Mechanically, this operation consists of five boss fights and a fairly linear path to the ultimate goal, a swirling vortex about a kilometer away from the starting point. Thankfully, none of the boss mechanics is a simple tank-and-spank ordeal, and the trash mobs along the way might cause a bump or two as well.
This weekend, my guild ran this brand-new endgame addition to SWTOR in story-mode to get a taste of what it has to offer. I'd like to break down the experience into three major categories: aesthetics, boss mechanics, and overall impressions.
The Gree, a previously unmentioned species in the Star Wars universe, predate the Rakata, the most ancient known species. If you play on the Republic side, then you know that a Gree computer is used to navigate the Maelstrom to save Revan. Gree droids also assist in stabilizing the inner workings of Coruscant. However, beyond these minor tidbits, little is known of this species. In fact, no one has seen the Gree in living memory.
As expected, everything on the planet Asation appears alien, even by Star Wars standards.
Other than the few humanoids interspersing the zone, the fauna of Asation does not exist on any other planet. In fact, as far as I can tell, the only creature we've seen before is the lobelot, which was the minipet you could earn during the Grand Acquisitions live event. However, I'm not sure that all the models are particularly new. The lizard creatures and giant bugs resembled the Balmorran Zeldrate lizards and Wingmaw in structure if not in texture. I certainly don't fault BioWare for reusing models. I believe that reusing core resources creates enough familiarity mechanically but keeps them different enough aesthetically to make them interesting.
I believe that artists were looking for something completely foreign when designing this planet, and for the most part, they achieved it. The path to the hypergate transitioned from an industrial zone to marshy caves to a highly geometric Gree-tech area. I particularly enjoyed the lead-up to Operator IX. This boss fight plops your character into a Tron-esque zone where you battle a computer program. That zone is enjoyable in its own right; however, I liked the area just before this boss even more. Having gone to school for art and after spending much of my time designing theatre sets, I can sympathize with the difficulty of creating transitional zones. I believe BioWare's artists performed beyond my expectations. The juxtaposition of digitized hard geometry and the extremely organic swamps exemplify the greatness of Star Wars art, which has always been the melding of fantasy and science-fiction.
Right off the bat, I'd like to reiterate that none of these boss fights was a tank-and-spank set-up. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that all these boss fights are very unique when compared to the existing bosses in SWTOR operations.
The Writhing Horror resembles a gigantic pill bug. It's so huge that, according to its debuff, it cannot move from its spot. That said, it does burrow underground at given times, popping up in another location about a second later. Normally, this would appear to be a straightforward fight, but additional creatures popping up and the slimey debuffs this creature throws at the group help to keep the raid team on its toes.
I'm not sure exactly why, but the Dread Guard fight has become my favorite. Perhaps I'm tired of fighting giant monsters and am glad to see a difficult fight against normal-sized NPCs. The three Sith -- Heirad, Ciphas, and Kel'sara -- make up the Dread Guard. Each, of course, has individual combat mechanics. I particularly enjoyed how the mechanics changed as each of the bosses fell. Thematically, the transitions make a lot of sense, and each of the bosses seems to feed off the others. I'd like to see something similar introduced in a flashpoint so that other players who don't raid can see this type of fight.
Puzzle bosses have become a staple for SWTOR operations. In Terror From Beyond, that job falls to Operator IX. Operations Lead Designer George Smith described the fight as a Simon Says. Sounds simple, right? For whatever reason, this fight turned out to be the most difficult for our team. Maybe the amount of movement and coordination threw us off because up to this point, we had extremely specific roles within the group. However, because of the clicking and positioning, sometimes a healer would have to DPS or attempt to pull aggro, for instance. My one concern about this fight is that it can easily become grindy. Once a group gets the mechanics memorized, nothing changes. Perhaps the additional mechanics in hard-mode will keep a raid group interested.
Although there are two more boss fights, I can talk about only one: Kephess the Undying. The fight was not particularly hard from what I could tell. It's just that every time we jumped into the fight, there was some sort of visual bug that would completely ruin it. Unfortunately, the bug wasn't the same each time, nor was it the same for each player. There seemed to be no consistency other than it was always a visual bug. The first one popped up right away. A few seconds into the fight, the tank receives a DoT that must be cleansed by the player running through a ground-targeted spell cast by Kephess. During our first round, the visual effect for the DoT didn't appear, and the tank didn't notice that his health was dropping rapidly until it was too late. The second time around, the visual effect for the spot on the ground still didn't appear.
Needless to say, we didn't finish the fight, so the final boss will have to wait.
Visually, BioWare knocked this operation out of the park. Until now, Karagga's Palace has been my favorite operation visually, and I loved the complexity of transitions on planet Belsavis. But Terror From Beyond outshines both of those. I'm hoping that Asation becomes a future planet for players to visit.
Up until the Kephess fight, I would have said that BioWare nailed the mechanics -- they were original, exciting, and most of all, fun. However, since the second to the last fight is impassable because of visual bugs, I have to grade it "incomplete."
If you're looking to get back into the game specifically for this raid, I'd hold off one more week. I'm hoping the hotfixes this week give us the much-needed visual change. I really want to finish this operation soon!
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to email@example.com. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!