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Smuggler Reporting For Duty

Saturday, March 12th was a pretty big day for me when it comes to Star Wars: The Old Republic. That was the day I finally got my hands on a flashpoint and it was pretty awesome. I was able to take so much away from it, more than I expected. Let’s get started.

I knew going in that I might only get to play the flashpoint once and so I was aiming to play either a tank or a healer. My thought process here is that both of those roles have an opportunity to see the encounters from the inside and really see how they work. My “dream team” for Saturday morning was comprised entirely of the SWTOR fansites and after some discussion, this ended up our roster. Pete of DarthHater on the Jedi Knight, Zach of Mos Eisley Radio on the Jedi Consular and Lethality (Bill) of AskAJedi.com on the Trooper. That’s right folks, yours truly landed his dirty little mitts on the main healing class for the day, the Smuggler.

Before I get too deep into things I want to give a huge thanks and plenty of highfives to my team. Not only did we complete the entire flashpoint with no wipes and with the bonus objective but we had an absolute blast playing together, I could not have asked for a better group of guys to play alongside. Hands down my favorite moment of the entire weekend was the way that the flashpoint ended, but let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

After a brief introduction video presented by Stephen Reid we were seated at our stations and told to begin our dialogue. This is the first time multiplayer dialogue has been played publicly and let me be frank here, it is god damn awesome. I was a skeptic early on that they would be able to keep it exciting and entertaining but holy hell is it great. I can already see how a diverse group of lightside and darkside players can make for some hilarious commentary. We were told by “new Yoda” that we needed to go infiltrate an Imperial base and rescue a prisoner. Hey, good news, this game has story. All of you know the plot to Taral already so I wont bore you with those details. Oh, and by the way – no, we don’t know who the prisoner is.

Let The Gameplay Begin

As we landed on Taral V we were instructed to buff up and get ready to move on. We did as instructed with each of us buffing everyone we could with our class specific buffs. Then the action began and we moved on to the flashpoint. The first thing of note is how overwhelming the hotbars looked. I had 4 entire hotbars full of skills and only one of those bars was actually bound to the keyboard. Luckily those bound skills were my heal spells. However, as we progressed through Taral I noticed very quickly that I didn’t actually need to heal much and I would be better suited assisting with DPS and CC.

This was tricky for me since all of my offensive skills were on “click” bars. That’s right, I, the king of preaching about keybinds had to click on my skills and it was rough. I really struggled with juggling my targeting and my skill usage. Once I got the hang of things though it all flowed fairly smoothly. Again, what is interesting here is that even though I was brought in as the main healer I spent more time DPSing than I did healing, at least on most of the trash. This is a pretty big deal.

Everyone will likely remember that I was also pretty critical of the cover system and Taral was a great chance for me to get some hands on time with it and I am still going to be pretty critical. I played around with going in and out of cover quite a bit and frankly as a healer it felt pretty pointless. Literally the only thing it did for me was making me take less damage from a 90 degree cone in front of me, pro tip: healers shouldn’t be getting hit. Also, I didn’t gain access to any new skills by being in cover so I have to say for a healer it seems fairly pointless. This certainly could change or I could just be missing something, who knows.

Let us take a look at some of the specifics I mentioned in my last article:


Ranged tanking is something else I was very curious to see in action and I will be honest, I am still pretty puzzled here. Our Trooper tank seemed quite torn on exactly how he was supposed to tank. Should he be at range? Should he be in melee? And after seeing how combat works I can understand why. BioWare did a great job in keeping mobs very spread out, this is likely due to the mobs themselves often being ranged along with the tank. This would require a larger positional radius around the targets to ensure no random aggro from adds around them.

I also heard Zach (our Consular) say at one point he was really confused by the concept of him being able to stand in front of the tank when fighting mobs. On the flip side, our Knight seemed to be having no problem with his off tanking duties. I think being in melee range of something you are supposed to be tanking just “feels” right. However, I don’t really see this being game breaking, it is something players will get used to in time and it wont have a huge effect. I say this because our Trooper spent as much time getting melee’d as our Knight did. Ranged tank or not, he was in melee range.

All that other “tanky” stuff seemed to be in place. I was not playing the classes but they didn’t seem to have any crazy tanking cooldowns, it was merely a matter of them having higher armor which meant more mitigation. As the healer I could see a big difference between the Trooper getting hit and the Consular. Threat also seemed to be a non-issue most of the time although I cant speak to their skills directly. Other than when we aggrod additional groups I just can’t recall getting hit when I shouldn’t have been.

The Guardian Can DPS?

Yes, he can. From looking over videos of the Knight’s playtime compared to other classes it seemed he was doing about 25-50% more damage than the tank or the healer and that seems to be a comfortable number to me. What I found most fascinating about the Guardian as a DPSer was not the fact that he was DPSing but how important it was that he could offtank as well. This was very similar to how the Sage was not only DPSing but could also offheal. This raises even greater concerns for me when you look at someone like the Marauder, how can they compete when they can only accomplish one role? Time will tell but it really seems like BioWare is pushing this “two roles” thing and the Marauder/Sentinel only have one, where do they stand?

The Worst Animation Ever

That award definitely goes to my little “pew, pew” of a heal. Hopefully my gameplay video will be up soon and you can see it, but go look for the animation of the Smuggler healing, it isn’t very good.

Aside from my complaints about the animation, how did the Smuggler heal? Well, they seem to be designed similar to how a WoW Druid would heal. That is to say they revolve around keeping heal-over-time spells stacked on a target. Then in between refreshing HoTs they have some spot heals which they can use on the target as well. All fairly standard and simple.

Where the Smuggler gets very tricky is in their resource management. For those that don’t know the Smuggler uses an energy system, they have a static pool of energy with a static (possibly?) regeneration rate. I will say that energy systems are something I have always hated because I love nothing more in an MMO than seeing:

“You don’t have enough energy”
“You don’t have enough energy”
“You don’t have enough energy”
“You don’t have enough energy”
“You don’t have enough energy”
“You don’t have enough energy”
“You don’t have enough energy”
“You don’t have enough energy”

I can tell you that I certainly ran into it on the boss fight. Although in retrospect if I could do it again it may not be an issue. Nonetheless I think this is something that will need to be carefully monitored and balanced as it could be a big problem. It could mean Smugglers end up burning through their energy too quickly and are gimped for the rest of the fight or their heals are too cheap and they can heal forever without any problems.

Flashpoint Design

The layout of the flashpoint itself is certainly very important as well and this is something I was very impressed with. As I stated previously it was noticeable that BioWare needed to spread the mobs out in order to give the ranged folks a wide berth to play with. However, they also did an amazing job of making sure the flashpoint did not feel empty. Mobs didn’t just stand still, they would patrol. There were always events going on such as ships flying over head or NPCs battling each other. At no point during Taral V did I ever feel like I was in some bland dungeon just mindlessly killing things. BioWare made sure that it stayed action packed as we went from pack of mobs to pack of mobs.

What I also thought was great is that in my very short playtime of around 45 minutes, we got to do one full fledged boss along with a mini-boss as we were halfway to that boss. Bosses are an integral part of any good instance (flashpoint) for more than one reason. It breaks up the monotony of killing “trash” as well as offering the opportunity for loot. The design of the flashpoint so far was spot on and I sincerely hope this quality carries forward.

The Big Bad Boss

More than anything else I think this fight is a major tax on your healer which in the end made me very glad I chose to play the Smuggler. For those who haven’t figured it out the boss encounter is quite a bit different than that which was shown in the developer walkthrough. In the developer walkthrough the fight was just a simple tank and spank in which after the first boss was killed the other would enrage doing more damage. However, when you watch the fight, pay attention to the Smugglers energy, it never really gets that low.

In contrast to our fight which must have been substantially more difficult. For starters, it was already known by day two that both bosses needed to die almost simultaneously because once the enrage went off you would not survive for long. This meant that both the Trooper and the Knight had to tank while the Consular rotated his DPS between both bosses in order to bring them down together. If you are doing the math this also means that I needed to keep both tanks alive simultaneously. I will be honest, one of the biggest challenges in doing so was that the UI was broken and would not display my HoTs on each tank. This made tracking my healing properly very difficult and so it is likely that I over healed and overwrote my HoTs on more than one occasion.

At about halfway through the fight my energy was completely spent and we surely would have wiped had I not had the skill “Cool Head” to restore all of it back. I used it and began my healing rotation again. Both bosses were almost dead by the time my energy was spent again. In this case I did what I could, spamming my keys to get off every heal possible within my slowly rebuilding energy pool. I know that our Consular also assisted in throwing off some spot heals here as well but all in I do believe I carried most of the healing.

I will say that if the UI was functioning properly and I had a second stab at the fight, I would be able to heal that fight without sweating too much but it certainly was still a challenge. Although this mechanic is a fairly simple one I think it was a great boss to bring to PAX. It is a tank-n-spank, yes, but it is one with a twist. This made the encounter both accessible and challenging all together.

If you got to play Taral V, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. If you didn’t, well I hope the coverage from around the web was enough to please you. Later on today on show 94 is when we are having our Q/A for our playtime with Taral, I recommend you tune in as we will certainly go into far greater detail than I am able in a written peice. Also, feel free to throw any followup questions you have to me in the discussion thread, in the comments below, through email musco@torocast.com or hit me up on Twitter.

Thanks for reading!

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