Merry Life Day To All!

I hope everyone is having a good Life Day Christmas holiday season.

Last year Bioware "celebrated" the occasion by putting some vaguely Christmas-themed items into the cash shop, and I expected more to follow this year. I was rather surprised when they didn't add anything new to the Cartel Market this time around and actually gave us something to do in game instead. I hesitate to call it a full-blown event because it's not really, but still...

Basically, there are a couple of "Life Day Reveller" NPCs in the GTN section of the fleet, and a vendor that sells you a reusable item to throw snowballs at people, similar to the tinsel bomb. Every time you use it on someone who doesn't already have snowflakes coming out of their ears, you have  a chance of finding a "snow-covered parcel", which serves as currency to buy one of two new speeders off the same vendor. And that's it.

My Marauder is not amused to find snow in her eye upon logging in.

There's a part of me that feels like I should really be annoyed by this whole thing. I'm not a fan of having real life holidays invade my MMOs, but if you're going to do it anyway, you might as well do it properly. You call people spam-clicking on other players around the fleet an "event"? Really?

But the truth is... I find it oddly compelling and amusing. Throwing things at other people is one of my favourite pastimes in this game, which is why all of my alts have a Ball Toss and a tinsel bomb. So how could I honestly complain about an event that rewards me for doing more of it and encourages other people to join in the fun?

I can't log on any of my alts on the fleet without finding myself doused with snowflakes instantly, and it cracks me up. You're not limited to throwing snowballs at other players either, you can toss them at friendly NPCs, hostile NPCs (without aggroing, yay!) and even corpses. Our last ops was a mad rush of people trying to "tag" all the trash mobs and at one point I even got a snow-covered parcel from a dead droid.

 Snowballs inc.!

Does it make even an ounce of sense? Nope. Is it hilarious? Yes!


Happy 2nd Blogday to me!

Aaand like last year, my "happy birthday, SWTOR" post is immediately followed by me celebrating the anniversary of me starting this blog.

I've talked about how the game has been doing in general in my last post, so let's have a look at how I've been doing within the game, or at least what sort of stuff I've been writing about:

I started the (blog) year by writing about how I celebrated Christmas raiding with my guild and spent the holidays bickering with a guildie (who would later go on to become my "pet tank" and a very important person in my life).

In January, I participated in a ranked warzone for the first time and it didn't go very well. Pet Tank and I went to Ilum shortly before they revamped it for the Gree event and I mused about what a strange experience it was. PvE-wise, I was wiping in EC NiM and I made a silly video about it which people in my guild like to reference to this day. ("Medpack!")

February was an exciting month. I attended the SWTOR Community Cantina in London (a real life adventure, oh my god), though it wasn't actually that amazing. After lots of wiping I finally got to kill some bosses in EC NiM, and made a silly video about that as well. I realised that after all the duoing I'd done, questing on my own drove me up the wall. The Gree Event was a thing for the first time, and I wrote about it both during the event as well as afterwards. I also had a heart-warming encounter with a known PvP rager who turned out to not be a complete jerkwad after all.

March saw me getting the "Drouk Hunter" title at last, only three months or so late compared to many of my guildies. Bioware started to run double XP weekends in the run-up to the first expansion and I complained about it, outing myself as a levelling hipster. So while other people were racing their newest alt to the level cap, I kept myself busy doing silly things like playing with the /boogie emote in warzones.

In April, Rise of the Hutt Cartel was released, and my first impression was that Makeb was pretty, but Imps ganking me in their undies were less so. We engaged in a silly little guild adventure fighting a world boss that isn't really a world boss, who also happened to be bugged at the time and spammed the entire zone with giant red error messages. When I visited my family in Austria (oh noes, more real life stuff), SWTOR gave me an opportunity to reconnect with my brother.

In May I was suffering from some Operations Blues, while also conceding that I didn't completely hate the new achievement system implemented with RotHC. More than a month after expansion release I also finally completed the Seeker Droid and Macrobinocular quest chains, and found the heroics at the end surprisingly fun.

June saw me trying out the tanking role and going a little crazy in the process. I also encountered SWTOR's first poo quest.

In July I began giving some more thought to how to dress my companions for the first time. More double XP weekends led to my pet tank and me playing our max level characters almost compulsively, leaving us with the feeling that we had pretty much "beaten the game" when we finally ran out of quests. I mused on just how badly some level fifty flashpoints have been nerfed over time, and whether free to play had really changed the game in any significant way.

In August I blogged about "The Other Shintar" for the first time, the guy to whom I lost my name during the server transfers. A new recurring world event was added, Bounty Contract Week. I went absolutely nuts with it, played alts until I had enough tokens to max out the associated reputation and haven't been back since. We also went back to EC NiM and finally killed Kephess - better late than never.

In September I experimented with dressing my companions so that they looked like actual players and gathered some data on just how badly the Republic was losing in warzones on my server. The answer was: quite badly.

October saw me trying out arenas despite of my initial scepticism about the feature, and I didn't have too bad a time. Nonetheless I haven't done much PvP since then. Galactic Starfighter was announced to most people's surprise, and I completed the last of the class stories.

In November, I complained about Bioware sending my characters too much junk many "goodies" and rejoiced when I finally found a way to reliably take screenshots of the game.

Finally, this December I've been comparatively quiet for personal reasons, but I did write about how awful I was at Galactic Starfighter once it released, and how I tried to have some fun with it anyway.

Let's hope the next year will be just as interesting!


Happy 2nd Birthday, SWTOR!

Today it's been two years since the game's official launch, not counting the days of early access for players who pre-ordered.

Shintar the trooper over the course of two years

When I wrote a similar birthday post last year, I had a lot of excitement to look back on: from the game's over-hyped launch to the painful fall from grace when subscriptions dropped massively over the following months, followed by server merges and eventually the controversial free-to-play conversion. In comparison, 2013 has been a relatively quiet year. While Bioware released a whole two "expansions" for the game (sorry, I just can't use that term without the quotation marks, especially when it comes to Galactic Starfighter...), they weren't really major game changers.

I'll admit that I haven't made a special effort to keep on top of what is being said about SWTOR in EA's quarterly earnings reports, but the general gist I got from various news outlets is that the game has remained stable in terms of player numbers (which would certainly match my own observations in game) and is doing okay from a financial point of view. It's not the cash cow EA originally wanted it to be, but it's doing all right for itself. With the game garnering less public attention, the vitriol that people have been spewing about it has also diminished. There are other, newer games to be complained about on the big MMO websites.

In terms of updates, the game has been chugging along pretty steadily. For comparison, here's how I summed up 2012's additions:

"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)."

This year, we once again got two new flashpoints, three (!) new operations - admittedly no new 8 vs 8 warzones, but we did get arenas instead - four (!) new world bosses, two new daily quest areas, two new repeating world events and another new companion for all classes (though with less story). There wasn't as much constant tinkering with PvP and class balance that I can remember (oh hey, smash monkeys are still owning everyone), but in terms of new systems and quality of life changes they introduced reputations, a new species to play as, character re-customisation, the dye system, server transfers, the collection system and probably some more features that I'm forgetting about right now. Rise of the Hutt Cartel also gave us a five point level cap increase, a whole new planet worth of story content, achievements, and the Macrobinocular and Seeker Droid "mini games". Galactic Starfighter gave us... galactic starfighting a.k.a. free flying but instanced space PvP.

It's also worth noting that this was the game's first whole year as a free-to-play title. Has this affected the experience for subscribers? Of course - note how many of the new systems I mentioned are tied straight to the Cartel Market in order to make you spend more money. How badly this actually affects each individual depends on where your priorities lie in-game... but I already talked about that in greater detail several months ago. It is worth noting that for all that focus on how to improve monetisation, the dev team doesn't seem to have slowed down in terms of actual content output, which is nice (though a case could be made that there's been a certain drop-off in regards to attention to detail).

Overall it seems to me that it's been a pretty good year for SWTOR. I wish I could be more excited about that, but I have to admit that I've been a bit disappointed by the fact that several of the recent major additions just haven't been to my personal taste at all, even if there are segments of the player base that had been clamouring for them for ages (arenas, space PvP). However, looking back at that list of features Bioware implemented over the course of the year, and assuming that they'll continue churning out updates at a similar pace, I can hope to see more content that's to my personal liking again soon enough. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what major updates they have planned for next year.


Depressed Raiding

One of the major class changes in the recent 2.5 patch was that a Sentinel's Inspiration now affects the entire ops group, but also applies a debuff that prevents you from benefiting from it again for five minutes. I reckon that this came as a surprise to exactly no-one, considering that this is basically the same thing that happened to WoW's Bloodlust several years ago. (That is to say, people were stacking the class that gives the buff to ridiculous levels just to chain the ability over and over again.)

What I did find interesting however is the name they gave to the debuff that prevents you from being inspired again: depressed.

I suppose it makes sense as a counterpoint to feeling inspired, but considering that you'll want to have as much Inspiration uptime as possible, you'll be spending a lot of time with this debuff on... meaning that you'll spend a majority of your boss attempts being depressed. Am I the only one who sees some unfortunate connotations here?

(It felt particularly apt to me personally after we had to cancel ops for several weeks in a row due to a lack of available people, while still stuck on HM Corruptor Zero progression-wise. We finally killed him yesterday though, depression debuff or not!)


Tips For Terrible Starfighters

Okay, I know I said that Galactic Starfighter is pretty clearly not for me, but I hate discarding whole aspects of a game that I generally enjoy without taking them for a proper test drive first. Not to mention that the expansion is still new and thus "the thing to do" and I feel a bit left out not participating, so I've been playing a couple more matches in an attempt to get some entertainment out of the whole thing after all. I did succeed - to a point - so I thought I'd share my strategies for enjoying Galactic Starfighter even if you're terrible at shooters.

1. Get the quests

I wasn't actually aware of this initially, but there are separate quests for Galactic Starfighter on the PvP mission terminal, first an "introduction" which just requires you to play a single match, and then a daily and weekly similar to the regular PvP missions. The daily only requires you to play two games or win one, which should be achievable for even the most PvP averse.

The reason I mention this as something that can help you enjoy the game is that it adds a pacing mechanism ("just going to do the daily") as well as a consolation prize if you're doing badly ("well, at least I got the daily done").

2. Fly a gunship

Of the three spaceship types, the gunship is supposed to be the sniper. It's a bit hard to be a "proper" sniper when your enemies can see you on the map from miles away, but basically there are two advantages for the shooter-impaired like me in flying a gunship: firstly, you don't have to worry about moving your ship at the same time as sniping, and secondly, unless you're directly facing off against another gunship, you'll be able to shoot your enemy before they are in range to shoot you. Those things count for a lot when you easily find yourself getting confused while flying in circles and have trouble targeting things on the move.

3. Don't go in alone

This is a good strategy if you're weak in normal PvP as well, but I'm finding it more important than ever in space since the combat is so twitch-based. If I end up going one-on-one with anyone, I'll lose and they'll barely get scratched. That doesn't do me or my team any good. Instead, I try to stick with a large pack, and let the scouts and fighters get ahead of me (which pretty much happens naturally since gunships are slow). Then, once they've engaged the enemy and are distracting them... ka-pow goes the railgun from a safe distance!

4. Learn to reroute your power

There's a point in the tutorial where it explains how to use the F keys to reroute power to shields, weapons etc. - which is where I immediately zoned out because it sounded waaay too fiddly for my liking. I'm glad I let someone convince me to give it a try anyway, because it's actually very easy. There's no major fiddling required, just hit F1 to reroute power to your weapons, which is nice when you're sitting in a relatively safe spot and just sniping away. F2 powers up your shields above everything else, which can be handy if you're under attack and just trying to get away and get some breathing room. F3 reroutes power to your thrusters, which is most useful at the start of a game to get to the objectives as quickly as possible. And F4 puts everything back to a "balanced" state, which works well when you simply can't decide what to focus on at that particular moment. (This happens to me a lot.)

5. Embrace death

Sniping is fun as long as the enemy is too distracted and far away to fight back, but if they get a chance to break off and get in my face, I'm pretty much toast. I'm learning to accept this. If you're feeling rebellious, you can even try to crash yourself into an obstacle just before they can get a killing blow. They'll still get points for getting an "assist" but it can make you feel a little more in control to rob your opponent of that final kill shot. Plus, respawning at the start gives you an opportunity to get back into combat from a fresh angle and find a good sniping position again, hopefully undisturbed by direct attacks for at least a little while.

Using these highly sophisticated tactics (cough) I even managed to get a couple of killing blows already, and I'm up to a whole two (gasp) achievements. Feel free to share any of your own tips for those of us who are terrible at starfighting!


Galactic Starfighter Early Access

Today was the early launch of SWTOR's Galactic Starfighter "expansion". I have to confess that I nearly forgot about it. I explained before that I'm not a big fan of space combat, no matter whether it's on rails or not. Fortunately the game was kind enough to remind me of what was happening by changing its loading screen.

Upon checking my mailbox, it felt like someone at Bioware had read my recent post about mailbox spam and decided to mess with me some more by handing out no less than two titles and four (!) full sets of orange gear to all of my characters in celebration of the expansion launch. I thought about simply chucking them since I'm not particularly keen on the fighter pilot look but... it's four free sets of adaptive gear! Even if I'm not too keen on the look, you never know when a spare orange belt or pair of bracers will come in handy... (Yes, I'm a bit of a hoarder.)

Despite of my scepticism about the whole concept, I was keen on having a look at the new gameplay anyway. I dutifully read through all the tutorial text, seeing how I'm the kind of person who always reads the manual (and I hadn't read up on any expansion details beforehand). It all looked very slick and like there's actually quite a bit of depth to it, with the system giving you plenty of options to tweak both your fighter's appearance and abilities to match your chosen playstyle. I was very pleased to see that there was also an actual playable tutorial that allows you to at least get used to the controls before jumping into actual player vs. player combat. I'd already had horror visions of me dragging my team down while I was still trying to figure out how to steer.

An ugly but useful crew member.

I had previously wondered whether Galactic Starfighter was going to be anything like Star Trek Online's space combat, which is relatively slow and sluggish. The answer is no. SWTOR's starfighters are extremely responsive to even small mouse movements, which makes the gameplay very, very twitchy.

Whether that's a good thing or not depends on what kind of gamer you are. For me it's a bad thing. I don't do shooters. I've tried, I'm bad at them and I don't particularly enjoy them. Maybe I could get better after hours and hours of practice (though probably not by very much), but why should I bother if it's no fun?

I played three matches. My team won two of them, but no thanks to anything I did. I watched my guildies jump into their first couple of games and immediately the achievements started rolling in. Me? I didn't get any achievements, I didn't get any medals, I didn't get any kills. I hardly even managed to do any damage. I'm bad enough at this shooter stuff, more so in three dimensions, that I spent most of my time flying in and then getting picked off by people I couldn't even see. While I tried to clumsily get a lock on them, they just danced around my tail and killed me. Over and over again.

Erm, which way is up again?

I think it's safe to say that this expansion is definitely not for me. I'm actually a little sad because it all looks very cool, but it's just totally different from any kind of gameplay that I enjoy. I'm sure that a lot of people will enjoy it (shooters are a popular genre after all) and I hope that this will have a positive effect on the game. But if part of the reason you play MMOs is that they aren't massively twitchy, as it is for me, then unfortunately this expansion adds nothing for you.


Missing The Small Touches

I wonder if I'll ever get over the fact that there won't be any more additions to the individual class stories in The Old Republic. I mean, I understand why the devs decided to go down that road and it's not as if I'm about to quit the game over it, but finishing the last of the class stories last month certainly made me wonder. Before that point, it always felt to me as if there was a nigh endless potential of stories to explore in the game, something that I was never going to catch up with. You have to admit that it sounds brilliant in theory, to think that every major patch was going to add a unique new piece of content for up to eight different alts. I'm not surprised that it's not actually financially viable with the amount of subscribers the game has, but that doesn't mean that I don't still love the concept. I think there's a part of me that still dares to dream that some day, somehow, the devs will come up with a way to give us more class stories without completely breaking the bank.

The problem I have at the moment is that with no more class stories to come, alt play is kind of doomed to end in boredom eventually. I feel that right now my main motivation to play alts is the reputation system, because they give me the option of binging myself on new content whenever a new set of dailies is released and allow me to save up a lot of rep within a short time in order to use it later. Yet every time I play through that content on another alt, it's more or less the same. Yes, I can choose from a handful of different conversation options, but those quickly come with diminishing returns. I have to admit that I can't quite fight the feeling that Bioware has been slacking a bit when it comes to tailoring new content towards different classes at least on a small scale.

One example of this are class-specific lines. In the original levelling game up to fifty, almost every time you have to make a choice in a conversation, at least one of the options is tailored to your class. I even remember reading an article or an interview somewhere way back when, where someone from Bioware talked about how this was an important opportunity for the writers to distinguish the classes from each other, especially the slightly similar ones like knight and consular. They should never sound the same because they are totally different! Supposedly.

Makeb really made me notice how much that has changed. I quite enjoyed my first playthrough (on Republic side), and didn't think it was particularly problematic that my trooper sounded a bit... "sassier" than usual. Her lines still seemed to fit her well enough most of the time. But then I went back to go through the whole story again on my smuggler... and all her lines seemed to be exactly the same, word for word. I couldn't quite decide whether that meant that my trooper was joking too much or my smuggler was too serious; the point was that they sounded the same! I might've been a bit more forgiving about similarities between the two types of Jedi for example, but there's just no way a trooper and a smuggler should give the same response to everything. It was particularly disappointing since prior to expansion release, Bioware had been emphasising that even though the class stories in the original sense were gone, the dialogue on Makeb would still feel uniquely tailored to our character. In reality I saw even less evidence of that on Makeb than there is in the generic planetary story arcs from release. I can understand why the class stories turned out to be too much work to maintain, but are things really so bad that they can't write and record a couple of extra lines for each conversation (without changing anything else) just so the classes don't all sound the same?

Another area of detail where I've noticed a drop-off in quantity and quality is that of companion affection gains from conversations. Maybe it's just me, but it seems to me that companions barely have any sort of reaction to most of our dialogue anymore these days. And I'm not talking about actual voiced interjections here, but the simple little pluses and minuses under their portraits that tend to show up during conversations. So, you know, no voice acting required or anything, just someone to add "Vette: likes this" or whatever to each conversation option.

I can't find the source right now, but I distinctly seem to remember Njessi mentioning somewhere that she was surprised that her love interest seemed to have no opinions whatsoever on her character flirting on Makeb, something that is pretty much a guaranteed "-1 of shame" with most companions that you're romantically involved with during the original levelling content. Ever since the expansion I've noticed that these little indicators seem to get harder and harder to come by with every new quest. Your companions will probably still have an opinion on your light/dark side choices, but seemingly not on anything else you say.

You'd think that this is something that shouldn't matter that much, but it's really a little thing that adds a lot. It feeds my imagination to know what my companions like or don't like, and makes me picture them high-fiving my character afterwards, or giving her a serious frown. It can affect the way I make decisions, knowing that my current companion will or won't approve. When they suddenly stop having opinions because nobody at Bioware could be bothered with the busywork of adding the numbers for forty different companions, the game definitely loses something.


Solving the Screenshot Issue

For as long as I can remember, there's been a bug in the game that causes the screenshot function to not work properly for some people, me being one of them. I used to be kind of torn about how to feel about it, because on the one hand taking screenshots is hardly a key aspect of gameplay... but on the other hand this is a problem that has been present at least since launch, and I can't believe that they still haven't figured out a solution after nearly two years.

Personally I've been affected by this bug in two ways: Firstly, I'm usually unable to take screenshots during cut scenes. It does work on occasion, but there's no rhyme or reason to it and those occasions also seem to be getting less and less frequent (or maybe I've just given up trying often enough). This is annoying because cut scenes are usually the perfect time to take screenshots! There's interesting stuff to see and you're not busy mashing buttons just to stay alive. I remember seeing this awesome cut scene during the consular story that included some great imagery, mashing my Print Screen button like crazy... and was then disappointed afterwards to see that not a single one of them had actually been taken.

I've got to take a screenshot of that, Qyzen!

The other thing that happens is that sometimes, Print Screen will just stop working entirely. This can at least be fixed by restarting the game, but unless you regularly tab out to check your screenshot folder it's something that's easy to miss. Nothing like lining everybody up for a great boss kill shot, hitting Print Screen and then realising that it stopped working about an hour ago. Argh!

If you're not someone who takes a lot of screenshots, this might not even matter to you at all. However, personally I do like taking screenies of everything and everyone, sometimes for the blog, but mainly because I enjoy going back through them later and going: "Man, that picture brings back memories, such fun!" (I do a similar thing in real life by taking my camera with me everywhere and taking snapshots of everything from buildings to flowers to sunsets.)

Keeping that in mind, I'm not actually sure how I managed to put up with this screenshot bug for as long as I have without looking for a workaround. I guess I was lazy and hopeful that surely this couldn't be something that would take long to fix. Well, nearly two years later and while levelling my upteenth alt I'm finally fed up with it!

Simple workaround: I already had Fraps, so I set it up to take pictures when I hit Print Screen and to put them straight into my SWTOR screenshot folder. I used to only start it up when I was planning to make a video, but since it's hardly a resource hog while it's not recording, it shouldn't be an issue to keep it running for screenshot purposes too. Whenever SWTOR's screenshot function actually does work properly, I now end up with two shots of the same thing, but that's hardly a big problem either.

If you don't have Fraps, there are plenty of free programs that can take in-game screenshots for you too and I can heartily recommend taking the couple of minutes to get it all set up. I still can't believe how long I put up with being unable to capture my characters' greatest moments...


Brief Update

Like Rav, I generally prefer to keep my personal life out of my blog, but also like her I haven't really been writing as much as I used to - thereby sadly ruining a pretty solid posting schedule that I'd previously kept running for nearly two years - and I just wanted to say that it's got nothing to do with the game. Basically, about a month ago, my relationship, living and employment status all changed at once and since then things have been pretty stressful and exhausting.

I have been playing some SWTOR during that time, because it's been a nice way of having some stability in my life while everything else has been caught up in a whirlwind of change. Logging on for ops with my guild has allowed me to hold on to at least some sort of normalcy for a few hours a week. The rest of the time however, I've honestly been too distracted to spend much time thinking about the game in the way I used to. Hierarchy of needs and all that.

There are still game-related subjects that I'd like to write about, and I'm hoping that I'll eventually get back into some sort of rhythm, but for now I'm afraid that you'll have to make do with whatever I find the time and motivation for (which may not be that much for a little while). Either way I'm still around to read and comment on other people's writings.


Too Many Goodies!

The other night I decided to create a new alt from scratch, something that I hadn't done in a few months. I was rather surprised when immediately upon entering the world, I had no less than fourteen messages waiting for me in my mailbox.

Yes, I preordered the game, I paid up for the Digital Deluxe edition before the game went free to play, then I preordered Makeb, and so on and so forth, all of which came with some goodies, usually a title, a vehicle and/or a pet. And yes, I know that various subscriber rewards were dished out along the way as well, but some of those were only temporary (or at least I'm not getting any more Gannifari pets mailed to me for free), so I didn't really think that it would all add up to quite that much.

It still baffles me just how many of these "rewards" I'm receiving on any newly created character now. Do they even mean anything anymore at this point? It really struck me when I realised the other week that there had been a promotion last month, primarily aimed at getting current free players to (re-)subscribe, but also rewarding current subscribers, that I hadn't even known about. It only came up when someone mentioned during an ops run that he'd received a speeder and a pet in the mail but wasn't sure why he had got them, and nobody else was really sure at the time either.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the thought, but a "reward" for something that I was doing anyway, that I didn't even know about and that just gets drowned among a dozen similar items isn't that exciting to me. I suppose the fact that I'm not a big pet or vehicle collector plays into it, but even so... I think this is one area where the SWTOR team might want to try coming up with something new soon.


Thoughts on Dread Fortress and Palace

When Oricon was first released, I made a post about my first impressions of Dread Fortress, and a few days later I summed up my initial experience of Dread Palace in a short YouTube video. I did want to spend a little more time talking about both operations though, seeing how they wrap up a  story arc that has been running through the game for more than one and a half years now.

I don't actually have that much to add to my Dread Fortress post, because it still sums up my thoughts about the story mode operation pretty well. The only thing I forgot to mention was the hilarious exploding droid trash leading from the second boss to the fourth, which seems to regularly leave up to half of our raid dead on the floor. It initially gave me flashbacks to the first hallway of trash mobs in WoW's Tempest Keep back in Burning Crusade, and how the melee regularly cried that they might as well just stand back and do nothing for all the good they did. Of course the difference is that the exploding droids can be rendered completely harmless by a bit of coordination of stuns; it's just that most of the time people don't seem to want to put that much effort into handling trash.

On hardmode we're up to Corruptor Zero at the moment, whom we haven't downed yet, which hasn't been helped by some hiccups with our roster as well as the fight seemingly changing with every patch - and it's not always clear whether the changes are intentional or bugs.

As for Dread Palace, when we entered it for the first time, someone commented that it seemed a bit lacklustre and tacked-on, what with the way it was designed as a straight hallway with five tunnels leading off to one boss encounter each. Oh, how wrong that turned out to be.

I have to admit that I ended up being really impressed by that instance. Bestia isn't the most imaginative of fights (tank swap, adds and red circles, yawn), but on pretty much all the other encounters the developers have clearly gone out of their way to come up with something new and interesting.

Dread Master Tyrans was a real hoot the first time we faced him and realised that the floor soon started disappearing under our feet. Of course I seem to have a bit of a thing for falling floors, based on my love for Soa, but still... I wasn't the only one who was cackling maniacally when we found ourselves isolated on one last floor tile during our first attempt and managed to down the boss with only three people left standing.

Calphayus was sadly bugged the first couple of times we downed him, meaning that he didn't actually execute any of his special moves, and I've only got to see the fight in full twice since then. However, what I have seen of it definitely looks very unique and interesting. I'm still not entirely sure about everything that's going on with those crystals and that seed, and why they are so crucial to defeating the boss, but it's certainly an exercise in coordination (and an opportunity to recite endless Back to the Future quotes).

The Raptus fight mixes things up yet again with its individual challenges for each role, and it's pretty funny to see messages about your healer's incompetence pop up as raid warnings in the middle of your screen - and I say that as a healer myself! (As an aside, the forums seem to agree that the healer challenge is/was overtuned compared to the others.) As an added bonus, there's a (very easy) "bridge boss" as well - I believe initially we even had someone claim that the gap was too small to fall through, but then we had someone else promptly prove otherwise when we exited the area after the fight.

And then we have the final council fight, which I dare say manages to do the Dread Masters justice, which was not an easy feat considering how much build-up they've had as villains. If you watched the little video I linked above, you can hear the whole group howl with laughter and excitement when Styrak and Brontes make a reappearance, and the encounter as a whole is just absolutely manic. It's been a month and I'm still not entirely sure about everything that's going on during that fight each time.

In summary, I think that Bioware has done another excellent job with these two operations. There is less of a story-telling angle than in previous raids (with Scum and Villainy being the prime example of how that is done in my opinion), but they have clearly been learning from previous experience and are rebalancing things all the time. I found it quite noteable for example that there are no overly long stretches of trash in either instance this time, and from what I've seen after a month, none of the boss fights suffer from prolonged periods of repetition or tedium either. I'm looking forward to whatever the devs will come up with next, now that the Dread Masters have been dealt with.


Holiday Season

Wilhelm of The Ancient Gaming Noob put up a post yesterday in which he talks about feeling a certain amount of ennui with WoW's holiday events. I haven't even played WoW in one and a half years and I can still relate, because I was already getting kind of tired of these same events before I quit the game. I've said before that I'm a big fan of the occasional one-time event that everyone can gorge themselves on and then go back to normal while retaining fond memories of the whole thing... instead of, you know, having it come back over and over again and leaving you with an increasing feeling of disillusionment. (I have to admit that I'm already getting a little bit of that with the Gree event and Bounty Contract Week, but at least those are easy to ignore if you don't care to participate.)

Plus, with things like Halloween and Christmas, among others, there is also the fact that it's very jarring to have these things inserted into our fantasy worlds. No, I don't care what your excuse is for why Azeroth, Tyria or wherever just happen to celebrate all the same holidays as the US, it's not convincing. I'm not a big fan of them in real life, why do they have to haunt even my attempts at escapism?

So one thing I like about Star Wars: The Old Republic is that the devs don't have an excuse to insert real life holidays into the game willy-nilly. Not that this stops them from trying, mind you. Last year they stooped so low as to dig up Life Day from the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, just to have an excuse to sell vaguely Christmas-themed items in the cash shop. Was that Celebrator speeder the cheesiest thing ever or what? (Though I do love the Tinsel Bomb simply for giving me something else to throw at people during raid breaks all year round.) And that was when the Cartel Market was still in its infancy so to speak. I fully expect a much bigger cash-in this year.

What I didn't expect was for Halloween to have any influence. I'm not aware of any sort of similar festival existing in the expanded universe (though feel free to educate me on that front), and it just doesn't really... fit with the universe. For example, ghosts officially exist, but they aren't exactly scary in the conventional sense. So imagine my surprise when this showed up on the Cartel Market yesterday:

The "TRK-R Treatment Chamber" is basically a Sith meditation chamber recoloured to look like a grinning pumpkin when it's closed. Why? Who knows! It's just a random Cartel Market item; it doesn't need an explanation. I would be kind of annoyed if I wasn't seriously impressed with the creativity of whoever came up with that particular idea. I just hope that it's not an indicator of more forced random holiday insertions yet to come.


A Bounty Hunter's Tale

It's finally happened: I've completed all the class stories! The bounty hunter was the last one I was missing... until today that is. I have to say that it didn't turn out to be one of my favourites, though I'm not sure how much of that was due to the story itself and how much of it was due to the on-again-off-again nature in which I played through it. I mean, I originally made my first bounty hunter back in early 2012, played her very little (I believe I only got her to Nar Shaddaa), and then made another one earlier this year. Her journey from creation to the level cap to completing her class story took me something like five months in total, and there were a lot of breaks and distractions. Maybe that's why I didn't feel a strong sense of urgency to push onwards and find out what happens next a lot of the time.

Some of that may have been due to spoilers. I got spoiled big time for the ending of the bounty hunter class story very early on, without even realising at the time that it was the very ending of the story that had been revealed to me. So I happily played on until about halfway through chapter two, at which point I realised that the only way for the event that I had read about to still fit into the story would be at the very end. Knowing exactly what lay ahead admittedly took some of the wind out of my sails.

Other than that... I'm not really sure where I can accuse the story of going wrong. I felt that at the start there were some parallels to the trooper story (which I quite liked), in terms of trying to add a personal angle to a profession that is kind of cold and businesslike (soldier/mercenary). However, where the trooper story takes its time to build things up until the end of the prologue, the bounty hunter story tries to tug at your heartstrings as early as something like three quests in, where you've barely had enough time to develop an attachment to anything or anyone, so that fell a bit flat for me. I did however enjoy the way this puts you into the position of it being "you and your first companion as the underdogs vs. the world". The entirety of chapter one with its story of fighting your way to the top was quite satisfying.

After that things started to flounder a bit though. It kind of felt like my character was wasting her time playing silly games, and I didn't particularly care for any of it. Things got better again in chapter three, though again I felt like I was supposed to care about characters to whom I honestly didn't have that much of a connection (yet). I did quite like the interlude where I got to go out and rescue my male love interest from peril - that felt funny in a subversive way. But well, other than that... like I said above, I knew exactly where it was going and wasn't massively excited about it.

The companions were also a bit of an odd bunch. In another parallel to the trooper story, I quite liked the first four and found the last one to be annoying as hell. Also, while I quite liked the second companion once I had him, I have to say that he had a very annoying "acquisition story" that made little sense and felt heavily railroaded. I bet he was another one of those that got killed a lot in beta before they removed the ability to kill companions...

In terms of gameplay, playing a Powertech hasn't been too bad considering that neither melee nor tanking truly feel like my calling. I had however been told in advance that Vanguard/Powertech was probably the easiest tank class to play, and it certainly seemed that way. At least I never felt completely lost when I picked the character back up after not playing her for a while (unlike on my Marauder for example) and always got back into the swing of things quickly. The tanking "rotation" (as far as there is one) felt very fluid and natural.

Nonetheless I think that tanking will remain something that I enjoy only in very limited doses. Charging in ahead of everyone else just doesn't come easily to me, and I don't particularly like that feeling of constantly having to reassert myself as the leader all the time.


Czerka Health and Safety

Doing dailies at unusual times can lead to interesting discoveries. The other night I was roaming around CZ-198 late at night, as I was suffering from a cold and found myself unable to sleep. Since it was a lot quieter than it usually is when I go there, I was surprised to find quest item spawns in places where I generally don't see them because they are always gone... such as this biotoxin container in the middle of the office area. Never mind the big hazard warning sign next to the door to the next room...

Now, Czerka isn't generally known for being the most caring company when it comes to its employees (just refer to the main quest line on Tatooine for Republic players), but that still struck me as funny. You've got to feel sorry for the poor employee that used to work at that station. Can't you just imagine it? "Who dumped the biotoxin next to my desk again? I thought we went over this during the last health and safety meeting..."


The Galactic Starfighter "Expansion"

When Rise of the Hutt Cartel was turned into a free goodie for subscribers last month, I remember seeing a couple of people comment that this might be a sign of a) another expansion coming out soon, and b) Bioware considering giving away future expansions for free (or at least including them as part of the subscription). Personally I didn't think that either of those sounded particularly likely, but as it turns out these commenters were right. Last night a press release was posted on the official site to announce "Galactic Starfighter", a new expansion that is planned to release as early as December. And unlike Rise of the Hutt Cartel, it's going to be completely free from the start and available to everyone; release will just be staggered so that subscribers get access earlier.

Its main (and only, to be honest) selling point is 12 vs. 12 freeform space combat. Now, this is something that a lot of people have been asking for pretty much since the game's launch, and as a result, overall reactions to the announcement have been very positive from what I've seen. This is good! For me personally however... this whole thing is pretty meh to be honest. I've written about why I don't really do space combat, and it's got nothing to do with the current system being on rails. It's just not my cup of tea. I'll try to keep an open mind of course and will probably give the new space PvP a try at least... but I don't really expect it to grab me.

What I personally found the most interesting about this whole announcement are the semantics. Back when Rise of the Hutt Cartel was announced, I was already very sceptical about calling that an expansion, because it didn't seem to bring enough to the table to really be worthy of the title. (To be fair, in hindsight I feel that it did introduce enough changes to be indeed worthy of being called an expansion... though perhaps an "expansion light".) This Galactic Starfighter thing on the other hand... from everything I've read, the new space PvP is going to be all there is to it. More levels? Nope. Any PvE? Nope. How is that any different from a big patch then? In fact, as someone who isn't into space combat, this "expansion" will likely add less to the game for me than any of the major patches have done so far. Where's the distinction between patch and expansion then, other than semantics, especially if both are free?

I wonder if they are now trying to go for a model along the lines of EVE Online's, which releases free "expansions" all the time as well. (Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong about any of this, as I don't actually play EVE.) The important difference is of course that EVE is a sandbox game so expectations for what qualifies as a significant content addition are very different. I'm not sure that calling a big patch an expansion every now and then is going to do quite the same thing for a theme park MMO.


NBI: Start Your SWTOR Blog Today!

In the MMO writing community as a whole there's currently a project called "The Newbie Blogger Initiative" going on, which is supposed to encourage people to start their own blogs about MMOs. I wasn't originally going to get involved simply because I don't feel that I have a lot to say on the subject. My blogging is very niche and I do quite a few things that people usually advise against, such as writing only about a single game and producing walls of text that aren't broken up by any images, so I'm probably not the best person to go to for advice.

However, looking at my SWTOR blog roll on the side gave me food for thought. I used to be quite strict about purging inactive blogs after three months, but lately I've been giving them more and more time simply because I hate to take blogs off the list and have nothing to replace them with. Maybe I'm just looking in all the wrong places, but I don't see a lot of personal SWTOR blogs starting up right now, and I think that's a shame. Just because the game isn't the hottest new thing on the block anymore, doesn't mean that there isn't still a lot to be said about it!

Why should you blog? Well, it definitely isn't for everyone, however I've met plenty of people online that made me think "this person should definitely have a blog". Mostly it's about whether you like expressing yourself in writing. Basically, blogging is a logical next step if you're the type of person who likes to leave long comments on other people's posts or writes a lot on forums. The problem with these forms of writing is that things tend to get lost and buried. This is annoying if you think that what you've said was relevant and deserves more exposure, but also when it comes to archiving. Ever found yourself in a situation where you went: "I know I wrote my thoughts on this down somewhere, but I don't remember where"? Yeah, this is why it's good to have your own blog and a solid archive function. I can still go back and look at stuff I wrote about WoW four years ago, and that's nice.

So if you've got things to say about SWTOR and have ever considered starting your own blog about it, now is a good time. Just head on over to the NBI site for lots of advice on how to get started as well as plenty of opportunities to get your new blog promoted. And of course I want to hear about it too! Need more things to add to the blog roll...

P.S. You know I'm looking at you, Mace...


My First Three Arenas

I haven't done much PvP this week, but I did queue up for a couple of games. Having been very sceptical of arenas, I was glad to see that the majority of my pops in the unranked queue were still regular warzones, however I did get into a total of three arena matches too.

The first two were on my Guardian. I don't play my Guardian very much these days, so I'm not very good at playing her and she's still wearing a lot of level fifty gear. I hadn't really planned to take her into any sort of group content to be honest, but when I went to spend some warzone commendations that she'd had saved up since forever and was just a couple short of buying the piece I wanted, I decided to bite the bullet and queue up for a game or two.

Soon I found myself teleported into the space station arena, where I immediately wanted to sink into the floor in shame, feeling very exposed in the small waiting area and with three team mates staring at me and my bad gear (though nobody said anything). I also couldn't see a timer for when the match was supposed to start, am I missing anything there? Our team consisted of three dps and a tank, while the enemy had a team of three dps and a healer - or maybe there was a tank in there as well, I don't remember - the point was that they had a healer and we didn't, which immediately made my heart sink. Surely we were doomed and they were going to outlast us? Oh well.

The enemy Sage healer was marked up and it was agreed that he should die first. "Hm," I found myself thinking, "maybe arenas aren't all bad if they actually teach people to communicate and focus fire." As soon as the doors opened, I charged in, despite my squishiness. If WoW arenas taught me anything, it's that taking the initiative and getting that first hit in is generally a good thing. Despite of blowing all my cooldowns, I only survived for a couple of seconds and then got to watch the rest of the match from the floor. Much to my surprise, my team mates actually managed to eke out a win. I'd like to think it was because I provided such an efficient distraction at the start or something. /cough.

The second round went much like the first, with me being the first to charge in and dying within seconds. However the enemy team was a bit more savvy this time around and spent a lot of time running around, which caused my team mates to split up as everyone decided that they had their own ideas about what to focus next, and we lost. The tie-breaker round was the same again, but to be honest I didn't feel too bad about losing. It was enough of a positive surprise to me that we had managed to win even one round.

The next arena I got was the Tatooine one. Again I ended up in a team with no healer while the enemy did have one. Again I charged in and died quickly, though the rest of my team seemed to be more competent this time, killed the enemy healer and defeated our opponents without anyone else on the team going down. Round two was more or less the same and we won. More than anything I was just... baffled. I honestly felt completely useless in both games and just spent most of my time watching the proceedings from the floor. It wasn't exactly what I had expected.

My third arena game was on my Commando, who landed in the Corellia arena. Well, at least I had a healer on my team this time - because it was me! I was all prepared to be obliterated within seconds (because everybody loves Commandos...), but the enemy dps were neither particularly strong nor organised and didn't even get me to half health, which apparently gave my own team plenty of time to mop up any resistance. Once again the second round was just a repeat of the first, and we were promptly declared the winners. I was happy.

So, as first impressions go, that really wasn't too bad! If nothing else, things were always over pretty quickly, which means that the pain for the losing team is kept to a minimum.


Mercenary/Commando Questions And Answers

I can't believe I almost missed this! It was finally the Commandos' turn to have their class rep's questions answered by the devs - or rather, the Mercenaries' turn, but aside from the fact that they don't have a bright green beam connecting them to people they heal to mark them as an immediate kill target in PvP, they do tend to have the same problems as us, so it was still relevant to me.

The first thing that struck me was that both the questions and the answers seemed very well thought out this time around, which made me happy. It seems to me that both the community and the devs have learned from the whole "heal to full" debacle and made an effort to improve their communication in these Q&As, which is definitely a good thing.

The devs' answers also made me hopeful in that they are finally at least acknowledging some of the problems that plague our AC, even though they remained disappointingly vague when it came to coming up with solutions. I understand why that is, but still, it's hard to get very excited about promises that they'll probably work on improving the situation, at some point. Maybe.

Anyway, let's get down to the nitty gritty. You can read the full thing here, though I've reproduced the parts that I want to comment on below.

1. PvE

Question: "Can you please comment on how you feel both Merc DPS and Heals stack up against their raid spot competitors when it comes to what they bring to the table for ‘Progression Raiding’. More specifically, why would you consider taking a merc in your raid group over a Sniper (DPS) and Op/Sorc (Heals) if faced with the option?"

Comments: [some details about how Mercs/Commandos are technically "viable" for progression raiding, but it seems that other classes always bring that little bit more to the table]

Answer: "(...) Mercenaries/Commandos are not really underperforming in DPS as some sort of trade-off (unless the Mercenary/Commando actually is spending global cooldowns to cleanse, resurrect, or heal); it is more because we went too far to ensure that guilds would bring Marauders/Sentinels and Snipers/Gunslingers into operations. We did this because, while the other classes have an opportunity to fulfill one of two different roles in an operation, Marauders/Sentinels and Snipers/Gunslingers can only fulfill the damage dealing role in operations. So we made sure they dealt plenty of damage, and then we gave them utility to boot – probably too much damage, and probably too much utility, judging by the operation groups that some guilds put together. (...)"

So basically, what he's saying is... nerfs inc. for Marauders/Sentinels and Snipers/Gunslingers? I hope you're making sure to read the Q&As for classes that you don't play, guys! While I can see how this answer makes sense, I still find it a bit hard to get excited about other classes getting nerfed. I'd rather get buffed to their level myself, but I guess continuous buffing just leads to power creep.

"As far as healing is concerned, we agree that Mercenaries/Commandos are viable end game PvE healers, and we have internally been discussing the idea of a multi-target Kolto Shell/Trauma Probe for a while now. We appreciate your suggestion and think it to be a reasonable one. While we cannot make any promises at this time, it is definitely something we would like to give to Mercenary/Commando healers at some point in the future. (...)"

I keep seeing this multi-target Trauma Probe suggestion pop up everywhere, but I'm not sure how I feel about it. I mean, yay, any buff would be nice I guess, but I just don't have any great love for Trauma Probe anymore. They've tried to buff it so many times and yet it just remains... kinda underwhelming. I find it very hard to keep track of the stacks because the speed at which it gets used up varies so wildly depending on how quickly the target gets hit. And on fights with bosses that hit fairly slowly it just feels kind of pointless. Here's hoping I guess.

2. PvP

Question: "Are the developers aware of how the excessive length of Mercenary utility cooldowns have a negative effect on their capabilities in PvP, and how do they plan to improve this situation for Mercenary players?"

Comments: "Mercenary utility cooldowns are all exceptionally long and seem designed around a much slower pace of combat. Most of them do not offer a benefit that accurately reflects the length of the cooldown, and in comparison to similar abilities belonging to other ACs simply do not make sense.

[list of several examples] While these utility abilities are obviously not intended to be used in every encounter, the cooldown length is prohibitively long (players find themselves not using an ability where they normally would/should because the cooldown is so long and they want to use it at the perfect moment. This results in the ability being used far less than intended). The median cooldown of Mercenary utility skills is 105 seconds. Compare that to Sniper, who has a median utility cooldown of 60s (that’s ~40% lower than Mercenary).

Side Note: Tied into the idea of utility abilities is that they play a significant role in our ability to avoid being easily shut down and keep our enemies at range at least momentarily. This is a big concern in the community and the developers have stated they are working on this but a lot of time has gone by with little done."

Answer: "The reason why Mercenaries/Commandos were originally given longer, weaker cooldowns is because they are passively superior to many of the other classes in the game. By nature of wearing the heaviest armor in the game, they take less damage than many other classes without needing to touch a button. They also have the ability to heal themselves and their allies, along with a 30 meter range for most of their abilities."

I know this was only brought up as a "something that we thought in the past" thing, but the comment about heavy armour still made me sigh. Heavy armour seriously does bugger all in PvP these days, considering how many classes have abilities to reduce or even completely bypass armour. My Commando gets sliced to bits just as quickly as my Sage in her cloth, but at least the Sage is much better at running away...

"It is fairly clear now that Mercenaries/Commandos are not the dominating force on the field of battle that we originally feared they might be. With that said, some classes have utilities that are just too strong and/or cooldown durations that are quite possibly too short – the Marauder/Sentinel is a good example of a class like this. So while some classes may pine to be given cooldowns that will make them as strong as Sentinels/Marauders, we would rather reduce the effectiveness of Marauder/Sentinel cooldowns to make them more like the other classes when it comes to survivability."

Oh hey guys, more Marauder/Sentinel nerfs incoming! Seriously, are you reading this?

"However, this does not mean that we should ignore Mercenary/Commando (or any classes, for that matter) cooldowns. [some examples of changes they might consider] Unrelated to utility cooldowns, another thing that we have been internally considering for a while now is adjusting our pushback & interrupt systems because we believe the classes that have abilities with activation and channel times are simply being too greatly affected by those systems. These adjustments would primarily benefit all Mercenaries/Commandos and Sorcerers/Sages (Snipers/Gunslingers do not gain much because they are already immune to pushback & interrupts while in cover). Power Shot/Charged Bolts, Unload/Full Auto, and Tracer Missile/Grav Round are some key abilities that would benefit from these adjustments. Please let us know your opinion of the pushback & interrupt systems as they currently stand, and we will take the community’s feedback into consideration."

Hm, I hope the Sages are reading too. Anyway... I'm glad to see them acknowledging that interrupts are kind of overpowered vs. some classes right now. I understand that it's a difficult balancing act because there is obviously a point to letting certain things be interrupted and you don't want to swing the pendulum too far the other way.

Personally I wouldn't necessarily want an overhaul of the system as a whole, just... tone it down a little I guess? Maybe give a little bit of interrupt immunity to some abilities and/or on a cooldown. Or take out things like Force Leap automatically interrupting on top of its main purpose as a gap closer.

3. Other

Question: "A big concern/complaint in the merc community revolves around resource management across all specs. How do the devs feel about where the Merc A/C is at regarding heat management? Do you intend to make any changes in the (near?) future to alleviate some of the community’s frustration over heat management?"

Comments: [some stuff about dps recource management] "We still lack the basic ability to heal ourselves with our default heal (Rapid Shots) -- a basic function we need to share with Operatives with a similarly tiered resource regeneration system. ur very roundabout way of doing it with Kolto Shell + Peacekeeper, is only minimally useful in PVP, dismal in PVE, and above all else, is not as simple as what the other healers have. If you overextend and drop into low-tier regen, you're punished quite a lot if vent heat or TSO aren't available to help you get back to a manageable level or throw out a big heal while you don't have you heat to do so. You only have rapid shots (small heal) and emergency scan (long cooldown) while you slowly regenerate energy, and no way to speed up the process. In comparison, Operatives can use diagnostic scan and its crits restore energy, and Sorcerers can use consumption, and they also regenerate force at the same rate no matter their force level anyway. (...)"

Answer: "(...) As a damage dealer, it is not fun being forced to fight two battles at the same time – one against your enemy target and another against your resource bar. As you pointed out, we have made changes to certain abilities (like Incendiary Missile/Incendiary Round) and even created entire abilities (Vent Heat/Recharge Cells and Thermal Sensor Override/Reserve Powercell) to mitigate the frustration caused by an unforgiving resource system. But maybe the time has finally come to fix the real problem – the resource system itself?

Thematically, we would still use Heat/Energy Cells, so the change would only be in functionality. There is nothing that thematically requires Heat/Energy Cells to work how they currently do. For example, we could let you safely use more than 40% of your resource bar more than once every 2 minutes; however, we cannot allow Mercenaries/Commandos to heal indefinitely – which is actually the reason why the system works like it currently does. This is why a resource system that works in a similar manner to the Sorcerer’s/Sage’s Force resource could work for Mercenaries/Commandos, while something like the Juggernaut’s/Guardian’s Rage/Focus resource would not be feasible. We should state that overhauling a resource system is a substantial amount of work on our end, and as such, it is not something that would happen anytime soon. We will be looking for your feedback here, because we would not want to make a drastic change to your resource system without support from you – the players."

Again, it's nice to see them acknowledge that ammo management is a bit of a pain in the butt right now. I remember how pre-1.2, simply hitting Overcharge Cells would pretty much give me a full ammo bar again, and just how hard I found it to manage my resources right after that fateful patch hit. I did get used to it to an extent, but it can still be extremely fiddly at times. Especially while working on nightmare mode progression, I've frequently found myself in situations where I had to cast several big heals on the tanks right now, as they were on the verge of death... and then I'm out of ammo with no cooldowns and we wipe anyway simply because I can't do any useful healing at all anymore. That's pretty harsh.

The comment about completely overhauling the whole system immediately made me go "whoa, whoa, let's take a step back here" though, and I'm glad to see that most people responding to the thread felt the same way. We do like the way the system works overall, it just needs fine-tuning. For healers it was a lot more forgiving pre-1.2 for example. Or look at Scoundrel/Operative healers right now, they basically use the same system and have trouble running out of energy even if they try. I'm not saying Commando healing should be just as easy, but surely it should be possible to ease up on the unforgivingness of the regen system just a little bit, if simply by tweaking some numbers...?
"(...) We think it seems reasonable for Mercenaries/Commandos to be able to heal themselves with Rapid Shots/Hammer Shot, and we will look into making this a possibility – but it might not generate Combat Support Cylinder/Cell charges when you heal yourself with the ability. It is something we will need to test out internally first.

As for venting Heat/recharging Energy Cells when Rapid Shots/Hammer Shot is used, that may be something we could do. However, it is also possible that the energy return tied into Diagnostic Scan makes Operative healers better than they should be. It does seem strange that one healer would have an energy-returning ability, while another healer using basically the same type of resource system has nothing to compare with it. We will investigate this further, and the outcome should be positive or at least neutral for Mercenaries/Commandos. (...)"

My theory as for why things are the way they are is that a) Mercenary/Commando healers heal with their weapons, and it would look awkward for them to shoot themselves, and b) our "free heal" can be used on the move while Scoundrels and Operatives have to stand still to use theirs. Which sounds like a fair trade-off on paper, except that using Hammer Shot on the move is frequently impractical due to the directional requirements, and the "disadvantage" of not being able to move while casting Diagnostic Scan hardly affects Scoundrels and Operatives since they can still do most of their healing while on the move anyway. In comparison, being completely unable to heal yourself when you're low on resources is pretty damn harsh. So I'm in support of changing this, even if I'm not sure I really want to take shots out of my own assault cannon to the face...

All in all, this was a good Q&A; it just remains to be seen whether it actually leads to any changes in practice.


Oricon First Impressions

Patch 2.4 brought a lot of new additions to the game today, but for me the initial focus lay on the new PvE content, as usual. As soon as I came online in the evening, Pet Tank and I made our way to Oricon, the new planet moon.

I'd say that more than anything, it's a very atmospheric place. (This is something that Bioware generally seems to do very well.) The environment definitely conveys the feeling of unease that the Dread Masters instil in people; I'm just not entirely sure whether that's a good or a bad thing. In a way it reminds me of many a typical endgame zone in your average fantasy MMO, where everything is corrupted or diseased, which... isn't exactly the kind of environment in which you want to spend all your time. Then again, Makeb is lush and beautiful and yet how often do I actually go there? Not very.

The mobs also seemed to be very densely placed, and after two rounds around the area we were already up to three hundred kills according to the achievement tracker. The heroic area in particular is quite dangerous! You never really know what you'll get with a [Heroic 2], as they can range from very easy to quite hard, but this heroic area is definitely on the tougher end of the spectrum. I can't see myself questing there on my own for long and enjoying it (and not just because killing things as a healer can be tedious).

I did really like the little storyline though (Republic side that is, haven't done the Imperial version yet), and the missions rewards were very good as well, which is always nice. I can see this being a very quick and efficient way of getting a newly dinged alt ready for entry-level endgame content.

Around our usual ops time, the guild leader threw a 16-man group for Dread Fortress story mode together (though we ended up a couple of players short of a full team). A few people in the group had tried the operation on the PTS before, but they mostly kept quiet... so we basically went in blind, without having looked up any tactics. It was a lot of fun to discover things as a group and figure out mechanics on the fly.

The first boss went down with no problems as it was mostly a tank and spank fight, but things soon got interesting. I have no idea what the puzzle component of the second encounter was supposed to be, as I just got to run through some tunnels with a couple of dps, while repeatedly clicking on crystals to open gates in front of us. I'm guessing that it's more involved on hard mode. The actual boss caused our first "wipe" by suddenly disappearing and then not showing his face again, while leaving us stuck in combat for several more minutes. This prompted a group member to at least look up what we were doing wrong, and it turned out that we had neglected to do enough damage to the boss while dealing with the waves of adds, which had automatically caused us to "lose" the fight. That definitely needs to be made clearer in some way, because simply being left stuck in combat with nothing to fight and the boss not resetting is not very intuitive. We had another wipe or two before we got the add management just right, but then we were free to continue.

The third boss was awesome fun - what's not to like about a "Pirate Rancor" as a guildie put it? The over-the-top animations of him jumping around and smashing things with his giant pipe actually had me squealing with glee. After we were done, we also spent several more minutes just running after the magnet in the room to let it drag us into the air over and over again. Sometimes it's the little things...

The fourth boss was mostly funny because his giant laser attack led to a lot of manic running around and claimed quite a few victims. It's as if someone took Golden Fury's big signature attack (and I've complained about how boring that fight is) and thought: How could I make this mechanic more interesting? I know, let's make the boss jump all around the room so people actually have to use their eyes and brains to dodge his laser. It was actually fun! Good job, unknown dev.

In the honoured tradition of end bosses being a considerable step up from the rest of the instance, Dread Master Brontes wiped the floor with us quite a few times before we had seen and learned how to deal with all of her mechanics. Ahh, one-shotting zappy tentacles! Ahh, slowly rotating beam of doom! Ahh, exploding droids everywhere! In the end we got her though, and it felt quite satisfying to finally off another one of the annoying villains that have been haunting us for something like four or five operations now. I honestly think that I've never encountered another raid boss that I genuinely wanted to kill as much as I want to be rid of the Dread Masters.

Now to wait for Bioware to fix the bug that currently makes the final encounter in Dread Palace literally unkillable and then I can't wait to see the end of that particular story!


Some Red Eclipse PvP Data

Back in my State Of My Game post I mentioned that I haven't been too happy with my PvP experience lately. The thing is, I don't particularly like people who whine that their faction always loses. "If all your games are losses, maybe the defining factor is you," is usually the first thing that comes to mind. And even if they are not bad players, it's still very easy to get a distorted view of your win-loss ratio. I seem to recall reading somewhere that our brains find bad things happening to us two or three times as memorable as good things, so even if you actually win half your matches or more it can still feel like you're doing badly.

About three weeks ago I decided that I wanted to know for sure whether I was doing any worse in warzones now than I used to,  so I started to keep a log of all my max-level warzone matches: which character I played on, which warzone I got, and whether the outcome was an easy win, a hard win, a fair loss (where my team still put up a bit of a fight) or a bad loss (where we got completely steamrolled). I recorded the results of exactly one hundred games - because it's a good number and makes it easy to work out percentages. (Plus, you know, big PvP changes coming with tomorrow's patch, so I had to stop at some point if I wanted to get this post out before then.) A couple of these games were actually same faction matches, but they were so rare and unexpected that I forgot to remove them from my count as an exception that messes with my comparisons to the Empire. Oh well. I also didn't keep track of when exactly I played every time, but it's worth noting that my play time varied a lot over the past few weeks, so I played on pretty much every day of the week at some point or another, as well as during every time of the day, except for the middle of the night and early morning.

I played three different characters over the course of those three weeks, though all of them are healers: my Commando main, who is almost in full Conqueror gear, my Sage alt, who's in a mix of Partisan and Arkanian/Underworld, and my Scoundrel, who should have had the advantage of being way overpowered as a class right now, but personally I found that this was cancelled out by the fact that she's got absolutely terrible gear. With very few exceptions, I also queued up alone for the vast majority of these games, to make sure that I would only have myself to blame for the outcome (well, myself and the pugs of course).

In terms of which warzones I got, I'm happy to say that the randomiser works fine. I certainly had days where I kept getting the same maps over and over, but over the course of three whole weeks things actually evened out quite well. The warzone that popped most often for me was Novare Coast with 28 matches, and the one I got the least was Ancient Hypergates (thank god), which I only had to endure 11 times. Everything else was somewhere in-between.

So, how did it go then? Well, I'm sad to say that I was not wrong about losing a lot, as my overall win percentage was only a measly 35 percent. In terms of whether the games felt like fair fights or complete steamrolls, things were pretty even, meaning that trying to get my PvP daily done as a Republic player, on average, I'd win one game (fifty-fifty chance of it being an easy win or one we had to fight for), then experience one loss where we still put up a bit of a fight, and then get completely stomped into the ground in the third match (not necessarily in that order). Doesn't sound too bad when you put it like that - but reality tends to be less kind unfortunately. My worst losing streak was ten in a row, with seven of them feeling like we didn't even stand a chance. Not fun.

What other things did I observe? Well, looking at the split between characters, I was somewhat surprised to see my Sage end up with the best win-loss ratio - in fact she outright defies the average as she even won two more games than she lost. Mind you, I played fewer games with her than with the other characters (only 26), so I might have just been lucky, but it still surprised me. I expected either my Commando to come out on top due to having the best gear, or my Scoundrel due to the class being OP. In practice however, my Scoundrel ended up having a terrible time, losing five times(!) as many games as she won. I suspect that it's because of her poor gear and me not playing her as much as the other two and thus being less familiar with the tool kit, meaning that I made less of a useful contribution in each game.

In terms of the split between the warzones, it was interesting to see that while we did lose the majority of our games in all of them, the odds did vary depending on which map popped up. On Novare Coast for example we did so well that we almost won half our matches. On the other hand we did so badly in Huttball that chances of a Republic win in the Pit were less than one in three there. I guess we're not completely useless when it comes to the actual fighting, but as a faction we're clearly lacking when it comes to co-ordination.

Do these numbers prove anything? Not really. You've got to question how much of a difference a single player can make anyway - maybe I'm just really terrible and dragging everyone down with me! I suppose I could play a hundred max-level games on some of my Imperial characters and see whether those actually go any better. However, it wouldn't really be a fair comparison as none of my Imps currently have any PvP gear (or even high level PvE gear). Maybe something for a future project...

We will see how things pan out with the introduction of arenas tomorrow and whether they cause Republic side PvP to be invigorated or not. If nothing else, keeping a record of my wins and losses has been an entertaining distraction that made even the bad losses a little bit easier to bear for a while, knowing that, if nothing else, I was at least getting some interesting data out of the whole ordeal.


Saturday Night Ops

I originally wanted to do this five months ago, but sometimes it takes a while for an opportunity to present itself...

Also, I really love this screenshot, giving a whole new meaning to the term "being benched" - though in this instance it was actually simply a case of waiting for the bus boss to respawn...


State Of My Game

It's been a bit quiet on here lately. The reason for this is that I've actually been spending somewhat less time in the game during the last couple of weeks, which has left me a little short on subjects to write about.


I still enjoy levelling and always have a couple of alts "in the wings" so to speak, but... I feel like I'm in a bit of a levelling funk. My bounty hunter only has Corellia left to go for her class story and then I'll be done and will have seen all the class stories. (I obviously intend to make a post about that once I get there.) I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this prospect. On the one hand, I'm kind of proud of it as an achievement. On the other hand, I'm kind of sad, knowing that there won't be any more updates to the personalised class story, and that that's basically it. I don't play SWTOR just for the class stories, but they are a big draw, and the thought of losing that because I've been there, done that (so to speak), has put quite a dampener on my mood. There is definitely replay value left in some of the classes (I'd quite like a second Sith warrior for example and go light side this time), but it won't be the same. I think this is one of the reasons that I've actually been enjoying my time in Star Trek Online lately, simply because dipping my toes into a different MMO has provided me with new levelling content that I haven't seen before.


All is good in ops land as far as I'm concerned (and you might have noticed me bringing up the subject more often lately, simply because it's the main activity I log in for). I'm having fun during the casual runs...

... and we still work on progression once a week too. The problem is just that there's only so much you can say about that. It's been two months since we downed the Writhing Horror on nightmare, and ever since then we've been collectively banging our heads against the brick wall that is the Dread Guard Council. I'm not complaining about the wiping because I enjoy the company regardless, and we are making some progress even if it's slow, but there's only so much you can write about wiping all night, you know?


My other major endgame activity, running warzones, isn't exactly in the best place either. Back in June I expressed some concern about what the introduction of server transfers would do to The Red Eclipse's PvP scene. Most of the hardcore PvP guilds did indeed transfer off as soon as they got the chance, and it has had quite a negative effect on my personal PvP experience. With only some casual PvPers left, queue times for warzones have increased noticeably, and overall performance has decreased by quite a bit. From the looks of it, the Empire was also lucky enough to retain a few more of its experienced PvPers than the Republic, meaning that they win about two out of three matches these days. Yes, I've actually been keeping a diary of my wins and losses because I wanted to find out whether the situation really was as bad as it felt. I'll make a proper post about it at some point once I've gathered some more data. Anyway, the point of this is that long queue times and losing the majority of my games doesn't exactly make for the most riveting PvP experience. Not to mention that arenas are also looming on the horizon.

I suppose I can always look forward to the new operations coming out next month.