Looking forward to the Cathar

One bit of news that I came back to after my holiday was that the Cathar finally have a release date. Well, sort of that is. We know that they'll be part of patch 2.1, whenever that's supposed to come out.

I'm really excited about this. I love rolling alts of different races/species; even though it's mostly a visual thing, variety in character customisation still manages to set characters apart and helps to keep the game fresh for me. Not to mention that I've been interested in rolling a Cathar ever since I first met that thieving cat lady on Ord Mantell. (Which you do at... level three or so? Basically I've been looking forward to this for quite some time.)

I've seen some critical comments from people that don't like the addition of the Cathar because they think they're not a... "cool" enough species for one reason or another. On one side we have the players who want to play something more alien, like a Wookiee or a Jawa. I can sympathise with their plight as I'm quite fond of playing "weird" looking characters as well, but I think Bioware has previously made a fair point in saying that player characters like these wouldn't fit as well into this style of game, considering the personalised story and voiced conversations. That doesn't mean that more variety of some kind is a bad thing.

And then we have those fans who feel that if we're going to get more humanoid-looking species anyway, then Bioware should at least prioritise iconic races from the films, such as Rodian or Nautolan. Because who would want to be a boring old Cathar? I think those players might be in for a surprise, because we mustn't forget what MMO players are like when it comes to their characters. Look at any survey on race popularity in various MMOs... who always comes out on top? Humans and races that look like slightly prettier humans with a twist (in fantasy that's often elves). I can easily see "cat people" appealing to the same kind of crowd.

I for one have already bought an additional character slot so I can make that Cathar Shadow that I've been dreaming about as soon as they become available. And yes, that would be my third consular, but who wouldn't want to be a stealthy kitty with the Force on her side...?



For as much time as I spend playing SWTOR, it's always kind of reassuring when I get some time away from it and realise that I don't miss it that badly when I have to do without it for a while. (Being without the internet in general on the other hand is a different matter. Life without a search engine at hand is frustrating in so many ways. So glad to have it back.)

There was one occasion during my leave of absence that did make me miss the game though, and that was when I had lunch with my older brother. He and I only get in contact fairly rarely, not just because we live in different countries now, but because we're simply very different in a lot of ways. We do share an interest in online gaming however, which, among other things, manifests itself in us playing the same MMOs at roughly the same time - but never together.

I wasn't even sure whether he was still into SWTOR and vice versa until he brought it up at said lunch. When I replied in the affirmative he went on to tell me how he had taken the week of early expansion access off work specifically to level like a madman.

"Tsk tsk, not all of us can afford to do that, you know," I said, jealous as anything. "I did try hard to get as much done as I could in the week before my hiatus though, and I got to 55 in two days."

"It took you two days? I did it in one."

I resisted the urge to engage in a game of sibling one-upmanship, especially as I know from past experience with WoW that he'll always outdo me when it comes to levelling alts anyway (while I tend to have slightly better raid progression in the long run /cough). Not to mention that it was hard enough for me to keep up with the conversation as it was - I'm only used to talking about the game in English, and switching to German isn't easy with a subject like that, as some terms don't get translated while others do, and then there are some which are different but not in a way that you would expect. (For example it amuses me to this day how DPS players tend to be referred to as "DDs" in German MMO slang - an abbreviation for the English word "damage dealer" that I've rarely seen any English native speakers use.)

My dear brother spent quite some time telling me about the problems he has with his Powertech's reduced tanking stats, bag pug groups, and how to tank giant lobels, and we got so engrossed in conversation that he even accompanied me to a shop after lunch to help me pick out a new handbag (what girliest of girly endeavours). Needless to say, this sort of easy companionship and friendly support is not a common expression of brotherly love between us and my mind was thoroughly blown by the whole experience.

I do have to say, I did miss the game when I got home that afternoon, partly because I kind of wanted to work on my one-upmanship anyway, but also because I wondered whether I shouldn't take the time to roll an alt on the German server on which he plays after all.

MMOs - bringing siblings on opposite sides of the Force together since 2011?


Seeker Droids and Macrobinoculars

I'll have to start this post by confessing that I haven't finished the main story lines centred around the new seeker droid and binoculars features yet, but I wanted to write about them anyway. Also, I have done quite a few of the new dailies associated with them, so I've got some idea of how it all works.

I have to admit that when I first heard about these new additions, I was a little sceptical. They just seemed a bit... random. Sure, binoculars evoke images of iconic Star Wars moments such as Luke looking out over the deserts of Tatooine, but it still strikes me as a very random thing to turn into a mini game, especially when there are so many other things Bioware could have chosen for this purpose.

In practice... they are actually kind of fun. I approve of more things to do that aren't just more combat. Doing the binocs starter quest on Coruscant I was quite tickled by the bit where you go into the cantina and have to scan one thing to find out about another thing, and then scan that thing to track back even further... okay, that must sound very weird if you haven't done that particular quest, but if you have I'm sure it makes perfect sense.

I'm not sure how well suited they are to dailies though. It's kind of fun to search for things to scan the first time around, but as far as I'm aware your objectives don't move or change, so once you know where they are it would only really be an exercise in travelling around and checking off boxes so to speak, without much variation to the task. (Then again, there is a GSI daily on Alderaan which asks you to look for a giant thranta that can spawn in different locations, and I'm not sure that's that much better either - it just means that you'll potentially do a lot of driving around for little reward.)

The seeker droids are a different story I'll admit. Their dailies sort of work the opposite way to the binocs from my experience, in so far as they can be a bit frustrating the first time around when you aren't entirely sure what you're supposed to be looking for (usually randomly spawned items on the ground), but once you know what to look for it can be quite fun to circle around the area and search for more of them to dig up.

Possibly the most beautiful place on Makeb... and they send you there to dig up turds bark?

Also, they have a bit of open world randomness going on for them. When I first read about seeker droids, I thought that they sounded a bit like a rip-off of WoW's archaeology profession: travel to designated zones around the world, poke around on the ground a bit, pick up a predetermined number of pieces to work towards a reward. As it turns out, SWTOR's seeker droids actually work quite differently in some respects.

For one thing, you don't know where potential digs are located around the galaxy (outside of quest-specific ones) until you accidentally drive right over one and get a message that your seeker droid has detected something in the area. This means that you can't really "grind" random dig sites, but they are a nice surprise when they pop up unexpectedly as you were just on your way to your next daily quest.

They are also public and shared, so if there are other people around it's a bit of a race to get some digging in before either of you exhausts the area. I'm not entirely sure of the mechanics of this yet, but it seems that once a person finds something particularly interesting, it's broadcast as a message to everyone nearby and the dig disappears. Until then though, you can send out your droid to your heart's content and might find anything from random greys to green mods to blue armour. I'll definitely have to experiment with this some more.

The only thing that bugs me about seeker droids are their noises. There's nothing wrong with them per se... but if you've spent any time in an area where multiple people were using them continuously around you, you might know what I mean. I may or may not have jumped at my significant other while he was digging and yelled at him to please make the beeping stop...


Makeb Story Thoughts (Republic Side)

If I had to summarise my overall impression of the new story content on Makeb in three words, they would be "great but short". Even knowing full well that we were only going to get a single new planet in this expansion, I still felt a certain sense of disappointment when I completed the last step of the new story quests and realised that they only lasted me for two days and that it's all back to raids and dailies again now. I suppose in a way that's just another positive judgement of the story, that it immediately leaves you wanting more. Then again, I think those of us who have stuck with the game this far have probably accepted that it can't be all story all the time, and have genuinely embraced the other aspects of the game too. Still, it's always nice to get more.

I thought it was quite obvious on Makeb that Bioware has taken player feedback about various aspects of the existing levelling game very seriously. Take travel for example: while all those mesas make the planet feel huge and you can spend plenty of time cruising around, the main story will always move you along very swiftly now. Just fought your way through a big enemy base and finished off the boss there? Oh look, it's a convenient shuttle that will immediately take you back to where you can hand in and follow things up with the next part of your story. I'm always wary of overdoing it with the shortcuts in an MMO, as I like travelling and getting a feeling that the world is vast, but I do think that in context of the planetary quest line it makes sense to allow people to move on quickly, so as not to disrupt their flow too much. In a similar vein there seem to be fewer (voiced) side quests now, so it's easier to remain focused on your main task instead of getting distracted by some random side mission.

Another thing that I found interesting and positively surprising (and this is something that multiple guildies commented on as well) is the dialogue. It's not that it was bad before, but especially on Republic side, many of the light side dialogue choices came across as kind of... bland (unless you were a smuggler). This has noticeably been improved on Makeb, and now even Jedi and troopers get to make amusing quips on occasion and just generally display more of an attitude.

The only thing that was a slight let-down for me about Makeb's planetary story was - and don't continue reading this paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers - how I just couldn't reconcile the story arc with my out-of-game knowledge. Plenty of story lines in the game are about planets being in terrible danger, but somehow that never really bugged me even though I knew full well that I was going to save them eventually. With Makeb however they took it so far that I just couldn't suspend my disbelief. Everything was about how the planet was supposedly about to blow up, and here I was sitting the entire time thinking: "But it won't. It's the new endgame planet. This doesn't make sense." I kept waiting for some kind of quest to stabilise and literally save the whole planet, but it never came. My character "fled" from Makeb, fully expecting it to tear itself apart, and then it was just: oops, I guess it didn't blow up after all; we don't know why. That just felt disappointing to me.

I suppose there is a chance that the mystery of Makeb's continued survival might be explained on Imperial side (which I haven't played through yet). Alternatively, it might provide a good starting point to continue the storyline through dailies or other new content in upcoming patches, as we slowly unravel the planet's secrets.


Scum And Villainy First Impressions

This past Sunday I got to go to the new operation "Legions of Scum and Villainy" for the first time. Since I had made sure to avoid it while it was on the PTS as I didn't want to spoil myself, it was all new to me... and I loved it! Unfortunately we didn't manage to clear the whole thing in one evening, which was a shame from my point of view since I now won't see "the end of the story" for about two weeks as I'm out of the country for a bit. (This post as well as the next two are brought to you courtesy of Blogger's timed publishing feature. Any lack of replies to comments is due to me actually being without internet when they are going up.)

What I did see however really impressed me. The environment is not quite as stunning as Asation's alien and Tron-like interiors, but it did evoke very strong desert paradise feelings for me, and it didn't take more than a little looking around to spot some very beautiful vistas.

More importantly though, I feel that Bioware is really pushing the envelope in terms of how to turn raids, too, into a story-focused experience that comes down to more than just spanking a bunch of big monsters in a cave. I'm not talking about cut scenes that show you that stuff is happening with NPCs, but about encounters that actually make you play through a variety of interesting events.

It starts with the very first fight, which has you landing on the edge of the desert. As you approach the main complex that you want to attack, your operations group gets caught in a sand storm and has to weather the elements first. While there is still a boss mob to fight, it almost feels tangential to the whole experience. The interesting part is making your way across the dunes while protecting your raid members from the scouring sand, even as some of them get lost and attacked by womp rats. It's very atmospheric and really makes you feel that struggle with the desert.

The next two bosses are more traditional fights (though still fun), but then it gets really interesting. The next "boss mob" doesn't even have a proper name; he's just called the Operations Chief - the real challenge consists of infiltrating the city he is guarding without being detected. As you approach, you intercept some communications from his four patrol teams, each consisting of two people. If your whole group tries to attack any of them at once, they'll immediately sound the alarm - I mean, whoa, a whole ops group attacking - and get you killed. So you have to be stealthy, sneaking in as a group while dodging patrolling droids, and then breaking into your own teams of two to take on each patrol without alarming them too early. I thought it really did feel like a secret operation when we all charged in and the calls started going out along the lines of "Ard, Ry, split off to get Red Team; Mort, Nev, go and get Green Team" and so on and so forth.

Like many a foolish defender in Alderaan Civil War, the patrols don't call out as long as they only get attacked by an even number of opponents... and by the time they've been beaten it's obviously too late. When you then engage the Operations Chief, he tries to call them back in for backup but obviously gets no response... again reminiscent of many a warzone ops leader going: "FFS, where is everyone!?" Too funny.

The next encounter is Scum and Villainy's obligatory "puzzle boss" and offers yet another interesting new twist. You're basically intercepting some shady characters that are trying to buy battle droids and then steal their credits to take the droids for yourselves instead. You have to choose your purchases wisely though, as the arms dealer eventually catches on and turns whatever is left on the "showroom floor" against your group instead.

Window shopping for droids - not your usual boss fight

Unfortunately beating that encounter was as far as we got that night, so I'll have to wait until my return to see the final two bosses - because yes, Scum and Villainy actually has a whopping seven of them! It's funny how I've been kind of wishing for Bioware to make an operation with more than just four or five bosses for a change - but when they finally do, this of course means that an inexperienced group might struggle to clear the whole thing in one night. How annoying! There's just no pleasing some people...


I Should Be So Lucky

I often feel that SWTOR doesn't get enough credit for its open world content. I would never claim that it's the game's main selling point or that other MMOs don't offer more in that area, but if you listen to some people you would think that there is absolutely no reason for you to simply explore and enjoy the game's environments... but there is!

As an example of this, I really love all the named champion mobs that are scattered around the world. Often they won't drop anything interesting and only very few of them will give you a codex entry, but to me it's interesting enough just to find them. Why is this guy so much stronger than all the other mobs around him? Does his name tell me anything interesting? Am I strong enough to take him down on my own? There's just something intriguing about these mobs, and many of them offer a good challenge if you fight them at level.

Last night Pet Tank and I were making our way to Corellia to work on the main quest line that introduces the Seeker Droid mechanic. We were supposed to search Coronet Zoo, which had undergone some visible changes with the 2.0 patch - the most surprising of which was the fact that a ginormous rancor with the unassuming name "Lucky" was ambling around the area now. We weren't quite sure how to classify him. We hadn't heard anything about there being any new world bosses on Corellia, but he had over seven million hitpoints - more than many operations bosses - so he wasn't clearly just another champion mob.

Figuring that we were pretty invincible as a tank/healer duo (/cough), we attacked. We shaved off about 200k of his health (less than three percent) before he managed to flatten us. We were promptly rewarded for our failure by receiving a new codex entry and title: "Unlucky". Hah!

That immediately raised an obvious question of course: if we did manage to kill him, would that make us "Lucky"? The notion was proposed to other guildies who were online at the time, and they too were interested in finding out.

It took a while to get everyone together, but in the end we formed an ops group consisting of eleven people and took him down. Having a full group made the fight a lot easier, though it also helped that he seemed to be a bit buggy, which meant that some of his attacks turned into random raid warnings that read like error messages instead of actually doing any damage:

[damage] [caster=2397000097892] [target=4611686685367674842] [prim
=target] indeed...

The fight took something like ten minutes and was actually pretty boring in terms of mechanics. Personally I was still really happy to have been there though, because for me it was all about the experience of discovering this boss unexpectedly and then finding that there was more to him than met the eye.

He didn't drop anything too exciting, but we did all get "Lucky".

And now that I've written this post, with that title, I wish that I had thought of recording the fight and then making a video out of it to the tune of this song.


Level 55 Hardmode Flashpoints

I had barely been 55 for ten minutes yesterday when I got pulled into my first level 55 hardmode flashpoint. Over the course of the day I then ran six more of them. I don't know how many flashpoint runs per day most people usually do, but by my standards that was pretty mad.

Initially I was a bit worried about whether I'd be able to jump straight into the new hardmodes, as I hadn't replaced any of my Dread Guard gear while levelling, but as it turned out it still served me just fine at the new level cap. I'm really pleased with how smooth Bioware kept the gear curve into the expansion, with only a slight stat bump in gear progression once you move into the new content. Of course once you move into the new endgame you do start to see upgrades, but that's how it should be in my opinion.

Having had a chance to see all of the new hardmode flashpoints on live, most of them twice, I'm not entirely sure what to think of them. Even though they aren't new content per se, most people will have run them only a couple of times before while levelling up, so they still feel fresh and new.

They've all had a bonus boss added that doesn't exist on normal mode (or at least didn't until now... I haven't checked whether they added the bonus to the low level versions as well with 2.0), and in the process Bioware has shown that they've learned a lot from previous player behaviour towards bonus bosses - that is to say, most people never bothered to do them on hard difficulty because they usually required going through multiple steps of clicking on various consoles for which you had to kill lots of extra trash, then you'd usually overlook a vital clicky thing somewhere and have to go back, and all of that for a pretty unappealing reward in terms of drops. The prerequisite for each of the new bonus bosses is just a simple straight-up "kill x mobs" quest, which requires you to kill a bit more trash than you absolutely have to, but not excessive amounts, and the loot drops from the bonus bosses are on par with what you get from the end ones - well worth your while!

In terms of difficulty I'm not entirely sure what to think. My full guild groups had some deaths and wipes for sure, but then it was always obvious what had gone wrong. (Usually the healer was still busy bioanalysing something in the last room while the tank was already charging into the next pull. /cough) From a healer's point of view, I felt that the amount of damage going around kept me busy, but wasn't unreasonable. However, it's hard for me to tell how much of that was due to my guildies playing well and being on the ball with CC and interrupts. Most pulls didn't strike me as needing a massive amount of control, but every now and then there would be an absolutely deadly one that I could see being a nightmare in a pug (mostly any pull with a large number of dogs in it - if you don't stun and/or dispose of them quickly, they'll eat your tank for breakfast).

Knockbacks don't always have to be a bad thing.

All in all, those first seven runs were pretty fun, even though there weren't that many changes in terms of mechanics compared to normal mode. Just seeing the new bosses was fun (who doesn't love giant lobels), and at least a few fights offered interesting new challenges (such as how you have to trap the droid on the first boss in Cademimu). Gearing up seemed to go pretty quickly as well (though I got luckier than most I'll admit), and you really notice the difference it makes that the drops will always be something suited to the classes in your party - though that doesn't prevent you from seeing, say, the exact same belt drop three times.

The only thing that concerns me a little is the fact that there are only four of these endgame flashpoints right now. As fun as they may be the first five times around, I can see them getting old quite quickly if that's all we've got to run for our gearing needs.


Rise of the Hutt Cartel: Day 1 Impressions

- Makeb is beautiful. In the Republic intro to the planet the Supreme Chancellor refers to it as a paradise, and she's not wrong. I'll be happy to deal with this place as my "official endgame zone" for the next year (or for however long until they raise the level cap again I guess). All too often in MMOs, endgame zones are dreary and depressing (usually because that's where the "bad guys" have had the most influence) and it sucks. I'll be happy to do my fighting on lush meadows and under wide open skies, thanks!

- It's a bit scary just how fast people are levelling. It's not that I expected it to take long, but still... seeing the first of my guildies hit the new level cap yesterday afternoon was a bit weird. By the time I logged off last night, three more had followed him. Looking at my Twitter feed, things were even worse, with one person even talking about how he had three 55s already. My own main is still 54 at the time of writing this, as I had to work during the day and didn't make it on until the late afternoon. I bravely soldiered on until past midnight (or rather, Pet Tank soldiered on while I deliriously stumbled after him to soak up the XP while occasionally hammershotting things) but eventually I had to succumb to tiredness.

- PvP is a bit borked, though not as badly as it could be I guess. I don't want to get my hopes up too much, but I actually enjoyed not being perma-slowed all the time due to the addition of Hold the Line for Commandos. My new electro net of supposed overpoweredness doesn't actually seem to do much though. The biggest issue however is the fact that the new bolster system is currently working too well - an issue that was well documented on the PTS for a long time but typically made it to live anyway - meaning that characters are at their strongest if they wear no armour at all. You haven't known humiliation until you've been ganked by a bunch of Imps in their undies... we'll see whether today's mini patch does anything to fix that.


Twas The Night Before Hutt-mas

... and all throughout the guild people were excited! I sure love how major game updates stir things up. Things had been kind of quiet in the guild as of late, with operations dying down due to lack of interest so shortly before a level cap increase, and internal disagreements about guild politics putting a bit of a dampener on some people's good moods (including mine).

But on days like today there is a certain magic in the air that seems to affect people whether they know it or not. We had several guildies come out of the woodwork for the first time in months, even if they didn't even know about RotHC's early access launch tomorrow. I should have screenshotted the conversation that went something like this:

Guildie A: Hi guys! I'm back!
Me: Wow, hi! Not seen you in ages, you back for the expansion?
Guildie A: What expansion?
Guildie B: Ooh, do we know the release date for that yet?
Me: The expansion that launches tomorrow...
Both of them: Oh...

I actually felt at a bit of a loss in terms of how to prepare for tomorrow. As I said in my pre-expansion thoughts post, not that much is going to change as far as I can tell. I already made sure to not have too many spare commendations lying around and sold most of my previously valuable crafting materials for some extra cash weeks ago. Now what?

The "in" thing to do seemed to be filling up your mission log with completed daily quests, ready to be handed in for a bit of an experience boost as soon as we can start levelling again tomorrow. I had the following conversation about this with Pet Tank:

Me: Some people have been doing dailies just to fill their logs with completed quests for an early XP boost. Crazy!
PT: Mm-hmm.
Me: Like, seriously.
PT: So, shall we do it too?
Me: Sure, why not.

This was a bit of a funny one for me because this is the kind of thing that I've never done in WoW and should logically have even less reason to do in this game, considering that I like levelling and am not in any particular hurry. However, what did eventually sway me was the fact that pretty much every bit of beta information that I read about Makeb said that the new planetary quests on their own wouldn't be enough to get you all the way to fifty-five and that you'd have to supplement your experience gains with dailies or other activities to reach the new level cap. So I figured: if I have to do dailies to level anyway, I might as well do some now already.

So we spent a good chunk of the afternoon today travelling all over the place to fill our logs, and we weren't the only ones as we had to fight for spawns pretty much everywhere, even on old Belsavis. I don't recall having to wait for Ratattaki to respawn since the days when half of them were evade-bugged. It was still pretty fun though. My favourite bit was when we tried to help a guildie out with his HK questline in Section X and somehow managed to temporarily get stuck in his phase on the Fatality (even after he had left the group). Good times.

However, all good things have to come to an end, and since I was really tired I didn't even wait for the server to shut down before logging off, especially as I have a busy day ahead of me tomorrow, even without having to worry about the changes to the game. Still, I can't wait to be able to log on after the maintenance tomorrow and hopefully find the servers both stable (fingers crossed) and bustling with activity. See you all in the brave new world of 2.0!


My favourite operation

With 2.0 and early access coming next week, it feels a bit like the SWTOR community is holding its breath right now. (Or maybe that's just me, still waiting on my new gaming PC. Any day now...) All the fan sites seem to be talking about is RotHC this, expansion that, and I feel like I have to approach every article with a lot of caution and at least one eye closed because I want to avoid accidental story spoilers.

Meanwhile I've been doing something completely different and have been looking back. With everything changing very soon, what have I enjoyed the most about the game so far? The official SWTOR Twitter account occasionally asks questions like "What's your favourite operation/flashpoint/class/companion?" and while there is a certain challenge in answering these in 140 characters or less, I often find myself wanting to talk about the subject some more. So today, let's talk about my favourite operation in the game so far.

About six months ago, lonomonkey asked people about what they thought made a good raid, and my own criteria basically came down to four points:

1. Interesting environment that feels like a real location, full of story and flavour, so that you find yourself pausing to look around.
2. Variety of interesting and original boss mechanics.
3. Appropriate difficulty, taking into account the raid's place in the game as a whole.
4. Having a good team of people with whom to share the experience. This last one is largely out of the developers' hands however.

Based on the first three of these criteria (since the fourth one is really kind of situational), my personal favourite operation in SWTOR is... /drumroll

... Eternity Vault!

Before I talk about it in depth, a quick note about why none of the others are my favourites:

Karagga's Palace is a very solid operation with some interesting boss mechanics (o Fabricator...) and certainly feels like a real place... just not a very interesting one. I mean, how many Hutt palaces do we raid while levelling up? They all kind of look the same. Also, the difficulty curve within the op itself was a little out of whack, considering that Karagga was a complete pushover by the time you'd mastered the fourth boss's Towers of Hanoi.

Explosive Conflict is pretty much in the same boat: very solid, lots of challenging new mechanics... it just lacks a certain "oomph". It's basically a warzone on a planet with a lot of trees. Pretty the first time you go in, but it doesn't have enough points of interest to really make you want to linger on repeat visits. Also, like KP, EC suffered from a distorted difficulty curve, with story mode being considerably overtuned on release, and Toth and Zorn being annoyingly fiddly for a first encounter. (Hands up if you've ever had multiple wipes on these guys - whatever the difficulty setting - and then breezed through the next two fights with no issues...)

Terror From Beyond is a tough one and easily rates as my second favourite, with its beautiful yet alien environment and incredibly varied boss mechanics. Really, the only thing for which I have to detract points is that Terror is a very annoyingly paced fight (phase one is just a huge stretch of nothing much happening really) and that from a healer's point of view it's possibly the most boring and tedious boss to heal in the entire game. Ten minutes of healing the tank while occasionally taking a step backwards or forwards do not make for very compelling gameplay!

Anyway, onwards to my love for Eternity Vault...

The environments in this operation are just stunning and could hardly be more varied if they tried. You start in this massive snowstorm, then you enter this enormous vault... then there are caves with lava, bits of jungle, more chambers of the vault - it could seem silly and random in another context, but since the operation takes place on a planet that does indeed have a natural environment like that, it just works.

The fights aren't exactly anything to write home about in terms of challenge, but I feel that this fits for an "introductory" operation. The Annihilation Droid is pretty much a tank and spank these days, but I still remember when we were all newly dinged and had to hide behind a pillar whenever he did his AoE... except then we were short on dps, so in the end we had the dps Commandos stay out to keep hitting him while the healers kept them alive from behind the pillar - it was pretty simplistic in some ways, but we were all still getting to grips with how things worked in SWTOR as a whole, so it was exciting anyway.

Then there's Gharj with his sinking islands and all the perils of being surrounded by lava, then the Ancient Pylons for which people wrote phone apps just so that they could figure out the puzzle more quickly before actually starting the fight. (I actually had a hand-written piece of paper with the symbol order originally... I felt so outclassed when a guildie just downloaded that app one night.) The Infernal Council as a built-in dps meter before the final fight still strikes me as a stroke of brilliance. And then of course Soa himself.

I'm always surprised by how many people seem to hate Soa. I even recall reading a dev interview somewhere at some point, where they were talking about how Soa taught them a lot about what not to do on a boss fight because players hated him so much. I'm just like... wha? I get it, he was extremely buggy for a long time and that annoyed me too, but that wasn't exactly part of the design, was it?

Disregarding the bugs for a minute, Soa was a considerable step up in difficulty compared to the previous fights - as it should be for the final boss of an instance in my opinion, he had great voice acting ("They come, marching..."), and last but not least the best approach to utilising all three dimensions in a boss fight that I've ever seen in an MMO.

The third dimension is one of those things... other game genres use it all the time, but if you're not into 3D platformers or similar titles, then you might feel a bit lost when it comes to moving in three dimensions in an MMO. I remember WoW had a couple of fights that forced you to fly, but somehow the end result was always a lot of awkward floating around and tapping of keys as you were trying to figure out in which direction you were just that little bit off target (Malygos, Valithria Dreamwalker, Al'Akir).

I thought it was interesting how the SWTOR devs approached the matter from a different angle. People are not used to their characters just floating around in space, so allow them to keep their feet on the ground and make them move through the third dimension the "natural" way - by falling. If the only way is up down, there's no confusion about which way to go. Also, allow the players to focus on their movement during that phase without having other mechanics that will distract or kill them if they can't instantly figure out which way to go next.

I'm not at all great at navigating in 3D in video games, but on Soa I loved the thrill of the falling floors and having to focus on where to go next, and still do every time I get to go back to that fight. The way you move from one "floor" to the next just gives the whole thing a sense of physical progression that I have yet to encounter in any other boss fight (as most of the time you start out in an enclosed area and stay within that same area for the entire time).

What's your favourite operation (boss fight) and why?