Hyperspace Beacon: Crafting preview
BioWare calls the Star Wars: The Old Republic's crafting system Crew Skills. It's labeled quite appropriately because the majority of the work is performed by the companion characters and not the player himself. If you venture over to the official website, the developers have put together a brief outline of all the Crew Skills and a short video describing them. Every MMO with crafting has had two basic steps and SWTOR is certainly no exception. However, our space-opera MMO adds to standard gathering and crafting steps a third element: missions. But that's not the only thing different.

When I asked Live Producer Blaine Christine about crafting over a year ago, it had not been announced yet, but he did say, "I think it's a different take on crafting than what people will be expecting. It's not the standard implementation. It's going to be a treat." He was definitely correct about it not being the standard implementation, but how about that "treat" part? During the last couple of weeks, BioWare allowed me to explore a little bit of Crew Skills system on the beta server without devs over my shoulder like at conventions or press junkets.

After the jump, I'd like to explore each piece of Crew Skills and compare it to other crafting systems in other MMOs. I suggest that if you're not interested in spoilers you stop reading now because I'm about to spill everything about this unique game mechanic.

Hyperspace Beacon: Gathering
Both of my characters battled through the Esseles flashpoint to travel to Coruscant. I landed in the starport near the senate building. I stepped in the bright sun of the planet, watching speeders wiz by and bright lights shining off the towers in the distance. After I had walked a few paces past the taxi service, a stairway to my left and to my right descended into the senate marketplace. Vendors and trainers lined both corridors; an auction house helped fill the span between them. Each of the class trainers were found here, as were a mail box and bank. But most importantly, 14 different crafting trainers spread themselves through multiple different shops. These vendors represented each of the different Crew Skills. A single player is allowed to learn three out of the 14 different skills at a time.

The gathering categories divide into four different skill sets: Archaeology, Bioanalysis, Scavenging, and Slicing. Archaeology focuses on gathering from nodes of artifacts, or more importantly, crystals. Bioanalysis allows you or your companion to examine and extract biological agents from various plants and creatures. Scavenging gives you skills to sift through piles of junk or recently defeated droids to find useful materials. Star Wars defines slicing as hacking. In SWTOR, a player uses Slicing to access electronic safes and data stations.

Originally, I had learned Archaeology for my Jedi Consular. That made sense, right? I would be able to use the artifacts to create Jedi weapons and crystals. However, I was leveling my Smuggler at the same time, and I took Slicing on her. When I had more than triple the amount of money on my Slicer than on my Archaeologist at the same level, I quickly dropped Archaeology and picked up Slicing on both. I hope the devs adjust Slicing in the final build because it's more advantageous for a player to level up Slicing to earn money to buy materials than to gather materials personally.

Of course, I didn't have to gather all the materials myself. Unlike most MMOs, in which you have to take time out of your busy killing-spree to stop and mine some ore, in SWTOR you can send your companion over to the node to gather materials while you engage the enemy. However, I noticed with Slicing that if I was not out of combat before the short time it took for my companion to unlock the safe, I would have to later walk over to gather the contents myself. On more than one occasion, this allowed other players to ninja loot my sliced safe. Even if I had sliced open the box, anyone could come by and steal the contents. I guess it serves me right for stealing in the first place...

Hyperspace Beacon: Missions
Missions are fairly simple to explain. You have companions. Most of the time they are sitting on the ship doing nothing. Why not have them do something? That's where missions come in. Missions are projects you assign to your companions while you are out adventuring. They are totally "off screen," and you gain rewards for them. There are four different types of these missions: Diplomacy, Investigation, Treasure Hunting, and Underworld Trading. I will talk about the breakdown of materials in the crafting section, but all missions can gain you crafting materials as well as companion gifts and possibly schematics. Diplomacy contains the extra ability to gain you Dark or Light Side points.

My missions didn't last very long compared to how long my play sessions were. I don't believe I can talk about the exact length, but none of my companions' missions lasted longer than my own heroic missions. Although I think the system is perfectly fine the way it is, it would be nice to have missions that lasted a lot longer; this way it would be worthwhile for me to send my companion out overnight.

Hyperspace Beacon: Crafting
Before I begin this next section, I want to add a caveat saying that everything within this whole article is subject to change before the game is released, but this part especially should be looked upon with the understanding that tweaks will happen between now and December 20th.

I promised a breakdown of materials and Crew Skills, so here it is to the best of my knowledge. I could not run all the Crew Skills myself, but I did speak to other beta testers who had.
  • Armormech uses materials from Scavenging, Investigation, and Underworld Trading.
  • Armstech uses materials from Scavenging and Treasure Hunting.
  • Artifice uses materials from Archaeology, Treasure Hunting, and Underworld Trading.
  • Biochem uses materials from Bioanalysis and Underworld Trading
  • Cybertech uses materials from Scavenging, Slicing, Treasure Hunting, and Underworld Trading.
  • Synthweaving uses materials from Archaeology, Diplomacy, Investigation, and Underworld Trading.
The types of end products are pretty self explanatory except Biochem, Cybertech, and Synthweaving. Biochem obviously creates med packs, but it also makes stims, which give timed bonuses to stats. Cybertechs create armor for droids, as I understand them, but they also create armor for humans in the form of earpieces, implants, wristguards, and boots. Lastly, Synthweaving creates Jedi light armor, which is essentially just Jedi Consular armor. All other armor pieces are created, of course, by the Armormech.

Also, you can reverse engineer every item you create to extract some of your source material; on a rare occasion you may earn a new schematic that you can learn or sell on the auction house.

Crafting in TOR can be done anywhere, and each companion can have a queue of five pieces in the cooker at a time. With five different companions, you can possibly have 25 pieces going at one time. So in comparison to other MMOs, it's a bit of a wash. Even though you have to craft at a station in many similar MMOs, the items are completed nearly instantaneously. In TOR, you may craft from anywhere, but there is a longer timer on the item creation.

I really enjoy the bit of complexity these divisions create, but there appears to be some imbalance at this time. I am getting mixed messages about Synthweaving. Some say that it only makes Consular armor, but others say it makes all Jedi armor. I hope it's the latter. And Slicing needs to be nerfed, big time. Overall, however, SWTOR's crafting system is easy enough to jump into that -- in spite of the fact that I don't normally craft -- I look forward to crafting in this game.

Star Wars: The Old Republic is finally here, and the Force is with Massively! We've prepared a Hutt-sized feast of class introductions, gameplay guides, lore roundups, and hands-on previews to help you navigate the launch period and beyond. And don't forget our weekly SWTOR column, the Hyperspace Beacon!

This article was originally published on Massively.
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