Random Pre-Expansion Thoughts

I've been a bit more quiet on here than I would have liked in the past week due to having issues with my computer and being limited in what I can currently do online. Hopefully my new rig will arrive early next week and then I'll be back in action... maybe even with slightly less lag in Huttball!

For now I've been busy catching up with all the announcements about Rise of the Hutt Cartel that I apparently missed out on in the last couple of days. I did just about catch the bit about the release date, and was about as unsurprised as the rest of the internet. (The bit about the double XP weekends leading up to the expansion had really made it kind of obvious already.) As Sod's law would have it, I'll be out of the country and completely without internet access for ten days in mid-April, and as expected the launch date coincides with that almost exactly - I'll be leaving on the 15th. On the plus side though, thanks to the early access I should get a chance to play a little bit before then anyway. Still, I'll be a bit sad to miss out on the rat race to the new level cap a lot of the excitement of the game's first expansion launch.

I am kind of curious how it will all play out... I don't have particularly fond memories of the launch day of the last WoW expansion that I bought. However, this is going to be quite different in many ways. There are a lot fewer unknowns to worry about. Sure, there'll be a new planetary story to level through and a new operation (both of which I really look forward to), but the way most classes play shouldn't end up being massively different, the "new" flashpoints will just be harder versions of existing levelling ones, and Terror From Beyond will be retuned for the new level cap as well, so a lot of what we have to look forward to will already be quite familiar anyway. I suppose in some ways that makes the whole thing less exciting, but on the other hand I expect this to ease the pressure of "keeping up with the Joneses" a.k.a. getting things done quickly so you know what all this new stuff is that your guildies are talking about.

The things that currently have me the most intrigued are two new features that I only found out about recently: Macrobinoculars and Seeker Droids. I have to admit the description of Seeker Droid gameplay immediately made me think of Archaeology in WoW - and apparently I'm not the only one. Of all the things to copy from WoW... it had to be this?

(I kid, I got a fair amount of entertainment out of that profession while I was still playing WoW.)

Still, all in all I'm guessing that RotHC will feel more like a big patch than like the meaty expansions I'm used to from WoW. That doesn't have to be a bad thing though. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing how Bioware's efforts to not obsolete all the level fifty content will pan out.


In space no one can read your whisper

Anyone who's been reading this blog for any amount of time will probably have noticed that I dabble pretty much in all parts of the game: I level alts, I do dailies, I run flashpoints and operations, I do PvP, I craft etc.. However, there's one part of the game that I pretty much never talk about, and that's the space game.

On my very first character I spent a little bit of time completing the first three space missions once I got my ship (I remember failing a couple of times on the space station one until I got the hang of where my targets were), but then that was pretty much it. Other venues of gaining experience were much more interesting and soon almost everything offered by the space mission terminal was grey. Oh well, whatever.

Later I decided to go back and do the rest of them after all, just because I could. I outfitted my ship with the best ship parts that money could buy (grade five I believe, this was before the release of heroic space missions) and got started. I was very disappointed when I found that the second tier of missions was pretty much a carbon copy of the first, only with different flavour text and everything doing a bit more damage. On the first mission of the third tier, I got obliterated by the enemy within less than thirty seconds, despite of being vastly overgeared for the whole thing. That's when I decided that it wasn't worth the bother.

I mean, I'm pretty sure that I could beat those space missions if I put some effort into learning how to do them properly. But what's my incentive? The space game is completely removed from everything else in the game - which is good for me in so far as I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything by not doing space missions, but still...

Worse though, I really don't care about the way space missions play out in any way, shape or form. I want to play my character, not her space ship. I don't like being tied to my screen for minutes on end with no opportunity to pause or allow myself to be distracted for even just a moment. (If you think that operations and PvP are the same in that regard, you've never seen me play during either of those...) But most of all, I hate being cut off from all communications, in an MMO of all places. I'll admit that with the way the space game functions you probably wouldn't have time to type anyway, but that you can't even see chat messages while in space has always bugged me. If I wanted to play a single player game, I would do that (and it wouldn't be some space shooter to be honest).

Now, that doesn't mean that I absolutely loathe the space game. Every now and then I'll even redo those first three space missions on a lowbie alt for a change of pace. However, most of the time I find it simply so much less interesting than anything else I could be doing in the game (including idling on the fleet and chatting) that it doesn't even register.

And that's also the reason why I'm always very skeptical when people campaign for SWTOR to have "more mini games". I play MMOs for a fairly specific kind of gameplay, and I'd prefer it if the developers didn't spend too much time tacking on additions that are completely unrelated to everything else. If I want to play "mini games" there are already hundreds of other ways to do so out there, no need to be in an MMO for that.


Walking The Walk

Tuesday night the guild was putting together a sixteen-man operations group for Xenoanalyst II. Since we didn't have enough guildies around who were both able and willing to join, we filled the remaining spaces with pugs. Checking my own friends list for candidates, I was delighted to see that my old guild leader (let's shorten this to "Mogle" for the rest of the post) was online on his dps Shadow. While he had been more or less inactive for several months, I had no doubts that he would still be an asset to our group, so I asked for an invite for him.

We downed story mode easily enough, but knew that hard mode was going to be a bit of a push with pugs in the group. Still, things seemed to be going well enough on our first attempt. That is, until I noticed a whisper from Mogle: "How do I turn walk off again?"

At first it didn't even register properly with me what was going on; I thought that I had only just noticed a whisper that he had sent me before the fight started or something. However, when he followed it up with "LOL" and "HELP!" I took a closer look and noticed that his Shadow was ambling around the room at an extremely casual pace, lightsaber out and everything. "/ on numpad" I tried to reply in between fits of laughter, but the slash at the beginning caused it to be eaten up as an invalid emote several times before I managed to fit in an extra space to make it go through.

Meanwhile we had made it to the first Environmental Awareness phase and people were rushing to the core to dps it down - except for Mogle, who was walking towards it really, really slowly, and me, who was too busy watching him and laughing my ass off. Then Mogle disconnected. I knew that this wasn't going to go well with a dps down, and it didn't. We failed to down the core in time, and while we attempted to recover from the tank death this caused, we never quite did. Oh well, wipe.

As soon as Mogle came back online, I just had to whisper him:

Me: "Oh god, the sight of you walking around the room really slowly... too funny."
Mogle: "Lol, erm...when I pressed / on my numpad it shut my computer down."
Me: "Lol, what? Really?!"
Mogle: "Yeah, I have one of those fancy gaming keyboards, and I have / on numpad bound to shutting my PC down. The funny thing is, I knew that when you told me to press it, but I still did it anyway."

So not only did he get himself stuck in walk mode, he also "disconnected" himself! Needless to say, I couldn't help but relay that story to the rest of my guild (especially as there were some grumblings that doubted whether we had enough dps in the group). Fortunately they agreed that it was hilarious. On the next attempt, with everyone actually being able to make it to the core in time, we passed the dps check with ease and downed the boss.

As much as I love me a good boss kill, an epic wipe can be just as good. Much love for Mogle.

(And if you think that I'm being mean to him for poking fun at his mistake here, let me state for the record that I did something similar the first time I fought Operator in TFB on hard mode. I just didn't immediately realise that I had accidentally toggled walk on since it was my first time and I thought that the boss simply had some kind of slow on hard to make it more difficult. That said, I've never accidentally shut down my PC in the middle of a boss fight, so that was a new one even for me...)



Another thing you can do on double XP weekends if you don't care about them: play lots of level fifty warzones and be silly with emotes.

(I already posted this on Twitter and someone else linked it on Reddit, but I figured I might as well put it here too.)

I hope they keep coming up with new dances and such for the Cartel packs, that's one thing for which I don't mind shelling out some credits on the GTN!


Levelling Hipster

So this weekend has been the first one of several "double XP weekends" leading up to the launch of the expansion. From what I've seen, people have been going absolutely bonkers about it. I couldn't read Twitter or participate in any conversation in guild without multiple people piping up about OMG how many levels they already gained today, how much XP they just got for a single quest or how far ahead of the levelling curve they already were.

Personally, I've once again been living up to the tradition of being a grinch in regards to whatever the newest thing is that everybody else seems to love. Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge anyone their fun. You like levelling super-fast? Good for you.


I have to admit that personally, I just couldn't fight the feeling that this whole thing is just all wrong. I understand why Bioware is doing it, to push players towards the point where the expansion content will be relevant to them, and I've heard all the arguments from people about why levelling at the speed of light is great. Yes, I enjoy playing different classes at max level as well, and I do have eight fifties myself, so I've gone through the non-class story arcs multiple times already. Still, the point remains that SWTOR's levelling content is the best part of the game. If you find levelling so boring and tedious, why are you playing this game instead of a MMO that is more focused on max-level content?

(Also, the constant gushing about people's levelling speed made me realise that I'm a levelling hipster, which is what inspired the title of this post. I liked levelling before it was super-fast! And I was overlevelled for Quesh before it was cool, damn it!)

I only dipped my own toes into the accelerated levelling waters very briefly, by rolling a new consular to see what kind of effect the double XP had on the starter planet experience. I can't comment on how it affects the speed of levelling, since I tend to bimble around, get distracted, and idle while chatting regardless of how much XP I get for each task, but it was certainly unusual to be level thirteen by the time I left Tython.

Other than that I didn't feel much motivation to do a lot of levelling this weekend though. I just don't see the fun in skipping ahead quite that much; it's fast enough at normal rates of experience gain (for subscribers) and I pretty much always end up picking and choosing different bits of content to play through anyway. Fortunately I had other things to do.

Our barely a month old Sith inquisitor duo hit fifty for one thing. I took my worst ding shot ever, as the bonus boss of Battle of Ilum landed on my head right on cue.

Also, obligatory embarrassing screenshot of our newly max-level Sith in their complimentary Tionese gear:

"Remember how cool we looked while levelling?"
"Don't remind me, those were the days..."

The Sith inquisitor story write-up will have to wait however, as we only just finished Belsavis in terms of quest progression.

Speaking of finishing levelling before finishing your class story, I also took the opportunity to finally complete my Scoundrel's class story (she dinged fifty in January if you remember). In her case I hadn't been that fussed about seeing it through to the end quickly, as she was already my second smuggler and I had seen it all before. Still, in the end it was interesting that the very final bit of my class story led to a completely different conversation for a dark side aligned character, compared to what my light side gunslinger had experienced.

Also, getting all the datacrons on Corellia (something that I hadn't done before) was pretty hilarious.

Flight fail.

Fun experiences > fast experience, I say!


A Contentious Patch

Patch 1.7.2 hit the live servers today, and with it came the return of the Gree event. To say that this left me slightly baffled would be an understatement. When the devs said that this would be a recurring event, I thought that it was going to return after about a month or two at the very earliest. Instead we had two weeks of the event, then two weeks of it being turned off, and now apparently another two weeks of it being turned on again.

For me personally this is honestly a bit too fast a cycle (assuming that it is indeed going to be a regular cycle, and that the next break won't be longer). I really threw myself into the event last time around, unsure of when I would get a chance to have another crack at it, but if it's basically going to be available half the time anyway, it's not really going to feel like anything special. I do expect to occasionally do the dailies again, do the one-off quests on a few more alts, maybe kill the world bosses a couple more times... but I have to admit that it's not going to be nearly as exciting now.

Still, I kind of raise my eyebrows at people who are already moaning about "recycled content". I mean, come on. I've actually had several people comment to me that they were happy to see the event return already because they had somehow managed to miss out on it last time, a whole two weeks ago in a galaxy far, far away... I guess it's all good. Plus, Bioware did make a point of fixing several of the things that were problematic about the quests last time around, such as the data chip drop rate from the bloody animals (guaranteed drop from each kill now, hooray).

The truly contentious thing about this patch have been the latest Cartel Market shenanigans. Basically, in addition to releasing a new set of gambling boxes, Bioware added a special faction for which you can only gain reputation by opening those very same boxes. Like the other reputations, it grants some titles and access to a vendor that sells more cosmetic gear. TORWars has a good summary of it here. Strictly speaking you don't have to personally pay any real money to work on that reputation, because you can buy unopened Cartel packs on the GTN for in-game credits, but someone has to be willing to pay up with real money for sure, because there is no other way of getting those reputation trophies.

Unsurprisingly I guess, the response has been much wailing, gnashing of teeth and cries of "pay to win". The thing is, I can kind of understand some of it. There's definitely a sense of the Cartel Market encroaching on more parts of the game in there, which is not appealing to those of us who don't really use it much, if at all. And if you're the kind of person who loves to collect titles, pets or mounts, I can see how you'd be feeling more and more pressured into spending real money.

However, on the other hand... cosmetic fluff is about as innocent as this kind of stuff can get. Yes, I can understand why it sucks if that's your favourite thing in the game, but what kind of things do you expect them to sell then? There are few things that would have less of an effect on you than some other player owning a pet or a mount that you don't have yourself. (For comparison, try playing with someone who has significantly more or fewer "convenience" unlocks than you do, and observe the difference.)

Even though I don't exactly like this change as I never really use the Cartel Market myself except to spend the occasional couple of coins from my subscriber stipend, I find it very hard to get truly worked up about this. It simply has zero effect on me. I may have completionist tendencies in some aspects of the game, but I collect neither speeders nor pets... and so what if I have a reputation bar that's completely empty? (I've never done a heroic space mission in my life either.)

I don't mind if the devs throw the big spenders a bone or two. After all, I actively benefit from other people spending real money on Cartel Market items and putting them up on the GTN. From what I've seen, the new packs in particular contain some very nice new models that aren't just reskins of existing stuff, so if other people spend more and end up with spares that they want to sell for credits, it's nothing but a win for me.


The Joys Of Pugging

Yesterday I was in the mood for some warzones, and very confused when my asking in guild chat about who else wanted to come was met with nothing but stony silence. I've done very little PvP on my own since joining my current guild, because as a guildie put it the other night: "You're a healer. It's easy to make friends." Realising that none of the usual suspects were actually online, I sighed and decided to brave the queue on my own, bracing myself for the worst.

Surprisingly, Republic was unusually dominant, the wins kept rolling in and I had a grand old time. Now, some of that was obviously pure luck, but it did serve to remind me of why I should go back to pugging warzones on my own at least occasionally.

I doubt anyone needs an explanation of why going in with friends and guildies is usually more fun. You know each other and can coordinate better, you can expect at least a minimum level of competence (hopefully), not to mention that good company tends to make everything more fun in general (again, assuming that your guildies actually do make for good company).

However, I've noticed that there are trade-offs. The more you get used to playing with the same people all the time, the more you'll feel lost when you're suddenly on your own or forced to make things work with strangers. Not to mention that partial premades make you inclined to focus on your friends at the cost of paying attention to the team as a whole. Hands up if you've ever assisted a guild-mate in a random fight instead of helping a pugger with an objective or got so engrossed by a conversation in voice chat that you missed a call for help in ops chat...

However, finding myself on my own again for a change, I:

- had to push myself hard to stay alive and play well, seeing how I couldn't count on getting any assists
- was more focused on objectives than keeping my guildies alive so I wouldn't feel bad about them dying
- actually used ops chat properly to communicate with my entire team as there was no voice chat to distract me
- found myself paying more attention to the other players than I usually do. Which guild are these from? Who played really well and deserves an MVP?

It was fun in a different kind of way and made me feel like a good player in my own right again instead of just being someone else's lazy healbot.

That aside, it's also good to occasionally get a glimpse of what's happening in the server community outside of your own social circle, which guilds are active in what areas and so on. I mean, how many people have quit an MMO because all their friends stopped playing and things stopped being fun for that reason alone? I could have been one of them back when people in my old guild stopped logging in, but since I was still enjoying the game I put myself "out there" instead and found some new players to keep me company. It's always useful to make new connections when you can.



My newest Sith Sorcerer acquired an apprentice recently. Don't take this as an indictment of what the inquisitor story is like as a whole, because generally I've been enjoying it quite a bit, but this particular bit of the plot was quite a disappointment to me. (Spoilers incoming, in case you can't guess - also for how the Sith warrior and the two Jedi acquire their apprentice/padawans.)

First off, that particular bit of the story was kind of buggy, as I found out when I got both a letter and a conversation option to talk about something that never actually happened. Assassins, what? Fortunately they had shown up in my pet tank's story so he could clarify for me what that was all about, as they had never even come up in my own little alternate universe.

More than anything though I was just kind of disappointed by the lackluster way in which the whole thing went down. I hunted down this Jedi padawan who was nothing special except for being related to a ghost, tricked her... and then she kind of decided to follow me around out of shame about having fallen for my trick. That's... not very credible or cool?

It kind of set me off on a rant about apprentices and padawans in general, because I didn't really like the way I got any of them, even if none of the others were quite as bad as the inquisitor's.

The warrior's story suffers from the same problem as the inquisitor's in that the "corrupted" padawan's motivation to follow her corruptor is kind of weak, but at least she's made out to be something special due to having unusual powers, so you have an actual motivation to hunt her down and keep her around. (After all, Sith love power.)

The Jedi are better in the motivation department (after all, Jedi padawans don't generally lack in motivation for following a Jedi master), but their stories are still kind of clumsy. I still don't know how exactly Kira became my knight's padawan for example. As far as I recall she was introduced as Master Kiwiik's padawan, assigned to help me with a specific mission, and then just kind of kept following me around until everyone automatically assumed that she was my padawan? Talk about awkward.

I suppose the Jedi consular did it best by introducing Nadia relatively early on so that you have time to get to know her, and by the time she's forced on you becomes your padawan, you're at least somewhat ready for it. Though I still remember thinking at the time that it probably would've been better to send a traumatised child like her to Tython first so that she could have some peace and quiet before starting the more practical parts of her training...

Why are all the padawans/apprentices spunky but confused young women anyway? And why do they have to come to me under the most awkward circumstances possible? After everything I went through on Tython/Korriban, wouldn't it have been much more satisfying to go back there and get to see it all again from a master's point of view, bossing impressable young padawans around? I know I would've loved that at least.


"You realise you do get to do that as an inquisitor?" says pet tank. "What? Really? You're not making this up?"


As it turns out, he was right! Sort of, anyway. It wasn't that long after recruiting Ashara that my little Sorcerer got to visit the academy on Korriban to have a look at some more potential future apprentices. I didn't get to oversee their trials in detail, but I've already checked back on them one more time to see how it's going, and I expect that my next visit will actually result in my last companion, who incidentally also won't be a spunky but confused young woman for once (I know that much already). I suppose there is still hope for me getting an apprentice that won't bug me!


Drouk Hunting

I can hardly believe that it's been over three months since Section X was released, and with it the world boss Dreadtooth. I remember seeing a couple of guildies run around with the title "Drouk Hunter", which you get for killing him, as early as the next day. I knew that I'd eventually want to get it too, but at the time I was in no hurry because I figured that I'd get around to it soon enough. Over three months later however, I still hadn't made any progress towards it.

Every so often I would see yet another new Drouk Hunter show off their title, and when I asked when they got it they'd tell me that they had killed him only last night, earlier in the day or whenever, but always at some point when I wasn't online (which is quite impressive considering that I'm online a lot). Eventually I started whinging to guild leadership that we should put the boss on the calendar, so that people like me wouldn't constantly miss out on the impromptu runs. It took a while, but eventually they did put up a sign-up for it... on an evening when I couldn't make it of course.

And so it continued. Eventually there came a night when I could make it and we actually got a group together... but it was kind of small, we messed up and wiped on our first attempt, and then another guild swooped in and got the kill. We tried waiting for the respawn, but even more competition showed up and we had to give up. Again. I was starting to feel like Dreadtooth was becoming my very own personal nemesis, always getting away.

This past Thursday another world boss run was finally put on the calendar. I could make it this time, and so could quite a few others. A-ha! We soon found the boss up and about and ready to die at our hands. However, once we engaged, we got confirmation of something that I already had reason to suspect previously: this boss likes randomly PvP-flagged raiders even less than we healers do. When you engage him, everyone around the person who pulled gets a buff cast on them which allows them to get credit for the kill - and if anyone without this buff tries to get close and interfere, whether it's to help or grief, the boss applies a debuff to them that quickly kills them off. Funny thing: this buff follows the same rules as player-cast buffs, meaning that if the main target isn't flagged for PvP but some other people in the group are, they won't get buffed regardless of proximity at the time of the pull.

Fortunately we only had something like two or three people who were flagged, but they still got hit by the "interference" debuff and went splat, though of course not before we healers instinctively tried to save them and got ourselves PvP-flagged too. Fortunately this didn't cause us to die at this point, however it did mess with our boss kill credit somehow, as even though we downed him on that attempt, I once again did not get my title. Arrrgh. While I was glad to have killed him at least, I was still kind of wringing my hands about things still going wrong in some fashion (even if I did get some satisfaction out of the boss specifically stomping those irritating people who seem to be incapable of letting their PvP flags drop off before joining for a world boss).

Fortunately people wanted to hang around to try him again on multiple "stacks". Ah yes, another fun mechanic: he drops an item which you can throw at him when he respawns to make him more powerful and which causes him to drop more loot. On ten stacks he drops another special item which unlocks a secret boss in Terror From Beyond hard mode... some pretty hardcore stuff, and the world first of this was only achieved less than a month ago. We wouldn't expect to get him on ten stacks before the expansion ourselves, but it's fun to have something to aspire to, and anyway, you can always try with fewer stacks (our first kill had simply been the boss's "default" version).

As we were waiting on the respawn, another Republic guild started to gather in the area. I immediately feared that competition was going to get in the way once again, but lo and behold, it was a guild that we knew back from Luka Sene, our guild leader knew their guild leader, and soon we had all merged into one giant 24-man raid instead of competing with each other.

We killed the boss on three stacks in a shower of special effects that made my game's performance drop through the floor, but at long last I received my title: here comes Drouk Hunter Shíntar!

Then we decided to try again on five stacks. That went less well, as some new mechanics get added at that stage which we kind of struggled with. It didn't help that on resurrecting, we found that some passer-by had decided to randomly add another stack to Dreadtooth's buffs, bringing him up to six. We kept trying anyway and saw some improvement every time, but eventually had to call it before we achieved another kill, as it had got kind of late by that point, what with waiting for the boss to respawn twice, and then waiting for him to finish his patrol around the area before he was in the right spot for a pull again.

Still, it felt like a pretty productive evening to me in the end, and once again confirmed to me that I really like the different sort of challenge and mechanics provided by difficult world bosses.