Hyperspace Beacon The SWTOR F2P experiment, Coruscant
I was asked last week why I chose The Ebon Hawk as the server on which to run my Star Wars: The Old Republic free-to-play experiment, especially since it's my home server. Some people believed that the experiment would be flawed because I would have many people to call on to help me out in different areas. This is only partially true. I do have some people to call on if I absolutely need it, but remember that I play on the Imperial side normally; this test character is Republic-side. My guildies and friends do not play Republic characters on a regular basis. And I have already said that I will not take gifts from other characters. The only thing that they can offer me is a partner for leveling, and currently, no one that I know is the same level as my Smuggler. I won't catch up to any of them until I hit level 35.
Hyperspace Beacon The SWTOR F2P experiment, Coruscant
This brings me to my primary reason for leveling on The Ebon Hawk: leveling partners. Although I have run Ord Mantell, Coruscant, and Taris multiple times on the Republic side, I don't have much to compare them to in later levels. In order for me to accurately compare the later planets, I'm going to have to have someone leveling alongside me. Enter my guildmates. Because some of them have agreed to level up their Republic alts at this time, I can run some of the process with them, thereby giving me a direct comparison.

To top everything off, I chose The Ebon Hawk because I'm familiar with the community in general. Part of the idea behind experiment is being able to give tips to those who are unfamiliar with leveling up a F2P character. The first tip I can give someone is to join a server where you are familiar with a couple of people. If you don't know anyone, then I recommend The Ebon Hawk because it's a community that does everything: roleplay, flashpoints, operations, and PvP. The players are generally helpful and willing to lend a hand to those who ask.

Enough of that; let's get to this week's experiment.

Hyperspace Beacon The SWTOR F2P experiment, Coruscant
Unfortunately, because of internet issues this week, I was unable to run this experiment as much as I wanted. That said, I was able to run the Esseles twice.

As many of you know, the Esseles is the first flashpoint in SWTOR on the Republic side. Although they are not directly related, the Esseles and the Black Talon (from the Imperial side) mirror each other in scale and scope. These two flashpoints have really been done to death. I'd have thought it would have been extremely difficult to find anyone running these still. However, as I was picking up the Esseles quest, I was invited to a group immediately without having to ask.

At the beginning of the run, I sat at about 90% through level 11. And apparently the Jedi Sentinel I was running with was F2P as well because he didn't have the sprint ability yet either. However, he did seem to be a returning player or at least someone who had run the Esseles before because he knew the fights, including the bonus boss. With one of the XP boosts I received for completing the Ord Mantell story quest, I hit level 13 by the end of this flashpoint. To me, that seemed to be a bit above par; I didn't notice an XP drop despite what the warning last week had told me.

When the last boss died, I received two achievements: one for killing Vokk and another for defeating all the Esseles bosses. I didn't find that abnormal, but I thought I'd noticed that Cartel icon pop-up saying that I received Cartel Coins. I didn't have a chance to check at that moment, but then it popped up again when I completed the Esseles quest. I had, in fact, received 60 Cartel Coins. Color me confused. Now, BioWare never said anything about F2P players not receiving coins, but based on how people had described the company's stinginess, I'd have thought that gaining the Cartel Coins from achievements was out of the question for me.

In the end, I received 20 CCs from completing the Smuggler story on Ord Mantell, 20 CCs from defeating all the Esseles bosses, and another 20 CCs for hitting social level one. True, 60 CCs is only enough to buy a minor experience boost, but it's better than zero. In later levels, I might be able to buy something important that I can't get off the GTN.

Hyperspace Beacon The SWTOR F2P experiment, Coruscant
Admittedly, things started to get annoying on Coruscant. Death by a thousand papercuts, as the saying goes. The funny thing is that XP was not an issue. In fact, for the duration of Coruscant, I sat securely above level. The biggest issue was inventory management. Every MMO forces players to clean house often. I most vividly remember the lower levels of RIFT and Guild Wars 2 making me frustrated because I had to get rid of some things I wanted to hold on to. However, I have never really had an inventory issue in SWTOR. By the time I needed those 10 extra inventory slots, I had the in-game credits to buy them. Then when I needed a storage area for the stuff I didn't want to carry with me, SWTOR gave me a ship with a cargo bay.

Up to this point, I have been annoyed by the little things that cropped up. Between "only subscribers gain rest experience in rest areas" and "subscribers can toggle the display for their head equipment" and "subscribe today and increase the rate you gain experience and valor points," I was only mildly frustrated and could eventually ignore it. However, when I went to purchase extra inventory slots with the credits I had earned up that point only to find that I could not purchase that item directly with in-game credits, I was actually upset. The words that popped out of my mouth cannot be quoted here. "Fine," I eventually said after the initial obscenities, "I will do what I can until I get my ship and use the cargo bay." Come to find out, I don't have access to the cargo bay when I was able to steal back my ship from Skavak. In fact, when I went to the GTN, the cargo bay unlock was greyed out for me. I didn't know what to do.

Does this mean that after 16 levels, my experiment is already a bust? Yes and no. I have, as of right now, not found an unlock on the GTN for the cargo bay that I can use. It is also possible that the cargo bay unlock being greyed out is a bug; I might actually be able to use it. Right now, I cannot buy it because I don't have enough credits. Lastly, I do have my fallback plan of stepping up to preferred membership. Preferred members get a cargo bay by default. I'm getting by for now, but tune in next week to see what I do. Would this be enough to make you quit?

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.