the...? How did you even get that? I'd already analysed it!
Me: You hadn't looted it though, as you got interrupted. So I could, and I did.
Him: You thief! This will require revenge.
Me: Bring it on.

Him: [chooses some sort of light side option in a conversation and wins the roll yet again]
Me: Seriously? You're not a real smuggler.
Him: I'm just a nice person.
Me: How's anyone supposed to make any credits with you constantly helping people out for free?
Him: It's always all about the credits with you! You're such a nasty person!
Me: Maybe I am! Better than being a bloody goody-two-shoes!


Me: [cruises along at the top of a cliff, then gets knocked off the speeder by a random mob]
Him: [drives on]
Me: [fights the mob and gets close to killing it, but it takes a while due to being healing spec]
Him: [comes back and knocks the mob off the cliff as it has about ten percent health left, so I get no XP or loot]
Me: That was profoundly unsatisfying. Only you can turn even coming back to help me into a bad thing!
Him: Yeah well, serves you right for taking so long.
Me: Grrr.


Me: You know, I really hate that companion colour matching is broken right now. Your Corso seriously offends my eyes.
Him: What, with his red boots and blue... everything else?
Me: Yes.
Him: Well, maybe I did that intentionally, just to annoy you. To get back at you for getting over three hundred hostages killed back there!
Me: That would be a very subtle kind of cruel. (Also, I did kind of hope I'd get to shoot before he could order any executions.)


Me: Why do we keep doing this if we just end up annoying each other?
Him: Annoy each other? What are you talking about?


A TFB Christmas

I hope everyone had a good Christmas! Mine was pretty decent for sure, as it involved the usual amount of family get-togethers but also quite a bit of gaming.

I thought it was interesting that while guild leadership did make a point of saying that events might not happen over the holiday period, people kept putting impromptu operations together almost every night anyway. It was rather amusing when I was online late on Christmas Eve and a guildie came down into the TeamSpeak channel I was in just to yell: "They are doing an operation! Today! They are all mad!" On Boxing Day I even went on a Terror From Beyond hardmode run myself. And while I joked about how "sad" it was to raid during the holidays, I actually don't see anything wrong with it. Surely spending time socialising and having a laugh with a bunch of lovely people is perfectly compatible with getting into the Christmas spirit.

Speaking of TfB HM, I've now cleared it in its entirety twice in a row. This was only possible because the Terror is currently bugged and doesn't spawn all of its adds correctly... I expect that there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth once Bioware fixes that and we go back to wiping on it. Still, the larger point for me is that after two months, I've finally made it all the way up the ladder to being a full-fledged progression raider. It's... kinda nice. Of course now I have to be careful not to let it get to my head, because nothing reduces your patience for mistakes and wipes like knowing from experience how easily they can be avoided if you're running with a group that usually doesn't mess up much.

Also, I've clearly overcome my loot issues as I was happy to rake in the rewards on those two hardmode Terror kills, scoring both my Dread Guard chest piece as well as the rare Deep Wriggler pet. Personally I found that the Star Wars art style has always resulted in creatures that look a bit "odd" for lack of a better word, neither sleek nor cute, and this certainly applies to the Wriggler as well... but I still find it strangely adorable. Aw, look at how it scratches its giant hideous buck teeth! Isn't it the cutest? And well... there is something funny about being able to say: "Sorry, I didn't pay attention to what you just said; I was busy playing with my Wriggler."


Happy Blogday to me!

It's no coincidence that this blog celebrates its one year anniversary only a few days after SWTOR's first birthday. I've been here since launch after all, and while I originally wasn't planning to write about the game because I didn't want to "overthink" it, that resolve didn't even last a week.

If you indulge me for a moment, we can take a look at some of the things I wrote about over the course of the past year:

My very first "proper" post, not counting the "hello world"-type introduction was a passionate argument against people claiming that SWTOR wasn't a proper MMO, which is something that I still feel pretty strongly about.

In January, I wrote my first and so far only roleplaying post on this blog, about saving the life of a random stranger on Nar Shadaa. I really should do that kind of thing more often.

It took me until February to hit level 50 for the first time, which was accompanied by a very detailed write-up about my journey to max level, which I split into three posts. It didn't take long until I ran my first operation, which excited me to no end, and soon I fell in love with max-level PvP as well.

In March I wrote about how utterly and completely I failed in my first ever hardmode flashpoint and how I still enjoyed the experience anyway. I also mused on how my own experiences with endgame seemed to be the complete opposite of what everyone else was talking about, in that I found it hard to spend time on my alts (as compelling as their stories were) because playing at max level was just too much fun. I embarked on a balloon ride that I found way more exciting than it should have been. And finally, I wrote about how terribly I suck at romancing companions and how I always seemed to end up with the opposite of what I was aiming for.

In April I wrote a post that inspired some discussion about why some choices in the game are light or dark side respectively. This was also the month that featured the rakghoul world event, and I provided three posts worth of coverage about it.

In May I started my 10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots challenge, which took me until September to complete. I compared my guildies to "an overly excited bunch of weasels" when I relayed my first impressions of Explosive Conflict. And I talked about how I didn't think it was a problem that I was the only person on the fleet at 5am in the morning. That post is actually kind of strange to read now, even to me, because after six months on "mega server" The Red Eclipse I'm actually quite happy with life among big crowds.

In June I did my first ever operation with a pug and it was a very positive experience. Fun fact: the "experienced gunslinger" who tanked Soa is now a guildie of mine. It was quite amusing when we realised that we had been in that pug together and that I'd sort of made him famous by writing about it. This was also the month of the first big wave of server transfers. I moaned about them, wrote about how awful it was to be "left behind" on a server that had been abandoned by most of its population... and then I finally gave in, transferred, and everything was peachy keen again. Sometimes it's good to be wrong. Finally, I also wrote a long post about what it was like to try out the group finder on the first day of its release.

In July, I mostly wrote a big rant about how I was getting tired of people perpetually talking about SWTOR in a negative way. Then I got really mad when Bioware announced that the game was going free to play. The irony of this was not lost on me.

August saw the release of the game's second world event. Again I wrote one post about my initial experiences with it, and then another in which I summarised what I thought was good and what was bad about it. I also wrote a slightly sad post about how my guild was falling apart and how I knew that I was going to find myself at a crossroads about it eventually.

In September I decided that the real reason I love SWTOR is that it's basically multiplayer Dragon Age in space, and expressed relief when Bioware finally completed the server consolidations and shut down the old servers that had been ghost towns for months.

In October, I mused on how satisfied I felt after having completed my grind for War Hero, and posted about my first impressions of the cartel market. I also relented at last and left my old, abandoned guild to join my current, much more active one. It was a good decision.

In November, I talked about how I judge people based on their advanced class, which resulted in my new guild leader forever winding me up about how I supposedly hate him for being a Guardian. I wrote about my first impressions of the free to play patch, though with me being a subscriber, my focus was mainly on the other new features that came with it. I also revealed how terribly inept I was when it came to something as simple as capturing a taunlet.

Finally, this December I've talked about how neurotic I've been acting while raiding with my new guild, and about my difficulties with the hunt for HK-51.

What can I say? It's been an interesting year for me too.


Happy Birthday, SWTOR!

Today it's been exactly a year since Star Wars: The Old Republic was officially released, though people who pre-ordered the game had already been playing for a couple of days at this point due to getting early access. As someone who only pre-ordered a copy mere days before release, I think I got something like two days of early access. I don't actually remember.

Shintar the trooper on the day of her creation.

What a year it has been since then! I wish I could say that it's been nothing but great, but we all know that that's not true. While the game had a great launch, subscriber numbers fell quite considerably in the months that followed. When too many servers turned into ghost towns, server merges were implemented in what was possibly the most awkward way possible. And then there was that whole conversion to free to play of course...

In general terms, Bioware seems to have lost a lot of "street cred" in gaming circles, due to a mixture of hype backlash, poor customer service and bad public relations. Go to any gaming site and look what they have to say about SWTOR these days. Even if the articles themselves don't bash the game, people in the comments pretty much always will.

So... that kind of sucks.

However, if you look at the game itself instead of the "image issues" surrounding it, things haven't been too bad. Over the course of the past year, Bioware released six major patches, which doesn't make them the most productive company on the block, but not exactly slow either. They implemented two new flashpoints, two new operations, two new warzones, two new world bosses, two new daily quest areas, two world events - hey, I never realised that so many things came in twos - a new companion for all classes, as well as a multitude of system changes (legacy, the group finder, the augment system, gear colour matching, fifty bajillion PvP tweaks and so on).

If you're someone who simply plays without following the gaming news, there is plenty of great content to solo, plenty of things to do as a group, and last but not least a community to interact with that is probably more pleasant and laid back than most.

Shíntar the trooper today.

So I say: here's to all the good stuff! May there be more of it in the years to come, and hopefully we can leave the bad things behind with time. This jaded WoW veteran at least is grateful to have been shown that MMOs can indeed still be fun, and to have been given an opportunity to meet a lot of absolutely wonderful people in a galaxy far, far away.


Expansion Time, Then?

I was rather surprised today to see that Bioware has announced that SWTOR's first "expansion" is supposed to be coming out early next year. I'm putting "expansion" in quotes, because from what they've revealed so far it honestly doesn't sound very much like what I think of as a traditional MMO expansion, more like two big patches glued together. Okay, so there's supposed to be a level cap increase, but other than that we only know of a single new planet so far and that's honestly... not that much.

More importantly though, all this stuff sounds like content that was originally supposed to automatically be included with our subscription. Sigh. Don't get me wrong, I'm not exactly annoyed about having to pay for more content, not to mention that six pounds are hardly going to break my bank. I love the game and I'm happy to support it financially. However, considering how many times they did tell us previously that subscribers would always have access to everything, it does sting a little. It would be nice to be thrown a bone every now and then. (Or maybe I'm just bitter because my game has been crashing to desktop five times a night for almost three months now, and even though it's a known issue with a 43-page thread on the customer service forums, there's still no fix in sight.)

As far as the expansion content itself goes... well, I'm sure the quests will be fun and everything, but I'm honestly still not sold on this whole level cap increase thing. I already wrote about my reservations on that subject when they first mentioned it at E3 back in June. I'd like to believe that they have a clever solution up their sleeves that won't just obsolete all the endgame content that they put out this year, but they haven't really given us any further details on the subject, so it's hard not to just picture another traditional gear reset, except without the swathes of new zones and endgame areas that usually come with such an expansion.

Basically I really don't know how to feel about this. More content is always good, and I'm definitely going to pre-order. But I'm slightly worried about the idea of hitting the new level cap and suddenly having a lot less endgame content to work with than we have right now.



Tonight I was reminded of one of the less fun aspects of raiding that I had more or less completely forgotten about: the bench. It's been so long since I last had to sit it, even back when I was still raiding in WoW, that it felt rather... uncomfortable. Of course it didn't help that I didn't actually find out that I had been benched until my PvP pet tank suddenly took his leave with a comment about being needed in Terror from Beyond. Wait, weren't we in the same group yesterday? What is this I don't even...

Of course the reasons for it were all pretty sensible, so I tried my best to be a good little minion and accept my role gracefully. Still, I was kind of bummed when I was left to PvP with no guard (I know, I've become so spoiled) and a slightly grumpy dps as my only company. I wasn't sure how this could possibly shape up into a fun evening.

Then I zoned into Novare Coast, turned around the corner... and suddenly saw a familiar name.

About half a year ago I happened to record a random warzone that turned into one of the funniest PvP pugs that I've ever had, simply because it consisted of seven troopers and a gunslinger on Republic side, which everyone agreed was a hilarious group make-up (in fact, I even made brief mention of it on here). Even better, we completely steamrolled the Imperial opposition in that game, rushing to the datacore on the attack round and then not letting them past the first door in the defender round. I edited the video footage that I got out of it and uploaded it to Youtube, and throughout the editing process became quite familiar with the names of all the players on that particular team. To this day, I always smile when I see one of them in a random warzone, but unfortunately those occasions have been very rare. The guy who guarded me and earned my MVP vote in particular was someone that I never even saw again afterwards.

Until - you probably guessed it - that game of Novare Coast. It was just one of those moments. I couldn't help imagining some cheesy music playing in the background as I recognised him and gleefully went: "It's him! He lives! Six months later and there he is! Can you believe it? He's even wearing the exact same gear still!"

Of course he had no bloody clue who I was.

It didn't matter. I did a /cheer emote at him and two seconds later he responded with a hand gesture that was followed by a familiar thrumming sound and me being surrounded by a comfortable blue bubble. Squee!

The cherry on top was that the Imps put up one hell of a fight, but my new/old friend tanked them like a boss, I healed him as if my life depended on it (because it did) and we managed to achieve a hard-earned win. We made for an amazing team considering that we didn't really know each other at all. I whispered him afterwards to thank him for the great game and we ended up queuing for another couple of matches together. We did just as well in Civil War, though we lost at Huttball - but after all, misery loves company too.

I had only just found out that he was Italian (since me habitually typing "ciao" instead of "bye" led to me being mistaken for an Italian for the umpteenth time) when a call went out from guild that the ops group had finished their run and that they were going to put a second run together, consisting of some of their alts and us benchwarmers if we still wanted to come. Of course I did!

I was only almost sad to leave my new friend behind... after all I had reason to add him to my friends list this time, so hopefully we will see each other again. But to think that I wouldn't even have run into him if I had been in the first ops group... I love it when a disappointment turns into a nice surprise like that.


Hunting for HK, Part 2

When I last wrote about my hunt for HK over a week ago, that entry didn't exactly end on a happy note. I thought that the quest chain had started off well, but when I got to the bit where you have to scan for randomly scattered droid parts I quickly concluded that it was tedious as hell and probably not worth my time. The comments that I received in reply to that post commiserated somewhat, but also tried to reassure me that it wasn't quite that bad, and that I should try to enlist the help of other people for better results. Still, I wasn't really convinced and didn't feel like even giving it another try for several days.

Last night however my former guild leader (who recently started playing again) whispered me about how he, too, had found the HK part on Taris in "only" twenty minutes and that the search wasn't so bad if you could keep your mind occupied with something else in the meantime, for example by watching tv on the side. Since I had a day off today, I decided to give it another go.

I travelled to Taris, fired up the TORWars podcast and started scanning in what I figured was roughly the right area. I hadn't been meandering up and down the swamp for very long yet when a random lowbie belonging to a higher level legacy stopped next to me and asked me how my search was going. When I complained about how tedious it was, he offered to show me where he had found his own HK part. While the placement of parts seems to be random, I still appreciated the gesture and followed him. I didn't end up finding anything at the location to which he led me, but I still thanked him for his kindness. Incidentally, he did lead me quite far away from where I had begun my search, which makes me think that I might have actually started scanning outside of the designated area anyway.

Feeling grateful that the lowbie had at least set me vaguely on the right track, I continued to scan the area around the spot that he had shown me. I ran into a Jedi who was obviously searching too and offered to group up with her to make things faster for both of us, but she was unresponsive to my whispers. Shy, perhaps?

After about forty minutes of scanning I was starting to get seriously tired of the whole thing again, podcast running in the background or not. I was just going off on a moan in guild chat about it (which prompted a friendly guildie to offer help), when suddenly out of nowhere two other players converged on a spot right in front of me (including the silent Jedi), and lo and behold, an HK part appeared at my feet! My hope in actually making some progress with Project HK was restored.

I continued to Coruscant, and searching the Jedi Temple there felt like a piece of cake compared to the swamps of Taris, considering that the area is much smaller and very obviously walled off. It took me less than five minutes to find what I wanted.

After taking a bit of a break, I sent my scanner to my agent and decided to tackle the Dark Temple approach on Dromund Kaas next. This looked like another pretty large area and I could soon feel my hope sinking again as I worked my way up the side of the south-western cliff face without finding anything of interest. However, following Green Armadillo's and Rohan's advice, I kept an eye on general chat and it didn't take long until someone exclaimed that they had just located the HK part. I immediately asked where they were and they threw me a group invite. I couldn't see them though because they were on a different instance of Dromund Kaas. I tried to switch but it wouldn't let me since "you can't do that in an unsafe area". Errr... since when? I panicked and was sure that my chance to find the part had already passed as it only remains up for a minute or so after it's been found, but then I saw the two lowbie Sith whose group I had joined talk in party chat about how they hadn't actually completed the dig yet, they just knew that they were standing about ten metres next to it. After a bit of driving around I finally managed to find a spot where the game would let me switch instances, and after what felt like the longest loading screen ever I hurried over to my two little Sith friends just in time to see them dig up their find at last. I picked it up quickly and thanked them profusely for being so helpful and saving me so much time. Unfortunately another guy who had also been looking for the part was even slower than me to make it to the dig site and didn't arrive before the item had despawned again. He must have felt gutted.

Feeling pleasantly surprised by how quickly I was progressing, I decided to go for gold and made my way to Hoth, where another wide and open plain loomed intimidatingly. However, I got lucky once again and located the HK part there on what was only my third scan (though it then took me about five minutes to find the exact spot because I kept overshooting my goal somehow). Inspired by my friendly helpers from Imperial side I made sure to announce my find in general chat before actually attempting to dig it up, but nobody else seemed to be looking for that particular item at the time.

That left only the two flashpoints! And oh look, my pet PvP tank just came online! It didn't take long to pick up two damage dealers to form a full group, and I decided to take my chances with a random hardmode flashpoint for the extra reward. That gamble paid off as we did indeed get False Emperor as our random, which was one of the ones that is needed. One of the dpsers commented that this was his third "random" flashpoint of the day and that every single one of them had been False Emperor, which made me laugh. We breezed through it quickly and I was pleased to see that you can indeed get the drop from hardmode as well. (We were a bit unsure about that as Dulfy's guide specifically states normal mode as the source.) As a bonus, Malgus dropped his snazzy speeder and I won the roll for it! We queued for HM Maelstrom Prison immediately afterwards, which didn't take very long either, and then I actually had all the parts!

At this point the other dpser piped up to say that he was still on the quest as well and only missing the part from Hoth now, so we returned to there and I was honestly a bit startled to find myself running laps around the wreck of the Ambria's Fury for someone else, after how turned off I had been by the whole scanning idea to begin with. The commenters on my previous post were right though; it wasn't nearly as bad in a group. We unearthed the quest item in about ten minutes.

Finally we returned to Section X to tackle the final heroic in the chain there, as I had been told by multiple sources that this was actually a "proper" heroic that couldn't easily be soloed with a bit of skill and gear. With a well-geared team we cut through it very quickly though, and at last both me and my guildie received our very own assassin droids.

I have to say that I'm really happy with how that turned out. I still think that the whole scanning mechanic wasn't the greatest of ideas, but people were right that it's not nearly as bad if you cooperate with other players in the area - and even the random strangers that I met on my quest turned out to be nothing but helpful in this case, so it was quite a pleasant experience in the end. Now to see what my new minion can do...


Ancient Hypergates Are Go!

Yesterday saw the release of patch 1.6, named "Ancient Hypergate" after its main feature, a new warzone. After failing to get a look at it on the PTS, I was quite excited to finally try it on live. Apparently I wasn't the only one either, as my usually more PvE-focused guild seemed to turn into nothing but PvP enthusiasts for the night, with multiple teams chain-queueing for warzones all afternoon and evening. We saw a lot of teams from other well-known guilds as well.

I got into four or five matches of Ancient Hypergates and my main impression of it was that it's... interesting. The scoring mechanics aren't exactly complicated, but they aren't really intuitive either, so there were always people around who didn't seem to know what to do (including us to be honest). However, even once you did figure out the gist of it, nobody really had any experience with what's the best way to win.

Initially we spent quite a lot of time focusing on picking up Gree energy orbs, but somehow we always ended up losing our pylon(s) and I didn't win a single match that night. (Though to be fair, it didn't help that in several matches we were seriously outclassed in terms of raw PvP skill.) It felt like a real aha moment to me when I managed to ninja the enemy pylon shortly before the explosion once and it caused my team to score high while the enemy got nothing. Dying in the explosion afterwards seemed like a small sacrifice to make for that kind of advantage.

I'm still not quite sure what would be the best place to hang out as a healer though. It felt like I got mugged pretty badly no matter where I went, as the whole warzone is very open and there are few objects to break line of sight and save your hide when overzealous snipers and leapers got their eyes on you.

I recorded a couple of our matches last night and created a little compilation of clips showing off the confusion and fail we got into. NSFW warning as my guild leader overused the F word a little bit in his excitement (though in his defense, he probably didn't expect to end up on YouTube).

Either way, it was a very fun experience and I'm looking forward to messing around with that Hypergate some more. Today I already managed to win both of the matches that I got into so far - and yes, we did focus on the pylons both times.


The Joy Of Healing

Stubborn has been writing about why he thinks that MMO healers are pretty much doomed to be unhappy. Our role forces us to focus on the other players instead of NPCs, so that we get to watch all their little failures from up close. How could you not end up resenting the guy who is standing in the fire yet again?

I found Stubborn's take on the subject quite interesting, and some of it definitely resonated with me as well. I do remember more than enough WoW pugs where the tank treated me like dirt, or which featured tiresome dps players that were totally oblivious to their environment as well as each other and yet proudly patted each other on the back for a job "well done" after every fight.

The point where I disagree with Stubborn is that many of the annoyances that he describes in his second post are usually quite obvious to non-healers as well. If someone consistently plays much worse than the rest of the team, he's not just going to tick off the healers. The problem here is bad play, not the healer having to cope with it, even if healers might find some of it more noticeable than players of other roles.

The bit that really got me thinking though was the one where he talks about weighing up positive and negative experiences with your fellow players. He concludes that healers are subjected to much more nuisances from their allies than any other role. I might even agree with that... but the thing is, he never mentions the positive experiences that balance it all out!

So during the last couple of days in particular, I've been paying extra attention to how other players make me happy when I'm healing them, and there was a lot of joy going around.

Healers and tanks:

Whether a tank is using his or her cooldowns properly is something that's generally not very obvious to anyone else in the group - except to the healer. A tank who knows how to minimise damage on himself is a beautiful thing to behold as a healer.

As a tank and a healer get used to each other, they learn to appreciate each other's quirks. The healer knows when the tank will blow his cooldowns, and when he will be vulnerable and in need of extra healing. The tank on the other hand knows to keep his healer close, to keep an eye out for adds and not to let his life support out of his sight. It's very satisfying to establish this kind of unspoken rapport with another player.

In PvP, a tank can protect a healer from a lot of harm through the use of taunts and guard (well, in SWTOR anyway). How could you not love someone who literally redirects damage that other players try to do to you onto himself? I've blown random kisses to tanks on the fleet who guarded me in the past because it's just such a massive boon to my play when done right.

Healers and dps:

Dps players are probably the ones that you have the least connection to as a healer, simply because the core of their job is so different from your own, but that doesn't mean that they can't still make you happy sometimes.

They may not be tanks, but most damage dealers still have ways and means to help a healer out of a tight spot, both in PvE and PvP, whether it's by mopping up some loose adds that have aggroed on you or by stunning an attacking enemy player to let you get away.

Also, as a sort of counterpoint to the cliché of the annoying dps that stands in the fire, it's always a delight to see dps players take responsibility for their own survival and do a good job at it too, whether it's by using cooldowns, healing themselves when needed, or retreating towards their healer to get patched up before jumping back into the action.

Healers and other healers:

Healers can be very catty towards each other if they think that the other one isn't doing a good job (I would know /cough), but if they are on the same or similar performance level, healers are each other's best buddies, to the point where their camaraderie rivals even the special bond between healer and tank.

Nobody understands a healer's job better than another healer, and it feels good to work with another person who knows what needs doing. You've got their back and they've got yours. Similar to a tank/healer team, healers that work together for a prolonged period of time will also get to know each other's "healing styles" and know instinctively how to complement each other instead of getting in each other's way. Again, there is something very satisfying about knowing what the other player's going to do and being able to react to it without having to talk about it beforehand.

All of these little things can occur frequently and at any time while playing, so I find that being a healer in support of good players is actually a very rewarding experience. The occasional survival screw-up isn't nearly enough to cancel out all the warm and fuzzy feelings created by this direct teamwork.


(Don't be a) Squishy Shadow Tank

One of my guildies has apparently felt inspired by my ramblings here and is starting up his own blog! Unlike me however, he's planning to actually provide some useful information, which makes it even better!

"Squishy Shadow Tank" can be found here. While I've established before that I'm not a mathy person and thus not a good judge of the validity of any given theorycrafting, I would like to say that this is the same guildie who has given me pointers for how to gear my Commando and I've already seen the positive results of his advice in action.

He's only got one post up so far, but even that should already be quite useful for any aspiring tanks out there (of any class really). This healer at least definitely agrees that tanks with good mitigation rock our worlds. I've ended up being assigned to healing the same Guardian tank in our guild for several operations in a row now, and that man sure knows how to gear and cycle his cooldowns correctly. The first time I healed him I actually whispered him afterwards to say something along the lines of: "WTF man, you took almost no damage!"

Now you, too, can learn how to be a tank like that (especially if you're a Shadow)! Just go and click on the link already.


Hunting for HK, Part 1

Patch 1.5 has been out for three weeks now and it pretty much took me until now to take my first steps into the HK-51 quest chain. I don't mind taking it slowly, but in this case my speed has been glacial even by my own standards. It's not just due to the usual distractions though.

This post will contain spoilers about the first three parts of the HK-51 chain, if you care about that kind of thing. I do and have generally been trying to avoid being spoiled. I like experiencing things for myself, especially in a game with such a heavy focus on story.

Anyway, I did mention before that I actually did the very first step of the chain, the Section X part, on the day of the patch. This wasn't really planned though; my guildie and I just sort of burned through every mission that we found in the area, without differentiating between the dailies and the bits for HK.

But then I found myself a little stuck, as the next mission said that it was [Heroic 2]. All things considered I'd probably be able to solo it, but soloing things as a healer is kind of tedious. I'd rather lean back and eat dinner throw heals around while other people kill things. But was it fair to ask someone for help who had already done it? If it was a long mission, that could potentially be quite demanding. Should I ask around to see who else hadn't done it yet? Could I be bothered to do that? Decisions, decisions.

Then I read somewhere, despite of my attempts to avoid spoilers, that this particular step of the chain required almost no fighting anyway. Soloing it was, then!

I travelled to the Theoretika, an abandoned spaceship, and expected to find the inevitable malfunctioning droids or something, which always seem to infest abandoned spaceships for some reason. But no, there was nothing of the sort. Just lots of empty, dark and silent corridors with the odd corpse on the floor here and there. It was actually quite eerie and atmospheric, especially when the ship occasionally creaked and shook.

I soon did something very unusual for an MMO, and ended up hiding my UI while roaming around to increase my field of vision, as it all seemed to come down to finding items to click on and interact with, which didn't require me to use any of my abilities anyway. The whole thing was basically a bit of an adventure/puzzle game that required you to gradually unlock more and more of the derelict spaceship. Most of it was quite straightforward, along the lines of finding a locked door that required security clearance, and then picking up a security access card from a body nearby.

It was interesting to have no obvious quest markers or anything of the like to guide me for once, but I appreciated the change of pace. It was slow-going as I spent a lot of time hovering my mouse all over the place, trying to find things to click on, but nonetheless my progress felt smooth.

Somewhere around the middle I found myself trapped behind a pool of liquid with electric currents running through it, which required me to figure out a small jumping puzzle to get across while making use of some pipes and ceiling beams. The datacron tag on this blog can attest to the fact that I'm not great at jumping, but for some reason I had no problems with this one whatsoever. I was actually quite chuffed when I made it across without any kind of help or instructions.

The point where I hit a wall was when I suddenly got locked in a dark room and was told that I was suffocating. Find a way out! Er, okay? I found a broken fuse quite quickly, but struggled to locate a replacement for it. While my character had a small lamp droid with her, the room was completely dark otherwise and I couldn't for the life of me find anything to click on. I even searched on the ceiling! I was oddly reminded of the difficulties of trying to find the light switches in Maniac Mansion.

Eventually I got a bit bored of circling around the room and not finding anything, even though the game kept warning me that I was about to suffocate. I wanted to see how serious that threat was and started to ramble away in guild chat instead of continuing to search, until the timer finally ran out and did indeed knock me out. I tried again, but eventually decided to prod guild chat for a hint at least.

After they pointed out the tiny cylinder on the rubbish pile in the corner, I managed to escape another death by suffocation with about three seconds to go. After that, my puzzling mojo was gone though. I made it all the way to the end of the ship without further help, but I missed several things on the way and then got frustrated by repeatedly having to go back and try to figure out what I had missed, so I just looked the last couple of steps up on Dulfy.

As much as the whole thing had started out as a very positive experience and provided me with some laughs, at the end I was honestly kind of glad to get out of there. And apparently I wasn't the only one! At one point during my searching, I got a whisper from a random stranger that went like this:

Yeah. Make of that what you will.

Today I decided that I would start hunting for the HK parts that are spread out across various planets. I started on Tatooine and was honestly kind of disappointed to find the Outlaw's Den completely devoid of any action. And to think that I had made a point of wearing my PvP gear! So I started running around scanning bits of the area at random, to no avail - until I once again got bored.

What do you mean, just buy it from the jawa? I checked the jawa and... oh, there's another one. D'oh.

I continued to Taris, where I knew that I would have to use the scanner, but I consulted Dulfy once again to spare myself the annoyance of having to run around scanning god knows how many square metres grid by grid. But hey, what's that? The part that you need isn't always in the same place? Argh. I tried all the example coordinates given in the guide, but none of them wielded any results.

Then I just went on another ops run instead of continuing.

I'm really not sure how I'm going to muster up the patience to scan considerably sized areas of swamp/ruins/jungle/snow on four more planets one 25-meter-radius circle at a time. How do people do this without going absolutely bonkers with boredom? And why couldn't Bioware just make the scanner work in such a way that it points you in what's vaguely the right direction if you're in the correct area? Or at least provide a slightly more detailed description of where to look?



The Neurotic Raider

When I talked to several friends about my change of guilds a couple of weeks ago, there was a certain conversation thread that seemed to repeat itself no matter which individual I talked to, even if they didn't even know each other. It went something like this:

Me: So yes, I joined this new guild to get back into operations. They have a progression team running a couple of days each week, and the rest of the time there are more casual runs going on which include alts and so on. I've been joining a few of those and it's been good fun.

Friend: Nice to hear that... though knowing you, you'll also be a member of the progression team in no time.

Me: Eh, maybe, I don't know. They seem to have enough regulars already. And anyway, casual is good enough for me. I'm happy to take it easy and cheer from the sidelines.

Friend: [rolls their eyes in amusement]

Me: What?

Turns out that my friends know me better than I know myself. Casual was good enough... for a while, as I was trying to get back into the swing of things. Then I wanted to do Explosive Conflict hardmode, which was progression for me as I had never done it, even if Twin Suns had cleared it before. I got that done, and it actually went pretty well for me too, as the more experienced players were a bit rusty so we still had to work for it. There were some wipes, but conveniently enough most of them were very obviously not my fault, which is good because I have near endless patience with other people causing wipes, but if I do it myself it drives me up the wall. So I got some challenge out of that but no major feelings of guilt.

Of course then I had to have a critical look at all the Campaign gear that I got during those runs and started swapping around mods and stuff. I became curious about Terror from Beyond hardmode. I listened in on the guild groups that ran it and learned the most fascinating things about some of the new mechanics involved on hardmode. (Something about people getting balls? I like balls!) And then I finally took the plunge and officially announced that I thought that I was ready to join TfB HM runs as well. Possibly, maybe. If they really, desperately needed someone. The last thing I wanted to do was give the impression that I was trying to encroach on anyone else's territory.

I didn't expect anything to come of that any time soon, but tonight I had innocently been PvPing away when I heard people talk on TeamSpeak about continuing Wednesday's HM run, which was currently on three bosses down (with previous overall progression being 4/5 at the time of writing this). And hm, one of their healers wasn't online.


My mind is an interesting place to be sometimes. I was about to be extremely disappointed/massively relieved that they didn't seem to need me and was getting ready for a group invite from another guildie to do some more PvP, when I was at last hit by a ping about whether I could come and fill in for the missing second healer. Aieee. Of course I accepted.

Soon we were all standing in front of Kephess. Funny thing about Kephess: the common consensus seemed to be that he was really easy on hardmode because even though the guild had only downed him once before, it had only taken three attempts. For me personally however, Kephess is hands down my least favourite boss in TfB. There's too much movement (the bane of the Commando healer's existence) and too many different things to keep track of while also not letting people die (oops, my bad). I had a feeling that it was going to take us more than three attempts this time, even with some people having experienced the fight before. I was not wrong.

The explanation of new mechanics was concluded with a comment about how it was basically more of everything that also featured in story mode, and that I was sure to love it... right? [/sarcasm] I winced a little and stayed silent. Serious Shintar is serious! Another one of the officers chuckled. "She's nervous already!" Perceptive bastard.

And then I got to learn about the many, many ways in which you can mess up on hardmode Kephess! Let me recount them:

- Clicking on a pillar too early.
- Clicking on a pillar too late.
- Running in front of the wrong pillar.
- Moving before the boss is about to jump on me so that other people get caught in the blast too (yay).
- Panicking about that weird white ball that has latched on to me (not a nice ball, that one) and forgetting to heal people.
- Letting a tank die because I got confused about who was tanking at the time. Feeling embarrassed as I realise that when all they say during the fight is "taunting", I can't tell the voices of the two tanks apart.

You know it's bad when you cringe whenever your name is said on TeamSpeak, because it's inevitably followed by "don't [do whatever you're doing right now], it's bad". I suppose I should be happy that I never managed to die to one of those moving walls at least.

Of course one has to keep things in perspective. It was only the second time that the guild was killing this guy on hardmode, and my first ever TfB hardmode fight ever. There were bound to be hiccups. Still, when Kephess finally keeled over and died at last, I honestly kind of just wanted to lie down next to him and have a nap. Of shame.

But my battle wasn't over yet! It was time to distribute the loot. For what it's worth, the guild uses what I tend to think of as "common sense" loot rules, which means: main spec first, mains before alts, no single person hoarding all the drops, roll off if multiple people meet the same criteria, that kind of thing.

That's perfectly fine by me, however one thing that I've come to realise over the last couple of weeks is that I have a couple of additional "soft" loot rules of my own:

- If I was just pulled in as a sub or I'm otherwise an outsider compared to the rest of the group, I won't roll need - because I know how it sucks to be waiting for that special drop for ten runs and then see it go to some new recruit who leaves the guild two weeks later.
- If I feel that I was carried and played badly, I won't roll need either - because I know the exasperation of seeing good loot being "wasted" on the guy whose performance has done nothing but drag the team down. I want to feel like I've earned it.
- If I've already won three things, I don't care if I'm the only main in the run: sharing is caring, give something to the other people too!
- I will pass on anything that would only go to the vendor - because it's a bit of a downer when you're running dailies with companions in greens while other people pick up your potential companion gear to flog it to a vendor for a piddly amount of credits.

These are only for me really, based on the idea of treating others as you'd like to be treated - I don't generally expect others to adhere to them because everyone has different expectations.

Anyway, to get back on topic, Kephess was dead and had dropped a Dread Guard off-hand token. The call went out for everyone to roll if they didn't already have a piece of Dread Guard gear, which obviously applied to me, seeing how I hadn't even set foot in TfB HM before. They are going to expect me to roll, I thought. They are going to make me roll, because I qualify. But I was just pulled in as a sub! And I messed up six ways from Sunday! It didn't seem right.

Suddenly, the empty dinner plate that just so happened to stand on my desk looked like it absolutely needed cleaning up that very instant. Yes! Excellent plan! I'd just so happen to be AFK when the loot went out and "miss" my chance to get it. I smiled as I took off my headset and went to the kitchen. When I came back, I immediately heard my name on TS, and for once it wasn't followed by "don't stand there".

Me: Sorry, what was that? I was AFK for a couple of seconds.
Ops leader: You won!
Me: Er, what?
Ops leader: Dunc rolled for you and you won! Grats!

I looked at ops chat, and indeed, they had simply bypassed the minor inconvenience of my absence by having someone else do a roll for me, and as it happened, he had rolled a 92. I was seriously wringing my hands at that point, but I didn't want to argue about loot of all things.

We had a couple of tries on the Terror, but had to stop soon afterwards as several people needed to go. As soon as I was out of the ops, I jumped into a couple more warzones and it seemed positively relaxing in comparison.

Once things had quieted down, I paid a visit to the trooper supplies vendor and picked up the Dread Guard Combat Medic's Generator. For once an upgrade that wasn't just a lackluster reshuffling of stats!

I didn't really want this, I thought. And god, that run was so stressful! I think I could hear my blood pumping in my ears at some point because I was that high on adrenaline.

Of course the punchline is: I can't wait to go again.