Wednesday, February 29, 2012

#SWTOR - Jedi Shadow Balance Primer

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Some might call this a "guide," but I prefer the term "primer." I don't really want to tell you how to play, or say that this is the only way to play. The point is to share what I've discovered through research and playing that should get you in the ballpark. I definitely reserve the right to be wrong, or learn more in the future, but for now, this is what I've rounded up on the Shadow Balance Build.

The Strengths
  • Versatile Range
  • Challenging Rotation (lots of buttons to press!)
  • A great ranged AoE attack
  • A sweet 2 second ranged root (awesome in PvP)
  • Solid self-healing abilities
The Spec
I made a post about my spec a little while ago. I'm mostly going to copy that into here to make this a one stop shop. I have no idea if it's "right" for any one particular facet of the game, but it has served me and my chosen play style very well. I rolled a Consular with the intention of going Shadow Balance. It was advertised as a sort of hybrid melee/range, battlemage-type playstyle. Oh, and it had DoTs. Perfect for me.

The spec I worked out has (I believe) the following focuses: damage dealing, DoTs, self-healing, and force powers. Basically, every talent in the balance tree works toward those goals enough that I didn't angst-out along the way. Then, I picked up a few in the Kinetic Combat tree that seemed to help the abilities I was using more of at that point.

I ended up with a 10/0/31 spec. Here's a screenie of it:
The two talents I chose not to take in the Balance tree were Pinning Resolve and Mind Ward. The first adds an additional force lift target and reduces force stun. The second decreases the damage you take from DoTs. Since this was primarily a damage dealing spec, it wasn't hard to pass on Mind Ward. As for the CC's, I was happy picking up the instant cast lift later and just having to tread lightly around one target.

In the Kinetic Combat tree I took Technique Mastery for the obvious damage improvement. Applied Force was also a good choice, as I use Double Strike a lot. Expertise was easy (a straight damage buff), which left me a bit of a decision with the last two points. I could have probably gone with something defensive (such as the straight endurance buff), but instead I opted to take Elusiveness, primarily for the drop to Force Speed. Even when not in combat, I like to spam that button, so it seemed like a talent that I'd get a lot of use out of, even if it wasn't a damage buff.

I opted not to go with any of the Infiltration talents because I didn't see them as being very useful for me. I don't use Shadow Strike a lot. I've never like backstab abilities. They're great when you know for sure that you're going to be able to move behind a target, but in PvP and in a lot of the pulls (even with bosses), I felt like I ended up tanking a lot, even if it was just adds. The other abilities didn't seem to buff damage all that much. Some lower cooldowns and others are defensive, but not seemed exciting. (Except for Misdirection. The speed boost was enticing, but not having to lock in first tier crap).

The Rotation
I s till cling to the term "rotation." I don't know why. Nothing about my balance play is really cyclical. It just seems smoother than "priority system." Rotation sounds like it takes skill. Priority system sounds more like something you program into an android. And androids don't poop, and should be destroyed.
    I find myself using a different pattern of skills depending on the situation. For a group with all normal enemies (non-elites), I'm likely to lead off with a Force in Balance, follow up with a Whirling Blow, and then finish off single enemies with a combination of Spinning Strike, Project, or Double Strike (when SpSt is on cooldown).

    For a group with, say, an elite and a non-elite, I will often Mind Maze the elite, and then single target the non. I generally lead off with a Project, then stun, Tumult, and finish with a SpSt. Then, I'll work behind the controlled target, use Shadow Strike to break the stun, and continue with a Project, Force Breach, and FiB. Then, I generally alternate Double Strike and the standard attack, watching my cooldowns. If I crit in melee, I'll get a free, instant Mind Crush, and I'll throw that. I try to use Project and FiB every time they're off CD. Then, as soon as the target drops below 30% health, I'll weave in as many Spinning Strikes as I can.

    In PvP, I almost always open up from range, throwing out a FiB and then using Sever Force to root my target as I run in. Once I get in 10m range, I'll start dancing in and out, using Project and Force Breach, weaving Double Strikes and finishing with a Spinning Strike. If getting in melee proves difficult, that's when I use Telekinetic Throw to great effect. I also try to buff it to 40m and use it at range. Really, as balance spec, you have a ton of utility and can keep pressure up from any distance. I've found it a lot of fun.

    Tumult, Spinning Strike, and Shadow Strike all seem to hit hard, but they need a certain setup (and Tumult you can't use in PvP). FiB hits hard, but sometimes you have to be careful about AoE, and I find it somewhat cumbersome to point and click with the mouse. I sort of wish I could just click it twice and have it center on me automatically.

    If I were to list a rough order that I typically use, it would go something like this (keep in mind, I'm generally PvP'ing most of the time now):
    1. Force in Balance
    2. Sever Force
    3. Project
    4. Force Breach
    5. Double Strike
    6. Spinning Strike (whenever low enough)
    7. Mind Crush (if free)
    8. Telekinetic Throw (with force potency)
    9. Whirling Blow (to get people off objectives)
    10. Force Stun and other CC (Force lift or slow) as needed (follow up with a Tumult if in PvE)
    11. When all else fails: Saber Strike
    I also use Force Speed. A lot. Even when doing nothing. Seriously, it has speed in it. Literally.

    The Stats
    I've done a limited amount of research, and the priority hardly seems clear. Still, there are some easy ones. Willpower, for instance, is hands down our best stat. Also, for PvP, Expertise is the bee's knees. And Endurance is never a bad stat, though it pretty much just naturally comes on all gear. After that it gets a bit foggy.

    Crit and Surge are solid choices for a Balance Shadow, but they just nerfed Surge. Power is good, since we use a lot of force. Same with Force Power. I'm not so sure about Accuracy. Our force powers hit 100% pretty much by default, and that's pretty much everything. Still, over 100% is suppose to increase your effectiveness, though I don't think it's enough to warrant a whole lot of thought. As such, my priority looks like this:

    Willpower >> Crit,Power,FP > Surge >> Accuracy

    Wrap Up
    That's it for this primer. I hope it gets you in the ballpark. I'm having a blasty on my balance shadow, and simply love the play style. In fact, I'm off to go play (probably huttball) right now.

    As always, tips and feedback are most welcome.

    Monday, February 27, 2012

    An Aside on Gaming, Guilt, and Productivity

    4 comments
    And we're back. I didn't break anything on the ski trip (I know y'all were worried). I didn't log on to play anything (forgot my authenticators). I didn't blog (didn't have anything to say). But now I'm back. It seems like a per-requisite for me to write is to also read. I get a lot of my inspiration from simply lurking around the blogosphere.

    In particular, I'm feeling intrigued by the whole Productivity and Gaming discussion over at the Pot. You see, I'm what you might call a Highly Motivated Individual. That is, I'm all about productivity and efficiency. And you know what I find un-productive? Television. Followed closely by movies.

    Does anyone feel guilty for watching some TV? For going to the movies? For reading a book? Entertainment is entertainment.

    I think if we're being honest, gaming is, at the very least, more productive than TV and movies. I mean, there's a lot more interaction going on in any game than in consuming a TV show or a cinematic adventure... if only due to pressing buttons and a built-in chat client. So, it's only third worst. Yet, TV and movies are generally acceptable where gaming sometimes isn't. What gives?

    Perhaps its simply the amount of time we spend on leisure. It is very easy to only spend an hour on TV, or a couple hours on a movie... they have sort of built-in time limits. Gaming is, perhaps, not so simple. One hour easily turns into four and then eight and OMG it's dawn.

    I work 40+ hours a week at a Real Job. I am (currently) in charge of three blogs. I run my own side business on the side where I write novels. I do my own oil changes, basic maintenance (both house and car), and typically keep the lawn mowed and the snow cleared. I work out 3 times a week on average. This is to say, I think I do all the normal things people do, plus some (not everyone writes novels in their spare time, and a lot of people "can't" squeeze in the work out thing). I think its fair to say that I'm a Pretty Productive Guy.

    I get the question a lot: How do you find time to write? There are a lot of people out there that hear the 100k words and nearly have a panic attack. But, really, its quite simple: I devote time to the endeavor. I spend at least an hour each and every day writing. That's one TV show less that I don't get to watch.

    I think, if you were to really lay out my time, I give up a lot of TV. I don't follow a lot of shows, and those that I do, I DVR. I don't watch commercials, or if I'm forced to (I like watching sports live), I have something I'm doing every time they come on. I probably don't watch as many movies as most people either, but I still do. A lot of that time is replaced with gaming, but only insomuch as is healthy.

    Even a Pretty Productive Guy like myself isn't productive all the time. Like most creative people, I suffer from "bursts of energy." That is, maybe I'll write furiously for an hour or two, but after that, Brain is done. Everyone needs some "off" time. If that is gaming for you, then you should not feel guilty. We just have to be careful that we don't do TV, then gaming, then a movie, then back to TV and then its time to raid and...

    Not every day is productive. Sometimes a "binge" can be healthy. Other times, you may need to kick yourself out of the chair and get your shit done. Such is life, right?

    I guess my whole point is that it is my belief that if TV and movies are acceptable activities, then there is no reason gaming shouldn't be, so long as you're substituting one for the other. Furthermore, gaming has a lot of redeeming qualities that the other two currently lack. Case in point: I've made a lot more friends through gaming than I have through TV/Movies. Also, as a writer, all three have value to me, as I can learn more about effective story telling through each. And I'm not even touching books here (of which I read a lot).

    I think the guilt mostly stems from a social stigma that is, in my belief, completely unfounded. Real life family and friends often don't understand gaming. If I told my "drinking buddies" that I was going home to raid, they'd laugh me out of the bar. If I told them I wanted to catch a game (that, for whatever reason I couldn't see at my hypothetical bar), they probably cover my tab and toss me my keys. Sports are acceptable. Gaming is not. It's purely a social thing. I didn't make the rules.

    This isn't saying I agree with them, either. In fact, I make a conscious effort to try and treat all my hobbies the same (Sports, Gaming, Writing). In interacting with others, though, it may require a bit of obfuscation. I'm not above that. I've taken to telling people that I simply have a "previous commitment." It's generic, personal, and important to me. That's all that matters.

    I'll let my freak flag fly in the right company, but I see no need to slap others in the face with it either. Furthermore, I'm not going to feel guilty just because I don't form to your societal viewpoint. I am who I am. And this person is productive despite - and perhaps also "because of" - gaming.

    (A key side note, perhaps, is that my wife also games and we don't have kids... yet. Those are both completely valid complicating factors here. Having no experience on that side of the fence, I will make no comment on the color of the grass except to say that there are certainly added challenges. Still, even in those cases, I don't believe anyone should live in guilt... and I'm Catholic! Isn't that what we do? Nope... just another life-like replica from Chuck Testa.)

    Monday, February 20, 2012

    Ski Trip

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    I'll be gone for the next four days on a ski trip. Being good Midwesterners, we try to seize the opportunity at least once per year to play about on some geography (of which we are woefully short in most of the region). Though, being not particularly adventurous, this means we head up to Boyne in northern Michigan. We go with several friends, and about half of the party doesn't really ski (which is why we don't go someplace really cool, where the beer flows like wine... you know, like Asssspen).

    And no, none of us snowboards. In fact, I make it my job to spray the snowboarders sitting on the hill whenever possible. Seriously, there are enough orange plastic obstacles. 

    Annnnyway, depending on how things go, I may not be around much. I think we have wifi and I will have the laptop, so who knows. I may stop in.

    But, if not, I leave you with this: apparently, I'm not the only one who things ski poles should also function as lightsabers.
    Not me. I don't do the sideways arms... anymore. For this fella's DeviantArt, see here.

    Thursday, February 16, 2012

    Wrapping Up ACII: Revelations

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    I failed to report that I finished Assassin's Creed II: Revelations over the weekend. It's hard for me not to think: "Well, that was short." When you spend 90% of your gaming time in MMO-land, any other game is probably going to feel short (except for the occasional Skyrim). Yet for all the shortness, it was a fun game. I didn't really do a whole lot of side questing, as most of them were essentially the same as the previous iteration. I mean, I've already built back up Rome. Constantinople, while neat, is no Rome.

    Bombs are always fun. I'm glad they added them. The hookblade was fun. I wish there were more of the tower defense stages. I think I only did like three of them. Perhaps this was just because I wasn't looking in the right places.

    I'm not going to spoil anything, but the ending was solid. Still, I couldn't help but wish for some more information on how the, um, next generation comes to be (if you catch my meaning). What can I say? V-day was on the horizon and I'm a sucked for romance.

    I was excited to see an announcement that the next step in the story, Assassin's Creed III, is apparently targeted for an October release. Ubisoft has confirmed that it will release the game this year, even going so far as to throw out an Oct 30th date. That's pretty awesome, and is a perfectly timed announcement for me.

    I said before that AC:Rev didn't really blow me away. It was sort of the next in a logical progression, with nothing that was super-exciting, and just basically felt like a sequel. That isn't to say it's a bad thing, but neither was it something I wanted to rave about (a different feeling than some previous iterations).

    Knowing what I do about development, I suspect that AC:Rev was sort of the last hurrah before moving onto the new AC:III project. Similar to that last patch in an MMO before an expansion, it tends to be a little short on the content because it is simply tying up loose ends, preparing for the next big release. In that, AC:Rev functioned well. And I think it had enough content to be worth the price tag.

    I think this was what Blizzard was trying to do with shorter, faster patches, though I never felt "surprised" that something was coming "so soon." With AC:III, color me surprised... and a bit excited. Now, the two paradigms are different, for sure, so this is not an attempt to compare apples to oranges. I'm merely recounting a difference in feeling from a customer of each type of game.

    In any case, I'll be keeping my eye out for the game come October.

    (I did find that there is a short film called "Embers" that apparently gives me the resolution I'm after. Though, not having the signature/collector's editions, I suppose I'm going to have to find it elsewhere. I'd be surprised if YouTube doesn't have it.

    Also, this brought up another question: Apart from not retaining Kristen Bell, why did Lucy get stabby stabbed in the previous iteration? I feel like that thread sort of got pushed under the rug. Hopefully, that will be revealed in III... but, uh, this was Revelations.*grumble*)

    Wednesday, February 15, 2012

    Rollercoaster! ...of Noob

    8 comments
    You've got The Ohio Players playing right now in your head, don't you? Or perhaps the Red Hot Chili Peppers? Song's gon' be stuck in your head allllll day.

    Your noob is like a rollercoaster baby, baby. I wanna ride.

    Seriously though, being a noob again in SW:TOR reminds me how many ups and downs there are early in a game. Everything from the content, to the stats, to the general chat is completely variable. Lately, the track that I've been most concerned with is the playstyle coaster.

    I've done my research. I think I understand my class. I think my spec is solid. I'm pretty sure I'm pushing the right buttons. But the results I get seem to vary widely on any given night.

    Some nights, I feel like a complete badass. I'm spinning my saber around, decapitating players and npc's alike with impunity. I am... The Galaxy's Most Interesting Jedi.

    Other nights, I'm tissue paper. I'm a red shirt in Star Trek pretending to be a Jedi (in Star Wars). I'm a hamster in a wheel. My health bar seems to have sprung a leak, and my lightsaber is shorting out. My inability to cause damage is only eclipsed by the massive damage others are inflicting on me.

    The crappy nights inevitably send me to the interwebs. I scamper around trying to figure out what I'm doing wrong. And quickly I realize...

    There is no Elitist Jerks forum. At least not yet. Torhead doesn't have years of comments to browse. Every piece of info I can find is contradicted immediately somewhere else. I look for a simulation for my class... is there even a simulator?

    TOR is a new game. WoW is old. The information available on each is far different. After a lot of browsing, I'm pretty confident again. I'm stacking the right stats and pressing the right buttons. Just must have been an off night. I guess that explains the terrible clanking: the lift chain is bringing me up to the next peak.

    Monday, February 13, 2012

    Developing a Routine

    4 comments
    Being a casual gamer and an Extreme Creature of Habit, developing a routine is paramount to my gaming enjoyment at level cap. Dailies are something to be reveled in, at least for a few months (obviously, they do become stale after a while). Somewhere around an hour is my desired time limit. I want to be able to log in, run through an expected series of activities, and have the choice to log out, finished, after 60 minutes. I suspect I'm not alone in this aim.

    Sure, I may stay on and do other things, but that just depends on the night. The purpose of the routine is to form a base of activity that assures you're "getting somewhere." Given long enough, you'll achieve your goals, and maybe adapt, add/subtract from the queue, whatever. Some of my initial consternation with max level TOR was that I had no idea what my routine was. After some light research and play-testing, I've settled into it. Here's how it looks:
    • Log in, fly to planet, pick up dailies. Currently this is in Ilum, but I may try out some Belsavis ones once I get bored.
    • Queue for solo Warzones.
    • Complete dailies as quick as possible. After completing last daily, call a shuttle to one of the hubs for turn-in, take a speeder to the other.
    • Accept Warzone queue when it pops, keep re-queuing until I get my three wins (or my hour is up).
    • Generally, this is as far as I make it, but if I get really lucky with the Warzones, then I'll head out to the open PvP area to see what's up, maybe snag a few armaments/kills.
    • Fleet Pass to turn in PvP dailies/weeklies (if I completed any). Log out here so I can re-pick them up tomorrow, otherwise log out on the ship (faster for loading).
    This actually works pretty well, though if I'm being strict about the hour, it usually takes me several days to finish the PvP stuff. I'm Republic, and, well, that says what you need to know I think. As a proud Alliance member in WoW, being the perpetual underdog is a feeling I'm used to.

    Speaking of WoW, my routine there was pretty much the same, though I usually had to choose between dailies or BG's, since my PvE and PvP toons were separate. I like that there are several dailies and weeklies for PvP in TOR. Before WoW let you continue to get Conquest Points, when I would win my first BG, I used to go: "now what?"

    Anyway, how about you, dear reader? Do you shoot for a routine? How long is it? What activities are you including/excluding?

    Thursday, February 9, 2012

    The Other Side of the Couple's Coin

    16 comments
    There has been some talk about gaming couples in recent weeks. I think most of it was spawned by Matticus's somewhat negative article about raiding couples. I got the sense that he doesn't care much for them. Yet, I can't help but think he's only speaking about one very specific type of couple. One very narrow-minded view.

    My guild was founded based on couples. Most of the founding members were part of a gaming couple. It's why we took the joking name: Lothar Swingers Club. And it worked really well for us. We had very low drama. We succeed in progressing at our own pace. And we have a wide variety of couple types. Some of us talk... a lot. Some of us are quiet. Some of us, you can't even count on to have spoken to their spouse more recently than you have.

    To be fair, I've know couples like the ones Matticus describes, but we just didn't have anyone like that. I would say we have everything but that. In fact, it was probably more often 2 on 1 against one member of the couple, causing more marital strife than in-game strife. It was not uncommon for a couple to go silent for an uncommon amount of time on vent, only to key in five minutes later saying: "Sorry, was yelling at my spouse across the room. He/she was being an idiot again."

    Which brings up what I believe to be the biggest benefit of gaming couples, mechanics-wise: they're in the same room. When my wife is tanking, it's like she has a built in bonus camera in the form of the pew-pewing warlock. While she's watching the All Crotch All The Time channel, I can warn her of adds or other impending doom. Basically, two heads are better than one. And this sort of thing extends to a lot of other areas, but in-game doesn't really cover it for me.

    Honestly, I think the biggest benefit is been the support network you get. Any married person can tell you that having other married friends is comforting. It's nice to know that all the yelling is normal, and that you're not the only one annoyed by who did/didn't do the dishes. And when one of you gets sick - really sick - you have a whole bunch of folks that are there for you and understand.

    The support I've gotten from my guildies in the past few months has been unquantifiable. You cannot min/max it. It will never show up on a meter in-game.

    I guess I just wanted to go on record with that. No way in hell would I avoid gaming couples just on principle. No, I just try to avoid unreasonable asshats based on individual experience. After all, you don't have to be a couple to be one of those. Does it surprise anyone that they might come in pairs? Just saying: don't throw out the baby with the bathwater here.

    All in all, I think this: "On the other hand, you could just auto decline couples entirely and sidestep any potential drama problems that might happen later" is terrible advice. You could miss out on so much, and MMO gaming isn't just about raiding.

    (Note: I don't think Matticus was really meaning to "hate" on couples, though it kind of came off that way. Instead, I think he was merely stressing that as a good GM/RL, you need to take someone's entire situation into account when deciding if they're right for your group or not. And that is not bad advice.)

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012

    #SWTOR - Shadow Balance Spec

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    Now that I've been 50 for a little over a week, I wanted to publish the spec I've been running with. I have no idea if it's "right" for any one particular facet of the game, but it has served me and my chosen play style very well. I rolled a Consular with the intention of going Shadow Balance. It was advertised as a sort of hybrid melee/range, battlemage-type playstyle. Oh, and it had DoTs. Perfect for me.

    The spec I worked out has (I believe) the following focuses: damage dealing, DoTs, self-healing, and force powers. Basically, every talent in the balance tree works toward those goals enough that I didn't angst-out along the way. Then I picked up a few in the Kinetic Combat tree that seemed to help the abilities I was using more of at that point.

    I ended up with a 10/0/31 spec. Here's a screenie of it:
    The two talents I chose not to take in the Balance tree were Pinning Resolve and Mind Ward. The first adds an additional force lift target and reduces force stun. The second decreases the damage you take from DoTs. Since this was primarily a damage dealing spec, it wasn't hard to pass on Mind Ward. As for the CC's, I was happy picking up the instant cast lift later and just having to tread lightly around one target.

    In the Kinetic Combat tree I took Technique Mastery for the obvious damage improvement. Applied Force was also a good choice, as I use Double Strike a lot. Expertise was easy (a straight damage buff), which left me a bit of a decision with the last two points. I could have probably gone with something defensive (such as the straight endurance buff), but instead I opted to take Elusiveness, primarily for the drop to Force Speed. Even when not in combat, I like to spam that button, so it seemed like a talent that I'd get a lot of use out of, even if it wasn't a damage buff.

    I opted not to go with any of the Infiltration talents because I didn't see them as being very useful for me. I don't use Shadow Strike a lot. I've never like backstab abilities. They're great when you know for sure that you're going to be able to move behind a target, but in PvP and in a lot of the pulls (even with bosses), I felt like I ended up tanking a lot, even if it was just adds. The other abilities didn't seem to buff damage all that much. Some lower cooldowns and others are defensive, but not seemed exciting. (Except for Misdirection. The speed boost was enticing, but not having to lock in first tier crap).

    I feel pretty potent and hardy with this build. I also feel like I don't have whole lot of weaknesses. I can do powerful things at range. I can hold my own close up. All in all, I feel like this is a solid build. Anyone out there with thoughts otherwise? In support of? Feel encouraged to let me know.

    Wednesday, February 1, 2012

    Iron Man Mode

    2 comments
    You may have seen similar posts from other bloggers out there, but I wanted to put my own post up. Zeke from the Iron Man Mode Blog contacted me, and asked if I would help support their new venture. As someone who is admittedly polygamerous and a fan of the Child's Play Charity, the idea was all Win as far as I was concerned. The skinny is that a group of guys are planning to pick up well known games (and maybe some lesser known games as well) and play as far as they can on only one life. After the die just once, they'll move on to other games, and the blog will move on as well.

    The premise is mostly for fun, and the charity element is a great touch, but it also servers as a subtle reminder of our own mortality. Obviously, we don't get more that one life to live (unless you believe in reincarnation or something, but even then you don't get to go back to the last quick save). We should make the most of it.

    Anyway, I wanted to pass the link along to help raise awareness. They've got a Twitter account as well as a blog and if you'd like, you can donate through their site. Child's Play is something we've donated to in the past (remember the #iblamesyrana tweets?) and will continue to do so in the future.

    When I was little (~10 y/o), I screwed up my knee and had to have surgery. There are two things I remember from my stay at the hospital. The first was all the ice cream I was allowed to eat. The second was that they wheeled in a video game cart and I was allowed to play (when I should have been at school). Now, nothing about my injury was major, but even then, having the chance to play games while laid up in the bed was a great spirit-lifter. In a very simple way, that's what Child's Play is all about. I was lucky to have been at a "gaming" hospital before Child's Play existed. To be able to help spread that today is pretty cool.

    So check out the Iron Man Mode Blog if it is something that interests you, and consider supporting their charity effort.