Monday, August 18, 2014

SWTOR Strongholds overshadow more interesting story developments.

In a couple of days, on the 19th, Bioware will release a major digital expansion called Galactic Strongholds.  As implied by their title, player housing is probably the most anticipated feature of this expansion, but it is by no means to most interesting to me.  I want to look at whats available in this update, a possibly what it means for the future.

Lore Continued
There are actually three things happening on this date. The first is Game Update 2.9 which brings with it a story segment and a flashpoint (4-man instance) on the planet Manaan.  Bioware has released two short stories introducing characters and preliminary events leading up to the Manaan: Lana Beniko’s Journal and Surface Details.

The first chapter involved assaults and/or rescue missions to both starting worlds Korriban and Tython, and introduced us to new characters. This update (2.9) represents the second in three chapters in an overarching story called Forged Alliances.  This second chapter sends players to a new level 55 flashpoint called Depths of Manaan and the intro stories follow the trail of both a Sith Warrior and a Jedi Knight.

Player Housing
The second major release on the 19th is early access to the Galactic Strongholds digital expansion.  Early access is available only to subscribers, with preferred and free players gaining access a few weeks later.  Galactic Strongholds are player housing for The Old Republic.  Players can purchase strongholds on a number of worlds, which consists of rooms with decoration hooks or hardpoints on which players can attach trophies and decorations.

In addition to personal housing, the game will also introduce Guild Ships, starting at the price of a cool 50 million credits.  This will open the way to guild-centered activities called galactic conquest, where guilds compete against each other for domination of a chosen planet.   PvP, PvE and Crafting activities earn conquest points and the guild that accumulates the most over the course of the week gains influence on that planet.

Makeb buffs.
The third noteworthy change coming on the 19th is a player buff received while on Makeb.  This buff bolsters your gear to 156 level, gives you a continuous healing drip of 2% healing every 3 seconds during combat, and boosts your exploration exp gain by a whopping 250%.

In addition to the buffs, “The density of enemies on Makeb has been reduced.”  And, key story missions no longer scale with the size of the group, so bringing a larger group on these quests won’t make the quests harder.  It will be much easier for stronger players to assist others to complete the storyline quests in Makeb.

This interests me because Bioware must be making Makeb easier for a reason.  This change suggest that the devs know something is not flowing correctly through this planet.  It's likely that their data tell them that many characters are stuck on Makeb, either not having fully completed the storyline there or not having quite reached the level cap of 55.  Many other players simply skip Makeb entirely and run flashpoints and warzones to cover the level range to 55.

In my opinion it's more than simply making Makeb easier.  I'm sure many characters reach Makeb in Corellia greens and hit a brick wall rather rapidly.  Others spend all their basic commendations on level 140 mods (my preferred strat) but you'll notice that the bolster (to 156) is even higher than the comm vendor levels.  Reducing the mob density makes it more convenient to jump in and out of questing in the mesas.  And that exploration buff suggests to me that many characters leave Makeb with a lot of unexplored area still on the table. 

Not only can completing the quests in Make be inconvenient, but the fact that there is only a single-track story through the entire planet makes its re-playability fairly low. No doubt, some players want to be completely focused on the difficult and densely packed mobs their first time through the story, but on their second or third alt they may be looking for a more relaxed experience.  This change gives them that.

The other thing this change suggests is that the devs, in much the same way the WoW devs have done for years, are attempting to clear the decks for these Forged Alliances story flashpoints and possibly prepare characters for the next level cap expansion.  They may also be experimenting with the formula they used for Makeb so they can improve it for the upcoming "Rise-like" expansion.

It's clear that Bioware wants players to be playing through Makeb, and currently they are not.  Making it slightly easier to complete the planet quests might be the boost some players need to get to the endgame.

Post seventeen in the Blaugust challenge to post once a day for the 31 days of August.

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