Star Wars: The Old Republic- Endgame Impressions

So here’s my thoughts on The Old Republic’s endgame, now that I’ve been playing it for a few weeks. I hit max level on my first (and if history is any guide) only toon on February 11th, about 2 months after I’d started playing and with an ingame time of a little under 7 calendar days. I leveled my toon as a pure evil darkside sith Inquisitor, and my character is a Twi’lek (not that race makes a ton of difference). I mainly stayed away from PvP and I didn’t allow my guild to twink me through everything, I leveled pretty much solely through questing and grabbing a pug when a Flashpoint looked interesting. So what are you supposed to do at level 50, anyway? The short answer is, grind through the gear progression, pretty much like every other MMO. Specifically, you can:

Unlock and run dailies on Belsavis and Ilum

If you’re a player without a guild, this is the fastest way to start picking up some daily commendations, which you can turn in at the rate of 120 per piece of gear and 8 per equipment component (for upgrading weapons), to earn the first tier of PvE gear. Dailies are short missions (5-10 minutes each) that can be repeated once every 24 hours. Between Belsavis and Ilum, once you have unlocked the hubs and depending on how long it takes to find a group of 2-4 to complete some of the Heroic Dailies, as well as factoring in that at least one of them is still broken, you can earn enough Daily Commendations in about 5 days to buy a piece of T1 PvE gear. Multiply that times 9 slots and you could spend a month and a half getting yourself your first set of first tier of PvE gear. However, if you’ve made even a modest attempt to keep yourself geared, as long as you have good gear with level 50 or 51 implants you can start tackling the easier Hard Mode (haha) Flashpoints  such as Black Talon, which drop T2 PvE gear- you can essentially skip the first tier of PvE gear, if you want.  I also neglected to mention that you can make 7k credits or more per daily, meaning you can easily bank 200k a day just by doing dailies. Personally, I think the dailies get boring, I only get about 90 minutes on weeknights to play and dailies are what I usually do if I can’t find anything with my Guild or PvP. Besides, I am starting to get better gear than the dailies provide so even though it would be nice to have a full set…I don’t need it. It’s purely for the completionist in me or out of boredom that I do dailies any more- frankly, Skyrim is a better use of my scant gaming time, though I do enjoy doing the dailies as they are easy and a good way to meet new people.

Work on obtaining 3 tiers of gear for PvP- Centurion, Champion, and Battlemaster

Get in there and grind, soldier! There are dailies for PvP as well as weeklies, and with a certain number of wins (3) in a day (also 9 in a week), you get a gear bag, which will either contain a piece of champion gear or some Champion commendations and some Centurion commendations, which you can trade in for PvP gear on the Fleet. There are also dailies and weeklies for kills (30 and 130 each award a gear bag). Once you hit 60 Valor (PvP XP, essentially), you can instead choose to receive Battlemaster gear bags, which contain Battlemaster PvP gear. Gotta be level 60 to use those, though. I’ve not played a lot of PvP and so I can’t comment much- though I hear Sorcerors are overpowered and PvP is a mess of stunlocks, so my class will likely get nerfed- but I will say that the gear progression on PvP is super, SUPER RNG-based. If you get lucky you can pimp yourself out in a nice set of Champion gear fairly fast, if you’re unlucky you might open 10 bags in a row and not get a single piece. I don’t have a lot of motivation to play PvP for gear, frankly.

Work on obtaining 3 tiers of gear for PvE- Tionese, Columi and Rakata, Run Hard Mode flashpoints for gear, Run Operations for gear

Once you ding 50, you can start running Hard Mode flash points. The bosses of these drop tokens which are class specific- but not advanced class specific, so you still have a choice how to “spend” that drop- that you can turn into the vendors on fleet for Columi gear. Some of them drop pieces of Tionese gear as well. There are lists on the web of what order to start with, but you should definitely be able to do at least Black Talon as a fresh 50. After you are fairly well geared it’s time to start doing operations, which drop Columi gear and Rakata tokens, and then finally the end of end game is Hard/Nightmare mode Operations, which drop Rakata gear, the highest in the game (unless you count rare, crit-crafted gear that has an extra augment slot). There are currently 7 Flashpoints and 2 operations in the game, with one more of each coming in patch 1.2 (also a new PvP Warzone!)

Collect matrix cube shards to build your artifact and hunt holocrons to increase your stats

For the Pokemon “gotta catch em all” crowd, there are, scattered about the game, matrix cube shards that can be assembled into a powerful artifact, and holocrons that contain + stats to attributes. The most impressive of these is the nearly impossible to obtain (without Ventrilo and the Internet) +10 to all attributes Holocron, which resides on the central meeting place for the two factions. This is most fun with a bunch of buddies and some beers on Ventrilo, and is a great way to see a lot of scenic vistas, and it’s also a great way to satisfy compulsive min/maxers on the Inspect screen. BIG PROPS to my Guild, WTS Deathsticks, PST, on Nadd’s Sarcophagus; I think all officers and many other 50’s have obtained the +10 to All ‘cron through teamwork and copious yelling on Vent.

Reverse Engineer all your crafting recipes/Play the Galactic Trade Network

This should be pretty obvious- and it gets expensive. Gotta spend that 200k a day you make running dailies every day on something, right?

 

So what do I personally think of the endgame of TOR? Compared to the other MMO’s I’ve played (Guild Wars, EVE Online, TOR), there doesn’t seem to be a lot to do outside of gear progression and PvP. Bioware really, really, really really wants you to roll alts, lots of alts, see all 8 stories alts. I was home sick from work with a 103 degree fever and so I actually got to see the Guild Summit from Austin and every answer was  IT’S COMING IN 1.2 or WE’D LOVE TO DO THAT IN THE FUTURE. Frankly, 1.2 needs to add a ton to the game- I personally am waiting to see what the “Events Team” has been working on (supposedly, Bioware-run, gamewide events that affect everyone, think of the Rifts in Rift) to hang on to a lot of subscriptions, with Guild Wars 2 supposedly breaking a lot of paradigms and entering public beta. I really like Star Wars but here’s what  my daily play time (outside of Wednesday night Guild Nights, where we do have a ton of fun) looks like:

Log in.

Go to Fleet and pick up my dailies and/or weeklies if I need them.

Shop for materials and set up some crafting.

Ping general to see if anyone needs a Healer for a HM Flashpoint. Get bored spamming after 5 minutes, leave and go to Belsavis. Alternatively, shut down TOR and go play Skyrim.

Run Belsavis dailies, if it’s a cool group, continue to Ilum dailies. If I’m bored, switch to Skyrim.

Log off (it’s been 2 hours) OR:

Head to the Ilum PvP area and see if there are any Reps there to fight for my Ilum dailies- oh, wait, Ilum is so broken that they are scrapping it with more details coming later THIS YEAR. So there’s even LESS Ilum PvP than there used to be :(

Queue for Warzones. If it’s anything else but peak time, expect to wait 10-15 minutes with a 90% possibility of getting Huttball. Again. Get bored, log out, play Skyrim.


See what I mean? It gets old after a while. And once those 2 operations go down on Nightmare mode…I worry what will be left. Still and all though, I’m having a lot of fun and don’t feel like the $110 I’ve invested so far has been wasted. Will I re-up my sub? Depends on whether or not 1.2 comes out when they say it will, some time in April. Until then at least, I’m on Nadd’s Sarcophagus and I’m always looking to run a hard mode FP with ya!

 

 

 

PC Gaming- Skyrim Review

After spending 63 hours over the last month in Skyrim, I’m nowhere even close to completing what the game has to offer. However, I do feel that it’s time I wrote up a review. I’ve been looking for something other than SEO and social media to write about here, and this fits the bill nicely! No doubt you have already read a dozen or more reviews by now as well as forming your own opinion of the game; so hopefully, my take on things won’t bore you too excessively.

I would never tell the geeks on the message boards I hang around with this, but my first Elder Scrolls game was actually Morrowind on the original XBOX. I loved the game and couldn’t believe how it presented such a wide open world and just sort of let you treat it as a sandbox to do whatever you wanted. I spent many hours in the game, however, after the second time my 50+ hour save was corrupted I gave the game to a friend because I was so frustrated. He proceeded to play it for the next 3 years as he recovered from back surgery, culminating in an incident where he so over-enchanted his crafting gear that when he tried to make another potion, the XBOX gave him the equivalent of a BSOD and just quit out to the main menu. Now that’s powergaming!

Oblivion was the second iteration I played of an Elder Scrolls game, and unfortunately, was just a bit too ambitious for my hardware at the time. I bought the game and tried…gamely…to play it, however, FPS dropping to 4 every time a wolf attacks is not a good recipe for fun.  I got a new PC last November, and as such reinstalled Oblivion and the DLC as well as the Shivering Isles expansion. I proceeded to play maybe 40% of the way through the main quest about a dozen times with different toons, loving the intricacy and detail in the world but hating the way the plot “advanced”- and particularly hating the Oblivion gates, which were ugly and powerfully unfun. I still haven’t beaten the main questline in Oblivion, and probably never will. I have, however, looked up the plot synopsis and ending on Wikipedia, and it appears to be very good. The world was also beautiful and rife with possibility.

That brings us to Skyrim, my GOTY for 2011 barring The Old Republic being the best MMO since sliced bread. Skyrim places you in the series’ setting of Tamriel, a swords-and-sorcery high fantasy setting allowing for dragons, daedra, elves, orcs- all the standards we’ve come to expect from the genre. Much like the other games, Skyrim starts with you as a prisoner on your way to be executed, when Some Big Shit Goes Down and you are set free to make your own way through the world. TES games are unique in that you don’t distribute points manually to make your character get better- instead, you will find yourself becoming more adept at what it is you do most. So, swing a one-handed sword a lot and you’ll find your 1-handed skill going up. Pick a bunch of pockets, and it will become easier. Cast lighting bolts, Emperor-style, and your Destruction magic skill will go up. (Side note for series veterans: the Athletics and Acrobatics skills are gone from the trees, I guess Bethesda finally figured out that it’s game breaking to allow someone to tape down their space bar, jump for 3 hours while they watch a movie, and come back to their PC to have Spiderman in armor ready to go break stuff). This means that over time, you will feel your character get better at whatever their concentrated skill focus is- my Breton battlemage (lightning on the left hand, Ebony sword on the right) went from barely slicing the skin on orcs to sending enemies flying 40 feet with finishing blows and first-person decapitations for critical strikes. The player also gets Perks when they advance a level, allowing for rewards based on customization. Spread your perks too thin, and you’ll be getting things like a 10% increase to heavy armor. Specialize in one school of destruction and max out the perk tree, however, and that will lead to things like “double-casting lightning spells will disintegrate enemies. Pretty sweet, and it rewards the player for customizing their toon and not trying to be a jack-of-all-trades. This also increases replay value!

One of the other things that’s unique about Skyrim as opposed to some of the other RPGs you may have played in the past is that it is completely non-linear. As soon as the opening sequence ends (it’s pretty thrilling, for the record, but too long to sit through to roll multiple characters. Make a save before the game starts asking you to define your character so you don’t have to keep revisiting  the introduction) the player is free to do…whatever they want, to whomever they want. You can go anywhere, do anything, kill (almost) anyone, work on your alchemy, smithing, or cooking skills, or simply just explore the land. (Minor spoiler alert- you should advance the main quest at least to the point where you fight the first dragon; you will be missing out on a pretty major part of the game if you don’t. I kind of wish the game forced you to do that fight as it’s pretty crucial to having fun in the game that you do). There are several factions in the game- some of which include the returning Thieves’ Guild and Dark Brotherhood- and some new ones as well, including the Companions and the College of Winterhold. You complete a quest line ranging anywhere from 7 to dozens of quests long, and eventually come to be seen as a powerful figure within those individual factions. As with all Elder Scrolls games, Skyrim is not a direct, linear sequel to Oblivion, so there are newly introduced factions like the Empire and the Stormcloaks that see you through choosing up sides in a Civil War or the Greybeards, who request your assistance defeating an ancient terror that has returned to the province.

The graphics are honestly nothing special up close, the character models aren’t even as good looking or differentiated as they were in Oblivion; though you don’t have to zoom in on an NPC’s face to talk to them anymore, the game lets you converse at waist level like a normal conversation. However, the vistas and dungeons are spectacular- the feeling you get in a TES game of limitless possibility is definitely enhanced by the long draw distance and detail in the graphics. I found myself thinking “self, everything in Skyrim is so….bleak!”, and wishing for some beautiful lush vistas like those in Oblivion- but it just wouldn’t fit the setting. Besides, there are some hidden gems that will temporarily warm you up as you explore the icy reaches of Skyrim’s vistas. Don’t expect any awesome cutscenes, though- as is tradition  with TES games all of the story is told with in-game assets, and if you don’t pay attention you might miss a major conversation or event. The game definitely does not hold your hand, and you’ll find yourself looking up on the Internet why you’re doing a particular quest once your journal starts to fill up if you go too long in between play sessions. I’ve completed over 100 quests and still feel like I’m about half done with the game.

Combat is much improved from Oblivion but I have heard people complain that it lacks “meatiness”. For me, zapping enemies from range and then slicing at them with my one-handed sword has been a viscerally satisfying experience, but the one complaint I do agree with is that dungeons and areas may be filled with 90% mobs that you will easily defeat, and then the boss one-shots you. There could have been a bit more thought put into balance, there, and perhaps save scumming wouldn’t be so rampant. That reminds me, it’s also trivially easy to break the game through abuse of the smithing, alchemy or enchanting schools. You can forge a thousand iron daggers and improve them, and be walking around in full Dragonscale armor at level 1, which is sort of silly, but who am I to tell you how to enjoy your game? The biggest combat improvement is that enemies no longer scale as they did in Oblivion, which could lead to situations like a group of bandits on the side of the road wearing full glass armor. Bethesda seems to have listened to its’ player’s complaints that they want to feel more powerful over time, and that leveling up in Oblivion actually made the character weaker in relation to the scaling enemies. None of that in Skyrim though, if you enter a dungeon at level 8 the enemies are locked at level 8. Go ahead and come back at 30 and blast them into powder if you want- much like traditional TES games, the player becomes basically a walking god by the end. That’s a good thing, because it’s reported that a player needs from 200-300 hours to see all the content in Skyrim,.

My biggest problem with the game is trying to finish enough of the main quests that I won’t feel guilty putting it down when The Old Republic comes out, a week from tomorrow. My goal is to finish major story arcs (the game tracks for you how many you’ve completed) in time for TOR, then pick Skyrim back up when the first expansion pack comes out. See you out there!

 

Fall 2011 Gaming Lineup- What’s Got YOU Excited?

I’ve always been a PC gamer, starting back in the early 80’s when my parents refused to get us a Nintendo yet we were allowed to have an Apple IIc, which, as everyone knows, is responsible for lots of people’s getting hooked on games! I’ve had some forays into consoles, of course, I finally got an NES about 4 years after everyone else did, then a Genesis, then a Nintendo 64 in college- bought after I hit a full house for $1500 playing Texas Hold ‘em at the casino. I also had a Dreamcast and of course, an XBOX- went the PS3 route after HD video lost out to BluRay as the standard. Nowadays, I do almost all of my gaming on PC, as being in my office with my big monolithic machine allows me to have a little privacy at night after work, fatherly and husbandly duties are wrapped for the day- plus, I don’t have to fight with my wife for the HDTV that way. Hey, a $300 graphics card update every 3 or 4 years is a small price to play, right? Let me run down the games that will have me cloistering myself in the next few months. Feel free to leave a comment if I missed something! All release dates are for North America, since that’s where I live!

 


Deus Ex: Human Revolution
- 08/23/2011

Company line: “You play Adam Jensen, an ex-SWAT specialist who’s been handpicked to oversee the defensive needs of one of America’s most experimental biotechnology firms. Your job is to safeguard company secrets, but when a black ops team breaks in and kills the very scientists you were hired to protect, everything you thought you knew about your job changes

Badly wounded during the attack, you have no choice but to become mechanically augmented and you soon find yourself chasing down leads all over the world, never knowing who you can trust. At a time when scientific advancements are turning athletes, soldiers and spies into super enhanced beings, someone is working very hard to ensure mankind’s evolution follows a particular path.

You need to discover where that path lies. Because when all is said and done, the decisions you take, and the choices you make, will be the only things that can change it.”

The Deus Ex series hasn’t had a release in about 8 years, when the vastly-inferior-to-the-sequel-because-of-console-dumbing-down “Invisible War” hit. I still thought it was a very good game even if it was short; not as good as the original Deus Ex but still good. I’m very much looking forward to the new game as a way to bridge the gap between now and whenever D3 and TOR come out. At about 40 hours of gameplay if you do everything and about 25 hours if you don’t, this is a nice sized game that also lends itself to multiple playthroughs. Deus Ex is pretty singular in the world of gaming, it sort of plays like a Morrowind but with a cohesive story. You decide how you want to play- guns blazing, stealth, or an adaptive approach. The game features FPS and RPG as well as social and puzzle-solving elements presented in a near-future backdrop set in real-world locations such as Detroit. This one has been kind of low on my radar, but there was an early leak of the press version, so you can actually play the first 10 hours of the game right now if you can’t wait until the 24th. Plus, if you buy it on Steam, the Augmented version comes with a copy of Invisible War that you can play to tide yourself over!

 

 

Star Wars- Knights of the Old Republic- No release date yet, strongly believed to be Q4 of 2011

Company Line: “Play Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ and be the hero of your own Star Wars™ saga in a story-driven massively-multiplayer online game from BioWare and LucasArts.

Explore an age thousands of years before the rise of Darth Vader when war between the Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire divides the galaxy.

Choose to be a Jedi, a Sith, or from a variety of other classic Star Wars roles, and make decisions which define your personal story and determine your path down the light or dark side of the Force. Along the way you will befriend courageous companions who will fight at your side or possibly betray you based on your actions. Together, you will battle enemies in dynamic Star Wars combat and team up with other players to overcome incredible challenges.

Join us. Your personal Star Wars saga begins in Star Wars: The Old Republic.”

I have a lot of love for the Star Wars franchise, I even like the prequels! I’ve been waiting for a new MMO to play for a while, the last one I played seriously was Lord of the Rings Online, which I quit a couple of years ago as I got bored with the endgame which was “look for first age weapons in between doing two raids over and over”. SWTOR promises to let me play the badass Sith Inquisitor I’ve always wanted to play, and without the disastrous gaffes of the current Star Wars MMO, Galaxies- which incidentally, is closing down later this year (I guess they don’t want two MMOs based on the same IP active at the same time). Star Wars TOR is shaping up to be a pretty standard MMO, nothing too new or innovative coming out of the beta leaks except that every line in the game- meaning every NPC, every throwaway fetch quest is voice-acted. This game has been in development for nearly a decade and while I don’t think it’s a WOW-killer, I certainly think they are going to try. I give BioWare a lot of credit for taking on such an IP- surely fans will run the gamut from hardcore poopsocking MMO players to little kids that just love the movies and want to pew pew some stuff.  Supposedly there are 200 hours of gameplay for EACH of the 8 classes, though I have reservations about how many of those hours will cross over from class to class. Look for my guild- “WTS Deathsticks PST” in game, on day one!

 


Diablo 3
- No release date yet, beta is rumored to start this September

Company Line: “Two decades have passed since the demonic lords, Diablo, Mephisto, and Baal, set out across the world of Sanctuary on a vicious rampage, twisting humanity to their unholy will. Yet for those who battled the Prime Evils, the memory fades slowly.

When Deckard Cain returns to the ruins of Tristram Cathedral seeking clues to defeat new stirrings of evil, a fiery harbinger of doom falls from the heavens, striking the very ground where Diablo once entered the world. This fire from the sky reawakens ancient evils and calls the heroes of Sanctuary to defend the mortal world against the rising powers of the Burning Hells once again.”

Is there anyone reading this column that hasn’t played Diablo II? The isometric hack-n-slash RPG revolutionized online gaming with friends and changed everyone’s idea of what an online game could be, as it compelled players to play through over and over to improve their ladder standings and of course- LEWT! PHAT LEWT! PURPS AND GOLDS! D3 is really a whole genre of game in itself, you could even call it “loot-based”. Modern games like Borderlands have this “loot basis” to thank for their design. The most interesting thing I’ve seen about this so far is that there will be servers where you can buy and sell weapons and items for actual money. Should I quit my job and just raid 18 hours a day? How much can I make? Will this fall flat on its face? Remains to be seen, but Blizzard usually knows what they are doing. It’s a toss-up, I can’t decide if I’m more excited for SW:TOR or D3. Hard to say! Heck, after the embarrassing lack of games that came out that I wanted to play last year, I’m glad to have $300 worth of titles to buy in Q4 of 2011.

 

 

The Elder Scrolls 5- Skyrim- 11/11/2011

Company Line: “Epic Fantasy Reborn: Skyrim reimagines and revolutionizes the open-world fantasy epic, bringing to life a complete virtual world open for you to explore any way you choose.

Live Another Life, In Another World: Play any type of character you can imagine, and do whatever you want; the legendary freedom of choice, storytelling, and adventure of The Elder Scrolls comes to life like never before.

All New Graphics and Gameplay Engine:Skyrim’s new game engine brings to life a complete virtual world with rolling clouds, rugged mountains, bustling cities, lush fields, and ancient dungeons.

You Are What You Play: Choose from hundreds of weapons, spells, and abilities. The new character system allows you to play any way you want and define yourself through your actions.

Dragons Return: Battle ancient dragons like you’ve never seen. As Dragonborn, learn their secrets and harness their power for yourself.”

The Elder Scrolls series are about a huge adaptable world where the player can try any character they want. The first Elder Scrolls game I played was Morrowind on XBOX, and unfortunately at the 45-hour mark on TWO separate occasions my character wiped and I was too frustrated to go back and start over. However, I gave the game to a friend and he played it to the point where he has seen everything, can one-hit kill any enemy, and has so much money that the system is having trouble keeping track of it. I still remember my first experience playing the game, which was ingesting a poison that allowed me to jump hundreds of feet in the air- unfortunately, as I soon found out, I wasn’t able to land without pureeing myself. This is a game that you can truly play however you want- think Fallout 3- and merits multiple playthroughs. Let’s hope they get rid of the level-scaled enemies that Oblivion had (I still think Oblivion is great). I look forward to wasting another 200 hours in Tamriel!

Why didn’t I include Mass Effect 3 on this list? Unfortunately, it won’t be out until March, but it’s safe to say that I’m highly anticipating that one as well! Gotta finish my pure Paragon and Renegade playthroughs before then!

What’s on your radar? Did I miss something?