Category Archives: Onslaught

Five For Five: Revisiting Some Top Five Lists

With so much going on in the real world right now, perhaps it’s only natural that I find myself looking back a bit. Since the earliest days of this blog I’ve been compiling “Dumb Top Five Lists” meant to highlight some of my favorite hidden corners and overlooked collectibles that can be found in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I thought it might be neat to see if some recent additions to the game could manage to secure spots on some of those old lists.

Top Non-Cartel Market Mounts: Feirocian Cruiser

The first list of my favorite non-Cartel Market stuff covered mounts, but there have been many new mounts added to the game since that post. Many of those could be found in Galactic Command Crates during Knight of the Eternal Throne. The best, by far, of these is the Feirocian Cruiser which was a very rare prize found in Tier 4 Command Crates. This large, unique speeder is the closest we’re ever going to get to driving the Batmobile in SWTOR. The massive fins, crackling plasma binders and gold trim all combine to make this one of the sweetest whips in the game.

Does it make the top five? During KotET this would’ve been a tough call since the only source of this mount was the highest level Galactic Command Crates. I won’t lie; I ground a lot of CXP hoping to find this ride. Because of that difficulty, I would have put this in the “For the Truly Dedicated” category, but I’m not sure it could replace the beloved Pleasure Speeder in my heart. However, with Onslaught, the Cruiser can now be purchased from the Spoils of War Vehicle Vendor in the Supplies section of both Fleets for the relatively low cost of 500 Tech Fragments and 300,000 credits. This change parks the Feirocian Cruiser in the Vendor category where it easily earns the top spot. I don’t tend to like big mounts, but this one is worth picking up.

Top Non-Cartel Market Dyes: Dark Blue and Gray

Only two non-CM dye modules have been added to the game since my second list was posted, but they’re both nice combinations of Dark Blue and Gray. Their recipes can be learned from the Artifice trainer at skill level 620.  Despite sharing the same base colors, the two dyes seem to apply different shades. The Dark Blue and Gray dye, in particular, is very nice for a wide variety of outfits. The blue is very dark, nearly black, and the gray has a subtle metallic blue tint to it. I’ve applied this dye to Trooper armor, Agent gear and Sith robes, and it works well on all of them.

Does it make the top five? Absolutely. Despite the dearth of player crafted customization options, the Dark Blue and Gray dye module is a standout. It handily bumps Deep Brown and Red from my original list and doesn’t feel the slightest bit bad about it.

Top Non-Cartel Market Decorations: Bioluminescent Mushrooms

Where SWTOR has not been stingy lately is in providing numerous of decorations for players to earn in game on Ossus, Dantooine, Onderon and Mek Sha. Despite the wide variety of civic, furniture, environmental and technological decorations from these sources, my favorite is easily the Bioluminescent Mushrooms sold by astromech D3-C0 on Ossus. Prior to Onslaught, these decorations cost precious Masterwork Crystals, but they can now be purchased for a mere 50 Tech Fragments each.

Does it make the top five? Given that I have spent thousands of Tech Fragments to carpet the Killik Cave of my Alderaan stronghold with these happy little mushrooms, I think it’s fair to give them top marks in the Reputation category. They are small decorations, but they pulse with a pleasant blue glow and throw off particles for a pleasantly soothing effect.

Top Non-Cartel Market Pets: Flirron

The jungles of Onderon are filled with countless creepy crawlies, prehistoric beasties, and flying fish, and resourceful players can take home a friendly Flirron as a companion pet after completing a short achievement. This four-winged fellow is part fish, part bird and pretty darn slick with its shiny blue scales and red stripes. Onderon is stuffed to the brim with secrets and achievements, and I definitely recommend making friends with the local wildlife while exploring this world!

Does it make the top five? I’m not sure, since it would replace the Nerf Herding achievement which is more involved and, to me, more engaging than the fairly simple Flirron-Friend achievement. On the basis of looks alone, however, the Flirron at the very least merits an Honorable Mention.

Best Worst Ways to Die in SWTOR: The Dxun Train

I’ve been having fun in SWTOR’s newest operation, The Nature of Progress, which keeps up SWTOR’s proud tradition of insuring that not all threats come from bosses. To raid an operation with a real sense of humor and literal running jokes has been a nice change of pace, and it helps that it does not lack for good encounters. The showpiece of the operation is certainly the Mutant Trandoshan Squad in which a brave team of heroes face off against four mighty, metamorphosed Trandoshan hunters. Despite being nigh invulnerable, they are ultimately no match for several tons of high-speed rocket trains crashing into their face. I’ve been running this operation for several months, and it still makes me laugh every single time one of those poor fellows goes splat. The Czerka Express, of course, is also fatal to players who should make sure to get clear when the hear that train a comin’. Under no circumstances should you use abilities like Rescue and Transpose to endanger the lives of your fellow party members. That would be wrong. I would never do that.

Does it make the top five? Without question. That instant comedy deaths can be inflicted on players and bosses alike makes this one of the all time greats.

Thanks for this trip down memory lane. If I missed your favorite decoration or mount, please let me know! I have more Aurebesh in the pipeline, but in the meantime, I hope everyone out there takes care of themselves, their families and their community.

 

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Filed under Dumb Top Five, General SWTOR, Onslaught

Taking the Edge Off

The topic of controversy swirling about SWTOR’s raiding community concerns the removal of the Veteran’s Edge buff from Master Mode/Nightmare difficulty operations. Veteran’s Edge is a buff that increases a character’s main stats based on the overall item rating of their gear in most group content. With the release of Onslaught all pre-existing operations and flashpoint content were “level locked,” and characters running that content are scaled down to level 70. The buff is meant to take in account the gear characters are wearing and to complement Onslaught‘s emphasis on horizontal gearing. Assuming your character has equipped item rating 306 gear in every slot, you will get 30 stacks of Veteran’s Edge in most Flashpoints and Storymode and Veteran Mode Operations, meaning once you complete the short vertical progression grind, you will out-gear nearly all of the group content in the game. With Game Update 6.1, this buff has been removed from all Master Mode Operations, dramatically increasing the difficulty of these operations across the board.

Before I continue, I should make absolutely clear that I am not a hard-core raider. During Rise of the Hutt Cartel and Shadow of Revan, I actively raided SWTOR’s Hard Mode (now called Veteran Mode) operations and I’ve recently picked it up again. The only Nightmare boss I have ever killed without the benefit of an extra tier of gear or extra levels is Nefra. Farming the easiest Nightmare boss for implants does not at all qualify me to talk about the concerns of the Nightmare community.

But I have some thoughts about level locked content, and they intersect with what is going on in the Nightmare community.

The purpose of level locking content is to keep it “evergreen” so that it does not require additional tweaking as the level cap increases in future expansions so that players will always be able to experience it in a fashion more or less as originally intended.

Level sync was first introduced during Knight of the Fallen Empire as a way to keep questing on the game’s many planets relevant for players even if they exceeded the intended level range of a planet. Flashpoints and Operations, however, were instead scaled up to the maximum level and again for Knights of the Eternal Throne. For the most part, level sync has been successful on the planetary scale, and it’s fair that Bioware would want to apply the system to group activity, freeing them to focus on new flashpoints and operations going forward rather than spend time re-balancing old content every time a new expansion launches.

That said, level sync is not perfect. Important stats like Endurance, Mastery and Power are capped in level synced content. The Veteran’s Edge buff is meant to account for our character’s gear and increases those stats. Let’s take two characters in full 306 kits, one has best in slot gear and augments in every slot; the other has a completely random assortment of unmodified equipment. When level locked, the two characters will have identical hit points and mastery. The character that is well itemized will have superior tertiary stats like Accuracy, Alacrity and Critical, but the difference will not be so great as when you run into both of them on Fleet or Dxun where stats are not scaled.

It gets even weirder when you realize that there are many, many set bonuses, stims, adrenals, class buffs, group buffs, relic procs and guild perks that boost Endurance, Mastery or Power and therefore have absolutely no effect in level locked content.

This is why you see people using relics that were previously scorned, why everyone including tanks and healers should use Accuracy stims and why some guides recommend dps and healers use Warding Mods; they are, after all, literally the only mods that have any effect on our stats in level locked content.

Onslaught’s Spoils of War system has given players the ability to customize our gear far more precisely than in any previous expansion; yet in the vast majority of the game’s group content it makes little difference. It’s not a bold statement to say that proper gearing should matter and that it should reward better performance. That some players keep a traditional set of gear for the Dxun operation and another that exploits the exceptions of level locked content strikes me as bad design.

Veteran’s Edge does a good job smoothing over those rough edges in Storymode and Veteran Mode content, but in my experience there are two parts of progression raiding: gearing and practice. During 2.0 and 3.0, gearing took longer since bosses dropped upgrades that people could use. Since 5.0, and arguably 4.0, it’s common to walk into an operation with gear beyond anything you’ll loot from a boss. I’m cool with that. To me, learning fights and getting the point where the team is properly executing them is more rewarding than wondering who will get their Underworld Relic this week. It also means it is much easier to bring in new or returning players without having to revisit old content to gear them up.

I run operations much more casually than I did a few years ago, and it’s nice that Spoils of War allows my teammates and me to jump to the fun part without needing to spend excess time on the boring parts.

Many nightmare raiders have different goals. They want the challenge and the knowledge that everyone on the team needs to perform perfectly to succeed. That is completely understandable and a legitimate thing to want out of the game. I’ve seen some raiders complain that Veteran’s Edge is a crutch, but others say that getting upgrades that improve the individual and therefore the team’s output should be a part of the raiding experience.

I’m not at all the one to resolve this dispute, but I think the problems with Level Sync have exacerbated the difference between those positions. Right now the jump between Hard Mode and Nightmare operations seems bigger than ever, and it may be rougher than necessary for raiders who want to make it to the big leagues.

Rather than put it off, I think it would be worthwhile for Bioware to take a hard look at how level sync works now.

 

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A Mug’s Game: Five Predictions for 2020

Happy New Year! My annual attempt at failed prognostication has become something of a tradition, and, if we grade last year’s predictions on a generous curve, I scored a 1.5 out of 5, which is much better than I would’ve expected. As usual, I shall swing for the fences and not put any pressure on myself to anticipate the next year of SWTOR and actually hope to be right. There is a reason I call these top five lists “dumb”, after all.

Spoils of War

I don’t think we will see major changes to Spoils of War. For the most part, I have the impression that players are satisfied with gearing in Onslaught, especially as it compares to Galactic Command at any point in Knights of the Eternal Throne. I imagine there might be some tweaking in the months ahead. Renown Crates might as well reward nothing but Tech Fragments considering how rarely they contain useful or interesting loot, and hopefully there will be new additions for classes or specs that still lack a cool set or tactical. I also hope crafting gets another look; making basic stuff like medpacks, stims or augments still feels a bit tedious. Having to constantly churn out six types of components every time I want to make something is already getting old. All that said, it’s been a welcome change to have more stability in gearing this time around.

Blurrg Mounts

It’s fair to say that The Mandalorian has been very well received indeed by both Star Wars fans and SWTOR players. I’ve seen a rush of new Bounty Hunters overrunning Imperial Fleet since the show’s debut. I have no doubt that armor and weapons inspired by the show are certain to make their way to the Cartel Market as quickly as the artists at Bioware can crank them out. I predict that among those will certainly be Blurrg mounts. A colorful assortment of adorably ugly Blurrg pets have long been available to players, and I’d be amazed if they weren’t being fattened up for us to ride at this very moment. I’ll be shocked if I don’t score a point for this prediction next year, and perhaps one day our characters will even be the ancestors who rode the great Mythosaur!

The Dead Speak!

Kira Carsen and Lord Scourge have returned to SWTOR‘s main story with warnings of a Dark Side plague apparently unleashed by Valkorion’s defeat. I will go out on a limb and predict that this new threat might somehow also function as a way to allow for Vaylin’s return. Vaylin is arguably the character with the most tragic story in all of the Fallen Empire saga, and that her fate is set in stone regardless of our choices has been criticized by some who just like the character and by others who are uncomfortable with the idea that someone who was so horribly abused by her father had no path to redemption or escape. I don’t think it’s impossible that we could see her return in the not-too distant future. Nevertheless it might be odd to see her join our stable of companions. That the former Eternal Empress and one of the most powerful Force users in the galaxy might wind up helping us complete dailies on CZ-198 or chain run Slicing missions doesn’t feel like a fitting conclusion to her story either.

New Planet: Honoghr

This prediction is complete and utter speculation on my part. I hope we will visit a new world or two this year, but which ones? The Noghri were recently re-introduced into the official canon during the fourth season of Star Wars: Rebels, and I think they could be cool additions to SWTOR. Their homeworld, Honoghr is a jungle planet with links to both the ancient Rakata and Sith cultists, and it very well could be a planet someone like Darth Malgus might us as a base of operations or source of minions to use in his revenge against his hated foes in the Sith Empire and Galactic Republic. The depictions of the Noghri have varied greatly in Star Wars lore over the years, so I think SWTOR might have some latitude in putting their own stamp on them, and that would be neat to see. That said, if I’m being honest, I think we are far more likely to visit the Wookiee homeworld Kashyyyk or Black Spire Outpost on Batuu than Honoghr this year. I would be fine with either of those destinations.

My Kingdom for a Porg!

Yes, for the third year in a row, Porgs are on this list, and, no, I will not give up on my fine feathered and tasty friends! Truthfully, I accept that Porgs are now fated to do nothing more than hold Baby Yoda’s beer, but I still cling to the foolish hope they will follow along and squawk at my characters’ adventures at some point in the year to come. Once again, I will also offer some unsolicited advice on additional Porg themed items that should make their way to a Cartel Market near you. First, and most obviously, there should be a Porg Flair that replaces our portrait with a dancing Porg. Second, a Porg Weapon Tuning should perch a Porg perilously close to the end of our blaster barrels and lightsaber emitters and also replace the weapon’s sound effects with Porg mating calls. Finally, I can imagine a countless array of Porg themed decorations for our Strongholds: Porgs nests, Porg perches, Porg Disguise Terminals, and interactive Porg BBQ pits. It’s not too late for 2020 to be the year of the Porg, Bioware!

Feel free to let me know how catastrophically wrong these predictions are in the comments below or to share a few of your own. In the meantime, I hope everyone’s new year is off to a great start and that SWTOR roars into the ’20’s with another year of fun for all!

 

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First Impressions: Onslaught

It’s been a month since the launch of SWTOR’s latest expansion Onslaught, and I’m finally at point where I feel caught up enough to share some first impressions. I’m late to the party as usual, but I’ll still try to avoid major spoilers. In the interest of not keeping you too long, gentle reader, I will hit only a few points. It’s to the expansion’s credit that there are so many things I want to write about, but I just don’t have room to cover it all in a single post!

The Story

I was a fan of the Fallen Empire saga, but I understand it was not everyone’s cup of tea. Onslaught is a return to a traditional SWTOR story, but with extra style and tricks Bioware has learned in the intervening years. The biggest issue with even the strongest of Fallen Empire’s chapters is that there was little novelty in replaying the chapters on alts. There were variations, especially between light and dark side characters, but the general arc of the story was the same for all everyone. However, our characters can enter Onslaught from very different starting positions. The main Republic and Sith faction stories are separate despite intersecting plot points and characters. Added into the mix are the saboteur paths available to characters of both factions, and the outcome of Onslaught‘s story can vary quite a bit depending on the choices we make on the way.

The story itself has a lighter touch than Fallen Empire, with a bit more humor and a focus on classic heroes and villains doing their thing against a familiar backdrop of Star Wars’ ancient conflict between the Jedi and the Sith. Onslaught features the long anticipated return of some favorite heroes and villains, but makes room for other familiar faces that I did not expect to encounter again. Of course, there some new characters as well; I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Jedi Padawan Arn Peralun. His interactions with my character and Lana and Tau were all fun and established him as someone who’s arc I’m curious to see play out.

As with Ossus, playing the story through a second time on the opposite faction rewards the player with a different perspective on similar events. While the notion that our characters might exist in the same continuity has long since been abandoned, it’s neat to see where the stories overlap. Major Anri’s cameo in the Republic story was an unexpected pleasure and a nice moment that felt totally in character with what we’ve learned about her from the Sith faction’s story.

The dual story continues nicely into the climatic flashpoint, Objective Meridian, on the planet Corellia. We’ve seen flashpoints that played slightly differently between factions before, particularly the Forged Alliances flashpoints, but the Objective Meridian’s bosses are distinct with different mechanics depending on which faction you’re playing. It’s an attention to detail that makes an already excellent flashpoint feel even cooler.

As always, SWTOR makes sure your character is the center of the story and gives them plenty of opportunity to shine, but my two favorite moments involved Lana Beniko, a character who, if I’m being honest, I sometimes run hot and cold on. Lana is thoroughly entertaining throughout Onslaught. Her dramatic actions after a particular choice at the end of the Imperial Mek-Sha story had me clapping in surprise and delight. Even better was her cordial conversation with Gnost Dural in the Republic story. It was the kind of quiet, insightful Star Wars moment that you’d be hard pressed to find any where else but in SWTOR.

Speaking of the strengths of SWTOR, once again we get to explore two impressive new worlds: Onderon and Mek Sha. Onderon is a world steeped in many eras of Star Wars lore, and it’s neat to visit its dense jungles and bioluminescent caverns. With Mek-Sha it is clear the folks at Bioware relished going wild creating this brand new setting. While it seems to draw on aspects of SWTOR’s own Nar Shaddaa, the Stacks from Ready Player One and Alpha from Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the dark alleys and suspended walkways of the hollowed out planetoid are fleshed out with interesting factions and plenty of atmosphere of its own.

I very much enjoyed the Onslaught story, and I think old and new players alike will enjoy jumping into it.

Spoils of War

While Onslaught’s story returns to familiar ground, its gearing system dubbed “Spoils of War” diverges greatly from anything we’ve seen before. Even after numerous changes and iterations on the PTS, many, many players were nervous about how it would turn out. And it turned out pretty good, I think. Previously gearing consisted of acquiring sets of equipment with low item ratings, then spending the rest of the expansion slowly replacing that gear with new versions with slightly higher numbers. Spoils of War up-ends this system with a quick vertical progression to the highest level item rating, then a slower horizontal progression in which the acquisition of set bonuses, min-maxed, gear, Tactical items and Amplifiers take a greater time and credit investment.

A freshly minted level 75 character will feel pretty weak with the starter gear from the story, but once they start collecting upgrades, they’ll get far more durable and powerful. Right now, getting a cool set piece or a good Tactical is pretty satisfying. It can take some effort to get the exact pieces you want, but unless you’re really pushing the toughest content, they gear you get along the way will carry you just fine.

With Onslaught many of the big changes SWTOR has made since 4.0 finally feel like they’re coming together into an integrated whole. Legacy group content has been with us for a while, but Spoils of War allows different content to reward upgrades in a different ways. The Galactic Command system of Knights of the Eternal Throne basically gave the same reward for all content regardless of difficulty. Something of that remains in Onslaught, but players who venture into tougher and newer flashpoints and operations will find greater rewards than before. I think this is a good thing.

It’s not all perfect, however. Between the sheer range of gear we’ll be collecting, the huge variety of item modifications, the many sets, the numerous Tacticals and the dizzying array of Amplifiers, it can be overwhelming even to veteran players. I’ve been trying to unpack each of these new systems one at a time, rather than try to make sense of everything all at once. I’ll let you know when I’ve got Amplifiers all figured out. It might take a while.

Where Spoils of War failed out of the gate was with crafting. I realize crafting is a tough nut to crack for any MMO, and Bioware has announced changes to crafting coming next month. As I await those changes, I won’t dwell on this point at length, except to say that I think 6.0 crafting launched in its worst state ever.

Conquest is another system with disappointing changes. I understand the bonanza that was Conquest at the end of KotET might have needed to be dialed back a bit, but I think Bioware went too far. Conquest is the only source of important crafting materials, and the equipment crates rewarded from it are a solid source of gear upgrades. I don’t mind being nudged in the direction of Conquest, but right now Conquest is a hard push. With the changes in objectives it can be a pain for a casual player to even reach the weekly goal. This week, for example, the Pirate Incursion Conquest has only two objectives actually related to the event. One is non-repeatable and the other is a tedious Rampage mob-grind. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Conquest should not be work; there should be sufficient objectives for a any style of player to hit their Conquest target in an afternoon or so of targeted play. And I think Onslaught Conquest fall short of that mark.

There are also oddities with the Level Syncing of legacy content. Rather than beefing up group content to level 75, characters are instead scaled down to level 70. While level locked, our characters’ Mastery, Power and Endurance are set to static values; our overall item level can enhance those stats, but nothing else does. Most of the stats on our gear and augments, most relic procs, most stims and many guild perks have no effect in the vast majority of the game’s group content. I find myself in the odd position of recommending Primeval Fatesealer and Ephemeral Mending relics not because those two traditionally worst relics are finally good, but because they are the few relics that actually do anything these days. It’s very weird, and not at all ideal.

Now What?

Three years ago, I concluded my Knights of the Eternal Throne overview with this same question, but back then I asked it nervously. It would be months before Bioware even started talking about what content would come next. But Onslaught’s more or less smooth launch has me hoping the good folks at Bioware have hit the ground running. Papa Keith Kanneg has already shared plans for the end of the year including more heroics on Mek-Sha and a much needed revision to crafting.

It’s an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan. With Rise of Skywalker only weeks away, and Onslaught, Fallen Order and The Mandalorian appearing to be worthy additions to Star Wars lore, I am optimistic for next year. Onslaught‘s story ends by teasing at least three different possible adventures to explore, and I honestly don’t know which I’m most eager to see, but I can’t wait to find out.

 

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Clip Show

This Week in Aurebesh, I am not yet two weeks into Onslaught, and I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface of SWTOR’s new expansion. I still need to the complete the story on the opposing faction, visit the new flashpoint in something other than storymode and venture into the Dxun operation, let alone uncover Onderon and Mek Sha’s many achievements and hidden Datacrons.

I do want to share my first impressions about the good (the story and worlds!), the bugs (lost quest objective spawns, group finder ops!) and the ugly (Conquest and crafting!), but I also want to take my time enjoying leveling and exploring, so my commentary will have to wait a bit longer.

One thing that I do think is safe to say is that Mek Sha is super-cool. It’s as if all of Nar Shaddaa were stacked and crammed into one tiny planetoid with a gigantic picture window into the void of space. It’s dark, dank, claustrophobic and yet another neat setting unique to both Star Wars and the Old Republic setting.

It’s also bathed in a colorful, holographic glow. While there are many new signs and displays to be found on Mek Sha that I plan to examine in the future, there are also many familiar posters, lights and graphics repurposed from the game’s vast library of imagery.

Before you write this off as lazy, it’s worth remembering that whether you travel to Times Square in New York City or Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo or Piccadilly Circus in London you will behold many of the same ubiquitous brands and logos of our own world’s corporate landscape shining down on you in neon light.

So while I lollygag my way through Onslaught, I’d thought I’d take a break this week and revisit some of my favorite signs and graphics that I have already recreated in this blog and that you can spot on your journey into the underworld of Mek Sha.

I hope long time readers to this blog will forgive this self-indulgence, and I hope new visitors enjoy a taste of what this project has been for the last three years!

 

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Filed under Aurebesh to English, General SWTOR, Huttese to English, Onslaught

Buy n Large

In anticipation of SWTOR’s new expansion Onslaught’s launch next week, let’s check out a little poster that is oddly relevant to the closing days of Knights of the Eternal Throne both in terms of what it says and where this particular example can be found.

The poster announces a sale, and even though the hype train for Onslaught has been surprisingly low key, SWTOR’s Cartel Market has done its part by running a six week long series of sales. I don’t deny that I’ve been hoarding my monthly grants to take advantage of the deals.

This sign pops up all over the galaxy, but the example I’ve chosen comes from the flashpoint Hammer Station, directly outside the room where heroes confront the final boss, Battlelord Kreshsan. While the Onslaught Test Server was active I made sure to spend time exploring, Onderon, Mek Sha and Dxun, but like many others, I also spent time racing through Hammer Station in order to complete the PTS achievements to unlock the Kai Zykken log mount.

I am proud that I got to help a whole bunch of friends complete the achievement, but if you come across me in the activity finder and Hammer Station pops, please don’t take it personally when I drop from the group. I’ve had my fill of Hammer Station for a while.

As for the poster itself, I highlighted but did not recreate it in the very earliest days of this blog. It has a simple and charming design featuring a happy three-eyed alien who has no doubt gladly been parted from their hard earned credits, cartel coins, peggats, truguts or wupiupis. I’ve been there too, my tri-occular friend.

Despite a simple design, the poster has several layers of folds, faded colors, stains, rips, tears and general distress that suggest that the sale being advertised has long since ended. The Aurebesh at the top of the sign is written using a rarely seen freehand style rather than any of the standard versions. Aside from this poster, the only other place in the game you might see this type of Aurebesh is in some graffiti on Coruscant. Against my better judgment, I used Comic Sans in my English version, but the world’s most hated font does indeed match the style of the original Aurebesh.

I hope that this poster will one day be available as a stronghold decoration.

New York, New York

I am fortunate that I was able to get away and participate in the New York Community Cantina a couple weekends ago. I’m a natural wallflower, but it was great fun to meet not just the people who make this game I love, but also so many of the good folks I’ve been lucky enough to play with online. Hearing familiar voices come from real people is a rare pleasure and I’m extremely glad I made the trek.

The Cantina event was light on official news; the venue did not really lend itself to elaborate presentations and we’re close enough to Onslaught’s launch that there isn’t much left to announce. But in chatting with the devs from Bioware, there were additional tidbits to learn. The bosses in the Corellia flashpoint will be different depending on which faction you’re playing. Everyone will get to interact with the much-missed characters Kira and Scourge as they make their through way the story, although they won’t be joining everyone as companions afterwards. More generally, Bioware plans to keep things moving in the weeks and months ahead. They don’t want Onslaught to drag out as long as Knights of the Eternal Throne and intend to make sure that every aspect of the game gets some love: from story and group content to PVP, strongholds and even Galactic Starfighter. It won’t come all at once, but regardless of how you play, there should be something for you in Onslaught.

I can’t wait, and I’ll see you there!

 

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Filed under Aurebesh to English, KotET, Onslaught

PTS Adventures

In anticipation of Onslaught‘s debut next month, I’ve spent some time on the PTS testing out gear and gearing though the new Spoils of War system. SWTOR is again making big changes to how loot is acquired, and the team is using the PTS to gauge reactions and tweak things before they go live. The quick response from Bioware has been great to see. Things may not be perfect by the end of October, but I’m thinking things are on the right track.

Currently gearing works like this: get your tier set either through Galactic Command or operations/pvp, tweak your stats; repeat three or four more times, substituting Galactic Command for or skipping to Ossus at the last tier. Repeat for each character.

Spoils of War aims to both smooth out and mix up this process. The first step is to get the top level of random gear drops. We know there are 19 levels of gear, but I don’t think of them as tiers like we have now. I ran two Veteran Mode and one Master Mode flashpoints this week and went from item rating 278 to 284. Onslaught will shower us with loot, and we’ll be getting golds before we know it. If anything, there might be too much loot. I have recieved doubles and even triples of the same item from one boss. Even if one is an upgrade the rest are going straight into the Deconstructor. After each boss now there is a pause as everyone stops to play the inventory management mini-game before moving on to the next encounter. This is not super exciting. If all that extra loot is really just intended to be ground into Chuck Bux, I’d almost prefer cutting out the middleman and getting fewer, more focused drops along with more Tech Fragments.

Much of the gear is not perfectly itemized but we spend so little time with each piece that it hardly matters. Something important to remember is that all this gear is legacy bound.and we’ll only have to go through this first stage once before we have gold sets to share with our alts.

Once we’re rocking 306 gear, the next step will be to acquire sets and Tacticals. Traditionally, this has been tied directly to the first step, but it looks like getting our sets might be a separate chase. Beyond getting lucky with the random vendor or Kai Zykken, I confess I’m still confused about how we’re supposed to get class set bonuses. Completing sets has been the benchmark for our readiness to tackle tougher end game content since the game’s earliest days, and I’d like some clarity about how players will do this.

The main issue with the PTS right now is that I feel like we’re testing the system piecemeal rather than as a whole. If you recall the flow chart that Eric Musco presented during the first Spoils of War livestream, the focal point that Renown and Deconstruction orbit around is the big green “Play What You Want” circle, but right now we’re really only able to access a narrow slice of that circle. Chain running Hammer Station is not really how I want to play. The new operation is dropping loot now, so the wedge is getting bigger, but it’s hard for me to judge the whole if the main focus of Spoils, playing what you want, is not fully integrated into the system.

My impression is that gearing through Hammer Station and relying on the vendors will be a massive pain. To be honest, I’m okay with that. Please, Bioware, please, don’t make speed runs of veteran mode flashpoints the best way to acquire gear.

I’d hope to see specifics about where and how to best get our class sets and Tacticals. Currently, if someone in my guild needs, say, set boots, I know which bosses to target to get them what they need. Will that be the case in Onslaught? I’d rather help someone get an upgrade after beating a boss than telling them to grind Tech Fragments and buy or gamble for what they need from a vendor. Moreover, players and teams dedicated to more difficult content, whether it be Operations or competitive PVP, need certainty in gearing. This is not news and should be an important lesson I trust Bioware remembers learning during Galactic Command’s teething stage.

I’m also somewhat amazed to see Spoils of War move away from modular gear. Ever since we got our first orange weapon on a starter planet, the flexibility afforded by modding gear has been a strength and hallmark of SWTOR’s gear system. Leaving aside the fact that it is not fun to replace a favorite weapon with a non-modable one for even a short period, I don’t want to lose the option to tweak and adjust my stats.

I did get more modular gear from Master Mode Hammer Station than Veteran Hammer Station and most of the drops I got from new operation on Dxun were moldable. I assume this is by design, but I’d prefer the game not be so stingy with armorings, mods and enhancements.

I don’t play a ton of video games, but Spoils of War reminds me of Diablo 3 with its flood of loot, most of which we’ll turn into Blood Shards/Tech Fragments in hopes of Kai Zykken selling what we need on the weekend or getting lucky with SWTOR’s equivalent of Kadala on Fleet.

I don’t think that’s necessarily bad. I have the impression that gearing to best-in-slot in Onslaught will take some work (even leaving aside Amplifiers), but I’m not clear on how getting to “good-enough-in-slot” will be. When I ran Hard Mode operations during Rise of the Hutt Cartel and Shadow of Revan, I never had a full set of best-in-slot gear. Even getting best-in-tier was a long process. Since 4.0, we’ve been spoiled by how relatively easy it is to get the absolutely best gear possible. Getting actual upgrades from a boss is kind of a rare occurrence these days; while running on the PTS with friends we were laughing about how we couldn’t remember the last time we got upgrades or even dreaded side-grades in Hammer freakin’ Station.

That said, I still wonder how many hoops we’ll need to jump through to get to “good enough” whether it’s for Operations or PVP or soloing. I’m fine with “good enough” being different in Onslaught than it was during Fallen Empire, but it is something I hope will become clear before the expansion launches.

 

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To the Victor Go the Spoils

When game update 5.10.3 was delayed, I figured I could take the week off and enjoy some late spring weather. Sadly, SWTOR had other ideas. During Thursday’s livestream, Eric Musco, Charles Boyd and Keith Kanneg introduced the upcoming Spoils of War gearing system, and it turned out to be one of the most interesting and informative livestreams I’ve ever seen from the SWTOR team. Their enthusiasm for Onslaught is clear, and it’s making me look forward to the expansion even more.

There is a lot to digest, and I encourage all SWTOR players to at least check out Musco’s recap on the forums. I certainly can’t cover it all within a few hundred words, but I’ll try to focus on a few highlights.

First off, it’s clear that Bioware is really trying to make good on the “play your way” promise of Knights of the Eternal Throne, and are working to take what they learned from Galactic Command’s poor launch and eventual evolution into a decent supplementary gearing system and make it work for everyone in Onslaught.

With Spoils of War, Bioware is at last fully embracing, or finally surrendering to, the notion of sharing all equipment across our Legacy, and this is welcome news. To be honest, I had long since accepted that we’d never get meaningful left side Legacy gear. However, it’s cool to know that I will be able to share my best relics, implants and earpieces with alts who can slide into whatever content I’m doing at the drop of a Mailbox or Legacy bank.

Galactic Command will be rebranded Galactic Renown, but it’s not just a name change. The item level of drops from the crates will be based on the character’s currently equipped gear and not their Command Level, so alts can start getting useful gear immediately rather than slogging through hundreds of levels of GC before they have a chance of seeing the upgrades they can actually use.

Spoils of War should also be friendly to our main characters as well. Once again flashpoint bosses will drop loot! We won’t need or want every item we get, but we will be able to reverse engineer/disintegrate those drops into crafting materials or currency (Chuck Bucks!) that can be used to make or purchase the equipment we do want. Right now we can disintegrate Command Stash gear into useful Unassembled Components, but unused equipment from other sources simply gathers dust. I have dozens of Unassembled Tokens won in Operations clogging up my storage bays, and it’s nice to know that in Onslaught I’ll be able to do something with that kind of stuff.

The second part of Onslaught’s “play your way” goal will come from how we put all this gear together. This is where the players and theory-crafters who want to min-max should be able to get their hands dirty. There will be multiple types of set bonuses that can be mixed and match and two new types of gear and stats: Tacticals and Amplifiers.

Tacticals are brand new items that are meant to define and focus play styles with bonuses that change both combat and non-combat abilities. Some Tacticals will be most useful for Operations, others for PVP, still others for crafting and gathering.  This is interesting and potentially scary. To say that the livestream chat went wild at the notion of a Tactical that would let Assassins and Shadows share Force Shroud and Resilience with guarded teammates was an understatement. Bioware has their work cut out for them to keep these both balanced and fun for all specs and classes.

Amplifiers are additional bonuses on armor shells, armorings, hilts, barrels, mods, and enhancements. While it seems like Bioware wants to make it fairly easy to find equipment with a good item level, folks who want to get granular with their stats might find complexity in getting the perfect mix of Amplifiers and Tacticals.

They have indicated that Tacticals will be rarer drops than other gear, and I assume that some Tacticals will be most readily available from harder PVE or PVP content. If you want that awesome Tactical but don’t want to queue for PVP or run difficult operations, you’ll have to get lucky with your Galactic Renown drops or save up your Charles Points. I don’t think this is a bad thing. Galactic Renown provides all players a secondary way to get all gear, but players willing to dive into the game’s deep end should have a quicker path to those upgrades.

I suspect getting Best-In-Slot Amps will be the new gear grind. If my math is right, there will be 32 Amplifiers and getting all those just right might take some time. Again, I don’t think this is a bad thing. Grinding gear is a core part of the MMO experience, and I hope recalibration of Amps and deconstruction of gear will allow us steady progress towards our goals if the drops don’t go our way.

Finally, we will be able to start testing these systems on the PTS this month! Galactic Command was introduced to players at KotET’s launch, and Bioware spent many, many months after responding to player feedback to make the system workable. It is heartening to know that they are already soliciting input from players well ahead of the expansion’s debut. I’ve played MMOs long enough to know that Spoils of War will certainly have plenty of bugs and imbalances, but I’m hopeful that the rough edges will be filed off before Onslaught’s official release. Look for me on the PTS this summer!

I also hope we might see some of this in the game before September. Revamping Legacy storage for crafting materials will make anyone who crafts happy, and being able to earn a Tactical or two to help with leveling prior to 6.0 might be neat as well.

 

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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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Filed under General SWTOR, KotET, Onslaught