[SWTOR] Datacron madness, and recruiting via PUGs

plus10holocronn

You have to admire Bioware putting in a special cutscene for the +10 Datacron of doom.

One of the explorer type things you can do in SWTOR is collect datacrons, each of which gives your character a small permanent stat boost. They are hidden in the gameworld – some are easier to find than others and they tend to get more tricky on the higher level planets. So for starting planets, you may need to just follow hidden paths, or explore just over the next slightly awkward hill to see that familiar glow in the distance and think “ooo, datacron!!” Later on, you may find yourself doing complicated jumping maneouvers, waiting for special lifts or mechanisms, or having to use special items that must be bought from hidden vendors in the middle of nowhere.

If that sounds weird then… yes, it is a bit weird. But when you go datacron collecting (probably with the aid of a guide), you will quickly realise that Bioware put a fair amount of effort into this aspect of the game. It isn’t for everyone, especially the parts with the more annoying jumps, but it is pretty cool to follow a complex set of steps to see a part of the gameworld that you know won’t be found by everyone.

Some datacrons require more than one person working together in order to unlock the door sequence that leads to them. This might require people hitting buttons simultaneously, for example. I have found that this encourages co-operation between random players — I was stopped the other day on Quesh by a guy who wanted help getting a Datacron for example. I said  “sure!” and he showed me where it was and what we had to do. But the +10 to all stats datacron that is hidden on the Empire/Republic fleet is the big kahuna, requiring at least four or five people acting in some kind of harmony to unlock. There are buttons to press, bridges to unlock, narrow girders to edge across, slightly awkward jumps, and areas where you need to use grappling hooks in a carefully timed sequence. On Empire side, you also have to suicide on a laser at one point.

It’s nuts. We did it in guild last week and people were saying that the datacron hunt was one of the more exciting/ scary things they’d ever done in a game. (This is probably due to the part at the end where you have some careful edging along girders to do, knowing that the rest of the team is relying on you being able to do it and if you fail they will have to go back to the start.) But finally you get there, to the last door. People cheer. You open the door and click on the datacron … and you get a special cut scene where all the different coloured datacrons dance around your character and you get your +10 stat boost. That was a great use of cut scenes as an extra reward for players who managed the thing.

I’ve said before that Bioware do include puzzles in some of the raids/operations and instances/flashpoints as part of their design. This is an example of how it changes the feel of the game. It was crazy exciting and fun, and we’ll do it again when Arb gets back from holiday sometime.

In which PUGs explain tactics to us

I’ve also mentioned before how we have picked up PUG members for our raids when we didn’t otherwise quite have enough people to fill out two groups. Previously these have tended to be well geared raiders who were ‘slumming it’. Last night we picked up a healer who actually hadn’t completed EV Normal before. Bit of a change there, we thought, not used to hanging out with players who are less progressed than us.

But sure enough, before we were very far in, he was also advising us on how to avoid some of the trash mobs and giving smart tactics for some of the others. “How did you ever get past this on your own?” he sighed, as I fell off a ledge and aggroed the pack we had just been avoiding. (Gee I dunno, maybe it’s my AWESOME DPS….)

We did clear the instance and get some decent drops for him (and for me, yay!), and left the parting comment that if he or his guild wanted to raid with us more regularly, we should stay in touch.

If anyone is playing in Empire side on the Nightmare Lands EU server and is looking for a chilled out guild that does stuff together including naked dance parties and  normal mode raids, feel free to check us out. Warning: there may be dick jokes on voice chat.

[SWTOR] Winding up the plague, and in which Bioware starts to build a ‘raid style’

worldpvp_rakghoul

(We were going to kill world bosses but …. got distracted.)

So today the rakghoul event in SWTOR comes to an end, unless Bioware are planning on surprising the playerbase with a new phase (I’m not expecting this to happen and it would probably be better to let things settle back to normal for awhile.) Hope everyone handed in their rakghoul DNA for pets/ crystals/ etc since the vendor will be going away.

I wound up last night joining a PUG to kill the event world bosses, since it was the only part of the event that I hadn’t yet taken part in. After some faffing around, we were able to go kill one of the new bosses, checked another that wasn’t yet respawned, and then headed to the PvP area on Tatooine to collect the third one. As you can see in the screenshot above, that last part didn’t entirely go to plan.

We pulled the boss, some republic dudes showed up and a wipe followed. Then we came back and messed up their boss attempt. This back and forth continued awhile, with more people showing up to join each side, and then we all just decided to get on with smacking each other around and let the boss get on with its own bimbling around in peace. Or in other words, my PUG killed one of the world bosses and then got involved in some world PvP, which was a very clear design goal of Bioware sticking one of the bosses in the PvP area. So well played to Bioware on those grounds, it was fun – bit pointless, but I can manage a bit of pointless world PvP from time to time and it was nice to hang out with some of the other level 50s on the server who I don’t interact with all that much. This is how endgame communities form, as people start to recognise each others’ names.

As an aside, one of the nice things about being part of an active community/ guild is that people will contact you when there is something going on in game, in case you might want to join in. So when the PUG group was getting together, I was able to pass the message on to my guild because I knew some of them might want to come have a crack at the world bosses also. Without that network, you’re very reliant on what you personally see and hear and so getting involved is a bit more down to luck.

As far as tactics go on the world bosses, the first one (giant rakghoul) seemed very straightforwards tank and spank. The PvP zone boss was harder, but our PUG was getting the hang of having all the melee group up for heals when we were so rudely interrupted. We would have gotten him if we’d had a clear try.

Puzzle bosses, and the Bioware take on heroics/ raids

One of the other things I did this week was take on the 4 man heroic quest that is associated with the new daily zone. Short form: There are a bunch of daily quests that you can do solo, and when you have done them all, a 4 man heroic quest opens up which is also a daily. There is also a weekly quest to complete all of the dailies including the 4 man which you can get once per week.

Although I have seen people looking for groups for the 4 man while doing the dailies, it doesn’t seem as popular as you might expect. Having now run it with a guild group, I have a slightly better idea as to why this might be. It’s quite challenging for a group that isn’t co-ordinated. Or in other words, the difficulty was great for our guild group which is mostly geared from normal raiding and is fairly together about CC and using markings to indicate kill order. It was fun, and we had to pay attention and think a bit about marking and which CC abilities were in the group. We ran it with an unspecced tank and healer (ie. both tank and healer were dps specced/ geared) which also made it tougher in some ways, although gave us more dps also.

There are several groups of mobs, each of which contain up to 4 elite mobs. CC helps a lot. Then there is an encounter which involves incoming waves of increasingly harder mobs where dps and CC need to be on their toes. And the final encounter on the empire quest … is a puzzle. It’s not an especially hard puzzle, and involves twisting pipes so as to make a connecting pipeline. It was a fun change of pace after the previous frenetic encounter, and I think much fun was had by all.

lonomonkey discusses SWTOR raiding in more detail and concludes that this type of originality is something that is increasingly marking out Bioware boss encounters. I think I agree with him, although SWTOR raiding has a lot in common with WoW, the encounters are different enough in style to make it more fun in many ways. The comments on that post also raise interesting points because dps have a slightly different focus in SWTOR fights because you don’t always expect the tank to be able to grab all of the mobs. The tank needs to get and hold the elites, but the dps initially focus on getting the lower health mobs down first. So the initial stages of a fight tend to involve everyone busily doing their separate thing, rather than waiting for the tank to get things under control. Although obviously if dps can co-ordinate kill order, adds go down very fast indeed, which makes a big difference.

I’m intrigued to see what else Bioware come up with, because I’m enjoying this aspect of the game really quite a lot. Also it doesn’t hurt that my dps (Vigilance Juggernaut) has gone up a lot this patch, not least because you can now need/greed on raid loot so I got geared quite fast after a long previous unlucky loot spell.

apprentice

This is a picture of Spinks with her apprentice. I’m the one in the classically sithy black robes. One of the other things I’ve done this patch is put more effort into finishing off my companions’ stories by building more rep with them. As a light side Sith, I’ve been quite impressed by how wise Spinks is sounding in conversations these days. I was actually building up my apprentice’s confidence quite competently. But not in a way that excludes being violently destructive, obviously Smile

I even got her a decent set of gear with my spare raid tokens. Hope she appreciates this and doesn’t try to betray me, at least not yet.

[SWTOR] A live event! Starring rakghouls, pets, and blowing people up

(If you are reading this post because you are hoping to find a detailed walkthrough of the Rakghoul Plague event and associated quests and rewards, you can find that here at mmo-mechanics. I want to talk more about the storytelling and how we experienced it).

Yesterday, Bioware surprised the player base by launching an unexpected and unheralded live event, which looks as though it will last for at least a week. It starts on the fleet/s, or if you are like me starts with your partner yelling across the room “Log in, we’re going to Tatooine….”

This is because the first indication players had that something was going on was via announcements over the fleet about a dangerous contamination on Tatooine of the rakghoul virus from Taris. News terminals also appeared on the fleet, which played a cut scene of news announcers talking about the dangers and the imperial edicts that rakghouls should be destroyed.

rakghoul1

(the announcement said that people should on no account go to Tatooine, so clearly all player characters took this as a sign to head out there immediately!)

I’m a bit unclear on the actual process by which players found the event quests and location, since by the time I got there, my guild were sorting themselves out and there was a lot of voice chat around getting everyone to the right spot. Or in other words, I found out via other players rather than through Bioware’s carefully crafted cut scenes and NPC announcements in local chat. However, more patient players or people who like exploring will find all the information they need in the town by the Tatooine spaceport – wandering around and clicking on anything that glows is a good way to start.

There’s plenty of colour text and background to the situation as well, from the TV screens on Tatooine offering a news report where a reporter explains that all rakghouls or suspected rakghouls are to be terminated with extreme prejudice, while a guy transforms into a rakghoul in the background behind her and is shot by imperial soldiers, to regular NPC announcements from an imperial official on general chat.

None of this, incidentally, is delivered via quest text from an NPC with a quest symbol above its head.

When you get out into the wilds of Tatooine to chase down the crashed spaceship that released the virus and help to contain things by murdering infected sandpeople, the daily quest shows up as soon as you get into the right area. I am assured that the quest scales with level (so as long as you can navigate Tatooine safely, you can take part), and the mobs that spawn for you to kill are related to your own level.

NPC chat in local channel near the outbreak is more about people trying to persuade imperial soldiers that they aren’t infected, no really guv.

rakghoul2

This leads to the typical daily quest setup where you have to kill some mobs, locate some items, kill some more mobs, collect items, then head off to another quest area and do it again, leading to a final encounter with a slightly tougher mob, a cut scene with LS/DS choice, and a final followup. Your quest rewards can be turned in at a special vendor for a number of items including weapon crystals and a pet pale rakling, once you have collected enough of them.

But there is more, including a couple of ‘secret’ quests. The walkthrough linked above discusses those in detail, but one of them involves becoming infected yourself. There are two ways in which you can become infected. Either you pick up the virus from being in the area (on one occasion I got it after just walking into the quest area) or fighting infected mobs, or you can catch the virus if another victim expires near you.

For ease of identification, one of my guildies here models the effects of the rakghoul virus.

krellinfect

It starts with a green aura, then progresses into glowing purple, and finally ends with you as a greenish smear on the ground after having exploded messily. This can all take a varying amount of time.

If you contract the virus you have two options. Take an antidote (which are now sold by stim vendors all over the game world, and also turn up as daily quest rewards) which cures it, or let it run its course and see how many other players you can infect. There is a quest associated with infecting other players that you’ll find out about once you have expired of the plague at least once. Clearly because this is an MMO there are already forum threads by people complaining of being infected against their wishes (although you could just move away from the infected person.)

As part of the daily quests and associated event secret quests, you will also be able to unlock lore about the rakghoul plague outbreak and how the sandpeople have been trying to find a cure.

rakghoullore

As you can see here, these end up in your codex under a new heading of “Events.” And if you get bored of dailies or blowing people up and want to try a different way to get event tokens, you can take out two new world bosses that have been drafted in just for the occasion. (As earlier, check out the walkthrough link at the top of the post for more detailed information.)

We had a lot of fun with this event yesterday and I’m hoping to find more time for pursuing secret quests and blowing people up over the next week or so. Bioware have done a super job with this event, and despite including a lot of standard daily-type quests, it doesn’t feel formulaic or forced. The cut scenes and voice overs from imperial news are excellent. I love how you can find information about what is going on by just going there and getting involved, there’s no questgiver on fleet who pops something up in your quest log but all the information you need is in front of you.

I also love how adding world bosses on Tatooine encourages players to PUG, since they’re going to be there anyway and presumably all want tokens.

It’s really very nicely done indeed. And here finally are some action shots of us fighting more rakghouls in the dunes …

rakghoulfight

Thanks to Arb for some of the screenshots!

[SWTOR] It’s a new day, it’s a new patch

My experience of playing SWTOR has been solidly positive, but it took a great turn for the better recently. Suddenly my frame rate improved massively, loading screens and conversations start seamlessly, and even hopping in and out of orbital stations is more of an interesting change of scenery than a painful speed bump. Amazing how much difference a new computer can make Smile (The old one was about 6 years old and has now been retired to less onerous duties.)

Oh, yes, there’s a new patch 1.2 also, featuring new high level content, Legacies as a way to earn perks for your alts, huge UI improvements, and the usual round of “PvP is now broken” feedback. (Although some people do also like it.)

What do you need to know about the new stuff?

Here’s a few useful links for SWTOR players:

mmo-mechanics has a guide for Empire players to the new Corellia dailies (I assume Republic players get their breadcrumb quest from the fleet too)

UI Cantina is a repository for UIs, which you can now download and use. Their ‘tips and tricks’ tab also explains where the .xml files (used to store UI information) will be stored, so to use a new one just save it in that directory. It is actually a hidden directory on Windows 7 so you’ll have to set your file explorer to show hidden files/ directories to check it. Look on this as a learning opportunity if you don’t know how to do that yet.

mmo-mechanics also have some UIs which you can download. I am thinking there will soon be plenty of UI related sites, if you know any good ones feel free to suggest them in comments.

legacy

This is a screenshot of the Legacy window. You will have to log in each of your characters to have them show up, and can then move them into the middle of the screen to define some relationships. You do this by holding the picture of one character over the picture of another who you already set up on the screen, and as you can see here some options for relationships appear. When you pick one, the new character will appear in the ‘family tree’. (Same sex marriages are allowed, incidentally.)

Since my agent (shown) is a sleazy horndog, he’s probably slept with all the others so I’m mostly defining him as ally or enemy depending on what happened after that. I’m not sure yet why he earned the enmity of my Sith Warrior but let’s be honest, it wouldn’t take much to set her off. Let’s hope he has some good friends, as opposed to the bunch of weirdos he usually hangs out with.

The Legacy screen also shows you what abilities/  races/ special stuff you have unlocked or have yet to unlock. I think I’m now saving up a million credits so that my ship (and all my alts ships on this server too) can have a repair bot, which is nice in the sense of adding some long term goals. Long term goals are essential for player retention, so Bioware will now be hoping that plenty of other players are also now thinking “Cool, I’ll save up for XYZ,” or “Oo, I could make a True Sith Consular!” Anyhow, it works for me. I like that my alts can benefit from my main, and vice versa. Shame they all have to be on the same server but you can’t have everything.

One of the fancier bonuses is that if you have completed chapter 2 on any character, your other alts on that server will automatically get that character’s buff alongside their own when they cast it. So for example, all my alts now cast the Sith Warrior buff as well as their own automatically. This is actually a pretty nice perk for alts.

There are also perk abilities you can get if you have a character who is LS5 or DS5.

To make your armour match, open up the character window. You will notice a small tab around halfway down on the right hand side – click that for the armour matching option. You can then unclick the icons by individual armour pieces if you want a few non-matching bits too.

Anexxia has also posted a FAQ for patch 1.2 so if you have any other questions such as “Where’s the guild bank” or “where are the legacy vendors” check out her post.

Also, some random rewards from Bioware

Bioware is also giving out goodies to existing and former players. There are free pets for active players, free time for lapsed players and a free MONTH for anyone with a level 50 who has ever subscribed. That’s rather generous – Bioware are now becoming synonymous for me with being wildly generous, I remember they threw out free copies of ME2 with DA2 last year also and even then I thought, “That’s nice, if a bit unexpected.”

Tobold takes the logical assumption that this is all intended to encourage player retention. Comments in that thread compare this to recent WoW offers and to the sorts of offers that subscription magazines offer and don’t find it particularly out of place.

Naturally because this is Bioware, people are also complaining about the free stuff. Personally, free is a nice counterpoint to the money grabbing scams I’m more used to so I’m happy. But then I was planning to renew my 6 month sub when it’s up anyway, because I genuinely am still having a lot of fun with the game,  so possibly making me happy is not a huge win for Bioware.

My feeling is that in the same way that Blizzard have been free to experiment with doing all sorts of weird stuff to WoW, Bioware are being encouraged to try out just about any marketing trick that they can think of to see what works. And since there really aren’t that many successful subscription games, there is still a lot we don’t know about what really does attract players to themepark games that aren’t WoW.  I’d say good luck to them, if offering people 7 months for the price of 6 (which is basically how I’m interpreting this for me) works for them, then go for it.

And while I am not sure that I am the core target for this offer, I am still a keen player with a level 50 who is in a casual guild which regularly does the endgame instances and raids. And as anyone who has ever tried to run a casual endgame guild knows, ANYTHING which encourages max level players to keep playing is a boon for everyone in the guild who wants to run group content. So this might actually be a very savvy move from the perspective of social players. I’m curious to see how it plays out.

New Content

I haven’t run the new dailies yet but we had a crack at normal mode Lost Island, the new flashpoint, last night. We worked out strategies as we went along, people were still adjusting to various class changes, and I was tanking without any tanking gear so this was not perhaps an optimal setup. Still, it was good fun, the scenery is gorgeous (I will take a screenshot of the volcano next time), and we enjoyed learning the bosses as we went along.

It felt quite tightly tuned for a normal mode instance to me, but maybe that is just because we didn’t really know the fights. Highlight was the group’s reaction on spotting a platform in the middle of a lava flow with a boss in the middle, “Oh, knockbacks into lava” – and Bioware did not disappoint.

Have you tried the new patch? What did you think?

[SWTOR] Why I still want to play this thing!

So the ‘backlash’ against SWTOR continues, as people get to actually play the thing and find that – yes – it’s just an MMO and not the second coming.

Analyst comments that “it’s like Bioware mechanics bolted onto a WoW skin”

Massively writers are not blown away. (I thought the take away point from here is that the melee Operative/ Smuggler is a class/ spec with issues at this point, so you can pretty much guarantee it’ll still have some at launch.)

And yet I have to wonder if anyone was surprised. What I am expecting from SWTOR is exactly Bioware mechanics and storytelling ‘bolted on’ to an MMO core, which probably will have a lot in common with WoW-type games. So telling me it’s like that is really not a turn-off.

Main points for me from what I have heard about this game so far:

  • Class centred storytelling. I’m really intrigued to check this out, and especially whether they’ll go for a slightly different genre for each class (eg. jedi knight gets a completely different ‘type of story to smuggler)
  • Crafting via companions. I still think this sounds vaguely intriguing. And housing via ships too.
  • Companions in general. They’re set for this to be one of the telling points of the game.
  • Sound as the ‘fifth pillar’. Fully voiced NPCs, star wars sound effects, the whole works. I’m just curious to see how much difference it makes.

SWTOR rumoured to launch in September. DOOM foretold.

We haven’t had a story in awhile about how SWTOR is inevitably doomed, but fortunately an analyst has stepped into the breath with a breathtaking report that “EA investors are wary.”

But how does he know? Maybe he’s spoken to a few in the games industry, but we don’t know how he knows. So he’s probably just guessing based on the fact that everyone knows SWTOR has cost a lot of money and is a risky endeavour. In fact, anyone who knows anything about the game, even staunch fans who are looking forwards to paying for long subscriptions, are nervous about how well it will do.

I do sometimes wish people would pay me for stating the obvious.

In more upbeat news, MCV (which is a reputable trade mag) got the tip from “development sources” that SWTOR is due for release this September. If that is the case, expect to see official announcements about beta in a month or two. I’m assuming there’s some kind of beta testing going on at the moment.

I think that assuming it’s reasonably polished, September is a good timeframe. It may clash with a Blizzard patch but crucially, it would get in before the October/ November release rush and catch college students after the summer holiday. I am wavering now on my desire to play a smuggler, on the grounds that everyone else probably will too. Plus the last trailer for the trooper showed a female character in heavy armour, and any regular readers will know I’m a sucker for that!

Crafting in SWTOR, and help rename the Jedi Wizard

Lots of cool information about Star Wars: The Old Republic today this week from Bioware. Darth Hater reports on news about crafting and PvP battlegrounds in the upcoming MMO.

The crafting sounds very cool and interesting and different. You’ll be able to send your companions out to gather materials, craft items or engage in missions and different companions will be more skilled at different areas. This is already sounding like more of a RTS approach (puts me in mind of Starcraft) and I love the idea that you can come back to your ship and catch up on what they’ve been doing while you were away.

They also say that there will be ways for players who are more involved in crafting to get deeply involved and better rewarded for it, so I’m guessing that you will also have some options to specialise your main character in that area.

I find this all very intriguing.

The PvP scenarios also sound fun, with some similarities to the battlegrounds we all know and love from numerous MMOs. At least in the sense of allowing limited numbers from each side and being objective based (presumably you’ll get some points for kills too). I am also intrigued that they felt that banners, flags and points were too game-y, and guessing that they will use similar mechanics but better dressed up in terms of the story of that battleground. (Compare Wintergrasp to Arathi Basin for an example of using banners and defense points in a more immersive way, for example).

And finally, due to the epic amount of complaining from people when the Jedi Consular caster-y subclass was revealed and named Jedi Wizard (which is, yes, kind of lame), Bioware went back to the drawing/ writing board and thought up three alternative names for the subclass. You can vote on your favourite one here (and yes, there is an option to keep the Jedi Wizard!)

Alas, Jedi Psychiatrist is not on the list.