[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.