14/01/2017

Exploitarama

Hi, my name is Shintar and I've never knowingly participated in an exploit in Star Wars: The Old Republic. If certain parts of the player base are to be believed, that apparently makes me part of a tiny minority because "everyone's doing it".

I've never even written a post about the subject of exploiting (as far as I can remember), mostly because I find it to be such a depressing topic. It's also oddly controversial, even though you'd think that it really shouldn't be (what, you're saying cheating isn't bad?), and to be honest I tend to shy away from writing anything too controversial on here most of the time.

Nonetheless I've been on the sidelines of a fair number of exploits, and they have always been thoroughly disheartening affairs from my point of view. They tend to bring out the worst in people, as they brag about cheating their way to the top and may even try to force others into breaking the rules against their will, as poor Mox described on the podcast last week when he was forcefully prevented from trying to pull a certain boss the normal way.

What makes it worse is that Bioware is really not very good at dealing with exploiters. An ex-guildie of mine farmed implants from Nefra via an exploit back in the day, and when the subject was brought up in conversation with him recently, he still laughed about how he was never punished for it. During the infamous Coratanni bug, they did hand out some punishments, but I recall someone who was affected saying that while something had been done to his account, his illegitimately acquired main hand weapon wasn't even removed... or something similarly awkward and ineffective, I wouldn't swear by the details. The point was that the exploit had still been worth it for him as the punishment didn't counter the reward. And now we've reached a new low (or high I suppose, if you're into that kind of thing) with Eric Musco outright telling people on the forums that exploiting is okay.

Don't get me wrong: I do agree that this latest exploit (which did not grant you any extra loot, but caused one half of a two boss encounter in a small group instance to instantly fall over dead) gave relatively little benefit, so I didn't really expect them to get out the ban hammer or anything. But by not even bothering with as much as a slap on the wrist for the worst offenders, they are basically giving people green light to exploit as much as they want going forward. Oh sure, strictly speaking, Eric still says that you shouldn't. But that's an appendix to a post in which he states that there is an exploit, they can totally tell who intentionally exploited as opposed to triggering the effect by accident, but they still aren't going to do anything about it. In fact, they aren't going to fix it for another week, so go knock yourself out.

I kind of suspect that this stance is more the result of some sort of painful cost-benefit calculation than a firm conviction that nobody deserved punishment (meaning that it would take too much time to weed out the worst of the bad apples, they might not currently have a way to implement partial CXP rollbacks or whatever). However, that doesn't change that they are making fools out of those of us who follow the rules and have in the past tried to convince others to do the same. If you told anyone not to exploit Fractured, that person can now laugh in your face, and rightly so - because Bioware has their back, not yours. Not to mention that if actually punishing exploiters appropriately is too much hassle right now, why should we expect them to make time for it in the future?

I'd like to say that I have some sympathy for Bioware here because they aren't really big into competitive gaming, and ultimately exploiting is all about gaining a competitive advantage, so maybe it's something they don't really "get". However, they've been running this game for more than five years at this point, and I really would have expected them to have picked up a trick or two by now.

Unfortunately, I suspect that things are only going to get worse, partially because of this incident encouraging more bad behaviour, but also because of the nature of Galactic Command. Pre-5.0, they at least only really had to worry about operations and to some degree PvP as areas where abusing a bug could actually gain you a significant leg up. With everything being endgame on the other hand, everything also becomes a potential target for exploiting. They are not off to a good start in terms of keeping up.

11/01/2017

Shintar Goes (Has Gone) Podcasting!

In my ever-continuing attempts to try communicating with people via different social media, from Twitter to YouTube to joining Traitine on his stream, I've now finally taken the step into podcasting! Well, I've dipped my toes in I guess. And it was less me making a decision and more Rav being kind and inviting me. I was on Corellian Run Radio last week, OK?
For reference, the segment where they interview me starts at 36:26 - not that I wouldn't recommend listening to the first half of the show as well as it featured some very interesting discussion too - the currently ongoing exploit involving the Fractured uprising among other things...

I actually got quite nervous when it was finally time to go live, worried that I would stumble over my own words or accidentally talk over people. The first did happen a couple of times (here's hoping that maybe they edited that out, but I won't go listen to an hour of myself talking just to find out), but the latter I managed to successfully avoid, though there were a couple of slightly longer than needed awkward pauses when I wasn't sure whether it was my turn to say something or not!

Still, it was a very exciting and fun experience and I was extra pleased that several loyal guildies and friends showed up to listen to the live show. It seemed appropriate that the giveaways that were held during that time happened to be won by Traitine and Calph.

Still find writing much easier than speaking though!

09/01/2017

KotET Chapter by Chapter - Chapter 1: Wrath and Ruin

I've said that Knights of the Eternal Throne's story left me with a lot of thoughts that I still needed to put into written words, and I've decided that there are definitely enough of them to warrant a separate post for each chapter. I might still write a post summarising my feelings about the story as a whole afterwards; but we'll see. For now, get ready for some spoilers as I review KotET chapter one!


The Story

Knights of the Eternal Throne starts in a similar way to Fallen Empire: with a new cinematic (the Betrayed one), followed my an opening crawl explaining what's currently going on. (See, Rogue One, Star Wars games have had opening crawls without being part of the main trilogy for decades! You didn't have to be shy.) A bit of a time jump between KotFE chapter 16 and this one is implied, though its exact length isn't specified and it doesn't appear to have been too long. Vaylin's just had time to establish herself as new empress and get a change of clothes. Oh, and she's decided to invade Voss, which you've come to defend.

Theron is already in Voss-Ka and watching everything getting blown to bits when the Alliance joins the fight properly, with the player getting treated to some great space battle shots in the process. You land in a shuttle with a bunch of Mandalorian troops and start carving your way through the besieged city. This is somewhat reminiscent of the defense of Darth Marr's ship in KotFE chapter one, meaning you're essentially running in circles, watching things get blown up all around you, while getting directed from one objective to the next. There are a couple of neat Easter eggs here if you completed the Star Fortress story arcs, as Rokuss (Voss) will basically auto-complete a bonus mission for you and Leyta (Tatooine) will offer her sniper skills as an extra button to press during one of the early boss fights (credit to Calph for spotting that one).

Eventually you rendezvous with Theron at the Tower of Prophecy, where Valkorion also reveals that he's rattling around in your head again. After defending the tower from several waves of Vaylin's troops (featuring, among other things, some of her new "Horizon Guard", which appear to have partially replaced the Knights of Zakuul as her personal elite fighters), you meet up with Sana-Rae and receive a distress call that reveals the reason Vaylin decided to attack Voss: Senya is hiding at the Shrine of Healing, trying to heal and restore Arcann. However, things are pretty dire for her with the Eternal Fleet pressing the attack. For good or for ill, you travel to the Shrine of Healing to meet with her.


You need to make the final approach on the ground, and Torian provides you with a walker to get through Vaylin's ground forces in front of the shrine, which means that you get to go through an interesting vehicle section stomping skytroopers to death. On the way you run into some Voss and Gormak working together now that they have a common enemy in the Eternal Fleet. Your way appears blocked for a while, but Koth shows up with the Gravestone to give you some breathing room - yes, even if he left you before. In fact, the scene seems a little odd if you didn't fall out with him, as everyone seems kind of surprised by his appearance, even when they really shouldn't be.

In the shrine, you find Senya behind a force field, which I get is a plot device to make sure that you have to talk to her first even if you want to kill her, but there's still some weird space-time stuff going on here, as regardless of what you say to her, there will suddenly be troops between you, either Mandalorians or Zakuulans... how did they get there? But never mind. Vaylin calls in just to taunt you some more and Scorpio orders the fleet to bombard the shrine directly. Senya urges you to help her save Arcann and you get to say yes or no.

If you decide to help her, you get to fight off some enemy forces for her, buying her some time to complete the Voss healing ritual for Arcann. It's still really rushed though, and she has to offer up some of her own life force to make it work, causing her to pass out afterwards. If you vow to kill her and Arcann still, some of your troops somehow get ahead of you and you eventually run in on Senya duelling Lana and get to take her down (Senya that is, not Lana). She's a pretty tough cookie even on story mode I have to say! I can't imagine that she goes down easily on veteran. When she dies, Valkorion comes out for a few last words and they share an oddly touching moment before she expires.


Either way, Arcann wakes (healed, or started by the mayhem surrounding his mother's death) and makes a run for it since he's slightly delirious and confused. You arrive just in time to see him take off in a convenient shuttle, and Koth is too busy to chase him down for you.

At this point Vaylin gives the ultimate kill command to the fleet (one has to wonder why she waited this long to do so), but suddenly a bunch of Imperial ships show up and join the battle. Being free-willed now, the Eternal Fleet captains are not willing to duke it out to the death and retreat, much to Vaylin's chagrin. If you killed Senya, she's also pissed that she didn't get to do so herself.

Lana suggests that the Empire might have come to help. Valkorion pops up once again to make you feel insecure about your position and tell you that you must seize the Eternal Throne for yourself if you want to overcome the threat of Arcann and Vaylin. Shortly afterwards, the Imperial fleet calls - it's Empress Acina herself, proposing an alliance between the Sith Empire and your Alliance. You can express scepticism about her motives but eventually agree to a meeting on Dromund Kaas to hear her out in person.

My Thoughts

Initially, I honestly wasn't too enthralled by KotET's chapter one. Despite of jumping right into the action with some impressive battle scenes, it reminded me too much of KotFE chapter one and its very noticeable attempts to also be a tutorial for players who bought a max-level character token. The return to Voss also evoked mixed feelings in me. On the one hand, I was actually happy to go back to an existing planet and look at how things were going over there (I don't care if other people disparage it as recycling), but on the other hand it was kind of heart-breaking to see beautiful Voss-Ka laid to ruin. I always found the Voss as a species a bit annoying, but they didn't deserve that. I was kind of reminded of my first impressions of the Assault on Tython and Korriban Incursion flashpoints. Can we go back to a familiar location without it getting completely wrecked some time, please?


However, the moment I got to the walker section, I realised that this was going to be a bit different. I'm neither a big fan of vehicle fights nor do I hate them, but the fact that mechanics like these haven't really been used in SWTOR prior to the HK bonus chapter made it interesting if nothing else. Even though I died a couple of times on my first attempt (despite it being story mode), I found stomping around in the walker to be decent fun. In hindsight, considering that there are more vehicle sections in KotET, the one in chapter one actually strikes me as the weakest though, due to how unintuitive it is. For example if you don't follow the winding road to the Shrine exactly, Theron won't tell you about the repair spots, so you have to figure that out for yourself; and I took a lot of damage from the "bubble troopers" until I realised that they could only be defeated by stomping on them.

Seeing Voss and Gormak work together just like that actually felt a bit disappointing to me, because the Eternal Empire certainly hasn't been the first outsider to threaten them - just the most powerful I suppose. It's not that I don't want them to make peace with each other, but it just seemed to have come too easily.

Of course, the last part of the chapter is where things get really interesting. KotFE received a lot of criticism for many of its choices not feeling meaningful enough, and you can tell that they tried a lot harder in KotET. There is a bit of a delay until you get to reach Senya for dramatic reasons, but if you wanted her to die, you do actually get to kill her this time. That Arcann gets away yet again is tolerable, with the hope that you will get to decide his fate this time before the story's over. And then of course we have the Empire showing up to save the day as a surprise twist - wherever will that lead?

06/01/2017

3 Simple Ways of Improving Galactic Starfighter

"What's this? A post about Galactic Starfighter? What has gotten into you?" Wellll... one thing Galactic Command has achieved is that it has made me dip my toes back into some types of content that I hadn't really engaged with in a while, GSF being one of them. I'm still not exactly a huge fan, but at level 70, each match provides pretty nice Command XP, and doing the daily mission on occasion makes for a nice break from my more common CXP farming activities (such as ops and regular warzones).

However, it also hasn't taken long for me to be reminded of all the things I don't like about GSF, such as the gameplay being so highly skill-based that a single guy can pretty much solo an entire enemy team if they are noobish enough. (I was on the losing side of a death match where a single enemy racked up 38 kills.) Not to mention that after three years, even I'm ready for a new map, gameplay mode or ship type. However, those are things that are suggested by GSF fans all the time and seem to require too many resources to be worth it from Bioware's point of view. So let me instead talk about three things that would be (comparatively) easy to fix as far as I'm concerned.


1. Let people fiddle with their ships and loadouts while in the queue

I'm not a big fan of playing "UI Wars" and another one of GSF's weaknesses (in my opinion) is that there's a big "UI hump" to get over if you want to play anything other than the default ships and loadouts. Which new player actually enjoys clicking their way through all those boxes to read dozens of ability and talent descriptions? But I get that the information has to be somewhere.

You know what would be the best time to familiarise myself with all these features in small chunks? When I'm queued for a GSF match! At least from my current experience, the queues tend to be long enough that you don't just want to stand there doing nothing (30+ seconds) but at the same time short enough that it's not worth running off to do dailies or anything while you wait. But of course - INSERT KLAXON NOISE HERE - the moment you queue for a GSF match, all the other items in the GSF UI become locked and can't be interacted with anymore.

I'm guessing that there is some kind of tech reason for this, but I'm not sure what it is, considering that your loadout doesn't seem to factor into the matchmaking and you can change ships during the match anyway. Either way, even though it's only a minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things, it still ticks me off to no end, because even after all this time, I keep trying to interact with the UI while queued ("Oh, I have a lot of unspent ship requisition! Ah right, I guess that will have to wait until after the match...") just to be foiled for reasons that don't make sense to me.

2. Let new players access all ship types or at least choose their own two out of four

This one's not really for me personally, because thanks to having been a subscriber when GSF first came out (or at least I think that's the promotion it's from), all my characters have access to at least a free gunship at the start. I'm absolutely hopeless at flying either a strike fighter or a scout, so that free gunship is my only shot at having some fun, even if I'm not very good at it.

I think it makes zero sense to limit new players to the two ship types that require the most skill to play at even a mediocre level. I get that Bioware was hoping that people would buy more ships from the Cartel Market or whatever, but I think we've had ample time to see that if players are off to a bad enough start with GSF, they won't even bother to stick with the game mode long enough to contemplate acquiring more ships. If you want them to warm up to starfighting, you need to give them the option to start at a level of play that is actually appropriate for their skill.

3. During the battles themselves, the UI needs to give better feedback

One of my biggest peeves as an eternally somewhat hapless GSF player is when I don't understand what's happening to me. Most often this will manifest itself in my ship appearing to get "stunned", meaning that I slow to a crawl and none of my abilities will fire even though they're not on cooldown. Obviously this is connected to a certain type of attack from a certain kind of enemy ship, but I'll be damned if I know what it is, because my only indicators are tiny debuff icons above my ship's health, and it's not like in the normal game where I have a cursor that I can use to hover over them to read the tooltip. I guess I'm just supposed to memorise the tiny pictures and then try to find their equivalents in the loadout menu afterwards?


Bad stuff about to happen, that much I know.

This is dumb, especially considering that there is giant text floating across the screen to inform me that Gsffarmbot has killed Ràyé Skywàlkér on the other end of the map and my co-pilot loves to rattle off helpful sound clips like: "We're hit!" No shit, sherlock...

They should use these means of communication to actually convey relevant and non-obvious information to the player, such as when you've been affected by a buff or a debuff, but I guess that's just a bit too much to ask...

Anyway, I know that even these things will likely remain nothing but pipe dreams as they would still require actual coding time and Bioware doesn't seem to have much of that to spare for GSF either. I just felt like getting these thoughts off my chest.

03/01/2017

Crafting Is (Not) The Answer

One of the big questions on mine and others' minds in the run-up to 5.0 was how the changes to crew skills were going to interact with Galactic Command and whether they would maybe significantly alleviate the RNG issues present in the system. A month in, my own answer to this question is "maybe, kind of, but not really", which probably requires a bit more explanation.

What I Like About 5.0 Crafting

First off, I do like that the changes made crafting a significant source of gear again. Crew skills have slowly been diminishing in significance over time - I remember when I used to craft and sell low-level augments, but who even bothers with those anymore when everything scales and it barely takes an hour to out-level your old gear? With 5.0 crew skills are back in the game as something relevant, at least at endgame.

I also like the way collecting schematics is almost a little mini-game of its own. I don't usually consider myself a collector (I collect neither mounts nor pets for example) but for some reason I enjoy having all the crafting recipes, even if I don't plan on actually using them all. I've got a spreadsheet to keep track of everything my various crafting alts have learned already and maintain a thread on my guild's forums where others can add what they can make.


Screenshot of said thread from our guild forums.

Crew skill schematics cannot be traded to other players as they bind to legacy on pick-up, but they can drop from Command crates as well as from the crafting crates you get for completing various PvP missions, and ops bosses seem to be guaranteed to drop at least one schematic too, usually for mods and enhancements from the earlier bosses, with the last boss of each op dropping the schematic for either an armoring, a hilt or a barrel. Schematics to craft unmoddable weapons wholesale only drop from Command crates, probably because Bioware knew that many raiders with their love for min-maxing would scoff at items with such unoptimised stat distributions. (Personally, I still like collecting those too.)

Since ops bosses also drop no gear (as of now), crew skill schematics have kind of become "the drop to get excited about" instead. The other day we did Nefra (the first boss in Dread Palace, who has a reputation for being very easy) on nightmare mode and she dropped a tier three mod schematic that our tanks immediately identified as the best in slot for tanking. They got quite excited about this and my pet tank immediately set out to get lots of them crafted.

What I Don't Like About 5.0 Crafting

While crew skill schematics are exciting to some, we also have members who don't care about crafting at all, and to them bosses basically drop nothing of interest at all right now. They'll be happy for others when they get a useful schematic, but that only really works the first time it happens, as one person getting it is enough for the whole guild (strictly speaking), and any additional copies are just a bonus. But even if you do care about crafting in general, that feeling of replacing the enhancement in your legs with something crafted can feel a bit lacklustre compared to say, prying a whole new weapon from a dead boss's hands.

I also fear that over time, crafting anything but the third tier of items will become completely pointless. People do it now because access to tier three anything is limited by the CXP grind and they'd rather have a small upgrade than nothing, but ultimately anyone will be able to craft nightmare tier gear without having to kill any nightmare bosses, so why would you make the lesser versions still? Sure, the material cost goes up as you go up in tiers, but access to materials is also only gated by time/grind so everyone can get them eventually.

More than anything else though, the system is still too heavily affected by the RNG of the Galactic Command crates. Pre-5.0, we had this vision of maybe filling that one slot that you can't get to drop from the crates with a crafted item, but in practice this isn't how it's played out for me and many others. I made it through the entirety of Command tier one with only filling half my gear slots with new stuff, and while filling the rest with crafted items would have been possible, there was always this feeling of: "But surely something must be dropping for one of these other slots soon? How bad can my luck possibly be?" Eventually I gave in and crafted myself some new implants at least since my main is a Biochemist, just to have them replaced by slightly better greens as soon as I hit Command tier two. Basically, trying to fill any missing slots with crafted items is as likely to help you as it is to cause more frustration, if thanks to the wonders of RNG it turns out that your time and money were wasted because the next day you get something better from a crate after all.

In short, it feels to me like the revamped crafting system mostly works OK on its own merits, but instead of helping to solve the problems of Galactic Command, it's gets bogged down by the same system's flaws instead.

This is my impression after one month anyway - there is obviously still a chance that things might shake out a bit differently over time. What have been your own experiences with crew skills post-5.0?

31/12/2016

The Hammer Station Experiment

What with 2016 coming to an end and me going through my blog archives for my look back at another year of blogging, I was reminded of how I was engaged in my "flashpoint levelling experiment" around this time last year. With that still in mind, a random comment on Reddit (I couldn't find it anymore now) caught my attention the other day, seeing how it once again claimed that tactical (now veteran) flashpoints are still way too hard. The reason this complaint stood out to me was that it was oddly specific in citing Hammer Station as being impossible to complete for a group of level 15 characters these days (which is the lowest level at which you can start doing most flashpoints), even though it was originally designed for levels 15-21. I also remembered a supposedly new player posting a similar lament some months ago, claiming that he and his friends had been unable to make it past one of the early trash pulls even though they'd gone in with a proper trinity group.

All of this sounded kind of hyperbolic to me, but I do know from experience that group composition and level can certainly make a massive difference to your experience of a random tactical flashpoint run. But how to know for sure just how bad it is with a full group of level 15s? It's not like you're randomly going to get a group like that through the group finder... fortunately my guildies came to the rescue and agreed to support me with yet another one of my random projects.

I asked three of them to level a new character to 15 (and no further!) on Tomb of Freedon Nadd, where none of us had a legacy already, therefore ensuring that none of us would benefit from any legacy-wide buffs such as the stat increases you get for having collected all the datacrons. Of course we couldn't precisely reproduce the new player experience like-for-like, since we can't "un-know" what we know about things like pulls and tactics, but I tried to at least up the difficulty a bit by imposing the rule that nobody was allowed to pick an advanced class that had any healing abilities, because having a healer is easy mode, right?

It was therefore with great excitement that we ventured forth today with a group consisting of a Vanguard (me), a Shadow (my pet tank), a Sentinel (Calph) and a Gunslinger (all dps) to brave the challenges of Hammer Station at level 15. And of course I recorded it, because what good is an experiment if you can't share the results with anyone?



If you don't want to watch the entirety of our silly half-hour romp, let me point you at some of the highlights:

5:11 - "The Pull of Doom"
9:50 - 1st boss
17:50 - 2nd boss
21:06 - Champion turrets at the bridge
25:25 - 3rd and final boss

Actually, it was a lot easier than I expected - I certainly anticipated a lot more deaths on trash with us having no healing abilities whatsoever. There were only two pulls that gave us trouble though: the early "Pull of Doom" highlighted above, which everyone who's ever done Hammer Station probably knows because it was the most painful pull in the instance even at launch. We had to hurl ourselves against that one and wipe twice, slowly reducing its size by killing off some of the weaker mobs before dying ourselves. The other one was the pull of two champion turrets just before the laser bridge, where we could only just kill one of them before wiping and then had to run in again to kill the second one. The first and third boss could have been tough I suppose if we hadn't known how to react to the mechanics and when to click the kolto stations (in fact on the first boss I had a brief moment of panic when we ran out of kolto stations to click from going through them too quickly).

Still, dying a couple of times is a far cry from "impossible for a group of level 15s". I'm not saying it can be done without dying if you have the sort of group composition we did, and I don't know how a group of level 15s would hold up in any of the other tactical/veteran flashpoints (considering how quickly you level up, it would be hard to test this for every single one of them), as I've observed previously that the tuning can vary a lot from one flashpoint to another. Hammer Station though? Definitely still working as intended and doable at level 15. I'm just not sure about those double loot drops...

28/12/2016

Those Dark vs. Light World Bosses

About ten days before Christmas, Bioware sent out a survey to many SWTOR players to quiz them about their opinions on the newest expansion - you bet I used that to also tell them through this more official channel that I don't like (the current implementation) of Galactic Command! What gave me pause though was that they specifically asked you to rate what they apparently considered all the major new expansion features, and one of them was "Dark vs. Light boss battles" (or something to that effect), something that had almost completely passed me by until then.

When the new server-wide Dark vs. Light system was first announced, I didn't have much of an opinion on it because I honestly thought it just sounded confusing. I was hoping that seeing it in action would make everything that much clearer, but that didn't work out so well either. The sheer amount of times we've had conversations like the following in guild chat or on TeamSpeak:

A: So I get a token every time I open a box?
B: No, when you earn a box, but only if your side is winning.
A: So like right now?
B: No, while the light side is on its way to winning right now, only the one hour "victory state" after hitting rank five counts.
A: Okay... but what do I even do with the things?

The bosses that were supposed to spawn during the victory state didn't even enter into it (probably at least partially because of the heavy emphasis on Galactic Command during the previews and how nothing was going to drop any actually useful items anymore). So it was with some curiosity that I eventually suggested at the end of an ops night that my guild should have a look at them, as we had about twenty minutes of ops time left (which isn't enough to start anything new) and the dark side had recently entered a victory state.

We eventually found two of the new bosses on Tatooine, called Erdi the Relentless and Tormentor Urdig. I recorded and uploaded the fights to YouTube, because I thought they might be useful to someone out there and I couldn't find anything else about them other than a mention in the Dulfy guide when I googled their names.





We did get both of them down on the first attempt (and as I understand it there wouldn't have been a chance at a second attempt as they despawn if they get an opportunity to reset after the first pull), but we did suffer several deaths and the outgoing damage was certainly considerable. They also had about three major abilities each which seemed to have been borrowed from existing operations bosses seemingly at random: Tormentor Urdig for example had what looked like Dread Master Raptus' Force Execution at his command. With this in mind, the bosses certainly didn't strike me as designed for your average general chat pug, even if their fickle way of spawning seems to make them more suitable targets for such transient groups than for a pre-scheduled ops night.

They did seem like worthwhile targets though, as they dropped a reasonably sized CXP pack for everyone in the group (up to sixteen I believe) as well as a light side token (if you were light side too, since they were dark side bosses). We were just annoyed that the achievements to kill them appeared to be bugged as neither was ticked off anyone's list successfully.

Still, there's your new group content, folks! You just need to know where to look for it I guess. I'm actually really intrigued by these now and hope that I'll be able to persuade my guildies to have a go at all of them sooner or later, if for no other reason than to see the fights.

25/12/2016

Rogue One

I'm a bit late to the party with this one - what kind of self-respecting Star Wars fan waits almost a week to see the latest installment in the franchise? One whose partner was too busy to see it right away I guess... but I did finally see Rogue One this week.

The spoiler-free version is that I liked it. I've always loved the Star Wars universe as a whole, with my interest not being limited to Jedi and lightsabers (that's why I play a trooper!), so seeing a film that tells the story of a bunch of "normal" people in a Star Wars setting was right up my alley. I've also seen people say that Rogue One seems to be made for fans who enjoyed the original trilogy as kids and have been longing for a grittier and more adult Star Wars film targeted at where they are now, and I do agree that the film hits that spot very well. Personally I just felt that it did the whole "grit" thing almost a bit too well, to the point where I actually found it pretty exhausting emotionally, as I'm a huge sap when it comes to my entertainment and there's only so much "bad things happening to good people" I can take. I can also relate to some of the criticisms I've seen: that Jyn's journey isn't very fleshed out and that the relationships between the different characters aren't sufficiently developed. It did work for me, but my pet tank didn't find those parts compelling at all, which led to an interesting discussion on the way home.


Rogue One poster from the film's Wikipedia page.

Getting into spoiler territory, let me describe to you my rough train of thought throughout watching the film:

- That's a lot of hopping between different people and planets. I have no idea what's going on, but I guess it will eventually start to make sense.

- OK, I'm starting to get the hang of who is who... except that I can't remember anyone's names. There's Jyn, and her father is called Galen, but as for anyone else? This sadly lasted throughout the entire film, and in the discussion afterwards I had to keep referring to people as "the guy who..." and similar designations. If anything, I would say the film's biggest flaw is giving everyone names that are hard to understand and remember.

- Watching a CGI Grand Moff Tarkin, I kept alternating between being amazed by how far the technology has come and being slightly wigged out by the whole thing. However, I'm not sure if the latter wasn't simply the result of me knowing that Peter Cushing is dead and that it therefore can't really be him. Either way the digital artists did an amazing job.

- I was less enamoured with Darth Vader's appearances. I thought they tried very hard to stay true to the way he was presented in the original trilogy, but what seemed scary in the seventies doesn't necessarily have the same impact forty years later. To me he came across as awkward rather than menacing.

- About halfway through the film, I suddenly thought to myself: Hang on, how close to Episode IV is this supposed to take place? Because this is starting to look very close. But none of these guys even get a mention in A New Hope... oh god, that means they are all going to die, aren't they?

- /cries

- OK, some people died, but they do have an escape plan, some of them might still make it...

- /cries some more

And that, dear readers, sums up my feelings about Rogue One. Happy Christmas! :P

22/12/2016

Five Years of SWTOR Blogging

As usual, two days after the game's birthday follows this blog's anniversary. While I've been blogging in some capacity or another since 2004 and it does feel like something that I've been doing forever, it still feels kind of weird to consider that I've been keeping this blog in particular for five years by now. I still tend to think of it as "my newest project", so realising that I've actually been maintaining it for five years already feels weird.

This year has also been an interesting one in so far as I've been way more prolific than I've been in any of the past years except for 2012. For all the criticisms Knights of the Fallen Empire has had thrown at it, I really found it interesting to talk about, both in terms of story and in terms of what I thought didn't work so well. In October/November I also managed to temporarily ramp up my posting schedule considerably, which was actually at least partially related to my work. I work in an office and I've previously never understood how people can read or even write blogs from work because I've always been way too busy to slack off like that during working hours. However, something happened this year that suddenly caused my workload to drop massively towards the end of the year, leaving me with whole days of nothing to do, so I started passing the time by drafting blog posts. This has now changed again (for now), but to be honest I'm kind of glad. As much as I enjoy blogging, having time to do it during work hours felt kind of wrong.

Anyway, time for my annual review of what I've been writing about!

I started the year by holding my first ever giveaway - I've actually been thinking about holding another one, but I don't want it to be boring and haven't really been able to come up with a good way of making it interesting yet. I also summed up the findings of the flashpoint levelling experiment I had conducted at the end of 2015 and started reviewing KotFE one chapter at a time. After four years, I finally completed the trooper story for a second time, and 4.0's game changes made me muse about the many ways in which Bioware's treatment of companions has changed. As if all that wasn't enough for the month of January, I also railed against people complaining that SWTOR has lockboxes in a misleading way, and joined Traitine for some lowbie PvP on his stream for the first time, something we would repeat many times throughout the rest of the year.

In February, I tried my hand at writing a little guide on how to choose the right healing class, and bemoaned the lack of regular old questing opportunities for groups in the newest expansion. I also wasn't thrilled to find that heroics had effectively become just another set of dailies thanks to 4.0's retuning, though the comments on that post quickly showed that my disdain for this was very much a minority view.

March once again showed that datamined information always has to be taken with a grain of salt, when mined details about the new PvE/PvP instance split caused people to wrongly conclude that server merges were imminent. KotFE chapter eleven released and left me quite disappointed due to its initial bugginess, including the infamous naked cat-man bug. I decided to roll an alt on the Ebon Hawk and tried to get to the bottom of why the combat sections of KotFE annoyed so many people (myself included).

April saw the release of a new warzone, which quickly became my new favourite. Once again on the subject of KotFE, I wrote about how I was feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the way the Outlander's story was developing as it didn't seem to fit my trooper background. On a happier note, I expressed my appreciation for side quests and pondered the role of puzzles in SWTOR's gameplay.

In May I tried switching to a dedicated PvP instance for the first time and wasn't impressed. I also tried my hand at the newly released Eternal Championship - there were interesting aspects to it, but I didn't end up coming back to it more than a couple of times. I also wrote what's probably the most personal post I've ever put on this blog, talking a bit about my childhood and gaming background.

June was the month of the New Blogger Initiative and I contributed a post with some advice. I took one of my bounty hunters into Knights of the Fallen Empire content and explained which parts of the experience did and didn't work for me. I also laid out how my guild had been progressing through operations in KotFE. And of course this was the month when the Dark vs. Light event was announced, and while I wasn't hugely enthusiastic about it at the start, I was still happy to jump right in.

In July I attended the second ever Community Cantina event to be held in London, and of course Knights of the Eternal Throne was announced on that occasion, though we had nothing but a teaser image to go by at that point. My guild held a hilarious summer fun event, and I mused on the amount of hours I had accumulated in the game based on the /played command.

In August I tried to gauge the chances of our still missing companions returning any time soon and finished my chapter-by-chapter discussion of Knights of the Fallen Empire shortly after the release of its final installment. I got quite invested in the DvL event and decided to finally play through the original Knights of the Old Republic - on my tablet, to keep myself entertained while commuting on the train.

After almost exactly a year of writing about one of the game's flashpoints every two weeks, I rounded off my Flashpoint Friday series with a post about the Star Fortresses at the beginning of September. I finally completed the Imperial agent story for a second time and wrote about my experiences with trying to defect to the Republic. People datamined some pretty drastic class changes coming in 5.0. And in what was a very exciting moment for me, I was able to post an official interview with Bioware's lead designer Michael Backus on the subject of flashpoints.

In October I completed the final tier of the DvL event and details of Knights of the Eternal Throne were finally officially announced after people had spent three months speculating about that teaser image. Of course we were less than happy to find out about Galactic Command. I also got a new PC and got ready to participate in International Picture Posting Month by giving my "10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots" series another run throughout the month of November.

With that going on and for the reasons mentioned at the start of this post, November was my busiest month with a (for me) quite impressive post count of 20. I had kind of mixed feelings about the upcoming KotET release at that point. I finished my KOTOR playthrough on the tablet and then Knights of the Eternal Throne finally launched.

December has mostly been about me trying to get to grips with Galactic Command and failing. Fortunately changes are already supposed to be coming to the system in January. On the plus side, I finally managed to hit my goal of becoming an Elite Warlord.

To the next twelve months of talking about all things Star Wars: The Old Republic!

20/12/2016

Five Years of SWTOR

Today, Star Wars: The Old Republic turns five years old, despite of many nay-sayers pronouncing it doomed and dying almost from day one. Looking at it now, I would expect it to easily last another five years at least, even though people are proclaiming that it won't last another year even now, and someone is going to release Star Wars Galaxies 2 any moment now to replace it as "the Star Wars MMO" (heh).

I don't want to use this post to look back on the entirety of those five years though, because I already covered four of them previously!

Year 1
Year 2
Year 3
Year 4


Shintar the trooper over the course of five years.

Year 5 has once again been an "interesting" one, largely because Bioware doesn't seem to be able or willing to settle into any sort of rhythm. We've had a total of six "expansions" by now (you can argue about the label but the specifics aren't really relevant for this discussion), and I still don't have a clue when to expect the next one and what it will entail, because they are constantly trying to change things up. In some ways this is good, because it keeps things fresh and I do enjoy being positively surprised, but at other times it feels like Bioware still isn't entirely sure what they want this game to be. After five years, I think it's about time that they make up their minds.

2015 was supposed to be the year of big change, with their massive revamp of nearly all existing content and a focus on single-player story in the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion, but 2016 followed up on this a bit awkwardly.

We did get KotFE chapters 10-16 as well as nine chapters of Knights of the Eternal Throne, which were pretty great and did provide more "quest content" than we've had in any previous expansion. (While the chapter format is very different from classic MMO questing, I still think it's fair to call it quest content, because at its core that's what it is.) But everything else...? Eh.

We did get a new warzone for the first time in ages, and it quickly became my new favourite, so that's a win. There was also a new arena and the new uprising format for small group content, which launched with five different scenarios. The new Dark vs Light battle system introduced in KotET gave us some new world bosses, and the Alliance system provided us with a bunch of new companions. We also had a "world event" in form of the one-off Dark vs Light event, but that didn't really add anything new to the game, it was more like those double XP events that encourage you to level alts. Still, looking at that list there was actually more additional content there than I thought. Nonetheless, people have been feeling the lack of new operations, flashpoints or explorable planets for the second year in a row very keenly.

Also, the time spent on systems changes this year did not feel like time well spent. The split into PvE and PvP instances instead of having dedicated servers for each didn't generate much interest. The "New Pack Opening Experience" was widely derided as a waste of resources and from what I've heard even people who like to open packs tend to find it a bit annoying. And then of course there has been the blunder of Galactic Command, which has been decidedly ill-received by the paying community as well as serving as bad PR for the game in wider MMO circles. You need to look no further than Massively OP, which voted for SWTOR as the MMO with the "Worst Business Model" this year, after it was in the running for "Most Improved MMO" last year. I personally don't think that award was deserved, but it shows just how much bad publicity the game has managed to generate this year compared to last, which is a particular shame after it seemed to manage to garner so much goodwill from the public in 2015.

So in summary: I wouldn't say that it has been a bad year for SWTOR, because they did release a good chunk of content, but a lot of fans that were disappointed by the areas in which KotFE has been lacking have had reason to grow even more jaded. Last year the revamp of nearly all levelling and group content seemed to offer a good excuse for the lack of non-story additions, but this year it has been harder to justify. Once again I can only hope that Bioware will find a better balance going forward. According to a rarely-seen guildie who claims to have talked to a Bioware employee in Ireland, those new operations are coming.