02/12/2016

Social Implications of Galactic Command

I've already had my moan about why I don't like 5.0's new design philosophy of moving all gear progression into random loot boxes and the many ways in which this is frustrating for the individual, but it's only over the last couple of days that it has really hit me how much the new Galactic Command system is affecting relationships between players as well.

You don't have to be particularly competitive to feel a certain pressure whenever an expansion launches and raises the level cap. Even if you don't want to rush, there can be something awkward and uncomfortable about seeing your friends level up much faster than you and hearing them tell tales of the exciting new content that lies ahead - especially if there is a risk of being left behind and having a harder time finding friendly group mates for the same content later on. Fortunately though, most of the time these issues don't last long, because the new level cap isn't far, and once you hit it, personal progression tends to slow down significantly, allowing slowpokes to catch up.

In my first post about Galactic Command I noted that the way it was described made it sound like a process of endless levelling, and so far that impression has certainly held true - but keeping in mind the scenario I just described above, that isn't entirely a good thing. While Command level by itself isn't displayed and doesn't increase your power, psychologically there is still something unsettling about watching the growing gaps between people's levels. Since we're only a few days into early access of the expansion, all my guildies are still relatively close together, but already one can see certain players shooting ahead and others lagging behind. It stands to reason that once the gap widens enough, some characters will be ready for hardmode/nightmare progression way before others... with limited ways to help the ones at the bottom catch up.

I'm really bothered by this because I don't like the thought of falling behind in such a manner, yet as someone who works full time these days and gets home late I'm likely to be among the ones ending up near the bottom sooner or later. I've been playing like crazy for the past couple of days, and still there are guildies who are already more progressed. I wonder even more about the ones who usually play less than me and often only log on for operations - they will be perpetually behind and really risk dragging the team down, effectively enforcing a certain segregation of players by available amount of time to play instead of by skill or friendship if you are at all interested in progression.

This also turns alts from something almost universally beneficial to guilds into a guilty pleasure, because any time spent on an alt is now effectively time "wasted" not working on your Galactic Command level. This didn't used to be an issue because the actual time spent on progression through operations was pretty limited, leaving people with lots of opportunities to do other things without impacting their performance in group content. You know something has gone wrong then raiding - so frequently derided as the bastion of the unpleasantly hardcore - comes out as the more casual option in a direct comparison!

And in all of this, we are only talking about the way players will be progressing on average - because the RNG-heavy nature of the thing also creates additional opportunities for conflict. When one person in the guild keeps getting nothing but greens while another gets a set piece every other level, without any way of "sharing" their wealth, this breeds frustration and envy that players have no way of actively countering, no matter how good their intentions.

I am annoyed because it feels like this change has moved progression raiding - something I'm very much interested in at a basic level - into the realm of the stereotypical "no-lifer" only. The time investment required for gearing up for harder content is just too great. As if raiding in SWTOR needed the odds stacked against it any more than they already are right now...

Many of you who mostly play solo might say: "Why do you even care so much?" And the truth is: I don't care that much about having the best gear for the sake of having the best gear. But I do care about bringing the best I can to group content with my guild, something that Galactic Command will make unreasonably hard going forward. And I'm already tired of the tension created by the constant conversations about who got what from their crates.

30/11/2016

Knights of the Eternal Throne Expansion, Day 1

I did something for Eternal Throne that I've never done for an MMO expansion before: I took the day off work. Not the Tuesday, since the servers didn't come up until shortly before the end of my work day anyway, but the Wednesday afterwards. To be fair, it wasn't so much because I was much more hyped for KotET than for any previous MMO expansion that I played on launch day but more because the end of the year is approaching and I still had a couple of unused days of holiday left. I figured I might as well use one on this.

From a technical point of view, the (early access) launch was pretty damn smooth. The servers came up slightly earlier than expected on Tuesday and upon logging in several guildies immediately commented that the game seemed to run much more smoothly than before. The inevitable bugs and such also seem to have been relatively mild so far. While visually terrifying, the fact that my character's head and arm trade places whenever she sits still on her tauntaun is more funny than annoying.


WTF

Other than that, my trooper's armour randomly changed into bounty hunter gear in a couple of cut scenes and, um... I heard there is now a bug with the last fight of KotFE chapter 16, but they are aware of it and there is a temporary workaround. There was a slightly game-breaking bug with the new Command interface apparently, but they were able to hotfix it quickly and before any serious exploitation could occur. That's pretty good going for Bioware to be honest.

The changes to the UI were slightly confusing at first but I'm getting used to them. The first Dark vs Light battle was won by the dark side on TRE within about an hour, but I blame this on the fact that the new interface element that lets you select which side you want to fight for is by default partially hidden behind the mini map so that only the dark side toggle is visible! Since then things have evened out somewhat though and I've seen both light and dark side victories.

As for KotET's story - don't worry, there won't be any spoilers in this post, only some very vague general thoughts on it. I played through the first six chapters on Tuesday evening and then the last three on Wednesday morning. I didn't feel quite as pressured to keep going as I did during the early KotFE chapters, but that's not really a bad thing. They still flowed quite smoothly from one to the next; it just felt a bit less jarring to take a break here and there to check your mailbox and stuff like that since they were a bit more self-contained.

It's hard to judge Knights of the Eternal Throne purely on its own merits because it's so obviously a direct continuation of Knights of the Fallen Empire. KotFE started off strong, drawing a lot of positive energy from players being intrigued by what had happened during that five-year time skip and who this Eternal Empire was. It floundered a bit towards the end though because almost nothing got resolved. KotET sets this right, starting us off very much in medias res, without the need to explain what's going on and who these people are (even if Bioware has said that you can start KotET without having played KotFE if you want) and gets things done. Also, while I was initially disappointed by the announcement that no more of our missing companions would be coming back for this story arc, after having actually seen the result I can't deny that it was probably the right choice to make. KotET is just so much more focused on its existing characters and finally gives them the time and attention they deserve.


I'm not yet sure in what format I'm going to present my more specific thoughts on KotET. I went with the "chapter by chapter" format for KotFE because that's how the later ones were released, but I didn't think I would need that format again for KotET since everything was released at once. However, there are so many different things to talk about in each chapter and they evoke such different emotions at times that I might as well split my "review" into chapters anyway - once I have more than one playthrough under my belt, that is.

A note on PvP, of which I've also already done a fair bit since hitting level 70: Healing seems so much more powerful than before now! It's weird to see everyone's health pools ratcheted up to about 130k, which is nearly double of what we had at level 65, and while damage and healing numbers have increased too, I don't think they've increased by as much. The result is that it feels even harder now to kill anyone, making combat feel a bit "spongy" as soon as there's more than one healer present. That might just be my own impression - I've also seen people claim almost the opposite, that fights are too bursty now - but I'm mentally preparing myself for some nerfs.

29/11/2016

Day 10: Death #IntPiPoMo

Wondering what the hashtag in the title is all about? Click here. Want to know all the themes that I have used for my 10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots? You can find the full list here.

As mentioned last year, I pretty much only die in PvP and operations these days... which admittedly does happen a lot though!


Let this one be a stand-in for the countless screenshots I've taken of "embarrassing deaths", as in: deaths or wipes on bosses that we've done so many times it really shouldn't happen anymore! Seriously, how did I die on Soa here? Probably by jumping off a platform the wrong way... As usual, the view from the floor is great though!


This one also kind of falls into the category mentioned above, except that we're dead without actually being dead. There had only been three of us left to finish off Soa, then someone died and the last two of us got caught in a mind trap. No other way out than to slash stuck...


Another one from Eternity Vault, though this one is intentional, as it's part of how you skip most of the trash between the first and second boss. With trash mobs also granting Command XP in Knights of the Eternal Throne, we might want to revise our strategy here though...


OK, I don't feel bad about this one, as this is hardmode Revan. I think this was the only time my group actually gave him a try. Needless to say, we didn't get very far.


I'm never quite sure how people end up dead in the air. I mean, yes I get dying in the middle of a knockback or something, but shouldn't your body continue to be affected by gravity? Apparently not.


During this one night of hardmode Master and Blaster attempts, I suffered massive lag spikes and after one of them I was presented with the above when my game caught back up. My guildies immediately asked why they could hear me laughing hysterically in the background through my pet tank's microphone - apparently they didn't get to enjoy the same view. After I shared the screenshot, much hilarity ensued and the Commando who appears to be diving between my legs here was very apologetic...


Not actually dead (yet) in this one, but using my favourite custom health regeneration item: feign death! I think it's the fake loot beam coming out of your body that really nails it. It's such an ingrained instinct for me to go after these loot beams that guildies using this item get me pretty much every time.


This screenshot is the answer to the question: What happens if you enter a GSF match while on stage two of the rakghoul plague? Answer: Nothing happens during the match, but you're dead as soon as you come out.


I suck at arenas. That is all.

And with that, this series as well as my contributions to International Picture Posting Month come to an end just in time for Knights of the Eternal Throne early access tonight! See you on the other side!

Final IntPiPoMo count: 86

28/11/2016

The REAL Differences Between KOTOR and SWTOR

... as perceived by a long-time SWTOR fan who had never played KOTOR until recently. Does that title still sound click-baity enough?

To get the obvious out of the way first: KOTOR and SWTOR belong to two different genres: single-player RPG vs. MMO, so of course they are going to be different in that respect. However, the single-player part of SWTOR has been labelled as basically being KOTOR 3 by both players and devs (I think Bioware even called it "KOTOR 3-10" once, because of the eight different class stories), so it only seems fair to take a closer look at that comparison.

1. Combat / Controls

My very first post about playing KOTOR on my tablet contained a lot of whinging about the controls. Just moving around was a pain, inventory management was a nightmare and so on and so forth, though I'm not always sure how much of that was the fault of the mobile port and how much can be traced back to the base game. I do feel confident in saying that the combat plays out very differently than in SWTOR though.

SWTOR is based on "classic" MMO tab-targeting combat and while that's not everyone's cup of tea (it does seem to be going out of fashion as of late), it's tried and true for a reason. While I think that the massive, game-wide nerfs applied in 4.0 have diminished the fun of combat somewhat because things die too quickly now, the general concept of having lots of different buttons to press in different situations is fun.

KOTOR on the other hand works with a sort of hybrid turn-based, real-time combat system, which is to say that you can just let it run or pause at any time to give new instructions to your character and your companions. I suppose your mileage may vary in terms of which combat style you prefer, but personally I thought that the combat was definitely KOTOR's weak point, mainly because it's just strategic enough that you can't simply let it proceed in real-time, but way too simplistic to make planning your turns any fun. For example there is no restricting factor like "energy" for non-Force special attacks, so there is basically no reason to ever use an auto-attack... but for some reason all your characters will want to perform them by default all the time, so most of your combat management is spent cancelling auto-attacks and forcing your party to perform specials instead, which is just tedious.


2. Different Freedoms

In general, whenever I see people complain that SWTOR isn't enough like KOTOR, their main issue seems to be that SWTOR is too restrictive and they feel like their choices don't really matter. Based on that, I half-expected KOTOR to be a wildly open game... but it wasn't. In fact, there was still a very strong plot thread that you have to follow and which I'm confident you can't deviate from, even after only having experienced one playthrough. You always start off by having to rescue Bastila Shan (which you can only do by winning that swoop race), Taris always gets destroyed, then you have to train to be a Jedi, then you have to hunt down the different pieces of the star map and so on and so forth.

What KOTOR does do better is granularity of choice when it comes to how you want to achieve certain things. I thought the Sith Academy on Korriban was a great example. You have to impress the head of the academy to get to the tomb with the star map, but there are a multitude of options to gain favour with him and you can pick and choose the ones that would suit your character best. Inside a single conversation there are often also several different options for what to say: do you want to try to be persuasive, intimidating, reasonable? SWTOR limited itself in that regard from the start by adopting a conversation UI that doesn't allow for more than three conversation choices at a time. When SWTOR gives you a choice of how to tackle a certain situation, it simply comes down to doing the nice thing or the evil thing most of the time, with no in-between.

From a mechanics point of view, KOTOR also allows for greater character customisation as you go along, what with the different skills, feats and powers you can invest into opening up a huge amount of possible permutations.

However, I dare say that KOTOR doesn't give you more freedom across the board. For example, it doesn't really matter what class you pick at the beginning, the story quickly turns you into a Force user. I suspect that for many this doesn't really matter because a Jedi/Sith is all they really want to be, but for me, one of the big appeals of SWTOR was that it wasn't "just another Jedi game". While the recent expansions have somewhat gone back on that promise of an experience tailored to different roles, at least the base game genuinely lets you experience life in the Star Wars universe as a trooper, smuggler, agent or bounty hunter. Or a Jedi/Sith, if that's what you want - but it's not the only option.

Also, in terms of geography, SWTOR offers so much more real estate to uncover and play around in. All the planets in KOTOR are pretty tiny and I don't remember single area that wasn't obviously just placed there for quest purposes. I found this particularly striking on Tatooine, which is absolutely vast in SWTOR, but encompasses only a tiny couple of areas in KOTOR.


3. Streamlining

I've almost always been against the kind of thing that certain critics describe as the "dumbing down" of MMOs, but playing KOTOR really gave me a new perspective on this because parts of it are just too damn opaque for my liking.

I suppose you could say that KOTOR is more true to the roleplaying roots of the genre in the sense that it's less gamified and there's more "real world logic" going on. As an example, there are no "trash drops" from mobs like rakghouls or kath hounds, because realistically, nobody would want to buy stuff like broken rakghoul teeth. On the other hand, if you kill a Dark Jedi, you generally get to loot his lightsaber and gear. SWTOR leans much more strongly on modern MMO conventions here, where you can farm anything for money but you can't usually count on getting anything exciting from it.

Now, the above didn't actually bother me, but there were other things in this category that did. When SWTOR launched for example, I remember them making a big deal out of the fact that you would not be at a disadvantage based on whether you made light or dark side decisions. I didn't quite understand why that was even a concern, but KOTOR quickly made me see why: If you go down the light side path in KOTOR, you get royally screwed over in terms of money, which can turn certain points in the story where you are supposed to pay x amount of credits to proceed into real roadblocks. Meanwhile, dark side characters are free to rob, steal and extort every step of the way and it pays off. I even found guides that recommended that you always go dark side of the start of the game, regardless of your plans for your later alignment, just because it's too much of a pain to progress during those early levels otherwise. Now, that may well be "realistic" but doesn't make for a fun experience when I'm playing the game to live out my fantasy of being a goodie two-shoes Jedi.

Likewise, while I found the combat itself pretty tedious, the underlying stat system is reasonably complex. There are several different types of damage types and resistances for example, based on the Star Wars d20 tabletop game as far as I'm aware. The problem is, without having read the rulebook for that, how it all works is frustratingly opaque. I remember getting a piece of armour that said it had x amount of resistance against frost. But what exactly does that mean? That I have an x% chance of resisting a frost attack? That I always resist x frost damage each round? How many opponents even do frost damage? How do I know how useful this is? To this day I'm not sure why certain pieces of gear suddenly made my Force powers unavailable. "Restricted by armour" is a frustratingly vague explanation. Was there a manual supposed to come with the game that explained all of this?

This is all taken to eleven by the character builder. As mentioned above, the fact that it gives you lots of choices can well be seen as a positive, but you can also make a lot of "bad" choices here, and you won't necessarily know how bad they are until it is too late. The prime example of this was my frustration with the final boss fight - I had built my character largely around stunning, healing and support, which worked just fine as long as I had my two companions with me, and even when I went up against that duo of terentateks on Korriban while on my own. But then I was thrown into the final fight where I suddenly would have needed a Force attack power - which I didn't have, with the result that the final fight was, while not completely impossible, incredibly hard, long and tedious. It was bad enough that I honestly considered quitting the game there, even though I had come that far already. Putting the player into that kind of position - a situation which is completely different from anything that came before and where all their choices up to that point can suddenly turn around and bite them in the butt - is very bad design in my opinion.

TL;DR: While SWTOR may well have taken streamlining a bit too far for my liking in some areas, personally I appreciate that it makes it impossible to ever end up with a character that is too seriously disadvantaged to progress. The biggest thing that you can do wrong in SWTOR is press the wrong buttons for the situation - but that is something that is easy to correct at any time. Also, while some might be annoyed by the fact that you can't reject or kill companions early on, you also can't lock yourself out of a companion story by accident - I didn't complete a single companion's arc in KOTOR largely because that is possible in that game.

4. Style

While both KOTOR and SWTOR are set in "the Old Republic era", SWTOR takes place about three hundred years later and has a somewhat different feel to it in some respects. For example I explained in this post how the Sith Empire comes across both as a bit more reasonable but also somewhat less interesting in KOTOR than in SWTOR - I would say it's a matter of taste which portrayal you prefer, as both have their pros and cons. The Republic doesn't really get much screen time in KOTOR other than to show up for space battles - if you are interested in how things were run during that area, SWTOR offers a great opportunity to explore important Republic planets like Coruscant and Corellia to get a feel for what things were like there.


Side missions in both games also follow slightly different formats. I've seen SWTOR get accused of "having too many boring fetch quests" compared to KOTOR, but this comparison strikes me as unfair as none of the side missions in KOTOR are really very deep either. The main difference to me seemed to be that the KOTOR side quests almost always relied on some mystery: "Where is X?" However, this wouldn't have worked for SWTOR since people are used to modern MMOs telling them exactly where to go. The Search for Shasa would have been a lot less intriguing if the moment you picked it up a map marker had told you exactly where to look. Instead SWTOR mostly opts for missions where the quest giver knows at least roughly where to go but can't do the job themselves because the environment is too hostile or whatever. Ultimately however I didn't feel that this made the two types of side quests feel all that different - they still have little to no connection to the main plot and mostly serve to give you an idea of what else is going on on any given planet.

Story?

In terms of overall writing, it seems to me that SWTOR is a worthy successor to KOTOR. I enjoyed playing through the latter even more than a decade after its release and with the main plot twist having been spoiled for me. It hits many notes that are "typically Star Wars" while occasionally veering into slightly clichéd territory, though that doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment too much. If you want a similar experience in SWTOR, you can get this either via the Jedi knight or the Sith warrior story - depending on whether you want to be a good or a bad guy. You just have to make up your mind about which side of the fence you want to be on from the beginning - while you can be an evil Jedi, you'll still remain a Jedi regardless and can't suddenly go join the Sith. KOTOR could (presumably) afford to let you go off to rule the Sith at the end if you wanted to, but only because that was the end of the game and they didn't have to worry about showing you what comes after. SWTOR is a continuously ongoing story, so there are certain limitations to how far they can let you veer off the main story rails. But as long as you go into that with eyes wide open, there is no reason you can't enjoy SWTOR's story as much as the original KOTOR (assuming that none of the gameplay differences mentioned above are absolute deal-breakers for you).

27/11/2016

Day 9: Silly #IntPiPoMo

Wondering what the hashtag in the title is all about? Click here. Want to know all the themes that I have used and will be using for my 10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots? You can find the full list here.

To be honest I've already used quite a few silly screenshots for the previous days' themes, so these are really just the ones that didn't fit in anywhere else.


Me and Pet Tank having fun with emotes (I'm the pair of legs sticking out of the sand).


One of my guildies hiding in the guild Czerka Crate-O-Matic. If you've never heard of this item, it's quite rare and enables you to disguise yourself as a crate on a cooldown (what kind of crate people see is randomised each time). Our old guild leader once raided the guild bank to buy it when he saw one on the GTN for cheap, and then justified it by saying that it wasn't really his, it belonged to the guild. Since then it's been handed around quite a bit so different people could get the associated achievement. Fortunately this is one of the few items that doesn't bind on use.


Worst character name ever. I used to collect these for submission to Njessi's Hall of Shame, but you can't take five steps on the Republic fleet on The Red Eclipse without running into something cringe-worthy, so I eventually gave up on submitting them all.


Another contender! Though I've been told that this one is good at PvP, so that makes it OK I guess?


Worst guild name ever.


Worst... no hang on, that's actually a brilliantly funny and accurate get-up! If you've played through the HK bonus chapter anyway.


And finally a bit of silliness from Bioware's end that I only learned about thanks to Calphy: In Depths of Manaan, the droid foreman that serves as the hardmode bonus boss can be seen talking to various droids at the start... but if you run off into the corner of the plaza, you can find a lone loader droid "hiding from the foreman" there. I guess he's not just a scary prospect for pugs.

IntPiPoMo count: 74

25/11/2016

The SWTOR Encyclopedia

The Star Wars: The Old Republic: Encyclopedia (that's a lot of colons) was released in 2012 to serve, as its sub-title claims,  as "The Ultimate Guide to the Epic Conflict". Initially it was quite expensive, and not unfairly so, since it's one of those giant hardcovers with big, colourful pages and lots of pictures, but once it turned out that SWTOR wasn't turning out to be the next World of Warcraft, retailers quickly slashed the prices, which is when I decided to pick up a copy of my own.


Product picture from Amazon.

I remember being quite pleased with it when it arrived, but then I opened it on a random page and landed on what were basically spoilers for the entire bounty hunter story. As I was nowhere near having completed all the class stories yet at that point, I went "argh" and banished it to the top of a shelf, never to be touched again. Well, I was planning to read it after there was nothing left to be spoiled for me, but then I just kind of forgot about it... until recently, when I realised that actually, it's been safe for me to finally read it for a while.

I slowly leafed my way through it a couple of pages at a time and actually found it quite enjoyable. There are a lot of little lore bits and pieces about the base game in there that are nowhere to be found in the game - well, some might be hidden in codex entries that I haven't read or forgotten about, but I'm sure a lot of them are exclusive to this book.

For example, did you know...

- that Chancellor Saresh grew up a slave on an Imperial planet but escaped by leading a revolt? Or that she had a husband who died when the Sith retook Taris? I know that in many ways she's been set up as the kind of character that people love to hate, but if that woman doesn't have genuine reason to hate the Empire, nobody does.

- that Senator Dodonna (from the smuggler story) was nicknamed "Shimmersteel" and had a reputation for using her feminine viles to her advantage in politics?

- that General Garza (from the trooper story) was married three times, one of them to the head of the Strategic Information Service, Marcus Trant?

- that Gearbox (also from the trooper story) was a long-time personal friend of Jace Malcolm? Wonder what the Supreme Commander thought of what happened to that iteration of Havoc Squad...

- that Jedi Master Oteg (from Taral V/Maelstrom Prison) used to be a member of the Jedi Council but stepped down because he was more needed as Fleet Admiral?

- that Master Orgus (from the Jedi knight story) was close friends with Harron Tavus of Havoc Squad?

- that Jaric Kaedan was the one who led the strike team that originally captured the Dread Masters?

- that Grand Moff Kilran is supposed to be 51 when you meet him in game? He always seemed a fair bit younger to me... quite a lot of the ages are slightly baffling to be honest. For example Talos Drellik is supposed to be only 27, when I would have pegged him as older (maybe because of the receding hairline). Yet Quinn is apparently already 37 at the start of the game...

- that the late Lord Kallig's first name was Aloysius (teehee)?

Anyway, the main point of this post is simply that I really enjoyed the book and if you are a big fan of the game too, I can only recommend picking it up.

(I just realised I'm posting this on Black Friday. Sorry, I'm not aware of any great deals, nor is this posted with an affiliate link. Just so you know.)

24/11/2016

Day 8: Memorable Moments #IntPiPoMo

Wondering what the hashtag in the title is all about? Click here. Want to know all the themes that I have used and will be using for my 10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots? You can find the full list here.

While I've generally appreciated the re-tuning of flashpoints and operations that Bioware did in 4.0, it has made it very hard to find screenshots for this day in my series as a lot of my memorable moments have involved downing an operations boss for the first time... and while I didn't mind having to re-learn content we'd already done nearly as much as I initially feared, getting those "new but old" kills didn't really feel all that satisfying and exciting either. The one screenshot I could find was this one: 


... which shows me and my ops team standing proud after having downed the Cartel Warlords in Scum and Villainy on NiM post-4.0. The original iteration of this nightmare mode operation was crazy hard - we didn't even get the first boss down until we overgeared him significantly, and even then we couldn't get past Thrasher. We didn't down the rest of the bosses until we outlevelled them in Shadow of Revan, and even then Styrak remained a challenge. So it did feel like a genuine achievement to clear most of the instance at level, even if it seems to have been nerfed quite a bit compared to its level 55 difficulty. (We didn't even try Stryak though.)


A memorable moment from the DvL event was when I finally got that kolto barrel achievement from Depths of Manaan! I think I mentioned previously that it seemed like everyone already had it as nobody was ever competing with me for the barrels anymore whenever I pugged it, but this year I finally got it too - incidentally, my pet tank got his in the same run.


This is my DvL Shadow levelling up and isn't really that memorable by itself, but I felt like using this screenshot since she dinged off killing that champion droid on Tython, and killing that has often been a milestone for my lowbie Jedi. Too bad the 4.0 changes have made it completely trivial and therefore a lot less interesting.


I've written about the guy who "stole" my name (incidentally, he seems to have stopped playing in KotFE, or at least he was still level 60 last I checked) but I don't feel antagonistic towards people who have a name that is only similar to mine - in fact the opposite is the case and I find it highly amusing. A good example here is Master Shin the Guardian, whom I met in a couple of random warzones. I had incredible fun yelling out things like "don't die, Shin" or "great job, Shin" while my guildies rolled their eyes at me.

IntPiPoMo count: 67

22/11/2016

KOTOR: The End

At long last, after more than three months of real time and about 45 hours of game time (that's a lot of commutes!), I finished the original Knights of the Old Republic on my tablet! I think I'll probably still have a couple of posts about it in me, to talk about what I liked, what I didn't like, and how it holds up in comparison to SWTOR the MMO, but for now I simply wanted to wrap up with the details of how my Revan's journey ended.

After finally getting that last piece of the star map, I was off to the super secret star system that houses the Star Forge. As soon as you go there, you're treated to a little cut scene of Bastila being tortured by Darth Malak in an attempt to turn her to the dark side - even if I hadn't already known what was coming up, I think that would have been a sure sign that this wasn't going to end well for her!


The Star Forge system is full of Imps and the cut scenes that take place there actually look pretty cool even thirteen years later... space ships were comparatively easy to animate well with early 3D technology. Carth calls in the Republic fleet and you get pulled into another Sith fighter chase, which I once again survived with only a sliver of health left. Then your ship is forced into an emergency landing on the nearest planet because something is disrupting its systems.

While the planet isn't given a name in game, a veteran SWTOR player obviously recognises it as Rakata Prime. A funny touch: Remember that Gizka infestation that I picked up on Tatooine and that I refused to poison for XP? Well, on Rakata Prime they finally decided to disembark and started a new life hopping around the beaches. That amused me.

The Rakata you encounter in this period are split into two tribes. The descendants of the ancient warrior caste are primitive, aggressive and breed rancors as their pets. The so-called Elders, descendants of the priest caste, are holed up in an ancient structure and are a bit more reasonable, though not really by that much. Both of them have met Revan before and basically go: "Yo, you promised to help us last time you were here but then just ran off, you'll do better this time, right?" However, since the two tribes absolutely loathe each other, it's impossible to get along with more than one of them. I was quite disappointed by how the game wouldn't even let me attempt to engage in peace talks. The first time you knock on the door of the Elder compound, if you introduce yourself as being sent by the other Rakata tribe, they literally vaporise your entire party instantly. And once you return to the warrior tribe after having talked to the Elders, they instantly attack you because they saw you talking to their deadly enemies. Seriously, guys! As I was beating up the guy at the entrance I wanted to yell at him to stop because all I had wanted to do was give him the damn quest item he had asked for. People are so unreasonable. I do wonder what the "canonical" outcome of this conflict is supposed to be, as the Rakata you meet on Rakata Prime in SWTOR are also primitive, however they do have some Force users again, whose reintroduction was a pet project of the Elders.


Anyway... the whole reason you bother with these guys at all is that you need their help to enter the local temple to deactivate the disruptor field that's messing with the Ebon Hawk. Said temple is mostly a mini dungeon crawl, until the very end, when you're suddenly forced to do a sort of lights out puzzle with floor tiles. The moment I saw that I literally went "nope" and shut down my game for the day because there was no way I was going to figure that out on my own while on the train. I was completely rubbish at that quest in SWTOR too. Even after googling the solution, it still took me several tries to get it right because of how fiddly the movement controls are. Oh, and somewhere in the middle of the temple I picked up a few dark side points when I ran into a couple of Dark Jedi and greeted them with something along the lines of: "I am Darth Revan, bow to me!" I just wanted to see how they'd react! Why can't you see that I was only kidding, game?

Anyway, at the top of the temple you run into Bastila, who - surprise, surprise - has turned to the dark side. You fight and argue, but soon she runs off to escape back to the Star Forge. You have to give chase, especially as her using her special Force powers is totally wrecking the newly arrived Republic fleet's offensive. Some other Jedi are sent along with you to help you get to Bastila, but in good "nameless friendly NPC" manner they die quickly, so it's up to you and your gang to save the day.

Malak orders his men to throw everything they have at you... which leads to an interesting sequence of you fighting your way deeper into the Star Forge, with enemies streaming at you from all directions almost continuously, which I strongly suspect may be what gave Bioware the idea for all those skytroopers showing up out of nowhere in KotFE. The difference here is that a) while you're pretty powerful by this point, the hordes of enemies aren't complete pushovers and can still kill you if you don't pay attention, and b) it's obvious that you're on your way to the game's climax, so having to fight against what feels like overwhelming numbers seems somewhat justified in this context. The KotFE version just throws totally worthless enemies at you forever, even in the middle of chapter ten of sixteen, which is why it doesn't work the same way. Though in all honesty, I even found the KOTOR version kind of tiring after a few rooms.


Finally you find Bastila, who conveniently locks your two companions outside the room, never to be heard of again because that door remains locked even after the fight, for no reason. Once again you argue and fight, and since I was very much light side I kept trying to convince her to come back to the light too. It's kind of funny how she heals back to full after every "conversation break" - reminded me a bit of the end boss of Sith warrior chapter one and how you have to kill him three times over. However, my persuasion attempts seemed to go really well, as Bastila was acknowledging that there was still light within her and so on... just for her to do a complete 180 at the very end, insisting that we fight to the death. I'm not usually someone to reload an earlier save when things don't go my way, but that was just too annoying and befuddling. I tried again, choosing slightly different conversation options this time, but they only led to the same outcome: everything going well until the very end, when she suddenly raised her saber against me again and forced me to strike a killing blow. Somewhat annoyed, I took to the internet to look up a guide and followed the conversation options mapped out there to the letter... and voilà, suddenly Bastila was willing to convert. And to think that there was barely even any difference between that last attempt and my first one, except for one or two lines in the middle.

Since Bastila is a) hurt and b) needed to help turn the tide of the space battle with her powers, it's up to you to face Malak down on your own. Nope, forget about your companions behind that door. You do find Malak in the next room down the hall, and in one more chickenshit Sith move, he tries to get rid of you by programming the Star Forge to throw an endless amount of Rakata droids at you. This was actually an interesting segment because they spawn just slowly enough that I initially thought that maybe I could simply kill them all off, but after several rounds of droid killing and watching them respawn yet again, I realised that I had to manipulate some nearby consoles mid-combat to shut down the production line.

And then... finally, no more escape for Malak! The game's final boss battle is certainly interesting. He is a genuinely hard hitter, but more importantly he's got some half-dead Jedi stored in tubes around the room that he can drain for extra power, meaning that he takes the whole "heal to full" routine that Bastila demonstrated earlier up to eleven. Since I was struggling with that, I once again took to the internet and was highly dismayed to find that the most common advice seemed to be to destroy the pods with the Jedi in them to deprive Malak of his heals - except that they can only be killed with offensive Force powers, of which I had none except my stun, against which they were immune! What nonsense is this? Why won't my good old lightsaber do the trick? After dying repeatedly and running out of medpacks because the fight dragged on for so long I was close to despairing, but I took heart when I found accounts of other players in my situation having beaten the fight, and with a lot of running around and quick-saving I eventually prevailed. Malak died, the Star Forge was destroyed, and Revan and her companions returned to the Republic as heroes. What more can you ask for?


Too bad the odds for KOTOR 2 coming to mobile don't look too good right now. Early last year some news outlets speculated that it would be coming out "soon" after it was leaked that the game had received an ESRB rating which also listed it as available on various mobile platforms. However, since it's been one and a half years now and we haven't heard anything else about it, I wouldn't hold my breath for it for now.

21/11/2016

Day 7: Team #IntPiPoMo

Wondering what the hashtag in the title is all about? Click here. Want to know all the themes that I have used and will be using for my 10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots? You can find the full list here.

For many of us, the people we interact and play with on a daily basis are a big part of an MMO's lasting appeal. However, I've also noticed that a lot of players seem to pretty much limit these interactions to a single guild - how many times have you heard some variation of the phrase: "Well, everyone in my guild stopped logging in, so I stopped playing as well"? I'm really happy that even though I obviously love my guild, I don't feel nearly as dependent on them, because I have a lot of different ties to the community - not least this whole blogging thing, though that doesn't make for very good screenshots.


First off, the obligatory shout-out to my pet tank. Sadly his interest in SWTOR has been declining for a while and he doesn't play it very much these days, but he's still subscribed, main tanks our operations, and is generally my number one go-to person if I need help with something. The DvL event rekindled his interest at least briefly and we tackled most of the hardmode flashpoints together while falling into our usual roles of him tanking and me healing.

This screenshot actually shows me on my Vanguard alt next to his main, and I found it very amusing how - completely unintentionally - I had ended up giving her a matching outfit to his, creating a sort of "his and hers" look when we stood next to each other.


Apparently times have been dire for many guilds due to the lack of new operations, but I'm happy to say that Twin Suns Squadron has been doing just fine. Sure, we too had people quit the game, but we were fortunate in that we also maintained a healthy influx of new blood. Some of our newer members are positively awesome. Here a few of us are chilling between Master and Blaster HM attempts.


When you're winning Alderaan Civil War so comfortably that you can start a band at one of the side turrets... I've said many times that my relationship with SWTOR's PvP is an endless on-and-off-again affair, but having company really helps to keep me interested. Several of the newer members mentioned above are big fans of doing casual group PvP in the evenings, and I've been all over that.


Earlier this year Traitine from Constant Warfare, who's been on my blogroll for quite a while, asked me if I wanted to join him for a stream. I was initially a bit hesitant because I didn't really "get" streaming and I didn't think we were really that close? Why was he asking me? However, I did agree eventually and I'm really glad I did because I had a whale of a good time doing lowbie PvP with him and it's pretty much become a monthly tradition for us at this point. Most of the time I also put some of the highlights up on my Youtube channel later. I don't know if anyone actually watches, but I enjoy doing it for the fun alone.

 

During one of these streams we were joined by Rav from Ravalation and I ended up taking this funny screenshot in a random Makeb arena. This picture, for me, stands for the fun of interacting with strangers, as there was a third Togruta character in the group and we all ended up doing our racial storytelling emote at the same time while we waited for the match to start, making it look like we were having a grand old time around the fireplace.


Speaking of Rav, here's a screenshot of me filling in on my gunslinger alt during one of her guild's runs of Eternity Vault. It's a bit of a shame I haven't been able to hang out with them more often but play time is sparse and unfortunately their raid times don't mesh very well with my own availability. I still appreciate the opportunity to hang out with a different crowd for a change.


This is me running into Madmar of #SWTORFamily fame in a Voidstar. I felt as if I had spotted a celebrity! For the record, he defended that door like a pro and we never got through (though I don't remember who won in the end).


This is just a shot of my Mercenary in a Blood Hunt pug, but I included it in here because in a way I consider pugs "my team" as well, as I do really enjoy pugging in this game. I've also always loved the little group cut scenes and how cool they make even a bunch of randoms look, which is why I do miss them in the newer content - though I don't miss people going "spacebar plx".

IntPiPoMo count: 59

18/11/2016

Back In My Day: Gear

It took me a while to get back to this series, but I haven't forgotten about it. So let's not think about the unpleasant RNG loot boxes looming in the near future for a moment and let's instead take a look at what sort of changes SWTOR's gearing systems have gone through over the course of the last five years, as I continue my look back at the way the game has developed, giving old-timers a chance to get nostalgic and showing newcomers how good they have it in some respects. I started this post thinking that not that many changes have been made related to gear until the recent drama, but while going through the details I realised that there were more of them than I thought.

What We Can Wear

The basics haven't really changed much, if at all. There are five quality tiers of gear: white, green (uncommon premium), blue (rare prototype) and purple (epic artifact), with the orange "custom" gear standing apart as the fifth. I actually remember being confused by this system early on because even though orange gear is highlighted as modifiable, many purple pieces are as well. To be honest I don't know to this day why some are one colour and some another! Also, for some reason the GTN has had a dark purple "legendary" tier since forever but I'm not aware of any such gear actually existing.

There are also still three armour classes: heavy (for troopers, bounty hunters and Guardians/Juggernauts), medium (for smugglers, agents and Sentinels/Marauders) and light (for consulars and inquisitors). Again, these have actually never been completely intuitive. Yes, the heavily armoured knight or warrior vs. the lightly armoured Sage/Sorc in the back makes sense, but I remember as a new player how confused I was by the fact that Shadows/Assassins also wore light armour and even tanked in it. Surely they should at least be wearing medium if they choose that kind of fighting style?

The conversion to free to play and the introduction of the Cartel Market however soon made Bioware realise that they didn't want players to struggle with not all characters being able to wear every purchased outfit, which is why "adaptive" armour was introduced, which can be equipped by any class and will apply the correct armour value for it automatically. Over time, this system has become more and more popular, with certain crafted pieces and endgame drops becoming adaptive too, to the point where I'm just waiting for them to make all armour adaptive and be done with it.

Other restrictions that applied to some of the gear pieces introduced at launch where that they could only be equipped by a certain class (e.g. "requires: smuggler") or required a certain alignment. These didn't seem to be a big hit with anyone though, which is why they are rarely seen anymore these days.

The concept of bind on equip vs. bind on pickup was also shaken up not long after launch by the introduction of legacy gear, which could not be traded to other players but could be moved around freely among different characters on the same account, even if it had been filled with modifications that were originally labelled as bind on pickup. This "legacy gear shuffle" is interesting because Bioware is aware of it and clearly tolerates it, but seemingly they still disapprove of it somehow - else why not simply make all drops bind to legacy and spare us the hassle of constantly having to pull mods out and having to mail gear back and forth? Maybe they like that it serves as a bit of a money sink.

The Look

I think the way we look in our gear is probably one of the aspects that has changed the most, and not because the artists at Bioware do a better or worse job at coming up with armour sets these days than they did at launch.

Originally we were just very much at the mercy of randomness when it came to our looks. I remember that while levelling for the first time as a trooper, I ran into quite a few solid armour sets - the problem was that one had blue stripes, another green markings, another yellow highlights, and somehow you always ended up with different pieces from each set, with the result making you look like a bit of a clown. The only way to keep a consistent look was to wear a full set of moddable armour, but those were quite rare and hard to come by.


The second picture I ever posted on this blog. The colour clash is real, but at the time I was actually praising the game for offering believable and non-sexist gear throughout.

Over time Bioware eased our pain by adding the "match to chest" option, which at least reduced the worst of the colour clash (first for player characters, then for companions), and later there was the introduction of dyes. (Though some dyes are quite offensive to the eye in their own right!)

The free-to-play conversion and the introduction of the Cartel Market were a big deal as cosmetics suddenly became one of game's main money-makers. Not only could you buy entire sets of gear from the CM directly, the random loot from the Cartel crates flooded the market with tons of moddable armour sets - not all great, but you suddenly had a huge selection, making it much easier to build a consistent look.

Of course another big change came comparatively recently, with the introduction of the outfit designer - and while I wasn't too keen on it at release, I've definitely come around to appreciating it. The two big changes it brought to the game was that it reintroduced unmoddable gear into the pool of possible outfit selections and that it completely decoupled your stats from your looks, meaning that you could change either as often as you wanted without necessarily having to worry about adjusting the other.

Basically, I think that we are in a much better place now when it comes to looking the way we want. It's quite noticeable even when I run a low-level pug that almost everyone is usually quite well-dressed and not randomly mismatched. The only thing I do miss sometimes is a bit of consistency in the way the classes/factions look. There is no real difference in the crowds on the Republic and Imperial fleet anymore, and in PvP - at least at the start of a match - it can be annoyingly distracting when an opponent manages to successfully throw off your initial target selection by being dressed in a way that makes them look like a completely different class.

Stats

If you joined the game before Knights of the Fallen Empire, the biggest change that comes to mind here is of course the introduction of Mastery, as for the game's first four years, each base class and its mirror had their own stat: Aim for troopers and bounty hunters, Cunning for smugglers and agents, Strength for knights and warriors and Willpower for consulars and inquisitors. However, this was eventually deemed too confusing, so that all these stats were rolled into a single one called Mastery.

Interestingly, the concept doesn't seem to have fully penetrated throughout the player base, as you can still hear stories of pug raids refusing to give for example items with "Force Lord" in the name to anyone who's not a Force user, even though the stats are now useful to everyone and the name is but a relic of olden times.

The secondary stats at launch were accuracy for damage dealers; power, critical strike, surge, alacrity for dps and healers; and defense, shield and absorption for tanks. Not much has changed about that, though a little: For example surge, which affected the size of your crits, ceased to exist as a separate stat and was rolled into critical strike so that single number would now not just affect your chance to have a crit but also how big it was going to be. The amount of accuracy required to hit the optimal number has been changed more than once. Alacrity used to not affect ability cooldowns, only their cast time. And power used to be treated as equal to the other secondary stats, which caused people to not want anything that didn't happen to have power on it - until it was eventually recognised that it was simply far more important than the other secondary stats so that every item now has a base amount of power on it and then the other secondary stats share the rest of the item budget.

Speaking of things like item budgets, we used to not pay as much attention to the item rating because there was also another number on display, the item level - this was changed in patch 2.7 to minimise the confusion caused by having multiple numbers on the same item. (Fun fact: I initially found this change confusing by itself because I was so used to the much lower item level numbers.)

Another thing that is worth mentioning under this header are changes to set bonuses. Up until 3.0 only five pieces carried a set bonus: head, chest, hands, legs and feet. With the Shadow of Revan expansion, the previously unloved bracers and belts received a set bonus too, with each set gaining a six-piece bonus in addition to the existing two- and four-piece bonuses. At launch, the set bonuses were also tied to the armour shell instead of the armouring, which was not popular as it completely negated the option to transfer modifications to a different outfit if you also wanted to benefit from the set bonus. (I poked fun at how this caused hitting max level to mean transitioning to a ridiculous look in this post.) Set bonuses were moved from shells to armourings in 2.0.

Gear Acquisition

At launch, gear acquisition worked quite differently from how it does now, though it still worked through a combination of drops and currency purchases from vendors. In PvE, you could get set bonus gear both from hardmode flashpoints and from operations. Nightmare mode was initially a bit tacked on and didn't have its own gear tier, dropping only more of the same stuff you already got on hardmode, making it essentially a "for fun" exercise.

PvP was a bit of a nightmare in more than one way, not just because level 10s were getting put up against fully kitted out max-level characters, but because the first gearing system was pure RNG horror. Not only did you have to reach valor rank 60 to even be allowed to equip any of the best gear, it came out of loot boxes at random, making a full set a truly rare sight. This was removed quite quickly and replaced with the classic commendation system that  we all know and love, though there was also more faffing about with getting people geared for PvP by trying to give them free starter PvP gear for a while. This was eventually obsoleted by the introduction of max-level bolster, which also didn't exist until Rise of the Hutt Cartel. After the introduction of ranked PvP, we had ranked commendations for a while, though those were eventually retired again too.

The tier sets from flashpoints disappeared with 2.0, when they became "outdated content" (at the time) and the loot tables were filled with some higher-level non-set pieces instead to help you gear up for the new Rise of the Hutt Cartel endgame. After that the system remained pretty close to what we have today for quite a while though, with three tiers of commendations buying you non-set bonus gear from vendors while the different tiers of set gear could only be obtained from operations, with each step up in difficulty dropping higher level versions.

Crafting deserves a mention as something that used to be extremely profitable as you could reverse engineer high-level item modifications and then craft them for selling to other players, which was a popular pastime among raiders that had already got all the gear they needed out of the operations. To some extent you can still do this today, however it seems to be much less of a thing, and Bioware seems to have had a bit of an on-and-off-again relationship with letting crafters create useful gear, meaning that some tiers could be reverse engineered while others could not. In this respect I actually look forward to what 5.0 will do for crew skills.

Did I forget anything important or was there something you would have talked about in more detail that I glossed over? Share it in the comments! Also, while I do have a couple more ideas for this series, I'm also open for suggestions if there is a topic that you would particularly like me to cover.