[SWTOR] Effects of LFG and ranked warzones, and deciding whether to make the mental switch to endgame

liberateddroid

So even liberated droids get floor mopping duty, apparently

I have been playing SWTOR a fair amount this week, focussing mainly on my reasonably new level 50 Jedi Sage. When you ‘focus’ on a max level character in an MMO, it generally means that you plan to spend most of your time in game on that character, probably finding ways to progress it (ie. by collecting gear, gold, etc), socialising, or chasing achievements or other collectable type things. This tends to mean you will be doing similar sorts of things when you log in, depending on how much time you have available and whether there’s some group event you plan to attend. In SWTOR specifically, this means knocking out the daily quests, hitting some regular and hard more flashpoints, figuring out exactly how bad I am at PvP in warzones, and hopping into the occasional Operation/ Raid (I’ve done one with my guild and one PUG that was assembled via general chat on the fleet) – that’s a  good sampling of what endgame has to offer.

Next week I suspect will see a slow down for me, partly because I’m in full job hunting mode (for positive reasons, just got a new qualification), partly because I snagged a pass to the next GW2 beta weekend, and because Crusader Kings 2 accidentally fell into my checkout in the Steam Sale; so I have a new goal to try to learn how to play it. (Incidentally, there’s a really good tutorial here.) The other reason is that my Sage is now pretty much fully kitted out in Columni gear, which you can get from hard mode flashpoints and is also the gear that drops from the two easier story mode Operations, and I also have most of the Battlemaster PvP set, so the urge to get as many hours in as possible is waning.

So I feel that I have a fresh view on the SWTOR endgame and how it has been different for me with this character than previous ones, due to changes in the game.

LFG: They could just rename it ‘Looting Fast Gear’

My run of good LFG flashpoint groups has continued unbroken and since I’ve been running at least one per day, I’d say the tool is off to a good start. I have been queueing as dps and generally the queue times have been less than 30 mins. There was this one time when I clicked queue and really did get an instance pop immediately (as dps, yes) so with the population limited to same server, it can be very variable depending on who is queueing. Queue times do vary predictably with time of day and days of the week, with the evening after weekly maintenance being a prime raid night which means long flashpoint queues. There is a daily quest you can get from the PvE mission terminal which rewards 5 Black Hole tokens for running a HM in the group finder. The daily quests tick over at 1pm local time so people who are online will tend to queue just after that so that they can pick up the daily quest and knock it out quickly. (Or just before it if they didn’t manage to get the previous day’s quest done yet.)

Players on my server also sometimes comment on fleet chat when they queue, especially if they are playing a tank or healer (ie. “tank just joined the LFG”) to encourage the other roles to join the queue. So players are experimenting with combinations of LFG and general chat formed groups.  I am also finding that restricting the group finder to the server community makes quite a large difference compared to WoW. I begin to recognise names that I see around the fleet from either PvE or PvP. So if I get a good group and put people on my friends list, I know they will likely be around. I personally think this growing sense of server community is well worth slightly longer queue times.

The combination of much easier to find groups and experienced players queueing so that they can get the daily quest rewards is that instance runs tend to be fast and easy, plus I have learned lots of short cuts or ways to avoid different bosses. Taral-V takes the prize here, because you can avoid all except two bosses (and I have heard it rumoured that the final boss is avoidable also). Hence my new 50 is really pretty well geared already, which is fine but really the only way for her to get better gear now is to head into hard mode raids or do lots of dailies for Black Hole tokens that way.

I think the effect of fast gearing on the player base is that people tend to get done with the content and bored more quickly, since grinding for progression forms such a core part of the MMO gameplay. Or at least,  players look to progression for guidance on setting their character goals and deciding what to do next in the game. in SWTOR, running daily quests is also a good way to collect credits so you’ll tend to amass in game cash by doing the same things that you would do to progress gearwise. This is a subtle point, and while it is very convenient for casual players, it makes playing the economy feel very optional. My consular just has gathering skills (scavenging, slicing) and I can easily scavenge up some highly sellable metals while doing dailies also. In many ways SWTOR is such a great game for more casual players that I hope Bioware wise up and think about adding more casual friendly endgame elements in the future. I suspect it is one of the better and more approachable games in the market for a true MMO newbie at the moment.

I don’t feel bored with the game now that my Consular has most of what she’d want from hard mode flashpoints, but I have definitely gotten to this point far far more quickly with this alt than with my original Warrior.

The endgame mindset

Dusty had a very insightful post about metagames/endgame in MMOs  and how although you can often begin playing these games by jumping in and trying what is fun, there comes a point where difficulty ramps up and you need to either optimise your playing style or quit.

… here’s what happens with the average player.  They start off, casually playing, and by far and large enjoying the game.  And this keeps them playing – for awhile.  And then, at some point, one or two things happen:  one, they encounter in PvP some other player or players whom have put together some game-breaking combination of abilities the designers never conceived of, and are ravaged by them repeatedly, or two, in PvE, they reach content that requires some combination of abilities the designers intend for you to either know about or have tried, and they don’t, and so they are effectively just stymied from progressing. 

There is plenty to say about the endgame mindset, but I want to pick out this notion that there comes a point where if you want to be competitive or complete cutting edge content, you have to stop playing in an exploratory, playful way, and start playing in a more defined and optimised way. Or in other words, there comes a point where you have to decide if you want to look stuff up and learn the metagame, or just move on. That’s where so many people get a character to max and then drift off to the next game on the list. I think there is also a concept of metagame fatigue where you spent so much time theorycrafting or practicing your minmax spec in one game that you need a break from that intensity of gameplay, or don’t want to switch to a game with another involved metagame. Another player strategy to avoid this shift in mindset is to start in metagame mode right from the beginning and use guides to plan out every aspect of a new character/game right from the beginning.

I personally find this sucks the fun out of games for me so I try not to do it, but after you’ve been burned in one MMO by picking a class/spec that sounded fun and later finding it had no place in endgame, it’s so tempting to do your research first the next time.

This is what killed Rift for me, incidentally. It’s a good game and all but I’d designed a soul combination that I really liked for levelling, and it didn’t cut the mustard for dps in endgame raiding. At that point a player has to decide if they want to switch to the optimal dps combination (which you can look up on blogs and bboards) or just not play that part of endgame. I decided the game had been fun and I preferred to move on than relearn my character and abandon the megadot build. And, maybe more to the point, I didn’t want to join raids and not ‘pull my weight’ – and maybe I’ve learned from WoW to be too much of a perfectionist with dps, because doing significantly less than the max doesn’t feel good enough any more, even where everyone else is happy and bosses still die.

And so to SWTOR. While the game has no addons, you can take a combat log and there are external dps meters that will check the log and report how much damage you are doing. Since the harder raids do involve enrage timers and dps checks, it isn’t surprising that raid groups do measure dps and ask individuals to do so also.

Now, on my Consular I have three DoTs and a proc to keep track of, all represented by little icons which I can’t find a way to enlarge independently. So if I want to do great dps, I need to keep the DoTs up as much as possible without renewing them too quickly, keep an eye on the proc and any debuffs I want to use, and have a rough idea of the best  priority attacks to use when those are all accounted for. My current issue is that I can’t get my dps high enough for the raids I’d need to do, and I don’t know if I can be arsed to keep practising the rotation/ priority until it gets higher. Or rather, I’ve done the research for the metagame but I don’t  find the “maximal dps in raids” metagame to be all that fun; because who gives a flying f*** if my DoTs clip as long as the bosses die, I don’t die, and I’m doing all the other things I need to do in that encounter; potentially including off healing and CC. The dps meter gives a flying f***, that’s who. I am weighing up the options of either more practice (I have an Ops target in my ship now, thanks legacy perks) or switching to healing – because despite what people might tell you, healing or tanking are WAY easier than topping damage meters on a class with a complex rotation.

What I really want is a different model for raid encounters that is less dependent on tight enrage timers and more on utility and reacting to the environment.

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24 thoughts on “[SWTOR] Effects of LFG and ranked warzones, and deciding whether to make the mental switch to endgame

  1. SWTOR is, essentialy, very old school in it’s combat system – which i why you’re feeling compelled to optimize numbers. Have a look at something like TERA, which breaks the rotation mould almost entirely, for the more dynamic game you’re craving.

    The Secret World tries to do this but fails. It succeeds in pretty much everything else though, so I can forgive it. I don’t know waht endgame will look like in TSW, though I doubt I will ever reach it to find out, so don’t care !

    • The clothing styles in TERA would bother me way too much to play it, and one of the reasons I held off on TSW is because I had a sinking feeling that the combat system would be a bit like that. (Might check it out some time in future but I don’t want to be even thinking about minmaxing my spec in a game that is about investigation – it’s just too different of a playing style.)

      Which sounds fussy I know, but is a roundabout way of saying that in order for a MMO to appeal to me (and prolly to most players), it needs a combination of factors including ‘combat system I don’t hate’, ‘graphical style I don’t hate’ etc and preferably they should be thematically compatible. I do live in hope though that some dev will tie a more engaging combat model to a gameworld and gameplay that won’t immediately put me off at first glance :)

  2. What I really want is a different model for raid encounters that is less dependent on tight enrage timers and more on utility and reacting to the environment.

    Wasn’t this Cataclysm Normal Mode though? And then everyone complained about the “dance” and not needing to learn how to play your character better.

    • I don’t actually remember the complaints about Cata normal mode raiding, it’s been awhile. I know the complaints that people didn’t even need to react to the environment because it was so easy (we saw that in Naxx also actually) – which I agree with. I don’t want to be let off having to do anything interesting, I just want the raid leader not to spazz out if I clip my dots.

      Having said that, if people did complain about the dance in Cata raids then I personally think they were wrong and Blizzard shouldn’t have listened ;)

      • There has been maybe one fight with a tight DPS timer in Cata. It’s all been wall to wall reacting to the environment fights. In fact, there’s been remarkably few DPS races in WoW for a long time now, which is a bit of a shame.

      • We can have different definitions of tight dps timers, I know my guild was struggling with some of them. (I try to vaguely keep up with how they are doing, even when I’m not in the game.)

      • It was more that all the fights in Normal Mode T11 and T12 seemed to balanced around roughly the same raid DPS mark. I estimated it at about 60% of theoretical max. Depending how close to that mark a guild ran made a huge difference in the difficulty of the fights.

      • I personally think that’s a decent model. especially if the devs can’t balance melee vs ranged dps and there are a lot of environmental mechanics in the fight to consider also. There is also a more subtle point around how much extra difficulty it would add to a class to get — say — 80% of theoretical max output compared to 60%. (Assuming that 60% requires you should know a solid rotation even if execution isn’t perfect.)

      • “Reacting to the environment” could be something else but dance. Like… I don’t know… decursing at Lucifron?

        But the dance “reacting to the environment” runs against the nature of WoWs combat system, at least for casters. (Can’t comment on melee.) Casters are designed to stand in one spot and cast their long cast time spells. Sure, that changed a lot in the last 8 years. We got many instant spells and the cast time was reduced but in the end you can still feel that the WoW combat system was never intended for “reacting to the environment” fights but for “perfect rotation fights”.

        It’s the same for tanks. You are very limited on how you position the boss. All you can do is “retreat and pull it your way”. You can’t push a boss. All your parry and block doesn’t have an effect on your position. If you hit a boss it doesn’t effect his position. WoWs combat was designed to stand in one spot for 10 minutes.

        I think if you really want to replace “perfect rotation fights” you would have to replace the combat system first. (Or create a game that doesn’t copy WoWs combat system.)

  3. Congrats on the new qualification!

    I guess I’ve gone the route of deliberately avoiding the raiding hamster wheel in all of the MMOs I’ve played –having not enough time to dedicate to raiding will do that– so I’m not the best person to analyze endgame in an MMO. However, wasn’t Vanilla WoW limited in what you could do with endgame? If you didn’t raid, the best thing you could do were some dailies and start a new character. Of course, WoW has a seven year head start on things such as pet collecting, PvP achievements, and oddball things to do, but those are niche markets.

    Perhaps that’s one thing that TOR can do to provide a bit more variety at max level, such as adding oddball collecting stuff to work on. Even then, more world events like the Rakghoul Incident would keep people on their toes.

  4. I think there is also a concept of metagame fatigue where you spent so much time theorycrafting or practicing your minmax spec in one game that you need a break from that intensity of gameplay, or don’t want to switch to a game with another involved metagame.

    That just resounds with me so much that I have to leave a comment, even if it’s the first time to do so after silently reading your blog for years. I remember the first time I decided to run a Flashpoint in TOR and felt the need (the unconscious impulse even) to immediately alt-tab and find out how to best play a class that I was trying to figure out on my own. After all. that was how I played WoW, optimizing wherever and whenever possible -even for low level dungeons. After leaving the MMO raid scene, it took months to break that mindset, to stop doing something that I never even equated with fun in the first place.

    Maybe optimization would be more interesting if there were better ways of determining it in-game without outside resources? I’m sure that argument has been made by others in the past, but it’s certainly a solid one.

  5. Firstly, ha ha. Your character wearing the Columni Consular gear in public. Where people can actually see them and their ridiculous hat.

    Secondly, I’m not sure the not making an effort to do valid DPS because I was alive at the end of the fight is a valid argument, since it means someone was taking up your slack somewhere. It’s like a healer letting someone die or a tank letting aggro slip past. Your job is to hurt people and it’s not really too much to ask to at least make what effort you can to maximise your ability to do murder.

    • I think it’s a false dichotomy that a player should be forced to choose between letting down the team and playing in some horrible unfun way, squinting at tiny icons, 100% focus every second of a long boss fight.

      Meanwhile someone else will have a rotation which is 1, 1, 2 while watching a movie. It can end up with a metagame of rerolling alts until you find the slackiest character that you can chill out with while still performing top dps.

      • “It can end up with a metagame of rerolling alts until you find the slackiest character that you can chill out with while still performing top dps.”

        I understand better now why people do that :)

    • The hat actually is not as bad as you’d think, when you have the rest of the outfit to go with it!

      Also what I’m basically saying is that my raid group require 1000dps for hard mode raids. I bought an ops dummy and sat around practicing with it for 20 mins or so and using the out of game damage meter and guides I’d found and couldn’t get mine over 900, so I’m not joining those raids. I also am sure that I couldn’t replicate my performance on a dummy with what I’d have to do while running around and reacting to an encounter.

      So I’m asking myself, what could I do to get higher dps and I don’t know if I cba to practice and practice in the hope of it increasing, when it’s perfectly fine for anything else in the game I want to do and I don’t particularly enjoy trying to get the rotation /perfect/. I also haven’t raided on a ranged dps class before without addons and am finding it odd to get the dps out compared to melee. Like, it’s not clear how I can do this better. I don’t feel traumatised by this, just “Enh, I’ll do something else then.”

      As far as being carried goes, I’d say this: there are other people who would be in the raid anyway with better gear and easier class rotations than mine, so they’d be doing better dps whether I’m there or not. They aren’t carrying me, they’re just doing what they’d do anyway. Also if my contribution would be enough to assist a raid to be successful and they’re struggling to get people to sign, carrying doesn’t really come into it. Clearly you can always strive to be better though.

  6. “So even liberated droids get floor mopping duty, apparently”

    It appears to be a vacuum cleaner. So an interesting philosophical point is raised – how do you liberate a robot built to do a specific task? What would a vacuum cleaner droid do if liberated – mop floors.

    So possibly the only true way to liberate a droid is to reconstruct it. Inside every floor mopping droid maybe there’s a self-piloting X-wing waiting to get out.

    But if you do that have you liberated it or scrapped it?

  7. “I think there is also a concept of metagame fatigue where you spent so much time theorycrafting or practicing your minmax spec in one game that you need a break from that intensity of gameplay, or don’t want to switch to a game with another involved metagame.”

    A couple of people mentioned this as being especially relevant to them; I’ll add a “me too”. The metagame in WoW snuck up on me as it does so many, by my wanting to be a good “contributor” to the raid. But learning a metagame like that is quite taxing. I kinda got suckered into learning one, and I don’t regret it at all, but I have found with SWTOR and Guild Wars 1 that I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to learn a new, complex game. I have pre-ordered GW2, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if I have to work too hard at understanding the mechanics, then I’ll pass after the levelling experience. It’s not that I fear hard work and research, more that having “done it” once I don’t feel the urge to prove it to myself again.

  8. So after hitting 50 and finding that the ‘pvp free set’ was 100% better than anything I had on… will I be laughed at trying to queue up for normal runs to learn the content?

    I almost feel like it was a catch 22 – the PvP set being so much better than the end rewards from the class story – but then being in a full PvP set and wanting to run the instances…

    blarg…

    Ohhh… that reminds me – honestly – one feature that DDO has put in (to much crying about making the game mega easy) that other MMO’s *should* copy.

    Casual mode dungeons.

    Seriously – this is a mode you can select that makes almost any dungeon soloable (or doable with your companion) but has money/item drops that are like 80% crappier than doing it even on normal mode.

    But they let you learn the dungeon.

    This type of ‘solo but you’ll only find an item that is decent 1 out of 100 runs’ difficulty lets some of us go in and get a feel for the dungeon and how the encounters work without having to be ‘that guy’

    I really wish we’d see this type of thing in other MMO’s.

    • I love so much of what Turbine has done with the solo/small group story instances in LOTRO too. They really have good ideas that I wish would become a bit more mainstream.

  9. I don’t really have any plans on using the LFG, except to do one thing. Story mode operations. I really just want to see the content. As for gear, I expect to make due with the highest crafted.

  10. My computer won’t take a log and run the game properly at the same time, so I am fortunate that neither of my two guilds require a set DPS number as I’ve got absolutely no idea whether I’m hitting it or not. I’m not running high end progression, but I’ve taken my DPS character to Hard Mode Eternity Vault, Hardmode Karagga’s Palace and normal mode Eternal Conflict and have not had trouble with enrage timers at all nor have we come out ‘uneven’ on split-dps fights, so I can only presume I’m doing acceptable damage that’s comparable to other raiders’. The procs issue (I’m also a DPS sage, Telekinetic spec) begins to come very naturally with practice.

  11. Pingback: Learning the Metagame – Personal First Thoughts « Why I Game

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