06 June 2013

SW:TOR // Flashpoints

Most planetary missions in SW:TOR involve a lot of combat, especially if one wants to complete the (sometimes staged) bonus mission(s). That is all good and well for almost every Advanced Class with the exception of Jedi Sages, Scoundrels and Operatives. Note that I did not include the Sage’s mirror class, Sith Sorcerers, simply because I think that their lightning-based spells are one of the highlights of the game. The combat mechanics of these three Advanced Classes, however, are either underwhelming and boring (Scoundrel and Operative) or visually massively disappointing and at times very annoying (Sage). This can best be demonstrated by comparing Forcequake and Force Storm. Generally, I would say that any Advanced Class lacking proper AoE abilities readily available will feel slow and tedious in combat due to the enormous amount of trash groups. Commandos, Mercenaries, Gunslingers and Snipers really shine here because they have access to a powerful AoE cast without cooldown early on. Sith Sorcerers (and technically Jedi Sages) catch up at level 34.

Therefore, the traditional leveling approach became unbearable for me on my Jedi Sage and my Scoundrel, so I had to look for alternatives. After finishing their Prologues (i.e. after Coruscant), I leveled them as Healers only via class missions, Flashpoints and Warzones.

Automated and easy grouping has certainly bred a very distinct and very unpleasant player species in World of Warcraft which is why I was extremely sceptical towards the introduction of Group Finder in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I must admit, however, that random Group Finder groups in SW:TOR are not nearly as horrible as their WoW counterparts. In fact, most of them are rather enjoyable. The primary reason may very well be the “same-sever-restriction” which seems to preserve at least some sense of community and accountability. Maybe it also has to do with the fact that I play primarily on an RP sever.

Whatever the reason, it must also have a direct impact on ninja-looting and aggressive behaviour because most people are by and large very polite and plenty of times ask before rolling NEED on an item even for themselves, let alone for their companions. Some of the more intractable individuals may require a strong reminder that I do not tolerate needing on gear for anyone other than the current player character. That means no needing on gear for companions as well. This is a general rule and I really wish the game would simply prohibit needing on any BoE item. The middle ground is, of course, asking politely and/or discussing loot rules at the start of the Flashpoint. If someone does not agree they are always free to leave on their own or suffer the nonexistent consequences of being vote-kicked.

Jedi Knight (Sith Warrior) DPS of any colour can be quite annoying on a regular basis because Force Leap (Force Charge) is apparently too irresistible, which more often than not leads to ninja-pulling. Nevertheless, since SW:TOR Flashpoints are rather easy, this hardly ever causes any problems. On top of that, most people will actually listen to advice and “full clears” (i.e. killing every single mob inside the Flashpoint) are quite common, at least until reaching the level 50 Flashpoints. One of the more surprising observations, however, is that there are still some players who do not seem to understand the standard kill order (weak >>> strong; always!) and why this particular order is the most effective: it really is just common sense to kill the weakest enemy first. As a Healer it has become my habit to assist killing the trash mobs and start healing afterwards, unless of course I draw an able-bodied group where I can focus my attention on the Tank and “his” elites.

I think it is safe to assume that The Esseles and The Black Talon are the most memorable Flashpoints not only because they are the introductory Flashpoints for their faction but also because they contain the largest amount of dialogue and in turn provide the most engaging story-driven multiplayer content. They are my personal favourites and quite frankly I see no reason to skip the conversations just to rush to the end. Granted, I have never farmed Flashpoints for tokens or gear in this game and I can accept a different mindset at the level cap, but certainly not while leveling. Maybe one can imagine why Colicoid War Game might be the least liked Flashpoint when it consists of a boring “vehicle fight” (turrets) in the beginning, a rather unexciting maze in the middle and a shockingly easy arena encounter as the final confrontation. Generally, I would have thoroughly enjoyed it if the Flashpoints were a bit more difficult. Suffice to say that I was able to heal every single normal mode Flashpoint on my “LightningSith Sorcerer just by using Dark Heal and Dark Infusion. (What a shame!)

From a technical point of view, I can fully understand complaints about the lack of healing macros or mouse-over healing abilities. Clicking on a player’s portrait to target them first and then pressing the appropriate spell must feel very ineffective, especially coming from WoW and its active addon community. On the other hand one could certainly consider it only a minor inconvenience. Personally, though, I am using an MMO gaming mouse that has twelve  additional buttons on the side, which means I can place all my healing spells there and then simulate mouse-over healing. (I know it’s not exactly the same because it still involves two clicks, but it sure feels very similar.)

All in all, I can say that participating in random Flashpoints in SW:TOR is usually a lot of fun and something that can very well be enjoyed as a solo player without a fixed group. That does not mean, however, that being part of a group of friends or a guild is undesirable. In fact, I would highly recommend finding a suitable guild to greatly enhance one’s enjoyment of the gaming experience.


  1. I've actually got very used to the lack of mouse-over macros, and I think that in some ways it's actually a boon because the devs know exactly how the game plays for all players and can tune the content accordingly. Knowing that it will always take two actions (whether it's clicks or key presses) to heal a new target puts limitations on how "twitchy" they can make encounters, and I for one am very glad about that.

    1. Thanks for posting your insights. I agree with your assessment and I am also very glad that SW:TOR does not allow macros and add-ons. My acknowledgment of complaints in that area could be seen as a disguised criticism of the default UI. Rohan has a very convincing post about how developers should in fact design the UI primarily from a healer’s perspective.

      Regarding the tuning of encounters I would generally embrace a step away from the fast-paced, action-oriented approach, where a mere 1 or 2 seconds decide between success and failure, towards a slower, more tactical design that demands resource management and endurance. I realise, however, that this is wishful thinking and that the current audience apparently likes twitching and dancing.