Overall, SWTOR continues to impress with a rich storyline and well developed game systems. I’ll cover a few of the bugs at first, but these are easily ignored in the richness of the rest of the game.
Crouching Smuggler, Annoying Pose – The first bug I came across was that Smugglers don’t always get back out of their crouched position, when they start moving again. It reminded me a lot of the old Vanilla WoW issues, where you’d slide around on the ground trying to loot, and continue to cast spells while crouched. It works in reverse here too when you “take cover” you can still be standing in plain sight and have cover.
Luckily, this has since been fixed.
Out of Game Sound – Not a bug per se, but something that irritates me constantly, is that when your game window becomes inactive, like when I switch to put notes down for my blog post, then game sound cuts out until it becomes the active window again. I know its fixable, because WoW did it seven years ago, so not having it at least as an option is a bit of a pain.
Fourth skill bug – One of the most annoying for me so far has been the fourth skill bug. I have a Trooper with Armortech/Scavenging/Slicing, and a Smuggler with Cybertech/Scavenging/Underworld Trading. Whenever I log into the Trooper, I see Underworld Trading in my skills list. Not such a big deal. However, when I log into my Smuggler, I get the additional Slicing skill at 0/400. What this means is that on my minimap, all of the Slicing nodes (of which there are a lot more) show up as well, and I can’t loot them at all, since I can’t level my slicing.
The solution to fix this is to relog about 23 times till it goes away.
I’m primarily playing my Smuggler, so I’ll focus on that one. She’s a Sawbones-specced Scoundrel, meaning that her primary role is healing. Having levelled a Druid as Resto and a Priest as Holy in WoW, back in the day, I figured I’d be setting myself up for a slow grind. But thanks to the wonders of companions, its far from it. In fact, in the guild I’m in, admittedly a very casual bunch, and quite happy to get distracted by datacrons and other shiny things, I’m currently the highest level character.
I’ve focussed all my companion improvements on my first Companion, essentially a Trooper style character called Corso Riggs. As a Cybertech, I’ve built my skill well beyond my level, giving me a chance to get the Artifact level mods every few levels, so I’ve searched out the moddable Orange gear pieces. This keeps my own gear quite well levelled without making me look ridiculous and piecemeal. Corso on the other hand gets a lot of gear from the quests I do, because I make sure to do all the side quests and missions. I tend to skip the Heroic’s though unless I can find a group easily. As I’m more on the ‘bleeding edge’ of the levelling process, this isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but I expect later characters will have no issue with it. There is a stream of quests running through each area that give companion gear, regardless of the companion, so if you stick with one companion on a given planet, you can gear that companion quite well.
Stealth is great, especially for a class whose AOE DPS is less spectacular than other classes. With my tranquilizer darts, moving past a group of enemies by tranq’ing one of them then moving close to that one, and far away from everyone else, to get by safely. It also allows me to have my bit of fun as well, since its very satisfying to run up behind someone and pull out the shotgun.
Bonus missions require you to be a little careful though, as a few times I’ve stealthed past only to realize I need to kill 30 of the enemies I avoided. But more on quests below.
The combat system is very similar to WoW, in the usual “Activate an ability, wait 1.5s for GCD” kind of way. For a smuggler each ability consumes Energy, in the same way that a rogue uses energy. However, an interesting quirk is that energy recovers faster the more you have. If I have more than 60 energy, then pausing for a heartbeat or two can have me almost back to full, whereas if I have 10 energy, then the same amount of regeneration can take 3 times as long. This creates an interesting dichotomy, because you’re trying to get as much damage or healing downrange as you can without burning up so much energy that you fall behind and start to regenerate slowly. Luckily, Smugglers have an ability on a long cooldown that can return most of your energy bar in one hit. Also if you’re travelling with a Companion, you can use another ability to reset the cooldown of the first regen ability.
Additionally, Smugglers have a buff called Upper Hand (UH). Upper Hand allows the use of the more powerful abilities, and depending on whether you are DPS or Sawbones specced, is gained in different ways. For healers (since this is what I’ve done), the major heal (high energy, high output, slow cast) provides an Upper Hand buff, as well as each tick of the HoT that Sawbones get. Having the Upper Hand buff allows you to activate:
- a slight boost to your energy regen, as a 45s buff,
- a fast cast, low energy, moderate power heal
- an instant, no energy, low power heal
As you can see, with the addition of an AOE heal at level 40, the Sawbones healing toolkit is quite well fleshed out for the first release of the class.
In terms of DPS however, the Sawbones tends to drain energy very quickly, so I’ve been falling back to healing three different strategies.
- For a large pack of weak/normal enemies, I tend to just DPS the weakest ones, with liberal use of grenades and other AOE.
- For mixed packs of Strong and normal enemies, I make Corso take on the Strong enemy while I kill of the two or three weaker enemies. Once they’re dead, I usually fall into healing Corso up with HoTs and Upper Hand abilities.
- For Elites, Corso takes the lead and I focus on healing him, using my zero energy basic attack to help speed the battle up. All my energy though is usually reserved for keeping Corso alive.
On a side note, whenever the HoT tick gives you an Upper Hand buff, the female human smuggler giggles like a little school girl. Apparently Medpac Mastery tickles when it procs.
Quests and Storyline
BioWare prides itself on its ability to tell stories, and SW:TOR is no exception. Threaded throughout your leveling career is your class quest line, different for each class (not Advanced Class) but each very detailed and tied into the zones that you level in. Unlike WoW, there’s generally not a choice of which zone to go to next, as while you get two quests to go to planets, one planet is so far above your level that its pointless to go there yet.
Beyond the class quest line though, the quests for a given planet tie together quite well, and seem reasonable as they lead you across the area. Don’t be surprised too if you’re taken away from a planet before its half explored, because (as I found out on Alderaan) there’s probably a good reason you haven’t gone to the unexplored area such as “Its 7 levels above where you got to”. The contested worlds often will be hit by each faction at different times, so its likely that the areas you haven’t seen are the opposing faction, and you should wait until you’re the higher of the two levels before exploring them fully.
On a number of planets as well, there’s a Bonus quest line, which occurs after you’ve completed all of your class quests. You’ll generally be asked by someone at the last quest hub, or on your way back to the space port to help out a group you haven’t seen yet. On Taris, these quests were long, spread out and very tedious after a long period on the planet already. However, I found that Tattooine’s Bonus series was quite interesting and not painful to complete. Completing these will generally also put you higher above the required level for the next zone, making it much easier to progress when you arrive there.
“That’s not what I said”
Something that does annoy me about the quests though, is that rarely does the text of the response selection match up with what your character actually says. This is annoying because sometimes you wanted to give an amusing response and it comes out very differently, and in a couple of instances I’ve chosen what I thought was the appropriate response for my character and it has come out completely differently with bad consequences. Luckily hitting Escape during the cutscene will revert all choices and start the process over again.
The crafting system in SWTOR is another step away from what’s been commonly seen before (except maybe in SWG). The biggest difference is that the player never specifically crafts anything or performs any gathering missions. Companions get sent on missions to gather advanced items, and return with the results. Items are crafted by companions as well and can be queued up to produce the items while you continue in the world. This has freed up the developers to make the time required for those tasks much longer. At ~300 (of 400) skill, crafting a Standard item may take 5 minutes, whereas a Prototype item may take 15, and an Artifact item may take 45 mins.
Each character can have at most one Crafting skill. A crafting skill produces real, tangible equipment and items, that a character can use. The trainer teaches mostly Standard patterns that are enough to level you up, with new patterns roughly every 20 skill points. However these patterns can be improved by Reverse Engineering the items created for a chance to discover a prototype pattern. Prototype items can be then Reverse Engineered to discover Artifact items.
As you can guess it takes a lot of raw materials to create an Artifact so I’ve found it best to only try for an Artifact when you reach the highest level that uses a certain type of material. All my remaining materials then go into making copies of items to Reverse Engineer. Once the Prototype pattern is discovered then work on making it to discover the Artifact. I found it best to focus on items for my core stats rather than trying for everything, so that I got usable patterns.
While leveling, some people have said its not worth trying for the Artifact patterns, since you level past them quickly anyway, but I disagree. I have Cybertech well above my own level, and I’m crafting plenty of items I can’t use. I’ve noticed a pattern in the Prototypes and Artifacts I can make though. A standard item has a certain set of stats, and its Prototype and Artifact equivalents have increased stats. But if you compare a Prototype to an standard item, you’ll find that the standard item you create that is usable 4 levels above the level the Prototype, has the exact same stats. Similarly, an Artifact is equivalent to a standard item 8 levels above. So the primary use for Artifact items while you level is to get access to the higher stat values at earlier levels. This means that an item you are wearing is good for 8 levels at a time, until the quest and standard gear catches up. In the meantime you’re learning new artifact patterns that then are good for another 8 levels, so you’re able to skip trying to learn every Artifact, and as long as you learn every 2nd or 3rd tier of pattern to the Artifact level, you’ll always be ahead of the items from quests or from standard patterns.
A subset of the Crew Skills, called Mission Skills provide the materials required for Prototype and Artifact level items, beyond the same materials needed for the standard items. These missions however are expensive. I’ve experienced myself, and heard from others experiencing it, how easy it is to go broke simply because the cost of missions isn’t keeping up with the income from questing. The blue and purple materials from Missions are essential for getting your crafting of Prototype and Artifact items up, but always make sure to stay within your means. I’d also recommend stopping all Missions from about level 15-25 simply to allow your cash to build up, so that you can afford your speeder. If you get to Tattooine without one, you’ll curse your highly skilled crafting ability for it.
Scavenging and Slicing
Scavenging skills are your mainstay for basic raw materials. Like mining or herbalism in WoW, your minimap shows the location of items in the vicinity and you can head over and collect the item. You also have the ability to run missions with your scavenging, but unless you have a lot of money, this isn’t worth the effort it takes.
Speaking of money, one of the Scavenging skills, which it IS worth running missions for is Slicing. Slicing missions return Lockboxes which, like their quest reward counterparts, contain a large amount of money. By focussing on the Bountiful and Abundant Slicing missions, you can turn a hefty profit after about the first 100 skill. If you want to level faster, you can use the orange Moderate and Abundant Yield missions, but these will most likely break even, or sometimes fail, returning you no money at all.
Even if your character is Level 10 and has 1 companion, it can be worth sitting them somewhere and running missions every 10 minutes while you level on another character or do something else like the housework or writing blog posts. Slicing also returns you Mission schematics for Slicing and Mission skills, which allow you to get large returns on your missions in one hit, though these generally take longer to run.