I hate to do this… I really do but I feel I would be a hypocrite if I did not comment honestly on hardmode Flashpoints in Swtor. I often said about WoW that broken designs needs to be called for what they are and the same will apply to Swtor. So let’s get right to it. Hardmodes Flashpoints are one of the worst designs I have ever seen in any MMO. It’s so bad that I could see them become a game killer for many people. Think I’m harsh? I am but it’s truly that bad. Why? Not only because of bugs but because of obvious poorly thought out design combined with said bugs. Is the game doomed? Not necessarily because the fix is very easy to do. Fair warning, wall of text incoming.
The heart of the issue: Enrage timers
In essence, all the problems in hardmodes boils down to enrage timers. In essence, hardmodes are pretty much the exact same flashpoints as the normal modes with level 50 mobs. Bosses are nearly identical in mechanics with very little differences. They hit harder, rarely one of them gain one new ability but for the most part… same thing. Except for one important detail wich are the enrage timers.
I won’t guess at the reason why Bioware chose to do it they way they did but the end result is that every boss in hardmode gains a very very tight enrage timer. Most people attempting hardmodes report seeing the enrage timers on nearly every boss. The most frequent reported numbers seem to over at around 40 to 50%. For the record, my group seems to hit them at around 20%. If you’re wondering, these attemps were made in post 50 pre-raid gair. Meaning people who have completed the normal modes flashpoints, have worked on their gear and are mostly fitted in level 50 blues and purples. Gear I would expect to be sufficient for hardmodes since it’s sufficient to start raiding with.
The end result is that a lazy design decision, enrage timers, is not working out and it leads to a lot of other issues which make hardmode flashpoints horrible at this moment. I’ll go into details with the following points to really illustrate the effects of lazy design.
Different requirements for different roles
I stumbled into an unexpected experiment that ended up showing me one of the most insidious effects of bad enrage timers. The night we first attempted hardmodes I was playing on an offspec for the fun of it. I’m normaly playing as a dps but I wanted to try out healing for one night to see how I would fare. It turned out that night was the one we decided to try out hardmodes and I figured a hardmode would be the best way to test me as a healer.
So, just to set the scene. It was my first time healing a group since Karazhan in Burning Crusade. I had not researched my spec or even changed my gear. I was going in with a spec I made myself, and with my dps gear equipped. I did a quick Heroic 2+ quest to get some rust off but that was it. I was going to heal a hardmode within a grand total of 2 hours of being a healer.
And you know what? I pulled it off. What killed us was the enrage timers, not my lack of healing. So the next time we head in, I am back on my dps spec. The one I’ve been practicing and researching. Same gear, same skill but a different spec. What happened?? We hit the enrage timers! We did manage to finish the flashpoint eventually but our bosses kills were made during the boss enrage, sometimes with only one person barely alive.
So what did that tells me? It tells me that the gear requirements for different roles are insanely different. My gear and skill is sufficient for healing but not for dps. If this was well designed, my gear and skill would be insufficient for both roles. What this tells me instead is that the enrage timers are badly designed. They set it way too short and demand out of dps that they gear up way better than their tank or healer friends.
When timers and bugs collide
Another other insidious effect of the bad enrage timers are when you combine them with bugs. The easiest way to illustrate it is with the last boss of the Esseles flashpoint. That boss has a mechanic where he puts a mark on the ground and you have to get out within 3 seconds or get hit for huge damage. Right now, this mechanic is bugged. It’s been often reported that the timer is often shorter than 3 seconds and sometimes it even hits instantly. Also, the severs don’t always seem to register the player moving away resulting in players being far away still getting hit. I have a few theories on what exactly causes this bug but that’s not the point here.
The point is that under normal circumstance that bug is manageable. If players don’t get hit too often, a skilled healer can compensate and prevent a wipe. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. However when you combine with a crazy short enrage timer you get into certain death scenario anytime you encounter the bug. Simply put, once he enrage if you get hit by lightning, whether on your own or because of the bug, you’re dead. The end result is that once he hits enrage, it become near impossible to survive even with the most skilled players around. It’s also incredibly frustrating to be hit by the double whammy of bad design (enrage) and bugs.
Let’s screw up progression too while we’re at it
The last insidious effect is that the gear requirements and difficulty simply screw up what we have come to expect as normal progression in endgame. In most people mind, you do normal mode flashpoint, the hardmodes and the raids. Turns out that because raids seems to be better tuned, it’s actually recommended now to start raiding before doing hardmodes. Or farm random drops in pvp for a really long time.
Now you could argue that Swtor uses a different progression model but if that’s the case it would mean that endgame is even more badly designed than I thought. I’m putting myself in the shoes of someone who has no interest in raiding or pvp and just enjoy small group content and they are screwed. We are telling them, do 4 man stuff, then 8 man stuff you don’t want to do in order to do harder 4 man stuff… If that’s not broken design I don’t know what is.
Not all hope is gone. In fact the fix to this whole mess is pretty easy. Remove enrage timers or if they really don’t want to, double or triple the timer. Swtor has shown me moments of true brilliance in its design and I’m hopeful that they will correct this mistake soon. However I won’t mince words either. Endgame so far in Swtor has been a mess. Illum is broken, hardmodes are broken, pvp is not working great, crafting is bugged (reverse engineer bug) and there’s way too much grinding involved. I can’t comment on raids yet but let’s be honest. While I may be a big fanboi of Star Wars, not all the people I play with are. And sooner and later this kind of awful design will drive people away, and when they move away and it gets to the point where I can’t do anything… chances are I’ll be leaving too.