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.

Day 3

WoD Day 3 - 6000 queue

WoD Day 3 – 6000 queue

While there have been some changes in the backend, it hasn’t really helped me any.  I mentioned Stormrage right?  Well, there are 28 US servers that are locked/full and have queues (7/~100 PvE servers).  The good news is that’s only a minor amount compared to other ones.  The bad news is that’s still about 5K per server… so at best 100,000 affected, but more like two to 3 times that of people who don’t want to even bother with the queue.

So the stupid part first.  Here are the clearly poor design decisions at work to manage this issue.

  • no new race
  • no new class
  • single NPC to start the quest
  • only 1 way to get there
  • single starting zone

All of those items could have spread out the population a bit.  LK and Cata both had 2 starting zones.  Everyone has had either a race or a class, so you had a bunch of people in the starting zones (remember DK-pa-looza?)

Those are things they knew ahead of time and could have mitigated.

What they could not mitigate is the 10 year architecture of servers.  Sure, they’ve been trying to merge them for a while now – code name Connected Realms – but the reality is that the actual server and the zones within are single instances.  Stormwind/Ogrimmar and Valley were instanced capitals, so that you sort of zoned into a sub-zone of the main city.  It made sense, since you don’t want to have 2000+ people at the AH, though sometimes it may seem that way.  Without instances, you crash a zone.  Which is why Blizz put on server logon caps, which is making this queue stuff pretty crazy.

Blasted Lands is not instanced.  Nothing outside of the capital in WoD was instanced.  Now they are making the entire expansion an instanced event.  So Blizz is raising the server caps.  This has made it much better for a lot of people but it also took a 4 hour downtime patch on a Saturday morning to put it in.  Guess the feature wasn’t on the top of their list until this fun started.

So the queues that are left are not so much a problem with design of WoD anymore, it’s just the 10 year old servers and that the instance scaling in WoD doesn’t apply to the entire game.  I’m sure they have some smart people trying to sort all that out.

It is an interesting situation though.  13 months of no content and for some reason not expecting people to try out the expansion.  I guess they underestimated their appeal.

SWTOR

So if I can’t play WoW, I’ll play SWTOR.  I hit 55 with my Imperial Agent and I’ve headed back to Corellia to finish off the main quest.  It’s a little odd losing the GSI boost which gave me 2500 of my main stat and now going down to 1200.  Enemies are 7 levels lower than me though, so the power output is relatively the same.

I do rather enjoy the combat structure now, in particular with the orbital strike option.  IA is a ramp up class, where it needs the opponent to be afflicted for their strong attack to work.  Which makes it hard to take out a bunch of normal opponents since you need to apply 2 DoTs and a prep skill to use the big one.  It’s fine on elites though.  Orbital Strike allows me to continually hit the masses, which makes it a fair bit easier overall.

So I’m now 4 of 8 on the advanced classes at 55.  Juggernaut (tank/dps warrior), Operative (heal/dps imperial agent), Powertech (tank/dps bounty hunter) and Sorcerer (heal/dps inquisitor).  Of them all, I prefer the Sorcerer above the rest in terms of playstyle.  Likely because it’s so familiar, in particular with a smooth resource generator.  The Powertech is next, with some more interesting skills and movement abilities.  Juggernaut is a close one here, with a similar skill set but less fun to watch.  Imperial Agent has a great story but I’m really not a fan of the playstyle, which is more ramp-up/maintenance than I’d prefer.  Great story though.

I do have a 31 sniper which I think I’ll try til the end.  I’ll might give the other advanced classes a try, where the Shadow seems an interesting option.

It’s an odd compare but it’s a bit like my Monk in WoW, where while it’s a class that can do it all (like Druids and Paladins), it just seems to have a better flow for my playstyle.  The Esper in Wildstar felt the same way, in particular once TK became mobile.   Sometimes you just click with a character and no matter what other one you try after, it just doesn’t work the same way. (The monk in WoW is basically my Rogue but without the archaic design decisions.)

Tomorrow’s queue should be an interesting note.

SWTOR – Is This the Same Game?

I mentioned that level 31 was a turning point for my Imperial Agent Operative.  The Cull skill rather drastically changed my playstyle from healer to damage dealer and it’s a world of difference.  Alderaan gave me a ton of headaches because my damage was so atrocious.  31 pops around and boom, I blink and they drop.  Such a drastic shift in power is really quite odd. That said, I’m at-level for the content I’m playing and the Operative is supremely squishy.  There’s a get outta dodge move that gets me into stealth but that assumes I remember to click the darn button.  Often times, the enemy suddenly enrages when they are at 15% and then proceeds to take off 25% of my life per hit.  I don’t quite get that.  The item level disparity is also an issue, due to the accelerated leveling.  I’m part of the way through Belsavis, with Voss and Corellia to go following.  I’ll need to re-equip one more time before 47, then the Makeb power boost will be enough to get me through.  It’s odd really, going from 700 in a stat to 2500 through a buff…curious to how Revan will address this rather massive gear gap.  I still remember my WoW-BC days where it felt like you were attacking with a tissue.

The other interesting part, the one thing that the interwebs seems to agree upon, is that the Imperial Agent storyline is amazeballs.  I mean, head and shoulders above the rest.  This is the only storyline where I was actually presented with a choice that I had to think about. All the other stories, in order to stick in character, each choice was evident.  Shock this guy, shoot that one, save the other. They had little to no consequence other than some numbers on my alignment sheet.  There was just no nuance where the difference between light and dark was actually grey.

This is not true for the Imperial Agent.  You spend nearly the entire game as a double agent, playing one person against another.  Your choices matter greatly in that you can nearly completely avoid conflict with the appropriate choices.  And those choices are equally present in light and dark.  Example.  The Hoth questline has you meet with a corrupt officer and pirates.  You can join either side, defeat them both or play them each against the other.  I helped the pirates then cleaned up shop.  The choices are even more interesting at the end of Act 1 and Act 2.  I mean they really define your character, their place in the world and the events from that point forward.  And it isn’t like it’s one decision but a bunch of them to get on a path to the end.

I’ve been a fan of Bioware for a very long time.  Their writing style and multiple choices with impact has always been a draw for me.  SWTOR has, at face, that type of structure.  But being an MMO, it’s not like you can wipe out an entire planet.  So the rest of the storylines I’ve played, the choices were small and contained.  The IA storyline is removed from the rest.   It’s like comparing a Dan Brown novel to Isaac Asimov.  You just don’t.  It’s like I’m playing a completely different game and I’m enjoying the heck out of it.

SWTOR – Not Enough Buttons

It’s ironic really that WoW has made large efforts in the WoD expansion to remove skill bloat and that SWTOR embraces it so heartily.  Well, maybe in the Revan expansion there’ll be less…

The game seems to give me a new button to press every 2 levels.  Many of these buttons do the same thing but slightly differently.  Either a higher resource cost, more damage, longer cooldown and so on.  The problem with this is a simple and complex one.  Every class, regardless of game, has defining skills.  Those skills are either unlocked in a logical pattern, randomly assigned or perhaps unlocked through talent selections.  When you have them, the class works.  When you don’t, well, it doesn’t.

SWTOR is an odd beast in that some classes have these skills early and others have them late.  My Sorcerer, Powertech and Warrior all had a logical breakdown of skills over time (minus the actual tanking skills, which came out way too late).  From a leveling perspective, the overall play made sense and had a pattern, more or less.  Sure, there were some powerful unlocks but it only modified the play, not a complete re-write.

I have a 31 Sniper (pure DPS) and that one made sense too.  What with the 12x experience bonus, I wanted to try an Operative (heal/dps hybrid).  She hit 31 recently and what a world of difference in playstyle.  By far the hardest class to play with and maintains the least amount of survivability.  The skill unlocks don’t make sense and make for a very odd pattern of combat.  Outside of talents, there’s only 1 viable attack.  I needed 2 more talents to get ‘er going, a DoT grenade and Cull, a super damage skill based on the amount of DoT’s on the target.  The class is largely unplayable up until that unlock at 31, at least compared to the other classes.

On to interrupts for a minute.  Every class gets an interrupt and a 4s stun.  They often get a knockdown attack (which doesn’t affect elites) or two.  Then they also get a paralyze/DoT attack.  You end up with 4-5 skills that prevent an enemy attack.  And you need to use the damn things too because enemy NPCs can dish out insane amounts of damage, in particular the elites I mentioned before.  Some entire fights are predicated on interrupting those attacks.  And that’s above and beyond the basic rotation.  So I end up with 12+ buttons to press in a solo fight, half of which do the same thing.

There’s still missing some data on the Revan skill clean-up (called Disciplines).  The concept makes sense.  They do say they are changing interrupts to an 18s timer, which is odd given the previous paragraph….

I do know that WoD (and Cataclysm too) did a rather effective job looking at ability gain and timing.  Simplified rotations of 4-5 buttons per class.  It’s really something comparing the two during the leveling process.  Vastly different interpretations.

SWTOR – Progress, I Guess

What with the 12x experience boost, carving through the levels is somewhat a breeze.  Let me rephrase that a tad actually.  The 12x experience boost transforms SWTOR into 3 parts; first is the actual story, second is the stat race and third is the travel experience.

The actual story is pretty neat, per class.  I just finished a Sith Warrior (let’s say ~12 hours) all the way through and I’m of the opinion that the story was written to be played light side.  At least the key moments seem to fall well into that line.  There were a few spots where I had to pick the dark side, to keep the semblance of a bad guy but overall, the light side choices weren’t so much super good guy as they were “I don’t really care what happens”.  Which is sort of a better super villain if you ask me.  I’ve done the Sith Inquistor and preferred that story mind you, even though it was more rote.  Sith Warrior is just ho-hum quests, until the final act.

The stat race is something else.  In most MMOs you can get by with straggling gear.  Say the average power curve is 200.  If you’re missing 20, then no big deal, stuff is just a tad harder.  SWTOR don’t play that way chump!  Scaling of power seems to be based on a variance of norm rather than an absolute number.  What that means is that if you are slightly above average in stats, then you just run over everything.  Slightly under and you’re in for a rough time.  Every 10 levels I had to do a full restock.  Every 5 was a top up.  Considering I’m doing about 3-4 quests per world, that’s a fair top up.  It’s not the end of the world, I had a 55 on the fleet who could mail me supplies.  It put me out of pocket maybe 50K for the whole thing, though by the time I hit 55 I was near 400k in cash.  (note: sell everything on the GTN, if it doesn’t go on first pass, vendor it)

The travel time is the odd one and to me shows where the game was stretched.  The first 3/4 of the worlds are great, playing more like a spiderweb than a linear path.  Belsavis and Voss though, wowza.  Belsavis I must have spent 30 minutes just travelling between 2 quests.  Thank goodness I unlocked quick travel with Legacy, so that my ports back to the ship were quick.  Voss was less about travel and more about poor quest design.  I mean Bears, Bears, Bears was the thing here.  Like, have me do the 4 things at once rather than just ping back continually.  Ugh.  47 thankfully came quickly and off I went.

So the optimal leveling path, as I see it, is as follows:

  • Always log off in a rested exp zone
  • Use the Cartel EXP boosts.  You’ll start getting them as rewards near level 20.  Pop them before you turn in a quest, as that’s when it really matters.
  • Avoid all the other quests.  Seriously.  The only one you must take is the one on the Quesh stardock, that’s it.
  • 1-47, do the core world quests.
  • 47+ head to your ship to start Makeb.  For the love of poop, use the GSI terminal on the stardock.  I went from 750 strength to nearly 2500 from the boost that terminal gave.  Very good odds you’ll be stuck on the Armageddon quest to hit 55.  Which is the worst of the Makeb quests, hah!
  • When you complete a quest, use the Personal Holocron (Teleport)
  • Have someone on the fleet who can buy stuff for you and sell stuff if your bags are too full.  A level 15 is fine and with this boost takes about an hour
  • Commendation aren’t worth it, in my opinion.  Get the lockboxes are quest rewards if gear isn’t an option.  Sell it.

For $15, I got a good story, got to see some nice scenery and avoided a ton of content.  But, I learned to play the class much better because of the crappy gear differential.  I am a firm believer that this model is more effective than simply selling max level characters.  In that model, I have no idea how to play the character, no idea what’s going on and I’m just sitting in no-man’s land at max level.  Two separate ways to get to the same goal but vastly different.