I mentioned before that I used the occasion of replaying Knights of the Eternal Throne for my Chapter by Chapter series to try the story on veteran difficulty. In fact, I made a whole post about my struggle with chapter two. Now that I've finished the whole thing, I wanted to talk about the experience a bit more.
The good news first: There were no more roadblocks similar to the final boss encounter of chapter two, though there were a couple of notable milestones still. I don't recall anything giving me trouble in chapter three, but chapter four was interesting for example.
There is this part where you are supposed to defend your base against several waves of droids, and I immediately found it impossible. They enter the room from three different directions at once, and no matter where you go, your companions get nuked before you can kill everything. You can't be in three places at once! Of course, I've also played MMOs for long enough to know that in such a situation the obvious solution is to use line of sight to force all your enemies into one place. The problem I had was that the room was circular, and I couldn't find any obstacles to efficiently herd the droids towards me.
After a couple of wipes I decided that I must have been missing something important and searched the internet for advice. Shockingly, I initially found nothing. At least with chapter two, searching had yielded plenty of mentions of other people having problems, but for chapter four, I could barely find anyone talking about it at all. I felt extra dumb. Was I overlooking something so obvious that nobody even considered it worth talking about? Eventually I found a post buried in a thread that mentioned "pulling them back to the medical droid". What, you mean the medical droid all the way across the plaza and in another building? As it turns out, the solution wasn't complicated, only completely against the objective from a story perspective: Story-wise, you're told to defend the base, but from a gameplay perspective, you're best off abandoning it instantly and taking the fight somewhere else.
In the end I recorded the time I finally beat the fight and uploaded it to YouTube. At least I can now take comfort in knowing that it's not just me who had issues figuring out the solution, as I can steadily see the video grow in views and likes, even though I haven't advertised it anywhere.
Chapter five was another non-issue. As far as chapter six goes, I had been warned that the last fight could be a pain if you were light side, as it's hard to keep Arcann alive. Bizarrely, my own experience was the complete opposite, as everything melted within seconds and I was kind of left standing there, blinking in confusion. In hindsight I think I lucked out by using Arcann's abilities very effectively (it was only in chapter nine that I realised just how powerful they really are): Basically you just need to use his AoE taunt and then immediately throw up his (reflective!) barrier to watch all the hard-hitting enemies blow themselves up in seconds.
In chapter seven I had been warned about the Horizon guards but had also been told that knockbacks could be used against them to great effect. I had some fun with the elites on the bridge, where I apparently couldn't quite knock them to their deaths and instead got caught in an ongoing cycle of knocking one down, then fighting the other until the first one finally made his way back up. I can't tell whether there were really supposed to be four of them or if I caused something to bug out and reset at some point.
I initially tried to fight the champion guard the normal way, but quickly got annoyed by the fact that even though I was dodging and interrupting everything I could, his mere unavoidable attacks were still hitting too hard for Lana to keep me alive. Of course, then I realised that unlike most boss mobs, he, too, was susceptible to knockbacks and could be dragged all the way back to the cliff side without resetting. So that was that. No idea how you're supposed to do it without a knockback though.
In regards to chapter eight, I had been warned that the walker fight could be a pain and that simply using the stomp ability in melee was - while counter-intuitive - highly effective. That worked for me right away.
In chapter nine I did a lot of dying on the way into the Spire, as I had limited control over Arcann, who kept running into bad places, and the mobs just kept on coming. There was one pretty hilarious moment when three stealth troopers uncloaked next to me at the same time and one-shot Senya... But while there was a lot of death, none of it was an issue as anything I killed stayed dead, so I could make slow progress anyway. The final fight was actually pretty fun and relatively forgiving, except that you really had to keep your back against the stairs to not get knocked into the abyss (which happened to me a couple of times at first).
In the end, it was more fun than the horrible roller-coaster of chapter two had led me to expect, but something still felt off to me. First off, I still think that the sheer randomness of the difficulty is a sign of shoddy work and goes against the whole concept of letting you choose your preferred difficulty at the start. Nothing like selecting hard mode and getting nightmare-level fights. I have a hard time imagining that anyone actually play-tested chapter two for example and went: "Yeah, that's fine."
But even if I imagined a version of veteran mode in which all these random spikes had been dutifully ironed out, something about the experience would still leave me feeling dissatisfied, and I actually had to think hard about why that was. In the end I think it's how inconsistent the whole concept is with the rest of the game. We have the denominators of weak, strong and elite mobs throughout the whole game for a reason, and it just feels wrong when a single pack of so-called "weaks" takes you out in seconds. In the past, when Bioware made heroic areas, they didn't just make the weak mobs hit harder there, they actually replaced them with silver and gold level enemies so you could see right away that they were tougher.
But would it really help to do that in veteran mode? Not anymore, and that's the problem. Apart from certain named and boss mobs, there's never been much difference between the different mob types in terms of damage output. Mostly they just had different levels of health, but that actually did make them harder because companions were weak and could only keep you alive for so long. If your enemies had more health, the fight could take too long and you were likely to die from attrition as much as anything else. However, since the big companion buff of 4.0, outliving your opponent in a long fight has ceased to be a challenge, because there's little out in the world that your companion can't heal you through anyway. As a result of this, the only way to make things tough again is to make things hit stupidly hard so your companion can't heal you through them, but that also means that it becomes more about things like reflexes, and fumbling your cooldown once can already be enough to get you killed. I miss the slower, more tactical challenge of using the right abilities to disable and kill the enemy before they could do the same to you.
That said, I'm planning to give veteran KotFE a spin as well the next time I play through it. We'll see how that goes.