[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.

How long is a piece of string? How long is an MMO?

Bioware recently noted in an interview that SWTOR would launch with approximately 200 hours of content (core gameplay) per class of gameplay.

Keen, perhaps surprisingly, responded immediately with, “That’s not enough” on the basis that he reckoned he’d spent 144 hours levelling his new WoW shaman and kitting it out, and he’d rushed it (ie. could have spent a lot more time on levelling.)

It wouldn’t take a genius to reckon that via that comparison, it’s pretty much impossible for any new MMO to satisfy players like Keen. (Unless they have really compelling non-core gameplay content, whatever that means. I presume he’d be happy with a good instanced PvP type game for example.)

Whereas I read 200 hours and immediately compared that with Dragon Age: Origins, the lengthiest game that I’ve actually played to completion within the last few years. It took me 45 hours to finish my first run through of DAO and I could have taken longer. I didn’t finish all the side quests and I played on easy mode because I wanted to follow the story. And at the end of that 45 hour stint, I took take a break from gaming for a couple of weeks because it had been quite intense (ie. I’d probably have been more comfortable stretching the playing time over more days). So SWTOR is potentially offering me four times DAO’s content for each class … and I’m duly awed.

What is the right comparison for a new MMO?

An existing one? An existing single player game from the same developers? I don’t know. I just know that 200 hours of Bioware-type RPG could easily be 4-5 months of my time (and I’m not THAT casual of a player) especially when padded out with crafting, PvP, instancing, and chatting. Not to mention alts. Or time spent in other games too.

The WoW comparison

Here’s another WoW comparison. The new Hyjal/ firelands dailies comprise a complex questing grind, including opening up new phases and storylines at various points in the endeavour. Someone on the official boards calculated, assuming you do every available daily quest on every day, that this would take about a month.

ie. 32 days of doing every available Hyjal/ Firelands daily quest.

So how long would that actually take in hours? Hard to say: if you assume on average an hour a day for the first half and two hours a day for the second (rough approximation assuming that it takes longer to get through the later daily quests since there will be more of them), that’s around 48 hours. Then you can add a couple of hours extra for slightly lengthier quest chains as you unlock each new vendor for a round 50 hours or so.

Would you rather spend 50 hours in an MMO doing a complex daily rep grind, or playing the equivalent of DAO?

That isn’t as loaded a question as it sounds, the firelands dailies seem very well done to me. But they are still daily quests. And it takes Blizzard around 6 months or so to come out with each new patch, containing that much gameplay. And however fun DAO was to me, it’s still a single player game.

[WoW] In just 7 days, I can survey patch 4.2

moltenfront

This is Spinks in the Molten Front. It feels as though she should be waving a sign saying “Hi, mum!”

Finding myself with some spare time (due to end of college for the year), a newly landed patch on WoW, and 7 free days for my account which I could take at any time, I felt the time was ripe to go back and say Hi to my friends and see what’s changed in the past few months.

Reactivating

If you have an inactive WoW account that isn’t a trial, you will also likely have an option to take 7 free days. To do this, log into your battle.net account and where your game accounts are listed, there will be an option to claim the free days.

Catching up with the talent changes and questlines

First off, visit your trainer just in case and check your talents haven’t been accidentally reset or anything like this. I scored a shiny new raid version of Last Stand (why is this a Fury ability?) which is nice, I suppose.

Sadly failed to notice that my interrupt had vanished from my quickbar in Prot Stance until I was actually in the middle of tanking something that needed interrupts, but c’est la vie. (Pummel now can be used in any stance and has become the default warrior interrupt.)

As far as catching up on quest content goes, this is where the warlord’s quest board really comes into its own. You’ll find one of these in every capital city, and it’ll come up as a questgiver if it has outstanding quests for you. It helpfully pointed me to the new troll/ ZG questline (new as in several months ago) and also to the new quests about Thrall, which lead to Hyjal (new as of last Wednesday).

I figured this would be a good use of my free days so trotted off to do those.

They were both good fun, Blizzard well up to their usual standard on quest content. The ZG questline also rewards you with a pet panther cub, to which I MAY have responded with squeals of ‘it’s so cute!!!’, especially as I got the achievement for having 25 pets at the same time. As an aside, I utterly hate cosmetic pets and never actually use them – I’m a goddamn warrior, I do not have kittens lolling around my heels when I go off to kill dragons. Aside from thematic inappropriateness, it’d be cruel to the kitten — but somehow I always like actually getting a new one.

Thrall has never been my favourite NPC, at least not as much as he is the devs, but his storyline showed some depth and hopefully you can feel a little empathy for the guy who has given up his hopes of finding a partner and raising some orclings in order to lead the Horde towards freedom and away from barbarism. Now that the Horde has decided that barbarism gets a bad rap and we like killing the shit out of stuff, Thrall is free to stick two fingers up at them and waltz off with Aggra into the sunset – at least after we’ve saved him from the elemental lords. The actual quests were quite fun too.

New instances

zgrenataki Here we are in Zul Gurub. It’s been fixed up a bit …

My guild were kind enough to invite me along to an instance run in the recently revamped Zul Gurub, which was also good fun. Blizzard has again done a super job on the revamp; it felt challenging, the bosses and the trash are interesting, the fights still feel mechanically related to the old ones, and it’s always been an appealing zone anyway.

Amusingly, I got an achievement for not standing in stuff on one of the bosses (Venoxis, aka didn’t I kill you three years ago?) and one of the newer guildies who I hadn’t met before asked hopefully if I was planning to stay and join their raid team. To be fair, I can see why people would be nervous of inviting an old guildie to join an instance run that’s known to be hard, sight unseen.

On the bright side, despite having missed most of the raiding in the last tier, my dps is reasonably up to scratch. It won’t be winning awards any time soon but it’s not woefully sub par for instancing.

I’m not really convinced on the new troll lore, so let’s not dwell on that.

New dailies

newdailies You can always spot the new daily questgivers because all the players are sitting on top of them.

One of the clever things Blizzard have done with the layout of the new daily quests is allowed you to open up the molten front after just 2-3 days of questing. This means, for example, that someone on a 7 day return visit can get to actually see the meat and bones of what the new firelands zone is all about, earn some rewards, and come back and write about it!

So far, there are two sets of questgivers. The ones in the screenshot who are outside the firelands portal who will set you to clearing up Hyjal, and another set inside the portal who will send you off to help the war effort there.

I’ll talk first about some of the big wins here. The first is the daily quest which requires you to go kill some elite mobs in Hyjal.

  • Changes in the tagging code mean that every player who tags a quest mob while it is being fought gets credit for the kill. So when the quest zone is busy, it will feel like fighting a rift in Rift. Everyone attacks everything, and everyone gets credit for everything too. It’s fairly social.
  • Lots of friendly NPCs show up to help out, and if you have been paying attention you may recognise many of them. I’ve seen a different set every day and they have included Mankrik, King Mrrrrgglll, Chromie, Lunk, and some named alliance NPCs I don’t recognise, and they all have been given some new in-character barks which I have found very amusing. It will feel as though you are fighting alongside NPCs that you know.
  • dailychromie

Chromie the time dragon (in her favourite humanoid form as a little female gnome) makes some time related jokes while she fights.

The second is giving you access to nice gear from a vendor fairly early on. Once the firelands portal opened, I could immediately upgrade a couple of pieces. I’m assuming that as you earn more tokens and open up more of the molten front, new vendors will appear.

Monocles are everywhere!

You can take the player out of EVE but you can’t take EVE out of the player – this screenshot below was taken from trade chat in Orgrimmar.

wowmonocle

Becoming a Crusader: Guide to the Rep Grind

In order to sport the Crusader title in WoW, you need a few exalted factions and a lot of jousting under your belt. As well as becoming a champion (via the Argent Tournament) of every Horde or Alliance city faction, you must also be exalted with all of those factions and with the Argent Crusade. This will also involve picking up a few other titles along the way.

Madness, or is it?

The title is neat enough if you like such things, and in patch 3.2 there will also be some additional daily quests for people with this title, and possibly some extra rewards also. There are also extra daily quests for people who are exalted with the Sunreavers/Silver Covenant (also reps that you can get from doing Argent Tournament dailies) as well as being a champion of at least one faction.

It’s never wise to jump the gun on patch notes that are still in test (because they can change) but if you’re interested in those, like the titles, or want to do it for the challenge then step right in.

Guide to the current Argent Tournament Dailies

You can’t do better than Siha’s 3-part Tourist Guide to the Argent Tournament over at Banana Shoulders:

  • Part 1 (Introduction, Side-Quests, Aspirant phase)
  • Part 2 (Valiant phase)
  • Part 3 (Champion phase)
  • Part 4 (Updates include all the latest tweaks from patch 3.2)

How much rep from the Argent Tournament?

For reputation purposes, each quest in the valiant phase gives 250 Sunreaver/Silver Covernant rep, 250 rep for the city faction for whom you are questing, and 62 spillover rep for the other city factions.

As a general rule in WoW, when you gain reputation for one city, you will also get 25% of that reputation for the other associated cities. This is why characters started during TBC or later usually have good city reps by the time they reach level 80 – a lot of the levelling quests do give city rep, at least in the old world. Characters started before this or afterwards (i.e.. when the levelling curve was relaxed) may find that they have to work a bit harder on their reputations if they want the titles.

The Valiant phase for each city provides 4 daily quests, which have to be repeated five times before you can move on to the champion phase. So if you do the minimum amount of dailies to become a champion of every city you will receive:

  • 5000 rep for each city from directly doing Valiant quests
  • 1250 spillover rep for each other city whilst doing those dailies.

eg. Spinks does enough daily quests to become a Champion of the Undercity. She gains 5000 Undercity rep, plus 1250 rep for each other faction.

If she continues to become a champion of every city (and there are five cities for each faction), she will have earned 10000 rep for each city. 5000 for doing the valiant for that city, and 5000 from spillover from the other four city reps.

So if you are 10000 rep or less from being exalted with all your city factions when you start the Argent Tournament, you don’t need to do anything more to get your Crusader title than simply become a champion of each city in turn. In particular, don’t turn in your champion quests for writs that you don’t need (the writs can be turned in for city rep), take the cash instead.

Using Valiant Quests for Extra Rep

If you don’t have enough reputation to hit all those exalted factions just from making champion, but want to do it anyway, you’ll have to consider other options.

As long as you don’t complete your valiant stage, you can continue to take the 4 daily quests (with associated 1k rep plus 250 spillover for other cities). Keep an eye on the other city reps, you don’t want to do more dailies than you need to and the spillover might be enough to save you some extra grinding.

This may be useful for Silvermoon or Exodar rep, since they don’t offer as many reputation-bearing quests while levelling. This is particularly true for Silvermoon because one of their starting zones gives Tranquilien rep instead.

How about those Champion Quests?

Once you have become a champion of at least one faction, you also have access to four daily champion quests. These award 250 Sunreaver/ Silver Covenant reputation and 250 Argent Crusade (or Ebon Blade if you are a Death Knight) reputation each.

They also award you with a Champion Seal (which you can spend on stuff ™) and your choice of either a bag of 10g or a Champion Writ (which you can turn into any faction you have already championed for a token that grants 250 rep for that faction.)

So by doing all the Valiant and Champion dailies, you can potentially gain 1000 City rep, 2000 Sunreaver/ Silver Covenant rep, 250 spillover City rep for the other cities, 1000 Argent Crusade/ Ebon Blade rep, and your choice of an extra 10g or a token to hand in for 250 city rep. It’s a sizeable haul.

And of course you don’t have to do all the dailies. If there are some you don’t like or you don’t have time you can always skip them. There’s no special time limit in place.

Argent Tournament Side Quests

There are two daily side quests which give cash but no reputation. And then there is the Black Knight questline (not repeatable) which gives Sunreaver/ Silver Covenant rep and Argent Crusade/ Ebon Blade rep.

Once you have completed all the side quests, and become a champion for all 5 city factions, it’s very likely that you will also have maxed out Sunreaver/ Silver Covenant reputation. If not, then keep doing champion and valiant dailies until this is the case.

If you find you are behind on Argent Crusade reputation, then you also have the option of their other daily quests in Zul’Drak, or just grab a tabard and run some heroics. For the Crusade!

Hit those Low Level Quests

wow_lowquest

You can set your minimap to find available low level quests in a zone by clicking on the magnifying glass icon and selecting ‘Low Level Quests’ in the drop down list, as I’ve shown here.

Quests in the starting zones for each race give good reputation. Generally you can start doing low level quests for reputation at the first real town that the race encounters (ie. not the actual level 1 starting zone but the quest hub that you’ll hit at around level 5 or so). Low level quests don’t always grant spillover rep, but can give a large amount of specific reputation.

There are also higher level quests which give city reputation. I find that the amount of time you spend travelling probably isn’t worth it to chase these down. With one exception. Instance quests.

If you haven’t done the quests for an instance, they can provide a good hit of reputation for content that you can probably solo at level 80. In addition, you can grab a few stacks of cloth to turn in (see below).

Repeatable City Quests and Cloth Turnins

As well as the regular quests, there are some repeatable quests that you can do for city rep. Whilst these can be useful for people who want to gain reputation at low levels, they’re typically slow and laborious compared to the Argent Tournament quests.

However, one of the repeatable quests involves handing in stacks of cloth to the local representative, who will probably be near the tailoring trainer in the capital city of choice.

You can get 250 rep for handing in 60 wool cloth, 60 silk cloth, and 60 mageweave cloth (that’s 750 rep for those who are counting, with no spillover).

This unlocks the next stage where you can hand in 60 runecloth for another 250 rep.

And finally you get to the repeatable stage where you can continue to hand in 20 runecloth for 75 rep per stack (until you run out).

Buying cloth from the auction house and handing it in is the easiest way to convert gold into reputation, if you have lots of one and not enough of the other. It’s very unlikely that runecloth will be cheap enough to make it worthwhile taking the 10g from the Argent Tournament Champion quests and using it to buy cloth for turnings rather than taking the writs, but you never know.

This is wowwiki’s list of repeatable reputation quests. Knock yourself out on these if you like, but don’t say you weren’t warned. Cloth and AT dailies is the easiest way to do this.

Battleground Quests

Some battleground quests also give Horde/ Alliance reputation. In particular, the hand in quests you can do from Alterac Valley can give good reputation.

This used to be a real staple for city reputation (if you read any old guides they’ll probably recommend it), but these days people tend to rush AV so you probably won’t have time to complete even a single one of these. If you want to try anyway:

  1. Pick the quests up from the entrance to AV.
  2. Have a trinket equipped that will port you back to your home base.
  3. Loot every single enemy corpse you find as fast as you can.
  4. As soon as you have a stack of items, port back and hand them in. Hope that you can do this before the other team rushes your base.

Holiday Quests

Some holiday quests also give Horde/ Alliance reputation. If you aren’t in a hurry and were planning to do the holiday quests anyway, it’s worth bearing in mind.

Good luck, and may your cup of rep spilleth over.