Hyperspace Beacon: The crew skills story

Hyperspace Beacon: The crew skills story
Forgive my fanboy-ism a bit, please. Update 1.2: Legacy excites me. My friends on the Star Wars: The Old Republic live server wonder where I've got off to since the patch hit the test server. Not to worry, guys. I'm still in game; I'm just playing with the new UI and character builds.

We know that the major part of this update is the Legacy system. In a system that is rarely seen across MMOs, BioWare has created a tangible connection between alts. Now, Aaron Shaddoe can be the brother of Maacus Shaddoe and the son of Ryctur Shaddoe, and the game will reward me for doing that. Aaron could be a Smuggler, Maacus a Jedi Consular, and Ryctur a Bounty Hunter, all with interconnecting abilities between them. It's an interesting concept, but I'm curious how many people are going to seriously use it for its intended purpose.

Update 1.2 holds a couple of other changes that interest me more -- namely, crew skills and story content. Lead Combat Designer Georg Zoeller and Writer Charles Boyd spoke about the changes to crew skills and the story update in two developer blogs last week. And despite the legacy system's being the biggest part of this update, it's these two areas that will impact the greater game.

[Warning: Some minor spoilers are contained within. It's been three months, so I hope they are not spoilers any more, but I should warn you just in case.]

Hyperspace Beacon: The continuing saga
Charles Boyd, as I mentioned, tells us the story behind the new content in 1.2. As we all should know by now, the treaty of Coruscant is all but defunct, with the Empire and Republic outright fighting each other in public arenas. The border skirmishes ended about the time that the core world and major interplanetary trade junction of Corellia was attacked by the Empire in chapter three of your character story. Boyd explains that even though the Empire loses on Corellia, the campaign there is far from over.

Taking advantage of the civil unrest, a Corellian councilor seizes control of the Black Hole district. According to Boyd's summary, the councilor makes a desperate push for power by closing off the district and attempting to control a major portion of Corellia's industrial wealth.

Meanwhile, other megalomaniacs try to capture control of their corners of the galaxy. The scientist, whose ship crashed on Kaon in the Rise of the Rakghouls flashpoint, has been tracked to Ord Mantell. Then, on the resource-rich planet of Denova, a group of mercenaries and former Imperial military soldiers attempts to monopolize the galaxy's baradium resource -- a highly effective explosive material.

Personally, I'm a bit surprised at the approach to story in the update so far. Granted, I have yet to experience the Corellian storyline, but the Lost Island flashpoint seems to rely mostly on game mechanics and not so much on the motivation of the central character or the personal choices of the squad going after him. Hopefully, I will see this change when I reach 50 and try out the new operation and Corellian dailies.

Hyperspace Beacon: The augment slot
The general idea behind crew skills has always been very innovative in the world of MMOs. Few MMOs allow you to set up a queue of items to be made so that you don't have to stand over a workbench as you're crafting gear. And I can't think of any MMO where your crew actually makes the gear while you're out adventuring.

No augment. See?However, crew skills have never been particularly viable, especially in relation to endgame items. Biochems could make stims that raiders and PvPers used on a regular basis, and Cybertechs made grenades that some players enjoyed using. But the other four crafting crew skills were useless in endgame, which in turn made the corresponding gathering skills useless, too. Over two-thirds of the crew skills system was gimped from the get-go. Custom gear, although moddable, would never match up to the augmented endgame gear.

I wish the design team could have seen and fixed these issues before launch, but the devs appear to have fixed some of the glaring problems in update 1.2. If things go as intended, this should create balance in the crafting world. Not only will crafters be able to match the stats of endgame gear, but they will be able to help other players obtain the looks they want for their characters. As Zoeller pointed out in his blog, the three other crafting professions can now craft gear with an augment slot, thus opening up a new world of possibilities.

augmentedFor a comparison, I have included a couple of quick screenshots from the test center to illustrate the differences between standard gear and augmented gear. Normal custom (orange) armor has three modification slots: Armoring, Mod, and Enhancement (as pictured above). Perhaps in a later Hyperspace Beacon I will talk about theorycrafting, but for now I will tell you that all modifications have these primary stats: strength, aim, cunning, endurance, and willpower. Mods, enhancements, augments might also have the secondary stats of accuracy, absorption rating, alacrity, crit rating, defense rating, power, shield rating, or surge. Expertise is a PvP-specific stat that will appear in PvP-only gear.

With addition of the augmented custom gear, a unique issue arises. As a roleplayer, I love to be able to look exactly the way I like without compromising my general performance as a player. For example, Marauder raid gear is extremely bulky and not fitting to my athletic ataru acrobat. If it weren't for my dual lightsabers, it would be difficult to tell which class I played. Such is the case with Juggernauts and Sorcerers, so it's often difficult to tell which type of enemy is approaching you in PvP based solely on his gear. For just such a case, BioWare has added an icon above every character that indicates which class and advanced class he or she represents. And those of you who don't like to have all that junk floating above other players' heads can turn it off.

Hyperspace Beacon: Your turn
Next week, I will investigate another major change coming in 1.2, one that I really hope will help stimulate this game's economy. If you're a crafter, you know the circulation of credits is severely lacking, so you can probably guess what the subject matter will be. The week after, I will hopefully have a level 50 on the PTS so that I might talk to you about the changes to endgame. Keep an eye out!

But here's what I really want to know: Do you like how BioWare has handled story in the new content? Would you like to see more flashpoints that are primarily about the different boss mechanics, or do you like to have a compelling series of dialogue scenes to help move the instance forward?

Next, let's talk about you thoughts on crew skills. I think you all would agree that in the current game, crew skills have taken a back seat to much of the game. Do you think the current changes in 1.2 will stimulate the economy, or will we continue down the same path with different colored pavement?

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 larry@massively.com. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
This article was originally published on Massively.