SWTOR – Shadow Musings

I’ve loved stealth classes for a long time.  They work in excellent form for quick combat, but generally get weaker as the combat duration lengthens.  In WoW, Monks have pretty much replaced Rogues in that respect.  But it’s hard to ignore their benefit of group stealth for time-based challenges.

In my Republic playthrough, my current character is a Jedi Shadow.  By level 25, aside from a stealth button, there really isn’t much there that screams “I’m a shadow ninja and you can’t see me.”  I’d have to triple check when my toolkit from stealth actually has a purpose other than bypassing groups of enemies.

I’ve just finished the Nar Shadaa / Taris grouping, then the tiny ship event that follows.  I’m chasing a Sith that is infecting Jedi with some sort of mental plague, turning them to the darkside.  My secret weapon, which I learned at level 5, is to take their illness for my own – sucking the poison as it were.  I finally found the Sith, and now to chase him…

This is an odd storyline.  Why in the world would the Jedi Council assign one of the largest threats to its existence to an initiate?  When  you’re already short staffed and someone is poaching your team, I think that merits more than the rookie’s attention.

The story beats are all similar too.  Each planet you find a Jedi turned dark, complete some quests to finally meet them, then use the shield ability to cure them.  Feels like I’m a doctor running around giving vaccines.  Aside from the very final part (in the ship), there’s no tangible progress.  If I recall, that is a point for quite a few of the Act 1 class stories, yet in this case it seems really apparent.

I generally liked my companions on the Empire side.  Sure, some annoying ones but it worked.  Qyzen is the whole honorable warrior shtick.  It completely conflicts with the light side Jedi options though.  Tharan Cedrax is meh.  His own companion, Holiday, is where it’s at.  There’s something about the exploration of AI in the Star Wars universe that’s always been interesting.  The whole Iokath/SCORPIO line is where it’s at for me.

I still maintain that the leveling experience is jarring compared to later content.  Planets are large swaths of nothing, with the hub/spoke model that has side quests that are not at all near where your main quest points you.  I’m sure I spend 75% of my time on my mount getting from A to B.  If not for investment in Legacy Quick Travel, the trip from B back to A would be all the more annoying.  It’s more of a gripe though, since I’m able to clear an entire planet’s quest (class & planet) in about 90 minutes.

I’ve thought about doing multiple classes at the same time, enough to allow rested XP to get me to 50.  Good news there is that since every planet scales to my level, that’s not needed.  So off to Tatooine I go.

 

SWTOR – Time Travelling

By missing the middle part of SWTOR, I really missed out on the large changes in direction the game has taken over the years.  Sure, reading blogs helps keep somewhat up to date, but the details are generally glossed over.  I know Galactic Command was reviled, but without experiencing it, I can’t articulate exactly why.  Whereas I can at length and detail, describe why garrisons in WoW acted as a wrecking ball.

And to that point, SWTOR is a themepark MMO, and it’s judged in a similar vein.  How is the world built, how does the story flow through, are the classes interesting, does crafting have any merit, how many bears do I have to kill?  Each themepark takes a different approach to answering them, though in fairness SWTOR at launch tried to answer them by coping off WoW’s dev bible without understanding why.

I’ve gone over SWTOR at launch to a fair degree.  Bugs aside, it lacked a significant amount of social interaction, the worlds were open and empty, the classes lacked thoughtful design, and the game just ended at level 50.  Within a few months of launch, the game subs dropped by 90%, and the F2P model was applied (with absolute horrible mechanics).  Various attempts to salvage were applied, expansion packs and content at various degrees, and it’s in a relatively stable space today.  I’d argue in the west that SWTOR today is #3 after FF14 & WoW, though Daybreak may have a thing to say about that.  More to the point, dozens of MMORPGs have come and gone, and SWTOR is still kicking.  So ya to that!

Looking Forwards and Back

Having done the KOTFE/KOTET and the Onslaught storylines (or rather, the mandatory ones) I wanted to clean up some space in the legacy side.  I finished up my Sith Warrior’s storyline to get the entire Imperial story unlocked.  I also started up some Republic characters to see the starting areas once again.  Bear in mind, this is content that has never been retouched since launch (8 years ago!) and my mind is set in content that is current.  In WoW terms, that’s when Cataclysm launched and redid all the 1-60 zones.

The more recent SWTOR is focused, and designed with intent.  While Onderon may be a jungle planet, there are distinct areas to visit, and with a quick glance you can recognize your place.  Trainers are close by.  Transports are evenly distributed.  Quests follow a logical sense.

Compared to something like Corellia, where the zone is 4 times as big but has 10x less content.  Enemies are seemingly randomly placed, and the various objectives have you going to one corner, then another quite a distance away.  It’s like someone threw darts at a map on the wall.  Other planets aren’t much better.  Tython has you going through open spaces and over hills, plowing through raiders with no real rhyme or reason.  The world is artificially big, like it was padding for time.  Coruscant is a great example, in particular the sewer/power plant area which serves no actual purpose.  It’s just a wall of meat.

I can see the growth from KOTFE’s more linear structure through KOTET’s attempts are wider zones with clear paths.  The breadcrumbs throughout pull you along.  It feels like it respects your time more, with a narrower scope.  It forces you to do stuff rather than spend 75% of the time getting there and clicking an object, only to be told to go back to the starting point.

Always Forward

Every MMO hits a few crisis points along the way.  Some are caused by an individual, some by ignorance, some simply by accrual of bad bets.   FF14 took the trophy on that with the original launch, and since then has taken a very long term approach with every decision.  WoW looks only to the next expansion, and the lack of planning paints them into corners every so often.

I’m not sure how far SWTOR looks ahead.  I know KOTET was planned to be 2 expansions but due to feedback from KOTFE it was condensed to a single.  I would assume that episodic content in a similar style is in the cards.  From what I can see so far, it’s generally receptive to player feedback and course corrects where possible.  I don’t think it can really afford not to.  Moreso, with the Disney/EA partnership on Star Wars coming to an end, I’d expect that concrete roadmap plans are shared early in the new year.  Should be interesting.

KOTET Complete

That was quick.

KOTFE had 16 chapters, and a fair amount of exposition in each of them (cutscenes).  Generally, combat was an afterthought and minor padding.  KOTET seems like a general change in direction.  The story is there, but it’s a background to the combat.  It also contains vehicle combat (twice!) which rarely is a positive (here included).  There’s a fair chunk of deus ex machina (both figuratively and literally).

I think this is due to focus.  In KOTFE you were aiming to take down Arcann by small bites.  You’re like a mosquito, and only rarely provoke his direct wrath.  This gives writers a tremendous opportunity to grow the world out, and frankly they do a solid job at it.  Yet I gather than when this was recent content, the rate of chapters was too slow, and sometimes only chapters came out.  The horizontal activities stayed pretty much the same.

KOTET compresses the story in half, at least.  You are literally at Vaylin’s heels the entire expansion, and her lack of dimension (until the very tail end) makes it hard to stay invested.  The best villains are those who do the wrong things for the right reasons.  Vaylin does the wrong things for the wrong reasons – continuously.  Two high points however.  Iokath is a cyperpunk’s dream – and absolutely ripe for some solid stories.  Nathema is one of those force voids that we saw in KOTOR2.  The planet isn’t interesting, but I’ve always found that Darth Nihilus utterly fascinating.  The death of the force would be an interesting storyline.

The twist at the end was entirely expected, but still delivered with quality.  It was nice to see how the choices made throughout both expansions culminated in a final battle against a demi-god.  The mechanics of that fight were not very good, but the setting and style were a-ok.

Running both KOTFE and KOTET now that a new expansion is out provides a much different view of the content.  The MMO-grind portion doesn’t exist.  I didn’t even have to touch the Galactic Command system.

Other Systems

I’m thinking back to playing an alt in WoW and the vast amount of story content available.  Blizz’s leveling speed made all of that irrelevant, as there is not a single quest that gates expansion content, and all the gear you get gets replaced in the next 10 minutes (unless it’s heirloom).  It’s entirely pointless.

Playing an alt in FF14 is the opposite.  All content is gated through the main story quest, even most dungeons.  It keeps all the content relevant, but imposes a significant hurdle on bringing in new players.  What’s effectively a mandatory tutorial is dozens of hours long.  But you only need to do it once, since the one character – multiple classes structure

I realize that SWTOR is not FF14, in that the “end game” is an apples and oranges conversation.  Yet the path to the end game is very similar, with the exception of not having any group content.  This gets more complicated when you realize the amount of times you’d want to go through it.  2 factions (guild restrictions) and 8 classes each.  There are some tweaks in that the story progress is similar between the classes, but there’s enough variance in choices to make it seem like it’s unique to you.  In that sense, it does feel like replaying an RPG-lite game, multiple times.  And the whole level scaling portion allows for replays at any level.

Forward

Onslaught is next.  The bits I’ve played so far seem more like Bioware throwing shade at Blizzard for their atrocious writing in BfA.  High level summary so far:

  • You brought peace/dominance from the world’s largest army as a 3rd unified faction
  • Republic and Empire are still crazy and distrust each other (clearly shown in KOTFE/KOTET)
  • You pick a side to support with your 3rd party (I went Empire)
  • Bad guy from original launch comes back to help lead
  • You do bad things for good reasons.

This works because you didn’t get the faction leaders to work together at any single point in time prior – you simply aligned their interests.  The largest difference here is that YOU are the hero in SWTOR.  In WoW you are a spectator to other heroes.

SWTOR – Hindsight Nostalgia

From both Wilhelm’s post, and Shintar’s reply.

I wrote a LOT about SWTOR in the day – nearly 1/3rd of tagged gaming posts were about this.  I’ve always been fascinated by MMOs, and the Star Wars mythos has held a special place for many years.  When SWTOR was announced, I was giddy.  Even when the Lightsabers were 3x larger than normal.  I seem to recall the main pitch

  • The mystical 4th pillar of story
  • The feeling of a hero vs the masses.  Less busywork, more large scale fights
  • The ability to support a grey playtstyle
  • Applying lessons learned from other MMOs, with a focus on accessible content

I played beta from the first day until launch.  I submitted more than my share of bugs, I interacted with the devs, I wrote very long guides, I wrote DPS calcultors, I played a stupid number of hours and was one of the first folk to hit 50.

I was playing up until the massive server merges (90% population drop from launch) and go back maybe every 18 months for a look around.

Screenshot_2013-10-27_21_45_24_013160

Finally dead. (that is a busy UI)

If we consider an MMO launch to be the first 3 months after go live, then SWTOR was a massive failure.  It was riddled with bugs, the max level content was almost non-existent, the professions were broken, the social tools didn’t work, the loading/travel screens were ultra long, PvP wasn’t balanced, and the Hero engine clearly had issues.  The F2P conversion will certainly go down in history as the floor from which no other game could possibly reach.

Still, let’s cover those larger points – in relation to the game at/near launch.

The 4th Pillar

We were spoiled rotten with KOTOR 1 & 2.  Expectations were set for a multiplayer KOTOR 3.  I would say that Act 1 supported that notion… then it just died as the game grew on.  The planets and storylines from Act 3 onwards were very bland, and there was simply too much Darth Malgus.  The Imperial Agent class storyline was amazing, but that simply shone a negative light on most of the Light side classes.  It was somewhat clear that it was more than could be chewed upon.

The idea behind dungeon storylines was neat, but after the 10th run, you had memorized every speech.  It was a race to skip dialogue.  Which also impacted the overall replayability of a game.

Companion storylines were all over the map, some with really interesting backgrounds and other were just a background for your story.  I really like Khem Val, much better than Talos Drellik.  And Skadge… that guy didn’t work.  The issue here was that you had a primary companion that you enjoyed, and the others just sat there.  Very little dynamic between them.  And to unlock more stories from them, you needed to feed them with gifts.  Where Dragon Age and KOTOR always had 2 with you, this seemed like really cool idea that just didn’t pan out as well as it could have.

Do You Want to be a Hero?

The idea of being the savior of a galaxy is certainly intriguing.  The storyline certainly pushed that mind set, and the leveling content with class story quests was big on that idea (for most classes at least).  But it broke down with the masses.  How many heroes can there be?  It’s certainly better than green jesus in Cataclsym, or Yrel/Khadgar in WoD – as your character was essentially an assistant to the in-game heroes.

In terms of actual gameplay, this did work out for single player content.  Quite a few personal instances had you taking out a veritable army of opponents.  It felt epic.  Group content… that part was painful.  The Hero engine just couldn’t give the right amount of data to players to figure out what to do next.  Interrupt, move, defend, attack…it’s hard enough against 1 large foe – but 5 or more?  The enemies had to be down-tuned to trash mode.

I’ll compare to the depiction of Legolas in the LOTR trilogy.  His level of awesomeness in combat has nothing to do with his ability to react, but everything to do with his ability to turn enemies into fodder.  It’s almost pure offense.  We have that in MMOs.  It’s called AE grinding.  Never in Star Wars would you see a hero take on 5 enemies in a climatic battle.

All told, I think the system worked better after that realization came to pass.

Grey Playstyle

It was certainly possible to play a grey playstyle.  You were just punished for it, due to the MMO mechanics.  The best loot and power items were locked into deep alignment requirements.  This was probably the first bit of beta feedback I had, and the problem arguably got worse after launch with even more alignment-focused items were deployed.

So if you did end up playing grey for most of it, and wanted to swap, there was a fair bit of grinding involved.  I do think this system worked well, if you ignore the rewards handed out for alignment.  Especially if you turn off the light/dark visual cues for decisions.

Lessons Learned from other MMOs

When SWTOR launched, MMOs were in the transition from slog fests to games of convenience.  LFG may not have been the best thing for WoW but it was miles better than EQ’s version of finding other people to play with.  SWTOR had no real social or grouping tools at launch… or for 6 months after launch.

Alt support, through the Legacy system was pretty neat.  I think this was one of the few highlights from SWTOR that other games should have attempted to replicate.

Role balance for leveling was ok, but had some balance tweaks needed.  It wasn’t really practical to level as a healer with a tank companion.  It also heavily favored specific companions for leveling, even if you may have found another one more interesting.  The concept of any companion filling any role took a bit too long to come to fruition – but again this was due to the MMO mechanics getting in the way of the storytelling.

Travel took forever (loading zones!) and the zones with the most travel tax were empty (Illium).  While it was fun exploring Hoth, there were limits to the sanity of a player spending more time travelling to have fun, than the actual duration of the event.

I’d talk about crafting, but the less said the better.

Side quests were a near requirement for progress.  Which is fine, if those side quests have any merit.  They often didn’t, had horrible respawn timers, significant bugs, and moving from one area to the next was train city.

Stat balance was all over the place.  In nearly all cases, Alacrity (haste) was a downside as it certainly made you attack faster, but that caused your ‘mana’ to drain faster too – with no way to speed up recovery.  Ooh, this one brings back memories.

Player-driven story elements.  Remember that SWTOR triggered the shut down of Star Wars Galaxies, which was mostly player driven (NGE excepted).  People really wanted to set up their own piece of the large world, and SWTOR allowed next to no flexibility in that regard.

PvP had a really interesting mechanic where if you were sub-50, your stats were buffed to level 50.  The downside was that actual level 50 players had much worse stats – so it was better to be level 49.  PvP zones were randomized based on faction balance, and the only zone that allowed the same 2 factions was Huttball.  So PvP ended up being something like 90% Huttball.  I loved me some Huttball!  But PvP gear scaling, and pre-made groups really took that fun away quickly.

Sense of ownership.  At launch, the only piece that was yours was the spaceship.  Sure, everyone had one, but it did feel like it was yours once inside.  It took a long while to get personal quarters – and even then it’s not exactly intuitive or easy to make work.  Better than most other games mind you.

Overall

The biggest challenge for SWTOR was trying to be one game while delivering another.  It really wanted to be KOTOR 3, but was also clearly mandated to be a WoW copy.  For every risk it wanted to take with telling a story, it was shackled by the MMO construct of number-based progress.

It lacked the tools (Hero engine) and the experience (this is another long post) to build a real number-based MMO.  It needed a solid 6 months of more work before launch in order to iron out the bugs and build the social tools to keep people connected.  SWTOR today is a much different game, with many of those earlier mis-steps corrected.  It’s both unfortunate that it had to learn the lessons the hard way, and good that we still have it around.

SWTOR – Odd Incentive

Happy Holidays to start.  Hope everyone is having a good time.  My wife had been sneaking out for a month to work on a secret project and turns out she was doing some woodworking.  She made me a canoe oar from scratch, like the old voyageurs used.  Really friggin’ cool and amazing gift!

Over the holidays my play time is certainly down some, what with the family events.  That said, I have both my Sorc and Power Tech at 60 and wondering about what’s next.

SWTOR changed a bit in the last patch, where commendations were streamlined.  You swap ’em for gear and there are 3 types.  Basic, Elite and Ultimate.  How you get them is an interesting story.

Basic are what you get from leveling and daily quests.  There are 13 dailies on Rishi and Yavin combined, though you really only want to bother with Yavin’s 8 due to travel time.  You get 4 per quest.  Gear is worth 80, 100 or 120 per.  When I hit 60, I had about 950 in bank due to previous dailies/leveling.  Suffice it to say, I swapped into 186 gear pretty quick.  Then I started looking at going to 192 gear, which you can get from Elite commendations.  Here’s the rub though…

Hard Mode level 60 dungeons only award basic commendations.  Hard mode 55 dungeons give Elite.  The power curve between 55 and 60 is significant, such that 2 people can easily run a level 55 hardmode.  Sure, there’s the odd good drop at the end of a heroic but due to itemization and you already being at 186 in the dungeon, the odds are pretty low.  So dungeons are pretty much not worth anything right now.

Meaning all you have as group content is raids, which are on a weekly lockout.  I’m guessing this is a bug of sorts and a future patch will fix it.  In the meantime, I’ll be focusing on other activities.

Which for the most part means making credits.  I think I’ve made about 10 million since the expansion launched, across both the main players.  Artifice isn’t making much money, outside of farming due to the material costs of Midlithe.  Cybertech is raking in the money though.  That, plus finally maxing out companion faction (gifts) means I’ve flipped for a good profit.  It’s funny because I remember thinking that 1 million was a pipedream and here I am sitting pretty.  It’s a decent side diversion but I’m hoping for more.

SWTOR – Rishi

I took my Powertech through the Prelude quests and the experience was pretty similar to my Sorc.  Mind you, my Sorc has a pretty sweet AE attack and simple rotation compared to a Powertech, so it was more about finding a new rhythm.  New set of gear (BIG jump, from ~126 to 168ilvl) and 1.5 levels.  I think that’s the largest benefit from the prelude actually, since the first few quests on Rishi give you a new set of gear (complete with pirate hat).  1.5lvls in about an hour’s time is a nice deal.

Off to Rishi though.  Of interesting note, Rishi has class trainers, comms vendors, tradeskill vendors but no auction house or bank terminals.  Auction house, fine.  Bank though… that’s a really odd thing.  My bags filled up within an hour, easily, especially with an entire new set of gear to equip.  I looked high and low, no luck.

Perhaps this is the same on Yavin, but Rishi quests are a different mold.  Ignoring class quests, as I’ve only see part of one (and it’s cool so far), there are main quests and sub quests.  The main plot line is well acted and makes sense.  It’s fun.  There’s a lot of go over here, then come back, then go where you were but a little farther involved and that’s a bit less fun.  What with no transport to get there but your own feet.  Sub quests come in 2 flavors, dailies and one time shots.  Both don’t have any voice over, just a quest box which you hit accept on.

This is very weird.  Up until this point, every single quest (I’m sure there are near a thousand overall) have been voice-acted.  That’s 16 voices (4 classes, 2 factions, 2 sexes) per quest for you, then the NPC dialogue.  I had guessed at the investment required and wondering if it was worth it, in particular for those smaller ones that no one really cares about.  I mean, how much exposition do you need to kill 10 birds, right?  So, in the end, I don’t mind so much.  The quest text has the necessary exposition if you want it.  The quests themselves are incidental.  And if this helps Bioware release content on an accelerated timeframe, then I think it’s a fair trade.  No other game on the market does this, so…

I’m level 58 now, which I found out was a “skill bonanza” level.  Every so often in SWTOR, you reach a level where instead of having 1-2 skills to train you have 10.  Thank goodness it’s free!  I’m a few hours into Rishi, only the first subzone really, of what appears to be 4.  The plot is cool, I get to be a badass pirate and ruin people’s day.  There’s no skill changes that I’ve seen so far, just bigger numbers.  A new solo-flashpoint as well, which was extremely challenging, though for reasons unrelated to my skill.

The penultimate bosses, a male and female, jump in and out of this arena with an edge into a lava pit.  Of course there’s knockback.  Of course my companions will follow these two in and out of the arena.  It took 5 tries to not bug out.  The last boss, Torch, was a pretty sweet fight.  Maybe more of the zones are like this but I found there to be a ton of movement required to get through it.  There just seemed to always be a red circle somewhere to avoid.  Sorc aren’t very mobile (at least Lightning isn’t so much) so it required a bit of skill juggling to pull off.  I can only imagine how that would work in a group setting.

I know a lot of games are aiming for more action oriented combat.  There’s a fine line to be held here though, as your system needs to support it.  And let’s be honest, the Hero engine is a piece of garbage that’s as responsive as a drunk sumo wrestler.  FF14 was smart enough to put in a 2.5s GCD to combat the server lag.  SWTOR balance is going to need some work to not make too onerous for the players.

More pirate work to go.  More explosions too.

SWTOR – Solo Flashpoints

Given that I had only subscribed on Nov 7th, I missed the first week of the Shadow of Revan expansion.  Good news is that I saved about 500k in credits in that week as now skill training is free.  I wouldn’t have minded a nominal cost but training costs from 1-55 are (were) huge.  You started the expansion broke, for the most part, unless you were a fairly active player.  Heck, you needed to be a subscriber to have enough credits in the first place to pay for it all.

Which rolls into the part I think SWTOR does well, and that’s introduce new content and smooth our the power curve.  There have been 2 leveling plateaus so far, one at 50 and one at 55.  The current leveling process works up until 50 but the Makeb portion was punishing without the right gear.  If you were just using leveling gear, you’d be behind by 50-70% in terms of stats.  So Makeb now has a GSI buff which makes sure you have the stats to make it through.  And if you complete the content, then you’re given the gear for a pretty decent 55.  Smart.

The SoR expansion also does this, as they’ve assigned the baseline to a certain gear level.  If you don’t have it, then you can do some solo flashpoints (the Forged Alliance quests) and get a full set of top level 55 gear to get you ready for Rishi.  It’s a great bridging mechanism that allows players new to the game keep pace on the stats treadmill at all times, without massive peaks and valleys.  Before the WoW stat squish, every expansion had massive power jumps between them.  There are mechanics in SWTOR to mitigate it, which is smart.

The flashpoints themselves are cool, as I never had the chance to do them previously.  You’re given a GSI droid who can DPS/Heal/Tank and makes it rather hard for you to die.  Everything outside of a boss was a faceroll for me (though I was in gear better than Makeb quality) but it was a cool experience nonetheless.  Each boss had some interesting mechanic – shield swap, stuns, massive telegraphs, movement debuffs.  As a mechanic, I think this is pretty neat.  There’s something to be said about soloing old dungeons and challenging yourself.  The droid they give you simply allows for you to experience the content without that challenge, assuming you came in a bit late.  I mean, I realize it’s simply a bridge and won’t be applied to other dungeons, but there are possibilities here.  Old operations come to mind, as the power scaling in SWTOR is a fair bit different than say, WoW.

The story around these flashpoints is pretty neat too.  It’s split into 3 pieces, and I’m not sure if there was an original delay between them all.  I won’t spoil too much but suffice to say that Forged Alliance is pretty obviously an alliance between the Republic and the Empire.  It’s all a setup piece for the expansion, so there’s a cool reveal at the end with Revan.  A few characters are introduced during the run, including a pretty funny combo of a wookie and droid meshed together.  There’s only a single decision point in all the 3 quests that seemingly would have impact, so I’m curious as to how that rolls out.

It really is something when you play a game and you’re the central character.  The final cutscenes in WoW lately have been other people.  Heck, my Alliance Monk’s final scene in Nagrand was 2 orcs fighting each other.  My character has never spoken a word.  It’s like watching a movie for the most part.  I think that’s why I like garrisons, cause I’m the focal point for once.  SWTOR scratches that story itch something fierce.

And for those who say you can only do a story so many times, I think that depends on the quality of the story.  The “choose your own adventure” books, I’ve read hundreds of times as a kid.  I’ve watched Blade Runner and Fifth Element at least a 100 times each.  LOTR books/movies I’ve done a ton of times.  Golden sci-fi, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Star Wars (4-6), Futurama…plenty of stories where I’ve enjoyed the experience multiple times.  SWTOR really has a story quality issues.  Some portions are amazeballs but they are not the typical story.  I really enjoyed the 12x boost because I could focus only on the quality (-ish) stories, the ones where the most time was invested.  I didn’t have to kill 10 bears.

I’m enjoying my time and that’s all that really matters.

SWTOR / WoW – Stuck in the Middle

Safety Note to start the post.  Be smart, don’t tailgate a vehicle that you can’t see around.  My bus got rear-ended by a car today.  The bus won. It will always win.

Day 6 was better, so I’ll start with SWTOR first.

SWTOR

Today was credit making day.  Given that I’m only able to run a single session of crew skills, what with them each taking 20-30 minutes, it was a cycle session on the GTN.  I found a few items that didn’t sell, namely items in the 47-55 range since Makeb/Oricon replaces it all.  It’s funny how a level 46 item will sell easily and a 47 won’t get the light of day.

I also remembered that my older characters had bank accounts.  Bank accounts full of materials.  Materials that are worth credits.  My Sorc and Powertech both hit the 50 GTN cap well before the bank was empty.  My Operative and Juggernaut are still rookies though, so the bank is relatively empty except for legacy/custom gear.  Side note, weapons in SWTOR, while customizable and quite unremarkable.  Which is an odd contrast to other games with customization.  Reminds me a bit of the Esper in Wildstar, where the weapon is an afterthought.  SWTOR does have the best looking gear though.  That stuff is sweet.

My Sorc 3 days ago was at about 700k.  He’s at 1.2m now.  I think I’ve made about 1m across them all, which gets me closer to the Tatooine stronghold.  It’s nice to have a goal.  All this working up to Patch 3, the Shadow of Revan expansion, which I should be more than prepared for.

Side note for a future post.  I am confused by the Dev Blogs for SoR.  The goal of the expansion (in particular disciplines) was to get rid of skill bloat and hyrbridization (it’s now a word).  That the dev blogs are introducing new skills that supercede old ones is conflicting.  Not a new skill that’s standalone – a skill that replaces an old one.  I’ll get into that closer to release.

WoW

At 7:30 the queue was just short of 2000 but dropped relatively quickly – 45 minutes or so.  There were only a dozen or so servers with queue times based on the realm status page.  Area52 and Stormrage the only PvE ones as well, at least from what I could see.  Once I did get in, the server was relatively stable with only a few lag hiccups.  I was in long enough to complete Gorgrond.

Shadowmoon Valley kicks off the campaign for the Alliance.  It’s an decent story of the Draenei foothold in the lands, their massive attack by the horde and some cool sacrifice/birth of a hero substory (Yrel is neato – the only female lead I’ve even heard of in this expansion).  It’s very intro-based and the zone is open enough to have a view of everything.  The zone starts with orcs, goes to a bunch of animals that are poisoned, then finishes with orcs.  There’s a scenario of sorts to finish the zone.

Gorgrond is half about orcs and half about poisoned natural folks (a theme maybe).  You get to meet some Gronn as well.  I read all the quest text but it had nothing to do with anything outside of shamanism (you resurrect what appears to be a demi-god) until the last scenario quest.  That one was all orcs and you take on attacking a huge base.  I died.  A few times.  I could have just stayed back and let everyone else manage it.  Yrel was there and the demi-god.  I didn’t get the point of this story at all.  The outpost was a Lumber Mill which gave me a giant shredder.  The thing did no appreciable damage but did let me find some garrison resources, so yay?

2 zones in, level 94 now.  Can’t figure out what perks I’ve gained, though it almost appears as if they reset every log on.  I’ve gotten the improved chi(?) 3 times now, since every time I log back in I’m at 5 chi.  I am of the firm opinion that random perks while leveling is a stupid mechanic.

Garrison is still a tossup for me.  I upgraded my mine for 1000g.  Ore sells for about 6g per, so 3 days or so and I make my money back.  My follower missions are annoying, with only a single interface point per zone.  What happens is that when I get to that interface, all of them have completed, so there’s no actual decisions to be made about who’s going on the mission.  I see what’s there, it automatically sorts on who’s best and I just assign from the top down.  My 2 year old daughter plays more complex games.  94 and still haven’t figured out how to get a follower with me in the field.  I cut trees to get more resources, to do what exactly?  Run more missions?  I mean, it’s polished to high heck and you have decision points while leveling but it doesn’t yet have any real impact on the game.  I get 5 different quests per zone.  Whoopie.  I think the thing that annoys me the most is the complete lack of customization.  I can’t put trophies, or medals or items that represent my progress in a zone.  All I get are followers, who I can’t actually see outside of a menu.

So far, my experience is one of high polish but no depth.  And I’m simply a stone skipping across the surface.

Restarting the Story

Day 5.  Kids were tired so I was able to start WoW at about 7EST.  That had a queue of ~2400.  I just left it open and played some SWTOR in the meantime.  I think it was about 10pm when I could finally log in.  From the garrison to any other flight point gave me an error that the instance could not be loaded.  It also told me that the world server had crashed.  Quit that pretty quick.  Good news is that I have 5 more days of game time, so yay?  We’ll see tonight but from what I can tell, there are still a few dozen servers that are in the red.

SWTOR

I had mentioned that I cleaned out my bags and re-focused on making some credits right?  Well, the previous night’s purge gave me about 500K in sales.  I collected my crew skills, assigned new ones, posted on the GTN and then moved on.

To a Jedi Knight of all things.  I’ve heard that a Knight and Smuggler are somewhat on par in terms of story quality and I have an odd dislike for the Smuggler (due to the IA), so knight I went.  Funny story actually, as I had played a knight in the beta, so there were quite a few spots that were a sort of déjà vu feeling.  I had tried to do a few of the Tython quests in addition to the class ones.  I completed 1 of them total, due to the way the items and drops were spread out – which I remember as being a grind issue back in beta.

See, while leveling my other characters, I tend to pick up the nearby quests.  Incidental completion means free credits, exp and sometimes gear.  If a quest was above 75% complete, then I’d take the time.  If it wasn’t, then I’d drop it.  This was if it was even in line with where I was going.  So assuming the quest was in the path, I’d say about 50% or so could be completed.  Makeb was more like 100% but that’s an odd one.  That I only did 1 on Tython was odd.

So I leave Tython at 11 and completed Coruscant by 20.  I was leveling at a crazy pace and it was hard to keep a trainer nearby to stay on track.  Eh.  I also wasn’t paying a ton of attention and forgot to get my advanced class after Tython and only did it at 20.  You forget about the playstyle differences between the classes.  I opted for a DPS only knight (sentinel), who from what I hear is the highest DPS class in the game.  We’ll see how that runs out.

Story-wise there’s not much to report.  The decisions given strongly push you to light side.  The dark side choices aren’t evil per-se, just a strong push for an emotional response.   Feelings lead to the dark side I guess.  I do find it funny to be called “the strongest jedi ever met” and I’m only level 10.  I’m fighting apprentices and masters like it’s a big deal.  From a story perspective, I get that line of thinking.  The level is an MMO mechanic, so that a level 10 sith master is technically weaker than a level 54 frog, but lore-wise it’s the opposite.

Story closing Tython and Coruscant is 2 folks who turned dark (or were always) and I hunted them down.  I’m the jedi police.  Balmorra is next I think.  I took slicing to get some cash while levelling.  The speed of progress meant that I was too low level to pick up boxes in the sewer portion (there are like, 50 friggin’ lock boxes there) but I’m good now for the next planet.  Companions are ho-hum, with a droid and a jedi padawan at my side, neither of which has much of a character to speak of.  I hear the story gets a lot stronger later on, in particular when you get Scourge at the tail end.  Looking forward to that.

What’s neat is that when my night was over, I logged into my Dromund Kass (Empire) stronghold with my jedi.  I think it’s a smart thing to have a single house for all alts.  Quite a few games support this today, or at least access from an alt to a main’s house.  SWTOR isn’t super alt friendly, but with legacy perks, collectible gear and strongholds being shared, it’s a solid step.

Queues and Musings

Almost a rhyme.

WoW Queues

In which I posit a theory that analytics predicted the issue with queues.  First off, the playerbase over time debate.  See subscription numbers, vs Expansion dates.  Data points for 2014 are in.

wowsubs

  1. There’s always an uptick a few months before an expansion.  One measured in millions of players.
  2. Vanilla gained the most players (highest vertical)
  3. BC had continual growth.
  4. WotLK had a great launch and then went flat.
  5. Cataclysm was not favorably seen by the majority of the playerbase and has had the largest drop.  There was never an uptick.  And this is when you got D3 for free if you subbed for a year…which is the flatline.
  6. MoP had a decent launch but suffered a massive drop that eventually stabilized and had an uptick.
  7. There’s an uptick pattern for WoD.

Specifically for populations on servers.

  1. That said, given that there haven’t been any server closures, there are ~40% less people playing than at peak in WotLK.
  2. Blizzard’s method of merging is called connected realms, which puts two more servers together in order to balance populations.
  3. Some realms have never been connected and have always had high populations.
  4. Stormrage is the Alliance server, Area 52 the Horde one, where the ratios are extreme variants (95:1).  PvE specific.
  5. Due to flying since BC, open-PvP in WoW is more or less dead, making PvP servers redundant outside of a) ganking and b) timeless isle.  (My thought is that TI was a test base for no-flying in WoD, in particular the PvP implications).
  6. PvE servers are Alliance favored, PvP are Horde.
  7. All this to say that servers have high concentrations of players of a particular faction and that this trend has increased overtime.  e.g. Alliance players will tend to move to Alliance heavy servers.  It’s a funnel effect.

All that data to say that patterns indicate an uptick of ~1 million players.  Those players would be concentrated on a specific set of servers and that those servers are faction-weighted.  The “queue cap” if you will, seems to hover around 150,000 players (not absolute but scale), with quite a few servers containing many more players.  Actually, it was closer to 100,000 at WoD launch, then was raised over the weekend.  Fixed sever sizes and allocations are not feasible with such large swings between the servers.

Dynamic resource allocation (think the Amazon Cloud) is about the only way to manage this type of problem.  Connected Realms do a bit of this.  Instancing all of WoD does this as well.  However, the scale of this instancing has yet to support the servers with > 200,000 players.  They have stated that they want to address that this week.

For clarity, this isn’t a hardware issue. It’s a service issue. Building a cloud like service with 10 year old tech ain’t easy. Heck, it’s hard with 1 year old tech. My issue isn’t that the solution is complex, readily agree. My issue is that the evidence rather clearly pointed to this problem (and could address a lot of the population issues) if more efforts were put on it. Though, knowing Blizz, in crunch time they tend to align with polish rather than below water tech. After all, most people will forget about this in 3 months and complain the servers are empty again.

In an ironic twist, this is pretty much what SWTOR has in place, though that game doesn’t have seamless phasing between instances.

SWTOR

From that segue, I completed the Imperial Agent storyline due to the 12 hour queue in WoD.  I was pleasantly surprised at the final twists.  I thought it was a bit odd for the final decision to be done through proxy and that the choice, while in character, was likely not the one considered canon.  I decided to side with the Empire and serve the Sith, rather than intelligence proper.  Still, a fun and solid story, by far the best of the bunch so far. And with a better understanding of talents and power, the use of stealth made each mission fly by.

I bought the apartment on DK for 5,000, just to get an idea of what to expect.  I’m not poor, with somewhere around 3m across the 4 characters, but decided to hold off the Tatooine investment for now.  Placed some items, completed the quest, got some conquest harvesting items too.  Looks neat, though it’s more akin to Lego than a freeform service like Wildstar or Rift.

Finally, I decided to try my hand at improving my financial position.  That meant emptying the bags on the GTN (auction house).  That’s been somewhat fruitful.  Looking at the long game though, I wanted to see which tradeskills turned the best profit.  Suffice to say that crafting items seems to turn a fair bit less than simply selling the base materials, at least for now.  And that the sweet spot of cash making is not in top tier material.  In my traditional ways, I have a spreadsheet of all the material I can dig up based on my gathering tradeskills.  Some are clearly more profitable than others.  So much so that my Sorcerer, while completing some GSI missions on Makeb, ran a few crew skills and has a potential profit of 300,000.  My other 55s are all running their own as well, with 2-3 minutes of work setting up about 50,000 each of sales (log on, collect previous skills & GTN, post new items, assign new skills).

I am hesitant to spend any of the credits on temporary items, such as gear, given that the expansion is 2 weeks away.  My 140/156 mods are more than enough for now.  So for now, I’ll just run crew skill missions and see about getting a Republic character off the ground with the 12x boost.