More Secret World Legends

I wrote about trying Secret World Legends last year in July, and thanks to my pet tank getting really enamoured with the game, we actually ended up sticking with it for quite a while, slowly duoing our way through most of the story one weekend at a time, including all the story mode dungeons. I wanted to hold off with making this post until we were fully done, but in Tokyo we lost steam before completing everything, stopping just before being sent to the Orochi Tower, and since then we've been unable to muster up the enthusiasm to continue for several months now. So I thought I might as well finish up this draft and post it anyway.

My pet tank hit the level cap of 50 in the Scorched Desert zone (he was a patron/subscriber and I wasn't, providing him with a slight XP bonus), while I reached it in City of the Sun God. The interesting thing is that we were only slightly overlevelled for the content at that point, and it's quite clear that characters hitting the level cap before they actually reach the end of the "levelling content" is intended. I guess this way the game is trying to provide a smoother transition to "endgame" than most MMOs, where standard questing tends to become obsolete the moment you hit max level. Thanks to the way gear upgrades work, you'll also keep working on those at the level cap more or less the same way you've done throughout most of your levelling.

The ease of combat I observed in the early zones didn't quite last until the high levels. By max level, fights didn't so much get harder but more tedious, as mobs start to take longer and longer to die if your gear isn't that great (such as was the case for me, and which is yet another way in which the game reminds me of Neverwinter). Only in Tokyo did we really start to feel the challenge ramp up somewhat, with bigger, oddly-shaped and faster-hitting telegraph attacks that hurt more. This means that I probably wouldn't enjoy the combat very much alone, but at the same time it adds value to playing as a duo because you notice a significant difference in terms of speed and ease of progress when you have company.

The silent protagonist continued to annoy me a bit, but I got more used to it. I also learned that I liked cut scenes with more than one NPC a lot more, as the situation immediately becomes more natural if you are silently listening to two people talking instead of standing there like a muppet while being addressed directly. I also came to realise though that for all of the interesting writing in the cut scenes, they are often incredibly disconnected from the actual missions. My favourite example of this was a quest in Savage Coast where the intro cut scene literally just consists of you watching two people play chess, yet this somehow translates into a lengthy chain of killing X monsters and impaling them on spikes. Naturally. (Yes, I know there is a tenuous connection in terms of "taking out the queen", but it's really not much.) There is also rarely any kind of wrap-up. I found this most striking in a mission in Tokyo where a chipper little girl asks you to look for her missing friends, keeps texting you throughout, yet doesn't appear to even bat an eyelash at the fact that most of said friends actually turn out to be dead.

In my first post about the game I mentioned how the infamous investigation missions were a breeze initially, as my pet tank already knew the early ones from a previous character and I basically just followed him around. Once we hit content that was new to him too however, I have to admit I quickly grew to dislike both investigation and sabotage missions. I feel a bit bad saying this, because they aren't badly done, and I'm certainly not someone to dislike puzzles in principle... but all too often I felt that they were disruptive to the overall flow of the game. One moment you're breezing through the main storyline, mowing down zombies or whatever in one action mission after another... and then you spend the next two hours on a single investigation mission, completely failing to progress any of your daily challenges. Often it isn't even the puzzles themselves (for which you can usually look up a solution) but simply that many of these missions love sending you all over the place. Maybe this didn't feel as jarring back when the game as a whole was less fast-paced... but right now it's pretty rough. I will say that it varies a lot though - there were some investigation/sabotage missions that weren't nearly as much of a drag and that I actually quite enjoyed, like the one where you time-travel back to ancient Roman times. I guess it depends on whether you're into whatever's the focus of any given mission (e.g. maths, music puzzles, deciphering different languages etc.) but it's not like they tell you that in advance.

I also mentioned in my previous post how we never tried PvP because the group queue was buggy - this still wasn't fixed last time we tried, but we eventually gave it a go just queuing solo and I have to say, Secret World Legends' PvP is the weirdest MMO PvP I've ever seen. There is currently only one map/mode, which is understandable since they had to prioritise which content to port over first, but it's a 10v10 deathmatch where you are randomly split into "sun team" and "moon team" regardless of faction and it's always over in the blink of an eye. Seriously, I've had matches that lasted less than a minute and I think the longest one I saw was about two minutes? The wait time in the spawn zone is usually longer than the match itself. The funny thing is that it's still quite popular and pops very quickly, simply because for a single minute of effort it's very rewarding. However, running in and hitting a few abilities before falling over dead just doesn't really feel like proper PvP to me.

In the first half of August, the game held its first big event, which was a bit of a mess to be honest, as it consisted of nothing but a 40-man raid boss fight that you could repeat once an hour, which wasn't even very well done. For a game that hinges so much on story, it was very surprising that there was absolutely none connected to the event, not even a text message from your faction leader to tell you to check out what's happening. I heard veteran players say that there was more to it in the original Secret World, but that Funcom clearly couldn't be bothered to rewrite that stuff accordingly and port it over, which is a shame.

The boss fight itself was also decidedly meh. Clocking in at about 20 minutes per kill initially, it mostly felt tedious more than anything else, but it was also full of terribly unintuitive mechanics. Like an NPC yelling "We must reach the next platform", which you are supposed to interpret as "jump off the edge into the abyss to get teleported above your current location". Also, some people need to do this before the actual audio cue in order to kill an add. But not too many or they won't receive a shield and die. Got it? The cherry on top was that the mechanics were buggy on the first day and didn't actually hurt. So when Funcom hotfixed this on the second day, I went in and died eight times during the fight, confused about what was going on since I wasn't doing anything differently compared to the previous day. Good times. Since we persisted, we found that it did get better over time though, whether it's because Funcom tweaked the numbers or everyone just got better at handling the mechanics. By the end most attempts were down to taking "only" 10 minutes and I even managed to not die at all during some of them (heh). To give credit where credit is due, some of the rewards were quite nice. For example I got my first custom sprint animation this way.

The Halloween event that followed featured a similar boss fight, which wasn't nearly as deadly fortunately, and there was a thematically fitting investigation mission too. Apparently former Secret World players were still disappointed however, as the previous version of the game used to contain a lot more Halloween content. I do like the way they handle the daily login rewards for these events, giving players some leeway so they won't miss out on anything good if they miss a day or two, and allowing the boss-related goodie bags to stack up so you can save them for the weekend or whenever you actually have time to work on unlocking them all.

By Christmas we were already only logging in for the seasonal event, and the associated boss fight had descended into complete tank and spank for some reason, which didn't really make sense to me as I thought that they had found a pretty good balance in terms of difficulty and mechanics with the Halloween boss. This newest fight never took very long but was incredibly boring. Still, at least I got a jumper and a woolly hat out of it.

I really wanted to give Funcom some money eventually, since I was clearly enjoying myself enough to make it worth it, but like with Neverwinter at the start, I struggled to find anything that I wanted to buy. Like Neverwinter's VIP, SWL's patron status is definitely a nice perk to have if you are focusing on the game above any others, but for the casual player, it just doesn't offer very much. Faster quest cooldowns are irrelevant if you only play once or twice a week anyway, and the extra skill points assume that you actually have an interest in filling out all the different weapons - if you are happy with the ones you picked at the start, the points you gain as a free player while levelling up get pretty close to maxing those out anyway and nothing else is really needed.

Also - and I never thought I'd say this about any MMO - Funcom really need to get their act together and create a proper store interface. Microtransactions are part of the game and here to stay - not having an actual store where you can see everything that's for sale doesn't change that, it just makes it super awkward for people to just casually browse. Basically, you only run into prompts to pay when you click on certain interface options (such as to expand your inventory), which makes it hard to compare which of these purchases might be more worthwhile than others. Pets and mounts are only available as a long list with tiny icons and basically have to be purchased sight unseen - no, thanks! In the end I just splurged on some inventory upgrades and faster sprinting, which is the kind of purchase with which you can't go wrong.

While we strictly speaking didn't fully finish the existing story, we did complete the vast majority of it, and by the end we were starting to get a feeling of being ready to move on. I'm hoping that an actual new story drop might remotivate us to log back in. (This just in - the story will be going to South Africa in April, ooh!) It reminds me a lot of the way I often see people talk about SWTOR: "Great to play through the story solo/as a duo, but I have no interest in the endgame." All the PvE group content I tried seemed good fun, but like in Neverwinter, I just find the grindiness of the gear progression too off-putting to want to bother with it. Also - unlike with Neverwinter - we didn't succeed in getting any of our guildies to develop any kind of enthusiasm for the game in order to allow us to run group content with a full pre-made group. While fans of the game frequently cite the horror setting as a selling point, my own experience is that it's just off-putting to a lot of people.

I also think that Secret World Legends is somewhat lacking in other endgame areas right now, such as only having one raid. And how can you have a dedicated PvP community when you only have one map and it goes like I described above? It's telling that this still hasn't been changed after nearly six months of this post sitting in my drafts folder, even though other modes existed in the original Secret World. Still, the bottom line for me is that we got many long play sessions out of the story, and if they actually go ahead with releasing more of it now, we'll be back to check that out eventually. Can't complain about that.


KotET Chapter 7 Master Mode

This chapter was an interesting one to play through on master mode. There is very little trash on Nathema (just a couple of small pulls inside the sanitarium), so all the challenge comes from defeating the four (mini) boss fights the chapter features. None of them are easy, though nothing's quite as bad as chapter two.

The first challenge comes from the pair of Horizon Guards you have to pass on the way to the facility, just after crossing a bridge. On my Scoundrel I actually just stealthed past them, but that felt a little cheeky, so I gave the chapter another run-through on my Sorcerer afterwards, so I would have something to say about the encounter. I remember back on veteran mode I was a bit confused about why I ended up fighting more than two guards in the end and blamed this on them bugging out after being knocked off the bridge, but this time around I could see that after the first two die (regardless of how), another pair actually spawns in and puts you in combat right away, because apparently two gold mobs immune to crowd control at once weren't bad enough!

Still, with a knockback even that remained relatively easy... I only killed one of the guards the old-fashioned way, the other three all died to being knocked off the bridge/nearby cliff. I think that either stealth or a knockback are the way to go with these. I have no idea how you would tackle this fight as a Vanguard or Powertech though.

The Horizon Captain at the door is undoubtedly the hardest boss of the chapter, but can once again be dispatched easily if you have a knockback by simply running him towards the side of the cliff and punting him to his death. On my Scoundrel I had to kill him "the hard way", but that too was eventually doable.

His most dangerous ability is Mass Affliction, which hurts like hell and needs to be interrupted/cleansed every time. Overload and Thundering Blast can easily be dodged, and simply try not to stand on top of your companion whenever you get Force Imbalance on you. What makes the fight really tough in my opinion is that on top of all this, the Captain's basic melee attacks hit really hard. When you find your health dropping too low, you'll just have to resort to kiting him for a bit to give your companion time to heal you back up. Fortunately he's not a particularly fast runner.

Up next is a duo of Twisted Experiments. I found that if you wipe to these by the way, you'll respawn behind a locked door - you'll have to exit the area and then go back in to find it opened again. Fortunately here one of them can be crowd-controlled while you kill the other one off, and both of them are susceptible to stuns as well. Use what interrupts you have as well as those stuns to burn through their health quickly, and then kite the rest of the way. Once again, their basic melee attacks just hit too hard to withstand them without cooldowns (plus if you can't interrupt, they'll spawn puddles of corrosive goo on the floor that you need to move out of).

The Corrupted Vault Guardian is probably the most interesting fight of the chapter. On a basic level, he keeps covering the floor of the room in "Morass", which never goes away so if you're too slow or just bad at manoeuvring him, you can end up with bad stuff everywhere and nowhere left to go. Obviously interrupting that cast to buy yourself more time is useful, but you can only get it every so often.

After he's channeled Unleashed Rage, it's best to just kite him around for a bit, as he'll hit three times as hard and reflects damage. Shortly afterwards he tends to "resist the void", which is a brief "burn phase" when you should do as much damage as possible. Towards the end he also starts to do an AoE stun every so often which throws everything off kilter a bit, but you've just got to get through that somehow. Don't be afraid of using your stun breaker!

Throughout all of this, companion micro-management is key, to prevent Lana from running into the puddles of bad or trying to attack the boss while he's enraged.

For what it's worth, I actually found this chapter strangely enjoyable to replay on master mode. It's probably just a tad too long to be an efficient CXP farm, but it feels relatively short and while the fights are hard, they reward tactical play and aren't hampered by too much randomness.


Coming Conquest Changes

While I was initially a little underwhelmed by what the last road map had to say about changes to Conquest, Eric Musco had some details to add this week which piqued my interest. Yes, the UI will be reworked, but there will be more to it.

The following four changes seemed the biggest to me:

1) The planetary leaderboards will become meaningless except for the number one spot, which will still earn you the corresponding achievement and title. Beyond that though, guilds won't really compete against each other for the rewards anymore; instead they will just have a "guild target" to beat in order to earn rewards, in the same way the personal target works.

This mostly sounds good to me, though I'm also a little sad to see the competitive aspect go away for everything but the top spot. I remember some fun times fighting against other guilds for one of those coveted top ten positions. On the other hand, it kinda sucked if you were suddenly pushed down into 11th place shortly before reset (and it's not like you could see it coming, since the score of the guild in 11th place wasn't displayed).

2) No more invasion bonuses. Previously, the invasion bonus was the main reason that some planets were much more highly contested than others - those that gave multipliers to several popular activities were obviously more desirable destinations than a place that only boosted your points earned from GSF for example.

However, all planets will not become equal: Some will offer higher "guild targets" as described above, with better rewards, and some will have lower targets with smaller rewards. Apparently the idea behind this is to encourage bigger guilds to compete with other big guilds and smaller guilds against other small ones.

I have kind of mixed feelings about this. I think that in combination with the new guild target system, it's a good thing that there will be different things to strive for for guilds of different sizes. However, I don't think it will make any difference in terms of competitiveness... after all, Bioware is removing all competition from the overall leaderboard anyway, which only leaves the top spot to fight for, and I see no reason for that to not still go to a large guild most of the time. After all, if you're going for the title, you're probably not that fussed about the size of your weekly reward anyway.

3) Conquests also won't be on a schedule anymore (except for those that are tied to specific world events). Instead the events will be randomised so that people can't stock up and pre-craft for certain weeks by the thousands anymore. I sort of get the logic behind that, but on the other hand being able to prepare for Total Galactic War for example was one of those things that could make a real difference to a small guild. I guess we'll see how this one shakes out in practice.

4) Finally, your personal conquest multiplier won't be tied to how full your strongholds are anymore. Thank god! To be honest the connection between those two systems has always been awkward and forced... though Bioware isn't getting rid of it entirely; instead the bonus will be based on having a certain number of strongholds fully unlocked. Still, at least that's a lot less annoying.

Even Eric himself joked about how now people won't have a reason to fill their strongholds with chairs anymore. In my guild we were more prone to "poster puke" instead, plastering the walls with those free trophies you get for beating certain bosses in flashpoints and operations. I did it once, on Nar Shaddaa, and then felt vaguely dirty about it, so I didn't repeat the process in my other strongholds and just learned to live without a full bonus. Going forward my scores will be fully boosted anyway, woohoo!

Some smaller changes also on the list are:

The conquest UI showing an internal guild leaderboard. You could already look up this information in the regular guild window if you wanted, but I guess having it more prominently displayed will put those people working hard on the guild's score more into the spotlight and maybe encourage others to chip in as well. Seems nice.

Conquest objectives will now also reward things like XP and credits. That one seems kind of redundant to me because most of them are activities that were already rewarding those things anyway. It just seems like a little overkill? Not that I really mind though.

Objective points have been rebalanced, and in addition to one-time and repeatable, there will also be daily objectives now. The latter change sounds really good to me, because that was something that I always thought was missing from the system.

Either way, it remains to be seen how these changes will ultimately play out. To be honest I'm a bit worried that they'll get me interested for two or three weeks and then my interest will drop off again because working on Conquest on top of my other everyday goals is too much effort for too little reward. Then again, if it was so easy that you could do it automatically, what would be the point? I'm curious to see how it will change the feel of Conquest in any case.


From A Distance

If you've taken a closer look at some of the screenshots and videos that I've posted here over time, you may have noticed that they are always pretty closely zoomed in on my character. Or maybe you didn't notice because that just struck you as normal. However, I've certainly noticed while watching other people's boss kill videos and the like that my perspective was unusually close in comparison to theirs, with others frequently being zoomed out to the point where their character becomes little more than a tiny speck on the screen.

This wasn't really a conscious decision on my part; it's just that I've never felt the urge to fiddle with the default UI too much, so I had never felt the need to change the camera's maximum zoom distance either. Until recently that is.

Reporting on my guild's ops "progression" lately is kind of awkward, because we haven't killed anything new in quite a while (not counting story mode of the new Gods from the Machine encounters); we just rotate between wiping on different bosses depending on people's frustration levels with any particular boss.

Most recently this brought us back to Revan in hardmode Temple of Sacrifice, where we are now up to the point where we can pretty consistently reach the third floor of the encounter, at which point we usually die. The thing with this part of the fight is that it features a mechanic that isn't seen anywhere else in the game: Your character has to "look at" (in the sense of turning to face) a number of purple circles called aberrations in a certain order and at a certain time, else you get affected by a powerful knockback that throws you to your death.

The thing that struck me after a few failed attempts at this was that my limited field of view made it literally impossible to deal with this mechanic, because I couldn't actually see all the aberrations (which is required to know which one to turn towards). So it was time to change my settings.

Turns out that by default, the maximum camera distance is only 19% (of what, I'm not sure). Cranking that up into the eighties changed my view of the world... quite literally. At first I actually found it somewhat disorientating when it came to judging distances, because everything seemed to be much further away than it usually was, but I got used to that relatively quickly.

Since then I've done different content with this expanded field of view too, and it's definitely made me thoughtful. For example the sisters fight in Gods from the Machine feels that much more manageable! This one was certainly not impossible to do with a more limited field of view, but keeping track of the coloured beams is certainly much easier when you can see them coming from much further away.

PvP was another area where the change was very noticeable, especially when it comes to things like enemies sneaking up on a node from the side. It's made me wonder whether I previously must have seemed quite daft to some opponents for missing something "obvious" that was going on outside of my much more limited field of view.

Yet at the same time, there's a part of me that remains somewhat uncomfortable with the change. I like seeing my characters properly, damn it, not just during cut scenes, and being zoomed out to the point where you barely feel connected to them anymore certainly doesn't help with that. Are being a raider/PvPer who wants to see as much as possible to strategically optimise their movement and being someone who wants to feel immersed in the world and connected to their character just naturally at odds with each other? Discuss.


Best of Pugging with Shintar

Did you enjoy my Pugging with Shintar series? Did you like the concept but maybe weren't up to watching all the full 30min+ episodes? Or do you have no idea what I'm talking about? Either way you should watch this Best Of compilation because it contains all my favourite moments from six months of pugging and it's funny. You can tell that I worked hard on it because it's the first time ever that I bothered to create a custom thumbnail for one of my videos!

I actually meant to have this ready much earlier already, but then I decided that I should really re-watch all episodes in full to make sure that I didn't miss anything instead of purely relying on memory to find all the bits I wanted to include, and that ended up taking longer than I had hoped. But here we are now!

To give this post a bit more meat, let me also give you some random video statistics for the series so far:

Most viewed: The most viewed episode is Episode 1: Watching Cut Scenes in the Esseles with 152 views, which makes sense in so far as it's the first of the lot, so if anyone finds the title of the series intriguing that's where they'd start. Considering that there's a huge drop-off in views when you get to episode 2 however, I fear that not many viewers found it that convincing! (To be fair, it having been my first try, episode 1 wasn't that great. But things got better!)

Interestingly the episode with the second most views is the very last one, Episode 30: Pug Interrupted in Traitor Among the Chiss. I'm guessing this might have been due to me managing to release that one during the week when that flashpoint first came out, so people were interested in seeing what it was like in general.

Most liked: That would be Episode 26: Thinking About The Future in Assault on Tython with 9 people having given it at the thumbs-up, and to be honest I have no idea why! In my opinion that was one of the more boring episodes, with a fairly uneventful veteran mode run and me just speculating about what SWTOR might be doing with its (then) upcoming group finder revamp, and pretty much all of my guesses turned out to be wrong anyway. Do people just like hearing about that kind of stuff?

Most commented on: That would be Episode 11: Sentinel Silliness in Battle of Rishi, which got a whopping five comments, mostly by people expressing their love for Sentinels. That was also a really good episode in my opinion though, easily in my top five due to the funny group I had.


KotET Chapter 6 Master Mode

So, to start with, a fun little story: While playing through these higher difficulty chapters I've pretty much always only ever played one chapter at a time. I sometimes did several in a day, but always with at least a short break in-between, so that to get back into the story I would end up re-selecting the difficulty I wanted to play on and starting the selected chapter from the chapter launcher.

Except when my Scoundrel reached "The Dragon's Maw", I went "yay, my favourite chapter" and decided to play through it immediately after completing chapter five, without interruption. The first half of the chapter obviously stays the same regardless of difficulty, but once it came to combat I was surprised by how easy everything was. Then I completed the chapter and no achievement popped up. Bug?

It was only later and through some experimentation that I learned that if you have your "preferred difficulty" set to something other than what you are playing right now, transitioning from one chapter to the next will automatically change the difficulty to what you have set as preferred instead of continuing on the same setting you chose when launching. So since I had never bothered to change my preferred difficulty from story to master, I had just accidentally played through the whole thing in story mode without even realising it. D'oh!

I was kind of paranoid that replaying the chapter right away, before actually having completed the story, might lead to something getting messed up so I decided to get caught up on this missed master mode chapter on an alt.

First I tried on my Marauder, who's already completed the whole story. However, after going through the whole puzzle section yet again I immediately hit a dead end in the very first fight, the one in the rancor pit. I honestly have no idea how you're supposed to do this as a melee class. If I didn't start the fight with a strong damage reduction cooldown, I would literally get one-shot while leaping into the fight. I would die in mid-air before even hitting the ground at the rancor's feet; it was ridiculous. I made a few half-hearted attempts at kiting, but with a minimal number of ranged attacks I just did too little damage and couldn't keep aggro off my companion, by which point everything would always go pear-shaped pretty quickly. In the end I decided that it was probably a better use of my time to redo the puzzle a third time, but this time on a different character.

I ended up doing so on my Sorcerer, who I'm also taking through KotET right now so that she can see Andronikos' return, and soon to come Ashara's. As a ranged class, the encounter was relatively straightforward: You just stay as far away as possible the entire time, while kiting "Junior" around the edges of the pit and interrupting his attempts to "get snacks" as much as possible. Oh, and definitely do the Bergola bonus so you don't have to fight the doggies and they help you instead.

A guildie commented to me that he got stuck on this fight even as a ranged class because his interrupt cooldown is too long and the rancor kept eating Indo Zal. To this I have two solutions: First off, Junior is susceptible to stuns, so you should be able to replace at least one interrupt with a hard stun if required. Just as importantly though, as far as I could tell the rancor seems to like going for whichever prisoner is the closest "snack" and there is no punishment for letting a couple of them die, so just make sure while kiting him around to also keep him as far away from Indo as you can.

The other big fight of the chapter is Arcann, or as was the case for me here, the Horizon Guard Forces with a reformed Arcann by my side. This fight was interesting because there is actually a lot going on. For all I know most of the mechanics might exist in story mode as well, but I never really took the time to notice because on story mode my strategy basically consisted of pressing all of Arcann's special abilities once and watching the enemies fall over dead in seconds, before I could even realise what was going on. Master mode is not that easy.

In fact, my first realisation was that it really made me wish that SWTOR allowed you to have more than one focus target, because I found it very hard to keep an eye on what the Horizon Guard Captain and Arcann were doing at the same time, but you kind of have to. I actually had more wipes on this fight due to Arcann dying than to my own character going down.

In the end, what helped me to victory was understanding both Arcann's and the Captain's abilities, as well as a bit of luck I guess. After so many wipes with no visible progress I was in fact close to giving up for the night when I suddenly got the kill without being conscious of doing anything different compared to my previous attempts, though rewatching my own recording has given me a bit of an idea.

What you need to know about the Guard Captain is this: He starts the fight with a shield on that makes him immune to absolutely everything. The only way to get rid of this shield is to use the first of Arcann's abilities, called "Guard Break" on him, which will remove the shield and make him vulnerable to damage, stuns etc. However, he can recast this shield (though the cast can be interrupted), at which point you will have to use Guard Break again to be able to start damaging him again. In general, the Guard Captain casts way too much crap for you to be able to interrupt all of it, and to be honest I couldn't tell you for certain which casts are better or worse to interrupt. Suddenly being unable to damage him because he re-shielded is annoying, but so is being swarmed by hordes of summoned skytroopers or extra Horizon Guards. Seriously, everything this guy does just sucks!

Keeping Arcann alive can be tricky even as a healer (as I was) and even though he has a load of health, simply because there is so much damage going out. The key ability to watch out for is his third one, the Attuned Reflection Barrier. While this is up, he's not only immune to damage but also reflects all damage done to him! Awesome! That he can't move while this is up is such a minor drawback that it's hardly even worth mentioning. Issues you're more likely to have are that Arcann starts melting the moment the barrier goes down (as you can't have it up all the time) or that all the reflected damage in the world does you no good if the aggro is actually not on Arcann but instead on you or your companion.

Now, as I mentioned I was actually kind of surprised when I finally did beat the fight, so I don't have a perfect strategy to give you, but here are a few things I noticed and that seemed to help:

- Using Arcann's AoE taunt (Commanding Roar) followed by the reflective barrier is a good way to start, but they are on different cooldowns and things can get confusing after that. Try to resist hitting the taunt if reflective barrier is still on cooldown, even if you're being bugged by adds, as all of them going on an unshielded Arcann can lead to a quick and sudden death.

- Keep an eye on the Guard Captain, and if he does get his immunity shield back up, don't miss this! Immediately tell Arcann to use Guard Break on him again.

- Don't worry too much about the adds. Ideally they should burn themselves down on the reflective barrier, or you can deal with them after the Captain is dead. He is your primary target however; never forget that. Since I was relying on Theron to dps, I also had to tell him to re-focus on the Captain once his shield went down, otherwise our favourite former SIS agent has a habit of getting distracted by trying to shoot adds.

- You want to go for a quick burn here, as the more time passes, the more awkward casts the Captain will get off. I actually invested in about thirty levels of companion influence for Theron as well here to get his dps up a bit. My biggest surprise on rewatching my own successful attempt was that the Guard Captain went down in less than sixty seconds. It sure felt longer than that with how much was going on at the time, but if it had actually taken any longer, I probably wouldn't have succeeded.


World Events Revisited

A couple of weeks ago the subject of world events came up on the official forums and drew enough attention to garner a dev response. The original poster pretty much asked for most events to be on all the time because "what does it matter", and to my great bafflement the dev response was that this sounded like a good idea. If an event is always on, it ceases to be an event and becomes just another daily area or whatever content the "event" previously consisted of! Limited availability is part of the appeal.

Thinking about it some more however, this does seem like a natural evolution of the attitude many MMO players have displayed towards limited-time events for years.

At first they were completely unique, once-in-a-lifetime occasions. I thought these were fun! But people complained if they happened to fall on a week when they were on holiday, and the devs were accused of "wasting time" on things that were only temporary.

So we got events that were designed to be repeatable instead, though there was still a certain sense of mystery because the length of time between different iterations was initially unknown. Again, people complained that it took too long to get the rewards they wanted and that they couldn't make plans to continue working on a reputation or quest chain they wanted to complete.

This led to things being put on a semi-regular schedule, which got quite boring. So now people complain that there's no point in having events at all.


I will admit though, that for someone who does like events, including their limited availability, I haven't actually participated in any of SWTOR's in quite a while, exempting the occasional Xenoanalyst kill maybe. Being as into the game as I am, I always jumped in feet first when a new event was first introduced and did all the things, every day and on multiple alts. Remember that time I got all the Bounty Contract Week achievements in the first week? By the second or third time I might still go back to finish off a stray achievement or something, but after that I mostly stopped caring, especially as Bioware has rarely added new content to events like these, only more rewards you can buy from a vendor if you are so inclined (which I rarely am).

Something recently gave me a reason to give them another look though: my alts on Star Forge. (Yes, there is a second one now!) With their fledgling legacy and virtually no achievements, I find myself able to view everything with fresh eyes - not quite like a new player of course, but from a different perspective.

Relics of the Gree

It's one thing to know that this is the oldest repeating world event in the game, but it's another to really take in the fact that it was introduced back in 2012. That's a long time to do all the things and get bored. Ironically, I'm still lacking a bunch of the achievements on my main server, simply because most of my interactions with the event took place before the achievement system was actually introduced.

It had however been a long time since I last did the dailies, and I was kind of pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable they still were (and by the fact that there's a weekly mission now. I don't remember there being a weekly back in the day. Or am I going mad?) Back in the day I remember having endless issues with the drops for the animal quest, but by now that all seemed to have been fixed. (Or maybe it was only fine because I was running solo and my problems back then seemed to be related to doing the mission while grouped.) It's a very tight little quest area that feels busy even with a relatively small number of people in it, and to be able to summon that last elite beast I always had to run in circles for a bit to find a free spot. Finding people to group up with for the heroic was also always easy. (One person even recognised me from the blog when I LFMed in general chat! So famous.)

The overall logic of the zone has suffered from the introduction of PvP instances though. The southern half of the ice shelf, which used to be the dedicated PvP zone, feels a bit pointless now and basically just prevents you from summoning a companion for no reason. Doing the heroic mission down there was originally designed to be a bit easier to make up for the risk you took by flagging for PvP, but nowadays it's just easier to go there, period (assuming you weren't planning to summon any companions to help you out).

Unlike for example the quest to find the Outlaw's Den that you get from the terminal on the fleet, the old Gree PvP missions have also been adjusted so that they actually require you to enter a PvP instance to complete them. I did so once just to see what it was like and got killed twice (not much hope for a lonely healer in greens). Nobody was spawn-camping people near the objectives though, so I got things done quickly enough, but I certainly had no urge to come back for more.

I wasn't too fussed about Xenoanalyst since it took me a few days to earn the required reputation to enter the Gray Secant anyway, but I was still a bit sad to not see any ops groups forming in general chat all week. This might have been down to me playing at off-peak hours for the server though. Also, when I went to look for the world bosses in the caves, there was no trace of either of them, so I guess someone must have been busy killing them.

Bounty Contract Week

This felt like the event that had changed the least, though the trip around the houses to complete each henchman or kingpin mission has been shortened fractionally by not having to go to your ship anymore to fly to different planets.

I was just a bit put off by just how easy all the bosses have become. The kingpins used to be a piece of work for two people back in the day but now die easily, and the henchmen die so easily that it's actually really hard to capture them alive! You basically have to set your companion to passive in time and prod them very, very carefully or they'll fall over dead before you've even realised what's happening.

The only thing that really surprised me was one time when I interrogated a shady character and he became hostile, after dying he did not drop a piece of intel! He only had a grey item called "corrupted piece of intel" or something like that. I never knew that could even happen! I swear in all my grinding out of the achievements I had never seen that before.

This event also made me glad that I had rolled an alt, as it feels quite limiting otherwise in terms of how much you can achieve within a day. For a levelling alt it's also not a bad amount of XP to run a henchman mission or two during the week! Assuming there are still people out there who find it hard to gain experience points somehow...

Rakghoul Resurgence

Vayne Verso from Twitter drew my attention to this one by complaining that it didn't feature level sync. I was like "What, really?!" and felt inspired to go look for myself. And he was right. For some reason the rakghoul tunnels have been immune to the spread of level sync everywhere else in the world, which is kind of ironic considering that the Eyeless was the game's first ops boss that allowed low-level players to participate by scaling them up (as far as I remember). It's not a big deal in the sense that you can still do most of the dailies and the weekly, using the same system that was originally designed to make the event accessible to people of all levels (by having low level mobs around that spawn reinforcements of the appropriate level as soon as you hit them).

But getting a group for the heroic as a lowbie is pretty impossible, as the mobs scale to the highest level in the group and you'll be pretty useless. Plus things like accidentally aggroing another person's mob can kill you. Both of those things were annoying but tolerable back in the day, but in 2018 there's really no excuse anymore.

I did have fun doing the heroic on my Commando though. That genuinely still felt like a [Heroic 4], which is saying something in this day and age.

It has been a long time since Bioware added a proper new world event (and I'm hesitant to count Soovada), and it would be nice to see them add more, but frankly even the existing events could do with some love at this point. Bounty Contract Week is fine as it is in my opinion, but the Gree event could do with a rethink of the Southern area and the PvP quests, and the Rakghoul event simply should have level sync like every other content in the game does now.

Don't turn any of the events on all the time though. Finding a group for an event that's only up for a week once every couple of months is one thing, but I imagine that things would look a lot bleaker if the population interested in participating was spread out over the whole year.


The Road Ahead to April

Keith treated us to another road map this week, though for some reason it wasn't posted as a feature on the main website but instead relegated to a forum post. It was also much shorter than either of his previous road maps, which gave the doom-and-gloomers yet more ammunition ("No information on what's happening after April? Shutdown imminent!") and seems to have left quite a few people disappointed. Me? I'll take what I can get.

I'm not going to talk about every single point mentioned in the forum post in detail, but four main subjects were covered:


Master mode Gods from the Machine has been officially cancelled! As a raider, I guess I should be saddened by this, but firstly I can't even beat veteran mode anyway, and secondly I've been predicting this pretty much since September, so I can't help but feel somewhat vindicated.

There was some confusion as Keith started off by stating that Izax (the last boss) would come in master mode only, which of course made everyone wonder how that was going to work with the rest of the operation. Then it was clarified that the fight was actually going to be veteran mode as usual, just really hard. You mean... like most of the operation? I just suggested the other day that they might as well rename the whole thing to master mode, you know...

There was also some talk about special rewards for people who'd be able to beat Izax within the patch cycle, which will definitely not include me. I don't mind Keith trying to court top tier raiders a bit; I just wish it hadn't come at the expense of mid-tier guilds like mine.


The third flashpoint that's part of the current storyline will come out in April, which means that this arc will finally wrap up after eight months. That's somewhat on the slow side, especially considering that the last time we had a story arc being told entirely through flashpoints (Forged Alliances), we got four of them in only half the time (four months).

Any rumours about the line that we would be returning to a place we hadn't expected to return to referring to Oricon were put to rest as it's been confirmed that this installment will be taking place on Nathema. I have to admit I was a little disappointed by that as I like Oricon more, and it would have felt like more of a big return to go back there since it's been a really long time since its release, while we had to go to Nathema only a year ago. Still, let more speculation about just why we're going back there abound!

Conquest Revamp

The long-predicted conquest revamp is apparently coming up in March, but it sounds less exciting than I had hoped - no mention of structural changes to make smaller guilds more competitive, just talk of more objectives, a new interface and new rewards. I mean, those are still good things and might help to reinvigorate my interest in conquest; I was just hoping for more.

One of the new rewards will be an item called the Commander's Compendium that will allow you to instantly boost a companion to influence level 50. The nice thing about reading this was that this item had recently been datamined and looked like it was meant to just go on the Cartel Market, but apparently that's not the plan.

I also have to admit that this is something I could actually see myself using. Most of my companions are actually at very low influence levels because it's a stat that doesn't really matter to me, but on the rare occasion when it does matter (such as in a master mode story chapter), it would be nice to be able to do something about it without having to click a zillion companion gifts. The downside of course is that this compendium is only a workaround for the tedium of the influence system instead of an actual solution to its issues. There still don't seem to be any plans to allow influence gains from a larger variety of sources (such as combat) or to add the ability to give a whole stack of companion gifts at once.


Loads of companion returns planned in the near future! The list for the next two months includes Akaavi, Ashara, Lt. Iresso, Mako and Vector! I was actually surprised by how excited I was to read this. I still haven't done the missions to get Andronikos, Corso and Risha back, but I'm working my way towards them and that's why I'm excited about these additions too. I've never been as enamoured with any of my companions as some people, but I did notice a few months after KotFE's release that having lost all my class companions did bother me.

More importantly though, I've felt that there's been little incentive to replay any of the more recent content on alts - but what better incentive is there than unique, class-specific content waiting at the end? I don't care if it's not long or particularly amazing - this is the closest we've come to giving the classes some definition since Shadow of Revan's class-specific vignettes on Rishi (which also motivated me to drag one of every single base class through that story).

As an interesting twist, Akaavi and Mako are slated to return together, striking an interesting compromise between limiting returning companions to their original class and making them available to everyone, as smugglers will now be able to recruit Mako and bounty hunters Akaavi. By the way, "Where's Mako? Torian knows (a little)" became the second most-watched video on my YouTube channel over time - after the road map announcement, I went and left a comment on my own video to point out Mako's imminent return. (You know that if I hadn't done it, someone else would have.)

There will also be content for one of our newer companions in the form of an Arcann romance. I've said in the past that he's come a very long way since KotFE, from a character I couldn't see anyone loving to a very changed man. I'm not usually big on companion romances in this game, but I've somewhat come around to the idea here and could see my Jedi knight going for it depending on how it plays out.

I'm also curious how they'll handle a romance coming out as a "package", as all previous romances were more about unlocking romantic interactions as an aside to the main storyline over time. Chaining three different cut scenes together during which you go from casually flirting straight to the black screen of carnal knowledge over the course of five minutes might feel a bit strange (to me, anyway. I know for others BSOCK is what it's all about.)

Other than these four main topics, there was mention of more subscriber rewards coming soon, as well as more "upcoming group content", which once again has people speculating whether this means more flashpoints, something entirely different, or whether Bioware is actually working on getting a whole new operation ready for release in one go after all the difficulties with Gods from the Machine.

Another thing that surprised me was this line: "As we look back to 2017 and now beyond the conclusion of the traitor storyline, we are planning to continue delivering content in the same manner throughout 2018." Keith then goes on to say that he's had feedback indicating that people want a more traditional expansion but that this wasn't the current plan. I had been utterly sure that they were already working on a "proper" expansion! I guess this doesn't mean that they won't decide to parcel up some of the new content and decide to release it as an expansion anyway, but at this rate we're unlikely to see anything like it any time soon.


KotET Chapters 3, 4 & 5 Master Mode

I decided that none of these needed a whole blog post of their own, so I might as well lump them all together.

Chapter three is probably the easiest and fastest chapter of the lot. It doesn't even feature a boss fight! Sure, there's Vaylin at the end, but she doesn't really count since you don't even need to win the fight to progress - like in the fight against Valkorion in KotFE chapter 12, your character's health dipping low enough works just as well to trigger the next cut scene - and as a bonus, with you being on the losing side, Valkorion's interruption actually makes narrative sense too.

The only somewhat aggravating thing about this chapter are the patrols in the corridors, especially the stealthed ones. On my Scoundrel I just skipped most of them, but I gave the chapter another run-through on my Marauder right afterwards and some of those pulls were quite aggravating, though somewhat surprisingly the one that annoyed me the most was actually the lone Knight of Zakuul that jumps around like a particularly hard-hitting bouncy ball. The best advice I can give to avoid frustration here is to simply take each pull as seriously as a minor boss and not be afraid of blowing all your cooldowns to get through each one. They'll come back up again quickly enough anyway, and otherwise you'll just be wasting that time getting downed and having to repair.

Chapter four is similar, with lots of trash and no real boss fights; there are just slightly more mobs. They feature fewer annoying mechanics, but some of the pulls are painful simply because they are quite large, and several ridiculously hard-hitting mobs shooting you all at once can end badly on occasion.

The only tricky thing is the fight near the end to defend your temporary base against the swarming purifier droids, but I already talked about that in my veteran mode post, plus that's the one veteran fight for which I had already uploaded a video too. Still, I decided to add the Scoundrel's point of view as well, just for the heck of it, even though I applied the same basic tactic to beat it. I actually found it a bit easier to just heal myself and dodge the red circles while my little companion army took care of killing things. Any fight where you're dealing with a lot of mobs but have several NPCs by your side seems to be quite well-suited to playing through it as a healer actually.

Chapter five starts off with some more annoyingly large trash pulls, but was otherwise also surprisingly unremarkable. I was wondering whether the fight to subdue the colossal droid would be challenging in some way but I just killed the things that were powering it and the boss never even seemed to land any attacks.

The fight where you control the droid yourself was still fun; the increased incoming damage just meant that I had to hit the ability to shield and repair pretty much on cooldown, but it still felt easily doable.

Now, Aries looked like he might actually present some challenge if you're a melee character, since he won't laser barrage himself on master mode, but as someone with range it was actually shockingly boring. I learned on my first (failed) attempt that trying to melee him was not a good idea as he then suddenly started hitting fairly hard. On my second attempt I stupidly ran off one of the sides and fell to my death. But the third attempt was super easy, just very slow and boring, as I simply ran circles around him, forever avoiding his laser barrage, and very slowly dpsing him down. The only times things got a little hairy was during the intermission phases (but even those weren't too bad) and when I suddenly lost aggro to Vette and he downed her within seconds. However, even that didn't even really matter that much because I could just res her and continue my little run-around.

I can already tell that chapter six is going to be more interesting, however...


Nahut, Scyva & A Little QQ

It's been a while since I last wrote about Gods from the Machine. Unfortunately my prediction from back then that my guild should have an easier time with Esne and Aivela's veteran mode than with Tyth's turned out to be wrong. I still think that we're better at executing a complicated dance than at adjusting to randomness on the fly, but in this particular case we ran into the issue of some people complaining that they had to pay attention to and react to so many mechanics that they found the fight overwhelming and frustrating. Since our primary goal is still to have fun, we decided to focus on other things for a while... and haven't really been back to serious progression attempts on the sisters since then, since we're still having issues with getting Tyth down consistently. Alas.

But hey, we got two new bosses in the meantime! Though the gap of four and a half months between the release of the twin sisters and Nahut was pretty shocking. Choosing a staggered release for the operation is one thing, but taking that long to make any progress with it at all is pretty bad, and I think it caused any enthusiasm that people had for the new operation to lose a lot of momentum. Heck, even Dulfy, beloved rescource for everything SWTOR-related since the game's launch, has stopped writing operations boss guides since, with the result that a large part of the community is still very confused about how the new encounters work.

First there's Nahut, the Son of Shadow. I thought it was interesting that in the little intro cut scene, you can actually hear Scyva urging him not to attack you - it's rare to see raid bosses show fear instead of bluster in the face of an approaching group of adventurers, but Scyva (rightfully) fears for her son's life after seeing you destroy her three other children. I do wonder how this whole parent-child relationship works with droids anyway...

Nahut is basically a ninja scientist robot, which really tells you everything you need to know. The fight forces you to deal with him striking from the shadows while a black hole forms in the middle of the room. It's a pretty cool encounter, but not lacking in a sense of humour either: there are multiple holes in the floor which allow for the classic "death by unexpected fall", which - to me - is a source of entertainment that never gets old, and you can also die to an ability called "Spaghettification". Originally I also thought that the mechanic to throw Nahut out of stealth by using a candle was pretty original, but since then I happened to see a video of the boss Cordana Felsong from a WoW Legion dungeon who seems to have a similar thing going on with a light that is used to dispel her stealth. I wonder if someone at Bioware plays WoW and got inspiration from that?

I haven't tried to take on Nahut in a pug yet, but compared to the previous two bosses, I'm kind of concerned about his pug friendliness. While the encounter isn't overly complicated, there are a couple of mechanics that can kill you instantly, which is automatically bad for pugs, and at the end there is a soft enrage timer as you run out of room to manoeuvre if you don't kill the boss quickly enough. While a guild has since gone ahead and posted a video of them beating the fight with only four people (half an ops group basically) I don't think that really counters the argument. You can see that it was still very close in terms of the dps check, and I would absolutely expect many people in a pug to do less than half of the dps of a geared and highly skilled raider.

Still, Nahut has nothing on Scyva. I've actually only seen her once so far, but it was still pretty impressive. Even the trash leading up to her requires some co-ordination to avoid being knocked to your death, and the fight itself is a crazy light show. I've heard people mention that there's some mechanic with gravity changes occurring at some point, but I couldn't even tell. During the one time I killed it, I ran with seven other people who'd done it before, but even they didn't seem to be sure what was going on most of the time, and instructions were limited to things like: "Now run around or purple circles will kill you!" From what I've heard around the community, even people in casual guilds (whom you'd expect to be a lot more organised than pugs) struggled to get her down on their first night. Unfortunately with this sudden lack of guides it feels like everyone has to figure things out by themselves. Though I did find that someone posted a guide on the official forums recently, but how many people even go there...

As far as veteran mode goes, I can't really comment seeing how we still haven't even got down Esne and Aivela. Though story mode being difficult to pug and veteran mode feeling more like master mode is giving me flashbacks to Shadow of Revan, and not in a good way. For those who weren't around back then, Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice were the first operations to release with a hardmode that was really more of a nightmare mode... with the result that middle of the road guilds like mine lost their "happy place" because story mode was too easy but "hardmare" was an absolute brick wall in comparison. I wrote a post about it at the time, and it's kind of frustrating to see Bioware make the same mistake yet again. Because yes, I do think it's a mistake to tune content like this, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if part of what led to operations being put on ice for so long in the first place was a lackluster reception of Ravagers and ToS based on their awkward difficulty.

I mean, at least with all operations scaling these days, we now have the option to go do something else if the new content doesn't offer a reasonable progression curve. But it also means that the new content is not being used! How many guilds have even killed Nahut and Scyva on veteran mode to this day? You shouldn't be able to count them on your fingers. If Bioware is still thinking about adding a third difficulty to Gods once it's completed, I think they should just rename the current veteran mode to master mode and insert a new, easier veteran mode between the two. Adding another difficulty on top of one that barely anyone plays as it is doesn't seem like a good use of resources to me.