Category Archives: KotET

Onslaught Semi-Hot Take

The announcement of SWTOR’s next expansion Onslaught is now a week old, and I thought I should at last toss in my 2 cartel coins. I’ve never been one for hot takes, and my main response to the news has been “Sounds cool! Can’t wait!” This is fine, but not especially compelling, so I’ll try to be a bit more specific. Before I get started I must applaud the amazing work by Swtorista, Kogass, Kid Lee, Boomy, Vemapris, Lady Rann and everyone at the swtorfancommunity for their heroic efforts to bring a constant stream of news, photos and interviews from Star Wars Celebration. To be able to tune into the Cantina as it happened was a vicarious thrill and very much appreciated by this homebody.

First, and probably least importantly, I won’t lie, I was hoping for a trailer. Blur’s two amazing Fallen Empire cinematics definitely spoiled me, and I’ll always be eager for more. But as the old joke asks: does a two million dollar trailer cost us raid tiers? I have no way of knowing, but if it means more resources for the actual development of the game, I won’t complain. The in-game cut scenes throughout the Fallen Empire cycle were leaps and bounds above what had come before, so I expect to experience the same level quality with Onslaught.

The two planets we will be visiting in Onslaught, Onderon and Mek-Sha, embody one of SWTOR’s strengths: the ability to explore existing Star Wars lore while still expanding the universe with new locations and characters. Onderon has connections to both recent and older Star Wars stories, but we’ll also get to visit an entirely new world in the gutted-out planetoid of Mek-Sha. If there is one thing the designers of SWTOR have shown time and time again is that they can create fantastic settings for the players to explore and I look forward to setting down on both worlds.

We’ll also be returning to Corellia for the expansion’s first flashpoint. Corellia had a prominent role in last year’s movie Solo so it seems like a good choice for a locale to revisit. Likewise, the expansion’s operation on Dxun reflects this mix of old and new. This will be the game’s first visit to Onderon’s moon, but a welcome return of Czerka’s distinctive brand of corporate villainy which has been a part of the game since the start.

The expansion will also come with a new playable species, Nautolans. Personally, Nautolans don’t float my boat, but not every character customization option has to be for everyone. I would’ve preferred additional appearance options for the existing species, but I don’t deny that many, many people are psyched to play a Nautolan and that “new playable species” is a sexier bullet point than “more haircuts and tattoos.” And, of course, I’m already squatting on a name for my Nautolan.

In January, I predicted that we’d see gearing changes in 6.0, but the Spoils of War system aims to go far beyond what I could’ve anticipated. From the broad strokes Bioware sketched out in the last week, the new system’s embrace Legacy gearing and the ability to customize gear sets for different styles of play all sounds very, very interesting, but the devil is in the details, and I am loath to draw any conclusions until I see those details.

Something that is very encouraging, however, is Bioware’s willingness to solicit player input and feedback before the system goes live, both on the forums now and in the PTS to come. Clearly, they’ve learned a thing or two from the launch of Knights of the Eternal Throne. I don’t expect the Spoils of War system to be without issues or imbalances, but I have faith we won’t have to endure the mess that was Galactic Command’s rollout and growing pains next time around.

Also in January, I predicted an August launch, but with enough caveats that I think I can give myself half credit for the call since the launch will be just one short month later in September.

Finally, Onslaught will be included with the game’s subscription. I know many regular players who would’ve been fine paying extra for the expansion if it had included more story, flashpoints, ops, pvp, etc, but SWTOR’s business model seems to be this: Sub for a month and get access to everything the game has to offer. And it seems to be working for them. When I revisited World of Warcraft last year, I was put off that I had to both subscribe and pony up for the expansion. I’m honestly impressed that someone whose subscription to SWTOR lapsed two and a half years ago still has access to all of the game’s latest story content.

Sure, WOW’s expansions and major patches dwarf SWTOR’s. That will never change, but I think SWTOR has done a decent job of picking up the pace of releases lately, as long as that continues into Onslaught I’ll count myself a happy subscriber.

So, in conclusion, it all sounds cool, and I can’t wait for September, but I think I mentioned that already.

 

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Ossus Overview

With Jedi Under Siege more than a month behind us, I thought I’d take a moment to discuss it a bit more. I’ve yet to start the story on another character beyond my Republic and Sith mains, but I’ll get to my alts eventually. However, I have taken the time to fully explore the world and finish off the major achievements. Bioware did a very nice job filling out the zone with stuff to explore and do beyond the story and daily questing, and I very much hope Ossus will be the model for new areas going forward.

I won’t lie, I took advantage of plenty of outside resources while tracking the Ossus datacrons. I had come across one on the PTS during testing, but was relieved to discover an easier route to it once it went live. The Endurance datacron had me crossing back and forth and up and down across Ossus, and I had fun on the chase. The hunt for that datacron was more elaborate than the Endurance datacron on Makeb, but unlike that one, you won’t risk death and have to start from scratch if you miss a jump or take a wrong turn.

That unlocking the Datacron also awards the first non-cartel market weapon tuning is an additional treat. I understand that this particular tuning is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is tied to the lore surrounding Ossus. As someone who fondly recalls the Tales of the Jedi and Dark Empire comics, encountering even a slumbering Ood Bnar was pretty neat. I understand why he won’t rouse for my characters, but that he acknowledged them with a precious sprig was a satisfying reward for the achievement.

Knights of the Eternal Throne has been stingier than other expansions when it comes to unique rewards for completing story arcs and achievements, and it’s nice to have a good reason to revisit Ossus beyond farming gear.

As for the gear grind. It honestly hasn’t been bad. Both of my characters are upgrading at least one piece of equipment to 258 every week now, and this pace feels perfectly acceptable considering the effort I’m putting in. The main weekly is remarkably relaxed. Compared to other daily areas like the Black Hole or Section-X where I race from one combat to the next, the Ossus weekly can be completed with relatively little actual fighting. Indeed, with some cherry picked quests, an extra visit over a day or two, and some patience you could probably complete the weekly without even fighting a single mob.

The heroics are where you’ll see the most action, but if you don’t need or care about the reputation, they can be skipped. I find they are a good source of decorations, so I’m always happy to knock them out.

The outdoor world bosses are another cup of tea. On the plus side, groups are often forming to fight them, but there is no telling if I’ll get a couple of clean kills or a graveyard rush and a 125,000 credit repair bill for my trouble. I’m not sure if the oddly large number of urban legends surrounding these bosses has more to do with the actual bugs on Ossus or the natural superstition of players.

There are plenty of real bugs in 5.10, and it’s frustrating that we’re now into February and legitimately annoying stuff like the inability to share quests and a mix and match set bonuses between older tiers and the 252/258 gear are still in play. Bioware often goes dark in January, but two months of this is even getting on my nerves.

Next time, back to the Aurebesh! I’ve got a backlog I need to get through.

 

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The Future’s Not Ours to See: Five Predictions for 2019

Happy New Year! Once again, let’s start the year off with five predictions for 2019. Looking over my list from last year, I think I would generously give myself a score of 0.5 out of 5. This year, there is nowhere to go but up!

I struggled to come up with an interesting list of predictions, often unable to resolve the difference between what I hope will happen this year and what I actually think will happen. In the end, this list is a mix of both.

Expansion Launch Date

There is no better example of this tension between hope and fear than in considering the date of the next expansion’s release. We all expect to get news of SWTOR’s future at Star Wars Celebration in April. My hope is that it’ll be more than just a tease, but a full on expansion announcement complete with new cinematic trailer. If that is the case, a summer launch would be possible and inline with past release schedules. I’m going to predict an August launch, but I suspect we might have to wait until autumn to catch some of that Episode IX hype. In either case, we’re gonna be in 5.10 territory for a while.

Kira and Scourge Will be in the New Cinematic

I admit, this one is 100% hope. A friend and I recently discussed Kira and Scourge’s over-long absence from SWTOR, and how it seems like the folks at Bioware really have their work cut out for them when it comes to giving the return of two of the game’s most beloved companions the heft it deserves. Seeing Kira and Scourge kick ass in one of those amazing Blur cinematics would absolutely go a long way towards building hype for the new expansion. In truth, I imagine the trailer will focus on Malgus, but that’s okay too.

Gear Changes are Coming

It’s not a stretch to expect gear changes after 6.0. I predict we will see PVP exclusive gear again, perhaps with the return of the Expertise stat. However, games like Fortnite and Overwatch seem to be doing okay without a gear grind, so I don’t think its impossible that Bioware might even take the extra step to remove the need for any gear in PVP altogether.

I also think it’s time for some changes to PVE gear. My hope is that we get new set bonuses on tier sets in the next expansion. Set bonuses haven’t significantly changed since Rise of the Hutt Cartel, and something fresh would be neat. Before that happens, I’d like to see some of the bonuses, particularly the healer and tank cool down reductions, get baked into the base class abilities or proficiency paths.

I also hope to see some new Relics. Even tanks default to the Serendipitous Assault/Focused Retribution combo these days. Some relics are bad and have been bad for years. Ephemeral Mending remains a booby trap for healers, and my poor tank has already disintegrated two 252 Imperiling Serenity relics from my weekly Ossus rewards. Let’s see robust on-use relics or relics with weird procs. Heck, even update the Matrix Cubes. Variety is good!

The Dark vs. Light Event Will Return

I won’t lie; this one is filed under the fear category. I predict the Dark vs. Light Event will return as the big time-filler this summer. There is legitimate value in making the Victorious Pioneer armor available again, and I often see folks who missed out wish they could earn Ranos as a companion. But as someone who made it to Legendary level last time, I can say I have little desire to do it again. My biggest beef with the event is that to participate I had to put aside characters whose story, appearance and gear I’ve been invested in for years in order to play new characters I mostly discarded once the event was done. If Bioware does bring the event back, I really, really hope they make some big changes next time around.

Where are the Damn Porgs Already?

When I put Porgs on last year’s list I thought it was a gimme. I am honestly shocked and a little disappointed that we haven’t seen Porgs pop up in SWTOR. So, heck, yeah, I’m keeping them on the list. In addition to the Porg related items from last time, I’ve got more that I humbly request, nay, DEMAND to see in game this year. First, and most obviously, Porg themed tier sets: if you want the best gear in the game, you will have to cosplay as a Porg. Deal with it. A Porg mount: a lone, mighty Porg who will pick up your character by the scruff of the neck and fly you where you need to go. Finally, the highest level of reward for the next ranked PVP season should be a Porg headpiece. Yes, that’s right, we should be able to tell the toughest, most dedicated, most elite PVPers apart from the rest of us because they will have a space puffin sitting on their head. Works for me.

2019 should be an exciting year for SWTOR, and I look forward to the next expansion and maybe getting one prediction right this year. Stranger things have happened!

 

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This Is Not Going to Go the Way You Think

I think everyone would agree that 2018 was a slow year for SWTOR. What story content we did get came and went early. After the Traitor story wrapped up and the final two bosses from Gods from the Machine emerged, there wasn’t much to be excited about aside from a fair number of PVP changes and the Rishi stronghold.

Until Game Update 5.10, that is. I think that Jedi Under Siege is one of the best non-expansion story updates in SWTOR’s history, easily on par with the best of Knight of the Fallen Empire’s chapter updates. I’ve very much enjoyed the last couple of weeks.

The artists and designers responsible for creating the worlds from Zakuul and Odessen to Copero and Nathema have done a consistently great job throughout the Fallen Empire cycle, and this remains the case with Ossus. Elements of the lost world of the Jedi evoke the ruins of Jedha from Rogue One and the beached Star Destroyer from The Force Awakens. In addition, the great halls and amphitheater of the Jedi Library took my breath away, and these locations feel truly unique to Star Wars: The Old Republic.

As for the story itself, I was not disappointed. I very much enjoyed the Fallen Empire saga, but we’re ready for our next adventure, and the events on Ossus do a very nice job setting the stage for the conflict come. The individual Republic and Empire storylines are not tremendously long (this is a game update after all, not an expansion), but the two versions complement each other well.

Bioware has long since given up on the illusion that each of our character’s stories exists in the same “cinematic universe”, and our other characters’ versions of their stories make each play through mutually exclusive. This is something of a controversial change. I always liked the idea that my characters existed alongside of each other and have long hoped they’d get to interact someday, but “choices matter” has been a goal of the writers and something the players often demand. Sharing a single story across our legacy meant that a certain status quo will be enforced. Neither faction will truly defeat the other, and certain characters were guaranteed script immunity. Now our choices lend weight to the resolution of the story on Ossus and already major characters maybe alive in one version of the story and dead in another. Nevertheless, there is enough overlap in the events of the Jedi and Sith’s stories to lend insight into the other’s version of events, such that playing both sides of the story is rewarding and even necessary for a full understanding of the narrative as a whole.

As with the setting, I think the story draws some inspiration from the new films. Like Luke in The Last Jedi, the Jedi on Ossus are hiding out and trying to find their place in this new galaxy. Tau’s struggle to find peace after years of war is compelling; she wants to be more than a Jedi bad-ass and doesn’t know how to do it. The story brings the expectations of the Republic and the Sith Empire crashing down on the colony. Both are looking for the legendary Jedi warriors of old to fight for and against.

It’s interesting that the Empire comes to Ossus looking to pick a fight with the Jedi who they imagine want the very same thing. Instead they find their ancient enemy is far more interested in growing space pumpkins and pouring through ancient manuscripts in a ruined library.

With Major Anri, the Sith have a charming and likeable character, and it almost makes me feel bad that my bounty hunter turned saboteur on my first time through. I’m actually quite curious to discover her reaction to my character’s betrayal.

The big news is, of course, the return of Darth Malgus. Long time readers of this blog will know that I’ve never believed Malgus was really dead so I can’t say I’m shocked by this turn of events. While I cautiously welcome his return, there is clearly more going on with him than meets the eye. This is not the same Malgus we met on Vaiken Spacedock and defeated on the Emperor’s station all those years ago. The question of whether the galaxy is better off with Darth Frickin’ Malgus under the thumb of Acina or Vowrawn is something I suspect will occupy our time in the expansion to come.

Sure, I’m excited by the thought of a big, sprawling star war across the galaxy, but what I like most about Jedi Under Siege is that I can’t wait to see what happens to both my own characters and the other new and returning characters in the adventures to come.

Gear Grind

I should also touch on a couple other things that came with this update. The addition of new masterwork gear is the most controversial. After two years of Galactic Command, the acquisition of this new gear seems more complicated than it really needs to be. As a semi-casual PVE-er, I’m really not going to worry about it. It’s gear I don’t need for content I’m not doing. For me the path to upgrades goes through Ossus dailies and other weeklies that I may or may not be interested in completing. Anything I get will be gravy, and I’m not going to bust my behind to get it. That would be my advice to anyone not doing Master Mode Gods from the Machine as well.

PVP-ers, however, do have a legitimate gripe. Having to do Ranked PVP to get the gear you need to effectively compete in Ranked PVP is some weird-ass circular logic. Eric Musco has implied that gearing changes will be coming to PVP next expansion, but for now I hope those Ranked players like Ossus dailies too.

Dailies Grind

Speaking of the Ossus dailies, they’re not bad. If you look at dailies as a cost benefit analysis between time spent and CXP/credits earned, they probably won’t compete with Oricon or CZ, but I think they’re fine. I like that they are mixing in different quests to keep things a little fresh, and I like the extra incentive to only do five quests a day rather than grind out all ten at once.

The quests themselves are nothing we haven’t seen before: kill these mobs over here, click those things over there, the usual. The heroic-2s are a little trickier than normal. I run with my companion in dps stance so I do have to use a little crowd control and be quick with a defensive cooldown. I find that a refreshing change of pace from all other heroic-2s in the game. As for the heroic-4, I suspect I could solo it, but why would I? With the help of a friend or two, it’s both much faster and more fun. Anything to encourage folks to team up is cool by me.

Overall, I’m very happy with Jedi Under Siege. Yeah, the update came with its share of bugs; rare is the major update that does not. It sucks for everyone from Bioware to the players, but aside from having to kill the Ossus world bosses more times than I would’ve preferred to get credit for the quest, I can’t say they affected me too much. The stuff that matters the most to me, they got right. The story is entertaining, the planet is beautiful and worthy of exploration, and the characters are compelling. I couldn’t ask for more.

Actually, that’s not true. I could ask for the next expansion to come sooner rather than later.

 

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Exile’s End

With Game Update 5.10 out this week, SWTOR ends the year on a high note. But there is one aspect of Jedi Under Siege worth focusing on because of the part I played in making it happen.

SWTOR often uses its launcher to promote the latest Cartel Market deal with tag lines like “Wield the Unstable Arbiter’s Lightsaber” or “Drive the Landslide Assault Speeder”. I don’t often give them much thought, but the ad on July 27 caught my eye.

As anyone who knows me can attest, I adore dumb jokes, and I had to share my joy at the appearance of the beefsteak tomato of a Jedi that was “Don the Exiled Knight”. I snapped a screenshot of the launcher and posted it to the r/swtor subreddit. I figured I’d get some cheap karma and a few funny comments, and that would be the end of it.

But it wasn’t the end. The post was received with good humor across the board and even SWTOR’s Community Manager, Eric Musco chimed in with the hope that Don be put into the game at some point. And this week, Bioware made good on that wacky notion.

Not only can Don be found on the planet Ossus, Bioware also included some achievements and a decoration associated with his discovery and history. I could not be happier. I love the exploration and scavenger hunting aspects of MMOs, and with the recent Nerf Herding and unusual Star Fortress achievements, folks at Bioware seem to as well. Exiled no more, Don will find a permanent home as an honored guest in my stronghold.

In discussing this unexpected turn of events with my friends, there was some debate about how much credit I deserve for all this. The consensus was that I deserve very little credit but the lion’s share of the blame, and I’ll cop to that. Making a dumb joke on the internet is pretty easy, and I’m hardly the first to tell this one, but I’ve got to hand it to the SWTOR community who ran with it and the good people at Bioware who rolled with it and did the actual hard work of bringing good ol’ Don to life. As for me, I’m pleased that I get to be a little more in on this inside joke than most.

I do wonder if Bioware had to get approval for Don from the overseers at Lucasfilm. I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall for that conversation!

 

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Jedi Under Siege Livestream

I must hand it to the good folks down in Austin they did not scrimp on the news from the latest Cantina Livestream. That amount of stuff we can expect in the next game update previously might have been spread out across an entire season’s worth of a road map, so color me impressed and punch my ticket for the hype-train. Choo choo.

To start, I’m going to keep this spoiler-free, avoiding even the mild revelations from the livestream. Please check Galactic Antics, MMObits and Vulkk for far more comprehensive coverage than I could ever hope to provide.

For me, there is a lot to be excited about in Jedi Under Siege. The world, the planet’s design, the new and returning characters, it all looks cool. Instead of going into detail on each point, I think I’ll just discuss the two things that jumped out at me the most.

Story

I have written before about how I consider the choice of whether your character supports their original faction or switches allegiances my favorite part of the Iokath story, and I’m pleased that we will be allowed to reinforce that decision. When it comes to story updates, I tend to focus on my two favorite characters, one from each faction: my Consular and my Bounty Hunter. However because both characters opted to side with the Republic my journeys through Iokath were pretty much the same each time. But on the new planet, despite their similar previous choices, it looks like those characters will experience the story differently, and I’m genuinely psyched to dive in.

As we’ve seen previously, completing the story will unlock the new zone as a daily area. I seem to be one of the few people who like the Iokath dailies for their variety and scope (stomping around in a walker will never not be fun to me). I hope the quests and environments are interesting enough to make return visits worthwhile beyond the incentive to farm up the new gear. That the new zone will be populated with datacrons, a pair of world bosses and lots of new decorations is certainly promising. I do hope the world bosses are bit more pug friendly than the Dark vs. Light bosses and don’t have ridiculous respawn timers. If at least one is instanced like Toborro’s Courtyard and my guild can run it on our own schedule, I’ll jump for joy.

Nightmare Mode Lives

I have no plans to raid Gods from the Machine on its most challenging difficulty, and if scaling up all operations to max level remains the plan for future SWTOR expansions, it’s very possible that I will never even set foot inside it at that difficulty. And, yet, the news surrounding the return of Master Mode operations has me pleased.

During Rise of the Hutt Cartel and Shadow of Revan expansions, I was part of a Hard Mode raiding team. We played casually, didn’t shatter any records, but were a solid group of fun people. During Hutt Cartel we and made steady progress on a light progression schedule. That changed during Shadow of Revan. The “hard-mare” version of Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice, created to be a compromise between Hard and Nightmare modes with the removal of Nightmare mode proved incredibly frustrating, and we ultimately stalled out after only beating the first two encounters of both operations.

I’ve never been more angry and disappointed with SWTOR than the night we gave up trying to beat the buggy mess that was Underlurker. Attrition set in and soon after Knights of the Fallen Empire launched without new Operations, the hard mode team was no more. I don’t blame any who quit. We found our groove in Hutt Cartel’s middle lane, and it remains a drag that the removal of a raiding mode that we barely ever touched eventually led to my team’s downfall.

The release of Master Mode Gods from the Machine also will included a rebalanced Veteran Mode that I assume will be along the lines of the old Hard Modes from Rise of the Hutt Cartel. If that is the case, then pinch my cheeks and call me Rosy because you can sign me up right now. I’ve recently started raiding Veteran modes again and as much as I do love Terror From Beyond, the thought of learning new hard mode bosses has me thrilled.

That’s just two of the things I’m looking forward to in the December update. Here’s hoping the year ends on a high note! However, I fear avoiding spoilers until then will be a challenge. Fingers crossed!

 

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Beach Front Property

This week I’d like to share my first impressions of the Rishi stronghold. I hesitate to call this a review because I’ve only scratched the surface of all the spaces this stronghold has to explore. The stronghold lag bug meant I did very little with it the first week, and even though I spent a couple hours decorating this week, I’m still only at 12% completion as I write this.

This is fine by me. I very much enjoy the zen of decorating. For the Manaan stronghold I had a good sense of what I wanted to do with each area from the get go and most of the rooms were blocked out quickly. But I expect Rishi will be more like how I decorated Yavin, a process that took almost a year as I played with different options and furnished areas around brand new or old weird decorations.

The first stronghold change I want to mention actually happened earlier this year with the update to Conquest: the separation of the total stronghold completion percentage from the bonus granted from completing Conquest objectives. Removing the incentive to chase 100% completion has been a real boon. Even before the maximum number of hooks on Manaan was increased, my stronghold there was stuck around 75% complete, but it still felt overly cluttered. Now, I can declare a room done when I’m happy with it, not when I’ve maximized its usage of hooks.

Moreover, if in the weeks or months to come, I get a fancy new decoration, it’s nice knowing that I still have plenty of hooks left to place it on. I love my Nar Shaddaa stronghold but adding even one deco means removing another, and that can throw a whole room into chaos. Yeah, I know how that sounds, but I think it’s easier to balance the Force than find the proper ratio of tables to chairs.

The Rishi stronghold has several new features that we’ve not seen before. The most prominent is, of course, the PVP zones, and I’m impressed with how well they’ve implemented them with team colors, score keeping, spectating, and custom decorations for the pitch. I don’t know how much actual PVP I’ll do in my stronghold, but having the option to mess around with my friends whenever we want is pretty cool.

There are also other little things of note. That a dozen of my favorite pets eagerly watch while I beat up a target dummy makes parsing just a little more fun. And let’s not forget Speedy the Turtle who is the first unique inhabitant of a stronghold. I’d still like to see a Force ghost haunting Yavin, but watching Speedy trundle by while I chill out on the beach makes me smile every time.

And if Speedy doesn’t bring you joy, you can kill him dead. The inclusion of secret achievements and earnable legacy titles exclusive to the stronghold has been another fine addition. I don’t know if we’ll see full on questing in a stronghold (I can arm-chair-develop a dozen quest suggestions at the drop of a hat), but seeing the stronghold concept change from something static to something approaching dynamic is pretty neat, and I hope Bioware keeps exploring new ideas for things players can do in them.

There is one new feature that I discovered just last week: light switches in the rooms of the Overlook. I don’t know if it was a simple change, but it’s a subtle one that can totally alter the character of a room. It’s not quite the day-night cycles I’d have liked to see in all strongholds, but I really do like this addition!

Finally, the team at Bioware must get props for the agile response to player feedback they received from the PTS. The removal of clutter, the change of the color of the sand, and the addition of the overlook rooms are just three of the changes that came about because of requests from the players. I understand some of the fixes required herculean effort from the designers, but it has truly made for a better stronghold.

If your favorite stronghold is the front room on Coruscant or Dromund Kaas with the GTN, mailbox, a vendor and your banks all crammed within arms reach of the zone-in spot, then Rishi is an easy pass, but if finding the right rug to tie a room together, being the captain of a space-pirate ship or grabbing some rays on the beach are a few of your goals in life, it’s worth the credits.

 

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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, I can dream, can’t I?

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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