A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

This week, while we await news of SWTOR’s next major update, I thought I’d take a beat to catch up on a few topics in the game that I’ve missed in the last few months.

Lighting in a Bottle

Let’s start with a change rolled out officially as part of Game update 7.4 that adjusted the way cinematic interactions are lit, “using environment lighting for more accurate shadows, detailed self shadowing on characters, and more custom lighting control in cinematics.” This new approach to lighting had already been introduced without fanfare in the stories from recent updates, but it was retroactively applied to the origin class stories and expansion content where it had not been used.

I’ve been playing through some Origin Stories and Fallen Empire chapters lately, and for the most part the change is very positive. Generally the lighting feels more natural since scenes are lit using ambient sources and not direct overhead lighting in each scene. Occasionally some shots seem a bit on the dark side when our character’s back is to the main light source, but overall, even run of the mill cutscenes feel more visually alive. The difference is especially noticeable in Knights of the Fallen Empire and Knights of the Eternal Throne. Several of the characters in those expansions have custom models, which did not play well with the spotlighting used in the dialogue scenes. During my playthrough, I’ve noticed that Lana, Vaylin and Valkorian look much better without harsh highlights on their faces.

This change can be subtle, and you might not even notice it without a side-by-side comparison, but it’s a positive one that improves the overall cinematic quality of all the game’s stories.

No Free Conquest Lunch

An unannounced change in 7.4.1 was the large reduction in the number of Conquest points awarded from the daily Reputation objective. A single level 50+ character could with a single click-a-day of a reputation trophy easily complete not just their personal Conquest goals, but very nearly even a guild’s small yield invasion target, all without ever stepping outside their stronghold.

Last year when discussing gameplay loops, the World of Warcraft Youtuber SoulSoBreezy remarked that MMOs need to provide players with two things when they log on: “Things to Do” and “Things to Work Towards”.  While there is overlap between the two, especially in SWTOR, I would say that Conquest, Daily Areas and Heroics are essentially “Things to Do”. If you complete Conquest on one character, you can switch to another. If your guild reaches their invasion goal, well, it will all reset next Tuesday.

“Things to Work Towards”, however, tend to have conclusions or at least breakpoints. Players can work towards completing Class or expansion stories, gearing, filling reputation bars, clearing Operations, ranking up in PVP, unlocking Achievements or collecting various rare cosmetic rewards.

Players tend to “Work Towards Things” at their own pace, or the pace of the groups with whom they play, buy “Things to Do” are meant to fill the gaps and time so that a player feels like their time isn’t wasted if they aren’t engaged with their favorite form of gameplay. Conquest, for example, rewards currencies that can help players advance towards their other goals.

When Galactic Seasons were first announced, my fear was that it was going to be just another “Thing to Do”. To my surprise, I’ve really enjoyed the system. I don’t disagree that Galactic Seasons share DNA with Battle Passes with a healthy dose of FOMO, but it’s also something that gives me different options when I play, and often helps guide group activities for my guild which remains the best part of my SWTOR experience. On reset day during the Seasons, I check out what rewards I hope to earn that week, and it’s satisfying when I do.

Until the current season, SWTOR’s Galactic Season also came with a Reputation track associated with each season’s theme. There was criticism that it was just a progression track on top of a progression track, and that Reputations that go away after the season ends are kind of pointless. But I didn’t mind because I knew I could complete the daily Reputation objective and not have to worry about Conquest at all while a Galactic Season was active. It’s not even a close call for me: I’d rather spend ten minutes mediating on Voss or exploring someone’s stronghold as part of Galactic Season objectives than running heroics or daily areas for Conquest points. And as someone whose every other reputation track is maxed out, this was a nice luxury during the Season.

However, by logging onto one character on each server and clicking a reputation token once a day, I was also able to complete the bulk of the previous Galactic Season reward tracks with quite literally minimal effort. It also made me want to delay completing the Reputation track as long as possible so that I could continue to take advantage of the daily reward. On my home server, I did the math and worked out how to complete the Reputation track during the very final days of the season. Shintar amusingly called this “degenerate gameplay” and speaking as someone who took full advantage, I won’t fault Broadsword for the change. Part of the goal of the Galactic Season is to reward players for engaging in different types of activities around the game, and popping on only long enough to click a Rep token is probably not what they had in mind.

Ever since coming out of lockdown, I’ve become less interested in SWTOR’s “Things to Do”. I still complete Conquest on multiple characters, but my goal is to expend as little effort as possible in the process, but I still feel like there are plenty of “Things to Work Towards.” Nevertheless, for other people and guilds, Conquest is a bigger deal, and the Reputation change negatively impacted a lot of players. To compensate, Broadsword came around and essentially doubled the rewards for completing Heroic missions, and players without a lot of free time can still put up a fair number of Conquest points in a short gameplay window. I think this is a fair compromise. Nevertheless I would also like to see the Conquest reward for completing a Galactic Season objective be a little more generous, and the objective for completing multiple Season objectives be reduced from four to three so that it can be achieved twice each week.

A Night on the Town

In addition to the current Galactic Season, Game Update 7.4.1 also came with a dash of story content for players. Ever since unfinished “Date Night” souvenirs found their way into the decorations list last year, players have known something was cooking on the romance front. All credit should be given to Broadsword for waiting for Valentine’s Day to roll out this addition.

The Date Nights are romantic encounters with Lana Beniko, Theron Shan, Arcann and Koth Vortena available to players in relationships with those characters. These four companions were logically chosen because they are the only four which can be romanced by every character regardless of their Origin Story or gender. And based on my experience on social media, Lana and Theron are by far SWTOR’s most popular romances making them natural choices for the initial batch.

As of this writing, I’ve only played Theron’s and Arcann’s Date Nights. My flings with poor Lana never make it past the return of my character’s original romances. As for Koth, while I honestly do like him; I can’t say I like like him, but they’ll get their shots sooner rather than later.

These interludes are short and sweet. Theron’s datapad is the perfect metaphor for everything that is charming and infuriating about the guy, and the conversation it sparks feels true to both his character and mine. As for Arcann, I don’t think we’ve ever seen him this relaxed at any point in the story. It’s a revelation to see in a character mainly known for his self-pity and brooding. Good for him!

There are achievements related to completing the Date Nights for each character multiple times culminating with a decoration related to each encounter. Arcann’s souvenir is a pair of wooden training sabers, mounted with a romantic Aurebesh inscription flanked by crests from Zakuul. This recreation was not complicated to make, but it was my most requested translation in a very long time and I’m always happy to oblige!

But, yes, I did describe these scenes with the words “dash” and “short” for a reason. These are conversations akin to the dialogues scenes characters have with their companions between each planet of their class’s origin stories.

When it comes to story, SWTOR players are like Kylo Ren demanding MORE, and I’m no different. I can’t deny that these feel very short. When the Date Nights were announced, my hope was they’d be something like the Class specific interludes on Rishi during Shadows of Revan. Those weren’t much longer, but still felt more satisfying. On the one hand, I’m not too upset. Lana, Theron, Arcann and even Koth have had lots of time in the spotlight in the last several expansions, but the same can’t be said for many of the original romantic companions. I don’t imagine Mako, Felix, Risha and Andronicus stans will be satisfied by a cut scene that takes less time to play than to read this post.

I don’t know what my conclusion is. The Date Nights I’ve played had nice character moments and are absolutely sweet. Would I have preferred a single ten minute mini chapter featuring one of those companions to four two and a half minute scenes with each of them? Maybe.

Going forward, we’ll be getting one or two more Date Nights with each Galactic Season. I am eagerly anticipating the return of some of my favorite companions, and that maybe, just maybe, their dates have a little more meat on their bones.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Aurebesh to English, General SWTOR, Legacy of the Sith

One Response to A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

  1. Kurt Stoffer

    I miss the 46k conquest reward for advancing reputation. It was nice to be able get a few characters to the conquest target easily.

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