SWTOR: I never want to see Kuat Drive Yards again

kdy1The good news, at least for me personally, is that I finally hit level 55 and can go straight into the Shadows of Revan content.

Now, how I got to 55, I’d rather not say. But this being a blog post and all, it would be a pitiful thing if I clammed up now. Basically, my journey from 52.5 to 55 was a tedious series of dailies on Section X and endless runs of Kuat Drive Yards. In an alternate universe, I’m still running KDY.

I will always be running KDY.

It’s not a particularly interesting or even rewarding dungeon. You get some rep and some comms, but good loot is few and far between, and non-existent on the bosses. Even after having run it scads of times, I couldn’t tell you how to get through it as I just mindlessly followed whatever gung-ho player wanted to lead the way and obviously knew more than I. I did grok that there are different objectives and a different end boss based on some light randomization, but for the most part it’s running through rooms, clicking on glowies, and killing groups.

So why did I lean on it hard as my crutch to get to 55? Simple: KDY is almost always available as a cross-level instance — and it delivered a good stream of constant experience. With a booster always running, I got two, three bars per run. It helped and I guess I can’t complain TOO much now that it’s all over.

kdy2One of the frabulous joys of playing a SWTOR free account is that the game loves to remind you just how low your credit cap is. Mine is 350K, and at 275K or so, every time I picked up a credit, I’d get a warning that I was rapidly approaching the cap. Hey, you know when I pick up credits? EVERY DANG FIGHT. I’m not a big fan of MMOs spamming me with messages. I know I’m walking on the wild side with my credit acquisition; shut up already. Maybe there’s an option to disable it? Doubtful, but I’ll look into it.

So whenever I get over 300K, I have to go on a bit of a spending spree or risk getting the excess credits tucked into escrow. I’ve been looking at unlocks on the GTN to see if there was anything to further help my character. Last night’s choice was either more GTN posting spots (which I don’t use) or an account-wide unlock for white eyes as a character creation option. Sure. Why not.

On a brighter note, I finally started to set up my stronghold on Dromund Kaas. 5K was nothing for a stronghold purchase, and I was happy to see that I had accrued several items due to various activities my character had done up to this point. It’s weird working with a hook system like this — it’s not nearly as flexible as RIFT or WildStar, but it’s certainly better than LOTRO’s hook system. At least the rooms don’t look spread out and empty when you put stuff in them. Maybe next time I get close to my credit cap, I’ll buy some unlocks or more decorations.

I’m excited to head into Shadows of Revan and get back into the story of the game, not to mention gear up a bit more. After that, an alt might be in my future, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself…

6 wonderful things about the Operative that I’m getting to know again

op1Now that I’ve been back on my Operative in Star Wars: The Old Republic for almost a week, I feel like she’s gone from being this foreign entity to a familiar-yet-newly-wonderful character. It’s helped that I’ve had some assistance from guildies to run a few flashpoints and gear up a bit (in addition to new gear purchased with commodations). So here are six quick things that I’m (once again) appreciating about this class.

1. I love using the blaster rifle in this game, especially because only the Operative and the Commando (I think) pretty much use these. And taking down Jedi with such a weapon feels great. Where’s your fancy lightsabers and force bullying now?

2. I’ve always been a fan of flinging DoTs as a primary means of DPS, as there’s something deeply satisfying about watching your enemy’s health tick down even when you’re not doing something right then. My lethality build revolves on a few of these, and I’ve gotten into the groove such that an elite is no trouble at all.

3. I was initially bummed that I couldn’t switch over to being a sniper, but now? I’m happy that I have the options that the Operative does in the healing department. Being able to sub in as a healer in a group or (especially) heal myself in tricky spots is terrific.

op24. Speaking of heals, some of the only discipline perks that got me interested were those that coupled self-heals with my shield and stim pack. It’s nothing major, but every little bit helps, and I’ve had fights where those extra heals kept me from keeling over.

5. Stealth! Oh, stealth, how I usually ignore you in MMOs but realy like you on the Operative. Not only is it so much fun to stealth-backstab a target or to prowl through a mob-packed area without having to fight everything along the way, but I love being able to instantly drop into stealth during combat and shed all aggro. It’s a great “oh crap!” escape button when things start to go wrong.

6. Finally, I missed the Operative’s/Imperial Agent’s attitude. She feels removed from all of the other classes, even on her own side, because she’s part of a different world. Doing ops and covert missions — even if it’s just part of the mission dialogue flavor — is a refreshingly different side of the Star Wars world. Not everything has to be Sith and Jedi and Wookiee co-pilots.

SWTOR: In trouble after Makeb

makebI never thought that finishing up an expansion would be a cause for consternation instead of celebration, but here I am.

I guess my SWTOR Operative was a lot further along in the Makeb storyline than I realized, because it took but two nights to finish up the planet. Storywise, I have to report that it was decent but not great. I’m sent there as part of a team to secure some powerful substance known as isotope-5, but other than being “powerful” I’m rather fuzzy on how it’s much more than the MacGuffin of the week. Lots of running around, killing things, and doing covert activities to save the planet (which was tearing itself apart) and get rid of both the Hutts and the Republic.

Part of the narrative problem was that it’s rather difficult to really sell the imminent danger of a planet coming apart when it’s been coming apart for well over a year now with no significant change. Sure, you can show tremors from earthquakes (sorry, groundquakes) and a delightfully jagged landscape and lasers shooting down those giant techno-holes that Star Wars excels in creating, but I was having a hard time buying into it.

I thought it did redeem itself in the end with some tough choices and a rather shocking cliffhanger. Let me say that HK-51 was not pleased with my constant decisions to be all light side; I think my affection with him is -555 right now. Gonna have to buy that droid a whole lot of birthday presents.

So why am I freaking out a bit? Because Makeb is done… and I’m only level 52. Well, almost 53, but still. I’m a couple of levels shy of going into the Shadows of Revan expansion, which means that I need to make up this XP deficit somehow. I thought I did all of the quests I saw, but I guess not.

Thus, I’m heading back to Section X for a string of dailies, which I plan to suppliment with some flashpoint runs. As a filthy F2P player, I can only get boss loot from three flashpoints a week, but I don’t really think I’ll be able to do many more than that anyway with my schedule. So we’ll see how this goes, but I anticipate it being a while before I hit 55 and can head to Rishi. Any quick leveling suggestions would be welcome!

SWTOR: Operative back in business

hk1A couple of serendipitous events transpired yesterday that prompted me to dig out my SWTOR Operative from long-term storage. A reader made mention of swapping for HK-51 as a companion, which reminded me how I had just acquired the assassin droid on Yeti and never got much play time with him at my side. Then I was talking with a friend who is leading a guild on my server but on the Imperial side. And finally I started thinking about how it’d be nice to jump up to a character who is on the first expansion and is already decked out with good gear, full light side points, affection’d up companions, and whatnot.

Anyway, enough of the why — I logged into Yeti and found myself in a world of confusion.

It’s one thing to log back into a game after a long absence or revisit a low-level toon. But it’s orders of magnitude more bewildering when it’s been a few expansions and you pick back up a high-level character that you used to know inside-out only to realize that it’s a practical stranger to you.

That screenshot right up there? That’s me standing in the midst of an enemy camp who-knows-where spending 20 straight minutes trying to make sense of my hotbar and all of the discipline changes. I think I got straight-up killed eight seconds into my first fight because I had no idea what was going on.

hk2Instead of trying to muddle it out on the fly, I decided that it would be wisest to retreat back to the fleet and regroup in peace. It was there that I realized that one of the reasons I was dying so quickly is that all of my former artifact gear was unequpped — the last time I was on this character, I was a sub, and now that I’m F2P I can’t use it any more. So I ponied up for an artifact unlock as well as (why not) a white-and-pink dye module to shout to the world that I am all that is man.

Well, all that is man who plays a blue-skinned female character.

Properly geared, I turned my attention to my build. My new guild leader pointed me in the direction of a good 3.0 DPS guide for Operatives, and I spent a lot of time pouring over the changes and trying to figure out how all of this was going to work. I decided to try lethality first, just because I’ve always liked DoTs and long-range attacks, but I may switch to Concealment for a simpler setup if I can’t get used to it.

Feeling more sorted out, I returned to Makeb, grabbed a spiffy buff that I guess the devs threw in to help weirdos like me finish up the planet, and headed back into the fray. I did a lot better this time, slowly getting used to the new rotation. I’m still not thrilled how much I have to keep flicking my eyes all over the screen to see how many tactical advantages I have, what cooldowns are up, what DoTs are up on the bad guys, etc. But I was killing better and HK-51 was doing a spectacular job cleaning up behind me.

I even took on a rather involved solo boss fight with a giant isotope-5 droid. It required me to continually run around the room to activate turrets, deactivate laser beams, avoid bombardments, and fight smaller droids. The whole deal took me around ten minutes, but in the end I was victorious.

As a side note, my decision not to plunge the facility — and my teammates — into boiling liquid magma was derided by HK-51. I think my light side nature may rub him the wrong way.

Not for the first time do I wish that SWTOR would let you switch advanced classes. I was digging the gunslinger fight style on my Smuggler and would LOVE to have a sniper rifle as an IA (they look so dang cool). But I guess I’ll have to be content with heals and stealthing instead!

SWTOR: Marooned on Alderaan

aldEvery SWTOR player seems to have a strong grudge about (at least) one planet that is personally annoying to them to play through.  I may have a couple, although one of my picks is rather surprising, even to myself: Alderaan.

On the surface, it doesn’t make sense.  Alderaan is really dang beautiful, like an Alpine ski resort, right down to the affluent folks in their codos.  It’s a screenshotter’s paradise.  It’s also not that cluttered, which is one of my complaints about the “closed in” nature of the city planets (Nar Shadda, Coruscant), but rather wide-open and spacious.

Yet I came to dislike it when I went through it as an Imperial a few years back and was somewhat anxious when I came to it on my smuggler.  My fears have been realized, as I’ve become bogged down in meandering, unhappy play sessions during which I’ve been picking at what makes Alderaan distasteful to me.

Probably the main reason isn’t the scenery, but the story.  It’s a bunch of (supposedly good) rich snobs versus the (supposedly bad) rich snobs with some hive-minded insects thrown into the mix, and boy I could not care less about it all.  When the game gave me the opportunity to squeeze a particularly snotty museum owner — who had been incredibly rude to me upon our first meeting — I took those dark side points and didn’t look back.  But as a smuggler and also an average Joe player, I don’t really relate too well to high society scheming and power plays.  I guess it’s an interesting angle to take for a planet, but even the good guys come off as ivory tower pampered babies ordering their troops into death while they dine on the finest roast beast.

It might also be that I’m getting a little anxious to be wrapping up the first chapter of the smuggler storyline, particularly after the tenth time that Skaavik gets one step ahead of me (due to the script, not due to my own error), taunts me, and runs off while I have to fight his lackeys.  I am just bored with selecting responses to him — the game needs a good [eyeroll] emote as an option.

And I know it’s silly, but I keep thinking of how futile any effort on this planet is due to its impending demise (in a few thousand years) from a Death Star blast.  Oh hey, Leia’s ancestors live here?  Let’s mention them a few million times!

Maybe it’s not the planet at all, but me.  I could be at a little bit of a lull and need a good session or two to really plow through the rest of this planet and blast off for good.

In other SWTOR thoughts, this piece on IO9 about the Star Wars canon (which is not a huge concern of mine, personally) brought up an interesting through that had previously escaped me — if the old expanded universe was wiped clean for all of the new Star Wars stuff and SWTOR exists in the old EU, what does that mean for SWTOR?  Will it just be an abnormality that the franchise will overlook for its continued existence?

SWTOR: Happy new year! Get ganked.

pvpWhen I rolled on a PvP server for my recent return to Star Wars: The Old Republic, I didn’t give it too much thought.  I did so because my multi-game guild — for some reason — was on this particular server, and sometimes PvP servers are pretty beneign.

In fact, most of my experiences to date have been pretty tame, to the point where I totally forgot that I’ve been constantly PvP flagged.  However, last night reminded me in a quick fashion why I was a fool to venture onto such a server.  You think I would have learned by now.

I’ve been questing on Tatooine, almost finished with both the world and personal story quest lines.  I was in the middle of the dune sea doing a short quest, and right after I triggered a brief cutscene, a level 60 Sith came out of nowhere to hack my character into short bits.  My immediate instincts were to fight back — flight is impossible, really — but when you’re 30 levels below, there’s no chance.  He was there to gank and I was there to be ganked for his ego.  You’re welcome, Mr. Tough Guy.

Fine, whatever.  I rezzed (no field medic probes for me, as I’m F2P) and started to venture into a giant underground bunker for the final planet story quest.  It’s one of those areas that is dense with mobs and takes a lot of methodical progress via fights to get through.  Nothing too above my capabilities… that is, until the Empire showed up.

At first it was just one guy who was there for the same quests, and I gathered had as little interest in PvPing as I did.  We even cleared mobs for each other and I tried hard not to accidentally catch him in my bomb blasts.  But as I’m finishing up a room, a Bounty Hunter comes out at me and starts going postal on my face.

This was the one shining moment of the night, as I actually managed to fight him off and kill him (see above screenshot as proof).  That’s a minor miracle, as my brain always locks up in PvP situations.  I’m like “HIT ALL THE BUTTONS IN A PANIC” with no time to think through and react appropriately.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.  For some reason, I was the only Republic player in this area, but there were just scads of Empire all over the place.  I want to reiterate that I needed to get through this place to wrap up the final quest, so I didn’t have an option to leave or do something else.  There wasn’t anything else to do.

Another level 60 Sith killed me.  Sigh.  I do the long, long run back, fight more mobs to get back into the bunker, only to turn the corner and have a pair of Empire players pop out at me and kill me again.

Now, I’m not here to grind any axe about PvP.  I intellectually understand why people like it and don’t begrudge its existence.  But man, I hate it, and this night was a prime example of why.  None of this was fun; it was being a punching bag for other players who cost me time and progress.  There was no help around and no epic team-ups.  Just a particularly vicious game of tag in which I was always It due to the color of my name plate.

I logged out, frustrated, and strongly regretting going against my experience by rolling on this server to begin with.  Listen, I like my guild, but even good people aren’t worth gaming aggravation.  This is not the kind of journey I want to have going forward, but I also didn’t want to reroll my character now that I’m level 30 and have invested some actual money into her unlocks.

Fortunately, upon some investigation I discovered that my account did have one free character transfer on it.  I didn’t have to think twice.  I said goodbye to my guild and moved my character back to the RP-PvE server on which my old stable of characters reside.  Yeah, it’s going to stink to have to scount around for a new guild, but to me it’s worth it to avoid being some PvP chump.

SWTOR: Toy soldiers in the desert

twinsunsWhy do the idiots always come to me to die?

This thought has been echoing through my head as I explore the sandy wastes of Tatooine in my turquoise-and-green getup.  It seems that no matter where I go in this game, I keep bumping into space yokels that are designed to be so annoying that it requires an epic feat of will not to pull the trigger seventeen times or so in their general direction.

I mean, my time is precious.  I’m not a heartless Smuggler, either.  I hear the sob story of a guy who had his daughter kidnapped by pirates, and I want to see justice done and the girl returned.  I do not mind that detour, and I do it gladly not looking for the label of hero.

But then there are situations like this one NPC I met last night who was distraught that some other bad guys stole his precious valuables.  I gave him lip about it not being my problem, but his companion stuck up for him saying that this guy was the paragon of virtue and help in the community and that he deserved some assistance.  Sigh.  Okay.

So I do the standard Rambo stuff: blast into a base, kill a jillion faceless minions and drones, and find a chest with his stuff… which turns out to be toys.  Toy action figures.  I am so dead serious right now.  It completely caught me off guard, and I returned to that NPC with an expression of disbelief so severe that my eyebrows still haven’t lowered after a full night of sleep.

Even the guy’s companion was taken aback when I reveal that it was a rescue mission for toys.  Then I’m given the choice to give the toys back or stomp on them, and it’s not much of a choice at all, is it?  I get dark side points for wrecking the toys, even though this moron just sent me into a mortally perilous situation to get his G.I.Joes back.  My only regret is that I couldn’t go back and stuff him into the chest.

At least it was something different, I’ll give BioWare that, but the resolution left a bad taste in my mouth (especially being “dinged” for having a very reasonable reaction to a guy almost getting me killed over nothing).

Casting off my cares

I’ve been shifting how I’m approaching SWTOR lately and having a much better time for it.  Instead of feeding that latent completionist side of me, I’ve decided to cut out activities such as datacron hunting or hanging around on a planet forever to find a group for heroic quests in favor of going through the storylines and simply enjoying the ride.

Another big (for me) decision was to stop getting worked up over orange gear.  Previously in SWTOR, I prized orange (moddable cosmetic) gear over all else and would constantly sell any other quest rewards.  But keeping that gear on the up and up requires a lot more work — 2 to 3 mods per armor/weapon — and was slowing me down.  So now I’ll equip orange if the stats are better, but I’m fine using other quest rewards and drops if they’re upgrades.  I’ll hang on to any oranges I find for endgame cosmetic fiddling, but right now I want to keep the ball rolling.