Thoughts on 6.0 #3: Group Content

This is the third post in my "Thoughts on 6.0" series. You can read the previous entries here:
  1. Gear
  2. Crafting Changes
Onslaught was the first expansion since Shadow of Revan to provide both Flashpoint and Operation content at-launch. While Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne would also provide group-content at launch in the respective forms of Star Fortresses and Uprisings, neither of these additions were really satisfactory in comparison to what came before.

Onslaught has also shaken up the traditional "group-content balancing" formula we've been used to since Fallen Empire. Rather than raise all previous Operations and Flashpoints to Level 75, BioWare has left most pre-existing forms of group content at Level 70. The Dxun Operation, the Corellia Flashpoint, and - curiously - the Uprisings are the only pieces of group content scaled to Level 75.

What do these changes mean and how do the new things hold up? 


Scaled Content

BioWare's intention with scaling pre-existing content down was to make things easier for them to introduce newer content at higher levels and in future expansions without constantly having to re-tune all other content to be a higher level as well. 

They originally tried to accomplish this by setting all Veteran mode Flashpoints and all Operations to their intended entry-level. For example, Hammer Station would be scaled to Level 17, Dread Fortress Level 55, and Gods from the Machine Level 70. Master Mode Flashpoints would, bizarrely, still be set at Level 70.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line it became apparent that this had a serious flaw: due to the nature of BioWare's scaling technology, certain content was becoming far too easy even in the highest difficulties. To counter this, BioWare raised all previously-scaled-down content back up to 70.

I can't say I blame them. On the first iterations on the PTS, it was incredibly easy to solo Veteran mode Spammer Station. Bringing it back up to 70 has thankfully made it a lot harder to solo, so I'm very happy with that change. I'm sorry, I don't agree with the concept of someone chain-running the exact same thing over and over and over again. It's silly, especially because it's proving so effective and incredibly popular.

Since it hit Live, this scaling down of content has proved rather controversial with many people insisting that they raise all relevant content back up to being on-level. I would personally be surprised and disappointed if they did this, since the current system helps things feel just a bit more unique than everything just being max-level again.

I hope they manage to get it to scale down to the lower levels without making things unintentionally too easy at some point. This would probably entail them reworking their current scaling tech to an extreme degree so I don't see it happening before 7.0, really.

Shame. It would really make things more interesting to see things at the intended level again.

Unlike previous expansions, which boasted the ability to allow players Level 50 and above to enter a Story mode Operation, players who are below Level 70 are unable to even enter a Story mode Op this time around via manual entry. I imagine this is because some part of their coding which tied the Op to its intended level still persists. That is to say that Dread Fortress could have been coded to allow Level 55s upwards in, but not Level 50s, and so on and so forth. Raising it back up to 70 might have carried over and similarly raised these restrictions.

This is just conjecture on my part, but it wouldn't surprise me if this bit of the code was too ingrained in the revised system for it to be ironed out before 6.0 launched. Group-Finder still seems to allow sub-70s into Operations, so at least some part of it works as intended.

Entering into a scaled Operation is pretty much the same as going to a scaled planet. Endurance, Mastery, and Power are all set at fixed values. However, unlike a scaled planet, equipping higher tiers of gear does adjust all of a player's stats rather than just their tertiary stats. This is accomplished by the buff Veteran's Edge, which seems to add 1% of Endurance, Mastery, and Power per stack (up to 30). This stack increases with each subsequent tier of gear, but as there are fewer than 30 tiers of gear I for one am not sure where the thresholds get crossed beyond a certain point.

As I had touched on during my Gear post, this also means that certain items become useless in the majority of areas in the game. You may be parsing the highest you've ever parsed, but if you're using the Versatile stim, the Focused Retribution and Serendiptous Assault Relics, and the Attack Adrenals on the target dummy, all of those benefits will be lost outside of Dxun, Corellia, and the Uprisings.

I haven't yet seen a lot of the harder content in 6.0 so I can't really assess how things feel at the moment. It seems that with the scaling tech in-place, Traitor Among the Chiss has become more manageable than it ever was in Master mode throughout 5.0 and even the second and bonus bosses of Crisis on Umbara are bearable now.

The last boss in the latter is still awful.


Objective Meridian

The Corellia Flashpoint, Objective Meridian, is an interesting affair. I unfortunately haven't yet seen it in Master mode on Imp-side so I can't assess how that version feels in difficulties other than solo-Story.

Much like Kuat Drive Yards, Assault on Tython, and Korriban Incursion, this Flashpoint has two different perspectives. The Republic battles to stop the Empire from destroying the station while the Empire battles through Republic defenders in order to, well, destroy the station.

Unlike other Flashpoints of its type, Meridian's bosses are quite different across the two versions, particularly for the last boss. I don't have a full idea of exactly how the Flashpoints as a whole differ properly yet - as I say, I haven't seen this in Master mode as an Imperial - but I know which of the two I prefer in the solo-Story mode (hint: it's not the Imperial version).

The thing I'm happiest about with the Flashpoint (at least on the Republic side) is that it feels much more 'traditional' in terms of difficulty. No fight relies too heavily on adds to add challenge or abilities which hit like trucks (although there are a few of these if you get caught in them). While there are some fights which summon adds, these summons are in moderation and nearly always aren't the thing that you need to be most careful of.

Otherwise, it's largely all about working out the mechanics and how best to deal with them without anything really feeling too stressful.

It's also just great to finally be back on a familiar planet in a new environment. While this is now the third separate area afforded to Corellia, it's just great to have access to an entirely new area which still is very recognisable in its general aesthetic. This is also largely why the Done and Dusted is my favourite of the Uprisings, because it takes us to a new bit of Tatooine that we otherwise wouldn't have access to. 

More of this, please, BioWare!


Dxun (Nature of Progress)

Much like Objective Meridian, I don't feel I can really offer a proper 'look' at this since I haven't had full exposure to all of it yet. I've done it in 8 and 16-person Story and my guild is now turning towards the Veteran mode for progression, but I feel I need to see the entire thing cleared in Veteran to really be comfortable that I can do it justice.

That said, there are a lot of things which I like about this entire thing.

Firstly, it feels like it's had a lot of love poured into it. Maybe this is because the Operation which preceded it was Gods From the Machine, but Nature of Progress just feels like BioWare wanted to pull out as many stops as possible for it and then at some points just kept pulling. 

This is particularly apparent in the voice-overs, which are not only hilarious but also definitively keep this Operation unique; because the voice-overs act as constant guides throughout, such as identifying mechanics and interjecting at various points with numerous (and hilarious) observations, this really feels like that there's some 'officialness' about this Operation. We're not just going in and simply 'doing' things, we're constantly relaying back-and-forth between our headquarters. We haven't really had a mission like it, and I for one love it.

While we've had some Operations with voice-overs before, we've never heard them to quite this detail before. Rather than just some meaningless 'fluff' dialogue, these voice-overs actually provide a miniature guide for several mechanics at various points. Moving the first boss flower-to-flower? Check. Exact order to succeed in the maintenance shed? Check. How to kill Greus, Kronissus, Hissyphus, and Titax? Check. How to micromanage the Apex Vanguard fight? Check.

The only boss that doesn't have such help is the Huntmaster. I would imagine this is because this is the only fight in the Operation which the Czerka scientists have little agency over; they're familiar with Red, the maintenance areas, and theory behind the Apex Vanguard, and are able to hypothesise how best to work around the mutated Trandoshans' acquired invulnerability. The Huntmaster fight, using nothing that the Czerka team are overtly familiar with, is thus completely out of their hands.

To begin with, at any rate.

Secondly, the boss fights contain some of the most unique and fun mechanics I think we've ever seen be introduced in SWtOR. My guild normally goes into new raids completely blind, requesting that anyone who has read the mechanics kindly stays silent and let the rest of the group work it out for themselves. The moment my team worked out how to progress through the Mutant Trandoshan fight was a thing of beauty, as we hadn't even pushed a single Trandoshan into Torpor and heard the corresponding dialogue before we discovered that we could summon a tram - we just put two and two together and the next pull we attempted to test that hypothesis out.

Words can't do the results justice, so hopefully this video can instead.

While we couldn't down the Huntmaster on that night (only having time for three pulls) we managed to get them down on the next night. To those of you who haven't done this fight, there's one thing to note: this is not going to go the way you think.

While the Apex Vanguard was a bit broken in the first week, meaning we agreed (after finding out exactly what about it was broken) not to touch it until he was fixed. Once it was fixed, it proved to be quite an easy kill, but then we had spent a few pulls the week prior largely experimenting with the battery and working out what each little thing did. 

Thirdly, did I mention the stairs? There are a lot of stairs.

Quite honestly, Nature of Progress has very quickly become one of my all-time favourite Operations. The fights are decent fun - if almost certainly unpuggable for the time being - and there is just so much stuff that's just there for flavour reasons that it's hard to not appreciate BioWare's efforts here. 

There's also an interesting storyline developing at the end of it all...



While the level-scaling system is definitely showing its clunkiness here more than it ever did before, I for one don't mind it too much. It's certainly been throwing off several people in my guild that these Relics are no longer best-in-slot, that this Adrenal isn't worth using, and so on and so forth. I would imagine that these people aren't alone in that. 

SWtOR has been so set in its gearing ways since the introduction of the Serendipitous Assault Relic (and its bug which gave birth to the Focused Retribution Relic) that Onslaught's shaking up the foundations is going to have caught a lot of people out. I wouldn't be surprised if there were people out there attempting Story and Veteran modes (maybe even Master?) with the exact same setups that they used before because they simply don't realise it isn't as effective as it used to be anymore.

As for whether or not the scaling is still making stuff too easy, that I can't really say for sure. While it's apparent that our stats are higher in some regards (notably our HP) at full-306 rating when scaled down than they were at full 258, there's also the Tacticals and the Amplifiers to consider. Some of these can potentially result in just so much extra DPS that it's entirely possible that a lot of these fights would just feel easier anyway due to classes pumping out substantially higher numbers than they were previously.

I mean, we've gone from - what - classes pulling around 11k on the target dummy to classes now pulling over 20, 21k? Just from 5.10.1 to 6.0? That sharp increase in numbers is bound to be reflected no matter where you go and what you do if you have the correct setups. Scaling can only be responsible for so much. 

Granted, levels clearly do have some added weight to them as BioWare evidently found out. What this means exactly for how group-content is handled in future expansions, who can say? I for one like the fact that they tried something different rather than just make everything max-level again. It's a shame they couldn't get the more varied scaling to work, but there's always future modifications they can make to refine the system for another go later down the line.

As far as I'm concerned, Onslaught's handling of group-content is perfectly enjoyable and there's really nothing I'd like to see be changed beyond Operations being rather stingy with set-bonus loot. I very much look forward to seeing what else is on the cards further down the line.

Next up: The Locations

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