[SWTOR] More impressions, is crafting broken, locating screenshots

There’s a dilemma that hits every gaming blogger when a new release comes out and you have limited time. And that is how much time to spend playing vs how much time to spend blogging about it.


I’ve been playing a fair amount of SWTOR lately, and am unashamedly really enjoying the game. Particular high points so far have been:

  • Class quests. A storyline doesn’t have to be brilliantly original if it’s well told, and these generally are. Arb and I were up late the other night, reminding each other that we needed to go to bed … but just wanting to find out what the next twist in the story was. The storytelling is clever (or manipulative if you prefer) in encouraging you to relate emotionally to what is going on. For example, I found out my contact was under attack by my current enemy and stormed back across the city to let nothing stand in my way as I wiped them out – which is quite appropriately vengeful for a sith warrior really. One of my guildies  decided to switch from darkside to lightside because of lore and something that happened in his class storyline. Scott Jennings relates the point where he succumbed to the lure of the dark side. (I think he’s playing Sith Warrior and I think I know the part he means.) At the same time, no story is going to have this effect on a player unless the player is willing to immerse themselves and allow it to happen. If you hate reading, point out the plot flaws in horror films in the middle of the cinema, and think its lame to care about stories then you’re going to have a very different experience. I did also like the suggestion I read somewhere on rpg.net that if you are a Sith Warrior, any time someone gives you a quest you should have the conversation option to execute them for insubordination. (It would make for a short game, but a bloody one.)
  • Characterisation of NPCs. Not all of them, for sure, but the writing and voice acting means they don’t have to be just blobs giving out quests if you’re willing to go with it. I do also quite like my class companions, it might be different if you hated them. Grand Moff Kilran (in the Black Talon Flashpoint) also has the most punchable voice of anyone I’ve ever met. I so hope you get to beat him up at some point. We had more fun in that flashpoint when we agreed we all hated him and picked all the most belittling responses we could.
  • Companions. It’s funny how my responses to quests are affected by which companion is with me. Vette likes it when I tell quest givers they are idiots and give them lip. Quinn approves of being polite to quest givers, especially if they are empire military types. He really is a Young Conservative at heart so I doubt that romance is going anywhere – on the other hand he’s also really really useful and keen to help and offer advice and he gets amusingly tongue tied if you flirt with him. Plus he’s a healer.
  • Group quests: we’ve done some as guild runs, others with random people, but they’re a nice way to switch up the feel from solo questing if you feel like it. The rewards are also good, but optional.
  • Flashpoints: As above. The social conversation mechanic is fun in practice, and far less irritating than you might think from reading about it. I haven’t run all of the flashpoints so far, because the way they are laid out (you have to go back to the fleet etc) tends to break up the flow of questing. But it hasn’t been hard to find groups when I have wanted to, and it’s been fun to have content to run with guildies when we are feeling sociable.
  • Guild! It’s fun to be guilded with some fellow bloggers, some of whom I’ve never played with before. So I’m enjoying the socialising, hanging out on guild chat or voice chat.
  • The morality: This is bound to be vaguely controversial because the light side/ dark side choices don’t have much effect in terms of game mechanics and the general shape of the storyline won’t change much either. And yet, I think more about the stories and the choices I make. Some of them I see discussed more widely because players disagree with the writing. I hope at least one of the quests will be as discussion-priming as the demon possessed boy in DAO. And the fact that’s possible is why I love the morality meter. And because it makes me think more about my character and where she’s coming from (she’s a spoilt sith aristo who takes lightside choices because she /can/ rather than out of any deep affiliation. And yet, sparing people just because you can may be a step on the path to something better …)

Find the screenshot

If you are wondering where SWTOR puts its screenshots, check two things:

  • Under preferences, check what key is bound to the ‘take screenshot’ option, it may not be the one you are used to.
  • On WinXp, the screenshot directory is My Documents/ Star Wars – The Old Republic/ Screenshots

Is Crafting broken in SWTOR?

Here is the current issue with SWTOR crafting: there is one gathering skill that makes money as if it was going out of fashion, with no associated risk. It is Slicing. If you just want to make money and don’t care about making stuff, take Slicing as one of your crew skills and send all your companions off to find lockboxes all of the time. You will eventually make good bank.

It’s not that all the other craft skills are bad. Cybertech and Biochem in particular can make plenty of things that people will buy. I’ve made enough from Biochem (I can sell implants as fast as I can make them, nothing else really sells so far) to buy my speeder training et al so it’s not by any means bad, but you have to work at it. They just probably won’t make as much as you would from Slicing because you have to acquire materials and then take the risk that a) other people won’t buy your stuff from the auction house or b) competition will drive prices down so that you won’t make much of a profit.

Armormech, Synthweaving, Armsmech and Artificing all make plenty of nice gear that is at least as good as anything you will find elsewhere. But there is competition from quest rewards, PvP gear, and drops from flashpoints.

At the end of the day, it’s the lack of risk in Slicing – it’s guaranteed money – which makes it so unbalanced.

It will also be interesting to see the effects of Slicing on the market. There are fewer people crafting to sell on the AH at the moment because the game is new out, and lots of people take gathering skills (incl. Slicing) as they level. But the prices they sell at are set by the Slicers since they have most money to spend on the AH.

Class Consciousness: The Cult of the Splat

Last week there was a minor spat between two classes amongst the WoW bloggers. A hunter dissed the mage bloggers on a podcast, and suddenly half the blogs in my reader went up in flames.

But why do people care about their class so much? Surely by this stage, most people who are keen enough to blog will have multiple alts anyway? And are there really enough readers who only want to read hunter blogs to support the 7 zillion hunter blogs out there? What do they all find to write about?

To get to the bottom of this, let’s go back in time. Pen and Paper RPG publishers always struggled with maximising sales, even when RPGs were trendy. The reason was that a group of players could get by with only one set of rulebooks. So the GM bought the books, and the players – well they could buy if they wanted or they could just share. A keen player would probably eventually buy some rulebooks. But they were optional; as long as one person in the group had access to the rules then the whole group could play. Clearly from a publisher standpoint, this was not ideal. It was the old board game model (one person buys the game, lots of people can play it), but with so much player enthusiasm out there, surely they could sell something to the non GM players. The guys who just turn up, play their character, and then go home.

White Wolf revolutionised the way gaming books were sold by producing splat books. A book full of optional rules, lore, colour text, and fun ideas focussed purely around one specific clan/class. (I’m going to keep calling them classes because it serves the same function.) So players who had a character of that clan and loved it would want to buy the book. If you loved your class, that class book was for YOU. The GM could look at the player’s copy if they needed to use the lore or optional rules. And these clan books quickly became known as splat books. Yes, suddenly the title of this post makes sense.

There were also lots of class-centric web pages and support for WW games. What White Wolf had done was to create a class identity for players. People got attached to their warriors or elves or wizards long before this, but there wasn’t much support for class-based lore from publishers aside from the odd scenario here or there.

Warhammer did the same thing for wargaming. Their army books provided not only rules but also background and painting tips for specific factions in their gameworld. (The 4th Edition of Warhammer was the first to publish separate army lists for different factions in separate books – so this was at about the same time that WW was publishing their splat books.)

And after that, the floodgates opened. Just about every tabletop class based RPG will now publish books about splats aimed at players rather than at GMs. And players love them.

Cult of the Hunter, and other splats

So given that background, it’s not surprising that WoW has a very healthy class-based blogosphere. If you want to blog about the game, why not write about your favourite character and join a readymade community of other people who want to read or write about similar things?

Why hunter and druid blogs are quite so overwhelmingly popular, I never will understand. I can see how hybrids potentially offer more subject matter (you can explore more roles) but the huge number of hunter blogs is a mystery to me. They also seem to have the most interesting blogosphere drama. I don’t read any of them regularly though, whereas bizarrely, most of the well known mage blogs are on my reader, despite the fact I don’t play a mage either.

The other surprise about the hunter blogs is that they no longer represent the popularity of the class in the game. There was a time when hunters (and warriors) were so popular that we used to joke that night-elf hunters on our server alone outnumbered the entire horde. That isn’t the case any more.

There are also plenty of readers who are perfectly happy to have lots of blogs telling them things they already know about classes, roles, and games which they already play. As well as newer players who don’t care about the discussions and just want to be told how to play.

And even aside from that, lots of players enjoy reading opinions about the game from the perspective of the same class that they play. So for example, I couldn’t really call this a warrior blog, but my main in WoW is a warrior and a tank and so I’ll tend to come from that perspective. I occasionally put out informative warrior/ tanking type posts (usually when I am poked with a sharp stick).

For many people, class based forums offer a much better way to get information than searching blogs. It’s easier for forum mods to organise the information, stickify useful posts, and gather information from a wide range of posters. But it’s not really an either/ or choice. If people are interested and have enough time, you can read class forums and class blogs.

Selling to the Splats

One of Blizzard’s odder decisions was when they decided to close class forums on the official boards in favour of switching to role based forums. (ie. tank forum, healer forum, damage forum). There was an outcry from the player base. They loved their class forums, even if they did occasionally get used to stir up shit against other classes.

Blizzard relented on that one, and the official boards do still include class based forums. They’ve never really been happy about class based content though, not since vanilla which did feature class questlines, class mounts, class epics, and so on.

To my mind, and in the world of F2P and cash shops, that’s a lost opportunity. Of course people would pay for cool cosmetic items that only their class could equip. Or class based questlines. We want to see more of that type of content, not less. People love their class identity, class lore, and class specific content.

And this is why I haven’t said too much about Bioware’s various SWTOR press releases. Frankly, their killer content is not the gameplay or the storytelling or the companions or the setting. It’s the fact that if you play SWTOR, you’ll have access to the most extensive class based questlines and gameplay of any MMO ever created. Imagine a whole game created entirely for your class. Well, maybe not a whole game, but plenty of content and lore and it’s all about you.

We may never really know why players love their splats so much that they’ll create content for them, create communities around them, or make them so much a part of their lives. But maybe devs don’t need to know why it happens, just to design around it and offer content that feeds that itch.