Friday, 23 September 2016

Flashpoint thoughts

As a celebratory end to her flashpoint review series, Shintar of Going Commando interviewed Michael Backus of Bioware, responsible for SWTOR's flashpoints. First off, I think it's really awesome that she did this, and that Bioware took the time to answer. Flashpoints have not gotten much attention lately - people tend to talk more about class or expansion stories and raids - but they're a beloved part of the game to me and an important part of the 'vanilla experience'. The interview fuelled passionate discussions about flashpoints, both on Shintar's blog and on Reddit. I hope that Bioware is following this valuable feedback closely. The post gives a rare insight into the current state and direction of flashpoints and prompted me to write down the following thoughts.

Star Wars: the Old Republic has traditionally used flashpoint to flesh out story developments.
It will continue to do so in the future, but probably without cut scenes and player choices

The future: low difficulty and few cutscenes

It looks like easy and non-narrative flashpoints in the style of the Star Fortresses are the direction we're heading towards. I am not surprised to hear the first, because it fits the general trend of tuning down the difficulty that we've seen the past couple of years in the game (faster to level up, heroics effectively made soloable, bolster in storymode operations etc). It is interesting to hear this officially confirmed, though. For casual and solo players, this is great news. For players that like to get more skillful at the game by challenging themselves, it is not. The latter group was elaborately reminiscing Lost Island's hard mode difficulty on Reddit.

Although I mourn the loss of narrative in upcoming flashpoints - I'm a sucker for immersion, story and choices - Backus explains that this is to address the issue of "space barring" through cut scenes. As much as I'd want to, I don't see another way of handling this problem either. I'm not a great fan of Star Fortress style flashpoints, though. I don't know, they somehow feel generic.

I'm always excited to find out what my fellow players choose and who wins the roll

Incentives to play

The truth of the matter is that there are not many incentives to play flashpoints. At the moment a lot of people (me among them) are doing them for the Dark vs Light event. After that is over, though, the incentives are mostly the storytelling (a one-time incentive, when you haven't seen it yet) and conquest objectives. What about gear, you say? People don't generally use flashpoints to get gear these days, because storymode operations don't require gear. (Shintar asked about this but got a very inconsistent answer, saying that flashpoints are intended as a stepping stone into operations. While in fact, right now, they are not, partly due to not dropping good gear.) When my guild gets new members, we take them through a storymode operation, give them all the loot, then head straight to hardmode. I don't mind this, as the gear treadmill is what attracts me the least to any MMO. However, it is a bit odd that flashpoints don't drop anything useful. Even the flashpoint specific gear as been removed from the loot tables. I used to run flashpoints just to get those for cosmetic reasons. Which brings me to the following.

Some cool Star Fortress decorations. I just wished the flashpoints themselves wouldn't feel so generic.

Decoration drops

There's one thing I've been missing in the interview and that's decoration drops. At one point in time, someone over at Bioware had the brilliant idea of flashpoints dropping really cool decorations. I'm not being sarcastic here, I loved this. I used to drag my guildies into flashpoints all the time to get these decorations (perhaps they are less sad about this change, hehe). Seriously, though, what happened to decoration drops? They have simply stopped dropping. For me, they were a major incentive to run flashpoints and I'm puzzled by why they are gone. The best I can think of is that it simply was an unintentional side effect of an implemented change, because, as far as I'm aware, there are no patch notes covering this, nor was it declared as a known bug. One could also think that it is a deliberate change to make the cartel market decorations more exclusive. I can only hope that Bioware realizes that people will continue playing and paying for their game when they are having fun doing their excellent content, content that gets repeatedly played only when there are incentives to do so. People don't login exclusively to decorate their stronghold; even I don't (gasp).

Flashpoints as a way to improve your skill at the game

This brings me to another incentive to play flashpoints: as a springboard to operations. In flashpoints you get to test out your role in a micro-environment. Because there are just four players, each individual has a relatively higher amount of influence on the outcome compared to an 8- or even 16-man operation. For instance, if your healer is doing a lousy job, you'll definitely notice this in a hardmode flashpoint, while it could be compensated for by the second healer in an operation.

Right now, scalable, low level flashpoints are offered on "solo" and "tactical" (a euphemism for "easymode") difficulty. This effectively means that people only get to practice their class and role at level cap when they do hardmode, unless they're playing with inexperienced players and get challenged by needing to overcompensate for other players. There's no learning curve if you're playing with people who know what they're doing. Let me elucidate this with an example.

Yesterday, I was tanking some flashpoints with some friends on our Dark vs Light characters. One of them was new to healing and played a sage. She had not read through the skill tree beforehand and was just pressing buttons at random, but we didn't know this. As we were all executing game mechanics correctly (threat on the tank, killing adds first, moving out of circles, interrupting dangerous ability casts - the usual palette of any skilled MMO player), we barely took any damage at all. Indeed, our healer was complaining that she didn't have to do anything. 

It was only until the group finder gave us Maelstrom Prison that we found out she had no clue what to do. In this flashpoint, the special skills of bosses seem to be bugged: their damage does not correctly scale down and is truly exorbitant. We wiped hard on the second boss because our healer all of a sudden had to, well, actually heal. Because this happened, we helped her with how to play the class and we made the rest of the flashpoint in one go. If it hadn't happened, she still wouldn't have a clue.

What I'm trying to say is that players need to be challenged in order to improve. Tactical flashpoints are fine with pugs, but I'd love the option to do hardmodes with my friends on low level characters. It would make me actually enjoy them. Right now, doing flashpoints feels more like a grind for the event. It would probably make things more interesting if I would pug instead of play with my friends. But then again, isn't playing with friends what MMOs are supposed to be about?


Flashpoints are a cornerstone of Star Wars: the Old Republic and provide cool stories to play through together with others, as well as a potential sandbox to test your class out in a multiplayer environment. However, they don't reach their full potential in offering diverting gameplay due to a lack of incentives (availability of higher difficulty settings, rewards in the form of quality equipment, decorations and cosmetic gear) to be played.


  1. Hmm.... My most recent FP adventure involved a Mandos run, and while we did have a healer, we had a Sentinel who would just simply wail away and pull aggro away from the tank. I, as a DPS Scoundrel, had issues trying to keep up with the fight as I kept chasing down the baddies who'd be following the other two around. And the Sentinel kept going away from healing range, which drove the healer nuts. After two wipes on the first boss fight (the canine handler), we finally brought down the boss when the Sentinel froze and couldn't move. We booted him at next opportunity.

    The moral of the story is that you still have to learn to play a role while fighting in even the tactical FPs, and if you don't you make life miserable for everyone else.

    1. I would say that's a typical example of people not playing their role well and others having to compensate for that.

      I understand what you're trying to say; I just wish there was an option available to tune the difficulty up for people with general spatial awareness and insight in MMO mechanics. It makes group instance much more interesting. I used to love flashpoints - I'm not 100% sure if I don't as much anymore because I've become a better player or because tactical flashpoints are easier than vanilla flashpoints. Probably a bit of both.

  2. I'm actually not too worred about future flashpoints being more like the Star Fortresses. They may be a bit dull, but I thought the same of the Czerka flashpoints originally (since they were the first flashpoints without an interactive cut scene in them) and yet I still enjoy running them. In my opinion the Star Fortresses' biggest problem is that they just don't feel like group content, since finding a group for them is a pain and even the heroic mode can be soloed. If they can address that with Star Fortresses v.2 and actually make them worth grouping up for, we should be fine.

    And yes, the decoration drops are the one thing I forgot to ask about, mea culpa. :) Nobody of the people I asked for suggestions thought of them either though! I guess we're just not enough into deco collecting.

    I think you are doing tactical flashpoints a great injustice. They are designed to be the first step into group content, tuned for a levelling group with no tank or healer, and for those they absolutely are challenging! Going in with experienced players and a full trinity group is making it easymode. If you want more of a challenge to tackle with your friends, there are the hard modes - which have a problem with rewards I'll admit, but I don't think they are too easy.

    Anyway, even so you said that your friend actually had to learn how to heal so it sounds to me like that tactical did its job. :P As far as I'm aware the second boss isn't bugged, he just hits hard; I only know of Kilran being buggy sometimes.

    I've been thinking it would be fun to tackle some tacticals with a group of all dps characters at level 16 - I can promise it wouldn't be easymode. :P Unfortunately you level up so quickly these days...

    1. Something I've been thinking about the Star Fortresses' Heroic mode is that whether it is soloable or not is dependent upon whether you're used to raid mechanics. A lot of FPs don't require the sort of mechanics dance that you'd typically see in a raid, and if you're not exposed to it you might not be ready to deal with the constant movement and knowing what to do when. I suspect that's part of my issue with the Star Fortresses' Heroic mode in that I'm simply not used to that sort of dance (and I'll also admit that I'm reaching the age where some of my hand-eye coordination is what it used to be).

    2. @Redbeard: that's absolutely correct. A considerable portion of incoming damage in MMOs is usually avoidable. I don't think of these as "raid mechanics", but as "general spacial awareness" because they are not restricted to SWTOR, nor to raids. You will find such mechanics everywhere (to varying degrees), even in landscape. The difference is that in raids, you cannot get away with messing it up, while landscape quests and flashpoints are much more forgiving. And (as I wrote in the article), people generally need to be challenged in order to improve. Thus raiders are generally better at this than non-raiders - the best, though, are PvPers, because being successful in PvP requires extremely fast movement reactions to unpredictable damage.

      SWTOR is relatively fast paced (especially compared to LOTRO), so it's not the easiest game to develop these reflexes. But once you manage to identify sources of damage and how to avoid them, and translate this to your default movement behaviour, things will become a lot easier in any game you play.

      So I would definitely give this a try. Even though it might not be easy to start with, there's a lot to gain and it will definitely make your Star Fortress attempts easier.

    3. Well, I don't think of something along the lines of "don't stand in the bad" as raid mechanics, but more along the lines of "jump over here during A, then stand over there during B, then make sure to interrupt C, you can only use D right now, and have someone ready to use E during this phase" in rapid succession. Non-heroic FPs don't typically require the sort of attention to detail that, say, killing Arthas in WoW would have. Most FP bosses have specific mechanics that you are exposed to, but the difference between a raid/ops and a FP/instance is both the speed and complexity of those mechanics. For example (dipping into my WoW experience), the mechanic of "the boss is dead but is resurrected/returns to life" is used repeatedly in both 5-man instances and raids. However, there's a big difference in speed and lethality between The Black Knight in the 5-man Trial of the Champion and C-Thun in the old Ahn'Qiraq 40 man raid.

      Or maybe a better way of saying it is that you have to have the situational awareness that comes with raiding that allows you to recognize a specific set of mechanics and how to counter it without needing to study the fight beforehand.

  3. Hey! First time commenting here, nice blog! As for my thoughts on flash points, my problem is this, I'm a pretty hardcore raider (yeah, I know, I'm a rare breed now). The problem with flash points is that there is no incentive for a player like me to do them, or even a more casual player to do them. They don't drop anything worthwhile. I would love to see flash points go back to like they were in vanilla days, where they dropped set bonus tokens, had their own loot tables, and helped you improve as a player. I wouldn't mind them dropping story mode tokens even if only on final boss and bonus, as, operations would still be a more consistent way to get them. The fact is, flash points were once an important part of endgame PvE and gear progression, and now? Not at all. It's sad.

    1. Totally agree with you there (as you can probably tell from the article). HM flashpoints still are a lot of fun, so it would be great if more incentive to play them would be added to the game. They used to drop good equipment and it's really puzzling why they don't anymore - Backus' response to that question didn't really make much sense to me.

    2. PS And welcome to the blog - great to have you. :)


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