20/03/2017

Red Eclipse Companion Giveaway!

I've mentioned not long ago that I very rarely even look at the Cartel Market, but this past weekend a promotion on the launcher caught my eye: the "Grand Companion Pack", which was guaranteed to grant you a type of combat companion that's usually only available as a rare drop from a Cartel Pack. "Oh," I thought, "maybe I can finally get an Akk Dog. They're pretty cute."

I did eventually get one, but since it was still subject to some RNG, not before I ended up with a whole slew of other companions, including many duplicates. What to with all those droids and beasts? Well, I've been meaning to run another giveaway for a while, so why not use them for that? I feel like I should be giving back to the community anyway, considering that most of my Cartel Coins are generated by people clicking my referral link.

So here we go.

The prizes:

You get to win one out of a total of ten different Cartel Market companions. Yes, you read that right, ten! Last I checked, each of these fellas went for at least a couple of million credits on the GTN. Here's the lot of them:


How to enter:

1. You need to have a character on The Red Eclipse. Sorry, but it's a practical limitation as that's simply where I've got these things lying around, and I'm not going to start server-transferring just to give stuff away.

2. Leave a comment in response to this post telling me which one of these ten companions you'd like to win and why. Example: "I'd love to win the ISO-5R because somehow it manages to look ridiculously cute for a killing machine!" You can only choose one, so choose wisely. Or, you know, you could hedge your bets and pick one that you think is unlikely to be picked by anyone else, therefore making you the default winner.

3. At the end of your comment, leave your character name and faction (of the char on TRE). This is so I know where to send your chosen pet if you win! This doesn't have to be your main if you're shy, just somewhere where I can mail the prize so that you will actually receive it.

The blog is set up to allow anonymous comments, so as long as you can cope with CAPTCHAs you don't have to sign up with any third party service to participate. However, should you still have issues commenting on this post for some reason, feel free to drop me an e-mail with what your comment was supposed to be and I will post it for you.

Who wins?

Each of the ten companions will be randomly given away among the number of commenters who picked it as their favourite. You have until 6 am GMT on the 27th of March to enter, at which point I'll close the comments for this post and announce the winner later in the day.

Good luck and have fun!

18/03/2017

KotET Chapter by Chapter - Chapter 8: End Times

Time for another detailed and spoiler-laden discussion of a Knights of the Eternal Throne chapter. We're up to chapter eight! Though if you missed it...



The Story

You arrive on an Odessen under siege by a vengeful Vaylin, who has nothing holding her back anymore. The Gravestone was caught in dry dock when the attack happened and hasn't been able to join the fight yet. While the Eternal Fleet does its usual thing of just floating in space, with the frontline ships pew-pewing the surface a bit, you land your shuttle and, with Lana in tow, do what you can to help out your ground forces.

You commandeer a walker and get to play through another version of the walker assault on Voss from chapter one - only with the ability to heal at will as long as you're out of combat. While fighting your way through the Odessen Wilds, you make contact with various allies until you reach the Gravestone, where you meet up with either Arcann and Senya, or if they're dead, Theron. You manage to protect the ship just long enough for it to be able to take off and shoot a bunch of enemy walkers that are approaching your position. Then the Gravestone is off to help in the space battle.

At this point, you either continue with Lana and Theron, or Senya and Arcann, with Lana and Theron conveniently buggering off somewhere else. At a comm station, you contact Vaylin just as one of her underlings informs her that the battle is as good as won even though it's still going to take a while. You bait her into coming to the surface to face you (and potentially her mother and brother) personally, and she cannot resist.

After another brief stint in a walker, you receive distress calls from both Torian and Vette, both of whom claim to be pinned down. Valkorion unsubtly whispers in your ear that you can't possibly save everyone, and you are forced to choose to go support either one or the other. When you arrive at their location and try to raise the other on the comm... they are not dead, but Vaylin happened to land right on their head and has taken them prisoner. She gives you coordinates where she'll want to meet you. Your new target ends up being the Alliance base itself.


Just outside the base, where you usually bum around with other people while waiting in queues, picking up daily quests and stuff, Vaylin awaits you with some troops and her prisoner. After Valkorion shows up and they exchange some taunts, she angrily hurls her prisoner to the floor... but just as you kneel down to help them, Vaylin uses the Force to twist their neck.

With that final gauntlet thrown down, it's time for the big showdown, in which Vaylin's barely contained power cracks the very walls of the base, but with the help of your allies you finally defeat her. Her forces immediately break and retreat upon her death and it seems that the fight is finally over.

When you talk to your closest allies, they express grief about the death of either Torian or Vette, and Arcann or Lana comment that they could feel Vaylin's power flowing into you, though unlike her father she doesn't seem to have possessed the strength of spirit to live on in your head. Just then, you receive distress calls from the Sith Empire and Zakuul, and the Republic is under attack as well. The Eternal Fleet has gone rogue and is bombing planets everywhere into oblivion. Valkorion opines that the only way to stop it is to take control over it via the Eternal Throne. So you ask for the Gravestone to be readied as you have to pay Zakuul one more visit.


My Thoughts

In a nutshell, End Times is what Battle of Odessen should have been: an actual planetary battle, with armies clashing, people dying, and a big showdown at the end. (In fact, I accidentally keep referring to this chapter as "Battle of Odessen" in my head... KotET chapter 16 is more of a "Showdown with Arcann".) It's not perfect, but I certainly found myself sufficiently engrossed by the events to be excited about what was going to happen next and not nitpick any details until later.

The walker section from chapter one makes a return and feels less annoying due to the ability to heal up wherever you want, but at the same time the fact that there's two vehicle segments along the road makes it feel like the mechanic is overstaying its welcome a little bit. On replaying it, I found that it didn't actually feel as long as it did on my first playthrough, but the problem is that it's way too easy to run into some kind of nuisance. For example you cannot voluntarily exit the walker, and for some reason it walks quite slowly and has issues with obstacles that your character could ordinarily leap over with ease. During my first playthrough of this chapter, I realised fairly late that I had missed a companion for the bonus mission near the start... but since I was in a walker bit at the time, I had to plod back to the start really slowly, making the whole thing take forever. On this playthrough, which was on veteran mode, I died a couple of times and it respawned me way back at the start every time, enforcing a really annoying run back. I've also heard that the walker doesn't play nice if you want to bring a friend along to the chapter - since they can't get into the walker with you, they basically get swarmed and killed by the mobs every time.


The choice between Torian or Vette is simultaneously great and a bit cheap. It's contrived because you have several highly competent characters with you who can single-handedly turn the tide of many a battle, but for some reason you can't freaking split up? But it's also great because it really forces you to think and makes for a great talking point with other players. The emotional punch hits all the harder because while Valkorion pretty much warns you that the one you don't choose to help will die, nothing happens right away, allowing you to keep hoping that things will be alright somehow until Vaylin delivers the killing blow at the very last moment. Ouch.

The fact that you run most of the chapter either with Arcann and Senya or Lana and Theron makes for some interesting variety too. Personally I find facing off against Vaylin with her mother and brother by my side the much more satisfying option, but that may just be me. Considering the emphasis the Betrayed trailer put on the relationship between Senya and Vaylin (plus everything we saw of the two of them interacting in KotFE), the final confrontation between them feels kind of subdued, but that's what you get when Senya could theoretically already be dead by that point and the moment has to be more about you than about any of your companions.

16/03/2017

Tiers Within Tiers

What, has it really been more than a week since I last had anything bad to say about CXP? Time to get back to complaining!

... I'm kidding. Mostly.

This particular subject isn't anything more than minor nitpick territory, but I haven't really seen anyone else talk about it so I did want to write a short post about it.

When I first hit Command tier two, I remember having a conversation with a guildie that went something like this:

Me: Oh finally, a useful piece of tier two gear!
Guildie: Oh nice, it is the artifact or the legendary version?
Me: ... bwuh?

The idea that there were two different versions of each tier item after the first one was initially just bewildering to me. After having had some time to take it in, and taking into consideration how much of the whole CXP mess appears to have been inspired by World of Warcraft's Legion expansion, I figured that this was another such thing that Bioware tried to copy. I haven't played retail WoW in several years, but purely from reading about it on other blogs I've gathered that there's a mechanism that sometimes randomly upgrades your gear drops to a better version of themselves or something. I don't entirely get the point behind it, but I could at least understand the basic idea: making you feel special and lucky when you get the rare piece that's better than usual.

But then 5.1's vendors came in, and all the gear they traded in was the legendary version of each item. So... the rare special upgrade became the new default, which turned the previous "regular" tier into "slightly crappier than usual". I mean, sure, tier pieces are still enough of a pain to get that it's not entirely bad to get a purple one, but it does feel pretty lame that unlike the orange versions, you can't trade them in for upgrades.

5.2 is slated to highlight the issue even more, with the newly introduced tier four also having blue items with set bonuses. I mean, on the one hand: Yay, more chances at a set bonus? But on the other hand: Why not just have one item level each tier and increase its bloody drop rate?

The point of having set bonus gear with different item levels used to be to reward people for doing harder types of content, e.g.: You did hardmode flashpoints! Have a set of set bonus gear. You did operations! Have a set of set bonus gear but with slightly higher stats. That kind of thing.

Having multiple different item levels of the same item drop from a box at random rewards nothing but pure luck. Worse though: With the vendors effectively treating the highest item level as standard, you don't get to feel lucky for scoring something better than the norm every now and then - you only get to feel unlucky for constantly getting drops that aren't even as good as the vendor-bought stuff.

12/03/2017

Hyped for 5.2

The other day the official SWTOR Twitter account asked: "What are you most looking forward to this April in the 'War for Iokath'?" Somewhat to my own surprise, I found myself wishing that the poll had an "all of the above" option. I'm actually more excited for 5.2 than I've been for a patch in a long while. Let me explain why by going through the four things listed in the poll that Bioware figured we would get excited about.


New Iokath Storyline

I've liked KotFE and KotET well enough (and have spent a lot time writing about them on this blog) but... they weren't really the stories I would have chosen for my characters if it had been up to me. I can live with the class stories not getting continued, but the Republic-Empire conflict, for me, is too much of a core tenet of Star Wars to be able to let go of it. On my trooper main at least (less so on some alts), I basically played through KotFE and KotET with an attitude of: "Well, this is bad; guess I gotta sort this out before I can get back to saving the Republic." But I never let go of my roots and the wish to eventually get back to them.

It took them two years, but it looks like I'm finally getting what I wanted, a chance to reconnect with my origin faction! The option to ally with your former enemies instead is a nice bonus from a roleplaying perspective, though I'm not sure I could see any of my own characters going for it. I'm also genuinely curious to see how the story continues from here, as KotET's ending left things in a kind of awkward place from a storytelling perspective. I'm looking forward to seeing what Bioware's writers can come up with though.

I'm trying not to get too hyped because I don't expect the actual story part of 5.2 to be all that meaty, but just seeing things go in the right direction again (for me) makes me want to squee.

Iokath Daily Area

OK, this one doesn't have me that excited because I don't really like dailies (it also got the least amount of votes in the poll). But it has been two years since we last got a new daily area in the form of Ziost, so why not? I'm looking forward to getting another zone to play in and to actually have a reason to go there more than once for a story quest (unlike Darvannis for example). Also, I expect this to mark the first time since Ziost that my pet tank and I will be able to play story-related content from a new update as a duo (since 4.0 and onwards was all solo phases, and I'm not counting uprisings as they are meant for a full group). If that's not exciting, I don't know what is!

Returning Companions

Companions have gone into a slightly odd direction since 4.0, with somewhat contradicting design decisions being made. Specifically in this case, we have a lot of them but probably only care for very few because we don't have much of a story connection to most of them! Our original class companions are still different though. They all had their own story arcs, and especially the early ones really built relationships with you. I mentioned before how I didn't think I was too attached to my companions, but actually losing them made me realise that I missed them quite a bit after all. So getting Elara Dorne back, the last trooper companion whose fate had been unknown until now, has me excited. Conveniently my main alt for story purposes is currently a warrior, so she has reason to be excited about Quinn's return as well! Since she romanced him, that one's going to be somewhat emotionally charged, and I genuinely don't know how it will go. It will depend a lot on how Quinn acts after all this time apart I suppose. Either way, I'm very much looking forward to finding out! I'm not at all surprised that this option won the Twitter poll by quite a margin.

New Operation Boss

OK, so a single new boss instead of a full operation isn't exactly what I wanted, but I'll take it. I've probably weathered the drought of new operations better than many raiders since I seem to be able to rerun old group content for longer than the average player without getting bored, but I'm still excited to finally go up against a new enemy with my guildies again. And as Rav has laid out in an excellent speculative blog post, what little we know about the new operation seems to indicate that it will have interesting lore as well. Gimme!

Basically, all signs seem to point at this "Oricon-like" patch being a return to more traditional content updates instead of all story chapters, all the time, with more open world environments, new group content, story progression outside of dedicated chapters and a return to the themes and characters we love. I can't wait!

09/03/2017

Cartel Controversy

I very rarely write about the Cartel Market on here. Even though people frequently complain that Bioware spends too many resources on it (while simultaneously complaining that not enough resources are spent on filling the Cartel packs with new and unique item models, because MMO players are nothing if not conflicted), I can tell you from experience that it's very easy to play the game very intensely without ever even looking at the shop. It's just not needed. Maybe things are different if you are always on the lookout for the newest fashion items, but that's not me.

However, yesterday a particular bit of controversy caught my eye. The Unstable Arbiter's Lightsaber (aka the "Kylo Ren Lookalike Lightsaber") is having a limited time stint on the Cartel Market as a direct sale item. While I have no interest in it myself, that seemed nice to me. Previously it was only available as an ultra rare drop from Cartel packs, and people are always complaining about those and saying that they just want to be able to buy the highly sought-after items directly, even if they were expensive. So Bioware has decided to finally give people what they want, at least as an experiment. That's great, right?


Apparently not, because... the price! 7600 Cartel Coins come in at about $60 - I haven't done the maths for myself, but considering the prices of different CC bundles, that seems about right.

Now, don't get me wrong, I see nothing wrong with people saying that they find this too expensive for what it is. But the sheer outrage accompanying the sentiment surprises me. I happened to click on my general chat tab last night just to be greeted by someone saying that this makes them so angry with EA, they hope that someone bombs their offices. Yeah.

People are treating this like some sort of insult or sign of moral failing and I just don't see why. We're not talking about food, medication or some other necessity here, but cosmetic fluff in a video game. The real world is full of stuff like this. You can buy a handbag for $30 or for $3000, without gaining any functionality, and yet I don't see anyone raging that Chanel hangbags are a thing that exists. People like to show off their wealth; it's a thing.

"But that's more expensive than many fully-priced other games!" Yes, and instead of buying a Chanel handbag you could buy a used car instead, but do you want to? If you are playing a lot of different games and spending money on a lot of different games, then spending $60 on a single vanity item is probably not an attractive proposition to you. But many MMO players aren't gamers in the traditional sense who buy lots of new releases every month. If SWTOR is all you're playing, you're having a good time with it and are happy to support it financially, this offer might not seem quite so crazy after all.

I suppose being the one to raise the prices on the market compared to competitors might cast any dev in a bad light, and I can't think of any other Western MMO that currently charges this much for a single cosmetic item in their cash shop. Though that does remind me of previous PR disasters related to expensive cash shop items.

Who could forget EVE Online's "Monoclegate", which was enough to earn the word monocle a special Urban Dictionary entry? Though from what I gathered from reading Wilhelm's blog, that seemed to be less about the item's mere existence and more about CCP threatening to drastically change the game's direction, of which the monocle was but a symptom. Or how about LOTRO's "hobby horse" from 2012? Though again, looking back at that now the annoyance seemed to stem less from the existence of something that expensive and more from it just not being a very desirable item.

One thing that makes the Unstable Arbiter's Lightsaber different is that it's not a new item, but something that has been around for a while and actually has a real-world value already. Sure, you can't officially trade real money for credits directly, but you can buy Cartel Coins, buy something from the shop and sell it on the GTN. Looking at the GTN on TRE this morning, I saw Unstable Lightsabers going for about sixty million credits. I compared this to the sale prices of popular cash shop items to re-sell, such as hypercrates and character boosts, and what do you know, you would have to buy and sell about 7000+ CC worth of stuff to earn those sixty million. So basically, people were already able to buy the item for that amount if they wanted, it's just that the supply was limited. But hey, evil Bioware for giving people more of a popular thing I guess. I hope it goes well for them.

06/03/2017

KotET Chapter by Chapter - Chapter 7: Into The Void

Time for another detailed and spoiler-laden discussion of a Knights of the Eternal Throne chapter. We're up to chapter seven! Though if you missed it...



The Story

We start the chapter with a view of Valkorion on his throne, flanked by his two sons. Adult Vaylin appears and tells him that he should have left her on Nathema. He responds that Zakuul is where she belongs and hands her a lightsaber. There is a brief moment where it seems like she might strike at her father in anger, but then she kneels to him instead.

Your character wakes, revealing that this was something you dreamt. Valkorion's ghost comments that this is a sign of your increasing connection, since what you saw was one of his memories. You ask about Nathema and he explains that it's a "blighted, forgotten world where the Force has been corrupted" (if you read the Revan novel, you know all about that already) and that he sent Vaylin to be taught and conditioned there. He also suggests that the timing of this dream is a warning that Vaylin is seeking to return to Nathema to break her conditioning.

When you walk in on Theron and Lana speculating where Vaylin's disappeared to shortly afterwards, you suggest Nathema as an option. Theron locates it and realises that Vaylin had communications with someone there during the party. If Arcann is one of your followers now, he expresses fear of returning there and that being exposed to its taint might undo everything he's achieved since Voss, which is why he wants to stay behind.


Either way, you travel to Nathema by shuttle, only accompanied by Lana and Theron. Lana immediately starts having headaches upon arrival, as the Force is kind of "hollow" on the planet, and it feels like the void wants to devour her. Valkorion's ghost appears to flicker in and out of existence as well. We see Vaylin landing at a remote facility, speaking to an Anomid scientist and insisting on entering alone, without her guards. You land nearby to retrace her steps with Lana while Theron stays with the shuttle.

Meanwhile, the player sees Vaylin walk through a sort of indoor garden where she's assaulted by a number of monstrous beasts that bear some resemblance to Acklays. She is momentarily frightened when she realises that she can't use her Force powers here to swat them aside, but then she simply pulls out her lightsaber to cut them down manually. The Anomid scientist we saw her talking to in chapter six, Jarak, expresses distaste for her lack of control and the killing of his "pets". However, he also says that he made a breakthrough in terms of breaking Vaylin's conditioning and offers to show her to the main lab.

You and Lana fight your way into the "sanitarium" in her wake and find traces of what Vaylin must have gone through in her childhood, from her literal cell to holojournals detailing the gruelling treatments she underwent at the hands of Jarak, who was given free reign to do whatever he wanted to her short of getting her killed.


The scene returns to Jarak and Vaylin, where the scientist confesses that none of his lab rats survived his new treatment so far, but he is sure that Vaylin will be fine due to her strength. We see her getting engulfed by green lights and scream in pain as she unleashes a destructive wave of power. Even you and Lana can feel it and push ahead to stop the process. You run straight into Jarak, who's trying to flee the scene. He worries that Vaylin's power will destroy the facility and that there isn't enough time to escape. He offers to lead you to a safe place however, provided that you help protect him on the way.

Your safe haven turns out to be a vault that is shielded against Force powers due to Valkorion having used it to store particularly powerful and dangerous artifacts. Soon after you enter the vault, we see Vaylin freeing herself from the painful grip she in in. If Senya is still alive, she will wake from her coma during the height of Vaylin's pain, which makes for a nice throwback to the Betrayed trailer.

The burst of power has overloaded the circuits that open the vault door, forcing you to look for a way to restore backup power. A mysterious red holocron catches your eye, and when you touch it, it reveals the spirit of a Pureblood Sith Lord, who seems to have expected the Emperor - to whom he refers as "Tenebrae" - to come and torment him again. He reveals himself as Lord Dramath, the Emperor's father and former ruler of the planet - until his son murdered him and turned the planet into a wasteland by performing a dark ritual, similar to what he did on Ziost.


Dramath begs you to release him from imprisonment and end his existence, while promising that his holocron will serve you as a tool to destroy Valkorion. You can grant his wish or keep him trapped inside the holocron to make use of him later.

Your rummaging around has awoken some monstrous vault guardians that kill Jarak (if you haven't already offed him yourself). Once you defeat them, you can escape the vault. Vaylin is shown to already be back on her flagship, and she enjoys demonstrating her newly unfettered powers by killing most of her own guards without even breaking a sweat. She also channels her hatred into destroying the sanitarium, forcing you to make a run for it to make it out alive, but Theron manages to pick you up before things fall apart. Once off Nathema, Valkorion reappears and confirms that Vaylin has broken her bonds and is now more dangerous than ever. He also seems worried that you might have found something dangerous in the vault.

The chapter ends with Bey'wan Aygo calling you on the holo: You are needed on Odessen urgently as it's under attack.

My Thoughts

I thought that "Into The Void" was another interesting chapter. Nathema is compared to Ziost, and similar to that planet there is less of a focus on combat and more on letting the sheer deadness of the environment weigh you down. While there are more enemies to fight on Nathema than on Ziost, there are still fewer of them than in most chapters, and Bioware definitely lets the heaviness of the place sink in.

However, the focus is less on Nathema's own dark past and more on everything Vaylin went through. Even if you never saw the trailer for KotET, this is a turning point where you get to feel some sympathy for Vaylin upon seeing her prison and understanding what she must have gone through. While the story does point this out, the environment invites you to take a closer look and draw your own conclusions. For example I found it quite heart-breaking to find the "cell" that Vaylin clearly was confined to, containing nothing but a small cot, a desk and a chair. On the desk you can also spot what looks like the little toy she crafted in the trailer... though that would be a continuity error as the trailer also shows it lying in a puddle on Ord Mantell later... but who knows, she might well have made another one. There is a corner with beat up skytrooper dummies that are arranged in a similar fashion as the "knight pinata" she attacked in the trailer - was this the one place where she was allowed to try and exercise her powers sometimes?


You also wonder about the lives of the other people inhabiting the facility - while searching for a key card, you rifle through some books, and on flipping one of them open, I noticed that a postcard from Alderaan had been used as a bookmark - an odd splash of colour in an otherwise very grey environment. Personally I also couldn't help but wonder why the place was such a mess though, with rubbish and random papers on the floor everywhere. There were people living there after all, did they never bother to do even the smallest amount of tidying?

After seeing all of that, you can't help but feel for Vaylin a little when she's trapped in Jarak's machine and in pain. After she breaks free, there is some great work with facial expressions done in the cut scenes, as she slowly goes from a slightly confused "I'm alive?" sort of expression to a sardonic victory grin.

Meanwhile, your character is in a bit of an odd place because you keep chasing Vaylin around but don't really achieve anything on that front. The only interesting choice you get to make is whether to free or keep Lord Dramath, and the significance of that doesn't really become apparent until a bit later.

That said, just seeing Nathema realised in game and talking to Dramath feels great if you've read the Revan novel. So while this chapter is heavy on exposition and explaining Vaylin's (and to some extent Valkorion's) backstory, with a limited amount of action for your character, I've enjoyed it every time because it's just so atmospheric, achieving a very different feel from any other chapters of KotFE or KotET.

04/03/2017

300


300 movie poster taken from its Wikipedia page.

Yesterday I hit Command rank 300 on Shintar and I feel that this is something I should make a post about. At the same time, I'm not entirely sure there is really that much to say about it because it doesn't really change anything other than my Command rank's number not going up anymore. It doesn't unlock anything new, at least not for now - though we've been told that 5.2 will bring a new tier of gear with it which will start coming out of boxes from 300 onwards. It doesn't finish anything either - after opening more than a hundred tier 3 crates, I only have two pieces of 242 gear... you do the maths in terms of how many more of these I would actually need to open to get a full set (14 slots). I suppose I can be glad that after all the buffs and boosts to CXP, getting to this point only took me three months instead of the full year people were estimating based on the originally datamined CXP numbers?

I don't really have any tips for "how to grind CXP" either, since I don't play like that. I just logged in to do things I enjoy every evening: mostly operations and regular warzones with my guildies, with the odd flashpoint, uprising or GSF match thrown into the mix. (Min-maxers would usually have you grind certain story chapters over and over instead.) If a new crate appeared in my bag, I opened it and moved on - as implied above, 99% of the time I had no reason to be excited about its contents, but fortunately I don't rely on them for my gearing anymore. I guess I can say I'm happy that Bioware managed to turn Command rank into a system that is now safe to ignore if you raid or PvP, but that's hardly a ringing endorsement of their work...


The actual ding shot in veteran Firefrost with guildies.

I suppose now I can wonder about how to "prepare" for 5.2. Originally I was planning to re-focus my efforts on one of my alts once Shintar hit 300, but with the knowledge that a new tier is coming, the common advice seems to be to "save up" both any legacy-bound CXP packs as well as all your recently earned crates, so you can use/disintegrate them for a quick boost once 5.2 comes out. All I can think of whenever I see people say that is: "Jesus Christ, people, do you have unlimited bag space or something?" I can sort of see it for the packs as they are legacy-bound and can be sent to alts for storage if needed, but the crates themselves? It's not like disintegration gives that much anyway. I've reserved one cargo bay for CXP packs for now and we'll see how quickly it fills up.

28/02/2017

Thanks, Gree!

While I've complained about Bioware's urge to make the player base level more quickly pretty much since the first double XP weekend was held, back in the day these enforced levelling boosts were never enough of a disruption to my way of life to seriously affect my play time. I do have to draw the line at the current event though. Don't get me wrong, I like the Command XP portion of it well enough, but 3.5 times regular XP gains? Considering how much levelling was already sped up in 4.0, that would mean that class quests currently give 21 times as much experience as they did at launch! Twenty-one times! If you're still trying to follow the intended flow of the story that's just madness. Even if the quests never go grey anymore due to level sync, it just feels crazy and wrong.

So I was pleasantly surprised that today's patch brought back the White Acute Module, a feature that I believe was first introduced for the first 12x XP levelling event and which cancels out any "enforced" XP boosts. It can be purchased from "Hathe'k", a jolly Gree vendor on the outer ring of the combat section of either fleet. It's bound to legacy so you can pass it around, but it also costs zero credits so you might as well pick up several while you can. Clicking it once puts an eight-hour buff on your character that cancels the event boost. You can reactivate it at any time by clicking the buff off again, but you can also re-use the module at any time since it has no cooldown. I picked up a couple and am looking forward to playing several of my alts again that I've carefully avoided during the past month.

It's funny how something as simple as this can feel like an exciting opportunity to get back into playing certain characters. Previously I hadn't played most of these alts in ages, but feeling like I "couldn't" because of the event suddenly really made me want to play them again.

26/02/2017

KotET Chapter by Chapter - Chapter 6: The Dragon's Maw

Time for another detailed and spoiler-laden discussion of a Knights of the Eternal Throne chapter. We're up to chapter six! Though if you missed it...



We've reached what's probably my favourite KotET chapter... but more on that later.

The Story

With the fight on Iokath wrapped up one way or another, things seem to have calmed down a bit, except that Vaylin having retaken control of the Gemini droids also means more attacks on Alliance patrols and outposts. Since she's in a celebratory mood, she wants to throw a grand party, with its main event being the execution of some Zakuulan rebels. What she doesn't know is that her "party organiser", a guy called Indo Zal, is a traitor too and has gotten in touch with the Alliance to disrupt the festivities and free his compatriots before they can be killed.

The plan is for Lana and T7 to slice the security grid while you and Theron infiltrate the party dressed as Knights of Zakuul and plant ion charges around the building that will allow you to break all the prisoners' shock collars in one fell swoop. This serves as a fantastic advert for the Zakuul Knight armour set by the way; I thought my characters looked really snazzy in their disguises! Wonder if that increased Bioware's sales of that particular item set... I was kind of tempted myself, but still couldn't think of a way that wearing this set would make sense for any of my characters outside of this particular scenario.

Anyway, you and Theron successfully infiltrate the party and pick up the ion charges from Indo, and then comes the part that I love but which I could also see people hating: a puzzle section during which you spend your time running around the building, trying to get access to all the locations where you need to plant the charges. This involves the solving of some simple problems, such as pretending to be the food delivery person for the guards to gain access to their barracks. If you get stuck, there is an in-game hint button you can click. I'm not going to describe all the steps in detail here; if you need a walkthrough I can recommend Fibrojedi's for the main mission and this post by Calphaya for the super secret bonus mission that isn't even displayed. 


While you plant the charges, we're treated to a scene of Vaylin talking to an Anomid via holo, who assures her that they are close to freeing her of her "weakness" (aka the conditioning). Indo walks in on this conversation and manages to immediately look highly conspicious... one has to wonder how he managed to fool Vaylin for as long as he did if merely walking in on her in the middle of a conversation is enough to cause him to blow his disguise. Unsurprisingly, he gets added to the shock collar squad.

You finish planting the charges just in time for Vaylin's speech, which is when you decide to ditch the armour and crash the party. Vaylin just has enough time to throw the rebels into her beast pit before you activate the ion charges and say the magic words to trigger her conditioning. Right on cue, an unknown shuttle also attacks the building, and out comes... Arcann, accompanied by some soldiers. In the ensuing panic, with people running all over the place and various blast doors getting shut, you manage to jump into the beast pit where Indo and the rest of the rebels are unarmed and exposed to various beasties (though if you did the secret bonus, all but the rancor will be friendly to you). You defend and free them and then have the option to order them to serve as your cannon fodder or encourage them to get to safety.

Vaylin has fled the scene to the sky deck, where she is confronted by her brother and they fight. As soon as you arrive, Vaylin uses a speeder to make her escape, leaving you to confront Arcann alone. Interestingly, he's very different depending on whether you chose to help or kill Senya in chapter one. If you made the kind choice, Arcann himself has turned to the light side while he was away. As a gesture of how much he's changed, he's even got rid of his face mask. (I kind of thought he needed that thing to survive but I guess he just wore it to look edgy and hide his scars? Unless the ritual on Voss also healed him physically so that he doesn't need the mask anymore.) If you killed Senya, Arcann is more or less his old self only even madder and angrier.


Redeemed Arcann vs. "Darkann"

Light side Arcann will pledge his allegiance to you and helps you fight off some Horizon guards. Dark side Arcann wants to fight to the death as usual, but this time you finally get to kill him. (This is what, your fifth attempt to do so?) Since there are lots of holo cameras watching, you also get to frame the event in a light or dark context regardless of which version of Arcann you're dealing with. Either you're a benevolent rescuer, backed by the former ruler / ridding the planet of the previous tyrant, or you're showing off your power, having the former ruler kneel to you / killing him on camera to demonstrate your might. Also, Valkorion chimes in to make some douchey comments to his son either way. The bastard.

Vaylin has escaped to her flagship and orders the fleet to bombard the site to kill everyone, but Lana and T7 help you escape. You return to Odessen victorious, either with a former emperor in tow to support you from now on, or having absorbed his strength while killing him (as commented on by Lana and Valkorion). Either Arcann or Valkorion also comment that Vaylin remains a challenge and won't remain chained by her conditioning forever. And indeed, the chapter ends with the player watching her ship arrive above a dead world where she plans to break her chains.

My Thoughts

I absolutely loved the puzzle section of this chapter. Adventure games were the first PC gaming genre I ever fell in love with as a teenager, and the tasks you have to take care of in this chapter certainly harken back to that kind of gameplay. Now, since this is quite different from what we usually do in SWTOR, I could also see people hating it, but I would hope that only few would have quite such a strong negative reaction. Even on the forums I only found this post by a guy proclaiming that this chapter had "chased him off", but most of the replies seemed vaguely bemused by this rather than in agreement. Bioware actually does have a long history of inserting random puzzles into their content, yet they remain infrequent enough that it's still a surprise every time it happens. I think this chapter does a good job in terms of setting expectations though, as it's explained from the start that your goal is to succeed via subterfuge instead of fighting, so you avoid the pitfall of suddenly running into a "puzzle wall" in the middle of a combat mission.


I also love the hidden bonus mission. It's cute, rewards people for paying attention beyond what it says on the objective tracker, and especially on the harder difficulties it's actually quite handy to complete as well - while your "pets" aren't particularly strong, effectively having four extra "companions" following you around and helping you fight things is definitely useful in terms of dps.

Arcann coming back in two different ways depending on your choices in chapter one is also really well done and undoubtedly one of the better ways in which Bioware managed to live up to their "choices matter" mantra. Initially I wasn't sure whether I liked light side Arcann because in my opinion he comes across as a bit odd - even if you helped Senya, he was confused and hostile the last time you met and his change of mind isn't really explained. However, he grew on me over time and I found his portrayal actually kind of realistic in the sense that he clearly went through a life-changing experience and is now totally focused on it - like someone who converted to a new religion or otherwise changed their lifestyle, found that their life changed for the better afterwards, and is now trying to prove his devotion to his new way of life at every opportunity. Incidentally, the SWTOR Facebook page revealed the other day that 76% of players so far have chosen to redeem Arcann.

Finally, I thought that Indo Zal was a pretty good character in the sense that they managed to give him a fair bit of characterisation for someone who was only just introduced and remains a minor character throughout.

The only negative thing I have to say about this chapter is that the layout of the building feels like it's designed to artificially prolong the chapter, especially towards the end when certain doors suddenly close without explanation, forcing you to run all around the houses to get to where you need to be. I did love the overall atmosphere though.

23/02/2017

Why Raid (in SWTOR)?

Raiding has been on my mind a lot lately. It's actually kind of strange how little I write about it on here, considering that it's the activity that I participate in with the most regularity in SWTOR, as I run operations with my guild several times a week. (It might even win in terms of overall time spent... but I'm not sure about that one.) True, Bioware hasn't exactly given us much to work with for a while, but still...


The announcement that a new operation is finally in the works has been welcome in these parts, but almost as soon as it was out, suddenly the opposition was out in full force again too. Even after two years, how dare Bioware "waste" time on things like a new raid when we still haven't got all our old companions back? And so on and so forth. Few MMO features seem to agitate people on both sides of the fence quite as much as raids, as you have both the supporters that keep shouting that the game needs them or it will surely die and the detractors that angrily denounce any time spent on them as a waste of resources that just caters to a tiny minority. I mean, obviously everyone wants the devs to focus on the stuff that they personally are the most interested in, but people don't seem nearly as passionate about shouting down other people's points of view when it comes to other features. Off the top of my head, only PvP comes close in terms of the amount of outrage it generates.

Looking at it from another angle, dev decisions on the subject of raiding remain inscrutable. Sure, there's WoW, which loves its raiding and which keeps being held up as the gold standard in that department. But other games seem to flip back and forth with no clear signs of whether treating raiding any particular way is good or bad. Wildstar pushed the hardcore raiding angle pretty hard and many put the blame for its lack of success solely on that. On the other hand we have games like Guild Wars 2, which prided themselves on being different from the rest, suddenly jumping on the raid bandwagon late in the game. LOTRO made headlines in gaming circles when it openly scoffed at raiders, yet a few years later they are back to trying to court them with new content. SWTOR never went so far as to say they weren't going to create any more operations, but still left its raiding community hanging for a really long time, just to frantically scramble to make a new release this year. It's funny because whether you think that raids are good or even necessary for a game's success or the complete opposite, if you look at the behaviour of different developers you can currently find evidence to support either point of view. Maybe everyone just keeps making raids because it's what WoW does and studios are still trying to find the secret sauce that will make them as successful as Blizzard.

I suppose it doesn't help that people raid for very different reasons, so even among the tiny raiding minority, not all raids will have equal appeal. Back in my WoW days I remember a fellow blogger explaining how raiding, for him, was all about solving the puzzle of the fight, and he reckoned that he'd be just as happy if instead of fighting dragons with magic missiles we were simply moving geometric shapes around. I knew right away that this definitely wasn't me. I like the feeling of immersion, of fighting a fight so grand that I alone am not strong enough to best it. That's something that matters to me to make raiding fun.


But I also like the camaraderie, which is a major reason of why I've happily continued to down (or die to) the same bunch of raid bosses in SWTOR for the last two years. This is one area where I have not seen or heard of anything that can truly replace the raiding experience yet. Large scale zergs mostly seem to appeal to people who aren't playing with a bunch of friends and just want easy random grouping, but from my point of view I found that they get pretty dull soon when you're actually looking for something to do as a pre-made group.

I'm not a "raid or die" kind of person: Not having raids is not a reason for me not to play a game, and I'm open to doing other types of group content. I just haven't encountered anything yet that really manages to scratch that itch in the same way. At the same time I would never start playing a game just because people say that it has good raiding. SWTOR could remove all raids tomorrow and I would continue to play it - though differently and a lot less - but there is a lot more to a good MMO than one type of content.

I actually wouldn't recommend SWTOR to anyone if they were asking for an MMO to raid in above everything else... but good raiding does add one more thing that can add to a game's overall appeal. The main things I like about SWTOR are the IP (which includes the setting and overall tone of the world), the graphical style finding a nice middle ground between cartoony and realistic, the classic hotbar MMO gameplay and the focus on good storytelling. Its raiding is a nice bonus because I've always been a middle-of-the-road raider, bored by zergs but not good enough to beat the hardest content, and this is the difficulty level that SWTOR's operations largely cater to. If you like SWTOR for other reasons but also like playing with other people, you could do a lot worse than giving its operations a try.