The Future of Flashpoints (and Other Parts of the Game)

The rakghoul event is over (for now) and usually I'd do a sort of round-up post to talk about what I liked and what I didn't, but in this case I feel that I pretty much already said it all in my last three posts. I genuinely enjoyed all aspects of the event and am looking forward to its return. We'll see how it plays out the second time around.

Meanwhile, in the news: there's a new flashpoint coming in 2.6, and there's a little news article about it up on the official website. It's called Kuat Drive Yards and will be a so-called "tactical" flashpoint, meaning it will play slightly differently than previous flashpoints. Firstly, it will be role-neutral, like the Czerka story modes. (But will there be a hardmode?) Secondly, it will be level-neutral, meaning that anyone of level fifteen or higher can do it and will be bolstered. And thirdly, instead of featuring a single story, it will consist of two out of five "scenarios" and feature a random selection of objectives and bosses each run.

Now, in many ways that sounds very cool. Content that lets players of different levels play together is always a positive in my book. And having a certain degree of randomisation to keep things fresh sounds promising as well.

But - and you knew there had to be a "but" - I can't help but think that this also means that this new flashpoint is probably going to have less story to it than ever. If you can play it at any level, it's got to be independent of the main game's storyline to make sense to players of all levels. And randomisation automatically puts a limit on how much of a story you can tell. I'm not saying that's terrible, but I already felt that the Czerka flashpoints felt a little thin on story and were lacking a certain charm because of that.

It's a trend that I feel is noticeable in the game as a whole, what with the recent addition of Galactic Starfighter and a general push towards implementing more systems to keep players busy. Less story content, more random things to do. Again, I'm not exactly saying that's a bad thing. The other week Massively asked the question: "Would you prefer new story content or new features?" and the overwhelming majority of commenters on that article expressed a preference for new features. It's clearly something that adds value to any MMO. However, let's not forget that story is what SWTOR does best. The voiced missions are what really makes it stand out from other MMOs and what drew many people towards the game in the first place. If we want randomisation and mini-games, we can get that elsewhere. I hope that the devs don't neglect their game's major strength too much in this pursuit to expand its scope.

I just can't help seeing a certain irony in the MMO news, when SWTOR, a game that was all about the story at launch, keeps adding new non-story features, while a game like Guild Wars 2, which prided itself in not caring about story at launch (no quests etc.), keeps chugging out new "living story" instalments every two weeks. It's a little bit as if each game is trying to take cues from the other...


Yet More Rakghoul Shenanigans

I swear, these rakghoul event posts pretty much write themselves. Stuff just keeps happening. I think that's why I've been loving this event so much - not because it gave us another set of dailies similar to ones that have come before, but because it draws people together and encourages them to write their own stories. With everyone fighting for resources, against big monsters or against each other, it's hard not to be faced with interesting decisions and make new discoveries. I think it would be stressful if the game was like that all the time, but just for a week? Awesome.

In terms of Eyeless achievements, I got to tick off the last one by getting a 16-person hardmode run under my belt. Unlike the 8-person version, this one actually felt quite hard too. You still seem to have seemingly endless amounts of time (which we once again needed due to several people dying), but our very well geared tank took quite a beating. As Ernost also observed, after the boss jumps into the air he likes to pound on the tank like nobody's business, and both the tank and the healers better be ready to use some cooldowns at that point. Our own tank died shortly before the boss did, but fortunately we had a spare tank in the raid who could pick him up for the last couple of percentage points.

I also got to kill Shellshock in a pug group. I had only just arrived on Alderaan when I saw the call for a healer go out in general chat, so I thought: why not? He wasn't too hard, though that AoE that regularly removes your vaccine is quite annoying (and expensive, assuming you want to actually do something instead of spending the rest of the fight getting stunned every couple of seconds). We then switched instances to kill him again, but as we were doing so a couple of Imps showed up and several people in our ops group were PvP flagged... so the Imps had no trouble wiping us, especially with the boss stunning the entire group so frequently. Since we outnumbered them, we probably could have rallied and killed them in return, but people hadn't really joined the group to PvP and preferred to leave and do something else.

I ran into the Tunnel Lurker a couple more times. Once I was on my own on my gunslinger and immediately shot him out of some sort of "rare, must tag" kind of reflex, though that just led to me dying very quickly. Another time I saw someone else engaging him and joined in just because I could, even knowing that I wouldn't get anything for the kill. This guy is kind of tough to plan around, since he's strong enough that you need a group but also wanders around a lot, so you can't exactly spawn-camp him with your friends. You kind of need to be lucky and already be in a group when you happen to run into him. Fortunately that's exactly what happened to me and a guildie when we were running around doing dailies while an ops group was forming for another Eyeless run. As soon as I called out on TeamSpeak that the Lurker had spawned, everyone already in the group converged on my location and we killed him quickly and with no problems. We didn't get anything worthwhile from it, but it still felt good to get it done.

Another interesting new kill I got was the "Midnight Rakghoul", a special new mini-boss that has been added to Kaon Under Siege. I love that Bioware added something like that to an older flashpoint. Never let old content go to waste if it fits your current theme, I say! He drops a guaranteed Midnight Rakling apparently, as opposed to the low random chance it always had of dropping in Lost Island HM.

Speaking of guaranteed drops, I'm now up to three Pale Rakling drops from the random plague bearer spawns on Alderaan in House Organa or Thul. Don't evade them if there's an elite in the group, because so far they've always delivered some nice loot for me.

My Marauder was also among the alts I decided to take to Alderaan, and as usual it was a pretty hilariously terrible experience. I had basically only just arrived when I spawned a group of 53 mobs (my level), and as I was in the process of killing them, some level 55 drove by, spawned more mobs and for some reason they all aggroed on me too. I died, so I had to buy more vaccines. I really feel for any lower level characters trying to participate in this.

Then I noticed that I hadn't even trained my level 53 abilities, and when I summoned my Holo Hutt, I realised that I didn't actually have enough money to train. This is what happens when you leave a character on the fleet for months, doing nothing but run diplomacy missions to change her alignment, but don't do anything that could actually earn her money. Oops. After a couple more deaths, I did eventually make it through all the dailies, which gave me enough cash to buy all my training and also dinged me to 54. If you're feeling in a funk on any of your alts and are enjoying the event, it's definitely a good opportunity to earn some XP while doing something slightly different.


More Rakghoul Adventures

I've now killed the Eyeless (the instanced event boss) on three of the four available difficulties, with 16-person hard being the only one I haven't done yet. I have to say that it's not exactly an encounter full of innovation, as his mechanics are limited to bad circles on the ground and add spawns, but it can still be a fun fight. If nothing else he's very "puggable" as no lengthy "when X happens, do Y" explanations are required. When I wanted to go for 16-man story mode with ten of my guildies, I just put a LFM request in general chat, invited everyone who responded and within a minute the group was full. I should've spent time checking people's class and gear, you say? Bah! Not needed. Not even level matters anymore, as you get bolstered to fifty-five inside story mode at least (not sure about hard). One of my guildies brought his Scoundrel healer who's only in his thirties and seemed to do just fine.

While I'm not sure about bolster in hardmode, the difficulty seemed very puggable from what I've seen, and I usually avoid pugging hardmodes. On one of the 8-person hard runs I did, two of our four damage dealers died (repeatedly, as combat res came off cooldown twice!), the fight went on for something like fifteen minutes and we still won. We expected to hit the enrage timer at any moment, but either the boss doesn't have one (which would be very unusual for a hardmode) or it must be very lenient, considering that we could complete the fight with half the suggested dps.

I also found out that there is actually a good old-fashioned open world boss on the surface as well (called Shellshock), even though he isn't part of any achievements or required for any quests. I can only guess that Bioware decided to keep his presence a bit more low-profile to reduce the rate of spawn-camping? I know that it's quite hard to ever find the Ilum world bosses alive, what with them being required for a quest and achievements. Shellshock is quite popular anyway, as one of his bind on pick-up drops is required to buy some of the more prestigious event rewards. But more on that later.

There are also a couple of strong champions roaming in the tunnels that are required for achievements, and it's hard to ever find those alive either. I have yet to see the Catalyst dead or alive, and I've only run into the Tunnel Lurker twice. Once I was fleeing from some PvP-flagged Imps and had other things on my mind, the other time people attacked him basically instantly and he died before I could even get close.

Some of the achievements and the cost of the more interesting event items are pretty insane in their requirements, needing either an insane amount of luck, a heavy amount of spawn-camping and grinding, a significant financial investment (as some currencies can be traded) or a little bit of all three of those. I've seen people criticise this, but as much as I've hated on RNG-dependent mechanics during previous world events, I don't actually mind these. Why? Because Bioware took it to such a high level that expecting to get everything this event has to offer done within a week is outright insane, so I don't think that anyone is expected to. I haven't seen the official confirmation yet, but from the fact that a reputation is tied to the event, it's pretty much bound to be reoccurring. I'm ok with not getting everything done right here, right now. I like the idea that I'll still have things to work towards whenever the rakghouls come back.

Another one of the crazy achievements is to kill a hundred PvP flagged players in the tunnels. I kept out of the PvP action initially, but at one point I saw some guildies forming a dedicated PvP group and decided to join them. They had been racking up a nice amount of kills before I arrived, but unfortunately (for me) I chose to show up just as the Imps had mustered a proper resistance force consisting of a whole raid group full of skilled and PvP geared players, against which the hodgepodge Republic force didn't stand a chance. We quickly got pushed back onto the ledge leading to and from the Republic base, where we engaged in a sort of stand-off for what felt like ages. Every now and then an Imp would try his luck and jump up, and every now and then we'd even manage to kill one of them, but more often than not people fell or got pulled down and just died within seconds. Not a very successful night for my achievement hunting then, but it was still fun.

Overall I'm really enjoying this event so far, even if a lot of it has a bit of a "been there, done that" feel to it in terms of mechanics (e.g. the way they handled the daily quests and the ops boss feels quite similar to the Gree event). I get the impression that the SWTOR devs generally like to slowly improve on what works instead of constantly trying out new extremes (unlike the guys at Blizzard for example). The downside of this is that sometimes things will feel a bit "samey", but I think I still prefer that over constantly having to worry about my way of playing being turned completely upside down with the next patch.

Based on how active the Rakghoul Tunnels are, I think that the event is receiving an overall positive reaction from the player base as well, though as usual you can find some people complaining on the forums that others puking on them on the fleet offends their sensibilities. Unfortunately some people will never be happy as long as other players are able to affect and interact with them in some way. Personally I think that Bioware has struck a really good balance with the vaccine allowing you to be completely unaffected though. Maybe consider the option of letting it persist through death to make things easier for lowbies and PvPers.

Personally I quite like to get infected occasionally and blow up in a big group of people, but there are also times when I really don't want to get stunned in the middle of a fight, such as when in a hard PvE encounter or while engaging in PvP, which is when I'll use a vaccine too. It's just funny to me how much more annoying the effects of the plague feel this time around compared to Tatooine. I'm not sure whether the stuns and puking are actually more frequent now than they used to be or whether it's a psychological side effect of having the exact stun percentage listed on the tooltip (which definitely wasn't the case on Tatooine), but especially on a character with a lot of cast-time abilities it feels massively disruptive now if you're actually trying to play while infected. I know that I see a lot more vaccinated people on the fleet than I ever saw during the first event, and getting the "infecting others" daily done can actually be quite a challenge due to that.


The rakghouls are here!

It seems that my plea was heard and the rakghoul event has finally landed. No real surprise to see it start on a patch day, but we all knew that it was coming anyway. Actually, even if you didn't know that an event was going to happen, it was obvious that something was going on as soon as you logged in on the fleet and saw people emitting green fumes everywhere while bending over to cough or retch at irregular intervals.

Familiar news terminals appeared by the outer ring elevators on the fleet, showing a new cinematic introducing us to the leader of THORN: The Hyland Organization for Rakghoul Neutralization, making a plea for everyone to help him on his mission to contain the rakghoul threat. I got a quest to talk to someone on Alderaan but didn't want to jump into the action without my pet tank, so I decided to pass the time until he could come online with some PvP.

Addalar Hyland wants YOU to spread contain the rakghoul plague!

However, I wasn't safe from the event there either and soon got infected by either one of my team mates or an unhealthy Imp. By exploding and spreading the plague even further I got the infection daily done, as well as my first achievement for infecting five people. (As an aside, getting a THORN reputation token for spreading the plague is so very wrong!) I also spotted some people that had already vaccinated themselves against the plague - a wise move in PvP, where random plague-induced stuns are really the last thing you want to happen while you're trying to win a fight.

Another PvPer with a silly name succumbs to the plague.

Once my pet tank arrived, we made our way to Alderaan, where we were given a quest to use a vaccine on some infected citizens and soldiers around House Organa while they were still in the early stages of the plague. We drove in circles for around ten minutes without finding anything other than a lot of plague bearer spawns. A golden one I killed dropped a Pale Rakling for me, which I already had from the previous event so I just handed it over to Pet Tank (fortunately it didn't bind on pick-up).

Eventually we figured out how to do the quest too. We were confused since we couldn't find any NPCs to click on, but as it turns out you have to keep an eye on the large groups of unclickable NPCs and every now and then there will be a single clickable one among them who is infected. I don't know if that's supposed to make your targets easier to find, but if it's your first time doing that quest and it happens to be during a busy period, it certainly is confusing that none of the NPCs in the area actually appear to be selectable!

Once we were done with this mission we were sent to a special area, the "Rakghoul Tunnels". I had somewhat mixed feelings about that. One of the things I loved about the original rakghoul event on Tatooine was that the event quests were sort of "mixed in" among the regular ones and it very much made the whole planet come alive. By confining most of the event on Alderaan to a special underground zone, that effect is lost - however, I am kind of impressed that they made a dedicated new area just for the event. It's actually oddly beautiful for a dark underground cave full of space zombies and I kept stopping to take screenshots of my surroundings. I think it's all the strangely glowing fungus that makes it.

So pretty...

The dailies in the caves were fairly standard fare: kill some of these, click on some things over here, scan for something over there. The kill quests seemed to follow the model introduced on Tatooine, meaning that all the mobs sitting out in the open were only in their twenties (appropriate for the planet) but once you attacked one it spawned a group of opponents appropriate for your level.

I liked the lore about rakghouls reproducing independently, and the specimens with things growing on their backs looked funky. A lot of people were running around with their PvP flags on, presumably because there are achievements for killing members of the opposite faction inside the tunnels, but we decided not to get involved in that part for now.

When we killed a neutral champion rakghoul he dropped a rakghoul DNA sample - the old event currency! I briefly went into a spaz of excitement at the thought that it might still have a use, as I still had twenty-odd left somewhere in my bank. At last, my pointless hoarding tendencies would pay off! The reality wasn't nearly as exciting though, as I think you can just trade the old currency in for the new one, but only at a rate of 50:1 or something.

Pew-pewing rakghouls with fungi on their backs!

Once we were done, we ran into the strange problem of being unable to return to our base. There were exactly two access points, and both involved jumping down a ledge when you set out, with no way to climb back up that we could see. Eventually we just used our quick travel, but it seemed very odd. We were probably just being blind.

The one thing we haven't done yet is try the new event boss. Bioware seems to like the way things worked out with Xenoanalyst on Ilum, as the Eyeless One uses a similar model of requiring a minimum amount of reputation to unlock and then you can kill him inside an instance without having to compete for a spawn in the open world. (EDIT: Apparently you don't need any reputation to enter the instance, just to unlock the associated quest.) I'm hoping to have a go at him tonight.


Bring on the rakghouls!

It's strange to think that it's already been almost two years since the first big rakghoul world event. The Old Republic had only been out for four months back then, and while the game's population was already coming down from its peak at launch, it was still a pretty big deal and there was significant interest in everything that was going on inside its world. Writing about the event as it unfolded got me the biggest traffic spike in the history of this blog - if you're feeling nostalgic (or want to know what it was like if you didn't play back then), the three posts I made about my experience with the rakghouls are still available. Based on what I wrote back then I dare say that it's not just nostalgia speaking if I say that it was a damn successful event - not perfect by any means, but still damn good.

So why was my first reaction when someone datamined information about the event making a possible return pretty much: "oh no"? I like the occasional one-time world event, and while I've accepted that all new world events going forward will be repeatable, that doesn't mean that I want to see my precious memories of what came before get dragged up just to see them rehashed every other month until I'm sick of rakghouls. How would a repeating event based on a starship crash bringing the plague to a random planet make any sense anyway?

To be fair, from what's known about the newest iteration of the rakghoul plague so far, it's not just going to be a rehash of what came before; it looks like it's going to be quite different. Then again, I still have to wonder: if they were going to make a whole new world event anyway, why not make it about something completely new and different? Oh well.

Truth be told, I'm excited anyway. It's been five months since they last introduced a new world event (I'm not counting the Life Day snowflake spam), and I'm itching for some new PvE content, any kind of PvE content. And in fairness to Bioware, there hasn't been a world event yet that I didn't find highly engrossing and enjoyable at least the first time around. They have also been teasing people via social media all week, posting tweets and Facebook status updates about mysterious things happening on Alderaan, and I have to admit that it's worked to get me excited at least.

Bring on the rakghouls already!


Just Another Dread Palace Pug

I was happily PvPing away by myself tonight when a guildie asked me whether I wanted to come along to a 16-man Dread Palace pug. Since it had been a while since I had done a 16-man, or a pug operation of any sort, I agreed to come along for a change of pace. Not to mention that it promised a chance at finally completing the Oricon story chain on my Scoundrel alt (who had already done the Fortress part, but not Palace).

As these things pretty much always go, it took a while to get a full group together, but having anticipated as much, I made good use of that time taking care of a couple of things away from my keyboard. Once the group was full, we started clearing trash with a very optimistic attitude... just to run headfirst into a metaphorical brick wall in the form of the first boss. This wasn't a good sign as she's pretty easy on story mode, at least compared to some of the other bosses.

After two or three wipes people started to drop out in annoyance, but my guildie, who had somehow ended up with leadership of the group, kept refilling the empty spots quickly, pulling in more friends and acquaintances in place of complete strangers and handily improving the average skill level of the group in the process. Eventually we got the first boss down, and the next three followed without too many issues, which completed everyone's weekly quest as well.

But then came the last encounter - the council fight - and it was still as manic as I remembered it. We wiped, we dithered, we wiped, we had to replace more people, we wiped again, and the mood in the ops group was growing increasingly restless. With how long it had taken us to get the first boss down and to rotate people in and out, we had been at it for three and a half hours already. Some people wanted to go to bed, and others questioned whether there was even much of a point in wiping to the last encounter when it wasn't needed for the weekly. I was a bit torn myself, feeling increasingly tired myself but also hating that feeling of "giving up" so close to the end.

In the end we agreed on one last try, with the group down to fifteen people already. Initially we seemed to be doing alright, with only one or two random deaths, and overall we were more in control of the fight than during previous attempts. Then the Dread Masters all jumped to the middle, a bit earlier than we would have liked, and massive AoE began draining away people's health faster than the healers could replenish it. One by one people dropped and there were still too many bosses alive.

Eventually there were only four players left standing, two dps and two healers, still facing two bosses doing damage to them.
Then we were down to three players.
Then two players.
Another boss went down, leaving only Dread Master Calphayus up, but still draining away the last two players' health.
Chat was filling with mixed messages as people were expressing disappointment about us wiping while others were still hoping that we'd manage to win somehow. And then...

It was just a story mode pug, but those of us who were on voice chat together laughed and cheered as if it had been a hardmode kill. It was an epic ending to an evening fraught with the typical difficulties brought on by pugging raids, and that ending alone managed to make the whole experience worth it. Don't get me wrong: completing my story quest and getting some loot was good too, but honestly, I would have done it just for that screenshot. If only I had had the foresight to record the whole thing...


PvPing Again

Loyal readers will have heard this sermon many times by now, but for the benefit of the uninitiated I'll summarise it once again: I like PvP, but I like PvE more, so I tend to go through cycles of high PvP activity mostly when I've run out of interesting things to do in PvE. The release of Oricon in October made my PvP progress come to a grinding halt (not counting my feeble attempts at engaging in space PvP), simply because... new story quest chain with dailies! Two new operations! Woohoo!

More than three months later however, I've pretty much seen it all. We're still working on some hardmode boss fights, but other than that the guild has gone very quiet, so I'm feeling the call of warzones once again. While I was not looking forward to being forced to participate in arenas, in practice I haven't minded the occasional arena match mixed in among my random warzones. The biggest problem I had when I last stopped PvPing was that playing Republic side on The Red Eclipse meant losing two matches for every win (at least for me, to pre-empt any "maybe you're just bad" comments), and even as someone who usually takes losses pretty well I found it quite hard to keep up morale.

I was thus positively surprised when one of my PvPing guildies encouraged me to get back into the action with the argument that supposedly Republic had been doing much better again lately. He was right, too: while I haven't kept a tally of my wins and losses since getting back into the PvP action, I haven't suffered any of those unending loss streaks that I got so used to previously. Even more surprisingly, I spotted some familiar names in my warzones, names that I had thought were gone for good after the big exodus to Tomb of Freedon Nadd when server transfers first became available. When I mentioned this to one of my dedicated PvPer friends, he replied that - and I'm just quoting here - Tomb of Freedon Nadd was a "shithole", so all the decent players decided to return to The Red Eclipse. This is why I love single-server PvP: it's like a big soap opera sometimes, and you don't even need to be personally involved to experience some of the side-effects as each new piece of drama unfolds. Either way, after what I experienced in late summer and early autumn, having some more skilled PvPers back on Republic side is definitely a good thing.

As for myself, I pretty much picked things up where I left them back in October, with my Commando in Conqueror gear, my Sage in a mix of Partisan and some PvE gear, and my Scoundrel in pure PvE gear. While getting the upper tier of gear is always a grind, at least getting the two alts into Conqueror (which is now the new lower tier) shouldn't take too long if I keep taking them into matches at a steady pace.

My Commando also hit Warlord just before I stopped PvPing in October - which is a bit of a funny story actually. I had been grinding away at my valor rank day in, day out, watching the bar creep closer to ninety ever so slowly - but then the Oricon patch came out and I just kind of stopped paying attention to it from one day to the next. Some weeks later someone else mentioned reaching Warlord rank somewhere (I think it was on Twitter), and I congratulated them with a comment about how I was still a little bit off myself. So I went back to check just how far I was off... just to realise that I had actually hit ninety at some point during my last couple of matches without noticing. Talk about an anti-climax! I'm still quite happy about the title though - while it's no proof of any kind of skill, it does show a certain dedication to PvP. (And my Sage alt is also a Conqueror by now. Good times!)


Why I'm A Terrible Marauder

I reckon that everyone who's been playing this game beyond a certain amount of time has a similar stable of characters: There's the main, the one you play the most and with whom you go to raids or do PvP if you're so inclined. Then there are probably one or two well-loved alts that get regular playtime as well. And then there's a whole bunch of alts that you levelled to see their story and/or try the class's play style, and now they mostly sit around gathering dust, unless you use them for crafting or something. Every now and then you might log on to one of them to run a flashpoint or do some dailies, and you'll probably have a good time, but you're not really very good at playing the class since you have no practice.

I have all of these types of alts myself, plus one more: the alt that I rarely play and on which I'm not just out of practice but utterly and completely terrible. I blame the game!

I was reminded of this when Wilhelm linked to an old post of his a couple of weeks ago (yes, this post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while...) in which he talks about finding Lord of the Rings Online's icons rather confusing (which is quite an amusing read even if you don't play the game). Now, I'm not saying that SWTOR's icons are bad, not at all. I think they are very well done. And on the vast majority of my characters, even those that are rarely played, I have no issues remembering which button does what. But there's one exception, and that's my Marauder.

Here's a picture of her first two action bars:

Of the twenty-four icons on them, eleven are some variation of a red lightsaber being swung (with seven of them just showing sabers, no humanoid shapes to help distinguish what's going on), and another seven show close-ups of angry or anguished faces (the difference can be hard to tell sometimes) on an orange or red background. How the hell am I supposed to remember which saber and angry face does what? I'd really like to know how other people do it.

I know that Jedi knights have a similar thing going on with the colour blue, but looking at my Guardian's bars there's at least some variation in the colour palette. Lots of blue sabers, true, but there's also some yellow, orange and pinkish purple, which makes those abilities easy to tell apart if nothing else. The Marauder on the other hand is nothing but a sea of red with a bit of orange and purple around the edges. How does anyone make sense of that?


Home Sweet Home MMO

With it being the start of a new year, I'm seeing posts all over in which people talk about what MMO content they are excited about in the upcoming year. Almost all of them seem to talk about new releases, with comparatively little thought being given to existing games. Why is it always about the newest shiny? Has everyone who blogs about MMOs become a tourist type?

That's not exactly the subject I want to talk about today though. To be honest, I've been practising a bit of MMO tourism myself this past year. I tried out Neverwinter for about a month and got into Star Trek Online. In the past month I've even been playing a bit of WoW, despite of swearing to myself when I quit that I wasn't going to give Blizzard any money ever again. I suppose it doesn't quite count since someone else gifted me the game time.

It doesn't matter how attached you are to an MMO, there are always going to be lulls. I have to admit that I'm experiencing one with SWTOR right now, mainly for two reasons: One is that my guild has gone kind of quiet, with many people disappearing to play other games, so the social draw to play currently isn't as strong as it has been previously. The other reason is that Galactic Starfighter hasn't really been my cup of tea, so there haven't really been any new content additions to cater to my interests in over three months. I was rather disappointed when I was linked to a forum post which had Eric Musco commenting on what's coming in 2.6, just to see him reply that hey, Galactic Starfighter launches for all players! I think it's pretty cheeky to use staggered access as an excuse to count the same feature as major new patch content twice. Where's the new PvE or regular PvP content? Well, at least the promised class changes for Commandos sound like they'll be good for me...

Anyway, when your interest in your usual MMO is waning (even if temporarily), it's tempting to try something else for a change of pace. And if I can say one thing for the deluge of free to play games available these days, it's that it has certainly lowered the barrier to entry for at least getting to try something different. I mean, I really wasn't keen on trying STO before I had my arm twisted into giving it a go, but seeing how it was free I didn't really have much of an excuse to not even try it, did I? And in the end I did get some enjoyment out of it.

Tonight however I logged into SWTOR once again, after having given it only cursory attention outside of ops nights for a few weeks, and it was a stark reminder that even if I've been trying other things, it still remains my home MMO. There are just so many things that feel different when I'm playing other games. Here are some of the major factors that I've noticed making a difference between my home MMO and one that I'm just checking out as a tourist or casual visitor:

1. In my home MMO, I actually care about playing well.

We've all been in a pug with someone who played amazingly badly and shook our heads at how anyone could be so ignorant of the game's mechanics and conventions. Interestingly, it was STO that made me view this situation in a whole new light. When I hit max level in that game, I realised that I was appallingly bad at it. I didn't even need a damage meter to see that. Yet at the same time, the skill system seemed way too confusing to me, and I realised that if I wanted to get any better I'd have to put some serious effort into figuring out how things worked, finding bridge officers to train the right abilities and so on and so forth. And I realised that I didn't care enough about the game to actually want to put that much work in... so I opted to stay bad and simply stayed out of anything but the easiest group content (so as not to put a burden on others). I think I'll be less judgemental of bad players from now on, because if they are just visiting, I get why they do what they do.

2. In my home MMO I care about engaging with the community.

Again it was STO that highlighted this for me more than anything else, because while I got roped into joining a fleet (guild) and people there seemed nice enough, I didn't have a particular desire to get to know them. In fact, I wanted to be a bit of a loner, because I figured that I don't have time to be really invested in multiple MMOs at the same time, so I didn't want to get too involved. If you don't want to engage with other players, that's a sure sign that you're not making yourself at home.

3. My home MMO is what I've accepted as my personal standard.

When I try another game and it does feature X better than my usual game, I'll go "that's neat (but I could do without it I guess)". However, if it does feature Y worse than my usual game, it'll make me seriously mad. This one has been very apparent for me in WoW. "Geeze, how hard is it to make quest items that you have to loot from the ground shareable among party members? SWTOR has had that feature since launch! If we have to split the party one more time just to do another 'pick thingamabobs off the ground' quest I'm going to go mental!" I've got very used to the more group-friendly game design in SWTOR and find anything less unacceptable now. Yet comparatively the things that WoW does better, don't matter nearly as much to me anymore.

4. My home MMO is fun on my own too.

As an interesting counterpoint to point two, while my home MMO is the place where I like to be social, it's also fun as a game in its own right. Most of my tourism projects have been inspired by other people inviting me to play with them - which is all fine and dandy as long as we're actually having fun together, but if those same other people suddenly aren't available to play and I find myself with zero motivation to fire up the game without them, that's a sure sign that it's not something sticky. When my time with WoW was originally approaching its end, I was also struggling to find anything I wanted to do on my own there - I just wasn't feeling at home anymore.

I guess the lesson to take away for me is that it's fine to try out different things... but there is no place like home. (Cue heel click.)


Happy New Year!

Oh look, it's another "happy holidays" post!

New Year's Eve is always a bit of a weird day for me because I kind of grew up with the expectation that you should go out and party or otherwise celebrate it in some fashion, but in practice I've never been able to develop any kind of tradition as for what to do. Some years I go out and do something social, others I stay home and do nothing. This year was an example of the latter, though I happened to be logged into SWTOR when the clock ticked over.

Admittedly I wasn't paying a lot of attention as I was alt-tabbing in and out of the game, throwing snowballs at people for my last couple of parcels for the achievement, until I got bored and needed a break. When the clock approached midnight however, I noticed that it got quite busy in the GTN area of the fleet.

Mind you, it had already been busy there for a while, with people using the terminals of course, but also players just loitering to throw snowballs at each other (like me). However, as the clock approached midnight, the crowd started to come alive, with party bombs being thrown around and fireworks being set off over and over again. It felt very cheerful and made me smile.

There is a strange juxtaposition between people spending a special occasion at their computers, presumably somewhat isolated, and all those players then coming together in an MMO and having a big party. But why not, I say? It's still social, just in a different way, and the language of party bombs and virtual snowflakes is probably a lot easier to handle than having to make small talk with the friend of a friend at a real life party.