[SWTOR] My experience of endgame

Here’s a couple of screenshots from Kaon under Siege, the most recent flashpoint. It has many zombies, of which the top picture shows us disposing of one (yes, this one’s a screamer). Also there are some cool darker areas where you get to grab little floaty torches, as shown below. Arb and I were a bit girly about our torches and shrieked when the torches went out, and looked frantically for the next box of torches. The guys in the group were much more stoic.

It was a good, fun instance though. Looking forwards to the next one.

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So, SWTOR endgame. I don’t really have a thoughtful summary for this yet, so this is in bullet point form. My experience is based on being in a friendly casual guild where we don’t yet have enough 50s to consider ops (raids) but when there are at least 4 players on of appropriate level range and role who have time available, there will often be an instance or hard mode run.

  • Dailies: I have been sticking with the Belsavis level 50 dailies, since they’re quicker and easier than the Ilum ones. I am not doing them religiously every day, or cleaning them all out when I do spend time there. Slacker? Sure. But I’ve made enough tokens to upgrade all the armor/ hilt in my gear, and it’s possible to solo one of the [Heroic 4] Belsavis dailies by judicious death runs so my companions all now have orange weapons with blue level 50 mods (because that’s one of the quest rewards as well as the daily tokens).
  • PvP: I may have run the occasional warfront but that’s about all, I’m not gung ho for PvP.
  • Instances: Have now completed all the normal ones and one hard mode. (I’m not big on PUGs, I suppose I could but the demand for melee dps isn’t high and gearing for tanking is a work in progress.)
  • Datacrons: Gathering Datacrons (one-time permanent buffs) is a much more engaging game than I had expected. Some need pinpoint (and frustrating) jumping skills, others include odd forms of transport or exploring detailed areas of the grid you hadn’t noticed before. It’s all quite intriguing. Teppo has the patience of a saint and organised a guild run to pick some up from Balmorra and Nar Shadaa. This was enlivened by me *accidentally* attacking a PvP flagged Jedi Knight we ran into who promptly returned with a raid group. So we had a lot of running battles on Nar Shadaa in between Holocron gathering. This reminded me a lot of DaoC, where it was standard tactic to annoy a high level enemy character in the hope they’d bring their friends out to play.
  • Matrix Shards: These are a special type of Holocron. I decided to collect the three shards I was going to need for my dps warrior matrix cube relic. This probably needs to be the subject of another post because it turned out to be quite involved but I’m dead proud that I did it! Gamewise, it made for an interesting and quite engrossing solo sort-of quest.
  • Space Game: I am getting more into this. Currently stuck on Polith Minefield (I can do all of it except getting all the turrets on the minelayer right at the end – feel free to offer any suggestions! :) ).
  • Crafting: I haven’t really been bothered to do much of this except for guildies. I seem to make enough credits from dailies that it isn’t necessary.

So it probably sounds as though I don’t do much in endgame, and that would be correct. On the other hand, I’m also busy with work and often don’t have much time to log on and I am finding enough to do when I do want to be online. I need an endgame like this where most of it is purely optional because I don’t have the time or energy to grind. On the other hand, my gear is fine for hard modes at the moment, and probably decent for ops as well (the rough rule of thumb I’ve heard is 1200 in main stat), when we get round to them.

The main lure away from endgame is playing alts. I do find it awkward that the legacy system encourages players to play alts of the opposite faction but there’s no guild system that can support having characters from opposite factions. So if you do this, you lose access to guild chat and being invited to guild runs etc unless your guild uses something external like voice chat.

The other thing with alts is that if you enjoy playing in duos (which I really do in this game), the alts are off the table unless the other person is on and wants to play the appropriate alt. I may need another solo alt I think…

The big surprise for me from endgame is that I’m enjoying the Datacrons much more than I had expected, even though the really jumpy ones are immensely frustrating. SWTOR Spy have a good guide on how to find them all.

[SWTOR] More thoughts from beta (space combat, PvP, etc.)

This was the last weekend of beta testing for The Old Republic, and now the servers are down and being wiped. Hopefully some of the team get a few days downtime too before the craziness of launch.

The changes from last week’s build were noticeable. I think graphics were improved, servers seemed more stable (we didn’t suffer lots of d/c during flashpoints this time around) and I noticed some minor but very useful UI changes. For example, last week people commented that it wasn’t obvious where the bindpoints were or how they worked unless you specifically set them to show up on your map. Now they’re indicated more clearly in the game. There’s no doubt that the game itself is ready for prime time — main technical issues I had were with how long it takes to quit out of the game. (And it did hang my computer while quitting at least once, or at least took long enough that I got bored and rebooted.)

This time around I aimed to try a few of the classes I skipped last weekend, and level my sith warrior high enough to get my own ship and try out the space combat. My overall impression is that the story emphasis has a much bigger effect on how involved players get with their characters than I first thought. I did miss my sith warrior when I didn’t have beta access, gonzo as she is. Agreed with Arb and other friends in the beta that we had all enjoyed all the classes we’d tried, and thought it would be fun to play all of them at some point to see their stories. (That’s quite a lot of replayability in itself, but raises other issues around communications. This is a game that could really use a realID style comms channel, so you can chat to your friends without having to remember which alt they’re on today.)

So here’s some notes in bullet point form:

  • Found out how to buy advanced class skills. Apparently I did have a taunt at level 10, who knew? (Will post separately to explain how that’s done, in case anyone else misses it the same way I did.)
  • Sith Warrior still is a faintly embarrassing indulgence for me. I don’t know what the rest of her story is like but Act I is a gonzo non-politically correct power fantasy. There’s nothing really surprising yet, it’s the sort of stuff you’d expect, but beautifully implemented. Vette did imply that I was bonkers at least once, not sure if I should punish her for insolence or buy her a new blaster. No signs of any romance yet, but I think you’d have to be crazy to flirt with a sith lord anyway, even if they were hot. (OTOH, I could imagine my character picking out a hot imperial soldier with: “You, my room, tonight!” because that’s how she is. Like I say, it’s not politically correct. But probably something that everyone should try once ;) ) Am puzzled that my protective headgear seems to consist mostly of a mouthpiece — it is thematic but does the rest of my head not need protecting more? I do love how her voice changed when she was wearing it though. Darth Baras still sounds cool although am suspecting he is in fact a colossal jerk (you could argue that I should have twigged this sooner.) Created a male sith warrior to compare the voices, and he sounds awesome.
  • The ships are nice, similar in style to the KOTOR ship with floor plans and several rooms. It is basically player housing. It also comes with a friendly droid (who is excessively subservient if you are a sith warrior.)
  • Space combat is a separate minigame with its own missions, tokens, and rewards (mostly stuff to kit out your ship to make it better at the minigame.) It’s not difficult and I’m not sure how deep it really gets but is pretty and can be a bit fiddly, I had to repeat the first mission a couple of times before I got it. Kitting out your ship also helps enormously. Ultimately I thought it was fun so we’ll call that a win, but it’s not full 3D elite-style dogfighting, Star Trek possibly still your best bet for that in a MMO.
  • Tried PvP on my Bounty Hunter, I suspect strong influence here from the WAR team. Scenarios are compact and combat is fast paced. I tried Huttball which is a capture the flag scenario with extra tweaks involving ramps, platforms and air vents that help you jump. And you can pass the ball from one person in your team to another. Was fun, and worth doing once for the xp, but reminded me of all the annoying things about MMO PvP that bug me (ie. the bunny hopping rogues.)
  • Played consular some more. I still enjoy the slower, more thoughtful pace of the storytelling. And being able to throw rocks at people with my mind; that’s quite good and is a skill I’ve often wished for iRL. I’m curious to see how they deal with the mind reading/ controlling aspect of this class (a la Obi Wan), or whether it gets glossed over.
  • Played smuggler; the Han Solo quotient is high here. I find the class quite fun and like the cover mechanic. The smuggler isn’t as sarky as some of the empire classes (no really!), instead she has some cocky conversation options and lots of opportunity to tell people that it’s all about the money and you’re not really fighting for the republic. Liked the starting storyline also.
  • Character models are stylized and that can sometimes mean odd design decisions. All the male models except the weediest have huge barrel chests, and all the female ones have big boobs. (Was touched to hear someone on one of the republic chat channels wondering why the female models all looked skinny with big boobs, because he wanted to make a char that looked like his girlfriend who was “small and normal looking with big boobs.” Awwww.) Male characters do get an option to be fat, the female equivalent is merely very curvy with a big bum that sticks out when she is in combat stance in a way that makes you wonder if she’s about to fart.

As you can see I’m very positive about the game, and can’t wait to play it with friends in live. Haven’t decided yet on which class. I loved my sith warrior so much, but the bounty hunter was awesome too and it’s nice to have ranged options. Plus BH can be Chiss (ie. blue).

The judgement call is “if you like this sort of thing, you’ll really like this game.” It is what it is, but I’ve never played any RPG with this kind of attention to detail/ story/ voicework.

Star Trek Online – Beta Roundup

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Star Trek is surely one of the best loved IPs of all time. It has spawned numerous TV series, films, books, comics, conferences, theme pubs, university courses, RPGs, computer games, Barbie dolls, and assorted other merchandise. This is the IP that INVENTED slashfic.

Let’s pause and think about that for a moment.

Ok, done. And now, thanks to Cryptic Studio’s latest efforts with Star Trek Online, the Federation is all set to expand into MMO space. But is this game for you?

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My Thoughts in Summary

Plus Points:

  • Visually stunning. The game is an absolute pleasure to watch. The character animations while on ground missions are also smooth as silk – your character will dive into a roll, drop to one knee to take aim, shoulder a phaser rifle as they run – it looks good. It is also easy to take great screenshots, even for graphical nonentities like your truly.
  • Space combat is very different from the standard MMO model. Positioning is important. So is watching the other guy’s shields and keeping an eye on your own. I enjoyed it very much. If you’ve been on the lookout for a space dogfighting game, this will be worth a look.
  • Open groups. It’s very easy to end up teaming up with other people productively. If you zone into a planet on a mission and others have the same mission, you will automatically join them. We weren’t very organised in beta, but you did feel like a team.
  • Some of your abilities in ground combat depend on your weapon. So if you are equipped with a phaser, you’ll automatically get the option to fire or to stun (i.e.. set phaser to stun). It’s a neat and intuitive mechanic.
  • Interesting use of bridge officers to add extra customisation. In an intriguing mechanic, you can train your bridge officers to give you extra ability options in space and extra backup on ground missions.
  • One virtual server. You’ll be able to play alongside people from all over the world, without being separated by continent.
  • Great Star Trek audio flavour. All of the sound effects and the music screamed Trek, the team has made great use of these assets. Using established Star Trek actors for voiceovers is also great, but it was the sound effecstobeta_5ts that dragged me in.
  • Excellent character and ship customisation. This is one of Cryptic’s signature strengths and they do not disappoint.
  • What is more impressive is that players are herded neatly towards creating thematic characters. So there’s a lot of freedom, but it’s hard to make something that looks completely impossible for the setting.

Minus Points:

  • The different skills and abilities on offer look complex at first sight. Your character can train different skills, your bridge officers can train skills, and you can also customise your ship’s loadout with different abilities. It isn’t easy to figure out what some of them do or how they might be useful. This feels like a complex game with a lot to learn – whether that’s because of depth or just because there is so much stuff I’ve yet to really fathom.
  • The ground missions are not as engaging as space combat. It isn’t bad per se, and did improve a lot with the latest patch, but the majority of ground missions I tried reminded me strongly of CoH instances. Wander around, collect stuff, rescue people, or explore the area, and shoot groups of enemies when you run into them.
  • “Grindy, Repetitive Missions.” I put that in inverted commas because it’s an MMO, dammit. If you enjoy flying your starship around and fighting other ships, you won’t find it dull.
  • Uninspired chat and guild systems. The chat system is workmanlike but nothing more, similar with what we saw of guilds (fleets). Allowing fleets to build a starbase to use as a centre of operations is something I’d love to see in future.
  • Is there enough game and enough world for a subscription? It’s fun, but is it fun enough to spend £10 per month on?
  • Two character slots (three if you include Klingon). If you are an altaholic, this might be a red flag.
  • Writing is serviceable but none of the NPCs really come to life. There’s no Frodo or Picard, or even a Thrall or Antonia Bayle. There are people who give you missions, none of them with striking personalities.
  • Rubbish maps. Sorry Cryptic, but the area map is not useful to the point of why bother, it’s easier to just look around and eyeball the area.
  • Why is it so hard to actually sit in the captain’s chair on the bridge?

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So why is the space combat so cool?

Your ship has four shields (fore, aft, port, and starboard – although Cryptic wimped out and called the latter two left and right), and so does the enemy. Your goal is to punch through the enemy’s shield with torpedoes and follow up with blasts of phaser fire to actually damage his or her ship. They will be trying to do the same to you.

So it is important to keep an eye on your relative positioning and which of your weapons are facing the enemy and ready to fire. Ideally ships will circle each other, trying to get off the space equivalent of a broadside. You can fire all weapons simultaneously using spacebar, or if you want to show a little more finesse, you can fire them separately as they come to bear. Bridge officers may also have expertise in space combat which manifests as short term cooldown abilities that you can use. For example, the tactical officer might be able to boost torpedo damage for 20s, or the engineering officer might be able to boost shields temporarily.

Because you are in space, there is also a 3 dimensional component. You can fly over the other ship, or underneath it. It’s not a true 3D fight, because you don’t have shields above or below to worry about, nor do you have top mounted lasers.

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For example, here my ship has blown a hole in the enemy shields. You can see that one of the barriers has gone. So hopefully I am in the process of trying to turn neatly and blast him with both fore and aft lasers simultaneously just where the shield is weak.

What you end up with is an interesting style of combat with plenty of manoeuvring and tactical interest. I’m told it gets deeper later on into the game as you get a better ship with more options available. But I enjoyed it right from the start.

Is there enough content to justify a subscription?

This is a question that you can rarely answer in a beta. But still, is there going to be enough? Between the long missions (episodes), open group actions, limited crafting and PvP, will there be enough to keep players occupied?

There is little of a virtual world feel to the game, much of the content is instanced, and the space stations themselves are fairly perfunctory. Crafting is Guilds Wars style, which means that you collect materials when you are out adventuring and then give them to an NPC to be made into equipment. There is the obligatory bank and auction house (was anyone else disturbed that you can apparently auction your bridge officers?).

But the game will often feel like a group based space/ground fighter with a bit of character advancement thrown in for fun. To me, it felt like a model that might have worked better as free to play, and then charge people for the missions, fluff, and extra content. Still, Cryptic have an ambitious update schedule, with borg attacks, group ‘raidisodes’, more PvE action for Klingons, and more Space locations to explore.

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And finally, is there enough Trek?

Star Trek is a moving target. The Trek of the original series is very different in theme to Deep Space 9 for example, and Voyager, The Next Generation, and Enterprise are different again.

STO has a strong Trek feel. The space combat in particular with it’s more stately pace and attention to shields, orientation and power assignments feels right. The actual world in which you fight – perhaps not so much.

There’s little room here for the strong themes of exploring new worlds, showing mercy to your enemies, and being a force for harmony and growth. That’s ditched in favour of shooting Klingons. STO is probably a better game for it, but this may not be the Star Trek that diehard fans were hoping to immerse themselves in. Then again, the franchise itself is moving away from the idealism of the original series that caught so many hearts and minds in the first place. Here’s a great post by Mitch Wagner on the tor.com blog discussing how the latest film takes a different tack, and possibly not a better one.