Category Archives: General SWTOR

No Disintegrations

Welcome to This, uh, Month… in Aurebesh! In honor of last week’s Bounty Broker Association event, let’s take a look at the holographic display projected by the Investigation Probe during interrogations of Shady Characters across the galaxy.

First off, some but not all, of the text in this graphic is reversed, since it is meant to be read by the target and not the players. In my recreation, I reversed the graphic for the sake of legibility.

Elements of this are shared with others from the game, most notably, the Agent’s regeneration ability, Recuperate, and as a part of the cut scene associated with “From Ashes,” a daily quest on Ziost. In both cases the graphic elements are assembled differently for each context.

Most of the text itself, however, is the same in all three examples, and it seems to be drawn from a collection of boilerplate jargon related to computer error messages. For example, the inset text on another photograph complains that the target “has a slow area server.”

The photographs themselves are of real people, but I don’t know their identities and presume they are or were member’s of SWTOR’s design team. Whoever they are, I’m sure they probably get a kick of being targets of bounty hunters from across the galaxy.

Gods, Conquests and Cartel Markets

It’s a been a while since my previous post, so I thought I’d offer some quick comments on Patch 5.8, “Command Authority” and other goings in the community.

For me, the biggest new addition has been Izax, the ultimate boss in the Gods from the Machine operation. Sadly, I have not yet scored a kill of this giant robot space lobster god. Aside from missing a week due to the holiday, Gods is simply a very long operation. My guild raids only once a week, and the first time there it took nearly our entire allotted time just to get to Izax. Certainly, now that we know the puzzle before him it won’t be as bad, but even so I think the raid itself might be too long, especially when it comes the trash pulls. The Scyva trash, in particular, seems excessive and I don’t think it could hurt to cull a group or two from the earlier bosses as well. It’s not unreasonable to expect that a Story Mode operation be clearable in around two hours, and I don’t think Gods is there yet.

As for Izax himself, my first impression based on a few pulls and watching many videos is that he clearly is the most complex Story Mode boss in the game. This doesn’t bother me, since it doesn’t seem like the gear check is too severe to beat him. The short battle rez timer can cover a whole host of mistakes and sloppy play. I look forward to getting it together enough to beat him soon.

The other big change in this update is the revamp to the Conquest system. Some folks seem to be up in arms, but I’ve got few major complaints with the changes. Previously, I was able to meet my personal target on one or two characters a week and that hasn’t changed. It seems to me that Bioware is trying to move the Conquest system away from one where a small group of players can pile up vast sums of points to one where the guilds that succeed are the ones that motivate the most players to participate. This doesn’t strike me as a bad thing. That individual players had been able to accumulate hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of points doing nothing but crafting or endlessly running the same heroics on every character in their legacy day after day strikes me as contrary to the spirit of what is meant to be a guild activity, not an individual one.

That said, I do wish it were easier for individuals to meet their personal goals on their first character. I think a player with a decent stronghold bonus should be able to hit their personal goal in a solid afternoon or evening of play. I’d like to see more big, one time objectives, that let folks quickly pile up some points without having to log on again and again during the week.

Finally, we are in the midst of the big Cartel Market Spring sale, and while I generally don’t talk about the Cartel Market here (it’s not my place to tell people how to spend their money) I cannot deny that I’ve taken advantage. At this point, the market has such a huge backlog of stuff that the prospect of getting that one item you’ve always wanted all your life is tricky if you happened not to be playing at the time it was released. Inflation has driven many items out of the reach of lots of player who simply can’t afford the prices on the GTN so I think it’s a good thing that folks who’ve been frugal with their monthly grants (i.e. not me) can treat themselves to something cool. As for me, dropping 90cc on an old emote I missed out on back in the day instead of millions on the GTN made my day for sure.

I don’t imagine this will be a one-time sale. I’d like to see it come around quarterly, or at least every six months. Hopefully they’ll also work out the kinks and get decorations on the shelves next time.

Suggestions Are Welcome

This post is especially late because I abandoned another recreation I had hoped to do, a monitor on CZ-198 whose text is both clearly identifiable as Aurebesh, but also just blurry enough to be illegible. In my frustration, it took a while to find something else to do instead. I have a backlog of signs and posters I’d like to translate, but I also welcome suggestions. If anyone has spotted an alien display out there they’d like to see recreated in English, please let me know. Outside inspiration is always appreciated!

 

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Nadia Come Home

I don’t get to do as much old fashioned drawing as I’d like these days, but I’d been wanting to show some love for one of my favorite, long lost SWTOR companions. Between a mild bout of Olympic fever and a light work schedule, I was finally able to finish this off. No Aurebesh this week, but it’s my blog and I’ll draw if I wanna, draw if I wanna.

In other news, Keith Kanneg shared the SWTOR road map for the next couple of months. I am glad to see that Gods from the Machine will reach its conclusion next month. Between the setting and the boss fights, I have very much enjoyed this operation, and I hope the Izax fight will be suitably climatic. It’s cool that Conquest will get some love. I like to bang out conquest objectives while I play and it’ll be nice to have some new stuff to work towards. April will see the next and perhaps concluding (it’s not clear from the road map) chapter in the Traitor story arc. This arc has been to me much more interesting for its settings than actual story, but return visit to Nathema should be pretty neat. In the blog post, Keith mentions augments, but I hope they won’t render moot the ones I’ve been crafting since the last game update. Augmenting gear has always struck me as busy work, and I kinda hope I’m done with it this expansion.

We’ll also see the return of five more companions and some action for lonely ol’ Arcann in the weeks ahead. The Mako and Akaavi partnership is not something I’d have predicted, but it is one I’m curious to play out. It’s also nice to know that Bioware remembers that the Consulars had companions too. Still no Nadia, but Felix is a mensch, and it’ll be nice to have him back on the team.

The road map also includes news that Gods from the Machine won’t include a full Master/Nightmare mode. I don’t have much to say about this since even my Hard Mode raiding days are behind me, and this doesn’t really affect me. I’m sure we’ve all seen the reports about Anthem monopolizing all of Bioware’s attention, but even so we filthy casuals have long since won the war for SWTOR, and I’m not going to lose sleep over the designers focusing what resources they do have on stuff that more players can experience.

 

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A Mote of Dust Suspended in a Sunbeam

Hello there. This past month was busy, and I confess the end of expansion lull has me logging on a bit less these days, so I’ve not been as diligent in my blogging as perhaps I should.

To get back into the swing of things, this week’s recreation is fairly straight forward. This sign with its large planetary graphic is probably most familiar to Republic players who keep up with the Black Hole Weekly since it can be seen by the irradiated zone near the Hyper Matter Tower. It also can be found elsewhere around the galaxy and as a stronghold decoration.

The sign’s content and layout echo numerous others around the game. The use of prominent and seemingly random double letters is common element in many, many, many other signs we’ve seen, as is the featured use of the “D” glyph, Dorn. The planet symbol is also a recurring motif. The awkward English translation is also not uncommon. Threepio is most assuredly disappointed, but this sort of thing must be expected when working with alien languages. That said, even the Aurebesh on display here is somewhat distorted. The “Q” glyph, Qek has been slightly truncated with the downward stroke on the right side of the letter trimmed off, probably to make it fit on the sign. The kerning of the original Aurebesh font is pretty sloppy, so reshaping letters for design reasons seems fair.

It’s Fine. We’re Fine.

There has been a flurry of Star Wars news recently, and I thought I’d toss in my two truguts.

First up, SWTOR released game update 5.7: Legacy of the Creators. The Scyva encounter is neat and not too rough on storymode. If you can do Nahut, learning Scyva should be easy. Since I’ve only completed the Fallen Empire story on two characters, neither of which are a Smuggler or Inquisitor, I have not yet tried the new story content. That I haven’t been running all my characters through the story should not be taken as criticism. I think Breaking Bad is one of the best TV shows ever made, but I’ve still only seen most episodes once. When it comes to alts, I tend to run through the story super-duper casually: maybe a chapter once a week, sometimes not even on the same character. I’m happy to run stuff at my own pace, and I’m not ever going to spacebar-mash my way through just to be caught up. However, my story main is my Consular, and she is definitely feeling a little left out, but I’m certain Tharan Cedrax’s return will be EPIC. In the meantime, I am eagerly anticipating the next road map.

This week also saw the reveal of the long awaited or perhaps over-due trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story. I won’t go too deep, since predicting anything about a movie from its trailer is a fool’s errand. Any Star Wars fan with access to the internet knows that this movie has seen more than its fair share of behind the scenes drama, and I’m reluctant to get too hyped about a movie that may turn out to be a total mess. My expectations are not high, but Ron Howard is a reliable and experienced director who knows how to work within different genres, so I’m not without hope. I’m also down with Alden Ehrenreich. He looks as much like Harrison Ford as River Phoenix did, and what snippets of him we get in the trailer do seem to capture Han Solo’s mix of cockiness and dumb-assery, so I’ve got no issue there. And, c’mon, Donald Glover as Lando? Hell, yes.

And, if nothing else, the trailer confirms that the Terror from Beyond is canon.

Finally, it was also announced that David Benioff and D.B Weiss will be writing and producing some Star Wars movies. As a long time Game of Thrones hate watcher, I’m less than psyched, but I can see why they might be appropriate picks for a big franchise like this. There are a lot of Star Wars stories out there, and I don’t have to love them all. I’ll like what I like, and not worry about the rest.

 

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Always in Motion is the Future: Five Predictions for 2018

The New Year is traditionally a time to look forward, and after reading Shintar’s predictions for 2018, I thought I could share a few of my own. However, as anyone knows me can attest, I am terrible at predicting the future. “I’m sure midi-chlorians will make sense in context.” “Don’t be silly, they’d never go a whole expansion without releasing new group content.” “Well, of course Rey is a Kenobi. It’s obvious!” Therefore I thought it best to free myself from the constraint of actually trying to be right and instead base my predictions on a reality where time, money and resources are no object and my own fickle fancies guide the way. So here are my Dumb Top Five predictions for SWTOR in 2018.

Faction, Schmaction

The most interesting choice in the War for Iokath story was getting to ally with either the Republic or Sith regardless of your actual faction. My Bounty Hunter had long felt on the wrong side of things, so it was very satisfying when she was presented with the opportunity to stick it to the Sith Empire. So far this choice hasn’t affected anything outside of Iokath, but this year, if we’re really moving back towards a Republic vs. Sith dynamic, let’s crank the faction choice knob all the way to eleven. Let’s have Sith chilling on Tython before they hunt down the remnants of the Dark Council; Jedi on Dromund Kaas meditating on how to overthrow the Republic; and Smugglers and Agents going wherever the heck they want. I have no idea what impact faction switching would have on grouping, guilds and PVP, I’m just making the predictions. I leave logistics to the people who know what they’re doing.

Legacy Avengers

One of the things I like about SWTOR is the notion that all eight of the original class stories happened in parallel and occasionally crossed over into each other. The Jedi Knight inadvertently created a job opening for the Sith Warrior, Mako and Kaliyo popped by other classes’ stories, and the Republic and Sith characters probably just missed bumping into each other on Makeb. The introduction of the Legacy family tree cemented in my mind the hope that one day my characters would actually get to meet “on screen.” Who wouldn’t want to watch their Smuggler flirt with their Consular, and their Agent butt heads with their Inquisitor? Again, details are for little people. I just want to see Havoc Squad, the Jedi Battlemaster, the Barsen’thor, and the Butcher’s Bane assemble to fight some massive threat to the galaxy, or a least a giant laser beam shooting from the sky.

True Romance

Speaking of the original stories, the choice of which companion was adventuring with the hero was usually up to the players. Starting with Knights of the Fallen Empire, the story nearly always dictates which companion is along for the ride. I don’t mind this since forcing interactions with different personalities is a good way to explore your own character’s… character, but it’s also nice to adventure with your best bud or main squeeze. While I trust that the drip of returning companion will become a torrent this year, I do hope that the romances are not shoved aside in the name of getting everyone back into the Crew Skill Queue. Hopefully the romances won’t just be a couple lines of dialogue here and there, but a whole story or chapter where the Outlander and their lover (whoever it is) have an adventure together. Obviously there ought to be a little bit of mushy stuff, but the focus should be on banter (the cheesier the better) and rescuing each other from improbable danger while reaffirming how awesome each other are.

All You Need is Porg

We need Porg pets, obviously, with flying and waddling variants, of course. A Porg combat companion to help with dailies speaks for itself. I expect a Porg Swarm regen toy that calls down a tornado of Porgs to swirl around my character. Not enough Porgs for you? Don’t worry; I’m just getting started. I demand an assault cannon that fires rocket propelled, armor-piercing Porgs at my foes. And if my Operations team is not fighting a fifty-foot tall, dread-corrupted Porg by the end of the expansion, I’ll consider the year a failure. Get on it, Bioware!

Assault Cannons, Dualsabers and Rifles, Oh My!

The quality of cut scenes in Knights of the Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne has been excellent and really showcase how cool Bioware can make our characters look. However, one thing hasn’t changed over the years. Whenever a Trooper or an Agent needs a weapon in a cut scene, they drop their bad-ass assault cannons and rifles, and instead draw the same dinky pistols they’ve had since level one. As for Shadows and Assassins, holding their dualsabers like a single saber often leads to some very awkward moments of potential self-mutilation. Let 2018 be the year we start seeing the complete variety of weapons that we have in play in the story’s cut scenes.

This post has been especially silly, but this last point is one thing I really do hope to see sooner rather than later. I realize this is also no small request. They’d be going from animating two types of weapons in cut scenes to as many as five (or even seven if they include dual wielders). But I think it would be worth it. Whether you dumped a bucket of credits on the GTN, burned all your cartel coins on the CM, busted your hump to earn it in game or even if you just like the quest reward you got back on Ord or Hutta, everyone should get to show off their favorite toy when the game is working its hardest to show off what it can do.

Well, that was pretty easy. While I expect to go zero for five again this year, you can rest assured that if I somehow back into getting even one thing right this time around, I’ll be claiming all the credit. All right, 2018, let’s do it!

 

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Three Tomatoes

First, gentle reader, let me apologize for my lack of posts over the last month. Life has been particularly life-like lately and something had to give. I hope to be more productive in the weeks ahead.

November and December saw two major game updates, and in the interest of playing “ketchup”, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on both.

5.5: United Forces

This update was probably a much bigger deal on Bioware’s end than the players’. Indeed, I suspect the goal was that the server mergers have as little impact on the players as possible. From my perspective, I think they more or less accomplished that. Everything was where I left it prior to the merger and I didn’t lose any names I cared about. Even looking over my guild’s roster, fewer folks lost names than I would’ve predicted. I know there were some issues with Legacy banks that took a little extra resolving, but I tip my helmet to the folks at Bioware for making the mergers a remarkably smooth process.

The crowds on fleet after the patch were quite the sight, something not seen since the earliest days of the game. And while things have settled down since, I’m definitely seeing more action when it comes to group activity. I’m even getting pops and seeing ops groups form very late at night. So far so good!

That said, discovering that SWTOR no longer has a US West Coast server was an unpleasant surprise. I don’t fault Keith Kanneg or anyone on the community team for this, and given how they were talking about the east and west coast servers up until just before the update, I wonder when even they got the news.

Clearly this was a decision made well above their pay grade. I cannot deny the feeling that if the money people aren’t confident enough in SWTOR to fund a west coast server, why should the player base feel any better about the game’s future? I know bashing EA is and has been all the rage, so rather than just pile on, I’ll just cast that little bit of shade and move on.

5.6: A Traitor Among the Chiss

Last week’s game update’s biggest feature was the flashpoint A Traitor Among the Chiss. It’s easy to discuss this flashpoint without spoiling anything since it doesn’t do too much to advance the story. We do get at least two bits of important information, but the focus of this adventure is spending time with the Chiss and exploring the world Copero.

And what a world Copero is! This is probably one of the most beautiful settings in the game. The flashpoint is divided into three distinct and wonderfully designed areas: starting with the sunset and vistas of the resort town, through to a cavernous and dark factory and finally to the climax atop a picturesque, snowcapped mountain.

I suspect that this flashpoint was originally intended to be a story chapter like those in KotFE and KotET. The length and pacing feel very much in line with “Profit and Plunder” or “Mandalore’s Revenge.” And I’m very much okay with that if it means getting to tour one of the worlds and culture of one of Star Wars‘ favorite aliens.

I don’t think the “War for Iokath” story gave Elara’s return as much attention as it deserved, so I liked actually getting to spend time with Ensign Temple as a guide through the story. I did make the common mistake of running the flashpoint on Story instead of Solo mode, but at least on my second try I remembered to bring some companion gifts for Temple to make the second pass a bit smoother.

The boss fights themselves are pretty neat with some dynamic mechanics. I haven’t had a chance to try them on Master Mode, but I’m certain they won’t be easy.

I’m also pleased that the loot table of the flashpoint is filled with two neat armor sets and a ton of nice decorations. And while I work on crafting gold augments, I’ll take purple ones in the meantime. I’m glad to have incentive to return to Copero again!

On the negative side of things, Traitor is one of the longest flashpoints and the amount of trash mobs and their abilities can make the first section feel like a slog. Honestly, if I wanted to be constantly dealing with stuns, stealthers and immunity bubbles, I’d PVP.

My final nitpick is in regards to Temple’s abilities. She has returned with the standard array that nearly all tech companions have, but has lost the Force attack she originally had (although she still uses the voice emote that went along with it). I’ve touched on this before, but I really do think the various weapon options and abilities that many companions used to have should be restored to them. Nadia and Bowdaar could send enemies flying through the air. Heck, Blizz used to pack a freakin’ rocket launcher! That stuff was fun and cool. With so many companions available to us now, let’s see variety in their abilities to help set them apart.

Finally, the Gods from the Machine operation unveiled its third encounter, Nahut, Son of Shadow. It’s another good one, with atmosphere to spare and some neat mechanics. The wait between bosses can feel unending sometimes, but I don’t deny that I’ve really enjoyed learning each of these fights.

I was hoping to conclude that SWTOR is ending the year on a high note, and, in terms of new content, I think it is, but then an exploit emerged up and pumped billions of credits into the game economy. By now the exploited credits have long since been laundered through the GTN and guild and legacy banks. While I’m sure some folks who took advantage will be punished, the damage has already been done. These things seem to pop up at least once per expansion, and it’s incredibly frustrating to watch bush league mistakes happen again and again. The main result is that any player who engages in the game economy through the GTN is negatively affected and will see their credits have less and less value. So cheers to that.

 

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A Little Splash of Color: Top Five Non-Cartel Market Dyes

Patch 5.5 didn’t come with much in the way of content, but it did include several quality of life improvements including a most welcome increase in the number of Strongholds and a revised Cartel Market interface. The most significant change to the Cartel Market has been the addition of many more direct sale items, most notably dozens of dye modules that previously were only rarely available directly from the Market or randomly from packs. For anyone looking to customize their characters this is a very nice change indeed.

However, before dropping Cartel Coins on a fancy dye module, take a look at some of the other options out there. You can often find something that looks just as good if not better for a fraction of the GTN cost without spending even a single Cartel Coin. To that end, I thought I’d share, in no particular order, a dumb top five list of my favorite non-Cartel Market dyes.

Dark Red and Black

I’ll just come right out and say it: Black/Black is boring. Yeah, ninjas are cool but black works best with contrast, even if it’s subtle. Darth Maul’s red skin stands out against his black tunic, and while Darth Vader is armored head to toe in black, he is a case study in creating contrast by mixing flat and glossy tones. Artificers have numerous choices in creating dyes that mix black with other colors including blue, red, gray and even a creepy pale yellow. But I’ll highlight Dark Red and Black which I think is the best alternative to black/black, especially for Sithy characters. The recipe for this dye module can be purchased by characters of Champion reputation rank from the Coalition Forces vendor on Yavin IV, and requires Artifice of skill level 500.

White and Light Gray

Next up is an affordable alternative to White/White. Unless you’re looking to be ghostly white, this dye module should do the trick, assuming it’s not after labor day. This recipe can be learned from the Artifice trainer at skill level 520. If you want to dye one piece of gear all one color, say white gloves or black boots, crafted dyes are the way to go. It’s not at all unusual for the either primary or secondary colors to not register much or even at all on some pieces of gear, and you can easily get the look you want with little expense or trouble.

Secondary Pale Brown

I am a big fan of the single color primary and secondary dye modules. These dyes can make either subtle or dramatic changes that still maintain the original look of the outfit to which they are applied. I’m giving the award to the Secondary Pale Brown Dye Module which can add some faded gold highlights that make details on some outfits pop. But the other dyes of this type can personalize a suit of trooper armor or complete the look of a Corellian Green Jedi. Primary and secondary dye modules of deep green, deep purple, light orange, medium gray and pale brown can be learned from the Artifice trainer at various skill levels.

Deep Brown and Deep Red

Maybe because it’s autumn, but the color red is getting a lot of love on this list. I thought about picking another dye module, but I really do think these warm colors go well together. I’ve used them on an Iron Man cosplay as well as smuggler jackets and bounty hunter armor. The recipe for this module can be learned from the Bounty Broker’s Association reputation vendor in the Cartel Bazaar section of both Fleets and requires Artifice skill level 500 and costs 50 Completed Bounty Contracts.

White and Deep Red

The last dye on my list is not crafted but can be purchased for the ridiculously low price of 5000 credits from the security key vendor on both Fleets. Whether you do it for the account security, the extra Cartel Coins or just easy access to a vendor when you zone into Fleet, I highly recommend anyone who is playing to pick up a security key if they can. As for the dye, my Canadian upbringing may be showing, but this is truly one of my favorites. I’ve lost track of how many members of Havoc Squad are wearing these colors. It may be too strong a contrast, but when it works, it works really well.

Even leaving aside the ability to craft useful relics and the classic color crystals, Artifice is still my favorite Crew Skill. Whenever I’m looking to customize a character’s look, I am nearly always able to find a crafted dye module that fits the bill. That I can do it without spending any cartel coins or millions of credits on the GTN is pretty sweet. Swtorista created a comprehensive guide to crafting dye modules as part of her excellent Academy series, and if you’re interested in much more detail than I can provide, check it out!

 

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Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Road Maps!

Since I had some time to kill while waiting for the new Star Wars trailer, I figured I’d jot down some thoughts on SWTOR’s latest roadmap, as well some other related news that came out of this week’s Twitch chat and NYC Cantina.

My first impression was very positive. Knowing what to expect and when to expect it are always good things. And being exciting about what is to come makes it even better. My biggest frustration with Knights of the Eternal Throne has been the gaps between new content and not knowing when they’d be filled We’re still well over a month away from the next chapter in the story of Theron’s betrayal, and it’s disappointing to learn that the Gods from the Machine Operation will not conclude this year. I’m psyched to see what happens on Copero and the new op has been really fun so far, but I do feel like content has been released at a snail’s pace this year.

Server Mergers

Of course, the big changes coming early next month are the server mergers. These have been long anticipated and truthfully long needed. Personally, I am nervous about them. I play on Ebon Hawk, and it has been a remarkably chill place to call home. I worry that the new Star Forge server won’t be as relaxed and welcoming to new players. And the possibility of losing character names is not great either. If I have to rename any of my favorite characters, I will be pretty grumpy about it.

That said, the mergers are necessary. Those low population servers are booby traps for new players. Discovering that you can count the Fleet population on one hand, that flashpoint queues take hours to pop even at peak times and that the GTN is devoid of anything of value completely sucks. The need for multiple servers is outdated for even much more popular games, and I can’t fault SWTOR for ditching barren servers so that new players will have the chance to actually interact with others if they choose.

It will be up to the players to create a server identity worth being proud of. Should we cross paths, gentle reader, I promise I won’t freak out if you want to watch the cut scenes, don’t know the fights or want to take on a bonus boss.

Devoting as Much Space to the Hot Prospect/Satele Shan Thing as it Deserves

All’s well that ends well.

Galactic Command

The Galactic Command system has been the cause of much consternation, and living through its growing pains wasn’t always great, but I think the Bioware team has done a good job iterating it into a pretty good place, with the changes to come helping to smooth out more rough edges. There are a change or two more I’d like to see, but I suspect the next expansion/gear reset will go much smoother.

One of the things about Command XP has been that it has been something of moving target. Uprisings, PVP, Flashpoint and Ops, and dailies have all seen their time in the spotlight as the best way to gain CXP. I doubt it was intentional, but I do think this has worked out to be a good thing and has kept things a bit fresher for folks whenever they want to farm up some Command levels. Going forward, I hope this is something Bioware keeps in mind.

Cuts, Copero and Companions

Bioware dropped more hints about the content to come this week beyond the road map. The most striking has been the teaser revealing Theron’s new look. I almost feel bad for mocking his faux-hawk a few weeks ago. Good ol’ Theron; he’s always one for rash decisions.

I get the same vibe from the betrayal story as I did from “Forged Alliances” at the end of The Rise of the Hutt Cartel, so it seems likely that we’re building to a cliff-hanger for the next expansion. However, I imagine the soonest we see a new expansion would be early summer.

On the way, I’m always happy to visit new flashpoints. Copero’s design takes elements from Makeb, Alderaan, and Rakata Prime but assembles them in way that makes it feel unique. The Chiss are probably the Expanded Universe’s most enduring contribution to Star Wars lore, and I’m looking forward to exploring their culture more.

During the SWTOR team’s twitch chat last week, lead writer Charles Boyd teased the return of many still missing companions, name dropping most but not all (Come home, Nadia!), and this is most welcome and overdue news. One of my hopes for the next expansion is to see more focus on those beloved but side-lined characters and romances that haven’t seen much daylight since launch.

Catch me in the right mood and I’ll grouse that I think this expansion will probably end more or less in a state in which it should’ve launched. That may overstate things, and I’ve very much welcomed the news we’ve had this week. I hope the development teams remains engaged with the community. Since I’m eagerly awaiting halftime of tonight’s football game, I think it’s fair to borrow a sport’s metaphor: keep the chains moving, guys!

 

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Crisis on Umbara Review

This week, I’d like to share my review of the Crisis on Umbara flashpoint and story. I’ll divide this post into two sections, the first is spoiler free and the second shall delve deep into spoiler territory.

Part One: Last Train to Umbara

Crisis on Umbara is well done and is everything I want from a flashpoint. The designers did a fantastic job with the new environment, and filled it with a neat variety of new creatures and foes. Crisis is filled many cool moments, from moving through and over the train cars to escaping the crash and exploring the purple, glowing Umbaran terrain with its weird creatures including half-dinosaur, half-mantis predators and an enormous and terrifying iridescent landshark of a boss.

Each boss encounter is distinct and all the fights require some understanding of mechanics, regardless of mode. Solo and Veteran mode are appropriately forgiving, but while I wouldn’t say they are tough, these modes require a bit more personal responsibility on the part of the players than most other flashpoints. I’m okay with that. Crisis’ Solo mode is the first not to include the GSI Support Droid which is so ridiculously powerful that it makes the players irrelevant and we end up more spectators than participants in the action. In my book, this change is a good one, and while I haven’t run solo mode to death, it feels on par with a tougher planetary heroic, which is where I’d imagine it should be.

Master Mode, on the other hand, is no joke; it is easily the most difficult Master Mode Flashpoint in the game. Because of real life concerns, my usual crew hasn’t yet seen the final boss, but so far fights are big and satisfying challenges, as they should be for the toughest mode.

I do have some nits to pick however. As cool as Umbara is, I do feel like it should be darker. While the first third takes place on a high-tech train, and it’s reasonable that the outdoor boss areas be illuminated, I wish the rest of the environment had better evoked the world’s appearance in The Clone Wars where the characters were often seen in silhouette and it seemed monsters could jump out of murky shadows at any moment. Umbara’s shadowy nature is right there in its name, but both Ilum and Imperial Taris are darker, and when I recall how well another flashpoint, Kaon Under Siege used darkness, it makes me think Crisis could’ve used a bit more shadowy atmosphere.

I do want to discuss the rewards. I discovered the hard way that the Umbara stronghold was the first to be released that also did not come with an increase in the cap on the maximum number of strongholds, so I am not yet able to purchase it. Because of my attachment to the other strongholds and the time I put in decorating them, I don’t think I’ll be unlocking Umbara until the cap is raised. Given my fondness for decorating, this is a bit of a bummer.

As for the other rewards that can be purchased with Alliance Recon Data, what we have is nice. I like the armor set, and a friend whose main character is a biochemist was overjoyed to see the return of reusable stims, medpacks and adrenals.

That said, there should be more. The flashpoint currency is character, not legacy based and has a weekly cap, but the value of the currency can vary widely between different characters. If you don’t have biochem as a crafting skill and don’t want (or already have) the stronghold, there is little else worth saving up for. No recipes for other crafters, no weapons, no dyes, no decorations. It is very easy to get to the point where Recon Data becomes useless to players. While I think that should happen eventually, it shouldn’t be after only a run or two.

I am glad to see that the bosses drop decorations, and that the drop rates are not ridiculously low like they are in other flashpoints, but I must say that I’m not at all a fan of the fact that the decos are holograms. I want an actual alien landshark in my stronghold, not a holographic one.

Once again, the achievement rewards are also anemic. Where are the trophies, the titles and other weird stuff to work towards? Crisis on Umbara is the only flashpoint without a trophy decoration. What’s up with that? Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’d rather have a trophy to hang on the wall of my stronghold than 20 Cartel Coins.

I made the same points regarding rewards and achievements in my review of the Iokath dailies. SWTOR has done well with these things before, and I think it’s fair to hold new content to those same standards.

I’d also like to see specific loot attached to the Master Mode version of the flashpoint. Because of the limited use for Alliance Recon Data, there should be extra incentives to run the flashpoint in its toughest mode. Given the 242 gear requirement and difficulty of the encounters, I don’t know what type of gear drops would be appropriate, but if I had a shot at a cool, rare vanity item, I’d gladly run the flashpoint again and again.

Part Two: Who Spoils the Spoilers?

The revelation of the traitor’s identity was probably and unfortunately the worst kept secret in recent SWTOR history. I’m probably being over-cautious to wait more than week before writing about it, but I’m sure there are many folks who don’t follow the SWTOR gossip and news as closely as I do. I figure better safe than sorry.

That said, let’s dive in! I managed to avoid having the traitor’s identity spoiled, but the general level of freak out in my social media feed pretty much insured that the traitor could only be Lana or Theron. Once I started the story, it was clear within the first dialogue scene that it was going to be Theron. So I can’t say I was shocked by the reveal.

Another reason I wasn’t that surprised is because it makes perfect sense that Theron is the traitor. I mean, of course, he is.

I like Theron Shan a lot, but the guy has enough issues to fill a comic book collection, and he chose a profession where betrayal is a part of doing business. First off, if the Outlander has made Dark Side choices or is even a little Sithy, the only surprise should be that it took Theron so long to make the heel turn. Nevertheless, even if your Outlander is like mine and made every Light Side choice, saved every unicorn and hugged every kitten, I buy Theron’s defection too. To him, that Outlander might seem too good to be true, and it’s not a stretch that he would pre-emptively self-sabotage the relationship. Why wouldn’t he? Ever since we first met Theron back during Rise of the Hutt Cartel, it’s been clear that he has chosen to nurse his abandonment and trust issues rather than deal with them.

Screwing things up is kinda what Theron does best, so I don’t think it’s out of bounds that he’d betray the leader of an Alliance he helped build.

I know Theron has many ardent fans, and I write this not to slag him. This stuff is what I like about Theron. It’s what makes him an interesting character. He may think he’s the James Bond of the Star Wars universe, but his Member’s Only jacket and faux-hawk reveal the truth that he’s really just a dork like the rest of us.

And Yet…

Do I think Theron has really betrayed the alliance and the Outlander? No. No, I don’t. There are two or three hints in the Crisis on Umbara story that pretty strongly suggest that he has done all this to infiltrate the mysterious Order. Indeed, going off half-cocked without checking with friends and allies first is another signature Theron Shan move. It’s exactly what he did on Ziost, and I think it’s what he’s doing here. That he wouldn’t let the Outlander know ahead of time makes sense to me given those trust issues I mentioned earlier.

We’re still in the earliest stages of this new story arc, and I’m reluctant to draw too many conclusions. We are certain to learn before long who and what “The Order” is but I’m not sure we have anything to go on at the moment. Beyond the return of Malgus anyway.

I think it might be interesting if the sincerity of Theron’s betrayal hinged on the choices the players has previously made during Knight of the Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne, but I suspect that might be a bit much to ask of both Bioware and the players.

It seems to me that Crisis on Umbara has got folks talking, jump started the next chapter of the story and has me curious to find out what happens next, so I’ve got to give Bioware thumbs up on this. Then again, I would’ve figured Theron for a Hawaiian pizza guy, so what do I know?

 

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“Scouting Iokath” Daily Quest Guide

This post is a follow-up to my review of the Iokath Dailies.

Recently I participated in a twitter discussion regarding the dailies on Iokath and mentioned that I’d worked out a quick path for completing the “Scouting Iokath” daily quest. Initially I skipped this quest assuming it was too much running around, but as I got used to traversing the Iokath Expanse. I realized I could get to the scanning points without too much trouble, and I thought I’d put together a visual guide for completing the quest.

While this might look complex at first glance, the trick is realizing that most of the travel is handled by Iokath’s trams and transporters, and the player’s own Quick Travel ability, with only a wee bit of speeder piloting on the side. Getting through the Weapons Factory will require a bit of fighting, but if you’re there anyway to work on other quests, it’s not too bad.

I want to give special thanks to FibroJedi whose screenshots of this daily came in handy while compiling this guide.

Iokath Suggestions

Since I’m on the subject, I thought I’d also make a few suggestions that might improve the questing experience on Iokath.

First and foremost, I think the Monitor and Mouse droid dailies should be revised to be more fun. As it is now, the player spends a lot of time on both quests just waiting. Waiting for the Monitor’s self-inflicted stun to wear off. Waiting as a Mouse droid for mobs to respawn (sometimes three or four times) and ever so slowly whittle down the walker. The Monitor design is really cool. Instead of looking forward to taking control of one, I actively avoid it. The mouse droid daily should be silly and funny, but, in practice, it’s a bore.

I’d like to see a revised set of abilities for the Monitor. They don’t need to be over-powered, and the notion of a major attack coming with a downside is a good one, but stuns are the worst.

As for the Mouse droid, either the self-destruct should do significantly more damage or the droid’s secondary attack should be able to debuff the walker so that it takes more damage from the nearby droids when they agro on it. This debuff could even have a short duration. Having to dart in between the walker’s legs and zap it while it’s fighting other droids could be neat.

The “Colossal Threat” quest should be a separate weekly, much like the “Walking on Hallowed Grounds” weekly on Yavin. In addition, the quest could use better rewards. The Colossus Droid is certainly nowhere near as difficult as the Revanite Walker, but as it is now, I haven’t bothered with it since getting the achievement. If it were a significant source of Power Shards or CXP or had a chance to drop a rare decoration or a pet or a mount, I’m certain there would be more interest in this quest.

Finally I’d like to see some unique quests or achievements based around the command modules that drop from the ops bosses. Having something to do or shoot for while controlling the Machine Gods out in the expanse could be fun. I think coming around a corner and seeing a player controlled Tyth raging in battle should not at all be a rare occurrence!

We will return to our regularly schedule programming next week!

 

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Turning Day Into Night Time

This week, let’s continue to examine some of Nar Shaddaa’s neon signs, focusing on two that Sith faction players will see as they enter the infamous Star Cluster Casino.

First up, we have something that at first seems to be another standard, simple advertisement exhorting viewers to travel to the Outer Rim, but there is quite a bit going on here, with several layers of graphical elements including rectangular and circular frames, two different starburst graphics as well as two different colored scattered accent shapes. Recreating this in English was a bit more challenging than I expected it would be!

This sign, which can be seen prominently on the Nar Shaddaa loading screen, is, of course, not written in Aurebesh, but looks to have been created using Erik Schroeder’s font Sith Prophesy which models the language officially known as Common Sith. This language mainly appears in Star Wars as the writing seen on Darth Vader’s chest control panels.

Given that pureblood Sith are common in SWTOR’s setting it’s not surprising that they’d have restaurants and advertising aimed specifically at them, although I confess I wonder what constitutes fine dining to a Sith.

This sign’s translation is a fairly common diner name, but I imagine it might also be a reference to Alton Brown’s beloved television show.

Manaan Stronghold Review

Patch 5.3 brought a bunch of stuff including the controversial change to tunings (I’m fine with it, especially once unlocked crystals and tunings become mail-able in legacy weapons) and the second encounter in the Gods from the Machine operation (crazy, fun fight!), but the one I’ve spent the most time with is the new Manaan stronghold. I thought I’d share a few impressions as I work my way towards 100% completion.

First off, it’s beautiful and I’ve absolutely enjoyed my time decorating. My complaints are mostly the familiar decorators’ laments about hook placement and type. Why aren’t the rug hooks where I want them? Why won’t that deco go up against the wall? Why won’t that deco fit on that hook?

Manaan does have a few specific issues. I’ve heard some folks complain that it’s too small, but after the massive sprawl of Yavin, I’m okay with a smaller stronghold. However, its size is actually deceptive. The stronghold’s main staging area is actually huge, but it kind of feels small. Yavin’s Temple Grounds area is much larger to be sure, but that section is subdivided into distinct areas (the temple roof, the bridge, the paved platform, the various clearings, the cave, the swimming hole out back, etc.), Manaan’s main area, on the other hand, is just one connected and visually identical area. I think this section could’ve been better subdivided using elements from the existing Manaan zone such as the tunnel that splits the two open areas and the side office in which we met Theron and Lana during Forged Alliances.

I welcome the generous inclusion of numerous centerpiece hooks (especially the ones on the ocean floor), but it’s frustrating that the alternative layouts for centerpieces are not great. Two out of the four options waste fully half of the hook space, and the other two can be awkward to use. This is especially the case in the two side rooms on the Underwater Observatory level. If you don’t want to place a centerpiece, getting those rooms just right can be a tricky. Personally I’d like to see an alternative layout (seen below) with both horizontal and vertical orientations for the Centerpiece hook that consists of two large hooks, flanked on either side by a mix of medium, medium narrow and small hooks.

The small wall hooks in the ceilings of those two rooms are a strange choice. I get that many large ceiling decorations might clip in those spots, but many other fixtures such as hanging lights and chandeliers would fit wonderfully. I know that Manaan’s architectural style doesn’t lend itself to large, flat spaces, but it should be up to the decorators if we care about the clipping.

Otherwise, I’m not a fan of the invisible wall outside the rooftop garden. I imagine that the entire complex is probably not fully rendered, but I do wish I could explore more. And even if I can’t decorate the interior spaces below the garden, I’d still like to place decorations on the roof down there.

My last Manaan specific nitpick concerns the elevators in the stronghold. When you exit them, your character is facing the elevator, forcing you to turn around whenever you enter a new level. You really should be facing the room as you step off the lift.

Finally, I thought I’d conclude with some general Stronghold and decoration changes I’d like to see. I like the hook system, I really do. Working within limits prevents me from going too far down the decorating rabbit hole and has sparked some creative solutions, but it could use some tweaking.

My main frustration is this: which decorations fit on which hooks has never been consistent. A café table will fit on a medium hook, but the similar-sized Dejarik table will not. Why? If a decoration can even remotely fit on a hook, we should be able to place it on that hook. I’d like to see the hooks for every decoration given another pass. There are many large decos that would fit just fine medium hooks, and it sometimes feels like the designers have forgotten the medium narrow hook even exists.

The introductory cut scene currently plays whenever you zone into Manaan, and I’ve seen this described as a feature not a bug. While I don’t want to have to spacebar through the scene every time I go to my stronghold, I will say it is sometimes cool to see that scene play once there are decorations in place. It’d be nice to have an on demand option to take the tour of a stronghold after each characters’ first visit. Could an option to watch the scene be added to the control panel that exists in every stronghold?

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy decorating strongholds, and Manaan has not been an exception. It is easily the most scenic stronghold and while, unlike Coruscant, it doesn’t feel like a place I’d live, it sure is a beautiful place to visit. I look forward to basking in the sun and putting the last decoration in place in the not too distant future.

 

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