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Star Wars: The Old Republic goes free-to-play on November 15


One question has been on the minds of Star Wars: The Old Republic fans recently: "Has BioWare announced a free-to-play date?" The answer to that question is finally yes. On Thursday, November 15th, SWTOR launches what Senior Producer Blaine Christine calls its "free-to-play option."

Christine and Producer Cory Butler discussed F2P and Update 1.5 with us yesterday. They explained that BioWare is looking to expose its game to the widest audience possible, so it is allowing everyone to download the game for no charge, then play the level 1-to-50 game without having to purchase anything. The producers also gave us a tour of the SWTOR cash shop, called the Cartel Market, and introduced us to Cartel Coins, the cash shop currency.

Read on for all the shiny details of the changes coming to SWTOR next week.

SWTOR launches freetoplay on November 15th, no rumor!
Preferred status

Critically, anyone who has purchased the game in the past will be set to preferred status. This means that many of the unlocks that you obtained while subscribed to the game will remain unlocked for you as a preferred member. For instance, although free-to-play players will not have a cargo bay open to them, you will be able to access the cargo bay just as easily as a subscriber and preferred member. The producers also want to emphasize that if you currently have purple (artifact) items bound to your character, you will still be able to use them.

What if you are new to the game and haven't earned preferred status yet? Blaine Christine explained in our tour that getting to preferred status is as easy as by buying an item at or above the $4.99 price point in the online store. And at launch, the fewest number of Cartel Coins you can buy is 450 at $4.99, although the team reserves the right to add items under the $4.99 price point in the future. The recommended best way to gain preferred status is to buy the full game for only $14.99. Why? Not only do you get the benefits of the preferred status, but you also get a free month of subscription and all the benefits that go along with having a sub.

SWTOR launches freetoplay on November 15th, no rumor!
The Cartel Market

The items in the store range from cosmetic stuff like orange (custom) chestplates and full head-to-toe outfits to legacy unlocks like species and color crystals. However, Blaine explained that the most popular item on the test server currently is the Cartel Pack. These items come in two varieties: the Crime Lord's Cartel Pack at 360 Cartel Coins and the Black Market Cartel Pack at 180 Cartel Coins. The Black Market Pack contains three items: a buff item (like as an XP boost), a companion gift, and a rare item ranging from pets to custom clothing. The Crime Lord's Cartel Pack includes the same items as the Black Market Cartel Pack with an additional rare item and a crafting material for a total of five items. In addition to the extra rare item in the Crime Lord pack, players also have a greater chance to land a super-rare item. The super-rares include the Kowakian monkey-lizard pet, the Sith Meditation throne, a Darth Nihilus mask, and even a pink-purple lightsaber crystal.

Each of the items you buy off the Cartel Market is an actual in-game item as well. Everything from XP boosts to the Cartel Packs is represented in some way in your character's inventory. What does that mean for players? A level 50 character no longer needs XP boosts of any kind, but his alt might. So once his bind timer runs out (which is currently set to three days for a F2P player and two days for preferred players), he can trade those items to his other characters on that account, or as Cory explained, he can trade them with another player or put them on the Galactic Trade Network (i.e., the SWTOR auction house).

Some players have been concerned about the strength of some of the items you can nab in the Cartel Market -- particularly the +41 crystals. We know for certain that the clothing items on the Cartel Market do not overpower the lowbie player. Even the strongest of those items equates only to an artifact level item, and they are all below level 50. However, the +41 crystals purchased from the store are usable at level 35 -- level 10 if you happen to land one in a Cartel Pack. Blaine explained that the team wanted to have items in the Cartel Packs "that fulfilled the needs of players at all levels." Then he said, "If you're a level 10 player, even though +41 sounds like a lot for a single stat, realistically, the best it's going to do is help you move your alts up faster." He wished to make it clear that the Cartel Market sells not power but convenience.

SWTOR launches freetoplay on November 15th, no rumor!
Developer diary

Lastly, the BioWare folks know that telling people about the Cartel Market isn't the best way to sell the fun that it can offer. So as a way to entice you to jump into the free-to-play experience, the creative team put together a short video explaining and showing a few of the items that you can obtain from its cash shop. Cory suggested checking out the carbonite chamber that not only has some great freezing and unfreezing animations but is also another way to heal yourself out of combat.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

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