[SWTOR] In which we raid, and in which factional timelines confuse me

evault1

It must be telling that although we spent a few hours in the Eternity Vault over the weekend in an 8 man group, all my screenshots show Spinks sitting on a speeder.

This is because Bioware have introduced the most amazing raid functionality known to man (or to lazy raiders, alternatively) – a speeder where you zone in which will neatly zoom you through the instance and drop you off somewhere near the last group wipe. This pretty much blew my mind. I don’t know if it’s because I’m profoundly lazy, or because I’ve spent too much of my life running through half cleared raid instances after a wipe. You will see from the screenshots that the Eternity Vault encompasses a bizarrely wide range of environments (snowy mountains, lava pit, jungle, and ancient mechanical vault.)

The speeder did once dump us (amusingly) in the middle of a spawn of mobs (manka cats) but otherwise was very well behaved.

Anyway, back to the raid. We now have about enough level 50s to be considering an 8-man group so decided to go take a poke at the Eternity Vault. In the event, we were one person short so we PUGged a healer (by dint of asking in general chat on the fleet).

And great fun was had by all. We didn’t quite get the last boss, as people were getting tired, but had several tries and I’m pretty sure we’ll get him next time now that everyone understands the fight. I’m going to bullet point some thoughts:

  • Nice range of encounters.
  • Lots of interaction with the environment during boss fights (which I like) such as hiding behind things, moving across lava stepping stones, splitting into smaller groups, big set piece in the last fight with platforms disappearing a la Lich King.
  • There is one fight where every raider has to kill a mob solo. This type of fight is always frustrating for healers, however fun it sounds on paper to designers.
  • Raid was well tuned for our lot, who are mostly recent 50s and not all well geared. We had a couple of close calls on the kills, which is a sign of good tuning on a first raid kill.
  • Loot was nicely distributed, everyone got something. The set pieces are pre-allocated when they drop (ie. when you loot the mob, some pieces will already be marked with the name of the raider they are destined for.) This means you won’t be picking up stuff for your companions, but does make things fairly chilled out.
  • Our PUG healer friend turned out to be a chilled out hardmode raider who was very patient about helping to explain fights to us, and said afterwards that he’d had fun. It’s easy to forget that a lot of hardcore players are nice when you only ever see them bitching at you in random groups.

Final verdict: that was fun! Raiding in a chilled out group with friends is a particular type of MMO fun that’s hard to get in any other way. I remember now why I play these games.

And that’s the difference between well tuned encounters where even if you fail, you feel that you could do it next time, and some of the hard mode flashpoints where difficulty can be a bit all over the place and it’s never clear if it’s down to execution, nonoptimal group composition, lack of gear, or not understanding the fight.

Confusing Republic and Empire Timelines

Although SWTOR gives the impression of being an open world type of themepark MMO, that isn’t entirely true. Or rather, there are some planets which are mostly open world and you could run into the other faction (if you went looking for them), and others which are not.

This is because the Republic timeline doesn’t quite match up to the Empire timeline. Or rather, the two factions quest through some planets during slightly different eras. For example, Empire on Balmorra help to put down the resistance and install Darth Lachris as planetary governer. Republic get to Balmorra later in the timeline, and they help the resistance to overthrow the Empire and get to kill Darth Lachris (at least, I did on my consular).

The odd thing is that as Empire, you never hear about any of this. As far as my empire characters know, Lachris is still in charge and if I go back to Balmorra, I could go and visit her.

Similarly, Republic retake Corellia /after/ Empire have taken the planet in their storyline. And as Empire, you will never hear about this (presumably it hasn’t happened yet?)

This means that from a RP point of view, it’s very difficult to figure out what the actual state of play is politically at endgame. I think the Republic view is the more current one and that they’re actually making good headway by the game’s (current) end. But playing as Empire, you would actually think the opposite. In a true open world game, needless to say, you could go back to those Republic held planets and actually try to re-install the Empire if you wanted to do so.

But in this type of game, you have to wait for someone to write a storyline about it. Just an interesting genre effect to think about.

[SWTOR] The ‘oops we just broke high level world PvP’ patch

So, first content patch of the game has brought new flashpoint, operation (raid) stuff, class tweaks, and PvP tweaks and boy has the latter turned out to be a doozy.

There were tweaks made to the open world high level PvP zone on Ilum to encourage players to earn valor via killing other characters rather than just capturing objectives. However, the faction bases had not been given sufficient safe zones, add to that a population imbalance and what you end up with is one faction farming the other at the respawn point for eternity. And the respawning guys couldn’t get to their taxi/ escape point. MMOCrunch describes in more detail what’s been going down.

Bioware have apologised and are planning to patch it urgently. So basically PvP was messed up on Ilum for an evening, and there will be fixes. They also commented about noticing individuals who took ‘extreme advantage’ of the situation, but we’ve no idea what’s happening with that.

I find it hard to be up in arms about this since I’ve never even been to Ilum and although the game contains PvP, I don’t really consider SWTOR to be a PvP game. If they’d broken PvE I’d be mildly irritated though. However, PvP tweaks in a game really do need to be more carefully tested that this. It leaves the feeling that Ilum had been a problem when players were deliberately zone flipping so they put in a quick patch which has led to worse problems. I suspect they will eventually iterate on a fun/ workable solution, because open PvP zones can be fun and aren’t a bad idea.

As for players leaving en masse, it comes down to how much patience you want to have with a new MMO and team. I think the general lack of patience in the player base has been the doom of MMOs in general, but at the same time, a dev team needs to build the level of trust that means players will roll with a bad patch in the knowledge that it gets fixed. Bioware have not got off to the best of starts.

The important thing for me is a) how quickly they hotfix the problem and b) whether they can learn from the experience and avoid doing it again. The faction imbalance, however, is a whole other issue …

SWTOR: Jedi, Jedi Everywhere (and all the stars did sink)

Hurrah for Europe and for publishers who don’t realise that in these internet-enabled days, even a magazine article in *gasp* a foreign language will be translated and spread all over the net in a matter of hours. Thanks to german magazine “PC Games” (PC Spielen?), the final two classes have been revealed for Bioware’s upcoming Star Wars MMO.

As Massively report in the previous link, Bioware did confirm that the Jedi Consular and Sith Inquisitor will complete the lineup. They have chosen to keep the numbers of classes small, and have stated that each class will have its own personal epic storyline.

So, what do we have on offer? I’m going to run down the list and make some assumptions about the styles of the storylines and what sort of role each class might play in combat. I am assuming a holy trinity based game, I love Dragon Age as if it was my own child, but Bioware’s strength is in storytelling and producing awesome gaming experiences, not in reinventing the rule book.

Republic

Trooper

“The fate of the galaxy rests upon ordinary men becoming extraordinary heroes. This is the path of the Republic Trooper.”

The Knights of the Jedi Order have defended the Republic for generations, but they have not fought alone. A host of unsung heroes have marched at the Jedi’s side—common men courageous enough to enlist and face the same risks as their Jedi comrades despite not having access to the Jedi powers of protection.”

It sounds as though this storyline is all about how ordinary guys and gals in the Republic special forces become extraordinary heroes and end up fighting alongside Jedi and … err.. smugglers. The gear has a strong military flavour.

As far as their role in combat goes, the official site has this to say:

“A Trooper’s rifle is his best friend, and the military is constantly challenged to design faster, more powerful and more reliable blaster rifles every year. Wielding such rifles and wearing protective battle armor designed by the Republic’s top engineers, the Trooper will not hesitate to step right into the crossfire.”

Sounds like a mostly ranged class to me.

Smuggler

“Stacking up enemies as fast as they stack up credits, Smugglers only survive in this galaxy by being slick, sneaky and street-smart.”

“Experienced in flying under the radar, Smugglers are amazingly elusive. Yet when backed into a corner, they quickly become cunning and often deadly combatants.”

OK, so the smuggler is Han Solo. Since he was the coolest character in Star Wars, that’s not a bad thing, and it  gives a good indication of the sort of storylines to expect.

For the role in combat:

“Smugglers often rely on the element of surprise, using stealth and trickery to catch opponents off guard. Despite the sly tactics, they are more than capable of holding their own in a fair fight.”

So it’ll be roguish, probably with some tricks and traps, but the flavour text sounds as though they prefer pistols to melee.

Jedi Knight

“A source of inspiration to allies and intimidation to adversaries, the Jedi Knight’s presence is welcome in any confrontation.”

“With unwavering allegiance to the Republic and the light side of the Force, the Jedi Knight fights with valiant determination, wading into the thick of any battle to protect freedom and democracy and hold fast against those who oppose it.”

Wading into the thick of battle to protect X  and Y, and hold fast against Z screams tank to me.

The combat tactics section reads:

“Whether defending allies by deflecting a barrage of blaster-fire or charging in to challenge a Sith Lord, the Knight’s role is crucial in any conflict.”

Defending, charging in to challenge nasty Sith Lords … it’s a tank. I have no idea where the storyline might unfold for this one, but I’m thinking Knight at King Arthur’s Court for the style of story and moral dilemma.

Jedi Consular

Not one but TWO Jedi classes on each side. We don’t have much information about this class yet, but it is known to be a ranged heal/ CC type of support class.

Sith

The Sith classes  sound stronger than their Republic counterparts — maybe to encourage players to pick the side they haven’t seen so much about in the films.

Bounty Hunter

“In the bounty business, one’s name is everything, and with each mark a Bounty Hunter takes down, his reputation grows, as does his price.”

Well that pretty much sums up what I’d expect in the storyline.

Tracking elusive targets across multiple star systems requires expertise, especially when the targets can be prominent, powerful, and often prepared for confrontation.”

“Bounty Hunters are renowned for their versatility on the battlefield and their ability to go toe-to-toe with force-users.”

“Whoever they must face, however, the Bounty Hunter comes armed with the most-advanced weaponry on the black market, packing heavy firepower but always keeping a variety of tricks and gadgets ready to go.”

It certainly sounds more flexible than the poor Trooper who only has her rifle to fall back on. The Bounty Hunter here sounds like a strong dps class with lots of tricks and gadgets up her sleeve.

Imperial Agent

“Agents of Imperial Intelligence track down and eliminate the Empire’s enemies—from intractable Republic senators to traitorous Imperial Moffs to bloodthirsty rebels with Republic ties.”

Though there are few idealists in Imperial Intelligence, the art of professional perfection is held in deep reverence, and the Agent embodies the Imperial ideal in this respect.”

So you’re going to be Evil James Bond if you play one of these chaps.

“Though striking from a distance or from the shadows plays to the Agent’s strengths, a well-equipped operative is more than capable of evading his enemies when necessary or moving in close to quietly slide a blade between an opponent’s ribs.”

Again, the Agent sounds like a more flexible class than her Republic counterpart. They will be stealthers, with some ability for assassination, and also have ranged capabilities.

Sith Warrior

“Sith Warriors crush their opponents and stride toward their goals with dreadful determination, leaving ruin and annihilation in their wake.”

A natural leader in any context, a Sith Warrior inspires both fear and undying loyalty into his followers and allies.”

It’s a tank.

“Protected by heavy armor and his powers of intimidation, the Warrior wades into the thick of the fight and unleashes pure hatred and fury to eliminate all who would stand against him.”

Huh, the Sith Warrior actually gets heavy armour. Well that screws up the plans for total world domination via robe.

Sith Inquisitor

The other newly revealed class, as with the Consular we don’t know a lot about this one yet. But it’s likely to fill a similar role.

Keeping down the Jedi numbers

So I think that all the Jedi are actually going to be support classes in this game. The Knight and Warrior will be tanking classes, and the Consular and Inquisitor will be support. The non-jedi will make up the bulk of dps and stealthers.

You have to admit, that’s quite a smart way to keep the numbers of Jedi limited …