My Mercenary's Grand Finale

In what's probably going to be my last post of the year, I'm proud to announce that my flashpoint-levelling Mercenary has hit level 65! The arrival of double XP provided a boost for the last couple of levels that I actually welcomed for a change, and her last few runs were all good. I'll make another post in a couple of days to talk about what I feel I've learned from this experiment, but for now, let me summarise my last couple of flashpoint pugs:

I levelled: 58-59

Cademimu, old friend, we meet again. This was a run with no Sith: just three Mercenaries (including me) and one Sniper. It made me feel like I was part of a proper strike team - I love it when random groups come together like that. Also, with three Mercs we had so much fun with knockbacks!

Team Tech Users

For all the Cademimu runs I've done on this character, this was actually the first one where people trapped the first boss's droid companion correctly and didn't get themselves trapped instead. The Wookiee boss got burned down so quickly that we got absolutely swarmed by Ugnaughts, though we survived. And nobody died on Ortol either, which I believe was a first for me as well (though one guy ate a lot of fire and came close).

In what may well have been the most hilarious moment of this character's pugging career, someone unexpectedly aborted the little conversation at the end for the whole group because he "made the wrong choice", as he had trouble remembering which of his alts were supposed to be good and which ones evil. Hardcore RP on The Red Eclipse, guys!

Czerka Core Meltdown
I levelled: 59-61

Just what I needed to complete the CZ-198 story quest! My companions for this flashpoint were a level 40 and two lowbies who were only 16 and 17 respectively. The latter two gave the impression that they were at least new to the flashpoint, but at the same time they seemed reasonably skilled and learned quickly, even if the Vrblther boss was a bit of a pain until they took note that he needed to be pulled towards the spores.

The Duneclaw had me a bit worried as I had heard unpleasant things about it, and they were certainly true. The AoE damage from the sandstorm generators is absolutely insane considering that groups are supposed to be able to do this without a healer! Even with my heals and constant console clicking we barely stayed alive. In fact, we did wipe twice: first because at least the lowbies didn't seem to know what to do, and then because while I was effectively tanking through heal aggro, I had trouble clicking the consoles at the same time as the giant boss in my face sometimes made it literally impossible to click on them. However, after I complained about this the rest of the group made a point of clicking them for me and we eventually came away successful.

Boarding Party
I levelled: 61-62

This was my first run with three players who were all from the same guild - in this case, the amusingly named "Howling Teapot Gang". We did the bonus boss because someone was hoping for a furniture drop; the boss didn't oblige however.

Blood Hunt
I levelled: 62-63

I'll be honest: I swallowed when I saw that it was Blood Hunt again. Was this going to be another one of those runs where we are fine until Jos and Valk and then everything falls apart?

In an amusing twist, I was actually the one being backfilled this time, with the rest of the group already waiting at the Mandalorian Couple of Doom. Everyone was amused when I immediately knew what was going on and I was told that three people had already quit before me.

You could tell that the three remaining players had had time to practice, because they were absolutely ace at staying alive via kiting and using defensive cooldowns and self heals. The only problem were deaths to knockbacks, which still occurred, especially in the second phase. We wiped two or three times and had one near-wipe where the bosses suddenly reset. In the end we finally managed to get Jos down in phase two and then it was just me and the level 50 Operative left alive, with me spending most of my time healing myself through Valk's sweeping gunfire and the Operative doing desperate dps. I eventually got the killing blow, dinged 63 in the process and the crowd went wild. I'm not kidding, one guy was yelling in all caps that we were gods among men, haha! It was pretty epic, and just like the last time I bested these guys in a pug group, everyone was ridiculously happy at the end.


Hammer Station
I levelled: 63-64

In this run we had a legendary level 65 Marauder who seemed to be suffering from Twitchy Sentinel Syndrome at first, which annoyed me initially, however I soon saw that he was actually pretty mindful of the rest of the group - he respected crowd control and in places where we snuck past bits of trash he waited for everyone to make it past safely before continuing. He also did pretty good dps, which prompted me to inspect him. I was almost disappointed that he was "only" wearing 208 gear. Still, even with that our enemies pretty much melted... on the last boss, one of the lower level dps got knocked to his death right at the start, and by the time he had managed to run back in the boss was already dead.

Boarding Party
I levelled: 64-65

This run was slightly annoying in that we had a level 65 Sniper who kept breaking my CC and the level 29 Mercenary who was marked as a damage dealer appeared to actually be a healer - at least I didn't see him use any actual dps spec abilities and he seemed to spend a lot of time throwing extra heals around. This made everything a bit slow and painful - basically the sort of run I would have declined to join if I had known that there was another healer in the group. Still, in the end it wasn't too bad and we did both bonuses, which is always a big plus in my book. And of course I hit max level!

... while being pebbled in the face by a Jedi consular.

Now I feel I should really do my class story on Dromund Kaas to at least get my ship - it wouldn't do to be asked to join an ops run on Oricon and be unable to actually get there...


Flashpoint Levelling: Battle of Ilum Makes Me Mad

While I've been away from the internet for a week, I still have an update about my Mercenary's flashpoint levelling progress simply because it's been a whole two weeks since I posted the last one. These runs all took place before the start of the current double XP event.

Battle of Ilum
I levelled: 53-54

This was another of those rare flashpoints that started with a tank, though he didn't seem particularly competent and eventually suffered a mysterious DC, which seems to be a common issue with tanks for some reason... We also had a level 43 dps who randomly ported back to Hoth after a few pulls and left the group without a word.

The thing that really ticked me off about this run was that we had started off killing extra trash for both bonuses and then randomly started skipping things once we were at five out of six laser batteries destroyed. Argh! I have a long history of getting annoyed with people not wanting to do the bonus in Battle of Ilum, but I do understand their reasons for doing so... what ticked me off in this case was that it was such a random bait and switch, especially with just one more pull needed to at least complete one of the bonuses...

On a positive note, people were very good at clicking the healing consoles on the last boss and pretty much saved my life when I got stunned by him while on very low health. After this run I was also high enough level to pick up the Forged Alliances story arc.

You can tell it's Life Day season when two minutes on the fleet are enough to get you doused in snowflakes.

False Emperor
I levelled: 54-54

This was another group of super lowbies, three dps of level 15, 19 and 26 respectively. Just before the first boss the level 15 (by now 16) disconnected and was replaced by a 65 who instantly quit as well. The next replacement asked if this was the boss that's bugged and I replied that I didn't know anything about any bugs. Of course then Jindo Krey's ship had to act funny just to make a point, but we got the boss down just fine anyway.

As it turned out it was the second boss encounter, the two prototype droids, who were truly bugged, as they kept one-shotting us with 75k hits. (For reference, bolstered players usually have a bit above 50k health.) Two people left immediately while me and one other guy gave it another try with companions out, but the results were the same. People on the forums say that it's fine if everyone stands in the blue circle, including the tank, but this has never been a requirement before and even if it was supposed to be, a one-shot if you take one wrong step strikes me as excessive. Bugged, basically. Group disband.

Mandalorian Raiders
I levelled: 54-55

This group reminded me that at three years old, my PC is apparently quite dated already by gamer standards, as they had killed the first pull before I'd even loaded in. They were a very rushy group, but I couldn't really complain as they all seemed to be pretty competent and our dps was actually relatively high for a change. One guy was max level already and both of the lowbies in the group had the legendary tag. I know that by itself, legendary status doesn't really guarantee competence since it's theoretically possible to play through all the class stories without ever talking to another person, but it seems to me that on average, people who have bothered to do so also know their group content. On a side note, this was also the first run in which I noticed another character having bioanalysis and competing with me for harvesting the hounds' bodies.

After this run I went to pick up the Czerka storyline and was stoked to find that it "remembered" that I'd already done Corporate Labs back at level 35 and immediately updated to the step where you have to complete Core Meltdown. I really wish they made all the flashpoint quests smart enough to recognise if you've already done any of the required flashpoints. Sadly the only other story of which I know that it currently does this is the Rise of the Rakghouls storyline (Kaon Under Siege/Lost Island).

Battle of Ilum
I levelled: 55-56 (this included completion of my first tactical flashpoint weekly and earned my Merc her first glowing and radiant crystals)

Battle of Ilum again. After how annoyed I got last time, I decided to ask straight away whether people were up for doing the bonus so that I could manage my expectations. Result? People said yes and then skipped everything. Arrrgh! The two higher-level players weaved around a lot of the trash to progress as quickly as possible, while the lowest character, a level 28, got left behind immediately. He didn't seem to know where to go, pulled something, died, and then left the group. I felt bad for him and like I should have stayed closer to him. If he was a new player, he must have felt completely lost.

One of the other guys summoned a companion and just kept going. After a few pulls I asked why we weren't requeuing for a replacement and was told that companions are better than people. I moaned a bit about XP and social points and eventually the group leader did requeue us for a fourth.

Battle of Ilum
I levelled: 56-57 (this included the random flashpoint weekly)

I felt a little cursed at this point. Why do you keep putting me into this flashpoint where you know people's behaviour will upset me, Bioware? I decided to ask about the bonus at the start again and got an evasive reply that it takes too long but we could do it, whatever. Of course we didn't.

On the last encounter I decided to keep a close eye on the boss for once and interrupted his Force Explosion myself, which made me realise that the reason he'd done so much damage during my previous runs was that people obviously hadn't interrupted it consistently.

Assault on Tython
I levelled: 57-58

Another run with a group of lowbie dps, this time two level 20s and one 26. As was to be expected, things were slow and we suffered quite a few deaths, but we progressed relatively smoothly anyway. For example we suffered three deaths on the first boss (one guy died once, ran all the way back in and then died again almost immediately) but we did get him down on the first attempt. Master Liam already got bored of his droid summoning when he was still at 60 percent health.

On the plus side, this group was chattier than most of my pugs, everyone said hello and we talked a bit about this and that. Hilariously, one of the guys who died on the first boss made a snarky comment about how I clearly hadn't perfected my healing yet (my first "blame the healer" moment, yay), to which I replied that it was fine as long as people didn't stand in giant orbital strikes - somewhat to my surprise he actually apologised after that.

At level 58 I also got Progressive Scan, which finally completed my arsenal of healing abilities.

Assault on Tython
I levelled: 58-58

This was my first full run that didn't even cause me to level up once, which made me very sad. The instance itself was smooth enough, though after two Tythons in a row I was starting to wonder whether they made some sort of change to the way the artillery works as I kept having to dodge strikes throughout trash pulls all the way to the first boss, while I'm pretty sure that they only used to bother you in the wide open area in the middle... but maybe I'm misremembering.

We had a level 20 Juggernaught who was officially queued as dps but switched to tanking stance early on - I couldn't help but wonder whether he was a "real" tank or had just decided to play one for the duration of this run.

Next time: Double XP arrives!


Flashpoint Friday: Assault on Tython

You thought that Christmas and me being away from the internet would stop me from publishing a Flashpoint Friday this week? Think again!

Specifically, I would like to talk about a flashpoint today that is fairly unique among all the current flashpoints, though it does have one twin that shares its unique features. The flashpoint in question is Assault on Tython and its twin is Korriban Incursion.

General Facts

Both Assault on Tython and Korriban Incursion were added to the game in March 2014 as part of patch 2.7, "Invasion". They formed part one of the newly released Forged Alliances story arc, which is labelled as "Shadow of Revan: Prelude" in game now. They were originally designed for players of level 55 (the level cap at the time) and were the first endgame flashpoints to be released as tacticals only, with no trinity requirement. They were also the first flashpoints to be given a solo mode, in 3.0 - until then, anyone who wanted to progress through the storyline had to actually join a group. The hardmode version wasn't added until 3.0 either. Since 4.0, the tactical version is open to levels 15-65.

As a fun fact, both flashpoints are the only ones currently in the game that take place in an area that is also accessible during normal gameplay (though it looks a bit different then, as neither Tython nor Korriban are usually under siege).

What makes Assault on Tython and Korriban Incursion unique is that while they are both accessible to both factions and mechanically identical for both, they effectively wear a different "skin" for each faction and are meant to take place at a different point in time. Basically, both factions invade the home planet of the enemy faction's Force users at the same time, then find out that their own home has been invaded too, and return to take it back. So Imperial players assault Tython first and then have to fight to take Korriban back from the Republic, while Republic players invade Korriban first and then have to return to Tython to retake that. Confused yet?


Imperial players invading Tython come up against Republic defenders, which includes a lot of Jedi padawans and their trainers. Republic players trying to retake the planet later on on the other hand have to kick out Sith invaders and their Imperial support troops. As all the mobs are transposed like for like, this means that instead of Jedi padawans there are a lot of Sith acolytes present, which is a rather odd choice for an invasion force to say the least!

In either version there are three mechanically identical bosses, plus a bonus boss that only exists on hardmode and is fairly tank-and-spank. On Republic side these feel pretty generic as your enemies are mostly just random Imperials, with the exception of the last boss, Lord Goh, who briefly features in the Imperial storyline accompanying these flashpoints.

As an Imperial invader you get to meet more interesting characters, such as Master Liam Dentiri, who is a quest giver that is well known to all newbie Jedi as someone who keeps pitting them against progressively harder combat droids. Accordingly, he also summons combat droid adds in this fight. (His Imperial equivalent is just a random Imp who has the same abilities.)

The last boss for Imperial invaders is Master Oric Traless, whose name won't ring a bell if you've only played the game but is worth mentioning in so far as he is a character from the Fatal Alliance spin-off novel (which is the only one I've never read as I've heard that it's not very good). He was apparently built up as a fairly important figure: a member of the Jedi High Council as well as its official combat advisor. He has the same abilities that Lord Goh throws at Republic players, which is a holocron drain that will empower him if it's not interrupted by the group destroying the holocron, and a phase during which he becomes immune to damage and makes rocks fall from the ceiling all over the room that players have to avoid.

The first boss is a pretty generic soldier for both factions but reached temporary fame in 2.9 when his Republic version was bugged so that one of the core mechanics didn't work for a while and had to be worked around in increasingly imaginative ways. (The adds' shields weren't getting broken by the orbital strikes, so parties had to just run away and break line of sight until the ability "timed out".)

Story (spoilers?)

On Imperial side the story quest for Forged Alliances introduces you to a Sith called Darth Arkous and features the first appearance of Lana Beniko. Arkous claims to know about a hole in Tython's defenses and wants to strike the Jedi where it hurts as well as steal artifacts from their temple in the process. Your strike team lands on Tython and fights its way towards the temple after taking down the local defenses. In the temple you find Master Oric Traless of the Jedi Council, whom you kill, as well as some untrained Jedi padawans, who can either be killed as well or spared. While Lana congratulates the group on a job well done, Darth Arkous can be overheard getting testy with one of his followers, the enigmatically quiet Lord Goh, for not finding something quickly enough.

On Republic side the story quest is given by Colonel Darok and Theron Shan, whom you've previously assisted with an attack on Korriban. After its successful completion, news of Tython's invasion break, and you are sent to reclaim it for the Republic. Like in the Imperial version, you have to take down some defenses as you approach. Inside the temple you run into Lord Goh, which leads to one of the more amusing conversations inside a flashpoint as he responds to everything you say by simply silently staring at you. When your strike team activates the holo after his death, Darth Arkous is still on the line but doesn't seem to care much that Lord Goh is dead and that the temple has been lost. You also make some prisoners and have the option to keep them for interrogation or execute them.


I was very pleased with both Assault on Tython and Korriban Incursion when they first came out, because after the somewhat bland Czerka flashpoints and Kuat Drive Yards, Forged Alliances was a pleasant return to Bioware telling a good story featuring interesting characters. In hindsight though, it's doubtful whether it was the best decision to tell an entire core story arc through multiple flashpoints, even if they added a solo option later. It's simply always a pain to do multiple flashpoints in order when the game rewards running them through a randomised system, and Forged Alliances consists of no less than four such instances.

The decision to make all flashpoints tactical from that point onwards was also a bit of a mixed bag - queue pops were fantastically quick, but trinity lovers complained about a lack of challenge while random dps parties struggled at times. Still, at least the tuning was more uniform originally than it is in the current tacticals, as all players doing them were at least of the same level when they were released.

Story-wise, the staggered release of these flashpoints was handled well to build intrigue before the release of Shadow of Revan (at the time we didn't even know that there was going to be a Shadow of Revan), though that effect probably falls a bit flat for new players these days. The introduction of Lana and Theron still marks a fairly remarkable shift in Bioware's storytelling however, with the game's main storyline becoming increasingly focused on you and a couple of selected NPC allies instead of simply portraying you as a free agent in the wider galaxy.


Happy 4th Blogday to me!

As I always say at this point, it's no surprise that I have my blogoversary shortly after the game has its birthday, because I started writing about it only a few days after launch. I've considered adding something like "SWTOR's longest-running personal fan blog" to my header but I'm paranoid about someone with an older, just as consistently updated blog suddenly coming out of the woodwork and telling me off.

I've written slightly fewer posts this year than in any of the previous years so far, which I think is due to me working full time for the entire year and struggling to maintain the right balance between work, gaming, blogging and other hobbies at times, though I think I've found a pretty sweet spot at the moment. It's also been a noteworthy year from my point of view as this blog actually overtook my old WoW blog in terms of raw post numbers, which feels significant to me. Give it another one and a half years or so and I will also have spent more time playing SWTOR than I have playing WoW... that milestone is still a fair bit away though.

For now, let's look at my blogging year in review, as I always do:

In January, Shadow of Revan's launch was still fresh on everyone's minds, and I mused on features related to that expansion such as whether solo flashpoints were a good idea or how Bioware could possibly continue the class stories after the events on Rishi. Towards the end of the month we were hit by the shocking news that AOL was going to shut down the Massively website, which isn't really directly related to SWTOR but was definitely of interest to people who care about MMOs in general. Fortunately the tireless crew behind the project landed on their feet and successfully moved on to found a new site of their own, Massively Overpowered.

In February rumours started to fly around that SWTOR was going to have two expansions this year, which I tried to debunk. And I was right! Though it's funny to realise in hindsight what Bioware really meant by "two major updates"... I also decided to give my "10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots" series from 2012 another run this year, as I knew I would have trouble maintaining my posting schedule while moving house.

Other than posting more screenshots, I mostly started to express mixed feelings about Shadow of Revan in March: I found the grind for companion gear tedious (if only I had known then what I know now!) and experienced the hardmodes of Blood Hunt and Battle of Rishi as interesting but overtuned (funny how little some thing things change).

This continued in April, when I groused a bit about the state of operations and wasn't thrilled by all the hullabaloo about the new outfit designer. (My main still only has that one outfit and rarely uses it, and my alts still rely on wearing orange gear.) I mused on SWTOR fan resources after the shutdown of Torhead and shared my opinion of the Ziost update which launched at the end of the month.

May saw the conclusion of the Ziost storyline, and I thought about some general SWTOR subjects such as forgotten features or how a lot of random NPCs looked the same. I also rolled an Imperial agent on the Progenitor to re-experience what it's like to be a noob without a level fifty legacy and dozens of max-level alts to support you.

These adventures continued throughout June, and of course then information about Knights of the Fallen Empire was leaked shortly before it was officially announced.

In July we heard about Bioware's plans for group content in KotFE (namely that none of it would be new but that all the old stuff would be repurposed). I decided to get back into max-level PvP for a while after they made it super easy to get good PvP gear. And of course we saw the release of the game's second post-launch species, the Togruta. I created one that day just to say that I had one and haven't played her since then.

August was mostly about analysing KotFE changes as more information about them trickled in.  However, I also still found more than enough things to talk about in regards to the live game, such as stealthily implemented changes to dailies, PvP adventures and why I wasn't too keen on some of the more recent operations.

In September I spent some time doing Makeb's staged weekly and writing about it, as they were going to remove it in its existing form come KotFE and there was going to be a reward for having completed all the achievements beforehand. I also started my Flashpoint Friday series, in which I talk about/review individual flashpoints, and I'm proud to say that I've kept up its intended posting schedule of once every two weeks without fail so far. We said goodbye to SWTOR's old customer service forums. And last but not least, I noticed that the Star Wars hype in general was really building up as people were getting excited for The Force Awakens.

In October I got super excited when we found out that KotFE was going to introduce level syncing to the world, and I ended my latest stint of PvPing after the numbers showed just how often I was losing. Finally, Knights of the Fallen Empire had its (early access) launch and I disappeared off the face of the world for a couple of days while I was completely immersed in the new content. My first impressions were that the new story was awesome and that levelling had been heavily streamlined (which annoyingly included the removal of some bits and pieces that I liked).

November was all about talking about more Fallen Empire changes, such as overpowered companions, recycled operations and the new Alliance system. I also decided to start levelling a character purely through flashpoints, since there were plenty of instances to run at every level now and pops as well as experience points were plentiful.

In December parts of the community got upset about subscriber rewards, an issue that I felt was blown way out of proportion and was simply used as an excuse to air all kinds of general grievances.  My flashpoint levelling experiment continued, and I talked about the one part of the KotFE story that has bugged me so far as well as sharing my thoughts on Star Fortresses. Finally, let's not forget that a certain film finally hit the theatres...

I'm looking forward to another year of having (hopefully) interesting things to say!


Happy 4th Birthday, SWTOR!

Has it really been four years? My, my, how time flies.

Shintar the trooper over the course of four years... I finally decided the trend towards bigger guns needed to stop. People might think I'm compensating for something...

2015 has without a doubt been the most exciting year for the game since its launch. Nothing can beat that original cycle of hype and disappointment of the first year, resulting in the game's eventual conversion to free to play, but the past year certainly came close. Where 2013 und 2014 were mostly about solid additions to the game that didn't excite the games media too much, EA and Bioware decided to go all out in terms of marketing and effectively re-launch the game in 2015. The year had started out fairly quietly before that, with Shadow of Revan's storyline continuing in a solid way, until the Fallen Empire announcement blew everyone away in June. The announcement made it clear that the game was going to re-focus on the player's personal story as well as see a lot of re-tooling of basic systems to make the experience smoother for new players, which included the introduction of level sync, a revamp of the companion system and a complete repurposing of all existing group content.

As a result, a summary of the year in review comes across as unusually bleak in terms of actual additions - where I could previously list a bunch of new features such as new operations, new flashpoints (was it really only in 2014 that we got six new flashpoints in a year?) or new PvP maps, we got none of that in 2015. What we did get was more environments and more story - first in the form of the Ziost storyline and then the first nine chapters of Knights of the Fallen Empire. We also saw the introduction of the game's second new playable species since launch, the Togruta. As mentioned above, a lot of things got reworked and that may well have taken up a significant chunk of developer time, but long-time players have nonetheless been feeling a bit neglected, seeing how they are basically being asked to enjoy content that they already completed years ago just because it got a new paint job.

In fact, the atmosphere in the more "hardcore" community, whether it concerns raiding, competitive PvP or just deep investment in the game, is probably bleaker than I've seen it in a long time. (You can read about some of players' recent concerns on Calphaya's blog here or on Xam Xam's here.) Interestingly, at the same time interest from casual players seems to be at an... I don't want to say "all time high", but definitely a new high. Can you believe that SWTOR came second in Massively OP's community poll on "most improved MMO of the year"? (EDIT: OK, it was second when I originally wrote this but then ESO suddenly received a huge amount of votes and soared from third into first place... who knows how these things work.) Either way, I've seen a lot of comments from casual and returning players that they like the changes. After years of Tortanic jokes, it's almost wondrous to behold.

Of course the question remains of how beneficial it will be in the long run to have traded those previously loyal but now frustrated long-time costumers for what many fans fear may well just be short-term visitors. It's a particularly poignant question because only about a year ago, Wildstar was blasted for supposedly being too focused on the hardcore, which was often cited as the reason it wasn't doing very well after a few months. It would be ironic to see the opposite approach in SWTOR fall on its face just as hard... though I'd rather see the game continue to do well either way. While I'm a pretty hardcore player in terms of investment, I like most parts of the game and can cope reasonably well with Bioware's focus shifting over time by simply also shifting what content I focus on for a couple of months. Nonetheless I can't help but worry a little about the game's profitability right now, especially when I hear things like that they already switched to giving the first chapter of KotFE away for free. It could just be another marketing ploy of course, but personally it's giving me flashbacks to the way they started pushing free trials (back when the game still required a subscription to play at all) when subscriber numbers started dropping after launch.

Do you think that it's been a good or a bad year for SWTOR?


The Force Awakens (No Spoilers)

I got impatient and used my lunch break on my last day of work before the holidays to buy tickets for an afternoon showing of The Force Awakens today. I did not regret it as I enjoyed it very much!

The main concerns I had in advance can be summed up in a comment I left on Gamers Decrypted when Noctua posted about the release of the trailer back in October:

I liked it overall, but I was a bit taken aback and worried by just how many parallels to Episode 4 there are. Evil Empire vs. scrappy rebels, mysterious bad guy with a mask leading the charge, young person who has the force but seems to not know how to use it, events of the past have been forgotten or are treated as myth etc. There is pleasing the fans with references to the original, and then there’s doing a full retelling of the old story with a new coat of paint.

In reality there were indeed a lot of parallels to A New Hope, but at the same time the new story and new characters brought enough freshness to the table that I never felt like there was too much pandering to nostalgia going on.

Rey, a fantastic new character. Image courtesy of Wookieepedia.

The key is that the film managed to hit all the right notes throughout, from well-placed funny lines to tear-jerker moments to times when you'd gasp in excitement or shock. The classic good vs. evil theme is present but is also immediately treated with the sort of nuance that we didn't actually see in the original trilogy until quite late. As a woman I also found myself nearly squeeing with delight at the improved treatment of female characters compared to both of the previous trilogies. There are details you can pick apart and criticise of course, but they are all of the type that might come to mind when you're dissecting the film in conversation with your friends afterwards, not things that detract from the story while you're watching it.

The ending leaves a lot of open questions which immediately made me look up the proposed release date for Episode VIII. (It's May 2017 - so far away!)

On a side note, it's worth noting that the ads before the main feature advertised three or four video games, but not one of them was actually Star Wars related... what a wasted opportunity.


Thoughts on Star Fortresses

While I've given the "new" endgame introduced in KotFE a thumbs up in principle, I have to admit that I haven't felt particularly engaged by it on a personal level. It seems that people are mostly excited about doing heroics if they didn't really do them before, but I've been doing them since the game came out. I got the "complete all heroics" achievement the moment they introduced achievements (because I'd done them all before), and I've done them even more times since then. But just grinding them at max level? Meh.

Likewise, I don't really care that much about companion power. I never really had any issues with my companions even before 4.0. I like unlocking new ones to see their stories, but once the story ends, so does my interest. I think the highest influence rank I have on any character is 12, and that's only because some companions start at 10.

The one thing that has intrigued me a bit are the Star Fortresses. It's like a bonus storyline that's gated behind content that is challenging to solo. My pet tank and I burnt through it quickly during the first week, and he became obsessed with chain-running them until he had all the achievements. Once that was done, he seemed to lose interest too.

The one thing that bugs me about Star Fortresses is that I'm not sure what they are supposed to be, what their role is supposed to be in the grand scheme of things. I almost felt a little offended when I first found that the tougher missions had both "Heroic 2+" and "Flashpoint" in the name. What are you, a heroic or a flashpoint? You can't be both at once; that goes against everything I believe!

Once inside, Star Fortresses kind of come across as a poor man's Kuat Drive Yards, which is to say they are mostly bland-looking space stations that try to be interesting by not being exactly the same every time. But where Kuat at least mixes it up with different scenarios, the Star Fortresses just do things like lock some doors and open others, put the bonus bosses (called paladins) in different rooms and rotate through a couple of different bonus missions. It can be kind of fun to stick your nose into every available nook and cranny to see where things are hiding this time, but it's not that exciting.

Only the final encounter with the exarch on heroic mode is genuinely interesting in my opinion, set in front of the backdrop of the glowing sun reactor, and with a gradually increasing challenge level as you fight your way through the room, even if you're in a group.

On the plus side, unlike Kuat the Star Fortresses give some pretty good loot. There are a lot of decoration drops in there, as well as miscellaneous pieces of gear that you could sell for decent amounts of money, at least early on.

One thing I found amusing is that if you die anywhere but in the final exarch encounter, instead of reviving on the spot, you wake up in prison! This is a fun little play on the way a convenient probe usually just revives you on the spot without the baddies interfering in any way, which is one of those things that simply requires suspension of disbelief. Once imprisoned in the Fortress, you have to go through a short little routine of tricking and defeating the guards to free yourself.

Another aspect that's interesting are the (sometimes hidden) achievements. For example there's one to kill an exarch with their own fiery beam of death, which my pet tank made a point of getting, so I got it as well simply by tagging along. There is one for doing the heroic version in a group and with every possible buff inside the instance unlocked, which I also did with my pet tank. There is one to spy a droid belonging to the Shroud outside the station, which seems to have an annoying RNG component to it. At first I thought I was looking in the wrong place because I ran Fortress after Fortress without ever seeing it, but once it appeared it was plain as day. I never missed it, it just didn't seem to spawn in all those earlier runs.

Finally there is "One For All", which awards a title and requires you to solo the heroic mode with no buffs. I got it on my "can't play her for toffee" Marauder with a rank five companion, but it did take a while. I died a lot and just kept throwing myself at things until I eventually managed to grind them down. At one point I was sufficiently frustrated that I was willing to give up and activate the main buff after all, except that there didn't seem to be a way to go back to that part of the Fortress. If my only options were to abandon the whole thing or to press on, I decided to go for the latter after all.

Basically everything from the moment you encounter the exarch is pure pain. Personally I thought that the first room with the two gold knights was actually the worst. They just hit so hard! I kept dying before I could even get one of them down. I think I eventually succeeded with the help of a lot of cooldown chaining.

The same was true of the subsequent rooms, where you have to deal with an ever growing amount of adds before you can force the exarch to move on. Again, I died a couple of times but just kept giving it another try every time my heroic moment was up again. (As an aside, that's when I noticed that they replaced Legacy Force Storm with Legacy Chain Lightning... how sad!)

The exarch also killed me a couple of times, but again I eventually managed to get there by chaining all my cooldowns. Really, that seems to be the key to this achievement: perseverance and remembering all your buttons.

Currently I'm going back to them on my Marauder every so often to unlock all the companions related to the storyline, but it just feels kind of tedious on my own. Plus it's just not as fun to do on multiple characters (in my opinion). Are there people who love the new Star Fortresses?


I Have The Power (to carry these pugs)

My Merc's journey to the level cap continues and she's getting quite close by now. However, XP gains have also dropped to "only" about one level per flashpoint. I'm wondering how much better one might do if one were to make full use of all available XP boosts (which I didn't) by joining a guild, waiting for full restedness, buying all the increased flashpoint XP perks and using XP-boosting consumables.

I levelled: 45-46

As I mentioned in my last Flashpoint Friday post, my Cademimu hat-trick from last time was immediately followed up by a fourth pop of this instance. The most notable thing about this run was that it contained the most "gogogo"-like player I've encountered yet, a level 65 Juggernaught who took off like a bat straight out of hell the moment we zoned in and kept pulling as fast as he could, even if it led to bad things such as us getting two groups at once (which meant even more heal-tanking for me). In hindsight it's a mircale that I only died once, on the first boss. At the same time, even this rushing was still positively sedate compared to the sort of behaviour I experienced in WoW a couple of years ago.

After this flashpoint I fully upgraded my gear again even though it didn't seem to make much of a difference, purely because I was getting close to the cap for how many common data crystals you can have. Sadly the mods from the vendors are so cheap now that even buying a whole new kit barely made a dent in my crystal pile. I also picked up the story quest for Directive 7, just in case it comes up again, as I was now high enough level to do so.

Blood Hunt
I levelled: 46-46

Oh hey, another failed Blood Hunt pug! Same story as always: Everything was fine until Jos and Valk, then the group disbanded after two wipes (even though they had been pretty good tries and we'd made it to the second phase each time).

Korriban Incursion
I levelled: 46-47

Another rare group with a tank, though he seemed unfamiliar with the flashpoint and didn't know that we needed to kill the four commanders to get access to the first boss, so the rest of the group had to gently herd him into the right direction first. After the first boss he DCed and was replaced by a level 45 dps. Even with three dps our damage seemed very low, and I couldn't help but wonder whether the dps Juggernaught wasn't actually secretly a tank as well. (He had zoned in in Soresu form, though he did switch when I pointed that out.) On the last fight my heals were once again enough to out-aggro all the dps and I was effectively tanking most of the time. The dps also didn't know that they were supposed to kill the probes - thank Bioware that they die on their own after a while or we would have been in trouble.

It was after this flashpoint that I noticed that all my Republic characters, even the really low-level ones, have access to a quest called [Daily] Group Finder Tactical Flashpoint! I wonder why the Imps don't get that one? Looking at the TORCommunity database, it looks like it might be some sort of flagging error, as it lists the same quest twice, but both are tagged as only accessible to Republic classes. That would have been another nice source of XP to speed up the process.

The Foundry
I levelled: 47-49

This late-night run was easily the most fun pug I've had in a while, as it contained a tank and dps that were in the same guild, very laid back, and happy to banter. The tank died on the first boss and just laughed about her silliness when I pointed out that even tanks had to move out of melee whenever he does his fire attack. We also did both bonuses, which is probably why I gained two levels in this one.

At the end I had to laugh when the last boss exploded into a box - another 4.0 change that Bioware made is that they got rid of all those security chests that used to spawn on bosses that don't leave a body behind or that leave multiple bodies. They were always a bit of a pain in places like ops, as they could only be looted by one person at a time and you had to form an orderly queue so everyone could get their commendations. This new system is much better, it's just kind of humorous when the body's supposed to mysteriously disappear and instead a glowy box appears out of thin air.

False Emperor
I levelled: 49-50

We meet again, False Emperor! In this run I was joined by three melee dps of levels 41, 47 and 49 respectively. Any attempts of mine to use crowd control were foiled instantly, but at least they seemed to be aware that I was getting all the aggro and tried to reduce the impact that had. (I fully expect to do a lot of tanking when there is no proper tank, but you can tell the difference between groups that notice and try to help you and those that are completely oblivious... usually the latter are busy piling on a single gold mob while I get shot by five weak enemies for the entire fight.) I also worked on improving my heal-tanking by doing the line-of-sight dance around various corners and pillars.

On the two prototype droids, my three "pets" were sadly completely focused on trying to kill the one that was immune to damage and needed some prompting to start attacking the right one. Still, I was growing oddly fond of them. At exactly eight o'clock, one of them suddenly went "oops, I have to leave" and I couldn't help but picture him as a little kid who had reached his bedtime.

Having hit level 50 in this flashpoint, I did some running around to pick up more quests, such as the storyline for Kaon Under Siege and Lost Island. I was kind of shocked by how Darth Nurin casually dropped a massive spoiler for the end of my class story in that conversation... I was like: "I haven't even been to Dromund Kaas, woman!" In all seriousness though, I had been under the impression that they had markers for some of these lines so they wouldn't come up if you hadn't already completed that content. It was a bit jarring.

I was now also able to pick up the weekly mission to do five tactical flashpoints, which should add another chunk of experience to my remaining runs. When I opened up the group finder, it had now selected operations and hardmode flashpoints by default, which I had to uncheck, as I don't think that I would have a very good time in there right now.

Assault on Tython
I levelled: 50-52 (this included the random flashpoint weekly)

For this flashpoint I was joined by three dps, two of whom were only level 23 and 24 respectively, so I expected things to be slow. It wasn't that noticeable on the first boss, but by the time we got to Master Liam I was a bit worried that we might run into trouble with our group being unable to kill each set of droid adds before the next one spawned. Fortunately that wasn't the case, though we got very little dps time on the boss himself. We were lucky in so far as he seemed to get bored after a while and stopped bothering to vanish and summon adds.

We also wiped on Master Oric, which was simply an amazing experience for me because I don't think I'd ever had it happen to me before. I mean, I'd always known that it would be bad to let him draw power from those holocrons, but since no group of mine actually ever let him get away with it, I'd never seen what it actually does. The answer is that it increases his damage output, and after two or three stacks I simply wasn't able to keep up with it anymore, not to mention that we'd already lost another group member to his "purple circle phase". Fortunately everyone listened to me when I explained what had gone wrong, and on the next attempt they executed the mechanics nearly perfectly, even if our dps was still low.

After this flashpoint I was pleased to find my combat res and Electro Net on the trainer - now I've got pretty much everything except for whatever Successive Treatment is called for Mercenaries.

I also had too many crystals again and was pleased to discover (after some running around on the fleet) that you don't actually have to wait until Odessen to be able to buy companion gifts with them - you can already get rank 5 gifts on the fleet, which should help prevent any more crystal overflow in the future.

Mandalorian Raiders
I levelled: 52-53

This run was a bit of an emotional roller-coaster ride. I got teamed up with three dps of level 20, 21 and 27, so I knew that things were going to be even slower than in Assault on Tython the day before. But I didn't mind at first - I was kind of looking at myself as the benevolent high-level player carrying them through the experience. I asked them if they knew each other, since they were close in level and none of them were in a guild, but they never responded. They also did not pay much attention to me getting mauled by mobs and never bothered to regenerate any health themselves in-between fights.

In hindsight I really wish that I'd thought of recording the first boss fight because it was pretty comical. I was healing everyone and kite-tanking the boss around the room, only getting the occasional break whenever he did his aggro drop and jumped on somebody else for few seconds. I was really grateful for Hydraulic Overrides there, because getting caught in his slowing aura was not nice. Meanwhile the dps took absolutely forever to kill his pets. After that I thought that surely the worst was over now, just to have that fight be followed up by that big pull with a bunch of hounds. They did not get frozen by the exploding barrel and I barely clung on to life tanking all the dogs while hitting every single cooldown that I had.

Slowly my attitude started to shift. When I sliced the lift and called people over, they ignored me in favour of going the long way round. When I marked a focus target on the Republic boarding party, they ignored that as well. I was getting rather annoyed with them all and their seeming lack of interest in what was going on. I pictured them zoning into their next flashpoint, without a healer, and dying on every single pull.

I was convinced that the last boss would go horribly wrong, but tried to give instructions before the fight anyway. On the first jump we were left with both turrets still up and alive, but at least they then seemed to get it and started dpsing them down before continuing to chase the boss. In the end that fight wasn't nearly as bad as everything that had come before, but I still felt a bit burnt out on my role as the "carrier" of clueless pugs after that run.


Flashpoint Friday: Cademimu

In honour of the group finder putting my little Merc into Cademimu four times in a row (yes, there was a fourth run after the three I mentioned in my last post) I decided to make it the subject of this week's Flashpoint Friday.

General Facts

Cademimu was originally a levelling flashpoint accessible to both factions, designed for levels 27-33, and is now accessible to levels 15-65 as a tactical. It's one of those "story-light" flashpoints from launch, alongside others like Hammer Station and Red Reaper, which I already talked about. It didn't have a hardmode version at launch but received one with the release of Rise of the Hutt Cartel.

Cademimu V is a Republic city world similar to Coruscant, distinguished by skyscrapers and high walkways without safety rails. Unlike Coruscant (for all its problems), it's in the grip of an outright rebellion.


You spend the flashpoint fighting separatists, who are mostly humanoid soldiers, though they are also supported by droids and some hounds. Some of the larger pulls can be pretty tough, especially those containing hounds. The larger droids are often near the edge of a platform and can be insta-killed by knocking them to their death (which is a lot of fun).

Of course the lack of safety measures means that players also have to watch out for deaths by falling themselves, and there is an infamous "lift boss" near the end, though it has been nerfed since launch as its speed used to be much more annoying. My fifth post on this blog ever was about encountering this lift boss and being greatly amused by it.

Once upon a time...

Like in the other flashpoints of this "story-light" style, there are a bunch of gathering nodes for various crew skills that allow you to unlock shortcuts or temporary combat pets to assist you.

The boss encounters in Cademimu are all fairly interesting. The first fight is against a corrupt police officer who tries to arrest you with his droid. Traps will be placed on the ground that incapacitate and damage players if they stand in them, but they can also be used to stun the droid if the person he's currently targeting lures him into it. It's interesting to note that this fight can be tackled more than one way: some groups burn down the droid first, others the officer. The important thing is that the players themselves don't get caught in the traps and don't let the droid catch them, as he hits pretty hard.

The second fight is against a Wookiee spacer with a flame thrower and a bunch of Ugnaught mechanics as adds. It's a bit random, but I guess the separatists hired him or something? This fight poses the challenge of dealing with adds that are not too easily killed (as they are all silvers), however with some skill they can be pulled into the boss's flame thrower so that his own ability helps with killing them.

Finally there's General Ortol, the last boss. He's, again, one of the game's more memorable encounters in terms of mechanics, as it takes place underneath a bunch of rockets, and the boss keeps instructing his troops to fire them. If you're underneath a rocket when it ignites, you're toast! I'm pretty sure that nearly everyone who's ever done this flashpoint has died to this mechanic at least once initially (as it's not very obvious just how far the rockets' reach is).

This fight requires an unusual amount of spacial awareness of players, as they need to look up every time Ortol's audio cue warns them to make sure that they are not in a danger zone. The boss also has a knockback, and in hardmode it comes with the added challenge that he occasionally roots people with magnetic shackles. These can be broken with any ability that removes movement impairing effects or by another player running over and touching the shackled character. This requires both situational awareness and teamwork, as people constantly need to free each other to not get trapped underneath a rocket about to fire.


Depending on your faction, either Master Satele or Darth Malgus inform you that there is unrest on the Republic world of Cademimu V. Governor Chornarov has declared independence and martial law - Master Satele assures you that the planet's people do not approve of this but are being oppressed by  a bunch of war criminals, as Chornarov has built a private army consisting of former separatists from Ord Mantell. In addition to this, Cademimu is known as the "war chest of the Outer Rim", as it stocks missiles to defend at least three other planets in the region, which makes its sudden secession both dangerous for the Republic and an interesting opportunity for the Empire.

You are supposed to land a small strike team near the planetary missile control centre to deprive the Governor of his power and take over. You spend the entirety of the flashpoint fighting your way to this building, but when you arrive you find that the launch sequence for the main missile battery can't be aborted anymore - you can redirect them however. The light side option is to aim them at an uninhabited moon, while the dark side option lets you target the enemy faction's fleet in orbit.

Once upon a slightly later time...

At the end you face off against General Ortol, the leader of Chornarov's private army and a major war criminal from Ord Mantell. Once you've beaten him and taken control, the flashpoint ends, and you only hear about the aftermath in the debriefing, where you are told that the corrupt governor will be taken care of.


For a flashpoint that doesn't present you with a lot of story in the actual instance itself, Cademimu still has a pretty deep background. It's interesting that you never actually meet the main antagonist, Governor Chornarov - as you make your way through the instance you just keep hearing him make announcements about how everything is peachy while you fight his troops.

Cademimu's lifts and chasms make for an interesting environment that allows you to speed up some encounters by knocking things to their deaths, which is immensely satisfying if you play a class that can do so. At the same time this also offers plenty of opportunity for hilarious player death.

Finally, all the boss encounters are fun and engaging, as they feature interesting twists such as being able to use boss abilities to your advantage and having to pay attention to the third dimension (without requiring any jumping craziness).

For all these reasons combined Cademimu is probably my favourite of this set of six flashpoints from launch - even after running it four times in a row recently I only got mildly tired of it, something I don't think I would have been able to say about many other instances.


What's the deal with Valkorion?

This post contains spoilers for the Shadow of Revan story, including Ziost, as well as for some of the early chapters of Knights of the Fallen Empire. Read at your own risk!

As much as I've generally enjoyed the KotFE story so far, there's one thing that's been bugging me about it: Valkorion.

Shadow of Revan's main story arc ended with the Emperor being newly strengthened, if still incorporeal. Then things went wild on Ziost to show us just how powerful he had become: not only could he possess countless people at once, including trained Jedi Masters, but he could also consume a whole planet just for the fun of it. I remember Rohan commenting that the character seemed to have become too powerful for it to be very believable that we, the player characters, could still defeat him.

Then the Knights of the Fallen Empire announcement came and we were all a bit confused. What did any of this have to do with Vitiate? Surely we weren't suddenly going to ignore the biggest threat to the known galaxy? Players like Xam Xam did intricate research in an attempt to tie it all together, but it all sounded a bit far-fetched (to me) any way you sliced it.

I was pretty shocked when the big mystery was already solved in chapter one of Fallen Empire and that it was really as trite as Vitiate = Valkorion.

Your character has the option to express confusion about this on a couple of occasions, and of course you have Lana and Koth to embody and remind you of the two opposing and seemingly irreconcilable viewpoints of Vitiate still being his same old self, just in a new disguise, or Valkorion supposedly being a fine old chap and generous ruler. However, you get so swept up in the events of your escape and everything that happens afterwards that there isn't much time to think about the subject in depth.

Fortunately I could suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy the ride, but the problem of Vitiate and Valkorion supposedly being the same character kept nagging at me at the back of my mind the entire time. First off, there is the feeling that the whole premise simply violates everything we've known so far. The Sith Emperor has always been described as supremely powerful, but not without limits. The Jedi knight story has a heavy focus on fighting him, and there are parts of the Sith warrior story that also show that the Emperor's powers could be curbed by cunning individuals. That we are supposed to accept that during all this time he also happened to inhabit a different body half a galaxy away does not mesh with this at all.

And then of course there is the problem of personalities. The way Vitiate is described in the lore is basically as batshit insane. Even as a baby he was emotionless and scary, and went on to torture and kill his own parents at a young age. While he certainly possessed a certain amount of cunning, he was never the subtle type. He enjoyed killing and made no secret of it. He's basically just an extremely powerful psychopath.

And then we have Valkorion, who entered a relationship with a Zakuulian woman that seemed genuinely loving at least at first and which produced no less than three children. His subjects have nothing but praise for him and the way we see him in KotFE he comes across as incredibly charismatic and impossible to truly read. You might want to argue that it's just good old Vitiate putting on a show again, but it just doesn't fit Vitiate's character in my opinion... not like this.

I have a hard time imagining how Bioware is going to come up with a convincing solution for this dilemma that won't feel incredibly forced. I suspect that it will come down to Vitiate and Valkorion not being quite the same, perhaps different aspects of him or something. There was one line during my Marauder's playthrough which caught my eye, though I don't remember the exact wording - my character said something about how she immediately recognised her old Emperor in Valkorion's throne room, and Valkorion replied with a comment about how it's a shame that she didn't see other things quite so clearly... which I understood to be an implication that there is more to the Vitiate = Valkorion equation than meets the eye. I hope it won't be too similar to the solution to the Revan storyline though.

What do other people think about this?


Flashpoint Levelling: Russians and Reruns

I'm enjoying this whole experiment more than I thought I would. I run about one flashpoint a day, usually in the evenings after work, once everything else in the house has been taken care of. Most of the time the runs are smooth and the groups chill. It's been a long time since I spent this much time pugging... and it's actually nice.

Czerka Corporate Labs
I levelled: 35-36

I should mention at this point that I tend to decline groups in which the system tries to pair me up with another healer. Not that I have anything against them, but experience has taught me that you gain little from having more than one healer in a four-man group and it just makes everything sooo much slower. In the evenings the pops are near-instant anyway, so you don't really lose anything by declining a group. You'll get a different one two minutes later anyway.

With that said, this was the first run on this character where I did end up with another healer (and two dps), because after I had declined initially, the system tried to put me into the exact same group again when I requeued a few minutes later - and I figured: whatever. The other three players were probably getting tired of people declining or timing out.

I zoned into Czerka Corporate Labs and was immediately in combat. Turns out that the other three were already fighting the first boss. I tried to run down and join them but got insta-killed on the way somehow - it looked like the boss was trying to pull me in and the game decided to one-shot me since I was still upstairs, in a place from which I couldn't be pulled. I resed and tried again. Apparently other people in the group were dying and running back as well! It was a dumb zerg, and even once we finally had everyone alive and in one place, there was still a lot of pointless running back and forth. The boss actually enraged on us, something which I hadn't seen in quite a while.

On the second try we got our act together and killed him, but everything still felt incredibly slow with two healers (plus neither of the dps seemed to be particularly good either). After the second boss, the other healer suddenly piped up with "w8 - banan needs toilet", and it took me a moment to realise that she was talking about one of the dps. I asked if they were all one group of friends, and she explained that it was just her and that one dps, that they were Russians and always skipping all the cut scenes. I asked why, since her English seemed fine, and she explained that the other guy didn't speak any at all. One wonders why they chose to play SWTOR of all things then... they must really like Star Wars.

After we had successfully completed the flashpoint, the Russians initiated a vote kick on me because I wasn't leaving "their" group quickly enough, which amused me. I never knew that you actually get a notification in SWTOR when someone tries to kick you, because you don't in WoW.

This run also seemed to provide pretty strong evidence against my earlier theory that level 65s in the group reduce your XP, as everyone in this run was in their thirties and yet I only gained a single level. I think I've simply got to the point where the XP gains from flashpoints slow down somewhat compared to the levelling insanity of the low levels.

Kuat Drive Yards
I levelled: 36-38

Kuat again? Well, at least I had the story quest for it this time. This time we got the scenario with the cannons and the armoury, as well as Station Guardian One as the end boss. It was a smooth run overall, but during the initial intro conversation two group members went into a veritable "spacebar" frenzy. I screenshotted it so I would be able to reproduce it verbatim (names changed to protect the guilty):

[Dude1]: skip
[Dude1]: SKIP
[Dude2]: S TO K TO I TO P
[Dude2]: spacebar
[Dude1]: space bar
[Dude2]: spacebar

I think this really highlighted for me why I find spacebar warriors so annoying, and it's not because I often do like to watch the cut scenes: it's because they are always so freaking imperious and rude. Have you ever seen anyone say: "Could we skip the cut scenes please?" Me neither. They always have to be bossy douches about it. You are not the boss of me, Mr Random Pug, and if you start like that you are unlikely to get me to do anything for you.

Hammer Station
I levelled: 38-39

Pug separation in Hammer Station - that ryhmes!

Another re-run of a flashpoint I'd only done a few days ago. I got really excited when I saw that one of our group members was a tank. My first run with a proper tank! Of course, the moment we zoned in he said that he was confused about why he had ended up queued as tank, as he was actually a dps. Hah.

It was a really smooth and pleasant run though. Now that I had a cleanse, the tunneler droid was a piece of cake to heal. I also maxed out my scavenging skill in this run. (For comparison, my bioanalysis only sits at 169.) 

Directive 7
I levelled: 39-41

OK, I partially retract what I said about people who want to skip the cut scenes above. In this run we had one who said "skip pl". Two letters of the word "please" have got to count for something, right?

This being D7 and us having a level 65 in the group, this was another run where people just wanted to get to the end as quickly as possible while skipping everything else. We jumped across the tents again, and again the lowest level in the group didn't manage it and pulled anyway. I actually died on Mentor and got a combat res! So there are some people that are aware of having that ability.

I think mostly this run annoyed me because it was another repeat of a flashpoint that I'd only done a couple of days before. There are 19 tactical flashpoints in the queue now, and at this point I had queued for a total of 12 runs. However, these only resulted in me seeing 8 different instances, as 4 were repeats. I guess that is proper randomness, but it's still a bit annoying.

I levelled: 41-42

Yay, a flashpoint I hadn't done before, and one I quite like at that! I had the feeling that two of the people in the group must have been quite new to the game, as they seemed very hesitant and I could see in the group log that they both had the "Introduction to Group Finder" mission in their log still, even though they were in the high thirties. The third dps was a "legendary" player like me.

I had a blast knocking probe droids to their death and was kind of surprised that the encounter in the cantina appears to have been removed entirely - you know the one, where people would come down from the ceiling and all the patrons would scream and cower. Was that actually an issue?

At the taxi point I sliced access to the police car for the shortcut, but the two newbies didn't follow and we got split up. We reunited soon though. Having got somewhat off track because of this, I was delighted to find a cage from which I could free a temporary hound pet! Four years and there are still crew skill nodes in some of these flashpoints that I've never seen... Sadly my doggie died on the lift to the Wookiee boss, but we actually got XP for its death, which amused me.

About halfway through the run I found that Kolto Shell had appeared on my bar, which made me happy because I'd been missing having that ability. Constantly wanting to rebuff the entire group every three minutes is a habit that's hard to break. The only downside was that I find its sound effect a bit annoying compared to the Republic version.

As we approached the last boss, the other legendary player asked if everyone knew how to do this fight, but the newbies shrouded themselves in silence. Unsurprisingly, they both got burnt to cinders pretty early, and me and the other guy ended up finishing the rest of the fight with just the two of us.

I think Bioware were really proud of their "lekku physics" at launch, but in practice they can get super awkward at times.

I levelled: 42-44 (that included the weekly quest)

Yay, Cademimu again! I'm not even sure whether I'm being sarcastic here or not.

Now this was my actual first random flashpoint that I completed with a genuine tank! Only took 14 runs to find one... To be perfectly honest, it didn't seem to make that much of a difference in this instance, though it was nice to have someone who was happy to jump in and have all the mobs whale on him, instead of the awkward shuffle you get with some of the full dps groups where nobody wants to be the one to go first and get all the aggro.

We had three deaths by falling, which brought back fond memories for me.

Towards the end, one of the dps asked "who chaine for one more dj?" and I couldn't figure out what DJ was supposed to stand for. Disc jockeys in Cademimu? It was only at the end that I realised that he had meant dungeon and wanted to know if we could re-queue together. As I was happy to have completed my one run for the night however, I had to politely decline.

I levelled: 44-45

Cademimu hat-trick! Who would have thought?

This one included only one death by falling and one person dying to Ortol's fire, though it also featured the first time that I saw a player get caught in a trap on the first boss. I also noted down: "Does this flashpoint think I'm a trooper?" Until now the last boss in each run always seemed to drop useful loot for my class, but in the previous run I got a generator off-hand, and this time Ortol dropped an assault cannon.

Ten levels from seven flashpoints definitely prove that things are slowing down.


Subscriber Rewards

There's been a bit of a kerfuffle about subscriber rewards and upcoming content this week. Bioware had been hyping up their livestream for the first of December in their usual silly manner:
BIG news in ALL CAPS! This was then followed up by another tweet in which they said that they were "breaking all precedents with their new subscriber rewards". Hype! Except of course I didn't buy into it - and I really think that any veteran player should know better at this point than to expect Bioware's marketing to make any sense. As expected it didn't turn out to be all that.

Basically, chapter ten will come in February, subscribers will get HK-55 as a companion, and if you're subbed all the way until the end of the current storyline in August, you'll get access to an extra special story chapter in which you get to play as HK-55 (wonder how that's going to work).

I'm a little concerned that chapter ten is already coming out later than originally intended (it was supposed to be released in January), and I can't help but worry that this means that they are falling behind schedule already. I seriously hope that I'm wrong about that, but it wouldn't surprise me.

A return of HK-55 will be neat, though I kind of agree with those that say that Bioware is getting close to milking people's affection for HK droids past the breaking point by now.

The whole "sub until August for an extra special reward" scheme feels a bit desperate, like they can already see subs dropping and just want people to buy in for the long run already. It sort of reminds me of World of Warcraft's annual pass offer from 2011/12, though it's not an entirely fair comparison as that was about getting people to stay subbed while no new content was being added to the game, while Bioware has all those new story chapters coming out during the time they want you to sub for.

But, you know... all in all, it's good stuff. I'd rather have all these things than not have them! Still, positive reactions like Njessi's seem to be in the minority from what I've seen (if people are happy, they are quiet about it). Instead there's lots of moaning about how the hype was undeserved, and anyway, where's the announcement of more of my personal favourite type of content? I thought this Reddit comment was a pretty good summary of how it's impossible to make MMO players happy.

I mean, I kind of get the comments about how the hype was undeserved, but at the same time people should really be able to parse these sorts of announcements more realistically by now unless they literally started playing only yesterday. It's annoying that you can't take the devs by their word, but that's marketing for you. At the end of the day, I'd rather play a fun game that's poorly marketed than have awesome marketing getting people genuinely hyped up for something that turns out to be a turd.

And as for the question of whether these are worthwhile subscriber rewards... I don't know, I feel that's kind of missing the point. I always tell people that they shouldn't focus on SWTOR as a free-to-play game, but treat it as an MMO that's still a sub game at heart but has a generous free trial. And I stand by that, which means that I sub simply because I want unlimited access to the game. And as long as I enjoy that game, which I still do, that's enough for me to feel that I'm getting my money's worth out of the subscription. I don't need any extra bells and whistles, though I won't say no to an extra goodie here or there (specifically I liked this guy's suggestions for a loyalty programme). But it's not needed.

It seems that SWTOR desperately wants to be a free-to-play game and have lots of subscriptions at the same time, but I'm not sure how compatible these things are. Party Business noted only yesterday that Bioware seems to be confused about how it wants to monetise the game. I like subs being at the centre because it's my preferred payment model, but I can't help but be reminded of a recent comment by a Planetside 2 dev on this subject, in which he noted that some people just didn't want to buy into this kind of thing no matter the benefits and that it's a waste of time to "keep trying to lead horses to water that do not want to drink".

In other words: Less worrying about "incentives" please - on both sides! Nothing's more attractive to players of all kinds than lots of content and engaging gameplay.