25/08/2017

Crisis on Umbara - Mechanics

Yesterday was a big day: After two days of delays we finally got the patch that 1) continued the storyline from Iokath and 2) blessed us with the first new "proper" flashpoint (not counting the Star Fortresses) in more than two and a half years. As someone who is both into the story and a bit of a flashpoint fan (in case you hadn't noticed from all the posts I've written about them in the past), this was an exciting event indeed.

I'll leave the discussion of the story developments for another post though and start with talking about the flashpoint from a mostly mechanical point of view, without actually touching on the story. So you can read on without worrying about spoilers!


First off, Crisis on Umbara comes with four different settings, because having three of them with sometimes misleading names wasn't confusing enough yet. The new addition is a non-repeatable solo mode which actually advances the storyline, while all the other versions don't.

I have to admit that I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand it's a pretty ingenious way of both avoiding "space bar anxiety" during long cut scenes in pug groups and of saving innocent newbies from accidentally spoiling themselves. Only the non-repeatable solo version has the full story - in all the repeatable modes, the cut scenes are heavily trimmed down to the point of not featuring any dialogue, and instead of encountering the actual traitor, you run into a mysterious masked figure that runs away. This means that if you happen to run the flashpoint before actually reaching the point in the story where it is set, it doesn't reveal anything about the plot - and once you do the actual story instance, you'll be in for one hell of a surprise.

Also, I was kind of pleased to see that the non-repeatable solo mode at least - not sure about the repeatable version - opted to simply make the mobs relatively easy to kill instead of saddling you with that blasted Jesus droid and having you face off against hitpoint sponges. One of my biggest criticisms of past solo modes has been that letting the droid (slowly) do all the work for you simply isn't very fun.

What are the downsides? Well, for me personally the fact that the actual story-advancing version of the flashpoint is another solo instance is a bit of a bummer. I understand the necessity since it looks like your choices might affect future events once again, but the original announcement of the story continuing in a flashpoint had given me hope that I might actually be able to play through it with my pet tank. No such luck, at least not on the first run. My wait for the return of actual story content that can be done in a group continues.

Finally there's simply the fact that having yet another "version" of the flashpoint is just confusing, good intentions or not. Just the other day I ran into a guy on reddit who was confused and frustrated by being unable to solo Hammer Station, as he thought it was basically just another bit of story. And in fairness, it's not like terms like "veteran mode" really tell the uninitiated that this requires a group... I'm starting to fear that all MMOs are inevitably doomed to become more and more confusing with age, but that doesn't mean that we actively have to try to add to this confusion. The bottom line is that I'm undecided on whether this "four modes" setup is a good thing or not.


On to the flashpoint itself: As I said I won't talk about the story, but I will use some vague terms to talk about things like bosses and environments. The reactions to Umbara's looks that I've seen so far have been a bit subdued, with people citing the differences in the way the planet looks compared to in the Clone Wars series as the main reason for their discontent. Without this frame of reference, I simply found it gorgeous. I love how strange and alien it looks with its dark skies and alien glowy tentacles growing out of the ground. It's unlike anything else we've seen in SWTOR so far, and the closest zone it reminds me of is actually World of Warcraft's Zangarmarsh, though that's a lot wetter. The flashpoint also features several new mob skins (not completely new models, but I guess that would be asking a bit much), which had me quite excited.

I was also pleased that it really felt like a "proper" flashpoint, even if it's relatively short. Maybe I'll make that the subject of another post some time: What actually defines a good flashpoint? I just know that this one had all the ingredients: story progression, traversing of different environments, as well as all kinds of little bits and pieces that you can take or leave but which make the whole thing more engaging. For example in the first part there are some traps on the floor that spawn additional turrets, and there is an item you can pick up to disable said traps. I completely missed this on my first playthrough and simply tried to walk around them. However, there is also an achievement for actually triggering X amount of traps and simply killing the turrets. Your choice.

A bit further in, there are some neutral mobs which won't attack you out of their own volition, but again, there is an achievement to go out of your way and kill them anyway. I even found some flowers growing on the ground, a first for any flashpoint - if there are actual archaeology nodes too (I haven't had a chance to check yet), I'll take that as evidence that someone at Bioware totally does read my blog. There is also a bonus boss that is cunningly hidden in a corner, with no mission pointing the way towards it - in fact, I managed to completely miss it during my first solo playthrough.


Now, what sorts of obstacles does Umbara force you to overcome? Well, first there's that train that has been the big advertising point from the start. This part of the flashpoint made me think that the designers must have been inspired by "The Last Train to Cairo" from Secret World, which I got to play recently and which is a very fun mission that - surprise, surprise - has you boarding a train and fighting your way to the front both by running along on top of train cars and by smashing through them and fighting baddies. Admittedly the Umbara Express feels like a pale imitation in comparison, but the train also isn't quite as vital to the flashpoint as we were initially led to believe, and a good chunk of it actually has you back on the ground.

The actual boss encounters were all reasonably interesting and challenging. Well, on veteran mode we smashed through them without any real difficulty, but that's to be expected with an overgeared guild group. I'll have to run it in a low-level pug soon just to see what that's like! On master mode things hit pretty hard though, which definitely goes some way towards explaining why they wanted the minimum gear requirement for group finder groups. The second boss (third if you count the bonus boss) in particular hit like a truck, especially once he hit his enrage at about 15%. We were mostly fine before that, but at that point he always quickly wrecked the group and we had two literal 1% wipes before finally defeating him, and even that kill didn't go down without deaths on our team.

The final boss is similarly tricky but in a slightly different way, as his "enrage" consists of faster and faster add spawns that quickly overwhelm you. Again it took us several tries to get him down, and even then our group was wiped out by the adds afterwards. This led to the meanest encounter of the flashpoint of course - a bug which caused us to get released back at the start, with no way to get back to the boss's corpse. I bet there was a rare decoration or something among all the loot we missed out on. Hopefully Bioware will fix that soon.


As first gameplay impressions go, Crisis on Umbara has managed to make a good one. Of course I will likely run it many, many more times over the coming weeks and months, and we'll see whether that positivity will last or whether unexpected annoyances will rear their head after sufficient repetition. For now though, I'm one happy flashpoint lover.

5 comments :

  1. Considering that Umbara has us dealing with the theft of Crystals, it definitely wouldn't have made sense for the Archaeology nodes not to be included alongside everything else (I believe I also saw Slicing Nodes as well). :P

    Needless to say, they too are present, which is fantastic. I do so love having a private little area through which to gather materials away from prying eyes, particularly as it's also currently an interesting place to farm in. Sure, you don't get an awful lot compared to running around Iokath, but at least it's in an infinitely prettier location...!

    I would love to see Umbara again at some point, though. We saw Darvannis again after three years, so, eh, maybe there's hope...

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    1. I can confirm finding two slicing nodes on my Marauder last night. :P

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  2. I've only done the one that counts so far, but I agree it's a good flashpoint addition. I too missed the bonus boss on my way through. Looking forward to running it for the stronghold.

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  3. I do like the challenge this FP has in MM. The mechanics are unforgiving but doable. My first full run through was on an 247 gear lvl Operative healer. The run took three hours and 600k in repair bills but we did finish only to run into the adds killing is at the end so we couldn't loot the boss. My second run was on my tank and found all of the aggro drops very frustrating. Especially when the DPS yells at you for "losing" aggro but having to do more than tank and spank make the fights more interesting. My second run through on my tank our group one shot every boss. Just a little explanation for each fight and dragging the last boss to the jungle entance to better control the adds helped. I love Lost Island when it was released, I enjoy challenging content just because not every group can finish the FP doesn't mean it needs to be nerfed.

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    1. Oh yeah, my pet tank found the bosses' aggro super frustrating as well. At first we honestly thought they were buggy, but in hindsight they just seem to do lots of aggro-independent attacks and resets, which can be hard to work with if you don't know about it in advance.

      I do like the challenge as well, but I'm not sure it's a good thing to have this kind of content in the group finder, even with a minimum gear requirement. It might be better to have intentionally hard stuff like this require manual group assembly, like the master uprisings.

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