Gear progression is a common subject for this column and with good reason. Although there is skill involved when playing SWTOR, gear is the great equalizer. As in many themepark MMOs, a player's gear greatly determines whether or not he can defeat specific instances or bosses. Because of this, how a player earns gear and which gear happens to be the best at any given moment becomes top priority when new content comes out. With an additional five levels being added with Rise of the Hutt Cartel, gear becomes especially important. Let's examine how everything breaks down.
Previously, each individual planet had its own set of commendations, which became nearly worthless by the time you hit the next planet. I had suggested in the past that new players buy orange (custom) armor and buy armor components with commendations as they level. Unfortunately (and though it is still good advice on the live servers), in the end you would own a ridiculous number of unusable commendations by the time you hit level 50.
Although I have not noticed any changes to the items on the actual vendors themselves, the type of commendations given as a player levels has changed to planetary commendation. These comms can be spent the same way as previously, but instead of working at just one specific vendor, all planetary vendors now take planetary commendation. This means that you will no longer have to bend to the will of the commendation. If you are on Tatooine but want those sharpshooter leggings that you can't use now but will be able to use as you level, go ahead and buy them from the Alderaan vendor. Hopefully, by the time you reach level 55, you will not have a plethora of useless comms. If nothing else, you can buy items for your companions, right?
The next step in commendation evolution is the Classic Commendation. This little bugger is a bit tricky. It appears to be designed as a filler commendation for all the existing endgame commendations that don't quite fit into the game as it's transitioning from a level-50 cap to a level-55 cap.
Remember all those armor types that used to show endgame progression -- Tionese, Columi, and Rakata? Yeah, well those will no longer exist in SWTOR 2.0. Instead, Black Hole becomes the base level for endgame PvE, and Campaign armor becomes tier two. Before you get all ragey and start a flamewar on the official forums, let me explain the logistics to you.
First, these comms consolidate all the Rakata, Columi, Black Hole, and Daily comms. That by itself is a huge plus. You have no idea how many worthless Columi comms I have that I can't get rid of. Secondly, BioWare's implemented a generous conversion table for each of the previous comms. Tionese Commendations (if you still have them) convert to Classic comms at a six to one ratio. Columi and Daily comms covert at four to one. And Black Hole converts at one to one. The bad news is that there is a cap. For this transitional period, BioWare has raised the cap to 800, but the standard cap will be 400 per character with a 200 weekly cap (also per character). Double-check your conversions before 2.0 goes live because any comms over the temporary 800 cap will be lost.
Besides checking the conversion table to see whether you will lose any comms, check to see whether it is less expensive to buy the items you want before 2.0 goes live. Thanks to the fine folks at Dulfy, you can check those items on the cost-analysis table. For instance, the Lhosan Thunderbolt speeder currently costs 200 daily comms. In 2.0, it will cost 200 classic comms. That means when 2.0 goes live, the Lhosan Thunderbolt will cost the equivalent to 800 daily comms, four times its current cost.
One more thing before I move on to the level-55 commendations: Unassembled gear from operations and flashpoints can be converted to basic comms from the vendor on the Ziost Shadow medical bay. Small containers house 75 comms, and larges house 99 comms. If you have a bunch of these items as I do, be careful: These comms count toward your weekly cap.
Basic, elite, and ultimate
Basic, elite, and ultimate commendations all grant purple (artifact) gear. Basic comms give you basic (duh) level 55 items and are given out for missions like the daily group finder missions. They cap out at 400 total and 200 weekly. Generally, the items earned from basic comms are equal to the current Black Hole gear with a slightly different armor rating. Elite comms grant you the first tier raid gear. You earn these during the new level 55 hard mode flashpoints and the Terror From Beyond and Scum and Villainy operations. Arkanian gear can be purchased with elite comms. Lastly, the ultimate commendations are earned through hard-mode and nightmare-mode operations and can be used to purchase Verpine gear.
First, consolidation has to be the best thing to happen to these commendations. I cannot tell you the number of times that it's cheesed me off while I was leveling up a character that I could not buy one item on the planetary vendor because I didn't have enough of that planet's comms, but I had 30 comms from the planet before it. Secondly, daily comms have now become more useful to me. I have been stacking up daily comms for months, not having a single thing to buy. Now, at very least, I can buy gear for my alts. (I will buy the items, pull out the mods, then drop them in legacy gear.) Anything that makes the currency I own more useful is better.
The only issue I have with this system is the caps. Prior to this change, we could have thousands of commendations, but with the limit of 400 for most commendations, my desire to do other things in the game has been stunted. I hate the feeling of intentionally wasting something. Even if I need money, I will have a hard time doing the daily mission for money if I know that the classic comms I earn will be wasted. The same thing applies to the weekly limits. Thankfully, all the weekly limits appear to be within reason, but artificial caps like weekly caps stink of poor mission design. If it's possible for players to earn more than a given limit within a given period of time, then let them or change the designs of the missions themselves.
Despite this one misgiving, SWTOR has begun to take steps in the right direction regarding the commendations system. Have you jumped over to the PTS yet? What do you think of it so far?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!