Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Three months of Galactic Command from the perspective of an endgame raider

It's been over three months since the highly controversial Galactic Command system was introduced to Star Wars: the Old Republic. When it was first announced, I thought I could live with a bit more grind in the game (SWTOR was very light on grind compared to any MMO I've played) and I could see how it would benefit a larger part of the populace (namely it would give people who don't raid the chance to get gear). It was also hard to imagine how much grind there would actually be. So even though it was clear to me that Galactic Command would be a step back for me personally (as an endgame raider), I gave the system the benefit of the doubt. I was wrong.

An emotional rollercoaster

I never wrote much in detail about Galactic Command after it was implemented. The reasons are twofold. First off, I don't like writing overly emotional and negative blog posts. They tend to attract haters and there's a chance I'll regret having written them later. I prefer to write constructive posts that fuel a healthy discussion, but at the time of the expansion I didn't have the mental energy for that. Just thinking about Galactic Command would suck all the fun out of playing SWTOR and feeling that way about a game is simply not worth the energy. Secondly, the developers promised to listen to the playerbase and adapt the system as was felt needed. The dev team spent a lot of energy in live streams to connect with the community, which I loved. I decided to wait and see if things would be improved.

In December I wrote about my Spoiler-free Eternal Throne impressions. As the Galactic Command system was part of the Eternal Throne expansion, I felt obliged to touch upon it. This is how I felt:
"I'm astonished at the amount of grind involved. (...) I honestly had no idea that a loot system could impact the way I feel about an MMO so much, but to me, as a progression raider, the system is so un fun."
On paper it had looked acceptable to me. But we don't play games because we rationally decide we like them; we play games because we feel like playing them and because they make us have fun. In other words, it's pure emotion. It's hard to identify for me what factors exactly made Galactic Command feel unfun. One thing that I did find out about myself is that I strongly feel that skill should be rewarded more than time in MMOs. It wasn't at that moment: in 5.0, raids were a very time inefficient way to gain command ranks, and people were non stop killing gold mobs in heroic areas because that was the fastest way to get gear. After a few weeks that was fixed, but the grind train just moved on to the next best thing to farm. This soon turned out to be a pattern.

My current highest command rank (main character)

All I know is that I started logging in with lead boots. The first weeks I ignored everything that had to do with gaining command ranks. I simply lived in a solo bubble, playing through the Eternal Throne story on veteran mode, enjoying the story and gameplay challenge. I absolutely loved that part of the expansion. But when I had completed the story I looked around me, and nobody in my progression raid guild was logging in. The expansion story was amazing and even (optionally) challenging, but the Galactic Command system overshadowed it all. None of my guildies ragequit or wrote angry posts on the forum; they simply stopped logging in.

Indeed from an endgame raid team's perspective it's not that hard to understand why. The bosses that we had downed on veteran and master mode the weeks before were now too hard to beat without new gear, so would have to start over on those on storymode (there was no new raid). But since the bosses didn't drop gear anymore, it would take us ages simply to get to the same spot as we used to be in. I'm not trying to complain here; I'm just trying to give some insight into why the system felt demotivating to progression raiders back when it was just implemented.

A new expansion is supposed to be a party. Everyone logs in, people that have been gone for a while return to check out the new content together and have fun. In my circles the Eternal Throne expansion felt more like a funeral.

The SWTOR developer team worked hard to improve Galactic Command, tweaking the system on almost a weekly base and keeping people updated with livestreams and forum posts. It didn't prevent SWTOR from winning the title of Worst MMORPG Business Model of 2016 on Massively OP. The damage was already done. (Note that I don't personally feel SWTOR has the worst business model out there - there's way worse in the wondrous world of MMOs. But the voting for the award - by readers - was right at the time the Galactic Command system was freshly implemented and passionately criticized, so SWTOR's win wasn't that much of a surprise.)

One positive thing about Galactic Command is that flashpoints feel rewarding again

The turning point for my guild was somewhere near the end of January. By then, the system was changed so that bosses dropped gear again - sort of. The last boss of an operation bestowed a guaranteed drop; earlier bosses had a chance to drop gear, getting higher the further you got into the raid. We had enough people online again to carefully dip our toes into storymode and veteran mode operations. Conrad and I worked our arses off to equip everyone with crafted gear so we had at least a chance at veteran mode bosses. If we couldn't get into challenging content without excessively grinding storymode operations, our guildies would burn out on SWTOR - that much we knew.

The current situation

We've arrived at a point in time where I feel "CXP fatigue". The Galactic Command system is definitely in a much better place than it was when initially implemented, but I'm just sort of depressed hearing about it all the time. All these months most SWTOR news was about a loot system, rather than new, exciting content. It's always easy to say these things in hindsight, but it feels like such a waste of developer energy.

My inventory management skillz are also starting to feel "CXP fatigue"

Let me be clear: I'm happy with the recently announced changes that all operation bosses will drop gear again, just like they did before the Galactic Command system was introduced. We've ended up with the best of both worlds: gear from raids for endgame raiders and the option to get gear through Galactic Command for those that do not raid. Of course this means raiders will get gear quicker, as they will also gain command ranks while raiding, but that's not a bad thing in my book. Ultimately it means skill will reward better than time again, as it should in any MMO that encourages players to play skillfully. Players that don't raid will still be able to get the best gear; it will just take them longer.

Just forgive me if I'm not overly cheerful at the moment. My mixed feelings are probably best voiced by Shintar in 300: "I guess I can say I'm happy that Bioware managed to turn Command rank into a system that is now safe to ignore if you raid or PvP, but that's hardly a ringing endorsement of their work...". Of note is also Ian Argent's comment on the same post: "My impression is that BW:A thought there were a lot less "active" raiders/PvPers than there turned out to be. GC is unambiguously a better system for the unwashed (unguilded) PuG masses; but doesn't do a thing for anyone who raids weekly in an organized guild except slow their gearing down and add a previously not-present RNG element. They're backing out a lot of that in 5.2 (...)."

So yes, I'm happy SWTOR didn't end up being a mindless grindfest MMO, as I feared in those first few weeks. I'm thankful the developers decided that they wanted to keep the endgame raider populace interested in the game badly enough to, in a sense, "roll back" some of the changes. It's downright scary how close I came to quitting the MMO I have called my main since 2012, despite still liking its quality group content. Relieved and fatigued are probably more accurate words than happy to describe my emotions.

I'm cautiously optimistic about 5.2. With a new raid boss (finally!) and guaranteed loot dropping once more, doing what I do best (raiding) should feel fun again. I'm slightly worried about more and more command ranks being added in the future, creating more grind and raising the bar for new SWTOR players to get into future new raids. But that's material for another post.

For the coming months: let's enjoy the upcoming raid boss(es). I sincerely hope the dev team will keep listening to their endgame playerbase (pro tip: cheerful tweets about new command ranks are discouraged), so some measure of trust can be regained. They say there's nothing time can't heal - and some fat loot drops, of course!

Note that I've tried to describe my personal reception of the galactic command system in all its evolutionary forms in this article. I'm not claiming to speak for anyone but myself. Some people will have enjoyed this loot system more than I; others will have enjoyed it even less. This is logical, because everyone plays for different reasons. If I managed to provide a look into the head of an endgame raider being confronted with galactic command, my goal is achieved.  


  1. Love this post! And yes, I suffer from CXP fatigue as well. It's not as bad as it used to be, but can we move on already? Heh.

    I think my guild managed to weather the worst of it better than most because we have a sufficiently large number of people who are a) super ambitious and wanted to get back into progressing asap, no matter what (crafting their own gear or buying it from the GTN) or b) love their routine playing with friends and weren't as bothered by the gear thing (I would consider myself part of the second group). Still, we had people simply disappear too.

    I love Rav's "nope" face in the top screenshot. :D

    And oh god, that Tweet about the extra Command ranks was so tone-deaf it was actually funny. Still got 169 likes though?

    1. Thank you! Writing this piece felt like therapy. ;)

      I think guild size definitely helps. And for us, there's the fact that the majority of players started out in LOTRO and are traumatized with its current endgame gear grind (to different extents). The only reason we're not doing LOTRO's excellent Pelennor raid on tier 2 (read: master mode) right now is because people are just too frustrated by LOTRO's awkward power creep and gearing model. It takes forever, and then there is the flower picking (*shudders*). So I think my guildies are particularly sensitive to news about more grind. We've already seen things go to hell.

      And yes, that tweet!! The amount of likes are definitely scary, but you should keep in mind that it's the path of least resistance. In social media, the option that needs the least time and is the most anonymous always is most popular (e.g. FB likes vs replies). So tweets always get more hearts than retweets and responses. In this regard, the amount of responses on this particular tweet is actually really remarkable! Almost as many people as hearted the tweet, took the effort to write a reply underneath. It would be interesting to see what would've happened if Twitter was 'fair' (stimulating both positive and negative feedback equally). Imagine there would've been a broken heart button. From people's behaviour in social media as I just analysed here, I would definitely expect more broken hearts than hearts for this tweet.

    2. I can see how it must have been cathartic to write this. To be honest I was amazed that you barely said anything about CXP before, even though it surely must have been affecting you a lot! Though I can understand the urge to avoid writing negative things, even if I'm not quite so restrained myself. :P

    3. Believe me, what you wrote about CXP thusfar are happy fairy tales compared to what I felt initially. I did feel like I might be letting people down by not writing about it, but I felt so negatively that it would just make me depressed writing it down. I decided that at the end of the day blogging is a hobby, not something worth being harmful to myself.

  2. Even as someone who is full 242-rating I have to say that a lot of this does ring so very true. It took me 300 ranks at Tier III (180 - 498) before I finally received my final piece on Valentines' Day.

    Even then, there were four pieces which I needed to upgrade from 230 to 236 to 242 because I didn't even receive a 236 equivalent of them. If it weren't for those Unassembled Components I think I'd still be opening those damned Crates (of which I now have 62 stored up since I stopped opening them at CR 515) and hoping...

    So, yeah, if you want an extreme example to demonstrate the amount of time it takes to get gear via GC; over 300 ranks and still needed to buy stuff that never dropped otherwise. This system certainly knows how to make you feel demotivated.

    Still, this experience has given me a fair amount of perspective. I may be 'beyond the grind' for now but I still keep a very watchful eye on proceedings, and I of course hope that the changes to RNG and what-not in 5.2 make the system far more bearable. Certainly the refined Ops-drop changes are very nice and I look forward to seeing people get geared up more efficiently this way.

    1. Yeah, definitely a lot of grind due to RNGsus! Thanks for illustrating that! I'm a bit worried what this system means for a guild like mine in which people simply refuse to grind. I would hate for doing the hardest content becoming something that only people with a lot of time on their hands can participate in, rather than people that play the most skillfully, like in LOTRO. We'll just have to wait and see what the future holds.

      PS I hope you did get the note that there's no use storing up crates for 5.2 if you're after their content? Eric has confirmed (contrary to what he said before) that what's in the crates is already decided when you get them, not when you open them. But I guess in your particular case it's still useful to hold onto them for the disintegration rank ups when 5.2 hits.

  3. I don't go into SWTOr as much as I did and my lvl 70s have got little good gear. Seems that my guild isn't on much at all. In my case it might be that another game - Defiance - is having some fun events for those that like collecting new weapons. So in my case I will be giving SWTOR another go in April. (Health has cut my game time too.)

    1. Sorry to hear your guild isn't very active at the moment, and that your health is cutting your game time. I'm hoping it'll be a bit better soon.

      And one positive point for you as a non endgame raider is that you don't have to worry about having the best of the best gear - after all, you don't directly need it for the content you want to do. But you will still get nice stuff from simply playing. This system was designed for your playstyle. :)

    2. Yes, I'm more of a casual player these days. I was glad to find that my crafters could make better gear for at least some characters before they got the better stuff. That's good enough for what I do.

    3. Yeah, the crafted 228 and 230 stuff is really quite good to start out with! I did the same. And you can get even better schematics from the command crates, if you're lucky. That's something I do like about this expansion, that crafting is useful again, even in the long run. :)

  4. Unlike Roland I may end up taking a break in April. I'm grinding, grinding, grinding all through March to take advantage of the event. I've had to alter my play style to grind efficiently though. My natural play style of bumming around on alts isn't "supported" by the game anymore.

    I'd like to see the Dev's think about positive changes they could make to the game instead of a loot grind. Mox and Jason mentioned some mob and node tapping changes in WoW, and my reaction is "I want that!" Those changes would make 5.2's daily area so much better than anything that came before it. Things like that would get me excited for April and beyond.

    Or if there's some kind of law that says you must talk about loot, announce that CXP level is going legacy wide! :)

    1. Yes, I would *love* for SWTOR to get open world tagging, like GW2 and now also WoW and (to some extent) LOTRO have. It stimulates cooperative gameplay instead of competitive gameplay, and for me that's what MMOs are about. I wrote a lot about that in this blog post:

      I'm a stubborn person and I'm not altering my play style (much) to grind efficiently. That's probably why I'm not rank 300 on my sage yet, but I just like playing different classes! It's challenging to be able to play multiple classes well, and I love being able to play all roles in groups. So currently I'm doing FPs (and occasionally raids) on sage, slinger and shadow; my three main characters.

      As for April, that's when we get the new raid boss and can actually get a use for the new gear, so I'm definitely going to play then. But I can totally understand people that don't raid (much) being CXP fatigued by then.

  5. I only played SWTOR for a few months but I did enjoy the game for that time. I wanted to continue but without being able to turn off camera shake (which is rampant in the new story and makes me incredibly motion sick) and the CXP and how grindy it was as a solo player and lack of feeling rewarded for my time... I gave up. The camera shake was the bigger deciding factor but the CXP helped make it easier.

    It saddens me though because I absolutely loved playing​ my combat medic. He was great fun.

    I am glad they are making changes to their horrible system though.

    1. So sorry to hear the cutscenes make you motion sick. There's so much more motion in the Knights expansions compared to the original class stories. For me that makes it more lively, but I can definitely see it's a problem in your case.

      It's funny, though, that a system that's designed for basically your playstyle (do correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think you raid much etc?) is hated by those very people (which it would actually improve getting gear for). Shows how painfully the developers have missed the mark when it comes to how players like to be rewarded.

    2. I like the lively too. My inner ear doesn't. Hehe. If I could turn it off I probably would've continued picking at the game if just for my cathar with the big gun.

      I didn't get the courage to group at all in the game. I wasn't sure I wanted to join a guild either since my husband didn't play. So, yeah I was in the target audience and still hated it. Didn't help that I kept getting rifles and pistols that I couldn't even use! If the command rank would've been account wide I think that wiuld've helped because so much in the game is account based. I love account based after playing GW2 for the last few years.

      I found the data crystal system much easier to understand. Their idea of simple is a bit off mark.

    3. Haha, yes, I think nobody believes the argument for simplicity anymore, especially after all the extra things that have been added to the system. Still, I rather have this weird complicated maze than galactic command in its vanilla form.

      One of the complaints I've had about galactic command is exactly what you voice here. SWTOR introduced its popular legacy system in the past that allows you to unlock benefits for your whole legacy and even send bound gear over to your alts (through legacy gear). In that light it's even stranger that a new system was introduced that rewards playing a single character more. It goes against the base of the game.

  6. "On paper it had looked acceptable to me. But we don't play games because we rationally decide we like them; we play games because we feel like playing them and because they make us have fun. In other words, it's pure emotion."

    If I could tattoo one thing on the inside of the eyelids at BW:A - this would be it. Galactic Command is all maths, no emotion; all about the population, nothing about the individual.

    As one of those unwashed puggers, I could say I'm in favor of it; but in the end, it took a baroque gearing system and made it more baroque and less predictable. I wish they had taken the effort to fix the gear-by-vendor interfaces (revamp the vendor interfaces to make things clearer for the people who are not steeped in the language of MMOs) and make set-bonus gear available for solo-accessible currency. Instead we got a system that even I'm currently mostly ignoring. It's an unmitigated debacle.

    1. That's a very good point. The real 'thrill of the hunt' comes from being rewarded for doing something meaningful, not from randomly having luck. There are experiments with lab rats that insist on the opposite. But human sociology is more complicated than that of lab rats. For one, lab rats don't talk to each other about how crappy the new food supply is.


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