Hyperspace Beacon: SWTOR reinvents the Ilum wheel

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Hyperspace Beacon: SWTOR reinvents the Ilum wheel
Hyperspace Beacon SWTOR reinvents the Ilum wheel
For about a year, Star Wars: The Old Republic fans have been waiting to see how the BioWare design team would reinvent Ilum. The first incarnation discouraged PvP by making the objectives give no PvP incentive. It was easier, faster, and more beneficial for players to just ignore enemy players. The second incarnation failed even harder. At the time, there was a major disparity between the two factions, so the larger faction would easily overpower the smaller faction. This did not actually encourage PvP either because the smaller faction just stopped showing up and only the larger faction benefited from the zone. At that point, BioWare decided to remove all objectives from the area and work on a revamp.

Last Tuesday, players were introduced to the third incarnation of the Ilum PvP zone. This time around, the zone contains a mix of group-on-group PvP, world bosses, and of course, PvE fetch/kill quests. How does it stack up to the previous incarnations? How does the reputation grind and Gree event fit into this equation? Should former players return to the game to try out the changes?

Hyperspace Beacon <em>SWTOR</em> reinvents the Ilum wheel
Because I believe that the zone overall is decent, and I don't want to give the impression that I hate it, I'm going to give this Ilum review a positivity sandwich. I'll start with some things that are positive, end it with a positive reinforcement, and sandwich in the middle some concepts that need improvement.

If you followed my Twitter feed, then you might have noticed my dislike of a certain aspect of the rep grind, but overall, other games should take note of the mechanics behind the reputation acquisition mechanics at play here. As is typical, a player takes quests from specific quest-givers, completes the quest, then turns in the quest for rep points. These points give that player access to certain items from a faction vendor. Each week, a player can gain only a fixed amount of reputation per faction. In this case, the weekly cap is 12,000 points. Nothing new here so far.

First and foremost, reputation is gained across the player's Legacy. This means that every character a player owns on a particular server gains the same amount of rep and has access to the same items as all the other characters on that account on that server. Let me give a huge +1 to BioWare for that implementation. Roleplayers who use reputation in-character might have a gripe with that, but this mechanic makes that part of the game far less grindy to those who don't necessarily take this type of faction gain IC. And we RPers will adapt, right?

Secondly, instead of just gaining points, players gain an inventory item that can be used to gain the actual faction points. This might seem like a tedious and unnecessary step, but I believe that every point system should be implemented this way, especially ones that have a weekly cap. For instance, this week, I have gained enough faction chips to satisfy my weekly cap for this week and next week as well. So if for whatever reason I cannot get into game or don't have time to faction grind, I don't feel obligated because all I have to do is log in long enough to use those chips. Bam! Rep grind is done for this week.

On top of that, let's say one of those chips would put me over the weekly cap. When that happens, the whole chip counts. If I have have only 70 points left for the week and I use the 270 point chip, I gain the full 270 points; 200 of those points count toward next week's total. Simple, yet satisfying.

Hyperspace Beacon <em>SWTOR</em> reinvents the Ilum wheel
The PvP zone on Ilum is no longer faction-based; it's group-based. Everyone in the zone is attackable except for those in your current group. There is a small bug by which members of your guild sometimes appear to be unattackable, but don't worry -- you can pwn their faces, too. The PvP rules are very similar to those in Outlaw's Den on Tatooine. I am a huge fan of that mechanic, and I'd like to see it implemented in conjunction with the dueling mechanic. I digress.

The issue with this zone takes us back to the first incarnation of Ilum. Players have quickly discovered that it's easier not to fight and to just let the other players do what they have to do to gain the objectives. This is especially true because there is zero gain for defeating other players. In fact, because of this, when a player attacks another player in the PvP zone, it feels like griefing, even though it is kind of the purpose of the zone. I witnessed some of the same arguments in Ilum general chat that I saw when the game first launched. Players actually complain about getting "ganked" in a PvP zone. Isn't that what's supposed to happen? Yes, I guess, but when the quests in the area make PvP more annoying and frustrating than fun, then I can understand the complaints.

Hyperspace Beacon <em>SWTOR</em> reinvents the Ilum wheel
The Gree-influenced armor, dubbed the Tron armor because of other neon lines on the outfit, will be a permanent fixture on the Gree rep vendor. And as I understand it, the new legacy weapons will be as well. However, the currency used to purchase these items will not be available after February 25th. BioWare has said that the event will come back, but as of my writing this, the studio has not specified when, not even approximately.

Each weapon costs between 18 and 24 Gray Helix Components, which you can earn if you regularly complete the event quests. The tricky part is reputation points. By my estimation, it will take 25,000 points to reach the Champion level you'll need in order to purchase (purchase, not use) the Legacy weapons. My calculations say that it will take three weeks for someone to gain that much reputation, but the event that gives the quests for the Gray Helix Components lasts only two weeks. Initially, this led to my frustration and venting on Twitter. BioWare has since said that the vendor will stick around after the event, but that doesn't negate the fact that BioWare created an event for which the rewards could not be earned during the course of said event. Perhaps, I'm reading too much into it, but I'm tired of seeing these type of oversights coming out of BioWare's camp.

Hyperspace Beacon <em>SWTOR</em> reinvents the Ilum wheel
Lastly, the three world bosses on Ilum are implemented fantastically. There are three total, with one having a story-mode and a hard-mode version. Surgok'k is a giant K'lor'slug. Gravak'k is an oversized Wampa. And Xenoanalyst II is a Gree droid on board the ship.

Surgok'k and Gravak'k appear in caves on opposite ends of the Ilum landscape, thankfully, separate from the rest of the quests. Although it is possible to defeat these bosses with about 12 people, you can have as many as 24 in an operation group. There is a minor bug by which random players will not get credit for the kill if the group is larger than 16, but these two can be easily killed with that number given a bit of coordinated effort.

My favorite world boss is the Xenoanalyst II. It's not because he has challenging mechanics; he does. It's not because he has a story-mode and hard-mode version, even though he does. It's because he's set in his own instance. This means that groups no longer have to fight for rights to the boss nor wait out some ungodly respawn timer. Thank you, BioWare!

Overall, I think it's worth checking out, even if it's on a F2P account. This article ran a little long this week, but I wanted share all my thoughts. Now, it's your turn. Did you explore Ilum this week? What were your thoughts? What is on your pros-and-cons list? Let me know in the comments, and I will see you next week.

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!
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