SWTOR Mechanic Basics: Understanding Positioning and AoE Attacks by Theho
Correct movement during a boss fight is key to being a successful player, yet many players are having trouble with running out of Area of Effect (AoE) attacks in time. This guide, written by Theho of T3-M4, explains how positioning and AoE attacks work in SWTOR and how they are used in specific boss fights.
- 1 Your character’s position
- 2 Changing your position
- 3 How distance is calculated
- 4 AoE abilities
- 5 Specific examples
- 6 Is the engine to blame?
- 7 About the author
Your character’s position
Like most games, SWTOR uses a 3D world with a X, Y and Z axis. Every character, every NPC, every tree and every building has a certain position in X, Y and Z coordinates. When you move your mouse over the mini-map, you’ll find your current position in the tooltip.
(Technical note: In this guide, I refer to X, Y and Z as it is shown in the mini-map tooltip and not how it is implemented in 3D engines. Therefore, X and Y coordinates determine the position in the plane and Z determines the up/down offset from the ground.)
You can also see your position when you open the world map. In the top-left corner, it will show your X and Y position, as well as the X and Y position of where you placed your mouse on the map. Note that there is a small bug: the map will initially show your X and Z position and only once you move will it switch to the X and Y position. Therefore, the safest way to find out your position is via the mini-map tooltip.
You may ask yourself what part of your character is considered to be his position. Players and NPCs can have varying heights, so to make things easy, SWTOR always considers the center of your feet to be the actual position of your character. On some bosses, it is difficult to see their feet; just target them and look at the circle at the bottom. The center of that circle is the position of that player or NPC.
Note that when you are jumping, even though you are in mid-air, the targeting circle stays locked to the ground. Don’t be fooled by that, in this case your position is in fact in the air as well and not on the ground (you can confirm this by looking at the Z position in the mini-map tooltip).
Changing your position
Every time you move around, jump upward or use certain abilities, you change your position. Keep in mind that walking forward or strafing (walking to the side) is twice as fast as walking backward, so never backpedal unless you have to. To ensure that the game is not sending too much data and blocking your Internet connection, it won’t send over every single position change but will only send sporadic position updates.
This gets problematic when you are in a boss fight and need to move out of a circle on the ground. As soon as you exit the circle, you want to tell the server that you moved out of it, but maybe your computer just sent the position while you were in the circle and wants to wait before sending the next update? The good news is that you can control when your position gets sent, and if you want to run difficult content, you need to be aware of this.
Whenever you walk forward in a straight line, your computer won’t send an updated position for quite a while. However, as soon as you stop walking, turn a corner, or hit your spacebar to jump, your computer will immediately send a position update to the server. Therefore, whenever you leave a circle or other void, do one of those three things to update your position. Jumping has become the most foolproof way. Keep in mind that every jump slows you down. You’ll be faster by walking forward without jumping than by hitting spacebar every second. Therefore, when moving out of red circles, don’t spam your spacebar all the time, but only hit it once while you exit the circle.
TL;DR: Always walk forward or strafe, don’t walk backward. Hit the spacebar while running out of a red circle.
Gap closing abilities
Certain gap closers allow you to quickly change your position. They include:
- Leaps by Knights/Warriors and Vanguards/Powertechs
- Pulls by Inquisitors/Consulars and Vanguards/Powertechs
- Rolls by Smugglers and Agents
- Teleports by Shadows and Assassins
They can be used to get out of an AoE attack much quicker than you could via normal walking. In addition, you can use buffs to increase your movement speed and walk faster.
For knockbacks, the engine uses a different movement than for leaps. When leaping, you always know where you will land but for knockbacks, the new position is calculated with physics-based projectile motion. From a center, you are knocked at a certain angle and momentum in a certain direction.
It is important to keep in mind that you can influence the direction you get knocked by changing your position. Therefore, try to position yourself in front of a wall or away from a ledge so nothing bad happens. Just half a meter to the side will have a profound effect on the direction you will be flying. Also, try not to jump before a knockback as that will change the angle and range that you get knocked, unless you specifically want to fly further.
The positioning bug after teleports
There has been a bug in SWTOR for over a year now where NPCs that leap will be stuck in their old position. It looks like the boss is standing right in front of you, but when you try to use a melee attack, it shows the error message “Out of Range” since the boss is in fact standing in some place else.
Fortunately, you can work around this bug. If the boss is mobile and not rooted, the tank (or main threat target) needs to move. Something as simple as taking one step to the side is enough for the boss to follow you. Now he shows up in the correct position and you can once again use all abilities on him. Tanks need to know which bosses use a buggy leap like this and be prepared to move after the leap to have the boss show up correctly.
There are some bosses where this workaround will not work. When the boss teleports to a certain position and keeps standing there, no matter how much the tank moves, the boss will not refresh his position because he is rooted. In order to still be able to attack a boss in a bugged position, you need to be in range of both his old and his new position.
Whenever you are unsure where the new position is, a Warrior or Knight in your group can leap towards him. While it looks like that player is leaping into thin air, this is the boss’ new position and your group should position themselves in the center between the old and new position. That way, at least the ranged DPS will be able to continue damaging the boss.
This bug has been fixed for some bosses like the Dread Council encounter in Dread Palace, while other bosses like Vorgan the Volcano (second boss in Hammer Station) are still affected. As long as you know how this bug works, you will be able to work around it.
How distance is calculated
All abilities in SWTOR that target a player or NPC have a range. This can be a minimum or maximum range, or both. For example, in order to Force Leap to an enemy, you need to be at least 10 meters away from it, but not more than 30 meters. Most melee DPS have a maximum range of 4 meters while ranged DPS often have a maximum range of 30 meters. Once they are further away than that, their abilities are grayed out and no longer usable until they get closer. Therefore, when coming up with a strategy for a boss fight, you need to keep in mind that all DPS should be standing in a position where they have the boss in range.
When you have a target, you can see the distance to the target in the target frame. Note that the distance that is displayed there will be the distance to the edge of the targeting circle, not to the center of the boss. For example, if a boss has a targeting circle with a radius of 1 meter and you are positioned 30 meters from the boss, the UI will display a range of 29 meters, not 30 meters. When you are inside the targeting circle, it will always show 0.00 meters.
Keep in mind that each NPC has a differently sized targeting circle which may be different from the size of the 3D model. In most cases, large bosses will have large targeting circles but there are exceptions to this rule. For example, the walker during the Kephess fight in Denova has a small targeting circle so that melees are forced to walk under the walker and take AoE damage if they walk in too early.
Why max distance is important
Whenever you activate an ability, you only need to be in range to the edge of the target. Since the UI shows the distance to the edge, you can just use that distance to know where you should be standing. For many fights, you would ideally stand at maximum range, that is 3.99 meters as a melee and 29.99 meters as a range. This is explained in the next paragraph.
Many bosses are using AoE attacks centered on themselves. For example, in the Zorn and Toth fight from Denova, everyone within 30 meters of a boss will receive a Fearful debuff that doubles their damage taken. It is important to know that these AoE attacks are calculated differently than normal abilities: They ignore the size of the targeting circle and will measure the distance from the center, not from the edge.
When standing at maximum range so the UI shows 29.99 meters, you can still use all of your attacks but you won’t be hit by the 30-meter AoE attack from the boss because for that, the game thinks you are standing at 32.99 meters.
While staying at maximum range is a good habit to have, it is not always the best. For example, sometimes bosses will have different mechanics for ranges and melees. The game usually considers you a melee if you stand less than 4 meters from the center of the boss. Some circles will primarily land on ranged DPS so that they are forced to move out of them and interrupt their casts while the more mobile melee DPS don’t have such a problem. For those fights, if you are a melee it is better to stay at a 2-3 meter distance to the boss to ensure you are considered a melee and are protected from those circles.
Different threat behavior
The distance to the target influences how threat works. Every time you fight against an NPC, you will generate threat via your attacks and heals. Tanks will try to generate the highest threat and use taunts to get top threat, while DPS can use threat reduce abilities if the tanks can’t keep up. Ideally, the boss will only target the tanks so that they bear the brunt of his attacks.
Intuitively, you’d think that the player with the highest threat will always be the target of the boss, but this is not the case. For example, consider a tank with 1,000 threat that currently has the aggro of the boss. Now a DPS gets up to 1,050 threat, however he won’t get targeted by the boss yet. In order to targeted, he needs to overshoot the tank’s threat by a certain margin. For melees (less than 4 meters to the center of the boss) this is 10% (1,100 threat in this example), for ranges it is 30% (1,300 threat). By staying at 3.99 meters to the edge of the circle, you can ensure that you are considered a range and have a much smaller chance of pulling aggro.
If you play as a tank and have melees that have difficulty keeping maximum range, consider giving your Guard to them since they are more likely to pull aggro than a ranged DPS. On large bosses with big targeting circles, the melees are usually more than 4 meters away anyway and fall under the 30% rule, so you can completely ignore it there.
While many abilities only affect your one target, Area of Effect abilities will affect multiple targets: Every target in a certain Area will receive an Effect. SWTOR uses three types of areas: triangles, rectangles and circles. As you can see, there is always an origin (blue) and in a certain region around it (red), something will happen. For the most important boss abilities, the region will be displayed on the ground while for minor abilities it is invisible.
There are different ways how the origin can be set, depending on the ability. Point-Blank AoE abilities (PBAoE) are centered around its user, for example an ability where every player within 15 meters of the boss receives damage. Single Target AoEs (TAoE) are centered around the target, an example of this would be the Smuggler’s Thermal Grenade: He throws it at a target and everyone around the target will also receive damage. Ground Targeted AoEs (GTAoE) allow you to select the origin anywhere on the ground as long as it is in range, and they offer the most freedom of where you place the ability. For example, most area heals are GTAoEs. Since Game Update 2.7, you can also just double-click on a GTAoE ability and it will automatically turn into a TAoE and be centered around your target. All frontal and linear cleaves are PBAoEs, while 360° cleaves can be any of the three types.
What you need to keep in mind is the tick rate, it determines how often the effect happens in the area. Some AoE effects are only a one-time effect and have no tick rate. They are usually displayed a few seconds beforehand so you have time to get out of them and will then do damage. Others deal constant damage while you are standing inside them and you should get out of them as quickly as possible so you won’t get too many ticks from it.
For example, most circles in boss fights have a one second tick rate, that is they will deal damage once per second. In between two ticks, nothing will happen, so if you are fast enough, you can quickly walk through the circle in-between two ticks and not take any damage at all. This is however too RNG dependent to reliably pull off every time.
However, there are also more punishing AoE effects that will instantly kill you as soon as you enter them. Those need to strike immediately on entering because players should not be able to escape their fate by being lucky to have walked in between two ticks. Therefore, those types of circles will tick up to 10 times per second.
Moving into 3D
Since SWTOR is a 3D game, all of the cleaves are of course 3D volumes. The telegraphs you see displayed on the ground are just the 2D intersection of those 3D shapes with the ground. Most of the time, you will stand at the same level as the boss, but when the ground is uneven or you jump, you’ll have a different Z position than the boss. Therefore, knowing how AoE attacks work in 3D is key to dealing with those kinds of situations. In general, you are considered to be standing in the AoE if your feet (= your actual position) are anywhere inside the volume.
|All three AoE effects in 3D: Sphere, Cone and Cylinder|
A 360° cleave that gets displayed as a circle is in fact a Sphere: Anyone within a certain radius from the origin is considered to be inside it. For example, consider a sphere with a 10 meter radius. If you are standing 9.8 meters from the center, you are inside of it, but once you hit spacebar, you will jump out of it and land back inside it. This happens because at the edge of the circle, the surface of the sphere is curved and not a straight line. If you are standing closer to the center, you usually won’t leave the sphere by jumping. In the center, you’d have to jump 10 meters to get out of it, which is of course not possible.
When you see a triangle, think of a Cone. It has a certain opening angle and length. Close to the boss, it will not be as high as near the end. Therefore, be careful when jumping close the boss or near the edge, you may accidentally leave the area. A little further from the boss and close to the center is a guarantee to always be standing inside it.
Lastly, we have the Cylinder which is represented as a rectangle on the ground. It has both a radius and a length. Unlike the Cone, it does not get wider the further you get away from the origin. Make sure to stand in the center and not near an edge so you won’t accidentally leave the Cylinder by jumping.
Often, the designers will combine multiple of these shapes into a complex telegraph. For example, Raptus’ Force Execution attack is an example of a combination of a Sphere in the center with two Cylinders, one to the front and one to the back.
Often, players are complaining that a boss has a positioning bug. If you’ve read through this guide, you’ll have all the knowledge to understand what those players are having problems with. Progression guilds are able to work around these issues while other players don’t understand what they are doing wrong or why a boss is behaving a certain way. I want to highlight some of the more frequent reports and explain why they occur to teach you how you can avoid them. Of course, this does not excuse the developers, there are real bugs as well, but you can usually work around all bugs.
Grob’thok, Who Feeds the Forge
The magnet in Grob’thok is a perfect example of an AoE attack with a high tick rate. It needs to automatically catch a player or boss in its range, so it ticks many times per second to ensure it will catch everyone and you won’t have players escaping the magnet by pure luck.
The fire circles in this boss fight, on the other hand, have a one second tick rate. On nightmare mode, if your tank kites the adds through the edge of the fire and not square center through it, there is a chance that they walk through it in-between two ticks and won’t lose their shield. Therefore, it is important to kite them through the whole diameter of the circle and they should always lose the shield.
The fourth boss in Dread Fortress, Corruptor Zero, has an Anti-Gravity Field attack. You have three seconds to get away from him, then anyone still inside the Sphere will be stunned and get knocked back. A lot of players complain that on their computers they were already outside of the circle but were still caught (it looked like they were rubberbanded back to the old position on their screen). This happens due to the ping; even when you are outside the circle on your computer, on the server the boss finishes the cast and sees you still inside the circle.
Therefore, always make sure to hit spacebar as you exit the circle to immediately update your position. If you still get caught in it, you may have gotten a small lag spike but what is more likely is that you did not start moving in time. If you know that a boss has an important AoE attack, train yourself to watch the boss’ cast bar. As soon as you see him casting an attack, you need to start moving immediately, interrupting any attack or heal. Also, keep in mind that walking forward or strafing is twice as fast as walking backward. If you react fast enough, then you don’t even need any movement enhancing abilities.
Dread Master Raptus
Raptus, the fourth boss in Dread Palace, has quite a few AoE attacks that the tanks need to be aware of. There is one wide cone AoE, the Deadly Slash, where tanks have only two seconds to get out of, and are knocked back otherwise. Since the angle is so wide, the only way to get out of it is by walking behind the boss. Two bug reports include:
“I was kicked from the platform even though I was in the center of the room” — This occurs because most players hit spacebar to refresh their position. Since the knockback is a physics calculation, those players will be one meter higher than the game expects and caused players to fly much further than intended. Therefore, this AoE is the only one in SWTOR where you should refresh your position by stopping and not by jumping.
“I flew behind the boss even though he did the AoE in the other direction” — This is actually an engine limitation because the ability cannot be implemented as one atomic operation but requires two steps. The game first checks which players are standing inside the AoE and flags them, then a fraction of a second later it does a ballistics calculation and throws them away from the boss. If you walked through the boss and are unlucky, your computer will send a position update in-between those two steps to the server. Now you are flagged even though you are behind the boss and will get knocked back behind the boss. You can prevent this bug by starting to move out of the void earlier so that the position update will get sent before the server can flag you.
The Underlurker cross
Of all the bosses in the two new level 60 operations, the Underlurker (third boss in Temple of Sacrifice) received the most complaints, specifically the Devastation, which is a giant cross where players need to move into the right areas. If everyone is standing correctly at the end of the cast, the cross will turn green, otherwise it will turn red and damage the players standing incorrectly.
The cross consists of four Cylinders: two small cylinders in the front and back that are intended for the main tank and off tank, as well as two larger cylinders at the side for the other players, three on each side.
Unfortunately, when you don’t have a stable Internet connection or a high ping, you don’t get notified in time if the boss has turns and the cross will show up in the wrong position. Ideally, the main tank should not move after Rage Storm so that the boss will stay in his position and not turn around.
In addition, the edges of the cave are curved upwards, which means that if the boss is positioned there, his arms will extend onto the wall and you will stand at a higher Z position than the boss. Now that you’ve read this guide, you’ll know that with a higher Z position, the width of a cylinder gets smaller, therefore you cannot trust the marking on the floor. The only way to be on the safe side is to stay precisely in the center, that way even with a higher Z position or with a rotated cross, the chance to be inside the Cylinder is the highest.
Not only should you stand in the center, you should also try to stand as close to the boss as possible. Ideally, you’d be standing directly outside of his targeting circle (but without touching the circle, this would be too close). That way, you are guaranteed to receive Sonic Rebounder if you have a Vanguard player and your healers will be able to place down an AoE heal into the boss and heal the whole group.
In the original Huttball warzone, there are certain pipes that will knock you in the air when you stand on them. Those are implemented as a Sphere and are another example of an AoE effect with a high tick rate. The position you will be knocked to depends on where you stand when the AoE ticks. Depending on how you walk onto the pipe and if you jump or not determines where you will fly. Without knowing the tick rate, it is very difficult to get the perfect knockback, but just knowing that you have the option to do it will open up entirely new game plays for the map.
The Civil War warzone on Alderaan contains a tunnel below the center turret. Sometimes, it happens that when a Sage uses the Force Wave knockback at the turret above ground, he will hit a player walking through the tunnel. This happens because the cone extends in all directions, including into the ground, and line-of-sight is only required for single-target abilities, not for targets hit by an AoE attack. The chance of this actually happening is small of course, but don’t be surprised if you do see it happen.
Is the engine to blame?
Many players blame the HeroEngine used by SWTOR for the positioning issues they encounter. What you need to realize is that whenever you play an online game, you will have a ping. When you send a data packet across the continent, it cannot travel faster than light, so it will always take at least 20ms to get the response. However, the packet will also need to be processed at every router along the way, which increases the ping, and the SWTOR server has to calculate its response as well. Sometimes, there are small hiccups in the Internet on any way between your computer and SWTOR’s server. They’ll only last a fraction of a section but can cause you to be stuck in a red circle if they come at the wrong time.
It is certainly true that other MMOs have less positioning lag because they can process combat events faster, and therefore will send more position updates. SWTOR’s game designers rather want to create challenging boss fights than stay on the safe side, so they always push the capabilities of the engine. Bosses like Underlurker show us the limitations of SWTOR’s engine, but keep in mind that the developers are aware of the limitations of the engine. All boss fights are killable with SWTOR’s engine and with any class. Make sure to have a fast reaction time and a stable Internet connection; when you take damage from a circle, it always means that you did not start moving immediately or did not hit spacebar upon exiting, and it is not a bug in the game.
Theho has been playing SWTOR non-stop since the beta and mains a Scoundrel healer on the German server T3-M4. He is leading his raiding team into every SM, HM and NiM tier and analyses the boss fights very closely to come up with complicated strategies so they can beat fights even with low DPS. In addition, he frequently runs in PuG groups to get to know alternate strategies and find out what other groups are having trouble with. Outside of raiding, he is an avid pet collector, plays through any other content there is in SWTOR and helps out new players with questions in fleet chat. You can find him on the official SWTOR forums as Jerba.