With a fair amount of time since the PTS went up with Game Update 2.0, I thought it would be a good time to chime in with my thoughts on how it appears that the Update itself is shaping up. While the bulk of the content(i.e. the leveling experience on Makeb) isn't available for general testing, the majority of the upcoming game systems have made their debut, and I think we've gotten a great look at what we're in store for very soon. I'm also interested in gathering community feedback on the topic, so if you'd like to have a look and let me know what you think as well, hit the jump.
I would like to preface this article in much the same way that I do most of my articles; and that is to say that what follows are merely my opinions on what we've seen so far. This is in no way intended to be stated as fact beyond what I've seen and enjoyed, or didn't enjoy, and also as a jumping off point to hopefully spark some good, civil discussion. So, once you've had a chance to read the article in it's entirety, please feel free to add your thoughts and general discussion in the comments below. With that out of the way, let's get started.
Boasting an impressive number of game system additions and improvements, Game Update 2.0 is filled with interesting new features, some of which will probably overshadow the others. From the new achievement system, to the revamped currency system, and even further to some important changes with regards to PvP gearing, this update is guaranteed to change the way we all play. Not to mention a new level cap with a brand new planet to explore, as well as new gear to acquire. Many of the players I've had the pleasure of interviewing on the subject are largely pleased with the changes and additions, and several were hesitant to return to the live environment because they enjoy the changes on the PTS for their respective classes. Let's delve into some of the larger changes coming your way, and I'll do my best to provide my perspective on each.
Perhaps the largest addition in terms of time to complete, I wanted to get this one out of the way first. Achievement systems are pretty much part and parcel for MMOs these days, pioneered by titles like World of Warcraft and Warhammer: Age of Reckoning. Giving players a literal laundry list of tasks to accomplish is pretty popular for the most part, as it sets up a vast number of goals that you can hunt down and be rewarded for. With rewards ranging from titles, to pets, to even Cartel Coins, I'm sure there are more than a few players who will be chasing these down the day that the digital expansion goes live. That being said, there are caveats here that I think are worth mentioning.
Is it really fair to count an achievement system as "new content"? Sure, it gives players the ability to chase down new goals and be rewarded in doing so, but the majority of the achievements are things that players have already accomplished, and much of it will require the players to revisit the task in order to get credit. When viewed in this light, the achievement system seems almost tragically late. I often wondered personally how it wasn't included from the launch of the game; it seemed like such an obvious system to include. I suppose you could say "better late than never", but you could also say "too little, too late", and not be faulted for either.
When it comes down to it, I admit that I'm very excited for the inclusion of the achievement system, if for no other reason than that it's about time. I will likely lose many sleepless nights hunting down various achievements, and subsequently posting about them here, but I've personally always enjoyed the accomplishment that comes with setting out to do a task, and then finishing it. I believe it will keep players interested and give them reasons to play alts; or, if they already have an extensive legacy, a reason to revisit old locations. The fact that it's shared across your Legacy is one of the smartest moves that's been made yet, and shows that perhaps they are becoming more forward thinking with regards to player wishes. Time will tell if this system will be implemented in such a way that it works well, so we'll just have to wait and see. Overall, I think this should have debuted alongside the game proper, but at least it's finally here.
New PvE Content
With the new level cap of 55 comes new places to explore, as well as new enemies to defeat, and new gear to acquire. As I'd mentioned previously, much of the proper story such as Makeb is still under lock and key, and will likely remain that way until the expansion launches. However, we have been given a taste of the new content to come, in the form of the new Operation: Scum and Villainy. Featuring a very large cast of bosses, beautiful scenery, interesting mechanics, and a neat story, I was very pleased with the content that I managed to try out over the weekend. Immediately upon landing on the surface of Darvannis, the atmosphere is apparent to you, and this world feels quite unique, and could've easily just been another Tatooine. I feel, however, that they really nailed this one; I can't wait to set foot in the new Operation properly, and start killing bosses in a more consistent fashion.
Let's talk about consistency. Personally I feel that this new Operation sets a pretty high bar for BioWare, and some feel that they've fallen short in the past, with regards to quality of content; the pacing of release is another issue that has been a concern for players. If they can consistently put out content that is on par with S&V, I'll be greatly impressed. I think that judging the game based on one system is woefully limiting, but this gives us a larger picture of what we can expect from the company in the coming year. If S&V is any indication, then I think we're in for a treat. Other pressing concerns include how long we're expected to be in this new content, especially given the number of bosses present; as well as how fast players will burn through the leveling experience on Makeb. Will there be enough compelling, engaging content to make the journey worth it? We'll have to wait and see.
With regards to Makeb, not a terrible amount is really known at this point. I believe that this is purposeful, as they probably don't want to spoil the upcoming story, but a little more transparency in the near future would be much appreciated. I can respect that they want to keep a lid on the imminent content, and some of it might even still be under development. But giving us a glimpse of some of the destinations or enemies would be great. All in all, this is probably the aspect of the expansion that I'm the most optimistic about. Obviously I'm biased, as I'm largely a PvE player, but most everything about the new Operation just feels right.
Lastly, I appreciated the inclusion of instantly arriving at level 55 in order to test out the new content, as well as preview the class changes and new items available at cap. This is a nice way to include a more well-rounded preview of the game systems without spoiling a bit of the story.
New Modes for Existing Content
We also have the introduction of new Hard Modes for some of the classic Flashpoints: Athis, Hammer Station, Mandalorian Raiders, and Cademimu are all getting the Hard Mode treatment. This falls into the category of "great, but late". While I'm excited and grateful that these Flashpoints are getting updated versions of themselves for elder-game players, this feels like something that could have been done a lot sooner. Largely I think that this decision was intentional, in order to save some of the content for the digital expansion. While I don't necessarily agree with the practice of rationing out content, all we can really do is be glad that it's here, and hope that the pace at least keeps up.
On the subject of new modes, we also have the debut of Nightmare Mode for the Terror From Beyond. I'm glad to see the continuation of making Nightmare Mode available to those players that desire such a challenge. Offering several tiers of difficulty in a sort of "gated" fashion like this is a good call; it ensures that present content is relevant for a good amount of time, with the promise of a looming and greater challenge on the horizon. It's always nice to have a goal for the future in mind, especially in the kind of environment that PvE content produces.
I really am excited to see what some of this revamped content will do for the PvE community at large. Personally I feel that competitive players that are chasing down difficult boss kills, or even timed runs, will find the achievement system quite appealing. Offering achievements for the content will give players several goals to strive for, especially with regards to speed runs and multiple boss kills.
New Currency System
This is a pretty big revamp as well. Under the guidance of the previous commendation system, each individual planet had it's own system for commendations, which could then be traded in for new gear and modifications from vendors either planetside or on the fleet. The new system seeks to do away with that, and provide players with on unified currency. This seems helpful in a number of ways; less varying kinds of currency to track, easier decisions with regards to what you'd like to spend them on(i.e. get this item now, or wait a few levels and buy it on the next planet instead), as well as more ways to provide a unified reward for the same kinds of efforts.
The end-game PvE currency is seeing a revamp as well, which we covered here. Split up among several tiers of quality, it looks like it has the potential to be a great system. One of the largest potential problems that I've seen with this system is a cap on the number of commendations that can be earned within each week. I think that it's fair to mention a few points here, so that everyone can form their own opinion from a broad range of facts. While there is a cap on the number of commendations you can have, the limit seems reasonable to me so far, and we won't really have much of a concept for this system until more testing is performed. I don't really see a problem with limiting commendations earned in certain ways; lockouts already prevent content from being steamrolled to the point of being non-relevant, so is a cap really needed in this case?
With the commendation cost of items ranging between 100 and 120 commendations, it would be easy to assume that they're intending to provide some kind of artificial ceiling with regards to effort versus reward; but a closer look will remind us that gear drops in two other forms as well: slot tokens and actual pieces. So, I think there is bound to be some criticism of a system in it's infancy, and much of that criticism may be justified. What will really matter is what BioWare does with this feedback. Again, this will be a waiting game, but I can see arguments for both sides, personally.
PvP System Changes
I'd like to begin this portion by reiterating the fact that I don't really PvP that often, but I also felt that I'd be remiss in not at least highlighting what's in store for the PvP aspect of the game. The first highlighted change that we're made aware of is the removal of diminishing returns from Expertise, up until the point of reaching the hard cap. From speaking with a few players that PvP in varying amounts, they were glad to see this change, as it made Expertise seem more worthwhile, especially in a full set of PvP gear. I think this should make the appropriate sets of gear more desirable to their appropriate settings, but that remains to be seen as well; especially given my limited familiarity with the topic itself.
Also among the noted changes for PvP; Bolster will now be based on item rating rather than character level. To clarify, the patch notes indicated that recruit gear is no longer available, and that players will be automatically boosted to that item level if they don't meet or exceed it naturally. On paper this sounds like a good change to me, especially given the fact that the PvP brackets have been narrowed down to only three, with level 30's squaring off against level 54's. Given that much of PvP is dependent upon the individual skill of the player, perhaps this will provide a more even playing field with regards to the larger brackets below level 55.
PvP players will not have to worry about a weekly commendation cap, but there is still a limit to the number of commendations you can hold at once(2,750 for regular, 4,500 for ranked). I think it's a great call to not impose a weekly limit on PvP, as that would essentially kill a larger majority of the PvP for the more dedicated players, once they hit the cap. The argument could be made that players might continue to play after the cap for the sport of it, but I believe they would represent the exception as opposed to the rule.
Overall, Rise of the Hutt Cartel is shaping up to be something to remember. Featuring brand new content for players to experience, new game systems that will inexorably change the way we experience the galaxy, as well as a reason to remain in a place that we love. Having played several MMOs over a very long period of time, I can say that one of the best feelings is the imminent release of new content, and experiencing that content with a close knit group of friends. The excitement and wonder of what lays in wait, the race to the level cap, and perhaps being the first to do something truly amazing on your server; the list goes on.
Regardless, I can't wait to experience this expansion in it's entirety, and I'm equally as excited to have the privilege to bring this content to all of you and discuss it. There are several things that will need to go right for BioWare to call this a resounding success, but I believe that they can do it. Whether or not they will remains to be seen, but I for one am keeping my fingers crossed.
Now, to hear from all of you: I'd love to know what you think of your experience on the PTS thus far; feel free to discuss anything that you'd like about it, keeping in mind that you should be civil in your discourse with other readers. Aside from that, thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on all of this.