Gambling and Group Finder: Game Update 2.8
As was promised a couple of months ago, Star Wars: the Old Republic's Game Update 2.8 launched on June 10th. It wasn't without difficulty, as a number of players experienced severe troubles logging in, getting stuck in a Flashpoint, transitioning to other areas, using the group finder, or logging in and seeing an empty server list. The worst of the issues were resolved within twenty-four hours, but maintenance is posted for Friday to hopefully alleviate the rest.
2.8 is the last major update before the launch of Galactic Strongholds in October, and the patch notes reveal a number of changes that may or may not appeal to the majority of the playerbase. Firstly, despite this being a major game update, there is no new story content in this patch. All of the updated content in this patch is for endgame raiders and PVPers, but other than moving on to Nightmare Mode Dread Palace and adding a couple of new ships to Galactic Starfighter, there is very little that is actually new. BioWare published a triple-shot developer blog featuring Designer Chris Schmidt, PVP Designer Alex Modny, and Lead Flashpoints and Operation Designer George Smith as they wrote about their sections of the update.
The only all-new content here was the Festival of Splendor set on Nar Shaddaa, designed by Chris Schmidt, and you can occasionally spot spawned models of new alien races such as the Klatooinian and Ishi-Tib above. It's a limited-time event where you go to your faction's casino, spend Warzone Commendations, Cartel Market Certificates, or in-game credits to buy casino tokens that you can use on two different kinds of slot machines. Then, you fight RNG versus known probability percentages and hopefully at least get your token back, but if you're supremely lucky, you could win a Golden Certificate or even a super-rare mount such as a rancor. The event uses the Golden Certificates in a similar fashion as tickets at Dave and Buster's to buy prizes, but the chances of getting them are so low and have absolutely nothing to do with a player's skill. Dulfy has posted a concise guide to the ins and outs of the event for those interested in the math and estimates of how much in-game cash this could cost.
There was some consternation on the net after the event was announced, and I can rightly see why. While the percentage of getting your chip back is suitably higher than I was expecting, the chances of getting the Golden Certificates are low enough that there's no quick and fast method for grinding all of the items you might want from the vendors. It's also worth noting that you cannot purchase the rancor mount with Golden Certificates. It can only drop from the Kingpin machine at an unbuffed rate of .07% or a buffed rate of .09%. Also, I can't stress enough that this is like opening Cartel Market packs, it's gambling, and you will be facing the RNG raid boss with every go on either of the two sets of machines.
While the prizes you can purchase from the vendor are fairly low-priced, I can't say that I honestly was enticed by any of them, although everyone's wants and needs are different. Out of the lot of it, I'd probably only play until I got two Golden Certificates so I could buy the Blaster Pistol. Let's face it, that's perhaps the best version the game has put in for Han Solo's famous DL-44 blaster, but it's still not an exact replica. All of the prizes are thankfully bind-to-Legacy, so you can ship them around to your alts if you (like me) keep most of your credits on one character and farm them out as necessary.
I think the biggest problem with the event isn't the basic concept. Gambling isn't out of canon. We've had Nar Shaddaa and the Hutts as part of the game since day one. The actual percentages of winning don't really bother me. In fact, they're actually better than what I was expecting. However, this sort of gambling isn't really fun to me. I feel no interaction with what my character is doing, there's no emotional attachment to the act of clicking on the mouse to trigger the machine. Even if I win the roll and my character emotes a cheer, or lose and my character auto-emotes a 'goshdarnit' sort of reaction, I honestly don't care about it. The slot machines as animated art assets don't engage my interest as a player as something to watch while they're spinning, and they trigger so quickly that it's not like clicking on something and then going to do the dishes while you wait and then hitting it again. Personally, I'd have more fun playing Cookie Clicker. At least that provides some measure of entertainment while I'm giving myself RSI.
The next segment of update for the game involved PVP as I mentioned earlier. Also, remember that there aren't any new maps, only two new ships for Starfighter, and double Commendations or Requisition and credits during both phases until Game Update 2.8.2. I'm not a PVPer, but I did enjoy Starfighter for awhile; however, even double Requisition isn't enough to bring me back without something new. To be fair, we did just get the Deathmatch variant and the Denon map, and Warzones have the Quesh Huttball map recently, but they're now starting get a little stale. That's a lot of text in the dev blog to hype up what's little more than the PVP version of Double XP weekend, only these phases are lasting longer.
The biggest change to the game as part of this update is the overhaul of the Group Finder for Story Mode Operations. BioWare's intention here is to make it easier for DPS players to find a group for Operations by making Group Finder work off a 16-person format instead of an 8-person format and increase the Commendations rewards you get for using the Group Finder. The other major change they did involves the most reviled B-word in all of SWTOR's lexicon (Bolster). I can see where the elite endgame raiders will be deeply displeased that they're going to be pugging with folks who don't have the highest and best gear. I can see where BioWare is likely to be the target of the same sort of 'but you're dumbing down the content and taking skill away!' sort of grumpiness that World of Warcraft has been getting for years now.
On the other hand, I can also see where they'd want to let more players into Operations without the highest-end gear ratings. It will help the queue pop faster and also let more players get in to go through the story and learn the basic fights. In the dev blog, George Smith was quick to point out that this change only affects the Story Mode versions of the Operations, not the Hard or Nightmare Modes, so the most elite players still get their exclusive content.
He also mentioned that they're going to rotate which Operations are available at any given time in the Group Finder, and I'm not entirely sure that's a wise choice. He said they wanted to offer equal access to the Operations, but I would think limiting which ones were on deck would hamper that objective. What if a player could only play mid-week but his or her preferred Operation was only on deck on the weekend? Depending on the loot tables for the various Operations, and players' schedules, they might be farming a drop from one Operation but are never available when it's in rotation. We'll have to see where they go with this in the future, but it doesn't sound as flexible as they make it out to be.
Finally, somewhat buried in the patch notes, there are details about upcoming events. Bounty Contract Week is back for June already, and we're told that the Gray Secant is coming back with all sorts of Gree goodness in late July. However, the most intriguing bit for me was the fact that they're not doing Double XP Weekend soon, they're doing Double XP Week from July 1st to 8th. A bit longer than the American holiday weekend, but hey, I'll take it. I still have three classes I never finished their stories on, and anyone else who wants to get to 55 will want to be hoarding XP boosts now while they're not in huge demand.
In all, this update was mostly about doing some class changes, trying something new with the Group Finder, and trying to make PVP more enticing to players for awhile, with a little not-minigame-like-pazaak thrown in to add a tiny bit of new car smell to it. I appreciate the efforts of the combat team to improve that portion of the game, and perhaps I'm spoiled by all the Dragon Age: Inquisition news coming out of E3 this week, but I can't help feel like something's missing here. You know, that thing BioWare is famous for: story. To be somewhat fair, Lead Writer Charles Boyd was in LA recently to meet up with some of the voice actors such as Cat Taber (Vette) and Timothy Omundson (Aric Jorgan), but the last time they were all tweeting up a storm about recording more content, it was combat barks for Galactic Starfighter. I will lightly assume they're doing work for the as-yet-unannounced 'Makeb-like' expansion due... well, probably next year at this rate... but we'll see.
What are your thoughts on this update, folks? Do drop us a comment.