12/12/2017

Tales from the Group Finder: Eternity Vault

I don't often run operations with random groups nowadays since ops are one of the few activities that I regularly get to partake in anyway (with my guild) and you never know how long a pug run is going to take you. Some are super smooth but others can turn into unexpectedly long-winded adventures (to put it mildly). Not having a lot of free time anymore plays into it too.

However.

I've been really curious whether the changes to the group/activity finder in the last patch have made any difference to people's willingness to use the tool to run operations. Most of the time players seemed to avoid it, presumably mostly because of the large degree of uncertainty in regards to when you would get a pop, if at all. It might sound weird to anyone who really hates talking to other people, but often just putting a group together in general chat was simply faster and easier.

Before the patch actually launched, there'd been some speculation about what shape exactly the improvements to the group finder might take. Display of average wait times and group formation progress maybe? Nope. However, Bioware did add a "role in need" display that shows you which role the group finder is currently short on for certain types of content. While the extra reward promised to those who queue up as that role isn't really worth it from my point of view, it has added a new dimension to queueing, because the promise of a guaranteed, fast pop holds more appeal than anything else.


So when the rotation had just switched to Eternity Vault on Sunday afternoon and I saw that healers were needed on Imp side, I decided to hop in on my Sorcerer. I felt slightly disappointed when I didn't get an instant pop, but I guess more than one healer was needed. However, I only had to wait between five and ten minutes for the group to fill up.

Everybody zoned in quickly and of course someone was over-enthusiastic enough to pull the turrets and get us all in combat while we waited for the group to actually assemble. The off-tank asked for someone to share the weekly mission, so I did. Then he asked for it again. I said that I'd already shared it, and I'm guessing someone else did so again. But the off-tank just kept asking. According to the chat log he already had a sharing request but he kept insisting that he didn't. After several more minutes of this he eventually went back out again to pick up the mission himself.

The first boss went smoothly enough, but then came the question of how to deal with the trash. The jumping shortcut seems to be quite well-known by now, but I suck at successfully making the jump as a Sage or Sorc, and nobody else wanted to volunteer for ages. Eventually the off-tank (an Assassin) made it across though and got the speeder sorted. However, another Assassin who was playing dps didn't seem to understand what was happening and tried to stealth his way towards the boss the long way, all on his lonesome. After he pulled something and died, everyone encouraged him to take the speeder this time, but he just left. It took surprisingly long to get a dps replacement, several minutes in fact.

On Gharj I witnessed a bug that I hadn't seen before, which is saying something! When he started jumping up and down on the first platform and a second one appeared, we moved across as usual, but then it was the second platform that suddenly disappeared. Everyone went "wtf" at suddenly finding themselves knee-deep in lava, but fortunately most of the group had the sense to quickly run back, so we only lost two people and were able to revive one of them.

The journey through the jungle was strangely heart-warming, with one guy taking the lead and me and another hanging back to make sure no stragglers got lost. Nobody needed help jumping up the cliff, but I had to rescue two people after they had fallen into lava. The system had designated me as the ops leader by the way, which caused me to somehow feel responsible for the group even though I hadn't had any plans to take charge.

The pylons were kind of amusing in that everyone wanted to click the consoles, to the point that at one time people actually clicked on them on opposite sides, making the wheel go left, right and then left again, wasting a lot of time. Fortunately it wasn't enough to cause a reset though. I also noticed that the Marauder wearing the Crest of the Dread Master (one of the few truly prestigious items of gear in SWTOR) kept nearly killing themselves on the adds with the reflective shield. Bought account?

The Council fight went alright, though I was baffled when the last person still fighting ended up being my co-healer, who was both well-geared and clearly experienced. I joked that they must have felt like taking on a challenge to pit themselves against one of the Marauders as a healer (mobs intended to be fought by damage dealers) to which they replied that they'd known something was wrong as soon as we pulled...

Soa seemed to go smoothly enough, but then he evaded and reset at zero percent - WTF, Bioware. Just how long has this stuff been going on? My co-healer announced that they had to go because "the GF" was giving them evil eyes. It took me a moment to puzzle out what the group finder had to do with anything... Anyway, they left but not without dropping group, so we unfortunately had to initiate a vote kick to make room for a replacement. And then we didn't get one! The wait for a replacement dps earlier had seemed long enough, but this was worse.

People asked me if I was okay solo-healing the fight and I said yes. It's only EV story mode, what can go wrong? Well, everyone but you jumping down onto the wrong platform for example. Wipe again! The third time was the charm though and we finally made it. Coincidentally, the group finder decided to finally give us a second healer just as we had reached the last phase. We warned him in chat that this was what was going on and he had the good sense to leave. I'm not sure how these things work exactly, but I suspect that he might have gained a lockout without any reward otherwise.

Overall, the run felt like a success to me though. I mean, I've also had EV pugs that had to give up on Gharj because he kept enraging... but that is why I never get tired of jumping into random groups. The potential for strange new experiences just knows no bounds.

10/12/2017

A Traitor Among the Chiss - Mechanics

I didn't want to make this post until I had actually cleared the new flashpoint in all difficulties, and since I didn't get around to tackling master mode until this weekend, it took a bit longer than anticipated to get this write-up done. However, it's finally ready now. And boy, was there a lot to talk about on this subject.

It starts before you even enter the flashpoint, with the fourth "one-time story mode" flashpoint difficulty that Bioware introduced with Crisis on Umbara. For Umbara, this was baked directly into the purple-coloured story quest, which could be a bit confusing if you had picked up the story but wanted to try another difficulty mode before completing the storyline, as the game wouldn't let you pick any other difficulty and didn't tell you why. (Officially you were already on another difficulty, but this wasn't obvious.)

While I suspect that this was only a problem for a minority, Bioware decided to try to fix it this time around, by making you pick up the flashpoint quest at the door, independent of the story mission, like we're used to from the older flashpoints. There were two problems with this, however: Firstly, while we're used to the flashpoint quest being a separate thing, most story missions put the solo mode into your log automatically. Since this wasn't the case here, people had to go pick it up themselves... and here the issue was that for some reason, the one-time story mode (required for the mission) was called "solo mode", while the repeatable solo mode was dubbed "story mode". This makes no sense, and as a result many players picked the wrong one and were then confused why their story wouldn't advance. Since the story mission technically tells you correctly to pick up "solo mode" (which is story mode, remember) you could theoretically say that it's people's own fault for not reading the instructions, but I do feel that Bioware is definitely to blame for using very confusing nomenclature here. They should really swap those names around and give you the correct one by default when you actually pick up the storyline.

Okay, so we're finally ready to enter the flashpoint itself. Remember how one of the main draws of splitting the story into a separate solo mode with unique cut scenes was to avoid people accidentally getting spoiled if they end up in the instance early due to running a random flashpoint through the group finder? Why oh why do you then start the cutscene-free, generic difficulty modes with a voice-over that is a giant spoiler for Crisis on Umbara? Someone didn't really think this through.


But enough of all this ranting for now. Loading into the flashpoint for the first time actually took my breath away because of how beautiful it is. So many screenshot opportunities. It also has no fewer than three different bonus missions as well as a couple of hidden achievements, none of which you will complete by just following the straightforward path. In my first run-through on solo mode, I spent over an hour in there and had a really good time sticking my nose into various different corners.

I did notice however that everything took me longer than usual to kill, and there was more damage going round than I had expected. As someone who always runs as a healer, I'm used to killing things slowly, but this was something else. It turns out that I wasn't the only one, and Bioware has already announced that they will reduce both boss health and damage as well as the number of mobs in the flashpoint in the next patch. While I'm glad to be able to say that I got in there and did it all "pre-nerf", I think the move does make sense.  FibroJedi, who has a disability that makes long and intense play sessions painful, came out on Twitter to talk about what a literal pain the flashpoint had been for him, and that's just not right. I've always said that if you intentionally make an easy mode for people to just see the story, then it needs to be easy enough to actually fulfil that purpose. With a return to telling story through flashpoints, you also have to consider that these don't work like KotFE and KotET's chapter format, where you can just pause in the middle. A flashpoint has to be done in one session or it will reset after a while. (That said, since I'm not the kind of player who is the target audience for easy solo modes, I'd still appreciate not being forced into them. /forlornly waves her little "let story advance in groups again" flag)

So what exactly is it that has been deemed to need nerfing and reducing? Well, let's talk about the trash first. My first impression of it was actually quite positive. Many of the trash mobs on Copero, especially in the first section, have distinctive abilities that you are pretty much forced to take notice of, so you can't just round them all up for AoE without a care in the world. That said, this positive first impression wore off once I realised that two of the most prevalent abilities are an instant flash grenade (stun) and an instant-cast shield that makes the mob immune to damage for several seconds. Being instant casts, neither of them can be reliably avoided, but at the same time there is no real consequence to them either other than that they just cause everything to take longer. The flashbang breaks on damage so you're not going to die from being stunned, it just means you stand there for a couple of seconds doing nothing while the mob ignores you. Likewise, the immunity shield just means that you're not able to do damage for a couple of seconds. Where is the fun gameplay in that?

What's also noteworthy is that at least in the first section of the flashpoint (the resort), the mob groups are quite tightly packed, to a degree that we haven't seen in game in a while. Personally I didn't really mind that, but a lot of players did, to the point that Dulfy's recommended strategy for dealing with the trash is to suicide run to the nearest medical droid because dying and reviving further in is deemed to be more efficient than actually fighting things. If you have a stealther in the group, they can avoid the mobs in the first area in their entirety, and if the rest of the group then commits suicide after the stealther has briefly engaged the first boss, they'll immediately respawn right next to them. I tried the latter once and it felt weird. I actually don't mind killing trash all that much in a group - all those silver and gold mobs give pretty decent CXP too. But when you've got characters jumping into the sea instead of actually fighting and it results in faster advancement, something is definitely wrong. We'll see what things are like after Bioware culls the Chiss' numbers on Tuesday.


The first boss, a big droid, is my least favourite of the lot and probably many other people's too, based on the comments I've seen. Part of this is probably that he's currently the most egregious hitpoint sponge in the instance, but we'll see what that's like after the nerf. Even without that though, he's just kind of... boring. Basically he's got two abilities that you need to avoid, and he spawns a lot of adds that take ages to kill. This last part is actually the one thing that's at least somewhat interesting, as the idea seems to be for players to kill adds selectively for a change. The smaller ones without a lot of health are best off killed because they do more damage, but the big "tank droids"  - the clue is in the name - might as well be ignored, as they take ages to kill, do little damage and don't multiply if you ignore them (however, killed ones do get replaced quite quickly). On master mode we just opted to kill one of them to give ourselves a bit of room to move (as you otherwise end up with pretty much the whole room covered in circles to avoid).

I've also seen it suggested to just ignore all the adds, but I reckon that would be a bit painful to heal through and likely lead to disaster in a pug group. I'm not sure how feasible it would be in a veteran mode run with no healer at all. In a group of random people, you're probably better off taking a bit longer and killing more adds just to play it safe.

The second boss is a Chiss sniper whose gimmick is that she moves up and down between two floors and summons a lot of adds (even more on master mode). This was actually the fight that gave my own master mode group the most trouble, as the adds are just all over the place and hit pretty hard. The trick seems to be to control carefully just when and where to kill them, especially near the end, taking out the last group just before the boss hits 25% health and goes into her last ground phase, at which point you try to burn her down quickly. Otherwise you get the little buggers running all over the place and killing people.

Like in Crisis on Umbara, there is a challenging bonus boss that doesn't require a quest chain to unlock, you just need to know where to look. This fight is probably the most intriguing encounter in the whole flashpoint, managing to be interesting simply through a peculiar combination of mechanics. It's a walker that gets plopped down on a narrow platform on the mountainside, buffed by a probe droid that is immune to damage and occasionally reinforced by a small group of soldiers. On solo mode you can pretty much get away with just tunnelling the boss, occasionally taking out adds and avoiding fire. However, on master mode, the walker itself has an unavoidable knockback that can send everyone flying off the platform and the probe droid needs to be stopped from healing and buffing it too much.

The solution to the first is that the tank needs to position himself with his back towards the walkway you used to enter the area, so he only gets knocked onto that, while the rest of the group huddles near a bunch of boxes on the other side so you always bounce off those when the knockback comes. And throughout all of that, people have to cycle through interrupts, stuns and longer-duration crowd controls (though the probe droid refuses to be controlled for longer than 20 seconds at a time) to keep the probe droid locked down. As a healer my job was actually the easiest one, as me helping out with probe droid control was welcome but optional. It was actually pretty damn fascinating to watch our two damage dealers continuously dart back and forth between the boss to do damage and the support droid to cycle through all their interrupts and stuns. I'd imagine it to be quite difficult to achieve this level of co-ordination in a pug though.


Up next we have a sort of second bonus boss, a giant ice cat that you're actually not supposed to fight but simply pass by after pacifying it with a piece of fruit. (Ooh, so clever!) However, if you want to, you can kill it anyway and get an achievement for it. (Poor kitty.) The only thing to really discourage you from doing that is the fact that the cat has an absolutely monstrous amount of health and therefore takes a very, very long time to kill. On master mode it also has a highly deadly, channelled attack that places a stacking dot on the target which will pretty much insta-kill if it isn't interrupted within a second or so. So again, our damage dealers had to rotate their interrupts. There literally is nothing else to the fight, but even one mistake will most likely cause you to wipe. Is that good design? I don't know, but I have to admit the relentlessness of the interrupt requirement gave me fond flashbacks to my prime raiding days in WoW (it made me think of Reliquary of Souls phase two, if that means anything to anyone).

What follows next is a series of puzzles with few trash mobs: having to start a machine to melt an ice wall, navigating a little maze with lasers in it etc. Initially I found this really refreshing, and I still think it's a neat idea, but what makes the whole concept fall down on repetition is that the "puzzles" never change and that there are no consequences to getting them wrong. For example the part you need to start the machine is always hidden behind the leftmost door up on the hill, which is easy to remember so you'll only ever open any wrong doors the first time. And the lasers in the maze do so little damage, even on master mode, that you don't really have to bother with deactivating them but might as well just run through to the end right away.

The final boss is a slightly confusing one. First off, he has a new mechanic that causes him to be invisible to you if you aren't in close proximity during his last phase. (The new operations boss Nahut is based on the same basic idea by the way.) That's good for a little game of hide and seek near the end when he decides to temporarily disengage, but doesn't really add anything else. Aside from that, he once again just has a few things to dodge and at least one attack that you can't really do much about, an instant stun. Somewhat bizarrely, he's probably the easiest boss in the instance.

Also, he has some sort of mechanic that I haven't really figured out yet and haven't really seen any in-depth information about anywhere either. There are some pillars around the courtyard in which you fight him, and if you hide behind one of them when he fires certain abilities, it actually crumbles! I thought maybe he was like Kephess in Terror from Beyond and would take increased damage if you managed to drop the pillar on his head, but I couldn't get that to work. When trying again on master mode today, I noticed that the pillar actually fell apart into a bunch of rocks that the boss then hurled at us! So breaking the pillar actually gives him more ammunition? Even though it's clearly not necessary to beat the encounter, I hate feeling like I'm missing something here. Feel free to share in the comments if you have any more information about this mechanic.


So, after more than two thousand words, what's my verdict on A Traitor Among the Chiss? Yay or nay?

Despite of my initial ranting at the start of this post, it's a definitive yay. I love how much effort clearly went into designing the environment for this flashpoit, and you can tell the designers tried really hard to come up with some creative and new ideas mechanics-wise as well. Unfortunately the tuning for some of them was off, but they were quick to promise fixes for the worst issues. It's just a shame that they couldn't make the trash mobs' abilities actually reward smart play (for example by making the immunity shields an interruptible cast) and give actual replay value to the puzzles.

05/12/2017

Pugette Hit 70


After seven months of (near) weekly recording of her adventures with random groups in the group finder, Pugette the Commando has hit level 70! Her actual /played time is pretty short though, only 1(!) day and 9 hours, which once again reinforces my impression that flashpoints are actually a pretty good way to level but also that levelling is just super fast in general nowadays.

I got to finish on a nice round number after exactly 30 episodes. Towards the end I decided to ditch the random queueing in favour of choosing some specific destinations, to make sure that I would go out on a bang instead of by blitzing through yet another randomly assigned Hammer Station, and I think it worked out great, with several of the last few episodes being (in my opinion) among the best ones of the whole run. The only thing that could be considered an issue with them is length (if you don't actually like long videos), as two of them ended up taking close to one and a half hours in the end. Either way, without further ado, here's a list of the final six episodes with links:

Episode 25: Racism in Progress in False Emperor - Even though I always had the option to accept in-progress runs ticked, this was the first and only time I actually got into one, with the group already standing at the second boss in False Emperor. My entrance was kind of overshadowed by one of the pugs greeting Pugette (who, unlike me, has dark skin) with a racist term. That was just so confusing, I had no idea how to react. I let it go and moved on and nothing else offensive was said, but it was certainly a strange experience.

Episode 26: Thinking About The Future in Assault on Tython - After having already bested this flashpoint on master mode in an earlier episode, veteran mode felt very easy, and I mostly used the opportunity to do some speculating about the changes coming to the group finder in patch 5.6. I was wrong about pretty much all of it by the way.

Episode 27: Noobing It Up in Blood Hunt - At last, the flashpoint I had been simultaneously dreading and looking forward to since I started this series. All things considered, it didn't go too badly, though we did have the inevitable wipes on Jos and Valk. I also always find this flashpoint to be a bit of a team-building exercise, and our dps Commando in particular had me in stitches at times, which made for a very fun run.

Episode 28: Going Old School in MM Lost Island - I got this one as a random quite often lately, and every time I was surprised by how smoothly it went. This run was not like that. However, it was still fun because people took the wipes in stride and tried hard to do better. When we finally bested the last boss, it sure felt very satisfying.

Episode 29: Reliving Fond Memories in MM Kaon Under Siege - This one was much easier than Lost Island and I mostly used it as an opportunity to reminisce about all the good times I had in this flashpoint and how it provided all kinds of memorable moments for me in the past.

Episode 30: Pug Interrupted in Traitor Among the Chiss - This is the one in which Pugette finally hit 70, and also the first one in which she encountered a type of obstacle she hadn't run into before (I won't spoil what it is). Just prepare to be exposed to some eardrum-bursting laughter at one point...

What's in store for Pugette and the channel next? Well, as for Pugette, I'm planning to keep her "pure" and out of guild runs, limited to what she can achieve in the pug world, but first on the agenda is probably finishing her class story up to the end of Coruscant at least so that she can finally get her ship and make that damn galaxy map icon stop flashing.

As for the channel... to be honest, I don't know! I was pleasantly surprised by how many subs and views I gained while recording this series, especially considering that the original purpose of the channel was just to have a place to upload boss kill videos for my guild and the like. I do think I would like to record a "season two" of pug adventures and I do already have an idea for it as well, but even if I do go ahead with it I won't actually put my plan into action until early next year. You'll just have to content yourself with reading the blog in the meantime. /wink

02/12/2017

A Traitor Among the Chiss - The Story

Just like with Crisis on Umbara, I'd like to make two separate posts to talk about the new flashpoint Traitor Among the Chiss: one about the mechanical side of it and one about the story. Unlike with Umbara, I'd like to start with the story his time around and talk about the mechanics later.

As usual, this means: spoiler warning! Though I was shocked by how little Bioware themselves seemed to care about that this time, considering that they spoiled Umbara's big twist in the very patch notes for 5.6...

Either way, let me start by saying that I enjoyed the story of this one a lot more than that of Crisis on Umbara. Admittedly my first thought on initial completion was that not very much happened in this flashpoint, but on replaying it I realised that there was actually more going on than I initially thought; it's just more subtle. After some of the clunkers delivered in Crisis on Umbara, that felt like a welcome change.

I liked the intro with Raina Temple and Aristocra Saganu - not just because we're getting another one of the original companions back as part of the main storyline, but also because I like Bioware bringing back minor characters for another run. I also feel like I really, really need to bring my main agent up to speed now so she can see what class-specific dialogue there is in this bit of the story. Worse, I kind of feel like I should level my Chiss sniper who romanced Saganu too, just to see what that changes. Damn you, Bioware...


Anyway, then we're off to chase Theron. In my Umbara story post, I said: Hopefully we won't be chasing Theron for the next couple of patches. Yet here we are of course. Surprisingly, I didn't mind that much.

Actually, let me go off on a tangent here. I realised the other day that the ending of the main Eternal Throne story has put Bioware into a tricky situation in more than one way. Not only is the Eternal Alliance way too powerful to be challenged by much of anything, but there is no clear direction for the story to continue, and that is a problem.

When a player chooses a class at level one, they sign up for a particular kind of plot, and Bioware knows how to appeal to them. If you roll a trooper, you expect a story about fighting for the Republic. The choices you get to make throughout the process allow you to fine-tune the experience, turning into a benevolent hero of the people or a bit of an opportunistic asshole who just likes to shoot things, but the overall direction remains the same. Nobody would create a trooper and then be disappointed that they can't run off to join the Empire.

The story of the Outlander - even if we disregard all the issues with whether it's appropriate for your class to become the Outlander to begin with - was all about fighting the Eternal Empire, an opponent that is now gone. As a result you're left with a bunch of players who may all want completely different things from the story going forward. Some may want to go out and conquer the galaxy. Some may want to trash the Eternal Fleet and step off the galactic stage to focus on smaller issues again. Some way want to side with the Empire. Some may want to help the Republic. Many of these motivations are at direct odds with each other, so there is no single direction you could take to please everyone or even most people. So where do you go from here?

Making a story arc focused on one of our companions makes sense at this point because it avoids the issue by simply ignoring it. It doesn't matter what exactly we want to do with the Eternal Fleet if we don't have to make a choice about it because we're not doing anything where it would actually come in handy. And while you can still get people like me that grumble that they don't like Theron that much and aren't there more important things to worry about than chasing him around the galaxy anyway, at least it's not something that feels utterly wrong for any character. With that in mind, I've decided to embrace this arc and roll with it.

To get back to the actual flashpoint's story, Saganu tells you that Theron is hiding on the Chiss world of Copero, sheltering under the roof of a Chiss miscreant who is too powerful to be taken out openly - but if the Outlander just happened to kill her while chasing Theron Shan it would be most welcome. That... feels a lot less contrived than anything that happened on Umbara, well done.


I also really liked the use of environmental voice-overs during the early part of the flashpoint to give you a bit of time to talk to Temple. More importantly, at one point you pass a holo terminal where a news bulletin is running which updates you on what's been happening with the Republic and the Empire after the events of Iokath. If you sided with the Republic, you learn that Empress Acina has been supplanted by Emperor Vowrawn (last seen kneeling to Emperor Arcann in KotFE chapter two). If you sided with the Empire, you hear that Chancellor Madon has resigned (looks like Calph's burning desire to finally find out more about him won't be sated any time soon) and has been succeeded by Galena Rans. (Is that the former Supreme Commander Rans or a relative? I have no idea what his first name is actually.) As someone who always devours every bit of info about what's going on with our old factions I appreciated the way they managed to fit that in there without making things too complicated.

Anyway, you have no trouble locating the Chiss miscreant and taking her out. Unfortunately Theron played her too and is already on his way out again. You run to catch his shuttle but he gets away again. The big revelation comes at the end when you see Theron talking to the masked guy from Umbara again and he reveals that the mysterious order he is working for is basically another branch of the Heralds of Zildrog. Okay, that's... not totally surprising I guess? But on Zakuul those guys were a bit of a joke, how can they be such a big threat now?

The above paragraph sort of sums up how I saw the flashpoint after my first playthrough. It's all fine and well, but we didn't really accomplish anything here, did we?

The main thing I realised on my second playthrough is that this flashpoint more or less confirms the theory that Theron is actually a double agent. It's easy to miss the first time because you don't know what it is, but you see Theron switch on a little device when he talks to the Herald at the end. Afterwards you get a message from Hylo that she was able to intercept a transmission that basically reveals Theron's conversation with the Herald. Coincidence? Clearly not when the recorded message is exactly the bit of conversation that happened after Theron switched on the little device! So while our characters still don't officially know, it's pretty clear to us as players that Theron isn't really on those guys' side.

Then there is the star map that reveals Theron's next destination. Bioware has already hinted that the next story update will take us to a planet we likely didn't expect to return to, but now we know the details. Well, if one can read star maps that is. I don't, so I still don't really have a clue. If you were able to make out where Theron is going next, do let me know in the comments!


Finally, I liked the nuances many of the cut scenes delivered. I liked the conversation where you are asked to pass judgement on Syndic Zenta for example. She's not exactly sympathetic, but she hasn't done anything to make you hate her either, and you know virtually nothing about just why she's so hated by the other Chiss. The usually rather charming Saganu's pressure to kill her on the spot feels uncomfortable. It's something that made me think twice even on my dark-sided Marauder.

The cut scenes with Theron and Valss are also a joy to behold - their faces tell so much yet leave you guessing about even more. Theron is clearly somewhat uncomfortable with what he's doing, but also seems to hold a certain affection for Valss, while the latter's face repeatedly shines with an almost religious zeal. It makes you wonder what the story is between those two - could be good material for a short story to post on the website or something.

What are your impressions of the Copero storyline? I've seen a lot of people talk about the mechanics this time (which I will cover in another post) but I haven't seen much feedback about the actual events of the flashpoint other than that people hate Theron's new haircut. (No shock there.)

30/11/2017

Day 10: Death #IntPiPoMo

Wondering what the hashtag in the title is all about? Click here. Want to know all the themes that I have used for my 10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots? You can find the full list here.

Time for my last IntPiPoMo post! Don't worry, thoughts on the new patch will follow next month - which starts tomorrow!


For a change of pace, I thought I'd start the death-themed post not with one of my own deaths, but instead with that of an NPC. Bioware sure allowed the player characters to run amok during KotET, letting us kill people left and right if we wanted to do so!


I already posted pictures of my guild wiping on hardmode Master and Blaster last year. The more things change, the more they stay the same. I just liked how we remained on fire here even after death, because clearly we weren't dead enough yet.


I saved this screenshot because I liked how my character managed to look somewhat dejected even in death. Damn that bonus boss in master mode Crisis on Umbara...


This one I liked because generally when you fall to your death on Esne and Aivela, you just die instantly without actually reaching the floor, so I was amused and surprised when I actually did hit rock bottom for a change and got to have a look around the scenery there for a bit.


A regular wipe on Esne and Aivela looks more like this instead. Still haven't killed them on veteran mode, but we also decided to give these two a break for a while some time ago. We'll get them eventually.

Final IntPiPoMo count: 77

27/11/2017

Day 9: Silly #IntPiPoMo

Want to know what the hashtag is all about? Read all about International Picture Posting Month here. Want to see the full list of themes I'm following while posting screenshots throughout the month? You can find it here.

You know what the "silly" theme means, right? Time for some "interesting" character names and chat!


Not a bad likeness, though I'd see him as more of a Scoundrel than a Sith warrior...


Also: Full pun points for this guy.


Nothing to do with names, just an interesting thing to see on one of the rare occasions that I looked at general chat.


One time after rolling a new character I encountered two lowbie smugglers duelling right outside the cantina on Ord Mantell. Both had their Corso set to healing and were therefore unable to damage each other in any meaningful way. I just found that amusing.


This is me looking longingly after a dead mob that my pet tank knocked to its death inside a Star Fortress. Most of my guildies consider my obsession to not leave any shinies behind ridiculous, but at times like these, it's a hard life...


People who've run Eternity Vault many times will probably be familiar with the trash skipping run inside the jungle biome. I swear Bioware is aware of it as well and tries to sabotage it every so often, because I'm reasonably certain that those manka cats weren't always where they are now! Anyway, during one such run I was amused that someone had actually highlighted part of the way with some  raid markers in an attempt to prevent people from pulling adds or falling into the lava. Not that that ever works...
 

Some people might feel embarrassed when running into someone else wearing the same outfit as themselves, but not me! In fact, I was absolutely delighted when I randomly encountered this handsome chap on the fleet who just happened to wear the exact same set of gear as me and with the same dye in it as well. It wasn't even something from the Cartel Market, so what were the odds?


Trying to take selfies while mounted can lead to strange results, that's all I'm saying.

IntPiPoMo count: 72

26/11/2017

MMOs I've Played

While this blog is about Star Wars: The Old Republic, and SWTOR is the game I spend by the far the most time on these days, I have on occasion tried other MMOs. Sometimes I've even talked about the experience on here, but not always. Either way, I thought it would be interesting to write a little summary of all the MMOs I've tried over the years. It's not that many in the grand scheme of things, because I'm ridiculously picky when it comes to even trying a new game, but there's almost always a funny story there.

World of Warcraft

Alright, so I won't say that much about this one other than that it's where it all began in 2006. My first MMO and I loved it. I played nothing else for several years. I learned what raiding was and enjoyed it. I met people and fell in love. I moved to a different country. Playing WoW helped me find a job. It changed my life.

However, by 2012, I didn't like it all that much anymore and made the move to SWTOR. I went back once during Mists of Pandaria because my pet tank gifted me a couple of months of play time (I think to spite me after we'd had an argument about pandas). In 2015, I discovered private servers and the Vanilla WoW retro experience, something I engaged with on and off again. I'm looking forward to WoW Classic now.

I also have a blog about it, where I wrote about my adventures regularly from 2009 to 2011 and where I also documented the above-mentioned MoP stint and my private server adventures.

Champions Online

In 2009, I still wasn't really interested in playing anything other than WoW, but my then-boyfriend gifted me a copy of Champions Online for some reason, so we tried that together. I created a character called Val(k)yrie and took a screenshot of her. I also created another character, a little green reptile person, of whom I unfortunately never took a screenshot. The character creator seemed pretty amazing.


Unfortunately, the game was utterly unplayable for me. In theory, my old PC met the minimum requirements, but even with the graphics turned down, the game was nothing but a slideshow and my input with keyboard and mouse only caused erratic responses, if any at all. I struggled to even move around and only made it through the starter area by basically having my partner complete all the quests for me while I clumsily tagged along. When we moved on to the next area, I fell off the platform we arrived on and somehow managed to wedge myself into a corner I couldn't get out of, not with how unreliable the movement controls were for me anyway. I sighed and logged off, never to be seen again.

It's a testament to the strength of the character creator that I actually found myself missing those barely-played characters in a burst of nostalgia the other day, to the point that I contacted Cryptic's customer service to ask if my account could still be recovered somehow. (When I downloaded the game and logged in, with the same credentials I used back in the day, nothing was there.) The answer seemed to be "maybe", but only if I created an entirely new Arc account because for some reason they couldn't link my old account to my current one. That was more effort than I was willing to go to in the end.

Warhammer Online

Fun fact: Warhammer Online was what got me into World of Warcraft. How does that work? Well, my boyfriend at the time was into tabletop gaming and introduced me to the world of Warhammer and Warhammer 40k. Somehow, while reading up on these online, I came across the site for a game called Warhammer Online, which sounded amazing! Unfortunately it was still several years away from release. But there was this similar game called World of Warcraft... the rest is history.

By the time WAR actually came out, I was way too engrossed in WoW to care about anything else. Though I remember a friend of mine playing it and getting all glassy-eyed when he told me about his dwarf standing shoulder to shoulder with other dwarves to hold off an orc attack, saying it was the most fun he'd ever had in PvP.

Anyway, I did eventually get around to trying the game, but not until early 2011, by which point it offered a free trial. It wasn't easy to find though, as EA seemed to already have more or less abandoned maintaining the website at the time.


Again, my then-boyfriend and I went in as a team, me as a warrior priest and him as a bright wizard. The starter area seemed okay, though not particularly exciting. I do remember being impressed by the first public event we encountered, as I hadn't seen anything like it before, though I also remember the scoreboard it had being super confusing to me.

However, by the time we got to the next area, the population thinned out drastically, and the next public event we encountered proved too much for just the two of us. (These things didn't scale at the time.) We made a note to come back later, but then never did. RIP WAR.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

No need to go into any detail on this one, that's what this whole blog is about!

Neverwinter

Initially it looked like Neverwinter was going to be just another experiment with friends, as everyone including myself lost interest in it within a month, but then we came back to try again and since then I've never entirely gone off it. I have a blog about this one as well, though I only update it sporadically, just like I'm going through phases of playing the game a lot or not at all.

I think it complements SWTOR very well on my gaming menu in that it's completely different - not just because of fantasy vs. sci-fi but also in that its appeal lies very much in the moment-to-moment gameplay/combat, while the story is rather weak, which is pretty much the opposite of how SWTOR works. It's also the game that taught me what it's like to play something casually but still be attached to it. Before that I never truly understood how someone could like an MMO but not want to go all in with it and play it all the time. Neverwinter showed me how that can work.

Star Trek Online

I was pulled into STO by my pet tank and he more or less carried me all the way to the level cap. I wrote a post about it at the time. In hindsight it's a bit surprising to me just how positive that post ended up sounding, because in the end I left the game with a somewhat sour feeling. I seem to remember that it had just had an update, with me once again expecting my pet tank to help me through the new content, but he got distracted by something else, so I eventually just logged off with a sigh... and never came back.

While I liked the setting, I just couldn't abide the combat, whether on the ground or in space. I'd like to say that to me, gameplay doesn't matter as much in an MMO as things like setting, but STO proved me wrong in so far as it showed me that no matter how much I like the setting, if I can't log in and simply have some fun playing, even while on my own, it's just not going to last. The things I actually remember liking the most were the little mini games involved in scanning space anomalies and mining dilithium, flying around searching for good duty officer missions and chasing epohhs on New Romulus, none of which had anything to do with the core game.

Elder Scrolls Online

My relationship with ESO is weird. I have no connection to the Elder Scrolls franchise and had no interest in playing this at first, but a friend gifted me a beta key so I thought I'd give it a try for a weekend so his gift wouldn't feel wasted. And I liked it quite a lot! This was during the period when everyone was bashing it as buggy, boring and uninspired, mind you. Even though I knew that I wasn't going to play it at launch, I vowed to myself that I was going to keep an eye on it.

Some time after it dropped the mandatory subscription and reduced its box price, I bought a copy from Amazon. I didn't actually have enough disk space to install it at the time, but again I told myself that I was going to get around to it eventually.

Finally, after another one and a half years of the game sitting shrink-wrapped next to my desk, I had a chance to install it. By now, people had also changed their minds about it and were praising it as so much better than at launch! I logged in, amused to find myself gifted with a free monkey pet for having participated in the beta more than three years ago, played through the tutorial... and then logged off again, never to return.

I'm still telling myself that I'll get back to it eventually, but I just haven't felt any itch to return to it at all since I actually played the live version. Maybe all that waiting caused me to subconsciously hype it up in my head to expect more from it than it could deliver and that's why I ended up disappointed when I actually logged in again? Sometimes I don't quite understand myself.

Lord of the Rings Online

I wrote about trying out LOTRO earlier this year. We were having a reasonably good time with it, even though it was really showing its age by overwhelming new players with lots of confusing systems. I ended that post by noting that we were going to try the first dungeon next.

That's another funny story actually. Everyone kept telling us not to use the group finder because "nobody uses it". I took this with a grain of salt in the same way that "nobody" uses the group finder to get random ops groups in SWTOR - the experienced players mostly form their groups in chat, but there are people queueing through the interface too. These groups are just rarer and more prone to failure. I really wanted to see whether LOTRO worked the same way, plus I was honestly a bit shy about putting a group together in chat since I knew so little about the different classes and what sort of setup would be desirable.

The problem turned out to be this: We couldn't actually figure out how to use the group finder interface. How silly is that? Our one attempt to use it just ended up teleporting us inside the instance with only the two of us. That didn't go so well. I actually went to reddit afterwards to ask for advice and it turned out that we had used the wrong one of the many tabs of LOTRO's group finder tool. I planned to give it another try later, but then Secret World Legends came out and my pet tank was all over that instead, so LOTRO fell by the wayside. I still want to conquer the Great Barrow some day.

Secret World Legends

I wrote a first impressions post about that one as well, but unlike with LOTRO we've managed to stay surprisingly loyal to it. We don't play every weekend, but we have kept coming back to it and are nearly done with Tokyo now. I have a post in my drafts folder that details my "second impressions" of the game, which I will put up whenever we manage to finish the current storyline.

I think the takeaway from this history of my MMO experiences is that it takes a strong IP as well as social hooks for me to want to try something new, and both friends and fun gameplay to make me want to hang around. I guess with people like me it's not surprising that new games are having a hard time establishing themselves in a crowded market.

24/11/2017

Day 8: Memorable Moments #IntPiPoMo

Want to know what the hashtag is all about? Read all about International Picture Posting Month here. Want to see the full list of themes I'm following while posting screenshots throughout the month? You can find it here.

This day's theme is always interesting because a lot of my memorable moments relate to raiding, so I'm always curious how much else I'll be able to come up with. I didn't do too badly this time I think.


First off, we have this simple moment of encountering a particularly interesting individual on the fleet. I'm not usually in the habit of inspecting other people's achievements, but a guildie had done so and drew attention to the fact that this guy had 100% completion on absolutely everything except Iokath, but that had only just come out a few days ago at the time this happened. I'm still amazed that someone like that even exists, considering how varied and sometimes challenging some of the achievements are. That this person was in a guild called "Not Good Enough" only added a delicious bit of irony.


Here is me mastering my very first ship on Imperial side. This wasn't even that long ago! I just don't play that much GSF, and I've hardly played at all on Imp side. However, Galactic Command has made it really attractive to play the occasional match on a character whose Command level you're trying to increase, especially if GSF is the bonus activity of the day. By now, I'm not far off mastering the rest of the ships in this character's hangar either.


Okay, this is a bad memory, but there's nothing in the rules to say that all the memories have to be nice ones. It does make for a good story though. If you enlarge the screenshot, you'll see that my team ended this match with zero kills, while the highest placed person on the enemy team finished with 99. Yes, you read that correctly, ninety-nine kills for one person in a single match! How did that happen?

Well, somehow we ended up in an incredibly unbalanced Voidstar, pointlessly smashing our heads against the wall during the initial attack round with no chance in hell of getting anywhere. At least when that happens, the second round is usually over really quickly because you get steamrolled on defense too, and the game ends as soon as the enemy breaches the first door. The problem here was that the Imps decided that they didn't actually care about the objective because they were going to win on kills anyway and instead chose to prolong the match as much as possible by completely ignoring the door so they could farm kills instead. The reason I "only" died six times is that once I realised what was happening, I went to hide in a corner instead of throwing myself into the meat grinder over and over again. Stuff like this is why PvPers have a reputation for being jerks.


This is my Sorcerer during KotFE chapter 14 and the reason this moment was memorable to me was that it was the first time I realised how to do the bonus mission in this area properly - only took me five runs or so... The bonus objective in question is to either kill skytroopers or to destroy their assembly line, and I had always felt forced to go with killing the troopers simply because I couldn't figure out how to destroy the assembly line! Turns out the problem was once again that I simply don't look up enough.


This is Shintank, the character I created on Tomb of Freedon Nadd for the Hammer Station Experiment. That was memorable! Now that she got merged into the rest of my legacy I'm actually not sure what to do with her...


Finally, this is me coming out as top damage on my dps Commando in an Ancient Hypergate! This isn't really something to be proud of because I only ended up so high because nobody else hit very high numbers and the enemy let me free-cast a lot. Still, considering I hardly ever even play as dps, that was definitely a result worth screenshotting!

IntPiPoMo count: 62

21/11/2017

Day 7: Team #IntPiPoMo

Want to know what the hashtag is all about? Read all about International Picture Posting Month here. Want to see the full list of themes I'm following while posting screenshots throughout the month? You can find it here.


As always with this theme, I have to start with my pet tank. I like how this shot makes it look like my character is gazing up at him adoringly. I already bemoaned last year that his interest in the game had been waning and that he was only really logging in for operations most of the time, yet another year's gone by and here we are still. I'm not letting him get away!


Funnily enough, playing relatively little doesn't stop my pet tank from spending money on the game. I'm always baffled when he suddenly whips out a mount from the newest hypercrate. I absolutely fell in love with the Mighty Kath Hound when I first saw him on one and decided to buy one for myself on the GTN. So we've been riding matching mounts for most of the past year.


I'm so glad they included some of these group cut scenes in Crisis on Umbara, even if they sadly don't have any dialogue. Love all the exaggerated faces our characters make in them!


When my guildies and I aren't running new flashpoints, we're still goofing off in operations several times a week. I realised the other day that last month it's actually been five years since I joined my guild. Would you believe it?

This selection of screenshots kind of makes it look like I only play with my pet tank and my guild nowadays, but that's not true. However, I've been taking fewer screenshots of my random groups since I started recording videos about them (because it feels a bit redundant) and my community collaborations in the past year were all of the non-photogenic kind (being a guest on not one, but two podcasts!). Still, food for thought, hmm...

IntPiPoMo count: 56 - that's the target of 50 hit once again, but I got three more days of themed screenshots to go!

19/11/2017

Three Cheers for Swtorista

In case you've never heard of Swtorista - maybe because you're only playing SWTOR very casually; I can hardly fathom another reason - she is one of the game's biggest community contributors these days and recently got to celebrate hitting 20,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel (which has been sitting on my sidebar under "SWTOR Content on YouTube" for quite a while now). I have to admit that I haven't actually watched that many of her videos myself, because a lot of them are geared towards new players which means that I'm not really the target audience, but it's still great to see someone be such a force for good in the community, always bursting with positive energy and being interested in what people have to say. Also, she mains a trooper. Do I even need to add anything else?

Anyway, as is her style, she celebrated her new subscriber milestone by being generous and holding many giveaways, but also with some events. Yesterday I spotted that one of them was happening just an hour before my usual ops time, an easy time to jump in and have a look!

The premise was simple: Meet on Tatooine and do the "no bones" dance together, which Swtorista says is her favourite. Since it's an emote that has to be unlocked, she even hoarded a lot of them to give out for free so people would be able to join the dancing without having to spend any money. Fortunately I didn't require one because I have most of the emotes unlocked account-wide, I just don't always remember to go in and claim them until I actually want to dance and notice that everything is greyed out. And yes, I did have an eligible character on the Star Forge, where the event was being held, because that's where my Cathar Commando from the Ebon Hawk has ended up after the merges.

I arrived on Tatooine pretty bang on time and was surprised to be put into instance five of the planet already. I mean, we all know how the game's instancing works on a basic level, but it was kind of surprising how quickly it started spawning new ones. Tatooine 5 hadn't even hit 50 people by the time Tatooine 6 started showing up.


People starting to gather in instance 5.

Swtorista herself was in Tatooine 1 of course, which was a bit disappointing for everyone who couldn't make it there. However, at one point she hit on the fact that the game would give some leeway if you were friends with a person in another instance and announced this on chat. I added her to my friends list and bingo! Immediately the game prompted me to transfer to Tatooine 1, despite of it showing as full on the map menu. Unfortunately there still seemed to be a hard cap on how many people it would let into a single instance of the planet, as I never saw Tatooine 1 go above 99, and I don't think everyone in the other instances was just that bad at following instructions.


Stalking the hostess.

I thought about saying hi, but there were so many people shouting in chat, all wanting to see Swtorista of course, that I decided things were probably overwhelming enough as it were and I was just going to "hang out" and enjoy the event. Emotes were handed out all around, though not everyone was happy: Some people discovered too late that completely free-to-play accounts weren't allowed to trade and therefore couldn't receive the emote either way. I think some of the attendees in the other instances also felt a bit abandoned, which I could understand. Obviously Swtorista could only be in one place at a time, but I didn't really understand why she couldn't send some of the "assistants" she had brought into the other instances to hand out emotes there too and provide some direction. Then again, there seemed to be talk happening on voice chat on top of all the shouting in text chat, which I wasn't privy to, so maybe it was explained there.


Either way, eventually most people in instance 1 at least were ready to do the dance, so we did! It was just a bit of silliness and didn't last long, but it was still fun to just see so many players coming together out in the world. The whole thing really highlighted the limitations of SWTOR's instancing system however - while it makes perfect sense to limit the number of people in one place at any given time to avoid overcrowding in daily areas and such, when you just want to have a social gathering it's not very fun to be forcefully kept apart. I guess Bioware wants us to stick to the fleet, which is intended to be a social space and supports much bigger numbers.

In any case, it was a memorable little event (they went on to do some more things afterwards I think, but by then it was time for my guild's ops night), so thanks, Swtorista! Here's to your next ten thousand subscribers.

18/11/2017

Day 6: Environments #IntPiPoMo

Want to know what the hashtag is all about? Read all about International Picture Posting Month here. Want to see the full list of themes I'm following while posting screenshots throughout the month? You can find it here.


While we spend relatively little time in space in SWTOR, I always find the view from space, usually showing our ship(s) approaching a planet, absolutely gorgeous. Here we have the Gravestone and the Eternal Fleet approaching the Dyson Sphere of Iokath for the first time.


I really love the overgrown parts of Iokath you get to explore in KotET chapter four. It's a shame that there isn't more of that later on; it's all so pretty. (Also, only tangentially related: While I don't consider my Marauder very photogenic in general, she has a way of looking great in shots like this that focus on her silhouette. Or is it just me?)


Also on Iokath, but inside the Gods from the Machine operation. Despite of having said it many times, I'm still bad at following my own advice to look up more often. The first time I noticed this massive contraption on the ceiling of Tyth's room, I went "whoaaa" and drew the whole group's attention to it, leading to a discussion of what exactly Tyth needs a giant extractor fan for.


The ceiling in Esne and Aivela's room is similarly impressive.


Everyone knows that Alderaan is easily one of the most gorgeous planets in the game, but here, too, you can be surprised by looking up occasionally. Even if flying space whale/ray hybrids are ridiculous.


Sticking with the theme of looking up, here's my Cathar agent pausing on her way to confront her chapter three baddies for the final time to take in the chandeliers. I think that's the same or at least a similar style to what they use in the Shrine of Healing on Voss...


This was taken on Balmorra. It looks eerily pretty in a way, doesn't it? As long as you don't start thinking about the fact that the green stuff dripping from the ceiling is Colicoid goo...


Finally, it was Rav who highlighted last year that many places on Zakuul have a certain beauty to them that most people probably don't even notice while rushing through the story chapters. So I took a break during KotET chapter nine to appreciate this "indoor park" before continuing on my way to save the planet.

IntPiPoMo count: 46

15/11/2017

Day 5: NPCs #IntPiPoMo

Want to know what the hashtag is all about? Read all about International Picture Posting Month here. Want to see the full list of themes I'm following while posting screenshots throughout the month? You can find it here.


I had this idea for a post called "my five favourite Nautolan NPCs" or something along those lines at one point, but then I realised that I didn't actually have screenshots of most of them and I was too lazy to go out hunting for the right pictures. One such NPC that I do have a picture of is Leeha Narezz from the Jedi knight story. She seems like a bit of a one-note character at first with her droid obsession, but later it turns out that there was more to her than meets the eye... 

 
Colonel Grezor is another interesting Nautolan, I think the only one of his species we see working for the Empire. You meet him during the introductory mission to Explosive Conflict for Imperials.

Nautolans would totally be my pick for next playable species. Aren't we way overdue for one anyway? I can't believe it's been more than two years since Togruta Day! I still tend to think of them as the new guys...


Oh, Arcann, how far you've come. The other day I stumbled upon an old post of mine where I expressed pure horror at the fact that someone had found my blog while googling whether they could romance Arcann. Why would you even want to? I asked. To be fair, I feel that during the KotFE days this was definitely the sensible question to ask. However, redeemed Arcann is a very different man, and since apparently a large percentage of players decided to redeem him, a romance actually appears to be in the cards now. How times change.


Raid bosses are NPCs too! I've said before that I don't think Gods from the Machine gets enough love, but I've been quite charmed by everything I've seen of it so far, even if we're very much behind schedule in terms of bosses released. I'm looking forward to the next one coming out soon.


I didn't even note down the name of this Twi'lek NPC on Balmorra, but I took a screenshot of her because I really liked her look. Despite of the multitude of different customisations available for the species, I find that a lot of Twi'lek NPCs look incredibly samey - always body type one or two, with cute faces and usually blue, pink or green. So I liked this Balmorran resistance fighter in yellowish tones and sporting one of the bigger body types, like my own Twi'leks. (Fun fact: I rather dislike body type one on Twi'leks. I find that they look awkwardly out of proportion when their lekku are almost as thick as their whole body.)

IntPiPoMo count: 38