Sunday, December 13, 2015

Thoughts on SWTOR 4.0 and 4 Years of Playing the SWTOR MMO

Load screen for SWTOR 4.0 Knights of the Fallen Empire

It has been just over 4 years since November 2011 when I began playing the beta release of the MMO Star Wars the Old Republic. Bioware has been actively updating the game and recently released version 4.0 Knights of the Fallen Empire which extends gameplay to level 65.  Players can continue using their current characters and begin the new content when they get to about level 60 or they can shortcut right to level 60 by creating a new character that begins at level 60. A level 60 character begun in that way starts with some 60 level unmodifiable gear that is fortunately legacy equipment and so can also be used by other characters of that player on that server as long as they are in the same legacy (why wouldn't they be?) and are level 60.
Sith Lord Siskin'lar contemplates the Universe

Siskin'lar Faces Challenges with Two New Friends?
Along with the new content which basically is designed for solo players to continue with an epic conquest or defense of the galaxy storyline (unfortunately the same storyline for every class, not unique class stories as there are for levels 1-60) there were also many changes made that affect all SWTOR players, primarily in an effort to further simplify the game and lessen the need for playing in groups. Not all of these changes have been welcomed by long time players and PvP players are especially disappointed, thus continuing the decline in the number of active PvP players.

The most significant changes made in 4.0 affect the unique class attributes and the companions. In my earlier blog posts on this I described the class system. In short each class had a key attribute that was most important to them for both offense and defense, so it was important to select gear for your character and his/her companions that matched the key attribute for their class: for Consulars and Inquisitors that attribute was called Willpower; for Knights and Warriors the attribute was Strength; for Smugglers and Agents the attribute was Cunning; and for Troopers and Bounty Hunters the attribute was Aim. Many objects in the game were designed around these key attributes, with drops, crafted items, special items like the datacrons, and vendor items all being affected by them. With 4.0 all four attributes were replaced with a single common key attribute named "Mastery". Because all the release did is change all references to Willpower, Strength, Cunning, and Aim to Mastery there are many duplicated vendor and crafted items in the game now and some rewards also make little sense. Honestly I'm not sure why this was done other than to make it simpler for new players at the cost of removing a lot of uniqueness and player choices (like, for example, a choice of spending limited credits on a Willpower based item for my Consular or an Aim based item for his companion; or the choice of whether to use limited craft resources to craft items for one attribute or another.)

The new Combat Support Droid in a Heroic mission
The second big change was to allow solo players to play most heroic missions, which typically required a group of players before.  Now a combat support droid will be available to assist your player in the heroics and there are also shortcuts on each planet to get right to the heroics. This seems to be an aid for people who enjoy farming heroics for credits and gear. There are still missions I have found though that mandate multiple players to participate, so this change does not affect all missions, but certainly most of them.

The third big change was to alter companions so that their statistics are all the same and are no longer affected by the gear that they have equipped. All companions can now be shifted among the standard Healer, Damage (DPS), and Tank play styles and so players no longer need to accommodate the proscribed play style of the companions they have. While this does allow some new choices for play style for the player character, (some really bad ones since the player class abilities remain designed for certain play styles) it removes most differences between companions.  The companions still have their own  unique storylines appearances, but otherwise they are completely replaceable. Because the statistics of gear is no longer significant for companions you can equip them in anything their class allows them to wear and you do not have to be concerned that the gear is better or worse for statistics. This opens the door to more variety for companion appearance because good looking items with low statistics that were typically just sold to vendors can now be used on companions instead with no adverse affect.

Jedi Landrus Wields the Force
This actually seems like a good thing and a Bioware developer stated that more variety was something they wanted to encourage with this change.  However, oddly enough, the new group of companions that are introduced as part of the 60+ KotFE storyline are exempt from all of this variety because you cannot change their appearance at all. They look exactly the same for everyone and the only item you can equip for them is their primary weapon. This seems like a very odd decision to make considering what they did to the class-based pre-level 60 companions.

The last big change I will talk about is the level synchronization that is now done on every pre-level 60 planet.  This means that players that are higher level than a planet is designed for will find themselves significantly reduced in hit points and damage capability when they are visiting. This prevents high level characters from going back to low level planets and wiping everything out, which is a good thing, but also means that if you are going back to a planet to do a mission you have to deal with local creatures fighting you again rather than ignoring you because of your high level, and this is a time waster and nets you almost nothing because their drops will be items that are too low for you to care about and worth little. It would have been better I think if they had made this leveling restricted to only when a player is not on a speeder. That way you could travel the planet quickly without being interrupted by local creatures unless you wanted to dismount and fight them for some reason.

Golfing in the Fallen Empire

I continue to enjoy the game and believe that even as a subscriber it has been entertaining enough to be well worth my investment as a subscriber.  However I do think that the changes they have been making, other than reducing group requirements, have not really been a good match for my interests.

Cruising Aldaraan
Imperial Agent Dakton Taking Names
Imperial Agent Dakton in an alternate costume
Below are several of my over 40 characters, representing all 8 classes and several of the playable races.

If you found this article useful and you choose to begin playing SWTOR or are already playing but have not yet indicated that you were referred by someone, then you can show your appreciation by using my personal referral link.  This will give both you and me in-game rewards as documented at the Friends of Star Wars site here.  

Jedi Consular Sage
Jedi Knight
Republic Trooper
Sith Warrior
Jedi Consular Shadow
Jedi Consular Sage
Sith Warrior
Sith Inquisitor Sorcerer
Imperial Agent
Jedi Knight
Bounty Hunter
Sith Inquisitor Sorcerer
Republic Trooper
Sith Inquisitor Assassin
Sith Inquisitor Sorcerer
Jedi Knight
Sith Inquisitor Sorcerer

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Installing NWN2 Complete from GOG into a Wineskin Wrapper

Installing NWN2 Complete from in a Wineskin

Playing the Windows version of Neverwinter Nights 2 on a Mac without the use of Boot Camp or a Windows OS installed can be done through the use of a Wineskin.  A search on Google will result in several Wineskins that have been created for NWN2 as well as my own created in 2012. In 2012 I installed NWN2 Platinum from DVDs into the Wineskin.   Nowadays though it is far more likely that anyone purchasing NWN2 will purchase NWN2 Complete from GOG which includes the NWN2 expansions and is fully patched which simplifies installation significantly.

These are the instructions for creating your own NWN2 Wineskin and installing NWN2 Complete from GOG into it using the current version of Wineskin Winery.  If you do not want to use my wrapper then you will need to download Wineskin Winery so you can create your own. Either way you will need to purchase and download NWN2 Complete from  This will be enough to run NWN2 the game, but unfortunately the NWN2 Toolset will not be able to be used because it remains incompatible with Wine (the underlying technology used in a Wineskin).

If you do not want to bother with Wineskin Winery you can download the Wineskin I created for NWN2 from Google Drive and unzip it and skip Step 1 entirely.  The file is 265 MB zipped and does not include NWN2.

Note: The current version is from August 2016 and uses engine WS9Wine 1.9.15. If you are using the 2015 version (which used engine WS9Wine 1.7.55) and are having crashes when opening the console then you may want to upgrade to the 2016 version.

Step 1: Configuring a new Wineskin wrapper for NWN2

First create a new wrapper using Wineskin Winery. I used Wrapper version Wineskin 2.6.2 and Engine version WS9Wine 1.9.15.

When creating the new wrapper you may be prompted to install mono and gecko. You can if you want but I do not believe they are required for NWN2. Unfortunately installing mono afterward is problematic if you choose not to install it now.

After the creation of the wrapper has completed you can find the wrapper in the Finder and then double-click it to open it.

Click the Advanced button to see the Advanced options.

Go to the Go to the Options tab and uncheck the option "Map User Mac OS X folders in wrapper".  Leaving this left checked would result in the NWN2 campaigns installed in the wrapper being ignored in favor of whatever you have in your Mac OS X Documents folder. Also check the "Option key works as Alt" option so that the Alt key will work properly.

Then go to the Tools panel and click the Winetricks button.  Winetricks allows you to install whatever Windows packages and libraries into the wrapper that may be required for the application being used.

Using Winetricks search for and install:
directx9 (you will be told by Winetricks that you can and should use other versions such as d3dx9_36, but for NWN2 I found that the others do not work, so install directx9)

Close the Wineskin.

This step should not take more than 15 minutes or so. The Wineskin wrapper created should be about 670 MB.  You can also just download and unzip my wrapper and skip step 1 entirely.

Step 2: Installing NWN2 Complete into the wrapper

Put the wrapper that you created in Step 1 above or downloaded and unzipped from my site in the location that you want the application to be.  Bear in mind that the Wineskin wrapper will contain files that change as you play, so it will not remain static.  Also it will be over 13 GB in size initially and probably grow with usage.

Double-click the Wineskin wrapper you created in step 1 or downloaded from my site. Click the Install Software button.  Click the "Choose Setup Executable" button and navigate to the setup...exe that you downloaded from (mine is setup_nwn2_complete_2.2.0.10.exe) and click the Choose button to begin the installation of NWN2 into the wrapper.

In the Neverwinter Nights 2 Complete Setup dialog click the "Options" button in the lower left corner. Uncheck "Create desktop icon" and check "Check file integrity before installation". Check the checkbox at the bottom for accepting the EULA (if you want to see it first just click the Install button without first checking the EULA acceptance) and then click the Install button.

The install will first verify that the GOG files you downloaded are not corrupted. If they are then it will fail and you will have to download them from GOG again before retrying this step.

This step will take a while depending on the speed of your computer and hard drive. On my 2010 Mac mini it took about 30 minutes for the installation to complete.

The step completes with a Runtime error which can be ignored.  Then exit the install by clicking the Ext button. Wineskin will then prompt you to specify the startup executable for the wrapper. In the pulldown select /GOG Games/NWN2 Complete/NWN2Launcher.exe and then quit the Wineskin wrapper.  (From then on when you double click the wrapper it will launch NWN2, so if you want to change the wrapper configuration you will need to right click on the wrapper and select Show Package Contents and then double-click the icon.)

Because the NWN2 Complete package comes fully patched there is no need to update or patch the software after installation.  It will be on the last version of Windows NWN2 which was 1.23.

Double click the wrapper icon to play the NWN2 original campaign, Mask of the Betrayer, Storm of Zehir, or Mysteries of Westgate.