5.2: War for Iokath Stream Thoughts

Yesterday, BioWare revealed details of 5.2: War for Iokath. It looks to be one of the more detailed patches we've had for some time, so let's get cracking with analysing each of the details.


Master Chapters: First Opinions

Master Mode Chapters are out, and with them comes the opportunity to spend a good amount of time repeating story content all over again but this time with even more death opportunity.

So far, though, from what I've seen, Master Mode isn't that bad, especially in comparison to Veteran Mode. Okay, there are exceptions which I'll get to in a minute, but otherwise things aren't as bad as I was dreading.

The most interesting thing, to me, is that Companions get an Influence Boost. One of my guildies commented that his Darth Marr was 35 when he could've sworn he was only 2 or 3, and voiced his guess that Marr had been boosted. When I received my own Marr, I found that rather than the quite nice 28 I'd left him at for the Veteran KotFE run that he'd been boosted to Influence 39.

I did actually have enough Imperial Memorabilia Gifts to get him to 50 from 28 anyway (I maaaaaaay have spent a fair bit of credits in getting all of Calph's currently-accessible Story Companions - so Acina, Kaliyo, Marr, SCORPIO, and Torian missed out originally - who weren't already 50 to the max-level in preparation for Master Mode), but it was still nice to get something of this sort for free, particularly when it was a relatively substantial boost.


For me, there were five Chapters which had moments that I was wary of after seeing them in Veteran Mode. These are Chapter II in both expansions, Chapters VI and X in Fallen Empire, and Chapter IV in Eternal Throne.

So far, having started from Chapter I: The Hunt and going in order (currently at Chapter V), I've only come across one of these Chapters in Master Mode, which is Chapter II: A Dream of Empire, which had one of the hardest Fallen Empire fights - if not the hardest. It came to a massive surprise to me that the Monolith in Master Mode Chapter II not only died on the first try but actually seems substantially easier than it did in Veteran Mode in general.

Provided you don't get hit by his Terrible Shout, which reportedly hits for 400k. Credit to a guildie who died to it due to forgetting that it could be interrupted for discovering this number.

I'm intrigued by this in several ways, because it raises several pertinent questions. Was it genuinely easier? Was my slightly higher Gear-level a factor? Did it just seem easier because I did the Veteran Mode, knew how painful it was, and managed to adjust accordingly?

I don't know the actual answer to these questions, but they're still good questions about the experience. As a Gunslinger, I don't have access to anything like a truly substantial self-heal (outside of passive healing in-Cover, which is risky in the Monolith fight in the first place, the most I have is 10% every 18 seconds on Hightail It), so it wasn't as if I was running away and healing back up half the time.

Of course, it also helps that he managed to knock me onto a piece of cliff and subsequently spent about fifteen seconds standing still and contemplating the meaning of life before getting a grip on reality and resuming his pursuit.

Or non-reality, as it may have been.

So whilst my own experiences have been fairly straightforward for the time being, this is nothing next to another one of my Guildies, who 'mains' a Sage for Story stuff. At time of writing, he's trying out Chapter II: Run for the Shadows because he was inspired by his own "this was easy!" reaction to the Monolith fight and just decided to gun it.

Interestingly, his Acina - who was previously Influence Rank 28 - was boosted immediately to Influence 50.

Basically, the Vine Cat tore him to shreds a few times (basic attack dealing 20-30k damage) before he was able to just burst everything down with both him and Acina as DPS, the GenoHaradan scout hit so hard alongside its adds that I was pulled in just so he could see how another class handled the damage (spoiler: I still melted, but my intervention allowed him to kill the boss), and he still hasn't managed to kill the end bosses even with multiple stuns and Focus Target modifiers being used to their full advantage.

All in all, he's had about a 500,000 Credit repair bill from this Chapter alone.


So, yeah. Master Mode is interesting from what I and my guildies have seen so far. I haven't seen enough to say whether it makes for a 'decent' challenge (I'm still shocked at how quickly the Monolith died in Chapter II), whilst again it seems that certain fights are conversely too challenging for any Class to do effectively. I'll be able to gauge more effectively when I see the remaining fights and Chapters.

I find it particularly interesting how - despite the Mission Tracker saying it gives 400 CXP - the actual mission reward itself grants over 1,000 CXP, which makes Master Mode Chapters a very good source of solo-play CXP. Sure, it's not as quick as a PvP match or an Uprising, but at least the Chapters aren't dependent on other people.

At least this way, if you die you've only got yourself and your slave Companion to blame.


Eternal Veteran: Chapter Difficulty, Part II

Master Modes for all Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne Chapters are being released tomorrow, and yet I still need to talk about how Veteran Difficulty affects Eternal Throne. You can find my blathering about Fallen Empire Veteran Mode here.

Let's get started!


Returning to the Stars

Galactic StarFighter, as I've already talked about before, is fairly brutal for a new player or character to get really 'introduced to'; from the sheer amount of time it takes to upgrade a ship to the clunky UI to the fact that some systems are left completely unexplained, there's a lot for new participants to take in.

So it is with Galactic Command that new players will be introducing themselves to the activity in an attempt to get as much out of the system as possible, since GSF is one of the most rewarding things you can do (a victory with eight medals earns at least 1,060 CXP dependent on whether or not your Alignment is winning or you have a CXP Booster on).

I'm not exempt from this; I really enjoyed GSF back in the day on Ziodus, but he was the only character who ever really did anything. Because I don't really want him to only be doing GSF (which he pretty much would be if he ever gets to 70, since I largely only refer to him as "the GSF character"), I figured it would finally be time to put my preachings about the activity being tedious for new players/characters to the test and get Calph her own set of ships.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not doing this purely so I can farm CXP. I just got caught up in the wind of fresh activity which hasn't been felt around GSF for so damn long, and I'm really enjoying being back, and it made more sense to me to get a currently-regularly-used character doing things rather than have the essentially-retired but more-experienced GSF character only doing GSF and nothing else. Having a new character with their own fresh potential does make things more interesting, although I don't think I'll be straying too far from what my previous playstyle was like...

After about two-and-a-half weeks of getting back into it... yes, it is brutal for a new character, but I do admit that I am coming from this with more than a base understanding of how each and every ship works, so my 'new' experience is totally different from somebody who is actually new to the activity. I may be somewhat rusty nowadays, but I do pick things up quickly when I am reminded of them visually.

Indeed, so far the most confusing thing to get my head around again is what exactly Communication does for the ship. Dampening and Sensor Range are fairly obvious (although Sensor Focus Range is another matter of confusion), but there's nothing to indicate what increasing your Communication range does for you. From what I understand, having needed to research it, it puts enemies your allies detect on the map if their own Communication range overlaps with yours.

So you may be 36,000 kilometers away from a pesky Gunship, but if a player on your team with a 23,000 km sensor range detects them whilst their 7,000 km communication range overlaps even slightly with your 15,000 km communication range, you can see them too.

When it comes to battles themselves, it is easy to see why new blood isn't easily kept, particularly on the Republic side. For whatever reason, at least on The Red Eclipse, in Deathmatches Imperials always seem to be the ones who use mostly-Gunship teams whilst Republic players, in their armies of Scouts and Strikes with only a few Gunships, get mown down in their dozens. When you get in matches like that, yeah, even veterans can get just a teeny bit despondent...


All in all, I am pleased to be back doing GSF. It's nice to see that Command XP has managed to increase interest and activity, even if - again - it can simply be derided as people trying their best to stay afloat in the Command System.

Ultimately, this does touch on something of a point. A lot of people do do whatever they can for Command XP without much care for what it actually is. Ranked and Casual PvP have both been 'infested' by CXP grinders, for example, which doesn't really result in a 'good' Ranked environment. The key to coping with the Command System and CXP is truly to focus mainly on stuff you enjoy, not to senselessly grind whatever you can since this will burn you out.

So, sure, take up whatever activities you want, but if you aren't enjoying taking part in whatever gives the most CXP, then this will ultimately harm your game experience since you will only see the grind and nothing else which could make these certain activities enjoyable. GSF, PvP, Operations, they all give a lot, but there is so much more to each of these which sadly the rush to grind is just making people ignore.


Crossing Lines and Fracturing Opinions

How does one define 'crossing the line' nowadays?

If you've been following recent developments for the most recent exploit in SWtOR, the answer is far more oblique than it should be.

By now, you should have heard of the Fractured Uprising exploit; this entailed pulling the final pair of bosses in such a way that the first one automatically kills himself, thus making the Uprising two minutes shorter.

Okay, so two minutes isn't that long, but it does begin to add up. Particularly when, as a result of all this, you can't go two minutes on Fleet without reading "LF 1 Tank for Fractured Uprising Farm" or something similar in General Chat. Or when people attain Command Rank 70 on four characters largely through farming this one particular instance. 

This in itself, in my opinion, makes it so much worse than a 'mere exploit'. As I've already said, two minutes isn't a huge difference of time, especially since Fractured is the fastest Uprising for the moment anyway. The very fact that this exploit is being actively encouraged in General Chat, let alone the sheer amount of people who have seen groups derailed by exploiters, makes it worthy of some form of punishment in my eyes. 

As examples of the above case: Mox from Corellian Run Radio was pulled back by a Sage group-mate of his in an attempt to prevent him from derailing an exploit, but he was able to push through and force a proper boss pull, whilst a guildie of mine recently had to endure a group-found group of people who tried to trick him into pulling the boss whilst they all stayed away, thus leading to a stalemate of six minutes where nobody did anything since he was the only group member "not happy" with the idea of exploiting. 

Too bad for them that he was assigned as the group leader. 

When breaking the terms of service is being encouraged and even enforced by groups, this alone should give it the precedent needed to punish players, even if it is just a small punishment, and yet BioWare have recently come out and said that exploiting this is absolutely unpunishable, even though it is being acknowledged by the higher-ups as an exploit. 

What makes this sting even harder is that BioWare have shown that they are slowly getting better at catching people. They let too many people go over the Ravagers exploit, yet they made up for it slightly with their handling of people accessing the Colossal Monolith fight a week earlier than intended, and their handling of the 4.0 currency-stack exploit and Season 7 Ranked PvP hackers has been (comparatively) perfect. 

Furthermore, there was another (thankfully caught and fixed by 5.0a) exploit involving the Jawa Scraps you'd receive from the Galactic Command crates; a player could manually plug in how many stacks they wanted to disintegrate, even if they only apparently received sixteen, and receive all the Command XP they wanted in the process. They have confirmed that anyone who made use of this bug would be punished, but I for one don't know if they've actually gone through with this yet.

BioWare aren't exempt from finger-pointing either. Once again, they've waited far too long before even beginning to officially address this, and it's a telling point that we first heard about potential action from their response to e-mails from the CRR hosts a week before they posted their official response on the forums.


As I say, I do acknowledge that two minutes isn't much to fret about. My main concern over this exploit is simply that it quickly got to the stage whereby it was being publically sought for in General Chat and groups were sometimes unwillingly and unwittingly thrown into chaos about the entire ordeal. When it gets to this point, as it did for the Ravagers exploit when people were switching servers to sell it, you know that things have gone too far.

The fact that BioWare are letting these people who are forcing potentially-unwilling groupmates to deal with the exploit or actively seeking groups in General Chat for it doesn't fill me with enthusiasm. It's disappointing and confusing, but otherwise there's not much I can do other than offer my thoughts on the matter. 


Attitudes to Raiding in 5.0

No matter how long you've been involved in MMOs in general, the concept of Raids shouldn't be a stranger to you. The toughest content requiring decent groups to clear the hardest difficulties has blessed or plagued MMO culture for years now, and SWtOR is of course no different.

What is changing nowadays is the general feel and attitude towards this type of content in SWtOR, and not just from the player-base.

Since Nightmare Dread Fortress and Dread Palace launched, there has been a noticeable slow steady decline of 'raid interest', which was only heightened in 3.0 when we only had SM and HM Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice as 'proper' raids with nothing else bar the Colossal Monolith (which very few people consider to be an 'actual raid') being brought out during this time.

4.0 and 5.0 have both elicited very similar responses. Although every Operation was scaled to the highest level, thus meaning that there was far more to do than just one or two Ops, veterans can't help but feel that they're trapped in a never-ending cycle of 'sameness'. Command XP hasn't helped with this in the slightest given that Operations drop no actual loot and, presently, are a somewhat inefficient way of getting CXP compared to PvP and Uprisings.

BioWare hasn't helped matters much; they're constantly stringing people along on the potential mere implication that maybe there will be Operations simply because they aren't 'allowed' to talk about the future until they consider the time to be right.

All of the above raises a very serious question: is there a 'correct' attitude to raiding in 5.0?


Let It Snow

Happy 2017! As you may have noticed, I took an unscheduled week off blogging last week. Why? Things were just a bit too hectic for me with real-life goings-on combined with the usual in-game activities, but now they're settling down a fair bit so back to blogging. Huzzah!


The Life Day Event comes to a close tomorrow, and it may or may not have escaped your attention that this provides a quick, easy, and completely legitimate (provided you don't use a macro, which is against the Terms of Service) way of farming Command Experience Points; throwing a Snowball - or using the somewhat-controversial Snowball Cannon - and winning a Snow-Covered parcel earns you a quick 20 CXP.

This is of course doubled if you hit one of the Overheated Life Day Droids on Coruscant, Dromund Kaas, or Nar Shaddaa given that they reward you with the Decorations and not just the Parcel.

Because I still needed a number of items which were being sold on the vendor (list further down), I decided to indulge in snowball-throwing on one particularly slow weekend (AKA Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day) whilst also turning it into an experiment; just how much CXP could be earned simply through this one simple activity?

The answer? Quite a lot. The method I was using involved having Shae Vizla as an unwilling target, pummelling her alternately with the Snowball Cannon and the traditional Snowball whenever they came off cooldown, clicking off her Dusted with Snowflakes debuff all the while.

Slow, methodical, but at least somewhat controllable.

I can't remember the exact number of Parcels I started with, but let's say it was roughly twenty. I have since bought the following items:
  • Life Day Tinsel Bomb - hadn't bought it before, so just thought it would be nice to complete the Collection - 20 Parcels
  • Sleigh I - I actually did own this mount beforehand, but only on Ziodus, so now it was Calph's turn to get hers - 20 Parcels
  • Life Day Vestments, Lower Robe, and Boots - I hadn't bought any of the gear or mounts from the Cartel Market before this year (because who can resist a Festive Tauntaun with a mildly-glowing red nose?) so these were again just to complete the Collection - 30 Parcels for each piece, so 90 Parcels for the whole set
  • Life Day Holo-Tree (Green) - Centerpiece Decoration, bugged and inaccessible in previous years - 40 Parcels
  • Life Day Holo-Tree - this is the item which enables you to place a Holo-Tree at a specific location, similar to the Holo-Dancer or the Galactic Party Bomb, and again I did not purchase it previously - 50 Parcels
  • Czerka LD-1 Celebrator - again, simply because I hadn't bought it before, mainly because I just really dislike the blasted thing, but at least I now have the Achievement for it..? - 100 Parcels
  • Vectron J0-1Y - I really dislike this completionist nature I have sometimes... - 100 Parcels 
In total, I was able to spend 420 parcels this year. Subtracting the original hypothesised twenty parcels, this means I earned roughly 400 Parcels which were then used to purchase the items with the original parcels.

It doesn't stop there, though.

Because I'm a sucker for the Cyan Sphere, but only have it on one character, I resolved to earn enough parcels to purchase this one as well, but obviously only once I've got enough Gray Helix Components to do so, of course. This requires 16 Helix Components and 36 Parcels, or the standard 48 Helix Components as an alternative price.

So 436 Parcels earned. That's still ludicrously high, but at least each of these had a use so not 'wasted' or over-indulgent.

About that.

I found I got slightly addicted to this one simple activity. So much so that I actually have an extra 214 Parcels sitting in my Legacy bank, resulting in a total of 250 as-of-yet unused Parcels.

Adding this all up together, this comes to 650 snow-covered parcels earned this year. I'll spare you from having to do the maths; this is 13,000 CXP. This is just shy of three Command Ranks when you get into Tier II, which I was comfortably in by the time I decided to indulge in this little experiment. 


So, feel free to laugh at my insanity. I'm really not proud of this sheer amount of snowball-throwing I've done, but it has been an interesting experiment nonetheless.

Whilst obviously my case is a very extreme example (although I wouldn't be surprised if there are those who have done even more), it is nice to see BioWare 'include' CXP in this, since it's very amusing to see a huge increase in the amount of snowballs being thrown, and it gives a semblance of a little holiday fun.

Even if you can spin it as being a way of negating more painful Command Grind. At least it's moderately silly and harmless compared to what else is going on at the moment...

Still, we've only got a day left of this snowball-throwing CXP fest before Life Day retires for yet another year, so in the meanwhile, fetch your snowballs; it's time for a last-minute pummelling of your friends and guildies!