Category Archives: KotET

In the Pink

I thought this one would be easy. I really did.  I had planned to post this recreation during the Nar Shaddaa Nightlife event since this neon sign can be seen around the moon’s Promenade and casinos. Clearly, I’m late to the party.

The challenge of this recreation was not in the translation. Like many similar signs, it seems to be a collection of random letters in which I’ve long since given up attempting to find meaning.

At first glance, one might think this sign is written in Aurebesh. Technically, however, it uses Galactic Basic, a font that, like Aurebesh, was inspired by the script used on monitors in Return of the Jedi. Galactic Basic is actually more accurate to what can be seen in the movie, but Aurebesh was codified in official sources first and has since become the official version of the language.

The center logo, the inset letters on the upper left and the two repeating glyphs on the bottom are all written using Galactic Basic. The orange tinted letters in the next-to-bottom row are rendered in the Atrsian font. Like Aurebesh, this font has a tangled history. It also can be glimpsed in Return of the Jedi, and was featured in several early Lucasarts games.

My guess is that all these fake space letters were meant to be parts of the same “language” but because they were fleshed out separately, they all became individual fonts and scripts. I’m certain that had high definition screen captures and copious reference materials been around three decades ago, the current landscape of Star Wars’ written word would be very different!

The use of Atrisian is not an usual sight in SWTOR. This script can be seen not only in signs on Nar Shaddaa, but also carved in the ancient ruins of the Rakata on Belsavis. It’s amusing to think the same glyphs that adorned the great works of a long lost civilization are still emblazoned in neon around the galactic underworld.

The large logo in the center is what caused me the most trouble. The repeated letter rotating around the center translates to J, but I’d wager it was not selected because of any particular meaning but because of how the alien glyph maintains its symmetry in the arrangement. The English J, however, is not quite so accommodating and I tried many variations, fonts and even custom letters attempting to replicate the original layout. In the end I realized I was overthinking the problem, and took inspiration from the actual design. Reshaping the glyph to resemble a J more or less did the trick. I don’t think my recreation is as stylish as the original, but it’s close enough that I hope it gets the idea across.

Living Large on the PTS

Despite having played since launch, last week was my very first visit to SWTOR’s test server. I cannot deny it was fun to get an early peek at the Rishi stronghold and queue up for Saturday’s PVP test.

My first impression of the Rishi stronghold is quite good. I think they are aiming to address the major complaints regarding the previous strongholds on Umbara and Manaan. Unlike Umbara’s train, Rishi has a large variety of environments to explore and decorate, from the massive pirate airship to the beach and the cove. It also looks like they are paying more attention to how decorating hooks are being used. As much as I love Manaan, the widely spread out hooks and limited choices of what hooks are even available has been a source of frustration. Rishi seems to have a larger variety of hooks, placed closer together so that decorators will be able to create areas with more cohesion.

The PVP areas are a gimmick to be sure. But it’s a cool gimmick. And even if I’m just using it every once in a while, I’m fine with that.  As with the addition of target dummies, having more stuff to do in our strongholds is something I’m glad to see. I hope they continue to explore more ideas in the future. Maybe there could be a special boss on the pirate ship that can only be summoned during the Bounty Broker event, or a stronghold zombie survival mode in which the beach is swarmed during the Rakghoul Resurgence. Armchair developing is easy! But, hey, a boy can dream, can’t he?

I also participated in Saturday’s PVP testing during the morning and evening sessions. I don’t PVP a whole lot so take these comments with a grain of salt.

For the most part it seemed like the matchmaking worked. There were a ton of healers in the morning queue, but the teams had even numbers. The matches with three healers per side tended to stalemate; I imagine with a larger pool of dps that wouldn’t happen as much. I did notice that backfilling in arenas would not always keep the tank/healer balance, but I guess filling empty spots quickly might be more important.

I thought the Mandalorian arena was pretty cool. All my matches there were fought on the top level, so I don’t know if the lower ring or tunnel will see much action.

I ran four Voidstars during the day, and aside from the one with six healers, they definitely went faster. Once the first door opens, the other matches became a race to the finish, which I consider an improvement.

Overall, I went 7 and 6, which I rate a smashing success and had a really good time. It seems like most folks were there to poke around and have some low stakes fun. It was neat to cross paths with some SWTOR celebrities, and I like to think my healer saved a dev or two from certain death once or twice during the day.

I’m definitely in the camp that is happy to see the return of open PTS testing. That the good folks at Bioware have been quick to implement changes that have come from feedback has been great to see. I hope to visit the test server more in the future.

 

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Summertime Blues

Just a few hours after my last post, Keith Kanneg shared SWTOR’s Summer 2018 Roadmap. I’m not usually one for hot takes, but, what the heck, I’ll give it a go.

I don’t do a ton of PVP these days, but cross-faction grouping, a new Huttball map and the ability to exclude certain types of matches all sound pretty good to me. I prefer objective based PVP, so if I can queue knowing that I won’t get dropped into an arena with three strangers against a pre-made, I’d play more.

On the PVE side, there isn’t much. I’m always up for a new stronghold, but that’s about it until the fall. Welcome to the content drought of 2018.

My first guess is that they’re giving World of Warcraft’s new expansion a wide berth, which, honestly, doesn’t strike me as a bad idea. In addition, Keith Kanneg recently raised the question of how folks want to receive SWTOR content: in smaller, more regular updates (which seems to have been the model for KotET) or in larger full fledged expansions. I hope they’re leaning towards the latter model now, which sadly means having to bide time until stuff comes together. I’m not psyched, but this isn’t my first MMO, and I’ve seen things like this before. If this is the cost for getting story updates that last longer than 5 minutes and not having to wait months between raid bosses, it’s a price I’m willing to pay. Besides, it’s the summer, there is plenty of other stuff to do. Time to get some sun!

 

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That’s What They Want You to Think

I was out of town when Game Update 5.9 launched, so this review is coming a little late, but I’d like to share some impressions. Between the excellent Izax encounter in Gods from the Machine and now The Nathema Conspiracy, the last couple of patches have been pretty good for group content.

Nathema is easily the strongest of Knight of the Eternal Throne’s three new flashpoints. It’s not as high concept as Crisis on Umbara or as beautiful as Traitor Among the Chiss, but it hits every mark when it comes to pacing, rewards and fun boss fights.

The flashpoint offers plenty of loot including more than a dozen new decorations, a unique armor set and even a brand new droid companion, all of which are available to all players regardless of skill level.

Nathema’s master mode also feels appropriately balanced for what I expect from a hard mode flashpoint. Thankfully, it’s neither as as brutal as Umbara nor the trash-fest that Copero can be. As long as the group can pay attention to a few mechanics, it’s perfectly doable in a reasonable amount of time by a decently geared team.

Visually, once again the artists at Bioware have created another wonderful environment to explore. Nathema’s landscape is at first familiar from our first visit, but we quickly discover that Valkorion’s death has brought the planet back to life before we finally descend into one of the Emperor’s baroque and spooky crypts.

I should also discuss the events of the story, so spoilers ahead. Unlike the previous chapters, a lot happens here. Things get started with a quick visit to an abandoned Imperial listening post. Exploring dark, deserted ships is something that happens a lot in SWTOR, but it’s almost always done well, so it’s a setting I don’t mind revisiting from time to time.

The story doesn’t waste our time before letting us know that Theron’s betrayal was only for show so that he could infiltrate the Order of Zildrog. This was foreshadowed from the beginning so I’m cool with this result. The real focus of the story belongs to the villains: Vinn Atrius and GEMINI16.  I think the writers did an excellent job with them. Atrius is remarkably fleshed out and sympathetic for a one-off antagonist. In many ways, he’s right; things on Zakuul did get a whole lot worse after the Outlander showed up.

And I also can’t complain about him objecting to my character’s sparing Arcann either. It’s one of those decisions I wish the game had fleshed out more. My character spared Arcann because I believe in mercy, but I still consider him a war criminal. In my head cannon, Arcann is under house arrest on Odessen, but from Vinn’s perspective, the guy who brought the war right to Zakuul’s doorstep got off scott free. I’d be pissed too.

The story also wraps up the GEMINI storyline. The SCORPIO parts of the Eternal Empire saga were some of my favorites (I’d love see KotFE and KotET told from SCORPIO’s point of view because she is so clearly the hero of her own story), but no matter what choices you make, it’s certainly a tragedy for the GEMINIs. I’d like to think that some of the GEMINIs freed during The GEMINI Deception are still out there, but that may not be the case.

I’m not the first the say this, but Nathema is all about clearing the decks in preparation for the next big story arc. The Eternal Fleet is destroyed, the Eternal Alliance will soon be folded into the Republic or Sith Empire, and we’re not too likely to visit Zakuul again. It looks like Lana is the only character left who is certain to be around for what’s to come.

From a storytelling standpoint, I can see why this is necessary. Bioware has done a good job lately letting new and returning players jump back into the current story without forcing them to catch up through stuff that may not interest them, and while launching Knights of the Fallen Empire with a five year jump did the trick there, dealing with the players’ status as Alliance Commander needed more work.

I may devote another post to my thoughts about the missed opportunity that was the Eternal Alliance and why I’m not as excited about a return to the Republic vs. Empire dynamic, but for now I’ll just finish up with the one part of The Nathema Conspiracy that did disappoint me: the destruction of the Gravestone. I loved that hunk of junk; it’s a cool mix of the Millennium Falcon, Serenity, Space Battleship Yamato, and a haunted house. I’m honestly bummed it won’t be a part of the action going forward, and instead got swept up in the rest of Nathema’s house-cleaning. Given the big role the Gravestone played in the whole Eternal Empire story, I think she deserved better.

But that, for me, is the only sour note of a flashpoint which I think stands among SWTOR’s best. Whether you play solo or with friends, definitely check it out.

Many Happy Returns

Game Update 5.9 also marks the first time I’ve been able to play one of the recent companion reunion missions. The two characters I’ve completed the story on are my Consular and my Bounty Hunter so each of them had a companion waiting for them. I’ve seen these missions very accurately described as short and sweet, and I cannot disagree.

On the one hand, it was really nice hearing my characters speak dialogue that was written specifically for them for a change. And catching up with Felix and Mako was most welcome.

But, yeah, they are short, really short. I realize at this point, Bioware just wants to get these long over due reunions out of the way, but it’s a drag that major companions are returning with less gameplay than Broonmark’s recruitment alert. It’s a shame Mako and Akaavi won’t get the Profit and Plunder treatment, or that my Sage could not have led the mission to rescue Felix from imprisonment. Clearly the companion thing is something that got away from the developers, but I hope it’s something Bioware doesn’t overlook again. However, with so many favorites and possible pairings, that’s a lot of plates to keep spinning, and I don’t envy them that herculean task.

We’ve reached the end of SWTOR’s latest road map, so it’s now time to wait and see. A new expansion means a host of new possibilities. I’m curious to see what comes next!

 

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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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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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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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