Category Archives: Onslaught

A Billion Here, a Billion There…

The topic of inflation has come to a head recently in the SWTOR community as Hypercrates and other high value items have increased in worth beyond what the game’s auction house, the GTN will allow them to be sold for. I’m no game developer or economist, but I thought I’d add my two cents to the discussion, which in this economy won’t go far.

Inflation is a common problem in MMOs where credits are generated out of thin air and often never leave the game, but it’s been compounded in SWTOR where there have been in the past exploits allowing free credit generation and content lulls where there is little else for players to do but accumulate wealth without having much to spend it on.

During Onslaught I have made billions of credits casually selling excess crafting materials on the GTN. I typically post between two and five auctions when I log on, and then at the end of my session or the next day collect the proceeds from sales and replace what’s been sold. I’m not selling high value items, but have been making bank at a steady pace throughout the expansion.

And I’m not alone, I know many other billionaires, and I’m certain the “tres comas club” is hardly exclusive company anymore. I doubt SWTOR’s current credit sinks are making a big dent in the economy these days. The problem of how to drain trillions of credits from an artificial economy has got to be a tough nut to crack without drastic measures that enrage the rich and punish the poor.

However, there are steps that I imagine Bioware might take to cool things off in the forthcoming expansion, Legacy of the Sith.

First and almost most certainly, the day-to-day cost of doing business will increase. Expect to pay more for repairs, profession training, crew skill missions, pulling mods, and rerolling amplifiers. This is standard practice in SWTOR already, but I wouldn’t be shocked if those costs increase closer to the pace of the inflation we’ve seen. Should Tacticals and class set pieces sold by the Spoils of War vendors cost 10 million credits or more next time around, I won’t be surprised.

I make my own augments and stims, and it’s not worth it to run missions for the supplemental materials that are necessary for crafting. Instead I’ll pay a vendor hundreds of thousands of credits for the cloths, flux and recombinators needed to craft even a small stack of purple components. I bet the cost of crafting stims and augments will skyrocket in Legacy of the Sith. Likewise, if they add more craftable dyes and color crystals and other cosmetics (remember when Cybertechs could build speeders?), plan on needing expensive supplementary materials for those as well.

This is all fine. Credits are pretend money, and they’re meant to be spent and not gather dust in my Legacy bank.

I’ve also seen it suggested that the game could use more credit sinks. It is already significantly more expensive to unlock the newer strongholds than the old, and if they add new ones, opening all the rooms will surely not be cheap. I didn’t need to spend any credits catching up with Galactic Seasons, but I also didn’t hear of many people spending more than a few million on that themselves.

Would people crack open their piggy banks if Kai Zykken offered extravagant and expensive loot on an extremely limited schedule? There is some precedent for this. After game update 1.1.5 back in 2012, SWTOR added a limited time vendor that sold white color crystals for the then princely sum of 2.5 million credits, and I remember the fear of missing out was real as people scrambled to save up before the vendor went away.

I agree with the notion that Bioware would not offer Cartel Market items for sale for credits at any price, but there are rare and in some cases no longer available items from PVE and PVP content they could offer as replicas or reskins. But would that be enough to tempt a significant number of players to spend enough to the point where the economy cools down? Would you pay a billion credits for replica Wings of the Architect?

Lately I’ve been asking friends what would they spend a billion credits on, and no one has an easy answer, and I doubt there is a single magic bullet that would appeal to all players. The folks I know seem to be willing to pony up those credits up for something that has a long-term benefit to their characters or their guild. What that might be, I can’t say. A multi-passenger mount? No cooldown rocket boots? Legacy hood toggle?

Come the expansion, we might see a mix of expensive Legacy unlocks and cosmetic items added to any new Reputation vendors (and maybe some old ones as well), but I don’t know if Bioware would actually offer a billion credit item for sale, but if they do, I hope it’s spectacular.

Finally, I think it is possible that Bioware might follow the example of other MMOs and offer a way to turn credits in to Cartel Coins or game time. Since these transactions would be happening outside the GTN and player economy, Bioware would, in theory, be controlling the price and insuring that the value of credits never sink below a certain dollar or Cartel Coin amount and thus slowing inflation.

Some games allow players to purchase their version of Cartel Coins with in game credits, but I doubt this is a road Bioware would take. Perhaps instead we might see a SWTOR version of World of Warcraft’s “WOW Token” an item which can be redeemed by the owner for subscription time or cash shop credit. The Token’s real money cost is more than the regular subscription price, but it can be sold to other players for in game gold through a Blizzard controlled marketplace, not the auction house.

This allows players who are rich in the game to fully subsidize their subscription through the real life purchases of other players who don’t mind trading dollars for gold. I don’t know if this has meaningfully slowed inflation or gold selling in WOW. If I’m being honest, I’m not a fan of the WOW Token, and I’d be reluctant to see my SWTOR credits be tied to real money. It’s pretend money, and I think it’s meant to be spent on pretend things. I don’t want to feel like I have to choose between blowing a few millions credits for a cosmetic item on the GTN or saving a few bucks on my subscription. If that means inflation is a thing in the game, then so be it.

But I have friends who play WOW who do like the Token since it allows people with more free time than money to play, and people with less time to drop a few dollars and come away with enough gold to stay ahead of WOW‘s own inflating economy. As always, I do not ever want to tell people how to spend their money or their time, and it would be foolish of me to think my outside impression is correct.

My gut feeling, however, is that SWTOR won’t go down this path. At the very least I doubt Bioware has the infrastructure in place to smoothly and securely set up such transactions. But they have at least acknowledged the problem, and I hope they’ll be taking steps to address it as best they can. Who knows what the future holds? I surely don’t! Still, just to be sure, make certain you’ve got plenty of walking around cash when you get there.

 

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Here’s Where the Story Ends

Despite SWTOR being in an end of expansion lull, there is a lot of stuff worth discussing happening in the lead up to the Legacy of the Sith expansion, and I’ve been struggling to snatch one notion out of the ether to discuss. Prompted by Shintar’s recent review and motivated by a desire to get my own hot take on the record before the weather turns cold, I’ll start with a long overdue look of the flashpoint, Secrets of the Enclave. Beware! There will be some light spoilers ahead.

Secrets of the Enclave is a lush and loving tribute to one of the Knights of the Old Republic era’s most famous locations, the Jedi Enclave on Dantooine. Abandoned for centuries, nature has begun to reclaim the complex, and it’s fun to explore the ruins like a Star Wars equivalent of Indiana Jones.

The flashpoint is not long, but players will move through a remarkably diverse series of environments, starting outside among Dantooine’s rolling hills, then down into caves leading into the ruin, and finally through the crumbling libraries and halls and council chambers of the enclave itself.

The previous flashpoint, The Spirit of Vengeance was criticized for its copious trash packs and over-tuned bosses, but Secrets dials those issues back, and players in all modes should have no problem making their way through. I especially appreciate that power-ups have made their way from Uprisings into the flashpoint, even if they are not necessary to overcome any of the challenges facing the players. An experienced group should not have any problem with the flashpoint even on the Master Mode difficulty, with the optional bonus boss presenting the flashpoint’s greatest challenge.

All of Onslaught’s flashpoints have experimented with new mechanics and graphics to telegraph special attacks, and it’s cool to see the trend continue. Secrets may be the first time SWTOR has used a fear mechanic in the game and seeing friends react to it was most amusing! I hope to see more of these types of innovations in future flashpoints and operations.

Like other recent flashpoints, Secrets has plenty of weird achievements and unique decorations to discover. However, this time around, the drop rates for the decorations is quite low on Story and Veteran modes. If you want to farm those cool decos, you’ll have to start running Master mode!

Regarding the story of the flashpoint, I think it’s interesting that while Darth Malgus is the MacGuffin driving the action, Secrets is more about what happened to people Malgus has left in his destructive wake. Aryn Leneer and Darth Krovos are quite literally haunted by Malgus, and it’s fascinating to see their differing reactions, from Aryn’s fear to Krovos’ denial. Likewise the supporting characters get moments to shine as well. For Republic players, it’s satisfying to see Arn Peralun coming into his own as a Jedi. And on the Sith side, I kind of adore Darth Rivix. He clearly has his own agenda and has no interest in being another Alliance flunky. Figuring out how my characters want to deal with him and watching other players’ reactions has been a treat. Secrets continues Onslaught‘s tradition of also taking time to revisit characters from SWTOR‘s rich history. I was happy to see the return of Leeha Narezz from the Jedi Knight story, but not surprisingly the years seem to have burdened her with a great deal of anger towards the Sith.

All that said, however, if Secrets of the Enclave is to be the conclusion of Onslaught’s story, it feels lacking. If you’ll forgive the metaphor, Onslaught seems to be ending on an ellipsis instead of an exclamation point or question mark.

Compare Onslaught to SWTOR’s previous cliffhangers. Shadows of Revan’s climax has us saying “Oh, shit! The Emperor’s back, and he’s pissed!” The final chapter of Knights of the Fallen Empire asks, “Did we just make things worse by allowing Vaylin to claim the Eternal Throne?”

Onslaught, by comparison, is ending with open-ended questions.

Darth Malgus is out there, and he’s up to something…

Heta Kol is out there, and she’s up to something…

Heta Kol remains a cypher, and Malgus’ motivations are opaque. I feel like we needed at least one more story beat to bring either or both of those plot threads into focus or together to build excitement for the next part of the story.

Don’t get me wrong, Secrets of the Enclave is a terrific addition to the game; it is arguably the strongest of Onslaught‘s new flashpoints, and whether or not you’re a KOTOR fan, it’s worth a visit.  But Legacy of the Sith is still a ways off, and storywise it feels like we’re just cruising towards it, and I wish Onslaught‘s finale accelerated the stakes a bit more in the lead up to our next big adventure.

 

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Limitless Season

This week, somewhat coincidentally, I completed two goals I set for myself in SWTOR this year. The first is that I hit level 100 in the current Galactic Season without using any skips or catch-ups. When I started, I hadn’t specifically intended to do it in the minimum amount of time but when Ted from the State of the Old Republic podcast, compared skipping a day of Seasons to a snow day off from school, I began to make sure to complete all my objectives as they came up. As great as snow days are in the middle of February, they always come due as extra time in the classroom in June. Therefore I resolved to diligently complete my SWTOR homework so that I could jump straight into summer vacation at the end of the Season.

The second goal is that I completed the Limitless achievement, which saw me hit Renown rank 999 on one of my characters. I know I am far from the first to complete this one, but when I passed rank 500 earlier this year, I resolved to push the rest of the way through.

When it comes right down to it, I am like many MMO players who gain satisfaction from filling in bars, be they Experience, Reputation, Achievement or Legacy based. I’m not exhaustive in these pursuits, and if I’m being honest, I don’t always know why I set out to complete some tasks and not others. As far as the Galactic Season goes, however, I was motivated to unlock the Stronghold, and I once I’d gotten that far, I didn’t feel like it was significantly more work to get the rest of the way to the century mark. The Limitless achievement comes with a matching Legacy title and 20 sweet, sweet Cartel Coins, so I guess that was my goal. I’m sporting the title right now, but I don’t think of hitting the millennium rank of Renown so much as a feat of strength as a test of endurance.

I realize the term “grind” means different things to different people, but to me it is working towards a goal that can only be reached through specific, repeated, and monotonous gameplay. The classic example I’d cite is the Wintersaber Trainers reputation grind from vanilla World of Warcraft. Although it was made considerably easier to gain in later expansions, originally the only way to get reputation with this faction was to complete three and only three repeatable quests, the easiest of which was in a high traffic area with randomized mob spawns The reputation awarded by completing each quest filled only the merest sliver of that bar. When I did the grind, it required countless hours over months of running back and forth across the same zone killing the same mobs. It was a tedious, mind-numbing, and often frustrating process. I had different priorities back then, and I can’t possibly imagine doing it again, but I sure did love the Wintersaber mount I came away with after all that work.

Thankfully, nothing in SWTOR comes close to that. I hesitate to call earning Seasons levels or even the Limitless achievement a grind. At their very core, all I had to do was log on and play the game. I did play a lot to be sure, but not enough to drive me crazy. As I made my way through Galactic Seasons, I definitely developed a preference for certain objectives. The only ones I opted to avoid were the objectives to kill mobs. Finishing the Ossus weekly and still having to hunt down a dozen or so bugs was for me the least fun part of the first Galactic Season. I would truly prefer to lose a GSF match (and I lost a lot!) than mindlessly hunt mobs. But I know folks who disagree and look forward to those objectives. I can see the appeal of going out, playing your character and fighting monsters. On a very basic level, that’s what it was all about, but it’s not for me. While I absolutely hope to see a greater variety of objectives next season, I generally felt like the objectives I did get or rerolled kept me busy doing different enough things over the stretch.

When Season two comes around, will I jump into it again? To some extent, probably, but I don’t think I’ll be quite so zealous about keeping up. The strongholds were the only vendor rewards I didn’t already have. Since I have a head start on the second one for next season, I expect I’ll take it easy and enjoy the rewards as they come, unless there is something surprisingly amazing on next season’s track,.

I do have mixed feeling about the Limitless achievement. The main way I like to keep SWTOR fresh is by playing different characters from day to day, but to complete the achievement in a timely fashion, I really had to focus on just one, my Operative. To be clear, I did not complete the achievement in the quickest, most efficient manner possible. I certainly ran more than my fair share of Master Mode Red Reaper stealth runs, but I also made every attempt to mix things up with visits to all the daily areas and quick heroics in the course of each week. Even so I did get bored of the character, and might have run out of steam if not for the two double XP events this year. It’s not my proudest achievement, and if it gets reset or revised during Legacy of the Sith, I think I’ll give it a pass.

Panic at the PTS

Speaking of Legacy of the Sith, our first look at the expansion’s class changes have just appeared on the PTS, and there are major changes coming down the pike. I highly encourage everyone to check them out, give them a fair shake, and share their considered, thoughtful and polite feedback on the official forums. Player feedback had a big effect on how Onslaught turned out, and it’s important to let Bioware know how these changes will affect players. Remember that no one ever made a point by screaming like a monkey lizard. Be cool like Fonzie, not Salacious frakkin’ Crumb.

 

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Turn Turn Turn

Happy May the 4th! Personally I don’t need an excuse to celebrate Star Wars, but it’s always nice to get a tiny Astromech droid in the mail and check out the latest news from a galaxy far, far away. If you are actually reading this on the 4th, then you will be able to check out a special livestream event featuring a bunch of SWTOR‘s official content creators. We will be venturing into the Dread Fortress operation on its most deadly difficulty, Nightmare! You’ll be able to tune to the show on several different twitch channels, and if you have a moment, I hope you’ll stop by and say “Hello there!” There will be giveaways, mayhem and hopefully some defeated bosses!

SWTOR is primarily known for its story, but it also features a wide variety of operations for raiders of all skill levels. SWTOR‘s story mode ops are extremely accessible for brand new and inexperienced players; the intermediate Hard Modes are a fun challenge for veterans on a casual schedule; and at the Nightmare level, seasoned players looking to test their skills can face some of the greatest challenges and earn some of the rarest rewards the game has to offer.

Over the years, SWTOR has done an excellent job telling stories through group content, and I highly recommend teaming up with friends and guild-mates to check them out. Tonight’s stream will be an excellent showcase for one of SWTOR‘s most beloved operations and will feature some of the best players in the game. And I’ll be there too. Hopefully facing the right direction some of the time!

To Everything There Is A Season

Game update 6.3 “Dark Descent” launched with two new additions to Star Wars: The Old Republic both of which bear discussing: Galactic Seasons and the Secrets of the Enclave flashpoint, but I think it’s worth splitting the topics up over two posts.

Let’s start with Galactic Seasons, SWTOR’s take on the battlepass. Seasons is a system that directs players to do activities in the game and rewards them with a variety of cosmetics: a new companion, mounts, weapons, armor and, if they stick with it long enough, a new Stronghold to decorate.

Galactic Seasons is my first experience with a battlepass system, so I don’t really have any prior frame of reference. But my first impression after a week is that it’s fine. Is it a cash grab by EA, or a way for Bioware to give players more value for their subscription? Probably a bit of both.

I don’t have any particular issues with the Cartel Market. However, for a while now the gear awarded from flashpoints, operations and reputation tracks has not competed aesthetically with what we can buy from the Cartel Market. This is surely not an accident. However, an important part of the MMO experience is finding and earning rewards through gameplay, and I think SWTOR may have swung too far towards focusing those rewards on the Cartel Market and away from what players, especially casual players, can earn in the game.

Galactic Seasons does move this balance back towards gameplay a bit. There are a fair amount of unique rewards to be found by players willing to participate in Seasons. For example, the mount subscribers pick up from the very first level of progress through the Season is quite cool. Indeed some of the best rewards are front-loaded, and players can earn some fun stuff without going too deep into the system.

If there is anything that Galactic Seasons reminds me of in SWTOR’s history, it’s the Dark vs. Light event from 2016. Like Seasons, the Dark vs. Light event was all about getting players to do stuff in the game and passing out rewards to those who participate.

I would encourage folks to treat Seasons the same way. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t need to complete it in one day or one week or even one month. Look at the rewards and decide which ones you want, and pace yourself to get them. Take your time, and do what you want to do. It’s also fair that you may not be interested in all the objectives you get during a given day or week. If you don’t like PVP or grinding mobs; that’s cool. Take the day off, take the week off. We have some ability to change the objectives we really don’t want, but I don’t mind that Galactic Seasons encourages us to venture outside our comfort zone a bit. Last week, I found an excuse to revisit Galactic Starfighter after years away. I was terrible, no doubt, but I can’t deny doing a fist pump when I scored a kill during the match.

Starting next month, Seasons will have a mechanism allowing players to pay credits to catch up their progress if they’ve fallen behind. It will almost certainly not be cheap, but if you’ve got the credits, stuff like this is what they’re here for.

Are there problems with Galactic Seasons? Absolutely. Players can skip the grind completely simply by paying Cartel Coins. I know battlepasses in other games tend to have pay-to-skip options, but I think it’s a little hinky that SWTOR has one on top of the monthly subscription. However, it’s not my place to tell anyone how to spend their money, and I can’t fault players who don’t have the time to invest in the system or the credits to burn, but still want to check out some of the unique prizes.

As I see it, there are two key questions to ask about Galactic Seasons: First, is it mandatory? No. Not at all. To be brutally honest, I think many of the rewards are neat, but they’re not that neat. A character based on that alien with twenty seconds of screen time in one movie is not exactly an iconic addition to our existing roster of companions.

I might be wrong, but that’s probably fine. I think Bioware might be better off aiming for “neat” rather than “OMG I MUST HAVE THAT.” Could the rewards be neater? Yeah, I think so. The first of the two armor sets is dull, and I’m not sure we needed three different colored versions of the same creature mount. As much as I enjoy decorating, I wish the signature reward of the season packed a bit more punch than the fleet strongholds. Overall, I do believe some of the rewards are genuinely neat, but I don’t think anyone ought to feel disappointed if they miss out on them.

The second and most important question to ask of Galactic Seasons is this: Is it content? To me the answer is no. It’s something to do between actual content releases. That’s all. Every SWTOR player knows that it can be a long wait between story updates, and Galactic Seasons is a framework doling out tasks and rewards to players. Between major updates, active players traditionally self-direct themselves by choosing to play class or expansion stories, competing in PVP, clearing operations, completing achievements, etc. Galactic Seasons seems to me to be another option for players.

However, SWTOR already has two other systems for rewarding players for playing the game: Renown and Conquest, and I think Seasons doesn’t quite mesh well with them. Solo players will likely find that most objectives align with existing Conquest goals, but players focused on group activities, especially PVP and progression operations, will have to go further out of their way to complete most Galactic Seasons objectives.

I wish players had a little more leeway when it comes to the random objectives. I know Onslaught’s play-your-way philosophy leads to people grinding the fastest, easiest content, but I lead weekly guild events, and depending on the week’s Conquest theme, we might run the daily operation or hunt world bosses, but since players might have different Daily or Weekly Galactic Seasons objectives, I am put in the frustrating position of selecting to run content that rewards people unequally. This is not fair or fun for people who find themselves the odd ones out because of bad luck with objectives.

Ultimately, if Galactic Seasons doesn’t interest you, that’s fine. You can opt in or out as much as you like. Once again, it looks like players who have been subscribed at any point during Onslaught will continue to have access to the expansion’s future story updates. If you subbed for one month back in October 2019, you can still hop on and see how the war is going and find out what Malgus is up to. That content is waiting for you, no charge.

 

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That Which Does Not Kill Us

With SWTOR‘s next game update “Dark Descent” arriving in just a few days, I figure it was high time to finally translate the third of three Mandalorian themed banners introduced late last year in the Spirits of Vengeance flashpoint.

While it was the last one I recreated, this will be the first one players encounter on their journey through the flashpoint on board the Clan Varad crewed starship, Champion’s Glory.

The sign is gold with purple and black accents and features a fitting slogan for the Clan. Described as “restless” by a Dark Lord of the Sith and bloodthirsty by most everyone else, Clan Varad served as the antagonists of the flashpoint Mandalorian Raiders and are likely already familiar to many players of the game.

The slogan is vague enough to appeal to the single-minded goals of Clan Varad, but it does beg the question: “Strongest at what?” I doubt Mandalorians who align with Varad have much interest in self-reflection so the question seems likely answered by whichever beskar-pot dictator shows up with the biggest blasters that day. Millennia later, these would go on to be the last words of the Deathwatch’s Pre Vizsla, so the slogan remains fittingly ironic.

When Is A Skull Not A Skull?

All three of the posters featured in the Spirit of Vengeance flashpoint feature unique and truly very cool takes on the famous skull icon made famous by Boba Fett. Of the three new symbols, the skull on the Clan Varad banner is most similar to the classic Mythosaur skull, but this version has a hand-printed texture rather than a stamped one, suggesting that if nothing else, Varad is far more hands-on than most Mandalorian clans.

Next up, the Darmanda logo from the Fortune’s Folly is quite similar in shape to the skull, but more closely evokes the contours of the equally if not more famous T-shaped visor of the Mandalorian helmet, but with a sleek, futuristic flair.

I alluded to this in the post in which I translated the banner from Heta Kol’s ship, the Seeker’s Vigil, but I might as well put my tin-foil hat theory on the record sooner rather than later. I suspect that symbol is not a skull at all, but the hilt of a weapon. But what weapon? Now, the Darksaber as seen on the shows The Clone Wars and The Mandalorian was created well after the events of Star Wars: The Old Republic, but what if Heta Kol is looking to create or acquire a proto-Darksaber? While other weapons inspired by modern Star Wars lore have found their way into SWTOR, this distinct take on the lightsaber feels conspicuous by its absence. This addition could also firmly connect Shae Vizla to Clan Vizsla, which has also played a significant role in Star Wars stories recently.

Or maybe I’m overthinking it, and it’s just a fancy skull. Hopefully we’ll find out before too long!

 

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These Go to Eleven

Longtime readers will know that I’m not usually one for hot takes. It’s been a more than week since SWTOR‘s last update, but I think it’s probably worth putting my reactions on the record. Consider this my lukewarm take on game update 6.2.1.

First let’s start with the elephant in the room, because relatively speaking, it takes up about as much space on our screens: the Amplifier sidebar. It is a real head-scratcher. The newly designed character sheet puts Amplifiers in a position of prominence that far, far outweighs their actual importance to players, while the information that actually matters is relegated to a tabbed table in the bottom left.

I don’t even know where to begin with this. The User Interface should, above all, account for how players will use it and make information and functions easier to access. I often check my Accuracy and Alacrity when swapping gear, I generally don’t care what Amplifiers I have. Additionally, putting the weapons smack dab in the middle of the column of armor slots in remarkably non-intuitive. I can’t tell you how many times last week I tried to equip a belt in my weapon slot.

I am all in favor of an improved Amplifier interface, and I have no issue with the cost of rerolling locked Amplifiers. The game needs credit sinks, and the players who most care about their Amps likely have the most cash to burn. I tell new players not to worry about Amplifiers at all; as they acquire maximum level gear, consider setting aside good mods with good Amps if they want, but, aside the daily reroll for Conquest points, I think the vast majority of players have no need to fuss with their Amplifiers.

The Amplifier window should not be a massive caboose that distracts players from the real reasons they want to access the character sheet.

This was not the only annoyance to be found in the latest patch. SWTOR game updates often come with new and unintended bugs. This time those bugs have affected Utilities and Tacticals that grant extra stacks of buffs. For example, the Tactical that is supposed to give Sage healers an extra jump of Wandering Mend currently has no effect, and the Force Harmonics Utility that should grant Shadows an extra charge of Force Potency is likewise ineffective. Pretty much every class has at least one spec affected, and it’s frustrating that we are into our second week of discussing which bad Tactical or normally subpar Utilities should be used instead while we await a hotfix.

Finally the update did bring some changes to Uprisings, Knights of the Eternal Throne’s forgotten group content. The Uprisings have been rebalanced for level 75, and I’m honestly glad to have more max-level content to romp around in. I am on the record as someone who enjoys Uprisings. The have some neat mounts and achievements to farm, the power-ups are fun and they are a nice change of pace from the Flashpoints I’ve run many times over the years. There, however, is legitimate confusion over how the difficulty designations of Uprisings and Flashpoints don’t align. A Storymode flashpoint is meant to be soloed, but a Storymode Uprising is meant for a group, and a Veteran Uprising has more in common with a Master Mode flashpoint. I think some nomenclature clarifications are in order.

While I haven’t tried any of the rebalanced Master Mode Uprisings yet, I have run a few Storymodes with a friend and they seem to fill the spot that the old school Heroic-4’s used to: quick, small group content where companions can fill in for players in a pinch. Even in 270 gear with mid-level companions, we were able to complete several Uprisings in 15-20 minutes without much fuss. The boss fights felt maybe a bit too long, and some mechanics chewed up companions while others had very little effect, but that’s always been the risk when subbing in companions in place of players.

If you’re tired of Hammer Station and the same old heroics, grab a friend and your favorite companions and try a few Uprisings. You’ll get to revisit some familiar locations, watch trash mobs explode like popcorn and hopefully have a laidback, good time. In the meantime, we await official word about whether the Character Sheet will be revised due to player feedback and when those frustrating bugs will be quashed.

 

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Cherish the Past

This week let’s take a look at the second of three Mandalorian posters found in the new flashpoint Spirit of Vengeance. Beware! My comments on this poster, found on the Ash’ad ship, the Seeker’s Vigil, could be considered spoilers for the flashpoint’s story, so definitely check that out first.  Although the Mando’a spoken language has been frequently used in SWTOR, the Mandalorian font makes its SWTOR debut, I believe, in Spirit of Vengeance.

The poster is available as a Stronghold decoration that can drop from bosses in the flashpoint, although it seems to have been mislabeled as propaganda from the Dar’manda ship, Fortune’s Glory.

At first glance, the most prominent image on the poster seems to be the familiar Mandalorian skull symbol, but I don’t believe this is meant to depict the Mythosaur at all. The poster’s color scheme and design most closely recalls the flashpoint’s final boss, Heta Kol whose helmet shares a similar arrangement of horns and prominent dorsal fin. Whether it is meant to be an image of a specific creature, I cannot say. I’d actually suggest that the icon better evokes the shape of a dagger or sword or saber hilt.

If that is the case, then the visual design appears to be at odds with the written message of the poster which implies that whoever created it clearly does not believe that the pen is mightier than the sword.

The mystery of Heta Kol has become a hot topic of conversation since the release of the flashpoint, and the text might be a reference to Canderous Ordo, otherwise known as Mandalore the Preserver. Should we take this as a clue that she has ties to the brothers Jekiah and Ras Ordo, whose sister is presumed to be dead? Maybe!

Overall I like how the poster immediately evokes in its color and design classic Mandalorian imagery, but gives it an unexpected twist or two.

Sell the Sizzle

While it’s not unusual for news from SWTOR to dry up this time of year, Bioware has put the next game update on the PTS unexpectedly early. But the most dramatic news this week came from starwars.com which announced that future Star Wars games would now share the official identity of “Lucasfilm Games.” To mark the announcement, they showed off a “sizzle real” of clips from numerous Star Wars games including, The Old Republic! The news has already triggered announcements of more Lucasfilm property games from publishers other than EA. SWTOR has very often been relegated to the roll of the forgotten middle child struggling for attention whenever newer, hotter games come out. Nevertheless, SWTOR has remained a stalwart over the years, and it’s always nice to see it get some love from Mom and Dad at the official website as the game celebrates its tenth anniversary.

Fingers crossed that there is more excitement to come!

 

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Fight the Future: Five Predictions for 2021

Happy New Year! Let’s all hope that 2021 is a big improvement on the previous year. As is tradition, let’s kick things off with my dumb top five predictions for the next year of SWTOR that are likely to be wrong.

Looking back at last year’s list, it did look for a moment like I might, shockingly, come away with a winning record. A Blurrg mount was briefly teased on the PTS late last year but it did not seem close to making it to the live game. One should always remember that the PTS is not a promise. While this does suggest we might lope around on a Blurrg at some time in the coming year, I cannot fairly give myself a point for that one.

As for my two correct predictions, guessing that we wouldn’t see changes to Spoils of War was not a stretch. No one has ever gone poor betting that something in SWTOR would not change. As for my story prediction, technically it has not been explicitly confirmed, but the subtext is clear enough that I feel confident putting that one in the win column. I am being somewhat vague since it still feels spoilery, but I will say I am pleased with how that beat played out in the Echoes of Oblivion story.

Without further ado on with the show! These predictions are based on my years of experience not developing a mass market videos game inspired by one of the world most popular intellectual properties. So, of course, I know what I’m talking about.

Expansion Hype

SWTOR’s tenth anniversary is next December, and it seems reasonable to expect that Bioware would like to celebrate with an expansion. That will give Onslaught a roughly two year lifespan, a stretch more or less in line with SWTOR’s other expansions. With much of Onslaught’s 2020 content backed up to the end of the year, this does leave a lot of ground for the game to cover before getting ready for a new expansion, so this prediction is far from a slam dunk. Will 2021 end with a new expansion or a new expansion announcement? There is a fair amount of ground between the two, but I will boldly predict that this time next year, we’ll be level 80 and grinding new sets of equipment. Hopefully not in Hammer Station.

What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

The possibility of an expansion does make the business of predictions easy this time. I suspect that the Spirit of Vengeance flashpoint and perhaps one more (or two if we’re really lucky) to come this year, will act as the prologue to the next expansion, in the same way the Forged Alliances flashpoints set up Shadow of Revan. That means the next expansion could very well focus on a Mandalorian civil war. Mandalorians are having their moment in pop culture right now so I don’t think it’s outrageous that SWTOR might get in on that action. In addition, it’s also a faction neutral setting into which Bioware could easily insert both Republic and Sith aligned characters.

This could also allow Bioware to keep the loyalist/saboteur storylines going without having to resolve them. I don’t imagine we’ll be seeing Republic Bounty Hunters looking for work on Carrick Station and Jedi saboteurs recruiting on Korriban anytime soon.

End of Expansion Gearing

If we do get an expansion, I suspect it will be preceded by a tried and true MMO end of expansion gear bonanza. I don’t think a new tier of gear would be out of the question to drive up those Veteran’s Edge stacks. At the very least I’d say the Dxun class sets and crafting materials for gold augments will become easier to acquire. While I know the mechanics of how Ossus gear was acquired during Jedi Under Seige was controversial, I do think we might see new loot gained from a new daily area and perhaps a lair boss.

Hey, What About Malgus?

The fate of Darth Malgus remains the major thread from Onslaught still dangling, and resolving his story seems like the thing Onslaught will most likely accomplish this year. Whatever Malgus is up to on Dantooine could very well take us to the ruins of the Jedi Enclave there. In the end, I think we will face and defeat Malgus in final battle. I’ve seen other possibilities suggested for Malgus, but as fond as I am of him and the tragic figure he’s become, I think his days are numbered. I don’t imagine we’ll be able to join him, recruit him as a companion, or install him as the Sith Emperor. He is reasonable to be suspicious, at best, of the player characters regardless of class, faction or allegiance, and I just don’t see him going down without a fight.

A Porg in Every Pot

It’s not a running joke until I run it into the ground. So, yes, I am hopeful that 2021 will be finally the year that an adorable Porg will be able to follow and passively observe me on my adventures! Once again, I am here to offer helpful suggestions for how to add Porgs to SWTOR. First off, clearly, there will be Porg tacticals that replace all our spoken dialogue with Porg calls. This will make the recording of all future dialogue a significantly easier task. But let’s be clear, there must be distinct Porg sounds for characters of all genders and alignments. Clearly a Sith Inquistor’s clucks should be distinct from a Republic Trooper’s chirps. And since I’ve predicted that a new tier of gear is imminent, the system to acquire it should be named “Spoils of Porgs” which will allow us to grind unwanted gear into “Porg Fragments” that we can use to purchase Best-in-Slot equipment. And, yes, Bioware, you can have these ideas for free.

For these predictions to come to pass, it would mean we’d be getting outrageously more content from SWTOR than we’ve almost ever seen from the game’s history. So I’m certainly letting my sunny disposition get the better of me. Still, I believe Bioware plans to mark the tenth anniversary of SWTOR with something special, so I am honestly hopeful it will be a party to remember.

 

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Echoes of Vengeance Review

This week I’d like to share some spoiler free thoughts on SWTOR‘s Game Update 6.2, Echoes of Vengeance. I won’t lie, I’ve been eagerly looking forward to SWTOR‘s first significant story update of 2020. I doubt there is anyone out there from the players to the developers who isn’t disappointed that we didn’t get more story this year, but I do think the game has closed out the year with a bang.

Echoes of Oblivion

MMOs aren’t really known for endings. To one extent or another, they’re all about keeping the treadmill running and hyping up the next big thing. Echoes of Oblivion, however, feels like the capstone to a journey started nine years ago. It ties together the major strands and story beats woven through eight class stories and all of the expansions, and brings them together for a conclusion that felt to me immensely satisfying.

There are the expected heroes and villains doing their thing, a few pleasant surprises, and one or two things put right that had gone wrong. In service of the story, there is once again an incredible setting to explore. We visited a similar mindscape before during Knights of the Eternal Throne, but this time the environment seems to have been modeled on the landscape of a brain with synapse-like paths connecting suspended islands of memories illuminated by glowing neuron-like formations. It’s unique and fantastic, and I definitely recommend taking your time to look around as you make your way through this adventure.

The who story itself is appropriately epic with moments of high drama and even a funny running joke early on. Each of the major non-player characters get a moment to shine and be cool, but none of it feels like kill-stealing or overshadowing of our characters. It’s our choices and actions have made it all possible and brought us to the end of all things.

With so many story beats and characters to juggle, it’s not surprising, however, that not every thread got pulled, even ones that perhaps should have. The climax surely could’ve had more personal impact if the Consular’s Shielding technique or the Inquisitor’s Forcewalking powers had been invoked. Moreover, I think it’s fair that players of Jedi Knights who have newly reignited or recently started romances with Kira and Scourge might be disappointed that their relationships weren’t acknowledged on-screen, despite their major roles in the story. I know there are countless combinations of characters and companions, and I don’t envy Bioware’s task of finding space for them all, but it does feel like any romances outside of Lana and Theron have gotten the short end of the stick for quite a while now.

I suppose I could also argue that Echoes of Oblivion is just SWTOR taking a victory lap, but if it is, it’s well deserved. Bringing a decade’s worth of story told by countless writers, artists, designers, developers and players to a rewarding climax is no mean feat, and the good folks at Bioware should be commended for sticking the landing.

The Spirit of Vengeance

But, of course, this is not the end. No sooner have we caught our breath than a new threat has emerged, and we’re off to a new flashpoint, the Spirit of Vengeance. Given the popularity of The Mandalorian, it’s not shocking that SWTOR would want to explore Mandalorian’s unique brand of politics. But they’re hardly riding any coattails. Generations of Star Wars fans have been mad about this stuff since Boba Fett made his debut in 1978, and SWTOR has been having fun with Mandos since launch. If the show’s popularity is an excuse for a deeper dive, I’m cool with that.

The flashpoint focuses on three clans familiar to SWTOR players, and each section is distinctive, giving the whole flashpoint a sense of progression. I’ve run the SoV on solo, veteran and master modes and each of the boss fights are pretty fun, although it’s not always clear how their mechanics work. I’m still not sure how best to deal with Bask Sunn’s tether and Troya Ajak’s songbird volley. That said, aside from the healing check on Troya, I didn’t find the flashpoint too taxing on Master Mode, especially as compared to the Onslaught‘s other new flashpoint, Objective Meridian. It is a long flashpoint, and that may not be for everyone. Personally, I consider Hammer Station speed runs to be the death of fun, so I am more than fine spending some extra time in SoV. That said, a group of four should have no problem moving through at a reasonable click. Curiously, I found solo the slowest mode since I had to slog through all the trash by myself. I wouldn’t mind if those power-ups from the Uprisings were a standard feature of solo-modes. A thermal devastator or two certainly would have come in handy!

Dar’manda

The flashpoint comes with numerous decorations to collect including three new Mandalorian themed posters. One can be seen below.

While the two other posters are written using the Mando’a font, this one is in Aurebesh, and for good reason. It features Indigo, leader of a clan of  Mandalorian exiles called Dar’manda who we met on Mek Sha. To their credit, the Dar’manda understand that it would be completely inappropriate for them to use the Mando’a language in their propaganda.

At first, I thought the text of this poster was a fairly basic aphorism, but in thinking about it in the context of the story and setting, it’s clear to me that the rewards being promised here are not the honor and glory sought by your bog-standard Mando, but far more material rewards. “Besom better have my credits,” as they might put it.

The logo at the bottom is a variation on the mythosaur skull and the standard Mandalorian T-shaped visor and helmet seen across Mandalorian lore. I don’t know if this is the first appearance of the symbol, but it’s pretty cool, and I hope we will get to see it in other contexts again.

I confess I went with a quick and dirty recreation here in hopes of publishing my take on the game update’s content while it was still somewhat hot. However, when I return next year, I plan to take a look at the two Mando’a posters in greater detail.

The Undiscovered Country

As this honestly crappy year comes to a close, I’m looking forward to the next. This silly blog, SWTOR and the good people with whom I’m honored to play have all been things that made a 2020 a lot easier to take. Next year is SWTOR’s tenth anniversary, and as Echoes of Oblivion closes the door on one adventure, the Spirit of Vengeance opens the path to another. Let’s see where it leads.

Stay safe, have fun and may the Force be with us all!

 

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Give Me Steam

Last month saw the debut of a new event in SWTOR, the All Worlds Ultimate Swoop Rally. I’d intended this post to be my overview of the Rally, but the news from this week’s livestream is worth discussing instead. With the Swoop Event’s return next week I hope to revisit the topic and look at another Aurebesh sign prominently seen around the race tracks.

For now, however, let’s quickly check out this display from the news terminal on fleet which hypes the rally and serves the breadcrumb quest that introduces players to the event. This static screenshot fails to capture the charm of the Sportscenter-style animation that plays on this screen. Here the Aurebesh text seems to be a leaderboard of rally champions with some amusing and very Star Warsy names. This display reminds me of the Bounty Hunter Guild’s posted sign of most wanted targets that can be seen around the galaxy.

As I translated each name I made a guess as to which swoop team they race for. I’m quite confident that Paurbeli must be on the Horizon Racers.

UPDATE! More than a year after the fact, I discovered to my embarrassment that I had translated one of the names incorrectly. While my translation was phonetically correct, I can imagine that if you are number one ranked Swooper and your name is “Skabend” you probably want folks to get it right, so it has been properly revised. My sincere apologies, and if the other Blatant Beks could stop making donuts in my front yard, I would appreciate it.

Steampowered

This week SWTOR had their first livestream since the lockdown, and how you judge the stream’s big announcement depends on your point of view. If you are already playing the game, SWTOR’s arrival on steam probably won’t affect you. However, SWTOR’s prominent placement on gaming’s biggest platform is a very nice signal boost for the game.

I’m sure many fans of the game have encountered people who are surprised to learn that SWTOR is still around. Even with little promotion, SWTOR has outlasted most other MMOs and certainly earned a good profit while doing so. As a fan, I’m glad to see SWTOR get some attention again, and an influx of new players is always welcome. I don’t doubt that this wave will subside, but it can only be a good thing going forward that Star Wars fans might have an easier time finding the game. For old and new players alike, one of the immediate benefits of Steam is the ability to easily give gift subscription time and cartel coins to your friends, something that has become more difficult to do through other online retailers lately.

The other news from the livestream included the “Feast of Prosperity” a new seasonal event coming in the fall. The addition of two new events in a single year must be unprecedented in the game’s history. Like the Swoop Rally event, this one will be mostly free of combat and something that all players regardless of gear or level can participate in.

We also got some teases of the next story update and a Mandalorian themed flashpoint as well. Sadly, this story content is not likely to arrive until later this year. This is one delay that I won’t pin on Bioware. The logistics that go into creating SWTOR’s story content, even just the recording of the sixteen members of the main cast, scattered around the world, must be considerable, and the current situation in this country can only amplify those challenges.

I suppose they could deliver content faster using the silent “KOTOR-style” dialogue interactions we get with the Fallen Empire recruitment missions. SWTOR has employed this for the Swoop Rally and revised Nightlife events, and I imagine they will with the Festival of Prosperity as well. I’m no fan of the format, but I don’t mind it as much for content that is meant to be repeated. I cannot imagine it working or being received well for a major story update. The fully voiced and animated interactions are the defining hallmark of this game, and I’m fine waiting a little longer to get it.

It sucks that we’re not going  to experience as much story as I am certain Bioware hoped to deliver this year, but I don’t believe it can be helped. In the meantime, I have enjoyed the content they have produced under conditions that are not ideal for anyone. While I am unlikely to ever visit nightmare Dxun, I’m no where near finished decorating my Alderaan stronghold and I’ve found the Swoop Rally to be a lot of fun, and I’m glad to continue it next week.

 

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