When the trolls are right

... you might end up innocently browsing Facebook and finding something like this. There went my good mood for the evening.

I don't like free-to-play models. I want story updates, not a cash shop filled with silly hats to extract money from "ooh shiny" impulse buyers. I suppose that not much will change in the immediate future if you continue to pay a sub, but in the long run this is likely to lead to a development direction that I'm not really interested in.

More than anything I'm disappointed in EA basically calling the current fans of the game fools for continuing to support it. Regardless of whether there are good F2P games or not, no business changes from charging for its product to giving it away for free unless they think that it's so bad that it's not worth paying for.

I also don't expect this to be good for the company's bottom line. There's got to be a reason you never hear anything about how much money F2P MMOs make after the initial duh announcement of "wow, so many more people play our game when we give it away for free". I expect that they'll regret this once previously happy subscribers cancel their subs and the people who didn't like the game enough to spend money on it before will continue to not spend any money on it (while still hogging server resources).


On Being A Lady Smuggler

The levelling duo consisting of my smuggler and my recently referred friend's trooper is coming along nicely. The other night we finished chapter one of both of our class stories.

I won't review the smuggler story until I've completed all of it, but I just wanted to write about a few things that amused me about being a female smuggler. Be warned that this post will contain a couple of spoilers on the subject of romance in Act I.

Maybe I'm slowly overcoming my ineptitude when it comes to Bioware romances, or maybe the female smuggler is just better written, but she's been the first character on which flirting frequently actually felt natural to me. To be fair, it might have something to do with the fact that I've already seen more flirt action in chapter one than all of my other female characters ever experienced combined. When your character never even gets the chance to flirt until you're suddenly confronted with the option to hit on a random quest NPC thirty levels later, it just feels weird. I think it's safe to say that the lady smuggler doesn't have this problem. For extra funsies, your first companion, Corso Riggs, immediately crushes on you and then makes snarky comments every time you flirt with someone else, which makes for some great entertainment on its own.

For example I was most amused by how annoyed he got over my flirting with a young noble on Alderaan. When it actually came to visiting said noble again with the prospect of some BSOCK action, I was actually quite torn about whether to bring Corso along purely to antagonise him for my amusement, but in the end I decided that it would make me feel too guilty and wasn't going to be worth the affection loss. Long story short, Bowdaar is a better wingman anyway. "I'll just be going outside. I wanted to look at the trees anyway!" And he gives you some affection for it to boot.

The absolute highlight of flirting hilarity however was the final confrontation at the end of Act I. To be honest, I had been dreading it a little, because I was worried that it was going to end with the death of my arch-enemy... and I actually kind of liked him. He may have tried to kill me repeatedly, but our conversations were always fun. I didn't want to be rid of him.

Imagine my delight when we faced off against each other one last time, and I was given the option to flirt with him as he was pointing a blaster at my head. I couldn't resist, and before you know it my smuggler and her nemesis were sucking face on a derelict spaceship in the middle of nowhere, while Corso was presumably sitting in a corner, developing a nervous eye twitch and covering his ears while shouting "lalala, I can't hear you". There was a BSOCK which implied even more action, though considering the circumstances of the situation, I'm not sure I want to contemplate the issue any further as it would imply that my character is borderline insane.

Too bad that my frenemy still wanted to kill me after I told him that I was keeping the treasure. However, by that point I felt that I had got some very humorous closure to our relationship.

The only romance option that still confounds me a little at this point is Corso. I can see why people like him, as he has an easygoing boyish charm that reminds me a little of Alistair from Dragon Age (who was very popular with the ladies as well). However, Corso is also annoyingly sexist. It's somewhat mitigated by the fact that he frequently shows that he doesn't actually think of women as in any way inferior or less competent. He's just insistent that there are some things that they should and shouldn't be doing based on what his parents taught him. Mind you, you get the option to tell him off every time he goes on about it, but it's still annoying. All I want to do is sit him down and tell him to use his brain for once, as the stuff he has been taught obviously doesn't match the reality he lives in, but I'm doubtful that the game will allow me to go there. As it stands I'm not quite sure where to take things with the lad, friendly as he is.


Silly Guild Names

Guild names are a funny beast. A lot of them are honestly fairly generic: there's the Single Abstract Noun, the Pretentious Latin Name, and all kinds of combinations of certain "cool" sounding words along the lines of Angels/Crusaders/Knights of Darkness/Light/some random place. There are even random guild name generators that will wield results along those lines. That's not meant to be dismissive of guild names like that; I'm just saying that they don't tend to stand out.

My favourite guild names to encounter out in the world are therefore ones that are punny or relate to something in the game in a funny manner. In WoW I remember getting a good laugh out of frequently seeing people in battlegrounds who sported the guild tag "PVP SUX WHENS NAXXRAMAS". I still don't know whether this was meant to express someone's actual sentiments about the game at the time of creation or whether it was intended to sound absurd from the start.

In SWTOR, the main inspiration for coming up with amusing guild names seem to be puns on the word "Sith". Unfortunately most of them aren't really very funny (in my opinion) because they are too obvious and crude, along the lines of "I sith in my pants". I did chuckle though when the group finder teamed me up with someone from the "Ministry of Sithly Walks" the other day.

"Jedi" is a bit more difficult to fit into a punny name I believe, as I haven't seen as many guild names incorporating it in an amusing fashion. However, when I finally saw someone from "Peanut Butter Jedi Time" in a warzone it totally made my day.

There are other Star Wars references to be made as well of course, which on my server includes such gems as "Wookie Tango Foxtrot" and "Ewok'alypse Now".

What are other interesting guild names people have spotted in TOR?


Secret Agent Girl

At long last, my Imperial agent hit level 50 and completed her class story. It's kind of amazing to think that it took me this long, considering that she was the first alt I ever created, but all too often the draw of playing with my friends on Republic side was just too strong.

Common consensus seems to be that the agent storyline is the best of all the class stories. I hesitate to say that I agree when I have only played through two of the others in full so far, but it's certainly a very good one. It definitely felt more layered to me, with unexpected twists and turns occurring at every corner. (Except for Alderaan, where I saw the "surprise" coming from miles away and was annoyed that the game wouldn't let me state what I felt was obvious.) Where other class stories are often fairly straightforward in the goals they set you, simply making you jump a couple of hurdles before you're allowed to reach the finish line, as an agent I often found myself going somewhere expecting to do one thing and then having it turn out to be something completely different. If the class stories were films, I reckon that most of the others would be good, solid summer blockbusters, while the Imperial agent story would be something like... I don't know, Inception. (Cue movie buffs being outraged at my totally inappropriate comparison.)

I think my favourite part of the whole experience was that many of the sub-plots required my agent to pretend to be somebody else. There is something about roleplaying a character who is playing yet another role that amuses me to no end - it's one of my favourite plot devices in pen and paper roleplaying as well.

I was only ever so slightly disappointed by the ending - it wasn't bad, but I felt that it gave little closure and I didn't particularly like the new role I was being shunted into. I suppose it's a good setup for your character to continue his or her journeys through MMO land at endgame, but it didn't really feel like a great conclusion to me. I guess the writers are faced with a bit of a catch-22 there: because if they do end the class story with a big and impressive conclusion, like the consular story for example, having the character go off to do dailies afterwards can feel a bit trite.

The agent story also contained my first instance of the game making me feel like something had been written primarily for a male player character, namely when a certain female NPC approached me with big puppy dog eyes at the end of the Tatooine storyline as if she was about to kiss me, though she didn't do it in the end. Actually, my first thought was: "Whoa, did they include some same-sex romance in this game after all?", but I quickly found myself answering my own question with: "No, I guess whoever designed this bit just thought of the agent character as a man." At one point the summary text on the loading screen also referred to my lady agent as a "he". To be fair though, those remain the only times that anything like this has happened to me so far.

I talked about my bad luck with Bioware romances before and also mentioned at the time that my agent appeared to be my only character who might finally have a chance to score with someone. I'm happy to say that this did actually work out. I went through with my "threat" of respeccing from dps to healing post Alderaan just so that I could quest with Vector instead of Kaliyo (two squishy melee dps wasn't working so well for me), and his affection rating soared quite quickly and naturally as he and my agent were very much on the same wavelength. After a couple of companion conversations I found myself really getting into the romance too, as he kind of seemed to play hard to get, always forgetting about my flirtation attempts in favour of focusing on business. Call me strange, but bug eyes aside, Vector is actually pretty close to the type of guy that I find attractive in real life as well: quiet and a little weird, but also gentle, loyal and reliable. (There is a thread on the official agent forums that starts with a funny rant about why Vector is supposedly the worst love interest ever, but then gets mostly taken over by fans of his character. It's currently on sixty-nine pages.)

The only point at which I had to draw the line was marriage, as I felt that it's not a good idea for secret agents to get married. I figured that, not unlike superheroes, they always end up with some very deranged enemies, and officially declaring your love for someone would only result in inviting lots of trouble for that person. Unfortunately that kind of explanation wasn't an option in the game, so I only got to say something like "this isn't what I was going for" and poor Vector got all sad with me. I cursed Bioware afterwards for making me feel bad about rejecting a marriage proposal from an NPC. Damn those really likeable characters!

The agent companions as a whole were a pretty eclectic and interesting bunch - I never got over my hatred for Kaliyo though. She's got an interesting personality, don't get me wrong, but I just couldn't see why my agent or Imperial Intelligence in general would keep her around. The worst thing was when her last companion quest ended on a bad note and with my character effectively telling her to bugger off... but then there was no follow-up to this, and our next chat was all about how everything was peachy keen again and what a great team we were. Harrumph. Kaliyo really made me wish that Bioware had kept the option to get rid of nasty companions in the final game... though I can absolutely see why they didn't. I think I would have struggled to quest my way up into the thirties with no companion after leaving her anarchist butt on Hutta, heh.

After finishing my last mission I had a quick browse around the official forums to read a bit about other people's thoughts on the agent, and the thing that really surprised me was how many different forks there seem to be in the storyline, which is something that you can't necessarily judge very well if you just play through it once. I mostly played my agent as neutral, only sliding into Light I towards the very end of the story, and ended up killing all the major characters I confronted at the end of each act. I was very surprised when I read that you can not only spare some of them, you can actually completely change your allegiance! Now I almost want to make another agent right away just to see some of those other outcomes.


More Positivity Please!

This post by Psynister caught my eye today. In it he talks about the state of his blog and his gaming. He has the following to say about playing SWOTR:

No matter how much you might enjoy playing the game, if you’re active in social networks where a large number of players are present or if you’re active in the bloggosphere then you’re constantly surrounded by negativity towards the game. Even when you’re having a blast playing it, there’s so much negativity surrounding it that it’s almost hard to still enjoy it. You almost have to escape into the game to get away from all the negativity being directed at it. It’s a bit ridiculous, honestly.

This touched a nerve with me as it's a subject that I've been meaning to write about for a few days: the woes of being a SWTOR fan. (First world problems, I know.) People like to moan about the many ways in which the game supposedly fails, but really, the only thing that's actually inhibiting my fun every now and then are generally people who don't even play the game.

I have to admit that this is something that WoW never prepared me for. Sure, you can find plenty of people who like to moan about WoW too, but for every negative voice like that there are plenty more positive ones, and more importantly, it doesn't really matter. Blizzard is pretty much beyond criticism these days. People will write thousands of ranty words about all the things the company supposedly does wrong, and then admit in the same breath that they bought WoW's annual pass and have been playing Diablo 3 non-stop for the past two months. Actions speak louder than words, and nothing can even remotely threaten WoW's status these days considering that even the people who claim to not like it keep coming back for more (not to mention the millions of people that do genuinely love it).

SWTOR plays in a very different league here. It's still quite a big game, but it's not unreasonable to suspect that EA might have expected it to perform better than it currently does. The game will have to work hard to both keep attracting new players and retain current ones, and people bashing it left and right is not going to help with that.

This is where some smart arse usually chimes in that nobody cares what some dude says on the internet, but put enough dudes together and it will affect public opinion. Don't tell me that you've never become curious about something that lots of people praised or were turned off trying something that a lot of people declared a waste of time. So people continuously bashing SWTOR affects me negatively because it contributes to actually putting the continued existence of the game in its current state at risk (Psynister has a few words to say about that as well).

I'm also continuously baffled by how much hatred people have for a game that they didn't even play for very long. I've always had at least a bit of sympathy for WoW curmudgeons because most of the time their bitterness is based on the fact that the game has changed over the years. If they liked it one way, played for years, and Blizzard took that away from them... well, they really did lose something in a way. Even if I don't agree with the particulars, I can at least see how that would make someone grumpy. Many of the TOR haters on the other hand openly admit that they only played for a couple of days/levels... and yet still seethe with more hatred for the game than even the most evil Sith Lord, even though they realised that it wasn't what they wanted almost from the start. Why they can't just move on to something else I don't know.

Then of course we have the ones who always sound very intellectual somehow and know exactly why the game sucks without even having touched it. They tend to remind me of my dear old mother when she says that internet people aren't real, and there's about as much point in arguing the point. I actually stop myself from commenting on certain blogs nowadays purely because if I mention SWTOR in any positive context at all I know that I'll just have my intelligence questioned by the author or other commenters there.

Maybe it's my own fault for hanging out in the wrong circles. I did "come over" from a mostly WoW-centric blogosphere after all. I suppose I need to search harder to find more blogs that are TOR-positive, focus on reading those and it will all be better.

Unfortunately from what I've seen, even some fan sites aren't unaffected by all the negativity, starting off many an article with lines like...

"I still love TOR but..." [insert countless reasons why this is bound to only be a temporary state]

Can you imagine many happy conversations that start with telling someone that you "still love them but..."? Me neither.

Or how about:

"We can all agree that TOR has many problems..."

Yes, because the first thing that always comes to my mind when I want to talk about something I love are the many ways in which it sucks! It would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

This isn't meant to be a jab at fan sites. I wouldn't be surprised if I had started a post myself that way, somewhere, at some point. Neither is it supposed to mean that we shouldn't criticise the game as fans.

However, I think that we should focus on the things we enjoy, and just say what we have to say without sounding like we're constantly apologising for liking the game (or even for not liking certain aspects of the game), as if we expect nasty anti-TOR trolls to jump out of the woodwork even in the comment section of a tiny fan blog. We can't change minds that have already been made up, but we can try to be a good example for those who might not know much about the game and show them the many ways in which it rocks.

(And yes, I realise there is a certain irony in writing an angry rant about how people should be more positive. Normal and more positive business will resume shortly.)


Day 7: Team

This is the seventh post in my 10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots challenge. Click on any screenshot to see a larger version.

The challenge for this day of screenshots as I posed it in the original post was: Like most MMOs, SWTOR is the most fun in a group! Show us your team, however you define that term in this game.

The last couple of months have kind of played havoc with my team. Some beloved guildies have stopped playing, others had to change their names. The Luka Sene server community was transplanted onto and absorbed by The Red Eclipse. I'm not saying it's all bad, just that some of these screenshots are a bit out of date due to all the changes. I just haven't had a chance to take newer and better shots of everything yet.

Here's an old-ish shot of my guild in Eternity Vault. I really love how everyone looks focused and ready to jump into action (a rare state for people to be in, as we spend more time bumbling around and being distracted).

In PvP, everyone who helps our team to achieve its objectives is my friend. Incidentally, the Shadow on the left is a guy from my old server who changed his name to something completely different after transferring. I was really pleased when I discovered his identity by chance. Not that we really knew each other, but he had shown himself to be both competent and reasonable before, so it was nice to know that he'd successfully made the jump too.

Finally, nothing says "welcome home" quite like logging in to a random disco dance party on the fleet.


Book Review: Deceived

I got Deceived by Paul S. Kemp at the same time as Revan, so I guess it should be no surprise that I have a couple of things to say about that book as well. (Though in case you are wondering, a Fatal Alliance review won't be coming up any time soon.)

The book starts with the sacking of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and then follows the fates of three main characters during the days right afterwards: Darth Malgus, Jedi Aryn Leneer and the smuggler Zeerid Korr. The writing felt slightly more sophisticated to me than Revan's, except for the occasional strained metaphor sneaking in here and there.

On average it seems that Deceived has received better reviews than Revan, but I got roughly equal enjoyment out of both books. Deceived has some moments that stand out in your memory more than anything in Revan did (to me at least), but it also has passages that outright bored me, such as the 20-odd-page move-by-move re-narration of the "Deceived" cinematic game trailer. In the end it pretty much evens out.

Also, like in Revan, I found that once again the Sith actually made for the much more compelling character. You get some absolutely fascinating insights into the mind and background of Darth Malgus, and he goes through a very compelling character arc. I had to laugh a bit when it was revealed that for all his power he's not actually very good at Sith politics - not something that I ever expected, but it certainly explains a lot.

Comparatively, the Jedi and the smuggler fell relatively flat for me, the smuggler in particular. Their characters are mostly reduced to being focused on the one thing they care about more than anything else (Zeerid on his daughter, Aryn on her revenge), and where Malgus finds himself forced to re-evaluate his priorities, the other two just keep going on and on about the same thing without any significant development. While they are faced with physical obstacles, they always end up overcoming them quite easily. Aryn has a revelation at the very end but it comes too suddenly and randomly to be truly convincing, and the end of Zeerid's story just left me with a slight feeling of discomfort, not being quite sure what the point of it was.

The way the book ties in with the game is slightly less obvious than it was in Revan (for example Aryn Leneer isn't obviously a Guardian or a Sentinel, as she uses abilities from both), but it still caused me a fair amount of d'oh moments. For example it took me until about halfway through the book to realise that T7 was the same T7 as in the game. And until Malgus mentioned that a trooper had once set off a grenade in his face, I never even realised that that was him in the "Hope" cinematic. It's all tied together in so many ways...


Don't worry, it's only a simulation!

If you had to place The Old Republic on a slider that had sandbox / world on one end and themepark / game on the other, it would be very firmly on the "game" end. However, just because your MMO is very "gamey" that doesn't mean that it needs to completely ignore the world aspect. One thing I love about SWTOR is that I always get the feeling that the designers really love the universe they are working in and want it to make sense.

The latest example of this is that with 1.3, all warzones have now become enabled for same faction PvP to reduce queue times and address faction imbalances on individual servers. When WoW introduced same faction battlegrounds for rated play, I doubt that anyone even stopped to consider for a moment whether they could come up with some sort of in-game reason for Horde players to be hitting each other over the head in Arathi Basin instead of the Alliance.

Bioware is very different in this regard though, and they've tried hard to maintain consistency in the newly changed warzones by explaining the same faction PvP as simply being a simulation. A fairly flimsy excuse I admit, but at least they are trying. This meant both new voiceovers for Voidstar and Civil War for both factions, as well as subtle alterations to the animations: for example the ships in Civil War don't actually come crashing down at the end of the game if it was a same faction match (since it was just pretend).

I haven't heard the new Imperial voiceovers yet, but I quite like the ones they've added for Republic. I couldn't help but smile when the Civil War simulation analyst told my team that there would be "no shenanigans" on his watch. The Voidstar is even funnier, as the droid that does the commenting is pretty much a massive carebear and says things like "isn't this fun" or "everyone's a winner at heart" (if you lose). It almost makes me feel like he's trolling me; it's pretty hilarious! My only gripe with him is that he doesn't actually sound like a droid as his voice is missing that metallic resonance that droid voices usually have. I'm not sure whether that was some kind of oversight or intentional.

Either way I really appreciate the flavour that these little touches add to each warzone, instead of them being simply an opportunity for players to hit each other over the head for no reason.


Late night adventures on Balmorra

Two nights ago I was questing on Balmorra with my bounty hunter, specifically working my way through the Okara Droid Factory. This was my third time playing through that area so I had a good idea where everything was by now, except for one thing that remained a bit of a mystery to me: two elevator shafts that led to heroic areas according to the map, but I'd never actually been given a quest to go there.

Feeling confident and curious, I decided to have a bit of a nose around and see whether there was anything interesting down there. I immediately felt rewarded for my exploration when an [Area 4] quest popped up for me as soon as I descended on the first elevator. Since I've generally found area quests to be a bit easier than regular heroics and being a Powertech with a healing companion makes you very powerful at low levels, I decided to see whether I could solo any of it.

I managed to down the first two pulls without too much difficulty, but when I turned around after finishing the last mob I suddenly found myself face to face with an inquisitor and a juggernaut. They immediately threw me a group invite, and this turned out to be a very lucky coincidence for me as I'm pretty sure that there's no way I would have been able to solo some of the later pulls.

We didn't talk much but our progress was very smooth, as the juggernaut and I took turns tanking the elite and champion mobs while quickly burning down the weak and strong ones. Meanwhile the inquisitor crowd controlled, threw lightning around and dispensed heals where necessary. It struck me that since the story for the mission was very thin, we were effectively simply grinding mobs as a group - and it was very profitable for me too, as my bounty hunter is a scavenger and (what with everything in the factory being droids) could salvage crafting materials from pretty much every single mob we killed. I think Bioware has a pretty good grip on when to deliver a great story and when to let it take a step backwards to simply let the player enjoy playing with other people.

Once we were done, we headed straight for the other elevator, and lo and behold, at the bottom of this one another [Area 4] quest awaited. I only had a brief glimpse at the map to take in the objectives and decided to simply follow the other two guys' lead, which meant that it took until we were about halfway through the area for me to notice that we weren't actually on the same step of the mission. Apparently the two Sith had come down here before, had already completed the first step and had thus moved straight on to the ones afterwards. I felt pretty bad when I stopped and asked whether they would mind going back and getting me caught up, but while there was a bit of hesitation at first, nobody complained and in the end we did it. Since everything respawned pretty quickly, it took us bloody forever to go back and forth again through the entire complex.

When we were finally done, the inquisitor suddenly asked whether I had picked up the local datacron. I said that I didn't even know there was one, but that I wasn't too bothered. I felt that I had already "stolen" enough of their time with all the backtracking we had to do during the second mission and didn't want to impose any further, but the inquisitor happily led us back to the first heroic area, we fought our way through half of it again, and then jumped down some hole towards the datacron. My heart was in my throat for a moment when I saw all the pipes around me, as I've previously established that I suck at pipe-jumping, but fortunately this was more a case of falling down on two pipes in a row instead of jumping, which I just about managed.

I always try to be nice to people who need help or don't know what they are doing, but that night it was interesting to be in the role of the clueless newbie for a change and experience other people giving me a gentle leg up. I should really be used to how nice people in this game are by now, but WoW's pug culture has clearly left a very deep impression with me.


Book Review: Revan

It's been a while since I last read a video game tie-in, but during the last couple of days I've had a chance to read Revan by Drew Karpyshyn.

It's set about three hundred years before The Old Republic, and like the title implies it focuses on Revan. He shares about equal page time with Lord Scourge however, a character featured in the Jedi knight class story, and there's a lot of background on the Sith Emperor as well. In a nutshell, the book tells the story of how all these characters end up in the positions they are in when you meet them in the game.

As I've mentioned multiple times before, I never played either of the KOTOR games, but even so it was quite obvious to me that the book relies heavily on the story foundation set by those two games. Apparently some KOTOR fans were rather unhappy with how this turned out, as their in-game experiences didn't match what has now been declared official canon. Supposedly some things were retconned as well. Personally I was unburdened by such emotional baggage however, and coming at it purely from a SWTOR perspective I was happy to be provided with some background for characters and events featured in the game.

The writing is fluid and fast-paced, and I soon had trouble putting the book down as I wanted to see where it was all going. Scourge in particular was a fascinating character to me: powerful and power-hungry, ambitious and paranoid. That's not to say that Revan himself was boring to read about, but relatively speaking I found Scourge to have the more interesting personality.

The book also ties in very tightly with the game without being cheesy. Seasoned players will recognise familiar locations here and there (such as the Nexus Room Cantina in Kaas City), and many of the fighting moves described during the combat sequences are reminiscent of actual in-game abilities. There's even a small reference to the player character.

Like any good tie-in should be (/cough), it's completely optional reading. Even if you've never heard of Revan before by the time you encounter his name in the game, everything relevant will be explained as you go along. However, if you'd like to know more about how he ends up where he does, or almost more importantly how the Emperor has ended up where he is, I can heartily recommend this book to fill in all the gaps.


Referring A Friend

A good friend from WoW has been interested in trying out The Old Republic for a while, but unfortunately his old computer wasn't up for it when the game first launched. I was delighted when he e-mailed me the other day to let me know that he had finally upgraded his PC and was ready to give it a whirl.

I was simply happy about the prospect of having him around, but a guildie pointed out that I might as well make use of Bioware's refer a friend feature, especially as they are finally implementing a reward for successful referrals.

As it turned out, using the system was quite hard in our particular case. First off, there is currently a bug that will prevent you from referring a friend if they already have an account with EA and ticked the box to not receive any "promotional" material. So I had to get my friend to untick that... except that he couldn't log into his account(s) because he couldn't remember making them! Resetting the password didn't really seem to work either. After a lot of digging through old e-mails he found that one of the accounts associated with his e-mail addresses was actually an old Ultima Online account and managed to access it again, so I could finally send him the referral mail. Soon another gaudy speeder shall be mine! To be honest I think my friend should be the one to get something though, considering the hassle he had to go through to be referred. Bioware really shouldn't make it this hard for people to play their game.

Once he got into the game though, we had a very good time. He rolled up a trooper and did Ord Mantell on his own, just to team up with a gunslinger alt of mine on the fleet. We ran the Esseles together and then spent the entirety of Friday evening questing on Coruscant. It really can't be overstated how great this game is for small group play, as the design manages to hit that sweet spot where it's perfectly possible to solo and have an enjoyable experience, but playing with a friend is simply so much better.

The group conversations make for some of the best fun ("God, there that goodie-two-shoes goes offering our services for free again... why can I never win those rolls?!"), and being able to duo most of the heroics is great too. We felt really challenged when we tackled our first four-man heroic with no healer and wiped several times on the last guy. Eventually we went back out to gain another level and wait for our cooldowns to come back up, and when we came back to it later we just about managed it with my tanking companion surviving with only a sliver of health left.

It was also interesting to see some of the small quality of life changes that Bioware made to the lower levels. They might have been announced in the patch notes somewhere, but I have to admit that I never read the whole lot... most notably all the final stage bosses for the bonus quests on Coruscant are now summoned by clicking on something, which was a nice change from endlessly having to wait around for respawns like I sometimes had to do during previous playthroughs.

The only thing I didn't like was discovering that all the security chests on the Esseles had disappeared, which gave me unpleasant flashbacks to when WoW removed all of its dungeon chests. However, at the moment the jury is still out on whether this was actually an intentional change or whether it is some kind of bug.


Doing Eternity Vault through the group finder

I wrote about my experiences using the group finder to run flashpoints about a week ago. I've been in a couple more runs since then and they've all been pleasant experiences, with no exceptions. However, I was still curious how well the new tool would work for operations.

A couple of guildies queued up for a random operation a couple of days ago, but got bored and went off to do something else after a while when a raid failed to materialise. To be fair, the group at the time consisted of four damage dealers and a healer, meaning that it lacked another healer and two tanks. Looking for the most sought-after roles only was never going to yield quick results.

On Sunday we tried again, this time with a full flashpoint group, so that the tool would only have to match us with another group like ours and we'd be golden. We got an ops group instantly!

The tl;dr version is that it was fun and not dissimilar to the EV pug that I participated in before the server transfers and introduction of the group finder. People asked to have the loot rules clarified in advance to avoid accidental ninja-ing and were no less courteous just because the group had been formed automatically. As an aside, I'm not sure why Bioware got rid of the old loot system for story mode; you'd think that would be perfect for group finder pugs now...

The group finder blessed us with four players of extremely varying experience: The second healer was a Sage who had clearly done it all before and was both competent and friendly. The dps Guardian we got had no experience with EV whatsoever, but he was very enthusiastic, chatty and followed instructions well. He also told us that he thought that my guildies and I were great people, unlike certain others who had apparently ridiculed him for his gear and called him a noob. Bless him.

The second damage dealer, a gunslinger, was slightly undergeared as he was mostly wearing greens, but he seemed to know which buttons to push. I took note of the fact that he deployed his damage reduction shield at appropriate times. He was also very quiet however (though he did respond to instructions and so on), and a bit slow when it came to things like target switching. The most curious thing about him was that he always responded to ready checks with "1". We couldn't figure out where that came from, but shrugged it off as a funny quirk.

The undisputed star of the show however was our pug tank, to whom I shall refer as "Checkers" in this post (not his actual character name). He was slightly undergeared, but more importantly totally clueless about operations and many other things. We knew that we were in for a ride when immediately upon group formation, he asked how to get to the operation and we had to actually tell him to press the "travel now" button.

When he died on the first boss, he released and somehow managed to get lost.

"How do I get back in?"
"Erm, there should be a purple portal right next to where you respawned, don't you see it?"
"Nope lol."

In the end I had to go back out and fetch him, as he had wandered off into the middle of the Gav Daragon somewhere.

On the second boss he showed us that he knew that tanking was about having aggro, as he insisted on taunting Gharj off the main tank over and over again, resulting in people having to dive for cover whenever the boss suddenly ran over to the ranged group. Checkers also tried to heroically tank all the adds on a sinking island, but a rescue managed to get him to safety before he could die this time.

As we approached the Ancient Pylons, multiple people demanded in chat that nobody should push any buttons, using ALL CAPS for emphasis. Can you guess what Checkers did as soon as he got the chance? If your answer was "push the button", you'd be correct. Fortunately we muddled though the fight successfully, even if our party got overwhelmed by ackleys at the end (after completing).

On the Council we immediately had people placing bets that Checkers wouldn't be able to kill his mob, but he surprised us all by pulling it off (repeatedly as it turned out) and surviving with just a sliver of health left. We did fail the fight however as our gunslinger couldn't kill his opponent - in fact he barely managed to shave off half the guy's health before the timer ran out, and no, he didn't have the debuff. After another failed attempt we had our overgeared guild tank swap targets with him and after that we managed to complete the encounter.

As we were starting to explain the Soa fight, Checkers suddenly left the group and went offline. We were sad. I admit that we had been having a bit of a laugh about his antics on Mumble, but we also thought that he was adorable in his own way and I had been happy to answer all his questions. He had also given no indication of being unhappy with the run; in fact he had said that he was loving it. A guildie quipped that maybe Checkers' mum had pulled the plug on him, but considering that he did come across as pretty young and disappeared at exactly ten o'clock, that joke might not have been too far off the truth.

Anyway, we requeued for another tank but there wasn't anyone in the queue. Our ops leader suggested that the dps Guardian should change his role to tank on the tool so that it would pull another dps in, seeing how Soa only really requires one tank anyway. Unfortunately the group finder wouldn't let us requeue for replacements at all after that however. I strongly suspect that something went screwy, considering that our gunslinger suddenly had a healer icon next to his name as well.

Since we couldn't get an eighth now as the group finder doesn't allow manual invites for automatically formed parties, we ended up seven-manning Soa - wiped a few times but got him down in the end and everyone was happy. We gave the remaining puggers the address of our guild website just in case they were interested - I don't expect any of them to pop in, but I do hope that we'll be able to use the group finder as a recruitment tool in the long run.