Saturday, July 11, 2015

Operation Overhaul!

See I did a little thing there in the title - did you see what I did? Oh nevermind. So this week the Bioware developers put out a blog talking about what they're doing with instanced content in the new expansion, and holy smokes it's a lot! They're essentially overhauling their entire system. And they also say that there will not be any new operations or flashpoints for said same expansion.  Ostensibly because they're, you know, overhauling their entire system.  So of course if you look at the discussion thread for that blog, you'll find what at current count is a 58 page thread, mostly filled with hate and discontent, regarding the fact that the there won't be a new instance. There's kind of two interesting discussion topics here, so I'm going to talk about them a little bit, separately.

I find the SWTOR community - interesting. Maybe it's because I'm on Ebon Hawk, a roleplay server, but by far and large I find the community in game to be fantastic. People are mostly helpful, there's very little racist or hate talk in general discussion, and PUGs mostly tend to be filled with people that are there to have a good time. It's part of the reason I'm still playing the game.

But then I go to the forums and read a discussion like this and it's just page after page of vitriol and hate. I'm reminded again of why I visit forums so rarely these days. And, I think there's an entire blog to be written (not this blog, today) about cultural change, and how it's up to us to initiate that change. It's us to us to choose a tone of discussion that isn't so grounded in absolutes, that isn't always phrased in terms of "If I don't get this I quit". I know there's a tendency to believe that "well, because forums of large communities have always been filled with hate, they always will be.." and there's nothing we can do about it. But I've lived long enough to see real cultural shifts happen.  When I grew up none of us wore seatbelts, and everyone smoked in their offices. These days, just about everyone wears a seatbelt, and no one smokes in their office anymore. And if you'd asked me as recently as ten years ago if gay couples would ever be allowed to marry in Texas, I would have said absolutely not. But cultural shifts can, and do occur. I don't know how to make forums less filled with hate, but I suppose I can start by not practicing that behavior myself. And asking you to do the same.  And asking you, in turn, to ask everyone you know that - when it comes to giving feedback to developers - let's all try to be a bit more.. civil.

So let's talk about the instance changes! Personally, I love them.  To understand why, you have to know something about the kind of gamer I am.  First, I really don't consider myself a casual gamer. Now, I do enjoy a casual game style, but make no mistake - I play a lot. In fact, just about every single night I'm in one or another MMO of choice.  And even though I am often playing alone, I love group content. I want to be able to do 4-man and 5-man instances, and to even participate in raids and operations. But I don't have the luxury of a permanent gaming group to play with. Partly because I move around so much, and partly because pretty much all of my gaming friends do too! So we're constantly in a state of coming and going from one MMO to the next, occasionally crossing paths, but rarely being in the same game at the same time for any length of time.

In short, I'm a hard-core casual gamer that plays alone that loves doing instanced content.  And, as it turns out, there are millions of other players just like me. Bioware realizes this, and they're laying the foundation in this expansion to allow players that play under these circumstances to get the most out of their game. Which I think, is awesome. Let's look at the changes.

Solo Flashpoints
Fourteen different flashpoints (the classic, story-mode flashpoints) will now have a solo mode. This means, I can fight pretty much at-level, regardless of my actual level, all the story mode operations I couldn't find groups for as I was leveling. And yes, you could technically do this before, but you were so crazily overpowered that I found it boring. Boss mechanics are just swallowed up in the vaccuum of overkill, and you still have to wade through waves of trash either way. This keeps those fights interesting. And even better, now if you are progressing through your story, you can do every one of those instances *at* level, either with a group if you can find one, or without, if you prefer not to.

Tactical Flashpoints
Tactical flashpoints are fantastic. The're the equivalent of skirmashes in Neverwinter, or Guildhests in FFXIV. They are tuned to be completed by four people, and pretty much any four classes will do. This means queue times are pretty much instant. Fourteen of the previous flashpoints will now have a tactical mode. Tactical flashpoints will also bolster you to the appropriate level, so you can pretty much start doing all of them as soon as you get to level 10. Again, a ton of group content there for you to experience, pretty much regardless of your level.

Hard Mode Flashpoints
These requires a 4 man, normal group (ie tank and healer) and there will be 24 of these available to you at level 65.These are most of existing flashpoints, but with their difficulty tuned up to be challenging at level 65. But seriously - 4 man groups. You know you'll be able to find groups for these, and don't have to worry to much about not finishing them.

Their will be both 8 and 16 man operations, and they'll all be available in either story mode and hard mode. And a different storymode operation will be in the group finder each day. Story-mode operations are the equivalent to WoW's LFR instances. End-game content, tuned to be completed by a pickup group of the appropriate number of players. For a player such as myself - this is perfect. This means, in one way or another, I'll still have an avenue to see all of the content in the game.

So.. much.. stuff
I completely understand why the progression raiders and people at the very end-game portion of this game are unhappy. But Bioware is I think, making the exact right steps to put their end-game mechanics in a position to work well over the long term. You know there will be more operations to come. But the fact that Bioware is doing this fundamental restructuring is a much more positive sign for the game's life than if they'd just cranked out another operation. It says they're planning for the long haul. That they're doubling down on the game, and they see it continuing to grow and expand for years to come.

And for me, right now, I couldn't be more thrilled. I know that when I hit the level cap after the expansion drops, there will still be a ton of stuff for me to do with my character. And if I find a group or guild to do it with, all the better. But even if I don't, I won't be shut out of the best content in the game.

So until the expansion is released.. I'll be waiting patiently..