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Star Wars: The Old Republic Column: Crew Skills: Impressive, Most Impressive

By Michael Bitton on November 17, 2010

A few weeks ago, Bioware revealed details on Star Wars: The Old Republic’s Warzones PvP feature and “Crew Skills” crafting system at the annual EA Winter Showcase in London. Last week, I shared my thoughts on the Warzone details, but truth be told, I’ve been waiting excitedly to pen this article on the Crew Skills crafting system since the basic details were unveiled.

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In my “Two Years and Counting” column a few weeks back I asked all of you to name one stand-out feature of Star Wars: The Old Republic aside from the game’s impressive array of storyline-focused features as a way to illustrate the fact we ultimately hadn’t learned much in the way of what Bioware is doing differently with SW:TOR aside from said story-focused features. I even went as far as to tease the fact we hadn’t learned of the game’s crafting features yet.

In truly ironic fashion, we got a one-two punch of significant information (including crafting details) just a week after that column ran, and so I’ve had to eat my words, but that’s OK, I’d rather be wrong in this case!

With all that said, I’ve been excited to talk about SW:TOR’s crafting this week because, well, it’s a pretty unique design. Everything in Star Wars: The Old Republic focuses on making your character feel heroic, and so Bioware didn’t feel that a player sitting around knitting was a terribly heroic activity. Instead, the entire crafting system is shifted unto your companions, thus we have “Crew Skills”.

The player and his crew uses his starship as a base of operations, as a form of player housing, a vehicle to travel from planet to planet, and to conduct a majority of the crafting features available as part of the Crew Skills system. Crew Skills are broken down into three categories: gathering, crafting, and missions, and you’ll have three slots with which to assign skills from the aforementioned categories to your crew. All three slots can be filled with three mission or gathering skills, however, you can only have one actual crafting skill assigned to your crew at a time. The different members of your crew will all have their own specialties (for example, Vette is an excellent Treasure Hunter), so some crew members will be better at different tasks.

Speaking of tasks, since the player can only take one companion out into the game world with them at a time, Bioware is allowing players to assign tasks to their benched crew members (even while out in the game world!), which can also be completed while the player is offline. The player’s various crew members can be assigned to go out and gather materials, undertake missions, or simply get to work in the ship’s workshop on crafting items, and all these tasks can be placed in a queue.

Let’s first take a look at gathering. Gathering should be pretty familiar to most MMO gamers. Star Wars: The Old Republic will feature four gathering skills, three of which have been revealed so far and they include: Bioanalysis, which is focused on harvesting genetic material from plants and creatures; Scavenging, which allows players to secure useful materials from damaged technology; and Slicing, a truly Star Wars-y skill that allows players to break into computer systems and lockboxes in order to secure “valuable data and rare schematics.” The most notable difference between gathering in Star Wars: The Old Republic and traditional MMO games is the fact that your companions can also do the gathering for you while you continue to beat ass (you can opt to get your hands dirty yourself if you like). And yes, yes, I know that droids in Star Wars Galaxies could harvest for you, so it is not completely unique.

Crafting itself takes place entirely on the ship, and up to five companions can be assigned to the ship’s work station. There will be five crafting skills in Star Wars: The Old Republic, however, only three have been revealed so far, including: Armormech, the creation of armor; Artifice, the creation of Jedi and Sith artifacts; and Biochem, which allows for the creation of “performance-enhancing serums” and biological implants.

Last on the list are Missions. Missions don’t really have an analogue as far as I know in other MMOs, but for those of you out there who have played Final Fantasy Tactics on the original PlayStation, you might say they closely resemble sending your party out on jobs. When the player assigns a companion to a mission, the companion actually leaves the ship and is presumably unavailable for use while out on the job. Star Wars: The Old Republic will feature four mission skills at launch, though only two are known at this time. The first, Diplomacy, sends a companion out to spread your influence, which can net the player Dark or Light Side points. The second, Treasure Hunting, will send a companion out to scour the galaxy for phat lewt. That’s right, I’ll just sit back here in the comfy confines of my ship while you fetch me some blue’s and purples, Sith Lords don’t farm, come on now!

Truth be told, I’m not a huge crafter, yet I am really excited by the possibilities of the Crew Skills system. Star Wars Galaxies was my first MMO and I found the depth of the game’s crafting options both incredibly impressive and daunting, but I found myself even more amazed at the devotion with which many of my go-to suppliers applied to their craft. I never knew, years later, that Star Wars Galaxies’ crafting system would be heralded as one of the best, if not the best, in MMO history, but I can’t say I’m disappointed Bioware didn’t go in this direction for Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I enjoy the activity of gathering, I find it relaxing, but I’ve never been able to really motivate myself to get into actually doing things with the materials; I’d often just sell them to those who are more interested (which you can do in SW:TOR as well). Crew Skills both sound interesting in their own right as a unique feature, but also accessible, which I don’t really feel is such a dirty word when it comes to crafting, something that is often only participated in by a very small subset of players unless it is accessible. For that reason, at least from what I can tell so far, I think Bioware made a great choice in their direction here. Hopefully, the system will also have added depth for players who truly appreciate deep nuanced crafting systems in MMOs as well, even if their characters aren’t the ones getting their hands dirty.

What are your thoughts on Crew Skills? I’m really curious to hear opinions from players like myself who have never really been the crafter types as well as the thoughts of the really hardcore crafters out there. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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