Time For More PvP Fun

I'm late posting this because once again it took some time until I actually got around to editing, but Sunday a week ago I joined Traitine for some lowbie PvP on stream again and this time Ravanel was there too! We ended up in a lot of arenas and in multiple Huttball matches, with the indisputable highlight being an arena where we didn't get a fourth player and even though we all ran off in different directions at the start we still beat the enemy team of four. (Also, Traitine shared his secret for getting tens of thousands of Cartel Coins for free - apparently it's having your referral link up on a website that gets good traffic. Who'd have thought?)

This past weekend I also joined Rav, Conrad and their friend Marinka for some max-level PvP, which I hadn't done in a long time. Unsurprisingly, life at max level was a lot tougher and we didn't win nearly as many games, but being grouped with some other players who were both friendly and competent still made it fun even when we lost.

The biggest surprise for me however came shortly afterwards, when my pet tank asked me to do some PvP with him - and that after he had stayed clear of PvP for over a year! (I'd like to think that he must have felt inspired by seeing me having fun with Rav & Co. but to be truthful, his thought processes are often a mystery to me.)

I'm just pleased that PvP is once again there to fill the "content gap" when PvE is letting me down, as has often happened in the past. For all its faults, SWTOR's PvP is just incredibly solid. Now I'm looking forward to the release of the new warzone next week even more.


What's wrong with KotFE's combat?

One of the more frequent criticisms of Knights of the Fallen Empire that I've read is that its combat is tedious and boring/detracts from the story.

Now, some of this is probably just the current Zeitgeist that hotbar combat is supposedly boring and everything needs to be about action, dodging enemies and aiming your attacks. I'm not on board with that because I think that different types of combat are just about appealing to different audiences, with neither being inherently superior or inferior. Where action combat lets people test their reflexes, having several action bars full of abilities is more about choosing your fights carefully and using the right ability at the right time.

This doesn't always have to be difficult or complex either. There is joy to be found in the small victories, such as placing your AoE attack just right to hit the maximum amount of enemies, interrupting an enemy's cast just before it finishes, or using a cooldown to survive/negate a specific attack.

With that in mind, I think that the "fun factor" of SWTOR's combat has suffered somewhat since 4.0 since everything has become so much easier to kill. This is not me being an elitist and saying that levelling must be hard, but simple logic: if part of your combat system's fun lies in using a variety of different abilities, it's going to be harder to have fun when ninety percent of all enemies fall over dead before you can even hit them three times.

However, that alone doesn't explain KotFE's problem, because even now I can go questing on a lowbie alt and still have more fun killing things than I do in the various KotFE chapters. What gives?

I decided to get scientific about it, got pen and paper out, and started up chapter ten (which I remembered feeling particularly annoying in terms of combat) on one of my alts. As I played through it, I made a quick note of every single pull I had to fight, how many and what types of mobs it contained (weak or higher) and whether anything else about it was notable (for example a named gold mob having a unique ability instead of just standard attacks).

Then I loaded up my lowbie trooper on Ebon Hawk, went to Taris and started comparing.

My first theory after looking at my chapter ten notes was that maybe KotFE featured too many weak mobs - nearly ninety percent of all enemies in the chapter were weak. However, while running around the first area on Taris that theory seemed to go out the window quite quickly, because outside of the one heroic area that I entered, almost all the mobs I encountered were also weak. I didn't keep a detailed counter on that occasion but I think I met one silver droid, two or three strong scavengers and not a single elite.

Then I thought that maybe it was all the additional spawns you get in KotFE, with skytroopers frequently launching themselves into the room from above or below, but while there is definitely a lot more of that in KotFE than there used to be, the concept is also already present on lowbie planets like Taris, with extra rakghouls bursting out of the ground and such. That theory didn't quite hold up either.

However, the one thing that struck me right away was how much more free I felt on my lowbie Commando. I was travelling all around the first part of the map on my own terms, doing bonus missions, going after the local datacron etc. but even if all of it had somehow been mandatory, I could have done things in any order and approached enemies from any angle.

On my agent (who was the one I was doing KotFE chapter ten on) however, I was always confined to a narrow path that I had to follow, even as the story officially took me all over Zakuul's underworld. There was no wide and open map to explore, and no side missions to maybe go down a different path for a while. Oh, and almost every single mob pull was unavoidable. I did try to start most fights in stealth, but on many occasions I would simply be put into combat as soon as I entered the area, and some mobs would even charge all the way across the room and smack me in the face while I was in stealth. It was supremely annoying.

At the end of my little study, both my agent and my Commando had killed about 150 mobs each. But while my lowbie had pursued a wide number of objectives, including bonuses, in an open area that allowed her to pick and choose her engagements (fun!), my agent had basically been running down a tunnel, forced to mow down everything in her way, all in pursuit of a single mission objective. Remember how we used to rail against bonuses that required you to kill 40 of a local mob or something similar? Well, then it's hardly a surprise that going through three times as many mandatory kills in a single storyline is annoying as hell, especially if they are always coming at you as soon as you enter the room, giving you no choice in terms of attack vector.

My advice to Bioware to reduce this annoyance in the next couple of upcoming chapters would be as follows:

1) Keep an eye on the overall mob count. Asking people to kill 150 mobs over the course of a single chapter is just too much for that amount of story content.

2) If you want people to kill things, be honest about it and make it the actual objective. Or at least a bonus! Whatever happened to those? You're not cleverly stretching the content out by asking your players to go to the end of a long, narrow tunnel and then filling said tunnel with unavoidable mob pulls. It's just annoying.

3) While I understand that a storyline in the style of KotFE encourages a certain amount of railroading, it's OK to make the environments a little more open, allowing players to skip a pull or two if they are careful. Note how none of the chapters in the swamp are nearly as annoying in terms of combat for example.

4) Ease up on the "forced" combat, with things spawning in and aggroing on you the moment you arrive, even if you are in stealth. There is a place for defensive scenarios like that, but it shouldn't be the standard. You're just robbing your players of their opportunity to actually decide how to tackle the combat themselves.

(That said, I'm definitely also still game for getting another properly wide-open planet, with side missions and everything, but I'm not holding my breath for that right now.)


KotFE Chapter by Chapter - Chapter 7: Lady of Sorrows

Let's continue our detailed discussion of Knights of the Fallen Empire's individual chapters. We're almost through the initial batch by now. Needless to say, there will be spoilers.

Senya's revelation that she's the mother of Valkorion's children gets your companions riled up - Koth in particular doubts her motivations even more than before. Since it's also out in the open now that Valkorion is in your head, this also brings up the question of what to do about him - Koth wants him back on Zakuul's throne, while Lana still wants to see him eliminated for the atrocities he committed on Ziost and elsewhere.

The discussion is interrupted by a transmission from T7 saying that a certain Lady of Sorrows is interested in working with you and linking up with the Gravestone. Both Koth and Senya have heard of her before (apparently she's a well-known information broker in the Zakuulan underworld), and Senya offers to accompany you back to Zakuul to meet with the Lady. You can object to returning to Zakuul but are told that surely Arcann won't expect you to come right back. Yeah, about that...

Before you get to shuttle off to Zakuul, there is a brief intermission as a minor power outage is affecting the hangar doors. You replace the broken fuse but find out that a whole bunch of flappy things from the swamp have infested certain areas of the ship and are causing technical problems. HK-55 is highly enthusiastic about getting to clean them out.

Eventually you and Senya make it back to Zakuul, to the so-called Old World, where you meet up with T7 again. If you let her, Senya also talks a bit about her relationship with Valkorion and the children, how he became distant over time and how Vaylin in particular was trouble from the start, but if you've heard it all before you can also ask her to just move on. Interestingly, this is the first time we see Thexan getting mentioned in-game, but somehow your character already knows about him or at least doesn't get the option to ask what happened to him. Senya also says that he was "killed in the core worlds", showing that the true story isn't publicly known.

You sneak through the service network of the local Undercity while disposing of some of the indigenous wildlife on the way until you come out at a tram station. (Oddly, both times I played this chapter lately, I got kicked out of the instance at this point and had to load back in from the fleet to continue.) HK radios you to keep you updated about his progress exterminating the remaining vermin on the Gravestone.

Eventually Senya says that she needs to see a contact, alone, so you are left to hang out with T7, who slices into some local surveillance feeds in hopes of acquiring some more information about how to find the Lady of Sorrows. Apparently he doesn't do a great job as every single slicing attempt results in an attack from a bunch of skytroopers. Finally the little droid also says that he needs to meet someone (another droid), leaving you with nobody but Valkorion for conversation. Shortly afterwards you get spotted by one of Vaylin's sideboob-showing spies (without your character noticing) - here we go again...

Eventually you reunite with T7 as well as with Senya, who messages you that she could use a hand. She's in a cantina and being assaulted by some so-called Heralds of Zildrog, a cult of snake-worshippers. (Incidentally, while the group only consists of two weak mobs and a silver, these guys actually managed to kill one of my alts - shock! It's probably because Senya doesn't technically act as a companion in this fight.) Once they are taken care of, Senya sets to interrogating an old acquaintance of hers called Reg who appears to be the barkeep - and she's neither afraid of using force nor The Force. Eventually he says that he doesn't know where to find the Lady of Sorrows but directs you towards a data broker called Mona Gale who supposedly does know.

A quick cut to the Eternal Throne shows Vaylin reporting to Arcann that both the Outlander and their mother are back on Zakuul. Arcann is actually sufficiently intrigued that he tells her to let you finish your business, whatever it is, though he has a plan to make sure you don't "dawdle".

You and Senya make it to the aforementioned information broker, who takes bets for arena fights and has no intention of telling you anything. Just as she declares this, your conversation is disrupted by a broadcast from Arcann that the Outlander is on the loose with a rogue knight - two very dangerous individuals! You are treated to a great shot of you and Senya turning around and both the data broker and her last customer gazing at you in terror. The former says that she doesn't know how to find the Lady of Sorrows either, but that you should have better luck with the Heralds of Zildrog in Breaktown - "the underbelly of the underbelly" according to Senya. Shortly after you leave, T7 witnesses Mona Gale being harassed by two masked Heralds that want to know where you went, after apparently having killed your previous contact Reg. Meanwhile, HK regales you with more tales of successful ship-cleaning, explaining how much time he's saved by directly applying the industrial cleaner to the animals instead of killing them first and mopping up later.

It's a shame the lighting is so bad in this scene, otherwise it's a great shot.

As you approach the Heralds' stronghold, Koth suddenly pops up from around a corner. He says that T7 told him that you were heading to Breaktown... but didn't we leave him behind on Asylum? I know Star Wars doesn't take interstellar distances very seriously, but this is kind of ridiculous! Unless he was on the shuttle to begin with and nobody noticed...

Koth argues that Senya, being a knight, will ruin any chances of negotiating with the Heralds' leader, who calls himself the Exalted. You get to choose whether Koth or Senya gets to accompany you inside. However, in the end it doesn't matter, because even if you negotiate well, the Exalted says that prophecy hasn't forseen you defeating Arcann, so he can't side with you. Just as he's about to have his minions open fire on you, a hologram of a Nautolan appears, speaking for the Lady of Sorrows. She is displeased that the Heralds have killed Mona Gale and shows imagery of the Exalted's son being held hostage. She has also captured whichever companion you left outside and has them say that they are unharmed and that the Lady wants to meet you. After one last reminder from the Nautolan that the Heralds are not allowed to kill the Outlander... the Exalted orders his minions to kill you anyway, before setting off to get his son back from the Lady of Sorrows. Of course, you being you, you kill them instead and then proceed to where you are supposed to meet the Lady, a place called the Razor.

On the way, you kill some more cultists and run into two Knights of Zakuul, one of whom is Novo, the guy who ran away from you in chapter three. He blames you for his partner's death even if it was Vaylin who killed him. After giving them a thorough beating, you get the option to tie them up or kill them.

Finally you arrive at the Lady of Sorrow's headquarters, expecting to end up in the middle of a fight between her and the Heralds... however, as it turns out she's already offed them all and is just finishing off the Exalted himself. Oh, and she's no other than Scorpio, killer droid companion of the Imperial agent. It turns out that the Exalted's son wasn't really her prisoner either but that he agreed to lure his father into a trap so he could take his place. If you're an agent, the dialogue with Scorpio is slightly different as you obviously recognise each other, but it's not particularly warm either as she never really liked you. If you ask about the other agent companions for example, she comments laconically that she had no reason to care about them after your disappearance.

Scorpio agrees to accompany you to the Gravestone because she wants to communicate with the ship, hoping to finally find an intellect that rivals her own. She also admits to carrying a grudge against Arcann because he has something of hers, though she doesn't explain what it is. The player is however given the answer via a shot of Arcann on the throne, issuing commands to the Eternal Fleet... and the command unit appears to be an AI not dissimilar to Scorpio herself.


I haven't timed it, but chapter seven feels slightly longer than any of the ones that came before. It's a solid continuation of the story, but not without its flaws. Being made to return to Zakuul even though you're obviously going to be discovered and get in trouble for it feels like everyone's being willfully obtuse. The whole plot about the Lady of Sorrows is a bit weak and vague - just two chapters ago the crew was able to use the Gravestone successfully to attack the Eternal Fleet, why do they need the help of this Lady, and what are her credentials anyway? On the other hand, if she is the one who wants to talk to you and your companions, why do you have to go on a wild goose chase around the Zakuulan underworld to find out where she even is? And let's not forget Koth's sudden appearance out of nowhere...

On the plus side, both Zakuul and several of your companions gain some additional depth here. You get an idea of the planet's underworld, and the Heralds of Zildrog are another fun little sub-faction to throw into the mix (plus they provide another excuse to fight something other than skytroopers). It remains to be seen whether they will have any further significance as the story goes on.

You get a chance to hear more about Senya's backstory and get to see her in action while chasing down the Lady of Sorrows - she's revealed to be quite an interesting character, because even though she claims to stand for order and justice, she's actually quite ruthless and sardonic.

Finally, let's not forget that this chapter also has some pretty strong humorous moments.

I wasn't too thrilled by the reintroduction of Scorpio as a main character as I never particularly liked her, however you're at least quickly given a reason as for why she might be important (the Eternal Fleet operating under a similar sort of AI). The only thing I still don't know is why she's actually called the Lady of Sorrows on Zakuul. It seems way too sentimental a name for her to choose for herself, and based on what we've seen of the Zakuulan underworld, there's no reason to assume that she causes any more sorrow for the people than other shady characters on Zakuul.


Is KotFE Keeping You Engaged?

In over four years of playing I've had my fair amount of ups and downs with SWTOR. When Bioware announced the first server merges I hated how they were handling the whole thing, and I loathed it when they originally announced the free-to-play conversion. Then there was the time my first guild died a slow death, or when my current guild had a reorganisation that left me out in the cold for a while. And of course there've always been periods where I got a bit bored of the game and focused on playing something else for a while. That's not really a problem per se, but a normal part of being an MMO player I think.

Still, I seem to be entering another one of these phases and I'm feeling oddly conflicted about it. I wasn't even sure if I should write about it at all, because sometimes not thinking about something actually does work and lets you brush it off more easily, but I've decided that this isn't one of these cases and that it's more likely to be the opposite - that I'll feel better after having gotten it off my chest.

Basically, I think it's KotFE. I still think that the story is great and all that, but, well... while I didn't think very highly of the people who loudly announced that they were going to rage-quit the moment Bioware revealed that they weren't going to release any new group content in the near future, I can sort of feel the effects of that design decision slowly creeping up on me by now, and on my guild as well. We still run operations every week, and I enjoy the variety, but nonetheless... It's been over a year since we last got a new operation and we still don't have an ETA for the next one. It does get a bit boring and it's noticeable that several guildies have been losing their lustre and aren't as interested in running ops anymore, not to even mention doing anything outside of ops nights.

I'm kind of joining their ranks to be honest (I probably spend more time writing about the game than actually playing it right now), but as I said above, I feel oddly conflicted about it. Part of me really wants to replay the KotFE story a couple more times. While being more attentive to every little detail for my Chapter by Chapter series, I've noticed all kinds of interesting tidbits that I missed the first two times around. (For example, look at the crowds to whom Arcann announces the Outlander's crimes at the end of chapter one and you'll spot some familiar faces.) And just how many times have I thought or said that I really need to get my agent into the new content so I can see what chapter seven and ten are like (which are particularly relevant to agents)? Yet every time I log on, I think of all the other chapters that I'll have to go through first... and then log off again.

I have one guildie who has completed KotFE and even the associated Alliance grind something like eight times or more and seems to have loved it, but I just... can't. It reminds me of this post I wrote literally just before the KotFE announcement about how all the new story stuff they'd released up to then was nice, but it's not fun to play through the exact same arc over and over again within a short period of time, especially alone. KotFE definitely suffers from the same problem, even if the devs tried to spice it up with class-specific bits of dialogue here and there.

The whole situation also reminds me of my relationship with Dragon Age: Origins, which was my first Bioware game and had a huge effect on me. After my first playthrough I found out that there was quite a bit of variety in the way things could pan out near the end, depending on your choices, and I kind of wanted to see them all, but I never actually managed to complete a second playthrough. I rolled up half a dozen alts to see all the different origin stories, but most of these characters didn't even make it past Ostagar (the first zone after the introduction). The few that did eventually pass that milestone then went off to die (figuratively) in the Deep Roads, a long zone full of tedious trash fights that just didn't seem worth the bother to me.

I suppose you could ask why it matters - if I'm happy to sub for one new chapter a month, I could just play that and then do something else the rest of the time, right? And it's true. But it just doesn't sit right with me that my "home MMO" should feel like there is nothing for me to do (that I want to do and that's also worth repeating), and as I said, part of me does want to tackle those additional story playthroughs. I just can't make up my mind whether the associated downsides are worth it or not.

Are you happy to re-play KotFE's chapters on all of your alts? If not, what else do you do to keep yourself entertained?


Flashpoint Friday: Kuat Drive Yards

Let's talk about a flashpoint that was released relatively late into the game and yet still managed to have a huge effect on The Old Republic - both by introducing a successful new concept to the game and by showing how not to do certain things: I'm talking about Kuat Drive Yards.

General Facts

Kuat Drive Yards, or KDY as people quickly started to call it, was added as part of patch 2.6, Galactic Starfighter's official launch, in February 2014. It was the first true tactical flashpoint in the sense that it was both role-neutral and allowed characters of different levels to play together. The term "tactical" was specifically introduced to describe this, though it was mostly applied to flashpoints that were simply role-neutral in the immediate months afterwards, since there were no others that had level scaling.

To this day it only has a single difficulty, without a solo or hard mode, though at launch it was at least split into a levelling and a max-level version, which is no longer the case.

KDY was also the first and only flashpoint to attempt a sort of "modular" design, in that each run puts you up against two out of five different scenarios and one out of three different end bosses, making no two runs exactly the same.


Your enemies are combatants of the enemy faction, though they are extremely generic. Having been designed to be defeatable by a group of level fifteens with no useful skills, the vast majority of mob groups in KDY are extremely weak and barely any larger or stronger than something that you might encounter while questing solo out in the world. The most likely thing to challenge your group if you don't have a healer are the random mini bosses in each scenario, as they have champion levels of health but are not surrounded by kolto stations, so your group needs to find a way to chew through those hitpoints without heals if necessary.

As mentioned, you are up against a random two out of five possible scenarios in each run. The options are:

Armoury: Run around blowing up some weapon stockpiles.

Cannons: Seize some cannon emplacements - in practice, this doesn't feel very different from the armoury; there are just fewer things to click on and the room has a different shape.

Hangar Bay: This one has you fighting off waves of mobs that are trying to take over the hangar, which makes for at least a bit of a change of pace. Also, the last mob spawn is actually at least moderately hard and can cause people to die.

Prison Break: Free a bunch of fat twi'leks and thin cathars in orange suits from their cells. They are really fragile and die easily if you run into combat while they are following you. This doesn't cause any issues with completing the scenario, however there are achievements for getting them all out alive... and for being the one person to open X number of cells, which initially led to friction among pugs. (My impression was that things calmed down considerably after the initial rush though.)

Starship Assembly: This one is interesting because it has a puzzle component, as you're supposed to create a working starship prototype and need to decipher a minor logic puzzle from some nearby datapads to figure out which parts are the correct ones (there is more than one version of this as well), else it blows up. Picking the wrong parts won't affect your overall completion, but picking the right ones counts as completing a bonus mission, which is neat. This can be very hard to get right in a pug though, as people will just click random consoles and cause the prototype to be assembled incorrectly.

The three end bosses of which you face one at the end are:

Master Khoris/Lord Modo: A Force user that jumps around like a bunny on crack, which makes him very annoying to fight.

Major Benes/Lieutenant Krupp: A soldier that throws grenades at everyone that the group needs to cleanse at a nearby degaussing station. I actually really like this mechanic because it's forgiving enough to be pug-friendly (you don't immediately wipe if someone messes up) but still demanding enough to require your party to achieve some form of co-operation (if nobody bothers with the grenades at all, people will die).

Station Guardian One: A not very exciting droid that summons some adds.


One thing I've bemoaned about the fact that Bioware made all the old flashpoints tactical in 4.0 is that this made a mess of their stories for new players, as there are no clear in-game indicators of what order you should play them in.

Kuat is interesting in that regard because it's the one flashpoint that was actually designed to have a level-neutral story from the get-go. The intro quest is even slightly different depending on where you are in the levelling curve when you pick it up. At the same time, the story itself is so far removed from the main storyline that it doesn't really matter when you do it. It's just the Republic and Empire fighting over a shipyard basically, which is the kind of thing they would do at pretty much any point in time (even post-KotFE).

There's also a tie-in with Galactic Starfighter, as you meet the NPCs that serve as default co-pilots near the flashpoint entrance and there is a comment or two that you can also "help the cause" by jumping into a starfighter and engaging in some space pew pew.


Kuat Drive Yards was a huge success on release. Letting people play together regardless of level and role meant that queue pops were incredibly fast, and people loved it. Levelling purely through flashpoints became viable for the first time.

There was a downside to this though: particularly during double XP events, people would chain-run Kuat to quickly level alts past any semblance of sanity. I saw it with some of my own guildies: They came to loathe the instance but didn't want to stop because the XP was so good. I'm convinced that this was a major factor in Bioware coming up with the first class story levelling event, because they saw that people were playing in really stupid ways just to gain experience more quickly and needed to be directed towards more fun and varied content to not burn themselves out.

At the same time, the role- and level-neutral flashpoint concept was successful enough that Bioware converted all flashpoints to it in 4.0. They also evolved loot scaling so that people can actually get level-appropriate gear from tacticals now. Kuat initially didn't have this, which is why it drops no loot other than reputation tokens. In a post-KotFE world, this seems oddly outdated. At the same time, Kuat has remained the only flashpoint that embraces the tactical concept from a lore standpoint and has a story that makes sense at any level.

The modular design doesn't seem to have been that much of a hit, as it was never repeated in quite the same way, and even KotFE's Star Fortresses only made cautious steps into the same direction again, presumably because ticking off randomised objectives didn't really fit in with Bioware's focus on story.


Visiting The Ebon Hawk

Last year I wrote a series of posts about establishing a new legacy on the Progenitor. That project kind of came to an end when KotFE came out, since I haven't really been back to that server since then. I think I left my agent just as she was supposed to go to Hoth. Need to get back to that some time, if for no other reason than to finish the agent story a second time!

Either way this didn't stop me from founding yet another legacy on another server last week, this time on the US East Coast RP server The Ebon Hawk. While PvPing with Traitine he mentioned that he'd like to show me his fully kitted out GSF ships some time (since he had rolled a new alt with nothing to his name on the Red Eclipse to play with me), and when I asked where he kept his main it turned out to be the Ebon Hawk. It only seemed fair to roll up an alt there too.

I decided to make another Commando, like my main, but I made her a Cathar since I don't have enough of those yet. I was both pleased and shocked to find that the name "Shintar" wasn't taken yet after more than four years... it seems to be available pretty much everywhere except on my home server.

I quickly found myself familiarising myself with the outfit designer - I wasn't keen on it at all on release, and on all my high-level characters that were already at a high level before its introduction I've stuck to wearing orange shells, but on a lowbie that starts with nothing, even I have to admit that the outfit designer offers a cheap and simple alternative for maintaining a good look, especially while levelling. I still think it's kinda clunky in some ways though - for example I keep trying to save items into an outfit while I'm wearing them, but apparently you can't do that so I keep having to take things off and putting them on again whenever I want to make changes. Once I got Aric, I also stole his clothes since they don't make for a bad outfit and are not actually bound to him anymore.

I decided that it had been way too long since I last did all the side quests on Republic side and had a go at them. Unsurprisingly, I was once again too high for the Esseles before I even got to the fleet so that I soloed it for the fun of it (on tactical mode that is, the actual solo mode is kinda boring). I spent a lot of time on the fleet in general and mused on how that is the place where you really "set up" a new character or legacy: buying a stronghold, choosing crew skills, picking up the various quests that introduce you to group content and PvP, and so on and so forth.

Initially I was a bit taken aback by how dead the server seemed, but then I realised that I was playing at something like 3 am local server time, which was hardly fair. Eventually I still managed to get into one of each "play mode" to complete the various introduction quests: one PvP match (a Voidstar, which we won), one GSF match (which we lost and during which I played terribly, failing to get a single kill) and one random flashpoint (for which I got Cademimu, which pleased me, and everyone was polite and competent).

In general my impression of the server has been a positive one so far, living up to the good old mantra of RP servers being better places in terms of community... even if there was some unnecessary discussion of American politics in general chat. I kind of wanted to go "stop talking about American politics already" but then I realised, well... this is a US server. Politics are always a bit annoying when people feel the need to discuss them in MMOs, but I find it particularly grating when people are way more focused on other countries than on their own. Couldn't really accuse anyone of that here though.

Since I'm doing all the quests as well as group content on top of it, my character hit level thirty before I'd even finished Coruscant. Level sync for the win! I need to write a post about the side quests on Coruscant some time; they gave me a lot of food for thought. The only thing I didn't like is the lack of quality control (what a surprise) that was performed when they made changes to lowbie quests for KotFE. For example there is this mission which has two senators talking and which used to be in a somewhat remote room where it was easy to miss. This was moved into the main hall to be more obvious, which I approve of in principle, however nobody seemed to check what moving them to a different room would do the cut scene animations! So now one of the senators walks off into a wall and then floats around in space for a while. WTF.

I also joined a pug for the Coruscant world boss and learned that apparently you can't be summoned by a guild ship if you don't have your own ship yet. Who knew?


KotFE Chapter by Chapter - Chapter 6: Asylum

Instead of moaning about the bugginess of the latest chapter, let's get back to my detailed discussion of all KotFE chapters that have been released so far and where I was only up to chapter five last time. As usual, spoilers abound.

After successfully escaping the Eternal Fleet, the Gravestone and her crew make their way to a planet port that's unsubtly called Asylum... and supposed to be completely unknown to Arcann and  the Eternal Empire and therefore a safe haven. Yeahhh... you know what happens to every single super secret and totally safe rebel base in the Star Wars universe, right? Not very genre savvy there, guys.

The damaged Gravestone manages to dock at Asylum, even if it's a bit rough. Upon exiting, it seems like you're about to be accosted by a band of thugs... except that they turn out to be Koth's crew. Koth has a crew? And he didn't bring any of these guys along? I guess that your rescue was meant to be a very small scale assault, but still...

One of them is the former Republic solider that didn't want to leave anyone behind in chapter one. Based on your decision there, he's either pleased to see you or not particularly impressed.

While Lana is off to get in touch with her "network", your character gets roped into looking for Tora, apparently the best engineer on Koth's crew, who has gone missing while trading in the so-called free zone. HK-55 comes with you since he actually knows what she looks like. As you run around Asylum, you get to enjoy some neat background dialogue... from the Gorak Vendor you get warned about, who likes to scam those of his customers who are lacking in maths skills (I was so disappointed that you can't actually buy anything from him!) to various refugees discussing the situation on Zakuul and on Asylum.

The free zone is full of thugs and other petty criminals, so you get a bonus mission to clean up a bit, something that's actually hard to avoid if you don't have stealth.  Eventually you find Tora, a petite with blue hair who initially made me think of Kaylee from Firefly for some reason, though their personalities are nothing alike, as Tora is rude and abrasive. As it turns out she's being held over a sort of "trade dispute", after she tried to steal some thermal detonators which she felt were way overpriced. The one doing the holding is no other than Tanno Vik, formerly of Havoc Squad and previously a trooper companion. You can settle things peacefully, using the fact that your offing of various crime bosses has just improved Vik's own standing in the area as a bargaining chip, or you can insult Vik in hilarious ways before shooting/stabbing both him and his gang, which will earn admiration from Tora and leads to the hilarious exchange of: "Where have you been all my life?" "Stabbing things."

With Tora saved one way or another and on her way back to the Gravestone, you are supposed to meet up with Senya and some mysterious contacts of hers next. You meet her in a dark and foreboding alleyway and enter what initially looks like an abandoned warehouse together, at whose entrance HK-55 gets electrocuted and knocked out. You can express displeasure at the apparent trap, but Senya assures you that the droid is simply not part of what has to happen and that you are free to leave any time. Ghostly Valkorion chimes in again to encourage you to go along with whatever Senya's planning.

She explains that her mysterious allies are the Scions of Zakuul, like the one you briefly saw defying Arcann in chapter one. They used to be protectors of Zakuul, just like the knights, but no longer serve Arcann. Apparently they don't know what to make of you, unsure of your place in the destiny they believe in, and want to test you. You have to fight some ghostly Scions and their leader Heskal tells you that most of their kind were slaughtered by Arcann. Senya stands by your side but admits to being ashamed of her order having been complicit in the slaughter.

We cut to a shot of Tora helping Koth repair the Gravestone, when Lana shows up with a disoriented HK who can't remember what happened to you. They are alarmed and want to track you down. Meanwhile the Scions preach about how it is Arcann and Vaylin's destiny to die but that you need to agree with their cause to get their support. They also question Senya's commitment.

Eventually Heskal himself comes down to fight you, and he's a very annoying opponent, vanishing every couple of hits and summoning illusions of Arcann and various characters from your past. Suddenly Valkorion "stops time" again and offers to end the fight without further bloodshed if you'll only accept some of his power. In practice I haven't found this to make much of a difference to the fight - if you accept, you get some fun temporary abilities but have to finish beating Heskal all the same.

When the fight is finally over but it's still uncertain whether the Scions will join up with you, your companions arrive, ready for a shoot-out. Everyone stands down as Heskal suddenly realises that Valkorion is in your head and has a vision that you will indeed take down Arcann and Vaylin. Lana is shocked about the revelation if you didn't already tell her in the swamp in chapter four, while Koth is immensely pleased, because surely his beloved Emperor being alive and on your side is a good thing. Because one bombshell is never enough, Senya then reveals the real reason she got involved in this whole thing: Arcann and Vaylin are her children.

We cut to another scene at the Eternal Throne, where Vaylin confirms that Senya was among the people fighting at the Gravestone and that their own mother has turned against them. In the end, neither of them are too worried about her though - they know they've got the power.


Chapter six strikes a good balance between combat and dialogue, plus it helps that this is the first chapter in which you don't have to fight any skytroopers (yaaay)! The first half, the search for Tora, doesn't seem that important to the greater story and mostly just seems to be there to introduce a minor character, however it also helps to set the scene and shapes your overall impression of Asylum.

Being given the option to kill a former class companion comes as a bit of a shock. For all the moaning I've done over the years about not liking Tanno Vik, I have to admit that I still shied away from killing him on my trooper and made nice instead. I was just disappointed that you couldn't re-recruit him, which almost makes me regret letting him live, considering some of the hilarious dialogue you miss out on by doing so.

I have very mixed feelings about the second part of the chapter. Cinematically, it's extremely well orchestrated and atmospheric, with the Scions continually speaking to you from the shadows and coming across as both mysterious and a bit creepy. And while they are not particularly fun to fight, they still make a nice change from having faced nothing but skytroopers for several chapters. On the other hand though: What is the point? It's never made clear what the Scions would actually contribute to an alliance. They are supposed to have these mysterious Force powers that let them tell the future, however we see no actual evidence of this being true/useful and Heskal just keeps going on about "destiny" like a crazy person. Why do we want these guys on our side again?

Senya's revelation at the end is perfectly timed though and makes you forget all about the Scions and their drama. I think I actually shouted out loud the first time she dropped that bombshell. It's also a throwback to chapter two, when Valkorion talked about having found love on Zakuul and you could bring up the question of his children's mother.

One thing that bothers me and that I don't think I've brought up before is that with Koth being such a huge Valkorion fanboy... why hasn't he had any issue with freeing the person who killed his beloved emperor (or was at least framed for it, depending on your choice)? I find it strange that he keeps mentioning how great he considers Valkorion yet somehow this particular matter is never addressed.


Chapter XI: Disappointed

Just like when chapter ten came out, I don't want to get into a detailed discussion of the new chapter's story as I'll eventually get around to that via my "KotFE Chapter by Chapter" series anyway. But there are a couple of things about last night's patch that I feel the need to mention.

First off, is it me or are those subscriber rewards getting more and more bizarre? I've seen some ugly pieces of armour in this game over the years, but why in the world would you want to wear another character's head as a hat? That's just morbidly bizarre.

I was rather looking forward to chapter eleven, because the preview picture had Aric Jorgan on it. While I thought that chapter ten has its good points, recruiting a terrorist into my Alliance just felt all kinds of wrong for a trooper, so I was looking forward to the next chapter featuring someone my character would actually care about and whom it would make sense to seek out.

I almost shouted at my screen when, right within the very first conversation, my character questioned why she should get involved with recruiting Havoc Squad. Maybe because you're its former commander?! That line really should have been taken out for troopers.

Then I got into the phase to meet up with Jorgan & Co. - just to discover that the old cathar was running around topless. The really funny thing in hindsight is that it actually took me a moment to realise that this was a bug - Havoc Squad is supposed to be on some sort of guerilla mission in the swamp, so I actually wondered for a second whether partial nudity was part of the plan. It was only when I noticed that Jorgan wasn't wearing any trousers either and that the rest of the squad was fully suited up that it truly hit me that I had another case of 4.0's "no trousers" bug on my hands.

Oh well, that's kind of funny, right? I started to move on towards the next phase but allowed myself to get distracted by the numerous gathering nodes in the swamp - it's funny because it's not even like I needed more herbs; I just enjoy tidying up my mini-map. Next mission step: "Talk to Aric Jorgan". However, there was no Aric in the marked area. Could I summon him? Nope. Neither could I summon any other companion. Hmm.

On the forums I found out that at least I wasn't the only one having this problem, and a recommended workaround was to reset the entire mission and start over (which also gets rid of the nudity). After that, I was finally able to have the next conversation with Aric.

Then it was onwards to the next objective, to click on six doors. I found a total of seven, however when I clicked on two of them, they just spawned a bunch of skytroopers and didn't count towards my objective, leaving me stuck on 5/6. After having wasted some more time looking for any doors I might have missed, I eventually had to leg it out of the phase to reset again.

The sad thing is, in the end I think "Disavowed" was a pretty decent chapter and hit all the notes I was hoping for as a trooper - or it would have, if I hadn't constantly been interrupted by stupid bugs. I know that this kind of stuff happens, but the frequency and regularity with which Bioware releases content with game-breaking bugs is frankly getting ridiculous. They already postponed the Eternal Championship and the next Alliance alert because they weren't ready, so they had just one job in this patch: to get out the new chapter and to make sure that it's playable.

I always feel like the Bioware guys are very passionate and have their heart in their right place, but their quality control is simply atrocious. I hate to think how many subs they lose purely over stuff like this.


More Lowbie PvP with Traitine

After more than a month I was finally able to join Traitine from Constant Warfare for some more lowbie PvP on his stream! We had another excellent run, winning six out of the seven warzones we played, and even though we lost at GSF once again, at least we didn't get completely steamrolled like last time. Also, after not seeing any arenas pop last time, we got no less than three this time!

In between, we discussed SWTOR trivia, mused on bad character names (2:24, 7:51, 18:07, 38:16) and even saw the Republic Fleet get "invaded" (19:51). Check out my 41 minute edit of the whole evening below:


Flashpoint Friday: Czerka Corporate Labs

Today I'd like to talk about Czerka Corporate Labs, the first of the two Czerka flashpoints that were released in patch 2.3 (August 2013).

General Facts

Czerka Corporate Labs and Czerka Core Meltdown were the first new flashpoints to be added to the game after the release of Makeb and the second set of new flashpoints to be added after launch (with the first one being Kaon Under Siege and Lost Island). They are located on the moon CZ-198, which was added in the same patch as a new daily area.

They were the first flashpoints to come with a tactical mode, though Bioware hadn't come up with the term "tactical" yet and they were only referred to as role-neutral at the time (you still had to be level 55 to do them). Hardmodes with a regular trinity requirement were also included at release.

Initially running both of these was part of the CZ-198 weekly quest, which meant that people ran them all the time. However, in 3.2 this requirement was taken away, so that the weekly now only requires an easy [Heroic 2+] mission instead.

There is still a one-time story quest that ties the two flashpoints together, called Titans of Industry for both factions.


You can tell that this flashpoint was designed as a tactical from the ground up, as the trash consists pretty much exclusively of weak and silver mobs on "normal" mode, which are pretty much pushovers and allow you to proceed swiftly and without too many breaks to heal up even in a sub-optimal group.

There is a slightly interesting mechanic in the run-up to the first boss when you have to find three security key cards, which can simply be achieved by running around and looking for the glowing, clickable things, but the process can also be sped up by whipping out your Macrobinoculars to highlight the correct location. 

For most of the flashpoint you just fight security guards and droids, until close to the end when some "experiments" come into the mix, which look like flesh raiders from Tython. These have an interesting mechanic as they come in a red and blue version, which attract each other until they self-destruct. So if you enter a room with two red ones in it, your best course of action is to free two blue ones nearby, so they'll just annihilate each other without doing too much damage to your group.

The first boss is a droid that sits in a pool of water and likes to pull people into it to electrocute them. After every other pull he also summons adds. I actually think that this fight is pretty well designed for a role-neutral group, it can just get annoying if people spend too much time running about and dps is low, as the boss has a good amount of health.

The second boss, the security chief, follows a similar design of not requiring a tank but keeping people on their feet with ground effects and the occasional add spawn.

Finally, the last boss is in a room full of imprisoned experiments, which he will release one at a time if you'll let him - people quickly found out however that it's much easier to just release them all yourself and let them annihilate each other quickly so you only have the boss to worry about afterwards.


The story is that the Republic has finally decided that Czerka (a company of questionable moral standing that you encounter repeatedly while levelling and that is responsible for The Thing Czerka Found among other things) is too corrupt and wants to seize the company's assets - except that a certain chief executive called Rasmus Blys in a research facility on a moon called CZ-198 refuses to surrender and threatens to unleash a certain "Vigilant" security system upon any intruders. Republic players want to bring him to heel, and Imperials basically want to get in there before the Republic does (being urged on by another Czerka employee that wants to escape the purge).

The first flashpoint is about fighting your way through what seems to be both a laboratory as well as a corporate/show-off area until you face Rasmus himself. When you finally get to him, he activates the Vigilant system but you don't yet get to find out what it is; that part is revealed in the second flashpoint.


When the two Czerka flashpoints were released, my intial reaction was one of slight disappointment, as they were the first SWTOR flashpoints without a single interactive cut scene. There is a non-interactive monologue by the boss at the end, which features the cut scene pictured above (which I'll never get tired of screenshotting), but it's not quite the same.

This makes Corporate Labs a particularly quick and easy romp in a pug (no worries about people moaning to skip cut scenes), but it also means that it doesn't capitalise on Bioware's greatest strength and feels a lot like a generic dungeon that might as well be part of any other MMO. I'm always quite pleased when I get it as my random because I know that I'll get a fast and hassle-free run, but at the same time I never have the urge to actively seek it out to re-experience its story. The fact that beating up a fat CEO doesn't feel that epic after all the things players have encountered in previous flashpoints probably doesn't help.

It seems that even Bioware realised this though, as they backed away from this nearly cut-scene-free direction again after Czerka, and all the flashpoints that were released afterwards contained at least a little bit more story again.


Datamining and PTS Thoughts

Last week a thread appeared on my guild's forums called: "PvE & PvP server merger incoming??" The subject was all over Reddit too. I don't know if it was the only source, but TOR Community had datamined that the instances that currently already exist on planets when things become too crowded were going to be split into PvE and PvP ones.

I was not pleased by this speculation. The idea of Bioware planning another round of server merges seemed to go completely against my experience of the game's bustling state, though I'm obviously biased as someone who plays on The Red Eclipse, the biggest EU server. It's fair to say though that TRE definitely doesn't need merging with anything. Not to mention all the potential issues that would come with server merges - the risk of having to rename characters yet again, four years later, plus all the new legacy functions that would throw a wrench into any plans of "easy" mergers, such as strongholds and full legacy storage.

Fortunately the PTS with the mined changes went live soon afterwards, and Eric Musco officially dispelled any rumours of incoming server merges (at least for the time being). I think that this is once again a perfect example of why datamined information always has to be taken with a grain of salt. Aside from the fact that not everything actually makes it to live (who else remembers the "stealth ships" that were planned for GSF?), people are simply prone to misinterpreting things.

As for the actual change with those instances? My reaction is a resounding "eh". Apparently the reason they spent time on implementing this was to make it easier for friends to play together? Is the old issue of "I want to play on a PvE/PvP server" really still a thing this late in the game? If so, they better update the servers' name tags as well, because it won't be much help for new players if they don't actually know about this feature.

My first thought was that it seems kind of redundant for PvE servers at least, because the whole reason we rolled here is that we don't care about world PvP, right? However, I've seen it pointed out that people might actually be more willing to engage in open PvP when they have a choice of doing so occasionally but not all the time (as opposed to the "always on" nature of pure PvP servers). With how crowded some of the heroic areas are these days, I can definitely imagine there being a certain appeal to consciously choosing the PvP instance - which will be emptier and give you the option to try and kill competitors (of the other faction at least). On the other hand, a guildie also reported that as part of this change, it looks like they are completely removing all flagging in the PvE instance: no more brawling in the Outlaw's Den or striking back at players of the enemy faction that attack a base commander. Again: eh.

What excites me more about the current PTS is the new warzone (there's also a new arena map, but I care a lot less about that). I was actually kind of surprised by my own enthusiasm since I haven't done much PvP lately, but I'm just so ready for any kind of content addition that isn't more single player story or another companion. And let's not forget that the last time we got a completely new warzone mode (not just a new map) was Ancient Hypergates back in December 2012(!).

I watched some footage of the warzone - I'm not sure if it has a proper name yet, I just know that it's set on Odessen - and it looks very confusing, buggy and unfinished at this point... but I can hardly wait to try it for myself. If nothing else, the first weeks of everyone trying to figure out how it works are bound to be oodles of fun.