18/06/2022

Disillusionment

So, I have a confession to make.

I haven't logged into SWTOR in over three weeks.

I was on holiday for the last week of May heading into early June, and during that time I realised just how liberating it felt to be away from the game.

I suspect a large part of that was because of Season 2, which I was able to finish all achievements for before going on holiday, and this is just from doing it on one server. There are those who do it on multiple servers, and I question the mental state of every single one of you who is doing this.

14 weeks of solid grinding various objectives is a heck of a long time to devote to anything for a mere hobby, and I seriously hope future Seasons do not repeat the 'extra credit' aspect of this one.

Impromptu though it might have been, this break also feeds into something that I had been intending to do before 7.0 launched: reduce the amount of time I spend each week playing games.

I've commented before that I have a spending problem in MMOs. Sure, better that than alcohol or drugs, but no less addicting. This has led me to quit Neverwinter at last once its P2W potential finally proved too much for me to handle. Gambling for rare items to sell on the auction house is addictive enough without the prospect of using those funds to buy powerful upgrades for your character.

On an unrelated note, how about those gold augments, huh?

I have a similar problem with the amount of time I spend in games. There are lots of things I could be doing - I could be working on a long-abandoned website for my fledgling voice-acting career, I could be working on said fledgling career, and I could be getting out there and looking for another job to support this fledgling career.

And yet I'm spending hours doing nothing but playing games and spending too much money on them.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that I want to cut gaming out altogether - I'm just trying to cut back. One of the things I've realised by playing ESO is that I love the casual aspect of that game. I can take a break from it and, due to how it allows you to keep the same gear for years without ever needing to get upgrades, come back to it at any point.

For the longest while, I wanted that for SWTOR. The ability to just play a game without concerns about schedules or bringing the right class for something, or even without being treated like some walking encyclopaedia (common problem, I know) when others can answer questions just as well... bliss.

So in many ways, while 2022 has been the year that I have made the most progress, this plan has been years in the making. This is not something that has emerged because of 7.0.

Granted, 7.0 has made it easier to implement this plan than I had bargained for.

The difficulty of operations content at the moment even in the highest gear at expansion launch is incredibly tedious. The sheer amount of currency required to upgrade your gear forces you to do as much as possible while also only doing one boss every single raid night for easy gear pieces. Tedium all round.

Not even the story presents a glimmer of hope at the moment. I just am not invested in anything that's going on. We've been chasing Malgus for two-and-a-half years now and have only just captured him. We still know nothing about his grand plans, and who knows just how many more months will pass until we get sufficient answers?

Then there's the Mandalorian civil war. Sure, that will at least be more interesting than any other stories in the SW universe that might have included Mandalorians in recent years, but that's not exactly difficult and it will still not be of much interest to me.

Give me a being with a stupid name like Dralne Be Te Oya'karir (the latter part of which is very easy to remember when one's mother was head of her school's career department for years) or an idiot like Khomo Fett who needs his face punched in, and that's fine. Creates the impression that you shouldn't take these people very seriously, and that's the best way to appreciate them.

Being asked to take them seriously, however? No. Don't do that. They aren't worth it.

And yet those are both the most immediate story threads going forward. Since the interesting part of 7.0 ended before we headed off to Elom, we're also likely going to get most if not all stories between now and 8.0 as identical across both factions again, so the prospect of doing all this stuff on all my characters really doesn't fill me with enthusiasm.

I really hope we get more differences than just the wrapper cutscenes in non-expansion content again, as that was why 5.10 was my absolute favourite story update since 2.4. Hopefully 7.0 picks up where 6.0 fell flat, but I must admit my hopes aren't high.

And then there's the big ticket item of 7.1: R4 Anomaly. I imagine I'll probably be seeing it at some point, but I have no idea when, if indeed ever.

7.1's delay is also proving very concerning. Since we are still to see the last boss come to the PTS in veteran mode, it's not likely to be out until late July unless BW feel that the last boss is Live-ready without testing them first. That seems like it would be more trouble than it's worth so I would be very surprised if they did that.

Of course, they could also just decide to launch R4-A in SM and put in VM later once they've had more time to work on thr VM version exclusively. That would at least allow them to launch 7.1 earlier, but I warrant that BW will not want to piss off the hardcore raiders for whom only VM R4 (and any difficulty of IZAX beyond SM apparently) presents any semblance of a challenge.

So... yeah. Still a month to go, most likely, meaning that it will have been a fair bit over a year since 7.0 was announced for us to see everything that was revealed reach Live. Well, almost everything: R4 has lost one of its five bosses, but I don't remember if the number of bosses was mentioned in the reveal.

I don't like being negative, but sometimes it's impossible to acknowledge this stuff and remain positive.

Will I check it out when it launches? I imagine I'll do whatever new story content we'll get on at most two characters if I do, but that's it. I have no wish to commit to long grinds anymore, whether that be gear or reputation, so going forward only a limited number of things have any real appeal.

At this juncture, I can easily see myself taking a full break until 8.0 is announced, at which point I would log back in and complete all the content that had been released between now and then.

Then again, anything can happen going forward.

For now, though, I will just wait and see how I feel. I'm not going to unsubscribe or anything, but I'm also not going to pretend that 7.1 will be this magical turning point where suddenly I'm okay with going back to the way things were. That would defeat the entire point of this long-term plan of mine.

22/05/2022

A Return to Writing: Some Character Biographies

Long-time readers of this blog may remember that I used to have a page devoted to my characters. Each of them would be listed with details of their class and accomplishments, and alongside that would be a short in-universe biography.

I chose to scrap that page with the blog’s revamp, although truth be told I had long been dissatisfied with it even before that point. The biographies were fun to write, but at the same time it also felt that I simply had to come up with stories for each of my characters the moment they were listed, rather than allowing myself time to develop their own backgrounds naturally. As such, I felt I needed to scrap that altogether until such a time as I was ready to give it another shot.

I mentioned in my last post that I’m not much of a skilled artist, but I do enjoy giving drawing a shot every now and again. The same is true of writing. Over the past few years, I have been jotting down snippets of stories whenever a good idea popped into my head, and last year I was able to complete the first draft of a five-chapter long short story. It’s not going to see the light of day anytime soon, but I was ecstatic to finally complete a piece of writing at last.

18/05/2022

My Approach to Combat Styles for my pre-7.0 Characters

This is something that I've wanted to post for a good few months or so – this has been kicking around as part of a draft post focusing on the "goods, the bads, and the eeehhhhhs" of 7.0 for quite some time now – and I felt it was about time to finally kick it into life somewhat. 

This was definitely not inspired by a recent post on Shin's blog.

Nope.

... okay, it was.

20/04/2022

Ten Weeks In

It’s been ten weeks since Legacy of the Sith released, and yet I haven’t really touched on it. This is not because I’m so put out by the state of things that I’m not playing and resorting to trying to protest the existence of the expansion as some people are doing; I’ve just been doing so much over the past ten weeks, namely the second Galactic Season and getting my new Trooper through the story, that it’s been hard to really devote much thought to writing about stuff.

And sure, I have my fair complaints about the expansion. I’m not fond of the Imperial story on Manaan, and I loathe that we’re now one-and-a-bit expansions into Malgus’ return and we still know nothing about his grand plans other than it has something to do with the future of the Jedi and Sith. The tuning of group content is also a bit ridiculous, with rumours suggesting that content is seemingly scaled to 334-gear levels rather than max of 330-gear.

But on the whole… I have very few complaints about the state of things. I like the new UI, although I will concede that it is annoying that the changes are only half-done. The new inventory and character sheet are very nice, and I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the changes when they come in. I also don’t mind the new class icons, and I can understand both reasons why they were changed; resolution is one thing, but consider this:

A few of the previous icons had some aspect of clear class-identity, with the Inquisitor one having lightning, and the Smuggler one showing a pistol. Well… now we can get Inquisitors that don’t have lightning (outside of cutscenes, that is!) or a smuggler that doesn’t wield a pistol (again, outside of cutscenes…), so those icons don’t really suit the new class philosophy. Helmets, or some other generic icon such as the Havoc Squad insignia or the credit symbol, does feel like the safer way to go in this regard, although I do wish that the ones on the main screen had more colour to them rather than just being plain white.

As for resolution… yeah, it’s always been clear that a lot of the elements don’t suit upscaling of any kind. For a clear and very literal example of upscaling, look at the Imperial and Republic unlocks tabs of the Legacy pane. For ten years, the companion portraits were substantially smaller than their frames, which I believe was because whoever put them together tried scaling the portraits up and found the result displeasing to the eye.

Now, the portraits have been scaled up, and… well… the result is about as bad as I thought it would have been. Lots of artifacting, the images are blurred… it doesn’t look good at all. On the one hand, I am pleased that this has finally been sorted, as it has always bugged me that the frames were much bigger than the portraits, but on the other I do kinda feel they should have waited until new portraits of the companions were produced.

I really like the new gearing system, and – RNG frustrations notwithstanding – I feel it’s the right sort of pace. I’m not fond of how many currencies there are or about the quite punitive limits that exist on the Medals of Commendation in particular. Fortunately, this is one limit which is being raised come 7.0.2, so that’s something! I also do kinda want there to be something I could spend my 2,500 Decurion Isotope Stabilisers on…

This all said, I am very much looking forward to seeing the new operation and daily zone in 7.1. I don’t feel this will be “enough” new content for most people griping about lack of content to be happy with, because what would have been with 7.1 – which datamining indicates would have been the second daily zone of 7.0 – has surely now been pushed back to 7.2 or something like that. Boiling it down, all that 7.1 will be for non-group-content people will likely be a series of repeatable missions and a new Reputation track to grind.

Sure, that will still be at least six weeks of activity for people to get their teeth into, but once we get past that… the complaints will surely just resume once again.

Not that I’m trying to say they’re unjustified; I’m just trying to point out that unless something changes drastically, 7.1 will likely not provide much more meat than what’s in already for level 80 players who aren’t interested in operations or PvP.

But then maybe this little morsel will provide more sustenance for those people than I feel it will.

There’s no denying that 7.0 has been the roughest expansion launch we’ve seen yet. It will recover, and this is hardly the worst state that this game has been in, but even I must acknowledge that this hasn’t been a smooth course. Bugs galore, content delayed for one reason or another… I’m happy with where things are, but I look forward to seeing what else is yet to come.

Especially if it starts to provide some much-needed answers about what a certain renegade Sith Lord is up to.

And for Darth Malgus as well, I suppose.

27/03/2022

Decoration Documentation: Carrick Station Penthouse

There has been quite a common request among the Stronghold fanatics of SWTOR: after all the giant palatial houses, it would be nice to start getting more small-scale houses.

I can't say I disagree with this sentiment; a giant house can certainly be very pretty, such as the Alderaan Noble Estate, but in terms of actually feeling like a house any old character can reasonably own? Yeah, it's a bit of a stretch. So maybe a smaller house would actually feel more 'feasible'?

BioWare have responded to these requests by creating two new Strongholds associated with Galactic Seasons: penthouse apartments aboard Carrick and Vaiken spacedocks. I must confess, I'm not really a fan of them. Sure, they're small, and are the sort of thing you could see an important Jedi or military officer being eligible to purchase or even rent out, but there are quite a few issues I've always had with them:

1) The height of the ceilings. For an apartment, the ceilings are really high. These apartments are almost two storeys in height, which is just ludicrous. 

2) The big hexagonal room. Just... what purpose does that serve in an apartment setting?

So while I happily bought them both with Seasons tokens when I could, I never really gave much of a go with them. Sure, I tried a little bit once the decoration bundles containing walls, doors, and ceiling panels etc. were released, and while these solved some of my problems, they didn't solve all of them. So I decided to just leave things be.

With the 'birth' of my new Trooper, my Consular Vihala's baby sister Athena, I felt that the time was ripe to give decorating the Carrick station penthouse a good go. After all, it could then become 'her' Stronghold, as otherwise she would have to leech off the properties of either my other Trooper or her own sister, both of which felt weird.

So, without further ado:

17/03/2022

Finality

“Never” is a short word, but it’s a massive concept. The idea that, somewhere, sometime, you will do something for the last time, and never do it again, is terrifying, and yet it will eventually happen to us all with everything we’ve ever done and ever shall do.

For me, I thought I had reached that point with much of SWTOR’s content. I took note of the last time I’d completed the HK, Macrobinocular, and Seeker Droid quests with some sadness, and was ecstatic to have taken my Powertech through Eternal Throne et al., because at that time, that was… it. As far as I was aware, those were the final times I would ever have done that content. I was convinced I was never going to create any other characters, and so, yeah, why wouldn’t I believe that?

That belief aged very well!

When the idea planted itself in my head to create a new Trooper, who I’ve identified before is a Sniper / Operative, to act as another ranged Tech character if needed for raids, I was very reluctant to follow through with it. After all, I had proudly asserted that I would “never have to do” all this content again, and I knew full well what creating another character would mean. Eventually, the voice telling me to do it just became too demanding, and I rolled Trooper #10.

I think. I can certainly only name ten.

I must acknowledge that combat styles were not something I was ever anticipating when I made that post or claimed to be “done” with everything. At that time, a Trooper could only ever just be a Commando or a Vanguard, and I had no reason to suspect that anything would ever change on that front. After all, I’d sworn off Commando completely, and having already levelled a Vanguard, why would I level another one?

Yet now Republic Snipers are a thing. Republic Operatives are a thing. Both classes, particularly Sniper due to aligning with Aric Jorgan, suit Trooper particularly well. In a way, I’m now quite glad that BW never managed to get the “choose your primary combat style!” thing working for pre-established characters, as I know full-well I would have chosen Vanguard for my other Trooper alongside Operative to not leave my Hunter as the only character with the faction-equivalent style selected. I would have absolutely kicked myself if I had done this only to then realise that I could have gone Sniper and prevented myself from starting on this road again.

Unusually for me, this is the first time in a long, long time that creating a new character of the same class will not be leading to the deletion of her now-predecessor. As I’ve highlighted above, I still have a Hunter who can be a Powertech… and I never, ever want to be in a situation where I have only one character of any given style. While I’m not playing it now, what if I ever wanted to give it another go and really got back into it? I’d be stuck with only one Powertech / Vanguard type character, and that wouldn’t do.

So, I’d rather just continue with two Troopers. I don’t quite know how I’m going to align them both with my desire to consider each character as the “archetypal” character of their class, but that’s something to figure out later.

Because I vastly prefer the aesthetic of Sniper over that of Gunslinger (and the Gunslinger in question has always been more of a Scoundrel in my head because I really don't like the concept of dual-wielding pistols), this has also led me to realise that if I go back to being a ranged Tech main, I can return to the days of being a Sniper main. Last time I could do this was 3.0, and obviously that was only on Impside. But now… I can keep the same playstyle in high-end raids as I’ve used for years but with a look and feel that I’m much happier with.

It would also be something of a nice bookend for the tenth anniversary celebration. I started endgame as a Trooper main, and now, ten years later, I could be returning to being a Trooper main for endgame yet again.

It’s funny how things work out.

13/03/2022

Taking Cover

One of BW’s stated goals with 7.0 was to streamline the playstyle of the various combat styles. Abilities were combined, some were removed, and others can be modded to yield a similar result to a previous ability.

For the most part, I have found myself largely unaffected by this. Most of my characters have kept all but the most situationally useful of abilities, with the most aggravating losses from muscle-memory in terms of abilities being Cyclone Slash for Guardian and Dodge for Gunslinger. 

However, it hasn’t just been abilities which have been removed for Gunslingers and Snipers. We’ve also lost our Cover Bar. For those of you who have never played Gunslinger or Sniper, or are not experienced enough with it to identify from words alone what this was, this was an alternate quickbar which would replace our primary quickbar whenever we entered cover. You could have different abilities on both bars, or a similar setup on both. It was entirely optional, and it could be turned off if desired.

With 7.0’s goal of streamlining combat styles, the Cover Bar was selected as a system that needed to be removed. For me, this means that I have had to adapt and re-learn how to play Gunslinger after eight years of muscle-memory telling me that I could press the same button to alternately enter Cover and use Snipe or Lethal Shot. I had other buttons I could have pressed to enter cover (seriously, I had about six copies of “Take Cover” on my main bar for most fights, each one signifying where an ability that I tended to only use in cover was situated), but “2” became the main one for some reason.

I have found this quite difficult to adjust to, and that’s even after spending a couple of months trying to adjust ever since I knew it would be a thing from the PTS. To this day, I’m still finding that I’m hitting the wrong keybind to go into cover, resulting in a standing Lethal Shot. Hunker Down has also been moved, since on the Cover Bar it used to be where my rest-and-regen ability was, but with the removal of class buffs it’s now situated only two slots over from where it was before. I still hit the wrong button for that occasionally but nowhere near as frequently as I once did.

As you could probably infer from above, this is the sort of thing that would impact me regardless of whether or not I was a clicker or keybinder. Muscle-memory is an important aspect of any MMO, particularly those with a lot of buttons, and any difference would upset that a fair bit. For example, this evening I came up with the idea of maybe returning to having my primary cover-button as “2”, while moving Lethal Shot to “3”. I found that I kept on hitting “2” since, of course, that’s always been Lethal Shot when I’m in cover! Where I more used to clicking, I would almost certainly find myself clicking where Lethal Shot was in this scenario, so the same result would occur. 

So, for now, I’m using the default “V” keybind to enter cover, and leaving my main quickbar almost exactly as my Cover Bar would have been. It works well enough.

Since I’ve had to completely change how I play this class of over eight years’ experience, you’d think I’d be grumbling about this. Threatening to unsubscribe until it gets fixed, refusing point-blank to play Gunslinger at all because they’ve ruined my baby? Well…

I don’t mind this change in the slightest. Sure, it’s slightly aggravating from my perspective, and I think even more annoying from the perspective of the rest of my raid team as it’s given me the biggest excuse yet to play Balance Sage, but I am 100% behind this change. Sincerely. This is not a sarcastic “reverse-psychology” statement indicating that I’m really, really sour about this. I genuinely believe that this was a good change for BW to make.

While I have been used to playing with this active for eight years, I am very aware that this has been the most confusing element for many a potential Gunslinger or Sniper over the years. Yes, it was optional, but a confusing UI element is going to throw off a lot of people, especially when used alongside the already awkward cover functionality.

If this change means that many more players are going to understand Gunslinger or Sniper easier, then, yeah, I do fully endorse it. It’s more important that newer or unfamiliar players can have an easier time adjusting to this unique system than it is for this veteran to keep their playstyle exactly as it’s always been. BW do not make this game for me. I'm a paying subscriber and have been since December 2011, but I do not believe BW owes me a single thing.

Besides, there are ways around this. It’s just the button to enter cover which is catching me out; with enough time, I’ll crack it. I’m reluctant to focus on anything difficult until I do, given how useful being in cover can be for a Gunslinger, but I will crack it at some point.

Especially now that I’ve done something I was never expecting to do prior to 7.0, and that’s create another Trooper, Athana (Sniper / Operative). With my other one, Jenn, being Vanguard / Operative, that’s two melee specs on one character. Not very versatile, especially if it comes to raids where I might very well need to send an extra character to help with another guild-group! If I eventually do get back into playing Gunslinger in raids as I hope I will, I’d far rather have another ranged Tech character that I can do things with if needed, and this enables me to accomplish that.

I’m going to be using her story to give me the time I hope I need to get over my small problem with Cover in a stress-free environment. It shouldn’t take that long, I hope.

Until I feel ready to return to Gunslinging, I’m quite content doing operations with my Sage. It helps that, right now, we’re mainly doing Veteran Operations, so there hasn’t been an awful lot which we’ve encountered which is not well suited for Balance. We’ll get to that point eventually, I’m sure, which is why I want to sort things out with my back-up class ASAP, just so I can switch to a more ‘appropriate’ spec if needed.

Still got a bit of a way to go until that point, however!