The Gree World Event in Review: PvP

This is my second post about the Gree world event in review. The first one, which tackles the PvE part of it, can be found here.

At the start of the event, Rohan from Blessing of Kings wrote a post to ask whether the new implementation of PvP on Ilum was "genius or madness", which summed up pretty nicely of why I personally really enjoyed it:

Free-for-all keeps things balanced on servers with unbalanced factions. Small teams only keeps the feel of multiple forces running around, prevents raids from stomping everyone, and gives tanks and healers a place in combat. The quest objects and respawn timers give people something to fight over, rather than simply ganking. Plus, it's only 2 of 6 quests, so it is pretty optional if you absolutely hate PvP.

The final interesting note is that this is a temporary event, though it will be repeated in the future. By making it temporary, it means that when the event appears again, everyone will flock to it again. This keeps the numbers high and many people involved, which is essential for good PvP.

However, looking around the forums, blogs and general chat, I actually saw a lot of people complain about the PvP portion of the event. Essentially the complainers seemed to come from one of two factions: on the one hand we had the PvE purists and completionists, who felt that they absolutely had to do all the quests regardless of whether they involved going to the PvP area or not, just to then complain that anyone actually engaging them in PvP in a designated PvP area clearly had no life, no self esteem and/or a small manhood. On the other hand we had the hardcore PvPers, who felt that the PvP area had way too many non-player mobs in it and that it was pointless to PvP there because there were no tangible rewards for actually killing people.

While both groups came at it from a different angle, their complaints kind of met in the middle to agree that the PvP portion of the event somehow wasn't "PvP-y" enough because there were parts of it that involved interacting with the environment (gasp) and random ganking didn't pay off.

I can certainly see where they are coming from, but as someone who is neither a PvE purist nor a hardcore PvPer, for me this was exactly why the free-for-all PvP did work so well. I'm someone who enjoys both PvE and PvP, even if my focus definitely lies with PvE. I do enjoy a good in-game brawl as well though, as long as it's optional to take part in it and people can easily walk away from it if it stops being fun. As such I've occasionally wondered what it would be like to level on a PvP server, but I can't actually see myself doing it because PvP potentially being omnipresent would make it hard for me to ever enjoy myself in peace. With that said, I loved the new PvP area because it was essentially a mini-simulation of life on a PvP server that you could easily pop in and out of at your leisure.

"Ooh, so nicely grouped up for AoE... oh wait, I'm still a healer. Never mind."

I do think that both the quests involving mobs and the lack of rewards for actually killing people were an essential part of why it worked like that. The quests provided people with a reason to go to the area and mill around there for a while regardless of whether anyone else was there at the time or not. Nobody likes to just sit around and twiddle their thumbs while just waiting for PvP to magically happen.

The lack of rewards for actually killing people was an important point in my eyes because it actually made the decision whether to cooperate or fight a genuine choice. For me personally at least, not knowing whether those red names over there would engage in combat or not was a big part of what made things interesting. I did queue up peacefully a couple of times, when it was quiet. Other times I engaged in mad mayhem with guildies, sometimes we won, sometimes we lost, but it was fun regardless. However, this was only possible because the rewards for fighting were limited to capturing an objective more quickly and simply having fun. I'm pretty sure that if there had been better rewards for actually killing people, the area quickly would have devolved into nothing but a pure farming ground for the strongest PvPers, with nobody getting anything else done. Would that really have been more interesting/fun?

I hope that Bioware considered the way the PvP worked during this event a success and won't change it too much in future reiterations.



Today, I have a little story for you. Once upon a time, there was a Sage healer who drew my attention in warzones for a variety of reasons: he seemed to be very good at what he did, he appeared to be a decent guy, and most of all he had a really odd character/legacy name combination. I think it was that last point that really made me notice him time and again.

To say that I admired him would probably be an exaggeration, but I certainly had a positive opinion of him. I was always happy when lady luck put him on my team. I also remember a Voidstar game where he ended up being ops leader and eventually led a slightly clueless group to what was a very entertaining victory. I think I even mentioned it on the blog at the time... ah yes, here it is, in a post from over a year ago.

Then one day, as I was levelling my own Sage alt through warzones, I ended up in a Civil War game with the guy's alt - once again easily recognisable by the odd character/legacy name combination. "Excellent," I thought. However, the game didn't go so well for us. At some point we lost a turret I was fighting at with several other people, and suddenly the aforementioned guy burst into rage in ops chat, specifically calling me out as supposedly being terrible and costing us the match.

I barely had time to recover from the shock and confusion of this outburst when the next warzone pop put us into a Voidstar game together, and the same thing happened again as soon as we lost a door while on defense. Somehow it was all my fault, I was the worst player ever, surely I must have been an Imperial spy sent to sabotage the Republic team because I was helping the enemy more than my supposed allies, and so on and so forth. I argued with him in chat for a bit until the rest of the team got tired of it and told us both to shut up.

I know you're not supposed to let that kind of thing get to you, but I was honestly kind of shaken after those two games. Usually when I get abuse in a warzone I at least have some sort of idea why, but in this case it was a complete mystery to me why the guy had decided to pick on me, considering that there had always been other people fighting with me. Worst of all though, he wasn't just some random punter - he was someone of whom I had had a pretty high opinion before. I was deeply disappointed.

Eventually I found some solace by talking to friends who assured me that it wasn't just me and that they had had bad experiences with him as well. Still, for some reason the memory of this particular incident stuck. It probably didn't help that the guy had a lot of alts and did a lot of PvP. Even as the PvP community on Luka Sene was shrinking, his name was one that kept popping up in my random warzones over and over again, and every time I couldn't help but be reminded of how mean he had been to me. Initially I was almost scared, always worried that he'd recognise me and have a go at me again, but he showed no sign of remembering me either way. I never saw him rage in quite the same way again either. Eventually I got less tense when seeing him around, though there was always that lingering feeling of: "I looked up to you because you know how to play, damn it, why did you have to be such a dick?"

Fast forward to the present day and the other night, when a friend from another guild roped me into running a story mode operation with his guildies. Lo and behold, one of the people in the group was That Guy. I decided to ignore him to the best of my ability, but it was hard. He actually seemed to act like a decent person again, and one or two of his comments made me smile. But no! Remember the bad times!

In the end I had a lot of fun with the group though, and we decided to do some PvP after finishing the operation. After a few games I relogged to my main (as I had been on an alt before), and then it suddenly happened. That Guy piped up with: "Shintar... were you on Luka Sene? I think I remember you." "Yes, I was on Luka Sene," I replied, "and I definitely remember you. In fact, you were my hero when I just started getting into warzones, until that one day when..." And just like that it all bubbled out of me, not in an accusing fashion, just as something that seemed kind of silly after we had spent all evening playing together with no issue whatsoever.

When I got to the part about him piling abuse on me on my alt, everyone on Mumble burst out laughing. "That... does sound a lot like me actually," he admitted in a tone of voice that wavered between amused and slightly sheepish. "Yep, that's him alright," his guildies agreed.

That Guy whispers: sorry im half italian so the red mist rises quickly
Me: lol, no worries
Me: it was oddly cathargic to tell you that story though :D
That Guy: lol

In our next PvP match I piled heals on him until I was out of ammo, and then some again. When he eventually called it a night, he apologised a second time and offered me a /hug. I was genuinely touched. It felt very odd to get an apology for a stupid outburst that happened a long time ago, but it also made me happy. I still frown at people raging and trolling people in warzones all the same, but if the PvP in this game has taught me anything it's that a little bit of empathy and willingness to give people a second chance can go a very long way.


The Gree World Event in Review: PvE

With the Gree World Event coming to a close tomorrow, it's time for me to look at how it compared to previous world events. While I'm not entirely sure how fair a comparison this is to make, considering that this is the first event that is supposed to be recurring, I don't have anything else to compare it to so... eh! I intend to split this post into two parts, one about the PvE parts of the event, and one about PvP. Today, let's talk about PvE.

My biggest complaint about the Grand Acquisitions Race in August, aside from the bloody smuggler's crates driving me to insanity, was that there wasn't that much to do and that it was all comparatively unfriendly towards grouping. Keeping that in mind, I was really happy to see the Return of the Gree also being a return to a bigger variety of things to do during event time, as well as a heavier focus on group content.

On the PvE side, there were basically four different things to do: dailies, a one-off quest that rewarded you with a pet, the two world bosses, and Xenoanalyst II, the operations boss.

I'm generally not a big fan of dailies and only do them quite rarely, mostly when one of my alts is in need of some cash and I don't have anything better to do. However, as something to do during a world event I don't really mind them, mostly because of the limited duration. Knowing that they won't be there anymore once the event ends makes them feel special, and since the end of the event provides a natural stopping point, I find it a lot harder to get burnt out even if I do them a lot.

That said, the Gree event dailies were... okay I guess. Nothing much to write home about to be honest, just the usual mix of killing things, collecting things and clicking on things. They were varied enough I suppose and didn't take too long to do, which is always nice. The only one that was a bit of a bummer was the Catalyst one to gather data chips from the local wildlife, mostly because the mobs were very spread out, there weren't nearly enough of them, and the data chip drop rate wasn't that great. I found that no matter which order I did things in, that one was pretty much always the last PvE daily to complete, and never before you'd spent at least fifteen minutes doing laps around the area in search of more sleens and lobels.

On the plus side though, at least Bioware finally gave up on the idea of time-gated daily progression for world events, and the only obstacle to entering the Gray Secant was that you had to get your Gree reputation up to Newcomer status, which you could achieve on the very first day if you had some level 50 alts and were willing to grind for it.

The one-off quest to visit the Gree droids on various planets mostly felt like an excuse to remind us that hey, those other planets are still there as well, which was once again something I didn't really mind, even if it felt a bit like padding people's play time by making us go through lots of loading screens. I thought the commentary from the droids about how their assignments were going was vaguely amusing. Also, even though it's not marked as a heroic quest, I have to say that those guard droids on Voss seriously messed me up, man! Gree droid stuns are OP.

In summary, the solo content wasn't anything massively exciting, but more than adequate for providing a bit of a change of pace. The real meat of the event however, at least for me, was the group content: the most rewarding daily was a heroic, and of course there were the three big bosses to take down. While I mostly grouped up with guildies, I did a bit of pugging as well, and general chat was always buzzing with LFG requests. As far as I could tell it pretty much seemed to be a matter of saying "[role] LFG [content]" and you'd have an invite flying your way within the minute. People were generally being very social and grouping up for the soloable portions of the event as well, simply because it made things easier, faster and more pleasant. When I tried doing the solo dailies on my badly geared gunslinger without any help, the fast respawns were a constant pain in the butt, and I spent quite a bit of time barely escaping from fights with my life.

I was also really happy to see the return of big event bosses, even if I only killed them a couple of times myself. I have very fond memories of the world boss shenanigans that I got up to during the Rakghoul event, and bringing the concept back for Ilum certainly didn't disappoint, whether we were instance-hopping like crazy in an attempt to find one where the bosses hadn't been killed yet, or I found myself ninja-invited to a boss operation the moment I logged in. I can't help but feel that Bioware was also experimenting a bit this time by making two open world bosses and one operations boss with a lockout for the event. I wonder which ones people were more likely to kill and how often - I suspect that those numbers will influence which type we'll see more of in the future.

The bottom line is that I had a lot of fun with the PvE part of this event, as it nicely shook up everyone's routines and drew people together on Ilum. There weren't many guildies with whom I didn't group up to tackle some part of the event together at some point or another, and Twin Suns Squadron is not a tiny guild! It didn't quite match the levels of craziness I experienced during the Rakghoul plague, but if future events continue to live up to this standard I'll be happy.


2.0 PTS Blues

So the big news this week was that 2.0 landed on the PTS this Wednesday - minus Makeb that is, which I think makes perfect sense. In practice this means that you get to go to a terminal on the fleet to insta-level to 55, play around with the new talent trees and try out the new hardmode flashpoints and operations if you so desire.

Many of my guildies were extremely excited about this, but my own reaction was pretty much a resounding "meh". I felt like the guild's very own grinch... until my guild leader came online and went on a wild rant about how 2.0 supposedly completely breaks Guardian tanks. I was oddly amused and relieved. Hey, at least I'm not the only one who's not super cheerful anymore!

Maybe it's a sign of increased age (I am turning thirty this year after all...), but I'm becoming more and more cynical when it comes to change in MMOs. I know that some degree of change is always going to be needed to keep things fresh, but all too often too much of it just seems arbitrary and more importantly, simply not a good thing. Looking back at my time in WoW, no matter what people say about the game continuously improving, every expansion after Burning Crusade only served to diminish my overall enjoyment of the game. And while it doesn't take more than a cursory glance at the PTS to see that Rise of the Hutt Cartel is not going to handle the new level cap like WoW expansions do, I still find it hard not to be worried about history repeating itself.

"Did you hear that they are introducing an achievement system?" I was asked in what I assume was an attempt to get me excited about 2.0 after all. "Have I mentioned that I don't like achievement systems?" "No..."

I really liked how SWTOR's codex has always been comparatively low-key for an achievement system, and this new addition with newer and brighter random badges does not thrill me. Isn't it incredibly spoilerific to show all your future companions on any and all potential alts to the player right off the bat by attaching them to achievements? From what I've seen of it, most of the achievements are ridiculously silly and grindy things as well: run each flashpoint twenty-five times, kill a thousand mobs on each planet, kill a hundred mobs with each companion out. I joked to guildies about how once the expansion hits, the starter planets are going to be overrun by max-level characters AoEing everything in sight to get their mob kill achievements. Yeah, that sure sounds like it's going to make the game that much more fun...

Looking at the new abilities and talents was a bit of a let-down for me as well. For my main at least, they are all about PvP and focused on increasing Commando mobility, which is a good thing I suppose, though it still does nothing to address the issue of how easily we are completely shut down by interrupts (many of which are ranged anyway). I'm simply reserving judgement on this one until I see how it works in the live game. I still remember getting super excited about the small 1.4 Combat Medic buffs and then they added bugger all to my survivability in practice.

Seeing Kolto Bomb become a trained ability for all Commandos also honestly felt kind of insulting to me. Why do dps need an AoE heal? I felt that Kolto Bomb was the signature and most fun ability that was unique to Combat Medics before. Now it's just another default thing, and in its place we get... a passive buff that makes it heal more if you're specced into healing. Joy. Oh, and we can now spec into Concussion Charge doing healing to allies as well. O-kay... I still don't know what to think about that one, other than that it's funny to see both myself and my companion get healed when I knock back a bunch of mobs while questing.

At least the overall feel of Commando healing seems to be unchanged, as I got to find out while trying out hardmode Hammer Station with some guildies. The only thing I can say about that is... this is so going to get the nerf bat before going live. The first boss in particular was nothing but crazy spam healing and rotating cooldowns, while we were all wearing a full set of what's effectively going to be the new Columi. I reckon that if you were to go in there with anything less, it would simply be impossible at the current damage levels.

Anyway, apparently this is me now at the dawn of a new expansion: full of ennui. Engaging in endgame activities on the live servers suddenly feels a lot less rewarding because after all there is going to be a gear reset soon, and doing things on the PTS doesn't feel rewarding because, well, it's just the PTS! I'm hoping to return to my usual, more cheerful self soon... but until then, at least I can always level some more alts.


Levelling Again

So I mentioned being on Dromund Kaas in my last post. This is because whenever I'm currently not on Ilum or in an operation, my pet tank and I decided to level another pair of alts together, on Imperial side this time. After much back and forth about which planet we should start on, what classes to play and which crew skills to pick, we settled on a pair of Sith inquisitors, with the advanced class to be decided later. Things went about as well as you'd expect:

Me: "For fuck's sake man, slow down! I just dinged level two and I haven't even had a chance to touch a mob yet!"
Pet tank: "What are you complaining about?"

We hadn't been roaming through the tombs of Korriban for long when my significant other peeked over my shoulder from a distance and asked what the new character was about. I explained.

SO: "I see. So you're going to be the healer again."
Me: "Well, we haven't decided on that yet."
SO: "Suuure. You're going to be the healer."
Me: [to PT over TeamSpeak] "Geeze, the things I have to put up with here. My SO just looked over my shoulder and immediately told me that I'll be playing another healer." [Note that since I'm wearing headphones and using push-to-talk, SO and PT can't hear what the other one is saying, only me.]
SO: "That's because you will."
PT: "Weeell, you probably will."
Me: [still to PT] "I'm not a one-trick pony! I've got non-healer characters too!"
PT: "True. But you also have your main, the Commando healer; the Sage healer, your Operative healer..."
Me: "Don't forget the Scoundrel healer and my Sorcerer who's technically specced into dps but still ends up healing people."
PT: "Yes. So... clearly you like healing."
SO: "You'll end up with another healer. We know you."
Me: "..."

Of course, later on the fleet:

PT: "Time to pick our advanced class! So which way do you want us to go?"
Me: "Sigh... I'll be the healer then."
PT: "Are you sure about that?"
Me: "Yes! I want to be the healer!"
PT: "Fine, but you said it, not me!"

On the fleet I was also a bit startled when pet tank showed up to the Black Talon in a set of fully modded Phantom gear. I'm usually very lazy in my gearing while levelling up and tend to just wear whatever greens and blues come my way via quest rewards... but compared to my levelling buddy this made me feel like I was wearing rags. It was time to visit the GTN.

Interestingly, putting together a set of orange gear that I liked was a lot easier and cheaper than I had expected. Browsing all the different looks available on the GTN, I quickly found a chest, legs, gloves and a head piece that I liked well enough, and handily enough they were all cheap low-level items that my Sage could already craft anyway. Belt, boots and bracers initially looked like they were going to be a bit trickier, but here the Cartel Market actually turned out to be a blessing even for those of us who don't use it much, as the market was pretty much flooded with cheap adaptive armour for those slots, and all of it quite decent-looking. I reckon it's because people buy the armour sets mostly for the chest pieces and then aren't necessarily all that fussed about all the "spare" items they get for the other slots.

Me: "Man... this skirt makes my butt look really big."
PT: "Yes. Yes, it does."
Me: "... that's not the correct response."
PT: "What, do you want me to lie to you?"
Me: "..."

We're already up to Nar Shadaa again. Time flies when someone makes fun of you.


Dromund Kaas General Chat

As a general (!) rule I don't pay much attention to general chat. It's often stupid, but even when it's not it just tends to scroll by too quickly, which makes it easy to miss messages that I actually care about, such as whispers, party or guild chat. For this reason I usually have it hidden away on a tab of its own that I rarely even look at.

Apparently I've really been missing out though, as my attention was drawn to general chat on Dromund Kaas several times late last night. First it was a simple exchange of

"When do I get my AoE heal?"
"At 40, now shut up."

which fascinated me with its strange juxtaposition of giving useful advice while being unnecessarily rude.

But the real weirdness came later... in fact, this may be one of the strangest things I've ever seen in general chat, and that's considering that I have a chat image in my SWTOR screenshot folder that's called "Giant Nazi Robot Spider":

What is this I don't even... we're not in Barrens chat anymore, Dorothy. I actually felt kind of grateful towards the guy who was talking about rubber duckies for trying to bring the conversation down to a more manageable level again.

Also, traces of genuine humour!

My mind was temporarily blown by all this weirdness, but soon afterwards normal business resumed with people shouting random nonsense at each other in all caps again. I felt strangely relieved...

Just goes to show what a wide variety of people plays this game.


Gree Event, Day Four

Still having a lot of fun with the Gree event.

As soon as we had enough people at a high enough reputation level to enter the Grey Secant, my guild took on Xenoanalyst II, the event operations boss, on both story and hard mode. Story mode is pretty forgiving and should be easy to pug, and while hard mode is obviously... well, harder, the basic strategy is more or less the same, just with tighter dps requirements (and some nasty Terentateks that hit like trucks).

While the boss and pretty much his whole room is just a reskin of the Operator in Terror From Beyond, I still found the fight quite amusing. I love the premise of a boss whose very purpose is to test your combat skills. He tells you that you can start the encounter whenever you want, his abilities have names like "Environmental Awareness" (Look, over there! Kill the thing!) and "Problem Solving Evaluation" (Press a button, everyone!), and after you beat him, he gets back up again and channels an ability called "Gleeful Analysis". He's happy that you beat him! Too cute.

PvP on the Western Ice Shelf also continues to be a hoot. Unlike other people, I certainly haven't had any "problems" with people not wanting to fight, though I've certainly observed varying degrees of hostility.

I thought it was very fascinating how things were comparatively peaceful when I joined two other guildies there one afternoon, with people loosely "queuing up" to take turns at the pylon. When it was my turn to charge it and some bounty hunter started to open fire on me, this only resulted in a quick and decisive precision gank from my guildies. The bounty hunter's friends decided to step back and not get involved, so there was no further bloodshed for the time being.

However, it got busier by the minute and it quickly became apparent that trying to cooperate was increasingly becoming a pain in the butt. The energy orbs only last ten minutes, and the pylon resets about once a minute, so "queue" times just keep getting longer and longer until you reach a point where your buff would expire before you'd ever get to take your turn. In addition people were spawn-camping the Ancient Gree Destroyer right next to the pylon by spamming AoE... so the tension eventually exploded and things ended in a giant brawl. Nothing quite clears the air like sending half the present players back to the medcentre.

Later in the evening I came back for another round, and again people were queuing in relative peace. However, I was grouped with my guild leader at the time, who immediately declared that he wasn't going to wait on anybody, jumped the guy who was trying to charge the pylon at that moment and simply stunned him. We ninjaed the charge and walked away without even bothering to kill anyone. That, too, is PvP.

The next day I had an experience that was more in line with traditional world PvP again by going in with some guildies that mainly just wanted to fight. I think it took me four or five attempts to actually carry my first orb to the pylon, because I kept getting caught up in random skirmishes and dying. I didn't mind though, because I thought that it was a good laugh.

Some people in general chat were a lot less enthused though, and my guild even got called out a few times as being mean gankers or something (I wasn't reading along myself; that's just what I heard from others). Generally I don't like to see my guildies causing other players any aggravation, but I have to admit that I have little sympathy for people who get upset about engaging in PvP in a completely optional PvP area.

Interestingly, I've seen very few members of the hardcore PvP guilds around. My mostly PvP-focused friends seem to be in warzones all day as usual. Our own PvP officer needed to be dragged out of Huttball because he hadn't even been paying attention to all this supposed "PvE stuff". I suppose this is the kind of content that works best for those of us who genuinely enjoy a little bit of both - tackling some dailies and world bosses in relative peace and then jumping into the PvP area for a bit of random brawling.


1.7 - Fun With World PvP And Reputation

Today was a very good patch day! When I came home at half three in the afternoon, the servers had already been up for a while, and as soon as I logged on I was greeted by a group invite from some guildies. Soon afterwards, eight of us ventured forth into the newly revamped PvP area on the Western Ice Shelf on Ilum.

The upper half of the zone is actually a normal PvE area now, but the lower half still flags you for PvP once you cross a clearly marked boundary. It works very differently than before though, as it is now a small-group free-for-all PvP area, which means that you can't form an ops group while down there (if you enter the area while in an ops group with other people, you'll automatically be removed from the group and the remaining members will get a vaguely amusing message telling them that you've been "vote kicked"). Also, free-for-all means that people of the same faction get to war with each other as well as with the enemy... if they choose to do so. There is still a choice in so far as the quests in the area don't actually require you to kill anyone, but they are based on a bunch of objectives that are intentionally slow to respawn, in order to tempt you to kill your opposition instead of waiting for them to take their turn.

Since the eight of us weren't able to form an ops, we wandered around as a "pseudo ops", or more simply put: two groups of four that tried to help each other out as much as possible even without being grouped. This was rather amusing as the flagging system in the area was very wonky and randomly alternated between showing members of the other group as friendly or hostile. Most of the time trying to attack them would lead to an error message, but AoE would always hurt them even if they showed up as friendly, which meant that in practice we were constantly winding each other up with stuns and slows whenever we weren't actually fighting a common enemy together.

There was no lack of enemies however, as Ilum was extremely busy, even with more than a dozen instances of the planet up simultaneously (I kid you not). It took us forever to actually complete our quests in the area simply because people kept going "ooh, over there" to chase after some Imps or familiar Republic players to stomp them into the ground. Kind of unfair? Definitely, but then being able to bring more friends than the others is a big part of what makes world PvP so fun. We did get to see the other side of it as well when half of our team left early because they were done, and the rest of us kept nervously dodging out of sight whenever we ran into opposition until we got ganked back by another double group team from a Republic PvP guild. It was all good fun, even though there were no valor or commendation gains attached to it.

When we were all done with the quests in the PvP area and grew tired of it at last, we made our way back up north to complete the "pure" PvE quests up there, though we still had to keep an eye out for Imperials at least as our PvP flags stayed active for the entire time. Despite of a lot of competition, these quests weren't too much of a hassle. The big question is just how long they will stay around... the whole Gree thing is officially pegged as an event, but considering that the Gree are one of only four new reputations added with this patch, it would seem kind of odd to completely remove all ways of gaining reputation with them again after only two weeks. While it's been explicitly stated that this will be a recurring event, no time frame for this has been given. For all I know it's just as likely to reoccur in a month as it is to reoccur in a year! I do kind of like the mystery of not knowing though; it just means that I'll feel the urge to make as much out of it this time around as possible, just to be on the safe side in case it doesn't come around again for a while.

After we were all "Ilum-ed out", someone in my group of four suggested that we should go to Voss. While no new content had been added there per se, we did want to check out what you had to do to gain reputation with the Voss now. Turns out that the new weekly is nothing but a quest to complete the existing four [Heroic 4]s. I knew it would pay off to leave those uncompleted heroics from levelling in my quest log forever! I suppose that should make it a lot easier for levelling characters to find groups for these in the future. (I've always found grouping on Voss to be a bit of a struggle compared to other planets; I don't know why.) Being massively overpowered for what was essentially levelling content, we mowed down all four of the heroics without too much trouble, though it still took a considerable amount of time. This wasn't helped by a certain gunslinger deciding to pull more or less the whole room during Cyber Mercenaries... I don't think I would have survived the healing aggro if our group hadn't happened to have two tanks, who were both working very hard to keep me alive throughout the whole ordeal.

After we were done on Voss some people needed a break, so Mr Crazy Gunslinger and I returned to Ilum on our own to investigate talk about an [Area] mission in general chat which we hadn't encountered during our own questing. As it turned out it's a quest to kill the event ops boss as well as two proper world bosses that are safely tucked away inside caves in the top corners of the map. Sharing this discovery with the rest of the guild quickly led to an impromptu 16-man ops group being put together and venturing out to kill the one of the two bosses whom we had actually found alive. While our group composition was a bit wonky with only two healers, we still managed to down him and he dropped some Black Hole gear as well as a medium sized Gree rep token for everyone. Soon the other boss was back up too and we killed him as well.

Since the bosses were such a tasty source of gear and rep, we decided to attempt to farm them by switching instances and seeing whether they were up anywhere else, especially since there were over a dozen different versions of the planet up as noted above. Unfortunately we weren't the only ones with that bright idea however, and we ran into plenty of competition from other guilds. We did eventually manage to get one more kill, but on our fourth attempt we were ambushed and wiped by an Imperial PvP guild.

This led to much moaning in TeamSpeak, but to be honest I didn't think that they did anything wrong. We were in a PvE area on a PvE server and only flagged for PvP due to some careless people continuously spreading the "PvP disease" around. Maybe that'll finally teach people to let the bloody thing wear off for world boss operations and save me and the other healers a lot of grief.

That's where my own experiences with the new content ended for the day, as I was well and truly Ilum-ed out by that point. I did still listen in on some crazy guildies though who redid the whole thing on several alts in order to max out their legacy-wide reputation gains. Apparently advancing by another reputation level unlocks a quest with a puzzle that must be quite interesting to figure out, based on the swears, squealing and laughter that I overheard. I tried to spoil myself for the solution by following the people who were doing it into their separate channel, but was quickly shooed out again with shouts of "no, bad Shin". Now I can't wait to see it for myself!

We'll have to see how the patch and this event in particular pan out in the long run, but my first impression today was definitely extremely positive.


Questing On My Own

The scene: Imperial side Balmorra, featuring me on my long-neglected Sith sorcerer.

Man, it's been way too long since I did any levelling on my own. Somehow I always get caught up in playing with others. Enough! I mean, this is questing, that's pretty much best enjoyed on your own anyway, right? I can listen to all the conversations at my own pace and go AFK at random whenever and wherever I want. Bliss!

... not to mention that I don't have to do every quest on the damn planet. Unlike some people I know, I don't have that kind of OCD, oh no. You hear that, Mr Quest Giver over there? You can find someone else to do your chores! I'll be over at the next base for the bonus series only. Ha-ha!

Wow, these quests sure are all over the place. I wonder what would be the best order to do them in. If I was doing this with a certain someone who's probably already done this four times, he'd know the most efficient route for sure and we'd be done in about half an hour. With my luck on the other end, I'll probably end up touring the same area three times... but eh, efficiency is overrated anyway.

[After running past and having to kill the same pack of mobs about five times:] Somehow, inefficiency is less fun than I remember.

Oh well, at least I finally get to catch up with all those podcasts that I've been neglecting, now that I've got nobody distracting me while I run around killing things. Good stuff!

Tumtetum... why does it feel like everything takes bloody forever to die though? I'm really terrible at dps. Or is it my gear? Hm, I haven't updated these mods in quite a while. If only I had a handy companion who'd craft me level appropriate gear well in advance and without prompting... bossing Khem around to get things done is way too much work in comparison.

What the? Where is the vendor for the datacron thingamabob that hangs out here on Republic side? And what's up with this other locked box? Hrmph, I bet someone would know... I can't be bothered to look it up now though.

Hey, at least I still know how to solo heroics!

Argh, why is this champion immune to slows? [/splat]

Fine, whatever. He wasn't needed for that quest anyway. Now what's that over here... where are these Colicoid feeding mounds? I've already pointlessly circled the area at least three times I think.

[Finally, I give up and consult Torhead.] Really? Really? What did I do all that running around for then? If I have to fight one more Colicoid after this... Aaah! Bugs on my face! Get them off!

[After what feels like an eternity, I manage to fight off the dozen or so Colicoids that try to chew my face off, but I survive only barely.] I can't believe I almost died to a bunch of weak mobs just now. Weak! What has happened to me?

Why did I have to get used to everything being so much more convenient with help? It's maddening!

The next day:

/w guildie: So... how about we do some more levelling together some time?


Killing Things in EC NiM

Two weeks ago I wrote about my first experience in Explosive Conflict nightmare and how it involved wiping on Toth and Zorn all night. The week after that I was on rotation, but when I got to go in again this past Monday it was an absolute blast. We one-shot the first encounter, two-shot the second one, and got a guild first kill of the third boss as well.

Handily, I was recording the whole thing with Fraps again, and it felt only fair to make a follow-up video to show that my guild doesn't just wipe on things all the time...

This video was almost as much fun to make as it was to play on the actual night, and to me shows pretty much everything that I enjoy about raiding: the sense of achievement that comes from a perfectly smooth kill, being able to joke and laugh when you mess up, as well as the nerve-wrecking excitement when you get down those last few percent of the boss's health with hardly anyone left standing.

Warning: video contains a bit of swearing again, as well as a strange mix of music choices.


Ranked PvP on The Red Eclipse: A Community Effort

When I wrote about my first impressions of ranked PvP about a month ago they weren't very good, and I concluded that I couldn't really see myself getting into it for a variety of reasons. This has remained true so far, but there have been efforts in my guild to have more regular ranked evenings for the more dedicated PvPers, and I did help out on my Sage to make up the numbers for that twice. Both of those times our games were less frustrating than they had been during my first night of ranked, and last time we even found a team that played on roughly the same level as us and against whom we could play a couple of challenging and genuinely fun matches.

What I've been finding the most fascinating about sticking my nose into this whole ranked PvP business however is the enormous community effort behind it. If you're routinely involved in that kind of thing it might not seem that special, but as an outsider looking in I've been finding it absolutely fascinating.

Basically, ranked PvP is currently "broken" for three reasons:

1. The same-server limitation results in a very limited number of participants, considering that this is a very hardcore style of play. You can't queue up at random and hope to get a pop.

2. Due to the limited amount of players, the matchmaking system doesn't really work, and if you do eventually end up getting into a game as a new team, you'll just end up playing one of a handful of top guilds. This means that newcomers have little to no hope of actually getting a "fair" match and most end up too discouraged to keep trying before they even have a chance to get better.

3. This is something that I hadn't considered last time since it's something that doesn't really affect people on a more casual level of play, but in ranked, class imbalance is a real issue right now. In random warzones it's annoying to run into a lot of people playing the current flavour of the month, but there will always be enough players who don't care to min-max their characters to that extent that you'll end up with a mix of different classes regardless. In ranked however, putting together the best team you can currently pretty much means taking only two specs (bubble stunners and smashers).

I don't know for sure, but I suspect that it was that last point that got the ball rolling since it is something that affects even the most hardcore of PvPers. Sure, they do have the resources to field a team consisting of only two classes, but is that really fun? At least on The Red Eclipse, the top PvP guilds decided that the answer to this question was no.

As a result...

1. There is a "gentlemen's agreement" to not use stun bubbles in ranked PvP at all, and to limit the number of smash spec knights/warriors as well as that of pyro Powertechs/Assault Specialist Vanguards per team to one or two. People communicate about this via the inofficial server forums and IRC to ensure that both sides involved in any given game adhere to the rules.

2. Partly because of point 1, newer teams are encouraged to get their feet wet in ranked, because at least they don't have to worry about having a one hundred percent optimised group setup. They'll still lose just as badly to the top teams to be honest, but at least it's obvious that it's due to skill and not flavour of the month class stacking.

3. In addition, several of the top PvP guilds have started to field "alt teams" to give newer guilds more of a fighting chance in their ranked games. Specific nights of the week are also dedicated to A- and B-team play respectively, though this seems to be a very malleable agreement as it's still way too easy to come up against an A-team with your own team of ranked newbies.

While it's hard not to think about how this is something that players shouldn't have to do, it's still an impressive effort in my opinion.

1. The game should be able to pool sufficient numbers of players interested in ranked PvP together so that they can play each other whenever they want - but since it doesn't, we'll encourage more people on our own server to take part to up the numbers.

2. The game should have a matchmaking system that allows players with a wide range of skills to participate in games appropriate to their skill level - but since it doesn't, we'll try to even the odds by practising our own matchmaking.

3. The game should be sufficiently balanced that you can take more than two or three classes into competitive PvP and still win - but since it isn't, we'll reject what's so overpowered as to ruin it all and have fun with the rest.

It's by no means a perfect system, and who knows how well it will work in the long run - but I do think that it's a very admirable initiative to fix a broken system. I hope that Bioware is paying attention and taking some notes.


The SWTOR Community Cantina Tour in London

This past Saturday I went to London to attend the official SWTOR Community Cantina Tour event there. I'd never been to an event like that before, but then I've also spent most of my life so far living in a country where nobody would ever bother to host any kind of gaming event. Living in the southern UK and having something happen in London is fortunately much more convenient.

I met up with three of my guildies as well and we had a good time, though I have to admit that the actual event was a little disappointing, mostly because it seemed that the organisers were a bit overwhelmed by how much interest there was in the thing. Most importantly they had rented a room that could fit less than a hundred people and I reckon that at least two hundred of us showed up.

What this meant was that instead of the event going on for four hours as had been advertised, they split the whole thing into two one and a half hour blocks with one Q&A and raffle each. This made perfect sense and was probably the fairest way of dealing with the situation, but it also meant that as someone who had made it into the first "session" it was a bit disappointing to be ejected from the room as soon as all the official business was over, instead of getting to socialise for another two hours as I had been hoping to do.

Also, someone needs to tell the community people not to tell players to come early if they'll refuse to let anyone in until the exact start time. A basement stuffed with impatiently waiting geeks is not the happiest of places, and I don't think the restaurant owners were particularly keen on us clogging up an entire corner of the venue plus access to the toilets while we waited.

Oh, and the advertised "pre-event gathering" was apparently non-existent as far as we could tell. The museum was obviously there, and we saw one or two other fans in the vicinity, but nobody from the community team was there to herd people together as had been advertised on Facebook.

On the plus side... it was nice to see and meet other fans of the game, not just my guildies. There was a guy in a trooper costume and a lady with what I thought was some pretty impressive zabrak make-up. While we didn't actually get to socialise a lot (see above), we did overhear quite a few comments from other people playing on The Red Eclipse, though The Progenitor had clearly fielded the largest contingent, seeing how half the room erupted into cheers every time the server name came up.

The Q&A wasn't terribly informative in the sense that a lot of the questions basically came down to "When will you / will you ever [implement feature X]?", with the usual response being something along the lines of: "We'd quite like to but probably not any time soon." Still, I can't really blame Bioware for that, it's just one of those things that seems to happen as people always ask the same sorts of questions. It was still vaguely entertaining.

And of course there was a raffle with some pretty nice prizes (though neither me nor my guildies won anything), and swag bags for everyone! At last we too are proud owners of Taun Fawns... except for one of my guildies who was one of the few who got a code for a speeder instead, which was quite a point of contention among us. Being the one guy in a group of people who got something different can certainly make life... interesting.