SWTOR KOTFE – Acronyms Abound

Is it an MMO if there’s no grind?

Coming into any MMO where you need to clear older content before getting to the new stuff always brings a different perspective than everyone else who saw it before.  And I don’t mean leveling an alt here.  I’ve maxed enough characters in WoW to know head to toe every bit of content from Vanilla to BfA.  It does not get better the 10th try, I can assure you.

But in SWTOR, I had never completed the Knights of the Fallen Empire content.  I had started it and my hazy memory puts that somewhere near chapter 4 (of 16).  In the original launch, the first 9 chapters were released in a go, allowing you to set up a new base.  From 10 to 16, chapters were released every few months.  You filled up that time with a new Alliance system (faction based quests) and a new solo mode.  I can’t comment on any of that time sink system – I simply don’t need to do it to progress.  What I get instead is pure storyline.

Spoilers expire after a few years… so the gist of it is that the big bag guy from the baseline game (Vitiate) has super mega powers and took over another part of the galaxy.  From appearances, the leadership he had over there was deemed positive in the larger scale (yet oppressive in the immediate).  He had 3 kids (twin boys and a girl) and showed little affection.  Time goes by, one of the boys wants to strike his dad and ends up killing his brother.  You eventually show up in time to see another fight and kill the emperor.  Who then proceeds to haunt you while you’re stuck in carbonite for 5 years.

Let’s just say the setup is right up there with plausible Star Wars storylines ok?

As mentioned, chapters 1-9 are about you setting up a new base, finding new companions, and a footing around all the stuff going on.  10-16 are about strategic attacks, culminating with a rather interesting/epic boss fight.  The neat part in all of this is that a large chunk of player companions (across all classes) show up in the story.  Generally, it’s the more interesting of the bunch – Gault / Vette is one of my preferred combos.

There are a lot of cut-scenes and dialogue choices.  They all have varying effects on the story.  I never felt like I had to make a specific choice to keep the story going, I simply did what I thought was in character (Darkside Sorcerer).  It’s impressive how you can be merciless, yet also a decent leader.  There’s a couple major twists present that generally work.  Characters make choices based on their personalities rather than plot points – which is a MAJOR frustration I have with the recent SW films, Last Jedi in particular.  Scorpio in particular is a heck of a wrench in the light/dark conversation, and one that’s effectively adds a new faction to the game.

Mechanically the expansion is ok.  There’s very little in terms of character power progression (which plagues most MMOs), but since that’s not the focus I don’t mind.  There’s zero group content, making this a more social KOTOR3 than much else.  I still find FF14’s group constructs the gold standard.  I am 99% sure there were zero flashpoints (dungeons) added in KOTFE.  That’s a topic for another post though…

Having completed the entirety of KOTFE in about a week and not having to wait for the next expansion (Knights of the Eternal Empire) gives an overall very positive view.  The story is well presented and executed and a dramatic shift over what came prior. I never saw any grind or wait on content, which was great.  The lack of group content is troubling given that MMOs are meant to be social.

For now, I would recommend that anyone who hasn’t tried SWTOR give it a shot.  The main class quests (1-50) go fairly quickly, and still are quite relevant for half the classes.  KOTFE just kicks it up a notch.

Now onto KOTET.

Star Wars Kick

The only thing worse than coming back to a book after a weeks weeks away is coming back to an MMO after a couple expansions.  You have no idea what’s going on, things sort of feel familiar but new, and there’s a pile of plots points / items in bags that you need to clear out.  Getting back in Warframe was a kick in the teeth.  With both Fallen Order and Onslaught out, I figured I’d give SWTOR another kick.

To fall back, I had started KOTFE way back when, but only the first part and my interest had waned.  When the original launched, I was eyeball deep into the game, writing a ton of guides and simluators.  So I have a few level 50s standing around to tinker with, and I think some 60s given I had completed Shadow of Revan with more than one.  I opted for my Sith Sorcerer, cause Star Wars ins’t Star Wars without Force Lightning.

First job – figure out the inventory.  Since SWTOR offers a F2P version, I wasn’t “authorized” to use any single piece of gear.  More or less naked.  Took me a bit to figure out how to solve that through the Cartel, but done.  Then the bags.  I am a pack rat in MMOs, keeping things “I may need”.  I’m 90% sure this character ended up being a mule for the auction house, cause there was so much stuff he couldn’t use.  I ended up selling everything that wasn’t bolted down.

Second, figure out the skills and toolbars.  I don’t often use default UIs, and in SWTOR that is certainly the case.  Thankfully the UI layout is super modifiable, and after 20 minutes things were good.  Next up was figuring out the skills and rotation.  WoW feels like kindergarten compared to SWTOR’s text-heavy descriptions.  The actual rotations are simple, but figuring them out feels overly complex.  Added to this is SWTOR’s need to have combat nearly always be against groups, and the AE attacks are a different set of skills.  Took a few deaths, but I got it sorted out.

Third, what the hell am I doing?  Nearly all MMOs today have breadcrumb quests to get you in the new stuff.  Not here.  I knew KOTFE was the next step after Ziost, but I just couldn’t figure out how.  Not terribly player focused.  The main website didn’t have any information either.  A few message boards later and it seems you need a sub to get access to the content.  Fine.  60 days is $30, which should be ample to get through (and less than I spend on a team lunch that day.)

KOTFE

I had totally forgotten how jarring the KOTFE style was compared to the base game.  I see it as a huge improvement, much more in the KOTOR vein in terms of story telling, using the MMO toolset.  Somewhat similar to what FF14 does.  A noticeable gap here is the lack of group-based content.  This makes the odd time you see another player stick out.

In terms of storyline and presentation, this is really quite solid.  With all the Star Wars mania going on these past years, this feels like an adult wrote it to continue to world-space, as compared to the recent films which feel more like a tribute.  I’m not far into the story (act 6), but so far it’s sufficiently “epic” yet “personal”.

Forward

I tend to compare a lot between games.  Many of us do.  It’s hard to compare SWTOR to others, since the story-first lens is fairly unique.  Other games tell a story in the world, SWTOR builds a world to tell a story.  And that works.

I am curious as to how the social aspects will work out later on.  I know Onslaught added some bit, and changed the reward structure to a more “gatcha” model, but I’ll reserve judgment until I get there.

Right now, I’m quite looking forward to the journey.

Fallen Order Miscellaneous Tips

Yesterday’s post covered the general aspects of the game.  This post will cover more specific elements to assist with game play.

  • Play on Hard.
    • The default difficulty gives you the impression that an offensive style is manageable.  Go up one more and then you get a better gameplay experience.  It also allows you to actually use the in-game combos and look like a Jedi.
  • Explore away.
    • Exploration is the best source of XP
    • Branching paths have 1 primary and 1 optional.  If after a few minute you don’t find a dead end, or a ramp back to the original path, you’re on the primary path.
    • BD-1 drops off your shoulder to scan items – in particular after the first time you win a battle.  Pay attention since it’s a large XP boost.
    • Wall claws are the last skill upgrade you receive (Dathomir).  Once you have that, everything in the game can be accessed.
    • Chests only contain cosmectics.  Aside from your Poncho and BD-1 skins, you won’t really notice them.
    • Lightsaber crystal colors are fully unlocked after Ilum.
    • You cannot redo the final mission.  There are no chests, but there are scannable items you can miss.
    • Some puzzles can only be solved by using Slow.
  • Dual saber = faster attacks, lower damage, and continuous blaster bolt reflection.  Useful on slow targets and imp troops that shoot at you from a distance.
  • Single saber = slow and high damage attacks.  Fast enemies, or those with large defenses (bosses).
  • Find more stims.  I have 7x now, which makes a big difference in some of the tougher areas.
    • You can get 1 before leaving Bogano, and another quickly on Zeffo.  The others will require backtracking.
  • Parry is life.
    • Learn the timing.  If you get a perfect, time will slow and you can get in a free hit or two.  It will also stop the enemy’s attack.
  • Some skills are significantly better than others.
    • Force powers are only reliable when at a distance, and many tough enemies are resistant.  Slow is always useful.
    • Lightsaber Throw is crazy powerful.
    • Running w/ bolt reflection will let you close the gap on Imp troopers
    • Running attack allows for some solid damage, and likely some force regen since the enemy is blocking
    • Stance swap allows for long combos for high damage
    • Jump + ground smash is a good way to make some breathing room
  • Dodge sideways.
    • Many unblockable attacks are directed forward, so moving sideways will avoid nearly all attacks.
    • Once you get double jump, this is better than dodge.
  • The special troops (dressed in black) have crazy defense.
    • Two at a time is painful, use Slow to get in some free hits.
    • The dual blade bugger is especially annoying since he will easily break your defense, even with perfect parry
  • Identify targets quickly.
    • A fair chunk of combat is group based.  Take out the ranged attackers first, then the grunts.  Leave the tough ones for last.
    • Exception when fighting droids.  Take the out first and reprogram them to help you.
    • If the enemy is fighting themselves, let them sort it out.  The xp gains are minimal for combat anyhow.
  • Bosses require planning
    • They have red HP bars that can take a while to deplete, especially their ability to block
    • Large bosses should be taunted into attacking you by getting closer.  It’s best to counter after a parry/dodge than attack outright.
    • Exception if you have Lightsaber Throw.  There are very few ranged bosses (‘cept some bounty hunters) and keeping your distance will keep you alive.
    • The last boss is at a completely different difficulty level compared to everyone else.
  • If you are color blind, you are going to have a bad time.
    • Star Wars was originally white/black but is now red/green.  Bosses attack in red.  The final boss is fought in a RED ROOM.

Jedi Fallen Order – Quick Notes

Right, so the vibe heading into this game was more of a sleeper hit.  No one really expected EA to ever make a good Star Wars game.  Especially not one without a stupid amount of microtransactions.  Yet, here we are.  A good Star Wars game with no microtransactions.

So the meta of this game first.  Respawn developed it.  The company behind Titanfall and generally super strong in the multiplayer realm.  I don’t know how, but they delivered a really solid single player RPG.  This while they also launched Apex Legends.  Color me amazed.  Compared to what BioWare was able to launch with Anthem…I am somewhat confused as to how to address the EA giant in the room.  EA bad?  They certainly were, for a VERY long time.  They said single player games were dead… yet here we are.  Is this just an attempt for EA to keep the license?  Good attempt.

Fallen but not Forgotten

The game takes place after Order 66 but before Rogue One.  So we’re in the buildup of the resistance that lays the foundation for episodes 4-6.  You play as Kal Cestic, an apprentice Jedi trying to find a list of other force-attuned people, somehow magically locked away.  You visit various planets, fight some imperials and beasts, unlock some lore, and re-learn some lost powers.

The story line is ok.  You travel with 3 NPCs.  BD1 is a robot on your shoulder who beeps like you’d expect.  Cere is a renounced Jedi, who’s actions kick start most of the quests (and bad guys).  Geez is the scoundrel with a heart of gold.  So pretty much exactly what Ep 4 and 7 brought to the table.   The general story line explores planets that were only seen in passing in other stories.  A new force-sensitive race from thousands of years ago is the backstory.  It’s best to think of this as an excuse to explore and not think too hard on it.   I won’t spoil the last companion to join, but that one is the real wild card and the facial expressions are simply stellar.

Exploration is a mix of metroid, uncharted, and dark souls.  There’s a lot of interconnected maps that require upgrades to access.  There’s rope swinging, unlocking, puzzle rooms, and combat set pieces.  There are save points that cause enemies to respawn, and limited healing.  It’s certainly not required to go back to previous locations, but you do get a lot of cosmetic rewards for doing so.  They aren’t exactly stellar, since customising the grip on a lightsaber isn’t exactly something you’re going to notice moment-to-moment.  But they are there all the same, and the completionist appreciates it.

Combat is based on being reactive rather than offensive.  I will say the parry/dodge controls are well tuned, so even at the hardest difficulty, it’s possible to have near-perfect clears.  That said, there are times where the camera is your worst enemy.  Here’s the rub when it comes to lightsaber combat – this thing is supposed to saw through metal and rock yet a basic grunt can take 2-3 hits.  You can’t really argue realism in Star Wars, but it really does feel like a piece is missing.  I do feel like Dark Forces hit this one proper or even KOTOR, where you’d generally find a hard time against other lightsabers.  Meh.

The above video of Dathomir best exemplifies the exploration and combat mix, as it’s full of enemies that excel at lightsaber defense.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable game and one that succeeds mostly because expectations were so low in the first place.  I realize that’s a backhanded compliment, but after having played something like God of War, you quickly conclude that the bar for single player RPGs is very, very high.  It makes for an odd recommendation to purchase this from EA, but that singular act will hopefully show that this genre has more than enough gas in the tank left to remain sustainable.

And let’s be honest.  This game is likely going to be better than Ep 9.

 

 

Goal Setting at the Buffet

When I’m on vacation, I tend to swap between the buffet and sit down meals.  I really like a sit down… you take some time, have a conversation, food comes, you enjoy it because it was made for you.  Buffets are stupid practical when you have kids and are time constrained.  As an adult though, buffets give me a sense of anxiety.  There’s just SO MUCH STUFF, I don’t know where to start or end.  I tend to walk circles around, look at other people’s plates, then somehow end up with a plate of mexican/indian/local dishes.  Jerk chicken and curry?  It’s a weird mix.

Open ended games have a similar issue – so much choice.  Skyrim has a wide set of possible activities; you can level, explore, quest, increase factions, hunt secrets, go for achievements, craft, sneak, etc… Still, they are generally contained, and you’re not exactly presented with all those options from the start.  In that sense, you can’t jump from level 10 to 40 by changing locations – there’s a sense of progress.  The framing of those various activities is the main quest, with a final boss fight to close out.

The more I get back into Warframe, the more I realize that this is not the case.  There’s a framework of missions to unlock features, but it’s entirely posssible to max out your character after a couple hours of play – at least in the traditional sense of levels of your class.  Within a few more hours, you start unlocking more and more things to do.  I am going to drop a video that describes the TON of stuff (2:38 is where it goes off the list).

Each of of those is a separate system, with its own goals.  In nearly all cases, those systems interact with another system (or systems).  In many cases you are prevented from progressing in one goal until another system’s goal is achieved.

Warframe feels like a never ending buffet, and one without labels.  You could end up filling your plate with white rice, while being completely unaware that there’s a set of delicious canard confit a few steps away.  Worse, you could simply end up running around missions without any idea of what to do.

This lack of clear progress is both a challenge and its own reward.  WoW has a single primary goal, increase your ilvl.  Nearly every other system is based on this goal – pet battles, transmog, and toys are an exception.  It is very difficult to get lost on that path, and since there’s only one goal, people will take the easiest system to achieve it. (There’s a rant topic…)

Warframe has multiple large systematic goals.  Collect more frames/weapons, unlock more missions (to get more frames/weapons), complete quests (to unlock more missions), gain faction (to unlock more quests), max out frames/weapons (to increase Mastery), increase Mastery (to unlock more missions, quests, factions, frames/weapons).  It seems like an outright mess, and compared to nearly every other game out there it is.  Yet the amount of player agency here is astounding.

You want it to be a parkour simulator?  Sure.  A boss grinder?  Yup.  A social hub? Can do.  A cosmetics hunt?  Yessir.  Open-world exploration?  That too.  It’s a game that becomes what you want it to be.  The challenge, as with a buffet, is that it’s entirely possible to gorge yourself to exhaustion.

 

Warframe – From the Fire Hose

I’ve built, managed, edited, and used wikis for a stupidly long time.  Most gaming wikis have a lot of leaves, and only a small section of branches.  Leaves are pages where you simply “end up”, with very little information to have you go backwards.  Something like this Uskang page for D3.  It’s relevant, has the necessary info, and gets the job done.

Then you have something like Warframe, and it’s (ridiculous) complexity.  Here’s the Inaros page (a class), and here’s the Soma Prime page (a weapon).  You could spend days/weeks plumbing this wiki and still not have enough.

There are two reasons for this, and primarily is the above stated fact of game complexity.  EvE is the only game that comes to mind with more of it.  Now, complexity isn’t bad, if there’s a method the game takes to train/help the players.  This is the second issue, the game has a hell of a time communicating information.  The information in the wiki should be entirely available within the game… but good luck actually finding it.  For a small developer, this is a tough choice to make – simplify the systems/content and make it easier to get into, or have a really strong community that will help people out.  I do think the devs made the right call here.  The player expectation is that people don’t know what they are doing, which dramatically changes player expectations.   It’s entirely possible to get half way through the game and have no clue what’s going on.

Compare that to something like WoW, where the expectation in almost every group encounter is “go go go” and total group silence.  The game’s simplicity (excepting M+), makes nearly all group activities brain dead.  You can successfully fail Warfronts.

I’ll say the moment to moment portions of Warframe are fun (Archwing, less so).  The movements are quick, the controls are tight, and the large 3D spaces for combat are full of alternative paths.  In that sense, playing without a goal works, and consuming the map content is pretty straightforward.

Then you start hitting a few walls.  You need Mastery Rank to progress in some places, but what’s that?  The level of a planet is 27-35, but all your gear maxes at 30.  Why do your companions die so fast?  How are people able to bullet (torpedo) jump up 3 levels?  How do you wall run, shoot, and then keep wall running?  Why is the boss taking 0 damage?  How did I trip an alarm?  Why is the gate guardian here wiping the floor with me?  Where the heck do I find the parts to make this weapon?

The only way to get answers to that is the wiki, or video walkthroughs.  And then let’s say life gets in the way and you leave for a couple weeks.  There are very high odds that you’re going to forget an important piece of data and get frustrated because you should know this .

I am still amazed at the sheer volume of stuff found in this game.  Moreso that people have such a great grasp of it all, and that I feel like a pleb surrounded by gods.  Every gaming session, I come away with some new bits of info, and a few steps closer to my goals.  And a game without progress is no real game at all.

Warframe – Getting Back In

The wide majority of games are not persistent, so if you leave and come back, you have the opportunity to start from the beginning again.  Even those that are persistent usually let you do this (MMORPGs let you roll an alt).  This gives a chance to figure out the basics of the game, or rather, relearn them.

When you reload your main character, the gaps then are more specific.  Where are you in the story (some RPGs do a great job on this), what do the various skills do, and what are you supposed to do next.  Jumping back into an MMORPG usually involves dumping all things in the bags, adjusting the UI, and maybe relarning the rotation.  (I am assuming here that this is not something that’s easy to do in EvE.)

I jumped back into Warframe – a game notorious for it’s numerous systems and lack of handholding.  The “new player experience” is horrendous, but once you leave the first system things start to make sense.  For a planet, then it feels like the entire game opens up at once, and you need a physics degree to figure it all out.  I did that trial – figured it all out.  Then stepped away for other things and haven’t played in a year.

Holy moley, what a wake up call!  It took me 30 minutes to find a bullet jump.  I had to pause the game to remember how to change weapons.  I had to read the wiki to figure out how to use a scanner.  I forgot what each of my suits did (some are better on defense, others offense, others support) and was getting wrecked.  I forgot about mods, and what sets I wanted to use.  I forgot about enemy vulnerabilities (and what that matters!).

I got to the tail end of a specific mission (which I clicked on entirely by accident, yet started the mission) and had zero clue what to do.  I certainly voiced my frustrations out loud, and ended up failing the mission because I couldn’t figure out how to complete the next steps.

All that to realize that I need to re-learn and Reddit is kind enough to have a post for returning players.  Go-go community!

It will likely take me a week to get back into stride for Warframe.  It really isn’t drinking from the firehose, but from the actual fire truck.