17/10/2017

11 NPCs That Died Before Their Time

Life in a Bioware game is dangerous if you are an NPC. While I've previously written about my annoyance with certain unkillable companions, regular NPCs are not nearly as well off. In fact I would say it's the opposite: many NPCs are seemingly introduced and made memorable in some way purely for the purpose of dying a gruesome death shortly after (sometimes even by your hand). I guess Bioware is doing something right with their characterisation if an NPC's death actually leaves me sad or annoyed - after all it shows that I care. However, that doesn't mean that I wouldn't have preferred to see more of that particular person before their untimely demise. So, without further ado: 11 NPCs that I feel died before their time. (Spoilers!)

11. Darth Silthar

In case you don't remember, Darth Silthar is the Sith who is working with the Imperial Reclamation Service on Tatooine and who talks to you at the start of the planetary story arc on Empire side. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call him a "nice" Sith, but he surprises you right off the bat by being respectful and appreciative of his Imperial associates, which is something Imperial players don't get to see often. However, he then dies on the very next mission he goes on and you're left to deal with the Reclamation Service for the rest of the story arc. I'm not sure he had tons of potential in him exactly, but I distinctly remember feeling a bit disappointed to see him die so soon the first time I played through this. Non-crazed Sith NPCs are rare enough as it is, and it would have been interesting to see more of him. Also, the rest of his team were a bunch of bores.

10. Broga, Jeelta & Portho

Another group of names that might not ring a bell right away, these are the Hutts that make up the "Three Families" that you deal with on Quesh. I'm forever confused by the supposed chronology of the events on Quesh, but the important point is that they are Hutts that aren't afraid to take sides in the Republic-Empire conflict, and that's refreshing. More could have been made of that before killing them off; that's all I'm saying.


However, I will admit that killing Hutts is a special kind of fun.

9. Grand Moff Kilran

Despite of "existing" only in flashpoints, Moff Kilran's appearances in the Esseles, Black Talon, Taral V and Maelstrom Prison were more than enough to make him a memorable character. And he did have a good run! However, I don't think we've seen an Imperial officer of his calibre ever since, and from my point of view it's been very noticeable that the position of "ruthlessly scary yet kind of fun to mock" Imperial figure has been glaringly empty for too long. Shouldn't have killed off the one who was doing a great job at it quite so quickly after all...

8. Supreme Commander Jace Malcolm

You may be surprised to see Theron's dad so low on this list. My reasoning for this is that he's never actually had much development in game, and most of what could have potentially made players feel attached to him one way or another happened in cinematics or novels. Nonetheless... he was a big player with a lot of background, and killing him off without actually doing much of anything with him in game felt wasteful. Of course he's not necessarily dead, as he's one of those characters that can stay alive or die depending on your choices. But let's be honest: Once someone is "optionally dead", they never have much of a role to play anymore and are as good as gone from the game anyway.


7. Tari Darkspanner

In case you need a reminder, this is the secret leader of the Revanites on Dromund Kaas. While the quest chain gives you the option to sell her out at the end, we never really find out what happens after that. However, it seems that she got away either way, as she eventually shows up again as the end boss of a daily chain on Yavin IV. Some people might consider it a refreshing throwback that Bioware thought of including her at all, but to me it just seems like a waste to have her be a simple daily quest mob. How did "the Master" react to meeting Revan in the flesh after all? So much more could have been made of that, and I can't help but feel that she deserved better.

6. Katha Niar

Katha Niar is an Imperial, formerly of the Ministry of Logistics, who helps Imperial players coordinate their missions during the planetary storyline on Makeb. I've always found the way she struggled with being in a difficult situation really likeable (even if the player is given the option to constantly be mean to her) and would have loved to see her become a recurring character. Unfortunately she dies at the end, no matter what you do. I suppose I can also give an honorary shout-out to her associate Lord Cytharat at this point (who dies an "optional" death), but personally I never found him quite as interesting. (Maybe if he also liked girls...)


5. Gayem Leksende

This servant of the Czerka Corporation is your main opponent as a Republic player during the planetary storyline on Tatooine (aside from the big bad you run into at the very end). I always loved how slimey and outright evil this guy is - trying to bomb old men in their retirement homes and stuff like that. Unfortunately his eventual end is unremarkable, and then Czerka is pretty much never heard from again until CZ-198. Again, seems like a missed opportunity to me, maybe not so much for Gayem in particular, but for Czerka in general.

4. (Former) Supreme Chancellor Saresh

I'm guessing that this one will surprise many people, because how could I not want this woman dead? Well, as it happens I always thought that Saresh was a pretty interesting character, filling the niche of that guy on your side with whose methods you constantly disagree, even if you are on the same side at the end of the day. I can't exactly claim that she didn't get enough screentime, what with all the ops missions she hands out to Republic players, but her final fate in KotET was just very undignified and felt entirely out of character to me. She should have been given a chance to go out actually fighting against the Empire in some way in my opinion.


3. Darth Marr

Oh, Darth Marr. Again, I can't really complain that he didn't get enough time in the limelight, what with his prominent roles in both the Rise of the Hutt Cartel and Shadow of Revan expansions, not to mention his appearances in both the Sith warrior's and inquisitor's class stories as well as the fact that he voices the Imperial intro to the Voidstar warzone. His death wasn't that bad either; at least he got to go out with a bang... and then got a reprise as a Force ghost on top of it all. Nonetheless I can't help but put him on this list because I just wanted to see so much more of him still! He was just one of the coolest Sith NPCs out there in my opinion, with his mysterious mask; deep, growly voice and overall aura of cool. I can't blame people for stopping halfway through KotFE chapter one just to keep him as a companion for a while...


2. Darth Malgus

One of the poster children for the game, literally featuring in trailers, on posters, and as a statue in the collector's edition, it was a bit of a shock to see this guy get killed off before the game had even received its first patch. The fact that you didn't originally see his body may have been a hint that a return was planned for a later date, but well... let's just say that at this point it seems increasingly unlikely, and the game does allow you to kill him off properly. It strikes me as a shame as you see quite a bit of him if you level through flashpoints as an Imperial character, but at the same time he's not given nearly enough time to show his personality as described in loving detail in the Deceived novel. His betrayal just comes out of nowhere and feels like both a waste as well as bad storytelling. Here it just feels like the story could have been fleshed out to be so much more than it was ever given a chance to be, even if it had still ended with his eventual death.

1. Empress Acina

Finally, my personal number one for this list is another "optional" death, Empress Acina. The reason I rank her much higher than Jace Malcolm even though they die to the same thing, depending on your choices, is that she was much more fleshed out in game (chapter two of KotET is pretty much entirely about bonding with her) and the choices that lead her to hold the idiot ball in order for her death to occur seem even more out of character for her than they were for Malcolm. Again, what a waste of a perfectly good character.


Go ahead and share anyone that I didn't include but that you feel also would have deserved a place on this list!

11/10/2017

Faction Attitudes

I've been playing some of my Imperial max-level alts lately. As my fourth Republic character slowly makes her way towards Command Rank 300, I figured it was about time to give the other faction some love. (And not just because yesterday's patch introduced an achievement to get all eight classes to 300. Only mostly.)

However, I've also found that for some reason pugging on Imp side is a bit more likely to frustrate me. I keep running into attitudes that annoy me, and I wonder whether there is some truth to my perception or whether I'm just biased.

Actually, I think there can be no doubt about character distribution in terms of light and dark side at least. Go pug the Esseles five times and tell me how many times you got to sell out Ambassador Asara. Zero, right? Now pug the Black Talon five times and tell me how many times Captain Orzik survived. Maybe once - if you got lucky.

It's understandable though. While the game allows you to play a kind Sith or an evil Jedi, it's more natural for people to choose the Republic if they want to play a good guy and the Empire if they want to be evil.

However, people don't just roleplay differently. I've also found that Republic players are more likely to at least try to be team players. Now, I'm not claiming that all Republic players are one way and all Imperials another. I'm not even saying the majority on each side is one way or another. But at least to me it seems that attempts at team play are a bit more common on Republic side.

While doing warzones as an Imp, I repeatedly found myself abandoned guarding a node or door, my cries for help as I was trying to stay alive in the face of two or three attackers soundly ignored. Whenever I died and watched the enemy cap, I couldn't help but think: "Typical Imps". On Pub side I almost always get support. People may be slow or run around like headless chickens in other areas of the map, but usually someone will at least try to help.

Imps are also perfectionists. In a Lost Island hardmode run the other night I was healing on my Sorc, when the tank suddenly started berating me for my healing, even though we had a great run with no deaths whatsoever. Earlier he had also moaned about how slow everyone was when I hung back to help a party member who didn't know how to skip the trash at the beginning and pulled something by accident. (Note that the tank himself didn't lift a finger to actually help kill things or guide the person through!) I couldn't help but think about how a Rep pug would most likely just have high-fived each other for having had such an awesome run. Here it was nothing but moaning about how we didn't quite meet the tank's standards for perfection. Again, I see similar things in PvP. People get angry in chat on both sides when they are losing, but it seems to be mostly Imps who start shouting at people for playing sub-optimally even while their team is in the lead.

The one thing I will hand to the Imps is that they seem to have more of the really good players. When I see truly outstanding play in PvP, it's almost always from an Imp - as long as we're talking pure duelling skills, that is. When it comes to objectives, their disinterest in team play (see above) sometimes gets the better of them and they do things like run away from objectives just to get one more killing blow, resulting in a loss despite of their superior ability to kill the enemy. Again, I'm not saying that I've never seen a Pub player do this - it just seem to observe it on the other faction much more often.

Still, in the end I have no numbers to back up my observations either way, so it might just all be bias. Do your experiences with the two factions match my own perceptions? I would expect Imp players to disagree that they have more unpleasant individuals among their ranks, though I'm sure they'll be happy to accept the compliment of supposedly having the better players...

07/10/2017

More Road Map Thoughts

As mentioned in my last post, the announcement of the impending server merges kind of overshadowed everything else that was said in the road map update this week, but there certainly was more. The team at Bioware did a pretty good job at banging the PR drum for once actually, as the post was almost immediately followed-up by a Q&A on Twitch, and this weekend more information about upcoming content has been pouring in via the New York Cantina event.

First I'd like to look at something else though: namely the previous road map released in May. How accurate was it in hindsight? Did everything that was promised in it actually come to pass? The answer is no, but nonetheless the final verdict is positive - nothing that was mentioned in the previous road map has been outright cancelled; a few features that were said to come in the future without any specific time frame just haven't arrived yet but are clearly still being worked on (such as Unassembled Components becoming a legacy currency, the new warzone map, or more returning companions).

The new road map reiterates those points and gives the impression that Keith continues to be devoted to delivering a strong and varied line-up of new content. The next story update will bring back a former Imperial agent companion and has been co-written by famous Star Wars author Timothy Zahn, which gives it quite a pedigree. In terms of multiplayer PvE, there'll be another flashpoint and the next encounter in the Gods from the Machine operation. PvPers will get a new Civil War-type map set on Yavin 4. (I have to confess I'm a little disappointed by that in so far as the previous references to "a new warzone" had made me expect a new rule set, not just a new map, but we will see how interesting it is. Quesh Huttball was sufficiently different from The Pit to make it a fun addition anyway.) And Galactic Starfighter will see its first proper rebalancing in years as well as a new map. (Again, not as good as a new game mode, but a big step up from nothing!)

At the same time, an impressive amount of effort seems about to be invested in quality of life changes and polishing existing parts of the game, such as continued CXP changes and the addition of a special vendor for companion customisations that were previously unavailable to one faction. What intrigued me the most personally was the mention of plans to update Dark vs. Light, conquest and the group finder. Maybe the longer dark/light states will improve my chances of convincing my guildies to hunt down some of those special bosses. (Understandably people didn't want to jump out to go looking for them for an hour in the middle of an ops.) My interest in conquest has been waning for a while, and the incoming server merges will likely make it impossible for my small guild to ever compete again under the current rule set. But if they make changes to the system afterwards, who knows? I don't know what to think of the idea of a group finder revamp, because I do think the current one works fine, but I'm open to possibilities.

All in all, the current direction continues to be encouraging for long-time fans of the game. Sure, I've seen the occasional grumble from dedicated KotFE/KotET players who want to see nothing but new solo story content, but overall public perception seems to have improved a lot compared to say, a year ago. Even in places like the SWTOR Facebook page, where I'm used to the top comments usually being whines about how much the game sucks now, people are positively excited and discussing the new developments with interest. Not bad for a nearly six-year-old MMO, not bad at all.

03/10/2017

United Forces AKA Server Merges Inc.

Yesterday, passionate SWTOR players around the world were eagerly awaiting the release of Keith's latest road map, to find out what he has in store for the game for the next few months. It launched with quite a bang, with the very first bullet point being big enough to require its own lengthy post and (in my opinion at least) pretty much overshadowing everything else that came after: Server merges are coming - even if the post itself carefully avoids using the M word at all costs, as seems to have become the standard in the industry. All we hear about is connecting servers and uniting players.

Server merges have been a subject that the community has been talking about for a long time. As recently as June, I wrote about why I personally wasn't keen on the idea. However, I can't claim to be totally surprised that they are happening anyway. I had a feeling they were going to happen eventually, I just didn't expect the time to come quite so soon.

As you'd expect from someone who was against the idea, I'm not particularly happy about the news - but somewhat to my own surprise, I'm not really upset either. More than anything, I'm just kind of stunned. Even though I foresee few effects on my personal in-game experience (as I mentioned before, queue pops can't get any faster than instant), I felt a strong emotional connection to the name Red Eclipse, especially after all the trials and tribulations that accompanied my move onto the server back in 2012. I'm so used to talking about playing on TRE and tagging all my videos with "Red Eclipse" that it's going to be strange to be on Darth Malgus soon, even if it's not a bad name. (Everyone's thoughts are going out to the American west coast players who will soon be living on "The Hot Prospect". /snicker)

I'm also kind of quietly impressed by the sheer amount of effort that was clearly put into preparing for this. The post linked above contains a lengthy FAQ listing all kinds of things that won't be affected by the merges but that were constantly borked up by server transfers in the past. This certainly goes some way towards explaining why it felt like the team hasn't been working at full capacity in terms of putting out content for the past few months - they were obviously busy coding other things. Even things like duplicate strongholds are accounted for, something I never expected them to really give a damn about - and yes, you will get to keep them both.

However, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Unsurprisingly, not all the downsides of enforced server merges could be addressed. If you simply liked being on a quieter server, you're just screwed, and I've already heard disgruntled grumblings from several roleplayers about Bioware abandoning them. (To be honest, I think Bioware already abandoned them when they removed the server tags and therefore made it impossible for new players to "organically" find the game's RP communities, without prior research.) I also had to chuckle a little at the prediction of conquests having more fierce competition than ever before being framed as a positive thing, as if it wasn't the deathblow to the aspirations of many smaller or medium-sized guilds of ever conquering a planet again.

And of course there is the naming issue, as character names will continue to remain unique and nothing was done to alleviate the incoming pains of people having to duke it out over the more popular ones. I was kind of surprised they decided to go ahead without addressing that, especially as they are implementing a workaround to deal with identical guild names. At least priority will be given to subscribers and characters that have been played a long time.

This one has also given me food for thought though. Newer readers might not know that my in-game character is actually called Shíntar with a funny i as I lost the "simple" version of the name during the first round of server transfers. I never worked up the courage to ask the other guy whether he would consider changing his name, but I did keep him on my friends list on one of my Imperial alts to keep an eye on him, and he never levelled up beyond level 60. Now, for all I know that could just mean that he changed mains and is now playing something else, but I can certainly hope that this means that he stopped playing and subscribing some time ago. And as I own the name Shintar on The Progenitor, which will be merged into TRE, I might be able to win out over him! I'm not really sure about the guy owning the name on Tomb of Freedon Nadd, but a quick inspection revealed another level 60 Sorcerer, so odds are that it's another abandoned account. Fingers crossed I guess...

I suppose it will be an interesting time for the game if nothing else. I've found that at least to some degree, server merges have a way of making lapsed players come back to check out the new situation, especially if they previously left because they weren't happy with their server's population but didn't want to pay for a transfer. Subscribers getting preference when it comes to keeping their names certainly also serves as an incentive to come back for at least that month, and the way the game is choosing to see it as an event to celebrate, including the dishing out of in-game goodies and achievements, will only be the cherry on top. Let's see how things go I guess.

01/10/2017

Balance Schmalance

For the past couple of months, the SWTOR devs have been spending some time on class rebalancing. The latest round of changes announced for 5.5 included Commando healers, who will have pretty much every healing ability in their arsenal nerfed by X percent.

If you think this post is going to be some sort of thoughtful analysis of these changes, I'm sorry to disappoint. The truth is: I just don't care that much. That's actually why I always find class changes kind of annoying, regardless of whether they are nerfs or buffs. People constantly want to talk about them (usually in the form of lambasting Bioware for supposedly doing it all wrong) and everyone expects me to have an opinion on the matter. I usually don't mind that much when Bioware gives attention to an aspect of the game that doesn't interest me personally. However, usually it's also acknowledged that said updates just won't be relevant to everyone.

I'm continually perplexed by how many people seem to rate constant class changes as something that absolutely needs to be done. I get that they matter to hardcore PvPers, but surely there aren't that many of those? If you're just PvPing more casually... well, my main's class was pretty much universally rated as an easy kill for something like four years and I still had fun. And in PvE I don't recall a single instance since the game's launch where my guild had to ask someone to change class because whatever they were playing was underpowered and we wouldn't be able to bring them otherwise. And that's without even touching on the tens of thousands of people who just log on to do their quests... do you really think they will notice that ability X now does Y percent less damage?

I want to be understanding of why people care about class balance so much. I certainly get a glimpse of it when I look at GSF, which hasn't really been rebalanced since its launch. Strike fighters are just totally useless for example, there isn't anything that a scout can't do better, so nobody really plays the former. And that sucks! But even so, people are still queuing up and having fun. And balance between the actual player classes has never been so bad that a class couldn't participate at all.

I don't know how exactly the work at Bioware is distributed - I know that different people do different things - but I can't help but think there must be something more productive to do for the devs involved than to spend weeks poring over whether certain numbers should go up or down a bit.

26/09/2017

Shadow of Revan is Overrated

Clickbait title? Thanks to Pfannenstiel for the post idea in any case.

There is a new SWTOR podcast in town which I have yet to add to my sidebar, called The Council, and last week a Twitter poll of theirs made the rounds asking people about their favourite SWTOR expansion. I added my own vote and looked at the results, unsurprised that I wasn't part of the relative majority, and moved on without giving it any more thought.

However, this morning I found that Pfanne had written a whole post about it, detailing why he agreed strongly with the most popular choice and still considers Shadow of Revan the best expansion to date. This in turn made me want to write a post about why I strongly disagree and actually consider Shadow of Revan the worst expansion to date. Hurrah for blogger cross-fertilisation!

Now, saying that I think Shadow of Revan was SWTOR's worst expansion so far probably sounds worse than it is, because while I love to criticise and pick apart absolutely everything, I personally don't think that the game has had any truly poor expansions. I just think that all the others were better, even if Rishi is a gorgeous planet and I enjoyed the little class story epilogues that SoR gave us.


Post-launch support matters

First off, a good expansion - to me - is about more than a checklist of its launch day features. What is being done to keep things interesting afterwards? Is there ongoing support in the form of large patches and new content releases?

My own pick for best expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartel, was an absolute star in this regard, but because it didn't tie everything together into a single coherent narrative, people like to forget that all those patches were actually still part of the RotHC content cycle. Someone in the Twitter conversation even wanted to call Oricon an expansion due to its sheer size, and that was just one of those 2.x patches. Others included CZ-198 and the three Forged Alliances flashpoints - another piece of content that people wrongly associate with another expansion (SoR), even though it was actually released months beforehand and only had the "Prelude to Shadow of Revan" label attached to it afterwards. I even joked back then that the patches were coming out faster than I could keep track of them, which is a problem I haven't had in a long time.

In comparison, Shadow of Revan's post-release scene was an absolute wasteland. I even went back to check the patch notes on the official website to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything, but it was actually the opposite: the patch notes only underlined how little there was going on during that time. For example the patch notes for 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3 all made "Bounty Contract Week Returns!" one of the "highlights" because they just had nothing else to talk about. There was Ziost, and that was pretty much it. Three numbered patches for ten months of expansion time, and only one of those actually added a significant amount of new content. And to think that people accused KotFE with its near-monthly cadence of chapter and Alliance alert releases of having no content.

Hurting group play for poor solo features

At launch I only marked it as an "odd choice" that Shadow of Revan forced you into solo instances over and over again, but I actually became quite peeved once I realised that this was now the new normal. In hindsight I can see why they did it - because they wanted you to be able to smooch Theron or Lana in peace, but I still think that this was a piss-poor excuse to ruin the fun of people who were trying to level with their friends. I didn't actually mind the forced solo nature of KotFE and KotET as much because at least those expansions gave me the feeling that my character was driving the story to some extent and making choices that made a difference. If you've ever felt that KotFE and KotET's choices "didn't really matter", go back to Shadow of Revan and Ziost and tell me what great decisions your character got to make in that content. I'll wait. Makeb didn't have very exciting choices either, but at least you could play through the whole thing seamlessly with a group. SoR just combined the worst of both worlds.

It also introduced solo modes to flashpoints with that stupid GSI droid. I don't much mind giving people the ability to solo the content, but the all-powerful droid was a poor band-aid that made for incredibly boring gameplay. Crisis on Umbara is a good example of how you can make a good solo mode in my opinion.

Lack of quality control

Every patch has its bugs, but for some reason SoR sticks out in my memory as buggier than most. Maybe it wasn't - I don't have a handy list to consult for this as I have with the patch notes - but did any other expansion launch with the final part of its main story hopelessly bugged out? I seem to remember that the solo Revan fight was totally impossible to complete solo for something like a week? And of course, once it had been fixed, it was still a terribly scripted and annoying encounter that we were supposed to repeat weekly. I also remember Rishi and Yavin IV being lag hell for weeks, to the point that people said they were quitting because the game was as good as unplayable anyway.

People also like to cite that SoR launched with no less than two operations and two flashpoints, but the problem is that they really weren't that great! Blood Hunt was OK I guess, making a splash by featuring Shae Vizla in game for the first time, but Battle of Rishi was very bland and loveless. The operations were also full of bugs (there was that Coratanni exploit, the main SoR quest line not advancing after ToS completion, the infamous Underlurker remaining totally unpredictable for months) and poorly tuned. I remember Temple of Sacrifice was the first ever operation where I walked out after our first clear and instead of thinking "Wow, that was fun!" I just felt tired and worn out. I had in fact planned to record a video of our first run-through, expecting it to be a laugh, but ended up deleting all the footage because people just ended up getting tired and grumpy. It left such a bad first impression on me that I'd probably rank Ravagers and ToS as my least favourite operations to this day.

Things I Like

I'd personally rank Rise of the Hutt Cartel as my favourite expansion because I liked the game as it was at launch, and without claiming that it was perfect, the 2.x content cycle expanded the base game in a lot of ways that stayed true to the aspects I liked, even if more class and companion stories weren't in the cards at the time.

Knights of the Fallen Empire had issues with the lack of new group content and made levelling a tad too easy for my liking, but I loved the introduction of level sync as a general concept and got hours of fun out of the re-tuned group content. I dare say that my guild actually did better for itself during that time than it did in SoR. KotFE also introduced my favourite warzone of all time - no, I'm not being sarcastic. And I did enjoy getting a new story update every month, not going to lie, which means that KotFE firmly wins out over SoR in the raw fun department for me.

As for KotET - well, I'd say the jury is still out on that one! I think it was off to a strong start with the chapters, uprisings and the promise of a new operation, but Iokath was a bit of a mixed bag and it feels like updates have slowed down quite a bit over the past few months. Still, as I said above, I try to judge an expansion in its entirety, and KotET still has plenty of time left to throw out some more interesting patches.

21/09/2017

Questing Surprises

After I finished my knight's class story, I was wondering what levelling goal to tackle next. Eventually I decided to go back to working on my Commando on the Ebon Hawk. She's been max level for a while now, but more than merely levelling her up, I had made it my mission a while ago to replay all the quests on Republic side on her, since it's so easy to skip them these days and it's been quite a while since I actually saw all of them. When I last left her, she had just finished the Balmorran bonus series.

Aside from the vastly accelerated XP gains, the levelling game also underwent a lot of more subtle changes in 4.0. I did write a first impressions piece about that shortly after 4.0's launch, but my focus back then was on a couple of Imperial alts. On Republic side, I continue to be surprised by changes that I haven't seen yet, such as when I mentioned a broken cut scene in a mission on Coruscant in this post.

One thing I already noticed back in February but about which I didn't write a full blog post at the time was the removal of what I considered an important story choice in the planetary storyline on Balmorra. At one point, after taking control of the planetary satellites, you have to choose between using them to help the Republic military (which was your original goal) or to save a bunch of slicers from being executed - with the latter option having the additional complication that said slicers are best buds with the guy who helped you gain control of the satellites in the first place. Except... when I played through this on my Commando, no dialogue wheel came up, and she just made the light side choice by default. Wait, what? I mean, I was playing light side anyway so I guess it wasn't a big deal, but it was still kind of jarring and I can only imagine how awkward it must feel if you were gunning for the other option.

As not many knowledgeable old-timers replay this content at any given point, the issue hasn't received much publicity, though I found at least one angry forum thread about it. Myself, I simply submitted a bug report about it, because I couldn't fathom why a choice like that would have been removed intentionally. Shortening bonus missions is one thing, but this? Just makes no sense.

As I finally continued to Quesh the other night, I was in for a positive surprise however. For as long as I can remember, there has been this mission on Quesh which is part of the main planetary chain and has you raiding a factory. During the mission dialogue, Broga the Hutt tells you about how he'd really like you to pick up some adrenals while you're over there (wink wink, nudge nudge), which seemed like pretty common "bonus mission talk". The problem was that there never was a bonus mission. Nothing appeared on the quest tracker, and I never found anything to click on inside the factory either. It was a mystery.

Now, as far as I can reconstruct things in hindsight, the bonus mission appears to have always been in the game files, but I guess some bug was preventing it from triggering properly. On the official forums, I found complaints from as recently as 2015 decrying the fact that the quest wasn't working. Well, imagine my surprise when I picked up the main mission this time around, and suddenly the bonus "Broga's Adrenals" appeared on my quest tracker. And lo and behold... when I arrived in the factory, there were crates on the floor that I could click on to pick up the long-lost adrenals! The best part was that on handing in, I was also given the choice whether I wanted to actually hand the adrenals over to Broga or claim them for the Republic. I was a bit surprised that the latter was considered the light side option - even if he's a Hutt, it doesn't seem very kind to agree to fetch something for him and then go: "Nyah nyah, I'm keeping that for my own people."


Still, it was amazing to me that they finally got around to fixing that bonus mission after who knows how many years and that as a result, I got to see something new in old content. I wonder if more such surprises await on the remaining planets that I haven't fully replayed since 4.0? If yes, will they be positive or negative?

17/09/2017

Gods from the Machine So Far

It's hard to believe that it's already been five months since the Gods from the Machine operation opened its doors. My guild actually downed Tyth (the first boss) on veteran mode only three weeks ago. As I wrote in my first impressions of the encounter, many of my guildies weren't particularly enamoured with him, which actually led to us turning our backs on the new operation in short order and going back to working on older boss fights that we still haven't beaten to this day. It was only a little over a month ago that someone said: "You know, we should really give Tyth another try." And after a couple of nights of working on the fight, the God of Rage finally lay defeated at our feet (not counting story mode, which we had of course beaten right on release).

I think one of the major factors that helped our progression was that we eventually deviated somewhat from the strategy laid out by Dulfy's guide. Specifically, the tank swap kept causing us trouble because it wreaked havoc on the add control, so eventually we changed it so that whenever the main tank needed to drop his debuff stacks, he briefly swapped aggro with a dedicated dps instead (the fight's mechanics allow for anyone to get aggro instantly, without the need for a taunt) - this way the off-tank could focus on add control without distractions, so the adds got rounded up much more quickly and calls to AoE them could be made more accurately.



Last night we finally got to try the second encounter, Esne and Aivela, on veteran mode. (I thought the second sister was called Aviela for the longest time... I think that would have made for a much better name.) On story mode, they were mostly a crazy light show without much else happening - the only mechanic you really have to watch out for are the coloured laser beams. But from what I've seen of veteran mode so far, it's pretty much the exact opposite of Tyth. The latter is extremely straightforward from a mechanical perspective, with only very few abilities - the challenge consists of dealing with the adds and the fact that it's largely random what kind of set you get during each wave, forcing you to adapt your tactics on the fly. Esne and Aivela on the other hand enforce an extremely complicated dance, with every person in the ops group having to fulfil different tasks to deal with various adds and abilities, but there are only a couple of points in the fight where you don't know exactly what's going to happen from one moment to the next. While we didn't get them down on the first night, I suspect that this kind of challenge is going to be a little easier for my ops group to tackle than Tyth's. We're just bad at making decisions on the fly.

Either way, I'm quite happy with both of the new boss encounters that we've got so far. I'm kind of hesitant to rate them compared to the older operations, because I suspect that the piecemeal approach to the operation's release has been colouring my judgement. ("Finally a new boss! Gimme!") We'll see how I feel once we have access to the whole thing.

This brings me to my current worry though: When are we going to have access to the full operation? The original plan was to have it finished by the end of the year, but we're now approaching the end of September and only two out of the rumoured five fights are actually live. Seeing the final boss before the end of the year seems increasingly unlikely.

And I'm not mad about "broken promises" or anything, but I'm a little worried. I don't think that Bioware is just bad at planning. I'm worried that Gods from the Machine is underperforming compared to their expectations, which is forcing them to prioritise other things again and slowing down development of the new encounters. I mean, we all know that raiding is a minority pursuit, but so are many things in game, and there's still a difference between developing something for a minority and doing so for a tiny minority.

When I do a search on Youtube for "swtor tyth veteran mode", I currently get 1,720 results, but you don't have to scroll down very far to see the first videos that don't actually match the search term, such as some guild's Eternity Vault run. (Just why, Youtube?) How many raiders are actually left in the game?

Some time ago I had a bit of a discussion with someone, I think it was actually in my own comment section, who posited that making mistakes wasn't such a bad thing for Bioware, because then they get all this good publicity for fixing them, which they wouldn't have gotten if they'd just got it right the first time. I strongly disagreed with this, because from my experience it's rather the opposite: First impressions matter a lot and are likely to get all the big headlines, while fixing things later doesn't get nearly as much attention, and people are less likely to return after having been burnt than if you hadn't scared them off in the first place.

This is what I suspect and fear is happening with Gods from the Machine. Keith really wanted to return that multiplayer feeling to SWTOR, but too many of the people who enjoy this kind of content left over the past two years while Bioware was releasing almost nothing but story updates, and after all this time they have little interest in coming back.


Another thing that speaks in favour of this theory is Tyth's missing master mode. Again, the original plan was for Gods from the Machine to include the return of master modes, with each master mode coming out for the previous boss whenever the next encounter is released. So Tyth's master mode should have come out when Esne and Aivela were released back in July. However, it didn't, and there has been no comment on why or even on whether we might still get to see it later. It probably didn't seem worth the effort, and the fact that there hasn't been much of an outcry from the community about this particular "broken promise" only seems to back that up. Honestly, even as someone who still runs ops every week, I can't claim to be upset by this particular decision. The veteran modes for Tyth and the sisters seem more in line with Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice so far, meaning they are hard enough as it is and don't feel like you could realistically add another difficulty above them that would be played by more than a handful of guilds. However, it's still a little discouraging to see Bioware backpedal on their plans for the new operation quite so quickly.

In conclusion I turn to you, my readers who also run ops: What do you think? If you weren't interested in ops before, I don't see why Gods from the Machine would have suddenly changed that. But if you were a "lapsed" raider for example, has the new operation helped at all to get you interested again? If you have been raiding it, how much time have you spent on fighting the new bosses? I suppose that in terms of pure metrics, even my own guild wouldn't have appeared to be very interested, as we still spend so much time in the old operations.

12/09/2017

Pugging with Shintar: Venturing Into Master Modes

I've managed to continue to upload an episode of my pugging video series pretty much every week, despite of being worried at some point that I might not be able to keep it up. I'm kind of amazed by my own ability to maintain a routine sometimes. Too bad it's not really a very highly-valued skill (though handier in everyday life than you might think).


Somehow I've also ended up with one hundred subscribers on YouTube! Thanks, everyone! I hope the fame doesn't go to my head. Anyway, here are the new episodes I uploaded over the last six weeks:

Episode 13: Falling Off Lifts in Cademimu - Long-time readers may know that Cademimu is an old favourite of mine, and I was pleased to get it as my random that day. Following the age-old tradition, someone fell to their death off a lift, including me. You'd think I'd really know better by now.

Episode 14: Confusion, Chaos & Naked Anti-Bob - This episode started with me ending up in Cademimu again because apparently I had failed to unselect it from the group finder menu - still, what were the odds of getting the exact same thing again? Like back in Episode 7, I powered through quickly and then queued again. This time I ended up in Mandalorian Raiders, in a run that included a Commando who wore virtually no gear and needed on everything. Strange times!

Episode 15: Splitting the Party in Legacy of the Rakata & Pugette's First MM! - In a relatively unremarkable Legacy of the Rakata run Pugette reached the milestone of hitting level 50, which allowed her to queue for master mode flashpoints for the first time. I put myself in the queue right away, expecting nothing to happen, but got a pop almost instantly and therefore decided to turn the episode into another double feature. I got into master mode Athiss as my first of its kind, which was fortunately a relative softball, especially as my group consisted of pretty good players.

Episode 16: Trash Skipping Gone Wrong in MM Cademimu - With master modes unlocked in the group finder, I decided to queue for both veteran and master modes simultaneously, fully expecting the veteran mode to pop first... just to get into another master mode run instantly. Back to Cademimu I went once again, though this time in its harder iteration. No deaths from fall damage in this one, though I made a complete fool out of myself on the first boss. The ending was also a good demonstration of how badly (or not at all) communicated trash skipping attempts can go horribly wrong and just end up delaying everything.

Episode 17: Bad Chemistry in MM Assault on Tython - The instant master mode pops continued. This one was off to what I felt was a super awkward start, with the tank asking to be kicked, me causing a wipe by obliviously running into a group of mobs the others had skipped, and a strangely passive-aggressive exchange ensuing between the dps when we got a replacement tank. The run continued fine after that, but my good mood was shot, because that's what this sort of behaviour does to me unfortunately. I also found the last boss quite tough to heal!

Episode 18: Interesting Times in MM Maelstrom Prison - This late-night visit to hardmode Maelstrom Prison ended up being one of my favourite kinds of pugs: We actually did both the bonus missions for maximum XP, people were chill, and while some mistakes were made, they were amusing and/or simply shrugged off, so a good time was had by all (I hope).

08/09/2017

Hair

When I talk to other players about character appearances, it often seems to me that I care a lot less about what my characters look like than the average player... yet at the same time, also a lot more.

I care less in the sense that I don't really give a fig about whatever's supposed to be the newest, coolest set of gear from the Cartel Market. Most of my characters only own a single outfit, which they've often worn since they were lowbies. And what's that about some detail about the newest hairstyle that you don't like? Eh.

However, I seem to care more than average in the sense that I consider my characters' looks an essential part of their personality and rarely - if ever - change them. I think I can still recall every single time I've ever taken a character to the barber shop to change their appearance after creation (in any MMO) - it hasn't been often.

I also tend to have silly rules for myself, such as that no two characters on the same server are allowed to sport the same hairstyle. Everyone must be unique! I would probably be in trouble if there weren't so many species that have no hair (Twi'lek, Togruta, Rattataki) or whose ladies at least look pretty good with a bald head (Zabrak, Cathar).


Looking at the colours though,  I seem to have a thing for shades of black and red, hmm...

Bioware's lack of skill when it comes to designing appealing hairdos certainly turns this self-imposed limitation into a challenge sometimes. You see this in some of their other games too: lots of hairstyles that give off the impression that the artist doesn't actually know how women like to wear their hair, and which look more as if someone just gave them a list of checkboxes in an attempt to come up with some variety: ponytail, short bob, bun, um... short style with a random braid somewhere?

At launch in particular, I remember people complaining a lot about the lack of long hair options. I could kind of understand why that was a thing though, as long hair would have invited clipping and physics problems. Just look at how much work they put into Twi'lek lekku initially: Even if the result doesn't move like something that's supposed to contain a creature's brain (they tend to behave more like balloon animals really...), it does move...

At some point however, someone up top seemed to say: To hell with worrying about clipping and physics, if people want to buy long hair, let them! So we got "the Barbie", which is sort of the opposite of what they did with lekku... no physics, it clips like crazy and moves about as gracefully in the wind as a hard hat, but who cares? People bought it anyway, and based on how many female characters I see sporting it on the fleet and in screenshots, it's certainly popular.


A Shintar that must never be.

Now their latest coup has been to add some hairstyles that had previously been reserved exclusively for some important NPCs: "the Shae", "the Lana", "the Senya". I kind of wish they didn't continue to go down that road. It's not strictly against my imaginary rules, but it certainly doesn't help with feeling unique when I'm bound to eventually run into an important character that will sport the exact same hairdo as me. Plus I think the Senya bun is just an uglier variation of other buns already in game.

... but of course I still bought them! You never know. I can't keep creating Twi'leks forever and at some point I'm going to run out of available hair options that I find tolerable... unless they add more of course. Which is why new hair bundles will continue to be one of those things that I'll always pick up on day one.