30/11/2012

Mmm, Jerky

When patch 1.2 introduced two new vanity pets, I didn't really care much. I mean, I saw them around the fleet and thought that it was neat that Bioware added them, but I've gone on record for saying that with things like that, less can be more, and I'm not much of a pet collector anyway.

The thing that did intrigue me a little however was the fact that to get the taunlet pet, you needed a food item created by biochem (!?) called Ice Scrabbler Jerky. I kept finding Ice Scrabbler Liver (one of the rare ingredients) out in the world and wanted to use it, but the recipe was a drop from various world bosses, and I didn't realise that it was BoE, so it seemed kind of out of my reach.

I more or less forgot about it whenever I wasn't picking up another liver somewhere... until the recipe dropped off one of the bosses in Explosive Conflict the other night. (Can't you just picture Colonel Vorgath playing part time chef during his free time?) It was graciously awarded to me as everyone else who might've been interested in it already had it. At last!

I figured that now that I knew how to make that jerky, I should bloody well make some, especially since I had some livers saved up anyway. But what's that? More rare ingredients? Ice Fern that only grows in a select few locations on Hoth? Oh well, off I go then!

"Shintar, what are you doing on Hoth? Are you still working on HK?"
"No, I've barely even started on that one. I'm, erm... picking flowers..."

Of course people couldn't leave me to something as simple as that and next thing I knew I wasn't picking flowers anymore. I think I got sucked into running a couple of warzones or something; my memory is a bit hazy on that.

Still, I managed to pick up a couple of ferns before getting distracted and sent Elara off to make me some jerky. (There is a bad joke in there somewhere.) Okay, now that I had some jerky, I might as well eat it? And get that pet I guess? Might as well!

Today I had a day off from work and logged on in the early afternoon. The guild was fairly quiet with only two or three other people on, and they seemed to be busy doing their own things. Excellent, a chance to complete my jerky quest in peace! Of course, I had barely been on Hoth for five minutes when I realised that I was still missing the pet capturing item from Alderaan as well. D'oh. Since going back and forth between planets is a bit of a pain, I decided to stay for now anyway and started collecting datacrons, even if they didn't have any useful stats for me.

[Another guildie logs on.]
Guildie: Hi there! Anyone for some warzones or dailies?

I immediately felt the itch to group up, but wanted to stick with my plans for once. I decide not to say anything and let one of the others reply, but nobody says anything at all. After a while, the guildie rephrases his request and asks again. I'm starting to have mental images of the poor lad staring at his screen and being heartbroken that all his guildies are total jerks and ignoring him.

Me: Not right now, I want to complete my stuff on Hoth.

Guildie goes on to pvp on his own, occasionally providing running commentary about how fun it is. Meanwhile, I try to get the cunning datacron on Hoth and find all kinds of new ways to fail at jumping, even though I've successfully picked it up before on other characters. (Did I seriously just back off the box while trying to prepare for a running jump? Good god.) When I finally make it on the umpteenth attempt, I feel mentally exhausted. Why am I doing this again? I pause for a moment to give a random knight a free ride to the top (cheeky force leapers) and then surrender.

Me: I give up. Let's go do some dailies, your choice of location.

It was late in the evening by the time I once again made it back to Hoth, after operations and warzones were both done for the day. Everyone but one guildie who was levelling an alt was gone, and he was just having a laugh at me for still struggling with the same old thing. Then I realised that I had forgot to buy the pet capturing device again. This time I went back for it though. And then, after returning to Hoth for the umpteenth time in days, and after I had also collected all the datacrons there: victory!


I'm not sure the RSCPA would approve of me frightening critters with grapple guns.

tl;dr version: There are some neat little things in the game that randomly connect different locations and crew skills. They are quite fun if you ever find the time to do them. I learned how to make jerky and captured a miniature tauntaun. Also, I seem to have a talent for getting distracted way too easily and turning even the more mundane parts of the game into journeys of epic proportions.

27/11/2012

Random Bits

My play time this week has been feeling kind of chaotic, but then so is life in general. Since I don't have a single major subject to post about, I thought I'd just mention miscellaneous bits and pieces.

Random Encounter of the Week

Last night our server went down again, though only for a brief period of time. Once again the hour or so just before the inevitable collapse had a slightly eerie Twilight Zone feel to it, with weird things happening to people's UIs, others getting booted off the server and logging back in to find that their character's progress had been rolled back by ten minutes, and similar hijinks.

While I was waiting for things to get sorted, I decided to play around on the PTS for a bit. I really wanted to try out the new warzone, but unfortunately there weren't enough players online and queued up to make it pop, despite of the valiant efforts of a couple of people who whispered everyone online and asked them to please join the queue. Kind of stupid when the main feature that needs testing is unavailable. I agree with the suggestion I saw on the forums that Bioware should set dedicated warzone testing times to encourage the curious to all log on and play at the same time.

Anyway, as I was questing on Coruscant, someone asked for help with a heroic in general chat, and it struck me as very absurd considering that there were only three of us on the entire planet at the time. I decided to help him out, and next thing I know he asks me is whether I speak German because he struggles with English. Sure, it's only my first language! Seriously, what were the odds for this guy to be that lucky? Too bad he can't channel that sort of luck into winning the lottery instead of getting an all German-speaking random group on an underpopulated international test server for an MMO.

Progress

Two months ago I wrote a post about my daily routine in the game. Let it be said that that has completely gone out the window since then. Even though it's already been a month (has it really? cor), I'm clearly still in the honeymoon period with my new guild, and every time I log on I'm just overwhelmed by how many people there are online (except that one time when I briefly came online in the morning and met our lonely guildie who plays from Down Under).

I always have all these plans for solo content that I want to do, but I'm all too willing to discard them at the slightest notion of doing something, anything in a group instead - and since this actually happens a lot, I'm not getting any of my solo stuff done. On the HK-51 quest line in particular, I've still only completed the first step (which I did do in a group, incidentally). I know there's no hurry to get it done, but it still feels a bit weird to not be checking out the newest patch content. On the other hand, I finally got to down Nightmare Pilgrim and completed Explosive Conflict on hardmode (squee). So, you know, can't complain.

Warzone Banter, Again

I know that it's hard to call for help when you're under attack, and I absolutely appreciate that you're doing so at all... but that won't prevent me from laughing if your hurriedly typed call for help ends up looking slightly absurd:


In other news, I never got why people complain about a lack of healers in warzones; whenever I play they seem to be all over the place, and not just because I'm often the one doing the healing myself. On my Guardian for example I had the joy of running into this group in Voidstar:


I really like the term "field hospital" for a healer-heavy group. Incidentally, we won that game, but no thanks to amazing dps or anything. I secretly suspect that part of the Imperial team simply lost their will to live at some point during the first round, what with it being so hard to kill anything. (As most of the time when our team has too many healers, we actually end up losing.)

22/11/2012

Farewell, Battlemaster Gear

I downloaded the 1.6 PTS today and was immediately presented with a major surprise when I saw the following on top of the patch notes:

"Battlemaster PvP gear is no longer attainable in game."

WTF?

But of course then I realised: they are doing another gear reset. Battlemaster goes bye-bye, War Hero becomes the new medium tier, and Elite War Hero will be the new set to work towards. I have to say I'm feeling very ambivalent about this.

Some people on the forums are complaining that "all their hard work" will be diminished when the gear sets for which they saved up for months will decrease in value and effectiveness and need upgrading again. I can sympathise with that. After all, I wrote a whole post about how happy I felt when I finally completed my own War Hero set after months of grinding. And in PvE I've kind of come to loathe gear resets.

However, PvP is not the same as PvE. Cutting out a tier of gear doesn't obsolete any actual content (zones, raids) - we'll still be running the same warzones as before, plus the new one, so nothing changes there. And well, to me grinding for gear is honestly kind of part and parcel of the MMO package. After spending my commendations on hundreds of warzone medpacs for my alts for the past month, just to spend them on something, I appreciate the idea of actually having something slightly more interesting to save up for again.

I remember when 1.2 made my not quite completed Champion set obsolete and how sad that made me feel initially, but then I was actually pretty happy about getting to start on Battlemaster right away. I expect that it will be the same in this case, and this time I can't even complain that I didn't have enough time to enjoy what I earned.

The only thing I consider a slight downer is that Elite War Hero will use the same model as War Hero, and at least the trooper gear isn't even recoloured in a particularly interesting way. Then again, I can't blame Bioware for wanting to get some more mileage out of the look before replacing it, especially since the current Battlemaster models were used for a total of five gear sets (Centurion, Champion, Recruit, Recruit MK-2, Battlemaster) before going the way of the dodo.

One interesting side effect of the Battlemaster vendors being removed is that the schematic boxes for the orange versions of the gear are going with them. I checked on the PTS and at least in its current state, the boxes haven't been moved to any of the other PvP vendors. While this could still be subject to change, it wouldn't be unlike Bioware to remove those schematics from the game to make them rarer. Currently the crafted pieces aren't going for a lot on the GTN, partly because of the valor rank requirement to wear them, but partly also because they are so common. I could imagine them becoming more valuable over time if the schematics are truly going to disappear with patch 1.6.

In summary, start saving up those commendations for 1.6, as you'll be getting more bang for your buck once the patch hits, and if you have a Synthweaver or Armormech, make sure to buy any of the orange Battlemaster schematics that you think you might want to craft in the future while they are still available. If you get them all (like I did), it will set you back a few hundred thousand credits, but you can always think of it as preserving history.

21/11/2012

Theorycrafting And Performance

I'm bad at theorycrafting and theorycrafting is bad at for me. Back in school, maths was always one of those subjects that I never really cared about (even though I was pretty decent at it anyway), and as a result I've pretty much forgotten everything I ever learned about dealing with numbers if it was taught to me after the age of ten. The other month I found an old book of maths exercises from my teenage years, and holy crap, I had no idea what any of it meant. That's one reason for me not to like theorycrafting in MMOs.

The other is that it always seems to go hand in hand with performance pressure. I often say that I'm not a competitive person, but looking at it right now, I don't think that's entirely true. I don't like open competition, and I find it boring and annoying when people brag a lot. But secretly, I do care about everyone's performance. I love seeing that I'm the best at something. I won't mention it, but it's something that's nice to know, and to know that other people know it too, even if we don't talk about it. If I'm not good at something on the other hand, especially in a co-operative game, I'll constantly fret about letting the team down and being a burden on everyone. Can't have that! I suppose that wanting to carry my weight is not a bad thing, but it can create stress too.

The first reason is part of why I always liked playing healers in WoW. Healer theorycraft tended to be a lot "softer" than that of other roles. There were general guidelines along the lines of "crit doesn't really do anything for a holy priest", but other than that it pretty much came down to whatever felt right for you. You could justify focusing on spirit if it gave you better control of your mana pool, even if it didn't give you the biggest heals on the block. It wasn't just about a single measurable figure that you had to chase.

The second reason is why I rather like the way TOR handles damage meters. Since the game doesn't allow addons, there generally aren't any... but there is a built-in combat logging function that can be parsed by an outside application to simulate live meters for yourself if you really want them, or else you can have everyone in your raid upload their logs to a site like Torparse, to analyse events later on. Basically that means that the information is available if you're pushing raid progression and want to know where your group's strengths and weaknesses lie, but 99 percent of the time nobody gives a damn about anyone else's exact numbers as long as things die, because it's not like you can really know what exactly your group members are doing anyway.

I'm not denying that pugs without meters have their disadvantages by the way. For example I'll never forget that Lost Island hardmode run where my group wiped on the second boss about fifty bazillion times, and I couldn't quite place my finger on what was wrong. We were dying to a variety of things even when nobody did anything blatantly stupid, but somehow our progress felt painfully slow. Then we finally had one attempt where everyone survived until the boss enraged... and still had forty percent of his health left. Right, that's what had been off.

That's when we finally called it, because it was obvious that we didn't have the dps. The funny thing was that both of our damage dealers were really nice chaps and didn't want to give up, but I convinced them that we were way too far off. Still, in the end I'd rather be unsuccessful with friendly people occasionally than have to put up with everyone obsessing over meters all the time - and that includes myself. I guess if you're an MMO player you probably don't mind staring at bars of some sort, but it's all too easy to start spending more time staring at meters than paying attention to what's actually happening in the game world around you, and that's kind of sad.

Anyway, where was I going with this again? Right. I'm a pretty agreeable person, and tend to adjust to whoever I'm hanging out with at any given time. BoR very much brought out my more laid back side, and it was fun. But now I'm surrounded by people who talk about swapping out their mods and practising on target dummies and... despite of not being massively inclined towards optimising my character if I don't have to, I can't help being affected. Nobody's exerted any kind of pressure on me (unless you count people smothering me in helpful advice and wanting to give me stuff), and I don't think I've heard anyone moan about my healing yet, but it's there again: that weird feeling that I have to compete. Somehow, with someone. That I have to get better than I am right now, though I'm not sure to what end. (The current TfB HM group is drowning in healers as it is, so it's not like I'm pushing progression or anything.)

I suppose there's nothing wrong with wanting to optimise for the heck of it, but it's quite a drastic gear shift in my play style, and it's giving me a bit of whiplash. One moment I'm thinking, "must find better talents/gear/mods/augments", and the next I'm like: "Screw that 0.1 extra bonus healing, I'll just be over here with my kolto and be happy with being adequate." I'll need to find a balance.

17/11/2012

16-Man

Tonight I came on to see almost two dozen guildies online, and due to this it was decided that we were going to attempt Terror from Beyond on 16-man. I'd never done a 16-man operation before, not counting one or two world bosses, so I was giddy as anything... and the experience didn't disappoint. I don't know where exactly the magic cut-off line lies, but there is something special about raiding with a "larger" group of players - and while ten always felt a bit lacking to me, sixteen seemed to be just about enough to scratch that particular itch.

All the fluff items added in the patch yesterday also resulted in people being even more playful than usual - Party Jawas everywhere, and I sure hope that those little balls that you can throw at people are made of something light and soft, or else a couple of raid members must have ended the night with some serious concussions. There are a lot more things that I could say about the run, but I don't think any of it would really convey just how much fun I had with it. If anyone had been there to observe me playing, they probably would have asked me why I was stupidly grinning at my monitor all the time, or what was so funny as to make me laugh out loud repeatedly.

I'll just post a couple of screenshots and hope that they speak for themselves.

 

If you think that the Empire has all the fun... think again. 

 

Notice the gunslinger to my right who bought an outfit on the Cartel market that makes him look like a Sith warrior. As someone who does a lot of PvP, I found that extremely unsettling.


Tank: "Everyone AoE on my position!"
Everyone does so.
<two seconds later>
Tank lags out and disconnects.


 The day this game finally introduces a proper ready check will be a sad one, because there's nothing quite like seeing the effect of "jump/move if you're ready".


Ciphas: I have a feeling they aren't taking this entirely seriously. 
Heirad: You think?


 And here I thought that this fight was trippy with eight people! 


Action shot on trash!


Dancing in the moonlight... and oh, there was so much dancing. Bloody disco balls.


It's amazing just how long some people can keep running around in circles without killing Kephess or being killed by him (I'm obviously not one of them).


The Terror from Beyond: A party? For me? You shouldn't have! <squeal>

16/11/2012

Free To Play Day!

Ahh, writing about patch days is always difficult, because you kind of just want to play instead of talking about playing. However, it's late and I have work tomorrow, so I've decided to pace myself and stop for the night. The new content is still going to be there tomorrow.

Maintenance was scheduled to last twelve hours today and then took another two and a half hours on top of that, which pretty much made the game unavailable for the entirety of the EU's day time. There was only meagre amusement to be had from watching people go stir crazy on various forums and on Twitter, and it was almost ten in the evening when the servers finally came back up.

People were pretty much dying to get on by then. I immediately logged on to four instances of the Republic fleet, and my significant other even encountered a queue a few minutes later - as a subscriber (who gets login priority)! Don't trust the estimated wait times though: his was 45 minutes and he got in after about 30 seconds. I imagine that it must have been pretty tough on free players that wanted to get started today though.

The first thing I noticed was a new welcome screen that lists all the subscriber benefits before you get to the character selection screen. I sure hope that they won't make me look at that every time I log in now; I'm already subscribed! Next I noticed the two new quickbars that they added for subscribers, all crowded together on the right hand side of my screen. I have to admit that part of me went "no game should require six quickbars to play", but at the same time there's another part that goes: "Buttons! Buttons! You can never have too many buttons!" And if you put two bars on each side and squeeze them close together, the space they take up isn't too bad. With all those extra quick slots, I really need to rearrange my abilities soon.

Tonight wasn't the time for that though; I wanted to be where the action was! The fleet was packed, and you could tell that existing players were excited about being able to buy new goodies. I kept hearing the distinctive "boom" sound of someone opening a Cartel pack left and right, and people were showing off their new speeders and pets everywhere. I only bought two packs to start with and only got a speeder that I didn't particularly care about. If you're after anything specific, I recommend waiting for a few days before going crazy in the shop, as most things will probably start showing up on the GTN once they unbind - and then you can decide whether you want to try your luck with the packs or would rather pay the credit price to get exactly what you want - no more, no less.

I was happy to learn that I'm not the only person enamoured with the little probe droids (want one on live!), and one guildie in particular cracked me up with his love for the new Party Java. He was initially somewhat annoyed that an outfit he had bought was apparently the wrong colour, but he claimed that it was all good as long as he regularly reminded himself to "keep calm and PARTY JAWA!"

Other than the Cartel pack madness on the fleet, Section X on Belsavis was where the action was, so I didn't bother to look for a breadcrumb quest and just headed over there immediately. Fortunately it wasn't difficult to find: on the orbital station the shuttle simply now gives you an option to fly down to Section X, and you land right in your faction's base, with all the new missions only a few steps away. There's a bunch of new dailies from the two terminals, and a droid that starts the HK-51 quest line.

I picked it all up and cast out my lure in guild to catch someone to play with, as doing dailies as a lonely healer is kind of tedious. I immediately caught a friendly Sentinel and we were off. It felt like there were mobs everywhere and it took ages to get anything done, but I suspect that this was largely due to the newness of it all, as we didn't really know what to expect and just sort of ran around at random. I'm sure it won't take people long to figure out the most efficient way of completing these new dailies.

There was a funny moment when I drove past the new world boss while people were fighting him (I was miles away, I swear) and somehow got caught by his aura, knocked off my speeder and died within seconds, much to the amusement of any guildies that were around to witness it. Later I also got myself killed by insisting on driving into the Imperial base to uncover that bit of the map. Those gun turrets hurt (and stunned me long enough that I couldn't even do much before I died). Good times!

The ship crash site where you do the HK-51 quest was the most interesting spot in the area in my opinion. The scene when you enter the ship and unveil its contents was pretty cool. I'm not sure why Bioware made a quest to unlock a new companion a [Heroic 2] though. Not sure what kind of message that sends: "If you want your very own killer robot, learn to play or make at least one friend"? I can see that not sitting well with a certain kind of player. Also of interest, there is an [Area 2] quest around the ship that requires Republic to kill some droids, and - I'm guessing - Imperials to kill some beasties. That struck me as a very obvious ploy to encourage world PvP - we'll see if it works.

Oh, and speaking of heroics, we were fortunate that we learned through word of mouth that the [Heroic 4] daily requires a full group of four before going in and attempting to two-man it. The reason you can't go in with companions is that there are two mechanics towards the end that require actual people to click buttons at the same time to complete the mission. I have to admit that had me raising my eyebrows a little because while I'm a fan of group content, I'm not so sure about mechanics that will forever require exactly X amount of players - they can get annoying quite quickly once the initial rush dies down. (I'll never forget the Ogri'la attunement quest chain in WoW's Burning Crusade and "looking for one more just to stand in a circle please".) That said... for now it was very fun. There was a puzzle part to it too, where you have to deactivate some sensors first or else spawn more adds, which can be quite challenging if you're relying on four people not to twitch at the wrong time.

Really looking forward to tomorrow now, as there are world bosses to kill, operations to run, and the HK-51 quest line to continue. I don't know which one will come first, but I'm sure it will be fun.

13/11/2012

Smuggled Out

I'm now the proud owner of a max level character of each of the four Republic base classes! My smuggler hit a bit of a snag after the levelling duo of which she was one half was dissolved and I didn't feel like playing her for a while, but recently the bug bit me again and I decided to get back into the action to work on those last couple of levels to fifty.


Here's me dinging conveniently just as I was finishing up my class quest. I don't consider "me shooting some droids" to be a spoiler.

I'm kind of proud of myself for managing to level as a gunslinger, as I'm generally addicted to playing support classes, so a character that can't do anything but dps would usually be anathema to my play style. I did learn to enjoy it over time though, even if cover remains a somewhat clunky mechanic to me. I remember instantly disliking it when I first encountered it on my Imperial agent, and while it gets a lot better once you spec into an advanced class whose abilities beef up its utility, part of the nuisance factor remains. Nothing quite like "taking cover" by accidentally rolling into an additional group of mobs, or landing in a spot that gives such good cover that you can't even see your enemy and thus can't shoot. Today I also ran False Emperor and on the last boss it was absolutely maddening how my character insisted on rolling off behind some box every time I just wanted to hunker down on the spot and use my knockback. I can't hit him from over there, you numpty! Do I have to nail your feet to the floor or something?

Anyway... smuggling! I really liked the smuggler story, even though I originally expected it to be my least favourite Republic class. There's a reason I left rolling a smuggler until last: the smuggler archetype just never really appealed to me that much. Actually levelling one certainly changed my perspective on that though. I really liked how it felt quite different compared to all the other class stories that I've played through so far: a lot more humorous and light-hearted, full of snark and flirting, but still appropriate for the setting. Act I in particular was absolutely brilliant, with a villain you just love to hate and a strong motivation for your character that always keeps you keen on finding out what'll happen next. If I had to criticise anything at all, it would be that I felt that the story lost some of its charm and momentum from Act II onwards - the more you got involved with the Republic instead of doing your (supposedly) freelance thing, the more your character felt like just another Republic mook instead of a truly free agent.

I also really liked all of my companions - except maybe Akaavi, because she creeps me out a little. Every time she says "my guns itch" I can't help thinking that it must be some kind of strange euphemism for something. Still, where on other characters I mostly stuck to one or two favourite companions while levelling, my smuggler took all of her friends out for a spin when she got the chance (though in everyday play, I found that gunslinging worked best with a tank by my side). A captain adding to her crew also felt like a really natural way of acquiring companions, second only to the trooper assembling her squad. The only slightly silly thing about the whole process was just how far they went with the "making every smuggler feel like Han Solo" idea. A wookie's one thing, but then Risha's story... that was so over the top it was pretty ridiculous.

I'm not sure how I would rank the smuggler story compared to the other classes that I've already played, as it just feels so different - but it's definitely up there near the top somewhere.

11/11/2012

Going Digital

Via Oldrep.de (warning: German!), I found out that it's currently still possible to upgrade from the standard edition of the game to Digital Deluxe for only €1.99. Looking at my own account page, this turned out to be £2.99 for UK customers (~€3.8 at the time of writing this - guys, you're doing this currency conversion thing wrong), but I still decided to go for it.

You might find it surprising to hear that someone who's continuously been subscribed to SWTOR since the beginning and who loves it enough to maintain a fan blog about it only owned the standard edition of the game until now, but I don't have a lot of money in real life and was brought up to be extremely frugal. Needless to say that paying extra for a game just to earn some in-game item that I might never use, or to obtain real life swag that will only end up gathering dust on a shelf has never appealed to me.

For three quid though, knowing that I do enjoy the game and with the added bonus of some extra cartel coins for the upcoming F2P conversion, I decided to go for it. The main reason I wanted to upgrade was actually the wristband to get access to the VIP lounge on the fleet, which is a feature that has been bugging me for a long time. While statistically most people I meet should only have the standard edition of the game like me, I somehow kept running into lots of players who had one of the upgraded versions and were constantly flaunting that fact in my face, whether intentionally or not. (Quote: "What do you mean, not everyone can take the lift up here?!") Not to mention that time when I found out that the cantina jukebox for the fleet can also only be accessed from the VIP lounge. Cruel!

Yes, I know that you can buy access via a stupid amount of credits in game, but I don't have that many virtual millions to throw away either. Paying three pounds to get automatic access for all my characters was definitely worth it.

After I scooped the Digital Deluxe goodies out of my mailbox on the first character I had logged onto after making the purchase, I immediately took the lift up into the lounge and the following conversation ensued between me and my significant other:

Me: "Finally I, too, can access this mysterious lounge from where silly people like to throw themselves to their deaths on the fleet below! Aha, there is a vendor over there... oh right, this one's only for CE owners. Oh well."
[I jump down onto what looks like a piece of tarpaulin spanning the cantina below.]
Him: "What are you doing now?"
Me: "Nothing."
Him: "That doesn't look like nothing."
Me: "I just want to see for myself."
Him: "What was that about silly people falling to their deaths?"
[I try to make the jump to a ledge that looks safe, miss it and fall to my death.]
Me: "Shut up."

09/11/2012

Advanced Class Bias

I came to the somewhat embarrassing realisation recently that I'm extremely prejudiced against people based on which advanced class they play. I'm not talking about technical performance expectations here ("class X is overpowered/useless"), though there's probably some of that as well, but about the person behind the avatar. Simply put: I kind of expect players of certain classes to be nicer and more competent individuals than those of others.

It first really struck me with Vanguards. I'm ridiculously biased in their favour. While I've certainly had some positive experiences with random Vanguard players in the past, none of it even comes close to justifying the sheer extent of my bias. I think it comes down to a mix of class identity and their role in gameplay. The trooper story is very much about being a "good soldier", even if you make dark side choices, so I expect people who play one to find that role appealing, and to enjoy being a hero of the common people. Vanguards then take this another step further by being able to tank, and a lot of them do. In PvP this means that they really are protectors of the common (squishy) people - holy crap, this guy literally just took a bullet laser for me! How could you not be in awe of that kind of dedication? (If a Vanguard turns out to be a dps player, I'll be a little disappointed, but forgive them anyway.)


Hello there, handsome stranger! I feel strangely reassured by your presence. Let's be friends?

This got me thinking about how I see other classes. Interestingly, I expect Commandos to be kind of derpy, even though they are "noble" troopers as well. Considering that this is my main's class, this might simply be a case of "takes one to know one". One of the Commandos in my old guild is also extremely talented at getting himself into trouble. And for quite a while after release, dps Commandos were widely known as "one button wonders" that were supposedly popular with players that had no skill. I guess this might simply be a case of overwhelming amounts of past experience overriding everything else.

When I see a Scoundrel, I expect him or her to be a easygoing and friendly. This is probably a mix of story and role bias again: smuggling is for people who like to crack jokes and have fun... and somehow most Scoundrels I encounter these days are specced into healing, which makes them instantly seem supportive and helpful.

Gunslingers I view as more of a lone ranger type, sitting at the back behind their cover and doing their thing while nobody else pays attention to them except to say: "Dude, you know you're out of healing range, right?" I also expect them to be very serious about doing dps, because otherwise they wouldn't have chosen one of only two advanced classes that can perform no other role.

The latter is a prejudice that I apply to Sentinels as well, though I also view them as more sociable and helpful. They may be pure damage dealers, but they are still goody two-shoes Jedi, you know? It also seems to me that among all the different damage dealers, Sentinels are the ones most likely to play in a manner that still focuses on supporting other players (for example by using their utility powers at just the right time). I admit that this perception might simply be a result of their high visibility though (hard to miss that jumpy guy with the dual lightsabers who's constantly in your face), and that other dps classes might be just as helpful from range and just not get noticed.

Guardians are - to me anyway - the game's "average guys". It seems a bit wrong to say that about a Jedi class, but basically they represent the typical good guy or hero with no other defining features. If nothing else I expect Guardian players to be well-intentioned, however other than that I pretty much anticipate mediocrity. I know that I'm doing them a great injustice that way because I've known some very good Guardian players in my time, but I've also seen just as many Guardian tanks who can never remember to reapply guard and dpsers who only ever do average damage (this includes my own Guardian alt by the way). I just can't get excited about being grouped with a Guardian either way.

There is another class this applies to for me, and that is Sages. Maybe it's because they were all over the place shortly after release when they were the major flavour of the month, but they always struck me as the kind of character played by someone who just wants to have it easy. (Note that my main alt is a Sage.) I'm always hesitant to give my MvP to a Sage because even if they did well I always doubt whether they really worked for it. I'm always a little suspicious of them initially and they'll have to be truly amazing to impress me.

Now Shadows on the other hand, I expect those to be highly skilled players, I'm just never sure about their attitude. They seem to get played by people of extremes, and will either be wonderful team players that provide great utility, or selfish jerks who constantly roll their eyes at all those other people who can't stealth and slow them down. I think this might be a prejudice that is related to stealth dps gameplay in general as I vaguely seem to recall having a similar bias against rogues in WoW back in the day.

I can't really comment on the Imperial advanced classes because I mainly experience them as the enemy, so my biases are pretty much limited to "is annoying", "hurts" and "hurts a lot". However, I think that even if I did play Empire side more, the prejudices I listed here wouldn't automatically translate to their mirror advanced classes due to some classes having a very different flavour to them - I don't think I could ever view a bounty hunter as a heroic protector of the people for example.

Do you expect people to act a certain way based on which class they play?

06/11/2012

Retro Raiding

Some days, this game still genuinely amazes me.

Back in April, patch 1.2 introduced a tough new world boss on Voss, the Nightmare Pilgrim. I was only ever peripherally aware of his existence, since I knew that he required sixteen people to kill, and my old guild could never field that many raiders even during its heyday. Attempting to kill him was simply completely out of the question for us.

Well, as it turns out my new guild does have the numbers to down him, and even has raids on him on the calendar as a regular event. I was impressed when I saw this and signed up for one, once I had given my PvE gear a once-over to make sure that it was up to the task.

Looking up a brief strategy guide for the boss, I was also surprised to find out that he required a consumable that lasts four hours and costs thirty daily commendations a pop. Whoa! There is a craftable version of it too but my gunslinger will need a bit more work before she'll be able to make it, and there weren't any on the GTN when I checked, so I bit the bullet and spent the commendations. Good thing that I had quite a few of them saved up, though if I was to join for this event more regularly, I might actually have a reason to start doing dailies again.

Originally it was supposed to happen on Sunday, but then it was moved to Monday on short notice as leadership decided that there was too much competition on Sunday evening. Since I was already on Voss at the time and observing said competition first hand, I decided to hang around a bit and watch. There were two Imperial guilds taking turns trying to down him, but failing over and over again. Most of the time I couldn't even tell why. I wasn't the only fascinated onlooker either. A smuggler standing next to me commented: "I have other, more important things to do, but this is just too entertaining." We watched them wipe for over an hour until one of them finally managed to achieve a kill, which prompted us to break into applause.

It's funny that a game that only came out at the end of last year has such incredibly old school world boss mechanics - yet to me personally, that's also a good thing. It brings back memories of original WoW and how I once rode into the Twilight Grove in the middle of Duskwood to find a huge crowd of people fighting and dying there while a giant green dragon rampaged across the clearing. Noob me had no clue WTF was going on at the time, but it was definitely one of those things that left a lasting impression.


Anyway, today we went back to Voss, but as it turned out there was competition even on a Monday. Another Republic guild was already fully assembled, and an Imperial one was still waiting for part of its team to arrive when our own guildies started to trickle in. The first guild got their kill before anyone else had assembled a full group, so our raid leader announced that we were going to wait half an hour for the respawn. Again, antithesis to modern MMO design!

I really didn't mind the wait though; I just sat down under a tree and watched some people duel each other to pass the time, with one of our tanks getting stuck inside a tree as the highlight of the show. There was also some talk with the Imperial guild going on, which I didn't actually see, but I laughed out loud when another guildie commented on the "negotiations" on Teamspeak with the line: "'Do you come here every Monday?' Sounds like a pick-up line." There was a bit of an argument over who should get the next spawn, but our leader decided that the Imps should have the first attempt, and well, if they did get the kill we would simply have to wait another thirty minutes. If they died, we would try after them.

The Imps seemed to be doing fine initially, but barely wiped on the enrage timer. So we made the next pull, but as soon as we had started fighting, they had respawned and were all over us, yelling and griefing us by taunting the boss away to make him reset. They claimed that we were responsible for their wipe because we had interfered somehow. Our response could pretty much be summed up as: "WTF?" We kept spawning the boss, they kept resetting him, and in-between some people were trading insults for a while, but eventually they seemed to give up and go away. Inter-guild server drama!

Sadly, we weren't actually able to kill the boss after all that. We tried several times and always got close, but the enrage timer got us every time. I'm not sure whether we were "truly" off in terms of dps or whether we were tripped up by the fact that one or two people died on pretty much every attempt and then lost dps time from needing to be resed or running back from the medcentre. People seemed pretty disappointed by this failure, as the guild has apparently been able to one-shot the boss in the past.

I'm kind of glad that I'm not dps or I probably would have felt responsible somehow (being the new guy and all). As it was, I only had to suffer feeling mortified when the tank that I was assigned to died twice. All I can say is: holy crap, the Pilgrim's dog does some spiky damage! Full health, full health, full health, hit for thirty percent health, dead. Fuuu...! I'll have to read up on that some more to see if there's anything I can do better. (Knowledge is half the battle!)

That said, I really enjoyed the whole night regardless. It's been over two years since I was in a guild raid that size, where you actually needed things like dedicated healing assignments. And I'm sure we'll see the boss dead (again) soon enough.

04/11/2012

"Should I play SWTOR?" A review after ten months.

Recently, Rimecat asked in a comment why he should play Star Wars: The Old Republic. What makes it better than other MMOs on the market? That is a fair question to ask and a subject that I've been meaning to tackle for a while. While I personally think that it's a great game, and it obviously does some things better than other games, there are also things that it does worse. Whether you'll like the end result depends on where your priorities lie in an MMO.

So, without further ado: my review of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Since this is a fan blog, I'm obviously biased in favour of the game, but at least you can be assured that I know what I'm talking about in regards to all aspects of the game and that I'm not making a judgement based on having played the game for only two weeks right after release. It's also worth noting that this was written before the free to play conversion, which will obviously change some things, but it's probably safe to say that many core aspects of the game will stay the same at least for quite a while.

The Setting

It's not fantasy. This is a big deal for some people. I had a funny argument with a guild member's wife once where I tried to convince her to try the game, saying that in practice, a lot of its aspects were pretty "fantastical" anyway, i.e. use of the Force is essentially like magic. Her reply: "But it has space. I don't like space." Can't really argue with that, can you? You need to have at least some tolerance for sci-fi settings and spending time on drab-looking space stations.

Obviously, if you already like Star Wars, it should be easy to find something to love about this game, as it's very true to the setting in many ways.

Great if you: love Star Wars, or at least enjoy science fiction and fantasy in equal measure
Bad if you: think Star Wars is dumb or don't care for sci-fi settings in general

General Gameplay

In essence, gameplay in Star Wars: The Old Republic consists of two parts: combat and conversations.

The combat system is basically a clone of World of Warcraft's around the Burning Crusade era, with a liberal addition of jumps, pulls and knockback abilities. You more or less stand in place and push buttons to trigger abilities to kill your opponents. While melee combat is reasonably active, there are no "action combat" elements like dodging, blocking or more active targeting like they have been popular in other recent MMOs. This can be a good or a bad thing, depending on how twitchy you like your combat to be, and if you enjoy having several hotbars full of sometimes very situational abilities. The "holy trinity" of tanking, healing and damage is in effect.

What's also worth noting is that every single class effectively turns into a "pet" class at some point during the starting area, when you receive your first NPC companion. Later solo content is balanced around the idea that you'll always have a companion with you, though they are excluded from large group content. Having a helpful NPC with you at all times may or may not be your kind of thing, but since there are companions to fulfil all three trinity roles, this system opens up a variety of interesting gameplay possibilities, such as levelling as a healer with a dps companion by your side and actually practising your healing skills as you go.

Great if you: are happy with "classic" MMO combat, like having lots of different abilities to choose from, like levelling as a non-dps spec
Bad if you: want some action in your day-to-day gameplay, prefer working with a limited amount of abilities at any given time, hate pet classes

The conversation part of the game is mostly relevant while levelling. When you interact with NPCs to pick up missions and progress your personal story, it gets played out in fully voiced and animated cut scenes. You get to respond and interact with characters frequently, using the conversation wheel that Bioware popularised in its Mass Effect series of games. This creates a layer of immersion that makes even the most mundane "kill x monsters" quests feel important and worthwhile.

Great if you: like immersing yourself in the story, talking to NPCs, roleplaying
Bad if you: don't like reading or listening to quest text, don't care about what happens to some NPC that you'll never see again

Crafting

The profession system in SWTOR, which is called crew skills, can probably be summed up as "fairly generic but with a twist". At its heart, it copies the kind of system that has been popularised by WoW, where you simply gather some materials out in the world and then just push a button to craft your thing. It's not very involved.

The twist comes from the companion system, as it's not actually your character that does all the work - instead you send your companions out to do it for you. They can also gather raw materials that way, which effectively makes most materials available in unlimited supply, provided that you are willing to invest the time and money into making your companions do overtime. This is handy because it means that you can let one of your spare companions run errands for you while you continue doing something else in the game.

The other minor twist consists of the reverse engineering system, which lets you discover how to craft pieces of gear that you picked up in the past by taking them apart, and also allows you to learn how to improve on green or blue quality items that you already know how to make.

In its current state, the crew skills system is reasonably well balanced around the rest of the game, that is to say: it's easy to level your crafting alongside your character and create useful items as you go along. At max level all the skills have their benefits without anything being vastly overpowered.

Great if you: don't like going AFK while your character turns 300 pieces of ore into bars, enjoy crafting useful items for yourself and others
Bad if you: want crafting to be a mini-game of its own, desire complexity from professions

PvE Levelling

Even critics seem to agree that the PvE levelling is the best part of the game. The conversation system is something that hasn't been seen in any other MMO in this form. Eight unique class stories make it worthwhile to level alts, because the game feels very different depending on whether you go through life as a serious agent of the Empire, trying to hunt down its enemies in secret, or as a wisecracking smuggler who's always looking for treasure.

The vast majority of PvE levelling is tuned for solo play (including the entirety of each class story), but flashpoints and a plethora of optional group quests on each planet provide interesting group content for those who want it, without exerting pressure on the solo players.

The levelling game's only downside is that the heavy focus on story makes it all somewhat linear. Each level range is only covered by a single planet worth of PvE content, and all classes are expected to at least visit each planet once in turn, even if their motivations to do so (as provided by the class story) are completely different. The class story on its own also doesn't provide enough experience to level up, so you do need to pad your experience gains in some way by doing other content, which can get repetitive if you always find yourself doing the same side quests. However, since there are way more potential sources of experience than you actually need to level up (bonus quests, flashpoints etc.), you can mix things up by picking and choosing different ones on each character.

Great if you: enjoy smelling the roses while levelling, rolling many alts, like soloing or playing with a small group of friends
Bad if you: think that quests are an outdated mechanic, feel that the game only really starts at the level cap, dislike alts

PvE Endgame

Contrary to popular "wisdom", SWTOR does have a PvE endgame. It's mostly centred around group play however, which is somewhat in conflict with the heavy focus on solo content while levelling. (Then again, this is hardly a new problem for MMOs in general.) The solo player is pretty much limited to doing some dailies once he or she hits max level. You're kind of encouraged to roll alts instead.

For groups, there are eight small group flashpoints that have hard modes, and at the time of writing this, four raids which are split into three tiers of linear progression. The raids all come in a (comparatively) easy mode which you can do just to see the story, and at least one harder difficulty setting (sometimes there is also "nightmare") for the more progression-oriented players.

The raids are all very lovingly crafted and offer some fun mechanics, with the difficulty being very decidedly "middle of the road". Again, this can be a good or a bad thing. Story mode isn't like WoW's "raid finder", so if you're a very casual player who doesn't have time to raid in two or three hour chunks, you'll probably still find it too inaccessible. On the other hand, hardcore raiders that are used to chasing world or server firsts might end up finding even the hard modes way too easy for their liking, though Bioware has been working on making them more interesting and well... harder. Still, even on nightmare difficulty these aren't "wipe four hundred times before you win" kind of fights. The ones best served by this type of raid endgame are people who do have at least a few hours to invest into the game each week and are happy to play in an organised fashion, but don't want to stress about it too much.

Great if you: are the kind of player who dabbles in different aspects of the game and doesn't mind grouping up for hours at a time
Bad if you: primarily want to solo, consider yourself a top hardcore raider

PvP

The PvP in this game has turned out to be surprisingly popular, considering that it's not the main focus of the game at all. There are currently four warzones which provide an instantly accessible eight vs. eight PvP experience that is instanced and objective-based. They are very well designed, fun to play and offer a good mix of more traditional objectives and the slightly unusual, e.g. capturing and holding the turrets in Alderaan Civil War vs. Huttball.

As far as class balance is concerned, to quote Yahtzee: "cows go moo, dogs go woof, MMO players go 'the PvP is unbalanced'". My personal verdict would be that balance is "okay", and that's coming from someone whose main is of a class that currently even the forums agree on is comparatively weak in PvP.

The low-level warzones in particular offer a more balanced PvP experience than you'll find in most MMOs, as the bolstering system does a good job of equalising the levels from ten to forty-nine, and elegantly prevents issues such as newbies getting obliterated by twinks (since the latter can't really exist in this game). This makes doing warzones while levelling a very attractive way of padding your experience gains, even if you're a more casual player.

At max level, the system becomes a lot more gear-focused, and the best PvP gear in the game takes a long time to acquire. While Bioware has made efforts to reduce the power difference between newly dinged and established level fifty characters (you get a pretty decent set of starter PvP gear for free), it does remain somewhat of an issue. It can be very rewarding once you've worked your way to the top, but until then the randomness of having weakly geared characters face off against powerful War Heroes can be frustrating.

The weakest aspect of SWTOR's PvP however is simply that aside from warzones, there isn't much else to do. Ranked warzones exist for the hardcore, but they remain very niche and players attempting to participate often face long queues. World PvP exists only to a very limited extent unless there is some kind of world event going on. There also isn't any instanced PvP for group sizes other than eight.

Great if you: like casual PvP while levelling, don't mind a long gear grind at max level
Bad if you: want to fight players in another context than just running the same four warzones over and over

The Social Aspect

The levelling experience very much caters towards solo players that just want to do their thing, but there are mechanics in place to encourage grouping, such as increased experience gains while teamed up, and missions that require more than one player to complete. The "problem" is that all group content while levelling is optional, so people might level to fifty without ever talking to anyone and then complain that they are lonely. However, if you are willing to group up and talk to people, you'll find the content provided for small group play to be very rewarding.

As explained in the Endgame PvE section, at endgame, group content becomes the favoured way to progress your character, and the raids - while not amazingly difficult in story mode - are still designed with organised groups in mind.

It's worth noting that the game has no cross-server functionalities, and while the servers that remain after the merges mostly have a very large population, you'll still start to recognise some names if you play for a prolonged period of time. Paid server transfers aren't currently available, though Bioware is looking into this. As a result server community is quite strong if you care to get involved with it at all, and most players are fairly mature and friendly in game.

Great if you: play with a small number of friends, like being a member of a guild, don't mind talking to random strangers and befriending them
Bad if you: don't like talking to strangers, are highly annoyed by other players competing for mobs and resources

"Fluff"

Lastly, what else is there to do in the game when you're not doing PvE or PvP? This has generally become known as "fluff" in MMO blogging circles, and refers to things such as achievement systems, collectibles, vanity pets, player housing etc.

This is an area where SWTOR admittedly doesn't have a lot to offer. The two main alternative activities currently available are datacron hunting, which encourages exploration and the braving of jumping puzzles for tiny stat boosts, and the space game, which is a fairly simple on-rails shooter mini-game that becomes accessible once your character acquires their own ship.

The in-game codex is sort of similar to an achievement system, but less flashy. It doesn't give you a score or rewards for doing random things. While each player gets a personal spaceship, there aren't enough customisation options for them that you could seriously refer to them as a form of player housing. And while different vehicles and vanity pets do exist, there aren't exactly a whole lot of them (though this is an area that will get more attention with the free to play transition).

Great if you: don't care about achievements, don't like faffing around with mini-games
Bad if you: love any of the following and consider them a must-have feature in any MMO you play: achievements, player housing, mount and non-combat pet collecting, mini-games

In Summary

You should play SWTOR if you:
- like Star Wars or sci-fi settings in general
- enjoy traditional MMO combat
- like to take your sweet time progressing through an MMO and enjoy rolling alts
- enjoy getting immersed in the stories provided by NPCs and quests
- like to at least dabble in PvP and/or raiding
- don't really care much about "fluff"
- don't mind talking to other players, enjoy grouping up without being forced to

SWTOR probably isn't the right game for you if you:
- only really want to play fantasy MMOs
- are bored of hotkey combat without action elements
- think that a good MMO starts at endgame
- dislike questing and talking to NPCs
- consider yourself a "first-chasing" hardcore raider or PvP player
- are a big fan of sandbox elements and mini-games in MMOs
- don't want to interact with other players unless the game forces you to

Questions and comments are welcome, let me know if I forgot anything major!

03/11/2012

A Very Special Ding (Or Not)

I've been looking forward to being able to make this post for weeks. I thought it would be much better though, with a fancy screenshot and everything... but I managed to mess that up by not hitting print screen at the right time, and more importantly by completely missing the ding altogether. I remember taking a look at my legacy experience bar before logging off last night and thinking "woo, almost there". Yet the next time I looked at it today, I had already hit the level cap without noticing. It must have happened while I was doing PvP on one my alts... which was foolish on my part I guess, but on the other hand I wasn't aware that I was that close.

So, the O'sirisen legacy is level fifty and I don't even have a screenshot. Boo.

Still, not a bad achievement I dare say, though I'm not sure how uncommon it is at this stage in the game. The sad thing of course is that there is no acknowledgement of it in game. No titles, no fireworks, no surprises. The highest level requirement on any of the legacy perks is twenty-five. Pfft! What are the other twenty-five good for then?

At the same time, I think that I'll miss levelling my legacy. It may not have served any particular purpose for some time now, but for some reason I really liked the legacy level as an "alternate advancement" mechanic. It doesn't get more basic than a plain old bar that keeps filling up as you play without doing anything else, but nonetheless there was something very satisfying about continuing to gain experience on my max-level characters. (On the lowbies I didn't really care; getting two experience messages for everything just felt spammy to be honest.) As long as my legacy level kept rising, it felt like my fifties were still growing in some abstract sense and independent of gear. I have a screenshot of Shintar the trooper levelling up from killing a raid boss in Karagga's Palace for example. And why shouldn't she gain something from that experience? It's cool.

I kind of hope that they add another fifty legacy levels soon. They could go on seemingly forever, sort of like valor ranks, just for the hell of it. It would be nice if there was something in game to mark the big level milestones in some way though.

02/11/2012

Hurrah, we broke the server!

When other people rage about things not working, I can only laugh. What's wrong with me? Whatever it is, I wouldn't want to live without it, as it surely makes life a lot more fun.

Today my new guild was planning to do EC hardmode, but when people tried to enter the operation, they got stuck. All of them at once. In the end I was the only one safely left standing outside, since I had wanted to wait for someone else to zone in first. (An old habit that goes back to times where entering a raid before the raid leader could muck up which version of the instance you landed in - thank god for old habits!) Meanwhile, my guildies got stuck on the loading screen, had to Alt-F4 out of the game, and then found themselves unable to come back online on their stuck characters. Now, if this had happened to just one person... it would have been something that happens sometimes I guess, but everyone at once? Most peculiar.

Even better, when the raid leader tried to submit a ticket about it, he was faced with an error message there too, so he made a post on the customer service forums instead. In the meantime, people kept trying to log back in but kept running into the same trouble over and over again. Eventually they more or less gave up and went on alts instead.

I joined two guildies for a round of the Black Hole and was surprised to find a mad amount of world PvP going on there. On another day, that could have been the subject of a post of its own really! Today though, I didn't pay much attention to it.

After we finished all of our dailies, there was some talk about maybe doing another round on some alts. I logged onto one of mine who hadn't been to the Black Hole before to take care of the breadcrumb quest while the others were still making up their minds. So far, so good... but after I finished the conversation, my character didn't exit cinematic mode and I was left staring at a wall. Eventually I escaped out and reset the quest. Weird. I tried to just pick up the dailies from the terminal, but a couple of them were behaving oddly too - as in, I could officially pick them up, but they showed no quest objectives. Figuring that this wasn't going to work, I hit my fleet pass... and it did nothing. Looking at chat, I saw people complaining that loot wasn't dropping and their quests weren't completing either. What the...?

Checking back on the raid leader's forum thread, it turned out to have gathered a considerable following in the meantime. First it was just other people confirming that they had trouble with entering hardmode operations. Then it seemed to affect story modes too. Then class quests with cut scenes. And then everyone was just talking about how generally borked the server appeared to be. Eventually Bioware had to take it offline and the news even made the official Twitter!



I think this guy from the official forums had the right idea:


Once they took the server offline, they managed to fix the problem quickly enough, and it's now back up and running again. But maaan... those were some funny couple of hours, with nothing working as intended. Funnily enough that brings back fond WoW memories for me too. ("Is Kalimdor broken again?" "Yep.") Nothing unites people like everyone complaining that shit's not working.

But wait, what am I saying? I meant to say: raaage!