Sep 30, 2011

Posted by in Fully Operational | 16 Comments

Fully Operational: Success in Being Social

“Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station!” — There is no better example of damage in the Star Wars galaxy than the scene attached to that quote. Each week in Fully Operational, join Kray as he takes a look at the damage dealing role in Star Wars: The Old Republic. And yes, we’ll blow up a planet if we get the chance.

Welcome again to another delicious dosage of Fully Operational. I’m Iron Chef Kray and today we’ll be making Flashpoint Souffle topped off with Operation Casserole, and if you’re lucky I’ll teach you about my secret Heroic Quest Pie. As always, before we start cookin’ with our DPS, I recommend putting on some excellent listening music.

With all the talk about The Old Republic’s development cycle compared to other games, the ever-present reminder that this game has *STORY*, and the excitement of leveling with companions, it’s easy to forget sometimes that this is a Massively Multiplayer Online game. That’s what I’m here to talk about today.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

First off I’m going to apologize for all the references I’m going to make to World of Warcraft in this article, but it’s a 12 million person community that has set a lot of industry standards, and pointing out where The Old Republic deviates from those standards is a good way to analyze their uniqueness. That said, you can expect grouping to be a whole lot easier in some aspects, and possibly a bit more difficult depending on how you look at it.

Grouping in TOR’s PvE scene is split up into 3 categories: Heroic quests, Flashpoints, and Operations. Heroic quests are pretty self explanatory and most MMO players should be familiar with the concept of a group quest. The spicy part is the fact that most times you and 2-4 friends embark to slay some enemy, you’ll walk into an instanced area. Think of these quests as mini-Flashpoints — you walk into an area specific to your group, take care of business within a few minutes, and reap the rewards. Fully fledged Flashpoints, on the other hand, are the standard instances/dungeons of TOR. These adventures take place in an entirely separate zone you’ll spend 30-60 minutes (or more) in fighting elite enemies and bosses, with a group of 4 people. Operations are the final stage, similar to WoW’s raids. Only accessible at max level, these 8 or 16 person encounters will provide the best gear.

Heroic quests are likely going to be an extremely common occurrence, with at least a “double digit” number of Flashpoints will provide a great boost of experience and gear. Needless to say, grouping up for these is going to be ideal on your way to level 50.

Group Composition

With BioWare pushing us towards groups, you may be groaning at the concept of having to find tanks and healers all the time, but worry not! The first thing of note is the fact that every class has companions, something I touched on last week.  If you’re trying to run a heroic quest or Flashpoint, especially at the lower levels, with yourself and another DPS buddy, call over a tank and healing companion, and you’ve got yourself a basic group. Companion-supported groups aren’t going to be optimal, but skilled damage dealers shouldn’t have an issue getting through most of the group activities for the first half of the game or so.

Unfortunately, there is a possible downside to the system BioWare has implemented, namely the concept of 4-person groups. You see, in many other MMOs a standard group consists of 5 players — 1 tank, 1 healer, and 3 dps. In The Old Republic, we’ll only have 4 people, meaning that instead of each group having 3 dps, you’re cut down to 2. What this means is in order for groups to form easily, the community needs to be made up of around 25% tanks and 25% healers, instead of the 5-man model which only requires 20% tanks/healers. Simply put, less people per group means more groups are needed over the long haul, and that can be problematic. Blizzard has been combatting the issue of “everyone wants to blow stuff up, not heal or tank” since the launch of WoW, and hasn’t quite fixed it yet. Hopefully the interesting aesthetics and balancing of classes in TOR will make this a non-issue, but be wary that groups might be hard to find for a while. 8-man Operations are plagued by the same problem, and ironically it seems that the 16-man groups will be the easiest to flesh out, as most likely they’ll have 2-3 tanks, 3-4 healers, and 9-11 dps.

But Seriously, Why Bother?

If the credits and experience boost don’t get you excited to start running group content, let me talk about some other things to woo your mind. For the story-driven among you, the developers have stated that, in addition to your overarching class quest, Flashpoints have a cohesive story that makes sense as you level up. Essentially, as you get stronger you’ll be fighting more and more complex challenges that work together to form a gigantic story parallel to everything you do single player. Not only that, but Stephen Reid, Senior Community Manager, recently confirmed that there are at least 10 Flashpoints going in the game at launch. Judging by the fact that we’ve only seen a handful of them, there’s going to be a LOT of cool stories to explore.

If you’re more pragmatic and loot-driven, then I’ll speak your language here. The boosts from heroic quests and Flashpoints are going to propel you towards Operations much faster than trying to do everything on your own, that’s been stated by BioWare. The thing is, they’re not just throwing us into groups and walking away. Every single Flashpoint will drop rewards from bosses, as we expect, but in addition you’ll receive commendations which you can use to buy equipment mods or brand new armor and weapons. Did ya run Black Talon 46 times and never see that lightsaber you wanted drop? Well, you’ve got a ton of commendations now, just go buy a shiny one from the Black Talon vendor! Operations work similarly, but in an even more fantastic way. Every time you down a boss in an Operation, instead of a few single pieces of loot dropping everyone has to fight over, each member of the group is rewarded with a loot bag, which can contain epic pieces of gear, rare mods, or a ton of commendations for the Operation vendor, where additional powerful items are available. Gone are the days of pieces of gear dropping that nobody needs — loot bags will only contain things useful to your class!

The social gaming aspect of The Old Republic is going to be absolutely amazing, and I for one can’t wait. With Guild Phase 2 recently starting, now’s the time to try to find a guild to throw your hat in with. Take a look at the Ask A Jedi and Ask A Sith guilds for some people to hang out with, I know I’ll certainly be rolling an alt there!

If you liked this article, be sure to check back next Friday for another regularly scheduled episode of Fully Operational. Can’t get enough of me? Follow me on Twitter for more updates and musings.

  1. Whoops. “Operations” is mispelled in the first sentence after the first picture. The Dark Side has won this round of grammar.

  2. For this reason alone, I’m extremely optimistic about SWTOR. Endgame loot is not going to seem impossible to get.

  3. Something to keep in mind with the Tank/Healer/DPS ratio here compared to WoW. In World of Warcraft it wasn’t really room for that many tanks, the same as healers due to the difference in the ratio needed for 25, 10 and 5. There was a much higher ratio of DPSers on 25man. This didn’t help getting more tanks into the game.
    In SWTOR as you put it, the percentage of tanks/healers/dps are the same in both the 4, 8 and 16 man compositions, It might not make the community be like this, but I think it should definitely help in the right direction

  4. Another great advantage to grouping with others is the potential to meet new people and maybe even a great guild to call home.
    As a guild leader and social butterfly I will say pick up groups are a great way to meet new folks. Husband and I met most of our current guildies and friends this way.

    • For sure! I didn’t quite touch on that, as I was focusing more on the mechanics unique to TOR, but it certainly rings true. I met both of my current roommates through guilds in WoW ^_^

  5. Grinstone says:

    That quests or content that require groups generally reward better gear is nothing new. I do like the implication behind it allowing you to gear up faster, namely that you can also get there if you don’t group (whatever the reason may be). It does sound like an interesting and dynamic system. So long as there are no “are you on the same part of the quest chain?” issues it should be great.

    I’m not particularly worried about group composition. As they’ve stated, every class can do a bit of everything. The Jedi Consular may not be the best tank, but he’ll work in a pinch. That’ll help so long as we aren’t too burdened with the disingenuous “I’m a shadow priest, I don’t heal” attitude. If they’re quick with introducing dual specs then it will become even easier to replace such people.

    Why no, I’ve no patience for people who can’t get over the fact that they’re not playing GTA. I am not interested in coddling someone who can’t be bothered to play something other than their preferred role for 60 minutes in order to help out others. I’ll find someone with a better disposition with whom to spend my time.

    In my opinion one of the biggest reason WoW has always had problems with tanks is that it’s basically a high stress profession. If you do something wrong as a tank it can be quite obvious and things can go downhill fast. Few people care for that kind of responsibility and the fear of ridicule and abuse that goes with such a failure. The role also requires the person to be able to juggle numerous factors effectively – mechanics, rotation, cooldowns, movement, additional mobs, etc. Again, not something many people are good at or care to do.

  6. Aren’t the loot bags just for the easy mode operations? I think I remember reading somewhere that the hard modes won’t have the loot bags, but I suppose that may have changed since then.

    I personally love the loot bag idea and would love to see them implemented across all flashpoints and operations, but I haven’t played the beta so I can’t say if it works as well in practice as it looks on paper.

  7. Off topic here,but where do you guys find your nice screen shots? I mean every time i read an article you almost always have new screen shots. Just curious is all.

    • I either use the Fan Site Kit, the media resource on SWTOR.com, or I rip them from videos. A lot of it can be contributed to the editor Lethality, he’s got a pretty big resource.

      Many times I just say “Add some pictures!” and he does =P

  8. For us hardcore raiders, I’m REALLY concerned that having class specific loot bags will take away the challenge of getting gear that is uncommon to every nub walking into an Operation.

    I don’t want there being 100 people walking around with best Operions dropped light saber possible. It takes away the grand achievement of working hard & being rewarded justly & having people go “wow, that guy must have been good to get gear like that”

    • I understand, to a point. You’ll still have to get the bosses down to get the loot, and then you still only have a chance to get an item (as opposed to just commendations), and then even if you get an item it might not be the one you want!

      My concern is whether or not each loot bag will pull from a list of items specific to that boss, or to the Operation in general. Not sure which!

    • AlexLightSaber says:

      That’s the hard core, no RL, no responsibility, way of thinking…. I spend 40-60 hours per in front of a monitor screen, thus I can run 20 operations per week, therefore I want to have the best gear in the galaxy, I deserve it… bla bla bla…. grew up dude, this game is not only for ppl like you… casual players also pay the same monthly sub and also deserve to enjoy the same game and gear.

    • Grinstone says:

      While I do understand the desire for a challenge and wanting the feeling of success from having worked hard to obtain a particular reward, due consideration has to be given to the fact that this is a game in the purest entertainment use of the word. Nobody wants the game to be a complete cakewalk, just as nobody is going to mistake it for some kind of sport or competition. While there are those who may argue for high levels of skill being required, there are those of us who don’t want to be particularly skilled at playing computer games.

      As trite as the argument sounds these days, I’m paying for access to the content and I want to be able to see and experience it. I want to see it now, not six months after it’s lost relevance. I don’t care if it takes my friends and I six weeks to down the first boss. I do care to get the feeling like we’re making progress and have a chance even if we view the whole process casually.

      If the content is too easy for some people, at least they still get to see it. If the content is too difficult for others, then that’s content they may never get to see. In that situation I feel that the latter are losing more than the former. As I said, the bar shouldn’t be set too low. But better to err on the side of caution than to make too many players feel like they’re being kicked to the curb.

      We know there will be “hard modes”. Even if that hard mode content contains some unique challenges I will never see, I have no problem with that. I’m all for giving the people who want a challenge some means to find it. I don’t want to take anything away from hardcore raiders. Conversely, at the end of the day I don’t feel like I’m standing out in the wilds asking, “Hey, what about me?”

      • Grinstone says:

        *Conversely, at the end of the day I don’t want to feel like I’m standing out in the wilds asking, “Hey, what about me?”

        Gah. Proofread fail on the very last sentence. My kingdom for an edit button. :(

    • Let’s just think about that for a moment shall we? What exactly about having to kill the same boss 10 times as opposed to say 3 times makes you a better player? You both are able to down the same boss which means you are at the same skill level. With this system you will just have a higher chance to get the gear you want.

      Another advantage to this system and one I think a lot of people overlook is this. With the reduced need to do the same operation over and over again trying to get that one piece of gear you so desperately want only to be disappointed time and time again, you are now able to enjoy all the other wonderful content the game has to offer.

      As someone who enjoys doing PvE and PvP I am really excited about this new system and am looking forward not having to decide which one I am going to focus on each week.

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  1. On the Benefits of Grouping…. | TORWars - [...] ol’ Kray over at AskAJedi has some thoughts on this subject.  His essential point is that yes, the game …

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