Archive for the ‘SWTOR’ Category

Hey folks! It’s been awhile since posting here, but we’re back with some juicy info regarding the Star Wars: The Old Republic upcoming space expansion, Galactic Starfighter! We were lucky enough to be a part of the closed beta testing for the new content, and are now free to report on it! (Unfortunately the NDA still prohibits the sharing of any screenshot or video footage from the closed testing, so descriptions and explanations will have to do for now.)

As you know, Galactic Starfighter introduces “free flight” (aka, “not on rails”) space combat, in the form of 12 vs 12 PvP battles. The new space game definitely has a good amount of depth built into it, which I’ll dive into a bit here. With the “early access” go live date less than 3 weeks away, I’d expect to see this opening up to all on the Public Test Server any day now. And now, on to the exciting details!

Ships

During testing, we had access to four different classes of ship, most of which had multiple specific ships that fell into that category:

Strike Fighter
The Strike Fighter is considered the standard dogfighting ship, with all aspects being considered fairly average. Decent speed and maneuverability, good weaponry and defenses.
Available Strike Fighter Ships: F-T6 Rycer, F-T2 Quell

Scout
Scout ships are built for speed. What they lack in firepower and defenses they make up for in pesky elusiveness and raw speed.

Gunship
Gunships are unique in that they come equipped with a railgun for a weapon, which has a unique “zoom in and snipe” mechanic. Unfortunately, going into railgun mode leaves you very vulnerable to attack and the weapon doesn’t seem to do as much damage as would be expected considering the vulnerable position and the “charge time” associated with it.

Bomber
The bomber is a slow moving behemoth with strong defenses and not known for its one on one dogfighting ability. But what it lacks in head to head firepower it makes up for using its assortment of drones and mines. “Mine layer” may be a more apt description of this class of ship, as its weapons are really “fire and forget” type bombs that will either sit where they’re dropped and wait for enemy ships to approach or will actively hone in on nearby ships. No targeting is needed to deploy these mines and drones, which made them a popular choice during testing.Available Bombers: M-7 Razorwire

Components

I won’t get into this too deeply because the real depth of this aspect lies in the actual component upgrades and “spec” trees themselves, but the component loadouts of each ship is the main way you “build out” and improve your ship. Ships have different types of weapons, shields, engines, etc. that can be unlocked using the currency earned by participating in space combat. Additionally, each component has its very own “skill tree” that has enhancements that can be unlocked as well to further boost their power. Things like increased rate of fire for weapons, higher absorb value for shields, reduced cooldowns on abilities, and increased number of deployable drones are examples of some of the improvements that can be bought.

Crew

Another way to customize your flying experience is by assigning NPC crew members to specific duties aboard your ship. Not only will you find your class specific companions among those available to become part of your crew, but several new space specific companions have been introduced as well. Each crew member offers different special abilities for your ship, so mixing and matching crew members can lead to very different combinations of abilities. There are five different crew positions available. The Copilot position offers an “active” ability and provides the “voice” of your ship during combat, while the other four copilot positions offer “passive” bonuses:

  • Copilot
  • Offensive
  • Defensive
  • Tactical
  • Engineering

And here are the Imperial specific “space” companions newly introduced:

  • Aven Geth (Human)
  • Writch Hurley (Human)
  • MZ-12 (Astromech Droid)
  • Salana Rok (Chiss)

Cosmetics

I know what you’re thinking: “That sounds great! But can I customize how my ship actually looks?” Well, this shouldn’t come as a surprise since it was mentioned in the piece announcing the space content, but yes, you can.

Physical customization takes the form of paint jobs applied to your ship’s body and wings. During testing, there were generally two different pattern styles for each ship with five different color combinations. Of those, one style is available, while one is locked, and two color combinations are available with three of them locked. During testing, the indication was that these additional patterns and color combinations could be unlocked using Cartel Coins. There is also the option to “invert” the colors for no charge.

Battle Objectives

During testing, only one type of gameplay mode was available, the typical “Domination” mode where each team competes to control and hold several points on the map. In this case, the control points are three satellites spaced evenly across the map. Think of it almost like the Alderaan Civil War Warzone, except in space, where a team will want to capture and hold at least 2 of the 3 satellites for a long period of time than the enemy in order to win. Of course, just like the Civil War, getting a “3 cap” will speed along the process but spread out your defensive forces more.

Capturing a satellite is as simple as blowing up all the enemies in the immediate area and keeping your ship close to it. When your ship is in the process of capturing the satellite, a green visual effect surrounds your ship, letting you know the cap is progressing. There are lights on the prongs of the satellite that will change color based on the progress of the capture – Red means controlled by the enemy, white means neutral, and green means controlled by your team.

To add an extra little wrinkle to the game, satellites will spawn up to 3 defensive turrets over time as a team maintains control. These turrets will have to be destroyed by the enemy before they can attempt to capture the satellite themselves. The turrets don’t move and don’t have that much health, but they do pack a bit of a punch and do help supplement the defenses especially well if there are other players in the vicinity defending as well.

When your ship blows up, you will respawn shortly, usually back at the starting point for your team. (Although there is an ability called “hyperspace beacon” which allows for additional strategic spawn spots to be set.) You can also switch ships when you respawn, something that is used strategically to choose the ship that best suits the role you want to play based on how the match is going. The game ends when one team has controlled satellites long enough to reach the required score.

Flight Controls

Flight controls are fairly simple, though the overall concept of “free flight” can take some getting used to, especially when the mouse has so much control. Your mouse essentially “steers” your ship by controlling what direction it goes in. The popular “WASD” keys on the keyboard control throttle (W to speed up, S to slow down) and barrel rolling (A to roll left, D to roll right). The X key hits the brakes and brings your ship to a stop. And spacebar gives your ship a boost of speed, though it will only last as long as your ship has engine power.

Speaking of power, there are three different types of power: engine, weapons, and shields. The default setting is to have all three balanced in level, but the F1-F4 keys allow for overloading one at the expense of the other two. For example, if you want to be able to use your spacebar speed boost for longer than usual, you can shift power to the engines to get increased capability, though your weapon and shield power will suffer.

Combat

Actual combat is fast and furious, with enemies in all directions. In order to survive, you need to quickly locate the enemy and either blow them up before they blow you up, or get the hell away from them with your hull still intact. With three dimensional space, not only do you have to watch your back, but above and below you as well.

Luckily there are several different ways to target enemies. The first and most familiar is the Tab key on the keyboard, which will target the nearest enemy to you at first press. Subsequent presses of Tab will cycle through enemies. The range of targeting is fairly far, able to reach enemies as far away as the next objective. (In other words, if you’re at the leftmost satellite, hitting tab enough times will eventually cycle you to target enemies as far away as the middle satellite.) When a target is locked, several important details (such as its remaining shield strength and hull health) are visible in the target details part of the UI.

Tab is useful when first engaging in battle to find nearby enemies, but once the battle starts, different types of targeting become more important. If you’re being attacked, the R key on the keyboard will target the enemy that most recently attacked you. This is incredibly handy to identify where the danger is coming from to either turn on it or avoid it. Being the aggressor rather than the target? Visual lock on targeting is available by pressing the E key to target the enemy that’s currently under your targeting reticule. When an enemy is targeted but not in front of you in your field of view, a triangular indicator on your HUD UI will point you in the direction to turn to most quickly get them in front of you. This can be a little disorienting at times, since they’re moving as well which can cause the indicator to jump around a bit.

Speaking of targeting, there are two things to worry about when trying to blow someone out of the sky – range and aim. Primary weapons (generally laser cannons of some variety) are fired by pressing the left mouse button. Range of the weapon will vary based on the weapon type and any upgrades that have been applied. When an enemy is out of range, the targeting reticule will remain gray. Once they are within range, the reticule will turn red, and it’s time to blast away!

Getting in range is one thing, but actually hitting your target it another. They likely won’t be sitting still for you, and the way targeting works is that you need to aim your cursor and their “lead indicator” and fire. The lead indicator will be a smaller red circle that basically predicts the location of the enemy by the time your blasts get there, so it won’t generally be right on top of the enemy ship. The direction and distance of the lead indicator as related to your actual target will depend on its movement. It takes a little getting used to trying to aim in front of the target rather than actually directly at it, but it does become natural fairly quickly. When you hit the target, the familiar damage fly text will appear showing how much you’ve hit them far.

Secondary weapons vary from ship to ship, but the common “missile lock” mechanic is available as an option. This works about as you would expect, similar to the on rails PvE space game – keep the target within your reticule, press and hold the right mouse button while the missile “locks” on, and release the button. When on defense, there are audio clues as to when you’re being missile locked yourself, giving you a chance to take evasive actions.

Speaking of which, that’s a good lead in to talk about special abilities. These abilities include things like defensive moves (some of which will automatically shake missile lock), offensive abilities, and even an occasional group buff for friendly ships in your area. It will become important to become well acquainted with these abilities, what they do, what their cooldowns are, and when best to use them. Perfect timing of ability usage can often be the difference between life and death.

Summary

Overall, Galactic Starfighter is a new and exciting chapter to the SWTOR experience, and feels almost exactly like you would hope a free flight space combat game to feel. The action is fast-paced and non-stop. The options for changing your ship’s loadout gives players a chance to truly customize it to fit their preferred style of play. I’m surely looking forward to getting my hands on this once it goes live and taking my SWTOR heroics to space and beyond!

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Last week BioWare published Game Update 2.0 to the Public Test Server for Star Wars: The Old Republic. This major update includes changes that go hand-in-hand with the upcoming “Rise of the Hutt Cartel” digital expansion. Among the new features found on the PTS are:

  • A brand new Achievement system.
  • Max Level raised to 55.
  • New end-game armor models.
  • New Level 55 Operation “Scum and Villainy.”
  • Several new Level 55 Hard Mode Flashpoints (basically the existing dungeons that didn’t previously have Hard Mode).
  • New class abilities and talents.
  • Revamped commendation system.
  • Ability to transfer live characters over to the PTS.
  • Terminals to instantly raise a character to Level 55.

What I’m going to take a look at today are the specific class ability and talent changes for the main spec I play – a healing Medic-specced Operative. (Note that a Sawbones Scoundrel will have identical changes to their mirror abilities and talents.) While I haven’t gotten much of a chance to give these a try in PvP (the infamous bolster bug is making Warzones pretty much unplayable right now) or large scale PvE, I’m going to take an initial look at what has changed and offer some thoughts.

UPDATE (02/25/2013 7:45pm EST): I’ve added the names of the mirror Scoundrel abilities. Thanks to SWTOR-Spy for providing an updated 2.0 skill calculator for reference. Shoutouts to therealkami for suggesting it and TheWanderingSpirit for pointing out Samaire’s really awesome skill translation tool

New Abilities

Exfiltrate/Scamper
Patch Note: Operative/Scoundrel: A new ability, Exfiltrate/Scamper, has been added. Exfiltrate/Scamper will roll the player forward up to 12 meters. When slowed, players will only roll forward 6 meters. While rolling, defense is increased. Exfiltrate/Scamper does not break stealth, costs 25 Energy, has no cooldown, and is trainable at level 51.

Comments: Playing around with this a bit on the PTS, I have to say I love this ability. The fact that it doesn’t break stealth and has no cooldown makes it a very interesting ability for PvP where covering distance quickly is crucial. Exfiltrate/Scamper works well in both offensive and defensive situations – it gives the Operative some extra survivability by providing an additional way to create distance between their attacker and themselves; it also can be the “gap closer” that so many other classes have but Operatives have always lacked. Thumbs up.

Preparedness/Street Tough
Patch Note: New passive ability, Preparedness/Street Tough, has been added which increases Energy regeneration rate.

Comments: It’s hard to quantify this on the PTS and how it increases Energy regeneration over what it currently is on live servers, but anything that is going to increase energy regeneration rate without any drawbacks is a good thing. The question here is whether this fully compensates for the change to Stim Boost/Pugnacity. (More on that below.) Thumbs undecided.

Removed Ability

Avoidance Training/Lucky Dodge
Patch Note: Avoidance Training/Lucky Dodge has been removed from the game. This effect is now incorporated into Evasion/Dodge by default. Evasion/Dodge also removes all hostile removable effects when used.

Comments: This change effectively combines two abilities into one. So although it is technically an ability that is being removed, its benefits have been rolled into the base Evasion/Dodge ability. This removal shouldn’t have any impact on Operatives other than saving them a few credits having to train it. Thumbs up.

Ability Changes

Stim Boost/Pugnacity
Patch Note: Stim Boost/Pugnacity is now trainable at level 16 and has been redesigned. This ability no longer requires and consumes Tactical Advantage/Upper Hand. Instead, this ability now has a 2-minute cooldown, grants Tactical Advantage/Upper Hand, and increases Alacrity for a short duration.

Comments: The previous version of Stim Boost/Pugnacity was something that all Operatives were taught to have active as often as possible. There was really no excuse to not always have Stim Boost/Pugnacity active. In fact, it pretty much became part of the Operative’s “rotation” to make sure they always used a Tactical Advantage/Upper Hand stack to refresh Stim Boost/Pugnacity as it wore off. It seems as if BioWare may have realized that this “always on, but needing to be activated by the user” type buff isn’t incredibly user friendly, and that some (but not all) of its benefit was put into the new Preparedness ability mentioned above. Stim Boost/Pugnacity is essentially gone as we knew it.

The new version of Stim Boost/Pugnacity actually grants a stack of Tactical Advantage/Upper Hand rather than consuming one, which is nice. It provides a boost to Alacrity, which becomes more valuable with the 2.0 changes, which seems good. (More on that below.) Lastly, its cooldown has been increased significantly, to 2 minutes, which means it won’t have the constant uptime that the previous version had. It remains to be seen if this ability will be “use as soon as it’s available every single time” or “something to save when you need some big heals fast.” Thumbs undecided.

Kolto Infusion/Kolto Pack
Patch Note: Kolto Infusion/Kolto Pack has been redesigned. This ability now heals for a moderate amount up front in addition to a moderate amount over 9 seconds.

Comments: This is often the forgotten ability for healing Operatives/Scoundrels, as its consumption of Tactical Advantage/Upper Hand, energy cost, and cast time seems not to be worth it when the instant cast and energy free Surgical Probe heals for a comparable amount. The new version of Kolto Infusion/Kolto Pack has a HOT attached to it, which could make it more attractive on targets that need additional healing but aren’t in immediate danger or in situations where you’re healing multiple targets. At the very least, this change puts the ability back into consideration for becoming more commonly used. Thumbs up.

Changed Talents

Med Shield/Med Screen
Old Version – Increases all healing received by 7.5% / 15% while Shield Probe/Defense Screen is active
New Version – Your Shield Probe/Defense Screen has a 50% / 100% chance to heal you for X when it collapses.

Comments: I like this change, it’s like an extra free heal. Typically, I use Shield Probe/Defense Screen when I’m taking damage, both in PvP and PvE. In PvP, it’s more for those situations where I’m getting focused by more than one player or Cloaking Screen is on cooldown. In PvE, I usually use it when there’s some unavoidable damage incoming, often on boss fights with large AOE. In the both situations, I’m not necessarily receiving healing if I’m making sure other people are on my side don’t die. This is especially true in Operations where I at least have Shield Probe/Defense Screen absorbing some AOE damage, but others in the raid may not. So if I’m not receiving any healing at all while Shield Probe/Defense Screen is up, this bonus did me absolutely no good. At least the new version is something that I’ll always passively benefit from. Well, as long as I’m not at 100% health. Still, I like the change. Thumbs up.

Evasive Imperative/Scramble
Old Version- Evasion/Dodge increases movement speed by 10% / 20% while active.
New Version- Every time you get attacked, the active cooldown on Evasion/Dodge is reduced by 1.5 / 3 seconds. This effect cannot occur more than once every 1.5 seconds.

Comments: Another change that seems to provide some more survivability for Operatives. The old version provided a short speed burst while Evasion/Dodge was active, which did give a small benefit when trying to escape sticky situations. However with CC and snares all too common in PvP, and players not generally running for their lives from NPCs in PvE, this talent had limited upside. The new version is a definite improvement, although it seems to be more attractive for PvP. Be able to have Evasion/Dodge up more quickly when multiple players are attacking could very well be the difference between life and death. In group PvE, well, an Operative really shouldn’t be getting attacked very often. And if they do, something like Cloaking Screen or Countermeasures are better tools to avoid dying until the tank can regain aggro. Thumbs up for PvP. Thumbs sideways for PvE.

Chem-resistant inlays/Scar Tissue
Old Version- Reduces all damage taken by 2% / 4%.
New Version – Increases damage reduction by 2% / 4%.

Comments: Subtle change to the way this talent is described. Interpreting exactly what this means is a bit trickier. An Operative isn’t a tanking class, so we aren’t going to be stacking a lot of stats that reduce damage. There will be some natural stats earned via armor and whatnot of course. The old version seemed to apply a blanket reduction, regardless of what the Operative was wearing. Totally naked or decked out in the highest end armor, the damage was still reduced by the same amount. This shift appears to consider what is actually equipped, which makes sense. While this could have some value in PvP, there are more attractive ways to spend skill points. And taking this talent doesn’t make much sense for PvE. Thumbs sideways.

Deadly Directive/Black Market Mods
Old Version – Increases alacrity by 2% / 4%.
New Version – Increases alacrity by 1% / 2%.

Comments: A slight nerf to this talent by reducing the amount of alacrity it provides. However, with alacrity becoming more valuable, this could actually be a buff to the talent as a whole. (More on this below. Yes, that’s the second time I’ve teased the section on alacrity. It’s coming soon, I swear.) Thumbs down that they decreased the actual numbers, thumbs up that alacrity will suck less.

New Talents

Every talent tree has had new talents added to it, actually placed in a brand new “tier” of talents right below the highest placed talent. This means that reaching the highest talent in any given tree will actually require more points – Previously it took 31 points to acquire the highest talent. With 2.0, it will now require 36 points to acquire the highest talent. This also means change the minimum level you must be before you have enough points to reach that point in a given tree. Currently, you can get there at level 40. In the 2.0 world, it won’t be achievable until level 45.

The good news for healing Operatives is that the two new talents seem very attractive. So the 5 new talent points earned from level 50 to 55 can go into these new abilities without much of an impact on the “popular” specs. (Of course, some of the changes to abilities mentioned here might have an impact on which specs are considered popular, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

Surprise Surgery/Smuggled Med Delivery (2 points) – Exiting stealth mode grants 1 / 2 stacks of Tactical Advantage

Comments: Start every fight with 2 stacks of Tactical Advantage/Upper Hand? Yes please! Maintaining high uptime of Tactical Advantage/Upper Hand is one of the most important mechanics of playing an Operative/Scoundrel. This basically gives us a new and simple way to get some additional stacks. The only downside I see to this is feeling compelled to stealth after every fight, particularly in PvE situations where you wouldn’t usually stealth between pulls. I can see it getting annoying during Operations having to go into stealth between every trash pull in order to fully take advantage of this ability. One thought is that even if stealthing between pulls slows you down, there’s always Rocket Boost and Exfiltrate/Scamper to keep up with the rest of the group. In PvP, where Operatives often enter stealth when out of combat anyways, this seems like a great ability. Thumbs up.

Durable Meds/Puissant Pultices (3 points) – Increases the healing done by Kolto Probe/Slow Release Medpac and Recuperative Nanotech/Kolto Cloud by 3% / 6% / 9% . Additionally increases the duration of Recuperative Nanotech/Kolto Cloud by 1 / 2 / 3 and reduces the energy cost of Kolto Probe/Slow Release Medpac by 2 / 4 / 6.

Comments: Up until now, we hadn’t really seen many changes to actual healing numbers, outside of maybe the buff to Kolto Infusion/Kolto Pack. Durable Meds gives a straight buff to those healing numbers, particularly making Recuperative Nanotech/Kolto Cloud more effective and less costly.

Stat Changes

Alacrity
Patch Notes: Alacrity has been redesigned to be a more universally useful stat. Now Alacrity reduces the activation time of all abilities, including instant abilities. If such an ability is reduced below the global cooldown, the global cooldown is reduced as well. Alacrity now also increases resource regeneration for all classes by the same amount that it increases ability activation speed.

Comments: Players of all classes have had an interesting relationship with alacrity so far. On one hand, it reduced cast times, which means being able to use more abilities in a shorter amount of time. On the other hand, being able to use abilities faster also means burning through resource pools more quickly, which isn’t such a good thing. Consider also the variable regeneration rates for the resource pools of many classes, and you have a stat that becomes less attractive. Finally, throw in the fact that from a sheer number crunching point of view, other stats offered a bigger “bang for their buck” with the way alacrity was itemized.

The revamped alacrity is designed to directly overcome the “casting faster means using energy faster” problem by increasing the energy regeneration rate. That’s good. Furthermore, not only does it reduce the cast time of abilities that have cast times, but it also reduces the global cooldown. That’s even better. The number crunchers and spreadsheet gurus haven’t quite put together what this means for alacrity compared to other stats, and we haven’t taken a closer look how this affects the itemization value placed on alacrity, but it’s a definite improvement on a stat that had been widely considered undesirable on most gear. Thumbs up.

Conclusion

Overall, I’d have to say I’m pretty happy with how healing Operatives are shaping up in the 2.0 game update. Some interesting adjustments to existing abilities, the new skills, and the changes to alacrity give us some new things to consider and tactics to adjust. Survivability and “gap closing” seem to have been improved, which some new means of generating the valuable Tactical Advantage buff are other key changes. Oh, and I almost forgot one thing – the characteristic “giggle” audible cue for when Tactical Advantage is applied is back, though it’s been made less frequent by only occurring when the first stack is applied. Even if these changes don’t turn out to dramatically improve or upgrade the effectiveness of the Operative healer, just think how much fun we’ll have doing somersaults around the fleet, giggling the whole way.

-Jaspor