30/04/2012

Newbies

I had a fun little adventure on Tatooine tonight. What is it with that planet and adventure? I was playing my lowbie Jedi knight and had just finished up my class quest in the area. I hadn't done anything else though, because I had quested on Tatooine on both of my previous characters and wanted to skip it in favour of other content this time.

As I was heading back to my ship, another knight - let's call him Ben - asked in general chat whether anyone could help him kill the slavemaster at the spaceport. I figured that I might as well help out since I was already there. It was a quick matter of hopping in and out of the hangar, and as we finished, Ben asked me whether I wanted to do the heroic quest Down the Hole too. I figured that I might as well, since heroic quests usually don't have any prerequisites, are fun and offer great experience.

The moment we stepped out of the hangar however, we ran into another Jedi - let's call him Liam - who was standing right in front of the door and immediately turned to me. "Hello, can you help me kill the slavemaster?" I felt like I had landed in some kind of comedy skit, suddenly doomed to help random people kill the slavemaster over and over again! However, I didn't want to be mean, so I told Ben that I'd be right with him and helped Liam get his quest done too.

Liam immediately confessed that he was new to the game and didn't really know what he was doing, so I took the lead and decided to take him along to Down the Hole as well. As it turned out, Ben appeared to be at least somewhat new to MMOs as well, as both of them asked me questions that baffled me in their innocence. I've heard the occasional comment about SWTOR attracting more genuine MMO newbies than most games, but this was the first time that I really got to see it for myself.

"What do you mean, share the quest?"
"How do I find you guys? Where are you?"
"What does need or greed mean?"

Fortunately I remembered that this particular mission was handed out in the cantina, so I made my way over there to pick it up directly, Liam called in via holo, and we were finally all on the same page.

We headed into the heroic area and were off to a good start, but it didn't take long for me to jump one way and Ben another, so that we got two groups at once and died. What followed was a lot of comedic flailing as people resed up, immediately aggroed something and died again, Liam went for the medical droid, tried to run back in and also died again... it was just a giant mess. I couldn't help but laugh though, and eventually we all just assembled outside and went back in again as a team. One of them joked that our first attempt had only been a trial run and didn't count. Fortunately all the dying had provided an important lesson and everyone (including me) was a lot more careful this time, so that we completed the mission with no further problems.

After we had handed in together, my game crashed unfortunately, and when I came back online Ben was gone. However Liam was still around and asked me with puppy dog eyes whether I could help him with another quest, which I did. Can't say that it was hugely engaging to be in spectator mode for multiple conversations, but I felt protective of this (to me) rare newbie I had found. You don't want to put anyone off the game by giving them the impression that other players they'll meet out in the open world are unhelpful or unfriendly.

We finally parted ways because he didn't want to impose any longer, though I left him with a couple of pieces of gear that I had picked up and some medpacs. I have to admit, I kind of had to laugh when I "finally" made it off Tatooine - what a distraction that simple request for help had turned out to be!

One of the best things about this whole encounter though was the fact that it stirred a pleasant WoW memory in my brain. I remember back when I was but a little WoW noob in vanilla, my human paladin was questing in Loch Modan for some reason and I ended up grouped with three warriors that were two to six levels lower than me. I had no real clue what I was doing, but somehow I was both tanking and healing at once, and it was madness. We hunted down Ol' Sooty (a very scary elite back then) multiple times for no other reason than that he had ganked one of our party members and he wanted revenge, and we killed endless amounts of troggs for the local dwarves. I never saw any of those players again, but the memory remains a fond one because to me it exemplifies one of the things that I loved about MMOs from the start: the idea that every stranger is a potential friend, because the bears/troggs/whatevers are out to get all of you.

I'm glad to see this spirit of companionship alive and well in The Old Republic, even if it's Mandalorians that are out to get us now instead of beasts and ugly humanoids. What can I say - Jedi have to stick together.

26/04/2012

Lost Island HM Notes

Jumping right back into the regular 1.2 content, four of us tackled the new Lost Island flashpoint on hard mode tonight. We felt quite daring, considering that another four guild members had tried it before but hadn't been able to make it past the first proper boss at the time, and at least one of them seemed to be very traumatised by the experience and kept talking about how impossibly hard it was (/cough). To counter this constant doom-saying, our team made a point of walking around with a confident swagger all night and announcing that it was going to be a piece of cake for us. As it often happens with these things, the truth was somewhere in the middle.

We did die quite a lot, especially on the Sentinel Droid. You wouldn't believe how many ways there are to die on this guy! However, since we honestly expected it to be pretty challenging, we weren't deterred by this and just kept plugging away at it until we got him down, and everyone remained in very good spirits throughout.

I do think that attitude is important when tackling this flashpoint. Really, if you just want an easy daily run, do Taral V or something. This is serious progression content for a smaller group size. ("Oh yeah, it's progressing our repair bills alright!") To be honest I would even say that it might be a bit overtuned, considering that our party was in full Columi gear with a couple of Rakata pieces, and we barely scraped by. Considering that the bosses drop Columi, plus a Rakata chest at the end... hrm. Either way, expect to die a lot, laugh about it, pick yourself up and try again. If you can deal with that, it's certainly a very satisfying experience.

Throughout the entire run we used this guide by Dulfy as a source of information, and it was very helpful, but there were a couple of things that weren't in the guide or that weren't entirely clear to us purely from reading about them, so I'd like to share my new-found wisdom on the subject with you.

In regards to the Sentinel Droid, we mostly learned that he does an Incinerate right at the start and that it has a very long range. Why is this relevant? Well, we initially didn't really want to start tanking him in the middle, surrounded by all those grates that might erupt into fire at any moment, but if we tried to pull him backwards he'd just incinerate our tank at crazy range. We had so many silly wipes to mispulls, it was pretty funny actually. You can safely pull him into a corner by using a ranged attack and then immediately line-of-sighting him though.

From a healer's point of view, it's also worth noting that while Dulfy's guide rightly talks about Plasma Arc being less important than Incinerate, that doesn't mean that you should ignore it. (To be fair, the guide does say that it should also be interrupted... but in our heads that kind of translated into "interrupting optional".) We initially had both of our interrupters focusing on Incinerate exclusively, and the damage going around was just mad. When we finally realised that the time between Incinerates was long enough for it to be covered by one interrupter exclusively, we had the other one switch to Plasma Arcs and suddenly healing became about ten times easier.

Our most important revelation came on Project Sav-Rak though, where Dulfy notes that she found it easiest in terms of healing for everyone to stack on her. We tried this and it was a total disaster. "You can tell that this was written by a Sorcerer/Sage", I commented to my guildies, once again jealous of their AoE heals.

First off, in phase one it is notable that the boss has a cleave that places a bleed on people that are hit by it. Since it's important to stack up to not get pushed off the platform by his smash, we initially just hugged up on top of him the entire time... but this resulted in people getting cleaved, bleeding a lot, and taking enough damage that I was actually running low on ammo before we even made it to the more damage-heavy phase. So, a simple change: everyone made sure to keep a little distance and stay behind the boss whenever there wasn't a smash coming up - there is plenty of time to move in when it becomes necessary.

The pillar phase was what really threw us though, because AoE healing in the middle while one person ran to activate the pillars only resulted in massive damage and death. However, it turned out that there was a simple solution to this: me being the only one to stand in the middle, while everyone else ran towards a different pillar each and activated the consoles there all at once (more or less). Single target damage all around and the boss came down again pretty quickly. In hindsight I noticed that this is actually what Dulfy's group did in their video as well, but we hadn't watched it at the time and the text currently describes it differently.

Anyway, like I said it was a really fun and challenging experience. Any readers beaten it yet?

25/04/2012

Rakghoul Event: The End

So, the rakghoul event is officially over. I say "officially" because in practice I still got the plague about four times today, and people continued to puke and explode all over the station. I mostly seemed to get infected in warzones, which shouldn't really be a surprise to anyone - I don't even want to contemplate where some of those Imps must have been...

I expect that the sickness will slowly dissipate over the next couple of days, though I find it amusing to think that OMG the plague can't be stopped. Bioware, what have you unleashed?! /dramatically shakes her fists at the sky.

I feel quite satisfied with the way things have gone for me during this event. Initially I was a bit worried about missing out on some of the social gear, since Bioware insisted on gating some of the event quests on a personal level, and if you didn't log on for a day there was no way of catching up. Fortunately they did leave some "margin for error", so even though I missed a couple of days I still got all my pieces in the end, and then some.

I wasn't sure whether I was going to be able to unlock all the event codices either, as the world bosses initially appeared to be camped to oblivion. When my guild tried to kill Infected Trapjaw on Friday night, there were already a whole bunch of people spawn-camping the skull by the time we got there. By some stroke of luck (or very intense focus from certain guild members) we managed to get the tag, but activity levels around the other bosses were even worse and we had no luck with them whatsoever.

I had already given up on the idea of getting to kill them, when I came to Tatooine on Saturday afternoon and saw a pug raid forming in chat - or rather, a group of eight people said that the boss in Outlaw's Den was up and that they had tried to kill him, but they had failed due to Imperial interference and were now looking to boost their numbers before trying again. We ended up with over twenty people in the end (somewhat to my surprise - I didn't expect to be able to expand an ops group beyond sixteen, which is the largest group size for which there is currently content in the game), and it turned out that the other boss I was still missing was available too, so we scooted over to him right afterwards and I ended up completing my codex entries after all.

It had been ages since I was last in a pug raid out in the open world, but I really enjoyed it. There were a lot of familiar faces around, and everyone was very friendly, not to say kind - even though some people bimbled around for ages and took forever to make it over (some didn't even know where the Outlaw's Den was!), we waited for everyone and nobody made a fuss. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.


Now, unlocking all the available event codices should have granted me the Containment Officer title, but it bugged out and didn't work (surprise). However, in Bioware's defence I have to say that after I submitted a ticket about this, I got a response from a customer service representative only a few minutes later, and another CSR managed to correctly grant me the title on the same day. Apparently they are getting better at this whole customer service thing.

In summary, I really enjoyed this event. It had:

- voiced story content
- story quests limited to the duration of the event
- a well-hidden scavenger hunt
- pets and other unique cosmetic goodies to acquire
- world bosses
- world PvP
- and last but not least, people doing crazy stuff all over the place!

I think they managed to cover a whole lot of ground there, especially for something that was only going to be a one-off thing. (Daniel Erickson confirmed in a recent interview that they are not going to repeat this event, as they want to give the game a sense of history, and for that some things simply need to be in the past - another decision I approve of.) I do hope that we'll see more events like this in the future, though for now I could do with some quiet time to recover and actually focus on the main 1.2 content properly. Also, as much as I enjoyed the rakghoul plague outbreak as it was, I do hope that future events won't all follow the same formula (i.e. I hated how WoW turned every single one of its holidays into a tedious token grind plus event boss). I'm not asking for dramatic innovation here, just some variety. For now however: simply keep up the good work, Bioware.

21/04/2012

Into The Black Hole

The rakghouls are still running loose, but I wanted to break up the deluge of world event related posts (not just here, but everywhere else too) with something else by talking about the Black Hole, the new daily quest hub introduced in 1.2. There are a lot of aspects to it that made me think.

First off, there is the location. I have to admit that when I first heard that we were going to get a daily hub on Corellia, I assumed that it was going to be placed on the already existing map of the planet. After all, TOR's planets are pretty big, so I figured that it shouldn't be difficult to fit some more content into a corner somewhere. Worst case, if they really needed more space, they could always add another sub-zone and extend the tram line. Right?

As such I was kind of taken aback when I arrived in search of the new dailies and the quest marker led me to a shuttle, which presented me with a loading screen and then a new area that was entirely separate from the rest of the planet. I have to admit that this left me feeling a bit disappointed, because you get no sense whatsoever of where the Black Hole is supposed to be in relation to the areas of Corellia that you already discovered.

Having the Black Hole as a completely separate area also isn't conductive to getting groups for the heroic daily, as general chat only lets you talk to the people in the same instanced sub-zone instead of everyone on Corellia.

The impact of the extra loading screen is not to be underestimated either, as they are very long and unpleasant as it is - having to deal with no less than three of them just to get from the fleet to the Black Hole is honestly a bit off-putting.

When I first talked about the Belsavis dailies, I noted that they didn't feel like they had been designed to be dailies, what with how weird it felt to have the same NPC conversations over and over, and the way that it just made no sense to do some of those missions repeatedly. I appreciate that repeating most content in an MMO requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but there are degrees to this, and things like the crashed pilot on Ilum were just stretching it beyond my patience. (One of my guildies has taken to referring to that guy as "that hermit who hoards all our medical supplies" - that's indeed what he comes off as in the context of his mission being a daily quest!)

Comparatively, the Black Hole dailies clearly have been designed to be repeatable from the start. Killing Quick-Hands Quarl over and over again doesn't exactly make sense either, but at least most of the dailies present the player with fairly generic tasks that live up well to repetition: kill some gang members, retrieve stolen weapons etc. They are also handed out by a terminal, so it's not required that you space-bar through the same conversations over and over again just to pick up your dailies every day.

I was surprised that I actually had somewhat conflicting feelings about this. I mean, it makes sense and it is convenient! And yet... there is a small part of me that was actually a little disappointed to see that once I had done the initial breadcrumb quest that led me to the new area, there was no more talking and no more story. Just clicking "accept" to kill ten dudes simply doesn't really feel right for SWTOR; it's just not what the game is about! I'm hoping that my appreciation for the no-nonsense structure of these dailies will increase with time and repetition. I guess I was just hoping for a bit more from that first experience, even if it was an irrational hope, seeing how the quests don't treat you any differently depending on whether you pick them up for the first time or for the tenth.

I may have sounded somewhat critical so far, but in terms of gameplay I have to give the Black Hole a big thumbs-up. First off, I appreciate once again that Bioware didn't feel the need to incentivise doing the whole lot of them every day - in fact the weekly quest that rewards the precious new Black Hole commendations only requires you to do each quest once a week, which strikes me as extremely generous and friendly towards casual play. There are also only six new daily quests in total, which is a pretty piddly amount by most standards, but again it is something that I am extremely grateful for. If you're the kind of player who feels constrained by WoW's limit of 25 daily quests a day, you might feel cheated by SWTOR here and feel like there is "nothing to do"... but personally I appreciate the way this design truly adds the new dailies as something extra, something to do when you feel like it, instead of presenting them as important content that you're expected to spend your entire evenings on for the next two months.

I also think that some of the quest mechanics are quite inspired and amusing. The one to plant the listening devices is quite atmospheric, and if you're like me, you'll constantly curse yourself for clumsily setting off yet another sensor. Tip: Bring a dps-specced scavenger with you and they'll tell you that it's perfectly okay to summon hordes of sentry droids as they happily collect their Durasteel after another round of AoE.

The mission to plug the radiation leak is fun too - the first time I just ran right into the radiated water and died, not noticing that I already had a quest item in my bags that I was supposed to use to protect myself. Funnily enough, many people I talked to did the exact same thing. There's also this little island in the water that looks like you should be safe quickly running over onto it, but you keep taking damage while standing on it and will die quickly. Maybe it's morbid, but I enjoy silly mechanics like that. I've even heard of people intentionally killing themselves in the radiation to quickly res back at the base afterwards.

The heroic 4 daily at the end is quite nice as well, not too difficult but still rewarding proper use of abilities like crowd control and interrupts. Also, unlike the former Belsavis heroic 4s, it can't be soloed by stealthers, which I have to admit fills me with a certain amount of glee. We want you in our groups too, you Shadows and scoundrels, don't always go off to do your own thing! I just think it's a bit of a problem that general chat is limited to this tiny area, making it a bit of a hassle to pull in help from elsewhere if there aren't enough people in the immediate vicinity right when you need them.

On the whole, I'm happy with this addition, but I do hope that Bioware won't just add more and more dailies as new content with every patch. They have their place, but in my opinion they should never be the focus of a game, even more so one that's as story-heavy as The Old Republic.

18/04/2012

Rakghoul Plague, Day 4

Last night I finally let the plague run its full course on my character. I'm not particularly keen on being a rakghoul, but you do get rewarded for blowing up and I wanted to at least give it a try. I repeatedly expired in a messy fashion on the sands of Tatooine, but nobody was ever around to benefit from it.

Eventually I returned to the fleet to join one of the "plague parties" there. They are definitely one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen in an MMO, and you'd think that I've seen my fair share of strange happenings. It's not exactly riveting gameplay to stand around semi-AFK and wait to be infected and eventually explode, just to immediately get revived by a friendly soul in the crowd and start the cycle all over again. It's not something that would make for great long-term entertainment, but as a limited time only thing it's definitely amusing.

"Love all those people hugging up and puking on each other..." I commented in guild chat as I was surveying my surroundings. Deadpan reply from a guildie: "You in Scotland?" It's a good thing I wasn't drinking anything at the time.

Unfortunately I didn't actually get any exploding and infecting done last night, as I apparently ran into a bug. (Surprise!) Basically I stood on the fleet for over an hour, "feverish" the entire time, and nothing happened. I watched the same Jedi blow up and get revived again next to me three times. I figured that there was a certain amount of RNG to the duration of the plague, but that just seemed ridiculous. Eventually I googled it and as it turns out relogging or zoning can apparently cause your plague debuff to bug out and stop progressing. I decided to remove it by curing myself and logged off. What a waste of time. Fortunately I've already had more luck this morning, when I spotted an infected and an uninfected person standing near the fleet pass spot and joined in.

It's been interesting to observe people's reactions to the event in general. Some simply ignore it. The guy who was the first one in my guild to find out about it is still super excited about every new addition, and we joked that he's become "e-famous" since he was included in a plague party screenshot that someone posted on Reddit. Another guildie on the other hand moaned that all those rakghouls were giving her unpleasant flashbacks to WoW's zombie event and how she found that so annoying back then that she hid in Shattrath all day. It sure gives people something to talk about.

Another thing I did yesterday was complete the little scavenger hunt to get the Crimson Rakling pet. So. Much. Driving Around. Even with a full guide! Still, I can't complain, it was once again simply something different, and I found it quite amusing to see where Bioware had placed the different bits of wreckage. Really, all the way on the edge? What are the odds!

I seem to be a bit behind on the new event dailies. Apparently another one was added yesterday, but I couldn't seem to unlock it for the life of me. I wonder if it's tied to personal progression, as I also only did the escape pod daily for the first time last night. Either way, I've got plenty to do still.

Tonight my guild might try to tackle the event world bosses, if we get a chance to do so, which is not at all guaranteed considering the competition. Too bad that the event is scheduled to end in less than a week already. (I guess it won't be spreading to other planets then like I thought it would.) Still, I guess it makes sense, because events like these are all about the novelty value, and the impact definitely gets diminished if it goes on too long. I still remember WoW's Cataclysm launch event and just how fed up some people got with the elemental invasions towards the end of it. Better to keep it short and sweet I guess. So get those rakghouls while you can!

16/04/2012

World Event!

Today SWTOR players all over the world were in for a big surprise. I don't know if anyone wasn't surprised, though I do seem to have a very, very vague recollection of the devs mentioning that they had plans for world events before, so it's possible that people knew about it beforehand... but I'm pretty sure that the vast majority knew nothing specific. The fact that we'd be getting a full-blown world event launched into our faces so soon after 1.2 certainly wasn't in the patch notes.

For me, it started innocuous enough actually, with a guildie going on about "something" happening on Tatooine today, according to some developer's Twitter feed. His reference was really vague however and didn't exactly make any of us jump out of our seats in excitement.

However, as we returned to the station after a round of dailies in the early afternoon (UK time), strange new announcements started to be made on the station. Something about an outbreak of rakghoul plague... At first I thought that maybe it was just another way for Bioware to promote the new flashpoint. However, the announcements became more urgent over time, and suddenly news terminals began to appear in front of all the major elevators on the station. If you clicked on them you got to see a news broadcast about the rakghoul plague breaking out on Tatooine.

If the government urges you to stay home to remain safe, what's the logical thing to do for an adventurer? Rush headlong into the danger zone of course! If you emerge from Anchorhead spaceport as a Republic player, you immediately find some emergency notice terminals there which treat you to another news video about the extent of the plague outbreak on Tatooine. (Afterwards you get a little buff called "informed", which I thought was a nice touch. EDIT: Apparently this is actually part of another little scavenger hunt! Check The Land of Odd for details.) It was interesting to watch how the news spread on the server, and the number of players on the planet rose steadily as the day went on.

General chat was full of people asking and answering questions about what was going on, and we were eventually directed towards an area with some quests in it. As it happens we did things in the "wrong" order though, which led to some unnecessary running back and forth.

Where you want to start as a Republic player is Outpost Thorazan in the Dune Sea. Travelling north-east from there, you'll find a crashed space ship just north of the road leading east towards the next sub-zone. Discovering the crash site begins a five-step daily area mission called Wreck of the Stardream, centred around discovering what happened to the ship.

The area is teeming with hostile rakghouls, though I found that they seemed to have a very low aggro radius, which was quite a relief considering that it was very busy and respawns were pretty quick. More importantly though, the whole area was chock full of players from both factions, and impromptu world PvP happened all over the place, though since I play on a PvE server, not everyone was hostile. For example I cooperated with an agent to kill a gold quest mob faster for the both of us.

During the quest you'll unlock two new codex entries (filed away under "Events") about the "Rakghoul Pandemic". I do recommend reading them; I thought the infected captain's last entry was particularly amusing - replacing letters with numbers truly is a sign of the insane... At the end of the little chain you're also rewarded with four Rakghoul DNA Samples and a Rakghoul Vaccine.

While killing rakghouls in the wreckage, you should have found a blood sample that starts another quest called - surprise, surprise - Blood Sample. You get sent to Outpost Largona to analyse it there and get to make a light/dark side choice about what to do with the resulting knowledge. As you go to act on this, you'll discover another daily area mission that awards you two codex entries, four Rakghoul DNA Samples and a Rakghoul Vaccine if you complete the whole thing. I thought this chain had the potential to be quite devious towards unwitting low-level players. So far the event seems to be targetted at max-level players, but the first step in this chain features some neutral low-level mobs that, once attacked, will summon in several level 50 friends. I can see that making for a painful surprise for someone who just happens to be levelling there and decides to attack that neutral mob on a whim... (EDIT: Actually, according to the latest info, the additional mobs that spawn are adjusted to the level of the player who spawns them, so lowbies can participate without getting ganked. Hurrah!)

Anyway, the light/dark side choice ends with you being sent back to Anchorhead to deliver your results to a dropbox, which results in another reward of two Rakghoul DNA Samples plus either another sample or a pair of moddable Republic Containment Officer Boots.

That was all I saw of the event content on my first day, though I heard that there is world boss involvement as well. Supposedly Trapjaw (the Tatooine world boss) has been infected with the plague as well, and there's supposed to be a new boss too? I tried to get some information out of people in general chat late at night, but they were too busy bickering about who should be in whose ops to kill the world boss. (EDIT: The Land of Odd has more information on this as well.)

Now, all this excitement immediately raised a lot of questions, for example: What's the point of Rakghoul DNA Samples? The tooltip says that someone on Tatooine might be interested in them, and as it turns out a special vendor has appeared with the event as well. A bit north of the ship wreck a little jawa called Jeelvic sells a couple of new goodies, basically using the DNA Samples as his currency of choice. Specifically, he offers a variety of black-green colour crystals for 75 or 83 samples each, a "Pale Rakling", which is essentially a pet rakghoul (WTF) for 60 samples and Infected Companion Lockboxes which contain a random companion customisation for 20 samples. (I don't know whether those are new or existing customisations.) He also sells more Rakghoul Vaccine for two thousand credits a pop.

For how long will this event be going on then? Judging by the fact that you can only get 11 samples max from the dailies right now and that you need a lot more than that to be able to buy anything, I reckon that the event will be ongoing for at least a week or two. In my opinion it's also likely that similar plague outbreaks will occur on other planets, as the news broadcasts do hint at multiple planets being affected, and you'd expect us to get moddable Republic Containment Officer gear for slots other than our feet, which I could easily see coming from missions on other planets.

Finally of course... how dangerous is the plague? You can actually catch it as a player, and I did so on both of my max level characters when it came to investigating the escape pod and all those rakghouls burst from the ground. I don't know if it's transmitted by means other than getting mauled by rakghouls though - it didn't seem terribly contagious to me, but who knows. So far it's been rather hilarious to watch people's reactions to getting infected. First off, most don't even notice immediately - including myself, but you bet that I noticed when I got dismounted from my speeder because my character needed to throw up! I became quite distressed as my sickness debuff started to sound worse and worse, no matter how much I tried to tell myself that I didn't have anything to seriously worry about in this game. I used the vaccine as soon as I got it.

Other people were curious however and wanted to see what would happen if they let the plague run its course, or sometimes they never even noticed until it was too late. Apparently it does turn you into a rakghoul eventually and you do keel over dead. Again this was a source of much amusement as members of my guild blew up seemingly at random while questing on Tatooine. On the fleet I had the pleasure of recording this instance of friendly teasing of a person who didn't know what the plague was going to do to him.

While I didn't see it myself, there were apparently also people jokingly advertising that they were selling the cure to the plague for large amounts of credits.

I have to say, even though the rakghoul storyline in general is not one of my favourites, I'm really excited about this event. It's been a while since I got to enjoy a proper world event, and the fact that Bioware is springing one on us so early in the game's life cycle is a pleasant surprise to me.

The only thing that confuses me a bit is just how bad this rakghoul plague is really supposed to be. On the one hand the story keeps going on about how it's untreatable, yet a random jawa in the desert can sell vaccines wholesale? I guess that's where storytelling and practicality collide a bit. Still, I can't argue with a wholesome amount of zombie fun.

13/04/2012

Calm Before The Storm

So, 1.2.

Part of me has been wanting to write about it ever since the guild summit, but I've never been good at going through pages upon pages of patch notes and commenting on them. Hell, I'm not even good at reading pages upon pages of patch notes.

Also, I have to admit that I wasn't all that excited about 1.2 to begin with.

Wait!

Before you jump to any conclusions, let me explain. Many people really seemed to be looking forward to 1.2 simply because they were hoping that it would fix all their problems, implying that they were actually pretty unhappy with things to begin with. So when I'm saying that I wasn't that excited about 1.2, all I mean to say is that I was having fun with the game as it was. Sure, more content is good, but honestly, the stuff that's already there was keeping me busy enough. (Though I was looking forward to seeing Eternity Vault get some bug fixes.)

Still, logging in late last night after work was pretty cool. It was nice to see the fleet busier than it had been for a while, and people were discussing PvP changes and the new flashpoint in general chat. Personally, I've always been pretty bad at getting to the meat of a new content patch quickly, as I'm way too easy to distract by random changes. In practice this means that instead of having a look at the new flashpoint or trying out the new dailies, I spent most of the evening running laps around the station going "ooh, shiny": What do those coloured icons above people's characters mean? Do we have a guild bank yet? Look, with this new emote I can make fire under your bum! (Cue guild master: Don't do that, it'll explode if he farts.)

I fiddled with my family tree for a bit, but couldn't decide where to put everyone just yet. I really found myself wishing that I could connect my tree to those of other players, because it would feel much more natural to make my little Sith inquisitor the sister of one of the zabraks in the guild for example instead of wondering how she relates to my cyborg trooper. I'm not sure what it says about a new feature if you immediately want more out of it than it can offer. Is it unfinished or is it so good that you can't get enough of it?

Most of my evening however was spent crafting and reverse-engineering. I really like how they streamlined the entire process and made it more transparent. Do I really need to know the blue and purple versions of every low-level stim there is? No, but it's something that appeals to my inner collector in a way that mounts or mini-pets never did, and I was actually having oodles of fun with it.

I have no doubt that I'll enjoy this patch - it will just take me a while to get around to looking at all of it.

09/04/2012

Jedi Consular Story Thoughts

I have a second level 50 character! And this time I was good and made sure to finish my class quest soon after, so that I'd be able to talk about it. (Though I do have to admit that immediately after dinging, I did run off to the station to train instead of continuing to work on saving my padawan from mortal peril. Ahem.)

On a side note, it's interesting that my consular ended up being my second character to 50, and not my Imperial Agent, who was the first alt that I rolled. I think it's because I haven't been playing my Imperial alts much at all lately, and there are two reasons for this: Firstly, while there has been talk among the officers about creating a sister guild on Empire side, it hasn't actually happened yet, and it's just a lot more fun to log in to familiar names on Republic side instead of a sea of strangers on Imperial side. Secondly... I think the PvP has got to me. It's completely irrational because I'm sure that Imperial players are no less friendly among each other than Republic players, but something about the thought of playing among The Enemy, the same people who dominate me in PvP day after day, has simply become very unappealing now (though the encounter with Issy the other day has alleviated some of that).

Anyway, I digress. Let's talk about being a consular. As usual, there'll be some minor spoilers, but I'll keep them vague.

Looking around the forums, many people seem to consider the Jedi consular story boring, though you'll also find some that absolutely loved it. I think the heart of the matter is that it was written to appeal to a very specific kind of taste, one that is probably in the minority. I suspect that for a lot of players there isn't such as thing as being "too badass" and the more they get to kick butt and take names, the better. The Jedi consular story is a calmer and more quiet experience about being a healer and a diplomat however, and I can completely understand why some people might consider that boring. While you do get to swing your lightsaber aplenty, the core of most missions pretty much comes down to talking.

Personally, this suited me perfectly. I mean, both of the characters I've levelled to 50 so far have been healers from the get-go. I love healing and helping people, so a class story centred around that naturally appealed to me too. On my trooper there was one mission where you run into a heavily wounded man, and I was really annoyed when I found out that my boyfriend got to save him because he had Elara with him (the healer companion) but I didn't get the option even though I was a combat medic myself. Healing people is just not what the trooper archetype is all about, so it doesn't come up in conversation. For Jedi consulars it's the opposite, and in Act I in particular you'll get to do a lot of healing, even if you are a Shadow and technically don't have any healing abilities (though this is explained within the story). I do think you get the option to just kill people if you're going dark side, but even then it's a matter of getting rid of the sick before their illness can spread and harm others.

I suppose saying that Act I was a bit repetitive in its structure would be a valid criticism, but from what I've seen so far all the class stories seem to have a bit of that going on in their first Act. I didn't really mind because I was happy to rescue someone new on each planet. Act 2 and 3 sort of blended into one for me and I didn't actually notice where the "break" was supposed to be, which I guess is a good thing in terms of storytelling? I'm not sure. It was an engaging story though.

My companions were an extremely random bunch of people, though I suppose this too fits the theme of being a diplomat and bringing individuals from different backgrounds together to work as a team. What surprised me was that in addition to my actual companions, I also amassed a sizeable entourage of additional NPCs that were supposed to be staying on my ship as I gathered allies for the Republic across the galaxy. To be honest it became a little ridiculous after a while... where do they all live? My ship's not that big. And does the president of Balmorra really have nothing else to do than have a holographic transmission of himself follow me around everywhere? I do have to admit though that seeing them all gathered up with me at the end was pretty sweet.

Another thing that I really came to appreciate while levelling this second character is how Bioware made all the different class stories fit together. My first companion for example mentioned during a conversation that he knows the bounty hunter's first companion. The companion I picked up on Balmorra talks about how his first resistance cell was betrayed from within... which is something that you get to play out during the Imperial Agent story! On Balmorra you also get to face off against the Darth that serves as the Imperial governor of the planet - who is the same person you work for as an Imperial player on lower-level Balmorra. I loved all those little moments that made me go "aha!", and I imagine that it will only get better as I play my way through additional class stories and become able to recognise more of the connections.

A final note on the ending: I thought that the big reveal was a bit predictable, but the build-up to the final confrontation was nonetheless very powerful. I actually yelled "nooo" at my screen when a certain character died at the end. And when you get to have a bit of a speech afterwards as you get lauded by the Supreme Chancellor, the whole thing felt so "Star Warsy" to me, I half-expected to hear the main theme and watch movie credits rolling after it ended. Very satisfying.

The only factor that detracted ever so slightly from my experience of the ending was a minor bug. After I had completed my class quest, I got one of those follow-up letters in the mail - but it was the wrong one, talking about how the guy that died was still alive. This actually made me feel kind of bad, because I had tried to save him, but figured that his death was just unavoidable. Now that I know that it's possible to save him, I can't help but wonder where I went wrong.

07/04/2012

Troopers All The Way Down

Time for a bit of whimsy! The other night we didn't have enough people to run an operation and ended up doing a hardmode flashpoint instead... with four troopers, because that's who we had online.

It was pretty damn fun. I know that our class stories make us all out to be special snowflakes, but let's be honest: troopers are meant to come in packs. Nothing like a whole group of them running around shooting things and shouting: "Go Havoc Squad!"

We decided to do Battle of Ilum simply because several of us hadn't done it before. It's a good thing that we were all quite overgeared, because otherwise not having any class buffs other than our own probably would have been annoying. As it was, we only had to deal with two other minor issues:

First off, pretty much all the loot was utterly useless to us, and not because we were already well geared as it was, but because we couldn't use anything but trooper loot! Other classes can at least give drops with different stats to their companions, but all the trooper companions are also troopers! In an RNG-based system, having the entire group limited to only a single loot type is not very efficient.

And of course there was the issue of interrupts, seeing how three of us were Commandos and thus the only advanced class without one. We hadn't looked into whether Battle of Ilum required much interrupting, but fortunately we managed to power through most of it without any issues... until the last boss blew us up with his Force Explosion.

At least our health levels were high enough so that we didn't all die to it straight away, which actually gave us a chance to continue fighting for a bit and figure out which of his abilities had just killed people; otherwise we might not even have realised it at first. On the second attempt we then had our tank on strict interrupt duty for that ability only and fortunately he did a good job of it - but I sure felt bad about placing all that responsibility on his shoulders alone. So far I haven't encountered any content that's unbeatable with only one interrupter, but I do think that many encounters feel like they expect you to probably have more than one.

One of our Jedi consulars has already brought up the idea of having an all-consular run as well. I kind of hope they go through with it just because I think it would be funny. There are other options for unusual group setups as well; for example you could make an all-stealth run with Shadows and scoundrels... possibilities, possibilities.

On another note, I was standing at the fleet tonight when someone whispered me asking whether I was Shintar from Going Commando. "A fan!" I thought. I wasn't quite right, but it was even better: it turned out that Issy from I can do Alts, me and I have been playing on the same server all along without even knowing it (possibly because we play on opposite factions). Now I really have to dust off at least one of those Empire alts I think...

05/04/2012

"But why is this dark side? This shouldn't be dark side!"

The ability to make choices, specifically choices that are associated with a moral alignment, is something new for an MMO, even if it was previously tried and tested in Bioware's single player games. Unsurprisingly, it's a feature that's encouraged a lot of discussion... however, I continue to be disappointed by how extremely superficial many of these discussions are.

"What the hell, Bioware? Everyone can obviously tell that you got the light and dark side options in this quest completely the wrong way round. How dare you give me dark side points for doing what is totally and obviously the right thing to do? My reputation as a good human being is forever tarnished just because you can't tell right from wrong. Seriously, your game sucks."

(As an aside, I don't think I've ever seen a dark side player complain about "unfairly" being given light side points for something they did.)

This is pretty much the general tone of many forum and blog posts that I've seen on the subject of light and dark side choices. Personally I feel that they are missing three important points.

First off, light and dark side points are not srz bsns. It's not going to be a black mark on your CV that you got 300 dark side points while levelling. In fact, did you know that once you hit Light V, all your previously acquired dark side points are erased? (I would assume that it's the same for Dark V and light side.) I was actually kind of disappointed by that because I felt that the dark side points that I had gathered while levelling up my otherwise very light side trooper were part of my character's history so to speak, and I didn't particularly appreciate having that history erased. That aside, you can still nudge your alignment back the other way at any time by doing repeatable quests, flashpoints or using the diplomacy crew skill, so getting a few points in the "wrong" column because you preferred the other story outcome certainly isn't a big deal in the long run.

Actually, your light/dark side points are something that has very little effect on gameplay anyway. I mean, they already took out the colour crystal restrictions based on alignment, and I wouldn't be surprised if they did the same for relics eventually. In fact, you could completely remove the entire light/dark side system and it would hardly change the game at all. You could still make all the same choices; the game just wouldn't keep a running tally of how many people you've rescued vs. how many you've killed. It's really not much more than a measuring stick that allows you to easily compare the totality of different characters' roleplaying experiences. Definitely not something over which anyone should fly into a rage.

Secondly, as far as comments about what's "obviously the right thing" go, I'd like to point out that even real life philosophers don't agree on how exactly to define good and evil. That doesn't mean that we can't have discussions about it, but it does mean that automatically dismissing a moral judgement because you know best and everyone else obviously couldn't do anything but agree is at best very narrow-minded.

And thirdly... it isn't even entirely about good and evil, it's about the Jedi code vs. the Sith code. Yes, the Jedi are the good guys and the Sith the bad guys, but it's not entirely black and white. "Being a good person is not enough to be a good Jedi." For example the Jedi disapprove of romantic relationships, which is why smooching people as a Jedi sometimes yields dark side points, even though few people would consider this an act of evil. So before you dismiss a dark side choice as incorrectly labelled because you don't consider it evil, ask yourself whether it isn't instead a question of what a Jedi considers appropriate.

Now, this... this is where I personally think things get interesting. Are the light and dark side gains consistent with the Jedi code? For reference, the Jedi code, as Satele Shan lectures you on it:

There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There is no death, there is the Force.

If you read the Wookieepedia page I linked above, it also has a lot of additional tidbits about what it means to be a Jedi, such as the whole thing about avoiding romantic attachments or defending the weak. To be fair, I do think that most of the decisions in the game align very well with this code. Calmly capture the bad guy or chop his head off in anger? I don't think I need to explain in detail why the former option does fit the light side and the latter is firmly dark side.

However, sometimes you come across a quest that makes you raise your eyebrows because something seems off - and that's something I absolutely agree on with the forum complainers! My personal favourite example of this is a quest from the Sith starting planet Korriban. You find the body of a failed aspirant and return it to his father, who is a temple guard. He's kind of down about the death of his son (unsurprisingly), but not exactly surprised. He then asks you where exactly you found the body, or in other words, how close his son did come to succeeding before ultimately failing. The truth is that the poor sod died almost as soon as he crossed the doorstep of the tomb you found him in. However, you are given the option to lie and make it sound as if he did a lot better than that.

Personally I thought that it was very obvious that the light side choice would be to tell the truth. Jedi aren't supposed to lie, and it's not like there were any excruciating circumstances at work here where lying would save someone's life or anything like that. So I chose to be truthful... and received dark side points. Huh?

On Republic side there is another good example of this on Ord Mantell. An elderly couple asks you to keep your eyes open for their missing son, though he is presumed dead. You find him alive, though he's been brainwashed and turned into a child soldier. You would think that the harmonic, truthful thing to do would be to send him home to his parents, who will be happy to see him alive and make it all better. Nope, you get dark side points for that, and he runs away anyway. I wouldn't swear by it now, but I might have received more dark side points for truthfully telling his parents about his fate as well instead of lying about it. What's going on here? Why is trying to help and being honest a dark side thing?

As I encountered more and more of these quests however, I began to spot a pattern, and one that can be summed up in a single word: compassion. Strangely, this is something that seems to be completely absent even from expanded descriptions of the Jedi code. Yes, Jedi are supposed to help the weak, but the main drive behind this appears to be a desire to "serve the greater good". There's nothing wrong with that in principle, but if there's no compassion involved, you can end up with people reciting "the greater good" in zombie-like voices while disposing of dissenters in most gruesome ways. No, Jedi can't be like that. Jedi have to be compassionate, even if they aren't supposed to be emotional. The game drives this home with lines such as: "Jedi save people, not buildings." It's okay to have some "quirky" rules in regards to relationships, but you can't be completely disinterested in other people's feelings if you want to be seen as the good guys.

However, this does conflict with the whole "being calm and placing the greater good above all else" thing... and suddenly I had my explanation for pretty much every confusing light/dark side choice ever.

Why is it a light side choice to lie to the guard about how his son died? Because it makes him feel better about his son's death, like the little fellow achieved at least something. The lie doesn't harm anyone because it doesn't make a difference to anything else. Personally, I still don't agree that this is more Jedi-like than being truthful, but I can at least see where they are coming from.

Letting the kid on Ord Mantell run away is light side because it means you respect his feelings about wanting to be left alone after all the horror he's had to endure, as opposed to trying to impose your (or his parents') will on him. Again, I still don't agree, because how much can you really trust the opinion of someone whose brain was completely addled only five minutes ago? He's hardly in a state to make well thought-out choices about his future at this point. However, I can see how it becomes more a matter of where you draw the line between doing someone a kindness and doing something that would lead to a bigger benefit in the long term, rather than simply seeing completely clear-cut opposing choices.

At the end of the day, we can discuss what would be the right thing to do all day, but Bioware had to pick one and stick with it. I absolutely do think that some of the choices they went for are debatable and even inconsistent in where they draw the line, but I still believe that its worth trying to understand why Bioware made these choices when they did. It might not officially be part of the Jedi code, but I do agree that light side characters are better off being portrayed as compassionate than not.

03/04/2012

Things You Didn't Know You Missed

One criticism I've frequently seen levelled at The Old Republic is that it's supposedly "behind the times", missing features that every modern game "absolutely needs" to have, or making people "waste time" with things that modern games supposedly shouldn't have. I always thought that this was a pretty silly argument on its own because it assumes that whatever is the newest trend in the gaming industry right now must be the best and most fun way of doing things for everyone. No really, some of us really liked things better the way they used to be.

I've already talked about some of the major "returning" features that I really like, such as non-automated grouping, lots of group content while levelling up, or the slightly more old-school endgame. However, I also keep bumping into minor features here and there that I never even realised I missed before... until they are suddenly back and I go: "Hey, this is actually pretty fun!"

Daily Dungeon & Raid Quests

I have a rocky relationship with dailies, so I was really surprised when I realised how much I enjoyed having all these daily and weekly quests for flashpoints and ops. WoW used to have a daily dungeon quest in Burning Crusade and early Wrath of the Lich King, and while I always enjoyed doing it, I wasn't exactly torn up when they removed it with the advent of the dungeon finder.

However, after thinking about it for a bit I think it makes sense that I'd rather have quests like these than not. After all, what is the point of quests in general? They add structure to your gameplay. It's more fun for most people to kill eight bears for Farmer Joe and ten kobolds for Innkeeper Moe than to just kill bears and kobolds indiscriminately until you eventually level up, one day. Considering that, is it really strange to enjoy being given an in-game reason to run a dungeon over just grinding instances for no reason, other than waiting for your currency bar to go up? It feels a lot more purposeful for sure.

Useful Potions

This is something that really sunk in for me when Syl mentioned "no potions" as something she was looking forward to in Guild Wars 2. In WoW I was an alchemist for five years, enjoyed it, and gradually had to watch the profession become more and more pointless over the years. Only one potion per fight. Health and mana potions restoring only minuscule amounts of health. Mainstream content becoming more and more trivial so that consumables simply weren't needed for most things. Bonus satchels from the dungeon finder flooding the market with flasks so that there was no point in actually crafting them anymore. Etc. But again, it wasn't something that really frustrated me at the time, I just accepted it and moved on.

However now that I'm playing SWTOR, I make sure to immediately drag whatever health potions I pick up onto an empty action bar slot on every single alt that I roll, because you bet that they are going to be useful. I like that. I feel clever if I survive a tricky pull due to chugging a potion at the right moment. And with enrage timers threatening at endgame, stims and adrenals can really make a difference to a group's success. I'm chuffed that there's actually a demand for the things I can craft!

I'd love to hear if other people have also discovered small things that they never thought they missed in other games... until they saw them (again) in The Old Republic.