A Long Time Ago: My Top Five Star Wars Things Aren’t Movies – Part Two

To mark the imminent release of The Rise of Skywalker I thought I’d do something a little different. Even though Episode IX will conclude the classic film saga, Star Wars was, from the very beginning, much more than just the movies. A myriad of stories told in every conceivable medium continued the adventures of heroes old and new in that galaxy far, far away. I adore the movies to be sure, but I’ve also found great joy in many aspects of the Star Wars universe beyond the films. So I’d like to celebrate some of those with a Dumb Top Five list of my favorite things about Star Wars that aren’t movies.

Part Two: Action Figures

Growing up, pretty much every single boy (and some of the girls) I knew played with Star Wars toys, and I was no exception, eventually assembling a small army of dozens of miniature heroes, villains, robots and aliens from the original trilogy. Reinforced with assorted Adventure People, Micronauts and G.I.Joes, I staged many epic battles far beyond anything George Lucas would ever conceive or much less approve of.

My favorite Kenner Star Wars figure was Bespin Luke, but Darth Vader was my first and the character I have the most versions of today. All that remains of that original Vader is his head; it is likely that his body was lost to over-eager play or forgotten by me and consumed by my mother’s vacuum cleaner. A tragic outcome in either event.

Even Vader’s replacement has long since lost his lightsaber and stylish vinyl cape/vest. Both as a child and an adult, I had no interest in preserving my figures for future sale or display. I’m what collectors call an “opener.” I’ve never had a figure that I didn’t eagerly free from their clear plastic and cardboard prison. I always have one or two on my desk at any given time. My current figures see the bulk of their action during loading screens or on patch days.

These days I suspect more Star Wars toys are bought by adults than children, and I still indulge in Star Wars figures from time to time. Currently, the figures I buy are mainly from Hasbro’s Black Series line of six inch figures. Selling for at least $20 each, however, these guys are not cheap, so I try to be judicious in my purchases. However, this can be a tough line to hold whenever a new movie is about to come out.

Aside from the cost, the figures can sometimes be a challenge to even buy. Long gone are the days when I could walk into any toy store and find any Star Wars figure I wanted. Today’s figures are produced in limited numbers, and distribution to even large retailers can be spotty. You’re unlikely to find a popular character like the recently released Mandalorian at your local Target or Walmart, so you’ll need to be prepared to hunt various online sources if you want to pay a reasonable price. On the other hand, other figures derided as “pegwarmers” can easily found even a year or so after their release. To be honest, I’m not always sure which figures will be hard to find and which I’ll see marked down for clearance later.

The latest generation of action figures have far greater articulation and attention to detail than anything I would have dreamed possible back in the day. Within the last year or so, Hasbro has begun using “face printing” in which paint details are applied to a figure digitally. The result is that these toys can often have uncanny likenesses to their real life counterparts. If you’ve ever wanted a miniature Mark Hamill for your desk or shelf, it’s a great time to be alive!

Am I too old to be playing with toys? Yeah, probably. But putting Darth Vader into a menacing pose and setting him up against Han Solo as he draws his blaster has never stopped being a satisfying waste of time.

Next week: Dice not included.

 

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A Long Time Ago: My Top Five Star Wars Things Aren’t Movies – Part One

To mark the imminent release of The Rise of Skywalker I thought I’d do something a little different. Even though Episode IX will conclude the classic film saga, Star Wars was, from the very beginning, much more than just the movies. A myriad of stories told in every conceivable medium continued the adventures of heroes old and new in that galaxy far, far away. I adore the movies to be sure, but I’ve also found great joy in many aspects of the Star Wars universe beyond the films. So I’d like to celebrate some of those with a Dumb Top Five list of my favorite things about Star Wars that aren’t movies.

As I assembled this list, I quickly realized that there was no way I could keep it to a single post and give everything the space it deserved, so I’ll be presenting a new item from this list each week until the debut of the movie on December 20.

Part One: Comic Books

Back in 1977, my first exposure to Star Wars came not from the movie, but from Marvel Comics’ 6 issue adaptation of the film that concluded before I even got to see it in a theatre. This in no way spoiled the experience for me; from the opening minutes, I was still blown away by what I saw on the screen.

However, in many ways, the comics informed my overall conception of Star Wars. In the movie, the lightsaber battle between Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi is not terribly exciting, but if there is one thing comics know how to stage, it’s a fight scene. The comics’ version of the confrontation does a superior job conveying the epic duel between the old master and corrupted apprentice. Indeed, the moment of Ben’s death as portrayed in the comic is particularly macabre.

Marvel produced well over a hundred issues of Star Wars comics starting three months before A New Hope was released and continuing three years after Return of the Jedi. They are very much of their time, steeped in the styles and tropes of 1970s and 1980’s comics, but the two or three quarters I spent each month to follow the continuing adventures of the “Star Warriors” absolutely made the wait between movies easier to take. Forgotten heroes like Dani and Kiro and Plif the Hoojib and villains like Valance, Lumiya and the Nagai loom nearly as large in my memories of the early days of a galaxy far, far away as Luke, Leia, Han and Vader.

In the 1990’s, starting with the terrific Dark Empire series, Dark Horse Comics continued the licensed comic line and expanded the universe with a whole host of new stories. Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics were the first to visit the Old Republic setting and touched every era of the saga’s past and future. Currently Marvel, which like Lucasfilm is owned by Disney is again producing diverse line of comics which feature our favorite heroes from the movies but have added popular new characters like Dr. Aphra and also revisited some old and infamous favorites from the early days of Marvel’s original Star Wars series.

Over the years, countless Star Wars stories have been told, but I think the best of the comics, with their emphasis on impossible visuals and larger than life action in bite sized chunks, come the closest to recapturing the magic of watching the films. When I think of Star Wars, I’ll never forget sitting in a dark theater watching movies I love, but I also recall afternoons sprawled out on the rug of my parent’s living room floor, eagerly turning the pages of the latest four color classic.

Next week: Your plastic pals who are fun to be with!

 

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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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Cracking the Jedi Code

Today, “This Week in Aurebesh” celebrates a somewhat surprising third anniversary! I’d like to sincerely thank anyone who has taken time to stop by and check out this silly little corner of Star Wars fandom.

To celebrate the milestone, I’ve translated some writing from Star Wars: The Old Republic that is not in Aurebesh, but still figures prominently in the latest story arc and exploration area of the ancient runes near Ood Bnar’s datacron on the planet Ossus.

When Ossus was released last year, I took a half-hearted stab at translating the runes on my own. I assumed, correctly as it turned out, that the glowing letters probably referred to keywords from the Jedi Code. However, I was stymied by the fact that the words to which the letters refer are not in the same order as they appear in the code; additionally the lines of the code were also out of order on the wall in the initial release of Ossus, making translation even trickier. Later, when the Galaxy’s Edge theme park was opened at Disney World this summer, a translation key for the runes was discovered in merchandise available to visitors.

With this new information and a game update that restored the inscription to its proper order, I was finally able to easily decipher the runes. The inscription clearly refers to important parts of the Jedi Code, but which Jedi Code?

There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There is no death, there is the Force.

The version above is the Jedi Code most familiar to Star Wars fans, but according to Star Wars lore, the code’s first version was rather less absolute.

Emotion, yet peace.
Ignorance, yet knowledge.
Passion, yet serenity.
Chaos, yet harmony.
Death, yet the Force.

I believe the Ossus inscription is meant to evoke the earlier version of the code since it does not include the negation of emotion, ignorance, passion, etc. Given the age of the ruins of Ossus, this strikes me as an appropriate choice.

Regarding for the language itself, I am not aware of any official name for this alphabet. As with other constructed languages, including SWTOR’s own Zakuulan, it derives from Norse runes. Furthermore, like so many other iconic images in Star Wars, the specific inspiration for this alphabet comes from the artwork of Ralph McQuarrie who included runic inscriptions on a painting of the interior of the temples on Yavin IV in the 1995 book The Illustrated Star Wars Universe. These glyphs would again appear as inscriptions inside the ancient Jedi ruins on Lothal and in the “World between Worlds” in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels. From there, examples of the writing can also be found in promotional material for the upcoming Jedi: Fallen Order video game and in Disney’s Galaxy Edge theme parks.

Most of examples of this writing seen on Rebels and elsewhere cannot be translated into English, but the Ossus inscriptions can, and they function as clever bits of world building that evoke both the spirit and the history of the Jedi and the ancient world of Ossus. A character’s discovery of these runes is only the first step in a journey across Ossus that I highly recommend that every SWTOR player take!

 

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Filed under Ancient Jedi Runes, General Star Wars, General SWTOR

Recharge and Reload

This week let’s take a look at something that both has been on my to-do list for a very long time and should be familiar to anyone who plays a Bounty Hunter. When using their Recharge and Reload ability, Hunters cycle through a series of animations including one in which they check a pop-up holographic display on their gauntlet.

This graphic is also used by both Imperial and Republic Medical Droids who consult this display when selling medpacks and purchasing players’ vendor trash. The graphic itself features a map, several targeting reticles and some Aurebesh text.

The text readout mostly consists of several numbers spelled out in Aurebesh letters, side-stepping the question of which of Aurebesh’s number forms should be used. I suspect the text itself comes from a collection of semi-random numbers and vaguely technological jargon that can be seen on many monitors around the galaxy. I imagine this array of non-specific text was compiled so that it could be easily inserted into graphics meant to be used in a wide variety of settings in the game.

New York City or Bust

Next weekend, the SWTOR Community Cantina will take place in New York City and I’m planning to attend! This will be my second Cantina event, and I’m looking forward to another fun evening meeting some fellow players and hopefully getting a sneak peek at the latest news of Onslaught.

In addition, I will be meeting up with Dr. SWTOR from the Ootinicast, Max from the Escape Pod Cast and Marcus and Nick from Working Class Nerds. While the swag from the SWTOR team should be your main objective, I will have a bag of “This Week in Aurebesh” buttons to hand out. If you find yourself in the great state of New York, next week, stop on by. I hope to meetcha!

 

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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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Knights of the Eternal Throne Review

As I write this, no official launch date has been announced for SWTOR’s next expansion, Onslaught. The launcher is still promising a September debut, but at this point I don’t think I’ve spoken with anyone who believes it will be out next month. Regardless the sun is setting on the Fallen Empire era, and this seems like a good time to share some closing thoughts on Knights of the Eternal Throne.

I won’t spend time covering ground that I discussed in my first impression and other reviews of content over this expansion. Briefly, I very much enjoyed the story, it was epic and weird and tragic in all the ways a good Star Wars story can be. Each of the worlds we visited along the way, from Iokath and Umbara to Copero, Nathema and Ossus, was worth the trip. I cannot tell you how many times, I’ve stopped to admire countless breathtaking vistas during this expansion.

However, the thing I will remembe rmost about KotET is its length. We’ve been playing this expansion longer than any other in the game’s history, a year longer than even than SWTOR’s classic era. Knights of the Fallen Empire lasted a bit more than a year, and Shadow of Revan lasted less than a year. By the time Onslaught launches KotET will be almost three years old. I doubt this was the plan going in.

I’m about as far from an insider as you can get, but it is my understanding that there was some significant gear-changing going behind the scenes. I recall Charles Boyd mentioning that the Fallen Empire story was intended to be a trilogy, but Knights of the Fallen Empire’s lack of group content was that expansion’s least popular aspect.

It seems to me the story was streamlined and some content that was intended to be for solo chapters was re-jiggered into the flashpoints of the Traitor trilogy while the Gods from the Machine operation unfurled one boss at time.

While I mostly enjoyed each individual piece of content that has come out since 2016, I keep coming back to how long we’ve had to live with it. Three years is a long, long time for an MMO expansion, and I can’t really argue all that time was filled as well as I would’ve preferred.

Galactic Command and Uprisings

My criticisms of Galactic Command were always pretty measured, but there is no doubt the launch of Galactic Command was a mess. I think it has been fairly retrofitted in a solid alternative gearing path. It would’ve been nice to skip the growing pains, but instead of harping on how bad it was, I’ll instead remark that Bioware did a good job fixing the system. I do hope that Onslaught’s Spoils of Wars gearing will not land with the same belly flop as Galactic Command.

Uprisings were initially touted as one of KotET’s biggest new features, but over the course of the expansion, they have gradually faded from view. Uprisings seem almost inessential now. They’re not a particularly good source of CXP or Conquest points (beyond Rampages) and the vanity items that drop from them appear so rarely as not to be worth farming.

Uprisings and early Galactic Command overlooked one of the tried and true things people like to do most when playing an RPG: kill bosses and take their stuff. Finishing an Uprising and having nothing more to show for it than some abstract Command Points was never particularly satisfying.

It’s a shame, because, Uprisings are fun, quick, madcap mini-flashpoints. My favorite feature are the power-ups. I would’ve love to see the rocket launcher, the thermal devastator and combat clarity boosts make their way into regular flashpoints. Heck, put those power ups in storymode ops! Hearing friends cackle with glee as they cleared a room of of angry mobs with a devastator never got old.

Gods from the Machine

My visits to the Valley of the Machine Gods have been exclusively on storymode, so my comments on KotET’s operation should not be taken as comprehensive. That said, I think Gods is one of SWTOR’s best operations. Each of the bosses are unique and distinct from each other in appearance, setting and mechanics, and its climax atop a spire on Iokath against a giant robotic space lobster-god is unforgettably epic. Nahut is my favorite fight in the operation despite how many times I have fallen to my death while looking at butterflies instead of the holes in the ground.

My main criticism is that there’s too much trash, especially since there are time-consuming puzzle areas leading to the last two bosses. I also don’t really understand the Scyva encounter. I know how to beat it and how to explain it to folks, but I really don’t grok what she’s doing during the fight. I honestly don’t know what the bonus ability does and when to use it. In storymode it doesn’t seem to matter as far as I can tell.

While the final boss Izax was tricky at launch, especially as storymode encounters go, he’s since been toned down that any group that can get through the first two phases should be able to complete the fight. I don’t think Gods as a whole is significantly more complex than Terror from Beyond, but sadly people seem more reluctant to pug Gods than the older operations. Hopefully this will change as more folks get comfortable with it, because it’s an exciting operation and a very fun way to confront the gods of Zakuul’s pantheon.

Onwards to Onslaught

The thing that has me most encouraged for Onslaught is that Knights of the Eternal Throne ended strong. Jedi Under Siege was a terrific addition to the game and while we’ve been poking around on Ossus for nine months already, there have been teases for the new story and a new event world to explore. Will Onslaught have three new operations like Rise of the Hutt Cartel or a regular release of story chapters like Knights of the Fallen Empire? Truthfully, I don’t think so. But I also don’t think it will last three years, and I do get the impression that the team wants to take what they’ve learned and build on it in the expansion to come.

Update! Onslaught arrives October 22!

Not long after this post went live, Bioware announced Onslaught’s official release. That it was pushed back a bit should not come as a surprise and I have no problem waiting a little longer if it means the good folks down in Austin have some extra time to file off some of the rough edges.

 

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Loose Vocabulators Sink Ships

As another summer of SWTOR and the Fallen Empire era comes to an end, I’ve been a bit busier in game that I normally am this time of year. I took full advantage of the double xp bonanza and have used the used the end-of-expansion lull to reach some milestones and complete achievements that I might not have time for once Onslaught hits.

Before the 5.0 cycle concludes, however, let’s check out a pair of posters that feature two very different characters from SWTOR’s lore. The first features our plastic pal who’s fun to be with, HK-55 and was delivered as a stronghold decoration to players as a subscription rewards in 2016 as a part of the more or less monthly chapter releases for the final third of Knights of the Fallen Empire’s story chapters.

The HK subscriber rewards were fairly controversial at the time. Personally, I’m happy to receive free loot in the mail, and I enjoyed and got good use of most of the HK stuff. Indeed, the HK jetpack remains one of my favorite mounts, and most of my characters keep it close at hand. The rewards, like all of the various HKs’ incarnations throughout Old Republic lore, are faintly ridiculous, and ought not be taken too seriously, if at all.

Far be it from me to declare people on the internet humorless sticks-in-the-mud, but many commenters seemed to have reacted to these trifles as though they were personal insults, and SWTOR has shied away from regular subscriber rewards ever since.

I keep my subscription active so that I can play with friends whenever I want and have immediate access to new content when it does come out, so I did not need the extra incentive for monthly rewards. That said, as a regular customer, I do like being told that my business is appreciated from time to time.

The crown jewel of these rewards was the HK themed chapter “Shroud of Memory.” As of this writing, it is the only story content in the game that is exclusively available only to certain players who were subscribed at a certain time. And it’s a shame. “Shroud of Memory” is outright fun and a delightful change of pace from the main Fallen Empire storyline. However, indications from Bioware and SWTOR’s PTS suggest that “Shroud of Memory” will again be available to players, perhaps as a reward or through a purchase from the Cartel Market, and I’m happy to hear it. The folks at Bioware have every right to be proud of the chapter, and players should be able to play it. Hopefully, everyone will be able to experience “Shroud of Memory” without too much hassle in the near future.

Ah, but I’ve gone off on a tangent again. The HK decoration evokes classic wartime propaganda posters with its reduced color palette and bold design, yet the poster’s tagline are rather more playful and it’s fair to wonder how inspired you can really be by a someone who considers us all “meatbags.”

There is another propaganda poster in the game with a similar layout. This poster can be found throughout Separatist controlled areas on the planet Ord Mantell. It is also available as a decoration for players’ use in their own strongholds. This poster uses the Aurebesh variant Galactic Basic, so some of the letters don’t match traditional Aurebesh.

This poster shares many of the same influences as the HK poster, but mostly plays it straight which is appropriate given the seriousness of the situation on Ord Mantell. I always thought it was neat that SWTOR drops brand new Troopers and Smugglers into a morass with no clear “good guys” and asks them to navigate the war tearing the world apart. This poster simply and effectively emphasizes that conflict with a heroic image of someone at first glance we might otherwise think is just a faceless villain.

If all goes to plan, I’ll be back next week with some last words on Knights of the Eternal Throne. The Disney expo is this weekend, so there is sure to be plenty of Star Wars news in the days ahead. I don’t have high hopes that much of will be SWTOR related, but you never know.

 

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Filed under Aurebesh to English, General SWTOR, KotFE