[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.

Cataclysm: We didn’t remake the low level zones for YOU!

brillcata Brill 2.0

It’s been an exciting week so far in Azeroth. Player numbers are way up, on my server (Argent Dawn EU) there have been queues every night stretching up to 30 mins. The lower level zones are populated and busy again. Faction cities are bustling, and Orgrimmar is already developing a reputation as a death trap (no you can’t just jump down from a zeppelin tower without safe fall, yes Gamon will kill you if you attack him.) It’s as if the whole world – the meaningful one, not just the expansion zones – has come alive.

True to their word, Blizzard have indeed redone all of the levelling zones. 1-60 is a different game, or at least a different version of the same game. There are old quests which remain untouched (usually distinctive because the drop rate for quest items is lower than 100%) but they are mixed with the new stuff. Also, travel has become much less of an issue. There are far more flight points in the game now, and questing characters are often offered a lift via the quest chains to any distant locales rather than having to run off and discover them on their own.

I took Spinks to have a look at the new Eastern Plaguelands, now greener, less plaguey, and with less Scourge. And it wasn’t very long before I decided to leave it and just level a new alt to check out the new low level stuff. Why? It wasn’t there for level 80s. It isn’t just that the quests were trivial (they may be trivial at level also) but the NPCs’ timeline wasn’t in check with mine. Tirion Fording, who fought the Lich King alongside us in ICC, is settled in Hearthglen as head of the Argent Dawn (an organisation now looking for a goal, I imagine). If you talk to him, he doesn’t have a special response for a Kingslayer, even just to acknowlege a rather important and character defining moment for him. He’ll treat you like the level 35 you are supposed to be in that zone.

Also, the storyline doesn’t make a lot of sense for a high level character. The NPCs came back from Northrend and got on with defending/ attacking places and various other tactical plans, but the high level characters who came with them are … somewhere else. (What was so important for Spinks that it outweighed defending her home against worgen invasions? Who knows, and the game doesn’t say …)

The other issue for me is that my home faction has changed in tone, and I feel as though I blinked and missed it. Up until now, the characters’ timelines had been that they started in Azeroth, went on to Outland and then to Northrend in a continuous journey. That timeline is now weird. When new characters get to Outland or Northrend now, they are effectively going back in time.

So taking Spinks through the low level zones was just going to be confusing for me. I’m not a hardcore RPer in WoW but I like to keep a sense of my character’s personal story and background and not being sure where I am in my own timeline is something I want to avoid. Also, when I first levelled her, the forsaken had a gothic hammer house of horror vibe which I quite liked. The feel now is not the same, some of the more tragic little personal stories are gone and there’s more slime. I don’t really know what to make of that.

There could have been ways round it. There could have been a new introduction/ bridging video for high level characters explaining what their faction has been doing and where they have been in the time between Northrend and Cataclysm. There could have been ways to sidekick your level down or frame the new content as if it was a story being told to you by a minion or lower level friend. But in a few months time, the majority of levellers wont’ hang around in Northrend or feel this sense of disconnect. It won’t matter to them that they’re going back in time because they won’t be killing the Lich King anyway. It would have been a lot of work just for us, right now. (Although Blizzard doesn’t exactly suffer from a lack of resources…)

In any case, on the new alt things make more sense. At least for now.