For those of you who managed to miss out on the Stream and the announced rewards:
- Subscribing by January 11th allows you to recover HK-55 when Chapter 10 is unlocked in February
- Subscribing by the first of each month gives you two days' Early Access to that month's chapter
- Subscribing from January 11th to August 1st will result in you being granted various HK-55 themed rewards each month with the apex being a bonus chapter where you play as HK himself
Anyone who has been reading this blog for some time might have picked up on the fact that I have a soft spot for HK Droids. Thus, you might expect that I have no qualms with the announced subscriber rewards system, with them essentially catering exactly to my preferences.
In some regards, you'd be correct. I am, as mentioned previously, ecstatic about getting HK-55 back and I am very interested in seeing how the bonus chapter where you actually play as him works out.
However, there are several issues I have with this system. I'll focus on the issues I have with HK's involvement first.
First is the fact that HK-55 is only a one-time subscribe-by-this-date reward. As one of the "most popular" characters of Fallen Empire there is enough of a precedent to ensure that he'd be once again available to everyone - if he's this popular now, he'll continue to be thus for newer players, after all. I don't have a problem with someone directly inconsequential as Nico being a one-time subscription reward, but HK was a former main character whom everyone gets to meet in Fallen Empire. Just imagine the furor which would spring up if it was Lana who was in this position, or Darth Marr! In a story which itself requires a subscription an additional subscription gate for the return of a main character just feels wrong. HK's return is nice and all, but the execution is horrendous.
Second, just how many differing rewards can they offer relating to a droid? With Nico his coat and guns were very-easily engineered to be player items. HK has only one item which can be engineered thus; his "Sniper Blunderbuss". I can safely say that very few people will be lining up for the chance to get this, especially as it is currently available in three forms, each with its own light-show, as a Cartel Market item. Armour - even a set styled as an HK unit - pets, and mounts would be incredibly gimmicky, and Decorations and Customisations are not "truly" player-usable items; additionally, they won't be able to convince everybody who would otherwise have been eligible to stay subbed with a simple statue reward since not everyone uses Strongholds. Similar to Fallen Empire's subscription reward plan, it does look like the "best" items are bookending this entire deal with "filler" rewards in the interim.
Third is the bizarre correlation between Fallen Empire being "our personal story" and an entire chapter where we play as someone who is "not ourselves". Personally, I am quite a fan of moments like this in single-player RPGs because they're often deliberately quick moments to build up or disperse tension before the next big thing occurs, but as an entire chapter when the previous sixteen - assuming it takes place after Fallen Empire is complete - were all about us and our quest to stop the Eternal Empire, with month-long breaks to disperse any tension, this bonus chapter will be incredibly out-of-place.
Fourth, relating to the "early-access", two days is really, really strange for such an option, considering that future chapters' "actual" release dates will actually be on a Thursday and not a Tuesday. This essentially means that the "two days' early access" promise is as broad as it's long and just essentially allows for "standard access". Considering that we're getting a new chapter every month from February onwards, early access for these doesn't make all too much sense compared to the release of the first part of the story back in October, especially as a period of two whole days.
For people who will stay subscribed no-matter-what 'til August these rewards are... decent. They're not amazing by any means and we have no idea what the "filler stuff" will be exactly, but they are for the moment decent. I may end up revising this statement in the future, of course, depending on the quality of the other six HK rewards.
For those who are looking for a "main incentive" to remain subscribed or purchase a subscription in the first place, these rewards are fairly inconsequential in comparison to everything else you get, including the story. You can let them completely pass you by and you'll have lost nothing since neither HK nor his bonus chapter can possibly have any serious consequences on the overall story, save for the fact that you own HK again, as otherwise they would both be available to everyone. Not good that "big" and "unprecedented" subscriber rewards can easily be undermined.
System of Operations
Since the Operations and Flashpoints in Fallen Empire Blog came out, the raiding community knew that it was due for a shake-up. Every single Operation being scaled to Level 65 with no new Operations or difficulty modes - Nightmare would, thankfully, remain for those that already had it - rubbed several people the wrong way, as did the idea that each week a "Highlighted Hard Mode" would drop the same gear as Nightmare Mode. Whilst certain dedicated raiding groups and guilds enjoyed the challenges and rewards which Nightmare raiding brought them, a considerably less skilled group could just do the Hard Mode and earn 224-rating. Bonus aggravation if the Hard Modes were EV and KP.
From then on things only started to get worse, and the expansion itself was still weeks away. On the 8th of September, the Developers revealed that Nightmare Eternity Vault and Karagga's Palace were being outright removed from the game rather than being in any way retooled to match the same difficulty capability as their fellow Nightmare Modes, which was understandably not received positively.
Finally, the expansion hit, and everything seemed to be working as intended... except for the fact that Nightmare loot appeared to be bugged. It only seemed to drop 220-rating gear rather than the promised 224-rating gear. This only exacerbated the anger towards the Highlighted Hard Modes; not only were they dropping both 220 and 224, but the people involved had to work considerably less hard to receive greater rewards than those who had taken that extra step and challenged themselves. For example, an 8-man team completing Highlighted Scum and Villiany results in seven people walking away with 224-rating goodies, one person with the prime choice of the "unloved" 220, and then the rest being filtered out accordingly. Six people would get two pieces of loot from this one run.
Earlier this week, BioWare finally stepped up to the plate to resolve this issue. Rather than the promise of a swift fix of the confirmed bug in 4.0.3 and a hasty apology, they revealed that they had made a typo; Nightmare was only ever meant to have a chance to drop 224-rating gear alongside the guaranteed 220, whilst the Highlighted Hard Modes were designed to be the best and most consistent manner in which a team could gear up. To make matters even worse, they stated that the broken drop-chance won't likely be fixed until 4.1 in February!
Cue the uproar.
When I first read the original changes blog linked above, my first reaction was more positive than negative; sure, everything was being rehashed, but there was at least variety with the amount of Operations available, and there were seemingly multiple ways for people to maximise their gear. People who enjoyed Nightmare could do whichever ones they chose at different points in the week and, theoretically, gear their teams up faster than those who relied solely on the Highlighted Hard Modes, themselves seemingly but a "taste" of the maximum potential. There were just rewards for those who went the extra mile whilst everyone left behind still had that chance to catch up at a much slower rate, meaning that the Nightmare teams would still have "bragging rights". Obviously, that is not the case anymore.
I do find it very difficult to comprehend exactly why BioWare would decide to leave Nightmare loot as being, on the whole, worse than the loot offered in a Highlighted Hard Mode. This system is inferior even compared to Nightmares when they were first released, when both KP and EV NiM dropped Rakata, which was also available in either Operations' Hard Mode form. Rather than at least try to keep any semblance of synergy, the system has been deliberately regressed thanks to the guaranteed 224 from the HHMs, and it really does seem senseless.
I'm not a hardcore raider. Indeed, right now I'm on a break from raiding until hopefully next year and have been since late September. I've done my fair share of progression raiding in the past, but I would not dare to consider myself in any way a "veteran" thereof. In spite of my comparative "casual status", I can perfectly understand why people are in such an uproar about this; it's disheartening and downright insulting to those who have willingly put their time and effort into actively engaging with the most challenging content available.
If there were any obvious positives of this, it would be that it is easier for newer players to get experience with Operations and get geared up at the same time than it used to be. This is obviously BioWare's main focus with these changes, since The Force Awakens essentially guarantees the influx of new players and subscribers who would appreciate the chance to get the best endgame gear without ever setting foot in a Nightmare Operation.
In a way, it's quite interesting to compare this to the Colossal Monolith of Ziost when that first came out. Sixteen-man Story Mode had a chance to drop any Revanite piece available, including the mainhand, whilst the temporarily-broken-and-consequently-easier Hard Mode dropped an exclusive 204-rating mainhand. Both of these outcomes severely cheapened a lot of people's raiding efforts throughout the previous months, as anyone could from that point onwards potentially get a difficult-to-acquire Revanite piece with markedly little effort. The 204 mainhand did at least require a very competent group once the fight was fixed and working as intended, but the damage had of course already been done. That was still an "isolated" case in comparison to what's happening now, of course, and thankfully as of 4.0 it doesn't drop a 228 mainhand.
It is fairly easy to understand why people are expressing dissatisfaction with the manner in which BioWare is handling certain aspects of this game; I haven't even touched on the dearth of content which is the PvP hemisphere or the kerfuffle which was the most recent exploit and subsequent impact upon the economy.
It also doesn't help that we have to wait yet a further two months before the next "big" update. To give some context, the gap between 4.0 and 4.1 is roughly one month shorter than the gap between 3.0 and 3.2. Even with every month afterwards having story updates, three-and-a-half months is way too long a period between content updates. With the lack of incentives to stick around until then, people will disappear in droves between now and February 11th.
As much as my own love for Star Wars compels me to remain investing in and playing this game for better or worse, I cannot deny that I am feeling more than a bit wearied by these recent troubles.