Flashpoint Friday: The Red Reaper

Reader and fellow blogger Telwyn from GamingSF suggested that I cover The Red Reaper in one of my Flashpoint Friday columns. His reason? "I have fond memories of running that with a guild I had just joined back after launch."

I was very surprised to hear this as I've always considered Red Reaper the red-headed stepchild among the levelling flashpoints, but it's certainly topical to talk about it right now. While Knights of the Fallen Empire introduced no entirely new flashpoints for us to play, Red Reaper is now also available in a hardmode version when it wasn't before, so it is certainly worthy of special attention at the moment.

General Facts

Red Reaper is another one of the six "story-light" levelling flashpoints for both factions that were in the game at launch. There used to be breadcrumb quests for all of these on the fleet, but it appears that these have all been removed in KotFE. (To be fair, the quest icon clutter on the main station was getting quite bad.) Aside from queuing for any of these via the group finder, you can also still launch them manually from your fleet's dropship launch hangar by picking up the mission in front of the respective entrance.

Red Reaper is now available as a tactical flashpoint for levels 15-65, but was originally designed for a normal trinity group of levels 43-48. I suspect that the level range contributed to it not being very popular, as players who made it that far were often keen on pushing onwards towards the level 50 endgame as quickly as possible, and the first of the official endgame flashpoints that awarded actual endgame rewards, Directive 7, already became available at level 47. This caused Red Reaper to be stuck in the awkward position of almost but not quite being an endgame flashpoint, which wasn't helped by the fact that it was actually available in the group finder all the way to level 50. I repeatedly experienced level 50s declining to join the group when they saw someone of level 46 or lower in the setup proposed by the group finder, because they knew that the game was going to land them in Red Reaper and they actually just wanted to do a random endgame flashpoint. 


Red Reaper is actually a fairly short flashpoint if you know what to do, but it can feel longer than it is because everything takes quite long to die. The trash pulls are large and full of hard-hitting mobs with lots of hitpoints, which I'm sure has left many a group with nothing but bad memories of this instance.

The first room is particularly infamous, because it's filled with several tightly packed trash groups that are engaged in combat with friendly NPCs. (The ship is attacking the planet Chandrila at the time, and planetary forces are fighting back.) In theory they are not supposed to cause you any issues until you actively engage each group, however many people have stories of extra mobs joining the fight seemingly out of nowhere or even of being attacked by invisible adds.

Being a Sith ship, the Red Reaper is filled with Sith, some human lackeys of theirs and plenty of battle droids. Back when the instance's level was 43-48, I knew of people who soloed it at max level purely for all the scavenging materials.

Being a scavenger also pays off in a different way, as this instance offers another shortcut to skip some trash that can only be activated by a scavenger, as well as a second shortcut for which you need an archaeologist.

The boss fights in Red Reaper can be summed up as "quirky, with mixed success". It is clear that the designers of these encounters were trying to create fights that would be interesting and different from what came before, but they weren't always entirely successful.

The first boss, Lord Kherus, is a bare-chested Sith Marauder that leaps around a lot, throws crates at people and tries to kill some Chandrila prisoners to increase his own power. In my opinion the problem with this fight is that, if you do everything "right" by stopping his crate-throwing by quickly getting into melee range with him and interrupting his attempts to kill the hostages, you'll never actually see any of his mechanics and he more or less comes across as a tank and spank (with some jumping around). If you actually see him do anything cool, you're basically playing sub-optimally.

The second boss is a droid called the SV-3 Eradicator, whose gimmick is that he's surrounded by coloured pillars that power his abilities of the same colour. He'll do things like change them all to blue and then fire a blue beam (which would be very painful), so you want people in your party to constantly click on the pillars to keep them different colours. (If there's always an even distribution of red and blue, nothing he does will hurt very much.) Again this is something that sounds cool in theory, but in practice people just spam-click the pillars more or less at random and will likely succeed even without understanding the mechanics. (You'd have to be quite unlucky to accidentally align them all in a way that buffs the boss.)

The SV-3 Eradicator has a large group of trash right behind him which is easy to miss if you don't know about it, and they will all aggro at once as soon as the boss is dead (or if someone manages to get knocked into them). This can get really painful for the healer in particular, but if you're careful it's possible to clear all the mobs out before even engaging the boss.

Shortly before the final boss there is a group of three Sith just at the edge of a narrow bridge. If you guessed that they have knockbacks, you'd be right. It is once again possible to use this setup to your advantage and skillfully knock them to their deaths if you do it right, but in practice many a pug has fallen to its own death instead.

The last boss, Darth Ikoral, is the best of the bunch and actually quite memorable. Aside from a knockback and a painful dot he has two noteworthy phases: In one he summons red "power-ups" that your party needs to collect if you don't want the boss to increase in power, and in the other he summons adds that you run behind to get Ikoral to kill them with his own force lightning. (They also have to be interrupted for this to work.) It's a pretty interesting and unusual mechanic, but not so unusual that you can't figure it out while you go along - though if you're anything like my own party in my first ever run of this flashpoint, it may require a lot of running back and forth until you figure out how to get the adds killed.

I've run the hardmode version only once so far, but it's not particularly impressive. It retains the same challenges as normal mode (which means a lot of painful trash pulls), but the bosses remain fairly simple. Darth Ikoral gains an extra add that roots people, but this didn't appear to cause my group too much trouble. Also, unlike Hammer Station, Athiss, Mandalorian Raiders and Cademimu, the hardmode version of Red Reaper has sadly not been enriched by the addition of a bonus boss.


Whether you're briefed by Darth Malgus or Satele Shan, a rogue Sith ship called The Red Reaper is running rampant and needs to be stopped! It belongs to a certain Darth Ikoral, who was once the master of Darth Malgus' own master - a sort of Sith granddaddy if you will, who is about as unfriendly as you'd expect. He left the Empire seventy years ago to search for lost pureblooded Sith and has now returned, wreaking havoc on both Republic planets and Imperial outposts. He has no interest in co-operating with the Empire anymore since he feels that it has become weak and too "diluted" by alien blood that needs to be cleansed.

So... you board his ship and kill him. Incidentally, he also did find a lot of Sith purebloods on his journey and kept them in cryo stasis pods. You have the option of ignoring, killing or releasing them, but even if you release them they just turn hostile and attack you.

KotFE also appears to have got rid of the de-briefing dialogue that you used to get after these flashpoints, probably because people considered it too much of a nuisance or something. Now people will never again know how Hammer Station fell into the hands of the Advosze!


I have to admit that I personally think that Red Reaper is one of the weaker levelling flashpoints. It's not bad, but apart from the final boss fight - which is pretty fun - it isn't as interesting in terms of mechanics as some of the available alternatives, nor does it tell a very compelling story.

The latter wouldn't have to be a problem, as we already discussed that there are other story-light flashpoints out there that shine in their own way, but in the case of The Red Reaper in particular, I always felt that there should have been more to it. Darth Ikoral is built up to be quite the personality, and as an Imperial you get the option during the intro briefing to say that you will try to convert him to your cause. However, when you actually meet him, there isn't an option to even attempt to talk; you can only attack. At launch he didn't even have any voice acting and attacked players in complete silence, which only added to the feeling of the encounter being somewhat unfinished.

The Red Reaper is still a flashpoint that's worth seeing at least once, but to me it will always stand out as a piece of content that hasn't really managed to live up to its full potential.


Levelling by Questing in 4.0

Every time an MMO makes changes to its low-level experience I'm really curious about what the devs think turned players away from their game at the early levels and how they have therefore decided to change the game... and every time I'm surprised how little I see people talk about it. I can only guess that this is because any new players that are lured in by the revamp will have no point of comparison, while the most loyal and hardcore players tend to fixate on whatever new content was added at the level cap. And the players who enjoy quietly rolling alt after alt for the fun of it and are probably most likely to have a nuanced opinion on the changes? They tend to stick to themselves and not interact with the community as much. This was very much the impression I got during WoW's Cataclysm expansion at least, which was literally all about revamping the 1-60 experience, yet everyone just complained about how much they hated Vashj'ir (one of the five new max-level zones). I wrote a whole series of posts about all the re-done levelling zones, but very few people seemed to be interested in things like discussing the pros and cons of old Tanaris vs. new Tanaris.

I'm reminded of this because while we're all busy gushing about Knights of the Fallen Empire's story (and it is totally worth gushing about), a lot of other changes have been made to the game that haven't received much publicity (yet). One of them was supposed to be a "more streamlined" levelling experience, something that immediately caught my attention, since I enjoy levelling alts and have become very wary of MMOs "streamlining" anything these days. It was eventually revealed that XP gains were being adjusted so that you only had to do your class missions and the main planetary storyline to have a smooth levelling curve, while side quests would be hidden by default. However, as pretty much always with these things, there is so much more to it than has officially been explained.

My pet tank and I decided to get our first taste of "levelling 4.0" by jumping back onto our pair of Sith warrior alts, still on Tatooine at level 32. This has pretty much always been our way of levelling together - being completionists when it comes to questing and therefore levelling really, really slowly. Once our quests turned grey, they pretty much stopped giving XP entirely (I still think that SWTOR has always been oddly harsh in its treatment of experience gains for quests that you've outlevelled) and we'd only level very, very slowly from the small trickle of XP that we received from mob kills. Since our progress was so slow compared to the amount of content we were actually completing, we'd eventually get back to the point where some quests were green again... just to be pushed back into grey territory after a couple of hand-ins that actually levelled us, starting the cycle of virtually no XP gain all over again. I'll be honest: it was annoying sometimes. I did want to do all of the quests, but the constant drip-feed of experience points and gear that was several levels below me was certainly not a satisfying reward.

With that said, I was pretty psyched to see how level sync was going to work for us. I can already tell you: it worked beautifully. We were immediately downlevelled to 30, and both missions and kills rewarded a healthy amount of experience, even though they were still easy. It was awesome to receive level-appropriate relics as quest rewards instead of a crappy piece of companion gear. We drove around a bit and it was nice to see everything on the planet being "in sync" - no more getting one-shotted by high level guards or monsters. Even the mobs in the seeker droid area in the north-eastern corner of the Dune Sea are now only level 30.

I was initially confused why there seemed to be so few quests, until I remembered that we now have to enable the option to see exploration missions in the upper right corner of the map display. I'll say it again: I don't see why this is turned off by default, especially since the main missions are now clearly marked in bright purple, but whatever.

Next I had to fight a certain sense of déjà vu: I knew that we had stopped in the Dune Sea last time we played these characters (I had a screenshot of us riding the Jawa balloon), but I could have sworn that we'd already done some of the missions we were being given. Also, some of the quests in the earlier bases - which we had definitely done - were also showing up as available again. I looked at the patch notes a bit more closely and found a note saying that with so many changes, they had to reset quest progress on some missions, so that made sense at least.

While all the heroic missions can now be picked up at a terminal at the spaceport for easy access, they can also still be picked up from their original quest givers. However, beware: the hand-in is now automatic, with the quest giver just giving you a quick voice-over call at the end as soon as you complete your last objective. This is super convenient if you're a max-level grinding out all the heroics on the planet for weekly rewards, but less so if you're a lowbie doing them for the first time and actually wanted to do the associated bonus mission as well. Basically, you have to make sure to always complete the bonus before killing the last mob for the main mission.

We also ran into a Republic player who was flagged for PvP and immediately jumped him. I've always avoided attacking people on low-level planets, even if they are flagged (which is very much voluntary on a PvE server like the Red Eclipse), simply because the level differences tended to be large and made it feel unfair. With level sync I had no such reservations anymore. Sure, two vs. one was still unfair, but I don't care about that!

Our first truly strange experience occurred when we were doing The Thing Czerka Found. We remembered the abandoned Czerka base having a pretty sprawling interior, which you had to largely clear out if you wanted to do the associated multi-stage bonus quest. Well, said bonus quest was gone, and so was half the base! You basically go down, click an elevator button and are immediately at the entrance to the actual story phase. I consulted the patch notes again and found an explanation for this strangeness in the following point:

Changes have been made to a number of existing missions to improve quality and facilitate other changes where necessary including:
  • Task completion count adjustments.
  • Bonus mission addition, removal, or adjustment.
  • Map updates/changes.
  • Location changes.
So this was a bonus mission removal combined with a map change. I'm just a bit confused as to why. Was that extra level of the underground base really such a huge obstacle? And why remove the bonus? Bonus missions are by their very definition optional content, so I'm not sure why the devs felt the need to take that away from us. We weren't exactly heartbroken about this change, but it felt odd.

A brief note about companions: I kind of want to talk about the changes to companions in general in a separate post at some point, but one thing worth mentioning is that the way that affection influence gains are displayed in conversations has been changed. Instead of seeing a little portrait of your companion with a number like 20 or -1, you now just get a small line of text that says something like "Vette is amused". This (sometimes) gives you a bit more information about your companion's opinion other than whether they like or dislike what you just did, but without any numbers it's kind of hard to gauge just how much of an effect you're having. It is however important to note that unlike the old affection, influence can only go up (even disapproval earns you points, just fewer of them), and in general the numbers are much bigger. This is a relief in so far as it was quite a shock to log in on patch day and find that the old max affection only equals rank ten out of fifty in the new system. For max level characters, that means a lot of gift giving and affection grinding. I suspect however that it might not be quite as bad for lowbies that level under the new system from the start, as you gain some pretty big influence numbers just from normal questing with your companion.

It's hard to see, but Vette disapproves.

Anyway, we wrapped up Tatooine's main storyline and I noticed a new quick travel point next to the Imperial Reclamation Service's base. I would later find more of these in locations to which you have to return repeatedly but which were always a bit annoying to get to precisely because they didn't have a quick travel point in the past. Now that's something that I consider a nice bit of streamlining, making it a fair bit easier to zoom around the map quickly even if you don't have any travel legacy perks unlocked.

Then, a shock: We wanted to pick up the Tatooine bonus series and it wasn't there! A quick search on the subject revealed that other people have been reporting this on the forums as well, not just for Tatooine, but for pretty much everywhere. Sadly no official comment has been made on the matter. I opened a ticket to ask whether it was a bug or an intended change and got the standard copy-and-paste "we didn't even read your message and only provide help for class missions" reply. We drove to the hub where the first half of the bonus series takes place and it looked like the actual individual missions for it were still there (as exploration missions), it's "just" the storyline that ties everything together that's gone missing. I'm still holding out hope that it's just a bug though, because these were actual stories! Heck, the Republic Alderaan bonus series was the only place in the game where you could meet Jace Malcolm pre-2.0!

For the time being, we decided to move on to Alderaan. Here we encountered more surprising and slightly confusing changes to the content we knew so well. Apparently all [Area] missions have been removed and instead been turned into regular missions that get picked up from a nearby datapad or something. It's not something that I have a problem with, but again I can't help but wonder why. It was just a little thing that added a bit of variety to the way you picked up quests. Were there actually people who were confused or annoyed by this? The former [Area 4] Assault on Fort Alde was also nerfed to be a regular solo mission, though the area is still wrongly designated as a heroic area. It just felt a bit awkward facerolling everything while remembering how tricky this mission used to be. We also found another mission that used to have a multi-stage bonus and had it completely removed. Sadness.

At Outpost Talarn, we were in for an even bigger surprise. The two NPCs that used to give the heroic mission "Insufficient Staff" were completely gone and so was the quest. Instead, the main storyline sent us into the same bunker where this heroic used to take place. Which was weird, because originally that quest used to send you to a cave a bit further away. The best theory I could come up with is that they removed the heroic in order to save people from a hundred meters of extra driving for the main storyline. Which is still dumb. Removing content is not cool, Bioware! I have a hard time believing that this slightly shorter drive to a slightly closer quest location is going to make a difference to anyone's enjoyment of the game.

I actually got angry when we made our way to the next outpost and found that another side quest by the roadside had disappeared: The Head That Wears the Crown, which has a dying Queen's Guard asking you to recover the crown of Panteer from a shuttle that crashed into the river. That was a nice bit of background lore, damn it! However, funnily enough, this one eventually resurfaced... on the other end of the map, where the dying guard had moved from his old place under a tree into a tent. Again I wondered why, but I could eventually come up with a reason: Since all speeder paths are unlocked by default since a recent patch and there are no other quests asking you to go into the area where this quest used to be, the mission would have been easy to miss in its old location - nobody but quaint, old-fashioned people like my pet tank and I are actually going to drive to the next quest hub on the ground anymore. So Bioware moved it closer to Castle Panteer, where people have a couple of other quests and are therefore more likely to find it. OK, that makes some sense.

In Castle Panteer we ran up the stairs to click on the datacron that's hidden away there and I was disappointed to find that we got absolutely nothing from it. I wasn't a fan of the legacy datacron announcement, but I thought that it might still be fun to re-do them on alts for the codex entries or something. Nope! The codex entries are legacy-wide too. If you enjoy hunting datacrons for any kind of reward and already have them all, you've got to create a new legacy on a new server or GTFO. The thought of never having a reason to ride the Jawa balloon or organise a fleet datacron guild event again makes me kind of sad.

We finished Alderaan at level 41 (though again without having done the bonus series). To wrap up the Sith warrior's chapter one we had to revisit Hutta. At the entrance to the phase stood a level 52 Marauder, so we were clearly not the only ones experiencing a wacky levelling speed thanks to the new level sync. I remembered this particular fight being somewhat challenging, but either it has since been nerfed or everything being synced down to level 12 (for Hutta) made things ridiculously easy. I mean, I was still wearing level 20 gear (at 41!) but I guess if you're officially level 12 even that's overpowered.

After completing chapter one, my Sith warrior's master gave me the usual speech about having done a good job and that I should take a break now. At this point the game used to send you to the fleet (somewhat annoyingly), just to pick up your quest reward. He also mentioned that he wanted to see me on Dromund Kaas later. However, this time I got my chapter one quest reward right away, and instead of having to go to Dromund Kaas, I got my next set of instructions directly via holocall. Now that seemed like a good quality of life change.

So what can be taken away from all this?

Questing has indeed been streamlined in several ways: level sync means that you never have to worry about outlevelling content and can level where you like for as long as you like. Added quick travel points and hand-ins via voice-over save you from having to do too much running back and forth. Increased amounts of XP for class missions and main planetary storylines allow you to progress through the story quickly and ignore other content if you like, while most of the side quests are still available as optional content as well.

Most of them... and that's the rub for me. Musco went on file in September to say that "we aren't going to take things away from you!" Except... they did. I'm still holding out hope that at least the issue with the planetary bonus series is a bug. But either way I'm miffed about those more fun multi-stage bonuses and that heroic being removed. I expect to find more instances of this as we continue levelling. I have no issue with giving people the option to skip this stuff, but I just don't understand why it had to be removed entirely. Surely its mere existence as an optional thing wasn't making anyone's experience any worse?

Of course, for the new and/or inexperienced player this will be pretty irrelevant. There's still tons of content to do and they won't miss what they never knew, as it's not like any of the removed, optional stuff leaves obvious gaps in the story. However, as a veteran with a completionist streak, it's hard not to cringe when content that you used to enjoy is unceremoniously relegated to the dust bin.


Knights of the Fallen Empire's Story Is Awesome (No Spoilers)

Usually I try not to sound too preachy on this blog. It kind of goes without saying that I think that Star Wars: The Old Republic is a great game, otherwise I wouldn't still be maintaining a fan blog about it after nearly four years. Of course there are all kinds of valid reasons to not like SWTOR, but then what are you doing here, reading a fan blog? I tend to assume that I'm writing for people with a similar general mindset (even if there are always things about the game that we criticise and would like to see improved).

However, every now and then I find myself wanting to address the people "at the fringes", so to speak - those who may have played the game at some point and had some fun with it, but eventually got bored or fed up with certain aspects of it. Or maybe those who like Bioware's single player RPGs and have been curious what SWTOR is all about but are scared to dive into this whole "MMO" thing. Today I would like to address those among you... because Knights of the Fallen Empire's story is totally for you, guys.

Does that mean that it has no appeal to players like me, who have been playing since launch? Of course not. In fact, I think there are aspects of the plot that only long-time players will be able to fully appreciate, simply because they feature characters that you will only know if you actually played through most if not all of the different class stories. But the point is that as a long-time player, I'm someone who's been pretty happy with SWTOR as it was. Knights of the Fallen Empire was clearly made with an eye on changing some things that people like me weren't perceiving as problems but that actually kept others from enjoying the game.

At its core, it's all about the story, as this is the one thing that SWTOR has mostly been praised for even by its critics. However, even here there were imperfections - many felt that the MMO aspects of the game were often intruding too much on the personalised story to let it flow properly. You finish an engaging conversation with your (NPC) team, but then you have to leg it halfway across a planet before they will talk to you again. Or maybe you've got to collect twenty boar nexu livers before you can proceed with the next step of the story. This isn't really a problem if you like traversing large virtual worlds and killing wildlife for its organs, but if you're really just there for the story, I can understand why it would feel like a drag.

With KotFE, Bioware has decided to throw out all that MMO "nonsense" for its main storyline. It's a beautifully crafted RPG storyline, to the point where even many Massively OP commenters are full of praise for it (and we all know that they are not the friendliest bunch when it comes to SWTOR). Combat as well as any sort of fetch and delivery mechanics have been massively reduced. I didn't keep track, but I'm fairly certain that only a small minority of my playtime was actually spent on things like that - the story switches a lot between showing you cut scenes and engaging you in brief but meaningful conversations. The occasional fight between those bits is more or less just a palate cleanser. It's balanced beautifully, as commenter mysecretid described on Massively OP (click to enlarge):

Companions feel much more part of the world around you instead of pets that follow you around everywhere. Not to mention that everything looks a lot more cinematic. The camera movements make for interesting and dynamic scenes, and all characters, including yours, seem quite a bit more expressive than they used to be. I also found it noteworthy that, in true RPG fashion, you sometimes get glimpses of things that are going on elsewhere, things that your character logically would have no way of knowing but you get to see them as a player because it adds something to your experience. This really is the KOTOR 3 that people clamoured for in the past, with the first nine chapters clocking in at about ten hours of playtime based on my own experience. If you think that's not worth a month of sub time just yet, wait until next year when they'll release some more chapters which will all be instantly accessible the moment you subscribe. But whether you're into the whole MMO aspect of the game or not, Fallen Empire is worth checking out for the story alone.

Now, for those of you who've been reading my blog for a while, you may be scratching your heads at this endorsement of mine. I've been railing against people labelling SWTOR as a single player game almost since launch. It's one of the main "myths" about the game that I've been trying to dispel. And I really disliked that Shadow of Revan forced you into solo phases. How can I condone this "solofication" of what's supposed to be an MMO?

The thing is, if you look beneath the surface, very little has changed about the things that make SWTOR an MMO, and if so, they've generally become more amenable to group play, not less (that will really have to be a post of its own at some point). SWTOR has always had a large amount of single player content, namely in form of the class stories. What has changed in Fallen Empire is that the borders between your personal story and the rest of the game are marked more starkly. While playing through the original class stories, you might have had to leg it past other players killing twenty rakghouls for their side quest for example, though the class phase itself was still cut off from the rest of the world. Fallen Empire takes this principle and takes it a step further by letting most of the story take place in phase and saving you the running around in-between - I was actually startled when in chapter four, you briefly emerge into a shared area where I saw other players around me.

I was never bothered by the fact that we had our "personal story" away from the rest of the world, as long as there were still other things to do as well. Shadow of Revan's personal phases bugged me because they seemed to serve little purpose from my point of view, constantly separating me from my pet tank without creating a better experience for either of us. But Knights of the Fallen Empire's story actually feels like it benefits from this treatement - it feels like a proper continuation of the class stories at last, even though the story contains only minor differences for different classes. The crucial difference to Makeb and Shadow of Revan is that it finally lives up to the standards set by the base game in terms of providing you with a personalised background for your character... and then surpasses them.

TL;DR version: KotFE's story is awesome, and easily playable as a single player RPG if you don't want to deal with any of the "MMO stuff", more so than the class stories were in the base game. However, all the underlying MMO mechanics are also still there for those of us who like them; it's just that our personal story got even better. Win-win!


KotFE Early Access

I could hardly wait to log in and play Knights of the Fallen Empire on Tuesday evening. I had even left my authenticator at home, with a request for my pet tank to log me into the game and start the patching process as soon as possible (as he gets home about two hours before me). Unfortunately I didn't know that apparently there had been an option to pre-download the patch the day before, so it took about four hours to get everything set up (which was particularly annoying because for some reason my pet tank's game, which is on the same connection, did it all in half the time). The whole process became particularly cruel towards the end, when after you've made it through the big progress bars for "downloading" and "installing", it then starts downloading and installing more things just when you think that it's finally done... but after a little more complaining and jumping up and down on my chair (no, really), I was finally able to log in.

I really like the new KotFE loading screen and how crisp it looks. It reminds me a bit of the game's original loading screen, which is still my favourite.

Then I was at character selection. Remember that bug from last year where the view was more zoomed out than it was supposed to be for a while? It seems that they've decided to implement something similar for real this time. I also have to say that the new little display on the left which shows which class stories you've completed is pure genius - I'm sure that many achiever types will be very bothered by not having all the fields filled out.

Upon actually logging in I was horrified to find that my inventory was full, there were twenty-odd messages in my mailbox, and Aric had no trousers on. However, I decided that housekeeping really wasn't my first priority, so I just made some room in my inventory by doing things like mailing a couple of items to my alts - just enough to have space to pick up some random trash and a couple of quest rewards if needed - and set off to see the new story content.

...except first I had to talk to HK-51 and Treek, as I had forgotten that I had never finished their companion stories. I was surprised to find that all their conversations were unlocked even though I hadn't gained any more affection with them, but it seems that this was another previously unannounced change, that conversations are now gated by story progress instead of affection or whatever it's called now.

Then I dived into the new story content. They really make it feel like a whole new game, with two warning pop-ups that everything is going to change once you accept the new quest, a show of the KotFE cinematic trailer once you start, and then a round of Star Wars scrolling intro narration before you actually get to play. The first chapter felt a little clunky at the beginning as it's also supposed to serve as a tutorial for new players and takes away most of your abilites at the start, but once I'd got them back, I quickly got into the groove of things.

I then spent the next three evenings playing through the story obsessively, as I was constantly dying to find out what was going to happen next. It's pretty addictive really. I stayed up later than I should have on all three evenings and have no regrets.

Now that I've finally emerged from the haze of having been fully immersed in a Bioware RPG for three days however, I guess it's time to start clearing out that mailbox. I will of course talk about everything I've seen at some point, but there's so much to say I'm not sure where to start.

Oh, and as part of my housekeeping-laziness I was treated to this heroic shot of all my companions fighting with invisible weapons and no trousers on (also love the ship droid sweeping the floor in the background). As far as day one bugs go, that's really not too bad.


Coffee Tomorrow!

Am I excited?

Definitely, though my excitement is somewhat tempered by a sense of... uncertainty.

Back when I was playing Warcraft, Blizzard's attitude in regards to expansions largely seemed to be: "it's a whole new game now". You got a new continent full of stuff and then you largely stayed there, rarely even looking back at the old content unless you wanted to roll an alt and start from scratch.

Before Rise of the Hutt Cartel came out I was wondering whether Bioware would end up doing something similar, but that turned out to not be the case. Sure, we got a new planet with some new quests, but once that was done it was back to hanging out on the fleet, running new hardmode versions of existing flashpoints and doing dailies on Ilum, only they were easier now because we were five levels higher. It was still the same game as before, only with some new stuff in it.

So when Shadow of Revan came out, I was a bit less excited, but also less worried. There was new content to look forward to, but I was fairly confident that the overall feel of the game wouldn't change too much (even if I wasn't keen on the sound of disciplines).

This time... I don't know. They are making bigger changes than ever before, but this is still Bioware, and they are eager to keep their old content relevant (see all the changes to the flashpoint and operations systems). Basically, I'm simultaneously excited about the possibility of change and hopeful that there won't actually be too much of it because I love the game as it is. Feelings are complicated.

Am I ready?

Sort of. Ready enough in any case!

The one thing I can proudly say is that I got the Makeb staged weekly achievement for both factions done. The first time I did it, it felt extremely tedious, but as I got the hang of things the experience became a lot smoother and faster. According to my achievement panel I had already done almost all the missions at least once and was just missing the connecting achievements, but as I re-ran them I had literally no memory of having done some of them before. Digging for hidden smuggler treasure as an Imperial, really? Some of them were also a bit obtuse, with instructions that were too vague or quest markers that were in the wrong place, forcing me to seek the help of the internet to be able to complete them. It was also a bit weird/annoying how much they differed in length, with some just requiring you to click on a couple of items that were close together and others asking you to depopulate half a mesa.

What impressed me was just how good a recycling job the Makeb bonus series actually was and that I never really noticed it before, because pretty much every mission from the staged weekly sends you to a mesa where the other faction had part of its main storyline and then gives you a task that reuses the same assets. For example the Imperial heroic [Stage 1] [Heroic 2+] False History from the bonus series is completely identical to the regular Republic heroic [Heroic 2+] For the Record in terms of location and mechanics, it's just the story background that's different. I'm curious to see what things will look like after the revamp.

As far as the operation achievements on my proposed bucket list went, I didn't do too great (+13% completion on TFB, +4% on DF, +8% on DP). I've recently cut down on my raiding for work-related reasons, bringing it down to just one night a week, which meant that I didn't end up with a lot of opportunities to work on those missing achievements. I suppose I could have tried harder, but I didn't really care that much. The most notable ops achievement I did get down in time was the one to survive TFB NiM (complete it without dying), and that was a horrible cheese-fest if I'm honest: If you reset the phase, you lose credit for the timed run but the game treats it like a fresh instance in which you haven't died yet, so you can basically keep working on the survival achievement by simply resetting the phase after every death/wipe. You'll just have to clear the respawned trash every time, and nothing makes you want to not mess up on Kephess again like having to do that over and over again...

As far as getting my alts expansion-ready by completing their existing story quests goes, I got my Sage ready for KotFE by doing Ziost with her (my main had already done everything), and I did make some progress on other characters so that even if they are not ready to hop into the expansion content just yet, they'll at least have less left to do in the future. Most notably I finally completed Makeb on my Guardian, and I finished Corellia, the consular class story and Ilum on my Shadow. To be honest, I suspect that I won't be itching to redo the expansion content on multiple alts right away - not if the way I handled Ziost is any indication anyway. I fully expect to level several alts to 65 through old content or things like flashpoints and PvP, and then they'll get to the Coffee content whenever I actually feel like it. Which brings us to the question of:

What am I going to do?

I wasn't tempted to take Tuesday off because there'll be maintenance and patching, and knowing how these things go the game will be barely playable initially. As I'll have only a few hours of playtime over the course of the week, I expect that completing the new story chapters on my main will keep me busy for several days at least.

Other than that I'm looking forward to playing around with level sync. Maybe I can convince my guildies to raid the world boss on Coruscant or something like that. At some point (though not immediately), I'll ask my pet tank to get back to one of our lowbie levelling duos and see how level sync changes the game for us. Since we tend to play in a very completionist way, we've always spent a lot of time doing quests that had already gone grey for us. If this won't happen anymore, if things will continue giving us XP no matter how far ahead we are of the planet, I could even see us hitting level 65 on Hoth or something silly like that. I'm looking forward to finding out.

Finally, there will be crafting changes to sort out, companions to dress and flashpoints and operations to explore in their new, level-scaled format. I shouldn't get bored any time soon.


Flashpoint Friday: Kaon Under Siege

As suggested by reader Pallais, today I'd like to cover the (currently, for less than another week) level 50 flashpoint Kaon Under Siege. It fits in well at this point in the series, as it represents yet another "type" of flashpoint that's different from the ones I already talked about: Kaon is a flashpoint that's available to both factions but still puts a relatively heavy emphasis on story.

General Facts

Kaon Under Siege was the first flashpoint added to the game after launch, in patch 1.1, which was appropriately named "Rise of the Rakghouls". In the galaxy as we knew it at launch, rakghouls were a problem that was strictly limited to Taris, and people had no reason to assume that rakghouls were any more likely to start showing up on other planets than, say, the killiks of Alderaan. (If anything it was less likely, since we know from Vector's companion story that killiks are space-faring at least.) Kaon Under Siege laid the foundation for the rakghoul plague to become a galaxy-wide threat, a storyline on which Bioware based its first one-time world event and which would eventually result in the repeating Rakghoul Resurgence that we now know so well.

Both Republic and Empire players receive a breadcrumb quest on their respective fleet (called "Outbreak in the Tion Hegemony" and "Trouble in the Tion Hegemony" respectively), which leads them to a representative of their faction who gives them a briefing on the situation: Chief Rannos for the Republic and Darth Nurin for the Empire. The Tion Hegemony is introduced as a relatively powerful faction that has remained neutral in the conflict between the Republic and the Empire so far, and both sides are eager to make use of any opportunity to sway it to their side. Such an opportunity seems to have arisen now: Several planets in the Hegemony have been infected with the rakghoul plague, which is causing considerable panic. You are supposed to travel to the planet Kaon, where some survivors - members of the ruling family among them - have openly asked for help.

Darth Nurin, your chest piece looks so weird.


When it comes to interesting trash mobs, Kaon Under Siege probably takes the number one spot among SWTOR's flashpoints to this day (assuming you do it at the appropriate level; anything can be overpowered after all). You start off by killing a few hostile nobles, but soon run into people who have already been infected by the rakghoul virus, and eventually you meet full-fledged rakghouls and even rakghoul supersoldiers (intelligent rakghouls that wear armour and carry weapons).

The enemies that have been turned but haven't yet turned into generic rakghouls are actually the most dangerous, as there's a selection of "infected so-and-sos" that all have different, highly disruptive abilities. Most (in)famous are probably the infected mercenaries, who will pull someone in with a tow cable and channel a stun on them for a reeeally long time, while slowly doing damage to the player in the process. During Kaon's heyday I suffered many a wipe because of these mercenaries, because if the tank or healer got trapped and wasn't freed in time, the rest of the group would quickly find itself in big trouble.

A typical day on Kaon.

In addition there are infected screamers, which have a massive knockback and can send you flying into the next mob group, as well as bloated plaguebearers who explode on death, doing considerable damage in the process and also flinging people backwards if they are caught in the blast. There is one room towards the end of the flashpoint in particular where three or four groups of mobs are packed very close together, so if people don't put their backs to the wall, someone inevitably gets thrown into another pack, which can then easily lead to a wipe. We used to call it "the room of death". It's telling that in this Dulfy guide from 2012 this room is listed almost as if it was another boss!

Compared to the sheer lethality of the trash, Kaon's bosses feel relatively tame for the most part. The first encounter that drops some loot - you have to fight a small rakghoul swarm - doesn't really seem worthy of being called a boss fight. During the first "proper" encounter, you have to fight off an oncoming horde of rakghouls for several minutes while some explosives are being primed. There's a turret that one party member is supposed to mount and that can be used to add some dps. The first time you do this fight it feels quite novel, but after a few times it can get a bit tedious, especially as there is no way to significantly speed things up even if you're killing everything as soon as it spawns. Also, in a somewhat strange design decision, the rakghouls start swarming the moment anyone mounts the turret, but the encounter doesn't count as started until someone has actually primed the explosives. I'll never forget the time I was in a group where we fought rakghouls for something like ten minutes, wondering why the bomb wasn't going off, until we realised that nobody had actually activated it...

Next up is the Rakghoul Behemoth, a giant mutated rakghoul that likes to knock people about and has to be defeated by making use of the environment. Mainly he has a damage absorption shield that has to be removed every so often by pulling him towards an explosive barrel and blowing it up, however this mechanic has been a bit buggy for a while from my experience, meaning that the shield can stay on even after the Behemoth has started burning, so you only do piddly damage throughout the entire encounter and inevitably run into the enrage. Let's hope that this problem has been fixed before this fight makes a comeback as current content in KotFE. There is also a turret you can activate, and if you pull the boss past it, it will shoot him whenever he's in range. I've always considered this a pretty interesting fight.

The last boss, a trio of rakghoul supersoldiers, is not too difficult to handle. Once again kill order is a concern, though you can approach it multiple ways. Things to consider are that two of the three rakghouls can't be taunted while their commander is alive, while the biggest of the lot likes to pounce on people and will continue to savage them unless you inflict sufficient damage to him to interrupt this process. Also, the first two kills will spawn a wave of small adds each, which can be killed quite easily if your dps remembers to use AoE, however they can be a pain if they manage to swarm your healer.

The instance's bonus boss, a droid, was extremely hard on launch, harder even than anything else in the instance, which was why many people used to skip him (especially since he also didn't really drop anything particularly worthwhile). The tricky bit was that at 66 and 33% health each, he would shield himself and summon three probe droid adds that did considerable AoE damage - too much to have the tank round them all up, but also too much to have anyone else tank them individually, so if you wanted to successfully beat the encounter you had to be able to co-ordinate crowd control perfectly the moment the probes spawned and/or be able to do some very good kiting.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that there's also a second bonus boss that only appears whenever the Rakghoul Resurgence event is live and that has a guaranteed chance to drop a Midnight Rakling.

Story (spoilers)

You land at night and almost as soon as you exit your ship, you are contacted by your local contact, Major Byzal. He reports that some desperate nobles are trying to illegally break the quarantine and have hijacked a shuttle. It crashes almost immediately, and you meet with Major Byzal and his team at the crash site to check for survivors. You find some, but they are already infected! Major Byzal's entire team gets killed in the attack, except for the major himself. He is not happy with the situation and complains to Republic players that they've taken way too long to offer their assistance. Imperials even get accused of being directly responsible for the outbreak of the plague. After he mentions that it all started at the spaceport, he suddenly starts showing symptoms of infection himself. You have the option to kill him instantly or to wait out his inevitable transformation and kill him afterwards. Interestingly, whether you gain light or dark side points for your choice depends on your faction here. For Republic players, letting him live is the light side option and killing him is dark side, while for Imperials it's framed as a light side mercy killing vs. the dark side option of watching him suffer through his transformation.

Comparison of the crucial moment for Republic (top) and Empire (bottom).

You fight your way through the city, which feels like dealing with the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, as you make your way through eerily abandoned locations like an empty cinema where something is still being screened. Many areas are very dark and you have to pick up little floating lamps to be able to see anything at all. Rakghouls randomly burst out of the ground or drop from the ceiling, forcing you to be on your guard at all times.

Eventually you make it to the spaceport, where you encounter increasingly intelligent and even armed rakghouls. Once you kill the last boss, a pilot comes out of hiding and confesses that the rakghouls arrived on her ship, but she swears that she had no idea what was going on. She traces the whole thing back to a Doctor Lorrick who lives on Ord Mantell, an exiled member of the ruling family's main rival house. This serves as the lead-in for the second flashpoint in this story arc, Lost Island. You have the option of killing the pilot for her involvement in getting Kaon infected with the plague.


Kaon Under Siege is a beautiful example of Bioware's flashpoint team at their best. Unlike some of the earlier flashpoints, Kaon manages to strike a healthy balance between telling a compelling story and retaining replayability. There a couple of cut scenes that are key to advancing the story, but they are not overwhelming. The extremely disruptive trash mobs also make for challenging and interesting gameplay at level.

The whole setup is also extremely atmospheric, and at least at release, the concept of a zombie apocalypse in the Star Wars universe still felt relatively novel. (Knowing the sheer size of the expanded universe, it probably happened somewhere else before, but it certainly felt unusual to me at the time to see "zombies" in a Star Wars setting.) Admittedly the novely has worn off somewhat since the Rakghoul Resurgence has become a recurring event, but it's still fun to see where it all started.


Agent Things

My little PvP project took up a lot of playtime over the past month, and as a result other activities such as my alt levelling have been somewhat neglected. Now that I'm taking a break from max-level PvP again, I'm having fun digging up a different alt each evening to seeing how they're doing. More than anything else I've been meaning to post an update on my lone Imperial agent on the Progenitor.

I was really keen to get to Alderaan to get my second companion. Imperial agents have to make do with a single companion for longer than any other class, and on my first agent I absolutely hated Kaliyo. As an Imperial loyalist, an anarchist like Kaliyo couldn't have made for worse company. She hated everything I did and it made no sense whatsoever that I even kept her around. So I could hardly wait to be able to replace her with Vector this time. But then something funny happened: She actually grew on me. Agent Shintar the cathar is no Imperial loyalist - she's selfish, suspicious of others and likes to sass people (which makes her slightly dark side but not overly so). In other words, she's actually a perfect match for Kaliyo! I keep gaining affection with her for everything I say and do and our interactions actually feel fluid and natural. So even as I got Vector and later Doctor Lokin, I've kept her by my side. Funny how these things go.

I had fun finishing off Alderaan by getting the explorer and datacron master achievements for that planet. Explorer also had a really annoying side though, as you need to get very close to House Organa to officially discover it, which meant that I repeatedly got ganked by level sixty guard droids and found myself forced to respawn at the closest Imperial med centre, which was half a planet away of course. I'm hoping that with Coffee's level syncing they will get rid of such huge differences in guard levels (since there will be no need to defend against overpowered gankers anymore), which should make exploring somewhat less punishing.

For datacron master it came in handy that I tend to be overlevelled for the planet I'm questing on, as at level 37 and by using my ability to stealth, I was just about able to sneak through the killik heroic area that's part of the Republic bonus series. Otherwise I would have been forced to come back to that later.

I was really keen to get chapter one done and over with. It's not bad, but it relies somewhat on suspense and deception, which doesn't work as well when you already know what's coming. More importantly, I wanted to get to the big decision at the end of chapter one. The Imperial agent story has a reputation for allowing for more genuinely branching paths than any of the other class stories, so I was curious to see what would happen if I sided with the bad guy this time. Don't worry, I'll keep it vague - no spoilers.

The point is that what happens at the end of the agent's chapter one is supposed to be such a big deal, you would expect there to be a huge difference in the way chapter two starts after that. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed when the transition to chapter two appeared to be almost completely identical: the same person in charge, giving me the exact same follow-up mission in exactly the same way. Just one brief line on the side about how someone else was the big boss now. Pfft.

I think my disappointment with that played into me wanting to shelve my agent for a while after that. The only silver lining was that I got to execute a certain very annoying Darth. However, after having taken a bit of a break from the character again, I feel much better about the way the story is going, probably also because things pick up quite a bit as chapter two progresses. There are some interesting plot developments there, and I did actually catch a couple more lines that referenced the different chapter one ending and my changed status, which pleased me. The only other disappointment so far was that it seems to have made no difference that I left Watcher X alive on this playthrough, except that I obviously didn't get the conversation option to say: "You're supposed to be dead!" But I'm curious to see what other small (and maybe even bigger) changes are yet to come.


More Livestream and Dev Blog Reactions

I couldn't resist squeeing about the level syncing coming in KotFE as soon as I heard about it, but there are a lot of other things that were talked about in last week's livestream that I haven't commented on yet. Since then, Bioware has also released four new dev blogs detailing changes coming to the Cartel market, changes coming to stats, combat and companions; questing changes and crafting changes. Without further ado, let's dive right in!

Miscellaneous Changes Announced on the Livestream

I don't have much of an opinion on anything to do with creating characters at level sixty. There was a time when I would have opposed the very idea of it, but as the practice of buying high-level characters in MMOs is becoming increasingly common, it feels like shouting into the wind anyway. I still think that in terms of community it's likely to do more harm than good, because for every player who can finally jump right in to engage in max-level activities with his friends without having to deal with the "tedious" levelling process, there'll be three people in your pug that have no idea how to play or behave because they only logged into the game for the first time half an hour ago and are barely ready to tackle the Esseles. But I get that Bioware is making this expansion all about the new single player story, and considering that story is very much a main focus of the game, I find the idea of letting people jump right into the new content less offensive than I might have if this was another MMO. One can only hope that at least some of these new players will get sufficiently hooked on the story of the game that they'll want to go back and play through the previous content as well, even if that requires rolling an alt.

I think it's really nifty that Bioware is raising the overall number of character slots significantly to accommodate altoholics, though personally I still have plenty of slots left right now.

I can't say I'm very excited about receiving a special little icon next to my name for having completed all the class stories, but I guess it will be interesting to see just how common a sight that will be on the fleet. Among bloggers it seems quite common these days to have completed all eight class stories, especially with the various class XP boosts that have been going around, but I'd be surprised if that was reflected in the general playerbase as well.

I think it's funny that they are changing all the commendations to crystals. What was wrong with commendations? Maybe it didn't make much sense for them to drop from things like mobs, but I'm not sure crystals are much better in that regard. At least commendations made sense as a currency.

I've already written about why legacy datacrons don't excite me back in this post.

Cartel Market Changes

I think it's great that they'll be reworking the collections interface. I unlocked a couple of colour crystals that I regularly copy for alts and their companions, yet every time just getting to the right window has been a pain that involved lots of scrolling and clicking. And that was when I knew exactly where to look, let's not even talk about trying to find anything of which I wasn't sure where it was!

All the stuff about changes to Cartel packs kind of went over my head as I've rarely bought any, but I have to admit that having fewer items per pack sounds kind of lame, even if they are supposed to be better items. One thing I've liked about SWTOR's Cartel packs as opposed to other gambling boxes that I've seen is that it almost always felt like you got something out of them, even if it wasn't anything great. Even if you got something like a very common pet and a pair of boots, it still felt like you got decent value out of the pack. So we'll have to see how that pans out.

Bringing some highly popular items from the packs back as direct sale items, even if it's only temporary, is something that a lot of players requested. We'll see how much people will make use of this opportunity.

Combat Changes

I've written about the introduction of mastery here. As far as the other stat changes go, I don't have much of an opinion on them right now, because like many class changes, they currently fall into the category of "too vague for me to tell whether it's going to be good, bad or make no difference to me at all in practice".

Level syncing sounds awesome, as I already said.

More experience for playing in a group sounds nice as well. Just the other day a commenter contested my claim in this post that SWTOR rewarded grouping, based on the argument that you could end up with reduced XP from mob kills while grouped. It feels serendipitous that this change was announced only two days later.

Temporary ability bars mostly sound like a nice idea, especially for things like throwing the Huttball. It always feels extremely awkward when you're in a Huttball match and some inexperienced newbie catches the ball by accident and then just sits there, confused, while the whole team yells at him to pass already. As far as heroic moment goes... eh, I've been able to cope. Surely I'm not the only one who had a whole ability bar dedicated to it, more or less? Now I'll have to think about what else to put on there or whether to disable it entirely. The one thing that scares me is this quote from the related dev post: "This will open up new possibilities for us to do some more interesting content in the future!" Is anyone else seeing WoW-style vehicle fights in our future?

I've already shared my opinions on the biggest upcoming companion changes in this post, but one thing that was new and interesting to me was the upcoming inclusion of non-story companions that only exist for combat, such as an akk dog. On the one hand I'd quite like owning one of these myself (even at the risk of incurring moral dilemmas) and it will be nice to see a greater variety of companions around, but on the other it makes me a little sad, because the fact that all of SWTOR's companions currently have a story has been part of what makes the game unique among its competitors. I can't help but feel that this is mainly being introduced to have another easy way of monetising the game - I know from Neverwinter that people love paying for different-looking combat companions, and I guess it's easier to add random animals and nondescript NPCs than to write and implement a whole new story arc for each new companion like they did with Treek.

Core World Changes

I think it's great that they are adding new indicators for different types of quests. There's nothing wrong with letting people know what they are getting into. I specifically remember P. Mersault from Party Business asking before how he could pick out the main planetary story if that's what he wanted to focus on.

I also think it's interesting that they are actually scaling the crazy XP boosts of recent months back a bit by pushing people towards doing the planetary storylines in addition to their class story.

The only thing I don't like is that side missions will be hidden by default unless you specifically enable them. Is Bioware really so ashamed of that content? With the new labelling system it should be easy enough for people to pick out their desired path anyway, without Bioware actively shunting content out of the way. And new players, the ones who may well be the ones most likely to want to do that content, probably won't expect to have to click a special tick box just to see all the quests.

Heroic missions as repeatable group content "for all ages", including an instant teleport, sounds interesting. Not sure whether they'll still feel sufficiently different from flashpoints at that point, but either way people will have the option of progressing their character at endgame through a variety of ways, and levelling characters should (hopefully) have a much easier time finding groups for these quests - though I haven't seen anyone mention whether the group finder for heroic missions will also receive an upgrade. It's always been pretty crap.

Crafting Changes

Again, I have written about some of the crafting changes before. I will still be sad to have to say goodbye to Red Goo, but hearing that obsolete materials will be turned into something useful instead of vendor trash was comforting. Even if it means that I won't be able to keep a stack of Red Goo just for the memories!

Overall I appreciate that they are trying to streamline crafting a bit, though I'm still a bit disappointed that there won't be a skill increase in KotFE. Hopefully all the changes to the core systems will still make things interesting enough to make it worth working on your crafting again.

The changes to gathering mostly make a lot of sense and were probably simply necessary due to things like level syncing and all the flashpoints becoming tactical. For example most people can't currently scavenge in Kuat Drive Yards because everyone gets bolstered up, so the mobs are too high to be pulled apart by lowbie gatherers. With a lot of the content following a similar format in KotFE, it would have been a hot mess if they left the gathering system as it is. Still, I think we are losing something by not having to think about these things while levelling anymore. It's another bit of complexity removed.

Also, no more zoning back and forth between different areas just to reshuffle your available crew skill missions... please tell me I wasn't the only one who did that?

The crafting changes, once again, border on containing too much theory for me to be sure how it will all work out in practice. Overall it sounds to me like there'll be fewer things of value to craft, what with whole categories like droid parts being removed from the game. (I sure feel like a muppet now for having bothered to reverse engineer all the blue and purple droid parts in 3.0...) I'm not sure how well "components" will fill that gap because they sound kind of boring to me to be honest, like fabrication kits. I rarely make those either, simply because my brain doesn't quite manage to make the mental leap to all the exciting pieces of furniture I could buy with them; they are just a random in-between item that I feel little connection to and therefore have little interest in if I'm not trying to get some for a very specific purpose.

I'm also confused by the supposed changes to reverse engineering, specifically this line: "Reverse Engineering items no longer gives a random item. Instead, the item reverse engineered will give an improved version of that item." Are you telling me that the blues and purples I currently get out of REing are not actually better than the greens? Does not compute.

I'm glad I'm not a huge fan of crafting, so I can look at all these changes with a bit of detachment. I'm curious to see how they will work out in practice, but if the new system fails to amaze me I won't be heartbroken (except about the Red Goo of course).


100 Warzones on The Red Eclipse - Fun With Numbers

At the beginning of September I mentioned that it felt to me like I was getting a disproportionate amount of arena pops in my random warzone queue and that I was playing with the idea of getting scientific about it by actually tracking my matches the way I did back in autumn 2013, when I wanted to find out just how badly the Republic was losing to the Empire at the time (the answer was: very). Well, I decided to go through with my new study! I was right that it would take me longer than three weeks to knock out a hundred random warzones this time, but I was positively surprised to find out that it "only" took me one extra week, for a total of four.

So what did I find out? Let's first deal with the question that inspired this: Are arena pops more frequent now than they used to be? I can't actually answer the question in that form, because I have no data for how it "used to be", as my previous experiment took place just before the introduction of arenas. We can however change the question to: Did I get more arena pops than one would expect? That I can work with. Arena is one of six different PvP gameplay modes currently in the game, so I would expect, on average, to get an arena once every six matches (or about seventeen percent of the time).

There are four different maps for arenas, but considering that a death match is a death match, whether you're on Tatooine or on Corellia, I don't think that they should get higher priority in the queue because of that. If they did, if the randomiser gave every map an equal chance to come up instead of every gameplay mode, arenas would have to come up forty percent of the time, since they cover four of the ten available maps. Ack!

Fortunately my data seems to suggest that the randomiser favours each gameplay mode evenly, not each map, as only twenty of my one hundred matches ended up being arenas. I also got only fifteen Huttball matches, distributed evenly between the two available maps. Not that many arenas then. Phew!

What else did I find out? Well, mostly that Republic on the Red Eclipse still sucks - or again. In 2013 I ended my experience with a win rate of a measly 35 percent, while this year it was up ever so slightly with a staggering result of 38 percent. Yay! That's still a lot more losses than wins though. I also recorded my longest known loss streak to date, which lasted fourteen matches. For comparison, my best win streak only lasted four games. Overall there were many points where I got very frustrated and probably should have stopped playing earlier or taken a break for a couple of days, but I kept going because I wanted to continue my data collection.

Probably the most healing I've ever done in a single warzone... and a loss of course.

I can only take guesses as to the "why" of the Republic losing so badly to the Empire quite so often, but my impression was that there are mostly more dedicated PvP guilds on Empire side right now (even though the Imps don't have that many either). Still, there are some, and I experienced many a moment where I noticed several of our opponents wearing the same well-known guild tag and knew that it was probably going to be a loss. On Republic side there seemed to be much fewer pre-made groups, and generally not many guild names that inspired any kind of reaction in me. The notable exception were the three matches where I found myself with Etun from Nostrum Dolus on my team (once considered the best PvP guild in the world, though now defunct I believe). All three of those games were decisive wins.

What else did I find out that was interesting, especially compared to my 2013 study? Well, for one thing the Republic is still good and bad at the same warzones, and even more so than it used to be. Civil War was the one warzone where I recorded an equal amount of wins and losses, and Novare Coast wasn't too far behind. In Huttball on the other hand we were worse than ever (on both maps), to the point where my faction was only victorious in two out of sixteen matches, or less than thirteen percent of the time! Ouch! This is pretty much in line with what I said before about the Empire going in with more pre-mades, as Huttball is particularly easy to dominate with a guild group. Despite of my dislike for arenas, they weren't really that much worse than the regular warzones, with a win rate of about 35 percent for the arenas vs. 39 percent for the objective-based maps.

The other thing that was funny to me was the comparison between my characters. Back in 2013 they weren't all PvP geared, and I was surprised to find that my Scoundrel had an abysmal win rate despite of being the flavour of the month PvP healer at the time. This time around all three of my characters had full Dark Reaver gear, and Scoundrels are supposed to be the weakest PvP healers... yet my Scoundrel had the best win-loss ration of all my healers, losing only one more game than she won. I don't think that really means anything though; I suspect that this particular oddity is just another case of random numbers being random. Tonight I took my Scoundrel in for another PvP daily and she lost all four of the matches she played.

Now I really need a break from PvP.


Flashpoint Friday: Hammer Station

Do not fear, no amount of expansion excitement will keep me from working on my new bi-weekly  project (mostly because these posts are easy to write up some time in advance).

I've talked about an Imperial-only flashpoint, I've talked about a Republic-only flashpoint, so for my third installment of Flashpoint Friday I'd like to talk about a flashpoint that is available to both factions, the very first of its kind in fact: Hammer Station!

By the way, if you have any suggestions as for which flashpoint you'd like me to cover next, feel free to leave a comment. Given enough time I should be able to get to all of them, but in terms of priorities I'm pretty flexible.

General Facts

Hammer Station is the first of six levelling flashpoints that are available to both factions and pretty light on story. They all start from the dropship launch hangar of your respective faction's fleet, and there are breadcrumb quests on the main station and on level-appropriate planets to direct you towards them. If you're Republic, you get a holo call from Master Satele Shan to explain the situation, while Imperials get one from Darth Malgus.

Hammer Station was originally designed for levels 15-21 or so, however come Knights of the Fallen Empire it will scale to a much wider level range and be adjusted to be doable with a role-neutral group.


On Hammer Station you fight the Advozse Hegemony, so your enemies consist of Advozse and various battle droids - lots of battle droids. Hammer Station is a lowbie scavenger's dream, considering how many broken droids you get to take apart on the way.

Hammer Station is the second flashpoint that new players can potentially encounter in the game, and it feels like it was designed to challenge them at least a little at this point. Most of the trash is easy and straightforward, however there are a couple of pulls that can cause deaths or even a wipe if handled incorrectly. In fact, the most difficult one of these is almost right at the start, where a group of multiple droids that includes two strong and two elite mobs awaits. Their combined firepower is considerable, and the healer might not be able to keep up even if the tank somehow manages to get aggro on everything. What's more likely however is that a couple of mobs will go untanked and undamaged and nuke the healer, with predictable results. This is where players may want to look for their early crowd control buttons.

There are only three bosses on Hammer Station, plus a bonus boss that currently only exists on hardmode - a giant lobel.

The first boss is a spider-like tunneler droid that summons adds that don't need to be killed because they explode on their own after a few seconds, however those explosions do need to be dodged. On hardmode, the mining laser with which he attacks the tank leaves a stacking debuff that needs to be dispelled before it gets too high - a mechanic that is trivial if you know what to do, but absolutely deadly if you don't.

The second boss, Vorgan the Volcano, is a straightforward exercise in kill order, as you want to kill his healer and high dps companions first, though getting it wrong is more likely to just extend the duration of the fight instead of outright wiping you.

The final boss, Battlelord Kreshan, is fairly interesting mechanics-wise and reasonably challenging on hardmode, by combining a painful frontal arc with add summons and red circles on the floor. On hardmode he also has a knockback that can send players flying to their deaths. However, in turn you can easily get rid of his adds by knocking them off that same precipice, which makes the fight quite fun for any class that has an AoE knockback.


In the introduction by Master Satele or Darth Malgus you are told that the Advozse Hegemony is wreaking havoc in various star systems by using a space station specifically constructed for the purpose of flinging asteroids at things - originally designed by the Republic, the prototype of this "Hammer Station" was supposed to have been decommissioned ages ago. Your strike team is supposed to board the station and put an end to the Advozse's madness.

So you do. The end.

In the debrief at the end you are told that the reason the Advozse came into the possession of Hammer Station was that it was supposed to be destroyed by being sent into a star but apparently ended up veering off course or something - either way they managed to salvage it before it could meet its intended end.


After the exciting twists and turns of the Esseles (or the Black Talon on Empire side), Hammer Station initially feels like a bit of a letdown. There is no story beyond "go kill these guys" and there are no group conversations inside the instance apart from a brief interlude at a console where you can earn some light or dark side points based on how much of a disruption you're willing to create on the station's engineering level.

However, once you get over the initial disappointment of it not being more revolutionary, Hammer Station is a solid and lovingly crafted instance. There are some great views to be had, especially at one point where you cross a bridge that leads right across the shaft through which the asteroids are shot out... though your average pug is unlikely to pay attention to that. (To be honest, I didn't notice the full scale of the thing myself until Telwyn pointed it out.)

There are also some "easter eggs" for different professions to be had: archaeologists can click on a crate to give the group a small buff, and bioanalysts can open access to a room with a big treasure chest in it. In practice I haven't seen anyone actually bother with any of these however, with the exception of the scavenger gimmick, which allows you to skip a couple of trash pulls by activating a drill.

Either way Hammer Station is a fun little romp with nice scenery and interesting mechanics that hold up well to repetition.


Level Syncing! So Much Love!

Apparently yesterday another much-hyped developer livestream took place - which I missed of course, because livestreams and I generally don't get on. Even if we did though, SWTOR's pretty much always take place in the middle of the night in my time zone, and I don't have the luxury of staying up until silly o'clock on a weekday anymore. Fortunately sites like Dulfy are always nice enough to provide summaries of these things. Apparently there is a lot of new information to digest, which I will still have to think about, but there's one thing that jumped out at me above all others when I first read about it on Werit's blog: level syncing.

Indeed, level scaling won't just be a thing in warzones, flashpoints and operations anymore, but also on planets (a.k.a. "out in the open world"). You will automatically be downlevelled to the highest "appropriate" level for any planet you visit (though you won't lose any higher-level abilities). So if you go to Coruscant for example, nobody will be higher than level eighteen.

I can't tell you guys how happy I am about this change. I was honestly happier and more excited when I read about this than I was even about the expansion announcement itself. There are just so many ways that immediately come to mind in which this change is going to be awesome.

First off, it just makes so much more sense. Levels should make you more powerful, yes, but not as powerful as they currently do. I doesn't make sense that the blaster of a random thug on Rishi can hurt me, while I can have twenty random thugs shooting me on Coruscant and they can't even hit me. Neither should my character be able to face-tank a killer droid the size of a house just because it's only level thirty. I enjoy feeling like I'm part of an immersive and consistent world, and sadly we live in an age where this is valued less and less by game developers and gamers alike. Instead making things more convenient and "gamey" is often prioritised above all else. So I love seeing Bioware make a change like this - though there are gameplay benefits to enforced level syncing as well.

Solo-grinding low-level heroics - soon a thing of the past. And I'm OK with it!

(I'd like to note that I've never disliked levels the way some people do. I "grew up" in World of Warcraft, and becoming more and more godlike as you went up in levels - compared to the mobs in the zones you left behind - was just part of the natural order of things. However, even things that I've liked and accepted in the past can be improved upon.)

I like the idea of world bosses becoming a genuine threat again. At the moment they can pretty much be split into two categories: those that people can and do solo at max level and those that nobody bothers with because they still require at least a small group. I'm already day-dreaming about taking my guildies on world boss raids on planets like Coruscant and Taris... though admittedly, we'll first have to see whether the new reward structure holds up as well. People won't want to organise a down-levelled operation just to get a level twenty chest piece as a reward.

Finally, characters of all levels will be able to meaningfully group up for content out in the open world. No more rolling an alt just to play with your lowbie friends or worrying about outlevelling them! (Well, you can still do it I suppose, but you won't have to.) Negative player interaction will also be reduced, because there'll be no more open world ganking (in the sense of a high level player one-shotting lowbies). Goodness all around!

Now, I admit that there'll be downsides: There will be no truly "safe" planets anymore, so if you just want to hop over to that particular corner on Alderaan for some screenshots of the scenery, you'll have to deal with the mobs on the way like anyone else. And of course outlevelling things until you can solo them will be a thing of the past, which also means no more "boosting" lowbies through more difficult content on your higher-level character. I know that for some people this will sting (some of my readers/commenters for one) and I do sympathise somewhat, but... to be honest, this expansion is also introducing some changes that aren't really my cup of tea, so I kinda feel like I've earned the right to an announcement that I'm allowed to be unabashedly happy about. The downsides don't affect me, so... whee! (Though I do bet that there'll probably a moment at some point in the future where I'll go: "Damn, I remember when I could solo this, why does it require so much more effort right now?" But that's just the way we always find something to whine about.)

We'll see how well the implementation of this planet-wide level syncing will work out in practice. People have already brought up a number of cases where it's unclear how (well) the scaling will work. Alderaan has a bonus series for example that is ten levels higher than the rest of the planet, does that mean that the cap will be forty-something for everyone or will it vary by area? What about various class quests that send you back to lowbie planets at higher level? What about world events like Bounty Contract Week, where you spawn mobs based on your own level? I'll be positively surprised if Bioware doesn't manage to screw at least a couple of these things up on day one, but I feel that their past experience with the bolster mechanic has given them a solid grasp on how level scaling should work in principle, so I trust that they will get there eventually.

I've heard that the announcement of this feature has been "contentious", but so far I've seen more positive than negative reactions. (Might be my bias clouding my view however.) What do others think? I'd also be interested in the opinions of those who have played other games that enforce level syncing. (I know that Guild Wars 2 does it, and I think Final Fantasy XIV does as well, though that one also takes your higher-level abilities away if I recall correctly.) I rarely see people talk about it as a negative thing, yet I always see a lot of positive mentions.